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   Chapter 15 MAKING READY FOR ANOTHER FORWARD DRIVE

Our Pilots in the Air By William Perry Brown Characters: 13426

Updated: 2017-11-29 00:03


After Stanley's sudden departure from the ruined chateau, the two boys fretted ineffectually. Stanley was an observer, not a real pilot; he might get into trouble; so worried first one and then the other.

"It seems to me, gentlemen," began Miss Daskam, "that instead of fretting over this you better remain quiet and thus regain your strength the sooner. We may need it yet."

"Allons, madame," began Brenda, speaking to the girl, yet carefully refraining from looking at either of the boys, "we cannot tell what time the Boches may break in on us. After that young man went up in the German plane, I am sure I heard the sound of far-away explosions. We are between the lines, yet off to one side, where the enemy are fond of raiding. It was so a year ago when some of us still made our home in or close to the chateau. We didn't mind the raiding. All they did was to rob us of what little stock we had left. But now, since they began the bombing that has finally ruined the Baron's home, nothing and no one is safe. Ah - what is that?"

But it was nothing much; yet it only typified the general nervousness of the situation. Distant firing along the course they figured that Stanley would take tended to make even the boys uncertain as to whether he would get home or not.

"Anyhow, we may as well make up our minds to have to stick it out here at least until tomorrow, or more likely tomorrow night. If they come they must come in force, or we will never be able to make a get-away." Thus spoke Erwin.

After more or less futile remonstrance, discussion and what not, they finally settled down for the remainder of the night, the boys insisting upon giving up the only habitable room to the women, though the latter urged that the young men take at least a blanket or so along. Blaine, being somewhat the stronger, declared that he would remain on watch for the first two hours, adjuring Erwin to get all the sleep he could.

"Another thing; we haven't got much grub along. I don't know how much the women have, but if it is scarce we must remember them."

In five minutes Orris was breathing heavily, taking full toll of slumber, for he was not so very strong and the day's happenings had exhausted him greatly. Blaine sought shelter under another angle of the basement, and after a vigorous struggle against somnolence, finally dropped off.

After that the old ruin was silent. Midnight passed. Unceasing silence reigned. Suddenly there came a sound of planes coming down from the upper air.

Finally a fretful voice rose up stridently, recklessly, saying through a muffled megaphone:

"Ho, there - below! Start up a flare - a light, anything, so we can know where and how to land."

Fortunately Erwin, who had really slept the longest, was roused by the closing words. He heard the sound of wings above, and at once apprehended. He had no flare, and no means at immediately to make a light. What should he do? Suddenly he remembered that Blaine carried a brilliant hand searchlight. In another instant he was rummaging about among Blaine's personal effects where he lay snoring.

"G'way - what you doin'? Who are ye, anyhow?"

While so ran the sleeper's drowsy remonstrances Erwin secured the searchlight, and an instant later was sending its white rays upward. A minute later the black shadow of a huge bi plane hovered in a circle over the wide expanse of what once had been a trim lawn, but was now a desert of dirt, ashes, and crumbling masonry loosened from the walls.

Meantime the added noise, further awakening Blaine, sent him scurrying to rekindle the dying fire they had made earlier in the night. By the time this was blazing one plane had alighted and the other was settling down further out. From these big planes stepped Captain Byers and Sergeant Brodno, both nervous, watchful, alert, and very wide awake.

To say the boys were pleased to see them would be to put it mildly. In a few words the state in which Stanley and Bangs had reached the Station was told, when Byers, evidently on edge by the peculiar situation wherein they were now involved, spoke up sharply.

"Where is that Chicago girl with her attendant? Also those papers? And how is it that I find you two so sleepy, way out here in the midst of the Boches? Don't you know we've had all sorts of trouble dodging in here so they wouldn't catch on? Oh - h! Who is that?"

Captain Byers whirled and found that he was confronting a smiling young girl, already bundled up as if for a journey. Behind her stood the substantial form of Brenda, also well wrapped against the night's chill and mist.

Confusedly Blaine presented the captain and Brodno, the latter grinning amusedly. In fact, this affair had been more of a lark to the American Pole than to Byers, who was oppressed with a sense of responsibility.

"We'll have to divide up, and at once," said the captain. "In fact, ever since Erwin used that searchlight to show me the way down, I haven't felt that we were safe here. Therefore I say all aboard just as soon as we can be loaded in - what is that?" as a sharp staccato of shocks rose from Brodno's machine, the result of his tinkering with his air-exhaust. Even as he made haste to stop them, time being all important, Byers was placing the two women in his own plane, saying:

"It will be crowded, but you can stand that for a time, I guess. But - say! Hold on! I forgot. You have some important papers somewhere?"

"Yes. Brenda has them in her bosom. You may be sure we did not forget those. Are they all right, Brenda?"

But here Brenda jumped up in the observer's manhole, and began hastily fumbling among the folds of her ample garb. With a sudden half scream she sprang out, seized the searchlight from the astonished Erwin and made a dash for the basement again.

"Is what she is after important?" asked Erwin of Miss Daskam, who was fidgeting uneasily. The girl nodded, adding:

"It may be; I cannot tell. How careless! Among those papers are some very important plans that have reference, I think, to things our side wished to do later on. Oh, dear! Will we ever get away?"

"God knows - I hope so. It seems I hear sounds to the eastward. Ah - there they come again!"

Both Brenda and the captain, who had followed her, were returning. He was stuffing a paper which Brenda had surrendered after some persuasion into his breast pocket.

"All in!" called Byers. "No time to lose now."

Again the women reentered the captain's machine, who at once started off along the level, open ground, at the same time calling on the men to use the searchlight so he might rise successfully. Up they went, and right after them came Brodno, with Blaine and Orris, now in

the observer's seat, feeling more comfortable as be laid his hand on the Lewis gun ready to his use. Brodno had another. Both were listening to the sounds which Erwin had noticed when with Miss Aida. Byers passed them with a gentle rustling as of wings.

"Boys," he called back, "our defense rests mainly upon you. I have not only these women to see after but also papers - papers most important to our side in the next offensive. Of course I'll fight, if I have to. But the main thing is to get safely back and -"

His further words were lost on the wind as the captain raced ahead, bound as straight as possible for their own lines.

"We will keep right on his tail, boys," said Brodno. "That noise behind is Fritzy starting on a raid, no doubt. If he gets too close we must either keep him back or lead him off after us."

The noise of whirring propellers increased rapidly. Doubtless scouting planes were out. As a rule, they are faster than the big biplanes. In view of this, Byers presently began to mount higher, the rear plane maintaining its level with a view of attracting the notice of the pursuing Germans. Then came a spatter of machine gun bullets that rattled about their ears until Blaine, from his rear position, opened on the Boches in turn.

After that the pursuit of Byers ceased, for Blaine and Brodno, with their two weapons, aided by Erwin, who manipulated a Lee-Enfield rifle, kept the three scouts busy for a time. A plane is a shaky place from which to aim a rifle, but Orris, having had much practice at the training butts, soon laid out one lone pilot and his scout went trailing guideless out of range and action.

But about this time there came the heavier rumble of Archies from below, and presently shrapnel began tearing into the wings of the biplane.

"Up we go, boys!" said Brodno. "I guess Byers must be well on over by now."

But about this time they heard the sounds of gun spatter far up above, and mounting rapidly they saw two more Fokker scouts trailing after Byers, who not only mounted still higher, but put Pete at the aft machine gun, taking Miss Aida over inside his own manhole.

We haven't said much about Pete, for he was really timid, and lay low wherever he was placed, without a word. But when he came over where Brenda was and that sturdy Belgian watched his timid attempts to fire the machine gun, she was disgusted.

"Pete, you no good! Have you forgot how the Baron hated a coward? Let me in there!" She shoved Pete aside, took charge of the gun herself and presently Byers was gratified to hear its active rattle as Brenda rather clumsily yet effectually opened upon the Germans. Pete assisted, handing fresh sheaves of ammunition and otherwise making himself useful.

"Where you been, Pete?" she asked. "Why you leave us all?"

"I wanted to learn to fly. Americaines, they give me a chance."

The other plane, now spiraling upward, came within range of the Fokkers, and altogether the united firing from the two big biplanes was too much for the Boches, so they gradually retired with a loss of one plane, whose pilot Erwin had disposed of, as we have seen.

Half an hour later they quietly dropped down at the aerodrome. The first gray hues of morning were just diffusing a lighter pallor and the stars were already dimming when on the deserted levels in front of the hangars the biplanes finally came to rest. Then out from a sentry box came the captain's orderly, who seemed much astonished.

"Well, sir, I didn't look for you all back so soon. I rather feared that you might have to remain away another day."

"We had ladies to look after," remarked Byers. "That made us hurry back sooner. Here is Pete, of whom you thought such dreadful things. Pete is learning. Now, while we take Miss Daskam and her maid to their quarters, I want you to go to the through line to Dunkirk, and ask for Baron Suvahl. He should be somewhere about there, if we have been rightly informed."

After that the captain with characteristic courtesy took the two tired yet grateful women to the women's Red Cross station and left them in kindly, congenial company. It was here Senator Walsen and his daughters were staying. When they and Miss Aida became acquainted at breakfast next morning it was astonishing how many mutual acquaintances they discovered, yet mostly back in the dear old country across the ocean.

About the middle of the morning a tall, spare, resolute young man, accompanied by a plainly garbed lady, his wife, met Captain Byers at the latter's office. Simultaneously there came two other personages plainly garbed in Belgian costume, yet most distinguished aside from that.

There was a certain respect, almost deference, in the way Baron Suvahl and his wife met the King, for one of the visitors was really King Albert of Belgium. His wife, the queen, was even more democratic. In fact, in the manner of all, including the Americans, was that which marked them as fully tinctured with the true democratic spirit that this war has so fully brought out among all the Allies.

Several of the British and French generals dropped in. And there were sundry secret and semi-secret conferences, one result of which was the sending out that night of a number of our airmen on secret scouting trips, none of which, however, resulted in much aerial fighting but embraced a deal of sly spying upon enemy positions and also various "look-ins" behind the lines.

Among other things Erwin, Blaine, Bangs, Brodno and others were adjured by both Captain Byers and Sergeant Anson to be ready with their machines for real active service at any time.

On the second night came a quiet meeting between certain French, British, and American commanders. As the boys in the aerodrome sauntered about the grounds, noting the drawn shades in the windows of the headquarters office, and marking the lateness of the hour before the consultation closed, they felt that things were drawing to a head on that sector, and that they, the eyes of the army, would be expected to do their part and even more, if necessary.

Senator Walsen, instead of going back to the capital as he had intended, was drawn into the conference, while the ladies remained quiescent but more and more expectant, though of what they hardly knew. Perhaps the good young queen expressed the general sentiment among her sex, when she said to the small group gathered about her at the half shabby quarters where she and the king temporarily received their friends,

"We never know much as to what is about to go on, but we are always warned never to be unduly surprised at anything. Always make the best of everything - that is all we can do and what we must do.

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