Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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 Chapter 13


The day between their excursion to London and the arrival of Ian, Liz managed a junket to Oxford to see the editor of a journal which had published one of her papers. They had corresponded since on other subjects, and Liz was thinking of working on a particular unresolved problem.

     There was a lot of train changing, and some waiting at country stations where funny little locomotives chugged by without moving very fast while their wheels churned furiously. She eventually did arrive at what seemed to be more of a smoky manufacturing center than a university town. Compulsively early as always, she had an hour to explore before her appointment.

     The town itself was crammed with a huge number of people overflowing every sidewalk, even when the university wasn’t in session. As it was noon, American lunch time, as opposed to the one o’clock of the English, Liz stopped in a little place for a sandwich. It was somewhat revolting, but she did manage to eat half of it, washed down with some sort of noxious soft drink. There was, at least, quite a clean ladies’ room. That, she had been told, was what separated England from France: bad food and good plumbing, as opposed to good food and bad plumbing. For the moment, she was happy to be in England.

     She then wandered around among a lot of dirty old buildings until presenting herself at New College. The college might have been new a few hundred years previously, but time had not been altogether kind. Anyhow, it showed no signs of falling down.

     The funny little hump-backed man at the gate wasn’t very welcoming, and Liz guessed that women weren’t trusted to move freely within the college. He accordingly guided her through a courtyard to a stairway and a door one flight up.

     Professor G. H. R. Taggart at first recoiled. He then got hold of himself, smiled weakly, and asked Liz if she would like some tea. She didn’t want any tea after the nasty orange stuff sloshing around in her stomach, but she nevertheless smiled and accepted graciously. After all, she felt a little guilty.

     In correspondence with mathematicians she had always signed herself, ‘E. I. Bolsky.’ It was unusual not to have an address at a university, and she hadn’t wanted to stretch anyone’s imagination further by revealing herself as a woman. Her Russian name transliterated out of the Cyrillic to something like, ‘Elizabet Ivanovna Bolskaya’. So she had some right to the ‘E. I’, even though, in America, her legal name was simply, ‘Liz.’ Little tricks were justified, but one did have to help people like Taggart as they adjusted to reality.

     Once his assistant, a young woman named Janet, had brought tea and sat down with them, things got fairly matey. Liz didn’t mention any of her recent subversive mathematical thoughts, but continued the discussion they had had by mail. Taggart liked being asked questions, and seemed a lot less dogmatic and opinionated than most of the academics Liz had encountered.

     After a while, another man, a middle-aged mathematician who looked like a clergyman, stopped in. He, too, was non-plussed by Liz, but, instead of joining them, he made what looked like an emergency exit. Janet, smiling, explained,

“Mr. Mathews is always a bit nervy, but he’s not known to be dangerous.”

It did seem to Liz that the aviation people adapted to Viv more easily than the mathematicians to herself. However, when it was time for her to leave to catch her train, Taggart pressed her quite warmly to return soon.

     Back in Southampton the next day, Liz had a more extended conversation with Ian than previously. She had known that Henry Harper was a Scot from Glasgow, but Ian made her realize the whole enormity of it. Glasgow and the Clyde included a whole population of people who built ships, railway locomotives and other things. They ranged from the big to the enormous, as in the case of the Queen Mary. They were mostly made of steel, and were mostly powered by steam. There were naval architects, marine engineers of all kinds, railway engineers of all kinds, inventors, master mechanics, artisans, workers of hundreds of particular skills, and all the people who kept the ships and machines running. Some of them, like Harper, had certificates from various sorts of educational and vocational institutions, but more were products of the old apprentice system. Clever men showed their worth and got on. The not-so-clever did the back-breaking work, usually hot and dirty, and often dangerous.

     She also gathered from Ian that the consumption of whiskey was not unknown, and that there were brawls in public houses. The streets were sometimes chaotic, loud, and obscene. Large wrenches were sometimes swung with significant effect. The rich, although usually not seen, were hated. The politics were well to the left of center. A surprising number of men from the Clyde had gone to Spain.

     Both Ian and Henry were, by now, somewhat removed from the Clyde. Henry had been in southern England, mostly not with Scots, for some time, and his speech was now not so different from that of Mutt Summers. Moreover, he didn’t even have a name that sounded Scots. With Ian, the Clyde wasn’t nearly as muted. He arrived in Southampton wearing an English sort of suit, but he bulged out of it.

     When Liz introduced Ian to Viv, he said out, “There’s a song about ye in Spain! Do ye know it?”

Viv appeared to be a little embarrassed, but also delighted. She hadn’t known. It seemed that Ian was about to sing it when he confessed that he couldn’t sing, and didn’t really know all the Spanish words. Viv replied, “I have heard many songs about La Pasionaria.”  

La Pasionaria, otherwise Dolores Ibarruri, was the Spanish communist heroine of the republic, and she was, more than anyone else, the public symbol of the fight against the fascists. Viv, now laughing, said, “In one song she bites the genitals off a priest.”

“I have heard it.”

It was agreed that there was a lot of talk in Spain about the removal of genitals from priests. Liz asked why, and Ian replied, “The priests have always been telling the peasants that it’s right and good that they should suffer to support the rich. The peasants finally decided otherwise.”

Viv added, “There are also weird feelings about persons who seem, in some ways, to be men, but who don’t have sex.”

“Except with each other and little boys.”

“And, of course, the occasional woman.”

Ian said, “Some peasants may have said, ‘If you aren’t supposed to use this bit of equipment, we’ll remove the temptation.’”

      After some more talk of Spain, they proceeded to the Supermarine works. Olivia pointed out that she really had no business there, but all the others seemed to think that her presence would be helpful. Liz said,

“There’ll be three men, so we need you to even up the numbers.”

     As it turned out, all three men were careful not to trespass on the prerogatives of one another. More careful, Liz thought, than they would have been in the case of women. It had already been relayed to Henry and Ozzie that the cannon would jam if not supervised, and Henry said, “We thought of either mounting them on each side behind the cockpit with the barrels extending beyond it, or behind the cockpit shooting over it.”

The side mounting would interfere less with the airflow, and also provide easier access for a person sitting or crouching behind the pilots. It was also mentioned that the pilots might find it distracting to have the cannon shooting right over their heads. Ian then asked, “Will the cannon get drenched with seawater during take-offs and landings?”

It sounded as if they might have to be stripped, dried, and re-assembled in such a case, but Viv replied, “We’ve pretty well decided that the cannon-armed aircraft aren’t going to land on the water, except in emergencies.”

That settled, Henry said, “We aren’t happy just having the K-gun to combat the U-boat’s twenty millimeter.”

“Could we have a look at the aircraft?”

     On the way downstairs, Liz noticed that Olivia struck up a conversation with Ozzie. They were, to some extent, the ones left out of deliberations. Ozzie didn’t design, but tested the designs after they were realized. He could then offer comments and criticisms, but they hadn’t reached that stage with the guns.

     Overhearing the perfectly proper, but still rather intimate conversation, it seemed to Liz to be part of a pattern. Ivan was a powerful man, but he was more involved with his grand projects than he was with Barbara. Although he fitted her in whenever and wherever he could, the result was that, despite her considerable talents, she was often at loose ends. She was thus quite ready to form connections with any interesting person she might encounter.

     Ian was another powerful man, perhaps an Ivan in the making. But Olivia, despite being desired by men everywhere, was trailing after him. He would make time for her later, but, in the meantime, she was happy to discuss her fear of flying, in a quite personal way, with a young man like Ozzie.

     Ian managed to spring into the Walrus cockpit in an unusual way, and then re-appeared in the forward hatch. Grasping the twin handles of the K-gun, he said, “This thing is only good for spraying fire indiscriminately around the neighborhood.”

Everyone agreed with that, and he asked, “This opening is perfectly circular, isn’t it?”

On being assured, he asked for a tape measure. When it was provided, he measured the opening carefully, and then jumped down with a smile.

“We could make a flat disk that would rotate in the opening and have guns mounted on it. They’d also elevate and depress with the co-pilot controlling them from the main cockpit with levers.”

He then asked Viv, “Could you shoot accurately even though you might not be directly in line with the guns?”

“Tracers would allow me to correct my aim. At fairly short ranges, certainly.”

“We might be able to manage a synchronized gun sight in the vertical windscreen. In any case, we can get three three-oh-threes mounted on the disk with the feed suspended underneath.”

“That volume of fire would certainly distract the enemy gunner even if it didn’t kill him.”

“In the meantime, the cannon, under the pilot’s control, would be knocking holes in the conning tower.”

Liz was herself feeling a strong urge to machine-gun things, and hoped that the installation wouldn’t take long.

      When they finally left the works, they headed to the hotel for dinner. To no one’s great surprise, Lady Mary had come down separately to visit Barbara. They were, after all, the wives of two celebrated, but difficult, men. Liz could guess what they talked about.

     It was clear to her that Olivia and Ian would marry, and form a more intense marriage than that between herself and David. The only question was whether Mary and Ian would be reconciled. Liz thought so. If Mary didn’t hang on to Olivia, she wouldn’t really have anyone.

     Liz and Olivia had both thought that it would be good to have a lot of people present at the first meeting. The two principals wouldn’t be forced on one another right off, and would have a chance to consider their approaches. As it happened, both Mary and Barbara were in the lobby when the other four arrived, and Olivia could make the critical introduction of the visiting armaments expert in a rather low-key way. Liz soon asked him a question about machine-guns in order to put the matter on that footing. Catching a look from Mary, she knew that Mary wasn’t fooled. On the other hand, it did no harm to let Mary know that she, Liz, approved of the union. Or would it just be put down to Americans having no understanding of English class distinctions?

     As they were sitting down for dinner, Ivan, who had been on the telephone, came rushing in.  He had already seen Mary, earlier in the day, and they had, no doubt, discussed the marriage of their two offspring. Since both parties approved the marriage, there would have been no problems. Moreover, since Liz knew that Mary considered Ivan to be a genius, there might have been some expressed admiration on that score.

     With all the young people and Ivan, who was young at heart, things were quite jolly. Ian had Olivia on one side and Viv on the other, and seemed to be quite at ease. Ivan, diagonally opposite him, was fascinated. Ian was exactly the sort of young man Ivan liked, even more than David. The only question in Liz’ mind was when and how he would hire him.

     Liz believed Mary to be capable of sophisticated calculation. And the odds were piling up. The rich genius was obviously enthralled with the young man her daughter wanted to marry. And they would both, most likely, end up in America, a place where social distinctions hardly mattered. Mary would certainly be adventurous enough to want to spend time in America, preferably without her husband. Everything would depend on her being welcomed there.

     It was after dinner, when Liz was standing speaking with Ian, both with drinks in their hands, that Mary came directly up and addressed him, “Mr. MacLachlan, if, as seems highly likely, you end up with much more money than I have, will you give me some of it?”

Ian almost dropped his drink, but ended up laughing in a loud Glasgow way. He eventually replied, “Even beyond money, you can count on always being protected by people with automatic weapons within easy reach.”

Liz immediately sought out Olivia with the news.


Bill Todd -- Two Aviators
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