Chapter Seventy-One

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David settled into the seat beside the Ambassador, and once Jacques had closed the car door, he continued. "There are several reports of two being shot from the air by German aeroplanes, but they now suspect they may be citing the same incident. But other than that, there is no word."

"That's over ten hours now."

"The last report Pageot had was shortly before fourteen thirty; so seven hours. Regardless, that's far beyond the bomber's endurance. They're checking alternate landing fields."

"And the artillery bombardment continues? That's over ten hours now."

"It continued through the day at the same rate of fire but for a break at noon. The last report I received..." David looked at the luminous hands on his watch. "An hour and a quarter ago, they were still firing. I would think they'd stop at dusk. It's too risky to set fuses and load in the dark."

"So, ten hours at five per second. How many is that?"

David made a rapid mental calculation. "Three hundred a minute, which is eighteen thousand an hour. So, a hundred and eighty thousand in the ten hours between dawn and dusk."

Evelyn shook his head. "That's a lot of church bells and roofs."

"But that's only within the count range of the reports. There are thirty kilometres of front being bombarded, so it's likely several times that. The French have been trying to locate the largest of the guns, but their aerial observation has been stymied by German aeroplanes shooting them out of the air or chasing them away."

The two continued to discuss the situation until Jacques opened the car door in the porte-cochère of the residence. They remained silent as they entered, then in the foyer, Evelyn said, "We'll see you at dinner. Henry will be here, and he may have some insights."

David climbed the stairs as quickly as dignity would allow, then when he deemed he was out of sight, he rushed the remainder of the way to the suite at the end of the hallway.

"Mama is pregnant," Maria said as she rose from the chaise longue to greet him.

He looked down at her belly as he strode across the room. "Your fertile period has just ended. I know I've been flooding you twice a day, but we won't know for almost two weeks." He wrapped his arms around her.

"No, not this mama." Maria laughed. "I received a letter from Mama this afternoon. This is the second month she's missed."

He kissed her forehead, then squeezed her to his chest. "A playmate for ours."

She nodded and hummed as she snuggled her face into his neck. After a long silence, she asked, "They've started, haven't they?"

"The clouds finally dispersed late yesterday, and the artillery barrage began at dawn."

"And the clear sky means the bombers would be able to fly. Did they?"

He nodded. "They set off at first light, but at last report, none have made it back."

"None yet? How long can they remain in the air?"

"Three and a half hours."

Maria closed her eyes and remained silent.

"Reports show the Germans kept a steady patrol of Fokkers above the battlefield, shooting several French observation craft out of the air."

"You're allowing your language to slip, David."

He chuckled. "Fokker, spelt F-O-K-K-E-R, is the name of their aeroplane with a single set of wings. It's faster and more manoeuvrable than anything our side has, and since last summer, it has wreaked havoc with our flying. The slower and more cumbersome French bombers would have been like sitting ducks for them."

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