by Covington Clarke
CHAPTER II. A
Pass to Paris
Orders for the
CHAPTER VI. The
CHAPTER VII. Von
McGee Makes a
CHAPTER IX. Lady
CHAPTER XI. The
Ace and the Spy
The Last of the
THE REILLY &LEE CO.
COPYRIGHT 1929 BY THE REILLY &LEE CO.
PRINTED IN THE U.S.A.
By the shore of life and the
gate of breath,
There are more things waiting
for men than death.
CHAPTER I. The New Instructor
Tex Yancey, called The Flying Fool by his comrades in the th
Pursuit Squadron of the American Expeditionary Force, entered the mess
hall with lips pressed into a thin, mirthless grin that seemed entirely
inappropriate in one who was thirty minutes late to mess and must
therefore make out with what was left. The other members of the
squadron had finished their meal and were now engaged in the usual
after-dinner practice of spinning some tall yarns.
Yancey stalked slowly to his place at the long table, but instead of
seating himself stood with hands thrust deep into his pockets and with
his long, thin legs spread wide apart. For a full minute he stood
there, seeming to be mildly interested in the tale that Hank Porter was
telling. But those who knew Tex, as did the members of this squadron,
knew that the cynical smile on his thin lips was but the forerunner of
some mirthless thing from which only The Flying Fool would be able to
wring a laugh. His was such a grotesque sense of humor; a highly
impractical practical joke was his idea of a riotous time. Someone in
the squadron, who had once felt the sting of one of his pranks, had
called him a fool, and another member had responded, Yeah, he's a
fool, all rightbut a flyin' fool! The tribute had become a nickname,
and Yancey rather reveled in it.
Just now his smile was masking some grim joke and his eyes held the
mild light of pity.
Well, Hank, he drawled at last, when Porter had wound up his
story, that yarn, as much as I get of it, would lead the average
hombre to pick you out as a sho' 'nuff flyer. I would myself. Me,
I'm easy fooled that way. I reckon all you buckaroos think you know
somethin' about flyin', eh?
Standing a full six feet two, he looked down upon them, the look of
pity still in his eyes in strange conflict with the mirthless smile
still on his lips.
What's eatin' you? Porter growled. We can't help it because
you're late for mess. Where've you been?
Siddons and Hampden, not greatly interested in what they felt was
some new strained humor on Yancey's part, pushed back from the table
and started for the door, their objective being the French town of Is
Yancey waited until they were near the door before he answered
Oh, I've just been over to Is Sur Tille havin' a look-see at this
new instructor that's comin' down here to teach us how to fly.
Siddons, with his hand upon the door, wheeled abruptly and studied
Yancey's face, trying to discover the jest hidden behind that baffling,
Are you joking us? he demanded from the doorway, but sufficiently
convinced to turn back.
The Flying Fool smiled sweetly. Why, Siddons, I wouldn't kid
you-all about that sort o' thing, he drawled. I saw him myself, in
town, ridin' in a car with the C.O.[A] Like as not the Major will bring
him in here this evenin' for a little chin-chin.
A suppressed growl arose from the other pilots.
What is he coming here for? young Edouard Fouche demanded, knowing
the answer but anxious to have it brought out in the open where it
could be attacked and vilified by all.
Yancey seated himself, tilted his chair back from the table and
bestowed another sweet smile upon a room filled with scowling faces. It
was a delicious momentfor Tex.
Why, he's comin' here to teach you poor worms how to fly. It seems
that someone back in the States made a mistake in thinkin' we were
pilots. We're here by accident. Ha! Ha! That's what we arejust
accidents. Did you boys think we were sent over here to get all messed
up in this little old war? Tut, tut! We're here just to add grandeur to
the colorless scenery. Now be nice to this fellow when he comes. Maybe
after he has labored with us for a while we'll be turned into ferry
pilots and be sent to ferryin' planes up to the regular guys. I'm so
glad I horned in on this scrap; it's so well planned andand
More growls. Tex wasn't being at all funny. Indeed, if this
ridiculous story were true, then it was the last straw on the camel's
back. Had they not already suffered enough?
The squadron had been in France for two weeks, an interminable time
to the restless group of young airmen who, booted and belted and ready
for the fray, now found themselves suddenly faced with the prospect of
still more training and when as yet they had not the haziest notion of
the type of ship that was to be given them for mounts. One rumor had it
that they were to get American ships powered by a much-talked-of
mystery motor. Very well, but where were those ships? Another rumor,
equally persistent, was to the effect that they were to draw French
Spads. Very well again, but where were the Spads? Still other rumors
included Camels, Sopwiths, Nieuports and Pups. One rumor, uglier and
more maddening than all the others, was to the effect that the entire
squadron was to be used in observation work. Fancy that! A pursuit
pilot being given a slow-moving observation crate with a one-winged,
half-baked observer giving orders from the rear cockpit! It was enough
to make a man wish he had joined the Marines. What was the good of all
their combat training if they were to poke around over the front in
busses that were meat for any enemy plane that chanced to sight them?
It was enough to make a sane squadron go crazy, and the th Pursuit
Squadron was known throughout the service as the wildest bunch of
thrill chasers ever collected and turned over to a distressed and
despairing squadron commander.
Some swivel-chair expert must have been dozing when the order went
through sending them to France. In wash-out records they were the grand
champions. They had left behind them a long train of cracked props,
broken wings, stripped landing gearsand a few wrecks so complete that
the drivers thereof had been sent home in six foot boxes draped with
flags. But whatever may be said against them, one thing was certain in
their minds and in the minds of all who knew them: They could fly! To
them, any old crate that could be influenced to leave the ground was a
ship, and they were willing to take it up at any time, at any place,
and regardless of air conditions. Perhaps their record had been less
black had they been given better ships.
A student, seeking a perfect cross-section of American youth, would
have found this squadron an interesting specimen. War drums, beating
throughout the land, had summoned them from the four points of the
compass. How they had ever been assembled at one field is a problem
known only to the white-collared dignitaries who sat in swivel chairs
and shuffled their service cards. The result of the shuffle caused many
a commander to tear his hair and declare that the cards had been
stacked against him.
No two members of the squadron came from the same town or city; no
two of them had the same outlook on life; no two members thoroughly
understood one another. A Texan, such as Yancey, from the wind-swept
Panhandle, may bunk with a world-travelled, well educated linguist,
such as Siddons, and may even learn to call him Wart, but he never
thoroughly understands him. A tide-water Virginian, such as Randolph
Hampden, of the bluest of blue blood, may sit at mess by the side of a
Californian, such as Hank Porter, but he will show no real interest in
California climate and will never be able to make the westerner
understand that Virginia is American history and not just a state. A
nasal-voiced Vermonter, such as Nathan Rodd, brought up among stern
hills and by sterner parents, will never fully understand a soft-voiced
Louisianian, such as Edouard Fouche, who has found the world a very
pleasant place with but few restrictions.
Leaving out the question of patriotism, the members had but three
common attributes: They had scornful disregard for any officer in the
air service who knew less of flying than they had learned through the
medium of hard knocks; they were determined from the very beginning to
get to France; and they were the most care-free, reckless, adventurous,
devil-may-care bunch of stem-winders that had ever plagued and
embarrassed the service by the simple procedure of being gathered into
It may be that the War Department, in despair, at last thought to be
rid of them by sending them overseas where their ability and proclivity
for stirring up trouble could be turned to good account against the
enemy. In any case, they were at last in France and from the moment of
their landing had been exceedingly voluble in their demands for planes.
They wanted action, not delay. And now that Yancey had brought word of
this last crushing indignity, they opened wide the spigots of wrath,
all talked at once, and the sum total of their comments contained no
single word that could be considered as complimentary to management of
the war. More instruction in flying! It was unthinkable. But then,
perhaps this grim joker, Yancey, was spoofing a bit.
Come on, Wart, Hampden called to Siddons from the doorway. Tex
has just been listening to old General Rumor. I'd like right much to
see this instructor before I get excited about it. Come on, let's go
into town. The night's youngand so am I.
You'll get excited when you see him, Tex responded, sagely.
Who is he? Nathan Rodd asked, which was about as long a sentence
as Rodd ever spoke. He saved words as though they were so much gold.
He's an English lieutenant, Tex answered. Red-headed,
freckle-faced, and so runty that he'd have to set on a stepladder to
see out of a cockpit.
A Limey! chorused half a dozen incredulous, angry voices. Whatdya
know about that!
Tex nodded solemnly. He was enjoying the situation. Inwardly, he was
as furious as any of the others, but he had the happy faculty of being
able to enjoy mob distress. Yeah, a Limey! Some gink in town told me
he was a famous ace. I forget his name. Never could remember names. But
you boys'll love him. Like as not he'll let some of us solo after a
month or so. Ain't the air service wonderful?
More growls, and a half dozen muttered threats.
Now boys, you-all be good, or Uncle Samuel'll send you back home
and let you work in the shipyards at twenty per day. I'm surprised and
hurt that you take this good news in this fashion. I should think you'd
be delighted to have a Limey show you how he shot down a few of
Attention! Hampden called from the doorway, a warning quality in
The men looked up. There in the doorway stood Major Cowan, and by
his side was a neatly uniformed, diminutive member of the Royal Flying
Corps. The men scrambled hastily to their feet. Yancey upset his chair
with a clatter as he unwound his long, thin legs from around the rungs.
Major Cowan, always maddeningly correct in military courtesies,
turned upon Hampden with a withering look.
Lieutenant, his voice had the edge of a razor but its cut was not
so smooth, do you not know that attention is not called when at mess?
You do, or you do not?
Double negatives bother me right much, Hampden replied, his eyes
on the English pilot and caring not a whit for court-martial now that
he saw in the flesh the proof of Yancey's report, but I do know the
Then observe it, Major Cowan responded, testily. Gentlemen, this
is Lieutenant McGee, of the British Royal Flying Corps, who has been
assigned to us as flying instructor.
Lieutenant McGee felt that the room was surcharged with hostility,
and he found himself in the position of one who is ashamed of the acts
of another. Major Cowan, altogether too brusque, failed utterly to
impress McGee, whose service in the Royal Flying Corps had been with a
class of men who thought more of deeds than of rank and who could enjoy
a care-free camaraderie without becoming careless of discipline.
Discipline, after all, is never deeper than love and respect, and McGee
felt somehow that Cowan was not a man to command either. McGee felt his
face coloring, and tried to dispel it with a smile.
I am glad to meet you, gentlemen, he said, and I want to correct
the Major's statement. I am not here as a flying instructor, in the
strict sense of the word, but to give you, first hand, some of our
experiences in formation flying, combat, and patrol work. I dare say
you are all well trained. In fact, I have heard some rather flattering
reports concerning you.
Yancey cast a sidelong glance at his neighbor; Siddons nudged Hank
Porter. Porter pressed his foot against Fouche's boot. Not a bad
fellow, this. Something like, eh?
Major Cowan was not one who could permit others to roll the sweets
of flattery under their tongues. He must qualify it with a touch of
Lieutenant McGee is modest concerning his duties, he said. In
fact, you will find all English officers becomingly modest.
But I am not English! McGee corrected. I am an Americanborn in
America, and that's why I have been so happy about this assignment.
Several members of the squadron began edging nearer. Perhaps things
were not going to be so dreadful after all.
Indeed? Major Cowan lifted his eyebrows in surprise. The points of
his nicely trimmed moustache twitched nervously as he began to wonder
just how he should treat an American who happened to be wearing the
uniform and insignia of a lieutenant in the R.F.C.
My parents were English, McGee decided to explain, but I was born
in the States. When the war broke out, my brother, who was older by a
few years, came over and joined the balloon corps. I was too young to
enlist, but my parents were both dead and I came along with my brother,
remaining in London until he hesitated and cleared his voice of a
sudden huskiness, until word came that my brother had been killed. His
balloon was shot down while he was up spotting artillery fire.
Naturally, I began to try to get in. I had to put over a fast one on
the examining board, but I made it. And here I am at last, with my own
countrymen. Top hole, isn't it? His smile was so genuine and
compelling that none could doubt the sincerity of his pleasure. All
barriers of restraint were broken down. This chap actually courted
Why don't you get repatriated, Lieutenant? Yancey asked.
The tactless fool! Hampden thought, but dared not say. Of course
the Texas clown would rush in where angels feared to tread. Didn't the
fathead have any conception of pride of uniform and pride in a nation's
accomplishments? Hampden felt that he would like to hit Yancey with one
of the water carafes.
What's that? Repatriated? McGee repeated. How can that be done?
Haven't you seen the General Order providing for it? Tex
continued, despite Major Cowan's silencing frown.
I'm afraid not, McGee replied. I've been pretty busyand I don't
get a great thrill out of G.O's. Tell me about it.
Well Yancey began slowly, enjoying to the fullest the
opportunity to provide information uninterrupted, as you know, a lot
of Americans joined the English and French air forces before we came
in. Some of 'em, just like you, maybe, had a sort of score to settle.
But I reckon most of 'em went in because it offered something unusual
and a lot of thrills. Huh! You tell 'em! Then when Uncle Sam got warm
under the saddle and came hornin' in, a lot of the boys who'd come over
and joined up began castin' homesick glances back in a westerly
direction. Natural-like, Uncle Samuel is willin' to welcome home all
his prodigal sons, if he can get 'em back, and he's specially forgivin'
considerin' that his army at the beginnin' of hostilities is just about
one day's bait on a real war-like front. As for flyers, he hasn't got
enough of 'em, trained, to do observation work for an energetic battery
of heavies. So he makes medicine talk with Johnny Bull and with France,
and for once he comes out with all the buttons on his trousers. They
agree to release all the Americans servin' under their colors who
express a desire to get into O.D. under the Stars and Stripes.
'Repatriation' was the flossy name they gave it, but I call it
homesickness. A lot of the wayward sons jumped at it quick, and we're
'way ahead on the game, any way you look at it. Now take some of those
boys in the Lafayette Escadrille. Why, if they
Yancey's voice droned on, but McGee no longer heard what he was
saying, though to all appearances he was paying courteous attention.
But as a matter of fact his eyes were resting upon Lieutenant Siddons,
and he was cudgelling his brain in an effort to remember where he had
seen him before. The blond, curly hair; the rather square face and
brow; the thin lips, the calm, cold grey eyes; and the air of
self-satisfied assurance, all were part of a memory which was vivid
enough but which refused to come out of the back of the mind and
associate itself with identifying surroundings. Where had he seen that
face? New York? No, not there. He knew very few people in New York.
Well, after all, perhaps it was only a strong resemblance. But
resembling whom? Surely no one of his acquaintances looked like
Siddons, at least none that he could remember.
McGee's gaze must have been a little too steady, at least enough to
prove discomfiting, for Siddons half turned away and began speaking in
whispers to Hampden. He talked out of the corner of his mouth, as one
who is ashamed of the words he utters, and McGee felt the stirrings of
a faint dislike for him.
Yancey reached the end of his monologue. The moment of silence that
followed brought McGee sharply back to the present. He smiled
graciously at the Texan.
That's quite interesting, he said. Strange I missed that order,
and stranger still that no one mentioned it to me. But we've been
pretty busy up in the Ypres salienttoo busy to think much about what
flag we were fighting under. I've enjoyed being with the English, but
of course 'there's no place like home'. I'm very happy to be assigned
here, and I am glad Major Cowan gave me this chance to meet you. The
Major tells me that you are to get several new Spads in the next two or
three days. Until that time, I won't disturb you. I'm driving back into
town. Anyone want a lift?
Thank you, Lieutenant, Hampden spoke up, Siddons and I are going
in. Have you room?
Certainly. Glad to have you along. Major Cowan, how about you?
Sorry, the Major replied, dourly, but I have to pay the price of
command by poring over a lot of detail work which would be spared me if
I had a more efficient staff.
Mullins, the peppery little Operations Officer, felt the full force
of the sting but he passed it off by winking wisely at Yancey. Why
worry? Cowan was always looking for work and for trouble. He was never
so happy as when bawling someone out.
McGee felt sorry for Mullins and sorrier still for Cowan. One with
half an eye could see that Cowan was about as popular with his command
as would be a case of smallpox. McGee had been trained in an atmosphere
where discipline was a matter of example rather than a matter of fear,
and as a result had always known a sort of good-fellowship which he
felt instinctively would be impossible with such a commander as Cowan.
I'm sorry you can't come with us, Major, McGee said in a voice
that carried no conviction. However, I must toddle along. He turned
to Siddons and Hampden. Ready? Right-O!
During the short motor trip into Is Sur Tille, McGee's curiosity
finally got the better of his natural dislike for admitting that his
memory had failed him. I think I have met you somewhere before,
Lieutenant, he said to Siddons.
Yes? I do not remember it, Siddons replied, with the air of one
who is making no great draft upon his own memory. He himself evidently
sensed the lack of courtesy, for he added, New York, perhaps. Have you
been around New York much?
No, I haven't. Somewhere else
Lieutenant Hampden's mellow laugh interrupted.
Siddons has the idea that one never meets anyone outside of New
York, he said. He's terribly provincial, Lieutenant. He thinks there
are only two places in the worldNew York and everywhere else.
Siddons displayed no resentment at the taunt; he seemed quite well
satisfied with the opinion expressed. In fact, he appeared quite
satisfied with everythingespecially with himself.
McGee wondered how a likeable chap, such as Hampden, could choose as
companion one so utterly different in manner, in ideas, and in speech.
But then, war brings together strange bedfellows and establishes new
standards. McGee dismissed the matter from his mind as the car swung
into the narrow streets of the darkened town.
Where can I drop you? he asked.
Going by the café down on the main drag? Hampden asked.
That will be fine. I hope to see you again soon, Lieutenant.
Thanks. The Spads are due to arrive on Monday. That's three days.
See you then. Well, here we are, as the car swung in to the curb in
front of the café. The shutters were closed, no light came from any of
the stores or houses along the street, but from behind the closed door
of the café came the sound of voices and laughter mixed with the
metallic banging of a very old piano beating out tuneless accompaniment
to a bull-voiced singer roaring through the many verses of Hinkey
Dinkey Parlez Vous.
The Yank Marine went over the top,
The Yank Marine went over the top,
The Yank Marine went over the top
And gave old Fritz a whale of a pop,
Hinkey Dinkey, Parlez Vous.
McGee smiled as he sat for a moment listening to the words. All his
service had been with the English, who of course had composed many
songs highly complimentary to themselves, and only in the last few days
had he come in contact with the forerunners of the mighty American army
now pouring into French harbors from every arriving boat.
Quite a fellowthis Yank Marine, he said to Siddons.
Siddons nodded, rather stiffly. So it seems. Though he hasn't been
over the top yet. Prophecy, I suppose. He stepped from the car to the
curb with the bearing of one accustomed to being delivered in a
McGee was on the point of calling out, When shall I call, sir? but
at that moment noticed young Hampden's genuine smile and heard him
voicing words of appreciation for the lift.
Don't mention it, McGee said. It was a pleasure. Cheerio! old
There, he thought, sinking back in the tonneau. I said 'old man'.
Singular case, and that lets Siddons out rather neatly. Hum. I'll bet a
cookie he knows more about flying than I door anyone else, for that
matter. Well, we'll see. I wonder what sort of outfit Buzz drew.
Lieutenant Buzz Larkin was closer to McGee than any person in the
world. Close bonds of friendship had been formed while they were in
training in Cadet Brigade Headquarters, at Hastings, England. During
their months of service together in the Royal Air Force, on exceedingly
hot fronts, those bonds of friendship had become bands of steel,
holding them together almost as firmly as blood ties. Both were
Americans, but the motives back of their entrance into the R.F.C. were
as widely divergent as possible. Larkin, the son of a wealthy
manufacturer, had never disclosed the real reason for his entrance into
a foreign service. Perhaps he sought adventure. McGee, however, made no
secret of the motives back of his entrance. When word reached him that
his brother had been killed while doing observation work in a captive
balloon, young McGee, not yet eighteen, employed a trick (which he
thought justified) to gain entrance to the Air Force. He felt that he
must carry on an unfinished work, and few will find fault with him if
his actions were motivated by a slight spirit of revenge. After all,
blood is thicker than water.
Whatever the motives of the two youths, once in the uniform of cadet
flyers, the spirit of service seized them. Side by side, encouraging,
entreating, helping and driving one another they plugged through their
training with their eyes fixed upon the coveted reward of every air
service cadeta pair of silvered wings!
Together they had won their wings; together they had gone to the
front; together they had gone out on patrol, high above the lines, and
met the enemy. Thereafter, the fortune of one was the fortune of both.
Each had saved the other's life, the culminating tie in their
friendship, if indeed their friendship needed any further tie.
Both had become aces, though in combat work McGee was easily the
superior. This, however, he constantly denied and was forever admiring
Larkin's work. Larkin, if inferior to McGee in a dog fight, was better
disciplined. He could go up in formation, keep his eye on his flight
commander, obey orders, and keep his head when he saw an enemy plane.
McGee, on the contrary, went as wild as a berserker the moment he laid
eyes on a plane bearing the black cross. Orders were forgotten and he
dived, throttle wide open, stick far forward, every thought gone from
his mind but the one compelling urge to get that other plane on the
inside of his ring sight. McGee had his personal faults, but he was a
faultless flyer. The same may be said of Larkin, for men in aerial
combat never make but one vital mistake. Those who become aces have no
great faults; those with great faults become mere tallies for the aces.
Now and then, of course, the grim scorer nods during the game and a
fault goes unpenalized, but as a rule it can be said that a man who can
become an ace may well be called a faultless flyer, for an ace is one
who has rolled up a score of five victories against those whose skill
was less than his own. Of course, there is the element of luck to be
considered, for luck and skill must go hand in hand when youths go
jousting in the clouds. But luck can only attend the skillful. With
skill wanting, luck soon deserts.
Beyond doubt both McGee and Larkin had enjoyed a full measure of
luck, and were still enjoying it. For example, wasn't it luck that had
sent them both down here on the French front to act as instructors to
newly arriving American squadrons? Wasn't it luck that they were still
billeted together in the lovely old chateau at the edge of town, and
could look forward to many, many more days together?
These latter thoughts were running through McGee's mind as his car
swung under the trees lining the drive that led up to the chateau. Why,
but for luck both of them might now be pushing up the daisies instead
of being happily, and comparatively safely ensconced in such
comfortable quarters. No more dawn patrolsfor a while at least; no
more soggy breakfastswith comrades missing who banteringly
breakfasted with you twenty-four short hours ago.
McGee's thoughts took unconscious vocal form as he stepped from the
car. Lucky? I'll say we are!
What did you say, sir? asked the driver.
The question snapped McGee back to earth.
I was complimenting myself upon some very narrow escapes, Martins,
but I'll repeatfor your benefit. You are a very lucky boy.
Martins blinked. He held opposite views. You think so, sir? I've
gotta different idea. I wanted to be a pilot, like you, sir, and here I
am toolin' this old bus around France with never a chance to get off
the ground unless I run off an embankment. And this old wreck is no
So you really wanted to be a pilot, Martins?
I sure did, sir.
Um-m. That's why I said you were a very lucky young man. I know the
names of a lot of young fellows who wanted to become pilotsand did.
But they've gone West now and their names are on wooden crosses. Hoe
your own row, Martins, and thank the Lord for small favors.
Yes, sir, aloud, and under his breath, It's easy enough for them
that has wings.
How's that, Martins? McGee asked, rather enjoying himself.
Martins fidgeted with the gear shift. I said I had always wanted a
pair of wings, sir.
Well, be a good boy and maybe you'll get themin the next world.
Good night, Martins.
'Nightsir. Gurrr! went the clashing gears as the car got under
way with a lurch that spoke volumes for the driver. It was tough to be
held to the ground by a wingless motor.
McGee caught a gleam of light through the shutters of the upstairs
windows. So Larkin was back already? He took the front steps in a jump
and raced up the stairs in a manner most unbecoming to a First
Lieutenant with a score of victories to his credit.
What kind of an outfit did you draw, Buzz? he demanded as he burst
into the room.
Larkin was buried behind a Paris edition of the Tribune, his
legs sprawled out into the middle of the floor where the heel of one
boot balanced precariously on the toe of the other.
Oh, so-so, never bothering to look from behind his paper.
Phlegmatic old Buzz, McGee thought, what was the use of getting excited
over an instructor's job?
Are they good? McGee asked.
Um. Dunno. Still reading.
Mine are great! McGee enthused. Stiff, crusty young C.O., who
needs a couple of crashesone fatal, maybebut the rest of them are
fine. Great bunch of pilots.
Yeah? Still reading, but doubtful. See any of 'em fly?
No-o, slowly, of course not.
Um-m. Well, wait until they begin sticking the noses of those new
Spads in the ground, and then tell me about 'em. They've been trained
on settin' hens. Wait until they mount a hawk.
McGee jerked a pillow from the bed and sent it crashing through the
concealing paper. Old killjoy! If a man gave you a diamond you'd try
it on glass to see if it was real.
Larkin began rearranging his crumpled paper. Well, why not? If it
wasn't real I wouldn't want it. And I wish you'd keep your pillows out
of my theatrical news. I was just reading about a play at the Folies
Bergeres, called 'Zig Zag'. They say it's a scream. By the way,
Shrimp, how'd you like to fly to Paris to-morrow morning and give it
the once over?
But nothing! We can see it to-morrow night and be back the next
day. That fine bunch of pilots of yours can't get off the ground until
the Spads get hereand maybe not then.
See here! McGee challenged stoutly. I'll bet you anything you
like that those boys
Will all be aces in a month, Larkin completed, knowing the extent
and warmth of McGee's habitual enthusiasm. All right, Shrimp, so be
it. But what has that to do with the show? Want to go?
Sure. But what about passes? I don't know just who we are
answerable to down here, in the matter of privileges and so forth. I've
been sort of lost for the last few days.
Larkin shoved his hand into his inside blouse pocket and brought
forth two folded papers which he displayed proudly.
Here are the passesall jake! Marked official business and
authorizing fuel and supplies, if needed. I'm a great little fixer. And
about that question of not knowing who you are answerable to, don't
forget that it's little Johnny Bullcapital J and B. You're liable to
get jerked off this detail so quick you'll leave toothbrush and pajamas
behind. Every morning now when I wake up and remember that I don't have
to go out on dawn patrol I start pinching myself to see if I'm awake.
Boy, in this game it's here to-day and gone to-morrow. Wasn't it old
Omar who handed out that gag, 'Ah, make the most of what we yet may
spend, before we too into the dust descend'?... Yeah? Well, he must
have written that for war pilots. The minute J.B. finds out how
comfortable we are down here we'll be recalled and sent to chasing Huns
back across the line. In fact, I think we're both asleep and having
That reminds me, McGee said, drawing up a chair and sitting
gingerly on the edge after the manner of one about to indulge in
confidential disclosures. Have you heard anything of this repatriation
Sure. Haven't you?
Not a word.
Where have you been? It came down in a G.O.
McGee scratched his head. So I've just learned, but it's the first
I've heard of it. Funny you didn't mention it to me.
Larkin eyed him curiously. Well, slowly, I knew you were English
But I'm not, and you know it! McGee flared.
Calm, brother, calm! I mean, I knew your father and mother were
English, and so was your brother.
But I was born in America. I'm just as much of an American as you
Calm, brother, calm! No one says you are not. But because of your
family nationality, I supposed you would want to finish out the string
with the R.F.C. and, he reached over and tousled McGee's mop of
flaming red hair, I'm just fool enough to want to stick around where
you areyou little shrimp! So I thought I wouldn't bring up the
McGee gave him a look of deep understanding and appreciation.
Fact is, Larkin went on, I just got a letter from Dad the other
day and he seems to be pretty hot under the collar because I haven't
made any move to get repatriated.
Why haven't you?
You poor nut! I've just told you.
No you haven't, Buzz. There is some reason deeper than that.
Larkin fingered his newspaper nervously and tried to simulate an
interest in some news note. He hated to display sentiment, yet the
fates had given him a double burden of it. As a matter of honest fact,
he was as sentimental as a woman, and was forever trying to hide the
fact behind a thin veneer of nonchalance and bluster.
Did you see this communique from our old front? he asked, trying
to shift the subject. They're having some hot fighting up there.
Yes, I know. Things look pretty dark for the English. But answer my
question: What is the real reason why you haven't thought of getting
transferred into the United States forces?
I didn't say I hadn't thought of it, Larkin avoided. Maybe I
didn't want to trade horses in the middle of the stream.
Any other reason?
Well, hang it all! a fellow builds up some pride in the uniform he
wears. A good many of our buddies have gone out for their last ride in
this uniform andand it stands for a lot. Of course I am proud of my
own country, and sometimes I feel a little strange in this uniform now
that my own country is in the war, but it isn't a thing you can put on
or take off just as the spirit moves you. It becomes a part of you.
Say! What's eatin' you, anyway? Are you anxious to change uniforms?
Um-m. I'm not so sure. I like that bunch I met over there
Yes, and they are all afoot. The truth is, our own country hasn't
enough combat planes to send out a patrol. They are developing some
mystery motor, I hear, but I'm not very keen about trying out any
mystery motors. Our Camels are mystery enough to suit me. When I'm up
against the ceiling with a fast flying Albatross or tri-plane Fokker on
my tail, I don't want any mysteries to handle. No, Red, for the time
being I guess I'm satisfied. Besides, they might chuck me in the
infantry, and I have a horror of having things drop on me from
overhead. Let's to bed, old topper, so we can hop off early in the
morning. The sooner we start the sooner we get to 'Gay Paree'. Besides,
early to bed and early to rise makes a man ready to challenge the
skies. How's that for impromptu poetry?
Rotten! Omar and Ben Franklin both in one evening! McGee yawned as
he began pulling at a boot. But it makes me sleepy. Go on, say me some
more pretty pieces. Or maybe you'd like to sing me to sleep.
[Footnote A: For definitions of military and aeronautical terms, as
well as certain slang peculiar to army life, see glossary at the back
of the book.]
CHAPTER II. A Pass to Paris
The following morning dawned with the quiet splendor and benediction
which April mornings bring to the rural province of Cote d'Or. By the
time the sun had climbed above the low hills to the east and was
turning the dew covered fields into limitless acres of flashing
diamonds and sapphires, McGee and Larkin had hurried through breakfast
and were on their way out to the hangars where the mechanics, following
Larkin's orders, would have the two Camels waiting on the line. As the
car rolled along the smooth highway leading to the flying field, McGee
sank back in the none too comfortable cushions and drank deep of the
tonic of early morning.
Some day! he said. Larkin merely noddedthe only reply needed
when Spring is in the air.
It would be more fun to drive up to Paris, McGee offered.
Larkin looked at him in surprise. Where'd you get that idea?
Well, nearly all of my impressions of France are from the air. It
stands for so many squares of green fields, of little rivers gleaming
like silver ribbons interlaced through squares of green and brown
plush, of torn up battlefronts where there is no life, no
colornothing but desolation. But this seems like another world. Here
are spring flowers, the orchards are in bloom, and children are playing
in the narrow streets of the towns. Flying over it, you look down on
all that. You see itand you don't see it. But in driving we would
feel that we were a part of it. There's a difference. It gives you a
feeling that you are better acquainted with the people, and you get a
chance to smell something besides the beastly old Clerget motors in
those Camels. I'm getting so I feel sick every time I smell burning
oil. Let's drive up, Buzz.
Larkin, being in a different frame of mind, shook his head.
No, you're too blasted poetic about it already. Besides, we have
permission to fly up, not to drive. I suppose we could get the pass
changed, but why fool with your luck? And the quicker we get there the
more we see.
All right, but on a day like this I could get more pleasure out of
just wandering through the countryside than in seeing all the cities of
the world rolled into one. Look! he pointed to the flying field as the
car turned from the highway. There are the Camels, warming up, and
filling this good, clean air with their sickening fumes. Bah! I hate
Say, have you got the pip? You talk like a farmer. Snap out of it!
We're headed for Gay Paree!
The car had rolled to a stop at the edge of the field. McGee climbed
out slowly. All right, big boy. You lead the way. And no contour
chasing to-day. I'm too liable to get absent-minded and try to reach
out and pick some daisies. Besides, this motor of mine has been
trickier than usual in the last few days despite the fact that the Ack
Emma declares she is top hole. So fly high and handsome. Know the way?
Larkin was crawling into his flying suit and did not answer.
Know the way? McGee repeated.
Sure. That's a fine question to ask a pilot bound for Paris. We
land at Le Bourget field, you know.
No, I didn't know.
Where'd you think you'd landin the Champs Elysees?
I'm liable to land on a church steeple if that motor cuts out on me
as it did yesterday afternoonfor no reason at all. Remember, no
contour chasing and no dog-fighting. We're going to Paris.
Larkin grinned. Rarely did they go into the air together but what
they engaged in mimic warfaredog-fightingbefore their wheels again
touched the ground. It was the airman's game of tag, the winner being
that one who could get on the other's tail and stay there. It was a
thunderous, strut singing game wherein the pursued threw his plane into
fantastic gyrations in a frenzied, wild effort to shake off the pursuer
and get on his tail. It was a game in which McGee excelled. Although
Larkin recognized this fact, he was always the first to start the dog
fight and had never found McGee unwilling to play. As for contour
chasingwell, they had broken regulations times without number, and to
date had paid no penalty.
McGee, knowing what thoughts lurked behind Larkin's grin, wagged a
prudent finger under his nose.
Mind your step, Buzz, he warned. We are supposed to be sedate,
dignified, instruction-keeping instructors. Fly northwest to Auxerre,
then follow the railroad toward Sens and on to Melun. Then swing
straight north and come into Le Bourget from the east.
All right. All set?
Yes. You lead off and I'll follow. Wait! On second thought I think
I'll lead and pick my own altitude. And if you start any funny
business, I'll leave you flat!
They climbed into the waiting planes, whose motors were still
warming idly. Members of the ground crew took up their stations at the
wing tips. McGee was on the point of nodding to the crew to remove the
wheel chocks when he remembered that for the first time in his
experience as a pilot he had climbed into the cockpit without first
casting an appraising eye over braces, struts and turn buckles. He
promptly cut the motor and climbed from the plane, saying, half aloud;
I must be getting balmy. It's the weather, I guess.
How's that, sir? asked the air mechanic.
I say, it's balmy weather we're having.
Oh! Yes, sir.
You've checked her all over, Wilson?
Yes, sir. And fueled her according to Lieutenant Larkin's
Hum. McGee slowly walked around the plane, giving every functional
detail a critical look, nor was he the least hurried by the fact that
Larkin was displaying impatience. Satisfied at last, he climbed back
into the plane. A member of the ground crew took his place at the
Petrol off, sir?
Whish! Whish! went the prop as the helper began pulling it over
The motor caught, coughed, caught again and the prop whirled into an
indistinct blur. The sudden blast of wind sent clouds of dust eddying
toward the hangar, but ahead lay the cool, fresh, dew-washed green of
the field. McGee turned to look once more at the wind sock which, for
want of a breeze, hung limp along its staff. He nodded to the men at
the wheel chocks, waved his hand to Larkin and gave her the gun.
No pilot in the service could lift a Camel off the ground quicker
than could McGee, but this morning he taxied slowly forward and was
getting dangerously near the end of the field before he began to get
the tail up.
Larkin, watching him, chuckled. Guess he wants to take a spin on
the ground, he commented to himself. Fancy that bird wanting to go to
Paris by motor! Then to show how little he thought of the ground he
advanced his throttle rapidly and took off on far less space than
should ever be attempted by one who knows, from experience, how
suddenly a crowded Clerget-motored Camel can sputter and incontinently
die. And as a parting defiance to his knowledge, Larkin pulled back his
stick and zoomed. Altitude was what McGee wanted, eh? Well, here was
the way to get altitude in a hurry.
McGee, glancing backward, saw the take-off and the zoom. The poor
fish! was his mental comment. If he shows that kind of stuff to this
squadron they'll be needing a lot of replacementsor yelling for a new
But the appreciative ground crew, watching, expressed a different
view. Boy! exclaimed an envious Ack Emma. Can that baby fly! I'll
tell the world! Watch him out-climb McGee. Did you see how McGee took
off? Like a cadet doin' soloafraid to lift her. And they say he's one
of the best aces in the R.F.C. Huh! I think he's got the pip! Ever
since he first touched his wheels to this 'drome he's been yellin'
about his motor bein' cranky. And it's all jake. She takes gas like a
race horse takes rein.
Yeah, growled a mechanic by the name of Flynn, who by nature and
nationality stood ready to defend anyone bearing the name of McGee, a
lot you know about those little teapots in them Camels. You was trained
on Jennies andand Fords! What you know about a Clerget engine could
be written on the back of a postage stamp. Say, do you know why he took
her off so gentle? Well, I'll spread light in dark places, brother. He
took off slow because he knew you didn't know nothin', see?
The quarrel went on, despite the fact that the two pilots
constituting the meatless bone of contention were rapidly becoming
specks in the sky to the northwest.
At five thousand feet McGee leveled off and swung slightly west. He
looked back and up. Larkin was five hundred feet above him and somewhat
behind, but at McGee's signal he dived down, taking up a position on
the left. In this manner they could point out objects below and engage
in the sign language which they had perfected through many hours spent
in the air together.
As they flew along McGee felt his spirits mounting. It was a good
world to live in and life was made especially sweet and interesting by
the soft unfolding greens of a land brought to bud and blossom by
April's sun and showers. In the beautiful panorama below there was
nothing to indicate that a few miles to the eastward mighty armies were
striving over a tortured strip of blasted land that for years to come
would lie fruitless and barren. Here all was peace, with never a
hintyes, far below on the white ribbon of roadway a long, dark python
was slowly dragging itself forward. It was a familiar sight to Larkin
and McGeetroops moving up to the theatre of war. And over on another
road a long procession of humpbacked brown toads were plodding
eastward. Motor lorries, carrying munitions and supplies. Strange
monsters, these, to be coming from the green fields and woods of a
seeming peaceful countryside. Forward, ever forward they made their
way. Never, it seemed to McGee, had he seen roads choked with returning
men and munitions. Was the maw of the monster there to the eastward
bottomless and insatiable? Where were the roads that led men back to
the land of living, green things?
As they passed over a town, McGee saw Larkin point down. On the
outskirts of the village a great cross in a circlet of green marked the
location of a military hospital. Ah!... Yes, some came back. But even
then they must brand their pain-racked sanctuary with the mercy
imploring emblem of the Red Cross so that enemy planes, bent on
devastation, would mingle mercy with hope of victory and save their
bombs for those not yet carried into the long wards where white-robed
doctors and nurses battled with death and spoke words of hope to the
It was a sorry world! McGee, who but a few short minutes ago was
entranced by the beauty of the world, now felt a sudden, marked
disgust. He pulled his stick back sharply. He would climb out of it! He
would get up against the ceiling, where the world became a dim, faint
blur or was lost altogether in a kindly obliterating ground haze.
On McGee's part the action was nothing more than an unconscious
reaction to distressing thoughts. Larkin, however, on seeing the sudden
climb, grinned with delight. This climb for altitude was nothing more
than the prelude to a dive that would start them into a merry game of
hare and hound. So McGee had forgotten all about his doleful sermon
against dog-fighting? And so soon. Ha! Trust the freckled Little
Shrimp to feel blood racing through his veins when motors are singing
Instead of following, Larkin decided to nose down and offer more
McGee, seeing the dive, found it more than he could resist. Besides,
a merry little chase would serve to wash the brooding thoughts from his
mind. This was a morning for sport, for jest, for youthfor hazard!
Forward went the stick and he plunged down the backwash of Larkin's
diving plane, his motor roaring its cadenced challenge. This was
something like! Sky and ground were rushing toward each other. The
braces were screaming like banshees; the speed indicator hand was
mounting with a steady march that made one want to dive on and on and
Larkin, in the plane ahead, brought his stick backward as he made
ready to go over in a tight loop. McGee smiled and followed him over.
When they came out of the loop they were in the same relative
positionLarkin the hare, McGee the tenacious hound.
For the next few minutes the open-mouthed countrymen in the fields
below were treated to a series of aerial gymnastics which must have
sent their own pulses racing and which might well serve them for
fireside narration for years to come.
The two darting hawks Immelmanned, looped, barrel-rolled,
side-slipped, and then plunged into a dizzy circle in which they flew
round and round an imaginary axis, the radius of the circle growing
ever shorter and shorter. Every action of the leading plane was
immediately matched by the pursuer.
Larkin, realizing that his skill in manoeuvering was something less
than McGee's, decided to bring the contest to a close with a few
thrills in hedge hopping.
Of all sports that offer high hazard to thrill satiated war pilots,
that of hedge hopping, or contour chasing, occupies first place. This
is particularly true when the pilot is flying a Sopwith Camel powered
by the temperamental Clerget motor with its malfunctioning wind driven
gasoline pump. The sport had been repeatedly forbidden by all the
allied air commands, but these commands had to deal with irrepressible
youth, which has slight regard for doddering old mossbacks who think
that a plane should be handled as a wheel chair.
Larkin dived at the ground like a hawk that has sighted some napping
rodent, and so near did he come that by the time he had leveled off,
his wheels were almost touching the groundand wheels must not touch
when one is screaming through space at the rate of a hundred and forty
miles per hour.
He glanced back. Sure enough, McGee was still on his tail. No hedge
hopping, eh? Huh! Trust The Shrimp to keep young, he thought. Fat
chance they had of getting old. Who ever heard of an old war pilot? Ha!
That's a good one! And here's a double row of tall poplars fringing the
road directly ahead. Hold her close to the ground and then zoom her at
the last minute ... landing gears just clearing the topmost branches
... make it, and that's hedge hopping. Fail to make itand that's bad
Larkin made it, a beautiful zoom that carried him over the trees by
a skillful margin. Then he swooped down again, skimming along the level
field on the other side of the road.
McGee's zoom was just as spectacular and as nicely timed, but as his
nose climbed above the first row of trees his motor died as suddenly as
though throttled by the strangling hands of some unseen genii. Sudden
though it was, McGee had sensed that he was crowding the motor too much
and had tried to ease her off and still clear the trees. It was too
late to relieve the choked motor but he did clear the first row of
trees. He was about to close his eyes against the inevitable crash into
the poplars on the other side of the road when he saw that two of the
trees had been felled, and that so recently that the woodsmen had not
yet worked them up. There was one clear chance left. If only he could
slip her over just far enough to clear the outstretched limbs of the
tree to the right.
At such a time seconds must be divided into hundredths, and action
must be instantaneous, instinctive, and without flaw. McGee felt one of
the spreading limbs brush against his right wing tip, felt the plane
swerve for a moment, then respond to rudder and aileron. It was a case
where one moment he was supremely thankful for flying speed, and the
next, as the ground of the level field was flashing under the wheels,
wishing that he had held to his resolution concerning hedge hopping.
The wheels struck hard. The plane bounded, high, and again the
wheels touched. Again the plane bounded, and this time came down with a
shock that left McGee amazed with the realization that the
undercarriage was intact and that he still had a chance to keep her off
her nose if only he could get the high-riding tail down.
Crash! Crack! The tail was down now ... and broken to splinters,
like as not. Never mind.... By some great mercy he was at last on three
points and rolling to a stop.
He suddenly felt very weak. A narrow squeeze, that! Stupid way for
an aceand an instructorto get washed out. Like a Warrior falling
off his horse while on the way home from a victorious field.
He saw Larkin bank his ship into a tight turn, set the plane down in
a perfect landing and come careening down the open field to stop within
a dozen paces of McGee's plane.
Larkin, white-faced, tight-lipped, crawled from his plane and came
forward on the double-quick. Not a word did he speak until he stood by
the side of Red's plane, his hands gripping the leather piping at the
edge of the cockpit until his knuckles were white.
What happened, Red? Gee, you're white! All the freckles gone.
Lucky I'm not gone! McGee answered. My knees are too shaky to
crawl out yet. It looked like finis la guerre pour moi for a
second. He turned and blew a kiss at the gap in the trees. Thanks,
Mr. Woodchopper, whoever you are. Buzz, never repeat that old poem
about 'Woodman, spare that tree!' If he had spared those twowell!
Take a look at my tail skid, Old Timer. Is it broken off?
No. It's cracked and sort of cockeyed, but a piece of wire from
that fence over there will fix it all O.K. What happened?
McGee fixed him with a baleful glare. You should askwith as much
experience as both of us have had with these tricky motors. I choked it
down, that's all. That same little fault has sent many a pilot home in
a wooden box. Go get me a piece of that wire. We'll fix the skid,
somehow, and when I get to Le Bourget I'll set her down on two points.
And listen! From here on in we do
No contour chasing, Larkin completed, forcing a thin smile. Seems
I heard that somewhere before. Crawl out, Shrimp. You said you wanted
to be out among the flowers and sweet things. Well, here's a sweet
thing, and this field is full of flowers. I brought you down low so you
could enjoy them.
Yeah! I said I wanted to be among 'emnot pushing 'em up. Hurry
over and get that wire before I do something violent.
Thirty minutes later two chastened pilots took off from the level
field, with a half dozen curious French peasants for an audience, and
laid a straight course for Le Bourget. No more acrobatics and no more
hedge hopping. To an observer below they would have resembled two
homing pigeons flying rather close together and maintaining their
positions with a singleness of mind and purpose.
When they reached Le Bourget they circled the 'drome once, noted the
wind socks on the great hangars, and dropped as lightly to the field as
two tardy, truant schoolboys seeking to gain entrance without
A newly arrived American squadron was stationed at the field,
jubilant over the fact that they were trying their skill on the fast
climbing, fast flying single-seater Spads. Five of these swift little
hawks were now on the line, making ready for a formation flight.
McGee and Larkin introduced themselves to the officer in command,
presented their passes and authority for refueling, and McGee requested
that his tail skid be repaired and his motor checked over.
Let's stick around and watch this formation flight, McGee then
said to Larkin. I want to see what these lads can do with a real
All right, but don't get goggle-eyed. I came up here to see Paris,
and I'm thirty minutes behind time now.
The take-off of the five Spads was good, and in order. McGee noticed
with considerable satisfaction that the flight commander knew his
business, and the four planes under his direction followed his signaled
orders with a precision that would have been creditable in any group of
Nice work! Red said to an American captain who seemed not at all
The captain was six feet tall, burdened by the weight of rank and
the ripe old age of twenty-four or twenty-five years, and was somewhat
skeptical of McGee's judgement. He wondered, vaguely, what this
youthful, freckle-faced, five-foot-six Royal Flying Corps lieutenant
could know about nice work. Why, he couldn't be a day over eighteenin
fact, he might be less than that. A cadet who had just won his wings,
Oh, fair, the captain admitted.
McGee, sensing what was running through the captain's mind, and
having no wish to set him right, winked at Larkin and said:
Let's go, Buzz. It isn't often that two poor ferry pilots get a
twenty-four hour leave.
Later, as they were bounding cityward in a decrepit, ancient taxi
driven by a bearded, grizzled Frenchman who without make-up could
assume a role in a drama of pirates and freebooters, McGee said to
You know, Buzz, I think a lot of these American pilots are better
prepared for action right now than we were when we got our wings. And
we had hardly gotten ours sewed on when we were ordered to the front.
These fellows will give a good account of themselves.
I think so, too. Do you remember how the Cadets of our class were
sent up for solo in rickety old planes held together by wire, tape and
chewing gum? Poor devils, they got washed out plenty fast! I've seen
'em go up when the expression on their faces told that they had
forgotten everything they had learned. No wonder a lot of them took
nose dives into the hangars and hung their planes on smokestacks and
McGee frowned, remembering some of the friends who had tried for
their wings and drew crosses instead. Quickly he threw off the mood
with a laugh.
Yes, and I was one of those 'poor devils' who forgot. I'll never
forget that! I had no more right being up in that old Avro than
a hog has with skates. But England needed pilots and needed them badly.
I guess it was a case of 'what goes up must come down' and the
government gave wings to the ones who came down alive. The others got
I suppose so. And before another month passes the need will be
greater than ever. Look what the Germans did to the British Fifth Army
just last month. I'll never know what stopped 'em. But they're not
through. What do you make of that long range gun that is shelling this
Um-m. Dunno. Seems to me that well directed reconnaissance flights
should be able to locate that gun.
Maybe; but locate it or not, its purpose is to drive war workers
out of Paris, cripple the hub of supplies and make it more difficult
for us to coordinate the service of supplies through here when they
make their drive at Paris. It'll come within a month. Then we'll need
every pilot and every ship that can get its wheels off the ground. I'm
tellin' youa month!
I know so! America is going to have her big chanceand may the
Lord help us if she doesn't deliver! I don't know how many combat
troops she has landed, but I do know that her eyes, the air service, is
in need of ships. The French and English are willing to give them all
the old, worn out flying coffins that they can pick up out of junk
heapsold two-seater Spads, old A.R.'s, 1-1/2 strutter Sopwiths, and
crates like that. If they can get new Spads, like those we saw 'em
flying this morning, or Nieuport 28's, or the Salmsons which their
commander has been trying to get, then all will be jake. Otherwise
he shrugged his shoulders expressively.
Otherwise, McGee took advantage of the pause, Otherwise they'll
deliver just the same, even if they have to fly Avros, Caudrons or
table tops. Buzz, these Americans over here have fight in their eyes.
They've got spirit.
Yes, but spirit can't do much without equipment.
Huh! Ever read any history?
What's on your mind now, little teacher? I read enough to pass my
exams in school.
Then you've forgotten some things about American history,
especially about spirit and equipment. Where was the equipment at
Valley Forge? What about the troops under Washington that took the
breastworks at Yorktown without a single round of powderjust
bayonets? What about the war of 1812, when we had no army and the
English thought we had no navy? You don't remember those
That's just what I do remember, Buzz interrupted, and that's what
I'm howling about. We never have been prepared with anything except
spirit. Right now we have a lot of good pilots over here and the air
service is having to beg planes from the French and English. And here
we are, sent down to this front to act as instructors to a shipless
squadron, at the very time when the Germans are making ready for
another big drive. It's all wrong. Every minute is precious.
McGee had been looking out of the window of the swaying, lurching
cab that was now threading its way through hurrying traffic. Forget
it! he said. Give Old Man Worry a swift kick. Here we are in Gay
Paree. The war's over for twenty-four hours!
To all allied soldiers on leave of absence from the front, Paris
represented what McGee had voiced to Larkina place where the war was
over for the time limits of their passes. Forgotten, for a few brief
hours, were all the memories of military tedium, the roar of guns, the
mud of trenches, the flaming airplane plunging earthward out of
controlall these things were banished by the stimulating thought that
here was the world famous city with all its amusements, its arts, its
countless beauties, open to them for a few magic hours.
The fact that Paris was only a ghost of her former self made no
impression on war-weary troopers. What mattered it, to them, that the
priceless art treasures of the Louvre had been removed to the safety of
the southern interior? Was it their concern that the once mighty and
fearless Napoleon now lay blanketed by tons of sand bags placed over
his crypt to protect revered bones from enemy air raids or a chance hit
by the long range gun now shelling the city? What mattered it that
famous cafés and chefs were now reduced to the simplest of menus; what
difference did it make if the streets were darkened at night; who that
had never seen Paris in peace time could sense that she was a stricken
city hiding her sorrow and travail behind a mask of dogged, grim
Paris was Paris, to the medley of soldiers gathered there from the
four points of the compass, and it was the more to her credit that she
could still offer amusement to uniformed men and boys whose war-weary
minds found here relief from the drive of duty.
Everywhere the streets were swarming with men in uniformFrench,
English, Australian, Canadian, New Zealanders, colored French
Colonials, a few Russians who, following the sudden collapse of their
government, were now soldiers lacking a flag, Scotch Highlanders in
their gaudy kilts, Japanese officers in spick uniforms not yet baptized
in the mud of the trenchesa varied, colorful parade of young men bent
on one great common objective.
At night, the common magnet was the theatre, and the Folies
Bergeres, featuring a humorous extravaganza, Zig Zag, in which was
starred a famous English comedian, drew its full quota of fun-seeking
It was this show that McGee and Larkin had come to see, and at the
end of the first act they were ready to add their praises to the chorus
of approval. During the intermission they strolled out into the flag
bedecked foyer to mingle with a crowd that was ninety per cent military
and which was in a highly appreciative frame of mind. One particularly
pleasing note had been added rather unexpectedly when one of the
feminine stars, in singing Scotland Forever, had been interrupted by
a group of Highlanders who boosted onto the stage a red-headed,
bandy-legged, kilted Scotchman who had the voice of a nightingale. And
when, somewhat abashed, he took up the refrain, he was joined by a
thunderous chorus from the audience that made the listeners certain
that Scotland would never die so long as such fervor remained in the
hearts of her sons. The English soldiers, not to be outdone, had
followed with God Save the King and then, down the aisle with a flag
torn from the walls of the foyer stalked an American sergeant, holding
aloft Old Glory and leading his countrymen in the singing of The Star
Trust a group of soldiers to take charge of a show and run it to
suit themselves. But they were pleased, beyond question, as was
evidenced by the buzzing conversations during the intermission.
Great show, eh?
I'll tell the world!
Hey, Joe! You old son-of-a-gun! How'd you get down here? Thought
you were wiped out up at Wipers.
Huh! Not me! They haven't made the shell that can get me. Look
who's over there with a nice cushy wound to keep him out of trouble.
Old Dog Face himself. Hey! Dog Face ... Come here!
Such were the greetings of soldiers who hid their real feelings
behind a mask of flippancy.
McGee drew Larkin into an eddy of the milling throng where they
could the better watch what Red termed the review of the nations. A
strapping big Anzac, with a cockily rosetted Rough Rider hat, strolled
arm in arm with a French Blue Devil from the Alpine Chasseurs. A kilted
Highlander, three years absent from his homeland and bearing four wound
stripes on his sleeve, was trying vainly to teach the words of
Scotland Forever to a Russian officer whose precise English did not
encompass the confusing Scotch burr. Mixed tongues, mixed customs,
variety of ideals; infantrymen, cavalrymen, artillerymen, war pilots;
men with grey at the temples and beardless youths; here and there a man
on crutches, here and there an empty sleeve, and many breasts upon
which hung medals awarded for intrepid courage; here grizzled old
Frenchmen with backs bowed by three years of warfare, and there fresh,
clean young Americans recently landed and a little amazed that they
should be looked upon as the hope of the staggering allies. Color,
color, color! Confused tongues, the buzz and babble of a thousand
half-heard conversations, the fragments of marching songs! Here was a
cross section of the Allied Armies, all of them with but one purpose.
How could they fail!
The scene had a telling effect upon McGee and Larkin. Wordless, for
a few minutes, they stood watching the throng. It was McGee who spoke
Did you ever see anything like it, Buzz? Just look at the different
uniforms. Therelook over there! A bunch of American Blue Jackets.
Wonder how they got here?
Humph! Wonder how all of us got here? That's what I've been
thinking about. This is just a moment snatched from the lives of all
these fellows. What went before? What homes did they come from, and who
is waiting for them? And what comes to them to-morrow? Gee! He shook
his head, slowly. It doesn't do to think about it. You want to find
out about them ... and you get to wishing they could all go on back
home to-morrow. Say, who started this talk, anyhow? Come on, let's go
Wait a minute! McGee seized his arm and turned him around.
There's plenty of time before the curtain. Look, Buzz. See that black
fellow over there in French Colonial O.D.? Came from Algiers, I guess,
or Senegal, maybe. What brought him here, and what sort of stories will
he tell ... when he gets back home? Will he tell about what he did, or
will he talk about what he saw and what others did?
Well, this has set me to thinking. We're all here on exactly the
same business. The uniform doesn't count so much, nor does the branch
of the service. It's just a question of getting the job donea sort of
'Heave Ho! All together, now!' Get me?
YesI guess so. What are you driving at?
This. See that American sergeant over therethe one who carried
the flag down the aisle and jumped up on the stage?
Yes. Big fellow, isn't he?
You said it! The biggest duck in this puddle, in more ways than
one. And I want to get into the uniform he is wearing. Understand,
Buzz? Oh, I'm proud enough of the one I'm wearing, but when he started
the national anthem, and they all came in on that chorus, 'Oh, say can
you see, by the dawn's early light,'well, I felt cold shivers running
up and down my backbone. None of the other songs did that to me. Do you
get me, Buzz?
Sure. I felt it, too. He put both his hands on Red's shoulders,
holding him off at arm's length. You want back under the old Stars and
Stripes, don't you? ... you little shrimp!
Yes, slowly, andyet
I know how you feel. I'm with you, fellow, when you get ready to
make the change.
McGee's eyes lighted with surprise and joy. Really, Buzz?
Surest thing you know!
And you don't think we'd feel likelike
We'd feel like two Americans, going home. Shake, little
feller! There, I feel better already. Come on, let's go in; that's the
CHAPTER III. Night Raiders
On the following Tuesday morning a group of two Spads and several
Nieuports were delivered to Major Cowan's pursuit squadron at Is Sur
Tille. A Lieutenant Smoot, one of the ferry pilots who had flown up one
of the Nieuports, sought to ease the pain caused by his own lowly
calling by taunting Tex Yanceyan extremely dangerous pastime, for Tex
had a ready tongue.
When you buckoes have washed out these planes, he said, the Old
Man will see the error of his way and send us up to do the real flying.
What's left of this gang will then be put to ferrying. Did any of you
ever see a Spad or Nieuport before?
Yancey, standing well over six feet, looked down on him pityingly.
Did you say your name was Smoot, or Snoot? Smoot, eh. Well,
transportation to the rear is waitin' for you at headquarters.
Don't let me keep you waitin'. I'm surprised you're not pushin' a
wheelbarrow in a labor battalion, the way you set that Nieuport down a
few minutes ago. Clear out, soldier! This squadron is gettin' ready to
do some plain and fancy flyin'. I don't want you to have heart
Humph! You'll have heart trouble the first time you try to land one
of those Spads. You'll think you have been trained on a peanut roaster.
Who's the Britisher over there snooping around with Cowan?
Name's McGee. But he's not a Limey; he's an American. I'm told he
won a coupla medals in the R.F.C., and has sixteen Huns to his credit.
He must be goodthough he doesn't wear the medals to prove it. Not a
bit of swank.
What's he doing here?
He's an instructor, Yancey replied without hesitation.
Oh Ho! So you still need instruction? I heard that Cowan knows it
Naw, he only knows half, and you know the other half. Too bad both
sets of brains wasn't put in one head. In that case somebody would have
been almost half-witted. Better toddle along, soldier. The animals are
goin' on a rampage in a minute.
Yeah? Well, turn 'em loose. I'm something of a big game hunter
myself. What sort of a flyer is this instructor?
Dunno. We'll see in a minute, maybe. He's crawling in that Spad.
Yep, they're turnin' her around. Don't go now. You can learn a lot
During the next ten minutes the entire squadron, and the ferry
pilots, were given an excellent opportunity to form their own
conclusions about McGee's ability to fly. He took the Spad aloft, in
test, and plunged through a series of acrobatics that served to
convince all watchers that here was a man whose real element was the
air. Ship and man were one.
The group on the ground watched, open-mouthed, despite the fact that
they themselves were flyers of no mean ability. But they had never
flown such ships as the Spads, and the prospect and possibilities made
their hearts race with feverish eagerness to take off in one of these
trim little hawks.
Yancey and Smoot had now joined the watching group around Major
Cowan, and as McGee rolled at the top of a loop, Yancey turned to the
doubting ferry pilot.
Yes, I think he can fly. What do you think, brother? When you can
do stick work like that, you'll be sent up here to join us.
Major Cowan was equally envious, but he was not one to betray it. A
very bad example, he commented, testily. An excellent pilot,
doubtless, but reckless. His take-off, for instance. He zoomed too
long. I want to warn you against such a mistake.
The ferry pilot, Smoot, decided to take a chance. The example seems
good enough, and if that fellow's flying is a mistake, I'm sure Brigade
would like to see a lot more mistakes like him.
The commander of this squadron will answer to Brigade for the
conduct of this group, Lieutenant Smoot, Major Cowan retorted with
such acidity that the poor ferryman decided it was time to join his own
group and head for the base. But before taking his departure he
relieved his mind in the presence of Yancey, Siddons and Hampden, who
had drawn away from Cowan through a desire to watch the flying rather
than listen to his lectures on the art of flying.
If you had a flyer like that one up there for a C.O., Smoot said
to them, you'd get somewhere in this little old war. But as it is, you
have my sympathy. Well, toodle-oo, mes enfants. Be careful with
those Spads. They were built for flyers.
You be careful that you don't fall out of that motor cycle side car
on the way back, Yancey retorted. They look like baby carriages, but
As Smoot walked away, stung by this last retort, Yancey turned to
Hampden and Siddons. How'd you like to have a flyer like that in this
outfit? he asked.
He's all right, Hampden replied. A lot of the ferry pilots are
crack flyersjust a tough break in the game. It might have happened to
I wasn't talkin' about him Yancey replied and pointed to
McGee's plane, now banking in to a landing at the far end of the field.
I meant that bird down there.
Hampden laughed, skeptically. Fine chance to get a flyer like
Oh, I dunno. Some American outfit will draw him. He and that other
fellow, Larkin, have asked to be repatriated.
How do you know?
I was with 'em in town last night and they told me all about it.
They flew up to Paris day before yesterday, and on the way back they
landed at Chaumont and made a call on G.H.Q. They put their case before
the Chief of Staff and asked him to use his influence. They've made out
formal application. Both of them are tickled pink over the prospect.
McGee said he would like to get with this squadron.
Bully for him! Hampden enthused. Maybe we don't look so bad, if
fellows like that are willing to throw in with us, eh, Tex?
Siddons was coldly skeptical. You have the weirdest imagination.
Why should he want to be with us?
Dunno. Ask him.
I shall, Siddons answered as he moved over toward the point where
he estimated McGee's taxiing plane would come to a stop.
Big stiff! Yancey said under his breath. He'll ask him, all
right, and right out in meetin'. He never believes anything he hears
until he has asked a thousand questions about it. What do you see in
that fellow to like, Hamp?
He's all right, Tex. He was pretty decent to me while I was acting
as Supply during that time Cowan grounded me. Came around to help me
with the paper work and put in a good word for me.
Yeah, he's always chummy with Supply and Operationsbut only
because he thinks he can get some favors that way. I despise him.
Oh, come now! You mustn't feel that way. We are all in the same
boat, and we'd as well be chummy.
Huh! If you ever get in the same boat with that fellow he will do
the steerin' while you do the rowin'. He gives me a pain!
Two weeks later orders came down concentrating several pursuit,
observation and bombing groups in the neighborhoods of Commercy and
Nancy. The members of the squadrons to which McGee and Larkin had been
detailed were feverish with excitement. Operations and armament
officers were busy with the duties incident to making all planes ready
for combat. This could mean but one thingAction!
Three nights after the move McGee and Larkin sat at a late dinner in
one of the little cafés on the main street of the small French town.
They were discussing the progress of their work and each was heatedly
contending that his own group was superior in every way.
Just come over and watch my flight do formation work, Larkin
urged. They'll open your eyes.
Humph! You'd better open your own eyes! I have watched you. We were
up in the sun this morningfive thousand feet above youand watched
you for half an hour. A fine bunch you have! We could have smothered
you like a blanket. Have you ever shown them anything about looking in
the sun for enemy planes?
Larkin's face evidenced his chagrin. Are you kidding me?
Not much! We kept right along above you, but in the sun. I'll admit
they did good work, but oh, how blind! Boy, we're not too far back to
get jumped on. There have been fights farther back from the lines than
this. You know Fritz dearly loves to raid 'dromes where new squadrons
are in training. Believe me, their spy system is perfect. I'd be
willing to wager my right eye that they know these groups are stationed
in this area, how long they have been in France, and just what types of
planes we are using. They've the best spy system in the world. You know
how many times they have raided green squadrons. They figure it puts
the wind up a bunch of inexperienced men. So keep your eye peeled. And
if you want to see something pretty, come over and watch my gang.
They're ready for combat work right nowexcept Siddons.
Larkin looked up in surprise. I thought you told me he knew more
about the planes and about flying than any of the others.
He does. But he can'tor won'tkeep in formation. He cuts out,
and goes joy-riding.
Seems to me I remember someone else who used to do that same little
stunt, Larkin said, smiling reminiscently.
McGee flushed. Yes, I suppose I did, but not in training. I never
cut formation until
Until you saw something that looked like meat. Don't try to kid me,
Red. You've dragged me into too many dog fights. Do you think I have
forgotten the day we were out having a look-see, five of us, and
spotted five Albatrosses below? Bingo! Down you went like a shot, and
the rest of us had to follow to keep you from being made into
mincemeat. Talk about being blind! All the time a bigger flock of
Fokkers were in the sun above us and they came down like 'wolves on the
fold.' Fellow, you had your little faults. Don't be too hard on
Cutting formation to get in a fight and cutting to go joy-riding
are two different things. If it were anyone else but Siddons I'd ask
Cowan to ground him.
You like him?
Emphatically, NO! And he knows it. That's why I hesitate to make an
example of him. He would think that I was satisfying a grudge. Besides,
he has some sort of a drag with someone. Cowan thinks he is a great
flyer. He is, too. Knows more about both the technical and practical
side of the game than any of the others. That's what's wrong with him.
He is so self-satisfied, so arrogant, and so cocksure of every word he
utters and every movement he makes. He is the coldest fish I ever met.
He reminds me of someonebut I can't remember who it is. Sometimes I
think he isListen! What's that?
McGee's question went unanswered as the shrill blasts of the air
raid siren shattered the peace of the village with its frenzied
warning. It moaned, deep-throated, then became panic-stricken and
wailed tremulously in the higher registers. It was a warning to all to
seek the comparative safety of the abris which the town had
constructed against just such an emergency.
The café emptied quickly, but even the quickest followed on the
heels of McGee and Larkin who, once outside, ran briskly down the
street toward the house where they were billeted. They halted at the
drive entrance to gaze upward as great searchlights began playing upon
the dark inverted bowl of the heavens. The long, shifting beams of
light were accusing fingers seeking to point out the unwelcome,
stealthy nocturnal sky prowlers.
Listen! McGee gripped Larkin's arm.
Sure enough, from the east, and high above, came the sound of German
motors, a sound unmistakable by anyone who had once heard their
unsynchronized drone. It rose and fell, rose and fell, like the hurried
snoring of a giant made restless by nightmare. The sound was drawing
nearer. Doubtless it had been heard by the soldiers manning the
searchlights for the beams now swept restlessly across the eastern sky.
To the eastward, two or three kilometers, an anti-aircraft battery
opened fire, and from aloft came the dull pouf! of the exploding
shells. Vain, futile effort! It was only the angry thundering of
admitted helplessness. One chance in a million! The motors droned on,
coming nearer and nearer. Excited townspeople, in wooden sabots,
clattered down the streets seeking shelter; fear-stricken mothers and
fathers spoke sharply to their little broods as they hustled them
Buzz, Red said, it's dollars to doughnuts they're coming here to
lay some eggs on our 'dromejust to put the wind up these boys.
Remember what I told you a few minutes ago.
Larkin was more hopeful. I guess not, he said. Headed for some
supply base or ammunition dump farther in, would be my guess. But if
they are coming here, there's little we can do about it. It's up to the
Hum-m, McGee mused. I wonder.
A motor cycle, with side car, running without lights, came popping
down the street. Without hesitation McGee ran out into the middle of
the street, waving his arms and shouting wildly. The motor cycle
swerved sharply, missed the dancing, gesticulating figure and skidded
to a stop.
Say, what's eatin' you, soldier? demanded the irate American motor
For answer McGee sprang into the side car and barked a few crisp,
sharp orders that brooked no hesitation. The responsive little motor
roared its staccato eagerness as the machine lurched forward, leaving
Larkin speechless and wondering.
What do you know about that? he mused. Now what can that little
shrimp be up he hesitated, struck by the same thought, he felt sure,
that had plunged McGee into such sudden action. Then he began shouting
for the driver of their motor car.
Martins! Martins! Oh, Martins! Blast the fellow, doubtless he was
already in some place of security. Martins! Oh, Martins!
A door flew open, letting out a beam of light as Martins came out,
clad only in his underclothes and yawning prodigiously.
Did you call, sir? he asked, blinking foolishly as he studied the
flashing rays of the sky-searching lights.
Yes! Get the car! Snappy, now!
Yes, sir. Just as soon as I can get on some clothes.
Hang the clothes! Get the carand set the road afire between here
and the 'drome. Move! Don't stand there blinking like a blooming owl.
Martins sped around the house, a white-clad figure racing
bare-footed for the car and muttering under his breath every time his
flying feet struck bits of gravel and sharp stones. The sound of the
airplane motors was now much nearer; the siren was still screaming its
fright; anti-aircraft guns were futilely belching steel into the air,
and the searchlights were getting jumpy in their haste to locate the
intruders and hold them in a beam of light.
Martins, with Larkin seated at his side, hurled the car through the
narrow streets and out to the airdrome with a daring recklessness known
only to war-trained chauffeurs who could push a car faster without
lights than most people would care to ride in broad daylight. But their
speed was slow compared to that made by the surprised motor cycle
orderly who had thundered off with McGee, and when Larkin sprang from
the car as it screeched to a stop at the edge of the 'drome his ear
caught the sound of a Clerget motor pounding under an advanced throttle
as it lifted a plane from the ground at the far end of the dark field.
An excited, buzzing group of pilots and mechanics were huddled together
on the tarmac near the circus tent that served as a hangar, and still
more men were emerging hastily from the humpbacked, black steel
elephants that served them as quarters.
Larkin ran toward the group near the hangar entrance,
Where's McGee? he shouted, knowing the answer but hoping for some
word that would give the lie to what his ears told him. He knew that
the plane which had now swung back over the field and was roaring
directly above as it battled for altitude was none other than McGee's
balky little Camel. But no one answered him; they merely stared, as men
who have just witnessed a feat of daring too noble for words, or as
girls who face an impending tragedy and are too horror-stricken for
Where's McGee? Larkin shouted again. Don't stand there like a
bunch of yaps! You'll be getting a setting of high explosive eggs here
in a minute. Don't you hear that siren? Those Boche planes? Where's
McGee, I asked you?
Yancey stepped from the group and pointed up.
I reckon that's him up yonder, he said in the slow drawl that was
doubly maddening at such a moment. He blew in here a few minutes ago
like a Texas Panhandle twister, ordered the greaseballs to roll his
plane on the line, and was off before she was good and warm. I
Larkin did not wait to learn what Yancey reckoned. He dashed toward
the hangar, shouting orders as he ran.
Major Cowan stepped from the hangar, barring the way. Just a
minute, Lieutenant! What is it you want?
What do I want? I want a plane on the linequick!
No! Lieutenant McGee took off before we knew what it was all about.
It is madness. You can't have
He stopped speaking to listen. From high above, and a little to the
east, came the throbbing sound of German motors that in a few more
seconds would be over the airdrome. Indeed, they might be circling now,
getting their bearing and making sure of location. At that moment one
of the large motor mounted searchlights near the hangar began combing
Go tell those saps to cut that light! Larkin shouted, hoping that
the Major would be stampeded into action that would provide the
slenderest chance for him to get the mechanics to roll a Spad to the
line before Cowan could know what was happening. Better cut it! If the
others can't find 'em, this one can't. It will only serve as a path of
light for one of those babies up there to slide down and leave you some
presents you don't want.
Major Cowan was not one to go legging it about on errands. Besides,
searchlights were provided for just such uses. Then too, he rather
suspected Larkin's motives, and Larkin realized this.
Please let me have one of those Spads, Major, he pleaded. Can't
you understandMcGee and I are buddies. With two of us up there we
might turn 'em back.
No! It is too hazardous. This squadron is still in training. We are
not trained as night flyers, and certainly are not prepared to give
combat to a flight of bombers.
Larkin's anger smashed through his long training. All rank faded
from his mind.
Not trained, eh? Major Cowan, that freckle-faced kid up there is a
night flying fooland I'm his twin brother. Get out of my way. Oh,
greaseballs! Hey, you Ack Emmas! Roll out one of those Spads and
Lieutenant! Cowan barked. You forget yourself. If you want to do
night fighting go over to your own group and use your own plane! You
forget yourself. I am still in command here!
From aloft came the momentary stutter of two machine guns. Ah! McGee
testing and warming his guns as he climbed. Oh, the fool! The precious,
Larkin sat down on the tarmac, ker plunk! Let 'em raid. What
mattered it? He rather hoped one of them would be accurate enough to
plant a bomb on the top of Cowan's head.
Yes, you are in command, he said, rather limply, but why didn't
you stop McGee? And since you are in command, in Heaven's name tell
that light crew to cut that light. It would be just their fool,
blundering luck to spot McGee and hold him for the Archies.
CHAPTER IV. Victory
McGee, holding up the nose of his Camel at an angle that gave the
motor every ounce it would stand, was thinking the same alarming
thought that had just run through Larkin's mind. It would be just his
luck to be spotted by the searchlight crew and held in its beam. If so,
would they recognize him? Would they see the ringed cockades on his
wings, or would eager anti-aircraft gunners start blazing away? Even if
they recognized the plane, his whole plan would be knocked into a
cocked hat should that telltale streamer of light point him out to the
enemy planes above who must now be looking sharp. Darkness was both his
ally and his foe.
McGee was too experienced to have any mistaken notions about the
hazard of his endeavor. He knew what he was up against. In the first
place, any bombing plane was a formidable foe, and he could not know
how many were coming on this mission. All bombers were heavily armed,
and had the advantage of having at least one man free to repel attack
with twin machine guns. Many of the heavier German bombing planes
carried crews of four or five men, though these were used in attack on
highly important bases and would hardly be sent on a mission of this
nature. Such machines were quite slow and not capable of being
manoeuvered quickly, but their very size added to their invulnerability
and their heavy armament made them a thing to be avoided by any single
fighter mounted in a pursuit plane. Many pursuit pilots had learned the
bitter lesson attached to a thoughtless, poorly planned attack upon a
bomber or two-seater observation bus. They looked like an appetizing
mealbut one must have a strong stomach if he finishes the feast.
McGee knew, also, that the oncoming raiders might be pursuit planes
converted into bombers by the simple expedient of attaching bomb
releases carrying lighter pellets of destruction which could be
released by the pilot. This was not an unusual procedure, especially
when the success of the venture might hinge upon speed. Such planes
could strike swiftly, more easily avoid Archie fire, and having struck
their blow could outdistance any antagonist with the nerve to storm
through the night sky in pursuit.
So, as McGee climbed he realized that he was facing the unknown. The
prospect of a raid had been his challenge; the size and strength of his
enemy was unknown. So be it, he thought, and warmed his guns with a
short burst as he continued climbing. Their quick chatter served to
reassure him and for the moment he quite forgot how useless they would
be should he chance to go crashing into one of the bombers. He felt
that all would be well if only those saps on the ground would cut that
searchlight. Didn't they know that it would simply serve as a guide to
the plane whose mission it would be to dive at the field and release
ground flares to mark the target for the bombers? Of course they
wouldn't think of that. Green! And with a lot to learn.
Two or three times the beam of light flashed perilously near him,
and once his plane was near enough to the edge of the beam for the
glass on his instrument board to reflect the rays. Then, a moment
later, the glaring one-eyed monster dimmed, glowed red, and darkness
leaped in from all sides. But only for a moment. Other lights, from
more distant points, were still combing the sky. These concerned Red
not so much as the one near the hangar. Strangely, as is the way with
men at war, he cared not so much what wrath might be called down on
other places if only his own nest remained unviolated. Indeed, he found
himself entertaining the hope that the raiders might become confused
and drop their trophies in somebody else's back yard.
Then, as suddenly as a magician produces an object out of the thin
air, one of the distant searchlights fixed upon one of the enemy
planes. It was a single seater, McGee noted, and though somewhat
southeast of the position he had expected, it was already pointing its
nose down on a long dive that would undoubtedly carry it to a good
position over the 'drome for dropping flares.
McGee knew the tactics. This was the plane whose job it was to spot
the target for the bombers and then zoom away. Then the vultures would
come droning over the illuminated field and drop their eggs.
Red kicked his left rudder and came around on a sharp climbing bank.
By skill, or by luck, the light crew still held their beam on the
black-crossed plane and in a twinkling two other lights were centered
McGee made a quick estimate of distance and of the other's flying
speed. Then he nosed over, slightly, on a full throttle, and drove
along a line which he thought would intersect the dive of the enemy. He
could hardly hope to get him in the ring sights; it was a matter of
pointing the plane in what he thought was the correct line of fire and
let drive with both guns.
The wind was beginning to scream and tear at the struts of the
hard-pushed Camel. Speed was everything now. If that diving German
plane once dropped its flares, the others, somewhere in the darkness
above, would sow destruction on the field.
The distance was yet too great for anything like effective fire, but
McGee decided to take a chance. After all, the whole thing was chance.
He had one chance in a thousand to thwart their plans, very slim
chances for bagging one of them, and some excellent chances to get
Very well, he found himself saying in answer to these swift
thoughts. Carry on!
Rat-tat-tat-tat-tat! Both his guns began their scolding chatter. Too
far to the rightand below. He ruddered left and pulled her nose up a
trifle. There! Again the guns spewed out their vengeful chorus.
At this second burst the German plane seemed to yaw off, then
righted itself, leveled off and flew straight at McGee.
Red felt a momentary elation that the enemy had at least been made
conscious of the attack and was, for the moment, forced to abandon his
objective. Two beams of light still held him mercilessly. Doubtless
they served to blind him and this advantaged McGee who, unseen in the
darkness, kept his Vickers going. Some of the bullets must have gone
home for the German swerved suddenly and began a series of acrobatics
in an effort to escape the lights. But disturbed as he was, he
evidently kept his mission in mind for he continued to lose altitude
and thus draw nearer the field where he could drop his flares.
McGee decided to nose over and then zoom up under his bellyby far
the most vulnerable point of attack but one in which the moment of fire
is brief indeed, for Camels will not long hang by their props.
Just as McGee dived the enemy swerved quickly and also began a dive.
His diving angle was sharp; his speed tremendous. Doubtless he had
determined to carry out his mission and get away from an exceedingly
hot spot as quickly as possible. By the fortunes of war his diving
angle cut directly across McGee's path. Closealmost too close! A
brief burst spat from McGee's Vickers in that heart-chilling moment
when collision seemed inevitable, but McGee pulled sharply back on his
stick and zoomed. Whew! It was no cinch, this fighting a light-blinded
McGee glanced back. The lights had lost the plane as suddenly as
they had found it. Night had swallowed it. Now there was an unseen
enemy that might
Ah! McGee sucked in his breath sharply. A tiny tongue of flame was
shooting through the sky. For a second it was little more than the
flame of a match, but in a few seconds it developed into greedy,
licking flames that turned the German plane into a flaming rocket. The
pilot, manfully seeking escape from such a death, began side slipping
in a vain effort to create an upward draft that would keep the flames
from incinerating him in his seat. For the briefest moment he did a
first class job of it, and McGee, who a minute before had been hungry
for victory, felt first a wave of admiration for a skillful job of
flying and next a surge of pity that it must be of no avail. Even now
the plane was wobbling out of control ... then it nosed over and
plunged earthward, a flaming meteor.
Fascinated, McGee watched the plunge, climbing a little as he
circled. He was three times an ace with two for good measure, seventeen
victories in the air, but this was his first night flamer. It was far
more spectacular than he could have imagined ... and somehow a little
more unnerving. A moment ago that doomed creature had been a man
courageous enough to undertake any hazard his country demanded. Enemy
or no, he was a man of courage and in his own country was a patriot.
McGee felt very weak, and not at all elated. After all, he knew
there were no national boundaries to valor or patriotism, and however
sweet the victory it must always carry the wormwood of regret that the
vanquished will see no more red dawnings and go out on no more dawn
patrols. That plunging, flaming plane was as a lighted match dropped
into a deep wellthe deep well of oblivion.
The plane struck the earth some three or four hundred yards to the
west of the 'drome. The flames, leaping afresh, lighted up the entire
vicinity. McGee, looking down, could see the dim outline of the hangar
tent and the running figures that were racing toward the burning plane.
He smiled, rather grimly, and his eyes searched the heavens above him.
The vultures had their target now!
At that moment one of the restless searchlights singled out one of
the bombers, high above him, and two other streams of light leaped to
the same spot. Another plane was caught in the beam. The anti-aircraft
now had their target, and they lost no time. There came two or three of
the sharp barks so characteristic of anti-aircraft guns, and coincident
with the sound the bursting shells bloomed into great white roses
perilously near the leading plane. It rocked, noticeably, and shifted
its course. Then, seemingly, all the Archies in the countryside, within
range and out of range, began filling that section of the sky with
magically appearing roses that in their blooming sent steel balls and
flying fragments searching the sky.
The upper air was quickly converted into an inferno of bursting
shells and whining missiles of jagged steel. The enemy bombers, due to
the delay caused by McGee's unexpected attack upon the plane whose
mission it had been to drop the ground flares, had now worked
themselves into a rather awkward formation and were faced with the
responsibility of making instant decision whether they should now
release their bombs in a somewhat hit or miss fashion or run for it and
individually select some other spot for depositing their T.N.T. hate as
they made their way homeward.
The embarrassment of their position was but little greater than that
of McGee's. The burning plane offered sufficient light for landing, but
it was also lighting up the hangars and the field, and he momentarily
expected the enemy to let go with their bombs. It would not be pleasant
down there when those whistling messengers began to arrive. His present
position was equally unhealthy, even though he had considerably reduced
his altitude. Any minuteyes, any secondsome searchlight crew might
pick him up, and there is never any telling what an excited
anti-aircraft battery crew might do.
McGee made the decision which is always reached by an airman who
finds himself in unhealthy surroundings: he would simply high-tail it
away from there until the shouting and the tumult subsided. He swung
into the dark sky to the north and then dived down until he felt that
any less altitude would be extremely likely to bring him afoul of some
church steeple or factory smokestack.
One of the German pilots decided to take a chance and release his
bombs. Their reverberating detonations were terrifying enough, but
aside from the ugly holes they made in the open field, some five
hundred yards away from the 'drome, they accomplished nothing in the
balance of warfare. The other planes, finding the welcome a bit too
warm, took up a zig-zag course toward the Fatherland, but in a general
course that would take them back over Nancy, where they could find a
larger target for their bombs.
McGee, looking back, could see the searchlights sweeping eastward in
their efforts to keep the fleeing planes spotted. But their luck had
already been great indeed, and now they were again feverishly searching
the black and seemingly empty sky.
Good time to tool this baby home, McGee thought as he swung around
and headed for the 'drome, its location still well marked for him by
the flickering flames of the fallen ship.
Poor old Nancy! he said aloud as he realized that the thwarted
bombers would likely spew out their hate on that sorely tried city.
I'm sorry to wish this off on you, but you are used to it and these
lads are not. Talk about luck! I wonder what good angel is perched on
Back over the 'drome he signaled with his Very light pistol for
landing lights, his take-off having been too sudden to permit of
thinking of ground flares. He circled the field, waiting for the
lights. No response. He signaled again. Still no response.
Too much excitement, I guess, he mused. Then he flew low over the
remains of the burning plane, around which had gathered a large
grouplarge enough, McGee thought, to include every man of the
squadron from the C.O. down to the lowliest greaseball.
Humph! A fine target you'd make! Red snorted, and felt like
throwing his Very pistol into the group. Well, here goes! I've made
darker landings than this. And if I crack up he smiled as a grim
Irish bull flashed through his mindit will be a good lesson to the
ground crew. Nothing like Irish humor at a time like this.
If one who stands less than five feet six and is freckled of face
and red of hair can command hauteur and dignity, then it can be said
that a few minutes later McGee, with hauteur and dignity, strode into
the excited, gabbling group that surrounded the burning German plane.
For a moment none of them recognized him. With hands on hips, arms
akimbo, he stood watching them. He was still just a little too mad to
trust his tongue.
Major Cowan was the first to notice him. Ah! Lieutenant McGee! I
No sir, I am Lieutenant McGee's ghost. McGee got his neck broken
over there just nowtrying to make a landing in the dark. Your ground
crew were exceedingly helpful to him, Major. So nice of them to obey
his signals so promptly.
For once Cowan was at a disadvantage. Gad, man! Did you signal?
Oh, yes. I waved my hand. Rather original idea, don't you think?
Perhaps you weren't expecting me to come back.
Frankly, Lieutenant, I wasn't. The look on Cowan's face was one of
genuine admiration. You have done a courageous thing, Lieutenantand
I thought it foolhardy. I said as much to Lieutenant Larkin, and I
apologize to you, here, in the presence of all these men who witnessed
All the others thereupon surged around McGee, pumping his hand
vigorously and clapping him on the back.
McGee's anger faded. It was a thing that never stayed long with him.
Is Larkin here? he asked.
He was, Cowan answered. Came a few minutes after you took off,
but when I refused him a ship he got mad as a hornet, bawled out the
light crew andand me, and then jumped back in his car and rode off.
Rather tempestuous fellow.
If he had stayed here, McGee said, regretfully, my Camel wouldn't
now be standing over yonder on its nose with its undercarriage wiped
off. He'd at least think of landing lights. He pushed his way through
the crowd toward the burning embers of the twisted, broken and charred
plane. Pilot burned to a crisp, I suppose, he mused half aloud.
Hampden, who was standing nearest, answered:
No, the poor devil jumped. Landed over there by the road. They
carried him over to the hospital tent. Not aa whole bone in his
body. His voice seemed choked. It's aa fearful way to go.
A sporting way, I would say, Siddons spoke up. Even in the last
moment he rather cheated you, McGee. He escaped the flames, anyhow.
McGee looked at Siddons searchingly. In those cold grey eyes and in
the half-taunting smile there was none of the sympathy or natural,
normal emotion that had so choked Hampden's voice.
He did not cheat me, Lieutenant Siddons, McGee said, his voice
edged by his dislike of the man. I am only one of the small factors in
this unfortunate game. Duty may be pursued without wanting to see
others suffer. He was a brave man. I salute him. He turned to Cowan.
Major Cowan, if your crew had attempted to extinguish these flames we
might have added a great deal to our knowledge of the progress the
enemy is making. I could not recognize this plane in the air. I think
it is a new type.
By Jove! I never thought of it.
McGee turned away to conceal an expression which he could not
control, and as he did so he heard Yancey growl to Hampden:
What a first-rate kitchen police in a Home Guard outfit that bimbo
As McGee walked back toward the hangar, Hampden and Siddons joined
him. He felt Hampden give his elbow a congratulatory squeeze. Then
Are you going over to have a look at your fallen adversary,
Oh, I say, Siddons! Hampden exclaimed, pained and surprised.
I am going to make out my report, McGee answered, simply. I
wonder if you would like to give me a confirmation, Lieutenant
The question took Siddons off his feet. Whyerdo you really want
Not especially; I just had a feeling that you would be pleased to
have your name brought in it somehow.
Several of the pilots followed McGee into the hut used for
headquarters, but Siddons was not among them. Whatever his feelings,
following the little instructor's pointed rebuke, he concealed them
behind the cool indifference which marked all of his actions. At the
door to headquarters he turned down the gravel walk that ran in front
of the row of huts used as quarters and was soon lost to sight in the
McGee's report of his victory was characteristically laconic. Not a
word did he employ that was not necessary to the report. No fuss, no
feathers, no mock heroics. He had engaged an E.A. (enemy aircraft) and
had sent it down in flames. Reading the report, one would find little
enough to lift it out of the usual run of reports. Another meeting;
another victory. No more, no less. Only in the last paragraph did he
depart from his usual method of reporting. He wrote:
My Camel carried no ground flares. Twice signaled for landing
lights with no response. Circled field. Entire personnel was gathered
around burning E.A. and making no effort to extinguish fire, which by
this time had nearly consumed plane. Forced to land in dark. Wiped out
landing gear and shattered prop.
Recommendation: That all commands advise ground crews that a live
pilot is of more importance than a dead enemy.
Having finished, he looked up at those who had followed him into
headquarters. They were gathered in little groups, excitedly discussing
the victory, which had actually been the first encounter they had
witnessed. Fortunately, the victory had been on their side and they
were considerably bucked. It seemed dead easy. Why, one man had gone
aloft, bagged a plane, thwarted the plans of the enemy and was back on
the ground before you could tell about it. The war was looking up! And
this instructor was no slouch. What this squadron wouldn't do to the
enemy when an over-cautious Chief of Air Service said Let's go!
Hearing their comments, McGee smiled. He knew, better than they, the
great element of luck in his victory.
The enemy, whose aim it had been to thoroughly frighten and subdue
this green squadron, had succeeded instead in greatly increasing their
confidence in themselves. The enemy had come to sow destruction; they
had actually planted a seed that sprang instantly from the ground,
bearing the bold and sturdy flower of self-confidence. Old dogs of war
had been unleashed, and now a new pack was yelping on the trail.
Where is Major Cowan? McGee asked.
Over at the hospital tent, someone answered.
Oh, I see. Perhaps it's just as well. He might not care to sign a
confirmation after reading my recommendation. Which one of you will
give me a confirmation?
As one man they surged forward.
Just a minute! Red laughed. I said which one. On second thought I
guess I'd better leave that to the C.O. First victory from his
squadron, you know.
His squadron nothing! Yancey growled. You don't belong to
No, but I'm here by assignment; I wouldn't want to hurt anyone's
feelings. He chuckled. I'm afraid, though, that the last paragraph in
this report has a sort of stinger in it.
Let's see it, Hampden urged.
McGee handed him the report. Hampden read it, whistled softly and
passed it to Yancey, who read quite as slowly as he talked. A look of
disappointment spread over his face.
It's a report, I reckon, he said slowly, but it's about as
satisfyin' as a mess of potato chips would be to a hungry cowhand. It's
as thin as skimmed milk. Say, who won this fight? You or the other
I believe that report will give me the credit, McGee answered.
Maybe. And that last paragraph will win somebody a bawlin' out.
Cowan will ask you to change that. Looks like inefficiency on
Perhaps it is. It goes as it stands. After all, it goes through
channels to the Royal Flying Corps, you know. I'm flying their ship and
still under their orders.
Well, when I get my first one, Yancey replied, believe me,
they'll get the full details, and when they get through readin' it
they'll think I'm the bimbo what invented flyin'. Those white-collared
babies at Headquarters have to get all their thrills secondhand, and
this thing of yours is about as thrillin' as the minutes of a Sunday
At that moment Mullins, the peppery little Operations Officer,
entered the room, his face a mass of wrinkling smiles. He walked over
to the desk where McGee was seated and from his pockets dumped out a
double handful of articles, such as army men had learned to list under
the broad headingSouvenirs. There was a wrist watch, a German
automatic pistol, a silver match box, a leather cigarette case, a belt
buckle bearing the famous Gott Mit Uns and a number of German paper
For a moment McGee sat staring at them, then slowly pushed his chair
back from the table as he looked up at the smiling Mullins.
What's thisstuff? he asked.
Souvenirs, of course! From your latest victory. Cowan and I decided
to go over to the hospital and run through the chap's pockets to see if
we could find anything that should be sent back to Intelligence. Darned
if Siddons wasn't there ahead of us, getting ready to fill his pockets
with your souvenirs. I told him to wait until he bagged his own
game. So there you arecups, belts and badges!
McGee gathered up the articles, one by one, and handed them back to
Take them back, he ordered, somewhat firmly.
What! Mullins' jaw dropped. You don't want 'em?
Not even onefor luck?
No. I've never carried anything that belonged to the other
fellow, for luck. Take them back.
Yancey stepped forward, but he was still behind the soft-voiced
Edouard Fouche, who said:
I'll take them, then. I'm not so high-minded about it.
Tex Yancey pawed Fouche aside as a bear might sweep aside an
annoying puppy. Out of the way, little fellow. We'll divide these
spoils of waror we'll draw for 'em. Everyone to draw straws.
Wait! McGee interposed himself between Mullins, Yancey, and the
indignant Fouche. If you boys want souvenirs, go out and get them for
yourself. Mullins told Siddons to wait until he bagged his own game.
That goes here, too. Take 'em back, Mullins. A man of courage has a
right to his personal belongingseven after he is dead. Take them back
and let them be buried with him. By the way, he turned back to the
desk and picked up his report, I want a confirmation from Major Cowan.
Where is he?
Oh, I forgot to tell you, Mullins replied. He just jumped in a
side car and went streaking off to Wing, looking like he thought the
war had been won. And he took with him a nice little plum for
Intelligence. We found an order in that pilot's pocket that should have
been left behind.
Indeed? What was it? McGee asked.
It was in German, of course, Mullins continued, and Cowan is as
rotten in German as I am. But Siddons is a shark at it. Speaks half a
dozen languages, you know, and
No, I didn't know, McGee answered, cryptically.
Yeah, reads it like English. That order was to the effect that
their high command had received information that several air units were
located in this sector, and ours, in particular, was placed to a T. It
was an order for a bombing group to come over and give us an
initiation. 'Highly important! Highly important!' Cowan said, and
busted off for Wing. To watch him you'd think he had brought down the
plane. It's strange, though, how those square-heads find out every move
that is made on this side of the line.
They have a wonderful spy system, McGee said. We learned that
well enough up on the English front, where we had reason to feel sure
of the loyalty of every soldier. But the leaks get through. Cowan was
right, the order was highly important. The Intelligence Department do
some clever work with the bits of information gathered from first one
place and another. It's somewhat like piecing an old-fashioned pattern
quilt. A piece here, a piece there, all seemingly unrelated but in the
end presenting a distinct pattern. Yes, it's important, I dare say.
Mullins sighed, heavily. Well then, I suppose Cowan will come back
here with a chest on him like a Brigadier!
Yancey laughed, picked up McGee's report and handed it to Mullins.
Read thatespecially the last paragraph. When Cowan reads that I can
see his chest droppin' like a toy balloon that meets up with a pin. I
sure want to be hangin' around when it is presented to him. This war
has its compensations. Boys, make yourselves comfortable and await the
comin' of the mighty. It's worth stayin' up all night to see.
CHAPTER V. Orders for the Front
McGee's victory had a most salutary effect upon the personnel of the
squadron. They lost sight of the fact that he had been highly favored
by luck in the encounter and that but for luck, coupled with skill, the
balance might well have been in the enemy's favor. They began to look
upon victory as a luscious fruit that would always be served to their
tabledefeats were the bitterberries that the enemy must eat.
This attitude was greatly strengthened by another fortunate victory
of a squadron stationed at Toul. This squadron, while it boasted some
splendid flyers, was quite green and had much to learn. But, despite
this, they too had been victors in their first encounter with the
enemy, and in a manner quite as dramatic as had been McGee's victory.
And it was more widely heralded because the victor was wearing an
American uniform and the victory could be properly called the first
score for the Americans. It came about in this fashion:
A Spring day dawned, cold and foggy, and three members of the
squadron at Toul had gone on patrol. Their ardor was soon dampened by
the chill fog and they returned to their base. Shortly after their
return the alert was sounded and the report came that German planes
were coming over, concealed by the ceiling of fog. In a few moments
their motors could be heard above the town. That minute two Americans
left the ground, climbing rapidly toward the ceiling of fog. Just as
they neared it, two German planes came nosing down. They were barely
clear of the blinding fog cloud when they were attacked by the American
pilots. So swift was the attack, and so accurate the fire, that both
German planes were forced down and the two American pilots were back on
the ground in less than five minutes from the time of their take-off.
Luck? Yes, Luck and Skillthe two things that must walk hand in
hand with every war pilot. But there was no one to be found in all of
Toul who even hinted of luck. Had not the fight taken place in full
view of the townspeople? Had they not witnessed the daring and skill of
these Americans? Luck? Ask the citizens of Toul. Ah, mais non,
Messieurs! they would tell you. The German planes divedso.
Whoosh! Out of the cloud they came. And there were those precious
Americans, waiting for themand in just the right place. Is not that
skill, Monsieur? Then, taka-taka-taka-taka went their guns. Only
a minute so. Voila! The Boche are both out of control. Ah, that
is not luck, Monsieur.
All along the front American squadrons accepted the verdict as
evidence of superior flying ability, but McGee and Larkin, with the
knowledge bought by bitter experience, knew that perhaps in the very
next encounter the balance would be in favor of the other fellow. They
knew, too, that over-confidence is an ally singing a siren song. They
worked hard to dispel this over-confidence that had laid hold of the
group, but their words of warning fell on deaf ears.
This spirit of eager confidence was not peculiar to the air groups
near the front; it was a part of the entire American Expeditionary
Force. Where was this bloomin' war that seemed so difficult to win?
asked the American doughboy. Bring it on! Trot it out! Let's get it
over and get out of this Parlez vous land. Just give them a
crack at Fritz! Say! In no time at all they'd have Old Bill himself
trussed up in chains and carried back to the little old U.S.A., and
exhibited around the country at two-bits a peek. Guess that wouldn't be
a nifty way to help pay for the war! And as for the Crown Princewell,
over a hundred thousand American doughboys had promised to bring his
ears back to a hundred thousand sweet-heartsjust a little souvenir to
show what an American could do when he got going.
This same boastful confidence was present among the pilots with whom
McGee and Larkin were daily associated, but fortunately it was somewhat
counterbalanced by the long-delayed orders sending the squadron to the
front. April slipped away and May came. Still no orders. It was
maddening! Yancey, Fouche, Hampden, Hank Porter, Roddin fact all
members of the command, save Siddons, fretted and fumed and voiced
their opinions of a stupid G.H.Q., that failed to appreciate just what
a whale of a squadron this was.
Siddons accepted the delay in the same cool, indifferent manner with
which he met all the vexations of the army. It was as water on a duck's
back; he seemed not to care a hoot whether he ever engaged an enemy.
Then in May, with alarming suddenness and force, the German Crown
Prince began his great drive at Paris. His ears, it seemed, were yet
intact, and those Americans who had so earnestly hoped to get them were
soon to discover that the possessor thereof was all too safely
ensconced behind an advancing horde of German infantrymen who were
driving forward in a relentless, unhalting advance that struck terror
to the very heart of war-weary France. In three days the enemy forces
swept from the Aisne southward across the Vesle and the Ourcq. Their
most advanced position came to rest on the Marne.
For the second time the German army was on the banks of the Marne.
Papa Joffre had hurled them back from this river in the first year of
the war; now Marshal Foch must do as wellor France was doomed.
But Foch was handicapped. He had an army bled white by four years of
dreadful warfare. The French soldiers, no less valiant than when the
war began, found themselves too weak in numbers to stem the tide of an
advance conducted by an ambition crazed Crown Prince determined to
reach Paris regardless of the cost to him in human sacrifice.
Sullenly the French fell back, fighting like demons, contesting
every inch of the way, but none the less retreating. In this hour of
peril France turned her eyes upon the newly arrived and partially
trained Americans, and in those eyes, now almost hopeless, was a look
of mute, desperate appeal. It must be now or never!
All the roads leading back from the front were choked with refugees
too weary, too heartbroken, too barren of hope to do anything but hurry
their children before them and strain at their hand drawn, heavy carts
piled high with the household belongings which they hoped to save. Old
men, old women, the lame, the halt, the blind; dogs, cats, goats, with
here and there a dogcart, all struggling to the rear. Many came
empty-handed, facing they knew not what, and looking with pity upon the
French troops who were moving forward to battle the enemy unto death.
Ah, said the refugees, shrugging their shoulders, finis la
guerre! These poor Poilus of ours, they cannot stop the Boche. They
are too tired, too worn with war. If only we had new blood. If only the
Americans would come now. But no, perhaps it is now too late.
Behind them, all too close, rumbled and roared the angry gunsguns
of the enemy furrowing fields and leveling houses and villages; guns of
the French in savage defiance protesting every inch of advance and
holding on with a rapidly failing strength. Help must come now,
And help came. Two American divisions, ready for action, were
summoned by Foch to move forward with all possible speed. The 2nd
Division came hurrying from their rest billets near Chaumont-en-Vexin,
northwest of Paris; the 3rd Division came thundering by train and
camion from Chateau-Villain, southeast of Paris. Two converging lines
of fresh, eager warriors came marching, marching, the light of battle
in their eyes and with rollicking, boisterous songs on their lips. At
quick rout step they came. This was no parade; this was a new giant
coming up to test its strength. And all up and down the brown columns
the giant was singing as it came....
Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
Mademoiselle from Armentieres
Hasn't been kissed for forty years,
Hinkey Dinkey Parlez vous!
Slush, slog! Slush, slog! went the heavy hobnailed shoes slithering
through the mud and water of the roads. Mile after mile, hour after
hour. At the end of each weary hour a short rest, an easing of the
shoulders from the cutting pack straps. Ten minutes only did they rest.
Then down the long columns rang the sharp commands, Fall in. Fall in!
... Com-pan-ee ... Atten-shun! Forward, March! A few minutes in
cadenced marching and then the command, Rout stepMarch! Again the
confident, boisterous giant took up its song:
Good-bye Ma, good-bye Pa,
Good-bye mule with your old he-haw.
I may not know what the war's about
But I bet by Gosh I soon find out!
O, my sweetheart, don't you fear,
I'll bring you a king for a souvenir.
I'll bring you a Turk, and the Kaiser too,
And that's about all one feller can do.
Marching, singing, jesting, they pressed on until their advance
guard met the plodding, cheerless, downcast refugees. The French
peasants halted in their tracks, staring, unable to believe their eyes.
Here, in the flesh, by thousands upon thousands, was the answer to
their prayers. Perhaps it was not too late, after all. Here was new
strength, new courage.
Old men danced with joy, embracing their wives and children,
embracing one another, and tears of joy coursed down their wan, lined
Les Americains! they shouted. Vive l' Amerique! Nous
sauveurs sont arrivee! (The Americans! Long live America! Our
saviors have arrived.)
The cry spread; it ran up and down the roads and bypaths; it became
a magic sentence restoring courage throughout all France.
As for the resolute Americans, they merely plodded on, questioning
one another as to what all the shouting was about. Oh, so that was it?
Sure they were here, but why get excited about it? ... The Boche is
breaking through, eh? As you were, Papa, and keep your shirt on! And as
for that old lady over there by that cart, crying so softlysay!
somebody who can parley this language go over there and tell that old
lady not to cry any more. Tell her we'll fix it up, toot sweet. O-o-o!
La, la! Pipe the pretty mademoiselle over there driving that dogcart.
Ain't she the pippin though! Say
Fall in! Fall in!... Com-pan-ee, At-ten-shun! Forward, March!
Mademoiselle from Armentieres,
Mademoiselle from Armentieres...
A new giant was going in, a giant that did not yet know its own
strength, a somewhat clownish giant, singing as it came.
Those three days of the Crown Prince's drive on the Marne were dark
days for France. The French people listened eagerly for word from the
frontand prayed as they had never prayed before, while every American
unit, wherever billeted in France, waited impatiently for orders that
would send them in for their first baptism of fire.
McGee and Larkin, though supposed to be instructors and therefore
unmoved by the battle lust that had laid heavy hands on every pilot in
France, found themselves itching for action. They could smell battle
afar off; they knew the need of air supremacy at such a time. On the
flying field, and at squadron headquarters, they tried to cheer up the
depressed and sullen pilots who were chafing under the restraint of
inaction. But alone, in the home of Madame Beauchamp, they freely
expressed their feelings.
I can't see why this squadron is not ordered up, McGee said to
Larkin one night as they sat alone in their room. They are better
trained than we were when we hopped across the channel. Remember that
Yes indeed! That was our big day; it's exactly the same big day
these chaps are waiting for. There must be a great need of planes. I
understand the German Army has crashed through to the Marne. If they
pass there he shrugged his shoulders expressively.
They sat for a moment in silence, thinking the same gloomy thoughts
that were so staggering to all the people of the allied nations.
What if the squadron should be sent up? Larkin asked at last.
Just where would we get off?
McGee shook his head. Don't know, I'm sure. It's strange how we've
received no word on our applications for repatriation. I guess we are
stuck for the rest of the war. Instructors! Bah! I'm developing an itch
So am I, Larkin agreed. When we were first sent back from the
front, I'll admit I was glad enough to come. I was fed up. But I'm fed
up here now. And what can we do about it?
Well, for one thing I can go to bed, McGee replied yawning.
To-morrow is another day. He began unwinding one of his wrapped
puttees. Ever notice how much longer these blasted things are when you
are sleepy? he asked.
Just as he had finished with one, and had rolled it into a neat
ball, a motor cycle came popping into the yard. Buzz looked at Red
Wonder what that is? he asked.
The downstairs front door opened; heavy hobnail shoes sounded on the
Dunno, McGee answered, looking at the puttee roll in his hand.
But I'll wager it's something that will force me to put this thing on
again. I never got an order from headquarters in my life when I hadn't
just finished taking off my putts.
A heavy knock on the door.
An orderly entered, saluted smartly, and handed McGee a folded
paper. A note from Major Cowan, sir. He said there would be no
Very well. Thank you, Rawlins. For a moment I thought it might be
orders for the front.
No chance, sir. We're the goats of the air service. The war will be
over before we get a chance. I say they'd as well kept us at home where
we could get real food and sleep in real beds instead of these blasted
hay mows us enlisted men sleep in.
Right you are, Rawlins. I'll speak to the Commanding General about
it to-morrow. In the meantime, carry on, Rawlins.
Yes, sir. A smart salute, a stiff about face, and he was gone.
They could hear him grumbling as he went down the stairs.
McGee looked at the folded paper. On it, in Cowan's hand, was
written; To Lieutenants McGee and Larkin.
What is it? Larkin asked, impatiently.
McGee unfolded the sheet. Scrawled across it were these electrifying
Just finished talking over the phone to Wing. They inform me that
orders have been received approving your application for repatriation.
The order will come down in the morning. Congratulations. Cowan.
Red slapped Larkin on the back with sufficient force to start him
coughing and then began tousling his hair.
There, you old killjoy! he was shouting. Now stop your worrying.
What do you think of that?
Larkin began a clownish Highland fling that eloquently spoke his
thoughts. At last he came to rest, snapped his heels together, saluted
smartly and said:
Lieutenant Red McGee, U.S.A., I believe. How do you like thatyou
Maybe we'll be buck privates, for all you know.
No, same rank, Larkin answered. But believe me, I'm free to
confess now that I'd rather be a buck in Uncle Sam's little old army
than a brass hat in any other. Boy, shake!
Sometime after midnight, at least an hour after sleep had at last
overcome McGee's and Larkin's joyous excitement, a sleep-shattering
motor cycle again came pop-popping to their door. The dispatch bearer
hammered lustily on the barred front door until admitted by the
sleepy-eyed, white robed, grumbling Madame Beauchamp, and then
clattered up the stairs, two steps at a time. He pounded heavily on the
door of the sleeping pilots.
McGee fumbled around on the table at the side of the bed, found the
candle stub, and as the flaring match dispelled the shadows, called,
Come in! Don't beat the door down!
Rawlins fairly burst into the room. Major Cowan's compliments, sir,
and he directs you to report to the squadron at once.
Good heavens! At this hour? What's up, Rawlins?
Rawlins smiled expansively. Orders for the front, sir. They're
taking down the hangar tents now, and trucks will be here in the next
hour for baggage and equipment. All the ships are to be on the line,
checked and inspected an hour before dawn. The C.O. said to make it
snappy. He said a truck would come after your luggage. It's a madhouse
over at headquarters, sir.
Both pilots sprang from the bed.
Do you know where my orderly sleeps, Rawlins? McGee asked.
Go bounce him out and send him up here, tout suite! Tell
Major Cowan we'll be over on the double quick. By the way, Rawlins, do
you know where we're going?
No, sir. Secret orders, I understand. But I don't care a whoop just
so long as it's to the front.
Right you are. Toddle along, Rawlins. Buzz, light that other candle
over there. I can't even find my shoe by this light.
An hour later, with all personal equipment packed and ready for the
baggage truck, McGee and Larkin reported to Cowan, who was standing
outside headquarters, issuing orders with the rapidity of a machine
All set, sir, McGee said, and thanks for the note of
congratulations. In the nick of time, wasn't it? Otherwise we would
have been left behind.
I suppose so, the Major replied. Fact is, I don't know your
status now, and I don't know how to dispose of your case. I called Wing
and was told that your assignment hadn't come down. The personnel of
this squadron is complete. Here's a pretty pickle! Guess I'd better
pass the buck and send you back to Wing.
McGee's face fell. For once words failed him. He turned his eyes on
Larkin entered the breach manfully. Major Cowan, he began, when
we made application to get back under our own flag, we did it hoping
we'd go to the frontnot to the rear. This sudden order comes because
pilots are needed. The better trained they are, the better our chances
for victory. I'm not boasting, sir, but McGee and I have been in
action. We can be a help.
Yes, yes. Of course. I'd like to have you in my squadron, well
enough, but what about the red tape?
Wait until it catches up with us. Don't go looking for red tape to
fetter us, Larkin replied.
Hum-m! Cowan mused. He knew, none better, that here before him
stood two excellent pilots with a wealth of combat experience. If he
sent them back, doubtless some other squadron would draw them, and that
squadron commander would be the gainer, he the loser. Still, he had no
authority for taking them along. An assignment order would doubtless
reach them within twenty-four or forty-eight hours. Still and all, he
considered, much can happen in that timeespecially to an untried
squadron going into action. Such pilots as these were scarce, and many
were the commanders who would seek them. Well, he said at last, just
what would you do in my place?
It was a fair question, and one seldom heard from the lips of a
commanding officer. Coming from Cowan, it was doubly surprising, and
effectively blocked all pleas founded on sentiment and sympathy.
Now Larkin was stumped, but McGee was ready to take up the gage.
Major Cowan, I have been in the service long enough to know that
the wise army man always gets out from under. Pass the buck. It's the
grand old game. But I see a way out. If I were in your position I would
direct the issue of an order sending us back. But, he added as Cowan
evidenced surprise, I'd manage to have that order mislaid in the
Cowan nervously paced back and forth. Suddenly he wheeled in
decision. No, he said, I won't pass the buck; I won't shift the
responsibility. Passing the buck in training may be all very well, but
a commander who does so in action is not fitted for command. We are on
the eve of action. Report to Lieutenant Mullins, gentlemen, and tell
him I said you were to go along. See that your ships are ready at four
a.m. He turned and walked rapidly toward a group of ground men who
were loading a truck.
Larkin's eyes became wide with astonishment. Well what do you know
about that! Say, that bird is going to make a real C.O.
I think he is one now, McGee answered. Action does that to
CHAPTER VI. The Squadron Takes Wing
Only a war pilot can visualize the confusion and excitement incident
to moving a squadron base up to the front. There is work enough for all
even when such a move is foreseen and planned for days in advance, but
when a moving order comes down in the dead of nightas is so
frequently the casethen rank is forgotten. Pilots, Commanders, Supply
and Operations officers, air mechanics, flight leaders, in fact
everyone, from the C.O. down to the lowliest greaseball, pitches in
with a gusto sufficient to produce a miracle. For it is little short of
the miraculous to carry out an order, received at midnight, calling for
a movement at dawn. In fact, one inexperienced in army ways would
declare that it couldn't be done. But Great Headquarters considers only
what must be done, issues orders accordingly, and such is the magic of
discipline and proper spirit that lo! the thing is done. The
impossible becomes possibleand the ordinary!
And so it was with Major Cowan's squadron. The hour they had so long
awaited had come at last. So great was their zeal that with the first
hint of dawn in the east the planes were all on the field, properly
outfitted, finally checked, and ready to go. Even the planes seemed to
be huddled together, poised like vibrant butterflies, eager to take
McGee and Larkin well knew, from experience, the varied, conflicting
emotions felt by the members of the squadron. Standing near the barren
spot where the large hangar tent had been, they watched the various
members making their last minute preparations. Occasionally they
gathered in groups, all talking at once, and in hurriedly passing one
another they would slap each other on the back with a force greater
than needed in friendly greeting. It was the fevered reaction of
nerves! They had waited for this hour, yes, and at last they were going
up to the front; but every man of them knew that some of them would
never come back. There was a grim gateman up there where the guns
roared, waiting to take his toll.
They think they are going right in, Larkin said to Red, as he
watched a pilot by the name of Carpenter make the last of at least a
dozen inspections of his two machine guns. We haven't the foggiest
notion where we are going, but I'll wager we won't see action for
I think you are wrong there, McGee replied. There's a tremendous
push up on the Marne. My guess would be that we will go somewhere in
the neighborhood of Epernayprobably to take over a sector patrolled
by a French squadron so that they can be used on the more active front
around Chateau-Thierry or up around Rheims. Hullo! There goes the siren
and here comes the Major. We will know soon enough now.
I'll wager you a dinner it's another soft spotno action, Larkin
Done! You are through with soft spots now.
Major Cowan's quick walk spoke volumes. The pilots shouted
derisively at the sound of the siren, a distressingly noisy contrivance
designed to arouse sleepy pilots and turn them out for dawn patrol.
Fall in! Fall in! Mullins began shouting. You act like a bunch of
sheep! Line up there!
Call the roll of officers, Cowan ordered.
A staff sergeant, who had kept his wits sufficiently to rescue the
roll from another headquarters non-com who was packing everything in
one of the trucks, came hurrying forward with the roll. The names were
droned off. The Here! that responded to each name was a full
commentary on the mental attitude of the respondent. Yancey, for
instance, fairly shouted his, while Rodd hesitated, seeming to search
for an even smaller word. Carpenter's here, was little more than a
whisper, as might come from one who was making an admission which he
wished circumstances had ordered otherwise. And the rotund little
McWilliams answered in a manner that convinced McGee that Mac was
really wishing he were not here.
McGee and Larkin, not yet carried on the roll, stood to one side,
conscious of the fact that they were still wearing uniforms of the
Royal Flying Corps. They felt like two lost sheep.
Look at their faces, Red whispered to Larkin. Faces tell a lot.
They're keen to go, all right, but take Carpenter and McWilliams, for
instance. Scared stiff. They're expecting to meet an entire Hun Circus
between here andand wherever we are going.
The roll call ended.
Gentlemen, Major Cowan began, his voice crisp and business-like,
we have been ordered up to La Ferte sous Jouarre, due southwest of the
The exclamation of surprise forced him to pause. McGee gave Larkin a
dig in the ribs. I win, he said. That's no soft spot.
But, Major Cowan continued, for some reason Brigade has seen fit
to divide the journey into two parts. Possibly to permit our trucks to
reach there ahead of us, but more probably because it lacks faith in
our ability to make the change without scattering our ships all along
the line of flight. For my part, I have no such fear. I think I know
the ability of this pursuit group. He hesitated, to let this sink in.
And it was well that he did. Yancey gasped, and began coughing to cover
it up. Hank Porter stepped on Hampden's boot with great force. Hampden
in turn nudged Siddons, who alone of all the group displayed no
emotion. Never before had these men heard Cowan indulge in compliment.
Something had come over him. His moustache actually looked a little
more like a man's moustache. In fact, Yancey thought, the
blasted thing was almost military.
However, Cowan continued, we will fly to a field just south of
Epernay to-day. To-morrow morning we will take off and continue a
course, almost parallel with the present lines, to La Ferte sous
Jouarre. Our destination has been kept confidential until this moment.
From necessity, of course, I have gone over the maps and our course
with the flight leaders. They know the way. In case one of them should
be forced down, that flight will double up with one of the others. You
have little to worry about. Keep your head and remember where you are
going. If forced down, proceed to La Ferte sous Jouarre, on the
Paris-Metz road, at the earliest moment. But, he added, slowly, as I
said before, I expect to see us arrive there together, and in order.
That is all, gentlemen. Yonder comes the sun. To your ships now, and
look sharp as you take off. Remember, this is no joy-ride. Hold your
The pilots broke into a run for their ships, slapping one another on
the shoulder as they ran.
Luck, old war horse.
Same to you, big feller.
Hey, Yancey! If you're leading B Flight, give her the gun and
high-tail it. The war's waiting!
S'long, Hank. Luck, feller.
Get a waddle on, Mac. The war's lookin' up, eh?
I hope to spit in your mess kit.
Laughing, bantering, shouting, they climbed into their planes. The
helpers stood at the wings, ready to take out the chocks when the
motors had warmed; the mechanics took their places at the props. How
envious they were! The little wasps that they had so carefully groomed
were going forward to the battle zone, and every mechanic offered up
prayer that his ship would function perfectly and make good the hope
which Cowan had expressed.
A prop went over, whish! The first motor caught and roared.
Another ... another ... bedlam now. No longer any shouting, only a
waving of hands, a few last minute adjustments as the motors warmed and
sent a mighty dust cloud whirling back to obliterate the spot where the
hangar had stood.
Straight ahead, a fiery red ball rose over a slate-colored hedge. A
long flight of ravens crossed directly before the rising sun. Huh!
Clumsy fellows. And slow. Better come over and take some lessons from
some real birds.
Cowan's plane moved forward slowly, roared into life and fairly
sprang into the fiery eye of the sun. Numbers two and three followed,
skimming the dew drenched grass like swallows over a lake. Then four
and five. By George, this was something like! This was worth waiting
The falconer of war had unhooded his new brood of hawks and they
mounted up, free of bells and jesses.
The flight to the airdrome some six kilometers south of Epernay was
made without incident. That is, it was thought to be without incident
until Yancey, leading B Flight, reported to Cowan that Siddons had been
forced down by some trouble over Vitry. Cowan was evidently displeased.
He had hoped for a perfect score.
What was the matter? he demanded, the ends of his moustache
Don't know, sir. He kept droppin' back. I swung alongside but I
couldn't savvy his signals. He kept pointin' back at his tail. I
couldn't see anything wrong, but there's a big 'drome at Vitry and he
signaled me that he was goin' down. I hung around to watch his landin'
and then hustled back to my flight.
Fuel up, fly back there and see what's wrong, Cowan ordered. I've
a sneaky suspicion that he wasn't as bad off as he made out.
As Yancey turned toward his ship, McGee came up, smiling with
pleasure over the success of the flight.
Just a minute, Yancey! Cowan called. I've changed my mind. You
needn't go back.
He drew McGee to one side. Do you remember passing over the French
'drome outside of Vitry? he asked.
Your plane is in good order?
Good. Yancey tells me that Siddons was forced down there. I want
you to refuel, go back there and see what the trouble was. I have my
Yes? McGee queried.
That fellow hates formation flying like the devil hates holy
water, Cowan answered. He's a joy-rider. He knows how anxious I am to
effect this move without a hitch, and he also knows there'll be no
passes into Epernay to-night. I've a hunch Vitry looked good to him. I
want you to find out.
Very well, sir.
I'm sending you, Cowan explained, smiling faintly, because it
doesn't make so much difference if you get lost, since you are merely
'also along', and also because I don't expect you to get lost. Report
to me upon your return.
The mission was not particularly pleasing to McGee. Chasing around
after Siddons was not his idea of a riotous time.
It was some fifty-five kilometers back to Vitry, but with a good
tail wind he made it in quick time. The French major in command of the
squadron stationed there was exceedingly gracious. Yes, the American
had landed, he told McGee, but he had taken off again within the hour.
The trouble? Well, he complained that his rudder was jamming, but the
mechanics could not find anything wrong. He had said, also, that his
motor was running too hot. Perhaps, the major suggested, with an
understanding smile, this one had rather fly alone, hein? So
many of them wouldand especially by way of Paris, or other good
towns. Yes, he had given his destinationLa Ferte sous Jouarre, but is
not that on a direct line for Paris, Monsieur? These youthful ones,
would they never learn that this was a serious business? But no,
Monsieur, they are young, and how can you make one fear discipline who
daily faces death? Poof! It was the grave problem.
McGee left Vitry with his own conclusions. So Siddons had pulled a
forced landing in order to go for a joy-ride. Now he was off having a
fine time and would claim that his delay at Vitry was so long that he
thought it best to head for La Ferte. Well, they would have him there.
He had not reckoned that Cowan would send someone back.
Upon McGee's return to the squadron, Cowan was too busy to see him,
nor did he send for him until after mess that night. When McGee arrived
at the Major's temporary quarters he found him in company with Mullins,
the Operations officer, and both were bending over a large map spread
out on the table.
Cowan looked up with the quick, exasperated nervousness which he
always displayed when interrupted.
Well! he barked, crisply.
You sent for me, sir?
Yes, yes. I had forgotten. What about Siddons?
McGee had decided to shield Siddons to the extent of not reporting
the fact that the mechanics at Vitry had found nothing wrong with the
plane. A squealer gains no friends in the Army.
I don't know where he is, Major. He landed at Vitry, complaining of
a jamming rudder and heating engine. He took off again in an hour. He
hasn't showed up yet. Perhaps he thought it best to go on to La Ferte.
Humph! Cowan retorted, the pointed ends of his moustache
twitching. Maybe he did! He needs grounding. I'd send him to
Observation if the Chief of Air hadn't ordered us to quit using
observation work for punishment. They crack up those crates too fast.
And Siddons is just the kind to do that sort of trick. He's a good
flyer, certainly, butwhat would you do with him, McGee?
Oh, I say now
Rats! Mullins, how would you handle him? He's a cold fish, you
Mullins gulped. He was not accustomed to having Cowan ask his
opinion about anything. However, here was a golden opportunity.
Cold or hot, I'd let that bird cool off a little more on the
ground. He's been joy-riding ever since we drew ships. We'll go into
action soon, don't you think?
Keep him out of the first patrol. He'll come whining to you and
he'll sit up and be nice from then on.
Hum-m! Cowan again bent over the maps.
Anything else, Major? McGee asked.
No ... Yes, wait! he called as McGee reached the door. You have
had a lot of combat experience, Lieutenant. I don't mind telling you
that the load of responsibility gets heavier as we approach action. He
turned away from the table, walked to the window, and stood gazing out
into the utter blackness of the night. I wonder, he mused, his voice
subdued, if any of you truly appreciate the weight of the
Mullins glanced at McGee, wonderingly. Both were thinking the same
thoughts. Here was a man, who, until the last forty-eight hours, had
always been quite sufficient unto himself. Now a sudden change had come
over him. One of two things was certain: either he was breaking, and
would soon be taken from command for inefficiency; or he was a strong
man indeed, strong enough to admit weaknesses, unblushingly seek aid,
and make use of all available knowledge.
Mullins, in his own mind, decided it was the former; McGee, in his
mind, was confident that it was the latter, and he warmed to him.
No matter, Cowan himself made reply to his unanswered question as
he turned from the window with much of his old self-confidence.
Responsibility is a thing which command imposesand which I accept.
However, that does not prevent me from profiting by the experience of
others, as I expect to do in your case, McGee.
If I can help
You can. A recent report from General Mitchell declares that
casualties from all causes have been as high as eighty per cent per
month in squadrons at the front. That's pretty stiff! Fortunately, the
General points out, the enemy losses have been as great, or even
greater. I don't want to leave a stone unturned that may help us to
decrease that percentage in this pursuit groupand increase it
among the enemy! Here, take a look at this map, McGee.
He stepped to the table and with a pencil drew a circle around a
spot south of Epernay. We are here, he said. The lines are here. He
moved the pencil to the northwest of Epernay, where the heavy black
lines indicating the front crossed the Marne. Notice that the lines
swing southwest through Comblizy and la Chapelle, then northwest again,
back to the Marne, and on to Chateau-Thierry. To-morrow we are to go
here. He circled a spot just south of La Ferte sous Jouarre. See
anything peculiar in this situation? He studied closely the faces of
the two junior officers. Mullins offered no reply.
I think it peculiar that we have come up here, miles out of our way
to the north, when our destination is considerably southwest of us,
Exactly! Cowan replied, approvingly. But there is a reason for
itto mislead the enemy. Their Intelligence Department seems to learn
of every move we make, and sometimes learns of it in advance of
that move. That's the real reason we are here.
I don't get it, Mullins said, shaking his head.
The order sending us here came down in the regular way, Cowan
explained, but the order that takes us to La Ferte, to-morrow morning,
was highly confidential. I did not disclose it until the moment of our
departure, and only then so that anyone forced down would know our
destination. There is to be a considerable concentration of air forces
on the apex of the salient between la Chapelle, this side of
Chateau-Thierry, and Villers-Cotterets, on the other side. It is the
beginning of a movement of concentration to drive the enemy back beyond
the Vesle. Hence the secrecy, and the effort to mislead the enemy as to
McGee smiled, somewhat skeptically.
What's wrong with that? Cowan challenged.
The enemy isn't so easily misled, Major, McGee answered. We
learned that lesson on the English front, and learned it through bitter
experience. If the Hun doesn't know right now where we are going, he
will know of our arrival twenty-four hours after we get there. If he
fails to foresee our concentration at this point, he is thick-headed
and slow-witted indeed. I, for one, do not consider him slow-witted.
About the only secret we keep from him is the order that is never
Cowan frowned. I suppose you are right. But how does all this
information leak through?
If I knew that, Major, I'd be too valuable to be a pursuit pilot.
If we knew where the leaks were we could plug them by making use of
several good firing squads.
You are right, Cowan agreed, and again bent over the map, studying
it with minutest care. See here, he said at last. If we flew a true
course from here to La Ferte we would parallel the front for several
miles. Here, just south of la Chapelle, we'd be within three miles of
the line. That's pretty close for a green squadron, don't you think?
We'll be closer than that in the next few daysby exactly three
miles! Mullins answered. Personally, I'd like to have a look-see at
the jolly old Hun.
I don't think you need worry, Major, McGee offered. It isn't
likely that we will run into any of them, and if we should we would so
outnumber them that they would establish some new records in
high-tailing it home.
You think so? Cowan seemed so unduly disturbed over so remote a
prospect that McGee found himself again doubting the Major's courage.
I do. Why, look at our strength! The Boche prefers to have the
numerical superiority on his side.
But you'd take up combat formation, of course?
Yes, and in echelon, one flight above another by a margin of three
thousand feet. Then, if the beggar wants to jump on that sort of buzz
saw, let him comeand welcome.
There will be time enough to welcome him when we reach our new
baseall present or accounted for, Cowan replied. You have no
objection to flying in the top flight with me to-morrow?
Why, no sir. Of course not. I'll be honored.
Bosh! No flattery, Lieutenant. I don't expect itespecially from
Seemingly quite exasperated, Cowan turned away, walked quickly to
the window and again stood looking out into the night. Mullins winked
at McGee and made a quivering motion with his hand, indicating that he
thought Cowan was suffering from a case of nerves.
The Major turned from the window and stared at Mullins with a cold,
but studious eye. It made the Operations officer exceedingly
You forget, Lieutenant Mullins, that a window facing a dark
courtyard provides a most excellent mirror. Nerves, eh? Well, we shall
see. If a commander seeks counsel, some are likely to think him a fool.
If he does not, he is a fool. When I said to McGee, 'no
flattery' I meant just that. Furthermore, I don't mind telling both of
you that I know the regard in which I am held by someperhaps allof
the members of this squadron. I even know my nickname, 'Old
Fuss-Budget'. Humph! A hard master always wins the name of 'old'
something or other. I don't care a hoot about that. I don't care a hoot
about the opinions of any man in this group if only the result of their
training shows a balance in favor of our country. Am I right or wrong?
McGee and Mullins were too surprised to offer reply. This was quite
the longest speech Cowan had ever made in their presence; certainly it
was the most frank.
Well, Cowan continued, I have applied the goad whenever and
wherever I thought it needed. I have been goaded in turn, and took it
without whimpering. I wonder, Lieutenant, he turned to McGee, if you
remember the report you made on that Hun you shot down over our
Whyyes, sir, I do.
And the recommendation you tacked on to it?
Yes, sir. Pretty warm, this, McGee thought.
Then you will recall that it did not reflect any too much credit on
me, as the man responsible for any failure on the part of any member of
this command. But I did not ask you to change the dotting of an I or
the crossing of a T. Nor did you hear a word out of me when I received
my bawling out. The army is like that. From enlisted man to Commanding
General, every fellow thinks he is the only one with a prod in his
side. The truth is, the greater the rank, the higher the
responsibility, and the sharper the gaff. I often wish for the quiet,
untroubled mind of a buck privateand I thank Heaven that I am only a
Major. Which reminds me that I am one, and had better cut out
conversation and fall to work.
His expression changed instantly; he became again the nervous,
irascible, driving commander.
As for wanting you in the top flight, he plunged into his quick
manner of speaking, it is because I want someone there whose eyes are
trained at picking up enemy planes. Doubtless I will get severely
reprimanded for bringing you along, so I had as well get the greatest
possible good out of your experience. You will inform Lieutenant Larkin
that he is to go in B Flight, with Yancey.
Very well, sir. But if you really fear any trouble, Larkin will be
more effective in the top flight. Altitude means a lotand I always
feel safer when he is sticking around close to me.
No, I want him with Yancey. We might get separated, and if I draw
an ace for myself, I should give Yancey as good a card.
McGee smiled at the pun. Very well, sir, but while speaking of
aces, it's always best to have 'em up. And the higher up the better.
Larkin is a great pilot when he has plenty of altituderight where a
lot of the others fall down. Take him with you and let me go with
Oh, very well. I started in to ask for advice and I had as well
take it. That will be all to-night, Lieutenant. No, wait! One other
thing: Say nothing to anyone about Siddons going off joy-riding. Let
them think he is still at Vitry. I want to handle him my own way,
without stirring up any comment. If they find out he cut formation on a
trumped up hokus-pokus, they would think I should ground him.
Mullins' jaw dropped in surprise and astonishment. Aren't you going
to ground him? he asked.
I am not! I'm going to see that he draws some hot stuff. I've a
nice little mission all figured out for him.
A glint in Cowan's eyes testified that he was again the
self-sufficient commander, confident of his decisions and determined
upon his course of action.
CHAPTER VII. Von Herzmann Strikes
At dawn the following morning, well behind the German lines in the
vicinity of Roncheres, Count von Herzmann's famous Circus was making
feverish haste to take the air. Von Herzmann himself was coolly
instructing the pilots in the purposes of their coming expedition. His
elation was great indeed, and his entire manner, as well as the pleased
smile that played over his youthful, handsome face, indicated that he
was confident of victory. Confidence, however, was no new trait in von
Herzmann. He always possessed it, but it stopped just short of blind
egotism. Perhaps therein could be found the reason for his fame and his
success. He was no blundering, egobefuddled braggart riding for a fall;
he was a splendid pilot, a careful tactician, fearless when
fearlessness was needed and cautious when caution would bring greater
reward than blind valor. In short, his fame rested securely upon
ability. He was one of the idols of his countrymen, and he was a
scourge both feared and respected by the allied air forces. The ships
of his Circus were painted in whatever gaudy colors proved appealing to
the pilots thereof, but the fuselage of each bore the famous insignia
of the Circusthe defiant German eagle with its blood red feet and
talons supported on a scroll bearing the legend, Gott Mit Uns.
And indeed it did seem that this Circus was providentially watched
For more than a year the watchword of the French and English had
been, Get von Herzmann. It was an easy phrase to coin, but extremely
difficult to execute. Many a French and English pilot had gone gunning
for him, but most of these were now in their graves. Those who escaped
were a little less enthusiastic in their next search for this skilled
airman who had run up a total of more than two score victories.
Von Herzmann, in addition to being a skilled pilot, was as elusive
as a ghost. He was here, there, everywhere. Wherever there was a heavy
drive or a sturdy, sullen defensive, there could be found Count von
Herzmann. The Allies, making use of this knowledge, had sent out many
bombing expeditions to blast the nest of this troublesome Circus from
the face of the earth, but their deadly bombs fell upon deserted, decoy
As is always the case, those who exhibit a certain degree of
excellence find ready help at the hand of admirers who wish them still
further success and acclaim. It was so in von Herzmann's case. The
German army could ill afford to lose one who was so brilliant in his
operations and so firmly established as one of the popular national
idols. The German Intelligence Department gave him all possible
assistance, thereby not only saving his precious neck but furnishing
still more glamorous stories for a populace that was daily becoming
more disheartened and weary with war.
On this morning at Roncheres, von Herzmann was again preparing to
shake another plum into his lap. Military Intelligence had received
word late the previous evening that an American Pursuit Squadron would
on the following morning leave from a 'drome south of Epernay and
proceed to a new base south of La Ferte sous Jouarre. Doubtless they
would parallel the line south of la Chapelle. What could be simpler
than to send forth von Herzmann with the full strength of his justly
famous Circus to intercept these untried Americans? Here was a ripe
plum indeedto be had for the picking!
Von Herzmann was particularly well pleased. He smiled as he climbed
jauntily into his gaudy green and gold Fokker tri-plane. So the stupid
Americans had thought to lead the German High Command astray by such a
clumsy movement? Ha! They forgot that a good spy system is like wheels
within wheels. But they would learnin time.
Smiling, he examined his twin Spandau machine guns. Then he glanced
along the line of ships making up the first flight. Yes, they were
ready, awaiting his signal, their idling motors purring like so many
contented cats. The smiling, blond von Herzmann lifted his hand in
signal. The purring sound changed to the deafening roar of a hundred
infuriated jungle cats. The leading plane raced along the green field,
and a moment later the first flight of von Herzmann's great Circus
leaped into the air, climbed rapidly, and laid a course for a cloud
bank hanging over the lines above Comblizy.
How often the youthful, clever von Herzmann had made use of
shielding cloud banks, or lacking clouds had placed himself above his
adversary, squarely in the blinding sun. One of the two, or both
perhaps, would serve him again this morning.
His smile grew broader as he neared the front. It was thrilling,
this hunting business, and it was made decidedly easier when
Intelligence cooperated fully, as they had done in this instance. He
knew the strength of his quarry, their lack of experience, and the
report had included the statement that two of the planes were piloted
by instructors fresh from the English front, flying English Camels. Two
hated Englanders, eh? Gott strafe England! He would single them
out and take care of them, one at a time. The rest of his command would
scatter the others like quails, and the survivors, not well acquainted
with the terrain, would have a nice problem in finding their way to La
Ferte. Himmel! but it was a pleasing prospect.
Major Cowan's squadron had been slightly delayed in starting by two
malfunctioning Nieuports. A precious half hour was spent in correcting
the difficulty and the sun had changed from a dull red ball to a
blinding white disk racing up the eastern sky wall by the time the
flights had gained proper altitude and laid a true course for La Ferte
The top flight, with Cowan leading, had climbed to twelve thousand
feet. B Flight, under Yancey, was some three thousand feet under him
and somewhat in advance. This gave the top flight a greater protective
power and insured the bottom flight against any surprise attack. Not
only were the flights in echelon, but the planes of each unit were also
echeloned, each plane being slightly above the one directly ahead. It
was a formidable formation, capable of being readily manoeuvered and
with each pilot insured the best possible vision.
A few white, vapory clouds hung high over the trenches toward
Comblizy, and still heavier banks were to be seen to the south of la
Chapelle, hanging over the Surmelin Valley. In all other directions the
sky presented that fathomless blue so well known to all pilots who
ascend above ten thousand feet. The open space between these apparently
unmoving cloud banks was some three or four miles in width.
Larkin, in the top flight with Major Cowan, had taken up position as
the hindermost plane in the group and had, therefore, the greatest
altitude. As a rule, he never was satisfied with his altitude until he
had pushed his plane somewhere near the limit of its climbing ability.
He was a splendid pilot at great altitude, and he had learned from
experience that many pilots capable of doing good work at the lower
levels flounder around like fish out of water when above twelve
thousand feet. This being equally true of friend and foe, Larkin always
felt better when he was high enough not to have any worry about someone
coming down on him. He preferred having his enemies below rather than
This morning, however, he took no thought of the matter. Before
taking off Major Cowan had said no more than, Look sharp when we get
south of la Chapelle; head on a pivot, you know. Shucks! Slim chance
for any excitement with a group like this. Even if they sighted a small
enemy patrol they would have to go merrily on their way and leave the
game to someone else. However, a war pilot with skill enough to become
such an ace as Larkin needs little caution about looking sharp. It is
habit with him, and those who fail to develop the habit are only a few
hours or days removed from sudden disaster.
There was little enough to see. They were flying westward. Again and
again Larkin turned his head around, closed one eye and placing a thumb
close to his open eye squinted into the blinding sun. Many times, by
the employment of that little trick, he had been able to momentarily
diffuse the sun's rays sufficiently to catch the faintest blurred
outline of enemy planes sitting in the sun and waiting for the proper
moment to dive.
This morning the sun seemed unusually bright and blinding. Somewhat
ahead, and to the south, three large French observation planes were
coming up toward the lines at la Chapelle. They were just about even,
vertically, with the cloud bank over the Surmelin Valley. They would
pass almost directly under the bottom flight, led by Yancey.
Larkin watched them, somewhat idly. Photographic mission, probably.
Then, with little or no interest in them, his eye ran along the two
converging lines of planes that made up Yancey's flight. That moment he
noticed McGee's plane cut out of position and zoom up at an angle too
steep to be maintained. Then McGee's plane levelled off and was hurled
through a series of quick acrobatics. It meant but one
Larkin jerked his head around and squinted into the sun. Not a thing
thereat least nothing he could seeand as soon as the stabbing
streaks of light left his eyes he glanced toward the cloud bank over
the Marne. Nothing there. The three French observation busses, far
below, were going gaily on their way. But McGee was still climbing and
stunting. Larkin knew that this was no idle exhibition. McGee didn't
fly that way. He was trying to draw their attention to something.
Larkin looked ahead at Cowan's plane. That moment the Major dipped
his plane twice. Now what in the world did he mean by that? Larkin
wondered. Merely that he had noticed McGee and was on the alert? Or did
he mean that he too had seen the enemy? Enemy! Where was the enemy?
Again Larkin turned his head to try the sun. Nothing there ... yes,
by George! there was a blur of black spots. But it was such a fleeting
view that he could not be sure, and tried again. Blast the sun! It made
him blind as a bat!
He closed his eyes to cut out the dancing sparks and pin wheels. He
opened them again, and on turning for one more trial at the sun his eye
fell upon the cloud bank to the north. Talk about being blind! Blind as
a bat was right!
There, dark, dim and shadowy against the cloud were more German
planes than he had ever before seen in one group, and their angle of
direction left no question as to their purpose.
Again he tried the sun. Yes, there they were! No question about it
now. They were coming down, and in so doing were no longer completely
within the eye of the sun. Pretty slick! A group behind to cut off
retreat and another group coming out of the clouds at an angle that
would intercept the line of flight. And that cloud was fairly raining
Well! Larkin exclaimed aloud. Here's a howdy-do!
The planes to the eastward were looming up with surprising speed,
and no one could say when the ones behind and above would open up their
murderous guns. What would Cowan do? What would any of these green
pilots do in such a dog fight? Larkin looked down at McGee. He was
still climbing for all he was worth. Cowan, if he saw anything, was too
paralyzed for action. But perhaps he had not seen. Air eyes come
through experience, Larkin knew, and something must be done right now.
In the moment that he determined upon a course of action he saw
another group of planes come streaming out of the cloud to the south.
Curtains! The whole sky was full of planes. Then, as they swerved
sharply, he saw the sunlight play on the allied cockade. And how they
came! Spads, French Spads! Going up to the front, perhaps, as a
covering flight for the observation crates far below. But now they were
swinging into this grand and unexpected melee.
Larkin grinned. Here is a howdy-dosure 'nuff! he repeated
and went into a tight, climbing turn that brought him squarely around,
facing the planes streaming down out of the sun. Taps for Mr. Larkin,
he thought, but he would at least give them pause, and by so doing not
only provide Cowan with a chance to wake up and manoeuver, but it would
give the oncoming Spads the one thing they neededtime!
The lightning-like movements and happenings of an aerial dog fight
cannot be followed or seen by any one man. Fortunate indeed is that
pilot who can keep track of what is going on around him. One moment he
may have a single adversary; the next he is the target for two or more
planes. If he shakes them off, or by marksmanship reduces the odds, he
may check in for mess that evening; failing to do so, a squadron
commander will that night requisition a new pilot.
As Larkin came around on the quickly executed turn he was only
faintly conscious of the fact that a considerable group of Fokker
tri-planes were sweeping down on him. He gave no thought to the number.
His eye was fixed upon a bright green and gold plane in the lead. As he
pulled up the nose of his Camel and thumbed the trigger release for his
first burst, he sensed the strange exultation that comes to that man
who, facing death in a forlorn hope and knowing there is no escape,
accepts all chances and sells his life as dearly as possible.
The diving green and gold plane flashed across his ring sights as
the Lewis gun poured forth its first burst. Square into the oncoming
plane the tracers poured. Larkin, seeing that he was on, held his nose
up until he knew he was about to stall.
The green plane dipped, dived under him, and Larkin noticed another
plane flash past him, bent on other game. Then splinters flew from one
of his struts and a bullet smacked against the instrument board.
He had lost flying speed on his zoom to get at the green plane. To
regain speed, and give life to his laboring motor, he dived sharply.
At the beginning of this dive a glance told him that the green plane
had suffered an injury vital enough to cause it to lose all interest in
any return to the attack.
During the first flashing seconds of the attack Larkin's mind had
been occupied only with the thought of hurling himself at the oncoming
planes in the forlorn hope of diverting their course of action for a
few brief but precious minutes. Suddenly, now, the fleeing green and
gold plane awakened memory. Green and gold! Could that be the plane of
the renowned von Herzmann, who from the beginning of his fame had
advertised himself as the man who always flew a brightly painted green
and gold plane?
Another Fokker dived at Larkin, his Spandaus rattling. His aim was
wild and he overshot Larkin's steep dive. But in that dive, which
brought him all too close, Larkin caught sight of the insignia on the
planea German eagle perched on a lettered scroll. It was von
Larkin's heart leaped. He kicked his left rudder savagely and
wheeled left, thundering after the green and gold plane that was
streaking homeward. Get that plane, get that plane! ran through his
mind. All else faded. The presence of other planes, and his original
plan, all were lost sight of in the pulse-quickening realization that
he had crippled the plane of the famous ace in that first burst. Now to
get him and bring him down! Von Herzmann was not one to cut and run
unless there was an urgent reason for it. He was trying to tool a
crippled plane back across the lines. Larkin, determined to make the
most of this golden opportunity, forthwith lost sight of all else.
Ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka! Crash! Splinters flew from Larkin's cowling
and two gashes suddenly appeared in the fabric of his left wing. So!
The crippled eagle had loyal kingbirds for protectors, and they had
plunged, pecking, at the Camel pursuing their leader.
Larkin dived clear of the streaming bullets, zoomed upward into a
half loop and rolled into position to fire at the leading attacker. The
German was slow and Larkin poured a stream of lead into the cockpit. He
saw the pilot stiffen, as one who has received a sudden shock or
surprise, and then slump down. The plane thundered on for a moment,
then nosed down, out of control.
Ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka-ta-ka! Larkin saw tracers zipping past the nose of
the plane. He side-slipped, out of the line of fire, and glanced back.
Two more kingbirds coming to the relief of the fleeing eagle.
Ta-ka-ta-kathe Spandaus again began their monotonous, metallic
stutter. Into the cockpit of Larkin's plane streamed a half dozen
deadly pellets. Two of them pinged against the instrument board,
another passed completely through the cockpit, just in front of his
stomach. He felt suddenly cold at the nearness of death as he zoomed
steeply into a quivering stall and slipped off into a spin.
He was conscious of the fact that both the Fokkers were thundering
after him. Then a Camel, with the speed of a thunderbolt, flashed
across his line of vision. He could see the Lewis gun quivering with
little excited jumps as it poured out lead. Good old McGee! He always
turned up when needed most.
Larkin neutralized the stick, then ruddered hard left against the
spin, and thus stopped the tail spin. Then, gaining speed by a quick
dive, he looped with a suddenness that brought the Camel squarely on
the tail of the remaining pursuer who was diving steeply. Both guns
began jumping with delight as Larkin thumbed the releases. What luck!
Square in the ring sight! The telltale tracers poked their white
fingers into the vitals of the Fokker tri-plane. A serpent-like tongue
of red licked out, fluttering for a moment like a wind blown candle
flame, and then leaped afresh in an enveloping burst of flame and
He glanced around. McGee was in a merry game with the other
kingbird. Round and round they plunged in steep spirals, each trying to
get a glimpse of the other across the sights. A tight, breath-taking
game, but one which cannot last long. The circle becomes too small, the
pace too swift. It was a game in which, Larkin knew, the tri-plane
Fokker could excel the Camel, granting that the pilots were of equal
Larkin jockeyed for position, but in that moment when his eye was
taken from the mad game of ring-around-the-rosy, McGee demonstrated
that the skill was not equally placed. The Fokker was now spinning
down, obviously out of control, and McGee was following, filling it
with enough lead to sink it. It spun earthward, sickening in its
McGee pulled up on his stick, banked sharply, bringing himself
alongside Larkin. They waved to each other, exultantly. Larkin, who a
few minutes ago had decided that his luck had played out its string,
swallowed his heart, murmured Whew! and surveyed the field.
The green and gold plane of von Herzmann was now a rapidly
diminishing speck against the cloud bank toward la Chapelle, streaking
for the Fatherland. The others, lacking a leader, and facing unequal
chances with the timely and unexpected appearance of the French Spads,
were withdrawing from the action with all the speed they could get out
of their wonderful motors. And that was speed enough.
The French Spads had come out of a cloud bank just in time to upset
the well laid plans of the German ace, and that worthy, never expecting
such a dare-devil, self-sacrificing move as made by Larkin, had for
once been taken by surprise. He had been damaged enough to force
immediate retirement. The celerity with which his group abandoned the
project and followed in his wake gave glowing tribute to the true value
and leadership of that youth who flew the green and gold plane. With
him as leader, they would have taken a toll, despite the unexpected
arrival of the Spads. But with von Herzmann, their idol and their
pride, forced from the fight by a hated Englander flying a dinky little
Camelwell, the Fatherland could be served some other day.
But von Herzmann had been right in his boast that he would scatter
the Americans like quails. As the French Spads pursued the fleeing
Fokkers, which were numerically strong enough to make a too vigorous
pursuit unwise and unhealthy, Major Cowan took up the task of gathering
his brood. He flew around, bringing them together, signaling
instructions to take up positions, and pointing westward along the line
of flight. Three of his brood, however, were crushed and crumpled
fledglings on the ground far below. Carpenter, and fat, jolly little
McWilliams, had collided while engaging an enemy. Their crumpled wings
had locked fast in an embrace that spun them down dizzily to a
crashing, splintering death. And Nathan Rodd, he who spared his words,
had also been a bit too provident or tardy with his fire and had been
sent down out of control. Cowan had avenged Rodd a second later,
sending his attacker down spinning and thereby gaining his first
The score, in that far flung encounter, stood one in favor of
Cowan's squadron, but it was a heavy-hearted group of pilots who at
last took up formation and headed westward. Their faces had a new, grim
look. Flying was not all a matter of shooting the other fellow down.
Those who had witnessed the sickening crash of Carpenter and McWilliams
learned at a tragic cost that one must be all eyes. The gateman, who
controls the airways of the skies, was taking his toll, and every one
of the group that flew westward toward La Ferte, leaving three comrades
behind, now more soberly considered the alarming casualty figures of
eighty per cent per monthand wondered!
A month! It is such a little while.
CHAPTER VIII. McGee Makes a Discovery
Three nights later, while members of the squadron were engaged in
the usual after mess gab fest, an orderly entered with a summons for
McGee and Larkin to report to Major Cowan. Larkin had just that day
secured a misfitting regulation issue uniform from the Supply Officer,
Robinson, and the group had been having a great deal of fun at his
expense. Yancey now saw another chance.
Old Fuss Budget is goin' to have you shot for impersonatin' an
officer in that scarecrow riggin', he taunted. You should have kept
your old uniform on, like McGee.
Huh! Robinson didn't have one small enough for McGee, Larkin
retorted. They only have men's sizes in the American Army. What's
wrong with this uniform?
Uniform? Yancey repeated. Oh, I thought it was a horse blanket.
Larkin thumbed his nose at Yancey as he passed through the door with
McGee. He knew the Major would have a long wait if he stayed to get
ahead of Yancey.
Major Cowan appeared to be in an unusually happy frame of mind.
I've good news for you, he announced as they entered the
headquarters hut. In losing Carpenter, McWilliams and Rodd, we have
gained you two. And instead of the bawling out I expected, I was
congratulated for unusual foresight. The order assigning you to this
squadron will be down to-morrow. I hope you are as well pleased as I
Of course we are, McGee answered for both. We wouldn't feel so
much at home anywhere else. I'm sorry, of course, to come as a
replacement for any one of those other chaps. They were fine fellows.
Of course, Cowan responded, heartily. Their loss demonstrates the
value of experience. There was no reason at all for the collision
between Carpenter and McWilliams. They simply forgot there was anyone
else in the air. A tough break.
Any break is a tough one when you don't come back, Larkin said.
The Major seemed to see him now for the first time. Where in
creation did you get that gunny sack you're wearing? he demanded.
Larkin grinned, foolishly. From Lieutenant Robinson, sir.
What's it supposed to be?
A uniform, sir.
Thanks. I didn't know. He turned to McGee, who still wore his
British uniform. Didn't Robinson have any more masquerade costumes?
Not my size, sir.
Oh, you go in for size? I see Larkin doesn't. Why don't you get
We haven't had a chance, sir, Larkin answered. There is no tailor
around here, so I chinned Robinson out of this enlisted man's issue.
Perhaps, he offered, smiling, the Major will give us a pass to Paris
to have uniforms made.
The Major will not! We've some real work ahead. But
The door opened and Siddons entered.
But don't put that thing back on in the morning, Cowan completed.
Your British uniform is at least presentable.
You sent for me, sir? Siddons spoke from the doorway, his voice
having the quality of one who is extremely boredespecially bored with
being sent for.
I did. Cowan's voice was crisp. The ends of his moustache began
twitching jerkily. I suppose you wonder why I have said nothing to you
about your failure to rejoin the squadron the other day after you cut
out at Vitry?
Why, no sir, Siddons responded, perfectly at ease. You said that
if any of us developed trouble that delayed us, to come on here at the
earliest possible moment. I was here when you arrived.
So you were. Cowan was making a stern effort to control his
temper. And it is true that I gave you orders to come on here should
delaying trouble develop. But, he shot a quick, silencing look at
McGee, I conducted a little investigation into your landing at Vitry,
Lieutenant, and I discovered that you took off again within an hour.
Siddons started, almost imperceptibly. His face colored, for a
moment, but he quickly assumed his habitual nonchalance. It goaded
Cowan to an inward fury, but he controlled himself well.
I suppose you can think of some reason why I shouldn't ground you,
Why, no sir. No reason at all.
Then I can! the Major snapped. You like joy-riding, eh? Like to
tour France, eh? Very well, I'm going to give you a bit of it to do.
He turned and walked over to a large wall map. Take a look at
thisall three of you, he said. This is a detailed map of our
sector. G 2 believes that the Germans are planning to strike north of
here, perhaps just south of Soissons. One of their reasons for this
suspicion is that information has reached G 2 to the effect that Count
von Herzmann's Circus has pulled out from Roncheres. Where is he now?
That's the question! The Intelligence sharks at Great Headquarters
believe that if we can locate his new base we will know something more
about the plans of the enemy. As a result, every squadron along this
front has been ordered to make an effort to locate his new position.
Personally, I am of the opinion that Larkin winged him the other
morning, and as a result his Circus has been withdrawn, pending his
Larkin shook his head regretfully. I wish I could think so, Major.
I'd like to boast that I had given von Herzmann a little lead
poisoning. But I don't think so. The tracers showed that my burst was
going into his motor. I winged that, all right, but he didn't fly like
a wounded man.
Modest enough, Cowan approved. It seems that G 2 thinks the same
thing. They have reason to believe that he is in the neighborhood of
this point here,he put a finger on the mapwhere the railroad
between Soissons and Chateau-Thierry crosses the Ourcq.
He turned now directly to Siddons, his eyes cold and piercing.
Lieutenant Siddons, you seem to be a most excellent map flyer. You
find your way here alone, and you tour this part of France with
admirable ease. To-morrow morning, if the visibility is good, you will
take off at dawn, cross the line above Bouresches, push on toward
Bonnes and as far inland as the railroad crossing on the Ourcqif
possible. Is that clear?
Perfectly, sir. Siddons was as unconcerned and unruffled as though
he had received an order to fly to Paris.
You will get the greatest possible altitude before crossing the
line, and you are to avoid combat. Your mission is to bring us
information, if possible, concerning the location of enemy 'dromesand
especially von Herzmann's base. Am I clear?
One could not but admire the cool confidence of the fellow. His
complacency was not what Cowan had expected.
If you think the risk is too great, alone, Cowan said, after
watching his face for any hint of quailing, I will send two other
planes with you. They might help reduce the odds in case of unavoidable
Oh, that's not necessary, Siddons replied. In fact, one plane has
a better chance to escape combat, especially if there are some clouds
to duck into. Anything else, sir?
Cowan made a clicking sound with his tongue. The fellow wasn't
human; he was an iceberg!
That is all. And I wish you luck.
Thank you, Major. And thanks for the mission. He gave McGee and
Larkin the pitying look of one who has just drawn the grand prize in an
open competition, and without another word turned quickly and passed
through the door.
Cowan's face had a baffled look. Well, he finally said, he acts
like a gamecock, anyhow.
Do you realize the danger of the mission? McGee asked.
It's not for me to consider that angle, the Major replied. G 2
wants information, and I am under orders to help supply it. Danger?
Yes. That's war. If we losewell, I'd rather not discuss it.
At that moment the door opened. There, framed against the night,
stood Nathan Rodd! In salute he brought a gauze-wrapped hand to his
head, a head so thickly swathed in bandages that only his face was
showing and his service cap sat perched at a ridiculous angle.
Lieutenant Rodd reports for duty, sir, he said.
Cowan, McGee and Larkin had stood transfixed, as men might who
thought they were seeing a ghost. But Rodd's words, concise and
strikingly characteristic of the taciturn Vermonter, snapped them into
action. This was no ghost!
Rodd! Major Cowan exclaimed, and rushed across the room to grip
Rodd's unbandaged left hand. You here?
Rodd considered it unnecessary to waste words on so stupid a
question. He merely offered his hand, when the Major released it, to
McGee and Larkin, who were pounding him on the back in great glee.
We thought you were dead, Cowan said.
So did Iuntil I woke up, Rodd answered.
Cowan, noting the pallor of his face, pressed him into a chair.
Tell us about it, he urged. Were you badly hurt? What happened?
Didn't you crack up
Rodd lifted his good hand in protest. One question at a time,
Major. That German found my motor and it conked. I regained control
just in time to level off, but not in time to miss a tree. After that I
don't know what happened. Came to, flat on my back, fifty feet away
from my plane. It was burning. That's all there is to it.
All there is to it! Cowan snorted. You're not sending a telegram.
Words won't cost you anything. Where have you been since then?
Hospital. Waiting for a chance to skip out.
You meanyou ran away from the hospital?
You are crazy, man! Why did you leave?
I don't like hospitals.
But you are hurt! Is your head badly injured?
And your hand?
Cowan could not escape laughing. McGee and Larkin joined in.
I'm not laughing at your injury, Lieutenant, Cowan explained, but
at your way of telling it. If that should happen to Yancey he'd write a
book about it. Of course, I'm delighted to see you alive. I had the
good fortune to wipe out the one that shot you down. He went down
See him crash? Rodd asked.
No. Things were pretty thick. I didn't have time to watch.
Didn't kill him, Rodd announced.
He made a better landing than I did. He was trying to bring me to
when some Frenchies came running up and nabbed him. Decent fellow. The
Frenchies treated him pretty rough. Put the screws to him, I guess.
See here, Cowan leaned forward in his chair, either tell all this
story, or back you go to the hospital. You say the French questioned
French Intelligence did. Pretty game fellow, they said.
But he talked?
Had to. That was von Herzmann's Circus.
We know that. Anything else?
Yes. He said they knew all about our plans, and were out gunning
Cowan's face colored, but with confusion more than anger.
Anything else? he asked crisply.
Wellthe Frogs found out something else, but, he cast a quick,
furtive glance at McGee and Larkin, but I guess I've talked enough.
Someone is talking too much, that's certain.
Cowan had seen the glance, and the inference irritated him. These
officers have proved their loyalty by service, Lieutenant.
Yes, sir, was Rodd's meatless reply.
McGee felt genuinely hurt, but at the same time he recognized the
fact that Rodd's statement was all too true.
Rodd is quite right, Major, he said, and arose from his chair. If
he has any real information, it belongs to you aloneor to G 2. If
you've nothing further, Larkin and I will be going.
No, nothing further.
No orders for to-morrow morning?
May I speak to you a momentprivately?
They moved over near the door.
You gave Siddons a mission I would like to have, Major. Any
objections if I take a little joy-ride in the morning?
Cowan's eyes narrowed. Where? he asked.
Over the lines. I'd like to do a little looking for myself.
No, sir. Alone. Don't even want Larkin to know I'm going. I think I
know where to locate von Herzmann's Circus.
What are you driving at, Lieutenant?
Major, if I told you half of what I think I know, you'd call me
Hm-m! Well, I can't give you permission to gobut I will not be
looking for you before noon. His sly wink told Red all that he wanted
Yes, sir. Good night, Major. Good night, Rodd. The gang will be
mighty glad to see you back, old hoss! Come on, Buzz, let's go to bed.
Outside the door Larkin's fuming rage exploded. Say, what did that
tongue-tied sap Rodd mean by that dirty dig? If his head wasn't already
in a sling, I'd
Calm yourself, brother! Red laughed. If you had landed on your
head from as high a point as he did, and then found out it was all
brought about through a leak, you'd be suspicious of everyone too.
Maybe so, Larkin answered, somewhat mollified. What were you
buzzing old Fuss Budget about?
I'll tell you that to-morrow nightmaybe.
Humph! Larkin snorted. I guess Rodd's disease is catching. You're
Without reply Red led the way across the flying field to their hut.
Entering, he began fumbling around in the dark for a candle stub.
Larkin took up the search, by the aid of flickering matches, but the
candle was nowhere to be found.
It's a fine war! Larkin growled, as he began undressing in the
dark. All the letters from the States bear the postmark, 'Food Will
Win The War.' I guess the Army is trying to save on candles, too.
Before sunup the following morning McGee awoke and began quietly
dressing. He did not want to awaken Larkin. When he had finished
dressing he tiptoed cautiously across the floor, opened the creaking
door ever so slowly and closed it with the same care.
Dawn was just streaking the east. A few birds were offering their
first roundelays; the grass and trees were wet with a light rain that
had fallen during the night, and to the northeast the distant guns were
rumbling their morning song of hateevil dispositioned giants,
guttural in their wrath when dawn awoke them to a new day of
devastation. Two or three sleepy-eyed air mechanics were making their
way toward the hangars.
McGee stood for a moment outside the hut, studying the sky, which
was a patchwork of clouds scattered across grey splotches that would
turn to blue with the coming of the sun. Evidently the sky had been
quite overcast during the night, but the clouds were broken now, though
by no means dispersed.
It was an ideal morning for crossing the lines. Convenient cloud
banks were excellent havens in case of surprise, and Archie fire was
less accurate when the gunners had to contend with a ship that plunged
into concealing clouds and out again at the most unexpected places. Of
course, those same clouds offered concealment for enemy planes, but a
pilot crossing the lines alone is considerably advantaged by such a sky
as McGee was now studying approvingly.
As McGee started toward the hangars he saw that some of the ground
crew were wheeling out Siddons' Nieuport. Well, the Major had stuck to
his resolution and the order had gone through.
Where's Lieutenant Siddons going? McGee asked the Ack Emma who was
making a careful check of the plane.
Don't know, sir. Got orders last night to have her ready.
Did Sergeant Williams get orders for my plane?
Yes, sir. Are you and Siddons goin' over on patrol, Lieutenant?
I can't answer for Siddons, McGee evaded. You'd better ask him.
Huh! A lot of good it would do. Honest, Lieutenant, that fellow
talks less to us than a cigar store Indian talks to the customersand
that's less than nothin'. He thinks we're worms!
McGee was about to offer his sympathies when another crew, under
Sergeant Williams, came rolling the Camel out to the line. McGee began
checking it over with the same minute care which had doubtless gone a
long way toward making him an ace. He left inspection to no man. His
air mechanic, knowing this, was equally careful in his work. This
diminutive lieutenant was as mild as an April morning so long as all
was well, but when something went wrong he could say more than a six
All set, Sergeant? McGee asked, finishing his inspection.
All set, sir. I just put a new valve in that wind driven gas pump.
The guy that invented that trick should have been tapped for the
simples. Why don't you hang this thing on a church steeple, Lieutenant,
and get one of those Spads?
Well, I rather dislike entering a church from the steeple, and I'm
sort of partial to this old crate. She's tricky on the ground, but I'm
used to her ways and she's a Lulu upstairs.
He swung into the cockpit and the Sergeant stood at the prop.
The sergeant pulled over the propeller two times.
The motor caught, and after it had idled a few minutes McGee began
revving it up.
Just then he noticed Siddons come from around the corner of the
hangar, carrying what appeared to be a canvas covered pillow. Seeing
McGee's plane on the line he stopped in surprise, then proceeded to his
plane, where he fitted the pillow into the seat, patting it in place as
a woman pats a divan pillow. Then he came across to the side of McGee's
Did you get orders, too? he shouted.
McGee cut the gun. No, he answered truthfully. Satisfied that this
would not end the questioning, he added, The Ack Emma has made some
repairs. I'm going to give her a test.
Oh, I see. Thought maybe I was going to have the pleasure of your
companyand your help. Nice morning for my little jaunt, isn't it?
Bully! McGee looked at him closely to discover any hint of fear.
It simply wasn't there, and Red was forced to the mental admission that
he had never seen such a cool, confident manner displayed by any pilot
going over for the first time. Good luck! he called, and again began
revving his motor.
Siddons turned back to his own plane, and with the most casual
inspection, and with no comment to the mechanic, crawled into his
cushion padded seat.
McGee, satisfied with the sound of his own motor, nodded to the wing
boys to remove the chocks, and taxied to a quick take-off. At two or
three hundred feet he turned, came back across the 'drome and headed in
the general direction of Paris, climbing steadily and maintaining the
direction until to the watching ground crew he became lost to view.
Then McGee swung north and began working back eastward. He passed to
the west of La Ferte, and having gained an altitude of fifteen thousand
feet, headed directly for the front, intending to cross the line to the
north of Belleau and proceed toward Fere-en-Tardenois. Then, if fortune
favored him, he could decide upon a deeper thrust into enemy territory.
The cloud strata was exceptionally deep and yet ragged enough to
provide frequent glimpses at the world below. The one great danger lay
in the fact that he might any minute come unexpectedly upon a German
pursuit group. It was probable, however, that on such a morning they
would be operating at a lesser altitude.
The trenches, as he crossed the line, were only faintly discernible,
the detail obscured by the blue ground haze so common to the eyes of
the pilot operating at high altitudes. But the strip of barren land on
each side of the trenches gave visible evidence of the grimness of the
struggle far below, and here and there along the line, miniature
geysers spouted fan-shaped eruptions of earth with a grotesque,
unexpected suddenness. Then a second later a new pock-mark on the face
of an already over-tortured earth showed where the shell had exploded.
It was fascinating to watch. Nerve-racking and ear-splitting as it
must be to the mud-splashed creatures in the trenches below, from on
high the land within the neighborhood of the zig-zag trenches took on
the appearance of a pot of boiling mushhere a crater, there a crater,
springing into being with an amazing suddenness that lured the observer
into the game of guessing when the next crater would appear.
McGee was engaged in exactly such mental speculation when he was
brought to the realization of his own nearness to war by the
plane-rocking explosion of a well-placed Archie. Then two other giant
black roses bloomed directly in his path. Now he was presented with his
own guessing game. Where would the next one be?
He swerved sharply left and dived toward a neighboring cloud. A
cloud, while seeming from below to have both form and substance, is in
reality but little different from a dense ground fog. It is enveloping,
misty, eerie, and cuts off all visible contact with the world. If it
covers a large air area, then the pilot may face some nice problems in
correct and stable navigation, but if it is only a patch, he drives
straight along his course, knowing that he will plunge out into the
sunlight with the same suddenness with which he left it. Clouds are
particularly welcome when Archie gunners begin to plaster the air with
high explosive shells.
As McGee came out of this cloud, his attention was drawn to a number
of black bursts some three thousand feet below, but which clustered
around a lone Nieuport flying at a forty-five degree angle to the line
of flight which McGee was pursuing. That Archie crew knew their
business, and McGee thought they appeared uncomfortably near the
Nieuport. Then, as he watched, the Nieuport did a strange thing.
Instead of making a sudden change in direction or a quick dive, either
of which would compel the gunner to make another quick calculation in
his range, it merely rolled once, then dipped twice, and proceeded on
its way. The Archie fire ceased as suddenly as it had commenced.
McGee streaked across another open patch of sky and entered another
cloud. Coming out of this one he again spotted the lone Nieuport and
corrected his own line to correspond with that of the lone flyer below.
Now, studying it more closely, and with more time, he felt sure that it
was Siddons' plane. One thing certain, the red, white and blue cockades
established it as an American manned plane, and who, save a novice,
McGee reasoned, would roll and make a slight dip to escape Archie fire.
That particular battery must have been too convulsed by laughter to
continue their fire. Had that stupid pilot, whoever he was, forgotten
what he had been told concerning Archie fire?
With the same surprising suddenness with which Archies always
proclaim their presence, three more black puff balls inked the air
directly ahead of the Nieuport. They were off the mark, but they
furnished data for other guns which began filling the air. Evidently
the gunners had not yet seen McGee, who was much higher and
considerably behind the Nieuport, for they were concentrating on that
To McGee's surprise the Nieuport again rolled, then dipped twice,
and the guns below immediately ceased firing. McGee decided it was time
to seek the seclusion of a nearby cloud and while driving through it,
do a little thinking.
What he had just witnessed was enough to make any experienced pilot
think. Someone, flying a Nieuport, had a most novel way of treating
with anti-aircraft gunners. He merely rolled over, straightened out,
dipped twice, and the guns promptly left off their quarreling. No one
could be stupid enough to reason that such manoeuver would discomfit
the gunners, and yet in this case the effect was more efficacious than
any manoeuver yet invented.
McGee smiled at the stupidity of the thought. It was effective only
because it was a signal, prearranged and understood by the
anti-aircraft gunners. The pilot of that Nieuport was in communication
with the enemy, and McGee believed that man to be Siddons!
It all came to him in a flash. Who, better than Siddons, could have
supplied the enemy with the information that brought them over to bomb
the green squadron when they were stationed near Is-Sur-Tille? Someone
supplied it, for Cowan had found in the pocket of the German flyer whom
he, McGee, had brought down, an order disclosing the very fact that the
raid had been planned on Intelligence reports. And where had Siddons
gone that day after landing at Vitry on the slenderest excuse? The
French Major said he had taken off within an hour. And the very next
morning the squadron stumbled into a net spread by von Herzmann, and
but for the timely and unexpected arrival of a large group of French
Spads the harvest would have been great indeed. Could it be that
Siddons had crossed the lines the previous afternoon, escaping Archie
fire by a simple code of air signals, and disclosed the entire plan to
McGee felt a hot wave of ungovernable anger sweep over him. He no
longer had any doubts whatsoever. Two and two make four. Siddons was a
traitor to his country. To his country? No, doubtless he was one of the
many who had been trained for years against this very hour of need. On
false records he had gained admission to the American Air Force, and
McGee came out of the cloud into the clear sunlight, and began
searching the sky for the Nieuport. It was not to be seen. He flew on,
encountered other clouds, came out again, but the Nieuport had
McGee flew steadily northeast until he spotted an exceptionally
large group of enemy planes, working up from the direction in which he
It was time to turn around. He was quite too far into enemy
territory to feel comfortable, and that swarm of planes made him
unusually homesick, even though they were far below him.
But just as he banked into a left turn he noticed that they were
nosing down, sharply. He flew along the misty edge of a cloud, watching
closely. Down, down, they went, becoming mere specks against the
blue-grey ground haze.
They were about to make a landing! There could be no doubt of it,
though at this distance and altitude he could not make out their
hangars. On down they dropped, until at last they seemed to be engulfed
by a greyish sea that shut out all definite form.
McGee had come for information, and here it was within his grasp if
he were only willing to take a chance.
The strata of clouds against which he was flying stretched in the
general direction of the place where he had lost sight of the large
flight of planes.
He ducked into the clouds and drove along until he estimated that he
was somewhere in the right neighborhood.
Coming out into an open sky he located a considerable forest far to
his right and another one several kilometers directly ahead. Directly
between these a ribbon of white marked its twisting course. That would
be the Ourcq, and the forest beyond would be the Forest de Nesles.
Andyes, there just beyond the river was a townwhich McGee concluded
must be Fere-en-Tardenoisand a little way from its outskirts a group
of drab square blocks that caught and held his eyes.
Too much ground haze to make them out. Well, a chance is a chance,
he reasoned, as over went the Camel's nose in a long dive.
Twice he checked the dive, only to dive again. He hated to give up
altitude, but he was determined to get a look.
After the third dive, and the loss of several thousand feet, he made
out the drab-colored canvas hangars of a German 'drome, and poised on
the open field was a veritable swarm of little moths appearing to be
drying their wings in the sun. Three of them began racing along the
ground and bounded into the air. At the same minute an Archie battery
opened from the town. The burst was wide of McGee's plane, but there
was no mistaking their sincerity nor the fact that those three harmless
appearing moths below were climbing to the attack.
Red gave his Camel all he thought it could stand as he climbed for
the protecting clouds. Information was of no value if sealed by a dead
man's lips. He had learned far too much this morning to chance any
fight with anyone that could possibly be avoided.
The Archie fire continued until he had regained the clouds, and even
then two or three more shells burst harmlessly somewhere ahead in the
grey mist wall. He changed his direction sharply and roared along on a
His heart was racing with his motor. He felt convinced that the
'drome he had located was a new base for the squadron he had just seen,
for were they not coming up from the interior? Doubtless he had
stumbled on to a movement of some importance. Just how important he
could not know, but G 2 would be delighted with such information. Could
that squadron, he wondered, by rare good fortune be the Circus of the
famed von Herzmann?
Over Etrepilly an Archie battery hurled aloft a smashing,
plane-staggering burst of black puff balls. A jagged piece of steel
tore through his left wing. Too close, that!
He dived steeply. More shells burst above him. Above, but still
uncomfortably close. Those gunners were real marksmen.
Suddenly he thought of what he had seen the lone Nieuport do. It
might be worth trying. Acting on the impulse he rolled, straightened
out, then dipped twice. One more shell came screaming aloft and then
the batteries became abruptly silent.
Well, that was that! There could be no question now as to the
movement being a prearranged signal. Archie gunners would not
ordinarily leave off firing at any such stupid performancethey would
chuckle while they locked the breach on another shell, and forthwith
blow that fellow into Kingdom Come.
McGee was in high fettle as he streaked across the lines south of
Belleau and laid a course for home. He had a great deal to report, and
someone, flying a lone Nieuport, was going to have a great deal of
explaining to do.
When McGee swooped low over his own hangar, preparatory to a
landing, he was surprised to see Siddons' Nieuport resting on the
tarmac. So he was back so soon!
Larkin was the first to greet McGee when he crawled from his plane.
Where've you been? he demanded.
Oh, just up for a little test, McGee replied, assuming an air of
Larkin pointed to the jagged hole through the fabric of the left
Don't kid me! he said. Where'd you pick up that little souvenir?
I'll tell you later, McGee answered and started toward the Major's
Larkin seized his arm and spun him around. You'll tell me one thing
right now, little feller! What's so funny about hiding my uniform so
I'll get bawled out again by Old Fuss Budget for wearing this misfit?
McGee looked at him blankly.
What do you mean?
Mean? I mean you got up so early a respectable milkman wouldn't
think of being up, and with your brain a bit foggy you thought what a
clever idea it would be to hide my English uniform and give this gang
of Indians another day of pleasure. What's the big idea?
McGee shook his head. I never touched your uniform, Buzz. Come to
think of it, though, I don't remember seeing it this morning while I
was dressing. Did you see it last night?
See it last night! Larkin snorted. How could I? We couldn't find
the candle and it was so blasted dark that I hung my shoes on a chair
and my pants on the floor. Quit foolin', Red. Where's that uniform?
I don't know, I tell you. But if I were you I'd go ask Yancey that
Larkin's eyes snapped. That's the bozo! That Texas longhorn is just
before meeting up with a real cyclone.
Better go easy, Red warned. He's used to cyclones, and I've
always had a sort of feeling that he could take care of himself in
Nothing daunted, Buzz went bowling off in search of Yancey, and
McGee crossed the 'drome to Cowan's headquarters.
The excited enthusiasm with which McGee began his report to Cowan
was quickly cooled by the Major's expressionless indifference.
Throughout McGee's narration of the events of the morning, Cowan
continued studying a sheaf of papers lying on the desk before him, now
and then penciling thereon some memorandum or brief endorsement. That
part of the report dealing with the actions of the lone Nieuport, which
seemed to have a system of signals to insure safe passage over the
lines, brought from the Major no more than a throaty, Hum-m. It
angered McGee, and brought from him a heated charge which under other
conditions he would have hesitated to make.
And the man who was piloting that plane is a member of this
squadron, he blurted out.
Cowan casually turned a sheet of paper. Indeed, he replied,
continuing his reading. It was maddening.
Has Siddons reported to you, sir? McGee asked, pointedly.
Yes. Cowan arose and looked straight at the flushed young pilot.
His eyes were uncommunicative. Lieutenant Siddons just left here with
Colonel Watts, going back to Wing headquarters, he said. I may tell
you, Lieutenant, that the Colonel came down a short time after Siddons
hopped off, and gave me a most uncomfortable half hour for sending him
over. We will discuss it no further, and I charge you with absolute
silence in the matter. You are to say nothing, to anyone, concerning
this entire matter. You understand?
I understand that I'm to keep silent, sirbut I don't understand
the rest of it.
It isn't necessary that you do. That is all, Lieutenant.
But what about that 'drome I located at Fere-en-Tardenois? I think
it is Count von Herzmann's Cir
You think wrong, McGee, but whatever you think, don't think out
loud. That is all, Lieutenant.
Yes, sir. And there are no orders for
Orders will be a little more secretin the future. Cowan's voice
was crisp, and carried a note of dismissal.
Yes, sir. McGee saluted stiffly, turned on his heel and walked
from the room, steaming with anger. Outside the door he picked up a
small stone from the newly graveled walk and hurled it singing through
the top of a nearby poplar. He simply had to throw something.
You poor prune! he addressed himself. You never did have enough
sense to know when you were well off.
CHAPTER IX. Lady Luck Deserts
There followed three days of maddening inactivity, during which time
the squadron fretted and became as edgy as so many caged tigers. McGee
made use of the time by securing a trim fitting uniform, the very sight
of which threw Larkin into new outbursts of rage concerning the
disappearance of his English uniform. A joke was a joke, when not
carried too far, he argued, and admitted that he was exceedingly weary
with the comments made concerning the fit of the issue uniform that he
was compelled to wear. Every man professed innocence, but Larkin did
not believe a word of their stout denials. The manner in which he took
the joke was evidence of the irritability caused by the days of
inaction. Every member of the squadron was looking for something over
which they could quarrel.
Then one night, about nine o'clock, orders came down for a dawn
patrol of two flights of five ships each.
Cowan summoned McGee and Larkin to his headquarters and gave them
leadership of the flights. McGee protested, pointing out that he did
not want to gain the honor at Yancey's expense, and particularly since
he considered Yancey worthy of the command. But Cowan was sure of the
wisdom of the move, and made his own selection of the men who were to
go on this first patrol.
The posting of those names on the bulletin board brought shouts of
delight from the lucky ones and growls of disgust from those who were
Even Nathan Rodd, still wearing bandages on his head and right hand,
broke his silence and wolfed loudly over the fact that he had been left
Aw, dry up! some other unfortunate pilot growled at him. You're
still seein' stars from that last crack you got on the head. What do
you wantall the luck?
It was an expression peculiarly fitting to the situation. Some of
the names on that bulletin board might next appear in the casualty
reports, yet every man wanted his name on the board, firm in the belief
that death would somehow pass him by.
In McGee's flight appeared the names of Tex Yancey, Hank Porter,
Randolph Hampden, and of all luckSiddons!
McGee started to make protest, thought better of it, and biting his
lips savagely left the group around the board and went to his quarters.
Of all the good men in the squadron, why should that traitorous
scoundrel be included and other loyal deserving pilots be left behind?
Someone was being pig-headed indeed!
Along about two o'clock in the morning the eager pilots, tossing on
their beds in a sleeplessness induced by the promise of the coming of
dawn, were more fully awakened by the deep and sullen thundering of
thousands of big guns hammering at the lines. It was no fitful,
momentary outburst; it was the constant earth-shaking roar that
presages a drive. To the north and east the sky flickered with the
light coming from thousands of cannon mouths. It was like the coming of
a summer storm when the thunder god growls his wrath and lightning
plays constantly over the giant thunderheads.
There could be no sleep now for the anxious pilots. Something had
popped loose up there, and in a few more hours they would be on their
way up to witness this far-flung duel.
The flickering, flashing light of cannon fire faded at last before
the salmon and rose colored morning light that streaked the smoke
clouds lying across the pathway of the coming sun. Long before that orb
of light arose, red-eyed, over a new scene of carnage, ten planes were
out on the line, motors warming, while the pilots and mechanics made
last minute inspections. Every member of the squadron was present; the
unlucky ones to bid good luck to those chosen for the mission and to
see the take-off of this first dawn patrol. Their interest was
intensified by the throaty rumbling of the distant guns.
It was an hour of high suspense. For this hour every man present had
waited with a keen desire that had been his prompter and spur through
all the long, wearying months of training. All the schooling in theory
was now behind. Experience, that hard teacher, was now at the controls.
The school of machine gunnery, where dummies and swift moving targets
had served as theoretical enemies, was now to become a real school
where the enemy was also armed and where mistakes and misses were
likely to hurl the pupil out of the class with never a chance to profit
by the mistake.
The dawn patrol! The day! From this hour they would begin to tally
their earned victories. On this night, if lucky enough to encounter the
enemy, some of them would send in reports that would start them up the
ladder toward that coveted rankan ace! It never entered the mind of
any one of them that some enemy pilot, already an ace and rich in
experience, might send in a report fattening his record and increasing
his fame. No, no! Air battle is made possible only by thoughts of
McGee walked over to Yancey's plane. The gangling Texan was testing
his rudder controls and flipping his ailerons with jerky movements of
I want you to know, McGee said to him, that I did not ask for
this flight. It is yours, by rights.
Yancey's grin was genuinely friendly. Shucks, that's nothin'. I'm
glad to be out. Bein' a flight leader sorter cramped my style anyhow.
This way I can do a little free-lancin'if I see some cold turkey.
You leave cold turkey alone and stay in formation, McGee replied.
Just remember, old man Shakespeare was talking about the air service
when he said 'things are not always what they seem'.
I'll be good unless I spot some of those German observation
balloons. I've a sneaky feelin' I could eat up two or three of those
sausages before I come back here for breakfast without havin' my
McGee shook his head in serious warning. Leave them alone, Yancey.
They look easy, but the Archie gunners can fill the air around 'em so
full of lead that a bee couldn't fly through. And as for flaming
onionsboy! We are out on combat patrol, remember. This is no
That moment Major Cowan came running across the field and hurried up
to McGee. His excitement was evident in every movement.
Orders just came, he began, hurriedly, for every available ship
to proceed to the bridges at Dormans and Chateau-Thierry. Bombers are
going up, also. The Germans have started a big drive.
His manner, and the electrifying words, had drawn every man around
him in a close circle. That's what all the gun fire is aboutbarrages
and counter-barrages. Disregard the patrol orders, Lieutenant, and
proceed with these two flights to Dormansat once! You are to do
everything in your power to retard the enemy advance, harass their
troops, and especially harass their advanced positions and lines of
supply. Do you understand?
Good! Take off at once! I will at once get out all other available
ships and lead them against the lines at Chateau-Thierry. You've the
head start, and must, therefore, take Dormans. Snappy, now!
A cheer went up from those pilots who a moment before had been
cursing the luck that had left them behind. They started running for
As McGee climbed into his plane, Yancey blipped his motor and
shouted, Who said this wasn't a joy-ride?
The revving motors drowned out all other sounds. Helmets were given
a last minute tug.
McGee looked along the line and lifted his hand. The nine others
chosen for dawn patrol signaled their readiness.
Out came wheel chocks, motors roared into the smooth sound of
ripping silk as one by one they lurched down across the field and took
The heart of every man in the flight, save McGee's, was racing in
tune with his motor. Here was a mission so much more exciting than any
Harass the advancing enemy! And their line of supplies! Storm down
and spew out lead on the bridges where the troops would be crossing!
Here was action of the highest order, in which, in all probability,
formation flying would be broken up and it would be every fellow for
McGee alone knew the danger and hazard of their mission. In a big
push the enemy planes would be out in great number, determined to sweep
the air free of resistance. To harass troops, McGee knew, they must fly
low. In so doing they would run a constant gauntlet of machine gun and
rifle fire, in addition to frequently traversing the line of flight of
high angle heavy artillery. It was not pleasant to think of meeting up
with one of those big G.I. cans loaded with enough high explosive to
demolish a building. Just get in the way of one of them and what would
be left could be placed in a small basket. Added to all this was the
fact that all altitude was sacrificed, and a green pilot, out cutting
eye-teeth, needs altitude in case of attack.
To McGee the outlook was gloomy enough. Doubtless the venture would
run up a stiff casualty list, but every needed sacrifice must be made
here! And now! The French and Americans below must not let the Hun
break through. Paris, all too near, was the objective of the drive. If
they broke through and reached Pariswell, they must not break
McGee saw the planes of another American squadron working up toward
the front on his left. High above his flight was a large group of
French Spads. He watched them, turning his head aloft from time to
time. They seemed to be hovering over him and following his course. Far
ahead, and below, he could see enemy observation balloons straining at
their cables. Black geysers of earth, sand, and mud, were spouting from
the tortured strip along the river. The earth below was an inferno of
flashing, thundering shells. The front! And the drive was on!
He glanced up again. The French Spads were still above, a trained,
experienced group of war hawks sent up to take care of the upstairs
fighting while the Americans did the dirty work below. Cowan had not
mentioned this. Perhaps he did not know of it. McGee knew that in big
operations, and especially in such emergencies as this, orders were
issued without disclosing the whole plan to all participants. If each
unit obeys and carries out the orders received, then all goes well.
So far, all was well, and McGee was extremely grateful for that
protecting flight of Spads.
He determined to cross the river west of Dormans, make a thrust well
back of the lines, cut out again over Dormans and then, if luck were
with them, repeat the performance. No need to lay plans too far in
advance. Too much can happen in the tick of a secondthings that knock
plans and the planner into a cocked hat.
Below them now was a far-flung battle of raging intensity. German
troops could be seen moving along toward the river, and a little
farther inland McGee spotted a long line of infantrymen along a road
paralleling the river. But they were moving westward, in the direction
of Chateau-Thierry, instead of toward the bridgehead at Dormans. And in
addition to the marching men, the road was choked with artillery,
caissons, ammunition wagons, and ambulances.
Here was an opportunity made to order, and just as McGee was
preparing to give the signal, he saw Yancey cut out and dive toward an
observation balloon that was being rapidly drawn down by excited
winchmen. No use to try to signal Yancey; that wild Texan was off on
Archies and machine gun fire tried vainly to stop Yancey's wild
dive. Flaming onions began surging upward in their terrifying circlets,
but Yancey was as scornful of them as is a Texas steer of a buzzing
deer fly. His guns rattled in a short burst and the balloon exploded
with a terrific blast of flame and smoke. Yancey's plane rocked
perilously. His inexperience in busting balloons had come near being
his own undoing. But he righted his plane, somehow escaped the hail of
shot and steel all around him and came plunging back down the road
filled with fear-stricken men and plunging horses, his guns rattling
McGee, followed by Siddons, Porter and Fouche, swooped along the
road from the opposite direction, scattering the troops like chaff.
With death raining down on them from opposite but converging points,
the German infantrymen broke wildly for cover. Their less fortunate
comrades, the cannoneers and drivers of caissons and supply wagons,
stuck to their posts, trying to calm the rearing, plunging horses and
cursing the inexorable wasps that sent stinging death down on them.
Yancey, in particular, seemed to be in his glory. Half a dozen times
he swung around, gained a little altitude, and again went plowing down
along the road, his guns jumping and smoking in fiendish delight.
Harass the advancing enemy, eh? And the line of supplies? A job
exactly suited to Yancey's heart and spirit.
But McGee was wise in such matters, and having delivered a blow drew
off and sought other fields to conquer. It was not wise to stay long in
any one place.
He had expected Yancey to follow, but that worthy was too delighted
with his find, and when he tired of it at last it was to discover that
he was very much alone. Nothing could have suited him better. Now he
was answerable only to himselfand to Luck!
He began climbing, and casting an eye over the sky for balloons
within striking distance. After all, strafing infantrymen wasn't half
as much fun as knocking down balloons. They went up with such a
glorious bang! And it was delicious to watch the frightened observer
tumble over the side of the basket in an effort to escape by parachute.
That last one had somehow gotten fouled in the rigging and had been
clawing frantically when the bag exploded. As for that, Yancey had been
sorry; not for the man, but because he had wanted to see the parachute
poof-op! into a suddenly blown white flower at which he might take
a few shots by way of testing his aim. Well, maybe he'd have better
luck with the next one.
With no thought of danger, and with his heart racing in a new
exhilaration which he had never before felt, Yancey started out alone
on a career that was to bring him a fame coveted by every man in the
squadron, but a fame which they did not care to gain by this most
hazardous of war sportsballoon busting. Only men who cannot, or
will not weigh danger, become balloon busters. And of these was Yancey,
the flying fool of the squadron, concerning whom there was never any
agreement among the others as to whether he didn't know any better or
knew better and did it because it was dangerous.
* * * * *
McGee, with Siddons, Porter and Fouche following, swung eastward
toward Dormans. Above them, as a protecting layer, flew Larkin with his
flight, and still above them, much higher, were the French Spads.
This state of affairs could not last long, McGee knew. It was only a
question of time until German planes would come up and accept the gage
of battle. It was a situation, therefore, calling for the greatest
effort possible in the shortest length of time.
Every movement below offered positive proof that the enemy were
concentrating in the direction of Chateau-Thierry, and if they were in
fact making a thrust to the eastward it was only to draw attention from
the real objective.
For once McGee decided to disregard the Major's orders and, instead
of proceeding to Dormans, swing back and do all he could at the
bridgeheads at Chateau-Thierry.
He swung around, and as he banked caught sight of seven or eight
German planes coming up from the northwest. He looked aloft. The Spads
had seen them, too, and were closing in.
McGee began climbing, and noted with satisfaction that Larkin, on
the alert, was waggling his wings as a signal that he too had seen them
and was prepared.
Then, for apparently no reason at all, Siddons cut out of the flight
and started streaking it for the lines.
For a brief moment McGee felt a burning desire to take after him and
turn his guns loose on him.
Traitorous hound! he muttered to himself. I wondered how you
could follow when we were strafing those troops. I'll bet anything he
never warmed his guns. Of course he wouldn't!
But just now there was business at hand more urgent than chasing
after a man whom he felt sure was both a traitor and a coward.
Above him the Spads were engaged in a merry dog fight with the
German Albatrosses. But two of the Germans had somehow eluded them and
were diving down on Larkin's flight.
The action of the next moment was too swift for words. The two
Albatrosses came bravely on, scorning the odds against them. Larkin's
plane engaged the first one, but the second one got in a lucky burst
that sent one of the Nieuports nosing down in a disabled effort to make
a safe landing. And perhaps the luckless pilot could have saved his
life to spend the rest of the war in a German prison camp but for the
fact that the German who had crippled him, tasting blood, wanted a more
complete victory. Down, down, he followed the plane, spitting lead at
the poor pilot who seemed unable to think of anything except getting to
As the planes came down to a level with McGee's flight, Red whipped
around and closed in on the pursuer. Too late! Flame came curling,
licking from the motor of the Nieuport. That second, for the first
time, McGee recognized it as Randolph Hampden's ship. Poor Hampden! The
only man in the squadron who ever had a good word for Siddons, and now
he was going down in flames while Siddons, supposedly his friend, was
high-tailing it for home.
With bitterest venom McGee thumbed his trigger releases as he caught
a fleeting glimpse of the Albatross in the ring sight. But that German
was not only courageoushe was a consummate flyer. He whipped around
with surprising speed and came streaming at McGee with both guns going.
Head on he came, and there was something about the desperation of the
move that told McGee that the battle-crazed fellow would actually ram
him in mid-air.
McGee dived. So close was the other upon him that he imagined he
could feel the wheels of the undercarriage on his own wings.
He Immelmanned, only to discover that by some brilliantly rapid
manoeuver the German had rolled into position and was rattling bullets
into the Camel's motor. Crack! One of the bullets struck a vital part
and the motor started limping. McGee's heart came into his mouth. He
was disabled and
That moment Hank Porter and Fouche closed in on the German and
Larkin came diving down from above. Three against one! McGee, despite
his own predicament, felt like saluting the fellow's dare-devil
courage. Larkin could take care of him alone, even should Porter and
Certain of the outcome of the now unequal struggle, McGee turned the
nose of his pounding plane in the direction of the lines near Mezy, and
prayed fervently that the failing motor would not conk completely
before he reached and crossed the river. He had no desire whatsoever to
spend the remainder of the war in a German prison. Even that, however,
was preferable to being sent down in flames, and he kept a sharp
lookout for any attack that might come from some keen-eyed German
looking for cold meat.
Presently he noticed a shadow sweep across his plane. He glanced up
fearfully, and then smiled with delight. It was Larkin, following along
to give battle to any or all who might pounce upon his friend. McGee
felt a new surge of hope. Why had he even thought he would have to make
the trial alone? Larkin, who never deserted, who never failed in a
pinch, had disposed of that German in great haste and was ready for
whatever the next few minutes might bring.
For McGee those next minutes were filled with a thousand misgivings.
The ship was losing altitude rapidly, and the motor was pounding
furiously, but if it would only hold up he could make it.
When he flashed across the river at Mezy, with some eight hundred
feet to spare, he turned and waved a light-hearted O.K. to Larkin, and
began to look for some landing place free of shell craters.
It was not unlike looking for land in the middle of the Atlantic
Ocean. Barrage after barrage had marked the earth with the deep scarred
pocks of war. He must push on toward the rear with the last inch that
could be wrung from that motor and then land straight ahead, leaving
the outcome to Lady Luck. She had never deserted him completely
That moment she deserted. The motor conked with a non-stuttering
finality. Now for a dead stick landing, straight ahead! If he could
only pancake her down just beyond that big hole, maybe she would stop
He pancaked, but in doing so struck too hard. The undercarriage was
wiped out completely. He felt the bound, followed by a terrific
up-fling of the tail, and then a thousand stars went shooting before
his eyes and it seemed that a lightning bolt rived his brain. Then
darknessand an infinite peace....
CHAPTER X. Medals and Chevrons
When McGee next opened his eyes, it was upon a world in which white
seemed to be the shockingly outstanding scheme of things. White walls,
a white painted fence, which he at last concluded must be the end of an
iron bed, and just beyond this, near at hand yet seemingly miles and
miles away, a woman in spotless white. He couldn't quite make out her
face, in fact all detail was lost in a dim haze that refused to be
cleared up by a blinking of the eyes. And there was such a roaring
sound, as of a mighty waterfall thundering down into an echoing canyon.
Oh, yes! His head. He tried to lift his left hand to feel of his
head, but the muscles failed to respond. Indeed, the arm seemed not
only lifeless, but to be clamped firmly across his chest by tight
bonds. He tried the right arm. It responded, and the hand came up to
touch and wonder at the large bundle of cloth that should be his head.
The woman in white moved toward him, quickly, and he was about to
form a question when she faded before his very eyes, and the thundering
waterfall left off its roaring as he floated out of the world of white
into a black, obliterating nothingness.
Hours later he again opened his eyes. Again he saw a woman in white
at the foot of what he now knew to be a bed. She smiled, a sort of
cheery, wordless greeting. He could see distinctly now, and the thunder
of the rushing torrent had subsided until it was little more than a
wind whispering among the tree tops. But the left arm was still
lifeless and numb, and his head felt as large as a tub.
Where am I? he asked, and was startled by the feebleness of the
voice which seemed in no way related to him.
The woman in white bent over him, smoothing the pillow and pressing
him back upon it.
You must be quiet, she said, and not talk, or try to move.
Funny thing to say. Why shouldn't he talkespecially when he had so
much to learn about this strange place?
But where am
The figure in white began fading away again, a most distressing
habit, and darkness again rushed at him from the white walls.
Hours later he again opened his eyes, realizing at once that it was
night, though objects could be dimly seen by the glow of the one light
at the far end of the room. He could hear voices, and with a slight
turn of the head saw a man in uniform talking with the white-clad woman
who could so suddenly and miraculously disappear. At the movement the
man turned quickly.
It was Larkin, and the worried lines in his face were swept away by
a quick, cheery smile as he bent over the bed and pressed McGee's right
hand in a manner that spoke more than words.
What happened, Buzz? McGee asked, and was again surprised at the
thin quality of his voice.
You're all right, old hoss, Larkin evaded, but you mustn't talk
yet. Be quiet now. To-morrow night I'll be back and tell you all about
Quiet now! See you to-morrow, and with another squeeze of the hand
he was gone.
Well, McGee thought, it was rather tiring to try to think. Sleep was
so easyand so soft.
The following evening Larkin came back again, just as the nurse had
finished giving McGee a light, liquid meal.
Hello, you little shrimp! he sang out cheerily. Eyes bright and
everything! Old Saw Bones just told me I could see you for five
minutesbut to do all the talking. You can have three questions only.
A thin, tired smile came to McGee's freckled face, a face almost
hidden under the bandages that completely covered his head.
All right, he said. First questionwill I fly again?
Of course! In four or five weeks you'll be good as new.
Four or five weeks! What
Careful now, or you'll use up all your questions. When you set that
Camel down in a shell hole she flipped over and your head was slightly
softer than a big rock that happened to be handy. I would have bet on
the rock being softest, but it seems I'd lost. You went blotto. A bunch
of soldiers dragged you out from under what was left of that
Camelwhich wasn't much. Then an ambulance brought you back here. This
hospital is about five kilos from squadron headquarters, and I've been
back here twice a day for the past five days, worrying my head off for
fear you'd never come to.
Five days? Red responded, his voice indicating his disbelief.
Yep, five days. Three days passed before you even opened your eyes.
Try and land on your feet, next time.
The nurse tells me my left arm is broken, McGee said. Wonder how
I got that?
You've used up all your questions, Larkin told him, laughing, and
I've used up all my time. I want to be good so that Old Saw Bones will
let me see you to-morrow night.
Wait, McGee began, but the nurse interposed herself.
No more to-night, she said. In a day or two you can talk as much
as you like.
The next two or three days passed slowly for McGee. Each night
Larkin came back from squadron headquarters in a motor cycle side car,
but his stays were so brief that Red had no chance to get any but the
most fragmentary news.
As for news from the front, he could drag nothing from the nurses or
from Larkin, and when he inquired after members of the squadron Buzz
would reply with an evasive, Oh, they're all right, and shift the
conversation into the most commonplace channels.
Ten days of this, and the surgeon gave his O.K. to the use of a
wheel chair, which was pushed around the grounds by one of the hospital
orderlies. The grounds were extremely beautiful, the hospital having
been a famous resort hotel before the exigencies of warfare required
its conversion into one of the thousands of hospitals scattered
Great beech and chestnut trees covered the lawn, and to one side was
a miniature lake, centered by a sparkling fountain, on whose
wind-dimpled surface graceful, proud swans moved with a stately ease
that scorned haste or show of effort.
On the second day of exploration in the wheel chair, Larkin came in
the afternoon and, relieving the orderly, pushed Red's chair down to a
deep shaded spot by the side of the pond.
I can't see why they won't let me walk around, McGee complained.
There's nothing wrong with my legs.
No, but they're not so sure about that head, yet. Another few days
and you'll be running foot races, Larkin assured him.
How long does it take a broken arm to heal, Buzz?
Two or three weeksmaybe four. You had a bad break. Maybe a little
longer. You're lucky, after allmaybe.
What do you mean, lucky? Red looked at him quizzically.
Well, some of the boys haven't gotten off so easy.
See here, Buzz, I'm tired of snatches of news. Tell me all you know
aboutabout everything. Back here the war seems so far awayand
unreal. Except for all these wounded men, and the uniforms, I'd never
think of it. No guns, no action, nono dawn patrols. I feel like a
fish out of water. But there must be some little old war going on up
there. I've heard about Chateau-Thierry, by piecemeal. Boy! It was the
big show starting the very morning I got it, and we didn't even know
it. Just my luck to get forced down at a time like that!
Maybe not so tough, Buzz answered. A Blighty, if it doesn't
cripple, is not so bad. Our casualties have been nearly forty per cent,
from one cause or another.
No! Red exclaimed in surprise.
Larkin nodded, dourly. They sure have! We've been up against von
Herzmann's Circus most of the time, and that fellow hasn't any slouches
on his roster. That was one of his outfit that cracked your engine.
Really? Did you get him? Red asked, his face alight with interest.
Larkin shook his head. No luck. I ducked to follow you. But Fouche
got himhis first that morning.
That morning? You mean he
Got another one, a flamer, just back of Chateau-Thierry. That boy
is some flyer! He's an ace already.
McGee's delight was genuine. That's great! Never can tell, can you?
I didn't think much of his work. He hesitated, wanting to inquire
about the others but held back by that statement of Larkin's to the
effect that casualties were above forty per cent. He feared he would
ask about someone whose name was now enrolled in that sickening total.
What aboutYancey? he tried.
Larkin laughed. Oh, that Texas cyclone is as wild as a range horse
and is due to get potted any minute. In fact, he's overdue. He's a
balloon busting fool, and no one can stop him. He has nine of them to
his credit and every time he goes out he comes back with his plane in
shreds and just barely holding together. You'd think it would cure him,
but he eats shrapnel. Has two planes to his credit, but he doesn't go
in for planes. He cuts formation exactly like you used to, Shrimp, and
goes off high, wide and lonesome, looking for sausages. He got one just
this morning, and I give you my word his ship looked like a sieve when
he came in. The Major threatens to ground him if he doesn't quit
cutting formation, but he's only bluffing. He's as proud as the rest of
So Cowan is all right? Red asked.
He sure is all right, Larkin enthused. He's an intolerable
old fuss budget and hard to get along with when on the ground or out of
action, but he's square, he's developed into a real commander, and he's
got sand a-plenty. He's coming down to see you to-morrowand that's
going some for Cowan. He likes you a lot.
Red colored, and to change the subject, asked, What about Hampden?
Didn't I see him go down just before I caught it?
Yes. Flamer. Poor devil!
To Red's mind came the picture of Siddons, fleeing from the field of
action a few minutes before the tragic death of the only man in the
squadron who really called him friend. Friend, indeed!
I suppose Siddons is still on top, McGee said, somewhat bitterly.
His kind never get it.
A troubled look spread over Larkin's face. You know, he began
slowly, none of us can figure out that fellow. He didn't get back to
the squadron that day until just at dark. The news of Hampden's death
seemed to daze him, but he didn't say a word. Two days later he left
the squadron, and we thought he was gone for goodgrounded for keeps
or sent home. But yesterday he turned up again, big as life. If Cowan
is displeased, he doesn't show it. We can't figure it out.
I can! McGee flared, then suddenly remembered that Cowan had
charged him with absolute secrecy concerning the discoveries he had
Well then, what's the dope? Larkin asked.
Oh, he's got a heavy drag somewhere, Red replied, remembering that
he had passed his word to Major Cowan. What about Hank Porter? he
asked, to shift the subject.
Larkin shook his head, dismally. Another one of Herzmann's Circus
filled him full of lead, but he tooled his ship back home before he
fainted from loss of blood. He's in a hospital for the rest of the war.
May never walk again.
McGee decided to do no more roll calling for the day. It was
altogether too depressing. For a while they talked of lighter,
commonplace things and then fell into that understanding silence that
is possible only with those whose friendship is so firmly fixed that
words add little to their communion.
Watching the swans that moved around the central fountain in stately
procession, McGee fell to thinking how little those lovely creatures
knew of tragedy and sorrow. Theirs was a world secure in beauty,
unmarred by the things which man brings upon himself, and this was true
because they knew nothing of avarice or grasping greed. Could it be
that man, in all his pride, was one of the least sensible of God's
The day following, Major Cowan called, and in his elation over the
success of American arms at the recent battle of Chateau-Thierry, told
McGee more in a short half hour than Red had been able to worm from all
others with whom he talked.
The Germans, Cowan told him, had been stopped at Chateau-Thierry in
an epic stand made by the 2nd and 3rd Divisions, A.E.F., and a few days
later the Marines had crowned themselves with a new glory when, in
liaison with the French, they had stormed the edges of Belleau Wood,
gained a foothold, and then tenaciously pushed slowly forward in the
bloodiest and bitterest battle yet waged by the untried American
forces. Counter-attack after counter-attack had been met and repulsed,
with the net result that the Germans had been definitely stopped in the
Marne salient. Their hope of breaking through to Paris was shattered,
and though they were still pounding hard, their sacrifices were vain.
It was, Cowan declared, the real turning point of the war, and even
now men were joyously declaring that the war would be won by Christmas.
As for the air forces, they had delivered beyond the fondest hopes
of the high command. The casualties had been high, Cowan admitted, but
not higher than might be expected and not without giving even heavier
losses to the enemy. The squadron losses could have been held down had
the members been less keen about scoring a personal victory over von
Herzmann. Every pursuit pilot along the entire front was willing to
take the most desperate chances in the hope of plucking the crest
feathers of this German war eagle.
I guess there's one member not particularly anxious to pluck any of
the eagle's feathers, McGee put in at this point.
No? Cowan's voice was quizzical. Who's that?
Siddons, McGee replied tersely.
A look of aggravation, or of pained tolerance, crossed Cowan's face.
We won't discuss that, he said, deserting for the moment his air
of good-fellowship and returning to the quick, testy manner of speaking
which was so characteristic of him in matters of decision. I take it
you have said nothing to Larkin, or anyone else, concerning yourah,
Nothing, sir. But I can't
Good. Let Intelligence work it out, Lieutenant. One little rumor
might upset all their plans. I can assure you, however, that G 2 knows
all that you know. They are waiting the right minuteand perhaps have
some plan in mind. Silence and secrecy are their watchwords. Let them
be yours. He arose and extended his hand. I must be moving along. I'm
glad to see you doing so nicely. You'll be more than welcome when you
get back to the squadron. Don't worry. There's plenty of war left yet.
Perhaps there was plenty of war left, but McGee soon discovered that
a badly broken arm and a cracked, cut head can be painfully slow in
healing. Days dragged slowly by, with Larkin's visits as the only
bright spot in the enforced inactivity. Then, to McGee's further
distress, the squadron was moved to another front. Larkin had been
unable to tell him just where they were going, but believed it was to
the eastward, where it was rumored the Americans were to be given a
purely American sector.
This was unpleasant news to McGee. It meant that he would be left
behind, and he could not drag from the hospital medicoes any guess as
to when he would be permitted to leave the hospital.
Hospital life, with its endless waiting, sapped his enthusiasm. At
night, in the wards, the men recovering from all manner of wounds would
try to speed the lagging hours by telling stories, singing songs, and
inventing the wildest of rumors. Occasionally, when the lights were
out, some wag would begin an imitation of a machine gun, with its
rat-tat-tat-tat, and another, catching the spirit of the mimic warfare,
would make the whistling sound of a high angle shell. In a few moments
the ward would be a clamorous inferno of mimic battle soundsmachine
guns popping, shells screaming toward explosion, cries of gas, and the
simulated agonized wails of the wounded and dying.
Hit the dirt! Here comes a G.I. can.
Look out for that flying pig!
Over the top, my buckoes, and give 'em the bayonet.
Thus did men, wrecks in the path of war, keep alive their spirit and
courage by jesting over the grimest tragedy that had ever entered their
lives. And then they would take up rollicking marching songs, or sing
dolefully, I wanta go home, I wanta go home.
Invariably, when some chap began a narrative of the prowess of his
own company or regiment, the others would begin singing, tauntingly:
The old grey mare she ain't
what she used to be,
She ain't what she used to be,
Ain't what she used to be.
The old grey mare she ain't
what she used to be
Many years ago....
It wasn't really fun, it was only the pitifully weak effort to meet
suffering, loneliness, homesickness and fear with bravado.
There is no one in all the world more lonely than a soldier in a
hospital. Time becomes what it really is, endless, and without hope of
a change on the morrow.
And the pay for it all was a gold wound chevron to wear on the
sleeve, or a dangling, glittering medal testifying to courage and
CHAPTER XI. The Ace and the Spy
So slow was McGee's recovery that it was the middle of September
before he received his final discharge from the hospital and was given
orders to rejoin his old squadron, now operating in the St. Mihiel
salient. Three days prior to his release the American Army, operating
on a purely American front, had attacked the Germans in the St. Mihiel
salient with such determined vigor, and the entire preparation
conducted with such successful secrecy, as to take the Germans by
complete surprise, overrun all opposition and recover for France many
miles of territory long held by the invaders. Thousands of prisoners,
and arms of all calibre, were captured in the swift stroke, and all
France was ringing with praise of the endeavor.
News of the progress of the battle reached McGee just before his
final discharge. He entertained high hopes of rejoining the squadron in
time to participate in the feast of victory, but by the 15th, three
days after the battle was begun, the salient had been pinched out and
the battle won.
On the 16th, when McGee reached Ligny-en-Barrois, which had served
as General Pershing's field headquarters at the beginning of the
operation, he found that his squadron had been withdrawn from the
sector and sent somewhere else.
Where? No one seemed to know. Furthermore, no one seemed to care a
great deal. A pilot lost from his squadron, or a soldier lost from his
regiment, was no new thing in France. It happened daily. Men were
discharged from hospitals, ordered to a certain point to rejoin their
commands, only to discover on reaching there that the outfit had
seemingly vanished in thin air.
McGee spent a full day trying to find someone with the correct
information as to the location of the squadron.
At last an officer on the General Staff looked over McGee's papers
and gave him a transportation order to a little town west and south of
Is my squadron there, sir? McGee asked.
They should be, the officer replied. At least near there, and he
closed the conversation as though that were quite enough for any pilot
But when McGee reached the town, part of the journey being by rail
and part by motor lorries, he found himself as completely lost as
possible. Again no one seemed to know anything about the squadron. His
search was made doubly difficult by the fact that there was an unusual
air of activity; all the troops seemed to be on the move, and officers
were far too busy with their own cares to listen to the troubles of a
That night McGee watched two or three regiments pass through the
town, fully equipped for battle. It came to him, suddenly, that all
this activity and night marching could mean only one thinga new
attack along some new front. Encouraged by the success of St. Mihiel,
the Americans were going in again. But where? McGee put the question to
a dozen officers, and not one of them had the foggiest notion of where
he was going.
This served all the more to convince McGee that a new operation was
being secretly planned by Great Headquarters, and from the many
different divisional insignias which he had noticed, he felt convinced
that it would be a major offensive. Regiment after regiment of soldiers
marched through the little village; then came lumbering guns and
caissons clattering over the resounding cobblestones of the street.
Battery after battery passed by. They were followed by a long train of
motor transports; then came some hospital units with their motor
ambulances; then more infantrymen, singing and joking as they swung
along in the darkness.
Watching them, McGee was suddenly seized with an idea which no
amount of logical thinking could exclude from his mind. Where these
troops were going, there he would find action. Somewhere, between this
point and their final stopping place, the trenches, he would find some
unit of the air force. The army must have its eyes, and any member of
any air unit could tell him more than he could learn here.
The spirit of this new type of adventure moved him to action. He had
often wondered about the life of the doughboy. Now, for the night, he
would fall in and march along with them. It would be fun just to be
going along, answerable to no one and making his way forward on foot,
by hooked rides, or by whatever means that presented itself and seemed
Slinging his musette bag over his shoulder, and buttoning up his
flying coat, he stepped into the street, followed along the dark
buildings for a few yards and then fell in alongside a long line of
A mile beyond the edge of the town he regretted his action. Rain
began to fall in torrents. Ponchos were quickly donned by the men and
they again took up the splashing, sloshing line of march, grumbling a
little, joking about Sunny France, and complaining over the harsh
order that forbade smoking.
From that one thing McGee knew for a certainty that they were being
sent forward under orders of the utmost secrecy. Men on the line of
march under cover of darkness were never allowed to smoke. An enemy
airman, should he pass over, would see a long line of twinkling
fireflies. From that he would know there was some sort of movement, and
this information would be speedily carried to the German High Command.
So, without displaying any lights whatsoever, the men and motors moved
ever forward along the muddy road.
The rain ceased as suddenly as it had come. The night was warm, for
September, and grey fog wraiths began rising from the ground. The
sweating horses, straining at the big heavy guns at the side of the
road, were blanketed in steam.
The traffic on the pitch black road was becoming increasingly heavy,
and now and again halts were made until someone, far ahead, succeeded
in working out the snarl. Then the troops would move forward again.
McGee no longer had any doubts concerning what was in store for
these thousands upon thousands of men, but he was beginning to question
the wisdom of his own move. He made no attempt to engage anyone in
conversation, fearing that it would result in some officious commander
ordering him to the rear.
Far ahead, against the black night sky, flashes of gunfire showed
now and then, the following thunder establishing the fact that the
front was within three or four hours' marching time. The gunfire,
however, was not heavy, being merely the spasmodic firing incident to
such nights as communiques spoke of as calm.
After another hour of marching, McGee noticed that they were on the
edge of a shattered village. Not one single wall stood intact. As he
reached the center of this stark skeleton of a once happy village he
saw that here the enemy had concentrated their fire. Here was a wall,
standing gaunt and grim against the night sky; and over there, facing a
little square, a shattered church still retained the strength to hold
aloft its cross-capped steeple. The Cross ... in a broken, blood-red
McGee slowed his pace, gradually, and dropped from the line of
march. He had considered himself fully recovered, but the last hour had
sapped his small reserve of strength. He seated himself on a pile of
stone in the dark corner of a protecting wall and wiped his brow. What
with the long, hot march, and the steam arising from the soaked earth,
he was wringing wet. The experience had served to increase his respect
for these plodding doughboys who considered this as only one more night
like dozens of others they had experienced.
Sitting there on the damp, cold stone, McGee considered his
position. This town, battered by shell fire, would be forward of any
position taken up by a pursuit group. To push on would be but to
retrace his steps. It would also be folly, for he had no gas mask.
Shells had reached this town before, and they might do so again. He was
willing to take a chance with flying shrapnel, but deadly gas was
something else again.
He decided, therefore, to make his way to the edge of the town, find
shelter if possible, and await the coming of dawn. Daylight, he
reasoned, would be certain to bring him in sight of planes from some
group, operating on this front, and if he could locate a 'drome his
problem would be near solution.
He made his way back along the lines of infantrymen, artillery,
ambulances and wagon trains until he reached an old stone stable that
had miraculously escaped destruction.
Having no light, he groped around in the black interior, seeking a
place where he might spread his coat for a bed. He stumbled against a
ladder, which mounted upward into the cavernous mow of a loft. He
climbed the creaking rungs, found footing on the dry floor, and stopped
to sniff at the odor of the few wisps of dry, musty hay scattered
thinly over the rough boards. He took a step forward, stumbled over a
pair of legs and landed headfirst on the stomach of another sleeper.
Whoosh! went the escaping breath of that truant soldier, followed
by an angry outpouring of abuse.
Say, soldier! Get your foot out of my face! What do you think this
isa football game?
Pipe down! came a gruff voice from another corner. Do you want
some smart Looie to come up here and chase us out?
McGee smiled, wondering what would be their reaction should he
announce that a Looie was even now in their presence. Perhaps it was
his duty, as an officer, to rout them out and order them to rejoin
their commands, but he felt no responsibility for these men of the
line, and if they were as weary and sleepy as heand doubtless they
had more reason to bethen he could hardly blame them for falling out.
With the morning, he knew, these army-wise soldiers would go down the
road until they found their outfits and there pour forth a plausible
lie about becoming lost in the tangle and how they had searched all
night for their company.
McGee knew little enough about the American infantrymen, but he did
know that for tricks that are vain Bret Harte's famous heathen Chinee
had nothing on the average soldier of the line, be he American,
English, French or a black man from Senegal.
Cautiously he felt out a clear space, spread his coat over the rough
timbers and was soon sound asleep.
While McGee slept soundly, blissfully removed from all scenes of
conflict and completely ignorant of his exact location, a midnight
conference of gravest nature was taking place in the little settlement
of Landres-et-St. Georges, far behind the German lines of defense.
Four thick-necked, grey-haired German officers were seated at a long
table in the front room of a chateau that had been in German hands for
more than three years. Candles flickered uncertainly on the table,
lighting the center of the large room but leaving the corners in dim
The four officers sat stiffly erect, without comment, their eyes on
the double door as though they were awaiting someone. Outside, on the
stone flagging of a courtyard, sounded the heavy tread of a Prussian
Guardsman walking guard before the sanctum of these Most High ones
who sat so stolidly waiting.
The resounding footfalls of the guardsman came to a clicking halt,
followed by a guttural challenge which was replied to in a softer
voice. The guardsman again took up his beat.
A moment later the door to the council room opened. A smooth-faced,
blond young man stood at stiff salute in the doorwaydressed in the
uniform of an English officer!
For a long minute he stood at salute while the four at the table
eyed him studiously. Then the hand came down, and a quick smile spread
over his face as he stepped forward into the brighter light of the
room. He carried in his hand one of the swagger sticks so commonly used
by English officers.
Well, Herr Hauptmann, he addressed the officer at the head
of the table, do you find my disguise, and my English, sufficiently
Correct, yes, the heavy-jowled officer replied in German, but not
pleasing, Count von Herzmann. Himmel! How I hate the sight of
the Englander's uniform and the sound of his thin, squeaky tongue. And
I say to you again that this wild plan of yours is a fool's errand. I
would forbid it, had you not gained the consent of the General Staff. I
do not understand it. You are too valuable to the cause for the General
Staff to permit you to take such a chance. I say again, it is a fool's
Count von Herzmann smiled reassuringly. Fool's errand, Herr
Hauptmann? he responded in German. Is there anything more
precious to our cause than to learn just now where this next blow is to
be struck? For the past ten days all of our secret operatives have sent
us conflicting reports. The English and the French are too quiet on
their fronts. It presages a storm. As for the Americans, we need not
worry. They are still boasting of their victory at St. Mihiel. They
will not be ready to strike again before late Fallperhaps not until
Spring. We must
Speak in English, interrupted one of the other officers. Much as
we hate it, we must see to it that it is perfect.
Right you are! von Herzmann replied with the perfect accent of a
well-bred Englishman. My three years' schooling in England was not for
nothing, sir. Accent top hole, eh, what! Rawther. He smiled at his own
mimicry. I was saying, he went on, that we must discover where the
English will strike next. Victory depends upon it.
Ja, das ist richtig spoke up the stolid
Oberst-leutnant, who had been listening without comment as his grey
eyes, deep set under stiff, bristling eyebrows, appraised the confident
von Herzmann. Ja, we must learn where the swine strike next.
But must it be you to take the chance? You know the costshould you
Quite well, sir, von Herzmann replied, smiling. A little party in
front of a firing wall with myself as the center of attraction. Ah,
well! What matter. I have about played out my string of luck in the
air. Sooner or later, there must be an ending. I have a great fear that
it will be the luck of some cub, fresh at the front, to bring me down.
Ha! How he would swank around, boasting how he brought down the great
von Herzmann. Bah! Death, Herr Hauptmann, I do not fear in the
least, but I hate the thought of a cub boasting over my bones. Besides,
there are no new adventures left for me in the air. I am a little weary
of it all. But thisthis is new adventure and
And deadly dangerous, reminded the cadaverous, thin-faced officer
at the far end of the table.
If not dangerous, it is not adventure, sir, von Herzmann replied.
Do we not all enjoy the thing that presents some hazard? Youth lives
it; age thrills to the reports of it. If I fail, I fail. If I succeed,
the Fatherland is well served and I've another adventure in my kit.
Perhaps even another bit of iron to dangle on my coat, eh? Rawther
jolly prospect, what? He again smiled at his own mimicry, as well he
might, for the accent was perfect. But I won't fail, Herr Hauptmann. He became serious as he drew some papers from the breast pocket of
his well tailored, though well worn, English uniform coat which bore
the marks of campaigning. See, he said, tossing down a little black
fold which the English issued to officers for identification, I am
Lieutenant Richard Larkin, R.F.C., known to his familiars as 'Buzz.'
The picture, you will notice, is my own, placed there after we had
carefully removed the one of the gentleman whose uniform and
identification card I am to make use of.
This, he tossed another paper on the table, is a pass to Paris,
properly indorsed, and giving authority for refueling and repairing, if
needed. Neat enough, eh? The date, unfortunately, was originally in
April, but our Intelligence section has some very clever penmen and you
will note that the date now appearing there is as of September the
twenty-sixth, and the period of the pass is for five days.
The twenty-sixth! exclaimed the Oberst-leutnant. So soon!
That is the day after to-morrow.
Yes. Our operative will cross the lines to-morrow evening, just
before sundown, in a two-seater Nieuport. He will land just back of
Montfaucon, and I will then re-cross the lines, will be set down back
of Neuvilly and will then begin the great adventure. I am to be back
within five days, or he shrugged his shoulder expressively.
One of the officers banged his fist on the table. It is a fool's
errand, I repeat, a fool's errand! If this operative, with the
Americans, is back of Neuvilly, what is he doing there? Perhaps the
Americans are there in force, preparing to strike here.
Impossible! the senior officer snorted. Attack the Hindenburg
Line? The Americans are stupid, but not so stupid as that. We know that
a few Americans are in the sector south of Vauquois Hill. They are
relieving the French there. And for what reason? So that the French may
be moved up in the Champagne, east of the Meuse. That is where the blow
will be struck. But, even so, I have not the faith in this Operative
Number Eighty-one which the High Command seems to place in him.
He has brought us much information, one of the others reminded.
Yes, erroneous and tardy information. Not one thing have we learned
from him but what was too late to be of value. And much of it
Not always, von Herzmann replied. He brought correct and timely
information concerning the movement of that new American pursuit
squadron, you will recall. And but for the accursed luck that brought
those French Spads upon us at the wrong time, my Circus would have
potted half of them.
Luck! the senior officer retorted, heatedly. You call it luck! It
was luck that we did not lose you and that you got your crippled plane
back across the line. But can you be sure that those Spads came upon
the scene, at the right moment, by chance?
Count von Herzmann shook his head. No, Herr Hauptmann, in
this war we can be sure of only one thingdeath, if the war continues.
It must be brought to a speedy close. Daily, now, we lose ground. It is
because of this that I made the urgent request to be permitted to
undertake this mission. But, he smiled expansively, be not too
fearful or alarmed. If I fail, if there be trickery in it, you shall
have the privilege of avenging me.
How do you mean, avenge you?
Herr Hauptmann, war is a world-old game, with modern
applications. You have read, doubtless, how in the olden times hostages
It is not always effective, but it furnishes the crumb of revenge
and retaliation. I am not without some fear for my safety, and because
of that I will provide a hostage.
You talk in riddles.
Perhaps, but I give you the answer. Operative Number Eighty-one
will come for me in a two-seater just at dark. But he will not be the
one to take me back.
Das ist ziemlich gescheit!
Count von Herzmann shrugged his shoulders at the exclamatory
surprise and compliment. Clever? No. Merely an old custom borrowed
from old wars. Operative Number Eighty-one will be held at the
headquarters at Montfauconpending my return. If I do not return in
five days, then he too will hold the stage a brief minute before a
firing wall. Then, perhaps we will meet beyond the Great Linewhere
there are no wars or rumors of wars. Is there anything else you have to
take up with me now, Herr Hauptmann?
Ach, yes! If you are successful, and return within your scheduled
time, how will this operative, held at Montfaucon, make a satisfactory
explanation to the Americans regarding his long absence?
Count von Herzmann snapped his fingers. Poof! That is secondary,
and a problem which I leave to the superior mind of Herr Hauptmann
and the High Command.
CHAPTER XII. Wheels Within Wheels
Near noon, the following day, a motor cycle with side car snorted to
a sudden stop at the newly erected hangar tents of an American Pursuit
Group, and McGee crawled stiffly from the bone-racking, muscle-twisting
bath tub. He thanked the mud-splashed, goggled driver, adding, by way
of left-handed compliment, that he had been given more thrills in the
last five kilometers than he had received in all his months in the
Allied Air Service.
He turned toward the hangar. There was but one ship on the field, a
two-seater. By its side stood Siddons and his air mechanic. They seemed
to be in close-headed conference.
McGee clicked his teeth in a little sound of suppressed emotion,
slipped through the hangar door and stood face to face with his own old
For the luva Pete! exclaimed the startled air mechanic. When did
you get here, Lieutenant?
McGee extended his hand in greeting. Williams grasped it, eagerly.
Well, for the luva Pete? he repeated, lacking words in his
surprise and pleasure. Lieutenant Larkin! Oh, Lieutenant Larkin! he
began roaring. Oh, Bill! Where's Larkin?
Just left a minute ago, came a voice from under the hood of a new
Spad. Went over to his quarters to wash up. Grease from head to foot.
I'll go show you his quarters, Williams said, eagerly.
Never mind, I'll find him, McGee said. Have to check in at
headquarters first. I hear Cowan is still C.O.
Yes, sir. He sure is. And he's a darb, Lieutenant.
So I hear. Piling up quite a record. How many of the old gang still
Not many. If the Hun doesn't get 'em, nerves and the smell of
castor-oil does. Half a dozen of 'em gone flooey in the stomach.
Couldn't eat enough to keep a bird alive and couldn't keep that down.
It's a tough game, Lieutenant. Next war that comes yours truly is going
to join the infantry.
Don't do it, McGee warned, as he turned away. I've just had a
little experience with the infantry and it's not such a bed of roses.
See you later, Williams.
Well for the luva Pete! Williams commented to himself, standing
arms akimbo as he watched McGee cross over toward headquarters. And
they said that bird's head was busted wide open and his brains
scattered all over France. Now there he is, big as life. I'll bet ten
bucks to a lousy centime he lives to fall off a merry-go-round and
break his neck. For the luva Pete!
McGee's return to the squadron would have been fittingly celebrated
but for the fact that five o'clock the following morning had been
designated as zero hour for the greatest drive ever undertaken by
Americans on foreign soil. He had arrived just in time to hurl himself
into the feverish preparations for the support which all air units must
give the massed ground forces that would hurl themselves upon the
supposedly impregnable Hindenburg Line. With the coming of dawn the
combat squadrons must gain and hold air supremacy. Nothing less than
complete and absolute supremacy would satisfy Great Headquarters, who
in planning the drive were high in the hope that the fresh divisions of
American soldiers could break through the Hindenburg Line and by
hammering, hammering, hammering at the enemy force him into peace terms
before the coming of winter.
McGee was tickled pink by his timely arrival, but it was not all a
matter of rejoicing. For one thing, it seemed that almost the entire
group was made up of new faces. Of those flight pilots whom he had
first met when he came to the squadron as an instructor, only three
remainedYancey, Nathan Rodd and Siddons. Of course Larkin was still
on top, and Cowan not only held his command, but had established quite
a reputation. Yancey had earned the right to a nickname more
appropriately fitting than the flying fool, for he was anything but a
fool and his mounting victories proved that he had something more than
Nathan Rodd, his nerve unshattered by his first unfortunate
encounter with the enemy, was still as taciturn as ever, preferring to
let his deeds speak for him.
As for Siddons, McGee could get no information out of Larkin save
that everyone thought that Siddons had some pull. A good flyer, yes,
Larkin admitted, but forever cutting formation, flying off where he
pleased, absenting himself for two or three days, and returning with
the thinnest of excuses. But he got by, somehow, and Cowan was the only
one who appeared friendly toward him. For the past twenty-four hours,
Larkin told McGee, Siddons had been working on a two-seater and had
made two test flights. No one seemed to know what was back of it, but
rather believed Siddons was to be transferred to Observation, at least
during the coming battle.
To this information McGee made no reply, but secretly hoped that
Siddons was in fact being transferred to Observation, where his
activities would be more easily accounted for due to the fact that he
would be carrying an observer.
Late that afternoon rain began falling, and at mess time the mess
hall became the stage for exceptionally spirited banter and wild
conjecture as to what would happen on the morrow. Confidential battle
orders carried the information that artillery preparation would begin
at midnight, continuing with great concentration until 5:30 a.m., zero
hour, when the attacking forces of nine American divisions would storm
over the top in the beginning of a titanic struggle to carry the famous
Hindenburg Line and sweep the Germans back through the Argonne and
beyond the Meuse.
Every fighting unit had been given comprehensive plans of the
objectives and of the ground over which they were to advance. The air
units were especially drilled in the battle plans, for Great
Headquarters would look to the Observation section and to the pursuit
planes for a full measure of information as to how the battle went.
Major Cowan's pursuit group was only one of the many ready to begin
operations on this new front, but none could have shown more enthusiasm
and eager expectancy than did this group of young men who wolfed down
their evening meal and jested in a strained, light-hearted manner that
betrayed the nerve tension under which they were laboring. To-morrow
morning was the start of the Big Show!
All the pilots were present at this meal save Siddons, who had taken
off alone, in a two-seater, a few minutes before sundown. He had let it
be known that he was reporting to Observation for special duty, and no
one seemed sorry to see him go.
The evening meal was scarcely finished when McGee and Larkin were
forced to withdraw from the good-natured kidding match by a summons to
report to Major Cowan. They obeyed, grumbling, and with heated,
spirited contention that they were beyond doubt the most command-ridden
lieutenants in the entire A.E.F.
He wants to spend half the night with those maps all of us have
been getting goggle-eyed over for the last two days, Larkin complained
as they approached Cowan's hut. He's a map hound, if there ever was
one! I think that bird knows every trench line, strong point, pill box
and artillery P.C., between here and Sedan. And so do I! He's pounded
it into my head.
I wish I knew as much, McGee quickly resigned himself. This drive
is all so sudden and unexpected, to me, that I hardly know where I am
right now. I've an idea the Old Man is going to tell me I can't go
Don't worry, fellow, Larkin told him, pausing at the Major's door.
Every guy with two arms, two legs and two eyes will be along on this
little fracas. Believe me, this is to be some show!
As they entered they noticed that Cowan stood with his back to the
door, bending over a large map spread out on the table.
What did I tell you? Larkin whispered to McGee. We're in for a
session of night map flying.
McGee did not hear him. His interest was upon a sergeant and four
privates who were seated on a bench against the wall just to the right
of the door. He noted that they wore side arms only, and that on their
sleeves were the blue and white brassards of the Military Police. M.P.,
eh? Then something was up!
Cowan turned from his map. Ah, you are here. Sergeant, he
addressed the non-com in charge of the detail, post your detail just
outside the door and wait. If anyone approaches with aahprisoner,
Yes, sir. The detail filed out.
Cowan saw the look of question on the faces of the two pilots.
You are wondering why they are here, eh? Well, they have been sent
down from Corps Headquarters to take charge of a prisoner. We hope to
hold a little reception here within a short timepossibly any minute
Who is to be honored, Major? Larkin asked.
A rather well known gentleman, Cowan replied, tantalizingly. Both
of you are quite well acquainted with Lieutenant Siddons, I believe?
Larkin looked at McGee in astonishment.
No, sir, McGee replied to Cowan, no one in this outfit knows that
fellow very well.
Quite right, Cowan agreed. Lieutenant Larkin, I recall that you
lost your old R.F.C. uniform a good while back.
And in the pocket was your old identification fold, and certain
other papers? An old pass to Paris, for one thing?
Whyyes, sir. The identification card was there, but I don't
recall what I did with that old pass.
It was there, Cowan told him, and it grieves me to inform you
that the uniform, and all that the pockets contained, was stolen by
What! Are you sure?
There is no doubt about it. Furthermore, he delivered them into the
hands of the enemy. Larkin was too dumbfounded for words, but McGee
displayed little surprise.
So you have at last found out what I knew all along, Major? Red
Not at last, Cowan replied, with meaning emphasis. Your
uniform, Lieutenant Larkin, will be returned to you soonwe hope.
Oh! McGee jerked his head toward the door. So that's the reason
for the M.P.'s. You are going to nab him?
Not exactly that. Cowan was enjoying the curiosity provoked by the
suspense he was creating. I believe both of you have heard of a
certain German ace, Count von Herzmann?
Have we! Larkin replied.
McGee ran his fingers along a white scar still showing through the
hair which had not yet grown out long enough to be the flaming red mop
Seems I've heard of him, he said. And I seem to recall that one
of his flyers left me this little souvenir on the top of my head. I'd
like to pay the Count backin person.
You'll never get the chance! Cowan replied. But if all our plans
work out, you will meet him in person soonin this very room!
What! It was a duet of surprise.
Yes, here. Count von Herzmann in personand in Lieutenant Larkin's
long lost uniform.
Both McGee and Larkin sank weakly into two convenient chairs, the
expression on their faces disclosing that they were trying to select
the proper order of the first of a thousand questions.
Wellwhat's that to do withwith Siddons? McGee at last found
stammering tongue. Where does he come in?
He comes in a few minutes after the Count. He will land the Count
in a field near here, let him alight, and then take off again and
proceed to this 'drome. The Count, left alone, will doubtless make his
way into the woods bordering the field, where he will promptly be
nabbed. That little drama should be taking place now. For your
information, the credit for this coup goes to Lieutenant Siddons.
McGee and Larkin stared at each other, scarce believing their ears.
Well what do you know about that! McGee's half audible remark was
the trite expression so commonly used by those who are staggered by a
I know all about it, Cowan said, actually laughingthe
first time either of the others had ever heard him even so much as
chuckle. I know all about it, and I've called you here for two
reasons: I think you, McGee, are entitled to see the next to the last
act in this littleahtragedy, I suppose it should be called; and I
want Larkin to be present when his uniform reappears. I might need him
for purposes of identification.
Cowan lifted a protesting hand. Don't ask questions. Better let me
tell it. The story will have to be brief, and a bit sketchy, for time
flies. The things you don't know about all this would fill a book.
Perhaps I had better start at the beginning:
In 1914, when the war first broke out, the man you know as Siddons
was living in Germany, with his father and mother, and was in his
second year in a Berlin university. He was born in America, of
German-American parents. For your information, his right name is
Schwarz, not Siddons.
I always thought he looked like a German, McGee said.
Cowan merely nodded. Naturally, he does. His father, who had come
to America in his youth to escape four years military service with the
colors, developed into an exceedingly shrewd business man and had been
sent back to Germany as the Berlin representative of one of our large
exporters. Though he had become an American citizen, he was, quite
naturally, genuinely sympathetic with Germany as against England and
France. But when it began to be almost a certainty that America would
be drawn into the war, the Schwarz family held a family conference and
the old man declared himself as being loyal to America, his adopted
country, if war actually came.
During the months of strained relationship between our country and
Germany, the Schwarz family had to keep their mouths shut and saw wood.
Then, suddenly, America declared war. Many Americans, and
German-Americans, were caught in Germany. This was the case of the
Schwarz family. The old gentleman was arrested, in fact, and the
military authorities claimed that since he had never served with the
colors he was subject to their orders.
Then young Schwarzthe man you know as Siddonssaw a chance to
relieve the pressure and at the same time serve America in a most
unusual way, a way not possible with one man in a million.
Serve America? You mean Germany? Larkin interjected.
I said America, Cowan replied testily. He did not like to be
interrupted. You'd better let me tell it my way. As I was saying,
Siddons, claiming to be in complete sympathy with the German cause,
offered his services to them as a secret agent, unfolding a plan which
they, in their alarm and need, swallowedhook, line and sinker.
The plan was this: He proposed that he be given instruction in
secret service work and then be returned to America, where he would
pose as a loyal American, get in the army, and serve as an under cover
man for Germany. They fell for it like a ton of brick, following the
stupid reasoning that because of his German blood he must by nature be
truly German. It may sound funny to you, but they preach that very
thing, and they truly believe it.
Well, certainly young Schwarz was cast perfectly for the role. He
was widely travelled, spoke German fluently, and his English was
flawless. They were quick to see the advantages. His proposition was
accepted. He was given a brief schooling in their spy system, and then,
for show, he was ordered out of Germanyunder the fictitious name of
The rest was easy. We had a very poor spy system at the beginning
of the war. There was no such branch of service as we now call G 2. But
it was forming, and to them Schwarz made his way, unfolded his plan,
and after a careful checking up on his story they decided to take a
chance. A spy within a spy! Wheels within wheels! It was a great idea.
Do you see it?
His two auditors made no sign other than a staring, amazed look.
G 2 was at first suspicious, Cowan went on, but he gave them so
much information concerning actual conditions in Germany that they
could no longer doubt him. They sent him to an aviation training
school, telling him to guard his neck at all times and not run any
You know the restor most of it. He has been invaluable to us, and
to-night he will pull his greatest job. And since I have made free to
tell you all this, you may be certain it is his last trip across the
lines. He reports that the German High Command is getting a bit
suspicious, and he dare not trust his luck much further.
McGee, who had been listening with intense interest, exhaled audibly
as Cowan finished his narration. Well! he exclaimed. I'll never jump
to conclusions again. Now I know why that fellow has always acted like
he was answerable to no one but himself. And I thought him yellow! And
next I thought he was a spy. Well, I was right about thatbut the
wrong way around. I take my hat off to him! It takes nerve to fill his
It does indeed! Cowan agreed fervently. Perhaps you recall how I
bawled him out for cutting formation over Vitry that day when we were
on our way up for our first action? And how I sent him over the lines
on a mission to locate von Herzmann's Circus?
McGee nodded. I certainly do remember it. You sure said plenty!
Hokum! All hokum! Cowan said. Actually, he was going over on a
daylight mission of an entirely different nature, and what I said in
your presence was merely to mislead you. Unfortunately, you happened to
see him running the Archie fire and saw the signals which he had used
again and again in crossing over. When you reported to me, we feared
the cat was out of the bag. There seemed to be only one way outto
pledge you to secrecy and lead you to believe that we were simply
waiting for the proper time to bag him. I knew you would keep your
word, and that is another reason why you are hereas a sort of reward.
You are the only one who has ever had any such suspicions.
Larkin laughed, mirthlessly. That makes a lot of chuckle-heads out
of the rest of us, doesn't it?
Oh, I wouldn't say that, Lieutenant. But you did make life rather
hard for Siddons. He was afraid to form close friendships. Poor Hampden
was the only one he was ever very close to, and Hampden was as ignorant
of the facts as any of you. Siddons had to be careful. He knows that
the Germans also have spies. Should they get proof of his duplicity, he
would be a doomed man.
Well, McGee sighed again, he can have my share of that kind of
service. I prefer to meet mine without any blindfold over my eyes. I'll
make my apologies to him, and admit to his face that he has more nerve
than most men I know. But there is one thing I can't get through my
head, Major. How could he keep fooling them if he never took them any
He did take them information. But it was always so cleverly
falsejust near enough the truth that he could hardly be blamed for
not having it more accurateor else it was the real truth but too late
to be of any value to them. You can be sure we gained by his work.
One more question from me, Major, Larkin spoke up. What makes you
so sure that Count von Herzmann
The door was thrown open by a helmeted, muddy doughboy sergeant from
the lines. Then into the room, followed by the mud-spattered doughboy
and the M.P. detail, walked a smiling, confident, blond young man,
attired in the uniform of a member of the British Air Forces.
The suddenness and surprise of the movement started the ends of
Cowan's moustache to twitching.
Sir, spoke up the muddy infantryman, here's that bozo we all been
Major Cowan arose. Count von Herzmann, I believe? he said as
calmly as though it were a social meeting.
The prisoner lifted his eyebrows in well feigned surprise. There is
some dreadful mistake here, Major, he said with a calm assurance as he
took from his pocket a small identification fold, bound in black
leather. I am
Just a moment, the Major interrupted. Permit me first to
introduce one of these gentlemen. Count von Herzmann, this is
Lieutenant Richard Larkin, whose uniform you are now wearing and whose
identification card you hold in your hand. I am sure you are glad to
For the briefest moment von Herzmann's mouth dropped open. He knew
the jig was up! Almost immediately, however, he regained the debonair,
easy grace of a splendidly poised loser. He bowed to Larkin, who stood
with mouth agape and eyes popping out.
I am indebted to Lieutenant Larkin for the use of his uniform, von
Herzmann said. I regret that it will probably be returned to him with
bullet holes in it. Oh, wellsuch is war, eh? Perhaps he can find some
satisfaction in keeping it as a souvenir. He can point to the holes and
say, 'Count von Herzmann, the German ace and spy, was just behind these
Every man in the room felt awed and a trifle uneasy. Here was a man
whose cool courage they could envy. Not every man can face death with
so grim a jest.
However, von Herzmann turned to Cowan, it gives me pleasure to
report that I foresaw the possibility of this very thing and so
arranged matters that a certain Mr. Schwarz, whom you call Siddons,
will be shot five days from now.
What! Cowan stormed. He wheeled to the sergeant. Sergeant, where
did this man
The sergeant doesn't know, von Herzmann put in. He is the third
man in whose charge I have been placed. Perhaps you had better let me
tell you, Major. Your planes are quite wretched and inferior, sir, and
when the engine of the one I was making use of died suddenly, we were
forced to land quickly and take what the Fates had in store. We struck
an old shell hole, turned over, and my pilot was killed, poor fellow!
Too bad it wasn't the other way round. He wore his own uniform, and
could hardly have been shot as a spy.
Cowan sank into a chair, rather heavily. His poise was no match for
von Herzmann's, who seemed to be getting a keen delight out of the
I was not at the controls, von Herzmann continued, but the engine
sputtered as though it were out of fuel.
Major Cowan nodded his head sadly. It was. Poor Siddons was right,
he mused, seemingly unconscious for the moment of the presence of the
Only half right, von Herzmann corrected, smiling.
No, Cowan replied with spirit, all right. He feared you
might become suspicious and double-cross him, and with that in mind he
put just enough gas in the tank to carry the plane there and part way
back. He made rather careful tests. But he installed another tank, with
a feed line that he could cut inin case he were flying the plane. If notwell, you see what happened.
Count von Herzmann merely shrugged his shoulders at this piece of
news which must have been irritating in the extreme. Ah, well, he
said easily, one cannot think of everything. In our haste to get away,
neither I nor my pilot thought of that possibility. Very clever fellow,
this man Schwarz. We both made good guesses, and we both lose. Kismet!
We both serve our country, and we both get shot. So be it. Wars are
very old, Major; death quite as common as life; and the old Hebraic law
still operative'an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth!' In this
case, an ace for an ace and a spy for a spy. Even up, and the war rolls
on. I wonder, Major, just when it will close?
Seemingly, as in answer to his question, from toward the front came
the sudden roaring of thousands of guns. Doors rattled, the ground
quivered, and through the window the sky was alight with a pulsating
For a few minutes every man in the room stood listening.
What isthat? Count von Herzmann asked at last.
The beginning of the end, Cowan answered. You wondered when it
would come. Soon now. Nearly five thousand heavy calibre guns are
blowing your trenches to bits, and will continue until we go over in
So? The German's face was a picture of pained surprise. So the
attack comes here? Gott! Had I knownhad we known. He paused,
obviously pained, then again resumed his jesting poise. You can be
sure, Major, that I regret I am not on the receiving end of your
artillery preparation and that I shall be unable to meet your squadron
with my Circus to-morrow morning over the lines.
I dare say, was Cowan's reply as he turned to the sergeant in
charge of the Military Police detail. Sergeant, take charge of the
prisoner and deliver him to First Corps Headquarters. And make sure
that he does not escape.
The sergeant saluted, grinning expansively.
He's got a fat chance to get away from me, sir, he said.
I'm the spy bustin'est baby in this man's army.
You will treat him with courtesy, Cowan ordered. He is a brave
Yes, sir, the sergeant replied. So was Nathan Hale, sirbut he
got shot just the same.
CHAPTER XIII. The Last of the Big
The following morning had no dawning. A light rain had fallen during
the night and a heavy, obliterating fog arose from the wet earth,
blanketing hill and valley alike. So dense was it that troops in the
front lines, peeping over the top in anxious nervousness as they
awaited the zero hour, saw nothing but a wall of white that made the
shell-tortured land before them more mysterious than any dream of
battle ever fancied.
What did it hold? Where were the German lines? And just what had
been the effect of this five hour tornado of screaming shells?
Machine guns, under cover of the fog, were boldly mounted on the
trench parapets. They danced and chattered on their tripods as they
pounded forth streams of lead upon the unseen enemy positions.
Zero hour at last! Along the line officers blew shrill whistles, or
some, calmer than the others, gave the signal with a confidently
shouted, Let's go!
Over the trench tops poured thousands of khaki clad warriors,
sallying forth in the most resolute endeavor ever attempted by American
They had not advanced ten feet from the trenches before the fog
swallowed them, magically, and many were never to retrace their steps.
The big show they had so long waited for was here with an
ear-splitting, nerve-racking tempest of thundering guns. The Big
At any other time the air forces would have stayed safely at home,
not daring to take wing on such a day when the ceiling was scarcely
higher than a man's head. But now they must go out, at any cost,
blindly flying and vainly seeking some view of the advancing troops.
But they went out singly, for to attempt formation flight on such a
morning would be to court disaster and death.
McGee and Larkin were the first of the squadron to take off for the
front, the interval between their time of departure being sufficient to
avoid any meeting as they climbed.
The fog bank was much thicker than McGee had anticipated. At a
hundred feet he could not see a thing above, below, or on either side.
He headed his new ship, a swift Spad, in the direction of Vauquois
Hill, intending to cross the line there and hoping that the crest of
the hill might loom up out of the fog.
Vain hope. It was impossible to see a thing. Any minute he might go
plowing into some hillside or foul his landing gear in the tops of
trees. It was eerie business, this flying by instinct and facing the
dreaded possibility of coming a cropper.
Several times he cut his motor, and at such times could hear the din
of battle belowand it was not any too far below, either.
Added to the fear of crashing was the thought that any second he
might cross the path of a high angle shell which had been directed at
some enemy strong point. It was not a pleasant thought, but he could
not shake it off. Certainly the air was full of them, and if he was to
get any information as to the progress of the battle he must keep low
and accept all hazards. Then too, there was the chance that he might
meet up with some other plane drilling through the fog.
Well, he thought aloud, I'm a poor prune if I lose my nerve now.
I expressed my opinion of Siddonsand gee! how he'd like to be facing
no more than this.
It was a depressing, angering thought. Five days, von Herzmann had
said. Then Siddons would face a firing squad. In the meantime, there
was no human agency, on the Allied side of the line, that could stop
the inexorable march of time and the certain death which this man must
It was this latter fact, the feeling of helpless impotency, that
fired McGee's brain with reckless daring and sent him boring through
the fog like an angry hornet.
He soon found that this was of no avail and at last, seeking
something that might be of value, he climbed out of the
earth-blanketing fog into the clear sunlight, encountering clear blue
sky at some fifteen hundred feet.
Below him, now, was a billowing sea of fog banks, tinted by the sun
which had climbed about it. A short distance ahead he sighted an enemy
tri-plane Fokker, but before he could give chase it had dived into the
Over to the right, in what he thought must be the general direction
of Montfaucon, he saw a single seater Nieuport cruising around.
He headed for it, and soon identified it as Yancey's plane. The wild
Texan was sitting above the fog, patiently waiting (as a cat waits for
a mouse) for some observation sausage to come nosing out of the fog.
Tex knew that the sun would eventually burn up the fog. The enemy, also
knowing this, would be sending up their sausages so as to have them in
position when the fog passed. Certainly the enemy had reason to see all
that could be seen, for by this time they must be hard pressed indeed.
Directly in McGee's path, about half way between his plane and
Yancey's, a black, formless bulk loomed out of the fog. A sausage!
McGee drove hard for it, and noted that he was in a race with
Yancey, whose quick eye had sighted it.
The black bag was hardly out of the fog bank when tracers from
McGee's and Yancey's guns began streaming into it. It exploded with
amazing suddenness, the flaming cloth sinking back into enveloping
billows of fog.
Yancey banked sharply, flew alongside McGee and shook his fist as
though to sayGo and find a rat hole of your own. This is my
McGee chuckled. The Texan, instead of trying to catch some view of
the far flung battle lines, was out to increase his score.
McGee dived back down into the fog, hoping that it might be lifting.
Down below, he knew, a mighty struggle was on. Lines of communication
would be shot all to pieces in the rain of heavy shells. Great
Headquarters would be waiting anxiously for some news of the real
status and progress of the battle.
At 8:30 the fog was still holding over the field and McGee
reluctantly turned his ship homeward.
By that sixth sense which the seasoned pilot has, or develops, he
found the field. No one had been able to catch sight of the ground
Cowan was storming around, under pressure from headquarters.
It's information we want, he told the pilots as they came in, not
a tale of what can't be done. Get back over the lines. This fog will
pass. This is not a job for an hour. Headquarters wants information.
To McGee, he said, with something of a sting in his voice,
Considering the chances Siddons used to take, I'd think this
squadronhis own groupwould be equal to this task.
It was a lash. Furious, yet realizing the justice of the taunt,
McGee again took off, determined not to come back until he could bring
some real news of the battle's progress.
That was the longest, hardest day ever put in by American aviators.
They had little trouble in gaining and holding air supremacy, but they
had a most difficult time, when the fog finally lifted, in getting any
The advance had been so rapid, and so successful, that the
Hindenburg Line had been carried by the soldiers in the first few hours
of battle. But in pressing forward, in the fog, they had been unable to
keep in close liaison. Instead of being a well-knit whole, they were
little more than a storming, victory-drunk mob. They stopped at
nothingand nothing could stop them. As for displaying their white
muslin panels to airplanes so that their positions might be
knownpoof! They were too busy to fool around with panels and those
dizzy air birds who never did anything but fly around and look for
panels. Panels be hanged! This was a day for doughboys and the bayonet!
That night, after mess, the members of the squadron sat around in
glum silence. The success of the day, with reference to gains, was
great indeed, but Cowan was riding with whip and spur. He seemed not at
all pleased with the work of his own group. Added to this, word had
gone around of the dramatic happenings of the previous night, with the
result that Siddons, the most disliked man in the squadron, had
suddenly become their mourned hero. Even now they counted him as dead,
for one precious day had already slipped away and nothing in the world
could save him. The success of the day seemed as nothing by the side of
this tragic fact. Not the least distressing thought was the fact that
they had treated him as one who had never earned the right to a full
fellowship with them. And now they knew, too late, that he was a man of
surpassing courage. They even learned, from Cowan, how Siddons, working
with the French, had plotted trapping von Herzmann that day when the
squadron was attacked for the first time. The lucky arrival of the
French Spads, they now knew, was not a matter of luck at all, but a
daring plan to overwhelm the greedy German war eagle and rid the air of
him. Yes, Siddons had courage and brains. There was no longer any doubt
Yancey voiced the thoughts of every man present when he said: It
wouldn't be so tough if he could get it in the air. But this wayat a
What about von Herzmann? Fouche asked. I guess it was tough for
Yancey grinned and scratched his head. You know, he drawled, down
in my home state, we sometimes make a mistake and slap a brand on a
calf that's not really ours. Well, that's not so awful. But when
somebody else makes the same mistake, it's stealin'pure and simple.
War's a lot like that. We only see one side of it, and for my part, I'm
fed up with seein' that side. Boy, I hone for Texas.
McGee and Larkin, as flight leaders, had been called to Major
Cowan's headquarters for the usual evening conference. The Major
declared himself as displeased with the work of the day, but both of
the young pilots, experienced in the ways of the army, realized that
Cowan's displeasure was but a reaction from pressure being put on him
by the higher ups. The General Staff, they knew, must be gratified
with the success of the day, for all objectives had been taken and the
enemy sorely pressed. It was true, however, that communication had been
far from perfect. Liaison had broken down, and the ground gained,
therefore, was the result of the grim determination of the soldier of
the line to end the thing speedily rather than to a perfect
coordination of all arms.
But, Major, McGee was defending the work of the squadron by
pointing out the unusual and unforeseen obstacles, we couldn't see our
wing tips until after nine o'clock, and when we could see, those
doughboys wouldn't display their panels. They acted like they thought
we would drop bombs on them. It's hard, Major, to get men to show white
panels when they are under fire. They are afraid that the enemy will
see them, too, and blow them off the face of the earth. It is always a
All battle problems are hard, Cowan replied. The commanders of
the troops in the line are being ridden just as we are. The General
Staff feels that victory is in sight. They will accept nothing but the
best of work, and we must do our full share.
Yes, sir, of course. But I think the troops are to be congratulated
for their success, and certainly this outfit was lucky in that we
didn't hang any planes on the top of Vauquois or in the woods. Four
balloons and three E.A. is not such a bad record for a day like this.
We held complete supremacy.
Congratulations will be in order after a complete success,
Lieutenant. Now for to-morrowhere, see this map. Larkin winked
shrewdly as Cowan led them over to a detailed wall map. The lines of
departure are here. Our most advanced positions, now, as near as we can
tell, are well beyond the Hindenburg Line, with the Hagen Stellung line
of defense facing our troops to-morrow. Montfaucon, the enemy's
strongest point, and for months headquarters for the Crown Prince,
blocks the way for the 5th Corps. It is a commanding and strong
position. No one knows just how strong it is.
Pardon me, a voice came from directly behind them, but I know a
great deal about its strength.
So interested had they been, that they had not heard anyone enter.
At sound of the voice they wheeled around. There stood Siddons, mud
from head to foot but smiling expansively.
Siddons! Cowan exclaimed. You?
All three of the startled men rushed forward to wring his hand.
There was a hubbub of excited talk and exclamations of surprise, with
no chance for the mind to put forth logical questions. Cowan was the
first to gain some degree of composure.
Heavens, man! How did you get here?
Crawled, walked and ran, and the last few miles in a side car,
Siddons replied. Last night, at midnight, I was being held at
Montfaucon under the trumped up pretext that a staff officer was on his
way down to see me and that I was to take off with von Herzmann later
in the night. But I knew that von Herzmann had taken off with another
pilot, and I knew that the jig was up. They weren't accusing me of
anythingas yetbut they were very quiet and their manner told me all
I needed to know. Then, bing! the barrage opened up. It was some
surprise. They hadn't the foggiest notion that a blow was to be struck
here. Almost the first pop out of the box that long range railway rifle
at Neuvilly dropped one of those big G.I. cans just outside of
headquarters. There was a grand scramble for the deep dugouts. You
never saw so many High Ones streaking it for safety.
I made tracks too, but I missed the dugout doorby design! Pretty
soon another big shell came along and flopped down near the same place,
but by that time I was a long ways from there and going strong.
The night was as dark as the inside of a whale, but the glare of
light from the guns on our side gave me direction. The rest was
Easy! Cowan exclaimed. How in the world did you get across the
Major, the confusion was so great, due to that barrage, that I
could have led an elephant up to the line with no one taking the time
to challenge me. You forget that my German is quite good. On a dark
night, well covered by a German officer's coat, which I borrowed from a
chap who won't ever need it again, it was not a difficult feat. Believe
me, my biggest worry was that I would get sent west by one of our own
shells. When I reached the front line I crawled in a funk hole and
waited for dawning and for our own troops to come along. And when they
started, man! how they came! The enemy is completely disorganized,
Major, and victory will be ours within a month or six weeks. Maybe
sooner. The Germans know it. Montfaucon will fall to-morrow. This is
the last of the big shows.
He paused, and his eyes, which McGee had always thought so cold,
twinkled with merriment.
By the way, he said, at Division Headquarters of the 79th, where
I made a report and was given transportation back here, the
Intelligence Officer told me a spy was nabbed last nighta chap by the
name of von Herzmann. Plane forced down, the officer told me. I wonder
if it could be possible that he ran out of gas?
Yes, Cowan replied, catching the spirit of the banter, he ran out
Tut! tut! Siddons mockingly reproved. Wasn't that a careless
thing for a great ace to do?
Ace One who has brought down five enemy air craft.
Ack Emma Air Mechanic. In military service
certain letters are given distinguishing
sounds, such as, A is Ack, D is Don, M,
to distinguish it from N, becomes Emma.
Aileron Moveable segments of planes, which,
though of small surface, control the
Albatross German combat plane.
Archie Anti-aircraft artillery fire. Probably
so called because of arc of the
Backwash The wind wash caused by the propeller.
Barrel roll A wing over acrobatic manoeuvre.
Black roses Puffs of black smoke appearing suddenly
as shell explodes high in the air.
Blighty English slang for a wound. Generally
applied to a wound serious enough to
cause removal to England.
Blipped his motor Raced; rapid advancement of throttle.
Blotto To become unconscious.
Brass hat A General Officer, commonly used by
Bucked Encouraged, made confident.
Caisson An ammunition wagon for mobile artillery.
Caudron Early type of French plane. Slow and
poor climber. Later used for instruction
ship because of high factors of safety.
Ceiling Sometimes designates highest point to
which a certain ship will climb; again,
the altitude of cloud banks or fog
stratas obscuring ground vision.
Circus Name applied to certain large air groups
of the German army.
C.O. Commanding Officer. Applied to any who
command a unit.
Contour chasing To fly low, following the contour of the
ground and zooming over natural and
Crate Derisively applied to any old, or badly
worn plane, or to ship types not liked
by the pilots.
Dawn patrols Patrols going out for combat at dawn.
Dog-fighting Wherein a number of planes engage in a
free-for-all fight. Generally develops
into an every-man-for-himself fight.
'Drome Applied loosely to both hangars and
landing fields. An air base.
E.A. Enemy Aircraft.
Elephants Semi-circular huts of steel, capable of
being moved. So called, probably,
because of color, and size.
Ferry pilot A pilot used to fly ships from aviation
pool or supply base up to active
Finis la guerre End of the war.
Flying pig A large projectile from a type of mortar
used by the Germans. Could be seen in
flight and because of appearance and
size were nicknamed flying pigs.
Fokker German plane. Very fast, good climber.
G.H.Q. Great Headquarters.
G 2 Intelligence Department of Great
Headquarters. Great Headquarters was
divided into several groups, designated,
for convenience, by lettered numerals,
such as G 1, G 2 and G 3, etc.
G.I. cans A large shell. Because of size and usual
coat of grey paint, soldiers declared
they resembled the galvanized iron cans
used for garbage. Hence, G.I. Can.
G.O. General Order.
Hedge hopping Another name for contour chasing. Flying
dangerously low and zooming over
High-tail A plane, when at highest speed possible
straight ahead, carries its tail high.
To high-tail means to go at highest rate
Immelmann A sudden turn, reversing the direction.
First used by a German aviator,
Immelmann, and later used by all air
Intelligence That section of Great Headquarters
devoted to the handling of all spies and
the collection of information concerning
the enemy. The activities of the
department are too great to be outlined
in a brief definition.
Liaison Contact, communication with. When
several units are operating in unison,
each dependent upon the other, the
contact and coordination is called
liaisona French word.
Limey Nickname for a British soldier.
Looie A Lieutenant.
Observation balloon A captive balloon, of sausage shape,
carrying an observer whose duty it is to
spot artillery fire, etc. The balloon is
paid out on a cable attached to a winch.
Such balloons are always given
protecting ground batteries to ward off
Observation bus Generally a two seated plane, carrying
pilot and observer. Slower than pursuit
planes, but more heavily armed.
O.D. Olive drab; color of uniform.
Old Man Captain, Major or Colonel. Usually
applied to commander of the Units.
Panels White muslin, cut into various shapes,
to designate positions of various
headquarters, such as Regiment, Brigade,
etc. When spread on the ground, pilots
could see them and report positions. It
was extremely difficult to get ground
units to display them, since enemy
planes, seeing them, could give location
to their artillery.
P.C. Post of Command. Applied to any
headquarters company on up.
Poilu French private soldier.
Pursuit pilot Pilot of combat plane.
Put the wind up To frighten; to cause to lose courage or
Revving To accelerate motor rapidly.
Ring sights Type of sight designed to make it
possible to get on a rapidly moving
target. Much time was spent in training
pilots in gunnery and proper
understanding of ring sights.
R.F.C. British Royal Flying Corps.
Saw bones Army surgeon.
Sent west, Going west To be killed, to die.
Side slipping To slip off the wing.
Solo First flight student pilot makes alone.
Spandau German machine guns used on combat
planes. Twin guns, frequently, with
Stall To climb so rapidly as to stall the
motor, putting upon it a load heavier
than it can continue to pull. If care is
not taken to ease off, plane will go
into a spin.
Tarmac The line of departure on the field.
Often applied to the entire field.
Toot sweet Tout de suiteFrench phrase, adopted
by Americans. Quickly, hurry up, at once.
Tri-plane German planes, especially Fokker, had
short fin-like projections under the
usual planes, and while quite short, and
not a true plane, gave the ship the name
of tri-plane. Were quite fast, good
climbers, and manoeuvred easily.
Upstairs Generally applied to high altitude
flights. Sometimes applied to any
flight, regardless of altitude.
Very light pistol A type of pistol used to fire a shell
somewhat larger than a 12 gauge shotgun
shell, and which contained luminous star
signals, such as red stars, green stars,
white stars, etc. The meaning of the
signal depended upon the color and
number of these floating stars.
Wash-out To destroy, or badly damage a plane.
Variously applied. Sometimes applied to
planes obsoleted by the air service.
White roses Allied anti-aircraft artillery used
high-explosive, which showed white on
bursting. Germans used black powder,
which showed black.
Wind sock A conical strip of cloth on a staff atop
the hangars to give pilots wind
Wipers Nickname soldiers gave to Belgian town
Yaw off To slip off desired direction due to
lack of speed or wind resistance.
Zoom To pull the nose up sharply and climb at
an angle too great to be long sustained.