Chapter Fifty-Seven

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After lunch, David took Bethia aside. "I need to talk with you in private, in confidence. Can we take a walk later in the vineyards?"

"We can do that now if you wish. The sausages were going to take me well into the afternoon, so I have little else planned."

"Maria's busy with Rachel. Let's stroll down the slopes. I want to examine the lay of the land and work some ideas through my mind. You can explain the vines and their training to me as we go."

A quarter hour later, they stopped at the edge of the lowest vineyard and turned to look back up the hill. "You can see the shape, the hollow aspect of these slopes. This should focus the sun and hold its warmth. I expect superb wines from here."

David turned and pointed across the fields to the west. "The huts over there? They're the ones on your vineyards at the border?"

"Yes, and I've made inquiries about buying the pastures here to join them. The same streak of chalky soil runs through them, though the slope is less ideal than here or over at the border. The owners have moved to Schaffhausen, and I've asked Herr Schmidt to contact them. He said he'd be here mid-afternoon."

"Tante, I need you to keep this in strict confidence. All of it. No word to anyone, not even to Maria. She doesn't know yet since there's no need for her to." He sighed. "I've not before kept anything from her, but this I must. This is for the war effort, and many lives depend on the information being held closely and in strict confidence."

"This sounds very serious."

"It is. I'm going to England to be trained as an officer. That part is known. What's not known except by a very few is that I'm being trained and groomed to run covert operations into Germany. To spy and to conduct sabotage missions there."

"I cannot think of a better choice for them, nor of a better way for you to serve. What may I do to help?"

"From the moment you first mentioned having vineyards that cross the border, I've pictured a tunnel linking them. Then when I saw the two tool huts, the task became so much easier. Could we use the vineyards as a way back and forth?"

"A tunnel seems a huge undertaking for you. Is there not an easier way to get across? You've your Swiss papers."

"I'll have a squad of sappers — Army tunnelling experts — to engineer and dig it. They do most of the trenches and connecting tunnels at the front, and they're now tunnelling under some of the enemy positions there. There will be more than only me needing to cross the border and to make it back safely."

"Better, then. I'll make sure I buy these pastures. Your sappers can work at preparing the soil for planting vines as a disguise for their tunnelling. When will you start?"

"I'm not sure. I've not done much except looking at how pieces might fit together, and I've needed your willingness to do this before doing any further thinking on it."

"You have that, and you have my full confidence. Confidence in both your ability to do it and my confidence of the information. It should be easy to keep the true intentions hidden. I'm amazed by the cleverness of this."

"The most ingenious part is your idea of employing the sappers to work your land. It benefits everyone... Except the Germans." He stepped across and hugged her. "You're an amazing woman, Tante."

"And you're an amazing man. A few more such as you and this war will be quickly finished. What else may I do?"

"I've thought a telephone might be useful."

"So had I. It was awkward needing Jacob take me into town to speak with Herr Schmidt. I've a line being strung next week. They started digging the post holes two days ago."

He smiled at her. "Moss will never grow in your shadow, Tante." He motioned up the slope, and they began walking. "Four months, likely more before I come back — that'll be late October. Will the harvest be completed by then?"

She stopped and examined the new growth on a vine. "This bud, see how it's swollen? Appears to be another week or ten days until flowering. That would make harvest around mid-October, a hundred to a hundred and fifteen days from flowering."

"Flowering? I've never thought of grape flowers, but that's the key to a plant's reproduction, isn't it? The attraction." He shuddered. "God, I'm going to miss Maria, Tante. We've talked a few times of children, and we sense it wise to wait until the war is over. Too much turmoil to bring children into, it wouldn't be fair to them for me to be away."

"Yes, that's wise. One thing to look on favourably while you're away is that you'll both be embarked on noble projects that will consume much of your energy."

"And we'll be spared the temptation of risking pregnancy. It takes all my power to resist during her fertile time."

"And looking at you, I can imagine she is sorely tempted herself. You're such a magnificent pair."

"Enough of this. What have you that I can help with while I'm here?"

"We've the wine to bottle. The 1913 Blauburgunder will be settled now from its move and will be ready to bottle, as will the 1914 Weißburgunder. The labels have arrived, but I don't know if the bottles and corks will be here in time for you to help with it. Also, the 1914 Blauburgunder needs racking. That can be done now, but that's only two hours or so."

She looked up into his eyes. "Rachel and I can do that. Why don't you and Maria simply relax and enjoy each other for the while you have left? Don't worry about us or anything else, just concentrate on enjoying."

"I'd love to be able to do that, but neither Maria nor I can simply sit back doing nothing. Working on something together gives us great pleasure. I wish I could share with her the projects that lie before me, but until she needs to know, I'm bound by the Official Secrets Act."

"But you shared it with me."

"Because you need to know. It's your land, and I couldn't think of using it without your permission. The only way to get that is to let you see a bit of the reason and let you sense its great importance and the necessity to keep it secret."

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