'Elizabeth! How can you be so heartless about it!'

'Well, that's what happened. You asked.'

'But couldn't he save himself?'

'Don't be idiotic. It's sheet ice, a mile of it. And the bobs get up to sixty miles an hour. He hadn't got a prayer.'

'But didn't he fly off at one of the bends?'

'Fritz said he went all the way to the bottom. Crashed into the tuning hut. But Fritz says he must have been dead in the first hundred yards or so.'

'Oh, here's Franz. Franz, can I have scrambled eggs and coffee? And tell them to make the scrambled eggs runny like I always have them.'

'Yes, miss. And you, miss?' The waiter took the orders and Bond heard his boots creak off across the boards.

The sententious girl was being sententious again. 'Well, all I can say is it must have been some kind of punishment for what he tried to do to Sarah. You always get paid off for doing wrong.'

'Don't be ridiculous. God would never punish you as severely as that.' The conversation followed this new hare off into a maze of infantile morality and the Scriptures.

Bond lit a cigarette and sat back, gazing thoughtfully at the sky. No, the girl was right. God wouldn't mete out such a punishment. But Blofeld would. Had there been one of those Blofeld meetings at which, before the full body of men, the crime and the verdict had been announced? Had this Bertil been taken out and dropped on to the bob-run? Or had his companion been quietly dealt the card of death, told to give the sinner the trip or the light push that was probably all that had been needed? More likely. The quality of the scream had been of sudden, fully realized terror as the man fell, scrabbled at the ice with his finger-nails and boots, and then, as he gathered speed down the polished blue gully, the bunding horror of the truth. And what a death! Bond had once gone down the Cresta, from 'Top', to prove to himself that he dared. Helmeted, masked against the blast of air, padded with leather and foam rubber, that had still been sixty seconds of naked fear. Even now he could remember how his limbs had shaken when he rose stiffly from the flimsy little skeleton bob at the end of the run-out. And that had been a bare three-quarters of a mile. This man, or the flayed remains of him, had done over a mile. Had he gone down head or feet first? Had his body started tumbling? Had he tried, while consciousness remained, to brake himself over the edge of one of the early, scientifically banked bends with the unspiked toe of this boot or that...? No. After the first few yards, he would already have been going too fast for any rational thought or action. God, what a death! A typical Blofeld death, a typical SPECTRE revenge for the supreme crime of disobedience. That was the way to keep discipline in the ranks! So, concluded Bond as he cleared the tray away and got down to his books, SPECTRE walks again! But down what road this time?

* * *

At ten minutes to eleven, Irma Bunt came for him. After an exchange of affabilities, Bond gathered up an armful of books and papers and followed her round the back of the club building and along a narrow, well-trodden path past a sign that said PRIVAT. EINTRITT VERBOTEN.

The rest of the building, whose outlines Bond had seen the night before, came into view. It was an undistinguished but powerfully built one-storey affair made of local granite blocks, with a flat cement roof from which, at the far end, protruded a small, professional-looking radio mast which, Bond assumed, had given the pilot his landing instructions on the previous night and which would also serve as the ears and mouth of Blofeld. The building was on the very edge of the plateau and below the final peak of Piz Gloria, but out of avalanche danger. Beneath it the mountain sloped sharply away until it disappeared over a cliff. Far below again was the tree line and the Bernina valley leading up to Pontresina, the glint of a railway track and the tiny caterpillar of a long goods train of the Rhätische Bahn, on its way, presumably, over the Bernina Pass into Italy.

The door to the building gave the usual pneumatic hiss, and the central corridor was more or less a duplicate of the one at the club, but here there were doors on both sides and no pictures. It was dead quiet and there was no hint of what went on behind the doors. Bond put the question.

'Laboratories,' said Irma Bunt vaguely. 'All laboratories. And of course the lecture-room. Then the Count's private quarters. He lives with his work, Sair Hilary.'

'Good show.'

They came to the end of the corridor. Irma Bunt knocked on the facing door.

'Herein!'

James Bond was tremendously excited as he stepped over the threshold and heard the door sigh shut behind him. He knew what not to expect, the original Blofeld, last year's model - about twenty stone, tall, pale, bland face with black crew-cut, black eyes with the whites showing all round, like Mussolini's, ugly thin mouth, long pointed hands and feet but he had no idea what alterations had been contrived on the envelope that contained the man.

But Monsieur le Comte de Bleuville, who now rose from the chaise-longue on the small private veranda and came in out of the sun into the penumbra of the study, his hands outstretched in welcome, was surely not even a distant relative of the man on the files!

Bond's heart sank. This man was tallish, yes, and, all right, his hands and naked feet were long and thin. But there the resemblance ended. The Count had longish, carefully-tended, almost dandified hair that was a fine silvery white. His ears, that should have been close to his head, stuck out slightly and, where they should have had heavy lobes, had none. The body that should have weighed twenty stone, now naked save for a black woollen slip, was not more than twelve stone, and there were no signs of the sagging flesh that comes from middle-aged weight-reduction. The mouth was full and friendly, with a pleasant, up-turned, but perhaps rather unwavering smile. The forehead was serrated with wrinkles above a nose that, while the files said it should be short and squat, was aquiline and, round the right nostril, eaten away, poor chap, by what looked like the badge of tertiary syphilis. The eyes? Well, there might be something there if one could see them, but they were only rather frightening dark-green pools. The Count wore, presumably against the truly dangerous sun at these altitudes, dark-green tinted contact lenses.

Bond unloaded his books on to a conveniently empty table and took the warm, dry hand.

'My dear Sir Hilary. This is indeed a pleasure.' Blofeld's voice had been said to be sombre and even. This voice was light and full of animation.

Bond said to himself, furiously, by God this has got to be Blofeld! He said, 'I'm so sorry I couldn't come on the 21st. There's a lot going on at the moment.'

'Ah yes. So Fraulein Bunt told me. These new African States. They must indeed present a problem. Now, shall we settle down here' - he waved towards his desk - 'or shall we go outside? You see' - he gestured at his brown body -' I am a heliotrope, a sun-worshipper. So much so that I have had to have these lenses devised for me. Otherwise, the ultraviolet rays, at this altitude...' He left the phrase unfinished.

'I haven't seen that kind of lens before. After all, I can leave the books here and fetch them if we need them for reference. I have the case pretty clear in my mind. And' -Bond smiled chummily - 'it would be nice to go back to the fop with something of a sunburn.'

Bond had equipped himself at Lillywhites with clothing he thought would be both appropriate and sensible. He had avoided the modern elasticized vorlage trousers and had chosen the more comfortable but old-fashioned type of ski-trouser in a smooth cloth. Above these he wore an aged black wind-cheater that he used for golf, over his usual white sea-island cotton shirt. He had wisely reinforced this outfit with long and ugly cotton and wool pants and vests. He had conspicuously brand-new ski-boots with powerful ankle-straps. He said, 'Then I'd better take off my sweater.' He did so and followed the Count out on to the veranda.

The Count lay back again in his upholstered aluminium chaise-longue. Bond drew up a light chair made of similar materials. He placed it also facing the sun, but at an angle so that he could watch the Count's face.

'And now,' said the Comte de Bleuville, 'what have you got to tell me that necessitated this personal visit?' He turned his fixed smile on Bond. The dark-green glass eyes were unfathomable. 'Not of course that the visit is not most welcome, most welcome. Now then, Sir Hilary.'

Bond had been well trained in two responses to this obvious first question. The first was for the event that the Count had lobes to his ears. The second, if he had not. He now, in measured, serious tones, launched himself into Number Two.

'My dear Count' - the form of address seemed dictated by the silvery hair, by the charm of the Count's manners -'there are occasions in the work of the College when research and paper work are simply not enough. We have, as you know, come to a difficult passage in our work on your case. I refer of course to the hiatus between the disappearance of the de Bleuville line around the time of the French Revolution and the emergence of the Blofeld family, or families, in the neighbourhood of Augsburg. And' - Bond paused impressively - 'in the latter context I may later have a proposal that I hope will find favour with you. But what I am coming to is this. You have already expended serious funds on our work, and it would not have been fair to suggest that the researches should go forward unless there was a substantial ray of hope in the sky. The possibility of such a ray existed, but it was of such a nature that it definitely demanded a physical confrontation.'

'Is that so? And for what purpose, may I inquire?'

James Bond recited Sable Basilisk's examples of the Habsburg lip, the royal tail, and the others. He then leaned forward in his chair for emphasis. 'And such a physical peculiarity exists in connexion with the de Bleuvilles. You did not know this?'

'I was not aware of it. No. What is it?'

'I have good news for you, Count.' Bond smiled his congratulations. 'All the de Bleuville effigies or portraits that we have been able to trace have been distinctive in one vital respect, in one inherited characteristic. It appears that the family had no lobes to their ears!'

The Count's hands went up to his ears and felt them. Was he acting?

'I see,' he said slowly. 'Yes, I see.' He reflected. 'And you had to see this for yourself? My word, or a photograph, would not have been sufficient?'

Bond looked embarrassed. 'I am sorry. Count. But that was the ruling of Garter King of Arms. I am only a junior free-lance research worker for one of the Pursuivants. He in turn takes his orders in these matters from above. I hope you will appreciate that the College has to be extremely strict in cases concerned with a most ancient and honourable title such as the one in question.'

The dark pools aimed themselves at Bond like the muzzles

..^aa

of guns. 'Now that you have seen what you came to see, you regard the title as still in question?'

This was the worst hurdle. 'What I have seen certainly allows me to recommend that the work should continue, Count. And I would say that our chances of success have greatly multiplied. I have brought out the materials for a first sketch of the Line of Descent, and that, in a matter of days, I could lay before you. But alas, as I have said, there are still many gaps, and it is most important for me to satisfy Sable Basilisk particularly about the stages of your family's migration from Augsburg to Gdynia. It would be of the greatest help if I might question you closely about your parentage in the male line. Even details about your father and grandfather would be of the greatest assistance. And then, of course, it would be of the utmost importance if you could spare a day to accompany me to Augsburg to see if the handwriting of these Blofeld families in the Archives, their Christian names and other family details, awaken any memories or connexions in your mind. The rest would then remain with us at the College. I could spare no more than a week on this work. But I am at your disposal if you wish it.'

P/S: Copyright -->www_Novel12_Com

***