Then, as things settled down again and the four returned pilots clustered around the table with the tea urn, Donohue called out from his deck chair, “So what’s a hobbit, Tolkien?”
The sprog spun about as if he’d been shot, knocking over his mug in the process. “What did you say?”
“Hobbit. What the hell is a—”
“How dare you!” Tolkien flung himself at Donohue, ripping the loose pages he was holding out of his hand – or trying to. He only succeeded in tearing some while Donohue, in an effort to escape the violent assault, let the rest drop. The wind instantly caught these and started blowing them across the field. “You bastard! You bastard!” Tolkien screamed, and chased after the blowing pages. Stunned, the others stared after him. Then Banks, Reynolds, and Kiwi sprang to help him, while Priestman turned on Donohue and demanded, “What the hell was that all about?”
“Sir?! He attacked me, not the other way around!” Donohue declared in a tone of outraged innocence.
“I don’t know what the hell a hobbit is, but I gather you and Tolkien do.”
“Honest, sir, I don’t. I just found this manuscript lying about when we got back—”
“Since when does an Officer of the Crown read another officer’s mail, Flying Officer Donohue?”
“But, sir! It was lying around—”
“And you bloody well know why! When we scramble, there’s no time to pack up personal belongings – which is all the more reason to respect other people’s privacy. Am I commanding an active squadron of the RAF or running a kindergarten?” Priestman exploded. Then, taking a deep breath, he said in a calmer tone to Donohue, “You’ll apologise to Tolkien the minute he gets back here, and don’t let me ever hear of anything like this again.”
Priestman glanced at the field, where most of the scattered pages appeared to have been retrieved, but Tolkien was still chasing a last sheet. Reynolds, Goldman and Kiwi were sorting the pages they had captured and stacking them into a single pile. At last Tolkien caught the last run-away sheet and joined the others.
When Priestman came up, Tolkien’s face was a rigid mask, his jaw clamped. He took the sheets from the others with a choked “Thanks” that expressed no genuine gratitude. Kiwi raised his eyebrows, but Robin jerked his head in the direction of dispersal, and the others, with an exchanged glance, followed his hint. “Right, then,” Priestman addressed the sullen pilot glaring at the ground. “What was that all about?”
“He was reading my stuff!”
“I’ve ticked him off for it, and he will apologise to you immediately. But, frankly, there are more mature ways of dealing with the situation.”
“You don’t understand!”
“You’re damned right, I don’t understand. I’ve got enough trouble on my hands fighting the bloody Hun, dealing with AWOL fitters, priggish WAAF Officers, and hysterical girlfriends without my pilots attacking one another!”
“It’s a manuscript my father sent me. Something he’s writing for me – just for me! Its personal, sir. Completely personal.”
“I understand, but you would have been far more effective if you had coldly pointed out to Donohue that by reading someone else’s personal mail he had put himself on the level of spying chamber-maids.”
“Yes, sir,” Tolkien agreed, but his face was as rigid as ever and his tone resentful. Robin sighed; just when he thought the Auxiliary pilots were coming around, his sprogs started making trouble for him. Was he never going to get this squadron in shape?
Click Follow to receive emails when this author adds content on Bublish