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- Our Pilots in the Air - 6/30 -
Just then came a last explosion close behind. He seemed to be going down, down -- where?
Then a terrific shock, and all consciousness left him. The shock seemed to drive from him all notion of anything or anybody. He knew nothing, nothing - nothing --
When at last Orris Erwin again knew that he was in the land of the living he was in a base hospital behind the front, and not far from his own aerodrome. His shoulder was in bandages. His left arm was in splints, but not painful. What seemed to be other bandages swathed his lower legs. Altogether he felt himself to be in pretty bad shape.
Then appeared Sergeant Anson who, seeing that Erwin was now awake and sensible, paused, a dry grin upon his weather-worn visage.
"Huh! Where's that Bleriot you or Blaine were to bring back?"
But the smile that accompanied this was not condemnatory by any means.
"I stuck to it, sir, long as I could stick to anything. How do I happen to be trussed up this way here?"
For a first reply the Sergeant threw back his head and gave vent to a real laugh. Then he patted Orry's curly head gently.
"You'll know in due time, youngster! Where's your pilot, Lafe Blaine?"
"Isn't Blaine back, too, and in that Death's Head Boche plane he -- we took from them back of their lines? As for the Bleriot, I was in it last I remember."
Here the door of the ward opened, and who should walk in but Blaine himself, with Monsieur Cheval following. Cheval wore upon his breast a silver medal resembling nothing so much as an ace. For a wonder Blaine himself wore a tricolor ribbon with a tiny gold cross that Erwin was sure he had never seen his athletic countryman have before.
At sight of Erwin's pale face and rather fragile form, now animated with conversational fire and energy, the big American turned to his French comrade, saying:
"There, my friend! Did I not tell you that our brave little comrade would be more like himself today than he has been any time these ten days? Say little one," bending over Orry affectionately, "have you got over that nasty spell yet? Ha -- I guess so!"
"Where's that Bleriot the Sergeant said we must bring back? I was in it when -- when the Boches or -- or the devil got me."
"That Bleriot, like yourself, mon comrade, is in the hospital; that is, the repair shop." This from Monsieur Cheval, still wearing his right arm in a sling, though now divested of splints.
"Oh!" A flash of dim recollection came to Orry for a moment, "I kind of remember. First there was a bluff, with what looked like a communicating trench, in spots. Just as if most of it was covered. I dropped some bombs I had left on the moving gray something I saw. After that I skimmed over the bluff. Then there was a stream, and another embankment beyond. After that I don't seem to remember much. How did I get here?"
"You got here, Orry, because the Boches downed you right over our front trench at this angle, which is nearer the Boche line than anywhere in this sector. We didn't even know that the enemy had dug a covered trench to the far side of the bluff on the river bank until you let us know by dropping bombs on them. This so angered them that they dragged out two Archies and peppered you good. You fell into our trench, and - and with the knowledge you gave us we directed our heavy artillery right on that bluff.
Here Blaine grinned complacently while patting Orry's head again, very gently though, on account of the bandages.
"Yes, mon comrade," supplemented Cheval. "It was to you that our batteries owe their accuracy of firing in dealing with that bluff. Do, you know that they must have been digging there for days, perhaps weeks? The whole interior had been hollowed out, and there was a picked battalion stationed there. La, la! It was a lucky accident that led you in my own good Bleriot to lay open to us the secrets of those over yonder, who are trying to enslave the world."
"But -- but I didn't know," murmured Erwin gratified, yet somehow feeling as if honors were being heaped gratuitously on his undeserving head. Something of this escaped him the while. Monsieur Cheval held up a protesting hand.
"No, no! You must not! You shall know what France thinks of the service you have done for her, and -- yes, for your own brothers-in-arms as well. Listen! You are already promoted, Monsieur Erwin. I may tell you that much. And so is your comrade, Blaine. Look! He already wears his decoration."
"Oh, well," said Orris wearily, "we didn't do so much after all. We did our bombing -- what we were sent to do. Then we somehow had to go down in back of the Boche lines. While there we took that German machine. It was right handy, and no trouble. What else could I do but bring back your Bleriot, leaving Lafe here to do all the work of fetching in that Boche machine and the Boche himself? Got back all right, did you, Lafe. Looked to me when that other crowd tackled us as if you might have your hands full."
Blaine here smiled, nodded, and playfully rejoined:
"Looked to me as if you, too, would have some time getting back. And I guess you did too, by the way you look now."
All this was vaguely complimentary, yet rather overdoing the thing, or so Erwin seemed to feel, for he sighed and turned on his pillow as if weary.
At this juncture the ward door again opened and there walked in several uniformed men who had just stepped out of a military car, visible through the temporarily open door.
One of these strode forward, while the rest followed. This foremost one was of distinguished appearance and bore on arm and shoulder the insignia of a French general. The others were also in uniform, except for one who wore a frock coat.
Just at this minute another door opened and there entered a tall, squarely built form in United States khaki, but without decoration except for the stars of a major general modestly affixed to his straight, stiff coat collar.
"Why, there's General Pershing!" whispered Blaine, keeping his hand at the salute which he had intuitively begun upon the appearance of the French.
"Petain and Pershing!" gasped Orris to himself, yet turning wearily from a futile attempt at saluting like the rest.
The two commanders greeted each other cordially, though the meeting was rather unexpected on the part of both. Each had heard of the night bombardment which had taken place only a few days back. Pershing was on his way to some American billet not far from here. Petain, having already received reports of the recent exploits of the two airmen, and having decorated Blaine, was now bent upon doing similar things for this wounded American lad who had unwittingly been of such service to the French along its sector.
In a kindly and unassuming way Petain, now reinforced by the presence of the American general, complimented Orris on what he had done, concluding with: "Not only did you and your comrade capture and bring home a German aviator and his machine, but you have sent two others in the earth and, after all this, while hard pressed by the enemy, you managed to descend upon the foe right where they were preparing for secret attack. This you frustrated, at great physical cost to yourself. For all this my Government bestows upon you this decoration."
While all the staff looked on, with nurses and flyers respectfully in the background, the general pinned on Erwin's breast a decoration similar to that bestowed upon Blaine. Continuing, the general said:
"When you are again able to rejoin the squadron, you, like your friend, will find that your own government has not only approved, but rewarded you also for what you have done. Farewell!" The general with his escort left. General Pershing stopped only long enough to shake hands informally with those remaining, particularly with Cheval, Blaine and finally with Erwin. Walking with Sergeant Anson towards the door, the general turned, saying over his shoulder:
"It wouldn't surprise me a little bit if the heads of the American Corps at Washington did not send you two something in the near future. If they do, try and live up to it. Good-bye!"
He was gone. Monsieur Cheval had also followed, more slowly.
Blaine and Erwin looked at each other meaningfully.
"Reckon anything will happen, Lafe?"
"How should I know, Orry? Wait awhile and see."
Ten days later arrived two war medals, and two appointments; one for Blaine as sergeant in the aviation corps, the other for Orry as first corporal in the same.
THE PRACTICE DRILL
About the time that Corporal Orris Erwin was able to take his place again as a fighting aviator, Sergeant Blaine, returning from a long scouting raid over in the enemy's territory, met the boy in the broad drive of the aerodrome looking about him rather strangely. He threw an arm over Orry's shoulder, and drew him along to the door of the Aero Club.
"Been in here?" he asked. "It is great! They asking 'bout you the day we left. Heard about Cheval?"
Orris, not feeling like talking, shook his head, vouchsafing:
"Nothing only that he went along with your squadron at the last
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