Chapter Forty-Seven

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Bern, Switzerland — Sunday 21 November 1915

David sat with Henry Picot and John Wallinger in the withdrawing room at the Ambassador's residence on Sunday morning, enjoying coffee as he briefed them on the progress. "They're well into the chalk now. Sergeant Perrier says it will be only another three days before they break through into the sump."

"So they'll be able to get back to digging the main tunnel by Wednesday or Thursday, then," Colonel Picot said. "That's delayed completion by ten days."

"They've already started back to work on it, Sir. On Tuesday, Sergeant Perrier saw a much-diminished flow and has surmised the seepage from the aquifer is mainly from percolating groundwater after a rain. He now thinks there's little chance of a greater flow, so he put a team to work again on the main tunnel face while our men continue pumping the sump dry."

"So you're delayed only a day or two?"

"A bit more. With the two teams working simultaneously, they can't relieve each other, so they need to take rest breaks. Until they finish the drainage tunnel and go back to their normal routine, they're down to an advance of seven or eight feet per day on the main tunnel. He estimates completion 3 December, Friday week."

Wallinger took a sip of coffee and nodded. "I've all the explosives assembled. They're in crates in the mess tent in the garden."

"I'll load those in the morning. What else do we need to discuss?" David stroked his beard and thought of Maria waiting upstairs, and shuddered lightly. "Yes, there's the further reconnaissance. Georg went in with Hans and Franz to confirm their observations on the blasting sites. The granite slab is ideal and an easy blow. In the Hell Valley, he identified the two best sites among the four Hans had found, and decided we should blow them both simultaneously. He says we've easily sufficient explosives to do this."

"It'll be into December by then," Colonel Picot said. "What about freezing? What about snow?"

"I've found some climate data for the area in the library in Donaueschingen. The average coldest temperatures through December are about three degrees of frost, highs average plus three and the daily mean is above freezing. December precipitation in each place is less than ninety millimetres, but I could find no data on snow."

"Will frost and snow affect you?" Wallinger looked up from his empty coffee cup, then at the pot.

"The snow would mean we'd leave trails, making our covert movement more open to detection. I don't think it would affect the explosives nor their placement. The one benefit would be frozen ground and lubrication to assist the derailed train making it to the viaduct pier. Our calculations show it having little energy left as it reaches there, it'll be slowed by the softness of the ground."

"Let's pray for a deep freeze, then. There seems no other way to play havoc with that line."

"Georg thought of snipers to take out the brakemen as the train leaves the viaduct. They're open targets on the platforms as they begin to apply the brakes for the steepening slope. With steam brakes only, the train will accelerate more than usual as it heads toward our curve, giving us the additional momentum we need." David looked over his shoulder toward the door as he heard Evelyn come in. He rose to greet him.

"Sorry I've been delayed." Evelyn shook hands with the three. "I'm still occupied. You carry on, and Henry, you can brief me later on your discussions. How long are you with us this visit, David?"

"I'll head back first thing tomorrow, Sir."

"Great! We'll see you at dinner, then." He looked at the door. "I must go. Henry, you come when you finish here. I need you."

A quarter hour later, David stood in a tight embrace with Maria, just inside her suite. "Not yet a week, it seems so much longer. Today's the full moon. A week until we know."

Maria trembled. "You've also that in your mind?" She squeezed him tighter as tears rolled down her cheeks. "That means so much to me, your thinking of me like this. You have no idea how much it warms me to know I'm in your thoughts. Deeper thoughts, not simply fleeting ones."

"You rarely leave them. Come. Help me get rid of this road dust and the ache in my balls. I've been building tension again for you."

Maria giggled. "How much?"

"Two days, four gushers."

After they had soaked in the tub for a long while, they rinsed, dried and crawled beneath the duvet on the bed. They lay there in an entwined cuddle, connected and gently shifting their hips as they quietly talked into the afternoon, interrupting from time to time for Maria to immerse herself in another climax.

"I've brought sample bottles of the young wines for you to taste. Tante said they're still far from the finesse they'll have after the barrels, but they now show the great quality. Your mother said you will easily be able to extrapolate from there."

"I miss the excitement of fermentation and nursing the wines. Our classes stop on the 17th of December, a Friday, to take a long break until after the New Year. I'd love to go home — go to Sonnenhang for Christmas. I guess Sonnenhang is home now."

"Yes, I feel it is for me also. If things go well, we should have finished playing with the railroads long before the seventeenth."

"What will you do after that? Not go back to the trenches, I hope."

"I think I'm of much more use to the War Office than to do that. Besides, my official duty is as Aide-de-Camp to the Ambassador here. I'd love to spend a bit of time doing that. The life of a potato pedlar is rather dull and boring." He chuckled.

Maria shifted her hips a little more aggressively as she reached down to heft David's scrotum. "We need to do something with your balls. Tug your skin back, peel your head and blow this heavy load. We've missed lunch, and it must now be nearly tea time." She giggled. "We should go down and work at being social. It's Sunday afternoon, and they'll be gathered in the parlour."

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