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´╗┐Title: Air Service Boys over the Atlantic
Author: Beach, Charles Amory
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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AIR SERVICE BOYS OVER THE ATLANTIC

OR

THE LONGEST FLIGHT ON RECORD

BY CHARLES AMORY BEACH

1920



CONTENTS

CHAPTER

     I OUT FOR BUSINESS

    II THE RESCUE

   III A BOLD PROJECT

    IV THE REST BILLET

     V THE AIR RAIDERS

    VI STRIKING A BLOW FOR LIBERTY

   VII THE BATTLE IN THE AIR

  VIII BOMBING THE BRIDGE

    IX CONVINCING PROOF

     X GROPING FOR LIGHT

    XI THE AMAZING PLAN

   XII GRIPPED IN SUSPENSE

  XIII OFF FOR THE CHANNEL

   XIV READY FOR THE START

    XV THE LONG FLIGHT BEGUN

   XVI THE FIRST NIGHT OUT

  XVII WHEN THE SUBMARINE STRUCK

 XVIII THE COLD HAND OF FEAR

   XIX A DESPERATE CHANCE

    XX ON THE ICE FLOE

   XXI ATTACKED BY A POLAR BEAR

  XXII WHEN THE ICEBERG ROLLED OVER

 XXIII THE END OF THE FLIGHT

  XXIV SURPRISING BRIDGETON

   XXV TO SEE THE WAR THROUGH--CONCLUSION



CHAPTER I

OUT FOR BUSINESS


"Look! What does that mean, Tom?"

"It means that fellow wants to ruin the Yankee plane, and perhaps finish
the flier who went down with it to the ground."

"Not if we can prevent it, I say. Take a nosedive, Tom, and leave it to
me to manage the gun!"

"He isn't alone, Jack, for I saw a second skulker in the brush,
I'm sure."

"We've got to drive those jackals away, no matter at what risk. Go to it,
Tom, old scout!"

The big battle-plane, soaring fully two thousand feet above the earth,
suddenly turned almost upside-down, so that its nose pointed at an angle
close to forty-five degrees. Like a hawk plunging after its prey it sped
through space, the two occupants held in their places by safety belts.

As they thus rushed downward the earth seemed as if rising to meet them.
Just at the right second Tom Raymond, by a skillful flirt of his hand,
brought the Yankee fighting aircraft back to an even keel, with a
beautiful gliding movement.

Immediately the steady throb of the reliable motor took up its refrain,
while the buzz of the spinning propellers announced that the plane was
once more being shot through space by artificial means.

The two occupants were Tom Raymond and Jack Parmly, firm friends and
chums who had been like David and Jonathan in their long association. It
was Tom who acted as pilot on the present occasion, while Jack took the
equally important position of observer and gunner.

Both were young Americans with a natural gift in the line of aviation.
They had won their spurs while serving under French leadership as members
of the famous Lafayette Escadrille. The adventures they encountered at
that time are related in the first book of this series, entitled: "Air
Service Boys Flying For France."

After America entered the war, like all other adventurous young Yankee
fliers, the two Air Service Boys offered their services to their own
country and joined one of the new squadrons then being formed.

Here the two youths won fresh laurels, and both were well on the way to
be recognized "aces" by the time Pershing's army succeeded in fighting
its way through the nests of machine-gun traps that infested the great
Argonne Forest.

It was in the autumn of the victory year, 1918, and the German armies
were being pushed back all along the line from Switzerland to the sea.
Under the skillful direction of Marshal Foch, the Allies had been dealing
telling and rapid blows, now here, now there.

To-day it was the British that struck; the day afterward the French
advanced their front; and next came the turn of the Americans under
Pershing. Everywhere the discouraged and almost desperate Huns were being
forced in retreat, continually drawing closer to the border.

Already the sanguine young soldiers from overseas were talking of
spending the winter on the Rhine. Some even went so far as to predict
that their next Christmas dinner would be eaten in Berlin. It was no
idle boast, for they believed it might be so, because victory was in
the very air.

So great was the distress of the Hun forces that it was believed Marshal
Foch had laid a vast trap and was using the fresh and enthusiastic
Yankees to drive a dividing wedge between Ludendorff's two armies, when a
colossal surrender must inevitably follow.

The whole world now knows that this complete break-up of the Teutons
was avoided solely by their demand for an armistice, with an agreement
on terms that were virtually a surrender--absolute in connection with
their navy.

Tom and Jack had displayed considerable ability in carrying out their
work, and could no longer be regarded as novices. Each of them had for
some time been anticipating promotion, and hoped to return home with the
rank of lieutenant at least.

They had been entrusted with a number of especially dangerous missions,
and had met with considerable success in putting these through. Like most
other ambitious young fliers, they hoped soon to merit the title of
"ace," when they could point to at least six proven victories over rival
pilots, with that number of planes sent down in combat.

On the present occasion they had sallied out "looking for trouble," as
Jack put it; which, in so many words, meant daring any Hun flier to meet
them and engage in a duel among the clouds.

Other planes they could see cruising toward the northwest, and also
flying in an easterly direction; but as a rule these bore signs of being
Allies' machines, and in all probability had Yankee pilots manning them.

Apparently the Hun airmen were otherwise employed. They seemed to prefer
venturing out after nightfall, gathering in force, and often taking a
strange satisfaction in bombing some Red Cross hospital, where frequently
their own wounded were being treated alongside the American doughboys.

During the weeks that the Americans were battling in the great Argonne
Forest the two Air Service Boys had contributed to the best of their
ability to each daily drive. Again and again had they taken part in such
dangerous work as fell to the portion of the aviators. Their activities
at that time are set down in the fifth volume of this series, entitled:
"Air Service Boys Flying For Victory."

Frequently they had found themselves in serious trouble, and their
escapes were both numerous and thrilling. Through it all they had been
highly favored, since neither of them had thus far met with a serious
accident. Numbers of their comrades had been registered as "missing," or
were known to have been shot down and lost.

It was no unusual thing a few days after a flier had gone out and failed
to return at evening, for a Hun pilot to sail over and drop a note
telling that he had fallen in combat, and was buried at a certain place
with his grave so marked that it could be easily found.

There seemed to be a vein of old-time chivalry among the German airmen
even up to the very last, such as had not marked any other branch of
their fighting forces, certainly not the navy. And the Americans made it
a point to return this courtesy whenever an opportunity arose.

Tom was proud of his ability to execute that difficult feat known as a
"nose-dive." More than once it had extricated him from a "pocket" into
which he found himself placed by circumstances, with three or more enemy
planes circling around and bombarding him from their active guns.

At such times the only hope of the attacked pilot lay in his ability to
drop down as if his machine had received a fatal blow and when once far
below the danger point again to recover an even keel.

Jack never doubted what the result would be, having the utmost confidence
in his comrade. The wind rushed past his ears as they pitched downward;
and just when objects on the ground loomed up suggestively there was the
expected sudden shift of the lever, a consequent change in the pointing
of the plane's nose, and then they found themselves on the new level,
with the motor again humming merrily.

Jack was on the alert and quickly discovered the object that just then
enlisted their whole attention. As he had suspected when using the
glasses from the higher level, it was a Yankee bomber that lay partly
hidden among the bushes where it had fallen. He could easily see the
Indian head marking the broken wing.

The pilot was sitting near by as though unable to make a run for it,
although Jack imagined he must suspect the approach of danger, for he
gripped something that glinted in the sunlight in his right hand. It was,
of course, an automatic pistol.

Looking hastily around Jack glimpsed the creeping figures of the two
Germans who, having seen the fall of the Yankee plane, must have come out
from some place of concealment and were bent on finishing the pilot, or
at least taking him prisoner. They had almost reached a point where it
would have been possible for them to open fire on the wounded American.

Jack looked in vain for any second figure near the fallen plane. If the
pilot had had an observer with him, which was most likely, considering
the fact that he had been using a bombing machine, the latter must have
been dispatched for relief some time before.

"There they are, Tom!" burst from the one who crouched close to the
machine gun, and pointing as he spoke. "Swoop down and let me give them
a volley!"

The Huns evidently realized what was coming, and feared that their
intended victim might after all escape their hands. Even as Jack spoke
there came a shot from below, and a bullet went screaming past close to
the ears of the Air Service Boys. It was followed by a second and a third
in quick succession.

What the marksmen hoped to do was either to kill the pilot or else to
strike some vulnerable part of the engine, thus disabling it and wrecking
the plane. Those were chances which had to be taken continually; but as a
rule the rapidity of flight rendered them almost negligible.

Jack waited no longer. The two men were about to fling themselves behind
friendly trees, and but a small chance remained that he might catch them
before they were able to shield themselves by these close-by trunks.

Jack, in his most energetic fashion, commenced to spray the vicinity with
a shower of leaden missiles. The chatter of the machine gun drowned any
cries from the two men below. The Yankee plane swooped past the spot
where the injured pilot still sat at bay, ready to sell his life dearly
if the worst came.



CHAPTER II

THE RESCUE


The rat-tat-tat of gunfire suddenly ceased. Jack could no longer cover
the spot where the two Huns were hiding behind the tree-trunks, and
consequently it would be a sheer waste of ammunition to continue firing.

But already Tom had commenced to circle, and soon they would be swooping
down upon the scene from another direction. Jack kept on the alert, so as
to note quickly any possible movement of the enemy.

Again he poured a hot fire on the place where he knew the Germans were
cowering, tearing up the ground with a storm of bullets as though it had
been freshly harrowed. But the sturdy trees baffled him once more.

"Nothing doing, Tom!" he called out, vexed. "We've got to drop down and
go it on foot if we want to save that pilot!"

"I see a good landing place!" announced the other almost instantly.

"Great luck! get busy then!"

The ground chanced to be unusually smooth, and the plane, after bumping
along for a short distance, came to a stand. Meanwhile, both young fliers
had succeeded in releasing themselves from their safety belts.

Together they jumped to the ground and started on a run toward the spot
where those crouching figures had last been seen. Of course, the Huns
must already know of their landing and would be ready to defend
themselves, if not to attack; but, nothing daunted by this possibility,
the pair pushed ahead through bushes and past trees.

"Better separate, and attack 'em from two different angles, hadn't we,
Tom?" panted Jack presently, as a shot was heard and something clipped a
twig from a bush within a foot of his hand.

"Take the left, and I'll look after the right!" snapped out Tom.

Both were armed with automatic pistols, for airmen can never tell when
their lives may depend upon their ability to defend themselves, and so
seldom make a flight without some such weapon in their possession.

"They're on the run!" cried Jack, in a tone of disgust; for he had really
hoped to have a further brush with the skulking enemy.

He sent several shots in their direction whenever he caught glimpses of
the bounding figures, but without much hope of striking either of them.
Still, they had undoubtedly accomplished the business in hand, which was
to save the Yankee pilot.

"He's over this way, Jack," observed Tom, moving to the right still
further, after being joined by his comrade. "I can see the opening where
he must have struck. The Hun flier didn't bother to follow him down and
find out if he'd made a count. He may have been here for some time."

"I see him now," continued Jack eagerly. "And it strikes me there's
something familiar about his looks. Yes, we've met that pilot before,
Tom. It's Lieutenant Colin Beverly, one of the cleverest Yankee aces of
the newer squad."

The aviator had already discovered the Air Service Boys' presence.
Doubtless all that had occurred had been noted by him as he sat, waiting
for anything that might happen; and the swoop of the American plane, as
well as Jack's firing, had of course told him help was near.

"He's waving his hand to us," continued Jack, answering in kind.

"Keep your gun ready for business," warned the other, inclined to be more
cautious. "There may be other Huns prowling around, because we're not
far from their lines, you understand."

A minute afterwards they reached the pilot of the wrecked bomber.

"Hello, fellows!" was his familiar greeting, as he thrust a hand out
toward them. "Glad to see you, all right. They were after me, just as I
suspected. My observer was wounded in the arm, but went for help. As for
me, save for a few scratches, I made the fall in great luck. But I'm
still crippled from that other accident. Just got out of hospital a week
ago. They tried to keep me from going up, but I'd have died only for the
permission."

Colin Beverly they knew to be one of the liveliest fliers then serving in
the American ranks. He had gained a name for daring second to none. Early
in his service he had won a reputation, and was already a double ace;
which meant that he was officially credited with at least twelve
victories over enemy fliers.

Tom and Jack had met him a number of times previously, and there had
always been a strong attraction between the three. Lieutenant Beverly was
one of fortune's favorites in so far as worldly riches went, since he had
a million at least to his credit, it was said.

He had enlisted as soon as the United States entered the war, and had
chosen aviation as his branch of the service, since it offered his
venture-venturesome, almost reckless, spirit a chance for action. He had
had numerous escapes so narrow that his friends began to believe some
magical charm must protect him.

As he had mentioned when speaking to them on their arrival, his closest
call had sent him to the hospital with a fractured bone in his left leg;
and even when discharged as cured he really should not have returned to
the harness; only, those in authority found it difficult to keep such an
energetic soul in check.

"Those chaps will come back with more of their kind, I reckon," Tom
remarked. "They've made up their minds to get you, Lieutenant, and
when a Hun is bent on a thing he keeps on trying. We can take you
along with us."

"I hate to desert the bus," complained the other, giving his wrecked
plane a wry look. "But then what's the use of sticking it out? Chances
are we'll be through the mess before they ever get it in fighting trim
again. Yes, I'll go along, boys, if you'll lend me a shoulder. Gave that
game leg another little knock in falling; but then, I might have broken
my neck, so I'm thankful."

"The Beverly luck again!" chuckled Jack, at which the intrepid flier
nodded with kindling eyes.

"Getting to believe I can carry anything through I care to tackle, for a
fact, fellows," he remarked, with the same amazing confidence that had
taken him along so many times in a whirlwind of success.

They ranged alongside, and he leaned on Tom's arm as he limped off,
giving no further heed to the mass of damaged engine, crumpled wood, bent
steel guys, and torn canvas that had once been a powerful bombing plane.

Jack kept in readiness to meet any attack that might spring up, though
they had reason to believe the Huns had temporarily withdrawn from the
field of action.

"Your friend Harry Leroy dropped in to see me while I was laid up,
Raymond," remarked the lieutenant, with a broad grin, as he saw how his
words caused the color to flash into the bronzed cheeks of the other.

"Haven't seen Harry for some time," Tom replied, his eyes twinkling with
pleasure; "but I heard of you through his sister. Nellie said you were
the hardest patient she'd ever tackled, because you kept fretting to get
out and be at work again."

"Yes, Miss Leroy was my nurse for a week, and I think I improved more
under her care than at any other time. She's a fine girl, Raymond."

"Sure thing, Lieutenant. I ought to know," came the unabashed answer.
"I've known Nellie for some time, and that was always my opinion. We're
good friends all right."

"H'm! I guess you must be," chuckled the other. "I wish you could have
seen her look when I mentioned that I knew you well, and liked you in the
bargain. I kept talking Tom Raymond a full streak just to watch the
blushes play over her face and the light shine in her eyes. Raymond,
you're a lucky dog."

"Here's our plane, and we'll soon be able to get going with such a smooth
bit of ground ahead," Tom hastened to remark, though it was easy to see
that what the other said had thrilled him.

"All aboard!" sang out Jack, after a last quick look around. "No Huns in
sight, as far as I can see."

The ascent was easily made, for, as Tom had said, they were favored with
an unusually level stretch of ground beyond, over which the plane rolled
decently until the pilot switched his lever and they started to soar.
From some place close by an unseen enemy commenced to fire again, but
without success.

Once fully on their way, the danger faded out of sight. Again they were
spinning through space, with the earth fading below them.

"Back home, Tom?" called out Jack, and the pilot nodded an affirmative.

Swiftly they sped, and presently were dropping back to earth at the spot
whence their outgoing flight had started. Here there were evidences of
bustle, with planes coming and going all the while. Couriers could be
seen on horses or motorcycles speeding away with important news to be
sent from the nearest field telephone station in touch with division
headquarters.

The landing was made without incident, though curious glances were cast
in their direction. Many knew that Tom and his chum had made their ascent
without a third passenger, and the presence of Lieutenant Beverly
announced that some sort of tragedy of the air had occurred.

A number of other pilots swooped down upon them to learn the particulars.
As usual they were inclined to be jocular, and greeted the limping
Beverly with a volley of questions, as well as remarks concerning that
"luck" of which he had talked.

"They can't get you, no matter how they try, Beverly," one called out.

"Another machine to the scrap-heap!" laughingly observed the most
celebrated of Yankee aces, slapping Colin on the shoulder. "Makes an even
dozen for you I understand. Planes may come and planes may go but you go
on forever. Well, long may you wave, old chap! Here's wishing you luck.
So the boys picked you up, did they? Nice work, all right."

"Just in time, too," confessed Beverly, "because there were some Huns on
the way to finish me that had to be chased off."

Tom had been noticing something which he thought a bit strange. It was a
way Lieutenant Beverly had of looking at him curiously, as if deciding
something in his mind which had suddenly gripped him.

"Is there anything else we can do for you, Lieutenant?" he finally asked,
when they had left the bevy of pilots and mechanics behind and were
heading toward their quarters; for Tom wished to see the other
comfortable before he and Jack ascended once more.

"I don't believe there is--at present," the other slowly replied. "But
this accidental meeting may develop into something worth while; that is,
if you chaps would care to join me in a sensational flight."

At hearing these words Jack began to show a sudden interest.

"If you know anything about us, Lieutenant!" he exclaimed eagerly, "you
ought to understand that we've always been willing to tackle any job
coming our way."

"This one," continued the other gravely, "promises to be an unusually
dangerous enterprise that if successful, will be sure to win the crew of
the big bombing plane tremendous honors and perhaps rapid advancement."

"You're only exciting us more and more by saying that," said Tom.
"Suppose you explain what it is, and then we could decide whether we'd
want to join you or not."

"My sentiments exactly," added Jack.

Lieutenant Beverly looked from one face to the other. He seemed to be
mentally weighing the chances of his ever being able to run across two
more promising candidates for the honor of sharing his secret than the
pair of ambitious lads then in touch with him. As though his decision was
taken he suddenly exclaimed:

"It's a go, then! I'll let you into my little secret, which so far hasn't
been shared by a single living man. Then later on you can decide if you
care to accept the risk for the sake of the glory success would bring, as
well as striking a blow for the flag we all love!"



CHAPTER III

A BOLD PROJECT


"Pitch in, please!" urged the impatient Jack Parmly.

"Listen, then, boys," commenced the other earnestly. "You doubtless know
that I've got more money than is good for any single man to handle? Well,
I've squandered a small bunch of it in having a wonderful plane made and
sent abroad. Of course it's intended to be handed over to the Government
in due course of time, but with the proviso that they allow me to
engineer the first long flight in it."

"That sounds interesting, Lieutenant," admitted Jack, apparently
considerably impressed.

"Tell us some more about it, please," urged the practical Tom.

"It's possibly by long odds the largest bombing plane that so far has
ever been built, even beating those big Caproni machines of Italy that
can carry a dozen in the crew. This Martin bomber can be run by three
hands, although several more might be used if the right kind were found.
Its possibilities in the way of distance and continued flight can
hardly be estimated, since all depends on the cargo carried. The less
crew, the more petrol and bombs to make up the load."

"Yes, we get that, Lieutenant," said Jack, as the other paused briefly,
possibly to get his breath, and then again because he wished the
information to sink slowly into their minds.

"With this monster biplane I assure you it will be an easy matter to fly
all the way to Berlin, bomb the city so as to terrify the inhabitants
even as they tried to do to Londoners, turn around, and return here
without touching ground once; yes, and if necessary, repeating the trip."

Jack showed intense excitement, while Tom too was deeply interested.

"We knew that thing would soon arrive," the latter said; "and they say
the Germans are getting cold feet already with the prospect before them.
But it's come a little sooner than I, for one, expected. What's your big
scheme, Lieutenant?"

"Berlin or bust?" chanced Jack explosively.

"You've hit the right nail on the head, Parmly," admitted the other,
with a nod of appreciation. "I mean to show that it can be done. Just as
soon as I can get that big bomber here, and the permission to take on
the job, well start some fine night for Berlin and give Heine the jolt
of his life."

Jack thrust out his hand impulsively.

"You can count for one on my going, Lieutenant; that is, provided I get
permission from the boss!" he announced promptly.

"I'm inclined to say the same," Tom added quietly, though his face
displayed an eagerness he did not otherwise betray.

With that Lieutenant Beverly squeezed a hand of each.

"I mean to start things going shortly," he told them. "And you'll surely
hear from me, for I must keep track of you boys."

"Where is the big Martin bomber now, did you say?" asked Jack.

"I didn't mention the fact, but it lies hidden in a special hangar on the
French coast, not a great distance from Dunkirk," came the answer. "I
have a special guard watching it, and my mechanics keep everything
ready for any sudden call. Right now she's tuned up to top-notch pitch,
and a full supply of gas is kept on hand all the time, as well as
everything needed in the way of supplies. That's where money talks."

Jack looked his admiration, and then burst out with:

"You're sure a dandy, Lieutenant Beverly, and if ever you undertake that
wonderful trip to Berlin and back I only hope I have the great good luck
to be aboard."

"Consider it settled then," he was told. "And now that I've found my
comrades for the venture I can go about further details, and start
getting the consent of Headquarters to the enterprise. One of these
nights Berlin is going to get a shock that may help bring the war to a
speedy close."

"Here's our dugout," said Tom. "We're going back to work again after I've
bandaged Jack's finger, for he gave it an ugly scratch when handling the
gun, he doesn't himself know just how. Can we do anything further for you
right now, Lieutenant?"

"Thank you, nothing, Raymond. I shall get on nicely. I'll rest up a day
or so while things are simmering connected with that big affair. Of
course it's to be a great secret among the three of us; not another soul
knows anything about my project or the giant bombing plane I had shipped
over to France."

"That's understood, and we're as mum as a couple of clams," Jack told
him; and so they separated, little dreaming at the moment what a
remarkable series of circumstances were fated to arise that would bring
them together for the carrying out of an enterprise greater than
anything as yet recorded in the annals of aerial exploits.

Tom and Jack were back on the field before half an hour had elapsed,
making a fresh start for the clouds, just as eager as ever to have some
adventurous Hun airman accept their challenge and give them battle.

For a whole hour did they fly back and forth in the disputed territory
between the two armies. Far beneath they could see by the aid of the
powerful binoculars marching columns of soldiers, all heading toward the
northwest. These they knew to be the German forces, making one of their
regular daily retreats in fairly good order.

Behind them the Hun armies left innumerable nests of machine-gunners to
dispute the advance of the Yankee battalions, and hold them in check,
even at the price of utter annihilation. Many times the men selected for
this sacrifice to the Fatherland held grimly on until they were
completely wiped out by the sweep of the Americans.

Occasionally one of the Yankee pilots, provoked because none of the enemy
dared to accept the gauge of battle he flung before them, would swoop
down and try to make a target of these marching columns. Then for a brief
period there would be exciting work, with the machine gun of the
scurrying plane splashing its spray of bullets amidst the scurrying
soldiers, and the daring pilot in return taking their volleys.

Perhaps, if the boldness of the Americans caused them to take too great
chances, there might be one less plane return to its starting point that
day; and the report would be brought in that the pilot had "met his fate
in the discharge of his duty."

Wearied at length of the useless task, the Air Service Boys finally gave
it up for that afternoon. Jack in particular showed signs of keen
disappointment, for he always chafed under inaction.

"There was some talk of another raid for tonight, you remember, Tom," he
said, when they once more alighted and gave the plane over into the
charge of the hostlers; "and if it turns out that way I only hope we're
detailed to go along to guard the bombers. It's growing worse and worse
right along these days, when Fritz seems to have gotten cold feet and
refuses to accept a dare."

"I see fellows reading letters," remarked Tom suddenly. "Let's hope there
is something for us."

"It's been a long time since I heard from home," sighed Jack. "I
certainly hope everything is going on well in old Virginia these days.
There's Captain Peters waving something at us right now, Tom!"

"Letters, Jack, and a sheaf of them at that!"

"Come on, let's run!" urged the impatient one, suiting his actions to the
words by starting off on a gallop.

Tom took it a little more slowly so that when he arrived and received his
letters from the aviation instructor, who happened to be in the camp at
the time, Jack was already deeply immersed in one which he had received.

It was late in the afternoon. The sun hung low in the west, looking fiery
red, which promised a fair day on the morrow. Once he had his letters,
however, Tom paid but scant attention to anything else.

His news from Virginia must have been pleasant, if one could judge from
the smile that rested upon his wind and sun-tanned face as he read on.
Again in memory he could see those loved ones in the old familiar haunts,
going about their daily tasks, or enjoying themselves as usual. And
whenever they sat under the well-remembered tree in the cool of the early
fall evening, with the soft Virginia air fanning their cheeks, the red
and golden hues of frost-touched leaves above them, he knew their talk
was mostly of him, the absent one, most fondly loved.

Tom looked up. He thought he had heard a groan, or something very
similar, break from the lips of his chum. It startled Tom so that when he
saw how troubled Jack looked a spasm of alarm gripped his heart.

"Why, what is the matter with you?" he cried, leaning forward and laying
a hand on the other's arm. "Have you had bad news from home?"

Jack nodded his head, and as he turned his eyes his chum saw there was a
look of acute anxiety in them.

"No one dead, or sick, I hope, Jack?" continued the other apprehensively.

"No, at least that is spared me, Tom; they are all well. But just the
same, it's a bad muddle. And the worst of it is I'm thousands of miles
off, held up by army regulations, when I ought to get home for a short
visit right away."

"See here, is it anything connected with that Burson property--has that
matter come to a head at last?" demanded Tom, as a light dawned upon him.

"Nothing less," assented the other gloomily. "The issue has been suddenly
forced, and may be settled any day. If I'm not there, according to the
eccentric will of my uncle, Joshua Adams Kinkaid, that property will fall
into the hands of my cousin, Randolph Carringford, who, as we both know,
is just at present over here acting in a confidential capacity to some
Government official."

"Yes, I've seen him," said Tom, frowning. "And to tell the honest truth
his face didn't impress me strongly. In fact, I didn't like your cousin.
What's the use? All Virginia knows that Randolph Carringford is a black
sheep--that no decent man or woman will acknowledge him for a friend.
Wonder what Joshua Kinkaid meant, anyhow, by ringing him in. But are the
lands worth as much as it was believed, Jack?"

"I learn in this letter from our lawyer that the richest kind of coal
veins have been located on the Burson property in West Virginia; and that
they promise to be valued at possibly a million dollars. Think of what
that would mean to the Parmly family! For we are far from being rich.
Father lost his grip on business you know, Tom, when he volunteered, and
went into the Spanish war, and when he died did not leave very much."

"Do you suppose your cousin knows anything about this new development?"
continued Tom sympathetically.

"He is too greedy not to have looked after every possible chance," came
Jack's despondent reply. "And now that this thing's come up I can begin
to understand why he kept smiling in that way all the time he chatted
with me a week ago when we chanced to meet. I think he had had a tip
even then that this thing was coming off, and was laying his plans.
Though how he could known, I can't imagine."

"Then you suspect he may already be on his way across, and will arrive
before you can get there to put in your claim?" asked Tom.

"Even allowing that he had no news until this mail got in, Tom, he'd get
off a whole lot easier that I'll ever be able to, and so could catch a
boat, while I kept untwisting the army red tape. It's a bad job all
around, I'm afraid, and bound to make me feel blue."

"There's only one thing for you to do, Jack." remarked the energetic chum
promptly, and his confidence gave the other considerable satisfaction.

"What is that?"

"Apply for leave at once. And include me at the same time, because I'll
go with you, of course, Jack. We'll try to get back in time to join in
the grand march to the Rhine. Promise me to do this before we sleep
to-night!"

"I will, Tom, and here's my hand on it!"



CHAPTER IV

THE REST BILLET


"Here's a pretty kettle of fish, Jack!" Tom Raymond remarked several
hours later, as he came into the dingy dugout where his chum was sitting.

A number of other pilots and observers occupied the same quarters, which
had once been the refuge of German officers. Wretched though these
quarters were, they at least afforded security from the bursting shells
that were being sent across now and then by the enemy, from their
positions on the hills to the northwest.

Jack had been paying small heed to the merriment of his mates, who, like
most young men gathered together in a group, had been carrying on high.
Sitting there with his head resting on his hand he had allowed himself to
become buried in deep thought. A strained worried look had taken
possession of his usually sunny face.

"What's the matter now, Tom?" he asked, with a deep sigh, as though he
had been rudely brought back to a realization of the fact that he was
still in France, where the battle raged, and far removed from those
peaceful Virginia scenes he had been picturing.

"We're ordered out with that raiding party to-night," Tom continued,
lowering his voice to a whisper, since it was supposed to be a military
secret, and not to be openly discussed.

"Oh! Well, what does it matter?" asked Jack, beginning to show animation.
"We've put in our applications for leave, but the chances are they'll not
be acted upon immediately, although we asked for speed. And nothing would
please me more than to see action while I'm waiting. I'm afraid I'd go
clean daffy unless I could forget my troubles in some way."

"Glad to hear you say that, Jack, because I'm feeling particularly keen
myself to be one of that bunch to-night"

"When do we start?" demanded the other tersely.

"Not until two in the morning," came the low reply. "All that's been
figured out with regard to the moon you know."

Jack took a quick glance around. So far as he could see, no one was
paying the least attention to him and his comrade. One of the air pilots
was trying to sing a song, being in jovial mood after receiving a letter
that he admitted was from his "girl in the States" and the others
manifested a desire to join in the chorus, though none of them dared let
their voices out, since it was against the rules.

"Did you learn anything about the job we've got on hand, Tom?"

"Yes, that's what I did; though I believe it was not generally told to
all who are to be in the party," came the cautious reply. "Of course just
before the flight they'll be given full particulars, when orders are
issued to the pilots and observers. It's a bridge this time, Jack!"

"That one spanning the river about twenty miles back of the German lines,
do you mean?"

"Yes, it's the most important bridge within fifty miles. Over it day and
night the retreating Boche armies are passing. There's hardly a minute
that guns and regiments may not be seen passing across at that point."

"Yes," observed Jack, "and a number of times some of our airmen have
tried to bomb it in the daytime; but Fritz keeps such a vigilant watch we
never could succeed in getting close enough to do any material damage.
And so the High Command has decided that bridge must be knocked to
flinders!"

"We're going out to make the attempt, anyhow," resumed Tom, nodding.
"Four big bombing machines in the bunch, guarded by eight battleplanes;
and we've the good fortune to be chosen as the crew of one. I consider
we're lucky, Jack."

"That's right, Tom. Though I don't feel quite as keen for it as I would
have been had I not received that letter from our lawyer, asking me to
hurry back home if I could possibly make it. Still, I'll be in for a bad
night, anyhow, and might just as well be working."

"Are you worrying about your cousin?" demanded Tom suspiciously.

"To tell you the truth I am, more or less," Jack confessed. "I know him
as a man utterly without principle. When he knows that it is a race
between us to see which one can get to America first, so as to win the
prize my foolish uncle left in such a haphazard way, there's absolutely
nothing, I honestly believe, that Randolph wouldn't attempt in order to
keep me from getting there in advance of him."

"Well, try to forget all that just now," said Tom. "I've a nice little
surprise for you, Jack. I suppose you know they've got a sort of 'Y' hut
running back here a bit?"

"Heard some of the fellows talking about it, but, somehow, didn't seem to
take much stock in the news. Fact is, I've temporarily lost my taste for
those doughnuts and the girls who give their time to jollying up our
fellows, as well as attending to their many wants in the line of letter
writing and such things."

"Perhaps," insinuated Tom, with a mild grin, "a doughnut mightn't go
so badly now if the girl who offered it happened to answer to the name
of Bessie?"

At that Jack suddenly began to show more interest. A gleam came into his
saddened eyes and a faint smile to his face.

"That's an altogether different thing, Tom!" he exclaimed. "Do you really
mean that Bessie and Mrs. Gleason are so close as all that?"

"If you care to walk out with me you can be talking to them inside of
fifteen minutes," came the ready answer. "And while about it, I might
as well tell you that Nellie is there too. Seems that she's attached to
a field hospital staff that's keeping us close company, and, meeting
the Gleasons, came over for the evening. She's been overworked lately,
and needs some rest. I promised to come back for a short while, and
fetch you along."

"Did--er, Bessie ask you to look me up?" asked Jack confusedly.

"To be sure! Twice at least. And I had to promise solemnly I'd do it even
if I had to take you by the collar and hustle you there. But our time is
limited, and we'd better be on our way, Jack."

The other showed an astonishing return to his old form. Apparently the
mere fact that he was about to see the Gleasons again caused him to
forget, temporarily at least, all about his fresh troubles. They were
soon hurrying along, now and then dropping flat as some shell shrieked
overhead or burst with a crash not far away.

Their relations with Mrs. Gleason and Bessie were very remarkable, and of
a character to bind them close together in friendship. In fact, as has
been described at length in one of the earlier books of this series, Tom
and Jack had been mainly instrumental in releasing the mother and young
daughter from a chateau where they were being held prisoner by an
unscrupulous and plotting relative, with designs on their fortune.

The so-called "hut" of the Y.M.C.A. workers was really only another
dilapidated and abandoned German dugout, which had been hurriedly
arranged as a sort of makeshift headquarters, where the doughboys who
could get leave might gather and find such amusement as the
conditions afforded.

There were Salvation Army lassies present too, with their pies and
doughnuts that made the boys feel closer to home than almost anything
else, and even a sprinkling of Red Cross nurses from the field hospital
who had been given a brief leave for recuperation.

Adjoining this particular rest billet was another of similar character
run by the K. of C., which was also well patronized; indeed there seemed
to be a friendly rivalry between the organizations to discover which
could spread the most sunshine and cheer abroad.

Jack immediately was pounced upon by a pretty, young girl whose face was
either very sunburned or covered with blushes. This was of course the
Bessie mentioned by Tom. Others who watched professed a bit of envy
because Jack received all her attention after he appeared.

Nellie Leroy, the Red Cross nurse, looked very sweet in her regulation
hospital uniform, with the insignia of her calling on her sleeve. If her
face bore a sad expression it was no more than must be expected of one
seeing so much suffering at close quarters as came to the share of all
the women and girls who devoted their very lives to such a calling. In
Tom's eyes she was the prettiest girl in all France. It could also be
seen that Nellie was very fond of the stalwart young air pilot, from the
way in which her eyes rested on his figure whenever he chanced to be
absent from her side during the next hour; which to tell the truth was
not often.

Of course nothing was said about the night's dangerous work that lay
ahead for the two chums. But Bessie noticed that Jack occasionally
looked grave, and questioned him concerning it. In answer he took her
into his confidence to a certain extent concerning his reason for wanting
to be in Virginia.

The time for separating came all too soon. Tom was very particular about
this, being a firm believer in duty before pleasure.

"Look us up often if you get the chance," said Mrs. Gleason, who had been
actively at work all the evening carrying out her customary duties, and
proving indeed a "good angel" to scores of the young soldiers, who looked
upon her as they might on their own mothers.

"You can depend on it we will," said Tom, giving Nellie a warm look that
caused her eyes to drop and a wave of color to come into her cheeks.

"Wild horses couldn't keep me away, if I can get across," Jack told
Bessie, as he was squeezing her little hand at separating. "But then you
never know what's going to happen these days. All sorts of things are
possible. If I do start across the big pond you'll hear of it, Bessie."

Jack looked back and waved his hand to the little group standing in the
door of the dugout. He seemed much more cheerful than earlier in the
evening, Tom thought; and as that had been one of his motives in getting
the other across from the aviation camp he felt satisfied.

"And now for business," he remarked as they made their way along, with a
frequent bursting shell giving them light to see any gap in the road into
which they might otherwise have stumbled.

Fritz was unusually active on this particular night, for some reason or
other, for he kept up that hammering hour after hour. It might be the
German High Command suspected that the Americans were ready to make a
more stupendous push than had as yet been undertaken, with the idea of
capturing a whole division, or possibly two, before they could get away;
and this bombardment was continued in hopes of discouraging them.

The two Air Service Boys did not bother themselves about this, being
content to leave all such matters to those in command. They had their
orders and expected to obey them to the letter, which was quite
enough for them.

Once more in their dugout, Tom and his comrade crawled into their limited
sleeping quarters simply to rest, neither of them meaning to try to
forget themselves in slumber.

When the time came for action they were soon crawling out of the hole in
the ground. As pilots came and went unnoticed, each intent on his
individual work, their departure caused not the faintest ripple. In fact,
there were two other airmen who also came out and joined them when making
for the place of the temporary canvas hangars, they, too, having had
secret orders concerning this same night raid.

Arriving on the open field, they found a busy scene awaiting them. Here
were mechanics by the score getting planes ready for ascension. The
hum of motors and the buzz of propellers being tuned up could be heard in
many quarters.

Those sounds always thrilled the hearts of the two boys; it seemed to
challenge them to renewed efforts to accomplish great things in their
chosen profession. When, however, they reached their own hangar and
found a knot of mechanics working furiously, Tom's suspicions
instantly arose.

"What's wrong here?" he asked the man who was in charge of the gang.

"There's been some sort of ugly business going on, I'm afraid," came the
reply; "for we're replacing several wire stays that look as if they'd
been partly eaten by a corrosive acid. Smacks of rank treachery,
Sergeant."



CHAPTER V

THE AIR RAIDERS


Upon hearing the words uttered by the mechanic who handled the men
working at their battleplane, Tom and his chum exchanged meaning looks.

"Can you make it perfectly safe again before half an hour passes?" asked
the former anxiously.

"Surely," came the confident reply. "I know what's in the wind, and
you'll be fit for any sort of flight when another fifteen minutes has
gone by. We're on the last stay now, and I've carefully examined the
motor and every other thing about the plane. Don't fear to risk your
lives on my report. I'd go up myself willingly if I had the chance."

"All right, Sessions, we're willing to take your word for it," Tom
assured him, and then drew his comrade aside.

Jack on his part was eager for a little talk between themselves. That
staggering fact had appalled, as well as angered, him. Why should
their particular plane have been selected for such treacherous work,
among all the scores connected with the air service in that sector of
the fighting front?

"What do you make of this thing, Tom?" he immediately demanded.

"It's an ugly bit of business, I should say," came the guarded reply.

"You mean calculated to make every one feel timid about taking any
extraordinary risk--is that it?" continued Jack.

"Yes, if the fact were generally circulated. But according to my mind
they'll keep it quiet until after the armada gets off. No use alarming
the others, though orders have gone out I presume to have every plane
carefully examined. Still, that would only be ordinary caution; we never
go up without doing such a thing."

"Tom, do you think there could be any possible connection between this
work of a German spy, as it appears on the surface, and my news from Mr.
Smedley, the lawyer?"

"It's possible--even probable, Jack. A whole lot depends on whether we
learn of any other plane having been meddled with. One thing sure, it'll
spur them to greater vigilance about watching things here. This isn't
the first time there's been a suspicion of rank treachery. Planes have
been known to be meddled with before now."

"I wouldn't put it past him!" muttered Jack sullenly.

"Meaning your cousin Randolph, I suppose," Tom added. "Nice opinion to
have of a near relative, I must say. But then I'm inclined to agree with
you. It may be only a queer coincidence, your getting such important news
this afternoon, and some unknown party trying to bring about our downfall
and death in this brazen way only a few hours afterwards."

"And using corrosive acid, too," spluttered the indignant Jack. "I've
heard of ropes being partly cut, even wire stays or struts filed to
weaken them; but this is the limit. Don't I wish they'd caught the skunk
in the act!"

"He'd never have left this aviation camp alive," said Tom sternly. "Why,
the boys would be so furious they'd be tempted to lynch him offhand."

"And I'd be glad to help pull the rope!" snapped Jack. "A more cowardly
act couldn't be imagined than this. Air pilots take great enough chances,
without being betrayed by spies or traitors."

"We'd better say nothing about it," Tom concluded. "I'm going to run
over the entire machine on my own account."

"And I'll do the same, Tom; for a pilot can't be too sure of his mount,
especially when there's such meanness afoot."

They accordingly busied themselves after their individual fashion. Every
brace and stay was looked over carefully and tested as only pilots know
how. Long experience, and many accidents have taught them where the weak
spots lie, and they understand how to guard against the giving way at
these points.

So the minutes passed. Other pilots had already ascended to await the
assembling of the picked squadron at some given altitude. Every minute
or two could be heard the rush of some unit starting forth. There were
few of the accompaniments of an ordinary ascent, for all loud cries had
been banned.

"All ready!" came the welcome words at last.

The last strut had been carefully gone over, and now everything was
pronounced in perfect condition. At the same time, after such a discovery
had been made, it was only natural for the boys to feel a queer tug in
the region of their hearts as they climbed to their seats, and with hands
that quivered a little proceeded to make fast the safety belts.

"There goes another bomber, which makes four--the full number you spoke
of, Tom," remarked Jack. "I suppose we're holding up the procession more
or less, worse luck, when usually we can be found in the lead."

"The commander must know about our mishap," replied Tom, "and isn't
apt to blame us for any little delay. The night's still young, and we
can reach our destination in half an hour, with time to spare. So
cheer up, old comrade; everything's lovely and the goose hangs high.
Now we're off!"

With that he gave the word, and paid attention to his motor, which
started a merry hum. The propellers commenced to spin, and down the
slight slope they ran with constantly increasing speed. All around them
could be heard the refrain of planes in action; from above came similar
sounds, and Jack, looking up, discovered dim scurrying forms of
mysterious shape that flitted across the star-decked sky like giant bats.

Now they, too, were rising swiftly in spirals. Both kept a keen watch,
for it was at this time they stood the greatest chance of taking part in
an unfortunate collision that might result in a fatal disaster.

But every pilot was on edge, and careful to avoid any such blunder. They
had been well drilled in all the maneuvers connected with just such a
hurried ascent in numbers. Each plane had its regular orbit of action,
and must not overstep the bounds on penalty of the commander's
displeasure.

After mounting to the arranged height, the Air Service Boys found that it
was a very animated region, though fully a thousand feet from the earth's
surface. Almost a dozen planes in all were moving in a great circle,
their motors lazily droning, and the pilots ready to enter into squadron
formation on signal.

In fact, Tom and his chum were the last to arrive, which under the
circumstances was not to be wondered at.

"All on deck, I reckon," called out Jack, after he had taken a survey
about him. "There's the signal from the flagship, Tom. We've got to
keep the red lantern ahead of us and fall into line. There go the
bombers to the center, and our place you said was on the left, tailing
the whole bunch."

Like a well disciplined aerial navy they fell into place, each taking its
position as previously arranged. When the formation was made complete
another signal was given. This meant the advance was now to begin, and
the crossing of the German lines undertaken.

Unless there chanced to be some mistake made concerning the proper
altitude required, so as to clear all possible bombardment when over the
Hun lines, this might be accomplished without danger. So far as was
known, they had gauged the utmost capacity for reaching them possessed by
the German anti-aircraft guns, and Jack promised himself to jeer at the
futile efforts of these gunners to explode their shrapnel shells close to
the speeding armada.

Something must have been underrated, however; and, in fact, few plans
can be regarded as absolutely perfect. The advancing raiders were
passing over the enemy front when a furious bombardment suddenly burst
forth below.

Jack could see the spiteful flashes of the numerous guns, and while the
sound of the discharges came but faintly to his ears, to his
consternation, all around them, as well as above and below, came sharp
crackling noises, accompanied by bursts of dazzling light.

They were actually in the midst of a storm of bursting projectiles and in
immediate peril of having some damage done to their swift-flying planes
such as would spell ruin to the enterprise, perhaps bring instant death
to some of the fliers!



CHAPTER VI

STRIKING A BLOW FOR LIBERTY


"Climb, Tom! Climb in a hurry!"

Jack Parmly shrilled these words close to the ear of his chum. Really,
there was no need of his saying a single word, since the pilot had sensed
their immediate danger just as quickly as had Jack himself. Already Tom
was pulling the lever that would point the nose of their aerial craft
upward toward the stars, and take them to a much loftier elevation.

The experience was very exciting while it lasted, Jack thought. He saw
the numerous planes, forming the raiding squadron break formation in
great haste, each pilot being eager to dodge the bursting shells and seek
an elevation where they could not reach his flimsy craft.

It would take only one accidental shrapnel shell to cause the destruction
of the best machine among them, and thus reduce the number of available
airmen serving the cause of liberty.

For a brief interval the explosions continued to sound all around them.
But presently Jack was enabled to breathe easily again. They had climbed
beyond the range of the German guns, no matter how heavily charged; and,
besides this, they sped along rapidly, so that the Hun lines were soon
left behind.

"Trouble's past. Admiral signaling keep on this level, Tom!" called out
the observer.

"Got you, Jack!" came the answer, heard above the rushing noises that
"made the welkin ring," as Jack told himself.

The firing ceased as the German gunners realized, to their chagrin
doubtless, that again their intended prey had eluded them. They must have
set those anti-aircraft quick-firers of theirs in fresh elevated
emplacements after the Yankees had taken the measure of their power to do
harm; but the trap, if such it was intended to be, had failed to catch a
single victim.

"Did they get any of our crowd?" Tom called out, feeling considerable
uneasiness as to the result of the bombardment.

"Never touched us," he was immediately assured by the observant Jack.
"All the same it was a smart trick, and somebody's bound to be hauled
over the coals on account of the blunder."

"Yes," admitted Tom, speaking loud so as to be heard above the roar of
the numerous planes around them, "because it might have played hob with
the squadron, and even ruined the success of the whole expedition."

After that they relapsed into silence. It was exceedingly difficult to
try to keep up any sort of conversation while going at such a furious
pace through the upper air currents. Besides, the night was cold at such
an elevation, and consequently both boys had their heads well muffled
up, making use of hoods with goggles for the purpose. They also wore
gloves on their hands, as well as heavy sweaters under their
leather-lined coats.

The formation, in a way, reminded Jack of many a flock of wild geese that
he had seen flying north or south over Virginia in their spring and
autumn migrations. In the lead went the battleplane containing the
squadron commander, forming the apex of the triangle, and showing a fiery
red eye in the shape of an automobile rear light as a rallying point for
all the other machines.

Then the seven other battleplanes sank away from the apex, three on one
side and four on the other, that of the Air Service Boys being the one to
the rear of all the rest.

Flying two and two abreast, and guarded on both sides by those sturdy
fighting craft came the four huge bombers, each heavily laden with the
most destructive of explosives. They, too, could show teeth if cornered
and compelled to depend on their own defensive powers; for each of them
carried a machine gun, of which the observer had been trained to make
good use, just as he must know how to drop his bombs successfully when
the proper instant arrived.

All seemed quiet just at present, but none of those guiding the aerial
racing craft deceived themselves with the belief that this could last
long. It went without saying that the Huns must realize the necessity for
guarding the important bridge across which their beaten armies were
flocking day and night in constantly increasing numbers. Unless the guns
could be taken across in safety, they stood to lose many of their best
batteries.

Consequently they would be apt to assemble a flotilla of fighting planes
in that vicinity, ready to soar aloft and give furious battle to any
Allied squadron venturesome enough to make the attempt at destruction.

If the blowing up of the bridge could only be accomplished, the sacrifice
of a few planes with their crews might be counted a cheap price to pay
for the great benefits reaped.

The minutes passed, and all the while the raiders were drawing nearer and
nearer their intended goal. Every pilot and observer in that squadron had
been carefully selected with a view to his fitness for the gigantic task
that had been laid out for accomplishment.

There would be no hesitation when the eventful moment came, since none
was present save those who had been tried in the furnace of battle and
found to be fine gold, eighteen carat pure. Such a thing as flinching
when the test came was not to be considered; they would carry through
their appointed tasks or fall while in the endeavor, paying the price the
airman has ever had dangled before his eyes.

Jack was using his night-glass, and he now broke out with a cry.

"We must be getting close to the bridge, Tom! I can see flickering
lights darting about, and I believe they must be planes rushing up
into the air!"

"Like as not they've been warned of our coming by the row we're making,"
replied the pilot, in a shout. "Then again those Huns along the line
would send word back, for they must know what we're aiming at. It's all
the same to us. We came out after action, and we'd be terribly
disappointed if we didn't get a lot of it."

Then came signals from the leading plane. Closer formation was the rule
from that time forward, since the bombers must be amply protected in
order to allow their gunners an opportunity to get to work with those
frightful explosives and hurl them at the place where the bridge was
supposed to lie.

Both boys began to feel their pulses thrill with eagerness, as well as
excitement. Looking down, Jack could detect moving lights, the source of
which he could only speculate upon. Then came a flash which must mark the
discharge of the first anti-aircraft gun. The enemy was showing exceeding
nervousness, for as yet the leading American plane could not be anywhere
within range.

With the burst of shrapnel there came a realization that the gunners
below were only trying to get their range. The whole pack would break
loose in another minute or less; but Jack had reason to believe their
altitude was such as to render the fusillade harmless.

Then down below he saw a sudden brilliant flash. That must mark the
falling of a flaming bomb, dropped from one of the big planes in order to
get a lead on their location. Jack believed he had even glimpsed the
bridge itself in that brief interval. How the prospect thrilled him!

Tom, on his part, had little opportunity to observe anything that was
taking place earthward. His duty lay closer at hand, for he knew that a
swarm of fighting Gothas had started up to engage the attacking squadron,
and realized that one or more of these hostile aircraft might suddenly
appear close at hand, bent on bringing about their destruction.

Besides, constant vigilance was the price of safety in other particulars.
With almost a dozen of their own planes speeding through space, a false
move on the part of a careless pilot was apt to bring about a collision
that could have only one result.

Jack made a discovery just then that caused him to cry out.

"The signal, Tom! We are to drop down and give the bombers a better
chance to get there. No matter what the cost, we've got to reach that
bridge to-night!"

Already Tom was changing the course. They had begun to swing lower, each
unit of the attacking squadron in its appointed place. A brief interval
followed, and then came the bursting shrapnel again around them, while
from several quarters close by hovering German planes commenced using
their machine guns, to be answered by the challengers in like manner.



CHAPTER VII

THE BATTLE IN THE AIR


The din soon became general, one after another of the American planes
joining in the battle. The German aircraft held off a little, fighting
from afar, evidently thinking to accomplish their ends without taking too
much risk. Had they boldly assaulted, doubtless the result would have
been much more disastrous to both sides.

The big bombers had but one object in view, which was to bomb the
important target below. To drop an explosive on a certain spot had been
the most important training of those aboard these craft. They had been
carefully selected from the ranks of the many observers taking service
in the aviation branch of the service; and great things were expected
of them now.

The Huns had concentrated the glare of numerous searchlights on the hub
of the squadron's activities, so that the speeding planes could be seen
darting hither and thither like bats during an August evening, darting
around some arc-light in the street.

The flash of the distant guns aboard the planes looked like faint
fire-flies in action. No longer was the earth wrapped in darkness, for
flares dropped by the bombers kept continually on fire. The bridge stood
plainly out, and a keen eye, even without the aid of glasses, could
distinguish the rush of terrorized German troopers trying to get clear of
the danger zone before a well directed bomb struck home.

Jack, leaning from his seat, took all this in. He was keyed to the
top-notch by what he saw and heard. Tame indeed did most other incidents
of the past appear when compared with this most stupendous event.

"Wow!" burst from his lips, as a sudden brilliant flash below told that
the first huge bomb had struck; but with all that racket going on around
of course no ordinary human voice could have been heard.

He could see that it had not been a successful attempt, for the bomb
struck the ground at some little distance away from the terminus of the
structure spanning the river. However, it did considerable damage where
it fell, and created no end of alarm among those who were near by.

As yet the Air Service Boys had not been engaged with any of the hostile
planes, though most of the other Yankee pilots seemed to be having their
hands full in meeting and repelling fierce attacks.

Both kept in readiness for work should their turn come, Tom manipulating
the plane, and Jack working the rapid-fire gun which he had learned to
handle so cleverly.

Strangely enough, Jack, as he looked, was reminded of a vast circus which
he had once attended, and where tumblers, athletes, and trained animals
were all performing in three rings at the same time. He had found it
utterly impossible to watch everything that went on, and remembered
complaining lustily afterwards in consequence.

Now there were some eleven rings in all, besides what was taking place
thousands of feet below, where the bombs had started to burst, tearing
great gaps in the ground close to the bridge, and causing the water
itself to gush upward like spouting geysers.

Lower still dropped the venturesome pilots guiding the destinies of the
four huge bombers. What chances they were taking, bent only on succeeding
in the important task to which they had been assigned!

Jack knew he would never forget that dreadful crisis, no matter if he
were allowed to live to the age of Methuselah; such an impression did it
make upon his mind.

But their turn came at length, for in the dim light two big Gothas were
discovered swinging in toward them as though bent on bringing about the
destruction of the Yankee battleplane.

Jack forgot about what was taking place below, since all of his
energies must now be directed toward beating off this double attack.
It had come to the point of self-preservation. The Hun airmen were
playing a prearranged game of hunting in couples. While one made a
feint at attacking, the other expected to take advantage of an
exposure and inflict a fatal blow that would send the American
aeroplane whirling to death.

Jack saw when the nearest plane opened fire. The spitting flame told him
this, for it darted out like the fiery tongue of a serpent. He also
realized that the bullets were cutting through space all around them; and
a splinter striking his arm announced the fuselage of the plane had
already been struck, showing the gunner had their range.

Then Jack began work on his own account, not meaning to let the fight
become one-sided. His duty was to pepper any of the enemy craft that came
within range, regardless of consequences. To Tom must be left the entire
running of the plane motor, as well as the maneuvering that would form a
part of the affray.

Heedless of what was taking place around them, the two chums devoted
their attention to the task of baffling the designs of their two foes.
Wonderfully well did Tom manage his aerial steed. They swung this way
and that, dipped, rose, and cut corners in a dizzying fashion in the
endeavor to confuse the aim of the Hun marksmen.

Once Jack experienced a sudden sinking in the region of his heart. There
was a strange movement to the plane that made him fear the motor had been
struck. He also missed the cheery hum at the same time, and felt a
sickening sensation of falling.

But immediately he realized that Tom was only executing his pet drop, the
nose-dive. One of the Huns followed them down, just as a hawk-might
pursue its prey. When the American plane came out of the dive at the new
level Jack saw that the Hun was closer than ever, and once again starting
to bombard them.

At least they now had only a single adversary to deal with, which could
be reckoned a point gained. Most of the fighting was going on above them,
but Jack believed the bombers must be somewhere near by, possibly at a
still lower level.

Again the maneuvering, or jockeying, for position commenced. In this air
duel the pilot who knew his business best was going to come out ahead. It
might be they were opposed by some celebrated German ace with a long list
of victories to his credit, which would render their chances smaller.

Tom, however, seemed to be keeping up his end wonderfully well. The
hissing missiles cut through the canvas of their wings, beat upon the
side of the fuselage, and even nipped the Air Service Boys more than once
as they stormed past. Neither of the boys knew whether they were
seriously wounded or not; all they could do was to fight on and on, until
something definite had been achieved on one side or the other.

Once Jack felt something blinding him, and putting up a hand discovered
that it was wet; yet he was not conscious of having been struck in the
head by a passing bullet. Dashing his sleeve across his eyes he shut his
jaws still tighter together, and continued to play his gun as the
opportunity arose.

They were coming to closer quarters, and the issue of the battle, however
dreadful the result, could not be much longer delayed, Jack knew.

Then it happened, coming like a flash of lightning from the storm cloud!



CHAPTER VIII

BOMBING THE BRIDGE


"Tom, we've done it!" Jack shrieked, when he saw the enemy Gotha plane
take a sudden significant dip and flutter downward like a stricken bird.

Evidently a shot more fortunate than any that had preceded it had
struck a vital part of the rival craft, putting the motor suddenly out
of repair.

When he felt his plane begin to crumple up under him the Hun pilot had
commenced to strive frantically to recover control. Jack, horror-stricken
by what was happening, leaned over and watched his struggle, which he
knew was well nigh hopeless from the beginning.

Still the German ace made a valiant effort to avoid his fate. He could be
seen working madly to keep from overturning, but apparently his hour had
struck, for the last Jack saw of the beaten Gotha it was turning
topsy-turvy, falling like a shooting star attracted to the earth by the
law of gravitation.

That affair being over, Jack, breathing hard, now allowed himself to pay
some attention to what was going on in other quarters. At the same time
he proceeded to introduce a fresh belt of cartridges into the hungry maw
of the machine gun, in case they were forced into another engagement.

Above them the battle still raged, though of course Jack could not decide
which side might be getting the better of it. His interest focused
chiefly on the bombing machines, which he found were now far away, moving
along in erratic courses as their pilots strove to get in exact position
for a successful blowing up of the bridge.

Jack could count only three of them. Unless the fourth had wandered far
afield it looked as though disaster had overtaken its crew. No matter,
even such a catastrophe must not deter those remaining from seeking by
every means in their power to reach their objective.

Even as he stared downward Jack saw another of those brilliant flashes
that proclaimed the bursting of a bomb. He felt a sense of chagrin steal
over him, because so far no explosive seemed to have succeeded in
attaining the great end sought. The bridge still stood intact, if
deserted, for he could catch glimpses of it when the smoke clouds were
drifted aside by the night breeze.

Fires were now burning in several quarters, started undoubtedly by some
of the bombs that had missed their intended objective. These lighted up
the scene and gave it a weird, almost terrifying aspect as witnessed from
far above.

All at once Jack saw some bulky object pass between their machine and the
ground below. It must be the missing bomber, he concluded, though the
realization of the fact made him thrill all over in admiration of the
nerve of those who could accept such terrible chances.

Yes, despairing of getting in a telling blow at such a height, the
reckless crew of the big Yankee plane had actually dropped down
until they could not be more than a thousand feet from the earth.
And now they were speeding forward, meaning to test their skill at
such close quarters.

Not being able to make Tom hear his voice, Jack gave the other a tug, and
so managed to call his attention to what was passing below. Just in time
did Tom look, for at that very moment there came another of those amazing
brilliant illuminations, and the dull roar greeted their ears a few
seconds afterwards.

They saw with staring eyes the air filled with the material that had once
constituted the wonderful bridge, across which day and night the
retreating Huns were taking their valuable guns and stores. A brief space
of time did the scene bear the aspect of chaos, and then, when the smoke
cleared sufficiently for them to see, they looked upon a void where the
bridge had stood.

Jack fell back appalled, yet quivering with deepest satisfaction.
Their raid would be one of triumph, since the main object had now
been achieved.

Hardly had he allowed himself to exult after this fashion than Jack
discovered that Tom seemed to be greatly agitated. So he once more looked
down, filled with a sudden fear lest the gallant fighters in that
adventurous bomber had paid dearly for their success.

He immediately saw that his alarm was not groundless. The big Yankee
plane must have been struck in some vital part, for it was rapidly
sinking as though doomed. Jack's only consolation lay in the fact that
the crew seemed to be in better luck than those of the stricken Gotha;
for they managed to keep from turning turtle; and unless striking the
ground with too great violence might yet come out of the affair alive,
even though finding themselves prisoners of war.

Tom was already striking for the upper levels. He saw that the other
three bombers had also commenced to climb, since their mission was now
carried out, and further risks would be only a needless hazard. Then,
too, the crews of the battle Gothas, realizing that they had failed to
save the bridge, concluded to withdraw from the combat, leaving the
Americans to make their way back to their starting point, victorious and
rejoicing.

Yes, there was the signal flashing from the plane of the commander, which
meant that the raiding squadron should assemble above the reach of the
crackling shrapnel, and prepare in a body for the homeward journey.

A sense of exultation, mingled with sincere thankfulness, gripped the
hearts of the two Air Service Boys as they realized that the peril was
now really a thing of the past. The homeward trip would be a mere
bagatelle, for surely no Huns would venture to attack them while on the
way. By exercising good judgment they ought also to keep above the reach
of those elevated anti-aircraft guns along the front hills.

Now Jack remembered the temporary blinding sensation. He found on
investigating that he had been near a serious accident, since a passing
bullet had grazed his head, cutting the skin and causing quite a copious
flow of blood.

"What's happened to you?" called out the alarmed Tom, on seeing that the
other was binding his handkerchief about his head.

"Another scratch, that's all," replied Jack, as though that were only a
matter of course, to be expected when modern knights of the upper air
currents sallied forth bent on adventure. "A miss is as good as a mile,
you know, Tom. And I guess I have a hard head in the bargain. It's all
right, nothing to worry over. Fortunately it didn't strike me in the
face, and mar my beauty any."

Jack could joke under almost any serious conditions; but Tom felt
relieved to know the worst. They were at the time back again in their
appointed place, tailing the procession.

Counting again as best he could, Jack discovered that there were only
seven of the battleplanes in the double line now. It looked very much as
though the loss of the big bomber was not the only penalty they had paid
for their daring raid. But no doubt the story would all be told after the
flight was over and the various pilots and observers could get together
to compare notes.

Again were they subjected to a bombardment when they sailed over the
German front lines; but this time, taking a lesson from their previous
experience, they maintained such an altitude that no shrapnel was able to
reach them.

Shortly afterward, and one by one, the battered Yankee planes dropped on
the open field where the hangars lay, like huge buzzards alighting to
satisfy their hunger in an orgy.

The first thing Tom did when he and Jack found themselves again on their
feet and the waiting mechanics and hostlers looking after their plane,
was to reach out and seize upon his chum's hand.

"We've got good reason to congratulate ourselves on coming through that
nasty business so well, Jack," he said earnestly. "If you look at our
machine you'll see how near we came a dozen times to cashing in our
checks. They knocked us up pretty well, for a fact."

"I should say they did," admitted Jack, as he examined the various marks
showing where the Hun bullets had punctured different parts of the wings,
or struck the fuselage, narrowly missing both the motor and the partly
protected petrol supply tank.

They lingered around for a full hour, there was so much to talk about as
they gathered in groups and compared experiences, as well as commented on
the possible fate of their fellow aviators who had failed to return.

In spite of the loss incurred, the achievement accomplished was of such a
character as to fill them with pardonable pride. No member of that
historical night raid, whereby the retreat of the Germans was so badly
handicapped by the loss of the big bridge, would ever have cause to blush
for his part in the bold undertaking.

Finally the two chums, finding themselves exhausted and in need of
sleep, broke away from the chattering throng and sought their bunks in
the former Hun dugout. All was now silence around them, the enemy
batteries having ceased sending over even occasional shells; and they
were able to enjoy a few hours of rest undisturbed by having the roof of
their shelter damaged by a chance explosion.

On the following morning the advance was resumed, the same tactics being
employed that had met with such success all through the Argonne. Wherever
they discovered that machine-gun nests had been placed these were
"mopped-up" by surrounding them, and then attacking from the rear, while
the attention of the defenders of the stone house, or it might be a
windmill foundation, was gripped by a pretense at frontal assault.

Those who had participated in the air raid on the bridge were given a day
off, so as to recuperate. They felt that they deserved it, for the
destruction of that bridge was apt to be a serious stumbling-block in the
path of the retreating Huns, one that might cost them dearly in the way
of prisoners and lost artillery.

Jack utilized this opportunity by striving to learn important facts in
connection with the matter that was weighing so heavily on his mind. He
absented himself from the dugout which the air pilots continued to
occupy and which they disliked giving up until assured of some other
half-way decent billet in a village that might be abandoned by Fritz when
falling back.

Of course Jack had to have his slight wounds attended to, and in order to
make sure that he had not neglected this before going off, Tom, during
the morning, found it absolutely necessary to wander over to the field
hospital, where of course he looked up Nellie.

Really it took almost a full hour for him to make all the inquiries he
considered essential; and he might have consumed a still longer time
but that there was a call for the nurse's services, and she had to
excuse herself.

"Never mind," said Tom grimly to himself, as he made his way back to the
old dugout, "it was well worth the walk. And Nellie is looking fine, for
a fact. They call her the most popular nurse at the front, and I've heard
fellows in plenty say that if ever they got knocked out by Hun bullets
they'd want nothing better than to have her take care of them."

He did not find Jack anywhere around when he got back, nor had those he
asked seen anything of him since early morning. Of course Tom knew what
it was that engaged the attention of his comrade, and he only hoped Jack
might not meet with any bad luck in his endeavor to learn something of
the movements of his cousin, Randolph Carringford.

Then came the afternoon. From indications Tom fancied that would be their
last night in the old dugout. The Huns were still falling back, and word
had been going around that by another day the Yankees would undoubtedly
occupy the village that lay just beyond the hills where the bursting
shrapnel had ascended on the occasion of the passage of the air squadron.

It was about four o'clock when Tom sighted his chum. Jack's face was
gloomy, and he lacked his customary sprightliness of walk.

As he came up he tried to smile, but it was a rank failure.

"Well," he said disconsolately, "the very worst has happened, Tom.
I've managed to get word after trying for hours, and have learned that
my cousin sailed yesterday from Havre. He's beat me to it, and I've
lost out!"



CHAPTER IX

CONVINCING PROOF


"Are you sure about that?" asked Tom, though at the same time realizing
that Jack was not the one to give in easily, and must have used every
avenue for gaining information before reaching this condition of
certainty.

"There's not the slightest reason to doubt it, I tell you, Tom," Jack
replied slowly, shaking his head at the same time to emphasize his
sorrowful feelings in the matter. "I asked particularly, and the word
came that a passenger named Randolph Carringford had sailed yesterday on
the _La Bretagne_ for New York."

"Then that point seems settled," admitted Tom, though disliking to
acknowledge the fact. "Still, something might happen to prevent his
reaching New York City, or Virginia."

"What could stop him, since I'm utterly powerless to do anything?" asked
Jack, still unconvinced.

"Well," continued the would-be comforter, "vessels have started out
before this and never arrived at their destination. Take the _Lusitania_
for instance. More than ever are the Hun submersibles on the job these
critical days, for their commanders know they've almost got to their
last gasp."

"No such luck for me, I'm afraid, Tom," sighed the other, quickly
adding: "And for that matter I wouldn't want to profit at the expense of
the lives of others. So I hope the French boat gets safely past the
closed zone, no matter what it costs me personally. But it galls me to
feel how helpless I am. If my hands were tied this minute I couldn't be
worse off."

"Are you sure cabling would do no good, if we could manage to send an
urgent message?"

"Nothing will do except my presence there in person before Randolph can
present himself, thanks to our uncle's foolish will that puts a premium
on rascality. Yes, it's a bitter pill I have to swallow. I'd do anything
under the sun if only I could hope to beat that scheming cousin out! But
it's useless; so I'll just have to grin and bear it."

"I wish I had any suggestion to offer," remarked Tom; "but to tell the
truth I don't see what you can do but wait and see what happens. We've
got our applications for leave in, and some influential friends pulling
wires to help us through. Something may turn up at the last minute."

"It's mighty fine of you to say that, though I know you're only trying to
keep me from discouragement."

"See who's coming, will you?" suddenly ejaculated Tom.

Even before he looked the other could give a shrewd guess as to the
identity of the person approaching, for Tom seemed unduly pleased.

"It's Nellie, as sure as anything," muttered Jack. "I wonder what's
brought her over here. You don't imagine anything could have happened to
Bessie or Mrs. Gleason--the Huns haven't been trying to bomb any 'Y' huts
or hospitals lately, have they, Tom?"

"Not that I've heard," came the ready answer. "And besides, I had the
pleasure of chatting with Nellie for a whole hour this morning. You see
I got a bit anxious about you; was afraid you'd neglected to step over
and get those cuts attended to as you'd promised; so to make sure I
wandered across."

"Of course you did!" jeered Jack. "And if that excuse hadn't held water
there were plenty more shots in the locker! But never mind; here's Nellie
hurrying toward us. Doesn't she look rather serious, Tom?"

"We'll soon know what's in the wind," was the answer, as the pretty Red
Cross nurse hastened to join the two boys.

"You didn't expect to see me again so soon, I imagine, Tom," she said as
she came up, trying to catch her breath at the same time, for she had
evidently hurried.

"No, I must say I didn't dream I'd have that pleasure, Nellie," replied
the air pilot, as he took her hand in his and squeezed it. "But something
unusual must have brought you all the way over here, I imagine."

"Well, it was, Tom," she told him.

"It isn't safe either," continued Tom, "for you to be abroad. The Huns
are likely to begin long range shelling any minute, and the road's a
favorite target for their gunners; they've got it's range down fine."

"It isn't about Bessie, I hope?" ventured Jack, still more or less
apprehensive.

Nellie looked at him and slightly smiled, for she knew Jack was
exceedingly fond of the young girl.

"Bessie is perfectly well," she assured him; "and when I passed the Y hut
she and her mother were helping some of the Salvation Army girls make a
fresh heap of doughnuts. But my coming does concern you, Jack."

"Please explain what you mean by that?" he begged her, while his face
lighted up with interest, showing that for the moment his troubles,
lately bearing so heavily upon him, were forgotten.

"I will, and in as few words as possible," she answered, "for my time is
limited. I left several cases to be cared for by a nurse who has not had
as thorough a training as she might have had, and the responsibility lies
with me. But I can give you five minutes before I start back again."

Needless to say Nellie by this time had both boys fairly agog with
curiosity, for neither of them could give the slightest guess as to the
nature of the news she was bringing.

"You see, they were bringing in a lot of fresh cases," she explained,
"for there has been some furious fighting going on this morning, as our
boys drove in to chase the Huns out of the village. Among the number of
wounded, one man among others fell into my care. His name is Bertrand
Hale, and I think both of you know him."

Tom and Jack exchanged looks.

"We have met him many times," said the former; "but I can't say that he
has ever been a friend of ours. He's rather a wild harum-scarum sort of
chap--I imagine his own worst enemy, for he drinks heavily when he can
get it, and spends much of the time in the guard-house. Still, they say
he's a fighter, every inch of him, and has done some things worth
mentioning."

"I imagine you describe him exactly, Tom," Nellie told him. "Very well,
this time he's in a pretty bad way, for he has a number of serious
injuries, and, besides has lost his left arm, though it's possible he may
pull through if his constitution hasn't been weakened too much through
dissipation."

"But what about Bertrand Hale, Nellie? Did he tell you anything that
would be of interest to us?" asked Tom.

"I can see that you're beginning to suspect already, Tom," she continued.
"For that is exactly what happened. He kept following me with his eyes as
I moved around doing my work, after taking care of him. Then he beckoned
to me, and asked whether I wasn't a particular friend of Jack Parmly and
Tom Raymond.

"Of course I assured him it was so, and with that he looked so very eager
that I knew he had a secret to tell me. This is the gist of what he said,
boys. Just four days ago he was approached by a man he didn't know, who
managed to get some strong drink into his hands, and after Hale had
indulged more than he ought made a brazen proposition to him.

"It was to the effect that he was willing to pay a certain sum to have
you boys injured so that you would be laid up in the hospital for weeks.
He had gained the promise first of all that Bertrand would never say a
word about what he meant to tell him.

"Although he admitted that his mind was hardly clear at the time, still
Bertrand assured me he had repelled the offer with indignation, and even
threatened to beat up his tempter unless he took himself off. The man
hurried away, and then in the excitement of the order for his battalion
to go over the top, Bertrand Hale forgot all about it.

"From that time on it was nothing but fighting and sleeping for him, so
he had no time even to think of warning you. Then he got into the mess
this morning that finished him. With that arm gone he's done with
fighting, he knows, even if he pulls through.

"It was the sight of me that made him remember, for he said he surely had
seen me with one of you boys several times. And so he confessed, begging
me to get word to you, so that if the unknown schemer did find a tool to
carry out his evil plots you would be on your guard.

"I could not wait after hearing that, but came as fast as I could,
fearing you might have set out again and that something would go wrong
with your plane. That is the story simply told, Tom. Can you guess why
any one should wish to do either of you such a wrong as that?"

"What you tell us, Nellie," said Tom soberly, "clears up one mystery
we've been puzzling over."

Then he rapidly sketched what they had discovered on the preceding night,
when they had arrived at the hangar prepared to go forth with the
raiders, only to learn that some unknown person had been meddling with
their plane.

"So it looks as if Bertrand's refusal to play the dirty game didn't
prevent that man from finding some one who was willing to sell his soul
for money," was the way Tom wound up his short story.

Nellie was appalled. Her pretty face took on an expression of deepest
anxiety, showing how much she cared should ill-fortune attend these good
friends of hers.

"How can such wickedness exist when war had made so many heroes among
our boys?" she mourned. "But you must be doubly on your guard, both of
you. Tell me, can you guess why this unknown person should want to
injure you?"

"Simply to keep me from setting out for America," said Jack bitterly.
"Let me describe my cousin Randolph to you, Nellie; and then tell me if
what Bertrand said about the unknown man would correspond to his looks."

After she had heard his accurate description Nellie nodded her head.

"He saw very little of his face, so he said. Bertrand only said the
other was a man of medium build, with a soft voice that made him think of
silk and then too he had a trick of making gestures with his left hand,
just as you've said your cousin does. Yes, something tells me your guess
is close to the mark; but he must be a very wicked man to attempt such a
dreadful thing."

"Worse than I ever thought," admitted Jack grimly. "But after all nothing
came of his lovely scheme; nor did it matter, since he's given me the
slip, and is right now almost a third of the way across the sea. I'm like
a race-horse left at the post."

"Whatever you do, Jack, don't lose the fine courage that has been your
mainstay through other troubles," Nellie said, as she laid a hand on his
arm and looked steadfastly into the young air-pilot's face.

"Thank you, Nellie, for your confidence in me," he continued, showing
some of his old spirit again. "I ought to be ashamed to give in so
easily. Yes, Tom and I have been in plenty of bad scrapes, and pulled
out just because we set our teeth and refused to admit we were down and
out. So I'm going to try the same dodge in this case, and not acknowledge
defeat until the ninth inning is through, and the last man down."

"Good-bye, both of you, and remember, no matter what comes some of us are
always thinking of you and praying for your safety."

With these words, long remembered by both boys, Nellie gave each of them
her hand, and hurried away before they could see how her eyes dimmed with
the gathering mists.

"A brave girl," said Tom, with considerable vigor, as he tenderly watched
her retreating figure and waved his hand when he saw her turn to blow a
farewell kiss in their direction.

"Yes," said Jack, heaving a sigh. "She and Bessie seem to be our good
angels in this bad mess of war, Tom. I feel better after hearing her
words of encouragement; but all the same I'm still groping in the dark.
How am I going to beat Randolph across the Atlantic? For once I wish I
had wings, and might fly across the sea like a bird. How quickly I'd make
the start."



CHAPTER X

GROPING FOR LIGHT


Tom realized that for once his chum was completely broken up, and hardly
knew which way to turn for help. This told him that if anything were done
to relieve the desperate situation it would have to originate with him.

"Stick to your programme, Jack, and don't give up the ship. Until you
know that Randolph has reached the other side, and entered into
possession of the property, there's still some hope left."

"Yes, a fighting chance. And I must hang to it like a leech," admitted
the other, trying to smile, but making a sorry mess of it.

"How do we know what the good fairy may do for you, so as to outwit
the villain of the piece?" continued Tom. "While it isn't a pleasant
thing to speak of, still some marauding undersea boat may lie in wait
for his ship, and in the sinking who can tell what fate may overtake
your cousin?"

"It would only serve him right if he did go down like others, a thousand
times nobler than Randolph, have done before now," grumbled Jack; and
somehow the vague possibility excited him, for his eyes began to sparkle
and take on a look that told Tom he was seeing the whole thing before his
mental vision.

For a purpose Tom chose to encourage this supposition; it would have the
effect of building up Jack's sinking hopes, and just then that was the
main thing. So Tom proceeded to picture the scene, having plenty of
material from which to draw, for he had read the details of more than one
submarine sinking.

"It must be a terrible sensation to any passenger, no matter how brave
he may think himself," he went on to say, "when he feels the shock as
a torpedo explodes against the hull of the steamer and knows that in a
short time she is doomed to be swallowed by the sea. And you told me
once yourself, Jack, that this scheming cousin of yours couldn't swim
a stroke."

"Worse even than that!" declared Jack, with a sneer on his face to
express his contempt, "he's a regular coward about the water. And if they
do have the hard luck to run up against a Hun torpedo, Randolph will be
frightened half to death."

"Queer," commented Tom, "how most of these schemers prove to have a
yellow streak in their make-up, when the test really comes. Just picture
him running screaming up and down the deck, and being kicked out of the
way by every officer of the vessel when he implores them to save him."

"I can see it all as plain as day!" cried Jack excitedly. "And if I know
human nature the chances are those sailors would think of the coward
last of all."

"Yes, they'd leave him to the sinking ship if there was no room in the
boats, you can depend on that, Jack. And now set your teeth as you
usually do, and tell me again that you're not going to own up beaten
until the umpire says the game is over."

"I do promise you, Tom," came the immediate response, showing that Jack
was getting a fresh grip on his sinking courage and hopes. "But all the
same, I keep on groping, and I'd like to see the light."

"For a change of subject," Tom observed, "shall we tell Lieutenant
Beverly about your troubles? I've just glimpsed him coming this way."

"No reason why we shouldn't," agreed Jack. "He's a good friend of mine
and three heads might be better than two in cracking this hard nut I'm up
against. But he looks as if he might be bringing us news. Ten to one
he's going to say the way is cleared for us to take that long trip with
him to Berlin and back in his big Martin bomber."

"Too bad to disappoint him," remarked Tom. "But of course that's out of
the question now."

"I'd have been glad of the chance to go, only for this sudden
complication in my own affairs," Jack sighed. "But why couldn't you take
the spin in his company, Tom? It's a pity to break up his plans."

"And desert my chum when he's in trouble? I'd never forgive myself for
doing such a thing. The lieutenant will have to find some other pals for
his record making Berlin and back flight."

Jack thought he detected a vein of regret in his comrade's voice, and he
quickly flashed:

"You're disappointed, of course, Tom; you've been counting on that trip
all the while, because its daring and dash appealed to you, just as they
did to me."

"Forget it, please," urged Tom sturdily. "It was only a dream, and, after
all, perhaps it couldn't be carried out. For all we know it may be the
best thing in the world for us that we're prevented from starting; for
such a long flight is a great risk, and might end our careers."

"Well, here's the lieutenant," said Jack, turning to greet the newcomer,
and striving to look natural, though it cost him a great effort.

"I've hurried here as fast as I could!" exclaimed Beverly, his eyes
sparkling with pleasure. "I wanted to bring the good news before you
received it officially."

"What's that?" demanded Jack, turning a puzzled look toward his chum.

"Why, when they notified me I could have three weeks' leave of absence
from duty, with no question concerning my movements during the interim, I
chanced to learn that your request had also been granted. Both of you
will be free, don't you understand? and the big game is now open to us."

"Well, that's certainly good news you've brought us, Lieutenant Beverly,"
said Tom, accepting the other's extended hand which was offered in
congratulation. "I suppose you're counting now on getting that long
flight off your mind? I regret to tell you I fear it's hull down in the
distance for the two of us!"

"What! You haven't flunked, Tom? I'd never believe either of you could go
back on me like that," cried the other, looking sorely distressed and
bitterly disappointed.

"Circumstances over which we have no control," continued Tom, while
Jack hung his head and looked gloomy, "have arisen to knock our
plans galley-west. Much as we'd be pleased to make the game, we
simply can't do it."

"But the bomber is all ready and waiting!" gasped Lieutenant Beverly.
"And we're having a vacation extended to us, with no red tape or strings
tied to the conditions! Why, the track is cleared for the biggest flight
on record, and now you tell me you'll have to drop out. See here, what's
this mean? There's something queer about it all, I know."

"Just what there is, Lieutenant," remarked Jack, looking him squarely in
the eye, "and it's only right you should know the reason. Tom might go
along with you, but he absolutely refuses to leave me alone to fight
against the slickest scoundrel living. Now listen, and I'll sketch the
whole story for you."

This he proceeded to do rapidly, omitting nothing that seemed of moment.
When the meddler's secret work in tampering with their plane before they
went up on the night raid was mentioned, the flight lieutenant's eyes
flashed with indignation. Being a pilot himself he could appreciate such
rank treachery better than any layman could.

"That's how the land lies," said Jack in conclusion. "And you understand
now just why we must disappoint you, and make you look elsewhere for two
companions on your trip to Berlin to frighten the Huns. It breaks my
heart to decline, but this other matter must take my whole attention."

"You don't blame Jack, do you?" asked Tom.

"I should say not!" came the ready answer, accompanied by a keen look,
first at Jack and then at the other, as a dazzling idea suddenly flashed
into Beverly's mind. "Business before pleasure, every time with me; and
it's only right you should devote every atom of your mind and body to
beating that skunk to the post."

"We've settled on that policy all right," said Jack. "The only trouble is
we haven't so far found a remedy to overcome his long lead; for he's got
almost two days' run head of me, you understand."

Tom saw the lieutenant smile broadly and draw a long breath. Then
something seemed to grip his heart as he heard Beverly say:

"Hold on! I've got an inspiration, boys. Perhaps there may be a way open
to beat him to it yet!"



CHAPTER XI

THE AMAZING PLAN


"Tell us what you mean, please?" begged the excited Jack.

"Take things coolly, to begin with," warned the other; "because what I'm
going to say will almost stun you at first, I suppose. But it's no new
idea with me. Fact is, I'd planned it all out in my mind long ago; had it
more than half arranged at the time I ordered that monster Martin bomber
built at my own expense and shipped over to France."

"Yes," muttered Jack, while he kept his eyes glued hungrily on the
flushed face of the other.

Tom said nothing, but looked as though he already half guessed what was
coming, if the eager and expectant gleam in his eyes signified anything.

"I explained to you," the lieutenant continued steadily, "that the big
bomber was equipped for a trip to Berlin and back; and went so far as to
say the flight could be _repeated without making a landing_, if there
was any need of such a thing. All right, then; in a pinch, properly
loaded with plenty of gasoline and stores, that machine would be able to
take three fellows like you two and myself all the way across the
Atlantic, and land us on American soil! Get that, do you, Jack?"

No one said a word for half a minute. The proposition was so astounding
that it might well have appalled the stoutest heart. At that time no one
had attempted to cross the Atlantic in a heavier-than-air plane, a feat
later on successfully accomplished. Nobody had piloted the way in a
Yankee-made seaplane; nor had any one navigated the air passage in a
monster dirigible. The three thousand miles of atmosphere lying between
Europe and America still stood an uncharted sea of vapor, where every
imaginable evil might lie in wait for the modern Columbus of aerial
navigation.

Then Jack drew a long breath. The lieutenant was watching the play of
emotion across his face, and he knew the seed had been sown in good
ground, where it was bound to take root. Jack's extremity would be his,
Lieutenant Beverly's, opportunity. So he returned to the attack, meaning
to "strike while the iron was hot."

"It staggers you at first, of course, Jack," he said, in his confident,
convincing way. "But why should it? The danger is great, but nothing
more than we're up against every day we set out for the clouds to give
battle to a tricky Hun ace, who may send us down to our death. And I
assure you we'd have at least a fighting chance to get across. What do
you say, Jack?"

For answer the other whirled on his chum. His face was lighted up with
that sudden and unexpected renewal of hope, just when it had seemed as
though he had fallen into the pit of despair.

"Tom, would it be madness, do you think?" he cried, clutching the other
by the arm, his fingers trembling, his eyes beseeching.

"We'd have a fair chance of making it, just as Colin says," Tom slowly
answered. "Much would of course depend on contrary winds; and there'd be
fighting in the fog banks we'd surely strike. But Jack,--"

"Yes, Tom?" gasped the other, hanging on his chum's words eagerly, as one
might to the timbers of a slender bridge that offered a slim chance to
reach a longed-for harbor.

"If you decide to accept the venture I'm with you!" finished Tom.

At that the eager flight lieutenant showed the utmost enthusiasm.

"Call it settled then, Jack, so we can get busy working out the
programme!" he begged, again insisting upon gripping a hand of each.

Jack found himself carried along with the current. He could not well have
resisted had he so desired, which was far from being the case. It seemed
to him as though he were on a vessel which had drifted for hours in the
baffling fog, and then all of a sudden the veil of mist parted, to show
him the friendly shore beyond, just the haven for which he was bound.

"It is, perhaps, a desperate attempt to make such a flight on short
notice," Jack said. "But think! If we succeed! And think, too, of that
schemer winning the prize! Yes, Tom, since you've already agreed to stand
in with me, I say--_go_!"

After that a fever seemed to burn in Jack's veins, due to the sudden
revulsion of feeling from despair to hope. He asked many questions, and
for an hour the three talked the matter over, looking at the
possibilities from every conceivable angle.

Tom was not so sanguine of success as either of his mates; but he kept
his doubts to himself. As an ambitious airman he was thrilled by the
vastness of the scheme. As Lieutenant Beverly had truly remarked, while
it held chances of disaster, they were accepting just as many challenges
to meet their death every day of their service as battleplane pilots.

Then again it seemed to be the only hope offered to poor Jack; and Tom
was bound to stick by his chum through thick and thin. So he fell in with
the great scheme, and listened while the flight lieutenant touched upon
every feature of the contemplated flight.

Luckily it was no new idea with him, for he had spent much time and labor
in figuring it all out to a fraction, barring hazards of which they could
of course know nothing until they were met.

"I've got all the charts necessary," he assured them, after they had
about exhausted the subject, with Jack more enthusiastic than ever. "And
while you boys are waiting to receive your official notifications, which
ought surely to come to-morrow, since there was a hurry mark on them, I
noticed, I'll rush over to the coast and see that additional supplies of
fuel and food are put aboard."

"Don't stint the gas, above everything," urged Jack. "We'd be in a pretty
pickle to run out while still five hundred miles from shore. If it was
only a big seaplane now, such as we hear they're building over in
America, we might drop down on a smooth sea and wait to be picked up by
some ship; but with a bomber, it would mean going under in a hurry."

"Make your mind easy on that score, Jack," came the lieutenant's reply.
"I'll figure to the limit, and then if the plane can carry another fifty
gallons it'll go aboard in the reserve reservoir. I'm taking no chances
that can be avoided. There'll be enough to bother us, most likely. And,
for one, I'm not calculating on committing suicide. I hope to live to
come back here aboard some ship, and see the finish of this big,
exciting scrap."

Tom liked to hear him talk in that serene way. It showed that Lieutenant
Colin Beverly, while a daring aviator was not to be reckoned a reckless
one; and there is a vast difference between the two. Tom was of very much
the same temperament himself, as was proved in past stirring incidents in
his career, known to all those who have followed the fortunes of the Air
Service Boys in previous books of this series.

"Is there anything else to confer about?" asked Tom. "Because I can see
you're itching to get away, Colin."

"Not a thing, as far as I know," came the reply. "If any fresh idea
happens to strike me I'll have it on tap when you arrive. Are you sure
you've got the directions how to get to Dunkirk, and then how to find my
secret hangar on the coast beyond the town, Tom?"

"We'll be ready to skip out just as soon as our official notice comes to
hand," the other assured him.

"That's the only thing bothering me just now," observed Jack. "Any delay
there might ruin our plans at the last minute. As it is, we're not apt to
have any too much time to beat the steamer to New York."

"I expect you to show up to-morrow night, and then we can slip away
unnoticed in the dark," said the lieutenant. "I've kept tabs on the
weather conditions, as it's always been a fad with me; and I'm happy to
say there seems to be no storm in prospect, while the winds are apt to be
favorable, coming from the east, a rare thing these fall days. So-long,
boys, and here's success to our jolly little flight!"

After he had left them Jack turned on his comrade to say:

"It seems to be our only chance, and not a long one at that; but I'm bent
on trying it out. Anything to beat Randolph to the tape, Tom!"



CHAPTER XII

GRIPPED IN SUSPENSE


From that hour on Jack continued in a fever of suspense. His one thought
was of the coming of the official notification connected with their
hoped-for leave.

Tom fancied that his chum did not get much sleep on the following night,
the last both of them hoped they would have to spend in the dugout used
as a billet back of the American front.

So another day found them. Jack took special delight in casting up
figures connected with the case. These he would show to his chum, and
make various comments. Tom, realizing how the other was endeavoring to
suck consolation from this proceeding, encouraged him in it.

"By to-night," Jack said, more than once, "it will be three whole days
since the steamer sailed from Havre. I've tried to find out how fast
she is, and then figured that they'd have to slow down when passing
through the barred zone. I reckon it will take her eight or nine days
to get across."

"Oh, all of that," Tom assured him; "and it might be as many as twelve.
You see, the few passenger steamers still in use haven't been in dry dock
for the longest time, and their hulls must be covered with barnacles,
which cuts off considerable from their speed."

Jack gave him a thankful look.

"You're the best sort of jollier, Tom," he observed. "You know how to
talk to a fellow who's quivering all over with eagerness and dread. What
if something happens to hold up those notices until it's too late for
even Colin's big bomber to catch up with the steamer?"

"You're only borrowing trouble when you allow yourself to fear that," was
the reply. "But all the same, I mean to do everything I can to get things
hurried along. I'll see the general, and with your permission explain to
him that there's great need of our getting word to-day."

"But, surely, you wouldn't dare hint anything about the big trip we want
to take, Tom?" asked Jack, looking alarmed.

"I should say not!" came the immediate response. "If we did that, the
general would consider it his duty to put his foot down on the mad scheme
right away. Trust me to let him know we stand to lose out in something
that concerns your whole future if the notifications are delayed beyond
early this afternoon, and I'm sure he'll start the wires going to get
them here."

"What can I be doing in the meanwhile?"

"You might see to making arrangements for crossing to the coast on the
first train that goes out," answered Tom.

"But that's going to be slow traveling, even if we're lucky enough to get
aboard," protested the other. "Tom, do you think the general would permit
us to take our machine, and fly to Dunkirk?"

"Good! That's a clever idea you've hit on, Jack!" exclaimed the other.
"I'll take it up with the general when I see him. He might find it
_convenient_, you know, to have some message sent across the country to
the coast; and it would save us hours of time, perhaps win the race for
us. A splendid thought, Jack!"

"Then let's hope it can be carried through," returned the other.

Tom did not lose any more time but hurried away to try to get an
opportunity to talk with the kindly old general. He had always shown an
interest in the fortunes of the two Air Service Boys, and they had
already received favors from him on several occasions.

The minutes dragged while he was gone. Jack could not keep still, so
nervous did he feel, but continued walking up and down, "like a tiger
in its cage," he told himself. He ran through the entire gamut of
possible troubles and triumphs in his mind, as he tried to picture the
whole thing.

"What great luck to have Colin Beverly break in on us just at the
time when my fortunes had reached their lowest ebb," Jack kept saying
to himself.

At last Tom came back. Jack could read success in his looks, even before
the other had had a chance to open his mouth and say a single word.

"It's all right then, I take it, Tom?" he exclaimed impulsively.

"Didn't have any trouble at all in interesting the general," replied the
messenger joyfully. "He said he'd see to having an urgent call go out to
hurry the notifications along, and almost promised they'd get here by two
this afternoon."

"And how about the plane business?"

"That's all settled in the bargain. I have written permission to make use
of our plane, turning it over to a certain agent in Dunkirk after we've
arrived there. The general will send a message over to us which we're to
deliver at the same time we give up the machine."

"Great work, Tom! I've always said you'd make a mighty fine diplomatic
agent, if ever you tried, and now I know it."

"No soft-soap business, please. If it had been anybody but the general
I'd have surely fallen down on my job. But you know he's always had an
interest in us, Jack."

"Do you think he suspected anything?" asked the other.

"Sure he did, but not _the_ thing, for nobody in the wide world would
ever dream we were planning such an unheard of thing as a non-stop flight
across the Atlantic."

Tom dropped his voice to a whisper when he said this; not that there
seemed to be any particular need of caution, but simply on general
principles. They could not afford to take any chance of having their
great plan discovered in these early stages of the game.

"Well, I don't know how I'm going to hold out much longer," complained
Jack. "I can't keep still five minutes, but have to jump up and walk it
off. Let's see--two o'clock you said, didn't you? That'll be nearly three
long hours more. It's simply terrible, Tom! Sixty minutes in each hour!"

"But then we'll have to eat our regular midday meal, remember," Tom tried
to cheer his companion up by saying. "If you prefer it, we might walk
over to the field-hospital, which, by the way, I hear is to be moved
ahead to-night, to keep in closer touch with the wounded straggling back
from the front. The Y hut's close by, too, and we'd enjoy an hour or so
with the girls. Nellie told me she expected her brother, Harry, to be
back on our sector any day now, and if he should come before we clear out
we'd be mighty glad to see him."

Jack hesitated.

"Gee! you do tempt a fellow, Tom," he finally remarked, as though coming
to a conclusion. "Nothing I'd like better than to chat with Bessie and
have a few of those Salvation Army girls' doughnuts to munch. But I guess
it would be foolish in our laying off just now."

"You mean the notifications might arrive while we were gone?" remarked
Tom, nodding his head, pleased because the other took such a sensible
view of the matter.

"Yes. We might lose a whole hour, perhaps two, by being away,"
explained Jack. "That would be too bad; it might even turn out a
catastrophe, if in the end that hour would save us from being beaten in
the race against time."

"All right, then, we'll hang around and watch for something to come from
Headquarters. The general promised me he'd have the notifications
sent over without any delay just as soon as they came."

"Let's go over to the flying field and watch some of the boys come in,"
suggested Jack, and to this the other readily assented.

Even when an airman is off-duty his special delight lies in "hanging out"
at the aviation field, seeing his fellow workers go forth, watching their
return, and listening to the many thrilling accounts of battles fought,
as well as perils endured.

The fascination of the sport, once it has fairly gripped a man, makes him
its slave; he can think of little else; and doubtless even in dreams he
fancies himself performing unusual hazards and earning the applause of
the multitude.

However this proved to be a very good panacea for Jack's nervousness
and they managed to put in a full hour there. Business was unusually
brisk in the way of engagements; and Tom more than once secretly
regretted that circumstances beyond their control caused them to miss a
"whole lot of fun."

The enemy was up in the air in more ways than one on that day.
Desperation on account of the blowing up of the bridge caused the German
plane scouts to meet the challenges offered by the exultant Yankees, and
news of many an encounter kept coming in about the time the two boys
thought of leaving the field and going for their dinner.

Word had also been received of several accidents to American pilots, and
it looked as though the history of that eventful day would set a new
high-water mark in the way of losses.

Jack even began to fear they might be ordered to go up, which would bring
about a fresh delay while communication was being established with
Headquarters to verify their story. So he was really glad when Tom drew
him away by suggesting that it was time they dined.

At one o'clock they were at their headquarters, killing time and waiting.
Jack's nerves once more began showing signs of being frayed, or "ragged,"
as he called it. He jumped at the least unusual sound, and alternately
looked expectant and despairing.

It was now close to two o'clock, and as yet there was no sign of relief.
Jack jumped up for the twentieth time and started to walk back and forth,
while others among the airmen were gathering their belongings together,
preparatory to a change of base.

Then a messenger was seen hurrying toward them. Jack became almost wild
with excitement, until he knew for a fact the notifications had arrived.

"And now," said Tom, "let's put for the field and get away without
any further loss of time. It's a long way to Dunkirk, remember, even
by way of the air line, as a bee would take it. And we must get there
before dark!"

They ran part of the way, and thus presented themselves before the
hangar. Ample preparations had already been made. The petrol tank had
been filled, and, everything being in readiness, they would have nothing
to do but jump aboard and make a quick start.

But Tom was too old a pilot to take things for granted. After that recent
experience with treachery he meant to be doubly careful before risking
their lives in the air. Dunkirk on the Channel was a considerable
distance off; and a drop when several thousand feet above French soil
would go just as hard with them as if it were German territory.

Accordingly he took a survey of the plane from tip to tip of the wings;
looked over the motor, tested every strut and stay, leaving nothing to
Jack, who was fairly quivering with the intensity of his feelings.

Even the longest day must come to an end, and Tom's examination was
finally completed.

"Get aboard!" he told Jack. "We're in great trim to make a record flight
of it. And even the breeze favors us, you notice."

"Let's hope it keeps on as it is," said Jack, quickly; "because an
easterly wind will help carry us on our way to-night!"

"We'll be in luck to have such help," Tom replied. "As a rule, the
passage from Europe to America meets with head winds most of the way. How
are you fixed, Jack?"

"All ready here, Tom."

"Half a minute more, and I'll be the same. Take your last look for some
time, Jack, at the American fighting front. We'll never forget what we've
met with here, and that's a fact."

"But, Tom, we expect to come back again, if all goes well,"
expostulated Jack. "In fact, we've just got to, or be accused of
running away. We arranged all that, you remember, and how we'd manage
to get across in such a way that no one will be any the wiser for our
having been out of France."

"Don't let's worry about that yet," said Tom. "The first big job is to
get across the Atlantic. Ready, back there? Here goes!"

Another minute, and with a rush and a roar the plane sped along the
field, took an upward slant, and set out for the coast. The first leg of
the great flight had actually been started!



CHAPTER XIII

OFF FOR THE CHANNEL


"Tom, do you think that spy left behind by my cousin could have learned
in any way about our plan?"

They were passing over a section of Northern France, keeping a mile and
more above the surface of the earth, when Jack called out in this
fashion. Talking is never easy aboard a working plane. The splutter of
the motor, added to the noise caused by the spinning propellers, as well
as the fact that as a rule pilot and observer keep well muffled up
because of the chill in the rarified air, all combine to make it
difficult.

But Jack was hard to repress. Especially just then did he feel as if
he must find some answer to certain doubts which were beginning to
oppress him.

"There's no way of telling," Tom answered promptly. "We've already seen
that the fellow is a clever, as well as desperate, rascal. He may be an
American, though I'm rather inclined to believe your cousin has found a
native better suited to his needs. And such a treacherous Frenchman would
prove a tricky and slippery sort. Yes, he may have overheard us say
something that would put him wise to our big game."

"I hope not, I surely do," Jack continued, looking serious again. "Fact
is, Tom, I'll never feel easy until we see the ocean under us."

At that Tom laughed heartily. He even put a little extra vim into his
merriment in the hope of raising his chum's drooping spirits.

"That sounds mighty close to a joke, Jack, for a fact," he said.

"I'd like to know how you make that out?" demanded the other.

"Why, most people would be apt to say our troubles were likely to begin
when we have cut loose from the land and see nothing below us as far as
the eye can reach but the blue water of the Atlantic."

"All right," cried Jack, showing no sign of changing his mind. "I'll
willingly take chances with nature rather than the perfidy and
treachery of mankind. Somehow, I can't believe that we're really
launched on the journey."

"Wake up then, old fellow, and shake yourself. You'll find we've made a
pretty fair start. Already we've put thirty miles behind us. Unless we
run up against some snag, and have engine trouble, we ought to get to
the Channel long before dark sets in."

So Jack relapsed into silence for a time. As he was not needed in order
to run the motor or guide the plane in its progress westward, Jack could
amuse himself in using the powerful binoculars.

They were at the time far removed from the earth, but through the
wonderful lenses of the glasses objects became fairly distinct. So Jack
could see much to interest him as they sped onward. Finally he again
broke out with an exclamation.

"Nothing but the ruins of towns and villages down below, Tom," he called.
"The fighting has been fierce along this sector, I should say. Why, even
the woods have been smashed, and it looks like a regular desert. Poor
France, what you must have suffered at the hands of those savage Huns."

"Yes," replied the pilot, over his shoulder, "here is where much of the
most desperate fighting of the British took place. Some of those ruined
places were beautiful French towns only a few years ago, where laces and
such things were made for most of the fashionable world. Now they look
about like the ruins of Ninevah or Babylon."

Fortune favored them during the next hour, and even Jack's spirits
had begun to improve. Then came a check to the sanguine nature of
the outlook.

"Sorry to tell you, Jack," reported Tom, after some uneasy movements,
which the other had noticed with growing alarm, "that we'll have to make
a landing. After all, it's not going to be a non-stop flight to the
coast. Only a little matter, but it should be looked after before it
develops into serious trouble. I'm going to drop down to a lower level,
where we can keep an eye out for a proper landing place."

"But that means time lost!"

"We can spare an hour if necessary, and still get to Dunkirk by evening,"
Tom replied cheerfully. "I was a bit suspicious of that very thing, and
only for our desperate need of haste would have waited to start until it
had been gone over again. But then I took chances, knowing it would, at
the worst, mean only a stop for repairs. Sorry, but it can't be helped."

When the plane had reached a distance of a thousand feet above the earth,
with Jack eagerly looking for a favorable landing place, the latter had
managed to recover from his depression.

"I see what looks like a fine stretch, Tom," he now announced. "Notice
that road looking as if it might be pitted with shell-holes? Just on its
right, where that single tree trunk stands, there's a field as level as
a barn floor. Circle around, and let's get closer to it."

Further examination convinced them that they had really run upon a
suitable landing place. What pleased Tom still more was the fact that so
far there had been no evidence of human presence near by.

This meant that they would not be bothered during the time required for
overhauling the engine by curious spectators, who might even question
their right to be flying away from the front.

The landing was made in good style, and with only a few bumps, thanks to
the smooth character of the field's surface. Even Jack was compelled to
admit that though they had met with trouble, matters might be much worse.

"We'll get busy now, and soon have things as fit as a fiddle," said Tom,
throwing off some of his superfluous garments so as to be free to work.

By this time both boys had grown to be real experts in all sorts of
mechanical repairing, as every airman must of necessity become before he
can pass the acid test. Unlike the driver of a car on country roads, when
a break-down occurs he cannot step to a neighboring house, use the long
distance or local telephone, and summon help. The airman is usually
compelled to depend exclusively on his own ability to overcome the
difficulty.

To get at the seat of trouble necessitated considerable disarrangement
of the motor's parts. This consumed more or less time, and the minutes
passing were jealously given up by the impatient Jack.

But the boys worked fast, and finally all had been accomplished. Tom
tested the engine, and pronounced himself satisfied, while Jack looked
over the field ahead of them.

"It's going to take us to Dunkirk without any further trouble, I give you
my word for it, Jack," he said. "How long have we been here?"

"Just one hour, lacking three minutes," came the prompt reply.

"Then I'm safe," laughed Tom; "for I said within the hour. Come, pile
aboard and we'll be off. Sure you examined the ground ahead, and saw to
it we'd hit no bumps that might give us trouble?"

"It's all right there, Tom; could hardly be better. But be sure you don't
change from a straight course, because there's a nasty shell-hole, about
ten feet deep, to the left. If we struck that--good-night!"

"I notice you marked it with that pole, Jack, and I'll swing clear, you
can depend on that."

They had no difficulty in making a successful ascent. Once free from the
ground, the plane's nose was again turned toward the southwest. Tom had
long before marked out his course, and kept an eye on the compass as
well as on his little chart.

He knew they were heading for the Channel port as straight as the crow
flies. The sun was getting far down in the western sky, and it was now
necessary to shield their eyes when looking ahead, on account of the
dazzling glare that at times threatened to blind them.

The character of the country below had changed materially, Jack told the
pilot, who seldom had a chance to look through the glasses, since his
entire attention was taken up with manipulating the engine, watching its
rhythmical working, and keeping the plane pushing directly on its course.

"Heine didn't get a chance to ruin things here when he passed through,
going to Paris and to his smash on the Marne," Jack explained. "Towns and
villages look natural, as I see them, and they must have harvested crops
in those brown fields. This is a bit of the real France, and entirely
different from the horrible desert we've been at work in so long."

The afternoon was wearing away. Jack frequently stared eagerly off to the
west, when the sun's glowing face was veiled for a brief time by some
friendly cloud. Several times he believed he could see something that
looked like a stretch of water, but dared not voice his hopes.

Then came a time when a heavier cloud than usual masked the brightness
of the declining sun. Another long earnest look and Jack burst out with a
triumphant shout.

"Tom, I can see the Channel, as sure as you're born!" was the burden of
his announcement; and of course this caused the pilot to demand that he
too be given a chance to glimpse the doubly welcome sight.

There could not be any mistake about it. Tom corroborated what Jack had
declared. It was undoubtedly the English Channel they saw, showing that
their journey from the American front had been successfully accomplished.

"Now for Dunkirk!" jubilantly cried Jack, looking as though he had thrown
off the weight of dull care, and was once more light-hearted. "And by the
same token, Tom, unless I miss my guess, that may be the city we're
heading for over yonder a little further to the south."

"Then I kept my course fairly well, you'll admit," the pilot shouted at
him, naturally feeling conscious of a little pride over his achievement.

Rapidly they pushed on with a slight change of course. Jack kept using
the glasses and reported his observations to the busily engaged pilot.

"It'll be dusk, likely, when we land," he observed at one time. "But that
doesn't cut much figure, for we can easily find our way down to Beverly's
hangar on the coast. He said it was only a few miles from town, and
they'll know at the aviation field, of course."

"He gave us the name of a British officer who would post us," added Tom.

After a bit they were passing over the outskirts of Dunkirk, and making
for what appeared to be an aviation field, since they could see various
hangars, and another plane was just settling ahead of them.

Ten minutes passed, and Jack was delighted to find that they had made a
successful landing. A number of French and British aviation men hastened
to surround them, more than curious to know what strange chance had
brought two Yankee fliers to Dunkirk.

Of course neither Tom nor Jack meant to afford them the least
satisfaction. They had certain business to transact, and after that was
off their hands the great adventure loomed beyond.

Accordingly, their first act was to find the man to whom they had been
referred by Lieutenant Beverly.

"We want to see Major Denning; can anybody direct us to him?" Tom asked.

"That happens to be my name," remarked a red-faced officer on the
outskirts of the crowd and who had just arrived. "What can I do for you?"

"Lieutenant Colin Beverly of the American aviation corps referred us to
you, Major," said Tom. "We have a message for you, after which we must
deliver an official packet sent by our general to the command here and
make arrangements to have our plane sent back to where we started from
some hours ago, on the American fighting front."

"I shall be pleased to give you any assistance in my power, gentlemen,"
said the British major, being apparently a very agreeable and
accommodating man indeed, as Beverly had informed them they would find
him.

Stepping away from the crowd the Air Service Boys delivered their
message, which was really a sort of prearranged password.

"Lieutenant Beverly is a cousin of mine, you know; which makes me more
than anxious concerning him just now," went on Major Denning, after these
formalities had been gone through with.

"Why so, Major?" demanded Tom, while Jack looked worried.

Whereupon the red-faced major drew them still further to one side,
and, lowering his heavy voice so as not to be overheard by others,
went on to say:

"I, as you know, know something about that wonderful big bomber he's
had sent over, and how he means to give Berlin a scare shortly. I've
even had the privilege of looking the monster over, and feeling a
thrill at picturing how it would give the Huns a fright when it
appeared over Berlin. But you see its presence here is a secret, and
known to but few of us."

"Glad to hear it, Major," Tom remarked. "But please explain why you are
worried about Beverly."

"That is," continued the officer, "because an explosion was heard,
coming from the south, just a short time ago. Everybody believes it
must be the airdrome sheltering the dirigible Britain sent over here
for use, and which lies further down the coast. But, much as I hate to
say it, I fear something serious has happened to Beverly's hangar; in
fact that a bomb has destroyed it, or else some rank Hun treachery has
been at work there!"



CHAPTER XIV

READY FOR THE START


"Just our beastly luck!" gasped Jack, turning white with apprehension.

"Wait, we haven't any proof as yet," advised Tom. "The Major himself
admits that he's only afraid it may have been Beverly's hangar. Hasn't
anything been done to learn the truth, sir?"

"Oh, yes," came the quick reply. "A number of cars have gone down that
way, but the road's in a shocking condition, and up to now none of them
has returned to advise us. I'd be very sorry if it turned out as I fear,
doubly so if Beverly himself were injured or killed, because I'm fond of
the chap, don't you know."

"Let's hope everything is all right," said Tom, as composedly as
possible. "And first of all I'd like to get through the business part of
our errand here. I have the packet to deliver for our general. Then the
machine must be turned over to a representative of our Government here.
After all that's attended to we'll strike out for the Beverly hangar."

"I'll be pleased to take you there personally, if you like," remarked
Major Denning.

"And we'll accept your offer with thanks, sir. It is very kind of you,"
said Tom, at the same time wondering what the other would say when he
made the astounding discovery that the object of the expedition was even
more ambitious than a mere flight to Berlin and back; that indeed the
daring adventurers meant to attempt a record voyage across the Atlantic
by air such as would vie with that of Columbus.

Jack fell into a fever of suspense again, and counted the minutes that
must be consumed in carrying out the business in hand. Tom was
exceedingly scrupulous concerning this.

"The general was kind enough to give us a good push on our way here," he
told Jack, when the latter continued to fret and hint about "cutting off
corners" in order to hasten their getting away. "We're bound to do our
part of the job right up to the handle. Besides, what do ten or twenty
minutes amount to?"

When Tom announced himself satisfied night had settled on the land.
Dunkirk had for long been annoyed by the fire of a long-range
monster gun, shells dropping into the city at stated intervals for
weeks at a time.

So, too, hostile airplanes had hovered over the Channel port, trying to
make it unpleasant for the British Tommies in camp near by. But since
Marshal Foch opened operations on a large scale, together with the
furious drive of General Pershing's army, this had altogether ceased.

Major Denning had a car at their disposal.

"It will take us to a place where we can leave the road and follow a
path to the beach," he told them. "Beverly has quite a force of men
there looking after things, which fact makes me hope nothing could have
happened to injure or destroy that wonderful bomber. But we've been
pestered to death with Hun bounders playing spy, and I'd put nothing
past them."

They set out, and were soon on the way. Major Denning had a man at the
wheel, evidently his chauffeur, for he was a British private. He knew the
road, and managed to steer clear of the obstructions that continually
cropped up.

"Seems to me those Hun pilots must have dropped most of their bombs out
this way, instead of hitting the town or the camps," Tom suggested, as
they dodged to and fro, and often suffered severe bouncings.

"No man-power to make any road repairs, in the bargain," explained the
officer. "Since the drive has been on we are sending every British
battalion we can muster forward. These things can wait until the German
is licked, which we all believe is coming shortly, with Marshall Haig and
General Pershing and General Petain on the job."

"Wow! what's that mean?" cried Jack, half jumping up as the sound of
several shots not far away came distinctly to their ears.

"Did those shots seem to be over yonder to the right?" asked the major.

"So far as I was able to judge that's where they came from," Tom replied.
"Does the hangar lie in that quarter, sir?"

"Just what it does! There's certainly something strange going on around
there to-night. But we'll quickly learn for ourselves, because the spot
where we leave the road is just ahead of us."

Jack was the first out; indeed the car had not wholly come to a stand
before he made a flying jump. Leaving the chauffeur to watch the car, the
major soon found the trail. He carried a small hand electric torch with
him, a vest-pocket size, but at least with a ray sufficiently strong to
dissipate the gloom under the brush and to show them what seemed to be a
well defined trail.

"We may find ourselves made a target by some of his wideawake guards.
That they are on the alert those shots we heard a bit ago seem to
testify," suggested Major Denning.

"Oh, we'll use the signal whistle; and I feel sure Lieutenant Beverly
himself will be listening to catch it, for he expects us any minute now."

"We're getting close enough just now to exercise due caution, at any
rate," the guide answered in a whisper.

Taking the hint, Tom commenced giving the signal. It was a short sharp
whistle, four times repeated. Hardly had Tom sounded this than they heard
an answer.

"Fine!" exclaimed Jack. "He's here on deck, and perhaps everything may be
all right yet."

They continued along the path, and Tom repeated his whistling. Finally
the figure of a man loomed up beyond.

"That you, Tom, Jack?" came a voice.

"Hello, Beverly!" Jack burst out impulsively. "We've come all the way by
air. What's going on around here; nothing serious happened, I hope?"

"Rest easy on that score, boys," the other replied, still advancing.

"Then the machine is still ready for business, is it?" cried Jack.

"In apple-pie order, down to the last drop of juice, and ready to do the
builders proud. But I'm mighty glad to see you, boys, I surely am. Afraid
there'd be some hitch at the last minute from your end."

"And," said Tom, wringing the other's hand, "Jack has been picturing all
sorts of terrible things happening to you and the plane here, near
Dunkirk. He's as happy as a clam at high tide right now, I assure you."

"You bet I am!" Jack cried explosively, gripping the fingers of the
lieutenant with great enthusiasm.

"Why, hello! who's this but my English cousin, Major Denning?" cried
Beverly, discovering that his two chums were not alone.

"Thought it best to steer them to you, and take no chances of a miss,"
explained the officer. "Besides, to tell you the truth, I fancied seeing
you start off on your long contemplated trip to wake up Berlin. Once I
was in hopes I might even have the opportunity of accompanying you. I've
a score to settle with the beast for knocking a hole in my London house
and frightening my aunt almost into fits. At least you'll let me wish you
_bon voyage_, Beverly."

Tom said nothing. He realized that the major had no inkling of the real
purpose of the flight about to be undertaken; and if he was to be told
the facts the information must come from Lieutenant Beverly himself.

"Oh! By the way, that Berlin trip will have to wait," chuckled the
lieutenant, making up his mind that a clean breast of the whole matter
must follow. "Fact is, Major, we're after larger game than that would
prove to be; something calculated to stagger you a bit, I think."

"You're certainly puzzling me by what you say, Colin," declared the
major, betraying a growing curiosity in voice and manner. "I'd like to
know for a fact what you could call larger game than a non-stop flight to
Berlin and back, starting from the Channel here. Are you planning a trip
to the moon, after Jules Verne's yarn?"

"No. But something that has as yet never been attempted," came the steady
reply. "It is a flight across the Atlantic to America in the big bomber
plane, and starting this very night!"



CHAPTER XV

THE LONG FLIGHT BEGUN


Major Denning was greatly astonished when Lieutenant Beverly made so
astounding an assertion.

"Well, I wouldn't put anything past you Yankees," he presently remarked,
with a dry chuckle. "But this is something of a Herculean task you're
planning, Colin. A flight of over three thousand miles is a greater
undertaking than any plane has so far been able to carry through. And if
you should meet with trouble, the jig is up with you all!"

"We understand what we're up against, I assure you," Tom replied. "The
plan is entirely Lieutenant Beverly's, sir. Sergeant Parmly has reason to
get home before the _La Bretagne_ reaches New York harbor, and she's
already three days out. Learning this, our good friend here made a
thrilling proposition, which we eagerly accepted. That's the story in a
nutshell, Major Denning."

"I must say I admire your nerve, that's all," exploded the other,
shaking hands with all of them. "Just the type of chap I'd like to tie up
with. My word! if I could get leave, and there was room for one more
aboard the big bomber, I'd beg of you to take me in. But I wish you every
luck in the wide world. My word, fancy the nerve of it!"

"We must remember not to speak a word so that any of the men can guess
what our real destination is," Beverly cautioned, as they continued along
the path. "Only my right-hand agent here knows the truth, and he means to
keep it dark."

"But they must suspect something unusual," suggested Tom.

"It's hinted that we are aiming at Berlin, don't you know?" pursued the
lieutenant, chuckling. "But believe me, the game is a bigger one than
just that little jaunt, far bigger in fact."

Presently they came to the shore where the stout hangar was found, partly
hidden under the branches of low trees and shrubbery. Before them lay the
sandy stretch of beach hard as a dancing floor, and well fitted to be
their "jumping off" place.

Tom bent down to feel it, after the manner of an experienced air pilot.

"Couldn't be bettered much, could it, Tom?" demanded Lieutenant Beverly
confidently.

"I should say not!" was the quick response.

Jack was feeling quite joyous since the outlook for starting on the
anticipated flight had become so bright. At the same time he told himself
he would not entirely lose that tense sensation around the region of his
heart until they were actually off.

Around the hangar they found a cordon of several armed men; a fact which
caused Tom to remember that they shortly before had heard the report of
firearms, and as yet had failed to learn the cause. Then again there was
that explosion down the coast. He turned to Lieutenant Beverly for an
explanation.

"We too heard the sound of an explosion," Beverly told him in reply. "It
came from further down the shore. There's some sort of British airdrome
in that quarter, I'm informed; and possibly they had an accident there.
As for the shooting, that's easily explained. My men were the cause."

"Spies hanging around, probably?" hazarded the major, in disgust. "We've
been bothered with the slick beasts right along--shot several, but even
that didn't keep the coast clear."

"There have been skulkers around for some time," continued the
lieutenant. "Baxter tells me he'd warned them off until he grew tired,
and threatened that the next one who was caught trying to peep would be
fired upon. So to-night when a sentry reported suspicious movements in
the brush we sent in a few shots, more to give them a scare than to do
any damage."

"Have they tried to injure your plane, Colin?" asked the major.

"I understand that once my men discovered a fire had been started in a
mysterious way, which they succeeded in putting out. Only for prompt work
it would have at least disabled the bomber so that its usefulness for the
present would be nil."

"The ways of those German spies are past finding out," complained Major
Denning. "They seem to take a page from Indian tactics, and resort to all
species of savage warfare. It wouldn't surprise me if you found they had
shot an arrow with a blazing wad of saturated cotton fastened to its
head, and used your hangar as a target. History tells us your redskins
used to do something like that in the days of the early colonies."

Shortly afterwards the monster bombing plane was wheeled out of its
hangar, and became an object of vast interest to the two Air
Service Boys.

Tom and Jack were of course familiar with its working, but needed a few
hints from Lieutenant Beverly with respect to certain new features that
it possessed.

"What do you think of it, boys?" was the natural question asked by the
intrepid flight commander, who of course meant to do his share of the
handling of the giant plane during its long flight.

"A jim-dandy! That's what!" exclaimed the delighted Jack, almost awed by
the tremendous size of the up-to-date machine, with its wonderful expanse
of planes and its monster body in which the vast amount of stores, as
well as surplus gasoline, could be stowed.

"I'm confident we'll have more than a fighting chance to reach the
objective we have in view," Tom in his turn remarked; and even though the
men standing near must have heard what he said they could not possibly
suspect the truth that lay back of his words.

"Everything has been looked after, and right now there's not a single
item lacking," Lieutenant Beverly assured them. "Mention what you please,
and I defy you to find I've overlooked it. I notice that you have brought
your glasses along, Jack. I have a fine pair with me, but we can
doubtless use both."

"And on my part," added Tom, "I thought it wise to carry a few small
knickknacks that I've become attached to. They ought to share my
fortunes. If I cash in, my reliable old compass here, for instance,
wouldn't be valued highly by any one else; but it's saved my life more
than a few times."

"And may again," said Jack softly; "for those fogs are simply dreadful,
if half that's said about them turns out to be true."

Tom was stooping down and feeling the firm sandy beach.

"A splendid place to make our start, Lieutenant," he remarked.

"I selected it with that idea in view," explained the other. "Besides, in
a long trip, like the run to Berlin, this would be as desirable a station
as any. What do you think of the plane, Tom?"

"As well as I can see it, I am satisfied it will be all you told us," Tom
answered him, while Jack added:

"Same here."

Certainly, as seen spread out on the almost level stretch of hard sand
the monster bombing plane did have a powerful appearance that must
favorably impress any experienced pilot. Tom and Jack had noted several
things about it calculated to inspire confidence. They were taking
tremendous risks, of course, but then that was nothing novel in their
lives as aviators.

"Is there anything to delay us further?" asked Jack naively, feeling
that even minutes might count when the issue was so plainly outlined.

"I do not know of the slightest reason," admitted Lieutenant Beverly,
moving toward the bombing plane and followed by his two comrades. "And
that being the case, let's get aboard. Anything like a written message
you would like to leave behind, to be sent in case we are never heard
from again, boys? You can give it to my cousin, the major here, who will
attend to it."

Both Tom and Jack had thought of this long before, and each had prepared
a simple statement which would explain their fate in case they met with
disaster on the flight. These sealed and directed envelopes they now
handed to Major Denning.

"Depend on me to hold them until all doubt is past," he told them, as he
warmly pressed a hand of each.

Then Lieutenant Beverly gave the word to his men, and immediately the hum
of the giant motors announced that they were off on their amazing trip to
span the Atlantic, as it had never been done before, by way of the air!



CHAPTER XVI

THE FIRST NIGHT OUT


It was with a strange feeling of exhilaration that Tom and Jack realized
the fact that at last they were embarked on a flight that would either
bring about their death or, if successful, make a record in long distance
non-stop travel in a heavier-than-air machine.

The cheers of the men on the beach had been drowned in the roar of the
powerful motors and twin propellers when they left the land and commenced
to sweep upward in a graceful curve.

Both boys looked down to catch the last glimpse of France, the land so
closely associated with liberty in the minds of all true Americans. It
was in her cause two million young Yankees were at that very hour facing
the Boche in a determined effort to chase him back over the Rhine and
force a stern settlement for all the devastation his armies had wrought.

Quickly did the darkness blot out all trace of land. Back some little
distance, it was true, they could still glimpse feeble lights, marking
the location of Dunkirk. The French no longer feared to illuminate to a
limited extent since bombing planes no longer came raiding at night, nor
did that unseen monster Krupp cannon deliver its regular messages of
bursting shells.

Below them lay the English Channel, and Lieutenant Beverly had so shaped
the course that as they rose higher and higher they were heading directly
across, with the eastern shore of England close enough to have afforded
them a view of the land had it not been night-time.

They had discussed all this many times, and settled on what seemed the
most feasible route. Of course, it might have been a much shorter
distance had they decided to head almost south-west-by-south, making for
the Azores, and stopping there to prepare for another flight across to
Newfoundland. Going that way, they would have had the benefit of the
general easterly winds. But this did not appeal to Tom and Jack for
several good reasons. In the first place, it meant that a landing at the
Azores would be reckoned of such importance that it must be heralded far
and near. This was apt to get them into trouble with the military
authorities, since they had received no _bona fide_ permission to leave
the soil of France; at least, to return to America.

Then again Jack was opposed to the plan for the reason that if they
should land at the extreme point of Newfoundland considerable delay must
be caused by the difficulty of getting transportation to the States. All
the while Randolph Carringford would be steadily moving on, and, landing
at New York, have an advantage over Jack.

There was also a third reason that influenced the young navigators in
deciding to take the longer course across the Atlantic. This concerned
the fogs such as can always be met with off the Newfoundland Banks, and
which are often so dense that vessels flounder through them for several
days at a stretch.

By taking the southern course, and steering direct for the Virginia shore
they would be likely to miss much of this trouble, even though it was a
time of year when heavy mists hang along the entire Atlantic seaboard.

All of them were silent for some little time, only the roar of the motor
and the propellers beating in their ears. Beverly had established a
method of communication when in flight without unduly straining the
voice. It was very similar to a wireless telephone outfit which Tom and
Jack had employed not long back, and by the use of which they could
actually talk with an operator similarly equipped, even if standing on
the earth a mile below their plane.

It was arranged for all three of them, and could be removed from the
head when no communication was desired. In the beginning they were not in
the mood to make use of this contrivance, which, however, would
undoubtedly be welcome later on, when they would be passing over the
apparently limitless sea and the monotony had begun to wear upon their
nerves. Then conversation might relieve the tension.

It was Jack who presently called out:

"I can see lights below us. Do you think we've crossed the Channel,
Lieutenant?"

"Yes, that's the English shore, and doubtless Dover lies directly below
us, although we're at such a height that it's impossible to make sure."

"What's the idea of keeping so high, Lieutenant?" continued Jack.

"Simply to avoid collision with any of the coast guard fliers, who might
take us for Huns meaning to attack London again after a long break. But
Jack, I'm going to ask a favor of you."

"Go to it then!" called out the other, who was plainly "on edge" with
excitement over the wonderful fact that they were at last on their way.

"Drop that formality from this time on," said Beverly earnestly.
"Forget that I happen to rank you, for I'm sure your commissions are
only delayed in the coming. From now on let it be either plain Colin,
or if you prefer, Beverly. We're three chums in a boat--a ship of the
air, to be exact--and all ranking on a level. You'll agree to that,
won't you, Jack?"

"You bet I will, Colin, and it's just like you to propose it!" cried the
pleased Jack.

After that they fell silent again, though now and then Jack, who was
making good use of the night-glasses, announced that they seemed to be
passing over some city.

Tom had studied their intended course so thoroughly that he was able to
tell with more or less accuracy what some of those places were. In so
doing he always kept in mind the probable speed at which the big plane
was traveling.

They had veered a little, and would not come anywhere near Liverpool or
Dublin, as Jack had suspected might be the case until he looked over the
chart Tom had marked. On the contrary, their new course would carry them
over the south of England, and just cut across the lower part of Ireland;
indeed, the latter might have been skipped entirely with profit to
themselves in miles gained, only it seemed natural they should want to
keep in touch with land just as long as possible.

How steadily the giant plane moved majestically through the realms of
space several miles above the earth! Tom found himself fascinated by the
working of the motors from the very minute he first heard them take up
their steady labor. Surely, if the feat were at all within the bounds of
possibilities, they had, as Lieutenant Beverly said, "a fighting chance."

Of course there was always impending danger. Any one of a score of
accidents was liable to happen, especially after the engines had been
constantly working hour after hour.

Such things may bother an aviator when over the enemy's country, because
if a landing seems necessary in order to avoid a fatal drop, there must
always arise the risk of capture. How much more serious would even the
smallest engine trouble become, once they were far out over the ocean
with nothing in sight as far as the eye could reach save an endless
vastness of rolling waters beneath, and passing clouds overhead?

Tom, however, would not allow himself to brood upon these possibilities,
and when they flashed across his mind he persistently banished them.
Sufficient to the day was the evil thereof; and if difficulties arose
they must meet them bravely, doing the best they could, and accepting
the results in the spirit of Columbus, who was the pioneer in spanning
the Atlantic.

Jack now made a discovery that caused him to call out again.

"I believe we've left the land again, and it's water down under us right
now, fellows!" he called shrilly, his voice sounding above the clamor by
which they were continually surrounded.

"Well, according to my calculations," said Tom, "we should be about quit
of England and striking the Irish Sea at its junction with the Atlantic.
It's that you believe you see right now."

"Then before long we'll glimpse Ireland's lights!" cried the exultant
Jack. "Though we're likely to pass over only the city of Cork as we dash
on for the big sea beyond. So far everything is moving like grease,
Lieu--Colin."

"I promised you it would," the pilot told him. "And let's hope it keeps
up this way all the way through."

Again they ceased trying to talk since it proved such an effort without
resorting to the little wireless telephone arrangement. Jack did notify
them, however, when he believed he sighted tiny specks far below that he
took for the lights of some place of consequence; but Tom, who knew
better, assured him he must be mistaken.

"You're straining your eyes so much you mistake other things for
lights, Jack," he told the observer. "It might even be the reflection
of the stars on the glasses of your binoculars. We're not near Cork
yet, and there's no other place worth mentioning that we'll come near.
Rest up, Jack."

"Plenty of time for that after we've struck out over the ocean," came
Jack's defiant answer.

Later on he again declared he saw lights. They had been speeding for some
hours at a rate of more than sixty miles, which was good time for one of
those monster heavily laden bombers to make.

"Yes, I imagine it's Cork this time," said Tom, when appealed to.
"We veer to the left here, and pass out to sea over Queenstown,
don't we, Colin?"

"According to our mapped-out plan that's the course," came the reply, as
the pilot shifted his levers, and headed a little more toward the south.

Their sensations at that particular time were very acute. It was as if
they had reached the dividing line, and were about to enter upon a course
that would admit of no turning back.

"There, the last glimmer of light has disappeared!" finally cried
Jack in an awed tone, "and we're heading out over the Atlantic, bound
for America!"



CHAPTER XVII

WHEN THE SUBMARINE STRUCK


It was long past midnight.

In fact, the aviators could expect to see dawn break before a great
while. When that event came about they knew what an appalling spectacle
must greet their wondering eyes. Above, the boundless expanse of blue
sky, with fleecy little white clouds passing here and there, looking like
islands in a sea of azure; below, an unending sea of tossing waves, with
perhaps not even a fishing vessel in sight.

Jack fell asleep, being utterly tired out. Tom too caught what he called
little "cat-naps" from time to time. Beverly stuck faithfully to his
post, for not a wink of sleep could come to one in whose hands the
destinies of the whole expedition lay.

So the minutes passed, bringing them ever nearer the breaking of another
day. The immensity of their undertaking no longer appalled them. It was
too late for consideration anyway, since they were now fully launched
upon the flight, and turning back was not to be thought of.

Jack, waking out of a nap, looked down, and immediately uttered a loud
cry.

"Why, it's getting daylight, and you can glimpse the ocean! How queer it
looks, fellows, to be sure! Is everything going well, Colin?"

"Couldn't be improved on," he was assured by the faithful pilot.

"First I must use the glasses to see how it looks at closer range," Jack
continued. "Then I think we ought to have breakfast. This cold air makes
a fellow as hungry as a wolf. I think I must have lost myself for a bit."

Tom did not say anything, only smiled, but he knew that the other had
enjoyed at least a full hour of sleep.

"How far are we from land, Tom, would you say?" next asked the observer,
while he was adjusting the glasses to his eyes.

"Possibly a hundred and fifty miles, perhaps nearer two hundred," Tom
assured him, in a matter-of-fact tone, as though that was only what might
be expected.

"Hello! I can see a vessel already, and heading into the west!" declared
Jack. "Of course I can't make out what she's like, though I bet you her
hull and funnels are camouflaged to beat the band, so as to fool those
Hun submarine pirates with the stripes of black and white. You don't
think it's possible that could be the _La Bretagne_, Tom?"

"Well, hardly," came the quick reply, "unless something happened to
detain the French steamer after she left Havre days ago. She ought to be
a whole lot further along than this boat is. She must be some small liner
from Liverpool or Southampton, making for Halifax or New York."

Jack presently tired of staring at the little speck far down below.

"I wonder if they can see us with a glass," he next observed, as Tom
began to hand out bread and butter, with hard-boiled eggs or ham between,
and some warm coffee kept in Thermos bottles so as to take the chill of
the high altitudes out of their bodies.

"Not a chance in a hundred," Beverly assured him. "Besides, those aboard
the steamer are devoting all their efforts to watching for enemies in the
water, and not among the clouds."

They munched their breakfast and enjoyed it immensely. Indeed it seemed
as though they devoured twice as much as upon ordinary occasions.

"Lucky we laid in plenty of grub!" Jack declared, when finally all of
them announced that they were satisfied. "This Atlantic air makes one
keep hungry all the time. Now I can see that steamer plainly, for we've
dropped a little lower. Oh! What can that mean?"

His voice had a ring of sudden alarm about it that instantly aroused
Tom's curiosity. Even Lieutenant Beverly looked over his shoulder as
though he, too, felt a desire to learn more.

"They seem to be firing guns!" continued Jack presently. "Of course we're
far too high to hear the sound, but I can see the smoke as sure as I'm
sitting here. Can it be they're being attacked by a Hun undersea boat, do
you think, boys?"

"Such things keep on happening right along in these shark-infested
waters," replied Tom. "Go on and tell us all you see, Jack!"

They were all of them thrilled by the consciousness that possibly a grim
tragedy of the sea was being enacted directly beneath, without any
likelihood of their being able to render succor to those who might soon
be in distress.

"They keep on firing," Jack continued. "I can see each puff of smoke
belch out. There, something has happened! I believe it was a torpedo that
exploded against the hull of the steamer, for I saw a great blotch rise
up, and men are running about the decks like mad!"

Beverly had almost automatically decreased their speed, as though
inclined to hover above the ill-fated vessel as long as possible, at
least to learn what followed.

"They seem to be making signals!" Jack presently cried out.

"Look around and see if you can glimpse anything coming on!" demanded
Tom, as though suspecting the cause of this fresh announcement.

Hardly had the one who gripped the binoculars started to do as he was
requested than he gave a cry of mingled relief and satisfaction.

"Two boats racing straight for the spot, boys! Destroyers, too! Like as
not Americans, for they keep lying out here, you know, to protect our
transports going over with the boys. How they do cut through the water
with their sharp bows and make the waves fly! But that steamer looks as
if she might be sinking right now!"

The excitement grew intense. Beverly even started to circle around,
content to lose a few miles and some minutes if only he could satisfy
their minds that all was well with the unfortunate steamer that had been
so ruthlessly torpedoed without warning by the undersea pirates.

"They're coming up like fun!" cried Jack presently. "I can't see as well
as I'd like, though, on account of the sea fog that keeps drifting along
in patches like clouds. I really believe they'll get up before she
founders. Now the crew have started putting off boats to make sure of
saving the passengers if the worst comes!"

"Which shows they have a capable captain aboard," commented Tom.

"But the sea must be pretty rough," continued Jack, "because the small
boats toss and pitch sharply as they start away from the steamer. Hang
that fog, it's going to shut the whole picture out soon. But there,
one of the destroyers has arrived, and the boats are heading straight
on to it."

A minute later Jack gave them another little batch of news.

"The other destroyer is circling around, and must be looking for signs of
the sub. Wow! that was a terrible waterspout, though. And there goes a
second one!"

"They're dropping depth bombs, intending to get the slinker!" announced
Beverly jubilantly.

"Here's hoping they do then!" cried Jack, and immediately afterwards
added: "But it's all over for us, boys, because the fog's shut it off
completely. Might as well get along on our way; but I'm happy to know
those Yankee boats came up in time to save everybody aboard the steamer.
What a bully view we had of the performance!"

"It's such things that are apt to break the monotony and routine of a
long flight like the one we've undertaken," remarked Tom. "In time, of
course, the dash across the Atlantic will become quite common; and those
who make it are apt to see wonderful sights."

"Two hundred miles out," Jack was saying to himself as he sat there still
holding the glasses in his hand, though not attempting to make use of
them, and his eyes ranged longingly toward the western horizon where the
blue of the sky touched the dark green of the boundless sea, all his
thoughts centered on the goal that lay far distant across that vast waste
of tumbling waters.

So as the sun started to climb in the eastern heavens the flight of the
big bombing plane carrying the trio of adventurous ones was continued,
every mile left behind bringing them that much nearer their destination,
with the future still an unsolved problem.



CHAPTER XVIII

THE COLD HAND OF FEAR


Noon came and went, with the same steady progress being maintained hour
after hour. Tom relieved Beverly at the pilot's berth, and the latter
succeeded in getting some much needed rest. Still, none of them could
sleep comfortably, which was hardly to be wondered at considering their
strange surroundings.

"My first nap when flying, for a fact!" admitted Colin, after he had
awakened, and managed to stretch his stiffened limbs.

"Tough work trying to get a few winks of sleep when one is quivering all
over with excitement," Jack remarked.

They were no longer maintaining such a high course, having descended
until the heaving sea lay not more than a thousand feet below. Nothing
was in sight in any direction, which was one reason for Tom's dropping
down as he did.

"A lot of water," Jack commented, for they had started to try out the
wonderful little wireless telephone, to find that it really worked
splendidly. "Guess after the flood Noah must have thought that way too.
But shucks! we haven't got even a dove to send out."

"We happen to have something better," Tom told him, "which is the power
to shoot our boat through space at the rate of a mile a minute. No ark
business about this craft."

"Well, is there any objection to breaking our fast again?" the other
inquired, changing the subject.

Beverly seemed to think not, for he proceeded to get out the hamper in
which much of their prepared food was contained.

"I laid in double the quantity I expected we'd devour," he told them,
"and then added something to that for good measure. No telling what may
crop up; and if we happen to be cast on a desert island a healthy lot of
grub might come in handy."

"It does right now, when we are far from any island, unless that's one up
there in that dark cloud floating above us," and Jack stretched out to
receive his portion of the lunch as parceled out by Colin.

"One thing that made me drop to a lower level," explained Tom, "was the
fact of its being so cold up there among the clouds. Already I feel
better for the change."

"How about it if we should sight a steamer?" asked Jack. "They'd report
meeting a plane flying west here in midocean, which would stir up no end
of comment in the papers, and might lead to our being found out."

"We depend on you to keep the glasses in use, and report anything in
sight ahead," laughed Tom; for the clatter of the motors did not seem to
bother them in the least when using the wireless telephone. "And when you
sing out 'smoke down low on the horizon to the west!' it's going to be an
easy job for us to climb up above the clouds in a hurry."

So it was settled, and they ate their lunch in comfort.

Up to that time not the slightest thing had arisen to give them concern
with regard to the working of the engines. These aroused the admiration
of the three voyagers by their remarkable performance. Tom declared their
equal had never been installed in any plane that was ever built, and
Lieutenant Beverly's eyes glowed with satisfaction to hear his pet
praised so cordially by one whose good opinion he valued as highly as he
did Tom Raymond's.

After Jack had taken his turn at piloting the machine, he amused himself
"between naps" by watching the surface of the sea through the binoculars.

"No telling but what I may glimpse a submarine creeping along under the
surface," he told the others jokingly. "Then wouldn't we wish we'd
brought along a few bombs--the kind they dropped on that Hun bridge the
night we went with the raiders. Right now I could almost imagine that
shark's dorsal-fin was a periscope belonging to an undersea boat."

Other things came along to cause momentary interest, among them rolling
porpoises that rose in sight, and then vanished under the waves, though
from their height the boys could easily follow their movements.

Jack was getting a good deal of enjoyment out of the situation, and Tom
was glad to notice this fact. He had feared his chum's nerves might give
way under the long-continued strain; but apparently Jack had returned to
his ordinary condition.

All of them rather dreaded the coming of night. Flying in midocean while
daylight lasted was serious enough, but with darkness around for many
hours, the situation must awaken new anxieties.

But their hearts were still apparently undaunted. The success that had
rewarded their bold starting out gave abundant promise of still better
things ahead. Tom resolutely refused to allow himself to have any fear.
What if two thousand miles still lay between them and the goal of
their hopes? Was not the miracle-worker of a monster plane doing
remarkably fine work, and should they not continue to believe the end
justified the means?

So they watched the sun dropping lower and lower in the western sky
without any one voicing the thought that must have been in each mind. The
same inscrutable Providence that had watched over them by day would still
guard them when the light was gone. Under the stars, seeming now so much
nearer and brighter than when ashore, they went on and on, until back in
the east another day dawned, the great day of hope for them!

Jack had taken to looking eagerly ahead once more.

"What do you think you see?" Beverly asked him, for Tom again served as
pilot at the steering gear.

"Why, I'm all mixed up about it," came the slow reply. "It certainly
isn't a steamer, and again it just can't be land!"

"Well, hardly," Beverly answered. "To tell the honest truth I don't
believe there's a foot of land closer to us than the Bermudas, which must
lie off in that direction," pointing further toward the southwest.

"When the sun glints on it I'm fairly dazzled," Jack continued, "just as
if some one had used a piece of broken looking-glass to shoot the rays
into my eyes. And then there's a sort of queer mist hanging about that
thing in the bargain, so that sometimes it's almost blotted out. What
under the sun can it be?"

"I think I can give a guess," Tom called back. "How would an iceberg fill
the bill, Colin?"

"Just the thing, I'd say," the lieutenant answered, "only who ever heard
of an iceberg floating down in mid-Atlantic at this season of the year?
Such a thing would be uncommon, to say the least."

"But not impossible?" ventured Tom, to which the other agreed.

"Take a look, and tell us, Colin," urged Jack, offering the glasses.

A minute afterwards they were handed bade again.

"Just what it is, Tom, after all," reported Beverly. "A pretty tall berg
it seems to be, with an extensive ice-floe around it as level in spots as
a floor. I thought I saw something move on it that might be a Polar bear,
caught when the berg broke away from its Arctic glacier. We will pass
directly over, and may be able to feel the chill."

"It was the _Titanic_, wasn't it, that bumped into an iceberg, and went
down with such a frightful loss of life?" remarked Jack.

"No other," replied Tom. "But we'll try to make sure nothing like that
happens to our frail craft. Try to guess what would happen to that
monster berg if we hit head on?"

"Hardly a crack!" Jack retorted. "But I'm more interested in wondering
what would become of us. Guess we'd better keep a good thousand feet up,
and not bother trying to pry into the ice-floe's secrets."

"I'm not dreaming of dropping a foot lower just at present," Tom said
decisively; and not one of them dreamed how soon that decision would have
to be reversed, since all still looked fair about them, with no storm in
sight and the wonderful motors kept up their regular pulsations as if
capable of going on forever.

Yet strange vicissitudes and changes are the portion of those who
follow the sea; which may also be applied to other voyagers of space,
the sailors of the air. One minute all seems fair, with the sun
shining; another, and a white squall is dashing down upon the ship, to
catch the crew unawares and perhaps smother them with its mighty
foam-crested billows.

It was not half an hour later when something happened that was calculated
to chill the hearts of those bold navigators, such as even close contact
to the ice-floe and berg could never bring about.

At the time they had reached a point almost above the field of ice from
the Arctic regions, and Jack was scrutinizing its full extent, commenting
the while on many peculiar features that attracted his attention.

"It's a Polar bear, all right, fellows," he announced, "and believe me
he's some size in the bargain. If I had a rifle along I wouldn't mind
dropping down there and rustling him. But what ails you, Tom? You seem
bothered about something. Gee! you're as white as a ghost!"

Lieutenant Beverly leaned forward and clutched the pilot's arm.

"Anything gone wrong with the motors, Tom?" he demanded hoarsely.

"I've just made a terrible discovery," replied Tom, trying to
control himself. "The worst has happened, and I'm afraid we're in
for a bad time!"



CHAPTER XIX

A DESPERATE CHANCE


"Tell us the worst, Tom!" cried Beverly hoarsely.

Jack tried to echo the words, but his tongue seemed to stick to the
roof of his mouth. He knew his chum well enough to feel assured that
no ordinary hovering peril could cause the other to look so ashen
pale. It must be a frightful catastrophe by which they were
threatened, Jack realized.

"The feed pipe! It must be choking up! Latterly I've more than suspected
the motors were doing poorer work than before!"

The others understood. Under ordinary conditions they would decide on
dropping to the ground for repairs; a task that might be carried out in a
brief time, or consume hours, everything depending on the condition in
which they found things.

But how utterly impossible to dream of doing anything like that now! Jack
looked down to where, in the declining light of the sun, he could see
that limitless sea of billowy water. How different indeed all might be
were their airship a seaplane, capable of floating on the surface of the
water and making a successful launch from it, just as a gull would do.

"I'll take a look, Tom!" Lieutenant Beverly called out. "Not that I doubt
what you say, but all of us will have to put our heads together; we shall
need all our wits if what you fear proves to be a fact."

Tom was more than willing, in fact he would have himself insisted on the
lieutenant or Jack doing this very thing. Pilots differ in plenty of
ways; and, as Beverly had said, one might hit on an answer to the problem
that had entirely escaped the others.

Jack said not a word, but almost held his breath while Beverly was making
his eager examination. The plane was not more than a thousand feet above
the sea at most, and going very slowly now.

A short time elapsed. Then Beverly completed his task. The flight
lieutenant looked more serious than ever, which told the story even
before he uttered a single word.

Apparently the worst had come, and they were up against a question on the
answer to which everything, even life itself, depended.

"I'm sorry to say it's a positive fact, boys!" called out Beverly, and
as both the others were straining their ears to catch what he said, they
had no difficulty in hearing every word.

"It's the supply pipe clogging then?" Tom asked.

"Yes," came the quick answer. "And while under some conditions I've been
able to get along for a short time without dropping down, as a rule I've
found it wise to look for a landing-place before things got to the point
of desperation and avoid a fall, possibly in the midst of a German
battalion."

"No chance of our getting at it while afloat, is there?" Jack asked,
although he knew what Beverly was bound to say.

"Not the slightest," the other shot back. "It might keep going for
something like an hour, and then shut off the gas entirely. Of course
there's always a possibility of a miracle happening, such as the
obstruction being suddenly overcome; but I'm afraid that's one chance in
a million."

"But can't something be done, boys? Must we just fold our hands, and meet
our fate?" demanded Jack. "What are you thinking about, Tom, for I can
see a look in your face that we ought to know? Have you an idea--is there
yet a hope that we can get a grip on this danger, and choke it?"

Tom's face was still colorless, but there was a gleam in his eye, which
Jack had discovered. Perhaps after all it might be only the light of
desperation, a determination to die game if a cruel fortune decreed that
their time had come. Jack could not tell.

"Yes, I have a plan," said Tom quickly. "Perhaps you'll both call it a
wild idea, and think I'm crazy; but desperate cases call for equally
desperate remedies, and at the worst we'll have a chance."

"Good boy, Tom!" cried Jack. "Just like you to hit on a plan! Haven't
I known you to come to the front many times when things looked very
black for us?"

"Tom, tell your scheme!" demanded Beverly. "Things may develop faster
than we suspect now, and if there's any way to get around this trouble
the sooner we start the better."

"Of course," Tom replied, "we'll be taking the risk of smashing the nose
of our craft when we strike, unless luck favors us. I've landed on every
sort of ground, from smooth velvety turf to bumpy stuff that almost
joggled me to pieces; but I never before tried dropping on an ice-floe!"

Beverly and Jack stared hard at each other. Apparently the idea struck
them like a sudden blow, showing that neither had as yet contemplated
such a thing.

Then they turned and stared down at the wide field of floating ice that
was attached to the towering bulk of the mighty berg, as though weighing
the possibility of Tom's amazing suggestion in their minds.

Jack gave a shout.

"Tom, you're a genius, that's what you are!" he almost shrieked in the
intensity of his emotion. "I honestly believe it can be done
successfully."

"We'd have to drop a whole lot lower, so as to take a closer survey, and
learn just how smooth the surface of the floe is," Tom continued.

"I've looked through the glasses," replied Jack. "And as far as I could
make out it seemed fairly decent. I know we've landed on worse ground
many a time, and without being wrecked."

"Look again then, while I'm dropping down," urged Tom.

All of them were tremendously excited, as may readily be believed. And
who would not have been under similar conditions? Although army air
pilots are accustomed to taking great risks, and seldom go up without the
thought flitting through their minds that their hour may be close at
hand, still they are human, and when the dreadful crisis springs upon
them they can feel the chilly hand that seems to clutch the heart.

Jack soon made his report.

"Yes, it looks good to me!" he cried, with a hopeful ring to his voice.
"I can see a crack or two that would be bad for us to run into; but
there's a clear field over on the north side of the floe. I'm sure we
could make it without getting badly shaken up. Then it's our only chance;
if we miss this what else could we do?"

"Nothing," Tom replied quietly. "But I'm going to circle the berg, and
see what lies on the other side."

"Whatever we decide to do," remarked Beverly, who seemed to have
recovered to a great extent from his first perturbation, "we must lose no
time about carrying it out. That feed pipe might become fully clogged at
any minute, you know. Then besides, the sun is ready to dip down behind
the sea horizon, when we'll soon be plunged into darkness."

"Yes," agreed Tom, "we mustn't fool away our time. It's going to be no
easy job to make a safe landing on the ice, something none of us has ever
practiced. But it'd be still worse to go at it haphazard."

The others knew what was in Tom's mind. Should they seriously injure the
big bombing plane there would be no way of making repairs. On land it
could be turned over to the repair-shop, and inside of a week perhaps
emerge once more in as good shape as ever. No such convenience could be
looked for out there in mid-Atlantic!

In a short time they had circled the great mass of ice. They all fully
realized now how cold it was, and why the sea water must be affected for
a mile or more all around such a tremendous bit of the Arctic regions.

They found that most of the floe lay on the north side of the berg; and
decided that their best chance for landing must be in that quarter.

"The old berg looks top-heavy," Jack at one time called out. "You can see
that it leans toward the north; and sometimes I've thought it wobbled
considerably, though that may have been the plane waving up and down."

"No, you were right, Jack," said Beverly. "Its leaning that way tells
that the warmer sea water has begun to eat at its base. Before a great
while the berg will roll over, and smash all that floe into bits."

"I hope not when we're on it, working at our motor!" Jack could not keep
from exclaiming, looking with more interest than ever at the monster berg
that had come all this distance from some glacier a thousand miles away,
perhaps several times that distance, and would sooner or later lose
itself in sub-tropical waters.

Lower still Tom took them. All eyes continued to survey the field of
ice, particularly in that extreme northern sector where Jack had reported
lay the best place for landing.

"Once more in a circle so as to face the wind," said Tom, "and then I
mean to put it to the test."

"Good luck to you, Tom!" said Jack. "If ever you dropped as if you were
falling on eggs, let it be now. I'm going to hold my breath when we
strike the ice, and only hope we don't keep gliding along until we shoot
off the edge into the sea!"

"Leave that to me, Jack," came the assurance of the pilot.

After that no one said a word, for both Lieutenant Beverly and Jack
Parmly realized that it would be dangerous to distract Tom's attention
from his work just at the most critical moment.

The sun had reached the horizon, and inside of a few minutes must
vanish from view. At that moment Tom shut off the engine, and made
ready to alight!



CHAPTER XX

ON THE ICE FLOE


If ever Tom Raymond had need of skill and care it was then, for what
might be an ordinary mishap ashore must be a fatal accident under the
conditions by which they were faced.

But almost as lightly as a snowflake touches the ground he brought the
wheels under the big bomber in contact with the ice. Indeed, Jack could
not tell for a certainty when the actual contact occurred; though
immediately afterwards he found himself being shaken more or less as the
heavy plane bumped along over the ice.

One peril still menaced them, which was that their momentum, unless
halted, might carry them to the terminus of the floe, and plunge them
over. But Tom had taken all precautions, and allowed for everything, even
an unusual slide on account of the smooth surface under the wheels.

Slower grew their progress, though the bumping continued unabated. And
finally they had come to a full stop, with still some little stretch of
the ice field ahead.

Then Jack tried to yell, cowboy fashion; but, to his surprise and
disgust, he could hardly make a sound above a whisper, his voice having
failed him through sheer nervous excitement.

He jumped from his seat, and immediately sat down with a rude jar on the
ice; but, nothing daunted, he quickly scrambled to his feet and began to
dance like a wild Indian might when the war tocsin sounds through the
village, and all his primeval instincts are aroused by the thought of
fighting and plunder.

Tom and Lieutenant Beverly also hastened to leave their seats. They too
found that their legs were cramped and almost useless, through having
maintained a sitting position during so many weary hours.

Jack's exuberant spirits caused him to fairly hug his chum.

"Didn't I know you could do it, Tom?" he cried. "See how the old luck
keeps hanging over us, will you? It's always been this way, Colin; and to
have Tom along means success every time."

"That may be," the lieutenant replied, giving Tom a fond look; "but if I
were you I'd call it something more than just luck. It takes brains to
think up such schemes as this one, brains and a lively imagination in
the bargain; and Tom's rich in both of those requirements."

"Let's get busy, and see about fixing that feedpipe," broke out the
modest object of all this praise. "We have only a short time of daylight
to work in, and after that must depend on our little searchlight torch."

All were willing to start work. Jack found himself shivering slightly,
although they had not been on the ice-floe many minutes.

"Gee, but it's certainly cold, for a fact!" he exclaimed. "I'd hate to be
marooned here any length of time, let me tell you, even if we did have
grub enough to last over a week. Why, we'd freeze to death; not to
mention what would become of us when the old berg crashed over and
scattered all this floe ice!"

"Let's hope that our stay will be of short duration then," said Beverly,
with a quick and apprehensive glance in the direction of the towering
iceberg, upon the peak of which the last rays of the sinking sun glinted
until it seemed to be frosted with a million diamonds.

Tom was already busily engaged, after the bomber had been wheeled partly
around, in order that he might have the benefit of what light remained
with the departure of day.

Beverly and Jack hovered over him, ready to give advice, or lend a
helping hand. Of course none of them had ever had to do with this
particular type of a plane; but then all engines have many similarities
in their construction, and Tom, as well as the other two, had proved
themselves to be capable mechanics, as well as able pilots.

Finally, as it was impossible for the three of them to work at the
repairs, Jack walked around and examined the singular formation
constituting the berg and attendant ice-floe.

"Why," he told himself in glee, "it floated across our path when we
needed a landing-place the worst kind, as if we'd ordered it to be held
in waiting. It might be the next time there'll be a convenient island
handy, though I hope there'll come no next time."

He even found a way to climb on to the berg itself, though in most places
the field ice was chopped into small bits by some action on the part of
the vast bulk, perhaps during a high wind and a heavy sea.

"All I want to be able to say is that I've been on a regular iceberg,"
Jack announced, after he had once more returned to his mates; "but
it's frigid, let me tell you. Why, there's enough ice in that mountain
to freeze all the cream made around New York in a whole season, and
then some."

He found that Tom was still busily engaged, with Beverly bending down in
frequent consultation.

"Say, is it going to be anything serious, fellows? Worse than we at
first thought?"

Beverly looked up and gave him a reassuring smile. He was now holding
the little hand-torch and directing its ray so that Tom could get the
full benefit.

"No reason to believe so, Jack," he remarked quietly. "Tom's still of the
opinion that we ought to have it all fixed up for keeps before an hour
goes by, if things keep on working as we expect."

"Fine! You make me happy when you say that, Colin!" Jack returned. "If
only the berg doesn't roll over before we get out of this, I'll consider
that we have much to be thankful for," he added slowly.

"Could you feel any motion when you stood on that lower shelf of the
berg?" asked Beverly, showing that he had watched what Jack was doing.

"I should say I could," the other assured him. "It nearly made me
sea-sick. I'd hate to have to stay here very much longer. If you watch a
cloud passing you can see just how the peak dips, and swings back and
forth. It's getting ready to tumble, and before long!"

Tom worked on.

He too realized that the longer they were compelled to stay on the ice
field the greater their danger must become. If that towering berg ever
did turn over bottom-up it would smash the floe into fragments and churn
up the adjacent waters in a way that would leave no avenue of escape for
the trio of adventurous air pilots who had alighted there by reason of
circumstances beyond their control.

His hands felt cold, and he was compelled at times to get up and thrash
both arms about to induce circulation in his extremities. Beverly and
Jack both offered to take his place, but Tom, having started the job,
thought he had better finish it if possible.

"Everything seems to be working along as good as pie," Beverly reported,
in order to add to Jack's peace of mind, for he knew the other must be
growing a bit anxious again. Delay meant so much to Jack in this endeavor
to beat the steamship across the Atlantic.

"If you've no objections, I'll rustle after that grub bag, and indulge in
something to help get rid of this empty feeling I've got. We'll all feel
better for something to eat," said Jack. "I think Tom could work faster
if he would take time now for a sandwich."

"You're right, perhaps, Jack," returned Colin. "Although we had better
wait for a full meal till we get in the air."

"Here's luck, boys!" cried Jack a minute afterwards.

"What have you found now?" asked Tom, without looking up.

"Why, the coffee's still hot. And let me tell you, it feels good to my
hands. There never was a finer thing for poor air pilots than these
bottles that allow them to have a warm drink when two miles up, and in
freezing temperature. This will put fresh life in our bodies."

"That isn't half bad," answered Tom; "so hand it over, and I'll take a
drink or two."

Tom swallowed his coffee and hastily ate a sandwich, but the others,
without Tom's reason for haste, ate hungrily.

Never, they confessed, had they felt such voracious appetites as on this
flight. Perhaps the invigorating sea air had something to do with it; but
Jack, at least, was not the one to bother himself about the cause, so
long as the provisions held out.

Some time passed in this way. Tom at work, Beverly holding the flashlight
in one hand and taking in the other such food as Jack handed to him.

Tom had just remarked he believed he had effected a radical cure, and
that the feed-pipe was not likely to become obstructed again; at the same
time Jack could see he was starting to put things together once more.

It began to look as though they might be ready to make a fresh start in
a very short time, not more than ten minutes, Jack figured. It thrilled
him to realize this fact. He even glanced toward the towering berg as
if to say:

"Now be good, and just hold off your gymnastics till we get started, old
chap! Afterwards you can cut up as much as you please, and little we'll
care. But I've got too much at stake right now in getting to land to have
any silly ice mountain turn over on me. So forget your troubles for
another half hour, if you please!"

Just then Jack saw something move close by. A scuffling sound, followed
by a strange sniffling, could be plainly heard. Jack bent down and
clutched Beverly by the arm, saying shrilly:

"Listen, both of you! That Polar bear is coming for us, and I think he
means business, too!"



CHAPTER XXI

ATTACKED BY A POLAR BEAR


"Here's trouble, all right!" grumbled Beverly, as he turned, looking to
where Jack was pointing, and also discovered something moving.

Tom dropped his monkey-wrench. Something else besides a tool of that kind
would be needed to defend them against the claws and teeth of such a
bulky monster as a huge Polar bear.

All of them could now make the animal out as Beverly concentrated the
little ray of light upon him. The beast was advancing slowly, but
pugnaciously, sniffling the air, and evidently furiously hungry on
account of his prolonged cruise upon the icefield, deprived of his
customary fish meals.

"What ought we do, Tom?" Jack called out hurriedly. "If we retreat,
like as not he'll muss things up around here, and maybe ruin our
plane for us."

"We must keep him away!" announced Lieutenant Beverly. "It would mean
death to us all if he got to tumbling around and smashed some of the
parts of the machine."

As he said this he fumbled about his person, producing the automatic
pistol with which he usually went on his flights; and without which few
air pilots venture to enter into combat with enemy fliers.

Tom duplicated his act immediately, while Jack, at the same time, secured
his weapon from the place where he kept it when in his seat. So, after
all, things did not seem to be altogether favorable to Bruin; and had the
bear only known what he was up against possibly he would have found it
discreet to back off and let the three strange creatures alone.

"Be sure to hold your fire, boys!" Lieutenant Beverly ordered, taking
command. "We must be like old Put at the battle of Bunker Hill, and wait
till we can see his eyes clearly. It's going to be hard to drive off that
big rascal with only pistols! Aim for the spot back of his foreleg if you
can; that may reach his heart!"

There was not much time for preparation, since the bear kept advancing at
the same shuffling gait. Tom tried shouting at him, hoping the sound of a
human voice might cause the beast to alter his intention, and turn back.

The bear did stop, and thrust his muzzle further out as though to get a
better whiff of the queer animals against which he found himself pitted.

"Didn't go, Tom, for he's coming on again!" cried Jack.

"Get ready to give him a volley," the lieutenant ordered. "Tom, move off
a bit to the right, and I'll go to the left. That may upset his
calculations some; and besides, we'll have a better chance to bore in
back of his forelegs. Jack, stand where you are, and shoot when we do!"

"I'm game!" came the steady reply.

Both the others made a quick move, and the bear found himself facing
three separate points of peril. He growled fiercely, and came on again,
straight toward the plane, which seemed to have aroused his curiosity.
Perhaps he fancied it was some monster bird that would afford him more
than one good meal.

"Give it to him, everybody!" suddenly shouted Lieutenant Beverly.

Hardly had he uttered the last word than there was a rattle of firearms
as the three of them discharged their weapons. There arose a mighty roar
of anger as the bear felt the sudden pain of bullets entering his flesh.

"Again! He's staggering, but full of fight yet!"

Once more the pistol shots rang out. The bear was moving, but seemed to
be growing quite weak and confused, for once he fell half over, though
managing to recover and push on.

It took several more rounds before the huge bulk rolled over, gave a few
spasmodic kicks, and then expired.

"Bully work, boys!" shouted Jack, as he hurried forward to take a
close-up view of their victim. "Gee whiz! but isn't he a buster though?
Never did I dream I'd help bring down a real Arctic white bear! And just
to think of the queer conditions of this hunt, too, will you? I wager,
now, there never was one like it--by airplane at that!"

After one look at the bear Tom returned to his task. Shooting game was
all very fine, but he had business of a different character to call for
his attention just then.

"Wonder if the old chap has got a mate around?" suggested Jack, a sudden
thought causing him to survey the ice-floe as seen under the faint light
of the stars that were beginning to show in the heavens above.

"Not one chance in a thousand he had company," Beverly insisted; "but no
harm in your keeping a wary eye about, Jack, while Tom gets things in
shape again. I have to stay here with the light. If you've a sharp knife
what's to hinder you from taking one of his claws for a trophy?"

"I'll do that same. Thank you for reminding me, Colin! Some fellows I
know are such Doubting Thomases you have to be in a position to prove
everything you tell them. Tom, loan me that knife of yours, please. It's
got an edge like a razor to it, and those paws look simply immense."

"Make haste about it, for we'll soon be ready to skip out of this place,"
Tom warned him as he handed over the knife.

Jack began to work industriously. He found he had undertaken no mean job
when he contracted to sever one of the front paws of the dead Polar bear.
Not only did he have to cut through ligaments and tough skin, but the
bones themselves gave him no end of trouble.

He solved this by finding the heavy monkey-wrench, and using it as a
hammer, with the knife in place, thus actually severing the paw complete
after considerable trouble.

"There, isn't that a regular beauty to show?" he demanded, holding up the
result of his labor. "I feel something like a young Indian warrior who's
just killed his first grizzly, and means to hang the claws about his neck
to prove his bravery."

He stood looking down at the monster bear for a minute, debating
something in his mind.

"I wonder now," Jack finally observed, "if we could eat that bear meat,
supposing something happened to keep us marooned on this ice for weeks at
a stretch? What do you think about it, Tom?"

"It might be possible, if we got in a bad pinch and were almost
starving," came the reply. "But you must remember we'd have to swallow it
raw, because we haven't any means for making a fire; and trying to kindle
a blaze on the ice would be a tough job."

"Then I'm glad to know we don't have to depend on bear meat to keep us
from starving," Jack announced. "Pretty nearly through, Tom?"

"Five minutes more ought to see us ready to start. I'm pretty hungry
though and would like something more to eat. You boys ate a good deal,
but you called it 'a snack,' and not 'supper.'"

"On the whole," Colin suggested, "perhaps we'd better leave the supper
until we get to moving smoothly again. Things ought to taste better if we
feel we've got the bulge on this engine trouble for fair."

Jack did not try to urge any undue haste. Nevertheless he looked several
times in the quarter close by where the big berg raised its cone, as if
his uneasiness now might be wholly concerned with its possibilities for
making fresh trouble.

Was it imagination, or some sort of optical delusion that made the tip
of the huge berg seem to come lower and lower, then draw back again as if
making a ceremonious bow like a dancing-master?

Jack gasped, and opened his lips to cry out, but thinking better of it
restrained the temptation. They could not get away until the repairs were
complete. At the same time, while trying to make himself believe he had
magnified the thing, he was conscious of a louder grinding noise than any
heard up to that moment.

Tom was putting the finishing bolt in place. A few more efforts and he
would be able to announce that his task had been completed. Jack became
conscious of a peculiar undulating movement to the ice under his feet. It
was just the same as he could remember experiencing when on skates, and
going at full steam over a thin section of ice that must have easily
broken under his weight only for the speed with which he crossed over.

Was the ice floe about to break up? Would it result in several smaller
sections separating from the main stem, none of which might be of a size
to allow them sufficient room for making a start?

The thought alarmed Jack. He also knew that undoubtedly any movement to
the pack ice must be caused by some action of the giant berg. Was that
mountain of ice about to take the plunge at last, and turn over, its base
being eaten away to such an extent that the whole had become top-heavy?

Once again did Jack turn his startled eyes to the left. He could not get
it out of his mind how terribly suggestive that "bow" on the part of the
berg had been.

There it was, coming again! Perhaps the wind had grown stronger since
they dropped down upon the ice, and was adding its force to the action of
the waters.

Jack found himself unable to hold in any longer. If such a dreadful peril
hung over them it was time his companions knew the need of haste in
getting free from that doomed field of ice. So he put all doubts behind
him and gave tongue.

"Hurry, hurry, Tom! The iceberg is acting queerly. It's tottering as if
ready to roll over on us! Don't you see how it acts, Tom?"



CHAPTER XXII

WHEN THE ICEBERG ROLLED OVER


Fortunately Tom had everything ready for an immediate start, acting under
orders, Jack and Beverly having previously changed the position of the
big plane, so that it now faced the run taken when landing.

This brought the wind back of them; but that would be an asset rather
than a detriment. They had also gone hastily over the course to make
absolutely certain there was no break, or other trap, which might give
them serious trouble.

"Jump aboard, both of you!" cried Tom, still keeping his head--a lucky
thing, since to get "rattled" in such a crisis might prove fatal.

The beating of the engine and the whirr of the propellers announced that
they were off. On the comparatively smooth ice it was easy to make a
start unassisted by mechanics or hostlers.

Jack's heart seemed to be in his throat, and he waited in feverish
suspense to learn whether success or failure was to be their fortune.
Faster now grew their progress, but would the stretch of ice prove a
long enough area to give them the necessary momentum?

Every second they expected to hear horrible grinding noises from behind,
such as must accompany the toppling over of the berg. Even the splash of
waves against the further side of the big ice-floe seemed like the
pounding of a monster hammer, at least to Jack's excited imagination.

They were now drawing perilously near the brink. Was Tom ever going to
elevate the plane and attempt the rise from the flat surface of the ice?

Just when it seemed to Jack that hope must yield to despair he realized
that the jumpy motion of the plane ceased suddenly. He knew what this
meant, and that Tom had finally shown his hand, for they no longer bumped
along but began to move through space!

Then Jack fell back, breathing freely again. Success had rewarded their
efforts, and once more the big bomber was speeding through its own
element on the wings of the wind.

But it had indeed been a narrow escape for the adventurous trio; for
hardly had they started to swing upward into space when from behind them
arose a series of horrible crashings, gurglings, and the mad splashing of
water, telling that in truth the giant berg had carried out its threat
and rolled completely over, playing havoc with the entire floe.

No one spoke immediately. In fact, none of them could have uttered a
word, no matter how hard he had tried. In each young heart a feeling of
intense gratitude reigned, as well as a sensation of horror, for only too
well did they know what their immediate fate must have been had they
remained prisoners on the ice but another two minutes.

Tom pointed the nose of the plane directly into the southwest. He even
seemed to be getting additional speed out of his motors, as though bent
on making up for the lost time.

All of them began to settle down for another long monotonous period with
the whole night before them. Far from comfortable might be their
situation, but not a single complaint would be heard. All they asked was
that things might go on as they were, with the plane reeling off knot
after knot of the cruise into the west.

After a while Jack remembered that Tom had had but a bite of supper.
Accordingly he got out the supplies and proceeded to serve them. Then he
took Tom's place for a while and held the airship true to her course.

They kept about five hundred feet or so above the sea. Somehow it
gave them a little encouragement just to catch the glint of the
stars on the tumbling waves below. There was a friendliness in the
billows, a something that seemed to keep them in contact with their
fellow men; a thing which they missed when passing along two thousand
feet or more above the surface of the terrestrial globe, even beyond
the floating clouds.

So the long vigil was taken up. Hour after hour the giant bomber must
wing its swift flight, ever speeding onward into the realm of space
through which it was now making a voyage unequalled since Columbus sailed
his three high-decked boats into that unknown ocean at the end of which
he expected to come to the East Indies.

By turns they managed to get some sleep, each serving his trick as pilot.

The hours grew into early morning. How eagerly did the pilot often turn
his tired head to gaze backward toward the east, to see if but the first
faint gleam of coming dawn had appeared there. And how joyfully did he
welcome it when that desire became reality.

So the unfolding day found them, still heading onward, and with
everything promising well. Jack, of course, had his binoculars out as
soon as it was possible to see any distance. Shortly afterwards he made
an important announcement.

"Smoke head of us, fellows. Much too much to come from any one steamer.
You can see it with the naked eye, dead on there!"

After taking a good look, Tom, who was at the wheel, gave his opinion.

"It might be a vessel afire," he said slowly. "One of those tank-oil
steamers would make a fierce smoke, you know. But on the whole I rather
believe it's a convoy of troop ships going across to France."

"I never thought of that, Tom!" cried Jack, again clapping the glasses to
his eyes; "but I reckon you're right, for I can see funnels of black
smoke rising from different quarters. Yes, there must be dozens of boats
in that flotilla. What had we better do?"

"Go aloft, and try to keep out of sight among the little clouds," was the
immediate reply Tom made. "We could continue to watch, and see all that
passed below, at the same time keeping ourselves fairly invisible.
They'll hardly be looking up so as to discover a speck floating past. And
then again all that smoke is bound to make it difficult for them to see."

He lost no time in commencing a spiral climb for altitude, boring upward
with the powerful bomber in a way that was wonderful.

By degrees they attained the height desired, and once again did Tom head
into the southwest. Jack reported what he saw from time to time, calling
above the noise made by engines and propellers.

"It's a big convoy, all right," he told them. "I can see ever so many
steamships following one another in double column. Each is loaded with
our boys in khaki, I presume. Then off on either side and ahead are
little specks that I can just make out by reason of their smoke
streamers. Those must be the score or more of destroyers, guarding the
flotilla against U-boat attack. It's a great sight, let me tell you!
Here, Colin's getting out his glasses to take a look. Tom, you must have
a chance too."

Each in turn managed to survey the stirring spectacle as spread out upon
the sea far beneath them. And the pulses of those gallant lads throbbed
with pardonable pride when they realized what magnificent efforts America
was making to win the war in favor of the Allies, after entering it so
late herself.

Gradually the great smoke cloud began to grow more distant, the fleet
with its convoy having passed by, continuing to head into the east, where
the lurking U-boat would possibly be waiting to attack.

"That was a great sight!" exclaimed Tom, as their attention again turned
to possibilities lying before them, rather than what had passed by.

"Never forget it as long as I live!" Jack declared vehemently.

"It's been a good thing for us in more than one way," Tom went on to say.
"You see, personally, I've been just a bit in doubt about our actual
bearings; and this has set me straight. I can put my finger on the actual
spot on the chart where we'd be likely to meet the fleet. So now we've
got to change our course sharply."

"Running more into the south-southwest, you mean, I suppose, Tom?"
asked Beverly.

"Just that," continued the acting pilot. "We want to strike the Virginia
shore, you understand, and right now we're off Long Island. After several
hours on our new course we'll again make a sharp swing into the west, and
then look for land!"

"And that land, oh, joy! will be our own America!" cried Jack, his face
fairly beaming with expectation.

They kept booming along on the new course for several hours, and as it
did not seem necessary to continue at such a great altitude they again
descended to the old familiar line of flight, with the sea about five
hundred feet below.

"Given another hour," Tom said, along about the middle of the morning,
"and it will be time to strike for the west. We must be off Delaware or
the tip of Maryland right now. Jack just reported a faint glimpse of
land, but wasn't sure it might not be a low-hanging cloud bank."

"And now we're in for another experience, I'm afraid," called out Jack,
"for there's a nasty sea fog sweeping along from the south. We're bound
to drive into it before five minutes more--the first real mist blanket to
strike us all the way across."

Jack's prediction proved no idle one, for in less than the time specified
they found themselves suddenly enveloped by a dense mantle of mist
through which it would have been utterly impossible to have seen anything
a hundred feet away.

Tom for one did not like the coming of that fog just when they were about
to drew near the land of their hopes. Unlike a vessel, they could not
come to anchor and ride it out, waiting for the fog to lift; but must
drive on, and desperately strive to find some sort of landing.

"The thickest fog I ever saw!" Jack observed, after they had been passing
through the moist gray blanket of mist for some little time.

"Just the usual kind you'll meet with on the sea at times," answered the
lieutenant. "I was caught in one when out on the fishing banks, and it
wasn't any too pleasant a feeling it gave me either. But for our compass
we'd never have reached shore again."

"And but for the compass right now," said Tom, "it would be next to
impossible to steer a straight course."

"One good thing," Jack told them; "very little danger of a collision,
such as vessels are likely to encounter in so dense a fog."

"No, the air passage across the Atlantic hasn't become so popular yet
that we have to keep blowing a fog horn while sailing," laughed Colin.

All of them were feeling considerably brighter, now that their wonderful
venture seemed to be drawing close to a successful termination. If only
their luck held good and allowed them to make a safe landing, they felt
they would have good reason for gratitude.

"What makes it feel so queer at times?" Jack asked later on. "Why, I seem
to have the blood going to my head, just as happened when looping the
loop, and hanging too long in stays."

"I've noticed the same thing myself," added Colin briskly, "and tried to
figure out the cause. Tom, what do you say about it?"

"A queer situation has arisen, according to my calculation," the pilot
told them. "Fact is, without being able to see a solitary thing anywhere
about us, above or below, it's often impossible to know when we're
sailing on a level keel, or flying upside down!"

"That's a fact," admitted Lieutenant Beverly. "When you haven't the
slightest thing to guide you, stars, sun, or earth, how can you tell
which is up or which is down? We go forward because of the compass; but
part of the time I do believe, just as you say, Tom, we've been flying
upside-down!"

"I don't fancy this way of flying," Tom announced. "I think it would be
better for us to climb in order to see if we can get out of this
pea-soup."

"Ditto here!" echoed Jack. "I'm getting dizzy, with it all, and my head
feels twice as heavy as ordinary. You can't mount any too soon to
please me, Tom."

Lieutenant Beverly was not averse, it seemed, so the call became
unanimous.

"All we want is to sight land," the Lieutenant remarked. "Then we can
start for the interior, and try to pick a nice soft spot for landing
without getting all smashed up."

Later on he was reminded of that wish by Jack, for they certainly found
such a spot, as future events proved.

By climbing to a considerable height it was found that they could avoid
the uncomfortable experiences that had befallen them closer to the
surface of the ocean. Here the sun was shining, and while clouds floated
around them there was no longer a chance of the plane being inverted.

Jack could make out land at times, though still faintly seen, and lying
low on the uncertain horizon.

"I wonder if that can be Virginia I see?" he sometimes said; but talking
more to himself than trying to make the others hear.

"It isn't far away at most, Jack," Beverly assured him; for he
sympathized with Jack and the reason the other had for longing to get to
the home town ahead of his scheming cousin.

"Show me the chart and just about where we ought to be right now, Tom,"
said Jack. "That is, if it's no trouble."

"No trouble to do it," came the quick reply, and with a pencil Tom made a
cross on the chart while Jack's eyes danced with joy.

"Then that must be Virginia off there to the west!" he cried, again
snatching up the glasses for another earnest look.

Tom watched him out of the corner of his eye. Well did he know that as
Jack feasted his gaze upon the far distant land in imagination he was
seeing that dearly loved home, with the friends who were so precious to
him, and in fancy receiving their warm greetings.

They continued on for some little time. Tom felt pretty confident that
he was correct, though he would be glad to have some confirmation of
his figuring.

"The fog is thinning some!" he finally stated, "and I think we'd better
seek a lower level."

"Might as well," added Beverly, approving of the idea instantly.

"Yes," added Jack, "when the time comes to fly landward we'll want to be
down far enough to see where we're going. We needn't be afraid any longer
of making a sensation, because seaplanes must be cruising over these
waters nearly every day, coming from the station near Fortress Monroe at
Hampton Roads."

Accordingly it was not long before they were skirting the upper reaches
of the diminishing fog bank, being about a thousand feet or so above the
sea itself. Now and then slight rifts appeared in the disappearing mist,
and at such intervals it was possible for them to catch fleeting glimpses
of the Atlantic, whose wide expanse they had successfully spanned, an
event that would make history, if only it could ever be publicly known.

Jack could no longer see the low shore, much to his distress; but then
he knew positively it was there, and when the time came to change
their course directly into the west a brief flight would carry them
over the land.

It really mattered little to him where they made their landing, since he
would be able to find a way of reaching Bridgeton within a few hours. He
consulted his little wrist watch again and again.

Tom was more than a little amused to see Jack even clap it close to his
ear. He knew the reason of his doing this, for time was crawling on so
slowly in the estimation of the impatient one that he even suspected the
faithful little watch had ceased to go, though its steady ticking must
have speedily assured him such could not possibly be the case.

"Listen!" Lieutenant Beverly suddenly called out.

A strange weird sound came faintly to their ears. Even above all the
noise of their working engine they could make it out. To any one who came
from the interior of the country it might have seemed a bewildering
sound, and have called up strange fancies connected with marine monsters
that were said to have once inhabited these waters near the Gulf Stream.

But the trio of voyagers had lived too long near the coast not to
recognize a fog-siren when they heard its strident call.

Jack in particular was exultant.

"Tell me, is that the anchored light-ship's siren, Tom, do you think?" he
demanded, with considerable excitement.

The pilot nodded his head, and with a finger pointed to a dot on the
chart to indicate that it could be nothing else.

"I presume, Tom," Jack went on to say, "you came down when you did partly
to catch that sound as we came near the shoals where the lightship stands
guard day and night the whole year through."

"Well, I had that in mind," came the answer, "for, as I said before,
while feeling pretty sure of my bearings I thought I'd like to have them
verified. And now you can see I wasn't much out of the way."

"You've done splendidly, Tom," said Beverly, clapping the other heartily
on the back. "We've all carried ourselves like true Americans through
this whole affair; and it'll afford us considerable satisfaction when we
look back on the wonderful trip."

"And now, Tom, hadn't we better turn toward the shore?" asked Jack.

"Just as soon as we get over the lightship I will know how to steer,
Jack. Keep cool, and before long you'll be looking down on our beloved
Virginia once again."

"You make me mighty happy when you say that, Tom. Many times I've
wondered if I'd ever see it again, we've been overseas so long and in so
many perils while doing our duty. How fine it'll be to stand once more
on the soil where both of us were born, and know we've done a pretty big
thing in crossing the Atlantic by the new air route!"

They fell silent again after that, but not for long. Louder and clearer
came the frequent long-drawn wails of the steam fog-horn, until finally
it seemed evident they were almost exactly above the lightship that, as
Tom knew, was anchored on the shoals to warn mariners of their danger by
means of a far-reaching lamp and the powerful siren's hoarse voice.

"Now we'll strike in for the land!" called out Tom, his announcement
causing Jack to thrill with delight, while Beverly too showed his
pleasure in broad smiles.

Soon afterwards they were speeding due west, with Jack gluing his eyes to
his glasses and reporting every few minutes fresh signs of vast
importance. Virginia soon lay beneath them, to announce that they had
completed their wonderful flight across the Atlantic.



CHAPTER XXIII

THE END OF THE FLIGHT


No longer did the fog enfold them in its damp grasp. After leaving the
immediate coast behind them the last trace of it disappeared.

Jack refused to take his entranced eyes from the binoculars for a single
minute. He felt a hundred-fold repaid for all the perils encountered
during the memorable flight from the shore of France, during which they
had spanned the vast area of the Atlantic, and were now sailing
peacefully along above the home soil.

Lieutenant Beverly made an announcement just then that startled them.

"We must look for a place to drop down without any further loss of time!"
he called out to Tom, who was still serving as pilot.

"But it would be mighty fine," Jack observed wistfully, "if only we might
keep going on until we got a few miles out of Bridgeton. I know every rod
of territory for miles around and could point out a dandy level field to
make our landing in. We'd be able to descend without observation, too, I
really believe."

"That'd surely be nice, Jack," Beverly told him, "and I wish we could
accommodate you. But the fact is we're about out of gas! I noted this a
short time ago, but said nothing, because it would do no good to throw a
scare into you both. Besides, Tom had already headed direct for the land
at the time."

"How lucky that didn't happen when we were a hundred miles out at sea!"
Tom exclaimed, his first thought being one of satisfaction, rather than
useless complaint. This was characteristic of Tom, always seeing the
bright side of things, no matter how gloomy they appeared to others.

"Then I'd better be looking for a landing-place," Jack quickly remarked,
getting over his little disappointment.

"And the sooner we duck the better," Beverly admitted. "If the motors
go back on us we'll be in a bad fix; and volplaning to the ground
isn't always as easy as it's pictured, especially when you've no
choice of a landing."

"After all, it does not matter so very much," Jack concluded. "Surely
once we succeed in gaining a footing we can discover a means for getting
to our goal without much loss of time."

He bent his energies toward looking for what would seem to be a
promising open spot, where there would not be apt to be any pitfalls or
traps waiting to wreck their plane, and possibly endanger their lives.

"Scrub woods all below us, Tom!" he announced.

"But there must be openings here and there," the pilot told him. "If only
the field seems long enough to admit of our coming to a stop, we'd better
take chances."

"Nothing yet, sorry to say," called out Jack.

"Suppose you drop lower, Tom," suggested Beverly. "If we skirt the tops
of the taller trees we'll be better able to see without depending on the
glasses. All three of us can be on the lookout at the same time."

Tom considered that a good idea and he lost no time in carrying it out.
It was easier now to take particular note of the ground; but they passed
over mile after mile of the scrub without discovering what they most
earnestly sought.

"Things are getting down to a fine point, Tom," warned Beverly. "Our gas
is on its last legs, and any minute now we'll find ourselves without
motive power."

"It must change soon," the pilot told them. "This scrub forest has got to
give way to rising ground and open spaces."

"But if it doesn't, what then?" asked Jack.

"I hate to think of crashing down into those trees," Tom admitted.
"We've just got to get over being too particular. Several places we let
pass us might have answered our purpose. Look ahead, Jack, and tell me if
there doesn't seem to be some sort of open spot lying there."

Jack gave a whoop.

"Here we are!" he cried exultantly. "It's an opening in the scrub timber,
a big gash too, for a fact! Why, already I can see that it looks like a
level green field. How queer it should be lying right there, as if it
might be meant for us."

"You don't glimpse any other chance further on, do you, Jack?" continued
the pilot.

"Never a thing, Tom. Just a continuation of those same old dwarf
oak trees. But why do you ask that? What's the matter with this
fine big gap?"

"I'm afraid it's a marsh, and not a dry field!" Tom answered. "But all
the same I presume we'll have to chance it. Better to strike a bog than
to fall into those trees, where the lot of us might be killed."

"Suppose we circle around, and try to find the best place for a descent,"
proposed Beverly.

All of them strained their eyes to try to see better. Unfortunately a
cloud passed over the sun just then, rendering it difficult to make sure
of anything.

"What's the verdict?" sang out Tom presently, keeping a wary eye on the
straining motors.

"Looks to me as if that further part might be the highest ground," was
Jack's decision.

"I agree with you there!" instantly echoed Beverly.

"That settles it! Here goes to make the try," Tom announced, again
swinging in and shutting off all power.

He continued to glide downward, approaching the ground at a certain point
which he had picked but with his highly trained eye as apparently the
best location for the landing.

Suspecting what might happen, Tom held back until the very last, so that
the big bombing plane was not going at much speed when its wheels came in
contact with the ground for the first time.

Something happened speedily, for it proved to be a bog, and as the
rubber-tired wheels sank in and could not be propelled, the natural
result followed that the nose of the giant plane was buried in the soft
ground, and they came to an abrupt stop.

Tom was the first to crawl forth, and Beverly followed close upon his
heels. The third member of the party did not seem as ready to report,
which fact alarmed his chum.

"Jack, what's wrong with you?" he called out, starting to climb aboard
the smashed plane again.

"Nothing so very much, I think; but I seem to be all twisted up in this
broken gear, and can hardly move," came the answer.

Tom secretly hoped it was not a broken arm or leg instead. He started to
feel around, and soon managed to get the other free from the broken ends
of the wire stays that had somehow hindered his escape. Together they
crawled out, to find Lieutenant Beverly feeling himself all over as if
trying to discover what the extent of his damages were.

"Try to see if you've been injured any way seriously, Jack," begged his
anxious chum, still unconvinced.

An investigation disclosed the marvelous fact that all of them had
managed to come through the smashing landing with but a small amount of
damage. When this was ascertained without any doubt Jack started to
prance around, unable to contain himself within bounds.

"Excuse me if I act a little looney, fellows!" he begged. "Fact is, I'm
just keyed up to topnotch and something will give way unless I let off
steam a bit."

With that he yelled and laughed and cheered until his breath gave out.
Neither of the others felt any inclination to try to stop his antics.
Truth to tell, they were tempted to egg Jack on, because he was really
expressing in his own fashion something of the same exultation that all
of them felt.

The great flight had been carried through, and here they were landed on
the soil of America, three young aviators who but a few days before had
been serving their country on the fighting-front in Northern France. Yes,
the Atlantic had been successfully bridged by a heavier-than-air plane,
and from the time of leaving France until this minute their feet had not
once pressed any soil; for that ice-pack in mid-Atlantic could not be
counted against them, since it too was nothing but congealed water.

"But the poor old bomber! It's ruined, Colin, I'm afraid," Jack finally
managed to say, when he sank down from his exertions.

"That's a small matter," Beverly assured him. "The main thing is that we
did what we set out to do, and proved that the dream of all real airmen
could be made to come true. We may live to see a procession of monster
boats of the air setting out for over-seas daily, carrying passengers, as
well as mail and express matter."

"Yes," said Tom gravely, and yet with a pardonable trace of pride in
voice and manner, "the Atlantic has been conquered, and saddled, and
bridled, like any wild broncho of the plains. But hadn't we better be
thinking of getting out of this soft marshy tract?"

"As quickly as we possibly can," Jack told him. "We'll try to run across
some Virginia farmer, black or white, who will have a horse and agree to
take us to the nearest railroad station. Once we hit civilization, the
rest will be easy."

"What about the plane, Colin?" asked Tom.

"It can stay here for the time being," the other answered him. "Later
on I'll hire some one to have it hauled out and stored against my
coming back--after we've been a while in Berlin and got Heine to
behaving himself."

They secured such things as it was desirable they should keep. Acting on
Tom's advice everything that might testify to their identity was also
removed, lest the bogged plane be accidentally discovered and betray
them. Afterwards they set out to find a way beyond the borders of the
marsh and scrub oaks, to some place where possibly they might get
assistance.



CHAPTER XXIV

SURPRISING BRIDGETON


"Here's the end of the marshy tract," Tom said, after they had been
floundering around for some little time.

"How fine it feels to be on solid ground again," Jack observed, stamping
his feet as though he really enjoyed the sensation.

Indeed, after being for such a long time, weary hours after hours,
confined in the big bombing plane, the relief was greatly appreciated by
both Tom Raymond and Lieutenant Beverly, as well as by Jack Parmly.

"Now for the home town!" the last mentioned told his companions. "And as
near as I can figure it out there's not a ghost of a chance that Cousin
Randolph could have arrived before me."

"For that matter I'm sure the French steamer must be still far out at
sea, with a day or two's journey ahead of her," Colin assured him.

"Then it's my game, provided we don't run across some U. S. army
authorities who'd want to know our names and hold us for investigation,
which would knock everything flat."

"We're going to try to avoid all that bother," Beverly assured him. "It
isn't going to make us feel very proud of our achievement, since we have
to hide our light under a bushel; but for one I don't regret it. No
matter if we have to be punished for desertion, our motive was honorable;
and they never will be able to deny us the credit of having made the
longest flight on record in a heavier-than-air machine."

"All the same," urged Tom, "I'd rather keep quiet about that stunt, for
the present at least. I want to go back and finish the work over there.
If the Huns are going to be driven to the Rhine we ought to be doing our
duty by Uncle Sam; which we couldn't if shut up in the Government
penitentiary at Fort Leavenworth, awaiting trial as deserters."

"Here's a plain trail that may lead us out of this region of scrub oaks,
and to some farmer's place!" the lieutenant exclaimed just then; and in
their eagerness to get in touch with some one who would take them to the
railroad they talked no further concerning the great flight and its
possible serious consequences to them.

Half an hour afterwards they came to the home of a farmer, who was trying
to make a living out of his isolated holdings, eking it out, as he
informed them while his wife was getting up the best meal possible, by
doing some terrapin hunting, and even trapping muskrats and such
fur-bearing animals during the otherwise unprofitable winter months.

It was very comfortable to sit down once more to a table after being so
long taking "snacks" at odd hours, and being cramped in the bombing
plane. And as the farmer's wife had plenty of fresh eggs, which they told
her not to stint, the generous omelet she produced was fully appreciated,
flanked as it was by rashers of pretty fair bacon.

There were also some freshly made soda biscuits which had a true
old-fashioned Southern taste, appreciated by Tom and Jack. Lieutenant
Beverly did not show any great liking for them; but he was a Northerner,
brought up on baking-powder biscuits, so the others could understand his
want of appreciation.

Taken all in all, they certainly enjoyed that first bite ashore after the
completion of their memorable flight across the Atlantic.

Jack, so Tom said, seemed to think it was a sort of celebration because
of the event, for his face was wreathed in a perpetual smile.

"The sort of smile," Jack retorted, "that won't come off."

"Oh, how good I do feel!" was a remark that if he made it once he did a
dozen times, always finding it greeted by answering nods on the part of
his two companions.

Of course they told the farmer they were aviators who had had the
misfortune to drop into the marsh, where he would find their plane.

Beverly hired him to dismantle this in part, and store it away in his
shed until later on it could be called for in person. He was not to
deliver it to any person without the presence of one of the trio.

When he started out to drive them in his old rickety vehicle to the
nearest railroad station, miles distant, he was almost stricken dumb
because Beverly, in the fulness of his gratitude over their marvelous
escape, thrust a full hundred dollars upon him, with a promise of a like
amount later on for looking after the abandoned bombing plane.

"To-day is marked with a white stone in the life of Farmer Jenkins,
believe me," Jack whispered aside to Tom, as they saw the amazed look
spreading over the man's weather-beaten face.

"It's that with all of us," said Tom soberly.

Jack fell silent after that. He was engrossed with thoughts connected
with his unexpected return to the home of his childhood; and in
imagination could see the excitement their unheralded appearance was
certain to arouse.

It had been arranged between them that their presence must be kept as
much a secret as possible. On this account they would delay their arrival
at the home of Jack's mother until after darkness had set in.

"To-morrow," Jack had said, when these things were being discussed,
"we'll telegraph to Mr. Smedley in Richmond to come on without delay in
connection with my dead uncle's estate, ready to settle it according to
the provisions of his queer will. Then we'll be ready for Randolph when
he bobs up."

Beverly had also made a suggestion when they were thus talking it all
over, and arranging plans after their usual way.

"Now I've got a good friend who lives on Staten Island, right in New York
harbor," he informed them. "Often while at his house visiting I've amused
myself with a glass watching steamers pass through the Narrows lying
between the shore of the island and that part of Brooklyn opposite Fort
Wadsworth. I'll wire him to let me know by the same means when _La
Bretagne_ reaches Quarantine in the harbor."

"A clever idea, Colin!" Tom cried. "In that way we can figure out just
when Jack's cousin might expect to arrive in Bridgeton to claim the
estate as being the first one on the ground, thanks to that silly
provision of the old man's will."

"Given two hours to get off the vessel, after the time she reaches
Quarantine," Jack figured, "and six more to get to Richmond makes eight
in all. Then he might be two hours getting out to Bridgeton, for trains
are not very plentiful. He could make it in that time if he took a
roadster with a chauffeur and came that way. Ten hours in all."

"We'll be lying in wait for Randolph, all right!" laughed Beverly. "And
what a surprise it'll be! The man must think he's dreaming, having left
you over in France, Jack, on the fighting front when he sailed, with not
one chance in a thousand that you could catch even the next boat, days
later, and then finding you here ahead of him!"

The prospect pleased them all so much that they made light of the
merciless jostling received in that springless wagon over wretched
Virginia shore roads. In fact, they were so elated over the great success
that had rewarded their daring venture that it seemed just then as if
nothing could ever again make them feel blue, or depressed in spirits.

In due time the lonely little station was reached. It was then two in the
afternoon of that eventful day. Just as Tom anticipated, it turned out
that there would not be a train in the direction they wished to go for
two hours and more. This train would drop them at another station where
a connection was made with the road that ran through Bridgeton.

It was lucky they found themselves in no hurry, thanks, as Jack naively
remarked, to their having come across "on the air-line limited."

The time dragged to Jack, naturally, but he felt he had no reason for
complaint after such wonderful good fortune. At last their train came
along. What if it was ten minutes late? That would only shorten their
wait at the junction.

"So long as we reach the old town by nine tonight I'll be satisfied,"
Jack had bravely committed himself by saying; and indeed it was just
about then they did jump from the steps of the car at Bridgeton, for the
second train had been two hours late.

Nevertheless all of them were united in thinking they had made a swift
trip from the American sector of the fighting front in France to the town
of Bridgeton in the Old Dominion in just _four complete days_.

Jack led the way, though, of course, Tom would have been just as
competent a guide, since this was also his home town.

How those blinking lights in the well-remembered windows of the Parmly
home held Jack's eyes, once he sighted them! Never before in all his
life had he felt such a delicious thrill creep over him from head to toe.

Knocking on the door he and his chums carried out their pre-arranged
plan. Jack and Tom were to keep back out of sight, leaving Lieutenant
Beverly to break the glorious news first and prepare the family, so there
might not be so loud an outcry as to arouse the neighbors and breed the
excitement in the community that neither of the returned fighters wished.

Jack's aunt, who, a widow herself, made her home with her widowed
sister-in-law, came to the door, for some reason or other. Perhaps the
negro servants still went home at night, as had been the case before Jack
went to the war. She looked surprised and anxious as soon as she saw that
the caller was a stranger, and evidently an aviator from his dress.

"This is Mrs. Parmly, I believe?" the visitor hastened to say.

"Mrs. Job Parmly. Mrs. Parmly's sister-in-law."

"I see. Mrs. Parmly, my name is Beverly, Lieutenant Beverly of the United
States Aerial Corps, just over from France. I am a good friend of your
nephew, Jack, who has entrusted a message to me to deliver to his mother.
May I come in for a short time, Mrs. Parmly?"

He was immediately warmly greeted and drawn into the sitting-room where
he met Jack's mother. The two outside could peep under the drawn shade
and watch all that went on, Jack quivering with emotion as he looked on
the beloved faces of his own people once again.

Beverly knew how eager the boy must be, and hence he lost little time in
getting down to the main fact, which was that he wished them not to do
anything to arouse curiosity in the neighborhood; but that Jack was near
by, and all would be soon explained; also that they must not be troubled
thinking he, Jack, had done anything really wrong.

When he had drawn down the shades fully, that being the signal to those
outside, Jack could restrain himself no longer. Opening the front door
he rushed into the house and quickly had his mother and then his aunt
in his arms.

The story was told at length, with the family clustered around Jack and
Tom, hanging on every word as though it were the most thrilling thing
they had ever heard, which in truth it must be.

Then Tom had to be considered. Lieutenant Beverly volunteered to go over
to the Raymond house, which could easily be pointed out to him, and bring
back the startled family, so they could greet their boy, whom they, of
course, supposed to be at that very moment still overseas, risking his
life in his perilous calling.

It seemed to Tom that the delight of once more greeting these loved
ones well repaid him for all he had passed through in making that
wonderful flight. The story had to be all gone over again, and scores
of questions answered.

By degrees the scope of Jack's plan was grasped by his family, who of
course knew about the strange conditions of Joshua Kinkaid's will,
whereby the bulk of his large estate, long before promised to the
Parmlys, would go without restrictions to either Randolph Carringford or
Jack Parmly, according to which of them, after the death of the testator,
appeared before a notary public specified in Bridgeton, and qualified to
assume the trust.

So, too, the plan of campaign designed to confound the arch-schemer
who had even plotted to keep Jack from ever applying in person, was
agreed to.

The presence of the three was to be kept a dead secret. They would not go
out of the house by daylight, even for a breath of air. In the morning
the old family lawyer, who had also served Mr. Kinkaid in a similar
capacity, would be sent for to come hurriedly.

Once he arrived, the stage would be set for carrying out the provisions
of the queer will, which Tom considered might hardly have stood the
test of a contest in court, though later on the lawyer, Mr. Smedley, who
had himself carefully drawn it up, assured him it was really an
iron-bound document.

"But," Jack said, as they waited for the lawyer's coming on the noon
train from Richmond, "we can spare a couple of days here, and still make
the steamer we hope to sail on for the other side. And it would be too
bad if we missed seeing how dear Cousin Randolph takes his Waterloo."

Mr. Smedley arrived, and was astounded to see Jack. He showed that his
sympathies were on the side of the Parmly family by his delight when
shaking hands again and again.

Then the thrilling story was once more told, after he had been bound to
secrecy. It would be hard to describe the emotions of the old lawyer as
he sat and listened to what a great feat Jack and his two comrades had
carried through.

After that all arrangements were made, and the lawyer decided to stay to
see the thing through. It was the most astonishing event in all his life,
he assured the company, and not for a fortune would he miss the scene
that must accompany the coming of Randolph Carringford.

Mr. Smedley also sent a long telegram to that friend of Colin Beverly's
who lived on Staten Island. Later that same day a reply was received
promising to carry out faithfully the instructions given, if he had to
sit up all night keeping watch on all vessels arriving, though if port
rules were rigorously carried out no steamer would be allowed to enter or
leave except by daylight.

"But we know that isn't the case," Tom said, "because those troop ships
have left New York under cover of darkness many a time. Still, the ships
may have waited down the bay until morning, and then sailed."

That day passed, and the following night. Early on the morning of the
third day after Jack's arrival home came a telegram to Mr. Smedley.

"Now for news!" cried Jack, as it was opened.

The message was brief and to the point, affording them all the
intelligence they required.

"_La Bretagne_ at Quarantine eleven to-night; expected to dock in
two hours!"



CHAPTER XXV

TO SEE THE WAR THROUGH--CONCLUSION


"Rap-rap-rap!"

It was just at two that afternoon, and the train from Richmond had
arrived ten minutes previously. Those within had seen a station hack
deposit some one at the Parmly gate.

Mrs. Parmly herself answered the summons, the colored servants having
been given an unexpected but welcome holiday when they appeared for work
that same morning, in order to keep them from making discoveries.

"Good afternoon, Aunt," said the smooth-tongued visitor, starting to
enter without waiting for an invitation. "I learned after getting to
Richmond this morning that Mr. Smedley had come out to visit you; an
occurrence which makes it convenient for me."

When he entered the sitting-room he found only Jack's aunt and the lawyer
there, Jack and Tom and Lieutenant Beverly being in an adjoining room,
but with the connecting door ajar, so they could catch every word spoken
and enjoy the dramatic situation to the utmost, being ready to step in
when the crisis arrived.

Carringford proceeded to shake hands with the lawyer, after greeting Mrs.
Parmly effusively. There was a smile as of triumph on his sallow face.

"Glad to find you here in Bridgeton, Mr. Smedley," Randolph again said,
his voice like oil and his manner confident and condescending. "I
received the notification from you when over in France working in a
secret capacity for the Government."

"Yes," remarked the lawyer, "I sent both out as required."

"Must say," continued Carringford, "I wasn't much surprised, because I
always knew Uncle Joshua to be a queer old duck. Realizing that unless I
got a move on me and beat Cousin Jack home I'd stand to lose out in the
game I managed to get passage on the _La Bretagne_, of the French Line.
Docked at one last night, couldn't get a train till morning; but here I
am, sir, ready to convince you that, being the first on the ground, my
claim is perfectly valid."

He evidently expected that his coming would have produced something akin
to consternation in the Parmly family, and must have wondered how they
could meet bitter disappointment with such smiling faces.

"You have made very good time in crossing, Randolph," remarked the
lawyer calmly, "considering the tempestuous times, and need of caution on
account of the U-boats. I should say that the French steamer surpassed
her record."

"And that being the case," resumed the other, smiling still as a winner
at the races might do when handed his stake ten times multiplied, "since
I'm here on the ground first, and you are the lawyer in the matter,
what's to hinder our completing the formalities necessary to put me in
possession of my great uncle's estate, according to his last will and
testament?"

"The only stumbling-block that I'm aware of, Randolph," said Mr. Smedley
suavely, "is a little matter of priority."

"But I am the first to appear before you, Mr. Smedley, and there were but
two contestants for the property. Isn't that true?" demanded the
newcomer, frowning at the thought that some unexpected legal tangle was
about to appear.

"You are perfectly right in one thing, Randolph," continued the lawyer.
"The race was to be between you and Jack. I must say you have made very
good time getting over here. But in spite of your speed, Randolph, you
are showing up somewhat late. In fact, the affair is all over, and I have
started proceedings looking to conveying the property to the one
undoubtedly presenting the prior claim."

The other was thunderstruck.

"Impossible, I tell you, Smedley!" he burst out. "With my own eyes I saw
Jack Parmly over there at the front in France when I hurried to the port
to embark on _La Bretagne_. He was not aboard that ship, I can take my
oath, and another couldn't arrive in New York for days. So you have no
other resource but to admit my claim to be just, and hand over what
belongs to me. I demand it, sir."

"Not so fast, Randolph," begged the lawyer. "A little more moderation.
You have made some sort of miscalculation I fear."

With these words he stamped his foot. Recognizing the signal, Jack
stepped blithely into the sitting-room, followed by Tom and Beverly. His
appearance almost caused Carringford to "have a fit," as Jack afterwards
described the effect of his coming on the scene.

"What does this mystery mean?" he managed to gasp.

"Only that I took a notion to come home and claim that legacy left by our
eccentric Uncle Joshua," Jack told him, with a shrug of his shoulders, as
though miracles were an every-day occurrence with him.

"But I certainly saw you again and again, and heard you talk at the same
time just before I left for Havre to sail!" cried Randolph, nevertheless
convinced that at least this was the real flesh-and-blood Jack Parmly
standing before him.

"Oh! did you?" remarked Jack, mockingly. "Perhaps it was a dream. Perhaps
I had an understudy over there. Perhaps a whole lot of things. But the
one positive fact about which there isn't any doubt is that I'm here
ahead of you, and you've lost out in your game, that's all."

"But--it's impossible, incredible!" continued the other, hardly able yet
to believe his own eyes.

"Still, you must admit that I'm Jack Parmly, and quite in the flesh,
which after all is enough to settle the matter," he was calmly told. "My
family here have received me as their own; and Mr. Smedley had no
trouble in recognizing me. So perhaps you'd better be packing your grip
again, Cousin Randolph, and returning to your secret Government duties
over in France!"

"But--how could you have reached here so far ahead of me?" gritted the
disgusted Randolph weakly.

"Please don't forget that I'm an aviator, and we fliers are able to put
over all sorts of stunts these days," laughed Jack; though his manner
implied that he might be joking when saying this. At any rate, it could
not enter the mind of any one to believe such a thing as flying across
the Atlantic within the bounds of reason.

Carringford of course saw that his room was more desired than his
company. Besides, he had not heart or desire to linger any longer, since
he had received such a staggering blow.

Accordingly he took his departure, and acted quite like a "bear with a
sore head," as Jack described his ugly way of slamming the door and
hurrying out to the station hack that had been all this while waiting for
him at the gate.

Now that the one great object which Jack had in view was accomplished, he
and the other two began to consider the best way in which they could
return to France without attracting too much attention.

"I have a scheme that may work admirably," said Beverly. "And it happens
that the boat my good old friend is master of is due to sail from New
York the day after to-morrow. We'll go on that as stowaways."

Then, seeing the look of astonishment and also bewilderment that came
into the faces of his hearers, he went on to explain further.

"Of course I don't use that word in the usual sense of getting aboard
unknown to any of the officers, perhaps through the complicity of a
member of the crew, and hiding ourselves among the cargo. Such stowaways
are a scarcity nowadays, the peril of torpedoes having given them cold
feet. But I believe I can fix it with my friend the captain so that
he'll allow us to remain aboard without our names appearing on the
passenger list."

"Sounds good to me," asserted Jack, while Tom said thoughtfully:

"I suppose we could stick to our staterooms during the day, and only go
on deck late at night, when nearly everybody was asleep. Like as not,
there'd be quite a number of army officers aboard, so we mightn't be
noticed if any one ran against us while taking the air at night."

Accordingly this plan was settled upon; and as they were not absolutely
certain about the time of sailing, with much still to be done before
that event took place, once again did Tom and Jack have to bid their
relatives good-bye.

"It'll not be for so very long now, let's hope," said Tom's father, as he
squeezed his son's hand at parting; "for Germany is on her last legs, and
unless all signs fail the war must soon come to an end."

"Besides," added Lieutenant Beverly, "none of us is likely to try to
repeat the little flight we just carried through. We feel as if we can
rest on our well earned laurels."

"And it'll be some time, I firmly believe," said Mr. Raymond, "before
your wonderful feat is duplicated, or even approached." But then, of
course, he could not foresee how even before the peace treaty had been
signed a number of ambitious aviators would actually cross the Atlantic,
one crew in a huge heavier-than-air machine, another in an American
seaplane, and still a third aboard a mighty dirigible, making the
passages with but a day or so intervening between flights.

When a certain steamship left New York harbor one morning soon afterwards
three pairs of eyes took a parting look through a porthole in their
united stateroom at the Statue of Liberty on Bedloe's Island.

Of course the occupants of the stateroom were Tom and Jack and Colin.
They had managed to interest the big-hearted captain in their scheme.
He knew that he must not appear to be connected with such an escapade;
but such was his admiration for their wonderful achievement, as well as
his friendship for Lieutenant Beverly, that he readily consented to
help them.

"And so here we are," Jack observed, after they had passed out from Sandy
Hook and were heading across toward troubled Europe, "going back to duty,
before our leave of absence will have expired, and the three weeks
already nearly half over. Let's only hope we can slip into the traces as
if nothing unusual had happened and that mad flight was only an aviator's
day dream."

"It's a pleasure, too," added Tom reflectively, with a glance at his
chum, "to know that there are loyal hearts waiting to greet us again over
there where the shells are bursting. For of course Nellie and Bessie, not
to mention Harry Leroy, will be counting the days anxiously until we show
up. Little do they suspect all we've been through; and we'll have to bind
them to secrecy when taking them into the game."

"H'm!" chuckled Lieutenant Beverly, "perhaps there's a little
Salvation Army lassie I, myself, will be glad to see again. Don't
fancy you two have cornered the whole market of fine girls. There are
others over there!"

So we will leave them, only hoping that at some other day we may once
more meet Tom and Jack and Colin, and accompany them through other
activities.





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