Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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 Chapter 11


Liz got up gradually, and slowly did her various things in the bathroom. She then got dressed with the idea of spending a physically relaxing, if psychically taxing, day. To her surprise, she found Barbara already at the breakfast table, wondering where Viv was.

     Liz understood that there was an art involved in informing wives that their husbands had just been killed in car crashes. Was there also an artistic way of telling wives that their loony husbands had suddenly arrived? She certainly didn’t want Barbara to scream. She thought of suggesting that it probably wouldn’t be long before Ivan arrived, and then sliding into, ‘In fact, he already has arrived.’ Not too good. Instead, she let go, “Viv and I had quite a surprise this morning.”

Barbara went into her moderately solicitous stepmother role, and Liz followed with, “I understand that Ivan is in the country.”

That was true. It suggested that Liz hadn’t directly encountered him, and that was also true. Moreover, it was true that she and Viv had had surprises, though not in the same way. Liz did like to be truthful. Barbara was now a bit alarmed, but asked where he was. Liz completed the process by saying, “He apparently got here early and caught Viv at breakfast. I didn’t see him, but, as she was leaving, Viv woke me and said that they were off on some research project. They’ll be back later.”

Barbara was now fully alarmed, and, before she could ask the obvious question, Liz added, “Viv said that he’s perfectly sane and okay.”

“How could she know, just at a glance?”

“They apparently had breakfast while we were still asleep, and were together some time. Anyhow, Viv is a good judge of Ivan’s various moods.”

“Better than I am. Anyhow, this gives me a chance to get prepared.”

“I think you can probably carry on as if nothing had happened.”

“It’s not easy to put that last scene out of my mind.”

“You know, Barbara, you’ve been a great hit with everyone we’ve met on this trip. You could have married an English or Virginia gentleman who would’ve appreciated you in more conventional ways.”

“A lot of Virginia gentlemen drink too much, gamble too much, and do other things. Lady Mary and I’ve exchanged a few notes on our not-so-different cultures. Ivan’s a fascinating man, and I really don’t have any regrets.”

“Good. I don’t have any regrets about being his daughter.”

“When I met him, Viv was what amounted to a very young housewife.”

“She ran the shack. Ivan thought only of airplanes, and someone had to. But neither of us slept with him.”


“Sorry, but people do wonder about ragged kids living in a shack with their father. I once heard someone refer to people like us as ‘heavy-duty incestual hillbillies.’”

“Oh my! Could anyone have thought such a thing about such a brilliant man?”

“There are some very smart men back in the hills. But, of course, we were Russians from an entirely different culture.”

“Regrettably enough, the people so described are, in effect, cast-offs from a culture very like my own.”

Liz, a little shocked herself, asked, “You mean, they’re descended from failed land-owners?”

“Well, probably in some cases. A couple of hundred years ago.”

“Anyhow, Barbara, when you became the senior woman in the family, there must have been some question as to whether you or Viv understood Ivan better, or could manage his down periods better.”

“That has to be Viv, and perhaps Henry and yourself, Liz. But I do think that I’ve contributed.”

“Of course you have! I told Mary that, if it weren’t for you, I’d be spitting tobacco between my teeth. She seemed quite surprised.”

“My God! You know, Liz, I expect Viv to speak in those ways. It comes as a shock from you.”

“You got to me younger than you did Viv, and I learned, very quickly, to be one way for Ivan and another way for you. At this point, I can pull either role out of a hat.”

Finally, Barbara, laughing, replied, “No one in my family could have imagined that I would ever get into a situation remotely like this one.”

“But, anyway, we’ve gotten ourselves into a group of people who are seriously interested in defending England in the coming war. It doesn’t matter so much whether we’re Virginians or Russians or English aristocrats.”

“I have reconciled myself to the coming of war. I do hope it can be contained here without its coming to America.”

“As Ivan says, we have to win quickly.”

     There was a period of eating without communication, after which Barbara asked, “What sort of position are we in with respect to our new in-laws?”

“According to Olivia, Mary and Ralph can’t stand one another. There’s also a split between the men and the women in the family, and also in the larger social set. If anything, we might be put in the position of mediators.”

“Lady Mary told me that she knows lots of men who know how to die, and very little else.”

“I’m afraid she includes her husband and both sons in that category.”

“But that’s not true, is it?”

“No. I think they’re all intelligent. But rigid and obedient to a code of honor that stifles imagination. Besides, as officers they follow orders. Only the men at the top get to give orders and make decisions. They often make bad ones. On the other hand, even intelligent and imaginative women are allowed no role at all.”

“If it’s like Virginia, they’re expected to be attractive, charming, and good hostesses.”

“I think it is like Virginia. But Viv, in particular, breaks the mold in all sorts of ways.”

“Will they just ignore her?”

“They can’t. The English didn’t send fighter pilots to Spain. She’s the only person in England who has experience of air combat in the last twenty years. The men at Supermarine show her great respect.”

“I see.”

At that moment, Liz saw how Barbara could help the cause. But it had to be put in terms of persons.

     It was common knowledge among influential people that the next war would mainly be decided in the air. Although there were bomber advocates who believed that ‘the bomber will always get through’, the truth was that bombers wouldn’t get through in sufficient quantity until the fighters had established air superiority. That depended on who had the best fighter force, and that depended, in large part, on who had the best fighter. The best fighter would be either the Spitfire or the Bf109. Barbara wasn’t dumb. She understood this. But it wouldn’t alone motivate her to do what needed to be done.

     It had to be the story of two competing giants, Reginald Mitchell of Supermarine and Willy Messerschmitt of the Bavarishe Flugzuegwerke.

     Since Mitchell’s death, it was a race between Joseph Smith and Messerschmitt to improve one already great fighter to the point that it could dominate the other. That was what would trigger Barbara, and that was how she put it. She had apparently spoken in such a way as to prompt Barbara to ask, “Is there anything we can do?”

“Quite a lot. Smith and Supermarine are part of Vickers, a giant company that makes battleships and cannons as well as aircraft.”

Barbara, having heard of Vickers, nodded. Liz went on, “Smith told us how happy he is that Ivan is paying money for the Walrus. It stays in his budget and allows experimentation on the Spitfire. That means trying out all sorts of things that might make a difference. That, in turn, means building one-off aircraft, and testing them. It’s also arranged that their work for us doesn’t detract from their main effort.”

“How can that be?”

“We’ve been assigned two young men to help us experiment. They need the experience, and it’s a learning experience for them.”

“So it’s working out well?”

“Very well. However, Ivan could funnel much more money to them, even if it means overpaying for things. It’s not natural for a businessman like Ivan to do that, but it could be viewed as a very important charitable contribution to Spitfire development.”

“Does Ivan know about this Messerschmitt man?”

“Certainly. He also knows that Messerschmitt gets his money direct from Hitler. We need to outbid Hitler to defeat Willy.”

Barbara looked thoughtful. Liz wondered idly if she rewarded Ivan with great sex when he did what she wanted him to do.

     Before lunch, Liz swam two miles in the hotel pool, narrowly missing some inept swimmers who got in her way. Afterwards, she wanted to do some mathematics, but there was no way of avoiding lunch with Barbara.

     In fact, they talked a little about mathematics, Barbara showing more curiosity than Liz had expected. Finally, she said,  “When we were first married, your father tried to educate me. But it’s too late for me to learn any mathematics. I think I could have once, but girls weren’t supposed to be good at such things.”

“As you can imagine, Ivan encouraged it in us. Viv went a certain way with him, but then rebelled and said rude things. I just kept going, in a rather casual way, and Ivan was a good guide.”

“If the major universities hired women as professors, you’d be set for life without marrying.”

“I’m not sure I’d want to be a professor. I already work with other mathematicians, and I don’t really have the urge to teach.”

“Is that why you married instead?”

“I guess I could have remained part of Ivan’s household indefinitely, as Viv probably will. But she’s a stronger character with less desire to be accepted.”

“You may not be Viv, but you’re a long way from being wishy-washy, Liz. You’ll make your mark, both in mathematics and otherwise.”

“At the moment, I’ve really just ventured into marriage and everything it involves. I hardly know David.”

“That was the main reason that I had misgivings about the marriage. It doesn’t seem to me that you really love him at this point. But you may come to.”

“Viv and I’ve never been able to figure out what love is or might be.”

“You and she and Ivan all love one another. Ivan and I probably love one another, but to a lesser degree.”

“Barbara, I’m really at sea in these areas.”

“It’s funny that, being Russians, you’re uncomfortable about love. Russians are supposed to be so outgoing and passionate.”

“Some Russians are. But we also have the Jewish element. In Russia, Jews had to think hard before speaking and expressing feelings if they wanted to stay alive.”  

“But that was years ago and many thousands of miles from here. Besides, you wouldn’t even be perceived as having Jewish blood if you didn’t tell people.”

It was obvious that Barbara would have preferred that bit of ancestry to be kept secret, but Liz had a feeling that one secret would beget others until the whole thing spun out of control. Instead, with a feeling of idiocy, she asked, “Should I start trying to love David, or just let it happen?”

“If you tried to love him, you’d end up hating him. Just look forward to the rest of your interrupted honeymoon.”

Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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