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Percy F. (Percy Francis) Westerman.

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Brigadier-General's head-gear.

"That's the stuff to give 'em," thought Derek grimly, as he
contemplated the recumbent figure. "I wonder if he's wishing he'd
taken my advice."

To assist the unfortunate Staff Officer was out of the question, for
all Derek's attention had to be devoted to keeping the triplane under
control. Although clear of the storm-cloud, the machine was still
rocking in the wind-eddies in the wake of the violent gale.

Presently the Brigadier-General sat up and groped for his displaced
head-gear.

"By Jove, young man," he exclaimed, "that was a twister! Thought we
were done in this time. Wish I'd taken your advice."

"It certainly was a bit thick, sir," replied Derek, ignoring the
latter part of the Brigadier's remarks, which so closely coincided
with his own unspoken thoughts. "But it's all over now. Everything
points to a good passage for the rest of the run."

The remainder of the flight turned out as Daventry had predicted. In
a clear sky, and in the full blaze of the sunshine, the triplane,
pelting along as fast as the skilled engineer knew how to make her
go, was rapidly decreasing the distance between her and the rugged
hills of northern Spain.

"Land right ahead!"


[Illustration: IT WAS A CASE OF TAKING ONE'S CHANCE WITH THE
APPROACHING STORM]


This announcement, coming from the lips of one of the crew, roused
Derek's failing energies, for, unprepared for the journey, and
desperately hungry, he was beginning to feel the effects of mental
and physical strain.

Low down to the south'ard he could discern a serrated range of hills,
looming up dark-blue against the pale azure sky. Away to the westward
the land terminated abruptly, although Derek thought he could
distinguish more high ground beyond.

"Must be Cape Ortegal; and the other land is Cape Finisterre," he
decided. "I'm only between ten to twenty miles out in my reckoning.
Not bad for a first attempt."

Altering helm, Daventry made straight for the land that he supposed
to be Cape Ortegal. Flying at two hundred miles an hour does not give
a pilot much time to make up his mind. He must decide quickly and
definitely.

A few minutes later the Staff Officer, who had retired for repairs
and refreshment, entered the pilot's cabin.

"You're doing well," he remarked. "I know this part of Spain
intimately, and we are heading straight for Corunna. You'll see the
harbour in a few minutes. But you look a bit done up. Try a drop of
this."

And he handed Derek a flask.

The pilot accepted the liquid gratefully. It acted as a stimulus,
although he drank sparingly.

"There you are!" continued the Brigadier-General, as an apparently
narrow slip of water appeared in view between the enclosing high
ground. "That's Corunna Harbour. I'll tell you when to - er - alight. I
was almost on the point of saying 'land'."

"Quite a professional term in the R.A.F., sir," rejoined Derek.
"Without being guilty of perpetrating an Irish bull, one may
correctly apply the term 'land' to flying-boats and sea-planes
alighting on the water. What space do I want? Two hundred yards will
be ample, sir, and the harbour doesn't seem to be crowded."

Descending to five hundred feet Derek brought the triplane head to
wind, and then, "choosing his pitch", made a creditable landing
within fifty yards of a quay. Then, taxi-ing to a buoy, the giant
sea-plane was secured, but not before she was surrounded by a small
fleet of motor-launches and rowing-boats.

"I'll be back in two hours," said the Brigadier-General, as he
boarded a Customs launch. He spoke as casually as if he were ordering
his chauffeur to wait outside his club. "In the meanwhile, I expect
that you will make all necessary preparations for the return
journey - petrol and all that sort of thing."

Punctually to time the British Staff Officer returned in a Spanish
Government launch, and attended by a bevy of brightly-uniformed
grandees and naval and military officers. His bronzed face was
wreathed in smiles. He looked like a schoolboy granted an unexpected
half-holiday.

"I'm afraid I cannot let you into state secrets, Mr. Daventry," he
remarked, when safely on board the triplane; "but, without divulging
anything of a strictly confidential nature, I can tell you that my
mission has been entirely successful. The result of my conference
with certain Spanish authorities means the death-blow to Bolshevism
in Spain, for, as you possibly know, there has been for months past a
dangerous tendency in that direction amongst a certain section of the
Iberian populace. Certain measures had to be taken instantly, and you
have contributed in no slight way to their success. I congratulate
you. And now concerning the return journey. How long will it take?"

Derek glanced at his watch.

"Where do you wish to make for, sir?" he enquired.

"Anywhere you jolly well like!" rejoined the Brigadier-General
boisterously. "S'long as it's Blighty the rest doesn't matter much.
You're used to night flying?"

"Yes, sir," replied Derek. "All being well, I hope to set you ashore
at Sableridge depot at or about eight o'clock to-morrow morning."




CHAPTER XXX

The Choice


At a quarter to eight on the following morning the officers of the
Sableridge depot forgathered, according to custom, in the ante-room
of the mess before proceeding to breakfast.

Some were busy with their correspondence, for the morning post had
just arrived. Others were studiously scanning the official notices on
the board; while the majority were engaged in conversation on various
topics.

"Hasn't that young blighter Daventry telegraphed?" enquired the
Major. "Wonder what stunt he's on? In any case he ought to have
landed before dark last evening."

"Nothing come through from him, sir," replied the Officer of the
Watch. "Here's a report from Scantlebury announcing the arrival of
R.A.F. 23 at Harwich. Jephson wires that No. 19 is detained at
Falmouth owing to heavy weather."

"Heavy weather!" echoed the Major. "It's been perfectly calm here.
What was the meteorological report for South-west England yesterday,
Captain Wells? H'm! 'Heavy squalls; wind attaining a velocity of
sixty miles an hour.' Hope Daventry didn't strike that and get into
trouble."

"Aeroplane somewhere!" announced one of the junior officers.

There was a rush to the windows. Since the armistice there had been
few air-craft in the vicinity of Sableridge, and when one did put in
an appearance it attracted more attention than in those seemingly
far-off days when the world was at war.

A deep bass hum, momentarily growing louder and louder, proclaimed
the fact that a super-powerful aeroplane was approaching.

"A triplane - there she is!" exclaimed the Officer of the Watch. "By
Jove, she's coming down! I'll have to turn out the duty-boat's crew."

He hurried off to the telephone, while the rest of his brother
officers, many of them capless, raced out of the ante-room to the
water's edge.

"Some bird that!" remarked one. "I believe it's a Yankee just across
for the trans-Atlantic flight."

"Yankee my grandmother!" interrupted another contemptuously. "That
chap knows his job, and he knows where he's landing. Look! He's
making straight for the pier-head, against wind and tide."

Like an enormous hawk the triplane swooped down, coming in contact
with the water with little more than a double "plop" and a small
cloud of foam. Then, disdaining the assistance of a motor-boat, the
giant sea-plane glided on the surface, coming to a stop within ten
feet of the now crowded pier-head.

A coil of rope was dexterously flung and the end made fast; then, to
everyone's surprise, the window of the pilot's cabin was lowered, and
the head and shoulders of Lieutenant Derek Daventry were revealed.

"What have you been up to, old bird?" enquired Kaye, as his chum
ascended the pier steps.

"Keeping late hours," replied Derek, with a prodigious yawn. "An' now
I'm going to sleep the clock round."

It is one thing to make a resolution and quite another to keep it.
Derek, having reported himself, promptly retreated to his quarters,
bolted the door, undressed, and turned in.

Three hours later - it was a few minutes after the morning papers had
arrived - he was aroused by a tremendous hubbub outside. The door
rattled and shook under the hammer-like blows of half a dozen lusty
officers.

"Open the door!" they bawled.

"Push off!" replied Derek. "Rag someone else; but for goodness sake
let me alone!"

But with an utter disregard for official warnings concerning the care
and maintenance of private buildings appropriated for official use,
the boisterous crew without promptly charged the door with their
shoulders. Locks and hinges were not proof against the onslaught,
and, with a crash, the woodwork was burst, and a swarm of officers
poured in, headed by Kaye, who was brandishing a copy of _The Times_.

"Here you are!" exclaimed Kaye, when the uproar had somewhat
subsided. "From last night's _Gazette_: 'Awarded the D.S.O.:
Lieutenant Derek Daventry, R.A.F., for valuable services rendered
under heavy hostile fire whilst engaged upon machine-gunning and
bombing enemy trenches; also for good work performed in the
destruction of enemy air-craft both at home and on the Western
Front'."

"Are you fellows trying to pull my leg?" enquired Derek grimly, as he
ostentatiously handled the water-jug. "If so - - "

"Kamerad! kamerad!" exclaimed the deputation in mock dismay. "Put up
your lethal weapon, Daventry, old sport. It's a fact! No hoax! It's
drinks all round the mess at your expense, my lad!"

In the midst of the torrent of congratulations, mingled with
good-natured banter, an orderly announced that the Colonel wished to
see Mr. Daventry. Promptly Derek bundled the deputation out of the
room, and dressed with the utmost haste.

"Congratulations, Mr. Daventry!" began the Colonel. "It is gratifying
to know that honours do come our way, although, in your case, you won
them before you entered this branch of the service. And now, another
point. Your application for a permanent commission has been granted
- here is the approval. You are required to state whether you wish to
remain in the Marine Branch or re-transfer to the Flying Section, as
I understand that you are again passed medically fit for aerial work.
Well, have you come to any decision? or, perhaps, you might like to
have time to consider the question?"

Derek did not require time. For weeks he had debated with himself
upon the subject of his choice.

"I prefer the life afloat, sir," he replied.

"Good man!" rejoined the Colonel warmly, for, born and bred to the
sea himself, he understood.



PRINTED IN GREAT BRITAIN
_By Blackie & Son, Limited, Glasgow_




[Transcriber's Notes:

This book contains a number of misprints.
The following misprints have been corrected:

[past the struts and tension-aires] ->
[past the struts and tension-wires]

[objected Davantry,] ->
[objected Daventry,]

[the Chinese compond] ->
[the Chinese compound]

[he swung it vigourously] ->
[he swung it vigorously]

[vigourously] could have been correct, as
a now obsolete spelling. This is not the case here, because
there are several instances of [vigorously] in this book.

[the flash, and distintcly] ->
[the flash, and distinctly]

[the general concensus] ->
[the general consensus]

A few cases of punctuation errors were corrected, but are
not mentioned here.
]







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Online LibraryPercy F. (Percy Francis) WestermanWinning his Wings → online text (page 16 of 16)