Air Service Boys over the Rhine/Chapter 3



Those were the days—and they had been preceded by many such—when travel across the Atlantic was attended with great risk and uncertainty. No one knew when a lurking German submarine might loose a torpedo at a ship carrying men, women and children. Many brave and innocent people had found watery graves, and perhaps suffered first a ruthless fire from the German machine guns, which were even turned on lifeboats! So it was no wonder that Tom Raymond was worried about his father.

"It's queer we can't get any word from the authorities in Paris," remarked Jack, as he and his chum were speculating one day on what might have happened.

"Yes, and that helps to bother me," Tom admitted. "It isn't as if they weren't trying, for the officers here have done all they can. They've gotten off my messages, but they say there is no reply to them."

"Then it must mean that your father, if he is in Paris, hasn't received them."

"Either that, Jack; or else he doesn't dare reply."

"Why wouldn't he dare to, Tom?"

"Well, I don't know that I can give a good reason. It might be that he is on such a secret mission that he doesn't want even to hint about it. And yet I can't understand why he doesn't send me at least a message that he has arrived safely."

As Tom said this he looked at his chum. The same thought was in the mind of each one:

Had Mr. Raymond arrived safely?

That was what stirred Tom's heart. He knew the danger he and Jack had run, coming across to do their part in flying for France, and he well realized that the Germans might have been more successful in attacking the vessel on which his father had sailed, than they had the one which had carried Tom and Jack.

"Well, what are we going to do?" asked Jack of his chum. "You know we arranged, when we should get our leave, to go back to that pretty little French village, which seemed so peaceful after all the noise of battle and the roar of the aeroplane engines."

"Yes, I know we planned that," said Tom, reflectively. "But, somehow, I feel that I ought to stay here."

"And not take our relief?"

"Oh, no. We'll take that," decided Tom. "We must, in justice to ourselves, and those we work with. You know they tell us an airman must always be at his best, with muscles and nerves all working together. And a certain amount of rest and change are necessary, after a week or so of steady flying. So we'll take our rest in order to be in all the better shape to trim the Fritzies. But I was thinking of staying right here."

"And not go back into the country?" asked Jack.

Tom shook his head.

"I'd like to stay right here until I get word from my father," he said. "He may send a message at any time, and he knows I am stationed here. Of course I could send him word that we're having a little vacation, and give him our new address.

"But the mails are so mixed up, and the telegraph and telephone systems are so rushed, that he might not get it. So I think the best thing will be to stay right here where I'll be on hand to get it the moment word comes. But don't let me keep you. Jack. You can go, if you want to."

"Say, what do you think I am?" cried his chum. "Where you stick, I stick! We'll both wait here for word from your father. I have a sort of feeling that he is all right."

"Well, to tell you the truth, I suppose he is. But, at the same time, I'm worried. I can't explain it, but I have a sort of sense that he is in danger."

"Not if he is in Paris, Tom. The German's haven't gotten within striking distance of that city yet, in spite of their boasts—the boasts of the Kaiser and of the Crown Prince."

"No, if dad were in Paris I'd feel that he was comparatively safe. But first I want to know that he is. And yet, even if he has put up at that house in the Rue Lafayette, where he said in his letter he'd stay, there may be some danger."

"Danger in Paris? What do you mean, Tom?"

"Well, Paris has been bombed from the air, you know."

"True, Tom. But, say! we've almost come to disregard such mild things as that from the Huns, haven't we?"

"Well, we'll just stay right on here," decided Tom. "I don't mean to say that we'll stay around our hangar all the while, but we'll keep in touch, throughout the day, with the communication headquarters. Dad may send a message at any time, and I want to get it as soon as it arrives."

Jack could understand his chum's feelings, and so the Air Service boys, who, some time previous, had sought and received permission to go back several kilometers into the country for a rest, announced that they would stay on at the aerodrome.

Nor did they lack excitement. The place where they were stationed was a busy one. For every twenty pilots and observers there are detailed about one hundred men as helpers. There are cooks, photographers, mechanics of various sorts, telephone, telegraph and wireless operators, orderlies and servants.

Of these Tom and Jack had their share, for it is the business of an airman to fly and fight, and he does nothing except in that line. He is catered to and helped in every possible way when not in the air. He has some one to wait on him, to look after his machine, and to attend to his hurts, if he is unlucky enough to get any. Of course each flier goes over, personally, his own craft, but he has oilers and mechanics to do all the detail work.

"Well, there they go!" exclaimed Tom to Jack one morning, the second of their "vacation," as they observed a number of "aces" about to go up and search above the clouds for some Hun to attack.

"Yes, and I wish I was with them!" said Jack.

"Waiting isn't much fun," agreed his chum. "I'm sure I can't understand why dad doesn't send some word. If this keeps up much longer—Say, Jack, look at Parla!" he suddenly cried. "What's the matter with him?"

Jack looked. The men, in their machines, had started off to get momentum for a rise into the air. But there had been a rain and the ground was soft, which kept down the speed. All the pilots seemed to get off in fairly good shape except one, Parla by name, who had only recently secured the coveted designation of "ace."

And then occurred one of those tragedies of flying. Whether he was nervous at taking a flight in such distinguished company, or whether something went wrong with Parla's machine never would be known.

He was the last in the line, and as it was rather misty he might have been anxious not to lose sight of his companions. He did not take a long enough run, and when he reached the end of the field he was not high enough to clear the line of hangars that were in front of him.

Some one shouted at him, not stopping to realize that the noise of the motor drowned everything else in the ears of the pilot.

The luckless man tried to make a sharp turn, to get out of danger. One of his wing tips caught on the canvas tent, or hangar, and in another instant there was a crash and a mass of wreckage. From this, a little later, poor Parla was carried.

But the others did not stay, for though the shadow of death hovered over the Escadrille, the business of war went on.

After three days Tom and Jack could not stand it any longer. They begged for permission to go up into the air. It was granted, though officially they were still on leave. Ascending together in a Caudron, on a photograping assignment, they were attacked by two swift German Fokkers.

Tom worked the gun, and to such good effect that he smashed one machine, sending it down with a crash, and drove the second off. So other laurels were added to those the boys already had.

"If this keeps on we'll be soon wearing the chevrons of sergeants," said Jack, as they landed.

"Well, I'd almost give up hope of them to hear from dad," announced Tom. "I'm going to see if some word hasn't come."

But there was no message. Still the strange silence continued, and Tom and his chum did not know whether Mr. Raymond had reached Paris or not. Through his own captain, Tom appealed to the highest authority at the Escadrille, asking that a last imploring message be sent to the address in the Rue Lafayette.

This was done, and then followed another day of waiting. At last Tom said:

"Jack, I can't stand it any longer! This suspense is fierce!"

"But what are you going to do about it?"

"I'm going to Paris! That's what! We'll go there and find my father if he has arrived. If he hasn't—well, there is still some hope."

"Go to Paris!" murmured Jack.

"Yes. It's the only place where I can make uncertainty a certainty. Come on, we'll go to Paris!"