OVER the aerodrome of the Umpty-fourth, an artillery bus got into some sort of difficulty and fell into a spinning nose-dive, which was pretty enough to watch, if you did not realize that the pilot had lost control and was at that moment mentally arranging his earthly affairs and hoping that somebody would be kind to his dog. Seven thousand feet from a terra which is much too firma for an undesiring-to-descend airman (this priceless descriptive phrase is borrowed from the enemy), the usual miracle was duly registered.
The machine pancaked and wabbled to earth more or less injured, for it takes a lot to hurt an artillery spotter. Two young men climbed out, swearing at one another with such great ingenuity and vehemence that they did not recognize the presence of a superior officer nor the necessity for an apology until Major Blackie spoke.
“When you two gentlemen have decided which is the bigger fool, and who was responsible for getting your control shot away, will you allow me to thank you for making a landing which spares me the pain of shoveling up the several baskets of fragments?’’
“Awfully sorry, sir,” said the pilot, saluting—he was the elder of the two, being an ancient of twenty-two; “control shot away—Hun got on our tail and those infernal slackers who were supposed to be covering us, the Umpty-fourth—”
“Heaven bless you for those words of gratitude,” murmured Blackie.
“Well, sir, they weren’t anywhere around. Of course I don’t want to knock the Umpty-fourth.”
“Naturally,” agreed Blackie. “Where is your home, my gentle lad?”
The pilot grinned. “Somewhere round here, sir—in fact, I thought I was pretty near the spot when I started to come down—this is the Thirty-seventh Squadron H. Q., isn’t it?”
“To be exact,” replied Blackie, “this is the headquarters of the unmentionable Umpty-fourth——”
“Good Lor’!” gasped the pilot, turning pale. “I hope I haven’t been offensive, sir! I don’t mean——”
“Nay, nay,” Blackie was almost was fatherly, “a little chiding from one so fresh and young we will not take amiss! Come to tea; you’re just in time.”
He led the embarrassed young man and his more cheerful observer (who had the good sense not to open his mouth) to the crowded mess- room, introduced them, and in a few well-chosen words conveyed an idea of the visitor’s grievance.
“Oh, I say, sir!” protested the pilot, speaking with some difficulty, since his mouth was filled with buttered bread. “I really didn’t think you’d let us down—only we saw none of your busses roving about—in fact, we didn’t see anything till the Hun dropped on us——”
“Except the gnat,” interrupted the observer. “Have any of you fellows seen it? A machine about as big as a fair-sized handkerchief. Couldn’t tell whether it was a Hun or a loose leaf—blowin’ about all over the shop an’ amusin’ himself no end.”
“That,” explained Blackie with more than ordinary interest, “was your guardian angel—Tam.”
He frowned at the thought. It was not like Tam to neglect his duty, and his duty it undoubtedly was to control that patch of sky whereunder the artillery observer went about his lawful business.
“What was it brought you down?” he asked.
“I didn’t see the machine, did you, Willett?”
The other shook his head.
“Not till he dived onto us,” replied the observer, to whom the appeal had been made. “I loosed off a drum of ammunition at him, but by that time the controls were gone.”
“What happened to him?”
The observer and the pilot exchanged glances.
“I’m blessed if I know, sir,” confessed the pilot; “the fact is, I was so busy thinking about—er—all the dear old things I was leaving behind me that I didn’t give him much thought. I rather fancy I caught a glimpse of him zooming up to the east after doing his dirty work.”
“H’m,” said Blackie.
He was thoughtful for the rest of the. meal and left the table before it was ended, striding over to the orderly-room with one eye for the strangely empty skies.
“Any reports?” he demanded of his sergeant.
“One H. A. crashed inside our lines, sir.”
“Who brought him down?”
“No report, sir.”
“Only unofficial, sir,” said the sergeant. “It appears from what O. Pip says, that Mr. McTavish has had a fight over the German lines with a big scout. No damage as far as I can find out.”
“H’m,” said Blackie again.
The sergeant heard a familiar sound and walked to the door.
“Mr. McTavish coming down, sir,” he reported, and Blackie walked over to meet his subordinate.
Tam was already on the ground, walking about his tiny machine, eying it with some anxiety. He turned long enough to give his superior a little nod. Tam was a very bad saluter at the best of times—and continued his inspection.
“Anything wrong, Tam?”
“Weel,” said Tam cautiously, “A’m no’ so sure. There’s a bit hole in ma radiator, an’ two struts are slight casualties.”
“I suppose you know that your artillery bus was brought down?”
“Oh, aye,” said Tam cheerfully; “A ken that verra well—A saw the puir laddie’s crash. Ye’ll find the Hoon that brought him doon lyin’ verra disheveled in no man’s land,’ and the ither one ——”
“Were there two?”
Tam nodded gravely. “Aye, there were two,” he said. “’Twas ma fault and no’ ma fault, if ye understand me, Major Blackie, sir. A saw twa machines coming doon and A took a guid look at ’em. ‘Tam,’ says I, ‘yon laddies are behavin’ verra strange. Don’t be a fool,’ says I to meself, ‘do ye no’ see they have got the British markings?’”
“The British markings?” interrupted Blackie quickly. “Do you mean to say they’ve our markings?”
“They had and they had not,” said Tam with exasperating deliberation; “there’s no’.much difference between green caircles and blue caircles at a distance of five thousand feet. All A could see was they had caircles on ’em. But ma natural Scottish suspeecion could no’ be quieted. A caircled round, watching these laddies dropping one behind the ither straight for the puir innocent old artillery bus like hawks on a poodle. ‘Tam,’ says A, ‘this is where ye lose height.’ So A dived doon after ’em, and, sure enough, ma uncanny Celtic intelligence was no’ so far wrong, for suddenly the leading machine opened fire on the bus, an’ doon spun the hope and pride of the Royal Garrison Artillery, emittin’ smoke and fumes and ither evidence of severe distress.
“‘By Heavens, Tam,’ says I to meself, ‘it’s an act of gross treachery ye’re witnessin’! Have at ‘em,’ says I, and A dropped for the nearest Hoon, who sidestepped me. There was no time to indulge in fancy maneuvers. The honor of the Umpty-fourth was at stake. A dived for the second fellow and missed him, looped back and got on his tail, bringin’ him to airth at 4:57 by ma gold chronometer, which is right accordin’ to the Toon Hall clock at Amiens.”
“But this is monstrous!” said Blackie, infuriated. “Our markings! The devils haven’t done that before. Surely they are not going to play that kind of dirt. Green, you say, instead of blue?”
“Aye,” said Tam, nodding, “and a kind of reddish-orange instead of red.”
Before the sun had set, a swift scout mounted from the Umpty-fourth aerodrome, sailed serenely through a sea of bursting shrapnel over the enemy’s lines and dropped a streamer bag into the headquarters of the Eighty-seventh Squadron of the Imperial German Air Service, and in that bag was a letter and that letter was couched in language which was wholly justifiable, as the commander of the Eighty-seventh admitted.
“Herr Gott!” he stormed. “Will these politicals have no sense of decency? To whom were these swine attached?”
“Army headquarters, Herr Major,” said his adjutant, and the high brow of Major Baron von Helthoffer grew purple.
“Lieutenant Deissler, you will prepare to fly over the English lines and drop a message for me.”
He stamped into his office, snatched a sheet of paper and wrote in his best English:
Sir: Your complaining is quite proper. The aviator who committed this grievous breach of war rule is not of my scorning-the-action squadron. Military considerations prevent comment on the responsibility or where transgressing aviators may be found. But we shall not grieve if you find them.
“What do you make of that document?” asked the Brigade Commander who had come across to Squadron Headquarters to see the German reply.
“I hardly know, sir,” said Blackie; “so far as I can gather, there were two and there is now one air-plane wandering loose, engaged in some sort of political work. The fellow Tam brought down lies in the exact center of ‘no man’s land,’ near Mossy Face Wood.”
The Brigadier scratched his chin thoughtfully. “I suppose neither we nor the Huns can get at it?”
“The Huns have been shelling it all the afternoon, sir.”
“We have got to get that machine,” said the Brigadier and for half an hour he sat at the telephone exchanging views with the distant gods.
That night, siege batteries, heavies, field-guns and trench mortars along a certain sector began an intensive bombardment of the enemy line. Signal-lights and S. O. S. flares flamed and blazed and the interested infantry standing in its trenches waiting for zero wondered if a wrecked air- plane was worth it. The thunder of the guns increased, reserve batteries came up into action, registered, and with machine-like precision dropped a barrage into the enemy’s support line. Working parties stumbled through the dark communications into the darker fire-trench, cursing the whim of the Brigadier which had made this action necessary.
And then, to the second, the infantry went over, two barrages lifted, the working parties scrambled out and stumbled between shell- holes, to where the wreckage of the machine lay, what time the infantry went on to make absolutely sure that the cautious Hun had vacated his advance posts.
At five o’clock in the morning, just as the gray dawn was breaking, a motor-trolley snorted into the big aerodrome, laden with wreckage. Behind came an ambulance carrying all that was mortal of the enemy pilot. Comparative silence reigned on the raided sector. The infantry were back in their trenches and the only change which occurred was that the wreckage which had lain midway in “no man’s land” had disappeared.
“Obviously a Hun plane,” said Blackie; “circle markings of green, white and orange. Let’s have a look at the unfortunate gentleman.”
A stretcher was laid out on the grass and Blackie pulled back the blanket which covered the inanimate form.
“Rum kind of uniform. Certainly not Boche,” he said.
He unbuttoned the jacket of the dead man and searched his pocket, taking out a bundle of letters, which he handed to the Brigadier.
“Written in English,” said the Brigadier; “that’s curious. That fellow doesn’t look German, either.”
Blackie turned back the collar of the uniform jacket and was reading the tab.
“O’Donoghue, Dublin,” he read, and he and the Brigadier exchanged glances.
Whatever mystery there was about this strange apparition was dispelled when the letters came to be examined. The man’s name need not be given. He was among the most rabid of Irish republicans and had been editing a propaganda newspaper in Germany until a chance visit to a German aerodrome and a meeting with a “Mr. McGinnice” had put the idea into his head of engaging in a guerilla warfare with the connivance of political headquarters.
“I presume the colors are the colors of the Irish republic,” said the General, “and the man McGinnice is the hero in the machine which escaped. He seems to be the leader, by the way.”
Thereafter all air-men kept a sharp lookout for the errant McGinnice. He was seen many times. Once he came down in the early hours of the morning, dropping pamphlets over a section of line held by a famous Irish division, inviting his fellow countrymen to “rise and overthrow the Saxon tyrant,” but he accompanied the dropping of his leaflets by a performance on his machine gun which left the Irish Fusileers minus three good officers and about twenty men.
Thereafter the Irish waited for his next appearance and greeted him with such a volley of brotherly love that he barely escaped behind the lines (held by veritable Saxons) with his life.
“The puir laddie is no’ right in his heid,” said Tam; “he should be put in a home, something built like a family vault.”
And Tam went up to put his enemy in that “home.” He sought him at dawn, he sought him at sunset. He looked for him behind clouds and in clouds. He searched the back of the German front carefully and systematically, despite the discouragement of ranging German scouts and furious A-A. barrages. He found many worthy gentlemen aching to break a lance with him and dealt with them according to regulations. He fought three Fokkers over Courtrai, and one redoubtable German air-man, dight von Zollern, he destroyed, but the McGinnice was coy or, rather, being unattached, he could rove at large, and he dropped his tracts from Houthulst Forest to the suburbs of Saint-Quentin without interference.
THEN one day, a pleasant summer afternoon with light clouds flecking the blue of the sky, there droned over the airy wilderness to the southwest of Cambrai a solitary machine. It was flying at fifteen thousand feet, had pursued a steady course westward and did not turn to the north until it was well clear of the British lines. The fact that it did not drop onto a long line of obese observation balloons testified to its innocence.
It even crossed brigade headquarters without interference, for the observers with the telescopes were satisfied with the markings and with the shape of the machine, as indeed they had every right to be, since it was a sure-enough Nieuport which had been captured by the Germans some three months earlier. The machine might have returned on its stately way without exciting comment but for the observation of Second-Lieutenant Tam of the Umpty-fourth, who had a wonderful eye for color.
He was about two thousand feet above the other when he dived straight for the lone plane, his machine gun going like a rattle. There and then the enemy decided to retire, but not quicker do the kites gather above the carcass than the scouts of the R. F. C. above an intruding Hun. They drop literally from the blue, half a dozen white-winged dragonflies languidly sweeping to a focal-point, and that point the stranger within their airy gates.
He banked over, he side-slipped, he did everything that a dying machine would do, but nobody was deceived. Tam’s tiny machine literally fell after him and presently the stranger burst into smoke and flame and fell steeply, making a creditable landing.
The pilot struggled out of the burning machine unaided, and ran, but the land was filled with infantry of the line and he halted before the all too willing bayonets of his captors.
They put him into a stiff car and rushed him to the aerodrome, signaled by the whirling air-men. Thus came Hector McGinnice to the headquarters of the Umpty-fourth, a tallish man, rather thin, very defiant, but wholly unperturbed by the tragic situation in which he found himself.
He hated the English, he defied his captors. He spoke mysteriously of influence which would save him from the consequence of his treason. He boasted of the number of infantry he had strafed in his morning excursions, but most indiscreet of all his utterances, he boasted that he had brought down Boy Farquhar, whose unaccountable collapse in the air when seen in company with another “British” machine had been a source of prolific argument since the day of the tragedy.
“You are a nice gentleman,” said Blackie, the examining officer. “I shall keep you in close arrest and you will be held at the disposal of G. H. Q.”
“I should worry,” said Mr. McGinnice.
“You should,” said Major Blackie.
He called Cornish into the orderly room. “This man will be your prisoner, Cornish,” he said; “you will be personally responsible for his safety.”
There was no lockup in the aerodrome.
The prisoner was handcuffed and taken to Cornish’s quarters and locked in the room with his jailer. This happened at 4:30. At six o’clock in the evening dinner was sent over to the officer and his prisoner. At 10:30 a strong escort arrived from G. H. Q. to carry McGinnice to Amiens. When they unlocked the door, the room was in darkness.
Tam was the first into the room and fell over somebody on the floor. He flashed his electric lamp upon the prostrate figure. It was Cornish.
“Hello, Tam,” whispered the wreckage of youth; “that devil got me—gave me his parole and I took his handcuffs off—knifed me from behind—with a table-knife—good Lord— what a rotten way to go out—table-knife—!” Then he fainted.
All that night military police searched the roads, but without finding the fugitive. In what manner he crossed the line will never be known. It is certain that he made his escape, and a week later his plane was observed in the region of the Menin Road. But a month passed before Nemesis overtook him.
On that day Tam was sent up on patrol with instructions to make a reconnaissance as far west as the Forest of Morval, to photograph certain aerodromes which had been constructed or were in the course of construction twenty miles east of Cambrai and to note “accumulations of rolling stock and troops movements.”
Since the work was of considerable importance, Tam abandoned the tiny machine which it was his joy to fly and went up in a single- seater Spad, that French machine which is the wonder and delight of all air- men. He followed the usual course eastward, making no attempt to avoid the Archie barrage which would assuredly be put up against him; showed an insolent disregard for the excited patrols that dived to engage him, and did not so much as loose his machine gun at one which had the temerity to pursue him.
For an hour and a half he was noting and photographing, and an hour and a half passes very quickly in a single-seater when a man is called upon to do six things at once. Believing, not without reason, that he had been recognized in passing, for the expert air-man can never hide his personality, and that a warm welcome awaited him on his way back, he swung ’round southward to take a longer but safer route back to his headquarters. He was seven miles from the smoking front line, when beneath him he saw a large Albatross with certain significant circles painted on either wing. To see was to act. Down went his nose and he dived straight for the guerilla.
McGinnice windmilled and avoided him and glided steeply to secure the protection of whatever anti-aircraft batteries were in the neighborhood. Tam looped over and followed. Lower and lower the air-planes dropped till they were almost skimming the tops of the trees. They passed camps, railway junctions crowded with soldiers and material, little villages in German occupation, and once they skimmed over the top of a big aerodrome near Vermier, but the fugitive made no attempt to land.
TAM had tried his gun without success. He had no plan of what he was going to do. except that he knew he was going to kill McGinnice and McGinnice knew that he knew. They had reached open country, a pleasant plain dotted with red-roofed farmhouses, when McGinnice made his landing. He might have made it earlier with benefit to himself and there was no reason apparent to Tam why his enemy should come down in a broad field of Lucerne until he saw the two big camouflaged barns behind one of the farmhouses and half hidden behind a long avenue of poplars. Then he knew that this was the secret home of the air-pirate.
Before his machine had come to a standstill, the man had jumped out and was running for a deep ditch which flanked one side of the field. Tam followed behind him, his machine gun going, but McGinnice seemed to have a charmed life. Tam dipped down the nose of his machine, landed and charged the running man, but McGinnice detected the maneuver and flung himself flat on his face and the machine passed over him.
Tam flung himself from the nacelle and raced after his flying foe. Suddenly McGinnice stopped and turned. There were two sharp reports and the wind of the bullets fanned the Scotsman’s cheek and then Tam was on him, his big sinewy hand about the other’s throat, his knuckles driving upward against the chin, his left hand pressing the man’s back. It was the simplest of jiu-jitsu tricks, and the big McGinnice went down with a crash.
Tam had a big leather belt about his waist over the skin coat, and with this he fastened the man’s hands behind him. With a savage pull he jerked the rebel to his feet.
“Ma laddie,” said Tam, breathing heavily with the exertion, “A’m thinkin’ ye’re goin’ for yeer last flight.”
The eyes of McGinnice roved the field. There was no one in sight. The tap, tap, tapping of the machine gun had apparently aroused no interest and certainly brought no help. As they stood together, a flight of German air-planes came over in beautiful formation, but they were six thousand feet up and the appearance of two ring-marked scouts so near the McGinnice aerodrome would not arouse any suspicion.
“What are you going to do?” asked McGinnice coldly. “You are not going to get me away. My mechanics will be over in a minute or two and I have only to tell them——”
“Ye can rest yeer mind that ye’ll tell them nothing,” said Tam grimly. “A’m no such a bad shot at a distance of six inches.”
He hauled his captive to his machine, when a thought struck him.
On the other side of the narrow white road which divided the hedgeless fields he had seen a long picket-line. Evidently cavalry had been encamped here and the careless soldiery had departed leaving behind part of their equipment.
After a glance at his captive’s bonds he laid him ungently on his face, ran across the road and severed a long length of the rope. He came back more slowly, a thoughtful smile on his face.
“Mon McGinnice,” he said to his prostrate captive, “A’ll ask ye a question.”
“Turn me over,” growled the prostrate man; “I can’t talk with my mouth to the grass.”
Tam turned him on his back. All the time his eyes were roving the flat plain, but beyond a slow-moving farm cart there was no sign of life.
“Will ye tell me,” asked Tam, “have ye ever in yeer long an’ sinfu’ career felt ye’d like to be a wee angel?”
McGinnice looked at him in alarm. “See here,” he said, “I’m entitled to a trial. I’m a belligerent——”
“Oh, ye’re a’ that an’ worse,” said Tam calmly. “Mon, ’twas a low thing to try to strafe a Flyin’ Corps gentleman wi’ a fruit-knife. It would ha’ been an ignomeenious death.”
“All’s fair in war,” said the other airily.
“Ave,” said Tam nodding, “A’m glad ye think so—A was under the same illusion mesel’ once. A’m goin’ to leave yeer han’s free,” he said. “Can ye swim?”
“Don’t try to get into conversation wi’ me,” said Tam, busy at the rope. “A’m giein’ ye instructions. Do ye know the big chateau pond near by our aerodrome? It’s a graund pond an’ A’m no sich a bad judge o’ distance. When A let ye drop, ye’ll be goin’ through air wi’ a muzzle velocity of eighty miles an hour—but the pond’s deep.”
“For God’s sake, what do you mean?” cried the pallid man. “Don’t keep me in suspense——”
“Ye’ve took the words oot of ma mouth,” said Tam; “that’s just what’s goin’ to happen to ye.”
He walked to the machine, took one end of the rope and fastened it securely to the bomb-cradle. He did it with a deliberation that did not suggest the imminence of his own peril. Then he did something to the free end and McGinnice, watching him curiously, saw that he was making a slip- knot.
“You are not going to try to carry me under that carriage, are you?” he asked in alarm.
Tam said nothing. He stooped down and fitted the rope about the prisoner’s body. Then he released the bonds about the man’s hands.
“If ye try to get away or unfasten the rope, A’ll shoot ye,” he said simply. “Ye’re no’ fit to ride in a respectable bus. If ye struggle after A start, A’ll pull the bomb release an’ drop ye. If ye behave, A’ll give ye a short drop to the pond. Hauld tight to the under carriage.”
McGinnice shouted in terror and plucked at the knotted rope about him, but soon his voice was drowned in the roar of Tarn’s engine. The little Scotsman climbed into his nacelle and his machine began to move slowly across the ground, the wild-eyed prisoner clutching with both hands to his perilous perch. The machine was at two hundred feet when he slipped and fell till the rope jerked tight.
All the army saw the return of Tam. The wheeling air-men stared in amazement as the big Spad sailed serenely through the blue, westward, the limp figure of a man swinging and swaying beneath it.