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Title: Winning his Wings - A Story of the R.A.F.
Author: Westerman, Percy F. (Percy Francis)
Language: English
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[Illustration: cover (front)]


[Illustration: cover (spine)]



Winning his Wings



  BY
  PERCY F. WESTERMAN
  LIEUT. R.A.F.

  "No boy alive will be able to peruse Mr. Westerman's pages without
  a quickening of his pulses."--Outlook.

  Winning his Wings: A Story of the R.A.F.
  The Thick of the Fray at Zeebrugge: April, 1918.
  With Beatty off Jutland: A Romance of the Great Sea
    Fight.
  The Submarine Hunters: A Story of Naval Patrol Work.
  A Lively Bit of the Front: A Tale of the New Zealand
    Rifles on the Western Front.
  A Sub and a Submarine: The Story of H.M. Submarine
    R19 in the Great War.
  Under the White Ensign: A Naval Story of the Great
    War.
  The Dispatch-Riders: The Adventures of Two British
    Motor-cyclists with the Belgian Forces.
  The Sea-girt Fortress: A Story of Heligoland.
  Rounding up the Raider: A Naval Story of the Great
    War.
  The Fight for Constantinople: A Tale of the Gallipoli
    Peninsula.
  Captured at Tripoli: A Tale of Adventure.
  The Quest of the "Golden Hope": A Seventeenth-
    century Story of Adventure.
  A Lad of Grit: A Story of Restoration Times.


  LONDON: BLACKIE & SON, LTD., 50 OLD BAILEY, E.C.



[Illustration: THERE WAS NO TIME FOR QUESTIONS. DEREK COULD DISCERN
SEVERAL FIELD-GREY FIGURES ADVANCING RAPIDLY]



Winning his Wings

A Story of the R.A.F.



BY
PERCY F. WESTERMAN
Lieut. R.A.F.


  Author of "With Beatty off Jutland"
  "A Lively Bit of the Front"
  "A Sub and a Submarine"
  &c. &c.



_Illustrated by E. S. Hodgson_



BLACKIE AND SON LIMITED
LONDON GLASGOW AND BOMBAY



Contents


          CHAP.
       I. ON PARADE
      II. DEREK'S FIRST FLIGHT
     III. THE DERELICT
      IV. THE NIGHT RAIDER
       V. THE NEXT DAY
      VI. ACROSS THE CHANNEL
     VII. WHEN THE HUN PUSHED
    VIII. THE HUN BOMBER
      IX. A SLIGHT DISTURBANCE
       X. KAYE'S CRASH
      XI. THE JAMMED MACHINE-GUNS
     XII. BOWLED OUT
    XIII. THE COUNT'S RUSE
     XIV. WITH THE TANKS
      XV. OUTED
     XVI. THE SHELL-CRATER
    XVII. TURNED DOWN
   XVIII. THE FIRST DAY AT SABLERIDGE
     XIX. U-BOAT VERSUS MOTOR-BOAT
      XX. THE BLIMP AND THE SKATE
     XXI. AN INDEPENDENT COMMAND
    XXII. A MOULDY STATION
   XXIII. AN ERROR OF JUDGMENT
    XXIV. THE GUARD-SHIP
     XXV. SALVAGE WORK
    XXVI. CHRISTMAS EVE
   XXVII. HARD AND FAST AGROUND
  XXVIII. TO THE SEA-PLANE'S AID
    XXIX. IN THE INTERESTS OF THE STATE
     XXX. THE CHOICE



  Illustrations


  Page

  THERE WAS NO TIME FOR QUESTIONS. DEREK COULD DISCERN SEVERAL
  FIELD-GREY FIGURES ADVANCING RAPIDLY _Frontispiece_

  GV 7 TO THE RESCUE!

  IN A COUPLE OF STRIDES HE OVERTOOK THE MAJOR, AND BORE HIM
  BACKWARDS TO THE EARTH

  SHE PRESENTED A PUZZLING PROPOSITION TO FRITZ

  THE TASK OF GETTING HIM ON BOARD WAS NOT AN EASY ONE

  IT WAS A CASE OF TAKING ONE'S CHANCE WITH THE APPROACHING STORM



WINNING HIS WINGS



CHAPTER I

On Parade


"On parade!"

The cry, taken up by a score of youthful voices, echoed and re-echoed
along the concrete-paved corridors of the Averleigh T.D.S.--such
being the official designation of the Training and Disciplinary
School--one of those mushroom-growth establishments that bid fair to
blossom into permanent instruction schools under the aegis of the
juvenile but virile Royal Air Force.

Ensued a wild scramble. The morning mail had arrived but five minutes
before the momentous summons. Some of the cadets had seized upon
their share of letters, and had retired, like puppies with dainty
tit-bits, to the more secluded parts of the building, in which little
privacy is obtainable. Others, with scant regard for their
surroundings, were perusing their communications when the order that
meant the commencement of another day's work brought them back to
earth once more.

"Where's my cap?--Who's pinched my stick?--George, old son, what did
you do with those gloves of mine you had last night?--Now, then, my
brave, bold Blue Hungarian bandsman, get a move on."

The wearer of the latest pattern of the R.A.F. blue uniform raised
his hands deprecatingly. One of a few similarly attired amid a swarm
of khaki-clad flight-cadets, he was beginning to feel sorry for
himself for having been up-to-date, and vindictive towards the Powers
that Be who had given instructions for him to appear thus attired.

"Chuck it!" he exclaimed. "Not my fault, really. If this is the
R.A.F. idea of a sensible and serviceable get-up, I'm sorry for the
R.A.F."

"It'll come in handy when you sign on as a cinema chucker-out _après
la guerre,_ George," chimed in another, as he deftly adjusted his cap
and made sure that his brightly-gilded buttons were fulfilling those
important functions ordained by the Air Ministry Regulations and
Service Outfitters. He shot a rapid glance through the window, for
the long corridor was now ejecting the crowd of cadets in a
continuous stream of khaki, mingled with blue.

"Buck up, George!" continued the last speaker, addressing a
slightly-built youth who, red in the face, was bending over his
up-raised right knee. "What's wrong now?"

The individual addressed as George--and in the R.A.F. it is a safe
thing to address a man as George in default of giving him his correct
name--explained hurriedly and vehemently, directing his remarks with
the utmost impartiality both to his would-be benefactor and to a
refractory roll of cloth that showed a decided tendency to refuse to
coil neatly round his leg.

"These rotten puttees, Derek!" explained the victim. "I've had a
proper puttee mornin'--have really. Got up twenty minutes before
réveillé, too. Razor blunt as hoop-iron; hot water was stone cold;
three fellows in the bath-room before me; an' some silly josser's
pinched my socks. Not that that matters much though," he added,
brightening up at the idea of having outwitted a practical joker.
"I'm not wearing any. Then, to cap the whole caboodle, I lost a
button off my tunic in the scrum at the mess-room door."

Derek Daventry, one of a batch of newly-entered flight-cadets at
Averleigh, was a tall, lightly-built fellow of eighteen and a few
months. Dark-featured, his complexion tanned by constant exposure to
sun and rain during his preliminary cadet training, supple of limb
and brimful of mental and physical alertness, he was but one of many
of a new type--a type evolved since the fateful 4th day of August,
1914--the aerial warriors of Britain.

The second son of a naval officer, Derek had expressed a wish to
enter the Royal Air Force, or, rather, the Royal Naval Air Force as
it then was, from the moment when it became apparent that the
schoolboy of to-day must be a member of one of the branches of His
Majesty's Service to-morrow. Captain Daventry, R.N., D.S.O., and a
dozen other letters after his name, was equally keen upon getting
Derek into the navy by the post-entry of midshipmen process, thus
making good an opportunity that had been denied the lad at an age
when he was eligible for Osborne.

"It's not only now," declared Captain Daventry. "One has to consider
what is to be done after the war."

"Time enough for that, Pater," rejoined Derek. "The end of the
'duration' seems a long way off yet."

"Possibly," said his father. "On the other hand it may be much sooner
than most people imagine. Of course I know that there are thousands
of youngsters similarly situated to yourself, but the hard fact
remains that the war must end sooner or later."

"But the R.F.C. and the R.N.A.S. must carry on," persisted Derek.
"Flying's come to stay, you know."

"Quite so," admitted the naval man; "but unfortunately that doesn't
apply to flying-men. The life of an airman, I am given to understand,
is but a matter of three or four years, apart from casualties
directly attributable to the war. The nervous temperament of the
individual cannot withstand the strain that flying entails."

"You're going by the experience of pioneers in aviation, Pater,"
replied his son. "After the war, flying will be as safe as motoring.
When I'm your age I may be driving an aerial 'bus between London and
New York. In any case I don't suppose the Air Board will turn a
fellow down when his flying days are over. They'll be able to make
use of him."

"You are optimistic, Derek."

"Yes, Pater," admitted the flying aspirant, "I am. It's a new thing,
and there are endless possibilities. I only wish I were six months
older. It's a long time to wait."

Captain Daventry still hesitated. An experienced and thoroughly
up-to-date naval officer, he understood his own profession from top
to bottom. The navy, notwithstanding rapid and recent developments,
was a long-established firm. There was, in his opinion, something
substantial in a battleship, in spite of U-boats and mines. But the
wear and tear of an airman, the fragile nature of his craft, and
above all the uncertain moods of the aerial vault made flying, in his
estimation, a short-lived and highly-dangerous profession, albeit men
look to it with all the zest of amateurs following a new form of
pastime.

"Hang it all, Pater!" continued Derek, warming to his subject; "the
Boche has to be knocked out in the air as well as on the sea.
Someone's got to do it; so why can't I have a hand in the game?"

"I'm not thinking of the war, but after," replied his father. "Since
you're keen on it, carry on, and good luck. The after-the-war problem
must wait, I suppose."

And so it happened that in due course Derek Daventry presented
himself for an interview at the Reception Depot of the
newly-constituted Air Ministry. That ordeal successfully passed, and
having satisfied the Medical Board, after a strenuous examination,
that he was thoroughly sound in mind and body, the lad found himself
an R.A.F. cadet at a large training-centre on the south coast.

Here his experience was varied and extensive. In a brief and
transitory stage, the mere soldiering part of which he tackled
easily, thanks to his school cadet training, he was initiated into
the mysteries of the theory of flight, the air-cooled rotary engines,
wireless telegraphy, aerial photography, and a score of subjects
indispensable to the science of war in the air. Then, punctuated by
regular medical examinations--for in no branch of the service is the
precept _mens sana in corpore sano_ held in higher esteem--came
additional courses in the arts of destructive self-defence:
machine-guns, their construction, use, and defects; bombs of all
sizes and varieties; aerial nets, their use and how to avoid them;
the composition of poison-gas and "flaming onions"; how to avoid
anti-aircraft fire; and a dozen other problems that have arisen out
of the ashes of the broken pledges of the modern Hun.

The days are past when the ranks of the old flying-corps were filled
by and rapidly depleted of hundreds of hastily-trained
pilots--specimens of the youth and manhood of the empire who were
passed through the schools in desperate haste and pitted against the
scientific but undoubtedly physically-inferior German flyers. Now the
R.A.F. trains its "quirks" deliberately and methodically. While on
the one hand there is no dallying, there is on the other no
injudicious haste, and before a cadet takes his wings he must
thoroughly master the intricacies of a 'plane while the huge monster
lies pinned to the earth. In due course, provided the most critical
of instructors are satisfied, the budding flying-man develops into a
flight-cadet and finally emerges, trained and provided with the best
machines that money and brains are capable of producing, to help to
gain the mastery of the air.

Derek Daventry had now entered into the flight-cadet stage, and on
the morning following his arrival at Averleigh T.D.S. he found
himself entering upon a new and highly-interesting phase of his
career--the actual experience of flight.

"I'll give you a hand," he said, addressing the youth with the
refractory puttee. "We'll lash the job up somehow. After all there's
a medical inspection after parade, so the jolly old thing'll have to
come off again. The main business is to fall in before the parade
starts."

With Derek's assistance Flight-Cadet John Kaye contrived to encase
his leg in the long strip of khaki cloth. True, there were projecting
folds and creases that might cause sarcastic comment from his
flight-inspecting officer, but the fact remained that his attendance
on parade was an accomplished fact.

The cadets and airmen had fallen in in their respective
"Flights"--R.A.F. equivalent to platoon--when the bell gave out its
four double clangs, for at Averleigh they kept ship's time, possibly
as a sop to the naval element absorbed from the old R.N.A.S. The
Sergeant-Major, having satisfied himself as to the dressing and
alignment, advanced to within a few paces of the Adjutant, the latter
a youth who was within a few months of attaining his twenty-first
birthday, and on whom weighed the responsibility of a thousand odd
men. Round-faced and boyish in appearance, he already sported three
metal bars upon his sleeve--the only outward and visible signs of
three wounds received in action with the Huns in Flanders and on the
Somme.

The Sergeant-Major saluted. The soft south-westerly breeze carried
away the sound of his voice from the stiffly-motionless ranks. The
salute was returned, then--

"Parade--stand at--ease! Fall in the officers!"

Derek, standing by the side of his chum Kaye in the front rank of No.
4 Flight, was conscious of the approach of his Flight-Commander.
Along the face of the Flight the Captain passed, swiftly
"overhauling" the appearance of every cadet. Yet, somehow, Kaye's
delinquency in the matter of the absent tunic button was passed
unrebuked.

"Rear rank, one pace step back--march!"

Cadet Kaye breathed freely once more. The ordeal, as far as the front
rank men were concerned, was over.

But before the inspection was completed came an unexpected diversion.
It was all the fault of Gripper, the Major's bull-terrier and
mascot-in-chief to the Averleigh T.D.S. If Gripper hadn't forgotten
time and place, and hadn't taken it into his head to chase the
mess-room cat across the parade-ground, the inspection would
doubtless have gone on without a hitch. But the bull-terrier was off,
nearly capsizing the Colonel, while in his wake a heavy cloud of dust
rose sullenly in the air. Gripper had no intention of hurting
Satan--the huge black cat. It was merely an effort on his part to
pass the time of day with his feline chum; but unfortunately Peter,
the large sheep-dog, and Shampoo, the Skye terrier, had misgivings on
the score, or perhaps they felt that they were being left out in the
cold by Gripper's sudden disappearance from the parade. They, too,
joined in the chase.

Evidently Satan regarded three tormentors as being beyond the limit.
Climbing upon the balustrade of the verandah in front of the
officers' mess the cat eyed the three excitedly-leaping dogs for
nearly a quarter of a minute. Then, before the animals realized what
it was about, Satan gave the bull-terrier a smart scratch on the tip
of his nose just as Gripper reached the zenith of a prodigious leap.
Then, following upon the initial success, the feline sprang fairly
and squarely upon Peter's woolly back, administered a cuff with a
taloned claw, and immediately directed his attention to the luckless
Shampoo.

The Skye, finding himself pursued by the namesake of the Prince of
Darkness, bolted precipitately towards the ranks of No. 4 Flight;
while Gripper and Peter, having first shown an inclination to
chastise each other for being the cause of their discomfiture,
started in pursuit of Satan.

So far, officers, cadets, and men had thoroughly enjoyed the
diversion, but when the terror-stricken Skye ran yelping between the
lines, and Satan, finding himself exposed to a rear attack, promptly
leapt upon the shoulders of a cadet-sergeant, No. 4 Flight began to
grow unsteady on parade. To make matters worse Gripper and Peter,
dividing their attention between the cat and themselves, were
scrapping and yelping around the men's feet. Later on many of the
cadets faced Hun "anti" and machine-gun fire with equanimity, but the
knowledge that only a few folds of puttees intervened between their
calves and two jaws armed with particularly aggressive teeth was too
much for their newly-instilled habits of discipline.

For quite a minute pandemonium reigned in the shattered ranks of No.
4 Flight, until the Colonel, in stentorian tones, suggested that it
was time that the performance drew to a close.

It was not until Gripper had been enmeshed in the folds of a leather
flying-coat, and Peter deftly capsized by a sergeant who seized him
by his legs, that things began to assume a normal aspect. Satan's
claws were disengaged from the cap of the cadet who had formed his
pillar of refuge, while Shampoo was curtly bidden to clear out; and
once more No. 4 Flight formed up and "right dressed".

"Parade--'shun!"

Accompanied by the characteristic clicking of hundreds of heels, the
parade stood rigid while the C.O. received and acknowledged the
Adjutant's salute. Then--

"Parade--stand at ease; caps off!"

Every head was bared as the Colonel began to read the short form of
Divine Service. Simultaneously the "church pennant"--another
concession to the naval side of the R.A.F.--was hoisted to the
yard-arm of the flagstaff.

"... we pray Thee to give thy Fatherly protection to us and to our
Allies on land, on the sea, and in the air."

The drone of a biplane two thousand feet overhead served as a fitting
accompaniment to the invocation. It reminded the budding airmen that
ere long they, too, would fall within this category of suppliants for
Divine protection. Soon they would be tasting of the joys and perils
of flying; of life, perhaps of death, in that domain that was every
day becoming more and more under the sway of man.

"Parade--caps on! March off!"

The morning ceremonial was over.

"No. 4 Flight: move to the right in fours. Form fours--right! Left
wheel--quick march!"

It was not until the cadets were marched to a remote corner of the
vast parade-ground and ordered to stand easy that Daventry turned to
his chum.

"You got through that all right, old man," he observed. "The Captain
didn't spot your missing button."

"Didn't he, by Jove?" replied Kaye, a broad smile overspreading his
features. "He did--but he couldn't say a word. He'd a button missing
himself. What's the move now?"

"Medical inspection, and then our first flight," replied Derek.



CHAPTER II

Derek's First Flight


Derek Daventry had passed through several medical examinations since
his entry as a cadet of the R.A.F. but this one in particular was a
thoroughly strenuous test. Having been put through the usual ordeal
as regards his keenness of vision and hearing, lung capacity, and
heart action only a few weeks previously, it came as a surprise that
he should again be "put through the mill". It was but one example of
the solicitude of the R.A.F. for its budding airmen, and of the
determination to receive the very best material for flying. The
authorities realize that it is easy for a reckless youth to ruin his
constitution in a very short time, and consequently no steps are
spared to keep the quirks in the very pink of condition.

The preliminary examination over, Derek had to undergo special tests
through which every cadet must emerge with credit before being
allowed to "take the air". Blindfolded, he was handed a small cube of
wood on which was a tuning-fork supported by a small disc. The cube
he had to lift vertically up and down three times without upsetting
the equilibrium of the fork. Then came the "walking the plank" test,
which consisted of traversing the length of a narrow plank while in
blindfolded condition. Followed, a variety of seemingly simple but
really intricate tests to prove the lad's capability of undergoing
various experiences that the art of successful flying entails. The
final one consisted of handing Daventry a wineglass brimful of water.
This he was told to hold, without allowing a drop to escape, while
quite unexpectedly a pistol-shot was fired within a few feet of his
left ear.

"Passed," was the M.O.'s crisp verdict; and Derek was curtly bidden
to dress and proceed to the flying instruction-ground.

Outside the cubicle he cannoned into Kaye, who had likewise passed
the ordeal.

"Didn't half give me a twisting, old man," he confided. "How many
more of these stunts are there before we get our wings?"

Together the chums made their way between the busy "shops" until they
reached the flying-ground--a vast expanse of closely-cropped turf,
bounded on three sides by shelters for the various types of 'planes.
Some of these shelters, hurriedly erected in the breathless days of
'14 and '15, were mere canvas "hangars" supported by a maze of rope
shrouds like gigantic tents. Others, prophetic of the permanency of
the infant science of aviation, were massive structures of
ferro-concrete, provided with huge sliding doors, and capable of
withstanding the heaviest gale. At various points long cone-shaped
bags of silk served to indicate the direction of the wind, the
knowledge of which is of paramount importance to the tyro in his
attempts to "take off" and "land" correctly.

Ungainly 'planes--for, like swans, they waddle awkwardly when out of
their natural element--were being hauled out of their hangars.
Others, taxi-ing under their own power, were lurching and rolling
over the grassy sward, each with a pair of panting, perspiring
mechanics hanging on to its long, tapering tail. Others were already
up, practising straightforward flying under the guidance of
experienced instructors, for fancy stunts, permitted only to the
cadets in the advanced courses, were forbidden in the immediate
vicinity of the aerodrome.

Donning leather coats and flying-helmets, and drawing on enormous
sheepskin garments that resembled exaggerated thigh-boots, the two
chums presented themselves at the chief instructor's office. That
worthy's reception of them was brief and to the point.

"Cadet Daventry, you're for K5; Cadet Kaye, G4. Mornin'."

"So we separate for the time being, George," remarked Derek, as the
twain left the building. "Good luck, old man. See you at lunch, I
hope."

The finding of K5, signifying the fifth hangar in K lines, afforded
no difficulty. Already the machine was out, four or five mechanics
being busily engaged in tuning-up the engine and testing the controls
under the observant eye of a young officer, who, apparently bored
stiff with the whole performance, was smoking a cigarette and
fondling a terrier pup--but one of the small army of mascots
maintained by the Averleigh T.D.S.

Lieutenant Rippondene, Derek's instructor, was in appearance an
overgrown schoolboy. As a matter of fact he was just twenty, and had
been flying at the front for more than two years, until a piece of
shrapnel had put a temporary stop to his activities in strafing the
Boche. Until he could prevail upon a normally adamant Medical Board
to allow him to cross the Channel again, he was being employed as
flight-instructor to the quirks of Averleigh Flying School.

He was full-faced, and showed a decided tendency towards corpulence.
In his flying-helmet and leather coat he strongly resembled a jovial
friar, and it would have been difficult to realize that those podgy
hands were capable of keeping a shrapnel-torn "'bus" under absolute
control. On one occasion he had been beset by five Huns, yet,
according to the testimony of his observer, "the old merchant was
grinning from ear to ear during the whole strafe".

"Hop in!" was the Lieutenant's greeting, much in the manner of a
motorist offering a youngster a lift on the road.

Derek obeyed, clambering into the fuselage of the double-seater
"Dromedary" by means of metal-shod niches in the side of the
khaki-painted body.

The instructor, throwing aside quite two-thirds of the original
length of the cigarette, followed, and, dropping into his seat like a
crab retiring to its lair, drew on a pair of gauntlets.

"Right-o!" he continued. "Tell 'em to swing her."

"Contact, sir--contact off," was the continued slogan of the air
mechanic, as he strove to swing the large two-bladed propeller, or
"prop." as it is invariably termed in the R.A.F.

Nothing of the desired nature resulting, Derek turned and looked
enquiringly at his instructor. Rippondene's face was wreathed in
smiles, for his pupil had forgotten an elementary task.

"You're doing the job, George--not I," he remarked. "Carry on, and
make a move."

At the next swing of the propeller the engine fired. Only the skids
under the landing prevented the Dromedary from rolling forward over
the ground. Now was the time for Derek to put weeks of theoretical
instruction to the test. A touch of the throttle and the powerful
engine roared "all out", the vast and seemingly slender fabric of the
'bus quivering under the strain, while the tyro pilot was almost
beaten backwards against the coaming of the seat by the terrific
blast from the rapidly-revolving prop.

The cadet waved his hand over the side of the fuselage--the
recognized signal for the mechanics to remove the skids. Slowly at
first, then gradually gaining speed, the Dromedary ambled across the
ground, the propeller raising enormous clouds of dust, while small
spurts of warm castor oil were ejected from the engine and blown back
by the wind into the goggled face of the young pilot. Unable to gauge
the biplane's speed, Derek held on until the instructor bellowed
plaintively into his ear:

"Get a move on, my lad; you're in a 'bus, not trundling a hoop along
a road."

Thus stimulated Daventry actuated the elevating-lever. Submissively
the huge machine parted company with mother earth, so gently and
evenly that it was only the change of vibration that told Derek of
the fact.

"By Jove!" muttered the lad. "I'm up now. Wonder how I'll get down
again." Ahead, owing to the tilt of the blunt nose of the machine, he
could see nothing but sky and fleecy clouds. It was only when he
glanced over the side that he saw the hangars already dwarfed to the
size of dolls' houses.

The ecstacy of it all! To find himself controlling a swift aerial
steed, to handle the responsive joystick, and to make the machine
turn obediently to a slight pressure on the rudder-bar. Anxiety was
cast to the winds. The sheer lust of flight in the exhilarating
atmosphere gripped the cadet in its entirety.

Again Derek leant over and surveyed the now distant earth from a
height of three thousand feet, as shown by the altimeter. But for the
furious rush of wind there was little sensation of speed, nor was he
in any degree affected by the height above the ground. Without the
faintest inconvenience he could watch the vast panorama beneath him,
and distinguish white ribands as dusty roads, and the variegated
patches of green denoting cultivated fields, meadows, and clumps of
trees. Although previously warned of the fact, he was nevertheless
surprised at the aspect of the ground, which presented the appearance
of a flat plain. Hills--and there were plenty in the vicinity of
Averleigh--had visually ceased to exist.

Suddenly the pleasing prospect was interrupted by a disconcerting
movement of the hitherto docile biplane. Akin to the sensation of
being in a lift that is unexpectedly put in motion, Derek found
himself dropping, while at the same time the clinometer, an
instrument for indicating the heel of the aerial craft, showed a dip
of thirty-five degrees. Instinctively Derek sought to regain a state
of stability, but the joy-stick seemed powerless to essay the task.

For a brief instant Daventry wondered what was happening. It seemed
to him that, notwithstanding his efforts, the 'bus was dropping
earthwards, and that the tractive powers of the prop. were futile.
Then, with a series of sharp jerks, the 'plane regained its normal
state of progression.

"Pocket," explained Rippondene, speaking into the voice-tube that
formed a means of communication between instructor and pupil. "You'll
soon get used to them; carry on--up to four thousand."

It was Derek's first "bump"--a vertical fall through fifty or a
hundred feet, owing to the machine encountering a patch of thin air,
or what is known to airmen as a pocket.

"Look ahead!" came the warning. "There's another 'bus."

Approaching each other at an aggregate speed of a hundred and fifty
miles an hour the two biplanes swerved discreetly, for both were
steered by quirks who took no risks. There are certain hard-and-fast
rules of the air which have to be obeyed with as much precision as
the mariner has to conform to the rule of the road at sea.

They passed a good two hundred yards apart, but almost immediately
Derek's 'bus started rocking and rolling in a disconcerting fashion
as it encountered the backwash of air from the now rapidly receding
biplane.

Revelling in the novel situation, Derek held on, occasionally turning
his machine in a wide circle and resisting any great inclination to
bank. He felt as if he could carry on indefinitely, so exhilarating
was the rush through the air, until the voice of his mentor sounded
in his ear.

"How about it?" it enquired brusquely. "I want my lunch even if you
don't. Back you go, my festive."

Derek swung the machine round until the needle of the compass showed
that the Dromedary was flying in the reverse direction, but very soon
the disconcerting truth became apparent. In his wild joy-ride he had
neglected to take bearings and allow for the side-drift of the wind.
He was lost.

"Won't do to admit that," he soliloquized. "I'll bluff the old
buffer, and trust to luck."

For nearly ten minutes he flew by compass course, the while studying
the expanse of ground three thousand feet below. Away to the
south'ard he could discern the coast-line, quite forty miles distant.
Evidently under the action of the south-westerly breeze the biplane
had side-drifted more than thirty miles.

Flecks of whitish vapour glided rapidly beneath the aeroplane. The
sky was beginning to become overcast. Viewed from the ground those
clouds would probably appear dark and semi-opaque. Viewed from above,
and bathed in the brilliant sunshine, they were white as driven snow.

Setting a compass course to counteract the current, Daventry flew
steadily for twenty minutes. By the end of this time the ground was
invisible. Reluctantly he resolved to dive through the clouds in
order to verify his position. It seemed a thousand pities to plunge
out of the sunshine, but his instructor was becoming impatient. The
novelty of joy-riding in the air had long since worn off as far as
Rippondene was concerned, whereas the pangs of hunger are not easily
to be denied.

A slight touch of the aileron actuating-gear and the descent began.
Cutting out the engine, Derek let the machine vol-plane. It was a
delicious, exciting, nerve-tingling sensation. In silence, save for
the rush of the air past the struts and tension-wires, the huge
fabric glided with great rapidity, momentarily nearing the extensive
bank of snow-white clouds.

Instinctively Derek shut his eyes as the dazzling mantle of vapour
appeared to rise and envelop him. The next moment the biplane was
plunging through the mist, in which the light gradually diminished
until it was like being in a room in the twilight.

No longer was the needle of the compass visible. Even the luminous
point failed to show so much as a faint glow. Sense of stability,
too, was lost. Whether the machine was banking steeply or volplaning
naturally was a matter for conjecture. All Derek knew was that the
'bus was moving rapidly, not under its own volition, but solely under
the unseen and unfelt force of gravity. Then, like an express train
emerging from a tunnel, the old 'bus, rocking and plunging, shot out
of the cloud-bank. Shaking the moisture from his goggles, Derek
restarted his engine, and then looked somewhat anxiously over the
side. Almost the first object that met his gaze was the Averleigh
aerodrome at a distance of about two miles.

"In sight of home," soliloquized the lad grimly; "but now comes the
hardest part--landing. Hope I don't pancake or try to land below the
ground."

"Pancaking", it must be explained, consists in getting as much way
off the machine as possible, and dropping practically vertically.
Unless the correct height and drop be gauged normally about three
feet--the machine is almost sure to "crash". Pancaking is only
deliberately resorted to when one is forced to land in standing corn,
stubble, or flooded ground.

"Landing below the ground" is a term applied to an underestimation of
the vertical distance when pancaking. Although of comparatively rare
occurrence, its results are even more disastrous than overestimating
the fall, and the crash almost invariably wrecks the machine
completely and costs the pilot his life.

Turning, so as to fly into the wind, Daventry made the plunge. Intent
upon his task, he completely forgot the presence of his mentor, who,
ready at an instant's notice to operate the "dual-control" mechanism,
was silently yet critically watching his pupil.

The ground appeared to be rising to greet the descending
aeroplane--slowly at first, then with disconcerting acceleration.
There was no time to stop and think; what had to be done must be done
promptly, almost automatically. An error of judgment would certainly
result in a crash of more or less seriousness.

"Now!" exclaimed Derek aloud, although he knew not why. The nose of
the machine rose slightly; there was a perceptible jar, another, and
then a series of bumps that decreased in force although they
increased in duration. Mechanically the young pilot cut off his
engine, and after travelling a few yards the 'plane came to a
standstill.

"By Jove! I've landed," he soliloquized. "Wonder how I did it?"

Rippondene clambered out, sliding to the ground, and began to swing
his arms to restore the circulation.

"Hurry up, old bird!" he exclaimed pleasantly. "We're the last down,
and lunch will be over if we don't look sharp. Yes, we'll make a good
airman of you yet. You've got it in you. Matter of fact I only had to
touch the joy-stick once, and that was when you tried to loop the
loop in that cloud. Didn't know you did, eh? I'm not surprised. We've
all been in the same boat."



CHAPTER III

The Derelict


Lunch was almost over when Derek entered the crowded mess in which
the quirks of Averleigh did justice to the plain but substantial food
provided by a paternal administration for the benefit of the airmen
of to-morrow. The air was buzzing with animated conversation, mostly
upon subjects entirely unconnected with the serious art of aviation.

Concealing his anxiety to hear how his chum fared, Derek took a
recently-vacated chair at Kaye's side. The latter nodded
appreciatively as he passed Daventry a bowl containing a concoction
which must never be referred to as margarine, but always as "nut
butter".

"Lorry's going into Rockport," announced Kaye. "It leaves here at
six. Coming?"

"What's the scheme?" asked Derek. "Nothing much to do in Rockport, is
there?"

"It will be a change," replied his chum. "And we can walk back."

"Eight miles," objected Daventry, shrugging his shoulders. "Bit
steep, eh? Very well then, I'm on it."

The meal finished, the cadets adjourned for ten minutes' "stand easy"
before the afternoon parade, a purely perfunctory ceremonial which
takes place at 1.30.

"Well, how went it with you?" asked Kaye, as the two made their way
to the fives court.

"Not so dusty," replied Derek modestly. "And you?"

Kaye grinned.

"Smashed a couple of landing-wheels," he replied. "It was hard luck,
but no one seemed to mind very much. It was topping up there, though.
I'm all out for another joy-ride to-morrow. Rough luck on Dixon."

"What was that?" asked Daventry.

"Didn't you hear? You know him, don't you?"

"The little merchant with a mole on the point of his chin? I was
yarning with him last night."

"That's the fellow," agreed Kaye. "'Fraid he's crashed for good.
Didn't clear the pine-trees, and ripped off the left-hand plane. Came
down like a stone, of course, and they've taken him to hospital with
a compound fracture of the thigh. Old Biggs is rather cut up about
it, because Dixon had a good reputation as a centre-forward. Just the
fellow we wanted for the First Eleven."

Biggs--Old Biggs as he was generally called--was the captain of the
first footer-team, hence that worthy's regret at losing what promised
to be a pillar of strength to the sports club. Biggs was an
ex-ranker, who, as a flight-sergeant in the old R.F.C., had performed
wondrous and daring feats over the Boche lines. It was reported that
he climbed out to the tip of one of the planes of a machine when,
owing to extensive damage by gun-fire, it was in danger of losing its
stability. And this at 9000 feet, with three Taubes devoting their
attention to the disabled British 'bus. And yet, before being granted
a commission, Old Briggs had to pass through the cadet
training-school like any ordinary quirk.

The afternoon passed only too quickly, the lecture being both
instructive and entertaining, and when tea was over the cadets were
at liberty to spend the rest of the evening in whatever manner they
wished.

It was one of the standing orders at Averleigh that three times a
week a large motor-lorry was detailed to take cadets into Rockport, a
privilege eagerly seized upon by the quirks.

Punctually at six the huge, khaki-painted vehicle emerged from the
garage, and the cadets, after passing inspection, boarded the lorry
in a seething mob, swarming over the fastened-up tail-board with the
utmost agility, until the lorry was packed with forty odd youngsters.

Away rattled the heavily-laden wagon, followed by a couple of
motor-bikes with side-cars, each of which bore three cadets in the
side-car and one on the carrier, while a straggling mob of quirks on
push-bikes brought up the rear.

Directly the precincts of the aerodrome were left behind, the driver
of the lorry was bombarded with frantic appeals to "whack her up".
This request was complied with, with alacrity, and, the road being
narrow, progress resolved itself into a series of vain attempts on
the part of the motor-cycles to pass their lumbering, swaying, big
comrade.

It was a distance of eleven miles to Rockport by road, and three
miles less by a footpath along the cliffs that eventually cut across
some marshes on the south side of Averleigh aerodrome.

Rockport, a small seaport of about nine thousand inhabitants, offered
very little attraction to ordinary visitors, but it was one of the
chief places of interest to the cadets of the T.D.S. They certainly
livened the old town up, and their presence was more appreciated than
otherwise by the bulk of the residents.

Upon arriving at Rockport the lorry quickly disgorged its load of
khaki-clad, white-banded cadets, most of whom had some definite
object in view. Derek and Kaye, however, being strangers to the
place, were somewhat at a loose end.

"Where are you fellows going?" exclaimed a voice. Turning, the chums
found Biggs overtaking them.

"Nowhere much," replied Derek. "We're going to walk back."

"That's good," ejaculated the captain of the team. "I'll come with
you, if I may. Nothing like padding the hoof to keep a fellow fit.
You play footer, of course."

"Not since I left school," replied Daventry.

"Where was that?" asked Biggs. "What's that? Full-back an' got your
colours? Why, you're just the man I want! You'll jolly well have to
train, and look mighty smart about it, young fellow."

"I'll think it over," said Derek guardedly.

"What's the objection?" asked the skipper pointedly.

"Since you ask me, it's like this," replied Daventry. "If a fellow's
a good player he's often kept back solely on that account. I know a
man in the army who's been knocking about in England ever since 1914,
simply because he's a professional full-back. Footer's all very well,
but I'm not here for that."

"Don't worry on that score, old bird," replied Biggs. "I'm keen on
getting back to France myself, and I'll take jolly good care that I
do as soon as I possibly can. So you can play with a good grace while
you're here."

"In that case, count on me," decided Derek.

Still discussing footer, the three cadets made their way along the
promenade until they reached the commencement of the cliff path. It
was now about an hour before sunset. The air was calm, and, for the
time of year, remarkably mild. Hardly a ripple disturbed the surface
of the sea, although against the base of the cliffs the surf roared
sullenly. Out of the little harbour the fishing-fleet was putting to
sea, their dark-brown sails hanging limply from the yards. Almost
sky-down were three or four tramp steamers leisurely plugging their
way towards London river. Outwardly there were no indications that
the nation was at war. Ships came and went, in spite of the vaunted
submarine blockade. Many went and returned no more, but still the
mercantile marine "carried on", hardly perturbed by losses through
mines and German pirates.

"Do you know the road?" asked Biggs. "I don't."

"We looked up a map this afternoon," replied Kaye. "It seems simple
enough. We strike inland at about a couple of miles from the
outskirts of the town. Not much of a path, is it?"

"Shouldn't like to tackle it after dark," rejoined Derek. "I guess
those coast-patrol fellows have a rotten time, especially in winter."

"A regular causeway," remarked Biggs, regarding the cliffs on either
hand, for the path itself ran along the top of a "hog's back"
formation. On the seaward side the cliffs were bold and precipitous.
On the landward side they were lower, and showed signs of crumbling.
Obviously, years ago, the existing marshes formed part of a large
harbour, from which the sea had long since retired.

"By Jove! I don't like the look of this," exclaimed Biggs, coming to
an abrupt halt. He indicated a chasm that completely cut through the
ridge. Evidently it was of fairly-recent origin, for the rock showed
bare and clean. Across the rift was a plank, about nine inches in
width, forming the only means of communication with the opposite
side.

"Hanged if I like the look of this stunt," observed Biggs, regarding
the ten-feet gap with obvious misgivings.

"Plank's safe enough," rejoined Derek, and, putting his statement to
the test, he crossed the narrow bridge without mishap. Kaye followed,
and the two chums turned and waited for their companion to rejoin
them.

"Come on, old son," exclaimed Kaye. "Don't keep us waiting all the
evening."

"Sorry," admitted Biggs frankly, "I can't face it. I'll be sure to
topple overboard--honest fact."

"Rot!" ejaculated Daventry incredulously.

"'Course it is," agreed the cadet. "Never could stick heights.
Looking out of a window of a two-storied house makes me giddy."

Derek could see that Biggs was not trying to hoax him. The airman
whose deeds in the air had already gained him no mean reputation, who
could soar at a terrific height amidst a heavy fire from German
antis, was unable to trust himself to cross that ten-feet gap.

"Jump it, then," suggested Kaye, and, setting the example, he leapt
easily across the chasm. Even then Biggs, the airman-athlete, hung
back.

"Can't make up my mind to try," he declared. "I feel an awful rotter,
but I can't help it."

"Look here," suggested Derek. "I can see a path leading down the face
of the cliff. Are you game to take it on? If so, we can climb up on
both sides. It doesn't look very difficult."

Biggs still hesitated. Daventry, leaping across the gap, made his way
to the place where the head of the natural steps began. There were
signs that the path had been frequently used, possibly as a means of
access to the sandy beach and caves at the foot of the cliffs.

Standing close to the edge of the cliffs (that headland attained a
height of fifty or sixty feet), Derek surveyed the expanse of water
beneath him. As he did so, he saw something that caused his heart to
throb violently.

Drifting aimlessly with the tide, and at about a hundred yards from
shore, was a waterlogged boat, with a crew of motionless and
apparently inanimate seamen.

Attracted by Daventry's shout of horrified surprise, Kaye and Biggs
came running up. They, too, stood stock still, filled with horror at
the pitiable sight.

The boat was about eighteen feet in length, and of the whaler type
usually carried on board tramp steamers. Only three or four inches of
the stern and stern-posts showed above water, the gunwales amidships
being flush with the surface, save when the waterlogged craft rolled
sluggishly with the motion of the ground-swell. The topstrake was
jagged and splintered, showing signs of having been riddled by
gun-fire.

Lying inertly across the submerged thwart were four men, their heads
rolling grotesquely from side to side with every motion of the boat.
On the stern-sheets, and partly supported by their cork lifebelts,
were two others, who appeared to be leaning against each other for
mutual support. Whether they were alive or dead it was impossible for
the three onlookers to determine.

"Come on!" shouted Biggs. "We'll have to get those fellows ashore or
it will be too late."

Quite unmindful of his former lack of nerve, Biggs began to descend
the cliff path--a performance highly hazardous compared with the
crossing of the chasm. Quick to second him, Derek and Kaye followed
his example, descending the slippery steps at a tremendous pace.

"You fellows hang on here," exclaimed Biggs. "If I want help I'll
shout. You can do better on shore, I think. I'm going to swim off to
her."

Feverishly the cadet threw off his tunic, unlaced his breeches and
unrolled his puttees in record time, and kicked off his boots. In
less than a minute he was ready for the plunge, during which interval
the waterlogged craft had drifted a dozen yards farther along the
beach.

The water felt horribly cold as Biggs waded in; it caused him to gasp
violently. Then, settling down to a powerful breast-stroke, the cadet
struck out in the direction of the derelict.

At length he came within arm's length of the boat. Grasping the
gunwale, he sought to clamber in, but the craft, having very slight
buoyancy, dipped as his weight bore on the side. Obviously there was
no chance of rowing the boat to the shore, even if there were oars on
board.

"I'll have to tow her," decided the swimmer. "It's a tough
proposition; and isn't the water beastly nippy?"

Groping for the painter, Biggs started to swim shorewards. The
waterlogged boat responded ungraciously--in fact, so slowly that the
swimmer was beginning to doubt his powers of endurance.

"Stick it!" shouted Kaye encouragingly. "You're moving her. Shall we
come out and give a hand?"

Biggs shook his head. He could not trust himself to shout a reply. He
wanted every ounce of breath to carry him through the ordeal.

Yet he was obviously tiring. The numbing cold and the prolonged
immersion were beginning to tell.

"By Jove! he'll never do it," exclaimed Derek, who had already
removed his boots and tunic. "We'll have to go in after him."

Hurriedly the two chums threw off their clothes, and plunged in to
the assistance of their comrade. They were only just in time, for
although Biggs had succeeded in towing the boat to within twenty-five
yards of the shore, he was on the point of being vanquished by the
cold water.

Comparatively fresh, Derek assisted Biggs to the shore, then,
returning, swam to the stern of the whaler, while Kaye struck out
with the painter. Under the combined action the boat was moved
slightly faster, and presently, to the cadets' intense satisfaction,
her fore-foot grounded on the soft sand.

"Can't get her any higher," declared Derek breathlessly.

"Let's lift these fellows out."

This they did, only to find that four of the crew were dead. The
remaining two were insensible, but showed signs that life was not yet
extinct, although both were far gone through exposure.

Partly dressed, Biggs ascended the cliff path, and hastened back to
Rockport for assistance, while Derek and Kaye, having tumbled into
their clothes, proceeded to do their best to restore the two
unconscious men to life.

"Look!" exclaimed Kaye, as they cut away a saturated jersey from the
elder of the two men. "Dirty work here, by Jove!"

For in the bluish flesh of the sailor's shoulder were three small
punctures--unmistakable indication of machine-gun fire. The other man
had likewise been hit, a bullet having completely passed through his
neck, and two more just above the knee.

Deftly the two cadets set about their task of restoring animation.
Regardless of time, they worked in the rapidly-fading light, without
any indication that their work was showing any signs of success.

In about an hour Biggs returned, accompanied by a doctor, a couple of
policemen, a dozen sturdy fishermen, and a section of the Rockport
ambulance workers. By the aid of ropes, the still unconscious men
were hauled to the top of the cliffs and carried off on stretchers.
With the help of plenty of strong and willing hands, the waterlogged
whaler, with its ghastly contents, was dragged above high-water
mark--a tell-tale record of the infamous activities of the modern
Hun.

"There's nothing more for us to do," remarked Kaye, as the sad
procession wended its way to the town.

"Isn't there?" rejoined Derek. "I think we'll sprint back to Rockport
and catch the lorry."

"Sure," agreed the still benumbed Biggs. "That's the stunt."



CHAPTER IV

The Night Raider


Biggs was slightly at fault when he expressed his opinion that the
cadets' share in the business was finished. There was a summons to
attend the inquest on the four murdered seamen, a function that Derek
and his companions voted a "dud stunt". However, it proved
interesting, since the two survivors had recovered from their
prolonged exposure, and, in spite of his wounds, one of them was able
to attend the inquest.

It was a plain, unvarnished tale that he told. He described himself
as mate of the s.s. _Falling Star_, a tramp of 250 tons, engaged in
carrying general cargo to the French ports. Within twenty miles of
the English coast the _Falling Star_ was attacked by a German
aeroplane--a huge machine, painted a vivid yellow, and having, in
addition to the usual black crosses, a representation of an eagle
holding a skull in the claws.

The mate was quite emphatic, when cross-examined by a representative
of the Admiralty, that the machine was not a seaplane. It made no
attempt to alight on the water, but circled round the tramp for the
best part of twenty minutes before administering the _coup de
grâce_. Unarmed, the _Falling Star_ could offer no resistance, and,
as if gloating over its advantage, the Hun machine performed weird
stunts above the tramp. Then, vol-planing down to within two hundred
feet, the Boche dropped a heavy bomb that struck the ship fairly
amidships, killing three and wounding seven members of the crew,
including the whole of the engine-room staff.

The _Falling Star_ sank rapidly, so that there was barely time to
lower away the only boat that had escaped serious damage from the
explosion.

Into her crowded eleven men, who, thinking that they were fortunate
in getting clear of the foundering vessel, began to pull for the
distant shore. Alas for a vain hope! The Hun, flying in a
comparatively small circle, deliberately machine-gunned the hapless
boat until, satisfying himself that the fell work was accomplished,
the German airman flew off, gloating over his gallant victory over
another of the strafed Englander's merchantmen.

"Unless I'm very much mistaken," said Biggs, when the three cadets
were on their way back to the aerodrome, "that low-down Boche is an
old acquaintance. I remember back in '17 that a 'plane marked as
described was causing us a great deal of trouble. The Boche's name
was Count Hertz von Peilfell. Our fellows were particularly anxious
to bring him down. He was a bold flyer, and not at all particular as
to his manners and customs. He was up to all the dirtiest tricks
imaginable, and, when he wasn't night-bombing over our lines, was
wandering across this side of the Channel. He boasted that he had
taken part in three raids on London, and had sunk at least half a
dozen Allied merchantmen by means of bombs. We gave him a warm
reception over Dunkirk, and that was the last time he put in an
appearance as far as we knew. Perhaps he was resting and recuperating
his jangled nerves. However, if this blighter is Von Peilfell, I hope
I'll meet him again, and then let the better man win."

For the next few weeks the work at Averleigh aerodrome proceeded
briskly and strenuously. Somewhat to his surprise and delight, Derek
Daventry was passed out after a comparatively short course, and given
his commission and appointed to a home counties flying-station.

Biggs, too, was able to discard the white band round his cap, and was
promptly sent across to the Somme front; but Kaye was not so
fortunate. Greatly to that worthy's disappointment, he was put back
for another course, for reasons best known to the instructors at
Averleigh T.D.S.

Torringham aerodrome, to which Derek was posted, was a comparatively
new station situated somewhere in Essex. It formed part of the outer
aerial defences of London, and had not yet received its full
establishment. Probably a marked disinclination on the part of the
Boche to tempt fate amid the aerial net defences and improved
anti-aircraft batteries over and around the city was responsible for
the fact that there were few opportunities for the Torringham pilots
to distinguish themselves. Also, the growing superiority of British
and Allied airmen on the Western Front, and the reprisal raids upon
the Rhine towns, kept the Hun airmen pretty much occupied, and
London, in consequence, enjoyed a period of security. Nevertheless
there was always the possibility of a daring Boche attempting to
sneak over the metropolis under cover of darkness, and the British
airmen stationed around London had to be constantly on the alert.

It was on the eighth evening following Derek's arrival at Torringham
that the period of comparative inaction was broken. There happened to
be a dance in progress, to which the officers of the depot had been
invited.

"I don't think I'll take it on, old man," replied Daventry in answer
to a brother officer's suggestion. "I've quite a dozen letters to
write, and I want to turn in early. Hope you'll have a good time."

So Derek sat in solitary state in the practically deserted ante-room
while the revellers proceeded by motor to the scene of the
festivities--a distance of nearly thirty miles.

"That's a good job done!" exclaimed Derek drowsily when the last of
his correspondence was finished. "By Jove, it's nearly midnight! I'll
sleep like a top to-night, unless the returning roysterers rout me
out of my bed."

It seemed to the young officer as if he had not been asleep more than
a couple of minutes when the electric light in his rooms was switched
on and a hand grasped his shoulder.

"Turn out, you blighter!" exclaimed a voice, which Derek failed to
recognize as that of the Officer of the Watch. "They're coming over!"

"Chuck it, old bird!" protested the still sleepy man. "If you want to
rag anyone, try someone else."

"No kid," continued the O.W. "We've just had a telephone message
through to say that a group of Gothas passed over Harwich five
minutes ago making towards London. You're the only pilot left on the
station, so you'll have to go up."

Derek leapt out of bed and hurriedly threw on his clothes. He was not
at all charmed with the prospect, for Torringham lay considerably off
the course usually followed by the Hun raiders. To be literally
hauled out of bed in the small hours of the morning, and to ascend on
a pitch-dark night without any degree of certainty of being within
thirty miles of a Boche airman, seemed "hardly good enough".

By the time Derek arrived at the shed in which his Dromedary biplane
was kept, he felt that much of his drowsiness had passed. It was a
fair night, although slightly overcast. Occasionally the stars shone
through the wide rifts in the vapour. There was little or no wind.

"All ready?" he asked of the Sergeant-Mechanic.

"All ready, sir," was the reply.

By sheer force of habit Daventry tested the controls, and assured
himself that the petrol-tank was filled. Then, donning his
flying-kit, he clambered into his seat.

Along the electrically-lighted ground the biplane ambled, and then
rose magnificently into the night air. A moment later and the
powerful arc-lamps were switched off, and the countryside beneath the
rapidly-climbing 'bus was shrouded in utter darkness.

At six thousand feet Derek found that his sense of lassitude had
completely vanished. The bracing coldness of the rarefied atmosphere
acted more effectually than the best tonic prepared by human agency.
More than once he realized that he was singing at the top of his
voice, as if trying to outrival the terrific roar of the powerful
motors.

He was now well above the stratum of clouds. Overhead the stars shone
brilliantly. He was alone, rushing through space at a speed of ninety
miles an hour.

"Goodness only knows why I'm up here," he reiterated. "Anyway, it's a
jolly picnic. I'll cut out and see if anything's doing."

Accordingly, Daventry shut off the engine and began vol-planing as
gently as possible. He listened intently for the roar of a hostile
propeller above the swish of the air past struts and tension-wires.

"Thought so," he muttered, as he restarted the motor. "Nothin' doin'.
I'm on a dud stunt. However, I'll carry on."

For the best part of an hour Derek continued his flight, describing
huge figures-of-eight in order to keep in touch with the aerodrome.
In vain he maintained a sharp look-out for any lurid bursts of flame
on the distant horizon that would indicate that the Boche was setting
to work, and that the anti-aircraft guns were giving the raiders a
hot tonic.

He was on the point of discharging his signal-pistol in order to
inform the aerodrome that he was about to make a landing when a dark,
indistinct mass shot by a hundred feet below him, and then vanished
in the darkness.

"By Jove! I wonder if that's a Fritz?" ejaculated the young pilot.
"I'll try and find out."

Almost before the Dromedary began to rock in the eddies in the wake
of the mysterious aeroplane Derek swung his 'bus round, banking
steeply ere he steadied her on her course. A glance at the altimeter
showed him that the height was eight thousand five hundred feet,
quite enough manoeuvring space for the work in hand, provided he
could find his quarry.

It was almost like looking for a needle in a bottle of hay. Even
taking into consideration the superior speed of the Dromedary, the
initial start obtained by the Hun (supposing that Derek's surmise
proved to be correct) and a slight divergence of courses would result
in the two aeroplanes being separated by miles of darkness.

Still keenly on the alert, Derek held on, at the same time putting a
tray of ammunition to each of the two Lewis guns, the heels of which
were within a few inches of the pilot's face.

"I've missed the beggar," declared Daventry, after continuing the
phantom pursuit for nearly a quarter of an hour. "Hard lines if the
fellow were a Boche. I'll give myself another five minutes----By
smoke! now what's that?"

Right ahead, but on a slightly-lower level, was something gaunt,
indistinct, and moving. For a few seconds Derek could hardly credit
his good fortune, thinking that in the stress and strain of the
night-flight he was the victim of a hallucination. Another minute,
however, removed all cause for doubt. It was a 'plane; more, it was a
Boche, for the black crosses of infamy were discernible in the cold
starlight.

The Dromedary was rocking in the tail-stream of the Hun machine.
Gently Derek brought his 'bus up, until it was flying in
comparatively still air. Eighty yards away was the Boche, flying
serenely in blissful ignorance of the fact that a British machine was
literally sitting on its tail.

Deliberately, and without the faintest compunction--for the
night-raider had none when dropping his powerful bombs upon the
civilian population of London and other cities and towns--Derek
brought the sights of the right-hand gun to bear upon the back of the
Hun pilot. A burst of vivid flashes, and the deed was done.

The German machine dipped abruptly, and dropped into a spinning
nose-dive, while a long trail of reddish flames, terminating in a
cloud of fire-tinged smoke, told its own tale. The petrol-tank had
taken fire, and the doom of the raider was sealed. No amount of
trickery would avail. It was impossible for Fritz to attempt his now
well-known spin in the hope of deluding his antagonist, and then, by
flattening out, get clear away. The fire had "put the hat" on that,
even if the pilot had not been killed outright by the hail of
Lewis-gun bullets.

"May as well see what happens," soliloquised Daventry. "So here
goes!"

Diving almost vertically, he followed the visible track of the
crashing Hun. With his feet braced firmly against the rudder-bar, and
his head and shoulders well back, Derek maintained the plunge, ready
at the first inkling of danger to either loop or flatten out. In
spite of the terrific pace, the flaring debris of the vanquished
Gotha was falling even faster, followed by a galaxy of falling
embers.

Suddenly a blinding flash seemed to leap out of the darkness within a
few yards of the diving Dromedary. Another and another followed in
quick succession, and although the noise was drowned by the roar of
the engine, Derek guessed instantly and rightly.

"Shrapnel, by smoke!" he exclaimed. "I'm being strafed by our own
antis."

With a sudden jerk that would have spelt disaster had any of the
struts and tension-wires been of faulty workmanship, the Dromedary
checked her downward plunge in order to avoid the unpleasant
attentions of "Archibald", while for the first time Derek became
aware that he was in the concentrated and direct glare of half a
dozen powerful searchlights.

"Why on earth can't the idiots see my distinguishing marks!"
exclaimed Derek petulantly, forgetting that when a machine is diving
steeply the planes present to an observer on the ground the
appearance of two parallel lines. He groped for his Very's pistol in
order to give the customary signal to show that it was a British
aeroplane that was the object of the anti-aircraft gunners'
attention, but in the steep nose-dive that important article had slid
from its appointed place.

Rocking and pitching in the rudely-disturbed air, the Dromedary
dodged and twisted, vainly attempting to elude the beams of the
searchlights. Then, with a most disconcerting crash, a couple of
struts were shattered like matchwood, and the next instant the 'bus,
badly out of control, began to drop through the intervening thousand
feet that separated her from the ground.

Derek prepared for a crash; sliding as far as possible under the
cambered deck of the fuselage, he waited for the inevitable. The
biplane on crashing would almost certainly land on her nose and turn
completely over. It was possible to survive the impact, but the
greatest danger lay in the possibility of the luckless pilot being
hurled against the knife-like tension-wires, or having his head
battered against the heels of the two machine-guns.

To Derek the biplane appeared to be dropping slowly, although
actually very few seconds elapsed before the crash came. The
anti-aircraft guns had ceased firing, either because the gunners knew
that they had scored a hit, or else the altitude was too small to
admit of the guns being fired without risk of doing great damage to
the adjacent village. The concerted rays of the searchlights,
however, continued to play upon the falling machine, until an
intervening ridge masked them. There was a sudden transition from
dazzling light to utter darkness--Derek realized that he was now but
a few feet from the ground.

Crash!

As he expected, the machine struck nose first. The quivering fabric
of the fuselage was suddenly checked, the change of direction causing
Derek's knees to bend and hit hard against the deck. A blow like that
of a gigantic sledge-hammer seemed to smite him betwixt the
shoulder-blades.

Then, rearing, the fuselage toppled completely over, and the next
instant Derek found himself being dragged down through icy-cold
water.



CHAPTER V

The Next Day


Rendered well-nigh breathless by the shock of the water following the
crash, Derek struggled feverishly to unbuckle the stiff leather belt
that held him to the seat. Swallowing mouthfuls of water, until his
lungs felt on the point of bursting under the asphyxiating strain, he
at length succeeded in unfastening the buckle. Then, scrambling
blindly, he endeavoured to extricate himself from the tangle of
wreckage that, in his heated imagination, was encompassing him on
every side. A severed tension-wire coiled itself round his left
ankle. At the expense of his fleece-lined boot he succeeded in
disengaging the sinuous embrace of the spring-like metal. Then,
almost at his last gasp, the young officer resisted the temptation to
struggle to the surface, but, diving under the upturned fuselage, he
swam half a dozen strokes before attempting to rise.

Then, hardly able to withstand the numbing coldness of the water, he
allowed himself to float to the surface.

Taking in copious draughts of the pure night-air, Derek floated
impassively until the instinct of self-preservation urged him to make
for the bank.

Silhouetted against the glare of the concealed searchlights were the
figures of a score or more of men. Towards them the crashed pilot
struck out feebly, until, to his unbounded relief, he saw two men
plunging into the water to his assistance.

"Sorry, chum!" shouted a voice, as a pair of hands grasped him under
the shoulders. "We thought you were a bloomin' Boche. You'll be all
right in 'arf a mo'."

Derek could not reply. He was temporarily speechless, but he was
heartily glad of the assistance of the men who had swum out to his
aid. Then he was dimly conscious of his feet coming in contact with
the muddy bottom and willing hands helping him up the steeply-rising
bank.

His senses returning, Daventry was able to take a
fairly-comprehensive view of the situation. He was standing on the
edge of a large reservoir. In the centre, looming up in the reflected
glare of the still fiercely-burning Gotha, was the tail of his trusty
Dromedary, resembling an obelisk to commemorate the aerial encounter.
A short distance away was a searchlight, its beams slowly sweeping
the sky, while, standing out against the rays, was the gaunt muzzle
of a heaven-directed anti-aircraft gun, ready for instant action.
Round the weapon were the gunners, seemingly oblivious to the British
pilot's presence, their whole attention centred upon the patch of
luminosity that swung slowly to and fro across the murky sky. Other
searchlights were also trained upwards in the hope of spotting yet
other undesirable aerial visitors from Hunland.

A quarter of a mile away a red glow marked the spot where the Gotha
had crashed, although the actual wreckage was hidden by a
considerable concourse of people, both military and civilian, who
signified their delight at the raider's downfall by prolonged and
lusty cheers.

An anti-aircraft officer, his features partly hidden by the upturned
collar of his "British warm", hurried up to the spot where Derek was
standing.

"Sorry, old man!" he exclaimed apologetically. "I was responsible for
bringing you down, I'm afraid. Didn't know that any of our machines
were up. No telephone message came through to us. I hadn't a chance
to distinguish the markings on your plane. Deuced sorry--very!"

"There's little harm done," replied Derek as well as his chattering
teeth would allow. "My fault entirely. I ought to have----"

"No fear!" replied the anti-aircraft man. "My mistake absolutely.
Here; it's no use arguing the point about responsibility. You're
coming back to our mess and to get a fresh rig-out."

Up dashed a closed-in motor-car. Into this Derek was assisted, the
battery captain accompanying him, and amid the cheers of the now
dense crowd of sightseers the destroyer of the Gotha was borne away.

A hot bath and a change of clothing provided by willing hands quickly
restored Derek to an almost normal condition--but not quite.
Pardonably he was excited at the thought of having accomplished a
good deed, but in reply to numerous congratulations he frankly stated
that it was a piece of sheer good luck.

News of the destruction of the raider and the victor's crash into the
reservoir had been promptly telephoned to Torringham aerodrome, and
in reply came the curtly-official message:--



  "From O.W. to Second-Lieutenant D. Daventry,
  R.A.F.--Await arrival of salvage-party. Forward
  report forthwith--Ack, ack, ack."


The last three words, be it understood, do not bear any relationship
to the Teutonic "Hoch, hoch, hoch", but are the usual official way of
indicating that a telegraphic or telephonic message is ended.

Generally speaking, the smaller the mess the more hospitably
strangers are treated, and at Sisternbury there was no exception to
the rule. Although the mess was composed of a captain, a lieutenant,
and two subalterns only, the officers did everything they could for
the comfort of the crashed pilot.

In spite of the fact that it was early morning and Derek had had very
little sleep during the last twenty hours, the young officer tossed
restlessly on his bed. The events of the midnight pursuit and its
startling finish were photographed so vividly on his brain that he
could not banish the mental vision of the Gotha streaming earthwards
in flames. Then, just as Daventry was falling into a fitful slumber,
he was awakened by a batman bringing him a large cup of hot,
sugarless tea, with the announcement that it was eight o'clock and
that the salvage-party had arrived.

The salvage-party consisted of a dozen air-mechanics and a couple of
corporals and a sergeant, who had come from Torringham on a large
R.A.F. lorry, but with them came an unofficial party made up of
almost every officer not on duty and as many on duty who could
furnish even the flimsiest pretext for joining the "joy-riders".

Having submitted to the many and varied congratulations and caustic
remarks of his brother officers, Derek was taken to the spot where
the Gotha crashed. Already sentries had been posted and a wire fence
erected around the calcined debris of the huge aeroplane, for it was
imperative that nothing should be disturbed until scientific and
technical examinations had been made by qualified experts.

The motors had fallen with such force that they had made a hole five
feet in depth. Thirty yards away were the battered remains of a
machine-gun, while other debris had been discovered half a mile from
the main wreckage. The Gotha had had a crew of five men, their
corpses, horribly burnt and battered, being found at widely different
distances. These had already been removed to be given a military
funeral, for, notwithstanding the undoubtedly cowardly methods
adopted by Hun raiders, the German airmen were acting under orders,
and had met their fate in much the same way as soldiers on the field
of battle.

As for the poor old Dromedary, it looked a pitiable object when
removed from the reservoir. Never again would the battered object
soar proudly through the air. As a fighting-machine its days were
ended. Its fate, after the more important parts had been removed, was
to be burnt.

"I think I can claim the old prop.," remarked Derek to a brother
officer. "I'll get a clock fitted to it and send it home to my
people. It will look all right in a hall, won't it?"

So the badly-chipped propeller was removed and placed in the lorry
until it could be converted into a novel timepiece. Then, having seen
the valuable portions of the crashed Dromedary safely in the huge
petrol-drawn vehicle, Derek bade farewell to his newly-found friends
of the Sisternbury Anti-aircraft Force and was motored back to
Torringham.

It was a sort of triumphal progress, for the now thoroughly-excited
officers, jubilant at the idea that the raider had fallen a victim to
one of their depot, were "letting themselves go" with no uncertain
voice.

With motor-horns adding to the din, and a tattoo of sticks beating
the covers of the cars, the motor cavalcade swept into the aerodrome,
where Derek, taking to his heels, fled precipitately to his quarters.

It was not long before the C.O. sent for the victorious pilot.

"In case you may be suffering from swelled head, Mr. Daventry," he
remarked, at the conclusion of a congratulatory interview, "I think
we'll have you posted for active service in France. That, I think, is
a fitting reward, and I hope that you'll recognize that it is so.
Meanwhile I must warn you that on no account must your name figure in
the press. It is an unwritten law in the R.A.F. that individuality
should be eliminated as far as possible, and the undoubted honour
shared by the unit to which you belong."

Within a week Derek's orders to proceed across Channel came through.
His field-kit was soon packed, and after a couple of days' leave
Daventry found himself at Richborough, _en route_ for Dunkirk.



CHAPTER VI

Across the Channel


Contemplating a journey by the now famous Channel ferry, Derek was
soon to learn how, at the very last moment, official plans are apt to
be altered.

For some reason, possibly on account of information received of
possible enemy action at sea, the train-boat was ordered to stand
fast, while a telegraph message was received, ordering
Second-Lieutenant Daventry to proceed to an aerodrome in Sussex, and
to fly a large battleplane across to an aviation camp near Etaples.

"This is some luck," thought Derek; for the opportunity of flying
across to France was one that he had yearned for; and, accordingly,
he left his kit to be sent across by boat, and took train to the
point of his aerial departure.

The battleplane was a brand new machine that had just been delivered
from the manufacturers. It had gone through its trials, and, owing to
the serious nature of the military situation on the Amiens front, was
urgently required for the purpose of checking the Hun offensive.

Besides Derek as pilot, the machine carried a crew of four--observer,
mechanic, and two gunners. With a wing-spread that far out-classed
the celebrated Dromedary, and possessing motors of nearly twice the
horse-power, the GV 7--such being the official designation of the
biplane--was capable of a one-thousand-two-hundred-mile flight
without having to alight for petrol.

It was, indeed, a formidable type of battleplane. Portions of the
fuselage--especially the underside--were armoured with nickel steel
sufficient to resist fragments of anti-air-craft shells, while ample
protection was afforded to the crew. Short of a direct hit, or the
smashing of a wing or tail, the machine was able to bear a severe
gruelling without becoming _hors de combat_. Being of an entirely
novel and formidable type, it was considered to be far and away a
match for any air-craft that, up to the present, the Hun possessed.

It was within two hours of sunset when Derek started on his maiden
cross-Channel trip. A steady north, or following wind gave every
indication of holding, while an almost cloudless sky betokened a
continuance of fine weather.

With her full crew and equipment, the GV 7 "took-off" magnificently,
the enormous fabric answering quickly to the controls. Compared with
the old Dromedary, with its short wing-spread and stumpy fuselage,
the battleplane was as a battleship is to a cruiser. There was an
almost complete freedom from lack of space, which contributed in no
small degree to comfort, although all controls were within easy
distance of the pilot.

Before the machine was over the English coast, an altitude of seven
thousand feet was attained. In the clear atmosphere, the low cliffs
of France were clearly discernible. It seemed as if a small silvery
streak of water--which to the ordinary traveller to the Continent is
an object of dread--was a very negligible quantity. By air, Great
Britain and France, one-time sworn foes, were to be united in a bond
of mutually self-sacrificing friendship.

GV 7 proved herself to be an exceptionally rapid climber, rising at a
steep angle without evincing any tendency towards side-splitting. As
steady as a rock, she settled down to her flight across the silvery
streak of the English Channel, and, although throttled down, her
speed was not far short of ninety miles an hour.

Within five minutes of passing over the coastline, the observer
called Derek's attention to a mere speck on the waters. By the
N.C.O.'s manner, it was evident that something was amiss.

"Boche 'plane up to mischief, sir," reported the man by means of the
voice-tube. "Steamer getting it hot, I fancy."

Without hesitation Daventry dived steeply, the men standing to their
machine-guns and bomb-dropping gear. By the aid of glasses the speck,
which was momentarily increasing in size, resolved itself into a
large tramp steamer. She had just starboarded her helm in order to
maintain a zigzag course, while clouds of smoke pouring from her
funnels indicated that the engineers and stokehold staffs were hard
at work in their efforts to shake off pursuit.


[Illustration: GV 7 TO THE RESCUE!]


"'Tis a Boche 'bus!" exclaimed the observer, as a circular cloud of
white smoke shot up a few feet astern of the tramp. "By Jove, what a
beauty!"

Whether the N.C.O. was in earnest, or merely speaking sarcastically
of the Hun machine, Daventry could not determine. His attention was
centred upon the darting form of a possible antagonist, who, as yet,
was ignorant of the British biplane's presence. The Boche machine was
remarkable for the unusual appearance of its wings, or rather
non-appearance, for they were made of some sort of transparent fabric
that rendered them almost invisible. It was only when the aeroplane
banked steeply as she hovered over her intended victim that the rays
of the setting sun, glinting on the tilted planes, revealed the
presence of the V-shaped wings. Even the black cross was absent, as
far as the planes were concerned, although they were painted on the
top and sides of the fuselage. The elongated body was fancifully
decorated in various colours, the whole resembling a freak machine
that might, or might not, prove to be a tough customer.

"Wonder if it's Biggs's old pal, Count von Peilfell?" thought Derek.
"It's not a seaplane, and the guy is a jolly long way from his base."

A thousand feet--five hundred--three hundred.

"Let him have it," signalled Derek.

The staccato of the Lewis guns mingled with the roar of the motors.
Apparently taken completely by surprise, the Hun side-slipped, spun
on one wing for several seconds, and then burst into a furnace of
smoke and flame.

Boldly into the trailing smoke plunged GV 7, keenly in pursuit of the
crippled and falling Hun. Half-blinded by the smoke, and choking from
the pungent fumes, Derek held on, until a rapid glance at the
altitude-gauge showed him that he was but a few feet above the sea.

Like a meteor, the British battleplane flattened out, and, emerging
from the smoke, began to encircle the fiercely-burning wreckage on
the sea. It was not until several minutes had elapsed that the vapour
cleared, and Derek realized that he had been badly tricked.

The Hun, in diving, had thrown out a novel kind of smoke-bomb, and,
surmising that the British biplane would dive in pursuit, the German
had climbed to a terrific height, unnoticed by his too eager and
credulous antagonist.

"We've been on a dud trail," muttered Derek disgustedly, and,
glancing aloft, he saw the faint outlines of the Boche machine,
looking much like a tadpole, scurrying home at a rapid pace. The
advantage of altitude, and the intervening distance, rendered pursuit
impracticable, and, reluctantly, Daventry had to recognize tactical
defeat.

He had, however, saved the tramp steamer from destruction, and, since
his orders were definite, he now had no option but to resume his
flight for the battle-front. Nevertheless the wireless operator was
busily employed reporting the presence and direction of a Hun to the
aerial-patrol off Dunkirk, and, with luck, the strong Allied Air
Squadron ought to be able to intercept the returning raider.

The tramp expressed her gratitude by giving a series of whoops on her
siren, and, steadying on her course, headed towards a number of
M.L.'s, which, called up by wireless, were hurrying to her aid.

The sun was still above the horizon when Derek "cut out" preparatory
to descending at the aerodrome. Miles away the sky was stabbed by
countless flashes that more than held their own against the glow of
departing day, while the air reverberated with the roar of heavy
guns. In spite of the volplaning air-craft's rush through the air,
and the shriek of the wind, the ceaseless rumble was plainly audible.
Ahead, right and left, as far as the eye could see, the lines of
flashes continued. A big engagement, not merely a series of local
operations, was in progress.

The Sergeant-Observer actually grinned in his officer's face, for
there is such a thing as a companionship of the air that makes small
beer of cast-iron methods of discipline.

"We're not too late, after all, sir," he exclaimed through the
voice-tube. "They're going it hammer and tongs."

Making her distinctive signal, GV 7 circled around the landing-ground
until the coast was clear, for there was much aerial activity in
progress, machines rising and descending almost ceaselessly.

"All clear, sir!" reported one of the battleplane's crew, as a
tri-coloured flare rose from the gathering shadows betwixt the
hangars.

"Right-o!" rejoined Derek. "Down we go."

A succession of jerks announced that the battleplane had renewed
acquaintance with the earth, although it was the first time as far as
the soil of France was concerned.

Derek stood up in his "office" and pushed back his goggles. The scene
that awaited him was very much like that of an aerodrome in England.
There were mechanics hurrying towards him, while in a few moments a
couple of flying-officers strolled up.

"New 'bus?" enquired one casually. "Just out? What's doing in town?"

Daventry did his best to reply to the widely-divergent questions, and
dared to ask how things were going out there.

"Doing? Heaven only knows!" replied one of the two officers.
"Apparently we're doing a sort of fox-trot backwards. 'T anyrate
we've orders to pack up before morning. The Boche is, we understand,
about twelve miles away, and during the last three days has been
pushing on at three miles a day. Come along to the mess and see
what's going."

The hut signified by the name of mess was the result of a poor
attempt to turn an inadequate building into a dining- and living-room
for hungry airmen. The furniture consisted of a few trestle-tables
each covered with an army blanket of different shades. Long wooden
stools contrasted with aggressive hardness with the dark browns and
greys of the tables, while a solitary chair, resting insecurely on
three legs, indicated the appointed place of the C.O. In one corner
was a much-battered piano, a partly-reconstructed derelict from a now
demolished château. The inevitable gramophone, which proclaimed in
wheezy tones "The Parson's waiting for me and my Girl", occupied the
top of the piano in partnership with a decrepit melodeon. The windows
were heavily curtained with blankets, while the blue-washed walls
were adorned with a vivid selection of Kirchner prints.

Curled up around the almost red-hot tortoise stove were some of the
animals that are to be found in every well-ordered mess: three dogs
and a large yellow-and-white cat, all serenely indifferent to a
lively scrap between two lively young bloods who were settling an
argument as to who should not pay for certain liquid refreshment. The
rest of the mess were deriving exhilarating enjoyment from the
friendly little bout, the din completely outvoicing the gramophone's
announcement as to a certain padre's present occupation.

There were present between twenty or thirty officers. Some, just back
from a desperate errand across the enemy's lines, were still wearing
their yellow-leather flying-coats, and, while watching the struggle
between two of their chums, were warming their benumbed hands at the
stove. Others, about to fly, were similarly attired. Others, off duty
for a very limited space of time, were rigged out in a medley of
garments culminating in British warms and much-soiled trench-coats.
All were smoking cigarettes of a brand known throughout the British
army and Royal Air Force as "gaspers", and, judging from the buzz of
conversation, their thoughts were far away from the war, despite the
fact that the forefront of the much-advertised Hun offensive was now
but a few miles off and was still advancing.

"Blow in!" was Derek's newly-found friend's invitation. "Blow in, and
make yourself at home. Sling your gear over there,"--indicating a
small mountain of thrown-off coats--"sorry there's no clothes-rack.
Last time Jerry came over here dropping eggs our mess-room got it. We
haven't replaced camp equipment yet. Hallo! No dinner ready yet?
What's up with the messman this evening?"

Just then an orderly stepped briskly into the room, and, saluting,
delivered a sealed envelope to a small, undersized youngster whose
badges of rank proclaimed him to be a major. Although barely
twenty-four this officer was a senior major, and wore across his
right breast a double row of ribbons belonging to much-prized
distinctions. In addition he had "put up" three wound-stripes.

Almost languidly the Major opened the envelope. It was about the
fiftieth he had received that day. Then, dismissing the orderly, he
strode across the room and pinned the contents to the notice-board.

"Urgent, you fellows!"

Bedlam ceased. The combatants broke away, and arm in arm joined in
the throng around the board.

It was an order from the General Officer Commanding, briefly stating
that the enemy was still advancing in force and the squadron was to
attack by low-flying machine-gunnery. "It cannot be expected,"
concluded the order, "that this work can be performed without
considerable loss."

Brief and to the point. The officers read it carefully. There was
silence in the room. Everyone knew what the work entailed. Some,
perhaps many of them now present, would go and not return. The
already heavy casualty list of the R.A.F. would be greatly augmented.

"Some stunt this!" remarked a voice. "But I say; what's wrong with
dinner? Ring the bell for that messman, somebody."



CHAPTER VII

When the Hun Pushed


There was little rest for anyone that night. In spite of the outward
show of levity every man realized more or less the gravity of the
situation. Taking advantage of heavy mists that caused the deadly
poison-gas to roll sullenly over the British lines, the Huns were
pushing forward regardless of the cost. Their High Command knew
perfectly well that it was a gambler's last throw. Failure meant a
total and sudden crumpling up of the German Empire on all fronts. It
was a despairing effort to aim a knock-out blow at the British, in
the hope that it would result in a relaxation of the British navy's
strangle-hold upon every subject of the Kaiser.

Yet, although from an Allied point of view the situation was serious,
not for one moment did the British, from the Commander-in-Chief down
to the latest-arrived Tommy, entertain any doubts as to the issue of
the titanic conflict. We were going back, it was true, but sooner or
later the pendulum would swing in the opposite direction, and the
Hunnish hordes would either be smashed by Foch, or else driven
pell-mell across the Rhine.

Already airmen were busily engaged in getting stores and material
away. Rumours, often too true, were coming through of vast quantities
of stores falling into the hands of the enemy, often owing to the
blind confidence of those in charge in the ability of a comparatively
few British troops to withstand ten or even twenty times their
number.

Huge motor-lorries, piled high with material, rumbled away as fast as
they could be loaded up. Wounded men, some "walking cases", others
badly hit, were streaming towards the now perilously-advanced
dressing-stations. Troops, both British and French, were arriving to
succour their worn-out and harassed comrades, while, almost
momentarily, night bombing-machines were either going to or returning
from their destructive missions.

The flashes of countless guns and the lurid flares of abandoned
ammunition-dumps and petrol-stores illuminated the misty sky, while
the sodden earth trembled under the thunder of artillery-fire. At
frequent intervals Hun bombing-'planes, soaring at great heights,
fearful lest their careers might be cut short by the British
machines, dropped bombs indiscriminately, the loud clatter of which
was distinctly audible above the roar of the howitzers and heavies.
It was an inferno into which men, who a few years ago never thought
to handle a rifle and bayonet, plunged bravely and resolutely to give
their lives for their country.

Realizing that Flanders and Northern France were Britain's bulwarks,
and that should the Channel ports be lost the thorny problem of
Ostend and Zeebrugge would be magnified a thousand-fold, every foot
of ground was obstinately contested by the hard-pressed troops.
Isolated battalions deliberately sacrificed themselves on this
account, thus obtaining a temporary respite for their undaunted
comrades, while in countless numbers fresh hordes of field-greys
hurled themselves by day and night against the dauntless khaki lines.

Derek soon found the reason for his hasty flight to France. With
hundreds of other airmen he had been sent across to assist in
stemming the tide of Huns. Success or failure in the present struggle
depended mainly upon superiority in the air. Not only did aerial
combination mean that the enemy's concentration could be clearly
observed--mists and fogs alone preventing--but his lines of
communication could be constantly interrupted, while a new factor,
low-altitude machine-gunning, was "putting the wind up" the German
infantry in no half-hearted fashion.

The young pilot was told off to start at dawn. Provided with a series
of aerial photographs of the enemy's positions, and also a map ruled
off in squares and numbered and lettered, he was able to obtain a
clear idea of the sub-sector over which he was to operate. So
elaborate were the preparations that there was hardly a square yard
of ground captured by the enemy that was not mapped out for
particular attention by the R.A.F. By bomb and machine-gun fire the
Huns were to be unmercifully galled--but at a cost.

With the first blush of dawn, when rosy tints glowing beyond the
flame-tinged clouds of smoke betokened another wet day, GV 7, in
company with others of her kind, was brought from the camouflaged
hangar.

During the night her crew had snatched a few hours' sleep, the work
of replenishing fuel and ammunition being entrusted to the
air-mechanics and ground men. With her cylinders shedding enough
castor oil to dose a battalion at full strength, and every part of
her construction carefully tested, she stood ready to start upon her
errand of death and destruction.

The air was "stiff" with machines as GV 7 began to climb steadily.
Derek's whole attention for the time being was to avoid certain
"unhealthy" spots where high-velocity shells from the British heavies
screeched unceasingly. There were other shells which he might not be
able to avoid--those coming from the opposite direction--for he knew
that it was not an uncommon occurrence for a 'plane to get in the way
of a high-velocity projectile and to vanish into fragments.

In the hollows wreaths of white mist still clung: danger-spots
concealing swarms of German troops who had been rushed up under cover
of night in spite of the terrific barrage of the guns and bombs from
the British air-craft. A few miles beyond the irregular line of
contesting foes a Hun sausage-balloon rose rapidly, swaying and
jerking at the end of a two-thousand-feet length of wire. In less
than three minutes it was spotted and brought down by a direct hit,
while a second, in the act of ascending, was promptly hauled down to
earth.

Suddenly GV 7 side-slipped, pitching violently in a tremendous
air-current. A German eight-inch--a missile that arrived some seconds
before its screech was heard--had passed within a few feet of the
starboard longeron.

The observer turned and grinned at the nearest machine-gunner. It was
his way of expressing the fact that they had had a very narrow shave.
Derek, too, realised the danger, although his attention was mainly
directed towards his task of piloting the battleplane. Occasionally
checking his position by means of his map, he held on until it was
time to dive to the attack.

Viewed from a height of three thousand feet the battlefield lost much
of its sordid horror. The old trenches, overrun by the Allies some
eighteen months previously, were barely discernible. Hardly anyone
expected that they would again prove to be the scene of a sanguinary
struggle. New shell-holes contrasted forcibly with the older craters,
but of new defensive work there was little to be seen. So rapid had
been the German onrush that the British on the defensive had but
little time to reorganize. They contented themselves by holding
desperately to every bit of cover, receiving and giving hard knocks
in characteristic bull-dog fashion.

Miles behind the opposing line the air was thick with smoke from
burning dumps and stores. Here and there were low mounds of rubble
that once were prosperous villages, some others rebuilt only a few
months previously to suffer again from an advance of the modern Hun.
Here and there guns, scorning the use of camouflage, were firing with
open sights at the dense field-grey masses, while farther back on
both sides the heavies were exchanging tokens of mutual hate.

A streak of flame plunging earthwards within fifty yards of GV 7
attracted Derek's attention. One glance revealed the sad fact that a
British biplane was crashing. He could see the concentric red, white,
and blue circles as the doped canvas glinted in the ruddy light. A
little beyond two British chaser-machines were climbing "all out"
towards a patch of clouds where the Hun who had downed the
unsuspecting biplane was "squatting" in fancied security. His dream
of safety was soon to be rudely shattered, for the Boche 'plane stood
as little chance as a rat when cornered by a trained terrier.

Just as Derek was preparing for a vol-plane, a Hun triplane dashed
blindly athwart his path, followed by a British "Camel". The Boche
evidently "had the wind up" horribly, for he made no attempt to use
his after machine-gun, but merely dodged and banked stupidly in a
forlorn attempt to shake off the pursuit. Then with ostrich-like
tactics he attempted to fly under, and in the same direction as GV 7,
regardless of the fact that the latter could "drop an egg" with
unerring aim upon his broad expanse of planes.

Daventry let him severely alone, knowing that the Boche had all his
work cut out to defend himself without a chance to fire upwards into
the battleplane. It was against the ethics of aerial warfare to spoil
another man's bag.

On came the Camel, her speed being only about five miles more than GV
7, although both were tearing through the air at more than a hundred
miles an hour. Derek could see the hooded and goggled head of the
machine-gunner as he bent over his sights. Then came a rapid burst of
flame from the Lewis gun. Daventry looked over the side of the
fuselage. The triplane, a litter of rents and fluttering canvas, was
plunging earthwards.

Waving his arm in joyous congratulation to the victorious Camel,
Derek turned, and began to swoop down upon his objective. As he did
so he became aware that he was an object of attention from a
particularly-aggressive anti-aircraft battery. The Huns had brought
up several Archibalds, mounted on swift armoured-cars, and were doing
their level best to counteract the demoralizing attack of the "air
hussars".

Banking, Derek brought his machine out of the danger-zone, but not
before the wings showed unpleasant signs of the accuracy of the Huns'
aim. The rotten part of the business was that he was unable to locate
the position of the antis. Right out in the open were several
sky-directed guns surrounded by men, but Derek was becoming a wily
bird. He knew that both men and guns were decoys, and that the actual
battery was some hundreds of yards away and skilfully camouflaged. To
fall into the error of attempting to wipe out the decoy would be an
act of self-destruction.

A battalion in mass formation moving by the side of a straight
stretch of canal afforded fair sport. Derek dived almost
perpendicularly, with engines "all out" until within two hundred feet
from the ground, then, flattening out, made straight for the head of
the field-greys.

At the sight of this startling apparition the Boches were instantly
thrown into a panic. They broke ranks and fled. Barred on the right
by the canal, they were compelled to surge in a disorderly mob across
absolutely open ground. Impeding each other, literally falling over
one another, the wretched Boches were at the mercy of the swift
battleplane. Machine-guns and bombs both took heavy toll, hardly a
shot being fired in return.

Not once, but many times, did GV 7 swing round and return to the
attack, until the thoroughly terrified survivors took refuge in
isolated shell-holes until the immediate danger was past.

Then back to the almost deserted aerodrome Derek flew, replenished
petrol and trays of ammunition, and returned to the fray. He was but
one pilot of hundreds engaged upon the same errand. Truly the
magnificent work was being accomplished at heavy cost, but
temporarily at least the rush was stayed, and the much-harassed
infantry--the troops who invariably bear the brunt of both attack and
defence--were able to take breathing-space.

"We're holding the blighters all right, sir," reported the
Wing-Commander to the General of the Division.

"Quite so," rejoined the other dryly. "Unfortunately, the line is
bending both on our right and left flanks. 'Fraid we'll have to give
the Boche a little more ground."

For three more days the retirement, under excessive pressure,
continued; and during the whole of that time massed squadrons of
air-craft were continuously in the air--bombing, machine-gunning,
undertaking reconnaissance work, and altogether making things very
uncomfortable for the Huns. But there were undoubted evidences that
the greatly-advertised Boche offensive was slowing down. Already the
advance through Noyon towards Paris was an admitted failure, and both
British and French, assisted by small American forces, were preparing
for the gigantic counter-attack. Fritz had shot his bolt and had
missed his target.



CHAPTER VIII

The Hun Bomber


The Flight-Sergeant surveyed GV 7 dispassionately. It was part of his
job to condemn unserviceable machines, and the frequency of having to
do it bored him.

"It's a wonder you got back, sir," he reported. "Why the motors
didn't konk out puzzles me, and there's hardly a strut that's
perfect. No, sir; I can't pass her. May as well set her on fire and
have done with it."

And so GV 7, after a week of gallant and strenuous service, received
her death-warrant. At the best of times the life of an aeroplane is a
brief one, and in active-service conditions the wastage is simply
astounding. Every machine must be of the very best workmanship
possible and kept in perfect tune, otherwise it must be scrapped and
replaced by another of the vast quantity turned out in the numerous
air-craft factories at home.

Derek heard the mandate, against which there was no appeal, with
genuine regret. In a few days he had gained an affection for his old
'bus, much as a cavalryman does for his charger. Nevertheless he
realized that the verdict was a just one. He, too, could not help
wondering how the badly-scarred biplane had brought down her crew in
safety, for there were thirty-three holes in the wings and
tail-planes and seven perforations of the fuselage, while most of the
struts were chipped and several of the tension-wires severed.

Accordingly the motors were removed, together with the more important
fittings. These towed to a safe distance, the doomed battleplane was
set on fire. Her late pilot watched her burn. It was a sight that
fascinated him. It was as though he had destroyed a favourite dog. He
waited until nothing but a charred mass remained, and then made his
way back to the newly-erected aerodrome--quite twenty miles farther
back than the one abandoned on the night of his first flight across
the enemy lines.

"I'll have to find the Equipment Officer," thought Derek, "and get
him to let me have another 'bus. Wonder where his show is?"

Failing to find the desired officer, Derek turned to enquire of a
goggled and leather-coated pilot who was literally smothered with
grease and castor oil.

"Bless me, Daventry! Who on earth expected to run across you in this
Johnny Horner hole?"

For some moments Derek stared at the apparition in perplexity, unable
to recognize either the voice or its owner.

"Give it up!" he replied. "Hanged if I can fix you, George."

"What! Forgotten poor little Johnny Kaye! An' we vowed life-long
friendship an' all that any-old-thing sort of tosh, old bean!"

The two pilots shook hands.

"I've been here a week on different stunts," continued Kaye. "They
don't forget to work you here, by Jove! Not that I mind though.
Derek, old man, I had the time of my life yesterday, when two Huns
thought they had me cold. Led 'em a pretty dance, and finally
persuaded them to collide. One Boche plopped fairly on top of my
tail-plane, and I had cold feet pretty badly until I looped and let
him slide off. The funny thing was that I hadn't a single round of
ammunition left. How long have you been here? You were asking for the
Equipment Officer, I believe. There's his show. Smithers is his name.
He'll fix you up with anything you want, from a double-seater to a
cotter-pin."

Linking arms with Kaye, Derek made his way by means of a duck-board
track to the Nissen but wherein the Equipment Officer held court.
Smithers was a grey-haired lieutenant of fifty, who, heart and soul
devoted to his work, was obsessed by the idea that he was the one and
only man who did any real work in the aerodrome.

"State your wants briefly," he began, before Derek could say a word.
"I'm terribly busy."

Derek did so. The Equipment Officer consulted a board festooned with
red, blue, and yellow tabs.

"A single-seater is all I can manage just at present. Suit? Good. EG
19's the bird. Mornin'."

Enquiries at the hangars showed that EG 19 had alighted, owing to
slight engine defects, in a field at a distance of two miles from the
aerodrome. That occurred three days previously, and the former pilot
had been sent away to another squadron. Repairs had been effected,
and the machine was now ready for flight.

"I'll take a tender," declared Derek. "Come along, old man, and keep
me company. You can return in the tender, you know."

"Right-o!" agreed Kaye, divesting himself of his flying-coat and
tossing it to an orderly. "Just as likely I'll tramp back after I've
seen you started."

The tender, a covered-in Ford van, was soon forthcoming, and the two
chums seated themselves under the canvas tilt. The view was strictly
limited to the ground already covered, but this mattered little,
since the two pilots had plenty to talk about.

The road was typically French. It ran in a straight line as far as
the eye could see. In the centre was a strip of _pavé_, interrupted
at frequent intervals by shell-holes--some of recent origin, others
filled in with material that was subsiding badly. On either side of
the _pavé_ was nothing more nor less than a morass, the road being
torn up by ceaseless heavy traffic. Bordering the highway on either
hand were tall, leafless trees, many of them having been splintered
and cut down by shell-fire.

Swinging along the mud-covered _pavé_ was a battalion newly arrived
from the base--men with shoulders hunched under the weight of their
equipment. They were marching at ease--incongruous term. Most of them
were smoking. Some were carrying their comrades' rifles in addition
to their own. Others were tugging at their new equipment to ease the
cutting strain upon their shoulders. Few, very few, were limping. It
was not the fault of the army that they limped, for the army takes
particular pains to equip the men with good marching-boots. It was
the neglect of ordinary precautions that was punishing them.

They marched well notwithstanding. Weeks of hard training were
apparent in the bearing of the Tommies, as, with tunics unbuttoned
at the neck, revealing bronzed throats that blended with the sombre
khaki uniforms, they moved along the highway at the regulation pace
of three and a half miles an hour.

"Those fellows will give a good account of themselves, I guess,"
remarked Kaye. "Sometimes, old thing, I almost wish that I were in
the infantry."

"They get all the kicks," rejoined Daventry. "Our guns start strafing
the Boche. Boche gets angry and starts to shell back. Shell what? Not
our guns so much as the poor beggars of infantry in the trenches.
They always get it in the neck."

"All the same, I envy 'em," continued Kaye. "We don't get a chance of
surging over the top in a yelling, cheering mob. That's life, if you
like. Were you ever in the neighbourhood of Courcelette? If----
Hallo! What's this? A Boche?"

High over--three thousand feet--a large German biplane was circling
as if looking for a quarry. The Hun was alone, for practically every
available machine was up and away from the aerodrome. Either the
hostile airman was engaged in taking aerial photographs of the "back
areas", or else he had spotted the battalion moving slowly in column
of route.

The troops were fully aware of the undesirable presence of the Boche
airman, and now came a test of discipline. It was one of those
occasions when a British soldier must not look danger in the face,
for a quadruple line of upturned faces would be clearly visible to
the Hun pilot, while the battalion might escape notice by keeping
their heads bent down.

Derek and his companion remained perfectly still, taking doubtful
cover under a gaunt tree. From where they stood they could watch
practically the whole of the now motionless column. Officers and men,
although tempted to see what was going on up above, were standing
rigid, not knowing whether a bomb might scatter wounds and death
amongst the compact crowd of troops.

"Good heavens!" whispered Derek, although there was not the slightest
reason why he should have lowered his voice. "I believe Fritz has
spotted the column. He's coming down to make sure."

"You're right, old man, I think," agreed Kaye. "There'll be an unholy
mess of things in----"

Bang.

A violent concussion almost deafened the two airmen. It was only a
paramount feeling that the Tommies might roar at them that prevented
Derek and his companion from throwing themselves flat upon the
ground. Turning, they heard the metallic clang of a breech-block
being swung home, and were just in time to see the long pole-like
chase of an anti-air-craft gun rise from a cleverly camouflaged pit
not twenty yards from where they stood.

There was no need for a second shot. The shell from the "anti" burst
with mathematical precision right in front of the black-crossed
aeroplane, and the next instant the machine began to fall earthwards.

It was not until the enemy biplane crashed that the Tommies were
aware of the turn of events, and a roar of cheering burst from eight
hundred throats.

"Pretty shot that," remarked Kaye approvingly. "Hanged if I knew that
there was an A.A. battery about here."

The appearance of half a dozen men wearing crested steel helmets
helped to solve the problem. It was a French anti-air-craft gun,
cunningly concealed in a camouflaged shell-hole, that had scored the
direct hit, and the Frenchmen showed their delight with typical
Gallic exuberance.

Within a few minutes the highway resumed its usual war-time aspect.
The battalion moved on; horse and motor transport scurried to and
fro; while a gang of Chinese coolies set to work to remove the debris
of the crashed Hun machine, and to mend the hole in the _pavé_ where
the raider's bomb had fallen.

EG 19 was found at the indicated spot, the air-mechanics having
completed the slight adjustments necessary for the machine to resume
flight.

Derek examined his new steed critically. The biplane showed signs of
being a "flyer" in the truest sense of the word. With a comparatively
short fuselage and wing-spread, it looked a businesslike craft. Being
a one-seater, the pilot had to do everything necessary when in
flight, even to work the two automatic-guns, one of which was mounted
in front of the "office", the other, for use when being pursued, was
immediately in rear of the seat.

"Nice little 'bus," declared Kaye, as he helped his chum to don his
leather coat. "I've had 'em, and know what they'll do. Well, good
luck, old man. S'pose you'll get back to the aerodrome before me.
Gadfathers! I guess we'll be on the same patrol to-morrow, and then
there'll be dirty work at the cross-roads."



CHAPTER IX

A Slight Disturbance.


It was shortly after midnight that Derek was roused from his straw
bed by the sounding of a tocsin-gong warning of the approach of
hostile air-craft.

The young pilot received the intelligence without emotion. He was
getting accustomed to being turned out at unearthly hours, and the
regularity of the proceedings made him stiff, especially when, in
nine cases out of ten, the Hun failed to put in an appearance.

With very few exceptions, the German airmen now rarely flew over the
British lines during the hours of daylight. If they did, they
generally paid dearly for their temerity, as frequently a whole
squadron of chasers promptly pounced upon them. But at night there
were opportunities, and the Boche was not slow in seizing them.
Rising to an immense height above the aerodromes, they could glide,
unseen and unheard, for miles, until they imagined that they had
avoided the British air-patrols.

Consequently alarms were frequent, but in the darkness the Boche
often went wide of his objective, unless that objective happened to
be a hospital, the roof of which was marked at night by an
illuminated Red Cross--a Red Cross to a Hun being like a red rag to a
bull.

"'Nother of 'em," he muttered. "Getting fed up with dud calls. Jack,
turn out, you lazy blighter!"

Kaye, who was fully dressed, with the exception of his boots, rolled
heavily from his uncomfortable couch. In the dim light of a guttering
candle he commenced to pull on his footgear, and took the opportunity
to philosophize.

"Deuced queer how a fellow gets used to things in this jolly old
war," he began. "Didn't know what it was to be wakened out of my
beauty-sleep until some time in 1915. No wonder my thatch's getting a
bit thin on top. And now, when a Boche is about dropping his rotten
eggs, we grumble because it's a cold night and we have to turn out.
Funny thing too: yesterday a Tommy came up and saluted, and asked if
I remembered him. Wiry sort of chap, as hard as nails, smothered in
mud, an' just off back to a rest camp. He was the pater's gardener, a
fellow well over forty, who didn't know one end of a gun from t'other
back in '14. Now he's a sergeant and a D.C.M. man, while his young
brother, a hefty lout who used to weed the parson's garden when he
wasn't poaching, has managed to get exemption as an engineer. Lord!
after the war, won't there be a gulf between men and slackers?"

"One will feel sorry for the slackers. They won't be able to hold
their heads up," remarked Derek.

"Not they," corrected Kaye, giving his bootlace a vicious tug.
"They'll have whole skins and fat purses. The blighters who've done
all the work and gone through all the danger will be back numbers
when the war's over--if it's ever going to be over."

"I remember a school-chum of mine," continued Daventry, "Brown, by
name; a fellow who hated sea-water like poison. Last I heard of him
was that he was in command of an M.L.--they call M.L.'s Harry Tate's
navy, I believe, but the men who run them are all O.K.--and he's been
given the D.S.O. for some harum-scarum work off the Belgian coast.
They are fond of putting square pegs into round holes in the
services, but sometimes the edges of the pegs get worn down, and then
they fit right enough. By Jove! That was a near one. Time we sought
our little funk-hole."

A crash, followed by two others in quick succession, gave plenty of
indication that Fritz was setting to work. Then the antis joined in
the deafening roar, firing at a swiftly-moving object showing like a
silvery gossamer in the rays of a searchlight.

It was less than fifty yards from the two chums' hut to the mouth of
the dug-out, but during their deliberate and leisurely progress
across the open ground Daventry and Kaye had an opportunity to
observe some of the results of the raider's work.

A quarter of a mile away a fire was blazing fiercely. In that
direction lay the hospital. Nearer, but in the opposite direction,
was another but smaller blaze. A babel of excited voices could be
heard between the crashes of the anti-air-craft guns and the
explosion of the bombs.

"Chinks' quarters," remarked Kaye laconically.

"Yes; it's the Chinese compound," agreed Derek. "Pity the Boche
didn't make a mistake and drop an egg into the barbed-wire enclosures
to the right. There are about four hundred Prussians there, men of
the lowest type of Hun I've ever met. Hallo! what's Fritz doing?"

Both officers stopped and gazed aloft. The German biplane was diving
rapidly right into the eye of the searchlight. It was a deliberate
move. The Hun was descending under perfect control, with his engine
running all out, straight for the searchlight projector.

"Look alive, old man!" exclaimed Derek, gripping his chum by the arm
and forcing him into the dug-out.

The two were only just in time, for as they descended the steps they
could hear the rattle of a machine-gun and the splaying of hundreds
of bullets upon the concrete.

Five minutes later the raid was over. The daring Hun had got away
apparently untouched. Not only had he bombed the hospital, the
Chinese compound, and part of the aerodrome, but by flying down the
path of the searchlight and making good use of his machine-gun he had
"wiped out" the entire crew of the searchlight itself.

While deprecating the wanton attack upon a Red Cross building in no
mild terms, the R.A.F. men were not slow to praise the nerve and
daring of the Boche, who, braving the Archibalds, had descended to
within fifty feet of the ground in order to use his machine-gun with
the deadliest results.

"Have a gasper?" asked Kaye, tendering a battered cigarette-case in
which every dent had a story attached to it. "There's nothing like a
cigarette when you've been turned out."

"Thanks, no," replied Derek. "Think I'll try a pipe before I turn in
again. Wonder if there'll be any more stunts? Hope not, as I'm on
patrol to-morrow--or to-day, rather," he added, glancing at his
wristlet-watch.

A minute or so later Derek knocked the ashes from his pipe, dived
between the blankets, and was fast asleep, as if a hostile
bombing-raid was merely one of the side-shows of life.

Just as the first streaks of dawn stole across the eastern sky the
airmen were turned out by another alarm. Officers and men doubled on
to the parade-ground to the accompaniment of a regular fusillade of
bombs detonating at no great distance away.

"No. 1 Flight--in fours--right--double march!"

No. 1 Flight, detailed for special duty, promptly hurried off, while
the remaining flights were ordered to stand at ease.

The nature of the commotion was soon obvious. The Chinks, as the
Chinese labourers are termed, were seeking revenge for the deaths of
several of their fellow-countrymen during the raid. With true
Oriental cunning and stealth they had raided a store containing live
Mills's bombs, and, armed with these sinister weapons, had surrounded
the barbed-wire enclosure where the German prisoners were caged.

Before the handful of sentries realized what was taking place a
terrific fusillade of bombs was directed upon the cage, and the
strafing was still in progress when the airmen arrived upon the
scene.

It did not take the new arrivals long to restore order. The Chinamen,
expostulating and explaining in their quaint "pidgin" English, were
relieved of the few bombs that had not been thrown across the barbed
wire, and were marched back under escort to their compound.

"Bochee-man him dropee bomb on Englishman," declared an old coolie
imperturbably. "Englishman he dropee bomb on Bochee-man--can do.
Bochee-man dropee bomb on Chinaman; him dropee bomb 'on
Bochee-man--no can do."

The British overseer explained that the victims of the Chinese were
prisoners of war and must be protected; to which the Chinamen replied
that they, too, were in a compound enclosed by a wire fence.

"Hanged if I know how to answer that argument," explained the
Englishman to a staff officer. "Evidently it's a case of reprisals. I
don't know what's to be done, but there'll be a fine old row over the
business."

There was no more rest for Derek after that. Returning to his
quarters, he found that his batman had made his bed and tidied his
room with a precision that one would hardly expect to find within a
few miles of the front. There was also a steaming hot cup of tea
ready; and a batman who attends to his master's personal comfort
under adverse conditions is a priceless treasure.

Derek sipped his tea gratefully, washed, shaved, and prepared for the
coming day's work.



CHAPTER X

Kaye's Crash


At 10 a.m. Derek Daventry started off in EG 19 on patrol. Kaye,
flying a machine of the same type, had risen five minutes earlier.
According to instructions the two airmen were to make a
reconnaissance above the important railway junction of Les Jumeaux,
where the Huns were supposed to be detraining a number of tanks for
the avowed purpose of holding up the British and French
counter-advance.

Everywhere the Huns had been held. In certain sectors their line was
cracking badly. There were evidences of a retreat on a large scale.
Demoralization was sapping their ranks like a canker, while the
morale of the Allies, never low in spite of reverses, was again on
the rise. At the same time Fritz still had a certain amount of kick
left in him. He might strive to stave off disaster by rallying the
best of his badly-shaken troops and attempt another break through, in
the hope that if the operation were successful he might be able to
effect a possible peace by negotiation.

It was therefore necessary to keep a vigilant watch upon the Germans'
back-areas, to observe any great concentration of troops or material,
and to continue harassing his lines of communication; and the only
way to do this was by means of that juvenile but virile branch of the
service, the R.A.F.

That day machines were up in hundreds. The sky seemed stiff with
biplanes and monoplanes, all bearing the distinctive red, white, and
blue circles. Each machine had a definite object in view--a set task
to perform.

On the other hand the Boche was chary of going aloft. Not a single
black-cross machine crossed our lines. Even the famous Hun circuses
kept well away from the scene, since Fritz recognized the Allied
superiority in the air, and rarely, if ever, tried conclusions with
superior numbers. Therein lies the difference. British and French
airmen are sportsmen, ready to rush in whenever an opportunity
offers, and scorning to decline a combat against heavy odds; German
flyers are almost invariably cold-blooded, scientific men who
calculate their chances deliberately before venturing to meet their
aerial foes.

Keeping Kaye's 'bus in full view, for both airmen were bound for
practically the same destination, Derek flew all out, passing over
the German lines at less than two thousand feet. Not an Archibald
greeted his appearance. Fritz was getting tired of being strafed, and
was beginning to find that it paid better to lie doggo than to invite
a few bombs or a hail of machine-gun fire from passing aeroplanes.

Steering partly by compass, and correcting his course by observation
of prominent landmarks, Derek held on. Other 'buses passed and
repassed--bombers, chasers, and reconnaissance machines--some of the
pilots waving a greeting to the squat, businesslike EG 19.

It was a bright, sunny day, although here and there dark clouds
drifted slowly across the sun. The ground beneath was honeycombed
with shell-craters, and dotted with mounds that at one time, not so
very long ago, were prosperous villages. A canal, almost dry owing to
the destruction of the locks, cut the landscape in an unswerving
straight line, while a network of railways, most of them constructed
immediately after the big German offensive, spread like a gigantic
cobweb as far as the eye could see.

There was plenty of smoke, for it was now the Huns' turn to set fire
to their own ammunition-dumps, while at frequent intervals
long-distance naval guns would drop their gigantic projectiles, that
burst in a mighty cloud of black and orange-tinted smoke.

Viewed from the air, the scene of the mighty battle was tame.
Distance hid the hideous and ghastly details, while in the pure
atmosphere the indescribable but distinctive stenches from the field
of carnage were not perceptible. If distance did not exactly lend
enchantment to the view it certainly threw a kindly veil over most of
its shortcomings.

Half an hour passed. Kaye's 'bus was still in sight. If anything,
Derek was gaining on her, but in the air five minutes' start is a
long one. The two biplanes were now practically alone, although a
flight was visible at a great distance to the south-east.

The objective, Les Jumeaux junction, was now in sight, like a
four-pointed star; for all around the converging railway lines were
sheds and huts that were not in existence three months previously.
That the spot was protected by anti-air-craft guns there could be
little doubt, while Derek could see a huge sausage-balloon being
rapidly hauled down--a sign that Fritz was aware of the approach of
British 'planes.

Suddenly Kaye swerved from his course and held on in a southerly
direction.

"Wonder what's happened to the old bean?" thought Derek. "He was
making straight for the jolly old place, and now he's wandering off
the track."

Fifteen seconds later Derek solved the mystery, for, approaching the
British biplane, was a small monoplane of unmistakably Hun
construction--one of the admitted failures of the German Air Service.

The Hun hesitated, banking and circling as if doubtful whether to
meet the British craft or to seek safety in flight, while Kaye, all
out, bore down to the attack.

"Kaye'll mop him up in a brace of shakes," declared Derek, as he too
swung round. "I'll stand by and see the scrap."

Then, seized by an inspiration, he added, "Supposing Fritz has a card
up his sleeve?"

Just then the German spun round on one wingtip and began to fly from
his antagonist. Kaye's biplane was then about four hundred yards away
from, and considerably higher than, the monoplane, and manoeuvring in
order to pump a trayful of ammunition into the other's tail.

"Juggins!" ejaculated Derek; "he's let himself into a pretty hole.
Properly tricked."

For out of a rift in the clouds, through which the brilliant sunshine
poured dazzlingly, three large Hun triplanes swooped. It was an old
trick, but Kaye looked like falling a victim to the ruse. His whole
attention centred upon the monoplane, which was merely a decoy, he
was quite ignorant of the presence of three machines that were
waiting to pounce down upon the swallower of the aerial bait.

Derek began to climb, at the same time changing direction in an
attempt to intercept the trio of Huns. Without a doubt they had
spotted him, but contemptuous of the almost insignificant EG 19 they
held on, with the evident intention of first strafing the pursuer of
the decoy, and then "mopping up" the second British machine.

Suddenly the decoy, finding that Kaye was perilously close to his
tail-plane, dived vertically. Kaye promptly followed suit, while the
triplanes, owing to their dead-weight, hesitated to imitate the
dangerous stunt.

For a good two thousand feet the Hun monoplane dropped like a
plummet, with its engine all out and a long trail of vapour from its
noisy exhaust. Then the Hun began a loop that finished him. Making
too sharp a curve, the monoplane burst two of the most important
tension-wires, and the next instant the wings folded like those of a
resting butterfly.

Kaye, finding his antagonist crashing, flattened out, and, as he did
so, became aware of the presence of the three triplanes and of his
chum flying at full speed to intercept them.

Without hesitation Kaye joined in the fray. There was no loss of
time, for the combatants were approaching an aggregate speed of well
over two hundred and twenty miles an hour.

A mutual exchange of machine-gun fire produced no visible result,
although several tracer-bullets passed perilously close to Kaye's
'bus. Then, banking steeply, the triplanes again endeavoured to
close.

It was Derek's opportunity, and he seized it. Broadside on to two of
the Huns, he let fly with his machine-gun. Down went one of the
triplanes in flames, while the second, considerably damaged, rocked
violently until the pilot succeeded in getting the machine again
under control.

Fitting a fresh drum of ammunition, Derek again manoeuvred to renew
the attack. As he swung round he saw, to his consternation, that
Kaye's 'bus was falling, while long-drawn tongues of flame showed
that his chum's machine was not only shot down, but that it was shot
down in flames.

Filled with a blind rage, and eager to avenge his comrade, Derek
dived steeply upon the triplane that had sent Kaye's 'bus on its
headlong flight.

The German machine-gunner at the after gun was pumping in lead as
fast as he could. Bullets, many of them of the tracer pattern,
whizzed and screeched past the little British machine. A tension-wire
snapped like a harp-string, one end cutting through Derek's
flying-helmet and drawing blood from his forehead. He was dimly
conscious of jagged rips in his leather coat, of rents in the planes,
and particularly of a bullet cutting a deep groove in the three-ply
decking of the fuselage. Then, just at the critical moment, the gun
jammed badly.

Desperately Derek strove to rectify the defect, the 'bus meanwhile
steering itself. Once he glanced up to see where his antagonist was.
The triplane had vanished. Struck in a vital part a few seconds
before the jamming of the British aeroplane's gun, the Hun was
falling absolutely out of control.

To change over the two automatic-guns was a matter of a few moments;
then, again fit for action, the biplane made towards the remaining
Hun. The triplane, however, had had enough. With her powerful engines
all out she incontinently fled from her much smaller antagonist.

Leaning over the side of the fuselage Derek looked earthwards. The
ground was well-wooded, and apparently flat, although the pilot knew
the deceptive aspect of undulating land when viewed from a height.
Two columns of smoke, trending towards the west, marked the spots
where the British and the Hun machines had descended in flames.

Vol-planing spirally, Derek kept a sharp look-out for signs of enemy
occupation. He saw none. No Boches sent their obnoxious
shrapnel-shells screeching through the air; no field-grey patrols
opened fire with their rifles and machine-guns upon the now
low-flying biplane. There were no signs of the civilian population.
Thirty miles behind the battle-line Derek had struck a desolate and
deserted patch of what had been, and was soon to be again, the soil
of La Belle France.

The British and German machines had crashed within four hundred yards
of each other. Which was which Daventry could not determine, for
already the huge triplane and its small antagonist were little more
than heaps of fiercely-burning debris.



CHAPTER XI

The Jammed Machine-guns


An irresistible impulse prompted Derek to make a landing. It was
something more than morbid curiosity or sentiment that made him do
so. Why he knew not, but land he did, pancaking faultlessly in an
untitled field covered with long, rank grass.

Scanning the immediate vicinity, and finding nothing of a suspicious
character, Derek descended from his 'bus, and, automatic-pistol ready
for instant action, made his way towards the nearest pyre.

Fifteen yards away was a battered corpse, lying in a hole three feet
deep made by the terrific impact. By the colour of the flying-coat,
in spite of its being badly burnt, Dick knew that it was not his
chum's body. A short distance away, and almost hidden in the grass,
were two more bodies, those of the Hun pilot and one of the
machine-gunners.

While Derek was contemplating the wreckage, he saw someone
approaching--a figure literally crawling on hands and knees.

It was Kaye. In spite of the blistered face, burned and battered
coat--which was still smouldering--Derek recognized him. At full
speed he ran towards him, thankful to find his comrade alive, and
still more so to find that Kaye could both see and speak.

There was no time for questions. The sharp whine of a bullet, quickly
followed by others, gave stern warning that a Hun patrol had arrived
upon the scene. Derek could discern several field-grey figures
advancing rapidly across the untilled fields, the nearmost being only
eight hundred yards away. Grasping Kaye's arm, Derek ran. It was a
case of discretion being the better part of valour. With bullets
whizzing past their heads, the two pilots succeeded in reaching EG
19, through the planes of which the German missiles were cutting
furrows in the doped canvas.

Assisting Kaye to mount the fuselage, and telling him to throw
himself at full length in the wake of the pilot's seat, Derek swung
the prop. The motor fired, faltered, and stopped. Advancing the spark
at the risk of a back-fire, he made a second attempt--this time
successfully.

Daventry rose across the wind. It was a precarious business, but,
with a dozen Boches running with the wind, and only a short distance
away, there was very little choice in the matter. Pursued by a
fusillade of innocuous shots, the monoplane climbed rapidly and
steeply to a height of two thousand feet.

A thump in the ribs made Derek turn his head. Kaye was hanging on
with one hand and pointing to the only serviceable machine-gun with
the other. Daventry understood: his companion was mutely proposing
that they should return and give the Hun patrol a little lesson upon
the folly of attempting to fire upon a serviceable British machine.

"Work it, then!" bawled Derek, and, putting the 'bus into a steep
vol-plane, he made for the spot where the Huns, winded by their long
run over heavy ground, were gathered in a tempting group in the open.

Directly the Boches saw that the biplane was descending in their
direction they scattered. The field was dotted with grey-clad figures
making a bolt for cover that did not exist.

"We've got 'em cold!" exclaimed Derek, as the machine, moving at will
at a speed of over a hundred miles an hour, was directly above the
heads of the terrified men, who at their best were not able to run at
one-tenth the rate of the biplane. "Why the deuce isn't Kaye turning
on the tap?"

He waited in vain to catch the rapid reports of the deadly weapon.
The opportunity passed. EG 19 was beyond her quarry. To ensure
opening fire, the biplane had to turn again to approach the
panic-stricken Huns.

Derek glanced over his shoulder to find Kaye feverishly manipulating
the mechanism of the gun. Like its fellow, the weapon had jammed at
an awkward moment.

"'Pose some sort of good luck attends even Huns at times," he
soliloquized. "There's one blessing, I've scared 'em stiff. Now for
home."

He laughed to himself at the idea of calling the ramshackle
collection of huts comprising the aerodrome as "home", then, putting
the old 'bus up, he turned towards the British lines.

In spite of a load well above that for which it was constructed, the
single-seater behaved magnificently. Derek took her up to nine
thousand feet in order to cross the opposing lines at a fairly safe
height, as far as danger from gun-fire from the ground was concerned.

Presently he caught sight of an object in the air at about a distance
of two miles. It resembled an inverted bottle with a stumpy neck.

"By Jove!" he exclaimed, "if that's not a Hun with invisible wings
I'm a Dutchman. Wonder if it's old Von Peilfell's 'bus? There was a
rumour that the old brigand was buzzing around in this sector. And
our guns are jammed, too."

Kaye also noticed the approaching aeroplane, and called Derek's
attention to it. Just then the Hun, encountering an air-pocket, dived
a couple of hundred feet, the sun glinting upon the transparent
fabric of the broad wing-spread.

"Hun!" he bawled. "Von Peilfell's, for a dead cert."

Derek had to make up his mind. There was a choice between flight and
pure bluff. He chose the latter.

The Hun and the British machines were on widely-converging courses.
Already the lurid colourings on the former's fuselage were plainly
visible. He was closing with the evident intention of taking stock of
a possible opponent.

"I'll make him sit up," declared Derek, as he swung round and headed
straight for the Hun.

Count von Peilfell--for it was he who piloted the gaudily-painted
'bus--at first made no effort to avoid a possible collision. It was
not until Derek was within fifty yards that he dived steeply, and,
looping, came up under the tail of the British biplane, a manoeuvre
which Derek encountered by looping and practically sitting on his
adversary's tail.

Thus both the British pilot and the Hun had a chance which they ought
to have seized, but neither of them opened fire. Derek knew why he
could not; his opposite number was in a similar plight.

For a space of four minutes the pair engaged in bluffing tactics,
each trying to "put the wind up" the other by bearing down at full
speed and then adroitly avoiding a disastrous collision.

Then the encounter fizzled out. British and Hun machines set off on
parallel courses at a bare fifty yards apart, the respective crews
laughing and gesticulating at each other as if mortal combat in the
air was a thing unheard of.

"In working order!" shouted Kaye, tapping the rear machine-gun.

"Good!" yelled Derek in reply. "We've had enough of this joy-stunt.
Let rip right aft."

Without a shadow of doubt the Hun, had he been similarly placed,
would have fired a tray of ammunition straight at his opponent, but
British airmen are made in a different mould. Even at critical
moments the innate sporting instinct shows itself.

Directing the muzzle of the gun away from the tempting target
afforded by the gaudily-hued Hun, Kaye let rip. For a moment Von
Peilfell's face--or rather that portion of it not masked by his
goggles--showed consternation and astonishment; then, realizing that
the "fool Englander" was chivalrously throwing away a decided
advantage, he gave a farewell wave with his gauntleted hand, banked,
and was soon a mere speck in the sky.

Four minutes later EG 19 passed over the opposing lines, not a
hostile air-craft being in sight, although five thousand to seven
thousand feet below the air was "stiff" with 'planes bearing the
distinctive red, white, and blue circles. Evidently Fritz was in for
a very sticky time, to use a common service phrase.

A violent bump, followed by a succession of sideslips that well-nigh
flung Kaye from his precarious perch, gave unpleasant warning that
even at a height of nine thousand feet there are dangers from the
ground. Ten, perhaps twelve, miles away a long-range naval gun was
busily engaged in shelling the Boche back-areas, and a fifteen-inch
shell approaching the zenith of its arc is no respecter of persons.

By the aid of his maps Derek succeeded in locating his position. He
was a good twelve miles to the south-east of the aerodrome, which,
considering the various side-shows connected with his patrol, was
hardly to be wondered at.

Then, with less than a gallon of petrol on board, EG 19, despite her
bullet-wounds and the weight of a passenger, made a good landing
almost at the entrance to the hangar.

"Feel a bit rotten," admitted Kaye, as ready hands assisted him to
the ground. "Not a bad stunt, was it? A sticky time, but----"

His voice trailed off into an indistinct murmur.

"Hang on to him, somebody," shouted Derek, leaping from his 'bus.

Supported by two other pilots Kaye was carried off, while Derek,
knowing that all that could be done for his chum would be done,
hastened to make his report to the Flight-Commander.

As soon as possible he made his way to the field-hospital where Kaye
had been carried. The pilot was still unconscious, suffering from no
less than three shrapnel-wounds, in addition to being severely burnt
by the flaming petrol and shaken by his involuntary crash.

"Wonder if it will be a Blighty business?" thought Derek. "He'll be
horribly sick about it if the war's over before he's out again. But,
by Jove! it looks like it. We've got Fritz cold."



CHAPTER XII

Bowled Out


Fritz was now well on the homeward trail. He knew that the game was
up, but, reluctant to give up the booty, was still maintaining a game
of bluff. Forced back by relentless pressure on all fronts, deserted
by her played-out allies, Germany was on the point of throwing up the
sponge. She knew full well that Foch was ready to deliver a decisive
blow and gain a victory the like of which the world has never seen.
There remained a chance--to enter into an armistice with the
victorious Allies. Better, from the Huns' point of view, to
temporize, and be prepared to make sacrifices of territory and
material, than to lose millions of fit men, who might, at no distant
date, be available for the service of the Fatherland.

There were rumours of peace in the air. The British and French
troops, although "fed up" with fighting, were loath to let their foes
escape from the noose. After more than four years of strenuous
warfare, enduring unheard-of discomforts and privations, they were
reluctant to allow the Hun to temporize. They wanted a fight to the
finish and to deliver a knock-out blow.

It was early in November that Derek Daventry, now a full lieutenant,
R.A.F., was sent on detached duty to a flying-base situated nearly
fifty kilometres behind the aerodrome occupied by his squadron.

The journey was to be performed by car. For certain reasons Derek was
not allowed to fly in the still serviceable EG 19, one of the chief
being that there were papers of a highly-confidential nature that
were not to be delivered by air.

Seated in a high-powered car of a type that in pre-war days only a
millionaire could afford to own, Derek set off. His driver, in civil
life a racing-chauffeur on Brooklands track, was a man who knew his
job, and revelled in the knowledge that no blue-coated policeman
lurked in ambush on the _pavé_ roads. True, there were the military
police to take into consideration, but, except at cross-roads and in
towns and villages, there was no speed-limit.

Jolting, bumping, sometimes leaping clear of the ground, and
frequently swinging round corners with only two wheels touching and
slithering over the ground, the car continued its mad, exhilarating
pace. Speed-lust gripped both driver and passenger. The keen autumnal
air acted like a tonic, while the long-forgotten experience,
ground-travelling, where the sensation of speed is far greater than
in flying at a height, filled Derek with an uncontrollable
exuberance. He wanted to shout at the top of his voice; to urge the
driver to even greater speed. He even detected himself in the act of
waving airy greetings to pompous "brass hats" by the wayside.

In a very short space of time the car had cleared the maze of roads
and huts and was speeding across a country devastated by war, and
temporarily passed over by the contending forces. The landscape was
pitted with waterlogged shell-holes and dotted with jagged stumps of
trees, with an occasional gable-end to mark what was once a peaceful
dwelling. Shrapnel-riddled Nissen huts, derelict tanks, and transport
vehicles added to the desolation of the scene, the only human element
being supplied by gangs of Chinese road-menders, while occasionally
mechanically-propelled wagons and lorries of the supply column were
encountered.

Happening to glance skyward, Derek saw that an aeroplane was passing
overhead. There was nothing out of the ordinary in that; for months
past the air had been stiff with air-craft, and hardly anyone
troubled to crane his neck to watch one.

Derek gave a second look, and looked again, keeping his eyes fixed
upon the descending biplane as far as the jolting and lurching of the
car would permit. Then, leaning forward, he touched the driver on the
shoulder.

"'Bus in difficulties," he shouted. "Slow down, and see what
happens."

The speed of the car diminished. The biplane was vol-planing in short
spirals immediately above. Evidently the engine had "konked out" and
the pilot was seeking a suitable landing-ground.

Down came the machine, pancaking badly. Both tyres burst
simultaneously with a loud report, while the tail rose in the air
like a mute signal of distress.

Out of the pilot's seat clambered a figure dressed in the regulation
outfit. Hardly troubling to examine the damage to his 'bus, he pushed
up his fur-rimmed goggles, and, waving his arms, began to run towards
the road with the intention of attracting the attention of the driver
of the motor.

Derek gave orders to stop, and awaited the arrival of the pilot.

"Mornin', Jimmy," exclaimed the new-corner, on seeing that Derek wore
the R.A.F. uniform. "Can you give me a lift as far as Le Tenetoir
aerodrome?"

"That's where I'm bound for, old son," replied Derek. "What's wrong?"

"Run out of petrol. Union leaking, I fancy. Rotten old 'bus--never
gave a fellow a chance. They are all alike, dash 'em."

"Jump in," interrupted Daventry brusquely. "I'm in a hurry. No, not
here, in the front seat, if you please. Right-o!--full speed ahead,
driver; let her rip!"

Derek leant back against the cushions, and, holding his precious
dispatch-case with one hand, meditatively contemplated the
castor-oil-stained back of the airman in front.

With a sudden jerk the car pulled up before the sentry at the
entrance to Le Tenetoir aerodrome. It did the tyres no good, but the
driver chose the lesser of two evils, since it was decidedly
unhealthy to ignore a challenge in war-time, especially when a sentry
is smart with his trigger-finger.

"Thanks, old bird!" exclaimed the pilot of the disabled machine,
taking advantage of the car being at a standstill, and alighting
agilely. "Good of you to bring me home, you blinking Samaritan. See
you later in the mess. I'll be on the look-out for you."

Derek signed to the driver to keep the car stationary, then, when the
stranger was out of earshot:

"Who is that officer, sentry?"

"Dunno, sir," replied the man. "We gets such a lot o' new officers
'ere it's no tellin' who's who."

"Thank you," replied the Lieutenant. "Carry on, driver."

Arriving at the orderly-room, Derek handed over his documents, and
waited until the C. O. had drafted a reply and had passed it on to be
typewritten. By the time the official reply was in order, nearly half
an hour had gone.

This part of the business completed, Derek was free to commence his
return journey. Instead, he strolled into the officers' mess, where
he was not surprised to find that the man he had befriended was not
present.

He looked round to see if he knew any of the crowd of flying-men. To
his satisfaction he recognized a pilot who had been with him at
Averleigh.

"Hallo, Canterbury!" he exclaimed. "So you're out here?"

"And well I know it, you old merchant," replied the Lieutenant,
shaking Derek's hand. "Had quite a sticky time ever since I joined
the squadron. Well, how goes it? Anything I can do?"

"Can you find me the Orderly Officer?" asked Daventry.

"Behold in me the Orderly dog," replied Canterbury, with mock
obeisance. "For this day only--until next time. What is it?"

"You have a number of big bombers here?"

"Yes; a number," was the guarded reply.

"Where?"

Canterbury waved his hand in a comprehensive sweep.

"Out there," he answered. "But why this curiosity?"

"Look here, old man," said Derek earnestly. "You can vouch for me. I
want to get hold of an armed party. I'll explain why as briefly as I
can."

"By Jove! Is that so?" ejaculated Canterbury, when Derek had reported
the details required to back up his request for an armed party.
"Right-o! I'll turn out a crowd in half a shake. Wait till I've
informed the 'Adjy.', and then we'll see what's to be done."

Lieutenant Canterbury was as good as his word. Having explained
matters to the Adjutant, he led a file of airmen to the hangars,
where the secret battleplanes were jealously hidden from prying eyes
by an elaborate camouflage scheme.

At the first of the sheds, in which the giant machines assembled for
the purpose of bombing Berlin were stored, the Orderly Officer halted
his men.

"Carry on, Daventry," he said. "See if your merchant is knocking
around. We'll stand by in case of an accident."

Derek's investigation of the first shed drew blank. As he was
entering the second he came face to face with the flying-officer he
had befriended.

"Hallo, George!" exclaimed the pilot of the disabled machine. "You're
just the fellow I wanted to see. Hung around the mess for a deuce of
a time, but it was _na poo._"

"Better late than never," rejoined Derek. "We'll stroll back. S'pose
you can spare the time?"

The officer hesitated. Then:

"Right-o! I'm on!" he exclaimed. "Can't stop very long, though. I'm
on a special stunt with these bombers. By the way, do you happen to
know----"

Derek laid his hand heavily upon the pilot's shoulder.

"Count von Peilfell," he said sternly, "I arrest you as a spy!"

Instantly the armed guard surrounded the prisoner.

"By Jove! This is great--absolutely!" he exclaimed, bursting into a
roar of laughter. "Count who? You silly juggins, it's you who'll have
to count, I guess! Quit fooling, and don't be a silly ass!"

The armed party showed signs of incredulous astonishment. Canterbury
looked at Derek as if he had been one of the victims of a practical
joke. Even Daventry began to wonder whether he, too, had made a
grievous error in placing the stranger under arrest. Then he nodded
to the Orderly Officer in a manner that showed confidence in his
action.

"Carry on; remove the prisoner," ordered Lieutenant Canterbury.

The formalities before the Adjutant having been completed, the
accused, still protesting that it was all an idiotic mistake, was
removed to the guard-room. On being subjected to a strict
search--which resulted in the discovery of nothing of an
incriminating nature--the prisoner was informed that he would be
given facilities for proving his identity, and that no doubt some of
his brother officers would appear to establish his innocence.

Then, to the surprise of all present, the accused turned to Derek.

"You are very smart," he remarked in quite a casual way. "I am Count
von Peilfell. I should like to know how you spotted me?"

"Considering that we were flying side by side a short while ago,"
replied Derek, "and you were making faces at me the whole time
(perhaps you recollect the incident), I think I've good cause to
recognize you again."

"_Der Teufel!_" ejaculated the Count. "It was a thousand pities that
on that occasion my ammunition was expended."

"I am sorry to hear that," replied the British pilot enigmatically.



CHAPTER XIII

The Count's Ruse


Count Hertz von Peilfell, on finding himself alone under lock and
key, began to rave in genuine Teutonic style. He realized that he had
made a mess of things generally. His calculated plans had gone wrong
simply through a careless lack of caution, and now he was confronted
by the prospect of ending his career in front of a British
firing-squad.

The Count was a man who did not hesitate to take certain risks, but
invariably he weighed up his chances. Cool and calculating, he was
not one who would embark upon a project for the mere love of
adventure.

His record as an airman was well known to the R.A.F. The latter
admired his audacity, although they had no love for the means he
employed. He was typical of the brute force of Prussianism--his
mission as an airman was to destroy, ruthlessly and methodically,
and, when the odds were against him, his gaudily-painted biplane was
not to be seen aloft.

So when the time came that the Hun in the air was "having a sticky
time all round", Von Peilfell discreetly kept clear of the British
flying-men. He became an instructor, teaching German quirks to fly in
machines that, by nature of the shortage of certain raw material in
Hunland, could never hope to hold their own against the
magnificently-constructed and powerfully-engined craft bearing the
distinctive red, white, and blue concentric circles.

Then came rumours--rumours that were based upon solid facts--that the
British and French airmen were bent upon reprisals for wanton
night-bombing of undefended towns. Berlin was to be the supreme
objective of the numerous squadrons of huge bombing-'planes that were
being concentrated on the Western Front.

In desperation the German High Command called a conference, to which
the "star" airmen of the Imperial Air Service were summoned. The
return of the boomerang was a prospect that the apostles of kultur
not only failed to appreciate, but dreaded. At all costs the peril
must be staved off--either by counter-active measures or by
hypocritical appeals to neutrals, or, as a last resource, by applying
for an armistice.

It was Von Peilfell's chance. A popularity hunter, he knew that the
cessation of his aerial achievements was rapidly placing him on the
list of fallen idols. The pulse of the German populace--the
picture-post-card dealers--told him this. Where once a hundred
thousand photographs of the "Sky Hussars" were sold, now barely a
thousandth part of that number were disposed of.

To regain his vanished prestige, the Count suggested a scheme,
namely, that he should enter hostile territory disguised, and find
out where these mysterious battleplanes were concentrating, and also
note the details of their construction.

Von Peilfell had carefully counted the risk. He was a fluent speaker
of English. His accent was almost faultless. Several years spent in
England, including a period at a public school, had given him a
remarkable insight into the life of an Englishman, while in pre-war
days he had made the acquaintance of several British officers, with
the sole view of making good use of the knowledge thus obtained when
"Der Tag" dawned.

Having obtained official sanction, Von Peilfell proceeded to put his
plan into execution. A slightly-damaged EG biplane had fallen behind
the German lines, and its pilot had been captured. The machine was
repaired; the Count, dressed in the complete uniform of the captured
airman, set out just before daybreak to attempt his hazardous errand.

The German Head-quarters Staff knew exactly the aerodrome from whence
the captured EG machine had come. The Count, therefore, decided to
give that locality a wide berth, and, by assuming the rôle of a pilot
who had lost his way and had been compelled to descend owing to
engine failure, make his way to Le Tenetoir aerodrome, where, if his
information proved correct, he would find the giant aeroplanes making
ready for their flight to Berlin.

But when he alighted in view of the car carrying Lieutenant Derek
Daventry, R.A.F., he unwittingly committed two grave errors. He was
unaware that Derek, who was in the habit of piloting one of the
somewhat small number of EG's, immediately took a keen professional
interest in the apparently crippled machine. He was also ignorant of
the fact that Derek was his antagonist on the occasion when both
British and German pilots were unable to exchange a single shot; nor
did he know that when he raised his goggles and grinned at his rival,
that grimace had been indelibly printed upon Derek's memory. These
two instances led to the Count finding himself under lock and key in
a dug-out that served as a cell.

Like a caged bird Von Peilfell paced to and fro. He realized that his
case was a desperate one, and that his shrift would be short; a
drumhead court-martial at eight in the evening would be followed by
execution at dawn.

For nearly an hour he maintained his restless promenade, a prey to
dejection. The dug-out was barely twenty feet in length and seven in
breadth, so that there was little room for exercise. He tried to
formulate a plan of escape, but none seemed feasible. The place was
unlighted, save by the dim glimmer of a candle set in a stable
lantern. Ventilation was provided by means of a length of bent
stove-pipe passing between two of the massive girders supporting the
concreted and sand-bagged roof. The walls were heavily timbered, and,
upon examination, found to be backed by cement. A flight of steep and
narrow steps gave access to the open air, but at the top was a
massive oaken door. Incidentally, the Huns who had constructed the
dug-out, had removed the door of the Abbaye de Ste Marie, at Le
Tenetoir, to serve a similar purpose for this subterranean retreat.

The heat was stifling, for, outside, the autumnal air was damp and
humid. Von Peilfell began to feel oppressed by the weight of the
leather flying-coat. Mechanically he unbuckled the straps, and threw
the garment on the wooden bench that served as a seat and a bed. As
he did so his eye caught sight of a glint of scarlet. The lawful
owner of the flying-coat had been guilty of a breach of discipline by
investing in several red-silk handkerchiefs, whereas, by virtue of an
Air Ministry order, he should have provided himself with those of a
khaki colour.

The Count consulted his wristlet watch--a Nurnberg timepiece studded
with jewels. It was a gift from a number of his admirers when he was
at the zenith of his fame. He found himself wondering why his captors
had not taken it from him. The Germans invariably plundered their
captives. Perhaps these Englanders would not do so until he was dead.
He shivered at the thought. In another eight hours all would be over.

Then his thoughts went back to the square of scarlet silk. Even as he
gazed dully at the sheeny fabric an inspiration flashed across his
mind. He glanced at his watch once more. In another ten minutes or so
he would be visited either by the Sergeant or the Corporal of the
guard.

Grasping the handkerchief, he tore the silk into ragged strips. His
next step was to place the lantern on the edge of the plank-bed, so
that the strongest possible light fell on the floor. Then, holding
the torn handkerchief, he waited, every sense on the alert, ready to
act the moment he heard sounds of the visiting guard.

The remaining interval seemed interminable. Through the
securely-fastened door he could hear the howling of the wind. It
ought to have been a bright moonlight night, for, according to the
calendar, it was the time of full moon. He hoped that the shrieking,
moaning wind meant a cloud-laden sky and also a downpour of rain.

Selecting four of the strongest strips of silk, Von Peilfell knotted
them into a long loop. This he hid behind the bench, reflecting that
if his first plan went astray there was material at hand to enable
him to cheat the firing-squad. He found himself wondering which was
the least painful course--for he was a coward when it came to having
pain inflicted on himself--to face the muzzles of a dozen rifles, or
to end his own life by strangulation.

His reflections were interrupted by the tramp of heavily-shod feet.
The visiting N.C.O. was about to enter the dug-out.

Noiselessly the Count placed himself on the earthern floor, and laid
a bright-scarlet strip of silk round his throat. Then with
outstretched arms he waited, scarce daring to breathe.

A key grated in the door. The oak, swollen by the wet, refused at the
first attempt to yield to the Corporal's efforts. Von Peilfell heard
the man swear at the recalcitrant door. Then, with a groaning noise,
the door swung open on its rusty hinges. "Where the----" ejaculated
the Corporal; then, turning to the two men who accompanied him, he
shouted excitedly:

"The Boche 'as cut his bloomin' throat! Run, you blokes, for all
you're worth, and fetch the doctor."

The men obeyed promptly, while the Corporal, setting his lantern on
the floor, approached to examine the prostrate form of the prisoner.
It was an act of mere curiosity on his part. The N.C.O., who less
than twelve months ago was a meek and mild grocer in a quiet country
town, had seen plenty of ghastly sights during the last six months.
The mere sight of a dead Hun hardly troubled him. Without a tremor he
bent over the supposed corpse.

Judging that by this time the two men were a hundred yards or more
away, Von Peilfell took prompt action. Before the Corporal realized
that there was plenty of energy in the "dead" man, the Count drew up
his knee, and, launching out with his right foot, caught the luckless
N.C.O. a knock-out blow on the solar plexus.

Without a sound the Corporal collapsed upon the floor; while the Hun,
waiting only to place his victim's cap upon his head, ran stealthily
up the steps leading to the entrance to the dug-out.

Even as he ran the Count, in a typically Prussian manner, regretted
that he was wearing rubber-soled flying-boots. Iron-shod footgear, he
reflected, would have been more effective when he hacked at the
luckless Corporal. In order to carry out a test effectually, it was
necessary to do it brutally. That is the Hun method of thoroughness.

Through the open door of the dug-out and into the darkness Von
Peilfell ran. Dazzled, even by the comparatively-feeble light within,
he could hardly see his hand before his face in the rain-laden, inky
blackness without. He paused, fearful lest he should blunder blindly
into some obstacle, and rubbed his eyes vigorously with his knuckles.
Then, pulling his recently-acquired cap well down over his bullet
head, he settled down to a rapid walk.

It had been part of his training always to take stock of his
surroundings, and the knowledge thus obtained when a few hours
previously he had walked into Le Tenetoir aerodrome was now of
inestimable service. Carefully avoiding the sentry of the gate, and
crawling through a barbed-wire fence, he gained the open, devastated
country, for the time being a free man again. But between him and the
German lines lay fifty miles of ground firmly held by the victorious
Allies.



CHAPTER XIV

With the Tanks


For the second time within twelve hours Derek Daventry made a journey
by car to Le Tenetoir aerodrome. On the second occasion it was to
give evidence against the airman-spy Count Hertz von Peilfell; but
upon arriving at his destination he found that the court-martial had
been summoned to no purpose. The prisoner had escaped, and, although
his description had been circulated all along the Allied front and
over the back-areas, the Count was still at large.

Amongst the British airmen the general tone of expression was one of
sympathy--as far as sympathy could be extended to a Hun. Von Peilfell
was a crack airman; his rôle of spy was quite in accordance with
modern warfare, for both British and French air-craft had frequently
landed spies well behind the German lines. It was almost unanimously
felt that, if Count von Peilfell were to fall, a fitting end to him
would be in aerial combat. If he fell on territory occupied by the
Allies he would be buried with full military honours; if on soil
temporarily held by the Huns, then a British aeroplane would
doubtless circle over the funeral-party and drop a wreath bearing a
tribute to the crack Hun flyer's prowess.

But sterner work was on hand. It was a carefully-kept secret that at
dawn on the next day following the spy's escape a frontal attack was
to be delivered upon the Huns, still holding a strongly-fortified
section of the line--a front of twenty miles, protected on both
flanks by broad canals, and defended by mazes of trenches and
barbed-wire entanglements.

Once this section were pierced, the whole German line would be in
danger. Army corps would be practically surrounded and forced to
surrender, while a broad wedge would be driven between the Huns in
Flanders and those who were stoutly resisting the Franco-American
troops in the neighbourhood of Metz.

An infantry attack would be too costly. Heavy artillery bombardment
would give the Boches an inkling of what was about to develop. On
this account the British guns had of late remained comparatively
inactive, in order to lull Fritz into a state of false security.

So the assault was to be delivered by tanks, supported by relatively
small detachments of infantry, while the R.A. F. were ordered to
co-operate to their utmost capacity. Every available machine fit for
offensive work was to be employed in the operations, the idea being
not only to paralyse the Huns in the firing-line, but to prevent
reinforcements and supplies reaching them. In brief, the whole of a
certain German sector was to be wiped out.

At five in the morning, or two hours before dawn, the tanks were to
start upon their grim errand. Every square foot of ground occupied by
the enemy in the coveted sector had been photographed and
re-photographed by daring airmen. The work had been efficiently
performed, but at a cost, as the long R.A.F. casualty list testified.
It was not in the heat of combat that these daring aerial
photographers had been shot down, but in the cold, methodical pursuit
of an art that the demands of modern warfare had relentlessly
absorbed.

With an accurate knowledge of the nature of the terrain the task of
the tanks had been rendered fairly straightforward. There were, of
course, hidden pitfalls which the almost all-seeing lens of the
camera failed to detect: cleverly-camouflaged gun-emplacements and
nests of machine-guns that were not shown on the finished
photograph-prints; but even here the work of the airman was evident.
Cryptic markings on the prints gave the staff officers certain
clues--an anti-aircraft battery here; a booby-trap there, an
observation-post in that place. The science of detecting screened
pitfalls was almost as perfect as the skilful art of camouflage.

There were tanks and tanks. The ground trembled under the pulsations
of their powerful engines. Whippets, male tanks, female tanks,
"Rolls" tanks capable of doing twenty miles an hour with their
250-h.p. engines; tanks mounting six hundred quick-firers, tanks
bristling with machine-guns--a veritable armada of land-ships moving
forward in what appeared to be a solid, compact mass.

They moved slowly at first, each section led by an officer on foot
towards the as yet invisible German lines. There had been a spell of
quietude on this part of the front of late. The Huns considered their
defensive works so perfect that a frontal attack would be impossible,
and, being let severely alone, they had refrained from their usual
lavish display of star-shells.

Grunting, groaning, coughing; ejecting vile, sulphurous fumes from
their noisy exhausts, the steel-clad mastodons ambled onwards until
Fritz, suddenly aware that danger was at hand, opened a furious fire
that threw a dancing, lurid glare upon the crater-pitted plain over
which the hordes of tanks surged like a sullen ground-swell beating
upon a flat shore. Vivid red and white rockets--Fritz's S.O.S.
signals--soared skywards, an appeal by the field-grey infantry for
support from their heavy artillery.

It was at this juncture that Derek Daventry, one of the host of
aerial fighters, found himself flying at a few hundred feet above the
Boche lines.

In the reflected glare of the rifle- and machine-gun fire he could
discern the array of tanks advancing. The slow-moving tanks were in
the van, their _raison d'être_ to flatten down the hostile wire and
pave a way for the whippets and "twenty-milers" of the land-fleet.
Machine-gun bullets were rattling against their armoured snouts,
while here and there bursts of vivid-red flame gave token that the
anti-tank bullets--steel-cored and copper-encased missiles--had put
more than one tank out of action.

All this Derek took in as the result of a few seconds' flight. Then,
over the hostile front, his work began. In darkness, save for the
intermittent flashes of the guns, the British 'planes sped to and
fro. Unavoidable collisions brought friends crashing to earth;
oft-times the machines were flying blindly through clouds of black,
nauseating smoke. Rocking, side-slipping, bumping, and banking, the
aerial-fleet continued its work in hammering with the land-armada of
tanks. Machine-gunning, bombing, and dropping poison-gas cylinders,
the airmen hovered remorselessly over the now-demoralized Boches,
while the tanks, surging onwards, beat down acres of barbed-wire and
flattened out whole sectors of trenches.

Derek had just fired his ninth tray of ammunition when he felt the
joy-stick give. A fragment of shell had severed the "nerve-centre" of
the biplane, and the 'bus was now practically out of control. A touch
upon the rudder-bar turned EG 19 in the direction of "home", but
almost immediately the engine "konked". In the darkness it was
impossible to see what had happened, but another fragment of shell
had lodged fairly in the magneto.

EG 19 had to come down. How she came down depended upon sheer luck,
since the skill and nerve of the pilot were useless to avoid the
threatened calamity.

Derek steeled himself to meet the tremendous crash, but the shock
never came. By one of those eccentricities of movement that
aerial-craft occasionally perform, the biplane flattened out within
twenty feet of the ground, dipped her nose, and then pancaked upon
the shelving side of a large shell-crater. Without a scratch the
pilot scrambled out of the fuselage and gained the ground.

He promptly threw himself at full length in the stiff mud that lay in
the bottom of the crater, and listened to the appalling racket
overhead. Shells of light calibre were screeching and bursting all
around, their uproar punctuated by the heavier concussion of
aerial-bombs. A crescendo of machine-gun fire added to the deafening
roar, while the hail of bullets directed upon the imperturbable tanks
sounded like a continuous tattoo.

Almost on the lip of the crater a large tank had come to a
standstill. Two jagged holes in her fantastically-painted sides
showed that a Hun anti-tank gun had scored direct hits, but whether
these had put the mobile fort out of action Derek was unable to
determine.

While debating whether it would be safer to take cover under the lee
of the tank or to remain in the doubtful security of a wide
shell-crater, Daventry saw the door in the wake of the tank's sponson
thrown open, and a couple of mechanics crawl through, followed by a
waft of brownish smoke.

At first sight the flying-officer imagined that the men were the sole
survivors of the land-ship's crew, but he was mistaken. It was a case
of engine failure that had brought the tank to a halt, and since the
only means of "cranking-up" was performed from without, the mechanics
were risking death in the open in a laudable effort to restart the
motors.

Even as the men strained frantically at the handle a shell burst
within five yards of the tank. One of the mechanics, caught by the
direct blast of the explosion, was wiped out of existence; the other,
by one of those inexplicable freaks of fortune, escaped with only a
slight shock. Although only a few inches from his luckless comrade he
was evidently in the so-called safety-zone of explosion. Slightly
dazed, and apparently oblivious of the fact that he had missed death
by inches, he sweated at the cranking-handle in a vain attempt to
overcome the compression.

Acting purely upon impulse, and not taking into account the risk,
Derek scrambled up the loose mound of earth, against which bullets
were burying themselves with a succession of dull thuds. Then across
the few yards of open ground he ran, and threw himself at the
starting-gear.

The mechanic took no notice of the new arrival. His whole mind was
set upon his task. Even had Derek been a Boche it is doubtful whether
the man would have given him a thought.

"Hold out there, mate!" shouted the mechanic, without raising his
head. Derek grasped the cranking-handle. The other, placing his foot
upon the metal, brought his whole weight down. Over swung the crank,
and with a thunderous roar the powerful motor fired--and continued to
do so. Through the eddying fumes Daventry could discern the mechanic,
with hunched shoulders, stumbling towards the still open door.

"This is a stunt that will suit me," exclaimed the young officer. "A
change is as good as a rest." The next thing he remembered was
barking his shins on the sharp, metallic edge of the threshold. Then,
coughing and spluttering in the petrol-laden fumes, he heard the door
clang behind him.

The interior of a tank was not strange to Derek. Several times
previously he had gone for joy-rides in the land-ships, but now he
was experiencing a novel sensation, that of being cooped up in a
mobile armoured fort in action.

There was very little room to move about. Most of the interior was
occupied by the powerful motors and fuel-tanks, six-pounder guns
mounted _en barbette_, and machine-guns, to say nothing of fifteen
men of the original crew. The tank was in reality a moving magazine,
for, in addition to the large quantity of petrol and ammunition, she
carried a stock of phosphorous-bombs, smoke-bombs, and gun-cotton.
The latter explosive was for use in the event of the tank becoming
disabled and in danger of falling into the hands of the enemy, and it
was the duty of the last surviving member of the crew to blow the
land-ship to bits should there be a danger of capture.

Derek, not content to be a mere passenger, looked around for
something to do. The commander of the tank was too busy to notice the
new arrival. His sole attention was directed towards the enemy
through the periscope sights in the roof of the mastodon.

An unattended machine-gun attracted Derek's notice. A brief
examination showed that the mechanism was intact. There was
ammunition in plenty. A neatly-punched hole just above the
sighting-aperture told its own tale. An anti-tank bullet had passed
through the armour, and had hit the machine-gunner fairly in the
centre of his forehead.

The tank was now lurching forward. Machine-gun bullets were splaying
against its nose and sides. Fragments of nickel were forcing their
way through the joints in the metallic beast's armour, and a sliver,
cutting Derek in the cheek, gave him warning that he was not properly
equipped for the task.

Discarding his triplex glass goggles he donned a "tin hat" and steel
visor that were lying on the floor. They had been the property of the
dead machine-gunner, and had he been wearing them it is just possible
that the anti-tank bullet that had laid him out might have glanced
from the convex surface of the steel helmet.

By this time the tank had skirted the edge of the crater and was
bearing down upon a nest of Hun machine-guns. Even as it passed what
appeared to be a pile of rubble an anti-tank gun was fired at a range
of less than forty yards.

Derek felt the windage of the missile as it passed completely through
the armoured sides. Fragments of copper and steel rattled against his
visor.

Bending over the sights of his machine-gun, Derek prepared to deluge
the concealed Huns under a hail of nickel, but before he could open
fire the tank made a half-turn almost in its own length and went
straight for the snipers' lair.

The Huns saw it coming and promptly bolted. They had but two choices:
one was to hold their ground and risk being pulverized under the
banded wheels of the tank; the other to risk being shot down in the
open. Bending low they ran. Few covered more than twenty yards, for
the British machine-gunners were taking a heavy toll. Enfiladed by
other tanks, the anti-tank gunners were completely wiped out with
less compunction than if they had been rabbits in a warren.

Then, swinging back into line, the tank in which Derek had "signed
on" as an unofficial member of the crew pressed forward towards
another belt of almost intact wire, against which hundreds of
demoralized Boches were held up in their precipitate retreat.

On breasting the ridge the armada was greeted by a heavy fire at
short range. Several tanks came to an abrupt halt, burning fiercely
from end to end. Others, regardless of a heavy fire, held resolutely
on their course, methodically flattening out obstacles and crushing
Boche machine-gunners out of existence.

Suddenly an anti-tank bullet passed through the forepart of the tank
on which Derek was busily engaged with his machine-gun. The steel
core passed through the head of the pilot, glanced from a metal
girder, and penetrated the chest of the Commander. Not content with
this, the deadly missile pulverized the magneto and disappeared
through the floor of the tank.

Promptly the huge land-fort came to a standstill. To all appearances
its term of life was approaching its end. Flames began to issue from
one of the carburettors. In another moment the tank would have become
a raging inferno but for the action of one of the drivers. Grasping a
"pyrene" extinguisher, he directed the oxygen-destroying chemical
upon the flames. Almost immediately the fire was quenched, but the
noxious fumes from the extinguisher made the interior untenable. Even
those of the men who wore gas-masks found that these were no
protection from the choking fumes, for owing to the showers of
metallic splinters in the interior of the tank not a mask remained
serviceable.

"Out of it, lads!" spluttered the second in command, a subaltern of
the Tank Corps. His voice trailed off into a queer little squeal of
pained surprise, for a bullet, passing through a rent in the tank's
side, shattered his left arm at the wrist.

Quickly, yet in an orderly manner, the evacuation was carried out.
The wounded men were assisted to a place of doubtful shelter afforded
by an abandoned trench, while Derek and the eight unscathed members
of the crew followed to await developments.

Even as Derek crouched in the shallow trench, the greater part of
which had been flattened out by tanks crossing the obstruction, he
noticed an officer in the uniform of a major of the Tank Corps
running along the irregular parados.

"Back, back, all of you!" he shouted. "Pass the word along. Signal to
the Tank-Commanders. We're held up, and the ground is heavily mined.
Retire!"



CHAPTER XV

Outed


Whistles blew shrilly amid the roar of battle. Several of the
Tank-Commanders, hearing and understanding the import of the order,
brought their ponderous craft to a standstill. Others began to wheel
in order to give a wide berth to the highly-dangerous locality. Fifty
yards ahead, and separated from them only by three almost flattened
trenches, was an objective which, if gained, would be the master-key
to this phase of the important operations, and yet with success in
sight the nerve-racking attempt bid fair to end in failure.

At this critical juncture Derek, to the surprise of the crew of the
abandoned tank, suddenly sprang upon the parados. In a couple of
strides he overtook the Major, and, throwing his arms round the
latter's neck and planting one knee in the small of his back, bore
him backwards to the earth. Then, not content with this comparatively
mild form of attack, Derek pinioned the officer's wrists by means of
the lanyard of his whistle. He was dragging his captive into the
trench when a Tank-Commander intervened.

"What on earth are you doing?" he demanded.

"It's all right," replied Derek reassuringly. "The fellow's a Boche.
I know him. Get the tanks to carry on."

Fortunately the officer grasped the situation and had the retirement
order annulled. The mammoth machines resumed their forward progress,
blazing away with their quick-firers and machine-guns, until Derek
found himself well in the rear in the company of a handful of men and
Count Hertz von Peilfell.

It was a freak of fortune on the battle-field that had played into
Lieutenant Daventry's hand. The Count, having succeeded in escaping
from the Le Tenetoir aerodrome, had passed through many adventures
before he regained the German lines. Then, in a desperate bid to
regain prestige, he had volunteered again to act as a spy. Knowing
that there were many changes in the personnel of the Tank Corps, he
determined to assume the rôle and uniform of a major, and await an
opportunity to thwart the victorious advance of the ponderous
Behemoths.

Succeeding the tanks came swarms of infantry, of whom, but for the
assistance of the mobile armoured forts, the Boche machine-gunners
would have taken heavy toll. As it was they were able to consolidate
the position already taken with but slight losses in proportion to
the numbers engaged. There were engineers, busily engaged in laying
telephone wires, while numerous stretcher-bearers and ambulance-men
were strenuously working to remove the wounded from the
stubbornly-contested field. Meantime Fritz was shelling the lost
ground to the best of his ability, the guns taking impartial toll of
khaki and field-grey. Having no further use for cannon-fodder that
had fallen into the hands of the victorious Allies, the Boche
artillerymen seemed to show not the slightest compunction at
slaughtering their comrades.

A stretcher-party halted within a few yards of Derek's prisoner. The
Corporal in charge pushed back his steel helmet and mopped his face.

"Set to, chums!" he exclaimed. "Here's another of 'em."

The bearers had been hard at work for five hours and under shell-fire
the whole time. The straps of their equipment were cutting into their
shoulders; their boots were galling their feet owing to the incessant
pull of the tenacious mud. Men of low category, and deemed unfit to
handle a rifle, they were sharing the hardships and dangers of their
comrades in the firing-line, without being able to experience the
thrill of "going over the top" shoulder to shoulder behind a line of
glittering bayonets. Yet their work was of a noble and enduring
nature, often performed under highly-dangerous conditions, without an
opportunity of striking a blow in self-defence.

"Stretcher here!" exclaimed Derek. "Get this man back. I'll come with
you."

The Corporal betrayed no outward sign of surprise at finding a
supposed British major insensible and with his hands lashed behind
his back. At Derek's suggestion the lanyard was unlashed and Von
Peilfell's hands bound to his sides. Then, lifted on a stretcher, the
spy was carried off.

It was a hazardous, uninspiring journey. The heat of the advance
over, the grim aftermath of battle lay revealed in all its stark,
hideous brutality. It was yet early morning. Mist still hung over the
marshy ground. As far as the eye could reach the soil was cut up with
the distinctive tractor-marks of the tanks. Barbed wire, crushed
deeply into the earth wherever a tank had passed, was still in
evidence, snake-like coils clinging tenaciously to posts still rising
slantwise from the stiff clay. And sometimes half buried, sometimes
still held up by the horrible barbs were khaki and field-grey
uniforms still covering what were but a few short hours ago human
beings capable of reasoning. Derelict tanks, some still glowing red
and emitting clouds of smoke, dotted the landscape, cheek by jowl
with crashed aeroplanes. Shell-craters, old and new, abounded, while
already light railways were being laid with a rapidity that is hardly
conceivable. The while there were constant streams of motor traffic
to and fro; heavy guns being brought up to prepare for a fresh
advance. Everywhere there were abundant indications that this was
"some" advance and that the ground gained was to be held.

Mile after mile Derek trudged with his captive. He was determined
that on this occasion the airman-spy should not escape. Von Peilfell
was too dangerous a man to be allowed to get away a second time.

Several times Derek glanced at the man on the stretcher. Von Peilfell
was lying on his right side, his face almost hidden against the
canvas. His manacled hands were resting on the edge of the stretcher.
His features, or rather that portion of them visible, were sallow and
wore a bored, apathetic expression. He seemed quite unconcerned at
his position, not even showing the faintest trepidation when shells
burst within a hundred yards of him or bullets kicked up little
cascades of mud almost at the feet of the stretcher-bearers.

"Guess he knows the game's up this time," thought Derek. "Poor devil!
Pity he hadn't been brought down in fair fight."

Then, recollecting that he had previously given expression to similar
sentiments, Daventry found himself wondering whether Von Peilfell was
under the special protection of fate, and whether he would again
cheat the firing-squad.

Just then another stretcher, moving on a converging route, came level
with Derek's party. On it was a man still wearing an airman's
flying-coat. One hand encased in a leather fur-lined gauntlet trailed
limply. Blood was welling from an unseen wound and staining the white
fur. A blanket had been thrown over the wounded man's lower limbs.
His flying-helmet had been removed and was serving as a pillow. He
was smoking a cigarette and apparently taking a lively interest in
the journey to the dressing-station.

"Hallo, Daventry!" shouted the wounded airman. "Don't you know me?"

Derek, astonished at hearing his name, looked intently at the man on
the stretcher.

"Hanged if I do," he replied.

"Ungrateful old bean!" chortled the other. "What on earth are you
doing with a tin hat? Doubly ungrateful, considering I taught you all
you know about a 'bus."

"You're not Rippondene?" enquired Derek incredulously.

"What's left of me," was the nonchalant reply. "I think I'm right in
supposing that I'm half a leg short, although I can swear that I can
feel the missing toes tingling like billy-ho. There's one thing to be
thankful for: that leg was a source of trouble since I crashed at
Armentières in March, '15. It won't worry me again, and with a cork
leg I'll be able to wangle a rudder-bar. Hope the war isn't over by
the time I'm pushed out of hospital."

Rippondene, now a Flight-Commander, had had many adventures since
relinquishing the post of instructor at Torringham. In spite of
certain physical disabilities he had gained well-earned promotion,
and was "down" for participation in the elaborately-perfected scheme
for bombing Berlin. Then, owing to exigencies on the Western Front,
he had been ordered to France, and had performed excellent work in
the operations during the great German offensive and the greater
German retreat.


[Illustration: IN A COUPLE OF STRIDES HE OVERTOOK THE MAJOR, AND BORE
HIM BACKWARDS TO THE EARTH]


"Bit of sheer hard luck," he replied, in answer to Derek's question
as to how he came to be hit. "Had a chance of a lifetime. Caught a
whole Boche battalion out in the open and started machine-gunning the
bounders. Put the wind up them properly; they scooted like hares.
Used up all my ammunition and, like Oliver Twist, came back for more.
I got more--of a different sort. A bullet through the arm--that
didn't worry me very much--and then a regular crump. Thought the old
'bus was blown to bits. Felt like it anyhow. But she wasn't, so I
managed to pancake just behind some tanks and here I am. Who's the
old bird?"

"The old bird," repeated Derek, "is a pal of yours."

"Don't know him," replied Rippondene, raising his head and looking
across to the other stretcher. "Haven't had much to do with fellows
in the Tank Corps, and so I'll swear I haven't met him. Bet you a
sovereign on it."

"Don't throw good money away," protested Daventry. "This is Count von
Peilfell."

"Rot!" ejaculated the Flight-Commander.

"Fact," declared Derek; "and I'll explain why he's in this rig."

"Another time, old thing," said Rippondene feebly. "I'm feeling jolly
rummy. I'm----"

"He's fainted, sir," announced the Corporal in charge of the party.
"We'll soon fix him up all right when we get to the dressing-station.
And, sir----"

"Yes; what is it?"

"It looks as if there's something wrong with this Hun, sir."

The stretcher-party halted. The Corporal turned Von Peilfell's head
and placed a finger upon one of his wide-open eyes. Not a muscle on
the Hun airman's face quivered.

"He's gone west, sir," said the Corporal. "'Tain't much good carrying
a corpse. There's plenty of living who want bearing off."

The bearers set the stretcher on the ground. Deftly the R.A.M.C. man
examined the corpse. The cause of the spy's death was soon evidenced.
While he was being carried off a chance bullet had struck him,
passing through his heart. Without a groan or a struggle, Hertz von
Peilfell's career had ended--ignominiously.

"I'll take my men back, sir, if I may," suggested the N.C.O.

"Yes, carry on," replied Derek.

Without ceremony the dead German airman was placed by the trunk of a
shattered tree, and the bearers returned to their work of succour;
while Derek, who was beginning to feel the effect of his strenuous
work, set out in the direction of the still distant air-sheds.



CHAPTER XVI

The Shell-crater


There were many vacant places that evening in the building that
served as a mess. Youngsters who, a few hours previously, had left
the aerodrome like modern knights of the air, were lying crushed
beyond recognition amidst the wreckage of their trusted steeds. The
price of victory was a heavy one; the toll of airmen's lives
enormous; yet the sacrifice had not been made in vain. The soil of
Flanders and Picardy, drenched with British blood, was hourly
becoming a wider and stronger barrier between the modern Hun and the
shores of Great Britain--shores that, held inviolate from the feet of
a would-be invader, had nevertheless felt the effect of German shells
and bombs.

The worst was over. Fritz was done. The stranglehold of the British
fleet had paralysed the most highly-trained military nation in the
world, and now the civilian armies of Britain, France, and the United
States were reaping the benefit, and were steadily driving the Hun
towards the Rhine. No longer was it possible--thanks to the
ever-increasing efficiency of the R.A.F.--for German machines to bomb
the capital of the British Empire, or even to make "cut-and-run"
raids upon the south-eastern ports. Outclassed and outnumbered, Fritz
was a back number on land, on the sea, and in the air.

There were constant rumours of the Huns clamouring for an armistice,
and the fear of an armistice filled the Allies with alarm. They felt
themselves in the position of a man who, having caught a burglar on
his premises, is compelled to hand the criminal over to be tried by a
notoriously lenient judge. They realized that Germany might come to
terms that would undo the result of four years' fighting. The
diplomat would upset the carefully-laid plans of the soldier;
therefore it was imperative to continue to strike hard while there
was yet time.

From the North Sea to the Swiss frontier the German line had cracked.
British and Belgian troops were in possession of Bruges; Ypres was no
longer a salient; Cambrai, the scene of a grave reverse that paved
the way for a gigantic German offensive, was in British hands; the
French had overrun the debatable Chemin des Dames and had put Rheims
beyond the range of the German heavy artillery; Big Bertha and her
sisters could no longer disturb the equanimity of the citizens of
Paris; while the Americans had flattened out the Saint Mihiel
salient, and were enveloping the fortress of Metz. After years of
trench warfare, the news seemed too good to be true.

Secret orders taken on the captured ground gave abundant evidence of
the effect of the predominating weight of the Allies. Frantic appeals
for reserves and munitions--appeals that, read between the lines,
showed a mistrust between German officers and men--orders for the
strictest conservation of shells; these and a hundred other signs
told of the crisis through which Imperial Germany was passing--a
crisis which was bound to tell against her.

Derek Daventry's period off duty was of short duration. In the
circumstances he reckoned himself lucky to have twelve hours, most of
which he spent in sleeping soundly. In those strenuous times, when
every available man and machine had to spend hours in the air with
but brief intervals of rest, it was only through sheer exhaustion
that pilots and observers were excused duty.

He was off again at five in the morning, flying in another EG
machine, almost identical with his much-regretted No. 19. The
biplanes composing the "flight" were ordered to harass the Germans
holding a series of defensive works at a distance of about five miles
farther back than the ground captured by the tanks on the previous
day.

In the present phase of the operations the employment of tanks was
out of the question. Tanks are capable of surmounting many obstacles;
those they cannot surmount they can frequently demolish; but the
mastodons have their limits. They don't like marshy, boggy ground;
while a canal or river offers an impassable barrier unless a bridge
is available.

Eight hundred yards in front of the Huns' position ran a broad canal,
seventy-four feet in width and six feet in depth. Every swing-bridge
had been blown up and the lock-gates destroyed.

Earlier in the day British and French infantry, under cover of a
strong artillery-barrage, had succeeded in crossing the canal by
means of pontoons, and had established themselves securely on the
opposite bank; but so severe was the German machine-gun fire that the
advance was held up and the troops compelled to dig themselves in.

Already thousands of sand-bags were being dropped into the canal to
form a means of getting the tanks across, but a considerable time
would necessarily elapse before the work, carried out under fire,
could be perfected; while it was evident, from the determined
resistance of the enemy, that the attackers were being held up by a
crack Prussian division.

The attacking 'planes flew well to the east of their objective, and,
turning, bore down, with the light of the rising sun well behind
them. It meant flying against the wind, but when engaged in raking a
trench, speed is not of paramount importance.

Five thousand feet above the machine-gunning biplanes hovered a
squadron of battleplanes, ready at the first appearance of a Hun to
swoop down and wipe him out of existence should he have the temerity
to attack. But not a German machine showed itself, and the huge
battleplanes had to be content with affording moral support to their
smaller sisters of the air.

The German infantry had no stomach for the swift death that
threatened from the sky. At the first appearance of the biplanes, the
field-greys promptly abandoned their fire-steps and dived into their
dug-outs. This was hardly what the British airmen expected, since it
is to little purpose to fire thousands of rounds of small-arm
ammunition into an empty trench.

Almost simultaneously three batteries of Archies opened fire, and
soon the biplanes were rocking, lurching, and side-slipping in the
air-eddies caused by the bursting shrapnel.

It was now the battleplanes' opportunity. Leaving two of their number
to wireless the news that the enemy trench was no longer held, the
remainder dived steeply at the troublesome anti-air-craft batteries.
Although one British machine was shot down completely out of control,
the remainder attained their objectives. With bombs of terrific
explosive power they wiped the Archies out of existence, and then
proceeded to drop more bombs upon the dug-outs in order to induce
Fritz to bolt from his lair.

Meanwhile the British infantry were advancing in open order with
fixed bayonets and preceded by bombers. Viewed from aloft, the
movement lacked vigour. A battle photograph, taken from an aeroplane,
is a very tame picture compared with the results obtained by daring
cinematographers, who frequently film the process of "going over the
top". The absence of sound--or rather the drowning of it by the roar
of the engine--the grotesque foreshortening of the figures, and their
relatively slow rate of progress all fail to convey any picturesque
aspect of a modern battle when observed from a machine flying high
overhead.

Derek was describing a series of circles, ready to traverse the line
of trenches at an instant's notice, when he saw a sight that bore
testimony to the stubborn nature of the Prussian infantryman. It was
not without a set purpose that the German High Command had manned
this sector with picked troops. Apparently the underground works were
of a very extensive nature, and concealed not only the troops
presumably in the trench, but very stiff reserves as well. At a
signal, the Prussians issued in swarms from their subterranean
retreats. Along the parapet flashed a crackling line of fire, as
machine-guns by scores and hundreds of rifles loosed their leaden
hail upon the advancing khaki troops.

No living creature could last for long in that fire-swept zone. The
ground was dotted with dead and wounded, many of the latter still
using their rifles against their foes. Individual courage was of no
avail against the diabolical scientific devices of the Huns, who used
petrol-bomb, flame-thrower, and poison-gas with horrible effect.

Stolidly the khaki-clad infantry retired to their former positions.
Here, on the defensive, and with their backs to the broad canal, they
must wait and sit tight until heavy artillery and tanks turned the
scale of battle.

It was a chance for the airmen. Up and down, often at less than
twenty feet above the densely-packed German lines, they flew, their
machine-guns cutting broad swaths in the field-grey masses. Often
hidden in clouds of smoke, risking collision with other British
machines, the biplanes soared and swooped until red-hot guns and
empty ammunition-trays called a halt.

Derek had just fired his last round, and was preparing to climb and
fly back for more ammunition, when, like a blow from a titanic
hammer, a fragment of shell shattered the swiftly-revolving blades of
the propeller. Other pieces of flying metal severed the
aileron-controls, cut jagged rents in the doped canvas fabric, and
damaged the tail planes.

Switching off the now useless motor, which had begun to race
furiously, Derek vainly endeavoured to glide back to the other side
of the canal. The effort was beyond the power of the crippled 'bus.
It was evident that, if not exactly out of control, there was very
little tractability in its nature.

"She's bound to crash," thought Derek. "Hope to goodness I can get
clear of Fritz's line."

In spite of imminent peril, and the possibility of a tremendous
crash, the young pilot's nerve did not desert him. Bullets were
flying past in showers of metal, for nothing pleases the Hun better
than to riddle a tricolour-circled machine that is falling helplessly
to earth.

The actual fall was of short duration, although to Derek it seemed of
interminable length. He mentally marked the spot where the ill-fated
machine would crash--a shell-pitted piece of ground about one hundred
and twenty yards from the first-line German trench.

"Now for it!" muttered Derek, as the ground appeared to rise to greet
the disabled mechanical bird. "What an unholy mess of things there'll
be!"

Relaxing his hold of the now useless joy-stick, and unfastening his
quick-release belt, Derek raised both hands above his head, grasped
and bore down the muzzle of his after machine-gun. Then, sliding
under the decking of the fuselage, he waited.

With a thud that shook every bone and muscle of his body, and
well-nigh wrenched his arms from their sockets, the biplane struck
the ground obliquely and nose first. The under-carriage splintered
into matchwood, while both tyres burst with reports like that of a
six-pounder gun. Then, rearing until the damaged tail stood
completely on end, the distorted fuselage poised in the air like a
grotesque obelisk, while the pilot, shaken and bruised, but otherwise
unhurt, scrambled as quickly as he could from the wreckage and
literally rolled into a shell-hole.

For some considerable time Derek lay motionless, listening to the
rattle of musketry and machine-gun fire, and the crackling of his
burning 'bus, until the increasing heat compelled him to make for
another crater.

Somewhat to his surprise, he found that he could move; he could even
have walked, but for the fact that it was highly desirable to keep
close to Mother Earth. So close together were the craters that at one
place their lips interlocked and formed a shallow gap. Through this
passage Derek began to make his way, noiselessly and stealthily.

If he had hoped to escape detection by the alert and vengeful Huns,
he was vastly mistaken. Already streams of bullets from half a dozen
machine-guns were playing upon the calcined earth that formed the
rims of the craters, while bombs were being lobbed into the burning
debris of the crashed biplane on the off-chance of "doing in" the
pilot should he have escaped being battered to death by the fall.

Even as he crawled a hot searing pain swept across his forehead.
Involuntarily he clapped one hand to his eye. His fingers were wet
with a warm fluid. It was his blood welling from a wound. A
machine-gun bullet had inflicted a clean gash on the lower part of
his forehead, completely cutting away the left eyebrow. It was a mere
scratch, but very painful, the worst result being the flow of blood
that, running into his eyes, temporarily blinded him.

It was some moments before Derek realized the comparatively slight
nature of his wound. Many a man has been hit in action, and regarded
his wound as slight when he has actually been hit in a vital spot.
Numerous instances have been recorded of a mortally-wounded man
"carrying on" in ignorance of the fact that in a very few moments his
name will have to be added to the list of "killed in action". On the
other hand, there have been cases of men but slightly hit, writhing
and squealing and moaning in the genuine belief that their "number is
up".

Finding himself hit, Derek lay motionless, his face buried in the
soft earth. Presently the hot stabbing pain diminished. A sense of
numbness that was almost soothing, compared with the searing throb of
the bullet-wound, began to assert itself. Even the cold ground seemed
like a downy pillow.

The while Fritz in the nearmost trench was indefatigable in his
efforts to complete the strafing of the crashed pilot. Thousands of
pounds of machine-gun ammunition were practically thrown away in
sweeping the dun-brown ridge of earth that encircled Derek's place of
concealment. Bombs, too, were continually being thrown, only to
explode harmlessly in the crumbling, carbonized soil, for beyond
sundry and various showers of dirt, the effect of these missiles was
negligible.

A quarter of an hour elapsed. Then Derek bestirred himself. It was
not the thought that he was lying in a somewhat exposed position, and
that a safer retreat in the bottom of the second crater was within a
few yards, that urged him to move. It was the sudden realization that
every second he was lying with an open wound in contact with the
earth he was running the greatest possible risk of septic poisoning
from the highly impure soil. He had known several cases where men
with chilblains had knocked the open sores against the side of a
trench, and the momentary contact with the septic soil had been
sufficient to cause acute blood-poisoning, resulting, in several
instances, in loss of a limb. On the other hand, the extreme velocity
of a bullet generates heat to such a degree that the missile is
sterilized before it hits a man, and, provided that no vital spot is
touched, the chances of complications arising from a bullet-wound are
very slight. With shell-wounds there is a difference. Minute
particles of German shells frequently cause slight wounds that,
unless carefully treated, become septic.

Derek freely admitted to himself that he "had the wind up" over the
possibilities of tetanus. Even as he resumed his tedious crawl he
incautiously showed the top of his head above the frail cover
afforded by the ridge. The Huns, quick to perceive something in
motion, swept the spot with their machine-guns. As a result Daventry
ducked, but not before there were three or four bullet-rents in his
leather flying-cap, while his triplex goggles, which he had pushed
back just before he had been hit, were cut away by a piece of metal.

Into the second crater he dropped, his legs buried above the knees of
his fleece-lined flying-boots in the soft soil. Here he was
relatively safe. He sat up and took stock of his surroundings: a
circular sloping wall of debris descending to a pool of stagnant
water eleven feet below the ordinary ground level. Here and there
were coils of rusty barbed wire and the remains of calcined posts,
while a Hun's "Dolly Varden" tin hat, sporting a bullet-hole front
and back, and a battered dixie, alone served to break the monotony of
the limited expanse of landscape.

Derek's wound was still bleeding freely. He made no attempt to
staunch the flow, knowing that there was a chance of the cut
cleansing itself. His old 'bus had practically burnt itself out. The
fierce flames were succeeded by a thick, oily smoke that drifted in
clouds across the crater and eddied down the slope, as if reluctant
to soar and dissolve in the comparatively pure air above. It was with
the greatest difficulty that the pilot managed to refrain from
coughing. Temporarily the musketry-fire had ceased and comparative
silence reigned. Any noise coming from the crater would inevitably
betray the presence of a yet-living man to the vigilant Huns. Yet, on
the other hand, the smoke was of service. It acted as a screen and
prevented the Germans seeing their foes; and behind this pall of
smoke fresh British troops were massing for another attack, while the
methods adopted for bridging the canal for the passage of the tanks
were being carried out at high pressure.

Then ensued a tedious period of inactivity. Both British and German
guns were firing desultorily, the former putting over heavy stuff,
while the Huns contented themselves by "watering" the back-areas with
high-velocity shells of medium calibre. Overhead British aeroplanes
passed and repassed--big bombing-machines, intent on their ceaseless
task of harrying Fritz's lines of communication.

The crashed pilot was now almost unmolested. The tic-tac of the
German machine-guns had ceased, but, with their customary cunning,
the Huns would, after a period of inactivity, suddenly send over a
number of bombs. As long as they had the faintest suspicion that
somebody was alive in the crater they meant to continue the strafing.
A remorseless resentment towards the British airman who had so
effectually machine-gunned their trenches urged them to complete
their task of wiping out the cause of their discomfiture. Just as
likely as not, the moment darkness set in Fritz would dispatch a
party to search thoroughly the scene of the biplane's crash.
Fervently Derek hoped that the tanks would be in action before night
fell.

The misty sun sank lower and lower in the western sky. Steadily and
stealthily the shadow of the lip of the crater rose higher and higher
upon the opposite slope. Evening mists were rising from the dank,
unwholesome soil. Then, as the sun set, away to the north-east, and
again to the south-west, a steady rumble, and the glare of numerous
searchlights and star-shells, betokened considerable activity; while
behind the German lines the sky glowered in the light of dozens of
burning ammunition-dumps. Notwithstanding the determined resistance
offered in this sector of the line, the Germans were preparing for a
further retreat and abandonment of ground implacably held by them for
more than four long years.

Listening intently, Derek heard slight, but unmistakable sounds of
movement in the Hun trenches. Keenly alive to his chances of being
carried off as a prisoner by a raiding-party, the pilot began to
climb on hands and knees up the slippery, sliding soil of the crater
in the direction of the British lines. It was a dangerous business,
for, in the open, he would be exposed to the fire from friend and
foe, but that was preferable to being hauled off to a German prison
camp.

Literally worming his way, Derek slid over the top of the crater and
gained the comparatively level ground beyond. Here he lay, inert and
silent, his ears strained to catch the faintest sound. He was not
mistaken. Even as he was crawling from his place of concealment a
number of Huns were, with equal caution, descending into the crater
to search for a possible prisoner.

"I'll have a say in the matter," thought Derek, as he loosened his
automatic-pistol in its holster. "If they wander round this way I'll
give them a few rounds and then run for it. There'll be a risk of
being strafed by our own people, but that's preferable to being done
in by a Boche."

Fortunately the necessity of having to use his pistol did not arise,
for the Huns, having made a survey of the wreckage of the EG machine
and the interior of the two craters, were evidently satisfied. No
doubt they were "jumpy", groping about in the darkness, for after a
few minutes they cleared off as silently as they came.

Waiting for another quarter of an hour Derek resumed his way on all
fours towards the British trenches. It was a tedious journey, for
wherever, as frequently happened, a star-shell lit up the ground he
had to remain immobile, simulating one of the many corpses that
littered the ground. The slightest movement would have brought down a
hail of machine-gun bullets and possibly a few unpleasantly-accurate
rifle-shots from the alert Tommies, and, having gone thus far, Derek
was becoming more and more anxious not to receive these attentions.

At length he reached a shell-hole within ten yards of the
hastily-improvised parapet of sand-bags. Here he lay listening to the
men conversing in low tones. Much of their language was lurid, but
nevertheless it was like music to hear English voices again after
hours of mental and bodily tension.

He whistled softly. Then a voice hissed out a challenge.

"It's all right," replied Derek. "I'm one of the R.A.F. Can I make a
dash for it?"

A consultation between several of the men followed, then a voice
spoke:

"In you come. Take your chance; but Heaven help you if you try any
monkey-tricks. We'll riddle you."

The pilot waited till the blinding glare of a star-shell gave place
to opaque darkness. Then, judging his direction, he made his way to
the line of sandbags and crawled over the top.

Into the trench he rolled, to find himself confronted by the dull
gleam of a bayonet.

"Looks all right, Sergeant," reported one of the men.

"Maybe," replied a non-com. "At anyrate take him along to the
Platoon-Commander."

The subaltern was frankly sympathetic.

"You've had a rotten time, old man," he observed. "We'll send you
back as soon as poss. There'll be a tender waiting on the other side
of the canal, and you'll be in the dressing-station in half a jiffy.
Risky work, yours."

"I wouldn't change jobs," replied Derek, striving to raise a smile,
but disastrously. It was a difficult matter to use his facial muscles
when an eyebrow was missing. "Yours is a sticky business, and, by
Jove! a fellow can't help admiring the infantry. They've all the hard
work to do."

"Collar-work, perhaps," agreed the Platoon-Commander. "But the way
you fellows do stunts over Jerry's lines gives me the creeps."

"Safe enough," protested Derek, "except, of course, when Fritz gets
one in with his Archibalds. I'm going in for a soft job after the
war."

"What's that?" enquired the infantry officer.

"Flying," replied the R.A.F. officer. "You mark my words, it'll be
one of the safest things going. I think I'll sign on as pilot to a
fat city alderman. Take him every day from Hyde Park to the Mansion
House in a 240-h.p. Scout. Jolly sight healthier than skidding all
over the shop in a car."

"Glad you think so," rejoined the subaltern. "Well, here you are.
This Corporal will guide you past our reserve trenches. Good luck!"

Without mishap Derek followed the Corporal through the maze of
hostile-constructed trenches and across the canal by means of a
barrier of sandbags covered with "corduroyed" timber. In a sunken
lane were several A.S.C. motor-vehicles which had just brought up the
rations.

"Here you are, sir!" exclaimed the Corporal. "This tender's just
off."

"Not so fast, mate," protested the driver, who was sweating profusely
in his efforts to start the engine. "She's a fair mule. Come and bear
a hand."

Even as the obliging Corporal grasped the cranking-handle a shell
burst within twenty yards of the stationary motor-vehicle. Derek
ducked involuntarily as he felt the blast of the explosion and the
screech of the flying fragments. He was untouched, but the luckless
Corporal was lying motionless on the ground, while the driver of the
tender was swearing softly as he fumbled for his first-aid dressing.

"I've copped it, sir," he reported. "Got it somewhere in the thigh.
It's a Blighty for me, I reckon."

He paused, then, producing a knife, began to cut away his clothing
with the deftness acquired by experimenting on his comrades.

"Now if I could get hold of a mate to start her up," he continued
ruminatingly, "I'd soon drive the pair o' us to the
dressing-station."

"I'll have a shot at it," volunteered Derek, and grasping the handle
he swung it vigorously.

The next instant he was nursing a broken arm.



CHAPTER XVII

Turned Down


"Always said she was a mule, sir," exclaimed the driver. "Either she
won't fire or else she back-fires when you don't expect it. Did you
cop it, sir?"

Derek, with the jagged ends of a compound fractured bone threatening
to push through the skin, was compelled to admit that he had.

Apart from the acute pain, it was galling to realize that, after
coming through a beautiful crash and spending the best part of the
day and night under machine-gun fire in a shell-hole with nothing
worse than a slight flesh-wound in the forehead, it was his very hard
luck to be crocked up by a mere back-fire, especially as he had been
careless enough to grasp the handle in the wrong way.

"Rotten night's work," grumbled the driver, as he liberally dosed his
wound with iodine. "Where's that there Corporal, sir? Good Lord, he's
copped it, too!"

He bent over the unfortunate N.C.O.

"Dead as mutton," he announced nonchalantly. There was no surprise in
his tone. Three years of living cheek by jowl with sudden death in
all sorts of terrible forms had blunted his feelings. "Poor bloke!
And it might have been a Blighty for him, too--same as me. 'Ere,
mate!"

A man bending under the weight of a coil of wire was slouching past.
At the hail he threw his burden down, glad of the opportunity to ease
his aching shoulders.

"What's up?" he asked.

The driver explained.

"Fat lot you knows about an engine," remarked the new-corner. "That's
why they put you in the M.T. And I've been driving motor-lorries all
over Yorkshire and Lancashire these ten years. There's not a blinking
motor that I can't master, and yet they shove me in the bloomin',
foot-slogging infantry. Chronic, I calls it."

"Don't want to hear about your qualifications," broke in the driver
with acerbity. "What I want is a practical demonstration."

Then realizing that it was hardly the style to adopt when a favour
was required he added:

"'Course it was rough luck on you, mate; but I can't help it, can I?
Now be a sport and get the old mule a-going, and I think I can find a
whole packet of fags in my greatcoat pocket. Crikey! That was a near
'un," he ejaculated, as a shell burst about a hundred yards away and
slightly to the left of the road. "Jerry's putting a lot of stuff
over tonight."

"Sure you've got the fags?" enquired the newcomer cautiously. The
prospect of getting hold of a packet of cigarettes interested him far
more than did the Boche shells. Like the poor, German shells were
always present; cigarettes were not.

"Feel in my pockets," said the driver. "They're yours as soon as you
get the blessed engine to fire."

The man was about to do so when in the reflected glare of a
star-shell he caught sight of the driver's hastily-applied bandage.

"By gum, you've been hit, lad!" he exclaimed. "Why didn't you say so,
instead of offering me fags? Reckon as you'll want 'em more'n me, so
here goes."

A deft manipulation of throttle and spark, a short rapid jerk of the
hitherto refractory cranking-handle, and the engine began throbbing
with renewed activity.

Before the driver could hand over the promised guerdon his benefactor
settled matters by lifting him easily and gently into the seat.
Derek, feeling sick and giddy with the pain of his broken arm, took
his seat beside the driver, while the Tommy, slinging his bundle
across his shoulders, ambled off into the darkness.

To Derek the journey was a nightmare. Racked with pain, hungry,
thirsty, and dead tired, he was hardly conscious of the jolting,
swaying vehicle, of the crump of heavy shells that were constantly
searching the lines of communication, of the numerous halts owing to
the congestion of traffic. Whether it was five miles, or fifty, he
had not the remotest idea. All he did was to wedge the shoulder of
his unwounded arm into the angle formed by the tilt and the front of
the tender, and trust that he would not be flung from his seat by the
terrific bumps as the battle-scarred vehicle literally bounded over
the uneven road.

He was practically unconscious when deft arms assisted him from the
car. He could hear voices sounding dim and far-away. Then he was
faintly aware that he was in an underground retreat of vast size that
smelt of iodine and ether; a lot of--to him--unnecessary
man-handling, a struggle for breath, and then merciful oblivion.

Upon recovering consciousness Derek found himself at a base hospital.
His arm had been set in splints, while his forehead was swathed in
surgical bandages. It was the second stage of his journey to Blighty.

Three days later he was placed on board a hospital ship at Boulogne.
His arm was making very satisfactory progress, and he was able to
walk up the gangway unassisted; but, shortly after arriving on the
other side, he made his first acquaintance with hospital red tape.

A short train journey brought him to Minterton Station, the nearest
place by rail to Tollerby Military Hospital.

Greatly to Derek's surprise he found a nurse, several orderlies, and
an ambulance waiting for him.

"But I can walk quite all right," protested the patient.

"No doubt," was the reply, "but you must go in the ambulance; it's
routine."

Nor did "routine" end there, for on arriving at the hospital Daventry
was peremptorily ordered to go to bed at five in the evening.

"It's routine," explained the nurse. "The doctor will have to take
your temperature."

"Surely he can do that without sending me to bed," said Derek
resentfully.

The nurse shrugged her shoulders.

"I didn't frame the regulations," she replied. "I'm afraid there's no
help for it; to bed you must go."

Followed a not altogether congenial fortnight. The compound fracture
healed rapidly; no complications ensued; yet Derek had to exist under
restraint, and subjected to the too rigorous rules and regulations of
the hospital.

There were eleven other wounded officers in the ward, all bored stiff
with things in general, and the hospital in particular. The only
diversion, and one that they thoroughly enjoyed, was listening to the
lurid and incoherent remarks of their fellow patients whenever they
were "coming to" after an operation. It was one of those few
occasions when a patient could "speak his mind", even though he were
in a semi-conscious state, and invariably the hospital staff came in
for a considerable amount of "strafing", to the huge delight of the
rest of the ward.

Then came Derek's "Medical Board". He rather welcomed the
examination, fully convinced that he would be granted sick leave, and
then be ordered to rejoin his squadron. The result was almost
equivalent to a knock-out blow between the eyes.

The medicos had no fault to find with the young pilot's arm, but they
persisted in harping upon subjects apparently irrelevant to the case,
until Derek began to wonder what on earth they were trying to
discover.

He found out soon afterwards. His medical history sheet was endorsed
"Unfit for flying". Absolutely unaware of the fact, his strenuous
flights on the Western Front had resulted in an insidious nervous
attack. Although he felt perfectly fit for aerial work, the doctors
knew better. Henceforth he was no longer free to soar aloft; the
exhilaration of handling the joy-stick of a 'bus was no longer his.

"Won't I be able to fly again?" he asked one of the doctors.

"Possibly you may get another pair of wings some day," replied the
R.A.M.C. officer grimly.

"Then I suppose I'm booked for the infantry," continued Derek.
"Anyway, that's better than nothing. I want to have a look-in at the
finish."

"Not in your present category, my young fire-eater!" replied the
doctor. "Aren't there any ground jobs going in the R.A.F.: equipment
officer, for example?"

Derek was not enthusiastic. Like Gallio, he cared for none of these
things.

"What you want," continued the doctor, "is a job afloat. Nothing like
it for fellows off colour after a crash. Do you know anything about
the sea?"

"I've knocked about in small yachts," replied Derek. "Nothing in the
deep-sea line, unfortunately."

"There are hundreds of amateur yachtsmen doing jolly good work in the
R.N.V.R., as you know. 'Harry Tate's Navy' they used to call them;
but, by Jove, the way those fellows played the game at Zeebrugge was
an eye-opener! I suppose you know that the R.A.F. is starting a new
stunt--a Marine branch?"

"Haven't heard yet," replied Derek. "It sounds promising."

"I've a young brother in it," said the doctor. "If you like, I'll
write and get particulars. The show's only been running a month, I
believe. Sableridge is the name of the place; it's somewhere on the
south coast."

Directly Derek received particulars he wrote off to the Air Ministry,
stating his qualifications and requesting to be transferred to the
Marine section, R.A.F. Promptly came a reply acknowledging his
communication, and requesting him to call at Room Number So-and-so at
the palatial hotel in use as the head-quarters of the R.A.F.

Without any preliminaries, Derek was subjected to a brief yet
searching examination. What did he know about navigation? Could he
box a compass, set a course, read a chart, understand the rule of the
road and the use of a lead-line? Could he semaphore and Morse? Could
he handle a motorboat in a roughish sea?

"Very well," concluded his examiner. "Go home, and if you don't hear
from me in a week's time, come up again."

The week passed slowly, for Derek was now keenly interested in what
he hoped was to be his new rôle. A great feature was that he would
still be in the R.A.F. He really didn't want to hear within the week,
for the chances were that his services might not be required. The
uncertainty of the whole performance was exasperating; he couldn't
understand why his fate couldn't be decided on the spot.

On the morning of the 7th, just as Derek was about to proceed to the
railway station to journey to town, a letter came, with the words,
"Air Ministry" printed on the envelope.

It was brief, and to the point. Lieutenant Derek Daventry was to
report for duty at the Marine Training Depot, Sableridge, on the 19th
instant. Whether he had to appear in khaki or in the new Air Force
blue, whether he was to take his field kit, or whether he was to have
furnished quarters were points on which he was left entirely in the
dark.

"Good enough, though!" he exclaimed. "This sea-service business is
some stunt."



CHAPTER XVIII

The First Day at Sableridge


Derek Daventry's arrival at Sableridge Marine Depot could hardly be
described as imposing. It might have been picturesque, or at least
bizarre.

Upon alighting at Fisherton Station he learnt on enquiry that
Sableridge was a good six miles by road, lying, as it did, at the
entrance to the extensive Fisherton Harbour. He waited for some time
at the railway station in the hope that one of the R.A.F.
motor-transport vehicles might put in an appearance. Thwarted in that
direction, he tried in vain for a taxi or even a "growler". Finally
he bargained with a sleepy youth in charge of a very ramshackle
wagonette, who, in consideration of a pecuniary largess of ten
shillings, condescended to drive the newly-joining officer to
Sableridge.

At a leisurely six miles an hour the wagonette set out on its
journey. Apart from the slow pace and the atrocious jolting, Derek
enjoyed the ride. Compared with the devastated fields and villages of
France the prospect looked entrancingly peaceful as the road wound
round the eastern side of the harbour. The tide was in. There was
little or no wind, so that the water had the appearance of a vast
lake, studded with islands, and backed by numerous hills that
culminated in a bold down of a height of six hundred feet or more.

Then a rise in the road brought him in sight of Sableridge, a long
peninsula of what appeared to be hummocks of drifting sand clothed in
places with coarse tufted grass. Almost every hillock bore an
architecturally picturesque house, while the red-tiled roofs of
others were visible in the hollows between the dunes. At the far end,
where the waters of Fisherton Harbour rush in at the rate of five
knots to meet the waters of the English Channel, was a large white
building. At no very distant date it had been a popular hotel; now,
as the White Ensign floating from the gaff of a tall flagstaff
indicated, it was a Government building--the Marine Depot of the
R.A.F.

Having reported, Derek was shown his quarters--a large, airy room on
the first floor with a balcony from which views of the greater part
of Fisherton Harbour could be obtained. This room, he found, he had
to share with another lieutenant.

Save for the latter's personal belongings, it was as bare as Mother
Hubbard's cupboard, the officers being in unfurnished quarters, for
which they drew the sum of half a crown a day.

His batman, having deposited Derek's kit-bag on the floor, enquired
whether he was to fetch the new arrival's equipment from the station;
to which Daventry had to reply that there was no more forthcoming at
present.

Left to himself, Derek took stock of his surroundings. The room
required but little attention, but the view without was enthralling.
It was during working hours. Motor-boats of all types and speeds were
running to and fro. "Skimmers", credited with a speed of fifty knots,
and "hydro-glisseurs", weird-looking contraptions consisting of six
floats lashed in pairs and driven by an aerial propeller, formed part
of the R.A.F. flotilla; while, in acute contrast to the mosquito-like
craft, there were two "drifters" lying at moorings and a third slowly
"chugging" her way against the tide. These craft, like their more
select sisters, bore the distinctive red, white, and blue circles of
the R. A. F.

Just beyond a little pier lay the "guard-ship", a subsidized coaster,
painted grey, and provided with a towering superstructure. She, too,
flew the White Ensign in her rôle of guardian of the port.

Then, in contrast to the war-time conditions, were the square-sterned
fishing-boats, mostly painted white and carrying tanned sails. Good,
wholesome, weatherly boats they were, manned by greybeards and
youths, who "carried on" while their respective sons and fathers were
patrolling in armed merchant-cruisers and drifters to frustrate
Fritz's knavish tricks.

"In peace-time I should be paying three or four guineas a week for
this room," thought Derek. "Now I'm being paid to occupy it, and am
about to have sea trips free, gratis, and for nothing. This is some
stunt."

At tea Derek was introduced to his new comrades. There were eleven
officers belonging to the permanent staff and fifteen others under
instruction. The latter were for the most part youngsters in point of
age, many of them joining up direct from school, but veterans in
point of war service. Most of them had been flying in the old
R.N.A.S. and R.F.C., and their joint record covered every battlefront
from Heligoland Bight to German West Africa, and from Mesopotamia to
beyond the Scillies--pilots who had faced death a hundred times and
had cheated the grim messenger by crashing and surviving. And now
they had exchanged the joy-stick for the wheel of a motor-launch and
the zest of flying for the equally exhilarating lift of the ocean.

The meal over, the crowd of junior officers adjourned to the
shore--the tide being low and the moon full--to play sand-cricket and
rounders until it was time to change for mess. The meal over, there
was a "liberty-boat" to the "beach"--the boat consisting of a
motor-lorry, while the beach was the term used to denote the
neighbouring seaside town of Coombeleigh.

"Ripping fine station!" commented Blair, Derek's room-mate. "I've
been in a few stations in my time, but this is the one. By Jove, if
things continue as they are going, we'll have a top-hole time! The
Colonel? He's one of the best, but I pity the fellow who slacks. Yes,
the C.O. expects a high standard, and he'll get it, or there'll be
trouble. An' the Major's absolutely 'it': couldn't wish for a better.
Of course we aren't in full working order yet. There are only half
the number of men here at present, and the majority of 'em are a
scratch lot. We've got to lick them into shape as seamen, and it's a
tough proposition, I can tell you. Got your bedding yet?"

"No," replied Derek. "I'll have to sleep rough to-night, but it won't
be the first time."

"I'll take you to the Stores Officer," continued Blair. "He'll fix
you up with bed-boards and some blankets. Give the batman a shout,
and tell him to bring the gear along."

In a very short space of time Derek's equipment was augmented by a
couple of trestles and three boards. These formed the bed. On that
were placed half a dozen blankets and a straw pillow--a Spartan
couch, but far better than many he had slept upon in damp and stuffy
dug-outs in France.

Hardly had Derek settled his scanty belongings when he was sent for
by the C.O. His first official task was to accompany the Colonel and
the Major to a large private house adjoining, which had recently been
commandeered for officers' quarters. The former occupiers--a lady and
her daughter--still remained in possession of a room in the basement.

The Colonel allotted the rooms, Derek's duty being to pin a cardboard
strip, bearing the various officers' names, on the doors. He was on
the point of completing the work when the late owner spoke to him.

"I quite understand," said she, "that my house is taken over by the
Royal Air Force; but would you give my compliments to the Colonel and
tell him that I must object to having one of my best rooms turned
into a wood and coal store."

Somewhat mystified, Derek asked to be shown the room referred to. He
hadn't the faintest recollection of any room being given over as a
fuel store.

"Oh, yes, I can show you," rejoined the lady. "Here you are."

She pointed to the door of a large room on the ground floor. On it
was written "Lieuts. Woods and Coles".

Admirably concealing his desire to smile Derek explained.

"I am so sorry," replied the evicted tenant apologetically. "I am
rather short-sighted. I quite thought it was 'Wood and Coals'."

Punctually at four bells Derek turned in, and, notwithstanding the
hardness of his plank-bed, he slept soundly, lulled by the murmur of
the surf upon the sand. It was the end of his first day of home
service in a new branch. To-morrow he was to start work in earnest as
a motor-boat officer of the Royal Air Force.



CHAPTER XIX

U-boat versus Motor-boat


For the next few days the work of turning chaos into order and
knocking raw material into fairly smart crews proceeded apace.
Patience and energy overcame difficulties, and although there were
many ludicrous displays afloat, "George Robey's Marines", as they
were dubbed by the Fisherton seafolk, managed to make considerable
headway without any serious accident.

The crew told off under Derek's orders were a mixed lot. One was a
solicitor, another a master from a public school, numbers three and
four were bank clerks, while the fifth was a Lancashire coal-miner.
Once having overcome the tendency to refer to the boat as "it", and
to the bows as the "pointed end", they began to get into shape.
Mornings they spent in lecture-rooms ashore, listening to and trying
to master the theory of compass-work, knots and splices, and the use
of the lead-line. This instruction was varied by lessons in
signalling, the intricacies of the Naval and International Codes,
semaphore and Morse being patiently explained by the Signalling
Instructor--a hard-working individual whose soul appeared to be
wrapped up in bunting from the eight a.m. parade to five and after
seven-thirty in the evening.

In the afternoon the classes went afloat, while those who had been in
the boats during the morning were told off for instruction on shore.
Altogether it was a case of long hours and diligent application, and
to their credit the men rose nobly to the occasion.

It was a proud day for Derek when for the first time he took his boat
across the bar and out to the open sea. His command, from the stern
of which the White Ensign floated grandly in the breeze, was a
half-decked motor-craft of thirty-five feet in length. The engine was
completely under cover, being placed well for'ard. Abaft the
half-deck was an open well, fitted with a canvas "dodger", that
afforded slight protection from wind and spray. Here were stationed
the coxswain and the engineer, while usually the officer in charge
would take up his post by the coxswain. Abaft the well was a fairly
spacious cock-pit, provided with a folding awning that in heavy
weather afforded complete protection from rain and spray. "All out",
the boat was capable of doing seventeen knots, although it was
customary to run her at only half throttle.

"Let go, for'ard! Cast off!"

"All clear, sir!"

"Easy ahead!"

With a gentle motion the motor-boat glided away from the pier on her
first run under Lieutenant Derek Daventry's command, then, gathering
speed, headed down the buoyed channel towards the distant Bar Buoy,
while Derek, with frequent references to a chart, stood by the
none-too-competent coxswain.

It was no use denying that Derek fully realized his position. His
sensations were somewhat akin to those on the occasion of his first
solo flight, but with this difference. Then he was responsible for
himself alone. If an accident had occurred through his inexperience
or error it was he alone who would have suffered. Now he was directly
responsible for the safety of five men with practically no experience
of the ways of the sea, who looked to him implicitly, took their
orders from him, and, in short, placed their lives in his hands.
Added to this was the fact that he was answerable for the safety of
the boat--a practically brand-new craft that had cost the nation a
sum closely approaching £2000.

To port and starboard of the narrow channel were dangerous,
unobtrusive sandbanks, studded with concealed ledges of rock, their
presence indifferently marked by the milk-white rollers that lashed
themselves in impotent fury upon the shoals. A slight error of
judgment, a wrong turn of the helm, and the frail cockle-shell would
almost certainly run aground, and be dashed to pieces in the
breakers.

Derek quickly found that R.A.F. 1164 B--that being the official
designation of his command--was decidedly wet. Her long, lean bows,
and the weight of her engines being well for'ard, tended to make her
shove her nose into it. Showers of icy spray flew inboard, enveloping
the occupants of the steering-well, and making them duck their heads
as they gasped for breath. Well it was that Derek and his crew were
well equipped with oilskins and sea-boots; even thus protected
moisture found its way down their necks, soaking chillily against
their chests and backs.

Nevertheless it was wildly exhilarating. The rapid pulsations of the
powerful motor, the rhythmic lift of the long, lean hull to the
waves, the hiss and the sting of the flying spindrift, and the
unwonted sensation of speed--a sensation not experienced when flying
at a height--all combined to give a new zest to life.

And to what purpose? At first sight it was a mere joy-ride, a
pleasure-trip in an expensive motor-boat at the cost of the British
taxpayer. But it was part of a system of training. Since the
amalgamation of the R.F.C. and the R.N.A.S. it was hardly the thing
to continue to draw upon the hard-worked navy for sea-going craft to
attend upon the rapidly-increasing fleet of coastal airships and
sea-planes. And since the aerial-fleet is liable to accident, it is
also advisable to have assistance promptly and efficiently. Hence the
necessity for the formation of an auxiliary marine branch of the
R.A.F., so that in the event of a "Blimp" or a flying-boat being
compelled to "land" upon the sea, aid would be quickly forthcoming
from the motor-boat about to be attached to the various sea-coast
air-stations. And as soon as the officer under training at Sableridge
had passed his period of probation in charge of a small craft he
would be posted in command of one of those seaworthy vessels known as
a "coastal M.L.", on board of which he would live an almost idyllic
existence, sleeping and living in one of the most comfortable little
ward-rooms imaginable.

At reduced speed M.B. No. 1164 B crossed the bar, wallowing and
plunging in the confused cross-seas. But for the protection afforded
by the after-canopy she might have fared badly, for green water was
slapping viciously against the canvas covering on both quarters.
Although wet, she was a good sea-boat, and, beyond a quantity of
spray, she passed through her ordeal without shipping any dangerous
quantity of water. Then, gathering way, she glided serenely over the
long, oily rollers of the open bay.

Derek's orders were to cruise within the limits of Old Tom--a
detached chalk pinnacle on the south-western side of Coombeleigh
Bay--and Thorbury Head, a bold promontory on the eastern side. Here,
with ordinary caution, a boat could come to little harm, the water
being fairly deep, and unencumbered with rocks or dangerous currents.

Three or four miles away, and also within the limits of the bay, the
Fisherton fleet was at work, the boats running under reduced canvas,
with their heavy trawls trailing astern. In the bright sunshine their
dark-tan canvas and white hulls made a pleasing picture, the warm
colours contrasting vividly with the yellow cliffs and dark-green of
the pine-woods fringing the bay. Far out to the southward could be
discerned the squat form of a Blimp as it see-sawed five hundred feet
above an up-channel tramp steamer--the solitary visible reminder that
there was a war on, and that there were such things as U-boats lying
in wait for British merchantmen.

For the best part of an hour Derek exercised his crew, practising
"man overboard"--the "man" being represented by a life-buoy thrown
overboard at an unexpected moment--and also slowing down for the
purpose of enabling the individual members of the crew to fix their
position on the chart by means of cross-bearings.

Suddenly the dull boom of a gun broke the stillness of the air.
Derek, who was bending over the sight-vanes of the compass, raised
his head at the familiar sound, although what seemed to be a long
time had elapsed since he last heard the report of a quick-firer.

To his astonishment he was just in time to see the masts and sails of
one of the fishing-boats disappear over the side, to the
accompaniment of a shower of spray and a cloud of smoke from the
bursting projectile while less than four hundred yards away from its
victim was a large U-boat.

The pirate had evidently been resting on the sandy bottom of the bay,
and finding that she was in the vicinity of a fleet of small and
unprotected fishing-craft, had judged it a good opportunity for an
object-lesson in kultur.

A careful survey of the horizon by means of the periscopes had failed
to reveal anything of a suspicious nature to the kapitan-leutnant of
the unterseeboot. M.B. No. 1164 B, lying motionless on the water, was
an inconspicuous object, her aviation-grey painted sides hardly
visible against the haze on the skyline.

The crew of the motor-boat looked enquiringly at their skipper. It
never occurred to them that a hostile craft was in the vicinity. Not
one of them had seen a U-boat except in the form of a picture in an
illustrated paper, and this one did not resemble their idea of a
German submarine.

Derek weighed up the case in a few brief seconds. Here he was in a
fast motor-boat with a raw, practically untrained crew, and with not
so much as a pea-shooter on board. The Hun probably carried a couple
of six-inch quick-firers and a few machine-guns. By force Derek could
do nothing.

Nor could he, with any degree of honour, seek safety in flight and
leave the slowly-moving fishing-boats to the mercy, or rather the
lack of mercy, of a ruthless pirate compared with whom the Buccaneers
of the Spanish Main were gentlemen.

By stratagem Derek might do something. Unceremoniously pushing aside
the still bewildered coxswain, and ordering the engineer to "let her
rip for all she's worth", Derek swung the helm hard over until the
motor-boat headed straight for the long, low-lying, sinister hull.

"Full throttle!" yelled Daventry. "Lie down, men, all of you."


[Illustration: SHE PRESENTED A PUZZLING PROPOSITION TO FRITZ]


M.B. No. 1164 B, gathering way, travelled faster than ever she had
done since her acceptance trials. Her long, lean bows lifted clean
out of the water, while her stern squatted deeply into the trough of
her wake, and feathery shafts of spray shot out far and wide of her
knife-like stem. Viewed "bows on" she presented a puzzling, nay
alarming, proposition to Fritz, whose nerves were already unstrung
through the effects of half a dozen narrow squeaks. All he saw was
something approaching at terrific speed. He knew that there were
mosquito craft that had their stings in their tails, and
depth-charges were his great aversion and terror.

Nearer and nearer drew the motor-boat. Derek's resolution increased
with every revolution of the propeller. He had started with the idea
of "putting the wind up Fritz", but now he meant to hurl the boat
bodily at the submarine, and take his chance of being picked up. A
35-foot boat travelling at seventeen knots would by its momentum
shatter some of the hull plates of the submarine, but at the same
time her bows would crumple up like brown paper.

Once and once only did the Lieutenant turn his head and glance at his
crews. For novices they were behaving splendidly, lying stiffly, yet
alertly, on the cockpit-gratings, although they could not resist the
temptation of looking over the side to "see how things were going".
Not a man showed a trace of fear. It was an expression of
determination, of really "doing his bit" that showed itself in the
knit brows of every member of the crew.

The U-boat made no attempt to do further damage to the fishing-boats.
Two men at the quick-firer abaft the conning-tower swung the weapon
round and let fly at the elusive target presented by the bows of
R.A.F. 1164 B. Derek saw the flash, and distinctly heard the screech
of the projectile ere it burst four hundred yards astern.

It was the last show. Already the U-boat's nose was dipping. The
gunners, abandoning their weapon, bolted precipitately for the
after-hatchway. With a resounding clang the water-tight metal cover
fell in its appointed place, and the long, unsightly grey hull
slithered beneath the waves in a swirl of froth and foam.

With mingled feelings of exultation and relief--exultation because he
had scared the Hun into ignominious flight, and relief because he had
not been compelled to sacrifice his boat and his men on the altar of
duty--Derek put the helm hard-a-port, and, without slowing down,
began to circle round the spot where the U-boat had disappeared. How
he regretted that R.A.F. 1164 B was not fitted with depth-charges. No
doubt, too, the kapitan-leutnant of the submerged craft now noticed
the omission, but the chances were that he was too scared to attempt
to rise to the surface and engage by gun-fire the interfering little
spit-fire. He promptly crawled along a few feet above the bed of the
sea--slowly, lest the following wake of the U-boat would betray its
presence--until he imagined that he was safe from pursuit.

Meanwhile the fishing-boats were running for port, the dismasted
craft in tow, and steered by a venerable greybeard whose silvery
locks were bound with a blood-stained handkerchief, while his "mate",
otherwise his fourteen-year-old grandson, was nursing a
badly-lacerated leg, and thanking his lucky stars that he was not one
of Germany's sons.

Having satisfied himself that the fishing-boats were out of danger
Derek steered for the harbour. Just as he crossed the bar he saw two
coastal airships making seawards.

"That's good!" he remarked to the coxswain. "Those fellows will do
some very efficient strafing, unless I'm much mistaken. It hasn't
been a bad run, has it?"

"No, sir," agreed the coxswain. "Quite an enjoyable little picnic."



CHAPTER XX

The Blimp and the Skate


During the initial stages of the life of the R.A.F. Marine Training
Depot there was one thing missing. No doubt there were others, but
this one, in the eyes of the C.O. and officers, was of great moment.
The men would fall in on parade smartly and rapidly; the colours
would be hoisted at nine in the morning with éclat; there were
sentries posted to pay proper compliments to officers; and a superb
gun-metal bell tolled out the hours and half-hours in correct ship's
time.

But there was no bugler; nor was there a bugle even if a bugler had
been forthcoming. And a bugler capable of blowing a loud-sounding
bugle was a desideratum. He would become the coping-stone of the
building of efficiency.

The Major did his level best to obtain some Boy Scout buglers from
Fisherton, but, false to their precepts, the youngsters were not
prepared to use their breath for two shillings a day on behalf of the
R.A.F. when they could earn thrice that amount elsewhere.

It looked as if Sableridge Depot would fail to attain that degree of
pomp and circumstance when fate, in the guise of the Drafting Officer
at Blandborough Depot, played into its hands. Amongst a batch of new
arrivals was a gem, a priceless jewel--a man who could blow a bugle.

He was a short, tubby individual with watery-blue eyes and a flat,
rubicund nose. Quiet and unassuming, his arrival was hailed with
acclamation. Had he asked for a silver trumpet and a pair of wings of
a slightly different type to those worn by airmen no doubt the
delighted officers would have done their level best to accede to his
request. As it was they subscribed and purchased a trumpet, the
sounds of which floated across the parade-ground in a manner
calculated to raise the martial spirit of all ranks well above
boiling-point.

Morning, noon, and night the clarion-like notes made the welkin ring.
From Réveillé to Retreat and Last Post, and whenever circumstances
demanded, there was the depot bugler with his highly-polished and
tasselled trumpet.

For nearly a week this idyllic state of affairs continued, until the
wellnigh exhausted bugler applied for leave in order to proceed to
Belfast to bury a near relative.

He was granted seven days, and took his departure forthwith. A gloom
descended over Sableridge. The polished bugle was silent, and reposed
on a green baize-covered table in the orderly-room like a fairy
princess awaiting the arrival of the enchanter to restore her to
life.

The week passed, but no bugler returned. At the end of ten days he
was posted as a deserter. Enquiries at Belfast showed that he had not
been seen there, nor were any of his relations in need of his
services as a mourner.

Then came the staggering blow. The meek and mild musical treasure was
under lock and key, arrested by the civil police for at least half a
dozen burglaries. The last heard of him was that he had received a
sentence calculated to carry him well beyond the "duration", and the
shattered idol was not replaced. Sableridge carried on without a
bugler.

A day or so after the disappearance of the bugler Derek had to take
his crew out into the bay for further instruction. It was mostly
compass work and fixing positions by cross-bearings, and since speed
was against successful work, the boat was slowed down and a trawl
shot. This was killing two birds with one stone: there was plenty of
time for compass-bearings, while there was a chance of supplying the
mess with fish.

The first cast was a failure owing to the net getting foul of a
submerged rock, but on the second attempt it became evident by the
weight of the net that something was enmeshed.

"We've a good haul this time, I think," exclaimed Derek.

"Let's hope so, sir," announced the coxswain. "We can't be too sure,
though. I remember my brother telling me about when he was off the
Dardanelles--up Mudros way to be exact--he an' some pals did a lot of
trawling. They thought they had a jolly good catch, but when they
hauled in the net they found two dead mules and two old boots."

Slowly the weed-encumbered meshes were hauled inboard until the
bulging pocket came in sight, packed with white and grey writhing
fish--skate, flounder, and two large dog-fish.

"Those flat fish are all right," continued the coxswain. "I don't
know about those skate. Rummy-lookin' creatures, ain't they, sir?"

The deep bass hum of an aerial propeller attracted the crew's
attention from the catch. Five hundred feet overhead was a coastal
airship which had drifted down silently with her engines shut off,
and, having just restarted her motors, was manoeuvring into the
wind's eye.

Perhaps it was as well that R.A.F. 1164 B carried on her fore-deck a
square of canvas painted with the distinctive red, white, and blue
circles. This device was a guarantee of her identity as a friend.
Without it a small, grey-painted craft might easily be mistaken for a
U-boat, with disastrous results.

Then the engines were stopped again. Over the side of the nacelle a
leather-helmeted and begoggled head appeared. The pilot, raising a
megaphone to his lips, hailed:

"R.A.F. launch ahoy! Any fish to spare us?"

"Right-o!" shouted Derek in reply, but his voice was apparently
inaudible to the airship's crew, for the hail was repeated.

"Hold up some fish and let them see," ordered Derek.

One of the men displayed the largest skate, a lozenge-shaped fish
measuring more than a yard from fin to fin.

"That's done them!" exclaimed Derek.

But he was mistaken. Like a cormorant swooping down from a beacon,
the huge and seemingly ungainly airship tilted her nose and dropped
almost vertically until her nacelle was within fifty or sixty feet of
the water. Then, with her propeller revolving at a reduced rate, she
forged ahead on a similar course to that of the motor-boat.

"By Jove! She's paying out her aerial. That's a smart move,"
announced Derek. "Easy ahead! Follow her up, coxswain."

Rapidly the thin but strong wire was unwound until the end dangled
within reach of the crew of the boat. In a trice one of the men
grasped the wire and bent it round the tail of the skate.

"Haul in!" shouted Derek.

"Thanks, old man!" yelled the Blimp's pilot in reply. "When you've a
chance, look us up at Netherton. We'll give you a joy-ride."

"Sure thing!" replied Derek. "I'm on it!"

The airship rose slowly, her crew still winding in the skate that was
revolving rapidly at the end of the aerial; then, having gained
possession of the novel catch, the Blimp bore swiftly southwards to
resume her patrol, while No. 1164 B steadied on her helm and shaped a
course back to the Bar Buoy.

Happening to glance aft, Derek was somewhat surprised to find a small
black kitten in the after-cockpit.

"What's that animal doing on board?" he demanded.

"Our mascot, sir," replied one of the men. "The Adjutant's dog chased
it on board just before we left the pier."

"No. 17 coming out, sir," reported the coxswain, pointing to a
motor-craft that was approaching at high speed. Interest in the
kitten was transferred to the oncoming boat.

"She's signalling, sir," continued the coxswain, as a man holding a
couple of hand-flags mounted the plunging fore-deck.

"Will you take Sergeant-Instructor Jenkins on board for the purpose
of adjusting compass?" read the coxswain.

Both boats slowed down on approaching, and rounded gunwale to
gunwale. The Sergeant, a short, burly man, who looked what he was--a
seaman ex-R.N., in spite of his khaki uniform--saluted, and stepped
into No. 1164 B.

"Ready to carry on, sir?" he asked.

"Yes, carry on, Sergeant," replied Derek.

The N.C.O. bent down to unship the hood of the compass. As he did so
the kitten scrambled upon his back and on to his shoulder. With a
yell the Sergeant dropped the metal hood fairly on the top of the
compass. The glass cracked, the compass tilted on its gimbals, and
the liquid poured from the bowl.

"That's gone west, sir!" exclaimed the Sergeant apologetically.
"Sorry, sir; it was that blessed cat. Can't stick cats at any price.
Completely up-end me, they do."

It was evident that nothing further could be done in the matter of
adjusting that compass. The N.C.O. was profuse in his regrets, but
regrets were unable to repair the damaged instrument. Accordingly the
coxswain was ordered to take the boat back into the harbour.

"Yes, sir," resumed the Sergeant. "Cats are my 'beatty nowhere', [1]
as the Frenchies say. Can't stick 'em at any price," he reiterated.
"Got disrated once over a party of cats."

"Eh?" exclaimed Derek incredulously.

"Fact, sir; it was in '97, when I was yeoman of signals on the
_Spondulux_--third-class cruiser she was. We were lying off the west
coast, with awnings rigged day and night, and all that sort o' thing,
and perishing hot it was, too. Well, we had a cat on board, which was
bad enough, but, to make matters worse, the cat had kittens. One
night I was keeping the middle watch when I heard a most awful
racket. You'll understand, sir, we had the poop awning set, and the
dew had stretched it as tight as a drum. There was that cat and her
kittens careering up and down the awning and playing all sorts of
pranks. The skipper rings his bell, so down I goes to his cabin.
'What's that?' he asked, holding up his hand, as if I couldn't hear
plain enough. 'Cats, sir,' says I. 'Stop it,' says he. Those being my
orders I had to carry 'em out. So out I turned, creeping along the
ridge-rope of that blessed awning trying to collar the furry brood,
or, rather, to drive 'em for'ard, 'cause touching 'em always sends
cold shivers down my back. I hadn't gone a couple of yards before the
awning parted, and down I went through the hole smack upon the poop.
The Bloke (Commander) comes tumbling up out of his cabin, swears I've
been skylarking, and takes away my badges."

Against the strong ebb tide R.A.F. 1164 B rubbed alongside the pier.
The men were ascending the steps when the Officer of the Watch
appeared.

"What's that kitten doing on board?" he enquired; then, without
waiting for an explanation, he continued: "Sergeant Jenkins, hand
that animal out."

The harassed instructor obeyed, although there were strong
indications of repugnance as he handled the inoffensive little
kitten.

The Officer of the Watch caught Derek's eye. The officers winked at
each other, for each knew Sergeant Jenkins's antipathy.

"That's the stuff to give 'em," murmured the O.W.


[1] Bête noire.



CHAPTER XXI

An Independent Command


Training under war-time conditions must necessarily be as brief as
possible, consistent with a certain degree of efficiency; and the
period of instruction at Sableridge was no exception. As quickly as
raw material could be fashioned into fairly competent motor-boatmen,
drafts were sent away and recruits brought in to fill their places,
in order that the R.A.F. marine might relieve the Royal Navy of a
certain branch of its work--namely, attending upon sea-planes and
coastal airships.

As far as an officer under instruction was concerned, the test was a
simple, and at the same time a drastic one. He might be sent at a few
hours' notice to bring a motor-boat round from, say, Great Yarmouth
to Sableridge, a distance of between two and three hundred miles. He
had to use his discretion--to remain in port should the weather look
threatening, or the atmospheric conditions point to fog or mist.
Nevertheless, it was no light task to navigate a half-decked
motor-craft in the depth of winter, when short days and dark nights
added to the difficulties of making a passage.

It was of no use for an officer to attempt to live on his reputation.
He had to be prepared to execute orders rationally and efficiently.
There was one second-lieutenant who boasted that in pre-war days he
had navigated his own yacht from Blackpool to the Isle of Man.
Shortly after he had reported for duty at the depot an officer was
required to bring a motor-launch round from Harwich.

"Why not send Ruby, sir?" suggested the Major, as he and the Colonel
were debating as to who should be deputed for the task. "He has taken
a boat across to the Isle of Man."

So Second-Lieutenant Ruby received his sailing orders, and for the
next few days he walked about like a man in a trance. The magnitude
of his task appalled him. Finally he went to the Major and declared
that he was not equal to navigating the boat. From that moment he
ceased to be a motor-boat officer, and was given a tedious but safe
shore-billet.

It was towards the end of the first week in November that Derek
Daventry received his orders for his first trip as an independent
command. His instructions were to take two 35-footers and proceed to
Wagshot Air Station, where he was to receive a sea-plane and tow her
back to Sableridge. The double distance amounted to nearly seventy
miles, of which half was open sea work. The sea-plane was an obsolete
machine, the engines of which had been removed, and was required
merely for the purpose of practising how to take this kind of
aircraft in tow.

All the previous day Derek was exceptionally busy. On him rested the
responsibility of the voyage. He had to see that the boats' equipment
was in order, that the tanks were filled with petrol, that there was
plenty of lubricating oil on board, that the men had drawn their
rations and blankets, and that charts and navigating instruments were
on board.

Before sunset the two boats were moored alongside the pier. The start
was timed for six in the morning. Hardly ever had Derek studied the
barometer so frequently and so carefully. Twice during the night he
rose from his camp-bed, donned trench-coat and sea-boots, and walked
down to the pier, in order to satisfy himself that the boats were
riding properly in the tide-way, and that their securing-rope had
sufficient slack to allow for the rise and fall of the tide.

At 5 a.m., just as he was enjoying a sound slumber, he was awakened
by his batman.

"What sort of morning is it?" he asked.

"Cold, sir, and fine," replied the man. "Bright moonlight, and hardly
any wind."

Quickly Derek tumbled out of bed and began to dress. Experience had
taught him that to be warmly clad in a boat is as necessary as when
flying. Over his khaki breeches he wore a pair of thick flannel
trousers. On his feet he had a pair of socks, a pair of woollen
stockings, and a voluminous pair of india-rubber sea-boots. Walking
even a short distance in loosely-fitting boots inevitably resulted in
the total destruction of the heels of the socks, but on the other
hand it would be a fairly simple matter to kick off the boots in the
event of Derek finding himself "in the ditch". Sea-boots that fit
tightly, and cannot be taken off quickly in an emergency, are nothing
short of death-traps.

He discarded his tunic, wearing in its place two thick sweaters. The
next items were his oilskin trousers and coat, while the only outward
and visible sign that he held His Majesty's Commission in the R.A.F.
was his cap, with the distinctive badge of the crown, eagle, and
wings.

By the time he had completed dressing breakfast was served. He ate
his meal in solitary state in the electrically-lighted mess-room.
There was no question of the excellence of the food at Sableridge,
even in war-time. Hot Scotch porridge, with treacle, eggs and bacon,
toast, real butter, marmalade and jam--a square meal to fortify the
young officer's inner man for the coming ordeal of a sea-voyage.
Feeling rather like an arctic explorer, for across his shoulders he
now carried a well-filled haversack and a pair of binoculars, Derek
descended the steps of the officers' mess and walked down to the
pier.

The batman was right. It was a cold morning. Every bush was festooned
with hoar-frost that glistened in the moonlight. The planks of the
pier were slippery with ice, while there was a biting coldness in the
air that gave a zest to life, even at six o'clock on a November
morning.

The crews of the two boats were already at the pier-head, black
oilskinned figures, looking like ghostly familiars in the grey light.
Both craft had their engines running, the fumes from the exhausts
rising strongly in the cold air. From the stern of each boat flew the
White Ensign, while as a distinguishing pennant each displayed the
"International F" from the short iron mast abaft the fore-deck.

Then came a grim reminder that there were war risks even on a coastal
voyage. Before embarking every man had to give his name to the
signalman on the pier-head, in order that their next-of-kin should be
promptly informed if the boats met with disaster and the crews failed
to return.

"All ready?"

"All ready, sir!"

"Cast off!"

With a slight jerk, as the clutch was slipped in, the 35-footer
gathered way, her White Ensign temporarily enveloped in the bluish
haze of the exhaust. A slight touch on the wheel steadied her on her
helm, and soon the white signal-house on Sableridge Pier was a misty
wraith in the darkness.

Half a cable's length astern followed the second boat, her
sergeant-coxwain, unused to the science of navigation, although he
knew how to handle a small craft, keeping station with the utmost
fidelity. At that distance she was a mere indistinct grey wedge, her
position chiefly indicated by the "bone in her teeth", otherwise the
creamy froth leaping from her knife-like bows and thrown wide on
either side by her pronounced flare.

Ahead the Bar Buoy winked its friendly greeting. No other light was
visible in that quarter, and steering for that particular light was
"not good enough", when on either hand of the narrow channel were
dangerous sandbanks, on the fringes of which the surf was pounding
heavily.

It was on this account that Derek kept looking astern. Over the
bobbing canopy and beyond the fluttering ensign were two white
lights, one several feet higher than the other, and actually four
hundred yards apart. These were the only lights ashore, and were
permitted when the exhibition of any other illuminant would result in
a fine not exceeding £500. In short, they were the harbour leading
lights, and as long as a mariner kept them in line, either when
entering or leaving the fairway, he could carry on in absolute
confidence, scorning the hidden dangers on either hand.

The Bar Buoy at last! Giving the boat starboard helm Derek swung her
round until her head pointed due east. Already his cap and oilskins
were running with moisture, and the salt spray was stinging his face
and making his eyes smart despite the scanty protection afforded by
the "dodger".

"Hardly so comfortable as my old 'bus," thought Daventry; "but it's
jolly exhilarating. Now then, old lady, let's see how you take that
one!"

"That one" referred to a crested "comber" that was bearing down
towards the swiftly-moving boat. A slight touch on the helm and the
fine bows swung round to take the advancing mass of water line on.
Administrating a vicious slap to the wave the motor-boat lifted to
the crested billow. Spray came hissing aft in solid sheets, pattering
on the canvas canopy with a sound similar to that of peas being
shaken in a wooden box. She was through, but immediately beyond was
another wall of water.

Right down until her fore-deck ventilators were hidden plunged the
boat. For a moment Derek thought she would never recover herself. The
engine faltered. In a second the alert engineer was at the throttle
and the "spark".

"Water on the mag, sir," he shouted. "I'll have to ease her."

"And about time," thought Derek. "Wonder if it's like this all the
blinking way?"

But soon the boat entered smoother water. The breakers were on the
weather side of the bar. Beyond was easier going.

Winking the moisture from his eyes, Derek glanced astern. The other
boat was making fairly good weather of it, although she looked to be
nothing more than a double wing of white foam.

"Good enough," declared Derek, and, calling to one of the deck-hands,
he gave the wheel over into his care, admonishing him to report
immediately Thorbury Head became visible.

"Now for a smoke!" he exclaimed, and, pulling out his favourite pipe,
he carefully loaded up.

Curiosity prompted him to see what the rest of the crew were doing.
Grasping the life-lines on the canopy he made his way aft, his sole
foothold being the narrow, slippery water-ways.

Under the awning were the rest of the crew, lying helpless on top of
a nondescript heap of blankets and oilskins, together with the
disintegrated rations--fresh beef, "bully", and loaves. In the throes
of sea-sickness the hapless "George Robey's Marines" hardly cared
whether they were on or in the sea.

Clearly nothing could be done to help the luckless victims of _mal de
mer_, so Derek made his way back to the steering-well, and, standing
behind the coxswain, surveyed the outlook.

There was very little to be seen, only a limited expanse of
white-crested water, bounded by darkness that was even now struggling
for mastery with the first faint tints of a grey dawn. Land,
somewhere within three miles, was invisible. All that the helmsman
had to depend upon was a small and untested compass fixed in a rather
inaccessible and unhandy spot, and within three feet of the mass of
metal comprising the six-cylinder motor.

There was also the danger of bumping on a drifting mine. Derek
realized the peril. Fortunately perhaps for them, the men were in
ignorance of the fact that mines had been reported within thirty
miles of Fisherton Harbour, and, with an onshore wind and the
indraught of the tide, thirty miles was a very small distance for one
of these instruments of destruction to drift in forty-eight hours.

Added to this there was the possibility of being fired upon by the
batteries at Churst and Fort Edward, guarding the narrow channel
leading to the tidal estuary on the banks of which Wagshot Air
Station stands. Although the forts had been warned that the two
R.A.F. motor-boats were passing, there was always a chance that a
highly-strung battery-commander might mistake the two grey hulls for
the conning-towers of a pair of U-boats and give the order to open
fire. Such a thing had been done before, with disastrous results.

Suddenly Derek's reveries were broken by the coxswain shouting:

"There it is, sir; a couple of points on the port bow!"

Unable to comprehend the nature of the intelligence, Derek peered
ahead in the direction indicated, quite expecting to see a horned
mine a few yards from the bows. Then he heaved a sigh of relief, for
looming faintly through the mist was the unmistakable outline of
Thorbury Head.



CHAPTER XXII

A Mouldy Station


Ten minutes later the boats were in the turmoil of the troubled water
caused by the swirl of the tide over Thorbury Ledge. Had it been
light enough for anyone standing on the headland to watch the two
diminutive craft struggling through the broken water, he would
doubtless have expected to see the frail cockle-shells founder under
his eyes.

It was hazardous work, certainly; but by this time Derek had the
utmost confidence in the seaworthiness of his two craft. Often hidden
from each other by the intervening crests, the boats behaved
wondrously; but the youthful officer in charge was relieved to know
that wind and tide were in the same direction. Had it been otherwise
things might have been different. From the headland it was now plain
sailing, for in the gathering light the slender tower of the
lighthouse at Fort Churst could be discerned, standing out clearly
against the dark background of the well-wooded hills. In forty
minutes both boats were passing through the narrow channel. Signals
were exchanged with the batteries, and the welcome order to proceed
was received.

It was now comparatively smooth water. The crews, recovering from
their malady, were able to sit up and take nourishment in the shape
of bread and bully beef. More, they began to take a lively interest
in their surroundings, although the aspect of that land-locked
stretch of water in war-time and in November was far different from
what it had been previous to August, 1914, when the sea was dotted
with the sails of countless yachts.

"Wonder if it will ever be the same again?" thought Derek. "One
thing's fairly certain: we won't see the German Emperor afloat here,
unless as a prisoner of war on a British battleship."

Over a vast observation minefield the boats glided serenely. Fifty
feet beneath their keels were cylinders of powerful explosive that at
the touch of an electrically-connected key ashore would blow a
hostile ship to atoms. Farther on there were mechanical
contact-mines, moored fathoms down so that a vessel of the deepest
draught could pass unscathed but should a U-boat attempt to nose her
way in by creeping just above the bottom of the sea, her fate would
be swift and terrible.

"Keep a sharp look-out for the gateway," ordered Derek, as he placed
a fresh man at the helm. "It's getting a bit misty, and we don't want
to run full tilt against the boom."

The boats were now nearing the innermost line of anti-submarine
defences of the western approach to the greatest naval harbour in the
world. Right across the water-way was a triple line of massive wire
hawsers, supported by barrels at frequent intervals. So much was
visible; what was not visible was a wondrous complication of nets,
explosive charges, and other effective anti-submarine defences.
Britain's sure and safe shield was taking no undue risks with Fritz
and all his evil works. To enable authorized vessels to pass, a
gateway had been constructed. Between two large craft moored a
cable's length apart there was a movable section of the barrier, and
towards this the two motor-boats steered.

"Motor-boats ahoy!" hailed an officer from one of the guard-ships.
"You are to proceed to Bull Roads and await further orders from the
S.N.O."

Against this mandate there was no appeal. The word of the Senior
Naval Officer was more than law. Doubtless it meant irritating and
apparently needless delay, but, whatever the object of the order, it
had to be put into effect without delay.

"Aye, aye, sir!" shouted Derek in reply. He knew perfectly well that
non-compliance would result in a six-pounder shell fired across his
bows, and almost immediately a salvo from the guardship's
quick-firers.

"Port helm!" continued Daventry, addressing the coxswain. Round swung
his boat; the one astern instantly followed suit, and a course was
shaped for Bull Roads, an open anchorage barely two miles distant.

Arriving here the boats had orders to anchor, and for four long hours
they rolled heavily in the tide-way. Naval patrol-boats of all sorts
and sizes passed continually, but none appeared to pay the slightest
attention to the two strangers within their gates. It was not until
well into the afternoon that a patrol-boat eased down within a few
feet of Derek's craft.

"You can proceed," announced the officer.

"Why have we been detained?" asked Derek, wondering at the bald
announcement and the lack of explanation.

The sub-lieutenant R.N.R. shrugged his shoulders.

"Ask me another, old sport," he replied. "If you want to carry on do
so at once, before the Old Man puts another stopper on you. _Bon
voyage!_"

The motors were started up; foot by foot the chain cables were
brought on board until the anchors, their palms smothered in blue,
slimy clay, were hauled up and secured. Then, in the gathering
twilight, the boats headed for their destination. By this time the
mist had increased considerably. Visibility was a matter of a couple
of hundred yards. It was bitterly cold, the air being raw and damp.
"Verily," thought Derek, "motor-boating in November differs
considerably from yachting in August."

At length the huge air-sheds of the Wagshot Station loomed up through
the mist. Ordering half-speed, Derek brought his boat alongside the
pier, and signalled to the second craft to lie up alongside him.

"Where are you from?" enquired a great-coated individual from the
pier-head--the Officer of the Watch.

"From. Sableridge," replied Derek. "We've come to take away a
sea-plane."

"First I've heard about it," rejoined the O.W. "You'd better see the
Adjutant. You're stopping here the night?"

"'Fraid there's no option," replied Daventry.

"Right-o! Moor your craft out there. I'll send a duty-boat out to
take off the crews."

"Out there" was a partially-protected anchorage, about a hundred
yards from the pier. The boats pushed off and made for their
appointed stations for the night, Derek taking particular care that
each boat was properly moored with both anchor and kedge.

This done the crews were taken off. Visions of a hot meal first for
his men and then for himself (for it is an unwritten law that
officers must first provide for the comfort of their crews before
"packing up" themselves) were rudely shattered when the Officer of
the Watch appeared.

"I've seen the Adjutant," he announced. "You'll have to take those
boats across to Bumble Creek. They'll be in the way of our
flying-boats if they stay there."

Derek felt inclined to use forcible language; to enquire pointedly
why these instructions could not have been given him before the
elaborate process of mooring the boats had commenced. To be ordered
at the end of a strenuous day's work to undertake another hour's toil
was a tough proposition for the cold and hungry men to tackle.

"I'll send the duty-boat to pilot you," continued the O.W. "She'll
bring you back to the station." Thankful for small mercies Derek
turned his men to. It required fifteen minutes of hard work to unmoor
and get under way. Fortunately the duty-boat was standing by, for the
run across to Bumble Creek meant crossing an arm of the sea that was
constantly alive with traffic.

Once more the two boats were secured for the night, this time
alongside a hulk. It was pitch dark when Derek and his men returned
to Wagshot Air Station.

Having seen his men installed in their temporary quarters and
provided with a hot meal, Derek made his way to the officers' mess.
Instead of a bright, cheerful building like that at Sableridge, he
was directed to a large hut, which was divided into two large rooms
and a few smaller ones.

"There's the ward-room, sir," replied a girl in the uniform of the
W.R.N.S. "The steward will arrange for dinner and quarters."

The ward-room was a wood-lined but devoid of almost every comfort.
Floor and walls were bare, except, in the case of the walls, for a
few technical prints of sea-planes and flying-boats. In one corner
was a table piled high with leather coats, helmets, gloves, and other
garments affected by airmen. A fire burned dully in a large grate,
round which were seated, shoulder to shoulder, half a dozen young
"quirks".

They greeted Daventry with supercilious glances; then, having
surveyed him in stony silence, they resumed their conversation in
loud tones, apparently with the idea of impressing the new arrival
with their importance and familiarity with life in town.

"Cubs--utter outsiders," thought Derek. "And what a bear-garden this
mess is."

Chilled both mentally and physically, Daventry went out, preferring
to pace the bleak parade-ground until dinner was served to remaining
in such inhospitable company.

Dinner over, payment was promptly demanded--another difference
compared with the way they ran things at Sableridge, where any
strange officer who happens to blow into the mess is given
hospitality and never charged for his entertainment.

"I've secured a room for you in the new building, sir," announced the
steward. "There'll be a car ready to take you up in twenty minutes."

Derek spent the time in revisiting his men. They were none too happy,
although making the best of things. There were abundant evidences
that Wagshot was what is known as a "Mouldy Station", but worse was
to follow.

Up rattled the car; Derek took his seat, and off the ramshackle
vehicle went. It may have been owing to the state of the road, but
the jolting of the car was worse than any he had experienced in
France. Over narrow-gauge railway lines, sometimes grinding on
shingle, at others sinking in sand and mud, the car held on its way.
The road was narrow, with the sea on either side, for Wagshot Air
Station is built on a natural peninsula of which the isthmus is long,
narrow, and rugged. The shore was littered with the skeletons of
burned sea-planes and flying-boats, the gaunt framework of which
stood out clearly against the misty sky.

Presently the car gained the mainland, swung round several sharp
corners, and pulled up outside the quarters known as the New
Buildings.

An orderly conducted Derek to his temporary quarters, which were well
termed "New", for they were still in the builders' hands. After
traversing several hundred yards of corridors that looked like those
of a prison, with dozens of doors exactly alike, his guide stopped,
produced a key, and threw open the portal of the "cabin".

It was a small room lighted by a feeble electric lamp. Walls and
floor were of concrete that literally ran with moisture. There was
neither carpet nor rug on the floor, while the furniture was of a
most Spartan character, comprising two beds--one already occupied by
a soundly-sleeping officer--a trestle table, and a chair.

"Hope you'll be comfortable, sir," remarked the batman ironically. He
had seen strange officers "blow in" many times before, but he could
not resist the temptation to indulge in mild _plaisanterie._ "Lights
are turned off at ten-thirty," he added, with infinite relish; "and
if you shut the door on the outside you can't get in unless you come
to me for a key, sir."

Left to the sole companionship of the soundly-snoring officer, Derek
prepared to turn in. Investigations showed that the bed had a wire
mattress, a straw pillow, and two army blankets. The pillow showed
signs of disintegration; the blankets felt damp and smelt musty.
Daventry felt inclined to use strong language. On active service on
the Western Front he would have borne the discomfort with equanimity;
in a permanent home-station there was no excuse for the wretched
accommodation.

Kicking off his sea-boots and tunic Derek turned in practically "all
standing", to pass a fitful night, and to awake to find a white mist
enveloping everything.

He had breakfast with about twenty young officers, the meal
consisting of a tablespoonful of luke-warm porridge, two square
inches of American bacon, bread, margarine, and tea. Before he left
the building the messman presented a bill for half a crown for this
sorry repast.

Upon arriving at the pier-head Derek found that his men had fared no
better, and in spite of the thick fog they brightened up considerably
when their officer announced his intention of getting away from
Wagshot Air Station "even if it rained ink".

The first step was to induce the Officer of the Watch to send the
duty-boat over to Bumble Creek to fetch the motor-boats. This was
successfully accomplished, notwithstanding the fact that twice the
duty-boat ran aground, fortunately on soft mud and on a rising tide.
By ten o'clock Derek's two craft were alongside the pier, and the
sea-plane that had to be towed back to Sableridge was prepared for
her voyage.

"The fog's lifting, I fancy," remarked the Officer of the Watch.
"You'll be able to get away to-day after all."

"I mean to," rejoined Derek grimly.



CHAPTER XXIII

An Error of Judgment


A lifting fog, a calm sea, and the sun shining brightly overhead, all
presaged a successful voyage. With the first pulsations of the motors
Derek's feelings of resentment towards the Wagshot Air Station
vanished. The bright, healthsome feeling of being afloat once more
dispelled the hideous nightmare of damp concrete walls, hard beds,
and inadequate food.

It soon became apparent that the task of towing the sea-plane was not
so easy as Derek imagined. The unwieldy machine--for out of its
natural element it was unwieldy--yawed, dipped, and strained at the
towing-hawser until Derek ordered the second boat to make fast astern
of the sea-plane and run at half throttle in order to steady the
awkward tow.

With the ebb tide the passage through the "gateway" was soon
completed. Another ten miles would find the sea-plane and her tug out
in the open sea.

In the tide-rip off Fort Churst the behaviour of the sea-plane gave
rise to some anxiety, but, upon gaining the exposed waters of the
English Channel, the rate of progress was uniformly maintained.

Presently Derek noticed that a bank of fog was bearing down before a
stiff southerly, or on-shore breeze. Already the outlines of Thorbury
Head, nine miles away, were blotted out, while, on the starboard
hand, the long line of low, yellowish cliffs was cut up into sections
by the rolling, fleecy vapour.

Consulting the chart Derek found that his course was due west
magnetic, which would pass at least a mile to the south'ard of the
dangerous headland. Allowing for the reduced speed of the boats and
the tow, he calculated that it would take about an hour to bring
Thorbury Head broad on the beam.

Down swept the fog, enveloping everything. From the steering-wheel it
was almost impossible to distinguish the boat's stem-head; while
astern the sea-plane was absolutely invisible.

At the end of forty minutes Derek began to feel a bit doubtful of his
position. Miles astern he could hear the monotonous, mournful wail of
the Bodkin Lighthouse. The sea, hitherto calm, was now setting in
with a long roll, breaking heavily upon the invisible shore with a
continuous, sullen roar.

"It seems rather shallow, sir," remarked the coxswain, as he shook
the drops of moisture from the rim of his sou'wester. "Shall I take a
cast, sir?"

"Yes, please."

In his anxiety about keeping the boat on her course Derek had
forgotten the indispensable lead-line. A cast gave two and a quarter
fathoms, whereas, according to the chart, there ought to be a depth
of nine.

"Steer south-west," ordered Derek. "There's something strange about
this business," he added in an undertone.

"Breakers ahead, sir!"

A partial lifting of the fog enabled the range of visibility to
extend to nearly a quarter of a mile. As far as the eye could see the
water was one seething mass of huge waves, from which there was no
escape. The boats were trapped in the dangerous Thorbury Bay.

It was the result of an error of judgment on the part of Derek
Daventry. He had laid off the course of the chart without taking into
consideration the leeway made by the slowly-moving boats and the
ungainly sea-plane; neither had he made allowance for the deviation
of the compass, which happened to be one and a half points on a
westerly course; there was also the indraught of the tide, which
tended to set a vessel shorewards. All three factors were hard at
work during the run through the fog-bank.

The first breaker bore down, enveloping the leading boat's bows in a
swirling cascade of water. Lifting the stocked anchor from its bed it
swept the heavy mass of metal overboard. With a rush and a rattle the
cable paid out until the boat brought up with a savage jerk.
Simultaneously she swung round broadside on to a particularly
fearful-looking breaker. Pouring over the cockpit the water promptly
short-circuited the ignition, and the motor stopped dead. Helpless in
the trough of the sea, the boat was at the mercy of the next crested
wave.

"Cut away the sea-plane!" shouted Derek.

A hand gave the tautened cable a slash with a knife. Simultaneously
the second boat cast off her steadying-line, and the abandoned
sea-plane began drifting towards the shore with incredible rapidity.

To make matters worse the engineer, under the impression that the
next sea would roll the boat completely over, kicked off his
sea-boots and plunged overboard. In the grip of the tide he was swept
to leeward, and even had he been an exceptionally good swimmer his
chances of reaching the shore alive were very remote.

A deck-hand, seeing his comrade's predicament, jumped into the sea
and struck out to his aid. It was a gallant but unavailing act,
although by so doing he additionally hampered the work of rescue.

Meanwhile the second boat, ignorant of what had occurred, was making
heavy weather in the breakers. She had all her work cut out to keep
"end-on" to the hissing, seething masses of water that threatened to
overwhelm her. Her coxswain-learner, who had a few months previously
been steering a plough on a chalky Wiltshire down, was handling the
boat with cool and calculated skill.

For want of an engineer Derek tackled the broken-down engine, working
in feverish desperation in order to make an effort to save his two
men. Plugs were out and replaced in record time, the magneto was
wiped and dried, and the cylinders "doped". A couple of determined
swings of the cranking-lever and the engine fired, spasmodically at
first, then with every indication of "carrying on".

"Slip the cable!" shouted Derek.

A couple of hands made their way along the heaving, slippery
fore-deck, hanging on tenaciously as masses of solid water swept over
them. Watching his opportunity one of the men dropped down the
fore-hatch, which his companion immediately replaced. In utter
darkness, for the inspection lamp he carried was jerked violently
against the coaming of the hatchway, the man toiled desperately,
knocking out the stubborn pin of the shackle and allowing the cable
to fly through the fair-lead.

The moment Derek saw the end of the cable disappear beneath the waves
he slipped in the clutch, while the coxswain steadied the vessel on
her helm and bore down toward the two swimmers. By dispensation of
Providence the waves were no longer of such a threatening character.
They were still formidable, and had to be treated with caution.

Judging his distance well the helmsman brought the boat close
alongside the now well-nigh exhausted men. Already Derek had thrown
the clutch into neutral, and, losing way, the motor-boat stopped to
windward of the swimmers. Willing hands hauled them into safety, the
engineer bleeding from a severe cut on the forehead, and showing
distinct signs of light-headedness.

Meanwhile the second boat, having drawn clear of the dangerous
breakers, was returning to the aid of her consort. As she did so her
motor "konked". Instead of rendering assistance she was now in urgent
need of help.

Another partial lifting of the fog revealed the true position. Within
three hundred yards to the west'ard could be discerned the bold
outlines of Thorbury Head, while to the nor'ard were the sand-dunes
at the mouth of the shallow Thorbury Harbour, and it was between
these two points that the breakers were raging. Elsewhere the sea was
almost as calm as the proverbial mill-pond, but in the mist Derek had
steered his boat right through the danger-zone.

Heaving a line to the disabled motor-boat Derek took her in tow,
steering a circuitous course to avoid the now very apparent danger.
Then, having made a good offing, he handed the helm to the coxswain.
The engineer was quite _hors de combat_. Stripped of his saturated
clothing and wrapped up in blankets, he was being attended to in the
warm but cramped engine-room. Still light-headed, he required the
sole attentions of one of the crew to keep him under control.

Derek was now able to review the situation. He felt far from
comfortable on the matter. The seaplane was lost--probably smashed to
matchwood on the beach. Both boats were considerably knocked about,
while two of the crew were out of action, and a third was temporarily
disabled by reason of a badly-crushed finger-nail. In addition there
was the loss of a practically brand-new anchor and forty fathoms of
galvanized cable, two life-buoys, and a White Ensign and its staff,
which had been carried away during the towing manoeuvres.

And now, with malevolent irony, the sun was shining brightly, the
last vestiges of fog had dispersed, and the sea was as smooth as
glass.

Visions of a court martial, or at least a stringent court of enquiry,
stared Derek in the face, with the possibility of being dismissed
from the Marine Branch of the R.A.F.

"We'll be back just in time to miss the after-dinner parade, sir,"
remarked the coxswain, as the leading boat swept round the
south-westerly extremity of Sableridge and the pier opened out at
less than two hundred yards distance. "It's close on three bells."

"There's not a man on the parade-ground," rejoined Derek, "but
there's a crowd on the pier-head, and all the boats are on their
moorings 'cept the duty-boat. Looks jolly funny."

But the mystery of suspended activity on the part of the Marine Depot
was soon elucidated, for a stentorian voice called Derek as his boat
ran alongside the pier.

"Cheerio, old bird! Can you fancy yourself out of a job?"

Derek had been doing so for the last hour.

"What's wrong?" he asked.

A dozen voices answered the question.

"ARMISTICE!"



CHAPTER XXIV

The Guard-ship


"You don't look particularly happy over the news, old man," remarked
one of the officers on the pier-head. "P'raps, like old Mouldy here,
you think that you'll be out of a job very soon. Cheer up, the war's
not over yet."

Derek made no reply. As a matter of fact he was thinking more about
the loss of the sea-plane than the news that Germany had thrown up
the sponge. The two, taken in conjunction, might make things rather
unpleasant for him, since it was evident that the navy, army, and air
force must be drastically reduced after the cessation of hostilities
--and Derek Daventry had not had enough of life in the R.A.F. He
wanted to remain.

Just then someone slapped him vigorously on the back. Turning, he
found himself face to face with his old flying-chum, John Kaye.

"What in the name of goodness brings you down here?" asked Derek.

"Joined the Marine Branch at Sableridge yesterday," replied Kaye. "Of
course you took jolly good care to be out of the way when I wanted a
pal to take me by the hand and show me the ropes. So when your two
packets were sighted coming over the bar I came down to the pier to
give you my candid opinion of your perfidious desertion. Had a good
time?"

"Just so so," answered Derek.

"Then we're in for a lively evening, old thing," chipped in another
officer. "We've packed up for the rest of the day. There's a football
match on this afternoon, and to-night we all go to the theatre and
let 'em know what an armistice means. So cut and shift, you
salt-encrusted ancient mariner."

But there was work to do before Derek could be at liberty. The spare
gear had to be taken out of the boats; the boats themselves had to be
moored to their respective buoys; the crews had to be marched off,
and their officer had to satisfy himself that they were able to
obtain a belated dinner. Then there was his report to be made out and
submitted to the C.O.

Greatly to his surprise and satisfaction the report was favourably
received. In view of the circumstances, it was conceded that the
officer in charge of the boats had extricated himself with skill and
determination. The loss of the sea-plane was considered to be
unavoidable, and, as a telegram had been received from the
coast-guards at Thorbury Head saying that she had drifted ashore
practically uninjured, the work of salvage had to be undertaken at
the first favourable opportunity.

Armistice night was, to quote the general consensus of opinion, a
topping rag. Earlier in the evening all the men who could be spared
were taken into the town by "liberty-boats", otherwise three large
motor-lorries. Shortly afterwards the officers followed, every
available motor-vehicle on the station being pressed into service.
Derek and Kaye, together with seven other kindred spirits, crowded
into and upon a car normally constructed to hold five, including the
driver, two officers riding on the footboard, while another perched
himself upon the bonnet.

Fifty yards behind came another similarly-laden car, followed by a
third, and possibly it was solely tolerance on the part of the local
police that every officer of the depot was not summoned to appear
before the Bench for exceeding the speed limit.

Upon approaching the limits of the town the speedy cortège reduced
its pace considerably. Through crowds of wildly-excited people the
cars threaded their way. No one yet knew the terms of the Armistice.
They were perfectly convinced in their own minds that the war was
virtually over and that the Allies were top dog. It was an occasion
for jollification, and the opportunity was seized.

"Some crowd, eh, what?" remarked Kaye.

"Rather," agreed Derek. "But what strikes me most is the display of
street lamps. After years of almost total darkness at night one can
hardly recognize the town in its blaze of light. Hallo! here we are."

The cars came to a standstill outside the theatre. Into the first two
rows of the stalls trooped the Royal Air Force contingent, determined
to have, at all costs, a topping rag. It was a dull play, but the
audience amply atoned for its shortcomings. The members of the
orchestra were invited to partake of bitter lemons, to the
discomfiture of the wind-instrumentalists; the principal actors were
presented with huge bouquets of cabbages and carrots; the manager was
bombarded with requests for a speech, and was unmercifully ragged
when he responded to the vociferous invitation. The _pièce de
résistance_ was the appearance upon the stage of His Worship the
Mayor, who did his level best to deliver a patriotic harangue, at the
conclusion of which he was solemnly presented with a titanic replica
of a gorgeous jewel (tinselled cardboard) purporting to be the O.B.E.

Then, at the conclusion of the impromptu performance, the R.A.F.
contingent filed out into the crowded street, to make their way to an
hotel to enjoy a sumptuous supper in the unwonted setting of a
brilliantly-lighted room with uncurtained windows. It was merely one
way of bidding defiance to D.O.R.A., but it was symbolical of the
beginning of a new regime.

During the ensuing week there was very little serious work done at
the depot. It was a period of rejoicing, to which was added the
disquieting consideration that sooner or later demobilization would
bring its disturbing influence to bear upon efficiency. Followed a
series of congratulatory calls between the officers of the various
naval and military establishments in the district.

One of these was a visit to the Coastal Airship establishment at
Downbury. Why the motor-cars on the return journey took a wrong
turning and did not arrive at Sableridge till two o'clock in the
morning was never satisfactorily explained, but upon returning the
Adjutant discovered that he had left behind his favourite stick,
fashioned from the blade of an air-propeller, with a top turned from
the fuse-cap of a Boche shell that, fortunately for the present
owner, had failed to explode.

Enquiries on the telephone next morning elicited the information that
the stick was left in the mess at Downbury, and would be sent during
the day.

Just before eleven two large coastal airships were seen making over
Sableridge. Manoeuvred with a skill acquired by long practice, the
huge gasbags began to circle over the depot, one of their crew
actually attempting to remove the Colonel's flag from the masthead of
the flagstaff outside the officers' quarters. By means of semaphore a
lively exchange of compliments passed between the airmen up aloft and
the airmen on the ground, while the former continued to show their
stunt turns in a manner that caused the onlookers to anticipate a
collision with the chimney-pots. Then, describing a curve over the
harbour, one of the airships dropped an object to which was attached
a bunch of streamers. With a splash the thing struck the water and
floated vertically. It was the missing stick. Promptly a motor-boat
pushed off from the pier and retrieved the returned property, then,
with a final exchange of compliments, the two Blimps flew back to
their sheds.

Next morning the signal officer's face looked grave. A letter,
purporting to be an official document, had been handed to him. It was
signed "Senior Naval Officer, Fisherton", and requested an
explanation why a White Ensign, the jealously-guarded emblem of the
pukka Royal Navy, was flown from the gaff of the flagstaff of a Royal
Air Force establishment.

The whole thing was a hoax on the part of Dixon, the Lieutenant,
R.N.V.R., commanding the guard-ship at Sableridge, and the R.A.F.
signal officer "bit it badly". It was not until a reply had been
drafted and submitted to the Commanding Officer of the depot that
Dixon let the cat out of the bag. It was the first round of a
friendly contest between the R.N. and the R.A.F., and the former was
"one up".

When the men fell in parade that next morning the White Ensign was
not flying. In its place dangled a large earthenware jug, a silent
tribute on the part of the Sableridge signalling officer to the
guard-ship officer's capacity for stowing away mild ale. It was as
well that it was armistice week and the C.O. was in a tolerant mood,
for the incident passed off without rebuke. R.N. and R.A.F. were now
"honours even".

Next day the guard-ship was to be "paid off". After four years she
was to be released from her moorings and towed back to Fisherton, and
the departure of a time-honoured veteran could not take place without
a farewell demonstration on the part of the Royal Air Force at
Sableridge.

At two o'clock in the morning a small but desperate band of
adventurers turned out of their camp-beds. There were Derek Daventry,
clad in trench-coat, pyjamas, sea-boots, and muffler; Dennis, the
Adjutant, muffled in a sweater, two greatcoats, and a pair of
flying-boots; Wells, the signalling officer, and Kaye. The latter
carried a small bundle of rag liberally smeared with vaseline.

It was a pitch-dark night. The stars were obscured by heavy,
low-lying clouds. A keen easterly wind moaned through the fortress
and hummed through the rigging of the guard-ship.

Softly the desperadoes made their way to the pier, three of them
sheltering under the lee of the signal-house, while the fourth groped
for the painter and stern-post of a small dinghy.

"Any signs of 'em?" asked Dennis.

"Not a movement," whispered Wells. "The watch on deck is evidently
having a caulk. Got the dinghy ready yet, Kaye?"

"Can't find the rotten ropes," complained Kaye. "Ugh! Isn't it
horribly cold? Why did I leave my little back room----? Hallo!
Someone's tied a granny in the rope, and my fingers are frozen
stiff."

"Not so much row there," cautioned Dennis. "If you can't unlash the
thing, cut it. Now then, you fellows, don't capsize the boat and
throw us into the ditch. How's the tide?"

"On the flood," replied Derek. "Oars muffled? Kaye, you rotter,
you've put more vaseline on the thwarts than you have upon the rag
round the rowlocks. I thought I was on the skating-rink for the
moment. All ready? Give way."

Very silently the deeply-laden little craft pushed off. Partly
paddled, partly carried by the tide, the boat neared the dark-grey
bows of the guard-ship.

"Who's got the quart pot?" whispered Dennis. "You, Daventry--no? How
about you, Kaye? No luck? I say, you blighters, don't all say you've
left the beastly thing on the pier."

Cautious groping resulted in the discovery that the earthenware
trophy was not in the boat. In the darkness the conspirators had left
it perched precariously on the bottom step of the landing-stage.

"Together!" hissed the Adjutant. "Don't splash so, Kaye. You sent a
shower down my back, and the water's horribly cold. 'Sides, you're
making an awful row. Old man Dixon will be roused out of his
beauty-sleep, and our little stunt will be a proper wash-out."

It was a hard tussle to regain the pier, for the spring tide was
swirling viciously. The signalling officer managed to grab the jug
and deposit it in the stern-sheets, and once more the raiders
approached the silent and unsuspecting guard-ship.

Deftly Derek bent the boat's painter to a deadeye in the vessel's
chains, and allowed the dinghy to drop astern until she lay alongside
the Jacob's ladder that served as an accommodation-ladder. One by one
the four swarmed up and gained the guard-ship's deck. Here they
waited, listening intently. The wind, moaning dismally through the
rigging, failed to outvoice the nasal efforts of the three men
forming the guard-ship's crew. The Lieutenant, berthed aft, was also
soundly asleep.

Wells nudged Derek in the ribs, and handed him the earthenware
pitcher. Very cautiously the two commenced to mount the creaking
ladder to the bridge, while Dennis and Kaye remained by the gangway,
ready to cover their comrades' retreat should their presence be
detected.

It did not take the signalling officer long to uncleat the masthead
halyards. These he bent to the handle of the jug, at the same time
inserting a piece of brass wire through the rope so that it would
render through the sheaves in the masthead truck, but refuse to
return when once a strain was put upon it.

Up into the darkness rose the fragile trophy. More than once it
struck dully against the top-mast, fortunately without breaking. Lost
to view, it announced its arrival at the top-mast head in no
unmistakable manner. A sharp jerk, and the metal pin was released.
The jug was almost literally nailed to the mast; until a hand was
sent aloft--and it was hardly likely that any of the ancient mariners
composing the guard-ship's crew could essay the feat--there it must
perforce remain.

The work of re-embarkation was performed with more haste than
discretion, the Adjutant stepping confidently into fifteen feet of
water instead of into the boat. With praiseworthy devotion to the
great cause, he refrained from audible comment in spite of the fact
that Wells grabbed him by the hair. Unfortunately Dennis had adopted
the latest fashion of allowing his hair to grow fairly long and to
brush it back from his forehead. It made an excellent hand-grip for
the signalling officer's massive and horny paw, but nevertheless the
operation was a painful one.

At the risk of capsizing the dinghy, the Adjutant was hauled in, and
the return trip was accomplished without further incident.

Exultant but shivering, the four officers made their way back to
their quarters, and turned in to sleep the sleep of men who had
achieved their ends.

Directly Derek awoke he sprang out of his folding bed and hastened to
the window. In the pale-grey dawn he could see the outlines of the
guard-ship silhouetted against the light. Aloft the trophy hung in
uninterrupted serenity.

"Tug's alongside the guard-ship," announced the Adjutant at
breakfast. "Let's go down to the pier and give her a good send-off."

Practically every R.A.F. officer on the station hurried out of the
building and crowded on the pier-head. Crowds of men lined the shore,
while dozens of civilian spectators appeared to watch the departure
of one of the links of the Great War--the humble coaster that for the
last four years had, under the authority of the White Ensign,
prevented all unauthorized craft from leaving or entering Fisherton
Harbour.

The Royal Air Force had made up its mind to give its departing
confrère a fitting farewell. From the signal yard-arm on the pier
fluttered a triple hoist of flags: "Good-bye; good luck". Klaxon
horns, sirens, and the long-neglected trumpet blared forth in noisy
lament; petrol-tins, on which to beat a rousing tattoo, were pressed
into service; while the steam-tug, straining at the hawser, responded
with a succession of strident whoops.

Slowly the guard-ship swung round and shaped a course for Fisherton,
following obediently in the wake of the tug. On her bridge stood the
burly figure of genial Lieutenant Dixon as he waved an acknowledgment
of the exuberant welcome. Fifty feet above his head dangled the
earthenware jug.

"He doesn't know it's there," remarked Derek.

"Then he jolly well will do so," rejoined the signalling officer,
and, grasping a pair of hand-flags, he steadied himself on the
pier-head rail.

"Guard-ship, what's that at your fore top-mast head?" he signalled.

The R.N.V.R. Lieutenant glanced aloft. For a moment he looked
puzzled, then he realized that honours were no longer even. The
R.A.F. were "one up".

A broad smile suffused his features. Snatching up a pair of
hand-flags he semaphored:

"Thanks; but why didn't you fill it before you returned it?"



CHAPTER XXV

Salvage Work


For the best part of the next five weeks adverse climatic conditions
prevented the salvage of the stranded sea-plane. Unless given
remarkably fine and calm weather, the sand-dunes of Thorbury, fringed
by extensive shoals carrying less than a fathom of water, were
inaccessible.

Christmas was drawing on apace, and the prospect of liberal leave
demanded a "settling up" of the matter of the sea-plane as soon as
possible. Having received his instructions either to salve or destroy
the errant machine, Derek proceeded to Thorbury in a brand-new
motor-boat fitted with a powerful paraffin engine, and capable of
keeping the sea in almost any weather. Compared with the earlier
motor-boats to which Derek had been accustomed, R.A.F. 21, as she was
officially designated, was a ship. With sleeping accommodation for
two officers and four men, and fitted with a small but efficient
galley, she was practically independent of the shore in the matter of
sleeping and feeding her crew.

Rounding Thorbury Head, R.A.F. 21 very cautiously approached the
coast, keeping her lead-line going continuously. At a fathom and a
half she anchored. It would be unwise to proceed farther in; even
then the shore was only four hundred yards away.

Manning a dinghy Derek went ashore. It was a difficult matter, for
the ground-swell was breaking heavily.

A brief examination of the sea-plane showed that her days were over.
"Beach-combers" had already been at work, and several of the metal
fittings had been stolen. It was also evident that an attempt to
launch the sea-plane through the surf would meet with failure.

"She'll have to go," declared Derek to Kaye, who had accompanied him.
"I'll send off for some petrol."

The crew set to work to remove the floats and dismantle the motor.
This done, the fuselage was drenched with petrol and set on fire. In
a quarter of an hour nothing but a few charred struts and tangled
tension-wires remained.

Finding that it was impracticable to remove the floats--each of which
weighed two hundredweight--except by land, Derek returned to make
his report. His next task was to proceed by motor-lorry and bring the
remains back to the depot.

Laden with a dinghy, two coils of three-inch rope, some "internal
iron-bound blocks" (otherwise large pulleys), and nine men under
Derek's orders, a large motor-lorry left Sableridge for Thorbury. The
day was a perfect one, and the men were in high spirits, for the
"stunt" promised to be of the nature of a picnic. In forty minutes
the ponderous vehicle had covered the twelve miles between Sableridge
and Thorbury, then further progress was barred by soft, yielding
sand.

Between the lorry and the floats were first a stretch of fairly deep
water forming part of Thorbury Harbour, and then three hundred yards
of hummocking sand covered with coarse grass. The dinghy was
unloaded, and the men and gear ferried across. Round one of the
floats was passed a long rope, and all hands, tailing on to the
slack, began to haul away. The result was rather surprising, for
directly the heavy mass began to move half a dozen large rats
scampered from the interior of the float.

Foot by foot, yard by yard, the float was man-hauled to the shore of
the harbour, where, in sheltered water, it was launched and anchored
until the second float was treated in a similar manner.

By this time the tide was ebbing with considerable strength, its rate
exceeding five knots. The danger arose of the unwieldy craft being
carried out across the bar to the open sea, and it was only by dint
of hanging on to fifty fathoms of rope that the men could keep the
floats in check. During these operations one of the floats capsized
in the rollers that were sweeping in over the bar, and before it
could be righted Derek and half a dozen of his men had their
sea-boots filled with water.

At the nearest point to the lorry where the floats could be grounded
was an expanse of a hundred yards of soft sand. All the man-power at
Derek's command was unable to drag the floats up the
gradually-shelving incline, nor could the lorry be brought any nearer
by reason of the yielding nature of the sand.

"Proper Marathon, eh, what?" remarked Derek, wiping the perspiration
from his forehead.

"Pity we hadn't burnt these as well," rejoined Kaye. "Already these
salvage operations cannot have cost a penny less than thirty pounds,
and in the end these blessed floats will be sold for as many
shillings to some blighter who wants them for fishing-punts."

"Service, my impatient lad; Service with a big S!" exclaimed Derek
laughingly. "The main point is, we've got to bring these wretched
floats back to the depot. I'm going to try hauling them up by means
of the lorry. S'pose it's man enough for the job."

Accordingly a sufficient length of stout rope was lashed round one of
the floats and also to the lorry. At the signal the powerful vehicle
began to move slowly ahead, and, with hardly a hitch, the float
slithered over the sand up the incline and on to the hard ground. The
second float followed suit, and then came the task of loading up.

By the time the two floats, the dinghy, and the gear were piled upon
the lorry there was precious little room for eleven persons, but the
Royal Air Force men were not to be deterred by trifles. Swarming all
over the small mountain of gear, and even perched upon the canvas
awning, they returned tired but triumphant. At last the work of
salvage was completed, although the actual amount of material
recovered was but a moiety of the original sea-plane.

Upon entering the ante-room of the mess Derek and Kaye encountered
Grainger, lieutenant and hydro expert. Grainger was in high spirits.
His particular task was to get a hydro-glisseur into running order
before he proceeded on Christmas leave, and in spite of numerous
difficulties he had achieved his end.

"The priceless old thing has been running this morning," he declared.
"I'm taking her for a spin up to Fisherton. Coming, you fellows?"

"Right-o!" replied Derek. "Hang on half a minute until I change my
socks and sea-boots. I'm carrying about a quart of sea water in each
boot, and it's beginning to feel slightly damp."

The hydro-glisseur, as its name implies, is a weird sort of craft
that skims on the surface of the water and is propelled by a
two-bladed aerial propeller. The body consists of six floats lashed
together in pairs. Credited with a speed of fifty knots,
hydro-glisseurs are used for towing aeroplane targets at high speed,
while air-craft hovering overhead try their level best to bomb the
targets into fragments.

"You'll want your flying-kit, you fellows," declared Grainger, as the
trio prepared for the trial trip. "Unless you want to be as deaf as
posts, don't forget your helmets."

Arrayed in leather jackets, flying head-dress and fur-lined
gloves--gear that took Derek's thoughts back to those seemingly
far-off days at Torringham aerodrome and on the Western Front--the
"glisseurs" made their way to the boat-sheds out of which the freak
craft were moored.

A few minor adjustments, and the powerful engine fired. Throttled
well down, the motor was running at sufficient speed to make the
propeller buzz as it cleft the air.

"All ready? Let go!" roared Grainger.

A touch of the controls, and the glisseur gathered way. Soon she
began to lift under the enormously powerful drive of the huge
propeller, until, with a deafening roar that could be heard for
miles, the freak craft quickly worked up to a speed of certainly not
less than forty-five knots.

Presently Grainger throttled down.

"There's a Boche submarine alongside Fisherton Quay," he announced.
"She came into harbour at lunch-time. I vote we go and have a look at
her."

The proposal met with unanimous assent, and a course was shaped for
the place where the ex-German submarine was moored.

As the hydro-glisseur approached the quay the speed was greatly
reduced. Derek could see the long, unlovely above-water outlines of
the U-boat, her deck literally packed with people while from her mast
floated the White Ensign over the discredited emblem of the
badly-bruised Mailed Fist--the Black Cross of Hunland. For yards
either way beyond the submarine the quay was lined with hundreds of
interested spectators, for the trophy had been sent for public
inspection, a small charge being made, and the proceeds given to
local charities.

The Mayor of Fisherton, accompanied by the members of the
Corporation, was engaged upon an official civic welcome to the
surrendered U-boat. There were aldermen and councillors in blue and
scarlet robes, in cocked-hats and "top-hats". Their wives, sisters,
cousins, and aunts helped to swell the throng; while the
gorgeously-attired mace-bearer and the portly town-crier, with his
silver-plated bell, contributed their share to the splendour of the
occasion. In the wake of the spectators was the town band; the
musicians, having just completed a patriotic selection, were
partaking of refreshment.

"Mind how you come alongside with that gadget of yours," sung out the
Lieutenant in command of the submarine. "We've a terrific lot of
camber, you know. If I were you I'd tie up alongside the quay. I'll
show you round if you like, but there's a fine old crush already."

"We'll accept your invitation another day, thanks," replied Grainger,
as the hydro-glisseur, with the ignition switched off, glided slowly
and silently with the tide. "Nip ashore, Kaye, and make that rope
fast!"

Moored stern-on to the granite wall of the quay, the hydro-glisseur
bid fair to attract even more attention than the U-boat. Even the
Mayor and Corporation delayed their departure to gaze upon the marine
freak; while perspiring policemen strove in vain to keep back the
Fisherton townsfolk and prevent them from unduly crowding upon the
mayoral party.

"This is our little stunt," remarked Grainger. "Evidently people are
curious to see us start up. We won't disappoint them. Stand by, Kaye,
to cast off, but don't slip till I give the signal."

Suddenly the buzz of conversation on the quay was absolutely drowned
by the appalling and deafening roar of the powerful engine and the
deep bass hum of the whirling propeller. The next instant almost
every hat in the wake of the rapidly-revolving "prop" was torn from
it's owner's head and whirled aloft in the tornado-like back-draught.
Scarlet and violet gowns flapped in the terrific blast like clothes
hung out to dry on a boisterous day. In ten seconds a section of the
crowd was swept aside like a portion of a cornfield falling under the
action of a tractor reaper, while those of the spectators who were
beyond the danger-zone rocked with merriment and shouted
encouragement to the Marathon competitors for the runaway head-gear.



CHAPTER XXVI

Christmas Eve


"Six o'clock, sir, and a fine morning," announced Derek's batman, as
he switched on the electric light, and handed the still half asleep
officer a cup of strongly-brewed tea.

"By Jove! it's Christmas Eve, and I'm Orderly Dog till eight
o'clock," thought Derek. "What with this wretched demobilization
business and officers clearing out almost every day my turn comes
once every five days. Well, here goes!"

Jumping out of bed Daventry dressed for the occasion, his garb
consisting of a pair of flannel trousers drawn on over his pyjamas, a
sweater, sea-boots, trench-coat, muffler, and cap--the last three
items served to camouflage the rest for the work immediately in hand,
that of being present on réveillé.

Making his way across the parade-ground the Orderly Officer entered
the main building. Already the corridors were resounding to the
shrill notes of the Orderly Sergeant's whistle and his strident
shouts of "Show a leg, everybody!"

Derek had to visit personally twenty-five rooms and satisfy himself
that their occupants were really awake. The sentries, too, had to be
visited, and their early morning parade attended. These functions
completed, Derek was at liberty to return to his quarters and attend
to his toilet at his leisure, happy in the knowledge that his
twenty-four-hour trick of "Orderly Dog" was nearing completion.

The spirit of Yule-tide was in the air. For days past officers and
men had been going off on eleven days' leave, while those who
remained were entering into the prospect of a happy Christmas with
the utmost zeal.

In the officers' quarters the mess-room was transformed with
brightly-coloured bunting, the walls being hung with flags, while the
ceiling was almost hidden by chains and festoons of coloured paper.
In the men's building each room entered into healthy rivalry with the
others, and some of the decorations showed that a great amount of
patience and artistic prowess had been employed to transform the
usually Spartan-like quarters into bowers of evergreens.

Breakfast over and the eight-o'clock parade dismissed, Derek was
relieved of his duties as Orderly Officer, but he quickly found that,
even during armistice-time and Christmas week, there is always
something cropping up for an officer to tackle.

At six o'clock the last liberty-boat had left, and the depot, sadly
depleted, settled down to spend the eve of Christmas in strange
surroundings. Derek was about to write some letters when a telephone
message came through stating that a motor-boat had just arrived from
Stourborough and asking what was to be done with her.

"Sticky sort of day for a half-decked boat to make a hundred-miles
run," thought Derek, as he donned sea-boots and oilskins, for as
senior officer on the station (there were only seven not on Christmas
leave) he had to receive the new arrival and see that she was made
secure for the night.

It was both blowing and raining. Pitch dark, too, except for the
gleam of the Low Light. The tide was at half flood, and making
strongly. Grinding against the pier was the motor-boat, manned by
half a dozen hands in oilskins and sou'westers.

"They won't be able to find moorings on a night like this, sir,"
remarked the Corporal in charge of the pier.

"And they look about done up," added Derek. "I'll find a fresh crew
from the Duty Watch, and let them take her up to Fisherton Quay for
the night. The old crew will come ashore and get a hot meal."

"We've had nothing to eat since midday, sir," reported the coxswain
of the boat. "She was making heavy weather of it coming down Channel,
and we hadn't a chance to tackle any grub."

Having seen the well-nigh exhausted crew ashore Derek made his way to
the mess-deck, where in response to the whistle and the order "Fall
in the Duty Watch!" nine men paraded.

"I'm calling for volunteers to take a boat up to Fisherton," said
Derek. "The boat has been running continuously since daybreak, and
the men are done up. I want a coxswain, an engineer, and two
deck-hands. Those willing to carry on take one pace forward."

Without hesitation every man of the nine took a pace to the front,
although for the most part they were new or only partially-trained
hands. Selecting the new crew, Derek sent them off to don oilskins
and sea-boots.

"I'm not quite certain of the channel, sir," said the coxswain, as
the crew mustered on the pier-head. "I've only been up once, and that
was in daylight."

"All right," replied Derek "I'll come with you." For nearly twenty
minutes Derek waited on the boat in the driving scud and rain, for
the motor, that had hitherto been running without a hitch, evinced no
tendency to start.

"It's the rummiest Christmas Eve I've ever spent," declared the young
officer to himself. "Ah! well, it's all in a day's work. Nothing like
yachting in December to give a fellow an appetite. By Jove! it's
nearly dinner-time already, and this stunt will take an hour, if not
more."

At length the engineer conquered the refractory motor, and, after
running the engine with the clutch out for a couple of minutes, Derek
decided to start.

"Cast off, there!" he shouted to the signalman. "Easy ahead!"

The boat gave a final grind against the pier, then forged ahead with
a strong tide under her. Barely had she got beyond heaving distance
of the pier-head, when, with a fierce roar, the whole of the confined
space of the engine-room seemed to burst into flames. Simultaneously
the motor ceased firing.

It was not an enviable situation. Adrift in a roughish sea with the
engine-room well alight, it looked as if the crew had the choice
either of being burnt or else compelled to take an involuntary bath
in the icy-cold water. In the latter case there would be slight
chance of reaching the shore, since the strong tide would carry the
swimmers into the wide and exposed harbour, and in the pitch darkness
of the night the possibility of rescue by another boat would be very
remote.

In spite of the danger the crew kept their heads. There was not the
slightest sign of panic. One of the men raised a laugh by exclaiming:

"We can only drown once, lads; but we may burn twice, so let's get
the fire under."

Without hesitation the engineer acted, directing a heavy discharge of
"pyrene" into the heart of the flames. In a few seconds the anti-fire
apparatus did its work. As if by magic the fierce tongue of flame
died down, but for some minutes the crew were almost overcome by the
fumes.

During that interval the broken-down boat had drifted across the bows
of two other craft moored in the vicinity. Standing on the plunging
fore-deck the intrepid bowman, maintaining his precarious position,
succeeded in fending off by means of a boat-hook. Then, with three
miles of water to leeward, the crew had time to consider their
position and act accordingly.

At length the motor was restarted, and the long, tedious run up to
Fisherton began. Steering by means of a series of leading lights
Derek held on, drenched with spray and numbed with the cold, until,
with a sigh of relief, he ported helm past the revolving green light
at the entrance to Fisherton Quay.

A motor-car was waiting to take Derek and the men back to Sableridge,
where Daventry found that the signalman had reported the fire, and
that the depot had been in a state of ferment over the news.

"You practically spoiled our dinner, you rotter!" exclaimed Kaye.

"I've certainly lost mine," rejoined Derek.

"That's base ingratitude," protested his chum, "considering I told
the messman to keep it hot. I say, you guys!" he added, addressing
the other five or six occupants of the ante-room. "Daventry's raising
a moan about his grub. What's the penalty?"

The next instant a rolled-up flag came hurtling at Derek's head. It
was the signal for battle. There was ammunition in plenty, for nearly
fifty rolled signal-flags that were left over after decorating the
mess were lying on the table in the hall.

Grabbing half a dozen missiles, Derek ran upstairs; Kaye, out of
loyalty, joined him, and Dennis threw in his lot with the weaker
side. Ensued a battle royal. From the first-floor landing bundles of
tightly-rolled bunting came flying down with tremendous force, while
the attackers of the ground-floor retaliated with similar missiles,
until the air was stiff with a hurtling galaxy of signal-flags.

For a time it seemed as if weight of "metal" and superior numbers
would prevail. Already the attackers were half-way up the stairs,
dauntlessly facing an overhead fusillade, when the youthful Adjutant
was seized with a "toppin' brainy idea".

Grasping one of the filled fire-buckets, he balanced it on the
balustrade, then, awaiting his opportunity, poured the cold contents
upon the heads of his opponents. Kaye and Derek, fired by Dennis's
example, followed suit, and the attack melted away.

"Gosh!" exclaimed Dennis, "won't little Wells be in a horrible tear
when he finds his precious signal-flags used like this?"

It was indeed a scene of chaos. Partly unfolded the flags lay
everywhere. Pools of water lay in the hall, while a considerable
quantity had made its way down into the basement to the discomfiture
of the batmen.

"It's merely a change in the day's occupation," declared Kaye. "Blame
Daventry; he must have a safety-valve to let off superfluous energy
after having tried his level best to provide the fishes with roast
meat for Christmas."

"Who's turning in?" asked Derek, stifling a yawn. "It's ten o'clock,
and I've been at it since six this morning."

Before anyone could reply there came from outside the officers'
quarters a voice singing the words of a well-known carol.

"What's this stunt?" asked Dennis.

"The sergeants," replied the Orderly Officer. "They've come to
serenade us, I believe. It'll mean a bottle of whisky against the
mess."

"Invite them in," suggested another.

The suggestion was acted upon, but little did the mess know what it
was in for when it invited the roystering serenaders into its fold.

Very solemnly the sergeants filed in--eleven N.C.Os., of whom every
man save one had been in the Royal Navy before transferring into the
Royal Air Force. Headed by a sergeant with a side-drum, and followed
by two with fifes, the motley-arrayed crush took up semi-circular
formation at one end of the ante-room, the Sergeant-Major acting as
master of the ceremonies. In half an hour their repertoire of carols
was exhausted, so they "switched on" to the old-time sea-chanties.
Followed an interval for refreshments and speechmaking, to which
Derek, in his capacity of Deputy Mess-President, had to reply.

"It's about time they piped down," thought Derek, glancing at his
wristlet-watch.

But no!

"Would the officers like to hear Sergeant Butler sing 'The Long-Lost
Cabin-Boy'?" asked the Sergeant-Major.

In a weak moment Derek assented on behalf of the officers, and the
act of torture began. There were twenty-five verses of "The Long-Lost
Cabin-Boy", each with a double chorus. Then, with hardly a break, the
now almost exhausted mess had to listen to another song, "You stand
by the Ship, lads, I must be ashore by five", and a pointedly topical
recitation, "Christmas Day in the Marine Depot", in which the
sergeants got in several witty hits against their officers.

It was not until just on midnight that, after rendering "God Save the
King", the lusty vocalists marched back to their quarters, leaving
the mess to its rightful occupants.

"But," remarked Kaye, "Christmas Eve only comes once a year, and
goodness only knows where we'll be in a twelvemonth's time. There's
Eight Bells! A Merry Christmas, you fellows!"



CHAPTER XXVII

Hard and Fast Aground


Christmas Day dawned bright and clear--a pleasing contrast to the
preceding day. Hardly a ripple disturbed the surface of the sea,
while the hills surrounding the harbour were perfectly hidden by
light, fleecy mists. The air, too, was mild. From a weather aspect it
was as unlike the old-time festive day as one could possibly imagine.

The depleted mess sat down to breakfast in high spirits, but behind
the display of gaiety was the thought that to many it would be the
last Christmas Day that they would spend under Active Service
conditions. Already demobilization was working havoc both with
numbers and efficiency. Months of strenuous training looked like
being wasted, while there was uncertainty of the future. Quite
possibly the "Band of Brothers" would be dispersed to the four
quarters of the globe. Many of them, of course, wanted to get back to
their homes, but others, particularly the young crash pilots,
regarded their possible release to civil life with feelings akin to
consternation. Growing up to manhood as responsible officers of a
fighting force, they had no enthusiasm for the hum-drum life that
awaited them upon demobilization. In several cases their post-school
studies had been entirely interrupted, and their chance of qualifying
for professional careers hopelessly shattered. The phantom
"after-the-war" problem was merging into a real and burning question.

Being Christmas Day, parade did not take place until ten o'clock,
after which the C.O. made a tour of the buildings and inspected the
decorated messes. This over, Derek had to take the duty-boat and
visit the R.A.F. vessels moored in the harbour.

Almost the first craft visited was a large motorboat lying right in
the tide-way. As the duty-boat ran alongside the bowman stepped on
board with the intention of making fast with a rope. As he did so the
boats' bows began to drift apart.

"Look out!" shouted Derek. "You'll be in the ditch in half a shake!"

The warning came too late. With one foot on the motor-boat and the
other on the duty-boat, the luckless bowman tried to save himself by
recovering his lost balance. In vain; the gap increased more and more
until, with a loud splash, the man plunged into the icy water.

Fortunately he could swim, but the task of getting him on board,
encumbered as he was with oilskin jacket and trousers, was not an
easy one. It was not until Derek and the engineer came to his
assistance that the bowman was hauled into the boat.

There was now no option but to return to the pier and land the
shivering man. Provided with a stiff glass of brandy, he was sent
back to his room to change, his arrival in saturated clothes being
hailed with good-natured banter by his comrades.

As the duty-boat pushed off to resume her interrupted patrol the
sergeant-coxswain must needs emulate the bowman's example, for on
stepping from the pier steps to the boat his foot slipped, and into
the water he went.

That meant more brandy and another coxswain. "The next man who
tumbles into the ditch will not get any brandy," declared Derek, by
way of warning. Doubtless the hint was taken, for there was no
further trouble in that direction.

Back to the depot to change for dinner, and Derek's duty ended for
the rest of the day. Yet there was work for him to do--the task of
getting ready to proceed on his eleven days' leave.

At eight the following morning Derek set out on his long journey,
travelling to the railway station in a tender in default of a car,
for the three motor-cars attached to the depot had all been placed
_hors de combat_ on Christmas Eve. It was an enjoyable, though a
crowded railway journey. Packed in with nine other officers, a
civilian, and a dog in a first-class compartment, Derek found himself
in good company. The spirit of Yule-tide predominated, and even
though the crowded train was an hour late, stopping at every station,
and frequently between stations, the prospect of getting home
smoothed over the inconvenience of travelling.

"Well, Derek," remarked Captain Daventry after dinner, when father
and son were alone, "the war's over, or practically so. Men are being
demobilized right and left. The papers teem with advertisements from
released officers requiring employment. What do you propose doing?"

"Hanging on, Pater, in the Micawber-like spirit: hoping that
something may turn up."

"And what are the prospects?"

Derek had to confess that up to the present there was nothing
definite. No decided information was forthcoming from the Air
Ministry, although the air was thick with rumours.

"I'd go in for flying again if the Medical Board passed me," he
added. "Failing that, I'd like to continue in the Marine Branch. It's
a weird and fairly exciting existence, and every day I like it more
and more."

"Thought so," rejoined his father laconically; "it's the adage:
'What's bred in the bone,' &c. With generations of sea-faring
ancestors, Derek, you can't get away from the fact that you've an
innate desire for the sea. Flying was only a sort of
stop-gap--necessary, no doubt, but it's not the rock-bottom of an
Englishman's constitution, so to speak. The sea made Britain what it
is to-day, and the sea will continue to do so, unless the country
allows her maritime supremacy to pass into the hands of others. To
return to a personal view--I mentioned the matter before, I
believe--you'll be able to go to sea till you're well over middle
age, but it's an obvious certainty that you won't be flying at that
time of life."

"You don't seem very sanguine over the future of aviation, Pater."

"I hardly like to express an opinion, Derek; but when comparing a
ship with an aeroplane you must remember that the former is in its
natural element. Given a seaworthy craft ably managed, a ship is as
safe as a house. Even if the engines break down the vessel floats.
But take an aircraft. If anything happens to it, it is not in its
natural element. It must descend."

"A heavier-than-air machine, you mean."

"Precisely. And take the case of an airship. Its vulnerability to
fire is a great drawback, while I doubt its ability to ride out a
gale. A ship has a grip upon the water; an airship, if disabled, is
simply at the mercy of the winds."

"And that is where we--the marine section--come in," added Derek.
"Once the authorities realize that, our future is assured."

The eleven days passed only too quickly, and almost before he
realized that his leave would expire that night Derek found himself
packing his kit-bag and haversack.

It was eleven o'clock when he arrived at Fisherton Station, and
nearly midnight by the time he reached Sableridge depot. All the rest
of the occupants of the officers' quarters were in bed; there was no
supper left out for him, and the ante-room fire had died down.
Without it was blowing a gale from the south-east, and raining
heavily. The spray was dashing against the windows, while above the
howling of the wind could be heard the continuous roar of the surf
upon the Dairymaid Sands.

"What a night!" soliloquized Derek, as he proceeded to unpack and
prepare to turn in. "Thank goodness I'm not out. Wonder if our boats
will drag their moorings? Well, here's to bed. I'll sleep like a log
till morning."

Alas for that resolution! It seemed as if Daventry had been asleep
but a few minutes when he was aroused by the Officer of the Watch.

"You'll have to turn out, Daventry, old man," he announced. "There's
a vessel of some sort ashore on the Dairymaid Bank. The Fisherton
life-boat is coming down harbour, and they want us to stand by. I've
turned out the Duty Watch and told off No. 21's crew. Take her out
and keep to windward of the shoal. There's a deuce of a sea breaking
over it, so look out!"

Already Derek was out of bed and donning his sea-kit. A glance at his
wristlet-watch showed that it was 3 a.m. The gale was at its height.
Windows were rattling, stones were being hurled up from the beach and
thudding against the shuttered windows of the building. Rain and
sleet were descending in hissing and blinding sheets.

Literally battling his way to the pier-head Derek found his crew
busily engaged in preparing motor-boat No. 21 for the coming contest
with the elements. The craft was a stout one, specially built for
hard work, and heavily engined. If any vessel on the station were
capable of keeping the sea that night it was No. 21.

"Plenty of petrol, engineer?" shouted Derek, as he gained the deck of
the plunging boat.

"Tanks full, sir."

"Good enough," rejoined Derek, holding on like grim death as the boat
ground and bumped heavily against the piles of the pier. "Any sign of
the life-boat, signalman?"

"Not yet in sight, sir."

The youthful Lieutenant gazed seaward. All was a chaotic blur of
driving rain and spray. In vain he waited to see the occulting light
on the distant Bar Buoy. It was no longer there. An unfortunate
accident had extinguished the friendly gleam; and Heaven help the
mariner who, running for shelter into Fisherton Harbour, reckoned
upon finding the important light in position!

"Life-boat in sight, sir!"

With her red, blue, and white hull looming up in the glare of the
high leading light the life-boat was fighting her way towards the
scene of the disaster. She was under sail--close reefed main and
mizzen. Her yellow-oilskinned crew were crouching on the thwarts, the
only man visible being the coxswain as he stood erect and gripped the
long tiller. In another hundred yards a bend in the channel would
bring the life-boat's course dead to windward and against a surging
flood-tide. It was now that No. 21 would be able to render timely
aid.

"Cast off bow and stern warps," shouted Derek. "Easy ahead!"

With helm hard-a-port the motor-craft swung round, passed to windward
of the life-boat, turned again, and ranged up to windward, her crew
standing by, ready to pass a stout grass hawser to the life-boat.


[Illustration: THE TASK OF GETTING HIM ON BOARD WAS NOT AN EASY ONE]


The latter lost no time in accepting the proffered aid. In a trice
her scanty canvas was lowered and stowed; a heavy line fell athwart
the R.A.F. boat's deck, and to this the towing-warp was bent and paid
out.

"All fast!" shouted the life-boat's bowman in stentorian tones. It
was as well that he confirmed the information with a gesture, for in
the roar of the elements his voice was inaudible.

"Easy ahead!" ordered Derek.

With a jerk that shook No. 21 from keel to truck the hawser took up
the strain. For some moments it seemed as if no progress were being
made against wind and tide, until foot by foot the hardly-pressed
boat and her tow fought their way towards the surging waters on the
bar.

At one minute the motor-craft's stern was deep in the water. At
another the propeller was whirling in the air and the powerful engine
racing madly. Sheets of solid water poured over her bluff bows, until
the thick glass panes of the wheel-house threatened to give way under
the formidable onslaught.

Well it was that Derek knew the channel well both by night and day.
All he had to guide him were the leading lights astern. Ahead nothing
but inky blackness; to port the breakers threshing against the Tinker
Shoal; to starboard more white-foamed masses of water hurling
themselves upon the flats of the Dairymaid Sands. An error of eighty
yards on either hand would result in disaster both to the R.A.F. boat
and her tow, for, notwithstanding her strong construction and
uncapsizable design, the life-boat would stand no earthly chance
should she be hurled upon the boiling breakers over the sands.

Suddenly a light flashed through the darkness away on the starboard
bow.

"NC--NC--NC" it called, signifying in code language: "In distress;
require immediate assistance."

"Three hundred yards over the Dairymaid Bank," declared Derek to his
coxswain. "Keep her as she is; we can't edge in any closer. I'll slip
the life-boat when she's dead to windward."

"Aye, aye, sir!" replied the man, wiping the spray from his eyes. The
wheel-house window was open, for closed, with the water continually
being flung against the glass, the limited range of vision was still
further reduced.

Plunging, rolling, and staggering, the staunch little craft plugged
steadily onwards, the life-boat straining and yawing at the end of
three hundred feet of stout grass hawser. With little protection save
that afforded by the high, rounded fore-deck, the life-belted and
oilskinned crew of the life-boat were literally sitting in water, in
spite of the relieving tubes that allowed the boat to free itself of
any breaking seas.

"Far enough," decided Derek. "Keep her head to wind, coxswain!"

Making his way aft the young officer ascended the short iron ladder
and looked astern. He had to hold on like grim death, for the lively
motion of the motor-craft made it impossible to stand unaided on the
slippery deck.

Raising one arm Derek motioned to the life-boat to cast off. The
coxswain of the latter saw the signal. The motionless crew became
active. The hawser was cast off, and oars fell into the crutches.
Backing the while, the life-boat vanished into the darkness.

Returning to the wheel-house Derek consulted his watch. It was now
nearly six o'clock. Already he had been afloat for more than two
hours, and the time had passed with inconceivable rapidity. In
another hour and a quarter there would be sufficient light to
distinguish the position and nature of the vessel in distress.

Meanwhile ensued a tedious wait. Unable to anchor, since the seas
were vicious and breaking, and the holding-ground was bad, No. 21 had
to keep her motor running, continuously throttling down, so that her
position was practically unaltered. Yet the task of keeping to the
channel was one that taxed the helmsman's and the engineer's skill to
the uttermost. The latter, unfortunately, was seized with a violent
attack of sea-sickness, yet in spite of the nausea, accentuated by
the reek of hot oil, he stuck doggedly to his post, knowing full well
that any failure on his part to keep the motor running would
inevitably result in the boat becoming a total wreck on the Dairymaid
Sands, with the possibility of loss of life on the part of the crew.

Very slowly the day dawned, the growing light laying bare the dangers
that the veil of night had partly hidden. R.A.F. No. 21 was still
chugging away in the centre of the channel. Ahead, astern, as far as
the eye could see, was a foaming mass of broken water, thundering to
leeward upon the flat, sandy beach. Broad on the starboard beam the
Bar Buoy, the light of which had ignominiously failed, was plunging
in the foaming water. Beyond the buoy the outlines of Old Tom, the
detached chalk pinnacle, could be faintly discerned through the mirk.
The lofty hills were as if they were not. Hidden in the driving rain,
their absence gave the coast-line an unfamiliar aspect.

Midway between the edge of the buoyed channel and the sand-dunes lay
a long, low grey craft over which the breakers were sweeping
continuously. From a light mast two flags streamed out stiffly in the
breeze. Being end-on they were unrecognizable until a temporary
change in the wind revealed their nationality. The upper one was the
Rising Sun of Japan; underneath was the craven Black Cross of
Germany. The stranded craft was a surrendered U-boat that had been
handed over to Japan, and it was an unfortunate occurrence that on
the commencement of her voyage to the Far East the prize showed every
sign of slipping through her new owner's fingers.

"This is a rummy world," thought Derek. "A few months ago I was doing
my level best to strafe these bounders; now I'm doing ditto to assist
in the salvage of one of them. But, by Jove! I wouldn't give much for
her chance; she's done in, I fancy."

Midway between the motor-craft and the U-boat lay the life-boat,
buoyantly riding to a long cable. She had approached the stranded
vessel as close as she dared, and was even now in danger of bumping
her keel on the hard sand. Solidly constructed and well built as she
was, she could not afford to risk stranding in the breakers, which
would roll her over and over like a barrel. It was almost dead low
water, and until the flood had made considerably it was madness for
the life-boat to attempt to run alongside the U-boat and take off the
crew.

But as long as the life-boat was engaged in the work of rescue R.A.F.
No. 21 had to stand by. Chilled to the bone by the cold and wet, and
fatigued by their night's exertions, the life-boat-men would be
relying on the motor-craft to tow them into harbour.

In the grey dawn a long, lean black destroyer was sighted making her
way slowly towards the Bar Buoy. Green seas were tumbling viciously
over her raised fo'c'sle, while showers of spray were sizzling
against her hot funnel. As she approached, Derek noticed that her
life-buoys were painted white with four bands of red. Buoys painted
thus are foreign to the British navy; and, although the destroyer
resembled in almost every detail the British "River" Class boats,
Derek rightly concluded that she also was Japanese.

Later on it transpired that the destroyer was towing the submarine.
In heavy weather the hawser parted, one end getting foul of the
destroyer's starboard propeller, while the U-boat, without means of
self-propulsion, drifted ashore on the Dairymaid Bank.

It was noon before the Japanese crew of the submarine were fetched
off by the life-boat, and until this was done R.A.F. 21 had to stand
by. Finally, with less than two gallons of fuel in her tanks, she
brought the life-boat safely into Fisherton Harbour.

Dog-tired, his ears raw from exposure to the cold spray, his heels
galled by the chafing of his sea-boots, Derek, having dismissed his
crew, turned in and slept like a log, happy in the knowledge that
another useful peace-time task had been successfully accomplished.



CHAPTER XXVIII

To the Sea-plane's Aid


"O Joy! O Rapture!" exclaimed John Kaye. "At last the mighty stream
of demobilization is stayed, Daventry. Forty new hands have come in
this morning. There will be a chance of commissioning some more
boats. They're shouting for you in the Adjutant's office, old son."

"What for?" enquired Derek. "S'pose it's not in connection with our
demob. or otherwise?"

For weeks Derek and Kaye had been more or less on tenterhooks. Both
had applied for permanent commissions in the Marine Branch of the
Royal Air Force, and, although their papers had been endorsed with a
strong recommendation by the C.O., there appeared to be an endless
and exasperating period of suspense.

"Unfortunately, no," replied Kaye. "They are overwhelmed with work in
the Adjutant's office. The Adjy. hasn't had time even to play
deck-quoits for the last three days. They want your aid, my festive
bravo."

"Rotten luck!" growled Derek. "If there's anything I loathe it's
fugging in an office. Had two half days at it at Torringham, I
remember. Didn't feel fit for flying for nearly a week. Make the best
of it, though, and the sooner the job's done the better I'll be
pleased."

The reason for Derek's presence in the office was quickly
forthcoming. The forty new arrivals were formed up in the corridor,
each man having to furnish particulars of himself in order that the
office records might be checked.

"Something wrong here, Daventry," remarked the Adjutant, tossing over
a slip of paper on which a pay-room sergeant had written down certain
particulars. "George Townley, born 1899, at Itching Abbess--sounds
like the head of a nunnery plagued with vermin, eh, what?"

"I'll have the man in and see what it means," suggested Derek.

He opened the door. Just outside was the Sergeant engaged in
questioning the new arrivals, One was an ex-R.N. able-seaman who had
re-engaged for transfer to the R.A.F.

"Three good-conduct stripes, eh?" exclaimed the N.C.O. disdainfully.
His acquaintance with conduct stripes was rather a distressful one,
he having been disrated twice before he turned over a new leaf. "My
opinion of a three-good-conduct-badges man is one who keeps the
Commander, Master-at-Arms, and the Mainmast all in a straight
line--savvy?"

Catching sight of Derek the Sergeant pulled himself up. He was one of
those men who, unfortunately, do exist in all three
services--sarcastically overbearing to those under him, and fawningly
civil to those in authority.

"What's this, Sergeant?" asked Derek, holding out the paper. "There
seems to be some mistake about this man's birthplace."

"No, sir," replied the N.C.O. with conviction. "I looked the words up
in the dictionary to make sure. 'Taint the first man I've come across
who can't spell."

"Where's the man?" asked the Lieutenant.

"Here, sir!"

"Well," began Derek, addressing the airman, "there seems to be some
slight doubt concerning the place in which you were born. What is
it?"

A suspicion of a smile flitted across the man's face.

"Itchen Abbass, sir; a village near Winchester," he replied. "I tried
to explain to the Sergeant, but he would have his own way."

For the next month or so Sableridge Training Depot was passing
through a dark period of its history. Like other army and air
establishments it was suffering from the blight of demobilization.
Those officers and men who knew that they might be returned to civil
life any day didn't trouble in the slightest about duty. Their one
idea was to pack up and clear out as quickly as possible. Discipline
was lax; vague rumours of the closing down of the station were in the
air. On parade the numbers steadily, nay, rapidly, dwindled, until
the four "flights" were reduced to a tenth of their former strength.
In the harbour expensive motor-boats were rotting and rusting at
their moorings for want of hands to man them and keep them in a state
of efficiency.

All this was a disconcerting outlook for men of Derek's type. The
departing units exercised an undesirable influence on those who were
staying on, while, what was worse, they gave a cue to the new
recruits.

"We're sending you to the doctor this morning, old son," announced
the Adjutant to Derek. "All officers applying for permanent
commissions are to be medically examined before noon."

Derek heard the tidings without emotion. He remembered his first
medical examination for the service; how it filled him with
trepidation, as he feared that the doctor would discover some defect
hitherto unknown to him. Since that time Daventry had become
case-hardened. The examination, which might prove an ordeal to many,
hardly troubled him in the least.

The R.A.M.C. Captain, an elderly man, whose rugged features and bull
voice were merely foils to a kindly and sympathetic nature, wasted no
time.

"You're O.K., Daventry," he declared, "fit as a fiddle. I'll put you
in A category. That means you're all right for aerial work. Why,
what's the matter? You don't look pleased."

There was an expression of perplexity in Derek's face. A few months
previously he would have hailed with delight the prospect of being a
knight of the air once more; now a different feeling had arisen. The
innate seaman's instinct had developed. He loved the sea; the actual
marine work at Sableridge fascinated him. The thought of having to
sever his connection with the depot rather staggered him.

"It's the uncertainty of everything that's worrying me," remarked the
doctor, after Derek had explained. "Here am I, Medical Officer of
Health to a large manufacturing district, hanging about here with
precious little to do, while there are tons of work awaiting me at
home. The authorities can't make up their minds, or if they can they
won't, and the consequence is I'm at a loose end. Now, only the other
day----"

Just then the doctor's flow of oratory was cut short by the arrival
of a messenger.

"Mr. Daventry here, sir?" he enquired. "The Major wants to see him at
once."

Hastily donning his tunic Derek made his way to the room of the
Second in Command.

"Oh, Daventry," began the Major, returning his subordinate's salute.
"I've a little stunt for you. There's a wireless message just been
received at Baxton and telephoned on to us. A large seaplane has been
forced to descend here"--he placed his finger on a large chart of the
English Channel--"latitude so and so; longitude so and so. Why she's
come down we don't know, but she's wirelessed for assistance. I want
you to take R.A.F. 1292 B and make for her at full speed. Get hold of
her and take her in tow. I'll send No. 21 to give a hand in case
she's too much of a handful. 1292 B has plenty of petrol, I hope?"

"Yes, sir," replied Derek. "Filled up this morning."

It was one of Daventry's forms of recreation, in the hum-drum days of
the demobilization period, to see that boats immediately under his
charge were kept as efficient as the scarcity of hands permitted.
Every day he had the engines running, so that the boats would be in a
state of seaworthiness. No. 1292 B was a twenty-two knotter, while
No. 21 was capable of doing only nine and a half knots. Could he get
the crippled sea-plane in tow with the first boat he could slow down
until the more powerfully-engined No. 21 could relieve her of the
tow.

"Wonder what a sea-plane's doing about here?" thought Derek, as he
hurried off to turn out the crew from the Duty Watch. "Haven't seen a
machine up since the armistice. Joy-riders, I suppose."

Fortunately it was a fine day, although the sky was overcast. The sea
was smooth, so that, running at a high speed, the first motor-boat
was fairly dry. What spray she raised she threw aside by her
pronounced flare.

"All out!" ordered Derek. "Give her full throttle!"

Steering by compass Daventry held on for nearly two hours,
continually sweeping the horizon with his glasses in the hope of
spotting the disabled sea-plane. Smudges of smoke indicated shipping,
so that it was quite possible that the aviators might have been
picked up by a vessel bound up or down Channel.

Standing with feet well apart on the slippery fore-deck one of the
crew also kept a sharp look out. It was he who reported something at
a distance of four or five miles on the port bow.

"That's what we're looking for," declared Derek, as he, too, took up
a precarious position on the cambered fore-deck. "Starboard your
helm, coxswain; steady--at that!"

A few minutes' run enabled the crew of No. 1292 B to verify their
skipper's words. Riding easily on the gentle swell was a triplane of
the latest type--a four-engined, cabined sea-plane capable of a 2000
miles non-stop run, accidents excepted. Soon it was easy to discern
the tricoloured circles on her fuselage. By the arrangement of
colours Derek knew that she was not an American, as he first
supposed, but a British R.A.F. 'bus.

"Can't see anything wrong with her," he soliloquized. "Something must
be adrift, of course, but hanged if I can see."

Adroitly handling his boat the coxswain brought her close alongside
the huge starboard float, one of the triplane's crew swarming down to
assist in making fast the heaving line. Other airmen and mechanics
were taking a lively interest in the salvage operations, while from
an open window in the side of the fuselage a red face surmounted by a
gold-leafed cap was gazing down upon the rescuing boat.

"What's wrong?" enquired Derek.

"Both pilots crocked, sir," replied the man on the float. "They were
just turning over when we hit a pocket pretty badly. One is stunned;
the other has a broken collar-bone and two fingers dislocated. Have
you a doctor with you, sir?"

"No," replied Derek. "We had no information that one was required.
Why didn't you wireless for medical aid?"

"We just got off our first message, sir, and then we landed rather
badly. Our aerial was trailing, and the bump 'konked' out the
apparatus. I'm not a wireless man myself, sir; but our operator can
explain."

"I'll take you in tow," said Daventry. "With luck we'll have you in
Fisherton Harbour within four or five hours."

"Not if it can be avoided," protested the Staff Officer, from his
elevated perch. "Why the deuce didn't they send out more pilots?
You'd better go back at full speed and bring off a couple of good,
experienced flying-officers. It's an urgent case; absolutely
imperative that the flight be resumed without loss of time."

Derek was about to order the bowman to cast off when a thought struck
him.

"May I come on board, sir?" he asked. "I'm a pilot."

"Are you, by Jove?" rejoined the Staff Officer, who, as shown by the
badges on his shoulder-straps, was a Brigadier-General. "That's
fortunate! Yes, come aboard, by all means."

Leaping on to the float Derek swarmed up one of the struts and gained
the open hatchway on the underside of the fuselage. The sight within
was an eye-opener. He had no idea of the vast strides in aerial
construction that had been made since the time when he had to
relinquish flying.

The fuselage was nearly a hundred feet in length and entirely
enclosed. It gave one the impression that it was the interior of a
yacht, for on either side of the central corridor were
partitioned-off compartments--cabins for passengers, officers, and
crew, as well as a spacious but completely-crowded engine-room.

Right amidships were the two state-rooms in the occupation of the
Staff Officer and his secretary. One compartment was furnished as a
combined dining- and living-room, the other as a bedroom, with
aluminium cots so arranged that, at any normal angle the sea-plane
might assume, they would be always horizontal.

It was in the former cabin that Derek was received. There was nobody
about to overhear the interview.

"Can you pilot this craft to Corunna?" asked the Brigadier-General.
"It is a matter of extreme national importance that I arrive there
before five this afternoon. If you cannot do it, then perhaps you
might be able to take the sea-plane as far as Falmouth, where I can
get experienced pilots."

"I can, sir," replied Derek.

"You've had experience?"

"Cross-Channel flights, sir; also some months' service on the Western
Front."

"Good enough!" exclaimed the Staff Officer. "Carry on! The engineers
say there's nothing wrong with the motors."

"Very good, sir," replied Derek, saluting.

Entering the pilot's cabin Daventry found the two injured men. One
was still insensible; the other, white-faced, was trying to make the
best of his injuries. To him Derek put a few questions; then he
telephoned to the engine-room, and received the reply that all was in
readiness to resume the interrupted flight.

Very gently the two injured officers were lowered into the still
waiting motor-boat.

"Carry on, coxswain!" ordered Derek. "Steer nor'-a-quarter-east and
you'll pick up land within ten miles of Sableridge, even if you don't
fall in with No. 21 before. Report to the C.O. that I am detained on
duty, and that I will wire him directly I get ashore."

The motor-boat pushed off, swung round, and set off at full speed for
the invisible shore; while Derek, after testing the contacts--a
process that took what seemed ages of suspense to the impatient
Brigadier-General--gave the word for the four motors to be started.

Taxi-ing over the smooth sea nearly two hundred yards until
sufficient speed was attained, the huge sea-plane "took-off" almost
imperceptibly. Then, climbing to two thousand feet, the triplane
settled down to her long flight to the distant shores of Spain.



CHAPTER XXIX

In the Interests of the State


It did not take Derek long to accustom himself to the peculiarities
of the sea-plane. Had it been one of the flying-boats that the
Lieutenant had been called upon to pilot across the seas the task
would have been an awkward and difficult one. Once fairly up, there
is very little difference between an aeroplane and a sea-plane, but
there are wide distinctions between the latter and the huge
flying-boats which, devoid of floats, rely upon their hulls for
buoyancy when on the water.

Derek elected to fly fairly high, maintaining a height of five
thousand feet. This gave him a chance, in the event of making a
blunder with the unaccustomed system of controls, while at the same
time there was less chance of coming across an air-pocket.

Quickly he discovered that his hand had not lost its cunning.
Although it was months--it seemed like years--since Derek had had
control of joy-stick and rudder-bar, the old skill still remained.
And the exhilaration of it! To be once more rushing through space,
soaring high above the waves!

"This is some stunt," thought the reinstated pilot. "Wonder what's
taking the old Brass Hat to Spain? Joy-ride, or what? After all, it's
all in a day's work."

Applying the automatic steering device Derek turned to consult the
charts. A hasty examination showed that his predecessor had
faithfully recorded the course almost up to the time of the
triplane's involuntary descent. The red-inked line and
rough-pencilled notations were of considerable service. They enabled
Derek to set a compass-course corrected for air leeway and ordinary
magnetic deviation. Provided the force and direction of the wind
remained fairly constant, the task of piloting the seaplane would be
a fairly simple matter.

It was aviation _de luxe_. The pilot's house, with windows of triplex
glass affording an all-round view, was warm and free from buffeting
draughts. With the glass in position the roar of the powerful engines
was reduced to a barely perceptible purr.

Thirty miles to the nor'ard the rugged uplands of Dartmoor could be
clearly discerned, while ahead, and slightly on the starboard bow,
could be seen the indented outlines of the Cornish coast, for Derek
was purposely keeping within easy distance of shore until well over
the Scillies. Then it was his intention to strike a bee-line for his
destination. Occasionally altering the automatic course-director,
Derek found that he had plenty of time at his disposal. After a while
things became tedious. Cooped up in a glass box he missed the actual
sensation of flying through the air. It was more like sitting in a
carriage of an express train than being absolutely in control of an
air-craft. Compared with the lift and heave of the ocean the motion
seemed a very tame affair.

"By Jove! the Pater was right after all," soliloquized Derek.
"Flying's all very well; but it's the sea that scores--scores every
time. There's nothing to equal a life afloat."

He let down one of the sliding glass panels. The rush of air acted
like a tonic. The suggestion of actual aerial speed reasserted
itself. There was something indescribably joyous in the sensation. He
could almost imagine himself back in his old 'bus circling over the
Hun lines.

He missed the airman's flying-helmet, goggles, and leather coat. It
was bitterly cold. The wind buffeted his face until his eyes smarted
and his ears throbbed and tingled, yet it was better, in his opinion,
than being cooped up in a glass box.

Just then the door opened and one of the crew entered. Vainly the man
tried to make himself understood, and it was not until the glass
slide had been replaced that Derek was able to engage in
conversation.

"The actuating wire of the starboard aileron of the lower plane's
carried away, sir," reported the man in quite a matter-of-fact tone.
A housewife on discovering that a cat had stolen the morning's milk
would have shown much more concern. "I'll just nip along and make a
temporary repair."

"Very good!" replied Derek, cutting out the automatic control, and
grasping the joy-stick. "Carry on!"

The airman withdrew. Presently Derek saw him cautiously making his
way along outside the covered fuselage; then, throwing himself flat
upon the plane and grasping the forward edge, the man began to work
his way outwards. Only his hold upon the sharp edge of the cambered
wing prevented him being swept away like a piece of paper by the
two-hundred-mile-per-hour wind.

Hanging on like a limpet, and keeping his head well down, the
dauntless airman at length reached the spot where the wire had
parted--a distance of about six feet from the extremity of the plane.
In spite of the man's weight the triplane evinced no tendency to
tilt, although it required a slight alteration of helm of the
horizontal rudder to counteract the additional resistance set up by
his body. In this hazardous position, holding on with one hand, and
keeping his legs planted firmly against a vertical strut, the airman
set to work to make good the damage.

First the ends of the severed wire had to be secured in a bowline
made in each. Through these loops the clips of a bottle-screw were
placed, and the wires drawn up to their original tension.

Working at a height of five thousand feet, while travelling at a
speed of one hundred and sixty miles an hour--for Derek had ordered
the motors to be throttled slightly--the gallant airman completed his
task in twenty minutes; then, benumbed with the cold and with lying
in a decidedly awkward position, he made his way back to the shelter
of the enclosed fuselage.

By this time the Scillies, looking like a scattered heap of pebbles
showing above a large sheet of tranquil water, were left astern.
Ahead great masses of indigo-coloured clouds, tinged with vivid
coppery hues, betokened the presence of a storm-centre. Ragged wisps
of dark-grey vapour were scurrying over the sky, interrupting at
frequent intervals the hitherto continuous blaze of sunlight.

Derek realized that there was no escape except by a tremendously long
detour. Since time was a decided object, such a course was
impracticable, for there would be the risk of being carried away a
long distance from the objective. It was a case of carrying on at
full speed, and taking one's chance with the approaching storm.

"What do you make of that?" enquired a voice, as Derek again closed
the window of the pilot's house.

Turning, the Lieutenant found the exalted passenger--the
Brigadier-General--standing behind him.

"Atmospheric disturbance of some magnitude, sir," replied Daventry.
"There is no cause for anxiety," he added.

"Isn't there? by Jove!" ejaculated the Brigadier-General grimly.
"Hope you're right, young man. What's up with your meteorological
experts at the Air Ministry, I should like to know? Their forecast is
'light variable breezes; conditions fit for cross-country flights
with all types of machines'. Someone adrift somewhere, I should
imagine."

In his mind Derek was obliged to admit the impeachment.

"But that refers to the British Isles, sir," he remarked
diplomatically. "Already we are approaching the Bay of Biscay."

"Let's hope we don't have to swim for it," growled the
Brigadier-General. "I'm trusting to you. I'll stay here, if you don't
mind."

"You'd do better in your cabin, sir," Derek reminded him. "We may be
in for a bit of a dusting, and you'll be all right lying on your
bunk."

"Lying on my bunk!" exclaimed the Staff Officer loudly. "By Gad, sir!
I've never yet faced danger lying down. _J'y suis; j'y reste_ is my
motto."

Before Derek could say anything further the triplane entered the
storm-zone. The first blast of disturbed air tilted the giant machine
until the planes assumed an angle of seventy degrees to the
horizontal. Then, staggering and plunging, the triplane was literally
hurled in the opposite direction, until it seemed to be standing on
the tips of the starboard wing.

It was now almost as dark as the blackest night. Unable to read the
clinometer, Derek strove by sense of touch to keep the machine, as
far as possible, on an even keel. More than once his feet slipped
violently, as if someone had knocked them from under him. It was only
by hanging on to the sensitive joy-stick that the pilot saved himself
from being hurled bodily against the panelling of the cabin. At one
moment literally standing on its tail, at another diving almost
vertically, the while lurching from side to side, the triplane
battled with the storm. Hail-stones rattled like machine-gun fire
against the redoubtable triplex glass. The whole fabric groaned and
creaked under the unusual stresses and strains, the disconcerting
roar of the storm completely outvoicing the noise of the motors.
Whether the engines were still running or not Derek had no means of
determining. Literally penned in the enclosed space, he could merely
hold on, hoping for the best.

This state of things, nerve-racking and appalling in their vehemence,
and rendered still more so by reason of the utter darkness, continued
for a seemingly endless space of time. Then, almost without warning,
the badly-buffeted triplane emerged from the dense pall of the
storm-cloud into dazzling sunshine.

The first thing that Derek did was to assure himself that the
sea-plane was under control. Fortunately such was the case, although
there were ominous rents in certain parts of the enormous
wing-spread. The triplex glass of the pilot's room still held,
although the stout substance was "starred" in many places, as if hit
by a bullet. The altimeter registered a height of only one thousand
five hundred feet, while a glance at the clock showed that the
seemingly interminable passage through the storm had occupied only
eleven minutes.

Something plucking at Derek's sea-boots attracted his attention. He
had forgotten his companion, the Brigadier-General. The latter was
lying on his back along the starboard side of the compartment,
purple-faced and wellnigh breathless with the unmerciful buffeting he
had received. In one of the opposite corners reclined his gold-leafed
cap, presenting an appearance hardly compatible with that of a
Brigadier-General's head-gear.

"That's the stuff to give 'em," thought Derek grimly, as he
contemplated the recumbent figure. "I wonder if he's wishing he'd
taken my advice."

To assist the unfortunate Staff Officer was out of the question, for
all Derek's attention had to be devoted to keeping the triplane under
control. Although clear of the storm-cloud, the machine was still
rocking in the wind-eddies in the wake of the violent gale.

Presently the Brigadier-General sat up and groped for his displaced
head-gear.

"By Jove, young man," he exclaimed, "that was a twister! Thought we
were done in this time. Wish I'd taken your advice."

"It certainly was a bit thick, sir," replied Derek, ignoring the
latter part of the Brigadier's remarks, which so closely coincided
with his own unspoken thoughts. "But it's all over now. Everything
points to a good passage for the rest of the run."

The remainder of the flight turned out as Daventry had predicted. In
a clear sky, and in the full blaze of the sunshine, the triplane,
pelting along as fast as the skilled engineer knew how to make her
go, was rapidly decreasing the distance between her and the rugged
hills of northern Spain.

"Land right ahead!"


[Illustration: IT WAS A CASE OF TAKING ONE'S CHANCE WITH THE
APPROACHING STORM]


This announcement, coming from the lips of one of the crew, roused
Derek's failing energies, for, unprepared for the journey, and
desperately hungry, he was beginning to feel the effects of mental
and physical strain.

Low down to the south'ard he could discern a serrated range of hills,
looming up dark-blue against the pale azure sky. Away to the westward
the land terminated abruptly, although Derek thought he could
distinguish more high ground beyond.

"Must be Cape Ortegal; and the other land is Cape Finisterre," he
decided. "I'm only between ten to twenty miles out in my reckoning.
Not bad for a first attempt."

Altering helm, Daventry made straight for the land that he supposed
to be Cape Ortegal. Flying at two hundred miles an hour does not give
a pilot much time to make up his mind. He must decide quickly and
definitely.

A few minutes later the Staff Officer, who had retired for repairs
and refreshment, entered the pilot's cabin.

"You're doing well," he remarked. "I know this part of Spain
intimately, and we are heading straight for Corunna. You'll see the
harbour in a few minutes. But you look a bit done up. Try a drop of
this."

And he handed Derek a flask.

The pilot accepted the liquid gratefully. It acted as a stimulus,
although he drank sparingly.

"There you are!" continued the Brigadier-General, as an apparently
narrow slip of water appeared in view between the enclosing high
ground. "That's Corunna Harbour. I'll tell you when to--er--alight. I
was almost on the point of saying 'land'."

"Quite a professional term in the R.A.F., sir," rejoined Derek.
"Without being guilty of perpetrating an Irish bull, one may
correctly apply the term 'land' to flying-boats and sea-planes
alighting on the water. What space do I want? Two hundred yards will
be ample, sir, and the harbour doesn't seem to be crowded."

Descending to five hundred feet Derek brought the triplane head to
wind, and then, "choosing his pitch", made a creditable landing
within fifty yards of a quay. Then, taxi-ing to a buoy, the giant
sea-plane was secured, but not before she was surrounded by a small
fleet of motor-launches and rowing-boats.

"I'll be back in two hours," said the Brigadier-General, as he
boarded a Customs launch. He spoke as casually as if he were ordering
his chauffeur to wait outside his club. "In the meanwhile, I expect
that you will make all necessary preparations for the return
journey--petrol and all that sort of thing."

Punctually to time the British Staff Officer returned in a Spanish
Government launch, and attended by a bevy of brightly-uniformed
grandees and naval and military officers. His bronzed face was
wreathed in smiles. He looked like a schoolboy granted an unexpected
half-holiday.

"I'm afraid I cannot let you into state secrets, Mr. Daventry," he
remarked, when safely on board the triplane; "but, without divulging
anything of a strictly confidential nature, I can tell you that my
mission has been entirely successful. The result of my conference
with certain Spanish authorities means the death-blow to Bolshevism
in Spain, for, as you possibly know, there has been for months past a
dangerous tendency in that direction amongst a certain section of the
Iberian populace. Certain measures had to be taken instantly, and you
have contributed in no slight way to their success. I congratulate
you. And now concerning the return journey. How long will it take?"

Derek glanced at his watch.

"Where do you wish to make for, sir?" he enquired.

"Anywhere you jolly well like!" rejoined the Brigadier-General
boisterously. "S'long as it's Blighty the rest doesn't matter much.
You're used to night flying?"

"Yes, sir," replied Derek. "All being well, I hope to set you ashore
at Sableridge depot at or about eight o'clock to-morrow morning."



CHAPTER XXX

The Choice


At a quarter to eight on the following morning the officers of the
Sableridge depot forgathered, according to custom, in the ante-room
of the mess before proceeding to breakfast.

Some were busy with their correspondence, for the morning post had
just arrived. Others were studiously scanning the official notices on
the board; while the majority were engaged in conversation on various
topics.

"Hasn't that young blighter Daventry telegraphed?" enquired the
Major. "Wonder what stunt he's on? In any case he ought to have
landed before dark last evening."

"Nothing come through from him, sir," replied the Officer of the
Watch. "Here's a report from Scantlebury announcing the arrival of
R.A.F. 23 at Harwich. Jephson wires that No. 19 is detained at
Falmouth owing to heavy weather."

"Heavy weather!" echoed the Major. "It's been perfectly calm here.
What was the meteorological report for South-west England yesterday,
Captain Wells? H'm! 'Heavy squalls; wind attaining a velocity of
sixty miles an hour.' Hope Daventry didn't strike that and get into
trouble."

"Aeroplane somewhere!" announced one of the junior officers.

There was a rush to the windows. Since the armistice there had been
few air-craft in the vicinity of Sableridge, and when one did put in
an appearance it attracted more attention than in those seemingly
far-off days when the world was at war.

A deep bass hum, momentarily growing louder and louder, proclaimed
the fact that a super-powerful aeroplane was approaching.

"A triplane--there she is!" exclaimed the Officer of the Watch. "By
Jove, she's coming down! I'll have to turn out the duty-boat's crew."

He hurried off to the telephone, while the rest of his brother
officers, many of them capless, raced out of the ante-room to the
water's edge.

"Some bird that!" remarked one. "I believe it's a Yankee just across
for the trans-Atlantic flight."

"Yankee my grandmother!" interrupted another contemptuously. "That
chap knows his job, and he knows where he's landing. Look! He's
making straight for the pier-head, against wind and tide."

Like an enormous hawk the triplane swooped down, coming in contact
with the water with little more than a double "plop" and a small
cloud of foam. Then, disdaining the assistance of a motor-boat, the
giant sea-plane glided on the surface, coming to a stop within ten
feet of the now crowded pier-head.

A coil of rope was dexterously flung and the end made fast; then, to
everyone's surprise, the window of the pilot's cabin was lowered, and
the head and shoulders of Lieutenant Derek Daventry were revealed.

"What have you been up to, old bird?" enquired Kaye, as his chum
ascended the pier steps.

"Keeping late hours," replied Derek, with a prodigious yawn. "An' now
I'm going to sleep the clock round."

It is one thing to make a resolution and quite another to keep it.
Derek, having reported himself, promptly retreated to his quarters,
bolted the door, undressed, and turned in.

Three hours later--it was a few minutes after the morning papers had
arrived--he was aroused by a tremendous hubbub outside. The door
rattled and shook under the hammer-like blows of half a dozen lusty
officers.

"Open the door!" they bawled.

"Push off!" replied Derek. "Rag someone else; but for goodness sake
let me alone!"

But with an utter disregard for official warnings concerning the care
and maintenance of private buildings appropriated for official use,
the boisterous crew without promptly charged the door with their
shoulders. Locks and hinges were not proof against the onslaught,
and, with a crash, the woodwork was burst, and a swarm of officers
poured in, headed by Kaye, who was brandishing a copy of _The Times_.

"Here you are!" exclaimed Kaye, when the uproar had somewhat
subsided. "From last night's _Gazette_: 'Awarded the D.S.O.:
Lieutenant Derek Daventry, R.A.F., for valuable services rendered
under heavy hostile fire whilst engaged upon machine-gunning and
bombing enemy trenches; also for good work performed in the
destruction of enemy air-craft both at home and on the Western
Front'."

"Are you fellows trying to pull my leg?" enquired Derek grimly, as he
ostentatiously handled the water-jug. "If so----"

"Kamerad! kamerad!" exclaimed the deputation in mock dismay. "Put up
your lethal weapon, Daventry, old sport. It's a fact! No hoax! It's
drinks all round the mess at your expense, my lad!"

In the midst of the torrent of congratulations, mingled with
good-natured banter, an orderly announced that the Colonel wished to
see Mr. Daventry. Promptly Derek bundled the deputation out of the
room, and dressed with the utmost haste.

"Congratulations, Mr. Daventry!" began the Colonel. "It is gratifying
to know that honours do come our way, although, in your case, you won
them before you entered this branch of the service. And now, another
point. Your application for a permanent commission has been granted
--here is the approval. You are required to state whether you wish to
remain in the Marine Branch or re-transfer to the Flying Section, as
I understand that you are again passed medically fit for aerial work.
Well, have you come to any decision? or, perhaps, you might like to
have time to consider the question?"

Derek did not require time. For weeks he had debated with himself
upon the subject of his choice.

"I prefer the life afloat, sir," he replied.

"Good man!" rejoined the Colonel warmly, for, born and bred to the
sea himself, he understood.



  PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
  _By Blackie & Son, Limited, Glasgow_



  [Transcriber's Notes:

    This book contains a number of misprints.
    The following misprints have been corrected:

      [past the struts and tension-aires] ->
         [past the struts and tension-wires]

      [objected Davantry,] ->
         [objected Daventry,]

      [the Chinese compond] ->
         [the Chinese compound]

      [he swung it vigourously] ->
         [he swung it vigorously]

         [vigourously] could have been correct, as
         a now obsolete spelling. This is not the case here, because
         there are several instances of [vigorously] in this book.

      [the flash, and distintcly] ->
         [the flash, and distinctly]

      [the general concensus] ->
         [the general consensus]

    A few cases of punctuation errors were corrected, but are
    not mentioned here.
  ]





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