Love is so beautiful—so terrible—so awesome a thing. It came to her like a tropical dawn—in a matchless sweep of breathless beauty and wonder, yet. . .
Dateline: April 1937
They were falling deeply in love, but she held a secret: Myra was the cause of all his bitterness. She caused his plane to crash during the town air-derby, forever destroying his ability to fly. He knew the name, but had never seen the face of the woman responsible. Destiny (with a little help from Myra) brings them together again, and they are immediately love-struck. Myra never reveals her true identity. Who could blame her?When Dick proposes, she fears it’s the end.
Is it a tragic love story, or, a triumph of the human spirit? Would love be enough to forgive the guilty — who managed to deliver two blows to the heart by not only causing the accident, but also lying about who she was?
It was during the summer of 1930 that Grangeville’s business men built a new landing field. They were justly proud of their achievement and to boost the town, it was finally decided to have a grand celebration in the form of an air-derby. There were to be races and stunting, and a couple of hired planes to take up curious passengers.
I was the first girl from Grangeville to secure a pilot’s license, and I looked forward to the air-derby with the keenest zest. I was still enough of a little girl to relish a chance to show off before the home town folks. My father, who firmly believed that a girl had as much right to wings as a boy, had purchased me a second hand-monoplane for a birthday present and, after I had it repainted, I was as proud as the captain of a fleet.
After weeks of excited preparation, the great day finally arrived. I was entered in nearly every event of the day and, if thrills were fatal, I would have been prostrated! I was on the field almost before sun-up, testing the plane for the hundredth time, peering under the hood for trouble that was non-existent.
By ten o’clock the field was swarming with visiting pilots and their small, busy planes.
It was just before the second event that I noticed a pilot sitting on an overturned nail keg outside the hangar. I don’t know why I noticed him particularly, except that he was strangely still while everything about him was in nervous motion. He was watching the colorful scene with a detached interest that was queer, considering his flying togs. They were worn, too, and looked as though they belonged to him. I took time for a second glance and liked what I saw—clear brown skin beneath a wind-rumpled thatch of dark hair, dark hazel eyes, the color of a stormy horizon, a lean hard jaw, a mouth that held the crinkles of past laughter—I turned hastily away as my steady regard drew his gaze. Yes, I liked what I saw!
The next event was stunting, and I watched him go up with two others. He brought my heart into my throat and kept it there, with his cool daring, his expert handling of his plane, his dare-devil twists and turns. And when at last he came down he returned to the keg with as much placid indifference as before, only this time his eyes were leaping with excitement, and he walked with the proud, unconscious joy of a young eagle.
Just after dinner was the open free-for-all. I don’t believe the master of ceremonies knew exactly what was meant by that, nor did we. All planes were to take to the air, circle the field three times, dip in salute as the flag was run up, and then land again. Everything went fine, until the second time around the field. Out of the side of my eye I saw a red plane creeping up on me, and I didn’t intend to let it pass, so I turned sharply around the goal post for the return trip. I thought the other plane had plenty of room. But I misjudged the distance. In order not to hit my left wing, the other plane dipped too low and caught the tip of its left wing on the goal post. There was a strange ripping sound, and the visiting plane sagged crazily. An instant later it crashed into the dust of the field, nose first, like a broken toy.
I never could quite remember how I landed my plane. My hands and feet were icy on the controls, and there was a deadly sickness in the pit of my stomach. I got there in time to see who they were lifting into the ambulance. It was the man with the hazel eyes and laughter warm against his mouth. Now his face was rigid and white, except for the scarlet stream that oozed from his mouth and threaded its terrifying way down the strong column of his throat.
Everybody was trying to explain the accident, but I knew whose fault it was. Mine! Mine! I had cut in on him too quickly. I wanted to be smart and show off. Dear God, what a fool I was! I found my own car in the parking lot and followed the ambulance into the city hospital. Several friends wanted to go with me, but I shook them off. I alone should bear this. Somehow, I felt that way.
They took him into the emergency operating-room and I sat down in the hall. A kindly nurse told me there were more comfortable chairs in the waiting-room. More comfortable chairs! I should have been sitting on spikes! I sat still, dulled with agony, watching the dark panels of the door—hearing faint movement—smelling the thick, sweet odor of ether. And then, after years and years of almost unendurable suffering, the door opened and a rubber-tired stretcher was pushed out. I caught one glimpse of his face, paste-white, like a plant grown without sun, and his head covered with bandages. His body was covered with a blanket. I couldn’t see how badly it was hurt. But when the elevator doors had clanged to, I turned to the doctor who had worked on him.
“Just how bad is it?” I asked.
He looked at me with professional indifference. He did not know that I was the cause of that pitifully wrecked body.
It’s hard to say yet. He has a fracture of the skull, but I hardly think that will prove serious. But his back is hurt. That may cause trouble. Are you a relative?” “No,” I said thickly. “I’m—I’m not even a friend!”
It wasn’t hard to learn that the man’s name was Dick Doane, that he lived in a place called Haines, with his mother. She was bedridden and couldn’t come to him.
Of course, everybody said it was just an accident and that I shouldn’t blame myself. They didn’t know. I sent flowers and more flowers, until one day they were refused. The nurse explained firmly, but kindly that her patient had regained consciousness and learned who sent the flowers.
He didn’t want any more from me. Well, I couldn’t blame him. He knew what a dirty trick I had played. How he must hate me! I wanted to sell my plane, but Dad wouldn’t let me. He said I was just being morbid, and that I would get over it! Get over it—with that still, white face haunting my every dream!
It was six months before Dick Doane could leave the hospital and then he left on crutches. I knew the day he was leaving and watched him from across the street. He put his crutches down so carefully, and their padded ends sank deep into my heart! A young eagle, crushed and broken! I was so blinded by tears that I couldn’t see his face clearly. Perhaps it was best I didn’t.
It was three weeks later that I drove over to the Haines airport to see a new type of plane they were exhibiting there. I wouldn’t have gone except for the hope of seeing Dick—and I wasn’t disappointed. He was standing a little back in the crowd, without his crutches now, but limping noticeably when he walked. I suppose it was the intensity of my gaze that finally brought his eyes to my face. I felt myself grow pale, and wondered if guilt were written all over my face. You see Dick had never seen me to know who I was, but I was so conscious of my secret that I thought it must show. In that brief glance I had seen the look in his eyes and it wrenched my heart—such a sick look, so hopeless and defeated. His body might be limp, but his spirit was limping even more pitifully!
I managed to edge toward him slowly until I finally stood next to him. I felt like a prattling child, as I inquired purposefully “Pardon me, but could you tell me what they call the funny dial in front?”
Dick brought his gaze down to me with an effort, as though in thought he had been far away.
“I beg your pardon,” he said remotely. “I didn’t get your question.”
It was the first time I had ever heard him speak, and his voice gave me a kind of electric thrill. It was so deep and vibrant, yet it slurred a little as though it were very tired.
I repeated my question with a smile that trembled at the corners. It was then that he appeared really to see me for the first time. His eyes caught at the contour of my face with a sort of eager hunger. He had been a long time alone in the still room of his pain, and his youth was beginning to reach out demanding hands toward life.
He seemed more than willing to explain the fine points of the new plane to me, and finally he remarked comfortably “You don’t know a whole lot about flying, do you?”
“Not a great deal,” I lied steadily, catching my breath a little because the
unexpected question frightened me.
“It’s a good thing you don’t,” he said, and his mouth settled to grim lines. “Flying is no field for a woman.”
That was all he said, but it was the things he didn’t say that hurt—the massed bitterness behind that single grim statement.
When the crowd broke up I asked if I couldn’t give him a lift to the car line, and he accepted after a moment’s hesitation. I ignored his limp, and gave him all the admiration that his sore heart was craving. I pretended to be awe-struck because he had a pilot’s license and got him to talk about flights he had made. Gradually his eyes lost that bleak, sick look, and lit up with eager memories. I drove slowly and let him talk. I asked just enough questions to keep him going. But suddenly the fire went out of his eyes and his mouth was wiped clean of laughter.
“I’m going on like an idiot. All that’s past. I’m through flying, I guess. Had an accident over at Grangeville that grounded me for good. Sorry to have bored you.”
Nor could I get him to talk any more about himself that day. But before we parted at the car line, he had told me his name and I had told him my first two names—Myra Starr, leaving off the Garry, for I knew he’d recognize that in a minute. Just as he was stepping painfully out of the car, I got up the courage to ask him if he wouldn’t like to go to Douglasto see the air exhibition the following week-end. He said he would. And thus we began our strange meetings.
Six weeks later I was forced to face the devastating misery that I had deliberately brought upon myself. I was madly, head-over heels in love with Dick Doane, and he didn’t even know who I was. He had confessed to me, however, his agony of bitterness toward the thoughtless girl who had crowded him out of the air and out of his place in life. In the six weeks that I had come to know Dick I had had occasion to look deep into his soul, and I cringed before the hopeless tragedy that I found there. For Dick Doane was born to fly. It was life and breath to him. He was as miserable on the ground as a chained eagle. And I had done this to him! He was trying to learn another trade, but he went at it gropingly, like a blinded child. I was torn with pity before I fell in love with him. After that I can’t describe how I suffered.
Love is such a beautiful—such a terrible—such an awesome thing! It came to me like a tropical dawn—in one matchless sweep of indescribable beauty and breathless wonder.
We had met as usual at the airport. I had made up some flimsy excuse about a stepmother, and not wanting to have company at my home, so we always met some place else. We parked my car and took Dick’s little two-seater. Spring was in the air, warm, and pulsing, and tender. The apple trees were showing faint pink edges and the creek bottoms were rich with willow-green.
We parked the car finally in a grass-grown lane and began to talk as we always did about planes and flying. I knew it eased the ache in Dick’s soul to talk about the thing he could never do.
Suddenly he said—”Why is it I talk like this to you? I never mention it to anybody else. But you’re different. It’s almost like talking to myself to talk to you.”
I laughed a little. “I like the way you say that. I think that’s quite the nicest compliment I’ve ever had.”
“Myra—you’re sweet!” he said, suddenly serious, a new vibrant tone in his voice.
“You’re not so bad yourself,” I countered, feeling the rush of blood to my cheeks.
“Do you mean that?” he demanded.
“Yes,” I whispered, half afraid, half exulting, not understanding myself—not wanting to. I leaned closer to him, drawn by the strength and appeal of his clean youth. And suddenly I was in his arms and his face was buried in my hair. I was amazed by the wild, sweet thrill that pulsed through my body like old wine. My fingers strayed unbidden to his hair, close-clipped and crisp. And all of a sudden his lips were groping downward across my temple, seeking my lips and with a half sob I turned my face and met his kiss. Never before had I known such a moment. I was blinded—shaken by the untamed tumult that swept across my soul. His lips were gentle, yet they compelled my complete submission. They demanded and I gave—gave blindly until I lay exhausted and trembling against his breast. He released me with an abruptness that wrung a smothered cry from my quivering lips.
“Forgive me!” he muttered thickly. “I must be mad. What right have I to make love to a girl like you—I, a miserable wreck?”
“Stop it,” I cried desperately. “You shan’t talk about yourself like that, Dick Doane! To me you’re the finest man in the world. Do you think I see your limp? That’s such a little thing. It’s your soul limping that hurts my heart. If you can get the kinks out of your soul and face the world again—if you can make a success in some other field—”
“Yes—then what?” Dick asked tensely, catching my face between his shaking hands.
“Then I’ll help you,” I whispered. “And be so proud to do it!”
“You mean you’d be willing to marry a wreck like me?”
“I mean I’d be proud to take the name of the grandest man I know,” I answered and broke into weeping.
Well, Dick Doane went to work at his new trade with such will that his mother talked about it with tears in her eyes.
Dick demanded the chance to talk to my father, but I kept putting him off. I lived from one day to the next, torn by my own folly. I had grounded Dick Doane once and now, just as his soul was testing its wings again, it looked as though I would forever ground him in hopeless, soul-destroying bitterness. I had won his love under false pretenses. I was a cheat and a coward. Oh, I hated myself those days!
And then came a Sunday that I shall never forget. It is etched in flaming red against the wall of my memory. Dick and I drove out to the airport as usual. He loved to hang around and watch the in-coming and out-going planes. There was a big cabin plane there that day taking up passengers. It could carry ten passengers and was there really to advertise the air-transport companies. After a few minutes Dick surprised me by suggesting that we go up. I hadn’t been in the air since his accident, but I wouldn’t have refused him anything he asked for. So we went.
There were six other passengers in the plane, and one man had been drinking heavily. He was a big fellow, with a large florid face and bulgy eyes. He talked and laughed a lot, but no one paid any real attention to him, until we were well in the air. He sat ahead of me, across the aisle, and I could see only the bulge of his purple neck.
The pilot was in the same cabin with us, as this was one of the old model planes, without a partition between pilot and passengers. We had circled the field and were heading off for our little trip, when all of a sudden this man jumped up and let out a scream that curdled my blood. He was stark, raving scared, and I’ve never seen a living face turn such a ghastly green. He staggered forward toward the pilot and fell across the back of the seat, but not before his big arms had a strangle grip of the pilot’s throat.
The plane tilted dizzily and two women screamed in mortal terror. One slumped sidewise in a dead faint. A man cursed thinly. The pilot was fighting for his life. He struck upward and grazed the drunken man’s cheek. The drunk struck back blindly and the pilot went limp.
I can’t tell you just what happened after that. It doesn’t seem real. It was a ghastly, unbelievable nightmare of sound and terror. A passenger tried to drag the now sobbing drunk away from the struggling pilot. But the plane had gone into a dangerous side slip and we weren’t very high up.
I had never piloted a cabin plane, but there were other hands than mine on the controls that day. You no doubt read about it in your Monday’s newspaper—how a slip of a girl saved several persons from death. Don’t you believe it! A power greater than mine
righted that plane to make a safe, though exceedingly uneven landing. I don’t remember clearly until we were back in Dick’s little car and the noise and excitement had subsided to a murmur. Then suddenly my brain cleared and I could think again.
I had given myself away. I had flown a ship. Dick! What had he thought? What was he thinking now?
I dared look at his face. It was still ghastly white, with streaks where tears had passed. His jaw might have been cut stone. Not a muscle moved. We drove in silence to our little lane where lilacs were making purple mists against the delicate green of maples. There Dick stopped the car.
“You’re Myra Starr Garry,” he said thickly.
“Yes.” How I longed to fling myself into his arms and plead for forgiveness, but my whole body felt as though it were locked in ice!
“All this time you’ve lied to me. Why?” It was a piteous query, wrung from his heart. And suddenly the ice melted and I began to cry—to cry brokenly and wildly, without hope—
“Oh, Dick—Dick—can’t you understand why I’ve lied to you? Can’t you see that I was afraid to tell you—afraid, because I love you so much? Oh, I’ve lived a thousand agonies because of my moment of thoughtlessness that day! I’ve never been in the air myself again until this day. I made up my mind, if you couldn’t fly, I wouldn’t either. I sold my plane, against my father’s wishes. I hated myself. And then I met you and fell in love with you, and I’ve never been so unhappy in all my life. I couldn’t bear the thought of giving you up—of having you hate me! Oh, Dick—Dick—Dick! I grounded you once—don’t let hate of me ground you again. I’ll go away, if you want me to, but you keep on facing the world with courage. I can’t bear to think of your soul limping again. Hate me if you must, but don’t be bitter toward life any more—”
He stopped me with a cry that will ring in my memory forever. It was a wild, exultant cry—a cry of victory and glorious happiness, infinite happiness. “Myra!”
He gathered me into his arms then and his lips touched my temple and rumpled my hair, and I knew he was trying to steady his voice enough to speak. I felt his heart pounding with the mighty surge of blood. And after a long time his husky whisper came through the gathering twilight—
“Hate you! You, who have brought me new life when I thought I was through living—you who have opened the door in a blank wall, and led me through to a joy I never guessed possible. Hate you! Didn’t I have to get knocked out of the sky in order to find you? We might never have met if that accident hadn’t happened. Why, for weeks I’ve been blessing the crazy girl that crowded me out of the air! Blessing her, I tell you! And now today I find you are that girl. I watched you coolly save a lot of people from certain death. Oh,Myra, what can I do to deserve a girl like you?”
My heart was caught up in an ecstasy it had never experienced before. Dick kissed me then—kissed me with a fire that welded our hearts into one, and left me filled with a happiness that was lasting and complete.
Copyright © 1937, 2012 by BroadLit