AIR SERVICE BOYS IN THE BIG BATTLE
Or SILENCING THE BIG GUNS
By Charles Amory Beach
CHAPTER I. BAD NEWS FROM THE AIR
"Well, Tom, how's your head now?"
"How's my head? What do you mean? There's nothing the matter with my head," and the speaker, who wore the uniform of a French aviator, glanced up in surprise from the cot on which he was reclining in his tent near the airdromes that stretched around a great level field, not far from Paris.
"Oh, isn't there?" questioned Jack Parmly, with a smile. "Then I beg your pardon for asking, my cabbage! I beg your pardon, Sergeant Raymond!"
Tom Raymond, whose, chum had addressed him by the military title, looked curiously at his companion, and smiled at the appellation of the term cabbage. It was one of the many little tricks picked up by association with their French flying comrades, of speaking to a friend by some odd, endearing term. It might be cucumber or rose, cabbage or cart wheel—the words mattered not, it was the meaning back of them.
"Say, is anything the matter?" went on Tom, as his chum, attired like himself', but wearing an old blouse covered with oil and grease, continued to smile. "What gave you the notion that my head hurt?"
"I didn't say it hurt. I only asked how it was. The swelling hasn't begun to subside in mine yet, and I was wondering if it had in yours."
"Swelling? Subside? What in the world—"
Jack Parmly brought to a sudden termination the rapid torrent of words from the mouth of his churn by silently pointing to a small medal fastened to the uniform jacket of his friend. It was the coveted croix de guerre.
"Oh, that!" exclaimed Tom.
"Nothing else, my pickled beet!" answered Jack. "Doesn't it make your head swell up as if it would burst every time you look at it? Now don't say it doesn't, for that's the way it affects me, and I'm sure you're not very different. And every time I read the citation that goes with the medal—well, I'm just aching for a chance to show it to the folks back home, aren't you, Sergeant?"
Tom Raymond started a bit at the second use of the title.
"I see you aren't any more used to it than I am!" exclaimed Jack. "Well, it'll be a little time before we stop looking around to see if it isn't some one behind us they're talking to. So I thought I'd practice it a bit on you. And you can do the same for me. I should think, out of common politeness, you'd get up, salute and call me the same."
"Oh! Now I see what you're driving at," voiced Tom, as he glanced up from a momentary look at his medal to the face of his comrade-in-arms, or perhaps in flying would be more appropriate. "The wind's in that quarter, is it?"
"No wind at all to speak of," broke in Jack. "If you'd like to go for a fly, and see if we can bag a Boche or two, I'm with you."
"Against orders, Jack. I'd like to, but we were ordered here for rest and observation work; and you know, as well as I do, that obeying orders is just as important as sending a member of the Hun Flying Circus down where he can't do any more of his grandstand stunts. But I'm hoping the time will come when we can climb up back of our machine guns again, and do our bit to show that the little old U. S. A. is still on the map."
"I guess that time'll soon come, Tom, old man. I heard rumors that a lot of us were to be sent up nearer the front shortly, and if they don't include you and me, there'll be something doing in this camp!"
"That's what I say. So you thought I'd have a swelled head, did you, because they gave us the croix de guerre?"
"I confess I had a faint suspicion that way," admitted Jack. "Both of us being advanced to sergeants was a big step, too."
"It was," agreed Tom. "I almost wish they hadn't done it, for there are lots of others in the escadrille that deserve it fully as much, and some more, than we do."
"That's right. But you can't make these delightful Frenchmen see anything the way you want 'em to. Once they get a notion in their heads that you've done something for la belle Frame, they're your friends for life, kissing you on both cheeks and pinning medals on you wherever they'll stick."
"Well, they mean all right, Jack," said Tom. "And there aren't any braver or more lovable people on the face of the earth than these same French. They've done more and suffered more for their country than we dream of. And it's only natural that they should say 'much obliged,' in their own particular way, to any one they think is helping to free them from the Germans."
"I suppose you're right. But advancing us to sergeants would have been enough, without pinning the decorations on us and mentioning us in the order of the day, as well as giving us as fine a citation as ever was signed by a commanding general. However, it's all in the day's work, though when we flew over the German super cannons, and did our bit in helping demolish them so they couldn't shell Paris any more, we didn't think—or, at least, I didn't—that we'd be sitting here talking about it."
"Me either," agreed Tom. "But, to get down to brass tacks, what have you been doing to get into such a mess? You look like a chauffeur of the old days they tell of when they had to climb under the car to see if it needed oiling—"
"That's just about what I have been doing," admitted Jack. "When I heard the rumor that our escadrille might get orders to move at any hour, I decided that it was up to me to look MY machine over. It didn't make that nose dive just the way I wanted it to the last time I was up, and I'm not taking any chances. So I've been crawling in and around and under it—"
"While I've been lying here I taking it easy!" broke in Tom. "I don't call that fair of you, Jack," and he seemed genuinely hurt.
"Go easy now, my pickled onion!" laughed his chum. "I wasn't going to leave you out in the cold. I just came to tell you that you'd better stop looking like a moving picture of an airman, and put on some old duds to look over your own craft. And here you go and—"
"All right, old ham sandwich!" laughed Tom.
"I'll forgive you. I'm going to do the same as you, and tinker with my machine. If, as you say, we're likely to be on the job again soon, I don't want too take any chances either. Where's that mechanician of mine? There was something wrong with my joy stick, he said, the last time I came down out of the clouds to take an enforced rest, and I might as well start with that, if there's any repairing to be done—"
Tom flung off his uniform jacket, with the two silver wings, denoting that he was a full-fledged airman, and sent an orderly to summon his chief mechanician, for each aviator had several helpers to run messages for him, as well as to see that his machine is in perfect trim.
Experts are needed to see to it that the machine and the aviator are in perfect trim, leaving for the airman himself the trying and difficult task, sometimes, of flying upside down, while he is making observations of the enemy with one eye, and fighting off a Boche with the other—ready to kill or be killed.
Sergeants Tom Raymond and Jack Parmly, chums and fellow airmen flying for France, started toward the aerodromes where their machines were kept when not in use. They were both attired now for hard and not very clean work, though the more laborious part would be done by mechanics at their orders. Still the lads themselves would leave nothing to chance. Indeed no airman does, for in very, truth his He and the success of an army may, at times, depend on the strength or weakness of a seemingly insignificant bit of wire or the continuity of a small gasoline pipe.
"Well, it'll seem good to get up in the air again," remarked Jack. "A little rest is all right, but too much is more than enough."
"Right O, my sliced liberty bond!" laughed Tom. "And now—"
Their talk was interrupted by a cheer that broke out in front of a recreation house, in reality a YMCA hut, or le Foyer du Soldat as it was called. It was where the airmen went when not on duty to read the papers, write letters and buy chocolate.
"What's up now?" asked Jack, as he and his chum looked toward the cheering squad of aviators and their assistants.
"Give it up. Let's go over and find out."
They broke into a run as the cheering continued, and then they saw hats being thrown into the air and men capering about with every evidence of joy.
"We must have won a big battle!" cried Jack.
"Seems so," agreed Tom. "Hi there! what is it?" he asked in French of a fellow aviator.
"What is it? You ask me what? Ah, joy of my life! It is you who ought to know first! It is you who should give thanks! Ah!"
"Yes, that's all right, old man," returned Jack in English. "We'll give thanks right as soon as we know what it is; but we aren't mind readers, you know, and there are so many things to guess at that there's no use in wasting the time. Tell us, like a good chap!" he begged in French, for he saw the puzzled look on the face of the aviator Tom had addressed.
"It is the best news ever!" was the answer. "The first of your brave countrymen have arrived to help us drive the Boche from France! The first American Expeditionary Force, to serve under your brave General Pershing, has reached the shores of France safely, in spite of the U-boats, and are even now marching to show themselves in Paris! Ah, is it any wonder that we rejoice? How is it you say in your own delightful country? Two cheers and a lion! Ah!"
"Tiger, my dear boy! Tiger!" laughed Jack. "And, while you're about it, you might as well make it three cheers and done with it. Not that it makes any great amount of difference in this case, but it's just the custom, my stuffed olive!"
And then he and Tom were fairly carried off their feet by the rush of enthusiastic Frenchmen to congratulate them on the good news, and to share it with them.
"Is it really true?" asked Tom. "Has any substantial part of Uncle Sam's boys really got here at last?"
He was told that such was the case. The news had just been received at the headquarters of the flying squad to which Tom and Jack were attached. About ten thousand American soldiers were even then on French soil. Their coming had long been waited for, and the arrangements sailed in secret, and the news was known in American cities scarcely any sooner than it was in France, so careful had the military authorities been not to give the lurking German submarines a chance to torpedo the transports.
"Is not that glorious news, my friend?" asked the Frenchman who had given it to Tom and Jack.
"The best ever!" was the enthusiastic reply. And then Jack, turning to his chum, said in a low voice, as the Frenchman hurried back to the cheering throng: "You know what this means for us, of course?"
"Rather guess I do!" was the response. "It means we've got to apply for a transfer and fight under Pershing!"
"Exactly. Now how are we going to do it?"
"Oh, I fancy it will be all right. Merely a question of detail and procedure. They can't object to our wanting to fight among our own countrymen, now that enough of them are over here to make a showing. I suppose this is the first of the big army that's coming."
"I imagine so," agreed Jack. "Hurray! this is something like. There's going to be hard fighting. I realize that. But this is the beginning of the end, as I see it."
"That's what! Now, instead of tinkering over our machines, let's see the commandant and—-"
Jack motioned to his chum to cease talking. Then he pointed up to the sky. There was a little speck against the blue, a speck that became larger as the two Americans watched.
"One of our fliers coming bark," remarked Tom in a low voice.
"I hope he brings more good news," returned Jack.
The approaching airman came rapidly nearer, and then the throngs that had gathered about the headquarters building to discuss the news of the arrival of the first American forces turned to watch the return of the flier.
"It's Du Boise," remarked Tom, naming an intrepid French fighter. He was one of the "aces," and had more than a score of Boche machines to his credit. "He must have been out 'on his own,' looking for a stray German."
"Yes, he and Leroy went out together," assented Jack. "But I don't see Harry's machine," and anxiously he scanned the heavens.
Harry Leroy was, like Tom and Jack, an American aviator who had lately joined the force in which the two friends had rendered such valiant service. Tom and Jack had known him on the other side—had, in fact, first met and become friendly with him at a flying school in Virginia. Leroy had suffered a slight accident which had put him out of the flying service for a year, but he had persisted, had finally been accepted, and was welcomed to France by his chums who had preceded him.
"I hope nothing has happened to Harry," murmured Tom; "but I don't see him, and it's queer Du Boise would come back without him."
"Maybe he had to—for gasoline or something," suggested Jack.
"I hope it isn't any worse than that," went on Tom. But his voice did not carry conviction.
The French aviator landed, and as he climbed out of his machine, helped by orderlies and others who rushed up, he was seen to stagger.
"Are you hurt?" asked Tom, hurrying up.
"A mere scratch-nothing, thank you," was the answer.
"Where's Harry Leroy?" Jack asked. "Did you have to leave him?"
"Ah, monsieur, I bring you bad news from the air," was the answer. "We were attacked by seven Boche machines. We each got one, and then—well, they got me—but what matters that? It is a mere nothing."
"What of Harry?" persisted Tom.
"Ah, it is of him I would speak. He is—he fell inside the enemy lines; and I had to come back for help. My petrol gave out, and I—"'
And then, pressing his hands over his breast, the brave airman staggered and fell, as a stream of blood issued from beneath his jacket.
CHAPTER II. A GIRL'S APPEAL
At once half a score of hands reached out to render aid to the stricken airman, whose blood was staining the ground where he had fallen.
Tom, seeing that his fellow aviator was more desperately wounded than the brave man had admitted, at once summoned stretcher-bearers, and he was carried to the hospital. Then all anxiously awaited the report of the surgeons, who quickly prepared to render aid to the fighter of the air.
"How is he?" asked Jack, as he and Tom, lingering near the hospital, saw one of the doctors emerge.
"He is doing very nicely," was the answer, given in French, for the two boys of the air spoke this language now with ease, if not always with absolute correctness.
"Then he isn't badly hurt?" asked Jack.
"No. The wound in his chest was only a flesh one, but it bled considerably. Two bullets from an aircraft machine gun struck ribs, and glanced off from them, but tore the flesh badly. The bleeding was held in check by the pressure DU Boise exerted on the wounds underneath his jacket, but at last he grew faint from loss of blood, and then the stream welled out. With rest and care he will be all right in a few days."
"How soon could we talk with him?" asked Tom.
"Talk with him?" asked the surgeon. "Is that necessary? He is doing very well, and—"
"Tom means ask him some questions," explained Jack. "You see, he started to tell us about our chum, Harry Leroy, who was out scouting with him. Harry was shot down, so Du Boise said, but he didn't get a chance to give any particulars, and we thought—"
"It will be a day or so before he will be able to talk to you," the surgeon said. "He is very weak, and must not be disturbed."
"Well, may we talk with him just as soon as possible?" eagerly asked Jack. "We want to find out where it was that Harry went down in his machine—out of control very likely—and if we get a chance—"
"We'd like to take it out on those that shot him down!" interrupted Torn. "Du Boise must have noticed the machines that fought him and Harry, and if we could get any idea of the Boches who were in them—"
"I see," and the surgeon bowed and smiled approval of their idea. "You want revenge. I hope you get it. As soon as we think he is able to talk," and he nodded in the direction of the hospital, "we will let you see him. Good luck to you, and confusion to the Huns!"
"Gee, but this is tough luck!" murmured Tom, as he and his chum turned away. "Just as we were getting ready to go back into the game, too! Had it all fixed up for Harry to fly with us in a sort of a triangle scheme to down the Boches, and they have to go and plump him off the map. Well, it is tough!"
"Yes, sort of takes the fun out of the good news we heard a while ago," agreed Jack. "I mean about Pershing's boys getting over here to France. I hope Harry's only wounded, instead of killed. But if the Huns have him a prisoner—good-night!"
"There's only one consolation," added Tom. "Their airmen are the best of the lot Of course that isn't saying much, but they behave a little more like human beings than the rest of the Boche gang; and if Harry has fallen a prisoner to them he'll get a bit of decent treatment, anyhow."
"That's so. We'll hope for that. And now let's go on with what we started when we saw Du Boise coming back—let's see what chance we have of being transferred to an All American escadrille."
The boys started across the field again toward the headquarters, and, nearing it, they saw, in a small motor car, a girl sitting beside the military driver. She was a pretty girl, and it needed only one glance to show that she was an American.
"Hello!" exclaimed Tom, with a low whistle. "Look who's here!"
"Do you know her?" asked Jack.
"No. Wish I did, though."
Jack glanced quickly and curiously at his chum.
"Oh, you needn't think you're the only chap that has a drag with the girls," went on Tom. "Just because Bessie Gleason—"
"Cut it out!" exclaimed Jack. "Look, she acts as though she wanted to speak to us."
The military chauffeur had alighted from the machine and was talking to one of the French aviation officers. Meanwhile the girl, left to herself, was looking about the big aviation field, with a look of wonder, mixed with alarm and nervousness. She caught sight of Tom and Jack, and a smile came to her face, making her, as Tom said afterward, the prettiest picture he had seen in a long while.
"You're Americans, aren't you?" began the girl, turning frankly to them. "I know you are! And, oh, I'm in such trouble!"
Tom stepped ahead of Jack, who was taking off his cap and bowing.
"Let me have a show for my white alley," Tom murmured to his chum. "You've got one girl."
"You win," murmured Jack.
"Yes, we're from the United States," said Tom. "But it's queer to see a girl here—from America or anywhere else. How'd you get through the lines, and what can we do for you?"
"I am looking for my brother," was the answer. "I understood he was stationed here, and I managed to get passes to come to see him, but it wasn't easy work. I met this officer in his motor car, and he brought me along the last stage of the journey. Can you tell me where my brother is? His name is Harry Leroy."
Torn said afterward that he felt as though he had gone into a spinning nose dive with a Boche aviator on his tail, while Jack admitted that he felt somewhat as he did the time his gasoline pipe was severed by a Hun bullet when he was high in the air and several miles behind the enemy's lines.
"Your—your brother!" Tom managed to mutter.
"Yes, Harry Leroy. He's from the United States, too. Perhaps you know him, as I notice you are both aviators. He told me if I ever got to France to come to see him, and he mentioned the names of two young men—I have them here somewhere—"
She began to search in the depths of a little leather valise she carried, and, at that moment, the military chauffeur who had brought her to the aviation field turned to her, and spoke rapidly in French.
She understood the language, as did Tom and Jack, and at the first words her face went white. For the chauffeur informed her that her brother, Harry Leroy, whom she had come so far to see, was, even then, lying dead or wounded within the German lines.
"Oh!" the girl murmured, her fare becoming whiter and more white. "Oh—Harry!"
Then she would have fallen from the seat, only Tom leaped forward and caught her in his arms.
And while efforts were being made to restore the girl to consciousness, may I not take this opportunity of telling my new readers something of the previous books of this series, so that they may read this one more intelligently?
Torn Raymond and Jack Parmly, as related in the initial volume, "Air Service Boys Flying for France; or The Young Heroes of the Lafayette Escadrille," were Virginians. Soon after the great world conflict started, they burned with a desire to fight on the side of freedom, and it was as aviators that they desired to help.
Accordingly they went to an aviation school in Virginia, under the auspices of the Government, and there learned the rudiments of flying. Tom's father had invented an aeroplane stabilizer, but, as told in the story, the plans and other papers had been stolen by a German spy.
Tom and his chum resolved to get possession of the documents, and they kept up the search after they reached France and were made members of the Lafayette Escadrille. It was in France that they met Adolph Tuessing, the German spy.
The second volume, entitled "Air Service Boys Over the Enemy's Lines; or The German Spy's Secret," takes the two young men through further adventures. They had become acquainted on the steamer with a girl named Bessie Gleason and her mother. Carl Potzfeldt, a German sailing under false colors, claimed to be a friend of Bessie and her mother, but Jack, who was more than casually interested in the girl, was suspicious of this man. And his suspicions proved correct, for Potzfeldt had planned a daring trick.
After some strenuous happenings, in which the Air Service Boys assisted, Bessie and her mother were rescued from the clutches of Potzfeldt, and went to Paris, Mrs. Gleason engaging in Red Cross work, and Bessie helping her as best she could.
Immediately preceding this present volume is the third, called "Air Service Boys Over the Rhine; or Fighting Above the Clouds."
By this time the United States had entered the great war on the side of humanity and democracy.
Then the world was startled by the news that a great German cannon was firing on Paris seventy miles away, and consternation reigned for a time. Tom and Jack had a hand in silencing the great gun, for it was they who discovered where it was hidden. Also in the third volume is related how Tom's father, who had disappeared, was found again.
The boys passed through many startling experiences with their usual bravery, so that, when the present story opens, they were taking a much needed and well-earned rest. Mr. Raymond, having accomplished his mission, had returned to the United States.
Then, as we have seen, came the news of the arrival of the first of Pershing's forces, and with it came the sad message that Harry Leroy, the chum of Torn and Jack, had fallen behind the German lines. And whether he was alive now, though wounded, or was another victim of the Hun machine guns, could not be told.
"Harry's sister couldn't have come at a worse time," remarked Tom, as he rejoined Jack, having carried the unconscious girl to the same hospital where Du Boise lay wounded.
"I should say not!" agreed Jack. "Do you really suppose she's Harry's sister?"
"I don't see Any reason to doubt it. She said so, didn't she?"
"Oh, yes, of course. I was just wondering. Say, it's going to be tough when she wakes up and realizes what's happened."
"You bet it is! This has been a tough day all around, and if it wasn't for the good news that our boys are in France I'd feel pretty rocky. But now we've got all the more incentive to get busy!" exclaimed Tom.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean get our machines in fighting trim. I'm going out and get a few Germans to make up for what they did to Harry."
"You're right! I'm with you! But what about what's her name—I mean Harry's sister?"
"I didn't hear her name. Some of the Red Cross nurses are looking after her. They promised to let me know when she came to. We can offer to help her, I suppose, being, as you might say, neighbors."
"Sure!" agreed Jack. "I'm with you. But let's go and—"
However they did not go at once, wherever it was that Jack was going to propose, for, at that moment, one of the Red Cross nurses attached to the aviation hospital came to the door and beckoned to the boys.
"Miss Leroy is conscious now," was the message. "She wants to see you two," and the nurse smiled at them.
Tom and Jack found Miss Leroy, looking pale, but prettier than ever, sitting up in a chair. She leaned forward eagerly as they entered, and, holding out her hands, exclaimed:
"They tell me you are my brother's chums! Oh, can you not get me some news of him? Can you not let him know that I have come so far to see him? I am anxious! Oh, where is he?" and she looked from Tom to Jack, and then to Tom again.
CHAPTER III. ANXIOUS WAITING
Nellie Leroy—for such the boys learned was her name—broke the silence, that was growing tense, by asking:
"Is there any hope? Tell me, do you think there is a chance that my brother may be alive?"
"Yes, there is, certainly!" exclaimed Tom quickly, before Jack had an opportunity to give, possibly, a less hopeful answer.
"And if he is alive, is there a chance that he may be rescued—that I may go to him?" she went on.
"Hardly that," said Tom, slowly. "It's a wonder you ever got as near to the front as this. But as for getting past the German lines—"
"Then what can I do?" asked Nellie Leroy, eagerly. "Oh, tell me something that I can do. I'm used to hard work," she went on. "I've been a Red Cross nurse for some time, and I helped in one big explosion of a munitions plant in New Jersey before I came over. That's one reason they let me come—because I proved that I could do things!" and she did look very efficient, in spite of her paleness, in spite of her, seeming frailness. There was an indefinable air about her which showed that she would carry through whatever she undertook. "I never fainted before—never."
"It's like this," said Tom, and Jack seemed content, now, to let his chum play the chief role. "When one of us goes down in his machine back of the enemy's lines, those left over here never really know what has happened for a few days."
"And how do they know then?' she asked.
"The German airmen are more decent than some of the other Hun forces we're fighting," explained Torn. "Generally after they capture one of our escadrille members, dead or alive, they fly over our lines a few days later and drop a cap, or a glove, or something that belongs to the prisoner. Sometimes they attach a note, written by one of their airmen or from the prisoner, giving news of his condition."
"And you think they may do this in my brother's case?" asked Nellie.
"They are very likely to," assented Tom, and Jack, to whom the girl looked for confirmation, nodded, his agreement.
"How long shall we have to wait?" Harry's sister asked.
"There is no telling," said Tom "Sometimes it's a week before their airmen get a chance to fly over our lines. It all depends."
"On how the battle goes," answered Tom. "If there is much fighting, and many engagements in the air, the Boches don't get a chance to fly over and drop tokens of our men they may have shot down. We do the same for them, so it's six of one and a half dozen of the other. Often for a week we don't get a chance to let them know about prisoners we have, because the fighting is so severe."
"Will it be that way now?" the girl went on.
"Hard to say—we don't have the ordering of battles," replied Jack. "But it's been rather quiet for a few days, and it's likely to continue so. If it does one of their men may fly over to-morrow, or the next day, and drop something your brother wore—or even a note from him."
"Oh, I hope they do the last!" she murmured. "If I could have a note from him I'd be the happiest girl alive I I'd know, then, that he was all right."
"He may be," said Tom, trying to be hopeful. "You see Du Boise, who was with Harry when the fight took place, is himself wounded, so he can't tell us much about it."
"Yes, they told me that my brother's companion reached here badly hurt. He is so brave! I wish they would let me help take care of him. I understand a great deal about wounds, and I'm not at all afraid of the sight of blood. It was silly of me to faint just now, but—I—I couldn't help it. I'd been counting so much on seeing Harry, and when they told me he was gone—"
She covered her face with her hands, and endeavored to repress her emotion.
"You're not Harry's little sister, are you?" asked Jack, hoping to change the current of talk into other and happier channels.
"No; that's Mabel—Mab he calls her. She's younger than I. Did he often speak of her?"
"Oh, yes; and you too!" exclaimed Tom, so warmly that Nellie blushed, and the damask tint in her hitherto pale cheeks was most becoming.
"We've seen your picture, and Mab's too," went on Tom. "Harry keeps them just over his cot in the barracks. But I didn't recognize you when I saw you a little while ago in the machine. Though I might have, if so many things hadn't happened all at once, and made me sort of hazy," Tom explained.
"Then are you and my brother good friends?" asked Nellie.
"The best ever!" exclaimed Tom, and Jack warmly assented. "Not so many Americans are in this branch of the escadrille as are in others," Torn went on; "so Harry and Jack and I are a sort of little trio all by ourselves. He hardly ever goes up without us, but we are on a rest billet; and to-day he went up with Du Boise."
"If he had only come back!" sighed Nellie. "But there! I mustn't complain. Harry wouldn't let me if he were here. We both have to do our duty. Now I'm going to see what I can do to help, and not be silly and do any more fainting. I hope you'll pardon me," and she smiled at the two boys.
"Of course!" exclaimed Tom, with great emphasis, and again Miss Leroy blushed.
"Then, is to wait the only thing we can do?" she asked.
"That's all," assented Tom. "We may get a message from the clouds any day."
"And, oh! I shall pray that it may be favorable!" murmured the girl. "Perhaps I may question this Mr. Du Boise, and learn from him just what happened?" she interrogated.
"Yes, we want to talk to him ourselves, as soon as he's able to sit up," said Jack. "We want to get a shot at the Boche who downed Harry."
"So you are as fond of Harry as all that! I am glad!" exclaimed his sister. "Have you known him long?"
"We knew him slightly before we went to the flying school in Virginia with him," said Tom. "But down there, when we started in at 'grass-cutting,' and worked our way up, we grew to know him better. Then Jack and I got our chance to come over. But Harry had a smash, and he had to wait a year."
"Yes, I know. It almost broke his heart," said Miss Leroy. "I was away at school at the time, which accounts for my not knowing more of you boys, since Harry always wrote me, or told me, about his chums. Then, when I came back after my graduation, I found that he had sailed for France."
"And maybe we weren't glad to see him!" exclaimed Tom. "It was like getting letters from home."
"Yes, I recall, now, his mentioning that he had met over here some students from the Virginia school," said Miss Leroy. "Well, after Harry sailed I was wild to go, but father and mother would not hear of it at first. Then, when the war grew worse, and I showed them that I could do hard work for the Red Cross, they consented. So I sailed, but I never expected to get like this."
"Oh, well, everything may come out all right," said Tom, as cheerfully as he could. But, in very truth, he was not very hopeful in his heart.
For once an aviator succumbs to the hail of bullets from the German machine guns in an aircraft, and his own creature of steel and wings goes hurtling down, there is only a scant chance that the disabled airman will land alive.
Of course some have done it, and, even with their machines out of control and on fire, they have lived through the awful experience. But the chances were and are against them.
Harry Leroy had been seen to go down, apparently with his machine out of control, after a fusillade of Boche bullets. This much Du Boise had said before his collapse. As to what the fallen aviator's real fate was, time alone could disclose.
"I can only wait!" sighed Nellie, as the boys took their leave. "The days will be anxious ones—days of waiting. I shall help here all I can. You'll let me know the moment there is any news—good or bad—won't you?" she begged; and her eyes filled with tears.
"We'll bring you the news at once—night or day!" exclaimed Tom, vigorously.
As he and Jack walked out of the hospital, the latter remarked:
"You seem to be a favorite there, all right, Tom, my boy. If we weren't such good chums I might be a bit jealous."
"If you feel that way I'll drop Bessie Gleason a note!" suggested Tom, quickly.
"Don't!" begged Jack. "I'll be good!"
CHAPTER IV. TRANSFERRED
One glance at the bulletin board, erected just outside their quarters at the aerodrome, told Tom and Jack what they were detailed for that day. It was the day following the arrival of Nellie Leroy at that particular place in France, only to find that her brother was missing—either dead, or alive and a prisoner behind the German lines.
"Sergeant Thomas Raymond will report to headquarters at eight o'clock, to do patrol work."
"Sergeant Jack Parmly will report to headquarters at eight o'clock for reconnaissance with a photographer, who will be detailed."
Thus read the bulletin board, and Tom and Jack, looking at it, nodded to one another, while Tom remarked:
"Got our work cut out for us all right."
"Yes," agreed Jack. "Only I wish I could change places with you. I don't like those big, heavy machines."
But orders are orders, nowhere more so than in the aviation squad, and soon the two lads, after a hearty if hasty breakfast, were ready for the day's work. They each realized that when the sun set they might either be dead, wounded or prisoners. It was a life full of eventualities.
A little later the two young airmen, in common with their comrades, were ready. Some were to do patrol work, like Tom—that is fly over and along the German lines in small swift, fighting planes, to attack a Hun machine, if any showed, and to give notice of any attack, either from the air or on the ground. The latter attacks the airmen would observe in progress and report to the commanders of infantry or batteries who could take steps to meet the attack, or even frustrate it.
Tom was assigned to a speedy Spad machine, one of great power and lightness into which he climbed. He was to fly alone, and on his machine was a machine gun of the Vickers type, which had to be aimed by directing, or pointing, the aeroplane itself at the enemy.
After Tom had given a hasty but careful look at his craft, and had assured himself of the accuracy of the report of his mechanician that it had oil and petrol, his starter took his place in front of the propeller.
"Well, Jack," called Tom to his chum, across the field, where Jack was making his preparations for taking up a photographer in a big two-seated machine, "I wish you luck."
"Same to you, old man. If you see anything of Harry, and he's alive, tell him we'll bring him back home as soon as we get a chance."
"Do you think there is any chance?" asked Tom eagerly. "I wouldn't want anything better than to get Harry away from those Boches—and make his sister happy."
"Well, there's a chance, but it's a slim one, I'm afraid," remarked Jack. "We'll talk about it after we get back. Maybe there'll be a message from the Huns about him before the day is over."
"I hope so," murmured Tom. "If those Huns only act as decently toward us as we do toward them, we'll have some news soon."
For it is true, in a number of instances that the German aviators do drop within the allied lines news of any British, French or American birdman who is captured or killed inside the German lines.
"All ready?" asked Tom of his helper.
"Switch off, gas on," was the answer.
Tom made sure that the electrical switch was disconnected. If it was left on, in "contact" as it is called, and the mechanician turned the propeller blades, there might have been a sudden starting of the engine that would have instantly kill the man. But with the switch off there could be no ignition in the cylinders.
Slowly the man turned the big blades until each cylinder was sucked full of the explosive mixture of gasoline and air.
"Contact!" he cried, and Tom threw over the switch.
Then, stepping once more up to the propeller, the man gave it a pull, and quickly released it, jumping back out of harm's way.
With a throbbing roar the engine awoke to life and the propeller spun around, a blur of indistinctness. The motor was working sweetly. Toni throttled down, assured himself that everything was working well, and then, with a wave of his hand toward Jack, began to taxi across the field, to head up into the wind. All aeroplanes are started this way—directly into the wind, to rise against it and not with it. On and on he went and then he began to climb into the air. With him climbed other birdmen who were to do patrol and contact work with him, the latter being the term used when the airship keeps in contact through signaling with infantry or artillery forces on the ground, directing their efforts against the enemy.
Having seen Tom on his way, Jack turned to his own machine. As his chum had been, Jack was dressed warmly in fur garments, even to his helmet, which was fur lined. He had on two pairs of gloves and his eyes were protected with heavy goggles. For it is very cold in the upper regions, and the swift speed of the machine sends the wind cutting into one's face so that it is impossible to see from the eyes unless they are protected.
Jack's machine was a two-seater, of a heavy and comparatively safe type—that is it was safe as long as it was not shot down by a Hun. Jack was to occupy the front seat and act as pilot, while Harris, the photographer he was to take up, sat behind him, with camera, map, pencil and paper ready at hand for the making of observations.
On either side of the photographer's seat were six loaded drums of ammunition for the Lewis gun, for use against the ruthless Hun machines. Jack had a fixed Vicker machine weapon for his use.
"Hope I get a chance to use 'em," said Harris with a grin, as he climbed into his seat, patted the loaded drums, and nodded to Jack that he was ready.
The same procedure was gone through as in the case of Tom. The man spun the propeller, and they were ready to set off. Accompanying them were two other reconnaissance planes, and four experienced fighting pilots, two of them "aces," that is men who, alone, had each brought down five or more Hun planes. The big planes, used for obtaining news, pictures, and maps of the enemy's territory, are always accompanied by fighting planes, which look out for the attacking Germans, while the other, and less speedy, craft carry the men who are to bring back vital information.
"Let her go!" exclaimed Harris to Jack, and the latter nodded to the mechanician, who, after the order of "contact," spun the blades again and they were really off, together with the others.
Up and up went Jack, sending his machine aloft in big circles as the others were doing. Before him on a support was clamped a map, similar to the one supported in front of Harris, and by consulting this Jack knew, from the instructions he had received before going up, just what part of the enemy's territory he was to cover. He was under the direction of the photographer and map-maker, for the two duties were combined in this instance.
Up and up they went. There was no talking, for though this is possible in an aeroplane when the engine is shut off, such was not now the case. But Jack knew his business.
His indicator soon showed them to be up about fourteen thousand feet, and below them an artillery duel was in progress. It was a wonderful, but terrible sight. Immediately under them, and rather too near for comfort, shrapnel was bursting all around. The "Archies," or anti-aircraft guns of the Germans, were trying to reach the French planes, and, in addition to the bullets, "woolly bears" and "flaming onions" were sent up toward them. These are two types of bursting shells, the first so named because when it explodes it does so with a cloud of black smoke and a flaming center. I have never been able to learn how the "onions" got their name, unless it is from the stench let loose by the exploding gases.
Though they were fired at viciously, neither Jack nor his companion was hit, and they continued on their way, keeping at a good height, as did their associates, until they were well over the front German lines.
Jack noticed that some of the other planes were dropping lower, to give their observers a chance to do their work, and, in response to a shove in his back from the powerful field glasses carried by Harris, Jack sent his machine down to about the nine-thousand-foot level. By a glance at the map he could see that they were now over the territory concerning which a report was wanted.
They were now under a heavy fire from the German anti-aircraft guns, but Jack was too old a hand to let this needlessly worry him. He sent his machine slipping from side to side, holding it on a level keel now and then, to enable Harris to get the photographs he wanted. In addition, the observer was also making a hasty, rough, but serviceable map of what he saw.
Jack glanced down, and noted a German supply train puffing its way along toward some depot, and he headed toward this to give Harris a chance to note whether there were any supplies of ammunition, or anything else, that might profitably be bombed later. He also saw several columns of German infantry on the march, but as they were not out to make an attack now, they had to watch the Huns moving up to the front line trenches, there later, doubtless, to give battle.
Back and forth over the German lines flew Jack, Harris meanwhile doing important observation work. As Jack went lower he came under a fiercer fire of the batteries, until, it became so hot, from the shrapnel bursts, that he fain would have turned and made for home. But orders were orders, and Harris had not yet indicated that he had enough.
Twisting and turning, to make as poor a mark as possible for the enemy guns, Jack sent his machine here and there. The other pilots were doing the same. Machine guns were now opening up on them, and once the burst of fire came so close that Jack began to "zoom." That is he sent his craft up and down sharply, like the curves and bumps in a roller-coaster railway track.
By this time the leading plane gave the signal for the return, and, thankful enough that they had not been hit, Jack swung about. But the danger was not over. They had yet to pass across the enemy's front line trenches, and when Harris signaled Jack to go down low in crossing the lad wondered what the order was for. It was merely that the observer wanted to see what was going on there so he could report.
They went down to within a mile of the earth, and several times the plane was struck by pieces of shrapnel or bullets from machine guns. Twice flying bits of metal came uncomfortably close to Jack, but he was kept too busy with the management of his machine to more than notice them. Harris was working hard at the camera and the maps.
Then, suddenly, came the danger signal from the leading plane, and only just in time. Out from the German hangars came several battle machines. Harris dropped his pencil and got ready the automatic gun, but it was not needed, for, after approaching as though about to attack, the Huns suddenly veered off. Later the reason for this became known. A squadron of French planes had arisen as swiftly to give battle, and however brave the Hun may be when he outnumbers the enemy, he had yet to be known to take on a combat against odds.
So Jack and his observer safely reached the aerodrome again, bringing back much valuable information.
"Is Tom here yet?" was Jack's first inquiry after he had divested himself of his togs and men had rushed to the developing room the camera with its precious plates.
"Not yet," some of his chums told him. "They're having a fight upstairs I guess."
Jack nodded and looked anxiously in the direction in which Tom was last seen.
It was an hour before the scouting airplanes came back, and one was so badly shot up and its pilot so wounded that it only just managed to get over the French lines before almost crashing to earth.
"Are you all right, Tom?" cried Jack, as he rushed up to his chum, when he saw the latter getting out of his craft, rather stiff from the cold.
"Yes. They went at me hard—two of 'em but I think I accounted for one, unless he went into a spinning nose dive just to fool me."
"Oh, they'll do that if they get the chance."
"I know," assented Tom. "Hello!" he exclaimed as he noticed a splintered strut near his head. "That came rather close."
And indeed it had. For a bullet, or a piece of shrapnel, has plowed a furrow in the bit of supporting wood, not two inches away from Tom's head, though in the excitement of the fight he had not noticed it.
There had been a fight in the upper air and one of the French machines had not come home.
"Another man to await news of," said the flight lieutenant sadly, when the report reached him. "That's two in two days."
"No news of Leroy yet?" asked Tom and Jack, as they went out of headquarters after reporting.
"None, I am sorry to say. It is barely possible that he landed in some lonely spot and is still hiding out—if he is not killed. But I understand you two young men had something to request of me. I can give you some attention now," went on the commander of their squadron.
"We want to be transferred!" exclaimed Tom. "Now, that Pershing's men are here—"
"I understand," was the answer. "You want to fight with your countrymen. Well, I would do the same. I will see if I can get you transferred, though I shall much regret losing you."
He was as good as his word, and a week later, following some strenuous fights in the air, Tom and Jack received notice that they could report to the first United States air squadron, which was then being formed on that part of the front where the first of Pershing's men were brigaded with, the French and British armies.
Du Boise, who had brought word back of the fate that had befallen Harry Leroy, sent for Tom and Jack when it became known that they were to leave.
"Shall I ever see you again?" he asked wistfully.
"To be sure," was Tom's hearty answer. "We aren't going far away, and we'll fly over to see you the first chance we get. Besides, we're going to depend on you to give us some information regarding Leroy. If the Huns drop any message at all they'll do it at this aerodrome."
"Yes, I believe you're right," assented Du Boise, trying not to show the pain that racked him. "But it's so long, now, I begin to believe he must be dead, and either the Huns don't know it or they aren't going to bother to send us word. But I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything."
"Is his sister here yet?" asked Jack, for Tom and he had been too busy the last two days, getting ready to shift their quarters, to call on Nellie Leroy.
"She has gone back to Paris," answered Du Boise. "There was no place for her here. I can give you her address. I promised to let her know in case I got word about her brother."
"I wish you would give me the address!" exclaimed Tom eagerly, and his chum smiled at his show of interest.
CHAPTER V. THE RESOLVE
"Well, to-morrow, if all goes well, we'll be with Pershing's boys," remarked Jack, as he and Tom were sitting in their quarters after breakfast, the last day but one they were to spend in the Lafayette Escadrille with which they had so long been associated.
"That's so. We'll soon be on the firing line with Uncle Sam," agreed Tom. "Of course we've been with him, in a way, ever since we've been fighting, for it's all in the same cause. But there'll be a little more satisfaction in being 'on our own,' as the English say."
"You're right. What's on for to-day?" asked Jack.
"Haven't the least idea. But here comes a messenger now."
As Tom spoke he glanced from a window and saw an orderly coming toward their quarters. The man seemed in a hurry.
"Something's up!" decided Jack. "Maybe they've got word from poor Harry."
"I'm beginning to give him up," said Tom. "If they were going to let us have any news of him they'd have done it long ago—the beasts!" and he fairly snarled out the words.
"Still I'm not giving up," returned Jack. "I can't explain why, but I have a feeling that, some day, we'll see Harry Leroy again."
Tom shook his head.
"I wish I could be as hopeful as you," he said. "Maybe we'll see him again—or his grave. But I want to say, right now, that if ever I have a chance at the Hun who shot him down, that Hun Will get no mercy from me!"
"Same here!" echoed Jack. "But here comes the orderly."
The man entered and handed Jack a slip of paper. It was from the commander of their squadron, and said, in effect, that though Tom and Jack were no longer under his orders, having been duly transferred to another sector, yet he would be obliged if they would call on him, at his quarters.
"Maybe he has news!" exclaimed Jack, eagerly.
Again Tom shook his head.
"He'd have said so if that was the case," he remarked as he and his chum prepared to report at headquarters, telling the messenger they would soon follow him.
"Ah, young gentlemen, I am glad to see, you!" exclaimed the commander, and it was as friends that he greeted Tom and Jack and not as military subordinates. "Do you want to do me one last favor?"
"A thousand if we can!" exclaimed Jack, for he and Tom had caught something of the French enthusiasm of manner, from having associated with the brave airmen so long.
"Good! Then I shall feel free to ask. Know then, that I am a little short-handed in experienced airmen. The Huns have taken heavy toll of us these last few days," he went on sorrowfully, and Torn and Jack knew this to be so, for two aces, as well as some pilots of lesser magnitude, had been shot down. But ample revenge had been taken.
"By all rights you are entitled to a holiday before you join your new command, under the great Pershing," went on the flight commander. "However, as I need the services of two brave men to do patrol duty, I appeal to you. There is a machine gun nest, somewhere in the Boche lines, that has been doing terrible execution. If you could find the battery, and signal its location, we might destroy it with our artillery, and so save many brave lives for France," he went on. "I do not like to ask you—"
"Tell 'em to get out the machines!" interrupted Jack. "We were just wishing we could do something to make up for the loss of Harry Leroy, and this may give it to us. You haven't heard anything of him, have you?" he asked.
The commander shook his head.
"I fear we shall never hear from him," he said. "Though only yesterday we received back some of the effects of one of our men who was shot down behind their lines. I can not understand in Leroy's case."
"Well, we'll make 'em pay a price all right!" declared Tom. "And now what about this machine gun nest?"
The commander gave them such information as he had. It was not unusual, such work as Tom and Jack were about to undertake. As the officer had said, they were practically exempt now that they were about to be transferred. But they had volunteered, as he probably knew they would.
Two speedy Spad machines were run out for the use of Tom and Jack, each one to have his own, for the work they were to do was dangerous and they would have need of speed.
They looked over the machine guns to see that they were in shape for quick work, and as the one on the machine Tom selected had congealed oil on the mechanism, having lately returned from a high flight, another weapon was quickly attached. Nothing receives more care and attention at an aerodrome than the motor of the plane and the mechanism of the machine gun. The latter are constructed so as to be easily and quickly mounted and dismounted, and at the close of each day's flight the guns are carefully inspected and cleaned ready for the morrow.
"Locate the machine gun battery if you can," was the parting request to Tom and Jack as they prepared to ascend. "Send back word of the location as nearly as you can to our batteries, and the men there will see to the rest."
"We will!" cried the Americans.
Locating a machine gun nest is not as easy as picking out a hostile battery of heavier guns, for the former, being smaller, are more easily concealed.
But Tom and Jack would, of course, do their best to help out their friends, the French. Over toward the German lines they flew, and began to scan with eager eyes the ground below them. They could not fly at a very great height, as they needed to be low down in order to see, and in this position they were a mark for the anti-aircraft guns of the Huns.
They had no sooner got over the enemy trenches, and were peering about for the possible location of the machine gun emplacement, when they were greeted with bursts of fire. But by skillfully dodging they escaped being hit themselves, though their machines were struck. The two chums were separated by about a mile, for they wanted to cover as much ground as possible.
At last, to his great delight, Tom saw a burst of smoke from a building that had been so demolished by shell fire that it seemed nothing could now inhabit it. But the truth was soon apparent. The machine gun nest was in the cellar, and from there, well hidden, had been doing terrible execution on the allied forces. Pausing only to make sure of his surmise, Tom began to tap out on his wireless key the location of the hidden machine gun nest.
Most of the aeroplanes carry a wireless outfit. An aerial trails after them, and the electric impulses, dripping off this, so to speak, reach the battery headquarters. Owing to the noise caused by the motor of the airship, no message can be sent to the airman in return, and he has to depend on signs made on the ground, arrows or circles in white by day and lighted signals at night, to make sure that his messages are being received and understood.
The Allies, of course, possess maps of every sector of the enemy's front, so that by reference to these maps the aircraft observer can send back word as to almost the precise location of the battery which it is desired to destroy.
Quickly tapping out word where the battery was located, Tom awaited developments, circling around the spot in his machine. He was fired at from guns on the ground below, but, to his delight, no hostile planes rose to give him combat. A glance across the expanse, however, showed that Jack was engaging two.
"He's keeping them from me!" thought Tom, and his heart was heavy, for he realized that Jack might be killed. However, it was the fortune of war. As long as the Hun planes were fighting Jack they would not molest him, and he might have time to send word to the French battery that would result in the destruction of the Hun machine nest.
There came a burst of fire from the Allied lines he had left, and Tom saw a shell land to the left and far beyond the Hun battery hidden in the old ruins. He at once sent back a correcting signal.
The more a gun is elevated up to a certain point, the farther it shoots. Forty-three degrees is about the maximum elevation. Again, if a gun is elevated too high it shoots over instead of directly at the target aimed at. It is then necessary to lower the elevation. Tom has seen that the guns of the French battery, which were seeking to destroy the machine gun nest were shooting beyond the mark. Accordingly they were told to depress their muzzles.
This was done, but still the shells fell to the left, and an additional correction was necessary. It is comparatively easy to make corrections in elevation or depression that will rectify errors in shooting short of or beyond a mark. It is not so easy to make the same corrections in what, for the sake of simplicity, may be called right or left errors, that is horizontal firing. To make these corrections it becomes needful to inscribe imaginary circles about the target, in this case the machine gun nest.
These circles are named from the letters of the alphabet. For instance, a circle drawn three hundred yards around a Hun battery as a center might be designated A. The next circle, two hundred yards less in size, would be B and so on, down to perhaps five yards, and that is getting very close.
The circles are further divided, as a piece of pie is cut, into twelve sectors, and numbered from 1 to 12. The last sector is due north, while 6 would be due south, 3 east, and 9 west, with the other figures for northeast, southwest, and so on.
If a shot falls in the fifty-yard circle, indicated by the letter D, but to the southwest of the mark, it is necessary to indicate that by sending the message "D-7," which would mean that, speaking according to the points of the compass, the missile had fallen within fifty yards of the mark, but to the south-southwest of it, and correction must be made accordingly.
Tom watched the falling shells. They came nearer and nearer to the hidden battery and at last he saw one fall plump where it was needed. There was a great puff of smoke, and when it had blown away there was only a hole in the ground where the ruins had been hiding the machine guns.
Tom's work was done, and he flew off to the aid of Jack, who had overcome one Hun, sending his plane crashing to earth. But the other, an expert fighter, was pressing him hard until Ton opened up on him with his machine gun. Then the German, having no stomach for odds, turned tail and flew toward his own lines.
"Good for you, Tom!" yelled Jack, though he knew his chum could not hear him because of the noise of the motor.
Together the two lads, who had engaged in their last battle strictly with the French, made for their aerodrome, reaching it safely, though, as it was learned when Jack dismounted, he had received a slight bullet wound in one side from a missile sent by one of the attacking planes. But the hurt was only a flesh wound; though, had it gone an inch to one side, it would have ended Jack's fighting days.
Hearty and enthusiastic were the congratulations that greeted the exploit of Torn in finding the German machine gun nest that had been such a menace, nor were the thanks to Jack any less warm, for without his help Tom could never have maintained his position, and sent back corrections to the battery which brought about the desired result.
"It is a glorious end to your stay with us," said the commander, with shining eyes, as he congratulated them.
There was a little impromptu banquet in the quarters that night, and Tom and Jack were bidden God-speed to their new quarters.
"There's only one thing I want to say!" said Jack quietly, as he rose in response to a demand that he talk.
"Let us hear it, my slice of bacon!" called a jolly ace.
"It's this," went on Jack. "That I hereby resolve that if we—I mean Tom and I—can't rescue our comrade, Harry Leroy, from the Huns—provided he's alive—that we'll take a toll of five Germans for him—or as many, up to that number, as we can shoot down before they get us. Five German fliers is the price of Harry Leroy, who was worth a hundred of them!"
"Bravo! Hurrah! So he was! Death to the Huns!" were the cries.
Torn Raymond sprang to his feet
"What Jack says I say!" he cried. "But I double the toll. If Harry Leroy is dead he leaves a sister. You all saw her here! Well, I'll get five Huns for her, and that makes ten between Jack and me!"
"Success to you!" cried several.
With this resolve to spur them on, Tom and Jack bade their bravo comrades farewell and started for Paris, whence they were to journey to the headquarters of General Pershing and his men.
CHAPTER VI. IN PARIS
Attired in their natty uniforms of the La Fayette Escadrille, which they had not discarded, with the double wings showing that they were fully qualified pilots and aviators, Jack Parmly and Tom Raymond attracted no little attention as, several hours after leaving their places on the battle front, they arrived in Paris. They were to have a few days rest before joining the newly formed American aviation section which, as yet, was hardly ready for active work.
"Well, they're here!" suddenly cried Tom, as he and Jack made their way out of the station to seek a modest hotel where they might stay until time for them to report.
"Who? Where? I don't see 'em!" exclaimed Jack, as he crowded to the side of his chum, murmurs from a group of French persons testifying to the esteem in which the American lads were held.
"There!" went on Tom, pointing. "See some of our doughboys! And maybe the crowds aren't glad to have 'em here! It's great, I tell you, great!"
As he spoke he pointed to several khaki-clad infantrymen, some of the first of the ten thousand Americans lads that were sent over to "take the germ out of Germany." The Americans were rather at a loss, but they seemed masters of themselves, and laughed and talked with glee as they gazed on the unfamiliar scenes. They, too, were enjoying a holiday before being sent on to be billeted with the French or British troops.
"Come on, let's talk to 'em!" cried Tom, enthusiastically. "It's as good as a letter from home to see 'em!"
"I thought you meant you saw—er—Bessie and her mother," returned Jack, and there was a little disappointment in his voice.
"Oh, we'll see them soon enough, if they're still in Paris," said Tom, gazing curiously at his chum. "But they don't know we are coming here."
"Yes, they do," said Jack, quietly.
"They do? Then you must have written."
"Of course. Don't you want to see them before we get shipped off to a new sector?"
"Why, yes. Just now, though, I'm anxious to hear some good, old United States talk. Come on, let's speak to 'em. There's one bunch that seems to be in trouble."
But the trouble was only because some of Pershing's boys—as they were generally called wanted to make some purchases at a candy shop and did not know enough of the language to make their meaning clear. It was a good-natured misunderstanding, and both the French shop-keeper and his helper and the doughboys were laughing over it.
"Hello, boys! Glad to see you! Can we help you out?" asked Tom, as he and Jack joined the group.
The infantrymen whirled about.
"Well, for the love of the Mason an' Dixon line! is there somebody heah who can speak our talk?" cried one lad, his accent unmistakably marking him as Southern.
"Guess we can help you out," said Jack. "We're from God's country, too," and in an instant the were surrounded and being shaken hands with on all sides, while a perfect barrage of questions was fired at them.
Then, when the little misunderstanding at the candy shop had been straightened out, Tom and Jack told something of who they were, mentioning the fact that they were soon to fight directly under the stars and stripes, information which drew whoops of delight from the enthusiastic infantrymen.
"But say, friend," called out one of the new American soldiers, "can you sling enough of this lingo to lead us to a place where we can get ham and eggs? I mean a real eating place, not just a coffee stand. I've been opening my mouth, champing my jaws and rubbing my stomach all day, trying to tell these folks that I'm hungry and want a square meal, and half the time they think I need a doctor. Lead me to a hash foundry."
"All right, come on with us!" laughed Tom. "We're going to eat, too. I guess we can fix you up."
The two aviators had been in Paris before and they knew their way about, as well as being able to speak the language fairly well. Soon, with their new friends from overseas, they were seated in a quiet restaurant, where substantial food could be had in spite of war prices. And then it was give and take, question and answer, until a group of Parisians that had gathered about turned away shaking their heads at their inability to understand the strange talk. But they were well aware of the spirit of it all, and more than one silently blessed the Americans as among the saviors of France.
The wonderful city seemed filled with soldiers of all the Allied nations, and most conspicuous, because of recent events, were the khaki-clad boys who were soon to fight under Pershing. Having seen that the little contingent they had taken under their protection got what they wanted, Tom and Jack, bidding them farewell, but promising to see them again soon, went to their hotel.
And, their baggage arriving, Jack proceeded to get ready for a bath and a general furbishing. He seemed very particular.
"Going out?" asked Tom.
"Why—er—yes. Thought I'd go to call on Bessie Gleason. This is her night off duty—hers and her mother's."
"How do you know?"
"Well—er—she said so. Want to come?"
"Nixy. Two's company and you know what three is."
"Oh, come on! Mrs. Gleason will be glad to see you."
"Well, I suppose I might," assented Tom, who, truth to tell, did not relish spending the evening alone.
Bessie and her mother had, of late, been assigned as Red Cross workers to a hospital in the environs of Paris, and ant times they could come into the city for a rest. They maintained a modest apartment not far from the hotel where Tom and Jack had put up, and soon the two lads found themselves at the place where their friends lived.
"Oh, I'm so glad you both came!" exclaimed Bessie as she greeted them. "We have company and—"
"Company!" exclaimed Jack, drawing back.
"Yes, the dearest, most delightful girl you ever—"
"Girl!" exclaimed Tom.
"Yes. But come on in and meet her. I'm sure you'll both fall in love with her."
Jack was on the point of saying something, but thought better of it, and a moment later, to the great surprise of himself and Torn, they were facing Nellie Leroy.
CHAPTER VII. THE AMERICAN FRONT
Tom and Jack bowed. In fact, so great was their surprise at first that this was all they could do. Then they stared first at Bessie and then at the other girl—the sister of Harry, their chum, who was somewhere, dead or alive, behind the German lines.
"Well, aren't you glad to see her?" demanded Bessie. "I thought I'd surprise you."
"You have," said Jack. "Very much!"
"Glad to see her—why—of course. But—but—how—"
Tom found himself stuttering and stammering, so he stopped, and stared so hard at Nellie Leroy that she smiled, though rather sadly, for it was plain to be seen her grief over the possible death of her brother weighed down on her. And then she went on:
"Well, I'm real—I'm not a dream, Mr. Raymond."
"So I see—I mean I'm glad to see it—I mean—oh, I don't know what I do mean!" he finished desperately. "Did you know she was going to be here? Was that the reason you asked me to come?" he inquired of Jack.
"Hadn't the least notion in the world," answered Jack. "I'm as much surprised as you are."
"Well, we'll take pity on you and tell you all about it," said Bessie. "Mother, here are the boys," she called; and Mrs. Gleason, who had suffered so much since having been saved from the Lusitania and afterward rescued by air craft from the lonely castle, came out of her room to greet the boys.
They were as glad to see her as she was to meet them again, and for a time there was an interchange of talk. Then Mrs. Gleason withdrew to leave the young people to themselves.
"Well, go on, tell us all about it!" begged Tom, who could not take his eyes off Nellie Leroy. "How did she get here?" and he indicated Harry's sister.
"He talks of me as though I were some specimen!" laughed the girl. "But go on—tell him, Bessie."
"Well, it isn't much of a story," said Bessie Gleason. "Nellie started to do Red Cross work, as mother and I are doing, and she was assigned to the hospital where we were."
"This was after I heard the terrible news about poor Harry at your escadrille," Nellie broke in, to say to Tom and Jack. "I—I suppose you haven't had any—word?" she faltered.
"Not yet," Jack answered. "But we may get it any day now—or they may, back there," and he nodded to indicate the air headquarters he and Tom had left. "You know we're going to be under Pershing soon," he added.
"So you wrote me," said Bessie. "I'm glad, though it's all in the same good cause. Well, as I was saying, Nellie came to our hospital-I call it ours though I have such a small part in it," she interjected. "She was introduced to us as an American, and of course we made friends at once."
"No one could help making friends with Bessie and her mother!" exclaimed Nellie.
"Don't flatter us too much," warned Bessie. "Now please don't interrupt any more. As I say, Nellie came to us to do her share in helping care for the wounded, and, as mother and I found she had settled on no regular place in Paris, we asked her to share our rooms. Then we got to talking, and of course I found she had met you two boys in her search for her brother. After that we were better friends than ever."
"Glad to know it," said Tom. "There's nothing like having friends. I hadn't any notion that I'd meet any when I started out with him tonight," and he motioned to Jack.
"Well, I like that!" cried Bessie in feigned indignation. "I like to know how you class my mother and me?" and she looked at Tom.
"Oh,—er—well, of course—you and your mother, and Jack. But he and you—"
"Better swim out before you get into deep water," advised Jack quickly, and he nudged Tom with his foot.
Then the boys had to tell about their final experiences before leaving the Lafayette Escadrille with which many trying, as well as many happy, hours were associated, and the girls told of their adventures, which were not altogether tame.
Since Mrs. Gleason had been freed from the plotting of the spy, Potzfeldt, she had lived a happy life—that is as happy as one could amid the scenes of war and its attendant horrors. She and Bessie were throwing themselves heart and soul into the immortal work of the Red Cross, and now Nellie bad joined them.
"It's the only way I can stop thinking about poor Harry," she said with a sigh. "Oh, if I could only hear some good news about him, that I might send it to the folks at home. Do you think it will ever come—the good news, I mean?" she asked wistfully of Tom.
"All we can do is to hope," he said. He knew better than to buoy up false hopes, for he had seen too much of the terrible side of war. In his heart he knew that there was but little chance for Harry Leroy, after the latter's aeroplane had been shot down behind the German lines. Yet there was that one, slender hope to which all of us cling when it seems that everything else is lost.
"He may be a prisoner, and, in that case, there is a chance," said Tom, while Jack and Bessie were conversing on the other side of the room.
"You mean a chance to escape?"
"Hardly that, though it has been done. A few aviators have got away from German prison camps. But it's only one chance in many thousand. No, what I meant was that—well, it's too small and slim a chance to talk about, I'm afraid."
"Oh, no!" she hastened to assure him. "Do tell me! No chance is too small. What do you mean?"
"Well, sometimes rescues have been made," went on Tom. "They are even more rare than escapes, but they have been done. I was thinking that perhaps after Jack and I get in with Pershing's boys we might be in some big raid on the Hun lines, and then, if we could get any information as to your brother's whereabouts, we might plan to rescue him."
"Oh, do you think you could?"
"I certainly can and will try!" exclaimed Tom, earnestly.
"Oh, will you? Oh, I can't thank you enough!" and she clasped his hand in both hers and Tom blushed deeply.
"Please don't count too much on it," Tom warned Nellie. "It's a desperate chance at best, but it's the only one I can see that we can take. First of all, though, we've got to get some word as to where Harry is."
"How can you do that?"
"Some of the Hun airmen are almost human, that is compared to the other Boche fighters. They may drop a cap of Harry's or a glove, or something," and Tom told of the practice in such cases.
"Oh, if they only will!" sighed Nellie. "But it is almost too much to hope."
And so they talked until late in the evening, when the time came for Nellie, Bessie and her mother to report back for their Red Cross work. The boys returned to their hotel, promising to write often and to see their friends at the next opportunity.
"I won't forget!" said Tom, on parting from Nellie.
"Forget what?" asked Jack, as they were going down the street together.
"I'm going to do my best to rescue her brother," said Tom, in a low voice.
"Good! I'm with you!" declared Jack.
The stay of the two boys in Paris was all too short, but they were anxious to get back to their work. They wanted to be fighting under their own flag. Not that they had not been doing all they could for liberty, but it was different, being with their own countrymen. And so, when their leaves of absence were up, they took the train that was to drop them at the place assigned, where the newly arrived Americans were beginning their training.
"The American front!" cried Tom, as he and Jack reached the headquarters of General Pershing and his associate officers. "The American front at last!"
"And it's the happiest day of my life that I can fight on it!" cried Jack.
CHAPTER VIII. A BATTLE IN THE AIR
Strictly speaking there was at that time no American front. That did not come until later, for the American soldiers, as was proper, were brigaded with the French and British, to enable our troops, who were unused to European war conditions, to become acquainted with the needful measures to meet and overcome the brutality of the Huns.
But even with this brigading of the United States' troops with the seasoned veterans, which, in plain language, meant a mingling of the two forces, there was much that was strictly American among the new arrivals.
Not only were the khaki-clad soldiers real Americans to the backbone, but their equipment and the supplies that had come over with them in the transports were such as might be seen at any army camp in this country, as distinguished from a French or a British camp.
"Well, the boys are here all right," remarked Jack, as he and Tom made their way toward the headquarters at which they were to report.
"Yes, and it makes me feel good to see them!" said Tom. "This is the beginning of the end of Kaiserism, if I'm any judge."
"Oh, it isn't going to be so easy as all that," returned Jack. "We'll see some hard fighting. Germany isn't licked yet by any means; but those, are the boys that can bring the thing to a finish," and he pointed to a company of the lean, stem, brown figures that were swinging along with characteristic stride.
The place at which Tom and Jack had been ordered to report was an interior city of France, not far from the port at which the first transport from America had arrived. A first glance at the scenes on every hand would have given a person not familiar with war a belief that hopeless confusion existed. Wagons, carts, mule teams and motor trucks-"lorries," the English call them—were dashing to and fro. Men were marching, countermarching, unloading some vehicles, loading others. Soldiers were being marched into the interior to be billeted, others were being directed to their respective French or English units. Officers were shouting commands, and privates were carrying them out to the best of their ability.
But though it all seemed chaos, out of it order was coming. There was a system, though a civilian would not have understood it.
"Well, let's find out where we're at," suggested Torn, to his chum.
"Right O, my pickled grapefruit!" agreed Jack with a laugh. "Let's get into the game."
They were about to ask their direction from a non-commissioned officer who was directing a squad of men in the unloading of a truck which seemed filled with canned goods, when some one said:
"There goes Black Jack now!"
The two air service boys looked, and saw, passing along not far away, a tall man, faultlessly attired, who looked "every inch a soldier," and whose square jaw was indicative of his fighting qualities, if the rest of his face had not been.
"Is that General Pershing?" asked Tom, in a low voice of the non-commissioned officer.
"That's who he is, buddy," was the smiling answer. "The best man in the world for the job, too. Come on there now, you with the red hair. This isn't a croquet game. Lay into those cases, and get 'em off some time before New Year's. We want to have our Christmas dinner in Berlin, remember!"
"So that's Pershing," commented Jack, as he looked at the American commander, who, with his staff officers, was on a trip of inspection. "Well, he suits me all right!"
"The next thing for us to do is to find out if we suit him," remarked Tom. "Wonder if he knows we're here?"
"I don't even believe he knows we're alive!" exclaimed Jack, for the moment taking Tom's joke quite seriously.
As General Pershing passed on, receiving and returning many salutes, Tom and Jack made their inquiries, learned where they were to report, and went on their way, longing for the time when they could get into action with the American troops.
"Oh, so you're the two aviators from the Lafayette Escadrille," commented the commanding officer, or the C.O., of the newly formed American squadron, as Tom and Jack, drawing themselves up as straight as they could, saluted when he looked over their papers and their log books. These last are the personal records of aviators in which they note the details of each flight made. They are official documents, but when a birdman is honorably discharged he may take his log book with him.
"We were told to report to you, sir," said Tom.
"Yes. And I'm glad to see you. We're going to establish a purely American air force, but as yet it is in its infancy. I need some experienced fliers, and I'm glad you're going to be with us. Of course I have a number who have made good records over there," and he nodded to indicate the United States, "But they haven't been under fire yet, and I understand you have."
"Some," admitted Jack, modestly enough.
"Good! Well, I'm to have some more of our own boys, who are to be transferred from the French forces, and some from the Royal Flying Corps, so with that as a start I guess we can build up an air service that will make Fritz step lively. But we've got to go slow. One thing I'm sorry for is that we haven't, as yet, any American planes. We'll have to depend on the French and English for them, as we have to, at first, for our artillery and shells."
"We can fly French or British planes," remarked Tom.
And, as my old readers know, the air service boys had had experience with a number of different models.
"We can fly a Gotha if we have to," said Jack. "One came down back of our lines last month, and we patched it up and flew it for practice."
"I hope you can get some more of that practice," said the commanding officer with a smile.
"But, now that you're here, I'll swear you in and see what the orders are regarding you. I'm afraid there won't be much fighting for you at first—that is strictly as Americans. I understand our air front, if I may use that term, will have to grow out of a nucleus of French and English fighters."
"That's all right, as long as we get the right start," commented Tom.
It was necessary to swear the boys into the service of the United States, even though they were natives of it; since, on entering the Lafayette Escadrille, they had been obliged to swear allegiance to France. But this was a matter of routine where the Allies were concerned, and soon Tom and Jack were back again where they longed to be—enrolled among the distinctive fighters of their own country.
They were assigned to barracks, and found themselves among some other airmen, many of whom were student fliers from the various aviation camps of the United States. Few of these youths had had much practice, though some had been to the Canadian schools. And none of them had, as yet, fought an enemy in the air.
To aid and instruct them, however, were such fighters as Tom and Jack, and some even more experienced from the French, Italian and British camps, who had been detailed to help out the United States in the emergency.
The next few weeks was an instruction and reconstruction period, with Tom and Jack often filling the roles of teachers. They found their pupils apt, eager and willing, however, and among them they discovered some excellent material. As the commanding officer of the new American air forces had said, the planes used were all of English or French make. It was too early in the war for America to have sent any over equipped with the Liberty motor, though production was under way.
After this period had passed, Tom and Jack, with a squadron of other birdmen were sent to a certain section of the front held largely by American troops, supported by veteran French and British regiments.
It was the first wholly American aircraft camp established since the beginning of the World War, and it was not even yet as wholly American as it was destined to be later, for the aviators were, as regards veterans, largely French and English. Torn and Jack were, in point of service, the ranking American fliers for a time.
There had been several sharp engagements across No Man's Land between the mingled French, British and French forces and the Huns, and honors were on the side of the former. There had been one or two combats in the air, in which Tom and Jack had taken part, when one day word came from an observation balloon on the American side that a flock of German aircraft was on the way from a camp located a few miles within the Boche lines.
There was a harried consultation of the officers, and then orders were given for a half score of the Allied machines to get ready. Two veteran French aces were to be in command, with Tom and Jack as helpers, and some of the American aviators were to go into the battle of the air for the first time.
"The Huns are evidently going to try to bomb some of our ammunition dumps behind our lines,"' said one officer, speaking to Tom. "It's up to you boys to drive 'em back."
"We'll try, sir," was the answer. "We owe the Huns something we haven't been able to pay off as yet."
Tom referred to the loss of Harry Leroy. So far no word had been received from him, either directly or through the German aviators, as to whether he was dead or a prisoner. Letters had passed between Bessie and Nellie and Jack and Tom, and the sister of the missing youth begged for news.
But there was none to give her.
"Unless we get some to-day," observed Tom as he and his chum hurried toward the hangars where their machines were being made ready for them.
"Get news to-day? What makes you think we shall?" asked Jack.
"Well, we might bring down a Fritzie or two who'd know something about poor Harry," was the answer. "You never can tell."
"No, that's so," agreed Jack. "Well, here's hoping we'll have luck."
By this time there was great excitement in the American aviation headquarters. Word of the oncoming Hun planes had spread, and not a flier of Pershing's forces but was eager to get into his plane and go aloft to give battle. But only the best were selected, and if there were heart-burnings of disappointment it could not be helped.
Two classes of planes were to be used, the single seaters for the aces, who fought alone, and the double craft, each one of which carried a pilot and an observer. In the latter cases the observers were the new men, who had yet to receive their baptism of fire above the clouds.
Tom and Jack were each detailed to take up one of the new men, and the air service boys were glad to find that, assigned to each of them, was the very man he would have picked had he had his choice. They were eager, intrepid lads, anxious to do their share in the great adventure.
Quickly the machines were made ready, and quickly the fighters climbed into them. The roar of the motors was heard all over the aerodrome, and soon the machines began to mount. Up and up they climbed, and none too soon, for on reaching elevations averaging ten thousand feet, there was seen, over the German lines, a flock of the Hun planes led by two or three machines painted a bright red. These were some of the machines that had belonged to the celebrated "flying circus," organized by a daring Hun aviator and ace who was killed after he had inflicted great damage and loss on the Allied service. He and his men had their machines painted red, perhaps on the theory that they would thus inspire terror. These were some of the former members of the "circus," it was evident.
"It's going to be a real fight!" cried Tom, as he headed his machine toward one of the red craft. Whether the green man Tom was taking up relished this or not, knowing, as he must, the reputation of these red aviators, Tom did not stop to consider.
Then, as the two hostile air fleets approached, there began a battle of the clouds—a conflict destined to end fatally for more than one aviator.
CHAPTER IX. THE FALLING GLOVE
Numerically the Hun planes, were superior to the American fleet of airships that quickly rose to oppose them. That probably accounted for fact that the Germans did not turn tail and scurry back beyond the protection of their own anti-aircraft guns and batteries. For it was seldom, if ever, they went into a fight when the odds were against them.
On came the Fokkers and Gothas, the black iron crosses painted on the wings of the machines standing out in bold relief in the clear air. The sun glinted on the red craft which were in the lead, and besides Tom, who headed for one of these, a French ace darted down from a height to engage the red planes.
"See if you can plug him when I put you near enough!" cried Tom to his observer, who had the reputation of being a good shot with the Lewis gun. Practice with the machine weapons in aeroplanes had been going on, for some time among the new American aviators. "Let him have a good dose!" cried Tom. "If you miss him, then I'll try!"
Of course Tom had to shut off the engine when he said this, as no voice could have been heard above the roaring of the powerful motor. But when he had given his companion these instructions and had ascertained, by a glance over his shoulder, that the lad understood for he nodded his head, Tom again turned on the gasoline, and the propeller, that had been revolving by momentum and because of the pressure of air against it, took up its speed again.
Straight for the red machine rushed Tom, and a quick glance told him that his companion was ready with the gun. The weapon to be worked by the latter was mounted so that it could be aimed independently of the aeroplane. Tom also had a gun in front of him, but it was fixed and could be aimed only by pointing the whole craft. Once this was done Tom could operate the weapon with one hand, steering with the other, and, at times, with his feet and knees.
There came several sharp pops near Tom's head, and he knew these were machine bullets from the Hun aviator's gun, breaking through the tightly stretched linen fabric of the wings of his own plane.
"Let him have it before he plugs us!" cried Tom to his companion, though of course the latter could not hear a word. An instant later Tom heard the Lewis gun behind him firing, and he saw several tracer bullets strike the Hun machine. But they were not near the aviator himself, and did no material damage.
"Guess he's too nervous to shoot straight," reasoned Tom. "I'll have to try my own gun," he decided.
Tom noticed that the Hun was climbing up, trying to get into a position above the American plane, which is always an advantage. And the air service boy knew he must not let this happen. Quickly he shifted the rudder and began to climb himself. But he was at a disadvantage as his machine carried double, while the red plane had only one man in it, an ace beyond a doubt.
"I've got to get him now or never!" thought Tom. Once more he shifted his direction, and then, as he had his gun aimed just where he wanted it, he pressed the lever and a burst of bullets shot out and fairly riddled the red plane. It seemed to stop for an instant in the air, and then, quivering, turned and went down in a nose dive, spinning around.
"No fake about that!" mused Tom, as he leaned over and looked down from the height. "He's done for!"
And so, the Hun was, for he crashed to the ground behind the American lines. The incident did not affect Tom Raymond greatly. It was not his first killing. But when he, glanced back toward his companion, he saw that the other was shrinking back as if in horror.
"He'll get over that soon enough. All he has to do is to think of what the Huns have done—crucifying men and babies—to make his heart hard," thought Tom.
Whether his companion did this or not, did not disclose itself, but the fact remains that when Tom flew off to engage another Hun machine the lad back of him rose to the occasion and shot so well that Fritz veered off and flew back over his own lines, wounded and with his craft barely able to fly.
Not all the American machines fared as well as this, however. Jack was in poor luck. The first burst of bullets from the German he engaged punctured his gasoline tank, and he was obliged to coast back to his own aerodrome to get another machine, if possible. He was also hit once in the leg, the wound being painful though not dangerous. He received first aid treatment and wanted to get back into the fight, but this was not allowed, and he had to watch the battle from the ground.