Chapter Seventy-Two

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Thursday, 24 February 1916

Rick returned to Bern mid-afternoon on Thursday, and he went directly to David's office to report. "No indication of any bombardment, Sir. Neither at Oppau nor Pirmasens."

David nodded and pointed to a chair. "We feared that. The French have moved more bombers into position, and they're waiting for an overcast to fly above."

"It's clear up there; the entire central Rhein. And very cold. We were told it has been freezing since Sunday night."

"That makes sense. Clear and cold behind the front. Is the mood of the people still upbeat?"

"With the soldiers all moved into position, there was no partying in the streets. It's pretty much back to like it was before." Rick expanded on his observations, and when he had finished, he said, "The border was simple both ways. Dolf met me at the station in Weil, and we continued north by train. On the way back, he drove me from Weil to Basel, then he carried on to Schaffhausen."

"What did he use as a reason to cross?"

"Looking for greengrocers to sell potatoes. He had two bins of samples in the back."

David nodded. "Good. We don't want to become complacent."

"And what has transpired at Verdun?"

"Let me write a note to Pageot first, reporting no observed damage."

Four minutes later, Rick returned from the message centre, and he sat to listen to David give a summary of the situation.

"The estimate is now a million shells were fired on Monday. Fritz began an advance from the north late in the day, gaining about two kilometres along the east bank of the Meuse using mostly grenades and flames."

"Flames?"

"Another new weapon with which they've surprised us. Reports from the few survivors describe soldiers with tanks on their backs and spewing flaming liquid ten metres or more from long lances."

Rick shuddered as David continued. "First light Tuesday, the artillery resumed, then paused for the infantry to consolidate their new positions. By the end of the day, the French had realised the seriousness of the attack, and they moved reserves forward. Yesterday, the French counter-attacked, inflicting many casualties as they pushed back. But by day's end, they were forced to withdraw to not be out-flanked."

"And today?"

David spread his hands, palms up. "Still no reports."


Monday, 28 February 1916

Monday noon, David laid a map on the Ambassador's desk. "This is their progression, Sir. I've copied their daily positions from Pageot's plots."

"So, this shows they've passed Fort Douaumont on the twenty-sixth

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"So, this shows they've passed Fort Douaumont on the twenty-sixth."

"Yes, Sir. They captured it on Saturday."

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