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´╗┐Title: Our Pilots in the Air
Author: Brown, William Perry
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.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Our Pilots in the Air" ***

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OUR PILOTS IN THE AIR

BY CAPTAIN WILLIAM B. PERRY



CHAPTER I

A BOMBING AIR RAID

The scene in the valley was striking in one respect.  Low ranges of
gently sloping hills had widened out, enclosing broad levels with what
in America would be termed a creek but was here poetically named a
river.  By here I mean eastern France, not so many miles from
No-Man's-Land.  The "striking" feature was the "Flying Camp" spread out
over a dead level of much trampled greensward, enclosed by high board
walls, irregularly oval in shape, with a large clump of trees in the
center and a multiplicity of large, small, mostly queer-shaped
buildings scattered about.

There were a few wide roadways, with smaller avenues intersecting them,
and larger open spaces, bordered by hangars, at either end of the oval.

On a bulletin board in one of these open spaces a placard was tacked,
at which several young men in khaki and wearing the aviator cap were
gazing, commenting humorously or otherwise.  All that this plainly open
placard published, apparently for all eyes to see, was as follows:

"Members of Bombing Squadron No. - will be on the qui vive at 7 p.m.
tonight.  Specific orders will be issued to each at that time."

Not much in that, an outsider might think.  But wait!  Listen!

"Say, Orry," remarked an athletic youth, throwing an arm casually over
the shoulder of a smaller companion beside him and tweaking the other's
ear, "does this mean that you and me go up together in that crazy old
biplane they foisted on us before?"

"How should I know?" replied the smaller lad, a nervous, sprightly
youngster, dark-eyed, curly-headed, thin-faced.  "Did she get your
nerve last time?"

"Not by a long shot!  But when we made that last dive to get away from
Fritzy in his Fokker, I noticed your hands on the crank were shaking.
Say, if that Tommy in the monoplane hadn't helped us, where'd we been?"

"Right here, you goose!  We'd have got out somehow, but it was squally
for about five minutes."

The two strolled off together as others, also in khaki but with
different fittings or insignia, gathered about to read, comment and
then turn their several ways.

"We are in that bombing squad all right, I guess remarked Lafe Blaine,
the athletic youngster.  "But I am tired of this everlasting bombing
that goes on, mostly by night.  We're chums, Orry; we work together all
right.  There is no one in this camp can handle a fighting machine
better than I; nor do I want a better, truer backer at the Lewis than
you."

The Lewis gun was the one then most in use at this aerodrome station,
which was somewhere on that section near where the British and French
sectors meet.

"You always were a bully boy, Lafe, in spite of your two big handles.
Say, how'd they come to call you Lafayette when you already had such a
whopper of a surname?"

"Oh, dry up, Orry!  Those names often make me tired.  I'm only an
ordinary chap, but with those names every noodle thinks I ought to be
something real big.  Catch on?"

Orris Erwin nodded and pinched the other's massive fore-arm, as he
replied:

"So you are big!  Bet you weigh one-eighty if you weigh a pound."

But Lafe was thinking.  Finally he announced decidedly:

"I'm going to get after our Sergeant this afternoon.  If he knows
what's what, he'll let you and me take out that neat little Bleriot.
We'll do our share of bombing of course; but if the Boches come up
after us, we can do something else besides run for home -- eh?"

Erwin shook his head dubiously as he replied:

"I doubt if he gives us the Bleriot.  It's French, you know.  We're
practicing with the Tommies.  He likes the way you handle things, but I
fear he don't build much on me."

Lafe, of course, disclaimed any superiority, but Orris felt that way.
Later, when mid-day chow was over, Lafe found his way to where the
squadron commander was checking off the different machines and
assigning to each the various occupants.  All this on a pad, in one of
the hangars, with no one else near, as the Sergeant thought.  In Hangar
Four were two Bleriots all in trim order.  The Sergeant stared at one
of them, grumbling to himself.

"What will I do here?" he reflected, half aloud, though unconscious of
his words.  "I forgot that Cheval's arm is giving him trouble.
Confound him!  He's too risky.  Won't do to leave one of these behind.
Hm-m-m!  Who else --"

"Your pardon, Sergeant!"  A tall, athletic young American was beside
him, standing respectfully attention.  "Why not take me?  Give me a
chance!"

So dominating, yet so deferential was Blaine's attitude and manner that
Sergeant Anson for the minute said nothing, but he stared at the lad.

"I was with Monsieur Cheval, Sir, the night he got hurt, and I brought
the machine home, under his direction of course.  You ask him if I am
not competent to handle that Bleriot.  I'd much rather be in it than in
the big biplane I used last time."

"But - but -- you're too young, too inexperienced, too - too --"

"Now, Sir, please ask Cheval!  You know what his judgment is.  If I am
to have an observer, let Cheval go.  He can sit, and - and observe --"

"Dash your bally impertinence!"  Anson was putting up a tremendous
bluff.  He knew it, and he knew that Blaine probably knew it, but "What
do you know about Bleriots, anyway?" he asked.

In five minutes by enticing talk and really export fingering of the
various parts of the admirable mechanism, Blaine half convinced his
superior.  More, for by adroit manipulation of a certain lock, with
wrench and a pair of tweezers, he readjusted a certain valve hinge in
the petrol tank which he had heard Monsieur Cheval grumbling about
before.  This he did with such dexterous rapidity and ease that Anson
expressed approval, adding:

"Where did you pick up so much mechanical knowledge, Blaine?"

"At Mineola, in the States.  They kept every applicant in the shops --
some of them for weeks, others permanently."

"How happened it they didn't keep you there?"  Anson was grinning now.

"Well, Sir, I wanted to learn to fly -- high.  That's what I went into
aviation for.  Before that I worked for the Wrights at Dayton.  Well,
when I tried flying, it happened there was a prize offered for flying
to Manhattan and back, going round the Liberty Statue.  I got hold of
an old Curtis machine and somehow I came back second in the race.  But
--" here Blaine grinned at his own recollection, "but I pretty near
busted up that old Curtis!  After that they kept me flying until I
finally came over here."

The Sergeant frowned then smiled and jotted something down on his pad.

"Go and see Monsieur Cheval.  If he is not well enough to go with you
-- well, have you anyone else in view?"

"Yes, sir.  My partner, who has gone with me on several raids.  He's
all right --"

"If you were disabled or killed, could he bring this machine back?"

"Yes, sir.  He is as good as I am.  Cool as a cucumber, but he -- he's
rather modest.  In fact, if I don't get Cheval, I must have him, with
your permission of course."

"Or without it, eh?"  Anson again smiled, this time genially.  "Well,
well!  Do what I have said.  If you have to do without Cheval, bring
that youngster who is so modest to me.  I will judge."  And the
Sergeant turned off, resuming his penciling and further wandering as if
Blaine were not there.

Half an hour later Lafe stood by the cot where a shallow-faced,
trim-mustached man lay groaning discontentedly.  At sight of the young
American he raised up to a sitting position, disclosing his right arm
and wrist still in splints and bandages.  Moreover the pains of moving
himself made him groan and ejaculate after the mercurial manner or the
Frenchman unused to lying still and eager always to be up and doing.

"Ah, it ees mon comrade Blaine!  Ver welcome -- mooch so!  Wish mooch
you speak ze language, ze French."

Monsieur Cheval, really a noted aviator, had chummed much with the
American contingent and had been in the States once, though only for a
short time.  But he had learned "ze language" -- after a fashion.  When
Blaine briefly explained what he wanted and what the squadron commander
had said, Cheval lay back with a deep sigh, saying:

"Merci, comrade!"  Here he chuckled.  "I like to go: I want to go!  But
I no use to you now.  Not at all!  I no use to myself.  Voila!  I got
well queek; better so here; not over yon in No-Man's-Land.  But you be
sure bring my enfant back safe, my Bleriot -- Ah!  A great baby is my
Bleriot!"

Blaine promised to do his best.  His pal and comrade, Orris Erwin, was
also good, safe -- in short, reliable.

"Never fear, Monsieur Cheval!  Unless they get us up yonder," pointing
vaguely upward into the sky, "we will fetch her back all right.  Good
luck!  Try to be out as soon as you can.  We miss you on these little
trips after Fritzy."

An hour later Blaine, accompanied by Erwin, stood before Sergeant Anson
in the latter's cubbyhole of an office, while a stream of khaki-clad
young men filed in one by one.  Anson waved them aside until the others
had left, then turned to Blaine.

"I saw Cheval myself," said the Sergeant grimly.  "He wanted to go but
it will be a week before he can use that arm, aside from other
injuries.  I spoke to Captain Byers about you.  He was reluctant, but
owing to the newness of so many of you Yankee airmen, he was unable to
make suggestions.  Only this- you two must be careful, cautious --"

"Not too cautious, I hope, sir!" came promptly from Blaine, while Orris
smiled behind his sleeve.  "A pilot has to risk things, you know."

"Don't interrupt!" Anson ordered sharply, though his eyes twinkled.
"You know what I mean.  Can you bring the plane back, Erwin, if
anything happens to Blaine?"

"Yes, sir, I think so.  I've often flown before, alone --"

"Under fire?"  This sharp reply from the Sergeant.

"I was in the last raid after Vimy Ridge, Sir.  Brenzer, the pilot, was
killed.  I managed to get back to our lines."

"You been over some time?"

"Yes, Sir.  Only part of the time I was stationed at Aldershot, as
assistant trainer for a bunch of raw rookies from our side."

One long look at both Anson gave, then turned away with:

"You'll do.  Both of you be on hand for chow at regular time.  Then
await instructions."  He waved them off.



CHAPTER II

THE WHIR OF WINGS

Shortly after a bugle call the following order was posted in the
general mess hall for all concerned to read.

"Members of Bombing Squadron No. - will carry out the following order.
10 a.m., 12 midnight,  2 a.m. are the respective times to start. At
each time three machines, each carrying eight 25 pound bombs, will bomb
respectively R-----, C------, L------.  Secrecy is imperative.  Each
member of the three squads thus assigned will be ready at Hangars No.
-,  No. -,  No. - at times mentioned above."

Meantime each aviator, with his observer, had been privately notified
by the Sergeant in person.  This was an every-day operation order and
was taken as a matter of course. These night raids are mostly for the
purpose of keeping the Boche busy and nervous after hard days and
nights in the front trenches, thus supposedly lowering his morale.
Usually the points thus selected are the shell-torn villages back of
the front, where Fritz has been sent for a brief period of rest before
being sent to the front again.  About the time he lies down in the
half-ruined house that is his billet, and dreams of home and conquering
peace, a bomb falls inside.  The walls are further shattered, some of
his comrades killed or maimed, he perhaps among them.  Other bombs
fall, heavy explosions result, and Fritz finds that his night's rest is
lost in general turmoil.  This continues night after night and the
damage to German morale is enormous.

From the point of view of the air-service, things are different.  These
night raids are a matter of course with the pilots.  It is part of the
regular work.

When Blaine and Erwin climbed into the Bleriot, bombs already stowed,
and it was wheeled out in front of the hangar, everything was very
quiet.  A minute later they were climbing up into the inky darkness at
the appointed signal, the only noises being the whirrings of their own
and two other two machines appointed for the two A. M. hour.

Watching for the signal of the leader of the squad, at the right time
they headed for the further front.

Over the trenches star-shells from the infantry could be seen.  Under
direction they headed over No-Man's-Land, keeping at sufficient
altitude, hugging the darkness, avoiding glints of light, dodging
occasional searchlights, and all practically without a word spoken.

"You've been out here before, Lafe"' said Orris at last.  "How much
further are we going?"

"Be there in two minutes.  Keep easy!  I'm going lower.  Get your bombs
ready."

Silently Erwin obeyed.  Below lay blackness, relieved at one point by a
few dots of light that marked the ruins of the hamlet on which they
were to let loose the bombs.  So far no sign of life in the air or
below appeared.

The three machines in this detachment had scattered in order to
distribute their supply of bombs at a given signal from the leader.  In
this night raid an escorting fleet that usually accompanied the daytime
raids was omitted.  There was little need.

"Now!" cautioned Blaine to Orris and the latter began to drop his first
sheaf, a rather heavy one as the bombs weighed twenty-five pounds each.
 Others were at work also and the village below, already in half ruins,
began to detonate with sharp explosions, lurid flashings and an uproar
of human cries.  It was evident that the raiders had struck the right
spot.

For some minutes the work went on, Blaine swooping still lower, until
glimpses of hurried scurryings of the soldiers thus rudely disturbed
were mingled with the larger glares from the continuous explosions.

Orris Erwin, through though smaller and slighter physically, worked
away until the last sheaf was exhausted.

Then, and only then, the scene below was illuminated by the flash and
roar of hostile artillery.  A shell exploded with a deafening report so
near their Bleriot that it was evident that the firer had sighted them
during Lafe's last lower swoop.

On the instant Blaine pressed a trigger, elevating the sharp nose of
the machine.  As the deflected planes responded to sundry manipulations
at certain levers and they began to climb spirally into the upper air,
the powerful engines, exerting greater strength, shot them rapidly
upward where height and obscurity lessened the danger of further shots.

"Well, Archie came near getting us then, eh?"  This from Lafe.

Receiving no answer, he glanced aside.  What was his dismay to see
Erwin's slender figure drooping nervelessly, his head sinking, and the
emptied sheaf of bombs sprawling neglected in his lap!

"You're hit, Orry?  For God's sake buck up!  I've still got to climb or
they'll get us yet."

Clamping his knee round the wheel, he managed with one hand to pull
Orris forward and sideways, so that the boy's curly head, now capless,
lay against his thigh.  With one arm half around and upon that
senseless head, holding the slight frame from slipping, he still
manipulated the alert Bleriot, that responded instantly to each human
spur with a mobility that was almost life-like.

The two other machines had vanished in the darkness, doubtless cleaving
the higher air strata in a backward flight to the home aerodrome, which
was now the goal of all.  Meantime searchlights were flashing here,
there, yonder through the inky sky.  The swift reports of anti-aircraft
guns split the night's silence in a most disconcerting manner.  Erwin
groaned and twisted his body.

"Stay still, Orry!  We must 'a' been the last to quit, and they're
making things hot back westward."

Here a blinding gleam of light flashed athwart his eyes and , letting
go of Erwin, he darted aside suddenly on a differing course.  Erwin's
body crumpled into a heap.  A heavier man might have toppled over the
edge, perhaps hanging helplessly at peril of falling out, unless held
by the straps which many old aviators neglect.  As it was, the
nerveless lad was held by the high rim of the opening that fenced them
both in.  For the moment the boy was safe.

Giving his whole attention to the machine, Blaine zigzagged and dodged,
mounting ever and ever higher. Yet his trend was unavoidably towards
the east, further within the enemy lines.

"For the present I've got to go this way," he thought.  "I hope Lex and
Milt got away west before those 'cussed Archies broke loose.  We'll
have to stay quiet until this ruction below settles down."  Lex and
Milt were the pilots of the two remaining machines of this, the third
and last section of the bombing squadron of that night.

"Orry!  Oh, Orry!  Wakeup!  Aren't you all right yet?"

These and other adjurations Blaine would make from time to time.  A
chill came over him more than once as he wondered if Erwin would not
recover.  Once only as Lafe moved his own leg, pressing it unduly hard
against the other, Erwin gave another groan.

A whir as of wings sounded in his rear, and Blaine became aware of
shadowy movements through the faintly growing light in the east.
Undoubtedly it must be a hostile machine.  He had been spotted as he
flew eastward.  In addition to the now waning fire from the Archies,
planes were now out after him.  Divining this, Blaine wheeled, put on
more power and flow towards the northwest, the German keeping after him
at increasing speed.  As the light increased the clinging shadow in the
east grew more plain.  Whoever it was, the pursuer was determined not
to be shaken off.  Soon he would begin firing.

At this junction Erwin gave  Blaine's leg an undeniable kick.  He was
at last reviving.  The pilot leaned towards his bunkie.

"Say, Orry, are you coming to at last?"

Another kick, evidently part of a struggle by Orris to right himself.

Blaine saw the German making the first spiral upward, in an effort to
attain a position suitable for using the machine gun.  Blaine therefore
zigzagged more to westward, thereby throwing the reviving Erwin into an
easier position.  At this an easier position.  At this Blaine was
pleased to see his friend look wonderingly at him and the bowed head
slightly raise itself.

"Lay still right where you are, Orry," murmured Lafe.  "There's a Boche
after us.  We've got out of Archie's range, but I've one of their
planes on our heels.  Whist!  Git down lower!  He's going to fire.  If
he does, I - I'll crumple up.  We'll land and - and -"

Further talk ceased as the simultaneous rattle and spatter of opposing
machine guns made talk impracticable.  Blaine was below, the Boche
above, each whirling, diving, spiraling as dexterous pilots do in such
conflict.

True to his promise amid the first exchange of shots, watching both
Erwin's recovery and the German, now closer than ever, Blaine concealed
himself.

And now, seeing that Orris was quite revived, and following Blaine's
counsel, they presented to the German only a collapsed form, half
leaning as if hit again.  Blaine, almost out of sight, steered
groundward.

"Are you strong enough now to take my place?"

"I -- I think so," returned the still reviving Erwin.  "What you going
to do -- land?"

At this juncture the machine hit the ground in a decreasing glide,
while Blaine, half rising, pitched forward as if dead.

"Take the machine, Orry," Blaine had said.  "I'm dead; you're wounded."

Knowing that Blaine had his plans laid, Erwin followed. Then the Boche,
feeling pretty good over the idea that he had captured an enemy machine
with two men in it, also alighted from his own a few rods distant.  To
his view there appeared one man dead and another wounded.

Covering Erwin with his revolver as he sat leaning back ghastly and
still bleeding from the shrapnel that had at first struck him down, the
German eyed his apparently helpless victims.

"Get oudt!" he snapped in rather poor English to Erwin.

The latter started to obey, still covered by the pistol at his head.
Suddenly Blaine, who had tumbled to the ground at the first landing,
now sat up, his own revolver pointed straight at the German.

"Throw down that gun!" he announced in clear, steady tones.  "Quick!
No nonsense, Fritz!"

One brief stare.  Then, realizing that he had been outgeneraled, he
sullenly obeyed.  To his further amazement, Erwin, now quite recovered,
rose up, got out, and though weak tied the Boche hard and fast under
Blaine's direction.

"Now, Orry," said Lafe, looking his comrade over carefully, "are you
right enough to take our machine back?"

"Bet your sweet life I am!"  Orry's face was still pale, while blood
was coagulated in his curly short hair.  "I'm all right, Lafe.  What
are we going to do?"

"We'll put this chap in his own machine, and I'll take it and him back."

"You mean provided Fritzy lets us get through safe."

"Und zat ve wond do!  Forshtay?"  This from the now sullen German
standing by bound hand and foot, yet mentally antagonistic still.

"Don't you worry, bo," said Blaine, coolly picking up the man, a follow
of no small weight, and lifting, him into his own machine, a big Taube
of many horse-power.  "That is, if you've got petrol enough."

This was assured beyond doubt by subsequent examination.  The German
safely stowed, Erwin and Blaine made a hurried yet accurate inspection
of both planes, and Orris at once started westward.  Blaine was about
to follow when horse hoofs were heard beyond a hedge not far away.  The
German's eyes flashed.  He divined a forcible rescue.  He began to
yell, but with a swift move Blaine gagged him with his own bandanna
'kerchief.

The German struggled but Blaine had tied him also to the posts
supporting the hollow chamber wherein pilot and observer sat, and now
springing in himself, he started off.

Right then the heads of a column of cavalry debouched in the field.
The roar of roar of the Taube filled the air and in an instant they saw
what was happening.  By this time Orris was well up in the air and
still spiraling higher.  The Taube, with which Blaine was already
partly familiar through prior captured machines among the Allies, was
making its first upward curve, when a thought came to Blaine.  A ruse!
The German lay still helpless, bound and gagged.  Though struggling
with his bonds, his eyes were spitting anger.

In its case, with pulley attached, was a small flag of one of the
larger German aerial squadrons.  Blaine plucked it forth, jerked the
pulley cord, and there unrolled before all eyes the Imperial eagle,
with certain other designs, all on a black background, and with a
death's head in white at each corner.  It was two or three feet square,
and as it floated from one of the poles sustaining the biplanes, no one
in the clear morning light could mistake its meaning.

Blaine himself was not sure as to the flag.  But it really was the one
used only by a certain squadron especially endorsed and. supported by
the Kaiser and the Royal House of Hohenzollern and of which the Crown
Prince was the special patron.  By the time Blaine was above the
treetops, some twenty or thirty horsemen had debouched into the sheep
pasture where these happenings took place.  They were lancers and,
mistaking the real nature of this maneuver, every lance was depressed
in salute and a horse shout rose up that sounded much like a series of
Hochs with Kaiser at the end.

"Holy smoke!" said Blaine, getting the machine gun in shooting trim
with one hand while manipulating the controls with the other.  "Say,
Fritzy,"         to the snarling German at his feet, who fairly writhed
at his bounds and gag, "your folks think I'm off after those English or
Yankee schwein!  Savy?"

But here a sudden change came over the scene.



CHAPTER III

FIGHTING BOTH ENEMY AND ELEMENTS

The Bleriot which Erwin was now piloting, though far in the upper air,
was seen to be whirling round and returning, apparently to Blaine's
rescue.

Evidently Orris had also seen the irruption of lancers and had no
intention of deserting his comrade and friend while in possible peril.
To intensify the strain he began to spray the Germans below with the
remaining sheaf of bullets in the magazine of the machine gun.

Seeing no further need of camouflage on the part of the Americans,
Blaine, with one foot crushing down the German, who was now attempting
to rise despite his bonds, whirled the German machine gun round upon
the now suspicious lancers below.

These were unslinging their carbines.  Blaine anticipated them with a
spatter of bullets from their own weapon.  At this bedlam broke loose
below.

While Erwin had done little or no damage, probably owing to distance,
Blaine's discharge was pointblank and deadly.

Meantime in some way the German managed to loosen one arm.  Recklessly
he seized hold of one the controls, wrenching it violently.

"You will, will you?" exclaimed the American,  "We must get away from
here at any rate!"

Releasing both hands, he seized the German by the throat, pinning him
against the rim of the hole that held both, and with his feet on the
accelerator rose rapidly upward.  By this time bullets were spitting
round them, one of which seared the German's bare scalp deeply.
Uttering a curious groan, the fellow sank back and Blaine released his
throat.

"He's out of it for the time being," thought Lafe.  "Good thing, too.
Hard work to keep a strangle hold on that chap and keep his machine
right side up.  Hey there, Orry!"

By this time Erwin had forged so close in swinging round again that
only a few yards separated the planes.

"Don't you go any nearer those Boches.  I am all right.  We got some of
them.  Look at those riderless horses!"

True it was that several riderless horses were careering about the
field below.  Also at another angle some men were dragging forth an
antiaircraft gun, or so it looked to be by its peculiar carriage and
mounting.

"Sure you are all right?" called Orris as the two machines sped along
side by side, all the while rising.  "Didn't that fellow give you
trouble?"

"None to speak of.  I've looped a cord about his throat, and got the
other end round a cleat.  If he tries to jerk away he'll strangle.  Put
on more power, man!  Can't you see they've dragged the Archies out and
are stuffing in sheaves of bullets?"

"All right!" called Erwin, now spiraling higher, higher, climbing
cloudward.  "Sure you got the Taube straight -- hey, Lafe?"

"Course I have!  Didn't I work one of them at --?"  But the name was
lost to Orris as the distance increased.

To Blaine's relief the Boche did not move for a moment or two.  This
gave him time to twist that free arm back where Lafe could press the
weight of one big foot thereon, and also complete the adjustment of the
cord.  He arranged it by looping twice round the cleat, the length
reaching to Fritz's throat being drawn taut.  Moreover, as the German's
body was resting sidewise upon his other arm, still tightly bound,
Blaine felt that he had the man for the time being at least.

Now came heavier roars from below.  Not only one gun but several had
been brought up, trained on the fliers and were being fired rapidly at
the receding airplanes.

Also the true nature of the situation aloft must have been divined.
Hence the extreme activity among the Germans, now trying desperately to
reverse the progress of events by bringing one or both machines down.
The fact that the life of one of their own comrades might be snuffed
out did not weigh with them at all.  Such is the German militaristic
creed.  The individual, his life, or welfare is as nothing when
compared with the welfare of the cause, the state, the whole brutal,
efficient system.

After all, this comrade might be dead now.  They must get at and, if
possible, overtake these schwein at all cost.  Were not they retreating
with a choice Prussian machine, that even now flaunted in derision the
Death's Head Flag?

No wonder the Boches were mad -- good mad!

But our Yankee adventurers were by no means at the end of their raid.
The sun was rising.  With the rare promise of a clear day, considering
the time and the region, it was more evident than usual that a very
high altitude must be reached and maintained.

There were the German trenches to be passed, the trenches raided only a
few hours before, the  No-Man's-Land, before the welcoming shelter of
friendly areas and support might be reached.  At any rate, they could
see and signal other and also keep close together and be ready to
afford mutual support in case of meeting the foe.  This last was soon
verified by the rise and approach of a small squadron of scout
cruisers, winged monoplanes, each with a ed monoplanes, each with a
single pilot only and one machine gun.

"Keep well under them," signaled Blaine to his friend.  "Got any
ammunition?  What?  The devil!"

Orris had replied to Lafe's queries by shaking out the now empty
cartridge sheaves and dropping them again.  Lafe, then swooping closer,
Called forth to his mate:

"By its looks this gun is a rebuilt Lewis.  Can you use any of mine?
You know the Boches are great in reconstructing captured weapons to
their own use.  Get below me and to one side.  Hurry up!  I'll try to
toss you a sheaf.  Here -- damn you!"

This to the German who again evinced signs of life.  Having no time to
spare, Blaine jerked the throat cord closer and gave a heavier foot
pressure to the prisoner's twisted arm.  Meanwhile with no time to
lose, Orris swooped lower, rising gently under Blaine's right or
starboard side.  The latter had to rise in order to toss the weighty
sheaf of cartridges exactly where he wished them to fall -- into
Erwin's lap.

This he did successfully.  But in so doing his weight relaxed upon the
Boche's arm.  At the same time Orris, in catching the sheaf, allowed
his control grip to relax.  The nose of Orris's machine, now rising,
bumped into Lafe's under plane, tilting it up sharply.

Precisely at this juncture, and as Blaine's foot pressure on his
prisoner's arm relaxed, the tilting planes threw him sharply forward,
down and upon the German.  The latter, seeing his one chance, wrenched
his partially released arm forward and caught it round Blaine's legs as
he stumbled.  At the same time this double movement somehow operated to
release Fritz's other arm.

By now, Orris, unconscious of the mischief his own upward shove had
caused, sheered his machine aside, still climbing upward and onward,
only to find three of the enemy scouts nearing rapidly and making ready
for an encounter.

Looking back, he saw, in the place of Blaine's leather cap and goggles,
a dimly shimmering twinkle of arms and legs flashing above the rim of
the open enclosure where the pilots sit.

"Great guns!" he ejaculated, his blood tingling with thrills.  "That
chap has got loose and they're having it.  What must I do?"

Even while these thoughts were flashing, he was working.  He dared not
turn to Blaine's relief.  He did not know yet if the sheaf thrown him
would fit his own machine gun.  But first he must dip, circle, come up
underneath and try his luck.

As has been said, Orry was no novice.  He had flown at the front for
months as one of the Lafayette Escadrille.  Before that he had worked
his way up in aerial mechanics in the United States and also here in
France.

Even while diving, circling, swirling in mid air, ten thousand feet up,
he was adjusting the new sheaf to his own gun.  Happily it fitted.

That was a good sign, and pirouetting, not unlike an expert dancer
executing a new turn, he dove aside and came up fairly behind the
nearest Boche.  Without hesitation he began to spray the enemy with a
shower of their own bullets.  It was indeed lucky the new cartridges
fitted.  It was merely one blunder committed by the extra efficient
Germans in converting British weapons to their own use.

Evidently the ammunition dealt out to the Death's Head Squadron was of
the best.  It was intentionally so.  Another proof of this lay in the
fact that the German plane thus attacked fell sideways, recovered,
plunged half staggering away, while a tiny spark of flame became
visible to Erwin as he sheered aside in the opposite direction and
prepared for a new onset from above by the second plane.  So far as he
could see, the other plane was making for Blaine's machine that still
flow the Death's Head Flag.  Yet it was acting strangely as seen from a
distance by the Boches, who might or might not be posted as to the
strange change of its ownership.

The second plane, rendered more cautious by the fate of the first,
which was now descending a mass of flames, began a series of divings,
wrigglings, and even nose dips, in its efforts to confuse Erwin and
find a good position from which to shower the daring invader with
bullets.

On his own part Orris went through the usual maneuvers customary when
two airmen, both skillful, are seeking the advantage of the other.
Well it was for the young man that his own Bleriot was one of the best
of the up-to-date fighting planes.

Numerous shots were taken on both sides, and in the excitement f or the
moment Orris lost all sight of the fate of his partner.  At last, in
trying by a desperate and perilous maneuver, to "get on the tail" of
his adversary by a side-loop in mid-flight, the Boche pilot, while
upside down, came for an instant fairly within range.  Quickly Orris
took his advantage.

He was above and to the right of the German, and with a single whirl of
his Lewis gun brought it fully in line with the Boche's head as he sat
head down, strapped in his seat, while his machine was swiftly turning
in its side evolution so as to bring him in the rear of his enemy.

"Now!" gasped Orris, beginning his bullet spray.  "Help me, Mars!"

A queer prayer, but it was quickly answered.  The German machine
righted more slowly, however.  Erwin dove swiftly down and came upright
in the rear of his now swaying adversary.  Then the lad saw what fate
had done for him.

The German had collapsed in his seat, to which, as has been said, he
had strapped himself.  His head lay on the rim, apparently a mass of
streaming crimson.  His machine, a renovated Fokker, was tipsily
zigzagging along without any guidance except its stabilizer and its own
momentum.

To say the boy was half paralyzed at first is not too strong.  But a
revulsion swept through him in a flood.  At the same time there came to
his brain a vivid flash, reminding him that while thus desperately
engaged for his own life, he had heard sounds of aerial battling
somewhere in his rear.

While he was making up his mind what to do next, the whir of speeding
motors rose rapidly.  Looking back, he saw the Death's Head flag waving
from the nearest one and soon distinguished Blaine, apparently all
right, but chugging away at top speed in Erwin's direction.

Just now the Fokker with its dead occupant gave another side drop and,
uninfluenced by the usual controls, came nearly to a standstill.  It
toppled again, then down it went earthward at increasing speed,
carrying its occupant along.

"Hey-you!"  This from Blaine as he swept up and by, while rounding to.
"Look behind!  I dropped that chap -- the first one!  But he's brought
a lot of others.  Let's make for home, boy!"

Apparently it was too late without a further scrimmage, for no less
than half a dozen Boche planes were swooping around their rear, some
already within range.  In maneuvering into position Blaine again picked
up his megaphone, saying:

"I saw you drop those chaps.  Oh, you Orry!  Here we go -- right for
some more of them!  Whoopee!"

It seemed little short of blasphemy -- this uproarious spirit, in the
face of the odds gathering in behind.  But Blaine was built that way.
Danger, the closer and more menacing, instead of rousing fear, nerved
him to his best or, as it might turn out, worst.

"Where's your prisoner?" shouted Erwin.  "I feared he'd get you."

"Nit, old man!  I got hold of a monkey-wrench and knocked him cold.
But he was game, you bet!"

"Where is he then?"

"Cold and stiff under my feet.  Watch out, Orry!"

Megaphones cast aside, both Americans now addressed themselves to the
desperate task of fighting these new assailants and reaching their own
lines.

But in the first firing that ensued Erwin's Lewis gun suddenly jammed.
This was probably one result of his having to use the German-made
ammunition tossed to him earlier by Blaine, when his own had been
exhausted.  He signaled to his partner:

"Gun jammed!  Must cut for home -- understand?"

"All right!  Go up - up -"

A burst of flame from Blaine's machine, and the toppling down of the
nearest adversary was the first result of this new encounter.
Evidently that flag waving from Blaine's captured plane had fooled the
Boches again.

Down, down went the hostile machine, its pilot frantically but
ineffectually trying to right himself.

Passing Erwin, the latter saw the Boche, evidently a mere lad, working
at the controls as the plane dropped down like a dead leaf in the air.

"Poor fellow," sighed Orris, beginning to spiral upward.  "What a
deadly cruel thing war now is!"

Up, up he climbed, two of the enemy following, while Blaine was
engaging another, the last.  The final view Erwin had of his bunkie the
two were engaged in a close duel, dipping, darting, flashing about each
other.  Now came interchanging machine gun fire, with both gradually
following Erwin higher, higher, until the latter began to feel that the
thin air of these upper regions was getting on his nerves.  A glance at
his own register showed eighteen thousand feet or thereabouts.

Still his adversaries climbed after him. Now and then a spurt of flame
and a spatter of bullets indicated that his own plane was being more or
less perforated.  The lad became doubtful as to the wisdom of waiting
longer for his comrade.  Evidently Blaine would fight on as long as his
ammunition lasted or until disabled himself.  After all, two hostile
planes dropped and the third one brought home with its occupant was not
a bad conclusion for a night's bombing raid on the enemy trenches.

Here a sudden, fierce gust of wind from the north catching him unawares
half tilted his machine and then as he righted it sent him scurrying at
terrific speed southward.  At the same time a black cloud, belching and
flaming thunder and lightning, swept down on him with almost the force
of a hurricane.



CHAPTER IV

WINNING PROMOTIONS

Looking back, Orris saw his nearest foe, apparently caught by the same
whirlwind that had nearly unseated him, go side-looping over and over
as if in the grasp of mighty, invisible forces that he was unable to
meet or control.

"It's safety first, I guess, for us all," he thought, at once diving
into the nearing thunder burst that closed round him like a black pall,
a pall now threaded and convulsed with electric forces that showed only
in vivid flashes and deafening thunders.

The winds, too, picked him up, whirled him about and otherwise so
tossed his machine here, there, yonder, that for five fearful minutes
he hardly knew where or what he was.  The wind, now bitter cold, would
have frozen his flesh but for his sheathing of wool and leather that
protected his face, arms and body.  Blinding gusts of rain, sleet and
frozen snow buffeted the planes, the shield of the fuselage, and all of
himself that was visible.

By this time Blaine, the German planes, his own late adversary, had all
vanished.  He was alone, like a buffeted, tossed, shaken twig, in that
wild vortex of darkness and storm.

With his machine gun jammed and his petrol running low, what was there
for him to do but descend and make for the home aerodrome?

"Might as well," he reflected.  "We've already overstayed our time."

Pointing gently downwards, he suffered himself to drift.  That is, if
one in the midst of a blinding storm and seated in a war-plane may be
supposed to drift.  Rather it was being tossed about, constant
vigilance at the controls alone keeping his plane from literally
flopping over and somersaulting here and there, like a dead leaf.

Then without warning he felt the machine dropping down, down, down.
Yet the planes were level and the whole natural resisting power of the
machine was at its usual operation.

"By George!  This storm has made an air cave underneath.  I must get
busy."

Another twist of the levers and the plane jumped forward, for the first
time feeling no resistance of the storm.  And, while he was glancing
around for more light, out he shot like an arrow from a bow into the
clear sunlight, the earth near -- too near, in fact.

Back of him the storm clouds were whisking themselves away so rapidly
that the transition was almost staggering.  And below -- what was it he
now saw?

For answer, almost before his own mind had sensed the change, there
came the spatter of Archies by the dozen and the menacing roar of
machine guns, sheltered here and there over the scraggy plain within
the pill-boxes that have of late been substituted for the vanishing
trench lines.  Artillery bombardments by the Allies have so devastated
certain regions that trenches have become impossible; hence the
concrete pillboxes.

"Lucky I've some gasoline left," thought Erwin, surprised but not
unduly alarmed.  "It's a race now between me and the bullets."

Instantly he put on high speed, at the same time rising in zigzags
while the bombardment continued increasingly.

Right ahead, however, he saw what looked like a communicating
underground trench; and at certain intervals were openings.  These
openings revealed to him a blurring, moving mass, muddy gray, yet with
glints here and there as of some substance brighter.  Closer yet he
flew, regardless of safety.  His air tabulator was not working.  That
was a sign that he was within two to three hundred feet of the earth.
All at once something flashed out from this moving mass that presently
disappeared underground again.

Archie had momentarily stopped.  But an unmistakable whistle of lead
was accompanied by a metallic puncture below.  The bullet hit the near
end of his petrol tank almost at his knee.  Now he knew.

"Lordy!" he palpitated.  "That's too near!"  Already his fingers were
twisting the speed accelerator, while up went the nose of his machine.
Still the Archies spake not, but the spat, spat, spat of real rifle
bullets followed his retreat.

Just then his hand, feeling below, came in contact with the hand
grenades which he had forgotten amid the excitement of his later
flight.  Ahead rose a swell of land that he knew terminated in a bluff
abutting upon one of the smaller streams of that region.  This
underground trench, evidently dug at great cost of labor and life, went
straight for that bluff.

Their own aerodrome lay only a few miles opposite.

By actual and repeated reconnaissance both from below and in the air,
this bluff was considered as deserted, or held at most by a very small
force.  This was owing to its supposed isolation.

Evidently Erwin had just made a great discovery.  At least he hoped so.

On he flew.  His machine was hit in many places, principally the wings,
the tail and along the under side of the fuselage.  Through this had
come the ball that nearly perforated the tank.

There was one more opening ahead and then the trench sank out of sight
near the base of the low bluff.  Orry's hand closed over the first
grenade.  He was really an expert bomb-thrower.  At great risk he
dipped gradually until, when about at the point overhead he desired, he
threw two bombs in swift succession.  Then-up, up rapidly.  With all
the power of his engine he climbed, while two sharp explosions sounded
from below.

Had the lad looked down he would have seen the trench walls at the open
space crumble inward, while the mass of moving gray appeared to
disintegrate, to vanish for the time being.

But with the throwing of the bombs, Erwin had other work on hand.
Archie had broken loose again.  One larger molded shot ripped through
the tail of the Bleriot, ricocheted obliquely and hit that same tank
again, but with more force.  His head lowered, the lad saw what had
been done.  More than that he saw what impended.  The petrol was low.

Being under fire, at any moment a stray shot might ignite what little
was left.  Pointing the machine still more upward, he seized a bunch of
loose lint, used to sop up recurring leaks here and there, and with a
handy screw driver he managed to stop the rent in the metal with a few
sharp adroit punchings.

Again to the machine, now over and beyond the bluffs; over the
crinkling muddy stream, now almost overflowing its banks.  On the bluff
behind a squad of men in gray were training one of the Archies that had
been dragged up from somewhere underneath.

"I've got to give her all the head she'll take," he thought.  "That gun
will get me if they understand their business."

Over beyond the stream a low embankment rose well up at perhaps three
to f our hundred yards from its first bank.  Erwin was rising in a
steep climb, zigzagging crazily for the machine was giving out, owing
to lack of fuel.  But he made a last effort to thus dodge the rain of
bullets that began to pelt upon him from the rear.  Another larger gun
came up.  Both joined in firing.

A shell splinter struck his shoulder, tearing loose the leather
garment, while a searing, hot agony seized him, paralyzing his left arm.

He was over the second embankment when the final crisis came.  Were
these foes or friends that were popping up, pointing weapons at those
behind?  Friends surely!  Down he had better go.  The pain was so acute
that only one arm was now at his service, while the dizziness that
accompanies the pain of severe gun wounds filled his brain, dimmed his
eyes, palsied his last despairing effort to land somehow behind that
sheltering embankment.

Just then came a last explosion close behind.  He seemed to be going
down, down -- where?

Then a terrific shock, and all consciousness left him.  The shock
seemed to drive from him all notion of anything or anybody.  He knew
nothing, nothing - nothing --

When at last Orris Erwin again knew that he was in the land of the
living he was in a base hospital behind the front, and not far from his
own aerodrome.  His shoulder was in bandages.  His left arm was in
splints, but not painful.  What seemed to be other bandages swathed his
lower legs.  Altogether he felt himself to be in pretty bad shape.

Then appeared Sergeant Anson who, seeing that Erwin was now awake and
sensible, paused, a dry grin upon his weather-worn visage.

"Huh!  Where's that Bleriot you or Blaine were to bring back?"

But the smile that accompanied this was not condemnatory by any means.

"I stuck to it, sir, long as I could stick to anything.  How do I
happen to be trussed up this way here?"

For a first reply the Sergeant threw back his head and gave vent to a
real laugh.  Then he patted Orry's curly head gently.

"You'll know in due time, youngster!  Where's your pilot, Lafe Blaine?"

"Isn't Blaine back, too, and in that Death's Head Boche plane he -- we
took from them back of their lines?  As for the Bleriot, I was in it
last I remember."

Here the door of the ward opened, and who should walk in but Blaine
himself, with Monsieur Cheval following.  Cheval wore upon his breast a
silver medal resembling nothing so much as an ace.  For a wonder Blaine
himself wore a tricolor ribbon with a tiny gold cross that Erwin was
sure he had never seen his athletic countryman have before.

At sight of Erwin's pale face and rather fragile form, now animated
with conversational fire and energy, the big American turned to his
French comrade, saying:

"There, my friend!  Did I not tell you that our brave little comrade
would be more like himself today than he has been any time these ten
days?  Say little one," bending over Orry affectionately, "have you got
over that nasty spell yet?  Ha -- I guess so!"

"Where's that Bleriot the Sergeant said we must bring back?  I was in
it when -- when the Boches or -- or the devil got me."

"That Bleriot, like yourself, mon comrade, is in the hospital; that is,
the repair shop."  This from Monsieur Cheval, still wearing his right
arm in a sling, though now divested of splints.

"Oh!"  A flash of dim recollection came to Orry for a moment, "I kind
of remember.  First there was a bluff, with what looked like a
communicating trench, in spots.  Just as if most of it was covered.  I
dropped some bombs I had left on the moving gray something I saw.
After that I skimmed over the bluff.  Then there was a stream, and
another embankment beyond.  After that I don't seem to remember much.
How did I get here?"

"You got here, Orry, because the Boches downed you right over our front
trench at this angle, which is nearer the Boche line than anywhere in
this sector.  We didn't even know that the enemy had dug a covered
trench to the far side of the bluff on the river bank until you let us
know by dropping bombs on them.  This so angered them that they dragged
out two Archies and peppered you good.  You fell into our trench, and -
and with the knowledge you gave us we directed our heavy artillery
right on that bluff.

Here Blaine grinned complacently while patting Orry's head again, very
gently though, on account of the bandages.

"Yes, mon comrade," supplemented Cheval.  "It was to you that our
batteries owe their accuracy of firing in dealing with that bluff.  Do,
you know that they must have been digging there for days, perhaps
weeks?  The whole interior had been hollowed out, and there was a
picked battalion stationed there.  La, la!  It was a lucky accident
that led you in my own good Bleriot to lay open to us the secrets of
those over yonder, who are trying to enslave the world."

"But -- but I didn't know," murmured Erwin gratified, yet somehow
feeling as if honors were being heaped gratuitously on his undeserving
head.   Something of this escaped him the while.  Monsieur Cheval held
up a protesting hand.

"No, no!  You must not!  You shall know what France thinks of the
service you have done for her, and -- yes, for your own
brothers-in-arms as well.  Listen!  You are already promoted, Monsieur
Erwin.  I may tell you that much.  And so is your comrade, Blaine.
Look!  He already wears his decoration."

"Oh, well," said Orris wearily, "we didn't do so much after all.  We
did our bombing -- what we were sent to do.  Then we somehow had to go
down in back of the Boche lines.  While there we took that German
machine.  It was right handy, and no trouble.  What else could I do but
bring back your Bleriot, leaving Lafe here to do all the work of
fetching in that Boche machine and the Boche himself?  Got back all
right, did you, Lafe.  Looked to me when that other crowd tackled us as
if you might have your hands full."

Blaine here smiled, nodded, and playfully rejoined:

"Looked to me as if you, too, would have some time getting back.  And I
guess you did too, by the way you look now."

All this was vaguely complimentary, yet rather overdoing the thing, or
so Erwin seemed to feel, for he sighed and turned on his pillow as if
weary.

At this juncture the ward door again opened and there walked in several
uniformed men who had just stepped out of a military car, visible
through the temporarily open door.

One of these strode forward, while the rest followed.  This foremost
one was of distinguished appearance and bore on arm and shoulder the
insignia of a French general.  The others were also in uniform, except
for one who wore a frock coat.

Just at this minute another door opened and there entered a tall,
squarely built form in United States khaki, but without decoration
except for the stars of a major general modestly affixed to his
straight, stiff coat collar.

"Why, there's General Pershing!" whispered Blaine, keeping his hand at
the salute which he had intuitively begun upon the appearance of the
French.

"Petain and Pershing!" gasped Orris to himself, yet turning wearily
from a futile attempt at saluting like the rest.

The two commanders greeted each other cordially, though the meeting was
rather unexpected on the part of both.  Each had heard of the night
bombardment which had taken place only a few days back.  Pershing was
on his way to some American billet not far from here.  Petain, having
already received reports of the recent exploits of the two airmen, and
having decorated Blaine, was now bent upon doing similar things for
this wounded American lad who had unwittingly been of such service to
the French along its sector.

In a kindly and unassuming way Petain, now reinforced by the presence
of the American general, complimented Orris on what he had done,
concluding with: "Not only did you and your comrade capture and bring
home a German aviator and his machine, but you have sent two others in
the earth and, after all this, while hard pressed by the enemy, you
managed to descend upon the foe right where they were preparing for
secret attack.  This you frustrated, at great physical cost to
yourself.  For all this my Government bestows upon you this decoration."

While all the staff looked on, with nurses and flyers respectfully in
the background, the general pinned on Erwin's breast a decoration
similar to that bestowed upon Blaine.  Continuing, the general said:

"When you are again able to rejoin the squadron, you, like your friend,
will find that your own government has not only approved, but rewarded
you also for what you have done.  Farewell!"  The general with his
escort left.  General Pershing stopped only long enough to shake hands
informally with those remaining, particularly with Cheval, Blaine and
finally with Erwin.  Walking with Sergeant Anson towards the door, the
general turned, saying over his shoulder:

"It wouldn't surprise me a little bit if the heads of the American
Corps at Washington did not send you two something in the near future.
If they do, try and live up to it.  Good-bye!"

He was gone.  Monsieur Cheval had also followed, more slowly.

Blaine and Erwin looked at each other meaningfully.

"Reckon anything will happen, Lafe?"

"How should I know, Orry?  Wait awhile and see."

Ten days later arrived two war medals, and two appointments; one for
Blaine as sergeant in the aviation corps, the other for Orry as first
corporal in the same.



CHAPTER V

THE PRACTICE DRILL

About the time that Corporal Orris Erwin was able to take his place
again as a fighting aviator, Sergeant Blaine, returning from a long
scouting raid over in the enemy's territory, met the boy in the broad
drive of the aerodrome looking about him rather strangely.  He threw an
arm over Orry's shoulder, and drew him along to the door of the Aero
Club.

"Been in here?" he asked.  "It is great!  They asking 'bout you the day
we left.  Heard about Cheval?"

Orris, not feeling like talking, shook his head, vouchsafing:

"Nothing only that he went along with your squadron at the last
minute."

"Poor chap!  He won't raid with us again.  He went down near Essen.
There was where we were to unload most of our bombs.  But Archie got
him.  Down he went -"   Blaine's eyes grew moist at the memory.

Erwin understood.   "Nothing more?" he ventured.

"Nary thing, except that we gave the Krupp works hell for about fifteen
or twenty minutes.  You should have seen the explosions."

"That part was good.  Say, Blaine," Orris, was looking, thoughtful,
"has it ever struck you how terribly uncertain a thing life is --"

"Oh, rats!" Blaine shook his smaller companion as they neared the club
door.  "Stow that sort of talk and thought!  Don't do you a bit of good
or those that hear you.  See?"

"Still, since my last flight with you, these thing will run across my
mind.  What is up now ?  You in on anything yet?"

"I've heard -- but don't whisper a word -- that we're on for a job of
sausage driving next.  Nothing sure, though."

Sausages is the slang term for gas observation balloons which go up at
certain points and observe the enemy's positions or maneuvers before
and during battle on the earth below.  Sausages do not fight back much
but are protected by support battle planes and in other ways.

Reaching the clubroom door, they entered, Blaine pushing his comrade
forward and saying with mock politeness:

"Let me present my comrade Erwin, or Orry, I like to call him.  While
doing the Boches the other day at Appincourte Bluff, the Boches came
mighty nigh doing him.  But here he is, what's left of him.  Jolly him
a bit.  He feels bad!"  The last tweak in allusion to Orry's remark on
the uncertainty of life.

'There were a dozen or more of the air lads in the room and cigarette
smoke tinged the air.  Towards Erwin, now recovered after nearly a
three week's "lay-off" on account of his burns and other wounds, there
was a general rush of friendly hands and voices.

"Oh, you bully l'ill boy!  If I hadn't been kept so busy would have
gone round to jolly you up a bit.  But I kept hearin' from you all the
same."

This from Milton, or "Milt" Finzer, a Louisville lad, now in the Royal
Flying Corps for more than a year. "Don't it seem wallopin' to see you
in the clubroom again!"

"Orry, you stale mutt," this from an Americanized Pole, without a trace
of foreign accent, "I'm too glad to see you to talk much about it.
When we bombers got back from the raid that night and neither you nor
Lafe had showed up, I felt bad enough.  Later when Lafe came in with a
German plane and a half dead Boche inside, we felt better.  But we
missed you, Orry."

"Did you really and truly miss me?" Erwin asked, this not in a spirit
of doubt or incredulity, but only to hear his friend reemphasize it.
One likes at times to have welcome truisms reechoed over again.  It is
human nature I suppose.

"Look here, Lex Brodno, you're a Pole --"

"Don't spring that on me again, even in joke I am an American, it my
folks did come over from Warsaw."

"Bully!  We're all one over here.  That's the way to talk!"  Erwin was
getting back his old-time spirits.  "All one in the good old U.S.  All
one over here -- eh?  Oh, you sinner!"  The two walked over to a table,
interrupted at every turn by those who wanted to welcome Orry back to
the club again.

The following morning Erwin resumed his daily stunt of practice, but
was heightened mightily in spirit by noticing in the hangar where he
had usually gotten his machines a bright new scouting plane, small,
with a tail like a dolphin's, an up-to-date machine gun mounted along
the top, just where the one pilot at the wheel could handily squint
through the sights.

"Why, it's British -- one of their latest makes," informed Erwin, much
pleased.  "It's -- let's see."  He was squinting at the monogram.
"B-X-3.  No. 48."

Just then Blaine and Finzer strolled up.

"Going out for a little spin, Orry?" queried Blaine, throwing open
wider the hangar door.  "Look at 'em!  Ain't they beauts?"

There was a row of eight of these snug-built machines, all the same
type and monogram, all with machine guns strapped solidly to the
fuselage of each, and with motors of great power and pliability.

"You can do anything with these chaps," remarked Milt, "except fly to
the moon.  But these motors would take you a long way.  As for stunts
like diving, circling, dipping, playing dead and the like, you never
saw the like.  I only hope we go out soon.  I learn there's a new raid
on the taps."

Blaine was nosing about one of the machines that was like the others,
only a trifle larger and had an observer's seat behind the pilot's.

"That's your, Sergeant?" queried Erwin, slightly emphasizing the last
word.

"Bet your bottee wootees, Corporal!"  Another slight emphasis on the
last word.  "As for yours, take your pick.  They're all exactly alike.
We must go into preliminary practice today."

For an answer Erwin mechanically rolled out the machine he had first
examined, and prepared for a short flight.

"After all, all, these are much like the planes we used at Vimy last
year."

"Some improvements and stronger motors added thought," said Blaine.
"Going to give it a try-out?"

"Yep!  Thought I'd like to get my hand in a bit before we go out in
squad formation."  He nimbly  vaulted into his seat over the rim of the
fuselage, or the body of the machine, as two mechanics pushed forward
behind the wings.

An upward flip and the alert planes rose gently into the air, and Erwin
was off.  His head was cool, his brain active, and more than all his
hands were steady.

About this time Finzer had rolled out another plane and almost
immediately rose behind Orris.

The two were at once climbing high, higher, until at an elevation of
two to three thousand feet they began to circle, climb and dip in a way
that reminded one of two high-flying birds playing at tag far up in the
blue expanse of sky above.

Then Erwin's machine did a flip, bringing it above the other machine
and "onto its tail," the favorable position for aerial attack.
Suddenly Finzer turned his nose earthward and began a whirling dive.
Erwin followed; the other coming at once into horizontal poise, turned
his nose towards Erwin -- the perfect position for pouring a rain of
shot as the other passed.

Of course all this was mere practice, the full handed exercise of the
fighting aviator, through which he keeps brain, eye and hand in trim
against the perilous, heroic few seconds when he must fight to save his
life and machine.

Meantime Blaine, along with Brodno, the Americanized Pole, and one or
two others, strolled about, lazily watching the maneuvers above, and
telling stories more or less related to their and fighting  experiences
flying.

Presently down came the two fliers, each with heightened color and full
of that fresh buoyancy which short, lively flights are apt to create.
Both were flippantly arguing as to which one had got the best of the
other.

"I own up that I am a little bit stale, Milt.  But you wait until we go
out for squadron practice.  I'll show you!"

"Yes, you will," replied Finzer, good-naturedly caustic.  "Perhaps I'll
show you another trick or two then."

And so the chaffing went on as the lads adjourned to the eating-house
for lunch.

This meal over, a bugle sounded from the parade ground near the grove
of trees.  It was the general summons for squadron practice.  As the
boys filed out, each in full flying rig, they saw Commander Byers on
the field, watching the mechanics roll out the machines.  There were a
dozen or more of the fighting planes, like those which Erwin and Finzer
had used for morning practice.  In the east, from over a monotonous
expanse of scarred and war-torn country, came the sullen roar of
artillery at the front, a stern reminder that real war was close at
hand.

Each aviator at once mounted his own machine,         Blaine as squad
sergeant in the one he had indicated to Erwin earlier in the day.
Erwin took his, while Finzer, Brodno, and a real American lad from
Butte, Montana, were assigned to others of these fast, nimble, scouting
planes that are really the wasps of the air, carrying their sting with
them, always ready and willing to bite.

Meanwhile at each machine two mechanics, under the eye of the airman,
went carefully over the mechanism until all were satisfied.  Up they
went, singly or in pairs, gyrating playfully, always climbing, and
swooping higher, higher, until to the naked eye they became mere dots
in the clear sky.

By this time it was noticeable that they had somehow divided into two
squads or escadrilles; and at a signal from Commander Byers down below
they began maneuvering like two hostile squadrons about to engage in
aerial battle.  Thereupon ensued a display of battle tactics that would
have been bewildering to an unaccustomed spectator.

These vicious little fighting planes reminded one more of air insects
than of birds.  In their forward rushes many of them were doing more
than two miles a minute.

"Watch out!" said the Commander, his glass at his eyes.  "The Sergeant
is going to loop."

True enough, Blaine's machine took a nose flip.  He was riding upside
down.  Then he was level again.  The rest of his squad followed suit,
then followed their leader at a daring angle, all of them straight and
level again.  The first plane in the other line, driven by Erwin, began
to loop the loop sidewise, rolling over and over, not unlike a horse
rolls over when turned out to grass. The others behind him began much
the same tactics while the first line drew away as if preparing for
counter moves.

Beyond, in the further sky, two opposing machines having detached
themselves from the rest were playing with each other like kittens with
wings.  One was making rapid evolutions, the other following, and
clinging to the set course in a series of whirls with its own wing-tip
as a pivot.

Below, the comments went on from the staff surrounding the Commander,
who would say now and then:

"Look you there!  Was that not fine?"

"Hard to beat," seemed to be the general verdict.  "Fritz will have to
open his eyes tomorrow."

And so the show above went on.  A flock of little birds chirped and
flopped past the group below.  What pikers they seemed by comparison,
with the show going on above -- far above!  And now they were
descending in long spirals, each squad by itself, yet preserving the
mathematical distance required, both from the opposing squad and at the
same time keeping the line prescribed for such tactics during drills at
the home grounds.

Particularly did Blaine distinguish himself in the daring of his
stunts.  Erwin was hardly behind him.  They looped again, they rolled,
they did the wing and tail slides, doing the last until they fell
almost perpendicularly a thousand feet.  Finally they righted hardly
two hundred feet above the earth; then shot upward again at almost
incredible speed.


And now the two leaders circled slowly as their respective squads
followed on towards the ground, some falling, drifting like dead
leaves, others slanting lazily as they passed the leaders, and on down,
alighting at last each in his appointed place or thereabouts.

And then the two leaders began circling and swooping more and more
rapidly until those below felt the  whirring rush of air as the two
planes swept by so low that one imagined that an arm would nearly touch
them.

All hands knew it was rivalry -- the rivalry of stunts.  Yet to stand
below and watch those steel engines falling down on you from the skies
took the same kind of nerve to keep from dodging as only airmen
themselves are gifted with by practice.

Finally all this drew to a close.  The machines at last ranged
themselves at opposite extremes of the landing stage and with a final
swoop both were apparently upon the spectators as with the rush of a
whirlwind.  Yet, dizzy as it looked, it was mathematically timed.  The
two planes flattened as if by magic; they rose, dipped again and,
passing each other in the down grade, saluted methodically as they
passed the Commander.  Ten seconds later their wheels dropped gently on
the gravel at either end of the parade ground two tired looking
aviators left their the waiting mechanics and walked soberly to the
others.

The stunts were over for the day.



CHAPTER VI

CATCHING THB SPY

"Well, well, Orry!  How do you feel after your stunts of yesterday?"

This from Sergeant Blaine as he jumped from his bunk in the aerodrome
dormitory the following morning just as the dawn was breaking.

Erwin, still drowsing, opened one eye.  The next instant, remembering
what the day probably hold in store for him, he threw off the covers
and leapt from his bunk.  At the same time, in order impress Blaine
with his general fitness, he hit the big Sergeant a mock blow on the
midwind region where, according to ring history, Fitzsimons dropped
Corbett in their historic championship fight.  Then he sprang back,
arms and fists feinting.

"Can't you see how I feel?" he retorted.  "Want to try me more?"

"Nit, you shyster, nit!"  Blaine was laughing as he recovered,
retreating and grimacing, as if in mock misery.  "I don't want no more
solar plexus stuff at this stage of the game.  I guess you're all
right."

"Bet your thick cocoanut I am!  I was a bit drowsy at first.  Say,
Lafe, you know I must be in on this, whatever it is."

"Sure!  I was at first a bit afraid that all those air stunts might
have frazzled you a little, seeing you are just out of hospital."

"Honest Injun, Lafe, I'm all right!  Don't you forget to remember that!"

"Well, then, get your clothes on.  I want to talk to you private like."
 And Blaine sauntered off, lighting, a cigarette, while Erwin hastily
put on his clothes.  Going out soon, he encountered Blaine on the
parade before the hangars where the starting of planes usually began.

It promised to be a lovely day.  Not a cloud was in the sky.  Off to
the east a lone airplane was, soaring high over No-Man Is-Land,
doubtless one of the night scouts that are maintained along that
portion of the front.

Said Lafe:

"Last night after the rest of you had gone to the clubroom, Byers sent
for me and told me briefly what he wanted us to attempt today.  You
know those sausages the Boches got now, over back of that bluff you
unearthed the day you came home after our last raid?"

"Appincourte?"  Orris blinked and nodded.  "I ought to remember."

"Well, the French have tried a time or two to get them, but the Boche
planes have been too much for them so far.  Kept them so busy fighting
back, they had no time to do much bombing.  And now word has come from
headquarters that they must go.  Must!  See?"

Erwin nodded.  He took a deep breath, feeling already the lift in the
pure morning air.  Blaine continued:

"Well, Anson was to have headed this raid, but he's been promoted also.
 He's an ensign now.  I am in his place and they made you corporal
under me for two reasons.  One was on account of the stunts you did
along with me; then for what you did after you went on your own hook
and busted into that Boche communicating trench which made them try to
Archie you and thus exposed to us what they had done in making
themselves at home under Appincourte Bluff."

"Yes, yes!  Come to the point, Lafe!  What is it you and I have got to
do today, or whenever it comes off?"

"Don't be so impatient.  The second reason is because they now think
you have nerve enough for most anything, and that we two, working
together might succeed in puffing off this sausage business best in our
own way."

"You mean we are to bomb them where and when we please?"

"No -- of course not!  But Byers, who is the real head here, thinks you
and I, taking as many other chaps along as we please, can force our way
in our fighting planes to where these pesky gas keep hanging and spying
on us, and literally blow them to dashed smithereens.  See?"

"But how?  Their Archies will blow us to Hades and be gone before we
reach anywhere near.  It looks like a forlorn hope --"

Blaine smiled, as he interrupted with:

'Like Balaklava, eh?  Or old Pickett's third day charge at Gettysburg?"

Erwin did not reply. Blaine continued:

"If we go strong enough and swift and low enough, we'll got there; and,
once there we'll do the bombing all righty!"

"And in broad daylight, too?"

"I don't say that, Orry.  All this is strictly between you and me.
Byers rather favors a daylight raid as affording a better chance to
regain our own lines, either after bombing or in case we fail.  But
we're not going to fail . These dratted sausages have got to come down!"

"Are you sure they stay up at night?"

"Ever since we busted up that bluff you exposed, there they stay day
and night, half a dozen or more. And my own notion is that if we have a
new offensive here, which I think looks likely to a man up a tree,
those blamed sausages will give the Boches too much leeway in nosing
out ahead what we might be trying to do in getting ready."

"Well, what else?  Will Captain Byers leave it to you? "

"I think he will . Having tried every other way and failed, he will let
us -- you and me in private but me in public, decide upon the way we'd
prefer.  Both of us have been over the ground.  We know how far we have
to go.  I also know about what the Boches have got behind those
balloons.  It was only a few miles from there that we -- you and me --
got that Taube and the German aviator.  Believe me, unless things have
changed mightily, there isn't much there in the way of reinforcements
or more planes or anything."

"You've been back there since?"

"You bet!  Finzer and I went over there the day before you left the
hospital.  The Boches have no notion that our side is doing anything
here, except air-raiding in No-Man's-Land or using our planes.  That is
one reason the headquarters thinks that it is a good place to -- to do
something."

"Well Lafe," Orris spoke deliberately, "you know I am with you.  Tell
me as much or as little as you please.  I'll follow you to the last
notch."

"I  knew it!"  Blaine grasped his comrade's hand and nearly wrung the
fingers off.  "Well, keep mum!  Don't say anything to anybody but me.
If Byers says anything, give him to understand you are in it from the
word go, but no more.  We'll win out again.  Hear me?"

For reply, Erwin shook his released fingers, regarded Blaine with mock
reproach, and volunteered:

"I'll agree to everything after that grip, I'm with you to the death.
But don't do that again."

Blaine laughed gleefully as he turned away, patting Orris on the
shoulder approvingly.

"I always thought you were a sticker, Orry."

"That's better 'n being a slicker or a slacker, isn't it?"

Again the big fellow laughed as he hurried off towards the Captain's
quarters at the far end of the grounds.

The day passed quietly.  From time to time, Blaine held private
conferences with various members of the flying squad.  These were
mostly Americans who had either served a year or two at the western
front, or were more recent arrival who had joined because of special
aptitude for flying.

During the day sundry scouts penetrated here and there over the enemy
lines and their report were favorable for the plan Blaine had in mind.
A risky plan, yet promising well if skillfully carried out.

Towards night he had a last conference with Byers, who had more than
hesitated over the proposed program, yet gave in before the Sergeant's
enthusiasms.

"I agree," said the commander.  "But it is risky.  It can be done.  Yet
whether you are the man to do it -- well, we'll know in the morning.
Do your best.  Be prudent; not too prudent; but at the same time try to
be wise to things as they come up.   Remember I have more
responsibility than you.  Your responsibility is only to me.  It ceases
where mine begins."

"Don't fear, Captain.  Let what Erwin and I did the other night be duly
considered.  I need your full support --"

"Young man, you have it!"  Here Byers took Blaine's hand and shook it
heartily.  "Bring back as many of your squad as you can, but above all
carry out your program."

Night came, and with it a comfortable fog that rose white and misty,
good for the purpose in hand.  The clocks were pointing towards seven
when something like a dozen men, wearing the regulation uniform,
gathered at the usual open space, while from the doors of several
hangars mechanics were silently rolling out machines.

Each aviator gave a few comprehensive looks and touches to his own
plane, just to reassure himself that things were all right.  Then came
a brief moment or two of silent waiting.  There were no, spectators.
Even the rest of the men at the aerodrome did not appear.  This was
according to orders.

Out in front stood Captain Byers, attended by Blaine and Erwin, talking
in low, indistinct tones.   Finally Byers looked at his watch.

"Time's up, I guess.  Do your best, you two.  You, Blaine, will veer to
the right as you approach the enemy trenches.  You, sir," to Orris,
"will draw to the left.  Your squads will follow their respective
leaders.  Should you meet opposition before you reach the balloons,
don't flinch.  Pour on more speed.  Don't signal unless necessary but
obey signals when given.  Au revoir, lads!  Don't come back until you
have delivered the goods."

Back went the Sergeant and Corporal, each to his own machine, which
headed a short double line holding six planes, or a dozen in all.

At a quiet signal the leaders rose, spiraling into the upper darkness.
Presently all had vanished, zigzagging in an easterly direction.  About
this time there came a sudden blue flare as a solitary rocket shot
upward from beyond the grove of trees that that marked the landing
place within the enclosed area that formed this aerodrome.

Instantly Byers was on the qui vive, he being nearest the point
indicated by the blue flare.  Bursting into a full run, he sped towards
the spot, at the same time breaking in on several sentries
unobtrusively posted about the grounds where the raiders had departed.


"Scatter lads!" he ordered.  "Hurry!  Spies at work!  Halt any one you
see, no matter who!  Bring 'em in!"

Never halting in his race, he made directly for the spot whence the
flare of the rocket had gone up.  As he neared the trees, the sounds of
a child's voice came to his ears, just inside the grove.  It was
remonstrating to some one.

"D -- don't, papa!  I -- I want to get the pieces.  My! Wasn't it
pretty --"

Another voice, hoarse, gruff, stopped the childish words, but what it
said was indistinguishable.  Byers looked around.  Two of his sentries
were near, all of them running.

"Did you hear that child?" queried the captain.  "Scatter!  Don't let
either child or the grow one escape.  Be spry!  Watch out!"

As Byers uttered the last exclamation, a running figure emerged from
the shadow of the nearer trees and started full tilt towards the
quarters where the cook's galley was.  All three, running hard had
slightly scattered, in order to intercept the fugitive should he try to
dodge amid the various buildings.


Swift as were the pursuers, the fugitive was more speedy.

At one instant they saw him in a twinkling of light from one of the
open doors.  The next  instant the form was gone.  There came a faint
echo of half-smothered infantile cries.

Byers dashed by the lighted door, then stumbled over  a small form on
the ground and there rose another wail, now of terror if not of pain.

Quickly the captain picked up the small figure in big arms and ran on,
holding it gently, yet firmly, and saying:

"There, there, little one!  I won't hurt you!"

"D -- don't you hurt my pa, " wailed the small figure in his arms.  "He
-- was only making show for me --"  More crying.

Where was the man?  Only one clew had the captain.  The fellow was
round-shouldered, or seemed so in the glimpse Byers caught of them just
before he dropped the child.  Presently, one after another of the
sentries came in, breathless yet unsuccessful.  Somehow the fugitive
had vanished, and look as they might, no further sign of him was seen.

"Skip around some more!" ordered the captain.  "Try every door you
pass.  The fellow must be around somewhere.  Call me if necessary.
I'll be on hand."

While the baffled sentries did as directed Byers who was a father
himself, placed the child on a convenient bench beside him, patting its
head soothingly with one hand while he searched his pockets with the
other.  Then he produced the remnant of a package of chocolate drops,
part of the contents of a box recently received from home.

"Like candy?" he asked, putting some of the candy in the child's lap.
"Good candy -- right, from my home across the sea."

This in such French as Byers could command, which was plenty for the
purpose.  At first the child, whom he now perceived was a girl, would
not try it, but presently a sight of the sweet was more than it could
stand.

Seizing the offered sweets, it began to eat greedily.

"My papa have no sweets like this," munching greedily.  "Who you?
Where my papa?"

"Know where your pa stays?  I take you back to him."

For an answer the girl jumped down, still clutching the candy.  She
took Byers' hand, leading him back by another alley amid buildings here
devoted to the culinary department of that cantonment.  One of the
sentries appeared.  The child pushed on, leading Byers, who cautioned
the sentry to say nothing, but to follow.

"What is your papa's name?" asked the captain.

"He name Bauer -- Monsieur Bauer --" The child suddenly stopped.

"What is the matter, little one?" asked Byers, pulses thrilling under a
vague suspicion.  But here the sentry, forgetting the captain's
caution, interposed with:

"I know him, Sir!  Hermann Bauer, our assistant quartermaster -"

'Hush-h-h!" admonished Byers, frowning, shaking his head and pointing
at the child, now staring at him wonderingly, then pouting as she
queried:

"You no hurt my papa?"

The door of a nearby house suddenly flew open and a fleshy,
round-shouldered man appeared.  He saluted, then said:

"Good evening, Messieurs!  I see you have my little girl with you."

"Monsieur Bauer!"  The captain stood up, ignoring the other's salute.
"I suppose you know that you are now under arrest?"

"It is what I feared.  May I take my little girl inside?"

"Yes, provided the sentry and I go with you."

"You may as well: you'll go anyway.  Please do not give me away."

With remarkable nerve, Bauer lifted the wondering child to his arms and
led the way inside.

Five minutes later he emerged, the captain and the sentry on either
side, and set out amid childish protests from within.

"She overtook me while I was on my way," he confessed.  "It is fate, I
guess."

Then the three started on the way to aerodrome headquarters.

About this time came the sounds of heavy firing over No-Man's-Land.

"That is one result of your rocket, Bauer, Byers, grimly.



CHAPTER VII

DOWNING THE SAUSAGES

Once clear of the Allied front line of trenches, the double platoon of
planes spread out on either hand, flying swiftly yet keeping near the
earth.  This was strange for so formidable a squadron of fighting,
one-man planes that usually soar up to lofty heights, far from the
direct range Fritzy's Archies.

But their instructions were clear, and each trained pilot knew just
what he had to do.  Swiftly and still more swiftly they flew.  The
night mists, growing yet more opaque, promised, favorably.  Appincourte
Bluff, just beyond the little river, could hardly be seen at all, but
the roar of the motors overhead indicated that something might be on
the wing.  Without question few advance sentries still remained near
the ruins that once had been a capacious subterranean chamber.  From
there the Germans had doubtless expected to emerge in assault, while
their artillery made the essential barrage to stay any possible
resistance while their infantry crossed the stream.  But the Allied
bombardment, made possible by Erwin's daring final flight across the
Bluff towards his own quarters, had made Appincourte futile so far as
that assault went.  Still Fritz might be there.  He was there -- that
is, a few of him.  They were watching for a signal - the blue flare of
a rocket that should tell Fritz of another air raid.

But the noise of motors close above confused his calculations.  Why
were the Entente airmen flying so low?  Might they not be up to more
devilment with regard to Appincourte?  The blue flare had gone up.

But it happened that Fritz did not see it.  Fearing now that many bombs
might be dropped their defenseless heads, and with the whir of many
motors in their ears, all the time growing louder, nearer, the small
squad of night sentries, scudded as one man for the small dugout.  This
had been made immediately after the Bluff was wrecked by the
bombardment.  In there they cuddled, expecting the deafening explosion
of many bombs over or on their heads, determined to fly back to their
advanced trenches at the first let-up of the expected deluge.

But no bombs descended.  The motor thunderings passed, then dwindled,
but towards the east.  What did that mean?

Their sergeant was telephoning hurriedly as to what was happening:
"Airplane motors close overhead.  No bombing yet.  Watch out."

Thus it happened that Bauer's first (and last) signal was rendered void
insofar as it went.  The raiders escaped the German fire for the time
being.  Moreover, they were puzzled.  Why should the Allied "schwein"
fly so low, yet do no harm where once they had wrecked things only a
few days before?  What were they up to, anyhow?

This query was not answered at once.  The telephones roused the Huns in
the front trenches.  Yet it puzzled them, too.  Hitherto the bombing on
both sides had been done mostly from far above.  Such skimming the
ground across No-Man's-Land might mean anything.

Presently the thrum of approaching planes became more and more audible
along that portion of the front.

From his plane Blaine made private signal to the others to put on all
speed.  Erwin did likewise.  Consequently it was not a minute before
the raiders were upon the front trenches, going at the rate of two
miles a minute.  Each man in those planes sat with an open nest of hand
grenades within easy reach.  The handle of the         gun crank was handy,
its deadly muzzle pointed along the top of the fuselage of each mobile
plane.

Then a pistol shot rang out, and at the signal grenades were dropped as
the now far extended line passed over those open trenches in which
troops were massed.  For, be it known, that fatal blue flare from the
aerodrome a dozen or more miles away had filled those trenches yet more
full of human cannon fodder.  Hence the bombing was all the more deadly.

Passing the trenches, at another signal, the hostile planes nimbly
wheeled, shot back again and poured forth more bombs upon those
trenches.  Still again they wheeled and traversed them for the third
time.

By this time machine guns began to spatter their deadly contents among
the darting planes, while further back the anti-aircraft guns gave
forth searching roars as to what they might should a plane be hit.

It was enough so far as it went.  Now for the gas-bags, the sausages;
for these observation balloons were the real object of all this
nocturnal pother.

"Forward!" came the signal again and, steering to the left, rising
higher from the forty to fifty foot level they had hitherto kept, the
squadron made for the rear line.  Here rose a shadowy line of oval
bags, so shaped as to qualify them for the term "sausage" as humorously
fitted to these defenseless spying observatories.  In daytime their
elevation enabled them to see over a great expanse of that level,
war-ruined region.

There they were, open carriages below, in each a small group of
Fritzies with machine gun and bombs handy for use in times like the
present.  But here, too, Fritz was at a decided disadvantage.

Evidently no raid was anticipated, for here they swung, hardly half
manned except by the few constituting the night watch.  In and out
among them shot the fast planes, the machines belching their deadly
hail, with Fritz apparently too dazed by surprise to make much
resistance.

Using explosive bullets that would flare sparks of fire at the moment
of contact, soon those bags of gas were ignited, one after another.
Down rope ladders the occupants climbed or dangled, dropping off to hit
the ground maimed or lifeless.  By this time, however, the Archies were
pouring a rain of shells from the machine guns at the assailants with
murderous and often fatal effect.

One plane after another sagged, lamely drooped and went to earth
crippled or in flames. It so happened that Blaine and Erwin nearly met
in, mid-air as each verged close in a final assault on the last balloon.

Seizing his megaphone, Blaine shouted:

"We'll down this one, then home!"

Bang - puff!  A burst of flame enveloped the last sausage, and Blaine
was already mounting higher, higher, when he saw Erwin's plane go
zigzagging earthward at a gentle angle.  One of his wings had been
shattered, the remnants flopping as they fell.  Orris, working at the
controls, partially righted, then staggered on, and finally mounted
upward, showing his chief that he would make the home trip if nothing
further happened.

Blaine himself tried to follow.  But something was wrong.  He fell,
half gliding, and finally landed with his planes too much shot to up
for the machine to float longer.

"I'm a goner, unless something happens," he thought.

"Where was he?  In that last staggering rise the sergeant was vaguely
aware that just beyond some trees under him was an open space of some
kind.  Could he make that open space?  The front enemy trenches and the
line where the vanished gas bags had swung were behind him.

"Seems to me I saw one of our planes drifting over this way."

On earth it was darker, more misty, more impenetrable than it had been
overhead.  His watch, having an illuminated dial, indicated that the
time was about ten o'clock.  In his rear the darkness was more dense
than ahead.  Probably his plane had dropped just in the edge of that
open space he thought he had dimly seen while up in the air.

While looking over his machine as best he could to see if there was any
chance to tinker it up so as to make another flight, he stopped short,
his pulse leaping.  Then he stood motionless.

"What was that?" he kept thinking, keeping as quiet as possible.

After a lengthy interval he heard rustling amid the trees near by, then
a subdued crashing limbs, then an unintelligible moan or groan.  After
that came a heavy shock as if something or some one had struck the
earth.

"I must look into this," he reflected, listening now also for any other
sounds of human presence.  But all was still near by.  Back west there
came the dying echoes of the recent scrimmage with the raiders.  Hans,
having gotten the worst end that deal, seemed to have subsided.

"Fritzy is preparing to look into things.  He must know that some of us
were knocked out.  Doubtless he is getting ready for a more thorough
look around."

Without formulating any definite plan, Blaine headed towards where the
last sounds of some thing or some one falling had come from.  To the
left came the far rumble of trains crawling forward on one of the many
side lines used by the Huns for war transportation.

From the right came the distant roar of heavy artillery, such as
enlivens the front night and day.  Yet it was so distant as to insure
no connection with the finished air raid that now threatened disaster
to himself.

Under the trees the darkness deepened, if such was possible.  Where was
he going?  Could he find his way back to his own crippled plane?

A heavy, yet trembling sigh, terminating in a muffled groan, showed him
his next course.  Stumbling forward, he almost fell over a body prone
across his path.  Another groan, then:

"Oh-h-h, Gawd -- Gawd!" Blaine thought he recognized something half
familiar in the words or voice.

Stooping down, he felt a horrible slime and a mashed something that was
not like anything he had ever felt before.  He dropped to his knees,
drew out his small flashlight, hitherto held in reserve for desperate
emergencies, and cautiously turned it on.

It glimmered across a face -- a face at once familiar and horrible.  A
well-known face, yet so ghastly in its bloody disfigurement that Blaine
shivered, drew back, then bent downward and forward.

"Finzer!" he gasped.  "My God!  Is this you?"

The one eye left faintly opened and the gashed lips muttered, though
Blaine shuddered as he saw by the flashlight that the man's face and
head were so torn by machine gun spatter that it was only a question of
minutes, if not seconds, before he would be dead.

As it was, Finzer's one eye recognized his sergeant.  He tried to
speak, but vainly.  Finally, with an effort that must have been a last
clutch at his vanishing strength, he flung his mashed and bloody hand
on a paper pad, with pencil laying by.  One sentient gleam; then he
gave up the ghost.  What did Finzer mean by that last gesture?

With reluctance Blaine picked up the pad and read the following words
now almost illegible with blood.

"Boche got me.  Machine back by log pile.  Good shape.  Landed in tree.
 Done for.  Saw you drift this way.  Get machine if yours won't --"

Sadly Lafe drew the body of his friend aside, covered it with his
leather blanket coat, piled brush over it, and drew meditatively back,
saying:

"Poor Milt!  It's all I can do for him now."

Again he scanned the penciled lines, remembering that his own machine
was in bad shape.  "Maybe Milt's will do better.  I'll see.  Where's
that log pile?"

His question was suddenly answered by his stumbling against something
for he had already started on the search, having repocketed the
tell-tale flashlight.  No knowing when a stray ray might be seen by
some enemy eye and its cause investigated.

Groping about, he discovered Finzer's machine half slanting down one
side of the log pile.  It had fallen through a tree top, hitting the
logs.  Milt, already blind, wounded unto death, had tumbled out,
crawling a few feet, where he lay dying until Blaine heard and found
him.

Swiftly Lafe righted and trundled the machine to a small, clear place.
Risking the flashlight again, he briefly inspected it.  Aside from
sundry bullet perforations and certain unimportant scars in the wings,
it was all right.  The tank was pretty full yet, the interior mechanism
in fair order, and the wheels propelling it in such good shape that
Blaine soon had it back in the open space where he had been compelled
to come down.  As for the near-by woods, there was not much real life
there.  Long ago the ruthless shelling had reduced most of the timber
to scraggy, scarred skeletons.  Still they were dangerous to planes
when trying to land -- or to rise again.  So he quickly transferred
such of his belongings as he cared to save, placing them in Finzer's
machine, and then assured himself that everything would work right when
it came to rising again.  All was ready.  Another thought came.

"I ought to fire this plane of mine.  Too good yet to fall into
Fritzy's hands.  He'd soon have it ready again."

Pushing Finzer's plane still further out m the open, he looked,
listened, but still detecting no sign of human nearness, he opened the
petrol tank of his plane, touched with a match the running liquid, and
jumped nimbly to his seat in Finzer's machine.  Applying the power, the
plane rolled, skidded slightly then came to a full stop.

"What the mischief is the matter now?"

Out he jumped, vaguely fearful, while the other plane flared up
brightly, the red flame mounting high, higher, scarcely forty yards
away.  In and out among the mechanism he fumbled, turned, twisted,
adjusted, until from a distance came the sound of hoofs -- galloping
hoofs.

"Good Heavens!  The Boches!  They're coming?  What will I do?"

As he asked this question his eyes, wildly distorted, roamed round the
open space now lighted up for a hundred yards or more by the burning
airplane.

Just then he happened to look upward, and all at once saw the cause of
his present trouble.  One of the longer limbs of an old, battle-scarred
poplar, partly broken and hanging lower than usual, had caught in one
of the top wings, thus halting him as he was about to rise.

"What a fool I am!"  This while wrenching loose the ragged wing-end.
"Let me get out of this somehow!"

Already he was again in his seat, turning on the power, swiftly yet
surely manipulating the controls.  The high-powered scout and battle
plane rose with a rush and almost immediately began to climb, spiraling
in long acute sweeps and turns.

"There they come!" breathed Lafe, venturing a last look around down
below.

A field battery of horse artillery was emerging from the torn timber
into the open space, which the burning plane had already showed Blaine
to be a beet or turnip field of considerable extent.  The constant
roaring of artillery and a continuous red glow on the western horizon
made known the cause of the uproar that had been growing for some time
back.

"They're fighting hard," conjectured Blaine.  "Guess wrecking them
sausages must 'a' stirred Fritzy up a bit.  Hullo!  What's that?"

Already Lafe was a thousand or more feet up.  The field battery was now
fading from view as the flames of the burning plane died down.



CHAPTER VIII

BLAINE'S FURTHER ADVENTURES

Once more sharp reports from the Archies came from below.  Whether
these were by the battery he had seen Lafe could not now tell.  So
thick was the fog, the gun flashings did not reach up to where he was
now spiraling still upward, in order to get beyond the chance effect of
some stray shot.

All along the now distant battle line the dull red glow of bursting
shells lined the front as the rumble of  sound jarred more clearly upon
his ears.  Undoubtedly some kind of battle must be going on.  Was it
one result of the night raid?  Was Fritz, now that his observation
points were at least temporarily out of active service, taking his
revenge by another drive?  And where the Allies would least suspect?
That is, right over the Appincourte Bluff?

"What ought I do?" reflected Blaine, still gently climbing higher.
"It's a still night, foggy, good for most anything up here, except to
see or be seen and that's what I don't want.  Wonder if poor Finzer had
his night signals along?  Ah, here they are!"

He was overhauling with one hand a small locker that was part of the
fuselage   Moreover, there were still two unused sheafs of ammunition
for the Lewis gun and a few grenades and bombs.  Finzer had not
expended all his allotment in the balloon attack.

"Guess I'd better edge in towards where that drive seems to be
centering.  That is the reason, probably, that this battery broke in
where I was on the point of going up again.  Fritz is up to some new
thing, I'll bet."

Taking his bearings as best he could, Blaine headed more westward,
keeping at an elevation of six or seven thousand feet.

"Wonder what they'll think back at the station when they don't find me
among the ones that get back?  Poor Milt!  I lost my machine; he lost
his life.  And there were others, too.  That Montana chap Bangs.  Last
I saw of him he was right under one of them sausages, letting Fritz
have it with the Lewis.  Looked like something would get him -- heigho!
 What is that?"

Down below, slightly to his rear, there flashed through the fog a short
series of vari-colored lights, which to Blaine's active mind spelled
forth:

"Boches 'bout to get me.  Big drive on hand.  Yonder they go -- watch
out!"

That was all, but it was enough.  Blaine knew that it must come from
another of the raiding scouts who had somehow gone down in
No-Man's-Land.  It might come from a shell hole.  Anyway, it was being
sent up by some one risking almost certain death in order to let the
Allies know that big things were already under way.

"Where are the Boche planes?"  Blaine had more than once asked himself.
 The balloons were gone.  The few enemy planes left to guard the
gasbags had been put to flight by the daring raiders.  Blaine himself
had sent one down in flames.  Others had followed the retreating
raiders.  Now that a night drive was on, other planes would be
converging towards the salient thus suddenly selected for a night
assault.  In another instant Blaine's mind was made up.

"Here's at you, my friend," he said to himself.  "I'll try to find out
who and what you are.  Damn the risk!"

With the thought he turned the nose of the triplane downward, so that
it was almost at a perpendicular angle.  Before this he had noted that
around the point whence had risen that telltale signal there seemed to
be a foggy void.  This meant to Lafe that, for the present at least,
there was nothing doing at this particular spot.  Of course those
signal lights might draw dangerous attention, but Blaine had resolved
to risk the chances of that.  Perhaps one of his comrades in distress
had deliberately courted death or imprisonment m order to let their
side know what was taking place.  "Bully boy, whoever he is!" he
thought.

Briskly yet carefully working his machine, Lafe descended until, when
he flatted out, he could see through the fog the darker background of
war-torn earth.

"I'll flash our private signal," he resolved.  "He may see it.  So may
Fritz.  But -- here goes!"

Lafe pressed with his foot upon a certain button that was connected
with an electric flashlight fastened in a special groove at a downward
angle of the fuselage or body of the car.  At each pressure certain
flashes emitted the message of inquiry in private code.

"Where are you, pal?  I'm coming.  Let me know if you can."

Circling round at an even slightly lower level, he continued to signal
but without avail.  Just as he was about to quit and rise higher again,
he detected a faint red and blue gleam that apparently ceased without
rime or reason.  One faint glimmer succeeded, but died out as if
suddenly broken off.

Without waiting for more Blaine gave a searching look around but,
seeing nothing through the mist, gently, cautiously felt his way
downward, easing up in speed as best he could.  The wheels jolted over
rough but level ground, until the nose of the plane shoved itself
against an abrupt angle of rough earth that brought him to a halt all
at once.  Quickly he adjusted the controls and, revolver in hand,
boldly leaped out.

Dark it was, except for the lurid flashings of distant artillery, while
to the west the roar of infantry battle sounded much nearer than when
Lafe was high up in the air.

"Where am I?" he asked himself, reaching for his pocket flashlight.
"Surely this must be No-Man's-Land!"

Thus thinking, he stumbled against another plane; not his, but the
wreck of another one.  Intuitively he felt that he must have landed
right.  Feeling round him, he detected certain signs that made him
almost sure one of the raiding scout machines had fallen here.

"This must be one of those big shell holes," he thought.  "Why -- what
if it is where those signals came from?"

Just as Blaine was about to climb up the incline of disrupted earth,
his flashlight sending gleams here and there, a voice he recognized
,sounded:

"Halt, you!  I heard your motor, but you won't get me without a fight."

"Damn if it ain't Buck all righty," said Blaine, still climbing.

He turned his light to where the voice sounded, and bellowed,
regardless of consequences:

"Don't you know your squad leader?"

"Good gracious!  You -- here?"  The youth  from Butte, Montana, was
peering down at advancing form, delighted amazement in face, but he
only said: "Shut off your light Sergeant!  We're surrounded by - by -
them!  That's better!  Where'd you come from?"

"Oh, I just dropped down in answer to your signal. I thought if the
Boches were about to get you, they might have another chance at me,
see?"

A faint yet hilarious chuckle came forth. Then:

"Say, Lafe, when I first tumbled down here, I thought I was a goner.
But I wasn't hurt much.  My machine is smashed, though."

"What brought you down?  Why didn't you go a little further?"

"I would have, but Archie got me just as I thought I was about safe.
That ain't all.  I guess our downing them sausages was a bit too for
Hans.  Directly after that they started the hottest barrage fire you've
seen in a month of Sundays.  Keepin' it up yet, only they've slacked a
bit along here.  I kept thinkin' how I was going to get out of this
when I heard the tramp and scuffle of advancing infantry.

"All at once I knew.  They're sour yet over busting up their big
underground at Appincourte Bluff; and now comes this raid of ours and
away goes that string of a dozen balloons.  I guess it was too much."

"Infantry!  What infantry?  Oh, you mean Fritzy!"

"Who else?  Well, Fritz came with such a rush he didn't look for me.
There was a lot of him passed.  I scrunched down inside this crater the
best I knew how and directly I knew I must let our folks know.  Then's
when I sent up my signals -- in code, of course."

\"That's so, Buck.  I saw 'em and read 'em."

Buck was grinning to himself.

"You?"  Bangs looked his astonishment. "Well, if we warned our folks in
time, and I guess I did by the sounds, and then caught hold of you, it
was a lucky venture."

"You caught me all right.  But how are we going to get away?  Say your
machine is busted?"

"How'd ye know?"

"Well, by the way it came down and struck.  I have no tools with me,
and I had to crawl in here in a hurry."

"Come on," ordered the Sergeant in his official tone.  "We've got no
time to lose.  I've got tools or rather Milt had."

"What's the matter with Finzer?"  Buck was keenly concerned for he and
Milt had been quite chummy.

Blaine told him briefly all that had happened.

"And you had to leave him back there?  Well - well, it's war.  Sure he
was dead?  By thunder!  I'll get even yet with Hans -- Gawd willin'.
The skunks!"

All this and more while Lafe, now alert and busy, was getting out
Finzer's tools.  Presently the two were examining Buck's plane which
they found was practically all right except for a big rent in two of
the wings.  With the appliances at land this did not take long, for
both worked frantically, knowing that hostile planes from the
neighboring front would soon be hovering near and also that the
infantry was due either to reform the battle line or, if not, that
reinforcements might pass at any time.

In a very short while the job was done.  To Blaine's surprise Buck
began nimbly climbing back up the crater wall.

"Where ye going?" he gently called, but only heard in reply:

"In a minute -- in a minute!"

But while Blaine was fuming, still getting things in readiness, Bangs
slid back down the embankment, dragging a shabby gray army overcoat.
Lafe looked disgusted.  He snatched it, held it up, flashed his light
over it, then cast it down, saying:

"That's a Boche infantry coat -- officer's, I reckon.  What do we want
of that?  Get into your place.  I've turned your machine round."

Both climbed in, Bangs stowing in his own machine the coat he had
delayed both to secure, a said the while:

"When those charging battalions went by, of their officers threw away
his coat.  They were on a double quick, to reinforce others that gone
on before I came down.

"Lucky they happened to have no planes.  Otherwise I'd never pulled
through.  As it was she was a close squeeze.  I slipped down, bagged
the coat, and here she is.  You needn't laugh, Sergeant.  There's maps
and papers inside.  Might be wuth something to our side yet."

"Bully for you, Bangs!  I was wrong.  Are you ready?  Then follow me!
We're going to stick round the Boche flanks a bit and who knows what we
may run up against?"

Without a bit of trouble Blaine's triplane glided upward after a short
slide over the rough level of No-Man's-Land, and he was off.  Buck
attempted to follow but the machine skidded sideways, struck a slope
and after a mute struggle with adverse conditions came to a standstill.
 Cursing to himself, Buck jumped out, forced his plane to a more stable
level, then mounting to his seat again he put on all power to try to
overtake his companion.  But in that short interval Blaine had vanished
in fog.

"If this isn't bad luck, I don't know what is!" soliloquized Buck, as
his Nieuport began to rise.  "If I'd got off at first, I wouldn't 'a'
lost Lafe.  Well, I must do a trifle of scouting on my own hook. "

Buck was climbing, not too fast, for he watched, still hoping that
something might happen that he would sight Blaine again.  Flying thus
easily, climbing still higher, he was all at once startled by a burst
of machine gun fire from the ground ahead.  There came a reply higher
up, and he felt that this must come from Lafe.

Mounting swiftly, he presently became conscious that a machine was
hovering above and behind, "getting on his tail" as the slang runs
among aviators at the front.  The quickest way to avert the danger was
first to try the "side loop" which is a kind of "loop-the-loop"
sideways, a risky trick, yet a good thing if rightly done.  Buck tried
it instantly.  When upside down he darted ahead swiftly but in a
reversed course, bringing him fairly behind the other plane as he,
righted.

As he came up to a level again, now behind his opponent, he saw for an
instant that the shadow looming scarce fifty yards ahead looked
strangely like Blaine's machine.  What to do next -- before firing?
Use his private signal, of course.  No sooner thought than done.  Two
peculiar flares shot forth, each glowing brightly for an instant, then
vanishing.

"But -- hey?"  Bangs was ejaculating to himself excitedly.  "Will he
answer?"

Up, up climbed Buck, his pulses throbbing for one long instant, the
nose of his machine settling rapidly on the tail of the other plane.
Then came an answering flash.  After that another.

"Bully for you, Lafe!  My, that was a close call!  I mustn't lose track
of him again.  We'll be there with the goods yet, if we stick
together."  This to himself.

Presently both machines were moving side by side, hardly fifty yards
apart.  To come closer at this rate of speed these small scouting
planes maintaining would have caused a mutual air suction that might
cause a collision.  This is the real cause of many of the accidents
that befall inexperienced aviators, when out flying, perhaps by
themselves.

The night, of course, was far spent.  The fog was lightening
imperceptibly.  Their watches betokened that it was nearing three a.m.
Blaine got out his megaphone, for talking at high altitudes is much a
matter of expanded lung power.  He began, as usual, with a joke.

"Like to 'a' got you back there!" he shouted.  "Where you been?"

"Looking for you mainly.  What you going do next?"

"See that line of fire off norwest!  We that's where our front and
Johnny Bull's join.  Appincourte Bluff seems either to have been turned
or to have turned Fritzy off.  Ready for a scrimmage?"

"You ought to know, Lafe!"  Bangs laughed easily into the megaphone.
"Ready for most anything."

"Well, our front there is rather weak.  Follow me.  Don't lose me.
We'll give that infantry a time trying to find out who we are that's
spitting on them from overhead.  Catch me?"

"Yep-fire away!  Suits me!"

In another few seconds the two machines were flying through the
thinning fog, gradually lowering their  altitude and nearing at a rate
of a mile and a half a minute the advancing lines of the enemy,
revealed only to these fliers by the close barrage fire maintained by
their artillery in the rear.

Of course beyond this barrage must be certain observation planes.  The
chance must be taken of meeting one of these.  Meanwhile the first
thing was to begin upon the assaulting battalions with their machine
guns.

Almost in an instant they were over the front platoons, flying as close
as they dared in order to escape the barrage that was passing overhead,
falling now behind the front trench line of the Allies.  This in order
to stop, or at least hinder the arrival of such reinforcements as could
be thrown forward to strengthen this suddenly assailed point.

These planes, being of a late design, had a device whereby the aim of
the Lewis gun could be instantly altered from a horizontal to a
perpendicular slant.  Moreover both Blaine and Bangs had repeating
rifles, and revolvers.  Great dexterity was shown by each as their
machines, slackening their speed to that most suitable for accurate
firing, their motors roaring right over the assaulting columns, poured
down a spray of bullets that inevitably found a human mark.

Fritzy usually charges in dense masses. He is "cannon fodder"; he knows
it, but apparently doesn't care.  Now, however, he dodged, dived,
hunted shell holes, and otherwise evinced extreme terror.  First one
plane, then the other, at nearest safe distance apart, rained down
showers of death.  Was this another repetition that earlier trench
assault that resulted in the destruction of the sausages?  It looked
so. might also be other swift moving machines behind, each pouring
leaden showers on infantry now defenseless.  Yet a moment before they
were placidly plodding on towards the death in front, for which they
had been driven forth by their officers that night.

Occasional shots were fired upward by soldiers here and there.  But
though close, so swift were the machines that they vanished almost at
once from the time of their first appearance at any given point.

Only two?  No more.  Fritzy began to take courage.  Both planes were
now whirring on somewhere else.  But were they truly gone?

Even while officers were taking heart and again driving forward their
men, back came the two planes upon their former path, but now going
south instead of north.

Again were the former scenes repeated, with even worse results.

But now arose another sound, a sound as of an advance from the Allied
trenches.  What could be?



CHAPTER IX

THE FINAL FIGHT

The two aviators, their planes much shot with holes but otherwise
unhurt, rose suddenly, swooping in long circles to higher and yet
higher altitudes.  The first flushes of dawn were breaking.  In the air
two observation planes flying over the Allied front were signaling to
the German batteries in the rear, from which came the barrage
protecting their infantry from Allied advances.  At once they knew what
to do.

Both drove on through the hostile fire and bore down upon these
observation biplanes.  Observation planes are not good fighters.  In
less than a minute after rising those two fighting planes had chased
the larger, slower machines off the ground.

But what was Blaine's surprise to see Bangs, not a hundred yards away,
making bold signals strange code to the Germans back in the rear.  Lafe
himself could not read them.  What did it mean?  For an instant there
flashed to him a suspicion that Bangs from Montana might not be just
plain American.

"I won't think such a thing!" thought Lafe.  "What is he up to?"

Then he saw that the enemy barrage was falling further back, just about
where the recovering infantry was resuming its advance, after the short
shock occasioned by the two raiding triplanes that had suddenly gone
aloft.

"Were the Allies in their turn assaulting the Boches?  What could it
mean?  In another brief interval Blaine found out, when sudden
demoralization set in at once.  Without apparent cause the Boches, now
nearly upon the first Allied trenches, found that they were the center
of a bombardment from the rear.  What did that mean?  The fire was
withering.

Could the foe they were attacking be taking them in the flank?  The
idea was almost unbelievable.  And yet the fire was also insupportable.

With one accord the front lines recoiled, although their officers beat
the privates with their sword flats, cursing and reviling them as
cowards.  Right on top of this, the queer noises in front materialized
into certainties.

The Allies were advancing.  Were there not also reinforcements behind?
Reinforcements hitherto kept back by what?  The barrage.  Where was
that barrage now?  Falling not only on their rear but also further
back.  How did this happen?  Where were their own planes?

Officers and men were dropping on every hand.  A charging foe in front
was almost on them.  After a minute or two of this, that whole section
of the advance appeared to melt like froth on the water.

Meantime up above, and from a higher altitude than before, Bangs
continued his mysterious signaling; not to Blaine or to the Allies, but
-- wonder of all wonders -- to the Boches themselves.

Blaine now understood this, for he had noticed that the barrage itself
had fallen back.  Instead of covering and protecting the Germans, it
was slaughtering them even more than the two aviators had done with
their machine guns from a lower altitude.

Upon the sudden rout below, which was sensed rather than seen by the
two fliers as the dawn rapidly grew, came the new rush of the Allies.

By this time Blaine felt that he and Buck must do one of two things.
Those retreating observation planes would undoubtedly bring up air
reinforcements.  The barrage had already stopped.  This was good for
the charging Allies as well as the retreating Boches.

"Buck and I have either got to get back inside our lines or fight," he
thought, carefully balancing his triplane against a rising breeze.  "Or
we might rise higher and take another chance.  One thing we have done.
We've helped bust up that charge, no matter how their advance has fared
at Appincourte or elsewhere."

Forward went the Allied infantry, driving the now disrupted Huns before
them.  The fog kept clearing.  Presently both Blaine and Bangs saw
heavy masses of men advancing in platoon formation over the scraggy
battle-scarred plain.  They were probably two miles distant from the
retreating Huns.

Blaine darted back and sent out his signal flares, announcing the fact.
 Indicating the probable distance, he waited for the barrage he was
sure would come.  Bangs, seeing that Lafe was signaling, doused his now
useless Boche flares and confirmed what Blaine had signaled.  Presently
the barrage began, and now both saw that it was incumbent on them to
remain up there as long as possible to assist the new Allied assault by
rendering their barrage effective.

But Bangs once more perplexed Lafe by another manifestation of his way
of fooling the Germans.  More and more Blaine was perplexed.

"Where in sin did Buck get read up in Boche code flares like he is now?
 I know a thing or two, but he's got me beat to the woodpile this time!"

Bangs, spiraling upward and back towards the Hun front, was sending
forth flare after flare that was meaningless to Lafe, yet which was for
some purpose.  Then suddenly Buck shot off on the side towards Blaine
the following words in the code familiar to all Allied spad-pilots.

"Get back!  Tell our folks to double their fire, keeping ahead of our
advance.  Savvy?"

Blaine mutely obeyed.  The Allied fire was redoubled as per
instructions.  Buck, by this time far to the east, could now be seen
making back towards the Allied front where Blaine was zigzagging to and
fro waiting for what might come.  Suddenly, behind Bangs, he saw the
speck-like dots of Teuton planes emerging into the upper air and
rapidly approaching.  At the same time other planes in the west
appeared, biplanes, scouts, and one or more heavy battle planes.
Evidently the cards were being laid for a squadron air battle unless
something else intervened.  Instinctively Lafe thought of his
ammunition roll.  He was well supplied at starting on this trip, and
had transferred his own remaining stock to Finzer's plane when
abandoning his own.  But the most of it had already been used.  It was
not likely that Buck was any better prepared in that line.  At least
they might wait and join their own planes, now coming out of the west.

In the east the hostile squadron came on rapidly.  Deploying as they
advanced, both Blaine and Bangs could see that there were battle
planes, scouts, and heavy bombing machines.  These last were sweeping
lower, trying to get in range of the advancing Allies.

"Come on!  Hurry up!" both aviators kept repeating to their own
advancing air fleet.  "No time to waste!  Let's get at 'em.  They're
going to bomb our front lines."

Almost immediately a number of fast triplanes forged on ahead of the
rest at a speed which a year before would have been deemed impossible.
Joining the two weary airmen who had been up all night, yet were still
full of the battle hunger, they swept low down and straight at the
bombing planes, now beginning to drop their deadly explosives along the
lines of advancing infantry.  But only for an instant, as it were, did
they go uninterrupted.

A hail of bullets from machine guns rained down upon them.  In almost
no time two of these planes went staggering earthward.  Blaine,
forgetting his almost empty sheaves of Lewis gun ammunition, hung upon
the tail of one, while Buck, with side loops and a nose dive, flung
himself almost literally on another.

"Holy Moses!" ejaculated Buck as his last full sheaf went into the
cartridge roll, and he realized that with this gone he would be
absolutely helpless.  "I don't want to quit.  But if this don't fetch
another one, I'll have to.  I'll have to anyhow."

In the meantime, the Boche fighting planes had mixed in with the Allied
fighters, interrupting their assault upon the bombers.  And such an
exhibition of diving, darting, nose dipping, looping, and what not had
seldom been seen along that extended front.

Realizing the damage to be done by bombs on the unprotected infantry
charging below, both Blaine and his comrade kept strictly after the
bombing planes.  Let those fresh arrivals who had plenty of  ammunition
attend to the fighting Fokkers and other battling planes that had
arrived so inopportunely.

By this time the anti-aircraft guns were getting in their work.  With
the targets so close, though darting hither and yonder with bewildering
speed, two of the German fighting planes were soon zigzagging towards
the ground.  One fell right in the path of a disorderly advance of the
infantry, which happened to be a well-known Canadian battalion.  From
his perch, his own ammunition exhausted, Blaine saw those troops surge
around and over that unlucky plane, then pass on, leaving a flaming
wreck behind.

The bombs began to explode.  Blaine saw the danger to other troops
behind.  It so happened that these troops were Sammies and Blaine, with
a swoosh, swept down to within a dozen yards right over the heads of
these men and the column heard his megaphone bellowing:

"Watch out, bunkies!  'Ware that wrecked plane!  She's full of Boche
bombs.  Watch out -- spread out!  Give it room!  Oh, you doughboys!
Rah for Uncle Sam!"

Recognizing the meaning and divining that it must be an American, the
Sammies shouted back as they divided and gave the necessary room:

"Oh, you Spaddy!  What you doin' down so low?  Rah for you!  Bully boy!
 Rah, rah, rah!  You're all right!"

And on they went, comforted themselves, and comforting the weary,
ammunitionless aviator who now recognized that his present job was
about over.

His plane was literally shot to pieces.  The wings hung in tatters.
Only the vital mechanism that kept him moving, thereby supporting him
in the air, fortunately remained untouched.  Even now he staggered and
with difficulty rose a trifle upward, while off to the right he saw
Bangs in even a worse fix.

The latter, with his wings honeycombed by bullet holes, had received
the full charge of a machine gun from some passing battle plane in an
around his propellers.  His supply of ammunition too was now exhausted.

Could he make the ground in a safe place?  With every ounce of power,
his propeller crank revolving like lightning, still he made alarmingly
slow progress.  Good reason why.  Two of his propeller blades were shot
off.  The other two were revolving swifter than can be imagined.  He
felt that he was drifting down, down, amid the riff-raff, smoke and
confusion of a battlefield over, which the thunders of conflict had
twice passed.

Above, the aerial battle was still going on, though making towards the
east; for the Germans, following their retiring columns, were being
slowly yet persistently pushed back to their trenches.  Occasional
bullets spattered about him.  Day was fully on, and a rising sun
disclosed a prospect of clearing skies.

There was a ruined house or cabin just ahead.  Could he land there?  It
lay deserted for the time being amid war wreck and ruin, its roof
battered in, its stone walls crumbling.  Still it promised temporary
shelter.  Blaine had vanished.  Had his plane gone down?  Was he
smitten by a stray bullet?  Had his plane, unguided, crashed to the
earth?  Would he, Bangs, live to?

Buck's hurried thoughts were suddenly checked by a sharp, stinging
sensation that began at his side, then seemed to fill him completely.
At the same time he realized that his hands no longer hold the steering
wheel.  He strove to seize it again, but his muscles did not obey.  A
stupor was on him.  The sunlight faded, gave way to a bewildering maze
of twinkling stars.  His last conscious sensation was that his machine
was crashing downward. Then came a long mental blank.

Meantime Blaine was having his own troubles.

The rest of the air fighting had gone eastward, while he was contending
with the increased crippling of his planes.  Overhead he saw only the
now clearing sky.  Ahead of him, beyond a rippling stream, lay certain
trenches held, he felt sure, by his own side.  But could be reach them?
 Far behind the noise of battle rumbled.  Where was Buck?  Somehow he
had lost sight of his comrade within the last few minutes.

"Buck is a good, bang-up fellow.  We ought to go back together."

But his power was waning.  Try as he might, the plane was sagging
groundward.  Only Blaine's skillful efforts kept it from dropping with
a crash which he knew would probably be the end of him -- Lafe Blaine.

What was that just below him which some scraggy shell-torn timber had
kept him from seeing before?

"Looks like a piece of a house," he muttered.

Stoutly he tried to make the small open space around this half ruined
hovel.  Almost he made, it.  But just beyond a crumbling stone wall,
that once must have been the enclosure of a tidy yard, the tail of his
machine dipped all at once.  It struck the wall, causing the heavier
bow, weighted with the propellers, the petrol tank and the machinery,
to crash downward with force.

The recoil sent Blaine, now at the last physical gasp, plunging forward
over the almost perpendicular machine.  He struck the earth heavily,
and lay there almost insensible, while the vanquished plane fell
sideways, striking wall and ground, then, with a last respiration not
unlike that of its master, it lay still, a wreck for the time being.

From out the house two skirted figures ran, figures in nurse's attire,
with the omnipresent red cross blazoned conspicuously on their
white-capped headgear.

"Oh, Andra, Andra!" cried the first to the one following.  The last
cast a swift glance back inside the cabin.  Then she, too, hurried to
the prostrate form lying beside the wrecked machine.



CHAPTER X

A QUICK CONVALESCENCE

Two days later.  The scene had changed.  The Allied front, leaving the
rippling stream some two miles or more in the rear, was now showing a
convex bend towards the foe instead of a concave hollow, as was the
case before the :fighting.

The little half-ruined cabin was in decidedly better shape than before.
 A number of Red tents and temporary wooden shelters had risen if by
magic in the small open space around.  Trenches stretched eastward,
communicating the new trenches now occupied by Americans French, with a
sprinkling of British forces.

That the new front was considered as something to be held permanently
was further indicated the rapid construction of a new road for
automobiles and motor-car traffic along this new line.  Even ties,
lumber and rails were being piled here and there, as foretokening that
one more of the many short lines of railway was now being prepared for
use in the near future.

Still further back was another aerodrome, unfenced as yet, but nearly
completed.  There was one reassuring sign of its ownership and
occupancy.  As the light winds flared out its folds, so that all who
saw might read, there floated out our own national emblem, the Stars
and Stripes.

Inside the restored hut lay Buck Bangs on a white cot, while on another
reclined the stalwart form of Lafayette Blaine.  Both of these spad
pilots, though pale and looking rather the worse for wear, showed such
evidence of comfort and bodily ease that one felt sure things must have
happened to both.  On the lapel of each coat was military decoration,
evidently very recently bestowed.

Blaine at last threw down the magazine he was reading and glared at his
partner, who moved with more difficulty when he changed his reclining
position for one less unbearable.

"What's got into you, Buck?" said Blaine impatiently.  "Why don't you
go to sleep?  Afraid you'll dream of that pretty girl what picked you
up?"

"Little good I get dreaming of her, Lafe!  But wasn't it queer?  Just
as soon as you got straight and I was out of danger, off they
went-bang!  Durn it!  They was both here yesterday while the Doe and
Sawbones were at work.  My, how that girl could smile -- and exclaim!"

"That was one thing she could do, Buck."  Blaine grinned.  "All her
exclaiming was in good Yankee English -- real United States."

"And what have we got waiting on us now?  Ugh!"  Buck made a painful
face, but whether caused by his thought or by having to change his
position again was not at first apparent.

A middle-aged, rather homely, yet kindly nurse entered and puttered
round them both.  At last she inquired in rather lame English:

"Will Monseurs, so lately promoted for their gallantry -- will they
have anything more?   I shall be delight to --"

"No, no, Madame," broke in Buck, while Blaine furtively grinned.  "We
are doing finely-finely -- ouch!"

"Ees zat anew pain?"  The elderly nurse was at once by his side.  "We
must rest quiet, mon enfant.  Quiet for joost one day more.  Then you
will be moved to our nearest base -"

"Say, Madame!" Buck was interrupting eagerly, "what has become of the
girls that were here yesterday?"

"Ah-h!  Yes, yes!  They are grand Mesdemoiselles -- both.  Reech! La,
la!  I hear their
father owns r-railroads in your countree.  Oui!  Yiss, yiss, all right.
 Zere!  I am learning ze language.  It cooms easy - adieu!"  And she
vanished through the door.

"What do you think of that, Lafe? Why were those two young girls, both
Red Cross apprentices, why were they left here alone?  Don't they know
the Boches would rather bomb a hospital than eat wienerwurst for lunch?
 And then as soon as the place became really safe, off they go; but
where?"

"Say, Buck, you make me tired!  Hush up!  I guess we'll meet up with
them some day soon.  If we don't -- what's the odds?"

"And their daddy -- so this blessed old mollycoddle says -- owns real
United States railroads.  Makes me sick!  But -- say, Lafe!  Wasn't
that youngest one a beaut?  If ever I get a furlough, I'm going to look
her up."

"And be a fool for your pains! Look here, you do have sense enough to
put up a good fight in the air.  But on the ground, the real earth,
you're becoming a fool."

But Buck rolled, and grumbled, and so wore himself out fretting that on
the next day it was decided to send them both to the base hospital for
a week, which was duly done.

Three days more and Blaine, now an ensign, besides having his French
decoration) had so nearly regained his strength that he no longer lay
on a cot, but sat and walked about, a convalescent.

Buck Bangs, now a sergeant, still fretted and grumbled, improving more
slowly.  The new stripes on his arm cheered him somewhat, yet he
eagerly eyed each group of visitors who strolled through the wards, the
reading rooms, and other parts of the big base hospital where the two
were convalescing.  But, so far, his longings were ungratified.

A few hundred yards further back, on the edge of a French village that
now quartered a brigade of our Sammies, was the new aerodrome where
(quite a number of Uncle Sam's new aviators were on duty, day and
night.  Most of those we have met before were there, all except poor
Finzer and a few others that had fallen in the various raids that had
taken place from time to time.  There was Erwin, now a corporal; Lex
Brodno, His American Pole, and others . Byers was in charge, with Anson
and one or two other British aviators detailed to help the new American
airmen get into thorough shape and training.

This recent transfer from the other station had taken place while
Blaine and Bangs were absent raiding and subsequently in the hospital.
Bauer, the fellow who had made the signal to the enemy the night that
raid started, had been tried by court-martial and was to have been shot
but on the night before the intended execution he managed to escape,
probably by connivance of somebody.  It was afterward heard that he had
gotten back to Germany by some hook or crook.  Would he ever pay the
penalty he had so richly deserved?  That remains yet to be seen.

On the day when Byers himself escorted Blaine and Bangs from the
hospital to the aviation camp, there were many visitors.  Amid the
cordial welcomes given them by their old comrades and also many new
ones, Buck anxiously scanned each group of visitors as they passed.
Lafe joked him about this.

"Why, you poor stiff," said the new ensign, "where are you looking?
What's wrong, anyhow?  Gee!  Isn't it jolly to be back among the boys
-- well, well!"

Blaine interrupted himself when Buck, his eyes roving, suddenly espied
two young women, garbed as Red Cross nurses - novitiates -- wandering
amid the new hangars in which were a score or more of the American
machines.  Straightway Buck had bolted.

Blaine, following him with his eyes, saw Buck doff his aviator's cap as
he reached the group that also included an elderly man and lady, and
another matronly form which was easily recognized by many as the head
nurse in charge of the new Red Cross stations within the American
sector.

"Durn me if he isn't shaking hands with those girls!" soliloquized
Lafe.  "The cheek of him! If he wasn't such a mighty good fellow, I'd
call him down!"

But Blaine was a pretty good chap himself.  He and Erwin had come
together and were exchanging cordial small talk concerning what had
happened to each recently, when he again saw Buck with these visitors
strolling leisurely by towards the nearest landing stage.  Towards this
place a pair of swift scouts were making, on their return from the
German front somewhere east.

"Know those folks?" he idly queried of Orris, now a corporal.

"Bet your life!  Say, Lafe, who doesn't know of Senator Knute Walsen of
Idaho?  He's a big man, over here to supervise our rail transportation
in France.  See those two Red Cross girls?  They're his daughters.
Taking courses in nursing, I hear, and right at the front too.
Wouldn't that get you?  Who is that showing them round?"

"That is Buck Bangs, from Butte, Montana --  Our old Buck!  What d'ye
think of that, bo?"

"He seems quite intimate with 'em, don't he?  Where'd he meet up with
that crowd, Lafe?"

"Well, he and I sort o' dropped in on the girls just before we were in
the relief station.  Remember, don't you?  It was while we were
returning home from that raid where poor Finzer got his."

"Don't say!  Yes, of course, we've all heard how you and Buck piloted
our fellows after you two had been out all night.  Had a hell of a time
-- didn't you?"  Suddenly Erwin looked his amazement.  "Look here,
Lafe.  Honest Injun!  Were those two daughters of old Walsen in that
hut when you and Bangs just managed to make your landing there?
Whoopee!"

Blaine had nodded, then looked after the receding group half
regretfully.  Orris gripped the Ensign's arm, and began telling things.

"They must be plucky girls, all right.  It so happened that the older
nurse -- the one you and I saw later -- had gone away with a
desperately wounded man in an ambulance to the next base.  After you
and Buck landed, you were both bad off, he worse than you.  Well, sir,
the Boches shelled that hut before any one got back,  and before our
boys had driven the Boches clear off.  What do you reckon those two
girls did?  They didn't holler: nary a squeal!  But they stuck to you
two and to business, and nursed you both, so that by the time aid
arrived, you were all pretty comfortable.  Some girls, those two! I
hear that the younger, Miss Andra Walsen, is going to remain.  Maybe
they both are.  And as for money, there's wads of it in the family,
believe me!  No wonder Bucky is bucking up to 'em a bit!"

After this lengthy exordium, Orris discreetly, changed the subject by
wanting to know when he and Buck would be assigned again to duty.

"I'm ready right now.  Whether Buck is or not I can't say.  As for me,
I've got the old flying fever, big and hot.  I suppose it rests with
Byers."

 Later on as the group whom they had been discussing approached, Blaine
and his friend were introduced.  Andra, it was plain to see, had ready
given poor Buck a deal to think about later on.  She was handsome,
dark-eyed, light-haired with a peachy complexion -- a combination hard
indeed for a susceptible youth to resist. Avella, her sister,
blue-eyed, dark-haired, a year older than her sister, was equally
fascinating, yet in a different way.

Both were kindly, earnest, in love with their new work, and ready to go
anywhere or do anything that would serve the good cause.

As a matter of course, when Erwin excused himself on plea of other
business and the Senator, looking at his watch, found he had an
appointment with Byers, the four young people were left alone.  By
couples they strolled through the aerodrome, inspecting this,
commenting on that, while other fliers regarded the boys with more or
less envy.

After a while several specks were seen in the eastern sky that
approached rather more rapidly than was usual with friendly planes at
such time of day.  Blaine had his glasses out, while listening to the
comments of the girls on the difficulties they bad in bringing both
boys into that hut and dressing their wounds.

"We had to go for water," said Avella.

"You see we hadn't been there but a day or so.  I went, and nearly got
lost among the old shell craters before I got to the spring that was an
awful distance off.  It was dark, and so smoky!  I was afraid something
might happen while I was away."

"You sure were mighty good to us," remarked Blaine.  "What luck!  To
come way over here and be saved by two lovely girls right from our own
part of the world.  Can you beat it, Buck?"

"Don't want to beat it!  Say, you ladies are our own kind of folks.
I'll be homesick when you two leave."

"Perhaps we won't leave -- yet."  Avella smiled enigmatically.  "Papa
is willing for us to stay.  At first I was going with him; but he says
Andra and I would need each other to keep from getting homesick."

"Look, look!" Andra was gazing through Buck's glasses at the
approaching planes, which had a strange look as they flew at tremendous
speed in V formation.  "What if they should not be friendly?"

Just then Blaine closed his own glass for he saw flyers coming on the
run.

"Are you two all right?" he called to the boys.  "All our best men are
off on the daily run over the Boche trenches.  I cannot think how these
fellows got by.  Get down to the hangars, if you feel strong enough.  I
may have to go up myself . They're making straight for us."

The girls were looking on in wonder, whereat Byers turned to them.

"You better get into the bomb-proofs," he said.  "Your father's yonder."

The Senator was seen hurrying from one of the buildings towards them.

Both the aviators, seeing, Erwin and Brodno on the run, joined them and
hastened on down to where mechanics were trundling out a number of
machines upon the smooth level that was the starting point nearest.
With a word to the Senator, Byers followed, while the girls both waved
their handkerchiefs.  Said Andra to her sister:

"Let us go on down.  I want to see them start.  Do you think Mr. Bangs
is strong enough?  Look at him run!"

"I guess he is as strong as Mr. Blaine.  But they both really ought to
have a few days' leave, don't you think?"

Arrived on the driveway, half a dozen men, all in the leather uniforms
with caps and goggles to match, were mounting the machines nearest.
Blaine, having donned his rig on the run, as it were, was already in a
triplane much like the one he had last used.  Turning to the mechanic,
he asked:

"It cannot be my own machine, is it?"

"Sure thing!" the man replied.  "It was sent to us the day after you
got in.  We fixed her up, thinking you might need it.  Glad you are out
so soon, Ensign."

"Thanks for that!  I reckon we'll need all we got by the looks of that
squad that's coming.  They're dropping bombs already."

"Yes, sir," said another mechanic, using his glass.  "And right over
where you and Sergeant Bangs came down."



CHAPTER XI

THE BATTLES IN THE AIR

In a trice Blaine was rising in the air.  The feeling that he had again
his old machine was reassuring.  It put new life into his nearly
restored vitality.

With Buck Bangs a close second and Orris Erwin right behind him, the
leading planes spiraled into the air, with the advancing Boches hardly
two miles away, their bombs dropping as they flew.

Byers himself was getting into his own plane, a two-seated affair
equipped with two machine guns.  With him was his own observer, an
excellent photographer and airman.  The two opposing squadrons were
about equal.  Dividing into two columns, with Blaine heading one and
Captain Byers the other, they bore directly off toward the enemy.

Such a start had the Boches gotten, by somehow missing the Allied
planes that were supposed to be picketing the front, that a direct
attack was inevitable.  Up or down they rose or fell, each plane
singling out its opponent, and each maneuvering for position.  It was
here that the superior speed and nimbleness of the Allied triplanes was
soon apparent.

Byers in his big biplane made straight for the leading plane opposed to
him and presently the rattle of machine gun fire interplayed with the
whirring sounds of the motors, while the diving, flipping, looping,
with all the other air stunts of sky battling, made the scene so
interesting to those below that the adjacent bomb-proofs were hardly
thought of.

On a small knoll the American senator and his two daughters, glasses in
hand, were watching, listening, semi-oblivious as to any possible
danger to themselves.  Finally a spatter of bullets and shell fragments
roused the father to a sense that more than himself might be in the
line of fire at any moment.

"This won't do, girls!" he announced in peremptory tones.  "Get into
that shelter!" pointing at a half underground dugout near.  "Run, run!"

Avella, without lowering her glass, replied:

"In just a minute, papa. See Mr. Blaine!  My!  What's he doing to that
other horrid fellow?"

Blaine was at the instant trying to got on the tail of a big Taube, not
unlike the one Blaine and Erwin had captured and used while on an
earlier scout, as may be recalled by the reader.  What accentuated
Blaine's eagerness was the glimpse he caught of that Death's Head Flag,
which had also adorned the former captured machine.  But the Boche
within this one was an adept and so maneuvered that Blaine, to save
himself from an onset from behind, was obliged to try the risky
side-loop, much to the surprise of the other.  For Blaine, while upside
down, was already firing at his opponent, and as he rose was directly
on the tail.  But to the girls below it looked as if Blaine was already
crashing towards the earth. Andra gave a nervous scream. Avella was
shocked, of course, but had her glass the next instant upon Buck Bangs,
at that moment engaged in a fierce duel with two enemy opponents.

"Look! Look!" called Andra.  "He's falling -- ah-h-h!"  This last word
was long drawn out during which, to her intense joy, Blaine had righted
himself and was behind and below the other plane.  Now she could see
the spitting of lire as he plugged bullets and shrapnel into his
astonished opponent.

Scarcely did she breathe again before the Taube, its Death's Head Flag
collapsing about its staff, was tumbling down, almost over them.  At
the same time one of the Huns battling with Bangs was hit in the tank
by a rain of bullets from Byers' machine which was striving to rise
above and behind the foe the captain had singled out for himself.

Down went this one of Buck's opponents in flames.  Both planes fell
just without the grounds, while the battle above filtered away towards
the German front, the invaders evidently having gotten enough.  Two
other enemy planes were retiring in a crippled condition, all pursued
by the Allies, who had so far lost only one machine.

The Senator, seeing little heed paid by his daughters to his commands,
was seized by the spirit of the combat and recklessly hurried off
towards the nearest wrecked plane that had fallen.  The girls, with
others, followed.

It was a sad sight.  This machine, the wings still burning, lay in a
confused huddle over a crushed human body that still gave signs of
life.  It was the plane that Byers bad sent down in flames.

Aided by men from the aerodrome, they extinguished the fire with a
ready hose, the Senator and the girls assisting.  Carefully they
dragged out a horribly mutilated yet youthful form.  A surgeon, with
the girls aiding, tried to alleviate the, pain of the dying man.  His
lips moved.

"What's he trying to say, Vella?" demand the Senator.  "You know some
German, don't you?"

"Sounds like 'Schwein, Schwein!'  Doesn't that mean pigs, papa?"

"It sure does!  There, he's talking again!"

The girls listened, but could not understand; while the surgeon,
formerly an intern at one of the New York hospitals, smiled pityingly.

"Poor fellow!" he volunteered.  "He's not complimentary."

"What's he saying now?  Sounds like American -- then something else."

"He says, 'Amerikaner-all swine-pigs,' and a lot more."

They drew back somewhat; but the girls whose sympathy predominated,
continued to minister to his needs until the last breath announced that
one more Boche had gone to his account.

It was an hour or so before the rest of the squadron again appeared.
With them were the scouting planes that had been wished for when the
enemy squadron so suddenly appeared.  In the fights over the German
trenches another of our planes had somehow vanished.  No one could say
further except that Erwin, the missing pilot, had been seen mounting
high up amid a scurry of clouds, with two pursuing Fokkers on his heels.

Blaine and Bangs were in the midst of hearty congratulations from many,
including Senator Walsen and his daughters, when the news was brought
to them.

They had just alighted and were standing beside their machines.
Instantly Blaine turned to Buck, saying:

"You and your machine all right, Buck?"

Andra, at this, regarded Lafe closely.

"I'm O. K. and so is my bully little Nieuport.  Say, old man, we've got
to go out and see what's gone wrong with that little snipe Orry, eh?"

" Sure thing!  Orry is a good fellow.  I'm with you."

The next instant Blaine was back in his seat.  He turned to the
mechanic who had just finished examining the machine.

"Fill up the tank, Bill," he said.  "And hand me out a few more sheaves
of ammunition.  Sure you've got enough, too, Buck?"

"Do you --  do you -- you don't mean that you two are going up again?"
queried Andra, and for an instant Blaine detected something about her
that betokened a more than casual interest.

"It's my -- it's our duty to go, Miss Walsen," said he, meeting her
eyes sympathetically.  "Erwin is one of our best men.  He's a true spad
pilot.  Besides that, he and I are great cronies.  Buck feels the same
way."

"Oh, I -- I think I understand."  But she spoke with a certain
repressed agitation.  If Lafe had been less se1f-conscious he would
have understood and doubtless felt flattered.

As it was, he turned to Bangs, the Montana lad, now also seated in his
pilot's place, with Avella on the other side saying something.  He
heard Bangs reiterate:

"Oh, sure, Miss Vella!  We'll be careful -- very careful -- you bet!
I'm only too anxious to get back with Orry and see more of you two
girls.  I say, Senator," to the father now looking approvingly on,
"this lost pilot is one of our best.  He's a turnip -- a real joker!
We can't go back on him."

"I guess you are right, Mr. Bangs.  If you and your friends do return
to us, I will see that you all have leave to run back to Paris and at
least take dinner with us at our hotel."

By this time the two young nurses were standing back, watching the
scene with the frank mien that American girls view something which they
regret, yet at the same time admire.  Then up came Captain Byers
hurriedly, calling out:

"Are you lads going?  That's plucky!  I was about to dispatch some one.
 We cannot afford to lose Erwin.  He's too valuable, and I know he'd do
the same by you!"

"You bet, Captain!"  This from Buck as his machine trundled off,
propelled by two mechanics until it rose.  "That was bully the way you
busted that chap in the tank.  He might have got me, else."

Blaine was already in the air, with Bangs a close second.  A moment
later and they were climbing rapidly, so rapidly that soon they looked
like two great birds winging their way over the Allied front and across
No-Man's-Land into the dark beyond.  Blaine's observer, Stanley, was
also in his seat behind.

When the two girls finally reached their quarters that night at the
small inn in the adjacent village they were both dispirited.  The
Senator was writing letters while the girls were preparing for the
evening meal.

"Funny, isn't it, how we seem to be interested in those lads?" said
Andra.  "I think that young Blaine is just splendid."

"He is no better than Mr. Bangs."  This from Avella.  "Just think, Buck
is from Butte!  Why, that is right next door to us in Idaho."

Then they both sighed, looked queerly at each other and finally
embraced and kissed.  If both were somewhat smitten over the looks and
conduct of these aviators, acquaintances of only a few days, certainly
their stately father as yet could hardly suspect.

After the evening meal was over, they cunningly tried to persuade him
to go with them down to the aerodrome to see if anything had occurred
there.  Probably the boys had not yet returned.  The Senator doubted if
they had.

"Look here, girls," said be, after being told that he was needed as an
escort, "why are you so interested?  They'll come back all right.  And
I am busy."

"Well, papa, said Avella, "we'd feel better to go down and inquire."

"Yes, daddy dear!  You must go with us, please!"

The upshot of all this was as usual.  The Senator went.

At the station they found Captain Byers returning from an observation
post where he had been scanning the eastern heavens in a last effort to
discern something of the absent planes that had long since vanished
over No-Man's-Land into the unknown void beyond, which was enemy
country.

"I am afraid for those lads," said he to the Senator after greeting all
three.  "They are both too risky at times, and they were much stirred
up over Erwin's long absence.  Great friends they were, too."

The Senator and the girls expressed concern.  Especially so was it with
the sisters, both of whom grew pale as they listened.  Perhaps they
were pleased that owing to the darkness this manifestation of inward
concern was hidden from the others.  They quietly pressed each other's
hands.

Just then an orderly came up on the run, his night glasses in hand.

"Oh, Captain," said he, "there's a plane returning.  I couldn't make it
out clearly.  It sags a bit is if it was crippled, sir."

"Wait for me, Senator," called Byers, starting out almost on the run,
his night glasses again out.  The orderly followed rapidly.

"Let us follow them, father," urged Andra, while Avella tugged at her
sister's arm, sure that the Senator would go too.  "Come on, papa."

Both girls were off, while the Senator came after, though at a slower
pace.

Reaching the observation post -- merely a platform erected on the
highest elevation near by, they saw the captain and the orderly both
scanning the eastern skies through their night glasses, instruments of
the latest design.  To the girls' nothing was as yet was visible but
the stars now shining dimly through a thin haze that hung over h
landscape.

"Let us go up.  Papa will follow."  This from Andra as they climbed the
steps to the little platform where the two aviators were scanning the
upper air.

From the disjointed remarks of the airmen the realized that something
was in sight, yet hardly visible to the naked eye.  At last, however,
came a gasp from one of the girls who pointed eagerly to the other.

"Don't you see it?" exclaimed Andra.  "Where are your eyes?  My!  It's
sagging downward.  I wonder --'

Here Avella interrupted with a slight scream as she too, caught sight
of a faint, filmy something that was teetering slowly down, but not in
straight lines as is usual when planes are descending in the regular
methods employed by aviators when striving to reach a certain landing.

"What is the matter with it?" queried Andra to any one within hearing.

"That you, ladies?" Byers turned suddenly, then his eyes sought his
glass again.  "Why, it is quite evident that the machine is a Fokker
and disabled.  He'll make it all right, I guess."

"That is a German machine, isn't it?" asked Avella anxiously.

"Mightn't it be a hostile one?" queried Andra.

"The plane is of hostile make, Miss Walsen, but the chap inside is one
of us, you may be sure.  There! I fear he is going to drop."

Byers, followed by the orderly, was already running down the steps,
almost colliding with the Senator who arrived at this moment.  After
the two aviators hurried the girls, meeting their father, and telling
him what was occurring.

"And Captain Byers said that airman was about to drop - or fall out; I
don't know which."  This from Andra.  "Let us hurry after them, father,
and see what has happened."

Senator Walsen, evidently used to these sudden whims on the part of his
daughters, turned and followed them, still in pursuit of the captain.
If he objurgated the haste, he did it silently.

By the time the girls caught up with Byers, what had been a trim
airplane came thumping to the ground not more than two hundred yards
off in an unused corner of the big enclosure, its wings a mere mass of
tattered rags, its body riddled by  many perforations of machine gun
bullets, fragments of shrapnel and so on.  It was a marvel how it had
stayed up for so long, but it happened that neither the engine nor
petrol tank were vitally harmed.

Still lashed to his seat, his arms hanging loosely, his head resting on
the rim of the small manhole, was the pilot, to all appearances
lifeless or else in a swoon.  It was Stanley, Blaine's observation man.



CHAPTER XII

THE ADVENTURES OF ERWIN

In the meantime, what had become of the two adventurous planes with
their occupants that had so blithely started out in search of the still
missing pilot and friend?  Whither had their search carried them?  How
was it that of the three who went forth only one had come back, perhaps
lifeless or barely alive, and in a German machine!

Verily in this new warfare of the air strange are the daily happenings
on that fated West Front; nor can anybody foretell what stranger things
may happen than have happened before, even to the best pilots of them
all.

During the air fighting when the Boches were sent back in retreat, with
some of their best planes missing, Erwin, after sending one already
half crippled Fokker crashing to earth, took after another German.
This last was a huge biplane manned by two men, one of whom lay
collapsed in his seat.  The remaining pilot seemed bewildered.  Already
the plane had received various punctures, though not sufficient to
prevent further flying.

"No use to let that chap get away," reflected Orris.  "He's lost his
observer, and his wings are in bad shape.  Our fellows can attend to
the rest of these Boches.  We've got 'em whipped anyway."

Up, up went the German, with Erwin following, trying to circle round
into position to use his machine gun.  But this was not easy.  The
biplane, though crippled, was of such power and speed that it easily
kept well ahead of its pursuer who was yet far below.  In fact, when an
altitude of several thousand feet was attained, the greater buoyancy of
the air at this stage was an aid to the half defeated foe.  His vast
spread of double wings made it difficult for Orris, with his greater
motor power and reduced spread of planes, to much more than neutralize
their relative positions.

Straight into the northeast fled the German.  After him came Erwin,
still below and striving to get onto his adversary's tail.  But despite
all he could do, it failed to bring him within the proper distance for
direct attack.

"That is be up to now?" wondered the youth, for the Boche was half
rising in his seat, as if trying to lift something behind.  "Hullo!
Blame me if he ain't trying to oust his dead mate!"

This was exactly what the Boche pilot was trying to do.  But for some
reason, not at first apparent, the man had difficulties.  At last, by
letting go with both hands of wheel and controls, half turning in his
seat, Erwin saw him lift up the body of the observer and attempt to
fling it overboard.  But even that was hindered for a moment, and in a
way that filled the watchful American with horror and disgust.

Already the seemingly inanimate body was sliding over the sloping side
of the car, when Orris saw a hand stretch forth, seize the pilot's
extended arm and hang thus, half dangling over the side, the legs
kicking feebly.

"Why, his mate's alive!" almost shouted the American, more shaken by
this exhibition than anything that had hitherto happened to him in his
short but risky campaign along the West Front.

"Hey, there!  You beast -- you villain!"  Almost insanely Erwin was
shouting, for he was convulsed by a fury that made him for the time
being oblivious to the fact that he was too far away to be heard by any
one but himself.

For another instant the half alive man hung on, then was shaken loose.
Down he came, passing rather close to the scouting pursuer, his arms
and legs still working convulsively, and so on down to his inevitable
fate.  By this time, and while Erwin was recovering, the big biplane
had recovered and was shooting eastward as before though with
accelerated speed, being now relieved of much of its former dead weight.

Still grinding his teeth, Orris shot after the foe, determined more
than ever to overtake and have it out with the inhuman beast, now alone
in his flight to safety but a mile ahead.

All thought of immediate return to his own lines was lost, at least
until he could wreak vengeance on the man who had just shown such
inhumanity towards his own comrade and countryman.

"Curse him!" still objurgated the youth.  "It would be bad enough if it
was a foe -- one of us that was aboard that cursed craft!" Orris
expelled a deep breath, while he put on all the power his speedy plane
would stand.  "I'll get him even if the Boches got me!"

From the course followed by the biplane Erwin knew that he was already
well to the northward of the point of his own return, provided he was
able to make the trip back in safety.  Also it was clear that they were
now well over the rear German trenches and not very far from where
Belgian territory bordered on that part of northern France -- now so
long held by the foe.

So swift and fast did Erwin go that the transient aid afforded by
casting over the still living observer was soon more than neutralized.
The boy was almost within easy range.

"Just a little further and I'll get him."  So ran Erwin's thought.
"But I mustn't waste ammunition.  There's no knowing when or where I'll
need all I've got.  Curse that beast!  He shall die or I'll know the
reason why, even if I get into a narrow squeeze myself."

At last he felt that he might begin.  He was on the tail of the
biplane, though underneath.  To his gratification he also saw that in
nimble activity he was now the superior.  And in close fighting it is
the nimble, ducking, dodging, twisting machine that usually has certain
advantage.

Pointing upward, he began to rain bullets and shrapnel into the fleeing
German, his Lewis gun working automatically, and with such precision
that the German shot off at right angles, dived, and strove to come up
underneath his assailant.  But he was too slow.  After the dive, as the
biplane came up in reverse position Erwin, prepared for this, half
wheeled, and shot obliquely downward, pointed straight at his
adversary.  While he darted at a two-mile-a-minute pace, the deadly
Lewis again began vomiting its flaming death straight at the man seated
amidships, who was frantically trying to train his own gun on the
advancing foe.

On came the scouting plane from five hundred yards to less than two
hundred, almost while one drew an average breath.  Evidently the German
misunderstood.  He thought that the now reckless foe, casting
discretion to the wind, was bent upon something desperate.  But --
what?  Again and again he tried to train his own gun on the American,
but the latter kept edging just out of range, while at the same time he
drew near, nearer.

At last, when within fifty yards, Erwin let him have it.  While his
Lewis was spitting forth a continuous fire, by some method not at once
comprehended by the other, Erwin ranged alongside, still at a distance
where he was free from air suction, and literally riddled that big
plane with holes.  After a spattering fire that did no harm, the German
abandoned the gun and strove to nosedive, always a rather risky
proceeding in such a big plane when haste is apt to neutralize
efficiency.

Instead of presenting a slanting pair of wings, the big machine was
tipped in such a way as to present for a minute, its whole under side
to Erwin's view.

It was the critical moment.  With feet on controls, and one hand on the
wheel, the lad managed to pour a continuous volley of those leaden
hailstones squarely into the entrails of the foe.  Then up he climbed,
at almost lightning speed, and as he came to dancing level off the
German's tail, out from the sagging biplane pitched another human body,
this time not the murdered, but the murderer.

"Good riddance!" almost gasped Erwin.  "He's gone to hell, where he and
his like belong!  But -- what's this?  Glory!  His tank is busted; his
plane goes down with him and on fire!"

Erwin was correct. The biplane's tank -- always in danger in fights
like this -- had been badly punctured by the same hail of Lewis bullets
that had also hit the German, just as his plane got out of control.
Instantly the flames burst forth as the big airship plunged downward,
only a little behind the falling body of its pilot.

With great effort -- for the excitement had weakened the lad -- did
Erwin bring his scouting plane to an easier level and gait.  Then he
looked down.

Already both burning biplane and falling pilot had vanished.  Far
below, the earth was only faintly visible through the mantling haze
that now permeated the lower atmosphere.  All directions looked alike.
The air was comparatively still, and only the far distant rumble of
artillery, seldom absent along that front, was audible.  It sounded not
unlike intermittent thunder.  What to do next?  Which way should he go?
 For the first time since starting he felt for his compass.  It was
gone.

"What'll I do now?" he asked himself.

"Where is the sun?  I suppose all the boys that started when I did must
have gone back long ago.  The time must be at least mid-afternoon."
The mists below evidently were rising and thickening.  The boy hated to
acknowledge to himself that he must be lost, but it looked that way.
Cautiously he descended to lower levels but the landscape thus opaquely
revealed showed but little that was definite.  Lower still he flew.  As
the earth grew more and more distinct its strangeness did not diminish.

Though it was risky, he went lower still, until the tops of trees, the
signs of half ruined houses began to appear.  But nothing familiar was
in sight.  About this time, with day waning and his anxiety growing,
Erwin was at last rewarded by glimpse of the sinking sun, seen hazily
through a canopy of clouds. There was no mistaking that it was the sun
and Orris found that he must have flown wrongly ever since he had put
the Boche biplane out of commission.  Already he was heading westward
when from below there came a series of sharp reports from artillery
evidently close by.

"Surely they cannot be shelling our trenches from way back here.  I
must be far behind the enemy lines -- much too far to suit me.  Ah, I
what's that?"

That was an unmistakable whistle of bullets too close to be
comfortable. At least one or two perforated his wings.  Then Erwin
pointed higher at the same time trying to keep his sense of direction,
imparted by a momentary sight of the western sun.  More gun shots:
still more whistling of balls, and all too close to be comforting.

Up, up he went, veering more to the west.  All at once came other
gunshots, this time in an extended roar from an area covering perhaps a
mile in extent.

"The Archies are getting too familiar," he grumbled.  "I must put on
more speed.  Won't do for me to fail to return."

About that time a breeze sprang up from the east and the skies cleared
through a narrow Vista, showing a war-scarred belt of country below
with a small town ahead; that is, toward the west.  But before he had
time to consider this, he saw two airplanes rising from the main street
of the little town, while the detonations of the Archies grew into a
continuous roar.

"Guess they think they've cornered me," he thought, "but I'll give them
a race at least.  If I have to, I'll fight."

While reflecting, his machine was still rising rapidly, with the two
Boche planes in pursuit.

"They won't catch me unless I'm crippled by those pesky Archies."

Even while he thought, a stray fragment of shell penetrated the
fuselage of the triplane and, striking one of the propeller shafts, so
bent it that the lightning-like blades began to revolve more slowly,
despite all his efforts to increase his motor power.

For the first time Erwin became seriously alarmed.  Try as he might, he
was in no position to stop to make repairs, nor could he descend with
safety.  Apparently the only thing for him to do was to speed up as
best he could, try to avoid this pursuit and, if it came to close
quarters, put up the best fight possible under the circumstances.

This, of course, he did.  But the sight of their own planes pursuing,
and at the same time signaling to their friends below, caused Erwin at
once to become the target for a continuous line of Archies, extending
from the front line German trenches way back to the unknown distances
in their rear.

When the pursuing planes drew nearer, the shelling from below grew
less, while the condition of his own plane was such as to cause alarm.
He knew that he was cornered.  Cornered, too, in a way seldom happening
to the birdmen who became temporarily lost in a raid.  He eyed the two
nearing scout planes with no little aversion.  Not only was his machine
going at less speed, despite his efforts, but the difficulty in
steering was greater.  Apparently if would only obey the rudder slowly,
no matter how hard he tried to "get a move on her."  As for wheeling,
volplaning, spiraling or doing anything that occasioned quick action on
his part with rudder or planes, he was nearly helpless.

Meantime the pursuing planes, both Fokker scouting machines, drew still
nearer and began to use their machine guns.  The balls pattered all
about; but as yet neither he nor his plane was hit.  He was zigzagging,
mounting, spiraling, but all in a much slower fashion than he had been
used to do with this same plane before.

"What's the use?" he groaned.  "I can't get back at them, even if I am
running away.  It's got to come.  What's the odds?  I'll turn and give
them one good try for their game, anyhow."

He was already turning in his lame evolutions when something like a big
shadow darkened the air for an instant overhead.  It passed.  Then back
came the shadow again, and a voice was megaphoning, not from below or
in the rear but from right overhead.  It said:

"Hey, you, Orry!  You're crippled!  I can see that.  But why don't you
come up higher?  Get a move on!"

Erwin knew that voice.  It was like a trumpet call to the lad.
Fiercely be seized his own megaphone and shouted back, while with one
hand and his feet he kept his own flier still going.

"Yes?  I'm crippled but all right.  I can't rise except slowly.  Better
go while the going's good!  Too many Archies below!"

While Orris was shouting, another shadow passed overhead.  It was Buck
Bangs in his Nieuport.  For hours they had been scouring the eastern
air-zone in a vain search for Erwin, when the sudden roaring of the
Archies turned them in this direction.  While Orris was turning, trying
also to rise, he saw as he faced to the rear that two planes instead of
one were now charging the enemy.  These had for a minute or more been
directing their machine gun fire upon the new arrivals.  Erwin had
heard the noise of them, and wondered why he was not hit again.  This
was the reason.

"Great boys, they are," he said to himself.

"But I hope looking for me has not led them where we all don't want to
go," meaning the prison camps of the Huns, from which had oozed stories
of starvation and cruelty that were more than bad enough.
"Considering how I'm fixed, I'll lay low down here and watch my chance
to help.  That other chap must be Bangs.  Well, those two have got
nerve anyhow!"



CHAPTER XIII

AT THE RUINED CHATEAU

Having found the man they were searching for and in so perilous a
situation, neither Blaine nor Bangs wasted time.  If Erwin was
crippled, so much the greater reason for them to relieve him.  Only by
direct attack could this be accomplished, if at all.  Though the
Archies were now roaring more than ever, Blaine and his observer, both
machine guns pointed f or instant action, started straight at the
pursuing planes.  Buck was with him at a convenient distance.
Instantly the rattle of their guns pattered out in the air as a
fusillade of bullets was showered at the foe.

The determined maneuvers of the new arrivals evidently daunted the
Huns.  One of them immediately turned tail.  The other tried to do so
but was intercepted by Blaine who, making an absolutely nervy
side-loop, came up under the Fokker and began again discharging a
deadly rain of bullets.

But one source of refuge was left the German.  Up, up he climbed.
Being cut off from retreat towards his own lines, he struck straight
across towards No-Man's-Land with the big biplane full pursuit and
still firing.

Meantime Bangs took after the other, bringing it down under a detached
fire from the Archies who were naturally more cautious now in firing,
owing to the fear of hitting one of their own planes.  Still they found
chances to pepper the little Nieuport in which Bangs was darting to and
fro like a hawk after a chicken.  But before the Fokker was sent down,
Buck knew that his own wings were seriously perforated.  As yet his
fuselage and tank, his engine and machinery were unhurt.

Without waiting to note the fate of his opponent, Bangs turned nimbly
and struck out westward, following the crippled scout wherein was the
man they had set out to find and rescue.

"I'll stick by Orry," was Buck's conclusion.  "I guess Blaine and
Stanley can take care of that other chap.  I wonder where the rest of
the Huns are.  We are in the rear lines and there should be more
Fokkers or Taubes around."

This query was soon answered.  Ranging alongside Erwin, but not too
near, Buck megaphoned as follows:

"How you getting on anyhow?  Had a hell of a time findin' you.  Didn't
find you any too soon, eh?"

Erwin's replies were unimportant except that he was so crippled that he
must get back to the base, or at least alight somewhere soon or he,
would not be able to fly at all.

"Bent piston rods," he also phoned.  "And I'm afraid my main propeller
shaft has gone wrong somehow."

"All right," returned Bangs.  "I'll stick with you.  Hullo!  What's the
matter with Blaine and his man?"

At this juncture the big biplane that had been pursuing the Fokker
suddenly ducked, dove far beneath his adversary and came up on the
opposing side, at the same time peppering the Hun with machine gun
explosive bullets.

The Fokker almost stopped and appeared to tremble.  Both Bangs and
Erwin saw that some serious internal injury had occurred.  The German
was furiously at work within his manhole, leaving the plane much to its
own devices.

So patent was this that Buck, who was nearest, shot upward and let
drive at the Hun from below.  But instead of giving heed to this new
attack, the Hun now recovered, shot off to the right and began climbing
rapidly.  Bangs, in accord with his resolve to stick to Erwin, did not
follow, but Blaine did, at the same time megaphoning to both Buck and
Orris as follows:

"I've been up higher than you fellows.  There's a number of planes off
in the sou'west.  Gettin' so dark could hardly tell 'em apart.  Better
stick together and watch out!"

Though the Archies were now quite out of range, night was so near at
hand that this seemed good policy.  Blaine now added:

"I'm goin' to give that Fokker another round.  Be back with you in a
minute."  Then on he went after the German.

What ensued was rather puzzling to both Bangs and Erwin.  Blaine was
now evidently faster than the German, whose machine had apparently
sustained some internal injury.  They saw the biplane close in on the
Hun amid a rapid fire of bullets from each at the other.

All at once the Hun began sidling irregularly towards the earth.  By
this time both the others, having risen somewhat, caught glimpses
through their field glasses of a number of nearing planes winging from
the west.  Below, as far as could be seen, stretched No-Man's-Land.
Behind was a growing blackness that denoted approaching night.  To both
Bangs' and Erwin's astonishment, the biplane, instead of returning, was
pointing downward after the crippled Fokker.

Then from the north whirled a sea-fog that presently enveloped all,
obliterating what remained of light, hiding even Blaine and the
adversary he had pursued.  It was strange, mysterious.

Erwin, who was lower than the others, here saw the crumbling walls and
towers of what had once been an old baronial chateau.  Near this the
biplane had landed.  No sign just then of the Fokker, though that must
have descended also, for the machine or the man in it was undoubtedly
injured.  Erwin grabbed his megaphone, shouting up at Buck hovering
near, "I'm going down.  Blaine's already landed.  Come on!"

But for some reason Bangs declined.  Being higher up, he had detected
signs of those other planes invisible to those below.

"Go on down," he shouted.  "I want to do a little scouting."  And off
he flew, determined all at once to find out who and what might be
approaching.  But his purpose was defeated by the onrush of the fog,
that thickened still more, while those landed below were equally
invisible to Buck.

However having a general idea as to the direction best for him to take,
he turned that way after recklessly feeling out in vain for further
sight of the approaching squadron.  Here we will leave him for the
present.

When Erwin at last brought his plane down beside the half ruined
chateau, he found both Stanley and Blaine stooping over a prostrate
form soon identified as that of the German aviator.  Near by was the
Fokker, somewhat disabled, but not in such bad condition.  The man
himself had just expired.

"What do you think that chap asked us to do," said Blaine, regarding
the dead man solemnly.  "It sort of mellowed me towards him, after His
father and mother live in Chicago, worked for some meat packers, and
his dad is making some money there.  When he found that the bullets
that had hit him as well as his machine weren't goin' to let him live
much longer, he asked if either of us got back to our lines, to write
tell his mother.  He gave me the name and I put it down in my pocket
pad book.  He talked in good English and altogether seemed quite like
some of our home folks.  He got into aviation over here and liked it.
But he's out of all that now and to make him feel better both Stan and
I promised to do as he wished.

"He said his machine was all right; and if anything was the matter with
ours we might fix up his and make a get-away.  Course there ain't
nothin' much the matter with mine, though yours may be crippled --
hullo!  What's that?"

The loud report of an exploding bomb sounded as it fell not far away.
Instantly they scattered for such shelter as was obtainable.  Other
bombs fell and for a few minutes the scene was indescribable.  They saw
from the shelter both their own machines shattered too badly for
further immediate use, though the Fokker remained untouched, it being
some distance off and partially under the protecting shadow of a half
ruined arch of the chateau that overhung the main approach.

Also they heard the whirring swish of the passing squadron as it
circled over the buildings.  It afterwards appeared that the chateau
owner was for some reason specially obnoxious to the Germans in
Belgium.  At last the bombing apparently ceased, but even this was
deceptive.  Both Blaine and Erwin, followed at a little distance by
Stanley, ran out to look into the damage done to their machines.  In
the darkness this was slow work.  A fire was lighted, and while still
examining the wrecks another whirring overhead sounded.

Stanley discreetly dodged under another projecting abutment, when down
dropped another bomb, probably thrown at a venture from some scattering
member of the squad that had just passed.  From his shelter Stanley was
horrified to see both Blaine and Erwin, who were near the fire, thrown
violently down as the bomb burst appallingly near where they were
crouched.  They; did not rise again.

Without waiting to see if other bombs might fall, the observer ran
forward in great perturbation.  Both aviators lay apparently senseless.
 From Blaine's head blood was flowing from a flesh wound somewhere up
under his thick mop of short curly hair.  His pulse, however, was
beating lively.

As for Erwin, no visible wounds were apparent, yet he lay there deathly
pale while some of his clothing had been torn by fragments of the
exploding bomb.

Of Buck Bangs there was no sign.

Deeply depressed, for he was very young and impressionable, Stanley,
regardless of his own safety, punched up the fire and from his own and
his comrades' kits procured such remedies as aviators carry for just
such emergencies.  In the dark he hunted for water but found none.
From a flask of good French brandy he managed to pour a spoonful or so
down each throat, taking a swallow himself, for he felt he sorely
needed it.

Poor old Blaine never stirred.  Erwin at last shivered slightly.

"Isn't this a deuce of a fix?" he sighed at length.  "Where are we?
For all I know, Blaines may be dead.  Here, feeling again of Lafe's
pulse, its steady beat somewhat reassured Stanley.  "How about Orris?"

If anything, Erwin's pulse was coming back.  The brandy had restored
such vitality to the lad that his arteries were again sending the
life-giving fluid upon its unceasing task.

"What can have become of Buck?"  Stanley replenished the fire with
stray fuel, for he knew that it would be a signal to Bangs and perhaps
to the enemy; but as to the last he hoped not, amid that chilly
darkness and night fog.

Here a slight noise from his rear caused Stanley to wheel in his tracks
and stare stupidly at a dim figure under the shadow of a portico in
front of the basement of the main edifice, which was, in fact, about
the only part of that vast group of buildings that seemed unharmed.

"Who are you?  What brought you here?" came an unmistakably feminine
voice.

More wonderful still, the language was English -- good English, too.
Was there not also an American twang about the tone and accent?
Stanley could have pinched himself, had he thought of it.  But so
surprised was he that he seemed actually paralyzed, when an
unmistakably girlish figure emerged more into the light.

Still the young observer stared, hardly noticed that another older form
had made a dim appearance.  It, too, wore skirts, though rather raged
and soiled.  The girl's habiliments also evinced that her recent abode
had not been where style and cleanliness were at all dominant.

"You -- you are not Germans?"  This tremulously from the girl.  "You
understand me, don't you?"

"Yes, ma am," Stanley almost stuttered.

"Y-you s-see -- I'm some surprised --"

"Some surprised!"  The girl was smiling hopefully.  "That sounds like
good old United States talk."

"We heard so much noise overhead, then some nasty bombs exploding.  So
Brenda and I have lain hidden in the cellars for -- for hours.  Haven't
we, Brenda?  The dim form in the rear nodded emphatically.  "But who
are you?"

Here she caught sight of the ruined planes and the prostrate forms of
Blaine and Erwin, with also the more distant figure of the dead German.

"Oh -- oh!"  She clasped her hands.  "How dreadful!  What can we do?
May we not help?  Are they all dead?"

The girl was genuinely aroused, so much so that her natural horror of
the strained situation was lost in genuine concern.  Stanley briefly
explained the series of incidents that had preceded the present
situation, at the same time pointing at the dead German aviator, and
concluding with:

"The poor chap used to live in Chicago.  Before he died he gave us his
parents' address there.  He spoke good English."

"Why, Chicago is where I hail from," said the girl.  "Good old Windy
City!  I wish I was there now, although I have been over here many
months."

Meantime Brenda, with the ready adaptability of Belgian women, had been
examining the persons of the two still insensible aviators.  All at
once she rose up, saying to her mistress:

"Pardon, miss."  This in her own Flemish tongue.  "We must move these
Americans to our under ground rooms.  They will recover, but they need
attention."

"You are sure right, Miss - Miss --" Stanley hesitated, but the girl
paid no heed.  "We don't want to inconvenience you, but something will
have to be done right away."

With the able assistance of Brenda, while the girl went ahead carrying
a small lamp that had been produced as if by magic from somewhere -
possibility by Brenda -- they picked up poor Erwin and followed.  Down
some half ruined stone steps they went, then through a long passage,
then down more steps to a half open door.

Once inside, Stanley saw he was in quite a sizeable room, with two
beds, one large, the other a mere cot.  The girl led the way to the
large bed, and there they laid the still swooning man who gave a slight
groan as he was deftly covered by the girl who murmured as if to
herself:

"Poor fellow, he has suffered!"

Already Stanley was leaving, saying:

"We must get Blaine down here quickly.  He is in a bad way, I fear."

Seizing the lamp, the girl hurried after.  On reaching the other
stricken aviator, what was their surprise to find him leaning on one
elbow, trying to rise, but vainly.

"Wha -- what's the matter?  Where am I?"

"You're with friends, old boy," soothed Stanley, seizing Blaine's arms,
while Brenda took up the lower limbs.  With the wounded man muttering
aimlessly, again they wended their way to the lower chamber, evidently
used by the girl and Brenda as a temporary sleeping place.

With deft efficiency the girl had snatched up Stanley's kit of
dressings and other medical paraphernalia and hurried on ahead with the
lamp.  In a trice they had placed him on the cot.  Immediately the two
women were busy with these things and some stored aids of their own,
dressing the bruises on both the boys and applying restoratives, so
that in a short time both were awake, sensible, and staring with
grateful wonder at these two women -- angels of mercy -- and the
strange yet comfortable surroundings.

Mutual explanations had already begun when whirring, semi-thunderous
noises again were heard.  Stanley was instantly on the alert.

"All of you remain quiet while I slip up and see what is on," he said,
flinging back: "If your light is apt to shine through any hole or
opening, better douse it or hang up covers.  Make no noises until you
hear from me."  He was off, but not before the girl called to him:

"Be very careful, sir!  We cannot spare you - yet."

"No, we can't, ma'am," remarked Blaine from the cot where he now sat
upright with a bandaged head.

"Indeed, Sir," said the girl almost wistfully, "we cannot spare any of
you.  Just think, we have been here a week, and with more or less
bombing going on each day and sometimes at night."

"May I ask, mademoiselle --" began Blaine.

"Just plain Miss," interrupted the girl.  "Miss Daskam from Chicago!"

"Well, well!" Blaine was smilingly openly now.  "That surely sounds
homelike!  Well, we're all Americans too.  We were on an air raid and
had a good deal of mixed luck.  Blaine's my name; that's Erwin over
there," pointing at the cot where Orris was grinning and smiling.  "The
chap who went out just now is Stanley.  He is my observer.  But our
machine is smashed now and how we will all get back is more than I
know. Eh, Orry?"

"Looks that way.  But what's the use of worrying while we are in such
charming company?  I'm all right."

And to prove it Erwin stepped out on the floor, a little teetery
perhaps, but once more himself.  He made a not ungraceful bow.

"May I ask, Miss Daskam, how you happened to get cornered down here in
this poor old chateau?  It must have been a grand place once -- but
now!"  He shrugged slightly, regarding Miss Daskam sympathizingly.

"The wife of the owner of this place is my sister.  I came over as a
member of the Belgian Red Cross.  Both my sister and her husband are,
or were, at headquarters when I left the Belgian lines.  I had a permit
to visit his chateau; for in the days before I came over here I had
left there certain papers most important to them both.  I wanted to see
the place and I had a friend that was chummy with the Boches in
Brussels.  He had forwarded me a pass.  So I insisted on taking Brenda
along and trying it alone.  You know western girls are not much afraid
of things."

"Well, you were plucky enough, anyhow, interposed Erwin and Blaine
nodded.

"Up to that time, after the chateau had been bombarded by our Allies in
their final advance towards Paschiendale after Vimy ridge, it had
rested unharmed further."

"But you can never count on what Fritz will do, or when he'll begin,"
remarked Blaine.  Then as the girl went on, Erwin sat down suddenly as
if something within him had all at once given way.

"Keep still, Mr. Erwin," she cautioned. "You're not well vet.  As I was
saving we got through the lines all right.  If either my sister or the
Baron had gone, they would have been made prisoners at least.  I was a
Red Cross nurse.  We had done good work over there and even the Germans
were well disposed.  But if it wasn't for Brenda, I hardly know how
we'd have managed Brenda is a -- a whole team, you know."  She pressed
her servant's worn hand as she continued.  "We reached the chateau,
secured the papers with out much trouble, for Brenda, being an old
family servitor, knew where to find them.  That very night, while we
were in these underground rooms, the Germans began dropping bombs all
about.

"It appeared that the Allies from over our way had gotten to raiding
behind the lines, not knowing we were here, of course.  Otherwise they
would not have begun, for the Baron is highly respected among the
Belgians and other Allies Why not?  He is one of their King Albert's
main leaders.  Well, after that we simply had a terrible time.  First
one side, then the other would either fight overhead, or pass to and
fro, dropping bombs here and there.  Oh, it was terrible!"

"Poor child!"  This from Brenda.  "She no harm no one; but dem Boche,
he no care what he do or where he do it.  Ally not know either."

"Well, we have been here ever since.  Now you have come, perhaps we may
somehow find a way to get out."

Here Stanley suddenly entered, looking strangely resolved.  Above, the
explosive noises had gradually died out.  Looking at Blaine, he said:

"Lafe, I have fixed up that German's Fokker  All it needs is more
gasoline and there's still some in your tank and Orry's.  If you don't
care, I'll fly that Fokker over our lines before morning and manage to
bring some help.  Neither of you are strong enough to go and I
understand Fokkers pretty well.  What say?"

"That won't do at all," exclaimed Erwin, making another violent effort
not only to stand but to walk.  All at once he tottered and would have
fallen, but Brenda caught him, placing him back on the cot.

"That'll do for you, Orris," began Blaine.  "Shucks!  I feel quite
pert.  Just you watch me!"

But it turned out that Blaine was, if anything, weaker than his friend,
and silence gave consent to his first proposal.  Even Miss Daskam
assented, adding: "I hope when you do return with help, sir, that it
will be sufficient to enable Brenda and me to accompany you."

For the first time Stanley seemed to catch the wistfulness in her eyes
and tone.  He impulsively took her hand, saying:

"Believe me, Miss Aida -- Daskam, I mean," (She had already whispered
to him her full name), "if any of us gets back out of this mess, you
may be sure you will be among them --"

"And Brenda, too?"

"Brenda, too!  If I know anything of our folks back at the aerodrome,
we will have plenty of help."

In another minute he was gone.  Brenda went with him to help about the
gasoline, and in an short time, under her pilotage, he reached an open
spot where he could rise.

They heard the whirring of his wings; he was gone.



CHAPTER XIV

TWO PERILOUS NIGHT TRIPS

It may be said that, once up in the air, Stanley lost no time in
heading into the west-southwest.  He knew the way, and though it was
yet hardly midnight, he divined the safest way for him to make the
familiar aerodrome was to get there as soon as possible, regardless of
consequences.  The night, though foggy, was sufficiently starlight to
aid in his sense of direction.  It was hardly likely that there would
be further bombing raids that night, but one was never certain what the
Boches might attempt.  Witness their recent raid upon the old chateau,
although they might know that planes had recently landed there.

After the North Sea Wind fog, a general calm had settled down upon that
death-scarred region.  Over the front and about No-Man's-Land an
occasional flare or star-shell would go up.  One of these came
unusually close to the swiftly moving Fokker.  Immediately after that
came bombing from Archies stationed along the enemy front.  Among these
some, either accidentally or by design, sent bursting shrapnel all
around him.  He heard the wings being struck repeatedly but, knowing
his great speed, he hoped to be out of range almost at once.

With the sound of big guns the whole front was lighted up here and
there with flares and starshells, many being sent up from shell holes
concealed from all but their own side.

More than that; for Stanley, leaning far over to scan the earth below,
suddenly saw men rushing some kind of a gun up a steep incline.  Where
was that?  It could not be the Appincourte Bluff, for that was now in
our hands.  But he recalled another elevation near the small stream
behind.

"Can it be the Boches have tunneled to that former another advancing
post?"

Further thought was interrupted by a brilliant flash and a dull report
just underneath.  At the same time he felt sharp stings pierce his arms
now stretched outside the fuselage as he leaned over.  Something like a
needle seemed to pierce his brain.  In the same instant he was aware
that in his eagerness to reach the base quickly, he had permitted his
plane to approach the earth a great deal nearer than before.

He was tilting his rudder upward, while feeling at once that he was
about all in.  But feverishly he gripped wheel and controls, more with
feet than hands, for he was growing more helpless each passing second.
The flashings below had shattered into many small scintillations as
they shot upward, while something sharp and metallic was rattling among
his planes.

But he was mounting, he knew that.  Dizzily, he managed mechanically to
turn the plane towards where he knew the broad aerodrome was situated.

"Hope they haven't hit my tank," he maundered.  "I -- I'll get there
--"  But that was all he did say, for unconsciousness was coming fast.

At the same time he sensed somehow that the Fokker -- already well
peppered by his own crowd on that same day -- was listing, sagging, so
that at last he could hardly keep his seat.

"I -- I'm goin' -- goin'," he kept reiterating in his mind.  "Goin' -
go'n  -- go --"  He lapsed into complete unconsciousness, with his last
sentient movement pressing the wheel and controls downward and towards
the left, where he finally half fell, as we have seen before.

Byers and the orderly bore him quickly to the near-by dormitory, where
many of the fliers were temporarily lodged.  Senator Walsen and the
girls followed, while some of the mechanics attended to the crippled
Fokker.

In almost no time the surgeon on duty was there with two of the Red
Cross nurses.  Though unconscious, Stanley was restless, uneasy,
evidently worrying.  He muttered unintelligibly, tried to break forth
more loudly, but for the present was unable to make any meaning clear
to the others.

"What gets me," remarked Byers while watching the deft manipulations of
the surgeon and the nurses, "is how he came here alone and in such a
rig. Why, that Fokker must have been taken from Fritzy!  Why didn't he
return in one of our own machines?  Where are the others?  I tell you,
Senator, there is trouble afoot; I feel it in my bones!"

As may be imagined, both Andra and Avella were much concerned, though
neither would admit it to the other or, for that matter, to any one
else.  Only once Andra, clinging to her sister, whispered timidly:

"Sup -- suppose this poor chap never does revive, Vella?  How will we
ever know?"

"We've got to know, Andra.  Got to -- that's all I can say!"

By these two whisperings aside each girl was conscious of betraying to
the other some sign of that deep, sudden interest with which at least
two of these dashing young aviators had inspired them.  And they, the
fair daughters of a United States Senator!  Verily strange and
surprising are the freaks of Cupid.  But of this more later.  The
physician was still busy over the slowly reviving patient, when the
watchful orderly hurried in to where the captain was watching and
waiting.

"I thought I better go out and take a look, sir.  While I was out at
the observation there came some signal flares out of the nor'-nor'east.
 I wasn't certain, sir, so I waited.  Along came another flash, adding
our most private code signal.  After that I dared not hesitate, nor had
I time to run to you without answering. So I - so I --"

"So you answered, eh?  Well, that's all right.  Did you show a flare,
also in code?"

"You bet, sir!  I think it's one of our missing men that may have lost
his way.  Better come out with me.  He'll be landing next."

Without another word Byers accompanied the orderly out to a point near
the observation post, and almost instantly they heard the whir of
approaching wings, evidently spiraling down from greater heights.

"Give him a light lad." said Byers to the orderly.  "He knows where we
are, but in this black night he might hit some building or the fence.

Down on the gravel ran the assistant, followed by Byers, who saw the
flare go up.  In a minute a tattered triplane emerged into the light
and made an easy landing not far from where the unconscious Stanley had
previously been carried from his Fokker to the casual dormitory.

Almost before they reached it two of the night watch among the
mechanics arrived and lifted out our old friend Buck Bangs from Idaho.
He was unconscious, the cause being a body bullet wound on the right
side, the bullet being later found bedded in the back of the seat in
his Nieuport.

The machine was riddled even worse than Stanley's Fokker, but
fortunately not in any vital parts, nor had the planes, though
perforated like a sieve in many spots, been injured in any way to
impair their vitality for the frames and joints were all right.

"Take him up to the Casual Dormitory boys," ordered Byers.  "Careful!
We don't know how badly he is hurt."

Up they bore him, leaving the machine where it stood.  Into the
dormitory he was carried and laid on a vacant bed near the now
recovering Stanley.  The latter had shown signs of resuscitation and
now, as they bore in poor Buck, his head hanging helplessly, his limbs
limp and unstrung, Stanley opened his eyes for the first time.  They
fell upon Buck, on whom the full light happened to shine brightly.

"Buck -- there's Buck!" gasped the wounded observer.  "Where'd he come
from?"

At this instant Vella, happening to glance up, saw Buck's pallid face
as it rested on the arm of one of his supporters who was helping to
place him on the ready cot.  She gave a convulsive gasp, seized Andra
by the arm and pushed forward, hardly sensible of where she was, but
only that this youth from the State next to her own was apparently
fatally stricken.

"Stay with me, Andra," she murmured. "I may faint.  I don't want to
say!  Is he alive?  Oh, Andra; does he live?"

Fully alive to the peculiar exigencies of the situation, and deeply
sympathizing with Avella, Andra clung to and supported her sister until
both were themselves again.  Thereafter they watched, helped when they
could, and as a rule kept as quiet as mice.  It was really a ticklish
situation for two young girls, both among the elite of official society
in Washington, though transferred of their own volition to strange
scenes and duties in this foreign land.  Sisterly always, they now
clung together more than usual.

"Is -- is poor Buck dead?" asked Stanley, gaining strength with each
word.  "He left us to raid some more Boches and -- and get help."

"The young man is all right."  This from the surgeon who had just
finished his examination.  "He will pull through with good nursing.
It's a bullet wound between the ribs and I f ear, although I'm not
certain yet, that in passing it pierced the lungs.  It has gone out at
his back, near the shoulder, and that's a good thing.  Leaves a clean
Wound."

By degrees Buck was brought to, revived by a tonic, braced up by a
subtle injection of some kind, after which his wound was carefully,
thoroughly, and scientifically dressed.

Laying back after this, the first person on whom his sleepy eyes opened
was Stanley, now raised on one elbow, so strong had he already grown,
regarding Bangs much as one might look at some one supposed to be dead,
but returned to life.

"Hello, Buck!" Stanley actually tried to sit up in bed.  "When we saw
you put out up in them clouds, I sure thought you were a goner!"

Buck weakly shook his bead, but was restrained by the nurse from trying
to talk.  "No use!" he whispered wearily.  Then his eyes sought that
sweet girl again . She was still looking at him.  He gave a sigh of
satisfaction and almost immediately fell asleep.

All at once Stanley seemed to remember what he had come through a
flying death for.  He cursed his forgetfulness, then said aloud:

"I want to see Captain Byers.  It -- it's important.  Please send for
him."

But Byers, already alert, was stepping close and; saying:

"If it is important, go ahead.  But if it can wait --"

"But -- it can't wait, Captain," pleaded Stanley. "They sent me 'cause
they couldn't come.  All our planes were bombed from overhead.  Had to
use Fritzy's little old Fokker after we got him and his machine.
Believe me, they're a tight place, and there's two women with 'em, one
of them an American girl from Chicago; t'other a good old Belgian."

"Go ahead, my man," urged Byers.

Thereupon Stanley, refreshed by a mug of real Red Cross French wine,
proceeded to relate a succinctly as he could all that the reader now
knows Irwin, and Bangs, so far as Stanley had known.  Also their varied
adventures after following the defeated Hun down amid the ruins of the
old baronial chateau.

"Believe me, sir, they are in bad shape," continued Stanley earnestly.
"Both them chaps are clean knocked out for the time being, though I
know they will be able to travel by the time we get back there."

"You say there are women there, too?"

"Yes, sir; two of 'em.  One is sister to the wife of the Belgian baron
who owns the whole chateau and estate.   They got a permit somehow and
came through the lines; but in view of recent troubles around there
they don't know how to get back. "I'm sure sorry for them."

"What did they go there for, knowing the Germans controlled all that
territory?  Had they no better sense?"

"So far as I could understand, they went in the first place for some
important papers hid away there, and which the Boches don't know of."

"Private papers or papers pertaining to the, war?"

"Don't know, sir.  All I know is that they said, they had left safe and
were to bring them back if they ever do got back."

Of course the surrounding group were listening.  Among these was a
runty, pockmarked, weasel-eyed little chap who went by the name of
Pete, and whom was not much thought of, being considered by those who
knew him best to be more than half German by blood.  Be this as it may,
he now began to edge outward from the group and gradually gravitated
towards a side door.

However, he was already watched, and by no less a one than Byers'
orderly.  Ever since the escape of Hans, every one suspected of German
connections had been under secret but thorough espionage.  When Pete
went out at one door the orderly emerged at the other in time to see
Pete making for the observation post.

"What can the fool want there?" wonder the orderly.  In less than a
minute he was satisfied for, drawing from his pocket a peculiar flare
Pete lighted and sent it up, where it shivered into different colored
flashes, doubtless some kind of cheap signal to warn his countrymen
that some big was up.  Perhaps also a signal for some one to meet Pete
somewhere.  But the orderly had even less patience than discretion.  In
two more minutes he had Pete under arrest and bound for the guard
house.  One of the mechanics aided the orderly and despite Pete's
protests, he was shut up for the night.

When Byers was told of the matter he first stared, then frowned, and
finally laughed, saying:

"I forgot that you had only been on duty here for a few days.  When I
am detained here late, I have Pete or some of the hands send up a
certain kind of flare right down to where I live.  That warns 'em I
won't be back before breakfast.  Now trot right back now and let Pete
out, sending him to me.  He knows this neighborhood where Blaine and
Erwin are now.  We may need him -and need him bad."

Much crestfallen, the orderly obeyed, finding Pete fast asleep in a
corner, nor much put out when he found what a mistake had been made.

When they reached the gravelly levels near the hangars, two of the
largest biplanes in the aerodrome were already drawn up ready.  In each
of these planes an experienced pilot was in the act of taking his seat.
 One of these pilots was Byers himself.

"Come here, you, Pete!" called the captain, half laughing at Pete's
perplexed face.  "You in here with me -- see?"

"You take me to Boche 'stead of black-hole?  I no do harm anyone."

Pete spoke in a whining, ingratiating tone, but Byers only laughed,
saying:

"You are right, Pete.  A mistake was made."  Then turning to Stanley,
who had insisted on coming for final admonitions, "This is my friend
Pete, once servant of Baron Savahl.  That I know. He is small and
light.  He will guide us with the assistance that you, Stanley, have
given me.  Brodno also is particularly well acquainted with that part
of the Belgian frontier.  Get in, Pete!"

"But, Captain, how can we spare you?"  This from Stanley anxiously.

"You will have to spare me.  Sergeant Anson is handy, too.  In the
early morning, if you see signs of our return, it would be well to send
out a few scouts.  But we shall return.  Those plans are too important
to King Albert of Belgium and our Allies here to risk any more
uncertainties than can be avoided."

"Are you sure of what you speak?  I thought, from what those women
said, that they were private papers."

"Private they may be, in a sense.  But they are important enough to all
of us, when you consider how vital they are to certain knowledge
necessary for our leaders to have in regard to a further offensive
which I believe is contemplated.  Now back to bed, boy.  You've warned
us and we who are well will do all that is needful."

About this time Brodno, waiting impatiently, gave a signal and the
plane, propelled along gravel by mechanics, soon rose lightly in the
air. Byers, having hauled Pete in, followed suit, waving good-night to
Senator Walsen and the ladies.  In another minute both big biplanes
were lost to sight, so swiftly did they vanish in a easterly course
under the starlit heavens, shimmer of gray haze hugging the lower just
above the earth.



CHAPTER XV

MAKING READY FOR ANOTHER FORWARD DRIVE

After Stanley's sudden departure from the ruined chateau, the two boys
fretted ineffectually.  Stanley was an observer, not a real pilot; he
might get into trouble; so worried first one and then the other.

"It seems to me, gentlemen," began Miss Daskam, "that instead of
fretting over this you better remain quiet and thus regain your
strength the sooner. We may need it yet."

"Allons, madame," began Brenda, speaking to the girl, yet carefully
refraining from looking at either of the boys, "we cannot tell what
time the Boches may break in on us.  After that young man went up in
the German plane, I am sure I heard the sound of far-away explosions.
We are between the lines, yet off to one side, where the enemy are fond
of raiding.  It was so a year ago when some of us still made our home
in or close to the chateau.  We didn't mind the raiding.  All they did
was to rob us of what little stock we had left.  But now, since they
began the bombing that has finally ruined the Baron's home, nothing and
no one is safe.  Ah -- what is that?"

But it was nothing much; yet it only typified the general nervousness
of the situation.  Distant firing along the course they figured that
Stanley would take tended to make even the boys uncertain as to whether
he would get home or not.

"Anyhow, we may as well make up our minds to have to stick it out here
at least until tomorrow, or more likely tomorrow night.  If they come
they must come in force, or we will never be able to make a get-away."
Thus spoke Erwin.

After more or less futile remonstrance, discussion and what not, they
finally settled down for the remainder of the night, the boys insisting
upon giving up the only habitable room to the women, though the latter
urged that the young men take at least a blanket or so along.  Blaine,
being somewhat the stronger, declared that he would remain on watch for
the first two hours, adjuring Erwin to get all the sleep he could.

"Another thing; we haven't got much grub along.  I don't know how much
the women have, but if it is scarce we must remember them."

In five minutes Orris was breathing heavily, taking full toll of
slumber, for he was not so very strong and the day's happenings had
exhausted him greatly.  Blaine sought shelter under another angle of
the basement, and after a vigorous struggle against somnolence, finally
dropped off.

After that the old ruin was silent.  Midnight passed.  Unceasing
silence reigned.  Suddenly there came a sound of planes coming down
from the upper air.

Finally a fretful voice rose up stridently, recklessly, saying through
a muffled megaphone:

"Ho, there -- below!  Start up a flare -- a light, anything, so we can
know where and how to land."

Fortunately Erwin, who had really slept the longest, was roused by the
closing words.  He heard the sound of wings above, and at once
apprehended.  He had no flare, and no means at immediately to make a
light.  What should he do?  Suddenly he remembered that Blaine carried
a brilliant hand searchlight.  In another instant he was rummaging
about among Blaine's personal effects where he lay snoring.

"G'way -- what you doin'?  Who are ye, anyhow?"

While so ran the sleeper's drowsy remonstrances Erwin secured the
searchlight, and an instant later was sending its white rays upward.  A
minute later the black shadow of a huge bi plane hovered in a circle
over the wide expanse of what once had been a trim lawn, but was now a
desert of dirt, ashes, and crumbling masonry loosened from the walls.

Meantime the added noise, further awakening Blaine, sent him scurrying
to rekindle the dying fire they had made earlier in the night.  By the
time this was blazing one plane had alighted and the other was settling
down further out.  From these big planes stepped Captain Byers and
Sergeant Brodno, both nervous, watchful, alert, and very wide awake.

To say the boys were pleased to see them would be to put it mildly.  In
a few words the state in which Stanley and Bangs had reached the
Station was told, when Byers, evidently on edge by the peculiar
situation wherein they were now involved, spoke up sharply.

"Where is that Chicago girl with her attendant?  Also those papers?
And how is it that I find you two so sleepy, way out here in the midst
of the Boches?  Don't you know we've had all sorts of trouble dodging
in here so they wouldn't catch on?  Oh -- h!  Who is that?"

Captain Byers whirled and found that he was confronting a smiling young
girl, already bundled up as if for a journey.  Behind her stood the
substantial form of Brenda, also well wrapped against the night's chill
and mist.

Confusedly Blaine presented the captain and Brodno, the latter grinning
amusedly.  In fact, this affair had been more of a lark to the American
Pole than to Byers, who was oppressed with a sense of responsibility.

"We'll have to divide up, and at once," said the captain.  "In fact,
ever since Erwin used that searchlight to show me the way down, I
haven't felt that we were safe here.  Therefore I say all aboard just
as soon as we can be loaded in -- what is that?" as a sharp staccato of
shocks rose from Brodno's machine, the result of his tinkering with his
air-exhaust.  Even as he made haste to stop them, time being all
important, Byers was placing the two women in his own plane, saying:

"It will be crowded, but you can stand that for a time, I guess.  But
-- say!  Hold on!  I forgot.  You have some important papers somewhere?"

"Yes.  Brenda has them in her bosom.  You may be sure we did not forget
those.  Are they all right, Brenda?"

But here Brenda jumped up in the observer's manhole, and began hastily
fumbling among the folds of her ample garb.  With a sudden half scream
she sprang out, seized the searchlight from the astonished Erwin and
made a dash for the basement again.

"Is what she is after important?" asked Erwin of Miss Daskam, who was
fidgeting uneasily.  The girl nodded, adding:

"It may be; I cannot tell.  How careless!  Among those papers are some
very important plans that have reference, I think, to things our side
wished to do later on.  Oh, dear!  Will we ever get away?"

"God knows -- I hope so.  It seems I hear sounds to the eastward.  Ah
-- there they come again!"

Both Brenda and the captain, who had followed her, were returning.  He
was stuffing a paper which Brenda had surrendered after some persuasion
into his breast pocket.

"All in!" called Byers.  "No time to lose now."

Again the women reentered the captain's machine, who at once started
off along the level, open ground, at the same time calling on the men
to use the searchlight so he might rise successfully.  Up they went,
and right after them came Brodno, with Blaine and Orris, now in the
observer's seat, feeling more comfortable as be laid his hand on the
Lewis gun ready to his use.  Brodno had another.  Both were listening
to the sounds which Erwin had noticed when with Miss Aida.  Byers
passed them with a gentle rustling as of wings.

"Boys," he called back, "our defense rests mainly upon you.  I have not
only these women to see after but also papers -- papers most important
to our side in the next offensive.  Of course I'll fight, if I have to.
 But the main thing is to get safely back and --"

His further words were lost on the wind as the captain raced ahead,
bound as straight as possible for their own lines.

"We will keep right on his tail, boys," said Brodno.  "That noise
behind is Fritzy starting on a raid, no doubt.  If he gets too close we
must either keep him back or lead him off after us."

The noise of whirring propellers increased rapidly.  Doubtless scouting
planes were out.  As a rule, they are faster than the big biplanes.  In
view of this, Byers presently began to mount higher, the rear plane
maintaining its level with a view of attracting the notice of the
pursuing Germans.  Then came a spatter of machine gun bullets that
rattled about their ears until Blaine, from his rear position, opened
on the Boches in turn.

After that the pursuit of Byers ceased, for Blaine and Brodno, with
their two weapons, aided by Erwin, who manipulated a Lee-Enfield rifle,
kept the three scouts busy for a time.  A plane is a shaky place from
which to aim a rifle, but Orris, having had much practice at the
training butts, soon laid out one lone pilot and his scout went
trailing guideless out of range and action.

But about this time there came the heavier rumble of Archies from
below, and presently shrapnel began tearing into the wings of the
biplane.

"Up we go, boys!" said Brodno.  "I guess Byers must be well on over by
now."

But about this time they heard the sounds of gun spatter far up above,
and mounting rapidly they saw two more Fokker scouts trailing after
Byers, who not only mounted still higher, but put Pete at the aft
machine gun, taking Miss Aida over inside his own manhole.

We haven't said much about Pete, for he was really timid, and lay low
wherever he was placed, without a word.  But when he came over where
Brenda was and that sturdy Belgian watched his timid attempts to fire
the machine gun, she was disgusted.

"Pete, you no good!  Have you forgot how the Baron hated a coward?  Let
me in there!"  She shoved Pete aside, took charge of the gun herself
and presently Byers was gratified to hear its active rattle as Brenda
rather clumsily yet effectually opened upon the Germans.  Pete
assisted, handing fresh sheaves of ammunition and otherwise making
himself useful.

"Where you been, Pete?" she asked. "Why you leave us all?"

"I wanted to learn to fly.  Americaines, they give me a chance."

The other plane, now spiraling upward, came within range of the
Fokkers, and altogether the united firing from the two big biplanes was
too much for the Boches, so they gradually retired with a loss of one
plane, whose pilot Erwin had disposed of, as we have seen.

Half an hour later they quietly dropped down at the aerodrome.  The
first gray hues of morning were just diffusing a lighter pallor and the
stars were already dimming when on the deserted levels in front of the
hangars the biplanes finally came to rest.  Then out from a sentry box
came the captain's orderly, who seemed much astonished.

"Well, sir, I didn't look for you all back so soon.  I rather feared
that you might have to remain away another day."

"We had ladies to look after," remarked Byers.  "That made us hurry
back sooner.  Here is Pete, of whom you thought such dreadful things.
Pete is learning.  Now, while we take Miss Daskam and her maid to their
quarters, I want you to go to the through line to Dunkirk, and ask for
Baron Suvahl.  He should be somewhere about there, if we have been
rightly informed."

After that the captain with characteristic courtesy took the two tired
yet grateful women to the women's Red Cross station and left them in
kindly, congenial company.  It was here Senator Walsen and his
daughters were staying.  When they and Miss Aida became acquainted at
breakfast next morning it was astonishing how many mutual acquaintances
they discovered, yet mostly back in the dear old country across the
ocean.

About the middle of the morning a tall, spare, resolute young man,
accompanied by a plainly garbed lady, his wife, met Captain Byers at
the latter's office.  Simultaneously there came two other personages
plainly garbed in Belgian costume, yet most distinguished aside from
that.

There was a certain respect, almost deference, in the way Baron Suvahl
and his wife met the King, for one of the visitors was really King
Albert of Belgium.  His wife, the queen, was even more democratic.  In
fact, in the manner of all, including the Americans, was that which
marked them as fully tinctured with the true democratic spirit that
this war has so fully brought out among all the Allies.

Several of the British and French generals dropped in.  And there were
sundry secret and semi-secret conferences, one result of which was the
sending out that night of a number of our airmen on secret scouting
trips, none of which, however, resulted in much aerial fighting but
embraced a deal of sly spying  upon enemy positions and also various
"look-ins" behind the lines.

Among other things Erwin, Blaine, Bangs, Brodno and others were adjured
by both Captain Byers and Sergeant Anson to be ready with their
machines for real active service at any time.

On the second night came a quiet meeting between certain French,
British, and American commanders.  As the boys in the aerodrome
sauntered about the grounds, noting the drawn shades in the windows of
the headquarters office, and marking the lateness of the hour before
the consultation closed, they felt that things were drawing to a head
on that sector, and that they, the eyes of the army, would be expected
to do their part and even more, if necessary.

Senator Walsen, instead of going back to the capital as he had
intended, was drawn into the conference, while the ladies remained
quiescent but more and more expectant, though of what they hardly knew.
 Perhaps the good young queen expressed the general sentiment among her
sex, when she said to the small group gathered about her at the half
shabby quarters where she and the king temporarily received their
friends,

"We never know much as to what is about to go on, but we are always
warned never to be unduly surprised at anything.  Always make the best
of everything -- that is all we can do and what we must do.



CHAPTER XVI

THE CONFLICT

For another day many quiet yet suggestive movements were made in the
vicinity of these headquarters where most of the activities of this
tale have taken place.  That night secret word went out among certain
picked birdmen that they were to be ready that night for literally
anything

"What do you think is up, anyhow?" asked Erwin, who had been busy with
a mechanic nearly all that day putting his favorite scouting flier
machine in complete readiness.

"How should I know?" snapped Anson, hurrying by.  "We know we gotter be
ready any old time, night or day.  I 'opes I may niver see Blighty
ag'in though, ef I don't think we're in fer somp'in' damn big and
hard."  And he passed on, vouchsafing Orris a wink that might mean
anything.

That next night other planes from near-by sectors began flitting in
here, there, until, with the planes already at the aerodrome, there
must have been at least fifty of the various types of battle and
scouting planes on hand.  Many of the airmen were French, many British,
not a few Americans, inclusive of the Lafayette Escadrille, composed
mainly of men from overseas.

The early evening passed, the dark hours flitted by, and so came
midnight with a long line of planes stretched far and wide over that
war-scarred expanse.  Here and there the pilots had gathered in little
groups, receiving their last instructions from majors, captains,
lieutenants, even sergeants of the various aviation corps or squads who
had, in turn, received theirs from commands higher up.

Some of these groups were studying maps and photographs which had been
made by recent reconnaissance trips and prepared for distribution among
those whose task it was to proceed along the various lines thus
indicated.

One group near the center of the line deserves attention.  There was
Erwin, Blaine, Bangs, Brodno, all seemingly in fine fettle, gathered
over sundry maps, photos, and instructions.  Amid these was Captain
Byers, somewhat at the rear, conferring with Senator Walsen, who had
still deferred his return to Paris, more than likely through the
persuasions of his daughters.

Where were they?  Let us look more closely among the airmen.  Who is
that whispering coyly to Sergeant Bangs, who stands cap in hand,
despite the frosty night air?  He talks earnestly, rapidly, western
fashion, ending with"

"I don't know bow I shall come out of all this!  But I do know that
Montana and Idaho are side by side.  May I come to see you then?"

"Yes, provided that neither you nor Mr. Blaine forget that Paris leave
which I feel sure you will get."  And Avella Walsen blushed prettily.
"But I must go back to father now.  Good-bye."

She was gone, flitting towards the rear not unlike a star gleam in
Buck's eyes as she vanished, leaving him to sigh regretfully.

Near by Andra Walsen had taken an almost tearful leave of stalwart
Ensign Blaine, now completely restored, and naturally keyed up by a
prevision of the night's probable happenings.

Further to the right both Brodno and Erwin, still fussing round their
respective planes, were interrupted by no less a personage than the
Belgian Queen, accompanied by Baroness Suvahl and her sister, Miss
Daskam, who had come round to them on their night round of visiting
encouragement which they were making among their acquaintances that
night.

"We are so glad to see you boys on duty again," said the Queen, who was
most unassuming and kindly in manner.  "Both the King and the Baron had
to leave again for our front, but I persuaded them to let us bid you
lads good cheer and Godspeed in your risky night's adventure."

Meanwhile Miss Daskam was whispering to Erwin:

"Do you remember the last night at the chateau, how you would not take
all the quilts I wanted you to, though the night was cold and we had
plenty?"

"Indeed I do, miss!"  Orris was grinning now.  "I just knew we did not
leave you and Brenda enough!  Did we, Brenda?"

Turning to that stalwart guardian in petticoats who watched over the
two sisters from Chicago, one of whom had married a Belgian nobleman,
Brenda shrugged her massive shoulders.

"You must ask Mademoiselle Aida. I was mooch too warm; yes, vera mooch.
Yes la -- la!  We Flemings know what cold is more than what it is to be
too -- too warm.  Don' you bodder, sar!"

And so the many more or less friendly, even solicitous conversations
went on until the midnight hour had fled.  By then the groups of
friends and visitors had melted back to the rear into the misty regions
where lay the small French village that had sheltered them together
with the aerodrome itself.

It might have been one o'clock or later when a bugle sounded.  Up and
down the long, long line aviators were scrambling into their machines
while the sputter and throb of many engines punctured the night air.
Some of these engines had as much as three hundred horse-power.  The
long continuing roar was nerve grating, yet inspiring.  Swarms of small
scouting machines were humming, spitting; these were the vipers or
wasps of the air service.

The fleet commander and his observer had taken their places and soared
into the night air.  The other machines, some fifty odd in number,
swiftly followed him into the misty heavens, all maneuvering like a
flock of swallows until the air formation was at last right.  Then a
crack from the commander's revolver, and they were off like bees,
following the queen, straight for the far-off enemy lines.

Much ammunition had been distributed, for they were going on a general
bombing and foraging expedition over those trenches upon which the now
ready offensive was to be let loose.  Dimly they rose up, up, still up,
six thousand, eight, even ten thousand feet, the last height mainly for
the fighting scouts, the battle and bombing machines keeping lower down.

Over No-Man's-Land they flew towards the battle-torn trenches behind
which lay the Boches.  Tiny specks began to rise up far to the eastward
in the German rear.  They were the enemy planes coming to meet them.
In number they seemed to be somewhat equal to our own fleet.  The
Allies might have fought these, but such was not the present game.
They were there to protect their side; while the Allies were out first
to destroy, to smash the morale of the soldiers below, to shatter and
mutilate and terrorize those in the trenches before our infantry, now
probably starting out, should be where their own conclusive work would
begin.

Those lads whom we have followed through these pages were flying close
together, keeping well to the front, watching signals from the
commander and ready, more than ready, each to do his part.  With Blaine
was Stanley, his observer, both closely watching.  When over the first
line trenches, they at once let go the first rack of bombs.  All the
other planes, in accord with their individual capacity, did the same.
A veritable hell beneath was let loose by that swiftly moving line.
Lower down came the signals and more racks of bombs were let loose.  So
swift were their movements that one might hardly see what results were
being obtained; but from the yells, shrieks, explosions and clouds of
debris below, it was evident that the destruction was great.

Lower and lower still they flew.  Blaine's control was perfect.  So was
that of his subordinates.  Bangs himself, excited yet steady as a
clock, was talking to his plane as a cowboy might talk to his pony.
Machine guns could now be used most effectively. The cleaned, burnished
mechanism was already vomiting death. in showers upon the trenches
below.  Their spitting, purring roars were drowning out the whir of the
engines.

All at once Blaine saw to his left a spurt of flame shoot upward from
below, and almost simultaneously a blinding glare arose from Brodno's
plane.  For an instant he caught sight of the Polish face, ashen gray
as the night above, under which the fight was going on.  His petrol
tank had been hit from an Archie below and exploded.  Another burst of
flame and his plane swooped dizzily towards the mangled earth below.

"God help him!" gasped Lafe.  "That must be the end of poor Brodno!"

Down it went, zigzagging crazily.  All at once it dropped like a
plummet.  For an instant Blaine felt sick; then he recovered.  His own
situation, and that of Stanley, Erwin, Bangs and the rest was not less
risky.  Yet only one thing was there to do.  Fight it out -- fight it
out, to victory -- or death.

Then all at once the German planes were upon them.  Where and how they
came was a matter of indifference.  The thing was to meet and fight, to
out-maneuver them if possible.  In another minute they were dodging,
diving, eluding, darting among each other, inextricably intermingled,
yet now, on the whole, rising higher.  Just over to the right of Blaine
one of the Boche fliers was already dropping to the earth.  Blaine saw
and noted the cause.  It was Erwin, rising from a dexterous side-loop
to higher elevation, yet peering over at his fallen foe.

"Good boy," murmured the ensign.  "He'll do!  No use to worry about
flying position now.  It's fight or die!"

What the Allies mainly cared about now was to dodge the enemy fliers,
and still pour the remainder of their explosives down upon the mangled
trenches until the Allied infantry should come up.  By this time
Stanley, back at his old post, was whirling round on his seat for more
racks of bombs.  He had already used his own machine gun with deadly
effect.  Blaine was reaching for another drum of ammunition for his
Lewis when he saw Stanley lurch forward.  He was hit.  Not a word
though; not even a struggle.

"My Gawd, man!" called Blaine.  "Are you hit bad?  Slip down under
cover!"

No reply as the observer slowly sagged back and down into the manhole.

Then a sudden rage filled the stalwart American.  He loved Stanley, who
he knew was game to the core.  Just then a German machine sped by full
tilt, sending spatters of bullets right and left.  Instantly Blaine
tried the tail-dip, always risky yet worth while if successful.
Doubling under the tail of the passing Boches -- there were two of'
them in the machine -- Blaine came up right under the German's
propeller, his own gun in straight line for the center of the other's
fuselage.  As he came up he began a spatter of bullets that fairly
riddled the body of the big Taube, and directly thereafter came a burst
of flame so bright and searching that Blaine had to dip again, sidewise
to avoid its scorching significance.  The German's tank was exploding
and in a mass of flames the two men fell, the skeleton of their machine
about them as the whole dropped to the earth.

Hardly had Blaine cleared this aerial ruin than came the commander's
signal to retire.  Somehow, after that, Lafe felt that in a measure he
had a certain revenge from the Boches for poor Stanley's death; for
Stanley was dead -- no doubt of that.  At least so Blaine thought.

Up he mounted and presently saw Buck Bangs engaged with a rather clumsy
German, who seemed bent upon peppering Bangs and his machine full of
holes.  He flew to Buck's assistance, when the German straightened out
and made for his own rear, with Bangs in full pursuit.  In his present
mood, instead of returning with the rest of the home squadron, Blaine
took after the German, and for five minutes there was a mid-heaven race
towards Belgium.  But Bangs, in his small scout, was easily the fastest
and soon he and the German were engaged in a running duel.

All at once Buck signaled to Blaine in code:

"Leave this Boche to me.  There's a train off eastward.  See if you
can't do something.  Get up higher: you'll see better."

Mutely Blaine obeyed and, as he rose up another thousand feet, he saw
more than one row of cars, upon a single track hurrying towards the
front, whence already the distant bellow of earthly struggles was going
on.  Evidently the big Allied offensive was on.  If he, Blaine, could
hinder the troop trains from reaching the front trenches, it might be a
big help to the infantry, that was now attempting its part of the big
stunt.

Straightway the biplane, with the body of Stanley still nestling in the
bottom of the observer's, manhole, was shooting downward in a gradual
slant towards the two trains.  One of these  was filled with soldiers,
at least a brigade, for the train was a long one.  The one ahead seemed
to be loaded with munitions and with artillery on the rear cars.

Swooping down closer, Blaine laid his plan.  When within three hundred
feet he saw some Archies posted at a crossroads who at once began
firing.  In his present mood he would have cared little for any
obstacle as yet untried.

Above the noise of his propellers he detected something behind, and,
turning, what was his amazement to see Stanley's ashen gray face
peering up over the observer's seat.  Blaine was startled, as if he
looked at a ghost.

"Get down, boy!" he adjured.  "You ain't strong enough.  Get down!
I've got a stiff job just ahead.  Give me time and room."

Whether Stanley understood or not Blaine was not certain.  But just
then the stricken man crumpled back again into his former nest at the
bottom of the manhole.  A slow groan came up.

"Poor chap!  He's in misery, no doubt.  But I've just got to try this
job --"

Just then the Archies began to cut loose, but Blaine went to
zigzagging, at the same time increasing his speed, swooping still lower
-- lower.  At last directly over the front train, with machine guns,
Archies, and rifles peppering away at him, he let go with one side of
his bomb rack.  With the sound of the resultant explosion he wheeled
and let go the other.

Both racks landed directly upon the leading train loaded, as Blaine
suspected, with all sorts of ammunition.

Instantly he pressed the upward controls and his machine darted on
towards the rear just in time to escape the tremendous blaze and roar
as that string of loaded cars began to explode one after another.  The
noise, flames and confusion were indescribable.  Regardless of the
still up flying shrapnel and shot, the daring man turned loose the
controls and instantly whipped into place another rack or two of bombs.

By this time he was directly in the path and, right over the long troop
train already slowing down to avoid collision with the exploding
ammunition train.  This in itself was almost impossible, so closely had
one train followed the other, a most incautious thing to do.

He felt that his big spread of wings offered too great a bombarding
surface to the forces at the crossroads below, but he was bound to
finish the job so well begun, no matter what resulted to himself and
Stanley.

Still further down he went, and at the pivotal instant began again with
the first rack of bombs.  Down they flow, crashing upon car after car.
Though half conscious of something at his rear and left, he did not
dream the cause until, turning, he saw Stanley's pallid face
contracting with pain.  The observer was shoving forward the second
rack into the essential groove for firing.  Blaine in his baste had
missed fixing it in the notch necessary for accurate discharge.  At
untold bodily cost to himself Stanley had again risen and completed the
task, just in time for the second rack to fall along the rear half of
the train, the last bombs crashing into the rear engine pushing the
heavy train from behind.

So far as could be seen from above the wrecking of the two trains was
complete.  Amid the din of exploding munitions rose the cries of
hundreds of wounded, dying men, while the debris of the burning
wreckage was strewn up and down the single track for a mile or more.

As Stanley sank back again, more deathlike than ever, Blaine put on all
his power and strove to rise.  Still roared the anti-aircraft guns, the
machine guns and the rest of the snipers below; that is, all that were
still on the job after the terrifying disaster so deftly accomplished
by Blaine.

The biplane would not rise to any great degree.  But it would travel at
a gentle upward trend and as rapidly as ever.

Off he flew, more than anxious to get out of; range from the vengeful
fire that pursued him.

Another groan from Stanley.  Blaine, looking back, saw the lad
crumpling up with a new red stain trickling down his scalp.

"How I would like to help him!" thought the pilot.  "But the only
chance for either of us is to keep on and get out of this hell."

For a wonder there did not appear any more Boche fliers, and as soon as
he was outside the immediate range of the Archies, Blaine found that he
was sailing northeastward over an opaquely indistinct expanse of
country which he felt in his bones must be that of the foe.



CHAPTER XVII

BUCK AND THE BOCHE ALOFT

Meanwhile what had become of Buck Bangs, whom we left following the
Boche flier that had first assaulted him, but who soon seemed to have
enough of the game?

The truth was that Buck, who was plucky to the core, did not want to
give up and return to the home base any more than did Blaine.  Both
were fighters and loath to abandon what looked like success as long as
there seemed a chance to win out.

As he had told the Walsen girl once, when she remonstrated with him
upon his temerity in the face of what more than once looked like
certain death:

"Reckon I don't know that, miss?  You bet I do!  But, somehow, death
don't come just then and -- and I keep on riskin' some more.  I - I
guess I'm jest built that way."

The German, who was rather clumsy, kept on along his eastward flight,
with Buck in hot pursuit.  Getting closer, Bangs again opened up with
his Lewis.  What was his surprise to see the clumsy German crumple up
in his seat and fall forward, his hands and part of his arms out of
sight, as well as the other could see in the starlit night.

"I believe I got him at last," thought Buck, maneuvering to a closer
position.  "I'll fill him and his tank full of holes, then see what has
happened."

But just before Buck came into position, the German's plane suddenly
veered athwart the nose of the other and deftly dove almost directly
downward.  The turn was a surprise.  But Buck instantly knew that no
machine, unless some one was handling the controls, would do a thing
like that.  Instantly he knew that the clumsiness of that Boche must
have been assumed for the purpose of inducing Bangs to follow, thus
leading the two planes away from the Allied squadron.

"Fritzy is sharper than I gave him credit for being," thought Buck.
"But he'll not get under me in that way without doing more stunts yet."
 Instantly the nimble scout machine darted upward, at the same time
turning on its tail in such a way as to bring both opponents side by
side with Buck now still higher up.  By the time the German had gotten
into a firing position Buck had his Nieuport slanted nose downward and
pointing straight at the enemy.  But scarcely had this been done,
before the German was veering off to the left and sliding down, down
with scarcely conceivable rapidity.

Instantly Buck was after him, and for several minutes the two spiraled,
twisted, dove, looped and performed other aerial feats accomplished
only by expert fliers.  By this time both were undeceived as to the
skill of their opponents.  Each knew that his adversary was worthy of
all the dexterity and strategy the other might employ.

And all this in the dark, as it were.  That is, in the dark as darkness
is in the upper air, a sort of transparent twilight, when the mists are
either absent or the light haze is as a gauze curtain stretched between
our eyes and an upper light beyond.

At length the German, no longer clumsy, but most expert, seemed to be
waving something that looked white.  Then came a low megaphone call
that made Bangs wonder if his ears were all right.  It came in good
United States English.

"Hullo, you!" it began.  "Let's rest a bit and have a pow-wow!"

Buck could still hardly believe that he really heard, and he hesitated.
Finally he returned:

"Don't know you!  You talk like us, but you act like a Hun.  Can't
trust you Huns further than you'd -"

"Aw-come on down!  I'm tired of fightin' a will-o'-the-wisp like you.
Been in Akron lately?"

"Don't know the burg.  Montana's my stampin' ground -- when I'm home."

"I used to live in Akron -- worked in the rubber factories.  Come on
down.  I know a good place.  We can yarn there -- mebbe have a
zwie-bier."

The two machines were now hardly fifty yards apart, with the German
rather lower down than Buck.

"Not much, old man!  I don't know you, I say.  Now -- you watch out!
I'm --"

But Buck never finished that sentence.  The German, having consumed as
much time as he thought proper with his hyperbolical peace propaganda,
suddenly dove sideways, executing what is now known as the Emmelin
turn, that would bring him, nose up, somewhat below and on the other
side of Bangs.

But Buck was not to be caught napping by any Hun making seemingly
friendly proposals.  Before the German had more than half executed the
maneuver, Bangs was already shooting upwards in a zigzag course and by
the time the other had gotten into position, Buck was swinging round
far above, from whence, to outdo the other, he pointed his Nieuport
downward pointblank at the fuselage of the German's Taube.

Swiftly he came, apparently reckless of consequences.  It so turned out
that the Boche did exactly what Bangs thought he would do: tried to
avoid the descending avalanche.  His machine swung to the right, yet
not enough to clear the other.  Full tilt the Nieuport struck the
nearly motionless Taube near the center of the fuselage.  Nieuports are
strong and sharp in their prow, and the metal edge clove through the
side of the German machine not unlike one destroyer ramming another.

At the same instant Bangs, pointing his Lewis gun obliquely downward,
sent a spatter of bullets full into his opponent just before the
collision occurred.

Smash went in the side of the Taube.  An instant before, the shower of
bullets had penetrated not only the petrol tank but also the body of
the too plausible German.  Anticipating what might happen, Buck clapped
down upon his rudder, reversing his engine, and drew back from the
shattered enemy just in time to escape the burst of flame that almost
at once enveloped both man and machine.

"I settled him, " panted Buck, almost breathless despite himself.  "He
may have lived in the U. S., but he lacked much of American love for
fair play.  I wouldn't have run into him if he had acted at all white."

So ran Buck's thought as he sat breathing heavily, watching the plummet
flight of the dead German and his flame-shriveling plane to the earth.

Rising again to a higher altitude, he surveyed the surroundings as well
as the night's dim light would permit.  Nothing to be seen anywhere.
All at once Bangs thought of Blaine.  Faintly he had heard the sound of
explosions down near the earth; but whether the same were bombs, or
guns, or if any other cause were responsible the lad did not know.

"Ought I to look him up or not?" he more than once asked himself.  "No
better chap anywhere than Blaine, or for that matter Stanley either."

Circling round a wide aerial expanse while cogitating along these
lines, he thought he heard the sound of far-off explosions somewhere
below.  His timepiece showed that the hour was near three A.M.
Daylight would soon be showing.  In the far west and southwest the
thunderous roll of artillery was incessant, mingled with sharper minor
concussion of small arms, machine guns and musketry.

"That drive must now be in full swing," he thought.  "Ought I to circle
round there and see if I can do any good?  Might take a squint at the
Boche front and let our artillery know."

He was about to follow out this when another rattle from below came up.
 Somehow he felt that it might  be connected with Blaine and Stanley,
nor would the notion rest until he began to descend.

The course followed took him somewhat to the north of where the great
battle was raging in the southwest, and presently he saw quite an
expanse of war-torn forest underneath, or so it seemed from the height
at which be flew.

Then a third explosion shattered the air, seeming to rise from directly
below.  Bangs hesitated no longer.  Ascertaining that his petrol was
still plentiful, he began gliding downward, over a hamlet or two,
mostly in ruins, then over a few small fields, and at last over the
scraggy trees.  Suddenly he saw to the right a broad oval with what
looked like a battered wall around it.  It might have been three to
four hundred yards in length, by half that in width.

The dim view perplexed him greatly as he flew, not more than from one
to two hundred yards above this singular ruin, completely surrounded,
as it seemed by forest, or the remains of forest.

All at once, gliding from out some deep shadows, something came rushing
along inside this oval, and stopped.  A moment later it appeared to
rush again over the same course but in the opposite direction.  All
this dimly came to Buck, swinging easily along overhead.  Then it was
all clear to him at once.

"I'm certainly gettin' nutty," he owned to himself.  "That's a plane.
Looks like a biplane and it's trying to rise.  Why in Hades don't it
rise?  Probably because it can't."

He knew that the Boche in his Taube had gone down considerably to the
northeastward.  And the Taube was on fire.  No doubt about that.  This
was not a hostile machine, was it?  Bangs did not feel that it was.  He
had heard along that front tales of a big concrete oval, once erected
in the small Duchy of Luxemburg, close to the town of Arion, which town
was near a large area of forest.  It had been constructed about the era
when a revival of old-time Olympic games had roused more or less
interest in a modern worldwide participation in the same, as a sort of
antique revival of ancient times.  Several celebrations had come off,
notably at Athens, at Paris, and elsewhere.  Then the interest died out
but this concrete oval had remained.

After certain minor uses it had fallen into neglect.  When war came
that region became more or less ravaged, though somewhat off the track
of the main struggles.  And here was Buck hovering over this modern
relic of an old-time futility, while below him was a mysterious plane
trying to rise but apparently not succeeding.

With this train of thought, Bangs got out his remaining signal flares
and flashed one of the code signals most in use among the Allied
aviators along this front.  His pulses leaped when it was answered.
Before Buck could do anything more, there came the sounds of a much
nearer explosion somewhat off to the south, fairly jarring the earth
with its impact.

The plane below was now motionless.  All at once a series of flashes
came upward that Buck instantly understood as saying:

"You must be of our side.  If not, I'll have to take a chance.  We are
out of petrol: tank 'prang a leak.  Can you help us out?"

"You bet!" flashed back Bangs.  "Got enough so that we can both get
home again.  Who are you?"

This last query was instantly replied to from below by the private sign
denoting that the parties below were of such and such squad or
escadrille quartered at Aerodrome No. -.

Buck drew a long breath, then he flashed forth his own number and began
to descend.  Nothing more happened until Buck brought his nimble
Nieuport to a smooth standstill a few yards distant from a big biplane
that Bangs at once recognized as Blaine's.

"Well, well!" he exclaimed, dismounting and hurrying across the
intervening space.  "Isn't this luck - why - why what's the matter,
Lafe?  Sick?"

But Blaine was only sick at heart.  Already be had taken Stanley out of
the observer's manhole, had laid the lad down, pillowing his head on a
blanket, and was bending low, massaging Stanley's immobile limbs.
Stanley's face looked deathlike under the flare of Blaine's flashlight.

In an instant Buck understood.  Stanley had been wounded, perhaps
mortally, during the course of the night raid.  Blaine, being unable to
keep on his course longer owing to the gradual draining of petrol from
the tank as the engines consumed the heat, had managed to descend to
this retired place.

With not more than a word or two of explanation, Buck also set to, and
both lads did their best to revive Stanley, who had fallen again into
unconsciousness.  The deadly swoon had been strengthened by Stanley's
effort to put the last rack of bombs fully in place during the train
bombardment, as we have already seen.

They tried cold water, brandy, and also some medicine Buck produced
from his own kitbag, but all to no apparent avail.  Meantime the
explosions to the southward were increasing and, worse still, were
drawing nearer, though slowly.

"We got to get out of this," said Lafe at last.  "While I put Stanley
back in the biplane yon draw as much of your petrol from your tank as
you can spare and put it in to mine."

"All righty oh!  We got to get a move on, too.  Look yonder!"

A bluish-green roll of flame was moving along the plain beyond the
forest, showing dimly above it certain flying specks that were
undoubtedly airplanes, but whether hostile or friendly was not apparent.

"Course it's Fritzy, Lafe," was Bangs' comment who, after aiding Blaine
to stow the wounded man as comfortably as possible in his own manhole,
was already at work replenishing the biplane's tank from his own.  "To
be square, I'll divide up, giving you a leetle the most.  We gotter to
get back -- eh?"

"If possible, yes.  I don't hanker after a German prison camp.  It
would sure kill Stanley, if he isn't dead already."

By the time they had their brief preparations completed, the fire,
steadily approaching, struck the edge of an opening through the woods
and suddenly burst into tremendous flame, with an accompanying report.

"Wait, Lafe," cautioned Buck, for both were in their seats.  "Let, me
rise first.  I'll mosey towards that fire.  As for you and Stan -- you
make your get-away.  Sooner you get back to the home plate, the more
you'll be apt to do for Stan.  Stan's a bully chap -- durn 'im."

Up into the air rose the Nieuport, while Buck was thus delivering
himself.  Over towards the line of fires and the shadowy circling of
planes he went while Blaine himself made an attempt to rise.  What was
the latter's consternation to find that his plane would not rise
sufficient to clear the concrete oval by which the open space was
surrounded!

"What will I do now?" Blaine almost gasped.  "Must be something wrong
with the machinery that I failed to notice."

Another explosion, much nearer, that seemed to tear up trees within the
forest.  At the same time he distinctly saw Buck's machine circling
round and round, high up in the air, and directly over where the last
explosion had occurred.  It looked puzzling.  But Lafe had no time just
then to observe Buck's doings except that, during the last flash, the
concrete oval had given way.

Meantime the biplane was trying to lift itself a trifle higher, and
happened to be beaded towards where the explosions were occurring.

"Damn if he ain't droppin' bombs, too," Blaine gasped, then quickly
solved the riddle of Buck's maneuvers.

Without waiting further, but applying all his power, Blaine drove the
biplane forward at full speed, at the same time using both forward and
rear steering blades to assist further elevation of the prow.

"Will we make it?" he asked himself.  "If we do, what will we do then?"

Too late to consider pros and cons now.  The die was cast, either for
good or ill.  Then, all at once, he saw Buck's small triplane rise at a
marvelous speed, while from the south came several other planes, almost
skimming the ground in their onward rush.  Also, still further on, was
a confused mass that was struggling rearward, though what it could be
was puzzling.  It was still too dark to distinguish things clearly when
unaided by the fires.

A whistling, whirring swish swept startlingly near his own plane, now
at last rising high over the ruins of the oval, forty yards of which
were scattered over the earth.  From this sounded a well-known voice
through a megaphone:

"Follow me -- you -- Lafe!  Boches ahead.  Follow me -- dodge 'em."

That was all, but it was enough.



CHAPTER XVIII

BACK HOME

Blaine knew good advice when it came.  His own more cumbersome machine
having at last the right slope for rising, even in its crippled state,
did rise, and rapidly, so that Lafe was much encouraged.

Bangs, still overhead, darted forward at a startling pace directly for
the nearest enemy plane that intuitively dodged.  He swooped to the
left and engaged in the subtle, lightning-like maneuvers which so often
accompany the opposing efforts of two skilled antagonists seeking to
gain the advantage one over the other.

This, as it was intended, gave Blaine his first chance to rise
uninterruptedly and gain such height and distance as he desired.
Meantime the gray dawn was slowly growing, enabling him to see in the
south certain masses of men, disordered, yet moving with a common
impulse towards the east.  Undoubtedly they were the retreating
Germans, at last giving way before the offensive that had been launched
upon them by the Allies early the evening before.

The series of explosions and flames that they had seen dimly, from the
forest surrounded oval, was the destruction made by the enemy along the
lines of their night's retreat.  They were going back to what has
become known as the famed Hindenburg line or base, which for some time
marked the end of the now retirement of the Boche forces on the west
front.

Having attained sufficient height, Blaine turned more westward; on
account of Stanley, he was determined to make the shortest cut towards
the home aerodrome.  But here, too, another flock of enemy fliers was
hanging over the advancing Allies so that Blaine, for sake of caution,
rose up, up, still higher in the effort to avoid these new antagonists.

Looking back, Blaine now saw Bangs engaged, in fierce conflict with two
of the rearward squad of Boche fliers.  Again he admired the marvelous
speed and dexterity of his chum as the circlings of the three were
faintly apparent.

All at once came a burst of flame from one of the three and down went
the burning plane like so many had gone before.

"Was that Buck?" gasped Blaine, greatly excited.  "The other two seem
strangely harmonious.  I must see more."

Round he wheeled and sailed towards the two remaining planes that were
zigzagging about each other a mile or more in the rear.

At a speed of two miles a minute, Blaine found himself almost
immediately being circled by the first plane, which was so much like
Buck's that he at first distinguished no difference.  What first
aroused him was a roar of sound and a spatter of bullets that stabbed
his planes as the stranger flew by.

"By hokyl  It's a Boche!"  Blaine was already maneuvering to get some
shots himself when from the second plane, came a code signal that
instantly informed him of his first mistake.

"Go home!" the flashes commanded.  "Leave, me to take care of Fritz."

Quick as a wink Blaine turned to the homeward flight again.  But his
plane moved heavily.  Back again came the German, but Bangs suddenly
intruded and the two scouts were soon banging, diving, dodging each
other while Blaine, pursued his former course as best he might.

But his speed was strangely slow.  He had trouble in maintaining an
even flight, and there were more planes coming from the west.  This was
the rear squadron of Germans, that had been overhanging the Allied
advance and signaling their own men further east.

"Buck and I -- we'll be overwhelmed, " though Lafe.  "I'm growing
weaker.  What the hell is the matter with me anyhow?" meaning his
planes of course.

But before the approaching Boches could surround Blaine or Bangs, still
fighting his foe, there rose suddenly out of a cloud to the southwest a
new flock of airplanes that instantly attacked the retreating foe.

All this time a terrific artillery fire was roaring out of the east, as
the result of the Boches signaling from their rear squadron, now being
rapidly whipped into flight by the new onslaught of Allied planes.

Where was Bangs?  Just then Blaine saw the solitary Boche flier that
had first attacked him and afterwards got it hot from Buck, speeding at
a crippled pace towards the east.  It passed Blaine who, having a sheaf
of ammunition ready, turned loose upon it forthwith as it passed.

This was all it needed, for the foe, one wing swinging loosely, sagged
earthward at a great pace, its pilot working frantically to keep on an
even keel.

Two passing Allied planes each gave it a shower of bullets that caused
it to topple over in mid-air, and go crashing down towards that grim
and gory field below.  But where was Bangs?

Blaine's anxieties were deflected from Buck to his own plane which at
last turned earthward, not, crippled more by enemy aid, but - but --

"Why -- confound it!  I'm out of gasoline again.  Well, here goes!"
And he proceeded to carefully spiral down as gently as he could, no
easy job when all motive power is suddenly exhausted.

He landed in a broad shell-hole and at once began to apply restoratives
to Stanley who, very weak yet undaunted, asked where they were.

"Why, we're somewhere behind the Allied drive in what was
No-Man's-Land.  But don't you bother!  What I've got to do is to get
you back to our base somehow."

"You've been mighty good, Lafe.  I'll do my best to help by laying
still and trying to get a mite stronger."

Here a groan was heard that caused Blaine to begin to investigate their
immediate surroundings.  Nearby was a wrecked plane in which we two
Germans, one dead through the fall, and the other evidently dying.  The
dying man was conscious and had heard Blaine and Stanley talking
together.  Then came the groan.  Instantly Blaine, rushing over,
recognized him.

"Why, it is Herman Bauer!" he exclaimed, as much for Stanley's benefit
as to show Bauer that he recognized him.  "Anything I can do for you,
Bauer?"

"N-nein -- no," Bauer corrected himself. "I've got mine.  Himmel!  Eet
vas to me coming I guess -- vat?"

Here Bauer was seized by another convulsion that left him speechless,
staring and all but dead.

Blaine surveyed him coldly.

"I didn't know you were much of a flier," he said.  "Were you that
chap's observer?  Well, you must have photos, plans or something."

Then Blaine coolly proceeded to search both men, the dead pilot and the
one about to die.  Bauer's eyes gleamed with hate as he managed to say:

"Gott strafe Englander!"  He choked, panting, then whispered with his
last breath: "Gott strafe Amerikanner - schwein -- sch--"

The whisper died away in a choking deep in the throat.  Bauer was dead.
 He had paid the last great penalty.  Blaine, still cool and unruffled,
continued his search until he was in possession of all the two men had
that was worth the trouble of taking.  Among these were maps, air-craft
photos of the Allied trenches and one valuable map the communicating
transport and railway lines behind the new Tlindenburg front to which
Germans generally were retiring.

With Bauer dead and Stanley more comfortable, Blaine began looking over
his machine.  It seemed all right but for lack of petrol and wings
being more punctured and ragged than usual.

"Where can I get petrol?" he more than once asked himself.  "I could
either get on myself and join our men, or get back to the station.  But
I can't leave Stanley.  Hang it all!  What'll I do?"

Lafe was about to give it up for the present, when Stanley from his
recumbent position said:

"Why don't you try that Boche plane?  Seems like I heard Bauer say
something about petrol.  Then he swore because he could not get up.  I
didn't know then it was Bauer."

"Right you are, Stan!  Why didn't I think of that before?  I hope the
fall didn't smash their tank."

It so happened the tank was nearly all right, only a little of the oil
having leaked out through a twisted nut.  Blaine got busy and in ten
minutes he had transferred the German petrol to his own tank, and
thereupon felt, as be phrased it, quite "like a new man."

Meantime stray shells were falling here and there, but none within a
dangerous margin.  Still, it would be better to get somewhere else.

"Come on, Stan," said Blaine.  "I don't like these stray duds and
coal-boxes.  One of them might drop too near.  Let me put you back in
your manhole."

Before this could be accomplished, Blaine heard another nearing noise,
at first high up in the air.  Looking up he saw a tiny burst of flame
from a dark, swirling object that was plainly descending fast, then
faster still.

"Why, that must be a falling plane!" he exclaimed.  "It's coming down
mighty close, too.  What'd I better do?"

Apparently there was not much to do for half a minute but to watch.
And watch both he and Stanley did, wondering if it was enemy or friend,
for the burning plane was careening, fluttering -- not unlike a
broken-winged bird.  In the gray dawn they could see the pilot, still
seated, dexterously manipulating every agency that might enable him to
keep his balance without falling out.

Down, down he came, finally plumping to earth, just outside the broad
shell-hole with a gentle crash.  With this the flames burst up anew,
enveloping the crushed wings, and rendering the very nearness a danger.
 But the goggled, leather-coated masked man had already sprung out, his
personal belongings in hand, and stumbled up the outer slope of the
crater.  Suddenly he was halted by the stern command:

"Hands up -- you!"  There was no mistaking Blaine's voice by one who
had often heard it before.

"Why, hullo, Lafe!"  And Blaine and Stanley both recognized the wrecked
intruder.  "I thought you had made the home base."

Sure enough it was Buck Bangs himself, breathless from exertion, yet
full of vim and energy still.  He climbed nimbly up the slope and
gripped Blaine's hand, then stooping, greeted the still weak, yet
slowly recovering Stanley.

"I would have got there," said Blaine, replying to Buck's first remark,
"but my petrol all at once gave out.  I barely managed to save a fall
by alighting here.  How came you in this fix?"

"That's soon said.  While I was fighting that plane that was after you
and you were on the way home, as I thought, along came two other
Boches.  Well, we had it hot for a minute or so.  I downed one
somewhere along here."

"Yonder it lies," and Blaine pointed at the ruins of the other plane,
near which lay Bauer and the other dead German.  "Bet you'd never guess
who one of them two Huns is."  Lafe eyed Bangs quizzically.

"Nix!  I ain't much on blind guessing.  I saw my chap was crippled and
I went back after the other, to keep him off you.  I'd lost sight of
you, but I reasoned you'd be on the way home.  I knew you couldn't go
very fast.  Then all at once I saw I was afire.  One of my wings had
caught from something -- probably an explosive shell.  Well, I had to
turn back.  Meantime those planes arriving from our side had swept the
Boches clean off.  I saw I wasn't getting much of anywhere and I just
managed to light down here."

"But what about that chap over there?"

"Bother!  I don't know beans about him; only if I helped bring him down
I guess it was a good job."

"Better job than you think!  You remember Bauer, the chap that was
caught in the spy act back in the old station?"

Bangs nodded.

"He's one of the two over there," pointing at the airplane wreck, "and
he was alive when I heard him.  I went to him, but he was practically
gone.  Will say this for him though, he was a Hun all right, and he
died cussing us all, Johnny Bull, Uncle Sam, as 'Schwein, schwein!'  Oh
yes, be was true German to the backbone. Between you and me I'm right
glad that it fell to us to do him up, and that we will all know he got
the reward due his abominable treachery."  And Blaine nodded his head
emphatically.

Bangs walked across, eyed the dead Hun a moment, and came back, saying:

"Will your plane carry us -- but pshaw!  You're out of gasoline, man!"

"No - we're not.  Got a tank half full!"

"Too thin, old man!  Why, then did you stop here?  You didn't know I
was going to drop down, and you knew Stanley ought to be in the
hospital instead of lying here listening to you and me gabbing this
way."

"Why haven't you got some invention, Buck?"  Blaine was grinning as he
rose up to prepare for early departure.  "I 'lowed that if Bauer had
enough gasoline to get this far, if his tank wasn't busted, he might
have more.  I took what they had and was about to leave when down you
came.  Come on -- let's go!"

With great care Stanley was placed as comfortably as possible inside
the biplane, which the two aviators trundled to the edge of the
shell-hole.  A moment later, with Bangs giving the plane a downward
push, then leaping lightly up behind Blaine, they easily rose to a
requisite height and glided over the shell-torn plain.

Far away to the east and southeast rumbled the roar of battle, while
with the gray dawn, now mantling into rose pink, then red, and finally
melting into the brightest of gold, at last came the morning's sun,
leaping from its nightly nest and flooding half the world with the
day's celestial glory.

Luckily their plane was not hit or in danger from the occasional shells
that still came screaming over the lines across the scraggy war-torn
land over which they flew.  Stanley, though very weak, was still alive.
 Loss of blood was the main cause of his weakness.  Upon recovering
from his first state of coma, after sustaining his injury, he had borne
the long, wearisome ride, the spatter and peril of conflict without
complaint.

At Appincourte Bluff, where was now a base hospital, he was taken from
the plane and put under adequate medical care.  For twenty-four hours
he dozed and slowly strengthened; but when be finally waked again to
life and its daily events, there was Miss Daskam's fair young face at
his bedside.  Needless to state that Stanley's recovery was rapid under
these auspices.

Meantime Blaine and Bangs made their further, way in the plane over the
few miles intervening between the hospital and the aerodrome.

Most of the boys were away, scattered along the now advancing front but
by night some of them began to straggle back.  Poor Finzer and Brodno
would never come back.  That both Lafe and his companion well knew.
But they had died like true men, fighting for the cause they believed
in.

Captain Byers was also at the front, now many miles to the east.  But
the veteran Sergeant Anson was on hand and in partial charge.  He it
was who brought to the boys some sealed envelopes, saying:

"You chaps have been gone a goodish while.  And you've managed to lose
one bully scouting plane.  But I guess you've done your bit all right."

"Well, sergeant," remarked Blaine quizzically, "I don't know what you'd
call doing our bit.  Buck here has brought down, with my help at times,
several Boche planes.  I managed to knock spots out of a troop and
ammunition train or rather two of them.  Better than all, we helped
bring down another plane with two Huns in it, one dead, another dying.
Guess who the last one was?"

Anson grinned, frowned, then shook his head.

"Bother the guessin'!  I ain't as bally good at that as you Yanks.  Was
it any one we knows?"

"You remember Bauer?"

"That rotter what was found guilty of spyin' for the enemy?  Yes, I
knew the blighter, the traitor?"

"Well, he's dead.  When his plane fell on fire, I had to drop down in a
shell-hole back yonder.  Bauer and his pilot had fallen near there just
before.  He was cussing us all out, Boche fashion.  But it was from
their machine that I got enough petrol to fetch us three safely back.
So you see Bauer was some good after all.  Of course he was a traitor
and should have been hung."

"Well, you two haven't done so bad.  Before Senator Walsen and his
daughters left they gave me these things for you two, if you had the
luck to get back.  And Captain Byers, before going on this raid, left
this permit, together with all necessary papers for you two to go on
leave for ten days."

"That reminds me, said Blaine, fishing in his own pockets.  "Here are
some photos, maps and so on that I got from those two dead Germans,
Bauer and his pilot.  They may be of service up at headquarters."

And he handed them over, Buck supplementing them with a few he too had
taken on his various ventures within the last day or two.



CHAPTER XIX

CONCLUSION

Two days later a couple of rather spruce looking young men alighted
from an eastern train in Paris and, strolling forth in the crowd of
passengers, looked about them rather curiously.

Both had passed through the French capital before, but more as
strangers and foreigners than as ally Americans, visiting a city famed
as the center of all that is best in French history and tradition.

"Looks much like little old New York," remarked Buck, "only I don't see
so many skyscrapers."

"I like that!" said Blaine.  "I never did fall in love with fifty-story
shacks that seem to resent the sunlight down here below.  I wish Stan
could be with us, don't you?"

"Yep!  But I bet he's satisfied with the nursing he's getting off that
pretty Chicago girl we left him with.  What we better do?  Wait for
something to happen?"

"'Looks that way.  Our wire said for us to wait at the depot."  And
Blaine, looking curiously around, happened to be turned the wrong way
when a uniformed porter came up to Bangs, touched his cap and said:

"Pardon, messieurs, but will you come with me?"  And be presented a
card upon which was engraved the name of Senator Walsen.  Under this
was hastily penciled in a feminine hand: "We are waiting. Please follow
the porter."  That was all.

Buck, slightly confused, tugged at Blaine's sleeve, saying:

"Come on!  They're waiting for us - somewhere."

With a start of surprise Blaine obeyed, and each bearing his hand-bag,
they set out dumbly after the station official who had already picked
up a couple of suit-cases.

For a minute or more they threaded the mixed throngs of civilians,
officials, soldiers of all grades and many nationalities, together with
trainmen, guards, gendarmes and what not, to a line of waiting cabs,
taxies, motor-cars just beyond a series of high iron gates.  At one of
these a sentry, together with a railway official, examined their
tickets, and more important still their passes or permits.  After this,
both sentry and guard, respectfully saluting, stood aside and the
porter took them to a big gray limousine drawn up near by.  A uniformed
driver sat in front, while the porter placed the luggage in a rear rack
and climbed up behind himself.

All this was comparatively unnoticed, for the door opened and two
lovely faces peered out as the young men came up.

Just then Blaine felt unduly conscious of one or more court-plastered
places upon his cranial anatomy, while Buck felt that a wound or two on
arm and neck somehow detracted from his natural freedom of movement.
And yet neither had given the matter a thought before.  These were the
chances of war.  Chances with ladies, however, were just then much more
important.

But the two young women, charmingly dressed, were all smiles and
cordiality.

"You will excuse father, won't you?" lisped Andra, while both made way
inside the tonneau for the two to enter.  There they were eagerly
greeted by no less a personage than Orris Erwin, also on leave, who
shook bands heartily.

In the tonneau were two seats, each roomy enough for three.  As the car
started on, all chatting eagerly, Avella supplemented Andra's remark
with:

"Papa had to attend some kind of a war meeting at Versailles.  He
deputized us to welcome you., Mr. Erwin insisted oncoming, too."

"Why, this is great, great!" enthused Blaine, his awkwardness all gone
under the cordiality of this greeting.  "I always wanted to get leave,
you know.  So did Buck.  Orry seems to have got in ahead on the leave
business."

He grinned at Erwin, but Andra put in with:

"Well, we're all on leave only, aren't we, Mr. Erwin?"

"You gir -- you ladies, too?" essayed Bangs, while Erwin nodded.

"Why, yes.  We're enlisted in the Red Cross, you know, and they're so
strict about letting us off.  But we, too, got our ten days.  It will
give us time to show you boys about the city a bit.  And we're so glad
you got back safe and are in time.  Besides, tonight is going to be the
big time for you boys."

"You are right, Vella."  Andra smiled roguishly.  "Mr. Erwin has been
so curious.  He's always wanting to know."

Clearly something was up, but recognizing that good manners were now a
point to be duly considered, the young men managed to conquer their
curiosity and confine their attention to other not less agreeable
things.

They motored out to the Walsen residence, near the American Embassy,
and were ensconced with Erwin in a suite of apartments much superior to
what they had been used to of late.

The day passed.  Senator Walsen returned.  With him was the American
Ambassador and a stout, elderly, yet martial looking man, already one
of the most famous of the high Marshals of France, and now well known
in the United States.

There was a dinner of state that evening, to which not only these three
aviators were invited, but also various other French and Americans who
had more or less distinguished themselves.

At the hour appointed no less a personage than the President of the
French Republic, with several of his leading supporters also came.
Altogether some twenty or more were assembled in the Walsen
drawing-room just before the dinner hour.

Somewhat nervous, yet hopeful, our youngsters carefully prepared
themselves for what Bangs confessed was "a blame sight more trying than
any of the Boche scrimmages we have tackled of late."

"You are making mountains out of mole-bills; you know you are."  Andra
and Avella were smiling now, both doubly charming in their new Red
Cross gowns.

As a matter of fact all three lads in their clean, trim aviation
uniforms presented both a manly, martial and genteel appearance.  At
the last moment in came Captain Byers just in from the front; and with
him was Stanley, pale and rather thin, yet surprisingly strong,
considering his severe experiences.  Miss Daskam was not there, but if
one had looked closely at Stanley's pockets, the edge of a small photo
of that young lady might have peeped out.  Most likely this would have
aroused Erwin's jealousy.  Who knows?

When all were assembled and the usual round of introductions had been
gone through with, Senator Walsen rose, introducing the Marshal, and
concluding as follows:

"We not only love our French brothers-in-arms, but we know they love
us.  Our distinguished leader here," indicating the Marshal, "'wishes
now to substantially prove this."  And he gave way to the great
Frenchman, who motioned to our lads to stand up, and then proceeded to
pin on each young breast a cross of honor, bestowed for gallantry on
the west front.

Directly Captain Byers also came forward and read an order from our War
Department authorizing the General commanding our forces in France to
declare the following promotions:

Lafayette Blaine to be First Lieutenant in the new American Aviation
corps, Buck Bangs to be Second Lieutenant in same; and Orris Erwin and
George Stanley to be First Sergeants.  Effect to be immediate.  Also
furloughs granted to each for ten days at full pay.

Then the Marshal, whose command of English was limited, briefly yet
succinctly complimented them all, especially Captain Byers, who had
just come back from the line pressing the retiring enemy.

After that, of course, there was nothing to do but announce the dinner.

"How do you feel after all this?" curiously asked Andra Walsen of
Blaine while waiting for a succeeding course in the rather stately
march of the repast.  "Do you feel good?"

"I always feel best when you are with me," he simply replied.

"Oh!" she replied, and there was unwonted color in her face as she
looked down at a rose he had given her, now pinned right over her heart.

Both Buck and Avella looked quite as if they had been discussing the
fact that, after all, were they not natural neighbors?  Was not she
from Idaho -- he from Montana?  What more would anybody have?

And so let us leave them.  The war still goes on, grows in bitterness,
fierceness, cruelty, all or mostly inaugurated by Fritz the Hun.

How neat, how appropriate the name!

Let us, good reader, hope that if these young folks do survive the war
and return to their homes alive, that some of their dawning dreams may
come true, despite the Hun and all his works.

THE END





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