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- Our Pilots in the Air - 3/30 -
Another kick, evidently part of a struggle by Orris to right himself.
Blaine saw the German making the first spiral upward, in an effort to attain a position suitable for using the machine gun. Blaine therefore zigzagged more to westward, thereby throwing the reviving Erwin into an easier position. At this an easier position. At this Blaine was pleased to see his friend look wonderingly at him and the bowed head slightly raise itself.
"Lay still right where you are, Orry," murmured Lafe. "There's a Boche after us. We've got out of Archie's range, but I've one of their planes on our heels. Whist! Git down lower! He's going to fire. If he does, I - I'll crumple up. We'll land and - and -"
Further talk ceased as the simultaneous rattle and spatter of opposing machine guns made talk impracticable. Blaine was below, the Boche above, each whirling, diving, spiraling as dexterous pilots do in such conflict.
True to his promise amid the first exchange of shots, watching both Erwin's recovery and the German, now closer than ever, Blaine concealed himself.
And now, seeing that Orris was quite revived, and following Blaine's counsel, they presented to the German only a collapsed form, half leaning as if hit again. Blaine, almost out of sight, steered groundward.
"Are you strong enough now to take my place?"
"I -- I think so," returned the still reviving Erwin. "What you going to do -- land?"
At this juncture the machine hit the ground in a decreasing glide, while Blaine, half rising, pitched forward as if dead.
"Take the machine, Orry," Blaine had said. "I'm dead; you're wounded."
Knowing that Blaine had his plans laid, Erwin followed. Then the Boche, feeling pretty good over the idea that he had captured an enemy machine with two men in it, also alighted from his own a few rods distant. To his view there appeared one man dead and another wounded.
Covering Erwin with his revolver as he sat leaning back ghastly and still bleeding from the shrapnel that had at first struck him down, the German eyed his apparently helpless victims.
"Get oudt!" he snapped in rather poor English to Erwin.
The latter started to obey, still covered by the pistol at his head. Suddenly Blaine, who had tumbled to the ground at the first landing, now sat up, his own revolver pointed straight at the German.
"Throw down that gun!" he announced in clear, steady tones. "Quick! No nonsense, Fritz!"
One brief stare. Then, realizing that he had been outgeneraled, he sullenly obeyed. To his further amazement, Erwin, now quite recovered, rose up, got out, and though weak tied the Boche hard and fast under Blaine's direction.
"Now, Orry," said Lafe, looking his comrade over carefully, "are you right enough to take our machine back?"
"Bet your sweet life I am!" Orry's face was still pale, while blood was coagulated in his curly short hair. "I'm all right, Lafe. What are we going to do?"
"We'll put this chap in his own machine, and I'll take it and him back."
"You mean provided Fritzy lets us get through safe."
"Und zat ve wond do! Forshtay?" This from the now sullen German standing by bound hand and foot, yet mentally antagonistic still.
"Don't you worry, bo," said Blaine, coolly picking up the man, a follow of no small weight, and lifting, him into his own machine, a big Taube of many horse-power. "That is, if you've got petrol enough."
This was assured beyond doubt by subsequent examination. The German safely stowed, Erwin and Blaine made a hurried yet accurate inspection of both planes, and Orris at once started westward. Blaine was about to follow when horse hoofs were heard beyond a hedge not far away. The German's eyes flashed. He divined a forcible rescue. He began to yell, but with a swift move Blaine gagged him with his own bandanna 'kerchief.
The German struggled but Blaine had tied him also to the posts supporting the hollow chamber wherein pilot and observer sat, and now springing in himself, he started off.
Right then the heads of a column of cavalry debouched in the field. The roar of roar of the Taube filled the air and in an instant they saw what was happening. By this time Orris was well up in the air and still spiraling higher. The Taube, with which Blaine was already partly familiar through prior captured machines among the Allies, was making its first upward curve, when a thought came to Blaine. A ruse! The German lay still helpless, bound and gagged. Though struggling with his bonds, his eyes were spitting anger.
In its case, with pulley attached, was a small flag of one of the larger German aerial squadrons. Blaine plucked it forth, jerked the pulley cord, and there unrolled before all eyes the Imperial eagle, with certain other designs, all on a black background, and with a death's head in white at each corner. It was two or three feet square, and as it floated from one of the poles sustaining the biplanes, no one in the clear morning light could mistake its meaning.
Blaine himself was not sure as to the flag. But it really was the one used only by a certain squadron especially endorsed and. supported by the Kaiser and the Royal House of Hohenzollern and of which the Crown Prince was the special patron. By the time Blaine was above the treetops, some twenty or thirty horsemen had debouched into the sheep pasture where these happenings took place. They were lancers and, mistaking the real nature of this maneuver, every lance was depressed in salute and a horse shout rose up that sounded much like a series of Hochs with Kaiser at the end.
"Holy smoke!" said Blaine, getting the machine gun in shooting trim with one hand while manipulating the controls with the other. "Say, Fritzy," to the snarling German at his feet, who fairly writhed at his bounds and gag, "your folks think I'm off after those English or Yankee schwein! Savy?"
But here a sudden change came over the scene.
FIGHTING BOTH ENEMY AND ELEMENTS
The Bleriot which Erwin was now piloting, though far in the upper air, was seen to be whirling round and returning, apparently to Blaine's rescue.
Evidently Orris had also seen the irruption of lancers and had no intention of deserting his comrade and friend while in possible peril. To intensify the strain he began to spray the Germans below with the remaining sheaf of bullets in the magazine of the machine gun.
Seeing no further need of camouflage on the part of the Americans, Blaine, with one foot crushing down the German, who was now attempting to rise despite his bonds, whirled the German machine gun round upon the now suspicious lancers below.
These were unslinging their carbines. Blaine anticipated them with a spatter of bullets from their own weapon. At this bedlam broke loose below.
While Erwin had done little or no damage, probably owing to distance, Blaine's discharge was pointblank and deadly.
Meantime in some way the German managed to loosen one arm. Recklessly he seized hold of one the controls, wrenching it violently.
"You will, will you?" exclaimed the American, "We must get away from here at any rate!"
Releasing both hands, he seized the German by the throat, pinning him against the rim of the hole that held both, and with his feet on the accelerator rose rapidly upward. By this time bullets were spitting round them, one of which seared the German's bare scalp deeply. Uttering a curious groan, the fellow sank back and Blaine released his throat.
"He's out of it for the time being," thought Lafe. "Good thing, too. Hard work to keep a strangle hold on that chap and keep his machine right side up. Hey there, Orry!"
By this time Erwin had forged so close in swinging round again that only a few yards separated the planes.
"Don't you go any nearer those Boches. I am all right. We got some of them. Look at those riderless horses!"
True it was that several riderless horses were careering about the field below. Also at another angle some men were dragging forth an antiaircraft gun, or so it looked to be by its peculiar carriage and mounting.
"Sure you are all right?" called Orris as the two machines sped along side by side, all the while rising. "Didn't that fellow give you trouble?"
"None to speak of. I've looped a cord about his throat, and got the other end round a cleat. If he tries to jerk away he'll strangle. Put on more power, man! Can't you see they've dragged the Archies out and are stuffing in sheaves of bullets?"
"All right!" called Erwin, now spiraling higher, higher, climbing cloudward. "Sure you got the Taube straight -- hey, Lafe?"
"Course I have! Didn't I work one of them at --?" But the name was lost to Orris as the distance increased.
To Blaine's relief the Boche did not move for a moment or two. This
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