GAMES AT DEAUVILLE is the sequel of FLIGHT AT PEENEMŰNDE. Hopefully, you'll find it as appealing.
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A light flashed above the entrance to the cockpit.
I sat up in my seat, gripping its armrests. My mouth was suddenly dry, my breathing shallow. Insane thoughts of our crashing in flames whirled in my mind. Resisting them, I told myself that I was worse than an old woman.
Barry felt my tension and turned to me, his hand covering mine. Ignoring the doubt I saw in his eyes, I forced myself to be rational. What could the light mean?
The flight continued to feel smooth. I smelt nothing burning. No-one had entered the passenger cabin from the cockpit, in an agitated state or otherwise. Pettigrew still calmly chatted with Elizabeth across the aisle from us. The only difference from this point in our journey and the rest of the flight that I could make out, was that the whine of our three engines had grown deeper.
The significance of the light began to dawn on me. We were descending or were about to. I suddenly felt foolish. My face flushed. I should have known better; I was an experienced aviator after all.
I snorted. Less than three months ago, I had flown an overloaded Dragonfly out of Prussia and managed to get my passengers to safety. I glanced back to Barry and found him watching me intently, his jaw set.
I smiled at him and, squeezing his hand, leaned across him to see the pristine blanket of snow that covered France below us. Sitting up, I saw that damnable light still flashing over the entrance to the cockpit. I was comfortable that it wasn't a danger signal but still wondered what it was. I glanced to young Pettigrew half standing and holding onto the back of the seat in front of Elizabeth so that he could see out her window.
I supposed that he was explaining to her where we were and other bits of information that he hoped would make her find him interesting.
"I say, Pettigrew," I said.
The poor man instantly had his weight on his feet and was pushing himself to attention. To all appearances, he'd instantly forgotten my cousin. He pivoted and faced me. "Sir?"
"There's a light flashing above the entrance to the cockpit," I told him.
He glanced quickly forward before slowly turning back to me. A smile tugged at his lips. "It's a device Handley Page has installed in its fleet of aeroplanes, my Lord. The civilian version of the Heracles sits 38 passengers and has a steward who serves drinks and even dinner. The sign there is to alert the steward to have everyone put on their safety harnesses."
"Ah." It was all that I could say as I felt my face again burn.
"His Lordship has never flown commercially," Barry told the sub-lieutenant from beside me, coming immediately to my defence. "I saw it and was worried," he lied.
Pettigrew nodded, accepting the explanation. "I understand it's new." He shrugged. "Actually, I'd not noticed it before myself." He stepped out into the aisle.
"I probably should go forward and help the poor man find his way to the ground," he told me, his smile growing. "He may fly rings around me, sir - but his landings leave something to be desired." He turned to Elizabeth. "If you'll forgive me then, Miss Elizabeth?" She nodded and he turned to me. "My Lord? Mr. Alexander?"
Moments after Pettigrew had entered the cockpit, the areoplane began to nose forward. It shuddered slightly as I fastened my harness. The pitch of the engines changed again, becoming even deeper. Barry's hand gripped my arm hard. I turned to face him.
"It's all right, love," I told him softly. "We're just coming in for a landing." I smiled reassuringly. "It's all perfectly normal."
His grip on my arm loosened. His fear still showed in his eyes, but he now had it under control. "Thanks. I think."
"I'll know for sure when both of my feet are firmly on the ground and I'm walking on them," he answered, his voice still obviously under tight control.
* * *
Through the window of the Stella, Louis-Philippe unhappily watched the aeroplane begin its final descent. He was not going to enjoy the week ahead of him.
Colonel de Gaulle, however, had personally requested that he act as host to the English party until the Minister could arrive in Deauville. He suspected that Major Urnazy, his superior officer, had been behind the assignment. But what was he to do? De Gaulle himself had asked him.
Instead of the warm desert breezes of Morocco, he was going to freeze this next week in Normandy. He wondered idly if Doña Esmeralda still held the soirees in her salon. Her parties were brainless but relaxed - like she was. Lareche would be far more pleasant than the week that lay before him - escorting old, and boring, English politicians.
He expected an English entourage that would remind him of that bulldog of a man he had met during the summer. Winston Churchill was a wise man - the kind of man it would take to lead the English against Hitler's Boches - but he didn't relish giving up his Christmas leave for people Churchill's age and who looked like him.
He opened the door of the Renault car as the English aeroplane touched the ground. He remained seated and pulled on his gloves as he watched the landing. As the aeroplane began to taxi towards the radio tower, he pushed himself out of the car and stood. He raised his hands and clapped as the bi-plane taxied towards him.
The pilot had been good. He had brought the bi-plane down in a perfect landing. He nodded slowly to himself; the English taught their aviators well.
The portal in the rear of the aeroplane opened less than five metres away. A young man in the uniform of the English Navy pushed the folding steps down to the ground with his foot. Louis-Philippe pulled himself to attention as the young Englishman reached the ground and stood at attention.
A man his age stepped out of the aeroplane behind the aviator. Blond, he was at least ten centimetres taller than Louis-Philippe. He was well-dressed and carried himself with the easy grace of a nobleman.
Philippe allowed a smile to tug at his lips. He would not be totally surrounded by les anciens after all, even if he was giving up his Christmas leave. The man turned at the foot of the steps and, looking back to the cabin, extended his hand.
He gasped when a young woman reached out and took the Englishman's hand as she stepped onto the top stair. A small gust of wind lifted her skirt up her calf and he was looking at a leg that would make even the greatest danseuse green with envy. Her free hand dropped to hold her skirt in place. Strands of chestnut hair caressed her cheeks.
Mon Dieu! This woman could not be English! He had seen English women. Women with faces that properly belonged in a stable stall. Women with no taste in clothing. Women who were poorly educated and insisted on displaying their ignorance.
This woman, though! She was - she was ... He had no words with which to describe her. This woman made Doña Esmeralda pale by comparison.
She reached the ground and, smiling up at the blond Englishman, leaned against him. He recognised it as an act of close friendship and - yes - even love. He instantly envied the man the pleasure of such a beautiful woman's companionship.
The young officer started towards him as a red-haired youth stepped out of the aeroplane and joined the man and woman. The three of them behaved with an affection and easy familiarity towards each other that suggested they were on intimate terms.
The English officer stepped up to the French captain and came to attention. His hand came up in a formal military salute and, instinctively, Louis Phillip returned it.
"Sub-lieutenant Pettigrew, sir," the aviator introduced himself as the civilians started towards them. "I have the honour to present Baron Petersholme, his cousin Miss Elizabeth Myers, and their guest Mr. Barry Alexander."
"Merci," Louis-Philippe answered. So, Elizabeth Myers is the Baron's cousin, he told himself. And she's not married. A smile tugging at his lip. "Be at ease," he continued in English.
* * *
I watched Pettigrew reach the French officer and salute him. The Frenchman's heels clicked and he smartly saluted back. He was a good looking man with light brown hair. My age, perhaps four inches shorter than my six feet. His complexion was darker than I remembered the people of northern France having - almost as if he were still tanned from a summer in the south of France. As I took him and his actions in, I also watched him pull himself together, becoming completely military.
We approached them as the lieutenant was introducing us. The Frenchman kept stealing glances at Elizabeth and the whisper of a smile touched his lips. Elizabeth was going to have plenty of opportunity to practise her flirting.
"Welcome to France, Monsieur le Baron," he said. "I am Capitaine Louis-Philippe d'Orléans. The Minister of Justice has assigned me to be your escort until he can free himself from affairs of state."
I offered my hand. "We English aren't that formal, Capitaine d'Orléans," I told him. "Anything friendly that you want to call me will suffice."
As he took my hand, I noticed the medal on his greatcoat - a knight's helmet with a crested helm. Armour. Churchill had told me that I would be briefing this de Gaulle chap. I guessed that the good Colonel was accepting responsibility for my party's safety.
D'Orléans. The name struck a bell, as did his Christian names. Louis-Philippe had been the last King of France, almost hundred years ago. And - yes, I remembered now - the d'Orléans family were the heirs to the French throne. As I recalled the history of the French Revolution, Robespierre and his murderous Jacobins had been quite effective in rounding up the Bourbons who unwisely remained in the country and putting them under the guillotine.
I imagined Aunt Alice rubbing her hands in glee at the prospect of studying his bloodlines, especially after watching him take stock of Elizabeth.
"Lord Petersholme," Pettigrew said, "Capitaine d'Orléans will be your escort while you're in France, sir."
"And where will you be when we're ready to leave?" I asked.
Pettigrew managed to hide most of the smile that stole across his face. "I'll remain in Paris until you're ready to return to England, sir. We'll be ready at a moment's notice."
I smiled back. I knew very well what young, healthy men would do with several days of freedom in Paris. "Thank you for a pleasant voyage," I told him. "And enjoy yourself - but make sure that Capitaine d'Orléans' office knows how to track you down."
Turning back to d'Orléans, I said: "This is my friend from America, Barry Alexander-" Barry had his hand out instantly and the Frenchman took it.
Behind me, I heard Pettigrew make his farewell to Elizabeth. "And my cousin, Elizabeth Myers," I continued.
D'Orléans bowed and took her hand, bringing it to his lips. "My pleasure, Mademoiselle," he said.
D'Orléans' driver joined Pettigrew and our pilot in quickly getting our luggage from the aeroplane to the boot of the car that bore a slight external resemblance to a Rolls Royce.
We sat in the back of the car, Barry and Elizabeth on either side of me. D'Orléans opened the jumpseats in front of Elizabeth and sat there, facing all three of us. "We have a journey of approximately 120 kilometres to Deauville, Baron Petersholme," the Frenchman told me as the car pulled away from the end of the runway. "Have you been to Normandy?"
"No. Just Paris, I'm afraid - and only by night coach then."
Elizabeth blushed. "Unfortunately, no, Capitaine," she answered in French. "I fear that I've led a sheltered life-"
"This is your first visit to France then?" d'Orléans asked, his voice incredulous, and leaned closer to her.
"It's my first time in France too," Barry whispered at my ear. "I don't see him showing much interest in my lack of worldliness."
I turned to find him smiling at me - freckles and all.
I glanced at Elizabeth. There was a sparkle to her eyes that I'd not seen before and it seemed to me that she waited with bated breath for d'Orléans' next statement.
"If your cousin permits, may I show you the casino at Deauville this evening, Mademoiselle Elizabeth?" the Frenchman asked.
I looked over at him. "That could prove enjoyable," I said and turned casually to gaze through the window beyond Barry at the snow-covered homes and gardens as we began to pass through the outer suburbs of Paris. I conscientiously pretended that I did not see the smirk that covered his face.
Aunt Alice was going to have me drawn and quartered before Christmas. Liza's interest was exactly what my aunt'd worked so hard to develop the past couple of years. Perhaps, if d'Orléans had a title, though ...
"And the cabarets of Deauville, Mademoiselle," Louis-Philippe said to Elizabeth. "They are risqué, but so much fun. Perhaps-" He smiled apologetically at me. "Monsieur le Baron, perhaps I have misspoken? Is it proper to invite an English lady to view such a performance - accompanied of course by yourself and Mr.-?"
"Alexander, Capitaine," Elizabeth supplied in French, her hand grazing the sleeve of the Frenchman's greatcoat. "His name is Barry Alexander."
D'Orléans looked sheepish as he turned to Barry. "I am most sorry, Mr. Alexander. Forgive me please?" Barry nodded and the Frenchman's gaze returned to me. "The cabarets in Deauville are quite sedate compared to some of the revuës available in Paris-"
Elizabeth and Barry had found their way to some of the more ribald shows that London offered; and I had said nothing. In fact, I had joined them once - and enjoyed myself immensely.
It was still early afternoon. I could not see a cloud in the sky. The suburbs had given way to countryside beyond the car. The sun reflected brightly off the snow in the fields. Our drive into France was quickly promising to be fun. Pettigrew's interest in Elizabeth on the flight over had been amusing. She had clearly enjoyed flirting with the sub-lieutenant, but I only had to look at how her eyes flashed and her cheeks flushed when the Frenchman spoke to her to see that she was smitten.
"We aren't that sheltered from the world, Capitaine," I told him, choosing to pretend to ignore his attraction to Elizabeth and hers to him. "I think the three of us might enjoy a bit of humour."
"Très bien!" He grinned happily. "We will have a night on the town then, as you would say it. Tonight the casino and tomorrow, perhaps, the cabarets?"
I decided not to tell him the expression he had used was American, not English. "When will Mr. Reynaud be available to hear my report, Captain?" I asked, remembering what had brought me to France.
D'Orléans paused, his eyes seemed to blank for the barest instant. He managed to make his whole body an apologetic statement. "Monsieur le Baron, I regret that the Minister of Justice is involved in very delicate negotiations-"
"It is the nature of the Republic, you understand? Everyone has his position - his agenda - every party has. And no-one wishes to appear to have capitulated. The negotiations, whether finished or still - ah ..." He obviously sought a word. "Hovering - yes? One hovers over something until one is committed, n'est - ce pas?"
He shrugged. "He will be with you no later than this Friday evening to hear your report."
"Friday?" I groaned. Where were Churchill's three days? I had obligations, not the least of which was making my son happy.
"Unfortunately, yes, Baron Petersholme."
"There's nothing to do for it than to meet your Colonel de Gaulle then. I'll brief him on the German rocket programme and we can return to England."
Again, d'Orléans managed to epitomise an apology from the top of his head to the toes of his boots. "That, too, is impossible, Baron."
I stared at the man. "Why?"
"Colonel de Gaulle has already retired to his estate for the holidays."
"He was to receive my report with this Reynaud chap!" I groaned.
"He asked that I sit in on your conference with the Minister, Baron Petersholme." He shrugged. "I am fully qualified as a field grade officer in the Army of the Republic. In addition, I am an amateur aviator."
D'Orléans glanced at Elizabeth and smiled. "Perhaps, Baron Petersholme," he said, "you will win at the gaming tables at the casino in Deauville this evening."
I shrugged. "We're at your disposal, Captain," I told him. "The casino will be fine." Elizabeth giggled.
I consciously forced myself to study the land as we passed through it. Black and white Frisian beef cattle foraged through snow-covered fields in search of corn. We passed a farmer stocking a shelter with hay from his wagon. I became lost in the idyll of the French countryside.
Barry elbowed my arm. "Look at the cows, Lord Petersholme," he said when I turned to him. Every muscle in his face fought against the grin threatening to take hold there. "Don't you think they'd be a good addition to the stock at Bellingham Hall?" he asked, his eyes twinkling with merriment. "Bringing in new blood could improve your stock, you know."
Accepting the situation, I smiled to myself. Elizabeth had thoroughly enjoyed playing match-maker through the spring and summer to Barry and myself. It was almost as if they had worked together to dismantle every wall of my defences. I now had five days in which to feed her some of her own medicine.