Baker, James

Letter
Date:
July 30, 1941
To:
Mom and all
From:
Jim
July 30th, 1941

Dear Mom and all,

It is nearly a week since I wrote you such a long letter but there is an awful lot of things to say that I thought I had better write again. That letter about Quentin Reynolds took nearly three days. Boy did my fingers ever ache! But I thought I had better write of it while I remembered all the things he had said. Now first of all: about myself.

My head, knee, chest and ankle are all better now but my arm has been getting worse. There is a huge lump on it just below the elbow. It is full of either blood or pus - blood I think, and the doctor says he is going to lance it as soon as he can. But it is not ripe yet and so they have been putting hot foments on it in an effort to make it soft. Consequently my arm looks and feels like a boiled lobster and is as tender as your famous pie crusts. I never knew your skin could get so hot without blistering. The doc has had a terrible time trying to make up his mind what is wrong with it...has had twelve X-rays taken trying to discover why the bone is so tender. Every one of them shows clear, no cracks or anything - yet the tenderness persists. So I guess I will be a human guinea pig while he tries to discover just what is wrong. Every day he comes around and pokes and prods while I sit here biting my lips to keep from yelling. Yesterday he made the startling discovery that the lump was full of fluid. Wonderful! I could have told him that two weeks ago if he had asked me. But he didn't so I didn't tell him. But I expect to be out of here in two weeks so don't worry too much will you? It is precisely the same operation I had last year only this time it is on my arm instead of my skin. I'll write as soon as I can after the op.

Yesterday I received a parcel with fifty razor blades and so with those that you sent me, I am stocked with blades for months! Boy was I glad to use to see them - for quite literally, they are worth their weight in gold now. Not that a razor blade weighs very much but they are as scarce as hen's teeth now. I have just learned that I am to go up for an operation tomorrow so I had better write this now while I still can.

I am so glad Mr. and Mrs. Phillips called on you. I didn't know you were still friends since you only met them once so far as I know. Why did they come down to see you? How is Jack? You know I had a heck of a time trying to remember who Phillips' were? At last I remembered the red headed English fellow I went to school with. I haven't thought of him for all of two years. Isn't it funny how casual you get with your friends when you haven't seen or heard from them for a long time! And I have so many friends I can hardly keep track of them all! However I will copy Jack's address down in my book which has risen to 76 names and addresses by now and drop him a line sometime when I'm not too busy. I have written to Bob Sheppard but as yet have had no answer. By the way, have the Burton boys joined up again or something? I saw their names mentioned in a sport's article in the Daily Province I was reading the other day and it mentioned that they would probably be posted to a coastal station, so I was wondering.

In my last letter I think I promised you another Lady Astor story, didn't I? Well here it is, although it isn't exactly about Lady Astor.

The other day I was over to tea at Cliveden and after tea was over Lady Astor took us out on the lawn and showed us a very peculiar flower bed. Now it seems that this flower bed has a very interesting history attached to it, a history which is inextricably wound up with the history of England. The original house ‘Cliveden' was built in 1665 by the second Duke of Buckinghamshire for these grounds were originally part of the Dukedom of the Duke of Buckinghamshire. Now, the Duke at this time was a bachelor with rather a shady reputation as a rake and a never do well. But at last he fell genuinely in love with a woman - the Countess of Shrewsbury. Now this would have been quite alright had not the Countess been already married, and the Count - being a reasonable man, objected quite strongly to the Duke's unwelcome attentions. But the Duke persisted in his suit, meeting the Countess secretly and at last, overcoming her fears by the ardour of his wooing, he persuaded her to run away from her husband and come and be his mistress at Cliveden. So one June morning very early - before the sun was even up , the Duke appeared on the Count's estate with two saddled horses - met his lady love, and together the two plunged into the wilds of Buckinghamshire, making for Cliveden.

But the Count discovered his wife's flight before many hours had passed and guessing at once what had taken place, pursued the guilty pair so hotly that he caught them up just as they emerged from the woods on to the level well-kept lawns which even in those days surrounded the house. Here the indignant husband faced the guilty pair and hot words soon led to hotter until, the Count drew his sword to defend his honour and the Duke drew his to win the lady he loved.

So there on the still dew-soaked grass - in the midst of the lovely rose-garden surrounded by trimmed boxwood hedges, these two fought. They gave and expected no quarter, this was to be a fight to the bitter end. Can you not see the two facing each other, on the face of the Duke a smile of anticipation - for he was a noted swordsman, on the face of the Count a look of black anger and hatred? Can you not hear the clash and clang of their swords as each strove with might and main to pierce the defence of his antagonist
and deliver a mortal wound? The flashing sword points whirl and writhe in dizzying circles as each lunges and recovers or beats back an adversary's attack. Can you not see the pale trembling countess standing ‘neath a young oak (which still stands incidentally) holding the reins of the patient horses tightly clasped over her heart waiting with bated breath. What if her husband should win? Oh how hateful life would be. Suddenly she gasps, a look of intense agony passes over her face, she sways as though she would fall. But no! Some inner fountain of strength wells up within her and she continues to gaze wild-eyed at the terrible scene before her.

And a terrible scene for her it is - too, for now the Count - strengthened by his anger, has succeeded in placing the Duke in a very difficult position. Back, back he retreats across the wet grass until his back is against the yew hedge. Desperately he strikes and thrusts and plunges but ever the Count's flashing sword hems him-in - pressing him back, back. The Duke is quickly weakening. His sword point drops lower and lower. He can hardly defend himself now. A look of triumph spreads over the black face which confronts him - that swims back and forth before his weary straining eyes like a will-o-the-wisp in the mist. Suddenly the count spies an opening and quick as a snake his body lunges forward. The Duke senses his danger and in a last desperate effort tries to dodge aside but too late, too late, the sword is almost upon him. But ah treachery, oh thrice accursed dew! Oh heavenly, wonderful dew! Oh thrice blessed dew from heaven! The Count's foot slips on the wet grass, his sword misses the dodging body of his foe and when he can recover the Duke plunges his sword up to the very hilt in the body of his foe. A look of amazement, of pained surprise appears upon the Count's face. He clutches at his breast, totters a few steps and falls on his face to cough out his life upon the dew-soaked grass. The Duke sinks wearily upon a nearby bench while the Countess - she who is the cause of this, runs over and tenderly takes his tired head between her cool hands. Let us leave the two there together in the scented peacefulness of the rose garden with the still, dead body at their feet.

I must say this story affected me very strongly. I could picture the whole scene, even down to the exact spot where it all took place, for did not a flower bed now mark the spot? Was that not the very oak under which the Countess had stood? True, it was black and gnarled with age now but what did that matter? There was the date and the Duke's sword, composed of flowers it is true, but it required very little imagination to transform it into a real one. I could see the tall, darkly handsome Duke standing with his bloodstained body at their feet. What a curse is imagination! After it was over (the story I mean) Lady Astor took us all in and showed the portraits of the Countess and the Duke hanging side by side over the grand staircase. Oh! What a disappointment, what a let-down! Instead of the bold, dashing, handsome cavalier: who is this short, dumpy, little fat man with the curly hair straggling over his ugly features? Instead of the beautiful, smiling Countess, who is this ugly, fat woman with the course irregular features and gloating all-possessive eyes? I was never so profoundly disappointed. And I remember I turned to Lady Astor and said in a tone of disgust that I couldn't conceal, "Well, I don't think she was worth it!"

But she only laughed and said: "Perhaps you didn't, but he evidently did!" pointing to the Duke "for they had nine children and lived here for nearly twenty years after the incident of which I have told you." Nearly everyone of these old English estates has a story to tell if you could only hear it. We are lucky in this case for other people know the story too.

So Hazel has got married has she? You know there won't be any girls that I know left unmarried when I get home again. But I don't suppose I will mind very much at first for I will be too busy getting acquainted with my neighbours. Yes, Jessie wrote me and told me she was getting married. Or was it Beth Henderson who told me? I forget.

No, I haven't been able to get down to Brighton for six months. It is a closed defence area and very hard to get into. But I'll go one of these days and let you know how they all are. Yes, Fred Snell and I are good pals now. He is a Regimental Robinson so is a very handy friend to have as well. How is Mr. Foote? I honestly hope he did not recover this time for what is the use of dragging on this useless existence? Burdening both himself and poor Mrs. Foote with his uselessness.... If he is gone, I hope she may follow soon after for much as they quarreled and bickered, I think she would genuinely miss him. They have had their happiness together: now let them depart peacably together. Well, I guess that is all......

Jim



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