Fullofit - Oh, no! How embarrassing for poor old James. Hopefuly Gaston doesn't take first impressions to heart. Congratulations on your 39th - as it turns out, it's a rather special one for le Violet! I've been doing a little bit of scorekeeping out of interest, and I am happy to say that Gaston has now made it into the top 30 Aces of the war. And by 1916, no less! A hearty congratulations, sir.
Carrick - here's hoping for Mallory's swift and safe return.
Harry - yikes, a close call for von Blumenthal! I continue to enjoy the new man, he's a real firecracker! Certainly, he has his eyes set on glory. I await more.
Adj. James B. Fullard, Esc. n.124 'Americaine', Bar-le-Duc, France.
June 6th, 1916.
I awoke with the fiercest headache I have ever known, still half-dressed in Horizon Blue. The sunlight that had crept through the gaps in the curtains was like a razor being raked across my eyes, and with a groan I rolled onto my side, feeling very sorry for myself.
Slowly, painfully dragging myself from my bed, I threw on my tunic and stumbled out of my room and towards the grand old staircase in the foyer, searching my foggy mind for any recollections of the evening before. The last thing I remembered was that we had run into Bert Hall and Clyde Balsley and headed into one of the local inns. Past that, only scraps of recollections were available - raucous singing in the inn, Pinard and whiskey flowing, stumbling through the streets back to the town square, falling along the way.
There was a cheer that split my eardrums as I entered the dining room. “Christ! Keep it down!” I cried, as Hall, Rockwell, and De Laage burst into fits of laughter. “Here he is! The man that drank France dry!” cried Hall as I heavily slumped down into the seat at the end of the table. Rockwell joined in with the teasing. “James! Have you heard? You’re being awarded Croix d'alcool!”. I fired off a rude gesture at him, which only resulted in more laughter. “Where are the others?” I asked weakly. “At the aerodrome, or in Chalons. The rain’s still too bad for flying. We stayed here, naturally, to see what state you would be in!” answered Rockwell with a broad grin. “Was it that bad? I don’t remember much of anything from last night”. The three pilots looked at each other knowingly, biting back their smiles.
“Well, it seems we’re out of luck for today when it comes to flying. What shall we do, fellows? Down to Le Bourget anyway, or should we go to the aerodrome?” asked De Laage. Hall shrugged. “I think I’ll go off to visit Escadrille 13. They are a wonderful bunch, but dreadful at cards, and I need to make back some of my pay from last night”. Balsley, in his shy way, mumbled something about wanting to see the new Scout. Yes, that was right...we had met with a pilot who had told us about a new type of Nieuport. The 17. “...and you, Fullard? What are you going to do on this fine day?” asked Rockwell. I shrugged. “I guess I’ll go down to the aerodrome. Little else to do”.
Rockwell and I were driven by a chauffeur to Behonne, which had become lousy with mud after a day and a night of rain. Fortunately, some clever soul had the presence of mind to place down duckboards between the buildings and hangars. I resolved that I should check upon my machine, and headed towards the rows of hangars. As I walked, I spotted Raoul Lufbery, quietly working away on his own Nieuport, and decided to say hello.
As I walked through the entrance of the hangar he looked up at me quickly, nodded a greeting, and went back to work. He had the cowling of his machine off and was modestly working away on the engine. “Fullard, can you pass me that wrench” he asked without looking up. A quick scan and I found the set of tools stood on the workbench behind him. I found the wrench in question and passed it over his shoulder. “Merci”.
“What is it you’re doing?” I asked him. “Just taking care of my coucou. Not that the mechanics aren’t capable, but I like to look after her myself”. I nodded, and thought with curiosity on the bonds formed between pilot and machine. I missed old N.626, still stored peacefully away in some hangar at Ochey. “I was sorry about Michael” said Lufbery. The words sent a jolt through me like a bolt of lighting. “Oh, well. C’est la Guerre, I suppose”.
It was putting on a brave face. In actuality, I was still very much torn up inside. Michael’s death was still a terrible shock, and I still felt the pain at every minute. After that, Lufbery fell quiet as he went about his work, and I watched silently, occasionally passing him a tool or helping in other small ways.
I returned to the Villa for lunch, and found a small collective of pilots gathered around the table, chatting away among themselves and with Capitane Thenault. As it happened, our conveniently-situated Villa had become something of a lunchtime rendezvous for French pilots passing through the town of Bar-le-Duc, and Thenault was more than happy to accommodate them for a short stay. As a result, the American Escadrille now had a good reputation for hospitality and, at lunchtime each day, we were called upon by a host of French pilots. I chatted idly with one or two of them, and quickly became the centre of attention, for I was the only American around the table and I was something of a fascination for my French colleagues.
The remainder of the day was unremarkable, save for Suppertime, when I was finally informed by Kiffin Rockwell why my compatriots had been so amused by my hazy memory in the morning. As they told it, we had rounded a corner while making our way back from the inn and I had run full force into a Pilot, bouncing off of the man and being sent sprawling to the floor. The pilots burst into howls of laughter as Rockwell told me that the man I had collided with was none other than Voscadeaux. I was mortified.