Jeremy’s War: Chapter 16 “Facade “
Posted on March 21, 2008
Feb. 25th, 1917
Dear Pater and Mater,
Just a quick note to say I am still alive. And kicking.
Got my second hun! Shot the little basket down in flames, and watched him jump out. Serves him right. Frizzled all the way down.
The only bad news is that we lost a chap named Digsby, who I hardly knew, and Baines. I’ll miss him, but I got told off for talking about him.
That’s the way it goes.
Love to everyone,
* * *
Mr Armstrong was thrilled to bits.
He swiped the letter at the first opportunity, and touted it around everywhere. The gentlemen at the club were hugely impressed, and suggested framing it and hanging it on the club wall. Mr Armstrong was flattered, but wondered how he would persuade Mrs Armstrong. The more he thought about it, the more his mood of euphoria waned. She would never agree.
He debated ‘losing it’ for some time. Perhaps…
Mrs Armstrong was mystified at the disappointingly short letter. She didn’t recognize her son in the reference to the German who ‘frizzled all the way down’. She cried over Digsby and Baines, especially that wonderful man Baines, but puzzled and fretted over what was happening to her only son. It seemed to her a callous letter. Her husband’s undisguised joy had angered her, and they had gone unusually cold on each other.
Sarah Armstrong had told Rex that her brother had shot down his second, and he had looked hurt. He was sensitive about not being at the front. Over sensitive. He unnecessarily launched into the old spiel about his father requiring him in their family business. A great contribution to the war effort, et cetera. Sarah got bored. She had heard it once too often. Just because Rex’s father business supplied jam to the troops…
She debated going out with a soldier. Rex was beginning to be tedious. He kissed messily, and groped endlessly, and that was about it. Maybe he was just a wimp.
Sarah fancied falling madly in love with a soldier. Maybe an airman, with lots more victories than Jeremy…
* * *
Emmy opened the letter with trembling fingers, and noticed herself how her heart was in her mouth. She was amazed at the untidy scrawl, and the state of the envelope. It looked as if it had been dropped in the mud, and cursorily wiped.
I wrote the biggest load of cock and bull home yesterday, and I know it. I’m drunk as a skunk (hic!) at the moment, and I don’t care. What a stupid bloody crazy war.
I got my second. Shot him down in flames. He jumped out.
(He was on fire himself). Don’t blame him.
I’ve pretended to the folks it was a jolly good laugh.
I think I said he’d ‘frizzled all the way down’.
Father will love all that. He wrote me a sterling lecture on ‘keeping my chin up’, ‘remember the family name’ and all that rubbish.
It’s not true. I didn’t enjoy killing him. Not really.
Savagely, yes. Great. One back for Baines. Oh, he’s dead by the way. Burned, by the way. (hic!) Cheers, Baines old boy! Musn’t go on about him though. Gets frowned upon. Once they’re dead, that’s it, they’re gone. Terrific! So when I cop it, they might even say: “What a good fellow “, but after that – you’re just forgotten as quickly as possible.
War. Glory. Absurdity. Just trying to stay alive.
I’m no hero, Emmy. Do you mind? I hate the whole blasted thing.
Don’t know why I’m writing to you like this. Suppose I miss you. Our conversations I mean.
Not you. Just friends. God this wine is funny stuff. They supply it by the gallon here dead cheap.
So there. Sorry I shatter all your illusions. It’ll be women next. Nice French lass. Trouble I don’t speak froggie very well.
Well, what the hell.
Emmy re-read the letter over and over again. Then she sat and thought for a long time. She had always kept him at arm’s length. So close, but no closer. Did the letter contain a hint?
“Don’t know why I’m writing to you like this. Suppose I miss you. Our conversations I mean. Not you. Just friends… “
Was he asking her how she felt? The reference to a ‘nice French lass’. Was he asking her?
She wondered… and gazed deeply into the fire.
How did she really feel about Jeremy Armstrong?
Jeremy the non-christian. Jeremy, passionate, caring, wild.
Lover of poetry.
She thought of Robert. Poor Robert, whose eyes followed her like a little dog sometimes. Asthmatic Robert, pale, thin, who had been to every recruiting station within thirty miles, desperate to do his bit in the war effort.
Who now, in between his law studies, helped out at the hospital. Who would love to go out seriously with Emmy, if she would respond to his feeble little hints.
Robert the Christian.
A gentle, nice man.
Jeremy the fighter.
A passionate man.
The fire burned and smoked, the embers glowed.
It was a calm night, and without a wind the chimney struggled with its task.
A slight smoke screen began to form.
She rose to open the window, and the draft instantly worked magic.
The symbolism did not escape her.
If only it were that easy…