Jeremy’s War: Chapter 10 “That other World “
Posted on March 8, 2008
The old farm was getting on her nerves.
How she missed Paris! The days were dragging by. She enjoyed her new horse, and called him ‘Pecadillo’, which means ‘small sin’. It seemed appropriate. Her father had chosen well, and Pecadillo was healthy, lively, good natured if a trifle unpredictable when the very occasional motorized vehicle rolled by.
He was all right if the vehicle approached head on. Then he would raise his head, the top of his ears twitching. But, apart from the odd quiver, he kept walking steadily on. It was when the odd sounding animal approached from behind, making those strange noises, that Pecadillo was loath to obey his mistress and amble on regardless. He wanted to see what that weird smelly animal was up to. To this end he would try and peer round, ( “whazzat animal up to behind me? “), receive a firm tug on the reins and a shout from his mistress, respond reluctantly, snort in a sort of horse’s sulk, ( “It’s alright for YOU, I want to know if he’s going to eat me. “), proceed onwards, listening furiously, and, provided the monster didn’t change gear, backfire, or pass by too fast, then the chances of a successful outcome were good. At the moment of passing, he would be rigid, his ears not quite fully erect. One eye would roll back and monitor the passing shape. ( “Just what do you think you’re up to… “). Then the beast would be ahead of him, and his head would bob up just another inch, the ears would point forward and lift up full stretch. ( “Good riddance to you too – but I’m still watching you. “) Of course, sometimes the dragon did change gear, backfire, or career past too quickly.
Then… the results were unpredictable. He never actually reared, but was well capable of ignoring the reins, deftly swinging his threatened hindquarters off the road and out of the way, and turning to face the enemy, ready to take further measures. When that happened, it was always a source of puzzlement that his mistress appeared to get angry, tugging on the reins, shouting, and kneeing him. ( “But…but… he’s trying to EAT me! “). With the danger past, he would settle down to obey the reins again, and snort furiously. ( “You’re bloody daft, mistress. He’s DANGEROUS. I’m not turning my back on them animals… “)
A good thing about Pecadillo was his affectionate nature. There is nothing as sad as a horse who has not been always well treated, and who has lost his liking for Man. Who looks up moodily when the would be rider approaches, thinks “Oh, bloody hell, not you again “, and decides to play “Catch me if you can “. This is a very simple game, which consists of ambling off and nonchalantly nibbling at a clump of grass. ( “I’m just an ordinary horse, nibbling at the grass, not even really aware you’re there… “). The would be rider approaches slowly with the bridle to within a few yards, and hey, hey, hey, “That looks like a jolly juicy bit over there… “. And so on. Pecadillo demonstrated none of these vices, and cantered up delightedly at the sound of Genevieve’s outrageous whistle. ( “Are we going out again? – Great! “). One of the many games they played was ‘find the carrot’, which Genevieve hid somewhere about her person. Pecadillo would search her pockets, sniffing excitedly, until he located the likely jackpot. Afterwards he would muzzle delightfully into her hand.
They soon became great friends.
The day she rode as far east as she could, she calculated being no more than thirty miles or so behind the front.
It was a quiet evening, and sound travelled far. She became aware of an unnatural irregular flashing just above the distant eastern horizon. The wind carried the sound, faintly… a dull, disembodied booming, like a very distant rumble of thunder. She stared and wondered.
The war… what did it mean? What was war?
Everything was so peaceful, so pleasant. Birds in the trees, rabbits scampering, Pecadillo’s breath steaming up lazily… War? People being killed?
A frown crossed her face. She thought of Charles Nungesser. He would have been able to tell her much. She discovered that she was curiously fascinated. What was it all about? War…
Another sound reached her ears, and she turned around in the saddle, listening attentively. A rhythmic droning. Engines of some kind. Pecadillo too had heard it, and he looked around, his ears swiveling, trying to tune in on the unusual noise.
There! In the sky! Aeroplanes! One… two… three… four… Four machines! Oh… marvellous!
Four biplanes droned over at a thousand feet. Her heart leaped in excitement. Oh, to fly! How lucky those men were!
To be up there, in the sky, amongst the clouds!
To be a pilot!
She sighed as they disappeared, and thought of Nungesser.
Were all pilots like him, brave and daring?
* * *
Mrs Armstrong was, unusually for her, in tears. She sat, distraught, clutching her only son’s latest letter.
Her husband stood staring out the window. He too had read the letter, but his thought processes were different.
Dear Pater and Mater,
A lucky escape yesterday.
My fault. I wasn’t paying attention, and lost Lt Owen and Baines. Then I was so mesmerized by that, that I was spending all my effort looking around for them. Promptly went straight into a socking big cloud. Weird. Lost my bearings completely, and eventually sort of came out the bottom at a screaming speed, with the ground somewhere totally different to where I thought it was.
I should have closed the throttle, but I didn’t. This really damaged the engine, so it’s basically a write-off.
The top wing didn’t like the high airspeed either (in the cloud, I had no idea), and basically started to move.
What a struggle to fly the damn thing! Anyway, I was lost into the bargain, and some really wizard chap in a Sopwith Pup came along and guided me to his airfield.
Next Armstrong clanger, unfortunately: I was in such a tiz to get down, and I suppose unfamiliar with the airfield, that I forgot about the wind. It was blowing a gale, and I should have known better. Anyway, I landed with the wind behind instead of in front, and plowed straight into the far hedge. Made a right dog’s dinner of the SE5. Their chief, Captain Matherson (who guided me in), was really good about it, and didn’t shout. I think he just looked puzzled. His mechanics pulled the SE5 out of the hedge, and said they’d fix it in a couple of days. They entertained me really well for supper, and then got me a car home.
Needless to say I thought I was going to get hung when I got back, but McAllister was surprisingly quite civil. He actually went for Owen more than for me. I don’t think those two hit it off that well.
So I learned a lot of lessons. Flying in cloud is weird.
You’d think you’d be able to use your sense of balance. Forget it!
Apart from that, I’m okay. Thanks for the letter, and the warm socks. Need them.
I love and miss you all,
Mrs Armstrong was horrified that the RFC were exposing her son to such dangers so soon. The people in charge were obviously reckless. She feared for his life.
Her horrified protests had been lost on her husband, who had angrily dismissed her threats to ‘write to somebody in authority’ with a sharp “Don’t be so bloody silly, woman, there’s a war on… ”
Mr Armstrong was annoyed that Jeremy was obviously making an idiot of himself, and wished he would hurry up and shoot down some Germans. He couldn’t wait to casually mention around the club that his boy, far from being a coward, had knocked off a few bloody Huns…
Sarah Armstrong, Jeremy’s haughtily elegant younger sister, who everybody said took after her father, sat on the sofa, manicuring her nails, bored and disinterested.
She fervently wished her mother wouldn’t go on so dreadfully boringly. The war was a nuisance anyway.
It interfered outrageously with her social life…
* * *
Emmy was now permanently attached to the hospital, and her horror of what the war meant only deepened as she dealt with the never ending flood of broken young men.
Many were not only physically broken, but were mentally destroyed. Some gibbered incoherently, crying and screaming during the night. Some just stared woodenly at the ceiling. A few were chatty, and tried the old act.
Her duties were now so demanding, that she was practically run off her feet. It was a shame not to be able to stay and chat. Some of the faces cried out for attention, kind words, reassurance that they were not going to be hopelessly unattractive to womenfolk for the rest of their lives.
Some of Emmy’s colleagues seemed remarkably insensitive to this fact, adopting unsmiling, brisk attitudes. Matron was a downright dragon, who terrorized everybody.
Once, Emmy had been discovered by her sitting on a blind, shell shocked patient’s bed, holding his hand, talking softly to him, trying to coax the man out of himself.
Matron’s strident “Miss Houghton! Let go off that man immediately and get back to work! ” had caused her to jump out of her skin. Her patient had sensed her shock, and retreated pathetically under the bedclothes. He had not spoken again, and died three days later. Emmy had wept by his bedside, earning another scolding from matron.
After that she had learned to control her emotions, and camouflage her feelings.
She thought often of Jeremy.