Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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 Chapter 5

The Atlantic

Liz and Barbara were both sitting on the terrace as their family members came down the fairway opposite. The atmosphere was one of serenity. Whatever might be happening in the world, they were sitting in easy chairs with cool drinks at their elbows. The sun, not yet hot, complemented the light cool breeze that tickled the long grass of the hillside. In the middle distance, Ivan and Viv were seen chatting as they walked along the eighth fairway. Ivan, tall, lean and highly coordinated, didn’t look as if he was taking his golf very seriously. Viv, with her narrow waist and the flexibility and power of an off-duty tiger, seemed capable of much more than hitting a little ball.  Whatever their feelings about golf, anyone would have been proud to have such a handsome couple in their family.

     When the situation began to deteriorate, Barbara screamed. She then froze. When Ivan and Viv started to swim, fully dressed, across the lake, Barbara ran into the house. Liz was about to run down to help when, seeing Henry, she asked him to go instead. She added, “It might be better, later on, if I can pretend not to have seen.”

Henry nodded with understanding.

     A little later, Ivan came bounding up through the thickets with a towel wrapped around his shoulders. Looking demented, he nevertheless greeted Liz, and sat down in the chair next to her. He was still cascading water, but it was a warm day, and it was good that he didn’t take off his clothes then and there.

     Viv came up more slowly with a towel over her head and an empty expression on her face. Ivan hardly noticed her as he told Liz, so fast that she could barely understand, of the wonderful shots he had hit. Viv gave Liz a look and sat down. Next up was Henry, standing at the edge of the terrace and giving Liz a different look, not discouraged, but quizzical. Leaving Ivan with Viv, Liz went off to the side to confer with Henry. She said only, “Any ideas?”

“He’s been like this at other times. But he’s always come slowly back to normal.”

“This bad?”

“Not quite.”

“He was making sense when he and Viv left for the course.”

“I’ve talked with him a number of times in the last couple of days. A little excited, and shifts of topic, but nothing I couldn’t understand.”

“Yes. I’m a little worried about his driving just now, not to mention flying. It doesn’t matter so much what he does in the house, but I certainly don’t want anyone killed.”

“His car and the plane can develop some problems. Do you want that?”

“For the moment.”

     Viv soon came around the side of the house to avoid tracking water through the main rooms on her way to her bedroom. Stopping with Liz and Henry, Viv said,

“He was perfectly okay until we approached the eighth green. I take it that you saw.”

“Yes. Where is he now?”

“Alone on the terrace, I guess.”

Henry volunteered to watch, and Liz followed Viv to her room.

     Dropping her clothes in a puddle on the bathroom floor, Viv called as she got into the shower, “He wants us to go to England right away.”

     When Viv came out with a big towel wrapped around her, she asked, “Did Barbara see what happened?”

“She was with me when it started. In the middle, she gave a little cry and ran. She’s probably on her bed. What’s this about our going to England immediately?”

Viv explained, “His big idea is somehow connected with the Supermarine Walrus that David talked about. We’re to get one and learn to fly it. More to be revealed later.”

“Well, we’re going anyway. We can hurry it up, and it doesn’t sound like a difficult plane to learn. However, I don’t think we can leave Ivan in this state.”

“If we do, we can’t leave him with Barbara. She’d just collapse, or run, or something.”

“Well Viv, Henry can cope better than anyone. But it isn’t fair to load it all on him.”

“No. We’ll just about have to take Henry into the family.”

“He already is, in a way.”

Viv, gesturing dramatically, replied, “Except that he’s just paid a regular salary, not for having twenty-four hour responsibility for someone as crazy as Ivan is right now.”

“Well, there’s oodles of money. We could put Henry in charge of the household, have him hire assistants, really to help him handle emergencies, and give him an appropriate budget.”

“I’m a little blitzed after today, Liz. Can you handle it?”


     It took a while for Ivan to finish a monologue he was having with Henry, but he eventually retired to his room. Liz caught Henry on the terrace and, sitting down with him, asked, “Worn out?”

Henry smiled, “Some slight fatigue.”

“Look, Ivan has some really crazy streaks, and there’s no way we could get him to a psychiatrist, if, indeed, one could do him any good.”

“Not very likely on either count.”

“You’re better with him than anyone else, but no one person could possibly manage alone. Viv and I want to hire a staff of nice young people, and put you in charge of everything when we’re not here.”

“I’m a historian, not a psychiatrist, Liz.”

“If you read a few books, you’ll know all that the psychiatrists know.”

“Well, as it happens, I have read a few books. Mostly ones that describe symptoms.”

“Pursuant to having to deal with Ivan?”

“Yes. His pattern is well known. There’s nothing like a cure, and institutions mainly have the function of keeping people from doing self-destructive things.”

“Like killing themselves?”

“At the extreme. But, more often, the sorts of things that happened today.”

“So, with help, you could do what they do, couldn’t you?”

“Probably. There’d still be some risk.”

“No one would blame you if something happened, Henry. We were thinking that you could hire some young college graduates who’d be interesting people in their own right. When Ivan’s okay, he’d like talking with them. Even when he’s not okay, you’d find them congenial.”

“Yes. We’d have to find various things for them to do. I’ve been engaged in writing a little history of aviation, not the technical side, but its social and economic implications. I may even venture a few predictions.”

Liz replied, “So, when a historian finds himself in an aviation hot-bed, he writes a history of aviation.”

“I’m afraid so. It could be expanded into a little research project involving these other people. But I’d give them to understand the need to stand by for an emergency.”

“We’ll have to act fast. Ivan wants us off to England in a few days.”

“And Mrs. Bolsky?”

“I hope and believe that she’ll come with us.”

Liz could see that her next mission was with her stepmother.

     Barbara had left her door slightly ajar, and, when Liz tapped on it, there was no answer. Poking her head in, she saw Barbara stretched out, face down, on the bed. She was in her slip, her shoes and dress having been thrown on the floor. As Liz approached the bed and sat down on it, Barbara was making low moans. When Liz began to rub her back, she made no objection. The moans gradually diminished.

     After a few minutes, Barbara rolled over and said,  “I’m utterly defeated. I quit!”

“We’ve got the situation under control.”

Barbara reacted with disbelief, and Liz continued, “At least mostly. For the time being. And we’ve made some arrangements.”

“Are you putting him in an institution?”

“No. However, the first thing for you to realize is that you can’t do anything useful.”

“I’ve already discovered that!”

“Okay. That being the case, it may be better for you to be away from Ivan for a while so that you won’t be upset by his erratic behavior.”

“But I can’t just leave. Anything might happen!”

Liz then explained the arrangement with Henry. At length, Barbara replied, “It sounds as if you’re setting up a private sanitarium just for your father.”

“Pretty much. Of course, these cycles come and go, and Ivan will be okay in a few weeks. But they do repeat, so we’ll have everything ready for the next time.”

“So I’ll only be here when he’s sane.”

“That’s it.  Viv and I are leaving for England in a couple of days, and we’re inviting you to come with us.”

“I can’t possibly get ready in that time!”

“We’ll take care of everything on this end. Just have Mary help you pack a few clothes. You can get anything else you need in England.”

“I’ve never done anything like this. But I do need to get away.”

      The obvious thing would have been to take one of the Sikorsky-inspired flying boats to Europe, but Barbara insisted on taking two large trunks. They consequently made reservations on the Queen Mary.

      It took some doing to get themselves and their luggage from house to train, and then, in New York, from train to ship. Even Barbara, who had been babbling, stopped in mid-sentence when they got to the dock. The ship was that big! Liz was impressed, even though she knew that some eighty thousand tons of ship was going to loom up over everything. But she was far from wetting herself. Viv remarked quietly, “Not all big things are American.”

Liz, feeling a strange impulse, asked,  “I wonder how many torpedoes it would take to sink it.”


“If all on the same side, nicely spaced.”

Barbara, hearing this interchange, seemed to think that someone was planning to torpedo the ship. After briefly emoting, she said, “At this point, I don’t give a damn.”

This was strong language for Barbara, reminiscent of Rhett Butler, and Liz recalled that Barbara, too, was a southern tidewater product.

     It was the first class accommodation that finally calmed Barbara down. When surrounded by stewards and stewardesses who sounded like earls and countesses, it evidently occurred to her that she mustn’t be vulgar.

     The tugs were fun. A fleet of little vessels, all named for various female members of the Moran family, they communicated with whistle blasts. Viv said,  “I can picture Alice Moran as a hard-working member of the family. She’ll have washer-woman arms, a red face, and be forever sweeping the front steps. But Vanessa Moran?”

“Much younger. The family has already made its million, and flights of fancy have entered into the naming process. She’s supposed to be glamorous.”

The Vanessa was struggling, in apparent futility, to pull the ship’s bow from starboard to port. In the process, she was giving off lots of very black greasy smoke. Viv remarked, “I don’t think the glamorization worked out.”

“You’ve just caught her at a bad moment.”

When the ship began to move noticeably, Viv said, “Glamour apart, these ladies are good at pushing big objects around. Ships certainly, and, very likely, husbands.”

When the ship was backed out into the middle of the Hudson, the tugs turned her downstream. Then, as Liz began to feel the power of the ship’s own engines, the tugs peeled away, one by one.

     On the way down to the Narrows and Sandy Hook, they encountered a good deal of mixed shipping, and even small boats. Although they were proceeding slowly, Liz doubted if they could stop or turn quickly to avoid collisions. The rule, most likely, was for everyone to get out of their way.

     Finally clearing the land and leaving Long Island low on the northern horizon, the ship, decks vibrating, worked up to her advertized thirty knots. In the vast enclosed areas of the ship, Liz felt, in the din of chatter, almost as if she were not at sea at all. Reacting negatively to this atmosphere, she and Viv climbed to the boat deck. Because of the episode of the Titanic , there were enough sizable boats, lining both sides of the top deck, to accommodate everyone aboard. Down the center were the three huge funnels, warm to the touch, and also conveying the sounds of the many boilers far below. There wasn’t much wind on the ocean, but the ship’s speed created a strong cold breeze from which the sisters found shelter behind the after-most funnel. Looking back over the turbulent wake splitting the calm sea, Liz found her eyes fixed on the ship’s smoke as it lay on the water. Far from being in any way romantic, it amounted to a greasy black smear against the setting sun, more lurid orange than red. She said, “It’s like the tugs. Ugly, but interesting.”

“It’s angry, just right for the beginning of a war.”

“It’s going to be really vicious, isn’t it, Viv?”

“Certainly. But it will be exciting. And, as you say, interesting.”

     After a period of silence. Liz said, “I wonder what’s going on with Ivan.”

“We’ll get some reports from Henry when we get across. But, these things are cyclical, and he’s always come out of them in the past.”

“But it’s worse this time. Anyhow, Viv, I also wonder about us, and what we may have inherited from our Russian forebears. Did Ivan have any episodes when he was our age.”

“I would have been about eight, and you five. We were staying with Bubu while he was trying to find our mother. He might have gone about it in a passionate and irrational way. I wouldn’t have known, but Eye-Eye would at least have known what he was like in those days.”

“We’ll have to ask him some time. In the meantime, do you think Barbara will settle down?”

“A sea change is what’s always recommended for over-wrought people. She’s got her sea change.”

Liz agreed, and, after a few moments, said, “When we get there, she’ll be fully occupied with establishing a home in England.”

“Since the Supermarine works are in Southampton, practically where we land, we’ll be fully occupied ourselves. So, if anyone establishes anything like a home there, it’ll have to be Barbara.”

“My in-laws are mostly in London, which is a couple of hours away on the train, and I’d rather not be staying with them. Until I find out what they’re like.”

“That’s good. We can get back and forth whenever we want, but, if they’re icky, we’ll have lots of excuses to limit our association.”

“Okay. I guess it’s time to go down and do what they call ‘dressing for dinner.’ Since Barbara put us in the first class, the women will all be in evening gowns.”

“Ugh. I don’t even own one. Do you?”

“Yeah, but not with me.”

     It turned out that Barbara had brought gowns for both of them, and even strapless bras. As they struggled into their outfits in Barbara’s spacious cabin, Viv said, “I feel as if I’m dressing up as a baboon in a masquerade party.”

Barbara, feeling very unlike a baboon, was not amused. Liz, treating the whole thing as a joke, said, “I’m going to pretend to be a prostitute.”

Barbara was even less amused at that, but it was clear that she had returned to sanity.

     At dinner, they were paired with an English family, the Hutchesons, consisting of an older couple and a middle-aged son. Barbara was an immediate success. It seemed that what worked in Virginia would also work in England. Mr. Hutcheson, a rather distinguished-looking man who said he did ‘a certain sort of something’ in the Foreign Office, smiled on her while his wife seemed expert in a sort of lively conversation which didn’t reveal much. The son, who had something to do with railways in England, was happy to talk of trains and airplanes with Viv and Liz. It seemed to Liz that she could function quite easily with such pleasant and civilized English people without being forced to adopt any particular stance.

     As the voyage went on, Barbara became increasingly charming, and soon knew a whole set of people who wanted her to look them up in London and elsewhere. Liz and Viv giggled about it a bit as they kept to the sidelines. At one point, Liz said to Viv,  “This is really quite good. Barbara’s back together, and she’ll have lots to occupy her when we get to England.”

“Which means that we can see to business without having her on our hands.”

     That night, just before dinner, the wind from the southwest increased to gale force. The ship began to pitch slightly and roll through some twenty degrees in each direction. The dining room stewards managed easily enough, but some of the passengers had their difficulties. Mrs. Hutcheson told of a woman on a winter voyage in a gown and high heels who had lost her balance.

“She got going faster and faster, and wound up on top of a large cake on the sideboard. But she wasn’t hurt, and was laughing.”

Barbara remarked,  “She must have been English.”

“I think she was, actually.”

“An American woman might have screamed, but wouldn’t have laughed.”

Liz privately thought that she and Viv could have survived such an event without hysteria, but Barbara probably spoke for the majority.

     After the roast beef course, the ship was rolling a bit more. Viv said to Liz, “Let’s skip dessert and go up on the boat deck.”

Liz was immediately out of her chair, and they were gone even as Mr. Hutcheson and his son were rising according to the code of etiquette. Barbara called after them, “Please change clothes.”

They needed no urging on that score, and soon after emerged on deck in darkness.

     Since the gale was blowing from the stern quarter, and they were still making their thirty knots, the wind hit them at no more than some twenty knots. There was no rain, but the low clouds blocked out the moon and stars. Looking down over the side, they could see only thick driven spray, showing white where the ship’s lights bore on it. Then, when the ship rolled to starboard, they got hit with a mass of mixed air and salt water which left their eyes stinging.

     Struggling to the rail and hanging on, Liz was surprised by the wallowing motion of the great ship. Viv shouted over the noise of the gale,

“She’s acting like a canoe in a whitewater river.”

It was true on a massive scale. The ship was in an unstable attitude, but its size and weight kept it mostly upright. They were probably going even faster than usual, and there was a feeling of being out of control. As in other areas of life, Liz found it exciting.  

Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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