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WORDS HAVE WINGS
WEEK-END LEAVE FOR MICHAEL
MR. MICHAEL REVEL, who has been wont to write
stories about himself and his charming little wife, Fleur, but who is now too
busy—so he says, has been asked more than once why he has chosen to disguise the
name of his native island as “Eulalie Island.” Mr. Revel’s invariable answer to
this question is: “To deceive the enemy.” As some of these stories were written
and published before war broke out in the world, the further question has, not
unnaturally, then been asked: “What enemy?” To which Mr. Revel makes reply in a
hushed voice, looking fearfully over his shoulder: “My bank manager!”
“Eulalie Island” shall therefore continue to
stand, and let us hope the enemy will be so obliging as to continue to be
This Mr. Revel is a fortunate man. Fortunate
in his wife and fortunate in that he has innumerable friends, not the least
among which are the denizens of the Central Detective Office at Police
Headquarters in the city of Esmeralda, which is the capital of Eulalie Island.
He has, however, been described by his detective friends as a storm-centre, a
crime conductor, a body-snatcher and a cross between a pest and a mascot. They
are doubtless quite right—even his wife says he has a bloodstained mind. To his
friends he seems to make his cheerful way through the world in a welter of gore
and mystery, accepting circumstances as they arise with a blend of enthusiasm
and nonchalance that is probably a cover for deeper feelings. He accepts these
hard names in the spirit in which they are bestowed and has been heard to
observe complacently that it is not his fault if he has been singled out to be
the instrument of a retributive Providence, and that he is good for Inspector
Walsh and Detective-Sergeant Kay, both of whom are getting too fat.
This story—which I must tell, as Michael says
he is too busy getting on with the war—this story properly opens with Michael
sitting at the wheel of his car in the main shopping centre of Esmeralda at
about 8.45 P.M. one dark Friday night, waiting for Mrs. Revel to emerge from the
fashionable “Salon Cecile,” wherein she is being interviewed by the manager.
Yes, I’ve got that right; the manager is doing the interviewing. Why this should
be is a minor mystery that will be explained in the next chapter.
Observe Mr. Revel. And observe his car.
Michael, these fantastic days, is a Temporary
Warrant Officer (First Class) in, of all Units for him, the Eulalie Island
Medical Corps; and is the Regimental Sergeant-Major of the Camp Hospital at
Whipple, a mobi-lization camp some twenty miles away. Which only goes to show
that they can do anything to you in the Army. Of average height and average
weight, bespectacled (his eyesight has kept him in a base camp for five weary
years), his countenance is pleasant without being in any way distinguished; and
he has the habit of surveying the world with benevolent interest.
His car is small and ancient—and the fact that
there were then still a couple of pints of petrol in the tank shows that this
story actually took place some time ago. During its long and eccentric career it
has been fitted with a set of outsize balloon tyres and now looks not unlike an
overgrown roller-skate. The Revels refer to it affectionately as the Bluebottle.
Michael was smoking a cigarette and trying to
read the evening paper, while around him swayed and eddied the Friday night
shopping crowd. At that time the Administrator of Eulalie Island had deemed that
a “brown-out” only was necessary to the exigencies of war in so far as it
affected the Island; and in the shopping centre there was sufficient artificial
light for safe walking and recognition on the footpaths, though crossing the
street was something of a feat of navigation.
Friday night is the late night of the week,
the shops keeping open until 9 o’clock in the evening; and it is the custom of
the population of Esmeralda to don its brightest and best austerity raiment and
to mill through and around Palm Square, and up and down Lucena and Marcella
Avenues and the High Street. And to do this in ever-increasing numbers until the
shops close, the lights go out and the brown-out—to quote Michael again— deepens
suddenly to a light black. Then the multitude storms an already restricted and
overloaded tram service and makes confusion worse confounded.
Oblivious of the uproar about him Michael
continued to guess at the headlines of his paper, until one voice raised above
all others caused him to glance up idly to see who might be the obstreperous
individual kicking up the shindy. And as he looked an unholy glee came into his
In the centre of an interested little mob of
spectators stood his old friend, Detective-Sergeant Jack Kay, badgered and a
trifle embarrassed, but still tolerant with the illimitable patience and
tolerance of the police. Clutching him tightly with both hands was a nondescript
individual in a shabby blue suit and a felt hat that had seen better days.
“Gimme back me boddler rum!” this individual
was yelling fiercely. “You low-down pinchin’ so-an’-so! Gimme me rum!” He
released one hand and made a wild swing at the detective, a blow which Kay
parried with offensive ease. “An’ why, I should like to know,” de-manded the
unknown caustically, “ain’t you in the per-ishin’ Army?”
The crowd gaped and grinned. One lone soldier,
who himself had evidently a few more under his belt than he could conveniently
carry, licked his lips. “Rum!” he muttered reverently. “Rum—lumme!"
Kay chose to ignore the impertinent question.
“Go away!” he said quietly but firmly. “Go on home and sleep it off!”
“Not till I get me boddler rum!” retorted the
nondescript individual. “I had a boddler rum till you come along, an’ now it’s
gorn. Where is it? That’s what I wanna know—see? Where’s me rum?” And once again
he endeavoured to smite the burly Mr. Kay.
“Brother,” said Kay, tenderly steadying his
persecutor, “you speak a strange language. I’ve almost forgotten what rum looks
like. And anyway, meths. is more like your trouble.” He tried to shake himself
free. “Will you buzz off, you ruddy limpet?”
“No, I won’t!” said the limpet angrily, and
took a firmer grip.
Michael decided it was time for him to come to
the assistance of his friend. He got out and stood on the running-board of his
little bucket of a car, pitched the end of his cigarette into the roadway and
hitched up his horn-rimmed glasses.
“Give him in charge, Jack,” he called over the
heads of the crowd. “Don’t argue with him—hand him over to a cop.” He looked
about him expectantly. “Is there a po-liceman in the audience? Where are the
The lone soldier, seeing another battledress
loom up beside him, promptly decided to ally himself with the bibulous
individual who had lost the probably mythical “boddler rum.”
“Whatchew butting in for?” he demanded,
placing a hand against the side of the Bluebottle to steady himself for verbal
battle. “If that big gentleman’s pinched the little gentleman’s booze, then he
oughter be something well made to give it up.” He did not say “gentleman” in
either instance, and he did not use the word “something”; but that is more or
less by the way.
An idiotic mood took possession of Michael. He
began to enjoy himself. Michael is naturally a fervent democrat, and the Warrant
Officer’s coat-of-arms on his sleeve had been bronzed over and was practically
invisible in that dim light. He gazed solemnly down at the private soldier and
assumed that tone of voice popularly believed to be the prerogative of parsons
“My friend, I observe with pain and sorrow
that you also are in the soul-destroying grip of the demon Rum. Oh, my friend,
let me exhort you, let me plead with you, to eschew this insidious weapon of the
“Gaw lumme!” gasped the dazed soldier.
The crowd swayed and shifted, decided Michael
was the better draw of the two, and shuffled towards the little car. Michael
continued to improve the occasion.
“Yes, my friend—and you, all of you, my
friends and brothers; you may be bibbers of wine and drainers of drams, you may
scoff in the hardness of your hearts, you may mock; but I say unto you that your
scoffing and mocking will avail you naught now and will be laid to your account
in that Great Day—”
Figures, dark against the light behind them,
ap-peared in the doorway of “Salon Cecile.” A well-dressed, bareheaded man,
presumably the manager, perturbed by the rumpus outside his salon, made the
mistake of pushing his way out on to the path in a futile attempt to persuade
the throng to move on to less fashionable precincts. He was promptly seized by
the shabby individual and the cry of “boddler rum” was again heard above
Michael’s peroration. Mrs. Revel, who knew her husband, kept well inside the
shop. Kay, released, shouldered his way to the Bluebottle. He was rapturously
welcomed by Michael, now well into his stride.
“Ah, my friends, observe and mark well this
brother. A brand saved from the burning! An upright and a sober brother! Of
peculiar countenance, mayhap; but beneath that uncouth exterior there blooms a
soul that has been scorched, purified and regenerated in the fires of
The upright and sober brother poked the
evangelist in the short ribs with a vicious forefinger. Michael grunted, folded
up and, falling through the open door of the Bluebottle, sat down smartly.
Simultaneously a uniformed policeman appeared on the scene. He grinned
recognition at Kay, and then stared hard at Michael.
“Yes,” said Detective-Sergeant Kay bitterly,
“it’s Revel. Revel in disguise—disguised as a soldier, but still the same
“Hullo, Jack,” said Michael affably. “Where’s
your boy friend, the rumless wonder?”
Kay turned and looked towards the doorway of
the shop. The well-dressed man, now in imminent danger of losing both his tie
and his temper, was still in the grip of the drunken unknown, who was hanging on
to the tie with one hand and making threatening gestures with the other. The
policeman used his weight and authority, the crowd thinned and moved on
reluctantly, and the po-liceman linked his arm persuasively in that of the
“Yes, yes, I know,” he said soothingly. “You
come along with me and everything will be jake.”
The sight of the blue uniform raised the
inebriated one’s indignation to frenzy.
“That’s what you say. You take his part—yeah,
you would. I wooden trust one o’ you perishin’ flatties ’far as I could throw
“Don’t be rude,” murmured the policeman, and
be-gan to use firmer methods. The shop manager, released suddenly, staggered,
recovered himself, smoothed his thick grey hair and spoke in tones tremulous
with anger. “Officer, I hope you’ll make an example of that man.” Here the lone
soldier, who had temporarily scuttled himself, rose to the surface again and
made a flank attack on behalf of his unfortunate ally.
“An’ who are you?” he demanded shrilly of the
manager. “Bloated capitalist, that’s whatchew are! You an’ your fancy women an’
their fancy frocks . . .”
“Hop it, soldier!” ordered the policeman
curtly. “All right, sir,” he said cheerfully to the manager, “that’s just what
we’re going to do. We’ll give him a nice quiet bed for the night. . . . Come on,
“I should think so!” muttered the manager, and
went back inside his Salon.
The policeman tugged away his protesting
captive, the latter supported to the last by the soldier who also went along,
presumably as prisoner’s friend. And Detective-Sergeant Kay and Sergeant-Major
Revel grinned at each other. Michael surveyed a chunky, square-faced man with a
blue chin, steady grey eyes with a twinkle in them, and an air of
imperturbability. Kay observed Mi-chael.
“ ‘The tumult and the shouting dies,’ ”
chanted the cheerful Mr. Revel; “ ‘on dune and headland sinks the fire.’ Which,
being interpreted, meaneth that the un-godly one has been pinched and carted off
to durance vile. . . . Well, my man, and how are you after all this long time? I
see you’re still putting on weight.”
“You,” said his friend severely, “ought to be
ashamed of yourself! Bringing disgrace on the King’s uniform like that.”
“Disgrace, nothing. I was glorifying it, I was
saving souls. And what was all that about a bottle of rum—you got any rum?”
“I’ve got some rummy friends. . . . Tell me,
Mike, what are you supposed to be these days? I observe the battledress, but it
doesn’t tell me much.”
Michael explained what he was and what he was
doing. Kay promptly took off his hat in mock reverence. “Well, well, a Big Shot!
Who would ever have imagined it? Tell me more: what exactly does a
sergeant-major do?—besides strutting around and throwing his weight about
generally. I’d like to see you handling a mob of men!”
“This one,” said Michael gloomily, “spends
most of his time in wrestling with Forms, Returns and Memoranda, mostly in
quintuplicate. Who said there was a paper shortage? Not in the Army there isn’t.
And don’t belittle my war effort; I have my methods. Though,” he added with a
grin, “they might not altogether be approved of by an old-time Imperial
fire-eating R.S.M. But they work . . . Talking of Big Shots, I hear old Walsh is
now an inspector. More, I hear you are a full-blown detective-sergeant—your
spelling must have improved wonderfully, Jack. It was the English exam. that
stumped you for years, wasn’t it?”
“Shut up!” said Kay tersely.
“But I refuse to shut up. I won’t shut up. I
remain obstinately and proudly open. This is staggering news—it ought to be
Just in time to save her husband from bodily
assault, Mrs. Revel emerged from “Salon Cecile”, causing both men to look up and
to realize that nearly all the shop lights were out, and that it had grown very
Fleur has all the looks in the Revel family.
She is well named. I can describe her as small and sweet; I can describe her
features in detail—the great grey eyes, the little straight nose, the red,
perfect mouth, the mass of curling dark hair, the flawless skin—but I cannot
hope to convey the immeasurable charm and daintiness of her. She is well named,
and she is the light of Michael’s existence.
Kay raised his hat and stood aside to allow
her to enter the car, Fleur thanking him with a smile that has been described as
“Hullo, darling,” Michael greeted her. “What
do you think—Harbottle’s got his matric.!”
Fleur settled herself and her week-end
shopping parcels, and gazed at her husband. “What are you talking about?—Yes,
and what was that disgraceful scene all about just now? You looked as if you
were making a speech.”
“I was,” said Michael comfortably. “I was
saving souls . . . Old Bonedust here—he’s been promoted, did you know? He’s a
sergeant now. Passed his exams—got fifty-one out of a hundred for spelling.”
“He hasn’t changed,” observed Kay to Fleur.
“Don’t take any notice of him. Mike,” he added, moving his head about, “when are
you going to get a decent car? This inflated cuspidor gives me a pain in the
neck—what’s the hood up for?”
“Oh, I dunno. Black-out precautions. Besides,
it makes it cosy-like. We take it down when it rains.”
“Good Lord, why?”
“Well, it leaks.”
Kay made a strangled noise in his throat. “You
oughtn’t to be at large. Why aren’t you in camp getting on with the war?”
“Reward of devotion to duty,” answered Michael
“We have been working, you know. The Seventh
Reinforcements having been medically examined, equipped, trained, inoculated,
blood-typed, vaccinated, and generally baffled, bewildered and—er—messed about,
and having gone on ten days’ final leave—I have been graciously granted long
week-end leave in which to recuperate.”
“Take him away,” growled Kay to Fleur. “Take
him home; he’s too much for me.” He withdrew his massive shoulders from the door
of the Bluebottle, slammed it shut and waved a large hand in cheery adieu.
Michael put his foot on the self-starter, and the little ancient vehicle—to its
owner’s startled delight—immediately awoke to quivering, bone-jarring life. Just
as they drove away they felt a distinct lift and a skid of the off hind wheel.
“Did you feel that bump, darling?” asked
Michael anxiously. “You haven’t dropped the egg, have you?”
“No,” said Fleur literally, but absently. She
looked back through the tiny rear window of the hood, but the roadway behind
them was dark. The Revels drove off to their flat . . . .
With a reminiscent grin on his lips,
Detective-Sergeant Kay also turned his face towards home. But he had not gone
half a dozen steps when a sudden stifled cry and a gasp behind him caused him to
look round. He strained his eyes in the darkness—and what he fancied be saw made
him retrace his steps quickly.
It had not been fancy. A man and a woman stood
on the kerb, stooping and peering down into the gutter. Another man was
squatting on his heels; his hand was outstretched and he was staring at it with
a sort of frightened bewilderment. After that one cry all three were very quiet
“He was under that car!” The man on his heels
spoke with awful solemnity. He continued to stare at the blood on his hand.
“That Mostyn two-seater—it went right over him . . .”
“Don’t touch that knife!” said
Detective-Sergeant Kay sharply.