A couple of mornings later, Liz awoke when the tent began to shake. She called out, but there was no response. She couldn’t imagine what was happening. Then, when she pulled the zipper down, there was David in full uniform. With a little cry, she invited him in and zipped up. Viv was now awake, and there was room for David to lie between them. He explained that he had gotten a surprise day off from the ship, had borrowed a friend’s car and come down. It amused him greatly to see how they lived. Viv, coming to, asked him, “Do you want to fly with us today, or go off into the hills with Liz?”
“There are beaches near here. We could go swimming.”
Liz howled, “It’ll be absolutely freezing at this time of year!”
“Perhaps a little chilly. We could go instead to the hotel in Dorchester. We might have breakfast with Ivan and Barbara, and borrow their rooms afterwards.”
“I’ll have to get ready.”
“Not a bit of it! You look extraordinary whatever you wear. Throw on something over your sleeping suit, and we’re off.”
Liz did insist on going to the head, taking clothes with her, and left David in the tent with Viv.
Barbara was now at her best with David. Over eggs, she said to him, “I was originally afraid that you’d take Liz off to the ends of the earth, but, now that we’ve come to the ends ourselves, I’m delighted.”
“Have you seen where Liz and Viv are living?”
“Then, you haven’t made it quite to the ends yet.”
Liz explained that their tent was really quite comfortable, adding, “David wasn’t too proud to bundle in with Viv while I got dressed.”
When Liz mentioned taking a room in the hotel even though David had to return that night, she wasn’t surprised when Ivan said he had to be back to the ship and Barbara said that she would be spending the day and night in Southampton.
With David, it was, as before, mostly sex. But, again, there were jolly trips to restaurants in between. Yet again, Liz was reminded how much fun it was to be with him. Thoughts of war and possible death were completely banished. They didn’t even speak of aviation. It could have been claimed that their relation was somewhat superficial, but Liz felt that it was exactly what she needed. They parted cheerfully as David got into his borrowed car with a gallant wave.
Liz decided to spend the night in the hotel. She didn’t think that Viv would be desolated.
Olivia had managed a leave from the WAAF, but had been spending a week on duty in London. When she returned to Bridport, she looked terrible, far worse than Liz had ever seen her. When Liz asked if she were sick, she replied,
“Just sick at heart.”
Liz assumed that there had been problems with Ian, but it wasn’t Ian. It was David. Olivia explained, “Just after he must have been here with you, I went to the Charing Cross Hotel to have breakfast with a friend of mine, a Spanish woman who’d just arrived from the Continent. I walked in, and there was David, happily having breakfast with an old mistress. I’ve been agonizing whether to tell you.”
Liz found that she wasn’t shocked. Amazingly enough, she found herself comforting Olivia. After telling Sheila to take the Walrus up without her, she got into Olivia’s car, and directed her to a tea shop in the village. On the way, she said,
“David and I had a sexy afternoon, but he may have gone off to London to a different woman that night.”
“He’s always been more or less like that.”
“I certainly enjoy him when he’s here, but I actually don’t miss him when he’s gone.”
“Were you under some sort of illusion when you married him?”
“A bit, but not totally. It was a sort of arranged marriage, as much a matter of aviation as money and class.”
“I’d be utterly destroyed if Ian did that.”
“I’m not surprised. Have you told him about David?”
“No. I haven’t told anyone but you, and I won’t.”
“I’ve told you because I thought you might get too close and trusting.”
“Anyhow, there’s no point in denying the odds of David’s being killed.”
“The same goes for Robert. They may just think that it doesn’t matter what they do in the meantime.”
“I guess I do understand that. It’s such a horrible death at a young age. I keep working to make sure that it won’t happen to Viv.”
“My father says that she’s been discussed at high levels. They’re taking special measures to keep both Viv and the English aviatrix, Amy Johnson, out of combat.”
“That’s good. Now, I’m afraid that the French might let her go up. Anyhow, it’s lucky that the services won’t take Ian.”
“I know. The communist taint. And, now, they need him more as a civilian than as a combatant.”
“Well, Olivia, I’ll continue to play with David whenever he turns up. If we all survive the war, we’ll have to think things out.”
The next day, Liz and Viv got their marching orders. They were to be shepherded around the French military by General Oxenby, who had connections high and low. He said,
“I’ll take you all around to the Armee de l’Air headquarters, and introduce you to General Vuillemin. He’ll be very gracious and curious about Ivan and Viv. But we won’t learn anything there, and we won’t have any influence.”
Instead, there was a man Oxenby had known since 1916, who was now in command of a fighter base near Reims. He had recently talked with Colonel Murtel, who invited them to visit. The colonel had also mentioned to Oxenby a young flier who he thought was a likely future ace, and whom he would like to have them meet. Oxenby concluded, “Out there on the front line, we should be able to find out what’s really going on.”
The village had a funny name, Suippes, that even Liz wasn’t sure how to pronounce. Oxenby was better at being French than any Englishman Liz had ever met, and they were soon accommodated in the village inn, virtually taking it over with their party of five. Then, it was off to the airfield.
The meeting with Oxenby’s old friend was also funny. Colonel Murtel, with excellent English, could almost have been an Englishman. Since Ivan and Viv didn’t speak French, he won the battle with Oxenby as to the language to be spoken. However, before they got very far, a fighter landed in full view of the window, and disclosed itself as a Curtiss Hawk 75. Viv gave Liz a look. The colonel, noticing the direction of their attention remarked, “Yes, we’ve got the American Curtiss fighters here. All of you must be comfortable with that.”
Everyone nodded, but it seemed to Liz that Barbara was probably the only one who nodded with sincerity.
There was a brief pause, during which Liz noticed that the colonel, a man sensitive to other people, picked up the lack of enthusiasm. He continued, “While the Curtiss fighters may have certain limitations, they’ve been sent to our squadron ready for combat. Our neighbors with Morane, Bloch, and Dewoitine fighters have had some problems.”
It turned out that almost half these aircraft had been delivered without propellers, and without any prospect of getting any in the near future. Many of the others lacked gunsights. Even General Oxenby was shocked at that. The colonel made a French gesture with his hands, and Ivan explained, “Right in the middle of re-armament, the French aviation industry has been nationalized. It’s led to a great deal of confusion.”
It sounded to Liz as if it were terminal confusion.
The colonel wasn’t defeated. He smiled and asked Viv about her experiences in Spain. It seemed to Liz that, despite Viv’s efforts, everyone knew about the aircraft she had shot down, particularly the 109. She had learned, by this time, not to belittle that accomplishment, merely moving on to more general topics of air combat. It had already been arranged that she would fly with the squadron, and the colonel graciously suggested that they hoped to learn from her.
Afterwards, when she was alone with Ivan, Liz asked, “Is Barbara the only person who doesn’t know about Viv’s accomplishments?”
“Oh, I think Barbara has known for some time. She isn’t as innocent as you might think.”
It was said in a tone that suggested that Barbara might have a lot of other, hitherto unsuspected, knowledge.
At a little party given by Madame Muret for the visitors, Barbara’s style of listening more than she spoke worked as well on the French as the English. But, again, whenever she did speak, she said the right thing in the right way. Liz didn’t even try to compete, feeling too tall and too wooden. Viv was in an entirely different league in which competitions took place in the air.
It wasn’t really the wine. The French were so used to it, and drank in such moderation, that it made no difference. It was probably just that, over coffee, the colonel and his wife came to be increasingly relaxed with their guests. In any case, they started talking politics.
The Murets embraced socialism. Liz had already heard about the split between the Catholics and secularists, and, of course, there had recently been the leftist government of Leon Blum. However, the colonel and his wife seemed as passionate in their position as good-mannered restraint would allow. In particular, they were disturbed that there were so many people who tolerated Hitler’s fascism as an antidote to Soviet communism. There was also, they insisted, a strong element of anti-Semitism loose in the country. The colonel pointed out that there were still many people who believed in the guilt of Dreyfus, the alleged Jewish traitor championed by Emile Zola. It had been fifty years, and against all the evidence, but, still, they hung on. Madame Muret, a small pretty woman, said, “These are the same people, fanatically Catholic, who think that Hitler is doing the right thing with Jews, and would like to see him do it in France.”
Her husband remarked quietly that such people might have something to do with the shortage of propellers.
Liz doubted that the Murets knew of Ivan’s Jewish grandmother, but it was something that she never quite forgot. She did hope fervently that Ivan and Viv could do something to prepare these good people for the onslaught.
There were also some young flying officers at the party, and Liz struck up a conversation with one of them, Jean Marie Accart. He was the man whom his colonel had mentioned to General Oxenby, and he seemed happy to talk about himself. He was from Fecamp, a small fishing port on the English Channel, and said, “My father, like Colonel Muret, is a socialist, and he didn’t want me to go to an ecole and join the upper classes.So I became a commercial fisherman, and later joined the navy. I was made an observer in a scouting plane, and then became a pilot. I was then transferred to the air force, and here I am.”
This was said in a humorous way, and Liz asked, “After all these jumps, do you like your present position?”
“Pretty well. It probably isn’t much more dangerous than being on a fishing boat in winter, and it’s much more comfortable.”
Liz was a good deal taller than her companion, which sometimes constituted a problem, but he was so full of life and energy, that it seemed to make no difference. In fact, he seemed a younger version of Ernst Udet.
Accart was also somewhat flirtatious. Liz had lost her wedding ring somewhere in the tent, and he probably took her to be unmarried. Curious to see what would happen, she asked him if he had a girl friend. He simply laughed and asked in turn, “Is that an American question?”
“Well, I suppose so. What should I ask in France?”
“One only asks oneself questions.”
With that, Liz felt a hand on her back, just below her neck. It then moved lightly down her spine, as if unzipping her, except that this dress had no zipper there. They were in a corner of the room, facing the others, and she said, “Then, there is one question you might ask yourself. What would your colonel think?”
“Of course, he would be greatly bothered if I were rude to one of his guests. But there isn’t any likelihood of that,is there?”
Liz was shaking her head as Viv came up. Liz introduced them, realizing that her main function would be as an interpreter between the two.
It turned out not to be easy to interpret in such a way as to preserve a dialogue without severe interruption in what turned out to be quite a long and involved conversation. It was easier when Viv was speaking, since her own voice was not so different. However, apart from dealing with a man’s voice, Jean Marie spoke with a regional accent on which had been grafted a much more extensive vocabulary and some rather complex grammatical constructions. Liz had trouble at first, but gradually got on to it.
When Liz was later alone with Viv, Liz said to her, “Jean Marie is said to be the best flyer in the squadron, and he might not want to be beaten by a woman.”
“It’ll be okay. I’m going to be a bit of a mother hen, and I won’t go around shooting people down.”
“That may build confidence. However, these young men are eventually going to be faced with superior force, aren’t they?”
“Sure. But there are things they can do. We’ll get to that in a month or two.”
“Okay. They say there won’t be war in these countries until the harvest is in.”
“I hope so. It also seems that this young man is quite interested in you, Liz.”
“Well, yes. I didn’t tell him that I’m married.”
Liz had already told her sister of Olivia’s news. Now referring to it, Viv replied, “I wasn’t exactly shocked. I did smell another woman’s perfume on him once, but there are always other explanations. The effusive cousin, or aunt, or someone.”
“More likely, an old mistress. But I wouldn’t start an affair out of a feeling of revenge, or anything like that.”
“That would be silly. But, before we do anything else, let’s find out how good a fighter pilot Jean Marie is.”