The calls were made. Certain items were ordered from certain retailers, and delivery times were promised. Weeks passed.
The weather grew cold, though it held clear. The last of the leaves fell from the trees. Neville never truly emerged from the subdual he’d suffered at the hands of the local bivalve extraction experts. By which it is meant to say that his talk of dragons was mostly restricted to asking Reggie each morning if he’d heard something during the night. Reggie did not, in fact, hear anything.
He even began to think that the mania for dragons that had gripped Grimbly Hall was starting to pass away from the world. That perhaps it could all be forgotten. Admittedly, when Neville took up painting with watercolors, he did create a quite good rendition of a dragon passing in front of the moon. And books on local folklore and medieval legends did keep coming with the daily packages. Neville was not the sort of fellow who gave up on anything easily.
It wasn’t any longer the kind of fascination, however, which typically made the New York City society news, and that seemed to Reggie a good thing. So he managed to be considerably surprised when, one morning as he came down for breakfast, he saw a ghost unpacking parcels and boxes in the front hall. The ghost was no surprise, since it was just Hughes, the spectral butler of the hall. It was the contents of the packages that alarmed Reggie.
Among the various things Hughes unpacked were included a thing that might have been a very large butterfly net and a pair of what could, if one squinted at them, appear to be leather football helmets.
They weren’t, of course, any of those things. Reggie hurried out the front door and saw Neville standing there in his dressing gown, holding a cup of tea that smelled of bitter almonds. The mummy was directing the driver of a large flatbed truck that was attempting to back up onto the Hall’s lawn without destroying any of the statues or stone urns which filled the garden. The driver was not entirely unsuccessful.
Neville didn’t seem to mind a little property damage. Reggie might have—somebody would have to repair it—but he was far too preoccupied to notice. For sitting on the flatbed, lashed down with strong cables, was a biplane of the type commonly known as the Curtiss JN-4 “Jenny”. He recognized it by the engine compartment that looked like a boat’s prow. A two-seater with dual controls, a 90 horsepower engine, and roundels painted on its fuselage showing the white stars of the US Army Air Service.
Reggie recognized the aircraft instantly. He had trained in a Jenny, back during the war. He’d flown variants of the machine against German patrols. It was after he’d crashed such a ‘plane that he’d been bitten by a German wolf and received his curse.
“Isn’t it beautiful?” Neville asked. “I got it for a song.”
“I see that,” Reggie replied. The fuselage of the ‘plane, which was composed of canvas stretched over a rigid metal frame, showed spots of mold. The lower wing drooped to one side. The landing gear were conspicuously missing altogether.
“Apparently the government has just scads of the things, surplus from the war. They sell them to—”
“Barnstormers,” Reggie said, nodding. He knew a few of the type. Or at least he had. Army pilots who came home and found there was no call for flying of the civil variety, but who couldn’t give up the thrill. They bought surplus ‘planes and flew them from town to town, anywhere they could drum up an audience. They would put on shows of death-defying stunts—crazy outside loops, wing-walking, simulated dogfights. The public grew bored easily and so the barnstormers were always thinking up new and more ridiculous antics. Flying during the war had been insanely dangerous, but barnstorming, as far as Reggie was concerned, was a form of histrionic suicide.
Which is not to say he didn’t understand the appeal. For some men, once they flew a ‘plane, standing on terra firma just wasn’t enough ever again.
He walked over to the flatbed and reached up and put his hand on the Jenny’s sagging wing. Closed his eyes. Heard it: the mosquito whine of an engine starting up. The call of “chocks away!” The long run-up and then the moment when the wheels left the ground, and the wings caught the air and…
“We’re going hunting, aren’t we?” Reggie asked.
“I thought,” Neville told him, “you might enjoy teaching me how to fly. I think it could be quite a lark. You know how starved I am for new experiences.”
“Hunting,” Reggie said.
“Well,” Neville said, drawing the word out as if he were stalling for time. “If we just by lucky accident happen to see the dragon while we’re up, up and away…”