Charles Amory Beach.

Air Service Boys over the Atlantic online

. (page 2 of 11)
Online LibraryCharles Amory BeachAir Service Boys over the Atlantic → online text (page 2 of 11)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


hear from me, for I must keep track of you boys."

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

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

Jack looked his admiration, and then burst out with:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

"What is that?"

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

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




CHAPTER IV

THE REST BILLET


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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




CHAPTER V

THE AIR RAIDERS


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So the minutes passed. Other pilots had already ascended to await the
assembling of the picked squadron at some given altitude. Every minute


2 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

Online LibraryCharles Amory BeachAir Service Boys over the Atlantic → online text (page 2 of 11)