For All Nails, Pt. 21a
Officers and Gentlewomen
(I leave parts 19 and 20 to some other enterprising SHWIan)
A recruiting sergeant came our way
To an Inn nearby at the close of day,
He said, "young Johnny you're a fine young man
Would you like to march along behind a military band,
With a scarlet coat and a big cocked hat,
A musket on your shoulder?"
Refrain: What makes you go abroad fighting for strangers?
When you could be safe at home free from all dangers.
Women's Barracks, Royal Confederation Air Force College, Marlborough
City, Manitoba, October 27, 1970 [FN1]
Cadet Second Class Alexandra Stapleton stood muttering angrily before
the full-length mirror, doing up her uniform buttons of her coat over
her starchy white shirt, legs set wide apart, hips tilted with cocky
defiance. Her hands quickly made their way to the high stand collar
of the fly-fronted, well-tailored air force grey-blue tunic. The
austere, trim cut of the academy uniform, with its brass collar dogs,
pipped shoulder-straps and concealed buttons suited her lithe,
athletic frame. Her thin-lipped mouth was contorted into a
half-cocked frown as she scrutinized herself with uncertain but sharp
Standing at her shoulder, a little taller, was one of the scant number
of friends she had at the College. Cadet First Class Evangeline
Gilmore, her senior in rank and years, who would be commissioned an
Ensign a whole year ahead of Stapleton. There was little to explain
the odd friendship between the foul-mouthed Manitoban and her jaunty
upper-crust fellow cadet, the scion of minor gentry in the Northern
Confederation. Stapleton, self-centered as usual, couldn't remember
the name of the place.
They certainly had little in common in temperament. Ev Gilmore was
seldom angry--at least not overtly--but was given to curious,
razor-sharp asides, off-center humor, and contemptuous wit. Stapleton
glanced at her out of the corner of her eye, catching her face in the
mirror. She was listening, an odd smile quirking her well-molded
lips, but her icy blue eyes were unfocused, vaguely staring into the
distance. Odd. She looked as if she might laugh. She was, by a
nose, the better-looking of the two. Stapleton tended towards
angularity. Perhaps the Manitoban was slightly resentful of the
well-shaped copper-auburn aureole framing her idiosyncratic, jaunty
features, cut into a fashionable bob, far more eye-catching than her
dark, close-cut hair, at best only slightly modish. She had cut most
of it off the day after she had stormed out of the house.
But exactly what emotions--admiration, contempt, jealousy--she had for
her friend would have been a hard task even for the most talented of
Ev Gilmore had a certain feminine dash about her, well-pressed
military riding breeches, Sam Browne belt and boots gleaming with
polish, flap-covered holster slapping at her hip. Her leather-gloved
hands distractedly turned a peaked cap emblazoned with the winged and
crowned sword of the academy around and around again.
Stapleton gave a furious tug on her tunic skirts to correct some
invisible error and spun around. "You are listening, aren't you?"
"Mm-hmmm," said the Gilmore girl distractedly. Stapleton realized
that she was looking out the window, eyes fixed on the snow-frosted
red-brick neo-gothic crocketry of the Academy, built in a fit of
revivalist nostalgia after the shock of the Global War. "If I recall
correctly, it was in reference to your father--something about
weaklings hiding behind pacifism, piss-faced progressives with rainbow
ribbons and so on and so forth. Pray continue," she said with a
dismissive flip of her hand, and there was something in the way she
said the last couple of words that she was not taking Cadet
Stapleton's daily tirade with all due seriousness expected by
Was that what she thinks of me? A hayseed joke from the frozen wilds
to entertain her? It certainly would have explained a lot. The
upper-class cadets who filled the barracks with their well-tailored
uniforms, their equestrian trophies, their fencing foils, their name
in Howard's _North American Gentry_, their mothers and fathers, Sir
Fitzhugh Kennedy Toffeenosed Snob, Dame Louisa ffoulkes-Peabrain--she
remembered in a flash that Gilmore's father--late father--was
Major-General Lord Gilmore of Star's Hollow--d-mn it, that was the
name of the town...
Despite her pretentions, just a pimple on the face of nowhere, like
her own home, that pissy little town of Fort Benton, half hicks and
half pacifists. Though she used stronger adjectives to describe both,
All the cast-off remembrances, encumbrances, petty rumors, silly
grievances and confidences, conventions of a life of privilege in the
big cities of the East. Her ancestors had struck out for the fields
of Manitoba to leave that all behind. An unpleasant idea formed in
her mind, one that had been eating at her as she had been snubbed, one
by one, by all her fellow officers and ladies, as her term at the
Academy had dragged on. Maybe everything she had thought she knew
about those Mexicano b--ggers south of the Rockies with their siestas
and their accents was wrong and they had been right, not a bunch of
bloodthirsty regicides and rabble-rousing anarchists. After all, the
Jeffersonian rabble had wanted the ship the lot of them back to
England. Not that it would have worked, by a long shot. The North
American Rebellion--what a farce.
But Ev had been different. Her father's father had won a peerage with
the blade of a sword, pulling himself by his bootstraps, typical
Yankee ingenuity and social climbing. And Ev was definitely not here
to gain a fifth-wheel Lieutenancy at some velvet-cushion agency in
Burgoyne or a posting to some comfortably out-of-the-way consulate in
one of those other cursed tiny Italian states. That's what Nell
Phillips wanted; she shared Stapleton's quarters in the barracks.
Cadet Phillips's father was the CNA Minister to the Grand Duke of
Tuscany and was thus assured of a well-upholstered office in the
embassy overlooking the Arno River [FN2].
D--mn, she hated that. She hated Nell. She hated all of her
snot-nosed barracks-mates--all of them, Louisa St. Laurent, Laura
King, that Chesterton girl, Roberta Feldon...
But Ev had been a rebel like her friend--subtler, perhaps, though.
Her widowed mother had done all she could to keep her out of the
Academy, and with good reason. But Ev had proved a match even for her
formidable mother, with all her society connections. Evangeline
Gilmore was a dangerous creature, clearly: sharp-witted, vicious if
crossed, but always supremely in control: she'd never show you an
emotion she didn't want you to see, and even then, it was expressed in
the most mind-bendingly obtuse way, with cryptic asides, odd smiles,
sharp glances, decontextified quotations.
Shakespeare. Especially Hamlet, that ravenous, revenge-crazed beast,
haunted by a dead warrior father. An unconscious portrait of her
self-consciousness? "I am very proud, revengeful, ambitious, with
more offences at my beck than I have thoughts to put them in,
imagination to give them shape, or time to act them in." Stapleton
wouldn't have known, nor would she have cared much. Psycho-analyzing
was for foreigners. She had never seen the play and had expunged what
she had learned in school from her mind. But she did know that Lord
Gilmore's death, as mysterious as it had been, had left Evangeline
with a bloodthirst for revenge against the United States of Mexico.
Shaded hints of espionage, stolen plans. Gilmore had been involved
with Army Intelligence, deputy director--
D--mn, why does she have to be such a sphinx? [FN3].
Enigma. Frustrating. Ev always was quoting Shakespeare, and
Stapleton did know it was a subtle taunt to her intelligence. Uncouth
as she was, she knew that much. Gilmore may have had brains and had
challenged her instructors and made a fool of anyone who breathed the
wrong way without her permission, but she was still one of them. And
she didn't even do her the justice of being contemptuous of the raw
Manitoban. She was too smart for that, and it rankled Stapleton.
She thinks I'm funny. She thinks I'm a joke.
G--dd--mn them all.
(Part 19b will concern some interesting goings-on at the next week's
evening mess--interesting special guests from Burgoyne that were
expected, and one from Fort Benton, Manitoba, that was not. With a
gun. Allow me that suspense).
[FN1]. Like the U.S. Air Force Academy, it seemed possible that the
RCAC, being a relatively new institution, might be built a bit farther
west than the other service academies, perhaps by some particularly
enterprising western politico.
[FN2]. I am a little unclear on the geography of FWOAN Italy, but it
seemed a plausible suggestion. If you would rather have the Kingdom
of Etruria or even the Kingdom or Republic of Italy, I am not one to
stand on ceremony.
[FN3]. Why indeed? It is difficult to ascertain exactly why and who
killed Major General Sir Horace Lord Gilmore of Star's Hollow, RCNAO,
and I leave it up to you to conduct the research. Evangeline seems to
think the Mexicans were behind it, and I imagine Professor Sobel would
not be very surprised.
Notre Dame, Indiana