Of his machine itself Guynemer made a terrible weapon, and he soon passed his fiftieth victory. On August 20 his record numbered fifty-three, and he was in as good condition as on the Somme. On the 24th he was on his way to Paris, planning not only to have his airplane repaired, but to point out to the Buc engineers an improvement he had just devised.
“Oh, yes, the dog always manages to get what he wants,” Guynemer’s father had once said to him with a sad smile, when Georges, regardless of his two previous failures, insisted at Biarritz upon enlisting.
“The dog? what dog?” Guynemer had answered, not seeing an apologue in his father’s words.
“The dog waiting at the door till somebody lets him in. His one thought is to get in while the people’s minds are not concentrated on keeping him out. So he is sure to succeed in the end.”
It is the same thing with our destiny, waiting till we open the door of our life. Vainly do we try to keep the door tightly shut against it: we cannot think of it all the time, and every now and then we fall into trustfulness, and thus its hour inevitably comes, and from the opening door it beckons to us. “What we call fatalism,” M. Bergson says, “is only the revenge of nature on man’s will when the mind puts too much strain upon the flesh or acts as if it did not exist. Orpheus, it is true, charmed the rivers, trees and rocks away from their places with his lyre, but the Maenades tore him to pieces in his turn.”
We cannot say that the Guynemer who flew in Flanders was not the same Guynemer who had flown over the Somme, Lorraine or Aisne battle-fields. Indeed, his mastery was increasing with each fresh encounter, and with his daring he cared little whether the enemy was gaining in numbers or inventing unsuspected tactics. His victories of August 17 and 20 showed him at his boldest best. Yet his comrades noticed that his nerves seemed overstrained. He was not content with flying oftener and longer than the others in quest of his game, but fretted if his Boche did not appear precisely when he wanted him. When an enemy did not turn up where he was expected, he made up his mind to seek him where he himself was not expected, and he became accustomed to scouting farther and farther away into dangerous zones. Was he tired of holding the door tight against destiny, or feeling sure that destiny could not look in? Did it not occur to him that his hour, whether near or not, was marked down?
Indeed, it is certain that the thought not only presented itself to him sometimes, but was familiar. “At our last meeting,” writes his school-fellow of Stanislas days, Lieutenant Constantin, “I had been struck by his melancholy expression, and yet he had just been victorious for the forty-seventh time. ‘I have been too lucky,’ he said to me, ’and I feel as if I must pay for it.’ ‘Nonsense,’ I replied, ’I am absolutely certain that nothing will happen to you.’ He smiled as if he did not believe me, but I knew that he was haunted by the idea, and avoided everything that might uselessly consume a particle of his energy or disturb his sang-froid, which he intended to devote entirely to Boche hunting."