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The Curious Luck Of The Earl Of Pugwash

by H. Bedford Jones

"Coincidence," you say? But then, All Life is a Coincidence—from the Cradle to the Grave!

DENNIS EARLE wanted to see London while there was some of it left to see, so he got a two-day leave from the O.C. and went up to town. They had brought a group of Lockheed bombers across the pond and were waiting among the ruins of Liverpool for a ship back. Canadian pay being better than English, Earle was fairly well heeled.

He got up to London about five in the afternoon, but by the time he reached the Houses of Parliament, darkness and the blackout spoiled his view; so he just wandered on up toward Trafalgar Square.

When the Moaning Minnie cut loose with its warning, Earle followed the nearest figures and crowded into a shelter, somewhat excited by walking right into an air raid. No one else was excited, however. The people around cursed the Jerries for starting to work two hours ahead of the usual time, and getting the dinner hour all messed up.

A bad sign, Earle gathered from the talk. Fires would be set by these first raiders, and the flames would be used as guides by the bombers following it. It would be a hard night. Earle, in his trim uniform, listened. He was good looking, being rangy and high-boned in feature; only a year out of the backwoods, in fact. But the backwoods of Nova Scotia breed hard men at an early age.

The shelter was dimly lit. Earle felt a touch on the elbow; a woman was beside him, looking at the R.C.A.F. insignia and letters.

"You're a Canadian?" she asked. Her voice was soft. She was young, not pretty, not well dressed, but she had a nice face, thought Earle. She wore a hat something like a Scots bonnet, with a feather perking the front up; a red feather, a red hat, tired brave eyes.

"Yes," said Earle. "That is, of a sort. Nova Scotia. Ever hear of Pugwash?"

To his surprise, she smiled a little, in assent.

"Yes, but I've never been there. My folks lived down near Sheldon."

"Sheldon? Good lord! I've been there many a time. Did you know Cap'n Bruce there? And the McFees?"

"My father was a McFee," said she. "But he died a long time ago, and my mother too, and I came over here with a show company and—well, it's not so good these days. Mostly, I use the shelter at the Temple or the Bank, when the raids come. I got caught here going home from work— oh, there it is now!"

The long-drawn, whooshing All Clear was sounding. People were flocking out. Earle wanted to keep in touch with her, but a swirl of the crowd separated them, and with a wave of her hand she was gone. He could not very well pursue her, he thought. Then he suddenly wished he had, and went plunging frantically after her, but it was too late.

He was out in the dark streets again. Here and there the sky above the buildings was lurid; fires had been started, all right. Earle wandered on—whither, he did not care a snap. This was London, and he was here; and presently he forgot all about the girl in the red bonnet, except to think of the curious chance of meeting someone who knew Pugwash.

Hunger was making itself felt. He could not find a pub, for everything was blacked out; he wanted a drink and he wanted dinner, and had no chance of getting either. But he could find a fire, and did, for engines were clanging and flames were rising, and he came into a street swarming with people and fire-fighters and wardens and Auxiliary Ambulance Corps women, desperately trying to get the fire under control before the raiders returned. Earle wanted to get directions, and hesitated.

A man came toward him, a rather stout man in a derby hat and evening clothes with a cross-barred waistcoat. He saw that the man was going to speak to him, and so it happened.

"Beg pardon, sir, but you're an officer?"

"Air Force," said Earle, which was answer enough. He was framing a question when the other spoke earnestly.

"Very good, sir. If you've not dined, will you have the kindness to come to dinner? His lordship—that is to say, Lord Mortimer—sent me out to find an officer and ask him to dinner. His lordship is extremely put out when forced to dine alone."

"What sort of a game is this?" demanded Earle. Then he saw that the other was serious; a long-faced, solemn fellow with no humor whatever. "Look here, I'm a stranger in town, a Canadian. I don't want any of your tricks."...

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