Bond went through the restaurant door. Several of the interior tables were occupied by those who had had enough sun. He went across the room and out through the now open french windows. The man Fritz, who appeared to be the maitre d'hotel, came towards him through the crowded tables. His eyes too were cold with hostility. He held up a menu. 'Please to follow me.'

Bond followed him to the table up against the railing. Ruby and Violet were already there. Bond felt almost lighthearted with relief at having clean hands again. By God, he must pay attention, take care! This time he had got away with it. And he still had the strip of plastic! Had he sounded innocent enough, stupid enough? He sat down and ordered a double medium-dry vodka Martini, on the rocks, with lemon peel, and edged his feet up against Ruby's.

She didn't withdraw hers. She smiled. Violet smiled. They all started talking at once. It was suddenly a beautiful day.

Fraulein Bunt appeared and took her place. She was gracious again. 'I am so pleased to hear that you will be staying with us for a whole week, Sair Hilary. You enjoyed your interview with the Count? Is he not an interesting man?'

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'Very interesting. Unfortunately our talk was too short and we discussed only my own subject. I was longing to ask him about his research work. I hope he didn't think me very rude.'

Irma Bunt's face closed perceptibly. 'I am sure not. The Count does not often like to discuss his work. In these specialized scientific fields, you understand, there is much jealousy and, I am sorry to say, much intellectual thieving.' The box-like smile. 'I do not of course refer to yourself, my dear Sair Hilary, but to scientists less scrupulous than the Count, to spies from the chemical companies. That is why we keep ourselves very much to ourselves in our little Eagle's Nest up here. We have total privacy. Even the police in the valley are most co-operative in safeguarding us from intruders. They appreciate what the Count is doing.'

'The study of allergies?'

'Just so.' The maitre d'hotel was standing by her side. His feet came together with a perceptible click. Menus were handed round and Bond's drink came. He took a long pull at it and ordered OBufs Gloria and a green salad. Chicken again for Ruby, cold cuts 'with stacks of potatoes' for Violet. Irma Bunt ordered her usual cottage cheese and salad.

'Don't you girls eat anything but chicken and potatoes? Is this something to do with your allergies?'

Ruby began, 'Well, yes, in a way. Somehow I've come to simply love...'

Irma Bunt broke in sharply. 'Now then, Ruby. No discussion of treatments, you remember? Not even with our good friend Sair Hilary.' She waved a hand towards the crowded tables around them. 'A most interesting crowd, do you not find, Sair Hilary? Everybody who is anybody. We have quite taken the international set away from Gstaad and St Moritz. That is your Duke of Marlborough over there with such a gay party of young things. And near by that is Mr Whitney and Lady Daphne Straight. Is she not chic? They are both wonderful skiers. And that beautiful girl with the long fair hair at the big table, that is Ursula Andress, the film star. What a wonderful tan she has! And Sir George Dunbar, he always has the most enchanting companions.' The box-like smile. 'Why, we only need the Aga Khan and perhaps your Duke of Kent and we would have everybody, but everybody. Is it not sensational for the first season?'

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Bond said it was. The lunch came. Bond's eggs were delicious - chopped hard-boiled eggs, with a cream and cheese sauce laced with English mustard (English mustard seemed to be the clue to the Gloria specialities), gratings in a copper dish. Bond commented on the excellence of the cooking.

'Thank you,' said Irma Bunt. 'We have three expert Frenchmen in the kitchen. Men are very good at cooking, is it not?'

Bond felt rather than saw a man approaching their table. He came up to Bond. He was a military-looking man, of about Bond's age, and he had a puzzled expression on his face. He bowed slightly to the ladies, and said to Bond, 'Excuse me, but I saw your name in the visitors' book. It is Hilary Bray, isn't it?'

Bond's heart sank. This situation had always been a possibility and he had prepared a fumbling counter to it. But this was the worst possible moment with that damned woman watching and listening!

Bond said, 'Yes, it is,' with heartiness.

'Sir Hilary Bray?' The pleasant face was even more puzzled.

Bond got to his feet and stood with his back to his table, to Irma Bunt. 'That's right.' He took out his handkerchief and blew his nose to obscure the next question, which might be fatal.

'In the Lovat Scouts during the war?'

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'Ah,' said Bond. He looked worried, lowered his voice appropriately. 'You're thinking of my first cousin. From Ben Trilleachan. Died six months ago, poor chap. I inherited the title.'

'Oh, lord!' The man's puzzlement cleared. Grief took its place. 'Sorry to hear that. Great pal of mine in the war. Funny! I didn't see anything about it in The Times. Always read the “Births, Marriages, and Deaths”. What was it?'

Bond felt the sweat running down under his arms; 'Fell off one of those bloody mountains of his. Broke his neck.'

'My God! Poor chap! But he was always fooling around the tops by himself. I must write to Jenny at once.' He held out his hand. 'Well, sorry to have butted in. Thought this was a funny place to find old Hilary. Well, so long, and sorry again.' He moved off between the tables. Out of the corner of his eye, Bond saw him rejoin a very English-looking table of men and, obviously, wives, to whom he began talking animatedly.

Bond sat down, reached for his drink and drained it and went back to his eggs. The woman's eyes were on him. He felt the sweat running down his face. He took out his handkerchief and mopped at it.' Gosh, it's hot out here in the sun! That was some pal of my first cousin's. My cousin had the same name. Collateral branch. Died not long ago, poor chap.' He frowned sadly. 'Didn't know this man from Adam. Nice-looking fellow.' Bond looked bravely across the table. 'Do you know any of his party, Fraulein Bunt?'

Without looking at the party, Fraulein Bunt said shortly, 'No, I do not know everyone who comes here.' The yellow eyes were still inquisitive, holding his. 'But it was a curious coincidence. Were you very alike, you and your cousin?'

'Oh, absolutely,' said Bond, gushing. 'Spit image. Often used to get taken for each other.' He looked across at the English group. Thank God they were picking up their things and going. They didn't look particularly smart or prosperous. Probably staying at Pontresina or under the ex-officers' scheme at St Moritz. Typical English skiing party. With any luck they were just doing the big runs in the neighbour-' hood one by one. Bond reviewed the way the conversation had gone while coffee came and he made cheerful small talk with Ruby, whose foot was again clamped against his, about her skiing progress that morning.

Well, he decided, the woman couldn't have heard much of it with all the clatter and chatter from the surrounding tables. But it had been a narrow squeak, a damned narrow squeak. The second of the day! So much for walking on tiptoe inside the enemy lines! Not good enough! Definitely not good enough!

13

Princess Ruby?

MY DEAR Sable Basilisk,

I arrived safely - by helicopter, if you please! - at this beautiful place called Piz Gloria, 10,000 feet up somewhere in the Engadine. Most comfortable with an excellent male staff of several nationalities and a most efficient secretary to the Count named Fraulein Irma Bunt who tells me that she comes from Munich.

I had a most profitable interview with the Count this morning as a result of which he wishes me to stay on for a week to complete the first draft of his genealogical tree. I do hope you can spare me for so long. I warned the Count that we had much work to do on the new Commonwealth States. He himself, though busily engaged on what sounds like very public-spirited research work on allergies and their cause (he has ten English girls here as his patients), has agreed to see me daily in the hope that together we may be able to bridge the gap between the migration of the de Bleuvilles from France and their subsequent transference, as Blofelds, from Augsburg to Gdynia. I have suggested to him that we conclude the work with a quick visit to Augsburg for the purposes you and I discussed, but he has not yet given me his decision.

Please tell my cousin Jenny Bray that she may be hearing from a friend of her late husband who apparently served with him in the Lovat Scouts. He came up to me at lunch today and took me for the other Hilary! Quite a coincidence!

Working conditions are excellent. We have complete privacy here, secure from the madding world of skiers, and very sensibly the girls are confined to their rooms after ten at night to put them out of the temptation of roaming and gossiping. They seem a very nice lot, from all over the United Kingdom, but rather on the dumb side!

Now for my most interesting item. The Count has not got lobes to his ears! Isn't that good news! He also is of a most distinguished appearance and bearing with a fine head of silvery hair and a charming smile. His slim figure also indicates noble extraction. Unfortunately he has to wear dark-green contact lenses because of weak eyes and the strength of the sunshine at this height, and his aquiline nose is blemished by a deformed nostril which I would have thought could easily have been put right by facial surgery. He speaks impeccable English with a gay lilt to his voice and I am sure that we will get on very well.

Now to get down to business. It would be most helpful if you would get in touch with the old printers of the Almanach de Gotha and see if they can help us over our gaps in the lineage. They may have some traces. Cable anything helpful. With the new evidence of the ear-lobes I am quite confident that the connexion exists.

That's all for now.

Yours ever,

HILARY BRAY

P.S. Don't tell my mother, or she will be worried for my safety among the eternal snows! But we had a nasty accident here this morning. One of the staff, a Yugoslav it seems, slipped on the bob-run and went the whole way to the bottom! Terrible business. He's apparently being buried in Pontresina tomorrow. Do you think we ought to send some kind of a wreath? H.B.

Bond read the letter several tunes. Yes, that would giv the officers in charge of Operation 'Corona' plenty to bite on Particularly the hint that they should get the dead man's name from the registrar in Pontresina. And he had covered up a bit on the Bray mix-up when the letter, as Bond was sure it would be, was steamed open and photostated before dispatch. They might of course just destroy it. To prevent this, the bit of bogosity about the Almanach de Gotha would be a clincher. This source of heraldic knowledge hadn't been mentioned before. It would surely excite the interest of Blofeld.

Bond rang the bell, handed out the letter for dispatch, and got back to his work, which consisted initially of going into the bathroom with the strip of plastic and his scissors in his pocket and snipping two inch-wide strips off the end. These would be enough for the purposes he and, he hoped, Ruby would put them to. Then, using the first joint of his thumb as a rough guide, he marked off the remaining eighteen inches into inch measures, to support his lie about the ruler, and went back to his desk and to the next hundred years of the de Bleuvilles.

At about five o'clock the light got so bad that Bond got up from his table and stretched, preparatory to going over to the light-switch near the door. He took a last look out of the window before he dosed it. The veranda was completely deserted and the foam rubber cushions for the reclining-chairs had already been taken in. From the direction of the cable-head there still came the whine of machinery that had been part of the background noises to the day. Yesterday the railway had closed at about five, and it must be time for the last pair of gondolas to complete their two-way journey and settle in their respective stations for the night. Bond closed the double windows, walked across to the thermostat and put it down to seventy. He was just about to reach for the light-switch when there came a very soft tapping at the door.

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