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Title: Don Hale with the Flying Squadron
Author: Sheppard, W. Crispin
Language: English
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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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                                DON HALE
                                WITH THE
                            FLYING SQUADRON

                         By W. CRISPIN SHEPPARD

                              _Author of_
                       “DON HALE IN THE WAR ZONE”
                         “DON HALE OVER THERE”
                    “THE RAMBLER CLUB SERIES,” ETC.

                      Illustrated by H. A. BODINE

                      THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY
                              PHILADELPHIA
                                  1919



                               COPYRIGHT
                                1919 BY
                      THE PENN PUBLISHING COMPANY

                   Don Hale with the Flying Squadron



[Illustration: He shut off the engine and dove]



                              Introduction

    “Don Hale with the Flying Squadron” is the third of the “Don
    Hale Stories.” It follows “Don Hale in the War Zone,” and “Don
    Hale Over There,” and tells what happens to Don after he
    relinquishes his dangerous post as an ambulance driver for the
    Red Cross on the western front.

    But Don’s new duties are of a far more dangerous nature; and
    during his training in the aviation school and after he finally
    becomes a full-fledged member of that most famous of all flying
    squadrons, the Lafayette Escadrille, he has interesting
    experiences and enough exciting adventures to last even the most
    spirited youngster an entire lifetime.

    It may be safely said, however, that the account is not
    overdrawn; indeed, in the air service, in which most valiant
    deeds have been performed, it would be hard to exaggerate the
    perils which beset the “cavalry of the clouds” on every side.

    To add to the interest of Don’s experiences with the escadrille
    there is a certain mystery connected with several characters
    which is not solved until the end of the story.

    In the next book of the series, “Don Hale with the Yanks,” is
    told the further adventures of the young combat pilot after he
    has been transferred to the American air service. He sees much
    of that memorable conflict—one of the turning points of the
    great war—when, at Chateau Thierry, the German drive for Paris
    was halted by the victorious Americans.

                                                W. Crispin Sheppard.



                                CONTENTS

                       I—THE GREENHORN
                       II—NEW COMRADES
                       III—SPIES
                       IV—“PENGUINS”
                       V—TRAINING
                       VI—DUBLIN DAN
                       VII—THE VRILLE
                       VIII—THE HERO
                       IX—THE ACE
                       X—CORPORAL DON
                       XI—THE LAFAYETTE
                       XII—ABOVE THE CLOUDS
                       XIII—THE FARMER
                       XIV—THE BOMBARDMENT
                       XV—A BATTLE IN THE CLOUDS
                       XVI—THE EMPTY HOUSE
                       XVII—A MYSTERY
                       XVIII—THE RED SQUADRON
                       XIX—THE PERILOUS GAME
                       XX—HAMLIN
                       XXI—THE ARREST
                       XXII—THE TRIAL



                             Illustrations

               He Shut Off the Engine And Dove
               “Spies Are Everywhere”
               “There Are Other Games Just As Dangerous”
               “The German Lines Must Not Be Crossed”
               His Passage Was Unexpectedly Blocked



                   Don Hale With the Flying Squadron



                        CHAPTER I—THE GREENHORN


A rickety-looking cab, containing two passengers and much luggage, and
driven by a gray-haired _cocher_, drew slowly up to a high iron gate and
came to a halt. And the wheels had scarcely stopped before two young
chaps, with exclamations of deep satisfaction and relief, literally
tumbled out of the ancient vehicle and stared about them.

“Well, Don, here we are at last!” cried the elder.

“Yes, George. And this is certainly one of the greatest moments of my
life. Tomorrow I start my training to become a pilot,” exclaimed the
other, such a degree of enthusiasm expressed in his tone as to make the
wrinkled cab driver turn, survey him with a curious grin, and comment in
the French tongue:

“I guess that’s the way most of them act until something happens.”

But the boys scarcely heard him.

Surmounting the iron gate, inside of which an armed sentry was slowly
pacing, this inscription in large, bold letters, stood out against the
sky:

“ÉCOLE D’AVIATION MILITAIRE DE BEAUMONT.”

“I certainly hope the Boches won’t get you, young monsieur,” continued
the driver. “But, if you don’t mind, I’d be glad if you’d will your life
insurance to me.”

“I’ll think about it,” laughed the boy. He deposited several pieces of
silver in the palm of the hand held toward him, then began the task of
getting his luggage off the vehicle. By the time this was done the
sentry had opened the great iron gate.

With a hasty good-bye, the boys turned toward the soldier and producing
several important-looking papers handed them to him.

And while the proceeding was underway this series of comments passed
between five young men, attired in the horizon blue uniform of the
French poilu, who were strolling inside the great enclosure not far
away:

“Well, well! What have we here?”

“No doubt a couple more pilots.”

“But, if I’m not mistaken, one of them is actually wearing the stars and
wings insignia of the air service on his uniform. He’s a corporal.”

“So he is! Such a young chap, too!—looks, for all the world, like a
high-school boy on his way home from the place of demerit marks and
ciphers.”

“Let’s give ’em the grand quiz.”

It took the sentry only an instant to scan the papers and nod his head
in approval, and another instant for the newcomers to gather up their
possessions and head for the group of five.

“Step up and give your names, boys.” The speaker was a tall, angular
youth with bushy red hair and twinkling blue eyes.

“Don Hale,” answered one of the newcomers.

“George Glenn,” replied the other.

“Of the Lafayette Squadron?”

“Exactly! And on a couple of days’ furlough.”

And one of the natural but not very agreeable ways of the world was
exemplified then and there; for Don Hale, the prospective student of the
great military flying school, immediately found his presence totally
ignored, while his companion, member of the most famous escadrille of
the aviation service, began to receive the homage and admiration due to
one who had attained such an exalted position in life. To be a member of
the Lafayette Flying Corps was indeed a signal honor—an honor coveted
above all things by the majority of the American aviation students.

Don Hale, smiling a little to himself, thereupon seized the opportunity
to examine the view outspread before him.

And what the boy saw made him draw a deep, long breath, like one who has
just experienced a feeling of vast satisfaction and pleasure. It was an
immense level field, or rather a series of fields. Far in the distance
long rows of low canvas hangars and tents stood out in faint gray tones
against the background of earth and sky. Nearer at hand were lines of
rather dingy-looking wooden structures—the barracks—and isolated
buildings used for various purposes, while dominating all rose a tall
and graceful wireless mast.

Far more interesting to the American lad, however, was the sight of
several airplanes performing evolutions in the distant sky. The sun had
descended in the west and its cheerful rays no longer touched the earth,
but every now and again one or another of the graceful flying machines
caught the glow, and, as if touched by a fairy’s wand, became
transformed for the moment into a flashing object of silver and gold.

Don Hale felt his pulse quicken. How wonderful it was to be up in the
heavens, soaring with all the ease, the grace, the certainty of a huge
bird of the air! It made him long for the time to come when he, too,
would have his ambition fulfilled! Presently a deep gruff voice broke in
upon his meditations.

“Better come down to earth, son.”

The red-headed chap had spoken.

“Sure thing!” laughed the new student. “What’s that, sir—my last job,
you ask? Oh, driving a Red Cross ambulance near the Verdun front.”

“I must say we seem to have met a couple of real heroes,” chuckled the
other. “And now, to show you that I haven’t forgotten my Fifth Avenue
manners, I’ll introduce these would-be flyers, most of whom as yet
haven’t risen above the grasshopper stage of the game.”

Thereupon, with many chuckles, he presented Gene Shannon, Cal Cummings,
Ben Holt and Roy Mittengale, adding that his own name was Tom Dorsey.

“Glad to know you all!” declared Don Hale, heartily.

“So am I,” exclaimed George.

“Very gratifying indeed, I’m sure!” laughed Dorsey. “We all hope that
later on some people about whom we are hearing a whole lot won’t be so
glad to meet us.”

“Oh, you coming aces!” grinned Ben Holt.

“Hooray, hooray, for the future cannon-flying express!” chuckled
Mittengale. Then, turning toward Don, he said: “I suppose that the day
you didn’t run into at least a half dozen or so hair-breadth escapes
must have seemed like a pretty dull one?”

“I had all the close calls I wanted,” confessed the former ambulance
driver.

“And yet you are now going in for something which at times ought to make
that Red Cross work look like little rides of joy. Ever take a spin in a
plane?”

“No, sir.”

“Oh, boy! There’s some job ahead of you, then.” Mittengale laughed.
“You’ll have to get right down to business.”

“You can just better believe I will!” declared Don, enthusiastically.
“I’m mighty anxious for the time to arrive when I can go up to
business.”

“It may never come,” suggested Ben Holt. “’Tisn’t everybody who is
fitted to be an airman. One or two bad spills—an airplane ready for the
scrap pile, or a student now and then killed on the training field, and
it’s all off with some!”

“If you don’t look out, Holt, we’ll elect you chairman and sole member
of our committee on pessimism,” laughed Dorsey. “Say, son,”—he
addressed Don—“I suppose you have all your papers?”

“Yes, and owing to my father having been a member of a Franco-American
aviation corps I didn’t have much trouble in getting them,” returned
Don. “He’s now an instructor in an American aviation school.”

“What did they do to you? I’d like to know if your experiences were like
my own.”

“Well, here’s the story,” laughed the new _élève_[1] pilot. “I hoofed it
to the recruiting office, which is located in the Invalides at Paris,
filled out a questionnaire, signed a document requiring me to obey the
military laws of France and be governed and punished thereby; then,
after that agony was over, the medical man took me in charge. I just had
to show him that I was able to balance myself on one foot with eyes
closed, jump straight up from a kneeling position, and also walk a
straight line after having been whirled around and around on a revolving
stool until all the joy in life seemed to have gone.”

[Illustration: “Spies are Everywhere”]

“Ugh!” grunted Dorsey. “The very recollection of that ordeal makes me
wish to recollect something else.”

“The kind of air-sickness you get by the unearthly dips and twists of an
airplane has sea-sickness beaten to a frazzle,” commented Ben Holt,
pleasantly.

“Then I’m not anxious to make its acquaintance,” grinned Don. “I had a
few nerve tests, too, made in a pitch-dark room, which weren’t
altogether pleasant. Among other things, a revolver was unexpectedly
fired several times close beside me.”

“It’s tough, how they treat a perfectly respectable chap,” chirped Cal
Cummings.

“My, what a relief it was to receive a service order requiring me to
report to the headquarters of the Flying Corps of Dijon!”

“That’s an old story with us,” drawled Mittengale. “Once there, you had
to answer a lot more questions. Then you paid a visit to the ‘Vestiare,’
where the soldiers are outfitted. A uniform, shoes, socks, overcoat, hat
and knapsack were passed out, and thereby, and also perforce, another
chapter added to your brief but eventful history.”

“Besides all that, I received a railroad pass to come here, and also
three sous, representing that many days’ pay,” chuckled the new
candidate. “The salary I’ve already squandered,” he confessed, with a
grin.

“Awful! The French Government should be told about it,” exclaimed Gene
Shannon, laughingly. “But now, son, perhaps you would like to begin a
new chapter by paying the captain a very necessary call?”

“To be sure!” said Don.

He stooped over, preparatory to gathering up his belongings, when
Shannon stopped him.

“Leave the department store there, Don,” he remarked. “We’ll send some
of the Annamites over to wrestle with ’em. Now come along.”

The “Annamites,” both Don and George knew, were the little
yellow-skinned Indo-Chinese, who had journeyed from far-off Asia to give
their services to the French Government.

Led by Tom Dorsey, the crowd began to pilot the new student and his chum
toward headquarters. To Don Hale it was all wonderfully interesting. The
boy was filled with that eager curiosity and anticipation which is one
of the glorious possessions of youth. A new life—indeed a startlingly
strange life, would soon be opening out before him—one that held vast
possibilities, and also terrifying dangers. Whither would it lead him?

“I say, young chap”—Ben Holt’s voice broke in upon his
thoughts—“you’ve got to mind your eye in this place. No talking back to
officers; no overstaying your leave, eh, Monsieur Nightingale?”

“Oh, cut it out!” snapped Mittengale.

“Yes, there’s a chap who knows!” Holt chuckled. “One day Roy thought
he’d enjoy a few extra hours in Paree—result: a nice little chamber two
stories underground; a rattling good wooden bench, but uncommonly hard,
as a bed; a bottle of water for company and eight days of delightful
idleness, to meditate upon the inconsiderate ways of military men.”

“It was well worth it,” growled Mittengale. “Some tender-hearted chaps
smuggled in paper and I wrote sixty-four pages of my book entitled ‘Life
and Adventures of an Airman in France!’”

“An airman in France!” snickered Ben. “There’s nerve for you! Why, he
hasn’t even been above the three hundred foot level yet.”

“Well, that’s just about two hundred and seventy-five feet higher than
your best record,” retorted Mittengale, witheringly. “Don’t talk, you
poor little grasshop.”

Don Hale paid no attention to these pleasantries, for, at that moment,
one of the distant machines circling aloft, now dusky, gray objects,
sometimes but faintly visible in the darkening sky, began to volplane.
Down, down, came the biplane, in wide and graceful spirals, toward the
earth. A few more turns and the wings were silhouetted faintly for the
last time against the sky; another instant and they cut across the turf
in still swiftly moving lines of grayish white.

“Good work, that!” cried Don, breathlessly.

“Fine!” agreed George.

“Won’t I be jolly glad when I can manage a machine like that!” Don
happened to glance at his chum’s face, and was surprised to see a swift,
subtle change come across it, an almost sad expression taking the place
of his usual buoyant look. “What’s the matter, old chap?”

“I was thinking what a dangerous life you are about to begin, Don. As
some of the boys in the squadron say: ‘Death is often carried as a
passenger by the airman.’”

“And you engaged in the very same work yourself!” laughed Don. “There’s
consistency for you! I understand, though, just how you feel about it,
George. Honestly, at times, I’ve worried a whole lot about you. But”—a
determined light flashed into his eyes—“we must ‘carry on’ the big job
before us.”

“That’s the way to look at it,” acquiesced George, heartily. “You have a
cool head and steady nerves, Don; and you’ll be called upon to use all
your wits, all your courage and resourcefulness, as never before in the
whole course of your life. Great adventures are ahead!”

“Better wait until he gets out of the ground-class before talking that
way,” grinned Ben Holt, dryly.

“Don’t discourage the infant class, Holt,” put in Dorsey. “Now, boys
”—he turned to face Don and George—“that good-sized building you spy
just across the field is the headquarters of the captain and
moniteurs—teachers we call ’em in the good old lingo of the United
States. By the way, know much French?”

“Oh, yes,” replied Don.

“Good! Frankly speaking, some of these chaps here do not.” Dorsey
chuckled mirthfully. “Their efforts sound weird and wild. And sometimes
it has the effect of making the moniteurs act wildly and weirdly.”

“The idea of Dorsey talking about French!” scoffed Ben Holt. “Why, he
can’t even speak English. An Englishman’s the authority for that.”

“One’s shortcomings should never be mentioned in polite society,”
grinned Tom. “And now, Don, while you’re over there parleying the
parlez-vous we’ll get a bunch of the Oriental Wrecking Crew, the
Annamites, to lift your traps.”

“As a rule, I rather object to having my things lifted,” laughed Don.
“But this time it’s all right.”

“You’ll find our crowd, with a few additions equally handsome, in the
big barracks—the third from the end. Now scoot.”

While Don and George didn’t exactly “scoot,” they nevertheless
immediately left the group and made good time toward the building
indicated. Within a few minutes they entered and were conducted by an
orderly to the captain’s sanctum.

If Don had expected any effusive greeting or words of commendation for
his willingness to give his services to aid the cause of France he would
have been greatly disappointed. The captain, very alert and
authoritative in manner, greeted the two boys in a casual, disinterested
sort of way, and examined Don’s papers.

Then came the usual number of formalities and an order to report to the
sergeant on the aviation field on the following morning.

Don Hale was now duly enrolled as an _élève_, or student pilot, in one
of the most important of the great Bleriot flying schools in France.

-----

Footnote 1:

Élève—pupil.



                        CHAPTER II—NEW COMRADES


A pleasant refreshing breeze was springing up as Don Hale, with his
chum, left headquarters and hastened toward the barracks which was to be
his temporary home.

There were plenty of signs of life about the great plateau, and
occasionally voices came over the air from the distance with peculiar
distinctness. By this time all nature had become gray and sombre, and
the slowly advancing shadows which heralded the approach of dusk were
enveloping the distant hangars and tents and merging the vast, sweeping
line of the horizon almost imperceptibly into the coldish tones of the
sky.

Here and there lights were beginning to flash into view. From barrack
windows, from tents and outbuildings, they shone—each little sparkling,
star-like beam carrying with it a message of good cheer and welcome.

Just before Don and George reached the barracks designated by Tom
Dorsey, over the door of which was painted in very large black letters
“Hotel d’Amerique,” a loud and lusty chorus, composed of French and
American voices, accompanied by a piano, started up, singing with
ludicrous effect:

“The Yanks are Coming.”

Then, as the last words were carried off on the breeze, the momentary
silence that ensued was broken by a loud-voiced student standing by the
window, who bawled:

“True enough, boys!—the Yanks are not only coming, but they’re here.”

The aviators immediately crowded to the window, and even before Don and
George entered the building, which was to the accompaniment of that
well-known classic: “Hail, hail! The gang’s all here!” they had received
a noisy and good-natured welcome.

A smiling and dapper little Frenchman was the first to shake them by the
hand; and having performed this act with much gravity he immediately
struck an attitude and began to recite, in the manner of a schoolboy who
has memorized a piece:

“Gentlemens, excuse the bleatings of a little chump who should remain
silent before he speaks. Permit me to say, however, that you may use me
as a doormat when it is your will and I shall be overwhelmed with joy.
And now having bored you to tears I will desist.”

He ended the oration, which some of the fun-loving, mischievous
Americans had taught him, with a low bow, evidently much surprised at
the chuckles and gurgles of mirth which ran through the room.

Don Hale laughingly made a speech in reply, quite astonishing the
Frenchmen present by his ready command of their tongue.

And during it all he had been observing his new home with keen curiosity
and lively interest. The interior of the long but rather low wooden
structure was whitewashed, and ranged alongside each wall were rows of
beds. They were makeshift affairs, however, consisting of a couple of
sawhorses with a plank thrown across. Over the top had been placed a
mattress, looking as though it had done long and valiant service.

“Clearly, the _élèves_ are expected to rough it a bit,” thought Don.

It would be a strange boy indeed, however, who objected to roughing
it—Don Hale, at least, was not one of that kind.

The lad was glad to discover that the room was evidently occupied by
Frenchmen, as well as by his own compatriots. At one end large posters
made by some of the best known artists of France adorned the wall, while
at the other were pictures clearly of American origin.

Tom Dorsey made the introductions, adding a word or two, in a jocular
fashion, about the characteristics of each. Very naturally, the new
student took a decided interest in studying the Americans with whom he
would be so closely associated during the weeks to come.

“Among those present” were men of striking dissimilarities in
appearance—of widely different stations in life—of various degrees of
wealth; but the call of adventure, having brought them all together, had
also served to unite them in a common spirit of comradeship perhaps
impossible under other circumstances. There was, for instance, Dave
Cornwell, of New York, of the beau monde of Fifth Avenue, with
aristocracy imprinted unmistakably on his clean-cut features. And in
striking contrast to him was Sid Marlow, cowpuncher of Montana, deck
hand on a Mississippi steamboat, longshoreman, and, lastly, fighter in
the Foreign Legion. In fact, the majority of the American _élèves_ had
seen service in that famous branch of the French army, which had
recruited its members from all parts of the world. No embarrassing
questions were asked; an applicant’s antecedents mattered little; he was
given a chance to retrieve whatever mistakes he may have made, and,
perhaps, through the fiery ordeal of battle, come out a vastly superior
man.

Several of the students particularly attracted Don Hale’s attention, one
of them being T. Singleton Albert, referred to by his companions as
“Drugstore”; for he had at one time been a drugstore clerk and
soda-water dispenser in Syracuse. Albert was a rather effeminate looking
little chap, who seemed wholly out of place in an aviation school. He
appeared diffident to the point of shyness, and his voice, delicate and
refined, was seldom heard. Don Hale wondered if he would ever make a
flyer, a profession in which courage and daring are such prime
requisites.

Another boy who interested the new student greatly was Bobby Dunlap, who
had had the singular cognomen of “Peur Jamais” thrust upon him. Tom
Dorsey airily explained that on one occasion a student had demanded in
French of Bobby if he experienced fear during a certain offensive in
which the Foreign Legion took part, whereupon Bobby had blurted out the
words “Peur?—Jamais!—Fear?—Never!” in such a strenuous and convincing
tone as to create a big laugh—also a new title for himself, and one
that persistently stuck.

There was a certain reserve and hauteur in the manner of a third young
chap named Victor Gilbert which somehow appealed to Don Hale, suggesting
to his imaginative mind that Gilbert’s sphere in life was, or rather had
been, a little different from that of most of his fellow students.

Conversation was going on briskly when a rumble of wheels outside made
Don hurry to the window.

“It’s the camion bringing in some of the real birds from the _grande
piste_, or principal flying field, which is a good long way from here,”
volunteered Peur Jarnais. “Those chaps are the stuff—yes, sir. By Jove,
they’d make an eagle jealous! Eagles can’t fly upside down, can they? Of
course not; but some of our boys can.”

“It’s a great life if you don’t weaken,” put in Tom Dorsey.

“Ever feel any symptoms of it?” asked Don, smilingly.

“Sure!—a hundred times.”

“I never did,” put in Drugstore, in his mild, weak voice. “To-morrow,”
he cleared his throat and paused impressively, his manner indicating
that some information of vast importance was about to be
communicated—“to-morrow ”—another instant of hesitation, and he began
again—“to-morrow I’m going to make my first flight in the air.”

“That means flying at an altitude of twenty-five feet at most,” giggled
Mittengale.

“I reckon it also means a machine smashed to bits in landing,” chirped
Peur Jamais. “They say it costs the French government an average of five
thousand dollars to train its aviators. I’ll bet in your case,
Drugstore, they’ll get off cheap at ten thousand.”

Don Hale, his head thrust out of the window, now saw the returning
aviators tumbling off the big camion which had halted before the door.

In another moment they bustled into the barracks, and the yellowish rays
of the oil lamps fell with strange and picturesque effect across their
forms. Each was encased in a great leather coat and trousers and wore a
helmet made from the same heavy material. Several, too, still had on
their grotesque-looking goggles.

“They make me think of Arctic explorers,” declared Don, with a delighted
little laugh.

Don was experiencing a pleasurable sensation, not unmixed with a certain
sense of awe. Here, right before him, were actually some of the men who
but a short time before had been piloting their machines at dizzy
heights in the sky. The fascination of it all seemed to grip him
strangely—to make him impatient and anxious to begin his initiation
into the art of flying.

“Another little eaglet, sir, ready to carry terror into the heart of the
Kaiser.”

In these words Tom Dorsey was introducing him to one of the “real
birds.”

The aviator was only a young chap, not many years older than Don, but,
like many of the Americans and Frenchmen present, he had allowed his
face to remain unshaven, and the resulting growth of beard gave him
quite an appearance of maturity.

“There’s a big lot of difference between the way flying schools are
conducted over here and in America and Canada,” volunteered the aviator,
whose name, Don learned, was Hampton Coles. “On our side of the big pool
discipline is probably as strict as in any other branch of the army. We
go in for drills and all that sort of thing, while in France, at least
at present, the schools are only semi-military in character. The object
is to turn out flyers as quickly as possible, which means casting a
whole lot of theories, red tape and non-essentials into the junk heap.
Flyers are needed—badly needed. The ‘eyes of the army,’ they call
them.”

“At what time does work begin?” asked Don.

“We’re in our planes shortly after dawn. At nine o’clock the first
session is over; then it’s back to the barracks. Dinner is served at one
o’clock, and after that the boys are free to do what they please until
five. On our return to the _piste_, or flying field, we usually keep
steadily at it until nearly dark.”

“How does it happen that so many are here at this hour?”

“Oh, this crowd only represents a small portion of the students who, for
one reason or another, stopped work a bit early,” replied Hampton. “In
all, we have about one hundred and twenty-five men, and among them are
several Russians—daring chaps they are, too, but rather poor flyers.”

“But the Americans seem pretty good at it, eh?”

Hampton Coles laughed.

“The moniteurs are always bawling out some of the best _élèves_ for
doing unnecessary and risky stunts,” he declared. “I imagine they think
we’re a reckless, hair-brained lot. However”—his tone suddenly sobered;
his eyes were turned thoughtfully off into the distance—“it doesn’t do
to take many chances in the air. It’s mighty tricky; and so are the
machines. Some of our boys have already paid the penalty. Yes, it’s a
dangerous game, son.”

“Which only makes it a lot more interesting,” put in Drugstore, quietly.

“To be sure!” laughed Coles. “But, as this rig o’ mine is getting to
feel prominent, I’ll skip.”

Jack Norworth presently sauntered over to tell Don that in order to get
a bed he would have to go to the commissary depot, about a half mile
distant.

“I’ll hoof it with you,” he volunteered.

“Good!” said Don.

George and Drugstore elected to accompany them; so the four immediately
left the Hotel d’Amerique, and, through the slowly-gathering shades of
night, started off.

“By the way, where are you staying?” asked Jack, turning to George
Glenn.

“At a hotel in the little village of Étainville,” replied the young
member of the Lafayette Squadron.

“Why, it’s at Étainville that we have our club!” cried Jack.

“A club?” queried Don, interestedly.

“Sure thing!”

“I don’t like clubs,” commented Drugstore.

“Why not?” demanded Jack.

“Oh, the fellows are always calling upon a chap to tell a story, make a
speech or do something else to amuse ’em,” returned Drugstore, rather
hesitatingly.

“Well, what of it?”

“Some can do that sort of thing, but not I.” The former dispenser of
soda-water spoke in plaintive tones. “Half the time I can’t think of the
words I want and when I do think of ’em they’re not the right ones.”

“Oh, what you need is a correspondence school course in the art of
self-expression—‘think on your feet; latent power aroused; trial lesson
free; send no money,’” chuckled Jack.

“Let’s hear about the club,” said Don.

“It meets in a typical little inn called the Café Rochambeau. The floor
is of sanded brick; there are cobwebs everywhere; cats and dogs wander
in and out. It’s all rustic, dusty and charming. Say, George, have
supper at our mess to-night, then, afterward, you and Don can travel
over with the bunch.”

“Thanks! I’ll be delighted,” said George.

The four soon reached the commissary depot. Attendants dragged from its
generous supply of stores the necessary portions of the bed and
delivered them to the boys. Quite naturally, the march back, hampered as
they were by the cumbersome articles, did not prove to be agreeable.
Finally, however, rather hot and tired, they reached the Hotel
d’Amerique.

It took but a few minutes to put the rude contrivance called a bed
together in its place alongside the wall, and by this time the crowd was
being considerably augmented by the students returning from the _piste_.

“Come along, you chaps! I’ll pilot you to the grub department,”
exclaimed Peur Jamais. “It won’t make you think of the Waldorf Astoria.”

“Never mind! They’ve got things on the menu the Waldorf hasn’t,”
chuckled Gene Shannon.

“For instance?” asked Don.

“Horse-meat.”

“I’m game,” laughed the new student.

Less than five minutes later Don and George, at the head of the
advance-guard, reached the dining-hall. They found it a crude,
unpretentious structure exteriorally, and equally crude and
unpretentious in regard to its interior arrangements. The tables were of
rough boards, and tabourets, or stools, took the place of chairs.

The mess-hall was soon filled with a noisy, jolly crowd. Clearly, the
hazardous nature of the work had no distressing effects on the minds of
the _élèves_. To judge by the manner of those present, theirs might
have been the least dangerous of professions; yet, nevertheless, the
talk often reverted to the accidents or near-accidents which had
occurred on the flying field. But it was the keen enthusiasm of all that
especially appealed to Don Hale. Probably none among the gathering
enjoyed the meal more than he. The dim, fantastic light cast by the oil
lamps, the sombre ever-changing shadows on faces and forms, the
grotesque and larger shadows that sported themselves on the four walls,
the shrouded, obscured corners, all added their share to the charm and
novelty.

A particularly fastidious person could very easily have found fault with
the meal, which consisted of soup, meat, mashed potatoes, lentils, war
bread and coffee. The horse-meat was tough, the lentils rather gritty,
as though some of the soil in which they were planted had determinedly
resolved to stand by them to the end. But to hungry men, whose lives in
the open meant healthy, vigorous appetites, such little
unconventionalities in the art of cooking were of but trifling
importance.

As the students were filing out, not in the most orderly fashion, into
the clear, moonlit night, Jack Norworth joined Don and George.

“All ready, boys, for the Café Rochambeau?” he asked.

“You bet we are!” cried Don.



                           CHAPTER III—SPIES


To reach the peaceful village of Étainville, which, more fortunate than
many another in France, had never known the horror and tragedy of war,
it was necessary to pass through several little patches of woods. That
walk with a number of his compatriots proved to be a very delightful one
to Don Hale. Nature, in the soft, greenish moonlight, which filtered in
between the foliage and ran in straggling lines and patches on the
underbrush or fell in splotches on the trunks and branches, presented a
very poetic—a very idyllic appearance. Here and there, amid the pines
and firs, gnarled, rugged oaks, ages old, reared their spreading
branches against a cloudless sky. A fragrant, delightful odor, like
incense, nature’s own, filled the air; and the gentle sighing of leaves
and grasses swayed to and fro by a capricious breeze joined with the
ever constant chant of the insect world of the woods.

Étainville possessed only one main street, a cobbled, winding highway,
lined on either hand with picturesque and sometimes dilapidated houses.
Near the centre of the village rose the ancient church, the tall and
graceful spire of which could be seen over the countryside for many
miles. The twentieth century is a busy and a bustling age. Progress,
ever on the alert, fairly leaps ahead, but it seemed to have carefully
avoided Étainville in its rapid march.

Of all its inhabitants, none was better known or liked than old Père
Goubain, proprietor, as was his father and grandfather before him, of
the Café Rochambeau. Père Goubain was very fat—so fat, indeed, that he
sat practically all day long in a big armchair. During the winter it was
generally in the main room of the café, before the big round stove near
the centre; but the summer days generally found him comfortably
installed in the garden which enclosed the old stuccoed building.

Père Goubain appeared to be the very personification of contentment,
except, however, when the Germans happened to be mentioned within his
hearing. Then, his rubicund face became redder, his mild, blue eyes
fairly blazed with a fierce, vindictive light, and, altogether, he
looked quite ferocious indeed.

Such, then, was the Café Rochambeau and the man who greeted the crowd of
Americans. To Don and George he was especially gracious. He asked many
questions, and delightedly informed them that only the day before he had
actually seen a detachment of American soldiers marching through the
village street.

“Ah! and how grand they looked, mes amis!” he cried. “With their
help—‘On les aura’—we shall get them! Ah, les Boches!”

The placid look on his face was gone, and, rising in his chair, he began
to sing in a deep bass voice:

    “‘Ye sons of freedom, wake to glory!
    Hark, hark, what myriads bid you rise!
    Your children, wives and grandsires hoary,
    Behold their tears and hear their cries!
    Behold their tears and hear their cries!
    Shall hateful tyrants, mischief breeding,
    With hireling hosts, a ruffian band,
    Affright and desolate the land,
    When peace and liberty lie bleeding?
    To arms—to arms, ye brave!
    Th’ avenging sword unsheathe,
    March on, march on, all hearts resolved
    On liberty or death.’”

Vigorous indeed was the chorus which accompanied Peré Goubain’s
rendition of the first stanza of the “Marseillaise,” and vigorous indeed
were the plaudits that resounded throughout the room when the old
Frenchman sank back in his armchair.

“Yes, the Yanks are the boys to do it,” exclaimed Peur Jamais. “Now, mes
garçons—for the council chamber!”

The “Council Chamber” was an apartment adjoining the main room of the
café. An oblong table stood in the centre, smaller ones by the walls;
and there were plenty of chairs and tabourets for the use of the
Americans, for the room practically belonged to them. Very often old
Pére Goubain honored the gathering by his presence, and on this occasion
he raised his ponderous form, and, with lumbering tread, followed his
guests inside.

For their benefit Pére Goubain, a veteran of the Franco-Prussian war,
told several interesting reminiscences about that memorable conflict;
then, abruptly, he branched off into a subject which brought the old
fiery look back into his usually placid blue eyes.

“Ah, what a wonderful system of espionage the Boches have!” he
exclaimed. “Its sinister ramifications extend to every corner of our
great land and far beyond the seas.”

“Know anything about it?” queried Peur Jamais, with interest.

“Listen, mes amis”—old Père Goubain spoke gravely: “Many officers are
among my acquaintances. One of them belongs to the French Flying Corps,
and he, poor fellow, while in a scouting plane far over the enemy’s
lines, had the great misfortune to be obliged to descend in hostile
territory.”

“Captured?” asked Peur Jamais, quite breathlessly.

“He was. But”—a grim smile played about the Frenchman’s
mouth—“somehow, he managed to make his escape, and, after the most
nerve-racking ordeals, succeeded in reaching the Swiss frontier, and
from thence returned to France. In this very room, Messieurs, he told me
his experiences.”

Immediately, to Don Hale, and probably also to a number of the others,
that modest interior became invested with a singular interest—with a
strange and subtle charm. How wonderful to think that a man who had
passed through such harrowing adventures should have actually been in
that very place!

“And do you know,” continued Père Goubain, with vehemence, “that when
the German officers learned the aviator’s name, astounding as it may
seem, they told him many facts concerning his own history.”

“But how in the world did the Boches ever learn them?” demanded Peur
Jamais.

“As I said before, spies are everywhere; one cannot know whom to trust.
Listen, my friends: not a hundred years ago, one of the officers
belonging to a training school was actually discovered to be a spy.”

“Whew! That’s going some!” declared Sid Marlow to Don, while Peur
Jamais, eagerness expressed in his eyes, began to look curiously about
him, as though vaguely suspicious that perhaps some among those gathered
together were not all they pretended to be.

Before Père Goubain could resume, several newcomers, also Americans,
bustled past the door.

General interest was immediately aroused by the discovery that one
carried a bundle of Parisian dailies.

But the old innkeeper had started to say something, and he intended to
finish.

“Yes, Messieurs, the Boches possess many ways of obtaining information.
For instance, I learned from another officer that spies have even boldly
descended into the French or British lines, flying in airplanes captured
from the Allies. Naturally, some of these pilots spoke excellent French;
others the English tongue equally well. Naturally, also, having all the
appearance of belonging to the cause of freedom and justice, they
escaped suspicion at the time, and were thus enabled to pick up much
valuable information.”

“Very interesting!” drawled one of the late comers. “But what’s all that
got to do with Captain Baron Von Richtofen?”

“Captain Baron Von Richtofen?” cried Peur Jamais, interrogatively.

“Never hear of him?”

“No, Monsieur Carrol Gordon.”

“I have,” said George, in an undertone to Don.

“Then I’ll read something for your special benefit, Mr. Peur Jamais.”

Thereupon, Carrol Gordon, the owner of the prized bundle, having opened
one of the papers and allowed the yellowish glow of the lamplight to
fall across the page, began:

“‘Advices recently received from the western theatre of battle state
that the famous Red Squadron of Death, commanded by Captain Baron Von
Richtofen, has again made its appearance in several places along the
front.’”

“‘The Red Squadron of Death!’” echoed Peur Jamais, something akin to awe
in his tone.

“‘The Red Squadron of Death!’” repeated Don.

“Quite an impressive title, I’ll admit,” remarked Carrol, smiling at the
great interest which the article had evidently aroused. He resumed:

“‘The Albatross planes belonging to this feared and death-dealing
squadron are painted a brilliant scarlet from nose to tail. All are
manned by pilots of the greatest skill and daring; and only the most
experienced air fighters of the Allies can expect to cope with these
crafty and dangerous enemies. The bizarre idea of the red planes is no
doubt an attempt on the part of Captain Baron Von Richtofen to instil
fear into the hearts of the Allied Flying Corps. At any rate, the
reappearance of this squadron, which claims to have destroyed more than
sixty allied planes, heralds the near approach of many bitter battles in
the air.’”

As Carrol Gordon ceased reading he looked around and remarked:

“Some news, eh? Now how many of you are going to pack your trunks and
slide for home?”

“And to think of T. Singleton Albert, the great soda-water clerk of
Syracuse, going up against such a game as that!” put in Tom Dorsey,
irrelevantly. “Poor Drugstore!”

“One thing to remember always is this, mes garçons,” exclaimed old Père
Goubain, nodding his head sagely: “Imagination is a very wonderful
thing, and the Boche Baron must realize the hold it has on certain
natures. Imagination, mes amis, can have the effect of glorifying the
most ordinary and commonplace of objects and detracting from the most
sublime. It can rob the heart of determination and destroy hope, and,
equally well, it can raise a man’s courage to such heights as to place
him on the pinnacle of fame. Bah, I say, for the Baron’s red birds!” The
innkeeper snapped his fingers derisively. “I cannot believe that any air
fighters of the Allies would be frightened by a few cans of paint.”

“Well spoken, Père Goubain!” laughed Hampton Coles. “Yours are the words
of a wise man; which proves that an innkeeper can be a philosopher as
well as a server to the material needs of humanity.”

“How would you like to be a combat pilot and meet the Baron, yourself?”
asked Jack Norworth, quizzically.

“It would be quite impossible, mon garçon,” sighed Père Goubain. “My
weight, alas I would sink the ship.”

“Shall I give him a message from you if we should happen to meet?”
laughed George Glenn.

“Yes, and let it be accompanied by a fusillade of machine gun bullets.”

Don Hale thoroughly enjoyed his evening at the club. Instinctively he
felt that it was a sort of dividing line between ease and comfort and a
strenuous existence, with dangers and perils ever present from the
moment he became in actuality an _élève_ pilot of the École Militaire
d’Aviation de Beaumont.

Finally good-byes were said to Père Goubain, and the crowd filed into
the great outdoors. The village street was enveloped in the soft light
of the moon, and but for the bark of a distant dog would have been
silent. The stuccoed buildings rose pale and ghostlike, or in sombre,
mysterious tones, against the sky, and deep shadows crossed the cobbled
highway. A few beams of light to cheer those who might be astir came
from the windows of the ancient, time-worn hostelry, the Hotel Lion
d’Or, where George Glenn was staying.

At the entrance, Don and the others bid the combat pilot of the
Lafayette Squadron good-night, and then the march back to the flying
field was begun. It was rather late when they arrived at the barracks.
The excitement, the great desire to begin his schooling and the new
surroundings all tended to drive sleepy feelings away from Don Hale. But
Mittengale very solemnly assured him that unless he “hit the pillow” at
once he would be liable to have regretful feelings in the morning.

“I know, because I know,” he declared.

“Then I’ll ‘hit the pillow,’” laughed Don.

The sound of laughter and voices was gradually ceasing as Don Hale
climbed into his bed.

Several of the lamps had been extinguished and the interior of the big
barracks certainly appeared very sombre—very gloomy indeed. Here and
there details made a valiant effort to reveal their presence, but, for
the most part, shadows, grotesque in shape, deep and grim in tone, held
the mastery.

Presently Don Hale’s impressions became a little confused, and, within a
very few minutes, he was sleeping that sound and dreamless slumber which
is another of the glorious possessions of youth.



                         CHAPTER IV—“PENGUINS”


“I say, boy, wake up! Didn’t you hear the bugle sound? The reveillé!
Wake up, for goodness’ sake! You’ll be late. It’s almost three-thirty
now. You have that early morning feeling, eh?—a pippin of a feeling,
too! I know, because I know!”

The sense of this string of words, jerked out with extraordinary
rapidity by Roy Mittengale, was quite lost on Don Hale’s mental
faculties, but, nevertheless, they had exactly the effect the speaker
intended. With a start and a half-stifled gasp, the new student sat up.

Morning! Was it possible that morning had already come? Of course not!
He hadn’t before suspected Mittengale of being a practical joker.
Morning, indeed! He felt quite vexed—quite exasperated, in fact.

The effects his eyes took in were precisely similar to those he had seen
on retiring—the same glimmering yellowish lights, the same lurking
shadows, the long row of windows framing in the palish moonlight of the
outside world.

He was about to protest. But before he had time the big room, all at
once, became filled with noise and commotion—with the sounds of men
jumping out of bed, of men talking, of men hurrying and bustling about
as though their very lives depended upon the swiftness of their
movements.

So, after all, Roy wasn’t a practical joker.

“All right! All right!” mumbled Don. “I’ll get right up.”

“You’d better,” continued Mittengale, laughingly.

Don Hale certainly had that early morning feeling, besides being cold
and shivery; but, though he devoutly wished that he might enjoy a few
minutes more of repose, he slipped off the mattress and fairly jumped
into his clothes. By the time Don had finished dressing he was alone.

A swift dash for the door and a brisk run after leaving the barracks
enabled him, however, to overtake speedily the more tardy students.

It was still a calm, serene moonlight night, with the stars dimmed by
the greater lustre of the earth’s satellite, and no hint, no trace of
color in the eastern sky to herald the approach of another day.

The destination of the hurrying crowd Don found was the wash-house
situated not far away; and on arriving there he discovered that
certainly “all the comforts of home” appeared to be lacking.

A dash of cold water over his face and arms made the boy feel the need
of brisk exercise to counteract the effects of the damp, penetrating
chilliness of that early matinal hour. Moisture glistened and sparkled
on the tufts of grass, and low over the earth stretched long ghostly
streamers of mist. High up in the heavens a flock of unseen crows,
flying swiftly past, sent their cries far over the crisp, fresh air,
but, rapidly, distance softened and then stifled the unmusical chorus.

A rush back to the barracks with the rest of the students put warmth
into Don Hale’s shivery frame.

“Get in line, son, for the roll call,” commanded Tom Dorsey.

In an orderly double column the students ranged themselves alongside the
barracks, an officer appeared and the formality began.

Proudly, the new student answered “present” as he heard his name
pronounced by the officer.

“Now I suppose we’ll get a bite to eat,” he remarked to Mittengale, when
the men broke ranks.

“Your ‘suppose’ is all wrong,” chuckled the other. “Now you’ll learn
what you’re up against.”

“I suspect I’m up against a joker,” laughed Don.

But, again, his suspicion proved to be quite unfounded. The men were
forming in line, and a few minutes later the march for the flying field
began. The day for which Don Hale had looked forward so long—so
expectantly—actually had come. His nerves, responding to the emotions
aroused within him, were tingling, but tingling in a most delightful
fashion.

The very faintest trace of delicate color, announcing the coming of day,
now slowly began to suffuse itself in the eastern sky. It was a
cheerless and a gloomy hour, not an hour, surely, for drooping spirits
to be abroad; but, fortunately, there appeared to be no drooping spirits
among that semi-military line of marching men.

Gradually the long row of curved-roofed hangars, partially hidden by the
veils of mists, loomed forth more clearly. Before the head of the line
had reached the first of the immense flying fields—there were
three—numerous mechanics were rolling rather battered-looking little
monoplanes from beneath the protecting shelter of the canvas coverings
and placing them side by side in long lines.

“I say, my young knight of the air, cast your optics upon the
‘penguins,’” called Mittengale, who happened to be marching just ahead.

Don Hale, however, required no such invitation. He was already studying
the machines with the most intense—the most eager interest. “Penguins,”
he knew, are Bleriot monoplanes, the wings of which have been so
shortened as to render the machines powerless to lift themselves from
the ground; hence the rather curious appellation of “penguins,” birds of
that name not being able to fly.

Certainly the “penguins” had an extraordinary fascination for the new
candidate. To his active mind they suggested huge dragon-flies—all
ready to wing their way lightly to other parts.

A few moments later the boy was standing before the nearest machine. Now
every semblance to a military line had vanished. Students, moniteurs,
mechanics and laborers were all mingling together before the hangars.

Some time later, while he was still regarding the machines with an
absorbing degree of interest, the voice of the head instructor broke
sharply in upon his thoughts.

In loud tones he was calling out the names of various students and
designating the numbers of the machine they were to use. Immediately the
future airmen began jumping into their places, and before many moments
had passed every “penguin” in the long line had an occupant.

“Goodness! I certainly feel like an outsider,” murmured Don. “I reckon
I’d better hunt up the sergeant and——”

At that second the air became surcharged with a series of startling
staccato explosions, with roars, great crashes and bangs, quite
ear-splitting in their intensity—the motors were being tested.
Gradually the rising crescendo, suggestive of some strange, wild
symphony, reached its greatest climax, and then as slowly began to
subside. And presently, in its place, came the soft, pleasant drone and
hum of many smoothly-working motors and propellers.

Now the highly interested Don Hale saw the assistants removing the
blocks from beneath the wheels of the “penguins” and heard the moniteurs
giving their pupils a few final words of advice.

“By Jove, don’t I wish I were in one of ’em!” he muttered. “Ah!”

The assistants were giving the propellers of some of the nearer machines
a swift turn; and as the whirling blades became but misty circles the
strange “birds” got into action.

“By Jove!”

This time Don Hale uttered the exclamation aloud.

A number of “penguins” had begun to “taxi” across the field, and were
soon traveling at a most tremendous speed. Some twisted and staggered
about, as though, every instant, they must topple over sideways and
smash their wings against the turf. Others exhibited every indication of
halting their onward rush and spinning around and around like a top,
while still others, as straight and true as a swift breeze tearing its
way across the countryside, kept rapidly growing smaller and fainter in
the distance.

Yes, it truly was a remarkable spectacle that Don Hale had before his
eyes. In the semi-darkness of that chill and early hour, the rushing
“penguins” seemed to resemble a flock of huge birds, full of life, full
of keen intelligence, rather than man-made machines.

There was a thrill and spice about the scene, too, which caused
involuntary gasps to frequently come from the mouth of the student. Now
and again, “penguins,” while traveling at a headlong pace, seemed about
to smash into one another. The boy almost held his breath.

“Ah!”

One was down. Another, hustling past the fallen “bird,” just graced its
broken wing. The game, even in the beginner’s class, was clearly not
without its dangers.

Now the most skilfully handled machines had reached their
destination—the flag at the other end of the field—and were returning
as though borne on the blasts of a hurricane. From faint, insignificant
whitish specks they became huge winged creatures in a moment of time,
seemingly intent upon crashing their tempestuous way into the groups of
moniteurs, mechanics and assistants and even through the hangars
themselves.

The tense-faced pilots, however, stopped the engines in time, and, one
after another, the “penguins” docilely came to a halt.

“Grand sport, sure enough!” cried Don, delightedly. He would have
imparted this thought to others, too, but for the fact that not one
among those all around him was paying the slightest attention to his
presence. It gave Don a rather unpleasant feeling, as though he was of
very little importance. It also served to make him decide to report to
the sergeant of the first class at once.

Accordingly, he began walking toward the nearest group; and then, for
the first time, he caught a glimpse of several of the Annamites attached
to the aviation camp. Picturesque-looking little chaps they were, and
unmistakably of the Orient from their yellow complexion and slanting,
beady eyes to their small and stocky stature. They were about to cross
the field. What was the meaning of that intrusion?

All at once Don Hale understood; and, instinctively, his eyes were
turned toward the fallen “penguin,” which, like a wounded bird brought
low by the huntsman’s bullet, lay where misfortune had overtaken it. A
little crowd was collecting, and soon he discovered three distant
figures moving slowly toward the hangars, the one in the centre
supported by those on either side.

“The pilot must have been injured,” thought Don, commiseratingly.

In what seemed to be a very short time to him the sun was almost on the
horizon, and eagerness to begin his task was gripping him with a strange
intensity; no small boy with a lively and joyous anticipation of a visit
to the “greatest show on earth” could have experienced more pleasurable
sensations, and a glance toward the flying fields beyond served to even
further increase them. Above the one adjoining, Bleriot monoplanes were
flying at low altitudes; still further in the distance he could see
airplanes piloted by more advanced members of the third and fourth class
momentarily mounting in the air. The flying fields were beginning to
show a pleasant warmth of color, and the Farnum and Caudron machines,
high aloft, catching the sun’s reflections, sent them constantly
flashing earthward. These planes possessed a certain grace, but they
were heavy and clumsy craft indeed compared to several
single-seaters—Nieuport or Spad machines. These far outclassing the
swiftest of the feathered tribe in their flight, darted in and out,
swooped downward from dizzy heights or climbed upward until their wings
appeared as the faintest gossamer lines against the soft, purplish tones
of the sky.

As Don set off in his quest for the sergeant the majority of the
“penguins” were racing and tearing about the field in the most
extraordinarily erratic fashion.

Sergeant Girodet was easily found, but, to Don Hale’s intense
disappointment, the officer informed him that he would have to wait
until the afternoon session, adding rather dryly:

“Monsieur will be safe and sound for several hours longer.”

Don laughed, rejoining:

“And for a good many hours after that, I hope.”

The Annamites were now bringing in the wrecked and battered plane,
headed for the repair shops, vast structures employing hundreds and
hundreds of skilled mechanics and helpers. As they were near by and the
night shift still at work, Don concluded to pay them a brief visit
before journeying to the field where the third class, of which T.
Singleton Albert was a member, flew in real airplanes to a height of no
less than twenty-five feet.

And just at this time the boy was overjoyed to hear a familiar, cheery
voice shouting:

“Hello, Don! Hello, old chap!”

Turning quickly, he spied his chum approaching.

“My, but I’m jolly glad to see you, George!” he called. “Playing the
part of a wallflower isn’t a pleasant outdoor sport.”

“Well, it’s good you don’t get up in the air about it,” replied George,
laughingly. “That’s right—always keep your feet on the ground.”

“I’ll try to, even when I’m a few miles high,” chirped Don.

George agreeing to Don’s plan, the two began traveling after the
guttural-speaking Annamites.

“It strikes me ‘penguins’ ought to be easily managed,” declared Don,
reflectively. “One just has to drive them in a straight line across the
_piste_.”

“Yes, that’s all,” replied George. A twinkling light shone in his eyes.
“But——”

“Difficult, eh, old chap?”

And though George nodded emphatically, Don, nevertheless, felt strongly
inclined to think that when once in the pilot’s seat he would surprise
not only his chum but a few others as well.

Shortly afterward the two reached the machine and repair shops.



                           CHAPTER V—TRAINING


Americans, of course, enjoyed a great popularity all over France, and,
therefore, Don and George were welcome guests at the shops, which
resembled huge manufacturing plants. They immediately found themselves
surrounded by another kind of activity. The din and hum of machinery,
the clanging of hammers, the explosive reports of motors vibrated over
the air, all symbolizing, as it were, by means of sound, progress and
labor.

“They build airplanes here as well as repair them,” explained George.

As the two walked from one point to another Don Hale marveled at what he
saw. The framework of hulls and of main planes, the latter with their
strong but slender supporting spars, stood in long rows. Everywhere
skilled artisans, ordinary mechanics, and helpers worked on various
parts of the planes. In the assemblage department Don and George stopped
to watch the winged creations, one of the latest products of man’s
inventive genius, being put together. A foreman greeted them pleasantly.

“And what do the young Americans think of all this?” he inquired.

“Simply wonderful!” responded Don, enthusiastically.

“Very true!” agreed the men. “Ah! the art of airplane construction has
advanced amazingly since the great world war began, mes Americaines. It
is now a very exact science, where the laws bearing upon lateral and
longitudinal balance, as well as many other things, have to be
rigorously observed.”

“I believe that before 1914 the German equipment in the way of airplanes
and dirigible balloons was greatly superior to either that of the French
or English,” commented George.

“Yes, the Boches had been doing everything in their power to encourage
the development of both types of machines, while the other nations,
unmindful of the peril which menaced them, were satisfied to let the
course of events in that particular direction merely drift along.”

“The Germans are said to have had, in addition to a fleet of huge
Zeppelins, almost a thousand airplanes of the finest construction, while
their aeronautical factories were rushing work on others,” put in
George. “France possessed only about three hundred machines and England
still less, probably as few as two hundred and fifty.”

“The Germans at that time held the world’s record for height and
sustained flying,” declared Don Hale.

“Correct,” admitted the artisan. “They thought, too, that with the
supremacy of their navy of the air, the supremacy of Great Britain’s
fleet on the sea could be more than overcome and England invaded.
But”—the Frenchman clenched his fists—“our enemies—your enemies—the
enemies of the entire world realize at last their error. They failed!
They failed! The supremacy of the air now rests with the Allies.”

“And yet, for a while, the Germans had the best scouting and fighting
planes,” commented George.

“Yes; the Fokkers. But La France replied to that challenge by
constructing the famous Nieuport, the swiftest, the most easily
maneuvered airplane that flies. Come! Let me show you a sample.”

Don and George, smiling a little at the tremendous earnestness exhibited
by the Frenchman, followed him to another part of the great shop, where
the most skilled workers were putting the finishing touches to several
Nieuports of the latest model. They were delicate but staunch little
machines—their lines as graceful as those of any yacht; and each was
finished with a degree of care and attention to detail which scarcely
seemed warranted when the perilous nature of the career they were so
soon to embark upon was considered.

“What perfect beauties!” cried Don. “Crickets, George! Don’t I wish all
my training period were over, so that I could sail sky-high in one of
these little rockets!”

“The speed of a rocket, Don, wouldn’t do you very much good while flying
over the fighting front,” replied his chum, rather grimly.

Don, too impatient, too restless to remain much longer indoors, soon
started off with the other at his side. And all the while the obliging
artisan kept imparting interesting bits of information. He told them
something about the giant bi-motored Caudron, the Handley-Page and the
Caproni, each type of machine representing the highest achievement in
airplane building by the respective countries of France, England and
Italy.

“The Boches,” he added, with a scowl, “have the Gothas.”

“I remember reading that some of the Gothas which bombed London had a
wing-spread of seventy-eight feet, with motors of two hundred and sixty
horse power, and carried, besides three men, hundreds of pounds of
explosives,” remarked Don.

“Seventy-eight feet is nothing these days,” commented the Frenchman,
musingly. “A hundred and fifty is more like it. You and I, mes
Americaines, will live to see the time when huge flyers, with
comfortable accommodations for passengers, can cross the Atlantic,
linking still closer the old world and the new.”

Their volunteer guide now conducted the boys to another department,
where they saw many women engaged in sewing together breadths of fine
linen cloth destined to be stretched over the skeleton frames.

“Billions have been spent and are being expended in the airplane
industry,” continued the man. “Even piano and furniture factories and
many others have turned their attention to the fabrication of airplane
parts, such as struts, ribs and propellers. And all this, in connection
with aeronautic machinery, means work for thousands of mechanics. Vast
quantities of raw material are required. Airplanes must be housed:
therefore the erection of hangars and other types of buildings will
employ thousands more. Then, the training of aviators, too, is a pretty
expensive operation.”

“I suppose so,” laughed Don. “However, I’ll try to let ’em down as
easily as I can. Coming, George?”

After heartily thanking the obliging artisan for his courtesy the two
left the busy shops.

By this time the slowly-rising sun was casting its first pale and
delicate tints over the earth. And with these rays the gloom which had
taken possession of nature for so many hours began to lift. The dull and
lifeless landscape, freed from the embracing mists, took on an aspect of
quiet beauty and charm, and drops of dew shone and sparkled like “many a
gem of purest ray serene.”

At a brisk walk Don and George set out for the distant aviation field,
and before very long the ever moving “penguins” were left far to the
rear. Now Don and his chum had an excellent view of the real flying
machines, as they winged their way in straight flights from one end of
the _piste_ to the other, or taxied over the ground to rise in the air
with amazing ease and lightness.

Another crowd of moniteurs, students and mechanicians stood around, the
moniteurs following the movements of the planes with the most critical
attention.

One after another the flyers alighted, some with ease and precision;
some striking the earth sufficiently hard to have thrown the pilot out
had he not been buckled to his seat.

“Whew! I’ll bet lots of planes are smashed!” cried Don.

“You win,” said George, dryly. “Hello! Look at the machine which just
made that bully landing. Whom do you see on the pilot’s seat?”

“Goodness gracious! As I live, it’s Drugstore!” burst out Don.

But as Don, unmindful of the moniteurs or the crowd, left George’s side
and rushed up to congratulate him on his success, T. Singleton Albert’s
face didn’t have at all its usual half shy and modest look. Instead, it
rather suggested the expression worn by some mighty hero on the occasion
of his greatest triumph.

“Did you see me?” cried Drugstore, breathlessly.

“I should say so!” exclaimed Don.

“Flying!—Why, there’s nothing to it, son. Oh, boy! Only a perfect boob
couldn’t handle these ships.” Drugstore almost stuttered in his elation
and excitement. “But, take it from me, son, some of these chaps here
couldn’t learn to drive an ash cart. Hello! I say, Rogers”—he raised
his voice—“did you see me that time? I brought her down so easily I
didn’t even rumple the grass.”

“You’re up in the air right now, Singleton,” chortled Rogers.

Albert, who had a pretty good command of French, swelled up with even
greater pride as he listened to the moniteur’s “C’est bien fait, mon
ami—it was well done, my friend.”

“I’ll soon be bumping into the clouds,” he declared, a confident grin on
his face.

The machine was quickly turned around by several Annamites, and then
Drugstore, yelling loudly for every one to get out of the way, started
his motor full blast; whereupon the monoplane began to glide swiftly
ahead. As the machine attained a speed of about forty miles an hour it
gracefully left the terrestrial globe several yards behind, and, like an
arrow shot from the archer’s bow, cut through the still, silent air
toward its distant goal.

“Some flyer, that baby!” laughed Rogers.

And, indeed, his comments were just. Very few of the other students were
approaching Albert’s performance. Their landings were generally
faulty—so faulty, in fact, as to endanger the safety of plane and flyer
alike.

It was only a very short time before Drugstore’s plane was seen
returning. Don Hale watched the machine rapidly growing larger with
breathless interest, fearful that Albert’s great flush of enthusiasm
might have engendered so great a confidence in his ability as to
threaten his efforts with disaster. Exactly at the proper moment,
however, exactly in the proper way, the Bleriot dipped; and then,
exactly in the proper manner, it struck the earth, and, after rolling a
certain distance, came to a halt.

“Well, who said I couldn’t learn to fly!” shouted Drugstore,
hilariously. “Whoop! It’s easier than slopping soda-water over a shiny
counter. Oh, boy, I’ll soon be able to give an eagle lessons!”

It was now another pupil’s turn to take the machine, and Albert,
releasing the restraining straps about his body, jumped stiffly to the
ground. His gait for several moments became so noticeably uncertain as
to bring forth a volley of humorous observations.

“Success has gone to his head!” cried one.

“To his feet, you mean!” chuckled a second.

“If that grin of his grows any wider his face may be seriously injured!”
chirped another.

“Speech, Drugstore, speech!” howled a fourth.

If Albert had been his usual self all this attention and good-natured
raillery would probably have brought a flush to his cheeks. At that
moment, however, Albert wasn’t quite himself. He forgot to stammer and
look embarrassed as he declared importantly:

“Let’s see some of you chaps beat it. Oh, boy, just a little while, and
I’ll be shooting up to hit the blue!”

Naturally Albert’s very excellent work fired Don Hale with an even
greater desire to begin his apprenticeship at the fascinating game of
flying. The sun had never seemed to ascend so slowly. Hours and hours
must pass before he could make his start. Really, it was quite a strain
on his nerves.

At nine o’clock work was over for the morning, and the students trailed
back to the barracks, where they were privileged to remain until five.
The particular crowd which occupied the Hotel d’Amerique found a
newcomer awaiting them. He was a very rosy-cheeked young chap; and from
his uniform, still showing plentiful traces of mud and hard usage, it
was seen that he, too, had once been a soldier in the famous Foreign
Legion.

“My name is Dan Hagen,” he announced, pleasantly. “I’m from Dublin.”

“Ah ha, boys, we now have with us Dublin Dan!” chortled Roy Mittengale.

And that was the way in which Dan Hagen received a new christening, and
one that he accepted with a boisterous, rollicking laugh.

“Call me anything; but don’t call me down,” he said. “I say, how’s
flying to-day?”

“As usual, up in the air,” laughed Tom Dorsey.

“Next to me, who’s the newest greeny?”

A half dozen or so fingers were pointed toward Don Hale; a half dozen or
so voices gave the desired information.

“Shake, old man!” exclaimed Dublin Dan, extending a big rough hand.
“It’s a race between us to see which shall be the first to feel the
caressing touches of the wind-blown clouds on our cheeks.”

“I’m on!” laughed Don.

“I say, did you see me land on my last trip?”

T. Singleton Albert voiced this query. It was addressed to no one in
particular; and as no one in particular paid the slightest attention to
it Drugstore became quite peeved.

“Jealous, eh?” he jeered, with unexpected bravado. “Jealous! Oh, boy!
but my cheeks’ll soon feel the caressing touches of these wind-blown
clouds. Some joyous expression that, eh?”

“It doesn’t beat yours at the present moment,” declared big Sid Marlow,
with a hearty laugh.

Don Hale soon discovered that there was little military discipline about
the camp. The students were perfectly free to amuse themselves in any
way their fancy dictated, though Cal Cummings informed him that on
lecture days absence from the classes was considered a pretty serious
offense.

“I’d never want to play hooky,” declared Don, smilingly.

The day, wearing on, brought with it plenty of heat; therefore the
shelter of the barracks was soon sought by the majority. Little comfort
could be found inside, however. Swarms of flies—“of every known
size—of every known species”—so Dublin Dan declared, also used it as a
hotel; and, not being of a bashful disposition, they made themselves
unpleasantly conspicuous. At one o’clock the little pests were sole
masters of the situation, while the crowd joined other crowds in the
spacious mess-hall.

During the meal T. Singleton Albert, having been heard to remark: “I
say, did you see that last landing I made?” was loudly and insistently
called upon to make a speech. Thereupon, he suddenly grew red in the
face, and when forced to his feet by strong-arm methods stammered and
stuttered to such a degree that the boys, perceiving that he had once
more become the old, timid, shy Drugstore, mercifully let him alone.

Following lunch a game of baseball was played between two well-matched
teams, one of them being captained by Victor Gilbert. Gilbert’s team
won, which Cal Cummings declared was not strange at all, considering the
fact that Victor had at one time been a crack player on a college
baseball club.

After the game was over, Don, George and Dublin Dan set out for the
aviation field together.



                         CHAPTER VI—DUBLIN DAN


Don Hale, standing before a much battered and bespattered “penguin,”
experienced a delightful thrill, which ran through his entire being.
Brimming over with ambition, equally full of confidence, he could see
nothing ahead of him but success.

The moniteur in whose charge Don and several others were placed was a
rather youthful and pleasant-spoken Frenchman. In a quick, incisive
fashion, he began to give a little lecture on the airplane.

“The body is known as the fuselage,” he explained. “At the front and
just beneath the wings, as you see, is the engine and propeller. This
particular type of plane, and in fact the majority, are drawn and not
pushed through the air. The pilot is seated in the cockpit immediately
behind the motor. Two rudders and two ailerons are placed at the rear of
the fuselage. The former, vertical, and used for steering the plane
horizontally, are operated by a cross-piece of wood upon which the pilot
rests his feet. The ailerons are horizontal, connected with a control
stick by means of wires, and, of course, tilt the plane either up or
down. The control stick is an upright lever in front of the pilot’s
seat. These are details, however, that you need not bother with now.
Monsieur Hale, take your place in number thirty-five. Monsieur Hagen may
use number twelve.”

Both boys immediately followed instructions, and, after each had
securely fastened the belt designed to prevent an unceremonious exit
from the plane, the moniteur explained, first to one and then the other,
the proper handling of the engine and rudders.

“The two most important things to remember,” he said, “are to keep the
tail off the ground and the engine going at full speed.”

With his nerves at the keenest tension, Don Hale waited for the command
to start. Out of the corner of his eye he could see groups standing by
the machine, watching him, it seemed, in deadly silence. The familiar
figure of George Glenn among them nerved the boy to do his utmost.

“Ready, sir?” asked the mechanician standing by the propeller.

“Ready!” answered Don.

“Throw on the switch!”

With a hand that trembled in spite of all his efforts to control it, Don
Hale obeyed.

The mechanician whirled the propeller, and in another moment the motor
was emitting a deafening roar; and in still another the “penguin,” as
though suddenly endowed with life, began a headlong flight over the
rather uneven ground.

With all his senses keenly alert, Don Hale felt the rushing wind fanning
his cheeks; and a sort of wild exhilaration took possession of him as
the “penguin,” like a runaway locomotive, sent the ground speeding
behind at a rate which fairly dazzled his eyes.

But why did the “penguin” wobble and stagger in such an extraordinary
manner?

The more desperately Don strove to assert his authority over the
man-made bird the more he seemed to lose his control. Now he felt it
swinging to the left; then, a too hasty push with his foot on the
steering apparatus threatened to send it wildly careening off to the
right. Above the roar of the motor he could faintly hear the shouts and
yells of the crowd which he was leaving so far behind.

The confidence which Don had felt before jumping into the machine was
given a rude and unpleasant jolt; and, besides this, the speed and
erratic movements of the “penguin” were so bewildering as to make the
boy lose, for a moment, his usual coolness. The sudden thought, too,
that George Glenn was witnessing the almost absurd capering of the
“penguin” served only to add to his discomfiture and apprehension.

In his tremendous eagerness to conquer the difficulties, Don made a
sudden movement with the control stick, lifting the tail high off the
ground, and at the same time he added to his mistake by pushing the
rudder too far around. The result was almost terrifying. The “bird,” as
though roused to sudden fury by his action, began to whirl around and
around, its speed seeming to increase with each passing second.

Dazed and dizzy the pilot had just sufficient presence of mind left to
shut off the power. But the “penguin” had already begun to somersault.

Don Hale experienced a chilling and sickening fear. So suddenly that he
could scarcely realize what had happened, the airplane tumbled over. He
heard the sound of breaking supports and felt the impact of a blow. Then
he found himself pinned to the ground amidst a mass of wreckage.

Several seconds elapsed before he could think coherently enough to
decide that beyond a few bruises and scratches he had not been injured.
And, although the “penguin” was as motionless as though it had never
made a movement in the whole of its checkered career, the ground still
seemed to be whirling rapidly before his eyes. But the dizziness, the
pains and aches he was experiencing were as nothing compared to his
disillusionment. He had fully expected to make a grand and triumphal
trip straight across the flying _piste_ to the flag which marked the end
of the course and to hear the plaudits of George, the praise of the
moniteur and the comments of the admiring crowd. And here he was—in an
undignified heap, with the breath almost knocked out of his body, and
responsible for the ending of the tempestuous career of what had been
but a few moments before a staunch and sturdy “penguin.”

Oh yes, he must have surprised his chum George Glenn—of that there
couldn’t be the slightest doubt!

As Don began painfully to extricate himself, with grim forebodings of
what the consequences of the disaster might be, he became conscious of
the fact that from almost every point people were running in his
direction. He felt the hot blood rushing to his face; he experienced a
feeling, too, somewhat akin to anger—for his sharp ears had caught what
sounded suspiciously like bursts of hilarious laughter.

And, to add to the boy’s discomfiture, he caught sight of a “penguin,”
wobbling and shaking like a ship in a raging sea, approaching. He had
one brief, instantaneous glimpse of a tremendously grinning face—that
of Dublin Dan’s—as the machine lurched swiftly past. A short time later
the foremost of the crowd bore down upon him.

“Are you hurt, Don? Are you hurt?” cried George Glenn, breathlessly.

“No—no!” jerked out Don.

And, as though these words were a signal for a jollification to begin,
roars of laughter and howls of merriment broke loose on every side. The
students were not averse, it seemed, to enjoying the humor of the
situation.

“We have seen the human spinning-top!” guffawed one.

“What a wonderful merry-go-round!” gurgled another. “Sixty miles an hour
without budging an inch!”

“Say, boy, wasn’t that enough to make you remember it?” chirped a third.

“You were chasing your tail so fast you nearly caught up with it,”
chimed in a fourth. “At any rate, it’s certainly a case for the Society
for the Prevention of Cruelty to Birds, even though it was a tough old
rooster.”

Now Don Hale, quite unsteady on his feet, having a jumping throb in his
forehead, and being, besides, in a very disgusted state of mind, could
not, of course, enter into the spirit of jollification, yet,
nevertheless, by a strong effort of the will, he managed to control his
tongue and temper.

“I’m glad you enjoyed the impromptu performance, boys,” he said,
pleasantly. “I don’t believe I’ll ever be able to equal it again.
Ah——”

This “ah!” uttered with the most peculiar intonation, was brought from
his lips by the mere fact of his eyes having caught those of the
moniteur.

But instead of the angry, steely expression he had expected to see the
boy was amazed to observe that the Frenchman appeared as unconcerned as
though the incident was of the most trivial character. Yet even this did
not take away the fear that he was in for a neat little “bawling out.”

“Monsieur Hale, one sometimes learns more by his mistakes than by his
triumphs,” were the words he heard, however. The instructor spoke in
genial tones. “Let us hope that it will be true in this case! Come!—now
for another trial!”

Like a flash, Don Hale’s mood was changed; his usual buoyancy reasserted
itself, and he was now as well able to laugh over his adventure as any
of the others. He also had very grateful feelings toward the moniteur
for his forbearance.

“Dublin Dan’s ahead in the race so far!” he exclaimed, laughingly, to
his chum George Glenn.

“Never mind! The day isn’t over yet,” said George, with a smile.

Full of ardor, full of determination to retrieve himself, the _élève_
pilot took the lead in marching back to the starting point.

There were always two things on the practice field which well testified
to the hazardous nature of the work; a fleet of extra “penguins” and an
ambulance. One of the former was very quickly rolled into place by the
assistants. And Don, his ears assailed by a multitude of suggestions and
words of advice, climbed at once to his seat.

By this time numerous other “penguins,” at widely separated points, were
traveling over the field. Number twelve, Dan’s machine, could actually
be seen racing toward them on the home stretch; and in an incredibly
short space of time the dull gray wings loomed up strongly against the
turf. Following a few extraordinary movements, the machine stopped
abruptly, and from the occupant of the pilot’s seat there immediately
came a series of loud and boisterous hurrahs.

“Maybe I didn’t have a bully trip!” he shouted. “Thought at first,
though, I couldn’t stop the engine, and that I’d have to go clean around
the whole earth and come back again. But say, old stay-in-one-place, I
can almost feel, even now, the caressing touches of those wind-blown
clouds on my cheeks.”

“Well, that’s a great deal better than feeling the caresses of the hard
earth, as I did a few moments ago,” laughed Don.

“_Allez, allez! En route!_”[2] commanded the moniteur.

Don, experiencing the same measure of confidence he had had before,
though it was now tempered by a much greater respect for the
difficulties of the task, waited expectantly.

“Now!” he breathed.

The blades were revolving; the engine began its deafening roar—and,
once more, Don was flying over the turf as though hurled from the mouth
of a catapult. The new pilot had learned his lesson well. He realized
that a firm though delicate movement of the controls is necessary to
assure safety and success.

Faster, still faster, the “penguin” tore ahead; and though its movements
were far from being smooth it kept to a comparatively straight course,
only occasionally displaying an alarming tendency to turn over on its
face.

Almost breathless from the effects of the violent wind which continually
beat against his face, and as jubilant as a few moments before he had
been in despair, Don Hale kept his eyes fixed intently on the flag
ahead; and there grew in him a curious feeling that he was being carried
along by some wild, unruly runaway. One moment the flag had appeared dim
and small in the distance; the next it rose large and sharply defined.

The young pilot switched off the power, the “penguin” began to diminish
speed and after running many yards beyond the goal stopped its headlong
flight.

That was certainly a proud moment to the new candidate. The stain of his
former defeat was now entirely wiped away. He was convinced that, after
all, he had made an auspicious beginning.

“Much good!” exclaimed one of the Annamites, who was stationed in the
field to turn the machines around. “One grand fly!”

“Thanks!” laughed Don. “And I’ll do better next time.”

He was, however, to have his confidence a little shaken on the return
trip; for the “bird,” apparently without any reason at all, showed an
almost irresistible tendency to fly off at a tangent, first in one
direction and then another. And when this was finally overcome it seemed
to display an equally ardent desire again to bury its nose in the turf.
Several times Don had alarming visions of another inglorious smash.

It was, therefore, with the greatest feelings of relief that he again
brought the machine to a stop.

And before this had been accomplished he heard George Glenn shout:

“Great—great! Well done, old chap!”

“Surprised, George?” asked Don, gleefully, when he could catch his
breath.

“No; there are never any surprises on an aviation field,” laughingly
rejoined the other.

“_Vous avez fait de progres, mon ami_,”[3] commended the moniteur.
“Better take a few moments’ rest before starting in again.”

Don Hale thought so, too. Naturally, he hadn’t quite recovered from the
effects of his exhilarating experience. His pulse was beating a trifle
hard, and, unaccustomed to the rushing wind which had beaten so
relentlessly upon him, there still remained some of its effects.

“I’m in a better position now to appreciate the feelings of Drugstore,”
laughed Don to a little knot gathered about him. “Honestly, I think
flying must be the greatest sport in the world.”

“It’s certainly the highest,” chirped Tom Dorsey.

“You’ve got the right idea, son,” chimed in Gene Shannon. “Treat the old
birds gently, and you’ll soon be in a position to treat the Boches
rough.”

For a while Don was content to watch the antics of the “penguins,” which
were now swarming over the field in great numbers, and, as on every
previous occasion, he found plenty of thrills in the sight—collisions
narrowly averted and machines performing the “chevaux de bois,” as the
French say, which, freely translated, means acting like a
merry-go-round.

Some time later on he was off in the airplane again, and shot forth and
back across the field a number of times, with generally fair success,
before taking another welcome rest.

Equally pleased over the afternoon’s work was Dublin Dan; and he
proclaimed his satisfaction in a loud and boisterous manner.

“You won’t find me encouraging the scrap heap industry,” he chuckled.
“I’m going to tear right through this course and hit the next before I’m
many days older.”

“Well, so long as you don’t hit me I’m satisfied,” said Don, with a
laugh.

“Never mind. Don’t crow too soon,” interjected the pessimistic Ben Holt.
“You chaps are a long way from the sky yet. It’s pretty blue up there;
and I’ve seen a few fellows just as blue when they couldn’t make it.”

“I’ll see red if I don’t make it,” chirped Dan.

A few minutes later Dublin Dan was taxiing across the field, while Don
leisurely prepared to follow his example—in fact, so leisurely that it
was not until number twelve was seen returning that he opened the
throttle and sent the “penguin” at full speed ahead.

Ever mindful of the danger of collision, the boy was particularly
careful to give the oncoming machine plenty of room, for, owing to the
tremendously high rate of speed at which they were traveling, it would
be only a few moments before the machines were abreast of one another.

Don Hale noticed that number twelve had suddenly begun to act in the
most wildly erratic manner—so much so, indeed, as to suggest that the
pilot must have gone all to pieces.

What was the matter? How did it happen that the unusually promising
pupil should have lost control of his machine?

And while these thoughts were flashing through his mind he suddenly
became filled with a chilling sense of dismay and fear; for number
twelve had deviated from its course and was bearing down upon him in a
zigzagging line with almost the speed of a lightning express.

-----

Footnote 2:

“Go—on your way!”

Footnote 3:

“You have made progress, my friend.”



                         CHAPTER VII—THE VRILLE


Uttering a half-inarticulate cry, the pilot of number thirty-five made a
supreme effort to avert a catastrophe.

But, even as he did so, he realized, with a sickening sensation of
terror, that it would be futile—that nothing he could do would be of
the slightest avail. With eyes staring wildly, he had a quick vision of
number twelve, as though its sole purpose on earth was to run him down,
fairly hurling itself upon him.

Don Hale gave a loud yell, though the roar of the motor drowned the
sound. In a wild panic, he attempted to rise. But the restraining strap
jerked him back to his seat. Then he saw the frightened face of Dublin
Dan right before his eyes.

And that was the last thing they took in for a moment. He found himself
jerked high in the air, then hurled violently forward.

The next instant his head struck the ground with heavy force. A light
seemed to flash before his eyes, and, with the dull consciousness that
was still left to him, he heard supports, struts and planes of both
machines smashing under the heavy blow. Blackness followed.

And then came a moment when he was neither quite conscious of where he
was or what had happened. And when he presently opened his eyes it was
with the feelings of one who has just awakened from a troubled, uneasy
slumber. The sound of excited voices was ringing in his ears; he heard
George Glenn loudly calling his name, but he neither answered nor
stirred.

The latter was, of course, impossible. He was pinned to the earth on
every side by the debris of the “penguin.”

As the boy’s faculties began to reassert themselves a shudder ran
through his frame, and, for the first time, he became conscious of the
fact that every joint, every portion of his body was racked with
shooting pains. Had he been seriously injured? In his apprehension, he
began to aid the rescuers in their efforts to release both him and
Dublin Dan.

The vigorous workers soon completed their task, and Don felt strong arms
on either side dragging him to his feet. Some one was feeling his pulse;
some one was feeling his joints; and some one laid a hand across his
brow.

“Badly shaken up; suffering from shock; not much injured, though,” he
heard a voice exclaim.

An instant before Don Hale’s vision had seemed blurred—his
consciousness strangely dulled, but, somehow or other, the words
“suffering from shock” seemed to revive him in an astonishing degree.

“‘Suffering from shock!’ Well, who wouldn’t be?” he blurted out, almost
angrily. He gently pushed aside the supporting hands. “I reckon,
fellows, I don’t need any props to support me. But say, how is Dublin
Dan?”

The young Irishman, surrounded by a crowd, was lying in a half-reclining
position upon the turf, his usually florid face pale and drawn. But as
Don’s query reached his ears he began to struggle up. It was a mighty
hard effort, however, bringing many an exclamation of pain from his
lips.

“Dublin Dan’s all right!” he exclaimed, in a voice quite unlike his own.
“But don’t let me hear any one say I’m suffering from shock, or I’ll
paste ’em. Hey, boy, why didn’t you get out of my way?”

“A comet couldn’t have gotten out of your way,” retorted Don, smiling
faintly. “But why did you try to butt me off the earth?”

“I didn’t do it. It was the ‘penguin,’” said Dan. “I think I must have
hurt the old bird’s feelings by running over a bad place in the ground;
or else it got tired of life and decided to quit. And that’s where it
isn’t like the Hagens. What train are you going home on to-night?”

“I’ll have to get a few more caressing touches from the earth before I
do that,” said Don.

The boy was feeling very shaky; his strength seemed to have so far
deserted him that it was with difficulty that he managed to stand erect.
The pains and aches he was experiencing were so great as to still make
him wonder if, after all, he had not sustained some injury which might
keep him out of the game for days—that was the only thought bothering
him now. Yet he was deeply thankful that the terrific smash-up had had
no worse consequences.

Although it was a very important matter to the two principals, the
incident was so trivial in the eyes of the older students of the flying
field that as soon as it was discovered that neither of the boys was
seriously injured they began to retrace their steps.

The moniteur rather sternly demanded from Dan Hagen an explanation of
the cause of the mishap.

“Tell him there isn’t any explanation,” said Dan, when Don had
translated the instructor’s remarks. “It just happened—that’s all. I
reckon one of the great joys in this game is that it keeps a chap so
perpetually thankful that he’s still alive that it makes up for
everything else. Say, Don, where do you feel the worst?”

“All over,” replied Don.

“Hadn’t both of you better get back to the barracks?” asked George
Glenn, solicitously.

Don almost indignantly declined the suggestion.

“No, indeed!” he declared. “I’m going to hang around here and watch the
other smash-ups.”

“And I’m not suffering from shock so much that I can’t do the same,”
said Dan, with a grin.

Both Don and Dan soon found, however, that they had been too much shaken
up to enter very thoroughly into the spirit of the occasion.
Nevertheless, they were of that age when the very idea of retiring from
the field would have seemed like a deplorable surrender; so they
remained until the majority of the pilots began their homeward march.

The boys were glad indeed to reach the Hotel d’Amerique. They removed
the dirt and dust from their clothing and enjoyed a refreshing wash; and
their feelings were then so far improved that each readily agreed to
accompany the crowd, after supper, to Étainville and the club.

Thus the end of Don’s second day was passed very much as the first. They
found Père Goubain, as usual, bubbling over with good-nature, and
listened to the bits of philosophy which he expounded and to his tales
of spies with the same interest as on the night before.

But there was something else which made their visit to the Café
Rochambeau far more memorable than they had expected. While the rattle
of tongues was in progress every one became aware of the fact that
something was going on in the village street. The air was filled with
the sounds of wheels jarring and rumbling over the cobbled highway, the
steady tramping of horses’ hoofs and the voices of men.

Don and George were the first to rush outside. And what they saw gave
them a thrill of pleasure and of exultation.

Yes, yes! The Yanks were not only coming but they had come.
Actually!—an American battery was making its way over the lone street
toward the front.

It was certainly a warlike scene over which the magic rays of the
brilliant moon were playing. At the head of the procession rode the
captain, mounted on a big bay horse. Close behind him followed the
battery standard bearer carrying the red guidon, which lazily swayed to
and fro. Silent and grim, the two horsemen suggested knights of old
going forth to battle. Gun carriages and caissons drawn by long teams of
mettlesome horses rattled and banged steadily past.

Now and again glinting lights flashed from horses’ trappings, or from
the sinister, wicked-looking guns.

Often, from the wooden-shoed inhabitants of the village—men, women and
children, who had flocked out into the street to view the interesting
spectacle, there came the cries of, “Vive l’Amerique!” And to these
salutations officers, cannoneers and postilion drivers sometimes
responded with a “Vive la France!”

“What a glorious sight!” exclaimed Père Goubain, who, having managed to
lift his ponderous frame from the rocking-chair, had joined the
Americans outside.

“I reckon the Germans might as well fire all their spies and give them
respectable jobs—eh, Père Goubain?” laughed Peur Jamais.

The old innkeeper shook his head.

“As long as there are Germans there will be spies,” he said, solemnly.

The crowd waited outside until the last gun carriage had become lost to
view and only the faint sound of horses’ hoofs and grinding wheels came
over the silent air.

Then, as the hour was getting late, the boys bade good-bye to Père
Goubain and began their tramp toward the barracks.

Arriving at the aviation field, the students witnessed a spectacle
which, to Don and Dublin Dan at least, possessed a singular interest and
novelty. It was a dance executed by Annamites and dark-skinned Arabian
Zouaves before several huge bonfires built in front of their quarters.
With the firelight playing over the forms of the fantastically-moving
dancers and the weird, monotonous notes of the native music, the scene
was suggestive of some far-off, uncivilized quarter of the globe.

“Those chaps are certainly working hard for their fun,” remarked Dan
Hagen.

“Wait till you see them get to fighting, which they sometimes do,”
laughed Cal Cummings.

“Excuse me the night the scrap comes off,” chirped Don. “A little of
that sort of thing is much too much.”

“Like our smash-up to-day!” chuckled Dublin Dan.

All the boys were pretty tired when they reached the barracks; for
training in the flying school often produces a strain on the nerves more
fatiguing than hard work. No time, therefore, was lost in turning in.

But Don Hale passed a most uncomfortable and restless night. The pains
and aches, partially forgotten while in the midst of lively scenes, now
became violent enough to prevent the boy from falling into the slumber
which nature craved—in fact he had not slept at all when, after what
seemed to be an interminable length of time, the clear, musical notes of
the bugle, sounding the reveille, broke in upon his ears.

It was a relief. But, at the same time, Don, blinking-eyed and yawning,
scarcely felt in the mood to enjoy the work as he had done on the day
before. Out in the open air, however, he soon felt more like himself,
and his natural enthusiasm soon overcame all bodily fatigue.

The new _élève_ imagined that he had conquered the “penguin,” but the
result of the day’s performance, to his great surprise, and equally
great disgust, showed him that this was merely an illusion. Both he and
Dublin Dan figured in several mishaps, the most serious of which caused
Dan’s “penguin” to be towed to the repair shop. Both boys, too, received
a varied assortment of bruises. And at night, when summing up the result
of the work, Don grimly declared that it certainly was the end of an
imperfect day.

A week passed, and then another, with Don and Dan still struggling to
obtain a complete mastery over the unruly “birds.” There were several
interruptions in the work due to thunder-storms. And after the artillery
of the clouds had ceased the rain continued for hours. On such occasions
the students amused themselves by getting up impromptu concerts; and
sometimes, while the wind and rain beat relentlessly against the Hotel
d’Amerique, the notes of such pleasing compositions as Schumann’s
“Traumerei,” Schubert’s “Am Meer” and Mendelssohn’s “Spring Song,”
played on the piano by a former motion picture artist, mingled with the
ominous blasts outside.

On certain days lectures were given; the students were taught the
theories of aeronautics and the design and construction of various types
of flying machines. They were obliged, too, to take motors apart and put
them together again. Then, there were courses in map reading—a very
important subject indeed for the aviators must learn to keep track of
their aerial travels by such means.

About the middle of the third week Don and Dan were delighted to be
informed by the instructor that their progress had been sufficient to
entitle them to enter the second class. This did not mean that they were
to be allowed to fly. It did mean, however, that they became pilots of
real airplanes, though it was not possible to turn on sufficient power
for the motors to take the machine off the ground.

The boys found the sensation very different from that experienced while
trying to tame the “penguins.” There was a delightful lightness and
buoyancy about these monoplanes, as they skimmed over the ground,
exhilarating in the highest degree. They continually seemed about to
defy the limitations set upon them and leave the terrestrial globe for
the firmament above.

And during all the time that Don and Dan were wrestling with the new
problems, T. Singleton Albert, the former drugstore clerk of Syracuse,
was making the most astonishing progress. Many in the beginning had been
accustomed to laugh at the thought of the pale, anemic-looking chap ever
attaining his ambition of becoming an airman, but, as Peur Jamais put
it, he was “leaving every one of them far behind.”

One evening, when the sun had long disappeared beneath the horizon and
the advance-guards of approaching dusk were drawing a veil over the
distance and little by little driving the color from objects near at
hand, a crowd of boys of the first and second classes journeyed to the
third flying field to watch the machines circling around in the sky.

“Won’t I be glad when I get to the real work!” sighed Don.

Dave Cornwells, who was standing by, remarked:

“Boys, do you see that highest machine? Well, the pilot is a certain
daring young aviator named T. Singleton Albert.”

“Goodness gracious!” exclaimed Dan Hagen. “Why, that chap is certainly a
bird!”

“You’ve said something,” drawled Roy Mittengale. “And he’ll never be
satisfied until he gets so high that the earth looks like a rubber ball
to him.”

As the shadows slowly deepened over the earth the flyers, one by one,
returned to the _grande piste_.

There still remained one airplane high aloft—so insignificant in the
vast field of graying sky that it seemed to lose all resemblance to a
flying machine and become but a tiny, shapeless speck, so faint at times
that the naked eye could no longer follow its varied evolutions. And
every one on the _grande piste_ seemed to know to whom that machine
belonged—it was Albert’s.

“My, shan’t I be glad when I get into his class!” commented Don Hale,
whose face was turned toward the sky.

And then, all of a sudden, he gave voice to a loud exclamation. Others
did the same; for the faint speck in the sky had suddenly begun to
behave in the most extraordinary fashion. First it dove, then soared
upward again, not in the orderly fashion which one might expect of a
machine piloted by a skilled aviator, but in a way which suggested that
something was amiss.

And this impression was strengthened a few moments later when the
machine began to volplane at terrific speed, at the same time swinging
around and around as though on a pivot.

“The vrille![4] The vrille!” came from dozens of excited students.

“The vrille!” echoed Don Hale, huskily.

-----

Footnote 4:

“Vrille”—French for “falling leaf.”



                         CHAPTER VIII—THE HERO


The boy had heard about the “vrille,” and he knew that it is one of the
most difficult evolutions an airman can perform, and that it had sent
many to their death.

For a few moments of tense and awe-stricken silence the onlookers kept
their gaze fixed with agonized intentness upon the object which, like a
wounded bird, was tumbling through space.

A sickening sensation of horror and despair gripped the spectators. The
airplane and its pilot seemed doomed to utter annihilation.

Pale, trembling with apprehension, his throat dry and husky, Don Hale
could not keep his eyes away from the spectacle of that frightful fall.
He stood as motionless as though fastened to the turf by means of
invisible chains.

Nearer and nearer came the still-revolving plane. Now the machine was so
clearly silhouetted against the sky that even the supports could be
faintly distinguished.

Don had seen many a terrible sight during his stay in the war zone, but
perhaps none had ever affected him so acutely as this. He could not help
picturing in his mind the awful fate of poor Drugstore.

Not a voice—not an exclamation was heard. That most awesome silence
which sometimes holds sway over spectators when they are witnesses to a
catastrophe which they are powerless to avert had settled upon the
crowd.

Faces were beginning to be turned aside, and though Don Hale felt an
almost irresistible impulse to do the same, an impulse still stronger
kept his wide, staring eyes fixed upon the airplane.

But a few moments more, and the tragedy would be over. His nerves were
quivering violently. The strain of those few terrible seconds was almost
too hard to bear.

And then, just as he was preparing to steel himself for the sound of a
sickening crash—for the sight of a machine, smashed and battered to
pieces, bursting into flames—a wild, half-stifled cry escaped his lips.

What was the reason?

Because of an almost unbelievable, impossible happening.

The airplane had suddenly stopped its whirling evolutions, and was
soaring majestically through the air not a hundred feet above their
heads. Its engine had started and was sending a deep droning hum through
the air.

It took a few seconds for the strange and oppressive silence to be
broken. It was as though the enthralled witnesses of the scene could not
at first comprehend the evidences of their vision. Then frantic shouts
and wild cheers rang forth over and over again.

Actually!—Drugstore was safe. What did it mean? Had he become such a
master aviator that he had been simply giving an exhibition of his
skill? It looked that way.

In their joy, the students slapped each other on the shoulder and yelled
themselves hoarse.

Around and around the _-piste_ flew the airplane, and it was not until a
certain calmness had been restored among the students that it volplaned
swiftly toward the earth, and, as easily as a bird alighting, struck the
ground and presently came to a halt.

And the moment it had done so an excited crowd began rushing toward it
from different parts of the field.

No conquering hero was ever acclaimed with greater fervor—with greater
enthusiasm than T. Singleton Albert. Hands were thrust forward to shake
that of the returned aviator.

The moniteurs praised and chided him at the same time. It was almost
unbelievable, one of them declared, that a student with so little
experience should have possessed sufficient courage to execute such a
dangerous and daring maneuver.

And throughout it all Albert remained quite silent. The demonstration,
indeed, seemed to embarrass him—to bring his natural modesty and
reserve all the more to the front.

“Simply splendid, T. Singleton!” cried Don, enthusiastically. “Only, I
wish to goodness you had notified us beforehand what was coming off.
Honestly, my nerves are jumping like a jack-in-the-box. But didn’t the
vrille make you dizzy?”

“Yes,” admitted Drugstore—“so much so that just now I wouldn’t be able
to look in a mirror and see myself twice in the same place.”

“I don’t think you’ll have any occasion to fear Captain Baron Von
Richtofen and his Red Squadron of Death,” chuckled Marlow. “If they ever
get after you, son, just pull off the same trick, and it’ll mean a safe
getaway.”

Albert clambered out of the machine, and, as though wishing to escape
further attention, hurried rather unsteadily toward a camion standing by
the side of the field. But such a sensational and unexpected event was
not to be dismissed in so unceremonious a fashion. All the way to the
waiting vehicle the former soda-water dispenser was obliged to listen to
enthusiastic comments and reply to numerous queries.

And so it continued all the way to the Hotel d’Amerique, and even at the
supper table later on.

Then it was that Sid Marlow started other demonstration, by exclaiming,
in his big, booming voice:

“Sometimes a chap has no right to be modest. I’ve traveled over some
pretty rough trails, fellows, and early discovered that modesty is one
of the biggest stumbling blocks in the path of success. That’s the
reason I haven’t any.”

“We’ve noticed it,” chirped Roy Mittengale.

“You’ll notice it some more, too, when I equal Albert’s record. Now,
boys, I call upon our young friend for a speech. Who seconds the
motion?”

Everybody did, and with an enthusiasm which brought warm flushes to the
face of the embarrassed Albert.

He tried to resist, too, when those nearest at hand forced him to his
feet. This time, however, the crowd was determined. They brushed aside
the boy’s protestations, and presently Drugstore, finding that there was
absolutely no chance to escape the trying ordeal, began to make a few
stammering remarks.

For a moment the eyes of all in the room fixed intently upon him
threatened to stop altogether his halting words. And then, suddenly, to
the surprise of all, he collected his scattered wits and pulled himself
together. It was as if a new spirit had entered into him. The flush left
his cheeks and the tremolo in his voice was replaced by a firm and even
tone.

But the first words he uttered when this changed condition had taken
possession of him fairly astounded his hearers.

“Boys, I’m through with flying forever.”

“Through with flying forever!” cried Don.

Then came an almost riotous demand for explanations. The boys weren’t
going to stand for any “joshing.” But, as cool and collected as before
he had been the reverse, Albert voiced his declaration a second time.

“True as I’m standing here, boys, I mean it,” he declared. “I’m no hero.
That wasn’t a joy ride to show what I could do in the way of handling
the plane—oh, no! It was nearer to being a real tragedy. And I’m
through with the game for all time.”

Drugstore’s assertions created another sensation. A babel of tongues
prevented his next words from being heard.

Big Sid Marlow quickly restored silence.

“Now tell us all about it, Albert,” he commanded.

“It’s a mighty short story,” replied Drugstore. “I made up my mind to do
the vrille, but somehow or other, at the very last moment, the idea of
actually starting it had such an effect upon my nerves that I decided to
leave it for another time. Even the thought, high up there in the air,
was enough to send cold chills creeping through me and make me perform
some bungling movements with the controls. Before I could regain the
mastery over myself, almost before I could realize it, my plane was
thrown into the vrille and I was shooting through space, with the
machine absolutely out of control.” Albert’s voice faltered. An intense
agitation seemed to grip him. “It was terrible—frightful!” He almost
gasped. “Never had I the least expectation of coming through it alive.
Never shall I forget those terrifying moments—the agony I suffered.
That one experience, fellows, has taken away all the fascination of the
game. Call it a yellow streak if you want; call it a case of downright
cowardice—I can’t help that. I’m going to quit the flying school for
good.”

And having uttered these words with a conviction which permitted no one
to doubt his absolute sincerity, T. Singleton Albert abruptly turned
away and made for the door.

“Well,” exclaimed Don Hale, “that chap may not think he’s a hero, but,
all the same, I believe he is.”

And to this sentiment every one heartily agreed.



                           CHAPTER IX—THE ACE


Many of the students confidently believed that by the time another day
had rolled around Albert would have so far recovered from the effects of
his thrilling experience as to reconsider his determination. This,
however, was not the case.

A few privately expressed the opinion that Drugstore was a quitter, but,
somehow or other, the boy’s frank avowal had raised him in the opinion
of the majority, who sincerely regretted that so promising a pupil
should be lost to the school.

During the late afternoon another American arrived. Of course this was
not a very important event. Students were always going and coming, some
leaving for the _École de Perfectionment_[5] others being sent back to
their regiments when it was found that they were not fitted by nature to
become successful airmen.

But a little incident in connection with the appearance of the newcomer
profoundly interested those of an observant or inquisitive nature. It
was a rather dramatic meeting between him and the former college
student, Victor Gilbert.

The latter, who was now in the third class and gave promise of being one
of the best of the _élève_ pilots, upon entering the room and coming
face to face with the other halted as though almost petrified with
astonishment, and exclaimed:

“Hello! You here, Jason Hamlin!” Whereupon the other answered, in a tone
which showed no trace of friendliness:

“Yes, I am here, Gilbert. And one of the reasons I am here is because
you are here. Does that disturb you?”

“Not enough for me to notice it,” returned Victor Gilbert, coolly.

“Flying is a dangerous game, eh?”

“There are other games just as dangerous.”

[Illustration: “There are other games just as dangerous”]

At this remark Jason Hamlin’s face flushed perceptibly; his fingers
twitched; a steely glare which plainly told of a spirit moved to anger
came into his eyes.

But the interesting colloquy ended there.

“I say, wasn’t that mighty curious about Gilbert and Hamlin?” exclaimed
Bobby Dunlap, otherwise Peur Jamais, to Don Hale, after the evening meal
was over. “I wonder what Gilbert meant by saying: ‘There are other games
just as dangerous.’”

“It’s too much of a riddle for me.”

“I tried to pump this Jason person a little,” declared Peur Jamais, “but
he was as dry as an old well gone out of business. Strikes me there’s a
little mystery which I’ll have to unravel.”

“I’ll let you have all the fun of the unraveling,” chortled Don. “Go to
it, Mr. Sherlock Holmes the second.”

“All right!” chirped Bobby. “I hope I shan’t get a punch in the eye
while I’m sherlocking. Our friend Jason looks as though he wouldn’t have
much trouble in finding his temper.”

“Or losing it,” said Don, with a laugh. “But say, Bobby, I got a letter
to-day from George Glenn. And what do you think he’s seen?”

“Break it to me gently.”

Thereupon Don Hale drew from his pocket the missive, and began to read:

“‘To-day I had a mighty exciting experience. It was during my two hours’
patrol over the enemy’s line, and the “Archies” were following my plane
thick and fast.’”

“The ‘Archies’! What does he mean by ‘Archies’?” interrupted Bobby.

“It’s a name the flying fighters have given to the anti-aircraft guns,”
replied Don. “Though I reckon no one knows exactly the reason why.”

He resumed:

“‘Don, I must confess that this afternoon I got a pretty big scare. I
was just about to return to the encampment of the squadron when I saw
something that made my pulse throb as it hasn’t throbbed even when I was
engaged in a duel in the air. It was the sight of two crimson planes
swooping down upon me from above—a part of Captain Baron Von
Richtofen’s Red Squadron!’”

“Great Caesar’s bald-headed nanny-goat!” ejaculated Bobby. “Where’s my
suit-case? I think I’ll go home with Drugstore.”

“I shouldn’t blame you,” laughed Don.

“‘By the time I made this startling discovery the foremost had opened
fire with his machine gun. And the first thing I knew bullets were
ripping through my plane.’”

“I don’t think I’ll wait for my suitcase, after all!” exclaimed Peur
Jamais. “Whew! What did George do to them for that?”

“The next chapter is as follows,” said Don:

“‘I threw my plane into the vrille, and the next shots sped over my
head. That might not have saved me, either, had it not been that some of
the boys, seeing my predicament, literally sailed into the Germans.’”

“Poor child!” cried Bobby. “By this time I really ought to be half-way
to the station.”

Don continued:

“‘From now on I expect things to be more dangerous than usual, which is
saying a good bit. I will write again soon if—though I will say au
revoir.’”

“I can’t say the prospect looks so very enchanting,” confessed Bobby.
“But, as the French say, ‘C’est la guerre!’ And that means it isn’t any
pink tea affair, eh?”

“I guess not; though I never drank any pink tea,” laughed Don.

Some time later T. Singleton Albert approached the two.

“I thought I’d say good-bye, fellows,” he announced. “I’m leaving during
the forenoon to-morrow, and you chaps might not happen to be around.”

“It’s too bad!” said Don. “I suppose it’s no use of our saying a word,
eh?”

“Not a bit,” declared the other, very emphatically. “That tumble in the
air certainly did the business for me. Why, do you know, even the very
sight of an airplane going aloft gives me the queerest kind of feelings.
Take my advice—be a bit slow in making haste. Then you won’t have to
pack your suit-cases and get out, as I’m doing.”

Albert spoke in the tone of one who felt that his ambitions had been
rudely shattered—that the future held no hope.

The daring young airman who had astonished the students by his rapid
progress had become once more the drugstore clerk, the very antithesis
of what an airman might be expected to appear.

Drugstore solemnly wished them the best luck in the world, hoped they
might win fame and glory in the sky, and then, after shaking hands very
heartily, wandered away to say his adieus to the others.

“I think, after all, the soda-water counter is his proper sphere in
life,” remarked Dunlap, presently. “He’s more fitted to be reading about
the exploits of other chaps than trying to do them himself.”

“I hope the weather is all right to-morrow,” broke in Don. “It was
looking a bit threatening when we came in—all clouded over. Let’s take
a look outside, ‘Fear Never.’”

“All right,” chirped Bobby. “Goodness, how I hate rainy days! I think I
know, now, how a chicken in a coop must feel.”

The two walked outside the crowded barracks, and both at once gave voice
to expressions indicative of disappointment.

The entire heavens was covered with a thick canopy of clouds.

“I don’t think Druggy need have said good-bye to-night,” remarked Peur
Jamais, disconsolately. “If I issued a Weather Communique it would sound
something like this: High and steady winds; heavy rains, with no
intermissions between; lightning and thunder in equal proportions;
life-boats and rafts in demand.’”

“Never mind,” sighed Don. “There are other days ahead of us.”

“If I didn’t think there were I’d never be standing here as calmly as
this,” returned Bobby, laughingly. “Let’s go back to the smell of
kerosene and dismal light.”

It was rather late when the crowd turned in; and the last one hadn’t
been asleep very long before pattering drops of rain were heard falling
upon the roof, while the wind, in soft and musical cadences, kept
steadily blowing.

About two A. M. there came a veritable downpour and big, booming
reverberations of thunder. Vivid flashes of bluish lightning filled each
window with a dazzling glare and cast a weird and uncanny light
throughout the room.

“It’s a wild night, all right,” exclaimed Dublin Dan, half sitting up.

“It means no flying to-morrow,” grumbled Mittengale.

“Such little trials have their usefulness.” It was Victor Gilbert who
spoke. “It teaches, or rather, should teach one to be philosophical and
accept the inevitable with resignation.”

“I don’t want to be philosophical,” complained Peur Jamais. “And I won’t
be philosophical, either. Whew! Some big waste of electric light, that!”

No one made any reply, or if they did it was unheard; for the most
appalling detonation shook and rattled the barracks. It seemed as if the
structure must be shaken from its very foundations.

And thus the storm continued until the boys were routed from their beds
by the musical notes of the bugle.

It was pitch dark and gloomy. The wind tore past with no soft and
musical cadences mingled in with its angry whistling, and now and again
a flurry of raindrops splattered noisily down.

The usual roll call was held, and then the boys were free to do as they
pleased. Don Hale concluded to take a nap in his former place between
the sheets.

When he once more opened his eyes the morning was well advanced.

Jumping out of his berth, with an exclamation of surprise, the boy
hastily slipped on his clothes and walked outside.

Scarcely a hint of color could be seen in the landscape. Here and there
pools had formed, reflecting the dull, leaden gray of the wind-driven
clouds, the air was filled with moisture, and the dull and heavy-looking
earth seemed to have absorbed all it could possibly hold.

Gazing at the landscape was not a particularly enjoyable pastime; so the
boy reentered the barracks.

An hour passed, during which the crowd amused itself in various ways.
Then a shout outside was heard. Although the words themselves were not
understood, it was a call so clearly intended to bring the boys that a
general stampede for the door was made.

And when they reached it, they perceived a biplane which, in utter
defiance of the treacherous wind buffeting it about, was approaching the
aviation grounds at tremendous speed, its graceful, rocking form
outlined in lightish tones against the sinister-looking storm-clouds.

“I believe he’s going to land!” cried Don.

“Of course. Did you think he was condemned to fly forever!” chirped
Dublin Dan.

Now the loud, droning hum of the motors and propellers, which had been
filling the air, suddenly ceased, and the object darting swiftly through
the sky began to volplane in graceful spirals toward the earth.

Realizing that the biplane, which all now recognized as a Nieuport
machine, an _avion de chasse_, as the French call them, would alight
some distance away, the crowd started running over the muddy field
toward it.

And while they were on the way the pilot made the most perfect
_atterrissage_[6] any of them had ever seen.

T. Singleton Albert, who had not yet left, was enthusiastic in his
praise.

“Oh, boy, wasn’t that jolly fine!” he cried. “And——”

He got no further; for just then some one bawled out with much gusto and
boisterousness:

“It’s a machine belonging to the Lafayette Squadron!”

“The Lafayette Squadron!” echoed a number of others, the rather shrill
and falsetto voice of Drugstore being plainly heard.

Sure enough, the insignia of the famous flying squadron—the face of an
Indian warrior, now faded and worn by the rains and snows which had
beaten upon it, could be clearly distinguished on the body of the
rakish-looking plane.

Don Hale forgot all about the dreary prospect ahead of him for the day
in his absorbed contemplation of the visiting biplane. Then his glances
fell upon the aviator just on the point of stepping from the nacelle, or
cockpit.

“Hello!”

He uttered the word aloud and excitedly.

The appearance of the aviator was thoroughly familiar. He had seen
pictures of him many a time. A curious thrill shot through the boy; for
suddenly he realized that he was looking upon William Thaw, the famous
American Ace, one of the most commanding figures of the Franco-American
Flying Corps.

Others, too, among the crowd had recognized the renowned aviator, and a
burst of enthusiastic cheering ending in a “Rah, rah, for Thaw!” rang
out.

The famous ace smilingly bowed his acknowledgments, remarking:

“Many thanks, fellows! I thought I would just take a flyer over here to
pay a brief visit to my old friend, the commandant.”

“But—but—you didn’t actually come all the way from the front,
Lieutenant Thaw, did you?” almost stuttered T. Singleton Albert, whose
eyes were fixed with strange intensity on the trim, though
mud-bespattered little Nieuport.

“Oh, yes! Had quite a scrap, too, just before leaving. Did I get the
Boche?” Lieutenant Thaw smiled genially. “No. I think that particular
Teuton must have had faith in the old adage that ‘He who fights and runs
away may live to fight another day.’ Now, boys, I suppose it’s quite
safe for me to leave the machine here until I return?”

Being assured that it was, the aviator, with a wave of his hand, started
trudging through the soggy field toward the commandant’s office.

By this time Don Hale and Albert were making a close examination of the
Nieuport. Both took a look at the cockpit, beautifully finished in hard
wood, and at the upholstered pilot’s seat, and studied the
brightly-shining nickel-plated instruments which tell the pilot
practically everything he needs to know while in the air.

There was something else, too,—an ominous-looking something else—which
attracted and held their interest—a Vickers machine gun, the firing of
which is so perfectly timed that the bullets fly between the whirling
propeller blades.

To Don Hale, and, doubtless, to many others, that weapon, catching and
reflecting numerous gleams of light, was almost awe-inspiring. And, to
add to these feelings, they presently discovered several bullet holes in
both the upper and lower planes, silent and eloquent testimonials of the
perils which always face the intrepid and courageous fighters of the
air.

At first Albert had been quite talkative—that is for him; then, as he
walked around the machine, studying every detail with the same interest
that a connoisseur might have displayed in the contemplation of a rare
and priceless piece of statuary, he suddenly became silent. Finally his
mild, unassuming air deserted him, and, straightening up, he exclaimed,
loudly:

“Fellows, I’ve changed my mind. Nobody is ever going to call me a
quitter. I’m not going to leave the school after all. No, sir! I’ll keep
at the flying game; and, by George, I’ll get to the front, too.”

Following his sudden and almost vehement outburst, there came a silence.

But it was quickly broken. And as loud as had been the cheering for the
visiting aviator it distinctly held second place to that which greeted
T. Singleton Albert’s unexpected declaration.

The boys shook his hand and slapped him delightedly on the shoulder.

“Julius Cæsar! The Germans are going to pay dearly on account of this
unexpected visit of Lieutenant William Thaw,” cried Roy Mittengale.

“Poor Baron Von Richtofen and his Red Squadron of Death!” laughed Bobby
Dunlap. “Just think of all those gallons of red paint gone to waste!
Drugstore, your nerve is simply grand!”

A little later, when the American lieutenant returned, the students told
him about the incident, whereupon he, too, heartily congratulated
Albert.

“We need young chaps like you at the front,” he declared. “The air
service is of the greatest importance. It has been called the ‘Eyes of
the Army.’ The game, too, is wonderfully thrilling—wonderfully
interesting. Let me wish you much glory, success—and safety.”

As he spoke, he climbed into the cockpit.

Don Hale gave the propeller a whirl and, presently, amid a chorus of
good-byes, the Nieuport started off. Faster and faster it moved over the
field, sending streams of mud and water flying in every direction, and,
at last, gaining sufficient momentum, it glided into the air.

The crowd watched the biplane until it had disappeared in the murky,
moisture-laden air.

“Boys, I’ll never forget this day,” declared Drugstore. “It’s strange
how little things may alter the whole course of a person’s life!”

And every one, quite as solemnly, agreed with him that it was.

-----

Footnote 5:

School for advanced students.

Footnote 6:

Atterrissage—landing.



                         CHAPTER X—CORPORAL DON


Not long after this there came another very interesting day in Don
Hale’s life. He had graduated from the first and second classes and was
to make his first flight in the air.

Only those who have gone through a similar experience can understand Don
Hale’s feelings when he seated himself in the cockpit of a much-used
though sturdy little plane and laid hold of the controls. No veteran
airman or famous “ace”[7] could possibly have felt more exultant or
proud.

The school by this time had become very full, and many of the _élèves_
were obliged to await their turn; so there were always plenty of
spectators on the field; and these generally paid particular attention
to the boys who were making their first trial spin in the air. This all
added to Don Hale’s tremendous desire to make a good showing; for he
still had vivid recollections of his preliminary experiences with the
“penguins.”

“Now, remember, make no attempt to turn in the air,” commanded the
moniteur in charge. “Perfectly straight flights only; fly no higher than
thirty feet above the ground.”

“Get out your tape-measure, Donny,” giggled Roy Mittengale. “Remember,
every foot adds to the jolt of the fall at the bottom.”

“Don’t try to imitate Lieutenant Thaw so much that you’ll hurt
yourself,” advised Ben Holt.

“Safety first in airplanes means not to go up at all,” chimed in
another.

Don, however, wasn’t paying the slightest attention to these jocular
remarks, for the mechanic had his hand on the propeller.

It certainly was a wonderful sensation to the young airman when he felt
the machine suddenly begin to move, slowly at first, but rapidly
gathering momentum, until, like a high power motor car, it was racing at
a speed which made him almost gasp for breath.

Presently the boy gritted his teeth together, and, with a peculiar
feeling suggestive of I-wonder-what-is-going-to-happen-next state of
mind, pulled back gently on the control stick.

And then, abruptly, he realized that the monoplane was traveling ahead
with a most wonderful smoothness. The wind rushed past, lashing and
stinging his face with its terrific force, but the heavy goggles
prevented his eyes from being affected.

Don Hale glanced over the side of the cockpit, and, a little to his
dismay, discovered that he was just skimming a few feet above the
surface of the earth.

A quick pull on the control stick sent the monoplane racing aloft, and
before the boy, trembling with excitement, could bring it to an even
keel he was far above the height limit set by the instructor.

At first Don Hale had been acutely nervous—even fearful and
apprehensive. To him it was a very marvelous thing to be actually off
the earth, the pilot of a real flying machine. And it scarcely seemed
possible that the machine should require so little attention. Like a
flash, all the unpleasant feelings that had disturbed him vanished.

Jubilant, exultant, almost ready to shout with the sheer joy of the
exhilarating sensations he was experiencing, Don Hale once more looked
earthward. How strange the ground looked flying beneath him at
incredible speed! How high above it he appeared to be! If anything
should happen to his machine a fall from that height might produce most
serious results.

With one swift, comprehensive glance, his eyes took in the boys at
various points on the field and the planes which, for one reason or
another, were resting here and there on the turf. Then his greatest
desire and ambition in the world was to descend—to return to that haven
of safety.

Yes, flying was easy enough; but when it came to making a landing—that
was where the difficulty began.

Nervously, Don switched off the current and pushed the control stick
forward.

And, to his utter dismay, the plane seemed to be falling headlong at an
acute angle—the ground to be fairly shooting up toward him.

For one brief instant he had a terrible vision of a fatal smash-up.
Then, a pull of the lever in the opposite direction brought the nose of
the machine upward again. And following this, to the boy’s intense
surprise and relief, the monoplane dropped in the most gentle fashion to
terra firma, taxi-ing across the field, its speed rapidly diminishing.

When it had come to a stop Don found his face bathed in perspiration and
his pulse throbbing in a way that it had seldom done before.

“By George! Am I actually here!” he muttered.

Notwithstanding the fact that the boy had made a mighty good landing and
could hear shouts of approval coming from the distance he was too honest
with himself to be gratified with the achievement. He knew that it was
simply a case of good luck.

“But just wait till next time!” he muttered, grimly. “By George, the
earth never seemed so fine before!”

A number of Annamites presently appeared and turned the machine around.

It was not for some time, however, that Don’s nerves quieted down
sufficiently for him to put his airplane into motion. With a fervent
hope that fate would be as kind to him as it had been before, he
switched on the ignition and once again faced the blasts of wind.

Then came the delicious moment of soaring upward—the ecstasy of feeling
himself borne through the air as swiftly as the arrow from an archer’s
bow and that sense of wonderful freedom which the airman alone can
enjoy.

As before, he glanced downward, and a humorous thought came into his
mind.

“Certainly I’m the biggest thirty feet that was ever known above the
ground,” he murmured. “I hope I don’t fly to the moon.”

With astonishing rapidity the distant hangars, from hazy, indistinct
objects, became strong and clear. He could see the students and
instructors, watching, it seemed to him, with an interest and close
attention that fired his spirit with the keenest determination to make a
landing that would surprise them.

He did.

But the machine was not badly wrecked, nor was he himself injured by the
fall of fifteen feet.

It was merely a case, Mittengale genially explained, in which the earth
happened to be that many feet lower than it should have been.

Don said very little. It rather jarred his sensibilities to hear the
mirthful laughter and bantering remarks and to see the Annamites towing
an extraordinarily wobbling machine toward the repair shop. And, besides
this, to add to his disturbed state of mind, the moniteur, a boyish chap
named Boulanger, very loudly called attention to the error which had
caused the accident, between times roundly scolding him.

“Quite a neat little bawling out!” chirped Dublin Dan, soothingly. “It’s
a great life if you don’t weaken.”

“I don’t include that word in my vocabulary,” exclaimed Don, with a half
smile.

But though Don Hale’s start in the third class had not been particularly
auspicious, nevertheless, by the end of the day he managed to gain
sufficient mastery over the plane to receive a “_Pas mal_, Hale!”—“Not
bad!” from the same moniteur who had chided him.

That evening, while lying in his bunk, he summed up the situation in
regard to himself. There were other pupils who had made faster progress,
but the boy felt sure that what he had learned he had thoroughly
learned. He knew, however, that there was a tremendous amount of work
ahead of him before he could possibly hope to equal the skill of the
most humble flyer of the Lafayette Squadron—a squadron which he
devoutly hoped to join.

Difficulties have the effect on some natures of spurring them to greater
zeal and determination; so it was in the case of Don Hale. Each failure,
each “bawling out,” each chorus of laughter only acted as a stimulus.

In a little less than a week he had acquired sufficient skill in driving
the machine in straight courses across the field to be promoted another
step—that is to the _tour de piste_, or tour of the aviation field at a
height of about three hundred feet.

This was, of course, designed to teach the airmen how to make their
turns in the air, an operation requiring the greatest accuracy and care.
Up to this time Don thought he had enjoyed about all the thrills that it
was possible to have, but the first _tour de piste_ undeceived him. All
the other experiences faded into insignificance when compared to this.
In his splendid isolation from all mankind, he was filled with a certain
sense of awe a little unnerving at first. He was in a situation where no
power save his own could be of any avail, and on the first two or three
occasions involuntary tremors shook his frame as the Bleriot monoplane
banked, or swung around at an angle.

Happily, however, there was no tragedy to record. With increasing
confidence, Don dared to rise higher, and within a few hours had reached
the required altitude. From this elevation he viewed with absorbed
attention the wonderful panorama, which, like a colored map, was
outspread before him, revealing fields of various forms, shapes and
colors, and patches of woods and hills. And dividing the landscape were
light lines—the roads—running in all directions.

His first tour was satisfactory to himself and his instructors. The
turns held no terror for him.

Following this several days of bad weather put a stop to the work of the
school. During the enforced inactivity Bobby Dunlap had his curiosity
and interest in Victor Gilbert and Jason Hamlin still further heightened
by a violent altercation between the two, although neither he nor any
one else was near enough to overhear the conversation. The fact, too,
that the young chaps had evidently been just on the point of indulging
in a physical encounter made the “Gilbert-Hamlin affair,” as Bobby
termed it, decidedly interesting.

“I’m going to find out all about it some day,” he laughed, nodding his
head emphatically.

“Bully boy!” chuckled Sid Marlow.

When the period of dull weather was over Don Hale started in with
greater zeal than ever. He was doing his best to equal the record of T.
Singleton Albert, who had so far recovered his nerve that he had no
hesitancy at all in executing the vrille.

By gradual degrees, Don took his machine to greater altitudes, until, at
length, he was making the _tour de piste_ at a height of three thousand
five hundred feet. Now feeling somewhat like a veteran, he was fully
prepared when the order came for him to perform some of the simpler
evolutions in the air. One of these consisted in spiraling down to the
earth with the engine shut off and landing almost directly beneath the
point at which he started. Another was to volplane swiftly downward, and
then, while still several hundred feet in the air, bring the machine to
a horizontal position and swing around either to the right or left.

These exercises proved to be a pretty severe test on his nerves, and at
first affected his head and stomach in a truly distressing manner; but
constant practice, combined with a determined will, finally enabled him
to gain the mastery over them, and he began keenly to enjoy the great
and thrilling swoops through space.

At length there came a time to which he had been looking forward most
anxiously, and that was the beginning of his training in a big Caudron
biplane, a rather slow but safe machine. This meant that Don Hale’s stay
at the École Militaire de Beaumont was nearly at an end.

There were now but two tests before him, one known as the _petit voyage_
and the other the _grande voyage_. The first was a sixty mile trip and
return; the second a triangular journey, each side being about seventy
miles in length.

By the time Don had passed these successfully T. Singleton Albert and
Victor Gilbert had gone to the great finishing school located at Pau, in
the southern part of France.

It was indeed a happy moment to Don when he received his “_Brevet
d’Aviateur Militaire_” from the War Department, which made him a
corporal in the French army. This merely meant, however, that he had
graduated from the school at Beaumont, and, like the two who had
preceded him, was sent to take a course in “acrobatics” at Pau.

Pau, he found, was very delightfully situated, and within sight of the
snow-capped Pyrenees.

With even added zest, Don Hale entered into the work before him. It was
more dangerous than anything he had attempted in the school at Beaumont;
but the tactics he learned were of extreme importance, being precisely
those used in air fighting on the front.

About the middle of his course Don Hale was ordered to report to the
Mitrailleuse school at Casso, on the shore of a lake, where soldiers in
all branches of the army are trained in the use of machine guns. In a
two-seater, piloted by another airman, Don Hale practiced firing at
captive balloons and moving targets on the lake.

At first it proved very difficult, but constant work soon enabled him to
meet the requirements of his instructors.

After the completion of this training he returned to Pau for a short
period. Following this he went to Plessis Belleville to add a few final
touches before being assigned to combat duty in one of the escadrilles.

The boy’s greatest ambition was to join the Lafayette, where he might be
near his chum George Glenn, and he passed through a period of much
anxiety before the matter was finally settled in the affirmative by the
military authorities.

Proud and happy indeed, in his neatly-fitting uniform, with the
corporal’s stripes on his sleeve and the golden wings and star insignia
on his collar, Don Hale set out on his journey to join the escadrille,
then encamped not far from Bar-le-Duc, near the Verdun front.

-----

Footnote 7:

Ace—a pilot who has brought down five or more enemy planes.



                        CHAPTER XI—THE LAFAYETTE


Of all the flying corps in France none performed more valiant deeds or
became more renowned than the Lafayette, composed of Americans who
journeyed across the sea to help the French in their struggle against
the invading hosts. Whether it was in answer to the call of adventure
due to the love of thrills and excitement, or to the fascination of a
new and wonderful sport, or simply from a sense of duty, are questions
of no particular moment—the members of the flying corps are to be
judged solely by the remarkable work they accomplished.

The fame of such combat pilots as Rockwell, Prince, Chadwick, MCConnell,
Lufbery, Hall, Walcott and numbers of others is of the kind which will
last as long as history itself. Never again, perhaps, will men be called
upon to repeat their triumphs.

The day Don Hale arrived was an epochal one in his life. George Glenn
and T. Singleton Albert met him at the station in a little village
crowded with soldiers and permissionnaires.

“I can’t tell you, Don, how glad I am to see you; and yet I’m almost
sorry to see you,” exclaimed Albert, enigmatically. “You’re in for
excitement that will make your days as an ambulance driver with the Red
Cross seem tame by comparison.”

“And they were plenty thrilling enough to suit me,” laughed Don. “What’s
the latest news?”

“That this little village was recently bombed.”

George Glenn pointed to a sign painted on the side of a building.

“‘Cave Voûté,’” read Don, aloud.

These caves, he knew, were underground retreats, where the soldiers or
inhabitants could find a refuge in case of a bombardment or a
bomb-dropping expedition of the enemy.

“One good thing—our camp is outside the range of the guns,” said
George.

As the boys walked through the little village, which, during the earlier
stages of the war, had been the scene of many an exciting event, Don
Hale could not help but remarking on the changed appearance of T.
Singleton Albert. There was a gravity and sedateness about him which he
judged to be caused by the dangers to which the airmen are constantly
exposed.

“Had any exciting adventures yet, Drugstore?” he asked.

“Plenty of them,” responded Albert. And then a light which Don Hale had
never seen before flashed into the young chap’s eyes. “Yet, in spite of
that, I wouldn’t have missed this experience for all the world. Flying
has all the joys, the thrills and excitement of every other sport beaten
a thousand miles. I certainly owe a whole lot of thanks to Lieutenant
William Thaw.”

The three found plenty to talk about, though they were often obliged to
let their lively tongues slow down on account of the lines of marching
troops and the almost endless procession of motor trucks passing in both
directions.

In about three-quarters of an hour they reached their destination—the
headquarters of the famous Lafayette Escadrille, which happened to be,
at this time, in a beautiful little villa, situated in the midst of
spacious grounds.

A number of the American pilots cordially greeted him, and Don was very
glad to see among them Victor Gilbert.

After meeting the courteous French captain of the escadrille the boy was
shown to a room on the second floor, which he was to share with several
others.

Outside of the hazardous nature of their occupation, the members of the
American Squadron, unlike the “doughboys” and poilus, lived a life of
ease and comfort. They had orderlies who attended to their needs,
comfortable feather beds to sleep upon, and their meals, prepared by a
French chef, were eaten in a dining-room which delighted the eye by its
most artistic furnishings and decorations.

It would have been very hard to analyze Don Hale’s feelings on this
particular occasion. Expectation, eagerness, happiness and impatience,
all seemed to hold sway over his thoughts, and though the reality was
before him he could scarcely believe that he actually had become a
member of the famous American Squadron.

After a substantial lunch, still in the company of George Glenn and
Albert, Don journeyed to the aviation field not very far away.

With the utmost eagerness, he gazed about him. He saw numerous hangars,
rest tents and various wooden structures. And, besides these, parked at
one side, were ponderous motor trucks, trailers and several automobiles.

Attached to the great encampment were mechanicians, chauffeurs,
telephone operators, Red Cross attendants and motor-cyclists—for the
business of flying has its prosaic side as well as its thrills. Somehow
or other it reminded Don of a country fair on a large scale, and it
would have seemed to him very natural indeed had his eyes alighted on a
barker, mounted upon a rostrum, exhorting a crowd of spectators to
enter. There was a certain air of grimness and sternness, however, about
the men whom they encountered that soon removed this impression. From
the east came the sullen rumble of countless guns. Sometimes it was low,
like the mutterings of distant thunder; sometimes it swelled into a
volume, as if a storm was about to burst, and then, like the sighing of
the wind, almost faded away.

A patrol was just about to leave for the front, and Don watched the
Nieuports taxi across the ground, rise one after another in the air,
and, after gaining a high altitude, soar in a V-shaped formation toward
the battle front.

The boy thrilled at the sight, and his eyes followed the fast-flying
planes until they were lost to sight behind a thin veil of whitish
clouds.

“Of course, I’m pretty sure you know just what kind of work we are doing
here,” said George Glenn, “but, notwithstanding, I am going to tell you
a few things. Our squadron belongs to what is known as the group de
combat, and it has a definite sector to cover.

“A patrol is always kept over the enemy’s lines, not only to prevent the
German pilots from entering ours but to make their lives as full of
spice and adventure as we possibly can.”

“Still, we have a lot to do besides fighting,” put in Albert. “Sometimes
our duty is to protect the two or three-seater bombardment planes, the
_avions de réglage_, or airplanes used by those who regulate the
artillery fire, and the observation and photographic planes. The mission
of the big ‘birds,’ although they are armed with two guns, and sometimes
three, is a purely defensive one.”

“Quite often,” chimed in George, “escorting bombardment and photographic
planes, we travel quite a long distance into ‘Germany,’ as we call the
other side of the barbed wire entanglements.”

“It must be wonderful!” cried Don.

“Some of our experiences are, I can assure you,” returned George, with a
half smile. “Now, Don, here is something the captain is going to tell
you, and if you value your life and my piece of mind you will implicitly
obey his instructions.”

“Fire away!” said Don.

“It is to stick by the formation—always! The Germans have a habit of
pouncing down upon stragglers, and unless the pilot combines skill,
resourcefulness and courage in equal proportions, or sheer good luck
intervenes, it is apt to be good-night.”

“You can trust me not to get lost,” said Don, with a serious look in his
eyes. “But, boys, I want to see my plane—I must see my plane, and, as
the captain is right here on the field, I reckon he’ll show it to me.”

In this view Don was not mistaken; and presently a mechanic rolled out
of one of the hangars a small machine, slender of fuselage and beautiful
in its proportions. On the tapering body was painted an Indian’s head
similar to the one on Lieutenant Thaw’s machine.

“As you see, all of the planes are numbered,” remarked the captain,
“and, in addition, each of the pilots has some special mark on the
fuselage to distinguish his from the others.”

“Yes, Monsieur le Capitaine,” said Don, with a grin of delight.

“This machine has a motor of two hundred horse power and can travel at a
speed of about one hundred and forty miles an hour,” continued the
commander. “And at times you will need it all,” he added, dryly. “When
may you go up? This afternoon. I will detail Sergeant Reynolds to
accompany you in his plane. The German lines must not be crossed, under
any consideration, for several days at least.”

[Illustration: “The German lines must not be crossed”]

“Oh!” murmured Don.

This was a great disappointment to the boy; for he possessed that daring
which youth is prone to indulge—a daring which may often lead to
disaster, and, as often, be a means to safety.

The captain, after introducing him to the mechanic who was to look after
the Nieuport, walked away.

The next half hour was one of unalloyed delight to Don Hale. He spent it
in examining the plane, the various nickel plated instruments with which
the cockpit was furnished and the Vickers gun, with its belts of
cartridges.

To fire this stationary weapon the pilot would have no need to remove
his hand from the controls. The instruments consisted of a compass, an
altimetre to register the height, a speed indicator and several others.
Then there was a map in a roller case.

The top of the plane was camouflaged by means of spots of a greenish and
brownish color; and besides the concentric circles of blue, white, brown
and red on the wings the end of the tail had been painted with the
tricolor of France.

Though Don Hale, as a rule, was a pretty calm lad, he found it hard to
conceal his nervous tension.

His preliminary flight that afternoon, however, was really nothing more
than a repetition of those he had taken while in the training schools. A
green pilot was not to be fed to the hungry Boches, and he stood in no
more danger from that source than if he had been hundreds of miles away.

On the following days the sergeant led him a little further toward the
fighting front. And then, having received all the protection which wise
counsel and advice could afford, the young airman was pronounced ready
to begin his career as a combat pilot.



                      CHAPTER XII—ABOVE THE CLOUDS


On a certain morning, just after sunrise, Don Hale, in his fur-lined
combination suit, leather aviation helmet, and provided with heavy
goggles and gloves, was strapped in his machine. It was one of a row of
six, which, in almost perfect alignment, were ready to go aloft.

There was the greatest activity and noise about the flying field. The
air was filled with the roar, the drone and the hum of many motors; and
in this sea of sound the reverberations of the distant guns were, for
the time being, completely lost.

Don had received his instructions to fly at the rear of a formation of
six machines, following one another at a distance of fifty metres. This
_vol de groupe_ would patrol the German lines for a period of several
hours.

Don Hale found himself murmuring over and over again: “At last!” And
though he tried his best to still the rapid pulsations of his heart—to
control a hand that had an extraordinary tendency to tremble, it was
without avail. He was going up to face peril of the gravest sort.

Was anything going to happen?

Just then he felt almost afraid to think of what the fates might hold in
store for him.

Presently he saw the captain wave his hand as a signal, and a moment
later the leader of the patrol rose in the air. The others followed.

There was just an instant more of waiting for Don Hale, and then he,
too, was rolling over the ground.

As readily as a leaf borne aloft by a gust of wind the Nieuport answered
to the controls and began spiraling upward.

The six machines rose directly over the field, and at a height of about
two thousand feet the leader headed toward the east, the others taking
up their respective places in the formation.

Higher and higher the fleet of wonderful little machines ascended, and
Don Hale glancing over the side of the cockpit, saw a wonderful panorama
of the rapidly-receding earth, which the early morning sun was tinting
with a soft and poetic glow. The most delicate tints of brown and green
were broken here and there by darker notes of a purplish hue, indicating
patches of woods. Crisscrossing the earth in all directions were the
roads—thread-like lines of palish gray, and, as though some giant hand
had scattered them carelessly about at widely distant points, were
clusters of little glistening dots—villages, or what remained of
villages. Now and again the boy’s eyes caught sight of pools, mirroring
on their surfaces the delicate tones of the sky or the clouds above, and
presently the river Meuse came into view—a faint and hazy line.

His practice in the school at Pau had taught Don how to preserve his
place in the _vol de groupe_, which, when the tremendous speed of the
Nieuport is considered, is far from easy, and he had never made a better
effort than at the present time. The new member of the Lafayette
Squadron remembered vividly the stories he had heard concerning the fate
of youthful and venturesome pilots who had disobeyed the commander’s
orders.

Eagerly, he kept his eyes open for enemy planes. He could not see any,
but he did perceive, far below him, on both sides of the line, numbers
of grotesque-looking observation balloons, or sausages, as they have
been jocularly christened.

Now the altimetre registered a height of over ten thousand feet—they
were approaching the battle-front. Don Hale was about to get his first
view of “Germany.”

The boy, however, was too excited—too absorbed in the contemplation of
the singular scene below him, and, at the same time, so occupied in
handling his plane that he did not feel any tingling sensation of fear.

The battle-ground was covered with a thin veil of purplish smoke, and
where the delicate shadows lay thickest on the earth he could
occasionally distinguish the flashing lights of the guns or of exploding
shells. But it all seemed very distant—very remote. The clouds of smoke
from the bursting projectiles and innumerable batteries were but tiny
spots amid the surrounding haze. Don realized that a vigorous
bombardment from both sides was going on and that a devastating hail of
missiles was creating havoc and destruction in the opposing trenches and
far to their rear. Then he had a swift glimpse of that irregular
brownish stretch of land running between the hostile forces—“No Man’s
Land,” the most sinister, the most barren, the most mutilated strip of
earth that has ever existed since the world began.

The patrol leader was now mounting higher, and the reason became almost
instantly apparent. The air straight ahead had become filled with round
puffs of viciously-spurting black smoke. The “Archies” were according
the early morning visitors their usual warm reception.

A second more, and not so many yards away there suddenly appeared the
largest and wickedest-looking puff of all, and, above the roar of the
motor, the startled Don Hale could hear the explosion of the shrapnel
shell launched by the German gunners.

The next instant he felt a terrifying thrill. His airplane was falling
through space.

Almost stifled by the air rushing past, with a horrifying vision of
impending catastrophe, the boy, nevertheless, managed to keep his wits
about him. But escape seemed impossible. A perfect hail of “Archies”
popped up in the air to the rear, to the side and to the front of the
falling machine, the control of which he was desperately trying to
regain.

Though his agony of suspense seemed long drawn out it was but a moment
when the terrifying descent was over and the machine again flying
parallel to the earth.

It was almost miraculous that it had not been riddled with the fragments
of the bursting shrapnel shells. The din of their almost continuous
explosions was ringing in the aviator’s ears, and in the
violently-disturbed air the Nieuport was rocking and plunging like a
boat in a heavy sea.

“Never fly in a straight line” was the advice which had been given to
Don before setting out on the expedition, and after the first few
moments of suspense had passed Don Hale managed to sufficiently calm his
jumping nerves and follow this instruction. He turned the nose of his
machine upward, and, in a zigzagging flight, shot like a rocket into the
blue depths above.

A little later he found an infinite relief in seeing the black
thunderbolts exploding hundreds of yards below.

But where was the rest of the patrol? They seemed to have utterly
vanished. A strange sense of loneliness such as he had never known
before took possession of him. And then, like a flash, he recalled
George Glenn’s words: “The Germans have a habit of pouncing down upon
any stragglers they may happen to see.”

Were there any enemy scouts about?

He cast a swift, comprehensive glance over the vast expanse of sky.

A number of planes were to be seen far to the rear of the German lines,
but whether friends or enemies the new combat pilot could not possibly
determine. At any rate, he was sure his companions must have ascended to
the cloud level, now close overhead.

Still thrilled at the thought of his narrow escape, he sent the biplane
climbing higher aloft. Nothing in his school days could be compared to
this flight, a flight in which danger threatened every moment

Plunging into a cloud, the machine became enveloped in soft and fleecy
masses of vapor. Not a thing could Don see in any direction. It was a
most weird and curious sensation, he found, to be sailing so far above
the earth, in the midst of the fog; and though he experienced a certain
sense of freedom from danger he had an unpleasant feeling of half
suffocation, which impelled him to escape as soon as possible from their
enfolding embrace.

Now, through a jagged opening he caught a glimpse of the earth, and just
a moment afterward something happened which gave him the greatest scare
he had yet had in his brief flying career.

A shadowy object—so faint as to be scarcely discernible—flashed into
view to his right, and, while he gazed toward it as though fascinated,
in a second of time it had grown into an object of seemingly gigantic
proportions, though still so faint in outline that he could scarcely
take in its exact form.

Another instant and the phantom-like plane had swept past with lightning
speed, leaving in its wake powerful currents o wildly swirling vapor,
while the airplane, caught in the eddy, staggered and shook.

“Whew! That was another close call!” breathed Don. “Sure enough!—this
isn’t a game for weak nerves. Hello—goodness gracious!”

The Nieuport had shot above the strata of clouds.

Even though his nerves were still tingling, his pulse throbbing
violently, the combat pilot could not repress a gasp of admiration as he
gazed out over the immense expanse of billowy forms that stretched in
every direction in a vast circle against the soft blue field of sky.

It was still early, the sun had not risen high, and its rays, falling
upon the clouds, tinted them with the most delicate of rosy hues.

“I almost seem out of the world,” murmured Don, a trifle awesomely.

“And how perfectly safe it looks I—just as though one could float about
on the clouds and be in no danger of taking a header to the earth. But
where am I in this curious world above? And, more important than all,
where are the other planes? I’d be in a nice position, shouldn’t I, if
some of Captain Richtofen’s Red Squadron should happen to come along!
What shall I do?”

The boy found that skimming close to the fleecy, ever-changing billows,
sometimes dipping into them, was a fascinating sport. Up there
everything was peace, loneliness and quietude. It seemed almost
incredible that only a few miles below, on the earth he had just left, a
terrible war was being waged and that every moment tragedies and horrors
were taking place.

But the time for decisive action had come.

Boldly, though not without some trepidation, he plunged back into the
clouds. Then came a brief period of dense obscurity, followed by a
weird, spectral illumination, as the daylight struggled to pierce the
masses of moisture-laden air; and presently the Nieuport was again in
full view of the shell-torn, battle-scarred earth, far over a hostile
country.

Many planes could now be seen, some below, some faint and hazy in the
distance, others comparatively near

And while Don was scanning each in turn, hoping to recognize the
familiar Indian’s head on the fuselage, he suddenly became conscious of
the fact that not very far away a fight in the air had begun. Probably
half a dozen or more combat pilots were engaged; and, almost forgetting,
in his interest and excitement, the danger of his position, Don Hale
watched the wonderful spectacle, with his nerves at the keenest tension.

Every acrobatic performance which he himself had learned at the advanced
school at Pau was being used by the rival airmen.

Now and again one or another went down in a spinning nose dive, as
though the machine were totally out of control; but instead of crashing
to the earth it would right itself, and, with almost incredible speed,
rise again to the attack. Fairly leaping over one another, flashing this
way and that, narrowly avoiding collisions, they soared upward or
swooped down, as a flock of enraged birds fighting among themselves
might have done, and, faintly, the enthralled Don Hale could hear the
vicious crackling of the machine guns, steadily spurting forth their
messenger of death, and see the faint smoking lines left by the tracer
ballets.

Were any members of the Lafayette Squadron engaged in the conflict?

The boy mentally voiced this query over and over again as he flew around
in a sweeping circle, keeping far above the contenders.

He felt an almost irresistible impulse to join in the fray, and but for
the fact that the squadron commander had explicitly ordered him to act
only on the defensive probably would have done so. He had seen many a
fight from the ground, but then the thrills were of a decidedly
different nature from those which came while he was in the pilot’s seat
of an airplane.

A moment more, and, just as suddenly as the battle had begun, it ended.
One of the combat planes began to fall, turning over and over in the
air, now and then the dull gray wings with the Maltese crosses clearly
outlined against the floating masses of smoke below.

Into these it plunged and disappeared from view.

Thankful that neither his compatriots no any of the Allied airmen had
been the victim, yet shuddering at the thought of the human life which
had been sacrificed to the greed of the God of War, Don Hale headed for
the west, having satisfied himself that the Allied planes, now rapidly
retreating, belonged to a French air squadron.

The black, sputtering “Archies” were beginning to burst beneath him
again, one coming so dangerously near that once more a sort of
consternation gripped him.

“This won’t do at all!” he muttered. “A little bit nearer the ceiling
for me!”

He was approaching the lines and “No Man’s Land” and following its
tortuous course with his eyes he observed in many places the sudden
bursts of smoke which told of the explosions of high-calibre shells. All
about him the atmosphere was hazy and the distance entirely obscured.

Now rapidly becoming familiar with the new game, Don began to feel more
like himself. For the first time he could understand how it was that the
experienced pilots learned to treat with comparative indifference the
angry shrieks of the attacking “Archies.”

At length Don Hale discovered the patrol of Lafayette machines flying in
a perfect formation just over the enemy’s line.

After facing the dangers of the sky alone the sense of relief and
pleasure that the sight of friends near at hand afforded him was
delightful indeed. He felt like uttering a whoop of joy.

“Considering all such experiences as I’ve just had once is too much!” he
muttered to himself. “And this time you can just bet I’ll not get
separated.”

Nor did he. The patrol, which was only policing the air, led him into no
further danger, and, consequently, when the two hours was over and they
headed for the aviation field, nothing had occurred to add more thrills
to those he had already received.

Don Hale, however, was thoroughly glad to see the great encampment
coming into view; and equally glad when he had spiraled down to the
earth and made an almost perfect _atterrissage_.

Waiting machinists helped him out of the cockpit; and as he answered the
questions fired toward him the boy felt as proud and happy as any of the
“aces” whose fame has spread throughout the world.

His first reconnaissance over the enemy’s line was something he could
never forget



                        CHAPTER XIII—THE FARMER


Several weeks passed, during which Don Hale became thoroughly familiar
with and accustomed to the work of the escadrille. The boy was surprised
to find how soon the unpleasant feelings which had assailed him on his
first day’s sortie over the lines had worn off. True, he did pass
through some harrowing moments—terrible moments, in which it seemed as
though he was doomed to destruction. But, in general, familiarity with
the dangers brought that indifference which a seasoned veteran in any of
life’s great games usually acquires.

By this time the young aviator had engaged in practically every kind of
work done by the squadron. He, in company with other pilots, had acted
as escorts to the big Caudron bombarding machines, the artillery
regulating planes, and those whose duty it was to travel over the
enemy’s country, observing and taking photographs.

During several of these trips he had been introduced to what the boys
pleasantly termed “flaming onions.” These are balls of fire sent in a
stream from a special gun, and they travel with tremendous speed.
Fortunately, however, these sportive attempts of the Germans did no
damage to either him or his machine.

During a vigorous attack when the French had succeeded in capturing and
holding several of the German trenches he learned a great deal about
contact patrol. This consisted of working in conjunction with the
infantry, keeping them informed of everything that was taking place on
the other side of “No Man’s Land,” guarding them in every way from
surprises and doing all that was possible to facilitate their “Going
over the top” by flying low over the ground and vigorously attacking the
enemy’s troops.

Contact patrol was the most dangerous work of all; for the pilots ran
not only the risk of being struck down by the shells from the east but
also by those sent by their own batteries in the rear.

Occasionally, too, he joined expeditions which set out to destroy the
big observation balloons which hung constantly in the sky, and on one of
these trips he had seen an unwieldy monster, somewhat suggestive of an
elephant with its trunk cut off, sent flaming to the ground.

But there was a sad, a tragic side connected with all the splendid and
courageous work accomplished by the combat pilots. There were some who
never returned, and who were listed in the official “_communique_”[8] as
being among the missing. There were others, too, whose planes, riddled
by the enemy’s bullets, were sent crashing earthward, to be smashed and
splintered and torn apart by the terrific impact.

Those were days of gloom and sorrow; but the inevitable had to be
accepted.

Two events which interested Don Hale and T. Singleton Albert were the
arrivals, at different times, of Bobby Dunlap and Jason Hamlin. The
meeting between the latter and Victor Gilbert was of a nature no more
cordial than that at the training school.

Gilbert glared at the other, demanding gruffly:

“You seem to find it hard to keep away from my company. There are other
Franco-American Squadrons.”

“Thank you for your charming and subtle intimation,” rejoined Hamlin,
dryly. “Let me say, however, that I pulled every wire I could so that I
might have the pleasure of joining this squadron.”

“Frightfully agreeable, I’m sure!” muttered Gilbert, turning away.

“I say, Peur Jamais,” exclaimed Don Hale, some time later, “how is the
Sherlock Holmes business getting on?”

Bobby wagged his head mysteriously.

“Maybe I’m on the trail of something, and maybe I’m not,” he responded.
“What do I think it is? To quote a classical remark: ‘I have nothing to
say at this time.’ Bombs aren’t the only things that make explosions.
Now let us drop the mystery.”

“That’s better than dropping a bomb,” laughed Don.

“That depends upon where you drop it,” chirped Bobby. “But, believe me,
Donny, that Hamlin person is some flyer. He’d make an eagle so ashamed
of himself that he’d swear off flying and stay on the ground forever. I
believe he could almost fly by waving his arms in the air.”

“Wish I could!” sighed Don. “It would come in mighty handy if a fellow’s
plane were shot away from him while he was five miles in the air.”

Often pilots when off duty gathered in the bureau, or office, where
reports were turned in and other necessary routine work of the squadron
transacted. Hanging on the wall was a very large map of the sector,
amazingly complete, showing the location of German aviation centres and
even the points where their observation balloons were anchored.
Naturally, from time to time, there were changes in the map, and the
members of the squadron often found great interest in studying it and
speculating as to its appearance a few months hence.

As days succeeded days Don, George Glenn, T. Singleton Albert and Bobby
Dunlap frequently met in the bureau, and it was on one of these
occasions that Bobby took Don Hale aside, and, in a very impressive
manner, remarked:

“Do you remember those nights at the Café Rochambeau when old Père
Goubain told us a whole lot about German spies?”

“Yes,” answered Don.

“Well, I don’t think he was so very far wrong. I’m brighter than the
next person, and it looks to me as if the trail were getting warm.”

“What do you mean?”

Don spoke in a mystified tone.

“Spies—spies!” chuckled Bobby.

“But where are they? Maybe you think I’m a spy?”

“If you are you’d better be careful of little Sherlock,” chirped Peur
Jamais.

Some time later, the pilots were rather surprised and amused to see an
old French peasant standing out front and gazing in evident wonder at
the aviation fields. He was a typical son of the soil, wearing wooden
sabots, or shoes; and his faded blue garments showed many traces of his
labor in the fields. Almost primitive in appearance, and suggesting the
uncouth, illiterate peasants which the French painter Millet loved to
depict, he seemed so out of place amidst that most modern of all
scenes—an aviation centre—that many of the boys found it rather hard
to stifle an inclination to laugh.

“Hello, what’s the news from your section of the universe?” asked Bobby
Dunlap, waggishly.

The peasant glanced at him rather stupidly for a moment and then
drawled:

“There aren’t enough people left in the place where I come from to be
any news. There’s an awful big war going on, isn’t there?”

“Goodness! So you’ve discovered it, too!” laughed Bobby. “Where do you
live?”

“Not so very far away.”

“Are you thinking of changing your vocation and becoming an aviator?”

The stolid-looking peasant, evidently seeing no humor in the remark,
shook his head and mumbled:

“No.” Then, in a half-embarrassed manner, he inquired: “May I take a
glance inside the house?”

“To be sure!” exclaimed Jason Hamlin.

“The world owes everything to the farmer. He is the foundation upon
which the world leans. Without him——”

“We’d have to become farmers ourselves,” giggled Bobby.

The peasant, evidently feeling awed by his surroundings, entered the
bureau.

Once inside he gazed about him with a sort of abstracted air, uttered a
few observations which caused titters of laughter to run around the
room, and, presently, remarked to Jason Hamlin:

“This war hasn’t done any good to farming. Pretty big map on the wall.
What’s it there for?”

Repressing a smile, T. Singleton Albert attempted to explain, in his own
peculiar style of French, whereupon the visiting farmer exclaimed:

“Too bad! But I don’t speak any language except that of my own country.”

A loud laugh went up at the expense of the furiously-blushing Drugstore.

And then Don took it upon himself to impart the information.

“I see!” exclaimed the peasant, musingly.

He walked over to the map and began to examine it, his expression,
however, indicating an utter lack of comprehension.

Victor Gilbert, who happened to be among the crowd, remarked in English:

“It’s too bad that the laboring classes should be so uneducated. And the
lack of training dwarfs what intelligence they have, so that their minds
fail to grasp even simple things.”

The others agreed with him.

But, at any rate, they found the visit of the farmer a pleasant
diversion, and all were really sorry when he said good-bye and started
for the door.

“That old chap is about the limit,” growled T. Singleton Albert. “Talk
about ignorance! It’s a positive wonder he has enough sense to find his
way home.”

“And just think!—the poor fellow understands only French,” chirped
Bobby Dunlap.

Drugstore was about to retort, when the entrance of several pilots
stopped him.

The newcomers had something to tell, too, which aroused a great deal of
interest—several of them had had thrilling encounters with Captain
Baron Von Richtofen’s Red Squadron of Death.

“I feel sure the Baron was there himself,” declared one. “The way those
planes were handled was simply marvelous. I thought I had certainly
winged a Boche when he went into the vrille; and I swooped down after
him for about two thousand feet, intending to make sure of it. But, in
some extraordinary manner, he got his plane under control, and before I
could realize it I was shooting below him and his bullets were humming a
tune past my ears.”

“Oh, boy, that is music I don’t like to hear!” said Bobby, with a
perceptible shiver.

“I reckon all of us prefer symphonies of a less dangerous kind,”
remarked Gilbert, adding, rather reflectively: “I haven’t had the
pleasure yet of meeting that Baron and his pirate crew. Perhaps some day
I shall.”

“Then let us hope it will be a red letter day for you,” cried Don.

That night the escadrille was once more saddened by the disappearance of
one of its members, and all telephone queries to the observation posts
failed to reveal what had come of him. It was feared, however, that he
had fallen behind the German lines and been either killed or captured by
the enemy.

Many of the pilots remained late in the bureau discussing their fellow
aviator’s possible fate, and while they were busily talking the sound of
an anti-aircraft gun brought all who were sitting to their feet.

“I wonder if that means a Boche bombing raid!” cried Don Hale,
excitedly.

The next instant a frightful din of crashing guns rent the air.

With a common impulse, a rush was made for the door.

-----

Footnote 8:

Communique—Bulletin.



                      CHAPTER XIV—THE BOMBARDMENT


By the time the excited crowd had piled outside powerful search-lights
were reaching up into the starlit heavens, lifting out of the gloom with
strange and fantastic effect the thin veil of clouds which here and
there stretched across it.

Even amid the booming of the anti-aircraft batteries and the sharper
staccato reports of the machine guns from various parts of the field,
all blending into an unearthly din, the droning of the motors high in
the air could be distinctly heard. Like a pyrotechnic display, luminous
bullets, searching for the invaders, shot up into the sky, often
piercing the low-hanging clouds; and mingling in with them were vicious
little spurts of fire which told of the explosion of shrapnel shells.

The majority of the pilots, familiar with the dreadful danger which
menaced them, made a wild dash for the underground shelters. But Don
Hale and a few others, fascinated by the awe-inspiring scene and
situation, remained.

“Isn’t this awful!” cried Bobby Dunlap, with a distinct tremolo in his
voice. “Great Scott!”

At that instant a loud, though dull boom from the explosion of a bomb
had added its quota of noise to the raging inferno of sound.

It hadn’t landed so far away, either, and, as Don Hale, in the grip of
fear and excitement which he found impossible to control, strove to
pierce the gloom, three reports, even louder, followed one another in
quick succession.

“Great Cæsar!” cried Bobby Dunlap. “It seems as though they are going to
wipe the aviation camp off the map. It’s time for us to run for our
lives.”

And with these words, jerked out so fast that they were scarcely
intelligible, he started off on a headlong sprint to join those who had
sought a haven of safety.

But even then neither Don, George nor Albert could tear themselves away
from the singular scene that was passing before their eyes. Every
search-light—every gun was being used. Dazzling streams of whitish
light crossed and criss-crossed or swept in wide circles over the
sky—the darkness of night seemed to be rent asunder. Flaming bullets
were rising by the thousand.

Notwithstanding the terrific defense of the French batteries the German
bombs continued to fall. Their appalling detonations seemed fairly to
shake the ground.

It was a situation wherein the tragic and the terrible held full sway.
No man alive could have stood it without fear and trembling; for, at any
instant, one of the bombs might have fallen into their very midst.

And then, while they stood there, motionless, silent, their pulses
quickened by the emotions within, they saw something which brought husky
exclamations from their lips.

It was the sight of a German plane, spectral and ghostlike, sailing
serenely along in a dazzling sea of light. Flying this way and that, it
now and then almost disappeared in the obscurity beyond, but,
inexorably, it was pulled back into the field of vision by the
ever-moving rays. And then a second and a third plane sprang into view,
all appearing as pale, ethereal and ghostlike as the other.

And as the pilots kept their eyes fixed upon this wonderful and singular
spectacle, which seemed to combine the elements of the supernatural and
unreal, they became witnesses to a scene which is given to but few in
this world to see.

Suddenly, just beneath the foremost machine, now in the full glare of
light, there appeared a tiny flash of fire, a tiny burst of smoke—the
circling flight was ended. Almost simultaneously with the explosion of
the shrapnel shell the battleplane began to fall, at first slowly, as
though the airmen near the clouds were desperately seeking to regain
control.

What was going to happen? A few seconds would tell.

They were thrilling seconds, too, to the little shivering knot of
spectators by the bureau.

“Ah—ah!”

A long-drawn, shrill exclamation came from Don Hale.

The plane, after wobbling and staggering for the briefest instant, began
a spinning dive toward the earth; and before it had gone many hundred
feet a portion of one of its wings was seen to become detached. Almost
instantly came a little burst of ruddy flame, rapidly increasing in
intensity, until, at last, the airplane was blazing from end to end.
Like a flaming meteorite, the doomed machine, still bathed in the
dazzling white glare, continued its frightful plunge.

Down, down, it came, whirling and spinning, growing larger and more
distinct with each passing second, and leaving behind it a long sinuous
trail of sparks and inky smoke.

Absorbed—enthralled by the terrible spectacle, Don Hale almost forgot
the danger that ever menaced them.

But before the plane had reached the ground the peril of their exposed
position was brought forcibly to his mind by another loud report from a
bursting bomb. It seemed to have fallen nearer at hand than any of the
others; and he was just about to urge his companions to leave when,
without warning, there came a frightful and appalling explosion, so
terrible in its power that he found himself jerked off his feet and
thrown violently forward.

Shocked, dazed and bewildered, he struck the turf at full length, where
he lay as motionless as if the end had come.

He was brought to his senses, however, as suddenly as though ice-water
had been dashed into his face. The explosion had hurled aloft great
masses of earth and debris; and now, like a descending avalanche, they
began beating upon the ground close about him with thuds and bangs and
crashes.

With a startled cry, the boy staggered up. A clump of earth struck him
on the back with almost stunning force; a piece of board crashed down at
his feet, and in wild haste, he began the retreat that should have been
made before.

And, to add to the danger, spent bullets from the shrapnel shells came
pelting down.

The distance to the nearest underground shelter was very short, but it
seemed like a mighty long way to the frightened runners. Could they
reach it?

Panting, perspiring, almost desperate, they crossed the last lap of the
intervening space and fairly threw themselves into the crowded
bomb-proof shelter.

Their wild and unceremonious entrance brought exclamations from the
crowd. But no effort was made to speak, however, for, amid the mighty,
crashing chorus of the guns, voices could scarcely have been heard.

Huddled together in the shelter, which was dimly lighted by a single oil
lamp, feeling the earth trembling beneath their feet, the pilots
listened with awe to the sound of the explosions. It was mighty
unpleasant to be cooped up—mighty unpleasant to think of what might be
happening to the hangars and the little fighting Nieuports, and when,
after what seemed to be an interminably long time, the din of the
anti-aircraft guns and bursting bombs began to slacken, Don Hale gave a
big sigh of relief.

“I guess it’s all over, boys,” he shouted.

“I’m going to make the Germans sorry for this,” cried Bobby Dunlap.

As the crowd, headed by Don, made for the door the firing had ceased,
and, in contrast to the terrific racket of a few moments before, the
comparative silence seemed almost strange and unnatural. The giant
search-lights were still sweeping the sky, but the enemy had evidently
been driven away.

Intent upon finding out as quickly as possible what damage had been
done, Don Hale and George Glenn hurried toward the point where the bombs
seemed to have fallen most thickly. Men were hurrying this way and that,
and officers could be heard shouting their orders. It quickly developed,
however, that the camp, very fortunately, had sustained but little
damage. Great pits had been dug in the ground by the force of the
explosions, the end of a hangar demolished, and two machines and a
little storehouse destroyed.

“Now I feel very much better,” declared Don. “Honestly, I never expected
to see that Nieuport of mine again.”

“From the amount of noise they made, one might have thought the whole
camp was going skyward,” declared George. “Before the Boches have a
chance to pay us another visit, Don, let’s beat it for the villa.”

“Done as soon as said,” exclaimed Don.

Long accustomed to the terrors and scares of the war zone, the boys had
now entirely recovered from the effects of the bombardment from the sky.

With a number of others, they climbed into a big camion and were driven
to their headquarters. On the way they saw encampments of soldiers in
the fields, their tents, with lights inside, showing as faintly luminous
spots in the darkness. Now and again a long convoy lumbered along the
road; batteries were moving up nearer the front; reserves, too, passed
them, marching steadily and silently, the rhythmic sound of their
steadily-tramping feet sounding weirdly in the night.

And though no particular incident marked the journey, Don and George
were thoroughly glad when they reached their comfortable room in the
ancient villa.

Tired, after the many hours of work and excitement, they immediately
turned in.

And thus ended another day.



                   CHAPTER XV—A BATTLE IN THE CLOUDS


During the following afternoon Don Hale and T. Singleton Albert were
detailed, with eight other pilots, to act as an escort to a big Caudron
photographic machine, which was to make a trip to a point many miles
inside the German lines in order to take photographs of a railroad
centre.

Don Hale’s machine on this occasion was armed with eight rockets, with
dart-like heads, four on either side of the fuselage. These are designed
for the purpose of destroying observation balloons, bullets from the
machine guns not being sufficiently large for the purpose. The rockets
are projected into space at terrific speed by means of powerful spiral
springs, and ignite at the instant of departure.

The art of photography has been a great factor in the world war, driving
secrecy from its cover and enabling the opposing forces to make an
almost complete record of what was taking place on the other side of the
line.

The two-seater Caudron machine which the combat pilots were designated
to protect was armed with only one swivel gun. The cameras, pointing
downward, were attached to the sides of the fuselage, and in order to
take a photograph it was necessary only to pull a string.

It was rather late when the commanding officer gave the signal for the
departure. In a spiraling flight, the Nieuports rose in the air, and, at
an altitude of about six thousand feet, waited for the photographic
machine to meet them at their airy rendezvous.

Immediately arranging themselves in a V-shaped formation, with the big
Caudron at the apex, the fleet of planes headed for “Germany.” Very soon
some of the fighting Nieuports dropped below the machine they were
escorting, while others soared a thousand feet above.

The weather was hot and sultry, and frequently the swiftly-speeding
planes cut through patches of lazily-floating clouds, which left shining
drops of moisture clinging to spars and struts. They sailed high above a
long line of French observation balloons, and could see others belonging
to the enemy—faint yellowish dots in the distance. But Don Hale was
paying very little attention to them, for the famous town of Verdun,
responsible for some of the most desperate battles ever fought in the
history of the world, appeared before his eyes. Here and there were
great gaps among the red-roofed houses, showing where the high-explosive
shells of the Germans had shattered and torn and blown everything to
pieces. Faintly, he could see those mighty forts—Vaux and Douaumont
and, in another direction, the famous Mort-Homme, so valiantly defended
by the French.

And the same scenes which he had witnessed on all his trips over the
front were again before him—the haze of smoke floating high above the
battle-field, the batteries in action, the flashes of the exploding
shells, and the airplanes either hovering like flocks of birds or
patrolling the lines.

As they passed over the trenches the Caudron and its escorting Nieuports
rose to an altitude of fifteen thousand feet; for the air beneath them
was filled with the little balls of black smoke which told that the
“Archies” would have liked nothing better than to bring them crashing to
the earth. The pigmy and futile efforts of the gunners, however, only
served to amuse Don Hale. How harmless the exploding shells appeared!
Yet how terrible they were when viewed at closer range!

At various points, silhouetted against the blue of the sky or the
scintillating white of the clouds, he could make out hostile airplanes
which, as was often the case, were keeping well to the rear of their own
lines.

Would they be attacked?

Don Hale scarcely thought so, or, at least, not so long as the formation
kept together.

Thus, with his mind at comparative ease, he thoroughly enjoyed the swift
flight through the cool air high above the earth. Gazing over the side
of the little cockpit, he studied the territory occupied by the Germans
with an interest which familiarity never seemed to lessen. Occasionally
Don’s view of the network of roads, the tiny villages and the farms,
surrounded by their vari-colored fields, was blotted from view by the
constantly increasing layers of fleecy white clouds. Their shadows were
chasing each other over the warmly-tinted earth.

The wind was blowing straight into “Germany,” and, to Don Hale, the
weather conditions seemed to be fast becoming ominous and threatening.
This thought at length became a little disquieting. If anything should
happen to their planes while over the enemy’s country it might mean a
descent; and a descent would undoubtedly mean capture—an inglorious end
to a flying career—a fate particularly dreaded by the airmen.

“I won’t be sorry when this trip is over,” muttered Don to himself.
“This kind of life certainly gives a chap fifty-seven different kinds of
feelings.”

Owing to the great velocity of the flying flotilla, their destination, a
town of considerable size, soon afterward came into view, and the whole
formation volplaned to a lower level. Now they plunged through the
clouds. And on emerging Don could see many evidences of life and
activity going on below. Here and there were aviation fields bordered by
gray hangars. Almost directly beneath a column of troops on the march
suggested so many tiny ants creeping slowly over the ground. A long line
of moving dots on a white road indicated a convoy going up nearer the
line, while on a railroad leading into the town the eager and interested
young combat pilot espied a train traveling, apparently, with a strange
and sloth-like motion.

And now the peaceful character of the voyage came to an end. The
“Archies” were at work again, and on every side, and dangerously near.
Don Hale saw the wicked, lashing little balls of black smoke, though the
explosions of the shells could scarcely be heard. Nor were the flying
men threatened by the anti-aircraft batteries alone: Albatross and
Fokker machines were approaching. And, in order that the enemy planes
might not gain too great an altitude and be in a position to dive down
upon them, the leader of the flotilla gave a prearranged signal;
whereupon several of the convoys began following him to a higher level.

Don Hale, however, had been instructed to remain below, while the
photographs were being taken, and the prospect was not altogether a
pleasant one. He well knew that the Caudron would take all sorts of
risks in order to obtain the desired pictures; and the protecting
Nieuports, to fulfil the duties imposed upon them, must all expect to
run a fiery gauntlet of shrapnel.

Down—still further down, as though unmindful of their spiteful
presence, the big Caudron flew in a circling flight directly over the
town.

Now in light, now in shadow, the collection of buildings made a pleasant
picture. The golden cross surmounting the spire of the lone church
occasionally reflected the mellow rays of the sun, and, like a jet of
fire, sent its light into the sky.

But these were things to which Don Hale paid not the slightest
attention: his mind was wholly wrapped up in the work ahead of him. He
was playing a game in which life and liberty were at stake, and, as the
Nieuport rocked and shook in the currents of the air disturbed by the
almost continual explosions of the shrapnel shells, he warily watched
the movements of the enemy planes.

Somehow or other, now that the perilous moment had come, he felt neither
excited, apprehensive nor alarmed. An almost unnatural calmness seemed
to have a hold upon him; and even when he saw a hole suddenly appear on
the left-hand side of the upper plane, which meant that a piece of
flying lead had pierced it, he did not lose his steadiness of hand or
presence of mind.

He seemed to be fairly surrounded by the bursting shells. In every
direction he turned they were there to meet him. The “flaming onions,”
too, were beginning to cut their fiery passage through the air; and as
they traveled with terrible swiftness the danger from them was even
greater than that from the anti-aircraft guns.

Around and around soared the photographic machine; and around and around
soared the Nieuports, both above and below. It was a veritable ride of
death, with a chance that some of the combat pilots would pay the
penalty for their daring, and be recorded in the brief official
communique as among the missing or the dead.

Suddenly the photographic machine darted downward. Don Hale, with his
eyes fixed upon it, almost held his breath with suspense and
apprehension. It seemed scarcely possible that the pilot could rise
again.

However, just as this gloomy thought was becoming fixed in his mind, the
airplane began to ascend.

Intuitively, the boy realized that the dangerous mission of the
photographer and his pilot was over; for, like a captive bird escaping
from its imprisoning cage, the Caudron shot steadily upward, and was
soon far beyond the reach of the guns below.

The lower escorting planes, which many times had come close to
destruction, immediately followed.

And then Don Hale, strange to say, began to feel the effects of a
reaction. The hand, so steady in the midst of terrible peril, now
trembled slightly. He found it hard to shake off a curious foreboding—a
foreboding that sometimes sent chills along his spine—that much might
happen in that perilous return journey over a hostile land.

To show that his fears were entirely justified, when once again the boy
gazed aloft he discovered that some of the bolder enemy scouts, now
assembled in a formation as formidable as their own, were hot on the
trail of the fast retreating Americans.

“Looks like a scrap,” murmured Don.

The pilot cast a look at his machine gun and belt of cartridges, all
ready on the instant.

Should he have to use them? He hoped not; yet it looked that way.

And all the time the wind was steadily increasing in force, making
necessary the closest attention and most extreme care in handling the
biplane. Thus, with the elements against him and surrounded by the
gravest danger, Don Hale decided that by the time he reached the
aviation field, if he ever did, he should be able to recount a tale as
interesting as any of those he had often heard.

Occasionally he glanced over the side of the fuselage, to see the big
Caudron, now considerably below him, sometimes skimming close above the
clouds and sometimes enveloped in masses of vapor. He very well knew
that if an attack were made the photographic machine would be the
principal object sought for, owing to the value of the records it was
carrying.

And while Don was busily reflecting upon this he suddenly realized that
action both above and below him had begun. He could see several planes
whirling and darting about, and though the rapid reports of the machine
guns were unheard amid the roar of his motor he caught sight of narrow
lines of smoke left by the passing tracer bullets.

“Great Julius Cæsar!” he muttered. “I am in for it. I wonder when my
part in the show begins!”

It came much sooner than he had expected. While several of the Lafayette
machines below and to the rear of the Caudron were engaged in deadly
combat by the enemy a fighting plane with the ominous Maltese crosses on
its wing flashed past Don Hale, diving vertically toward the tail of the
Caudron.

The crucial moment had arrived. Don Hale’s heart was throbbing fast
again; his lips were compressed; his eyes flashing. Then, without a
second’s indecision—without a thought of the consequences—he, in turn,
began a headlong swoop through space.

In a moment or two he shut off the motor; for he was about to execute
that evolution taught in the acrobatic school at Pau known as the
“Russian Mountain.” Although he had performed it many times under
different circumstances, the terrific downward rush never failed to make
him gasp for breath. It was the same on this occasion, and his ears
seemed to be almost bursting. The rushing wind beat fiercely against
him, its whistling notes, ominous and threatening, ringing out loudly.
Like a plummet dropped from the clouds, he still plunged in a vertical
descent. Now he dashed past, dangerously close to some of the fighting
machines, and through an air filled with tracer and flaming bullets.

By this time the Caudron was desperately trying to avoid the enemy in
the rear. But it seemed impossible that it could escape from the
marvelously swift and brilliantly maneuvered German plane. This machine
had just succeeded in gaining an advantageous position when Don Hale
swept by.

Now he pushed the control stick away from him, which, raising the
ailerons, caused the machine, with startling abruptness, to end its fall
and come out on an even keel.

Though jarred and dizzy, the combat pilot lost not a second in starting
the engine. Another movement with the control lever, and the Nieuport
was shooting upward directly toward the tail of the German plane. Its
pilot was already busily engaged in pouring a hail of bullets in the
direction of the Caudron.

Don had gone through some thrilling experiences in the war zone, but
there had been nothing like this. He realized that the fates had decreed
that through his efforts alone the safety of the photographic machine
depended. Never before had he fired a Vickers gun in actual combat, and
for the briefest interval of time an overwhelming sense of agitation—of
excitement gained a hold upon him; and before it had passed, and while
the perspiration stood out on his face, he took aim, operating the gun
with his left hand, and fired.

He could hear the spitefully-crackling reports; he saw the bursts of
smoke spreading outward and upward. Then his machine swept past, in an
ascending flight, at a distance of not more than fifty yards.

It was a strange sensation to be gazing upon an enemy’s machine so close
at hand, and, in his instantaneous glance, the details seemed to be
indelibly impressed upon his mind. He saw the helmeted pilot turn; and
for the fraction of a second the two gazed into each other’s faces.

Before Don Hale could maneuver his plane, in order to renew the attack,
he passed through some instants of terrible suspense.

Had his shots taken effect? Or was the photographic machine doomed,
after all?

But what the boy saw when he looked again made him feel like uttering a
shout of joy. The machine with the black crosses on its wings was
descending abruptly, with erratic movements.

“I got him!” breathed the boy.

Triumphant, with his fighting blood aroused to the highest pitch, the
young combat pilot, yielding to the now irresistible call of battle,
shot toward another _avion de chasse_ which bore the enemy’s markings.
He had not gone very far, however, when he was startled by a fusillade
of flaming bullets, passing close to his wings on the right.

A German pilot had stolen upon him from the rear, and Don was in the
worst possible position to defend himself.

Instantly he sent the nose of the Nieuport upward, gave the control
lever a swift jerk forth and back, and, like a flash, the machine
described a complete backward somersault, while its pursuer shot past
beneath.

The almost breathless Don Hale realized that his escape had been of the
narrowest sort—that he was still in the gravest peril. Other machines
were speeding toward him. The odds were entirely too great for an
inexperienced combat pilot. Moreover, he had caught a glimpse of three
new French planes coming to the rescue. Don’s own safety lay in the
clouds just above, and he flew toward them with all the speed of which
his Nieuport was capable.

And in that upward journey, brief though it was, he sensed rather than
saw that the air close about him was filled with fiercely contesting
planes, darting, swirling, almost tumbling over one another. The
atmosphere, too, was literally criss-crossed by the multitude of faint
bluish lines left by tracer bullets.

When the clouds closed about Don Hale and he found the view completely
obscured, he experienced a wonderful sensation of relief. Yet his nerves
were pretty badly shaken. Like the game hunter who has momentarily
escaped the lion’s claws yet knows that the mighty animal is lurking
near to renew the attack, his thoughts of what the immediate future
might have in store for him sent renewed tremors through his frame.

War is a cruel and pitiless thing, in which compassion and the kindlier
impulses of the human heart have no place. He himself could give no
quarter, nor could he expect any.

And now there was something else besides the relentless foe which began
to cause him anxiety—even alarm. The weather conditions had been
becoming steadily worse, and the force of the wind, still blowing
steadily into “Germany,” made the movements of the Nieuport like that of
a boat wallowing in the trough of a heavy sea. Sometimes, without an
instant’s warning, he found himself dropping like a shot, and the next
moment, as though raised on the crest of a mighty billow, sent shooting
upward.

The clouds were growing thicker; the curious, half luminous light was
being replaced by a deep and forbidding gloom, not like that of night or
of anything else he had ever seen. And through this weird and seemingly
unnatural darkness there occasionally came gleams of spectral bluish
light which told him that the greatest artillery in the world was
rapidly getting ready for action, and that before long it might be
expected to break loose in all its majestic power.

Where was he?—far over the German territory? He could not tell; yet it
seemed very likely that such was the case. At any rate, he must make for
home. How?—below the clouds? No. There are limits to which one’s nerves
can be subjected. He must climb through them and fly above.
Single-handed it would not do to face those lying in wait below. He felt
terribly alone—terribly friendless.

The darkness was suddenly torn asunder by a brighter flash and, for the
first time, he heard a sullen rumble, which, beginning like the roll of
muffled drums, rapidly increased until it was sounding in a crashing
crescendo.

“Great Scott! This is about the worst ever!” muttered Don. “Yes, I
certainly shall have something to talk about—only, it will be too much!
I never expected that I’d be witnessing a storm from a balcony seat.”

He tried to impart a little jocularity to his tone, but the attempt was
unsuccessful.

It was a pretty awesome thing to be amid the storm-clouds, with the
coppery colored and bluish gleams now playing almost constantly about
him; and this singular situation conjured up all sorts of strange
fancies.

Now the wind was buffeting the Nieuport wildly about, tearing against
the fuselage and planes in heavy gusts.

But at last Don Hale’s heart was gladdened by the sight of a circular
patch of misty light; and presently shooting through a ragged opening in
the clouds he saw the illumination spreading out on every side and
caught a glimpse of blue in the great expanse above. Probably the most
inspiring thing he had ever seen, it lifted a load from his mind. As the
shadows produced a depressing effect, so the light seemed to radiate
optimism and cheer.

Presently the flying Nieuport carried him to another world equally as
strange as the one through which he had just passed. Just below him, to
the limits of vision, there extended, like a soft and moving blanket,
the billowing forms of the wind-swept clouds.

And skimming across their surface was the grotesquely-shaped shadow of
the speeding aeroplane.

Then it suddenly occurred to Don that his situation wasn’t so very much
improved after all. During the mêlée and his subsequent experiences he
had totally lost track of his bearings. In which direction was the
aviation camp? That was a question he could not begin to answer. One
thing alone cheered him—he was, at least, headed for the French lines.

And while debating in his mind how soon he might dare to make a plunge
through the vapor he happened to glance behind him. And that single
glance was the means of causing him to make a discovery—a discovery
that was so startling, so terrifying that the blood seemed to almost
freeze in his veins.

Bearing down upon him, and almost within firing range, were two great
Albatross planes—both of a scarlet hue.

There could be no doubt about it—they belonged to Captain Baron Von
Richtofen’s Red Squadron of Death.



                      CHAPTER XVI—THE EMPTY HOUSE


During the afternoon of the same day that Don Hale was destined to have
his great adventures George Glenn and Bobby Dunlap, off duty, decided to
take a little jaunt about the surrounding country.

Leaving the main highway the boys struck off toward the southeast.

The road sometimes took them past stuccoed walls, gray, chipped and
broken by the ravages of time; and here and there, rising high above the
faded red coping, were the tall and graceful poplars so characteristic
of the landscapes. Once in a while, the two, their youthful curiosity
aroused, peeped between the bars of the entrance gates to get a look, if
they could, at the mansion so secluded from public gaze.

Presently the boys were descending a steep road which led down to a
little village at the base. Occasionally, between the trees, they caught
glimpses of red-roofed houses, and the spire of an ancient church, all
serenely beautiful in the midst of a peaceful landscape.

Now George and Bobby came across _poilus_ resting on either side of the
highway. And then, to bring the grimness of warfare once more to their
minds, a Red Cross ambulance, leaving behind it a long trail of
yellowish dust, rumbled up the hill, carrying its load of wounded to the
base hospital further to the rear.

Arriving at the bottom of the incline the two found themselves on a road
which turned abruptly. Soldiers were billeted in the village; and in the
courtyards and out on the streets were rolling kitchens, while parked at
various points they saw huge camions awaiting their turn to carry
supplies toward the front. Evidently but few of the inhabitants
remained; and the reason was at once apparent—there was scarcely a
house which did not show some evidence of scorching shell fire or the
devastation caused by bombs dropped from the air.

George and Bobby soon passed the quaint old church, no longer a place of
worship but a hospital, and continued on, soon leaving behind them the
village, with its soldiers, camions and other paraphernalia of war.

“Now let’s take a rest,” suggested Bobby, at length.

“You’ll not hear any objections from me,” said George. He turned his
gaze toward the east, adding: “I hope to goodness Don doesn’t run into
trouble over the front to-day.”

“I’m with you there, Georgie,” said Peur Jamais, gravely. “I never saw
such impolite fellows as those Boches. Just the other day one of them
chased me for miles, and all I did was to empty a belt of cartridges in
his direction. Honestly, I believe he wanted to hurt me.”

“I guess you’re about right,” laughed George.

“Hello! just cast your eyes along the road. But do it gently, though, so
as not to hurt them. Do you see that chap yonder—about to cross?”

“My vision being extremely good, I can.”

“Don’t you see anything familiar about him?”

George, after taking a long and earnest look at the blue bloused figure,
nodded his head.

“Yes; to be sure. It’s the peasant who’s been visiting our escadrille.”

“Correct, old chap. And say, did you ever notice how chummy he’s gotten
to be with Jason Hamlin? Funny combination, that—a college highbrow and
an humble, downtrodden tiller of the soil. By the way, Vicky Gilbert
certainly has said some funny things to Jasy.”

“Have you found out yet what the scrap is all about?”

Peur Jamais pondered an instant before replying, and then said, slowly:

“From what Vicky said it looks as if he thought Hamlin was, or rather
wasn’t—— No, that he was, I should say——” And here the young combat
pilot broke off abruptly, to further remark, after a few moments of
earnest reflection: “No—I reckon I’d better wait until further
developments. One day I happened to say a few words to one of the chaps
about it when along waltzed the captain, who had overheard; and he said
to me: ‘What do you mean?’ Crickets! It was awful!” Bobby began to grin
broadly. “It reminded me of the time I used to get hauled up in the
principal’s room to explain certain things that had happened in the
classroom. But, I say; let’s skip after the old boy, and interview him.”

“What’s the good?” asked George.

“None at all. But what’s the good of staying here? Coming?”

“First tell me what the captain said.”

“‘No!—a thousand times no!’ as the persecuted heroine in the play has
it. Later on—perhaps. Just now my sole desire in life is to inflict
some of my French upon the humble plodder.”

Without further ado, Peur Jamais started off and George, with a
good-humored smile, followed.

It took the boys but a few moments to reach the road where the peasant
had been observed; but although he had been walking very slowly the man
was not in sight. The road was as deserted as a road could be.

“Hello! That’s rather odd!” cried Peur Jamais. “A shabby way to treat a
couple of would-be interviewers, I call it. In classic language, I
wonder where he’s at!”

“That oughtn’t to be a hard job for Sherlock Holmes the Second to find
out,” suggested George.

Bobby laughed and began studying the surroundings with keen attention.

In the fields were growing crops, all bathed in bright, clear sunshine.
Little clumps of trees and patches of woods dotted the landscape, while,
far off, the irregular contour of the hills limned itself with hazy
indistinctness against the brilliant sky. To the left a touch of blue,
like a bold splash of paint upon canvas, indicated a pond, and nearer at
hand rose three sturdy oaks, majestic specimens of their kind. Just
behind these Peur Jamais espied a house.

“I shouldn’t wonder a bit if that’s the peasant’s castle,” he remarked.
“Suppose we journey over there, Georgie, and see! I declare! I won’t be
satisfied until I learn a bit more about him. It’s a little odd that
such an uncouth specimen should take so much interest in an aviation
camp.”

“Mild adventures, after our strenuous ones, have a sort of appeal to
me,” confessed George. “So I’m quite willing.”

Following the road for a short distance the boys found a narrow path
leading across the field; so they headed for the ancient oaks and the
house behind them.

They had expected to see some evidences of farming, some indications of
laborers in the fields beyond, but on arriving at the structure, a
typical old farmhouse, everything wore a mournful and deserted air, as
though all human activity and endeavor had long ago departed, leaving
the building to crumble and decay.

“It seems that we’ve had all our pleasure for nothing,” grumbled Peur
Jamais. “Nobody can be living in this old shack. But as a deserted house
is anybody’s home, I’m going in.”

“I’ll share the danger with you,” laughed George.

The door stood invitingly ajar, and one vigorous push sent it creaking
back on a pair of rusty hinges.

All the dreary and forlorn appearance which marked the exterior of the
ancient farmhouse was to be met with in the interior. Dust lay thick on
the floors, and a few pieces of broken-down furniture added their quota
to the depressing atmosphere.

“This place is enough to give a fellow the creeps!” declared Bobby.
“Just imagine how nice it would be strolling around here on a stormy
midnight, with lightning the only illumination. Hello!—goodness
gracious!”

A very unexpected interruption had caused Peur Jamais to utter the
exclamation.

Quick footsteps had sounded. And, as both boys, a little startled, but
more surprised, hastily glanced at an open doorway leading to another
room, they saw a blue-bloused figure suddenly appear.

It was the peasant for whom they had been seeking.



                         CHAPTER XVII—A MYSTERY


At another place and under different circumstances this meeting would
have been a most ordinary and commonplace event, but, somehow, in the
shadowed and deserted farmhouse it seemed to have imparted to it a
curiously dramatic effect.

It was Peur Jamais who broke a rather intense and awkward silence.

“Hello! You are here after all!” he cried.

“Ah! So it is some of my young friends, the aviateurs Americaines!”
exclaimed the peasant. His manner was that of a man who had been
startled by an unlooked-for intrusion, and, in consequence, felt
considerably displeased. “In France, mes amis, before entering a
dwelling one usually knocks.”

“So we do when we enter a dwelling,” said Peur Jamais, airily. “But what
in the world are you doing here?”

“And, may I inquire, what in the world are you doing here?”

“We came to see you.”

“You came to see me! How did you get here?”

Thereupon George Glenn, who had a more fluent command of French than
Bobby, smilingly explained.

“But, you must remember, people cannot go everywhere they please without
knowing that they have the right,” said the peasant, chidingly.

“Well, since we’re here we’re here,” said Peur Jamais. “However,
Monsieur, you certainly can’t be staying in a place like this?”

“I believe I have not as yet given any information as to my place of
residence.” The Frenchman’s tone clearly conveyed a hint that he was
annoyed at the curiosity which Bobby displayed. “Houses are like men,
mon ami: they live their allotted time, and then their days are done.”

“Well, come on, Georgie, let us take a look at the old place,” cried
Peur Jamais.

And Bobby, with a merry laugh, started for the adjoining room.

But his passage was unexpectedly blocked.

[Illustration: His passage was unexpectedly blocked]

The peasant had stepped in front of him, saying in a firm tone:

“Must I remind you, my young friend, of what I said just a few moments
ago?”

Bobby was surprised—so much surprised, indeed, that for an instant he
stared at the peasant without speaking; and his scrutiny was so
searching, so earnest, that the man, as though finding it either
annoying or disconcerting, moved toward a shadowy corner of the room.

“But what have you got to say about it?” blurted out Peur Jamais, at
length. “It isn’t your house; so I’d like to know why we mayn’t go
up-stairs?”

“Like good soldiers, we must sometimes obey commands without knowing the
reasons for their being given,” said the peasant, gravely. “So I am sure
you will consider me neither impolite nor unobliging if I refrain from
speaking further on the subject.”

“Certainly, Monsieur,” put in George, quickly. “We have no wish to
intrude. Come on, Bobby.”

Peur Jamais, however, his face wearing a rather curious expression,
began to interrogate the Frenchman, beginning with this rather unusual
question:

“What’s the best time to plant potatoes?”

The peasant smiled genially.

“Are you thinking of starting a farm?” he queried.

“No; I am merely a seeker after information.”

“Then I would advise you to buy a copy of some agricultural paper which
treats such questions exhaustively. And now, if you will pardon me, I
will say _au revoir_!”

“No objections, I’m sure!” grumbled Bobby. “I hope your farm prospers.
It’s quite a hard life, isn’t it?”

“That depends upon a man’s health, strength and temperament,” countered
the peasant, in an unruffled tone. “Goodbye!”

He laid just enough emphasis on the last words to cause the boys to nod
and then walk slowly outside.

They had progressed but a few yards when Bobby began to laugh and
chuckle in a most peculiar manner. Then his face suddenly became grave
and stern.

“Georgie, I think I’ve made a discovery—quite an astonishing discovery,
too,” he exclaimed. “That man is as much a peasant as either you or I.
He’s merely a bit of human camouflage; he’s masquerading—do you get
me?—masquerading! And what’s the answer?”

Peur Jamais’ brow was knit. His hands were clenched.

“I am willing to admit that just now he did not either speak or act
exactly like a peasant,” said George.

“You’ve said something, Georgie,” declared Bobby, very earnestly.
“Listen!” As they walked slowly, side by side, he gripped George Glenn’s
arm. “Ever since that night old Père Goubain talked to us about spies
I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open. Well, do you want to know what
I think the answer is?—that mysterious peasant is a spy—yes sir, a
confounded spy. Why has he been nosing around the aviation camp? Why
didn’t he want us to go up-stairs? Oh yes, it’s all as clear as day. Who
knows—it may even have been he who was the means of sending those
bombing machines to spill a little fireworks on the camp!”

By this time the two had reached the road, and Bobby stopped and leaned
against the fence.

“It strikes me that this hasn’t been such a mild adventure, after all,”
he continued, with increasing vehemence. “And through it we may be the
means of ridding France of a dangerous enemy; just think of it—you and
I, Georgie! I can almost hear the commander saying: ‘My brave and loyal
friends, in the name of my countrymen, I thank you!’”

“Can you also see the medals pinned to our manly breasts?” asked the
other, quizzically.

“I’m not joking, Georgie.”

“I’m sure you’re not. You look just as earnest as if Captain Von
Richtofen and his red planes had come over to pay us their respects.”

Peur Jamais sniffed.

“At any rate it isn’t going to be a laughing matter for some one,” he
asserted, grimly. “Pretty smart old chap, that! ‘Buy a copy of some
agricultural paper,’ eh! No doubt he’s chuckling now at the way he
pulled off those evasive answers. But evasions don’t go with court
martials.”

“You are certainly correct there,” acquiesced his companion.

“By George, Georgie, you’re an aggravating chap!” exploded Bobby. “By
the way you act one might think that this great discovery was of no more
importance than reading an agricultural paper. Wake up! You’re right
here on earth, and not up among the clouds!”

“I’m trying to do a little discreet thinking before indulging in any
indiscreet remarks,” said George. “You know, as Longfellow says: ‘Things
are not always what they seem.’”

“Well, I declare! Indiscreet talking, indeed!” almost shouted Peur
Jamais. “I suppose your idea is to let the old bird alone, eh?”

“As yet, I haven’t a very clear idea of what my idea on the subject is,”
returned George, with a smile.

“And I have such a clear idea of what my idea is that it fairly dazzles
me. Great Julius Cæsar!——”

Peur Jarnais blurted out this exclamation with considerable force, and
as he certainly could have neither seen nor heard anything to justify
its utterance George very naturally demanded an explanation.

“Oh, it’s nothing that would be likely to interest you,” returned Bobby,
sarcastically. “Some rather odd thoughts about Jason Hamlin just
happened to pop into my mind.” And then, as though ruminating to
himself, he added: “Oh, yes, I’m mighty glad we took this walk. It may
have an astonishing sequel.”

George pressed him for an explanation, but Bobby merely replied:

“One of these days you’ll find out.”

“But just think of all the suspense I’ll have to endure,” said George,
lightly.

Thereupon the march was resumed.

And notwithstanding the fact that both boys were in the uniform of the
flying corps they were occasionally obliged by the ever-vigilant
sentries to show their credentials.

It was after one of these experiences that Bobby thoughtfully remarked:

“I can’t understand how, with all their care, that old would-be peasant
was able to pull off the trick.”

“What trick?” asked George, innocently.

“Trying to kid me, eh?” jeered Peur Jarnais. “But I’m the original kid
that can’t be kidded.”

Toward late afternoon, seeing that a storm was approaching, the two took
counsel and decided that it might be better to retrace their steps.

“I prefer my shower baths taken in the regular way,” remarked Bobby. “By
the looks of it, I should say the weather is going from bad to worse.”

“And we’ll have to move quickly if we expect to escape it,” commented
the other.

During the entire trip George had many times felt twinges of anxiety in
regard to his chum Don Hale, which he found quite impossible to cast
aside. Acting as an escort over a hostile territory was a very dangerous
thing for a new pilot to undertake. He could recall many men who had
failed to return from such journeys, some of whom were probably
languishing in a German detention camp.

Quite a number of the Lafayette Escadrille were at the villa when the
boys arrived. But George Glenn found that he was unable to join in the
general fun and jollity.

The storm was very severe indeed; and during its height George, unable
to bear the suspense any longer, went to the telephone and called up the
bureau on the aviation grounds.

“Hello! Is Don Hale there?” he asked.

A pang shot through him as the answer came back:

“No; neither he nor Albert returned with the rest of the escort.”

“Did not return with the rest of the escort!” gasped George. He felt a
peculiar dryness come into his throat and into his heart a sinking
feeling. “Were the escorting machines attacked?” he asked.

“Yes; there was a lively scrimmage.”

“Great Scott! This is terrible!” murmured George. Then, speaking into
the transmitter again, he asked, weakly: “Have you no news of them at
all?”

“None whatever,” came the response. “We have telephoned to the
observation post at the front, but they can tell us nothing. Hale,
however, has been given credit for preventing the destruction of the
Caudron machine.”

By this time several others were crowding around. All had become
accustomed to tragic happenings and the occasional disappearance of some
of their members; yet every fresh event of the kind brought with it the
same distressing pangs.

“This is bad news, indeed!” exclaimed Victor Gilbert. “Poor Don Hale!
Poor Albert! I wonder—I do wonder what could have happened to them!”

“I hope it will not be the official communique that tells us,” said
George, gloomily, as he replaced the telephone on the hook.



                     CHAPTER XVIII—THE RED SQUADRON


When Don Hale saw the red planes of Captain Baron Von Richtofen behind
him he certainly received the shock of his life. The oncoming storm, the
sense of solitude and the great expanse above the clouds had all lulled
him into a sense of security.

A moment’s indecision nearly finished his career as a combat pilot.
Streams of bullets were flashing past, and one of them, crashing through
the little curved wind shield in front of his head, brought him to a
realization that only the quickest possible action could save his life.

He did then what many a flying fighter had done before him. A quick
movement of the control lever dipped the rear ailerons, sending the
plane almost vertically downward toward the earth. With the engine
stopped, he tipped to one side, and the machine entered the vrille, or
spinning nose dive.

With frightful velocity, turning on its axis, the Nieuport dove through
the agitated storm-clouds. The wind roared past him as it had never
roared before, singing and moaning, like the strains of some wild, weird
symphony as it beat against the plane’s wires and supports. Gasping for
breath, almost dazed by the fearful whirling motion, the boy,
nevertheless, felt the joy of triumph surging within him. He had cheated
the birds of ill-omen of their prey. He could laugh at their efforts.
They would never catch him now that he knew of their presence in the
sky.

Down, down shot the little biplane through an obscurity so dense that
nothing could be seen in any direction. And soon, while still surrounded
by the heavy vapors, it straightened out parallel to the earth, and,
shaken and rocked by the wind, sailed swiftly ahead.

But at that instant, just as all danger seemed to be passed, Don Hale
made another most alarming discovery—something had happened to his
motor, and though he strove with the utmost desperation to get it
started it persistently refused to work.

“Tough luck!” he burst out, aloud. “This is the worst ever! Here I am
miles over German territory.”

Filled with apprehension, with all sorts of dreadful fancies running
through his mind, and the dread and uncertainty of it all making his
nerves tremble and twitch, the young combat pilot volplaned through the
clouds.

Presently he skimmed through the thinner mists, and saw the darkened and
sombre-looking earth beneath him. His head was still aching from the
effects of the headlong plunge. His breath, too, came in short and
painful gasps. But all these physical manifestations were almost
unnoticed in the pilot’s excited state of mind.

Was there nothing that he could do to avert the fate for which he seemed
destined?

There must be. Surely his career as a combat pilot was not going to come
to such an inglorious end!

Feverishly—energetically, Don Hale continued to manipulate the levers
that controlled his motor. But there was no sign of it awakening into
life. And all the while he was gliding nearer and nearer the earth.

Now the vague, indefinite blurs of color were becoming definite forms
and shapes, and the meaningless patches of light and dark houses and
trees.

Sick at heart, feeling that everything was lost, with the direst fear of
an impending tragedy uppermost in his mind, the boy at length sat back
in his seat, and, for the first time, paid close attention to the ground
that seemed to be rapidly rising to meet him.

He had concluded that in the all-pervading gloom the Germans had not
discovered his presence, but almost immediately the anti-aircraft
batteries got into action and the surrounding air became suddenly filled
with exploding shrapnel shells.

Now he could hear their viciously-sounding detonations, and the steady
crackling of the guns which had sent them aloft.

Though faint and weak, the instinct of self-preservation asserted
itself, enabling him to turn the machine this way and that, in an effort
to dodge the hail of missiles. The Nieuport was wildly careening from
side to side or dropping short distances at lightning speed; and, to add
to his dismay, streams of “flaming onions,” like rockets of a greenish
hue, darted toward the helpless airplane, sparkling brightly in the
darkened atmosphere.

Yet, despite the terrible reality of the situation, it seemed to Don
that he was going through some strange, weird dream. Dumbly, he wondered
how soon the end would come. Only a miracle, it seemed, had saved him
thus far. He could not expect such good-fortune to continue. He seemed
to stand on the dividing line between life and eternity.

And when a strange, inexplicable calmness had taken possession of him
and he felt resigned to the impending fate, the resounding din of the
batteries below and the ear-splitting, appalling detonations of the
shells suddenly ceased, and he was gliding through the smoke-filled air
as unmolested as though on his own side of the line.

What did it mean?

The explanation was simple. The Germans below had at last realized the
truth. They were merely waiting for the machine to drop into their
midst. It was a galling thought. Not three hundred feet below he could
see them. And that picture of men gathering together in groups, of men
running and gesticulating, made a curious impression upon his
overwrought brain.

Many a time he had heard the boys jocosely referring to the words
“Kamerad, kamerad,” and for the first time he was in a position to
realize fully what that cry must have meant to some of those who uttered
it. And after the glorious, boundless freedom of the air—of the vast
spaces—how could he stand the horrors of a detention camp, where men,
penned in like sheep, were guarded and fed almost as if they were so
many captured animals!

Now he was one hundred feet nearer the earth—one hundred feet nearer
the clutch of his enemies—and, with the smoothness of a toboggan, the
machine was still gliding downward. Yes, the journey would soon be over!
He began to think of what the boys of the escadrille would say. In his
mind he pictured them sitting around the supper table, speculating as to
his unhappy fate.

How strange—how remarkable it seemed to be right there among the enemy!
Still held in the grip of an unnatural calmness, he gazed indifferently
at those gray-clad figures whose upturned eyes were fastened upon the
descending machine.

Now only seventy-five feet separated him from the ground. He would be
glad when all was over.

“There won’t even be any chance to set fire to the machine,” he groaned,
aloud. “The Germans will capture it intact. And who knows to what use
the crafty Boches may put it! But they’ll hear no ‘Kamerad, kamerad!’
from me.”

Suddenly a revulsion of feeling swept over the boy. The sight of the
Germans crowding around seemed to fill him with an anger he could not
repress. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fists in impotent wrath.
And with this fierce rebellion against the cruel fate that awaited him
his thoughts flashed back to Captain Baron Von Richtofen and his scarlet
planes. How little he had thought when hearing about them in the Café
Rochambeau that that selfsame Squadron of Death was destined to play a
part in his own career!

For hardly a moment had Don ceased his efforts to get the engine
running, and though it seemed useless—a futile task—he renewed them
once again. And just as he was about concluding that nothing remained to
be done but make a landing on a field toward which he had been heading,
his ears caught a sound which fairly electrified him.

“At last!” he gasped.

With a preliminary cough, one of the cylinders of the motor started to
work. Could it actually be possible?

A fierce, wild hope, painful in its intensity, seized upon Don Hale. It
was an agonizing moment—a moment in which he suffered all the torture
of a mind agitated by the most violent conflict between hope and fear.

And while the combat pilot was vaguely wondering if he had received just
another cruel stab the old familiar, deafening roar, with startling
abruptness, began to resound.

Uttering a shrill whoop of joy, Don Hale sent the Nieuport upward.

No music composed by the world’s greatest masters could have sounded
more sweet to him than the steady reverberations of the engine. It still
seemed unbelievable—something that could not be. All the joys of a man
who, having given up hope, is unexpectedly granted a reprieve were his,
as the airplane buffeted its way against the teeth of the
ever-freshening wind.

The disappointed Germans immediately sprang to the attack, and the
little Nieuport was running the gauntlet of rifle and revolver fire.
Fast as it flew, the bullets sped faster, and though the combat pilot
could not hear their wicked hum and zip he knew that leaden missiles
were flashing all about him, for several holes again appeared in the
upper plane.

“Can I make it! Can I make it!” he kept repeating.

Sometimes that wild race against such heavy odds seemed hopeless. He
dared not rise too high, for that would give the antiaircraft gunners a
chance of bringing him crashing down to the earth. True it was, that
many of the infantrymen seemed so paralyzed with astonishment at the
sight of a wildly-speeding Nieuport right over their heads as to forget
to fire.

As moment succeeded moment, and Don Hale remained unscathed, he peered
cautiously over the side of the cockpit. Now he was flying above a
little village fairly swarming with the troops of the Kaiser. He could
see the heavy camions rumbling through the streets and all the sights
typical of military operations which he had observed on the opposite
side of the trenches.

The thumping of his heart having in a measure subsided, and the chilling
tremors almost disappeared, he found this flying over the enemy’s
country, in spite of the bullets that continually sped toward him, a
strangely fascinating game.

The little village was presently left far to the rear, and the speeding
plane was again over the open country, with its whitish roads and green
fields dotted here and there with farms and houses.

All at once he saw something in the distance which caused him to turn
his plane in a northwesterly direction. It was a faintish, elongated
yellowish spot suggestive of a giant caterpillar, lying close to the
ground.

“A balloon—an observation balloon which has just been pulled down!”
cried Don Hale to himself. “I’ll get a closer look at it. Great Scott!”

From some totally unexpected quarter he was once again being fired at,
and a sharp metallic ring told him that some portion of his engine had
been struck by one of the marksmen below.

Once more he passed through an instant of overwhelming anxiety.

But the steady droning roar of the powerful engine brought cheer to his
heart.

“No—no; not yet!” he muttered. “I still have a chance to cheat the
Boches.”

The thrilling adventures and narrow escapes through which Don Hale had
passed instead of lessening his courage and determination had increased
them, though he fully realized how strangely the elements of chance had
favored him. That sharp ping of the bullet striking the engine acted on
his nature like a spark applied to gunpowder, arousing all his
combativeness.

As the plane neared the giant observation balloon a sudden and daring
idea flashed into the young combat pilot’s mind, and then, almost for
the first time, he thought of the part he had played in preventing the
destruction of the photographic machine. Why couldn’t he add another
feat to his credit?

“By George, I’ll make a good try!” he cried, his pulse beginning to
tingle anew.

The Nieuport was now almost upon the huge, unwieldy monster, and Don
could plainly see the details on its smooth and shining surface.

The balloon, anchored to a heavy motor tractor, swayed gently from side
to side as the cable to which it was attached was drawn down by a
windlass. Dozens of men, too, were aiding in its descent by pulling on
smaller ropes.

A touch on the control stick sent the Nieuport climbing upward. Then,
precisely at the proper moment, Don Hale put an end to the ascending
flight, and turning the nose of the machine downward, he shut off the
engine and dove straight for the great gas bag.

He had a vision of soldiers scattering in every direction—and they ran
like men who were seized with all the mad and unreasoning panic of
animals fleeing before a forest fire. There was something
ludicrous—almost absurd—in the picture they made which, even in that
intensely dramatic moment, involuntarily brought a half smile to the
face of the stern, grim-visaged boy in the pilot’s seat.

Don Hale knew that he was running a most appalling risk—indeed tempting
fate in a way he had never done before, and staking his life upon his
ability to make a success of his daring venture.

The instant for action had come. His machine was pointed directly toward
the slick, rounded surface of the balloon.

It made a most alluring target.

Don pushed a button, and by this action fired the eight rockets fastened
to the sides of the fuselage.

Instantly there came a resounding, awesome roar, and eight fiery trails,
each headed by a brilliant greenish light, were flashing toward the
balloon.

Before the pilot could come out of his dive several of the rockets
pierced the silken envelope, and from as many points there came vivid
bursts of flame—the days of usefulness of that particular “sausage”
were certainly over.

Elation was in Don Hale’s heart. And then, just as he redressed[9] the
machine, he caught a quick glimpse of a mighty burst of flame, which,
enveloping the balloon from end to end, rose in ruddy viciously-curling
and leaping tongues high in the air. In a moment the Nieuport had passed
far beyond.

Casting a look over his shoulder Don saw an extraordinary
spectacle—masses of flaming gas swept off by the breeze and
illuminating the surrounding gloom.

Triumphant—proud indeed, the boy decided to take no more risks, but
make straight for the aviation ground, and, if good fortune still held
sway, perhaps reach it before the rapidly gathering storm had burst in
all its fury.

Notwithstanding the whirl of excitement, the young pilot had vaguely
impressed upon his mind the disturbing truth that the lightning was
steadily growing brighter—the reverberations of thunder heavier. To
handle the Nieuport successfully in the wind and rain he knew would be a
most difficult task.

The boy began to feel, now, the inevitable reaction.

He was seized with a consuming anxiety to be away from the midst of
danger. But the rushing currents of air being dead against the Nieuport
it seemed to be just crawling along.

For the first time the pilot dared to rise higher. He was passing over
one of those desolate stretches which told most eloquently of the
terrible conflicts which had taken place. Everywhere great shell-holes,
in places overlapping one another, pitted the earth, and the bottoms of
many were partly filled with muddy water left by recent rains. Of all
the desolate, depressing sights which the eyes of man could look upon
this seemed one of the worst. It was as though a blight had descended
upon the earth, to wither and destroy everything which lay in its
sinister path. Not a village—not a house remained; all were in
crumbling ruins. Even the streets themselves could not be traced; and of
the trees and patches of woods there remained but grotesque, gaunt
trunks, entirely stripped of branches and leaves.

Of course this was not a new sight to the boy, and, under the
circumstances, he paid but little attention to it. Thoughts of the
trenches over which he must pass, and of the flying “Archies” the plane
would be sure to encounter were in his mind. He must ascend still
higher.

“This has been a trip, sure enough!” muttered Don. “But if I get through
safely I’ll never regret it. To-day, I feel that I have done my bit for
the Allied cause.”

Continually, he glanced in all directions. Vigilance was the price of
life. Many an airman had been stealthily approached from behind and
brought down without ever knowing what had struck him, and in the gloomy
shadows cast by the heavy storm-clouds it was doubly necessary to search
the heavens for every sign of the foe.

But, in spite of all the pilot’s extreme care, he was destined to make
presently another discovery—a discovery which once more set the blood
throbbing in his temples. It was the sudden appearance, at about his own
altitude, of another of Captain Baron Von Richtofen’s planes. It had
approached dangerously near, too, before he was aware of its presence.

It took Don Hale an instant to recover his wits. One moment he had
seemed to be alone in the vast expanse, and in the next he was
confronted by one of the scarlet enemy.

With lightning velocity the Boche bore down upon the Nieuport, and
before Don Hale could make a move to alter his course luminous bullets
were cutting a fiery trail through the gloom about him.

-----

Footnote 9:

Redressed—Straightened out.



                     CHAPTER XIX—THE PERILOUS GAME


At times, when the gravest dangers threaten, the human faculties, in
some mysterious way, gain a strength and mastery which completely banish
terror. Such was the case with Don Hale. As quickly as it was humanly
possible to do so, he turned his plane so that the engine was between
him and the showers of bullets. Then, obeying the injunction that
self-preservation is the first law of nature, he set the Vickers machine
gun into action.

And thus began a terrible duel in the air just beneath the tossing edges
of heavy and turbulent masses of vapor. It seemed almost certain that
one of the machines must be quickly sent crashing and hurtling downward.

The German pilot was evidently a master of his machine, and his
evolutions were performed with the greatest brilliancy. Don Hale had a
confused vision of a scarlet object flashing around, above and below him
with inconceivable rapidity. And he himself, in order to avoid the
enemy, was obliged to execute the most thrilling and daring maneuvers.

And at every favorable opportunity the wicked crackling of the machine
guns rang out. Each pilot was fighting with that desperation which
characterizes a hunted animal, brought to bay. To Don Hale it seemed
more like some thrilling, wonderful sport than an actual combat in which
defeat might mean the end of all things earthly. Scores of
tracer-bullets, leaving for an instant their long, thin trails of smoke,
sped by him whichever way he turned, some passing close to his seat
between the planes.

The fight was so fast and furiously contested that Don felt sure it must
come to a speedy termination. Every instant he expected to see the
bullets from his Vickers put an end to the battling career of that lone
member of Captain Baron Von Richtofen’s Red Squadron of Death. Yet,
extraordinary as it seemed, the enemy plane continued to flash and
circle about him with dazzling speed,—so fast indeed that only a
confused and blurred vision of its movements was registered on Don
Hale’s brain. Waves of dizziness swept over him; his face was smarting
and stinging from the terrific rush of air, while a touch of
air-sickness, a malady which sometimes affects even seasoned flyers, was
beginning to threaten him.

But, notwithstanding, he managed to keep a firm grip upon all his
faculties. One instant of panic—one instant of relaxation he knew would
be enough to bring this strange air duel to a dramatic and tragic
conclusion. His main effort was to keep zigzagging behind the enemy’s
tail, and thus make him waste his bullets on the empty air.

In this he was not always successful. Often he found himself facing the
sinister-looking scarlet Albatross, to get instantaneous glimpses of its
hooded pilot glaring toward him.

And even in those terrible moments, when the machines threatened to
crash into one another, Don Hale could not help thinking what an amazing
thing it was that he and this man, whom he had never met, whom he had
nothing against, and who, equally, had nothing against him, should be
fighting desperately, with all the ferocity of maddened tigers.

The combat, which seemed to be long-drawn-out but which in reality
occupied only a very short time, was brought to an end by Don Hale. As
the German plane, momentarily occupying an advantageous position, dove
toward him, firing as it came, the combat pilot of the Lafayette
Escadrille performed an evolution known as the renversement. He sent the
Nieuport with meteor-like swiftness upward, and, while making a partial
loop, flying head downward, the red Albatross flashed beneath him.

Still defying the laws of gravity, Don Hale straightened the course of
his plane, so that it was flying horizontally in a direction exactly
opposite to its line of flight at the beginning of the evolution. He
then cut off the motor and operated the ailerons at the sides of the
planes, which caused the machine to turn over sideways in a semicircle,
and thus bring it back to a natural position.

The renversement was made with such remarkable swiftness that before the
red Albatross could swing around to renew the attack Don was shooting in
an upward drive straight for the shelter of the clouds.

Almost like a bullet from a machine gun he entered the lower strata and
continued to climb, safe at last from the enemy who had sought to
destroy him. But the lightning glared brighter than ever; the thunder
rolled more ominously. He felt sure that only a short distance away the
rain was falling in torrents.

Quite naturally, the boy’s brain was in a whirl, but a feeling of
thankfulness that after encountering so many perils he had escaped
unscathed predominated.

Finally emerging from the murky darkness into the light above, Don,
scanning the heavens with the most earnest attention, could see no signs
of other planes.

“Well, I have had all the adventures I wish for one day!” he
soliloquized. “Whew! It was certainly a series of nightmares! Now I’ll
just stay up here, wait until the storm is over, and after that beat it
so fast for the airdrome that a marmite wouldn’t stand any chance in the
race. How wonderful it is to be up here in this bright sunshine! It
seems as though I must have drifted into the arctic regions by mistake.
This is certainly great!”

It was, indeed, a singular scene upon which the combat pilot gazed. The
upper surfaces of the ever-rolling and tossing clouds, of the purest and
most dazzling white, like a vast field of snow and ice, stretched off to
the limits of vision. It seemed like a glimpse of another world—a world
of wonderful and impressive solitude. Not a sign of life could be seen
in all that great circle. There was nothing to link one’s thoughts with
the world below.

As before, Don saw the shadow of the wind-buffeted plane fantastically
skimming over the crests of vapor. Very soon vivid lightning was
flashing from cloud to cloud and the rolling, booming reverberations of
thunder were beginning to fill the upper region with solemn and
awe-inspiring volumes of sound.

Don felt that he must rise still higher. Every gleam filled him with a
strange foreboding; it seemed as though, no matter which way he
traveled, there was no possibility of escaping the gravest danger. The
pilot was having difficulty, too, in navigating the Nieuport in the
sweeping gusts of wind. Sometimes it was carried rapidly aloft like a
chip on a rising wave, to drop, a moment later, with a suddenness that
almost took away his breath.

His altimeter began to register an increasing height, and at length the
boy, in an icy region, was looking down upon far-off masses of clouds.

If the young combat pilot of the Lafayette Escadrille had not been so
intensely lonely or so worn out with excitement and fatigue, he would
positively have enjoyed the strange and unique experience. But now he
most ardently hoped that the fury of the tempest would soon abate.

Over what part of the country was he? Perhaps he had gone miles and
miles out of his course. There was no way to tell.

And what if anything should happen to his engine, as it had done before?

Now and again his thoughts involuntarily became fixed upon such an
eventuality, causing, anew, chilling tremors to sweep through his frame.
As important, now, as the beating of his heart were the pulsations of
the motor. It filled him with a sense of awe, and his keenly-listening
ears were attuned to catch the slightest change in the never-ceasing
roar of the engine.

“By this time the boys must think I’m a goner,” he communed to himself,
aloud. “Poor George Glenn! I’ll bet no one dreams that I’m away up here,
condemned to sail around in great circles until warring nature gets over
its tempestuous fury. And, oh boy, but it’s cold! Even with these heavy
gloves, my hands are becoming numb. I’m beginning to realize now just
how an icicle feels. I don’t know where I am, but I certainly wish I
were somewhere else!”

Time began to drag out interminably. Anxiously, he kept glancing down
upon that glorious, shimmering, white expanse in the hope that he might
discover signs of the clouds beginning to break away—of some little
ragged opening through which he might get a glimpse of the earth. But it
always presented the same monotonous expanse.

“Not yet! Not yet!” he sighed.

Like a rider driving a fractious steed, he was obliged to pay the
closest attention to the navigation of the speedy Nieuport; and as the
unruly horse may sometimes take the bit in its mouth, defying the will
of its master, so the airplane, aided and abetted by the gale of wind,
often gave him cause for the greatest anxiety.

Between the blue heaven above and white clouds below, he kept on flying
in great circles, having in his ears the never-ceasing reverberations of
the rolling and booming thunder. Would it never end! How long was he
condemned to remain so high aloft?

The sun, at length, was descending in the west and before very long must
disappear behind the distant masses of vapor. More than once Don
considered tempting fate by a descent through the clouds, and each time
the peril deterred him. How would it be possible for the Nieuport to
live amidst such a raging storm!

“No, no! I can’t risk it,” muttered Don. “By George! Was a human being
ever placed in such a position before? Just now I can’t say that I want
to enjoy the caressing touches of those wind-blown clouds on my cheek.”

Bravely, the boy tried to divert his mind, but the physical discomforts,
besides the increasing sense of being out of the world, made it quite
impossible. The storm had now reached its height. Forked tongues of
lightning were flashing incessantly in the clouds, illuminating the
interior of their swiftly-flying masses with a weird and spectral bluish
glare.

“Not yet! Not yet!” sighed Don, again. “Great Scott! I can’t stay up
here forever. This is certainly a case where a fellow needs a friend.
Hello! Something besides clouds and blue sky at last!”

Far below, just tiny specks, the pilot had observed a flock of birds,
skimming close to the ragged, tossing edges of vapor—so close, indeed,
that at times they became lost to view as it closed about them.

That sight was, indeed, a grateful one to the lone occupant of the upper
air. He turned his machine to watch them, until at length they grew
faint in the distance, then became lost to sight, leaving him to feel
more alone than ever.

As the sun crept still lower toward the horizon, the effects began to
change; the arctic whiteness was being replaced by softer and more
mellow tints; delicate purplish shadows filled the hollows of the
clouds, and the deep blue of the sky above was slowly fading. The scene
constantly grew more wonderful and impressive. The rays of the great
coppery-colored ball, at last partly submerged in the clouds, were
tipping the masses of flying vapor with an orange glow. Sometimes their
varying forms suggested mountain peaks or stretches of rolling hills;
sometimes the keenly imaginative Don Hale could see in them suggestions
of fairy-like cities, with minarets sparkling like spots of golden
flame.

The knowledge that the day was coming to a close made him more and more
eager to begin his homeward journey. But, with a persistency that was
exasperating—alarming—the storm continued to expend its fury. Still
there was not a rift—not a sign to give him either cheer or hope.

And now a new worry—a new apprehension—began to attack him; the
gasoline was giving out. He could not hope to keep up his flight much
longer. The thought made the blood fairly pound in his temples.

Thrilling as all his adventures had been, was fate going to crown them
all with one infinitely more thrilling—infinitely more dangerous?

The combat pilot shuddered as he pondered over the situation. Captain
Baron Von Richtofen’s dreaded Squadron of Death seemed indeed puny and
insignificant when compared with the tremendous forces of nature which
he must eventually face.

A short reprieve from the terrible danger remained. He could not yet
bring himself to make that great plunge—a plunge where all the elements
of chance were dead against him—where he could expect no mercy—where
no human power save his own could be availing.

Five minutes passed; then ten. He dared not delay much longer. With a
tense and drawn face, Don Hale again peered over the side of the cockpit
in an effort to discover some point where the storm had spent its force.

There was none.

“It’s as bad as staking one’s life on the flip of a coin,” he groaned.
“Well, here goes!”

The boy firmly pursed his lips, operated the ailerons by means of the
control lever, and, next instant, the plane was speeding downward. He
could see the golden lights and purple shadows apparently flashing up to
meet him; he could feel the plane, in the grip of the stronger currents
of air, shivering and trembling.

And then a saying of the French pilots came into his mind: “The plane
fell like a dead leaf to the ground.” Was his Nieuport, too, destined to
“fall like a dead leaf to the ground”?

That question must soon be answered.

For one brief instant he pulled up the machine. During that interval of
time, short as it was, he had a terrifying vision of a quivering,
glimmering light which filled the whole surrounding air. The appalling
boom and crash of thunder overwhelmed the sound of the motor. He seemed
to be sailing just above some frightful inferno resembling nothing he
had ever before encountered.

With a sinking feeling at his heart and a muttered: “Now!” the pilot
once more turned the nose of his machine downward.

The dreaded plunge was made.

In a second’s time he had left the gold and purple of the upper world
and was immersed in the storm-clouds. As though dipped in an icy bath,
he felt cold chills running through him and running through him again.
Flash after flash of lightning, blinding in its bluish glare,
momentarily tore asunder the darkness, and he had instantaneous glimpses
of phantom-like masses of vapor and portions of the moisture-laden
machine gleaming with a sharp, metallic light.

Electricity seemed to be forming all about him. He could not rid himself
of a terrible fear that the machine might get into the path of one of
those zigzag streaks of flame chasing each other in every direction. The
thunder was cracking like pistol shots multiplied a thousand fold. It
came, too, in wild, gurgling notes, or in mighty, deafening detonations
that dazed and bewildered the pilot.

In the anguish of his soul, he cried out, not once but many times:

“I am lost! I am lost!”

And so it really seemed; for the bravely-battling plane, almost shaken
to pieces by the onrushing wind, was driven first one way and then
another, or beaten back, threatening at every instant to topple over on
its back and complete the rest of its journey in an uncontrollable
spinning dive.

Don Hale was fairly gasping for breath. Every bone in his body ached.
His brain was dizzy and reeling. But that powerful instinct of
self-preservation implanted in every one prevented him from giving up in
utter despair, though he fully expected that the airy caverns of the
clouds would be the last thing his eyes were ever destined to look upon.

With teeth gritted together, he fought on, matching his wits and brains
with the seething, shrieking vortex that toyed with the plane and seemed
bent upon his destruction. And each hard-won victory brought a little
more hope to his heart and lessened the strain on his overwrought
nerves. Yet it all appeared unreal, unnatural and unearthly—like a
chaos—nature itself in the grip of anarchy.

But how thick were the clouds? He could not understand why he should be
so long immersed in their humid depths.

However, when torrents of rain presently began thudding and splashing
against him he realized that he must be approaching the lower surfaces.
How earnestly he longed for the moment to come! Each blinding glare of
lightning, each mighty peal of thunder still had a terrifying effect. He
could not rid himself of an awful dread that the fates would, at last,
decide against him.

Thus, when the Nieuport actually staggered through the last strata, the
boy almost felt as if it was something scarcely to be believed. He could
not realize that the most terrible part of the voyage was over and that
as he had cheated the Germans in their prey so had he cheated the Storm
King.

But dangers were not yet ended. All around him extended a curious
expanse almost as obscure, almost as gloomy and murky as that through
which he had just passed. And where was he to land? In what direction
lay the encampment of the Lafayette Escadrille? Don was even in doubt as
to whether he had gone beyond that devastated strip of territory—“No
Man’s Land.”

“I reckon there’s nothing to do but trust to blind luck,” he murmured to
himself. “Ah, old earth—good old earth—I never appreciated you so much
before!”

Down, still further down glided the Nieuport, while the boy strove to
pierce the enshrouding darkness.

At last the very faintest of blurs brought an exclamation of joy to his
lips. But as the utmost caution was necessary in approaching the earth,
he began to volplane at an angle less steep. It would be the easiest
thing in the world, he knew, to smash the biplane in landing, and thus
bring disaster at the journey’s end.

But still everything was too indistinguishable, too hidden by the rain
and shadows for him to gain any idea of the nature of the terrain. All
he could make out were faint and mottled grayish patches merging
insensibly into one another.

A decision must soon be made. The gasoline was running dangerously low.

Still nearer the earth, like a storm-tossed gull, the Nieuport
descended.

It was only a few hundred feet in the air when Don Hale made a discovery
that brought a hoarse cry from his lips.

He had seen the faintest possible gleams of ruddy color tingeing the
gray gloom to the west.

What was that light? What did it mean?

With joy surging through his heart, Don Hale thought he knew the answer.
The light came from flares, lighted on the aviation grounds, to act as a
beacon of safety to belated airmen.

“As sure as I live, that’s what it must be!” he cried. “But——” A
sudden doubt entered his mind. “Does it come from ‘Germany’ or France?”

The boy felt, however, that to hesitate any longer would be foolhardy in
the extreme. He guided his plane toward the faint light, watching it
slowly growing stronger with an inexpressible feeling of thankfulness
and relief.

Very soon he could faintly trace the lines of a gigantic letter T,
formed by a number of fiercely-blazing fires.

There could be no further doubt; it was certainly an aviation field.

Only the knowledge that he must keep all his faculties alert in order to
guide the plane prevented the pilot from uttering a series of jubilant
shouts.

Now the blazing flares were becoming clear and distinct. He could make
out the tongues of flame, and the illumination spreading out on all
sides, to cast a faint, delicate glow for a short distance on the
water-soaked ground. Then he began to detect the presence of human
beings gathered in little knots or running in the direction of the
plane.

Steadying his overtaxed nerves, Don Hale skilfully maneuvered his plane,
with the rain and the wind still beating fiercely against him.

A bright flash of lightning—the brightest he had seen since leaving the
clouds—suddenly bathed the earth in its vivid glare. And that swift
transition from almost the darkness of night to the brilliancy of
noonday brought peace of mind to the young combat pilot of the Lafayette
Escadrille. What cared he now for Captain Baron Von Richtofen and his
Red Squadron of Death or the loud and angry rumbling of his other
enemy—the Storm King! For there, right below him, were the familiar
hangars, the familiar fields—the headquarters of the escadrille itself.

And, only fifty feet above the ground, he could hear, above the wind,
which still played its wild symphony on the wires of the machine, the
welcoming shouts and hurrahs of his fellow pilots of the squadron.

Twenty-five feet—then ten! And presently the rubber-tired wheels jarred
against the ground, and the Nieuport, traveling a short distance, was
brought to a stop by the gusts of wind that bore down upon it.

And that had no sooner happened than Don Hale, the happiest boy in the
world, was lifted out of the machine by his loudly felicitating and
joyous friends.

The perilous game had been played and won.



                           CHAPTER XX—HAMLIN


Don Hale was certainly given a tremendous reception; and a short time
later, while comfortably seated in a chair at the villa recounting his
memorable adventures, was highly gratified to hear T. Singleton Albert
verify his statement concerning the destruction of the observation
balloon.

“This is the way it came about,” explained Drugstore: “During that
scrimmage with the Boches I happened to see Don’s machine, hotly
pursued, enter the clouds. And Don being rather new at the game, I
thought I’d try to hang around a bit, so as to keep an eye on him if I
could.”

“Bully for you!” cried Don. “Albert, you’re a brick!”

“I had a pretty fierce time of it, too, with tracer bullets cutting
holes through the air all about me, but, after a while, I managed to
slip away from the attacking planes. By that time the scrap was over and
the photographic machine and its escort were on their way home.

“Somehow or other, I don’t know why, I had a pretty strong suspicion,
Don, that your Nieuport wasn’t among them. So, instead of making for the
airdrome, I flew back over the lines, incidentally saying
‘how-do-you-do’ to a number of ‘Archies’ and a bushel or two of
‘onions.’ I shot up pretty high to avoid being shot up myself, and after
traveling quite a considerable distance began cutting big spirals in the
air. The clouds were looking mighty ominous and threatening, and several
times yours truly was tempted to beat it, but, fortunately, something
restrained me.

“My Nieuport was away up near the ceiling when, on looking down, I
suddenly discovered a plane which appeared exactly as though it was
crawling along the ground. Through a pair of binoculars I could see the
circles of red, white and blue on the wing tips. Then I volplaned a bit,
hoping to make out whether it was your machine or not.” Albert began to
laugh. “Yes, I saw the whole shooting match, Don; and the way that big
sausage began to blaze after your little interview certainly tickled my
fancy.”

“Oh, boy, but wouldn’t I have enjoyed the sight!” giggled Bobby Dunlap.

“Of course it wasn’t possible for me to tell whether it was your plane
or not, Don, but after seeing the Nieuport begin to climb to a higher
altitude I concluded to say good-bye to ‘Germany’ and streak for the
home plate.

“Very soon it began to rain—rain like the dickens, too, and before I
got within miles of the airdrome my bus was doing everything but turning
somersaults. Anyway, Don, you’ve got a witness to prove that you turned
the trick.”

“That’s simply great!” chuckled Don. “Some afternoon, eh?”

“You bet!” agreed Drugstore. “But it certainly was a jolly rude jolt to
me when I got back and found that after all you had not returned.”

“Anyway, he’ll have something to talk about for the rest of his life,”
said George Glenn.

“There’s no doubt about that,” laughed Don.

The young pilot had by no means recovered from the effects of his
turbulent experiences. Some of the dizziness still remained. His nerves
occasionally twitched and he experienced a feeling of physical
exhaustion, all the more unpleasant because of his boyish fear that the
others might observe it.

It had required a considerable effort for him to tell his story, and a
still greater to enter into the general conversation.

Finally the thunder began to roll less frequently; the storm was
breaking away.

Soon afterward one of the mechanics stepped into the room to inform Don
that his machine had been found full of holes.

“Just a little bit more, and it would have made a capital piece of
mosquito netting, Monsieur l’Aviateur,” he declared.

“If I should happen to see any mosquitoes around here so big that they
couldn’t get through such holes I’d sure take that next train for home,”
guffawed Bobby Dunlap.

“And if I’d had a piece of mosquito netting manufactured for me by
German bullets, I wouldn’t even wait for the train; I’d start running,”
laughed the mechanic. He turned to Don.

“It’s a great wonder to me, Monsieur, that your nose and ears weren’t
clipped off.”

“I expected more than that to happen,” returned Don, with a faint smile.

At length Bobby Dunlap began to tell the hero of the afternoon about the
mysterious peasant.

“He’s a German spy, sure as shooting,” he whispered. “But don’t say
anything to the boys about it, Donny. George Glenn promised me he
wouldn’t.”

“Why not explain the matter to the lieutenant?” asked Don, quite
breathlessly.

Peur Jamais reflected an instant, then shook his head.

“I intended to at first,” he declared, “but, thinking it over, concluded
to wait until I could arrest the old bird myself and march him over here
at the point of a pistol. And, oh boy, that is going to make a bigger
sensation than your cooking the big sausage.”

“But he may slip away,” suggested Don.

“That idea struck me, too,” commented Peur Jamais, in a troubled tone.
“But”—he brightened up—“it will only mean that somebody else is going
to do the point-of-the-pistol act. Wouldn’t it make a dandy movie drama,
eh? And, just to think, Donny, if it hadn’t been for old Père Goubain I
might never have known what was going on.” Bobby laughed joyously.
“Crickets! I can hardly wait for the fireworks to begin.”

In the interest aroused by the story of the mysterious peasant, Don
almost forgot his fatigue. He could not remember ever having enjoyed a
supper more than he did that evening; and the sense of security and
freedom from all danger as they sat around after the meal proved most
pleasant and welcome.

On the following day Don Hale was in his Nieuport again, and performed
the usual two patrols of two hours each over the lines without meeting
with adventures.

Several weeks passed, and it was a time filled with enough narrow
escapes and thrilling incidents to last even an aviator a lifetime.

At length Don Hale’s day off arrived. Late in the afternoon he seated
himself comfortably by the window and spent the time in reading a book
and occasionally joining in the conversation about him. The
irrepressible Bobby Dunlap was in the room, as was also Jason Hamlin.

Finally the latter rose to his feet and began walking toward the door,
whereupon Bobby blurted out:

“I say, Jasy, have you seen the old peasant lately?”

Hamlin, who was one of those individuals who apparently dislike the
slightest familiarity, frowned, remarking briefly:

“Yes; just the other day.”

“I must say, this particular specimen is rather a dull looking old chap
until one gets to talking to him. Ever been over to his place, Hammy?”

“Yes,” answered Jason.

“So have I,” laughed Peur Jamais. “And there’s everything there but what
a farm ought to have. He must be using some method of growing vegetables
by wireless. By the way, Jason, ever go through that old ramshackle
house?”

“Only the first floor,” responded the other, adding abruptly: “Bobby,
several times I’ve overheard you making mysterious observations in
regard to that particular ‘specimen,’ who is a rather dull looking old
chap until one gets to talking to him. How would you like to offer an
explanation?”

Bobby’s expression swiftly changed. The laughing light left his eyes,
and, for an instant, he looked not only surprised but displeased.

“So you were in the house?” he cried. “Well, what did you find?”

“That the peasant was not altogether what he seemed. I heard you also
mention Sherlock Holmes, which would naturally suggest that you thought
of doing a little investigating. How about it?”

Bobby scowled quite fiercely.

“Really, Jasy, I’m quite surprised at you,” he declared. “Did you learn
how to eavesdrop in a correspondence school or did it just come
naturally?”

“One doesn’t have to eavesdrop when you’re around, Bobby,” returned
Hamlin. “You don’t know how to whisper.”

“Thanks, frightfully,” growled Bobby.

“Some people have ears so keen that they can even hear what isn’t
intended for them. Run outside and play. When I want to tell you
anything about the old peasant you’ll get it first hand. And as I notice
you seem to appreciate his company so much I won’t be impolite enough to
make any disparaging remarks about him.”

“Some people’s eyes are so sharp they can even see what isn’t intended
for them,” laughed Hamlin. “However, I won’t avail myself of your kind
permission to run out and play, but will take a walk instead.”

“Where?” asked Bobby.

“It’s a secret, but I’ll tell you. I’m going in the direction of my
destination. So-long, Messieurs. I’ll see you later.”

And, with a half mocking laugh and a wave of his hand, Hamlin
disappeared outside.

“I declare, that chap’s about the limit!” exclaimed Peur Jamais to Don
Hale. He lowered his voice. “You noticed, Donny, that he didn’t want to
tell us where he is going. I wonder if——” Bobby paused, looked
thoughtfully out of the window, scratched the back of his head, then
resumed: “Yes, I’ll bet that’s just it!”

“What is?” asked Don.

“That Jasy’s going over to see the old boy now. Say, Don, put up that
book, and see how near my deduction comes to the truth.”

“Which means, I suppose, that you’re going over there yourself?” asked
Don.

“You guessed it the first time. Coming?”

“Having aroused my curiosity so much about the mysterious peasant, I
think I will,” responded Don. “It adds a touch of activity to a day
otherwise full of perfect repose.”



                         CHAPTER XXI—THE ARREST


The cheerful glow was fading from the sky when Don and Bobby Dunlap
started out in quest of mild adventure.

The boys walked leisurely—in fact so leisurely that when Don Hale had
his first glimpse of the three majestic oaks which concealed the old
farmhouse from view, Venus, the evening star, was making its sparkling
presence known in the bluish-gray firmament.

“See here, Donny,” almost whispered Bobby, “I don’t think we ought to
make this a conventional visit. In our present capacity as detectives I
feel that we’re justified in using any means at all to trap this old
codger. Let’s steal up and do a little spying ourselves.”

“Just the scheme,” approved Don.

The two started ahead.

The dreary, deserted aspect of the surroundings, the distant booming of
the guns and the nature of the expedition all combined to produce a
tingling sensation in Don Hale’s nerves.

Now they were approaching the great trees, and the boy caught his first
glimpse of the old dilapidated dwelling. In the dim shadows of the end
of day, with a mystery hovering over it, it assumed in his eyes a weird
and sinister appearance. The gables and chimneys were silhouetted
crisply against the translucent tones of the ever-darkening sky. Don’s
eyes roved over the windows, each a dull and lifeless patch of dark.
Everything gave the impression of utter desolation.

“I don’t believe the mysterious peasant can be around just now,” he
murmured. “And I reckon Bobby’s idea in regard to Jason Hamlin is
altogether wrong.”

Skirting around the old oaks, the two reached an open stretch. However,
there were masses of shrubbery beyond, affording excellent places of
concealment; so, after a moment’s reflection, Don and Bobby continued
straight along, and presently found themselves in the midst of the dense
shadows not far from the entrance to the house.

A few minutes passed, and Don began to feel that such a vigil around a
deserted house had in it something of the absurd and ridiculous.

“Bobby——” he began.

“Sh-h-h-h!” whispered Bobby.

Then silence between the two ensued.

And in all probability it would have remained unbroken for some time but
for the sound of human voices suddenly coming from the house. They were
raised, as though the speakers had become engaged in a heated argument.

The watchers were fairly electrified.

“Aha! What did I tell you!” blurted out Bobby, forgetting caution in his
eagerness and excitement. “I know those voices. They belong to Hamlin
and the spy.”

The altercation grew louder and more turbulent, then quieted down,
until, finally, the quietude was as complete as before.

“I wonder what it all means!” murmured Don. “The mystery deepens. Ah!
Things seem to be developing fast.”

Cautiously, he stepped over to Peur Jamais’ side. “What’s the next move
in the game, Bobby?” he inquired, sotto voce—“the point-of-the-pistol
act?”

“Keep still!” commanded Bobby, fiercely. “I’m trying to hear what they
have to say. Did you catch any of the words?”

“Not one,” answered Don. Then, with a muttered exclamation indicative of
extreme surprise and annoyance, he faced about, nudged Bobby in the
ribs, and exclaimed in a low, suppressed tone: “As I live, some one is
coming along the road. It won’t do to stay here. We’ll be seen.”

“And if we get around on the other side we’ll most likely be observed by
the chaps in the house,” burst out Peur Jamais. “Who in the world could
have expected anything like this? By George! It must be a veritable
spies’ retreat.”

Somewhat precipitously, Bobby began to move around the vegetation, and
Don joined him a moment later on the opposite side.

Peering between the leaves, the latter could soon make out a shadowy
form approaching. But the light was too dim for him to see whether the
man was civilian or soldier. The boy’s interest was aroused to the
highest pitch.

What could this man’s errand be? Evidently he must know the mysterious
peasant and be familiar with the grounds.

“Curious! Curious!” muttered Don.

Expectantly—anxiously, he waited until the man had passed, then began
retracing his steps, with Bobby close at his heels.

When he had resumed his former position, the boy, gazing over the top of
the branches and leaves, was just in time to observe the man disappear
in the dense shadows of the old farmhouse.

“Now what do you think of all this?” almost stuttered Bobby. “Oh, boy,
but I feel kind of sorry for Jasy, though. This night’s work may get him
into a whole pile of trouble.”

He was evidently going to add something more, but the sound of voices
again stopped him. They were no longer raised as if in anger, yet,
nevertheless, the conversation was evidently being carried on with the
greatest seriousness.

And just about this time the two disciples of Sherlock Holmes saw a very
dim light appear in one of the windows of the first floor, which,
flashing in an erratic fashion, rapidly grew stronger, as though some
one were bringing a lamp into the room.

Very soon the last vestige of day had disappeared, and overhead the
stars and constellations were shining and twinkling with that wonderful
brilliancy which they only possess when viewed far from smoke-filled
towns. The boys no longer feared discovery. Night, with all its mystery,
all its weirdness and majesty, was upon them, and though his fellow
pilot was only a few yards away Don could no longer distinguish his
form.

Easy in mind, therefore, they were able to give their undivided
attention to the house. Now and again the light was blotted out, as
figures momentarily passed in front. It was all very interesting,
invoking in the mind thoughts of plots, of mysteries and of the
machinations of spies.

“If we could only hear what they are saying,” groaned Bobby.

“I know a way,” declared Don.

“How?”

“I’m going to crawl right up beneath the window and listen.”

“Bravo, Donny! I’m with you there.”

Carefully as the two proceeded, it was impossible, in the darkness, to
avoid making some noise; and each time both involuntarily halted in
their tracks, half expecting to hear some one come rushing out of the
house to investigate.

“Great Scott!”

The young combat pilot could not repress this exclamation, and, at the
same instant, he heard a low whistle coming from the unseen Bobby close
at hand.

Both had been caused by a peculiar action of one of the occupants of the
room. Lamp in hand, he had approached the window, and, thrusting the
feeble light outside, moved it up and down and sideways several times.

Mystified—puzzled, Don Hale felt that any further advance under the
peculiar circumstances would be entirely too risky, and he was about to
whisper this opinion to Bobby when a very faint sound from the rear
caused him to turn quickly. A peculiar tingling sensation shot through
him. Yet he could not quite explain the reason why. What was it he had
heard?—a footfall? Or, in the excitement, had his imagination been
tricked by the rustling of the vegetation?

In the darkness and mystery of the night the unseen often assumes in the
imagination formidable proportions, carrying with it curious,
undefinable fears.

And while Don Hale stood there, irresolute, his ears distinctly caught
the sound of footsteps. Then followed a sharp, metallic click.

A stream of whitish light was fantastically streaking across the ground
toward the boys.

An involuntary exclamation escaped Don’s lips. He felt himself almost
shivering.

But a few paces away stood a man. And, clearly, the electric torch which
he carried was seeking them out. What was the meaning of it all? How had
they been so unerringly tracked?

Nearer and nearer came the brilliant white rays; then leaving the ground
they shot upward, wavered forth and back erratically and presently fell
squarely upon his face.

“Make no move, Messieurs!” exclaimed a strong, firm voice. “You are
under arrest!”

“Under arrest!” gasped Don, literally astounded. “Who—who are you?”

“I don’t—I don’t understand!” quavered Bobby Dunlap. Rather feebly,
sepulchrally he echoed Don Hale’s query: “Who are you?”

The white light suddenly described a circle in the air, and flashed for
one brief, solitary instant, upon a silver shield. The man was holding
his coat open, thus allowing it to be seen.

“What—what does this mean?” stuttered Peur Jamais, while Don Hale, more
surprised, more nonplused than he had ever been in his life, vainly
strove to see the features of the mysterious person before them.

“It means that, as a member of the French secret service, I am carrying
out my orders,” came the astonishing rejoinder. “Let me repeat: you are
under arrest.”

“But why? What for?” almost exploded Bobby, who had found his voice and
nerve. “You have made some extraordinary mistake. Aha! Now I think I
know what it means—you’ve got the wrong people, that’s it. Those you
are seeking are in that house,—in that house, do you understand! Quick,
now, before they get away.”

To further increase Bobby’s agitated and disturbed state of mind the man
uttered a gruff laugh, following this with a loud whistle.

Almost instantly, as if in answer, footsteps sounded, and, on turning
quickly, Don and Bobby saw three men just leaving the house; the beams
from a swinging lantern carried by the foremost now and then throwing
weird splotches of light upon their forms, one instant bringing them out
in sharp relief, the next allowing the darkness to again gather them in
its folds.

“It’s all utterly beyond me,” muttered Don Hale, as he viewed the
strange little procession approaching.

The man with the lantern was the mysterious peasant. And, strangely
enough, he showed no more surprise at finding the two American aviators
so close to his door than if such a visit were the most ordinary and
commonplace thing in the world. One of those accompanying him was Jason
Hamlin; the other the boys had never seen before.

Jason Hamlin was the first to speak.

“And so we meet under rather peculiar circumstances!” he remarked,
harshly. “Let me say, Peur Jamais, that——”

“Let me say something first,” interrupted Bobby, savagely. “Do you know
what he tells us?”—he jerked his finger in the direction of the man
with the electric torch—“that we are under arrest.”

“So am I,” exclaimed Hamlin, in a voice which shook with suppressed
anger.

“You, too, under arrest!” gasped Don. “By Jove, this is certainly a
weird night!”

“And how about that chap parading around in a peasant’s blouse and
wooden shoes?” cried Peur Jamais. “If any one ought to be arrested he’s
the one.” He turned to the secret service man. “I demand that you take
him into custody. He’s an impostor—a—a——”

“Softly—softly, my young friend,” broke in the mysterious peasant. “I
deeply regret that an unpleasant duty had fallen to my lot, particularly
as our country has every reason to be grateful to America.”

He threw open his thin blue blouse, at the same instant raising his
lantern. And as the yellow light shone on another shield precisely
similar to the one which adorned the breast of the other man, both Don
Hale and Bobby Dunlap gave voice to exclamations of the greatest
surprise and wonderment.

“So you, too, belong to the secret service!” cried Don.

“Can—can you beat it!” came from Bobby, weakly.

“I think it would be a rather hard job,” broke in Jason Hamlin.
“And——”

He was interrupted by the third man, who had been a silent witness to
the proceeding.

“Let me put in a word,” he exclaimed, authoritatively. “I also belong to
the secret service; and I wish to say to you young Americans that you
are at liberty to return to the villa—the headquarters of the Lafayette
Escadrille. Under no circumstances, however, are you to leave it until
this affair has been entirely cleared up. I and my camarades are not
here to answer questions. Your captain has already been notified.
Remember, you are technically prisoners. This may seem harsh,
ungrateful, and unappreciative perhaps of the work you have done for
France, but the law knows no sentiment; it is cold and pitiless. Now you
may go.” Addressing his compatriots, he added: “Come, Messieurs.”

Thereupon the three secret service men, with words of adieu, turned
toward the house.

“I never was so angry, so wilted with surprise and disgust in the whole
course of my life!” fumed Bobby Dunlap. “Not here to answer questions,
eh! Never even had the politeness to say why we were pinched. It’s an
outrage—that’s what it is!”

“Prisoners, eh!” remarked Don, with a dry laugh.

“And the comedy has to have still another act!” broke in Jason Hamlin,
ironically. “You are right, Bobby: it is an outrage. But what you mean
is not exactly what I mean.”

And, with this enigmatic remark, the aviator started to make his way
toward the road. The two other “prisoners” followed.



                         CHAPTER XXII—THE TRIAL


The Hale-Hamlin-Dunlap case certainly created a sensation among the
pilots of the Lafayette Escadrille—indeed it created a great deal more
talk than the fact that the Germans had begun to paint their
battleplanes in colors of the most extraordinary and brilliant hue.

No one could understand the affair; it appeared a most unfathomable
mystery, and especially so when the captain of the squadron politely
informed Victor Gilbert that he, too, was technically a prisoner.

“Oh, chains and dungeons! I suppose, the next thing, they’ll be
arresting the whole squadron!” cried Bobby Dunlap when apprised of this
new and singular development in the _cause celebre_. “Goodness gracious,
but I wish that last act would begin!”

The patience of the “prisoners” was not to be severely taxed, however;
for, on the following morning, they received a summons to appear in the
reception hall of the villa.

Entering, they found what appeared to be a court about to open its
session. Seated on one side of a long table was the captain of the
squadron and a gray-haired military man, a lieutenant, as was revealed
by his uniform. Opposite to them sat the secret service men, the former
“peasant” scarcely recognizable in his civilian’s clothes. Numerous
papers of an official character were strewn about the table, greatly
heightening the appearance of a court procedure.

“Messieurs,” exclaimed the military man, looking up gravely, “kindly
take seats at the table.”

He looked like a stern old judge as he spoke. His eyes were cold and
hard, the lines on his face grim and set and his closely cropped whitish
moustache revealed a mouth indicating determination and strength of
character.

Bobby Dunlap as a rule was not disposed to take things seriously, but
under the present circumstances the silence in the big room, the frigid
atmosphere, the formality and the gravity expressed upon the faces of
the military men had its effect, making him feel ill at ease,
uncomfortable and nervous.

“Messieurs, we are now ready to proceed,” announced the lieutenant at
the head of the table. “Let me affirm in the beginning that we have no
doubt of your loyalty or devotion to the cause which you espouse. At the
same time I must explain that the military authorities as well as the
secret service officials never allow the most trivial circumstance to
pass without the most thorough investigation. In numerous cases
everything is, of course, found to be entirely right, but it may happen
that the hundredth will turn out otherwise, and perhaps that which
appeared futile—a waste of time—may be revealed, under the searching
light of truth, as a dangerous intrigue of our enemies.”

“Indeed, most extraordinary cases have come to our attention,” put in
the captain.

“We will hear Monsieur Robert Dunlap first,” continued the officer in
charge of the proceedings. “Monsieur Dunlap, kindly stand up.”

At this, Peur Jamais, whose general appearance and manner belied the
name bestowed upon him by his friends, obeyed.

The interrogation began.

“Is it true,” asked the officer, “that on several occasions you made use
of this expression in reference to Jason Hamlin: ‘other games are just
as dangerous’?”

“Yes, Monsieur the Lieutenant,” gulped Bobby, red and confused.

“In using that expression what did you infer?”

“Well, I—I—you see——” Peur Jamais, finding his tongue getting
tangled, abruptly paused. Then, having mastered in a measure his
uncomfortable feelings, he resumed: “I heard Monsieur Victor Gilbert
make this observation, as well as several others to Monsieur Hamlin, all
seeming to indicate——”

Bobby halted again; the flush on his cheek deepened.

“Continuez, Monsieur,” commanded the lieutenant.

“That—that he might be a German spy,” exclaimed Bobby, desperately. “I
heard so many stories about the espionage system from old Père Goubain,
of the Café Rochambeau, near our training camp, that perhaps I became
unduly suspicious.”

The man whom the boys had formerly called the “mysterious peasant”
looked up with a smile.

“With Monsieur the Lieutenant’s permission,” he exclaimed, “I will
explain, though I do not wish the fact to be generally known, that
Monsieur Goubain is affiliated with the secret service and has given us
much valuable information.”

“Oh—oh!” gasped Bobby, while all the other Americans in the room
uttered suppressed exclamations.

“His object in speaking so freely was not only to show you the dangers
that existed but to get you to keep your eyes open.” The man smiled. “In
one case, at least, he evidently succeeded.”

“You have no evidence against Monsieur Hamlin?” continued the
lieutenant, addressing Bobby.

“No, Monsieur the Lieutenant,” responded Peur Jamais.

“That will do. You may sit down. Monsieur Gilbert.”

When the former college student rose to his feet he showed none of the
perturbation which had affected Bobby.

“Monsieur Gilbert,” began the lieutenant, “it will be necessary for you
to explain your entire connection with this affair, which, as our report
indicates, began long before you came to France and joined the Lafayette
Escadrille.”

“Yes, Monsieur the Lieutenant,” returned Gilbert. In an easy,
conversational tone he began: “Before hostilities broke out in 1914 my
father and Jason Hamlin’s were firm friends, as well as business
partners. Mrs. Hamlin was born in Germany, and her husband himself had
distant relatives living there. The war had not continued very long
before disputes began to arise between my father and his partner on
account of the latter’s ardent championship of the cause of Germany.”
Gilbert glanced in the direction of Jason Hamlin. “His son, too, was
equally disposed to favor that country. And as our fathers had heated
arguments so did we. Both of us, I may say, were at work for the firm.
Finally the differences became so acute that after a particularly
violent altercation, Mr. Hamlin, Senior, announced his intention of
withdrawing from the firm, which he shortly did. His son, too, went with
him; and, from the closest of friends, we became so estranged as to be
considered enemies.”

“After the entrance of America into the war did the Hamlins still remain
pro-German?” queried the officer.

Victor Gilbert smiled.

“I have never had any conversation with the Mr. Hamlin, Senior, since
that time,” he replied, “and I do not know what his opinions are.
Frankly, I must say that in regard to the son it seemed incomprehensible
to me that one with such strong German proclivities could so change his
opinions as to come over here and fight for the Allied cause.”

“May I speak?” interjected Hamlin, somewhat heatedly.

“Your turn will come in a few minutes, Monsieur,” said the presiding
officer. “Continuez, Monsieur Gilbert.”

“I was astounded when Hamlin came to the aviation school. And, judging
from many things he had said, I feared that perhaps he might actually be
a spy. And in some of our altercations—altercations that interested
Monsieur Dunlap—I intimated just as much.”

“You certainly did,” jeered Jason Hamlin, with an angry glare. “And if
you’d only had sense enough to——”

“Silence—silence!” interrupted the lieutenant.

“Naturally, words may be said in the heat of anger which would not be
uttered when cooler judgment prevails,” continued Victor, doggedly.
“Why, I ask, shouldn’t I have been suspicious? And when I remarked to
Hamlin that ‘other games are just as dangerous’ it was meant as a
warning for him to go a bit slow.”

“Has your opinion been altered?” asked the lieutenant.

Victor Gilbert nodded.

“Yes, Monsieur the Lieutenant,” he replied. “And the reason is because
of Hamlin’s very excellent record since he joined the squadron.”

Jason Hamlin now had the opportunity to explain his side of the case. As
he began speaking his manner was decidedly different from that of the
other two witnesses. He was clearly angry—aggressive, and his voice,
raised high, rang through the room.

“I am very willing to admit that I was pro-German, as Monsieur Gilbert
told you,” he declared. “But, as events change so can one’s opinions
change with them. Before America became involved in hostilities I had a
perfect right to favor Germany; but to have done so afterward would have
been disloyal—indeed a traitorous act. No one has the right to go
against his own country. And when I learned that Victor Gilbert had
joined an aviation school in France I determined to show him, as well as
any others who might have doubted my patriotism, that they were entirely
mistaken. And as words without action count for little, I decided to
follow his example and become an aviator.”

At this point Jason Hamlin’s stern expression deepened. He clenched his
fists; and when he spoke again it was in even louder tones than before.

“My friend Monsieur Dunlap may think that he alone pierced the disguise
of the peasant, but, if so, he is in error; and, surmising that I might
be under suspicion, I made it a point to cultivate the man’s
acquaintance. At last the feelings which injustice always arouse caused
me to decide that it was time to make an end of the farce—hence my
visit to the farmhouse. I boldly told the secret service man that I knew
what was going on; I said he could strip off his peasant’s disguise and
work to better advantage elsewhere. I declared that I was receiving a
very poor reward for daily risking my life for the Allied cause. We had
some words, which were brought to an end by the appearance of that
secret service man sitting there.” With a wave of his hand, Jason Hamlin
continued: “The rights of an individual are as sacred as the rights of
the government.” He drew himself erect. “I ask—I demand to know if you
have the slightest evidence against me?”

His flashing eyes, the fearlessness of his manner, the righteous
indignation expressed in his voice brought a strong and dramatic touch
to the situation.

Following his words there came a silence, curious and impressive.

Bobby Dunlap, fearing that in the judicial atmosphere this outburst
might bring a stern rebuke, stared almost open-mouthed at the
lieutenant. The latter, however, showing neither surprise nor
displeasure, remarked, calmly:

“We have no evidence against you, Monsieur Hamlin. And I may say that
reports received from our agents in America are thoroughly satisfactory.
Kindly take your seat while we listen for a few moments to Monsieur
Castel of the secret service.”

Smilingly, the ex-peasant stood up.

“It won’t take very much time,” he announced. “I am glad indeed that
everything has terminated so satisfactorily for all concerned. This
case, I may say, was all brought about by remarks being overheard.
Sometimes a whisper is enough to set the secret service in action. My
confreres and I immediately began an investigation, and all of you young
Messieurs have been under surveillance for some time.”

“Oh—oh! Can you beat it!” muttered Peur Jamais.

“Messieurs Glenn and Dunlap’s actions on the occasion of their visit to
the house were rather peculiar, especially that of this young Monsieur
here.” He pointed to Bobby. “It could be readily seen that his curiosity
was not merely the expression of a youthful desire to see the house,
and, when he, in the company of Monsieur Hale, started off on their walk
yesterday afternoon they were shadowed by my fellow detectives here. And
their actions, of course, were so suspicious—a fact which they
themselves must admit—that there was nothing to do but place them under
arrest. While Monsieur Boulanger came into the house to inform me that
the boys were in the garden, Monsieur Brion, who knew where they were
concealed, kept track of their movements, and, at a signal which I gave
by means of the lamp, he brought the matter to a climax. I believe there
is nothing more for me to add.”

Bobby Dunlap and Don Hale were now called upon for an explanation, which
they gave to the entire satisfaction of those conducting the
examination.

At its conclusion the stern-faced lieutenant, with a suspicion of a
smile, exclaimed:

“You have all been found not guilty, and, in accordance with that fact,
Messieurs Gilbert and Hamlin, I sentence you to shake hands and forget
whatever differences may have existed between you. Human nature is
fallible, and, had the case been reversed, you, Monsieur Hamlin, would
have acted in a precisely similar manner to that of Monsieur Gilbert.
Let me take this occasion to thank and compliment you for the noble work
which you have been doing in the cause of humanity and justice.”

The two young aviators nodded, in recognition, and each, in turn,
thanked the lieutenant.

Then, without a remaining trace of animosity, they clasped each other’s
hands.

And in this happy fashion ended the case of Hamlin and the peasant,
which was a nine-days’ wonder in the escadrille.

But, though it was ended, the conversation about it by no means came to
such an abrupt termination. The principals came in for many bantering
remarks, and had to stand a great deal of good-natured chaffing. Of
course Bobby Dunlap was the principal victim.

“I say, Peur Jamais,” laughed George, “can you now almost hear the
commander saying ‘My brave and loyal friends, in the name of my
countrymen, I thank you’?”

“Joke if you like,” grinned Bobby, good-naturedly. “Anyway, I made a few
truthful predictions.”

“How?”

“I said it wasn’t going to be a laughing matter to some one.”

“Correct, old chap.”

“And, after all, it certainly did mean an astonishing sequel.”

And so speaking, Bobby chuckled mirthfully.

Several weeks later, in the spacious grounds of a chateau occupied by
the military authorities, a lively and spectacular scene was being
enacted. Soldiers were drawn up in a hollow square. And there, where
danger did not exist, could be seen all the pomp and pageantry of
warfare, so lacking in the actual operations. The warm, clear sunshine
shone on generals’ uniforms, on military motor-cars and on high-spirited
horses, champing at their bits.

And besides the military there were present a few men in civilian dress,
the most prominent among them being an extremely ponderous man with a
most beaming face whom all the former students at the École Militaire de
Beaumont recognized as old Père Goubain, the proprietor of the Café
Rochambeau.

What was the occasion of all this festivity?

It was because a number of airmen, Red Cross ambulance drivers and
soldiers had so distinguished themselves as to earn the gratitude of the
French Republic that they were to be awarded the Croix de Guerre and
other decorations.

Among those who were recipients of the War Cross were Don Hale and T.
Singleton Albert. It was Don Hale’s feat in saving the Caudron
photographic machine and his subsequent destruction of the observation
balloon which had brought him the coveted honor.

And after a general had pinned the Croix de Guerre to his breast and the
proceedings were over the first to shake his hand was old Père Goubain.

“Ah! La France can never lose with such young men as you enlisted in her
cause,” he exclaimed. “And now, mon ami, what are your plans?”

“I hope to be transferred to the American air service as soon as
possible,” returned the smiling Don Hale.

“I knew that would be the answer,” cried old Père Goubain. “And I am
very certain that Monsieur Don Hale with the Yanks will be as successful
as he was with the Lafayette Squadron, and make a name for himself that
will carry beyond the seas.”



                    The Stories in this Series are:
                        DON HALE IN THE WAR ZONE
                          DON HALE OVER THERE
                   DON HALE WITH THE FLYING SQUADRON
                   DON HALE WITH THE YANKS (in press)





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