Chapter Sixty-Eight

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Bern, Switzerland — Thursday 16 December 1915

David parked the car in front of the British Embassy in Bern at fourteen ten, and once inside, he was let through the side passage to the Ambassador's office. Mr Grant Duff looked up at his knock and beckoned him in. "I'll ring for Colonel Picot so you can tell us both. From your smile, it appears you were successful."

"Far beyond what I had imagined, Sir. Far beyond in all ways. May I sit, Sir? I'm a little road weary."

"Yes, please. I should have told you to. You had no difficulties?"

"None whatsoever, Sir." David sat and undid a pocket of his satchel to pull out a bundle of blotting paper. "Here are photos I took this morning of the Biesenbach Viaduct and the train wreckage." He laid the bundle on the low table, separated the enlargements from the blotting paper, and spread them out.

"How did you have these processed so quickly?"

"I paused at Sonnenhang on my way back and did them there."

"You're a man of many talents." The Ambassador examined the prints. "The wreckage looks undisturbed."

"It's nearly impossible to get any equipment in there to remove it. They'll need to do it by hand. Likely leave most of it there. Here, on these three shots, you can see the bent pier and the distorted cross-braces. It appears we shifted the footing."

The Ambassador looked up at the knock and motioned Colonel Picot in. "David has fresh pictures of the viaduct, Henry. And of the wreckage."

After examining the pictures, the Ambassador turned to David. "You must be hungry. You've been on the road most of the day. I can have some food brought in from the servery."

"I'm fine, Sir. I had sandwiches made for my drive."

"Coffee, then?"

"Please."

After he had pressed the bell button and requested refreshments, the Ambassador sat at the table and had David recount his past two days of adventures. When David mentioned the Alsace and Lorraine being suspected, Grant Duff laughed. "Great, we have them blaming their own people, not someone crossing the border."

Picot added, "We've seen the earthquake explanation now in several newspapers. But we had predicted that." He shook his head and stared at David. "How did you get them to give you all this information?"

"It was simply a matter of engaging them in a friendly conversation and gently steering its direction. I was amazed by what they shared, at times having to cut them off or divert them; not wanting to be overheard by someone with more sense."

"But you have an ease with conversation, David, an air of strength and of confidence. You welcome people, and they enjoy being in your presence." The Ambassador smiled, then continued. "Hell, I'm more fascinated with you each time we talk."

They paused as coffee and biscuits arrived, then David continued, "The road convoys from Donaueschingen to the Front in Alsace now have nearly three times the distance to travel. They estimate the Hell Valley will take three months to clear and rebuild, and the repair on the viaduct will take five months."

"You're a natural at this, David." Picot chuckled. "Did you manage to sell any watches, or you too busy talking?"

"I sold thirty-six, all but two women's models and the samples. I was tempted to dig into the ones I had bought for the men as Christmas gifts, but resisted."

"Thirty-six! In two days?"

"I have orders for seven more in Donaueschingen, but I told them I wouldn't be able to bring them until after Christmas." David chuckled. "That's when I learned of their intended movements the next while. God, are they ever naïve."

"Forty-three in two days, Mr Wilsdorf will be pleased," Picot said.

"Fifty-seven including the twelve gifts for the men, the two for my aunts, and the seven orders."

Picot looked up from his coffee. "Those are rather expensive gifts for the men, are they not?"

"They'll cost me nothing. I made eighteen hundred and twenty Marks margin with my sales. Expenses for gasthaus rooms and meals, plus gasoline came to less than thirty, giving me a profit of nearly eighteen hundred. The men's watches cost me less than half that with my discount, and they will add to the precision of the team. I need to find other ways to have my profits help the war effort. Maybe I should buy the Lancia from the War Office. I love the new car."

They were silent for a long while, then Picot asked, "Expenses? I had thought you would be submitting travel claims. Are you not?"

"I see no need to. But I was just thinking, I could donate the excess funds to add to the supply the Red Cross takes to the prisoners of war. Possibly help expand the Bern Bread Bureau."

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David drove from the Embassy into the shopping district beyond Hotel Bernerhof and stopped across from La Mode Giselle. When he entered, Giselle smiled and lifted a finger as she disappeared into the back room. She reappeared half a minute later with a box, placed it on the table and opened it.

"This is perfect. Put it on and let me see how it looks on you."

She lifted the collar to her neck and fastened the clasp

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She lifted the collar to her neck and fastened the clasp. "Maria appears to have the same neck size as mine, so this should fit well."

"Beautiful. Exactly as I had imagined it."

Giselle removed the collar and handed it to David to more closely examine. "Are you sure the diamonds are all paste? I can't tell the difference."

"Few can unless they know what to look for and how." She laughed. "Stupid isn't it? They're so overpriced. The emeralds are another matter, though. Paste emeralds look like paste. Genuine ones like these elevate the fake diamonds, making the entire piece appear as if it were genuine."

"I'm delighted with this. Have you some fancy tissues in which to wrap the box?"

"Yes, of course. I've also a selection of ribbons. I'll do it up for you."

"I have fourteen additional boxes to wrap." David opened his satchel and pulled out a Rolex box. "This size. Can you sell me sufficient to do these, or is there a shop where —"

"No, no. You needn't go elsewhere, I have plenty here."

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