THE BRIGHTON BOYS WITH THE FLYING CORPS
by Lieutenant James R. Driscoll
CHAPTERS I. The Brighton Flying Squadron II. First Steps III. In the Air IV. Off for the Front V. Jimmy Hill Startles the Veterans VI. The Fight in the Air VII. Parker's Story VIII. Thrills of the Upper Reaches IX. In the Enemy's Country X. Planning the Escape XI. Through the Lines XII. Pluck and Luck XIII. The Raid on Essen XIV. A Furious Battle
THE BRIGHTON FLYING SQUADRON
"The war will be won in the air."
The headlines in big black type stared at Jimmy Hill as he stood beside the breakfast table and looked down at the morning paper, which lay awaiting his father's coming.
The boys of the Brighton Academy, among whom Jimmy was an acknowledged leader, had been keenly interested in the war long before the United States joined hands with the Allies in the struggle to save small nations from powerful large ones—-the fight to ensure freedom and liberty for all the people of the earth.
A dark, lithe, serious young French lad, Louis Deschamps, whose mother had brought him from France to America in 1914, and whose father was a colonel of French Zouaves in the fighting line on the Western Front, was a student at the Academy. Interest in him ran high and with it ran as deep an interest in the ebbing and flowing fortunes of France. The few letters Mrs. Deschamps received from Louis' soldier father had been retailed by the proud boy to his fellows in the school until they knew them by heart.
Bob Haines' father, too, had helped fan the war-fire in the hearts of the boys. Bob was a real favorite with every one. He captained the baseball team, and could pitch an incurve and a swift drop ball that made him a demi-god to those who had vainly tried to hit his twisters. Bob's father was a United States Senator, who, after the sinking of the Liusitania, was all for war with Germany. America, in his eyes, was mad to let time run on until she should be dragged into the world-conflict without spending every effort in a national getting-ready for the inevitable day. Senator Haines' speeches were matter-of-fact——just plain hammering of plain truths in plain English. Many of his utterances in the Senate were quoted in the local papers, and Bob's schoolmates read them with enthusiasm when they were not too long.
Then, too, a number of the Brighton boys had already entered the service of Uncle Sam. Several were already at the front and had written thrilling letters of their experiences in the trenches, at close grip with the Boches. Still more thrilling accounts had come from some of their former classmates who were in the American submarine service. Other Brighton boys who had gone out from their alma mater to fight the good fight for democracy had helped to fan the flame of patriotism.
So the school gradually became filled with thoughts of war, and almost every boy from fourteen years of age upward planned in his heart of hearts to one day get into the fray in some manner if some longed-for opportunity ever presented itself.
Jimmy Hill—-who was fortunate in that his home was within walking distance of the Academy—-commenced his breakfast in silence. Mr. Hill read his paper and Mrs. Hill read her letters as they proceeded leisurely with the morning meal. The porridge and cream and then two eggs and a good-sized piece of ham disappeared before Jimmy's appetite was appeased, for he was a growing boy, who played hard when he was not hard at some task. Jimmy was not large for his age, and his rather slight figure disguised a wiriness that an antagonist of his size would have found extraordinary. His hair was red and his face showed a mass of freckles winter and summer. Jimmy was a bright, quick boy, always well up in his studies and popular with his teachers. At home Jimmy's parents thought him quite a normal boy, with an unusually large fund of questions ever at the back of his nimble tongue.
Breakfast went slowly for Jimmy that morning when once he had finished and sat waiting for his parents. Mr. Hill was scanning the back page of the paper in deep concentration. Again the big black letters stared out at Jimmy. "The war will be won in the air." Jimmy knew well enough what that meant, or at least he had a very fair idea of its meaning. But he had sat still and quiet for a long time, it seemed to him. Finally his patience snapped.
"Father," he queried, "how will the war be won in the air?"
"It won't," was his father's abrupt reply. Silence again reigned, and Mrs. Hill glanced at her boy and smiled. Encouraged, Jimmy returned to the charge.
"Then why does the paper say it will?"
"For want of something else to say," replied Mr. Hill. "The airships and flying machines will play their part, of course, and it will be a big part, too. The real winning of the war must be done on the ground, however, after all. One thing this war has shown very clearly. No one arm is all-powerful or all necessary in itself alone. Every branch of the service of war must co-operate with another, if not with all the others. It is a regular business, this war game. I have read enough to see that. It is team-work that counts most in the big movements, and I expect that it is team-work that counts most all the way through, in the detailed work as well."
Team-work! That had a familiar ring to Jimmy. Team-work was what the football coach had forever pumped into his young pupils. Team-work! Yes, Jimmy knew what that meant.
"I can give you a bit of news, Jimmy," added Mr. Hill. "If you are so interested in the war in the air you will be glad to hear that the old Frisbie place a few miles out west of the town is to be turned into an airdrome—-a place where the flying men are to be taught to fly. I expect before the war is over we will be so accustomed to seeing aircraft above us that we will not take the trouble to look upward to see one when it passes."
Jimmy's heart gave a great leap, and then seemed to stand still. Only once, at the State Fair, had he seen a man fly. It had so touched his imagination that the boy had scoured the papers and books in the public library ever since for something fresh to read on the subject of aviation. As a result Jimmy had quite a workable knowledge of what an aeroplane really was and the sort of work the flying men were called upon to do at the front.
The Brighton boys were all keen on flying. What boys are not? Their interest had been stimulated particularly, however, by the news, the year before, that Harry Corwin's big brother Will, an old Brighton boy of years past, had gone to France with the American flying squadron attached to the French Army in the field. True, Will was only a novice and the latest news of him from France told that he had not as yet actually flown a machine over the German lines, but he was a tangible something in which the interest of the schoolboys could center.
An airdrome near the town! What wonders would be worked under his very eyes, thought Jimmy. Flying was a thing that no one could hide behind a tall fence. Besides, there were no high fences around the Frisbie place. Well Jimmy knew it. Its broad acres and wide open spaces were well known to every boy at Brighton Academy, for within its boundaries was the finest hill for coasting that could be found for miles. In winter-time, when the hillsides were deep with snow, Frisbie's slope saw some of the merriest coasting parties that ever felt the exhilaration of the sudden dash downward as the bright runners skimmed the hard, frosty surface. The long, level expanse of meadow that had to be crossed before the hill was reached from the Frisbie mansion would be an ideal place for an airdrome. Even Jimmy knew enough about airdromes to recognize that. He waited a moment at the table to take in fully the momentous fact that their own little town was to be a center of activity with regard to aviation.
Then he dashed out to spread the news among his schoolfellows. His particular chums were, like himself, boys whose homes were in the town. Shut out from the dormitory life, they had grouped themselves together, in no spirit of exclusiveness, but merely as good fellows who, although they appreciated the love and kindness of the home folks, yet felt that they wanted to have as much of the spirit of dear old Brighton outside the Academy as inside.
Jimmy caught sight of Archie Fox—-another of the out-boarding squad of Brighton boys, and a special friend of Jimmy's—-hurrying to the Academy.
"Great news for you, Arch!" shouted Jimmy as he joined his chum.
"Shoot!" directed Archie.
And Jimmy told the great news to the astonished and delighted boy.
"Gosh whillikens!" yelled Archie. "A real live hangar in staid old Brighton! Can you beat it? My vote says the 'buddies' should get together and become fliers. Eh, what? The Brighton Escadrille! Oh, boy!"
Further down the street Dicky Mann and Joe Little, both in Jimmy's class at the Academy, and then Henry Benson, known to all and sundry as "Fat" Benson from his unusual size, joined the boys and heard for the first time the stirring news.
It was truly an exciting morning at the Academy. The tidings of great things in store at no far distant future spread like wildfire. Of all the boys, only two of those who lived in the town, Jimmy Hill and Bob Haines, had heard of the project, and none of the regular boarders at the school had heard the slightest suggestion of it. Bob Haines lived with his uncle in the largest residence in the town. What Bob's uncle did not know of what was going on was little. Beside, Bob was the envied recipient of a letter now and again from his father, the senator, which frequently contained some real news of prospective happenings.
Bob held forth at length that memorable morning, and at noon time was still the center of an admiring group, who listened to his comments on all subjects with great respect and invariable attention. Bob was tall and well built; taller than any of the rest of his fellows except two or three. He had a way of standing with his head thrown back and his shoulders squared as he talked which gave him a commanding air. Few boys in the school ever thought of questioning his statements. But that day Bob was so carried away with his subject that he strayed from familiar ground.
"What sort of fellows are they going to train to fly?" asked Joe Little, a shy boy who rarely contributed to the conversation. Joe's mother was a widow who had lived but few years in the town, having moved there to give her only boy such education as he could obtain before her small income was exhausted. Joe was never loud or boisterous, and while he took his part in games and sports, he was ever the first one to start for his home. Being alone with his mother to such an extent, for they lived by themselves in a little cottage near the Academy grounds, Joe had aged beyond his boy friends in many ways. No sign did he ever show, however, of self-assertiveness. His part in discussions was seldom great, and usually consisted of a well-placed query that voiced what each boy present had thought of asking, but had been a moment too late.
Now Bob had no very clear idea just where the new flying material was to come from. A habit of rarely showing himself at a loss for an answer prompted him to reply: "From the men in the army."
"You're wrong, Bob," said Jimmy Hill. "Most of the flying men that will see actual service at the front will be boys like us. I have read a dozen times that it is a boy's game—-flying. Most of us are almost old enough. One article I read said that lots of boys of seventeen got into the flying corps in England. One writer said that he thought the fellows from eighteen to twenty were much the best fliers. If that is so, and it takes some time to train fliers, some of us might be flying in France before the end of the war."
Bob was frankly skeptical. "I see you flying, Jimmy!" was his comment. "You will have to grow some first.
"Wrong again," said Jimmy in all seriousness. "It's those of us that don't weigh a ton that are going to be the best sort for the flying business, and don't you forget it."
"Jimmy knows a lot about flying," volunteered Archie Fox. "He bones it up all the time."
"I don't pretend to know much about it, but I am going to know more before that airdrome gets started," said Jimmy.
"That's right," said Joe Little quietly. "It won't hurt any of us to get a bit wiser as to what an aeroplane really is nowadays. Where do you get the stuff to read, Jimmy?"
"Everywhere I can," answered Jimmy. "The weeklies and monthlies generally contain something on flying."
"My father can get us some good stuff," suggested Dicky Mann. Mr. Mann, senior, was the proprietor of the biggest store in the town; and while he did not exactly pretend to be a universal provider, he could produce most commodities if asked to do so. The store had a fairly extensive book and magazine department, so Dicky's offer to enlist the sympathies of his father promised to be of real use.
"I'll write to my brother Bill and get him to fire something over to us from France," said Harry Corwin. "There is no telling but what he can put us on to some wrinkles that the people who write things for the papers would never hear about."
"My aunt just wrote me a letter asking me what sort of a book I wanted for my birthday," put in Fat Benson. "I will write to-day and tell her I want a book that will teach me to fly."
This raised a storm of laughter, for Henry Benson's stout figure bid fair to develop still further along lines of considerable girth, and the very thought of Fat flying was highly humorous to his mates.
The little group broke up hurriedly as Bob looked at his watch and saw how time was slipping away.
"Back to the grind, fellows!" he cried. "We'll have another talk-fest later on."
That random conversation was one day to bear splendid fruit. The seeds had been sown which were to blossom into the keenest interest in the real, serious work of the mastery of the air. Live, sterling young fellows were in the Brighton Academy. Some of them had declared allegiance to the army, some to the navy, but now here was a stouthearted bunch of boys that had decided they would give themselves to the study of aeronautics, and lose no time about it.
The seven spent a thoughtful afternoon. It was hard indeed for any one of them to focus attention on his lessons. The newness of the idea had to wear off first. After class hours they met again and went off by themselves to a quiet spot on the cool, shady campus. Seated in a circle on the grass, they talked long and earnestly of ways and means for commencing their study of air-machines and airmen systematically.
"This," said Jimmy Hill with a sigh of pure satisfaction, "is team-work. My father said this morning that team-work counts most in this war. If our team-work is good we will get on all right."
Team-work it certainly proved to be. It was astonishing, as the days passed, how much of interest one or another of the seven could find that had to do with the subject of flying. They took one other boy into their counsels. Louis Deschamps was asked to join them and did so with alacrity, it seemed to lend an air of realism to their scheme to have the French boy in their number.
Dicky Mann's father had taken almost as great an interest in the idea as had Dicky himself, and Mr. Mann's contributions were of the utmost value.
Days and weeks passed, as school-days and school-weeks will. Looking back, we wonder sometimes how some of those interims of our waiting time were bridged. The routine work of study and play had to be gone through with in spite of the preoccupation attendant on the art of flying, as studied from prosaic print. It was a wonder, in fact, that the little group from the boys of the Brighton Academy did not tire of the researches in books and periodicals. They learned much. Many of the articles were mere repetitions of something they had read before. Some of them were obviously written without a scrap of technical knowledge of the subject, and a few were absolutely misleading or so overdrawn as to be worthless. The boys gradually came to judge these on their merits, which was in itself a big step forward.
The individual characteristics of the boys themselves began to show. Three of them were of a real mechanical bent. Jimmy Hill, Joe Little and Louis Deschamps were in a class by themselves when it came to the details of aeroplane engines. Joe Little led them all. One night he gave the boys an explanation of the relation of weight to horsepower in the internal-combustion engine. It was above the heads of some of his listeners. Fat Benson admitted as much in so many words.
"Where did you get all that, anyway?" asked Fat in open dismay.
"It's beyond me," admitted Dicky Mann.
"Who has been talking to you about internal combustion, anyway?" queried Bob Haines, whose technical knowledge was of no high order, but who hated to confess he was fogged.
"Well," said Joe quietly, "I got hold of that man Mullens that works for Swain's, the motor people. He worked in an aeroplane factory in France once, he says, for nearly a year. He does not know much about the actual planes themselves, but he knows a lot about the Gnome engine. He says he has invented an aeroplane engine that will lick them all when he gets it right. He is not hard to get going, but he won't stay on the point much. I have been at him half a dozen times altogether, but I wanted to get a few things quite clear in my head before I told you fellows."
The big airdrome that was to be placed on the Frisbie property gradually took a sort of being, though everything about it seemed to progress with maddening deliberation. Ground was broken for the buildings. Timber and lumber were delayed by Far Western strikes, but finally put in an appearance. A spur of railway line shot out to the site of the new flying grounds. Then barracks and huge hangars—-the latter to house the flying machines—-began to take form.
At first no effort was made to keep the public from the scene of the activity, but as time went on and things thereabouts took more tangible form, the new flying grounds were carefully fenced in, and a guard from the State National Guard was put on the gateways. So far only construction men and contractors had been in evidence. Such few actual army officers as were seen had to do with the preparation of the ground rather than with the Flying Corps itself. The closing of the grounds woke up the Brighton boys to the possibility of the fact that they might be shut out when flying really commenced. A council of war immediately ensued.
"A lot of good it will have done us to have watched the thing get this far if, when the machines and the flying men come, we can't get beyond the gates," said Harry Corwin.
"I don't see what is going to get us inside any quicker than any other fellows that want to see the flying," commented Archie Fox dolefully.
"What we have got to get is some excuse to be in the thing some way," declared Bob Haines. "If we could only think of some kind of job we could get inside there—-some sort of use we could be put to, it would be a start in the right direction."
Cudgel their brains as they would, they could not see how it was to be done, and they dispersed to think it over and meet on the morrow.
Help came from an unexpected source. After supper that night Harry Corwin happened to stay at home. Frequently he spent his evenings with some of the fellows at the Academy, but he had discovered a book which made some interesting comments on warping of aeroplane wings, and he stayed home to get the ideas through his head, so that he might pass them on to the other boys. Mr. and Mrs. Corwin and Harry's sister, his senior by a few years, were seated in the living room, each intent on their reading, when the bell rang and the maid soon thereafter ushered in a tall soldier, an officer in the American Army. The gold leaf on his shoulder proclaimed him a major, and the wings on his collar showed Harry, at least, that he was one of the Flying Corps.
The officer introduced himself as Major Phelps, and said he had promised Will Corwin, in France, that he would call on Will's folks when he came to supervise the new flying school at Brighton. Mr. Corwin greeted the major cordially, and after introducing Mrs. Corwin and Harry's sister Grace, presented Harry, with a remark that sent the blood flying to the boy's face.
"Here, Major," said Mr. Corwin, "is one of the Flying Squadron of the Brighton Academy."
The major was frankly puzzled. "Have you a school of flying here, then?" he asked as he took Harry's hand.
"Not yet, sir," said Harry with some embarrassment.
"That is not fair, father," said Grace Corwin, who saw that Harry was rather hurt at the joke. "The Brighton boys are very much interested in aviation, and some time ago seven or eight of them banded together and have studied the subject as hard and as thoroughly as they could. See this "—-and she reached for the book Harry had been reading—-"This is what they have been doing instead of something much less useful. There is not one of them who is not hoping one day to be a flyer at the front, and they have waited for the starting of flying at the new grounds with the greatest expectations. I don't think it is fair to make fun of them. If everyone in the country was as eager to do his duty in this war it would be a splendid thing."
Grace was a fine-looking girl, with a handsome, intelligent face. When she talked like that, she made a picture good to look upon. Harry was surprised. Usually his sister took but little account of his activities. But this was different. With her own brother Will fighting in France, and another girl's brother Will a doctor in the American Hospital at Neuilly, near Paris, Grace was heart and soul with the Allies. Harry might have done much in other lines without attracting her attention, but his keenness to become a flier at the front had appealed to her pride, and she felt deeply any attempt to belittle the spirit that animated the boys, however remote might be the possibility of their hopes being fulfilled.
Major Phelps listened to the enthusiastic, splendid, wholesome girl with frank admiration in his eyes. Harry could not have had a better champion. First the major took the book. Glancing at it, he raised his brows. "Do you understand this?" he asked.
"I think so, sir," answered Harry.
"It is well worth reading," said the major as he laid it down. Then he stepped toward Harry and took his hand again. "Your sister is perfectly right, if your father will not mind my saying so. I have been attached to the British Flying Corps in France for a time, and I saw mere boys there who were pastmasters of scout work in the air. The game is one that cannot be begun too young, one almost might say. At least, the younger a boy begins to take an interest in it and really study it, the better grasp he is likely to have of it. I am thoroughly in agreement with your sister that no one should discourage your studies of flying, and if I can do anything to help while I happen to be in this part of the world, please let me know. You look like your brother Will, and if you one day get to be the flier that he is, as there is no reason in the world you should not do, you will be worth having in any flying unit."
Harry was struck dumb for the moment. This was the first tangible evidence that the plans of the boys were really to bear fruit, after all. He stammered a sort of husky "Thank you," and was relieved to find that Major Phelps mention of Will had drawn the attention from everything else for the moment. The Corwins had to hear all about the older boy, whose letters contained little except the most interesting commonplaces.
The major, it is true, added but little detail of Will's doings, except to tell them that he was a full-fledged flying man and was doing his air work steadily and most satisfactorily. His quiet praise of Will brought a flush of pride to Grace's cheek, and the major wished he knew of more to tell her about her brother, as it was a pleasure to talk to so charming and attentive a listener.
At last he rose to take his departure, and the Corwins were loud in their demands that he should come and see them often. As the major stepped down from the piazza Harry grasped his courage in both hands and said:
"Major Phelps, may I ask you a question?"
"Certainly," said the major genially. "What is it?"
"Well, sir," began Harry, "we Brighton boys have been wondering how we can get inside the new airdrome. Summer vacation is coming, and we could all—-the eight of us, in our crowd—-arrange to stay here after the term closes. We want to be allowed inside the grounds, and to have a chance to learn something practical. We would do anything and everything we were told to do, sir."
"Hum," said the major. "Let me think. You boys can be mighty useful in lots of ways. I'll tell you what I will do. Find out whether or not your friends would care to get some sort of regular uniform and take on regular work and I will speak to the colonel about it when he comes. I think he will be here to-morrow or next day. Things are getting in shape, and we will be at work in earnest soon. The colonel is a very nice man, and when he hears that you boys are so eager to get into the game maybe he will not object to your being attached regularly to the airdrome for a while. You might find that the work was no more exciting than running errands or something like that. Are you all of pretty good size? There might be some useful things to do now and again that would take muscle."
"I am about the same size as most of the rest," replied Harry.
"You look as if you could do quite a lot," laughed the major, as he walked down the path, leaving behind him a boy who was nearer the seventh heaven of delight than he had ever been before.
Before the end of the week the colonel came. The boys had their plans cut and dried. Harry's sister Grace had taken an unusual interest in them, and had advised them wisely as to uniforms. Major Phelps seemed interested in them, too, in a way. At least, he called at the Corwin home more than once and talked to Grace about that and other things.
Colonel Marker was rather grizzled and of an almost forbidding appearance to the boys. They feared him whole-heartedly the moment they laid eyes on him. His voice was gruff and he had a habit of wrinkling his brows that had at times struck terror into older hearts than those of the Brighton boys. But he was a very kindly man, nevertheless, in spite of his bluff exterior.
Major Phelps told him about the eight lads, borrowing, perhaps, some of Grace Corwin's enthusiasm for the moment, and the colonel was favorably impressed from the start with what he called "a mighty fine spirit." He thumped his fist on the table at which he sat when the major told him of the boys and their hopes, and said explosively:
"Wish there were more like them in every town out here. We are too far from the actual scene of war. Some people who are a lot older and who should have a lot more realization of what we need and must have before this war is over might take a good lesson from such youngsters. I would like to see them."
That settled it. When the colonel took a thing up he adopted it absolutely. In a day or so he would be talking of the little band of Brighton boys as if the original project had been his from the very start. "Boy aviation corps? Why not. Good for them. Can find them plenty to do. When they get to the right size we can put 'em in the service. Why not? Good to start young. Of course it is. Splendid idea. Must be good stuff in 'em. Of course there is. Send 'em to me. Why not?"
Thus, before the boys were brought under the colonel's eye he had really talked himself into an acceptance of the major's idea. The morning he saw them, a little group of very eager and anxious faces—-bright, intelligent, fine faces they were, too—-he said without delay: "I have a use for you boys. I have thought of something for you to do. Get some sort of rig so I can tell you when I see you, and come to me again and I will set you at work."
Not long after, vacation time had come, and with it the new uniforms, in neat, unpretentious khaki. Garbed in their new feathers and "all their war paint," as Mr. Mann called it, they reported at the airdrome main gate just as the first big wooden crate came past on a giant truck. Inside that case, every boy of them knew, was the first flying machine to reach the new grounds. They felt it an omen.
A few minutes later they were in the austere presence of Colonel Marker, who was frankly pleased with their soldierly appearance and the quiet common-sense of their uniforms, which bore no fancy additions of any sort.
Grace Corwin had seen to that, though more than one furtive suggestion from one boy or another had to be overruled. Bob Haines thought the letters "B.B." on the shoulders would vastly help the effect. Crossed flags on the right sleeve would have suited Dicky Mann better. Fat Benson's voice was raised for brass buttons. Jimmy Hill's pretensions ran to a gilt aeroplane propellor for the front of each soft khaki hat. But Grace was firm. "No folderols," was her dictum. They were banded together for work, not for show. Let additions come as the fruit of service, if at all. And she had her way. Grace usually did.
"Glad to see you, boys. You will report to the sergeant-major, who will take a list of your names, assign you your duties, and arrange your hours of work. I am afraid there is no congressional grant from which to reward you for your services by a money payment, but if you do your work well, such as it is, I will keep an eye on you and see if I cannot put you in the way of learning as much as you can about the air service."
That was their beginning. They saluted, every one, turned smartly and filed out. Bob Haines, the tallest of the group and the acknowledged leader, was the only one to answer the colonel. Bob said, "Thank you, sir," as he saluted. They looked so strong and full of life and hope that the tears welled to the colonel's eyes as he watched them tramp out of his room. He had seen much war, had the colonel. "It's a shame that such lads will have to pay the great price, many of 'em," he sighed, "before the Hun is brought to his knees. But it's a fine thing to be a boy." The colonel rose stiffly and sighed. "I would give a lot to be in their shoes, with all the hardship and horror that may lie in front of them if this war keeps on long enough," he mused to himself. "It's a fine thing to be a boy."
Out went the eight Brighton boys to the sergeant-major, their work begun. They too felt it a fine thing to be boys, though their feeling was just unconscious, natural, effervescent—-the sparkle of the real wine of youth and health and clean, brave spirit.
A month after the Brighton boys had commenced their duties at the airdrome at the old Frisbie place, they would have been missed by more than one person about the camp if they had failed to put in an appearance some morning. It was astonishing to see how much routine work could pile up around the headquarters' offices.
The machines arrived in some numbers. One by one they were unpacked from their great crates and set up, then wheeled into their respective places in the broad hangars which had been built to house them.
The first one of the Brighton boys to settle himself into a regular billet was Fat Benson. He had been watching the uncrating of box of spare engine parts one afternoon when no specific job claimed him for the moment, and fell into conversation with the short, stocky sergeant who was to be the store keeper. The sergeant was tired and worried.
He had counted a consignment of sparking plugs twice and obtained a different total each time. Worse, neither of his totals tallied with the figures on the consignment sheet. He was fast losing his temper.
Fat was of most placid, unruffled temperament. He saw that trouble was toward, and was about to walk away and avoid proximity to the coming storm when he thought: "This may be a chance to help." He turned and said to the sergeant: "If you like, I will count those plugs for you while you sort out the spanners from the other crate."
"Good boy!" at once said the sergeant. "I have got to a point where those little red pasteboard boxes sort of run together, and I couldn't count them correctly to save my life. If you can make them come out to suit this consignment number they have sent with the plugs you will be a real help, I can tell you."
Henry set to work with a will, and not only checked the number of spark plugs, which he found to be correct, but at the sergeant's direction began placing them in neat piles on the shelf of the store-room that had been set aside for plugs of that type. He was in the middle of this task when who should come by but the sergeant-major!
"Hello!" exclaimed that worthy, who was nothing if not a martinet, "who told you to be puttering about here?"
Before Fat could answer, the stores sergeant spoke up. "This man is giving me a hand, and I need it," he said. "If you don't need him for something else to-day I wish you would let him stay with me. I am supposed to have a couple of soldiers detailed for this job, but I haven't seen anything of them yet. Why can't I have this man?"
Fat seemed to grow bigger than ever round the chest as he heard himself referred to as "this man." That was getting on, sure enough. More, he was mightily pleased that someone really wanted him.
"I guess you can have him if you want him," answered the sergeant-major. "Have you anything else to do to-day, Benson?"
"Not that I know about," was Fat's reply.
"Stay here, then, until the sergeant is through with you."
That night the stores sergeant suggested that Fat come to him next day. The stores were just starting, and the work of setting things in their proper places was far from uninteresting. The boy took a real delight in his new task; and when, three days later, the sergeant-major called into the stores on his way past and said to the stores sergeant, "Are you going to keep Benson here for good?" the stores sergeant replied without hesitation, "I sure am."
To have been among the stores from the time they were first unpacked, and to have assisted in the work of first placing them where they belonged, gave Fat a sort of sense of proprietorship. Stores still poured in every day or so. The two soldiers who were to help at last made their appearance, but neither of them seemed to particularly appeal to the stores sergeant, who was by that time depending more than he realized upon the quick intelligence and persistent application of his big-bodied boy assistant.
Fat's prime chance came at the end of the first fortnight, when the stores sergeant was kept in bed for a few days from unusually severe after-effects of vaccination. The pair of soldiers had not been in the new stores sufficiently long nor taken keen enough interest in them to be of much use except when working under direction. So the real storekeeper was Fat for the interim. The sergeant-major discovered the fact and reported it casually to Major Phelps, who spoke to the colonel about it. Both of these officers had their hands very full at that time, and both of them had felt the blessing of having the ever-ready and ever-willing Brighton boys always on tap, as it were, to run quick errands and be eyes and feet for anyone that required an extra pair of either.
It was a source of gratification to Colonel Marker that the boys were doing well; and that one of their number had worked his way into the organization of the camp unostentatiously, on his own merits, pleased the colonel immensely. He even went so far as to stop in the stores on his way to dinner and say a kindly word to Fat, whose coat buttons seemed ready to burst in consequence.
Thereupon Fat became a fixture in the stores, studying carefully everything that came through his hands, until at length he knew at a glance what each part or store might be, and whether it was in good condition or not when received.
The dark French boy, Louis Deschamps, was a general favorite. So much so, in fact that he could have had almost any job that it lay in the sergeant-major's power to offer him. One day Louis casually mentioned that he wished he could get nearer the engine work, and the sergeant-major at once decided the boy should have his wish.
No finer fellow on the grounds could be found than the big Scot, Macpherson, who was head engine hand of the first lot of mechanics to arrive at the airdrome. Macpherson talked little unless he was speaking to some prime favorite, when he became most voluble. The sergeant-major and Mac were cronies. Consequently it took little laying together of heads before the sergeant-major went before the colonel one day and asked if Louis Deschamps could be spared from headquarters to go and give Macpherson a hand as helper.
The colonel smiled. He knew what was in the wind. The Scot knew well where he could obtain helpers in plenty if he needed them. But Colonel Marker was as ready to help the Brighton boys as was the sergeant-major, so he smilingly acquiesced, and the next morning Louis came to camp attired in a suit of blue dungarees over his khaki.
In ten days' time Macpherson had taken the French lad to his heart, and was never so happy as when working away with him over a refractory engine and chatting along in a seemingly never-ending stream of engine small-talk. All of which was meat and drink to Louis, and was rapidly acquainting him with much that it would otherwise have taken him years of experience to acquire.
Joe Little and Jimmy Hill had a council of war with Louis Deschamps one night. These three were fast growing to be closer than brothers. What one of them had he was anxious the other two should share at once.
"I think I can see my way to get you fellows working in the hangars," Louis said.
"Mac will help us. I never saw such a good friend. I told him you fellows were anxious to get closer to the planes and he is turning it over in his mind. He will have a scheme soon, and when he does, it will go through all right."
Macpherson had a scheme, but just how and when to try to put it into operation was the question. He had a talk with Parks, the head instructor, one afternoon, and told Parks about the Brighton boys and their keenness to learn more about flying.
"You could do with those kids," said Mac "They are really too big by now to be called kids, as a matter of fact. Why, they will be flying soon themselves. Why don't you ask the major if you can't have two of them down here to help clean and tune up the school machines? It is a bit irregular, but so is their being here at all. I don't see why, if the Old Man can use them around the offices, we can't have a couple of them here. I have had the young Frenchman here with me now for some time, and he is worth a lot to me. He says two others, one named Hill and the other Little, want to get down to the hangars. Be a good chap and ask the major about it."
Parks did. The major was very busy at the time, and said, "I guess so," and let the matter go at that. Parks passed that laconic permission on to the sergeant-major, and the two boys reported to Parks forthwith.
That left Bob Haines, Harry Corwin, Archie Fox and Dicky Mann at headquarters to be generally useful. They had come to be on the best of terms with the sergeant-major, and when they pointed out to him that the three boys in the hangars were "having all the fun," he suggested that he so assign them to duty that but two of them would be "on" at the same time. Thus when Bob and Dicky Mann were standing ready for whatever might be required of them, Harry and Archie were free to spend their time in the hangars, where the sergeant-major could lay his hand on them in case of sudden calls.
Thus the summer was not far advanced before the Brighton boys were in the very thick of the flying game, not as onlookers, but as parts of the machine into which the various component parts of the camp and its numerous units were rapidly becoming merged.
If they had not tried to learn, the Brighton boys must have picked up some general information about aeroplanes and flying. With their special eagerness they were rapidly becoming well acquainted with most details of the work of the airmen. No casual word in their hearing fell on barren ground. When one of them mastered a new idea, he passed it on to the others.
None of the boys studied the machines themselves more devotedly than did Harry Corwin. Close application to many a dry volume bore good fruit. He felt he could set up a Farman type biplane by himself.
One morning Harry was standing beside a monoplane of the Bleriot type, which had come from somewhere as an old school machine, and had not been much in demand owing to the fact that no other monoplanes were in evidence at the camp, when an army airman, an entire stranger to Harry, came out of the hangar and glanced at the engine in evident preparation for a flight.
The airman was about to start the engine when Harry noticed that the elevator control wires were crossed. Whoever had attached them had done so mistakenly. Harry could hardly believe the evidence of his eyes, yet there it was, undeniable. Stepping forward, he said to the airman: "Excuse me, but your control wires are not right."
The flying man was little more than a novice, and sufficiently young to resent interference on the part of one obviously younger than himself. Besides, he had connected up those control wires himself. He glanced hurriedly at the terminals, and seeing that they were apparently secure, thought the boy beside him must be mistaken. He missed the crossed wires. He said to Harry, with just a suspicion of superciliousness, "Oh, she is quite O.K., thanks," and started his engine and sprang into his seat as the plane moved off across the meadow.
Harry stood watching the receding plane with something akin to consternation in his heart. Naturally shy, he did not think of pressing his opinion, but he knew trouble was in store for the young airman, though in just what form it would come he could not figure out. The monoplane had not gone far along the grass before the flier tried to raise it. As the machine did not answer properly to the elevator, he thought something must have stuck, and jerked the lever as if to free it. Afterwards the airman was not clear as to just what happened.
Harry could see the airman was trying some maneuver, and as he looked, the plane rose nose first from the ground, almost perpendicularly and then took an odd nose-dive head into the ground. The plane was not many feet from the earth when it dived, but was far enough up to come to the ground with a bad crash. Harry could see a dash of white spray in the sunlight as the gasoline splashed upward at the moment of the smash. The monoplane heeled over and the pilot went out of sight behind the wreckage. The graceful white tail stood high in air.
Running as fast as he could, Harry got to the scene of the accident before the airman had risen from the ground. The strap which had held him into his seat had burst, and he had suffered a nasty spill. Investigation showed, however, that he was but little the worse, save for the shock and the fright. He was as pale as a sheet. Harry helped him to his feet and assisted him to take stock of his injuries. By the time they had discovered that no bones were broken and the bruises the young fellow had sustained were quite superficial, Parks, the head instructor, dashed up in a motor car. As he leaped out beside the wrecked plane, there was a frown on his face. "Another smash?" he queried.
Harry learned later that the young airman had already smashed up two machines that week before demolishing the old monoplane.
"What was wrong this time?" Parks spoke sharply.
Without hesitation the young pilot answered: "I must have hitched the old girl up wrong, some way. This friend here," nodding toward Harry, "was good enough to tell me before I started that I had mussed things up before I got into her. I was a fool not to have listened to him, but," and he paused, smiling, "but he looked pretty young to be giving advice. I wish now I had listened to him."
Parks turned to Harry. "You knew where the trouble was?"
"The control wires were crossed," Harry answered simply.
"You noticed that, did you?" continued Parks. "When have you seen this type of plane before?"
"This one is the only one I have ever seen," was Harry's reply. "I have read up on this type, though, quite a bit. I had a book that contained an awful lot about this particular sort of machine, and I could almost put one together. It's easy enough to see crossed wires if your eye happens to light on them."
"Yes," said Parks. "It's easy enough if you have the right sort of an eye. That's the real question. You are one of those boys from Brighton Academy, are you not? Are you in the same bunch that Hill and Little came from? If you are, I guess I can use you in the way I am using them. Would you like to get some practical experience round the hangars? You youngsters seem to be under the chief's eye, from what I hear, and I understand he wants to see you all get a chance to push on."
"We all want to get into the hangars when we can be spared from our regular work," answered Harry. "There are four of us left, at the headquarters' offices, and whether or not they want us to stay there I don't know."
"Humph!" Parks had not great respect for anyone around an airdrome who was not intimately connected with the actual flying. "Lot of good you will be doing there. If they want to see you boys amount to something, why don't they let me have a chance to see what's in you? Fellows who know at a glance that elevator wires are crossed ought to be encouraged. That's my view." Parks left the subject and turned his attention to the bruised pilot, who came in for a curtain lecture. Harry Corwin busied himself with trying to ascertain the extent of the damage to the wrecked plane. As Parks finished talking to the pilot he stepped to Harry's side and asked: "What is left of her?"
"Plenty," said Harry. "She will need a new propellor and her running gear is crumpled up badly, but I doubt very much if the planes are damaged, and I don't see that the engine has suffered." Park's critical eye ran over the wreck and he nodded. Without further comment he jumped into his car. As it started away he said: "Don't bother with the old girl any further. I will send a gang out to tend to her. I will see if a chance won't come along soon to get you boys into better jobs, if you want them."
"Want them?" said Harry. "I should think we do."
But Parks was a very busy man, and as the work at the new air camp increased he found his hands so full that his promise to Harry was for the time being crowded out of his mind.
The four boys held at headquarters chafed a little, but were careful to keep the fact to themselves. Archie Fox felt it most keenly of all, for he was very fond of Jimmy Hill, and thought it hard fate indeed that took Jimmy away from him. Jimmy was learning rapidly. He had made friends with one of the instructor pilots, a little man named Reece, who spent much time tuning up and going over the school machines.
Reece was never idle, never quiet. An hour in which nothing had been done was to him an hour wasted. If he had nothing else to do he would go over work just completed and make sure it had been done well. In consequence, Reece had few accidents, and rarely suffered delays and waits while something was being "put right." Jimmy appreciated this quality in Reece, and saw its results.
By tuning his inclinations and point of view with that of the instructor, Jimmy got into very close touch with the little man, who was never tired of answering questions and making explanations. Reece had been for some years working for one or another of the crack international fliers who traveled in various parts of the world. He had no ambition to become a star himself, but knew most of the well-known airmen of two continents, and contained a store—-house of anecdotes about them and their doings.
Jimmy always walked or rode home with Archie when he could, and much of their time on Sundays was spent together. The colonel had from the first insisted that they should have the Sundays to themselves and they had got into the habit of going to church each Sunday morning in uniform, with the army men, who always turned out in some force. Sunday afternoons generally found them at the airdrome, and often they might be found at work, but they were considered free to do as they chose. These Sunday afternoons were of great value to Archie, for Jimmy Hill, whether working or not, never failed to give Archie a sort of resume of what he had picked up during the week.
One Thursday afternoon the colonel was making a round of the hangars. Archie was on duty with him, accompanying him as a sort of extra orderly, the soldier orderly having been sent to the town with a message.
As they passed down the front of the hangars the colonel turned to watch one of the pupils trying his first "solo," or flight by himself, not far away. "Handles her nicely," he said, half to himself. Then, turning to Archie, he added: "How would you like to be up there in that machine?"
To his surprise Archie looked very thoughtful and shook his head soberly before he replied: "I hardly know, sir."
"What!" said the colonel. "Have I found one of you Brighton boys that is not anxious to fly?"
"I am anxious enough to fly. It's the machine I was thinking about."
"What's the matter with the machine?"
"I don't know if anything is the matter with her, but that is the old biplane they call the 'bad bus.' She has given more than one man a spill, sir. Everything goes well with her for a while and then she plays a trick on someone. Last time I saw her cutup she side-slipped without any explanation for it. Some of us have got the idea that she has always got to be watched for sideslip. I would not mind going up in her after I had learned to fly, but she would not be my choice for my first solo."
"Bless my soul!" exclaimed Colonel Marker. "You talk as if you knew all about the different machines. You have never worked around them, have you?"
"Those of us that happen to be off duty at headquarters generally spend our spare time around the machines, and, of course, we hear the talk that goes on. I am sorry if I have said what I shouldn't, sir."
"Tut, tut!" from the colonel. "You have said nothing wrong. You may be quite right. I have known of machines that had bad habits, plenty of them. But if they let that lad take his solo in the machine it must be all right."
Ten minutes later Colonel Marker was at the back of a hangar inspecting a newly arrived scout machine of a much—-discussed type when he heard a shout from outside. A moment later a soldier came into the hangar and reported a bad smash. The colonel walked to the door. There across the meadow, was a wrecked airplane. Men were picking up the still form of the pilot beside it. Parks, seeing the colonel, pulled up in his runabout to take the colonel with him to the wreck.
"Looks bad, sir," said Parks. "They had orders not to let novices go up in that machine. I hope the boy is not badly hurt."
"Was it the 'bad bus' that smashed?" asked the colonel.
"Yes, sir. That is what some of the boys called her. She is not a really bad machine, but plays tricks."
"Did you see what she did this time?"
"Yes, sir. I was looking at her from the end hangar. I was some distance away, but I happened to have my eye on her as she crocked."
"Did she side-slip?"
"That is just what she did do." Parks glanced at Colonel Marker inquisitively. What was the colonel driving at?
"The reason I asked," said the colonel, "was on account of something one of those Brighton boys remarked to me not more than ten minutes before the smash. He said the 'bad bus'—-as he called it—-side-slipped at times unexpectedly. Those youngsters do pick things up, don't they?"
Just then they reached the scene of the accident, and both of them forgot the Brighton boys for the moment.
The machine was smashed badly and the young pilot had received a broken leg in addition to a nasty shaking.
"I think I will let that plane go," said Parks as he and the colonel drove toward the hangars. "I will just pile up the old thing and let her sit in a corner until I need her worse than I do now. She has played her last trick for a while. You were speaking of those Brighton boys, sir. What are you planning to do with them?"
"Make flyers of them some day."
"I have three of them in the hangars now. You have one at headquarters named Corwin that knows a bit for a lad. Why not let me have him?"
"The four I have at the offices are really valuable, but I suppose if they are to learn flying they had better be with you. Can you find something to do for the lot?"
"I guess so. If they are all as good as the three I have already I can do with them."
"Well, it's rather irregular, the whole business. But they began with us when we came here, and they are just the sort of stuff, as far as I can see, that we want in this game, so the sooner we push 'em along the better, I think."
Thus it was settled. The Brighton boys were one step further on their way to membership of an air squadron at the front, far off as the front seemed to them. With Fat Benson in the stores and the other seven boys in the hangars, they felt themselves truly part and parcel of the airdrome. This feeling of responsibility was aging them, too. Already they looked years older, every one of them, than they had looked on that day in the previous spring when they had decided to study aeronautics in concert.
IN THE AIR
Bob Haines was the first of the Brighton boys to go up in an aeroplane.
It was due to no planning on his part. It was not to please him that he was taken as a passenger. One of the pilots was trying a machine new to him and came down complaining of its lack of stability on the turns.
"Any little puff that catches her sudden makes her wiggle herself in a way I have never seen another plane do. I suppose these chasers have little habits of their own, but it would take my attention off what I was doing, to have her monkeying around that way. What do you think it is?"
The instructor addressed was unable to answer. "You have been up in her. You know more than I do about her."
"Perhaps a passenger would help her," suggested another pilot.
"I don't see how." The flier shook his head. "Anyway, I would like to see how she climbs with two up. From the little I tried her out, I think she is the fastest climber I have been in anywhere. Come up for a bit, John."
"Can't," said the pilot. "About ten minutes ago the major sent word he wanted to see me at once. If I don't get a move on I will catch it." He started off in a hurry.
"Come on, Fanshaw," said the pilot, turning to the instructor.
"Not me," was the reply. "I have a swat of work. There is ballast for you, though, over there by the shed." Bob Haines was the ballast indicated. He was putting the final touches on an aeroplane propellor to which he had administered a coat of varnish.
"What lot?" queried the pilot.
"Bunch of young fellows from about here. Sort of volunteers. Idea of the colonel's, I think. Nice lot of boys. Young, but getting on fast. I have seen one of them, a French boy, quite a bit lately, and if they are all as good at locating engine trouble as he is they will go far in this game before they are old men. Ask the tall youngster. He will be tickled to death. I don't suppose he has been up before, but he will be a good passenger. Be careful and don't scare him. Don't try any stunts. Shall I sing out to him?"
"I guess so. I don't much care who it is so long as he weighs up to average, and that fellow looks pretty husky."
"Here, young fellow! You are needed here for a minute," called out Fanshaw.
Bob trotted over to the plane at once.
"What were you at?" asked the instructor.
"Varnishing," replied Bob. "Just finished."
"This is Lieutenant Fauver. He is trying this new chaser. She is the finest thing we have seen here, and he wants to give her a spin with a passenger up. Hop in if you like."
The pilot smiled and shook Bob's hand, then added another invitation. It was hardly necessary. Bob was overjoyed. Often the boys had discussed going up, but a fair frequency of minor accidents made the officers at the camp chary about any unnecessary risks. Consequently, the Brighton boys had decided that their best plan was to say nothing about flying as passengers until someone suggested it to them. That one of them might be of any possible use as a passenger had never entered their heads.
A few moments after, the new chaser was soaring upward with a roar of engine exhaust that told of pride of power. Bob was in the snug front seat undergoing an experience whose like he had never dreamed of. His youthful imagination had often tried to picture what it would be like to be up in a swift flying-machine, but the sense of power and the exhilaration of swinging triumphantly through space gave him a new sensation.
"This," he thought, "is the greatest game of all. This is what one day I will be doing to some purpose."
His mind went out to that day when he would be guiding his own machine on a hostile errand, over the enemy's country, perhaps. The fine, high enthusiasm of youth rushed through him and his pulses beat faster as he pictured himself, a knight of the air, starting forth on a quest that might mean great danger, but would, with sufficient foresight, care and determination, result in disaster for the antagonist rather than for himself.
Higher and higher climbed the swift plane, no faltering in its stride. The beat of the engines was as rhythmical to experienced ears as the regular swing and lilt of some perfectly rendered piece of music to the ears of a master musician.
Bob noticed the country below, but was too much absorbed with his own thoughts to give much attention to details of the wonderful panorama that stretched away for miles and miles, until they had soared to a height that made blurred lines of roads and hedges far under them, and caused even houses and outbuildings to grow increasingly indistinguishable. Only the silver band of the little river, winding in graceful curves and catching the afternoon sun, remained an unfailing landmark.
Then suddenly came an abrupt silence. Bob's heart leaped to his throat. What had happened? No sooner had his inner consciousness asked the question than his common sense had answered it. The pilot had shut off the engine, of course. Already the powerful plane was heading downward over the trackless path up which it had risen, and was gliding with a soft rush of air which produced a floating sensation.
"How did you like that?" asked Lieutenant Fauver.
"Great," said Bob. Great! He wanted to say more. He wanted to explain that a new world had opened to him. That he had felt the call that would leave him restless until he, too, had mastered one of those marvelous steeds of the air, and was free to soar at will wherever he chose to direct his mount. Great! The word expressed so little. Bob thought of a dozen things to say, but heaved a big sigh of genuine content, and left them all unsaid.
Fauver was of much the same mold as Bob. He caught something of the younger boy's mood. He knew how the lad felt. His memory took him back to his own first flight. How long ago it seemed! How impressed he had been at his first real taste of the sweets of the air-game! How utterly incapable of expressing his feeling!
So he respected the frame of mind of the lad in front of him and volplaned down in silence, trying the stability of the plane by wide spirals, banking it just enough to be delightful to a passenger, without going far enough to cause the slightest apprehension or nervousness.
It was proving a priceless experience to Bob. He seemed transported to another existence. Then the earth began to come nearer. Things below took quick form. Bob realized that soon they would be landing. Just at the last he thought the ground was rising toward them at an astonishing rate. Surely this was not quite right! They must be dropping like a stone. Up, up, came the ground. Bob unconsciously braced himself for the impact. They were going to come down with a mighty smash. He held his breath and set his teeth. At the very moment when all seemed over but the crash, the graceful plane lifted its head ever so slightly, the engine started roaring again, and they glided to earth and ran along so smoothly that for the life of him Bob could not have told the exact moment the wheels touched the ground.
When they stepped out of the machine Bob did something on the spur of the moment that he laughed about afterward. He stepped to the lieutenant and put out his hand. As Fauver took it in a friendly, firm grasp Bob said: "That was the biggest experience of my life." Again that similarity of temperament between the two told Fauver something of the depth of Bob's feeling, and he said quietly: "I am glad to have given you a chance to go up, and next time you happen to be around when I am going up, if you can get away for a little while, I would be glad to have you go along. One of these days I will give you a good long flight, if I get a chance."
Bob went back to the hangar an older boy. The enthusiasm still held him close. The days would drag, now, until he could begin flying. He was sure of that.
When the other Brighton boys learned that Bob had actually been up in the air, there was a natural desire among them all to do likewise. Jimmy Hill made up his mind it would not be long before he had a flight. Adams, one of the instructors who had recently arrived, wanted a hand to help him tune up a new school machine that was fitted with dual control, i.e., that had a double set of levers so that the novice could guide the machine while the instructor had a restraining hand on them in case of emergencies. Reece, Jimmy Hill's great friend, was called away to make a test flight just as Adams spoke to him about a good helper, and told Adams that he could not do better than give Jimmy a chance to lend a hand.
"The boy will do what he is told," said Reece. "All you have to do is to explain just what you want done. He is dependable. Try him. He is a nice boy, too, and you will like to have him round."
So Jimmy worked that day and the next on the new school machine. Finally it was ready.
"Wait till I take her up for a bit and see how she pulls and I will give you a runaround in her," said Adams to Jimmy. The instructor had been highly pleased with the way the boy had worked, and felt anxious to give him a treat.
Thus Jimmy had his first flight. Further, he was shown by Adams how to hold the controls, though he was careful to put no pressure on them. Next day Adams said, "Come on. I will show you how we start teaching flying where I come from."
Before half an hour passed Jimmy found he could "taxi," as Adams called running along the ground, quite well. That was but a beginning. Three times in the following week Adams took the boy out for a lesson; and the practical experience, though limited, gave Jimmy a very good idea of what was required of much of the adjustments and finer points of tuning up that he had learned to see Reece do in the sheds.
At last Adams made a short flight and let Jimmy handle the machine for a few moments alone, the instructor removing his hands from his control levers and leaving the job to Jimmy. It was a simple enough little flight, but Jimmy had the knowledge that he had been actually flying the machine for a time, all by himself, which pleased him beyond measure.
One of the red-letter days the Brighton boys were long to remember was that on which they first watched a new arrival to the airdrome, an experienced flier, loop the loop and nose-dive on one of the fast chasers. The whirling, darting plane seemed so completely at the mercy of the pilot that the boys were rapt in silent wonder. That exhibition of what the birdmen of to-day call real flying was a revelation to them.
It held out promise of long study and careful practice far ahead before they could hope to equal or excel the cool, modest young aviator who came down so gracefully after a series of side loops that made most of the spectators hold their breath.
Summer days passed rapidly. Joe Little and Louis Deschamps were sitting in a hangar one Sunday afternoon, chatting about a new type of battle-plane that had arrived that week.
"I could fly that bus," said Joe, "if I had a chance."
"That is just the trouble," commented Louis. "Getting the chance is what is so hard. I am tired of fussing around on those school machines they let us on now and then. What is the good of trying to fly on a plane that won't rise more than a couple of dozen feet? I have never had a chance to fly anything else. I get to thinking, working so much on real planes, that those school machines for the infant class are not fliers at all. They are a sort of cross between a flying machine and an auto."
"You are in too much of a rush," Joe admonished. "I think we are lucky to get a go in one of those now and then. Jimmy Hill goes up in that old dual-control bus with Adams, but to my mind that sort of thing is out of date. I have got the idea of lateral control as well on that school bus that Parks let me out on, as I could have got it from any of the chasers. Another go or two and I will get horizontal control down fine, and then I am ready for a real go. I can land the school bus like a bird. I am getting swelled up, Louis."
"All right. But don't get so swelled that you play the goat, Joe. I know you won't, for that matter. You are one of the careful ones, all right. But this does not get us any nearer flying a real machine."
"I wish I had a machine of my own," said Joe mournfully.
"Wishing won't get it, Joe."
"I wonder why we can't get hold of a machine that has been finished off by one of these cheerful student chaps, and still has some good stuff left in it, and get Parks to let us patch it up and get a flight on it?"
"Parks can't be all that generous of government property, old man. If a plane is worth fixing up the chief wants the rest of the use of it. If it is no good to him it would not be worth anything to us; that's the rub there."
"I've got it!" exclaimed Joe, slapping his knee. "Why not hit Parks for that old 'bad bus' that gave the young fellow the broken leg the last time it smashed? There is plenty of life left in that old girl. I wonder they haven't taken the engine out of her if they don't intend to fix her up, The engine is all right."
"Maybe the engine is out of her. Where is she?"
"Down in number twelve hangar, covered up in the corner."
"Let's go and have a look at her."
The two lads trotted off to inspect the damaged plane, which they found under a pile of canvas, just where it had been brought the day a bad side-slip had resulted in smashing it up.
"The engine is in her, sure enough," said Louis, "and it is by no means a bad type of engine either. It might have more power, but it is reliable enough. What was the matter with this bus, anyway, that made them decide to shelve her?"
Someone told me that she side-slips badly at times. I never heard why. Planes don't do things like that without there being a reason, Louis. Maybe she needs a bit of fixing that she has never had. It would be fun if we could rig her up so that she would fly properly, wouldn't it? Wonder if there is any use asking Parks?"
"Parks could only ask the colonel, I suppose. He is a real good fellow, and always seems willing to help us in every way he can. I don't see, if he does not intend to repair the 'bad bus,' why he wouldn't let us do it in our spare time, I know he would trust me to do the engine. He said the other day I could tune up an engine as well as anyone he had under him."
"You could fix up the engine easy enough," said Joe "It is the rest of the machine that would take some doing. She is in pretty rocky shape, an would want a lot replaced. Harry Corwin could help us with her. He has had a lot of work with frames lately. For that matter, I guess all the lot would help. We could come in early and get some time on her before work starts, stay a bit later at night, and most Sunday afternoons we could hammer away at her without interruption. It would be rather fun to have the seven of us trying to show what we have learned and putting it into practice that way. If we got the old bus right I don't think they would mind our having a flight or two on her now and then, do you?"
"Sure not," replied the French boy. "But will the colonel give us the chance?"
"We will know before many days have passed."
Parks shook his head at first when the boys broached the project to him. "I don't think the colonel will agree," was his comment.
"I had better wait for a good time to introduce the idea. There is no telling what he might think of it. Personally, I was undecided what to do with that machine. I have just let it set there waiting till I made up my mind. I can't recommend scrapping a plane merely because it has the reputation of being unlucky. That is about all the bad name of the 'bad bus' amounts to, after all. I am not sure that you boys would not turn her out in better shape than the repair men turned her out last time. I can't see the harm in the plan."
Parks generally got his way about the hangars. Colonel Marker depended greatly on Parks' judgment, which the colonel was fond of calling "horse sense." So when the head instructor spoke to the colonel about the proposal the Brighton boys had made to repair the "bad bus" in their own time, and obtain, as a special reward for good work, permission to do a little flying on the machine when opportunity occurred, Colonel Marker felt inclined to leave the matter to Parks, and said so. That really settled it, for Parks had decided to plead the cause of the boys.
The weeks that passed were very full ones for the Brighton boys, who worked like Trojans on the machine they had undertaken to put in order. They made some mistakes, and more than once had to apply to Parks for help and advice. These he gave cheerfully. Louis and Macpherson overhauled the engine, and pronounced it in A-1 condition when it left the test bench. Every one of the boys learned much about aircraft construction, at least so far as that type of biplane was concerned, before they were through with the job.
Finally the day came when the "bad bus"—-rechristened the "boys' bus "—-was wheeled out for its trial flight after the completion of the repairs. Adams was chosen to make the trial trip, which went off without incident. He flew the big biplane six or seven hundred feet above the green carpet of the airdrome, and came down with a graceful volplane that caused the boys to feel like applauding.
"Who is next?" asked Adams as he sprang from the seat and the biplane came to rest beside the little group.
The honor was voted to Joe Little, as the originator of the idea of getting hold of the machine. Joe was not very eager to go up when it came to an actual trial of the plane. He thought he would have no difficulty in flying it, for the controls were very familiar to him, and a straight flight, or even a wide circle of the flying ground proper, offered no apparent difficulties. Joe was naturally a shy and retiring lad, and felt that he was very much in the limelight as he climbed into the seat of the biplane.
Joe got off well enough to suit the most critical instructor, and after rolling until he was quite sure of himself, he raised the elevator slightly and the machine left the ground in a most satisfactory manner.
Joe did not try to fly at a great height, but once well clear of the ground settled into his seat and started to gently turn to the left, commencing a wide circle that would land him, should he choose to come down at the end of one circuit of the grounds, at the point where the Brighton boys and Parks were watching him.
There was so little wind that it had no noticeable effect on the plane. The controls worked perfectly, and Joe felt increasingly at his ease. When he had made the first circuit he decided to continue, rise to a somewhat greater height, and come down with a nice, simple volplane at the feet of his fellows.
All continued to go well. Nothing was necessary but to watch that no sudden gust caught the plane and found its pilot unprepared. The plane was banked so slightly that he had no need to fear side-slip. He concentrated all his powers on making a fine landing. When he was ready to come down he shut off his engine and dipped the biplane slightly. She answered like a bird, and started gliding earthward delightfully, planing at a perfect angle.
While Joe was not far up, he had never flown a machine before at that height, and consequently his volplane seemed to occupy a longer time than it should have done. His fingers itched to start the engine again and raise the elevator just enough to arrest the downward swoop, and transform it into a soft glide, nicely calculated so that it would bring the wheels of the chassis into contact with the ground without any shock. He was over-keen on that landing, realizing that so many pairs of eyes were on him.
The earth came up toward him just a shade too fast to suit him. Then he decided that the right moment had come, lifted his elevator slightly, started the engine for a few turns, and wondered if he had done the thing well.
He had not.
Joe, in his anxiety and inexperience, had pulled up his machine a little too quickly. Its headway stopped, as it was still a dozen feet from the ground, along which Joe had hoped to glide gracefully to rest. The biplane hung a moment in the air, as if undecided what to do. Fortunately Joe had shut off the engine when his intuition told him all was not right. He could not tell what distance the wheels of the chassis lacked before they would rest on terra firma, but hoped against hope that they were nearer than they seemed to be.
The machine, losing all impetus, simply sat down with a bump. The chassis and the under plane smashed with a sound of ripping canvas and splintering wood. Joe had a good bump, too, but was none the worse for it physically. He stepped out of his seat before the boys could run to the wrecked biplane. They were all sympathy and eagerness to see if Joe was hurt. He had not dropped far, but had come down with such a thud that even Parks was anxious. Bob Haines was the first of the Brighton boys to reach the machine. "Are you all right, Joe?" he called out as he came up.
"Guess so," was the reply. "I feel jarred—-but look at the poor old bus! How did I do it? After all our hard work, she is completely wrecked again, and I did it." Joe felt that it would be a relief to get away from the scene of the smash, and had to down a temptation to walk off by himself. He was almost heartbroken when he thought of all the work that his mistake had undone.
"Never mind," said Parks. "Everyone has to learn. I will bet that you don't pull up short when landing another time."
Joe was not to be thus easily comforted. Sensitive to a degree, his heart entirely in his work, he was utterly disgusted with himself for having had the temerity to try the flight. What hurt most was the knowledge that the plane the Brighton boys had so looked forward to having for practice flying they could hardly hope to get otherwise for a long time to come, was hors de combat, and possibly beyond another repair.
Recognizing Joe's frame of mind, the boys grouped round the broken biplane in silence, searching their minds for a word that would give a crumb of comfort to their comrade. The more they looked over the wreck, the less they knew what to say.
As they stood there, watching Parks poking round the smashed machine, Colonel Marker came up with Major Phelps. They had not been far away when Joe had started on his experimental round of the airdrome, and had witnessed the whole episode.
"You did not do so badly until you landed," said the colonel pleasantly. "You should have stayed up."
The boys had never before heard the colonel essay a joke, and were by no means sure that his first remark was not the preface to serious condemnation of Joe. Colonel Marker had often been heard to treat the subject of smashed machines in a manner decidedly uncomplimentary to the luckless aviator who was responsible.
Poor Joe felt his heart in his throat. A very deep feeling of shame came over him and his eyes filled with tears. His face showed real distress.
The colonel turned to Joe from an inspection of the plane and as he did so saw the boy's eyes. Colonel Marker was a kindhearted man, for all his gruff exterior, and he had, too, a great interest in the Brighton boys and their progress. He felt, the moment he realized how much to heart Joe had taken the accident, a sense of sincere sympathy for the lad.
Placing his hand on Joe's shoulder, he said: "My boy, what counts most is the way you have worked to get that old machine into flying shape, and the fact that you were ready and willing to have a shot at flying her, with all your inexperience. Those things show keenness, enthusiasm, and pluck. A flying man has to possess nerve. He has to take chances sometimes. You did the best you could do. The fact that you were inexperienced was against you, but in failing to get through without accident you gained experience. I do not care half so much about the machine as you might think. I might have left it unrepaired if you boys had not taken on the job. Don't feel so badly, my boy."
Joe had difficulty in finding his voice. "But, sir," he said in a low tone, "the boys had looked forward so much to getting a chance to learn to fly on the old bus. Now that is all knocked into a cocked hat. I feel that I have robbed them of something I can't give them again. They are too good to say so, but every one of them feels the disappointment as much as can be."
"Well," said the colonel, "there is no need for too much downheartedness on that score. Maybe I can play fairy godmother along that line. You Brighton boys have worked hard and studied hard. I have watched you. I am pleased with you. You are all big enough now to begin the game, I think, or at least you will be soon. What do you think, Major?"
"I think you are right, sir," replied Major Phelps quietly. "If any boys deserve to be taken into the service these surely do. They may be a bit on the young side, but they will be quite old enough by the time they get to France."
To France! The Brighton boys could hardly believe their ears. That casual sentence quickened every pulse. To France! The bare suggestion made them glow with anticipation.
"How do you feel about it?" asked the colonel, turning to the seven.
"Every one of us is ready to go into the service the very first day we can be taken in," answered Bob Haines. "We started with that idea in view. We all hoped some day to join up, and we think we could be of more use in the Flying Corps than anywhere else. I don't mean by that that we want to pick our jobs, sir, but we would like to get into the air service for choice."
"And a very good choice too," commented Colonel Marker. "Major Phelps, suppose you look into the individual work that each of these boys has been doing lately, and see if those under whom they have worked recommend them all. Is this the lot of them?"
"One more, sir," spoke up Bob. "Benson, sir, in the stores."
"Benson has proven to be mightily useful," said the major.
"All right," concluded the colonel. "Come on, Phelps. We must look over the ground for those new hangars. You can tell me what you find about these Brighton boys when you have finished your inquiries." They walked away together, leaving seven of the proudest and happiest boys in the world.
"Give a hand to get this wreck into the shed," said Parks. "You fellows are all right now. The old man knows well enough you boys have been doing well. That is just his way. You had better find out what your folks are going to say."
Each of the boys felt confident that the news would be well received at home. They fell to with a will and soon had the biplane moved into the shed. That night they went home in high spirits. They were boys no longer; they had become men. They pictured themselves in real service uniforms, and longed for the day when, as Major Phelps had said, they would "get to France."
Harry Corwin and Joe Little lingered for a moment at the gate of the Hill home for a final word with Jimmy, who was very much excited. "It all came out of your smash, Joe," said Harry. "The colonel might not have thought of us for a long time yet but for that. You could not have done it better if you had planned it."
Joe had gotten over the worst of his chagrin. He smiled. "I am glad it has taken the minds of you fellows off of my smash, anyway," he said.
Each family into which that news came that evening took it differently. None of the parents of the Brighton lads who heard of the colonel's promise were quite prepared for it. All thought the boys might be taken in some day, but it had seemed a long way off. Bob Haines' uncle was very proud of Bob, and telegraphed Senator Haines that Bob was going into the army as a matter of information rather than a request for permission.
Mrs. Mann was anything but glad to hear Dicky's "good news." She was a timid little woman, with a horror of all fighting. Mr. Mann took Dicky by the hand, however, and said, "God bless you, son," in a way that made Dicky feel closer to his father than he had ever been before. Jimmy Hill's mother was away from home.
Mr. Hill took the information as a matter of course. "I thought they would take you in one of these days," he remarked. "You boys ought to prove a credit to us all. I would give a lot to be as young as you are and have your chance, Jimmy. You will have to represent the family, though, I guess. They won't take men of my age, at least yet." Jimmy made up his mind then and there that he would represent his father, of whom he was intensely proud and very fond, and represent him to the very best of his ability.
Harry Corwin's folks seemed little surprised. Grace kissed him very tenderly, and his mother drew his head down and pressed his cheek close to hers. "That will take both of my boys," she said quietly. In the conversation that followed at the dinner table Harry was struck with the familiarity with which they all spoke of the possibility that the boys would be taken into the service at once. They had not discussed the matter in such detail before in his presence. Grace mentioned more than once something that "the major said," and Harry finally came to the conclusion that his people had been closer in touch with the matter than he had been. Major Phelps saw a good deal of Grace. Perhaps that had much to do with it.
The Bensons and the Foxes took the news less seriously. "I guess it will be a long time before you boys see France," said Mr. Fox. "It is the right thing, though, and if you get a chance, take it."
Louis Deschamps was to receive a bigger piece of news from his mother than he gave to her.
"Next week we leave for France, both of us," said Mrs. Deschamps. "I have not told you, Louis, for you were so happy with your work at the airdrome I wanted you to enjoy it while you could do so. You are French, my son, and thank God you are becoming old enough to take a hand in the war. When we get home I will see what can be done to place you at once in our own flying service. If you have learned much here, as I think you have, it will all come in well when you are fighting for France."
Louis was overjoyed. He liked his comrades of the school, but he was, after all, a French boy and had a French boy's heart. More, he had a French mother, with a French mother's devotion to her country and her country's cause.
"For France!" an expression often heard in the Deschamps' household, meant more than mere words could utter. All the fine, high resolve; all the passionate belief in the justice of the French cause; all the stern determination that the war must be won, whatever the cost—-all that went to make the magnificent French women of to-day the splendid heroines they have shown themselves to be, was deeply rooted in Mrs. Deschamps. Her husband in the trenches, she might well have begrudged her only son, so young and such a mere boy in all his ways. Not she. She was a true mother of France. The highest sacrifice was not too great to make for the republic.
So Louis was soon to leave the Brighton boys, to go on to France ahead of them, and to be enrolled in his own army, by the side of which his American school chums hoped one day to be fighting a common enemy.
Another mother of one of the Brighton boys was of the same heroic mold as the brave French woman. Joe Little's widowed mother took the news calmly. She had felt it would come one day. Her mind went back, as it had done frequently after the boys had commenced their work at the airdrome, to the days of the short Spanish-American war. Joe's father, impulsive, had joined the colors at the first call and gone to Cuba. Mrs. Little's only brother, very dear to her, had volunteered, too, and was in the First Expedition to the Philippines. Neither had come back. War had taken so much from Mrs. Little, and left her so hard a bed to lie upon, that it seemed cruel that she should be asked for still more sacrifice. She had fought it all out in the quiet of her bedchamber, where, night after night, she had prayed long and earnestly for guidance and strength and courage.
Well Mrs. Little knew that if she told Joe the truth about her finances and what his going would mean to her she could doubtless influence him to stay and care for her. There were many others who could be sent, who did not, could not, mean so much to those they would leave behind. Joe was all she had. She was growing old, and her little store of money was dwindling surely if slowly.
By the time Joe came home that night and told her of what the colonel had said, Mrs. Little had steeled herself to give her boy to her country and humanity. It cost her dear, but she set her teeth and placed her offering on the altar of what she had come to believe her duty, with a brave, patient smile in her eyes, in spite of the clutch at her heartstrings.
"Splendid, Joe," she said with what enthusiasm she could put into her words. "You are glad, aren't you, dear?"
"Not glad, mother darling." Joe placed his arm around her slender waist tenderly. They were very close, these two. "Not glad. That does not express it. I couldn't be glad to go away and leave you. Though, for that matter, you will be all right. I feel sort of an inspiration I can't explain. It is all so big. It seems so necessary that I should go, and I felt that I should be so utterly out of it if I did not go one day. When the colonel spoke that way it seemed like a sort of fulfillment of something that had to come, whether or no. I might call it fate, but that does not describe it quite. It is bigger than fate. It sounds silly, mother, but it is a sort of exaltation, in a sense. It had to come, and I feel it is almost a holy thing to me."
Joe's mother put her two hands on his shoulders. Her eyes were moist, but her courage never faltered. "Joe, such boys as you are could not stay at home. You are your father's son, dear."
"And my mother's," said Joe soberly. "It is from you I get the strength to want to do my duty, and I will not forget it when the strain comes. I will always have your face in front of me to lead me on, mother."
OFF FOR THE FRONT
Months passed. The training of the Brighton boys went on steadily after they entered the service until each one of the six of them that were still at the home airdrome was a highly efficient flier and well-grounded in the construction of air-machines as well.
Louis Deschamps had gone, with his mother, to France. Fat Benson had been passed on to a more important job. His work had been so thorough in the stores department that he was now being used as an inspector, traveling over half a dozen states, visiting all sorts of factories that were being broken-in gradually to turn out the necessary aeroplane parts in ever-increasing quantities as the war progressed.
Then came the day when the contingent into which the Brighton boys had been drafted started, at last, for France. Final good-bys were said, last parting tears were shed, the cheers and Academy yells at the station died into the distance as the train pulled out, and the six young airmen, proud in the security of full knowledge that they were no novices, were truly "off for the front."
The days of embarkation, the dash across the Atlantic, and the landing in France came in due sequence. They had expected some excitement on the ocean voyage. The group of transports, of which their ship was one, steamed warily eastward, convoyed by a flotilla of grim destroyers, swift, businesslike, determined. Extra precautions were taken in the submarine zone; but none of the German sea wolves rose to give battle with the American ships.
The coming into port, too, was less exciting than they had thought it would be. The French people who were grouped along the quayside cheered and waved, but the incoming American contingents were arriving with such regularity that the strangeness had worn away. America was in the war to do her utmost. France knew that well by the time the Brighton boys crossed the ocean. The welcome was no less warm, but there was no element of novelty about it.
A troop train, consisting mainly of cattle trucks, puffed away from the coast town next morning, and attached to it were the cars containing the new air squadron. Late that night it had reached one of the huge airdromes, the vastness of which unfolded itself to the astonished gaze of the boys at daybreak of the morning after. They had not dreamed that such acres and acres of hangars existed along the whole front. The war in the air assumed new proportions to them. They were housed in huts, warm and dry, if not palatial.
During the day, given leave to wander about the airdrome, the six Brighton boys took a stroll in company, eager to inspect at close quarters the latest types of flying machines.
"These airplanes are stronger than any we have ever seen," remarked Joe Little, as they paused before a new-type French machine.
"Yes," cheerily commented an aviator—-a clean-cut young Englishman—-who was grooming the graceful plane. "This very one crashed into the ground two weeks ago while going at over sixty miles an hour. She is so strongly built that she was not hurt much and the pilot escaped without a scratch. This is what we call a 'hunter.' She has an unbeaten record for speed—-can show a clean pair of heels to anything in the air. She has tremendous power; and the way she can climb into the clouds—-my word!"
"Is she easy to fly?" asked Dicky Mann.
"Not bad," was the answer. "The high speed makes for a bust-up once in a while. A pilot who gets going over one hundred and fifteen miles an hour, and yanks his machine up to six thousand feet in seven minutes, as he can do on this type of plane, and then drops straight down from that elevation, as the 'hunter' fellows have to do sometimes, puts a mighty big strain on his bus. Little by little this sort of thing dislocates important parts. Of course the pursuing game makes a pilot put his machine into all sorts of positions. He has to jump at the other chap, sometimes, at an angle of ninety degrees. I have known of cases where the air pressure caused by such a drop has been so great that the planes of one of these 'hunters' have been broken off with a snap."
"Jiminy!" ejaculated Dicky.
At this the aviator laughed, saying smilingly: "Accidents of some sort take place here several times a day. If they didn't we would not get on so fast either in the study of aeroplane construction or the art of flying itself. Accidents tell us lots of things. Between studying accidents and watching for Boche ideas, especially when we get hold of one of their late machines, we are never standing still at this game, I can tell you."
"Do you get many German planes?" asked Jimmy Hill.
"We down lots of 'em, but we don't get many—-which is different," and the aviator smiled. "You see the Boche fliers stay their side, mostly, and when we drop one he goes down among his own lot. Now the hostile hunters for instance, rarely go over our lines. Their business apparently is to remain over their own territory. That is their plan. They are brave enough. But the Germans look to their hunters chiefly to prevent our observers from doing their work. They wait for our observation machines where they know the observers must come. That is their game. Just get some of the fellows who have been over recently, when you get up front a bit, to tell you how the new Fokkers hide themselves and pounce on our lot.
"Maybe the Boches look at it this way: if they have their fight at their base of operations, over their own lines, and win out, they may make a prisoner; if the machine is not destroyed, that may be utilized. If their man gets put out of commission we don't get the beaten machine and therefore cannot learn their latest construction dodges from it. It's a different plan of action. We go right out over the German lines with our hunters and tackle their observers, who do their reconnaissances from a bit back of their lines. Only in the very first part of the war, when the Germans outnumbered us in fliers to an enormous extent, did they try to do much from our top-side. Nowadays we do our observing daily from well over the enemy's lines; and the Germans do most of theirs from well on their own side. It's a different way of looking at it."