Thousands of motor cyclists did their bit in the Great War and many of them must have dreamed of the motor cycles they left behind. This yarn reduced me to tears.
SHORT IS THE BLISSFUL HOUR that comes before the sunrise: yet when life is as full of incident as he found it by Cape Helles an hour may be an eternity. There is a limit for tired nerves, worn out with sudden alarms and more sudden death on all sides, and it is in that hour full of shadowy mists that all men’s souls sail from the peninsula on the wonderful hospital ship that carries them home and back in an hour, leaving them at the dawn with memories to fight for, and courage to see them through.
He lay in a cramped position at the entrance to the best dug-out on the peninsula; beside any such work in Flanders it would have appeared rather like a bunker on suburban links. Beside him was a new tunic which in the most natural manner he had removed from all that was left of one of his friends the previous night. Its chief merit lay in its low population. The hospital ship had deposited him on the Portsmouth Road with his Zenith, and looking over his shoulder he was pleased but not surprised to find that ‘she’ was there too. Hospital ships are very thoughtful. As he turned round towards Weybridge he felt her hand drawing the cigarettes from his pocket, and a minute later a lighted Virginian was pushed between his lips. He raised his right hand in thanks. “Mustn’t let her all out,” he shouted over his shoulder, “that tyre on the front wheel’s got a very weak spot; it’ll go sooner or later.” Yet when he got close to the station he found that a short ‘blind’ before the hill could not be avoided. “Shall I?” he shouted, and a tightened grip was enough answer. They were just picking up well when the tyre went; in a fraction of a second he realised that he had no control over the machine, and fixed the very spot amongst the heather at the side where they should pitch. Yet they seemed to be minutes reaching it. He felt as though he had just stopped everything for a little, while he examined the spot, looking into each yellow flower and noticing every drop of dew. The noise of the burst had been appalling; and yet he seemed quite used to it; vaguely he remembered having heard it once at quite frequent intervals, somewhere out of England, when—ah! yes…he raised himself on a stiff elbow, almost drenched in the dew. Well, anyhow, the first hour’s sun would dry that thoroughly; it didn’t take long in such a climate…But where was the ‘bus?… Oh! of course, he had been dreaming. But how vivid it had been. “What was that, Speeby?” he shouted. “HE,” growled a voice behind him. “Double L,” he added with a laugh, curling himself up again.
It seemed as though he had been driving for hours, every nerve in his body seemed tense : every muscle strained. He knew there was something at stake something big: -and somehow he felt he was winning, there was a wonderful rush of wind in his face, yet his eyes were quite unaffected: he couldn’t be wearing a helmet, since he felt his hair waved back in the breeze, and his head was cool; he felt somehow as though he had just had a glorious shampoo. That made him laugh. He couldn’t somehow stop laughing…it seemed so jolly fine to be winning so easily there was nothing ahead of him on the track! He was simply unbeatable. What if he stopped and lit a cigarette and then went on? He shrieked with laughter at the idea. What a jest it would be!
Somewhere behind him there came a little purring that grew a bit insistent. His confidence seemed to leave him suddenly: both machines were roaring now, but what a splendid cackle! His hands got hot and sticky, and he felt his grip on the bars loosening. Perspiration began to pour from him: then a shadow started crawling up behind him. He could see the machine out of the corner of his eye: it was certainly gaining. With a roar that startled him it overtook and passed him. Well, it was hardly worth while going on, now. He seemed to be drifting just anywhere. Two or three machines passed him. Then suddenly a very small voice right in his ear distinctly said. “Who ran that belt through?” With a long sigh he rubbed his eyes and sat up. “Whoa…what…?” “Who ran that belt through?” “Who did what?” “Oh, do wake up, you chump: didn’t you hear a machine gun?” “No…well, yes: I suppose I must have: I seem to remember it.”
On the Portsmouth Road.
He was leaning on his Zenith just where the road turns at the entrance to Ripley, explaining very carefully to someone that that house over there was the twelve-pound house; referring to the newly painted golden medallions on the great iron gates. He seemed to be surrounded by every motorist he had ever known; he recognised every machine, and every detail on it: dirty knee-grips here; enormous exhausts there; he caught sight of a Brough, and waved his hand and shouted, “Hullo! Ken.”
“Harry’s comin’ along on somethin’ rather sweet, isn’t he?” said someone; and they all stopped talking and listened to the perfectly running engine. He stretched lazily and opened his eyes. Ever so far above him the blue sky reached out to infinity. Straight overhead an aeroplane passed on an early morning reconnaissance. How clearly he saw it, he could even distinguish the exhaust…that engine sounded pretty healthy. With a puzzled look in his eyes he repeated to himself very softly: “Harry’s…comin’ along on somethin’ rather sweet, isn’t he?” Who could have said that just now? Good lor’, he must have been dreaming. He roused himself and scrambled to his feet. Crossing over he kicked Speeby affectionately “Come and help with the breakfast,” he said. “Comin’, sir,” said Speeby, sitting up. He burst into a shriek of laughter at the “Sir”. A slow smile dawned over Speeby’s face. “I dreamt I was on a ship,” he explained.