Chapter Twenty

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When David returned to his quarters following the afternoon classes, there were two letters on the floor just inside the door. He picked them up and opened the one from Maria:

My Dearest Darling David;

Words cannot describe how desperately I long for you, nor how much I crave your touch. Twelve days now and it gets no easier.

I received notification in this morning's mail I've been accepted into the course at the University Hospital at the beginning of September. I was told that Doctor Nausdorf had written a strong recommendation when Freiburg sent my records to the University Registrar. I'm hoping my
studies will provide a distraction from my constant daydreaming of you.

Progress is slow on the prisoner of war project as we wait for responses from the French and German governments. Colonel Picot has been placed in charge of it now, and he seems optimistic that they will also agree to participate. The more we work on it, the nobler the idea seems and the broader its support.

Yes, your aroma was, and still is on your letter. I'm sitting here enjoying it as I stroke myself, wishing it were your hand doing it... Or your tongue, or better, your penis. God, I miss you.

I'll wipe my fingers on this before I seal it. If your fragrance survived the mails, then surely mine will.

I'll love you beyond the end of time,
Maria

So that's why I had stiffened so quickly. He held the letter to his nose and shuddered as his other hand undid his trouser front. Best I undress so I don't mess these. He stripped and hung his uniform over the chair back, and after taking a facecloth from the rail, he lay on his bed.

As he lay recovering, he glanced at his watch. Eighteen sixteen. Need to get moving. He cleaned, then dressed again in his uniform. It's complete now so I can wear it for Mess. Guess I could have before, though, many are still in their modified enlisted uniforms.

As he took his gloves and cap from the desk, he saw the other letter, picked it up and quickly opened it to scan. From R. He looked at his watch. Must go. I'll find a moment to read this there. Thank God for the shortcut.

He left his forage cap, gloves and swagger stick in the cloakroom and made it into the anteroom with less than a minute to spare. Need to remember to do my Maria stuff after Mess, not before. God, I miss her.

As he surveyed the room, he spotted Bill a short distance away, and he walked over to join him and the two he was with. After introductions, David pointed to Bill's sleeves. "Did they force you to move your pips?"

"Crazy, isn't it? The officers at the Front are now stripping the lace from their sleeves and moving their insignia to their shoulders. Many are now wearing enlisted tunics to be even less conspicuous."

"Sadly, fighting by the books, by the regulations, by the old and outdated ideas, seems the Army's way." David pointed to the others' pips. "Looks as though field commissions are now making their way here. We've been very few until your arrival."

"There are six in the Company, two British and four Canadians. We figured it was to help replace all the losses at Ypres. There's been a highly disproportionate casualty rate among the officers and NCOs."

"Because of the large shoot me signs on their sleeves. If you were a German sniper, wouldn't you target the leaders?"

"Explain that to Army HQ or to the War Office. They seem still stuck in the days of cavalry charges and lances."

"We've a lot of work to do. The old school is running the show with little idea of the reality we're facing." David looked around the room. "Good meeting and talking with you. We need to circulate and talk with others so we're seen as socially active. It's one of the ways we're being assessed." He saw Garth and walked across to greet him.

"Nice boots," Garth said as David approached. "Looks like your kit's complete, David." He turned to the man he was with. "This is Sean."

They shook hands and began chatting, then David said, "Sounds as if you're Irish, Sean. My father's family was from Galway, and he still has a bit of the accent."

"I'm from Ballyvaughan, across the Bay from there. Your accent sounds Canadian. They leave during the famine?"

"Yes, to Nova Scotia, then they continued moving west and finally settled in the mountains."

"A lot of Canadians in today's new intake. Must have met half a dozen already. Are you taking over?"

"I think it's the aftermath of Ypres. We can't replace our casualties as easily as you can. I'm sure the sinking of the Lusitania last month has changed ocean passage planning, and it appears while we wait for more troop ships to arrive, we're promoting and training what we have left."

"That makes sense," Garth said. "The experience over there taught me things of greater value than much of what I've learned here. Also taught me to question some of the theory we're being taught. You'll find many of the instructors are also beginning to question the old tactics."

"We've not started tactics yet. When's that begin?"

"The week following the first leadership exercises, so the fifth week."

"Are those what are referred to as the weeding exercises."

Garth swiped his thumb across his throat. "Ayup. But you'll find them easy. It's the nervous fellows who have most of the trouble with them."

David looked around to spot the school officers, then reached into his pocket. "Excuse me a moment. I have a note here I must read." He pulled it out and unfolded it.

David,

First, we congratulate you on being awarded the Distinguished Service Order. The citation leaves us in awe of your courage.

We have received highly complimentary reports on your two weeks at Oxford, and we are told you've settled in well.

We are ready to begin now if you are still willing.

I'll offer you once again an opportunity to back out of this and carry on with the course with no detrimental effects. If you wish to end this, I ask that you stroll around the Camera in Radcliffe Square after dinner. We will see you and will understand.

If you do not appear by nine, further instructions will be given you before Last Post tonight.

R

David folded the note and returned it to his pocket, then blew out a sigh.

"That appears heavy," Garth said.

David looked at him and nodded. "Yes, some loose ends from Ypres and my wanderings from there." He shook his head. "But, back to here."

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