Chapter Thirty-Six

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Maria looked up from her book as David knocked and opened the door. She rose and met him halfway across the room. "I've so much to tell you." They kissed, then she continued, "You taste like Cognac. You had success. Tell me about it."

"We did have, but tell me your news first." He tossed his hat on the table and removed his overcoat. "Evelyn loves this. So do I."

"The injured prisoner project is happening, David." She took his hand and led him toward the couch. "Come, let me tell you about it."

He lounged back into the cushions in the corner, and she lay with her head on his lap. "And Henry will be running it. That's why he's gone to London."

"But he's coming back. He'll be setting up and running the programme from here."

"What do you mean? How do you know that?"

"Evelyn said he's in London only for briefings, to establish procedures and to set up communications protocols. He'll be back here by Friday." David moved a wayward tress from Maria's cheek. "So what other news did Edith have?"

Maria pouted. "It seems you already know more about it than I. Tell me about the windbag."

"He's been deflated." David chuckled. "You'll love how it evolved. Let me take you slowly through the entire sequence. I'll enjoy savouring it again myself."

David slowly unfolded the encounter, revelling in its telling. The smile on Maria's face grew, then tears welled as she laughed. He had to pause a few times so they could both recover.

At the end of the telling, she asked, "And while you're waiting for the replies from London? How is he being kept in check?"

"He was told to go to his hotel room and continue settling in as he awaits the Ambassador's call."

Maria giggled as she pressed her head into his stiffness. "I was intrigued with how you expanded as you told the story. I wonder whether arousal in males is somehow connected to an innate ancestral trait to cause a tumescence while vanquishing a challenger. Increasing as his victory nears so he'll be ready to service his prize."

David laughed. "You and your arousal research. But I must admit, I've often seen duelling bighorn rams in the mountains with erections as they butt heads." He shifted his hips. "This one, though, was initiated by your bouncing head as you laughed, and then strengthened as I enjoyed the beauty of your delight. The way your breasts jiggle at the top of your bodice."

Maria pressed her head rhythmically against him. "Whatever its cause, I suggest we use it to celebrate." She sat up and started unlacing her top. "Come, help me out of my clothes."

Wednesday, 5 January 1916

After lunch, on Wednesday, the Ambassador looked up from his papers at the knock on the door. Miss Hutchins opened it and stepped in. "Mr Wyndcom to see you, Sir."

"That's Colonel Wyndcom," he huffed to her as he entered. "You sent word you wished to see me."

"Yes, I did, Wilfred. Oh, and it's proper protocol for you to call me sir. Please bear with me as I finish this. Won't be a minute." When he had completed the note, he rose, walked around his desk and settled in one of the stuffed leather chairs in the nook. Wilfred moved to take a seat.

"No, you remain standing. It's more appropriate to the occasion."

Wilfred shuffled, then looked down at the rug beneath his feet. "This looks to be a good Persian imitation. Is it French? Belgian? We have genuine ones throughout our country estates and in the London house."

"It's an eighteenth-century Belouchi. I acquired it while on a posting to Iran. But that's not the point here. It appears there's been confusion in the War Office, and files were interchanged. There was an error in the posting as Aide-de-Camp, and —"

"I knew it. He has no right to hold such a position. Do you know he's only twenty-one? He's little more than a child hiding behind a man's beard, showing his suspicious nature. I'll have him remove it. And you've seen how deplorable his attitude is, and how disrespectful."

"All this surprises me. He has always shown himself as one of the most pleasant and respectful people with whom I've dealt."

"Then he's deceived you. Are you aware he refused to obey my orders? Or that he referred to you by your first name? He has no respect for authority. He's deceitful and shouldn't be trusted. He's —"

"This is even worse than I had thought." Evelyn shook his head as he looked up from his chair. "You're closer, Wilfred. Would you please press Miss Hutchins' button on my desk. The white one. And I'll remind you again to recognise my position by using the honorific."

Half a minute later, Miss Hutchins opened the door and stepped in. "What may I do for you, Sir?"

"Please have David come in and join us."

Wilfred dry washed his hands. "Finally! I'll enjoy this."

Evelyn smiled up at him. "And I'll derive far more pleasure."

A quarter minute later, Evelyn responded to the knock and the opening of the door. "Come in, David. Please join me here." He motioned to the stuffed leather chair beside him. "Have a seat."

"Not you, Wilfred. You remain standing."

Wilfred shook his head. "I don't understand."

"Yes, you've shown that." The Ambassador leaned forward and lifted a dossier from the table, opened it and shuffled the pages. "Yes, here it is. Your posting has been corrected. Captain Wyndcom, Wilfred, 60th Rifles, to Bern, Switzerland as Aide-de-Camp to the Ambassador."

"But..." Wilfred reddened, then pulled a handkerchief from his sleeve to wipe his spittle. "I don't understand."

"Yes, we agree with you on that."

Wilfred wagged his handkerchief at David. "And young Berry here? What is being done about his insubordination? His insolence?"

"I don't think he has an insubordinate bone in his body, nor an insolent one. Colonel Berry is the intended replacement for Colonel Picot."

Wilfred sputtered. "Preposterous! My uncle —"

"You uncle isn't here, Wilfred, nor is he any longer able to manipulate the War Office. It's long past time pompous asses such as he realise they're hampering the conduct of the war. This is not a game, Wilfred. Hundreds of thousands have died, many because of petty infighting among pitiful excuses for men."

"I need to sit."

"You need to remain standing. It's a good way for you to begin learning discipline."

Wyndcom winced. "May I request a reposting?"

"Request a reposting, what?"

"What do you mean, what?"

"My honorific, Wilfred. You continue to omit it."

In a meek voice, he replied, "May I request a reposting, Sir?"

"We mentioned yesterday the idea of investigating the tea in Salonica. We can arrange to have you rejoin your battalion, if you wish."

Wilfred shuddered as he shook his head and remained silent.

"Yes, as I thought. Then consider the major part of your duty here as learning what it means to be a man." The Ambassador nodded toward David. "You have a superb example of one in Colonel Berry. Let's hope you can recognise his qualities, and that some of them rub off on you. You'll find he has not only great tolerance but also great patience." 

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