Sunday morning at headquarters was apt to be a slack morning, with not much work to do; but in intervals of idleness one could always be certain of finding something of interest to see or hear in Steve’s office. Usually he would be in front of his drafting-board working on a new design for a muffler or a machine-gun turret or a self-starter, or figuring out the possibility of flying through the Arc de Triomphe, which, he claimed could be done with six feet to spare at each wing-tip. This, and climbing the Eiffel Tower on its girders, were two of his pet projects.
On a Sunday in August of 1918 there were assembled around his drafting-board an interested and receptive audience of four—Peters, an ensign attached to the “lighter-than-air” section; Madden, a pilot on his way up from Italy to the Northern Bombing Group; Erskine, a lieutenant in the Operations Division; and Matthews, a chief yeoman.
“Yes,” Dempsey was saying, “I’m beaucoup sorry for these here frawgs. They’re just bein’ massacred—that’s all it is—massacred. And there don’t anybody take much notice, either. Say, somebody was tellin’ me the other day just how many the French has lost since the beginnin’ of the war. Just about one million. I wouldn’t believe it, but it’s straight. It was a French colonel that was tellin’ me out to the Hispano factory day before yesterday, and he’d oughta know because he was through the battle of the Marne and the Soam, and everything.”
“Did he tell you in French?” inquired Ensign Peters, meaningly, for Dempsey’s French was admittedly limited.
“Pardon?” said Dempsey, and then, grasping the innuendo: “No, sir, he did not. Why, he talks English as good as you and me. That’s another thing about these frawgs—they can all parlez-vous any language. I never yet seen a Frenchie I couldn’t talk to yet.”
“Did you ever see anybody you couldn’t talk to yet, Steve?” suggested the chief yeoman.
“Here, you, how d’ya get that way? Who was it I seen th’ other night out walking in the Boy de Bullone with a skirt? And I guess you wasn’t talkin’—why, you was talkin’ so fast you had to help out with your hands, just like a frawg.... No, as I say, I feel sorry for these French in more ways than one.”
“Just how do you display that sorrow?” asked Ensign Madden.
Dempsey hesitated an instant, scratched his head, and very carefully drew a line on the tracing-paper in front of him.
“Well, sir,” he said, finally, “I displayed it last Sunday.”
Then he relapsed into silence, and resumed work on the drawing. But as he worked he grinned quietly—a provocative grin which inspired curiosity.
“What did you do last Sunday?” prodded Peters.
The grin widened as Steve glanced up from the board. He laid aside his instruments, tilted back in his chair, and said: “Well, it wasn’t very regular, what I done last Sunday, but I’ll tell you if you don’t have me up before a court.... You remember last Sunday was a swell day? Spring in the air, I guess, and everything, and everybody was out walking like Matthews, here, with a Jane. I ’ain’t got a Jane, of course——”