Air Service Boys over the Rhine/Chapter 2
While Tom and Jack were hastening toward the man who seemed to have received some message, telephone, telegraph or wireless, from the headquarters of this particular aviation section, a throng of the aviators, their mechanicians, and various helpers, had surrounded the messenger and were eagerly listening to what he had to say.
"I wonder what it can be, Tom," murmured Jack, as the two fairly ran over the field.
Those of you who have read the two preceding volumes of this series will remember Tom Raymond and Jack Parmly. As related in the first book, "Air Service Boys Flying for France; or The Young Heroes of the Lafayette Escadrille," the youths had, some time previously, gone to a United States aviation school in Virginia, their native state, and there had learned the rudiments of managing various craft of the air. Tom's father was an inventor of note, and had perfected a stabilizer for an aeroplane that was considered very valuable, so much so that a German spy stole one of the documents relating to the patent.
It was Tom's effort to get possession of this paper that led him and, incidentally, his chum Jack into many adventures. From their homes in Bridgeton, Virginia, they eventually reached France and were admitted into that world-famed company—the Lafayette Escadrille. Putting themselves under the tuition of the skilled French pilots, the Air Service boys forged rapidly to the front in their careers.
It was while on a flight one day that they attacked a man in a motor car, who seemed to be acting suspiciously along the sector to which our heroes were assigned, and they pursued him, believing him to be a German spy.
Their surmise proved correct, for the man, who was hurt when his machine got beyond control, was none other than Adolph Tuessig, the German who had vainly tried to buy Mr. Raymond's stabilizer from him, and who had, later, stolen the paper.
In our second volume, entitled, "Air Service Boys Over the Enemy's Lines; or The German Spy's Secret," Tom and Jack found further adventures. On their way to England, whence they had gone to France, they had met on the steamer a girl named Bessie Gleason. She was in the company of Carl Potzfeldt. The girl seemed much afraid of him, though he was her guardian, said to have been so named by Mrs. Gleason, a distant relative of his. Mrs. Gleason had been on the ill-fated Lusitania, and it was related by Potzfeldt, for purposes of his own, that Bessie's mother had been drowned. Moreover, he declared that before she died she had given him charge of Bessie.
Tom and Jack, the latter especially, grew very fond of Bessie, but there seemed to be a mystery about her and something strange in her fear of her guardian.
When the two young men reached England, they lost sight, for a time, of their fellow passengers, but they were destined to meet them again under strange circumstances.
During one of their flights they landed near a lonely house behind the German lines. They were traveling in a Caudron, which contained them both, and on investigating the building after dark they found, to their surprise, that Bessie and her mother were kept there, prisoners of Carl Potzfeldt, who was a German spy.
Bessie and her mother were rescued and then departed for Paris, the latter to engage in Red Cross work, and the boys, remaining with their fellow aviators, longed for the time when they might see their friends once more.
But they had enlisted to help make the world safe for democracy, and they intended to stay until the task was finished. Over a year had elapsed since the sensational rescue of Bessie and her mother. The United States had entered the war and the Air Service boys were thinking that soon they might be able to join an American aviation service in France.
"What is it? What has happened?" Tom demanded of one of the aviators on the outskirts of the throng about the messenger. "Have we won a victory over the Germans?"
"No, but we're going to," was the answer. "Oh, boy! It's great! We're in it now sure! Hurray!"
"In it? What do you mean?" asked Jack.
"I mean that Uncle Sam has at last stepped over the line! He's sure enough on the side of the Allies now, and no mistake."
"You mean—" cried Tom.
"I mean," answered Ralph Nelson, another American aviator, "that the United States has made a big success of the Liberty Bonds loan and is going to send a million soldiers over here as soon as possible! Say, isn't that great?"
"Great? I should say so!" fairly yelled Tom. "Shake!" he cried, and he and his chum and everybody else shook hands with every one whose palm they could reach. And there were resounding claps on the back, and wild dances around the green grass, even the French joining in. No, not that word "even," for the French, with their exuberance of spirit, really started the joy-making.
To the brave men, who, with the British, had so long endured the brunt of the terrible blows of the Huns alone, the efforts of the United States of America meant much, though it was realized that it would be some time before Uncle Sam could make his blows really tell, even though an Expeditionary Force was already in the field.
"Say, this is the best news ever!" said Jack to Tom. when quiet, in a measure, had been restored, "It's immense!"
"You said something, old man! It's almost as good news as if you had come in and told me that you had downed a whole squadron of German aircraft."
"I wish I could, Tom. But we'll do our share. Shouldn't wonder, before the day is out, but what we'd get orders to go up and see what we can spot. But I'm almost forgetting. You had some news of your own."
"Yes, I have. And now I have a chance to finish reading dad's letter."
"But first you can tell me what the special news is, can't you?" asked Jack. "That is, unless you think it will be too much for me to stand all in one day—your news and that about Uncle Sam's success in raising funds and troops."
"Oh, I guess you can stand it," said Tom with a smile. "It's this. Dad is coming over!"
"He is? To fight?"
"Well, no, not actively. He's a little too old for that, I'm afraid, though he's anxious enough. But he left for Paris the day he wrote this. He ought to be here now, for he would, most likely, get off ahead of the mail, which, sometimes, seems slower than molasses."
"That's right!" exclaimed Jack, with such energy that Tom asked:
"What's the matter? Haven't you heard from Bessie lately?"
"Oh—that!" murmured Jack, but Tom noticed that his friend blushed under his coat of tan. "Go on," Jack said, a moment later, "tell me about your father. Is the French government going to give him a big order for his stabilizer, now that we got that paper away from that sneak of a Tuessig?"
"Well, I guess dad's trip here has something to do with his aeroplane device, but he hints in his letter about something else. He said he didn't want to write too much for fear a spy might get hold of the information. But you know my father is an expert on ordnance matters and big guns, as well as in other lines of fighting."
"That's so, Tom. He certainly is a wonder when it comes to inventing things. But what do you suppose his new mission is?"
"I can't quite guess. But it is for the service of the Allies."
"And you say he's on his way to Paris now?"
"He ought to be there by this time," Tom answered. "I'm going to see if I can't get permission to send a message through, and have an answer from dad. Maybe he might get out here to see us."
"Or we could go in and meet him."
"Not for a week. You know we just came back from leave, and we won't be over our tour of duty for seven days more. But I can't wait that long without some word. I'm going to see what I can find out."
Tom and Jack, like all the other American fliers, were in high favor with the French officers. In fact every aviator of the Allied nations, no matter how humble his rank, is treated by his superiors almost as an equal. There is not that line of demarcation noticed in other branches of the service. To be an aviator places one, especially in England and France, in a special class. All regard him as a hero who is taking terrible risks for the safety of the other fighters.
So Tom readily received permission to send a message to the hotel in Paris mentioned by his father as the place where Mr. Raymond would stay. And then Tom had nothing to do but wait for an answer.
Nothing to do? No, there was plenty. Both Tom and Jack had to hold themselves in readiness for instant service. They might be sent out on a bombing expedition at night in the big heavy machines, slow of flight but comparatively safe from attack by other aircraft.
They might have the coveted honor of being selected to go out in the swift, single Nieuports to engage in combat with some Hun flier. To become an "ace"—that is a birdman who, flying alone, has disposed of five enemies—is the highest desire of an aviator.
Tom and Jack, eager and ambitious, were hoping for this.
Again, in the course of the day's work, they might be selected to go up in the big bimotored Caudrons for reconnoissance work. This is dangerous and hard. The machines carry a wireless apparatus, over which word is sent back to headquarters concerning what may be observed of the enemy's defenses, or a possible offensive.
Often the machines go beyond the range of their necessarily limited wireless, and have to send back messages by carrier pigeons which are carried on the craft.
By far the most dangerous work, however, is that of "relage" or fire control. This means that two men go up in a big machine that carries a large equipment. Their craft is heavy and unwieldy, and has such a spread of wing surface that it is not easily turned, and if attacked by a German Fokker has little chance of escape. A machine gun is carried for defense.
It is a function of those in the machine to send word back to the battery officers of the effect of the shots they are firing, that the elevation and range may be corrected. And those who go out on "relage" work are in danger not only from the fire of the enemy's batteries, but often, also, from their own.
Tom and Jack had their share of danger and glory during the week they were on duty following the receipt of the two pieces of news. They went up together and alone, and once, coming back from a successful trip over the enemy's lines, Tom's machine was struck by several missiles. His cheek was cut by one, and his metal stability control was severed so that his craft started to plunge.
Tom thought it was his end, but he grasped the broken parts of the control rod in one hand, and steered with the other, bringing his machine down behind his own lines, amid the cheers of his comrades.
"And I'm glad to be back, not only for my sake, but for the sake of the machine. She's a beauty, and I'd have hated like anything to set fire to her," remarked Tom, after his wound had been dressed.
He referred to the universal practice of all aviators of setting fire to their craft if they are brought down within the enemy lines, and are not so badly injured as to prevent them from opening the gasoline tank and setting a match to it. This is done to prevent the machine, and often the valuable papers or photographs carried, from falling into the hands of the enemy.
The end of the week came, the last of seven anxious days, and it was time for Tom and Jack to be relieved for a rest period. And the days had been anxious because Tom had not heard from his father.
"I hope the vessel he was coming on wasn't torpedoed," said Tom to his chum. "He's had more than time to get here and send me some word. None has come. Jack, I'm worried!" And Tom certainly looked it.