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Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

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Derek rightly concluded that she also was Japanese.

Later on it transpired that the destroyer was towing the submarine.
In heavy weather the hawser parted, one end getting foul of the
destroyer's starboard propeller, while the U-boat, without means of
self-propulsion, drifted ashore on the Dairymaid Bank.

It was noon before the Japanese crew of the submarine were fetched
off by the life-boat, and until this was done R.A.F. 21 had to stand
by. Finally, with less than two gallons of fuel in her tanks, she
brought the life-boat safely into Fisherton Harbour.

Dog-tired, his ears raw from exposure to the cold spray, his heels
galled by the chafing of his sea-boots, Derek, having dismissed his
crew, turned in and slept like a log, happy in the knowledge that
another useful peace-time task had been successfully accomplished.




CHAPTER XXVIII

To the Sea-plane's Aid


"O Joy! O Rapture!" exclaimed John Kaye. "At last the mighty stream
of demobilization is stayed, Daventry. Forty new hands have come in
this morning. There will be a chance of commissioning some more
boats. They're shouting for you in the Adjutant's office, old son."

"What for?" enquired Derek. "S'pose it's not in connection with our
demob. or otherwise?"

For weeks Derek and Kaye had been more or less on tenterhooks. Both
had applied for permanent commissions in the Marine Branch of the
Royal Air Force, and, although their papers had been endorsed with a
strong recommendation by the C.O., there appeared to be an endless
and exasperating period of suspense.

"Unfortunately, no," replied Kaye. "They are overwhelmed with work in
the Adjutant's office. The Adjy. hasn't had time even to play
deck-quoits for the last three days. They want your aid, my festive
bravo."

"Rotten luck!" growled Derek. "If there's anything I loathe it's
fugging in an office. Had two half days at it at Torringham, I
remember. Didn't feel fit for flying for nearly a week. Make the best
of it, though, and the sooner the job's done the better I'll be
pleased."

The reason for Derek's presence in the office was quickly
forthcoming. The forty new arrivals were formed up in the corridor,
each man having to furnish particulars of himself in order that the
office records might be checked.

"Something wrong here, Daventry," remarked the Adjutant, tossing over
a slip of paper on which a pay-room sergeant had written down certain
particulars. "George Townley, born 1899, at Itching Abbess - sounds
like the head of a nunnery plagued with vermin, eh, what?"

"I'll have the man in and see what it means," suggested Derek.

He opened the door. Just outside was the Sergeant engaged in
questioning the new arrivals, One was an ex-R.N. able-seaman who had
re-engaged for transfer to the R.A.F.

"Three good-conduct stripes, eh?" exclaimed the N.C.O. disdainfully.
His acquaintance with conduct stripes was rather a distressful one,
he having been disrated twice before he turned over a new leaf. "My
opinion of a three-good-conduct-badges man is one who keeps the
Commander, Master-at-Arms, and the Mainmast all in a straight
line - savvy?"

Catching sight of Derek the Sergeant pulled himself up. He was one of
those men who, unfortunately, do exist in all three
services - sarcastically overbearing to those under him, and fawningly
civil to those in authority.

"What's this, Sergeant?" asked Derek, holding out the paper. "There
seems to be some mistake about this man's birthplace."

"No, sir," replied the N.C.O. with conviction. "I looked the words up
in the dictionary to make sure. 'Taint the first man I've come across
who can't spell."

"Where's the man?" asked the Lieutenant.

"Here, sir!"

"Well," began Derek, addressing the airman, "there seems to be some
slight doubt concerning the place in which you were born. What is
it?"

A suspicion of a smile flitted across the man's face.

"Itchen Abbass, sir; a village near Winchester," he replied. "I tried
to explain to the Sergeant, but he would have his own way."

For the next month or so Sableridge Training Depot was passing
through a dark period of its history. Like other army and air
establishments it was suffering from the blight of demobilization.
Those officers and men who knew that they might be returned to civil
life any day didn't trouble in the slightest about duty. Their one
idea was to pack up and clear out as quickly as possible. Discipline
was lax; vague rumours of the closing down of the station were in the
air. On parade the numbers steadily, nay, rapidly, dwindled, until
the four "flights" were reduced to a tenth of their former strength.
In the harbour expensive motor-boats were rotting and rusting at
their moorings for want of hands to man them and keep them in a state
of efficiency.

All this was a disconcerting outlook for men of Derek's type. The
departing units exercised an undesirable influence on those who were
staying on, while, what was worse, they gave a cue to the new
recruits.

"We're sending you to the doctor this morning, old son," announced
the Adjutant to Derek. "All officers applying for permanent
commissions are to be medically examined before noon."

Derek heard the tidings without emotion. He remembered his first
medical examination for the service; how it filled him with
trepidation, as he feared that the doctor would discover some defect
hitherto unknown to him. Since that time Daventry had become
case-hardened. The examination, which might prove an ordeal to many,
hardly troubled him in the least.

The R.A.M.C. Captain, an elderly man, whose rugged features and bull
voice were merely foils to a kindly and sympathetic nature, wasted no
time.

"You're O.K., Daventry," he declared, "fit as a fiddle. I'll put you
in A category. That means you're all right for aerial work. Why,
what's the matter? You don't look pleased."

There was an expression of perplexity in Derek's face. A few months
previously he would have hailed with delight the prospect of being a
knight of the air once more; now a different feeling had arisen. The
innate seaman's instinct had developed. He loved the sea; the actual
marine work at Sableridge fascinated him. The thought of having to
sever his connection with the depot rather staggered him.

"It's the uncertainty of everything that's worrying me," remarked the
doctor, after Derek had explained. "Here am I, Medical Officer of
Health to a large manufacturing district, hanging about here with
precious little to do, while there are tons of work awaiting me at
home. The authorities can't make up their minds, or if they can they
won't, and the consequence is I'm at a loose end. Now, only the other
day - - "

Just then the doctor's flow of oratory was cut short by the arrival
of a messenger.

"Mr. Daventry here, sir?" he enquired. "The Major wants to see him at
once."

Hastily donning his tunic Derek made his way to the room of the
Second in Command.

"Oh, Daventry," began the Major, returning his subordinate's salute.
"I've a little stunt for you. There's a wireless message just been
received at Baxton and telephoned on to us. A large seaplane has been
forced to descend here" - he placed his finger on a large chart of the
English Channel - "latitude so and so; longitude so and so. Why she's
come down we don't know, but she's wirelessed for assistance. I want
you to take R.A.F. 1292 B and make for her at full speed. Get hold of
her and take her in tow. I'll send No. 21 to give a hand in case
she's too much of a handful. 1292 B has plenty of petrol, I hope?"

"Yes, sir," replied Derek. "Filled up this morning."

It was one of Daventry's forms of recreation, in the hum-drum days of
the demobilization period, to see that boats immediately under his
charge were kept as efficient as the scarcity of hands permitted.
Every day he had the engines running, so that the boats would be in a
state of seaworthiness. No. 1292 B was a twenty-two knotter, while
No. 21 was capable of doing only nine and a half knots. Could he get
the crippled sea-plane in tow with the first boat he could slow down
until the more powerfully-engined No. 21 could relieve her of the
tow.

"Wonder what a sea-plane's doing about here?" thought Derek, as he
hurried off to turn out the crew from the Duty Watch. "Haven't seen a
machine up since the armistice. Joy-riders, I suppose."

Fortunately it was a fine day, although the sky was overcast. The sea
was smooth, so that, running at a high speed, the first motor-boat
was fairly dry. What spray she raised she threw aside by her
pronounced flare.

"All out!" ordered Derek. "Give her full throttle!"

Steering by compass Daventry held on for nearly two hours,
continually sweeping the horizon with his glasses in the hope of
spotting the disabled sea-plane. Smudges of smoke indicated shipping,
so that it was quite possible that the aviators might have been
picked up by a vessel bound up or down Channel.

Standing with feet well apart on the slippery fore-deck one of the
crew also kept a sharp look out. It was he who reported something at
a distance of four or five miles on the port bow.

"That's what we're looking for," declared Derek, as he, too, took up
a precarious position on the cambered fore-deck. "Starboard your
helm, coxswain; steady - at that!"

A few minutes' run enabled the crew of No. 1292 B to verify their
skipper's words. Riding easily on the gentle swell was a triplane of
the latest type - a four-engined, cabined sea-plane capable of a 2000
miles non-stop run, accidents excepted. Soon it was easy to discern
the tricoloured circles on her fuselage. By the arrangement of
colours Derek knew that she was not an American, as he first
supposed, but a British R.A.F. 'bus.

"Can't see anything wrong with her," he soliloquized. "Something must
be adrift, of course, but hanged if I can see."

Adroitly handling his boat the coxswain brought her close alongside
the huge starboard float, one of the triplane's crew swarming down to
assist in making fast the heaving line. Other airmen and mechanics
were taking a lively interest in the salvage operations, while from
an open window in the side of the fuselage a red face surmounted by a
gold-leafed cap was gazing down upon the rescuing boat.

"What's wrong?" enquired Derek.

"Both pilots crocked, sir," replied the man on the float. "They were
just turning over when we hit a pocket pretty badly. One is stunned;
the other has a broken collar-bone and two fingers dislocated. Have
you a doctor with you, sir?"

"No," replied Derek. "We had no information that one was required.
Why didn't you wireless for medical aid?"

"We just got off our first message, sir, and then we landed rather
badly. Our aerial was trailing, and the bump 'konked' out the
apparatus. I'm not a wireless man myself, sir; but our operator can
explain."

"I'll take you in tow," said Daventry. "With luck we'll have you in
Fisherton Harbour within four or five hours."

"Not if it can be avoided," protested the Staff Officer, from his
elevated perch. "Why the deuce didn't they send out more pilots?
You'd better go back at full speed and bring off a couple of good,
experienced flying-officers. It's an urgent case; absolutely
imperative that the flight be resumed without loss of time."

Derek was about to order the bowman to cast off when a thought struck
him.

"May I come on board, sir?" he asked. "I'm a pilot."

"Are you, by Jove?" rejoined the Staff Officer, who, as shown by the
badges on his shoulder-straps, was a Brigadier-General. "That's
fortunate! Yes, come aboard, by all means."

Leaping on to the float Derek swarmed up one of the struts and gained
the open hatchway on the underside of the fuselage. The sight within
was an eye-opener. He had no idea of the vast strides in aerial
construction that had been made since the time when he had to
relinquish flying.

The fuselage was nearly a hundred feet in length and entirely
enclosed. It gave one the impression that it was the interior of a
yacht, for on either side of the central corridor were
partitioned-off compartments - cabins for passengers, officers, and
crew, as well as a spacious but completely-crowded engine-room.

Right amidships were the two state-rooms in the occupation of the
Staff Officer and his secretary. One compartment was furnished as a
combined dining- and living-room, the other as a bedroom, with
aluminium cots so arranged that, at any normal angle the sea-plane
might assume, they would be always horizontal.

It was in the former cabin that Derek was received. There was nobody
about to overhear the interview.

"Can you pilot this craft to Corunna?" asked the Brigadier-General.
"It is a matter of extreme national importance that I arrive there
before five this afternoon. If you cannot do it, then perhaps you
might be able to take the sea-plane as far as Falmouth, where I can
get experienced pilots."

"I can, sir," replied Derek.

"You've had experience?"

"Cross-Channel flights, sir; also some months' service on the Western
Front."

"Good enough!" exclaimed the Staff Officer. "Carry on! The engineers
say there's nothing wrong with the motors."

"Very good, sir," replied Derek, saluting.

Entering the pilot's cabin Daventry found the two injured men. One
was still insensible; the other, white-faced, was trying to make the
best of his injuries. To him Derek put a few questions; then he
telephoned to the engine-room, and received the reply that all was in
readiness to resume the interrupted flight.

Very gently the two injured officers were lowered into the still
waiting motor-boat.

"Carry on, coxswain!" ordered Derek. "Steer nor'-a-quarter-east and
you'll pick up land within ten miles of Sableridge, even if you don't
fall in with No. 21 before. Report to the C.O. that I am detained on
duty, and that I will wire him directly I get ashore."

The motor-boat pushed off, swung round, and set off at full speed for
the invisible shore; while Derek, after testing the contacts - a
process that took what seemed ages of suspense to the impatient
Brigadier-General - gave the word for the four motors to be started.

Taxi-ing over the smooth sea nearly two hundred yards until
sufficient speed was attained, the huge sea-plane "took-off" almost
imperceptibly. Then, climbing to two thousand feet, the triplane
settled down to her long flight to the distant shores of Spain.




CHAPTER XXIX

In the Interests of the State


It did not take Derek long to accustom himself to the peculiarities
of the sea-plane. Had it been one of the flying-boats that the
Lieutenant had been called upon to pilot across the seas the task
would have been an awkward and difficult one. Once fairly up, there
is very little difference between an aeroplane and a sea-plane, but
there are wide distinctions between the latter and the huge
flying-boats which, devoid of floats, rely upon their hulls for
buoyancy when on the water.

Derek elected to fly fairly high, maintaining a height of five
thousand feet. This gave him a chance, in the event of making a
blunder with the unaccustomed system of controls, while at the same
time there was less chance of coming across an air-pocket.

Quickly he discovered that his hand had not lost its cunning.
Although it was months - it seemed like years - since Derek had had
control of joy-stick and rudder-bar, the old skill still remained.
And the exhilaration of it! To be once more rushing through space,
soaring high above the waves!

"This is some stunt," thought the reinstated pilot. "Wonder what's
taking the old Brass Hat to Spain? Joy-ride, or what? After all, it's
all in a day's work."

Applying the automatic steering device Derek turned to consult the
charts. A hasty examination showed that his predecessor had
faithfully recorded the course almost up to the time of the
triplane's involuntary descent. The red-inked line and
rough-pencilled notations were of considerable service. They enabled
Derek to set a compass-course corrected for air leeway and ordinary
magnetic deviation. Provided the force and direction of the wind
remained fairly constant, the task of piloting the seaplane would be
a fairly simple matter.

It was aviation _de luxe_. The pilot's house, with windows of triplex
glass affording an all-round view, was warm and free from buffeting
draughts. With the glass in position the roar of the powerful engines
was reduced to a barely perceptible purr.

Thirty miles to the nor'ard the rugged uplands of Dartmoor could be
clearly discerned, while ahead, and slightly on the starboard bow,
could be seen the indented outlines of the Cornish coast, for Derek
was purposely keeping within easy distance of shore until well over
the Scillies. Then it was his intention to strike a bee-line for his
destination. Occasionally altering the automatic course-director,
Derek found that he had plenty of time at his disposal. After a while
things became tedious. Cooped up in a glass box he missed the actual
sensation of flying through the air. It was more like sitting in a
carriage of an express train than being absolutely in control of an
air-craft. Compared with the lift and heave of the ocean the motion
seemed a very tame affair.

"By Jove! the Pater was right after all," soliloquized Derek.
"Flying's all very well; but it's the sea that scores - scores every
time. There's nothing to equal a life afloat."

He let down one of the sliding glass panels. The rush of air acted
like a tonic. The suggestion of actual aerial speed reasserted
itself. There was something indescribably joyous in the sensation. He
could almost imagine himself back in his old 'bus circling over the
Hun lines.

He missed the airman's flying-helmet, goggles, and leather coat. It
was bitterly cold. The wind buffeted his face until his eyes smarted
and his ears throbbed and tingled, yet it was better, in his opinion,
than being cooped up in a glass box.

Just then the door opened and one of the crew entered. Vainly the man
tried to make himself understood, and it was not until the glass
slide had been replaced that Derek was able to engage in
conversation.

"The actuating wire of the starboard aileron of the lower plane's
carried away, sir," reported the man in quite a matter-of-fact tone.
A housewife on discovering that a cat had stolen the morning's milk
would have shown much more concern. "I'll just nip along and make a
temporary repair."

"Very good!" replied Derek, cutting out the automatic control, and
grasping the joy-stick. "Carry on!"

The airman withdrew. Presently Derek saw him cautiously making his
way along outside the covered fuselage; then, throwing himself flat
upon the plane and grasping the forward edge, the man began to work
his way outwards. Only his hold upon the sharp edge of the cambered
wing prevented him being swept away like a piece of paper by the
two-hundred-mile-per-hour wind.

Hanging on like a limpet, and keeping his head well down, the
dauntless airman at length reached the spot where the wire had
parted - a distance of about six feet from the extremity of the plane.
In spite of the man's weight the triplane evinced no tendency to
tilt, although it required a slight alteration of helm of the
horizontal rudder to counteract the additional resistance set up by
his body. In this hazardous position, holding on with one hand, and
keeping his legs planted firmly against a vertical strut, the airman
set to work to make good the damage.

First the ends of the severed wire had to be secured in a bowline
made in each. Through these loops the clips of a bottle-screw were
placed, and the wires drawn up to their original tension.

Working at a height of five thousand feet, while travelling at a
speed of one hundred and sixty miles an hour - for Derek had ordered
the motors to be throttled slightly - the gallant airman completed his
task in twenty minutes; then, benumbed with the cold and with lying
in a decidedly awkward position, he made his way back to the shelter
of the enclosed fuselage.

By this time the Scillies, looking like a scattered heap of pebbles
showing above a large sheet of tranquil water, were left astern.
Ahead great masses of indigo-coloured clouds, tinged with vivid
coppery hues, betokened the presence of a storm-centre. Ragged wisps
of dark-grey vapour were scurrying over the sky, interrupting at
frequent intervals the hitherto continuous blaze of sunlight.

Derek realized that there was no escape except by a tremendously long
detour. Since time was a decided object, such a course was
impracticable, for there would be the risk of being carried away a
long distance from the objective. It was a case of carrying on at
full speed, and taking one's chance with the approaching storm.

"What do you make of that?" enquired a voice, as Derek again closed
the window of the pilot's house.

Turning, the Lieutenant found the exalted passenger - the
Brigadier-General - standing behind him.

"Atmospheric disturbance of some magnitude, sir," replied Daventry.
"There is no cause for anxiety," he added.

"Isn't there? by Jove!" ejaculated the Brigadier-General grimly.
"Hope you're right, young man. What's up with your meteorological
experts at the Air Ministry, I should like to know? Their forecast is
'light variable breezes; conditions fit for cross-country flights
with all types of machines'. Someone adrift somewhere, I should
imagine."

In his mind Derek was obliged to admit the impeachment.

"But that refers to the British Isles, sir," he remarked
diplomatically. "Already we are approaching the Bay of Biscay."

"Let's hope we don't have to swim for it," growled the
Brigadier-General. "I'm trusting to you. I'll stay here, if you don't
mind."

"You'd do better in your cabin, sir," Derek reminded him. "We may be
in for a bit of a dusting, and you'll be all right lying on your
bunk."

"Lying on my bunk!" exclaimed the Staff Officer loudly. "By Gad, sir!
I've never yet faced danger lying down. _J'y suis; j'y reste_ is my
motto."

Before Derek could say anything further the triplane entered the
storm-zone. The first blast of disturbed air tilted the giant machine
until the planes assumed an angle of seventy degrees to the
horizontal. Then, staggering and plunging, the triplane was literally
hurled in the opposite direction, until it seemed to be standing on
the tips of the starboard wing.

It was now almost as dark as the blackest night. Unable to read the
clinometer, Derek strove by sense of touch to keep the machine, as
far as possible, on an even keel. More than once his feet slipped
violently, as if someone had knocked them from under him. It was only
by hanging on to the sensitive joy-stick that the pilot saved himself
from being hurled bodily against the panelling of the cabin. At one
moment literally standing on its tail, at another diving almost
vertically, the while lurching from side to side, the triplane
battled with the storm. Hail-stones rattled like machine-gun fire
against the redoubtable triplex glass. The whole fabric groaned and
creaked under the unusual stresses and strains, the disconcerting
roar of the storm completely outvoicing the noise of the motors.
Whether the engines were still running or not Derek had no means of
determining. Literally penned in the enclosed space, he could merely
hold on, hoping for the best.

This state of things, nerve-racking and appalling in their vehemence,
and rendered still more so by reason of the utter darkness, continued
for a seemingly endless space of time. Then, almost without warning,
the badly-buffeted triplane emerged from the dense pall of the
storm-cloud into dazzling sunshine.

The first thing that Derek did was to assure himself that the
sea-plane was under control. Fortunately such was the case, although
there were ominous rents in certain parts of the enormous
wing-spread. The triplex glass of the pilot's room still held,
although the stout substance was "starred" in many places, as if hit
by a bullet. The altimeter registered a height of only one thousand
five hundred feet, while a glance at the clock showed that the
seemingly interminable passage through the storm had occupied only
eleven minutes.

Something plucking at Derek's sea-boots attracted his attention. He
had forgotten his companion, the Brigadier-General. The latter was
lying on his back along the starboard side of the compartment,
purple-faced and wellnigh breathless with the unmerciful buffeting he
had received. In one of the opposite corners reclined his gold-leafed
cap, presenting an appearance hardly compatible with that of a


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