James Allen was sitting alone in his study. He was at loose ends since the war ended and he was discharged from the Royal Air Force. He wondered if he would still be able to fly. That was what he missed the most. He wanted to take his wife, Mary, flying but never had the courage to ask her. James was startled a little bit when he heard the knock on his door.
"Come in," he said.
James was surprised to see Mary standing at the door to his study. When she walked in, Mary walked over to James and gave him a gentle kiss. When the kiss was broken, Mary sat in the chair next to James.
"I'm worried about you," she said. "You haven't been yourself since you were discharged.
"I miss flying," James said. "I don't know what I'm going to do without it in my life."
Mary put her hand on James's leg. She squeezed it gently. James turned and watched her closely.
"First of all, you have to make sure you keep up your license," Mary said. "Then we can see about buying planes whenever the government sells the surplus. Or we can have your designs built. The children at the orphanage would love to take rides with you. So would I. Please don't give up."
"You're wonderful," James said. "I don't know what I'd do without you."
"Hopefully you won't have to find out for a long time," Mary said.
Just then Mary stood up to go out. James got up from his chair and followed her.
In the days and weeks that followed, James made sure that he followed Mary's advice. He made sure to renew his license. He looked for planes that were on sale and bought two of them. Mary was relieved that James's mood was improving because she was worried that he seemed so lost.
"Do you want to go for a ride with me?" he finally asked Mary.
"I'd love to go up with you," Mary said. "I thought you would never ask."
James took hold of Mary's hand. He led her to the garage where Brady, their chauffeur, was working on the car.
"What can I do for you, Your Grace?" he asked.
"I'd like for you to take the duchess and me to the aerodrome where I keep my planes," James said. "I want to take her for a ride."
Brady didn't say anything in response to James's request. To be honest he worried when James flew. He had heard of too many men being killed in crashes to feel comfortable getting into one of those contraptions. But on the other hand, he respected James very much for taking the risk.
"I'll just pull the car out so it will be easier for you and the duchess to get in," Brady said.
"Thank you very much," James said.
While Brady was pulling the car out, Mary moved closer to James while they walked outside. If truth be told she was starting to get nervous as the ride came closer to reality. James for his part could tell that Mary was nervous.
"Is everything all right?" James asked.
"To be honest, I'm starting to get nervous," Mary said.
"I won't let anything happen to you," James said. "But I will understand if you want to change your mind about taking that ride."
Mary turned and looked at her husband. She saw so much love in his eyes that she knew she couldn't give up on the ride. It would be a way for her to bring back the same adventurous spirit that had brought her to London and the greatest love of her life.
"You don't have to worry about me," she said. "I'll go through with it. I need to do this not only for you but for me as well."
Just then Brady pulled the car up. He quickly got out and opened the door for James and Mary to get inside. When they were safely inside Brady closed the door and got into the driver's side.
When they got to the aerodrome Mary got out of the car and immediately went to look at the aeroplanes. She ran her hand over it and felt the cloth and varnish. She wondered how it held together.
"I have to file our flight plan," James said. "Will you be all right here?"
"I'll be fine," Mary said. "You do what you have to do."
After James walked out, Mary turned her attention back to the aeroplanes. She was surprised when the mechanic walked up and stood beside her.
"So, you know Captain Allen?" he asked.
"You could say that," Mary said with a smile. "He's my husband."
"I served with Captain Allen during the war," the mechanic said. "Serving with him was really an honor so I was pleased when he hired me to take care of these planes. My name is Bart."
"Do you know what kind of aeroplane this is, Bart?" Mary asked.
"Yes, ma'am I do," Bart said. "It's the BE2c. When the war started it was the best British reconnaissance plane."
"Thank you for telling me, Bart," Mary said. "Hopefully my husband will take me for a ride in this one."
James returned and overheard the last part of Bart's conversation with Mary. He was pleased that Mary and the mechanic seemed to get on well together. Suddenly James knew that he and Mary would be seeing a lot of Bart in the future.
"Well, the flight plan is filed," James said. "Are you ready to go up?"
Mary turned around to face James. She smiled when she saw him in his flying clothes. Her breath caught when she saw how good James looked in them.
"As ready as I'll ever be," Mary said. "What do I need to do?"
"I have a flying suit for you," James said. "I need you to put all of it on."
Mary walked over to James and did as she was told. James helped her with her scarf and helmet. He smiled when he saw Mary in the suit.
"You want to go up in the BE2c?" James asked.
"I think I do," Mary said. "What do you think?"
"It's fine," James said. "She's good to fly since we're not in a war. When you get in be careful not to tear the canvas."
Mary climbed into the plane with a little help from James. She settled into the cockpit and strapped herself in. When he climbed up to check on her, James gave Mary a gentle kiss.
James and Bart went through the start-up procedure together. Mary's breath caught when the plane started taxiing. She smiled when the plane took off.
Mary's breath was totally taken away while she was up in the plane with James. She understood even more clearly why he loved flying so much. For his part, James decided to surprise Mary with aerobatics. As he executed moves, she burst out laughing. James smiled when he knew that Mary was as happy flying as he was. James finally noticed that the fuel was getting low so he decided to fly back to the aerodrome as quickly as he could.
When he finally landed the plane, James went to help Mary out. He held her tight when he felt her shake. He was worried that he might have done too much with the aerobatics.
"Are you all right?" James asked. "I'm worried that you're shaking so much."
"I'm fine," Mary said. "I'm just excited after the flight. I was thinking that I would like to get my own license now. You do have two planes, after all."
"I'd love it if you'd get your own license," James said. "I can help you with that."
"That sounds wonderful," Mary said. "I wouldn't want any other teacher but you to start with."
In the weeks and months that followed, James and Mary worked hard to get her ready for flying lessons. James was pleased, to say the least when Mary took to his instruction like a duck to water. The time soon came when Mary was ready to go to flight school and really get serious about learning to fly. While that was going on James went to the orphanage to take the children for rides as he had suggested to Mary when they first talked about going up together.
Mary made rapid progress at the flight school. James was very proud of her, to say the least. He wished that his mother was still alive to see how well Mary was doing with her lessons. But Susannah had died of a heart attack during the war. It still broke his heart that he wasn't able to get home to see his mother one last time. But that was the price one had to pay for being at war. He hoped that he and Mary would have children soon. But James knew that he would enjoy his time with Mary whether they had children or not. James had met his distant cousin, Arthur, who was the heir to the dukedom of Essex right then so he knows that the dukedom would be in good hands no matter what happened. James returned to thinking about Mary. God had really blessed him in his wife. He prayed that nothing would happen to her during her training. If anything did happen, he wouldn't know what to do because he loved her that much.
James watched closely as Mary came in for a landing. He said a silent prayer. But her landing was perfect,
Mary was excited as she walked over to James. She didn't say anything to him. She just took James into her arms and held on tight. When James let Mary go, he watched as Mary's instructor walked over to them. It turned out that Robin Milne was her instructor. He still had to walk with a cane. But it was good for James to see that Robin was in fact on his feet and walking.
"It's good to see you again, sir," Robin said as he walked over to shake James's hand.
"It's good to see you again, Robin," James said. "To be honest I'm surprised to see that you're still flying after your injury."
"Flying is a hobby for me now, sir," Robin said. "I've taken up where my father left off writing children's books. I'm working on an idea about a pilot now. I hope to be able to start writing it soon."
"I'm hoping we can keep in touch so I'll look for it," James said. "Now how is my wife doing with her lessons?"
"Dr. Allen is a natural pilot, sir," Robin said. "She should be ready to solo soon."
"While I'm thinking about it, I want to give you our address in London," James said. "I meant it when I said I want us to keep in touch. We went through a lot together so we should stick together."
As he was speaking James reached into his pockets for a pen and a piece of paper. When he found them, he wrote his address and gave it to Robin.
"Thank you, sir," Robin said. "I'm in London frequently to work with my publishers so we'll be able to visit.
Mary moved closer to James when she heard Robin say that she should soon be ready for her solo. It was all she could think about. The thought of flying solo scared her if truth be told. There was so much that she had to think of. But then the thought occurred to her that learning to fly was similar in many ways to medical school. She had a lot to learn when she was in medical school too. She had been able to master that material and graduate with honors. What was different now?
When they were at home, James watched Mary closely as she was studying her material. When she decided to take a break, he reached out and took a hold of her hand.
"How's it going?" James asked her.
"I think it's going well," Mary said. "Today at the aerodrome I felt overwhelmed when I thought of everything I had to learn. But then I thought to myself that I mastered a lot of information in medical school and wound up graduating with honors."
"I'm really proud of you," James said. "It means a lot to me that you want to share flying with me by becoming a pilot yourself."
"It makes me happy that you're happy," Mary said. "I'm not looking forward to my solo though. I have a feeling that something is going to go wrong."
James didn't want to admit to Mary that he had the same feeling. He didn't know what he would do if he lost Mary in a crash while she was flying her solo. They had lost so much time together because of his father's disapproval and his not having the courage to stand up to him. And then there was the war.
Mary could tell that something was wrong with her husband. She reached a hand across the table to hold his hand.
"You're worried about me flying solo, aren't you?" she asked
"Yes, I am, to be honest," James said. "I saw too many men die in crashes during their training to be able to rest easy."
Mary got up and walked over to James. She sat down next to him and held him tight.
"I'm nervous, too," she said. "But I also realized that I have to take a chance. I really want to get my adventurous spirit back. It was that spirit that brought me to you in the first place. I want very much to share this with you. Remember?"
"I remember," James said.
He pulled his chair closer to Mary and held on to her even tighter.
Finally, the day came when Mary was ready to fly her solo. She got into the BE2c and checked all the instruments. She felt better to know that Bart was going to take her through the start-up procedure. When her plane was started Mary took a deep breath and started taxiing down the field.
While she was up in the air, Mary felt a freedom that she had never felt before. She had always understood why James loved flying so much. But now that she was doing it on her own her feelings ran deeper. Mary knew that she loved feeling the wind blow through that part of her hair that stuck out from her helmet. But she also knew that she had to concentrate. So, she did just that.
James was watching Mary closely from the ground. He was pleased that Robin Milne was standing with him. James was pleased with how Mary was doing. Robin had been right to say that she was a natural pilot.
"How do you think she's doing?" James asked Robin.
"I think she's doing very well, sir," Robin said. "But the most difficult part is yet to come."
"The landing," James said.
Robin just nodded. Mary had been a good pupil. She and James were also good friends. Robin would never forget how James and Mary had helped him and his mother financially until he got back on his feet after his injury. So, he was saying prayers that nothing would happen to Mary during her solo.
Mary, for her part, had realized that the time had finally come for her to land. She had overcome all her fear about all the other parts of the flight except the landing. She said a prayer herself and began to come in for her landing. She remembered all the steps and went through each one carefully. Finally, she touched the ground in a perfect three-point landing.
Mary sat in her cockpit for a moment so she could catch her breath. She wanted to let it sink in for a moment that she was that much closer to becoming a pilot. She had passed the written test with flying colors. Mary smiled when she thought that thought. To think that she had passed with flying colors was appropriate for the task she was undertaking.
James came running toward Mary's plane. The way she was just sitting there had him worried that something might have happened to her. He was relieved when he saw Mary jump out of the plane with a big smile on her face. He stopped and stood still when he saw her running toward him. When she got to him James took Mary in his arms and spun her around. When he set her down, he gave Mary a heartfelt kiss.
Then they walked back to meet Robin arm-in-arm. Mary couldn't wait to thank the other person who had been a great help to her in achieving this goal.
"How did I do?" Mary asked Robin.
"You did well, Dr. Allen," Robin said. "In fact, you passed."
Mary did a little jig while she was standing next to James and Robin. She was so happy that she had gotten her license. Now she could share flying with the husband she adored. She leaned over and shared a kiss with James.
"You were an excellent instructor Robin," Mary said when she broke the kiss. "I'm really glad that you were assigned to teach me."
"Thank you," was all that Robin could say.
"I really hope you won't be a stranger, Robin," James said after all the work was done for Mary's Royal Aero Club Certificate. "I really meant what I said earlier. Mary and I think of you like family so we must keep together,"
"I promise that I will let you and Dr. Allen know when I'm in London," Robin said. "In the meantime, I will write to you and let you know my progress in the book."
"That sounds wonderful," Mary said. "One more thing. You must call my husband and me James and Mary. The war is over so we no longer have to stand on ceremony."
"Thank you, Mary," Robin said.
"Would you like to have dinner with us to celebrate Mary's achievement?" James asked.
"I would enjoy that very much," Robin said. "I know a very nice place where we can go."
"Lead on," James said.
The dinner turned out to be very companionable. It truly was like a family occasion.
"You must tell us what you can about writing a book about a pilot for children," Mary said. "That really sounds wonderful."
"I haven't worked on it all that much yet," Robin said. "But I can tell you one thing. I've decided to add a lady pilot so if you and James don't mind, I'm going to use you and James as models."
Mary turned around and looked at James. When James smiled Mary knew it was going to be all right.
"We'd be honored," James said.
"Good," Robin said. "That's a great help to me which brings me closer to the beginning. Thank you very much."
When James and Mary got home, they realized that they were both exhausted. It was all they could do to get upstairs and get their clothes off. Mary was glad when her ladies' maid came in to help her. It didn't take Mary long to get undressed and into her nightgown. Then she went to James's room because she wanted to stay with him more than she usually did.
Before James and Mary could know what happening they were making love. It was so beautiful and passionate for both of them. When they finished, they just held each other close and cried.
But in the days and weeks that followed, Mary found that she wasn't feeling well on many mornings. She and James were making love often so the thought crossed her mind that she could be pregnant. She felt sad because she barely had time to enjoy her pilot's license. Maybe there was another reason that she was feeling so sick all the time. Maybe going so high in her plane was harming her health. When she was in the process of getting her license, James had warned her about oxygen starvation at great heights. Finally, she decided to go to the New Hospital for Women and have herself checked out.
When she got to the hospital, Mary looked for her friend Anne Palmer to do her checkup. She knew she could trust Anne to be discreet.
At the end of the checkup, Anne said two words to Mary, words that she thought she would never hear.