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- Air Service Boys in the Big Battle - 4/29 -
Nellie Leroy--for such the boys learned was her name--broke the silence, that was growing tense, by asking:
"Is there any hope? Tell me, do you think there is a chance that my brother may be alive?"
"Yes, there is, certainly!" exclaimed Tom quickly, before Jack had an opportunity to give, possibly, a less hopeful answer.
"And if he is alive, is there a chance that he may be rescued--that I may go to him?" she went on.
"Hardly that," said Tom, slowly. "It's a wonder you ever got as near to the front as this. But as for getting past the German lines--"
"Then what can I do?" asked Nellie Leroy, eagerly. "Oh, tell me something that I can do. I'm used to hard work," she went on. "I've been a Red Cross nurse for some time, and I helped in one big explosion of a munitions plant in New Jersey before I came over. That's one reason they let me come--because I proved that I could do things I" and she did look very efficient, in spite of her paleness, in spite of her, seeming frailness. There was an indefinable air about her which showed that she would carry through whatever she undertook. "I never fainted before--never."
"It's like this," said Tom, and Jack seemed content, now, to let his chum play the chief role. "When one of us goes down in his machine back of the enemy's lines, those left over here never really know what has happened for a few days."
"And how do they know then?' she asked.
"The German airmen are more decent than some of the other Hun forces we're fighting," explained Torn. "Generally after they capture one of our escadrille members, dead or alive, they fly over our lines a few days later and drop a cap, or a glove, or something that belongs to the prisoner. Sometimes they attach a note, written by one of their airmen or from the prisoner, giving news of his condition."
"And you think they may do this in my brother's case?" asked Nellie.
"They are very likely to," assented Tom, and Jack, to whom the girl looked for confirmation, nodded, his agreement.
"How long shall we have to wait?" Harry's sister asked.
"There is no telling," said Tom "Sometimes it's a week before their airmen get a chance to fly over our lines. It all depends."
"On how the battle goes," answered Tom. "If there is much fighting, and many engagements in the air, the Boches don't get a chance to fly over and drop tokens of our men they may have shot down. We do the same for them, so it's six of one and a half dozen of the other. Often for a week we don't get a chance to let them know about prisoners we have, because the fighting is so severe."
"Will it be that way now?" the girl went on.
"Hard to say--we don't have the ordering of battles," replied Jack. "But it's been rather quiet for a few days, and it's likely to continue so. If it does one of their men may fly over to-morrow, or the next day, and drop something your brother wore--or even a note from him."
"Oh, I hope they do the last!" she murmured. "If I could have a note from him I'd be the happiest girl alive I I'd know, then, that he was all right."
"He may be," said Tom, trying to be hopeful. "You see Du Boise, who was with Harry when the fight took place, is himself wounded, so he can't tell us much about it."
"Yes, they told me that my brother's companion reached here badly hurt. He is so brave! I wish they would let me help take care of him. I understand a great deal about wounds, and I'm not at all afraid of the sight of blood. It was silly of me to faint just now, but--I--I couldn't help it. I'd been counting so much on seeing Harry, and when they told me he was gone--"
She covered her face with her hands, and endeavored to repress her emotion.
"You're not Harry's little sister, are you?" asked Jack, hoping to change the current of talk into other and happier channels.
"No; that's Mabel--Mab he calls her. She's younger than I. Did he often speak of her?"
"Oh, yes; and you too!" exclaimed Tom, so warmly that Nellie blushed, and the damask tint in her hitherto pale cheeks was most becoming.
"We've seen your picture, and Mab's too," went on Tom. "Harry keeps them just over his cot in the barracks. But I didn't recognize you when I saw you a little while ago in the machine. Though I might have, if so many things hadn't happened all at once, and made me sort of hazy," Tom explained.
"Then are you and my brother good friends?" asked Nellie.
"The best ever!" exclaimed Tom, and Jack warmly assented. "Not so many Americans are in this branch of the escadrille as are in others," Torn went on; "so Harry and Jack and I are a sort of little trio all by ourselves. He hardly ever goes up without us, but we are on a rest billet; and to-day he went up with Du Boise."
"If he had only come back!" sighed Nellie. "But there! I mustn't complain. Harry wouldn't let me if he were here. We both have to do our duty. Now I'm going to see what I can do to help, and not be silly and do any more fainting. I hope you'll pardon me," and she smiled at the two boys.
"Of course!" exclaimed Tom, with great emphasis, and again Miss Leroy blushed.
"Then, is to wait the only thing we can do?" she asked.
"That's all," assented Tom. "We may get a message from the clouds any day."
"And, oh! I shall pray that it may be favorable!" murmured the girl. "Perhaps I may question this Mr. Du Boise, and learn from him just what happened?" she interrogated.
"Yes, we want to talk to him ourselves, as soon as he's able to sit up," said Jack. "We want to get a shot at the Boche who downed Harry."
"So you are as fond of Harry as all that! I am glad!" exclaimed his sister. "Have you known him long?"
"We knew him slightly before we went to the flying school in Virginia with him," said Tom. "But down there, when we started in at 'grass-cutting,' and worked our way up, we grew to know him better. Then Jack and I got our chance to come over. But Harry had a smash, and he had to wait a year."
"Yes, I know. It almost broke his heart," said Miss Leroy. "I was away at school at the time, which accounts for my not knowing more of you boys, since Harry always wrote me, or told me, about his chums. Then, when I came back after my graduation, I found that he had sailed for France."
"And maybe we weren't glad to see him!" exclaimed Tom. "It was like getting letters from home."
"Yes, I recall, now, his mentioning that he had met over here some students from the Virginia school," said Miss Leroy. "Well, after Harry sailed I was wild to go, but father and mother would not hear of it at first. Then, when the war grew worse, and I showed them that I could do hard work for the Red Cross, they consented. So I sailed, but I never expected to get like this."
"Oh, well, everything may come out all right," said Tom, as cheerfully as he could. But, in very truth, he was not very hopeful in his heart.
For once an aviator succumbs to the hail of bullets from the German machine guns in an aircraft, and his own creature of steel and wings goes hurtling down, there is only a scant chance that the disabled airman will land alive.
Of course some have done it, and, even with their machines out of control and on fire, they have lived through the awful experience. But the chances were and are against them.
Harry Leroy had been seen to go down, apparently with his machine out of control, after a fusillade of Boche bullets. This much Du Boise had said before his collapse. As to what the fallen aviator's real fate was, time alone could disclose.
"I can only wait!" sighed Nellie, as the boys took their leave. "The days will be anxious ones--days of waiting. I shall help here all I can. You'll let me know the moment there is any news--good or bad--won't you?" she begged; and her eyes filled with tears.
"We'll bring you the news at once--night or day!" exclaimed Tom, vigorously.
As he and Jack walked out of the hospital, the latter remarked:
"You seem to be a favorite there, all right, Tom, my boy. If we weren't such good chums I might be a bit jealous."
"If you feel that way I'll drop Bessie Gleason a note!" suggested Tom, quickly.
"Don't!" begged Jack. "I'll be good!"
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