Mentally exhausted and with a brain turned to tapioca, I never did post a proper farewell in November. After some months of plotting out his life I find I'm not quite finished with Oliver's Tale after all. Far from finished, in fact. It's a difficult thing to let go. The full story would fill at least 4 books at present and that's well beyond the scope of a DiD valedictory, so I will give you the abridged version over the coming days. With the one day = one day phase of DiD4 upon us on March 1st, I must make haste
Thanks to Lou for revisiting Freddy. A most enjoyable collaboration
___________________________________________________À la Recherche du Temps Perdu - Part 11614 November 1918
No. 24 Squadron RAF
I moved through these past two days as one dazed from a blow. Smokey missing, possibly dead.
I’ve written enough of those letters to read between the lines of Colonel Feland’s thinking. Smokey dead. He can’t be dead. He can’t be! No official telegram yet. Why would I receive one unless… did the Old Bull list me as his next of kin?
Defensive patrols continue but we see nothing. Old habits die slowly and I fly each patrol.
I feel somehow disconnected from reality. It’s over. There was neither a triumphant battle, nor wooden horse, nor the sacking of Priam’s city. The war simply ended one day.
I’m suddenly exhausted. The effort of will that sustained me through the last months bled away overnight. What was it for? Millions dead. I dreamed of Pixley last night. He was singing that stupid Eton boating song.
Where is Eliza? She’s not answered my letters.
The mail, so reliable during hostilities now trickles in at a spasmodic and inconsistent rate. Have you received my letter of XXXX? is now a common salutation. What now? All my thoughts of the future were hypothetical these past two years but now that it’s here. 15 November 1918
No. 24 Squadron RAF
Late morning defensive patrol. Rainy with huge threatening Nimbus lurking overhead. Our last job for the time being. We move south of Lille tomorrow to Ennetières.
I made my report and walked out of the squadron office to see an entire squadron spiraling down in a landing pattern. Fuselage like a fat Camel, huge dihedral. Snipes! Angled lines bracketing the cockade. 43 Squadron are here! Last down was their Commanding Officer, a golden dragon rampant and a letter ‘A’ on the fuselage. It was Freddy.
All the gloom and rootless agitation of the past week vanished at the first sight of my friend.
“Freddy! How are you Old Man?! I had no idea 43 were coming here. Wing didn’t think to mention it.”
"Haw! Ripper old sport, how grand to find you here to greet us!", Freddy beamed as he jumped down from his mount and gave me a gloved slap on the shoulder. "And we'd no idea we were coming here either until HQ informed us last night. Typical, eh what?"
“Red Tabs! What’s a man to do? Come on up to the Squadron office when you’re settled. I’ve a decent bottle of 12-year old back in my hut. We can have a quiet afternoon. There won’t be much time to visit this evening what with 108 Sqn hosting both our squadrons for dinner.”
Taking my leave of Freddy, I checked in with Flight Sgt Fisher. Everything was under control and on schedule for tomorrow’s move. The men were old hands at the nomadic life now. Freddy spent much of the afternoon getting his Squadron sorted into their new home and didn’t make it to the office until 3.00. We decamped to my hut for refreshment.
Spartan though it was, my quarters boasted additional furniture and was positively luxurious compared to my previous billets. After our move to Cappy, Babson ‘acquired’ a small desk and two comfortable chairs. The small rug, though threadbare, gave the place a warmer more welcoming atmosphere. I cleared a space among the translation notes and texts on my desk and retrieved two tumblers from the drawer. The whiskey, a parting gift from Beery, was one I’d been saving for the proper occasion.
“To the future, and a better world,” I offered, raising my glass to meet Freddy’s.
We sat for minute in silence both lost in our own thoughts.
“It looks like your Ack Ems are packing up,” said Freddy, taking another draught of his whiskey.
“We’re off to Ennetières tomorrow," I replied.
"D*mn, so soon? Now that is hard cheese! I was hoping we'd have more time to catch up, and indulge in some serious celebration over the final defeat of those Hun buggers."
“We can celebrate being alive, at least. I’ve no idea how I made it through in one piece.”
As to the final defeat, I wasn’t so sure. Armistice was a far cry from surrender and the Huns had three million men under arms on foreign soil one week ago. Better we had kept going into Germany, but at what cost? I kept such murky thoughts to myself.
“Will you stay in the Air Force, Freddy?”
“Yes, I might make a career of it. Best way to see the world is from the cockpit of an aeroplane.”
“If it doesn’t work out you could always buy an aeroplane and go fossil hunting,” I said. “They’ll be selling them for pennies on the pound soon enough.”
“Now that is something I could truly make a calling of!
What about you, old sport?” he asked.
“I don’t know yet. I want to keep flying but I can’t stay without becoming a British Subject and the US Air Service is such a mess right now. I’m not sure I could transfer even if I wanted to. I made some enemies over there. Not one of my better plays but there it is.”
“We’ll bring you wayward colonials back after all!” cried Freddy triumphantly.
A few drinks in and we were both feeling much better.
“Still sailing the edge of the map, Ripper?”
“With Clarissa? You have no idea, Freddy. She d@mn near got me killed a month ago. A real cloak and dagger job. The less said about that the better. Let’s just say that affairs of the heart are… complicated. You remember that nurse I told you about?”
“The one you met on the ship?” he asked.
“Yes. Eliza. I thought I’d lost her but it was all a great misunderstanding. We’re back together. I’m not sure where it goes but she’s the girl for me.”
“I like the sound of that, Old Sport. Keep you away from Clarissa’s sorcery, what?” A bit late for that. We be of one blood Clarissa and I and there’s nothing I can do about it.
“Speaking of nurses, Freddy, are you still friendly with that one you mentioned? I’m sorry, I don’t remember her name.”
“My Lizzie. She’s a peach,” said Freddy, taking another sip of the whiskey. When he didn’t elaborate, I changed the subject.
“Congratulations on your VC. We drank your health in the mess when the news came through.”
"Thanks Old Top, I appreciate that. It came as a surprise I can tell you. Many others far more deserving of the honour than the man who wears my shoes. At least this time I didn't make a complete cock-up of it when I met with the King at the Investiture, though he did appear to take amusement in my saying that His Majesty would be welcomed most cordially at Birchley House should He happen to find himself in Biddenden after the war."
“I know exactly how you feel, especially about the medal. As for a visit to Birchley House, His Majesty should be so lucky. What a splendid time we had that day. I do worry about your Mr. Pearson were Chef Nibley ever granted carte blanche for a royal visit.”
“You know Freddy, I made a complete fool of myself the first time I met His Majesty. In front of Boom and a gaggle of Red Tabs too. I thought I was in for it but thankfully the King had a sense of humor.”
I related the story of the Bray Dunes fiasco last July. Freddy roared with laughter.
“I say, Ripper, what’s all this you have scattered about here?" asked Freddy, looking at the academic wreckage littering my desk. I haven’t seen Greek since Charterhouse. Never did make much sense of it. And Latin too.”
“Guilty as charged. I might sit for the Oxford examinations in the April. Throw my Hat in the Ring as it were. I haven’t decided yet but one must be prepared.”
When I told him of my meeting with Professor Murray Freddy laughed again.
“Haw! Can’t see a mariner like you stuffed into a library all day long, but here’s to Professor Ripper!” 19 November 1918
No. 24 Squadron RAF
Settled in now. No more patrols. Weather permitting I’ve been flying every day just for the pure joy of it. No orders yet as to the future disposition of No. 24 Squadron.
The bag resumed its place in A Flight hangar and sport is the order of the day for Officers and men alike. The football team has a good chance at the Squadron Cup. We won our match yesterday and then had our opponents to dinner. The evening went rather late.
This morning I read in the In the Squadron mess suggestion book from a guest of ours who shall remain anonymous. “To any officers of ____ Squadron: Try and remember that flying starts very early in the mornings, and that staying up with your hosts until early morning is bad for pilots’ nerves!”26 November 1918
No. 24 Squadron RAF
News from Eliza at last! Her blasted letter took two weeks to reach me. All the surgical teams from 55 CCS moved to No. 41 Stationary Hospital on the 16th. That’s in Pont Remy just upriver from Abbeville. 70 miles away. No matter. I must see her!
Telegram from Eliza. Surprisingly clear instructions for once. Meet Café Vimeu, Abbeville. 1 Dec at Noon. I can’t wait. I’ve not seen her since August.1 December 1918
No. 24 Squadron RAF
Café Vimeu, again. After the excruciating wait these past four days I couldn’t keep still. This time it was Eliza who was late, but only by half an hour. I bolted out of the café seeing the field ambulance approach. Eliza stepped out and ran into my arms. I swung her around as she hugged me tightly both of us laughing giddily. The joy of seeing her again, holding her again was overwhelming.
The food was light but delicious. Moules Marinières to start then a Quiche Lorraine whose flaky butter-rich crust, smoky ham and the magnificent Gruyere was a perfect follow up to the spice and garlic of the mussels. All of it washed down with a bottle of Vin Juane.
I had a two week Christmas leave coming. Eliza thought she might get away for a week at least. We made plans to meet in Paris.
The day was cold as we left the Café Vimeu but the sun splashed a bright winter light across the Place de Admiral Courbet.
“I took a room in quiet little hotel not far from here…”
“How very thoughtful,” she said. “One might think you’ve been planning this entire episode.”
“Shall we take a turn around the plaza then adjourn?”
“There’s a complication with your wicked plan, Oliver.”
“And what might that be?”
“Timing is everything…” she said.
“Whatever does that mean?
“It’s a conversation better held indoors.”
The room was the hotel’s finest and the only room with a bath en suite. The other rooms used the common bathroom down the hall. Small but elegantly furnished all out of proportion to such a modest establishment the hotel had a certain charm and more importantly a secluded location.
No sooner had I closed the door behind us than we locked in passionate embrace. My hands wandered as I kissed Eliza with the ardor of long separation.
“Oliver, stop.” she cried laughing. “We can’t.”
“Like I said. Timing is everything.”
Merciful Gods! This is not happening!!!!
Seeing my look of incomprehension, she continued. “Because…Oh, Oliver we would have beautiful children, but I’m not ready to be a mother and that’s exactly what will happen if we go on.”
“I did bring a few Effel with me,” I whispered, biting her earlobe, and working my way down her neck.
She shivered and drew away.
‘We tried that before, remember?” she said with a knowing smile. “We both hate those things.”
“They are a bit uncomfortable, it’s true,” I said no longer concealing my disappointment. “What the hell am I going to do with this thing now?”
“My poor Young Bull.” she said, smiling her Eliza smile. “I have an idea.”
“Does it involve holding hands and thinking about President Wilson or Marshall Foch?”
“Thank the gods! What then? A bath!”
“No, I bathed this morning. I was thinking about a contest,” she replied. “A contest in Latin.”
"Really? I should tell you, my dear, that while my Latin isn’t quite up to my Greek, Professor Murray did invite me to sit the Oxford entrance examinations in April.”
“Oh Oliver! That’s incredible news. How Marvelous! A celebration then! Ladies first,” she said, smiling wantonly.
“I think not, Senior Sister. It’s been a long time…a long time. When I’m finished with my…exposition, you won’t be able to speak coherently much less engage in any Latin elocution.”
“My heart is atwitter,” she said feigning shock and fanning herself with an open hand. “This sounds like a challenge, Major.”
“Don’t you see my metaphorical gauntlet cast down before you?”
Eliza swept her hand down toward the floor and in pantomime slapped me across the face with the invisible gauntlet.
“Accepted,” she said with mock severity. “What shall we wager?”
Eliza lay next to me. She held herself apart. Only my shoulder touched her but I could feel her heart slamming against her ribcage. Her breath still came in ragged gasps, as an athlete at the end of some monumental effort.
I caressed her thigh with the lightest touch. She shuddered again.
Even now, many minutes after, the waves of her crisis followed on, tiny convulsions like so many aftershocks of the earthquake.
“What on earth was that? Does it have a name like ... what was that again, that thing you did in London? The Sitar of ...” She paused, mind and body still reeling.
“Arjuna. No, this was no technique of the ancients. This was you. Only you. Like I said, it’s been a long time, for both of us it would appear. The day is yours, Mademoiselle. You are cruel, vaunting over me so terribly, as you did at the moment of your triumph.”
“Pyrrhic victory,” she said, still trying to catch her breath. “Oh my god, I think I hyperventilated.”
Time passed and as we lay in each other’s arms the long rays of the late afternoon sun bathed the far wall in a deep orange glow. Eliza, now fully recovered levered up on an elbow and rolled toward me, an inquisitorial look on her face.
What now? I wonder if she’ll ask me what I’m thinking?
“Oliver, we would have beautiful children. Have you ever thought about it?”
“About a future with you, Eliza? I dreamed it but never thought it possible until that day at the Dupont’s, when you told me about Tommy and we saw that rainbow land on the hillside. After that day everything changed.”
“I feel the same way,” she replied. “Yet…”
“Yet?” I ventured cautiously.
“Oliver, our love is one born in war. What happens now when the winds of change sweep the clouds away and we stand in a new age. Can we survive peace? Can you?” Gods, let that be so…
“Let’s find out together. As long as you’re with me, Eliza, I don’t care what the future holds. Isn’t the story more interesting when you don’t know the ending?”
I thought to ask her then. Ask her to marry me, but the afterglow of lovemaking was the wrong time for such things.
Timing, Oliver. Timing is everything.