Bond kept his voice low. 'Come in!'
The door opened and quickly closed to within an inch of the lock. It was Ruby. She put her fingers to her lips and gestured towards the bathroom. Bond, highly intrigued, followed her in and shut the door. Then he turned on the light. She was blushing. She whispered imploringly, 'Oh, please forgive me, Sir Hilary. But I did so want to talk to you for a second.'
'That's fine, Ruby. But why the bathroom?'
'Oh, didn't you know? No, I suppose you wouldn't. It's supposed to be a secret, but of course I can tell you. You won't let on, will you?'
'No, of course not.'
'Well, all the rooms have microphones in them. I don't know where. But sometimes we girls have got together in each other's rooms, just for a gossip, you know, and Miss Bunt has always known. We think they've got some sort of television too.' She giggled. 'We always undress in the bathroom. It's just a sort of feeling. As if one was being watched the whole time. I suppose it's something to do with the treatment.'
'Yes, I expect so.'
'The point is, Sir Hilary, I was tremendously excited by what you were saying at lunch today, about Miss Bunt perhaps being a duchess. I mean, is that really possible?'
'Oh yes,' said Bond airily.
'I was so disappointed at not being able to tell you my surname. You see, you see' - her eyes were wide with excitement - 'it's Windsor!'
'Gosh,' said Bond, 'that's interesting!'
'I knew you'd say that. You see, there's always been talk in my family that we're distantly connected with the Royal Family!'
'I can quite understand that.' Bond's voice was thoughtful, judicious. 'I'd like to be able to do some work on that. What were your parents' names? I must have them first.'
'George Albeit Windsor and Mary Potts. Does that mean anything?'
'Well, of course, the Albert's significant.' Bond felt a cur. 'You see, there was the Prince Consort to Queen Victoria. He was Albert.'
'Oh golly!' Ruby's knuckles went up to her mouth.
'But of course all this needs a lot of working on. Where do you come from in England? Where were you born?'
'In Lancashire. Morecambe Bay, where the shrimps come from. But a lot of poultry too. You know.'
'So that's why you love chicken so much.'
'Oh, no.' She seemed surprised by the remark. 'That's just the point. You see, I was allergic to chickens. I simply couldn't bear them - all those feathers, the stupid pecking, the mess and the smell. I loathed them. Even eating chicken brought me out in a sort of rash. It was awful, and of course my parents were mad at me, they being poultry fanners in quite a big way and me being supposed to help clean out the batteries - you know, those modern mass-produced chicken places. And then one day I saw this advertisement in the paper, in the Poultry Farmer's Gazette. It said that anyone suffering from chicken allergy - then followed a long Latin name - could apply for a course of re... of re... for a cure in a Swiss institute doing research work on the thing. All found and ten pounds a week pocket-money. Rather like those people who go and act as rabbits in that place that's trying to find a cure for colds.'
'I know,' said Bond encouragingly.
'So I applied and my fare was paid down to London and I met Miss Bunt and she put me through some sort of exam.' She giggled. 'Heaven only knows how I passed it, as I failed my G.C.E. twice. But she said I was just what the Institute wanted and I came out here about two months ago. It's not bad. They're terribly strict. But the Count has absolutely cured my trouble. I simply love chickens now.' Her eyes became suddenly rapt.' I think they're just the most beautiful, wonderful birds in the world.'
'Well, that's a jolly good show,' said Bond, totally mystified. 'Now about your name. Til get to work on it right away. But how are we going to talk? You all seem to be pretty carefully organized. How can I see you by yourself? The only place is my room or yours.'
'You mean at night?' The big blue eyes were wide with fright, excitement, maidenly appraisal.
'Yes, it's the only way.' Bond took a bold step towards her and kissed her full on the mouth. He put his arms round her clumsily. 'And you know I think you're terribly attractive.'
'Oh, Sir Hilary!'
But she didn't recoil. She just stood there like a great lovely doll, passive, slightly calculating, wanting to be a princess. 'But how would you get out of here? They're terribly strict. A guard goes up and down the passage every so often. Of course' - the eyes were calculating - 'it's true that I'm next door to you, in Number Three actually. If only we had some way of getting out.'
Bond took one of the inch strips of plastic out of his pocket and showed it to her. 'I knew you were somewhere close to me. Instinct, I suppose. [Cad!] I learned a thing or two in the Army. You can get out of these sort of doors by slipping this in the door crack in front of the lock and pushing. It slips the latch. Here, take this, I've got another. But hide it away. And promise not to tell anyone.'
'Ooh! You are a one! But of course I promise. But do you think there's any hope - about the Windsors, I mean?' Now she put her arms round his neck, round the witchdoctor's neck, and the big blue orbs gazed appealingly into his.
'You definitely mustn't rely on it,' said Bond firmly, trying to get back an ounce of his self-respect. 'But I'll have a quick look now in my books. Not much time before drinks. Anyway, we'll see.' He gave her another long and, he admitted to himself, extremely splendid kiss, to which she responded with an animalism that slightly salved his conscience. 'Now then, baby.' His right hand ran down her back to the curve of her behind, to which he gave an encouraging and hastening pat. 'We've got to get you out of here.'
His bedroom was dark. They listened at the door like two children playing hide-and-seek. The building was in silence. He inched open the door. He gave the behind an extra pat and she was gone.
Bond paused for a moment. Then he switched on the light. The innocent room smiled at him. Bond went to his table and reached for the Dictionary of British Surnames. Windsor, Windsor, Windsor. Here we are! Now then! As he bent over the small print, an important reflection seared his spy's mind like a shooting star. All right. So sexual perversions, and sex itself, were a main security risk. So was greed for money. But what about status? What about that most insidious of vices, snobbery?
Six o'clock came. Bond had a nagging headache, brought on by hours of poring over small-print reference books and aggravated by the lack of oxygen at the high altitude. He needed a drink, three drinks. He had a quick shower and smartened himself up, rang his bell for the 'warder' and went along to the bar. Only a few of the girls were already there. Violet sat alone at the bar and Bond joined her. She seemed pleased to see him. She was drinking a Daiquiri. Bond ordered another and, for himself, a double Bourbon on the rocks. He took a deep pull at it and put the squat glass down. 'By God, I needed that! I've been working like a slave all day while you've been waltzing about the ski-slopes in the sun!'
'Have I indeed!' A slight Irish brogue came out with the indignation. 'Two lectures this morning, frightfully boring, and I had to catch up with my reading most of this afternoon. I'm way behind with it.'
'What sort of reading?'
'Oh, sort of agricultural stuff.' The dark eyes watched him carefully. 'We're not supposed to talk about our cures, you know.'
'Oh, well,' said Bond cheerfully, 'then let's talk about something else. Where do you come from?'
'Ireland. The South. Near Shannon.'
Bond had a shot in the dark. 'All that potato country.'
'Yes, that's right. I used to hate them. Nothing but potatoes to eat and potato crops to talk about. Now I'm longing to get back. Funny, isn't it?'
'Your family'll be pleased.'
'You can say that again! And my boy friend! He's on the wholesale side. I said I wouldn't marry anyone who had anything to do with the damned, dirty, ugly things. He's going to get a shock all right...'
'All I've learned about how to improve the crop. The latest scientific ways, chemicals, and so on.' She put her hand up to her mouth. She glanced swiftly round the room, at the bartender. To see if anyone had heard this innocent stuff?
She put on a hostess smile. 'Now you tell me what you've been working on, Sir Hilary.'
'Oh, just some heraldic stuff for the Count. Like I was talking about at lunch. I'm afraid you'd find it frightfully dry stuff.'
'Oh no, I wouldn't. I was terribly interested in what you were saying to Miss Bunt. You see' - she lowered her voice and spoke into her raised glass - 'I'm an O'Neill. They used to be almost kings of Ireland. Do you think...' She had seen something over his shoulder. She went on smoothly, 'And I simply can't get my shoulders round enough. And when I try to I simply over-balance.'
"Fraid I don't know anything about skiing,' said Bond loudly.
Irma Bunt appeared in the mirror over the bar. 'Ah, Sair Hilary.' She inspected his face. 'But yes, you are already getting a little of the sunburn, isn't it? Come! Let us go and sit down. I see poor Miss Ruby over there all by herself.'
They followed her meekly. Bond was amused by the little undercurrent of rule-breaking that went on among the girls -the typical resistance pattern to strict discipline and the governessy ways of this hideous matron. He must be careful how he handled it, useful though it was proving. It wouldn't do to get these girls too much 'on his side'. But, if only because the Count didn't want him to know them, he must somehow ferret away at their surnames and addresses. Ferret! That was the word! Ruby would be his ferret. Bond sat down beside her, the back of his hand casually brushing against her shoulder.
More drinks were ordered. The Bourbon was beginning to uncoil Bond's tensions. His headache, instead of occupying his whole head, had localized itself behind the right temple. He said, gaily, 'Shall we play the game again?'
There was a chorus of approval. The glass and paper napkins were brought from the bar and now more of the girls joined in. Bond handed round cigarettes and the girls puffed vigorously, occasionally choking over the smoke. Even Irma Bunt seemed infected by the laughter and squeals of excitement as the cobweb of paper became more and more tenuous. 'Careful! Gently, Elizabeth! Ayee! But now you have done it! And there was still this little corner that was safe!'
Bond was next to her. Now he sat back and suggested that the girls should have a game among themselves. He turned to Fraulein Bunt. ' By the way, if I can find the time, it crossed my mind that it might be fun to go down in the cable car and pay a visit to the valley. I gathered from talk among the crowds today that St Moritz is the other side of the valley. I've never been there. I'd love to see it.'
'Alas, my dear Sair Hilary, but that is against the rules of the house. Guests here, and the staff too, have no access to the Seilbahn. That is only for the tourists. Here we keep ourselves to ourselves. We are - how shall I say? - a little dedicated community. We observe the rules almost of a monastery. It is better so, isn't it? Thus we can pursue our researches in peace.'
'Oh, I quite see that.' Bond's smile was understanding, friendly. 'But I hardly count myself as a patient here, really. Couldn't an exception be made in my case?'
'I think that would be a mistake, Sair Hilary. And surely you will need all the time you have to complete your duties for the Count. No' - it was an order - 'I am afraid, with many apologies, that what you ask is out of the question.' She glanced at her watch and clapped her hands. 'And now, girls,' she called, 'it is time for the supper. Come along! Come along!'
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