Panic didn’t set in until the train pulled out of the station. After fighting what seemed like half the merchant navy on the platform, Kit had, thanks to his RAF railway warrant, secured a seat in a First-Class compartment. Squeezed between a RN first lieutenant and a self-important civilian, he suddenly felt trapped. Why on earth was he travelling half-way across the country to spend a week in a village he’d never seen with people he didn’t know?
Christopher “Kit” Moran had just spent six months in South Africa under the Empire Training Scheme. The former flight engineer now wore the distinctive silver wings on his RAF tunic that proclaimed him a pilot, while his sleeve bore the single wide stripe of a Flying Officer. He had seven days of “disembarkation leave” before he reported for operational training. His family, however, lived in Nigeria, and since he had no relatives in England, he had accepted Georgina Reddings’ invitation to spend the week with her parents in Yorkshire.
Georgina had been engaged to Kit’s former skipper, Donald Selkirk, who had been killed in action in November of the previous year. Georgina’s intense grief at his death and open display of emotion had embarrassed her fellow students at the teacher training college, shocked family friends, and convinced her doctor that she needed psychiatric help. Kit, on the other hand, hadn’t minded listening to her talk incessantly about Don. He felt it the least he could do for his dead friend. In the last four weeks before he left for South Africa, Georgina and Kit had shared their memories of Don. They had seen a lot of each other in this time but had not become romantically involved.
To Kit’s surprise Georgina had written to him while he was in South Africa — fifty-eight times. At first, her letters had been all about Don and her feelings for him, but she politely ended her letters by asking Kit about himself. He answered cautiously, saying nothing about his feelings, only what he was doing, the people he met, the places he went. Gradually, she enquired further, apparently finding vicarious joy in his sense of accomplishment as he mastered flying or his pleasure at seeing his parents again when they came all the way from Nigeria for a short visit. Gradually, her letters became more about the present than the past, about the two of them rather than Don.
Cautiously yet with studied casualness, Kit had risked mentioning that he would have a week’s leave on arrival and didn’t know what to do with it. He’d hoped Georgina would suggest meeting up and spending time together. Instead, she suggested he spend the week with her parents. Kit wasn’t quite sure what he should make of that.
As the train got up steam, Kit studied his fellow passengers in the six-seater compartment. The RN lieutenant was sleeping with his cap pulled low to shield his face. The civilian was making corrections to some paperwork and handing it page by page to his personal secretary, who sat opposite him. The other two passengers, middle-aged women in WVS and VAD uniforms respectively, were lost in knitting and reading. The wheels clacked, the carriage rattled, the dusty curtains swayed to the rhythm of the rails.
Kit undid the left breast button of his tunic to remove Georgina’s last letter. Holding it up in the dim blue overhead light, he read it for the hundredth time. “Why don’t you spend your leave with my parents in Foster Clough?” She asked in her lovely, elegant script, evoking her melodic voice in his mind. “It’s a beautiful part of the country that you really ought to get to know, and there’s excellent shooting too. No big game such as you have on your safaris, of course,” he could hear her tinkling laugh in those written words, “but lots of pheasant, partridge, grouse and hare. It’s wonderful country for riding, too, and my two hunters could use the exercise. But if it rains (as it does a lot), you’ll love the books in my father’s library.” All very nice and inviting, but not a word about wanting her parents to meet him. It was, he decided, pointedly impersonal, despite being tailored to his known interests of hunting, riding and reading.
To make things worse, the letter continued, “I’ll try to join you if you’re there over a weekend, but my apprentice teaching starts this autumn, and the college has a rigorous summer program of preparation and orientation. Given how difficult travel is these days, I doubt I’ll be able to get home for more than a day.” That was all understandable, but it didn’t exactly sound like a young woman willing to move heaven and earth in order to spend time with the young man she was keen on, either.
Kit’s eyes lingered over the sentences one more time, and then with an inward sigh he folded the letter and slipped it back into his pocket. No matter how he read it, it did not sound like a love letter.
So, why was he doing this to himself? Wasn’t he facing enough challenges returning to England and to operations? In roughly five months he was going to have to get into a bomber and fly it through God-knew-what-awful weather, flak and enemy fighters with six other men depending on him to get them there and back. He believed he could do it. He was determined that he would do it. But why complicate his life with unrequited love?
Because, of course, he hoped that Georgina would come to love him — if only they could see a little more of one another.
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