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- Air Service Boys in the Big Battle - 6/29 -
Twisting and turning, to make as poor a mark as possible for the enemy guns, Jack sent his machine here and there. The other pilots were doing the same. Machine guns were now opening up on them, and once the burst of fire came so close that Jack began to "zoom." That is he sent his craft up and down sharply, like the curves and bumps in a roller-coaster railway track.
By this time the leading plane gave the signal for the return, and, thankful enough that they had not been hit, Jack swung about. But the danger was not over. They had yet to pass across the enemy's front line trenches, and when Harris signaled Jack to go down low in crossing the lad wondered what the order was for. It was merely that the observer wanted to see what was going on there so he could report.
They went down to within a mile of the earth, and several times the plane was struck by pieces of shrapnel or bullets from machine guns. Twice flying bits of metal came uncomfortably close to Jack, but he was kept too busy with the management of his machine to more than notice them. Harris was working hard at the camera and the maps.
Then, suddenly, came the danger signal from the leading plane, and only just in time. Out from the German hangars came several battle machines. Harris dropped his pencil and got ready the automatic gun, but it was not needed, for, after approaching as though about to attack, the Huns suddenly veered off. Later the reason for this became known. A squadron of French planes had arisen as swiftly to give battle, and however brave the Hun may be when he outnumbers the enemy, he had yet to be known to take on a combat against odds.
So Jack and his observer safely reached the aerodrome again, bringing back much valuable information.
"Is Tom here yet?" was Jack's first inquiry after he had divested himself of his togs and men had rushed to the developing room the camera with its precious plates.
"Not yet," some of his chums told him. "They're having a fight upstairs I guess."
Jack nodded and looked anxiously in the direction in which Tom was last seen.
It was an hour before the scouting airplanes came back, and one was so badly shot up and its pilot so wounded that it only just managed to get over the French lines before almost crashing to earth.
"Are you all right, Tom?" cried Jack, as he rushed up to his chum, when he saw the latter getting out of his craft, rather stiff from the cold.
"Yes. They went at me hard--two of 'em but I think I accounted for one, unless he went into a spinning nose dive just to fool me."
"Oh, they'll do that if they get the chance."
"I know," assented Tom. "Hello!" he exclaimed as he noticed a splintered strut near his head. "That came rather close."
And indeed it had. For a bullet, or a piece of shrapnel, has plowed a furrow in the bit of supporting wood, not two inches away from Tom's head, though in the excitement of the fight he had not noticed it.
There had been a fight in the upper air and one of the French machines had not come home.
"Another man to await news of," said the flight lieutenant sadly, when the report reached him. "That's two in two days."
"No news of Leroy yet?" asked Tom and Jack, as they went out of headquarters after reporting.
"None, I am sorry to say. It is barely possible that he landed in some lonely spot and is still hiding out--if he is not killed. But I understand you two young men had something to request of me. I can give you some attention now," went on the commander of their squadron.
"We want to be transferred!" exclaimed Tom. "Now, that Pershing's men are here--"
"I understand," was the answer. "You want to fight with your countrymen. Well, I would do the same. I will see if I can get you transferred, though I shall much regret losing you."
He was as good as his word, and a week later, following some strenuous fights in the air, Tom and Jack received notice that they could report to the first United States air squadron, which was then being formed on that part of the front where the first of Pershing's men were brigaded with, the French and British armies.
Du Boise, who had brought word back of the fate that had befallen Harry Leroy, sent for Tom and Jack when it became known that they were to leave.
"Shall I ever see you again?" he asked wistfully.
"To be sure," was Tom's hearty answer. "We aren't going far away, and we'll fly over to see you the first chance we get. Besides, we're going to depend on you to give us some information regarding Leroy. If the Huns drop any message at all they'll do it at this aerodrome."
"Yes, I believe you're right," assented Du Boise, trying not to show the pain that racked him. "But it's so long, now, I begin to believe he must be dead, and either the Huns don't know it or they aren't going to bother to send us word. But I'll let you know as soon as I hear anything."
"Is his sister here yet?" asked Jack, for Tom and he had been too busy the last two days, getting ready to shift their quarters, to call on Nellie Leroy.
"She has gone back to Paris," answered Du Boise. "There was no place for her here. I can give you her address. I promised to let her know in case I got word about her brother."
"I wish you would give me the address!" exclaimed Tom eagerly, and his chum smiled at his show of interest.
"Well, to-morrow, if all goes well, we'll be with Pershing's boys," remarked Jack, as he and Tom were sitting in their quarters after breakfast, the last day but one they were to spend in the Lafayette Escadrille with which they had so long been associated.
"That's so. We'll soon be on the firing line with Uncle Sam," agreed Tom. "Of course we've been with him, in a way, ever since we've been fighting, for it's all in the same cause. But there'll be a little more satisfaction in being 'on our own,' as the English say."
"You're right. What's on for to-day?" asked Jack.
"Haven't the least idea. But here comes a messenger now."
As Tom spoke he glanced from a window and saw an orderly coming toward their quarters. The man seemed in a hurry.
"Something's up!" decided Jack. "Maybe they've got word from poor Harry."
"I'm beginning to give him up," said Tom. "If they were going to let us have any news of him they'd have done it long ago--the beasts!" and he fairly snarled out the words.
"Still I'm not giving up," returned Jack. "I can't explain why, but I have a feeling that, some day, we'll see Harry Leroy again."
Tom shook his head.
"I wish I could be as hopeful as you," he said. "Maybe we'll see him again--or his grave. But I want to say, right now, that if ever I have a chance at the Hun who shot him down, that Hun Will get no mercy from me!"
"Same here!" echoed Jack. "But here comes the orderly."
The man entered and handed Jack a slip of paper. It was from the commander of their squadron, and said, in effect, that though Tom and Jack were no longer under his orders, having been duly transferred to another sector, yet he would be obliged if they would call on him, at his quarters.
"Maybe he has news!" exclaimed Jack, eagerly.
Again Tom shook his head.
"He'd have said so if that was the case," he remarked as he and his chum prepared to report at headquarters, telling the messenger they would soon follow him.
"Ah, young gentlemen, I am glad to see, you!" exclaimed the commander, and it was as friends that he greeted Tom and Jack and not as military subordinates. "Do you want to do me one last favor?"
"A thousand if we can!" exclaimed Jack, for he and Tom had caught something of the French enthusiasm of manner, from having associated with the brave airmen so long.
"Good! Then I shall feel free to ask. Know then, that I am a little short-handed in experienced airmen. The Huns have taken heavy toll of us these last few days," he went on sorrowfully, and Torn and Jack knew this to be so, for two aces, as well as some pilots of lesser magnitude, had been shot down. But ample revenge had been taken.
"By all rights you are entitled to a holiday before you join your
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