Actions

Work Header

The Art of Ungentlemanly Warfare

Chapter Text

The weather is growing colder. Autumn has been mild so far but now hurries onwards as though eager to turn into winter. Trees flame orange and then are bare. William says he hates it because it makes the landscape even more bleak than usual. 

Jonathan doesn’t have much time to notice the landscape because Grant is keeping him busy with training. He knows how to leap out of a plane with a parachute now, has spent long hours on the range with Jeremy learning how to fire various weapons and how to use a knife in self-defence. He can use a cipher and send and receive encrypted text to the required standard of accuracy, even if he is a little slower than the real agents. 

Childermass, for lack of other things to do while he was barred from active duty, was assigned to teach him French and basic German but the lessons stalled when Jonathan picked up the Yorkshire accent as well as the new vocabulary.  Grant, hearing his mangled accent, steps in and they fall into the habit of spending scraps of spare time talking in French, over meals in the canteen or after the end of their shifts.  De Lancey takes over with German, which is, he says, his preferred second language although it’s not patriotic to admit it.  He’s a very different teacher to Grant, making jokes about it and turning vocab lessons into games.  Grant is much more serious over his lessons, making Jonathan discuss a wide range of topics or memorise French poetry but Merlin enjoys their talks.  He enjoys the time spent, just the two of them, even though it is a guilty pleasure.  He has made no further references to their awkward conversation, or renewed his suggestions. Instead he finds himself nursing a rather pathetic longing for what time and attention Grant will spare him. He finds himself writing to Arabella for help, for new words to use in conversation just to see Grant’s faint look of surprise and pleasure over an obscure bit of vocabulary he didn’t expect Jonathan to know. 

While Jonathan spends his time on lessons, Grant’s borrowed agents are dropped in France, slowly searching out the edges of the enchantment and its nature.  Bit by bit, whispers come back to England and the map, in a securely locked draw of Arthur’s desk, begins to show the true scope of the problem.  Vision spells are tried and tested, sometimes breaking through to show a fragment of French countryside and more often showing nothing but smoke. Then, as Christmas comes nearer and winter tightens its hold, the news begins to stop.  Nobody can find a cause for the enchantment or a way to break it and tempers begin to fray. 

 

“Have you got a minute, Arthur?”

“Yes, come in.”

Grant shuts the door behind him. “It’s about the situation in France. We aren’t getting anywhere, are we? The information we’re getting from the agents hasn’t given us anything new for weeks.  I think we should get Norrell involved.”

“Norrell?” Arthur never has managed to get along with the man and his dislike shows in his voice.  “I suppose we must.  Shall I telephone him?” 

“No, don’t worry, I had a better idea. Childermass had a letter this morning from a friend in Yorkshire.  It seems John Segundus has been taken ill.  Nothing too serious from what I can gather but Childermass wants to go up there.”

Arthur sighs.  “Understanding as we may be, arranging a leave of absence on those grounds is going to be difficult.  You know that.  Is he worried?”

“Well I’ve seen him look less worried under enemy fire, but that’s Childermass for you.  Anyway, I had an idea to solve two problems at once.  He can talk to Norrell and see his friend at the same time.”

“That does kill two birds with one stone, and if it gets me out of having to be polite to Norrell so much the better.”

“I will be glad to have Childermass out of the building.  He’s been looming about, looking grim.  Doesn’t do anything for morale.  I’m not sure talking to Norrell will solve all our problems though.  We need to get magicians on the ground to take a proper look. We can train our agents all we like but I doubt they will pick up everything a trained magician would.”

“I know, but I’d been hoping to avoid doing it. Strange is a useful asset and I didn’t want to risk his hide on French soil until we knew more about what we were dealing with.  I suppose it’s unavoidable now.  Unless something changes, we’ll send him out at the next full moon.”

“We’ll need a pilot to do that,” Grant says, knowing that this is the topic Arthur has been avoiding for some time.

“What about Hurst?”

“Hurst?  Your first suggestion is Hurst?”  Arthur doesn’t say anything so Grant continues.  “What is going on Arthur?  Why are you avoiding letting William in on this?”

“I’m not avoiding anything, the pilot has no need to know the reason for this mission.  Besides, Hurst flies the Lysanders just as well as anyone else.”

“De Lancey is the best pilot we have! You said only a moment ago you won’t risk the magician’s hide but now you want to send him out with Hurst while you’ve got William twiddling his thumbs and flying milk runs.”

“There’s nothing wrong with Hurst’s flying.” Arthur’s scowl is deepening.

“But there’s also no reason to send him instead of William.”

“I have my reasons, Grant and my decision is final. This discussion is over.”

“Dear God, Arthur.  Do you not trust him?  Has he given you any reason not to trust him?  Or is this something else, some… personal bias?”

“Captain Grant, I warn you, you are crossing the line. I said this discussion was over.”

“And I say you are letting personal bias influence you to the detriment of this mission.”

“How dare you call my authority into question like this?”  

“How dare you question William’s loyalty?”

“This has nothing to do with loyalty!” Arthur shouts at him. 

“Then do you question his competence? Because I tell you if you question his competence you must be blind, or stupid.  Which is it, Sir?”

It’s too far, too much.  For a moment he thinks Arthur might rise out of his seat and hit him.  As it is, his hands curl tight against the edge of the desk.  When Arthur does speak his voice is quiet, too quiet, and very tightly controlled.

“Captain Grant, you are dismissed.”

“Sir, I…”

“Out!”  Arthur’s control snaps and he shouts again, pointing at the door. “Get out!”

Grant goes. 

 

Childermass takes the first train he can. It’s a familiar enough journey but it seems slower than ever.  He knows that he probably has no good cause to worry, particularly given that Mr Honeyfoot told him by letter rather than telegram.  It’s just that he can remember all too clearly how ill John managed to get himself last time, left to his own devices.  Childermass would like to be able to keep a closer eye on him. He’d like to keep a closer eye on everything, to be honest: he can’t be content to let people muddle along by themselves. They get it wrong too often. By the time he arrives it’s growing dark, the winter evening closing in. He knocks at the door of the Honeyfoots’ house, hears someone clatter down the corridor. 

“John?  John Childermass! Whatever are you doing here at this hour?” Mrs Honeyfoot, tea towel in hand, stares at him on the doorstep before ushering him into the house.

“I’m sorry to intrude on you. I have a meeting with Mr Norrell tomorrow and I had your letter to say that John was with you…”

“Oh dear, did you go to your cottage? It must be very cold and damp in this weather and nobody there to welcome you either.  Come in and have a cup of tea.”

“That’s kind of you, thank you. How is John?”

“Oh, he’s not too bad now.  We did worry though.  You remember how poorly he was when he first came here?”

“Yes, I do.”  Childermass doubts he will ever forget.  Or entirely forgive Segundus for writing to him and postponing their meeting due to ‘a minor illness’ when he was actually suffering from pneumonia.  Childermass would like proof of his being ‘not too bad’, to run up the stairs to his room and see it with his own eyes, but he has no socially acceptable right to do so.

“I’m sure he’d be glad to see you if you want to pop up.  I’ll make you some tea first though.  You must have had a long journey.”

He tries to make polite conversation while she brews tea.  Fortunately, while Childermass tends to be taciturn at the best of times, Mr and Mrs Honeyfoot have enough talk to make up for it.  By the time the tea is poured and slices of cake have been cut, Mrs Honeyfoot has already decided that Childermass must stay the night. 

“It’s no trouble really, it won’t take a moment to make up the bed and your cottage must be dreadfully cold. Do stay, John. We’d be glad of the company. The house is so quiet now with two of the girls married.”

He agrees, if only to be nearer to Segundus. Being so close and yet still unable to see him chafes.  He drinks his tea while it’s too hot, eating cake a little too fast to be polite. Eventually Mrs Honeyfoot stands and says, “I’ll just go upstairs and see if John’s feeling up to visitors. If you don’t mind seeing him, that is? I’m sure the poor boy must be dreadfully bored.”  Of course she calls him poor boy.  Segundus has a way of making other people mother him. 

When she finally shows Childermass into the room, Segundus looks up, beaming. 

“John!  Whatever are you doing here?”

“I heard you were ill.”  Segundus flicks his eyes quickly to Mrs Honeyfoot with a brief look of panic, so Childermass continues, “and I have a meeting Norrell tomorrow so I thought I’d visit.”

“Oh, yes, that’s very kind of you.” Segundus smiles, a little more restrained. 

“Well I’ll go and make up that bed,” Mrs Honeyfoot, her mind thankfully on domestic matters, leaves the room. They listen, in silent conspiracy, to her footsteps receding down the corridor and then the thump of cupboards being opened and shut. 

“I can’t believe you’re here!” Segundus said when the coast is clear, “Do you really have a meeting or is that an excuse? You didn’t need to come all this way, you know.”

“As if wouldn’t come, getting the letter I did. I do have a meeting though, Grant arranged it.”

“He’s a good man.”  Segundus finds it easy to see the good in people, but is never anything other than delighted when he does so.  “I’m sure the letter must have exaggerated though. It is only a cold and the Honeyfoots have been very kind.”

Since he’s propped up on about six pillows and has trouble speaking above a hoarse whisper, it’s not entirely convincing.

“I’m not sure I’d say that.  I know you.”

They hold hands, the only thing they can safely do given the potential for interruption.  It’s a tight, white-knuckled grip, trying to say what cannot be said openly: I missed you, I love you, I’m glad you’re here, I wish I could kiss you. Mrs Honeyfoot opens the door and their hands fly apart.

“The bed’s made now. I’d best go down and see to dinner if you are alright here.  Do you need anything?”

Segundus manages to convince her, through hacking coughs, that he is perfectly fine and needs nothing.  The disbelieving look she gives him at least reassures Childermass that John is being looked after by someone who knows how little to trust him. As she makes her way downstairs, Childermass finally gets the moment he has been waiting for, when he can tuck Segundus under his chin, wrap his arms tight around him and know that, despite his earlier fears, John will be alright. 

 

“Arabella?  Darling, is that you?”  The line is bad, turning the voice at the other end into one that could belong to anyone.

“Jonathan!  I’m so pleased you could phone.  I’ve missed your voice.”

“You too, Bell.  How are you?”

“I’m very well, and you?”

“Well, apart from a bit of a cold, but it seems everyone has one at the moment.”

“It’s the weather I suppose.  You’ll have to wrap up warm.  We’ve all been freezing.  You wouldn’t believe how many layers I’ve been managing to wear under my uniform.”

“How is work?  Is it terribly dull in your office?”

“Oh Jonathan.  You know I can’t talk about it any more than you can tell me what you are doing, but yes, it is terribly dull.”

“I hate not being able to talk to you properly. There are things… well, let’s just say there are things I wish I could tell you.”

“You don’t sound happy.  Is everything alright?”

Jonathan grips the telephone tightly, pushing it hard to his ear as though it can make her closer.  He misses her so much it aches and he can’t say a word.

“Jonathan, are you still there?”

“Yes, sorry Bell, I’m here.  It’s just… rather lonely actually.”

“I wish I could come and see you. I just never know when we’re going to have one of our busy moments and I barely have time to sleep, let alone travel. It’s been such a long time and the telephone is never the same, is it?  What about that friend of yours?  Can’t he help?”

“Well, he’s pretty angry right now. Not with me, I don’t think, but yesterday there was a lot of shouting and when I tried to speak to him he…”

“He what, Jonathan?”

“Well, he told me to fuck off.”

He can hear Bell laughing on the other end of the line. “Oh Jonathan!  I’m sorry to laugh, but you sound so serious about it. I’m sure that will all blow over. And there must be other people who might be friendlier.  No pretty WAAFs or WRENS?”

“I don’t want any other people,” he hisses down the phone.

“You’ve got it rather badly for this one, haven’t you?” She sounds kind, almost too kind. It reminds him that he’s probably making a fool of himself. 

“I’m sorry Bell, you know it’s not the same as you and me.  It’s just…”

“It’s alright, really it is.  I don’t mind: we discussed it.  I just wish he was kinder to you or you liked him a little less. I don’t want you to be hurt.”

“I’ll try not to be.  Honest.  I’ll be careful.”

“Be careful in everything else too. One hears dreadful stories in the papers.”

“I know: I’ll do my best to come home safe. Anyway, what about you? Are there any handsome men in your office?”

“I’m afraid not!  Well, there was one, but he only came to visit once so there was nothing to be done.  There are some very pretty girls though.  One of them is just the kind you’d notice.”

“I shall have to visit then.  I do miss you very much, Bell.”

“I miss you too.  Oh, bother, there’s someone’s waiting for the phone now and I’ve been on for ages. I’ll have to go. Stay safe Jonathan.”

“You too Bell.  I love you.”

“I love you too.”

There’s a click and the line goes dead. It takes him a moment to persuade himself to put down the phone. 

 

Childermass goes to Hurtfew early in the morning. He has missed the place, at least the grounds, and wants to see how things are going on there even though his employment is at an end.  While the outside has changed little, inside the Abbey the atmosphere is thick with magic.  So much of the work done here is reliant on spells carried out at a distance.  It makes Childermass feel stretched, like small parts of his mind are being tugged all over England to landscapes he cannot see but only feel. He has to take care to watch his feet on the flagstones of the hall. 

The imperious army liaison officer at Hurtfew, Henry Lascelles, greets him at the door of Mr Norrell’s office and makes a show of checking his appointment in the diary.  Such secretarial tasks ought to be beneath his dignity, but he likes people to know who controls access to England’s most scholarly magician. The loss of Jonathan Strange from his control must have been a bitter blow.  He is the kind of officer that Childermass most despises: dictator of his own small kingdom in a smart army uniform that has been tailored to an exacting fit and will never see use in anything more active than walking Hurtfew’s corridors. Fortunately, NCOs have ways of showing their opinions of officers like him and Childermass takes pleasure in winding him up with the deliberate sloppiness of his salute and the precisely calculated pause before he adds ‘sir’ to the end of his sentences.

When Childermass is allowed in, orders from Arthur Wellesley overcoming any petty obstacles Lascells might wish to raise, he find the library at Hurtfew has not changed since he went away to fight. Nothing dares disturb the order of Mr Norrell’s space.  The man looks up, peering through his spectacles. 

“Ah, Childermass,” he says without surprise, as though no time has passed at all since their last meeting.

“Sir.”

“I heard from Captain Grant that you were being sent to speak to me.  I’m sure I don’t know why he didn’t come himself.  Or Wellesley for that matter, although I would not let him near my library.” The last time Arthur was here, he committed the unforgivable sin of picking up a book of magic and placing it on the carpet so he had space to take notes.  Mr Norrell has neither forgotten nor forgiven the incident.

“They are both very busy, sir, and they know that I used to work for you.”

Mr Norrell sniffs.  He does not like to be reminded that Childermass has left his service. “That is as it may be. I suppose it is about the area of France that cannot be seen through vision spells.”

“That is indeed why I am here, but I’d ask how you came to know it, Mr Norrell.”

“I know it for the same reason any magician would know it.  My own vision spells were not successful so I investigated.”

“Mr Strange had some success, but it is not reliable.”

“Mr Strange’s magic is all crude force and no refinement.  If he has broken through in such a manner, it does not surprise me in the least that it is not reliable. It grieves me to see him taking his magic in this direction.  Nobody who followed the correct principles of English Magic would seek to take an active part on a battlefield.  It is not respectable.” 

“No, sir.”  The argument is one he is familiar with. 

“It is bad enough that you left me and went to war, but to be serving in such an institution.  The ‘Ungentlemanly Magicians’: I shudder to hear the name.”

“It is perhaps unfortunate, but not within my power to change it.  If I could ask about the situation in France again?”

“Yes, yes, you had better tell me what you know.” Norrell would have been happier to continue on the topic of English magic but Childermass does not have time to indulge him.  He explains the situation in detail and notices that as he does so, Mr Norrell begins to fidget. It’s not a large movement, but he polishes his glasses several times and he picks up and puts down his pen repeatedly.  They are all signs of Norrell when he is distressed and, perhaps, worrying over something.

“Well, it is most concerning. I have had one of my assistants working on it.  I shall let you have his notes but I’m not sure what more I can do to help you.”  He goes to a cabinet and removes a black leather notebook, handing it to Childermass.  As soon as he takes it, Childermass knows who it belongs to.  The magic that seals it closed is as familiar as his own. 

“Segundus was working on this?”

“Yes,” Mr Norrell looks surprised, “how did you know?” He asks it sharply, as though suspecting some trick he has not thought of. 

“His magic is familiar, that is all.”

“Hmm…” Norrell finds mention of Childermass’ sensitivity to magic an uncomfortable topic, bordering on the un-English, “well, if that is all then I fail to see what more I can do for you. If Captain Grant wishes for more help he will have to talk to me directly.  I trust you will be careful with that notebook.  It would not do for anyone to steal it.”

“No sir, I will be careful.”  Childermass pauses, considering his options. “Sir, are you certain that there is nothing further you wish to tell me about the situation?”

“Certain?  Of course I am certain.”  Mr Norrell is all bluster, as sure sign that there is something on his mind, something he does not wish to disclose.  Childermass has had a good many years of learning to read his master. 

“I had wondered if it was fairy magic, sir. It does not seem to be English magic and I had not thought French magic so very different.”

“Faerie magic,” Mr Norrell says in an offended tone, “you talk to me of faerie magic?  As though any magician in England would be so foolish as to strike a bargain with a faerie at such a time!  It is unthinkable. It would be unpatriotic, treasonous.”

“Mr Norrell.”  Norrell flinches at his tone.  Childermass tries a gentler one.  “Come now, sir, be honest with me.  Have you any reason to suspect the involvement of a faerie in this?”

“I… that is…” Mr Norrell drops back in his seat as though giving in.  “There was a person, a person who came to me from faerie.  He made me an offer, to assist us in the war against Germany. Naturally, I refused him. Nobody has made a bargain with a fairy in, what, a hundred and thirty years?”

Childermass can imagine with a terrible clarity, the likely outcome of a meeting between Mr Norrell and a faerie. He can also imagine the manner of Mr Norrell’s refusal.  He takes a breath and asks, “What happened then, when you refused him?”

Norrell doesn’t answer him at first, pressing his lips together and fidgeting in his pocket for a handkerchief.

“Mr Norrell!”

“He said he would make me blind, since I had no wit to see what an offer he had made me.”

“He would make you blind.  Then that is what he has done.  Why did you not speak of this before?”

“Well I still had my sight.  I thought perhaps he had meant only to threaten. I did not realise that he meant…”

“That he meant he would blind all of us, all English magicians.  I’m afraid you made the wrong choice, sir, in not telling us, but now that you have do you have any idea how we might break such a curse?”

“I do not precisely know.  I have been working on it but there are a great many demands on my time at present.  You had best talk to Segundus.”

“I shall sir, but if anything does occur to you, would you telephone us directly?”

“Of course,” Mr Norrell bobs his head in a nod. “Of course, one thing which may be of use to you.  Faerie magic is a natural phenomenon.  I believe it is very likely to be tied to some natural aspect of the landscape, or perhaps a person. It requires something physical, some identification to anchor it.  But that is all, I cannot help you further.”

 

Childermass goes back to Segundus after his meeting with Norrell, notebook in hand.  Luckily Mrs Honeyfoot is busy in the kitchen and he can sneak upstairs without question.  He finds Segundus dozing but he wakes when Childermass opens the door.  He sits up, rubbing his eyes as Childermass leans over him for a kiss. 

“You have had your meeting then?” Segundus asks.

 “Yes. You did not tell me you were working on the problem in France.”  Childermass drops the notebook onto the bed.

“My work?  I gather you know what’s going on then.  Of course I couldn’t tell you.  I do not ask about your work, do I?  It was a secret, and Mr Norrell asked me not to mention it to anyone.”

“Yes, well, I have been speaking to Mr Norrell about that...”

“Ah.  Should I take it that it did not go well?”  Segundus has once and only once sat in the same room as Childermass and Norrell when they were in disagreement with each other.  Childermass is under a solemn oath to hold his tongue unless Segundus can leave first. 

“Well enough, we did not argue and I have what I need, but I wish I had known you were working on it.  I could have used your opinion.  You were always better at the theoretical side of magic.”

“While you are better at the practical: you will see I had no luck with vision spells at all.”

“Nobody has had any luck with vision spells, except for Mr Strange.  Is this what you have been working yourself half to death over?”  Childermass would like to leave the blame at Norrell’s door, even though he knows how Segundus is when faced with any kind of project.

“I was not doing that, I was carrying out careful experimentation into the nature of the problem.  As a result of which I can tell you that location spells still work. I have tried them. Why do you not use those, if you wish to know whether a person or a place is there?  You do not have to see them, only know that they are there.” Segundus coughs again and reaches for his glass of water. 

“Location spells?  How would you know that location spells work in France?”

“It is part of my work of course, here, these are my notes on the matter.”  Segundus flicks rapidly through the pages of his notebook and hands it to Childermass.

“I should have asked you before. I might have known you would come up with something.”  Childermass squeezes his hand in quiet pride. 

“John, if you have agents who are enchanted I should like to see them.  I can do nothing from a distance, the magic is always clearer when I can see it directly.”

“Impossible, they are all based in the south. You’re not fit to go so far to see them.”

“I am perfectly fit!  Or I shall be in a few days.  I have an irritating cold; that is all.  I am perfectly sure I can manage a simple train journey.”

“You look like walking across the room would be the end of you.”

“Oh don’t be ridiculous.  You always overreact about these things.”

“Overreact?  Last time you had an ‘irritating cold’ you nearly died of it!”

“And the last time you went to France without proper information you did die of it!”

They stare at one another, shocked. They rarely argue, rarely even snap at one another.  Consequently they both try to apologise for it at the same time.   

“I’m sorry…” 

“Forgive me…”

“No, you first.  How did you know that about France?”  Childermass perches on the edge of the bed.

“How do you think I know about location spells? I used to look for you, once a day, just to know you were there, somewhere in Europe.  I was looking, one night before I went to bed and the light went out.  Very suddenly, it was there and then it was gone.  It came back again but I’ve never been so horribly afraid.  It was three days before I had a letter to tell me what had happened.”

Childermass, guilt-stricken, takes his hand. “I’m so sorry. You should never have had to see that. They said afterwards they thought for a minute I was dead but since I was still alive, I was never sure if they were just mistaken.  I couldn’t think how I’d come to be alive if it did happen, so I stopped questioning it. I should have told you.”

“Whatever brought you back, I’m glad it did. I can’t do what you do. I’m not even sure I’d have been brave enough to go, if I’d been able.  But I can’t stop you.  I wouldn’t ask it of you, even if I’d far rather you were at home, here, with me. Just don’t ask me to sit here, malingering in bed, if by doing so I let some other man or woman lose the person they love.”

“I just wanted to protect you.”

“I know, but there is a war on.” Segundus gives him a half smile and squeezes his hand.  “You can’t protect me from all of it.  None of us can do that.  Perhaps, one day, there’ll be a time when none of this matters any more and I can go back to teaching, and you can fuss over me as much as you like.  Until then, I have my work to do and it sounds like you need all the help you can get.”

“On one condition then, love.”

“Yes?”

“We at least wait until you can walk across the room without falling over.”

 

Grant is exactly where Arthur expects him to be, at the far end of the runway with his sketchbook.  He is drawing one of the planes where it is hidden under the trees and camouflage netting.  It’s what he does when he wants to be alone.  When he hears Arthur coming, he snaps the book shut and turns, defensive and wary. They have been avoiding each other since yesterday. 

Arthur holds his hands up.  “Don’t worry, I come in peace.  I thought you might be out here.  Bloody cold day though.”

“Well, I thought perhaps if you saw me again you might ask for my resignation so it seemed the safer option. I’m sorry, Sir, I said too much and I apologise.”

“Don’t worry, Grant.  I think I’m the one who should be apologising. Shall we shake on it and cry friends?” They shake hands.

“I thought if apologising didn’t work I might need a peace offering,” Arthur says, and offers up the small bar of chocolate in his other hand.  Grant huffs a laugh.

“You really are quite ridiculous, you know, but I accept it all the same.”

“You may be right, Grant.  I am ridiculous.”  Arthur leans against one of the trees with a sigh.  “Such a damn cliché, isn’t it?  An old man like me falling for some bright, young thing.”

“A bright, young… you mean William? Oh Christ, Arthur.” Grant stares at him in disbelief.

“I know, I know.”  Arthur fishes a packet of cigarettes out of his pocket and lights one. 

“You do know, don’t you?  Why you can’t?”

“Of course.  I did it anyway.”  Arthur shrugs, exhaling smoke. 

“Is that why you wouldn’t let him fly? Was it the fear of favouritism or to keep him safe?”

Arthur sighs, lets his head rest against the tree trunk and says, “I suppose I wanted to keep him safe, even though it was making him unhappy.  I think I’d rather he hated me for not letting him fly than risk the alternative. After Kitty…” He clears his throat, “after she died, I thought I was over that sort of thing.  Safe. Then suddenly I found myself looking at him and thinking ‘God, don’t let me be sat in my office one day, having to phone Sir Walter to report the sad loss of Flight Lieutenant De Lancey’ and I realised it was too late, I’d already gone too far.”

“You can’t keep him on the ground forever though. I sometimes wish I could, but it’s not in his nature.” 

“I know, I know.” Arthur groans. “I’m a bloody fool.”

“You’re a pair of fools, by my reckoning. I don’t suppose either of you are planning to stop this, whatever it is.”  Grant gives him a look, but Arthur can only shake his head.  “And what about after the War?”

“After the War?  If there ever is an after the War, I’ll let him go. I’ve got the boys to consider too. I don’t see enough of them.  I won’t risk a scandal.  If they’re still young enough to need a father after this mess is over, I’ll go somewhere with them. Start again, rebuild, somewhere new. The same as any of us, I suppose.”