An Airman’s Odyssey – by Capt. James Arthur Collins, VC, MC

Part Sixty-Three: In which I am enchanted

I was raised on the Prairies with plain food: steaks, sausages, pork chops, meat pies. Vegetables were turnips and potatoes in winter, tomatoes and cucumbers in summer. Spice was salt and pepper. I had become a bit more adventurous in France. But the menu at Rules frightened me nearly as much as Alex did. Of course, they gave a menu only to me, as any decent gentleman should order for his lady, or so I’m told.

Alex eyed me over the rim of her crystal sherry glass. “Let me tell you a secret, Jim. In a joint like this, you just ask the waiter what he’d recommend tonight. The key is to make it sound like you’re just too bored with it all to read the menu yourself.”

“Right. My luck, he’d just figure I can’t read either.”

The waiter was returning but before he could do so, the maître d’ arrived with a chilled bottle of champagne with the Hunnish name of Krug. “1905, sir, an excellent year. This is with the compliments of the house and our gratitude.” God, having a VC could have its rewards in this city. And now the waiter...well, he was waiting.

“Ah, what would you recommend to start with this fine champagne? In fact, what would you recommend for our main course?” Nonchalant, I think. Not overtly clueless at least. In any event, the man did not miss a beat. He recommended the lobster bisque and a duck à la something. All I heard and understood was that it had port in it. Good enough for me, and I hoped it was good enough for Alex.

“You seem quite comfortable in a good restaurant, Alex. I’m assuming your family must be well settled.”

“My father is an accountant,” she said. “His specialty is helping wealthy clients hide their incomes. We passed an amendment to the Constitution a few years ago that has paved the way for federal taxes on the income of wealthy citizens. Our wealthy citizens would rather pay their accountant than the country, it seems.”

“We haven’t taxed income in Canada,” I told her. “Just business profits during the war. They’re talking about it a bit, at least as a temporary thing. So how does a lady like you wind up in journalism?”

“Jim,” she said, “you make it sound like white slavery. I’m interested in things other than knitting and church, and I like to write. Besides, Daddy said it was quite impossible, so I did it.”

“And your mother?”

“Scandalised. Proud, too, I suspect.” She winked.

The soup arrived. I put lobster bisque on my must remember list. I looked about for the waiter and he arrived at my side in an instant. “Do you have a Château Ausone?” I asked. The waiter hid his surprise. It was the wine I'd had with Aitken. Thank you, Max. Alex showed me her article about my episodes with the Zeppelins. It was truly well done. She showed an understanding of everything I’d spoken of. No breathless exaggeration or typical journalese “Kaiser’s devils” nonsense. Even the loneliness and bitter cold of the night sky had been captured. I asked her to omit naming our machines as BE12s – no other change. She seemed pleased.

After dinner I walked her home – a flat near the end of New North Street in Holburn. She was trying to find a way to France to cover the war, and I was not of much help. She wanted to see more of England, and I had a car. I suggested a day trip to the coast. She suggested a longer trip, with proper arrangements, of course. “Let’s discuss it when we meet again,” I said.

“Friday?” she replied.

“Savoy Bar, five o’clock,” I said.