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- Our Pilots in the Air - 20/30 -
When Erwin at last brought his plane down beside the half ruined chateau, he found both Stanley and Blaine stooping over a prostrate form soon identified as that of the German aviator. Near by was the Fokker, somewhat disabled, but not in such bad condition. The man himself had just expired.
"What do you think that chap asked us to do," said Blaine, regarding the dead man solemnly. "It sort of mellowed me towards him, after His father and mother live in Chicago, worked for some meat packers, and his dad is making some money there. When he found that the bullets that had hit him as well as his machine weren't goin' to let him live much longer, he asked if either of us got back to our lines, to write tell his mother. He gave me the name and I put it down in my pocket pad book. He talked in good English and altogether seemed quite like some of our home folks. He got into aviation over here and liked it. But he's out of all that now and to make him feel better both Stan and I promised to do as he wished.
"He said his machine was all right; and if anything was the matter with ours we might fix up his and make a get-away. Course there ain't nothin' much the matter with mine, though yours may be crippled -- hullo! What's that?"
The loud report of an exploding bomb sounded as it fell not far away. Instantly they scattered for such shelter as was obtainable. Other bombs fell and for a few minutes the scene was indescribable. They saw from the shelter both their own machines shattered too badly for further immediate use, though the Fokker remained untouched, it being some distance off and partially under the protecting shadow of a half ruined arch of the chateau that overhung the main approach.
Also they heard the whirring swish of the passing squadron as it circled over the buildings. It afterwards appeared that the chateau owner was for some reason specially obnoxious to the Germans in Belgium. At last the bombing apparently ceased, but even this was deceptive. Both Blaine and Erwin, followed at a little distance by Stanley, ran out to look into the damage done to their machines. In the darkness this was slow work. A fire was lighted, and while still examining the wrecks another whirring overhead sounded.
Stanley discreetly dodged under another projecting abutment, when down dropped another bomb, probably thrown at a venture from some scattering member of the squad that had just passed. From his shelter Stanley was horrified to see both Blaine and Erwin, who were near the fire, thrown violently down as the bomb burst appallingly near where they were crouched. They; did not rise again.
Without waiting to see if other bombs might fall, the observer ran forward in great perturbation. Both aviators lay apparently senseless. From Blaine's head blood was flowing from a flesh wound somewhere up under his thick mop of short curly hair. His pulse, however, was beating lively.
As for Erwin, no visible wounds were apparent, yet he lay there deathly pale while some of his clothing had been torn by fragments of the exploding bomb.
Of Buck Bangs there was no sign.
Deeply depressed, for he was very young and impressionable, Stanley, regardless of his own safety, punched up the fire and from his own and his comrades' kits procured such remedies as aviators carry for just such emergencies. In the dark he hunted for water but found none. From a flask of good French brandy he managed to pour a spoonful or so down each throat, taking a swallow himself, for he felt he sorely needed it.
Poor old Blaine never stirred. Erwin at last shivered slightly.
"Isn't this a deuce of a fix?" he sighed at length. "Where are we? For all I know, Blaines may be dead. Here, feeling again of Lafe's pulse, its steady beat somewhat reassured Stanley. "How about Orris?"
If anything, Erwin's pulse was coming back. The brandy had restored such vitality to the lad that his arteries were again sending the life-giving fluid upon its unceasing task.
"What can have become of Buck?" Stanley replenished the fire with stray fuel, for he knew that it would be a signal to Bangs and perhaps to the enemy; but as to the last he hoped not, amid that chilly darkness and night fog.
Here a slight noise from his rear caused Stanley to wheel in his tracks and stare stupidly at a dim figure under the shadow of a portico in front of the basement of the main edifice, which was, in fact, about the only part of that vast group of buildings that seemed unharmed.
"Who are you? What brought you here?" came an unmistakably feminine voice.
More wonderful still, the language was English -- good English, too. Was there not also an American twang about the tone and accent? Stanley could have pinched himself, had he thought of it. But so surprised was he that he seemed actually paralyzed, when an unmistakably girlish figure emerged more into the light.
Still the young observer stared, hardly noticed that another older form had made a dim appearance. It, too, wore skirts, though rather raged and soiled. The girl's habiliments also evinced that her recent abode had not been where style and cleanliness were at all dominant.
"You -- you are not Germans?" This tremulously from the girl. "You understand me, don't you?"
"Yes, ma am," Stanley almost stuttered.
"Y-you s-see -- I'm some surprised --"
"Some surprised!" The girl was smiling hopefully. "That sounds like good old United States talk."
"We heard so much noise overhead, then some nasty bombs exploding. So Brenda and I have lain hidden in the cellars for -- for hours. Haven't we, Brenda? The dim form in the rear nodded emphatically. "But who are you?"
Here she caught sight of the ruined planes and the prostrate forms of Blaine and Erwin, with also the more distant figure of the dead German.
"Oh -- oh!" She clasped her hands. "How dreadful! What can we do? May we not help? Are they all dead?"
The girl was genuinely aroused, so much so that her natural horror of the strained situation was lost in genuine concern. Stanley briefly explained the series of incidents that had preceded the present situation, at the same time pointing at the dead German aviator, and concluding with:
"The poor chap used to live in Chicago. Before he died he gave us his parents' address there. He spoke good English."
"Why, Chicago is where I hail from," said the girl. "Good old Windy City! I wish I was there now, although I have been over here many months."
Meantime Brenda, with the ready adaptability of Belgian women, had been examining the persons of the two still insensible aviators. All at once she rose up, saying to her mistress:
"Pardon, miss." This in her own Flemish tongue. "We must move these Americans to our under ground rooms. They will recover, but they need attention."
"You are sure right, Miss - Miss --" Stanley hesitated, but the girl paid no heed. "We don't want to inconvenience you, but something will have to be done right away."
With the able assistance of Brenda, while the girl went ahead carrying a small lamp that had been produced as if by magic from somewhere - possibility by Brenda -- they picked up poor Erwin and followed. Down some half ruined stone steps they went, then through a long passage, then down more steps to a half open door.
Once inside, Stanley saw he was in quite a sizeable room, with two beds, one large, the other a mere cot. The girl led the way to the large bed, and there they laid the still swooning man who gave a slight groan as he was deftly covered by the girl who murmured as if to herself:
"Poor fellow, he has suffered!"
Already Stanley was leaving, saying:
"We must get Blaine down here quickly. He is in a bad way, I fear."
Seizing the lamp, the girl hurried after. On reaching the other stricken aviator, what was their surprise to find him leaning on one elbow, trying to rise, but vainly.
"Wha -- what's the matter? Where am I?"
"You're with friends, old boy," soothed Stanley, seizing Blaine's arms, while Brenda took up the lower limbs. With the wounded man muttering aimlessly, again they wended their way to the lower chamber, evidently used by the girl and Brenda as a temporary sleeping place.
With deft efficiency the girl had snatched up Stanley's kit of dressings and other medical paraphernalia and hurried on ahead with the lamp. In a trice they had placed him on the cot. Immediately the two women were busy with these things and some stored aids of their own, dressing the bruises on both the boys and applying restoratives, so that in a short time both were awake, sensible, and staring with grateful wonder at these two women -- angels of mercy -- and the strange yet comfortable surroundings.
Mutual explanations had already begun when whirring, semi-thunderous noises again were heard. Stanley was instantly on the alert.
"All of you remain quiet while I slip up and see what is on," he said, flinging back: "If your light is apt to shine through any hole or opening, better douse it or hang up covers. Make no noises until you hear from me." He was off, but not before the girl called to him:
"Be very careful, sir! We cannot spare you - yet."
"No, we can't, ma'am," remarked Blaine from the cot where he now sat upright with a bandaged head.
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