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       Air Service Boys in the Big Battle; Or, Silencing the Big Guns, p.1

           E. J. Craine
 
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Air Service Boys in the Big Battle; Or, Silencing the Big Guns


  Produced by Sean Pobuda

  AIR SERVICE BOYS IN THE BIG BATTLE

  Or SILENCING THE BIG GUNS

  By Charles Amory Beach

  CHAPTER I. BAD NEWS FROM THE AIR

  "Well, Tom, how's your head now?"

  "How's my head? What do you mean? There's nothing the matter withmy head," and the speaker, who wore the uniform of a French aviator,glanced up in surprise from the cot on which he was reclining in histent near the airdromes that stretched around a great level field, notfar from Paris.

  "Oh, isn't there?" questioned Jack Parmly, with a smile. "Then Ibeg your pardon for asking, my cabbage! I beg your pardon, SergeantRaymond!"

  Tom Raymond, whose, chum had addressed him by the military title, lookedcuriously at his companion, and smiled at the appellation of the termcabbage. It was one of the many little tricks picked up by associationwith their French flying comrades, of speaking to a friend by some odd,endearing term. It might be cucumber or rose, cabbage or cart wheel--thewords mattered not, it was the meaning back of them.

  "Say, is anything the matter?" went on Tom, as his chum, attiredlike himself', but wearing an old blouse covered with oil and grease,continued to smile. "What gave you the notion that my head hurt?"

  "I didn't say it hurt. I only asked how it was. The swelling hasn'tbegun to subside in mine yet, and I was wondering if it had in yours."

  "Swelling? Subside? What in the world--"

  Jack Parmly brought to a sudden termination the rapid torrent of wordsfrom the mouth of his churn by silently pointing to a small medalfastened to the uniform jacket of his friend. It was the coveted croixde guerre.

  "Oh, that!" exclaimed Tom.

  "Nothing else, my pickled beet!" answered Jack. "Doesn't it make yourhead swell up as if it would burst every time you look at it? Now don'tsay it doesn't, for that's the way it affects me, and I'm sure you'renot very different. And every time I read the citation that goes withthe medal--well, I'm just aching for a chance to show it to the folksback home, aren't you, Sergeant?"

  Tom Raymond started a bit at the second use of the title.

  "I see you aren't any more used to it than I am!" exclaimed Jack. "Well,it'll be a little time before we stop looking around to see if it isn'tsome one behind us they're talking to. So I thought I'd practice ita bit on you. And you can do the same for me. I should think, out ofcommon politeness, you'd get up, salute and call me the same."

  "Oh! Now I see what you're driving at," voiced Tom, as he glanced upfrom a momentary look at his medal to the face of his comrade-in-arms,or perhaps in flying would be more appropriate. "The wind's in thatquarter, is it?"

  "No wind at all to speak of," broke in Jack. "If you'd like to go for afly, and see if we can bag a Boche or two, I'm with you."

  "Against orders, Jack. I'd like to, but we were ordered here for restand observation work; and you know, as well as I do, that obeying ordersis just as important as sending a member of the Hun Flying Circus downwhere he can't do any more of his grandstand stunts. But I'm hoping thetime will come when we can climb up back of our machine guns again, anddo our bit to show that the little old U. S. A. is still on the map."

  "I guess that time'll soon come, Tom, old man. I heard rumors that alot of us were to be sent up nearer the front shortly, and if they don'tinclude you and me, there'll be something doing in this camp!"

  "That's what I say. So you thought I'd have a swelled head, did you,because they gave us the croix de guerre?"

  "I confess I had a faint suspicion that way," admitted Jack. "Both of usbeing advanced to sergeants was a big step, too."

  "It was," agreed Tom. "I almost wish they hadn't done it, for there arelots of others in the escadrille that deserve it fully as much, and somemore, than we do."

  "That's right. But you can't make these delightful Frenchmen seeanything the way you want 'em to. Once they get a notion in their headsthat you've done something for la belle Frame, they're your friendsfor life, kissing you on both cheeks and pinning medals on you whereverthey'll stick."

  "Well, they mean all right, Jack," said Tom. "And there aren't anybraver or more lovable people on the face of the earth than these sameFrench. They've done more and suffered more for their country than wedream of. And it's only natural that they should say 'much obliged,' intheir own particular way, to any one they think is helping to free themfrom the Germans."

  "I suppose you're right. But advancing us to sergeants would have beenenough, without pinning the decorations on us and mentioning us in theorder of the day, as well as giving us as fine a citation as ever wassigned by a commanding general. However, it's all in the day's work,though when we flew over the German super cannons, and did our bit inhelping demolish them so they couldn't shell Paris any more, we didn'tthink--or, at least, I didn't--that we'd be sitting here talking aboutit."

  "Me either," agreed Tom. "But, to get down to brass tacks, what have youbeen doing to get into such a mess? You look like a chauffeur of theold days they tell of when they had to climb under the car to see if itneeded oiling--"

  "That's just about what I have been doing," admitted Jack. "When I heardthe rumor that our escadrille might get orders to move at any hour, Idecided that it was up to me to look MY machine over. It didn't makethat nose dive just the way I wanted it to the last time I was up, andI'm not taking any chances. So I've been crawling in and around andunder it--"

  "While I've been lying here I taking it easy!" broke in Tom. "I don'tcall that fair of you, Jack," and he seemed genuinely hurt.

  "Go easy now, my pickled onion!" laughed his chum. "I wasn't going toleave you out in the cold. I just came to tell you that you'd betterstop looking like a moving picture of an airman, and put on some oldduds to look over your own craft. And here you go and--"

  "All right, old ham sandwich!" laughed Tom.

  "I'll forgive you. I'm going to do the same as you, and tinkerwith my machine. If, as you say, we're likely to be on the job againsoon, I don't want too take any chances either. Where's that mechanicianof mine? There was something wrong with my joy stick, he said, the lasttime I came down out of the clouds to take an enforced rest, and I mightas well start with that, if there's any repairing to be done--"

  Tom flung off his uniform jacket, with the two silver wings, denotingthat he was a full-fledged airman, and sent an orderly to summon hischief mechanician, for each aviator had several helpers to run messagesfor him, as well as to see that his machine is in perfect trim.

  Experts are needed to see to it that the machine and the aviator are inperfect trim, leaving for the airman himself the trying and difficulttask, sometimes, of flying upside down, while he is making observationsof the enemy with one eye, and fighting off a Boche with theother--ready to kill or be killed.

  Sergeants Tom Raymond and Jack Parmly, chums and fellow airmen flyingfor France, started toward the aerodromes where their machines were keptwhen not in use. They were both attired now for hard and not very cleanwork, though the more laborious part would be done by mechanics at theirorders. Still the lads themselves would leave nothing to chance. Indeedno airman does, for in very, truth his He and the success of an armymay, at times, depend on the strength or weakness of a seeminglyinsignificant bit of wire or the continuity of a small gasoline pipe.

  "Well, it'll seem good to get up in the air again," remarked Jack. "Alittle rest is all right, but too much is more than enough."

  "Right O, my sliced liberty bond!" laughed Tom. "And now--"

  Their talk was interrupted by a cheer that broke out in front of arecreation house, in reality a YMCA hut, or le Foyer du Sold
at as itwas called. It was where the airmen went when not on duty to read thepapers, write letters and buy chocolate.

  "What's up now?" asked Jack, as he and his chum looked toward thecheering squad of aviators and their assistants.

  "Give it up. Let's go over and find out."

  They broke into a run as the cheering continued, and then they saw hatsbeing thrown into the air and men capering about with every evidence ofjoy.

  "We must have won a big battle!" cried Jack.

  "Seems so," agreed Tom. "Hi there! what is it?" he asked in French of afellow aviator.

  "What is it? You ask me what? Ah, joy of my life! It is you who ought toknow first! It is you who should give thanks! Ah!"

  "Yes, that's all right, old man," returned Jack in English. "We'll givethanks right as soon as we know what it is; but we aren't mind readers,you know, and there are so many things to guess at that there's no usein wasting the time. Tell us, like a good chap!" he begged in French,for he saw the puzzled look on the face of the aviator Tom hadaddressed.

  "It is the best news ever!" was the answer. "The first of your bravecountrymen have arrived to help us drive the Boche from France! Thefirst American Expeditionary Force, to serve under your brave GeneralPershing, has reached the shores of France safely, in spite of theU-boats, and are even now marching to show themselves in Paris! Ah, isit any wonder that we rejoice? How is it you say in your own delightfulcountry? Two cheers and a lion! Ah!"

  "Tiger, my dear boy! Tiger!" laughed Jack. "And, while you're about it,you might as well make it three cheers and done with it. Not that itmakes any great amount of difference in this case, but it's just thecustom, my stuffed olive!"

  And then he and Tom were fairly carried off their feet by the rush ofenthusiastic Frenchmen to congratulate them on the good news, and toshare it with them.

  "Is it really true?" asked Tom. "Has any substantial part of Uncle Sam'sboys really got here at last?"

  He was told that such was the case. The news had just been receivedat the headquarters of the flying squad to which Tom and Jack wereattached. About ten thousand American soldiers were even then on Frenchsoil. Their coming had long been waited for, and the arrangements sailedin secret, and the news was known in American cities scarcely any soonerthan it was in France, so careful had the military authorities beennot to give the lurking German submarines a chance to torpedo thetransports.

  "Is not that glorious news, my friend?" asked the Frenchman who hadgiven it to Tom and Jack.

  "The best ever!" was the enthusiastic reply. And then Jack, turningto his chum, said in a low voice, as the Frenchman hurried back to thecheering throng: "You know what this means for us, of course?"

  "Rather guess I do!" was the response. "It means we've got to apply fora transfer and fight under Pershing!"

  "Exactly. Now how are we going to do it?"

  "Oh, I fancy it will be all right. Merely a question of detail andprocedure. They can't object to our wanting to fight among our owncountrymen, now that enough of them are over here to make a showing. Isuppose this is the first of the big army that's coming."

  "I imagine so," agreed Jack. "Hurray! this is something like. There'sgoing to be hard fighting. I realize that. But this is the beginning ofthe end, as I see it."

  "That's what! Now, instead of tinkering over our machines, let's see thecommandant and---"

  Jack motioned to his chum to cease talking. Then he pointed up to thesky. There was a little speck against the blue, a speck that becamelarger as the two Americans watched.

  "One of our fliers coming bark," remarked Tom in a low voice.

  "I hope he brings more good news," returned Jack.

  The approaching airman came rapidly nearer, and then the throngs thathad gathered about the headquarters building to discuss the news of thearrival of the first American forces turned to watch the return of theflier.

  "It's Du Boise," remarked Tom, naming an intrepid French fighter. He wasone of the "aces," and had more than a score of Boche machines tohis credit. "He must have been out 'on his own,' looking for a strayGerman."

  "Yes, he and Leroy went out together," assented Jack. "But I don't seeHarry's machine," and anxiously he scanned the heavens.

  Harry Leroy was, like Tom and Jack, an American aviator who had latelyjoined the force in which the two friends had rendered such valiantservice. Tom and Jack had known him on the other side--had, in fact,first met and become friendly with him at a flying school in Virginia.Leroy had suffered a slight accident which had put him out of the flyingservice for a year, but he had persisted, had finally been accepted, andwas welcomed to France by his chums who had preceded him.

  "I hope nothing has happened to Harry," murmured Tom; "but I don't seehim, and it's queer Du Boise would come back without him."

  "Maybe he had to--for gasoline or something," suggested Jack.

  "I hope it isn't any worse than that," went on Tom. But his voice didnot carry conviction.

  The French aviator landed, and as he climbed out of his machine, helpedby orderlies and others who rushed up, he was seen to stagger.

  "Are you hurt?" asked Tom, hurrying up.

  "A mere scratch-nothing, thank you," was the answer.

  "Where's Harry Leroy?" Jack asked. "Did you have to leave him?"

  "Ah, monsieur, I bring you bad news from the air," was the answer. "Wewere attacked by seven Boche machines. We each got one, and then--well,they got me--but what matters that? It is a mere nothing."

  "What of Harry?" persisted Tom.

  "Ah, it is of him I would speak. He is--he fell inside the enemy lines;and I had to come back for help. My petrol gave out, and I--"'

  And then, pressing his hands over his breast, the brave airman staggeredand fell, as a stream of blood issued from beneath his jacket.

 
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