Air service boys in the.., p.17
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       Air Service Boys in the Big Battle; Or, Silencing the Big Guns, p.17

           E. J. Craine
 
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  CHAPTER XVIII. GETTING A ZEPPELIN

  Dick Martin became frantic when he saw what was about to happen. Hefairly tore at the various levers and controls, and even increased thespeed of the motor, but this last only had the effect of sending themachine at a faster rate toward the big expanse of glass, which was thegreenhouse roof.

  "Shut it off! Shut off the motor!" cried Tom, but his words could notbe heard, so he punched Martin in the back, and when that frightened ladlooked around his teacher made him understand by signs, what was wanted.

  With the motor off there was a chance to speak, and Torn cried:

  "Head her up! Try to make her rise and we may clear. I can't do a thingwith the levers back here!"

  Martin tried, but his efforts had little effect. For one instant themachine rose as though to clear the fragile glass. Then it dived downagain, straight for the greenhouse roof.

  "Guess it's all up with this machine!" thought Tom quickly. He was notafraid of being killed. The distance to fall was not enough for that,and though he and his fellow aviator might be cut by broken glass, stillthe body of the aeroplane would protect them pretty well from eventhis contingency. But there was sure to be considerable damage to theproperty of a French civilian, and the machine, which was one of thebest, was pretty certain to be badly broken.

  And then there came a terrific crash. The aeroplane settled down by thestern, and rose by the bow, so to speak. Then the process was reversed,and Tom felt himself being catapulted out of his seat. Only his safetystrap held him in place. The same thing happened to Dick Martin.

  Then there was an ominous calm, and the aeroplane slowly settled downto an even keel, held up on the glass-stripped frames of the greenhouse,one of the very few in that vicinity, which was considerably in the rearof the battle line.

  Slowly Tom unbuckled his safety strap and climbed out, making his way tothe ground by means of stepping on an elevated bed of flowers inside thenow almost roofless house.

  Martin followed him, and as they stood looking at the wreckage they hadmade, or, rather, that had been made through no direct fault of theirown, the proprietor of the place came out, wearing a long dirt-smudgedapron.

  He raised his hands in horror at the sight that met his gaze, and thenbroke into such a torrent of French that Tom, with all the experience hehad had of excitable Frenchmen, was unable to comprehend half of it.

  The gist was, however, to the effect that a most monstrous andunlooked-for calamity had befallen, and the inhabitants of all theearth, outside of Germany and her allies, were called on to witnessthat never hid there been such a smash of good glass. In which Torn wasrather inclined to agree.

  "Well, you did something this time all right, Buddie," Tom remarked toDick Martin.

  "Did I--did I do that?" he asked, as though he had been walking in hissleep, and was just now awake.

  "Well, you and the old bus together," said Tom. "And we got off lucky atthat. Didn't I tell you to keep high, if you were going to fly over oneof the towns?"

  "Yes, you did, but I forgot. Anyhow I'd have cleared the place if thecontrols hadn't gone back on us."

  "I suppose so, but that excuse won't go with the C.O. It's a badsmash."

  By this time quite a crowd had gathered, and Tom was trying to pacifythe excitable greenhouse owner by promising full reparation in the shapeof money damages.

  How to get the machine down off the roof, where it rested in a mass ofbroken glass and frames, was a problem. Tom tried to organize a wreckingparty, but the French populace which gathered, much as it admired theAmericans, was afraid of being cut with the broken glass, or else theyimagined that the machine might suddenly soar aloft, taking some of themwith it.

  In the end Tom had to leave the plane where it was and hire a motor totake him and Martin back to the aerodrome. They were only slightly cutby flying glass, nothing to speak of considering the danger in whichthey had been.

  The result of the disobedience of orders was that the army officialshad rather a large bill for damages to settle with the French greenhouseproprietor, and Tom and Dick Martin were deprived of their leaveprivileges for a week for disobeying the order to keep at a certainheight in flying over a town or city.

  Had they done that, when the controls jammed, they would have been ableto glide down into a vacant field, it was demonstrated. The machine wasbadly damaged, though it was not beyond repair.

  "And that's the last time I'm ever going to be soft with a Hun, you canmake up your mind to that," declared Tom to Jack. "If I'd sat on himhard when I saw he was getting too low over the village, it wouldn'thave happened. But I didn't want him to think I knew it all, and Ithought I'd take a chance and let him pull his own chestnuts out of thefire. But never again!"

  "'Tisn't safe," agreed Jack. He was rapidly improving, so much so thathe was able to fly the next week, and he and Tom went up together, anddid some valuable scouting work for the American army.

  At times they found opportunity to take short trips to Paris, where theysaw Nellie and Bessie, and were entertained by Mrs. Gleason. Nelliewas eager for some word from her brother, but none came. Whether thepackages dropped by Tom and Jack reached the prisoner was known only tothe Germans, and they did not tell.

  But the daring plan undertaken by the two air service boys was soonknown a long way up and down the Allied battle line, and more than oneaviator tried to duplicate it, so that friends or comrades who wereheld by the Huns might receive some comforts, and know they were notforgotten. Some of the Allied birdmen paid the penalty of death fortheir daring, but others reported that they had dropped packages withinthe prison camps, though whether those for whom they were intendedreceived them or not, was not certain.

  "But we aren't going to let it stop there, are we?" asked Tom ofJack one day, when they were discussing the feat which had been sosuccessful.

  "Let it stop where? What do you mean?"

  "I mean are we going to do something to get Harry away from the Bochenest?"

  "I'm with you in anything like that!" exclaimed Jack. "But what can wedo? How are we going to rescue him?"

  "That's what we've got to think out," declared Tom. "Something has to bedone."

  But there was no immediate chance to proceed to that desired end becauseof something vital that happened just about then. This was nothing morenor less than secret news that filtered into the Allied lines, to theeffect that a big Zeppelin raid over Paris was planned.

  It was not the first of these raids, nor, in all likelihood, would itbe the last. But this one was novel in that it was said the great Germanairships would sail toward the capital over the American lines, or,rather, the lines where the Americans were brigaded with the Frenchand English. Doubtless it was to "teach the Americans a lesson," as theGerman High Command might have put it.

  At any rate all leaves of absence for the airmen were canceled, and theywere ordered to hold themselves in readiness to repel the "Zeps," asthey were called, preventing them from getting across the lines toParis.

  "And we'll bring down one or two for samples, if we can!" boasted Jack.

  "What makes it so sure that they are coming?" asked Tom.

  It developed there was nothing sure about it. But the information hadcome from the Allied air secret service, and doubtless had its inceptionwhen some French or British airman saw scenes of activity near one ofthe Zeppelin headquarters in the German-occupied territory. There werecertain fairly positive signs.

  And, surely enough, a few nights later, the agreed-upon alarm wassounded.

  "The Zeps are coming!"

  Tom and Jack, with others who were detailed to repel the raid, rushedfrom their cats, hastily donned their fur garments, and ran to theiraeroplanes, which were a "tuned up" and waiting.

  "There they are!" cried Torn, as he got into his single-seated plane, anexample followed on his part by Jack. "Look!"

  Jack gazed aloft. There was a riot of fire from the anti-aircraftguns of the French and British, but they were firing in vain, for theZe
ppelins flew high, knowing the danger from the ground batteries.

  Sharp, stabbing shafts of light from the powerful electric lanterns shotaloft, and now and then one of them would rest for an instant on a greatsilvery cigar-shape--the gas bag of the big German airships that werebeating their way toward Paris, there to deal death and destruction.

  "Come on!" cried Tom, as his mechanician started the motor. "I'm goingto get a Zep!"

  "I'm with you!" yelled Jack, and they soared aloft side by side.

 
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