Harry - Oh no, poor Lazlo! Those tricky Ententes...the big man's already a firm favourite of mines, and I hope he has a swift recovery!
I've been having a bit of trouble with spinning Fullard's yarns recently, but with the day free of flying I've tried to get a bit more 'development' out of him and the other Americains. Hopefully I can hang in there with the other brilliantly woven tales you are all putting out!
Adj. James B. Fullard, Esc. N.124 'Americaine', Bar-le-Duc, France.
August 28th, 1916
The heavy raindrops coming down on the Villa roof on the morning of the 28th may as well have been thunderclaps. With a groan, I slowly pulled myself up in bed, sitting for a moment with my hands pressed to my temples in a vain attempt to cease the throbbing. After a moment of feeling sorry for myself, I rose and started towards the staircase, intent on getting some food into me. However, as I reached the banister I heard a voice behind me. “Fullard. A moment in my office if you please”. I turned to see Thenault standing with his arms folded behind his back, his eyes cold and serious under the brim of his Kepi. “Er, of course, sir…” I replied, and Thenault turned to the solitary door that stood at the top of the stairs, swinging it open and beckoning me inside.
As I followed the Captain into his office he gestured to a luxurious leather seat across from his desk. Obediently I sat and the Capitane closed the door, rounding his desk and sliding down into his own seat. From a drawer removed a cigarette case and a matchbox, striking up a light and inhaling deeply. I felt myself grow increasingly uncomfortable as he sat across from me silently, staring at me intently. Finally, as the tension was getting too much to bear, he spoke.
“Do you want to go home?”
I was stunned. “....sir?” I asked, numbly. “Do you want to go home, Fullard?” Thenault reiterated. “Dr. Gros can have it arranged, and you can be on the next steamer bound for England. From there, you can get back to San Francisco”. For a moment I tried to find the words to respond, but in my shock I was unable. Finally, I blurted out “why are you asking me this?”. Laying his cigarette down in an ornate glass ashtray, Thenault steepled his hands. “The men have noticed that your behaviour has been strange of late. I have noticed too. I know that you have suffered loss here, but we all have. The question I’m asking, Fullard, is this. Is this war too much for you?”.
I felt blood rush to my cheeks. “How...can you ask me that?” I asked, almost at a whisper. I felt rage creeping upwards. “You think...I want to run home? That I’m scared? Cracking up?” forgetting my place, my voice rose in volume until I was shouting. “My friends have died here. My brother has died here. And you ask me if I want to go home?!”. As Thenault raised a hand, anger flashing now in his eyes, I caught myself. “Apologies, sir. No, I don’t want to go home”. Thenault’s expression softened. “I am glad. But, listen well. This funk of yours, the drinking, it will stop. We are all afraid, and angry, Fullard, but it does the Escadrille harm to let that show. You understand?”. I nodded.
“I’ve given you today to yourself. Take some time to get your affairs in order. Your experience of air fighting is of great value here, so I need you to keep a clear head. That is all, Fullard”. I sighed deeply, rose to my feet, and saluted. “Yes, sir. I apologise for my recent conduct. Thank you, sir”. He nodded once and I turned to the door. As my hand fell upon the handle, Thenault cleared his throat.
“Oh, one last thing, James.” “Sir?” “I’m promoting you to Sous Lieutenant. Don’t make me regret it”. My eyes widened in surprise. “Thank you sir! I won’t!”. “That will be all”.
I made my way down for breakfast and found Luf talking with a visiting pilot. As I walked into the dining room he looked over at me with a knowing glint in his eye. “Good morning, Fullard. All better?” he asked. I picked up on the inferring tone in his voice. “Yes. All better. Thanks for seeing me back yesterday, Luf”. He bowed his head in response, then gestured to our visitor. “This is Monsieur Chardin, from Escadrille 57”. I bid the man hello. “57? You fly with Jean?” I asked, and he nodded, smiling. “Ah, oui! A friend of yours?”
“Yes, we flew together in N.31. How is he?”. The pilot sighed. “Ah, M’sieur, not well I’m afraid. He was badly shot on the 24th and taken to hospital. His injury is grave, but we are assured he will live. Only the day before, he downed his eighth Bosche”. I felt the same twinge of emotion as I had yesterday, cursing under my breath. “Another friend shot up. Hell with this war” I muttered under my breath, before turning back to Chardin. “Sorry to hear that. I hope he recovers soon”. Chardin nodded. “Me too, M’sieur. But, I must be on my way. I have a young mademoiselle waiting on me in Bar-le-Duc with whom I intend to spend the next forty-eight hours. Forgive me, monsieurs, but her company is even more exciting than your own”. Luf let out a laugh. “Oui, Je ne peux pas vous en vouloir! Well, enjoy yourself, mon ami”. I briefly shook the pilot’s hand as he made for the door, before slumping down into the seat at the end of the table, gaining the attention of a Corporal and requesting some breakfast to be brought out to me.
“What brought yesterday on, James?” Luf asked me, once the Corporal had disappeared towards the kitchen. I sighed heavily, and paused to choose my words. “It all got a bit much for me, Luf, y’know? I found out at lunchtime that another old pal was killed, and I just…” I trailed off. Luf smiled. “I understand”. He paused for a moment to think. “Did I ever tell you why I joined the air service?” he finally asked. I was taken aback slightly. “Er, no, I don’t think so”.
Luf sighed, sadness flashing across his face briefly. “Before the war I got a job in Indochina as a mechanician for Marc Pourpe, one of the first to fly. Before long, we were best of pals. Once the war started, Marc naturally joined the Aeronautique Militaire, and I entered into the Foriegn Legion. After a while, I was able to transfer into the air service as a mechanic, and hoped to be reunited with old Marc”. He stopped for a moment, betraying a pained expression as his hand balled into a fist on the table. As he continued, his voice had a terrifying venom to it. “He had been killed before my transfer”. His hand relaxed again, and his gaze met mines. “Ever since that day, I’ve been getting revenge for poor old Marc. Even so, I can’t stop to dwell on his death, you know?”.
I realised in an instant the sentiment that Luf was trying to convey. Faces flashed in my mind - Vertadier, Metayer, Michael, Chapman, Little Devienne, Chaput. A day would come to mourn them, but if I thought about them now I would surely crack up. It was just as Luf had said, I couldn’t stop to dwell on them.
“Thank you, Luf. I think I needed to hear that”. “Yes, well. Perhaps. Anyway, there are rumours that you've been promoted. How about we head into town tonight to celebrate? Do a spot of proper binging?”. “Splendid idea. I’ve heard that l’Hotel de Terminus has a fantastic bar!” Lufbery laughed aloud.