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Air Service Boys Over the Atlantic by Charles Amory Beach

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AIR SERVICE BOYS OVER THE ATLANTIC

OR

THE LONGEST FLIGHT ON RECORD

BY CHARLES AMORY BEACH

1920

CONTENTS

CHAPTER

I OUT FOR BUSINESS

II THE RESCUE

III A BOLD PROJECT

IV THE REST BILLET

V THE AIR RAIDERS

VI STRIKING A BLOW FOR LIBERTY

VII THE BATTLE IN THE AIR

VIII BOMBING THE BRIDGE

IX CONVINCING PROOF

X GROPING FOR LIGHT

XI THE AMAZING PLAN

XII GRIPPED IN SUSPENSE

XIII OFF FOR THE CHANNEL

XIV READY FOR THE START

XV THE LONG FLIGHT BEGUN

XVI THE FIRST NIGHT OUT

XVII WHEN THE SUBMARINE STRUCK

XVIII THE COLD HAND OF FEAR

XIX A DESPERATE CHANCE

XX ON THE ICE FLOE

XXI ATTACKED BY A POLAR BEAR

XXII WHEN THE ICEBERG ROLLED OVER

XXIII THE END OF THE FLIGHT

XXIV SURPRISING BRIDGETON

XXV TO SEE THE WAR THROUGH--CONCLUSION

CHAPTER I

OUT FOR BUSINESS

"Look! What does that mean, Tom?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER II

THE RESCUE

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

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

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

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

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

"Great luck! get busy then!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"My sentiments exactly," added Jack.

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

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

CHAPTER III

A BOLD PROJECT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"Berlin or bust?" chanced Jack explosively.

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

Jack thrust out his hand impulsively.

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

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

With that Lieutenant Beverly squeezed a hand of each.

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

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

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

Jack looked his admiration, and then burst out with:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What is that?"

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

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

CHAPTER IV

THE REST BILLET

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER V

THE AIR RAIDERS

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VI

STRIKING A BLOW FOR LIBERTY

"Climb, Tom! Climb in a hurry!"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VII

THE BATTLE IN THE AIR

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER VIII

BOMBING THE BRIDGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER IX

CONVINCING PROOF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tom and Jack exchanged looks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CHAPTER X

GROPING FOR LIGHT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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