Chapter Twelve

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Bern, Switzerland —Thursday, 23 December 1915

At a quarter past eleven, David and Maria were let through the side passage from the Embassy's lobby, and they arrived at Picot's closed door. "He must be in a meeting. Let's go give our Christmas greetings to Evelyn."

As they approached the Ambassador's door, they saw it also was closed, so they turned back. Picot's door opened, and a man strode out and headed along the broad corridor. "Looks like he's free now. Just a quick call, though. We've still much to do."

David knocked on the partly opened door and waited for a response. Hearing none, he took two steps into the room and looked around it. "Colonel Picot, Sir?"

He received no response, and as he turned, he heard a loud, angry voice. "What are you doing in my office? Who are you?"

"I'm looking for Colonel Picot."

"You mean Lieutenant-Colonel Picot," he replied with heavy emphasis on Lieutenant. "He's been relieved of his duties, and I've replaced him. What is the nature of your visit?"

"We simply wanted to wish him a Merry Christmas."

"This isn't a place for that; these are official premises."

David nodded, then extended his hand. "I'm David Berry, and this is my wife, Maria."

"What's your wife doing in the Embassy?" He tilted his head as he looked at David. "Berry? Lieutenant Berry? I was this moment searching for you."

"We're here for a few minutes only. On our way through from London."

"And I'm Colonel Wyndcom," he retorted with an exaggerated emphasis on Colonel. "Your schedule doesn't matter. I have things for you to do as I sort through the files I've been given."

"Sir, I've other matters to which I must attend."

"Those can wait. I need you to get me oriented in this position."

"Sir, I answer directly to the Ambassador."

"The Ambassador has been called to London. I'm in charge now."

David's mind flashed to the closed door as he added pieces and nodded. "I have other commitments this afternoon."

"Not before you satisfy mine, you don't. You'll do as you're —"

Maria interrupted him mid-sentence. "I don't think either Mr Lloyd-George nor Mr Asquith would be pleased with your behaviour."

"And what do you know of their pleasure?"

"More than you do, apparently."

"What an impertinent lass you are."

David cut in, knowing Maria's retort would drop the l in lass. "Sir, this is not a proper way to begin if we are going to fight this war together. We need to cooperate; else our efforts are dissipated. My direction comes from above the military, and I have responsibilities which take me beyond here. If you don't find pertinent information on this in Henry's files, I'll brief you after Christmas."

"Henry? Who's Henry?"

"Colonel Picot."

Wyndcom nodded, then he opened his mouth to speak, but Maria cut in.

"We'll wish you a Merry Christmas now, then we must be on our way. We've much to do, and we've a war to win."

Wyndcom stood with a slack mouth as Maria took David's arm, turned him and led him along the hallway. Once they were a distance away, she whispered, "The clerk will know what's going on. He sees everything, and he makes all the travel arrangements. He'll know."

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After a stop at the Tobler shop for their chocolate, David and Maria drove out of Bern, following the Aar downstream. "What an ass Colonel Windbag is. Is he like the stuffed buffoons about which you've spoken?"

"He's a mild one. But, yes. And his name's Wyndcom, not Windbag."

"Windbag suits him better." Maria giggled. "So, why would the Grant Duffs and the Picots all go to London?"

"Could be to visit family at Christmas. But it's likely on business. There are major changes. I told you about the head of the Army being relieved, now Picot has been replaced. I don't think he's been canned, though; he has great initiative, and he seems to keep everything running smoothly. He's likely moving on to higher responsibilities. Possibly a promotion."

"Speaking of promotion. What was that about? The administrative clerk calling you Major Berry?"

"He would have seen the message so he could amend my records. William informed me yesterday I had been promoted."

"And you didn't tell me?"

"We concentrated on other things."

"We always seem to. You still keep so many things hidden."

"Not the important things,"

"And what are those?"

"That I love you. That you've completely captivated me. That I'm yours forever."

Maria dabbed her eyes, then sidled closer to him on the seat. "Yes, you show those well." She sighed and leaned her head on his shoulder, stroking his chest as they continued along the road toward Zürich.

They stopped in the city to fill the fuel tank, then shortly before three, they arrived at their grandparents lakeside estate in Küsnacht. After greetings, Michael looked at his watch. "You run like the Swiss trains, David. Maria had said you'd be here mid-afternoon. We're packed and ready to —"

Mary butted in. "Give them a chance to relax and refresh, Michael. They've been travelling all day. Can I get you something to eat?"

Maria glanced at David, then back at her grandmother. "I think we're fine. We had croques and coffee in the station in Lausanne as we waited for our train. But I could visit the loo." She shook her head. "I still cannot believe the French plumbing. What a dichotomy; refined elegance and superb cuisine on the one hand and ignorant men and their crap holes on the other."

Mary chuckled. "You've your mother's frankness, and I love the turn-of-phrase you've added to it. I'll have Murielle put on the kettle, and we'll have tea before we go."

After tea, David and Michael loaded the luggage and packages into the boot, then with everybody aboard, they drove northward toward Schaffhausen Their conversation began with Maria telling them about her meetings in London. "The Duke of Devonshire had donated the use of his house in Piccadilly to the Red Cross as their headquarters. Good God! House is such an inadequate word for it. Devonshire House is a vast mansion set in huge, sprawling gardens."

"I know the house well," Mary said. "I grew up just along Berkeley Street from it, and we often gambolled in the gardens with the Cavendish children." She tilted her head at Maria. "That's generous of the Duke to donate its use. Is the interior still lavishly decorated?"

"It must have been splendid in its day, but it appears in want of attention. Likely little time nor money to waste doing that with the needs of the war." The four of them carried on a broad-ranging conversation as they rode into the darkening evening.

David switched on the headlamps and the overtaking light. "This is much more convenient than having to get out and light carbide lamps, particularly now with the rain." He moved the windscreen wiper back and forth a couple of times to clear away the gathered drops. As he headed west from Schaffhausen, the light rain turned to sleet, and it was snowing as they drove through Unterhallau.

As Maria worked the windscreen wiper to give David a clear view, she pointed to the snow swirling in their light beams. "This will make Sonnenhang even prettier for Christmas. There'll be trimmings on all the trees."

David nodded as he drove the car along the increasingly slippery road. "Yes, but let's hope we don't get too much. We have to drive into town tomorrow."

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