Disturbing Charm

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28. 2-11 His Bridal Night



"Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.

Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore,
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more."

Lovelace.

Mrs. Cartwright's intuition had been perfectly right.

Jack Awdas was up during the raid over London. He was up to some purpose, as his comrades and three other airmen (prisoners of war) could tell.

But here is his own version of the affair, as told by him, on the following day, to his young wife.

"When that warning came through, you see, I felt that it was for me too. I don't know what my own idea was when I went off with old Ross. He said, 'What the something do you want to come along for?' I said, 'All right; shut up.' I didn't know, you know. Queer, wasn't it? All I knew was that I had got to go too, instead of bringing you back here as I'd thought.... I'd got to leave you, girl."

She listened, leaning back now in his happy arms. She listened, all eyes. His own blue eyes had been deep in hers, locked to them with the lover's look that is another embrace. But now he took them from hers. He glanced aside and away, and into Jack Awdas's eyes there crept back one of those two other looks which were characteristic of him. It was the "yonderly" look that sees what is not for all to see.

"Somehow," he said, "I knew I just couldn't stay with you. I'd got to go up, and Lord only knew how it was going to be managed, or how I was going to get out of the 'drome in time, even. There wasn't a taxi in sight. Ross and I walked on to the Honeycomb, or half ran, half walked. Going up Whitehall he said, 'Jack, you darned fool, go back; what's wrong?' I said, 'Nothing; shut up, old thing, if you don't mind.'

"In the courtyard of the Honeycomb we nearly ran into a tiny little dispatch-rider girl with a side-car. I didn't know until just now that it was young Brown's widow that he was going to marry, that we'd heard about at dinner! She'd brought some man in, and was just starting up; I said to her, 'Where are you for?' She said, 'Home! and time, too.' 'Where's home?' said I, and I believe she told me it was Baker Street.... But just as I was asking her I began to see what I'd got to do. It began to come to me then, d'you see?

"I said to the girl, 'Look here, I'm sorry, you can't go home yet. You've got to drive me out to my 'drome, and I told her where that was. Half an hour's ride into the country. We did it in less. I told her I'd got to get to my 'bus, and that she'd got to go hell-for-leather; and we did it in less....

"You see, I'd got to take that machine across at ten o'clock next morning. Had to: duty. (You knew about that, of course.) But if I could only get her up a few hours before that! I thought.... There she was, waiting. There were dozens of our chaps up already, I knew. Here was I----and I couldn't stand it, somehow. Not last night. Just because it was that night. It would have spoilt it. You see, don't you? Yes; I thought you would. I wouldn't think of you then; except to think 'It's her I'm going to give Them.' I don't even know what 'them' meant----(This sounds such rot, girl, that I couldn't possibly tell anybody else, but there you are.... I won't kiss you again until I've told you the end of this.)

"Well, we chased along the roads in the moonlight at the deuce of a lick, coming round the corners on the edge of one wheel. Just imagine it! Me and that side-car, and that girl of Brown's----No more idea it was his girl----! She's only about so-size; I thought she was a kid of fifteen like one of those little brown messengers with pigtails that go trotting about the corridors, and by Jove, I tried to tip her! I did! I didn't know. I hadn't any silver on me after all those tips and things in the afternoon, after we were married. I just lugged out my note-case and got out a couple of John Bradburys--the last. I stuffed 'em into her hand. 'Here, thanks awfully!' I said; 'do buy yourself a hat-pin or some sweets or something----' She did laugh! 'You won't?' I said--she stuffing them back for all she was worth. 'Oh well, sorry if I've made a break,' I said, 'can't stop to explain now--thanks awfully--Good night!' and up I legged it to the gates, holding those notes in my hand all the time....

"You know, I hadn't my papers or orders or anything! Neck, wasn't it? I didn't know what on earth I was going to ask the Adjutant! Sometimes when you want a thing it's a good deal better not to ask ... just go and grab it, and explain afterwards.

"Well, then I had a bit of luck.

"Scurrying through the gates, I ran straight into Dashmold himself; that is the Adjutant. (A stinker on duty.)

"'Ha, Awdas!' he said, 'can't stop now, the Colonel's just rung me up from his house. See you in half an hour.'

"'Rightoh,' I said, and dashed ahead, thanking my lucky stars--for this only left me with our assistant adjutant, always a bit of an ass. I chased off to the orderly-room and found him.

"'Hello, Awdas,' he squeaked. (Voice rather like George Clarke at the Empire; pink and white face.)

"'I suppose you know there's a raid on?' I said. 'I've come for that 'bus.' He said, 'What about your papers?' I said, 'Yes, hand 'em over, that's all right. I've just this moment spoken to Dashmold.' (So I had; just said 'Rightoh' to him.) 'Those are my orders,' I said, 'in that pile there. Chuck 'em over. Thanks.' So that was that....

"Then off I streaked to the Officers' Quarters to get into my things. Not a soul there. You know. It's a long corridor with a row of little cubicles not much bigger than the dressing-rooms at the swimming bath. Just hold a camp-bed and a chest of drawers and a row of pegs.... By Jove, if some thief hadn't pinched my kit. Some one got into the first that was handy, I suppose, when they got the warning. I'll have his blood for that, later. So in I nipped to one cubicle after another. All empty. I thought I wasn't going to find a stitch. However! At last I came to one; there it was, a lovely outfit all hanging ready on the pegs. Man called Jackson. He'd got leave. Well! I plunged into his coat and overalls and flying-cap and goggles, all the lot! quicker than anything I've ever done in my life. I remember I'd got those blessed pound notes still in my hand. I shoved them into my teeth while I dressed. Then down I doubled to the hangars.

"About a dozen of the ac emmas--those are mechanics, dear--were waiting about there. I switched the lights on.

"There was my 'bus all ready for tomorrow morning--ah, a beauty! Yes, the one you saw on Thursday, that I'd been making the trial flight in; the single-seater Scout monoplane. I'd always fancied her. She ran a little light, but I liked that. I'd got her balanced; just right for me. I.T. All ready, tanks filled up and everything. The gun was on her, but----Dash it! No ammunition, of course. That did me.

"Then I saw Smithers. (He's the Quartermaster's nephew.) I said, 'Smithers! Jump to it ... here you are, take this' (the last two quid I had on me, that Brown's widow refused), 'and get me two drums of ammunition. How? I don't know. Somehow. Off with you and give you five minutes to get back in.' Off he streaked. Then I said to the others, 'Now, you men, get a move on. Get her out.' They wheeled her out of the hangar and into the moonlight.

"Oh! I nearly forgot to tell you all about something, though. Even at the time I noticed it. (The sort of funny little thing you do notice when you aren't really thinking of anything except getting on with what's on.) It was tied round the joy-stick! You know, dear, your bit of ribbon that I've always kept as a mascot since that day on the beach. I'd tied it on just before the trial flight. It's always been on, you know, on whatever 'bus I've been flying. I meant it to, until you were mine, and then I was going to give it back to you, Girl, because it wouldn't matter which of us two had the Luck then; it would be the same thing.

"I looked at it once as I was waiting, and I remember thinking to myself quickly, in the sort of rum way, like you think of things in dreams, 'By Jove, I suppose that's the most precious prize I've owned, up to now.'

"But after that I just looked at my watch and stamped as I stood waiting for those blighted drums. I'd given Smithers five minutes. Lord, if he couldn't do it. I----It seemed a thundering important thing to me, you see: the most important I'd ever had to do. You do know why, don't you? You do understand?"

Golden's great eyes upon his face were as full of understanding as the tone of her simple "yes." Her young husband gave a short, contented nod, then he went on:

"Well! So then I saw Smithers, coming running back. 'Got 'em?' I shouted. 'Right, sir!' he shouted back. Up he came with those two drums he'd got (God knows how). I fixed one on the gun myself, and put the other handy.

"'Start her up,' I said. I climbed in, and the boys swung the propeller. I gave 'em 'Contact,' and then I was up and off.... Hadn't been off the earth for a week. And, by the way, I hadn't gone up to fight since the time I crashed.

"Yes, of course, it was a perfectly idiotic thing to do. I hadn't got the night's Orders any more than I'd orders to go and stand by with Ross, where you thought I was. I didn't know if we were fighting with guns or planes or both, nor where nor when nor anything about it. However!----.

"What did London look like from up there? Oh, just all dark, you know: like a great turned-up field below you, with the river winding through it. What you do see very plainly is that silver ribbon of the Thames, reflecting the light of the sky.

"You think the sky's big, don't you? Well, it isn't so big when you can bumble into your own barrage at any moment, or when a Hun you can neither see nor hear lets fly suddenly. But I could see shrapnel breaking away to the south-west, so I just beetled off after that....

"Then I'm dashed if those three blighters in their big plane didn't nearly run me down. Yes, I s'pose she'd be the plane you and Mrs. Cartwright heard over the house. Was she missing it all?"

"Missing?" repeated the fascinated Golden. "Why, how could I know?"

"Well, anyway, she was somewhere over that part of town. They'd jumped the barrage and got in. I circled round, climbing all I knew, and then I guess they dropped those two bombs to lighten themselves.

"The searchlight fellows down below were dazzling away to beat the band. You could see nothing but jumping flashes all over the show, putting 'em off their aim. Me too. Perfectly poisonous. I cursed, but I knew I'd no business there....

"Well, that Scout of mine could climb as quick as any Gotha built yet, so I gave them twenty rounds or so right into 'em. They didn't like that, so I gave 'em some more. They fired back, but nothing to hurt. The next go, they decided to give it up, I think. They headed for the south-west again. Evidently they were going to chance the barrage. Bon! Anyway, if they were, so was I.

"And oh, Girl, if you knew how I wanted to get them! I wanted to get those raiding Huns, if I had to chase them to the coast and across and right to Berlin. As Ross says, 'I wanted to let 'em have it where Dora wore the beads.' I felt 'I must. I'll die if I don't, and I----'

"D'you know what I did? This is one of the most idiotic bits yet, but I'm going to tell you the lot.... Generally, I don't think I'm superstitious. Some fellows are; well, I'd known one perfectly sane and sensible fellow, who, when he was mad keen after something he wanted, winning some event, or something----he'd turn money out of his pocket--a sovereign, say, in the days when we had sovereigns, or a handful of silver----and throw it away. Pitch it right away, you know, to buy him luck. Well, I thought of it then. If I could buy that German plane! So----

"I pulled off my glove as I buzzed along after 'em and made a dive inside my jacket for money. Then I remembered I hadn't a bean on me. I'd given my last two quid to Smithers, and here I was, and I wanted to buy that Gotha, I tell you! I'd have bought her with anything I'd got, money, ring, every last thing----

"Then I remembered.

"It was on the joy-stick, the thing I valued. Your little mascot! I ripped it off. I gave one look round to where those beggars were heading for the barrage, and then chucked that bit of ribbon out over where I guessed you might be. (Perfectly absurd, of course. The wind whisked it away.) ... And as I chucked it I shouted something out. Somebody's name.

"No! You can't guess whose name it was. Nobody'd have thought it. The funny thing about it was, it wasn't even the name I meant to shout. I meant to shout out 'Cheer O, Girl!' I heard myself yelling out instead, 'Cheer O, Ferris;'

"He was the observer I used to have. Killed, last year.... Somehow, just then, I forgot that; I felt as if he were with me. Then! I thought 'Good Lord, fancy if old Ferris----'

"Then I didn't think any more; I settled down to business. Well, as you know, I did have to chase 'em to the coast, those dashed Archies popping all the way. At the coast the Archies were----say really hot. Then those sea-planes took a hand, but it wasn't the seaplane that got her. I got her! Got her right over Beachy Head.

"I knew I'd done it the moment he turned about. I'd put half a drum right into her engines, and she wouldn't want to land in the sea (rather Irish).

"Suddenly a searchlight blazed right on the pair of us, and the Archies stopped, just like the band stops and the limelight concentrates for the really tricky bit of the show with those acrobats at a music-hall....

"But this was dead easy, the rest of it. I just circled above her like a buzzard, driving her down, down, all the time. I didn't fire at her any more, because you could tell within twenty yards where she was going to land, and I knew the lads of the village were all ready and waiting for her. One bad wobble she gave and pitched straight down. I sheered off a bit for fear of getting any bombs, but she'd drop her last one on the way. She simply came down end on like shying a lump of clay at a board. Then I landed, tumbled out, and legged it up the slope as fast as I could; just in time to see 'em getting out all the three Huns alive.

"'My bird, I think,' says I, running up all out of breath.

"Then a chap beside me spoke out of the dark, 'Hi! Who are you?'

"I couldn't see him, so I said, 'D'you mind telling me who you are?'

"He pulled a torch out of his pocket and showed it on himself. A Staff-major. So we shook hands, and he congratulated me.... Then I felt rather a fool," laughed Jack Awdas, "for he asked me my name.

"'Well, as a matter of fact, Sir,' I said, and stopped.

"'Well what?' he asked.

"'Well, as a matter of fact, I'm not supposed to be here at all.'

"'Oh?' he barked. 'Got any orders on you?'

"I had; from the Assistant Adjutant. I pulled 'em out and he read them by the light of his torch.

"'H'm,' he said, 'taking a machine to France, but I see by this you're not due to start until tomorrow morning. It's now two, ac emma. How's this?'

"Well, when you're cornered like that I always think there's only one thing for it; pure cheek. So, as bold as brass, I gave a look at the orders myself, and then said, 'I rather fancy this must be a clerical error, sir. My verbal orders were to start today, and I can't have been two hours on the way yet?'

"I fancied I heard him give a chuckle in the dark, but all he said was, 'Well, this will be a serious matter for you.'

"'Oh, I hope not, Sir,' I said.

"'A serious matter,' says he. 'If you'd been sent up to chase Hun planes you might have got the D.S.O. for this. But you see what it means now?'

"'What?' I asked.

"'Well! This being an act outside the course of your duty,' he said, 'it may mean the Victoria Cross!'"

Golden Awdas gasped. "Then, think of it, Bird-boy! You'll only have traded my ribbon," she exclaimed, "for that wonderful other! Now wasn't that a prize----"

But the wide and distant stare had gone now from her airman's eyes. These had returned to her; his sweet American who had journeyed across a world before he had found her, his love whom he had loved enough to leave, knowing that it might be for ever.... His blue eyes were locked into hers again for a moment with his lover's look that now sent a wave of pink fire flaming into her face and down her throat. Against that perfect throat he buried eyes and lips.

"'Think?' I needn't think of anything else now, Girl," he whispered. "You're my prize!"




That was Jack Awdas's story of his share in the raid.

The evening papers announced:

"Bombs were dropped in several districts, but no material damage was caused. A woman and two children were slightly injured.

"One German aeroplane was brought down on the coast by a pilot of the Royal Flying Corps."

The German account read:

"A successful raid was carried out by our airmen over London last night. Good results were obtained, and large fires were seen to break out in various districts.

"All our aeroplanes returned safely."