I want pickles, the heavily pregnant woman screamed.
This was probably bad timing. The tunnel was sealed and bombs were dropping overhead and pickles were in somewhat short supply in the Underground at this moment. Most people were just pleased to be safe, away from the burning streets and crumbling buildings. Others, they all knew were not so lucky.
The woman’s voice trailed away into sobbing. Fear does funny things to people. Silenced, everyone raised their eyes to the ceiling and counted the seconds until the first muted thud. 23 seconds. A small amount of dust fell from the ceiling. Most of it feel on a man with brilliant swirling mustachios’ in a red velvet smoking jacket, which mirrored the wine mottled hue of his corpulent face. He gave the distinct appearance of someone who had just been evacuated from the local Conservative Gentleman’s club. This was further secured when a waiter appeared beside him with a glass of ruby port. There was something impressive in this determined civilization, in spite of the grimy circumstances.
Thank you Parsons, said the man.
It’s is my pleasure Sir, said the waiter, hereby identified as the dignified Parsons.
Bally war, Parsons. Why do the damned Hun have to drag the rest of us into it, a-what? Said the man.
No idea, sir, said Parsons. Oh, Major-General Wharton sir? I nearly forgot…
Here Parsons hesitated uncharacteristically. The Major General, our man in the red velvet smoking jacket was instantly on the alert.
Out with it Parsons, said the Major-General.
Sir, before we left the club I took the liberty of freeing this telegram from your cubbyhole. It appears to from the front sir. From Military HQ, sir… Parsons, with the practice of a magician, produced the telegram from a hidden pocket.
Just in case anything should happen, said Parsons.
He passed the telegram elegantly to the Major General. The Major General pulled out a glittering pince-nez and examined the missive with a raised eyebrow.
Well, he said, well, well, well…
He trailed off.
Can I get anything for you, sir? We managed to carry a case of a rather piquant 1890 scotch down with us before the bombing struck, said Parsons.
No, thank you Parsons. I think… I think I’ll just sit down for a moment, and with that the Major General hunkered down on his considerable haunches, with the careful aid of Parsons.
There was a silence in the tunnel. The pregnant woman had quietened, clasped to the reassuring bosom of a female neighbor, rocking the woman like she was a child. Then a noise came. A thin, keen, carried of the thick air of the tunnel. It carried across the heads of the clustered people, accumulating momentum and sounds until it rung off the walls. Sleeper woke and looked for the source. An Air Raid Warden pulled himself to standing, and threw the beam of his flashlight among the crowd, tracing the sound with his light. Finally, the circle of light settled on the Major General. Parsons was holding the man so tenderly.
All alright here Parsons? asked the Warden.
Yes, Stanley, given a bit of time and space, said Parsons.
The Warden nodded, gave an understanding smile and turned his beam away from the Major General and the ever-attentive Parsons.
War spares no man, he thought as he walked away, leaving only the dark behind him. War spares no one.