A Short Story with an Aviation theme from 1928
Valor - By ARTHUR T. MUNYAN
THE house was not on fire. The girl in a party frock who was making a lithe over-hand descent from a second-story window had private reasons Minot Roy decided. for putting the guest-room linen to this purpose. She might be - but was evidently not eloping. He halted his car on its silent glide up the driveway and watched her swaying there in the fortunate vagueness of the moonlight. When her heels were no longer perilously high above the ground he asked, "What's the splendid idea of this?"
She only turned her head and begged "Oh, hush up!" in a furious sibilant. Then she dropped, took in her position at a glance and said. "I've got to get away from here: that's what I've got to. Say, take me somewhere, will you?" "Where? I'm just this moment arriving." "Anywhere! And you can arrive when we get back." She opened the door herself and dropped somewhat breathless into the seat beside him. Too amused to be put out, he gave a shrug of assent. In this first moment she was indefinite to him except as sheer vitality. In the pallid light her coloring was uncertain, and the slight silhouette of her was misty. Her eyes might have been topaz or gray; her hair, set in an immaculate bright wave, seemed distinctly dark. An urgency about her rather than a precise charm compelled him.
"It got too awful," she told him in visible relief as they moved away from the house. "My bridge is so perfectly lousy. I really don't play well at all. Lang Conway and Irene just were going over us in waves, and my partner was one of the cheerfullest-under-adversity type that are the very hardest to bear, and besides he would want to kiss me later on. The crickets outside were making the most endless noises, and I wondered if that would cover up the racket I made getting out by a window. Lang and Irene were simply rolling up rubbers against us, and I thought maybe — They do it by rubbing their knees together, you know."
"For the love of ...."
"Crickets do. I mean, to make that noise. No, Lang and Irene just use the usual conventions, I guess."
"So you went upstairs for a vanity you'd left, and then you ..."
"Yes. There are two kinds of knots; I forget what they call both of them. One kind slips, and the other kind is just too permanent for anything. I never knew the difference, so I don't know which kind I tied in Irene's best monogrammed sheets, but I do so hope, now it's all over, that they were the kind she can forgive. . . . My dear. you're perfectly marvelous!"
She referred, it seemed, to his driving. There were, he presumed, all sorts of drivers. Minot Roy brought a car from stop to twenty-five on a sinuous acceleration, an evenly rising and fading drone punctuated by triggerlike clicks of the gear shift.
"It was perfectly symphonic!" she declared.
The odd thing was her noticing. It was an instinct with him to rev a motor (to use an air term loosely), listening for its rhythms. "I suppose I have a feeling about it," he said carelessly. "Now which road?"
"Doesn't matter. That one is used mostly to pet along. Oh, take it if you want to, but don't barge into something, I mean."
He nodded. "You're Joan Minturn, I suppose." As they passed a road lamp he had a glimpse of her. " Why, you're lovely, aren't you!"
"I look a lot like everybody else. Most people do. I know I'm different, but so's everybody else. We're all different in the same way, and I sometimes almost wonder if it wouldn't be a nice change to try being the same in a different way. You understand what I'm saying, don't you?"
"Why not?" Women today, he reflected, were all lovely. That was the upshot of their revolt, whatever its aim had been. In another era a beauty consummate, fragile, clear as Joan's might have wrecked an empire or two; today beauty was not rarity.
He said something of the sort to her now. "The world is full of beautiful Borgias. No man is safe or even wants to be. You're more, though. Joan. You're startling, even among ..."
"That's practically what I said. isn't it! Speaking collectively of poisons and women, I don't drink, and I don't kiss men, so ..."
"I thought it wasn't unusual. I thought you all did."
"It may he usual as anything, for all I know. We all did and probably do. I did but don't."
"You're cold," he observed.
"I wish men would lay that one in the moth balls forever!"
"I mean cold, "he explained. "Your teeth are chattering."
" I can't help it if they-y-y-y-y-y-y-are! It's one w-w-way of keeping warm. It's the best way when there aren't any others. You can't very well bring Hudson Bay sleeping hags with you when you climb down sheets with all sorts of questionable knots in them."
The air was still and balmy when he stopped the car. He drew a passive Joan close to him for warmth and said, "Try to stop shivering, or we'll have to go back."
" I'd rather shiver like an asp - is it an asp? than go back. I walked out on a bridge table, and that's worse than murder. It's as bad as for somebody in an English novel to shoot a fox. I've burned their bridge behind me, and now it's swink or ..."
"Can't you keep your teeth from chattering?" "It's Nature's way; Nature is often cruel." "Try this." His kiss lingered upon her lips till they were still. "It helps, I believe. Oh. sorry! I'd forgotten you said you don't."
"Well. I didn't: you kissed me!" "There's a technical difference. I suppose." "I suppose there's a technical difference between kicking a mule and being kicked by one. I don't kiss men. I really don't. It makes them all bothered and funny. They end by wanting you to marry them, or do your hair some other way, or to not kiss men, or something. Besides, I'd rather be kissed for this reason than because I went back four in spades doubled and redou ..."
SHE was talking just to keep her teeth from chattering. She broke off with a small laugh as he looked intently at her lips. The sound expressed her amusement at some futility. Her lips clung, this time, with a candor and delicate fervor; her arms tightened about his neck.
They found an irate hostess on their return. Irene gave Minot Roy a distracted hug of welcome and at once fixed a stern eye upon Joan.
"Hello, Irene." said the culprit, shiftily. "Say, you must have been a little ahead when the game broke up. Remind me, won't you
"I hope the knots weren't awkward ones, darling."
"They were the kind." said Irene, "which are used when elephants are hoisted aboard ship. So I hope you're going to have something perfectly harrowing in the way of an excuse. No, don't speak hastily! Because no errand-of-mercy story will save you now."
Joan caught her lower lip between sharp small teeth and looked at her hostess with guileless eyes. "You're so hard and suspecting, darling. I'm trying just as hard as I can to tell you everything. It was all because men never look at me, once they've seen you. They really don't. They think I'm more for the children, or something. They just go off and brood over ways to take you away from your worthless husband, and they won't he stimulated to the least interest in me. And I thought that I might stand a chance if I could get at this one before he even saw you. So I attracted his attention for a moment by dropping on him from the eaves, and then I ....."
"And what," interrupted Irene, "was the outcome? Your fate hangs on that. Unless it was something drastic —
"Why. darling, how you talk! Outcomes can't ever be drastic. Only actions can be drastic. Such as mine. you know. The outcome was dramatic and romantic and awfully singular. I mean, you'd be surprised!"
"I've been surprised: now I want to be informed."
"You're the very first to hear it darling. We're engaged! It was the suddenest happening, Irene!"
"Minot, is this child telling the truth? Your expression, if any would lend doubt —
"Oh. quite so. Irene. We're betrothed."
"Yes." said Joan in the accents of a grieved child, "we're betrothed. The end justifies the means. And I do wish you would leave the betrothed to themselves. Can't a pair of simple lovers enjoy a moment's privacy in this enormous house? "
Once they were alone, she gave him a shamefaced look, which she tried to laugh off with a feigned recklessness. "Well, I can't help it." she declared. "I had to appease. Irene somehow, didn't I ? She would have torn me limb from limb without the least compunction; she would have been quite cross with me. Anyhow we can call it off after Monday, and you needn't think ..."
He look both her hands. "But I adore you, Joan!"
"You do not: I'm an episode. I'm just an experiment in something or other ..."
"You are Columbine," he declared.
She saw that he was serious. "I do love him," she told herself fiercely that night. "I'm simply limp with adoration. He has something I always suspected somebody would have. Why should I have to be kissed for years and years before I know what I think? Do I have to know what I think ever? He has what's called elan". Now I'm in love with him in French. I love him in every language, including the Scandinavian."
Like Juliet, she was disturbed by the thought that she had been too easily, too quickly won. Not that Minot was the Romeo type. "He's the wire-haired kind. Well, if I pursued him with bloodhounds every day for seven years I 'd probably say I hadn't been coy enough."
SHE went about with him most of the time the following week, except when he had to be working. Minot was an officer of some company that made aeronautical instruments altimeters, tachometers and such things. She was glad, for some reason, that he wasn't just an idler. They got along together marvelously in everything, and he seemed to take an endless delight in her.
Minot Roy was fascinated by her, by her surcharge of life. She was animated by things which often escaped his observation, she was sensitive to things he felt vaguely, she was sometimes caught in moods he could not fathom. Everything had an appeal for her.
Her laughter, her moments of graver sweetness, the darting activity of her mind captivated him. She made life faceted and glowing.
He could not connect her in any way with poignancy. She was Columbine to him, sparkling wine, a theme allegro vivace. No shadow of sorrow had touched Joan: nothing would daunt her. She would have no attitudes of firmness, no somber moods. So he thought.
Their modulation into a tragic minor key came suddenly. Out of a clear sky Minot became, so far as Joan was concerned, a half-alien being with a sinister ideal, a man with a passion apart from her. She was unnerved at first and dismayed; then she became adamant in her rebellion.
They had been for another week-end to Irene, who now showed an interesting reaction. Irene had become smug about their engagement. Coolly ignoring the facts, she now considered the match the result of her own happy ingenuity. She was affectionate to Minot and indulgent toward Joan.
"She treats us as if we were her favorite puppets." Joan said. "We might as well let her, because nothing will stop her anyway, and it seems to make everybody more humane."
They drove off on Monday morning together, heading for the flying field, where Minot had an appointment. Arriving, they found a lynx-eyed chief pilot and had talk about an air-speed indicator. There were some planes on line for testing.
Joan became silent before a tiny single- scat fighter. What was so sinister about it? Years ago her father had flown a crazy old crate: the pilot sat on two slats in front and fought every puff of wind for his life with a clumsy set of controls. Yet that plane had looked like an innocent toy, somehow humorous.
Something about this small-span pursuit ship disturbed Joan; she could not put the feeling in words. The sinuous cowl, the rakish stagger of the wings, the streamlines struck her with dull terror.
Gallant men had offered up their lives in the evolution of this exquisite thing. Their experience was embodied in it; more, their spirit and their life. Now this ship was endowed with life; all pilots knew that.
This ship had life and a malevolent will of its own. It hated man, its creator.
Gallant men . . . exemplary gallantry. . . . Joan's thoughts broke off on a soft, bitter laugh that surprised herself. The pilot had said, "Take her up yourself if you like, Roy." He meant the ship.
Minot came back from the hangar in teddies and helmet. He said something about not being long and got into the cockpit. His smile looked inhuman because of goggles. Joan nodded mutely; her face had gone ashen.
The motor coughed once and went off in a rising chromatic drone. After an interval Minot signaled the mechanics, who yanked the chocks from the wheels and ducked under the wings. All very matter-of-fact. He took off in a hundred feet of runway and came around in a wing slip, his exhaust echoing from the hangars. She saw him wave just before he went into an Immelmann for altitude and passed out of her clear vision.
She was thinking irrelevantly, perhaps, of exemplary gallantry. Absolute defiance of danger. Citation. Near Fismes, France. Lieut. Charles Minturn, while on voluntary patrol, encountered a flight of four enemy planes (Fokker type) and at once engaged them in aerial combat with extraor- dinary valor. By exercise of the highest skill, he —— Joan's eyes were fixed upon a tiny ship in the azure of the sky; it flashed silver in the sun as Minot Roy exercised the highest skill in a series of half rolls and steep stalls —— brought down one enemy plane in flames and forced a second into retreat. He then went into a spinning nose dive as a tactical maneuver but was unable to extricate his ship from the vrille. . . . Minot Roy was illustrating above but was able to extricate his ship from the vrille. . . . Posthumously awarded. Medal presented to his sister.
A fighting plane had borne Joan's brother to his last rendezvous, and in lieu of a brother a slip of paper had been given her. It flashed back clear in her memory now, while Joan relived a little girl's inconsolable grief. A brother, a lover, death, adoration and fear were confused in the grown-up heart of a child.
"I can't stand it!" Joan brought out. Then she became for the first time aware of the pilot beside her. "My brother crashed in France. I was twelve then. My mother and father weren't alive; I got his citation."
Joan nodded. "He got two Fokkers. I can't bear the sight of a ship; I just found it out."
THE pilot cocked an eye upward. "Roy's all right, you know. That stuff's routine." He took her arm kindly and walked with her in the general direction of the landing zone. As they got there Minot came down out of the sky with his wires yowling and hopped out as if he hadn't been anywhere.
"Sweet little ship. I make her stalling speed about fifty," he remarked to the pilot. "Check? That's better than you need, then." At the same time he squeezed Joan's arm with his own to let her know he'd rather be talking to her—and would be presently. He did not notice her funk.
They drove away from the drome a few minutes later. Joan had to summon courage to say, "I never knew you were an airman, Minot. Why didn't you tell me? "
"Why, didn't I ever mention it? You never asked."
"I never thought of it." She laughed pathetically and added, "You never asked me if I was a snake charmer."
"What's the matter, darling?"
"I thought you made flight gauges and tachs. Must you fly? "
He made instruments, yes; but he had to keep in contact with developments in aircraft. He was vitally interested in something called the Future of Aviation. He had to fly because of an obscure devotion to a cause. Men were like that.
DEAREST, I simply have a gibbering horror of flying. I didn't know it till today. Chuck, my brother, was shot down in the war. They brought me a citation when I was on the way to a kids' party and told me he was dead. He was all I had until you. Oh, I won't let you fly!"
Minot said, "That was combat, precious. The flying I do is as safe as cab driving."
" I can't help it. It's a nightmare." His tone took on the faintest edge of challenge or hauteur. "Are you asking me to give up flying?" he inquired. It was as if he felt that he reduced the whole thing to absurdity by the question.
"Yes." Then, as his tone cut deeper:
"No! No, I'm not! I'm asking you to give me up. I won't control your actions, but I can control my own. You can fly all you want to, and I'll marry a man who digs subways."
" Don't! Don't talk like that! We can discuss it, don't you think, without an ultimatum at the very outset?"
"All you like," she agreed. " But you're temporizing. You think I'm being stubborn about an idea that I'll forget in a day. I won't though. I won't change."
They returned to their argument on the following day and came out, as Joan had predicted, at the same point. She was wistful, there was an altered sweet timbre to her voice; but on the verge of despair she stood firm.
After Minot Roy went up again she sent back his ring.
IRENE took her recalcitrant puppet in hand. "You're right, of course, Joan. Flying is for the young and the adventurous. Minot ought to chuck it now. You can easily make him, too, but you'll have to use a little subtlety about it, my dear! That's one of the things women are supposed to know. You can not only make him give it up, but you can make him think he did it of his own accord. You've simply got to be ..."
"Meretricious is the word, darling," said Joan; " and thank you, no! If I ever find myself slipping into the kind of a trollop who lisps and weeps and niggles a man into a tame cat I hope that heaven will send me triple chins. I'd rather he crashed!"
Joan strove visibly for nonchalance, but her eyes blazed. No one could doubt her intensity of feeling; it was the more dramatically evident because it was alien to her volatile heart. She could be inflexible, it appeared, but Irene could feel the strain in that fine-drawn spirit. She found Joan touching by reason of that taut fragility. Joan's firmness made heartache visible.
SOMETHING, Irene concluded before many days, had to be done. Joan and Minot were deplorably altered. Neither was plunging into folly, as people sometimes will for distraction at such times. Rather, they both were like highly tuned engines racing with the clutch out, racking themselves on nothingness.
Joan played auction now. There always had been a delight in watching her fertile efforts to evade playing, and there had been a magnificence about the stupidity she brought to the card table. Now the sight of Joan declaring a hand with a soundness verging upon good sense was pathetic. It was the dusk of the gods of caprice.
Minot was immersed in a sea of plans. A large prize had been offered for a record flight to be made across the country with the object of diverting airmen from the perils of oversea flying. Minot and a partner or two were entering a monoplane in the contest. He spent but an hour or so in the air the whole month. He winced when Joan's name came up, and talked hurriedly about the need of airports.
So, while Joan might have taken to reckless flirtation, and Minot to hedge hopping, neither did. The fact occasioned Irene some pique. It left her unable to point out to them in any concrete way that they were sending each other to the dogs. And yet she knew that their misery was quite as real as any that expressed itself along trite lines of melodrama. For Joan Minturn to play a no-trump hand properly was depravity, but others might not realize that.
"I almost wish," Irene told her husband vehemently, "that Minot would crash! Then perhaps he would quit flying."
"He wouldn't," said Lang Conway, "unless he's killed. In that event he'd no longer be eligible anyhow. Your wish, darling, defeats itself. The truth is he won't crash, and there's the absurdity of Joan's attitude. Flight is as sate as anything else. Air transport abroad is as common as trams."
"Oh, don't!" Irene said wearily. That old argument again. What did Joan care about air transport in Europe? Her grievance against flying was exact and particular; her apprehensions focused singly on Minot. A woman did not take the cosmic view in these matters.
It remained that the deadlock would never give way of itself. Minot would not stop flying unless it became expedient from a pilot's point of view to do so. Joan would never marry him while he maintained that attitude. Only an oblique and unbalanced force would move them from their positions. How, Irene futilely continued to ask herself, could she apply such a force?
BRINGING forward the puppet named Haley Otway was a ruse on Irene's part so transparent that it amused Joan. Haley was a sportsman; he prided himself on his woodcraft, his skill in navigation, his boxing and, latterly, his rating as a private pilot. He owned an air coupe.
Duly coached by Irene, he explained to Joan at some length that, in his expert opinion, an airplane was a thoroughly safe affair. It was unreasonable, he said, to worry.
"But I never do worry the least bit, Haley, about the people I'm able to be reasonable about at all!"
The man blinked. If she was going to say things like that there was nothing he could do for her. He couldn't talk such a language! He was a round person; not fat—just round. Round eyes; round face; short, bulging muscles that were hard but looked chubby; stocky small stature. In round numbers his fortune was three or thirty millions—Joan forgot which.
The limits of Irene's purpose behind Haley lay undefined. As a possible suc- cessor to Minot Roy as a fiance, Haley was humorous. His terror of marriage was rooted in the clause "with all my worldly goods I thee endow" and amounted to a phobia. Why, he reasoned, should he yield a comparatively strange woman a lien upon a third of his three (or thirty) millions Just for the sake of marrying her? The price was extortionate.
HE LIVED in dread. He fled from all women capable of having designs, and the number of such was large. He was afraid to kiss a pretty girl even under urgent circumstances for fear of compromise. He shunned the third cocktail lest it lead him into an involuntary elopement.
"I like you," he told Joan. "You're not a sentimental fool. And there's something terribly decent about you." He meant that he believed she would not try to marry him, which was true; and he became cautiously devoted to her.
She found him dull and felt apologetic because she did. "You belong in a background of timber wolves—or Marconi rigging," she explained.
He seemed to be aware of it himself and showed a touching desire to be seen by her in the reflected glamour of his plane. He kept it at a country place of his not far away, where there was a field which had served a year or so ago as a polo field.
She went over with him one afternoon, supposing that he would offer her tea. His servants turned out to be mechanicians, sea cooks and ex-pugs with a democracy of the turf existing between them and Haley; there were none of the tea-tray-bearing kind. This Haley with his entourage of he-men interested her; she forgot to be hungry while he showed off his plane to her with the pride of a boy inventor.
The ship had a tiny cabin instead of open cockpits. While the controls looked more formidable and the instrument board more complex, the interior of the cabin, with its gray mohair upholstery, resembled a smart little town car. He babbled happily about wing incidence and streamline wires.
" I'd love to go up sometime, Haley."
HE HASTILY calculated the matrimonial perils of the airways. Provided he cross no state boundary—— "I thought you were scared to death of it," he said.
Only, she told him, where certain individuals were concerned. "There are people whose altitude doesn't bother me a bit. You're one of them, Haley, and I'm another. If I ever start showing an alarm for your safety you'll know I'm another minx with designs on you."
"Then come on," he invited, and ordered the bus wheeled out. "Why not right now?"
Twenty minutes later they were in the air. A bumping take-off at fifty miles an hour had been mildly disturbing, and the first surge into the air had given Joan an instant's sickly pang. Now there was no sensation about it at all. A small dial indicated an air speed of one hundred and five miles an hour, but at three thousand feet the only sensible motion was a vague drift of the countryside below. Flying, she decided, was a bore, unless one piloted. Even then, it seemed to her, the compartment of an air sedan was a far less exciting place than the cockpit of a speed boat.
CONVERSATION was out, because of the roar of blades and exhaust. Thrills, she concluded, must lie in stunt flying. She touched Haley's shoulder and made an Immelmann, or something like one, with her hand.
Haley shook his head. Not that kind of a ship! She agreed with a yawn and made a hairpin turn with a forefinger signifying home. He nodded and complied with a student's right bank. Soon she began to believe that Haley Otway was lost. He showed no bewilderment, but his downward gaze had a peering, aimless quality. The light was failing fast, but she could see that they were over sparsely wooded country that offered little in the way of landmarks.
In the light of her suspicion she could read a meaning into his actions. When he put the ship's nose down she divined that he was descending to look for a landing place. She was conscious of no fear at their predicament, but the logic of landing appealed to her. If he didn't know where his own lighted field was, he was wise in looking for a spot anywhere while daylight lingered. At this lower altitude it now was definitely dusk.
A clearing came quite suddenly across her vision—a pale straight swath between the purple areas of woodland. It was two or three times the span of the wings and ran, apparently, gently upward to the brow of a slope. Certainly it was a very odd sort of clearing; it was, nevertheless, a fortunate prospect for landing if Haley could taxi his ship straight between the fringing trees. She turned to him excitedly, pointing, and saw that he was already circling to descend. His eyes had been sharper than hers.
She gravely watched him move the stick forward. As he throttled back he gave her a second's smile, rather sickly under eyes alight with dread.
He yelled, "Sorry, Joan. Hold everything!" Then he bent forward, striving to pierce the murk with his eyes.
There might, Joan suggested to herself, very probably be stumps. The great dark shadow of the earth came up to meet them. . . .
Haley's body, hugging the stick, straightened out in a physical spasm against the back of the pilot's seat. Head back, eyes tight closed, teeth bared, he wrenched the ship into an almost vertical zoom and gave her the gun. Something scraped the fuselage, as an iridescent blue-mauve flame wrapped the ship.
Flame filled the cabin. The whole world was a blinding flame, instantaneously followed by an infinite darkness in which floated mauve suns. A boom like surf merged into the roar of the exhaust at full throttle. They had skimmed a thirty-three thousand volt transmission line.
SKY and earth were indistinguishable in the coruscating blackness that followed the flash. By a happy reflex Haley brought the ship out on the verge of a loop. With all controls centralized, he sagged, waiting, white-faced. Nothing happened. Inconceivable that the gas tanks had escaped, that wing flaps and rudder had not been seared off by that white-hot arc! Yet nothing went wrong as second followed second, and Haley breathed again.
Joan gave him a smile of encouragement. "Can you imagine!" she cried as he throttled down again. "Don't you really think we were really awfully lucky? Haley, I don't believe we'd better try landing there, do you?"
Haley gave her an expiring stare and saw that she was serious. He said nothing, grimly. They remained, no less than before, lost; even that was temporarily better than a washout. Joan saw that he was looking vaguely out to his left.
As she followed his gaze with her own an apparition of another ship careened out of the skies on its right wing tip, flattened out below them and then went skidding off to the left again in a split arc. A red flare from a Very marked its passing. Haley banked and followed the course laid down by a dotted red line of fire from the other ship's exhaust.
Minot Roy had called Irene from the flying field late that afternoon. "I'd like to run out and see you. Is Joan with you? If she is perhaps I'd better not."
"She's here, Minot. That is, she's flying at the moment with Haley Otway, but ..."
"Flying!" he said. "Flying a what?"
"Minot, really! Could it be a C4F6, or is that a radio tube? I don't know the names of them."
Irene meant flying. He left the telephone, cursing softly, and went to the residential chief pilot. "Dick, can you let me have the Wasp for a while? "
"Girl's gone up with one of these Fly- in-Ten-Easy-Lessons aces—be an Aviator and Surprise Your Friends!"
"What girl? The one who won't ..."
"That's the one," said Minot.
"Take the Wasp, yes. But what do you expect to do—throw her a rope?"
"I don't know. You might break out a Very for me."
THIRTY minutes brought him over the Otway polo field, where no plane was in evidence. He volplaned down and yelled "Otway?" as he skimmed the ground near a couple of lounging mechanics. They made gestures in a northerly direction and stared as he opened up again.
Minot leveled out at five thousand feet and throttled to a cruising speed of a hundred and forty miles an hour. At that rate he ought obviously to meet or overtake the slower ship before long. What to do then was a matter of some vagueness to him. He was driven by anxiety rather than purpose. He was intolerant of such pilots as Otway, but his concern for Joan's safety was sheer funk. Risks touching her unnerved him. He was not unaware of the irony of the situation.
Minot, flying to intercept the other, maintained some altitude for the time being. Visibility was bad just now, while the darkness was not quite sufficient to show the glow of an exhaust. In a general way, however, he could estimate Otway's position from minute to minute. Far below and a few miles to the eastward a lighted town gave him a landmark. He drifted along during a considerable interval of uncertainty.
WITH complete darkness he started to descend, straining his eyes for the first glimpse of an exhaust's fiery dust. What leaped into his astonished vision was a great blue electric disturbance, like a trolley flash vastly magnified. In the same instant darkness loomed on his left. The lighted town had gone out like a snuffed candle!
Minot groaned and laid the Wasp's nose down. His mind accepted instantly the appalling surmise that Otway had glided into high-tension lines. He waited in agonized suspense for the wrecked plane to burst into flames. After seconds he leveled his dive, stalled and listened. Unmistakably from below came the echo of a zooming plane. Incredibly Haley had pulled out of it!
"Good old Otway!" For that kind of nerve Minot had a grin of savage glee.
He gave the gun to the Wasp again and let go with a Very ball. Commanding a flight of two planes in formation, he streaked for Otway's field. The other could, it appeared, follow. Minot diminished his speed to that of the slower plane and sagged listless over his stick. His nerves were in a frayed condition which no previous mishap in the air had ever occasioned.
What stiffened him was a mounting, irrational anger at Joan. She could not endure his toying with death and then blithely toyed with it herself in three simultaneous forms! Over the polo field at length, he circled while they landed. He could not resist, then, the impulse to up-end his plane and to send snarling down upon her the indignant rattle of his exhaust.
WHEN he arrived at Irene's he found Joan playing bridge. She gave him a beseeching, slightly guilty look and said to her partner, "It was your original spade bid, wasn't it? I'll say five spades, then. Hello, Minot." She spread out her hand and came toward him.
"Come outside," she begged; and, once they were away from the others, "Minot, please don't tell Irene about our scraping those telegraph wires. Because if she ..."
Minot said " Telegr——" and choked on a sort of snort. "Oh, you precious idiot."
"Minot, I'm so glad you've come," she sighed. "Have you been having a nice time lately?"
"I've been having a hell of a time lately."
"So have I. Poor you and me! Darling, it's all my fault—I mean I've been too silly, I really have! But now I'm all over it; isn't that relieving? Because I know flying isn't like I thought it was, and foolhardy, and everything, because even if you ever do get into a kind of an awkward place for a minute you can always get out of it somehow. It's really just technical, I mean, isn't it? And when you're flying I shan't worry; I mean I'll maybe worry, but I'll realize there isn't a particle of need of it."
He was muttering. "Telegraph wires. A kind of a moment's awkwardness in some telegraph wires, but not a particle of danger. . . . Oh, dearest, dearest!"
"Darling," she said, "your teeth are chattering!"