Admiral Fletcher's Barn
By CHARLES SPALDING and OTIS CARNEY
MR. GLOSSUP was a man of strong passions, but what brought the foam to his mouth quicker than anything else was to have one of his students get lost. In spite of repeated fulminations on the subject, it was not uncommon for a cadet to phone the field and sheepishly report himself down on a wayward farm. If it was his student, Mr. Glossup would have to set out like a dutiful Saint Bernard and scour the countryside for his strayed charge. He did not like to do this.
“Hyde Field is between the Anacostia River and the Potomac. The nation’s capital is twenty miles north of here. Anybody who gets lost with those boundaries ought to be walked around on a leash. But if you’re ever in doubt, always turn to true north.” Those were Mr. Glossup’s words.
Unfortunately, I never know where I am in respect to the compass rose. Many reliant folk depend on handy natural laws to keep their bearings. The sun rises in the east and sets in the west; there is no moss on the south side of trees — that is all ye know and all ye need to know. I do not belittle their sect, but their path will, not support me. If north is not straight ahead I am lost, and nobody knows it better than I.
Mindful of my limitations, I did my flying fairly close to the field. But I was practicing wingovers for the final check one day with such intensity that I failed to notice a strong wind was blowing me far off my heading. When I straightened up and turned for home, the monument was nowhere to be seen. The Lincoln Memorial does not wander around much, and its sudden removal from the scene was a rending shock.
For a while the country resembled a familiar face whose name temporarily slips the mind. I recognized nothing. In desperation, when no other course remained, I decided to turn to true north. I wailed until I was securely in the grip of that old feeling and then gravitated on impulse. However, instead of becoming increasingly familiar, the countryside developed a dreadful sameness. The gas was running out, and a spacious field was directly below.
The field was an unfurrowed pasture peopled by cattle. To get in comfortably, you had to come close to a freshly painted barn. I circled several times and glided down. The wheels grazed the barn, and then I was on the ground swerving through the disinterested cows.
I stopped the plane at the far end of the field, turned off the switch, and undid the parachute straps. Suddenly a black face in old working clothes popped out of the bushes.
“Hello,” I said. “Where am I?”
“Missy Fletcher’s,” said the grinning darky.
Before us stretched a beautiful lawn down which a trim, middle-aged lady came streaming. She had on a floppy hat and gardening clothes to match.
“As long as you didn’t hit the barn, it doesn’t matter one bit,” she said charitably. “My husband would shoot you if you damaged it.”
“He would?” I asked, beginning to wonder about this strong-willed spouse.
I told her how I got lost, and explained that l ought to notify my instructor.
“Come up to the house and use the phone,” she urged.
I finally reached Mr. Glossup.
“Say, where in God’s name are you?" He screamed “in God’s name.”
I told him where and he began to shout, so I could not understand a word. Occasionally, I could make out “true north” and “idiot.”
“When I find you I’ve got a few things to say!” he bellowed, and slammed down the receiver.
“Missy” Fletcher appeared. “Come out on the terrace,” she said, leading me through the dining room.
“Who’s that?” I asked, pointing to a portrait of a naval officer.
“That’s Admiral Fletcher. He’s my husband.”
“Admiral?” I gasped. “Where is he, out in the barn? ”
“He is not,” she said sharply. “He’s on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific.”
“Oh, no! Oh, no!” I muttered.
As we came onto the porch, a shiny new station wagon with NAVY written on its doors came swishing
up the drive. A lieutenant commander and a lieutenant sat stiffly in the front seat.
“Are you all right, Mrs. Fletcher?” asked the lieutenant commander.
“You’re all right, Mrs. Fletcher?” asked the lieutenant, who was very agitated.
“ Yes, I’m fine,” said Mrs. Fletcher. “This is the boy who came down.”
“He’s all right,” they said together, and turned and marched back into the station wagon and drove away.
A half hour passed pleasantly, and then a yellow trainer appeared above.
“It’s him!” I cried, jumping up. “Let’s go down and watch him land.”
Mr. Glossup circled about.
“I hope he doesn’t hit the barn,” worried Mrs. Fletcher.
“I don’t,” I said.
“Why, my husband would shoot him!”
“It would be a better world,” I said, watching Mr. Glossup go into his glide. He came down very low — too low.
“He’s going to hit the barn!” cried Mrs. Fletcher in alarm.
“We can’t have everything,” I said, stretching forward.
Mr. Glossup pulled back. The plane got over the barn, but the tail knocked the weather vane over, and Mrs. Fletcher gasped. The plane landed unsteadily and wavered on the ground. Just at this moment one of the cows began to lope across the meadow.
“Oh, Elvira!” cried Mrs. Fletcher.
Mr. Glossup hadn’t enough control to maneuver himself. It was a problem in relative motion. The point of interception was right in the center of the field. The left wing caught the animal flush and drooped back like a useless limb. Mrs. Fletcher covered her eyes. When she had courage enough to look out on the bright world again, Mr. Glossup was running toward us hollering al the top of his lungs:—
“That goddamn cow!”
“ What a dreadful man!” murmured Mrs. Fletcher.
“Quite,” I said.
“Poor things won’t give milk for a week,”deplored Mrs. Fletcher.
“And when they do, I hope it comes in lumps,” raged Mr. Glossup. “ Lumps as big as my fist,”and he passed his clenched hand before Mrs. Fletcher’s bulging eyes.
“Sir, this is Mrs. — ”
“You,” he said turning on me. “I have had miserable, fumbling students in my time, but of all the god—”
Before he got well into one of his rich descriptive passages, I inserted loudly: —
“Sir, this is Mrs. Admiral Fletcher. Admiral Fletcher is her husband is Admiral Fletcher.”I stressed the point. “He loves his barn,” I added.
Mr. Glossup wilted. Mr. Glossup faded. He looked like a plant out of which all the chlorophyll had been drained.
“How do you do, ma’am,” he managed hoarsely. “I am an ensign instructor at Anacostia.”
“They also serve,” said Mrs. Fletcher sweetly.
“About that barn,” he began gruffly.
“It will be fixed in no time,” said Mrs. Fletcher gently.
“About that cow,” he said.
“She’s all right even now,” soothed Mrs. Fletcher.
“About the lumps,” said Mr. Glossup, staking everything.
“I never heard you say anything about lumps,” said Mrs. Fletcher vacantly.
“You didn’t?” Mr. Glossup looked relieved, as if he had awakened to find the dream meant nothing.
“I did, sir!” I cried.
“We have to be going,” Mr. Glossup said hastily. “I’ll send a mechanic back to fix the plane.”
“Good-bye, Mrs. Fletcher,” I said. “Thanks for everything.”
“Good-bye,” she called. “Come again. When I write my husband, who shall I say you were?”
Mr. Glossup stopped in the middle of the meadow. Plainly he was searching for an alias.
“Just say Daedalus and Icarus stopped by,” I called.
“Ensign Daedalus,” called Mr. Glossup.
Mr. Glossup said nothing the entire way home. I slumped down in the rear cockpit and began to count up other people’s marriages that turned out happily for me. I hoped the Fletchers had no regrets.