Chapter Fifty-Six

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On Monday afternoon, David was sitting with the Ambassador in his office at the Embassy, enjoying light conversation when Colonel Picot knocked and entered. "I've it all here, the identity papers, the travel documents and the tickets for the Sappers. They'll all leave from Schaffhausen on Wednesday morning, then begin separate itineraries beyond Zürich."

David hefted the thick packet, then patted his pocket. "I've their pay and advances here, Sir. And the leave? Was that approved?"

"Yes, five days. Their leave passes and the vouchers are in their envelopes." He smiled. "Great idea."

"Thank you, Sir. They've worked hard, and they deserve it." He looked at his watch. "Fifteen twenty-five. It'll be dark when I get back. I should get going to have a good bit of the trip in daylight."

"Why not wait until morning, David?" Evelyn asked. "What need is there for you up there this evening? From the forecast, this warm spell is to continue another day at least before it cools again."

Sonnenhang, Switzerland — Tuesday 7 December 1915

David wheeled the lorry into the courtyard at Sonnenhang shortly past noon on Tuesday, as the men were coming out of the vineyards for lunch. He climbed down and walked toward Sergeant Perrier. "It's arranged, Sergeant. You'll leave on the nine thirty train from Schaffhausen tomorrow morning."

"Damn!" Perrier frowned, then chuckled. "I was hoping they'd do this in their usual slow way and let us enjoy this longer."

"I talked them into giving all of you five days leave in Paris before you continue back to Belgium." David's face broke out into a big grin. "Accommodation and meals included since you're travelling between duties." He patted his pocket. "It's all in here, plus pay advances. We'll meet with the men after lunch."

"They should make more officers like you, Sir."

"You'd be a good place for them to start. You need to consider that seriously, Gerrard, you've much more to offer. There'll be a strong letter of recommendation from me on your regimental file."

"Thank you, Sir."

David tilted his head toward the schloss and started walking. "We should head in for lunch. So what do the men think of working above ground for a change?"

"They enjoy the pruning. The fresh air and the space certainly make it more relaxing. They're delighted to be able to give back a bit in return for all Mrs Eberhardt has provided. So she's your aunt. I hadn't realised until Georg told me."

"My wife's great aunt, Rachel's aunt."

"Georg sure has it strong for Rachel. Seems mutual."

David nodded as they paused in the foyer. "Yes, good to see." He hefted his satchel. "I need to take this up and clean from the drive. See you at lunch."

After lunch, David took Georg up the switchbacked trail through the terraced vineyards above the schloss, talking as they went. "The War Office will be keeping our team here to conduct further projects. I've no details yet on what that might entail."

Georg stopped, put his hands on top of his head and opened his mouth wide before he managed to utter any words. Finally, he said, "So this means I'll be staying here also?"

"Yes, if you wish." He smiled at Georg's expression. "I was sure this would please you."

"How did you arrange this?"

"You and your men arranged it, Georg. You've impressed the War Office with how everything is going here. They've much more in store for us." David chuckled. "I was told on Sunday that what we've done so far is small potatoes."

Georg laughed. "What projects have they in mind?"

"I'm aware of nothing at the moment." David pointed to the rock bench. "Let's sit here. Maria and I used to come up here and talk, dream and..."

"Rachel's brought me up here several times." He sighed and shook his head. "I haven't felt this way for so long. Over fifteen years."

David nodded and smiled as he thought of his own experiences here with Maria six months ago. "I need to talk with the men individually, ask if they're willing to continue. I'm told it will become increasingly risky. We need unwavering commitment from each. Do you see any who seem unsuited? Any who don't offer to the team? Any you would rather not continue with?"

Georg put his hands on the sides of his face and gazed into the distance as he thought. "No, not even Dolf now."

"Dolf?"

"He received a letter from his girl in our first batch of mail, telling him she had found someone else. He lost his spirit and wanted to quit, but he's well over it now. I've watched him closely, and he seems resolved to the situation. He now pulls his full weight as a member of the team."

"Women are certainly a huge influence, aren't they?"

"Makes it tough to remain focused on the job at hand sometimes."

David nodded again and warmed inside as he thought of Maria. "Yes, it certainly does." He blew out a loud breath. "I need to talk with the group, then with each one individually. Can you set that up for me? Let's do it after tea."

After the Sappers had gone back to their work in the vineyards following tea, David sat with his team in their mess. "Our project is nearing completion. I'm sure you're all wondering what will happen once we've completed it. I have been as well." He looked at the nodding heads around the table.

"The War Office is well pleased with what we've accomplished so far, and they eagerly anticipate the results of our actions the next few days. However, they're more eagerly looking at the potential we have to inflict far greater damage to the German war machine."

He paused and looked at each in turn. "It seems we have barely started. They like how we work as a team and what we've accomplished, but they see much more for us. Much more than I had imagined possible. They want us to remain here as they find further projects to disrupt the Germans."

He paused and looked down at the table for a short while, then raised his head and continued, "In July, I had the great honour to meet the King. Among other things, he told me to kick the Kaiser's butt. Let's not disappoint him."

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