Infomotions, Inc.The Brighton Boys with the Flying Corps / Driscoll, James R. [pseud.]



Author: Driscoll, James R. [pseud.]
Title: The Brighton Boys with the Flying Corps
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): jimmy; brighton; brighton boys; bob; dicky; joe; plane; boche; parker; dicky mann; harry corwin; harry; machine; jimmy hill; bob haines; pilot; planes; joe little; colonel; colonel marker; major phelps; boys; engine
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Size: 48,867 words (really short) Grade range: 8-10 (high school) Readability score: 69 (easy)
Identifier: etext12938
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by James R. Driscoll

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Title: The Brighton Boys with the Flying Corps

Author: James R. Driscoll

Release Date: July 19, 2004 [EBook #12938]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ASCII

*** START OF THIS PROJECT GUTENBERG EBOOK WITH THE FLYING CORPS ***




Produced by Jim Ludwig





THE BRIGHTON BOYS WITH THE FLYING CORPS

by Lieutenant James R. Driscoll



CONTENTS

CHAPTERS
    I. The Brighton Flying Squadron
   II. First Steps
  III. In the Air
   IV. Off for the Front
    V. Jimmy Hill Startles the Veterans
   VI. The Fight in the Air
  VII. Parker's Story
 VIII. Thrills of the Upper Reaches
   IX. In the Enemy's Country
    X. Planning the Escape
   XI. Through the Lines
  XII. Pluck and Luck
 XIII. The Raid on Essen
  XIV. A Furious Battle




CHAPTER I

THE BRIGHTON FLYING SQUADRON


"The war will be won in the air."

The headlines in big black type stared at Jimmy Hill as he stood beside
the breakfast table and looked down at the morning paper, which lay
awaiting his father's coming.

The boys of the Brighton Academy, among whom Jimmy was an acknowledged
leader, had been keenly interested in the war long before the United
States joined hands with the Allies in the struggle to save small
nations from powerful large ones---the fight to ensure freedom and
liberty for all the people of the earth.

A dark, lithe, serious young French lad, Louis Deschamps, whose mother
had brought him from France to America in 1914, and whose father was
a colonel of French Zouaves in the fighting line on the Western Front,
was a student at the Academy.  Interest in him ran high and with it
ran as deep an interest in the ebbing and flowing fortunes of France.
The few letters Mrs. Deschamps received from Louis' soldier father
had been retailed by the proud boy to his fellows in the school until
they knew them by heart.

Bob Haines' father, too, had helped fan the war-fire in the hearts of
the boys.  Bob was a real favorite with every one.  He captained the
baseball team, and could pitch an incurve and a swift drop ball that
made him a demi-god to those who had vainly tried to hit his twisters.
Bob's father was a United States Senator, who, after the sinking of
the _Liusitania_, was all for war with Germany.  America, in his eyes,
was mad to let time run on until she should be dragged into the
world-conflict without spending every effort in a national
getting-ready for the inevitable day.  Senator Haines' speeches were
matter-of-fact----just plain hammering of plain truths in plain
English.  Many of his utterances in the Senate were quoted in the
local papers, and Bob's schoolmates read them with enthusiasm when
they were not too long.

Then, too, a number of the Brighton boys had already entered the
service of Uncle Sam.  Several were already at the front and had
written thrilling letters of their experiences in the trenches, at
close grip with the Boches.  Still more thrilling accounts had come
from some of their former classmates who were in the American
submarine service.  Other Brighton boys who had gone out from their
alma mater to fight the good fight for democracy had helped to fan
the flame of patriotism.

So the school gradually became filled with thoughts of war, and almost
every boy from fourteen years of age upward planned in his heart of
hearts to one day get into the fray in some manner if some longed-for
opportunity ever presented itself.

Jimmy Hill---who was fortunate in that his home was within walking
distance of the Academy---commenced his breakfast in silence.  Mr.
Hill read his paper and Mrs. Hill read her letters as they proceeded
leisurely with the morning meal.  The porridge and cream and then two
eggs and a good-sized piece of ham disappeared before Jimmy's appetite
was appeased, for he was a growing boy, who played hard when he was
not hard at some task.  Jimmy was not large for his age, and his
rather slight figure disguised a wiriness that an antagonist of his
size would have found extraordinary.  His hair was red and his face
showed a mass of freckles winter and summer.  Jimmy was a bright,
quick boy, always well up in his studies and popular with his teachers.
At home Jimmy's parents thought him quite a normal boy, with an
unusually large fund of questions ever at the back of his nimble
tongue.

Breakfast went slowly for Jimmy that morning when once he had finished
and sat waiting for his parents.  Mr. Hill was scanning the back page
of the paper in deep concentration.  Again the big black letters stared
out at Jimmy.  "The war will be won in the air."  Jimmy knew well
enough what that meant, or at least he had a very fair idea of its
meaning.  But he had sat still and quiet for a long time, it seemed to
him.  Finally his patience snapped.

"Father," he queried, "how will the war be won in the air?"

"It won't," was his father's abrupt reply.  Silence again reigned, and
Mrs. Hill glanced at her boy and smiled.  Encouraged, Jimmy returned
to the charge.

"Then why does the paper say it will?"

"For want of something else to say," replied Mr. Hill.  "The airships
and flying machines will play their part, of course, and it will be a
big part, too.  The real winning of the war must be done on the ground,
however, after all.  One thing this war has shown very clearly.  No
one arm is all-powerful or all necessary in itself alone.  Every
branch of the service of war must co-operate with another, if not with
all the others.  It is a regular business, this war game.  I have read
enough to see that.  It is team-work that counts most in the big
movements, and I expect that it is team-work that counts most all
the way through, in the detailed work as well."

Team-work! That had a familiar ring to Jimmy.  Team-work was what the
football coach had forever pumped into his young pupils.  Team-work!
Yes, Jimmy knew what that meant.

"I can give you a bit of news, Jimmy," added Mr. Hill.  "If you are so
interested in the war in the air you will be glad to hear that the old
Frisbie place a few miles out west of the town is to be turned into an
airdrome---a place where the flying men are to be taught to fly.  I
expect before the war is over we will be so accustomed to seeing
aircraft above us that we will not take the trouble to look upward to
see one when it passes."

Jimmy's heart gave a great leap, and then seemed to stand still.  Only
once, at the State Fair, had he seen a man fly.  It had so touched his
imagination that the boy had scoured the papers and books in the
public library ever since for something fresh to read on the subject
of aviation.  As a result Jimmy had quite a workable knowledge of
what an aeroplane really was and the sort of work the flying men
were called upon to do at the front.

The Brighton boys were all keen on flying.  What boys are not?  Their
interest had been stimulated particularly, however, by the news, the
year before, that Harry Corwin's big brother Will, an old Brighton boy
of years past, had gone to France with the American flying squadron
attached to the French Army in the field.  True, Will was only a
novice and the latest news of him from France told that he had not as
yet actually flown a machine over the German lines, but he was a
tangible something in which the interest of the schoolboys could center.

An airdrome near the town!  What wonders would be worked under his very
eyes, thought Jimmy.  Flying was a thing that no one could hide behind
a tall fence.  Besides, there were no high fences around the Frisbie
place.  Well Jimmy knew it.  Its broad acres and wide open spaces were
well known to every boy at Brighton Academy, for within its boundaries
was the finest hill for coasting that could be found for miles.  In
winter-time, when the hillsides were deep with snow, Frisbie's slope
saw some of the merriest coasting parties that ever felt the
exhilaration of the sudden dash downward as the bright runners skimmed
the hard, frosty surface.  The long, level expanse of meadow that had
to be crossed before the hill was reached from the Frisbie mansion
would be an ideal place for an airdrome.  Even Jimmy knew enough about
airdromes to recognize that.  He waited a moment at the table to take
in fully the momentous fact that their own little town was to be a
center of activity with regard to aviation.

Then he dashed out to spread the news among his schoolfellows.  His
particular chums were, like himself, boys whose homes were in the town.
Shut out from the dormitory life, they had grouped themselves together,
in no spirit of exclusiveness, but merely as good fellows who, although
they appreciated the love and kindness of the home folks, yet felt that
they wanted to have as much of the spirit of dear old Brighton outside
the Academy as inside.

Jimmy caught sight of Archie Fox---another of the out-boarding squad of
Brighton boys, and a special friend of Jimmy's---hurrying to the Academy.

"Great news for you, Arch!" shouted Jimmy as he joined his chum.

"Shoot!" directed Archie.

And Jimmy told the great news to the astonished and delighted boy.

"Gosh whillikens!" yelled Archie.  "A real live hangar in staid old
Brighton!  Can you beat it?  My vote says the 'buddies' should get
together and become fliers.  Eh, what?  The Brighton Escadrille!  Oh,
boy!"

Further down the street Dicky Mann and Joe Little, both in Jimmy's
class at the Academy, and then Henry Benson, known to all and sundry
as "Fat" Benson from his unusual size, joined the boys and heard for
the first time the stirring news.

It was truly an exciting morning at the Academy.  The tidings of great
things in store at no far distant future spread like wildfire. Of all
the boys, only two of those who lived in the town, Jimmy Hill and Bob
Haines, had heard of the project, and none of the regular boarders at
the school had heard the slightest suggestion of it.  Bob Haines
lived with his uncle in the largest residence in the town.  What Bob's
uncle did not know of what was going on was little.  Beside, Bob was
the envied recipient of a letter now and again from his father, the
senator, which frequently contained some real news of prospective
happenings.

Bob held forth at length that memorable morning, and at noon time was
still the center of an admiring group, who listened to his comments
on all subjects with great respect and invariable attention.  Bob was
tall and well built; taller than any of the rest of his fellows except
two or three.  He had a way of standing with his head thrown back and
his shoulders squared as he talked which gave him a commanding air.
Few boys in the school ever thought of questioning his statements.  But
that day Bob was so carried away with his subject that he strayed
from familiar ground.

"What sort of fellows are they going to train to fly?" asked Joe
Little, a shy boy who rarely contributed to the conversation.  Joe's
mother was a widow who had lived but few years in the town, having
moved there to give her only boy such education as he could obtain
before her small income was exhausted.  Joe was never loud or boisterous,
and while he took his part in games and sports, he was ever the first
one to start for his home.  Being alone with his mother to such an
extent, for they lived by themselves in a little cottage near the
Academy grounds, Joe had aged beyond his boy friends in many ways.
No sign did he ever show, however, of self-assertiveness.  His part in
discussions was seldom great, and usually consisted of a well-placed
query that voiced what each boy present had thought of asking, but
had been a moment too late.

Now Bob had no very clear idea just where the new flying material was
to come from.  A habit of rarely showing himself at a loss for an
answer prompted him to reply:  "From the men in the army."

"You're wrong, Bob," said Jimmy Hill.  "Most of the flying men that
will see actual service at the front will be boys like us.  I have
read a dozen times that it is a boy's game---flying.  Most of us are
almost old enough.  One article I read said that lots of boys of
seventeen got into the flying corps in England.  One writer said
that he thought the fellows from eighteen to twenty were much the
best fliers.  If that is so, and it takes some time to train fliers,
some of us might be flying in France before the end of the war."

Bob was frankly skeptical.  "I see you flying, Jimmy!" was his comment.
"You will have to grow some first.

"Wrong again," said Jimmy in all seriousness.  "It's those of us that
don't weigh a ton that are going to be the best sort for the flying
business, and don't you forget it."

"Jimmy knows a lot about flying," volunteered Archie Fox.  "He bones
it up all the time."

"I don't pretend to know much about it, but I am going to know more
before that airdrome gets started," said Jimmy.

"That's right," said Joe Little quietly.  "It won't hurt any of us to
get a bit wiser as to what an aeroplane really is nowadays.  Where do
you get the stuff to read, Jimmy?"

"Everywhere I can," answered Jimmy.  "The weeklies and monthlies
generally contain something on flying."

"My father can get us some good stuff," suggested Dicky Mann.  Mr. Mann,
senior, was the proprietor of the biggest store in the town; and while
he did not exactly pretend to be a universal provider, he could
produce most commodities if asked to do so.  The store had a fairly
extensive book and magazine department, so Dicky's offer to enlist
the sympathies of his father promised to be of real use.

"I'll write to my brother Bill and get him to fire something over to
us from France," said Harry Corwin.  "There is no telling but what he
can put us on to some wrinkles that the people who write things for
the papers would never hear about."

"My aunt just wrote me a letter asking me what sort of a book I wanted
for my birthday," put in Fat Benson.  "I will write to-day and tell her
I want a book that will teach me to fly."

This raised a storm of laughter, for Henry Benson's stout figure bid
fair to develop still further along lines of considerable girth, and
the very thought of Fat flying was highly humorous to his mates.

The little group broke up hurriedly as Bob looked at his watch and saw
how time was slipping away.

"Back to the grind, fellows!" he cried.  "We'll have another talk-fest
later on."

That random conversation was one day to bear splendid fruit.  The seeds
had been sown which were to blossom into the keenest interest in the
real, serious work of the mastery of the air.  Live, sterling young
fellows were in the Brighton Academy.  Some of them had declared
allegiance to the army, some to the navy, but now here was a stouthearted
bunch of boys that had decided they would give themselves to the study
of aeronautics, and lose no time about it.

The seven spent a thoughtful afternoon.  It was hard indeed for any
one of them to focus attention on his lessons.  The newness of the
idea had to wear off first.  After class hours they met again and
went off by themselves to a quiet spot on the cool, shady campus.
Seated in a circle on the grass, they talked long and earnestly of ways
and means for commencing their study of air-machines and airmen
systematically.

"This," said Jimmy Hill with a sigh of pure satisfaction, "is team-work.
My father said this morning that team-work counts most in this war.
If our team-work is good we will get on all right."

Team-work it certainly proved to be.  It was astonishing, as the days
passed, how much of interest one or another of the seven could find
that had to do with the subject of flying.  They took one other boy
into their counsels.  Louis Deschamps was asked to join them and did
so with alacrity, it seemed to lend an air of realism to their scheme
to have the French boy in their number.

Dicky Mann's father had taken almost as great an interest in the idea
as had Dicky himself, and Mr. Mann's contributions were of the utmost
value.

Days and weeks passed, as school-days and school-weeks will.  Looking
back, we wonder sometimes how some of those interims of our waiting
time were bridged.  The routine work of study and play had to be gone
through with in spite of the preoccupation attendant on the art of
flying, as studied from prosaic print.  It was a wonder, in fact,
that the little group from the boys of the Brighton Academy did not
tire of the researches in books and periodicals.  They learned much.
Many of the articles were mere repetitions of something they had read
before.  Some of them were obviously written without a scrap of
technical knowledge of the subject, and a few were absolutely
misleading or so overdrawn as to be worthless.  The boys gradually
came to judge these on their merits, which was in itself a big step
forward.

The individual characteristics of the boys themselves began to show.
Three of them were of a real mechanical bent.  Jimmy Hill, Joe Little
and Louis Deschamps were in a class by themselves when it came to the
details of aeroplane engines.  Joe Little led them all.  One night he
gave the boys an explanation of the relation of weight to horsepower
in the internal-combustion engine.  It was above the heads of some of
his listeners.  Fat Benson admitted as much in so many words.

"Where did you get all that, anyway?" asked Fat in open dismay.

"It's beyond me," admitted Dicky Mann.

"Who has been talking to you about internal combustion, anyway?"
queried Bob Haines, whose technical knowledge was of no high order,
but who hated to confess he was fogged.

"Well," said Joe quietly, "I got hold of that man Mullens that works
for Swain's, the motor people.  He worked in an aeroplane factory in
France once, he says, for nearly a year.  He does not know much about
the actual planes themselves, but he knows a lot about the Gnome
engine.  He says he has invented an aeroplane engine that will lick
them all when he gets it right.  He is not hard to get going, but he
won't stay on the point much.  I have been at him half a dozen times
altogether, but I wanted to get a few things quite clear in my head
before I told you fellows."

The big airdrome that was to be placed on the Frisbie property gradually
took a sort of being, though everything about it seemed to progress
with maddening deliberation.  Ground was broken for the buildings.
Timber and lumber were delayed by Far Western strikes, but finally put
in an appearance.  A spur of railway line shot out to the site of the
new flying grounds.  Then barracks and huge hangars---the latter to
house the flying machines---began to take form.

At first no effort was made to keep the public from the scene of the
activity, but as time went on and things thereabouts took more
tangible form, the new flying grounds were carefully fenced in, and a
guard from the State National Guard was put on the gateways.  So far
only construction men and contractors had been in evidence.  Such few
actual army officers as were seen had to do with the preparation of
the ground rather than with the Flying Corps itself.  The closing of
the grounds woke up the Brighton boys to the possibility of the fact
that they might be shut out when flying really commenced.  A council
of war immediately ensued.

"A lot of good it will have done us to have watched the thing get this
far if, when the machines and the flying men come, we can't get beyond
the gates," said Harry Corwin.

"I don't see what is going to get us inside any quicker than any other
fellows that want to see the flying," commented Archie Fox dolefully.

"What we have got to get is some excuse to be in the thing some way,"
declared Bob Haines.  "If we could only think of some kind of job we
could get inside there---some sort of use we could be put to, it would
be a start in the right direction."

Cudgel their brains as they would, they could not see how it was to be
done, and they dispersed to think it over and meet on the morrow.

Help came from an unexpected source.  After supper that night Harry
Corwin happened to stay at home.  Frequently he spent his evenings
with some of the fellows at the Academy, but he had discovered a book
which made some interesting comments on warping of aeroplane wings,
and he stayed home to get the ideas through his head, so that he
might pass them on to the other boys.  Mr. and Mrs. Corwin and
Harry's sister, his senior by a few years, were seated in the living
room, each intent on their reading, when the bell rang and the maid
soon thereafter ushered in a tall soldier, an officer in the
American Army.  The gold leaf on his shoulder proclaimed him a major,
and the wings on his collar showed Harry, at least, that he was one
of the Flying Corps.

The officer introduced himself as Major Phelps, and said he had
promised Will Corwin, in France, that he would call on Will's folks
when he came to supervise the new flying school at Brighton.  Mr.
Corwin greeted the major cordially, and after introducing Mrs. Corwin
and Harry's sister Grace, presented Harry, with a remark that sent
the blood flying to the boy's face.

"Here, Major," said Mr. Corwin, "is one of the Flying Squadron of
the Brighton Academy."

The major was frankly puzzled.  "Have you a school of flying here,
then?" he asked as he took Harry's hand.

"Not yet, sir," said Harry with some embarrassment.

"That is not fair, father," said Grace Corwin, who saw that Harry was
rather hurt at the joke.  "The Brighton boys are very much interested
in aviation, and some time ago seven or eight of them banded together
and have studied the subject as hard and as thoroughly as they could.
See this "---and she reached for the book Harry had been
reading---"This is what they have been doing instead of something much
less useful.  There is not one of them who is not hoping one day to be
a flyer at the front, and they have waited for the starting of flying
at the new grounds with the greatest expectations.  I don't think it
is fair to make fun of them.  If everyone in the country was as eager
to do his duty in this war it would be a splendid thing."

Grace was a fine-looking girl, with a handsome, intelligent face.
When she talked like that, she made a picture good to look upon.
Harry was surprised.  Usually his sister took but little account of
his activities.  But this was different.  With her own brother Will
fighting in France, and another girl's brother Will a doctor in the
American Hospital at Neuilly, near Paris, Grace was heart and soul
with the Allies.  Harry might have done much in other lines without
attracting her attention, but his keenness to become a flier at the
front had appealed to her pride, and she felt deeply any attempt to
belittle the spirit that animated the boys, however remote might be
the possibility of their hopes being fulfilled.

Major Phelps listened to the enthusiastic, splendid, wholesome girl
with frank admiration in his eyes.  Harry could not have had a better
champion.  First the major took the book.  Glancing at it, he raised
his brows.  "Do you understand this?" he asked.

"I think so, sir," answered Harry.

"It is well worth reading," said the major as he laid it down.  Then
he stepped toward Harry and took his hand again.  "Your sister is
perfectly right, if your father will not mind my saying so.  I have
been attached to the British Flying Corps in France for a time, and
I saw mere boys there who were pastmasters of scout work in the air.
The game is one that cannot be begun too young, one almost might say.
At least, the younger a boy begins to take an interest in it and
really study it, the better grasp he is likely to have of it.  I am
thoroughly in agreement with your sister that no one should discourage
your studies of flying, and if I can do anything to help while I
happen to be in this part of the world, please let me know.  You look
like your brother Will, and if you one day get to be the flier that
he is, as there is no reason in the world you should not do, you
will be worth having in any flying unit."

Harry was struck dumb for the moment.  This was the first tangible
evidence that the plans of the boys were really to bear fruit, after
all.  He stammered a sort of husky "Thank you," and was relieved to
find that Major Phelps mention of Will had drawn the attention from
everything else for the moment.  The Corwins had to hear all about
the older boy, whose letters contained little except the most
interesting commonplaces.

The major, it is true, added but little detail of Will's doings,
except to tell them that he was a full-fledged flying man and was
doing his air work steadily and most satisfactorily.  His quiet
praise of Will brought a flush of pride to Grace's cheek, and the
major wished he knew of more to tell her about her brother, as it
was a pleasure to talk to so charming and attentive a listener.

At last he rose to take his departure, and the Corwins were loud in
their demands that he should come and see them often.  As the major
stepped down from the piazza Harry grasped his courage in both hands
and said:

"Major Phelps, may I ask you a question?"

"Certainly," said the major genially.  "What is it?"

"Well, sir," began Harry, "we Brighton boys have been wondering how
we can get inside the new airdrome.  Summer vacation is coming, and
we could all---the eight of us, in our crowd---arrange to stay here
after the term closes.  We want to be allowed inside the grounds, and
to have a chance to learn something practical.  We would do anything
and everything we were told to do, sir."

"Hum," said the major.  "Let me think.  You boys can be mighty useful
in lots of ways.  I'll tell you what I will do.  Find out whether or
not your friends would care to get some sort of regular uniform and
take on regular work and I will speak to the colonel about it when
he comes.  I think he will be here to-morrow or next day.  Things
are getting in shape, and we will be at work in earnest soon.  The
colonel is a very nice man, and when he hears that you boys are so
eager to get into the game maybe he will not object to your being
attached regularly to the airdrome for a while.  You might find
that the work was no more exciting than running errands or something
like that.  Are you all of pretty good size?  There might be some
useful things to do now and again that would take muscle."

"I am about the same size as most of the rest," replied Harry.

"You look as if you could do quite a lot," laughed the major, as he
walked down the path, leaving behind him a boy who was nearer the
seventh heaven of delight than he had ever been before.

Before the end of the week the colonel came.  The boys had their plans
cut and dried.  Harry's sister Grace had taken an unusual interest
in them, and had advised them wisely as to uniforms.  Major Phelps
seemed interested in them, too, in a way.  At least, he called at the
Corwin home more than once and talked to Grace about that and
other things.

Colonel Marker was rather grizzled and of an almost forbidding appearance
to the boys.  They feared him whole-heartedly the moment they laid
eyes on him.  His voice was gruff and he had a habit of wrinkling his
brows that had at times struck terror into older hearts than those of
the Brighton boys.  But he was a very kindly man, nevertheless, in
spite of his bluff exterior.

Major Phelps told him about the eight lads, borrowing, perhaps, some
of Grace Corwin's enthusiasm for the moment, and the colonel was
favorably impressed from the start with what he called "a mighty
fine spirit."  He thumped his fist on the table at which he sat
when the major told him of the boys and their hopes, and said
explosively:

"Wish there were more like them in every town out here.  We are too
far from the actual scene of war.  Some people who are a lot older
and who should have a lot more realization of what we need and must
have before this war is over might take a good lesson from such
youngsters.  I would like to see them."

That settled it.  When the colonel took a thing up he adopted it
absolutely.  In a day or so he would be talking of the little band
of Brighton boys as if the original project had been his from the
very start.  "Boy aviation corps?  Why not.  Good for them.  Can find
them plenty to do.  When they get to the right size we can put 'em
in the service.  Why not?  Good to start young.  Of course it is.
Splendid idea.  Must be good stuff in 'em.  Of course there is.
Send 'em to me.  Why not?"

Thus, before the boys were brought under the colonel's eye he had
really talked himself into an acceptance of the major's idea.  The
morning he saw them, a little group of very eager and anxious
faces---bright, intelligent, fine faces they were, too---he said
without delay: "I have a use for you boys.  I have thought of
something for you to do.  Get some sort of rig so I can tell you when
I see you, and come to me again and I will set you at work."

Not long after, vacation time had come, and with it the new uniforms,
in neat, unpretentious khaki.  Garbed in their new feathers and
"all their war paint," as Mr. Mann called it, they reported at the
airdrome main gate just as the first big wooden crate came past on
a giant truck.  Inside that case, every boy of them knew, was
the first flying machine to reach the new grounds.  They felt it
an omen.

A few minutes later they were in the austere presence of Colonel
Marker, who was frankly pleased with their soldierly appearance
and the quiet common-sense of their uniforms, which bore no fancy
additions of any sort.

Grace Corwin had seen to that, though more than one furtive suggestion
from one boy or another had to be overruled.  Bob Haines thought the
letters "B.B." on the shoulders would vastly help the effect.  Crossed
flags on the right sleeve would have suited Dicky Mann better.  Fat
Benson's voice was raised for brass buttons.  Jimmy Hill's
pretensions ran to a gilt aeroplane propellor for the front of each
soft khaki hat.  But Grace was firm.  "No folderols," was her
dictum.  They were banded together for work, not for show.  Let
additions come as the fruit of service, if at all.  And she had her
way.  Grace usually did.

"Glad to see you, boys.  You will report to the sergeant-major, who
will take a list of your names, assign you your duties, and arrange
your hours of work.  I am afraid there is no congressional grant
from which to reward you for your services by a money payment, but
if you do your work well, such as it is, I will keep an eye on you
and see if I cannot put you in the way of learning as much as you
can about the air service."

That was their beginning.  They saluted, every one, turned smartly
and filed out.  Bob Haines, the tallest of the group and the acknowledged
leader, was the only one to answer the colonel.  Bob said, "Thank you,
sir," as he saluted.  They looked so strong and full of life and hope
that the tears welled to the colonel's eyes as he watched them tramp
out of his room.  He had seen much war, had the colonel.  "It's a
shame that such lads will have to pay the great price, many of 'em,"
he sighed, "before the Hun is brought to his knees.  But it's a fine
thing to be a boy."  The colonel rose stiffly and sighed.  "I would
give a lot to be in their shoes, with all the hardship and horror
that may lie in front of them if this war keeps on long enough," he
mused to himself.  "It's a fine thing to be a boy."

Out went the eight Brighton boys to the sergeant-major, their work
begun.  They too felt it a fine thing to be boys, though their feeling
was just unconscious, natural, effervescent---the sparkle of the real
wine of youth and health and clean, brave spirit.




CHAPTER II

FIRST STEPS


A month after the Brighton boys had commenced their duties at the
airdrome at the old Frisbie place, they would have been missed by more
than one person about the camp if they had failed to put in an
appearance some morning.  It was astonishing to see how much routine
work could pile up around the headquarters' offices.

The machines arrived in some numbers.  One by one they were unpacked
from their great crates and set up, then wheeled into their respective
places in the broad hangars which had been built to house them.

The first one of the Brighton boys to settle himself into a regular
billet was Fat Benson.  He had been watching the uncrating of box of
spare engine parts one afternoon when no specific job claimed him for
the moment, and fell into conversation with the short, stocky
sergeant who was to be the store keeper.  The sergeant was tired and
worried.

He had counted a consignment of sparking plugs twice and obtained a
different total each time.  Worse, neither of his totals tallied
with the figures on the consignment sheet.  He was fast losing his
temper.

Fat was of most placid, unruffled temperament.  He saw that trouble
was toward, and was about to walk away and avoid proximity to the
coming storm when he thought:  "This may be a chance to help."  He
turned and said to the sergeant: "If you like, I will count those
plugs for you while you sort out the spanners from the other crate."

"Good boy!" at once said the sergeant.  "I have got to a point where
those little red pasteboard boxes sort of run together, and I couldn't
count them correctly to save my life.  If you can make them come out
to suit this consignment number they have sent with the plugs you
will be a real help, I can tell you."

Henry set to work with a will, and not only checked the number of
spark plugs, which he found to be correct, but at the sergeant's
direction began placing them in neat piles on the shelf of the
store-room that had been set aside for plugs of that type.  He was in
the middle of this task when who should come by but the sergeant-major!

"Hello!" exclaimed that worthy, who was nothing if not a martinet, "who
told you to be puttering about here?"

Before Fat could answer, the stores sergeant spoke up.  "This man is
giving me a hand, and I need it," he said.  "If you don't need him
for something else to-day I wish you would let him stay with me.  I
am supposed to have a couple of soldiers detailed for this job, but I
haven't seen anything of them yet.  Why can't I have this man?"

Fat seemed to grow bigger than ever round the chest as he heard
himself referred to as "this man."  That was getting on, sure enough.
More, he was mightily pleased that someone really wanted him.

"I guess you can have him if you want him," answered the
sergeant-major.  "Have you anything else to do to-day, Benson?"

"Not that I know about," was Fat's reply.

"Stay here, then, until the sergeant is through with you."

That night the stores sergeant suggested that Fat come to him next
day.  The stores were just starting, and the work of setting things
in their proper places was far from uninteresting.  The boy took a
real delight in his new task; and when, three days later, the
sergeant-major called into the stores on his way past and said to
the stores sergeant, "Are you going to keep Benson here for good?"
the stores sergeant replied without hesitation, "I sure am."

To have been among the stores from the time they were first unpacked,
and to have assisted in the work of first placing them where they
belonged, gave Fat a sort of sense of proprietorship.  Stores still
poured in every day or so.  The two soldiers who were to help at last
made their appearance, but neither of them seemed to particularly
appeal to the stores sergeant, who was by that time depending more
than he realized upon the quick intelligence and persistent application
of his big-bodied boy assistant.

Fat's prime chance came at the end of the first fortnight, when the
stores sergeant was kept in bed for a few days from unusually severe
after-effects of vaccination.  The pair of soldiers had not been in
the new stores sufficiently long nor taken keen enough interest in
them to be of much use except when working under direction.  So the
real storekeeper was Fat for the interim.  The sergeant-major
discovered the fact and reported it casually to Major Phelps, who
spoke to the colonel about it.  Both of these officers had their
hands very full at that time, and both of them had felt the blessing
of having the ever-ready and ever-willing Brighton boys always on
tap, as it were, to run quick errands and be eyes and feet for anyone
that required an extra pair of either.

It was a source of gratification to Colonel Marker that the boys were
doing well; and that one of their number had worked his way into the
organization of the camp unostentatiously, on his own merits, pleased
the colonel immensely.  He even went so far as to stop in the stores
on his way to dinner and say a kindly word to Fat, whose coat buttons
seemed ready to burst in consequence.

Thereupon Fat became a fixture in the stores, studying carefully
everything that came through his hands, until at length he knew at a
glance what each part or store might be, and whether it was in good
condition or not when received.

The dark French boy, Louis Deschamps, was a general favorite.  So
much so, in fact that he could have had almost any job that it lay
in the sergeant-major's power to offer him.  One day Louis casually
mentioned that he wished he could get nearer the engine work, and
the sergeant-major at once decided the boy should have his wish.

No finer fellow on the grounds could be found than the big Scot,
Macpherson, who was head engine hand of the first lot of mechanics
to arrive at the airdrome.  Macpherson talked little unless he was
speaking to some prime favorite, when he became most voluble.  The
sergeant-major and Mac were cronies.  Consequently it took little
laying together of heads before the sergeant-major went before the
colonel one day and asked if Louis Deschamps could be spared from
headquarters to go and give Macpherson a hand as helper.

The colonel smiled.  He knew what was in the wind.  The Scot knew well
where he could obtain helpers in plenty if he needed them.  But
Colonel Marker was as ready to help the Brighton boys as was the
sergeant-major, so he smilingly acquiesced, and the next morning Louis
came to camp attired in a suit of blue dungarees over his khaki.

In ten days' time Macpherson had taken the French lad to his heart,
and was never so happy as when working away with him over a refractory
engine and chatting along in a seemingly never-ending stream of
engine small-talk.  All of which was meat and drink to Louis, and was
rapidly acquainting him with much that it would otherwise have taken
him years of experience to acquire.

Joe Little and Jimmy Hill had a council of war with Louis Deschamps
one night.  These three were fast growing to be closer than brothers.
What one of them had he was anxious the other two should share at
once.

"I think I can see my way to get you fellows working in the hangars,"
Louis said.

"Mac will help us.  I never saw such a good friend.  I told him you
fellows were anxious to get closer to the planes and he is turning
it over in his mind.  He will have a scheme soon, and when he does,
it will go through all right."

Macpherson had a scheme, but just how and when to try to put it into
operation was the question.  He had a talk with Parks, the head
instructor, one afternoon, and told Parks about the Brighton boys
and their keenness to learn more about flying.

"You could do with those kids," said Mac "They are really too big by
now to be called kids, as a matter of fact.  Why, they will be flying
soon themselves.  Why don't you ask the major if you can't have two
of them down here to help clean and tune up the school machines?
It is a bit irregular, but so is their being here at all.  I don't
see why, if the Old Man can use them around the offices, we can't
have a couple of them here.  I have had the young Frenchman here
with me now for some time, and he is worth a lot to me.  He says two
others, one named Hill and the other Little, want to get down to
the hangars.  Be a good chap and ask the major about it."

Parks did.  The major was very busy at the time, and said, "I guess
so," and let the matter go at that.  Parks passed that laconic
permission on to the sergeant-major, and the two boys reported to
Parks forthwith.

That left Bob Haines, Harry Corwin, Archie Fox and Dicky Mann at
headquarters to be generally useful.  They had come to be on the best
of terms with the sergeant-major, and when they pointed out to him
that the three boys in the hangars were "having all the fun," he
suggested that he so assign them to duty that but two of them would
be "on" at the same time.  Thus when Bob and Dicky Mann were standing
ready for whatever might be required of them, Harry and Archie were
free to spend their time in the hangars, where the sergeant-major
could lay his hand on them in case of sudden calls.

Thus the summer was not far advanced before the Brighton boys were
in the very thick of the flying game, not as onlookers, but as parts
of the machine into which the various component parts of the camp
and its numerous units were rapidly becoming merged.

If they had not tried to learn, the Brighton boys must have picked up
some general information about aeroplanes and flying.  With their
special eagerness they were rapidly becoming well acquainted with
most details of the work of the airmen.  No casual word in their
hearing fell on barren ground.  When one of them mastered a new idea,
he passed it on to the others.

None of the boys studied the machines themselves more devotedly than
did Harry Corwin.  Close application to many a dry volume bore good
fruit.  He felt he could set up a Farman type biplane by himself.

One morning Harry was standing beside a monoplane of the Bleriot type,
which had come from somewhere as an old school machine, and had not
been much in demand owing to the fact that no other monoplanes were
in evidence at the camp, when an army airman, an entire stranger to
Harry, came out of the hangar and glanced at the engine in evident
preparation for a flight.

The airman was about to start the engine when Harry noticed that the
elevator control wires were crossed.  Whoever had attached them had
done so mistakenly.  Harry could hardly believe the evidence of his
eyes, yet there it was, undeniable.  Stepping forward, he said to
the airman: "Excuse me, but your control wires are not right."

The flying man was little more than a novice, and sufficiently young
to resent interference on the part of one obviously younger than
himself.  Besides, he had connected up those control wires himself.
He glanced hurriedly at the terminals, and seeing that they were
apparently secure, thought the boy beside him must be mistaken.
He missed the crossed wires.  He said to Harry, with just a suspicion
of superciliousness, "Oh, she is quite O.K., thanks," and started his
engine and sprang into his seat as the plane moved off across the meadow.

Harry stood watching the receding plane with something akin to
consternation in his heart.  Naturally shy, he did not think of
pressing his opinion, but he knew trouble was in store for the young
airman, though in just what form it would come he could not figure out.
The monoplane had not gone far along the grass before the flier tried
to raise it.  As the machine did not answer properly to the elevator,
he thought something must have stuck, and jerked the lever as if to
free it.  Afterwards the airman was not clear as to just what happened.

Harry could see the airman was trying some maneuver, and as he looked,
the plane rose nose first from the ground, almost perpendicularly
and then took an odd nose-dive head into the ground.  The plane was
not many feet from the earth when it dived, but was far enough up to
come to the ground with a bad crash.  Harry could see a dash of
white spray in the sunlight as the gasoline splashed upward at the
moment of the smash.  The monoplane heeled over and the pilot went
out of sight behind the wreckage.  The graceful white tail stood
high in air.

Running as fast as he could, Harry got to the scene of the accident
before the airman had risen from the ground.  The strap which had
held him into his seat had burst, and he had suffered a nasty spill.
Investigation showed, however, that he was but little the worse,
save for the shock and the fright.  He was as pale as a sheet.
Harry helped him to his feet and assisted him to take stock of his
injuries.  By the time they had discovered that no bones were broken
and the bruises the young fellow had sustained were quite superficial,
Parks, the head instructor, dashed up in a motor car.  As he leaped
out beside the wrecked plane, there was a frown on his face.  "Another
smash?" he queried.

Harry learned later that the young airman had already smashed up two
machines that week before demolishing the old monoplane.

"What was wrong this time?" Parks spoke sharply.

Without hesitation the young pilot answered: "I must have hitched
the old girl up wrong, some way.  This friend here," nodding toward
Harry, "was good enough to tell me before I started that I had mussed
things up before I got into her.  I was a fool not to have listened
to him, but," and he paused, smiling, "but he looked pretty young to
be giving advice.  I wish now I had listened to him."

Parks turned to Harry.  "You knew where the trouble was?"

"The control wires were crossed," Harry answered simply.

"You noticed that, did you?" continued Parks.  "When have you seen
this type of plane before?"

"This one is the only one I have ever seen," was Harry's reply.  "I
have read up on this type, though, quite a bit.  I had a book that
contained an awful lot about this particular sort of machine, and I
could almost put one together.  It's easy enough to see crossed wires
if your eye happens to light on them."

"Yes," said Parks.  "It's easy enough if you have the right sort of
an eye.  That's the real question.  You are one of those boys from
Brighton Academy, are you not?  Are you in the same bunch that Hill
and Little came from?  If you are, I guess I can use you in the way
I am using them.  Would you like to get some practical experience
round the hangars?  You youngsters seem to be under the chief's eye,
from what I hear, and I understand he wants to see you all get a
chance to push on."

"We all want to get into the hangars when we can be spared from our
regular work," answered Harry.  "There are four of us left, at the
headquarters' offices, and whether or not they want us to stay there
I don't know."

"Humph!" Parks had not great respect for anyone around an airdrome
who was not intimately connected with the actual flying.  "Lot of
good you will be doing there.  If they want to see you boys amount
to something, why don't they let me have a chance to see what's in
you?  Fellows who know at a glance that elevator wires are crossed
ought to be encouraged.  That's my view."  Parks left the subject
and turned his attention to the bruised pilot, who came in for a
curtain lecture.  Harry Corwin busied himself with trying to ascertain
the extent of the damage to the wrecked plane.  As Parks finished
talking to the pilot he stepped to Harry's side and asked: "What is
left of her?"

"Plenty," said Harry.  "She will need a new propellor and her running
gear is crumpled up badly, but I doubt very much if the planes are
damaged, and I don't see that the engine has suffered."  Park's
critical eye ran over the wreck and he nodded.  Without further
comment he jumped into his car.  As it started away he said: "Don't
bother with the old girl any further.  I will send a gang out to tend
to her.  I will see if a chance won't come along soon to get you boys
into better jobs, if you want them."

"Want them?" said Harry.  "I should think we do."

But Parks was a very busy man, and as the work at the new air camp
increased he found his hands so full that his promise to Harry was
for the time being crowded out of his mind.

The four boys held at headquarters chafed a little, but were careful
to keep the fact to themselves.  Archie Fox felt it most keenly of all,
for he was very fond of Jimmy Hill, and thought it hard fate indeed
that took Jimmy away from him.  Jimmy was learning rapidly.  He had
made friends with one of the instructor pilots, a little man named
Reece, who spent much time tuning up and going over the school machines.

Reece was never idle, never quiet.  An hour in which nothing had been
done was to him an hour wasted.  If he had nothing else to do he would
go over work just completed and make sure it had been done well.  In
consequence, Reece had few accidents, and rarely suffered delays and
waits while something was being "put right."  Jimmy appreciated this
quality in Reece, and saw its results.

By tuning his inclinations and point of view with that of the instructor,
Jimmy got into very close touch with the little man, who was never
tired of answering questions and making explanations.  Reece had been
for some years working for one or another of the crack international
fliers who traveled in various parts of the world.  He had no ambition
to become a star himself, but knew most of the well-known airmen of
two continents, and contained a store---house of anecdotes about them
and their doings.

Jimmy always walked or rode home with Archie when he could, and much
of their time on Sundays was spent together.  The colonel had from
the first insisted that they should have the Sundays to themselves
and they had got into the habit of going to church each Sunday morning
in uniform, with the army men, who always turned out in some force.
Sunday afternoons generally found them at the airdrome, and often
they might be found at work, but they were considered free to do
as they chose.  These Sunday afternoons were of great value to Archie,
for Jimmy Hill, whether working or not, never failed to give Archie
a sort of resume of what he had picked up during the week.

One Thursday afternoon the colonel was making a round of the hangars.
Archie was on duty with him, accompanying him as a sort of extra
orderly, the soldier orderly having been sent to the town with a message.

As they passed down the front of the hangars the colonel turned to
watch one of the pupils trying his first "solo," or flight by himself,
not far away.  "Handles her nicely," he said, half to himself.  Then,
turning to Archie, he added: "How would you like to be up there in
that machine?"

To his surprise Archie looked very thoughtful and shook his head
soberly before he replied: "I hardly know, sir."

"What!" said the colonel.  "Have I found one of you Brighton boys
that is not anxious to fly?"

"I am anxious enough to fly.  It's the machine I was thinking about."

"What's the matter with the machine?"

"I don't know if anything is the matter with her, but that is the old
biplane they call the 'bad bus.'  She has given more than one man a
spill, sir.  Everything goes well with her for a while and then she
plays a trick on someone.  Last time I saw her cutup she side-slipped
without any explanation for it.  Some of us have got the idea that
she has always got to be watched for sideslip.  I would not mind going
up in her after I had learned to fly, but she would not be my choice
for my first solo."

"Bless my soul!" exclaimed Colonel Marker.  "You talk as if you knew
all about the different machines.  You have never worked around them,
have you?"

"Those of us that happen to be off duty at headquarters generally spend
our spare time around the machines, and, of course, we hear the talk
that goes on.  I am sorry if I have said what I shouldn't, sir."

"Tut, tut!" from the colonel.  "You have said nothing wrong.  You may
be quite right.  I have known of machines that had bad habits, plenty
of them.  But if they let that lad take his solo in the machine it
must be all right."

Ten minutes later Colonel Marker was at the back of a hangar inspecting
a newly arrived scout machine of a much---discussed type when he heard
a shout from outside.  A moment later a soldier came into the hangar
and reported a bad smash.  The colonel walked to the door.  There
across the meadow, was a wrecked airplane.  Men were picking up the
still form of the pilot beside it.  Parks, seeing the colonel,
pulled up in his runabout to take the colonel with him to the wreck.

"Looks bad, sir," said Parks.  "They had orders not to let novices
go up in that machine.  I hope the boy is not badly hurt."

"Was it the 'bad bus' that smashed?" asked the colonel.

"Yes, sir.  That is what some of the boys called her.  She is not a
really bad machine, but plays tricks."

"Did you see what she did this time?"

"Yes, sir.  I was looking at her from the end hangar.  I was some
distance away, but I happened to have my eye on her as she crocked."

"Did she side-slip?"

"That is just what she did do." Parks glanced at Colonel Marker
inquisitively.  What was the colonel driving at?

"The reason I asked," said the colonel, "was on account of something
one of those Brighton boys remarked to me not more than ten minutes
before the smash.  He said the 'bad bus'---as he called it---side-slipped
at times unexpectedly.  Those youngsters do pick things up, don't they?"

Just then they reached the scene of the accident, and both of them
forgot the Brighton boys for the moment.

The machine was smashed badly and the young pilot had received a
broken leg in addition to a nasty shaking.

"I think I will let that plane go," said Parks as he and the colonel
drove toward the hangars.  "I will just pile up the old thing and let
her sit in a corner until I need her worse than I do now.  She has
played her last trick for a while.  You were speaking of those
Brighton boys, sir.  What are you planning to do with them?"

"Make flyers of them some day."

"I have three of them in the hangars now.  You have one at headquarters
named Corwin that knows a bit for a lad.  Why not let me have him?"

"The four I have at the offices are really valuable, but I suppose if
they are to learn flying they had better be with you.  Can you find
something to do for the lot?"

"I guess so.  If they are all as good as the three I have already
I can do with them."

"Well, it's rather irregular, the whole business.  But they began
with us when we came here, and they are just the sort of stuff, as
far as I can see, that we want in this game, so the sooner we push
'em along the better, I think."

Thus it was settled.  The Brighton boys were one step further on their
way to membership of an air squadron at the front, far off as the
front seemed to them.  With Fat Benson in the stores and the other
seven boys in the hangars, they felt themselves truly part and parcel
of the airdrome.  This feeling of responsibility was aging them, too.
Already they looked years older, every one of them, than they had
looked on that day in the previous spring when they had decided to
study aeronautics in concert.




CHAPTER III

IN THE AIR


Bob Haines was the first of the Brighton boys to go up in an aeroplane.

It was due to no planning on his part.  It was not to please him that
he was taken as a passenger.  One of the pilots was trying a machine
new to him and came down complaining of its lack of stability on the
turns.

"Any little puff that catches her sudden makes her wiggle herself
in a way I have never seen another plane do.  I suppose these chasers
have little habits of their own, but it would take my attention off
what I was doing, to have her monkeying around that way.  What do you
think it is?"

The instructor addressed was unable to answer.  "You have been up in
her.  You know more than I do about her."

"Perhaps a passenger would help her," suggested another pilot.

"I don't see how." The flier shook his head.  "Anyway, I would like
to see how she climbs with two up.  From the little I tried her out,
I think she is the fastest climber I have been in anywhere.  Come up
for a bit, John."

"Can't," said the pilot.  "About ten minutes ago the major sent word
he wanted to see me at once.  If I don't get a move on I will catch
it."  He started off in a hurry.

"Come on, Fanshaw," said the pilot, turning to the instructor.

"Not me," was the reply.  "I have a swat of work.  There is ballast
for you, though, over there by the shed."  Bob Haines was the ballast
indicated.  He was putting the final touches on an aeroplane propellor
to which he had administered a coat of varnish.

"What lot?" queried the pilot.

"Bunch of young fellows from about here.  Sort of volunteers.  Idea
of the colonel's, I think.  Nice lot of boys.  Young, but getting on
fast.  I have seen one of them, a French boy, quite a bit lately, and
if they are all as good at locating engine trouble as he is they will
go far in this game before they are old men.  Ask the tall youngster.
He will be tickled to death.  I don't suppose he has been up before,
but he will be a good passenger.  Be careful and don't scare him.
Don't try any stunts.  Shall I sing out to him?"

"I guess so.  I don't much care who it is so long as he weighs up to
average, and that fellow looks pretty husky."

"Here, young fellow!  You are needed here for a minute," called out
Fanshaw.

Bob trotted over to the plane at once.

"What were you at?" asked the instructor.

"Varnishing," replied Bob.  "Just finished."

"This is Lieutenant Fauver.  He is trying this new chaser.  She is
the finest thing we have seen here, and he wants to give her a spin
with a passenger up.  Hop in if you like."

The pilot smiled and shook Bob's hand, then added another invitation.
It was hardly necessary.  Bob was overjoyed.  Often the boys had
discussed going up, but a fair frequency of minor accidents made the
officers at the camp chary about any unnecessary risks.  Consequently,
the Brighton boys had decided that their best plan was to say nothing
about flying as passengers until someone suggested it to them.  That
one of them might be of any possible use as a passenger had never
entered their heads.

A few moments after, the new chaser was soaring upward with a roar
of engine exhaust that told of pride of power.  Bob was in the snug
front seat undergoing an experience whose like he had never dreamed
of.  His youthful imagination had often tried to picture what it
would be like to be up in a swift flying-machine, but the sense
of power and the exhilaration of swinging triumphantly through space
gave him a new sensation.

"This," he thought, "is the greatest game of all.  This is what one
day I will be doing to some purpose."

His mind went out to that day when he would be guiding his own machine
on a hostile errand, over the enemy's country, perhaps.  The fine,
high enthusiasm of youth rushed through him and his pulses beat faster
as he pictured himself, a knight of the air, starting forth on a
quest that might mean great danger, but would, with sufficient
foresight, care and determination, result in disaster for the
antagonist rather than for himself.

Higher and higher climbed the swift plane, no faltering in its stride.
The beat of the engines was as rhythmical to experienced ears as the
regular swing and lilt of some perfectly rendered piece of music to
the ears of a master musician.

Bob noticed the country below, but was too much absorbed with his own
thoughts to give much attention to details of the wonderful panorama
that stretched away for miles and miles, until they had soared to a
height that made blurred lines of roads and hedges far under them,
and caused even houses and outbuildings to grow increasingly
indistinguishable.  Only the silver band of the little river, winding
in graceful curves and catching the afternoon sun, remained an unfailing
landmark.

Then suddenly came an abrupt silence.  Bob's heart leaped to his
throat.  What had happened?  No sooner had his inner consciousness
asked the question than his common sense had answered it.  The pilot
had shut off the engine, of course.  Already the powerful plane
was heading downward over the trackless path up which it had risen,
and was gliding with a soft rush of air which produced a floating
sensation.

"How did you like that?" asked Lieutenant Fauver.

"Great," said Bob.  Great! He wanted to say more.  He wanted to
explain that a new world had opened to him.  That he had felt the
call that would leave him restless until he, too, had mastered one
of those marvelous steeds of the air, and was free to soar at will
wherever he chose to direct his mount.  Great! The word expressed
so little.  Bob thought of a dozen things to say, but heaved a big
sigh of genuine content, and left them all unsaid.

Fauver was of much the same mold as Bob.  He caught something of the
younger boy's mood.  He knew how the lad felt.  His memory took him
back to his own first flight.  How long ago it seemed!  How impressed
he had been at his first real taste of the sweets of the air-game!
How utterly incapable of expressing his feeling!

So he respected the frame of mind of the lad in front of him and
volplaned down in silence, trying the stability of the plane by wide
spirals, banking it just enough to be delightful to a passenger,
without going far enough to cause the slightest apprehension or
nervousness.

It was proving a priceless experience to Bob.  He seemed transported
to another existence.  Then the earth began to come nearer.  Things
below took quick form.  Bob realized that soon they would be landing.
Just at the last he thought the ground was rising toward them at an
astonishing rate.  Surely this was not quite right!  They must be
dropping like a stone.  Up, up, came the ground.  Bob unconsciously
braced himself for the impact.  They were going to come down with
a mighty smash.  He held his breath and set his teeth.  At the very
moment when all seemed over but the crash, the graceful plane lifted
its head ever so slightly, the engine started roaring again, and
they glided to earth and ran along so smoothly that for the life
of him Bob could not have told the exact moment the wheels touched
the ground.

When they stepped out of the machine Bob did something on the spur
of the moment that he laughed about afterward.  He stepped to the
lieutenant and put out his hand.  As Fauver took it in a friendly,
firm grasp Bob said: "That was the biggest experience of my life."
Again that similarity of temperament between the two told Fauver
something of the depth of Bob's feeling, and he said quietly: "I
am glad to have given you a chance to go up, and next time you happen
to be around when I am going up, if you can get away for a little
while, I would be glad to have you go along.  One of these days I
will give you a good long flight, if I get a chance."

Bob went back to the hangar an older boy.  The enthusiasm still held
him close.  The days would drag, now, until he could begin flying.
He was sure of that.

When the other Brighton boys learned that Bob had actually been up
in the air, there was a natural desire among them all to do likewise.
Jimmy Hill made up his mind it would not be long before he had a
flight.  Adams, one of the instructors who had recently arrived,
wanted a hand to help him tune up a new school machine that was
fitted with dual control, i.e., that had a double set of levers so
that the novice could guide the machine while the instructor had a
restraining hand on them in case of emergencies.  Reece, Jimmy
Hill's great friend, was called away to make a test flight just
as Adams spoke to him about a good helper, and told Adams that he
could not do better than give Jimmy a chance to lend a hand.

"The boy will do what he is told," said Reece.  "All you have to do
is to explain just what you want done.  He is dependable.  Try him.
He is a nice boy, too, and you will like to have him round."

So Jimmy worked that day and the next on the new school machine.
Finally it was ready.

"Wait till I take her up for a bit and see how she pulls and I will
give you a runaround in her," said Adams to Jimmy.  The instructor had
been highly pleased with the way the boy had worked, and felt anxious
to give him a treat.

Thus Jimmy had his first flight.  Further, he was shown by Adams how
to hold the controls, though he was careful to put no pressure on
them.  Next day Adams said, "Come on.  I will show you how we start
teaching flying where I come from."

Before half an hour passed Jimmy found he could "taxi," as Adams
called running along the ground, quite well.  That was but a beginning.
Three times in the following week Adams took the boy out for a lesson;
and the practical experience, though limited, gave Jimmy a very good
idea of what was required of much of the adjustments and finer points
of tuning up that he had learned to see Reece do in the sheds.

At last Adams made a short flight and let Jimmy handle the machine
for a few moments alone, the instructor removing his hands from his
control levers and leaving the job to Jimmy.  It was a simple enough
little flight, but Jimmy had the knowledge that he had been actually
flying the machine for a time, all by himself, which pleased
him beyond measure.

One of the red-letter days the Brighton boys were long to remember
was that on which they first watched a new arrival to the airdrome,
an experienced flier, loop the loop and nose-dive on one of the fast
chasers.  The whirling, darting plane seemed so completely at the
mercy of the pilot that the boys were rapt in silent wonder.  That
exhibition of what the birdmen of to-day call real flying was a
revelation to them.

It held out promise of long study and careful practice far ahead
before they could hope to equal or excel the cool, modest young
aviator who came down so gracefully after a series of side loops
that made most of the spectators hold their breath.

Summer days passed rapidly.  Joe Little and Louis Deschamps were
sitting in a hangar one Sunday afternoon, chatting about a new type
of battle-plane that had arrived that week.

"I could fly that bus," said Joe, "if I had a chance."

"That is just the trouble," commented Louis.  "Getting the chance is
what is so hard.  I am tired of fussing around on those school
machines they let us on now and then.  What is the good of trying to
fly on a plane that won't rise more than a couple of dozen feet?  I
have never had a chance to fly anything else.  I get to thinking,
working so much on real planes, that those school machines for the
infant class are not fliers at all.  They are a sort of cross between
a flying machine and an auto."

"You are in too much of a rush," Joe admonished.  "I think we are
lucky to get a go in one of those now and then.  Jimmy Hill goes up
in that old dual-control bus with Adams, but to my mind that sort of
thing is out of date.  I have got the idea of lateral control as well
on that school bus that Parks let me out on, as I could have got it
from any of the chasers.  Another go or two and I will get horizontal
control down fine, and then I am ready for a real go.  I can land the
school bus like a bird.  I am getting swelled up, Louis."

"All right.  But don't get so swelled that you play the goat, Joe.
I know you won't, for that matter.  You are one of the careful ones,
all right.  But this does not get us any nearer flying a real machine."

"I wish I had a machine of my own," said Joe mournfully.

"Wishing won't get it, Joe."

"I wonder why we can't get hold of a machine that has been finished
off by one of these cheerful student chaps, and still has some good
stuff left in it, and get Parks to let us patch it up and get a flight
on it?"

"Parks can't be all that generous of government property, old man.
If a plane is worth fixing up the chief wants the rest of the use of
it.  If it is no good to him it would not be worth anything to us;
that's the rub there."

"I've got it!" exclaimed Joe, slapping his knee.  "Why not hit Parks
for that old 'bad bus' that gave the young fellow the broken leg the
last time it smashed?  There is plenty of life left in that old girl.
I wonder they haven't taken the engine out of her if they don't
intend to fix her up, The engine is all right."

"Maybe the engine is out of her.  Where is she?"

"Down in number twelve hangar, covered up in the corner."

"Let's go and have a look at her."

The two lads trotted off to inspect the damaged plane, which they
found under a pile of canvas, just where it had been brought the day
a bad side-slip had resulted in smashing it up.

"The engine is in her, sure enough," said Louis, "and it is by no
means a bad type of engine either.  It might have more power, but it
is reliable enough.  What was the matter with this bus, anyway, that
made them decide to shelve her?"

Someone told me that she side-slips badly at times.  I never heard
why.  Planes don't do things like that without there being a reason,
Louis.  Maybe she needs a bit of fixing that she has never had.  It
would be fun if we could rig her up so that she would fly properly,
wouldn't it?  Wonder if there is any use asking Parks?"

"Parks could only ask the colonel, I suppose.  He is a real good
fellow, and always seems willing to help us in every way he can.
I don't see, if he does not intend to repair the 'bad bus,' why
he wouldn't let us do it in our spare time, I know he would trust
me to do the engine.  He said the other day I could tune up an engine
as well as anyone he had under him."

"You could fix up the engine easy enough," said Joe "It is the rest
of the machine that would take some doing.  She is in pretty rocky
shape, an would want a lot replaced.  Harry Corwin could help us
with her.  He has had a lot of work with frames lately.  For that
matter, I guess all the lot would help.  We could come in early and
get some time on her before work starts, stay a bit later at night,
and most Sunday afternoons we could hammer away at her without
interruption.  It would be rather fun to have the seven of us trying
to show what we have learned and putting it into practice that way.
If we got the old bus right I don't think they would mind our having
a flight or two on her now and then, do you?"

"Sure not," replied the French boy.  "But will the colonel give us
the chance?"

"We will know before many days have passed."

Parks shook his head at first when the boys broached the project to
him.  "I don't think the colonel will agree," was his comment.

"I had better wait for a good time to introduce the idea.  There
is no telling what he might think of it.  Personally, I was undecided
what to do with that machine.  I have just let it set there waiting
till I made up my mind.  I can't recommend scrapping a plane merely
because it has the reputation of being unlucky.  That is about all
the bad name of the 'bad bus' amounts to, after all.  I am not sure
that you boys would not turn her out in better shape than the repair
men turned her out last time.  I can't see the harm in the plan."

Parks generally got his way about the hangars.  Colonel Marker depended
greatly on Parks' judgment, which the colonel was fond of calling
"horse sense."  So when the head instructor spoke to the colonel about
the proposal the Brighton boys had made to repair the "bad bus" in
their own time, and obtain, as a special reward for good work,
permission to do a little flying on the machine when opportunity
occurred, Colonel Marker felt inclined to leave the matter to Parks,
and said so.  That really settled it, for Parks had decided to plead
the cause of the boys.

The weeks that passed were very full ones for the Brighton boys, who
worked like Trojans on the machine they had undertaken to put in
order.  They made some mistakes, and more than once had to apply to
Parks for help and advice.  These he gave cheerfully.  Louis and
Macpherson overhauled the engine, and pronounced it in A-1 condition
when it left the test bench.  Every one of the boys learned much
about aircraft construction, at least so far as that type of biplane
was concerned, before they were through with the job.

Finally the day came when the "bad bus"---rechristened the "boys'
bus "---was wheeled out for its trial flight after the completion of
the repairs.  Adams was chosen to make the trial trip, which went
off without incident.  He flew the big biplane six or seven hundred
feet above the green carpet of the airdrome, and came down with a
graceful volplane that caused the boys to feel like applauding.

"Who is next?" asked Adams as he sprang from the seat and the biplane
came to rest beside the little group.

The honor was voted to Joe Little, as the originator of the idea
of getting hold of the machine.  Joe was not very eager to go up
when it came to an actual trial of the plane.  He thought he would
have no difficulty in flying it, for the controls were very familiar
to him, and a straight flight, or even a wide circle of the flying
ground proper, offered no apparent difficulties.  Joe was naturally
a shy and retiring lad, and felt that he was very much in the limelight
as he climbed into the seat of the biplane.

Joe got off well enough to suit the most critical instructor, and
after rolling until he was quite sure of himself, he raised the
elevator slightly and the machine left the ground in a most satisfactory
manner.

Joe did not try to fly at a great height, but once well clear of
the ground settled into his seat and started to gently turn to the
left, commencing a wide circle that would land him, should he choose
to come down at the end of one circuit of the grounds, at the point
where the Brighton boys and Parks were watching him.

There was so little wind that it had no noticeable effect on the
plane.  The controls worked perfectly, and Joe felt increasingly
at his ease.  When he had made the first circuit he decided to continue,
rise to a somewhat greater height, and come down with a nice, simple
volplane at the feet of his fellows.

All continued to go well.  Nothing was necessary but to watch that
no sudden gust caught the plane and found its pilot unprepared.  The
plane was banked so slightly that he had no need to fear side-slip.
He concentrated all his powers on making a fine landing.  When he
was ready to come down he shut off his engine and dipped the
biplane slightly.  She answered like a bird, and started gliding
earthward delightfully, planing at a perfect angle.

While Joe was not far up, he had never flown a machine before at that
height, and consequently his volplane seemed to occupy a longer
time than it should have done.  His fingers itched to start the
engine again and raise the elevator just enough to arrest the downward
swoop, and transform it into a soft glide, nicely calculated so
that it would bring the wheels of the chassis into contact with
the ground without any shock.  He was over-keen on that landing,
realizing that so many pairs of eyes were on him.

The earth came up toward him just a shade too fast to suit him.
Then he decided that the right moment had come, lifted his elevator
slightly, started the engine for a few turns, and wondered if he
had done the thing well.

He had not.

Joe, in his anxiety and inexperience, had pulled up his machine a
little too quickly.  Its headway stopped, as it was still a dozen
feet from the ground, along which Joe had hoped to glide gracefully
to rest.  The biplane hung a moment in the air, as if undecided
what to do.  Fortunately Joe had shut off the engine when his intuition
told him all was not right.  He could not tell what distance the
wheels of the chassis lacked before they would rest on terra firma,
but hoped against hope that they were nearer than they seemed to be.

The machine, losing all impetus, simply sat down with a bump.  The
chassis and the under plane smashed with a sound of ripping canvas
and splintering wood.  Joe had a good bump, too, but was none the
worse for it physically.  He stepped out of his seat before the
boys could run to the wrecked biplane.  They were all sympathy and
eagerness to see if Joe was hurt.  He had not dropped far, but had
come down with such a thud that even Parks was anxious.  Bob Haines
was the first of the Brighton boys to reach the machine.  "Are you
all right, Joe?" he called out as he came up.

"Guess so," was the reply.  "I feel jarred---but look at the poor old
bus!  How did I do it?  After all our hard work, she is completely
wrecked again, and I did it."  Joe felt that it would be a relief to
get away from the scene of the smash, and had to down a temptation to
walk off by himself.  He was almost heartbroken when he thought of all
the work that his mistake had undone.

"Never mind," said Parks.  "Everyone has to learn.  I will bet that
you don't pull up short when landing another time."

Joe was not to be thus easily comforted.  Sensitive to a degree, his
heart entirely in his work, he was utterly disgusted with himself
for having had the temerity to try the flight.  What hurt most was
the knowledge that the plane the Brighton boys had so looked forward
to having for practice flying they could hardly hope to get otherwise
for a long time to come, was _hors de combat_, and possibly beyond
another repair.

Recognizing Joe's frame of mind, the boys grouped round the broken
biplane in silence, searching their minds for a word that would give
a crumb of comfort to their comrade.  The more they looked over the
wreck, the less they knew what to say.

As they stood there, watching Parks poking round the smashed machine,
Colonel Marker came up with Major Phelps.  They had not been far away
when Joe had started on his experimental round of the airdrome, and
had witnessed the whole episode.

"You did not do so badly until you landed," said the colonel pleasantly.
"You should have stayed up."

The boys had never before heard the colonel essay a joke, and were
by no means sure that his first remark was not the preface to serious
condemnation of Joe.  Colonel Marker had often been heard to treat
the subject of smashed machines in a manner decidedly uncomplimentary
to the luckless aviator who was responsible.

Poor Joe felt his heart in his throat.  A very deep feeling of shame
came over him and his eyes filled with tears.  His face showed real
distress.

The colonel turned to Joe from an inspection of the plane and as he
did so saw the boy's eyes.  Colonel Marker was a kindhearted man,
for all his gruff exterior, and he had, too, a great interest in
the Brighton boys and their progress.  He felt, the moment he
realized how much to heart Joe had taken the accident, a sense of
sincere sympathy for the lad.

Placing his hand on Joe's shoulder, he said: "My boy, what counts
most is the way you have worked to get that old machine into flying
shape, and the fact that you were ready and willing to have a shot
at flying her, with all your inexperience.  Those things show keenness,
enthusiasm, and pluck.  A flying man has to possess nerve.  He has to
take chances sometimes.  You did the best you could do.  The fact
that you were inexperienced was against you, but in failing to get
through without accident you gained experience.  I do not care half
so much about the machine as you might think.  I might have left it
unrepaired if you boys had not taken on the job.  Don't feel so
badly, my boy."

Joe had difficulty in finding his voice.  "But, sir," he said in
a low tone, "the boys had looked forward so much to getting a chance
to learn to fly on the old bus.  Now that is all knocked into a
cocked hat.  I feel that I have robbed them of something I can't
give them again.  They are too good to say so, but every one of them
feels the disappointment as much as can be."

"Well," said the colonel, "there is no need for too much downheartedness
on that score.  Maybe I can play fairy godmother along that line.
You Brighton boys have worked hard and studied hard.  I have watched
you.  I am pleased with you.  You are all big enough now to begin
the game, I think, or at least you will be soon.  What do you think,
Major?"

"I think you are right, sir," replied Major Phelps quietly.  "If any
boys deserve to be taken into the service these surely do.  They may
be a bit on the young side, but they will be quite old enough by the
time they get to France."

To France!  The Brighton boys could hardly believe their ears.  That
casual sentence quickened every pulse.  To France!  The bare
suggestion made them glow with anticipation.

"How do you feel about it?" asked the colonel, turning to the seven.

"Every one of us is ready to go into the service the very first day
we can be taken in," answered Bob Haines.  "We started with that
idea in view.  We all hoped some day to join up, and we think we
could be of more use in the Flying Corps than anywhere else.  I don't
mean by that that we want to pick our jobs, sir, but we would like
to get into the air service for choice."

"And a very good choice too," commented Colonel Marker.  "Major
Phelps, suppose you look into the individual work that each of these
boys has been doing lately, and see if those under whom they have
worked recommend them all.  Is this the lot of them?"

"One more, sir," spoke up Bob.  "Benson, sir, in the stores."

"Benson has proven to be mightily useful," said the major.

"All right," concluded the colonel.  "Come on, Phelps.  We must look
over the ground for those new hangars.  You can tell me what you find
about these Brighton boys when you have finished your inquiries."
They walked away together, leaving seven of the proudest and happiest
boys in the world.

"Give a hand to get this wreck into the shed," said Parks.  "You
fellows are all right now.  The old man knows well enough you boys
have been doing well.  That is just his way.  You had better find out
what your folks are going to say."

Each of the boys felt confident that the news would be well received
at home.  They fell to with a will and soon had the biplane moved into
the shed.  That night they went home in high spirits.  They were boys
no longer; they had become men.  They pictured themselves in real
service uniforms, and longed for the day when, as Major Phelps had
said, they would "get to France."

Harry Corwin and Joe Little lingered for a moment at the gate of the
Hill home for a final word with Jimmy, who was very much excited.  "It
all came out of your smash, Joe," said Harry.  "The colonel might not
have thought of us for a long time yet but for that.  You could not
have done it better if you had planned it."

Joe had gotten over the worst of his chagrin.  He smiled.  "I am
glad it has taken the minds of you fellows off of my smash, anyway,"
he said.

Each family into which that news came that evening took it differently.
None of the parents of the Brighton lads who heard of the colonel's
promise were quite prepared for it.  All thought the boys might be
taken in some day, but it had seemed a long way off.  Bob Haines'
uncle was very proud of Bob, and telegraphed Senator Haines that
Bob was going into the army as a matter of information rather than
a request for permission.

Mrs. Mann was anything but glad to hear Dicky's "good news."  She
was a timid little woman, with a horror of all fighting.  Mr. Mann
took Dicky by the hand, however, and said, "God bless you, son,"
in a way that made Dicky feel closer to his father than he had ever
been before.  Jimmy Hill's mother was away from home.

Mr. Hill took the information as a matter of course.  "I thought
they would take you in one of these days," he remarked.  "You boys
ought to prove a credit to us all.  I would give a lot to be as
young as you are and have your chance, Jimmy.  You will have to
represent the family, though, I guess.  They won't take men of my
age, at least yet."  Jimmy made up his mind then and there that he
would represent his father, of whom he was intensely proud and very
fond, and represent him to the very best of his ability.

Harry Corwin's folks seemed little surprised.  Grace kissed him very
tenderly, and his mother drew his head down and pressed his cheek
close to hers.  "That will take both of my boys," she said quietly.
In the conversation that followed at the dinner table Harry was
struck with the familiarity with which they all spoke of the
possibility that the boys would be taken into the service at once.
They had not discussed the matter in such detail before in his
presence.  Grace mentioned more than once something that "the major
said," and Harry finally came to the conclusion that his people
had been closer in touch with the matter than he had been.  Major
Phelps saw a good deal of Grace.  Perhaps that had much to do
with it.

The Bensons and the Foxes took the news less seriously.  "I guess
it will be a long time before you boys see France," said Mr. Fox.
"It is the right thing, though, and if you get a chance, take it."

Louis Deschamps was to receive a bigger piece of news from his mother
than he gave to her.

"Next week we leave for France, both of us," said Mrs. Deschamps.
"I have not told you, Louis, for you were so happy with your work
at the airdrome I wanted you to enjoy it while you could do so.
You are French, my son, and thank God you are becoming old enough
to take a hand in the war.  When we get home I will see what can
be done to place you at once in our own flying service.  If you
have learned much here, as I think you have, it will all come in
well when you are fighting for France."

Louis was overjoyed.  He liked his comrades of the school, but he
was, after all, a French boy and had a French boy's heart.  More,
he had a French mother, with a French mother's devotion to her country
and her country's cause.

"For France!" an expression often heard in the Deschamps' household,
meant more than mere words could utter.  All the fine, high resolve;
all the passionate belief in the justice of the French cause; all
the stern determination that the war must be won, whatever the cost---all
that went to make the magnificent French women of to-day the splendid
heroines they have shown themselves to be, was deeply rooted in
Mrs. Deschamps.  Her husband in the trenches, she might well have
begrudged her only son, so young and such a mere boy in all his ways.
Not she.  She was a true mother of France.  The highest sacrifice
was not too great to make for the republic.

So Louis was soon to leave the Brighton boys, to go on to France
ahead of them, and to be enrolled in his own army, by the side of
which his American school chums hoped one day to be fighting a common
enemy.

Another mother of one of the Brighton boys was of the same heroic
mold as the brave French woman.  Joe Little's widowed mother took
the news calmly.  She had felt it would come one day.  Her mind
went back, as it had done frequently after the boys had commenced
their work at the airdrome, to the days of the short Spanish-American
war.  Joe's father, impulsive, had joined the colors at the first
call and gone to Cuba.  Mrs. Little's only brother, very dear to
her, had volunteered, too, and was in the First Expedition to the
Philippines.  Neither had come back.  War had taken so much from
Mrs. Little, and left her so hard a bed to lie upon, that it seemed
cruel that she should be asked for still more sacrifice.  She had
fought it all out in the quiet of her bedchamber, where, night after
night, she had prayed long and earnestly for guidance and strength
and courage.

Well Mrs. Little knew that if she told Joe the truth about her finances
and what his going would mean to her she could doubtless influence
him to stay and care for her.  There were many others who could be
sent, who did not, could not, mean so much to those they would leave
behind.  Joe was all she had.  She was growing old, and her little
store of money was dwindling surely if slowly.

By the time Joe came home that night and told her of what the colonel
had said, Mrs. Little had steeled herself to give her boy to her
country and humanity.  It cost her dear, but she set her teeth and
placed her offering on the altar of what she had come to believe
her duty, with a brave, patient smile in her eyes, in spite of the
clutch at her heartstrings.

"Splendid, Joe," she said with what enthusiasm she could put into
her words.  "You are glad, aren't you, dear?"

"Not glad, mother darling." Joe placed his arm around her slender
waist tenderly.  They were very close, these two.  "Not glad.  That
does not express it.  I couldn't be glad to go away and leave you.
Though, for that matter, you will be all right.  I feel sort of an
inspiration I can't explain.  It is all so big.  It seems so
necessary that I should go, and I felt that I should be so utterly
out of it if I did not go one day.  When the colonel spoke that
way it seemed like a sort of fulfillment of something that had to
come, whether or no.  I might call it fate, but that does not describe
it quite.  It is bigger than fate.  It sounds silly, mother, but
it is a sort of exaltation, in a sense.  It had to come, and I feel
it is almost a holy thing to me."

Joe's mother put her two hands on his shoulders.  Her eyes were moist,
but her courage never faltered.  "Joe, such boys as you are could not
stay at home.  You are your father's son, dear."

"And my mother's," said Joe soberly.  "It is from you I get the
strength to want to do my duty, and I will not forget it when the
strain comes.  I will always have your face in front of me to lead
me on, mother."




CHAPTER IV

OFF FOR THE FRONT


Months passed.  The training of the Brighton boys went on steadily
after they entered the service until each one of the six of them
that were still at the home airdrome was a highly efficient flier
and well-grounded in the construction of air-machines as well.

Louis Deschamps had gone, with his mother, to France.  Fat Benson
had been passed on to a more important job.  His work had been so
thorough in the stores department that he was now being used as
an inspector, traveling over half a dozen states, visiting all sorts
of factories that were being broken-in gradually to turn out the
necessary aeroplane parts in ever-increasing quantities as the war
progressed.

Then came the day when the contingent into which the Brighton boys
had been drafted started, at last, for France.  Final good-bys were
said, last parting tears were shed, the cheers and Academy yells
at the station died into the distance as the train pulled out, and
the six young airmen, proud in the security of full knowledge that
they were no novices, were truly "off for the front."

The days of embarkation, the dash across the Atlantic, and the landing
in France came in due sequence.  They had expected some excitement
on the ocean voyage.  The group of transports, of which their ship
was one, steamed warily eastward, convoyed by a flotilla of grim
destroyers, swift, businesslike, determined.  Extra precautions were
taken in the submarine zone; but none of the German sea wolves rose
to give battle with the American ships.

The coming into port, too, was less exciting than they had thought it
would be.  The French people who were grouped along the quayside
cheered and waved, but the incoming American contingents were arriving
with such regularity that the strangeness had worn away.  America
was in the war to do her utmost.  France knew that well by the time
the Brighton boys crossed the ocean.  The welcome was no less warm,
but there was no element of novelty about it.

A troop train, consisting mainly of cattle trucks, puffed away from
the coast town next morning, and attached to it were the cars containing
the new air squadron.  Late that night it had reached one of the
huge airdromes, the vastness of which unfolded itself to the astonished
gaze of the boys at daybreak of the morning after.  They had not
dreamed that such acres and acres of hangars existed along the whole
front.  The war in the air assumed new proportions to them.  They
were housed in huts, warm and dry, if not palatial.

During the day, given leave to wander about the airdrome, the six
Brighton boys took a stroll in company, eager to inspect at close
quarters the latest types of flying machines.

"These airplanes are stronger than any we have ever seen," remarked
Joe Little, as they paused before a new-type French machine.

"Yes," cheerily commented an aviator---a clean-cut young Englishman---who
was grooming the graceful plane.  "This very one crashed into the
ground two weeks ago while going at over sixty miles an hour.  She
is so strongly built that she was not hurt much and the pilot escaped
without a scratch.  This is what we call a 'hunter.' She has an
unbeaten record for speed---can show a clean pair of heels to anything
in the air.  She has tremendous power; and the way she can climb into
the clouds---my word!"

"Is she easy to fly?" asked Dicky Mann.

"Not bad," was the answer.  "The high speed makes for a bust-up once
in a while.  A pilot who gets going over one hundred and fifteen
miles an hour, and yanks his machine up to six thousand feet in
seven minutes, as he can do on this type of plane, and then drops
straight down from that elevation, as the 'hunter' fellows have
to do sometimes, puts a mighty big strain on his bus.  Little by
little this sort of thing dislocates important parts.  Of course
the pursuing game makes a pilot put his machine into all sorts of
positions.  He has to jump at the other chap, sometimes, at an angle
of ninety degrees.  I have known of cases where the air pressure
caused by such a drop has been so great that the planes of one of
these 'hunters' have been broken off with a snap."

"Jiminy!" ejaculated Dicky.

At this the aviator laughed, saying smilingly: "Accidents of some sort
take place here several times a day.  If they didn't we would not get
on so fast either in the study of aeroplane construction or the art
of flying itself.  Accidents tell us lots of things.  Between studying
accidents and watching for Boche ideas, especially when we get hold
of one of their late machines, we are never standing still at this
game, I can tell you."

"Do you get many German planes?" asked Jimmy Hill.

"We _down_ lots of 'em, but we don't get many---which is different,"
and the aviator smiled.  "You see the Boche fliers stay their side,
mostly, and when we drop one he goes down among his own lot.  Now
the hostile hunters for instance, rarely go over our lines.  Their
business apparently is to remain over their own territory.  That is
their plan.  They are brave enough.  But the Germans look to their
hunters chiefly to prevent our observers from doing their work.  They
wait for our observation machines where they know the observers must
come.  That is their game.  Just get some of the fellows who have
been over recently, when you get up front a bit, to tell you how the
new Fokkers hide themselves and pounce on our lot.

"Maybe the Boches look at it this way: if they have their fight at
their base of operations, over their own lines, and win out, they
may make a prisoner; if the machine is not destroyed, that may be
utilized.  If their man gets put out of commission we don't get
the beaten machine and therefore cannot learn their latest construction
dodges from it.  It's a different plan of action.  We go right out
over the German lines with our hunters and tackle their observers,
who do their reconnaissances from a bit back of their lines.  Only
in the very first part of the war, when the Germans outnumbered us in
fliers to an enormous extent, did they try to do much from our
top-side.  Nowadays we do our observing daily from well over the
enemy's lines; and the Germans do most of theirs from well on their
own side.  It's a different way of looking at it."

"Surely our way must be more efficient," said Joe Little.

"We think so," assented the aviator.  "We know more of their lines
than they can possibly know of ours.  For the rest of this war I
guess we will have to do so.  We are going forward from now on, and
the Teutons are going back, and don't you forget it.  We have to know
their lines well, and lots of other things, such as their routes of
supply and reinforcement, and their gun positions and munition dumps.
Our guns look to us, too, in a way they did not look to us a year ago,
even.  It's a big game."

The Brighton boys walked on slowly, without comment.  Yes, it was a
big game, in very truth.  The closer they came to it the bigger it
became.

"Hello! There is a monoplane.  I thought there were no monoplanes
in use now," said Bob Haines as they passed a round-bodied fleet-looking
machine with a single pair of wings.  It was a single-seater.  They
walked up to it and round it, gazing admiringly at its neat lines.
"What sort of a plane is this?" asked Bob of a mechanic who was
standing beside the machine.

"An absolute hummer," was the reply.  "Want to try her?  You have to
be an Ace to get into her driving seat, son."

Bob flushed, and was inclined to answer sharply, but Joe Little stepped
forward and said quietly: "We have just got here from the States.
Came last night.  This is our first look-around, and we want to
learn all we can.  We did not know monoplanes were being used now.
The only aeroplanes we have flown have been biplanes.  Won't you tell
us something about this type?"

"Certainly," said the mechanic.  "I was only joking.  No one can
fly this sort of machine except the most experienced and best pilots.
It is the fastest machine in the world.  It is a Morane, and they
call it a 'Monocoque.' Someone told me that the latest type German
Fokker was modeled on this machine.  It is a corker, but the trickiest
thing to fly that was ever made.  We have only got one here.  I heard
a French flyer say the other day that the Spad biplane was faster
than this machine, but I don't believe it."

"What is an Ace?" queried Jimmy Hill.

"That term started with the French," answered the mechanic.  "We
use it here now, sometimes.  It means a superior aviator, who has
brought down five adversaries, in fair air-fight.  The bringing-down
business, at least so far as the exact number is concerned, is not
always applied, I guess.  They just call a man an Ace when he is
a real graduate flyer, and gets the habit of bringing down his Boche
when he goes after him."

Every conversation around that part of the world seemed to have a
grim flavor.  The Brighton boys were getting nearer to actual war
every minute, they felt.

The boys found a row of S.P.A.D. machines not far distant.  The
"Spads," as the aviators called them, were fleet biplanes.  They
found a genial airman to tell them something of the planes, which
he described as the latest type of French fighting aeroplane.  "This
sort has less wing surface than any machine we have had here," said
the airman.  "It is mighty fast.  These four have just come back from
a good pull of work.  I think this lot were all that is left of two
dozen that were attached to the B squadron just before the last
big push."

"Cheerful beggar!" spoke up another pilot within earshot.  "Are you
trying to impress a bunch of newcomers?"  He walked toward the boys.
"Are you not some of the crowd that got in last night?"

"Yes," answered Bob Haines.  "We're the Brighton Academy bunch.  We
have just come over from home."

"Do you know a fellow called Corwin?"

"I am Corwin," said Harry.

"My name is Thompson.  Your brother Will was over here last week
looking for you, and told me that if I was still here when you arrived
I was to look you up.  He may not get a chance to run over again for
a bit.  He is some distance away."

Harry was delighted.  He introduced his companions to Thompson, who
told them Will Corwin was fit and well, and had become quite famous
as a flyer.  Thompson promised to dine at their mess that evening.
He did so, and after dinner sat and chatted about flying in general,
telling the Brighton boys many things strange to them about the
development of the flying service since the beginning of the war.

"I was in England in August, 1914, when the war broke out," Thompson
said.  "I had been interested for some time in flying; had learned
to fly a machine myself, and had watched most of the big international
flying meets.  I knew some of the rudimentary points about aircraft,
and as I had a cousin who was in the motor manufacturing business in
England, I had been put fairly into touch with aeroplane engines.
I don't know how much is known at home about what the French and
British flying corps have done out here, but to get a fair idea
of what they have accomplished one has to know something of the way
both France and England were caught napping.  I think it is fair to
say that there was not one firm in all Great Britain at the outbreak
of hostilities which had proven that it could turn out a successful
aeroplane engine.

"The English War Department had what they called the Royal Aircraft
Factory, where some experimental work was done, but the day war was
declared the British Army had less than one hundred serviceable
flying machines of all types.  What proved to be the most useful
plane used by the British for the first year of the war was only
a blueprint when the fighting started.  France was better off.
She had factories that could make aero engines.  But as to actual
planes, three hundred would be an outside figure of the number with
which France went to war.

"The use of the aeroplane in war was a subject which gave much
discussion, but few people, even in the army, thought that the
aeroplane would be of great service except for scouting.  At the
airdrome where I learned to fly we used to practice dropping
bombs---imaginary ones, of course---but we were so inaccurate at it
that none of us imagined we would be of much use in that direction
in actual warfare.  I have heard it said that the Germans directed
their artillery by signals dropped from aircraft at the very
beginning.  They did so before they had fought many weeks, anyway.
Boche fliers, English gunners have told me, used to hover over
battery positions and drop long colored streamers and odd showers
of colored lights.  It was some time before the Allied airman
contributed much to the value of the Allied gunfire.  When they got
at it, they beat the Huns at their own game, for the war had not
been on many months before British planes were flying over Boche
batteries and sending back wireless messages from wireless
telegraph installations on the machines themselves.

"The Boches had lots more machines than the Allies, and their army
command had apparently worked out plans about using them which were
new to our side.  I saw some of the early war-work of the British
fliers, for I got into the Army Service Corps, the transport service,
and came out to the front early in 1915.  I did not get transferred
into the flying part of the business until the end of that year.
There is no question but that the quality of the British flying men
was what put them ahead of the Germans long before they were equal
mechanically.  The French, too, are really great fliers.  The Boches
try hard, and are certainly brave enough, but there is something in
the Boche makeup that makes him bound to be second-best to our lot.
I have heard lots of discussions on the subject, and I think those
who argue that the Boche lacks an element of sportsmanship just about
hit the weak point in his armor as regards flying.

"The flying game has been one long succession of discarding the
machines we thought best at one time.  That applies to the Germans
as much as it does to us.  One has to go back to the start to realize
how much flying has progressed.  First, engine construction is another
thing to-day.  They can make engines in England now, though they were
a long time getting to the point where they could do it.  I believe
that most all the best motor factories in England have learned to turn
out good flying engines by now.  It means a lot of difference to
produce a machine that can do sixty miles an hour and one that can do
two miles a minute.  Yet at the start mighty few aeroplanes could beat
sixty miles an hour, and to-day I can show you plenty of planes right
here in this 'drome which can do one hundred and twenty.  If a plane
cannot do two miles a minute nowadays it is pretty sure to meet
something in enemy hands that can do so.  Why, before long one hundred
and twenty may be too slow.

"Then look at altitudes!  When I first thought of flying, five thousand
feet up was big.  That was not so very long ago.  Before the war some
very specially built machines, no good for general work, had been
coaxed up to about fifteen thousand feet by some crack airman, who
had worked for hours to do it, but the best machine we had at the
'drome where I learned flying would only do six thousand, and no one
could get her up there under forty minutes.  She was a fine machine,
too, as machines went in those days.  To-day it is no exaggeration
to say that ten thousand feet above the earth is low to a flier.
Everyone goes to twenty thousand continually, and many of the biggest
fights take place from seventeen thousand to twenty thousand feet up.

"The character of the work we have to do has changed as much as
the machines have changed.  First, anti-aircraft guns---'Archies,'
we call them---have improved enormously.  In the first of the show
the airman merely had to keep five thousand feet up and no Archie
could touch him.  A French friend of mine told me the other day that
one of their anti-aircraft guns hit a flier at a height of fifteen
thousand feet.  The gun was firing from an even greater distance
than that across country, too.  The very fact that flying at
considerable height protected aircraft when scouting produced
scientific methods into the collection of information.

"The camera work that has been evolved in this war is little short
of wonderful.  When it was realized that the planes could get photographs
from a height that was out of reach of the Archies of those days,
fighting one aeroplane with another came next.  Fights in the air,
instead of being rare, became the daily routine.  I doubt if any of
the planes that began the war game in 1914 were armed with rapid-fire
guns.  The aviators carried automatic pistols or rifles.  Some carried
ordinary service revolvers.

"With the introduction of the actual air fighting as a part of the
scheme of things, three distinct jobs were developed.  First, the
reconnaissances, which the scouts had to make daily.  Next, the
artillery observers, whose work it was to direct our gun-fire.  Next,
the fighters, pure and simple.  Another job was bombing, but we have
not had as much of that as of the other branches of the work.

"With the coming of the new element---the fighting planes, which
went out with the sole idea of individual combat---came the necessity
for swifter planes, for the man on the fastest machine has the great
advantage in the air.  The latest development is along the line of
team-work in attack.  So it goes on changing.  I think the smaller,
speedier aeroplanes are becoming harder to manage, but we do things
now we never dreamed of doing a year ago.  All of us can fly now as
we never thought before the war it would be possible to fly.

"Instead of rifles and pistols in the hands of the aviators every
plane now has at least one rapid-fire gun, and some have two and
even three.  The position of the rapid-fire gun on an aeroplane has
a lot to do with the success or failure of a fight in the air.  All
of you want to study that question carefully.

"But most fascinating of all to the new airman at the front is the
actual handling of the machines when fighting.  There lies the greatest
progress of all.  Construction has made big strides, but fliers have
made bigger ones.  Wait till you get up front and see."




CHAPTER V

JIMMY HILL STARTLES THE VETERANS


The Brighton boys lived every hour at that big base airdrome.  Jimmy
Hill was sent up on his first practice flight on an English machine.
Joe Little got his chance at the end of a week.  He was sent up one
morning in a late-type bombing machine, a huge three-seated biplane
with great spreading wings and a powerful engine.  This was a most
formidable looking machine in which one passenger sat out in front
mounted in a sort of machine-gun turret.  The big biplane was fast,
in spite of the heavy armament it carried, its three passengers and
its arrangement for carrying hundreds of pounds of bombs as well.

Harry Corwin was in the air at the same time on an artillery machine,
the car or fuselage of which projected far in front of the two planes.
There, well in front of the pilot, the observer sat in a turret with
a machine-gun.  Machine-guns were also mounted on the wings, and a
second passenger rode in the tail with another rapid-fire gun.

As Bob Haines had been on a rather long flight that day on a Nieuport,
a fast French biplane, and his observer had told Bob of a new French
dreadnought machine carrying two machine gunners and five machine-guns,
the boys talked armament long into the night.

Every day they learned some new points.  One afternoon a pilot from
the front line told of a captured German Albatros, which he spun yarns
about for an hour.  A single-seater, armed with three machine-guns
which, being controlled by the motor, or engine, shot automatically
and at the same time through the propeller in front of the pilot, with
the highest speed of any aeroplane then evolved on the fighting front,
with a reputation of being able to climb to an altitude of fifteen
thousand feet in less than fifteen minutes---some said in so short a
time as ten minutes---the crack German machine had attracted much
attention.

"With that sort of thing against us," said Dicky Mann, "we have
certainly got to learn to fly."

The same thought may have come to their squadron commander that night,
for the next day saw the start of real post-graduate work in flying
for his command.  The rule at the base airdrome had been to give
new units of well-trained flyers good all-round tests on various
types of machines.  This involved straight flying for the most part,
and was done more with the idea of familiarizing the newcomers with
the newer types of planes, and deciding for which branch of the work
they were best suited, than for anything else. In the work that gave
the finishing touch to his command, their squadron commander selected
three of the six Brighton boys as candidates for high honors in the
days to come.  Every one of the half dozen was good.  All were eager.
All flew well.  But Joe Little, Jimmy Hill and Harry Corwin seemed
made of exactly the sort of stuff from which flying stars were evolved.

"I think I will try to make hunters out of those three boys," said
their commander to the officer in charge of the base airdrome.

"Our plan here," said the officer thus addressed, "is to pass youngsters
out after they have satisfactorily gone through a final test of two
short voyages of twenty-five miles each, two long voyages of one
hundred and thirty-five miles each and an hour's flight at a minimum
altitude of sixty-five hundred feet.  The post-graduate course is
mostly aerial acrobatics.  Looping the loop comes first.  All of
them can do that.  The flier must then do flip-flops, wing slips,
vertical twists and spinning nose dives."

"Just what do you call a spinning nose dive?" asked the squadron
commander.

The chief explained: "Climbing to at least four thousand feet, the
pilot cuts off his motor and crosses his controls.  This causes the
machine first to scoop upward and then fall sidewise, the nose of the
plane, down vertically, spinning around and around as it falls."

"That sounds interesting," said the commander.

"More," continued the chief.  "It is necessary.  Skill in the air
nowadays means all the difference between life and death---all the
difference between success and defeat.  I have an idea that we have
come nearer to the limit of human possibility as regards speed in the
air than many people think.  Two hundred miles an hour may never be
reached.  But whether it is or not, we can get better and better
results by paying more and more attention to the development of our
aerial athletes.

"I look on flyers as athletes playing a game---the greatest game
the world has ever seen.  The more expert we can make them individually,
the better the service will be.  A nimble flyer, a real star man, is
almost sure to score off a less expert antagonist, even if the better
man is mounted on an inferior plane.  That has been proven to me beyond
all possibility of doubt time and time again.

"I was once a football coach.  My work here, so far as it touches men,
is very similar to coaching work.  It comes down to picking the good
ones, sorting them out, weeding, weeding all the time.  You like
those particular three boys you referred to?  Well, watch them.
Give them chances.  But don't be disappointed if they are not all
world-beaters.  And don't be surprised if some of the lot you think
will stick at the steadier, plainer work turn out big. You never can
tell."

Before the strain of expert acrobatics came careful training in
machine-gunnery.  The Brighton boys went through a course of study on
land that made them thoroughly familiar with machine-guns of more
than one type.  Machine-guns, they found, were in all sorts of
positions on the different sorts of machines.

"I wonder where they will put a rapid-fire gun next?" said Joe Little
one day at luncheon.  "Let's see.  I saw one plane this morning that
had a gun mounted on the upper plane, and fired above the propeller.
Another next to it had the gun placed in the usual position in front,
and fired through the propeller.  Next I ran across a movable gun
on a rotating base fixed at the rear of the supporting planes.  Of
course all of those big triple planes have the fuselage mounting,
and I was surprised to see still another sort of mounting, a movable
gun fixed behind the keel of one of those new English 'pushers,' just
as I came in.  It keeps a fellow busy to see all the new things here,
and no mistake."

"Your talk is so much Greek to me sometimes, Joe," said Bob Haines.
"You use so much technical language when you get going that you fog
me.  I can make a plane do what it is supposed to do, most of the
time, but some of these special ideas floor me, and I am not ashamed
to admit it."

"What is worrying you specially?" asked Jimmy Hill, smiling.

Bob was one of the soundest fliers of the six of them, but he was
forever making hard work out of anything he did not understand from the
ground up.  Once he had mastered the why and wherefore, he was at
peace, but if the reason was hidden from him he was never quite sure
on that point.

"It is this," answered Bob.  "Most all of the machines they have been
putting me up against lately have been those speedy little one-man
things---the hunters.  Now I understand all about the necessity for
speed and agility in that type, and I can see that the fixed gun in
front, sticking out like a finger in such fashion that you have to
point the plane at a Boche to point the gun at him, is a thing they
can't well get away from.  That Hartford type of hunter just over
from home is rigged up that way, and I can get the little gun on
her pointed anyway I like.  But all guns fixed that way fire through
the propeller, and just exactly how all those bullets manage to get
through those whirring blades without hitting one of them is not
quite clear to me yet."

"Go it, Joe," said Harry Corwin.  "You spent a good time listening
to what that French pilot said about Garros the other day."

"The Frenchman told me that a very well known pilot of the early days
of the war, named Garros, invented the arrangement whereby a gun could
be so mounted that the bullets went through the arc of the
revolving propeller blades," answered Joe.  "He said, too, that
Garros had the bad luck to be taken prisoner, and the Germans got
his machine before he had any chance to destroy it.  That was the
way the Germans got hold of the idea.  Garros simply designed a bit
of mechanism that automatically stops the gun from firing when the
propeller blade is passing directly in front of the gun-barrel.  He
placed the gun-barrel directly behind the propeller.  He then made a
cam device so regulated as to fire the gun with a delay not exceeding
one five-hundredth of a second.  As soon as the blade of the
propeller passes the barrel the system liberates the firing mechanism
of the gun until another blade passes, or is about to pass, when
the bullets that would pierce it are held up, just for that
fraction of a second, again.  So it goes on, like clockwork.  You
have noticed that on the new planes all the pilot has to do when
he wants to fire his machine-gun is to press a small lever which
is set, on most planes, in the handle of the directing lever.  That
small lever acts, by the mechanism I have told you about, on the
trigger of the gun.  It is simple enough."

"Yes," admitted Bob, "it does not sound very complicated, but it seems
very wonderful, all the same.  Most things out here are wonderful when
you first run into them, though."

Of the group of Brighton boys selected by the squadron commander to
study the finer points of aerial acrobatics, Joe Little was the star,
with Harry Corwin a very close second and Jimmy Hill a good third.
Their education, as the days went past, became a series of experiments
that were nothing short of hair-raising to any onlookers save most
experienced ones.

To see Joe, in a wasp of a plane, swift and agile, start it whirling
like a pinwheel with the tip of its own wing as an axis, and fall for
thousands of feet as it whirled, only to catch himself and right the
speedy plane when lees than a thousand feet from the earth, was indeed
a sight to make one hold one's breath.

Jimmy Hill learned a dodge that interested older aviators.  Looping
the loop sidewise, he would catch the plane when upside down, and shoot
away at a tangent, head down, the machine absolutely inverted---then
continue the side loop, bringing him back to upright again some
distance from where he had originally begun his evolution.

Watching him at this stunt, a veteran pilot said to the chief one
morning: "That turn will save that kid's life one day.  See if it don't."
And sure enough, one day, it did.

Harry learned what a French friend had told him the great Guynemer,
king of all French fliers, had christened "the dead leaf."  With
the plane bottom side up, the pilot lets it fall, now whirling downward,
now seeming to hang for a moment, suspended in midair, now caught by
an eddy and tossed upward, just like a dead leaf is tossed by an
autumn wind.

Joe could nose-dive to perfection.  He would hover high up, at well
over ten thousand feet from the ground, then drop straight for the
earth, like a plummet, nose directly downward, seemingly bent on
destruction.  When still at a safe distance up, he would gradually
ease his rush through the air by "teasing her a bit," as he called
it.  Then, before the eye from below could follow his evolutions,
he would be skimming off on a level course like a swallow.

The day came at last when the squadron was "moved up front" for actual
work over the enemy's lines.  The Brighton boys were ready and eager
to give a good account of themselves, and soon they were to be
accorded ample opportunity.




CHAPTER VI

THE FIGHT IN THE AIR


The morning on which the Brighton boys left the base airdrome with
their squadron saw the first sunshine that that part of France had
known for several days.  The line of light motor trucks which served
as their transport skimmed along the long, straight roads as if aware
that they carried the cavalry of the air.

"France is a pretty country.  I had no idea it would look so much like
home.  Those fields and the hills beyond might be right back where we
come from, boys," said Archie Fox.

"Wait till you youngsters get up a bit," advised a companion who had
seen the front line often before.  "You will see a part of France
that won't remind you of anything you have ever seen!"

In spite of that mention of the horrors that they all knew war had
brought in its train, it was hard to imagine them while swinging
along at a good pace through countryside that looked so quiet and
peaceful.  The line of lorries slowed down for a level crossing,
where the road led across a spur of railway, and then halted, the
gate-keeper having blocked the highway to allow the passing of a still
distant and very slowly moving train.  The gate-keeper was a buxom
and determined-looking French woman of well past middle age, who
turned a deaf ear to the entreaties of the occupants of the leading
car that the line of trucks should be allowed to scurry across
before the train passed.

As the boys sat waiting in the sudden quiet, Picky Mann said quietly:

"We are getting nearer.  Listen to the guns."

Sure enough, their attention drawn to the distant growling, the dull
booming of the detonations of the high-explosive shells could be
distinctly heard.  War was ahead, at last, and not so very far ahead
at that.  Not long after, the squadron passed through a shattered
French village.

Every one of the boys had seen pictures in plenty of shell-smashed
ruins, but the actuality of the awful devastation made them hold
their breath for a moment.  To think that such desolate piles of
brick and mortar were once rows of human habitations, peopled with
men, women and children very much like the men, women and children
in their own land, sobered the boys.

Soon Bob Haines drew the attention of the others to captive balloons
along the sky-line ahead, and finally the Brighton boys saw a black
smudge in the air far in front.  It was a minute or two before they
realized that they had seen their first bursting shell.

The leading car turned sharply off the highway into a by-road at right
angles to it.  A hundred yards further it dashed through a gap in a
tall hedge, and as the line of trucks followed it, they emerged upon
a great flying field.

There, ahead, were still the captive balloons, straining at their
leashes probably, but too far away to show anything but the general
outline of their odd sausage shapes.  Ahead, too, was the boom of
the guns.  No mistaking that.  Their aeroplanes were to be the eyes
of those very guns.  They knew that well.  The front line was up
there, somewhere.  Their own soldiers, their comrades, were in that
line.  Perhaps some of them were being shelled by the Boche guns at
that very moment.

"Beyond our lines," they thought, "come the enemy lines.  Soon, now,
very soon, some of us will be flying over those lines, and far back
of them, perhaps."

To the credit of the Brighton boys, every one of the six of them felt
a real keenness to get to work and take his part in the great game.
They had waited long and worked hard to perfect themselves for the
tasks that lay ahead of them, up there with the guns and beyond.
There was no feeling of shrinking from the awful reality of actual
war, now that it came nearer and nearer to them.  They were of sound
stuff, to a man.

The wooden huts that were to be their homes for a time were clean and
dry, and the big barn-like hangars that stood near had a serviceable
look about them.  The level field that stretched away in front of the
hangars was dotted here and there with a dozen planes, couples of men,
or small groups, working on each one.  Before they realized it they
were a part of the camp.

Immediately after dinner the flight commander sent for them and
provided each of them with a set of maps.  All the next morning they
pored over these, consulting the wonderfully complete set of
photographs of the enemy country which could be found in the photograph
department of the airdrome.

Practice flights took up the afternoon, and Joe Little and Jimmy Hill
tried to outmaneuver one another at fairly high altitudes.

More than once Joe managed to get his machine-gun trained direct
on Jimmy, but finally Jimmy side-looped with extraordinary cleverness,
dashed off and up while still inverted, then righted suddenly and
found himself "right on the tail" of Joe's machine, i.e., behind Joe
and above him, in the best possible position for aeroplane attack.
Joe had looped after a short nose-dive, hoping Jimmy would be below
him when he pulled up, but the odd inverted swing upward that was
Jimmy's star turn had found him in the better position when the
duel ended.

As the boys landed the flight commander walked toward them.  They
stepped from their machines and came in his direction, laughingly
discussing their mimic battle.  As the flight commander drew near, he
beckoned to them.

"Do you do that regularly?" he asked Jimmy.

"Yes, sir," was Jimmy's reply.

"Has it ever appeared to damage your planes?"

"No, sir.  Not that I am aware."

That was all.  Just a casual question from the chief.  But it made
Jimmy feel that he was not so much of a novice as he had felt before.
He felt that he was more "part of the show," as he would have put it
if he had been asked to describe his feelings.

Jimmy was the first of the Brighton boys to take part in a real fight
in the air.  A couple of days after his arrival at the airdrome he
was assigned to duty with an experienced aviator named Parker.  Both
Parker and Jimmy were to be mounted on fast, agile machines with very
little wing space, which, with their slightly-curved, fish-like bodies,
had the appearance of dragon-flies with short wings.

"These wasp-things are great for looping," said Parker to Jimmy.  "You
can throw them 'way over in a big arc that lands you a long distance
from where some of these Boche fliers expect you to be when you finish
your loop."

"What is the game we are to tackle?" asked Jimmy.

"Just hunting, I think.  The Boches seem to have become a little
bolder than usual during the last forty-eight hours.  Two of their
observation planes came unusually close to us yesterday.  I suppose
they may have received orders to spot something they can't find, and
it is worrying them a bit.  I guess the chief is going to send us out
together to see if we can bag one of their scout planes.  Their
hunters will be guarding.  It is better to go out in twos, if not in
lots, along this part of the line.  As a matter of fact, it is more
than likely that some German on a new Fokker or a Walvert is sitting
up aloft there like a sweet little cherub and laying for us.  They
have a nasty habit of swooping down like a hawk when we get well over
their territory and firing as they swoop.  If they get you, you drop
in their part of the country.  If they miss you, they just swing off
and forget it, or climb back and sit on the mat till another of our
lot comes along.  Swooping and missing don't put them in much danger,
for if they come down they are in their own area."

"Have you had one of them try that hawk game on you?" asked Jimmy.

"I have had the pleasure and honor to have the great Immelmann drop
at me, once, on an Albatros, or a machine that looked like an Albatros.
We knew afterward that it was Immelmann, for he worked the same
tactics several times, always in the same way.  I was out guarding
one of our fellows who was getting pictures pretty well back of the
Boche lines, when along came a regular fleet of German aircraft.

"Four of them took after me, and I had to think quick.  I couldn't
skip exactly, for I had to give the observation bus a chance to get
a start.  I maneuvered into a pretty good position, under the
circumstances, and was going to fire a round into them and then dive
for home and mother, when the bullets began to sing about me from a
fifth plane.  I couldn't see it, so I flip-flopped chop-chop.  As I
turned I saw Immelmann's plane swoop past.  I turned over just in
the nick of time and he missed me, though his nasty gun-fire pretty
well chewed up my bottom plane.

"I did a hurried dead-leaf act, and I guess the Germans thought I was
done for and dropping, for they lit out without bothering any more
about me.  I got home without any further incident, and found the
observation fellow had got back without a scratch, and had managed to
just finish his job before we were attacked, which was lucky."

Jimmy had taken in every syllable of Parker's story.  He had tried
to picture himself in the same bad fix, and had caught the idea of
Parker's lightning action.  "This fellow must be as quick as a cat,"
he thought.  "I wonder if I would have had sense enough to grasp the
situation in the way he did?  Well, if I get in a similar fix I will
have some idea of what to do, thanks to him."

Weeks afterward Jimmy heard that story of Parker's fight with five
Boche planes from another source.  He then learned that Parker had
omitted an interesting feature of the tale.  Before Immelmann swooped
on him, Parker had smashed up and sent to ground two of the four
Boche machines which had originally attacked him.

The Brighton boys soon learned that the most outstanding characteristic
of veteran fliers was modesty.  A new chivalry had sprung up with the
development of the air service.  Every successful flier had to be a
thorough sportsman to win through, and never did the boys meet a real
veteran at the, game who would tell of his own successes.

The general view of the flying men at the front was that the man who
did the prosaic work of daily reconnaissance and got back safe and
sound, without frequent spectacular combats and hair-breadth escapes
that made good telling, was just as much of a hero and took his life
in his hands just as surely, as did the man who went out to individual
duel with an adversary, and accomplished some stunt that had a spice
of novelty in it.

The second in command at the airdrome gave Parker and Jimmy their
final instructions.  "This is Hill's first time over," said the
officer to Parker.  "He can fly, though.  I think for the first time
he had better guard and watch."  Then, turning to Jimmy:  "Watch
Parker, and fly about eight hundred feet behind him and the same
distance above him when he straightens out.  Parker will attack when
he sees a Boche.  Your job will still be to sit tight and watch until
you can see how things are going.  A second Boche or maybe more
than one other will be pretty sure to show up, and it will be your
job to attack whatever comes along and drive it off so that it can't
interfere with Parker while he is finishing off his man.

"If anything should happen to Parker, be sure what you take on before
you go after the plane he first tackled, for usually you will find more
than one plane about over there on their side.  Don't forget one
thing.  If you find that you are surrounded run for it.  That machine
you are to fly will give them a chase, no matter how they are
mounted.  Remember, we haven't many of those, yet, and cannot afford to
lose any."  As he said this, the officer laughed.

Jimmy felt he should have smiled, too, but his head was too full of
his job.  He said "Yes, sir," quite seriously, and turned to give
his machine a final tuning up.

Jimmy jumped into the driving seat with a very determined feeling.  He
must give a good account of himself, come what might.  He fixed his
head-gear a bit tighter, pulled on his gloves, and tried the position
of his machine-gun.  There it sat, just above the hood, a bit to the
right, almost in front of Jimmy.  He felt a sudden affection for it.
How it would make some Boche sit up if he came into range!

The wheels were blocked with shaped pieces of wood, and Jimmy nodded
to his mechanics to start the engine.  One whirl of the shining
blades, and the engine started, to roar away in deafening exuberance
of power as it warmed to its work.  Something was not quite right.
The rhythm was not just perfect.  Jimmy stopped the engine, ordered
a plug changed, and then, the order executed in a jiffy, nodded to
his men to once more start the motor.  This time the engine droned
out a perfect series of explosions.

The flight sub-commander stepped beside the fuselage as Jimmy shut
off the engine, and said: "I have given detailed instructions to
Parker.  You are to watch him and stay with him.  If you by any
chance lose him, come back.  Are your maps and instruments all right?"

"Yes, sir."

Then off with you, and good luck.  You will be doing this sort of thing
every day before long, but I expect it seems a bit new to you at first."

"Yes, sir.  Thank you, sir."

A final nod to his men---the roar once more, louder, more vibrant, more
defiant than ever---a quick signal of the hand, and the cords attached
to the blocks under the wheels were given a jerk.  Jimmy was off on
his dangerous mission!

Old force of habit, a relic of earlier days of aeronautics, sent the
men to the wings, where they gave the big dragon-fly an unnecessary
push.  After a run of a few feet Jimmy raised her suddenly, swiftly,
and she darted up almost perpendicularly.  He realized as never before
that he was mounted on a machine that could probably outclimb and
outtrick any antagonist he was likely to meet.

"This is sure some bus," he thought to himself.  "I guess she will do
all that is asked of her, whatever she runs into.  So it's up to me.
If I fly her right she will come home, sure."

As he climbed into the clear sky he could see Parker's machine ahead,
circling higher and higher.  He was glad Parker was going, too.
There was an odd but unmistakable sense of companionship in having
Parker up there ahead, though at fifteen thousand feet up or more, and
at eight hundred to a thousand feet distant, it seemed silly to think
of a man as "near" in case of trouble.  Beside, he was to guard Parker,
and no one was to guard him.

But the powerful hunter on which he was mounted thrilled with such a
feeling of self-satisfaction, her engines hummed so merrily, and she
lifted herself so lightly and easily when he asked her to climb, that
he was soon wrapped in the joy of mastering so perfect a piece of
mechanism.  Moreover, Jimmy had grown to love flying for flying's sake.
It was meat and drink to him.

When Parker had gained the altitude that suited him he straightened
out and headed for the enemy's country at a high rate of speed.  Jimmy
thought himself too far behind at first, but the splendid machine
answered readily to his call upon it for a burst of five minutes, and
before he had time to realize it he was in good position and far below
were the long, winding scars on the surface of the earth that told
where the opposing armies were entrenched.  Fighting the temptation
to watch what was passing underneath, he alternately kept his eyes on
Parker and scoured the sky ahead for signs of enemy aircraft.

Suddenly, between Parker and his own machine, and not so far below
him as he would have liked, white puff-balls began to appear.  The
German anti-aircraft guns were at it.  Parker began a wide sweep
to the left, then turned slowly right, then climbed swiftly.  Jimmy
raised his machine at the same time, but, thinking to save the left
turn and unconsciously slowing in a little on the plane in front,
was reminded that he would be wise to change course a bit.  The
ominous whirr of pieces of projectile told him that the German "Archie"
had fired a shot with good direction.  He knew that shell might be
closely followed by another at a better elevation, so turned right,
climbing, until he had regained his eight hundred feet or more above
Parker.

As he did so Parker circled left once more, then flew at right angles
to the course he had originally selected.  No more shells came near;
and again Parker changed course.

As Jimmy was trying to surmise where Parker would head next the swift
wasp in front dived suddenly, as if struck by one of the anti-aircraft
projectiles.

Quickly Jimmy dived also, and as he turned the nose of the machine
downward his heart gave a big bound, for right in front of Parker,
some distance below, was the wide wing-spread of a big German machine.
The enemy plane could hardly see Parker, save by some miracle, before
he had come sufficiently near to pour a murderous fire into it.  With
a rush, his instructions came back to him.  He must hover above and
watch, whatever the result of the combat below him.  He straightened
out, and circling narrowly, scanned the air in every direction.  As
he swung round he received another shock, a real one this time.

Straight before him, plainly coming as fast as they could fly, were
three planes of a type unfamiliar to him.  They were at about his own
altitude.  He called on his machine for all she could produce in the
way of power, and depressed his elevator planes.  The moment the nose
of his plane turned upward, the three enemy planes began to climb also.
Jimmy dared not try a steeper angle of ascent.  Any machine which he
had ever seen, save his new mount, would have refused to climb as she
was doing.

What should he do?  For the moment he could not see the fight below
him between Parker and the plane Parker had started to chase.  Surely,
with three to one against him, the best thing he could do would be
to keep his own skin intact.  Intuitively glancing upward, what was
his horror to see, still high up but dropping like a meteor, a fourth
enemy plane---a big Gotha!  It came over him like a flash!  The
Boches were at their game.  While the three lower planes engaged his
attention, a watcher had sat aloft.  The German plan, Parker had told
him, was to swoop down from a great height and catch the unwary
Allied flier unawares.

Stopping his engine, he side-slipped out of the path of the newcomer,
rolled over once or twice to befog the enemy as to his intentions,
and then sailed aside still further on one of his "upside-down stunts,"
which had caught the eye of the flight commander.  He thus escaped
the swoop of the diving Gotha, and as the other three Germans turned
to the right to demolish him, he swung half round, righted himself,
and climbed for dear life.  In very few minutes he was above them,
leading the chase, all three pressing after him, and spreading out
fan-wise slightly to ensure catching him if he again tried the maneuver
that had extricated him from the former trap.

For a few moments Jimmy felt a mite nervous as to how things were
coming out.  Then it dawned on him that he was doing his part well if
he drew the enemy fighters after him and away from Parker.  The fourth
of the Boche hunters might be after him still, back there behind him,
or it might be fighting Parker, wherever Parker might be.  By a quick
glance back he could see the three pursuers.  Their planes, too, were
climbing well.  He straightened out to try a burst of level speed.
Examining his map and compass he saw he was not heading for home.
That was bad.  He tried veering to the left a bit, but imagined that
the plane behind him on the left drew nearer.

Then Jimmy found himself.  What was it Parker had said about the new
hunter-machines being splendid loopers?  Why not try a loop?  Would
the Boches get wise to the idea quickly?  Perhaps not quickly enough.
If he did a big, fast loop, he might come right-side-up on the tail
of one or even two of his would-be destroyers, and if he could only
get that wicked little rapid-firer of his to bear he would lessen the
odds against him, of that he felt sure.  In a very few seconds after
the idea had come to him he had decided to put it into practice.

The big wasp turned a beautiful arc, swiftly, neatly, as if it had
known the game and was eager to take part in it.  No machine could
have performed a more perfect loop; and, as he had hoped, it brought
him in the rear of the group of assailants.  The center one of the
three enemy planes was nearest to him.  Straight at it Jimmy dashed,
and when close, started firing.  It was the first time in his life
that Jimmy had tried to take a human life, but he did not give that
fact a thought.  A fierce desire to finish off the flier so close
in front overwhelmed him.  He felt that he could not miss.  A second
or two passed after the burst of fire before any change in the conduct
of the plane in front was noticeable.

Then the change came; all at once.  The machine turned on its side,
the engine still running at full speed, and for one instant, before
the downward plunge came, Jimmy caught sight of a limp, lifeless
form half-hanging, sidewise, from the pilot's seat.  Jimmy had fired
straight, and one of his antagonists was out of the fight.

He turned his attention to the flier on his left, fired a round at
him at rather long range, and then glanced to his right.  It was
well he did so at that instant.  The German on the right of the
trio had looped in turn, to get on to Jimmy's tail.  Jimmy saw the
trick in the nick of time, and letting the left-hand plane go for
the moment, looped in turn.  As he turned, he saw what he thought
must be the fourth enemy machine---the big fellow that had swooped
down on him at the beginning of the fight---speeding straight at
him.  He quickly turned his loop into a side-loop, slid down swiftly,
caught himself, and assured that he had escaped both fliers for the
moment, took a rapid glance at his compass and saw that he was headed
straight for home.  And home Jimmy went, as fast as his machine would go.




CHAPTER VII

PARKER'S STORY


This time he had a very fair start, and he made the best of it.  Looking
back, he saw that two of the German machines headed after him, but
apparently gave up the chase before it was well begun.  Once Jimmy
had a feeling that he ought not to run back to safety before
endeavoring, to see what had happened to Parker, but the flight
sub-commander had been most explicit in his instructions on that
head.  "If you by any chance lose Parker," he had said, "come back."
He had lost Parker, right enough.  That was about the first thing
he had done, he thought to himself with some feeling of self-condemnation.

All the while he was roaring on, his machine seemingly feeling like
a homing pigeon.  He felt a fierce love for that noble hunter.  He
felt he could almost talk to it and tell it how proud he was of having
been able to put it through its paces.  Never had there been such a
machine before, he thought.

At last the home airdrome came into sight far below.  Many a time
thereafter was Jimmy to feel glad he was nearing home, but never
more sincerely than on the afternoon of that first battle.  He made
a good landing.  His mechanics were waiting for him, and wheeled the
machine toward the hangar, while Jimmy walked off to headquarters
to report.  Arrived there, he found that both the flight commander
and sub-commander were out.  No one seemed worrying much about him.
He had been so intent on his job and it had meant so much to him
that it took a few minutes for him to get the right perspective, and
see that, after all, he was only one of the pieces in the big game,
and a bit of waiting would not hurt him or make his report any the
less of interest.

Would it be of interest?  The thought came to him as he sat there,
quietly.  What would he report?  The flight commander was a busy
person.  He would not, in all probability, have the time to hear a
long report, should he have the inclination to do so.  What could
Jimmy report?  First that he had lost Parker.  Where in the name of
goodness was Parker?  Jimmy would have given much to know, but
something kept him from asking.  He had been sent out as a sort of
guard for Parker.  He had lost him at the very beginning of the fight.
He might report that he had shot down an enemy hunter machine and
killed its pilot, but surely that would sound very bare and very
boastful.

Just as Jimmy was really making himself thoroughly miserable the
door of the rough headquarters shed opened, and who should walk in
but Parker himself!  Jimmy felt he could have hugged him.

"I was sitting here wondering where you were," said Jimmy.

"Well, for the most part I have been chasing you," answered the older
pilot.  "You certainly can fly that machine you were on to-day, young
fellow!  If I were you I would ask the chief to let you stick to
that plane.  You put up a swell little exhibition in her to-day."

"Chasing me?" Jimmy gasped.  "Chasing me?  I don't understand."

"It is simple enough.  I suppose you saw me go for that big dray-horse
of a scout machine, didn't you?"

Jimmy nodded.

"I got him, I think," Parker went on.  "Anyway, he went down.  He
seemed to land pretty well, for a smash, but that sort of plane will
almost land by itself, sometimes.  When I was sure he was down, sure
enough, I had come a bit too low, and for a while I was pretty busy
dodging the finest collection of Archies I have yet met with.  I got
two fair-sized pieces of shell right through both planes, but they
didn't seem to matter a bit.  I got up to a good height before I quit
climbing.  So far as I could see, you had by that time managed to get
out of what must have been a bit of a trap, and were heading off
south at a rate of knots, as my sailor brother would say.  I hovered,
watching the big hunter that dived on you. He didn't seem to know
quite what to do.  He must have missed seeing me, for some reason.

"As I was waiting for him to make up his mind you did that ripping
loop.  I saw that.  So did the Boche hunter who was onlooking.  I knew
you would get that center plane, and thought you would score two of
them, but you were right to take no chances of the number three chap
getting a drop on you.  Where I played the goat was letting the
swooper fellow get a start on me.  I guess I was too interested
watching your antics."

"Anyway, he got to your area before I did, though I wasn't far back.
Your skid off to the side put them all off, and gave me a fine chance
at Mr. Swooper.  He fussed a minute, undecided what to do.  That is
a bad fault at this game.  I caught him just where I wanted him, and
he did his last swoop, I guess.  I piled on home after you, but not
so fast.  Anyone would think you were going to a fire, by the way you
came back.  What was your desperate hurry?"

Jimmy laughed.  He was so glad Parker was home safe and sound that
he did not mind being chaffed.  So Parker had accounted for two enemy
machines?  And he had been worrying about Parker!  Well, he might as
well own up to himself, he thought, that he had been acting like a
very green hand at the game.  But never mind!  They had done a good
day's work, both of them.  No mistake about that.  He felt good.  The
reaction had set in in earnest.  Jimmy was simply happy.

At that moment the flight commander came in.  Parker and Jimmy rose,
stepped forward and saluted.

"Back?" said the chief laconically.

"Yes, sir," answered Parker.

"Did you find any of their scouts?"

"Yes, sir.  One."

"Get him?"

"Drove him down, sir.  I could not tell much about his damage from his
landing, though I think he smashed a bit.  I had a good chance at him."

"That all?"

"Yes, sir.  Except that four of their hunters attacked Hill.  He
side-looped and got free, then looped again and caught one well,
finishing him.  He threw one other right into my hands, too."

"Get him?"

"Yes, sir."

"Right." The flight commander turned to go out, then, as if suddenly
remembering that Jimmy was a new hand at the game, he said over his
shoulder: "Very well done.  Get Parker to show you how to make out
your report.  Very good, both of you."

"H'm," said Parker as the chief stepped out of the door.  "He is
getting talkative."

But the flight commander was more voluble when he saw Jimmy's squadron
commander that night.  "I think that youngster you brought up with
you---boy by the name of Hill---is made of good stuff," he said.  "He
went with Parker to-day, and between them they managed a very pretty
show.  I shall read their official reports with interest.  It isn't
very often a young fellow gets such a baptism, and it's still more
rare for one to pull it off the way Hill did.  Why, those two got
two, if not three Boches.  Think of it!  If Hill keeps on the way
he has started out he will make a name for himself."

"I picked him as a possible good one," said the squadron commander
proudly.  "I think he will keep it up."

Jimmy, though tired, did not go to sleep the minute he went to bed that
night.  He lay for ten or fifteen minutes going over what the day had
brought him.  Curiously enough, the last thing he said to himself,
before he dropped off to sleep, was very much akin to what his
squadron leader had said.

"It's not a bad start," was his good-night thought, "but I must keep
it up."




CHAPTER VIII

THRILLS OF THE UPPER REACHES


To the great delight of the Brighton boys, Will Corwin paid a visit to
them one evening, and stayed to dinner at their mess.  Will was not
much older than his brother Harry, so far as years went, but he looked
ten years older.  The constant work on the French front had bronzed
him and made him leaner and harder than when he left his home in America.

He had many questions to ask the boys about the home folks, and said
that he had been trying to get a chance to visit Harry for weeks.
Will was particularly interested to hear what had been the experiences
of the Brighton fliers in connection with their first real work at
the front.

Four of the boys had been over the German lines by that time.  Like
Jimmy Hill, Joe Little had been out on a hunter machine.  His experiences
were uneventful, however.  His job had been to watch, with another
hunter, while a speedy, big bomber dropped hundreds of pounds of
explosives on an enemy munition dump.

The whole affair went through like a dress rehearsal, and without a
hitch.  They flew straight for their objective, found it without the
slightest difficulty, deposited a load of high explosives upon it in
quick time, and soared away back home without a single encounter with
an enemy plane.  They were, it was true, severely "Archied," as they
called it, but no one of them was the worse for it.

Harry Corwin had been over the Boche lines three times, and had found
the experience quite sufficiently exciting, though he had not been in
actual combat at close quarters with the enemy as had Jimmy Hill.

His work for three mornings had been to escort a certain observation
plane which had been sent each day to watch the development of a
reserve line of dugouts well in the rear of the German front line.
As a matter of fact, the pilot of the observation machine, a swift
triplane, was well known as a dead shot.  He needed an escort machine
less than Harry did, Harry thought.

That triplane was about as formidable in appearance as any aircraft
could be.  It was only a two-seater, but it was armed with two
machine-guns, singularly well placed.  The front rapid-firer was fixed
between the two supporting planes, the barrel next to the motor and
parallel with it.  This front gun was fired by Richardson, the pilot
of the triplane, who controlled it with his right hand.  This was a
radical departure from some of the more usual gun positions, in which
the gun was customarily located on the upper plane and operated by the
observer.

Having a gun all to himself had pleased Richardson mightily, and he
had become a wonderful shot.

The second gun on the triplane was placed on the framework behind the
observer's station.  It was mounted on a revolving base, and had an
exceptionally wide range of fire.

"It is a pure joy, sometimes," Richardson was once heard to say, "to
see the way the little major grins when some chesty Boche has thought
he had us sure, and comes creeping up behind, only to get a dose right
in the nose.  That gun of the major's carries further than anything
we have run against yet, and he just couldn't miss a Hun to save
his life."  The major was Richardson's observer.

Another yarn that Richardson was accustomed to tell on his companion
of the upper reaches ran as follows: "When they first put me at
carting observation planes around I was pretty green.  I had but
very shortly before done my first solo in England.  The British
were fairly short of fliers then, or I should not have been sent
out.  I arrived at the airdrome full of conceit, thinking I was a
real pilot.

"The morning after I got there they led me out and stood me alongside
a double-seater.  The boss of that shop told me he wanted to see me
take it around for a try-out, and then it was off and away for the
front.  He said considerately that I might wait a few minutes until
another new arrival had done his little preliminary canter.

"The other victim started up, taxied toward the other side of the
field that served for an airdrome, and lifted too late, with the
result that he caught the wheels of his chassis in the tall hedge
and came down in mighty nasty fashion on the other side, just out of
sight.  That is, he was out of sight.  The tail of his plane stuck up
to show what a real header he had taken.  I found out later that he
got out of that smash with a broken leg and a bad shake-up, but when
I was standing there by that machine, waiting to go up, I thought
the poor devil who had the tumble must have been killed, sure.

"Then up came the major.  He was a captain then.  He was going to get
into his seat when the boss-man said to him: 'I suggest that you wait
until he has done a round or so alone.'"

"The little captain snorted at this, but the boss evidently thought
it best, so up I went, alone.

"I did well enough, and after feeling the machine thoroughly, came
down, making a fine landing.  But fate was out with her ax that
morning.  No one had said a word to me about a ditch that had been
dug on the left side of the field, and, of course, I had to find it.
When I saw it, no time was left to avoid it, so in I went.  Over
toppled the poor plane, and smash went my under-works.  In fact, I
came out of my seat rather quickly, but wasn't really hurt.  The
boss chap was a bit mad, but the little captain man just laughed.

"Good thing I waited till he had had his little fun," he chuckled.
"now we can off and do our work, I suppose."

"I thought he was joking, but he wasn't.  He did not mind my smash a
bit.  I saw that.  He went right on up with me in another machine ten
minutes later just as though we had been going up together for years.
That is the kind of nerve my major has."

Richardson did not realize how very much cool action of the observation
officer had to do with the implanting in the pilot of a good sound
confidence in himself.  Had Richardson but known it, the captain, as
he was then, had never been more apprehensive of trouble.  He did
not like to trust himself to green fliers, any more than another man
would have done.  But he knew that quick, sure show of confidence was
the only thing that would put confidence into Richardson in turn.
Such moments are sometimes the crucial ones.  At such times fliers
may be made or marred in a manner that may be, for good or for ill,
irrevocable.

Sent to watch and assist this pair of doughty warriors, Harry Corwin
found most of his time in the air spent in keeping in the position
which had been assigned to him.  Archies were everyday things to
Richardson and his major.  They did not by any means scorn them, the
anti-aircraft guns, as continual improvement was noticeable, not only
in their marksmanship, but in their range.  But Richardson was a
pastmaster at judging when he was well out of range, and equally clever
at getting into such a position.

Once Harry had seen a fascinating duel between Richardson and a Boche
plane, in which the latter retired before a decision was reached.
Once the two American pilots had been compelled to run from a squadron
of hunters, who gave up the chase as soon as they drew near to the
Allied territory.  But Jimmy Hill's exploit, and the fact that he had
not only been the hero of a fight against big odds, but had actually
brought down a flier and smashed up a hunter machine, loomed so large
with the Brighton boys that the more ordinary experiences of the
others paled into insignificance in their eyes.

Bob Haines had been on a photographing trip, and had earned great
commendation from the observation officer whom he carried.  Bob had
taken keenly to the scientific work of trench photography, and spent
his spare hours in the photographic workshop, which was a storehouse
of wonders to him.  He was fast getting sound ideas on subjects in
connection with air-pictures, which made him all the more valuable
as a pilot of a machine that carried some officer of the photographic
department.

He had witnessed a very pretty fight between an American and a Boche
not far distant, but he could not take part.  His observer was a good
hand with a Lewis gun, too.  They had on board at that time, however,
a set of negatives that were of considerable value, which they had
been sent specially to obtain, so their duty was to leave the hunter
to fare as best he could, while they scurried home in safety with
their negatives.

Thus Will Corwin found that the Brighton boys were fast becoming
broken in to practical flying work.  Archie Fox had been as busy
as any of the rest, tuning up a new machine that had a hidden kink
in its anatomy somewhere that defied detection.

Dicky Mann had been selected by the flight commander to work up a
special set of maps---office work that required great care.  He had
been absorbed day and night, and had cut down his sleeping hours to
five or six hours instead of the eight or nine he used to indulge in
at Brighton.

It was not so exciting as flying, the commander had told him when
he was selected for the job, "but of equal, if not greater, importance."
At all events, Dicky was at it, heart and soul, and the evening that
Will Corwin made his appearance was the first for some days that
Dicky had joined his messmates for a chat after dinner.

"How do you think we Yanks are making out against the Teutons in the
air, Will?" asked Harry.  "Do you think they are beginning to recognize
that we have 'em beaten?"

Will Corwin grinned.  "'Beginning to' is good, but that's along way
from the finished realization, and I don't guess that will come for
some little time yet.  It's up to America and the Allies to keep on
turning out planes and fliers at top speed."

"What about the wonderful speed of the German machines, Will?" asked
Joe Little.

"An awful lot of rot is talked about speed, as you boys must know.
We captured a very decent German flier once, who got lost in a fog
and ran out of petrol.  When he had to come down he found he was
right near our airdrome, so he volplaned right down on our field.
We were surprised to see him.  He was in an Albatros of a late type,
too.  As you can imagine, we gave him a very hearty greeting.  He
took it pretty well, considering everything.  I had him into my shack
for lunch, and we got quite friendly before they took him back to
the base.  I remember at that time that the usual talk about Boche
flying machines on this front would lead you to believe that they
were much faster than we were.  At home you could hear almost any
speed attributed to the German aeroplanes.  I think some Americans
thought they could do about two miles to the English or French planes'
one.

"I was particularly interested in the Fokkers, Walverts and L.V.G.
machines, which were the ones we had to fight most.  Now, according
to that candid young German, who seemed ready enough to talk frankly
about things, anyone of those three planes that did one hundred miles
an hour at an elevation of ten thousand feet was considered a mighty
good plane.  If it did one hundred and twenty miles at that
elevation it was thought to be a hummer.  They were fast climbers
for their speed, and usually did most of their fighting, if they had
a choice, at thirteen to fourteen thousand feet up.  Only the Albatros
could be depended upon to beat one hundred and twenty miles an hour
regularly.  He said he would rather not tell me the speed of the
Albatros, I did not press him.  The point of all this is that those
very machines he was discussing were credited with speeds of
anything up to one hundred and thirty-five or one hundred and fifty
miles per hour by lots of people who thought they knew all about
it.  There will never come a day, in our generation, when one hundred
and fifty miles an hour at ten thousand feet up will not be mighty
good flying."

"You have been at this game some time now, Will," said Joe Little.
"Can you think of anything we ought to specially learn that we won't
get hold of in plain flying?  A tip is often worth a lot, you know."

"From what I hear from you boys, I guess what Joe means by plain
flying means pretty well every sort of stunt.  I don't think one
fellow can tell another much about that sort of thing.  Some of it
comes natural and some of it has to be learned by experience.  I think
fliers are born, not made, anyway.  There is one thing you might get
some tips upon.  That relates to cloud formations.  You can't know too
much about that.  I am expecting a book from home on that subject
shortly, and when I wade through it I will let you boys have it."

"The state of the atmosphere plays a bigger part in aerial battles
than one might think.  Calm days, without the least wind, when the
sky is covered by large gray clouds, are, as you all probably know,
very favorable for surprise attacks.  The clouds act as a screen
and allow the aviator to hide himself until the very moment he thinks
he can drop on his enemy and take him by surprise.

"The Germans have a scheme they worked pretty successfully for a
while.  When the clouds lie low, one of their machines dashes around
below the clouds, only two or three hundred yards up, and in the
area into which the Allied planes are likely to come.  This sole
machine acts, if the scheme works, as a sort of bait.  Sometimes
they pick a slow machine of an old model for the part, and it looks
easy meat.  They tell me that the French fliers never could withstand
the temptation of seeing such a plane hovering round.  The French
flier would give chase, even far over the enemy lines, and at the
very moment the Frenchman was about to attack under conditions that
left but little doubt in his mind of the issue, unexpectedly, suddenly,
he would find himself surrounded by three or four enemy planes of the
latest model, with full armament.

"You see, the Germans would have been flying above the clouds, watching,
the two planes below, and not showing themselves until the decoy plane
had drawn the French flier ten or fifteen miles from his base.  It pays
to be mighty wary of anything that looks too easy in this game, and
you can't be too much on the lookout for surprise parties when the
clouds lie low."

"Tell us about the most exciting thing you have seen since you have
been out here, Will," begged Dicky Mann.  "I have been stuck on office
work, and don't get a chance to have the fun the rest do.  I would
like to hear something about a real red-hot scrap that you have been
in or seen."

"What work are you on?" queried Will.

"Maps."

"That isn't dull work, by a long shot.  You can learn much in the map
room that will be worth lots to you one day, too.  A good knowledge
of the country, the rivers, the canals, the railroads---the ordinary
roadways, for that matter---has saved more than one chap from making
a fool of himself."

"Dicky is as happy as a clam," said Harry.  "He knows he is doing
good work, and the amount of time he spends over his blessed maps
shows well enough that he is out to get some of the map lore stuck
in his head.  Quit kicking, Dicky."

"All the same, you fellows have the fun," insisted Dicky.  "I like
the work well enough.  I will admit that.  And there are things
worth picking up in that department, too.  A man would be a fool
not to see that.  But tell us, Will, about the most exciting thing
you have seen in the air."

There was a general seconding of Dicky's request, at which Will lit
his pipe for the thirtieth time and said thoughtfully: "It is not an
easy matter to choose, but the thing I had the hardest time to
forget, and about the most spectacular thing a man could see, does
not make much of a story.  Like many things that take place in the
air, it happened so quickly that we were unprepared for it.

"I was out with an observer, a very good pal of mine, on a big
pusher-plane that had one of the finest engines in it I had ever
seen.  I don't know why we haven't had more of those out here.
Something to do with the plane itself, I think.  I understand the
plane did not do so well as the engine, and they are getting out a
new thruster to take that engine.  When it comes along it will be
a daisy.  We had been doing what my observer called dog work.  By
that he meant just plain reconnaissance.  We had taken in a given
area, and followed all the roads to watch for traffic.  We had noted
nothing of particular interest, and at last we turned for home.

"We had not gone far when right ahead came a Boche flier pounding for
home himself, apparently.  It was a two-seater.  He evidently liked
our looks but little, and started to climb for safety.  But we
could climb, too.  He had never met one of that pusher type, I
guess.  We kept on going up, getting higher and higher, and gaining
on him all the time.  It must have been a big strain for the men in
that enemy machine.

"I could imagine them discussing us."

"What is it?" one may have asked.

"He will quit soon; we will be at twenty thousand feet before long,"
the other may have replied.

"It was at just about twenty thousand feet that we at last got within
range.  We had both been in chases before.  We were cool enough about
this one, I think.  My observer was.  He sat there calmly enough
waiting till I could get near enough for him to let fly.  I was too
busy watching the fellow in front to think about much else.  I have
always thought that he must have miscalculated the distance that
I had gained.  Maybe something went a bit wrong with his engine
that took his attention.  He was about as far up as he could get
his bus.  Twenty thousand feet is nearly four miles, you know.  We
are likely to forget that.  It is a long way up, even now, and it
seemed further up then.

"I am afraid I am stringing the story out, rather, but it strung
itself out that way.  It was 'most all climb, climb, climb, with an
eye on the two men in the plane ahead.  Then I got him in range,
and before I realized it."  "Brrr-r-rr-rrr-rrrr!" started the quick-firer
behind me.  That was the most exciting moment I have gone through
out here.

"They moment the machine-gun started something truly extraordinary
happened.  The Boche pilot, at the very first burst of fire from us,
either jumped out of his seat or fell out.

"I could hardly believe my eyes.  Yet there could be no mistake.  He
went over the side of his fuselage and dropped like a man who
intended dropping just a few yards.  I could see that he fell feet
first, head up, and arms stretched up above his head, holding his
body rigidly straight.  Neither I nor my observer saw him the moment
he left his seat, but both of us saw him leave the side of his machine
and start down, down, down on that long four-mile drop.

"He disappeared, still rigidly straight, with something about his
position that made us both remark afterwards that he looked as though
he was doing it quite voluntarily and had planned it all out just that
way.  It was weird.

"Of course it all happened in a twinkling.  The big plane in front
of us went on uncannily, without a tremor, apparently.  An instant
afterwards my observer and I exclaimed loudly together.  The observer
in the enemy plane had not fired a shot, probably for the reason that
his gun was fixed and we were never in range of it.  Suddenly we saw
him climb out of his seat on to the tail of the plane.  My observer
had a good target, but his gun was silent.  Perhaps that Boche
observer had an idea of climbing into the seat vacated so curiously
by the pilot, dropping, dropping, dropping, down that trackless
four mile path we had come up.  If he had such a plan it failed
almost before he started to put it into execution.

"He had no more than climbed out on the tail proper than he lost
his hold and plunged headlong after his comrade.  He went down pawing
and clutching into the void below like a lost soul, in horrible
contrast to the rigid figure of the pilot.  Then the aviatik turned
its nose down with a jerk and fell after its human freight, all the
long twenty thousand feet to the earth below.

"We did not say a word to each other till we landed.  It gave me a
nasty shock.  I had seen enemy planes go down with enemy fliers in
them, but that rigid figure got me.  The struggling chap I forgot
long before I did the other.  We more than once discussed what might
have happened to him, and what his idea might have been---but without
being able to frame any explanation.  It was just weird.  We let
it go at that."

As Will ended his story he pulled out his khaki handkerchief and
wiped the perspiration from his forehead.  The night was anything
but warm, and the room in which they sat was quite cool; but the
memory of that scene, four miles up, brought the moisture to Will's
brow, after months had passed since the occurrence.

Two young officers in the mess had been interested listeners.  One
of them, a slight youth named Mason, who hailed from the Pacific
Coast, now joined in the conversation.

"There has been an instance of an observer taking control of a plane
and effecting a good landing after his pilot had been killed," said
Mason.  "He came down not a long way from an airdrome where I was
stationed.  A bit of anti-aircraft shrapnel caught the pilot in the
back.  It did not kill him instantly, but he was not long in
succumbing to his wound.  He had just energy enough left, after he
realized that he was very badly hurt, to tell his observer that he
was going off.  Before he actually relinquished control of the machine,
the observer, who was a daring chap, climbed right out of his
seat, pulled himself along the fuselage, and half-sitting, half-lying,
managed to stick there, within reach of the control levers and the
engine cut-off.

"He was an old-time flyer himself, and understood aeroplane construction
pretty well, and he made a very decent landing not very far from our
front lines.  Fortunately he was on the right side of them, though
from what he told us afterward that was more luck than judgment.  He
thought he was much further back than he was.

"He had become very tired, owing to his strained position on the body
of the plane, and was afraid he would fall off.  So he came down.
He had a bad shock when he found that his pilot was stone dead,
and had been for some time.  He must have died when the observer
took over the control of the plane, but the observer, oddly enough,
never thought of him as dead, and quite expected to be able to bring
him around if he once got him safely landed."

"Well, that was enough to give anyone a shock," said Will.  "But he
would have had a worse shock if he had come down on the Boche's
side.  More than one chap has done that just through not knowing
exactly where he was.  I can't imagine anything more tough than
to get yourself down when something has gone utterly wrong, thanking
your lucky stars that you are down with a whole skin, and then discover
you are booked for a Hun prison, after all.  I could tell you a
thriller along that line, but it'll keep.  You've had enough now to
make you believe that the Air Service demands of a man the very best
there is in him, brawn and brain."

The hour was late before the boys knew the evening had passed, and
they were most cordial in their invitation to Will Corwin to come and
pay them another call.  Will said he would do so when he could, but
that next visit was to be long deferred.

Less than a fortnight later Will took part in a gallant fight against
three machines that had attacked him far within the German territory.

He accounted for one, crippled another, and outsped the third---but
when he landed his machine in his home airdrome he settled back
quietly in the driving seat as the machine came to rest.  When his
mechanics reached him he was unconscious!

Examination showed that Will had been hit by a machine-gun bullet,
that had lodged in his shoulder.  In spite of his wound, which was
increasingly painful and made him fight hard to retain consciousness
until he got home with his plane, he made a fine nose-dive that gave
him a clear road to his own lines, and managed to dodge cleverly
once on his way back when the German Archies began to place shells
unpleasantly close.

Will was given much credit for his pluck and tenacity, was recommended
for a special decoration, and was packed off to a hospital to recover
from his wound, which fortunately gave the doctors little worry,
though it put Will on his back for a long time.




CHAPTER IX

IN THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY


Dicky Mann became more interested in the study of maps and their
making than he would have thought it possible.  When he came sufficiently
closely in touch with the intricate system by which the air-photograph
and accurate map of every point behind the enemy line is carefully
tabulated and filed away for reference, he developed a keenness for
the work which made him a valuable member of the organization.

The Brighton boys found, as time went on, that they had, quite
frequently, some spare hours in which they could do as they wished.
Soon after their arrival in France they had envied Bob Haines his
knowledge of the French language, which, while rudimentary, was
sufficient to enable him to make himself understood at times when
the boys were quite at sea as to what he was trying to say to the
French people to whom he was talking.

No sooner had the boys noticed that Bob had a decided advantage over
the rest of them on this score, than they set about to catch up with
him.  But Bob was equally set on keeping the lead he had gained.  Joe
Little and Dicky Mann were his only real rivals in this field.  Dicky
had one assistant that was of the greatest use to him in the frequent
companionship of Dubois, the French officer attached to headquarters.
While Dicky's French was often ungrammatical, his pronunciation was
good, much better, in fact, than either Joe's or Bob's.

One day Dicky was sent as an observer with Richardson, the little
major who usually accompanied that clever pilot being away on temporary
leave.  Dicky pleased headquarters so much with his initial report
that more and more observation work was given him.  Thus he gained
valuable experience which bade fair to ensure that he would be kept
at observing most of the time.

The boy was inclined at first to regret this, for the obvious reason
that those who did the flying work were much more "in the picture,"
as Dicky put it, but the real fascination of the observation work
soon weaned him from any genuine desire to give it up.  To his great
delight he was at last put on the observation staff permanently, or
at least was given regular work with that department---and who should
be assigned to pilot him but Bob Haines!  To be with Bob, of whom
Dicky was especially fond, was a genuine pleasure to him, and the
combination proved a very good one from every standpoint.  Bob's
passion for photographic work and Dicky's absorbing interest in
mapping operations resulted in their approaching their joint work
in a spirit of splendid enthusiasm for it, which could not but
produce good results.

Aeroplane work in war-time, however, has its "ups and downs," as
Jimmy Hill would say in his weekly letters home.  He rarely missed
a fortnight that this sage observation did not appear in some part
of his four-page epistle.  Jimmy stuck religiously to four pages,
though he knew enough of censorship rules to avoid mention of his
work, except in vague generalities.  This necessity made writing
four pages dull work at times, and resulted in Jimmy's adoption of
various set phrases as filling matter.  His mother, who knew Jimmy
as only mothers know their sons, read into the often repeated
sentences Jimmy's ardent desire to show himself a ready and willing
correspondent, when he was nothing of the kind.  She loved those
letters none the less for their sameness, thereby showing her
mother-wisdom.

Thus far in the career of the Brighton boys with the aero forces at
the front their fortune had been on the side of the ups.  The time
came when the downs had an inning.

Bad luck overtook Bob Haines and Dicky Mann while on an observation
flight far over the firing lines and well inside territory occupied
by the enemy.  They were on their outward journey, bound for a point
which they hoped to photograph quickly and then run for home.  The
day was not an ideal one for flying, as shifting clouds gathered here
and there, some high up, some low.  When they were in the vicinity
of their objective the clouds beneath them obscured their view to an
annoying extent.  They had seen no other plane, friend or enemy,
since they had left their own lines.  Suddenly, without the slightest
warning, the engine stopped.  Bob switched off the power, switched
it on again, and repeated the maneuver again and again while volplaning
to preserve their momentum.

Try as he would, he could not get a single explosion out of the motor.
Of fuel he had plenty.  His wires and terminals---so much as he could
see of them---were apparently in good order, but the engine had just
coolly stopped of its own accord, and could not be coaxed to start again.

Dicky looked round at Bob from the observer's seat in the fuselage
and raised his eyebrows inquiringly.  His glance fell on Bob's white,
set face, and he saw that Bob was methodically going over one thing
after another, and trying first this, then that, as if examining
every part of the plane's mechanism that he could reach.  They were
still above the low-lying clouds that hid the earth.

"Engine?" queried Dicky.

Bob nodded.  Still he ran his hands over the controls, as if loath
to believe that he had exhausted every possibility of finding and
rectifying the trouble.  It was all in vain.

Still they swept lower and lower.  Soon they would be below the clouds,
and soon after that, landing so far inside the German lines that by
no possibility could they hope to regain their own.  It was a
bitter time for Bob.  Dicky, curiously enough, took the first
realization of their predicament less hard.  He was all eyes to see
what fate had in store for them in the way of a landing place.

As they swept through the last bank of clouds and the country below
spread before them, they saw that it was level pasture land for the
most part, divided by green hedges, with here and there a cultivated
field.  A village lay some distance to the left, a mere cluster of
mean houses.  No chateau or large building was in sight, but small
cottages were dotted about here and there in plenty.

"Not much room in one of those pastures," commented Dicky.  "Mind you
pick a decent one.  Don't spoil the hedge on the other side of it,
either."

Dicky's mood was infectious.  Bob was sick at heart, but his friend's
joking way of speaking had its effect.

"Would you rather be starved to death or neatly smashed?  Do you prefer
your misery long drawn out or all over in a jiffy?" Bob was joking
now, though grimly enough.

"You tend to your part and let the Huns tend to theirs," answered
Jimmy.

They were almost down now.  As they approached the field which Bob
had chosen for landing, what was their horror to see, but one field
away, two German soldiers in their field gray!  They were armed with
rifles, and appeared to be carrying full field kit.

No others were in sight.  The two burly Teutons looked in amazement at
the aeroplane, as if unable to grasp the fact that it was plainly
marked with the red, white and blue circles stamping it as a machine
belonging to the Allied armies.

While the boys knew well where they were, and how impossible it seemed
that they could escape capture eventually, the sight of two German
soldiers right at the spot upon which they had so unfortunately
been compelled to land, was a real disappointment to them.  Perhaps
it was just such a disappointment, however, that was needed to key
them up to prompt action.

Bob did not dare to try to clear the tall, thick hedge which separated
the field he had chosen for a landing place from the one next to it.
He must stick to his original intention.  As he swooped down to the
fairly level ground Dicky took one last glance at the pair of
soldiers, who had started toward the point where they thought the
plane would land.  The question in Dicky's mind was as to whether
or not the Boches would take a pot shot at the airmen before the
machine came to rest.  Evidently that had not occurred to them,
however, and they merely started on a run, with the humane idea of
taking the aviators prisoner.

The machine taxied the full length of the pasture and went full tilt
into the hedge at the end of it.  Luckily this hedge was just thick
enough to stop the aeroplane effectively and yet prevent it from
breaking through and capsizing.  While the machine did not go on
through the hedge, the two boys did.  They crashed through and
landed on the soft earth on the other side at almost the same moment.
Each turned quickly to the other as they picked themselves up.
Neither was seriously hurt, though Bob was badly shaken, and had
scraped most of the skin off the front of both shins.  Dicky's head
had burrowed into the soft turf, and but for his aviator's cap he
might have been badly bruised.  That protection had saved him all
injury save a skinned shoulder.

"Come on, let's give 'em a run for it!" yelled Dicky, who was first
to recover his breath.

He started off, keeping close to the hedge, Bob close on his heels.
As they approached the corner of the field they were faced with
another hedge, evidently of much the same character as the one through
which the boys had been hurled so unceremoniously a moment before.
Inspired by a sudden thought, he put on a burst of speed, ran straight
up to the leafy barrier, and dove right at it, head first as he
used to "hit the center" for dear old Brighton.  His maneuver did not
carry him quite through, but he managed to wriggle on just in time
to clear the way for Bob, who dived after him.

It was no time for words.  Dicky started off to the right as fast
as he could go, ever keeping close to the protecting hedge, running
swiftly and silently over the grass, Bob not many feet behind.  One
hundred yards of rapid sprinting brought them to a lower, thinner
hedge through which they climbed easily.  Fifty yards away was a
stream, which they jumped, finding themselves in a small wood.  They
made their way through this and debouched on a narrow country lane.
The countryside seemed to contain no one except the two fleeing
Americans and the two pursuing Germans.  No sort of ground could
have suited better the game of hide-and-seek they had started.
Each time the Boches came to a hedge or a bit of brush they had
to guess which way the Yanks had turned.  Only once were they guided
by footprints.

Fully accoutered and loath to throw off any of their equipment, the
two Germans soon became thoroughly winded, and finally stopped short.
They had no doubt lost some minutes at the start by warily examining
the plane and all around it for signs of the former occupants, which
had given the Brighton boys just the start they so badly needed.

But the lads were really but little better off when they came to the
conclusion that they had, for the time, at least, shaken off their
pursuers.  They had passed fairly close to a cottage, which was
apparently untenanted.  Now they came upon another.  No signs of
life could they see around it.  They pulled up for the first time
and stood behind a rude shack nearby.

"Lot of good it will do us to run away from those two," growled Bob,
panting.  "If they don't find us some other Boches will.  It is only
prolonging the agony."

"I prefer the agony of being free to the agony of being a prisoner,
just the same," replied Dicky.  "Those two soldiers may have a job
on that will not allow them to hang around here long.  We have come
quite a distance, and they would be very lucky to find us now.  I'll
bet they have gone on about their business.  They will report the
fact that a plane came down, and whoever comes to find it will think
some other fellows have picked us up.  This is too big a war for
anyone to worry much about two men.  Besides, the very hopelessness
of our fix is in our favor."

"I don't mind looking for silver linings to the cloud," said Bob.
"But how you make that out I cannot see."

"Why, who would ever dream that we could get away?  Who would even
imagine it possible?  Will the Germans spend much time searching to
see if two Americans are hiding so far inside their lines?  Of course
not.  They will think it absolutely impossible that we could get any
distance without being picked up.  Why should they waste their time
over us?"

"Well, is that cheering?"

"You bet it is!"

"Do you mean that there is a chance that we will not be picked up?"

"Of course I do.  Cheer up!  We are not caught yet.  Sicker chaps
than we are have got well.  True we can't get back to our front;
and true again the chances are thousands to one against our escaping
capture, but Holland is somewhere back of us and to the north---and
we have that one chance, in spite of all the odds."

"And what'll they do to us in Holland---intern us for the duration of
the war!" Bob was still pessimistic.

"Oh, you can't tell.  If we can get away from the Boches we can
surely get away from the easy-going Dutchmen---and anyway, if we
must be interned I'd rather it happened in Holland than in Hun-land.
Let's play the game till time is called."

"You're right," said Bob.  "I ought to be ashamed of myself for losing
heart.  Let's forget that we came down in that plane, and think of
ourselves as pedestrians.  I remember reading somewhere that if you
want to play a part you've got to imagine yourself living it.  Let's
think we are Belgians."

"Good! And let's look like Belgians too---I guess to do that we will
have to turn burglar, eh?  Well---they say all's fair in love and war,
you know.  Come on!  Let's break into this house and see what we
can find?"




CHAPTER X

PLANNING THE ESCAPE


No breaking in was found necessary.  The back door opened readily
enough.  The boys stepped into the rude kitchen and closed the door,
listening for a moment in the silence.  A meal of sorts was still
spread on the plain deal table, but it had evidently been there for
some days.  The place seemed to have been deserted by its inhabitants
without any preparation or warning.  The stillness was uncanny, and
Bob's voice sounded unusually loud as he remarked:

"Not even a cat left behind."

The poverty of the former occupants was apparent from a glance about
the room, on one side of which was a half-cupboard, half-wardrobe, the
open door of which showed sundry worn, dirty garments, little more
than collections of rags.

"There is another room in front," remarked Bob.  "From the look of
things here, though, we can hardly expect to find any clothing that
will serve our purposes."

Dicky stepped toward the door leading to the front of the building.
"It is as silent as the grave, without a doubt," he said as he turned
the handle and pushed gently.  The door would not open.

"Stand back and let me shove," said Bob.

He put his shoulder against the door and threw his weight against
it.  The flimsy lock broke at the first strain, and Bob caught himself
just in time to save himself from falling.  No sooner had the boys
gained an entrance to the room than they saw they were not the only
occupants of it.  On one side stood a low bed, upon which rested the
wasted form of an old woman, her white hair pushed smoothly back
from her forehead, but spread in tumbled disorder on the pillow.

The old woman was dead.

The locked front door showed she had shut herself in to die, and
had died alone.  How long she had lain there, as if asleep, for so
she appeared, was a matter of conjecture.  The thin, gnarled hands,
brown with outdoor labor, were folded on her breast.  Her face
showed that calm with which death stamps the faces of long-suffering,
simple-minded peasant folk.  The patient resignation through the
long years of toil, through years, perhaps, of pain and suffering,
suffering more likely than not borne in silence, taken as a matter
of course---all seemed to have culminated in the quiet peace on the
seamed dead face.

No wonder the boys involuntarily uncovered and stood for some time
without speaking.

"Somebody's mother," said Dicky at last, with a catch in his throat as
he uttered the words.

"Yes, perhaps," said Bob, as he gently covered the body with a blanket.
"We must bury her decently.  Who knows how long she might have lain
here but for our chance coming?"

Under a dust sheet, strung on a bit of string along the side of the
room, the boys found many women's garments, of the cheapest, simplest
sort, and some men's clothing.  Dicky stripped off his uniform and
pulled on a random selection of what lay to his hand.  With the
addition of a dirty cap, found on the floor at the foot of the bed,
and a pair of coarse boots, one without a heel, that were discovered
in the cupboard in the kitchen, Dicky's disguise was complete.  Given
a plentiful application of dirt on face and hands, and a couple of
days' growth of stubble on his chin, no one could have imagined him
a smart young officer.

Bob was not so easy to outfit.  His larger size made it impossible for
him to find a coat that he could get into, so he had to content himself
with an old shirt and a dilapidated pair of trousers which did not
come near his feet.  No other hat or cap could he find.

Toward dusk, at Dicky's suggestion, they went out and made a search
for some rude instrument wherewith to dig a grave.  They found a
broken shovel and a dull adze-like implement.  The grave prepared,
and dusk having come, Bob was struck with the idea that they had best
bury their uniforms.

"If the Germans should happen to clap eyes on us and decided to
search us, it would be all up with two Brighton boys," said Bob.
"So it's my think that we'd better hide the certain evidences as
to our identity."

Dicky not only agreed to this, and started at once to put the idea
into practice, but made a further suggestion.  "We might give the
poor old woman a better resting place further afield, if we knew
where to find a graveyard," he said.

"We can search for one," replied Bob.  "To carry her away from here
would be the best plan, and bury her when we find a proper burial
ground.  We certainly should not have to take her far."

"If we were discovered doing so, I suppose the fact we were actually
carrying our dead, or what the Germans would think was our dead, would
help us to get a bit further, too," Dicky argued.

"Fine! And if I can't talk Belgian-French better than any German
that ever lived I'll eat my helmet!"

So they took the cupboard door from its hinges, wrapped the body of
the dead woman carefully in the tattered blankets from her bed, and
laid it on the improvised stretcher.

"We should leave some sort of word as to what we are doing," said Bob.
"Suppose some of her folks come back and do not find any trace of her?
They might never know of her death."

"When we find a place to bury her we will find someone to whom we can
tell her story, so much as we know of it," answered Dicky.  "Perhaps
we might even find a priest to help lay her away."

Thus, without definite plan except to beam their lifeless burden to
some decent burial ground, the boys set out.  They had not proceeded
far along the lane that led away from the house when they heard voices.
They plodded on, and passed a group of persons whom they took to be
Germans from the deep gutturals in which they spoke.  They were close
to this group, too close for comfort, but passed unobserved in the
gathering darkness.

For half an hour they bore the dead woman, passing houses at times,
shrouded invariably in darkness.  At last they came to a town.  German
soldiers were in evidence there, in numbers, but took no notice of
the two bent forms bearing the stretcher.  Bob, who was leading,
bumped into a man in the dark.

"_Pardon_," said the man.

"_Pardon, monsieur_," replied Bob at once.

This was met with a soft-voiced assurance, in French that it was
of no consequence, the remark concluding with the words, "_mon fils_."

"Are you the Father?" Bob blurted out in English.

"Yes," came in low tones in return.  "I am Pere Marquee, my son.  Say
no more.  You may be overheard.  Follow me."

Around a corner, down a lane went Pere Marquee, the boys following with
their strange load.  Once well clear of the main street, the Father
stopped.

"Speak slowly," he said.  "I understand your language but imperfectly,
my son."

Whereupon Bob promptly told him, in few words, of their quest.  He
told him, too, that they were American aviators in imminent danger
of capture.

"Bring the poor woman this way," said the priest.  He led them to
a house which he entered without knocking, and asked them to enter.
They took the dead woman into a room occupied by two old ladies,
and set down their load as Pere Marquee hurriedly told the short
story he had heard from Bob.

Dicky was nearest to the priest as he finished speaking and turned
to the boys.  The old man gave the young one a searching scrutiny,
up to that time Dicky had not spoken.

"You, too, are American?" he asked, as if doubtful that so perfect
a disguise could have been so hurriedly assumed.

Dicky's answer was short, and made in a tone and with an accent that
made the good Father look still more sharply into the boy's eyes.

"No one would dream it," he murmured.  "You are very like the poor
dead woman's son---so like that the resemblance is startling.  It
is no doubt the clothes that make me note it."

"Not altogether," interposed one of the old ladies.  "His voice is
strangely like that of Franois.  I know, for Francois frequently
worked here for us until they took him away.  If the American would
limp as Franois limped, most folk would take him for Franois, surely."

Franois, it was explained, had been hurt when a boy of twelve, and
while not seriously crippled, always walked with a slight limp in the
right leg.

Once having convinced their new-found friends that they were American
soldiers whose object it was to restore Belgium to the Belgians, they
all set about the discussion of what should be the next step.

Pere Marquee had known the dead woman.  She had been ill for weeks,
and he had been expecting to hear she had passed away.  Too much was
required of him in the village to allow of his leaving it to look
after her.

The German colonel was not a hard man, "for a German," said the priest.
The soldiers molested but little the townsfolk that were left.  After
some discussion the Father decided that the best plan would be to
have a funeral in the morning, attended by the two American boys
openly.  Both spoke French sufficiently well to answer any questioning
by the Germans.  Dicky's disguise was perfect, they all declared.
With the addition of the limp, which he decided to adopt, he might
even fool some of the townsfolk.  Before they lay down on the floor
and snatched some sleep Bob's wardrobe had been replenished with old
clothes gathered from a house nearby.

Little interest was taken in the funeral next morning so far as the
Germans were concerned.  For that matter but few townsfolk attended
the actual interment.  Those who did were very old folk or very
young.  Not one of them spoke to either Bob or Dicky.  The whole
affair seemed uncanny to the boys.  Bob stooped as he walked at the
suggestion of the priest, and Dicky's limp was very naturally assumed.
No sharp scrutiny was given them, though each was bathed in
perspiration when they regained the shelter of the house where they
had spent the night.

"Not a moment must now be lost," said Pre Marquee.  "You must get as
far away from this village as possible without delay.  Your presence
here will lead to inquiry before many hours have passed, and subsequent
registration.  If that comes, you would be shot as spies without
doubt, sooner or later.  I advised that you take the chance of discovery
at the funeral so that we could say that you came from a nearby town
for that ceremony and had at once returned.  Be sure that I shall
select a town in the opposite direction to that in which you will be
working your way.  I am sure that the end justifies the means, and
I wish you Godspeed."

Ten minutes later the two boys slipped out the rear door of the
house.  Dicky was soon limping through the trees of a thickly-foliaged
orchard, Bob close behind.  Stooping under the low branches, step by
step they advanced.  No one was in sight.  A last glance behind and
the boys ducked through the leafy hedge, wriggled over a low wall,
and rolled into a deep ditch beside it.  Stooping as low as they
could, the boys followed this ditch for some hundreds of yards, until
they were well clear of the town, and out of sight of anyone in it.
Finally they reached a spot which seemed particularly well suited
for a hiding place, and decided to remain there until dark before
attempting to proceed further.  All the rest of the day they lay in
the moist, muddy ditch-bottom.  Bob had torn a map from the back of
an old railway guide he had seen in the house in which he had slept,
and it was to prove of inestimable value to him.  To strike north,
edging west, and reach one of the larger Belgian towns was the first
plan.  What they should do once they had accomplished that, time must
tell them.  So far they had been blessed by the best of fortune, and
the part of the country in which they had descended did not seem to
hold very many German troops.  Even Bob began to hope.




CHAPTER XI

THROUGH THE LINES


It was stiff, tiresome work lying quiet in the ditch that day, but
with brambles pulled over them the boys were in comparatively little
danger of discovery.  At dusk they crawled cautiously out of their
hiding-place and slowly headed northward.  Every sound meant Germans
to them, and their first mile was a succession of sallies forward,
interspersed with sudden dives underneath the hedge by the roadside.
The moon came up.  The clank of harness and the gear of guns and
wagons told of approaching artillery or transport, or both.  From
the shelter of the hedge the boys watched long lines of dusty shapes
move slowly past.  They seemed to be taking an interminable time
about it.  Now and then a rough guttural voice rasped out an order.

The boys waited for what seemed hours to them, and the very moment
they would move, along would come another contingent of some sort.
They had evidently struck a corps shifting southward.  At last a
good sized gap in the long, ghostly line gave them courage to
cross.  They got through safely enough, and kept on steadily for
a time across country.  They skirted two villages, and reached a
haystack near a river-bank before daybreak.  Out toward the east
they saw the faint outlines of a fairly large town.  Before them
lay the river, spanned by a bridge guarded at each end by a German
sentry.  Hope fell several degrees.

The boys had climbed upon the stack and pulled the straw well over
them.  As they lay looking toward their goal, to the north, the
home of the owner of the stack was at their backs.  He made his
appearance at an early hour, and came not far distant.  After a
whispered conference, Bob hailed him in a low tone.  First the little
man bolted back into his house without investigating the whereabouts
of the mysterious voice.  After a time he reappeared, and when Bob
again sung out to him, he gingerly approached the stack, staring
at it like mad, in spite of Bob's continuous warnings that he should
not do so.  Finally Bob induced him to mount the slight ladder by
which the boys had climbed to their point of vantage.

He was a little man, with a thin red beard, great rings in his ears,
and piercing, shifty eyes.  A reddish, diminutive sort of man,
altogether, with a thin little voice that went with his general
appearance. He was literally scared stiff at the idea of the Boches
finding the boys on his premises.  That would mean his house burned,
and death for himself, he said.  Germans were all about, he said
fearfully, and no one could escape them.  He was so frankly nervous
and so devoutly wishful that the boys had never come near him and
his, that Bob, to ease the little man's mind, promised that the boys
would swim the river when dark came and relieve the tension so far
as the stack-owner was concerned.  He was eager enough to see that
the boys were well hidden, and before he climbed down the ladder
he piled bundle after bundle upon them, as if preferring that they
should be smothered rather than discovered by the dreaded Boches.

That was a tiring day, a hungry, thirsty day, but the boys lay as
still as mice.  From where they lay they could see a sufficient
number of Germans passing and repassing along the road and across
the bridge to hourly remind them of the necessity of keeping close
cover.

At night, before nine o'clock, they climbed down from their hiding-place,
went to the edge of the river, undressed, and waded out neck-deep.
Dicky stepped on a stone that rolled over and in righting himself
splashed about once or twice.  In a moment a deep voice could be
heard from the opposite bank, growling out, _"Was ist das?"_  The
boys kept perfectly still, and heard the German call out for someone
to come.  Quietly each of the boys ducked his head and gently waded
back under water to the shelter of their own bank.  There they sat,
very cold and miserable, for some time.  Then the moon came out and
lit up the country-side bright as day.

"It's off for to-night," whispered Bob.  "We must go back and have
another try to-morrow night.  That was bad luck.  The Boche could
hardly have been a sentry.  I think he was just there by chance.
What rotten luck!"  So back they went, wet and cold, to their nest
at the top of the stack, in anything but a hopeful frame of mind.

They fell into a sound sleep before long, and were awakened quite
early next morning by the weight of someone ascending the ladder.
"A Boche this time!" whispered Dicky as he regained consciousness.
"That light little man never could make such a commotion."

The perspiration broke out on Bob's forehead.

An age seemed to pass before the head of the intruder came into
view.  What was their surprise and relief to see the round smiling
face of a Belgian woman of considerable size and weight!  Redbeard
had told her of his unwelcome guests and she had come to offer such
succor and assistance as might lie in her power.

She was the widow of a Belgian officer, killed in the first fighting
of the war.  She asked if the boys were hungry, and when Bob admitted
that they had been on very short rations indeed for some time she
reached down and drew up a little basket containing a bottle of red
wine and a plate of beans.

The Germans had taken most of the food in the district, and beans
were her only diet save on those occasions when she managed to get
some of the American relief food which a friend of hers had hidden
away, drawing sparingly on the rapidly diminishing store.

It was a sad day for many folk in Belgium and Northern France, she
said, when the American food stopped coming, but American soldiers
should find that she remembered.  As to getting across the river, she
could guide the boys to a point where they might find it more easy
to cross.  She would return again at night and try to help them
another stage their journey.

The day seemed brighter after the woman's visit.  Night came at
last, after an uneventful day of waiting, and with it the ample
form of madame.  She led the boys two miles eastward to where the
ruins of a bridge still spanned part of the stream.  Girders just
below the water's surface made it possible to clamber across, she
said, and there had not been a guard at that point for some months.
The boys bade the good woman a very grateful good-by, and found the
crossing much easier than they had expected to find it.

Soon they were plodding on by starlight, and by midnight had reached,
unmolested, a road that seemed to lead due north.  They went around
all villages, and learned to consider dogs a nuisance in so doing.
At first they were unduly nervous.  Faint moonlight played strange
games with their fancies.  Once a tree-trunk held them at bay for
some minutes before they discovered it was not a German with a rifle.
It certainly looked like a German.  A restless cow, changing her
pasture, sent them flying to cover.  A startled rabbit dashed across
the road, and the boys flung themselves face downward in a gully in
a twinkling.  The night made odd, sounds, each one of sinister
import to the fugitives.  The wind sprang up and made noises that
caused their hearts to jump into their throats half a dozen times.

The boys were sadly in need of food and drink.  They decided to try
the hospitality of some of the villages as they passed a hamlet.
Approaching a house on the far side of a little cluster of dark
dwellings, they lay by the door and under one of the windows for
a few minutes, listening for the heavy breathing that might betoken
German occupants.  All seemed quiet and propitious, so Bob gave
a gentle knock and explained in a low tone that two Americans, in
hiding from the Germans, wished to enter.  Sounds of commotion came
from the cottage.  A light flashed from a window, and a woman's
shrill voice spoke the word "Americains" in anything but a low tone.
A moment later, as they still waited for the door to open, a light
appeared in the next cottage, and another feminine voice repeated
the surprised ejaculation, "Les Americains!"

"Come on," said Dicky.  "The sooner we get out of this the better.
That woman has raised the whole town."

The boys ran down the road quietly, but losing no time.  Well it
was that they did so, for they had not gone far before several shots
were fired behind them, and one or two sinister bullets sang over
their heads.  They started running in good earnest then.  Fortunately
there was no pursuit.  After a time they slowed down and again became
a prey to all their former fears of night noises.  A large bird
flew close to Bob's head and gave him quite a scare.  As they pressed
on along the roadway, the clatter of hoof-beats coming toward them
sent them to the roadside, where, a ditch offered welcome refuge.

Bob and Dicky jumped in, close together.  At the bottom they hit
something soft, which turned beneath them and gave a whistling grunt
as their combined weight came down upon it.  In an instant they
realized that they had jumped full on top of a man.  Who he was
or what he was doing there was of no moment to the boys.  A sound
from him might mean their capture.  Bob grabbed the man, grappled
with him in the pitch dark, and choked him into unconsciousness,
Dicky lending a hand.  A troop of German cavalry clattered up.
Just as the troop drew abreast, the order was given for them to
slow from a trot into a walk.  The boys held their breath.  Gradually
the horsemen drew past, then away.  Bob waited until they were well
in the distance, and then examined the poor fellow underneath.  If
the boys had been scared to have jumped on the man, the man had
been more than scared to have had them do so.

There was all-round relief when the boys found the victim to be an
elderly Belgian farmer; and the relief of the farmer himself as he
gathered his scattered wits, to find that the boys had no designs
further upon his welfare, was truly comic.  The Germans, he said,
had imposed severe penalties on inhabitants who roamed about the
country-side between eight o'clock in the evening and daylight.
His quest remained unexplained, except in so far as a sack of
something the boys did not examine might have explained it.  Bob
advised the old man to remain where he was till morning light, and
the boys pressed on.

Before dawn they took refuge in a shed behind a house whose stately
lines were marred by the marks of bombardment.

The owner of the half-ruined house and the shed where they had taken
refuge proved to be a fine old Belgian, courageous and full of resource.
As soon as he found that the boys were escaping American airmen he
brought food and drink to them in plenty.  They were a long way from
the Holland line, he said, but they might, with care, get across.
Others had done so.  He would look into the probabilities and
possibilities, and let them know.

The shed was a bare, small building of rude boards, with nothing in
it.  A few boards were placed across the eaves, forming a sort of
loft extending for some seven feet from the end of the building.
It was on these boards that the boys spent their days while waiting
for an opportune moment to go further.  Their host would not hear of
their suggestions that they should leave the shed until he had arranged
plans for their reception at a further station on their journey.

"I wonder why he does not ask us to come into his house?" queried
Dicky after the boys had been two days in the shed.  "It seems to be
big enough---even what's left of it---to have plenty of hiding places
in it, judging from what I can see of it out of this hole in the roof."

"He probably has his reasons," was Bob's reply.

That he had was proven the next day, when a squad of German soldiers
came and spent an hour searching the house.  One of them glanced in
the doorway of the shed, but did not come inside.  Seeing the bare
surroundings, it evidently did not occur to him to glance upward.
That night, when the Belgian brought their food, he told them that
his house was searched periodically, though as yet no one had been
discovered in hiding there.

Impatiently, they spent a week on the hard boards of the loft in the
shed.  At last their host was ready for them to move on.  He gave
them a map of the country, on which he marked the route and their
stopping places.  After six hours' steady march through a driving
downpour they found another shed, in just the place that had been
described to them before starting.  It, too, had a hospitable loft,
and food was there in plenty.

Two more stopping places, always in sheds or outbuildings, and they
were very near that part of the Dutch frontier which their friends,
most of them unknown, were planning that they should cross.  Money,
they were told, was to be a factor in their obtaining entrance to
Holland.  They knew little of the detail of what happened.  They
were guided one night by a dwarfed cripple to a little wood, and
there spent four hours in weary waiting in absolute silence.  Then
the cripple returned and motioned them to follow him.  This they
did, and when they reached the edge of the wood, commenced crawling
on all fours, as their guide was doing.

They crawled for some hundreds of yards, winding about the scrub
brush and tall grass, and then suddenly came upon a wire fence.
A dark shape loomed up on the far side of this barrier.  The cripple,
aided by the man on the other side, held apart two strands of the
wire, and cautioned the boys to step quickly through the opening.

The cripple disappeared in the black night, the dark form beside them
motioned in a ghost-like way to the blackness ahead of them, and
without a sound they pressed on, as though in a dream, hardly daring
to hope all would come out well.

By daylight they were able to distinguish something of the general
outlines of the country, which was flat, damp and fog covered.
A tall line of poplars led them toward a road.  As they reached it,
in the gray of the morning, Bob turned to Dicky and said the first
words either of them had spoken for more than an hour.

"Do you think we are really in Holland, and free?" he queried.

"The whole thing was done in such a mysterious fashion, and silence
so rigidly enjoined by everybody, that I would not be surprised
if we have been smuggled out of Belgium, Bob," was Dicky's reply.

Nevertheless, they were most cautious as day came.  They hid for a
time, then decided to go to some homely cottage and see what manner
of folk they would find.  Stealthily approaching a simple home, they
waited until they caught sight of the housewife who was outside it,
feeding her chickens.

"She looks Dutch," said Dicky.  "Let's try her."

They came upon her suddenly, but she showed no great surprise.  Perhaps
she had seen escaping soldiers of the Allied Armies in that part of
the world before.  She could not understand either English or French,
but offered the boys a drink of milk and some bread, taking the money
they proffered for it and looking at the coins curiously before she
placed them in her pocket.

"She is Dutch as Dutch," was Bob's conclusion.

Sure enough, they were in Holland at last.

Careful maneuvering enabled them to get a passage to England, though
they had to use camouflage in their answers to certain pointed questions
in order not to disclose the fact that they were American belligerents.

It was not until their arrival in London---which they reached without
further incident---that something of their real adventures became known.

Bob voted that they proceed at once to Farnborough, which he had
heard was the headquarters of the British Flying Corps.  An English
intelligence officer who had helped them to get through from Holland
had suggested Farnborough, too.  Accordingly they wasted no time in
London, except to inquire for the whereabouts of the Farnborough
train.  They were soon at Waterloo Station, and by afternoon had
come to the Royal Aircraft Factory Grounds, which were then at
Farnborough.  There the commander was very cordial to them, and
found a place for them to get a bath in a jiffy.  More than once
the boys had effected changes of raiment during their series of
adventures, but while they did not look quite as bad as they did
when they assumed their first disguise in France, they were still
dressed in odd fashion.  Two smart British uniforms were given them,
and they were told that they would be very welcome and honored
guests at the general's mess for dinner.

At dinner they told their story in relays, to an intensely interested
audience.  It was voted a truly great adventure, and the two young
Americans were overwhelmed with genuine admiration from their British
comrades.

"I suppose your squad have no idea you escaped, have they?" asked the
general, who was a very youthful man for his rank.

"I dare say they imagine we are done for," answered Bob.  "I think
we should send word to them as soon as we can."

"We have a squadron of pushers going over in the morning, sir,"
remarked the commander to the general, "and if these boys would
like to get over to their own crowd in a hurry they could take a
couple of that new squadron over for us.  We are really very
short-handed.  It would help us and it might suit the boys.  It
would be quite dramatic for them to show up over there in person
after being counted as lost.  How would it suit you, gentlemen?"

Both of the boys though it a splendid idea, and as the general
good-naturedly acquiesced, they went to bed early to get up at dawn
and have a trial flight on the two machines which they were to pilot
across the channel.

The new machines were in fine trim, and the whole group were in
France, at the appointed time and place in due course.  The airdrome
where the squadron landed was but four hours' drive by motorcar
from the point from which Bob and Dicky had started the flight that
had ended so strangely for them.  The flight commander of the Britishers
gladly sent the American lads to their own airdrome in a car, and
they arrived at dinner-time.  When they walked into the headquarters'
hut they had a welcome indeed, and half an hour later when they were
allowed to join their comrades in the mess building, there was a
scene that none of the Brighton boys could ever forget.  Feeling ran
too deep to make any of the fellows try to hide wet eyes, and lumps
in the throat made handclasps all the more firm.

Bob and Dicky were anxious to know how the rest had fared during their
absence, but not a word would anyone of the others say until the two
returned heroes of the mess had gone over their story in detail.

As the boys finished the recital of their adventures Joe Little
expressed the universal feeling in the hearts of every one of the
Brighton boys when he turned to Bob and Dicky, and putting a hand
on a shoulder of each, said soberly: "Fellows, if two of us can get
out of a hole like that and get back safe and sound, we can rest
mighty secure in the sort of Providence that is looking after us.
It is little we need to worry about what may happen to us, after all."

"You never know how lucky you can be in this world," said Bob.

"And you never want to be afraid to give your luck a fighting chance,"
added Dicky.




CHAPTER XII

PLUCK AND LUCK


No little change came over the Brighton boys as they developed into
seasoned fighting airmen.  They looked older, harder, but they were
just as much boys as ever.

The first serious casualty suffered by their little band of six came
to Archie Fox.  Archie was doing what he called "daily grind" when
Fate overtook him.  That "daily grind" was the sort of work that
bid fair to end in disaster one day or another.

Well Archie remembered that day.  It had started much the same as
other days experienced by Archie's unit.  The getting ready of the
machine, the brief examination of the controls, first Archie and
then his observer, a young officer named Carleton, taking their seats,
the word given, and then all other sound shut out by the dull roar
of the engine---it was always like that.  Lines of trees, patchwork
patterns made by the fields, and oddly grouped farm buildings swept
along beneath the soaring plane, growing smaller with uncanny
rapidity.  The day's work started.  That was all it amounted to.
In the airdrome they had left behind, the eyes that had followed
their first moments of flight were turned to other sights nearer at
hand.  The men who had seen the plane well away started for other
jobs, forgetting the departed machine.

Both Archie and Carleton, neither novices at the game, settled themselves
snugly in their seats as the needle crept round the altimeter.
Cold awaited them in the higher levels.  That they knew.  A persistent,
penetrating cold, driven by a keen wind right through some great-coats.
Leather is the best protection from that sort of wind.  The face
feels it the most, however.  The cheeks become cold as ice.  Far below,
the snakelike windings of trenches---trenches of friend and foe---can
be followed from high altitudes.  Some parts of the line seem mile-deep
systems of trenches, section on section, transverse here, approach line
there, support line behind, ever joining one with another in wondrous
fashion.  Shell-torn areas between the trench lines, the yellow earth
showing its wounds plainly from well above, caught the eyes of the
fliers.

The bark of a bursting anti-aircraft shell heralded their arrival in
the danger zone.  From the earth the tiny white shell clouds have a
fascination for the onlooker.  More so perhaps, than for the man
in an aeroplane, not many yards distant from the bursting shrapnel.
The ball of fluff that follows the sharp "bang" is small at first,
but unrolls itself lazily until it assumes quite a size.  That morning
the anti-aircraft gunners seemed unusually accurate.  The third shell
burst not far below the plane, and two bits of the projectile
punctured the canvas with an odd "zipp."  Some shells came so close
that the explosions gave the machine a distinct airshock, though no
other shell struck the plane.

Archie swung his plane now this way now that to render the aim of the
"Archies" below ineffective, smiling to himself, to think that the
nickname given to the anti-aircraft guns was his own given name.

"We are providing amusement for a pretty big audience, below there,"
thought Archie.  "I suppose that the closer they come to us with
those shells the better sport it is for those who are watching us."

He laughed quietly at the thought.  He was as cool as possible that
day.  In fact, he was unusually cool, for oftentimes the salvo of
bursting "Archies" all about him would make his nerves tighten a
bit.  That morning he was at his best.  He felt a calm confidence
in his machine that made flying her a real pleasure.  It even added
spice to the flight to know they had to pass so dangerous a locality
before reaching the area which was their objective.  Over that area
his observer was to hover sufficiently long to be able, on returning,
to concoct a reliable and intelligible summary of what had come within
his line of vision.

Carleton was soon busy with his glasses.  A group of cars on a siding
near a station were carefully counted.  A line of horse transport on
a country road was given considerable attention.  Working parties
along a small waterway were spotted and located on the map.  A score
of motor lorries, advertised by a floating dust cloud, scurried
along below, to duly come under Carleton's eye and be at once tabulated
by him for future reference.  At one railway station a sufficient
amount of bustle caused Carleton to watch that locality carefully.

"That is odd," he mused.  "New activity there this morning.  Maybe the
Boches have planned an ammunition dump at that point.  That is one
for the bombers."

Thus time passed.  Archie was busy dodging his dangerous namesakes,
while Carleton focused his entire attention on gathering material
for his report.

Carleton did not watch the movements below, however, with more care
than Archie watched the sky on all sides for signs of enemy air-craft.
The American machine had been so long inside the enemy lines that a
German fighting plane might be expected at any moment.  At last a
Boche plane did make its appearance, a mere brown speck, at first,
far ahead.  Archie's signal to Carleton that trouble was ahead was
conveyed by giving the machine a slight rock as he started to climb.
Not much time was allowed for maneuvering.  Carleton lost no time
in placing a disk on his Lewis gun, and as the German approached,
both observers opened up with a salvo.  It was all over in a second.
Firing point blank, in that fraction of time spent in passing, both
had missed.

The excitement of that brief encounter, a mere matter of seconds
as the two swift planes swept out of each other's range, was hardly
past when the rattle of a machine-gun nearby and the _zipp!_  _zipp!_
as the bullets tore their way through the canvas, told of another
Boche machine at hand.  Neither Archie nor Carleton could see it.
Carleton unbuckled the strap that held him in his seat, rose, and
looked over the top plane.

There, just above and well out of range, was an enemy fighting plane.
The machine had apparently dropped from the clouds above, and with
great good fortune gained an ideal position.  Before Archie could
swing his "bus" around so that Carleton could get his Lewis gun to
work on the Boche another salvo came from the enemy machine-gun.

That belt of cartridges found its mark.  Both Carleton and Archie
were hit, the former badly.  The young officer dropped back into his
seat.  Archie saw that the lad had sufficient presence of mind to
hastily buckle his belt round his waist again, then, his right
shoulder numb, he dived steeply, bringing his plane up and straightening
it out after a sheer drop of a thousand feet.

The German machine tail-dropped alter the American one, but by a
stroke of good luck the enemy pilot seemed to have some difficulty
in righting.  When Archie headed for home the Boche flier was far
below.

Carleton had become unconscious.  Archie's head began to swim.  His
right arm became stiff, and the blood from a wound in the shoulder
trickled down his sleeve.  He dared not try to stop the bleeding,
and decided to trust to luck and make for home as fast as he could.
Periodically he became dizzy and faint, and once, when he thought
he was going to lose consciousness, he was roused by an anti-aircraft
shell that burst but a few feet from one of his wing tips.  He managed
to dodge about and tried a half circle to get out of range of the
guns below.

Archie felt cold and hot by turns.  Then his arm became painful.  The
pain was all that made him keep consciousness, he thought afterward.
At last his own lines were passed.  He felt a strange weakness, and
began to lose interest.  Carleton's inert body swayed to one side,
and called Archie's attention to the fact that he was custodian
of another life, as well as his own, if life was still in Carleton's
body.  Archie felt, somehow, that Carleton was not dead.  That thought
keyed him up to still greater effort.  He throttled his engine and
started downward, the warmer airs welcome as he came lower.  At last
he was in home air.  A final decision to buck up and hang on was
necessary to urge his weak muscles to act.  He swayed in his seat.
His eyes closed and his grasp on the levers slackened.  Again he saw
that senseless form strapped in the observer's seat.  Poor Carleton.
He had been hard hit.  Nothing for it but to land him as gently and
as safely as possible.  Will power overcame the growing weakness and
inertia for one more struggle against the darkness that threatened
his consciousness, and Archie, striving with every element of his
being against falling forward insensible, threw back his elevator
and made a good landing.

As the machine came to rest the mechanics ran up to it and found
both observer and pilot apparently lifeless in their seats.  Willing
hands soon had the two young men out of the machine and in the orderly
tent under the eye of the doctor.  Carleton was the first to regain
consciousness.  He was sorely wounded, a machine-gun bullet having
struck him in the neck and another in the leg.  Archie's wound was
not so bad, but the hard fight to keep going and bring Carleton
and himself back home safely had told on his nervous system.  At last
he opened his eyes, and smiled to hear his C.O., who was standing
beside him, say: "Carleton says you both got it well on the Boche
side of the line, and that you must have done wonders to get away
and get home.  We won't forget your pluck, young fellow.  Now let
them take you away and patch you up as soon as they can."

It was not often that the chief distributed praise, which made it the
more sweet.  Archie was sent back to hospital, to spend many weary
weeks there, but to come out well and fit again at last.  Carleton
was much longer in the doctor's hands, and months passed before he
again saw the front.




CHAPTER XIII

THE RAID ON ESSEN


A new triplane of great climbing power and high speed came to the
airdrome.  Joe Little fell in love with it.  Twice he took it on
bombing expeditions and twice returned with reports of real damage
to enemy supply stations and communications.

One night round the dinner table the boys of Joe's squadron planned
a raid of some magnitude, and later asked permission to carry it into
effect.  It was a scheme to drop a load of bombs on the great Krupp
works at Essen.  This had been done by one or two individual fliers
from Allied units, but the boys planned that with six of the new
type triplanes, if they could be procured, a really effective raid
on the great German productive center could be carried out.

The commanding officer did not disapprove the idea, but passed it
above him for approval from headquarters.  The boys had worked out
the details carefully, and were keen on their project.  At last
permission came.  Booth, one of the most experienced aviators on
the western front, was to pilot one of the two triplanes of the
new type that had been allotted to the airdrome, and Joe Little
the other.  The four other big bombing machines that were to go
on this mission were to be sent from another air station nearby.
Joe was pleased to be able to take Harry Corwin as his companion,
and none of the twelve men who had been selected for the expedition
worked harder over the plans and the maps than these two Brighton
boys.

At last the night selected for the raid came.  It was a study to
see Joe Little inspect a machine before a flight, but on this occasion
he went over the big plane with extra care.  He stood by the right
side of the tail for a minute chatting to Harry and then the two
boys went over every detail of the machine.  While one fingered the
tail skid bolt the other examined the safety cable on the tail skid.
Stabilizer, elevator, and rudder were gone over carefully.  Control
wires were gone over for their full lengths and their pulleys tried.
Brace wires were felt for slackness, from the tail to the inside of
the fuselage.  The control wires to the ailerons, the pulleys and
the hinges, nothing escaped the eyes of Joe Little.

Each blade of the propeller he searched for a minute crack.  Every
nut and bolt on the propeller he tried.

When in the machine and safely buckled to their seats, Joe ran his
engine a bit, to satisfy himself that she was producing just the
right music.  The other five triplanes had been waiting.  When Joe
had satisfied himself that his machine was in perfect condition the
word was given for the start.  A series of staccato pops announced
that the whole fleet was getting under way and they were soon circling
the hangars and climbing off in the direction of the trenches.  The
long journey had begun.

The night was moonlit and the stars were bright.  Not a cloud was to
be seen.  A fog obscured some of the low ground over which the
squadron had to pass, but they steered by compass, keeping perfect
formation.  Finally the silver Rhine wound below them.  Turning,
they followed the river until Coblenz was reached, then turned north
again.  Germany's great manufacturing centers were passing below
the squadron now, one after another.  The countless fires of monster
furnaces and factories, thousand upon thousand, glared into the night.
The tall chimneys and furnace stacks belched forth red, yellow, and
white flame as the munition works were pressed to their utmost to
produce the sinews of war for the guns along the line over which
the squadron had come.

By a certain point of identification all of the fliers knew Dusseldorf
when that large factory center was reached.  So far they had not seen
an enemy plane.  Essen was not far ahead now.  Searchlights had been
semaphoring over more than one town they had passed, but not until
they had come over Dusseldorf did any of the Hun eyes from below
see them.  At Dusseldorf they were spotted and a veritable hail of
anti-aircraft shell was hurled skyward.  The signal to climb higher
was given and they were soon out of reach of the "Archies."

As they approached Essen the fires from thousands of furnaces lit up
the whole country round.  Below them was the very heart of
shell-production and gun-making.  The sight was an awe-inspiring and
magnificent one.  The lights were so bright that the pilots and
observers could hardly distinguish the flashes of the guns which were
firing hundreds of shells at the menacing squadron.

Hovering but a few seconds above the scene of so much activity, guided
by the flaring furnaces and the blazing chimney stacks far beneath,
the signal was given to release the bombs, and down through the night
air, into the fire and smoke, dropped bomb after bomb.

As they fell and exploded their flashes could be seen distinctly in
spite of the blaze all about them.  Great tongues of flame licked
up heavenward as if trying to reach the aircraft that had hurled the
destruction down upon the seething hives.  A dull boom told of an
explosion, and the air rocked with the disturbance.

Hundreds of pounds of high explosive fell on Essen that night.  Great
fires started here and there, visible to the Americans long after
they had started for home, which they did as soon as their loads
of bombs were loosed on the factories and munition plants beneath.
Enemy planes had begun to climb up to engage the daring raiders, but
the triplanes were well away before the German fliers reached anything
like their altitude.  Not one of the six bombers had been hit.  Back
they flew, satisfied that damage had been wrought to the enemy plants,
back by the Rhine and the Moselle, back safely to their aviation base.

At last, ahead, the pilots could see the flares lit to guide their
return.  Each flier switched on his little light to see his
instruments, and gracefully dropped nearer the ground.  A night
landing is always interesting.  The familiar points near the airdrome
have a strangely different appearance at night.  Everything is vague in
outline---indistinct.  Down the six machines dropped to the rows of
lights, flickering in the night breeze.  A last moment, then the
instant for raising the elevator, then the gentle, resilient bump as
the wheels touch the level floor of the airdrome, and the fleet is home.

It was a fine raid, well planned and splendidly executed.  It did not
cost our side a man nor a machine, and it spread death and destruction
among the centers that turned out the means of destruction that had
made the world-war a thing of horror.  To bomb Krupp's works!  The
very thought had a ring of retribution to it!  The very name Krupp
had so sinister a sound.  Well might the Brighton boys be proud of
Joe for the part he had played in the inception of the idea and the
work of carrying it through.  They were proud.  So was Joe's mother
when she heard of it.  Harry Corwin wrote home about it.  He wrote
three times, as a matter of fact, before he could concoct an account
of the night flight that would pass the censor.  Finally he
accomplished that feat, however, and thus Joe Little's mother heard
of what her boy had done.  The brave woman cried a little, as
mothers do sometimes, but her eyes lit up at the thought of the
lad distinguishing himself among so many brave young men.  Such a
son was worth the sacrifice, she thought, with a sigh.  "He is his
father's son," she said to herself.  And to her came his words,
spoken many months before, "And my mother's," and her heart swelled
with pride.




CHAPTER XIV

A FURIOUS BATTLE


For a time it seemed that the Brighton boys were doomed to be separated,
but word came to the squadron commander in some way of the manner in
which they had entered the service, and he so arranged matters that
they were retained in his unit.  Moreover, he saw to it that their
work should so far as possible keep them in touch with each other.

News came one day that the squadron to which they belonged was before
long to be transferred to the rear for a well-deserved rest, and
a new lot was to take their place.  The boys were speculating upon
this item of news one evening after dinner, when Joe Little said:
"What a fine thing it would be if one day we all went out on the
same job!  Did you fellows ever come to think of the fact that the
whole lot of us have never actually been out together once since we
came to France?  I would like to see the whole lot of us have a shot
at the Boches at the same time, before we quit."

"I had a letter from Archie to-day," said Jimmy Hill.  "He says it
will be some time before he rejoins us."

"Well, five of us are here yet, thanks more to luck than good sense,"
laughed Joe.  "I think the Boche would know the five of us were left
if we went out together and had a smack at him."

"Stranger things might happen," said Richardson, looking up from an
illustrated paper.  "The chief was talking only yesterday about
sending out a combined bombing and observing expedition to save
hunters.  Three pilots gone sick in three days has made him short,
he said.  I think the lot of us want a rest, if you ask me.  With
three more fellows down there will not be such a lot of hunter pilots
to choose from.  So you wonderful birds may have that chance to show
off that you're worrying about."

This sally raised a general laugh, and Bob Haines said quietly: "If a
bunch goes out to-morrow and we are all in it, I for one certainly
hope that you are in it, too, Richardson.  I do not see any harm in
thinking we are better than the German fliers.  I believe we are,
and I would like nothing better than to have one good combined go at
Brother Boche before we leave this part of the line."

Bob said this in such a serious tone that Parker, who had come in
late and was devouring a huge plate of corned beef.---"bully," as
he called it---and a big pile of bread and butter, looked up and
nodded his approval.  "Me, too," Parker said, between bites.

"What we want and what we will get may be two very different things,"
said Harry Corwin.  "We have never built any castles in the air yet
that materialized.  I guess our combined raid, much as we might enjoy
it, will be a long time coming."

Harry was wrong.  Two days later, the flight commander received orders
to carry out certain observation work and certain bombing work in
the same sector of the enemy's territory.  The two new triplanes were
to be used as a bombing machine and an observation machine respectively.
The flight commander assigned the piloting of the first machine to
Richardson and the second to Bob Haines.  To Bob's delight Dicky Mann
was chosen as his observer.  Four of the wasp-like hunter machines,
the swiftest planes in the airdrome, were to accompany the two
triplanes.  The pilots selected for these four one-man fliers were
Parker, Jimmy Hill, Joe Little and Harry Corwin.

The six machines were in the air before the boys realized that they
had their wish of two nights before.  The roar of the six engines
filled the airdrome.  Circling up, before the planes had risen more
than a few hundred feet, they began to take up their respective
positions according to instructions.  The two heavier machines hung
comparatively low, while the four hunters, light and agile, climbed
higher and higher, above and on each side of the larger machines
below them.  The great wing spread of the triplanes, and the huge,
ugly fuselage of the bombing machine, were in sharp contrast to the
dainty, wasp-bodied hunters.

Richardson's little major sat behind the machine-gun that was mounted
on the front of the fuselage of the big bombing machine.  There were
sufficient high explosive bombs at his feet and suspended around
the cock-pit of the fuselage to do great damage if properly directed.
Dicky Mann was perched out on the very nose of the observation plane.
On one side of him was his Lewis gun, on the other his camera.  The
great power of the triplanes had made it possible for the fuselage
on each one to be lined with light splinter-proof armoring, which gave
the occupants an added sense of security.

The four hunters sailed high out of sight of the two big triplanes.
It was a day of spotted clouds, a day of a sort of hide-and-seek
in the air.  Up twenty thousand feet, nearly four miles above ground,
the quartette made for the appointed place, then took up their positions
and circled round waiting for developments.

Bob and Dicky, in the observation plane, were after certain definite
photographs, and the lower cloud strata made it necessary for them
to drop lower than usual to obtain that of which they were in search.
The Boche "Archies" burst shells all about them, but Bob kept the
swift machine maneuvering in such manner that to hit it required
great good fortune on the part of the German gunners.  The _pop!_
_pop!_ _pop!_ of the anti-aircraft shrapnel and the _whizz!_ of the
pieces of shell went almost unnoticed by the two boys, so intent were
they on their quest.  Once bits of shell tore through one of the
planes, and once a few stray bits rattled against the light armor
of the fuselage.

Richardson and the major, in the other triplane, had climbed to a
greater height.  Richardson's instructions were to get into a
certain position as soon as possible and drop several hundred pounds
of high explosive on a big munition dump.  Experience had taught him
that to be at a good height above an exploding dump was advisable.
Once before he had nearly been wrecked by the explosion of a German
munition depot, which had caused a commotion in the air for thousands
of feet above it.

Just as Bob and Dicky were circling around the spot they were bent on
photographing, and Richardson and the major were loosing off their
messengers of destruction toward the munition dump they had set out
to destroy, the four men in the hunters, at twenty thousand feet,
were beginning to feel the cold.  Parker, whose job it was to give
the signals for action to his little fleet, dipped his plane slightly
and peered downward to see what was taking place below.  His face
felt as if it was pressed to a block of ice.  Surely some enemy
scouts would be on hand soon.

As Parker circled round, his eyes searching the sky below him, seven
Boche fighting machines came hurtling down from the north.

They had been hidden by fleecy, spotty clouds for a few moments,
and were already too near to the two triplanes below.  Parker waved
his wing tips, which was his signal to his three companions in the
hunting machines that the fight was on, and headed toward the oncoming
fleet of seven.  Joe Little was the first of the other three to see
their adversaries, and was not far behind Parker.  Next came Jimmy
Hill, with Harry Corwin bringing up the rear.

The splendid planes rushed to the attack as though they knew the
necessity for speed.  Their engines purred smoothly, singing a vicious
song, as they worked up their speed to more than a hundred miles an
hour.  The four American hunters were high above the seven German
machines.  Then the time came to drop downward.  Parker first, and
the other three in turn, dipped the noses of their planes.  The
added assistance of gravity lent swiftness to their flight until
they were swooping down on the enemy at little less than one hundred
and fifty miles an hour.  The Boches at first seemed so intent upon
their quarry, the two triplanes, that they were like to be taken
completely by surprise by the four wasps from the upper air.  Then
they saw the descending quartette.  Parker, ahead, with one hand on
his controls and the other on his Lewis gun, made direct for the
first Boche of the seven.  The moment he was within range he opened fire.

Parker was going at such speed that the fifty rounds he loosed off
apparently missed his opponent, in spite of the fact that but forty
yards separated them when the last bullet left Parker's gun.  The
German went down in a clever spiral for a couple of thousand feet.
When he flattened out, however, Parker, who had dived with and
after him, was close behind.  More, he was in an ideal position,
from which he fired another fifty rounds.  These steel messengers
reached their billet, and the German flier went straight down to
earth.

But while Parker had been dropping with eyes on the first Boche, the
second had dropped after Parker.  Parker reached for a new drum for
his Lewis gun, and as he did so the second Boche, who had got on
Parker's tail, let go at close range.  The hunter was riddled.  Parker
felt that he was hit, but not badly.  That was his impression, at
least, at the moment.  He spun his hunter round and dropped sheer
for a thousand feet, coming up in a fairly thick bank of white cloud.
He there flattened out again and began climbing, not being sure of
his altitude.  No sooner had his engine begun to drone out the
rhythm of its full power, and the good hunter-plane begun to rise
majestically, than what should he see but the second enemy fighter
right in front of him!  A new drum was in place on his Lewis gun,
and he let go.  The Boche pilot threw up both hands and fell back,
and down into the cloud went the enemy plane, clearly out of control
and quickly out of sight.

Parker examined himself as well as he could, but was unable to locate
his wound.  It was in his back somewhere, for he felt a stiffness
and numbness all down his spine, but he still could move his arms,
and felt no faintness.  He decided that it must be merely a scratch,
and climbed up as fast as he could to get into the fray again.

The other three American hunters had engaged in close, desperate
encounters to a man.  Joe Little was lucky enough to bring down his
adversary and circled round toward the two triplanes, which had
both finished their work and were climbing fast to get out of the
range of the "Archies."  Jimmy Hill had missed his man, who went
down in a spiral, Jimmy spinning down after him.  Owing to the
greater pace at which Jimmy was traveling he had to make a wider
spiral.  The Boche flattened out and Jimmy dived for him again,
but before he could come within range the German dived straight
down to the ground and safety, where he appeared to land in such
manner as to show that he had suffered but little, if any, damage.
Jimmy was treated to an exceptionally severe salvo of "Archies"
before he could get well up again, and was slightly wounded in the
cheek by a shrapnel splinter.  Harry Corwin's adversary fired at
Harry, and Harry fired at him, but neither made a hit, so far as
could be seen.  The Boche was soon lost in a cloud for which he
was heading, and Harry circled back to find his fellows.

Meantime two of the German fighting machines had kept on for the big
triplanes.  They were heading for fast, powerful machines, well
armed, but they dashed at them as though they had no fear of result.
The first German machine to score a hit was a fast Albatros.  It
dived straight at Richardson's machine.  Richardson side-slipped
and dropped like a stone till close to the ground.  Not a single
German who watched his drop, whether watching from the air or from
the ground, dreamed that the big machine was still under control.
Just before it seemed about to crash into the earth, however, Richardson
righted it, and heading for home, skimmed the ground at a height
of not more than fifty feet above the ground.  The doughty little
major poured round after round of bullets from his machine-gun at
the heads of the Huns in the trenches and dugouts as the fleeing
plane passed close over the astonished Germans, and the whole thing
was over before anyone except the two occupants of the plane realized
what was taking place.

Not a single shot from the thousands fired hit the brave young pilot,
though the major was not quite so fortunate, having been wounded in
the wrist by a ball from the machine-gun of the flier who attacked
them from the Albatros.  How they escaped death at his hands they
hardly knew, for he had poured a veritable storm of lead into them
at close range, and made dozens of holes in one or other of the three
planes.  Richardson's arrival with the major at the home airdrome
was the first news to come back of the fight in the air.  The major
reported that they had satisfactorily performed their part of the
work and escaped with but little damage.  The Boche ammunition dump
they were to assail had been blown into a thousand fragments, the
detonation of the explosion having been heard for miles.

Meanwhile, Bob Haines and Dicky Mann in the other triplanes were
having an exciting fight with another Albatros.  Bob had chosen to
meet the Boche attack head on.  Dicky was a good shot, and tried
his best to wing their fleet antagonist, but failed to hit him.
Perhaps the readiness of the two Americans to meet the attack,
however, had somewhat disconcerted the German's aim, for he too,
missed the triplane.

The spotty clouds made the fighting in-and-out work that morning.
The four hunters were still in commission, as was the observation
triplane.  Three Boche fliers of the seven had been accounted for,
and a fourth driven down.  Things looked very good for the Brighton
boys, but they were over enemy territory and by no means "out of
the woods" yet.  A speedy Boche trio which had apparently not before
seen the Americans suddenly dived from a good height and the fight
began all over again.

In the melee of looping, side-slipping and nose-diving that ensued
Bob got his big triplane headed for home and started off at high
speed.  This left the four hunters to their own devices, with no other
troubles than to down such German antagonists as they might encounter,
and to get their own machines safely home if they could.

But none of the four liked to start for home until he was sure the
others of his group were all right and ready to come back with him.
The spotty clouds were responsible for a bit of delay.  Parker
was nowhere to be seen.  Joe, Harry, and Jimmy circled round once
or twice, undecided what to do, and at that moment Parker came climbing
back from a dead-leaf drop, having shaken off his Boche pursuers, and
gave the signal for the home flight.  Home they turned, and as
they did so, four big Albatrosses, a section of the first group they
had met, joined to two of the second group, came at them.  Without
any concerted idea of action Joe, Jimmy, and Harry looped straight
over simultaneously, every one of the three performing a perfect
loop and coming right side up at the same moment.  Each of them,
also, fired a round at the Boche immediately in front of him
and made off for home at top speed.

Parker did a side-wing drop, and as he did so felt a sharp pain in
his back.  His arms lost their power.  A bullet had lodged in his
back, and worked its way, urged, perhaps, by the pressure of the
boy's back against the seat cushion, to some spot more vital than
that in which it had first lodged.  From an apparently harmless
wound, and certainly a painless one, Parker's hurt had become so
serious as to prove mortal.  For, try as he would, he could not
move his arms to right his machine.  Down he dropped, mercifully
losing consciousness as his machine shot toward the earth, and crashing,
at last, so fiercely into the ground that naught remained of his
hunter and its gallant pilot but a twisted mass of wreckage and
a still form maimed out of all recognition.  Parker had paid the
great price, after a gallant fight.

The other three hunters carried their pilots safely home, able to
report that Joe and Jimmy had each accounted for one of the four
Albatrosses that had last attacked them.

Three days later their squadron was moved back, and its place taken
by a fresh unit.  Jimmy Hill was sent to hospital with his slit cheek,
but was soon out and about again.

Less than a fortnight later all five of the boys, Joe, Bob, Jimmy,
Harry, and Dicky, were on leave in London.  The night after their
arrival on the English side of the Channel, Archie Fox, now a
convalescent, invited them to dinner at the Royal Overseas Officers
Club, where the six Brighton boys foregathered merrily.

Dinner over, Joe proposed a toast of "the folks at home."  The boys
drank it silently.  Then Bob Haines rose and raised his glass.

"Let us drink to the luck of the Brighton lot," he said.  "May it
never entirely desert us."

As they rose and raised their glasses Dicky Mann added: "May we
always be ready to give that luck a fighting chance."

Six strong right hands reached forth to grasp another of the six.
Six pairs of bright eyes flashed as each caught an answering flash
somewhere round the circle.  Six hearts beat with the same stout
determination as Joe Little voiced their united sentiments when he
said in a low tone, "Amen to that.  We will."

THE END





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