AIR SERVICE BOYS FLYING FOR VICTORY
Bombing the Last German Stronghold
CHARLES AMORY BEACH
Author of "Air Service Boys Flying for France," "Air Service Boys over the Rhine," Etc.
The World Syndicate Publishing Co. Cleveland, O. New York, N. Y.
Copyright, MCMXX, by George Sully & Company
Printed in the United States of America by The Commercial Bookbinding Co. Cleveland, O.
AIR SERVICE BOYS FLYING FOR VICTORY
I In Action Over the Argonne 1
II Yankee Pluck 8
III Jack's Strange Find 16
IV The Story of the Lorraine Waif 27
V A Red Cross Nurse 36
VI Cleaning Out Machine-gun Nests 46
VII "Mopping 'em Up!" 56
VIII In the Red Triangle Hut 66
IX The Night Raid 78
X A Surprise for Jack 84
XI The Prowlers 92
XII A Lively Chase 102
XIII The Winning of the Argonne 113
XIV Selected for Special Duty 124
XV Over the Enemy's Lines 131
XVI Blotting Out Hun Headquarters 139
XVII Flying for Victory 147
XVIII Favored by Fortune 154
XIX Tom Leads the Way 163
XX Borrowed Goods 171
XXI At the Old Chateau 179
XXII Invading the Tiger's Den 187
XXIII The Only Way 195
XXIV Tom Keeps His Word 203
XXV Peace in Sight—Conclusion 213
AIR SERVICE BOYS FLYING FOR VICTORY
IN ACTION OVER THE ARGONNE
"WILL that starting signal ever come, Tom?"
"Just hold your horses, Jack. The other squadron has gone out, and is already hard at it over the Boche line. Our turn next. Keep cool. And here's hoping we both pull through with our usual good luck."
"Wow! See that big Hun plane, a Fokker, too, take the nose dive, will you? But he's overshot his mark. I warrant you he is trying like mad to get on a level keel again."
"Good-night! I could almost imagine I heard the crash away off here, even with all that thunder from Big Berthas and the crackle of hundreds of machine guns."
"It makes the goose-flesh tingle all over me, Tom, to think that some day—or it may be night—one or the other of us may finish up in just that kind of fireworks."
"The life of an air pilot is full of hazards, Jack, just remember. If he's going to make a success of his calling he's got to have nerves of steel."
"Yes, and let him lose his grip and confidence because of any unusual danger, his usefulness is gone."
"There's our signal at last, Jack!"
"Here goes! And pity the poor Boche I drive off with my new American plane, and its bully Liberty motor!"
Both young men, attired as air pilots, with goggles and gloves as well as heavy coats for extra warmth in the dizzy spaces a mile or two overhead, hastened to climb aboard their waiting machines, which were of the latest type of battleplane.
Each had an assistant, or observer, who would also handle one of the two machine-guns with which those American flying machines were armed.
The time was that period in the fall of 1918, when the fresh American host burst headlong into the battle line in Northern France.
At Chateau Thierry and St Mihiel they had struck the astounded foe with the force of an avalanche. The Germans, war-weary, were stunned by the vigor of the fresh army that once in action would not be denied.
Back, and still further back, the struggling lines of grey-coated Hun fighters had been thrust. Every day brought a new surprise for the Kaiser's generals. They were aghast at the resistless method of forcing the fighting adopted by these men from overseas, who seemed to have brought new and amazing elements into the work.
Already many of the more astute German leaders had begun to see the handwriting on the wall traced by the finger of Destiny. Nevertheless they had now descended to uttering boasts of how easy it was going to be to make these "crazy Yankees" pay a frightful price for every mile gained.
But the Germans who figured thus confidently failed to reckon on the rapidly growing discontent at home, where the populace was close to the starvation point. Though their soldiers still fought desperately on, it was with the sullen mien of those who had lost their morale and were close to collapse.
On the day when Tom Raymond and Jack Parmly waited, the latter so impatiently, for the anticipated signal to go into the air, the two armies were joined in battle.
The Americans had been given the most difficult task of all, which was to clean up the great Argonne Forest, and then sweep the fleeing Huns back, past Sedan, famous for the defeat of the second Napoleon, over the border into Germany itself.
Here Hindenburg had concentrated most of his best troops, including the crack Guard regiments. He realized that the gravest peril of all lay in the "push" of this new army, which had already given such an excellent account of its fighting qualities.
In that vast tract of wooded country known as the Argonne the Huns had located innumerable machine-gun nests designed to check the advance of the Yankees and make them pay a fearful price for what they got.
Two men secreted in some nook could open a deadly fire on the oncoming boys in khaki and mow them down like ripe grain before they themselves were wiped out in a furious rush. It paid the German commanders to sacrifice two for a dozen or twenty; though at times they had to chain the gunners to their weapon, for fear they would slip away at the last.
Six battleplanes all in a row were now starting off in rapid succession. A whirr that sounded loud and insistent above the dull roar of the heavy guns, a sudden movement that quickly increased in velocity until the plane was bounding like a rabbit over the open ground, then an upward slant, a beautiful curve that left the ground behind, and another air pilot was off for the post of duty.
Jack Parmly's blood bounded joyously in his veins when he thus rose like a speeding swallow. His new plane, one of the first of the latest type built entirely in the United States, had already filled his heart with delight, and its wonderful Liberty engine seemed to fulfill a dream that Jack, like all other American fliers, had long cherished.
As he rose higher and higher, circling as he went, the scene quickly began to take on a most impressive appearance. Below him lay the forest in all its grim aspect, with openings here and there, now given up to batteries of artillery that were pounding the foe with constant energy.
Clouds of smoke arising in many places told of bursting shells, the destruction of munition dumps, or it might even be some little burning hamlet that had served the Huns at bay for a fortress, but which had been blown almost entirely off the face of the earth by the red hurricane the expert Yankee gunners set loose.
It was easy for Jack to tell where the German battleline lay. He had been up so recently that he knew to a fraction just how far back the enemy force had staggered after the engagement of the preceding day.
And it was straight toward that line he now headed, for his work awaited him in that quarter. Hun planes were soaring like great hawks, swooping down from time to time, and engaging some of the machines bearing the American eagle as their totem.
As usual, Jack made mental note of the fact that seldom were the Huns willing to join in battle unless they outnumbered their foes. That was a compliment to the fighting qualities of the Americans, for it showed that they had already won the respect of their adversaries.
Jack was out for business. He tried to lure one of the enemy fliers into a "scrap" as he always called an engagement, but found the Boche wary. Some of those opposed to the Americans were well known aces who had gained a great reputation, having brought down scores of British and French planes. Yet to-day they seemed loath to enter into combat with this new type of fighter.
Now and then the young airman managed to glimpse Tom's well known machine, for the two chums had decorated their planes with distinguishing marks that they could recognize even when a great distance away. The other was fighting with two of the foe, and was having a serious time of it, spinning like a reel, darting downward to avoid being raked by machine-gun fire, and then coming up on the tail of a Hun with the advantage all on his side.
Jack, still denied his share of action, continued to watch Tom out of the corner of his eye. He felt like giving a shout when presently he saw one of the Hun machines plunge downward as though a shot had paralyzed the arm of the pilot. Over and over it went, bursting into smoke and flames while speeding toward the earth.
There could be no doubt but that Tom would add another count to his score, though he was already reckoned an ace, being accredited with seven clear-cut victories.
But the other Hun aviator had taken advantage of the thrilling moment to dart in and deliver a hot fire. Jack could see the spurt of the machine-gun as it blazed away furiously, the two planes passing one another. He felt his heart in his throat for fear that Tom might be caught napping, for the distance was too great to make sure of what was happening.
Suddenly a cold hand seemingly clutched Jack's heart. Tom was falling rapidly! It was no nose-dive, but bore all the marks of either an engine gone dead or of some mishap to the pilot. So did gallant Tom's plane vanish from the sight of his horrified chum, being swallowed up in the dense volumes of smoke rolling upward from the battleground below. Jack's heart felt like lead in his breast.
WHEN Tom Raymond sent one of his Hun opponents whirling down toward the far distant earth he naturally experienced the glow that comes to a victor in a stubbornly contested battle.
The gratification was all the more profound because of the fact that he had taken on two adversaries at the same time. Any air pilot who was capable of holding his own against an enemy numerically superior had reason to feel satisfied.
He quickly saw, however, that this did not mean the end of the fight. That other crafty Hun had swung unexpectedly and was now pouring in a furious fire. Tom realized that his assistant had ceased firing. Had the machine-gun become jammed? He was hanging partly from his seat. Was he badly injured in the bargain? Still, despite all this handicap, Tom would possibly have come through in good shape had not something happened to his engine just then. After all, even a Liberty motor could play a trick on its pilot master, just as that fine French engine on his former Spad machine had done a few times.
The airplane started to shoot downward at frightful speed, leaving the Hun far behind. Tom kept his head, and bent every energy to trying to get the motor started again, meanwhile working also to keep on a fairly level keel. He had passed through a similar experience on other occasions, but never when hovering over the German lines with a battle in progress under him.
A sickening sensation gripped his heart, for it flashed before his mind that this might be the end. Like every other aviator, he had defied Fate every time he went up, and at last the dreadful moment had come for him to pay the price!
Not for a single second, even while feeling that queer sensation grip him, did Tom cease working frantically to start his engine. He knew he had one last forlorn chance left. A few seconds would tell the story, and either he must be lucky enough to have his balky engine suddenly start again in response to his frantic efforts, or else—well, he dared not allow himself to dwell on what would happen to him when he struck the ground with all the frightful momentum of his falling machine.
The air service boy lived ages in that brief period of time. Never could he forget the agony that gripped his soul. There flashed before his memory the faces of those he loved at home, those whom he might never see again.
Then it was over. The engine had suddenly yielded to his frantic efforts, and once more commenced to throb with renewed life. Tom, with tremendous exertion, managed to right his tottering plane and steady it on an even keel.
His observer lay in a huddled heap in his seat. But for the safety belt he must have slid into space. Tom could not tell whether he was dead or had simply swooned.
That was a matter for the future. Just now he must concern himself with the task of extricating himself from his fresh perilous position. So rapidly had he fallen that amidst the swirling smoke clouds he could plainly see the Germans just below; and that he must be visible to his enemies he quickly had reason to understand.
Even as he started to spin away, shrapnel burst close beside his plane. Machine-guns also began to chatter underneath, and he saw that the wings of his plane were being cut by the hail of missiles that came up in swarms, like buzzing bees, each armed with a sting.
Dodging this way and that in eccentric lines, Tom brought into play all his acquired knowledge of a pilot's tricks in order to avoid being made a victim of this hot fire. He fully expected that, after all, the enemy would get him, but he was grimly determined that it would be only after he had exhausted every device possible.
He kept his head, and while dodging back and forth managed to follow a general course that promised soon to carry him closer to the American front. At one time he found himself above what seemed to be a very inferno of destruction. The air palpitated with the shock of a terrible explosion, as though a great mine had been fired. But Tom knew what it meant.
That must be the Big Bertha which for some days now had played an important part in shelling the rear of the American lines, even to knocking a temporary field hospital into fragments.
How Tom wished just then that his had been a bombing plane. With what savage joy would he have dropped his whole supply of air torpedoes down upon that mighty engine of destruction, forever silencing its thunderous voice and ending its power to do injury to the cause in which his whole soul was enlisted!
After that his way became somewhat easier, for Tom had succeeded in climbing higher, so that he was screened from the gunners below. Then he found himself passing over the American front, with the open field in sight where the temporary aerodromes could be seen, looking like dingy patches of yellow earth.
Of course there was nothing to do but to return immediately. His observer was injured, if not dead, and would need looking after; while Tom felt that his machine could hardly be called in trim for further work, as it needed a thorough overhauling after the recent rough treatment accorded to it by the fighting Boches.
Despite his crippled machine, the young air service boy managed to make a fairly good landing, with the help of several orderlies and attendants. They had come on the run, understanding that something was wrong, because the observer hung part-way over the side, and it could be seen that the plane itself had been in action.
Tom's first thought was of his comrade. He himself had received only one small cut in the arm from flying shrapnel splinters, though it persisted in bleeding profusely, and would have to be tied up at the nearest field dressing-station.
He breathed easier when he discovered that his observer, while badly injured, would have more than a fighting chance to pull through. A doctor was quickly on the spot, and managed to give temporary treatment, so as to stop the bleeding. The poor fellow waved his hand to Tom as he was being taken away on a stretcher to the nearest field hospital for treatment.
"Here, let me have a look at that left arm of yours, Raymond, while I'm about it," said the surgeon, noticing that the pilot kept wiping drops of blood from his fingers with a handkerchief that had begun to assume a gory appearance.
This satisfied Tom, and the wound was speedily attended to, a bandage being bound in place. The only thing that was troubling the young airman was a haunting fear that he might be kept out of the fighting for several days; and at this exciting stage of the advance that would seem like a real calamity to so ambitious a pilot.
"I suppose you'd kick like a steer," said the surgeon, with a smile, "if I advised you to keep quiet for a day or two, because I know your breed; but if you must join in, be easy on that arm, Raymond. It might give you some trouble if inflammation should set in."
"Oh, I've had much worse scratches than that and never been laid up, Doctor," Tom remarked with the assurance that goes hand in hand with youth and abounding good health. "But I will favor it all I can. Couldn't keep me out of this riot unless you chained me to earth. There's something that keeps calling me up there, some thing that's mighty hard to resist."
"Yes, I know. You're all alike, you daring air pilots," said the other, shaking his head disapprovingly. "But you're splendid, splendid! And I'm certainly proud to be an American these days. You boys have set a pace that every British and French aviator will have to hustle to equal. Your coming has been the turning point of the war. The Hun is already whipped, only he doesn't wholly realize it just yet."
Tom, instead of seeking his quarters at once for rest, "loafed around" watching all that went on. Never a plane that came back but he was there to receive the comrade with enthusiasm. Some had been in the fight and bore signs of the experience through which they had passed. One especially was burning with disappointment because he had lost his "prize."
"Had him going, too, when this motor of mine went back on me and started in to miss fire so often that he got away," he spluttered. "Never was so mad in all my life as when I had to turn and sneak back home like a dog with his tail between his legs. But me for another machine, and back to the game again. I'll get that Hun yet, see if I don't!"
Often did Tom strain his eyes trying to pick out the plane of his chum among those that from time to time could be seen far distant, some engaged with the enemy, while others were seeking to gain information of value to the American commander.
When a whole hour had gone and there was still no sign of Jack, he began to feel worried. Vainly he questioned some of the returning pilots; for as the battle waned both above and below they were now coming in by shoals, tired, yet full of enthusiasm over their recent exploits.
From one Tom managed to secure the only tip that seemed of value; and it was hardly encouraging.
"I am sure I saw Jack having a lively circus with several Boches about an hour back," this man informed Tom. "Don't know how the jig ended, because I found myself in a mix-up soon afterwards, and it kept my hands full. But let's hope the boy came through O K. I saw you drop your man, Tom; and it must have been a close shave for you in the bargain."
The man went on about his business, and Tom again took up his weary watching and waiting. The minutes dragged by, but still no Jack, nor did there come any further word of him. Finally, weary and discouraged, Tom turned back toward his temporary quarters.
On arriving there, however, he found something that for the moment took his mind off the uncertain fate of his chum.
JACK'S STRANGE FIND
"LETTERS!" exclaimed Tom, as he entered the building where he had his headquarters. "One for me from home, and two for Jack," he went on, as he hurriedly sorted the little pile.
"Nice!" was his next ejaculation, as he looked at the postmark on the next letter he picked up. "Who is writing to me from Nice? I don't know anybody in the south of France."
The next letter he picked up was also postmarked "Nice." This one was addressed to Jack Parmly, was more than twice the thickness of the one addressed to Tom, and was in the same girlish handwriting.
"Bessie Gleason!" This was Tom's third exclamation. Then he slit the envelopes of his letters one after another and sat down to read his mail.
While he is engaged in this apparently pleasing occupation, and at the same time keeping an anxious eye out for the coming of his chum, Jack, it might be just as well to explain a little further who these daring young American air pilots were, and also tell something concerning their previous exploits.
Tom Raymond and Jack Parmly had both been born in Virginia, and there, at a government school for aviation training, they had taken their first lessons in flying, after the world war broke out. They decided to follow that calling in case the United States should be eventually swept into the war.
Tom's father was an inventor whose secret papers concerning a wonderful airplane stabilizer had been stolen by an adroit German spy. Afterwards the two chums when in France had managed to recover these documents, as well as accomplish many other brilliant exploits, all this being told in the first volume of this series, entitled: "Air Service Boys Flying for France; or, The Young Heroes of the Lafayette Escadrille."
In the second volume Tom and Jack proved their right to be called first-class air pilots by battling with success against Hun fliers. They saw considerable of the tragic happenings that convulsed that portion of France, while they were connected with the famous French flying corps.
Here, too, these young Air Service boys again found an opportunity for proving their worth in the rescue of pretty Bessie Gleason and her mother from an old chateau in Lorraine where Carl Potzfeldt, a German spy, had them imprisoned. These interesting and exciting events will be found in the second volume of the series, entitled: "Air Service Boys Over the Enemy's Lines; or, The German Spy's Secret."
Then came another series of happenings that must always appeal to boy readers fond of thrilling scenes, for in the next book, among many other things, is told how Tom and Jack succeeded in silencing the monster cannon that from a distance of sixty miles and more was bombarding Paris. That will be found narrated in "Air Service Boys Over the Rhine; or, Fighting Above the Clouds."
Then there is the volume just preceding this, in which again the two brave young Yankee air pilots were given an opportunity to prove the value of their training, now in the service of the American forces, for General Pershing had come across the sea, and his army was beginning to make its presence felt at several sectors of the battleline.
What they saw and did, as well as vivid descriptions of the momentous events accompanying the great German drive is told in the fourth book of the series, "Air Service Boys in the Big Battle; or, Silencing the Big Guns."
Among their friends at the front was a young and daring aviator, Harry Leroy by name, who had had the misfortune to be shot down behind the German lines, and it was in connection with his discovery and rescue by the chums that some of the events of the last volume came about.
And it may as well be confessed here that Tom felt more than a passing interest in the pretty sister of Harry, for Nellie Leroy was serving her country as a Red Cross nurse, being just then in one of the American field hospitals to which the wounded were being carried day after day while the Argonne drive was on.
Tom was a full hour and more reading his letters, rereading them, and dreaming over them. After their rescue from the chateau Mrs. Gleason and Bessie had gone to Paris, where the mother, ably assisted by her daughter, had thrown herself into Red Cross work. Now, so Bessie's note told Tom, her mother was very tired and the two had gone down to Nice for a brief rest. It would be perfect, Bessie wrote, if only Tom and Jack and Nellie Leroy were with them.
For a while Tom lost himself in the thought of being at Nice, by the blue sea, with Mrs. Gleason and Bessie and Nellie—especially Nellie—and with Jack. With Jack! That thought aroused him.
Still no Jack! He grew more and more concerned, and began to picture all sorts of grievous things as having happened to his chum.
Several times he thought he heard the well known voice near by, but on each occasion discovered that he had deceived himself. Tom felt he could stand it no longer, and had even commenced to set forth when, to his delight, he discovered Jack coming.
"But what's he doing with that mite of a French child?" Tom asked himself, staring in wonder and perplexity. "A cunning little girl she seems to be; but a battlefield isn't just the place for such an innocent. Poor thing! I suppose she's lost all her kin, and Jack brought her along because he couldn't let her stay at the ruins of her home and starve."
He was so filled with joy over the coming of his chum, who did not seem to be wounded in the least, that everything else was forgotten.
"Letters from home, Jack, old scout; hurry your stumps!" he called out, waving the epistles above his head.
Jack, still in his pilot's dress, was so eager to hurry that he picked up the little six-year-old French child, and ran the last fifty yards.
"Did you get any yourself, Tom?" he demanded, as he came up; and then immediately added: "I see you have some, and by the same token one of them has a French stamp on it—from Nice!"
"Oh, it's Bessie Gleason," said Tom with a twinkle in his eye. "You remember my telling you she promised to write to me if I'd answer and let her hear what stunts the air boys were pulling off over here in the Argonne. Let you read it if you care to, Jack."
"Very good of you, Tom," grinned the other. "But excuse me while I look over my own letters. And say, perhaps you'll make friends with this little girl here until I get through. I've got something to tell about her that will give you a thrill, I reckon."
It was just like Jack to say enough to set his chum guessing, and then leave him "up in the air" so to speak. Tom looked again at the child. He could see that he had made no mistake when thinking she was winsome, at first sight. He also knew that it would be impossible to make Jack talk until he had read several times over the letter Bessie had written to him, and it was a very fat letter.
"Come and make friends with me, little girl," Tom said. "Can you speak English, I wonder, or will I have to try my stumbling French on you? What is your name?"
"It is Jeanne, M'sieu!" lisped the child, sweetly, and Tom was more than ever drawn toward her when he saw the appealing smile on her face.
"Jeanne, is it? A very pretty name too. Jeanne what?" he went on. And as Tom always won the confidence of children by his kindly manner she drew closer to him, and he took her little hand in his and squeezed it.
"Jeanne Anstey, M'sieu. And my sister's name, it is Helene," she told him.
"Oh! then you have a sister, have you?" Tom continued. "Where is Helene just now, Jeanne?"
The child's eyes immediately filled with tears. Still, with a queer little French shrug that was almost comical in one so very young, she said pathetically:
"Ah, M'sieu, it is the pity that I do not know. That bad man took her away while my poor mamma lay dying, trying to hold Helene. Me, mamma hid from the man. I sometimes wish it had been me he took on his horse with him, instead of Helene."
Tom began to wonder what lay back of all this. He looked toward Jack, to see that the other had paused in his reading as if to listen.
"Tell you all about it as soon as I get through this letter from my mother, Tom," the other remarked. "Well worth waiting to hear, too, I give you my word. One of the queerest things that ever happened to me. I've already more than half promised Jeanne we'll try our level best to find Helene, her twin sister, for her."
"Nice of you I'm sure," chuckled Tom; "but I want to hear what it's all about before I cast my vote. Little time we've got these busy days to go chasing around the country hunting for lost children, sorry as I feel for the little thing."
"Just wait, and don't take snap judgment, that's all, Tom. Guess I know about how it'll strike you. Give me five minutes more to clean up here, and I'll tell you everything."
So Tom continued to amuse himself by talking with the wonderfully bright little French child, who proved more and more interesting on further acquaintance. Undoubtedly one of her parents had been English, a fact which would account for her speaking the language so correctly. From her name of Anstey he concluded this must have been her father, while the mother was very likely French, hence Jeanne and that other name, Helene.
"Now I'm ready to explain things, Tom," announced Jack, who wore the marks to tell that he, too, along with Tom, had reached the rank of sergeant in the Flying Corps.
"Glad to hear you say so, because you've managed to get me as curious as any old woman," grumbled Tom. "First of all, tell me how you fared back there over the battlelines. You didn't seem at all surprised to find me here; yet I reckon you knew I took a tumble?"
"Oh, I met Lefty Marr on the way here, and he told me you'd come back in good shape. But poor Hennessy was badly mauled, they say. How about him? As good an observer as there is in the whole sector!"
"Pretty badly knocked out, and his flying days are about finished, I'm afraid," Tom admitted. "He'll be months in the sick ward; and by the time he gets to going we Yankees will have sewed up the game. Go to it now, Jack."
"Oh, I managed to get in a circus after I saw you go down, Tom," the other replied. "I was feeling pretty punk and ugly because I didn't know whether I'd ever see you again, for it looked as if you'd either been killed or fallen into the hands of the Boches—and that was almost as bad a job.
"Well, we had a glorious little run for our money, and I sent down one Hun, and crippled another chap's machine so that he had to turn tail and scoot for home. Then came three other big Gothas that set me to spinning on my head. But after they'd chased me for miles, a leak in my tank let out every drop of petrol; and so the only thing to do was to drop down and make a landing.
"Luck favored us and we dropped on to a field. The Huns hung around a bit as if they wanted to make sure of us; but Morgan and I managed to crawl into a thicket, and so they went away finally.
"We were several miles from our base, and with no petrol to be had for love or money. Morgan said he'd stay by the plane while I walked all the way to get a supply. Tom, it was the luckiest thing going for this child here that I decided on taking that walk along the woods road; I don't know what would have become of her otherwise."
He stopped speaking to pat the black-haired child caressingly. That was really one of the finest things marking the conduct of the American soldiers in France—their respect for women and their love for children. Those boys in khaki captured myriads of French mothers' hearts by the way they romped with the youngsters and bought them all sorts of dainties at the Y. M. C. A. huts.
"I came on her suddenly, and of course stopped to say a few words, because it is hard for me to pass a child by," Jack continued. "And after I'd asked her a few questions I found that I was getting mightily interested in Jeanne.
"Then she began tugging at something that was fastened by a ribbon about her neck. I soon discovered it was a locket, somewhat battered to be sure, but still pretty. She proceeded to try to open this, but her chubby little fingers didn't seem equal to the task, so I did it for her.
"It held a bit of very thin paper, and on taking this out I found it was covered with writing, in French of course, and done with a lead pencil at that. Slowly I managed to make out what the letter said, for it was a letter, Tom, meant especially for me, simply because I had been, by chance, the one to stop and speak to the child.
"Listen now, Tom, and I'll read you what is written here on the paper, just as I managed to translate it. And be ready to hold your breath, too, because there's something of a real thrill connected with it."
"Shoot!" was all Tom said in reply.
THE STORY OF THE LORRAINE WAIF
JACK had taken the locket in question out of his coat-pocket and opened it, extracting the folded paper it contained. This latter he smoothed out, for it was a mass of creases, from having been crushed into so small a receptacle.
"'To the kind friend who finds my child,' it starts," said Jack impressively. "'Her name is Jeanne Anstey. I am her wretched and dying mother, dying for my beloved France. It is the Boche who has done this. They came at daylight, and burned the poor cottage in which we have been making our home.
"'That terrible man was here with them as before, mounted on his horse, and with all his trappings. His name it is Anton von Berthold, and he is my half-brother. To my face he boasted, knowing that I was surely dying, that through Helene he meant some day to claim our estate in Lorraine, where there are deposits of iron that will be worth millions of francs yearly.
"'I believe he has long plotted to get hold of this property, and schemed to secure his ends through one of my poor children. Oh! if you have a heart, my friend, I pray you by all you hold sacred to see that my Jeanne is cared for; and, if it be possible, try to save my poor Helene from that monster.
"'This is the plea of a dying Frenchwoman. I have faith to believe Heaven will not desert the innocent in their hour of suffering. So I lay me down to rest, while my Jeanne will go forth in search of you, kind friend. And with my last breath I still proudly say, "Vive la France!"'"
"Is that all?" asked Tom, as his chum stopped.
"Yes, and there are some of the words blurred. I think it must have been through the tears of this poor woman. She seems to have been wealthy before the Huns drove her out of Lorraine because she had French blood in her veins, and was probably married to an Englishman. What do you think of it, Tom?"
"It's certainly a dreadful thing for so small a child as Jeanne to be left alone in the world," replied the other. "What can we do about her, Jack, have you any idea?"
Jack remained for a moment in deep thought. Then he gave his comrade a sidewise look as he spoke again.
"Do you know," he ventured to say, "it has struck me that if we could get an hour or two off duty this evening you and I might take the little thing to Nellie and ask her if she couldn't have her looked after, as long as the Gleasons are out of reach in the south of France."
"Nellie Leroy!" exclaimed Tom, astonished, "Why, how could we manage it? The last I heard she was in a hospital on the French front, over in the mountain section of Alsace."
"Oh, I've had later news than that," replied Jack. "Met Harry yesterday, and among other things he mentioned the fact that his sister had been transferred to the American front; in fact was right then only a few miles away from where we stood and talked."
"You never said a word to me about it, Jack! Nor has Nellie written—unless her letter was lost."
"Meant to tell you, Tom, several times, but something always butted in; and finally it slipped my mind. And, really, I supposed you knew. But what do you think of my scheme?"
"Perfectly lovely. It's about the only way I see that we can get Jeanne into proper hands. Nellie has a heart of gold, and will manage somehow to see that the little thing is properly cared for."
"Especially when she learns that you've constituted yourself Jeanne's guardian and protector," chuckled Jack.
"Let up on that, I tell you!"
"Well, this child seems to be thrown in my way for a purpose, and, Tom, I'm going to try my level best to save her twin sister from that scoundrel of an uncle," announced Jack, with returning seriousness.
"Hear! hear!" chuckled Tom. "All the knights haven't cashed in yet, it seems. You ought to have a Sancho Panza around, Jack, because you're out to rescue beauty in distress; even if in this case the little lady is only about six years old. But tell me again what the name of the arch villain is. At the time you mentioned it before, I thought it seemed sort of familiar to me."
Jack referred again to the crumpled slip of paper to make certain, after which he announced:
"A regular German name, it seems, though he may of course be a Lorrainer, as Jeanne's mother was. Anton von Berthold."
"H'm! Thought so!" Tom burst out. "Don't you remember there's a General von Berthold on the other side, a particularly smart military man, too, who they say originated this machine-gun-nest business as a means for delaying the pursuit of a retreating army?"
"Tom, you're right!" exclaimed Jack, evidently annoyed, thinking that that circumstance might make his self-assumed task the more difficult. "Wouldn't it be queer if he should prove to be the very one? It doesn't seem reasonable to me."
"Why not?" demanded his companion quickly. "Couldn't a German general conspire to lay hands on the property of a relative just as easily as any ordinary person? Haven't they been accused of stealing most of the valuables in Belgium and Northern France as spoils of war, from priceless paintings and works of art to family plate and jewelry?"
"I reckon you're about right, Tom, so far as that goes," agreed Jack, finally impressed by what his chum said. "General Anton von Berthold—if we find out that is his first name it would settle it for me. And then we could perhaps learn from one of the prisoners we find in the barbed wire stockade something about his goings-on, where he's putting up at present, and all that, you know."
"And in the meantime don't you think Jeanne would like something to eat?" asked Tom. "How could she ever have managed to make her way through the Boche lines, and get to where you ran across her?"
"I've tried to find out," Jack told him. "She mentions something about being taken by a neighbor after that man carried her sister away on his horse. They told her that her mother had died, and been buried. Then one day she was taken, hidden under a load of forage, and carried miles away. When she was put down in the end they told her she could soon find the Americans, who were near by. But she had wandered about in the forest for nearly a whole day before I came on her."
"Well, let's skirmish for something to eat. Our chef is a good friend of yours, Jack; suppose you go around and tell him what's doing. He'll not refuse to let you have something for a poor little girl. Take Jeanne along with you. She'll win Erastus over without fail by one of her smiles."
"I'll do it, though I hardly think it necessary. The poor little thing must be awfully tired, too. But I'll carry her, I did that most of the journey here. Then to get some gas and start back to where Morgan is sitting on our plane, waiting for me to come."
"Here, you get busy with that gas and I'll manage the grub part of the programme! If Erastus declines to fork over I'll choke him. But I know he can't refuse when he sees her," and Tom jerked his thumb backward while saying this toward Jeanne, now sitting on a friendly stump looking about her with interest at the bustling scene.
Jack hurried away to secure a can of gasoline, while Tom took Jeanne by the hand and led her toward the air squadron's camp kitchen, or "chuck-wagon."
Erastus, the cook, was as usual about that hour as busy as a bee. With so many hungry men to provide for when meal time came around, he hardly found a minute to call his own.
It chanced, however, that Tom, as well as Jack, had become a favorite with the cook, and he always had a cheery word for either of the young air pilots.
"Ah, there, Sergeant, where'd you get the skirt?" he remarked, giving little Jeanne several winks, though the red of his face was only indicative of good-nature.
It smelled so good around the steamer of coffee and the piles of fresh bread which Erastus and his helper had piled up that even the timid child smiled back at the one who seemed to be the "boss" of all that vast array of good things—much more than she had ever seen before in all her life.
For Jeanne was very, very hungry, having eaten almost nothing since the previous afternoon.
"Jack came across her, you see, Erastus, and—" bending forward so Jeanne might not hear what he said—"she's lost her sister, and the mother has died, a victim of the Huns. Erastus, she's nearly starved, and I was wondering whether you wouldn't give me something for her."
"Against orders, you know, Sergeant," said the other. Then he looked more pityingly than ever at the pretty child. "But just this once I might," he added. "Say, I'd go without my own supper sooner'n see that duck suffer, sure I would. Wait around, and see what happens, Sergeant."
Tom did linger, apparently explaining to little Jeanne all about the wonderful invention in the way of a cook's outfit that could take care of a multitude of hungry fighters, and which was modeled somewhat on the pattern of the "chuck-wagon" long in use on the cattle ranges of the far Southwest.
Then there was a mysterious passing of something that Tom hastened to stow away, an exchange of muttered words with the rosy-cheeked cook, after which Tom and Jeanne went back to the quarters of the boys, where for some little time he watched the almost starving child devour quantities of bread and butter—actually real butter—made into sandwiches which Erastus had hastily done up for her.
Tom was about to go to headquarters with the request that he and Jack might be allowed a short furlough in order to take the little girl to put her in Nellie Leroy's care when an orderly came with a message from the young airman's superior officer ordering him to go out on special scout duty.
It was with a half sigh that Tom Raymond began his preparations, for his interest in Nellie was deep, and he had looked forward with pleasure to this chance of seeing her, and now he must leave this matter wholly to his chum.
Still, little Jeanne Anstey was Jack's "find," and the young air pilot was evidently deeply interested in the child and wanted to aid her with as little help from others, even from his best chum, as was possible. Perhaps, after all, Tom felt, it was best that the matter was left to Jack.
But Jack was a long time in returning. In a short time Tom must go on duty, and what was he to do with Jeanne in the meanwhile?
"Little girls are all right," murmured Tom, "but I guess they are not much in my line. Gee! I wish Jack would come."
A RED CROSS NURSE
HALF an hour later, and just as Tom was growing desperate, his companions in the flying unit having one and all laughingly refused to help him out of his predicament by acting as "nurse maid," as they called it, Jack showed up again.
"Got the old bus safe in its shed all right," he told his chum, nodding cheerily to Jeanne, who greeted his coming with a smile. "Now to hit the grub pile and then to see if we can get off for a short time! Got to make some arrangement for Jeanne tonight, you know, Tom!"
"You do," assented the other, "but I'm out of it." Then Tom told his chum of his own assignment to special duty. "I'm off now, but don't forget to give Nellie my best regards."
"I sure will, Tom," answered Jack.
With that he hurried away to learn if anything worth eating had been left after the ferocious charge, not of the Light Brigade, but a pack of hungry Yankees whose capacity for storing away food seemed unbounded.
Jack either had scanty pickings, or else he tempted an attack of dyspepsia by bolting his food, for inside of ten minutes he was around again. Tom, who had not yet got away on his mission, looked surprised.
"Cleaned out, were they, at the chuck-wagon?" he asked.
"Well, Erastus told me that he had had a most unusual run on his outfit this evening, and so I just took a bite in a hurry. You know, if I feel like it I can stop in at the Red Triangle hut on the way to the field hospital and buy some chocolate. Then if I run across any Salvation Army girls it's possible they'll have a few of their doughnuts left over. That would be a great treat to Jeanne."
"I reckon either of them would," remarked Tom thoughtfully. "If her folks have been back of the Boche lines all these four years they must have lived on short rations. Here, Jack, I insist on standing for half of all the expense. Take this silver and call on me for any amount as you may need it. I won't listen to a refusal, understand."
Jack had been about to decline absolutely, but on second thought he accepted the loose change.
"Fact is, Jeanne will need some things most likely, for you can see how miserable her shoes are, while her clothes look mighty seedy. Now, Nellie, we both happen to know, is a clever hand at such things, and she'll be only too glad to take charge of Jeanne's wardrobe. So I'll accept your offer. Anyway, we've always shared alike in everything, as equal partners should."
"Yes, even to that licking I once got when you were caught under Amos Grimes' peach tree hunting for the ball I knocked over the fence. He vowed you were after his fruit, and started to give you a taste of the switch he carried."
"Yes," broke in Jack, chuckling. "And you, meaning to explain, came over the fence, only to get a taste of the same switch. I always did believe he divided the honors equally between us, and that you got some of the stripes he'd intended for me. Come, Jeanne, we'll be going now."
"But how about your leaving the camp here without orders, Jack? I was going to ask for this leave when my assignment to duty came; so I did not ask."
"Oh, I met Captain Desmond on the way to the chuck-wagon and explained things to him, so he gave me permission to be gone up to midnight."
"And you'll use it up to the last minute, I warrant," laughed Tom, actually kissing, in the renewed courage Jack's return gave him, the red lips of the little French girl, who already seemed to look upon these two tall young Americans as friends raised up by a special Providence to help her. He then hurried away.
Jack took Jeanne's hand in his and they walked along. Much comment was caused on his being thus seen by many of the other airmen in the camp adjoining the field of the khaki-colored hangars. Jack took it all in his customary happy-go-lucky way and sent back as good as he received.
When they came to the dugout that was serving as a temporary refuge for the Red Triangle workers, the hut of refreshment such as the Y. M. C. A. girls and men were in the habit of putting up, often close back of the firing line, Jack took his little charge in with him.
Jeanne's pretty face and bewitching ways immediately won the hearts of the girls in khaki who were doing war work. They clustered about the pair, and asked many questions; but as Jack was in somewhat of a hurry he could answer them only in a general way.
"She's lost her mother, and her twin sister was carried away by a Boche general who is some relation, though he hates the family. My chum and I mean to provide for little Jeanne. I'm taking her now to a girl friend who is a Red Cross nurse in the field hospital."
He hurriedly made his purchases, and they went on, Jeanne eagerly devouring part of a cake of chocolate, though she also persisted in clinging to Jack's hand. Somehow it made the boy feel much older when he felt that confiding little hand in his. It seemed as though new responsibilities had been suddenly thrust upon him.
The approach of night had put an end to most of the clamor that made day seem so hideous. Only occasionally did a Big Bertha in the far distance growl menacingly, to be followed by the crash of a mighty shell somewhere within a mile or two of the spot where Jack and his charge walked along through the forest.
He was stopped and challenged frequently, but having the countersign, had no difficulty in passing the sentries. Many campfires twinkled under the trees, near and far, where tired doughboys were resting and doubtless exchanging stories of the day's exciting achievements; or talking of home—what Broadway looked like, or Fourth Street, or Canal Street; what the result of the world series of baseball games, a pet subject of dispute among these brawny followers of the national sport.
"Getting tired, are you, Jeanne?" asked Jack presently, noticing that the child dragged her little feet at times, despite all efforts to show a brave front.
Without waiting for an answer Jack scooped her up in his arms, and persisted in carrying her the rest of the way. Before they reached the field hospital poor little tired Jeanne was fast asleep, snuggled in those protecting arms, and as Jack looked down on her baby face, seen in the first lights he came to, he renewed his vow to stand by the orphan through thick and thin.
But here was the long low shed hastily put together, and fashioned so that it could be taken down and moved farther along to the new front every few days. Through the opening he glimpsed figures in white, bearing the symbolic Red Cross on headpiece and left arm, moving about among the white cots, attending to the wounded soldiers.
It was not long before Jack discovered the particular nurse for whom he was looking. Nellie Leroy may have seemed young for such duties, but what she lacked in age she more than made up for by her wonderful skill. Indeed the head surgeon many times declared that the girl was a born nurse; and when there was a particularly interesting case to be attended he made it a point to see that the patient was placed in Nellie's ward.
So Jack and his burden appeared before Nellie. She of course looked very much surprised to see him, but the smile on her pretty face told Jack his coming was most welcome to Harry's sister. Nellie thought a great deal of Tom Raymond but she liked Jack also.
"Put the child on this empty cot, and then tell me all about her," said Nellie. "Who is she and how do you come to be bringing her here? I hope it isn't because the poor baby has been injured; though those Boches seem to be equal to anything that is cruel and terrible."
"I'll be only too glad to explain everything, Nellie," Jack said, after he had done as she told him, and watched, perhaps half enviously, while the tender-hearted nurse bent over and kissed sleeping Jeanne on her forehead. "Can you spare a little time just now? The story isn't going to be very long; although I'm in no hurry to get back."
"It happens that we're through much sooner than usual tonight," she assured him. "And besides, I'll ask Mollie King to look after my patients, as hers were mostly taken south in the last detachment of ambulances bound for the base hospitals. Here, sit down on this bench, Jack, and I'll be back in a minute. But first, how is Tom?"
On the young nurse's return Jack told his story in detail. Nellie listened with deep interest. She would have been better satisfied if modest Jack had only been more enlightening with regard to his thrilling engagement with the Hun fliers; but then she knew his failings did not lie in the field of boasting, and so she had to picture those incidents for herself.
Jack was more inclined to go into details when Jeanne came into the story.
"Here's the paper that was in the gold locket, Nellie," he told her. "Read it for yourself. You can get the meaning of the French a heap better than I ever could. It'll make the tears come in your eyes though, when you picture that poor woman dying there, one child carried off by that villain of a relative, and the other about to be cast adrift on a world at war."
"How dreadful it all is, Jack!" said the nurse, after she had finished reading the crumpled bit of paper that held such a tragic story. "Now tell me why you have brought little Jeanne to me?"
"Because, Nellie," said Jack, "Tom and I knew we could depend on your warm heart to manage somehow or other. She's got to have shoes and clothes, and then be placed in the charge of some decent person until Tom and I can come and claim her, after we chase these Boches back over the Rhine, and the war is over. Bessie and her mother have left Paris for a while and are in Nice, too far away for me to send Jeanne to them. We—Tom and I—did not know another girl or woman to turn to, so I have come to you."
Nellie bent her head in deep thought, while Jack waited anxiously. Presently she looked up and smiled into his eager face.
"I'll manage it all right, Jack, leave it to me," she told him. "I may have to keep her with me for a day or two, though a field hospital is a dreadful place for a child to stay in. When I've found a way to get her the necessities she must have I'll make sure she is placed with some good people who for a consideration will care for her."
"Fine, Nellie! But then it's no more than I expected from you!" Jack told her, in a low tone. "There's another thing I want to explain. Tom and I have money enough, you know, and we've made up a purse to carry our ward along for some time. Take these French notes, and make any arrangement you see fit with the person in whose care you leave her. There's plenty more cash where this came from."
"But Jack, I'd like to share with you two generous boys in this kind deed of yours," protested Nellie. "I have means, too, and wouldn't miss anything we might plan to contribute between us."
"Ah, you'll be doing the hardest part as it is, Nellie," he told her, and then on second thought, realizing that such an arrangement might afford him and Tom many an excuse for seeing Nellie as well as Jeanne, he added: "But I'll talk it over with Tom, and if he's willing we might let you come into the partnership arrangement. Isn't she a little darling, though? I'm speaking of Jeanne now."
After that they found much to talk about, and it was quite late when Jack finally got up to go. Jeanne was still sound asleep.
"I'll get her into bed presently, when I've looked after several of my more seriously wounded patients," Nellie assured him. "And when you come again perhaps I'll have made a start on her wardrobe; though I imagine it's going to be a serious job to collect anything here. But some of the nurses will be only too glad to help. When shall I see you again, Jack?"
"Oh! Me? Why, I'll try to get around to-morrow night, if they'll give me permission. Tom, too, I hope. Of course there'll be heaps we must talk over. This thing of being guardian to a real flesh-and-blood child is a serious business. So I'll say good-night. Kiss little Jeanne for me, and I'll try not to forget one of your messages to Tom. Now, good-bye."
CLEANING OUT MACHINE-GUN NESTS
"A BUSY day ahead of us, Jack!" Tom remarked the next morning, after they had breakfasted and were getting themselves ready for going up.
Early though the hour was it seemed as though the whole inferno of terrible noises had broken out much louder than on the preceding day. From every quarter men could be heard shouting; while detachments of infantry were hurrying off with orders to reach certain points before nightfall, no matter what obstacles they had to surmount.
The big guns were "talking," and there began to be heard the chatter of deadly machine-guns; the deep-toned explosion of shells, and the peculiar sound of the German minnewurfer, used with such effect in the former trench battles that the Boche still clung to it through all the retreat.
Then there were close around them planes starting off with a rush, pilots and observers gaily waving their hands to comrades still detained, but just as eager to go as though it were a picnic to which they were thus invited instead of a possible repast with the Grim Reaper.
"What makes you think it's bound to be any different from yesterday, Tom?" demanded the one spoken to, as he adjusted a strap, and took a last critical survey of the more important wire stays of his machine upon which so much depended.
"Oh! not different, only more of it," Tom explained. "On our scouting expedition last night we found that the Huns have a series of extra strong nests fixed for us to-day. We're to arrange with the batteries for signaling in regard to these, for they would take too big a toll of the boys if rushed like the common variety, where there's only one gun and a couple of Boches to handle it."
"Glad to hear it," snapped Jack. "So far neither of us has had the good luck to locate a big hornets' nest. I hope our chance comes to-day. I've always wanted to see how that game worked."
"Well, perhaps you'll know more about it when we meet to-night, which it is to be hoped will come about," said Tom, a bit seriously.
Indeed, in those strenuous times none in the army could be at all certain he would be in the land of the living a few hours ahead. In particular the daring air pilots who so often took great hazards were in peril. Yet the men went about their duties with apparently light hearts.
"Here's Harry!" exclaimed Jack, a moment afterwards, as a wideawake looking young fellow stopped for a minute near them, being on the way to his hangar in company with his assistant.
Harry Leroy had become very friendly with the two air service boys, although they had not known him until long after reaching France. But he was a genial boy, known to be an unusually clever air pilot and well on the way to being cited as an American ace, for he had now disabled his quota of enemy machines.
"They tell me we're going to make a big dent in the Boche lines to-day, fellows!" he sang out, with one of his genial smiles. "Our commander has a programme laid out that's said to be pretty ambitious. Some of us are even hoping it may turn out to be the real start for the Rhine, and that we'll clean up this old Argonne region pretty soon now."
"Slow but sure is our policy these days, Harry," Tom remarked. "It takes a heap of time, and makes a hole in our reserves; but the work is done so thoroughly that it'll stay done. And soon we'll be out of the woods."
"The boys are longing for that day to come," said Harry, about to start on once more. "They're just sick and tired of this kind of fighting. Wait till we get Fritz out in the open, and you'll see how well rush him back like hot cakes! So long, both of you. Here's wishing you the best of luck and another notch in your stick by nightfall."
Of course Tom had secured another observer in place of the poor fellow who had been so badly injured on that other flight of his. His arm, too, had healed.
Shortly afterwards the air service boys received word to start, and along with four other planes mounted upward like birds on the wing.
So far as appearances went the scene below them did not differ materially from the preceding day. There was the same vast stretch of grim forest known as the Argonne, with occasional openings here and there, "breathing spots," they might be called. These marked sites of farms, timber or cutting authorized at some past day by the French government, that controlled the wonderful tract of woods, possibly the largest in all France. Smoke was already rolling upward in great volumes while the air pulsated with the fearful crash of every imaginable type of gun, both large and small. As the day wore on all this was bound to increase greatly, the impetuous Americans pushing forward and wresting rod after rod of the forest from the enemy, paying the price without a murmur, but grimly determined.
Jack having attained the required altitude commenced "fishing." That was his way of describing the means employed for learning where the Huns were lying in wait, ready to pour in a deadly machine-gun fire on the first detachment of Yankees that came along.
The darting plane would dive down close to the tops of the tall trees, and thus offer such a tantalizing bait that the concealed Hun gunners, unable to resist the temptation, were likely to shoot at the cruising machine.
Of course this would expose their secret hiding-place, but inaccurately located in the darkness the night before, and it was the business of the observer to signal his discovery back to those who were on the watch.
The consequence would be that instead of making a frontal attack on that particular nest, the infantry would resort to Indian tactics, making a flank movement that would carry them past, then closing in from the rear. At a given signal some of their mates would make a hostile demonstration in front to chain the attention of the gunners, while others would creep up so close from the rear that they would be able to get both men.
Of course this meant that the venturesome fliers would be taking additional risks. When that machine-gun should start to pepper their plane they were likely to be struck by one or more of the shower of missiles coming hissing up like enraged hornets. What matter, when they were accepting chances just as desperate every minute of the time they remained aloft?
Jack and his assistant, Morgan, found themselves busily engaged inside of ten minutes. They swooped so low that suddenly there was a burst of fire, and bullets commenced to cut through both wings of their plane. The body had been sheathed in metal that would serve to ward off most of this hail, but despite this they took many chances of a mishap.
Immediately Morgan noted the exact spot from which the firing came, so he could locate it in sending out his signal of warning. Jack meanwhile was doing his part, dodging in zigzag curves in all directions in order to baffle the aim of the Hun gunners.
Then, too, the trees helped greatly to conceal them from the observation of the enemy below; so that the firing kept up for a very brief time only. But their trick had succeeded. The Boches dared not come out from their place of concealment lest they be discovered and shot down by the stealthily advancing Americans. Perhaps they were even chained there, as frequently happened.
In consequence they had to cower under their shelter and wait until, later on, without warning, there would come loud shouts from the front, and when they craned their necks to catch the first glimpse of the foe shots from the rear would clean up that nest.
Morgan started with his signal work immediately after they had climbed to the proper altitude, where they might work without being in too great danger from the "Archies," or anti-aircraft guns.
As soon as he had a response, and knew that his directions were accurately noted, he announced the fact to Jack. They were then ready to begin all over and start "fishing" again.
It was very exciting work, and Jack Parmly gloried in it. Though he had to take additional chances in order to tempt the Hun gunners to betray their cunningly arranged coverts, there was also a satisfaction in knowing that by so doing he and his assistant were saving many precious lives of the infantry regiments down in the forest that had proved a graveyard for thousands.
A second time did they get a "bite." Again was the retreat conducted in the midst of a rattling volley, with hurtling missiles burning the air all around them, as well as beating a lively tattoo on the armored parts of their plane.
After that they flew higher, in the hope that some enterprising Boche flier, seeing their challenge, would come over to give them battle. For half an hour, they kept this up, and then, as they tempted forth no adversary, determined to drop down once more and root out a third nest before going in for the noonday meal.
"They're at it hammer and tongs to-day for fair!" called out Morgan, as he used his binoculars and picked out spots far below where there seemed to be open fighting going on. He could discover bodies of German troops being rushed forward and then falling back with decimated ranks before a fierce flame of shot and shell poured in by Yankee batteries.
"Getting desperate, that's what!" announced Jack, starting a dip that by stages would take them down once more into the dangerous quarter of treetops under which lurked the deadly foe with his thousands of rapid-fire guns.
Other planes were in sight here and there, carrying out similar tactics with more or less success, according to the daring of the pilot in tempting the Huns beyond their power to resist. Jack determined to pass further on and see what he could unearth in a new quarter.
What he and his chum had been talking of that very morning was still fresh in his mind. How he would like to discover one of those unusual nests where half a dozen or more gun crews lurked, ready to hold up that entire sector of the advancing line, so the American troops would be unable to reach their objective for that day at least.
So it was in the hope of attaining this end that he now flew to another section of the forest which he had been desirous all morning of visiting, under the impression that it might yield the bag to which he aspired in his search for game.
As they circled over the tree tops Morgan was turning his glasses to the best advantage. Jack kept trying to cover the ground systematically, and yet making numerous quick jumps so as to disconcert the enemy should a sudden fierce burst of firing announce that a nest had been located.
All at once Morgan gave a loud cry. It seemed to spell victory, and Jack instantly called out:
"Struck oil, have you, Felix? Where away does it lie?"
"Look down to the left and you'll just glimpse what seems to be the stone base of an old abandoned windmill, I think, Jack. All overgrown with weeds and brush, it is too. I saw a number of men moving about, and some of them were crouching back of their biggest machine-guns. This is one of those jumbo forts we've heard of; no mistake about it either."
"Grab off the location to a dot then, Felix, and we'll see what can be done for those waiting Yankee batteries!" snapped Jack, greatly excited, as well as pleased, by their important discovery. "Let me know when you have your landmarks, and I'll elevate, so we can get in touch with the battery observer."
"It's the king-pin of all their nests, Jack, a regular bouncer, I tell you!" cried the other, using his glasses again to advantage.
"All right then," the pilot assured him, "we'll see that their name is mud before much longer. Ready, Felix?"
Instead of giving Jack the reply which the other expected the observer gave a sudden startled yell.
"They've got us trapped, Jack! Sure they have! Look up!" came his warning shout, and as the pilot craned his neck to obey he discovered no less than three big German Gotha battleplanes hovering over them, waiting to engage them in a most unequal combat.
"MOPPING 'EM UP!"
FROM below there suddenly burst a dangerous bombardment. The German gunners hidden in the camouflaged pile of rocks had apparently decided that the airmen in the two-seated plane hovering above had discovered their place of concealment, and, unable to endure the thought of being flanked by the oncoming boys in khaki, had opened fire.
Of course their plan was to bring down the American machine and seal the lips of those who flew in it before they could communicate the nature of their discovery to their comrades.
This made the situation doubly perilous for Jack and Morgan. If they attempted to rise, as discretion suggested, there were those three grim monster Hun Gothas waiting to envelop them with an avalanche of gunfire. This could have only one result; namely, the destruction of the plane bearing the totem of the Red Indian's head.
It was a time for quick decision. As the deadly missiles from below continued to pepper the air around them, and even beat a tattoo against the body of their plane, Jack started into a series of wigwag evolutions which he had evolved for just such a desperate situation.
This gave him a better chance, although at any second one of the flying bullets was apt to find its way aboard and do either himself or Morgan an ill turn.
Whichever way he turned so wheeled those sentry planes above. They were like a trio of hungry cats watching the twistings and turnings of a poor mouse that had its safety-hole stopped up, and could find no means of escape left open. And with three agile cats on guard what chance had little Mr. Mouse?
But then Jack Parmly had often proved himself to be one of those who refuse to call themselves beaten until the very last effort has been made. He had been in tight places before, and had always managed to wriggle out by some means or other.
Besides this, there was some hope that his predicament would be seen by other American airmen scouring around the skies, who, with the accustomed daring of their breed, would fly immediately to his relief.
Even as this thought flashed through his brain Jack believed he heard the sound of firing directly above him; though it was only because of a sudden lull in the continual fighting all through that region that he was able to discover this fact.
Then came a yell from Morgan, who, not having to manipulate the motor and handle the levers, had been better able to observe all that was going on around them.
"Shoot up, Jack? We've got to do our share in driving those Boches off!"
Yes, there had been an increase in the number of circling planes hovering over them, since Jack could now count five. All were in violent motion, circling this way, and darting the other, rising and falling in a movement only adopted when a fierce engagement was on.
Even though their flight was so rapid Jack quickly made the two newcomers out to be friends, for they handled machines similar to his own.
That opened a way for him to escape possible destruction at the hands of the gunners below, who were increasing their volume of fire. So up Jack turned the nose of his plane, and quickly reached the elevation where all this work was going on.
So the battle of the six enemy planes began, Jack immediately singling out one of the Huns for his own particular attention. Alert, eager, and fairly itching to get even with the Boche fliers for the fright they had given him, Morgan crouched in his seat, ready to start firing when the first favorable moment came along.
It must have been an inspiring sight to any who watched the fight from below; at least, if he wore the khaki of the American army boys. The Germans would hardly be so apt to suck consolation from the picture, since it early became apparent that their representatives no longer attacked with dash and enthusiasm, but seemed to be acting solely on the defensive.
They may have been veteran aces, with a long list of disabled planes to their individual credit, but there was something about the dash and vim of these Yankee fliers that combined all the better qualities of both British and French airmen, and discouraged the enemy greatly.
Jack swooped down upon his antagonist, and fired when he fancied he had the enemy in range of his machine-gun fire. The Boche on his part was reciprocating, so that the exchange of shots was mutual.
They passed at a little distance like swallows on the wing, the guns chattering and smoking, and the air filled with a shower of missiles that for the most part would be utterly wasted.
Then Morgan took up the challenge, and continued to pepper the speeding Gotha as long as it remained within range. A turn on the part of Jack put a temporary end to the bombardment. But now they were once more spinning toward the enemy.
Around them a wild scene was being enacted, with the other quartette of planes swooping down on each other.
Apparently all this work had so far been without result; but Jack could plainly see that the Huns were quite satisfied with what little they may have accomplished in the battle, and were anxious to pull out.
As if a concerted signal had been given, the three Gothas were soon in retreat. No doubt the sight drew many a hoarse, derisive yell from watching Americans below, who could not understand the feeling of extreme caution that would tempt an air pilot to turn tail and run for home when opposed on equal terms.
They made excellent speed, too, and after chasing them for a short distance the Americans turned back. There was work much more important awaiting their attention just then than following the fleeing Boche fliers to some spot, where possibly a swarm of their mates would be turned loose to cut off escape and bring the daring Americans down.
One of the two friendly machines that had so opportunely come to the relief of Jack and Morgan now approached. To the delight of Jack he recognized in the muffled figure waving a gloved hand at him no other than Harry Leroy.
"A bunch of slick runners all right, Jack!" bawled Nellie's brother, as the two planes passed not far distant from each other.
"They're all right when three to one!" answered Jack, as he circled in order to keep close to the other for a brief time.
"What luck?" demanded Harry; for of course that was the one important subject ever on their minds when thus out hunting for hidden snipers' nests.
"Got two to-day so far," called Jack. "Then came over here looking for a boss nest. Found it, too, down there; and we're going now to see what our battery boys can do with it."
"Fine work, Jack! Here's wishing you luck. We'll move along and see if we can duplicate your job!"
"Success to you!"
So they separated there, far above the seemingly endless forest where the two opposing armies were grappling in a death grip, the one bent on victory, the other striving desperately to put off the evil day as long as possible, in the hope of a break in their favor.
Jack knew what he and Morgan had next to do. It was to begin signaling to catch the attention of the observers with the American batteries, doubtless waiting impatiently for a chance such as this, and which thus far had been denied them.
He was at the proper altitude, safe from fire from below, and with all enemy planes driven off. The growl of the big guns came less furiously to their ears, so far removed from the ground were they. The incessant whir of the Liberty motor that had come from American shops and the buzz of the propellers rendered it difficult for him to hold converse with his assistant.
"Felix, have you got your bearings sized up O K?" he called out.
"I could drop a bomb for a direct hit, Jack, if I had one," came the confident answer.
"All right then; go to it."
As Morgan was the observer and signal man of the combination it now became his duty to make use of the flags intended to convey the news that one of those reported "strong nests," carrying from half a dozen of the largest Boche machine-guns all the way up to twice that, had been located.
Jack managed the machine so that his assistant might be best served. And as Morgan knew just about where to look for an answering flag he presently gave tongue in a way that told of success.
"Raised him, Jack!" he called out joyously. "Swing around more to the left and we'll be exactly over that den. There! I can drop the smoke signal now, all right, and well soon see what comes of it."
Immediately afterwards those in the distance who were eagerly watching every action of the hovering plane must have seen through their powerful glasses a trail of smoke dropping from its body. It signified that just at that moment the Yankee flier was hanging over the object to which the attention of the gunners was called.
Quickly would the necessary calculations be made, while Jack kept circling around and around, just as a buzzard might when it had located a promising feast below.
Jack, too, watched that sector as well as he could and attend to his duties at the same time. He wished he had the binoculars in his hands just then, while he steered with his knees; but it was more important that Morgan retain possession of the glasses.
A yell from the observer announced that something had happened of a pleasing character. Jack guessed its nature even before he heard the other shouting.
"They've begun business, Jack! The whole battery let loose then in concert! Say, there's yet another close by! And yes, they're breaking into the game too! Oh, you Boche, I pity you now, nix!"
Jack looked directly below. He realized that a whole flock of Yankee made shells was passing through the air, bound for the point of contact. At the same time he wondered why there had not been a single shot fired first as a feeler. The officers in charge must indeed be very confident that they had figured to a fraction to thus risk wasting precious ammunition.
A second, several of them, slipped away.
Then there came an upheaval below, followed by a succession of similar explosions that must have shaken the very earth. A dense cloud of smoke arose. Morgan now had his glasses fixed on the spot where all this furious hurricane of fire had fallen.
He did not shout, but continued to stare. The wind drifted the pall of smoke aside, and even Jack with unaided eye could determine that a marvelous change had taken place down there since last he looked.
"Let me have the glasses, Morgan!" he cried, unable to believe his eyes and wishing further confirmation.
Still silent as though awed, the observer obeyed. Jack knew from the look on the other's face about what he might expect to see even before he could raise the binoculars to his own eyes.
Then he too held his breath in very astonishment.
Never could there have been made a finer calculation than the one that sent such an avalanche of shells hurtling through several miles of space, to land exactly on a marked spot. In a thousand times the same result might not have been secured again.
Jack saw desolation down there. For a space of a hundred feet, he judged, earth and rocks and camouflage material had been thrown in every direction by the falling shells, a dozen or more in number and of the most destructive character known. A vast gaping hole told where the nest had been.
Not a single man of all those waiting Boche gunners could have escaped destruction. Jack could see the bodies of several hanging from the neighboring trees, from which in turn most of their branches had been stripped.
He turned an awe-stricken face to Morgan as he cried out:
"Send them the hold-up signal, Morgan, to tell them they've knocked the nest to flinders and that there's no need of wasting another shot on it!"
IN THE RED TRIANGLE HUT
NIGHT had come again. The work of the day was over, and weary khaki-clad fighters could rest For they must be fit for the duties of the succeeding day, which, like all recent ones, would bring its new dangers, glories, and no doubt pain and death for untold numbers of their fellows.
Still, in the camps where they were gathered that night, it would have been hard to run across a single soldier who showed a sign of discouragement or concern. Already they bore themselves with the mien of veterans, ready to joke and laugh, and swarming to the Red Triangle huts for a breath of entertainment, a glimpse of a rosy cheeked "home girl" in the midst of all this ghastly business of tragic warfare.
There Tom found Jack and Harry when he turned up rather late that night. He, too, had had a heavy and exciting though successful day's work in the air, as had Jack. Nevertheless, on his return he had asked and received permission to absent himself from quarters for a time.
Of course there was need of consultation with the accommodating hospital nurse concerning the disposition of little Jeanne, the ward of the trio, Jack, Tom, and Nellie, and Tom did not wish to neglect his duty—nor his opportunity.
Late though it was, there still lingered a goodly crowd in the old dugout once occupied by a number of German officers, but now taken possession of by the girls and men who wore the uniforms of Y. M. C. A. workers, when Tom reached it.
An old piano had somehow been brought along, and this was in almost constant use, for numbers of the boys could play; and as for singing there was an almost continuous chorus bawling out favorite songs, such as "Over There," "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit Bag," "When You Come Back," and the like.
When some daring man ventured to play "Home, Sweet Home," however, not a sound was heard; and apparently many of the loudest talkers found something wonderfully important in the magazines they chanced to have before them, to judge from the way they bent persistently over while reading. But then no soldier wants his comrades to see that his eyes are swimming in tears, as pictures of those at home dawn upon his vision.
Tom quickly found his two comrades, to be instantly met with a rush of remarks that, however, fell from him as water would from a duck's back.
"You seem pretty happy, I must say!" observed Harry, grinning, for he understood what an attraction that pretty sister of his was to Tom.
"Oh, everything looks lovely, and the goose hangs high, whenever Tom has spent an hour in Nellie's company," Jack remarked, going on with the teasing.
"Seems to me, Jack," said the object of this joking, "that you're in something of the same box yourself. What important news did Bessie have in that letter you got this evening, and which you thought I didn't see you smuggle into your pocket on the sly?"
"Oh, I don't mind telling you," Jack announced smiling. "Meant to later on anyway. Why, do you know, Bessie has become a Red Triangle worker now, as she and her mother had been transferred to that service. She said there was some talk of letting them come along here to the American front, since Mrs. Gleason had expressed a wish to do her bit within hearing of the guns."
"That sounds good to me, Jack," remarked Harry.
"Do you know," added Tom, "I had a suspicion there was a hen on in that nest just from a remark Nellie made about hoping to see Bessie before long. Wouldn't explain what she meant, either; so I reckon it's a put-up job between the girls."
"Well, they have become quite fond of one another, you know," Jack suggested.
Harry pretended to look huffed.
"All very fine," he grumbled; "but where do I come in, I'd like to know?"
"Huh! what about some of those pretty French girls I've heard you raving over, Harry? You might choose one and study French under her direction. Plenty of our boys are doing it, and seem to be pleased."
"If it comes to the worst," added Jack, soberly, "he can wait for little Jeanne to grow up. I imagine she's bound to be a peach one of these days, and well worth waiting for, Harry. But, joking aside, Tom," he continued, "what's doing over there with Nellie and our little charge?"
"Oh, she's making capital progress," came the quick reply. "Told me all about it, you know."
"Sure thing, every word," put in Harry. "A whole hour it took, too, I warrant. There must have been a heap to tell."
"She's already managed to get together quite a number of things for the child," Tom went on to explain. "A pair of fairly decent shoes and some material that one of the nurses will make into a dress, for she used to be a seamstress over in the good old U. S. A. before the call came. Best of all, Nellie has found just the family to leave our ward with."
"That's news worth while," asserted Jack. "What else do you know that's interesting, old scout?"
"This family is named Desplanes," Tom continued. "They have a fine home in Paris, from which they have been kept ever since the war began, because of the Germans getting between. They are glad to take charge of your little girl, Jack, since they mean to start immediately for the capital, having only been able to get into our lines a few days back."