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- Our Pilots in the Air - 4/30 -
gave him time to twist that free arm back where Lafe could press the weight of one big foot thereon, and also complete the adjustment of the cord. He arranged it by looping twice round the cleat, the length reaching to Fritz's throat being drawn taut. Moreover, as the German's body was resting sidewise upon his other arm, still tightly bound, Blaine felt that he had the man for the time being at least.
Now came heavier roars from below. Not only one gun but several had been brought up, trained on the fliers and were being fired rapidly at the receding airplanes.
Also the true nature of the situation aloft must have been divined. Hence the extreme activity among the Germans, now trying desperately to reverse the progress of events by bringing one or both machines down. The fact that the life of one of their own comrades might be snuffed out did not weigh with them at all. Such is the German militaristic creed. The individual, his life, or welfare is as nothing when compared with the welfare of the cause, the state, the whole brutal, efficient system.
After all, this comrade might be dead now. They must get at and, if possible, overtake these schwein at all cost. Were not they retreating with a choice Prussian machine, that even now flaunted in derision the Death's Head Flag?
No wonder the Boches were mad -- good mad!
But our Yankee adventurers were by no means at the end of their raid. The sun was rising. With the rare promise of a clear day, considering the time and the region, it was more evident than usual that a very high altitude must be reached and maintained.
There were the German trenches to be passed, the trenches raided only a few hours before, the No-Man's-Land, before the welcoming shelter of friendly areas and support might be reached. At any rate, they could see and signal other and also keep close together and be ready to afford mutual support in case of meeting the foe. This last was soon verified by the rise and approach of a small squadron of scout cruisers, winged monoplanes, each with a ed monoplanes, each with a single pilot only and one machine gun.
"Keep well under them," signaled Blaine to his friend. "Got any ammunition? What? The devil!"
Orris had replied to Lafe's queries by shaking out the now empty cartridge sheaves and dropping them again. Lafe, then swooping closer, Called forth to his mate:
"By its looks this gun is a rebuilt Lewis. Can you use any of mine? You know the Boches are great in reconstructing captured weapons to their own use. Get below me and to one side. Hurry up! I'll try to toss you a sheaf. Here -- damn you!"
This to the German who again evinced signs of life. Having no time to spare, Blaine jerked the throat cord closer and gave a heavier foot pressure to the prisoner's twisted arm. Meanwhile with no time to lose, Orris swooped lower, rising gently under Blaine's right or starboard side. The latter had to rise in order to toss the weighty sheaf of cartridges exactly where he wished them to fall -- into Erwin's lap.
This he did successfully. But in so doing his weight relaxed upon the Boche's arm. At the same time Orris, in catching the sheaf, allowed his control grip to relax. The nose of Orris's machine, now rising, bumped into Lafe's under plane, tilting it up sharply.
Precisely at this juncture, and as Blaine's foot pressure on his prisoner's arm relaxed, the tilting planes threw him sharply forward, down and upon the German. The latter, seeing his one chance, wrenched his partially released arm forward and caught it round Blaine's legs as he stumbled. At the same time this double movement somehow operated to release Fritz's other arm.
By now, Orris, unconscious of the mischief his own upward shove had caused, sheered his machine aside, still climbing upward and onward, only to find three of the enemy scouts nearing rapidly and making ready for an encounter.
Looking back, he saw, in the place of Blaine's leather cap and goggles, a dimly shimmering twinkle of arms and legs flashing above the rim of the open enclosure where the pilots sit.
"Great guns!" he ejaculated, his blood tingling with thrills. "That chap has got loose and they're having it. What must I do?"
Even while these thoughts were flashing, he was working. He dared not turn to Blaine's relief. He did not know yet if the sheaf thrown him would fit his own machine gun. But first he must dip, circle, come up underneath and try his luck.
As has been said, Orry was no novice. He had flown at the front for months as one of the Lafayette Escadrille. Before that he had worked his way up in aerial mechanics in the United States and also here in France.
Even while diving, circling, swirling in mid air, ten thousand feet up, he was adjusting the new sheaf to his own gun. Happily it fitted.
That was a good sign, and pirouetting, not unlike an expert dancer executing a new turn, he dove aside and came up fairly behind the nearest Boche. Without hesitation he began to spray the enemy with a shower of their own bullets. It was indeed lucky the new cartridges fitted. It was merely one blunder committed by the extra efficient Germans in converting British weapons to their own use.
Evidently the ammunition dealt out to the Death's Head Squadron was of the best. It was intentionally so. Another proof of this lay in the fact that the German plane thus attacked fell sideways, recovered, plunged half staggering away, while a tiny spark of flame became visible to Erwin as he sheered aside in the opposite direction and prepared for a new onset from above by the second plane. So far as he could see, the other plane was making for Blaine's machine that still flow the Death's Head Flag. Yet it was acting strangely as seen from a distance by the Boches, who might or might not be posted as to the strange change of its ownership.
The second plane, rendered more cautious by the fate of the first, which was now descending a mass of flames, began a series of divings, wrigglings, and even nose dips, in its efforts to confuse Erwin and find a good position from which to shower the daring invader with bullets.
On his own part Orris went through the usual maneuvers customary when two airmen, both skillful, are seeking the advantage of the other. Well it was for the young man that his own Bleriot was one of the best of the up-to-date fighting planes.
Numerous shots were taken on both sides, and in the excitement f or the moment Orris lost all sight of the fate of his partner. At last, in trying by a desperate and perilous maneuver, to "get on the tail" of his adversary by a side-loop in mid-flight, the Boche pilot, while upside down, came for an instant fairly within range. Quickly Orris took his advantage.
He was above and to the right of the German, and with a single whirl of his Lewis gun brought it fully in line with the Boche's head as he sat head down, strapped in his seat, while his machine was swiftly turning in its side evolution so as to bring him in the rear of his enemy.
"Now!" gasped Orris, beginning his bullet spray. "Help me, Mars!"
A queer prayer, but it was quickly answered. The German machine righted more slowly, however. Erwin dove swiftly down and came upright in the rear of his now swaying adversary. Then the lad saw what fate had done for him.
The German had collapsed in his seat, to which, as has been said, he had strapped himself. His head lay on the rim, apparently a mass of streaming crimson. His machine, a renovated Fokker, was tipsily zigzagging along without any guidance except its stabilizer and its own momentum.
To say the boy was half paralyzed at first is not too strong. But a revulsion swept through him in a flood. At the same time there came to his brain a vivid flash, reminding him that while thus desperately engaged for his own life, he had heard sounds of aerial battling somewhere in his rear.
While he was making up his mind what to do next, the whir of speeding motors rose rapidly. Looking back, he saw the Death's Head flag waving from the nearest one and soon distinguished Blaine, apparently all right, but chugging away at top speed in Erwin's direction.
Just now the Fokker with its dead occupant gave another side drop and, uninfluenced by the usual controls, came nearly to a standstill. It toppled again, then down it went earthward at increasing speed, carrying its occupant along.
"Hey-you!" This from Blaine as he swept up and by, while rounding to. "Look behind! I dropped that chap -- the first one! But he's brought a lot of others. Let's make for home, boy!"
Apparently it was too late without a further scrimmage, for no less than half a dozen Boche planes were swooping around their rear, some already within range. In maneuvering into position Blaine again picked up his megaphone, saying:
"I saw you drop those chaps. Oh, you Orry! Here we go -- right for some more of them! Whoopee!"
It seemed little short of blasphemy -- this uproarious spirit, in the face of the odds gathering in behind. But Blaine was built that way. Danger, the closer and more menacing, instead of rousing fear, nerved him to his best or, as it might turn out, worst.
"Where's your prisoner?" shouted Erwin. "I feared he'd get you."
"Nit, old man! I got hold of a monkey-wrench and knocked him cold. But he was game, you bet!"
"Where is he then?"
"Cold and stiff under my feet. Watch out, Orry!"
Megaphones cast aside, both Americans now addressed themselves to the desperate task of fighting these new assailants and reaching their own lines.
But in the first firing that ensued Erwin's Lewis gun suddenly jammed. This was probably one result of his having to use the German-made
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