Part 3 out of 3
said, and there had not been a guard at that point for some months.
The boys bade the good woman a very grateful good-by, and found the
crossing much easier than they had expected to find it.
Soon they were plodding on by starlight, and by midnight had reached,
unmolested, a road that seemed to lead due north. They went around
all villages, and learned to consider dogs a nuisance in so doing.
At first they were unduly nervous. Faint moonlight played strange
games with their fancies. Once a tree-trunk held them at bay for
some minutes before they discovered it was not a German with a rifle.
It certainly looked like a German. A restless cow, changing her
pasture, sent them flying to cover. A startled rabbit dashed across
the road, and the boys flung themselves face downward in a gully in
a twinkling. The night made odd, sounds, each one of sinister
import to the fugitives. The wind sprang up and made noises that
caused their hearts to jump into their throats half a dozen times.
The boys were sadly in need of food and drink. They decided to try
the hospitality of some of the villages as they passed a hamlet.
Approaching a house on the far side of a little cluster of dark
dwellings, they lay by the door and under one of the windows for
a few minutes, listening for the heavy breathing that might betoken
German occupants. All seemed quiet and propitious, so Bob gave
a gentle knock and explained in a low tone that two Americans, in
hiding from the Germans, wished to enter. Sounds of commotion came
from the cottage. A light flashed from a window, and a woman's
shrill voice spoke the word "Americains" in anything but a low tone.
A moment later, as they still waited for the door to open, a light
appeared in the next cottage, and another feminine voice repeated
the surprised ejaculation, "Les Americains!"
"Come on," said Dicky. "The sooner we get out of this the better.
That woman has raised the whole town."
The boys ran down the road quietly, but losing no time. Well it
was that they did so, for they had not gone far before several shots
were fired behind them, and one or two sinister bullets sang over
their heads. They started running in good earnest then. Fortunately
there was no pursuit. After a time they slowed down and again became
a prey to all their former fears of night noises. A large bird
flew close to Bob's head and gave him quite a scare. As they pressed
on along the roadway, the clatter of hoof-beats coming toward them
sent them to the roadside, where, a ditch offered welcome refuge.
Bob and Dicky jumped in, close together. At the bottom they hit
something soft, which turned beneath them and gave a whistling grunt
as their combined weight came down upon it. In an instant they
realized that they had jumped full on top of a man. Who he was
or what he was doing there was of no moment to the boys. A sound
from him might mean their capture. Bob grabbed the man, grappled
with him in the pitch dark, and choked him into unconsciousness,
Dicky lending a hand. A troop of German cavalry clattered up.
Just as the troop drew abreast, the order was given for them to
slow from a trot into a walk. The boys held their breath. Gradually
the horsemen drew past, then away. Bob waited until they were well
in the distance, and then examined the poor fellow underneath. If
the boys had been scared to have jumped on the man, the man had
been more than scared to have had them do so.
There was all-round relief when the boys found the victim to be an
elderly Belgian farmer; and the relief of the farmer himself as he
gathered his scattered wits, to find that the boys had no designs
further upon his welfare, was truly comic. The Germans, he said,
had imposed severe penalties on inhabitants who roamed about the
country-side between eight o'clock in the evening and daylight.
His quest remained unexplained, except in so far as a sack of
something the boys did not examine might have explained it. Bob
advised the old man to remain where he was till morning light, and
the boys pressed on.
Before dawn they took refuge in a shed behind a house whose stately
lines were marred by the marks of bombardment.
The owner of the half-ruined house and the shed where they had taken
refuge proved to be a fine old Belgian, courageous and full of resource.
As soon as he found that the boys were escaping American airmen he
brought food and drink to them in plenty. They were a long way from
the Holland line, he said, but they might, with care, get across.
Others had done so. He would look into the probabilities and
possibilities, and let them know.
The shed was a bare, small building of rude boards, with nothing in
it. A few boards were placed across the eaves, forming a sort of
loft extending for some seven feet from the end of the building.
It was on these boards that the boys spent their days while waiting
for an opportune moment to go further. Their host would not hear of
their suggestions that they should leave the shed until he had arranged
plans for their reception at a further station on their journey.
"I wonder why he does not ask us to come into his house?" queried
Dicky after the boys had been two days in the shed. "It seems to be
big enough---even what's left of it---to have plenty of hiding places
in it, judging from what I can see of it out of this hole in the roof."
"He probably has his reasons," was Bob's reply.
That he had was proven the next day, when a squad of German soldiers
came and spent an hour searching the house. One of them glanced in
the doorway of the shed, but did not come inside. Seeing the bare
surroundings, it evidently did not occur to him to glance upward.
That night, when the Belgian brought their food, he told them that
his house was searched periodically, though as yet no one had been
discovered in hiding there.
Impatiently, they spent a week on the hard boards of the loft in the
shed. At last their host was ready for them to move on. He gave
them a map of the country, on which he marked the route and their
stopping places. After six hours' steady march through a driving
downpour they found another shed, in just the place that had been
described to them before starting. It, too, had a hospitable loft,
and food was there in plenty.
Two more stopping places, always in sheds or outbuildings, and they
were very near that part of the Dutch frontier which their friends,
most of them unknown, were planning that they should cross. Money,
they were told, was to be a factor in their obtaining entrance to
Holland. They knew little of the detail of what happened. They
were guided one night by a dwarfed cripple to a little wood, and
there spent four hours in weary waiting in absolute silence. Then
the cripple returned and motioned them to follow him. This they
did, and when they reached the edge of the wood, commenced crawling
on all fours, as their guide was doing.
They crawled for some hundreds of yards, winding about the scrub
brush and tall grass, and then suddenly came upon a wire fence.
A dark shape loomed up on the far side of this barrier. The cripple,
aided by the man on the other side, held apart two strands of the
wire, and cautioned the boys to step quickly through the opening.
The cripple disappeared in the black night, the dark form beside them
motioned in a ghost-like way to the blackness ahead of them, and
without a sound they pressed on, as though in a dream, hardly daring
to hope all would come out well.
By daylight they were able to distinguish something of the general
outlines of the country, which was flat, damp and fog covered.
A tall line of poplars led them toward a road. As they reached it,
in the gray of the morning, Bob turned to Dicky and said the first
words either of them had spoken for more than an hour.
"Do you think we are really in Holland, and free?" he queried.
"The whole thing was done in such a mysterious fashion, and silence
so rigidly enjoined by everybody, that I would not be surprised
if we have been smuggled out of Belgium, Bob," was Dicky's reply.
Nevertheless, they were most cautious as day came. They hid for a
time, then decided to go to some homely cottage and see what manner
of folk they would find. Stealthily approaching a simple home, they
waited until they caught sight of the housewife who was outside it,
feeding her chickens.
"She looks Dutch," said Dicky. "Let's try her."
They came upon her suddenly, but she showed no great surprise. Perhaps
she had seen escaping soldiers of the Allied Armies in that part of
the world before. She could not understand either English or French,
but offered the boys a drink of milk and some bread, taking the money
they proffered for it and looking at the coins curiously before she
placed them in her pocket.
"She is Dutch as Dutch," was Bob's conclusion.
Sure enough, they were in Holland at last.
Careful maneuvering enabled them to get a passage to England, though
they had to use camouflage in their answers to certain pointed questions
in order not to disclose the fact that they were American belligerents.
It was not until their arrival in London---which they reached without
further incident---that something of their real adventures became known.
Bob voted that they proceed at once to Farnborough, which he had
heard was the headquarters of the British Flying Corps. An English
intelligence officer who had helped them to get through from Holland
had suggested Farnborough, too. Accordingly they wasted no time in
London, except to inquire for the whereabouts of the Farnborough
train. They were soon at Waterloo Station, and by afternoon had
come to the Royal Aircraft Factory Grounds, which were then at
Farnborough. There the commander was very cordial to them, and
found a place for them to get a bath in a jiffy. More than once
the boys had effected changes of raiment during their series of
adventures, but while they did not look quite as bad as they did
when they assumed their first disguise in France, they were still
dressed in odd fashion. Two smart British uniforms were given them,
and they were told that they would be very welcome and honored
guests at the general's mess for dinner.
At dinner they told their story in relays, to an intensely interested
audience. It was voted a truly great adventure, and the two young
Americans were overwhelmed with genuine admiration from their British
"I suppose your squad have no idea you escaped, have they?" asked the
general, who was a very youthful man for his rank.
"I dare say they imagine we are done for," answered Bob. "I think
we should send word to them as soon as we can."
"We have a squadron of pushers going over in the morning, sir,"
remarked the commander to the general, "and if these boys would
like to get over to their own crowd in a hurry they could take a
couple of that new squadron over for us. We are really very
short-handed. It would help us and it might suit the boys. It
would be quite dramatic for them to show up over there in person
after being counted as lost. How would it suit you, gentlemen?"
Both of the boys though it a splendid idea, and as the general
good-naturedly acquiesced, they went to bed early to get up at dawn
and have a trial flight on the two machines which they were to pilot
across the channel.
The new machines were in fine trim, and the whole group were in
France, at the appointed time and place in due course. The airdrome
where the squadron landed was but four hours' drive by motorcar
from the point from which Bob and Dicky had started the flight that
had ended so strangely for them. The flight commander of the Britishers
gladly sent the American lads to their own airdrome in a car, and
they arrived at dinner-time. When they walked into the headquarters'
hut they had a welcome indeed, and half an hour later when they were
allowed to join their comrades in the mess building, there was a
scene that none of the Brighton boys could ever forget. Feeling ran
too deep to make any of the fellows try to hide wet eyes, and lumps
in the throat made handclasps all the more firm.
Bob and Dicky were anxious to know how the rest had fared during their
absence, but not a word would anyone of the others say until the two
returned heroes of the mess had gone over their story in detail.
As the boys finished the recital of their adventures Joe Little
expressed the universal feeling in the hearts of every one of the
Brighton boys when he turned to Bob and Dicky, and putting a hand
on a shoulder of each, said soberly: "Fellows, if two of us can get
out of a hole like that and get back safe and sound, we can rest
mighty secure in the sort of Providence that is looking after us.
It is little we need to worry about what may happen to us, after all."
"You never know how lucky you can be in this world," said Bob.
"And you never want to be afraid to give your luck a fighting chance,"
PLUCK AND LUCK
No little change came over the Brighton boys as they developed into
seasoned fighting airmen. They looked older, harder, but they were
just as much boys as ever.
The first serious casualty suffered by their little band of six came
to Archie Fox. Archie was doing what he called "daily grind" when
Fate overtook him. That "daily grind" was the sort of work that
bid fair to end in disaster one day or another.
Well Archie remembered that day. It had started much the same as
other days experienced by Archie's unit. The getting ready of the
machine, the brief examination of the controls, first Archie and
then his observer, a young officer named Carleton, taking their seats,
the word given, and then all other sound shut out by the dull roar
of the engine---it was always like that. Lines of trees, patchwork
patterns made by the fields, and oddly grouped farm buildings swept
along beneath the soaring plane, growing smaller with uncanny
rapidity. The day's work started. That was all it amounted to.
In the airdrome they had left behind, the eyes that had followed
their first moments of flight were turned to other sights nearer at
hand. The men who had seen the plane well away started for other
jobs, forgetting the departed machine.
Both Archie and Carleton, neither novices at the game, settled themselves
snugly in their seats as the needle crept round the altimeter.
Cold awaited them in the higher levels. That they knew. A persistent,
penetrating cold, driven by a keen wind right through some great-coats.
Leather is the best protection from that sort of wind. The face
feels it the most, however. The cheeks become cold as ice. Far below,
the snakelike windings of trenches---trenches of friend and foe---can
be followed from high altitudes. Some parts of the line seem mile-deep
systems of trenches, section on section, transverse here, approach line
there, support line behind, ever joining one with another in wondrous
fashion. Shell-torn areas between the trench lines, the yellow earth
showing its wounds plainly from well above, caught the eyes of the
The bark of a bursting anti-aircraft shell heralded their arrival in
the danger zone. From the earth the tiny white shell clouds have a
fascination for the onlooker. More so perhaps, than for the man
in an aeroplane, not many yards distant from the bursting shrapnel.
The ball of fluff that follows the sharp "bang" is small at first,
but unrolls itself lazily until it assumes quite a size. That morning
the anti-aircraft gunners seemed unusually accurate. The third shell
burst not far below the plane, and two bits of the projectile
punctured the canvas with an odd "zipp." Some shells came so close
that the explosions gave the machine a distinct airshock, though no
other shell struck the plane.
Archie swung his plane now this way now that to render the aim of the
"Archies" below ineffective, smiling to himself, to think that the
nickname given to the anti-aircraft guns was his own given name.
"We are providing amusement for a pretty big audience, below there,"
thought Archie. "I suppose that the closer they come to us with
those shells the better sport it is for those who are watching us."
He laughed quietly at the thought. He was as cool as possible that
day. In fact, he was unusually cool, for oftentimes the salvo of
bursting "Archies" all about him would make his nerves tighten a
bit. That morning he was at his best. He felt a calm confidence
in his machine that made flying her a real pleasure. It even added
spice to the flight to know they had to pass so dangerous a locality
before reaching the area which was their objective. Over that area
his observer was to hover sufficiently long to be able, on returning,
to concoct a reliable and intelligible summary of what had come within
his line of vision.
Carleton was soon busy with his glasses. A group of cars on a siding
near a station were carefully counted. A line of horse transport on
a country road was given considerable attention. Working parties
along a small waterway were spotted and located on the map. A score
of motor lorries, advertised by a floating dust cloud, scurried
along below, to duly come under Carleton's eye and be at once tabulated
by him for future reference. At one railway station a sufficient
amount of bustle caused Carleton to watch that locality carefully.
"That is odd," he mused. "New activity there this morning. Maybe the
Boches have planned an ammunition dump at that point. That is one
for the bombers."
Thus time passed. Archie was busy dodging his dangerous namesakes,
while Carleton focused his entire attention on gathering material
for his report.
Carleton did not watch the movements below, however, with more care
than Archie watched the sky on all sides for signs of enemy air-craft.
The American machine had been so long inside the enemy lines that a
German fighting plane might be expected at any moment. At last a
Boche plane did make its appearance, a mere brown speck, at first,
far ahead. Archie's signal to Carleton that trouble was ahead was
conveyed by giving the machine a slight rock as he started to climb.
Not much time was allowed for maneuvering. Carleton lost no time
in placing a disk on his Lewis gun, and as the German approached,
both observers opened up with a salvo. It was all over in a second.
Firing point blank, in that fraction of time spent in passing, both
The excitement of that brief encounter, a mere matter of seconds
as the two swift planes swept out of each other's range, was hardly
past when the rattle of a machine-gun nearby and the _zipp!_ _zipp!_
as the bullets tore their way through the canvas, told of another
Boche machine at hand. Neither Archie nor Carleton could see it.
Carleton unbuckled the strap that held him in his seat, rose, and
looked over the top plane.
There, just above and well out of range, was an enemy fighting plane.
The machine had apparently dropped from the clouds above, and with
great good fortune gained an ideal position. Before Archie could
swing his "bus" around so that Carleton could get his Lewis gun to
work on the Boche another salvo came from the enemy machine-gun.
That belt of cartridges found its mark. Both Carleton and Archie
were hit, the former badly. The young officer dropped back into his
seat. Archie saw that the lad had sufficient presence of mind to
hastily buckle his belt round his waist again, then, his right
shoulder numb, he dived steeply, bringing his plane up and straightening
it out after a sheer drop of a thousand feet.
The German machine tail-dropped alter the American one, but by a
stroke of good luck the enemy pilot seemed to have some difficulty
in righting. When Archie headed for home the Boche flier was far
Carleton had become unconscious. Archie's head began to swim. His
right arm became stiff, and the blood from a wound in the shoulder
trickled down his sleeve. He dared not try to stop the bleeding,
and decided to trust to luck and make for home as fast as he could.
Periodically he became dizzy and faint, and once, when he thought
he was going to lose consciousness, he was roused by an anti-aircraft
shell that burst but a few feet from one of his wing tips. He managed
to dodge about and tried a half circle to get out of range of the
Archie felt cold and hot by turns. Then his arm became painful. The
pain was all that made him keep consciousness, he thought afterward.
At last his own lines were passed. He felt a strange weakness, and
began to lose interest. Carleton's inert body swayed to one side,
and called Archie's attention to the fact that he was custodian
of another life, as well as his own, if life was still in Carleton's
body. Archie felt, somehow, that Carleton was not dead. That thought
keyed him up to still greater effort. He throttled his engine and
started downward, the warmer airs welcome as he came lower. At last
he was in home air. A final decision to buck up and hang on was
necessary to urge his weak muscles to act. He swayed in his seat.
His eyes closed and his grasp on the levers slackened. Again he saw
that senseless form strapped in the observer's seat. Poor Carleton.
He had been hard hit. Nothing for it but to land him as gently and
as safely as possible. Will power overcame the growing weakness and
inertia for one more struggle against the darkness that threatened
his consciousness, and Archie, striving with every element of his
being against falling forward insensible, threw back his elevator
and made a good landing.
As the machine came to rest the mechanics ran up to it and found
both observer and pilot apparently lifeless in their seats. Willing
hands soon had the two young men out of the machine and in the orderly
tent under the eye of the doctor. Carleton was the first to regain
consciousness. He was sorely wounded, a machine-gun bullet having
struck him in the neck and another in the leg. Archie's wound was
not so bad, but the hard fight to keep going and bring Carleton
and himself back home safely had told on his nervous system. At last
he opened his eyes, and smiled to hear his C.O., who was standing
beside him, say: "Carleton says you both got it well on the Boche
side of the line, and that you must have done wonders to get away
and get home. We won't forget your pluck, young fellow. Now let
them take you away and patch you up as soon as they can."
It was not often that the chief distributed praise, which made it the
more sweet. Archie was sent back to hospital, to spend many weary
weeks there, but to come out well and fit again at last. Carleton
was much longer in the doctor's hands, and months passed before he
again saw the front.
THE RAID ON ESSEN
A new triplane of great climbing power and high speed came to the
airdrome. Joe Little fell in love with it. Twice he took it on
bombing expeditions and twice returned with reports of real damage
to enemy supply stations and communications.
One night round the dinner table the boys of Joe's squadron planned
a raid of some magnitude, and later asked permission to carry it into
effect. It was a scheme to drop a load of bombs on the great Krupp
works at Essen. This had been done by one or two individual fliers
from Allied units, but the boys planned that with six of the new
type triplanes, if they could be procured, a really effective raid
on the great German productive center could be carried out.
The commanding officer did not disapprove the idea, but passed it
above him for approval from headquarters. The boys had worked out
the details carefully, and were keen on their project. At last
permission came. Booth, one of the most experienced aviators on
the western front, was to pilot one of the two triplanes of the
new type that had been allotted to the airdrome, and Joe Little
the other. The four other big bombing machines that were to go
on this mission were to be sent from another air station nearby.
Joe was pleased to be able to take Harry Corwin as his companion,
and none of the twelve men who had been selected for the expedition
worked harder over the plans and the maps than these two Brighton
At last the night selected for the raid came. It was a study to
see Joe Little inspect a machine before a flight, but on this occasion
he went over the big plane with extra care. He stood by the right
side of the tail for a minute chatting to Harry and then the two
boys went over every detail of the machine. While one fingered the
tail skid bolt the other examined the safety cable on the tail skid.
Stabilizer, elevator, and rudder were gone over carefully. Control
wires were gone over for their full lengths and their pulleys tried.
Brace wires were felt for slackness, from the tail to the inside of
the fuselage. The control wires to the ailerons, the pulleys and
the hinges, nothing escaped the eyes of Joe Little.
Each blade of the propeller he searched for a minute crack. Every
nut and bolt on the propeller he tried.
When in the machine and safely buckled to their seats, Joe ran his
engine a bit, to satisfy himself that she was producing just the
right music. The other five triplanes had been waiting. When Joe
had satisfied himself that his machine was in perfect condition the
word was given for the start. A series of staccato pops announced
that the whole fleet was getting under way and they were soon circling
the hangars and climbing off in the direction of the trenches. The
long journey had begun.
The night was moonlit and the stars were bright. Not a cloud was to
be seen. A fog obscured some of the low ground over which the
squadron had to pass, but they steered by compass, keeping perfect
formation. Finally the silver Rhine wound below them. Turning,
they followed the river until Coblenz was reached, then turned north
again. Germany's great manufacturing centers were passing below
the squadron now, one after another. The countless fires of monster
furnaces and factories, thousand upon thousand, glared into the night.
The tall chimneys and furnace stacks belched forth red, yellow, and
white flame as the munition works were pressed to their utmost to
produce the sinews of war for the guns along the line over which
the squadron had come.
By a certain point of identification all of the fliers knew Dusseldorf
when that large factory center was reached. So far they had not seen
an enemy plane. Essen was not far ahead now. Searchlights had been
semaphoring over more than one town they had passed, but not until
they had come over Dusseldorf did any of the Hun eyes from below
see them. At Dusseldorf they were spotted and a veritable hail of
anti-aircraft shell was hurled skyward. The signal to climb higher
was given and they were soon out of reach of the "Archies."
As they approached Essen the fires from thousands of furnaces lit up
the whole country round. Below them was the very heart of
shell-production and gun-making. The sight was an awe-inspiring and
magnificent one. The lights were so bright that the pilots and
observers could hardly distinguish the flashes of the guns which were
firing hundreds of shells at the menacing squadron.
Hovering but a few seconds above the scene of so much activity, guided
by the flaring furnaces and the blazing chimney stacks far beneath,
the signal was given to release the bombs, and down through the night
air, into the fire and smoke, dropped bomb after bomb.
As they fell and exploded their flashes could be seen distinctly in
spite of the blaze all about them. Great tongues of flame licked
up heavenward as if trying to reach the aircraft that had hurled the
destruction down upon the seething hives. A dull boom told of an
explosion, and the air rocked with the disturbance.
Hundreds of pounds of high explosive fell on Essen that night. Great
fires started here and there, visible to the Americans long after
they had started for home, which they did as soon as their loads
of bombs were loosed on the factories and munition plants beneath.
Enemy planes had begun to climb up to engage the daring raiders, but
the triplanes were well away before the German fliers reached anything
like their altitude. Not one of the six bombers had been hit. Back
they flew, satisfied that damage had been wrought to the enemy plants,
back by the Rhine and the Moselle, back safely to their aviation base.
At last, ahead, the pilots could see the flares lit to guide their
return. Each flier switched on his little light to see his
instruments, and gracefully dropped nearer the ground. A night
landing is always interesting. The familiar points near the airdrome
have a strangely different appearance at night. Everything is vague in
outline---indistinct. Down the six machines dropped to the rows of
lights, flickering in the night breeze. A last moment, then the
instant for raising the elevator, then the gentle, resilient bump as
the wheels touch the level floor of the airdrome, and the fleet is home.
It was a fine raid, well planned and splendidly executed. It did not
cost our side a man nor a machine, and it spread death and destruction
among the centers that turned out the means of destruction that had
made the world-war a thing of horror. To bomb Krupp's works! The
very thought had a ring of retribution to it! The very name Krupp
had so sinister a sound. Well might the Brighton boys be proud of
Joe for the part he had played in the inception of the idea and the
work of carrying it through. They were proud. So was Joe's mother
when she heard of it. Harry Corwin wrote home about it. He wrote
three times, as a matter of fact, before he could concoct an account
of the night flight that would pass the censor. Finally he
accomplished that feat, however, and thus Joe Little's mother heard
of what her boy had done. The brave woman cried a little, as
mothers do sometimes, but her eyes lit up at the thought of the
lad distinguishing himself among so many brave young men. Such a
son was worth the sacrifice, she thought, with a sigh. "He is his
father's son," she said to herself. And to her came his words,
spoken many months before, "And my mother's," and her heart swelled
A FURIOUS BATTLE
For a time it seemed that the Brighton boys were doomed to be separated,
but word came to the squadron commander in some way of the manner in
which they had entered the service, and he so arranged matters that
they were retained in his unit. Moreover, he saw to it that their
work should so far as possible keep them in touch with each other.
News came one day that the squadron to which they belonged was before
long to be transferred to the rear for a well-deserved rest, and
a new lot was to take their place. The boys were speculating upon
this item of news one evening after dinner, when Joe Little said:
"What a fine thing it would be if one day we all went out on the
same job! Did you fellows ever come to think of the fact that the
whole lot of us have never actually been out together once since we
came to France? I would like to see the whole lot of us have a shot
at the Boches at the same time, before we quit."
"I had a letter from Archie to-day," said Jimmy Hill. "He says it
will be some time before he rejoins us."
"Well, five of us are here yet, thanks more to luck than good sense,"
laughed Joe. "I think the Boche would know the five of us were left
if we went out together and had a smack at him."
"Stranger things might happen," said Richardson, looking up from an
illustrated paper. "The chief was talking only yesterday about
sending out a combined bombing and observing expedition to save
hunters. Three pilots gone sick in three days has made him short,
he said. I think the lot of us want a rest, if you ask me. With
three more fellows down there will not be such a lot of hunter pilots
to choose from. So you wonderful birds may have that chance to show
off that you're worrying about."
This sally raised a general laugh, and Bob Haines said quietly: "If a
bunch goes out to-morrow and we are all in it, I for one certainly
hope that you are in it, too, Richardson. I do not see any harm in
thinking we are better than the German fliers. I believe we are,
and I would like nothing better than to have one good combined go at
Brother Boche before we leave this part of the line."
Bob said this in such a serious tone that Parker, who had come in
late and was devouring a huge plate of corned beef.---"bully," as
he called it---and a big pile of bread and butter, looked up and
nodded his approval. "Me, too," Parker said, between bites.
"What we want and what we will get may be two very different things,"
said Harry Corwin. "We have never built any castles in the air yet
that materialized. I guess our combined raid, much as we might enjoy
it, will be a long time coming."
Harry was wrong. Two days later, the flight commander received orders
to carry out certain observation work and certain bombing work in
the same sector of the enemy's territory. The two new triplanes were
to be used as a bombing machine and an observation machine respectively.
The flight commander assigned the piloting of the first machine to
Richardson and the second to Bob Haines. To Bob's delight Dicky Mann
was chosen as his observer. Four of the wasp-like hunter machines,
the swiftest planes in the airdrome, were to accompany the two
triplanes. The pilots selected for these four one-man fliers were
Parker, Jimmy Hill, Joe Little and Harry Corwin.
The six machines were in the air before the boys realized that they
had their wish of two nights before. The roar of the six engines
filled the airdrome. Circling up, before the planes had risen more
than a few hundred feet, they began to take up their respective
positions according to instructions. The two heavier machines hung
comparatively low, while the four hunters, light and agile, climbed
higher and higher, above and on each side of the larger machines
below them. The great wing spread of the triplanes, and the huge,
ugly fuselage of the bombing machine, were in sharp contrast to the
dainty, wasp-bodied hunters.
Richardson's little major sat behind the machine-gun that was mounted
on the front of the fuselage of the big bombing machine. There were
sufficient high explosive bombs at his feet and suspended around
the cock-pit of the fuselage to do great damage if properly directed.
Dicky Mann was perched out on the very nose of the observation plane.
On one side of him was his Lewis gun, on the other his camera. The
great power of the triplanes had made it possible for the fuselage
on each one to be lined with light splinter-proof armoring, which gave
the occupants an added sense of security.
The four hunters sailed high out of sight of the two big triplanes.
It was a day of spotted clouds, a day of a sort of hide-and-seek
in the air. Up twenty thousand feet, nearly four miles above ground,
the quartette made for the appointed place, then took up their positions
and circled round waiting for developments.
Bob and Dicky, in the observation plane, were after certain definite
photographs, and the lower cloud strata made it necessary for them
to drop lower than usual to obtain that of which they were in search.
The Boche "Archies" burst shells all about them, but Bob kept the
swift machine maneuvering in such manner that to hit it required
great good fortune on the part of the German gunners. The _pop!_
_pop!_ _pop!_ of the anti-aircraft shrapnel and the _whizz!_ of the
pieces of shell went almost unnoticed by the two boys, so intent were
they on their quest. Once bits of shell tore through one of the
planes, and once a few stray bits rattled against the light armor
of the fuselage.
Richardson and the major, in the other triplane, had climbed to a
greater height. Richardson's instructions were to get into a
certain position as soon as possible and drop several hundred pounds
of high explosive on a big munition dump. Experience had taught him
that to be at a good height above an exploding dump was advisable.
Once before he had nearly been wrecked by the explosion of a German
munition depot, which had caused a commotion in the air for thousands
of feet above it.
Just as Bob and Dicky were circling around the spot they were bent on
photographing, and Richardson and the major were loosing off their
messengers of destruction toward the munition dump they had set out
to destroy, the four men in the hunters, at twenty thousand feet,
were beginning to feel the cold. Parker, whose job it was to give
the signals for action to his little fleet, dipped his plane slightly
and peered downward to see what was taking place below. His face
felt as if it was pressed to a block of ice. Surely some enemy
scouts would be on hand soon.
As Parker circled round, his eyes searching the sky below him, seven
Boche fighting machines came hurtling down from the north.
They had been hidden by fleecy, spotty clouds for a few moments,
and were already too near to the two triplanes below. Parker waved
his wing tips, which was his signal to his three companions in the
hunting machines that the fight was on, and headed toward the oncoming
fleet of seven. Joe Little was the first of the other three to see
their adversaries, and was not far behind Parker. Next came Jimmy
Hill, with Harry Corwin bringing up the rear.
The splendid planes rushed to the attack as though they knew the
necessity for speed. Their engines purred smoothly, singing a vicious
song, as they worked up their speed to more than a hundred miles an
hour. The four American hunters were high above the seven German
machines. Then the time came to drop downward. Parker first, and
the other three in turn, dipped the noses of their planes. The
added assistance of gravity lent swiftness to their flight until
they were swooping down on the enemy at little less than one hundred
and fifty miles an hour. The Boches at first seemed so intent upon
their quarry, the two triplanes, that they were like to be taken
completely by surprise by the four wasps from the upper air. Then
they saw the descending quartette. Parker, ahead, with one hand on
his controls and the other on his Lewis gun, made direct for the
first Boche of the seven. The moment he was within range he opened fire.
Parker was going at such speed that the fifty rounds he loosed off
apparently missed his opponent, in spite of the fact that but forty
yards separated them when the last bullet left Parker's gun. The
German went down in a clever spiral for a couple of thousand feet.
When he flattened out, however, Parker, who had dived with and
after him, was close behind. More, he was in an ideal position,
from which he fired another fifty rounds. These steel messengers
reached their billet, and the German flier went straight down to
But while Parker had been dropping with eyes on the first Boche, the
second had dropped after Parker. Parker reached for a new drum for
his Lewis gun, and as he did so the second Boche, who had got on
Parker's tail, let go at close range. The hunter was riddled. Parker
felt that he was hit, but not badly. That was his impression, at
least, at the moment. He spun his hunter round and dropped sheer
for a thousand feet, coming up in a fairly thick bank of white cloud.
He there flattened out again and began climbing, not being sure of
his altitude. No sooner had his engine begun to drone out the
rhythm of its full power, and the good hunter-plane begun to rise
majestically, than what should he see but the second enemy fighter
right in front of him! A new drum was in place on his Lewis gun,
and he let go. The Boche pilot threw up both hands and fell back,
and down into the cloud went the enemy plane, clearly out of control
and quickly out of sight.
Parker examined himself as well as he could, but was unable to locate
his wound. It was in his back somewhere, for he felt a stiffness
and numbness all down his spine, but he still could move his arms,
and felt no faintness. He decided that it must be merely a scratch,
and climbed up as fast as he could to get into the fray again.
The other three American hunters had engaged in close, desperate
encounters to a man. Joe Little was lucky enough to bring down his
adversary and circled round toward the two triplanes, which had
both finished their work and were climbing fast to get out of the
range of the "Archies." Jimmy Hill had missed his man, who went
down in a spiral, Jimmy spinning down after him. Owing to the
greater pace at which Jimmy was traveling he had to make a wider
spiral. The Boche flattened out and Jimmy dived for him again,
but before he could come within range the German dived straight
down to the ground and safety, where he appeared to land in such
manner as to show that he had suffered but little, if any, damage.
Jimmy was treated to an exceptionally severe salvo of "Archies"
before he could get well up again, and was slightly wounded in the
cheek by a shrapnel splinter. Harry Corwin's adversary fired at
Harry, and Harry fired at him, but neither made a hit, so far as
could be seen. The Boche was soon lost in a cloud for which he
was heading, and Harry circled back to find his fellows.
Meantime two of the German fighting machines had kept on for the big
triplanes. They were heading for fast, powerful machines, well
armed, but they dashed at them as though they had no fear of result.
The first German machine to score a hit was a fast Albatros. It
dived straight at Richardson's machine. Richardson side-slipped
and dropped like a stone till close to the ground. Not a single
German who watched his drop, whether watching from the air or from
the ground, dreamed that the big machine was still under control.
Just before it seemed about to crash into the earth, however, Richardson
righted it, and heading for home, skimmed the ground at a height
of not more than fifty feet above the ground. The doughty little
major poured round after round of bullets from his machine-gun at
the heads of the Huns in the trenches and dugouts as the fleeing
plane passed close over the astonished Germans, and the whole thing
was over before anyone except the two occupants of the plane realized
what was taking place.
Not a single shot from the thousands fired hit the brave young pilot,
though the major was not quite so fortunate, having been wounded in
the wrist by a ball from the machine-gun of the flier who attacked
them from the Albatros. How they escaped death at his hands they
hardly knew, for he had poured a veritable storm of lead into them
at close range, and made dozens of holes in one or other of the three
planes. Richardson's arrival with the major at the home airdrome
was the first news to come back of the fight in the air. The major
reported that they had satisfactorily performed their part of the
work and escaped with but little damage. The Boche ammunition dump
they were to assail had been blown into a thousand fragments, the
detonation of the explosion having been heard for miles.
Meanwhile, Bob Haines and Dicky Mann in the other triplanes were
having an exciting fight with another Albatros. Bob had chosen to
meet the Boche attack head on. Dicky was a good shot, and tried
his best to wing their fleet antagonist, but failed to hit him.
Perhaps the readiness of the two Americans to meet the attack,
however, had somewhat disconcerted the German's aim, for he too,
missed the triplane.
The spotty clouds made the fighting in-and-out work that morning.
The four hunters were still in commission, as was the observation
triplane. Three Boche fliers of the seven had been accounted for,
and a fourth driven down. Things looked very good for the Brighton
boys, but they were over enemy territory and by no means "out of
the woods" yet. A speedy Boche trio which had apparently not before
seen the Americans suddenly dived from a good height and the fight
began all over again.
In the melee of looping, side-slipping and nose-diving that ensued
Bob got his big triplane headed for home and started off at high
speed. This left the four hunters to their own devices, with no other
troubles than to down such German antagonists as they might encounter,
and to get their own machines safely home if they could.
But none of the four liked to start for home until he was sure the
others of his group were all right and ready to come back with him.
The spotty clouds were responsible for a bit of delay. Parker
was nowhere to be seen. Joe, Harry, and Jimmy circled round once
or twice, undecided what to do, and at that moment Parker came climbing
back from a dead-leaf drop, having shaken off his Boche pursuers, and
gave the signal for the home flight. Home they turned, and as
they did so, four big Albatrosses, a section of the first group they
had met, joined to two of the second group, came at them. Without
any concerted idea of action Joe, Jimmy, and Harry looped straight
over simultaneously, every one of the three performing a perfect
loop and coming right side up at the same moment. Each of them,
also, fired a round at the Boche immediately in front of him
and made off for home at top speed.
Parker did a side-wing drop, and as he did so felt a sharp pain in
his back. His arms lost their power. A bullet had lodged in his
back, and worked its way, urged, perhaps, by the pressure of the
boy's back against the seat cushion, to some spot more vital than
that in which it had first lodged. From an apparently harmless
wound, and certainly a painless one, Parker's hurt had become so
serious as to prove mortal. For, try as he would, he could not
move his arms to right his machine. Down he dropped, mercifully
losing consciousness as his machine shot toward the earth, and crashing,
at last, so fiercely into the ground that naught remained of his
hunter and its gallant pilot but a twisted mass of wreckage and
a still form maimed out of all recognition. Parker had paid the
great price, after a gallant fight.
The other three hunters carried their pilots safely home, able to
report that Joe and Jimmy had each accounted for one of the four
Albatrosses that had last attacked them.
Three days later their squadron was moved back, and its place taken
by a fresh unit. Jimmy Hill was sent to hospital with his slit cheek,
but was soon out and about again.
Less than a fortnight later all five of the boys, Joe, Bob, Jimmy,
Harry, and Dicky, were on leave in London. The night after their
arrival on the English side of the Channel, Archie Fox, now a
convalescent, invited them to dinner at the Royal Overseas Officers
Club, where the six Brighton boys foregathered merrily.
Dinner over, Joe proposed a toast of "the folks at home." The boys
drank it silently. Then Bob Haines rose and raised his glass.
"Let us drink to the luck of the Brighton lot," he said. "May it
never entirely desert us."
As they rose and raised their glasses Dicky Mann added: "May we
always be ready to give that luck a fighting chance."
Six strong right hands reached forth to grasp another of the six.
Six pairs of bright eyes flashed as each caught an answering flash
somewhere round the circle. Six hearts beat with the same stout
determination as Joe Little voiced their united sentiments when he
said in a low tone, "Amen to that. We will."