winged victory (extract)
by vm yeats
When they had landed, they gathered in an eager group to discuss the fight. Miller was there; he had gone straight home with his engine missing. Someone had gone down in flames. It must be Seddon. Bulmer was certain he had seen Williamson later, but what had become of him nobody knew. Yes, it must be Seddon.
It emerged from the discussion that at least five Huns had been shot down; one in flames. The flamer was Miller's; he was elated about it. Mac had got one, and was annoyed because his guns had jammed when he was likely to have got another. Bulmer had secured his thirtieth victim. Poor Seddon had got one, and it was possible that Williamson had also; or a Hun might have got him. He was fighting when last seen.
Forster had seen whoever it was go in flames; he was too far away to know it was Seddon. If it was Seddon he had just got a Hun, and another one had attacked him when he was probably looking after his own victim, and it had got him. It was a great pity about Seddon, who had just become deputy leader of A flight and was doing well. And about Williamson if he also had gone west. They had lost one, or perhaps two, of their most promising men for five or six Huns. It wasn't quite good enough.
Tom reported at the office, and then went to his hut, which now he had to himself. Williamson would probably turn up later. He couldn't get used to the idea that Seddon was gone.
They had so much to discuss. Surely to God he would come in soon and curse the war and they would talk about their wonderful scheme.
There was a knock at the door. It was the orderly sergeant looking for him. He put on his Sam Browne and cap and shook himself into shape and went to the men's messroom.
There wasn't much occasion to worry about Bill yet; very likely he had had a forced landing somewhere.
`Orderly officer. Shun!' The noise ceased. Tom walked round. Seddon was just charred and bloody garbage; get used to the idea. There were no complaints. Every one of his friends got killed. Surely Bill would come back. He couldn't face the idea that they had both gone.
He changed for dinner. His cold was getting worse. He felt rotten. Smith, Seddon. Williamson ... He hurried to get out of the intolerable hut. He drank some whisky and sat down to dinner, but couldn't eat. People saw he was upset and left him alone. The sun set in a watery haze: no word came from Williamson.
After dinner he sat in the ante-room looking at a book. Then he got up and went to the office, where, as orderly officer, possibly it was his duty to be. He might hear Bill's voice on the telephone. The orderly corporal was there. He sat waiting for the telephone bell. He waited and waited. It was half-past nine; if Bill was all right he ought to have got through by now. The bell rang ... hullo ... the Wing adjutant wanted Captain James. The corporal went to fetch him.
James talked business with Wing. `You know we got five Huns this evening? ... One man down in flames, one missing ... not a bad show, but we've lost two of our best men. . . .'
Tom got sick of waiting for the telephone and walked aimlessly towards the mess. He saw a light in the hut; who was there? Of course, the batman. He went in. The batman was making a bundle of his bedding to take up to the office. Tom sat down on Williamson's bed.
`Dreadful thing about Lieutenant Seddon, sir.'
`And 'im married and got a fam'ly. Dreadful thing. I 'ope no 'arm's come to Lieutenant Williamson. There's nothing 'eard of 'im yet, is there sir?'
`Nothing at all.'
`Don't look promising, do it, sir? And what with Lieutenant Smith being killed yesterday this 'ut fair gives me the creeps. If I was you sir, I'd be glad I was sleepin' in the orfice to-night.'
The batman went with Tom's bed and bedding and came back after a few minutes.
`Bed's all ready, sir. Anything else to-night?'
`Nothing thanks. Good night.'
`Good night, sir.'
Tom got up to go. Where to? He sat down on his chair. The hut was haunted. There were faint echoes of dead voices.
Smith's watch was still going. Who had wound it up? Surely the others would soon be coming in for the night. No, he must accept the fact that they had gone ... for ever. He must face that knowledge. He wouldn't have any more friends. He must be self-sufficient. Friends went, all of them, and he couldn't bear losing any more.
The light of his lamp showed dimly the three empty beds, the three ownerless washbowls and chairs, the shaving tackle and other personal stuff. The social table stood in the middle, covered with the green tablecloth that had been their joint property. The dull light peopled the hut with shadows, grotesque caricatures that bore scarcely any resemblance to the objects that cast them. They were a society of ghosts immobilized by his human presence, waiting to crowd into deep penumbra for some damnable purpose. As long as he watched they were harmless. But he couldn't watch them all. Some behind his back flitted ... what the devil was he thinking? But there seemed to be a congregation of shadows in Seddon's corner. God! He sprang to his feet. He had seen Seddon sitting on his bed. He was going mad. But no, he had known all the time it was pure illusion. He was sane enough. Overwrought.
But it had seemed real. Had Seddon really gone down in flames? Was there no possibility of a mistake? It might have been another Hun. Forster might have made a mistake. Impossible. Seddon was dead. Yet there was just a chance in a million... `Oh, Seddon, for God's sake come back,' he said aloud. The door opened. His flesh crept. Someone came in. The door slammed. It was Williamson.