Chapter Thirty-Six

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Bern, Switzerland — Saturday 23 October

It was pouring rain when David pulled into the courtyard of the Ambassador's residence and glanced at his watch. Almost fifteen hundred. Nearly seven hours for a hundred and forty kilometres. He grabbed his satchel and scurried through the rain to the entrance and knocked.

The butler opened the door and welcomed him in. Maria rushed across the foyer, her eyes red and her face streaked with tears. "We've been so worried. You were going to be here well before noon." She wrapped her arms around him and sobbed.

"So hard to see the road in the downpours, and I was forever stopping to clean the windscreen. Often drove no faster than walking." He shivered as he held her. Then after tilting her head up for a kiss, he continued, "I need to get out of these sopping clothes. The rain found so many ways into the cab. I'm chilled to my bones."

A while later, as they lay together in the deeply filled bathtub and David slowly rewarmed, he told her about recent events at Sonnenhang. "Both Tante and your mother say the grapes are finer than they remember the 1911 harvest being. Fermentation has just finished, and the first tastes show superb quality."

"Did Tante manage to pick her vineyard across the border?"

David laughed. "The border guards removed the alarm trip wires beside the patrol path for her. They harvested without having to drive all the way around through the Customs post."

Maria snickered. "How many bottles did it cost her? She wrote last month about plans to bribe the head of the Customs post."

"Only two, a Weißburgunder and a Blauburgunder, the young ones, the ones we had bottled in June. She also told him she was going to be preparing the slopes for planting, getting the soil ready before winter so the new vines can go in as soon as the frost risk has passed in the spring." David cupped Maria's breasts and teased her nubbins between his spread fingers.

She moaned and hummed a sigh. "That's wise. The activity won't cause them to question." She pressed her back into the swelling there. "Seems your blood has warmed enough to get it fully circulating."

"I was thinking of finishing my warming with some exercise."

Forty minutes later, as they lay recovering, he nodded to the book on the night table. "A new one by Somerset Maugham? Of Human Bondage. I like his writing, but I've not heard of this one."

"It's just been published

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"It's just been published. Willie gave it to me."

"Willie Maugham? Yes, I suppose he's related to Somerset."

"He is Somerset. He prefers to be called Willie, but he signs his books as W Somerset Maugham. Seems I got distracted when we rose from the table the other evening, and I forgot to tell you. You were in deep conversation with Edith throughout dinner."

"He appeared very restrained for such a well-known writer. I wish I had known Willie is Somerset."

"He's shy about his stuttering, but I found that once he gets going, he's full of wit, and the more we talked, the less he stuttered." Maria laughed. "He cautioned me about some of the scenes in this book, saying, We have long passed the Victorian Era when asterisks were followed after a certain interval by a baby." She snickered. "There are some explicit passages."

"That's one of the aspects I like with his writing."

"I told him of your problem with British food, and he suggested if you wish to eat well in England, you should have a breakfast three times a day."

David chuckled. "That's wise advice, though — breakfast does seem their one good meal. I cannot believe they blithely eat the way they do. Speaking of which, the two cooks arrived yesterday. I hope some of the culinary aspects of their Swiss heritage survived British Army cooking training."

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On Monday morning, David drove again through Lausanne and along the shores of Lac Leman, into and out of the lakeside villages and towns to Gland. Then as he wound his way up the slopes toward Givrans, he looked at the nearly cloudless sky. This would have been horrid for them in Saturday's rains.

His watch showed eleven twenty-five as he pulled off the road onto the broad shoulder and scanned the edge of the trees. Manny had arrived with the team by this time last week. David stroked his beard. But they're fit and accustomed to wilderness travel. I wonder how fit the Sappers are. Whether any have experience in the mountains. Damn! I should have specified. He alternated his eyes between the Mont Blanc Range and the edge of the stand of trees as he waited.

 He alternated his eyes between the Mont Blanc Range and the edge of the stand of trees as he waited

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At five past noon, he saw movement in the trees and focused on it. Two uniformed men stepped out and approached the lorry. Shit! Hope they haven't spotted the Sappers. David took an apple from the basket on the floor and bit into it.

"Une belle vue pour une pause déjeuner... A fine view for a lunch break."

David nodded to the soldiers. "Oui, j'aime regarder Mont Blanc et de rêver de l'escalader... Yes, I love looking at Mont Blanc and dreaming of climbing it."

The two soldiers smiled, then turned and walked down the gently sloping road, and they were shortly met by two more. David watched as more joined them from the forested slope while they continued down the road and around the bend. Thank God they were in uniform. Otherwise, I would have mistaken them for my Sappers and spoke... Must remember to identify before speaking. He shook his head. Now to hope the Sappers have been able to keep from being spotted.

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