Schauffenberg, thank heaven, was halfway to being a gentleman, unlike most of them. She turned, and he bowed.
"May I present you to our newest hero, fresh from the field of battle? Our Fuhrer shook his hand, not twenty-four hours ago."
She was experienced, now, in counterfeiting interest in such matters. "Gustaf, you intrigue me."
Schauffenberg bowed, yielding the field to the young airforce officer by his side. He was shy, almost provincial, rapping out his account as if making a despatch in Morse.
"Ma'am! By skill and good fortune my squadron encountered the British cruiser Caithness, on passage to Malta. Under my direction, we bombed the vessel, and shortly sank it. Heil Hitler."
He ducked his head in a curt, sharp nod. There was a murmur of applause from those within earshot in the crowded salon. Unthinkingly - when had she last dared to think? - Madame Orly started to join in.
And then the ship's name sank in. Her long fingers caught at the edge of the Louise Quartorze table behind her.
I didn't mean it her mind screamed helplessly to the shade of a laughing, dashing Lieutenant as he defied her across a ballroom in the face of all the County. I did not desire your death. Believe me! I never wanted this end.
But all she could see were her daughter's hard dark eyes, watching her across a the impassable gulf which had opened between them, deep with the roar of the sundering sea.