Part 2 out of 3
planes, three hundred would be an outside figure of the number with
which France went to war.
"The use of the aeroplane in war was a subject which gave much
discussion, but few people, even in the army, thought that the
aeroplane would be of great service except for scouting. At the
airdrome where I learned to fly we used to practice dropping
bombs---imaginary ones, of course---but we were so inaccurate at it
that none of us imagined we would be of much use in that direction
in actual warfare. I have heard it said that the Germans directed
their artillery by signals dropped from aircraft at the very
beginning. They did so before they had fought many weeks, anyway.
Boche fliers, English gunners have told me, used to hover over
battery positions and drop long colored streamers and odd showers
of colored lights. It was some time before the Allied airman
contributed much to the value of the Allied gunfire. When they got
at it, they beat the Huns at their own game, for the war had not
been on many months before British planes were flying over Boche
batteries and sending back wireless messages from wireless
telegraph installations on the machines themselves.
"The Boches had lots more machines than the Allies, and their army
command had apparently worked out plans about using them which were
new to our side. I saw some of the early war-work of the British
fliers, for I got into the Army Service Corps, the transport service,
and came out to the front early in 1915. I did not get transferred
into the flying part of the business until the end of that year.
There is no question but that the quality of the British flying men
was what put them ahead of the Germans long before they were equal
mechanically. The French, too, are really great fliers. The Boches
try hard, and are certainly brave enough, but there is something in
the Boche makeup that makes him bound to be second-best to our lot.
I have heard lots of discussions on the subject, and I think those
who argue that the Boche lacks an element of sportsmanship just about
hit the weak point in his armor as regards flying.
"The flying game has been one long succession of discarding the
machines we thought best at one time. That applies to the Germans
as much as it does to us. One has to go back to the start to realize
how much flying has progressed. First, engine construction is another
thing to-day. They can make engines in England now, though they were
a long time getting to the point where they could do it. I believe
that most all the best motor factories in England have learned to turn
out good flying engines by now. It means a lot of difference to
produce a machine that can do sixty miles an hour and one that can do
two miles a minute. Yet at the start mighty few aeroplanes could beat
sixty miles an hour, and to-day I can show you plenty of planes right
here in this 'drome which can do one hundred and twenty. If a plane
cannot do two miles a minute nowadays it is pretty sure to meet
something in enemy hands that can do so. Why, before long one hundred
and twenty may be too slow.
"Then look at altitudes! When I first thought of flying, five thousand
feet up was big. That was not so very long ago. Before the war some
very specially built machines, no good for general work, had been
coaxed up to about fifteen thousand feet by some crack airman, who
had worked for hours to do it, but the best machine we had at the
'drome where I learned flying would only do six thousand, and no one
could get her up there under forty minutes. She was a fine machine,
too, as machines went in those days. To-day it is no exaggeration
to say that ten thousand feet above the earth is low to a flier.
Everyone goes to twenty thousand continually, and many of the biggest
fights take place from seventeen thousand to twenty thousand feet up.
"The character of the work we have to do has changed as much as
the machines have changed. First, anti-aircraft guns---'Archies,'
we call them---have improved enormously. In the first of the show
the airman merely had to keep five thousand feet up and no Archie
could touch him. A French friend of mine told me the other day that
one of their anti-aircraft guns hit a flier at a height of fifteen
thousand feet. The gun was firing from an even greater distance
than that across country, too. The very fact that flying at
considerable height protected aircraft when scouting produced
scientific methods into the collection of information.
"The camera work that has been evolved in this war is little short
of wonderful. When it was realized that the planes could get photographs
from a height that was out of reach of the Archies of those days,
fighting one aeroplane with another came next. Fights in the air,
instead of being rare, became the daily routine. I doubt if any of
the planes that began the war game in 1914 were armed with rapid-fire
guns. The aviators carried automatic pistols or rifles. Some carried
ordinary service revolvers.
"With the introduction of the actual air fighting as a part of the
scheme of things, three distinct jobs were developed. First, the
reconnaissances, which the scouts had to make daily. Next, the
artillery observers, whose work it was to direct our gun-fire. Next,
the fighters, pure and simple. Another job was bombing, but we have
not had as much of that as of the other branches of the work.
"With the coming of the new element---the fighting planes, which
went out with the sole idea of individual combat---came the necessity
for swifter planes, for the man on the fastest machine has the great
advantage in the air. The latest development is along the line of
team-work in attack. So it goes on changing. I think the smaller,
speedier aeroplanes are becoming harder to manage, but we do things
now we never dreamed of doing a year ago. All of us can fly now as
we never thought before the war it would be possible to fly.
"Instead of rifles and pistols in the hands of the aviators every
plane now has at least one rapid-fire gun, and some have two and
even three. The position of the rapid-fire gun on an aeroplane has
a lot to do with the success or failure of a fight in the air. All
of you want to study that question carefully.
"But most fascinating of all to the new airman at the front is the
actual handling of the machines when fighting. There lies the greatest
progress of all. Construction has made big strides, but fliers have
made bigger ones. Wait till you get up front and see."
JIMMY HILL STARTLES THE VETERANS
The Brighton boys lived every hour at that big base airdrome. Jimmy
Hill was sent up on his first practice flight on an English machine.
Joe Little got his chance at the end of a week. He was sent up one
morning in a late-type bombing machine, a huge three-seated biplane
with great spreading wings and a powerful engine. This was a most
formidable looking machine in which one passenger sat out in front
mounted in a sort of machine-gun turret. The big biplane was fast,
in spite of the heavy armament it carried, its three passengers and
its arrangement for carrying hundreds of pounds of bombs as well.
Harry Corwin was in the air at the same time on an artillery machine,
the car or fuselage of which projected far in front of the two planes.
There, well in front of the pilot, the observer sat in a turret with
a machine-gun. Machine-guns were also mounted on the wings, and a
second passenger rode in the tail with another rapid-fire gun.
As Bob Haines had been on a rather long flight that day on a Nieuport,
a fast French biplane, and his observer had told Bob of a new French
dreadnought machine carrying two machine gunners and five machine-guns,
the boys talked armament long into the night.
Every day they learned some new points. One afternoon a pilot from
the front line told of a captured German Albatros, which he spun yarns
about for an hour. A single-seater, armed with three machine-guns
which, being controlled by the motor, or engine, shot automatically
and at the same time through the propeller in front of the pilot, with
the highest speed of any aeroplane then evolved on the fighting front,
with a reputation of being able to climb to an altitude of fifteen
thousand feet in less than fifteen minutes---some said in so short a
time as ten minutes---the crack German machine had attracted much
"With that sort of thing against us," said Dicky Mann, "we have
certainly got to learn to fly."
The same thought may have come to their squadron commander that night,
for the next day saw the start of real post-graduate work in flying
for his command. The rule at the base airdrome had been to give
new units of well-trained flyers good all-round tests on various
types of machines. This involved straight flying for the most part,
and was done more with the idea of familiarizing the newcomers with
the newer types of planes, and deciding for which branch of the work
they were best suited, than for anything else. In the work that gave
the finishing touch to his command, their squadron commander selected
three of the six Brighton boys as candidates for high honors in the
days to come. Every one of the half dozen was good. All were eager.
All flew well. But Joe Little, Jimmy Hill and Harry Corwin seemed
made of exactly the sort of stuff from which flying stars were evolved.
"I think I will try to make hunters out of those three boys," said
their commander to the officer in charge of the base airdrome.
"Our plan here," said the officer thus addressed, "is to pass youngsters
out after they have satisfactorily gone through a final test of two
short voyages of twenty-five miles each, two long voyages of one
hundred and thirty-five miles each and an hour's flight at a minimum
altitude of sixty-five hundred feet. The post-graduate course is
mostly aerial acrobatics. Looping the loop comes first. All of
them can do that. The flier must then do flip-flops, wing slips,
vertical twists and spinning nose dives."
"Just what do you call a spinning nose dive?" asked the squadron
The chief explained: "Climbing to at least four thousand feet, the
pilot cuts off his motor and crosses his controls. This causes the
machine first to scoop upward and then fall sidewise, the nose of the
plane, down vertically, spinning around and around as it falls."
"That sounds interesting," said the commander.
"More," continued the chief. "It is necessary. Skill in the air
nowadays means all the difference between life and death---all the
difference between success and defeat. I have an idea that we have
come nearer to the limit of human possibility as regards speed in the
air than many people think. Two hundred miles an hour may never be
reached. But whether it is or not, we can get better and better
results by paying more and more attention to the development of our
"I look on flyers as athletes playing a game---the greatest game
the world has ever seen. The more expert we can make them individually,
the better the service will be. A nimble flyer, a real star man, is
almost sure to score off a less expert antagonist, even if the better
man is mounted on an inferior plane. That has been proven to me beyond
all possibility of doubt time and time again.
"I was once a football coach. My work here, so far as it touches men,
is very similar to coaching work. It comes down to picking the good
ones, sorting them out, weeding, weeding all the time. You like
those particular three boys you referred to? Well, watch them.
Give them chances. But don't be disappointed if they are not all
world-beaters. And don't be surprised if some of the lot you think
will stick at the steadier, plainer work turn out big. You never can
Before the strain of expert acrobatics came careful training in
machine-gunnery. The Brighton boys went through a course of study on
land that made them thoroughly familiar with machine-guns of more
than one type. Machine-guns, they found, were in all sorts of
positions on the different sorts of machines.
"I wonder where they will put a rapid-fire gun next?" said Joe Little
one day at luncheon. "Let's see. I saw one plane this morning that
had a gun mounted on the upper plane, and fired above the propeller.
Another next to it had the gun placed in the usual position in front,
and fired through the propeller. Next I ran across a movable gun
on a rotating base fixed at the rear of the supporting planes. Of
course all of those big triple planes have the fuselage mounting,
and I was surprised to see still another sort of mounting, a movable
gun fixed behind the keel of one of those new English 'pushers,' just
as I came in. It keeps a fellow busy to see all the new things here,
and no mistake."
"Your talk is so much Greek to me sometimes, Joe," said Bob Haines.
"You use so much technical language when you get going that you fog
me. I can make a plane do what it is supposed to do, most of the
time, but some of these special ideas floor me, and I am not ashamed
to admit it."
"What is worrying you specially?" asked Jimmy Hill, smiling.
Bob was one of the soundest fliers of the six of them, but he was
forever making hard work out of anything he did not understand from the
ground up. Once he had mastered the why and wherefore, he was at
peace, but if the reason was hidden from him he was never quite sure
on that point.
"It is this," answered Bob. "Most all of the machines they have been
putting me up against lately have been those speedy little one-man
things---the hunters. Now I understand all about the necessity for
speed and agility in that type, and I can see that the fixed gun in
front, sticking out like a finger in such fashion that you have to
point the plane at a Boche to point the gun at him, is a thing they
can't well get away from. That Hartford type of hunter just over
from home is rigged up that way, and I can get the little gun on
her pointed anyway I like. But all guns fixed that way fire through
the propeller, and just exactly how all those bullets manage to get
through those whirring blades without hitting one of them is not
quite clear to me yet."
"Go it, Joe," said Harry Corwin. "You spent a good time listening
to what that French pilot said about Garros the other day."
"The Frenchman told me that a very well known pilot of the early days
of the war, named Garros, invented the arrangement whereby a gun could
be so mounted that the bullets went through the arc of the
revolving propeller blades," answered Joe. "He said, too, that
Garros had the bad luck to be taken prisoner, and the Germans got
his machine before he had any chance to destroy it. That was the
way the Germans got hold of the idea. Garros simply designed a bit
of mechanism that automatically stops the gun from firing when the
propeller blade is passing directly in front of the gun-barrel. He
placed the gun-barrel directly behind the propeller. He then made a
cam device so regulated as to fire the gun with a delay not exceeding
one five-hundredth of a second. As soon as the blade of the
propeller passes the barrel the system liberates the firing mechanism
of the gun until another blade passes, or is about to pass, when
the bullets that would pierce it are held up, just for that
fraction of a second, again. So it goes on, like clockwork. You
have noticed that on the new planes all the pilot has to do when
he wants to fire his machine-gun is to press a small lever which
is set, on most planes, in the handle of the directing lever. That
small lever acts, by the mechanism I have told you about, on the
trigger of the gun. It is simple enough."
"Yes," admitted Bob, "it does not sound very complicated, but it seems
very wonderful, all the same. Most things out here are wonderful when
you first run into them, though."
Of the group of Brighton boys selected by the squadron commander to
study the finer points of aerial acrobatics, Joe Little was the star,
with Harry Corwin a very close second and Jimmy Hill a good third.
Their education, as the days went past, became a series of experiments
that were nothing short of hair-raising to any onlookers save most
To see Joe, in a wasp of a plane, swift and agile, start it whirling
like a pinwheel with the tip of its own wing as an axis, and fall for
thousands of feet as it whirled, only to catch himself and right the
speedy plane when lees than a thousand feet from the earth, was indeed
a sight to make one hold one's breath.
Jimmy Hill learned a dodge that interested older aviators. Looping
the loop sidewise, he would catch the plane when upside down, and shoot
away at a tangent, head down, the machine absolutely inverted---then
continue the side loop, bringing him back to upright again some
distance from where he had originally begun his evolution.
Watching him at this stunt, a veteran pilot said to the chief one
morning: "That turn will save that kid's life one day. See if it don't."
And sure enough, one day, it did.
Harry learned what a French friend had told him the great Guynemer,
king of all French fliers, had christened "the dead leaf." With
the plane bottom side up, the pilot lets it fall, now whirling downward,
now seeming to hang for a moment, suspended in midair, now caught by
an eddy and tossed upward, just like a dead leaf is tossed by an
Joe could nose-dive to perfection. He would hover high up, at well
over ten thousand feet from the ground, then drop straight for the
earth, like a plummet, nose directly downward, seemingly bent on
destruction. When still at a safe distance up, he would gradually
ease his rush through the air by "teasing her a bit," as he called
it. Then, before the eye from below could follow his evolutions,
he would be skimming off on a level course like a swallow.
The day came at last when the squadron was "moved up front" for actual
work over the enemy's lines. The Brighton boys were ready and eager
to give a good account of themselves, and soon they were to be
accorded ample opportunity.
THE FIGHT IN THE AIR
The morning on which the Brighton boys left the base airdrome with
their squadron saw the first sunshine that that part of France had
known for several days. The line of light motor trucks which served
as their transport skimmed along the long, straight roads as if aware
that they carried the cavalry of the air.
"France is a pretty country. I had no idea it would look so much like
home. Those fields and the hills beyond might be right back where we
come from, boys," said Archie Fox.
"Wait till you youngsters get up a bit," advised a companion who had
seen the front line often before. "You will see a part of France
that won't remind you of anything you have ever seen!"
In spite of that mention of the horrors that they all knew war had
brought in its train, it was hard to imagine them while swinging
along at a good pace through countryside that looked so quiet and
peaceful. The line of lorries slowed down for a level crossing,
where the road led across a spur of railway, and then halted, the
gate-keeper having blocked the highway to allow the passing of a still
distant and very slowly moving train. The gate-keeper was a buxom
and determined-looking French woman of well past middle age, who
turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of the occupants of the leading
car that the line of trucks should be allowed to scurry across
before the train passed.
As the boys sat waiting in the sudden quiet, Picky Mann said quietly:
"We are getting nearer. Listen to the guns."
Sure enough, their attention drawn to the distant growling, the dull
booming of the detonations of the high-explosive shells could be
distinctly heard. War was ahead, at last, and not so very far ahead
at that. Not long after, the squadron passed through a shattered
Every one of the boys had seen pictures in plenty of shell-smashed
ruins, but the actuality of the awful devastation made them hold
their breath for a moment. To think that such desolate piles of
brick and mortar were once rows of human habitations, peopled with
men, women and children very much like the men, women and children
in their own land, sobered the boys.
Soon Bob Haines drew the attention of the others to captive balloons
along the sky-line ahead, and finally the Brighton boys saw a black
smudge in the air far in front. It was a minute or two before they
realized that they had seen their first bursting shell.
The leading car turned sharply off the highway into a by-road at right
angles to it. A hundred yards further it dashed through a gap in a
tall hedge, and as the line of trucks followed it, they emerged upon
a great flying field.
There, ahead, were still the captive balloons, straining at their
leashes probably, but too far away to show anything but the general
outline of their odd sausage shapes. Ahead, too, was the boom of
the guns. No mistaking that. Their aeroplanes were to be the eyes
of those very guns. They knew that well. The front line was up
there, somewhere. Their own soldiers, their comrades, were in that
line. Perhaps some of them were being shelled by the Boche guns at
that very moment.
"Beyond our lines," they thought, "come the enemy lines. Soon, now,
very soon, some of us will be flying over those lines, and far back
of them, perhaps."
To the credit of the Brighton boys, every one of the six of them felt
a real keenness to get to work and take his part in the great game.
They had waited long and worked hard to perfect themselves for the
tasks that lay ahead of them, up there with the guns and beyond.
There was no feeling of shrinking from the awful reality of actual
war, now that it came nearer and nearer to them. They were of sound
stuff, to a man.
The wooden huts that were to be their homes for a time were clean and
dry, and the big barn-like hangars that stood near had a serviceable
look about them. The level field that stretched away in front of the
hangars was dotted here and there with a dozen planes, couples of men,
or small groups, working on each one. Before they realized it they
were a part of the camp.
Immediately after dinner the flight commander sent for them and
provided each of them with a set of maps. All the next morning they
pored over these, consulting the wonderfully complete set of
photographs of the enemy country which could be found in the photograph
department of the airdrome.
Practice flights took up the afternoon, and Joe Little and Jimmy Hill
tried to outmaneuver one another at fairly high altitudes.
More than once Joe managed to get his machine-gun trained direct
on Jimmy, but finally Jimmy side-looped with extraordinary cleverness,
dashed off and up while still inverted, then righted suddenly and
found himself "right on the tail" of Joe's machine, i.e., behind Joe
and above him, in the best possible position for aeroplane attack.
Joe had looped after a short nose-dive, hoping Jimmy would be below
him when he pulled up, but the odd inverted swing upward that was
Jimmy's star turn had found him in the better position when the
As the boys landed the flight commander walked toward them. They
stepped from their machines and came in his direction, laughingly
discussing their mimic battle. As the flight commander drew near, he
beckoned to them.
"Do you do that regularly?" he asked Jimmy.
"Yes, sir," was Jimmy's reply.
"Has it ever appeared to damage your planes?"
"No, sir. Not that I am aware."
That was all. Just a casual question from the chief. But it made
Jimmy feel that he was not so much of a novice as he had felt before.
He felt that he was more "part of the show," as he would have put it
if he had been asked to describe his feelings.
Jimmy was the first of the Brighton boys to take part in a real fight
in the air. A couple of days after his arrival at the airdrome he
was assigned to duty with an experienced aviator named Parker. Both
Parker and Jimmy were to be mounted on fast, agile machines with very
little wing space, which, with their slightly-curved, fish-like bodies,
had the appearance of dragon-flies with short wings.
"These wasp-things are great for looping," said Parker to Jimmy. "You
can throw them 'way over in a big arc that lands you a long distance
from where some of these Boche fliers expect you to be when you finish
"What is the game we are to tackle?" asked Jimmy.
"Just hunting, I think. The Boches seem to have become a little
bolder than usual during the last forty-eight hours. Two of their
observation planes came unusually close to us yesterday. I suppose
they may have received orders to spot something they can't find, and
it is worrying them a bit. I guess the chief is going to send us out
together to see if we can bag one of their scout planes. Their
hunters will be guarding. It is better to go out in twos, if not in
lots, along this part of the line. As a matter of fact, it is more
than likely that some German on a new Fokker or a Walvert is sitting
up aloft there like a sweet little cherub and laying for us. They
have a nasty habit of swooping down like a hawk when we get well over
their territory and firing as they swoop. If they get you, you drop
in their part of the country. If they miss you, they just swing off
and forget it, or climb back and sit on the mat till another of our
lot comes along. Swooping and missing don't put them in much danger,
for if they come down they are in their own area."
"Have you had one of them try that hawk game on you?" asked Jimmy.
"I have had the pleasure and honor to have the great Immelmann drop
at me, once, on an Albatros, or a machine that looked like an Albatros.
We knew afterward that it was Immelmann, for he worked the same
tactics several times, always in the same way. I was out guarding
one of our fellows who was getting pictures pretty well back of the
Boche lines, when along came a regular fleet of German aircraft.
"Four of them took after me, and I had to think quick. I couldn't
skip exactly, for I had to give the observation bus a chance to get
a start. I maneuvered into a pretty good position, under the
circumstances, and was going to fire a round into them and then dive
for home and mother, when the bullets began to sing about me from a
fifth plane. I couldn't see it, so I flip-flopped chop-chop. As I
turned I saw Immelmann's plane swoop past. I turned over just in
the nick of time and he missed me, though his nasty gun-fire pretty
well chewed up my bottom plane.
"I did a hurried dead-leaf act, and I guess the Germans thought I was
done for and dropping, for they lit out without bothering any more
about me. I got home without any further incident, and found the
observation fellow had got back without a scratch, and had managed to
just finish his job before we were attacked, which was lucky."
Jimmy had taken in every syllable of Parker's story. He had tried
to picture himself in the same bad fix, and had caught the idea of
Parker's lightning action. "This fellow must be as quick as a cat,"
he thought. "I wonder if I would have had sense enough to grasp the
situation in the way he did? Well, if I get in a similar fix I will
have some idea of what to do, thanks to him."
Weeks afterward Jimmy heard that story of Parker's fight with five
Boche planes from another source. He then learned that Parker had
omitted an interesting feature of the tale. Before Immelmann swooped
on him, Parker had smashed up and sent to ground two of the four
Boche machines which had originally attacked him.
The Brighton boys soon learned that the most outstanding characteristic
of veteran fliers was modesty. A new chivalry had sprung up with the
development of the air service. Every successful flier had to be a
thorough sportsman to win through, and never did the boys meet a real
veteran at the, game who would tell of his own successes.
The general view of the flying men at the front was that the man who
did the prosaic work of daily reconnaissance and got back safe and
sound, without frequent spectacular combats and hair-breadth escapes
that made good telling, was just as much of a hero and took his life
in his hands just as surely, as did the man who went out to individual
duel with an adversary, and accomplished some stunt that had a spice
of novelty in it.
The second in command at the airdrome gave Parker and Jimmy their
final instructions. "This is Hill's first time over," said the
officer to Parker. "He can fly, though. I think for the first time
he had better guard and watch." Then, turning to Jimmy: "Watch
Parker, and fly about eight hundred feet behind him and the same
distance above him when he straightens out. Parker will attack when
he sees a Boche. Your job will still be to sit tight and watch until
you can see how things are going. A second Boche or maybe more
than one other will be pretty sure to show up, and it will be your
job to attack whatever comes along and drive it off so that it can't
interfere with Parker while he is finishing off his man.
"If anything should happen to Parker, be sure what you take on before
you go after the plane he first tackled, for usually you will find more
than one plane about over there on their side. Don't forget one
thing. If you find that you are surrounded run for it. That machine
you are to fly will give them a chase, no matter how they are
mounted. Remember, we haven't many of those, yet, and cannot afford to
lose any." As he said this, the officer laughed.
Jimmy felt he should have smiled, too, but his head was too full of
his job. He said "Yes, sir," quite seriously, and turned to give
his machine a final tuning up.
Jimmy jumped into the driving seat with a very determined feeling. He
must give a good account of himself, come what might. He fixed his
head-gear a bit tighter, pulled on his gloves, and tried the position
of his machine-gun. There it sat, just above the hood, a bit to the
right, almost in front of Jimmy. He felt a sudden affection for it.
How it would make some Boche sit up if he came into range!
The wheels were blocked with shaped pieces of wood, and Jimmy nodded
to his mechanics to start the engine. One whirl of the shining
blades, and the engine started, to roar away in deafening exuberance
of power as it warmed to its work. Something was not quite right.
The rhythm was not just perfect. Jimmy stopped the engine, ordered
a plug changed, and then, the order executed in a jiffy, nodded to
his men to once more start the motor. This time the engine droned
out a perfect series of explosions.
The flight sub-commander stepped beside the fuselage as Jimmy shut
off the engine, and said: "I have given detailed instructions to
Parker. You are to watch him and stay with him. If you by any
chance lose him, come back. Are your maps and instruments all right?"
Then off with you, and good luck. You will be doing this sort of thing
every day before long, but I expect it seems a bit new to you at first."
"Yes, sir. Thank you, sir."
A final nod to his men---the roar once more, louder, more vibrant, more
defiant than ever---a quick signal of the hand, and the cords attached
to the blocks under the wheels were given a jerk. Jimmy was off on
his dangerous mission!
Old force of habit, a relic of earlier days of aeronautics, sent the
men to the wings, where they gave the big dragon-fly an unnecessary
push. After a run of a few feet Jimmy raised her suddenly, swiftly,
and she darted up almost perpendicularly. He realized as never before
that he was mounted on a machine that could probably outclimb and
outtrick any antagonist he was likely to meet.
"This is sure some bus," he thought to himself. "I guess she will do
all that is asked of her, whatever she runs into. So it's up to me.
If I fly her right she will come home, sure."
As he climbed into the clear sky he could see Parker's machine ahead,
circling higher and higher. He was glad Parker was going, too.
There was an odd but unmistakable sense of companionship in having
Parker up there ahead, though at fifteen thousand feet up or more, and
at eight hundred to a thousand feet distant, it seemed silly to think
of a man as "near" in case of trouble. Beside, he was to guard Parker,
and no one was to guard him.
But the powerful hunter on which he was mounted thrilled with such a
feeling of self-satisfaction, her engines hummed so merrily, and she
lifted herself so lightly and easily when he asked her to climb, that
he was soon wrapped in the joy of mastering so perfect a piece of
mechanism. Moreover, Jimmy had grown to love flying for flying's sake.
It was meat and drink to him.
When Parker had gained the altitude that suited him he straightened
out and headed for the enemy's country at a high rate of speed. Jimmy
thought himself too far behind at first, but the splendid machine
answered readily to his call upon it for a burst of five minutes, and
before he had time to realize it he was in good position and far below
were the long, winding scars on the surface of the earth that told
where the opposing armies were entrenched. Fighting the temptation
to watch what was passing underneath, he alternately kept his eyes on
Parker and scoured the sky ahead for signs of enemy aircraft.
Suddenly, between Parker and his own machine, and not so far below
him as he would have liked, white puff-balls began to appear. The
German anti-aircraft guns were at it. Parker began a wide sweep
to the left, then turned slowly right, then climbed swiftly. Jimmy
raised his machine at the same time, but, thinking to save the left
turn and unconsciously slowing in a little on the plane in front,
was reminded that he would be wise to change course a bit. The
ominous whirr of pieces of projectile told him that the German "Archie"
had fired a shot with good direction. He knew that shell might be
closely followed by another at a better elevation, so turned right,
climbing, until he had regained his eight hundred feet or more above
As he did so Parker circled left once more, then flew at right angles
to the course he had originally selected. No more shells came near;
and again Parker changed course.
As Jimmy was trying to surmise where Parker would head next the swift
wasp in front dived suddenly, as if struck by one of the anti-aircraft
Quickly Jimmy dived also, and as he turned the nose of the machine
downward his heart gave a big bound, for right in front of Parker,
some distance below, was the wide wing-spread of a big German machine.
The enemy plane could hardly see Parker, save by some miracle, before
he had come sufficiently near to pour a murderous fire into it. With
a rush, his instructions came back to him. He must hover above and
watch, whatever the result of the combat below him. He straightened
out, and circling narrowly, scanned the air in every direction. As
he swung round he received another shock, a real one this time.
Straight before him, plainly coming as fast as they could fly, were
three planes of a type unfamiliar to him. They were at about his own
altitude. He called on his machine for all she could produce in the
way of power, and depressed his elevator planes. The moment the nose
of his plane turned upward, the three enemy planes began to climb also.
Jimmy dared not try a steeper angle of ascent. Any machine which he
had ever seen, save his new mount, would have refused to climb as she
What should he do? For the moment he could not see the fight below
him between Parker and the plane Parker had started to chase. Surely,
with three to one against him, the best thing he could do would be
to keep his own skin intact. Intuitively glancing upward, what was
his horror to see, still high up but dropping like a meteor, a fourth
enemy plane---a big Gotha! It came over him like a flash! The
Boches were at their game. While the three lower planes engaged his
attention, a watcher had sat aloft. The German plan, Parker had told
him, was to swoop down from a great height and catch the unwary
Allied flier unawares.
Stopping his engine, he side-slipped out of the path of the newcomer,
rolled over once or twice to befog the enemy as to his intentions,
and then sailed aside still further on one of his "upside-down stunts,"
which had caught the eye of the flight commander. He thus escaped
the swoop of the diving Gotha, and as the other three Germans turned
to the right to demolish him, he swung half round, righted himself,
and climbed for dear life. In very few minutes he was above them,
leading the chase, all three pressing after him, and spreading out
fan-wise slightly to ensure catching him if he again tried the maneuver
that had extricated him from the former trap.
For a few moments Jimmy felt a mite nervous as to how things were
coming out. Then it dawned on him that he was doing his part well if
he drew the enemy fighters after him and away from Parker. The fourth
of the Boche hunters might be after him still, back there behind him,
or it might be fighting Parker, wherever Parker might be. By a quick
glance back he could see the three pursuers. Their planes, too, were
climbing well. He straightened out to try a burst of level speed.
Examining his map and compass he saw he was not heading for home.
That was bad. He tried veering to the left a bit, but imagined that
the plane behind him on the left drew nearer.
Then Jimmy found himself. What was it Parker had said about the new
hunter-machines being splendid loopers? Why not try a loop? Would
the Boches get wise to the idea quickly? Perhaps not quickly enough.
If he did a big, fast loop, he might come right-side-up on the tail
of one or even two of his would-be destroyers, and if he could only
get that wicked little rapid-firer of his to bear he would lessen the
odds against him, of that he felt sure. In a very few seconds after
the idea had come to him he had decided to put it into practice.
The big wasp turned a beautiful arc, swiftly, neatly, as if it had
known the game and was eager to take part in it. No machine could
have performed a more perfect loop; and, as he had hoped, it brought
him in the rear of the group of assailants. The center one of the
three enemy planes was nearest to him. Straight at it Jimmy dashed,
and when close, started firing. It was the first time in his life
that Jimmy had tried to take a human life, but he did not give that
fact a thought. A fierce desire to finish off the flier so close
in front overwhelmed him. He felt that he could not miss. A second
or two passed after the burst of fire before any change in the conduct
of the plane in front was noticeable.
Then the change came; all at once. The machine turned on its side,
the engine still running at full speed, and for one instant, before
the downward plunge came, Jimmy caught sight of a limp, lifeless
form half-hanging, sidewise, from the pilot's seat. Jimmy had fired
straight, and one of his antagonists was out of the fight.
He turned his attention to the flier on his left, fired a round at
him at rather long range, and then glanced to his right. It was
well he did so at that instant. The German on the right of the
trio had looped in turn, to get on to Jimmy's tail. Jimmy saw the
trick in the nick of time, and letting the left-hand plane go for
the moment, looped in turn. As he turned, he saw what he thought
must be the fourth enemy machine---the big fellow that had swooped
down on him at the beginning of the fight---speeding straight at
him. He quickly turned his loop into a side-loop, slid down swiftly,
caught himself, and assured that he had escaped both fliers for the
moment, took a rapid glance at his compass and saw that he was headed
straight for home. And home Jimmy went, as fast as his machine would go.
This time he had a very fair start, and he made the best of it. Looking
back, he saw that two of the German machines headed after him, but
apparently gave up the chase before it was well begun. Once Jimmy
had a feeling that he ought not to run back to safety before
endeavoring, to see what had happened to Parker, but the flight
sub-commander had been most explicit in his instructions on that
head. "If you by any chance lose Parker," he had said, "come back."
He had lost Parker, right enough. That was about the first thing
he had done, he thought to himself with some feeling of self-condemnation.
All the while he was roaring on, his machine seemingly feeling like
a homing pigeon. He felt a fierce love for that noble hunter. He
felt he could almost talk to it and tell it how proud he was of having
been able to put it through its paces. Never had there been such a
machine before, he thought.
At last the home airdrome came into sight far below. Many a time
thereafter was Jimmy to feel glad he was nearing home, but never
more sincerely than on the afternoon of that first battle. He made
a good landing. His mechanics were waiting for him, and wheeled the
machine toward the hangar, while Jimmy walked off to headquarters
to report. Arrived there, he found that both the flight commander
and sub-commander were out. No one seemed worrying much about him.
He had been so intent on his job and it had meant so much to him
that it took a few minutes for him to get the right perspective, and
see that, after all, he was only one of the pieces in the big game,
and a bit of waiting would not hurt him or make his report any the
less of interest.
Would it be of interest? The thought came to him as he sat there,
quietly. What would he report? The flight commander was a busy
person. He would not, in all probability, have the time to hear a
long report, should he have the inclination to do so. What could
Jimmy report? First that he had lost Parker. Where in the name of
goodness was Parker? Jimmy would have given much to know, but
something kept him from asking. He had been sent out as a sort of
guard for Parker. He had lost him at the very beginning of the fight.
He might report that he had shot down an enemy hunter machine and
killed its pilot, but surely that would sound very bare and very
Just as Jimmy was really making himself thoroughly miserable the
door of the rough headquarters shed opened, and who should walk in
but Parker himself! Jimmy felt he could have hugged him.
"I was sitting here wondering where you were," said Jimmy.
"Well, for the most part I have been chasing you," answered the older
pilot. "You certainly can fly that machine you were on to-day, young
fellow! If I were you I would ask the chief to let you stick to
that plane. You put up a swell little exhibition in her to-day."
"Chasing me?" Jimmy gasped. "Chasing me? I don't understand."
"It is simple enough. I suppose you saw me go for that big dray-horse
of a scout machine, didn't you?"
"I got him, I think," Parker went on. "Anyway, he went down. He
seemed to land pretty well, for a smash, but that sort of plane will
almost land by itself, sometimes. When I was sure he was down, sure
enough, I had come a bit too low, and for a while I was pretty busy
dodging the finest collection of Archies I have yet met with. I got
two fair-sized pieces of shell right through both planes, but they
didn't seem to matter a bit. I got up to a good height before I quit
climbing. So far as I could see, you had by that time managed to get
out of what must have been a bit of a trap, and were heading off
south at a rate of knots, as my sailor brother would say. I hovered,
watching the big hunter that dived on you. He didn't seem to know
quite what to do. He must have missed seeing me, for some reason.
"As I was waiting for him to make up his mind you did that ripping
loop. I saw that. So did the Boche hunter who was onlooking. I knew
you would get that center plane, and thought you would score two of
them, but you were right to take no chances of the number three chap
getting a drop on you. Where I played the goat was letting the
swooper fellow get a start on me. I guess I was too interested
watching your antics."
"Anyway, he got to your area before I did, though I wasn't far back.
Your skid off to the side put them all off, and gave me a fine chance
at Mr. Swooper. He fussed a minute, undecided what to do. That is
a bad fault at this game. I caught him just where I wanted him, and
he did his last swoop, I guess. I piled on home after you, but not
so fast. Anyone would think you were going to a fire, by the way you
came back. What was your desperate hurry?"
Jimmy laughed. He was so glad Parker was home safe and sound that
he did not mind being chaffed. So Parker had accounted for two enemy
machines? And he had been worrying about Parker! Well, he might as
well own up to himself, he thought, that he had been acting like a
very green hand at the game. But never mind! They had done a good
day's work, both of them. No mistake about that. He felt good. The
reaction had set in in earnest. Jimmy was simply happy.
At that moment the flight commander came in. Parker and Jimmy rose,
stepped forward and saluted.
"Back?" said the chief laconically.
"Yes, sir," answered Parker.
"Did you find any of their scouts?"
"Yes, sir. One."
"Drove him down, sir. I could not tell much about his damage from his
landing, though I think he smashed a bit. I had a good chance at him."
"Yes, sir. Except that four of their hunters attacked Hill. He
side-looped and got free, then looped again and caught one well,
finishing him. He threw one other right into my hands, too."
"Right." The flight commander turned to go out, then, as if suddenly
remembering that Jimmy was a new hand at the game, he said over his
shoulder: "Very well done. Get Parker to show you how to make out
your report. Very good, both of you."
"H'm," said Parker as the chief stepped out of the door. "He is
But the flight commander was more voluble when he saw Jimmy's squadron
commander that night. "I think that youngster you brought up with
you---boy by the name of Hill---is made of good stuff," he said. "He
went with Parker to-day, and between them they managed a very pretty
show. I shall read their official reports with interest. It isn't
very often a young fellow gets such a baptism, and it's still more
rare for one to pull it off the way Hill did. Why, those two got
two, if not three Boches. Think of it! If Hill keeps on the way
he has started out he will make a name for himself."
"I picked him as a possible good one," said the squadron commander
proudly. "I think he will keep it up."
Jimmy, though tired, did not go to sleep the minute he went to bed that
night. He lay for ten or fifteen minutes going over what the day had
brought him. Curiously enough, the last thing he said to himself,
before he dropped off to sleep, was very much akin to what his
squadron leader had said.
"It's not a bad start," was his good-night thought, "but I must keep
THRILLS OF THE UPPER REACHES
To the great delight of the Brighton boys, Will Corwin paid a visit to
them one evening, and stayed to dinner at their mess. Will was not
much older than his brother Harry, so far as years went, but he looked
ten years older. The constant work on the French front had bronzed
him and made him leaner and harder than when he left his home in America.
He had many questions to ask the boys about the home folks, and said
that he had been trying to get a chance to visit Harry for weeks.
Will was particularly interested to hear what had been the experiences
of the Brighton fliers in connection with their first real work at
Four of the boys had been over the German lines by that time. Like
Jimmy Hill, Joe Little had been out on a hunter machine. His experiences
were uneventful, however. His job had been to watch, with another
hunter, while a speedy, big bomber dropped hundreds of pounds of
explosives on an enemy munition dump.
The whole affair went through like a dress rehearsal, and without a
hitch. They flew straight for their objective, found it without the
slightest difficulty, deposited a load of high explosives upon it in
quick time, and soared away back home without a single encounter with
an enemy plane. They were, it was true, severely "Archied," as they
called it, but no one of them was the worse for it.
Harry Corwin had been over the Boche lines three times, and had found
the experience quite sufficiently exciting, though he had not been in
actual combat at close quarters with the enemy as had Jimmy Hill.
His work for three mornings had been to escort a certain observation
plane which had been sent each day to watch the development of a
reserve line of dugouts well in the rear of the German front line.
As a matter of fact, the pilot of the observation machine, a swift
triplane, was well known as a dead shot. He needed an escort machine
less than Harry did, Harry thought.
That triplane was about as formidable in appearance as any aircraft
could be. It was only a two-seater, but it was armed with two
machine-guns, singularly well placed. The front rapid-firer was fixed
between the two supporting planes, the barrel next to the motor and
parallel with it. This front gun was fired by Richardson, the pilot
of the triplane, who controlled it with his right hand. This was a
radical departure from some of the more usual gun positions, in which
the gun was customarily located on the upper plane and operated by the
Having a gun all to himself had pleased Richardson mightily, and he
had become a wonderful shot.
The second gun on the triplane was placed on the framework behind the
observer's station. It was mounted on a revolving base, and had an
exceptionally wide range of fire.
"It is a pure joy, sometimes," Richardson was once heard to say, "to
see the way the little major grins when some chesty Boche has thought
he had us sure, and comes creeping up behind, only to get a dose right
in the nose. That gun of the major's carries further than anything
we have run against yet, and he just couldn't miss a Hun to save
his life." The major was Richardson's observer.
Another yarn that Richardson was accustomed to tell on his companion
of the upper reaches ran as follows: "When they first put me at
carting observation planes around I was pretty green. I had but
very shortly before done my first solo in England. The British
were fairly short of fliers then, or I should not have been sent
out. I arrived at the airdrome full of conceit, thinking I was a
"The morning after I got there they led me out and stood me alongside
a double-seater. The boss of that shop told me he wanted to see me
take it around for a try-out, and then it was off and away for the
front. He said considerately that I might wait a few minutes until
another new arrival had done his little preliminary canter.
"The other victim started up, taxied toward the other side of the
field that served for an airdrome, and lifted too late, with the
result that he caught the wheels of his chassis in the tall hedge
and came down in mighty nasty fashion on the other side, just out of
sight. That is, he was out of sight. The tail of his plane stuck up
to show what a real header he had taken. I found out later that he
got out of that smash with a broken leg and a bad shake-up, but when
I was standing there by that machine, waiting to go up, I thought
the poor devil who had the tumble must have been killed, sure.
"Then up came the major. He was a captain then. He was going to get
into his seat when the boss-man said to him: 'I suggest that you wait
until he has done a round or so alone.'"
"The little captain snorted at this, but the boss evidently thought
it best, so up I went, alone.
"I did well enough, and after feeling the machine thoroughly, came
down, making a fine landing. But fate was out with her ax that
morning. No one had said a word to me about a ditch that had been
dug on the left side of the field, and, of course, I had to find it.
When I saw it, no time was left to avoid it, so in I went. Over
toppled the poor plane, and smash went my under-works. In fact, I
came out of my seat rather quickly, but wasn't really hurt. The
boss chap was a bit mad, but the little captain man just laughed.
"Good thing I waited till he had had his little fun," he chuckled.
"now we can off and do our work, I suppose."
"I thought he was joking, but he wasn't. He did not mind my smash a
bit. I saw that. He went right on up with me in another machine ten
minutes later just as though we had been going up together for years.
That is the kind of nerve my major has."
Richardson did not realize how very much cool action of the observation
officer had to do with the implanting in the pilot of a good sound
confidence in himself. Had Richardson but known it, the captain, as
he was then, had never been more apprehensive of trouble. He did
not like to trust himself to green fliers, any more than another man
would have done. But he knew that quick, sure show of confidence was
the only thing that would put confidence into Richardson in turn.
Such moments are sometimes the crucial ones. At such times fliers
may be made or marred in a manner that may be, for good or for ill,
Sent to watch and assist this pair of doughty warriors, Harry Corwin
found most of his time in the air spent in keeping in the position
which had been assigned to him. Archies were everyday things to
Richardson and his major. They did not by any means scorn them, the
anti-aircraft guns, as continual improvement was noticeable, not only
in their marksmanship, but in their range. But Richardson was a
pastmaster at judging when he was well out of range, and equally clever
at getting into such a position.
Once Harry had seen a fascinating duel between Richardson and a Boche
plane, in which the latter retired before a decision was reached.
Once the two American pilots had been compelled to run from a squadron
of hunters, who gave up the chase as soon as they drew near to the
Allied territory. But Jimmy Hill's exploit, and the fact that he had
not only been the hero of a fight against big odds, but had actually
brought down a flier and smashed up a hunter machine, loomed so large
with the Brighton boys that the more ordinary experiences of the
others paled into insignificance in their eyes.
Bob Haines had been on a photographing trip, and had earned great
commendation from the observation officer whom he carried. Bob had
taken keenly to the scientific work of trench photography, and spent
his spare hours in the photographic workshop, which was a storehouse
of wonders to him. He was fast getting sound ideas on subjects in
connection with air-pictures, which made him all the more valuable
as a pilot of a machine that carried some officer of the photographic
He had witnessed a very pretty fight between an American and a Boche
not far distant, but he could not take part. His observer was a good
hand with a Lewis gun, too. They had on board at that time, however,
a set of negatives that were of considerable value, which they had
been sent specially to obtain, so their duty was to leave the hunter
to fare as best he could, while they scurried home in safety with
Thus Will Corwin found that the Brighton boys were fast becoming
broken in to practical flying work. Archie Fox had been as busy
as any of the rest, tuning up a new machine that had a hidden kink
in its anatomy somewhere that defied detection.
Dicky Mann had been selected by the flight commander to work up a
special set of maps---office work that required great care. He had
been absorbed day and night, and had cut down his sleeping hours to
five or six hours instead of the eight or nine he used to indulge in
It was not so exciting as flying, the commander had told him when
he was selected for the job, "but of equal, if not greater, importance."
At all events, Dicky was at it, heart and soul, and the evening that
Will Corwin made his appearance was the first for some days that
Dicky had joined his messmates for a chat after dinner.
"How do you think we Yanks are making out against the Teutons in the
air, Will?" asked Harry. "Do you think they are beginning to recognize
that we have 'em beaten?"
Will Corwin grinned. "'Beginning to' is good, but that's along way
from the finished realization, and I don't guess that will come for
some little time yet. It's up to America and the Allies to keep on
turning out planes and fliers at top speed."
"What about the wonderful speed of the German machines, Will?" asked
"An awful lot of rot is talked about speed, as you boys must know.
We captured a very decent German flier once, who got lost in a fog
and ran out of petrol. When he had to come down he found he was
right near our airdrome, so he volplaned right down on our field.
We were surprised to see him. He was in an Albatros of a late type,
too. As you can imagine, we gave him a very hearty greeting. He
took it pretty well, considering everything. I had him into my shack
for lunch, and we got quite friendly before they took him back to
the base. I remember at that time that the usual talk about Boche
flying machines on this front would lead you to believe that they
were much faster than we were. At home you could hear almost any
speed attributed to the German aeroplanes. I think some Americans
thought they could do about two miles to the English or French planes'
"I was particularly interested in the Fokkers, Walverts and L.V.G.
machines, which were the ones we had to fight most. Now, according
to that candid young German, who seemed ready enough to talk frankly
about things, anyone of those three planes that did one hundred miles
an hour at an elevation of ten thousand feet was considered a mighty
good plane. If it did one hundred and twenty miles at that
elevation it was thought to be a hummer. They were fast climbers
for their speed, and usually did most of their fighting, if they had
a choice, at thirteen to fourteen thousand feet up. Only the Albatros
could be depended upon to beat one hundred and twenty miles an hour
regularly. He said he would rather not tell me the speed of the
Albatros, I did not press him. The point of all this is that those
very machines he was discussing were credited with speeds of
anything up to one hundred and thirty-five or one hundred and fifty
miles per hour by lots of people who thought they knew all about
it. There will never come a day, in our generation, when one hundred
and fifty miles an hour at ten thousand feet up will not be mighty
"You have been at this game some time now, Will," said Joe Little.
"Can you think of anything we ought to specially learn that we won't
get hold of in plain flying? A tip is often worth a lot, you know."
"From what I hear from you boys, I guess what Joe means by plain
flying means pretty well every sort of stunt. I don't think one
fellow can tell another much about that sort of thing. Some of it
comes natural and some of it has to be learned by experience. I think
fliers are born, not made, anyway. There is one thing you might get
some tips upon. That relates to cloud formations. You can't know too
much about that. I am expecting a book from home on that subject
shortly, and when I wade through it I will let you boys have it."
"The state of the atmosphere plays a bigger part in aerial battles
than one might think. Calm days, without the least wind, when the
sky is covered by large gray clouds, are, as you all probably know,
very favorable for surprise attacks. The clouds act as a screen
and allow the aviator to hide himself until the very moment he thinks
he can drop on his enemy and take him by surprise.
"The Germans have a scheme they worked pretty successfully for a
while. When the clouds lie low, one of their machines dashes around
below the clouds, only two or three hundred yards up, and in the
area into which the Allied planes are likely to come. This sole
machine acts, if the scheme works, as a sort of bait. Sometimes
they pick a slow machine of an old model for the part, and it looks
easy meat. They tell me that the French fliers never could withstand
the temptation of seeing such a plane hovering round. The French
flier would give chase, even far over the enemy lines, and at the
very moment the Frenchman was about to attack under conditions that
left but little doubt in his mind of the issue, unexpectedly, suddenly,
he would find himself surrounded by three or four enemy planes of the
latest model, with full armament.
"You see, the Germans would have been flying above the clouds, watching,
the two planes below, and not showing themselves until the decoy plane
had drawn the French flier ten or fifteen miles from his base. It pays
to be mighty wary of anything that looks too easy in this game, and
you can't be too much on the lookout for surprise parties when the
clouds lie low."
"Tell us about the most exciting thing you have seen since you have
been out here, Will," begged Dicky Mann. "I have been stuck on office
work, and don't get a chance to have the fun the rest do. I would
like to hear something about a real red-hot scrap that you have been
in or seen."
"What work are you on?" queried Will.
"That isn't dull work, by a long shot. You can learn much in the map
room that will be worth lots to you one day, too. A good knowledge
of the country, the rivers, the canals, the railroads---the ordinary
roadways, for that matter---has saved more than one chap from making
a fool of himself."
"Dicky is as happy as a clam," said Harry. "He knows he is doing
good work, and the amount of time he spends over his blessed maps
shows well enough that he is out to get some of the map lore stuck
in his head. Quit kicking, Dicky."
"All the same, you fellows have the fun," insisted Dicky. "I like
the work well enough. I will admit that. And there are things
worth picking up in that department, too. A man would be a fool
not to see that. But tell us, Will, about the most exciting thing
you have seen in the air."
There was a general seconding of Dicky's request, at which Will lit
his pipe for the thirtieth time and said thoughtfully: "It is not an
easy matter to choose, but the thing I had the hardest time to
forget, and about the most spectacular thing a man could see, does
not make much of a story. Like many things that take place in the
air, it happened so quickly that we were unprepared for it.
"I was out with an observer, a very good pal of mine, on a big
pusher-plane that had one of the finest engines in it I had ever
seen. I don't know why we haven't had more of those out here.
Something to do with the plane itself, I think. I understand the
plane did not do so well as the engine, and they are getting out a
new thruster to take that engine. When it comes along it will be
a daisy. We had been doing what my observer called dog work. By
that he meant just plain reconnaissance. We had taken in a given
area, and followed all the roads to watch for traffic. We had noted
nothing of particular interest, and at last we turned for home.
"We had not gone far when right ahead came a Boche flier pounding for
home himself, apparently. It was a two-seater. He evidently liked
our looks but little, and started to climb for safety. But we
could climb, too. He had never met one of that pusher type, I
guess. We kept on going up, getting higher and higher, and gaining
on him all the time. It must have been a big strain for the men in
that enemy machine.
"I could imagine them discussing us."
"What is it?" one may have asked.
"He will quit soon; we will be at twenty thousand feet before long,"
the other may have replied.
"It was at just about twenty thousand feet that we at last got within
range. We had both been in chases before. We were cool enough about
this one, I think. My observer was. He sat there calmly enough
waiting till I could get near enough for him to let fly. I was too
busy watching the fellow in front to think about much else. I have
always thought that he must have miscalculated the distance that
I had gained. Maybe something went a bit wrong with his engine
that took his attention. He was about as far up as he could get
his bus. Twenty thousand feet is nearly four miles, you know. We
are likely to forget that. It is a long way up, even now, and it
seemed further up then.
"I am afraid I am stringing the story out, rather, but it strung
itself out that way. It was 'most all climb, climb, climb, with an
eye on the two men in the plane ahead. Then I got him in range,
and before I realized it." "Brrr-r-rr-rrr-rrrr!" started the quick-firer
behind me. That was the most exciting moment I have gone through
"They moment the machine-gun started something truly extraordinary
happened. The Boche pilot, at the very first burst of fire from us,
either jumped out of his seat or fell out.
"I could hardly believe my eyes. Yet there could be no mistake. He
went over the side of his fuselage and dropped like a man who
intended dropping just a few yards. I could see that he fell feet
first, head up, and arms stretched up above his head, holding his
body rigidly straight. Neither I nor my observer saw him the moment
he left his seat, but both of us saw him leave the side of his machine
and start down, down, down on that long four-mile drop.
"He disappeared, still rigidly straight, with something about his
position that made us both remark afterwards that he looked as though
he was doing it quite voluntarily and had planned it all out just that
way. It was weird.
"Of course it all happened in a twinkling. The big plane in front
of us went on uncannily, without a tremor, apparently. An instant
afterwards my observer and I exclaimed loudly together. The observer
in the enemy plane had not fired a shot, probably for the reason that
his gun was fixed and we were never in range of it. Suddenly we saw
him climb out of his seat on to the tail of the plane. My observer
had a good target, but his gun was silent. Perhaps that Boche
observer had an idea of climbing into the seat vacated so curiously
by the pilot, dropping, dropping, dropping, down that trackless
four mile path we had come up. If he had such a plan it failed
almost before he started to put it into execution.
"He had no more than climbed out on the tail proper than he lost
his hold and plunged headlong after his comrade. He went down pawing
and clutching into the void below like a lost soul, in horrible
contrast to the rigid figure of the pilot. Then the aviatik turned
its nose down with a jerk and fell after its human freight, all the
long twenty thousand feet to the earth below.
"We did not say a word to each other till we landed. It gave me a
nasty shock. I had seen enemy planes go down with enemy fliers in
them, but that rigid figure got me. The struggling chap I forgot
long before I did the other. We more than once discussed what might
have happened to him, and what his idea might have been---but without
being able to frame any explanation. It was just weird. We let
it go at that."
As Will ended his story he pulled out his khaki handkerchief and
wiped the perspiration from his forehead. The night was anything
but warm, and the room in which they sat was quite cool; but the
memory of that scene, four miles up, brought the moisture to Will's
brow, after months had passed since the occurrence.
Two young officers in the mess had been interested listeners. One
of them, a slight youth named Mason, who hailed from the Pacific
Coast, now joined in the conversation.
"There has been an instance of an observer taking control of a plane
and effecting a good landing after his pilot had been killed," said
Mason. "He came down not a long way from an airdrome where I was
stationed. A bit of anti-aircraft shrapnel caught the pilot in the
back. It did not kill him instantly, but he was not long in
succumbing to his wound. He had just energy enough left, after he
realized that he was very badly hurt, to tell his observer that he
was going off. Before he actually relinquished control of the machine,
the observer, who was a daring chap, climbed right out of his
seat, pulled himself along the fuselage, and half-sitting, half-lying,
managed to stick there, within reach of the control levers and the
"He was an old-time flyer himself, and understood aeroplane construction
pretty well, and he made a very decent landing not very far from our
front lines. Fortunately he was on the right side of them, though
from what he told us afterward that was more luck than judgment. He
thought he was much further back than he was.
"He had become very tired, owing to his strained position on the body
of the plane, and was afraid he would fall off. So he came down.
He had a bad shock when he found that his pilot was stone dead,
and had been for some time. He must have died when the observer
took over the control of the plane, but the observer, oddly enough,
never thought of him as dead, and quite expected to be able to bring
him around if he once got him safely landed."
"Well, that was enough to give anyone a shock," said Will. "But he
would have had a worse shock if he had come down on the Boche's
side. More than one chap has done that just through not knowing
exactly where he was. I can't imagine anything more tough than
to get yourself down when something has gone utterly wrong, thanking
your lucky stars that you are down with a whole skin, and then discover
you are booked for a Hun prison, after all. I could tell you a
thriller along that line, but it'll keep. You've had enough now to
make you believe that the Air Service demands of a man the very best
there is in him, brawn and brain."
The hour was late before the boys knew the evening had passed, and
they were most cordial in their invitation to Will Corwin to come and
pay them another call. Will said he would do so when he could, but
that next visit was to be long deferred.
Less than a fortnight later Will took part in a gallant fight against
three machines that had attacked him far within the German territory.
He accounted for one, crippled another, and outsped the third---but
when he landed his machine in his home airdrome he settled back
quietly in the driving seat as the machine came to rest. When his
mechanics reached him he was unconscious!
Examination showed that Will had been hit by a machine-gun bullet,
that had lodged in his shoulder. In spite of his wound, which was
increasingly painful and made him fight hard to retain consciousness
until he got home with his plane, he made a fine nose-dive that gave
him a clear road to his own lines, and managed to dodge cleverly
once on his way back when the German Archies began to place shells
Will was given much credit for his pluck and tenacity, was recommended
for a special decoration, and was packed off to a hospital to recover
from his wound, which fortunately gave the doctors little worry,
though it put Will on his back for a long time.
IN THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY
Dicky Mann became more interested in the study of maps and their
making than he would have thought it possible. When he came sufficiently
closely in touch with the intricate system by which the air-photograph
and accurate map of every point behind the enemy line is carefully
tabulated and filed away for reference, he developed a keenness for
the work which made him a valuable member of the organization.
The Brighton boys found, as time went on, that they had, quite
frequently, some spare hours in which they could do as they wished.
Soon after their arrival in France they had envied Bob Haines his
knowledge of the French language, which, while rudimentary, was
sufficient to enable him to make himself understood at times when
the boys were quite at sea as to what he was trying to say to the
French people to whom he was talking.
No sooner had the boys noticed that Bob had a decided advantage over
the rest of them on this score, than they set about to catch up with
him. But Bob was equally set on keeping the lead he had gained. Joe
Little and Dicky Mann were his only real rivals in this field. Dicky
had one assistant that was of the greatest use to him in the frequent
companionship of Dubois, the French officer attached to headquarters.
While Dicky's French was often ungrammatical, his pronunciation was
good, much better, in fact, than either Joe's or Bob's.
One day Dicky was sent as an observer with Richardson, the little
major who usually accompanied that clever pilot being away on temporary
leave. Dicky pleased headquarters so much with his initial report
that more and more observation work was given him. Thus he gained
valuable experience which bade fair to ensure that he would be kept
at observing most of the time.
The boy was inclined at first to regret this, for the obvious reason
that those who did the flying work were much more "in the picture,"
as Dicky put it, but the real fascination of the observation work
soon weaned him from any genuine desire to give it up. To his great
delight he was at last put on the observation staff permanently, or
at least was given regular work with that department---and who should
be assigned to pilot him but Bob Haines! To be with Bob, of whom
Dicky was especially fond, was a genuine pleasure to him, and the
combination proved a very good one from every standpoint. Bob's
passion for photographic work and Dicky's absorbing interest in
mapping operations resulted in their approaching their joint work
in a spirit of splendid enthusiasm for it, which could not but
produce good results.
Aeroplane work in war-time, however, has its "ups and downs," as
Jimmy Hill would say in his weekly letters home. He rarely missed
a fortnight that this sage observation did not appear in some part
of his four-page epistle. Jimmy stuck religiously to four pages,
though he knew enough of censorship rules to avoid mention of his
work, except in vague generalities. This necessity made writing
four pages dull work at times, and resulted in Jimmy's adoption of
various set phrases as filling matter. His mother, who knew Jimmy
as only mothers know their sons, read into the often repeated
sentences Jimmy's ardent desire to show himself a ready and willing
correspondent, when he was nothing of the kind. She loved those
letters none the less for their sameness, thereby showing her
Thus far in the career of the Brighton boys with the aero forces at
the front their fortune had been on the side of the ups. The time
came when the downs had an inning.
Bad luck overtook Bob Haines and Dicky Mann while on an observation
flight far over the firing lines and well inside territory occupied
by the enemy. They were on their outward journey, bound for a point
which they hoped to photograph quickly and then run for home. The
day was not an ideal one for flying, as shifting clouds gathered here
and there, some high up, some low. When they were in the vicinity
of their objective the clouds beneath them obscured their view to an
annoying extent. They had seen no other plane, friend or enemy,
since they had left their own lines. Suddenly, without the slightest
warning, the engine stopped. Bob switched off the power, switched
it on again, and repeated the maneuver again and again while volplaning
to preserve their momentum.
Try as he would, he could not get a single explosion out of the motor.
Of fuel he had plenty. His wires and terminals---so much as he could
see of them---were apparently in good order, but the engine had just
coolly stopped of its own accord, and could not be coaxed to start again.
Dicky looked round at Bob from the observer's seat in the fuselage
and raised his eyebrows inquiringly. His glance fell on Bob's white,
set face, and he saw that Bob was methodically going over one thing
after another, and trying first this, then that, as if examining
every part of the plane's mechanism that he could reach. They were
still above the low-lying clouds that hid the earth.
"Engine?" queried Dicky.
Bob nodded. Still he ran his hands over the controls, as if loath
to believe that he had exhausted every possibility of finding and
rectifying the trouble. It was all in vain.
Still they swept lower and lower. Soon they would be below the clouds,
and soon after that, landing so far inside the German lines that by
no possibility could they hope to regain their own. It was a
bitter time for Bob. Dicky, curiously enough, took the first
realization of their predicament less hard. He was all eyes to see
what fate had in store for them in the way of a landing place.
As they swept through the last bank of clouds and the country below
spread before them, they saw that it was level pasture land for the
most part, divided by green hedges, with here and there a cultivated
field. A village lay some distance to the left, a mere cluster of
mean houses. No chateau or large building was in sight, but small
cottages were dotted about here and there in plenty.
"Not much room in one of those pastures," commented Dicky. "Mind you
pick a decent one. Don't spoil the hedge on the other side of it,
Dicky's mood was infectious. Bob was sick at heart, but his friend's
joking way of speaking had its effect.
"Would you rather be starved to death or neatly smashed? Do you prefer
your misery long drawn out or all over in a jiffy?" Bob was joking
now, though grimly enough.
"You tend to your part and let the Huns tend to theirs," answered
They were almost down now. As they approached the field which Bob
had chosen for landing, what was their horror to see, but one field
away, two German soldiers in their field gray! They were armed with
rifles, and appeared to be carrying full field kit.
No others were in sight. The two burly Teutons looked in amazement at
the aeroplane, as if unable to grasp the fact that it was plainly
marked with the red, white and blue circles stamping it as a machine
belonging to the Allied armies.
While the boys knew well where they were, and how impossible it seemed
that they could escape capture eventually, the sight of two German
soldiers right at the spot upon which they had so unfortunately
been compelled to land, was a real disappointment to them. Perhaps
it was just such a disappointment, however, that was needed to key
them up to prompt action.
Bob did not dare to try to clear the tall, thick hedge which separated
the field he had chosen for a landing place from the one next to it.
He must stick to his original intention. As he swooped down to the
fairly level ground Dicky took one last glance at the pair of
soldiers, who had started toward the point where they thought the
plane would land. The question in Dicky's mind was as to whether
or not the Boches would take a pot shot at the airmen before the
machine came to rest. Evidently that had not occurred to them,
however, and they merely started on a run, with the humane idea of
taking the aviators prisoner.
The machine taxied the full length of the pasture and went full tilt
into the hedge at the end of it. Luckily this hedge was just thick
enough to stop the aeroplane effectively and yet prevent it from
breaking through and capsizing. While the machine did not go on
through the hedge, the two boys did. They crashed through and
landed on the soft earth on the other side at almost the same moment.
Each turned quickly to the other as they picked themselves up.
Neither was seriously hurt, though Bob was badly shaken, and had
scraped most of the skin off the front of both shins. Dicky's head
had burrowed into the soft turf, and but for his aviator's cap he
might have been badly bruised. That protection had saved him all
injury save a skinned shoulder.
"Come on, let's give 'em a run for it!" yelled Dicky, who was first
to recover his breath.
He started off, keeping close to the hedge, Bob close on his heels.
As they approached the corner of the field they were faced with
another hedge, evidently of much the same character as the one through
which the boys had been hurled so unceremoniously a moment before.
Inspired by a sudden thought, he put on a burst of speed, ran straight
up to the leafy barrier, and dove right at it, head first as he
used to "hit the center" for dear old Brighton. His maneuver did not
carry him quite through, but he managed to wriggle on just in time
to clear the way for Bob, who dived after him.
It was no time for words. Dicky started off to the right as fast
as he could go, ever keeping close to the protecting hedge, running
swiftly and silently over the grass, Bob not many feet behind. One
hundred yards of rapid sprinting brought them to a lower, thinner
hedge through which they climbed easily. Fifty yards away was a
stream, which they jumped, finding themselves in a small wood. They
made their way through this and debouched on a narrow country lane.
The countryside seemed to contain no one except the two fleeing
Americans and the two pursuing Germans. No sort of ground could
have suited better the game of hide-and-seek they had started.
Each time the Boches came to a hedge or a bit of brush they had
to guess which way the Yanks had turned. Only once were they guided
Fully accoutered and loath to throw off any of their equipment, the
two Germans soon became thoroughly winded, and finally stopped short.
They had no doubt lost some minutes at the start by warily examining
the plane and all around it for signs of the former occupants, which
had given the Brighton boys just the start they so badly needed.
But the lads were really but little better off when they came to the
conclusion that they had, for the time, at least, shaken off their
pursuers. They had passed fairly close to a cottage, which was
apparently untenanted. Now they came upon another. No signs of
life could they see around it. They pulled up for the first time
and stood behind a rude shack nearby.
"Lot of good it will do us to run away from those two," growled Bob,
panting. "If they don't find us some other Boches will. It is only
prolonging the agony."
"I prefer the agony of being free to the agony of being a prisoner,
just the same," replied Dicky. "Those two soldiers may have a job
on that will not allow them to hang around here long. We have come
quite a distance, and they would be very lucky to find us now. I'll
bet they have gone on about their business. They will report the
fact that a plane came down, and whoever comes to find it will think
some other fellows have picked us up. This is too big a war for
anyone to worry much about two men. Besides, the very hopelessness
of our fix is in our favor."
"I don't mind looking for silver linings to the cloud," said Bob.
"But how you make that out I cannot see."
"Why, who would ever dream that we could get away? Who would even
imagine it possible? Will the Germans spend much time searching to
see if two Americans are hiding so far inside their lines? Of course
not. They will think it absolutely impossible that we could get any
distance without being picked up. Why should they waste their time
"Well, is that cheering?"
"You bet it is!"
"Do you mean that there is a chance that we will not be picked up?"
"Of course I do. Cheer up! We are not caught yet. Sicker chaps
than we are have got well. True we can't get back to our front;
and true again the chances are thousands to one against our escaping
capture, but Holland is somewhere back of us and to the north---and
we have that one chance, in spite of all the odds."
"And what'll they do to us in Holland---intern us for the duration of
the war!" Bob was still pessimistic.
"Oh, you can't tell. If we can get away from the Boches we can
surely get away from the easy-going Dutchmen---and anyway, if we
must be interned I'd rather it happened in Holland than in Hun-land.
Let's play the game till time is called."
"You're right," said Bob. "I ought to be ashamed of myself for losing
heart. Let's forget that we came down in that plane, and think of
ourselves as pedestrians. I remember reading somewhere that if you
want to play a part you've got to imagine yourself living it. Let's
think we are Belgians."
"Good! And let's look like Belgians too---I guess to do that we will
have to turn burglar, eh? Well---they say all's fair in love and war,
you know. Come on! Let's break into this house and see what we
PLANNING THE ESCAPE
No breaking in was found necessary. The back door opened readily
enough. The boys stepped into the rude kitchen and closed the door,
listening for a moment in the silence. A meal of sorts was still
spread on the plain deal table, but it had evidently been there for
some days. The place seemed to have been deserted by its inhabitants
without any preparation or warning. The stillness was uncanny, and
Bob's voice sounded unusually loud as he remarked:
"Not even a cat left behind."
The poverty of the former occupants was apparent from a glance about
the room, on one side of which was a half-cupboard, half-wardrobe, the
open door of which showed sundry worn, dirty garments, little more
than collections of rags.
"There is another room in front," remarked Bob. "From the look of
things here, though, we can hardly expect to find any clothing that
will serve our purposes."
Dicky stepped toward the door leading to the front of the building.
"It is as silent as the grave, without a doubt," he said as he turned
the handle and pushed gently. The door would not open.
"Stand back and let me shove," said Bob.
He put his shoulder against the door and threw his weight against
it. The flimsy lock broke at the first strain, and Bob caught himself
just in time to save himself from falling. No sooner had the boys
gained an entrance to the room than they saw they were not the only
occupants of it. On one side stood a low bed, upon which rested the
wasted form of an old woman, her white hair pushed smoothly back
from her forehead, but spread in tumbled disorder on the pillow.
The old woman was dead.
The locked front door showed she had shut herself in to die, and
had died alone. How long she had lain there, as if asleep, for so
she appeared, was a matter of conjecture. The thin, gnarled hands,
brown with outdoor labor, were folded on her breast. Her face
showed that calm with which death stamps the faces of long-suffering,
simple-minded peasant folk. The patient resignation through the
long years of toil, through years, perhaps, of pain and suffering,
suffering more likely than not borne in silence, taken as a matter
of course---all seemed to have culminated in the quiet peace on the
seamed dead face.
No wonder the boys involuntarily uncovered and stood for some time
"Somebody's mother," said Dicky at last, with a catch in his throat as
he uttered the words.
"Yes, perhaps," said Bob, as he gently covered the body with a blanket.
"We must bury her decently. Who knows how long she might have lain
here but for our chance coming?"
Under a dust sheet, strung on a bit of string along the side of the
room, the boys found many women's garments, of the cheapest, simplest
sort, and some men's clothing. Dicky stripped off his uniform and
pulled on a random selection of what lay to his hand. With the
addition of a dirty cap, found on the floor at the foot of the bed,
and a pair of coarse boots, one without a heel, that were discovered
in the cupboard in the kitchen, Dicky's disguise was complete. Given
a plentiful application of dirt on face and hands, and a couple of
days' growth of stubble on his chin, no one could have imagined him
a smart young officer.
Bob was not so easy to outfit. His larger size made it impossible for
him to find a coat that he could get into, so he had to content himself
with an old shirt and a dilapidated pair of trousers which did not
come near his feet. No other hat or cap could he find.
Toward dusk, at Dicky's suggestion, they went out and made a search
for some rude instrument wherewith to dig a grave. They found a
broken shovel and a dull adze-like implement. The grave prepared,
and dusk having come, Bob was struck with the idea that they had best
bury their uniforms.
"If the Germans should happen to clap eyes on us and decided to
search us, it would be all up with two Brighton boys," said Bob.
"So it's my think that we'd better hide the certain evidences as
to our identity."
Dicky not only agreed to this, and started at once to put the idea
into practice, but made a further suggestion. "We might give the
poor old woman a better resting place further afield, if we knew
where to find a graveyard," he said.
"We can search for one," replied Bob. "To carry her away from here
would be the best plan, and bury her when we find a proper burial
ground. We certainly should not have to take her far."
"If we were discovered doing so, I suppose the fact we were actually
carrying our dead, or what the Germans would think was our dead, would
help us to get a bit further, too," Dicky argued.
"Fine! And if I can't talk Belgian-French better than any German
that ever lived I'll eat my helmet!"
So they took the cupboard door from its hinges, wrapped the body of
the dead woman carefully in the tattered blankets from her bed, and
laid it on the improvised stretcher.
"We should leave some sort of word as to what we are doing," said Bob.
"Suppose some of her folks come back and do not find any trace of her?
They might never know of her death."
"When we find a place to bury her we will find someone to whom we can
tell her story, so much as we know of it," answered Dicky. "Perhaps
we might even find a priest to help lay her away."
Thus, without definite plan except to beam their lifeless burden to
some decent burial ground, the boys set out. They had not proceeded
far along the lane that led away from the house when they heard voices.
They plodded on, and passed a group of persons whom they took to be
Germans from the deep gutturals in which they spoke. They were close
to this group, too close for comfort, but passed unobserved in the
For half an hour they bore the dead woman, passing houses at times,
shrouded invariably in darkness. At last they came to a town. German
soldiers were in evidence there, in numbers, but took no notice of
the two bent forms bearing the stretcher. Bob, who was leading,
bumped into a man in the dark.
"_Pardon_," said the man.
"_Pardon, monsieur_," replied Bob at once.
This was met with a soft-voiced assurance, in French that it was
of no consequence, the remark concluding with the words, "_mon fils_."
"Are you the Father?" Bob blurted out in English.
"Yes," came in low tones in return. "I am Pere Marquee, my son. Say
no more. You may be overheard. Follow me."
Around a corner, down a lane went Pere Marquee, the boys following with
their strange load. Once well clear of the main street, the Father
"Speak slowly," he said. "I understand your language but imperfectly,
Whereupon Bob promptly told him, in few words, of their quest. He
told him, too, that they were American aviators in imminent danger
"Bring the poor woman this way," said the priest. He led them to
a house which he entered without knocking, and asked them to enter.
They took the dead woman into a room occupied by two old ladies,
and set down their load as Pere Marquee hurriedly told the short
story he had heard from Bob.
Dicky was nearest to the priest as he finished speaking and turned
to the boys. The old man gave the young one a searching scrutiny,
up to that time Dicky had not spoken.
"You, too, are American?" he asked, as if doubtful that so perfect
a disguise could have been so hurriedly assumed.
Dicky's answer was short, and made in a tone and with an accent that
made the good Father look still more sharply into the boy's eyes.
"No one would dream it," he murmured. "You are very like the poor
dead woman's son---so like that the resemblance is startling. It
is no doubt the clothes that make me note it."
"Not altogether," interposed one of the old ladies. "His voice is
strangely like that of Franois. I know, for Francois frequently
worked here for us until they took him away. If the American would
limp as Franois limped, most folk would take him for Franois, surely."
Franois, it was explained, had been hurt when a boy of twelve, and
while not seriously crippled, always walked with a slight limp in the
Once having convinced their new-found friends that they were American
soldiers whose object it was to restore Belgium to the Belgians, they
all set about the discussion of what should be the next step.
Pere Marquee had known the dead woman. She had been ill for weeks,
and he had been expecting to hear she had passed away. Too much was
required of him in the village to allow of his leaving it to look
The German colonel was not a hard man, "for a German," said the priest.
The soldiers molested but little the townsfolk that were left. After
some discussion the Father decided that the best plan would be to
have a funeral in the morning, attended by the two American boys
openly. Both spoke French sufficiently well to answer any questioning
by the Germans. Dicky's disguise was perfect, they all declared.
With the addition of the limp, which he decided to adopt, he might
even fool some of the townsfolk. Before they lay down on the floor
and snatched some sleep Bob's wardrobe had been replenished with old
clothes gathered from a house nearby.
Little interest was taken in the funeral next morning so far as the
Germans were concerned. For that matter but few townsfolk attended
the actual interment. Those who did were very old folk or very
young. Not one of them spoke to either Bob or Dicky. The whole
affair seemed uncanny to the boys. Bob stooped as he walked at the
suggestion of the priest, and Dicky's limp was very naturally assumed.
No sharp scrutiny was given them, though each was bathed in
perspiration when they regained the shelter of the house where they
had spent the night.
"Not a moment must now be lost," said Pre Marquee. "You must get as
far away from this village as possible without delay. Your presence
here will lead to inquiry before many hours have passed, and subsequent
registration. If that comes, you would be shot as spies without
doubt, sooner or later. I advised that you take the chance of discovery
at the funeral so that we could say that you came from a nearby town
for that ceremony and had at once returned. Be sure that I shall
select a town in the opposite direction to that in which you will be
working your way. I am sure that the end justifies the means, and
I wish you Godspeed."
Ten minutes later the two boys slipped out the rear door of the
house. Dicky was soon limping through the trees of a thickly-foliaged
orchard, Bob close behind. Stooping under the low branches, step by
step they advanced. No one was in sight. A last glance behind and
the boys ducked through the leafy hedge, wriggled over a low wall,
and rolled into a deep ditch beside it. Stooping as low as they
could, the boys followed this ditch for some hundreds of yards, until
they were well clear of the town, and out of sight of anyone in it.
Finally they reached a spot which seemed particularly well suited
for a hiding place, and decided to remain there until dark before
attempting to proceed further. All the rest of the day they lay in
the moist, muddy ditch-bottom. Bob had torn a map from the back of
an old railway guide he had seen in the house in which he had slept,
and it was to prove of inestimable value to him. To strike north,
edging west, and reach one of the larger Belgian towns was the first
plan. What they should do once they had accomplished that, time must
tell them. So far they had been blessed by the best of fortune, and
the part of the country in which they had descended did not seem to
hold very many German troops. Even Bob began to hope.
THROUGH THE LINES
It was stiff, tiresome work lying quiet in the ditch that day, but
with brambles pulled over them the boys were in comparatively little
danger of discovery. At dusk they crawled cautiously out of their
hiding-place and slowly headed northward. Every sound meant Germans
to them, and their first mile was a succession of sallies forward,
interspersed with sudden dives underneath the hedge by the roadside.
The moon came up. The clank of harness and the gear of guns and
wagons told of approaching artillery or transport, or both. From
the shelter of the hedge the boys watched long lines of dusty shapes
move slowly past. They seemed to be taking an interminable time
about it. Now and then a rough guttural voice rasped out an order.
The boys waited for what seemed hours to them, and the very moment
they would move, along would come another contingent of some sort.
They had evidently struck a corps shifting southward. At last a
good sized gap in the long, ghostly line gave them courage to
cross. They got through safely enough, and kept on steadily for
a time across country. They skirted two villages, and reached a
haystack near a river-bank before daybreak. Out toward the east
they saw the faint outlines of a fairly large town. Before them
lay the river, spanned by a bridge guarded at each end by a German
sentry. Hope fell several degrees.
The boys had climbed upon the stack and pulled the straw well over
them. As they lay looking toward their goal, to the north, the
home of the owner of the stack was at their backs. He made his
appearance at an early hour, and came not far distant. After a
whispered conference, Bob hailed him in a low tone. First the little
man bolted back into his house without investigating the whereabouts
of the mysterious voice. After a time he reappeared, and when Bob
again sung out to him, he gingerly approached the stack, staring
at it like mad, in spite of Bob's continuous warnings that he should
not do so. Finally Bob induced him to mount the slight ladder by
which the boys had climbed to their point of vantage.
He was a little man, with a thin red beard, great rings in his ears,
and piercing, shifty eyes. A reddish, diminutive sort of man,
altogether, with a thin little voice that went with his general
appearance. He was literally scared stiff at the idea of the Boches
finding the boys on his premises. That would mean his house burned,
and death for himself, he said. Germans were all about, he said
fearfully, and no one could escape them. He was so frankly nervous
and so devoutly wishful that the boys had never come near him and
his, that Bob, to ease the little man's mind, promised that the boys
would swim the river when dark came and relieve the tension so far
as the stack-owner was concerned. He was eager enough to see that
the boys were well hidden, and before he climbed down the ladder
he piled bundle after bundle upon them, as if preferring that they
should be smothered rather than discovered by the dreaded Boches.
That was a tiring day, a hungry, thirsty day, but the boys lay as
still as mice. From where they lay they could see a sufficient
number of Germans passing and repassing along the road and across
the bridge to hourly remind them of the necessity of keeping close
At night, before nine o'clock, they climbed down from their hiding-place,
went to the edge of the river, undressed, and waded out neck-deep.
Dicky stepped on a stone that rolled over and in righting himself
splashed about once or twice. In a moment a deep voice could be
heard from the opposite bank, growling out, _"Was ist das?"_ The
boys kept perfectly still, and heard the German call out for someone
to come. Quietly each of the boys ducked his head and gently waded
back under water to the shelter of their own bank. There they sat,
very cold and miserable, for some time. Then the moon came out and
lit up the country-side bright as day.
"It's off for to-night," whispered Bob. "We must go back and have
another try to-morrow night. That was bad luck. The Boche could
hardly have been a sentry. I think he was just there by chance.
What rotten luck!" So back they went, wet and cold, to their nest
at the top of the stack, in anything but a hopeful frame of mind.
They fell into a sound sleep before long, and were awakened quite
early next morning by the weight of someone ascending the ladder.
"A Boche this time!" whispered Dicky as he regained consciousness.
"That light little man never could make such a commotion."
The perspiration broke out on Bob's forehead.
An age seemed to pass before the head of the intruder came into
view. What was their surprise and relief to see the round smiling
face of a Belgian woman of considerable size and weight! Redbeard
had told her of his unwelcome guests and she had come to offer such
succor and assistance as might lie in her power.
She was the widow of a Belgian officer, killed in the first fighting
of the war. She asked if the boys were hungry, and when Bob admitted
that they had been on very short rations indeed for some time she
reached down and drew up a little basket containing a bottle of red
wine and a plate of beans.
The Germans had taken most of the food in the district, and beans
were her only diet save on those occasions when she managed to get
some of the American relief food which a friend of hers had hidden
away, drawing sparingly on the rapidly diminishing store.
It was a sad day for many folk in Belgium and Northern France, she
said, when the American food stopped coming, but American soldiers
should find that she remembered. As to getting across the river, she
could guide the boys to a point where they might find it more easy
to cross. She would return again at night and try to help them
another stage their journey.
The day seemed brighter after the woman's visit. Night came at
last, after an uneventful day of waiting, and with it the ample
form of madame. She led the boys two miles eastward to where the
ruins of a bridge still spanned part of the stream. Girders just
below the water's surface made it possible to clamber across, she