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Title: Flight - An Epic of the Air
Author: Franklyn, Irwin R.
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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[Illustration: “These flowers remind me of a barber shop,” he
explained.]


FLIGHT

An Epic of The Air

by

IRWIN R. FRANKLYN

Adapted from
Columbia’S All-Talking Picture by Ralph Graves
A Frank R. Capra Production

Illustrated with Scenes from the Photoplay



Grosset & Dunlap
Publishers : : New York

Copyright, 1929, by
Grosset & Dunlap, Inc.

Made in the United States of America



TO

HAZELE HARMON

WITHOUT WHOSE GENEROUS ASSISTANCE THE STORY OF THE BOY WHO RAN BACKWARD
WOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN WRITTEN



FLIGHT



CHAPTER I


On this particular chilly November afternoon, the famous Yale Bowl was
packed to its upmost tier with seething humanity, there for the purpose
of witnessing the classic football event of the season, between Old Eli
and Harvard.

Though the score was nothing to nothing, with only two minutes to play
in the last quarter, the Harvard side were jubilant, for Roger Baer, the
Yale star and Massachusetts’ only menace, had just injured his ankle and
was forced to leave the field.

These thousands of men and women, cramped into the great stadium,
represented an army of interested, pulsating humanity divided into
sides, with each faction placing their faith in the ability of the team
for which they had come to root.

Whether it was to be Yale or Harvard who would emerge from the game,
showered in the glory of victory, was a question of time, but whether or
not the men and women, whose eyes were fascinated by the action of the
teams in the field, were really alive with interest, could be told by
the expressions registered upon their tense faces—the faces of all but
one man.

Panama Williams had been dragged to the Yale Bowl by two of his buddies
from the Marine Aviation Base at San Diego, who were also on a leave of
absence in the East.

Williams’ busy life had been cramped with so many things that sports had
never found a place in his heart.

Why he had consented to go to the game, he couldn’t explain,
nevertheless he was there, in a box on the Yale side, entirely devoid of
interest or enthusiasm.

This man, attired in the uniform of the United States Marine Corps, with
the emblems of a top sergeant emblazoned upon each sleeve, was a
taciturn, hard-boiled individual who had passed through four enlistments
in the service of his country’s sea soldiers.

With the government’s aviation expansion program came a desire to win
new glories as a pilot, so Sergeant Williams, who had served his country
in the four corners of the globe, on land and sea, took to the air and
again made good.

This soldier, who found keen enjoyment in the coquetry of a tropical
native girl, the roar of a sixteen-inch gun or the intricacies of a
Wright motor, lounged in a box at the Yale Bowl, visibly bored with the
activities going on about him, and completely unresponsive to the spirit
of the play; a direct contrast to the Marine beside him, who sat,
seething with emotion.

Over by the Yale bench, the worried coach, now confronted with the
reality that his star player was lost to this game, entered into a
hurried conference with his assistants.

Each man viewed the row of players sprawled on the bench before them
until the eyes of the coach fell upon the tall, gaunt figure of a
fair-haired youth who sat, wrapped in a blanket, twitching his large
fingers from nervousness.

“I’m going to send in Phelps as Baer’s substitute,” the coach announced
at length, his words almost deafened by the roars of objections raised
by his assistants.

“Lefty Phelps?” Scotty, the coach’s chief aid, questioned, “Why, he’s
never been in a big game in his life!”

“If you put him in as quarter,” another assistant ventured, “we’re bound
to take plenty of punishment.”

“Why?” the coach asked, visibly determined in having his own way.

“Well, for one thing, he’s the nervous type,” Scotty explained, “and
it’s just that failing that may break up the game.”

The coach smiled broadly as if his assistant had grasped the very
purpose behind his idea in selecting Lefty.

“Nervous is right. His over-anxiety may get him so rattled that he’ll
come through with a touchdown!”

Lefty, of course, could not help but overhear this discourse on his
failings and, at the words uttered by the coach, leaped to his feet and
joined the little group of men.

“You have been itching for a chance to win your ‘Y’,” the coach
explained as Lefty confronted him. “Get in there as quarter. Carry the
ball around left end. You’ve only got time for two plays. Now get that
ball and come through with a touchdown! Do you hear?”

Lefty didn’t stop to reply, but darted off to the umpire with the words
of the coach still ringing in his ears: “A touchdown, do you hear?”

The whistle blew for time up as Lefty announced his substitution. Over
in the grand stand, on the Yale side, a white-haired man and woman rose
with pride. There were smiles of triumph written over their aged faces
as their boy entered the field for Yale and victory.

“Mother, it’s our boy!” cried the man. “He’s going in!”

The old lady’s eyes were moist with tears of joy. “God bless him—and
Yale!” she murmured softly.

“God help him!” bellowed the father. “Come on, Son. Touchdown! Come on!”

In the box occupied by the Marines, enthusiasm had reached its peak with
all the occupants save Panama.

“Oh, boy! A substitution,” roared one of the noncommissioned officers,
hitting Panama a resounding blow upon the back, “Number Forty-one. Let’s
see. That’s Lefty Phelps, a newcomer, replacing the best man on the Yale
team. I’ll bet that coach’s got something up his sweater. Come on,
Yale!”

At this announcement, the taciturn Panama shifted idly in his seat, for
the first time showing some sign of interest.

“I hope that egg can do something,” Panama muttered, biting off a chew
of tobacco, just as the ball was shot to Lefty, who made a terrific
drive over the left tackle, gaining twenty yards, with the ball now on
the Harvard thirty-yard line.

At the conclusion of this perfect play, the roars of the Yale rooters
echoed and reechoed through the vast stadium, with every man, woman and
child on the New Haven side up and on their toes, tingling with
excitement and shouting themselves hoarse.

“What did I tell you?” shrieked the enthusiastic noncom, again whacking
Panama across the back. “He went through that line like a sieve!”

Yale then went into a huddle, with every mother’s son among them tense
with action and nerves on edge.

Lefty gave the signal for the next play. The ball was snapped at him as
he made a sweeping left end run.

Harvard was not to be taken by surprise again. As Lefty made for their
goal and victory, he was partly tackled, knocked to the ground, rolling
over in the tussle.

In a moment, he regained his feet, but the tackle and the excitement all
about him muffled his direction and he faced the Yale side, continuing
to run toward the wrong goal in his eagerness for victory.

As he shot out swiftly on his way in the opposite direction, he wondered
why there was a clear field ahead of him, but with less than a minute to
play, he felt that this was no time to stop and consider Harvard’s
inefficiency.

One of the Yale men was close upon Lefty’s heels, shouting to him for
dear life to either turn and run toward the right goal or pass him the
hall, but the nervous, overanxious boy was deaf to everything.

Back in the stands, both the Yale and Harvard rooters were wild with
excitement, with the New Haven side roaring instructions to Lefty and
offering a prayer for aid from a Divine Providence.

To the boy, running clear across the field, the cries of the Yale
rooters were received as shouts of victory, egging him on to finish the
game for the glory of Old Eli.

With grim determination, the boy put more effort behind his race for
victory, completely oblivious to the calls of his fellow players and the
pleas of those in the stands.

The words of the coach, “Touchdown, Touchdown,” still filled Lefty’s
ears, keeping his brain and feet active and his eyes blind to all else
but the goal line just ahead of him.

Just one yard from the goal line now, Lefty’s team mate, determined to
stop him at all costs, made a flying tackle at the nervous boy’s heels,
bringing Lefty down to the ground.

Unaware that the tackle was made by his own team mate, and still blind
to the fact that he was on the verge of making a victory for Harvard,
thus defeating his own college, Lefty, with every bit of strength he
possessed, squirmed and struggled from the tightening grasp of his
fellow player, triumphantly placing the ball just over the line as the
referee’s whistle ended the game.

Lefty rose with a triumphant smile of victory beaming upon his face,
yet, not quite understanding why the Harvard men should be shouting
hilariously, throwing their helmets in the air and slapping each other
on the back.

He walked over to where his team mates stood in a group silently with
the brand of defeat plainly visible upon the faces of each man. “Well, I
made it!” he announced jovially. “You made it, all right,” one of the
men answered, eyeing the boy with a look of disgust. “You ran the wrong
way and won the game for Harvard!”

“Take a look at the score board, two for Harvard, nothing for Yale, and
you gave them the two!” said another.

Lefty, who had been beaming over with exultation and self-satisfaction,
now stood motionless, his eyes glued upon the score board and his face
bearing a miserable, abject look of stupidity and failure.

Up in the stands, a rancorous Yale freshman seemed to take unusual
delight in the misery that had befallen Lefty’s mother and father and
the tears that filled the old lady’s eyes.

“It’s Okay, pop,” he shouted, “Harvard is going to give your son a nice
big ‘H’ for his grand play!”

Phelps, senior, did not venture to reply. His heart was breaking within
him. Slowly he lifted his arm and gently placed it around the slim
shoulders of his wife, managing to choke back the lump in his throat and
say, “Let’s go to him, Mother, I guess he needs us!” Maintaining their
wounded dignity, this fine old couple made their way from the stands,
passed the Yale men and their girls who boisterously flung taunts at
them.

In the box that had been occupied by the Marines, Panama sat in
convulsions of laughter, chiding his two buddies, hilarious over their
apparent discomfort.

“Say, that guy Phelps must be a Harvard man in disguise,” Panama roared,
literally doubled in two.

“Go on and laugh, you big punk,” retorted one of the other sergeants.
“Have a good time, but remember, I bet ten bucks on Yale and five of it
was yours!”

As Phelps and his team mates made their way to the Yale Dugout, a
battalion of reporters and cameramen followed closely upon their heels,
striving to get photographs of the disgraced player.

“Come on, take the air,” the Yale coach warned the news photographers,
as he kicked over one of their tripods; then addressing Lefty, spoke
kindly: “Forget it, kid; we’ll beat ’em next year, sure!”

The coach’s generosity only tended to heighten Lefty’s misery. He ran
and buried his head on his waiting mother’s shoulder, the shoulder that
had always been a haven of comfort to him in the past.

Once outside of the great Yale Bowl, Panama stopped to roll a cigarette
as his fellow noncoms followed suit.

“I wonder what is going to become of that poor guy?” he said, somewhat
absently.

“You mean, Phelps?” asked the noncom who lost the money on the game.

Panama nodded his head and proceeded to light his handmade weed.

“I don’t know what’ll happen to him,” the third Marine added, “but if it
was me, I’d blow my brains out.”

Williams again was overcome with a fit of laughter, managing to add as a
final retort: “That’s impossible, Red. That guy ain’t got no brains!”



CHAPTER II


Alone in the locker room for more than an hour after the game, Lefty
worked out in his mind, the plans for the future.

As much as it hurt him to reach the decision, he came to the conclusion
that he would have to leave Yale, and the sooner he went, the better
matters would be for all concerned.

There was no other way around it, half the world thought him to be a
blithering idiot, while the rest of humanity would whisper that his play
was intentional, meant to throw the game to Harvard.

It was six of one, and half a dozen of the other. Irrespective of what
the world believed, the logical course for Lefty to follow was to leave
New Haven and bury his identity until his present difficulties were at
least forgotten.

When he dressed, he found his mother and father still waiting for him.

It was some time before any member of this unhappy trio found courage
enough to speak, and when the moment arrived, it was Lefty who broke the
silence.

They were seated in the rear of a little restaurant on the outskirts of
the town, near West Haven, a place discreetly chosen by Phelps, senior,
because of the fact that college boys never went in that direction for
their meals.

“I’m going away,” Lefty began, with a display of hesitance in his voice.
“I’m leaving to-night!”

His mother’s face turned chalk white and she found her hand
automatically grasping the edge of the table for support.

“Oh, Son, you can’t do that!”

“But I must, Mother. I could never bear to go back there and face their
jeers, whispers and laughter. It is too much to ask of me!”

“Then come home with us,” the little old lady pleaded. “We understand.
Besides, no matter what has happened, Dad and I want you, Son.”

Lefty’s eyes rested on the white tablecloth before him. He dared not
look at his mother, less she detect the faint moisture trickling down
his cheek.

“That’s sweet of you, Mother, but I couldn’t go on, living off you and
Dad. There isn’t a man in Bridgeport who would give me a job after what
happened to-day. I’ve got to get away. I must work and find myself.
Somewhere, some place, there is a square hole that will fit my
square-pegged personality. When I find that place, I’ll make good!”

Mrs. Phelps’ troubled eyes searched those of her own boy’s. She loathed
to lose him, yet secretly she was proud of his determination to make
good.

“But where will you go?”

“I don’t know—Europe, New York, California—anywhere so long as it is
away from Yale. I’ve saved a little money, enough to take me away and
keep me alive until I get something to do.”

“But—but you will come back, won’t you?” she pleaded.

“When I can show them all that I’m not the poor boob they believe me to
be. Yes, then I’ll come back!”

An hour later, after he had sent his mother and father safely on their
way, back to Bridgeport, Lefty arrived at the New Haven station, bought
a ticket to New York and checked his trunk through.

He paced up and down the station platform, in and out of groups of
people, waiting for the train, and passed howling newsboys who shrieked
at the top of their lungs the announcement of the latest sports extra:
“Wuxtra! Wuxtra! Read all about Lefty Phelps’ bonehead play. Wuxtra!”

Anxious to get away from the sight of human beings and the glaring,
printed account of his stupid play, Lefty hurried off, around the side
of the station, near the freight depot, now completely deserted.

Just as he turned around the corner, he heard someone approaching from
behind.

“Hey, mister,” a tiny voice called, “want a paper? Read all about the
Yale prize boob what won for Harvard!”

Lefty increased his speed, hoping to escape from the boy, but before he
had taken another step, the newsie was alongside of him.

The boy stared up into Lefty’s face, partly hidden by the turned down
brim of his hat. In a moment, the former football player’s identity was
discovered.

“Holy mackerel!” cried the youngster, “if it ain’t the guy what ran
backward hisself!”

The man, flushed with anger and shame, brushed the boy aside, hurrying
through a door that led to the men’s wash room, in fear that someone
near by might have heard the newsie’s exclamation.

When the harassed college man entered the wash room, he was relieved to
find the place deserted save for two Marines, one who was busily making
his toilet, while the other sat perched on the bootblack stand, reading
the evening paper.

These men, soldiers of the sea, would have little interest in football.
For that matter, they probably didn’t even know a game had been played
in town that day.

Taking no chances, the boy pulled his hat a trifle farther down over his
eyes and walked to the farther corner of the room, unnoticed by the men
in uniform.

“Say, I sure would like to get a peep at that guy,” the Marine perched
on the bootblack’s stand finally broke the silence by saying. “I’ll bet
he’s a fourteen carat pain in the arches.”

The Marine leaning over the washbasin looked up, with wet face and
grinning from ear to ear.

“You said it,” he agreed. “If that guy has any brains, he’ll wear a
beard from now on!”

Both men continued to indulge in a repartee of light bantering at the
expense of Lefty, whose cheeks were flushed crimson. Presently, the old
darky in charge of the wash room entered, going directly to where
Sergeant Williams was standing, buttoning his regulation blouse.

“Brush yo’ off, suh?” the negro ventured, picking up a large whisk
broom.

“Okay, Sambo,” Panama agreed, good-naturedly. “Did you see the game
to-day?”

The old darky chuckled for a moment and then replied that he had,
calling the soldiers’ attention to the faux pas made by Lefty.

“That was some retreat that guy made, eh, Sambo?” the Marine on the
bootblack stand added. “Say, I wouldn’t have a thing like that on my
conscience for a million!”

The negro’s lips parted in a broad smile, showing a mouth full of white
teeth. “No, suh, dat’s one kind o’ dirt soap can’t wash off nohow!”

Turning about to allow the Negro to brush the back of his blouse, Panama
noticed the presence of another man in the room for the first time.

“Did you see the game, pardner?” the Marine asked Lefty, not recognizing
him.

The boy moved uncomfortably in his seat, casting his eyes upon the
advertisements on the wall and pretending not to have heard the
soldier’s question.

“I’m going out on the platform and look the femmes over,” the other
Marine announced, jumping down from the stand and going toward the door.
“See you later, Panama!”

As Williams tipped the negro and reached for his hat, his attention was
again centered upon Lefty.

“I say, did you see the game to-day, friend?”

Again there was no response save for Lefty’s moving away and the nervous
twitching of his fingers.

Panama was at peace with the world now, and in a keen mood for happy
chiding.

“You must be a Yale man that probably lost dough,” he heckled. “It’s all
right, feller. Those things will happen—I lost five bucks myself—but
it’s hard to believe that guy’s silly play was on the level. If you ask
me, I think he got a piece of change from the Harvard crowd!”

At these words, Lefty’s face became livid with rage.

His play was stupid, he was aware of that, and he expected to be a
source of ridicule for the entire world for the rest of his life, but
accusing him of deliberately throwing the game was more than he could
stand.

He rose, glared at the unsuspecting sergeant for a moment, pulled off
his coat and threw his hat on the floor, crossing the room to where
Panama stood and confronted the man, to the utter amazement of the old
negro.

“You’re a liar!” he shrieked, “a dirty, contemptible liar! Take that
back—take it back, or I’ll knock your block off!”

Panama, still not realizing that he was face to face with the topic of
his conversation, was somewhat amused over Lefty’s attitude, believing
the boy’s motive to be one of school pride.

“You’ll knock my block off?”

“You heard me!” Lefty shot back, still eyeing his antagonist.

“You and who else?”

Lefty stepped back a little, ready to make a lunge at the soldier.

“Just me, do you hear, just me! I’ve been sitting here taking all your
dirty insults, and now you’re going to take ’em back!”

Panama moved closer, unable to fathom this boy’s object in flaring up
over something that was probably upon the lips of a million other people
at that very moment.

“Wait a minute, before I knock you on your ear,” he warned. “What’s
eatin’ you, anyway, my boy?”

Lefty was at the end of his rope. He had stood all and more than the
average man in his position would have taken, and he was bent upon
putting a stop to matters here and now. Besides, he wasn’t cognizant of
the fact that the man standing before him was unaware of his true
identity.

“That remark you made about me taking money for throwing the game—that’s
what’s eating me! Laugh at me for being a bonehead if you want to, but I
won’t stand by and let you call me a crook! You’re going to take it
back—you hear? Every word of it or I’ll kill you!”

Lefty made a leap for Panama’s throat, backing the Marine against the
wall and, raising his fist, prepared to crash it into the face of his
antagonist.

Williams brought his senses into action, raised his arm to avoid the
blow and, at the same time, used his left shoulder to push the boy off
of him.

The excited college man would have been clay in the hands of the trained
fighter who had faced and beaten men twice his size the world over, yet
Panama was not in the mood for whipping the boy, especially as he
realized now how much his idle taunting had hurt Phelps.

“Wait a minute, buddy. I didn’t know you were Lefty Phelps. Gee, kid,
I’m sorry! Say, I wouldn’t have hurt you for the world! Sure I
apologize, I take it all back—everything, and if you want to take a good
rap at my chin, you’re welcome to, ’cause I’m certainly due a kickin’
around after what I pulled!”

Lefty sensed the complete change in the Marine’s demeanor, noting the
profound look of self-condemnation registered on the man’s face and a
smile of understanding and apology written on his lips.

The reaction of it all completely unstrung the sensitive boy, and as his
nerves slightly gave away, he rested on the washbasin behind him for
support, his eyes moistening with tears.

“I guess I just lost my head,” he mumbled, somewhat incoherently as his
eyes avoided those of the other man’s. “Everybody’s been laughing at me
and——”

“Wuxtra, Wuxtra! Read all about Lefty Phelps’ bonehead play!” cried a
newsboy, on the platform outside, interrupting Lefty.

The two men stood silent, gazing out the window, in the direction of the
screaming newsie and his deadly papers.

“Hear that?” Lefty asked, overcome by the conflicting emotions within
him, and trying desperately to laugh. “It’s almost funny—yeah, it is
funny, the way I’ve been running away from things. I don’t suppose I’ll
ever live this all down.”

Panama smiled generously and sympathetically. He gently slapped the boy
on the shoulder, endeavoring to give him a feeling of confidence and
security.

“Why, sure you will! That’s nothing. Say—I pull boners all the time, and
in my game, it’s a lot unhealthier to get foolish than it is in
football. What’s a game anyway? You’ve got your whole life to live.
Don’t let a thing like that set you back!”

Lefty smiled gratefully at the man who, a few moments before, he wanted
to kill. His eyes then fell upon the silver wings on Panama’s chest, and
for a moment, he forgot everything else.

“Why—you’re a flyer, aren’t you?”

Panama, pleased with the reverent manner in which Lefty put his question
to him, grinned complacently, explaining that he was a sergeant in the
aviation detachment of the Marine Corps. At that moment, the door opened
and the other Marine stuck his head in.

“Hey, Panama, snap into it, the train’s leaving now.”

Panama grabbed for his hat and bag, starting out the door, and then
stopped to look back at Lefty.

These two gazed at each other, silently for a moment, then the Marine
dropped his grip and walked back to where the boy stood.

“Buck up now, trooper, and forget it,” he advised, cheeringly, holding
out his right hand which Lefty gripped firmly. “My name’s Williams,
Sergeant Panama Williams. I’m stationed at the San Diego base. If you’re
ever out that way, drop in; I’ll he glad to see you!”

Lefty smiled at the other warmly and released his hold upon the man’s
hand.

“You’ve been great! If I ever go West, I’ll look you up!”

“Well, I got to shake now, buddy,” Panama said, reaching for his bag.
“Keep a stiff upper lip and I’ll bet another five bucks you come out on
top!”

After the Marine had gone, Lefty walked to the window and watched them
board the train. He felt a lump rise in his throat and a deplorable
feeling of loneliness cast its spell upon the unhappy boy.

When the train was well out of sight, he walked over to where he had
left his suitcase. Just ahead of him was one of the regulation colored
posters used by the United States Marine Corps in their recruiting
campaigns.

He studied the illustration of a manly, healthy looking aviator seated
in the cockpit of a Marine plane, and read the caption over, several
times.

“The Marine Air Force make men,” he spoke aloud, repeating the
announcement printed on the poster. “I wonder what kind of a job they’d
make out of me?”



CHAPTER III


Six months of discouragement, six long months of faded dreams, hiding
from the world’s laughter and literally running away from himself, was
what Lefty had undergone since that eventful November afternoon in New
Haven’s great sports stadium when a football game had changed the entire
course of his life.

He wandered from city to city and job to job, meeting with some success
momentarily until the usual thing happened—someone recognized him and he
again became the center of ridicule.

It would always be the same: The minute his true identity would come to
light and the first mention made of the day he had ran backward, Lefty
would fly away from it all, disappearing to some other city, burning his
bridges behind him, watching his dreams fade while he strove to build
new air castles elsewhere.

May found him in Los Angeles and broke. Jobs were scarce and meals, few
and far between.

All at once, the Marine Aviation recruiting poster, pasted upon the wall
of the little wash room in New Haven, came to his mind.

“The Marines Make Men!” he repeated, quoting the poster’s caption,
verbatim. “Well, I’m going to give them a real test this time!”

He searched for the nearest recruiting office, successfully passed
through the preliminary examinations and in less than a week, found
himself at the aviation base at San Diego, where he was put through the
final paces and then told to wait in the reception room of the Senior
Medical Officer’s quarters for the news of his acceptance or rejection.

An hour passed, and still no word was forthcoming from within the office
of the S.M.O.

Lefty paced up and down the shiny, waxed floors of the spotlessly white
reception room, unmindful of everything about him save the purpose
behind his detention in that room and the probable outcome of his
attempt to enter the air service.

Just behind the narrow aisle traversed by Lefty, was an information
desk, piled high with charts, behind which sat a mite of a girl, attired
in the regulation nurse’s uniform.

Her abundance of thick, black hair, her soft skin, tanned from the
California sun and her large, vivid dark eyes were a direct contrast to
the spotlessly white uniform of the service.

She endeavored to center her mind upon the large volume of work before
her, though the tall, nervous figure of this man, pacing back and forth
in front of her desk, fascinated her and she could not but help looking
up in his direction every so often.

Of course, she had seen thousands of these worried boys pace the floor
in this very same room, waiting the pleasure of the Senior Medical
Officer in charge. She was used to their nervous anxiety—it was all part
of the regular routine of things—but there was something markedly
different about this boy: his manner, appearance and the way he would
stop and cast his eyes hungrily in the direction of the major’s office.

For the first time in her professional career, Nurse Elinor Martin found
herself enveloped by the personality of a passing medical subject with
just more than mere professional interest.

As for the boy, under normal circumstances, he was by no means a poor
judge of feminine pulchritude. Twenty-four hours earlier, he would have
welcomed being left alone for over sixty minutes in the company of a
lovely bit of femininity, but now, with the possibilities of really
beginning life over again, women were the farthest thing from his
thoughts.

Perhaps it was this indifference toward her and his apparent lack of
interest in her sex that fed Elinor’s imagination and made her mind so
active regarding this man, who he might be and what his chances in
passing were.

His monotonous pacing back and forth before her desk was beginning to
prey upon the girl’s nerves and she ventured at length to interrupt.

“Would you mind sitting down?” she asked in a crisp fashion, pointing to
a chair. “You’re making me so nervous, I can’t work.”

Lefty looked to the floor, shamefaced and acquiesced by slipping into
the chair designated by the girl, glancing up at her sheepishly as he
nervously toyed with the brim of his hat.

As their eyes met, Lefty was greeted by a generous smile that seemed to
give him confidence.

Elinor returned to her work while the boy sat staring at the ceiling and
pulling nervously at his hat.

Completely forgetting his offense, he rose and again began to pace the
room, from left to right.

Elinor dropped her pen and shook her head just as their eyes met again.

“How terribly alone he seems?” she thought at that moment, and her whole
demeanor changed to one of friendliness and warmth.

This gave Lefty confidence. He studied the girl intently for a moment
and then, slowly crossed to the front of her desk, looking down upon her
with anxious and hungry eyes.

“Does it look like there’s anything the matter with me?” he questioned
earnestly, “anything that might keep me from passing this flying
examination?”

“Well—er—nothing but your actions. You seem a trifle overanxious.”

Lefty fumbled with his fingers and smiled nervously.

“I—I am,” he admitted, pointing to the door leading into the major’s
office. “How long does it usually take them to make up their minds
whether a fellow does or doesn’t?”

Elinor, somewhat amused and decidedly interested in this clean-cut,
good-looking boy, suppressed a smile and replied bromidically: “Yes!”

Lefty, failing to catch on to the girl’s trend of humor, took a step
closer, earnestly pressing his questions.

“My eyes are perfect. I’m not color blind,” he announced, gazing down at
her in a manner that made the nurse uncomfortable. “You’re eyes are
green—sure they are—and they’re pretty—too!”

Elinor, slightly taken off guard, though good-naturedly embarrassed,
fussed about the desk, attempting to be preoccupied as Lefty continued
to demonstrate his physical fitness.

“My teeth, my lungs—why, I’m kayo! I’ve played foot— I’m in great
shape—splendid heart action—great——”

Elinor, unable to restrain herself any longer, interrupted the boy in
his serious discourse with a gay ring of laughter.

“Honest—Miss—Miss——”

“Nurse Martin!” she interrupted tactfully.

“Nurse Martin!” he repeated after her. “Why are they keeping me here so
long? They’ve passed all the rest!”

“I don’t know,” she replied, reaching for her pen and proceeding to
write out a report card. “I do wish, though, that you would sit down and
calm yourself!”

Lefty walked back to his chair and followed out the girl’s wishes in
mute obedience, just as the buzzer from the major’s office startled them
both.

Elinor rose and walked to the door bearing the shingle of the Senior
Medical Officer.

As her hand fell upon the brass knob, she turned for a fleeting moment
and cast a warm, well-wishing smile in Lefty’s direction that seemed to
strengthen the boy’s self-confidence.

When Elinor entered the private office of the Senior M.O., she found her
superior, a genial, old four striper, with laughing gray eyes, seated
before his desk, surrounded by the Junior Medical Officer and two other
aides.

From the drift of the conversation, the girl grasped the fact that these
men had been discussing Lefty’s possibilities and, as yet, had not
reached a definite agreement.

“No, Doctor, I agree with the flight sergeant in Los Angeles,” the major
announced. “Your argument is well founded, but simply because a man runs
backward in a football game is no sign that he will continue to run
backward for the rest of his life.”

The Junior Medical Officer reached for a cigarette, lighted it and
walked toward the window, paying no attention to Elinor who stood by the
door, taking in their words with surprising eagerness.

“I grant you are right, sir,” the Junior M.O. conceded, “but the man is
inclined toward over-anxiety. Is it safe to pass such a person for
flying instructions?”

The major smiled broadly as his eyes twinkled with tolerance and
self-assuredness.

“It has been my experience that overanxious men such as Phelps make good
flying material. When they do go forward, they usually accomplish great
things. Admiral Dewey was that type: Impressionable, nervous and quick
to act without thinking. Mark my word, this boy is the kind the
government will either award a Congressional Medal or else bury in
Arlington.”

The two officers standing over the major’s chair looked at each other
and shook their heads, signifying their views were in harmony with those
of the Senior Medical Officer, while the Junior M.O., still gazing out
of the window, merely shrugged his shoulders as a sign of complete
indifference.

“Miss Martin,” the major announced, handing Elinor a health record, “we
have passed this man Phelps, Have him report to the Commanding Officer.”

“Yes, sir!” she replied coolly, though her heart beat furiously for joy
and she found it difficult to control her emotions.

In the outer office, Lefty was still pacing up and down the floor,
stopping every few seconds to cast his eyes in the direction of the
white-tile clock that hung on the wall.

As the door leading from the major’s office opened slightly, the boy
hurried to his chair and sat down, attempting to appear indifferent to
whatever tidings Elinor might bring.

Entering the room, Elinor walked to her desk without speaking. Not the
least bit blind to Lefty’s sham indifference, she was tempted to prolong
his anxiety by withholding the happy information.

A minute or so went by and the boy, no longer able to retain his assumed
composure, jumped from his chair and darted across the room to where
Elinor sat.

“Don’t feel sorry for me,” he pleaded. “Tell me that I failed so that I
can get over with it as quickly as possible.”

The boy’s words completely took her off guard. Her eyes looked up into
his anxious face as her mouth slowly parted.

She would have loved to reach up and take this great big, clumsy boy in
her arms and mother him but her better judgment prevailed. Transfixing
her eyes to the health card, she said, somewhat absently, “You are to
report for instruction immediately!”

Lefty was so overcome with joy that he found it impossible to speak.
With a great display of effort, he collected himself and managed to say:
“You mean—you mean I passed? Gee, that’s great—and thanks a million,
sister!”

Elinor did not venture to reply but proceeded to place the official
stamp on Lefty’s physical report card, going through the regular routine
course of the service in a trained, mechanical fashion as the boy now
centered his attention upon a large likeness of Lindbergh that hung in a
gilt-edged frame over her desk.

“Great fellow, isn’t he?” Lefty said, his eyes still transfixed upon the
portrait of the national idol.

Elinor smiled as she held out the card for Lefty, replying in an
encouraging and ambiguous manner, “Yes, and he started just like this!”

The boy was quick to grasp the double meaning behind her comparison, and
as he proceeded to button his shirt sleeve, the thread broke and the
button flipped off, rolling across the desk.

“Just like a man!” she announced, taking his arm and joining the shirt
cuff with a paper clip. “If I wasn’t so awfully busy, I’d sew it on for
you!”

Now that he had passed the examination and was on the road to begin a
new and promising existence, Lefty once more found time to devote to the
opposite sex.

At the sign of encouragement visibly apparent, he leaned far over the
desk and looked longingly at the lovely girl who sat smiling up at him.

“Are you always busy?” he asked.

Elinor hesitated for a brief moment and then casting her eyes down upon
the pile of papers resting on her desk, replied: “Not—always!”

“How about to-night?” he urged.

“You’ll find the Commanding Officer’s quarters in the first building to
your right,” she announced indifferently, “and please close the door as
you go out!”



CHAPTER IV


The air was filled with planes, droves of them, flying in formation,
casting their shadows over the Marine Aviation Base at Pensacola,
Florida, like a great body of locusts.

Suddenly, a lone pursuit plane flew over the field like a majestic
eagle.

The pilot pushed the stick forward and the plane slowly glided down
toward earth, an almost human thing, beautiful to gaze upon, graceful as
a large bird and perfectly handled at the controls by an expert airman.

As the landing gears touched ground and the plane taxied along to the
place where other ships stood idle, Lefty, who was standing with a group
of newly arrived recruits, noticed the bold, red flying devil painted
directly under the cockpit.

Presently the prize ship came to a stop and the familiar figure of
Sergeant Panama Williams crawled out of the cockpit, attired in greasy,
oil-stained flying togs.

As his feet once more touched ground, he handed his parachute to a
waiting mechanic and reached into the pocket of his blouse for a chew of
tobacco.

Lefty’s heart leaped with joy for here was a friend among this great,
countless group of strange, indifferent enlisted men and officers.

Here was a man, the one person in all the world who had instilled a
feeling of confidence within him when everyone else delighted in
ridiculing his unfortunate play.

“That’s Sergeant Williams,” announced a corporal assigned to watch the
new squad of rookies. “He’s the man who will instruct you fellows.”

Panama removed his Gasborne helmet and, in characteristic fashion,
crossed the field to join a group of noncommissioned officers.

“Well, there’s a new batch of students over there, waiting for you,
Panama,” a flying sergeant announced as Williams joined the group. “More
students means more work.”

“And more headaches,” Williams added. Then turning to one of the other
men, he said, “Bring that gang of frozen skulls over here.”

In a few moments, Panama was face to face with his latest proteges.

The recruits stood in a line, none daring to look their new sergeant
squarely in the eye as Williams walked past them, studying each man and
forming an opinion in his mind as to their individual characters and
ability.

He stopped directly in front of a tall, thin, and somewhat
stooped-shouldered individual with a pasty complexion and small, narrow
eyes.

“What’s your name?” he snapped at the rookie.

“Steve Graham, sergy. What’s yours?”

Panama’s face grew livid with rage. He knew then and there that this
would be one unfortunate who would learn a severe lesson in Marine
conduct.

“Button your lip or I’ll close it for you!”

The sergeant’s words apparently had no effect upon the recruit for his
lips parted in a challenging manner.

“I’ll bet you play a great game of pool,” Panama surmised sarcastically.

“You said it, kid,” Steve replied, not at all phased by the sergeant’s
bulldozing tactics. “Do you?”

Panama’s eyes narrowed and he bit his lip, struggling with himself to
keep from smashing a few teeth from this brazen newcomer’s flip mouth.

“You keep your trap shut or I’ll teach you how!” he roared as he walked
along, stopping in front of Lefty.

The boy was thrilled from head to toe at the opportunity of once more
standing face to face with the man who had encouraged him so that dismal
afternoon in the little New Haven railroad station wash room. A broad,
generous smile was plainly registered upon Lefty’s happy face as he
waited for Panama to display some sign of recognition.

“Wipe that smile off your pan!” Williams bellowed and passed on to the
next man.

He looked back for a moment, somewhat puzzled. Certainly he had seen
that face before and the boy’s smile was probably one of recognition,
but where, when or how he knew the recruit, he could not explain and
furthermore, made no serious attempt to.

Panama was in the midst of his element. True to his calling, this
hard-boiled sergeant had a greater penchant for talking to new recruits
than eating.

He stopped a few paces back and eyed each man again before beginning to
speak.

“So you want to be flyers, eh?” he drawled in an uncomplimentary manner.
“You want to be birdies and go bye-bye in the clouds? Well—it will be a
miracle if any of you ever leave the ground!”

Every man in the line felt a lump rise in their throats that they tried,
unsuccessfully, to swallow.

Panama turned and pointed to a Martin Bomber standing some twenty feet
away as the eyes of every man followed the direction of his finger.

“That’s an airplane. Get that? A Martin Bomber and a wonderful piece of
machinery that cost old Uncle Sam about fifty thousand smackers. It’ll
be a long, long time before we get foolish enough to let you babies take
one of those things up alone for an airing!”

If Panama thought that his little heart-to-heart chat with these boys
would discourage them in any way, he was mistaken. They merely looked on
silent, each man certain of the fact that one day, they would show this
loquacious sergeant a thing or two.

“It’s up to me to make pilots of you. It’s going to be tough on me but
tougher on you,” Panama went on to explain. “But if you got guts enough
to make the grade (and I don’t think any of you have), it’ll be worth
the effort! Dismissed and report to me at six o’clock to-morrow
morning!”

The men broke formation and started off toward the barracks just east of
the landing field.

Panama watched them for a moment, then an idea came to him and he called
after his charges to come back.

When they had again fallen into line, he smiled grimly for a moment and
then explained: “When I learned how to fly, I got my education in a
Jenny, and before we could take our little Jenny for a ride, we had to
give her a bath. Now you guys hustle over there and wash that plane—and
don’t use any perfume on her either!”

As the men broke rank and started off to where the Martin Bomber stood,
Lefty hesitated, staring at Panama, undecided whether or not to approach
him.

Just as he came to the conclusion that Panama must have forgotten him
and it might be advisable to refresh the sergeant’s memory, Williams let
out a roar that completely upset the boy’s nerves.

“Over there, lame brain! Move before I come and help you!”

Elinor, along with the rest of the San Diego flying instruction group,
had been transferred to the Pensacola base, arriving the same time as
Lefty. He had seen her earlier in the day and had had an opportunity to
speak with her for one brief moment.

Now, as he stood perspiring and working over the wing of a plane with
soap and water, she walked directly by him.

Just as she passed the boy, the bottom of her regulation cape caught in
the wiring on the wing and the button at the neck fell off, dropping in
the pail of water at Lefty’s feet.

As she looked after the absent button, somewhat perplexed, her eyes met
Lefty’s and the broad smile beaming upon his face. He reached into the
pail, retrieving the lost accessory and, holding it in his hand for her
to reclaim, said, “If I wasn’t so busy, I’d sew it on!”

Elinor, remembering the incident in the Senior Medical Officer’s
reception room, smiled good-humoredly and helped along the situation by
replying, “Are you always busy?”

Lefty dropped his soap and brush, gazing down at the lovely girl
hopefully at this welcome sign of encouragement.

“Well—I’m not busy to-night!”

A mischievous twinkle shone in Elinor’s eyes and, as she started to walk
away, replied, “That’s just too bad, Private Phelps, because I am!”

“Well, how about to-morrow night?” Lefty called after her.

“Still busier!” she said, continuing on her way across the field.

“Then maybe you won’t be so busy on Saturday? That’s a good night to sew
on buttons!”

Elinor stopped and turned back, smiling, then glanced down at the large,
black single lettered vision card she was carrying. Holding the card up
in plain view, she covered all the letters with her fingers except a
large “O” and “K.”

A big, triumphant, boyish grin spread over Lefty’s face as he sensed
Elinor’s way of acknowledging the engagement, and he returned to his
task on the plane with renewed vigor.

Elinor hadn’t gone far when she felt someone alongside of her. Turning,
she found that her self-appointed escort was no other than Sergeant
Williams.

“Hello, Panama!” she greeted the Marine warmly. “Where have you been
keeping yourself?”

“Oh, places!” he said, “Gee, I haven’t seen you for a long time!”

“I’ve been awfully busy,” she explained.

“I understand. But say, I’ve been wanting to ask you—what are you doing
Saturday night?”

Elinor nervously toyed with the ends of the vision card, managing to
explain tactfully that she would be busy on Saturday. Then she noticed
the evident disappointment plainly visible on Panama’s face and added,
“You see, the sewing circle is going to meet and——”

Panama laughed and interrupted by chiding, “Well, I guess I wouldn’t be
much use at a sewing circle!”

While Lefty worked alongside of Steve, washing his first plane, he bent
over to dip his brush in the pail of water and as he did so, the leather
wallet carried in his back pocket slipped to the ground, the owner being
unawares of its loss.

Steve bent over and, unnoticed by Lefty, picked up the wallet, taking
from the inside a newspaper clipping. Opening the almost faded paper,
his eyes beamed upon the telltale headline: “Lefty Phelps reminds us of
Lindbergh—he’s so different!”

Instantly, Steve recognized the caption and Lefty’s forgotten identity
as his face became illuminated with malicious glee. Brandishing the
clipping in the air, he called to the other recruits working near by:
“Hey, fellows! Look who’s here!”

Lefty looked quickly in Steve’s direction, discovering his lost wallet
in the man’s hand but, before he could act, the others had formed a
circle around them.

“Look who we have with us,” Steve continued, pointing to Lefty. “The guy
that ran——”

He got no further than that. In a flash, Lefty made a lunge at the man,
shrieking: “Give me that paper—it’s mine—give it to me, hear!”

A short distance off, Panama and Elinor, strolling by, talking idly,
were interrupted by the scuffle and cries of men’s voices over by the
plane.

Panama became infuriated with rage as he gazed upon his raw recruits
already engaged in a brawl that was attracting the attention of every
other Marine on the field.

In a flash, the sergeant became galvanized into action and turning to
Elinor, begged leave of her society. She smiled sympathetically and in a
moment, Panama was on his toes, running in the direction of the young
riot.

Refused his own property, Lefty made a mad rush at Steve, knocking the
weaker man to the ground and pouncing upon him.

Much to the merriment of the onlookers, these two rolled over and over
again with Lefty, pounding away unmercifully at Steve’s face and body,
crying out for the return of his wallet and papers.

Panama broke through the circle of men and, once within the center of
the make-shift ring, gazed down at the two soldiers struggling just as
Lefty cried out: “If you tell anyone who I am, I’ll kill you!”

Williams reached down and grabbed both men by the collars of their
blouses, pulling them to their feet and holding them at arm’s length.

“Here, you two mugs—lay off that kind of rough-house,” he warned. “I’ll
have no war going around here without me in it.”

“He took my papers,” Lefty explained defensively.

Panama eyed Steve and noticed that the other still held the wallet in
his hand.

“Give that back to him,” the sergeant ordered, and as Steve complied by
returning the wallet to Lefty, “I’ve got a good mind to give you both a
bust in the nose!”

The group broke up as each man returned to his task, leaving Lefty and
Panama confronting each other.

“Who do you think you are?” Williams snapped at the boy, “What have you
got to hide? Get back to work!”

As Lefty slowly walked off toward the plane, Panama again became
troubled with the annoying problem of where he had seen this boy before.

He looked to see if Elinor was waiting for him. Finding that she had
gone, he called to Lefty to come back.

When the boy once more confronted him, he asked where he had seen him
before.

Looking around first to make certain that they were alone, Phelps
brought forth the clipping that had been the cause of the recent
outburst and handed it to the sergeant.

“Well, I’ll be a ——” Panama exclaimed. “So you’re the guy what ran—Say,
what are you doing in the Marine Corps?”

Lefty moved uncomfortably from one foot to the other, hoping that the
sergeant wouldn’t betray his secret.

“I couldn’t stand the ridicule! You were the only one that was decent to
me and—well, here I am, to make them all take that back some day. That’s
my ambition.”

Panama listened attentively with a sympathetic smile, a trifle flattered
by the praise of the college man.

He looked at the clipping again for a moment and then proceeded to tear
the caption in half handing back the part to Lefty that read: “Lefty
Phelps reminds us of Lindbergh,” crumpling the rest in his hand.

“That’s what they’ll be saying soon, kid,” he assured the boy.

Lefty, grateful beyond words, seemed to Panama like a great big,
inarticulate dog, but managed to say: “Gee! That’s decent of you. I
don’t know how to——”

“Don’t mention it,” Panama interrupted, and then assuming his
hard-shelled professional tone, barked out so that everyone on the field
could hear: “Whatinell are you doin’ here anyway? Snap into it and wash
that plane clean!”



CHAPTER V


Ten hours of intensive flying instruction pass ever so quickly for a
group of air-minded boys, determined to make a place for themselves in
Uncle Sam’s most important fighting unit, the Marine Aviation Corps.

With a good deal of practical aerial knowledge under his belt and a
pressing desire to earn his wings, Lefty skipped through his instruction
period plus one hundred per cent courage and ambition and approximately
seven days of airsickness.

On this particular day, the flying field at Pensacola was buzzing with
unusual activity due to the fact that several new students, just through
their instruction period, were ready to make their first solo flight.

A line of five pursuit planes were ready in the center of the field,
each plane attended by a mechanic.

To the left, a small observation stand had been built that was now
occupied by both officials and officers of the Navy and Marine Corps.

Directly in front of the planes, Panama had his squad of pupils lined up
for their final instructions.

As the hard-boiled sergeant went into lengthy detail on what each man
was to do, the student flyers stood at ease, attentively listening to
their instructor, all except Lefty who, as usual, when facing a crisis
in his career, completely lost control of his nerves, due to an
uncontrollable feeling of over-anxiety and a lack of faith in himself.

“Don’t forget your stuff now,” Panama finished by warning each man,
“Climb up eight hundred feet, circle the field and make a three-point
landing. Now remember—that stick ain’t no pool cue!”

Steve sensed that the last warning was entirely for his sole
consumption.

With a sickening self-assuredness, he left the line and strutted
nonchalantly over to the first plane, stepping on the wing and climbing
into the cockpit.

Panama followed the man with his eyes and as Steve adjusted his Gasborne
helmet, the sergeant issued the word to “give her the gun.”

Every man’s eyes followed the course of Steve’s plane as she taxied down
the field, making a careless and sloppy take-off.

“Do you see what he did?” Panama roared angrily, turning to Lefty and
pointing after Steve’s rising plane. “He forgot everything I told him.
The lame-brained son of a half-wit tries to take off before he gets
flying speed. Now when he comes down, you take your hop, and don’t make
the same mistake!”

All eyes, including the nervous boy’s, peered heavenward, watching Steve
circle as a mechanic came running across the field to where Lefty was
standing.

“Your name Phelps!” the mechanic asked, holding out a piece of folded
white note paper.

Lefty nodded and, taking the note from the man, opened it hurriedly,
instantly recognizing Elinor’s handwriting.

“I am rooting for you. Good luck!” she had scribbled across the paper.

Lefty smiled confidently as he placed the note carefully away in the
breast pocket of his regulation windjammer. A strong feeling of
self-confidence arose within him, stifling his anxiety and nervous
tension.

He looked over in the direction of the reviewing stand and saw Elinor
sitting on the narrow wooden steps, waving to him, clasping her hands
over her head in a gesture of good luck.

Once more, his own problems took possession of his mind and he found
himself mechanically rehearsing the action of the stick that Panama had
taught him, concentrating upon each different movement.

Just then a major, in charge of flying instruction, approached and after
returning Panama’s salute, called the sergeant aside.

“Are you certain that man is ready to make his solo?” he asked, pointing
to Lefty. “He seems nervous to me!”

Panama knew what this opportunity meant to Lefty and, so long as it was
up to him, he was determined to see to it that nothing arose to prevent
the boy making his last lap in the struggle for wings.

“Just a bit overanxious, sir,” he explained, “He’ll come through O.K.,
though. He’s one of the best in the new squad.”

The major looked in Lefty’s direction again, shook his head doubtfully
and, with a slight shrug of his shoulders, said, “All right, but I am
depending upon your word, sergeant. If anything happens, the
responsibility rests upon your shoulders.”

Panama smiled confidently, brought himself to attention and saluted.

“I’ll take that chance with any man I’ve trained, sir!”

As the major walked off, the nose of Steve’s plane was turned toward the
earth. In another few seconds, he was making a three-point landing in
veteran style.

He taxied his ship deftly around into position and Panama and Lefty ran
to greet him. “That was a peach of a landing, Steve,” Lefty announced as
the other man crawled out of the cockpit, removing his helmet and wiping
the grease from his face.

“Not so bad, young feller,” Panama added, unbegrudgingly.

Steve looked at them both, very much self-satisfied, and, in his usual
indifferent and aggravating manner, replied, “I’m afraid you’re right,
sergy!”

He then proceeded to unstrap his parachute and, as Lefty walked toward
the plane, handed it to him.

“Here you are, Phelps,” he heckled derisively. “You’ll probably need
this ’chute, but when you jump, don’t forget to pull the ring!”

Steve’s uncalled-for remark completely upset Lefty’s confidence in
himself. He turned upon the now successful pilot with a menacing look in
his eye, slowly moving toward him until Panama stepped between them.

“Now be on your way,” he warned Phelps. “Remember, climb eight hundred
feet, circle the field and make a three-point landing!”

Lefty climbed up into the cockpit just as Panama came over alongside of
the fuselage, followed by Steve.

“If you fly backward, it doesn’t count,” Steve added with derision. “And
remember, you’re not playing Harvard!”

Upon hearing these words, Lefty became so rattled that he was unable to
get his helmet over his head.

Determined to put an end to this merciless chiding for once and for all,
he rose and started to leave the cockpit just as Panama intervened.

“Never mind that fresh mug. Just keep your mind on your job, kid, and
you’ll show ’em all up!”

The sergeant’s words helped to quiet the boy but he was still in
anything but a calm and collected condition.

After attaching his Gasborne helmet, his hand managed to find the
throttle and the dormant motor came into action.

All at once, that ill-fated day in the Yale Bowl came back to him,
throwing his senses into utter confusion and rattling his nerves.

He turned and caught the derision plainly visible upon the faces of all
except Panama’s.

Impulsively, his hand shoved the throttle and the plane eased forward.

His face became a blank, emotionless thing as he strived to concentrate
upon the mechanical contrivances. A sickening feeling gripped him,
making him feel that he was licked before he started.

Quickly he let his fingers drop from the throttle only to allow both
hands to “freeze” on the stick as the ship continued to rapidly gain
momentum.

His eyes became blurred and his head began to swim as the plane swiftly
swerved past barbed wire fences, nurses, soldiers, some sailors and
marines and an official car.

Back in the reviewing stand, Elinor became spellbound, jumping to her
feet as Lefty’s plane remained on the ground.

She ran across the field to Panama whose face, for the first time in his
life, was a death white, dripping wet from cold perspiration.

Just ahead, in the direction in which Lefty’s plane was tearing, was a
solid concrete wall, and certain death for the pilot if he was unable to
take off in time.

Panama saw this impending catastrophe, yelled to a Marine sitting on a
motorcycle and jumped into the side car, speeding away after the wild
plane just as the clang-clang of an ambulance was heard.

Lefty saw the solid, gray concrete wall directly in front of him as a
terrible look of horror overshadowed his face.

He knew what to do and he knew what every bit of mechanism in that
cockpit was meant for but as hard as he tried, he could not bring his
hands, frozen to the stick, into action.

Suddenly all went black before him as a terrible crash deafened his ears
and he felt himself jolted forward.

The plane had collided into the wall with its tail flying in the air and
its nose buried in the ground as vicious flames burst from the oil tank.

At this same moment, the motorcycle carrying Panama, and the ambulance
close behind, drew up alongside of the burning plane with its
unconscious pilot pinned in from under.

Panama jumped from the side car and rushed toward the ship now almost
completely devoured by the flames.

Braving the flames that seared his face, hands and arms, Williams
smashed in the side of the fuselage in a supreme effort to rescue Lefty
from this death furnace.

Unmindful of his own severe burns, he dragged the unconscious boy
through the hole he had made in the side of the fuselage, almost
overcome now himself from the deadly gas fumes.

The two men in white from the ambulance ran forward with a stretcher and
lifted the boy on to it as Panama watched eagerly for a sign of life.

“Is he—he hurt bad?” Williams asked the ambulance men.

“Can’t say how bad,” one of the doctors replied, “I think you had better
hop in yourself and come along with us. Those burns on your face and
hands don’t seem to help you remain in condition.”

“I’m Okay. Just hustle him along as quickly as you can,” Panama said in
a manner of dismissal, just as an official car pulled up and the flying
instruction major got out.

“Sergeant, I thought you said that man was ready to fly?”

Panama’s eyes rested on his dust-covered shoe tops, remembering that the
major had placed the responsibility of Lefty’s flight upon his
shoulders.

“He’s been an excellent student, sir. I considered him ready to go.
Something must have rattled him but he’ll do better next time.”

“There won’t be any next time,” the major announced curtly. “We can’t
afford to have any more exhibitions such as this. He’s through!”

Panama’s burned hands and face were beginning to cause him excruciating
pain and he had all that he could do to keep himself collected in the
presence of his superior officer.

The major studied his noncommissioned instructor for a moment, then
noticing the severe burns, his entire demeanor changed.

“Why, I didn’t notice before, Sergeant. Those are pretty bad burns. You
had better report to the hospital immediately.”

Panama saluted and the major smiled, proud of a member of his command
who had executed such a splendid act of bravery.

“That was mighty fine work, Williams, in getting him out of that ship.
It took brains and courage to work that fast. I’ll remember this
incident in my reports to the Department.”

Panama smiled gratefully as the major acknowledged his salute and
returned to the waiting automobile.

One of the Marines, who had been an interested onlooker, walked over to
Panama with wide, excited eyes.

“Didja hear what the Old Man said?” the Marine asked, all enthused. “He
said he’d remember you in his reports. Maybe you’ll get a medal.”

Panama looked down at the man with a disgusted look of indifference.

“Yeah! Well, I’ll trade anybody that medal and a dozen like it right now
for a chew of tobacco!”

That evening, two flying Marines, temporarily inactive, sat in wheel
chairs in the cool and quiet ward of the base hospital that stood as a
silent warning just south of the flying field.

“I feel sorry for that guy, but I can’t help but laugh,” one of them
said, looking in the direction of the bed in which Lefty was sleeping.
“He didn’t even take the ship off the ground.”

The other incapacitated Marine nodded good-naturedly. “I’m not so good
but I did better than that. I got my plane off the ground but I couldn’t
get it down!”

His companion signaled him to be quiet as Lefty showed signs of coming
out of his long sleep.

As he slowly opened his eyes, Elinor and Panama entered the ward and
walked directly to his bed, standing beside him.

“How do you feel?” Elinor asked as Lefty showed signs of recognition,
and her hand gently stroked his bandaged head.

A look of abject pain crossed the weary boy’s face. “I did it again! I
failed you both just as I failed Yale. Oh, I wish I’d been killed!”

“It’s all right; you mustn’t worry,” she consoled him. “You’ll come
through with flying colors the next time.”

Panama tried to laugh and, forgetting Lefty’s condition, slapped him a
resounding blow on the shoulder.

“Wait’ll you see that concrete wall—you certainly knocked hell out of
it! I never saw anyone equal your speed!”



CHAPTER VI


A month following Lefty’s accident during his first solo flight, the
Major General in command of the United States Marine forces, called a
hurried meeting of his staff late one evening.

The Chief of Staff, a pompous brigadier general, who possessed an
exceptional knowledge of tropical countries due to long years of service
spent below the equator, and the Chief of Aviation, a methodical,
middle-aged Lieutenant Colonel, responded to the Major General’s summons
as did a representative from the Navy Department.

These four men, gathered together behind closed doors in typical
Washington fashion, met to discuss an urgent problem that was inciting
the wrath of American citizens throughout the country, already placing
both the Department of State and the Secretary of the Navy in a
self-conscious embarrassing position.

Far away in the little Republic of Nicaragua, a young and dangerous
rebel had become displeased over the results of a recent election.

This man, in the guise of a patriot and self-appointed deliverer,
traveled among the ignorant peasantry, calling men to revolt against a
mythical hand that was supposed to be oppressing these people.

In time, he had gathered a fairly good-sized army which, mysteriously
enough, soon became clothed and armed, declaring open war upon the
recognized republic and its administrative heads.

For a time, the soldiers of the republic waged a losing battle against
the rebel horde, whose forces were continually supplied from some
mysterious source with funds, food supplies and weapons of war.

It soon became apparent that the men fighting under the leadership of
the usurper, Sandino, were far more interested in confiscating American
property and threatening the lives of the Northern Republic’s citizens
with interests in Nicaragua, than they were in lifting the supposed iron
hand of an unseen tyrant.

The helpless president of the little republic, divided in two through a
vicious civil war, appealed to the State Department in Washington for
aid, reminding us of a document known as the Monroe Doctrine, contending
that the rebel forces were being financed by some foreign power. It also
became apparent that Sandino was not a deliverer of his people, but a
paid dupe of some great commercial and industrial group who had promised
him a free ruling hand and financial aid in return for the delivery of
the little nation.

Both the President and the Secretary of State informed the minister at
Nicaragua to attempt to end the civil war and secure a guarantee of
protection for American lives and property through diplomatic
intercourse, but these arrangements soon proved futile. Sandino no
longer attempted to hide the fact that his purpose was directed solely
at American commercial intervention and the concessions granted to
citizens of the United States by the Republic of Nicaragua.

After great deliberation and undue suffering by American citizens
through Sandino’s practice of vicious banditry, the President ordered
the Marines to Nicaragua merely to repel the constant pilfering of
American property and to guard the safety of our citizens.

No sooner had the Marines landed at Managua, the capital of the little
nation, merely in the roles of governmental police, than Sandino
officially declared war upon them, killing three of their number in a
surprise attack.

Back in the States, as word reached the public of the brutal murdering
of American Marines, both the press and the people demanded that
Washington either recall her sea soldiers or declare open war upon
Sandino and his rebels, sending reenforcements immediately.

With the official report of more casualties in the Marine ranks and the
further threatening attacks upon Americans that imperiled our industrial
possessions, reenforcements were sent south and open warfare was
declared upon the Sandino bandits.

When the Chief of Staff, the representative from the Navy Department and
the Chief of Marine Aviation gathered in the office of the Major
General, the Commander of the Marines explained the object of the
meeting.

“Colonel, I have here a memorandum from the Secretary of the Navy,” he
said, handing the Chief of Aviation a communication typed on official
stationery. “The Secretary states that the President of Nicaragua has
made an urgent request for a squadron of airplanes.”

The Lieutenant Colonel gazed down upon the official communication handed
to him by the Major General as a sober shadow cast itself over his face.

“What is the opinion of the Marine Commander?” the Chief of Aviation
asked. “Is he in accord with the President’s request?”

“The President’s appeal meets with the approval of the Commanding
Officer of the Second Brigade, now stationed in that country, who
further advises that a squadron of planes would be a decisive help in
combating the outlaws.”

The representative from the Navy Department turned and faced the
Lieutenant Colonel, interrupting with the explanation: “It is almost
impossible to suppress Sandino and his bandits with land forces due to
the nature of the country.”

“So I have been informed,” the Chief of Aviation replied. “It is a hilly
and dangerous country, certain death to any invader unfamiliar with the
lay of the land.”

The Major General rested back in his chair. A tired, care-worn look
plainly overshadowed his face. Due to the trying events of the past few
weeks, he had aged considerably. In his heart, he wished the whole
unpleasant mess would suddenly come to an end.

“Have you a squadron prepared to depart immediately?” he asked the
Lieutenant Colonel.

“Yes, sir. Observation Squadron Ten is available at once.”

The Major General smiled complacently as his mind recollected some of
the past glorious deeds of the pride of the Marine air forces,
Observation Squadron Ten. He raised himself in his chair, once more
alive with active interest.

“The Flying Devils—that outfit can go anywhere! What will be their
route, Colonel?”

The Air Chief rose, crossed the room to a case and returned with a large
map, spreading it out upon the table so that all might view the course
of his finger.

The men, attentive to detail, moved forward in their chairs as the
Lieutenant Colonel pointed to a spot on the map.

“They will fly from Quantico to Pensacola and refuel there,” he
explained as his finger followed the proposed route across the map. “A
member of the Squadron, Sergeant Williams, is temporarily assigned to
that base as a flying instructor. He will rejoin his regular unit and
their next hop will be to Havana, then to Honduras and from there it
will be only one short jump to Managua.”

When the Lieutenant Colonel finished, he looked to the Major General for
a sign of approval. The Commander responded merely with a nod of his
head as the Air Chief rolled up the map and returned it to its case.

“Any suggestions, gentlemen?” the general asked of his aides, waiting a
moment for their response.

“I believe the Lieutenant Colonel’s flight plan answers the Secretary’s
request, guaranteeing the arrival of our air forces in the shortest
possible time,” the Chief of Staff announced. “I have no further
comments.”

As the others rose to leave after announcing their satisfaction with the
proposed plans, the Major General turned to his Air Chief and explained,
“You will notify the commander of the Tenth Squadron and also this
sergeant at Pensacola to join his unit for active duty upon their
arrival at his base.”

The Lieutenant Colonel saluted and left with the others to prepare plans
for the attack upon the Nicaragua bandits from the air.

The following morning, miles away at the Marine instruction base at
Pensacola, Panama Williams was summoned to the quarters of the Post
Commandant and given the official orders received by telegraph that
morning from Washington.

His entire being thrilled with the prospect of real action after so long
a period of peace-time inactivity.

His imagination became alive, visualizing all sorts of adventures he
would encounter, striking a responsive chord in his stout heart.

Sure-footed, with sparkling eyes and cheeks flushed from excitement, he
made his way hurriedly across the field to the base hospital, where, he
tried to make himself believe, he wanted to have the final bandage
removed from his burned hand, but in truth, hoped to have a few minutes
alone with Elinor at that early hour.

Upon his arrival at the dispensary, his secret hopes became justified
for there was Elinor, alone in the large room, rolling bandages in
preparation for a long day of activity just ahead.

“Morning!” Panama shouted jubilantly, “It’s a great day, Elinor!”

The little nurse turned, put down the bandage she had been rolling and
with a welcome smile, crossed to greet the sergeant.

“Hello, Panama,” she said warmly. “What brings you here so early?”

Her words completely took him off guard for a moment and he struggled to
regain his bearings, thinking fast for a probable excuse.

“Why—er—well—er—that is, I wanted you to—er—remove my—my bandage!” he
stuttered.

“But the dispensary doesn’t open until nine o’clock,” she said
indifferently, though secretly amused by the man’s lame excuse. “What’s
your hurry?”

A look of pain crossed the man’s face as he struggled for words that
would convince the girl.

“Why—er—I got a busy day ahead of me,” he lied gracefully. “And unless
you remove the bandage, I can’t use my hand so I——”

“Never mind explaining the rest,” Elinor interrupted. “I guess I
understand.”

She led the way to a small white table near the window as Panama trailed
after her.

Following her lead, he sat down at the opposite side of the table, never
for a moment taking his anxious eyes away from her loveliness that so
enthralled him.

As she bent forward to undo the wrapping, he was tempted to kiss her
beautiful hair but his better judgment prevailed in time just as she
looked up into his eyes, speaking in a mockingly accusing manner: “Lefty
Phelps has been out of the hospital for three days and you are still
coming here for treatment! Your hand has been well for over a week.”

Panama grinned in a guilty fashion and dropped his eyes. Then, in an
effort to vindicate himself, he pointed to a small, red spot between his
thumb and index finger, still slightly bruised.

“There’s a little place here,” he explained as a matter of defense. “It
still hurts!” Elinor smiled, and without making comment, reached for a
small piece of absorbent cotton, dipped it with ointment and proceeded
to place it on the sore spot.

“I suppose they’ll be transferring Lefty out of the flying corps,” she
said, managing to keep her eyes upon her work so that Panama would not
detect any personal gleam of anxiety which might betray her secret
interest in the former football player, an interest that had grown to be
something more than just casual.

The sergeant’s other hand mechanically reached for his blouse pocket and
rested there. “Oh, I don’t know about that?” he replied, endeavoring to
assume a careless attitude, though his answer didn’t fool the girl in
the least. She looked up at him quickly, her woman’s intuition alive to
the fact that he was holding something back from her.

“Why, what do you mean?” she asked.

“Nothin’!”

She tried to smile her prettiest and, with an alluring air of coquetry,
hoped to learn the secret Panama was keeping from her.

“You do mean something,” she persisted. “Panama, you’re keeping
something from me—you know you are!”

“I’m not!” he fabricated, secretly amused. “What would I be keeping from
you?”

“You said that they might not transfer Lefty out of the service!”

Panama was enjoying, for the first time, the thrill of having this girl,
whom he idolized, begging him to unfold to her a secret which he was
keeping all to himself.

“Well, mebbe I did, but what does that mean? I ain’t the Chief of Staff
to be saying what will or won’t happen to some dub that can’t move a
plane from the ground!”

Elinor dropped Panama’s hand and struggled with herself to hold back the
tears that she already felt moistening her eyes.

“I think you’re just perfectly mean,” she scolded; “talking that way
about Lefty!”

“Yeah?” he questioned, sensing that Elinor’s interest was becoming more
than just an impersonal one. “What’s it to you what I think or say about
that guy?”

The little nurse checked herself in time, and, forcing a smile, looked
up at the hard-boiled sergeant in an assumed attitude of indifference.

“Why—it’s nothing, Panama, nothing,” she hastily explained. “Only—well,
I do feel kind of sorry for the poor kid. He’s been given a few bad
deals and——”

“I guess you’re right, Elinor,” Williams interrupted as his eyes
softened, changing his entire demeanor to one of sympathy and
understanding. “He deserves a decent break and I’m going to help him get
it!”

Her eyes brightened and her cheeks flushed slightly. She felt her heart
beating a trifle faster at the sound of the sergeant’s welcome words of
understanding. “What do you mean?”

He smiled and pointed to the pocket of his regulation blouse from which
protruded the white corner of the order from Washington, handed to him
by the Post Commandant only a half hour previous.

Not quite fully cognizant of Panama’s meaning, Elinor, with a
questioning look, lifted her hand and with hesitance, touched the
sergeant’s blouse pocket, extracting the paper. Nervously she unfolded
the white sheet as her eyes eagerly devoured the contents.

“In compliance with the above reference,” she read hurriedly, passing
over the formal introduction at the top of the page, “upon the arrival
of Observation Squadron Ten, en route to Managua, Nicaragua, you are
hereby ordered to join the Squadron, prepared for active service.

“Three of the new Naval aviation pilots will be selected to accompany
this flight as observers. Your flight orders are continued in force for
this duty. You will select a suitable mechanic to accompany you.

“The travel herein enjoined is necessary in the public service. John
Hibbard, Chief of Staff, U.S.M.C.”

Elinor dropped the paper and with excited and grateful eyes, reached for
Panama’s hands and pressed them to her fondly.

“You will select a suitable mechanic,” she repeated, quoting from the
communication. “Then that means——”

Panama smiled broadly, too thrilled for words over the manner in which
Elinor held his hands in hers. “We’re shoving off to-morrow at daybreak
for that two-by-four comic opera republic.”

“And you’re going to take Lefty with you as your mechanic?” she
questioned, as her eyes danced for joy and her heart beat furiously with
pride and gratitude.

Panama loosened one of his hands from Elinor’s and reached for a plug of
tobacco in his blouse pocket. “Yeah. He don’t know it, but I am.”

“I think that’s immense of you,” she said, with a ring of sincerity in
her voice.

The sergeant indifferently bit off a large chew of tobacco and placed
the remainder of the plug back in his pocket. “Aw, that’s nothin’. He’s
a good kid! You know somethin’, Elinor? He’s got blue blood in his
veins—an’ he’s been to college too! You should hear that guy talk! Baby,
what an awful lot of language he has parked under his bean. When we get
back, I want you to know him better, ’cause I think you’d like each
other!”

At that moment, one of the medical officers looked in and beckoned to
Elinor.

“Miss Martin!”

She turned and, seeing the M.O., rose, replying, “I’ll be right in,
Doctor!”

Panama watched her every movement as she crossed the room to her desk
and picked up some report cards. He did not know how long it would be
before they met again—if ever, and he wanted these last few seconds to
be his to remember always.

She went to the door and, placing her hand on the knob, about to enter
the Medical Officer’s room, then remembered that this was a parting with
a good friend. She turned and came back to the little table which the
sergeant was resting against.

She held out her hand which he took and clasped warmly. “You’re going,
Panama,” she said tenderly, “I almost forgot. Good-by—and—and lots of
luck!”

Williams held her hand, trying for all the world to say something but as
usual, he became inarticulate and unable to find the proper words.

Sensing his embarrassment, Elinor tried to relieve the situation by
fussing with his tie and warning him to take good care of himself,
during which time, the unnerved Panama struggled to bring forth orally
the thoughts that continually were on his mind and kept his heart alive.
Just as he believed he had found his speech, the door opened again and
the Medical Officer reappeared.

“I am waiting, Miss Martin,” he announced curtly, and then slammed the
door, disappearing back into his office.

With a hurried and warm smile, Elinor clasped Panama’s hand again and
ran to the door, opening it and entering, leaving the sergeant to stand
motionless, gazing after her.

When the door had closed again, he picked up his campaign hat and
crossed the room, intending to leave. As he passed Elinor’s desk, his
eyes fell upon the large green blotter where several snapshots of the
nurse smiled up at him.

He turned and looked back to make certain that no one was watching, then
stealthily, he reached over the desk and picked up the pictures, folding
them hurriedly in between the official dispatch, carefully placing them
away in his blouse pocket.

Once more he looked toward the door through which Elinor had passed only
a moment before. His hands touched his lips and he blew her a kiss.

Smiling sheepishly and his cheeks flushed crimson from the embarrassment
of his own actions, he tiptoed out of the room, his hands pressed
against the pocket that held the muchly-prized photographs of the woman
with whom he had left his heart.



CHAPTER VII


A battalion of Marines, attired in the colorful dress uniforms of the
service, were participating in a short drill on the field just as Panama
left the hospital.

As the men finished up in line, with the great band playing and the
colors flying, an adjutant stepped forward, holding a typewritten list
in his gloved hand.

One by one, he crisply called out the names of each student, waiting in
line, with each proud man coming front and center, halting before the
adjutant and saluting his snappiest.

Panama rested against the stone pillar of the hospital, watching this
familiar procedure, mildly interested until his eyes rested upon Lefty,
lounging on the opposite side of the field and wearing a hang-dog look.

The hard-boiled sergeant shook his head and smiled sympathetically. At
the moment, his heart went right out to the unfortunate boy who just
couldn’t seem to stop from running backward. “Poor kid,” he thought.
“Gee, this must be tough on him!”

As the first man answered to his name, breaking line and coming before
the adjutant, a pompous, heavy-set flying major stepped forward, proudly
dressed in the smart uniform of his rank, conscious of the row of medals
and citations that crossed the left side of his chest.

He mechanically returned the student’s salute, then turned and accepted
a new, shiny silver wing from a kindly, old white-haired man, whose gold
braided epaulets identified him as an admiral in the service of the
United States Navy.

The ostentatious Marine major, with a rehearsed air of distinguished
solemnity plainly visible upon his puffed face, proceeded to pin the
silver wing upon the breast of the student, whose flushed cheeks and
sparkling eyes easily betrayed the boy’s pride.

The student grasped the major’s and the admiral’s extended hands, came
to attention, saluted them both, then executing a snappy about face,
returned to the ranks of anxious, waiting Marines.

After this mechanical performance had been repeated several times,
Panama yawned in a bored fashion, bit off a large chew of tobacco and
wandered down the white steps to the field, crossing to the opposite
side where Lefty, attired in a greasy dungaree khaki jumper, unable to
bring himself to watch the ceremony any longer, was keeping busy by
inflating air into the tire of an airplane landing gear wheel.

A few steps away from where Lefty was bending over a hand pump, Panama
stopped and watched the boy for a moment. His years in the service had
taught him that the worse thing anyone can do for a man who has failed
is to sympathize with him, so assuming a careless, hard-boiled attitude,
the sergeant lifted his foot and let the surprised boy have it.

Lefty regained his bearings and swung around, waiting to confront this
new kind of antagonist only to gaze up into Panama’s laughing and
mischievous eyes.

“Come on, soldier,” Williams chided, “snap out of it! What’s eatin’ you,
anyway?”

The boy turned away, picking up his pump and returning to his task
without venturing to reply.

“This won’t do at all,” Panama thought to himself; then speaking aloud,
“What’s the matter, sorehead, peeved because your buddies got their
wings?”

If any other man in the entire United States Marine Corps, with the Navy
combined, had dared to make such a suggestion to Lefty at that
particular moment, he would have been put to sleep in a swift and
skillful fashion, but Panama, that was something else again. Lefty knew
the sergeant well enough by this time to be aware of the fact that
anything Williams might say should not be taken seriously. Besides,
circumstances had proven that this self-styled, hard-boiled Marine was
the only friend in the entire world that the boy could depend upon.

“No, I’m not peeved because they got their wings and I’m not a sorehead
either,” Lefty announced, curtly. “I wish them all the luck in the
world, only I’d like to be out there standing in line with them.”

“Yeah?” Panama drawled, finding it difficult to continue to suppress the
news any longer from Lefty, “Maybe you will be—soldier—maybe you will
be—some day.”

Lefty looked up at his friend and smiled sickeningly, then allowed his
eyes to wander back to the center of the field just as the pompous major
was pinning the wings upon the breast of Steve Graham.

“Maybe I will—I guess not! I suppose they’ll be sending me back to some
ship any day now.”

Panama bit off another chew of tobacco, still assuming his indifferent
attitude, though he found the part he was playing a difficult one in the
face of the boy’s downheartedness.

“So you think you’ll be shovin’ off to a ship soon?”

Lefty dropped the pump and sighed despairingly; “Shoving off? I’ll be
rushed off!”

“Well, that ain’t so tough,” Panama added. “If you fall off a ship, it
ain’t as far as toppling out of an airplane!”

The boy smiled at his friend’s poor humor, knowing full well that if he
allowed Panama to think for one moment that his chiding was irritating,
there would be no letting up at all.

“That’s true too,” Lefty replied. “But if I fall off a ship, I’ll be all
wet!”

“You’re all wet now, anyway!”

The two men smiled, each possessing a profound respect and admiration
for the other.

“All kidding aside,” Panama continued, now in a supposed serious frame
of mind, “going back to a ship ain’t so bad. I wish I was that lucky.”

Lefty studied the sergeant earnestly to make certain if this latest
announcement was to end in another pun at his expense, but after a
moment, he reached the conclusion that Panama was serious.

“Why, what’s up, skipper?”

“Nothin’, only I’ve been ordered to Nicaragua to-morrow morning. Goin’
down there in that hot box ain’t bad enough, so they had to wish the
worst mechanic at this station on me besides!”

“Who’s the man?” Lefty bit, not the least conscious of the fact that
Panama was referring to him.

“Who?” Panama repeated, assuming an impatient and disappointed air.
“Why, of all the frozen-skulled, lame-brained choice assortment of prize
boobs, they had to wish you on me!”

Lefty looked at Williams with questioning eyes, then seeing that the
other man was in earnest, struggled for words as he ran to grasp the
sergeant’s hands, wringing them furiously and fairly shouting his
gratitude.

“You mean, I’m going to Nicaragua with you? Oh, Gee, Panama—you don’t
know what that means to me! Honest—say, I’m so tickled I just——”

“Aw, apple sauce!” Panama interrupted, “I said you’re going. Ain’t that
enough? What do you want to do—sing a mammy song about it?”

“But I want to thank you for what you’ve done for me!” the boy
persisted.

“Don’t thank me. I ain’t had nothin’ to do with it. If I had my way,
you’d have gone back to a ship!”

A smile of understanding crept across Lefty’s happy face. He knew well
enough that Panama didn’t mean a word of what he had just said.

“Well, why don’t you tell them you don’t want me with you?”

“It’s too late now. I can’t get another man ready in time,” Panama lied
beautifully. “Now stop askin’ silly questions and get that plane ready.
We got to leave in the mornin’!”

“Are we going by plane?” Lefty asked enthusiastically. “You mean, we’re
going to fly all the way?”

Panama shook his head in a hopeless manner, and with an expression of
disgust, muttered, “In the Aviation Corps and fly? Don’t be silly. We’ll
bobsled it all the way!”

Lefty laughed at his friend’s tolerant dry humor and reached down for
the hand pump, turning back to his work on the tire in a happy,
anticipating frame of mind, while the sergeant leaned against the
fuselage of the plane, his mind wandering away to the hospital across
the field and the little nurse inside.

His hand mechanically reached to the breast pocket of his blouse wherein
were hidden the snapshots of Elinor he had just taken from her desk. He
smiled confidently, reached into his pocket, removed the photographs and
gazing down upon the laughing eyes of the lovely girl, his entire manner
softened under the spell cast over him by her likeness.

For the want of someone to confide in, he turned to Lefty and asked,
“Hey, bozo, have you got a girl?”

Phelps dropped his pump and raised himself, casting a hurried glance in
the direction of the hospital and smiling confidently. “Yes—that is, I
think so.”

Panama showed signs of interest and understanding in the romance of his
fellow man. “Is she good-looking?”

“Great!”

Williams had his doubts concerning this. “No woman in the world could
possibly be as pretty as Elinor,” he assured himself, though tactfully
refraining from saying so aloud, adding instead, “Well, if you got a
girl and she knows it, you’d better say good-by to her ’cause I just
said good-by to mine!”

“You don’t mean to tell me you’ve got a sweetheart?” Lefty asked,
tickled silly over this opportunity of gaining a chance to chide Panama.
“Is it possible?”

“Well, I should hope to cough in your mess kit, I have,” Williams
announced with no attempt to shield his indignation. “What do I look
like—somethin’ that would scare away the women and babies?”

“To be honest with you,” Lefty replied, struggling to keep a straight
face, “I should say, yes—also the old folks as well as the women and
babies!”

“I’d like to punch you in the nose,” Panama roared, then holding up the
snapshots, changed his mind and said, “Come here, useless, and lamp
these! Ain’t she a peach!”

Lefty came closer and took the photos in his hands, examining them
closely as he felt his heart heating away furiously. He looked up at
Panama with uncertainty, struggling to hide his apparent concern. “Is
this your girl?”

Panama grinned broadly, throwing out his chest and looking down at Lefty
with self-confidence, believing that he had succeeded in redeeming his
self-respect insofar as being an attraction for the opposite sex was
concerned.

“You see, I ain’t so hard to look at,” he added, boastfully. “There are
some people who say we’ll be gettin’ married some day, if I ever get the
nerve to ask her.”

Lefty forced himself to smile generously as he slapped his friend on the
back in a good-natured fashion.

“Why don’t you ask her—are you afraid!”

“Not exactly, only—well—I don’t know how to put the right kind of words
together. Gee—if I only had your lingo—we’d of probably been married
long ago! You know, somethin’! I didn’t even have the crust to ask her
for these pictures! Yes, sir, I had to wait until she was gone and swipe
’em!”

From the moment that Lefty grasped the fact that Panama was in love with
the same girl whom he idolized, the boy’s heart sunk within him.

He realized that all was fair in love and war—but not in this case when
the other man was his best friend. Besides, he tried to tell himself, he
had no right to even think of Elinor so long as Panama wanted her. He
knew her first, and then again, maybe she really loved the sergeant
and—no, that couldn’t be so, but the one thing vividly certain was the
fact that Panama had befriended him when the rest of the world had
turned their backs. Surely he owed this man something for that alone.

He stood by, silently, fumbling the snapshot carelessly as he allowed
the entire matter to turn over in his mind, reflecting upon what course
to pursue. Panama noticed the way Lefty was handling the snapshot and
pulled it away from him, saying, “Be careful of that—you act as if it
was yours!”

“I’m sorry,” the boy apologized, as Panama carefully put the photograph
away again in his breast pocket.

“That’s Okay. Now get busy on the plane. I gotta pack. See you later!”

Panama walked away toward the barracks, leaving the boy alone, looking
after him just as an orderly approached, bearing a communication from
the Post Commandant.

Lefty tore open the envelope and his eyes fell upon a sheet of official
paper upon which was typed flying orders for the Tenth Squadron.
Hurriedly he read through the difficult routine wording until he reached
the last paragraph where he rested his eyes, reading over the closing
lines again and again.

“You are assigned to Sergeant Williams,” it explained, “as his mechanic
as per his request.”

As he carefully folded up the paper and placed it in his pocket, his
eyes became moist and he felt a lump rising in his throat.

He looked off to his right and saw Panama crossing the field in the
direction of the barracks. A broad smile of grateful appreciation
lighted Lefty’s troubled face, realizing now what Panama had done for
him.

Suddenly he became aware of the terrible breach that might arise between
him and this man because of a woman whom they both loved. He remembered
Panama’s explanation about the snapshots and how he had to take them
when Elinor wasn’t there.

“She must mean everything to him,” he thought. “She’s all he’s got while
I—” Then he suddenly thought of something else as his hand mechanically
reached for his leather wallet. Opening it, he brought out a snapshot of
a girl, a lovely girl with a profusion of dark hair and beautiful wide
eyes that laughed up into his.

The picture was Elinor’s and an exact duplicate of the one Panama had
shown him only a few moments before.

He studied the picture and the face of the girl upon it, reading over
several times the inscription across the bottom written in her own
handwriting: “To Lefty, the Best Patient I Ever Had, Elinor.”

He gazed upon these words that had given him so much to hope for when he
first read them only an hour previous, then he looked pensively upon the
features of the writer, considering the happiness of all concerned.

He lifted his head and looked after Panama, his eyes clear now with
determination as he slowly tore the picture into small bits, letting the
pieces fall from his hand, one by one.



CHAPTER VIII


As the grim shadows of night disappeared to make way for a cold, gray
dawn, the silhouettes of nine pursuit planes and the silent figures of
many ground men working busily about the ships could be seen on the
field at Pensacola.

Save for the whirr of airplane motors, some going while others were just
being started, a grim, foreboding silence prevailed as the mechanics and
ground men worked swiftly to service the ships about to start on a long
journey within the next half hour.

Officers and men, attired in regulation flying togs, stood together in
small groups, some smoking, others chewing gum, all of them silently
waiting for the moment to enter their cockpits and take off, perhaps on
the last air voyage any of them would ever make.

Orderlies moved about with grim, determined faces, heavily laden with
the luggage of their superiors, deaf to the usual heckling of the
enlisted men, who never pass up an opportunity to yell, “dog robber,”
when seeing an orderly perform some menial task.

Some of the officers and men who had friends and relatives in Pensacola,
were making the rounds, shaking hands and patiently listening to fond
farewells, don’t-forget-to-write warnings and the usual bon-voyage
ceremonies that are such an important part of all types of
leave-takings.

As the base buglers sounded the preliminary calls at a quarter to six,
the pilots and observers hurried to their planes, and with the
assistance of mechanics and ground men, put on their parachutes and
adjusted their Gasborne helmets, at the same time, supervising the
last-minute loading of personal baggage.

A sharp note was sounded by a bugler and someone crisply yelled,
“Attention.” All the men on the field turned their eyes center, lifting
their bodies and heads and throwing back their shoulders as the senior
Marine officer and the flight commander came upon the scene of activity,
accompanied by their respective aides.

An adjutant called, “As you were” after the two officers had returned
the salutes of the pilots and observers, and the buzz of activity,
laughter and flip talking was again resumed with greater zest.

“The Aerological Officer reports that you will have a good ceiling to
Havana,” the senior Marine officer announced, as he accompanied the
flight commander to his plane, the first one in line, bearing the red
replica of Satan, the insignia of the Tenth Air Squadron, “though you
may run into rain over Yucatan.”

The flight commander smiled as he hurriedly cast his clear, narrow blue
eyes over the line of pilots and observers standing by their planes,
waiting for the word to go.

“It will take more than rain to stop these anxious playmates of Satan!”

Both men joined in hearty laughter over this prophecy, each knowing full
well the courage of Marine flyers, especially members of the Tenth
Squadron, who lived up to every tradition of the service and the
flattering legends spread throughout the land concerning their especial
deeds of glory and bravery.

Panama and Lefty paid little attention to the noisy activity now going
on about them. They had been too occupied since Reveille to even speak
to each other, and now they were frantically working away to load the
last bit of equipment into their plane.

Large beads of perspiration trickled down their faces and their
breathing was deep and quick as they bent over to throw the final piece
of baggage into the ship.

“Well, that’s that!” Panama announced as he straightened himself and
rubbed his back to ease a sharp pain just above the base of his spine,
“another fifteen minutes and we’ll be in the air.”

Lefty smiled broadly with anticipation as he unwrapped a slice of
chewing gum and looked about to see who was among those preparing to
leave.

As he turned to his right, his eyes met those of Steve Graham’s.

The ostentatious Graham, decidedly pleased with himself, purposely
polished off his silver wings with the palm of his hand for no other
reason than to make Lefty conscious once more of his failure to pass the
solo test.

“Wish you had a pair?” he yelled over to Phelps, mockingly. “Though if
you got them, you’d probably put them on backward!”

Lefty made a quick move in the direction toward Steve, determined to
close this obnoxious pilot’s mouth for once and for all, but Panama
intervened by stepping in front of him.

“Keep your shirt on! Do you want to be sent to the brig?” he whispered,
then looking over his shoulder, called aloud to the annoying Marine:
“Better not polish them wings too often, Graham. You’re liable to wear
off the design!”

This final retort was precisely the thing necessary to end the oral
barrage of hostilities. Steve’s face flushed and he scowled menacingly,
attempting to think of something mean to say, but as a clever answer
failed him, he turned his back to the two men, consoling himself in the
philosophy that arguing with a flight sergeant might prove a foolish
thing to attempt under present circumstances.

Lefty made no attempt to refrain from laughing boisterously. He cast a
grateful glance in Panama’s direction, and then busied himself about the
plane, making certain that everything was in tiptop shape, ready for the
long hop without a flaw.

Near the great hangar, just to the rear of where the waiting planes were
lined, the wind was playing havoc with the thick, dark hair of a hatless
girl and the blue regulation nurse’s cape she wore, showing a
spick-and-span white uniform beneath every time a gust of wind lifted
the blue serge.

Elinor’s eyes were searching the field for a glimpse of two familiar
figures as she ran in and out in a zigzag fashion, between men and
planes until she spied Lefty and Panama far down in the line, near the
ship of the flight commander.

She hurried down the field, struggling to brush back her hair and keep
her cape closed with one hand, while in the other, she held two packages
neatly wrapped in white paper.

Reaching the fuselage of a plane a little away from where Panama and
Lefty were standing, she stopped and attempted to catch the boy’s eyes
without Panama becoming cognizant of her presence. Her efforts were
without avail, for just as she waved her hand, Williams turned about and
caught sight of her instantly.

Seeing the girl at that early hour thrilled the sergeant to the tips of
his toes and his face lighted up with a look of joy and surprise over
this unexpected pleasure.

He waved back to her, believing that her salutation was meant for him,
and then turning, slapped Lefty upon the back and yelled, “Look! There’s
Elinor! Jumpin’ cats, she got up in the middle of the night to say
good-by to me!”

Lefty pretended not to hear as he toyed with the hub of one of the
landing gear wheels, though he felt his heart beating faster at even the
very mention of the girl’s name.

Panama gazed at him in bewilderment, not quite comprehending the boy’s
indifference, and then repeated his original announcement of Elinor’s
arrival.

Phelps responded by rising, and without even glancing in the direction
Elinor was approaching, walked around the side of the plane and climbed
up into the rear cockpit to examine the machine gun. A sickening feeling
came over him as cold beads of perspiration moistened his forehead.

He felt a dull, terrible thud in his heart over the prospect of having
to again face Elinor after what Panama had confided to him only the
afternoon previous.

When she gave him her photograph the morning before, he had promised to
see her that night and go into town to a movie, but after what Williams
had told him, it was too great a temptation to even as much as trust
himself now in her company. He loved her as he had never loved any
woman. From the very first moment he had set eyes upon her back in San
Diego the day he passed his medical test, his head had been filled with
dreams of a pleasant future spent with this girl as his life’s partner.
Now that Panama admitted harboring the same hopes, Lefty firmly believed
that it was his duty to step aside and concede his place to the man who
had not alone befriended him, but saved his life at the risk of his own.

As for Elinor, she was unable to understand Lefty’s sudden reversal of
mind and heart, and a pained expression of keen disappointment
overshadowed her lovely countenance as she noted the boy’s puzzling,
indifferent attitude of plainly ignoring her.

Panama rushed forward to greet the girl with a broad smile of welcome,
forgetting himself for the moment and clasping her in his arms, then
blushing furiously as he realized the forward step he had made.

Elinor helped to relieve his embarrassment by ignoring his bold action
and greeting him with a warm, “Hello,” while Lefty, still seated in the
cockpit, experienced a mingled feeling of nervousness and slight
jealousy, as he struggled to pretend that he was still unaware of her
arrival.

“Gosh, Elinor!” Panama bellowed with jubilant enthusiasm, “it was mighty
nice of you to get up so early just to say good-by to me!”

The pretty nurse’s lips parted in a warm and generous smile, at the same
time, casting a hurried and nervous glance in Lefty’s direction, whose
back was still turned toward her.

“I couldn’t see either of you boys go away without saying good-by,” she
replied in a tone unmistakably loud enough so that Lefty could not help
but hear. Then she glanced down and held out one of the neatly wrapped
packages she had been carrying. “Here’s a little something for you so
that you won’t forget me!”

Panama looked with longing and surprised eyes at the package and then at
Elinor. He stumbled from one foot to the other, tried to speak but
somehow couldn’t find the words, and then, with hesitance, lifted his
hand and accepted the box.

“Gee, this is swell! Oh, boy—I didn’t think you’d remember me like
this!” He turned about, grinning from ear to ear, and looked up at
Lefty, shouting, “Hey, kid! Look what Santa Claus just brought me!”

Still making a sincere attempt to avoid any direct meeting with Elinor,
the boy merely looked over his shoulder with his eyes trained just above
the nurse’s head and smiled at Panama, quickly resuming his work again
on the machine gun.

This latest action of Lefty’s left no doubt in Elinor’s mind that
he was intentionally avoiding her, and the consciousness of his
inexplainable attitude hurt her terribly. Her mind became a befuddled
center of unanswerable and annoying questions that she struggled to
fathom out, though finally giving up the task with regret just as
Panama, in an embarrassed fashion, began to stutter incoherently,
“I—well—er—ahem—er—if I could manage to write a couple of letters,
will you—er—do you think you’ll find time to read ’em?”

Elinor was deeply touched by the man’s sincerity. Her heart went out to
him with understanding; for the moment allowing her to forget Lefty and
his puzzling attitude.

“You know I’ll read every word you write,” she replied, encouragingly,
“and I’ll answer your letters too, you big silly!”

With such encouragement, Panama might have asked Elinor then and there
to marry him. At least, for one brief moment, he found courage enough to
pop the question, but as the words came to his lips, he heard a familiar
voice from behind him call his name. Turning, he recognized the flight
commander, and without further hesitance, came to attention, saluted and
joined his superior officer, walking off with him and leaving Elinor
standing alone.

Once more alone, the puzzled nurse again turned her attention to Lefty,
seated in the plane, adamant as ever in his determination to ignore her.

She hesitated for a moment and then walked over to the side of the
plane, gazing up at him with a bewitching smile that completely took the
boy off his guard.

As he looked down at this girl, a sweet and appealing figure whose hair,
skirt and cape fluttered in the wash of the plane’s propeller, a feeling
of uneasiness gripped him, impressing indelibly upon his mind and heart
that he loved her—more than all the world.

She lifted her hand that still held the other package, mutely signifying
to the boy to accept the gift. The result was perfect. Conscious of her
thoughtfulness, the barrier he had raised so high between them,
instantly melted away as he reached over the side of the fuselage and
took the box, his hand touching hers for one brief moment, electrifying
the hearts of both.

“My, but you’re a busy person,” she said, assuming an air of
self-injury.

Lefty’s face shaded with a frown, then mimicking the girl’s injured
tone, looked off in the direction of where Panama and the flight
commander stood talking, replying curtly, “Well, I notice that you’ve
been kind of busy yourself!”

At loss to understand the boy’s sudden change of attitude again, Elinor
held out her hand in a manner of farewell and said, “Well, I hope you
have a safe voyage and—good-by!”

He gazed down at her for a moment and then took her slim hand in his,
pressing it gently and making no attempt to hide the thrill even this
slight contact gave him.

She responded with an inviting and tender look that made him forget
every promise he had made to himself. For one brief moment, he and this
girl were the only two people in the entire world and it was inevitable
that the first thought that came to his mind was to hop out of the
plane, hold her tightly in his arms and shower her lovely, tempting lips
with kisses.

All at once, he boldly awoke with the annoying realization that he was
selfishly enacting a love scene with his dearest friend’s girl, and
Panama only a stone’s throw away from them. Much to Elinor’s
bewilderment, Lefty quickly assumed a belligerent attitude, saying, “Why
did you have to come down here this morning?”

For the moment, his thoughtless words cut straight through to her heart,
bringing a faint sign of tears to her eyes; then all at once, something
within her instinctively lifted the shroud of mystery that enveloped
Lefty and she saw right through him, completely understanding his
purpose of assumed indifference.

As they both stood silently gazing at each other, Elinor was turning
over the problem in her mind whether or not it might be best to inform
Lefty exactly how she felt toward Panama, when the sergeant came
bursting in upon them in a mad hurry to get away.

Without even glancing up at the boy again, Elinor shook hands with
Panama, called out a cheery farewell and ran off to join a group of
nurses who stood near by, watching the spectacular take-off.

The large siren atop of the central hangar blew shrilly and with it came
the mingled shouts of men and a renewed bustling activity through the
line of planes, the motors of which were all purring with a deafening
roar now.

Panama climbed up into the cockpit, smiling triumphantly and waving with
enthusiasm to Elinor. He turned and slapped Lefty on the back in a
jubilant mood, pointing to where the girl was standing. “See that, boy,”
he announced boastfully. “Don’t you wish you had a girl like her?”

Lefty threw off Panama’s hand disgustedly without making comment and
dropped down in his seat, strapping on his helmet and pulling the large
Visionaire goggles over his eyes just as the sound of the bugle to take
off came to the ears of all.

A wild shout arose from the men seated in the line of planes as each
pilot exultantly gave his ship “the gun,” taxiing down the great field
into formation, waiting a moment for the final sign from the commander.

The flight commander, in the first plane, rose and looked down the line
of ships, making certain that formation had been made and all were
accounted for.

He lifted his arm, which was a signal for every other pilot to do the
same. Making certain that the way was clear, he dropped his hand, giving
his plane the gun, and the great, crusading air fleet began to taxi down
the field with a deafening roar of the motors and swiftly moving
propellers.

As the planes gained altitude, Panama, still wearing a jubilant
expression of victory, looked out over the fuselage and waved down to
Elinor who was still standing, with upturned head, watching the progress
of the ships.

The sergeant turned and motioned to Lefty to look down but the boy,
understanding his object in requesting him to do so, merely scowled
sullenly and kept his eyes straight ahead.

Flying south, the planes fell into battle formation, creating a
beautiful spectacle to view from the earth far below just as the sun
rose, spreading its majestic glory and warmth over a bright and gorgeous
Florida morning.

After reaching his flying altitude, Panama held the stick with his knees
as he nervously unwrapped the package Elinor had given to him before he
left, his eyes eagerly resting upon some candy, a few packages of
cigarettes and a large plug of chewing tobacco on top of which he found
a note that read, “Good luck—Elinor.”

In the rear cockpit, Lefty followed suit by opening his package and
discovering a small sewing kit with some buttons and a copy of
Lindbergh’s book, “We.”

A small white card protruded from the corner of the book and with some
hesitance, Lefty pulled it out and read the words that completely upset
his emotions, causing him to wish that he had left Elinor in a different
frame of mind, and yet, troubling him over the fact that this romance,
if it didn’t end for once and for all, might break Panama’s heart.

The sergeant looked back at Lefty, still wearing a broad, happy grin as
he held up Elinor’s gift, he allowed the boy to read the note.

Phelps nodded his head, attempting to smile unbegrudgingly. Panama then
placed the box out of sight, folding the note and carefully putting it
away in the pocket of his windjammer.

The boy shook his head despairingly, sighed deeply and once more
unfolded the small piece of white paper upon which the girl had
scribbled: “I’ll miss you—Elinor.”

Once again he read those few lines and the world of happiness they
promised if he only dared so much as say the word.

He watched Panama, now skillfully manipulating the plane. A sudden
feeling of security and warmth came upon him and he gazed at the man
before him with honest gratitude and an undying vow of devotion and
friendship upon his lips.

Slowly he folded Elinor’s note and tore it in two, dropping the pieces
overboard to be separated and lost forever.



CHAPTER IX


The blazing, tropical sun beat down unmercifully upon the heads of a
squad of Marines, under the command of a top sergeant, as they made
their way slowly and with uncertainty over an impassable mountain path
to the flat, barren valley below.

Dusty, dog-tired and filthy with grime, the worn-out soldiers of the sea
struggled along over roughshod ground, dragging two stubborn pack mules
behind them. The men were unhappy victims of a powerful sun, casting its
dangerous heat waves over their unprotected persons, and a miserable,
dirty, unfamiliar country of treacherous, dark-skinned men and cruel
mountain passages.

As the squad and their silent, stout and puffing sergeant reached the
base of the mountain, one of the men let himself fall against the trunk
of a huge palm tree with large, welcome leaves that completely shaded
the ground beneath. He reached into his pocket and pulled out a small
package of tobacco and some cigarette papers, proceeding to roll himself
a smoke as the other men sat down beneath the tree, following suit.

“What d’ya guys wanna bet there ain’t no such guy as Sandino?” the
Marine leaning against the tree announced. “We’ve been walkin’ all over
this gosh-forsaken country for the past three weeks and we ain’t seen
nothin’ but bugs, filthy natives and fat, ugly, barefooted women
carrying squalling brownskin brats!”

A mean scowl overshadowed the face of the short-winded and wide-of-girth
sergeant. “Listen here, shackle-brain, do you think them guys up in
Washington would send us all the way down here if there was no lunk like
Sandino goin’ around and shootin’ up things?”

“Yeah! Ain’t you read about the leathernecks what was shot by this here
greaser?” a little, sandy-haired, freckled-faced Marine, sprawled out on
the ground, added: “An’ how all them Americans what is in business down
here had their dumps blown up?”

“Aw—that a lot of boloney!” insisted the skeptic against the tree.

“What’s a lot of boloney?” another Marine asked.

“A string of sausages,” replied the sergeant, and the entire squad
roared with laughter.

“You guys kin think what youse please but for me, I still say there
ain’t no Sandino!” the first Marine reiterated, “an’ there ain’t no
other bloke around this country what wants to fight us!”

A tall, lanky leatherneck, who had been watering the pack mules,
shuffled over to the others. “Say, what do you think the Secretary of
the Navy sent you down here for if there ain’t no Sandino?”

“Sure, what are we here for?” another interrupted, “to escape the snow
up north this winter?”

“I don’t know!” the first Marine admitted as he allowed himself to slide
to the ground, gazing longingly at his large, hobnailed shoes, “but, oh,
boy, how my dogs are barkin’!”

“Mine too,” the sergeant announced with a look of pain upon his face,
“they keep talkin’ to me all the time!”

Just then, a large, ugly, tropical ant crawled from the bark of the
shady tree to the shoulder of the first Marine. One of the men sitting
near by saw the man-sized insect and leaned over, slapping it off his
buddy’s neck before any damage could be done.

“I’d rather have a million mosquitoes eat off of me than be bitten by
one of them there man-eating ants!”

The others, now grouped about in a circle, nodded their heads in accord
as their eyes wandered over the tree trunk in search of more pests.

“Oh, gee, I wish I wuz in Coney Island,” the sandy-haired Marine
announced with a sigh, suddenly becoming the target for a lot of small
stones aimed at him by his buddies.

“One more crack like that,” warned the sergeant, “and I’ll punch you in
the nose!”

An uncomfortable silence fell upon the little band as each man gazed at
the other with a bored look of disgust. Three weeks in a broiling desert
sun, three weeks together, searching for a promise of activity that
didn’t materialize; three weeks of walking, scratching, eating canned
food and drinking bad-tasting water; sleeping in the open, preys to
hordes of insects of all descriptions had made these men literally hate
each other. At the slightest provocation, they would fly into a rage,
calling every vile and profane name in the vocabulary of a trooper,
sometimes actually mixing in nasty brawls that would leave marks upon
their faces and bodies; added hurts to their already over-abused
persons.

Being men of small vision and slight education, their most difficult
tasks were to find interesting things to talk about. In the beginning,
it had been yarns of past deeds and great battles in which they had
played parts. This soon became monotonous, also creating much envy and
ill feeling.

After the first week had passed, one of the leathernecks produced a
picture of his girl back in Brooklyn. This inaugurated a series of tales
concerning various love conquests in every part of the globe, but alas,
every man finally told and retold his personal escapades as Don Juan so
there was nothing left to talk about except their present, trying
conditions and the individual complaints of all.

Misery may love company but not for any great length of time. Soon, each
man was hating the other because he was certain that his hurts were the
worst and the other fellow’s complaint, only the whining of a “yellow
egg.”

At the time these nine, weary soldiers arrived at the base of Los Agualo
Mountain, matters were in a pretty dangerous state of affairs. It was
another two days’ walk back to Managua, and if something didn’t arise to
relieve the present state of monotony, it was not unlikely that they
would end up by slaughtering one another.

A familiar noise was heard coming from the sky as each man sat up
instantly with ears trained, looking to each other to see if the purr
from above was real or just the machinations of a mind going loco from
exposure to the sun.

They shaded their eyes from the blinding glare of the sun with their
hands and gazed heavenward, searching the clear blue sky for huge, dark
objects flying toward the south and Managua.

At that moment, two thousand feet above, the planes of the Tenth Marine
Aero Squadron appeared over the ridge of Los Agualo, flying in the
direction of the capital in battle formation.

“It’s the Marines—our planes!” shouted the sergeant, jumping to his feet
and waving his hands frantically above his head as the others rose and
followed suit.

“Them’s the planes what dey told us wuz coming,” the tall, lanky
leatherneck yelled enthusiastically.

“Do you think they see us down here?” the little, sandy-haired Marine
asked the big fellow who was standing alongside of him.

“Sure they do! Don’t we see them?”

“Well,” the undersized leatherneck answered doubtfully, “why don’t they
do something?”

“Whatinell do you want ’em to do—step out on the wings and throw kisses
at you?”

Two thousand feet above ground, in the plane piloted by Panama, the
sergeant and his mechanic, with faces grimed from oil and smoke, peered
over the side of the ship, resting their eyes for the first time upon
the hilly country below.

Panama held the joy stick between his knees as he took out a small white
pad from the pocket of his windjammer and scribbling a note upon it,
passed the message back to Lefty.

“So this is Nicaragua?” Lefty read. “Don’t look so tough to me.”

Panama looked back for a reply as Lefty wrote below the sergeant’s
message, “I’m afraid this war is a joke!”

The two men exchanged knowing smiles as Panama bit off a large chew of
tobacco and Lefty continued to observe the ground far below. As they
passed over the mountains, he spied the figures of the tired Marine
squad and their two pack mules. Unable to distinguish who they were, he
reached for the pad and wrote, “Who do you think those men are below?”

Panama turned his head, read the message and gazed down from over the
side of the ship, straining his eyes in an attempt to distinguish the
men. He lifted his head in a moment, glanced back at Lefty and
pantomimed to the boy to loan him the pad and pencil, upon which he
scribbled, “Looks like a squad of loafing Marines. I’d like to fly low
and give their lazy brains something to think about.”

Lefty nodded his head in approval, laughing at the same time as he
lounged down in the cockpit, closing his eyes in an attempt to grab a
half hour’s sleep before they landed at the Managua airport.

Below, the Marines turned to each other, rubbing their necks to relieve
the strain of gazing so long with their heads upward bent.

“Mamma!” exclaimed the sergeant. “Wait till them flyin’ devils open high
and wide upon this guy Sandino!”

“You said it!” agreed another. “There ain’t goin’ to be much of a war
left for us when those guys get started!”

The skeptic gazed at the two prophesiers with a lingering look of
disdain. “There ain’t no war and there ain’t goin’ to be no war!”

“You’re crazy!” someone shouted. “What are them there planes doin’ here
if there ain’t no war?”

The doubting Thomas scratched his head and looked off in the direction
of the disappearing ships absently.

“I’ll bet any mother’s son here and now that there ain’t no war and
there ain’t goin’ to be no war and furthermore, there ain’t no Sandino!”

“How much’ll you bet there ain’t?” the tall, lanky fellow responded.

“Six bits!”

“Have you got six bits?” one of the other men asked, a trifle eagerly.

“I’ll have it pay day!”

Someone made a peculiar sound with his mouth that in no way added to the
prestige of the Marine who wanted to wager three-quarters of a dollar
out of a pay envelope that, considering the circumstances, might not be
due for the next six months or a year.

“I’d like to take a good poke at you!” the corporal of the squad
ventured to say, eyeing the stubborn Marine from head to foot.

“You and how many others?”

“Me alone, buddy. When it comes to fightin’ a guy like you, well—it’s in
the bag, brother, right in the bag!”

“Oh, yeah?” questioned the unpopular leatherneck. “So sez you!”

“Yeah, so sez me!”

“Then you think yer big enough, huh?”

“Listen, soldier,” the noncom added as a final gesture, “there ain’t
nothin’ in no drug store what will kill you any quicker than me!”

“I suppose you think yer poison, huh?”

“Naw—T.N.T., that’s all!”

The devil dogs gathered their belongings and started south, toward
Managua and the Marine operating base, arguing and threatening as they
went on their way, though secretly each man was thrilled beyond words
over something new to discuss that had so many different angles, certain
to last the two days until they reached the capital without becoming
stale or rehashed.



CHAPTER X


Three weeks had passed, three weeks for the constantly active Marine
aviators, flying over mountain and jungle, supplying the leathernecks on
foot with food and ammunition, guiding them through an impassable
country in their futile search for Sandino and his rebel band.

With the dawn, came orders to scout over jungle regions in search of
lost parties or else departures on long observation, map-drawing
flights.

Returning to the field, with no other desire than to flop upon a cot and
sleep, the pilots were informed to refuel and take off again, perhaps to
drop medical supplies or food at some temporary base, hundreds of miles
away and to return before daybreak.

The long, constant grind, the terrible hours spent in the air and the
days that passed without sleep, had worn most of the airmen and their
observers down to almost human skeletons. They stumbled around, silent,
nerve-wracked, mostly in a dull stupor, haggard looking with large,
black circles under their glassy, tired eyes. There was little time to
eat, much less to shave, and some of the boys had gone the full three
weeks without shaving or washing off the grime and dirt from their hands
and faces.

War to them was a business and their purpose as part of the government’s
great machine of action was to obey silently until their legs gave way
from under them or else their brains snapped under the terrific strain.

No one complained and there was no discord, no more than there has ever
been known to be in the long history of the Marine Corps on land, sea or
in the air. It was a man’s game they were playing and each man played
his hand to the last card without a question, though it seemed as if the
deck had been stacked against them.

Personal grievances, hurts or questions of safety never entered the
minds of any of those men from the major, commanding the squadron, down
to the rawest of the ground men. They were a part of a grand and
glorious fighting organization, the oldest in the service of their
country and their unit would not be the first to besmirch the colorful
traditions of the service through placing personal safety above duty.

Long before dawn, Panama had been sent out alone to search the jungle
for a company of men missing for more than a week. Hours had passed and
no sign of the absent Marines came to light.

The sergeant, before turning in, made one last attempt. He put the stick
forward and the nose of the plane went downward, flying only a few
hundred feet from the ground.

Haggard and with a chalk white, grim complexion, he straightened out the
ship, intently studying the lay of the land, his eyes eagerly searching
every nook and corner beneath for a sign of human life.

As he went a little farther north, flying between two dangerous crags
that imperiled the safety of the plane, his eyes became fixed upon
something just a little to the west. His taut features softened in an
expression that was intermingled with both hope and anxiety.

There, along the shore of a winding river, just at the edge of a jungle,
a group of Marines rested, most of them lying exhausted, flat upon the
ground. On a panel spread near by, facing upward, was the code signal of
the Marines, “V—V,” meaning: “Have Casualties.”

The muscles of Panama’s jaw again grew taut as he searched the ground
below for a safe place to land.

What had been a snappy, spick-and-span, clear-eyed company of men a
little more than a week previous, leaving the barracks at Managua on a
surveying expedition, was now reduced to twelve, ghost-like Marines,
bearded, haggard, fever sick and near starvation, their faces, legs and
arms bearing huge, red-infected welts from insect bites and their
clothing bedraggled and torn to shreds from traveling through the
treacherous jungle bushes.

The heat was terrific and the sun beat unmercifully down upon the
helpless surviving victims who rested under poorly improvised shelters,
long since giving up all hope of being rescued, silently awaiting the
grim specter of Death like true Marines, completely resigned to their
fate.

One of the men looked up to the sky with wide, glassy eyes that fell
upon Panama’s plane. His parched lips parted in a half-hearted smile and
his long, thin hand lifted feebly. “It’s—it’s a plane!” he managed to
say.

The eyes of the other helpless men followed the direction of the first
man’s finger that pointed upward.

“It’s a Marine plane!” another announced. “Look, he’s circling us—he’s
going to land!”

A few of the poor unfortunates struggled to rise to their feet,
following the progress of the ship with their eyes. Those that were
successful crawled along to the water’s edge, stumbling across the
stream to a semi-flat piece of ground on the opposite side where they
were certain the plane would land.

There they gathered in a small group, with eyes still raised heavenward,
silently following the course of the plane and waiting for it to land.

Panama realized that if he was to even attempt to save these men, he
would have to take a chance and make a landing on the uncertain ground
below, or else leave them to die helpless victims of exposure. He
nervily shot the nose of his ship toward the ground, narrowly escaping
some rough tree tops that might have crippled his wings.

Once the wheels of his landing gear touched earth, he knew he was safe,
and with a feeling of just pride over his accomplishment, he released
the stick and taxied along for a few feet, coming to a stop and finding
himself surrounded by the small group of eager, grateful men.

He rose and reached into the rear cockpit, bringing forth a large bundle
which he clumsily opened, displaying a good quantity of food, cold tea,
chocolate bars and cigarettes.

“Here you are, boys!” he shouted gayly. “The Flying Restaurant! Come and
get it!”

The men didn’t have to be invited a second time. It had been many days
since any of them had tasted food or enjoyed the fragrant aroma of a
lighted cigarette.

“Who’s in command?” Panama asked a man standing by the fuselage,
munching upon a piece of milk chocolate.

“Lieutenant Baker, but he’s too sick to get up.”

Williams cast a sweeping glance over the group, searching for the really
bad cases as he explained that his orders were to return the men to the
base, one at a time, and asking them to choose among themselves who
would be the first to go.

With the announcement came an insistent chorus of replies, “Take the
lieutenant back first!”

A little to the left of the plane, the pitiful, wan shell of a man
lifted his head with every bit of effort he possessed, shaking his
finger in a manner of objection.

“No—no—not me—I’m all right. Take one of the others!”

“But you’re all in, sir!” one of the boys protested.

“Who says so?” the lieutenant demanded to know, without any attempt to
conceal his indignation. “I’m still in command here! Sergeant, take
Shorty in first. His foot needs dressing.”

Shorty, a kindly little fellow seated on the ground, unable to walk
because of a dangerously infected foot, protested vehemently over the
lieutenant’s orders, insisting that he was in better physical condition
than any man among the group of survivors.

“Why, you can’t even stand up on your feet!” Baker answered with a tinge
of derision in his voice.

“I can stand on one foot!” insisted the plucky little Marine, “and
that’s more’n you can do!”

A faint hit of color came to the lieutenant’s pallid cheeks as he
struggled to, lift his head again. “How dare you resort to insolence in
the presence of your superior?”

“But I don’t want to go!” Shorty bewailed futilely. “Let him take you in
first and then he can come back for me.”

“Don’t tell me what to do!” Baker called out, angrily. “I’m boss here
and you’ll take orders!”

“Well, I think I’m entitled to say when, where and how I’m to be
rescued,” speculated the obdurate little fellow, “and I ain’t going back
now!”

“When I get you back there, I’ll have you court-martialed on nine
different counts!” Baker threatened.

Shorty smiled and winked to Panama, who was standing up in the cockpit,
completely obfuscated over the stubbornness of two hungry, sick men,
arguing as to who should be saved first.

“You’re going to have me court-martialed? Now I know I ain’t going
back!”

The situation was highly amusing to everyone, especially Williams. The
bantering back and forth was refreshing after the trying week these men
had undergone and the sleepless nights Panama had struggled through. The
flying sergeant realized that this argument was sapping the little
remaining strength the lieutenant still possessed so he jumped out of
the cockpit and without a word, picked Shorty up in his arms and placed
the protesting, struggling Marine in the plane, much to the satisfaction
of Baker and the others.

“I’ll be back for another one in the morning,” he promised. “You’ll find
plenty in this sack to eat, smoke and keep you warm until I return.”

“Hope you like the ride, Shorty,” one of the boys called out. “Don’t
stand up on your one good foot or you’ll rock the boat!”

“I’ll punch you in the nose the minute you get back to Managua,” the
little Marine threatened, “and you can court-martial me for that and
make it ten counts!”



CHAPTER XI


The following afternoon, a large Mack truck loaded to capacity with a
variety of heavy baggage, ten nurses and two doctors, recently arrived
from the States for duty in Nicaragua, was slowly rumbling along its way
to Managua, over a treacherous dirt road.

As they came to the end of the road, the Marine, driving the truck,
pulled up at the edge of a river with a jolt.

“What will we have to do, sergeant,” the doctor sitting beside him,
asked, “ferry across or swim?”

The Marine yawned indifferently, stood up and allowed his eyes to search
the river from north to south, shaking his head dubiously and slouching
back in his seat.

“Funny thing, lieutenant,” the Marine announced. “There was a bridge
over this stream last night but it ain’t there now.”

“A washout?” questioned the medical man.

“Or else Sandino came down and busted it up for firewood,” the Marine
speculated. “But don’t worry, we’ll get it across. The water is pretty
shallow up this way. Some of the boys went over on horseback and didn’t
even wet their shoe tops.”

“Yes, but a heavy truck—that’s another thing,” one of the nurses added.
“If the river bed is all sand, we’re liable to get stuck.”

“You just let me attend to that, sister,” the Marine replied with a
broad grin, then stepping on the gas as he shifted his gears, the big
car responded with a snort and leaped forward, jolting its occupants.

No sooner had they reached the center of the stream, than the car
stopped suddenly, throwing its passengers forward as the rear wheels
kept spinning, splashing mud and water but not budging an inch.

Gradually the truck sunk lower and lower in the dirty waters of the
river bed as the terrified female occupants clung to each other with
fright, crying for help.

“Pipe down,” the sergeant yelled. “You’ll scare the fishes.”

The Medical Corps lieutenant rose and vainly attempted to quiet his
charges with an assurance that everything would be all right, then
turning to the man at the wheel, inquired as to what would be done.

“There’s a lot of things we can do,” the Marine drawled indifferently.
“If you’re in a hurry, you might try walking.”

The lieutenant was an amusing little man, slight of stature, without any
sign of hair on his head, though a carefully trained walrus mustachio
gave him an appearance of a comic opera villain. He had been in the
service but a few months and his first taste of campaign duty was
anything but in accord with his gentle senses. He knew that it would be
folly to attempt to argue with the hard-boiled Marine at the wheel,
though he found sufficient relief in planning what he would have done
with this man when they reached Managua and the base of military
activities.

Suddenly it dawned upon him that he was a lieutenant being subjected to
abuse from a mere Marine noncom.

“I’ll have you understand, sir,” he announced, pointing his finger at
the sergeant as his cheeks flushed with rage, “I am a commissioned
officer of the United States Navy and entitled to the consideration
military regulations allow a man of my position!”

The Marine turned about slowly and eyed the little man so conscious of
his own importance. He was unable to suppress any longer a loud,
boisterous laugh. “What d’ya want me to do,” he inquired, “sing ‘Sonny
Boy’?”

“What do I want you to do?” the medical man shrieked with rage. “I want
you to hold your tongue and help me to get out of this terrible mess!”

“Okay, pardner,” the Marine replied, with devilish mischief dancing in
his eyes, “I can’t hold my tongue because it’s too slippery but I’ll
gladly help you out of this truck!” With that, he rose and picked the
unsuspecting doctor up in his arms as the nurses looked on, unmistakably
astonished, believing as the lieutenant did, that he was about to be
carried across safely to the opposite shore.

The Marine stepped out on the mud guard, still holding his
self-inflicted burden.

“Be careful how you do this,” the doctor warned. “Don’t let there be any
slip ups!”

“There won’t be,” assured the sergeant with a blank, indifferent
expression; then suddenly releasing his hands from under the man, he
allowed the obfuscated doctor to fall into the dirty waters below with a
resounding splash.

A terrible, deafening ululation arose from the river bed, emitted by the
doctor, who scrambled to his feet, blind with rage. Drenched to the skin
and covered with grime and mud, he stood shaking his fist up at the
Marine with every conceivable kind of dire threat upon his lips.

The nurses, trained in the art of immobility in the face of all
circumstances, were now helpless victims of fits of laughter that had
literally doubled them in two.

“You’ll pay dearly for this, my good man,” the lieutenant warned
menacingly. “I’ll have you court-martialed; I’ll have you put behind
bars—I’ll have you shot!”

“In the arm?” the Marine retorted tantalizingly.

“Through the heart!” bellowed the little man who was completely devoid
of a sense of humor; “through the heart by a military squad at sunrise!”

“You’ll have to make it later than that, Shorty; I don’t get up so
early,” the sergeant shouted as the doctor scrambled through the water
to the opposite shore, soon disappearing out of sight.

“You’ve ruffled his dignity disgracefully,” said Elinor, among the
nurses who had applied for active duty in Nicaragua and now passengers
of the ill-fated truck, stuck in the river bed.

“I guess I ruffled more than that!”

“But can’t he make it unpleasant for you?” she asked. “After all, he is
a commissioned officer.”

The Marine yawned in a bored fashion and lighted a cigarette he had just
rolled. “I suppose so. He’ll have me court-martialed and I’ll be fined
six months’ pay, then slapped into the brig for a spell, but then,
anything for a laugh, you know!”

“Won’t you mind?” she asked, astonished over his indifference.

“Well, I won’t be tickled silly over the idea, but that ain’t the worst
thing could happen. Besides, I’m about fed up on this racket down here.
This hangin’ around, waitin’ for somethin’ to happen is drivin’ us all
loco.”

A Marine private jumped off the rear of the truck into the water and
waded through to the front wheel mud guard.

“Let’s try and get out of here,” he said to the sergeant. “Give her the
gas and I’ll try and push this wheel forward.”

Once more the rear wheels began to spin furiously, throwing up mud and
water and drenching the Marine standing by the front mud guard.

He reached under, putting all of his weight forward in an effort to
extricate the truck but the front wheels were too securely imbedded to
even as much as budge an inch.

The nurses and the one remaining doctor craned their necks over the side
of the truck, watching the futile progress of the puffing leatherneck in
the water.

“Are we going to make it?” Elinor asked anxiously of the perspiring and
mud-soaked devil dog.

“I don’t think so, lady, but that guy the sergeant threw out, he’ll
probably send help when he arrives at Managua.”

“How long will it take to get another truck down here,” the other doctor
asked.

“That road to the right, on the opposite bank, leads straight in to the
capital,” the Marine in the water announced. “If your friend steps on it
and doesn’t stop to pick daisies, they should have a truck back here in
about five hours.”

The Marine’s prediction was correct, for just as the sun set over the
mountain top to the west of the little river where the truck was
imbedded, Lefty was but a half a mile away, driving a Ford repair car,
loaded with four husky Marines besides himself.

Three weeks in the tropics had completely changed the once uncertain,
overanxious boy into a calloused, self-assured man of the world, whose
entire demeanor betrayed a devil-may-care attitude of total
indifference.

Turning and addressing the men seated in the rear of the truck, he said
with the usual anticipation of the inactive fighting man, “I hope there
are some chic-looking nurses stranded out there!”

“Me too,” one of the others agreed with enthusiasm. “It’ll be a relief
to see a white woman again, homely or otherwise!”

At that moment, the truck passed a couple of native girls who had
stopped to look back after the American men in uniform. Lefty gazed over
his shoulder and waved to them, smiling invitingly as he slowed down his
speed.

The men in the rear jumped to their feet with concern, attempting to
prevent the boy from giving the native women a lift.

“Hey, don’t you ever read orders?” one of them shouted. “You know men in
the service aren’t allowed to mix with the natives!”

“What do I care about orders?” the boy asked with an air of defiance in
his voice, though he reluctantly stepped on the gas, increasing the
car’s speed, “I joined the Marines to become a flyer, not a truck
driver!”

At that moment, the little car loaded with the squad of rescuers pulled
up alongside of the river hank.

“Here they are now!” the driver of the imbedded truck shouted to the
nurses who were drowsily napping on one another’s shoulders.

His announcement brought a stir from the passengers, who rose to their
feet, waving to the approaching Marines wading out in the water toward
them.

Of course, all of the occupants of the motor transport were overjoyed at
the sight of the rescuers. For an entire afternoon, they had sat hunched
together in an open truck, helpless victims of all sorts of insects and
a boiling sun. The arrival of Lefty and the others was gratefully
welcomed by everyone though not near as enthusiastically as by Elinor
who sighted Phelps the minute he jumped from the driver’s seat.

Lefty was the first to reach the imbedded transport, and as he looked up
at the marooned sergeant who sat slouched in his seat with his feet
perched up on the driving wheel, puffing away indifferently upon the
butt of a cigarette, he asked, “What’s the matter, soldier, are you
stuck?”

The sergeant gazed down at his questioner with a cutting look of
disgust, then partaking of one last, long puff on his cigarette, shook
his head and replied sarcastically, “Naw, stupid, we ain’t stuck! I just
drove Emma out here to teach her how to swim!”

“Well, you didn’t seem to teach her much,” Lefty replied, assuming a
serious expression.

“Oh, we was gettin’ on dandy,” the sergeant explained ironically, “but
you know how these women are! When we came this far, the old gal got an
inferiority complex and wouldn’t budge!”

Lefty reached down and splashed some water over the Marine in the
driver’s seat who made no attempt to avoid the barrage. The men in the
water looked up at the nurses, anxiously waiting on the truck to be
carried across to the opposite shore.

They walked around to the rear of the transport, forming a line, with
the idea that each man was to take a waiting nurse.

Elinor felt her heart heat faster, and breathlessly she waited for an
acknowledgment from Lefty who, up to this time, hadn’t seen her. She saw
that he was the third in line so she stepped back, allowing the two
girls behind her to come forward, thus assuring herself that no one
would carry her across but Lefty.

The first Marine stepped up and with arms extended, called to the
waiting nurse who was now first in line: “Allee-oop, baby!”

The woman, a giggling, self-conscious and unusually thin creature was
determined to make the most of this opportunity. She stood on the edge
of the truck, hesitating and grinning, blinking her eyes blithefully as
she held one finger in her mouth. “Oh, I’ve never done a thing like this
before in all my life!” she cooed bashfully.

“Well, I’m taking as much of a chance as you, sister,” the waiting
Marine interrupted with harsh sarcasm, “so come on!”

As the two men who preceded Lefty on the line started to wade back to
shore, carrying their feminine burdens, the boy stepped forward,
impatiently waiting for his passenger and holding up his arms without
looking up.

He felt someone’s hand touch his and then, before he knew it, there was
Elinor in his arms, smiling her prettiest and looking more inviting than
ever.

The unexpected appearance of this girl whom he had completely succeeded
in shutting out of his life was too much for the boy. He gazed at her
with open mouth and surprised, doubting eyes.

“Lefty!” she announced, making no attempt to conceal her eagerness, “I’m
very glad to see you!”

An uncomfortable look shadowed the boy’s face and his eyes shifted
uneasily as Elinor’s happy smile of welcome faded to an expression of
keen disappointment over his indifference.

[Illustration: An uncomfortable look overshadowed the boy’s face at
Elinor’s happy smile of welcome.]

“Aren’t you glad to see me?” she asked hopefully.

“Yeah—sure I am! How have you been?”

Lefty was obviously in exactly the kind of situation that he would have
given anything to avoid, and he strove to divert the trend of
conversation away from anything personal.

Arriving once more upon solid ground, he released her and turned away to
fetch another passenger just as he felt her hand tugging at the sleeve
of his blouse.

“You don’t seem a bit glad to see me,” she said, bewildered over his
enigmatic reticence.

“Sure I am,” he strove to explain in an unconvincing manner. “You’re
just imagining things! Excuse me now because I—er—well, there are some
more to unload!”

She stood on the hank watching him wade out into the water toward the
helpless motor transport. Her eyes grew moist as she sighed deeply and
felt her heart leaden with disappointment.

The little truck Lefty had driven out was standing just a few feet away.
The first two nurses were climbing in the back, assisted by their Marine
rescuers just as Elinor turned in their direction.

An idea came to her and she once more smiled hopefully as she ran to the
car, perching herself in the seat next to the driver’s that she knew
would be occupied by Lefty.

When the last nurse and final piece of baggage had been brought to
shore, one of the Marines, seeing Elinor, climbed up into the seat
beside her.

“Nursie,” he began softly, “you’re the best thing me eyes have lamped
since I left old Joisey City!”

He felt a large hand firmly grip him by the collar and drag him from his
seat to the ground.

“Just cut out that kind of stuff!” Lefty warned. “Miss Martin happens to
be a lady!”

The offending Marine merely muttered something incoherent under his
breath and jumped on the rear ledge of the truck as Lefty returned to
the driver’s seat to be greeted by the warm, inviting and grateful eyes
of Elinor.

One glance in the girl’s direction was sufficient for Lefty. With an air
of uneasiness, he trained his eyes on the road straight ahead, giving
the car plenty of gas and shifting his gears right into high.

Neither the boy or girl had spoken a word all the way in until they
reached the outskirts of Managua with the capital city’s house tops
plainly in view. Elinor then broke the long silence by asking about
Panama with an assumed air of deep interest.

The very mention of his best friend’s name filled Lefty with renewed
enthusiasm. Thankful to Elinor for bringing up a topic that completely
placed him at ease, he once more became his own loquacious self.

“Panama? Say—he’s great! Whenever they buck up against a tough
proposition around here, they elect him to face it. I overheard the
major say that he was the best pilot in the squadron!”

Elinor listened patiently with a gracious smile upon her lips. Her eyes
softened as she allowed her hand to touch the boy’s for a brief moment.

“Tell me about yourself, Lefty. Have they given you a chance to fly
yet?”

The man who had failed, when his big chance came back in Pensacola,
laughed a little ironically, bravely attempting to further lessen his
insignificant rating in the service.

“Me? They know better than to trust me at the joy stick. We haven’t many
planes down here and they can’t afford to have guys like me smash the
few we have got into concrete walls!”

The girl struggled to find something encouraging to say but before she
could bring the words beyond her lips, Lefty was once more engaged in
drawing a colorful word picture of Panama and his accomplishments.

“You know where Panama is now?”

Elinor shook her head, acknowledging her ignorance as to the whereabouts
of the man under discussion.

“He’s risking his life, flying through a treacherous jungle and making
landings in a dangerous and hilly country to rescue some stricken
Marines who had been lost until he discovered their whereabouts
yesterday!”

She lowered her head, not daring to allow her eyes to meet Lefty’s now.

“He’s a very brave man—very brave,” she replied simply.

“You bet he is!” the boy agreed, his eyes sparkling at the mere
recollection of the Marine sergeant’s recent deed, “And wait until he
finds out you’re here! Oh, boy! Won’t that be great?”

Elinor struggled to choke back a huge lump rising in her throat, and at
the same time, brushed away a drop of moisture that had been trickling
down her cheek.

“Yes,” she sighed in despair. “It will be great—won’t it, Lefty?”



CHAPTER XII


Within a half hour after “To the Colors” had been sounded and the men
and officers at the flying base at Managua had retired to mess, the
motor of a plane was heard over the field.

Major Harding, in command of the Tenth Squadron, had left the officers’
mess earlier than was his custom, to stroll alone before retiring. At
the sound of the familiar purr of a pursuit plane, he raised his eyes in
time to see Sergeant Williams’ plane circle the field and make a
three-point landing just as a group of ground men ran forward to meet
the ship taxiing toward them.

As the plane came to a stop, two ground men ran to the rear cockpit and
carried out Lieutenant Baker, the last of the lost company of Marines
that had been rescued, one by one, by Panama.

Tired from his long ordeal, dirty, greasy and covered with grime,
Williams crawled out of his cockpit, weary of limb but mentally alive,
proud of his daring accomplishment.

He meandered toward the barracks only to be met by the major who smiled
generously upon the successful pilot.

After the two men had exchanged formal salutes, Harding placed his hand
upon the shoulder of the noncom, in no way attempting to conceal his
fondness for the man.

“You’ve earned a good rest, sergeant. I want to thank you for what you
have done, but don’t let me keep you from your sleep.”

Panama smiled gratefully and pointed to the two ground men carrying
Baker off on a make-shift stretcher in the direction of the field
hospital. “That’s the last of them going in now!”

“I don’t think you’re any too sorry, are you, Williams?”

“No, sir!” Panama replied truthfully and then turning, pointed out the
bullet holes in the side of the fuselage and the struts that were lashed
with sapling. “Do you see what I had to do?”

“That was fine work,” the major announced with pride. “I am going to
recommend you for a medal for bringing in those wounded men!”

Panama grinned sheepishly, making a sincere effort to pass off Harding’s
promise and compliment lightly. They shook hands and saluted, the major
continuing his stroll, leaving the sergeant standing alone.

As he unbuttoned his windjammer and pulled off the Gasborne helmet,
Panama’s eyes caught sight of Steve Graham (recently made a corporal),
carrying a bucket of water.

“Bring that over here,” he shouted jovially, and the once ostentatious
would-be flyer complied without making any comment. He merely stood by
and lighted a cigarette as Panama reached for the dipper and drank
several refreshing cups full of water, pouring the remainder left in the
bucket over his head.

“Any letters for me?” he inquired of Graham as he stood, dripping wet,
wiping the water out of his eyes.

Steve shook his head impatiently. “I told you every day for the past
week—‘no!’ Look’s like you got the air.”

Still in a good humor, though inwardly disappointed over Elinor’s
failure to answer his recent letters, he reached down and picking up the
empty bucket, slammed it over the astonished corporal’s head, emitting a
loud roar of laughter and walking off toward the line of tents, leaving
Steve struggling to release the bucket.

As Panama approached the company street where the tent was located that
he and Lefty occupied, he heard the voices of several Marine flyers
lifted in harmony. He smiled contentedly, for this was home to him. The
grim, khaki-colored tents, standing like rows of silent ghosts; the
songs of the Marine Corps brutally sung by dish-pan quartets, then a
sudden foul oath emitted by an occupant of one of the tents, voices
raised in argument over a card game or some other trivial matter; that
was the only world he had known since the day he ran away from home to
become one of Uncle Sam’s soldiers of the sea. It was his life, his love
and his work and he was never so contented as when returning from an
expedition during a campaign, knowing that his day’s labor had been well
done.

He rambled along, through the narrow little street with rows of tents on
each side, humming a popular song, dog-tired and ready to fall into a
welcome and waiting cot.

Inside of the last tent on the street, Lefty was nervously pacing back
and forth, disgruntled and uncertain. He walked to the entrance and
closed the canvas flaps, then turned and went to his cot, pulling out a
dirty work shirt from a bundle and shining his shoes with it. He was an
amazing sight, attired in the blue and scarlet dress uniform of the
Marines at that hour of the night, campaigning in an open field in the
midst of impending hostilities.

Just as Panama arrived a few feet away from the entrance to the tent, he
heard hurried footsteps from behind, and turning, recognized Steve,
breathlessly running toward him.

“Hey, Romeo,” the corporal shouted, wait a minute. “I got some news for
you.”

Panama stopped and waited for Graham, grinning good-naturedly and
certain that the boy had followed him to pull some prank as a means of
getting even for his putting the bucket over his head.

“How’d you get the pail off your dome?” Williams greeted Graham by
asking a little derisively.

“That’s what I’ve come running to tell you,” Steve announced. “Somebody
pulled it off for me and who do you think it was?”

“Sandino?”

“No, Elinor Martin!”

Panama gazed at Graham with questioning and doubtful eyes, believing
this to be some kind of practical joke.

“Honest, it was Elinor,” the boy reiterated. “She came in to-day with
nine other nurses and two doctors. I told her you had just landed and
she’s waiting over at the field hospital for you now!”

The sergeant, noting the ring of truth in the other man’s voice and the
look of sincerity plainly visible upon his face, threw his arms about
Steve and shouted for joy, forgetting all about his much-needed rest and
the fatiguing work of the past two days.

“Cut it out!” Graham demanded, breaking loose with much difficulty from
Panama’s embrace. “Save that for your nursie.”

Williams thanked Steve again and again, telling him to run back to the
field hospital and explain to Elinor that he would be along in a few
moments. As the boy started back, he threw the tent flaps apart and
boisterously entered.

As his eyes fell upon Lefty decked out in full dress uniform, he stopped
cold in surprise, believing the boy to be either drunk or part loco.

“Where do you think you’re goin’, all dolled up like Mrs. Astor’s pet
horse?”

“What do you mean?” Lefty asked without looking up.

“The dress uniform, here in Nicaragua, during a campaign! What’s the
idea?”

“I’m going out!”

“Where?”

“Just out!”

“In that get-up?”

“What’s the difference?”

“Nothing—only, well, it ain’t being done!”

“Then I’ll be different!” the boy announced in the same crisp fashion.

“Got a date?” Panama persisted in questioning, merely because Lefty’s
strange attitude was worrying him.

“I’m going to town!”

“Got permission?”

“Don’t need any! I’m going, that’s enough. If anybody don’t like it,
they can lump it!”

“Oh, yes sez you!”

“Oh, yes sez I!”

Panama made no attempt to continue the debate, primarily because he
believed it was useless to argue with a man in such a set frame of mind,
then, there was Elinor, waiting for him, probably as impatient to see
him as he was to get there.

“What do you think, kid,” he began, hoping to pull the boy out of the
dumps, never for the moment realizing that what he was about to say
would only make Lefty feel all the worse, “Elinor’s here! Can you
imagine it? She’s over at the field hospital waiting for me! Sent Steve
to tell me to shake a leg. Me for a wash! Whereinell’s that basin gone?”

Phelps remained silent though he walked over to a small box near his cot
and picked up the basin, handing it to Panama.

“Maybe I ain’t got much of a face,” the happy sergeant speculated as he
poured some water from a bucket into the basin, “but I stand a better
chance gettin’ by if it’s clean!”

Lefty sat down on the edge of his cot only to have to get up again to
hand Panama (now dripping wet and blind from soap suds) the towel. Once
dry, the sergeant tore out of his greasy flying togs, into a clean
blouse and fatigue trousers, halted now through his usual difficulty in
tying his black tie.

“Be a good guy, Lef,” he asked, “and tie this darn thing for me, will
ya?”

As Lefty silently complied by rising and facing his loquacious friend,
Williams continued to ramble on, “Say, did you know she was down here?”

Lefty nodded in affirmation, proceeding with his task.

“Didja see her yet?”

“Yeah!”

“Did she ask about me?” Panama now inquired with eagerness.

“For gosh sakes alive, will you hold still?” Lefty barked impatiently,
“how am I going to tie this gadget if you keep on yapping?”

Williams remained silent after that, a trifle hurt over Lefty’s apparent
indifference insofar as his romance was concerned. When the boy had
finally tied a knot, Panama sheepishly dug down into the pocket of his
trousers and brought forth a small diamond ring, holding it in the palm
of his outstretched hand in full view.

“I’ve been trying for six months to get up enough courage to give this
to Elinor. Somehow, I always get tongue-tied just at the very moment I
feel set to pop the question.”

Lefty walked away impatiently to the farthest end of the tent and
sprawled out on a box, picking up an old magazine. “Ain’t that too bad?”
he said, mockingly.

“Yeah—but I’m goin’ to put it on her little finger to-night or bust,
sure!”

“Aw, shut up, will you?”

Panama was completely taken back by Lefty’s antagonistic attitude and
for a moment, he gazed at the boy with a puzzled expression, finally
asking, “Whatinell’s the matter with you, anyway?”

“Nothing!”

“Somethin’ is eatin’ you—what is it?”

“I said, nothing was the matter!” Lefty snapped, no longer attempting to
hide his growing resentment. He rose, picked up his white cap and walked
to the forward end of the tent, his passage now blocked by Panama who
stepped before him.

“Say, where do you think you’re going, Sheik?”

“Aw, what do you care?” Lefty growled, with an effort to push past the
sergeant.

This attitude was all that Panama needed to make him forget his interest
in the boy as a matter of friendship and once more bring to life the
hard-boiled, bossy top kick.

“Wait a minute, there, bozo,” he commanded. “I know what’s on your mind.
You think you’re goin’ down to that local gin mill and get all
illuminated, but you ain’t! You know that there is an order forbidding
us to mix with the natives. Now, take off that coat and hat. I’m goin’
to give you somethin’ to keep you busy!”

“Not to-night!” Lefty protested.

“Yeah, to-night, right now,” Panama said, pulling out some papers and
handing them to the boy. “Make out these reports for me and stay here!
Savvy?”

Lefty didn’t venture to reply but sat down, holding the reports, mutely
acknowledging the other’s authority as Panama picked up his hat and
started out, returning in a moment and gazing at the boy, mistaking
Phelps’ attitude for one of heartsickness caused by military failure.
His entire demeanor suddenly changed to one of softness and
understanding.

“Listen, kid, forget that crackup,” he said, in a warm manner of
friendship, putting his arm around the boy’s shoulders. “I know you want
to fly, and you’ll get your chance. Now, listen. You’re a clean guy.
Don’t go down and get mixed up with a lot of rotten dames, it ain’t
worth it and you’re not foolin’ no one but yourself. Keep decent, that’s
the thing to do! Everything is bound to turn out all right!”

Lefty listened to this advice attentively, though he refrained from
looking up.

Panama waited a moment for some sort of response but there was none
forthcoming.

“Come on, kid, don’t be a sap and ruin all your chances because you
happen to be in the dumps just now!”

This entreaty had no more effect upon the boy than the others. He
continued to sit on the edge of the cot without speaking, gazing at the
floor as he toyed with the papers he was holding in his hands.

“Lefty, you ain’t goin’ down there, are you, kid?” Panama questioned
with deep concern. “What do you say, soldier? You ain’t goin’ to that
filthy joint and get in a jam with a lot of dirty, brown-skinned molls
what ain’t worth it, are you?”

The boy brushed Panama’s hand from off his shoulder, rose and without
offering a reply, dropped his hat on the cot behind him and slowly
unbuttoned his coat, making no attempt to conceal his adversity to this
procedure.

Panama, in turn, was overjoyed over the boy’s easy submission to his
will and began an attempt to lift him out of the dumps by pulling off
his tie and mussing his hair. Lefty held out as long as he could, then
unable to continue his indifference toward the man whom he loved as a
brother, he responded to the sergeant’s rough-house foolery by knocking
off Panama’s hat and pulling his tie.

This was exactly the state of mind Williams had been striving to pull
the boy into and he went for Lefty with all of the playful enthusiasm he
possessed. In a moment, the two men were rolling over the floor, in
typical soldier fashion, laughing lustily as they pulled at each other’s
clothes.

After he had forcibly undressed the boy and once more brought him around
to his usual happy frame of mind, Panama rose, breathing hard, his
cheeks flushed from the friendly encounter and his eyes flashing with
enthusiasm.

“You got me in a fine shape to see my girl,” he said as he began to
straighten out his ruffled uniform and brush back his hair.

Lefty picked up a shoe and threw it at him with Williams just ducking in
time as he picked up his hat and ran out. In a moment he was back again,
watching the boy straighten things up around the tent.

“You ain’t goin’ out, are you, kid?”

“Didn’t I tell you I wasn’t?”

“Sure, only I wanted to be positive, that’s all,” Panama explained with
a ring of apology in his voice. “Guys like us, trying to be somebody in
this here flyin’ racket, shouldn’t bother with women anyway.”

“I guess you’re right,” Phelps agreed, though secretly amused.

“Sure I am!” Panama reiterated, and then remembering what he came back
into the tent for, asked somewhat sheepishly, “say, you ain’t got five
bucks till pay day, have you?”

“Sure!” Lefty replied, reaching into his wallet and bringing forth a
bill. “What do you want it for?”

Panama was at first reluctant to reply as Lefty watched him, amusedly,
then at length, after pocketing the money, he managed to say: “Well—er—I
don’t like to meet Elinor when I’m broke. You know how it is with the
dames—they get such a funny idea of a guy when he ain’t got any dough.
Play safe, that’s my motto, kid!”



CHAPTER XIII


Panama arrived at the field hospital just a few minutes after Elinor,
tired of waiting, had left.

One of the nurses informed him that if he hurried, he might catch up
with her before she reached the women’s barracks.

Without a word, he ran through the narrow streets of tents, out on to
the main road that led into town. Just ahead of him, he spied the trim,
silhouetted figure of the nurse, strolling along in the moonlight.

It was a beautiful tropical night, and the silver-white clouds in the
sky and the full, warm moon casting its pure, white light over the black
tops of the silent, old Spanish Mission, built hundreds of years before,
filled the heart of the soldier with a romantic fervor. His pulse
quickened and his step became more buoyant. It was a perfect setting for
the scene he had hoped to enact with Elinor that night.

Here was a man and a woman, alone in a great, intoxicating world of
warmth and romance, walking in the shadows of an old, ancestral Mission,
the walls of which had looked down upon similar romantic episodes
enacted by great Spanish grandees and their ladies, long centuries
before.

As he ran breathlessly to catch up with the girl, he thought, “If she
will respond to this night and background as I have, the rest will be
easy.”

“Elinor, wait a moment,” he shouted.

The girl stopped just before the old Mission gate and waited for Panama,
now only a few feet away.

“I thought you had forgotten about me,” she said, holding out her hand
which the sergeant grasped eagerly as he reached her side.

“Forget about you? Oh, Elinor, I—I couldn’t ever do that! You see, I
only landed a few minutes before Steve told me you were here and——”

“I understand,” she interrupted. “It was selfish of me to ask you to
meet me when you must be dead to the world.”

Panama smiled sheepishly as he looked down, conscious of the fact that
he was still holding her hand in his. They both felt a trifle
uncomfortable when Elinor, emitting a nervous, apologetic laugh,
released her hand.

“I’m never too tired to see you,” he said softly. “Besides, I wasn’t a
bit anxious to hit the hay anyway.”

He hesitated for a moment and then, summing up enough courage, took her
arm as they started down the road past the Mission gate.

“Look at that moon, Panama!” Elinor exclaimed exultantly. “Isn’t it
romantic?”

His heart beat faster by leaps and bounds. He thought that now surely
was the moment to take her in his arms and whisper all of the things he
had been planning to tell her during the six months, but as usual, words
failed him and he merely nodded his head, saying, “Yeah, it is sorta
nice, ain’t it?”

She sighed deeply and Panama believed she was impatient, waiting for him
to speak, though inwardly, she was longing for someone else, a tall,
indifferent, handsome boy whose image filled her heart with a million
yearnings since the day she had first met him.

They had been walking for more than fifteen minutes with the Marine
sergeant remaining inarticulate as ever. Finally Elinor broke the
silence by asking where he was taking her.

“Oh, I don’t know,” he replied in a characteristic, blunt fashion. “Any
place, it doesn’t matter!”

“Let’s walk down by the tents,” she suggested, hoping that if they went
in that direction, Lefty might make a sudden appearance.

“Aw, no,” Williams objected, hoping to keep her on the lonely road so
that when he regained his lost courage, there would be no intruders to
interrupt their romance. “Let’s keep on goin’ this way, the—er—the
scenery is much nicer!”

He stole a sidelong glance at her, fearing that she might further
protest to their continuing along the Mission road, but she didn’t
speak. Her arm found its way into his and he felt a peculiar sensation
up and down his spine.

“Gee, this is swell, ain’t it, Elinor?”

“What is?”

His face flushed a vivid crimson and he was thankful to a dark night for
hiding his excited emotions. “Why—er—everything,” he stammered, “the
moon and—er—well, everything!”

Just over beyond the Mission, some natives were chanting dreamy Spanish
songs of love to the accompaniment of strumming guitars.

“Listen to that lovely music!” Elinor exclaimed, completely enthralled.
“It’s all so—so perfectly beautiful!”

“Just like a storybook, ain’t it?” was Panama’s description.

“You’ve spent a lot of time in the tropics, haven’t you, Panama?”

“Three years at the Canal, a year and a half in Haiti and now back here
for the second time,” he replied in a dreamy manner. “I think it’s
great! This part of the world is just like apple pie to me!”

“Do you like apple pie?” Elinor asked for want of something better to
say.

“Sure, when it’s homemade! Don’t you?”

Elinor struggled to suppress a giggle, and with a sombre look, replied,
“Why, yes—surely—I guess everybody does.”

“My mother made swell pie,” he explained. “You don’t get much of that
sort of thing knockin’ around in this racket. Sometimes I sorta want to
quit it all and get a regular job where I can have a home and——”

“Yes, I understand,” she interrupted. “Men want that kind of a life
after a certain age, don’t they, Panama?”

“I don’t know about that,” he said, a trifle piqued at her mention of
his advancing years, “I ain’t so old!”

She gasped slightly, realizing that she had hurt him by her thoughtless
remark and hurried to explain, “Why, of course you’re not! What I meant
was——”

“Oh, it’s all right, I don’t mind,” he said. “I don’t mind anything you
say!”

They had reached the end of the road by this time, and Panama took the
girl’s arm, turning off to the right, making sure that they would take
the longest way back to camp.

Just ahead of them was the thatched roof hut of a native family, no
different from hundreds of others that dotted the landscape throughout
that section of the country.

A proud young mother sat on the doorstep, nursing a dark-skinned infant.
As the Marine and the girl approached, she looked up at them and smiled,
showing two rows of white, pearly teeth. Panama left the road and walked
over to the hut, picking the baby up in his arms as Elinor followed
after him.

“Gee, I get a great kick out of all kinds of babies!” he announced with
enthusiasm, looking over his shoulder at Elinor, who was standing just
behind him. “Do you like kids?”

She nodded her head in affirmation and gently patted the little fellow.
“My, but he’s a cute little rascal!”

The hard-boiled sergeant kissed the infant and, with much concern,
handed it back to the anxious mother, also taking a coin from his pocket
and placing it in the baby’s small hand.

As they started back toward the road, Williams pulled a tropical flower
from a bush, and gave it to the girl.

“These flowers remind me of a barber shop,” he explained, at loss to
think of a more appropriate comparison, “only they’ve got cologne beat
all hollow, ain’t they?”

Elinor’s intuition warned her that it was time to sidetrack Panama’s
flow of romantic thoughts and crude manner of expression, so she
conveniently changed the trend of conversation by asking about Lefty in
an assumed manner of indifference.

“He’s fine and tickled pink with his first taste of campaign duty!”
Williams replied.

“Are you living together?”

“Sure thing! We’re pals! Say—listen to that music now. Ain’t it grand?”

She walked a little ahead of him, completely enveloped with the magic of
the dreamy, tropical music, listening ecstatically, unmindful of the
nervous state Panama was in as he fumbled for the diamond ring through
his pockets.

He finally discovered it and brought it out, half hiding it as he
struggled to gain enough courage to broach the subject he had promised
himself to bring up that night.

As he stopped to rehearse the words over again in his mind, Elinor
turned about suddenly and faced him.

“Tell me, Panama, how is Lefty coming along?”

Her sudden manner of direct approach startled him so, that he dropped
the ring from his hand and without looking to see where it fell,
stammered, “Oh—er—Lefty? Oh, yeah, he’s fine! Sure, he’s over in camp
now, workin’!”

He hated to search for the lost ring while Elinor was watching, though
he couldn’t very well afford to lose it. Intensely embarrassed, he began
to look about the ground as the girl watched him, keenly amused.

“Did you drop something?” she asked.

“No, well, yes—but it’s nothing,” he fabricated, lighting a match and
dropping to his knees to search the path more thoroughly, “I’ll find it
in a minute.”

Her expression changed to one of interest as she dropped down beside
him, helping in the search for whatever the lost object might be.

“Please don’t bother, Elinor,” he begged as he looked up and found her
beside him. “Really, it ain’t much and I know just where it dropped.”

Just then, her eyes fell upon a small, sparkling object a few inches
from where she was resting on her knees. She reached forward and picked
up the ring in her hand, unnoticed by Panama who was still delving into
the grass by the roadway.

She rose to her feet and looked at the small diamond, suddenly struck by
the realization that he had brought her all the way out here, hoping to
gain enough courage to propose. Her eyes softened and she gazed down at
Panama tenderly, shaking her head as she sympathized with the man over
the futility of his hopes just as she pitied herself over her own
failure to win Lefty.

“Panama,” she said sweetly, with a ring of tolerance in her voice.

The man turned about, fumbling nervously with his hands as he noticed
the telltale object she was holding in the palm of her outstretched
hand.

“Is this what you’ve been looking for?” she asked, pretending to be
ignorant of the ring’s true purpose.

“Why, yeah—sure!” he replied, clumsily bringing himself to his feet
again and unable to look at her. “I—er—I can’t imagine how it could have
fallen out of my pocket!”

“The way we came, past the Mission,” she asked, “that’s the shortest
road back, isn’t it?”

“Oh, sure, if you want to go that way,” he announced, putting the ring
away in the pocket of his blouse, glad to once more have it out of
sight.

“I—I think we’d better,” she said, “I’ve had a long trip and——”

“I understand, and I’m pretty tired now, anyway,” he interrupted,
turning about and leading her back the way they had come, still
conscious of the faux pas he made regarding the engagement ring, “You
know somethin’?”

“What?”

“That ring I lost—” he stammered. “Well, I bought that for—er—my aunt!”

“You don’t say?” Elinor replied, assuming an attitude of complete
ignorance. “When did you buy it?”

“Oh—er—before I left Pensacola, I think.”

“As long ago as that?” she asked. “Why, I should think you would have
sent it to her by this time.”

“Yeah, I should have, only—well—I just don’t seem to find the time!”

“Then supposing you give me her address and I’ll send it for you,” she
suggested mischievously. “If you carry it around with you, you may lose
it.”

Panama’s cheeks flushed and he bit his lips, looking at Elinor
appealingly and wondering to himself what kind of a jam he was in for
now.

“No—I—er—I’ve kept it so long and—well—I guess we’ll he goin’ back soon
and——”

“Sergeant Williams!” he heard a familiar voice call, and looking just
ahead, saw Steve Graham running toward them.

Though he had never liked this product of the San Francisco pool
parlors, at that particular moment, he welcomed the boy’s arrival with
open arms, knowing that the intrusion would relieve him of having to
make further explanations regarding the ring.

“What do you want, Graham?”

The boy came up alongside of them and seeing Elinor, touched the peak of
his cap with his hand as she smiled in acknowledgment.

“Can I see you for a minute, sergeant?”

Panama excused himself and left the girl standing alone as he and Steve
walked a little to the side of the row, entering into earnest
conversation.

“That mechanic of yours left camp all dolled up in his dress uniform,”
the corporal explained. “He was headed for the Cantina and I tried to
stop him, but he wouldn’t listen.”

Elinor couldn’t help but overhear what Steve had said and, as she
thought of Lefty, mixed up with a lot of native women in a local
barroom, helpless under the intoxicating influence of bad liquor, her
blood ran cold and her face became chalk white.

“If the military police find out where he’s gone,” Steve went on to
explain, “you know where he’ll land!”

Panama’s eyes narrowed and he bit his lips, inwardly furious over
Lefty’s blunt disobedience in the face of all that had happened back in
the tent.

“Run along, Graham,” he told the boy, in a manner of dismissal, “and
forget about what you saw. I’ll have him back in half an hour if I got
to drag him!”

Steve grinned with understanding and bowing slightly to Elinor, ran
back, up the road to camp, satisfied that he had done his duty by God,
country and the Marine Corps.

Elinor stood twitching her fingers from nervousness, waiting for Panama
to do something, but as the sergeant continued to remain motionless,
merely looking after the disappearing Graham, she came over to his side
and tugged at the sleeve of his blouse.

“I couldn’t help but hearing,” she said. “Is Lefty in trouble?”

Panama turned and looked down at her, still livid with rage over the
mechanic’s insubordination.

“I told that fool to stay in camp,” he roared. “He’s goin’ to learn
who’s boss around here and do as he’s told!”

Fearful for the boy’s safety and worried that his escapade might send
him to a military prison, thus ruining any possible chance of winning
his wings in the future, she held the angered sergeant’s arm tightly and
pleaded: “Don’t be too hard on him, Panama; he doesn’t understand!”

“I’ve got to bring him back or he’ll land in the brig,” Williams
explained, his voice softening as he once more became the man and not
the hard-boiled sergeant. “You won’t mind, will you?”

Barely able to conceal her personal concern over Lefty’s welfare, she
fairly pushed Panama forward, urging him on his way, feeling that there
wasn’t a minute to be lost.

“Never mind me,” she said, “I can find my way back alone, only please
hurry and get him!”



CHAPTER XIV


Of all the numerous places in Managua that offered various kinds of
diversion to Marines on temporary leaves of absence, the most
interesting was the Cantina la Flora. This center of life, music and
wine probably intrigued the American soldiers of the sea and air because
it was a strict breach of Marine rules for a uniformed man to be seen
beyond the cafe’s entrance.

The Cantina la Flora was just ten or fifteen feet off the main road,
directly on the outskirts of the city.

A low wall encircled the entire cafe, beyond this, the visitors parked
their cars and hitched their horses in the shade of invitingly cooling
palm trees. In the rear, stood a two-story, yellow stucco building,
housing the bar, gaming tables, dance floor and private rooms of the
Cantina. A large veranda, going the full length of the building and
shaded with leaves and flowers, had been built in front of the house,
where native men and women lounged lazily during the day and night,
sipping coffee or liquor and playing dominoes.

The cafe, which occupied the entire ground floor, had a large bar to the
left that was never idle. The floor was of strikingly colored tiles.
Marble top tables where visitors, who came to drink and be entertained,
sat around, was over to the right, looking out upon the open patio. The
rear was separated in two by a partition, the front of which was
occupied by the string orchestra, while the other side shielded the
gaming tables that were always buzzing with activity. The center of the
great room, when an entertainer wasn’t performing, served as a dance
floor for the patrons.

Above this inclosure of laughter and care-free activity, a narrow
balcony encircled the room, reached by a small stairway to the left of
the orchestra stand.

As Lefty cautiously made his way up the steps of the veranda, making
certain that there were no interfering military police near by who might
spoil his evening, he saw many white civilians mixing with the native
visitors; waiters bustling in and out between rows of tables, bringing
and taking orders, and the five-piece string orchestra in the rear,
playing a vigorous accompaniment for a lovely and shapely dark-skinned
girl, wearing a large sombrero, a silk blouse and a wide, colorful
skirt. She was dancing a Spanish fandango in the center of the tiled
floor.

Suddenly the music stopped and the girl fell to the floor on her knees,
smiling ingratiatingly as she raised her head to receive the vociferous
applause of her appreciative audience. She stood up, threw a profusion
of kisses in all directions and ran up the steps to the balcony, opening
a door and disappearing into one of the little rooms occupied by the
performers.

As Lefty crossed the dance floor to the bar, the eyes of both natives
and whites followed his progress with astonishment, leaning over their
tables to whisper in speculation as to what would be the Marine’s fate
should he be discovered by his officers or the military police.

Just about this time, a faded, coarse-looking blond woman attired in a
thin, black silk dress with a wide skirt, meandered over to the
orchestra stand, now deserted by the musicians. She slouched down on the
piano stool and lazily lifted her thin, white hands, letting them fall
upon the keys. Slowly and softly, she began to play one of those ancient
torch ballads, popular in the States years before prohibition.

Lefty leaned up against the bar and listened with flattering
attentiveness to the outburst of the faded blonde at the piano. Each
line of the touching lyrics she emitted made him feel more and more
sorry for himself.

A fetching little olive-skinned girl with a profusion of black hair,
large, dark eyes and lovely white teeth, glided over to him, placing her
arm about his shoulder. Her scanty attire showed her trim, shapely
figure to excellent advantage. Of all the girls at the Cantina la Flora,
this one was the most sought after.

“Nice soldado Americano quiere leetle drink?” she cooed, temptingly.

Lefty merely responded by brushing her arm from about his shoulders. He
had time for no one now. The blond entertainer’s song had completely
enveloped him.

“Mebe Americano want to drink alone weeth Rosa, upa-stairs, yes?” the
undaunted little native coquette asked, again brushing herself close to
Lefty’s side.

The boy pushed her away forcibly, once more allowing his mind to drift
away with the music.

Rosa turned to the bartender and winked broadly as she announced,
“Leetle soft drink for brave soldado—ver’ soft, Peitro!” The bartender
grinned and reached for a glass just as the blonde at the piano finished
her song.

Lefty smiled sympathetically and applauded with enthusiasm, calling for
an encore. The entertainer bowed gratefully in his direction for he had
been the only one of all the people present who acknowledged his
appreciation of her art.

“Don’t encourage her,” someone shouted.

“If you applaud like that, she’ll inflict another one of those songs on
us!”

“That’s just what I want her to do!” Lefty announced; and that was
exactly what the lady did to the discomfort of all.

“Where’s my drink?” the soldier demanded as the music once more reached
his ears.

The bartender complied by drawing a glass of beer, and when Lefty again
turned to watch the girl at the piano, the man serving the drink dropped
the ashes of his cigar in the beer, also pouring in a good deal of
whiskey as well.

Lefty reached back to the bar, mechanically taking the stein by the
handle and lifting the beer to his lips, much to the amusement of Rosa
and the practical joking bartender.

Just as he had finished his drink with no dire effect other than a
feeling of dizziness, the music again stopped and he sauntered over to
where the girl at the piano sat.

“That was fine, sister,” he announced as he reached her side, falling
into a chair in a daze. “Give us another, will you?”

The blonde rose, and eyed him with a piercing look of disdain. “Say,
insipid, you don’t think I’m doin’ this for me health, do you?”

“You mean, you expect me to pay you?” asked the astonished Marine,
gradually falling under the spell of intoxication.

“Naw—just leave me the price of a pair of stocking, that’s all!”

“How can you be so mercenary?” the boy asked with the sincerity of an
inebriated man.

“If you call me that again, you big bum, I’ll punch you in the nose,”
the blonde warned as her eyes protruded, blazing with fire. “I’ll have
you know I’m a lady, I am!”

“Well, who said you wasn’t?”

“You did!” she persisted. “You called me a—a—well, don’t say that
again!”

“Say what?” Lefty demanded to know.

“What you just called me!”

“What did I call you?”

“I don’t know what it meant,” the girl admitted, “but if it was as bad
as it sounded, my brother would make you eat those words, if he was
here!”

Lefty yawned and stretched his arms, already tired from the effects of
the bartender’s loaded drink. “Aw, be a reg’lar feller, kiddo, an’
give’sh a tune!”

“You like my voice?” the blonde asked, changing her tone to the
ingratiating pitch so familiar with her type.

“Do I like it? I love it!” Lefty bellowed, much to the amusement of the
white patrons seated at tables near by. “I think you have a better voice
than—than—let me think. Oh, yeah! Better than Galli Curci!”

“Galli Curci?” the entertainer repeated as a puzzled expression lighted
upon her face. “Who’s that guy, Galli Curci?”

“You don’t know old Galli?” Lefty asked in a high pitch of astonishment,
and the blonde shook her head negatively. “Well, if you must know, let
me enlighten you; Galli—old Galli Curci was the bes’ Russian bicycle
rider in Brooklyn!”

A roar of laughter came from the tables occupied by the Americans. Lefty
rose with much difficulty, bearing a silly grin and bowing to his
encouraging audience. The girl at the piano moved about uncomfortably,
the lines in her face hardening and her eyebrows knitting in a frown.
“Say, bozo, I gotta feelin’ you’re trying to razz me!” she announced.
“And I don’t mind tellin’ you, brother, I don’t like it!”

“Who, me?” Lefty protested innocently enough.

“Yes, you! Now cut the comedy. If you want another number, either put up
or shut up!”

“Okay, baby!” Lefty announced, digging down into his pocket and bringing
forth a roll of bills, peeling one off and dropping it into the lap of
the performer. “Shoot!”

The boy’s roll of money was of such considerable size that Rosa, who had
picked up an acquaintance with a new arrival, who seemed to gloat over
her amorous antics, left the man without further ado and returned to the
boy just as he placed the bills back in his pocket.

“You got sometink for Rosa?” she begged, her face again illuminated by a
beaming smile.

[Illustration: “You got sometink for Rosa?” she begged of Lefty.]

“Naw, go on away!” he replied with impatience, pushing the girl from
him, “I wanna hear my baby here sing!”

The blonde folded the bill and placed it in her dress, then touched the
white ivory keys and once more burst aloud in sentimental song.

“Rosa, she dance for her brave Americano soldado, you watch!”

“I don’ wanna watch,” he protested. “Go ’way, woman; you draw flies!”

“But Rosa, she dance for you!” the girl insisted, using every bit of
will power she possessed to hold back her rising temper.

“I don’t care if Rosa stand on her head! Leave me alone, will ya? I
wanna listen to ole blondie do her stuff!”

“Sacri!” fumed the native heartbreaker. “You do not know art!”

Lefty sighed impatiently and pushed the girl away once again. “Aw, go
sit on a tack!”

Rosa frowned menacingly but still managing to check her temper, walked
to a near-by table, picked up a straight drink of whiskey and handed it
to the boy.

Without even looking at her, he brought the glass to his lips and
swallowed the contents with one gulp, making a wry face as he did so.

The blonde finished her song and the orchestra returned to the stand,
picking up their instruments, and at the sign from the leader, burst
into a wild fandango. Rosa took Lefty by the hand and pulled him off of
the stand. He looked back to call the blonde entertainer but she had
already disappeared.

“Come, we dance, no?” Rosa announced, leading him to the center of the
floor.

“Yes!” the boy agreed, and taking the shapely native girl in his arms,
whirled off, around the tiled dance floor, stepping over any couple who
might unfortunately come within his path.

He felt something brush against his trouser pocket and looking down,
caught sight of the girl’s hand in the act of removing his money. With a
swift jerk, he grabbed the roll of bills from her and placed it in the
inside pocket of his blouse, much to the native’s discomfort.

At that very moment, Panama reached the veranda outside of the cafe,
stopping to read the sign that forbade Marines to enter. As he burst
through the grilled door, rudely brushing by a party of Americans who
were ready to leave, his ears caught the sound of music and hilarity.

Once inside, his eyes searched over the rows of tables and the people
jammed together on the dance floor, resting them upon Lefty and the
little native girl. Without waiting another moment, he pushed through
the crowd until he reached the center of the floor.

“What are you trying to pull off here?” he demanded to know, placing his
hand on the boy’s shoulder and swinging him around. “Pull yourself
together. We’re gettin’ out of this joint pronto!”

Rosa made no attempt to hide her resentment over Panama’s sudden
intrusion and clung desperately to Lefty’s sleeve. As for the boy, he
was so far gone by this time, that it took him a few moments to
recognize the sergeant. When he finally did, his jovial mood returned
and he slapped Panama on the back in a playful fashion, shouting: “Well,
well, well—if it ain’t the old kid hisself!”

“Come on, son,” Panama said, good-humoredly. “You’ve had your little
fling, let’s go places!”

“No, sir! No, sir! We’re goin’ stay right here!” the boy stubbornly
insisted, throwing his arms about the sergeant’s neck in a typical
inebriated fashion. “You an’ me, ole pal, we’re goin’ raise the ole
roof!”

The native girl grew more and more angered as the intruder insisted upon
separating her from her easy prey.

“What you want, huh?” she demanded to know of Panama. “Why you no leave
heem weez me, yes?”

“Yeah, why you no leave me weez she, huh?” Lefty mimicked the girl in a
silly fashion.

“Because he doesn’t belong here,” the sergeant explained patiently. “He
must go back camp. Police see him here—boom—no more soldado!”

“You bad, bad hombre,” she shrieked, jumping at Panama and clawing his
face and neck with her finger nails.

The sergeant had all he could do to hold Lefty from falling, and at the
same time, he was forced to fight off this little native minx much to
the amusement of those surrounding the trio.

“Cut it out, will ya, lady?” Panama pleaded, still a victim of the
girl’s painful clawing. “I gotta take him back or we’ll all land in the
brig, sure!”

“You no tak my soldado, you bad hombre!” she shrieked with renewed rage,
leaping for Williams’ throat this time.

“Aw, why don’t you stop hittin’ the poor gal,” Lefty stammered, now
nearly blind from the reaction of the bad liquor. “Rosie, ol’ baby, I’m
your pal; if he smacks you again, jes’ tell me, tha’s all!”

Panama pushed Lefty against a post in the middle of the floor, holding
him upright with one foot while he tore the girl loose from his throat,
throwing her off of him with all the force he could bring to his
command.

“Panny, ol’ kid,” the boy muttered, “ain’t you my pal, now—ain’t you?”

“Yeah—yeah—sure I am!” he replied, breathlessly, “but we gotta get out
of this joint!”

“Wai—it a minute!” Lefty protested. “You gotta shtick around. Now
lisshum—did ya ever hear me sing a song?”

“No and I ain’t goin’ to now!” Williams insisted. “You’re goin’ back to
camp!”

By this time, Rosa had collected her senses and made a flying leap for
the sergeant’s back, clawing his neck and pulling his hair until he
screamed with pain. They struggled for a while, with the girl getting
the better of things until Panama finally gripped her hands and flung
her across a table.

“Don’ push her aroun’ like that!” Lefty interfered by saying. “She’sh my
li’l old pal!”

Panama was at the end of his rope by this time and glared at the boy
with fire in his eyes. “You shut up, savvy? I’m gonna get you outa here
if I have to drag you bodily!”

The boy supported himself against the post and raised his head in
drunken defiance. “Don’ get tough with me, ol’ kid!”

“You shut your trap or I’ll close it for you!” the sergeant shouted,
completely devoid of patience now.

A good-sized crowd had formed a circle about Lefty, Panama and the girl
and they seemed to be thoroughly enjoying the little impromptu show.
Rosa regained her bearings and rushed in between the two Marines, ready
for another wild session.

“I keel you!” she threatened Williams. “You no tak away my hombre!”

“If you don’t clear out of here, lady,” Panama warned the girl, “I’m
gonna paste you one in the mouth!”

“Oh, no, you won’t,” Phelps interrupted in an antagonistic manner of
defiance. “She’s my gal an’ nobody’s gonna hurt her when I’m ’round!”

Panama was boiling over with rage. The more he strove to suppress his
anger, the hotter he became. Never before in all his career as a noncom
had he ever stood for so much abuse from a buck private. He couldn’t
understand now why he was taking it all from Lefty.

“I’m warnin’ you, Lef, cut the comedy or you’re liable to get hurt!”

Phelps, looking for sympathy, turned to a man standing near by.
“Sh—sh—shee that? He’s ma’ pal an’ now he wants to fight! Okay, baby, if
you wan’ it, I’m ready!”

Lefty lifted his hands and clenched his fists, but before he could use
them, Panama shot out a clean right straight to the jaw and sent the boy
spinning across the room, dead to the world. He fell to the floor in a
heap and just missed crashing his head against the iron legs of a table.

Panama grinned menacingly and started toward his victim as the crowd of
onlookers stepped back to make way for him. Rosa, though, was not to be
so easily done with. She ran after the sergeant, still determined to
prevent her prize from slipping through her fingers. Just as she was
about to leap for him from behind, he swung around, picked her up in his
arms and sat her on top of the bar, kicking, screaming and protesting.

As he reached the spot where Lefty fell, he bent down, picked the boy
up, throwing him over his shoulder and turned about to leave. He hadn’t
gone far when one of the waiters ran after him, waving a check and
gesticulating in Spanish. Panama glanced at the bill, reached into
Lefty’s pocket and took out the roll of currency, peeling off some money
and throwing it to the waiter, returning the rest to the pocket from
whence it came.

As the sergeant reached the grilled door with Lefty still across his
shoulder, a heavy-set native, nearly a head taller than the Marine,
stepped before them. Panama’s quick-wittedness came into play, and
picking up Lefty’s limp, right leg, shoved it forward into the face of
the unsuspecting antagonist, bowling the man over into insensibility.

Someone near by swung open the door and Panama exited, breathing freely
as he once more found himself out in the cool, night air. No sooner had
he started down the steps of the veranda than he heard someone
approaching from behind. Turning, he found Rosa in the doorway. She
leaped forward, clinging to Williams’ shoulders as she emitted a flood
of vile oaths in her native tongue.

He strove to throw her off but her grip was too strong; besides, she had
the advantage over him due to the fact that he was loaded down on one
side by Lefty’s dead weight.

Just ahead, at the side of the building, was a rain barrel. Panama
smiled grimly as he continued on his way, now burdened with the
screeching girl as well as the intoxicated Marine. As they came to the
side of the rain barrel, the sergeant dropped Lefty gently to the ground
and then suddenly grasped the unsuspecting Rosa in both arms, lifted her
high in the air and then threw her bodily into the cask of overflowing
rain water.

“Mebbe that’ll keep you quiet, miss,” he speculated grimly as he reached
down and threw Lefty over his shoulder again.

A half hour later, Panama entered the camp boundaries with the rows of
white tents just ahead of him. He didn’t fear any of the boys on guard
duty. After all, he was top kick and none of them would dare turn him
in, not if they knew what was well for them! Of course, the military
police, that was something else again! That crowd of roughnecks would
just as lief place an offending major general under arrest as quickly as
they would turn in a raw recruit.

He turned down the company street where he and Lefty lived. Just ahead
of him, his keen eyes caught the silhouetted figures of Major Harding
and one of his aides coming in their direction.

“Cripes, don’t that guy ever turn in?” he thought aloud. “If he catches
me with my mechanic passed out, it’ll be a month in the brig instead of
a medal that I’ll be gettin’!”

Panama ducked inside of one of the tents just in time to avoid a meeting
with the squadron commander and his adjutant. When they had gone a
sufficient distance ahead in the opposite direction, he came out, still
bearing Lefty on his shoulder and hurried down the company street to
their own tent.

Once inside, he lighted the small oil lamp with one hand and threw the
prostrated form of his mechanic over on the cot, with the boy lying
motionless in the same position that he had fallen.

“There you are, soldier!” Panama announced, good-humoredly, as he
lighted a muchly deserved cigarette. “As you were—or nearly!”

He placed his cigarette down to wipe off the bloodstains from the
scratches the little native minx had inflicted upon his arms, face and
neck when he heard a woman’s voice, just outside the tent, call his
name.

He opened the flaps and found Elinor waiting for him with grave anxiety
plainly written over her pale face.

“Is he hurt, Panama?” she asked, making no attempt now to conceal her
deep concern over Lefty’s welfare.

“No, Elinor, he’s top hole,” the sergeant replied in a comforting tone
of assurance, “nothin’s wrong only he’s just a little tired, I reckon!”

Once reassured as to the boy’s safety, Elinor breathed freely again and
gazed up at Panama with keen admiration.

“You’re a darling,” she said impulsively, reaching up on her toes and
kissing him on the cheek. When she realized what she had done, she
turned on her heels and ran up the company street for dear life. In
another moment, she had completely disappeared from view.

Elinor’s sudden move left the sergeant utterly at loss for words. He
stood in amazement, gazing after her fleeting form, his heart filled
with supreme ecstasy as he slowly stroked the part of his cheek her lips
had touched.

He called her name vainly, but she was gone too far to hear him. Happy
as a boy away from school, he brushed back the tent flaps and burst
inside, craving for someone to talk to.

Lefty was still lying on the cot in the same dull, prostrated manner as
Panama came over to him and vigorously shook him by the shoulder,
finally propping him up in a sitting position in an effort to bring him
back to consciousness.

“Lefty! Listen! Wake up, you son of a sea cook! It’s Panama, I’m talkin’
to you, you old pickle barrel! She kissed me, do you hear that? Elinor
kissed me! Will you wake up, you mug? This is your pal, can’t you
understand? She just kissed me!”

Panama continued to try and bring Lefty around to consciousness but the
only thing his efforts resulted in was to awake the boy once more in a
drunken fit of song. At the top of his lungs, Lefty began singing off
key, the music of the Spanish fandango he and Rosa had danced to.
Disgusted with his efforts, Williams let the boy drop back on the cot.
He lighted another cigarette and sat down on the edge of the bunk beside
Phelps who had now fallen back to his silent state of unconsciousness.

“It’s all right with me, soldier,” he addressed the boy. “Don’t listen!
It ain’t none of your business anyhow!”

Just then, an orderly entered and handed Williams a paper.

“What do you want, stupid?” the sergeant snapped at the dog robber.

“Major Harding requests that you take off at once on a night flight to
locate some enemy camp fires,” the orderly explained.

Panama jumped up and slapped the astonished messenger on the back. “You
tell the Old Man that it’s Okay with me, kid! I’ll make ten flights if
he wants me to!”

As the sergeant started to get into his flying togs, the orderly exited.
Once more alone, Panama turned to Lefty again, “You wouldn’t listen, eh?
Well, you old stew, you don’t have to! I’ll tell the propeller. I can
always talk to that old prop; in fact, I might tell the whole, darn,
cockeyed world!”

By this time, he was in his togs, searching about to make certain that
he hadn’t forgotten anything.

After picking up his cigarettes, he ran to the front of the tent,
stopping to look back at Lefty’s motionless form still sprawled in the
same position on the cot. A happy smile crossed the sergeant’s face and
he crossed to where the boy lay asleep. Bending over him, he jabbed his
elbow into Lefty’s ribs and whispered again, “Elinor kissed me, you
mug!”



CHAPTER XV


A short time after Reveille the following morning, Panama’s plane taxied
along the ground and was met by a group of curious ground men.

When the ship came to a stop, the flying sergeant crawled out of the
cockpit with much difficulty, stiff and sore from his all-night flight,
the purpose of which had since proved to be a futile escapade.

“Didn’t see a camp fire all night,” he announced to the group of men
gathered about the plane.

“Gee, that must have been tough,” one of the Marines sympathized,
“hopin’ around this trick country all night and then not seein’ what you
went after.”

“You said it,” another chirped. “The least that Sandino guy might have
done was to be a little obligin’ and light up a couple of fires so you’d
discover where he was!”

Panama shook his head and laughed heartily. “Maybe if we’d ’a’ sent him
a telegram sayin’ I was comin’, he might have been considerate enough to
help me out. Then we could send a squadron of planes over his camp
to-day and blow ’em all to hell.”

Just then, Lefty came sauntering along, still carrying a pretty bad
hang-over from the night before. When he saw the ground men grouped
around Panama’s plane, he joined them.

“Say, Pete!” the sergeant called to the chief mechanic at the base,
“just after sunrise this morning, one of them plugs started missin’.
Will you get after it?”

“Right after breakfast,” the man announced, “I’ll put a couple of boys
on to overhaul the whole motor anyway.”

Panama looked up and saw Lefty for the first time and beckoned to him.
“Come on over to the tent, kid. I think I’ve got it!”

Williams waved to the others and started across the field, followed by
Lefty.

Once inside of their tent, Panama threw his helmet on his cot and pulled
off his windjammer as the boy sat on a box, silent and indifferent,
rolling himself a cigarette. Free of his flying togs at last, the
sergeant turned and confronted his friend with a familiar eagerness and
suppressed excitement lighting his face that was still dirty from smoke,
wind and oil.

“I’ve got the whole thing solved,” he announced with enthusiasm. “All
night long, while I flew over those mountains and across valleys,
searching for a sign of them greaser bandits, the idea preyed upon my
mind!”

Lefty moved about on the narrow box impatiently as he reached for a
match and lighted his cigarette.

“What’s been on your mind besides your helmet?”

Williams completely ignored the question and walked to the front of the
tent, closing the flaps and tying them together as a means of insuring
privacy.

“You’ve got to help me, kid!” he began again, turning and sitting down
on the edge of the cot opposite Lefty. “Take off that jumper!”

“What for?”

“Oh, boy, why didn’t I think of this back in Pensacola,” he mused aloud,
still ignoring Phelps’ questions. “Everything would have been hunky dory
now, all right!”

“What would have been?” Lefty asked as he began to show signs of
annoyance over the other man’s continued secrecy.

The sergeant smiled sheepishly, kicking the toe of his hobnailed boot
into the ground. “Aw, go on, you know what I mean!”

Lefty rose to his feet and threw the half-smoked cigarette to the floor
of the tent, crunching its remains beneath the heel of his shoe. “No, I
don’t know what you mean, and if you don’t hurry up and tell me, I going
to walk out on you!”

“Why, you’re goin’ to ask her for me! I’ve been thinkin’ about it all
night. Don’t you see the idea?”

“No, I don’t see,” the boy protested, “I’m going to ask who, what?”

“Her!”

Lefty dropped on top of the box and gazed at Panama with a look of
miscomprehension. “What are you talking about? You don’t mean that—not
Elinor?”

Panama nodded his head with enthusiasm, smiling with self-satisfaction
over the idea he had perfected.

“Sure—Elinor! Last night, when I went over to ask her, I lost my nerve
again. There we were, by the old Mission gate, alone in the moonlight
with no one within a mile of us and I couldn’t work up enough guts to
say the word!”

“Why not?” the boy asked in a cool manner of indifference.

“I was helpless, licked! Don’t you see, kid? I can’t talk! But you and
your college learnin’! Say, that’s how I got the idea! It’ll be a
cinch——”

Panama’s proposition completely stunned the other man and he sat gazing
blankly at his friend with wide, uncomprehending eyes, certain that his
very ears were deceiving him.

“You—you want me to ask her for you?”

“Sure! Why not? You’re the only guy in the world that I’d let do that
for me!”

Lefty walked to the front of the tent, unloosened one of the flaps and
threw it back to allow the air to come in. “You’re crazy, man!” he said,
completely dismissing the entire wild idea from his mind.

“Crazy?” Panama repeated, laughing cruelly. “Listen, picture yourself
out in that moonlight in the shadow of the old Mission with a lot of
greasers singin’ lovesick ballads and the big, silver moon shinin’ down
on you with Elinor by your side and you——”

“For God’s sake, will you shut up?” the nerve-wracked boy screamed, no
longer able to control his burning emotions.

“What’s the matter with you, anyway?” Panama asked, not aware of his
friend’s reason for refusing his request.

“Nothing’s wrong with me,” Lefty announced. “It’s you and your
half-baked ideas! You’re out of your mind!”

The sergeant’s face darkened as a cloud of disappointment overshadowed
his confident smile. “You mean, you won’t?”

“I can’t!” Phelps interrupted, striving to hide his true feelings. “I
can’t do it and I won’t! If you want the girl, go ask her yourself!”

Panama rose and pulled at the boy’s jumper in a determined fashion,
completely deaf to his protestations. “Aw, come on. Get them clothes
off. You’ll know what to say. I ain’t ever had no education or dealin’s
with decent women!”

Lefty swung about and faced his friend. His eyes were filled with a
mingled look of fear and anxiety. “I can’t ask her that! Don’t you see,
I can’t?”

“But you gotta, kid! You’ll know what to say! Your book learnin’ will
help. Don’t flop me, will ya?”

“I tell you, you’re crazy!” the boy bellowed, angrily. “What do you
think I am, anyway—your dog?”

A look of pain crept over Panama’s face. He saw all of his plans and
dream castles crumble to earth with Lefty’s refusal to act as his proxy.

“Aw, no, I don’t think nothin’ like that. I ain’t tellin’ you to ask
her, I’m beggin’ you as a pal!”

Lefty turned and walked to the rear of the tent, oblivious to the man’s
entreaties. “Just because you saved me from being transferred to a ship,
you expect me to jump every time you snap your fingers!”

The sergeant’s attitude changed now from one of meek pleading to
definite aggressiveness, a role so perfectly suited to him.

“O-o-oh—so I’m askin’ you too much, huh? You won’t do it, eh? You won’t
go over to that girl and say a couple of simple words for me when you
know I can’t talk? Well, that’s Okay with me, brother! I certainly am
glad to find out what kind of a pal you’ve turned out to be!”

Lefty completely weakened at the other man’s implication of his
unfaithful devotion, and dropped to the cot behind him, suffering untold
tortures caused by his being torn between the love of this man and his
adoration for Elinor.

“I can’t do it, Panama! Honest, I can’t! It would be harder for me than
it is for you!” The sergeant, not understanding the truth behind the
boy’s ambiguous confession, walked over to where he rested and sitting
down beside him, placed his arm about Lefty’s shoulders, once more
resorting to his soft, pleading tone. “What are you talking about? Why,
it’ll be a cinch for you, the way you sling words around! Say, if I had
your gift for gab, you don’t think I’d be askin’ you to propose for me,
do you?”

[Illustration: “If I had your gift for gab, you don’t think I’d be
askin’ you to propose for me, do you?”]

Panama remained silent for a moment, waiting for some comment from
Phelps but there was none forthcoming. He merely lolled on the edge of
the cot, resting his weary head in his hands.

“Come on, now; you will do it, won’t you?” Williams urged.

The boy sat up straight, trying to set his befuddled brain in order
again. He looked up at his friend as a shadow of helplessness crossed
his face.

“I’d do anything in the world for you, anything,” he strove to make
Panama believe, “but when you ask me to speak to Elinor about a thing
like—like—well, if you wanted me to cut my heart right out of my body
and hand it to you, that would be easier!”

Panama smiled generously and patted the boy upon the back. “I know it
must be hard to do another feller’s work for him, but if I told you that
what I’m askin’ means my life’s happiness; if I said that I’ve lived
every moment since the time I first saw her for the day when she’d say,
‘yes’; that every hour I’m awake, I think of us together in a cottage
some place with flowers and kids, and when I’m asleep, I just dream of
her an’ me married, what would you say?”

Without answering, Lefty rose, proceeding to remove his work jumper as
Panama, watching him eagerly, caught the significance of this gesture
and jumped to his feet, bearing a triumphant and enthusiastic smile as
his prospects once more grew brighter.

“Atta boy!” he shouted jubilantly. “I knew you wouldn’t fail me!”

“When you put it the way you did, about it meaning everything in the
world to you, I couldn’t turn you down,” the boy explained, moving about
the tent in a daze.

He walked to the little stand that held the washbasin and cleaned the
oil and grease off of his hands and then brushed his hair.

As he gazed into the small mirror just above the washbasin, his eyes
rested upon a snapshot of Elinor that Panama had stuck there. Confronted
by the magnetic features of the girl, everything within him revolted
against the unfairness of it all. He swung about, ready to announce his
definite refusal to participate in the scheme, only to come face to face
with the sergeant who was standing behind him, watching eagerly.

“Go on, now,” Panama urged. “I’ll be waitin’ right here for her answer.”

His words again changed the boy’s demeanor, breaking down the last
barriers of objection.

“Don’t keep me waitin’ too long, will ya?” Williams begged. “Hurry on
your way now!”

Lefty stopped when he reached the front of the tent, lighting upon a
perfect alibi to defer the painful ordeal he was about to face. “Wait a
minute,” he said. “This is no time to propose to a girl. You can’t ask
her a serious thing like that just when you please. You’ve got to have
things right. You know, moonlight, atmosphere, music and all that bunk.
I’ll ask her to-night. What do you say?”

“There you are! That’s the difference between us,” Panama boasted with
profound admiration for his friend’s mental capacity. “If it was me, I’d
run right over now and she’d probably hand me the bum’s rush! Don’t you
see how much I need your help? That’s what that education stuff does for
a guy!”

“All right, all right, now let’s forget about it until to-night then,”
Lefty said impatiently. “I said I’d do it, so it’s as good as done!”

Panama shrugged his shoulders and walked over to his cot, disappointed
with the boy’s unsympathetic attitude. Suddenly something struck him and
he looked at the other man with a grave expression of doubt. “Say, Lef!”

“Now what’s the matter?”

“Nothin’, only—well, suppose she does say the word,” the sergeant
speculated as he scratched his head, “then what am I supposed to do?”

“Run over, take her in your arms and ask her when the day is to be!”

The simple man’s face became livid white as he moved from one foot to
the other nervously.

“Gee, I can’t do that!” he protested, “I ain’t got nerve enough!
Couldn’t you ask her that too?”

“Whatinell you expect me to do,” Lefty roared, completely losing his
patience. “Marry her for you?”



CHAPTER XVI


Elinor stood by the narrow window in the dingy, one-room hut that she
and Grace Hayes (another nurse) made habitable after an entire day of
scrubbing and cleaning on their hands and knees until their backs were
nearly broken.

A blue cotton curtain, some pictures, a few ornaments, bought in town
and some brightly colored cretonne pillows gave the little place a
feminine touch and a homey atmosphere.

The bright, full tropical moon shone through the glass, casting its
silvery beams upon the girl’s thick, blue-black hair and large, dark
eyes.

As the form of a man appeared just a few feet outside of the window, the
nurse stepped back and drew the curtain so as not to be seen. Grace came
up alongside of her, trying to peer through the glass but the curtain
shut out the view completely.

“Is he still there?” she asked inquisitively.

Elinor nodded her head slowly, continuing to watch the man pacing up and
down before her window, not without experiencing a secret thrill of
triumph as she marveled at his patience. For the past hour and a half,
he had been walking back and forth in front of the house, stopping now
and then to look in the window, hoping for a sight of the lovely nurse
within.

“Oh, that’s mean!” Grace protested. “You’ve kept him waiting out there
for almost an eternity. Why don’t you stop this nonsense and see him!”

“It will do him good to wait,” Elinor announced with a touch of
severeness in her voice. “He needs a lesson in consideration for other
people’s feelings!”

“Oh, dear!” the other girl sighed with envy. “I wish there was a tall,
good-looking Marine waiting for me on a night like this!”

Elinor couldn’t help but smile at her roommate’s outburst of simple
romanticism. “And if this one was waiting for you instead of for me,
what would you do!”

“I don’t know,” Grace confessed in a helpless fashion, “I guess I’d run
right out, drag him off to some lonely spot and work a proposal from him
if I had to literally choke the words out of his mouth!”

“That’s a good idea,” Elinor replied with secret amusement. “Maybe I’ll
try it myself.”

“Really!” the other said as her mouth opened aghast and her eyes
widened. “Would you—honest!”

“Any old port in a storm, you know! If he doesn’t speak with natural
ease, perhaps your idea of gentle persuasion may help.”

She reached for her blue cape and swung it over her shoulders, stopping
to peck Grace’s cheek with a fond kiss as she walked to the other side
of the room.

“Be in early!” the lonely, romantic nurse warned, good-naturedly, as
Elinor placed her hand on the door knob, swinging the door open.

“That depends on how successful I am,” the girl laughed with a ring of
optimism. In a moment, the door had closed behind her and she was gone.

Grace ran to the window excitedly, peeking through the curtain to watch
her roommate and Lefty, who still waited with admirable patience.

Lefty reached for his hat and pulled it off of his head, fumbling
nervously with it in his hands as he turned about, discovering Elinor
standing in the shadow of the doorway, silent and somewhat indifferent.

“Oh—er—hello!” he stammered, attempting to assume a bold, devil-may-care
front, though obviously ill at ease.

“Good evening, Mr. Phelps,” she replied in a distinctly piqued manner.

She came down the little pathway and joined him without speaking
further. Together, they silently turned off to the road that led up the
hill and passed the old Spanish Mission.

Certain that Lefty would remain silent as long as she set the example,
Elinor gave him a hurried, sidelong glance, and with slight irony,
remarked: “I suppose I should feel highly honored over your
condescension in favoring me with your precious society this evening?”

She waited a moment for him to reply but he was too miserable even to
look in the girl’s direction.

“Well,” she began again, this time in a lighter, indifferent fashion,
though still secretly burning with jealousy, “did you have a good time
last night?”

“I don’t blame you for not being tickled pink to see me,” he said, in a
manner that distinctly betrayed his secret disgust with himself, and the
mark of unhappiness his present task had left upon his heart and face.
“I haven’t been at all considerate of your feelings of late, but if you
were acquainted with the circumstances, you might not be so harsh in
your opinion of me.”

Just ahead of them was a native hut with large palm trees silhouetted in
the background against the pale, evening tropical sky. The moon, peeking
over the tree tops, reflected the dark figures of several men and women
seated on the porch of the little house, singing the alluring love
melodies of far-away Spain to the accompaniment of indolent, strumming
guitars.

The boy and girl paused just before an ancient well, built centuries ago
by the Spanish Inquisitors. Elinor gazed up at the unhappy Marine whose
face bore a pathetic expression of inquietude.

“Why the sudden outburst of remorse?” she asked in the same piqued
manner as her original approach.

“I’m not remorseful or—well, I only meant to explain that I wouldn’t
have bothered you to-night if I didn’t have something important to ask
you!”

Elinor’s heart almost stopped beating at the welcome sound of his words
that held so much promise. He could mean but one thing, she was certain,
and at the mere thought of an impending proposal of marriage from this
man, she looked up at him with suppressed eagerness and anticipation,
half whispering: “Yes, Lefty, what is it?”

“I hardly know how to begin,” he faltered, “and I hope that you will
take what I am going to say in the right way.”

“Of course!”

Throwing discretion and self-pride to the winds, he gazed at her with
wild, piercing eyes, a look that quickened the beating of her heart and
thrilled her to the very tips of her fingers.

“I want to tell you,” he continued in a hurried, reckless fashion,
anxious to get his task done, “I want to tell you that somebody loves
you, somebody thinks you are the most adorable girl in all the world.
You’re on his mind every waking hour of the day and when sleep envelops
him at night, his dreams are only of you! You are all that he thinks of,
talks about and lives for. No matter where we go, what dangerous perils
face us, all I hear from him is Elinor this and Elinor that. She’s
beautiful, wonderful, sweet and——”

“Lefty!” Elinor interrupted, rudely awakened with astonishment at the
knowledge that his proposal of marriage was merely the delivery of a
message for someone else.

Unmindful of her interruption or the abject pain of remorse and
disappointment that was gripping the heart of this girl whom he truly
worshiped himself, Lefty rambled on: “There are a lot of men in this
world who would be made the happiest creatures alive with the knowledge
that you cared for them—good men, successful, honest and faithful, but
if you searched far and wide, over the four corners of the earth, you
would never find another Panama. He may seem relentless, rough and
crude, insofar as speech and education goes, but underneath that hard
exterior, built up as a protection against a laughing, unmerciful world,
there is a softness, a beautiful, honest soul possessed with a
tenderness and devotion to you!”

“Please, Lefty!” the unhappy, disillusioned woman begged, “you
mustn’t——”

“There is only one fault he possesses,” the boy continued, deaf to her
protestations, “his heart is filled with such a great love for you that
he is limited for the want of proper expression. I know that he has
tried to tell you time and time again but each——”

“Please, don’t!” she interrupted beseechingly, suddenly gripped with a
pressing desire to run away from it all as she took a few steps
backward.

“Don’t you understand, Elinor? He’s crazy about you! He worships you.
Never, since the day his eyes first rested upon you, has he even as much
as looked at another woman. Last night, when you kissed him—kissed him
for saving me from prison or God knows what else—he went wild with joy!
All night long while he flew over the jungles, imperiling his life, his
task was made lighter because he believed you cared!”

Elinor stood numb with obfuscation, her face a lifeless, enigmatic blank
as her eyes filled with large tears that trickled down her pallid
cheeks. Lefty lifted her chin so that their eyes met, then he grasped
her by the shoulders, shaking her gently to make her understand, but all
that he did was to bring to the girl the horrible realization of the
tremendous sacrifice he was making for his friend’s happiness.

As he gazed into her tear-filled, pleading eyes, he was afraid to trust
himself, and struggled to bring Panama back as the chief topic of
conversation, increasing his fervent ardor with the escape of each word
from his lips.

“Don’t you understand, dear? He loves you! That’s why I am here to speak
for him because he can’t! He worships the very ground you walk upon,
lives only for the realization of his dream to marry you. Will you——”

“Please, Lefty—don’t say it!” she cried in a voice gripped with terror.

“I’ve got to, dear,” the boy persisted in a blind, resolute manner.
“He’s over there now, waiting for your answer. He’s waiting for me to
come and tell him that you will be his wife!”

Unable to control her emotions any longer, Elinor gave full vent to her
feelings and broke down, sobbing as if every one of Lefty’s words had
been an arrow, piercing straight through to her heart.

Instinctively, he drew close to her, dropping his cruel mask of
pretension for one brief moment.

“What are you crying for, baby!” he asked, gently, allowing his hand to
stroke her hair. “You’ve got nothing to feel bad about, dear! You should
shout for joy because Panama loves you. He’ll make you the happiest girl
in the world. Come on, girlie, what do you say!”

She looked up into his clear blue eyes that bespoke the great sacrifice
he was making. Despite her own sorrow, her heart filled with admiration
over the splendidness of his character and his unflinching devotion to
the cause of a man who had often befriended him.

Unable to remain silent any longer in the face of losing the man her
heart had belonged to ever since the very first moment she saw him, she
cried, “Lefty!” in a tone that expressed her own, powerful, overwhelming
love.

He stepped a little away from her, conscious of his own weakness as she
followed after him, throwing her arms about his neck and burying her
head upon his chest. He attempted vainly to release himself but she
pressed closer to him.

When she lifted her head again, gazing up at him appealingly, he
momentarily forgot every obligation he had assumed, completely weakening
as he clasped her tightly in his arms, showering her upraised lips with
kisses his heart had gone hungry for.

They became lost to the world in the ecstasy of their own love,
whispering to each other passionate words of endearment.

All at once, Lefty’s face sobered as Elinor drew away from him. “How
will I ever explain it all to Panama?” he murmured.

Though the thought of the sergeant and the speculation as to how he
would receive the unhappy announcement of his failure, troubled Elinor,
she braced herself for the ordeal, shielded by her great love, and
replied: “I’ll go with you, dear! I’ll tell him!”

Panama was keyed up to a high, exciting pitch of impatience. He had been
pacing back and forth within the small inclosure of the tent since Lefty
went forth upon his unhappy mission, now more than two hours ago.

Hearing a noise outside of the tent, he paused suddenly just as the
flaps were pushed back and Lefty entered, bearing a troubled look upon
his weary and tired face. Panama grinned apprehensively and ran to greet
the boy, eagerly awaiting to learn the results of the expedition.

“What did she say?” he whispered, forcing down a nervous lump that rose
in his throat.

“She’s outside,” the boy replied with hesitance. “She wants to talk to
you!”

Too wrapped up in the belief that, at last, his fondest wishes had
culminated in actual realization, Panama remained blind insofar as
sensing the truth that lay behind Lefty’s apparent misery and
troublesome expression. He bolted pass the boy and was out of the tent
in a moment.

Once more alone, Phelps dropped down upon the edge of the cot in a
forlorn manner, running his fingers through his hair for the want of
something to relieve the tenseness that had gripped him.

Restless and worried, he rose again and paced back and forth with a
nervous, uncertain step, waiting for the inevitable moment when he would
again have to face the sergeant after the truth had been disclosed.

Following what seemed to be an hour, but was really no more than ten
minutes, the flaps parted again and Williams entered, bearing a cold,
unrelentless expression of cruelty, feeling very much like a man who had
been betrayed by his dearest friend.

He faced the boy sternly. His thin, colorless lips were pressed tightly
together and his eyes narrowed with growing rage.

Nervous and pleading, bearing a miserable look of unquestionable guilt,
the boy began to explain the circumstances only to be cut short before a
single word had passed his lips.

“So that’s the kind of a rat you turned out to be?” Williams began in a
cold, upbraiding manner of disdain.

“But, listen—” Lefty begged.

“I sent you over to my girl to ask something that I was unable to say,”
Panama interrupted him again, “and the moment my back was turned, you
forgot about me in your own selfish way and made love to her yourself!”

“That isn’t so!” the other man insisted vehemently. “You know I wouldn’t
double-cross you for a million dollars!”

“You wouldn’t double-cross me?” the Marine noncom repeated, emitting a
cold, merciless laugh that caused a chill to run right through the other
man. “Why, you yellow pup—you ran back on your college, and ran back on
the Flying Corps and now you try to knife me!”

The boy’s face became livid white and he parted his lips as a sign of
protest but the enraged sergeant burst right in upon him again without
allowing him an explanation.

“Put up your hands and fight, if you ain’t the yellow pup I think you
are!”

“I don’t want to fight you, Panama,” Lefty appealed in vain. “I don’t
want to fight you!”

“You mean, you ain’t got guts enough to,” Williams shrieked derisively,
“but I’m gonna beat the daylights out of your yellow hulk or know why!”

He raised his hand and made a lunge at the boy just as Lefty attempted
to shield himself by covering his face with his hands. Panama’s blow was
too quick. His clenched fists reached their mark, just on the side of
the boy’s head, stunning him for a moment and then arousing him to the
act of self-defense.

“All right, if you want it that way,” Phelps cried out. “Come on; I’ll
fight!”

Panama’s fists connected with the boy’s jaw and he followed this
stunning blow right up with a short left to the stomach, then a right to
the ribs and another left to the face, completely closing one of the
boy’s eyes with the forceful blow.

They were fighting now in close quarters. The boy swung his fists
wildly, only making his mark once or twice and then with no noticeable
effect upon the grizzled features of the other man, who kept tearing and
slashing away with the confidence and marked certainty of the
experienced battler.

Panama brought every bit of his terrific, gorilla strength to bear upon
his punches, battering the helpless boy into a corner and with a
smashing right to the mouth, brought blood to his weaker adversary’s
lips, following this up with a resounding blow, directly to a spot just
under the heart that sent Phelps reeling across the tent and falling
over the cot.

The victor stopped a moment to catch his breath and brush the hair out
of his eyes. He looked down and saw that his entire shirt front was
covered with blood from the boy’s cut mouth and nose. Smiling grimly, he
again pounced upon Lefty, who was just regaining consciousness, taking
him by the throat with a determination to finish matters now for once
and for all.

Suddenly, from the flying field came the bugler’s call to assemble and
to arms. A look of keen disappointment overshadowed the crazed and
lustful features of the man who believed he had been wronged.
Reluctantly, he released his grip upon Lefty’s throat, rising to his
feet slowly and mechanically reaching for his flying togs.

Down through the long line of company streets, noncommissioned officers
breathlessly ran, shouting at the top of the lungs to the inmates of the
many tents to turn out for duty.

Panama buttoned his windjammer and reached for his helmet, casting one
last, contemptuous look in the direction of the punch-drunk boy. “Come
on, yeller, snap into it! I’ll settle with you later!”

With that, he disappeared through the tent flaps, leaving the battered
and bruised mechanic to slowly lift himself to his feet and follow after
him.

Out on the field, the ground men had already lined up the planes for a
take-off in battle formation. Just ahead of the ships, Major Harding and
his two aides stood in conversation as pilots and mechanics came running
past them from all directions.

Panama made his appearance and went directly to the flight commander,
coming to attention and saluting his superior with a military snap.

The major acknowledged the formality and instructed the sergeant to line
his men up before their ships.

Williams saluted again, did an about face and roared to the men on the
field to fall in.

When the men were in line and absolute quiet once more reigned, the
commander of the flying squadron stepped forward and addressed the
pilots and their mechanics.

“Word has reached us from an official source,” he announced, “that a
body of our men are being attacked by the enemy near Ocotal.” He turned
to the adjutant standing at his right and asked: “Are all the pilots and
observers present?”

“All present and accounted for,” the aide announced, “except Sergeant
Greyson and Corporal Fleck, two observers who are down with malaria!”

“In that case,” the major announced, “I will lead this formation myself.
Sergeant Williams, you will accompany me as my observer. Private
Phelps——”

Lefty stepped forward, managing to stand beneath the shadow of one of
the planes so that his bruised face would not show. “Yes, sir!” he
replied and saluted.

“You have had machine gun experience?”

“Yes, sir!”

“Then you are assigned to Corporal Steve Graham’s plane as his observer!
Crews will service all ships for immediate flight. The armament section
will place eight fragmentation bombs on each plane and check front and
rear guns and ammunition!”

He took two paces back. The adjutant stepped forward and saluted, then
cupping his hands to his mouth, yelled: “Turn on the field lights!”

Captain Burleson, second in command to Major Harding, moved up in front
of the young adjutant and announced: “Make all possible speed. We must
take off in less than ten minutes!”

As the great Sunlight arc lamps from the roof of the hangars on the
north and south ends of the field illuminated the vicinity for miles
around, literally turning the dark night into daylight, the various
crews began to service each ship, beginning with tearing off the engine
covers.

Noncommissioned officers moved about with raised voices, ordering their
units to fulfill various tasks in hurried and excited tones of
authority, as each man responded by springing into action.

Over to the right, at the bombproof cellars, men perspired as they
silently labored, passing up bombs along a line that reached to the
first ship with the last man standing by to load plane after plane.

The motors of some of the planes were already running and the deafening
whirrs drowned out the shouts of officers and noncoms. With the ships
serviced and loaded with ammunition now, the pilots and their observers
climbed up into the cockpits, ready for the command to take off.

Steve and Lefty’s plane was the second in line, just alongside of the
major’s in which Panama was traveling as observer. Though Steve was
keyed up and fervent with excitement over his first night flight as a
pilot and the happy prospect of at last being baptized under the fire of
Sandino’s guns, he found time to annoy Lefty, who sat in the rear
cockpit, miserably unhappy and at fault with the world.

The corporal glanced back at his observer, bearing a mischievous grin,
and as he indicated the machine gun beside Phelps, remarked derisively:
“Now be careful, Yale, and don’t fire that gun backward!”

The boy was too occupied with the many confusing and disappointing
problems of the past few hours to heed the idle chiding of Graham. He
merely glanced up at the heckler with a frown and then turned away once
more to his own troubles without offering any retort.

The great siren blew and the pilots, alert for action, responded by
taxiing their ships to a starting position with the major’s plane first
in line.

Panama stood up and looked back to make certain that everything was
ready, reporting to the commander, who raised his arm high above his
head, the procedure followed by every other pilot all the way down the
line.

The ground men hurried through the network of ships, bending low to make
certain that the lights strapped to the struts of each ship were
securely fastened and lighted. One these men jumped out of the way, the
commander of the squadron dropped his hand and the planes made their
take-off down the field, flying into formation as they gradually gained
altitude.



CHAPTER XVII


A week previous to the time of this writing, a company of Marines, under
the command of Lieutenant Walter Ranson, were ordered up into the
mountains on a reconnoitering expedition.

For four days and nights, they had searched through every pathway and
crevice in the great mountain region for a sign of Sandino and his rebel
horde, but their efforts were without success.

The post commandant at Managua, acting upon the advice of the Federal
Government military authorities of Nicaragua, sent a message to Ranson
to return to the Marine base.

It was the belief of the American commander and the Nicaraguans that
Sandino had fled over the mountain paths, escaping north to Mexico.

Relieved of his unpleasant task and a chance to escape the hardships and
terrific heat, both for himself and his command, Ranson issued orders to
break camp and start back, down the mountain to Managua, a good three
days’ hike from where they were encamped.

The following morning they arrived at a corral just a few miles from
Ocotal, a small mountain town known to be inhabited by people whose
sympathy fell with the lot of the usurping bandits.

Due to a terrific rising heat wave and a desire to escape the
possibility of having to spend a night in the rebel stronghold, the
lieutenant halted the company and prepared to temporarily billet his men
in the deserted corral.

The place was surrounded by a low, thirty-inch wall of adobe, topped
with palings. An old, iron gate, hanging off its hinges, was just in the
center, behind which stood a nipa shack with a slanting roof of palm
leaves. An overturned oxcart rested just to the right of the shack, half
buried in mud caused by recent, heavy mountain rains.

After the lieutenant and his men had commandeered the corral, making
fires, setting up their pup tents and fixing a place behind the house
for the horses and pack mules, he sent for his top sergeant, and
together they walked to the gateway, surveying the lay of the land.

“Sergeant, we’d be pinned in this place like rats in a trap,” Ranson
speculated, “if Sandino or any of his men should suddenly turn up with a
surprise attack.”

The bulky top kick, the same hard breathing, puffy Marine who, with a
small company some weeks before, were the first to see the arrival of
the flying squadron, looked over the situation with the trained eye of a
seasoned campaigner.

He nodded his head in a grave manner and turned to his superior: “Yes,
sir. We are right at the foot of them mountains, an easy target for an
attack from that angle. Just ahead is the jungle that no white man could
ever pass through alive. To the right is the road into town. If we
retreated in that direction, we’d be bait for snipers on house tops and
the charging greasers at our heels from the mountains.”

“Yes, and if we stay here long enough to be inspected by any of the post
commandant’s aides, we’ll be court-martialed for billeting the men in
such a hole,” the lieutenant added good-naturedly. “No fresh water
within five miles of here and the surroundings are reeking with typhoid
and malaria!”

“Well, if you ask me, sir,” the top kick drawled, “I prefer this hole to
travelin’ with them damn horses, machine guns and mules in this heat!”

The lieutenant lighted a cigarette and nodded his head in affirmation.
“I think you’re right, Cosgrove, in fact, I’m inclined to feel that way
myself. Our water ought to last us another two days and, by that time,
we should pass through some village where we can refill the canteens.
The food is still plentiful and there is enough ammunition to cause
plenty of damage if we have to use it.”

“With your permission, sir, I’m gonna put a machine gun right in front
of this gate, loaded with a fresh magazine just in case,” the sergeant
announced, “and I think we should double the guard, bein’ that we’re so
near Ocotal!”

“Put the machine gun wherever you want to but doubling the guard isn’t
necessary. If you ask me, I think we have been ordered back to Managua
because the show is over!”

“You mean, they—they’ve got Sandino?” Cosgrove asked eagerly.

“No—well, that is, I don’t know about capturing him,” Ranson explained,
“I think he got cold feet and beat it out of the country!”

“Well,” the sergeant admitted, “that won’t make me sore. We’ve been down
here goin’ on three months and we ain’t had sight nor smell of them
blasted greaser bandits, but this hide-and-seek game through mountain
paths, searchin’ for somethin’ what just ain’t—I’m about licked from it
all!”

Ranson smiled and turned toward the shack. “Pick your guard and see that
the men are comfortable. The sun is getting pretty bad. If the horses
and pack mules have been watered, let the boys turn in for a couple of
hours.”

The two men saluted and parted, each going in the opposite direction.

Over in front of the last pup tent in the first line, two Marines were
toying with a pair of dice. One of them, a tall, lanky, sun-tanned
soldier of the sea, turned to the other, a short, stocky,
freckled-faced, sandy-haired man, who, at that particular moment, was
occupied in exterminating a score of crawling, red ants.

“This usta be a man’s army but it ain’t nothin’ now but a lot of hikin’
boy scouts!”

“What ya beefin’ about now?” the little fellow demanded, looking up at
his companion.

“I suppose you still believe there ain’t no Sandino?”

“Believe it, hell, man, I know it!”

“Aw, you make me tired! Don’t you know it cost the government a lotta
dough to keep us down here? What d’ya suppose Congress would vote to
continue this here war if there ain’t no guy like Sandino?”

“Continue what war?” the tall Marine asked in a derisive tone.

“This war we’re fightin’ now!”

“Who’s fightin’ who and when?”

“Well,” the freckled-faced man replied defensively, “we’re ready for a
scrap, ain’t we?”

“Sure we are, but there ain’t nobody to fight with. Don’t you see, we’ve
been climbin’ up and down mountains for three months and we ain’t seen
no sign of any guy that even looks like Sandino!”

The little fellow was becoming impatient over his tent mate’s dogged
belief in the non-existence of the much heralded Nicaraguan bandit
chief.

“Lissen here, lame brain, Congress voted to send us here, didn’t they?”

“Sure, but that was a plot!”

“What d’ya mean, a plot?”

“I can’t explain it,” the lanky Marine began. “You got to know politics
and that’s somethin’ what a guy like you ain’t had no learnin’ about,
see?”

“Who ain’t had no learnin’ in politics?” the other man demanded to know
as his cheeks flushed with unsuppressed anger. “My old man’s uncle
married a dame what was the first cousin of a guy whose mother did the
washin’ for an alderman back in New York!”

“Well, that’s different,” the big fellow admitted. “Now then, do you
know what strategy is?”

“Sure!” replied the sandy-haired man. “He was first baseman with the
Chicago Cubs two years ago!”

“Oh, Lord, how can you make ’em so dumb!” the lanky Marine cried in
disgust. “Now lissen, when you don’t know somethin’, say so and I’ll
tell you! Strategy is, well—er—if you wanted to punch me in the nose an’
you let go right now, that would be suicide, ’cause I’d he prepared and
break your back——”

“Who would?” yelled the little fellow in a hurt fashion.

“Aw, dry up, we’re only makin’ believe. Now, then, that would be silly
for you to hit me when I wuz lookin’. A smart guy would say, ‘Alex, let
me see if I can tie your hands so’s you can’t get loose.’ If I let him,
he’d sock me when I was tied up and couldn’t protect meself. That,
stupid, is strategy!”

The other fellow looked up at the tall man with a grave expression of
doubt overshadowing his speckled face.

“Aw, you’re full of boloney!”

“Who is?”

“You are. You mean to say that when you tie a guy’s hands and sock him
in the nose, that’s strategy?”

“Yeah! Anything you do sneaky like and plan out so’s it’s heads you win,
tails the other bloke loses, that’s what you call strategy!”

“Well, what’s that got to do with sendin’ us down here if there ain’t no
Sandino?”

The big fellow breathed deeply with impatience as he mopped off large
beads of perspiration from his forehead. “Don’t you see? The Democrats
is tryin’ to take over the government so they had their bunch, what is
in Congress, vote to send us way down here so’s the Republicans won’t
have no one to protect them in case of a revolution or somethin’!”

The freckled-faced soldier jumped to his feet and grabbed for his hat.
“Oh, boy! I ain’t hangin’ around you no more!”

“What’s the matter now?”

“Nothin’, only you’re so clean loco, you’ll be wakin’ up some night and
cuttin’ people’s throats, an’ I ain’t stickin’ around till that
happens!”

The little fellow took his belongings and hurried down, past the line of
tents, leaving his friend looking after him in a surprised manner and
yelling for him to come back.

At that moment, countless dark, moving figures appeared just over the
ridge of the mountain that looked down upon the corral.

A sharp, familiar crack, like the report of a rifle was heard and the
little Marine, who had just moved out of his pup tent, fell in a heap,
lying motionless in the center of the path between the rows of tents.

In a flash, every man was out of his tent and on his feet as a second,
then a third report from above was heard and two more Marines fell to
the ground in a heap.

It was Sandino and two hundred of his followers on top of that mountain,
burning with vicious desires to exterminate Uncle Sam’s sea soldiers
below.

They had been informed by some inhabitants of Ocotal of the Marines’
location and the fact that the corral was a perfect target for an attack
from the mountains.

Losing no time, they made their way through the town and over the hill
country, arriving at the mountain top unbeknown to the soldiers lying
peacefully below.

As the Marine bugle blew “To Arms” and the men fell in line in front of
the shank, burning with excitement, the tall, lanky soldier crawled
along the ground to where his friend lay, picking the limp form of the
man up in his arms and carrying him at the risk of his own life to a
place of safety behind the house.

He placed his buddy on a pile of hay, certain that he would be
comfortable until proper aid could be sent, and as he started to leave,
the little fellow opened his eyes and looked up at him. “Don’t let ’em
kid you, big boy,” he said hoarsely. “There is a Sandino an’ that ain’t
no foolin’!”

A look of extreme pain crossed his face as he struggled to breath
freely, then he half rose, only to fall back, lifeless, with eyes open
and glassy, staring up at the heavens above.

For three days Sandino and his men, who outnumbered the Marines more
than two to one, continued their siege upon the corral, causing numerous
casualties within the ranks of the devil dogs but unable to advance
farther than the foot of the mountains.

The leathernecks, under the wily Ranson, fought desperately to ward off
the approach of the bandits with an unfailing courage that was admired
by even their enemies.

On the third day, Lieutenant Ranson crawled along the barricade,
stopping to inform each man to save on ammunition as supplies were
running low.

The sputtering of machine guns ceased and the Marines, with rifles, drew
back their guns to wait until the enemy closed in before again opening
fire.

Near the gate, Ranson met the top sergeant and the two saluted in a
hasty, grim fashion.

“If our man got through Okay,” the officer announced, “we should be
seeing a sign of planes before long.”

“If he got through,” Cosgrove speculated, “he’s done somethin’ more than
a miracle!”

Just then, the sergeant’s face grew tense and white with the muscles of
his jaw contorting in pain as he toppled over, across the feet of the
lieutenant.

[Illustration: The muscles of his jaw contorted in pain as he toppled
over.]

The officer picked the man’s head up and rested it on his knee, noting a
trickling stream of red matter just below the temple. Quick to think, he
broke open the first aid package that the stricken man carried on his
belt and removed the tape, hastily bandaging the wound and helping the
sergeant back to his feet.

“They’ve only grazed your head,” he announced. “Now snap into it and pay
’em back, Cosgrove!”

The top kick removed his automatic from the holster, took careful aim
and fired, hitting a rebel who had been crawling toward the barricade on
all fours with a vicious-looking knife locked between his teeth.

The lieutenant slapped the sergeant upon the back approvingly as the
other man smiled.

“That’s the way to pay your debts! Now knock off another one for good
measure!”

A corporal with a solemn face, covered with grime, crawled up between
the two men and addressing the lieutenant, announced: “The brush is full
of greasers, sir, and we’re nearly out of ammunition!”

Hanson turned to Cosgrove with an unconcealed look of deep concern upon
his face. “Pass the word to cease firing until I give the order!”

The sergeant turned about and crawled along the inside of the barricade,
stopping to announce the commander’s edict as he passed on his way.

Over in the rebel lines, Sandino passed the word to his officers to
split the men up, ordering them to crawl under the protection of the
brushes to the rear and sides of the corral, thus completely encircling
the Marines within.

Ranson and the corporal watched this guerrilla movement with intense
interest and as an overanxious Marine next to them lifted his rifle into
position, the officer knocked it from his hand, warning: “Wait until I
give the order!”

Suddenly the bandits opened fire as they moved toward the corral in a
stealthy, circular fashion, causing a fair amount of casualties within
the ranks of the Americans.

The Marines waited without fear for word from their commander, though
some of them were high strung and nervous as they watched their buddies
topple over from the bandit onslaught, helpless to seek revenge upon the
approaching rebels.

As the dark-skinned natives swooped down toward the corral, unmolested,
inflicting great sufferings upon the heads of the Marines, the
lieutenant waited doggedly until they were near enough, then he lifted
his voice and shouted: “Ready! Aim! Fire!”

The soldiers responded with enthusiasm, some throwing hand grenades
while others returned to their rifles and machine guns, spitting deadly
fire in the direction of the enemy.

This was a last, desperate stand for the Marines. Though they suffered a
heavy toll, they went on fighting doggedly, determined that if complete
extermination was to be their lot, they would first cause an equal
amount of suffering within the ranks of the enemy.

Cosgrove crawled over beside the lieutenant and pointed down the line of
men fighting for life and love of country. “Some of the machine guns are
jammed, sir,” he announced, “and more than half of the boys are out of
ammunition already!”

The handwriting of an unfortunate Fate was plainly visible to every man
behind the barricade as the voice of their commander was heard,
shouting: “Fixed bayonets!”

One of the bandits had crawled over the ground to the barricade
unmolested. Beaching the gate, he began to beat upon the barricade with
his machete until he succeeded in making a hole through the old wood.

On the other side of the wall, a Marine, with fixed bayonet, waited
patiently as his lips curled in a grim, death-like smile of revenge.

As soon as the hole in the wall became large enough, the soldier half
rose upon his haunches and with deadly precision, plunged his bayonet
through the abdomen of the bandit.

At that point in the fearful encounter, the Marines and rebels came in
close contact, with the soldiers of the sea desperately warding off
their stronger adversaries with bayonets, fighting bullets and machetes,
exposing their persons to certain death from the fire of Sandino’s
machine gun snipers on the mountain top.

Suddenly the harsh drone of huge motors deafened the ears of the
opposing men of war. A Marine, wounded and parched from thirst, gazed up
and saw the planes of the “Fighting Tenth” swoop over the top of the
mountain. He raised himself on his elbow with extreme difficulty and
called to the soldier nearest him: “Look, look—they’ve come at last!”

The other Marine lifted his eyes, following the direction of his wounded
buddy’s upraised hand. In a moment, every khaki-clad man within the
protection of the corral wall gazed heavenward, each secretly offering a
crude prayer to a Divine and protecting Providence.

Major Harding, in the first ship, studied the lay of the land and, with
an upraised arm, signaled to the other planes to turn the noses of their
ships toward the earth, flying low and prepared to open fire at his
command to do so.

The observers leveled their machine guns, loaded the magazines and took
careful aim as the squadron of ships swooped down over the corral like a
great drove of locusts.

The commander of the flying fleet again raised his arm as a signal to
begin firing, and the muzzles of every water-cooled Browning opened up
and spit deadly fire into the broken ranks of the terror-stricken bandit
troops, causing untold casualties.

From the peak of his mountain lookout, Sandino watched the attack from
the air upon his disorganized army and his men retreating in a
disorderly fashion, scattering in all directions. A grave, panicky
expression darkened his face. He turned about and ran to his horse,
mounting the animal, prepared to ride off to some protective covering as
a wounded officer from his own ranks ran toward him.

The rebel usurper looked back at the man whose face was distorted with
terror and pain. He drew up his horse and, in his native tongue, ordered
the officer to return to the scene of battle.

Unheeding, the fleeing soldier continued to run away from the certain
death below, truly obsessed with an idea that was not unlike the one
borne by his own commander.

Sandino lifted his hand and whipped out a blue-steel automatic pistol,
leveled it and fired, uttering a blasphemous oath at the officer as he
fell forward. In a moment, the ambitious, would-be dictator of Nicaragua
was riding swiftly away to peace and protection from war in the air.

As a final gesture, Major Harding signaled to his followers in the other
planes to drop the bombs, making certain that the extermination of the
retreating bandits would be complete.

The huge messengers of hate were released by the pilots and they went
crashing earthward, distributing immediate death and misery.

Steve pushed the stick forward and dove his plane nearer to earth,
breaking formation from the other ships that were now gaining altitude.

Just ahead, crossing a swamp, was a small band of Sandinisto survivors.
Lefty caught the pilot’s objective in leaving the formation of planes
and with a peculiar cold, subdued calm, opened fire upon the helpless,
retreating rebels, wreaking death and havoc.

One of the retreating bandit officers turned about, picked up a gun left
behind on the ground and leveled the butt of it to his shoulder, taking
careful aim and firing.

Just then, Steve swooped down to a position that was only a few feet
from the ground, leaving himself a perfect target for the final gesture
from the retreating bandit leader.

[Illustration: They left themselves perfect targets for the final
gesture from the retreating bandits.]

The muscles of his face contracted with pain. He let his hand fall from
the stick and his whole body slumped forward in the cockpit.

Lefty whirled the machine gun around and riddled the last of the rebels
with a barrage of bullets, then grabbing the joy stick in the rear
cockpit, fought desperately to level the plane but it was too late.
Suddenly everything went black before him. He heard a terrific crash and
felt himself being lifted from his seat and flying through space. In
another moment, he was oblivious to everything else as his motionless
body lay in the center of a swamp, covered with mud and dirt.

With the corral clear once more of the trespasser, two of the planes
flew low and dropped out food supplies and quantities of ammunition to
the surviving Marines below who waved back in gratitude.

The major signaled to the pilots to regain formation and as the ships
fell into their original position, the anxious eyes of the commander
caught a vacant space in the line-up.

He looked to the pilot of the plane on the other side of him and held up
two fingers questioningly, signifying in the hand signaling parlance of
the air, “Where is the missing plane?”

The skipper of the other ship shrugged his shoulders, indicating his
lack of knowledge of the absent airplane’s whereabouts.

Panama watched the gas gauge that indicated their fuel was running low.
He touched the shoulder of the commander in front of him and pointed to
the gauge. Harding gazed at his watch and, after slight deliberation,
gave the signal to swing the planes toward Managua.

In less than an hour, they were flying over the field of the Marine
base, then circling in formation before landing.

When the ships had taxied into position and the motors again became
silent, Harding jumped from the cockpit as Panama and the other pilots
and observers gathered about him.

“Did anyone see what happened to Graham and Phelps?” he asked with an
uncertain ring of anxiety in his voice.

The men of his command shook their heads in grim ignorance of the
missing Marines’ whereabouts.

“Last I saw of them,” one of the pilots explained, “they were chasing a
gang of greasers down a gulley!”

“Our gas was too low to make a search,” Harding announced, “but
somebody’s got to go back now. Who’ll volunteer?”

No sooner had the major asked for a searching party than every man in
the squadron, except Panama, stepped forward.

As Williams walked off silently toward the line of tents, the commander
selected two pilots and two observers to fly back and search for the
missing airmen and their plane. The others moved away in different
directions, wrapped in an overshadowing gloom that grips the hearts of
all fighting aviators when any of their number are absent without
reason.

Elinor had been watching the return of the squadron and searching the
group for a sight of Lefty. When she saw the commander call the other
men into a hurried conference that ended by two planes again taking off
and flying back in the direction from which they had just come, her
heart beat faster as a cold, foreboding feeling of uneasiness took
possession of her mind and body.

She ran toward one of the pilots and stopped him as a pathetic look of
anxiety darkened her face.

“Where’s Lefty Phelps?” she asked.

“That’s what we’d all like to know,” the man replied grimly without
looking at the girl, “He and Graham disappeared during the fracas. The
skipper just sent a couple of ships back to search for them.”

She looked up with terror-stricken eyes and caught sight of Panama not
far from where she was standing. Without further adieu, she ran off in
the sergeant’s direction, reaching his side a moment later, completely
out of breath.

“Where’s Lefty, Panama?” she panted, “What’s happened to him?”

The sergeant made no attempt to even look at the frightened girl but
continued on his way, quickening his steps. She ran along at his side,
struggling to keep up with him and trying to regain her breath at the
same time.

“Panama!” she pleaded once more, “what has happened to Lefty?”

“Out in the swamps with the rest of the snakes, I hope,” he speculated
grimly, still avoiding the girl’s anxious eyes.

“Aren’t you going to do something?”

He turned his head and looked at her with a piercing sign of resentment
upon his face, becoming secretly the more indifferent over his former
friend’s fate because of Elinor’s apparent concern for the boy’s
welfare.

“Why should I do anything?” he snapped.

His words gave her new spirit and she stepped before him, blocking his
path as her words bristled with anger. “So that’s the extent of your
friendship, after all he tried to do for you?” she cried. “Panama,
you’re the blindest of the blind! Lefty is the sweetest boy in all the
world—and I love him!”

“Elinor!” the man protested in an effort to save himself from further
wounds directed at his heart.

“Yes, I love him, more than all the world and with all my heart,” she
confessed, unmindful of the interruption. “I know that he was meant for
me and I for him the very first moment my eyes fell upon his. I’ve been
living in despair, torturing myself for months now, believing that he
didn’t care for me. Do you know why he shielded himself behind that
indifferent attitude?”

“No, and I ain’t much interested!” Panama barked.

“Well, you should be! He pretended that he didn’t love me because he
thought that I belonged to you, because he was too fair, too decent to
rob another man of something that he valued himself more than life. I’ve
never loved you, I’ve never belonged to you! Lefty had as much right to
try and win my love as you did!”

“Elinor, please—I don’t want to listen!” the love-torn soldier beseeched
vainly.

“You must listen and you will!” she cried with determination. “Oh,
Panama, can’t you see it all now? The whole thing was my fault! I
shouldn’t have let you care when I knew that I could never love you, but
you seemed so fine—so good that I dreaded to hurt you. Upon my honor, I
swear that Lefty, never in his life, has made love to me—I made love to
him!”

Panama’s eyes grew wide and questioning and his face turned a chalk
white at this revelation.

“Elinor—you’re—you’re telling me the truth?”

“I’ve never been more honest in my life,” she insisted. “That boy thinks
the sun rises and sets upon you. He would have rather sacrificed his
very life than cause you one single moment of pain. Now he’s
gone—perhaps dying in the impenetrable swamps of the jungle. Can’t you
do something? Don’t you see what it all means to me?”

Unable to turn back the rising emotions within her, the girl gave vent
to her feelings, suddenly overcome with tears of abject helplessness and
despair.

Panama gazed at her silently for one brief moment, then putting on his
helmet, turned about and walked with brisk determination toward his
plane.



CHAPTER XVIII


A week had passed without a single sign of Lefty, Steve or the missing
plane.

Every pilot had taken a hand in the search for the lost Marines but each
in turn finally gave up the hunt in despair as a hopeless task.

The only man who remained on the blind trail without a single lead was
Panama, who, with silent doggedness, flew over the jungle, through swamp
lands and across mountain tops night and day, grimly determined to bring
back his men dead or alive.

In a malaria-filled swamp, just behind the tall mountain range that
looked down upon the corral on the opposite side where the brave company
of Marines had met Sandino’s men seven days before, what was once an
airplane rested in an upright position with more than two feet of its
nose imbedded in the mud.

Shaded by large tropical trees, it was difficult for anyone flying
overhead to penetrate through the thick foliage and see below to the
swamp, but because of Steve’s weakened condition and Lefty’s refusal to
leave his comrade, the men stuck it out, hoping against hope that
somehow, some way they would be rescued.

For days, Graham lay upon the remains of the plane’s lower wing with the
upper part shading him from the sun, a helpless, dying shadow of what
was once a man, tortured inwardly from a severe, untreated wound and
outwardly by thousands of mosquitoes and biting ants.

Lefty sat beside him, filthy and red with insect bites, his clothing tom
to shreds due to journeys through the bushes in search of food.

“Do you feel any better, Steve?” he asked, as the same time shooing a
swarm of mosquitoes away from the stricken boy’s face. “Do you think
maybe I could carry you?”

The wounded pilot gazed up at his companion with a grateful look and
attempted to smile weakly.

“It ain’t no use, kid! You know, the old back is pretty bad. Why don’t
you beat it, though? There is a chance you might make it if you went
alone. We’ve been here a whole week. They’ll never find us now.”

Lefty rose with an air of impatience and walked away, extremely hurt
over the other man’s suggestion that he quit.

“Aw, don’t be a chump!”

Steve raised himself with much difficulty and rested his entire weight
upon his elbow. He lifted the index finger of his other hand and
motioned to the boy. “Come here, Lef,” he called, “I didn’t mean to hurt
you!”

Phelps turned back and sat down once more beside the other man, fanning
him with his hat and brushing away some flies.

“You know that runnin’ backward stuff?” Steve began. “I’m sorry that I
razzed you, kid. Don’t let anybody ever ride you again. Say, it’s hot,
ain’t it? I wish I had some water!”

Lefty reached for the canteen and held it up to the boy’s mouth but it
was empty.

“There’s a pool over behind them trees,” Steve said, “I can hear it
tricklin’ sometimes. Maybe the water ain’t bad there.”

Lefty picked up his helmet and raised himself to his feet. In a moment,
he had disappeared behind the bushes, leaving the wounded man a helpless
victim once more to the biting ants that again began to crawl over his
hands and face.

The mechanic found the pool, but like the other small outlets of water
about them, this one too was stagnant with filth and slime.

Without hesitation, he waded into the mud, bending over and looking at
the bad water, then brushing away the scum from the top and filling his
helmet to the brim.

Once more beside his friend, Phelps proceeded to bathe the boy’s head in
the lukewarm water as Graham opened his eyes and pleaded for a drink.

“You can’t have that stuff, Steve; it’s filthy.”

“I don’t care,” the boy begged. “Please gimme some!”

Feebly, the wounded man forced Lefty to relent and allow him to sip the
stagnant liquid from the helmet.

Completely resigned to the hopeless Fate that had enveloped them, Phelps
lifted the helmet to his lips, deciding to quench his own parched
thirst, irrespective of whatever the consequences might be.

Steve caught this action on the other man’s part just in time to knock
the helmet from Lefty’s hand, spilling the remains on the ground before
them.

“No, you don’t!” he warned. “That stuff can’t hurt me any more, but
you——”

He fell off into a coma without finishing his sentence. Lefty gazed down
upon him and picked up his helmet, slowly fanning the boy as he once
more went into a deep sleep.

At approximately the same time, Panama’s plane came to a landing at the
flying base.

He lifted his goggles and brushed the oil and dirt from his face with a
soiled handkerchief, then turning to the ground man standing beside the
fuselage, ordered: “Fill her up full this time!”

Major Harding, followed by Elinor and two members of his staff,
approached the ship, looking up at Williams and noting the tired, drawn
and wan expression plainly visible upon the man’s face.

“Better turn in,” the Major advised. “You need some sleep.”

“I’m afraid this search is becoming hopeless,” the adjutant added, much
to the consternation of the determined pilot still seated in the
cockpit.

“I’ve got to find them, sir!” Panama pleaded as he addressed the major,
“for more reasons than one!”

Harding shook his head slowly as a shadow of despair darkened his face.
“I’m afraid there isn’t a chance!”

“If you don’t mind, sir,” Williams asked, “I’d like to take one more
crack at it!”

The major accepted his top sergeant’s act of insubordination with an
admiring salute and turned away, leaving Elinor alone and trembling,
gazing up at the determined man in the plane.

“Oh, Panama, you don’t think it’s too late, do you?”

“Now don’t worry,” he struggled to reassure her. “I haven’t half looked
yet!”

“And you won’t give up, will you?”

“Me?” he asked, trying to hide his own anxiety from the girl’s searching
eyes. “Say, forget about it, will you?”

Elinor raised her hand and after a moment of hesitance, allowed her
fingers to touch the sleeve of the sergeant’s greasy windjammer.

“Panama,” she whispered in profound admiration, “you’re—you’re the
finest man in the whole world!”

He smiled grimly as his eyes closed, dreaming in despair of a happiness
that he knew could never be his.

“She’s filled to the brim!” the ground man announced, awakening Williams
from his brief moment of tranquillity, then yelling as he wound up the
motor: “Contact!”

Not daring to look at the girl, Panama gave the ship the gun and in
another moment, was taxiing down the broad field, once more embarked
upon his futile search for a man who, if he did find him, would be
delivered right into the arms of the woman they both loved more than
life.



CHAPTER XIX


When Steve awoke from his coma, it was late afternoon. He had been lying
there, silent and unconscious, for more than twelve hours.

He looked about for Lefty but the boy was nowhere in sight. An army of
vicious ants were crawling over his hands and legs, leaving large, ugly
and painful red welts in their wake.

The boy’s face became a contorted mass of fear and suffering as he
raised himself to his elbow and shouted the name of his companion.

At the sound of Steve’s voice, Lefty, who had been picking wild berries
from near-by bushes, came running back to the wrecked plane and bent
over beside the boy, brushing away the ants and wiping the perspiration
from his brow.

“Help me, help me, Lefty!” Steve cried out dismally, “I can’t stand it—I
can’t!”

The mechanic pulled the limp boy to the other side of the wing, placing
his own windjammer under Steve’s head as a pillow, leaving himself
exposed now to the swarm of crawling ants that were already upon the
sleeve of his shirt.

Steve’s eyes seemed to see something in the sky above and with every bit
of remaining strength left in his body, pulled at the other man’s arm
and shouted: “Lefty, look! There’s the planes—they’ve found us!”

Not without a sharp thrill of excitement, the other man raised his eyes
heavenward only to see a swarm of black buzzards flying over their
heads.

He turned away with keen disappointment, though attempting to hide his
feelings from Steve, whose eyes were still glued upon the birds of ill
omen.

“Look, Lefty, can’t you see? They’re circling us—they’re going to land!”

He noticed that the other man didn’t respond and, looking closer,
realized that what he believed to be planes were merely the
hallucinations of a fever-torn mind.

“I—I thought they were ships,” he whispered as he fell back on the
disabled wing, closing his eyes with a death-like relaxation that
startled the other boy.

“Steve, Steve!” Lefty cried, working to bring his buddy out of the
passive submission of physical defeat that had enveloped him, “don’t
give up; they’ll find us, sure!”

The sick man’s eyes fluttered open as they each gazed at one another for
a brief moment. The realization that the end was hovering near left the
two men with a morbid resignation of complacency registered upon their
faces.

“Remember what you promised,” Steve said a little above a whisper.
“Don’t let ’em get me! You know—the ship—I’d do the same for you!”

Lefty nodded grimly as his face took on an appearance of cold,
indifferent immobility. When he looked down again, Steve smiled up at
him, gasped and fell back, motionless. He lifted the man’s eyelids, felt
his pulse and listened for a sign of life as his ear rested against the
other’s heart.

All was over—it was Taps for the pilot and Phelps braced himself for his
next ordeal as he covered the dead boy’s face with the windjammer.

What he was about to do, took a great deal of courage, but it was the
boy’s last wish and he braced himself for the ordeal with that belief in
mind.

Slowly, he reached into his pocket and brought forth a match, striking
it and touching the flame to the canvas of the wing, just below the
boy’s head.

In a moment, the last rites for the dead man had been performed and the
remains of the plane, with its silent pilot, disappeared in a burst of
flames.

[Illustration: The last rites performed, the remains of the plane, with
its silent pilot, disappeared in a burst of flames.]

As Panama flew over the deserted corral and across the mountain, he saw
a thin spiral of smoke rising through the tree tops just ahead.

The expression on his face changed to one of mingled fear and hope as he
flew nearer the spot from which the increasing volume of smoke came.

At that moment, the huge flames had just consumed the last of the plane
and its silent occupant, dying down now to a small blaze. Lefty, resting
upon his knees in silent, terrified meditation, raised his eyes to the
skies above just as the purr of an airplane motor reached his ears.

Panama spied the lone man and the burning plane at the same moment that
Lefty raised his eyes heavenward.

He studied the ground below, searching for a safe place to land, then
nosed toward earth and circled overhead before making a final decision.

Just over the mountain, two companies of the rebel army had returned to
the scene of their abject defeat at the hands of the Marines a week
before.

Their purpose was to reclaim their dead now that they were certain the
Marines had left that particular sector.

As they prepared to descend the steep mountain to the corral below, one
of them looked to the west and saw the spiral of smoke and the lone
plane with its nose turned earthward.

“Americano weeth bad motor, mebe?” one of the group said in broken
English.

The others smiled and, without further ado, turned in their tracks and
started up the mountain, prepared to open a surprise attack upon the
helpless airman going toward the swamps below.

Panama finally effected a landing in a spot not far from where Lefty was
standing, watching the pilot’s descent.

As the ship touched earth, the boy ran forward, his heart filled with
mute gratitude, though still unaware as to the identity of his rescuer.

The sergeant jumped out of the cockpit and inspected his landing gear,
pushing back his goggles for a better view just as the boy came up
alongside of the fuselage.

Before either of them could speak, a sharp crack was heard and Panama
fell to the ground, a victim from a bandit’s bullet.

The rebels were now lined up on the ridge of the mountain, prepared to
descend and after killing the other Marine, capture the plane.

Lefty swung about just as one of the Sandino followers raised his gun
and fired again, hitting the landing gear of the plane and knocking off
the hub of the right wheel.

The boy fell to the ground on all fours, unhurt as the rebels again
opened fire and the bullets flew wild, missing their mark.

Phelps smiled grimly and crawled over to where the motionless form of
Panama lay outstretched, over the cowling.

Master of a tense situation for the first time in his life, Lefty pulled
his rescuer down into the cockpit just as the bandits advanced and
opened fire again.

Without wasting a single moment, the boy whipped the machine gun of the
plane into place, made certain that the magazine was filled and then
trained it upon the line of approaching rebels, opening up wide and
spitting forth deadly fire in all directions, causing a host of
fatalities in the ranks of the bandits as, one by one, they toppled over
and fell down the side of the mountain to the swamps below.

Certain that he was free of at least the first line of the advancing
bandits, the boy jumped into the forward cockpit, swung the plane about,
and facing the few remaining rebels, gave the ship the gun, taxiing
forward, and smiting down the terror-stricken men before they had time
to run to a protective covering.

Taxiing his ship to a take-off, a look of grim determination appeared
upon the boy’s face that finally broke out in a broad smile of triumph
as the ship gained altitude.

He turned about and saw that Panama was just coming to, cognizant for
the first time that Lefty was piloting the plane.

“I did it!” the proud mechanic boasted over his successful feat in
making a perfect take-off, “I got her off the ground this time!”

Panama, despite the excruciating pain caused by the wound the rebels had
inflicted, smiled broadly and shouted: “Atta boy!”



CHAPTER XX


During the hour that Lefty proudly piloted the ship across mountains,
rivers and an impenetrable jungle, conscious of the pleasant task that
rested upon his shoulders, he enjoyed a good ceiling and clear sailing.

The only thing that darkened his sudden touch of glory was his deep
concern over Panama’s condition.

“What a terrible, unfair Fate it would be,” he thought, “if anything
should happen to old Panama now, after all we have gone through?”

He looked back to make certain that the sergeant was comfortable and
cognizant of what was going on around them.

Each time he turned his head, his eyes met those of the wounded man’s
who smiled back gamely, pantomiming to the boy to watch his stick and
keep the ship leveled.

It was dusk by the time the lone plane circled over the field at
Managua. The major and his aides, as well as Elinor and a group of
ground men, stood watching the approaching mechanical bird flying toward
them.

“That’s Williams’ ship all right,” Harding announced, “and he’s got
somebody with him!”

Elinor, consumed with thrilling suspense, listened eagerly to the
major’s disclosure. Next to where she stood, an officer was focusing a
pair of army binoculars upon the plane now circling the field.

Without as much as an apology, she excitedly grabbed the glasses from
the man’s hands and leveled them on the ship, her heart action
increasing by leaps and bounds as she joyfully shouted: “It’s Lefty!
It’s Lefty and he’s flying the ship!”

The major gazed at the girl with an expression of doubt, accepting the
binoculars as she held them out to him and focusing them upward on the
plane.

By that time, several other pilots had reached the field and joined the
excited group as they watched Lefty pilot the ship with a masterly hand.

Panama looked down at the crowd below, then leaned forward with great
exertion and screamed into the pilot’s ear: “They’re all there watching
you. Go ahead and show ’em you can do something!”

“But how about you?” the boy yelled back. “You’re badly hurt!”

“Never mind me,” the sergeant laughed hoarsely. “Give ’em a real show!”

With that, Panama took keen delight in unscrewing the joy stick in the
rear cockpit, contemptuously raising it above his head and throwing it
overboard.

Lefty watched this gallant gesture on the part of the unselfish sergeant
and grinned with appreciation, realizing that Williams’ idea in throwing
the other stick was to leave no doubt upon the minds of those below as
to who deserved the laurels for the successful flight.

The wheel of the landing gear from which the hub had been shot to pieces
by the bandit marksman back in the swamps, was slowly revolving upon its
loose axle, certain to cause a serious injury to the passengers of the
plane if it fell or broke before they landed.

Ignorant of this dangerous problem that faced them, Lefty turned the
plane into a stunt, doing a slow loop, followed by an easy roll and then
a fast one, creating a beautiful spectacle against the darkening sky.

Major Harding moved nervously from one foot to the other with eyes glued
upon the stunting ship above.

“What’s that crazy fool trying to do?” he roared with impatience.

As for Elinor, she was beside herself with anxiety and perplexity,
suddenly feeling a trifle easier as she spied the commander’s lips curl
in a sly grin.

“And I was the one that said he couldn’t fly!” Harding admitted with
enthusiasm.

Lefty then piloted the ship into an Immelman turn, followed by a spin
and a dive through the nearest company street as the men below scattered
in all directions.

As the ship once more turned its nose upward and again gained altitude,
the wheel slipped off the landing gear and fell to the ground, in plain
view of the audience of pilots, officers and ground men.

One of the mechanics ran forward and picked up the wheel, holding it
high above his head to inform Lefty that his landing gear was damaged.
The boy caught sight of the warning gesture and as his expression of
triumph once more became overshadowed with gravity, he realized the
danger that awaited them, thinking first of Panama’s safety.

Elinor, suddenly transfixed with horror, was another of the audience who
saw the wheel fall as did the major who, with a trained presence of
mind, ordered the man nearest to him to call out the ambulance.

“I lost a wheel!” the boy shouted back to the sergeant in the rear
cockpit who replied by lifting his head and laughing with fiendish
merriment.

“You better take the ’chute and jump for it!” Lefty yelled, indicating
the parachute. “I’ll stick and attempt to land her safely.”

“Not me,” the hard-boiled top kick called back. “I’m gonna stay right
along and see what you’re gonna do!”

They both secretly became a trifle sick at heart and felt a heavy lump
in their stomachs as they heard the shrill blast of the ambulance below
and, looking out, saw the men in white uniforms hurrying across the
field, bearing stretchers.

The boy rose and managed to place some cushions around Panama who
scoffed angrily over the unwarranted attention paid to him.

Once more at the controls, he dived down just as the fire crew reached
the field and the men left the truck, carrying axes and extinguishers,
ready for an immediate and impending emergency.

The ship hit the ground with a thud, taxiing along the field on one
wheel in a perfect landing. Finally losing speed, the other end of the
axle struck into the earth and the plane spun around in a circle without
causing either injury or damage.

When the ship finally came to a sudden stop, the crowd on the field
rushed forward and surrounded the two men still seated in the cockpits.

Among the group was the major, whose face plainly showed his pride and
happiness over the skillful landing. He confronted the boy with a
beaming, warm smile as Lefty jumped out of the ship.

Almost inarticulate in his praise, he wasted no time in freeing the
silver wings from above his left breast pocket and pinning them on
Lefty, saying: “Take mine, son, until I can get you a pair of your own!”

[Illustration: “Take mine, son, until I can get you a pair of your
own!”]

Ever since the first minute he had entered the Flying Corps, the boy had
lived for the great day when his efforts and craftsmanship would earn
him his wings. Now that the glorious moment had arrived, he wasn’t the
slightest bit interested in the solemn procedure, for over to the right
of the plane, Elinor stood alone, her cheeks flushed crimson with pride
for the man she idolized.

She threw pride to the winds and, with strong determination, walked
directly to the spot where Lefty awaited her coming with suppressed
eagerness.

Just as he took her in his arms, unmindful of the others about them who
watched the procedure interestedly, two Bed Cross men carried Panama
from the plane and, at the sergeant’s command, brought him over to where
the lovers stood in a warm embrace.

“What did I tell you about that Lindbergh stuff?” Panama called to the
boy as a wide grin spread over his face from ear to ear, and then gazing
at Elinor with a look of unselfish devotion, assured the girl in no
uncertain manner, “Well, even if you didn’t get ‘We’ you sure landed the
next best thing!”

The boy and girl smiled after the sergeant with gratitude and as the
medical attendants carried him off, they once more became locked in each
others arms, sealing the joining together at last with a long, lingering
kiss.

Major Harding ran across the field after Williams, finally joining up
with the sergeant as the attendants carried him down the company street
to his tent.

“Sergeant!” the commander panted, “I won’t forget your bravery this
time! I’m going to see that you get a medal if I have to go all the way
back to Washington and fetch it for you myself!”

Williams smiled in a sly, mischievous way as he watched Lefty and Elinor
walk across the field, arm in arm, wrapped completely in their new-found
happiness.

“Better save all that expense, sir,” he advised the major in his typical
droll manner of speech, “there’s goin’ to be a weddin’ around this base
soon and them kids will be needin’ dishes and things!”

The End



There’s More to Follow!

More stories of the sort you like; more, probably, by the author of this
one; more than 500 titles all told by writers of world-wide reputation,
in the Authors’ Alphabetical List which you will find on the _reverse
side_ of the wrapper of this book. Look it over before you lay it aside.
There are books here you are sure to want—some, possibly, that you have
_always_ wanted.

It is a _selected_ list; every book in it has achieved a certain measure
of success.

The Grosset & Dunlap list is not only the greatest Index of Good Fiction
available, it represents in addition a generally accepted Standard of
Value. It will pay you to

                _Look on the Other Side of the Wrapper_

In case the wrapper is lost write to the publishers for a complete
catalog.



PERCIVAL C. WREN’S NOVELS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap’s List

This brilliant chronicler of the French Foreign Legion is an Englishman
born in Devonshire and educated at Oxford. He is a veteran of three
armies, the crack British Cavalry Corps, the French Foreign Legion and
the Indian Army in East Africa.

BEAU GESTE

Mystery, courage, love, self sacrifice, adventure on the burning sands
of North Africa—in the ranks of the French Foreign Legion.

BEAU SABREUR

A sequel to Beau Geste in which the age old spell of the desert is the
background for a tale of mystery.

STEPSONS OF FRANCE

A book of short stories whose scenes are laid in the same fascinating
and desolate country as Beau Geste—Northern Africa—and whose characters
are fighters in the Legion.

WAGES OF VIRTUE

A modern Enoch Arden reappears and goes back to remain “dead” in the
Legion of the Condemned, but his story comes out at last.

FATHER GREGORY

Mystery and Father Gregory play a desperate game on a picturesque
background of Hindustan. Written with gusto by the author of “Beau
Geste.”

THE SNAKE AND THE SWORD

Another romance of the East by the author of the Foreign Legion stories.
The fascinating mystery of Kipling’s India is the background for a
strange love.

DRIFTWOOD SPARS

The soul of a man in whose soul the East and West has met—his father of
Pathan birth, his mother of Scotch. Laid in India, it is a romance of
mystery and tragedy.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, NEW YORK



THE NOVELS OF SINCLAIR LEWIS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset and Dunlap’s List.

Within the space of a few years Sinclair Lewis has become one of the
most Distinguished of American Novelists.

ELMER GANTRY

Elmer Gantry, hypocrite and voluptuary, is painted against a background
of church members and professing Christians scarcely less hypocritical
than he. In this book Sinclair Lewis adds a violent stroke to his
growing picture of materialistic America.

MANTRAP

A clever satire on the adventures of a New York lawyer seeking rest and
diversion in the northwoods. Instead of rest he finds trouble in the
person of his host’s wife—young, pretty and flirtatious.

ARROWSMITH

The story of a country doctor whose search for truth led him to the
heights of the medical profession, to the heights and depths of love and
marriage and to final peace as a quietly heroic laboratory worker in the
backwoods of Vermont.

BABBITT

Every man will recognize in the character of George Babbitt, something
of himself. He was a booster and a joiner, but behind all of his
activities was a wistful wonder as to what life holds.

MAIN STREET

Carol Kennicott’s attempt to bring life and culture to Gopher Prairie
and Gopher Prairie’s reaction toward her teachings have made this book
one of the most famous of the last decade.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, NEW YORK



STIRRING TALES OF THE GREAT WAR

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list

WAR BIRDS ... The Diary of an Unknown Aviator

Soaring, looping, zooming, spitting hails of leaden death, planes
everywhere in a war darkened sky. WAR BIRDS is a tale of youth, loving,
fighting, dying.

SERGEANT EADIE ... Leonard Nason

This is the private history of the hard luck sergeant whose exploits in
CHEVRONS made that story one of the most dramatic and thrilling of war
books.

WINGS ... John Monk Saunders

Based on the great Paramount picture, WINGS is the Big Parade of the
air, the gallant, fascinating story of an American air pilot.

LEAVE ME WITH A SMILE ... Elliott W. Springs

Henry Winton, a famous ace, thrice decorated, twice wounded and many
times disillusioned returns after the war to meet Phyllis, one of the
new order of hard-drinking, unmoral girls.

NOCTURNE MILITAIRE ... Elliott White Springs

War, with wine and women, tales of love, madness, heroism; flyers
reckless in their gestures toward life and death.

CHEVRONS ... Leonard Nason

One of the sensations of the post-war period, CHEVRONS discloses the
whole pageantry of war with grim truth flavored with the breezy
vulgarity of soldier dialogue.

THREE LIGHTS FROM A MATCH ... L. Nason

Three long short stories, each told with a racy vividness, the real
terror in war with the sputter of machine guns.

TOWARD THE FLAME ... Hervey Allen

A maelstrom of tremendous incident along the American Front during the
memorable summer of 1918. Magnificent and real.

THE LEGION OF THE CONDEMNED

A thriller of the eagles of the air, full of romance, chivalry and
madcap bravery.

GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, NEW YORK



RAFAEL SABATINI’S NOVELS

May be had wherever books are sold. Ask for Grosset & Dunlap’s list

Jesi, a diminutive city of the Italian Marches, was the birthplace of
Rafael Sabatini.

He first went to school in Switzerland and from there to Lycee of
Oporto, Portugal, and has never attended an English school. But English
is hardly an adopted language for him, as he learned it from his mother,
an English woman.

Today Rafael Sabatini is regarded as “The Alexandre Dumas of Modern
Fiction.”

    BELLARION
    THE SHAME OF MOTLEY
    THE LION’S SKIN
    THE GATES OF DOOM
    THE TRAMPLING OF THE LILIES
    THE STROLLING SAINT
    THE CAROLINIAN
    MISTRESS WILDING
    THE BANNER OF THE BULL
    SAINT MARTIN’S SUMMER
    FORTUNE’S FOOL
    BARDELYS THE MAGNIFICENT
    THE SNARE
    CAPTAIN BLOOD
    THE SEA-HAWK
    SCARAMOUCHE

GROSSET & DUNLAP, Publishers, NEW YORK





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