"Oh, aye," said Tam, and he smiled, which was an unusual thing for Tam to do, and then he laughed, a deep, bubbling chuckle of laughter, which was even more unusual. "Oh, aye," he said again and was still laughing when he went out of the little anteroom.
He did not go back to his bunk, but made his way to the workshop, and when he went up the next morning he carried with him, carefully strapped to the fuselage, a sheet of tin which he had industriously cut and punched full of rivet-holes in the course of the night.
"And what are you going to do with that, Tam?" asked Blackie.
"That is ma new armor," said Tam solemnly. "'Tis a grand invention I made out of my own head."
"But what is the idea?" asked Blackie.
"Captain Blackie, sir-r," said Tam, "I have a theery, and if you have no objection I'd like to try it oot."
"Go ahead," said Blackie with a perplexed frown.
At half-past eleven, Tam, having roved along the German front-line trenches and having amused himself by chasing a German spotter to earth, made what appeared to be a leisurely way back to that point of the Lille road where he had met with his adventures of the previous day. He was hoping to find the battery which he had worried at that time, and he was not disappointed. In the same area where he had met the guns before, they opened upon him. He circled round and located six pieces. Which of these was "Annie"?
One he could silence at terrible risk to himself, but no more. To drop down, on the off-chance of finding his quarry, was taking a gambler's chance, and Tam prided himself that he was no gambler. That the gun was there, he knew. Its shells were bursting ever upon his level and he was bumped and kicked by the violence of the concussions. As for the other guns, he ignored them; but from whence came the danger? He had unstrapped the tin-plate and held it ready in his gloved hand—then there came a burst dangerously near. He banked over, side-slipped in the most natural manner and with all his strength flung the tin-plate clear of the machine. Immediately after, he began to climb upward. He looked down, catching the glitter of the tin as it planed and swooped to the earth.
He knew that those on the ground below thought he was hit. For a brief space of time the guns ceased firing and by the time they recommenced they fired short. Tam was now swooping round eastward farther and farther from range, and all the time he was climbing, till, at the end of half an hour, those who watched him saw only a little black speck in the sky.
When he reached his elevation he began to circle back till he came above the guns and a little to the eastward. He was watching now intently. He had located the six by certain landmarks, and his eyes flickered from one point to the other. A drifting wisp of cloud helped him a little in the period of waiting. It served the purpose of concealment and he passed another quarter of an hour dodging eastward and westward from cover to cover until, heading back again to the west, he saw what he had been waiting for.
Down charged the nose of the machine. Like a hawk dropping upon its prey he swooped down at one hundred and fifty miles an hour, his eyes fixed upon one point. The guns did not see him until too late. Away to his right, two Archies crashed and missed him by the length of a street. He slowly flattened before he came over a gun which stood upon a big motor-trolley screened by canvas and reeds, and he was not fifty yards from the ground when he released, with almost one motion, every bomb he carried.
The explosion flung him up and tossed his little machine as though it were of paper. He gave one fleeting glance backward and saw the debris, caught a photographic glimpse of half a dozen motionless figures in the road, then set his roaring machine upward and homeward.
It was not until a week afterward that the news leaked out that Herr Heinzelle, one of Krupp's best designers, had been "killed on the Western Front," and that information put the finishing touch to Tam's joy.
"But," asked the brigadier-general to whose attention Tam's act of genius had been brought, "how did your man know it was the gun?"
"You see, sir," said Blackie, "Tam got to know that Fritz believed his machine was armored, and he thought they would be keen to see the armor, and so he took up a plate of tin and dropped it. What was more natural than that they should retrieve the armor and take it to the experts for examination? Tam waited till he saw the sunlight reflected on the tin near one of the guns—knew that he had found his objective—and dropped for it!"
"An exceedingly ingenious idea!" said the brigadier.
This message Blackie conveyed to his subordinate.
"A'm no' puffed-up aboot it," said Tam. "'Twas a great waste o' good tin."
THE LAW-BREAKER AND FRIGHTFULNESS
It is an unwritten law of all flying services that when an enemy machine bursts into flames in the course of an aerial combat the aggressor who has brought the catastrophe should leave well enough alone and allow his stricken enemy to fall unmolested.
Lieutenant Callendar, returning from a great and enjoyable strafe, was met by three fast scouts of the Imperial German Flying Service. He shot down one, when his gun was jammed. He banked over and dived to avoid the attentions of the foremost of his adversaries, but was hit by a chance bullet, his petrol tank was pierced and he suddenly found himself in the midst of noisy flames which said "Hoo-oo-oo!"
As he fell, to his amazement and wrath, one of his adversaries dropped after him, his machine-gun going like a rattle. High above the combatants a fourth and fifth machine, the one British and the other a unit of the American squadron, were tearing down-skies. The pursuing plane saw his danger, banked round and sped for home, his companion being already on the way.
"Ye're no gentleman," said Tam grimly, "an' A'm goin' to strafe ye!"
Fortunately for the flying breaker of air-laws, von Bissing's circus was performing stately measures in the heavens and as von Bissing's circus consisted of ten very fast flying-machines, Tam decided that this was not the moment for vengeance and came round on a hairpin turn just as von Bissing signaled, "Attack!"
Tam got back to the aerodrome to discover that Callendar, somewhat burnt but immensely cheerful, was holding an indignation meeting, the subject under discussion being "The Game and How It Should Be Played."
"The brute knew jolly well I was crashing. It's a monstrous thing!"
"One was bound to meet fellows like that sooner or later," said Captain Blackie, the squadron commander, philosophically. "I suppose the supply of gentlemen does not go round, and they are getting some rubbish into the corps. One of you fellows drop a note over their aerodrome and ask them what the dickens they mean by it. Did you see him, Tam?"
"A' did that," said Tam; "that wee Hoon was saved from destruction owing to circumstances ower which A' had no control. A' was on his tail; ma bricht-blue eyes were glancin' along the sichts of ma seelver-plated Lewis gun, when A' speered the grand circus of Mr. MacBissing waiting to perform."
Tam shook his head.
"A'm hoping," said he, "that it was an act of mental aberration, that 'twas his first crash; and, carried away by the excitement and enthusiasm of the moment, the little feller fell into sin. A'm hoping that retribution is awaiting him.
"'Ma wee Hindenburg,' says Mr. MacBissing, stern and ruthless, 'did I no see ye behavin' in a manner likely to bring discredit upon the Imperial and All-Highest Air Sairvice of our Exalted and Talkative Kaiser? Hoch! Hoch! Hoch!'
"Little Willie Hindenburg hangs his heid.
"'Baron,' or 'ma lord,' as the case may be, says he, 'I'll no be tellin' ye a lie. I was not mesel'! That last wee dram of sauerkraut got me all lit up like a picture palace!' says he; 'I didn't know whether it was on ma heid or somebody else's,' says he; 'I'll admit the allegation and I throw mesel' on the maircy o' the court.'
"'Hand me ma strop,' says MacBissing, pale but determined, and a few minutes later a passer-by micht have been arrested and even condemned to death by hearin' the sad and witchlike moans that came frae headquarters."
That "Little Willie Hindenburg" had not acted inadvertently, but that it was part of his gentle plan to strafe the strafed—an operation equivalent to kicking a man when he is down—was demonstrated the next morning, for when Thornton fell out of control, blazing from engine to tail, a German flying-man, unmistakably the same as had disgraced himself on the previous day, came down on his tail, keeping a hail of bullets directed at the fuselage, though he might have saved himself the trouble, for both Thornton and Freeman, his observer, had long since fought their last fight.
Again Tam was a witness and again, like a raging tempest, he swept down upon the law-breaker and again was foiled by the vigilant German scouts from executing his vengeance.
Tam had recently received from home a goodly batch of that literature which was his peculiar joy. He sat in his bunk on the night of his second adventure with the bad-mannered airman, turned the lurid cover of "The Seven Warnings: The Story of a Cowboy's Vengeance," and settled himself down to that "good, long read" which was his chiefest and, indeed, his only recreation. He began reading at the little pine table. He continued curled up in the big armchair—retrieved from the attic of the shell-battered Chateau d'Enghien. He concluded the great work sitting cross-legged on his bed, and the very restlessness which the story provoked was a sure sign of its gripping interest.
And when he had finished the little work of thirty-two pages, he turned back and read parts all over again, a terrific compliment to the shy and retiring author. He closed the book with a long sigh, sat upon his bed for half an hour and then went back to the pine table, took out from the debris of one of the drawers a bottle of ink, a pen and some notepaper and wrote laboriously and carefully, ending the seven or eight lines of writing with a very respectable representation of a skull and cross-bones.
When he had finished, he drew an envelope toward him and sat looking at it for five minutes. He scratched his head and he scratched his chin and laid down his pen.
It was eleven o'clock, and the mess would still be sitting engaged in discussion. He put out the light and made his way across the darkened aerodrome.
Blackie saw him in the anteroom, for Tam enjoyed the privilege of entree at all times.
"His name? It's very curious you should ask that question, Tam," smiled Blackie; "we've just had a message through from Intelligence. One of his squadron has been brought down by the Creepers, and they are so sick about him that this fellow who was caught by the Creepers gave him away. His name is von Mahl, the son of a very rich pal of the Kaiser, and a real bad egg."
"Von Mahl," repeated Tam slowly, "and he will be belongin' to the Roulers lot, A'm thinkin'?"
"They complain bitterly that he is not a gentleman," he said, "and they would kick him out but for the fact that he has this influence. Why did you want to know?"
"Sir-r," said Tam solemnly, "I ha'e a grand stunt."
He went back to his room and addressed the envelope:
"Mr. von Mahl."
* * * * *
The next morning when the well-born members of the Ninety-fifth Squadron of the Imperial German Air Service were making their final preparations to ascend, a black speck appeared in the sky.
Captain Karl von Zeiglemann fixed the speck with his Zeiss glasses and swore.
"That is an English machine," he said; "those Bavarian swine have let him through. Take cover!"
The group in the aerodrome scattered.
The Archie fire grew more and more furious and the sky was flecked with the smoke of bursting shell, but the little visitor came slowly and inexorably onward. Then came three resounding crashes as the bombs dropped. One got the corner of a hangar and demolished it. Another burst into the open and did no damage, but the third fell plumb between two machines waiting to go up and left them tangled and burning.
The German squadron-leader saw the machine bank over and saw, too, something that was fluttering down slowly to the earth. He called his orderly.
"There's a parachute falling outside Fritz. Go and get it."
He turned to his second in command.
"We shall find, Mueller, that this visitor is not wholly unconnected with our dear friend von Mahl."
"I wish von Mahl had been under that bomb," grumbled his subordinate. "Can't we do something to get rid of him, Herr Captain?"
Zeiglemann shook his head.
"I have suggested it and had a rap over the knuckles for my pains. The fellow is getting us a very bad name."
Five minutes later his orderly came to the group of which Zeiglemann was the center and handed him a small linen parachute and a weighted bag. The squadron-leader was cutting the string which bound the mouth of the bag when a shrill voice said:
"Herr Captain, do be careful; there might be a bomb."
There was a little chuckle of laughter from the group, and Zeiglemann glowered at the speaker, a tall, unprepossessing youth whose face was red with excitement.
"Herr von Mahl," he snapped with true Prussian ferocity, "the air-services do not descend to such tricks nor do they shoot at burning machines."
"Herr Captain," spluttered the youth, "I do what I think is my duty to my Kaiser and my Fatherland."
He saluted religiously.
To this there was no reply, as he well knew, and Captain Zeiglemann finished his work in silence. The bag was opened. He put in his hand and took out a letter.
"I thought so," he said, looking at the address; "this is for you, von Mahl." He handed it to the youth, who tore open the envelope.
They crowded about him and read it over his shoulder:
"THIS IS THE FIRST WARNING OF THE AVENGER. SHAKE IN YEER SHOES. TREMBLE! Surround ye'sel' with guards and walls And hide behind the cannon balls, And dig ye'sel' into the earth. Ye'll yet regret yeer day of birth. For Tam the Scoot is on yeer track And soon yeer dome will start to crack!"
It was signed with a skull and cross-bones.
The young man looked bewildered from one to the other. Every face was straight.
"What—what is this?" he stammered; "is it not absurd? Is it not frivolous, Herr Captain?"
He laughed his high, shrill little laugh, but nobody uttered a sound.
"This is serious, of course, von Mahl," said Zeiglemann soberly. "Although this is your private quarrel, the squadron will do its best to save you."
"But, but this is stupid foolishness," said von Mahl as he savagely tore the note into little pieces and flung them down. "I will go after this fellow and kill him. I will deal with this Herr Tam."
"You will do as you wish, Herr von Mahl, but first you shall pick up those pieces of paper, for it is my order that the aerodrome shall be kept clean."
Tam swooped back to his headquarters in time for breakfast and made his report.
"The next time you do tricks over Roulers they'll be waiting for you, Tam," said Blackie with a shake of his head. "I shouldn't strain that warning stunt of yours."
"Sir-r," said Tam, "A've no intention of riskin' government property."
"I'm not thinking of the machine, but of you."
"A' was thinkin' the same way," said Tam coolly. "'Twould be a national calamity. A' doot but even the Scotsman would be thrown into mournin'—'Intelligence reaches us,' says our great contempor'y, 'from the Western Front which will bring sorrow to nearly every Scottish home reached by our widely sairculated journal, an' even to others. Tam the Scoot, the intreepid airman, has gone west. The wee hero tackled single-handed thairty-five enemy 'busses, to wit, Mr. MacBissing's saircus, an' fell, a victim to his own indomitable fury an' hot temper, after destroyin' thairty-one of the enemy. Glascae papers (if there are any) please copy.'"
That Blackie's fears were well founded was proved later in the morning. Tam found the way to Roulers barred by an Archie barrage which it would have been folly to challenge. He turned south, avoiding certain cloud masses, and had the gratification of seeing "the circus" swoop down from the fleece in a well-designed encircling formation.
Tam swung round and made for Ypres, but again found a barring formation.
He turned again, this time straight for home, dropping his post-bag (he had correctly addressed his letter and he knew it would be delivered), shot down out of control a diving enemy machine that showed fight, chased a slow "spotter" to earth, and flashed over the British trenches less than two hundred feet from the ground with his wings shot to ribbons—for the circus had got to within machine-gun range.
* * * * *
A week later Lieutenant von Mahl crossed the British lines at a height of fifteen hundred feet, bombed a billet and a casualty clearing station and dropped an insolent note addressed to "The Englishman Tamm." He did not wait for an answer, which came at one o'clock on the following morning—a noisy and a terrifying answer.
"This has ceased to be amusing," said Captain von Zeiglemann, emerging from his bomb-proof shelter, and wired a requisition for three machines to replace those "destroyed by enemy action," and approval for certain measures of reprisal. "As for that pig-dog von Mahl...."
"He has received his fifth warning," said his unsmiling junior, "and he is not happy."
Von Mahl was decidedly not happy. His commandant found him rather pale and shaking, sitting in his room. He leaped up as von Zeiglemann entered, clicked his heels and saluted. Without a word the commandant took the letter from his hand and read:
If ye go to Germany A'll follow ye. If ye gae hame to yeer mither A'll find the house and bomb ye. A'll never leave ye, McMahl.
TAM THE AVENGER.
"So!" was von Zeiglemann's comment.
"It is rascality! It is monstrous!" squeaked the lieutenant. "It is against the rules of war! What shall I do, Herr Captain?"
"Go up and find Tam and shoot him," said Zeiglemann dryly. "It is a simple matter."
"But—but—do you think—do you believe—?"
"I think he will keep his word. Do not forget, Herr Lieutenant, that Tam brought down von Mueller, the greatest airman that the Fatherland ever knew."
The young man's face went a shade paler. The story of von Mueller and his feud with an "English" airman and of the disastrous sequel to that feud, was common knowledge throughout Germany.
Walking back to Command Headquarters, von Zeiglemann expressed his private views to his confidant.
"If Tam can scare this money-bag back to Frankfurt, he will render us a service."
"He asked me where I thought he would be safe—he is thinking of asking for a transfer to the eastern front," said Zeiglemann's assistant.
"And you said—"
"I told him that the only safe place was a British prison camp."
"Please the good God he reaches there," said Zeiglemann piously, "but he will be a fortunate man if he ever lands alive from a fight with Tam. Do not, I command you, allow him to go up alone. We must guard the swine—keep him in the formation."
Von Zeiglemann went up in his roaring little single-seater and ranged the air behind the German lines, seeking Tam. By sheer luck he was brought down by a chance Archie shell and fell with a sprained ankle in the German support-trenches, facing Armentiers.
"A warning to me to leave Mahl to fight his own quarrels," he said as he limped from the car which had been sent to bring him in.
There comes to every man to whom has been interpreted the meaning of fear a moment of exquisite doubt in his own courage, a bewildering collapse of faith that begins in uneasy fears and ends in blind panic.
Von Mahl had courage—an airman can not be denied that quality whatever his nationality may be—but it was a mechanical valor based upon an honest belief in the superiority of the average German over all—friends or rivals.
He had come to the flying service from the Corps of the Guard; to the Corps of the Guard from the atmosphere of High Finance, wherein men reduce all values to the denomination of the mark and appraise all virtues by the currency of the country in which that virtue is found.
His supreme confidence in the mark evaporated under the iron rule of a colonel who owned three lakes and a range of mountains and an adjutant who had four surnames and used them all at once.
His confidence in the superiority of German arms, somewhat shaken at Verdun, revived after his introduction to the flying service, attained to its zenith at the moment when he incurred the prejudices of Tam, and from that moment steadily declined.
The deterioration of morale in a soldier is a difficult process to reduce to description. It may be said that it has its beginnings in respect for your enemy and reaches its culminating point in contempt for your comrades. Before you reach that point you have passed well beyond the stage when you had any belief in yourself.
Von Mahl had arrived at the level of descent when he detached himself from his comrades and sat brooding, his knuckles to his teeth, reviewing his abilities and counting over all the acts of injustice to which he had been subjected.
Von Zeiglemann, watching him, ordered him fourteen days' leave, and the young officer accepted the privilege somewhat reluctantly.
There was a dear fascination in the danger, he imagined. He had twice crossed fire with Tam and now knew him, his machine, and his tactics almost intimately.
Von Mahl left for Brussels en route for Frankfurt and two days later occurred one of those odd accidents of war which have so often been witnessed.
Tam was detailed to make one of a strong raiding party which had as its objective a town just over the Belgian-German frontier. It was carried out successfully and the party was on its way home when Tam, who was one of the fighting escort, was violently engaged by two machines, both of which he forced down. In the course of a combat he was compelled to come to within a thousand feet of the ground and was on the point of climbing when, immediately beneath him, a long military railway train emerged from a tunnel. Tam carried no bombs, but he had two excellent machine guns, and he swooped joyously to the fray.
A few feet from the ground he flattened and, running in the opposite direction to that which the train was taking, he loosed a torrent of fire into the side of the carriages.
Von Mahl, looking from the window of a first-class carriage, saw in a flash the machine and its pilot—then the windows splintered to a thousand pieces and he dropped white and palpitating to the floor.
He came to Frankfurt to find his relations had gone to Karlsruhe, and followed them. The night he arrived Karlsruhe was bombed by a French squadron.... von Mahl saw only a score of flying and vengeful Tams. He came back to the front broken in spirit and courage. "The only place you can be safe is an English internment camp."
He chewed his knuckles with fierce intentness and thought the matter over.
"A'm delayin' ma seventh warnin'," said Tam, "for A'm no' so sure that McMahl is aboot. A've no' seen the wee chiel for a gay lang time."
"Honestly, Tam," said young Craig (the last of the Craigs, his two brothers having been shot down over Lille), "do you really think you scare Fritz?"
Tam pulled at his cigar with a pained expression, removed the Corona from his mouth, eyeing it with a disappointed sneer, and sniffed disparagingly before he replied.
"Sir-r," he said, "the habits of the Hoon, or Gairman, ha'e been ma life study. Often in the nicht when ye gentlemen at the mess are smokin' bad seegairs an' playin' the gamblin' game o' bridge-whist, Tam o' the Scoots is workin' oot problems in Gairman psych—I forget the bonnie waird. There he sits, the wee man wi'oot so much as a seegair to keep him company—thank ye, sir-r, A'll not smoke it the noo, but 'twill be welcomed by one of the sufferin' mechanics—there sits Tam, gettin' into the mind, or substitute, of the Hoon."
"But do you seriously believe that you have scared him?"
Tam's eyes twinkled.
"Mr. Craig, sir-r, what do ye fear wairst in the world?"
Craig thought a moment.
"Snakes," he said.
"An' if ye wanted to strafe a feller as bad as ye could, would ye put him amongst snakes?"
"I can't imagine anything more horrible," shuddered Craig.
"'Tis the same with the Hoon. He goes in for frichtfulness because he's afraid of frichtfulness. He bombs little toons because he's scairt of his ain little toons bein' bombed. He believes we get the wind up because he'd be silly wi' terror if we did the same thing to him. Ye can always scare a Hoon—that's ma theery, sir-r."
Craig had no further opportunity for discussing the matter, for the next morning he was "concussed" in midair and retained sufficient sense to bring his machine to the ground. Unfortunately the ground was in the temporary occupation of the German.
So Craig went philosophically into bondage.
He was taken to German Headquarters and handed over to von Zeiglemann's wing "for transport."
"This is Mr. von Mahl," introduced Zeiglemann gravely (they were going in to lunch); "you have heard of him."
Craig raised his eyebrows, for the spirit of mischief was on him.
"Von Mahl," he said with well-assumed incredulity; "why, I thought—oh, by the way, is to-day the sixteenth?"
"To-morrow is the sixteenth," snarled von Mahl. "What happens to-morrow, Herr Englishman?"
"I beg your pardon," said Craig politely; "I'm afraid I can not tell you—it would not be fair to Tam."
And von Mahl went out in a sweat of fear.
* * * * *
From somewhere overhead came a sound like a snarl of a buzz-saw as it bites into hard wood. Tam, who was walking along a deserted by-road, his hands in his breeches pockets, his forage cap at the back of his head, looked up and shaded his eyes. Something as big as a house-fly, and black as that, was moving with painful slowness across the skies.
Now, there is only one machine that makes a noise like a buzz-saw going about its lawful business, and that is a British battle-plane, and that this was such a machine, Tam knew.
Why it should be flying at that height and in a direction opposite to that in which the battle-line lay, was a mystery.
Usually a machine begins to drop as it reaches our lines, even though its destination may be far beyond the aerodromes immediately behind the line—even, as in this case, when it was heading straight for the sea and the English coast. Nor was it customary for an aeroplane bound for "Blighty" to begin its voyage from some point behind the German lines. Tam stood for fully five minutes watching the leisurely speck winging westward; then he retraced his steps to the aerodrome.
He found at the entrance a little group of officers who were equally interested.
"What do you make of that bus, Tam?" asked Blackie.
"She's British," said Tam cautiously.
He reached out his hands for the glasses that Blackie was offering, and focused them on the disappearing machine. Long and silently he watched her. The sun had been behind a cloud, but now one ray caught the aeroplane for a moment and turned her into a sparkling star of light. Tam put down his glasses.
"Yon's Mr. Craig's," he said impressively.
"Craig's machine? What makes you think so?"
"Sir-r," said Tam, "I wad know her anywheer. Yon's Mr. Craig's 'bus, right enough."
Blackie turned quickly and ran to his office. He spun the handle of the telephone and gave a number.
"That you, Calais? There's a Boche flying one of our machines gone in your direction—yes, one that came down in his lines last week. A Fairlight battle-plane. She's flying at sixteen thousand feet. Warn Dover."
He hung up the telephone and turned back.
Holiday-makers at a certain British coast town were treated to the spectacle of an alarm.
They gathered on the sands and on the front and watched a dozen English machines trekking upward in wide circles until they also were hovering specks in the sky. They saw them wheel suddenly and pass out to sea and then those who possessed strong glasses noted a new speck coming from the east and presently thirteen machines were mixed up and confused, like the spots that come before the eyes of some one afflicted with a liver.
From this pickle of dots one slowly descended and the trained observers standing at a point of vantage whooped for joy, for that which seemed a slow descent was, in reality, moving twice as fast as the swiftest express train and, moreover, they knew by certain signs that it was falling in flames.
A gray destroyer, its three stacks belching black smoke, cut through the sea and circled about the debris of the burning machine. A little boat danced through the waves and a young man was hauled from the wreckage uttering strange and bitter words of hate.
They took him down to the ward-room of the destroyer and propped him in the commander's armchair. A businesslike doctor dabbed two ugly cuts in his head with iodine and deftly encircled his brow with a bandage. A navigating lieutenant passed him a whisky-and-soda.
"If you speak English, my gentle lad," said the commander, "honor us with your rank, title, and official number."
"Von Mahl," snapped the young man, "Royal Prussian Lieutenant of the Guard."
"You take our breath away," said the commander. "Will you explain why you were flying a British machine carrying the Allied marks?"
"I shall explain nothing," boomed the youth.
He was not pleasant to look upon, for his head was closely shaven and his forehead receded. Not to be outdone in modesty, his chin was also of a retiring character.
"Before I hand you over to the wild men of the Royal Naval Air Service, who, I understand, eat little things like you on toast, would you like to make any statement which will save you from the ignominious end which awaits all enterprising young heroes who come camouflaging as enterprising young Britons?"
Von Mahl hesitated.
"I came—because I saw the machine—it had fallen in our lines—it was an impulse."
He slipped his hand into his closely buttoned tunic and withdrew a thick wad of canvas-backed paper which, unfolded, revealed itself as a staff map of England.
This he spread on the ward-room table and the commander observed that at certain places little red circles had been drawn.
"Uppingleigh, Colnburn, Exchester," said the destroyer captain; "but these aren't places of military importance—they are German internment camps."
"Exactly!" said von Mahl; "that is where I go."
In this he spoke the truth, for to one of these he went.
THE MAN BEHIND THE CIRCUS
There comes to every great artist a moment when a sense of the futility of his efforts weighs upon and well-nigh crushes him. Such an oppression represents the reaction which follows or precedes much excellent work. The psychologist will, perhaps, fail to explain why this sense of emptiness so often comes before a man's best accomplishments, and what association there is between that dark hour of anguish which goes before the dawn of vision, and the perfect opportunity which invariably follows.
Sergeant-Pilot Tam struck a bad patch of luck. In the first place, he had missed a splendid chance of catching von Rheinhoff, who with thirty-one "crashes" to his credit came flaunting his immoral triumph in Tam's territory. Tam had the advantage of position and had attacked—and his guns had jammed. The luck was not altogether against him, for, if every man had his due, von Rheinhoff should have added Tam's scalp to the list of his thirty-one victims.
Tam only saved himself by taking the risk of a spinning nose dive into that zone of comparative safety which is represented by the distance between the trajectories of high-angle guns and the flatter curve made by the flight of the eighteen-pounder shell.
Nor were his troubles at an end that day, for later he received instructions to watch an observation balloon, which had been the recipient of certain embarrassing attentions from enemy aircraft. And in some miraculous fashion, though he was in an advantageous position to attack any daring intruder, he had been circumvented by a low-flying Fokker.
The first hint he received that the observation balloon was in difficulties came when he saw the two observers leap into space with their parachutes, and a tiny spiral of smoke ascend from the fat and helpless "sausage."
Tam dived for the pirate machine firing both guns—then, for the second time that day, the mechanism of his gun went wrong.
"Accidents will happen," said the philosophical Blackie; "you can't have it all your own way, Tam. If I were you I'd take a couple of days off—you can have ten days' leave if you like, you're entitled to it."
But Tam shook his head. "A'll tak' a day, sir-r," he said, "for meditation an' devotional exercise wi' that wee bit gun."
So he turned into the workshop and stripped the weapon, calling each part by name until he found, in a slovenly fitted ejector, reason and excuse for exercising his limitless vocabulary upon that faithless part. He also said many things about the workman who had fitted it.
"Angus Jones! O Angus Jones!" said Tam, shaking his head.
Tam never spoke of anybody impersonally. They were christened instantly and became such individual realities that you could almost swear that you knew them, for Tam would carefully equip them with features and color, height and build, and frequently invented for the most unpopular of his imaginary people relatives of offensive reputations.
"Angus, ma wee lad," he murmured as his nimble fingers grew busy, "ye've been drinkin' again! Nay, don't deny it! A' see ye comin' out of Hennessy's the forenoon. An' ye've a wife an' six children, the shame on ye to treat a puir woman so! Another blunder like this an' ye'll lose yeer job."
A further fault was discovered in a stiff feed-block, and here Tam grew bitter and personal.
"Will ye do this, Hector Brodie McKay? Man, can ye meet the innocent gaze o' the passin' soldiery an' no' feel a mairderer? An' wi' a face like that, ravaged an' seaun fra' vicious livin'—for shame, ye scrimshankin', lazy guid-for-nawthing!"
He worked far into the night, for he was tireless, and appeared on parade the next morning fresh and bright of eye.
"Tam, when you're feeling better I'd like you to dodge over the German lines. Behind Lille there's a new Hun Corps Headquarters, and there's something unusual on."
Tam went out that afternoon in the clear cold sky and found that there was indeed something doing.
Lille was guarded as he had never remembered its being guarded before, by three belts of fighting machines. His first attempt to break through brought a veritable swarm of hornets about his ears. The air reverberated with Archie fire of a peculiar and unusual intensity long before he came within striking distance of the first zone.
Tam saw the angry rush of the guardian machines and turned his little Nieuport homeward.
"A'richt! A'richt! What's frichtenin' ye?" he demanded indignantly, as they streaked behind his tail. "A'm no' anxious to put ma nose where it's no' wanted!"
He shook off his pursuers and turned on a wide circle, crossed the enemy's line on the Vimy Ridge and came back across the black coal-fields near Billy-Montigny. But his attempt to run the gauntlet and to cross Lille from the eastward met with no better success, and he escaped via Menin and the Ypres salient.
"Ma luck's oot," he reported glumly. "There's no road into Lille or ower Lille—ye'd better send a submarine up the Liza."
Tam had never thoroughly learned the difference between the Yser and the Lys and gave both rivers a generic title.
"Did you see any concentrations east of the town?" asked Blackie.
"Beyond an epidemic of mad Gairman airplanes an' a violent eruption of Archies, the hatefu' enemy shows no sign o' life or movement," said Tam. "Man, A've never wanted so badly to look into Lille till now."
Undoubtedly there was something to hide. Young Turpin, venturing where Tam had nearly trod, was shot down by gun-fire and taken prisoner. Missel, a good flyer, was outfought by three opponents and slid home with a dead observer, limp and smiling in the fuselage.
"To-morrow at daybreak, look for Tam amongst the stars," said that worthy young man as he backed out of Blackie's office, "the disgustin' incivility o' the Hoon has aroosed the fichtin' spirit o' the dead-an'-gone MacTavishes. Every fiber in ma body, includin' ma suspenders, is tense wi' rage an' horror."
"A cigar, Tam?"
"No, thank ye, sir-r," said Tam, waving aside the proffered case and extracting two cigars in one motion. "Well, perhaps A'd better. A've run oot o' seegairs, an' the thoosand A' ordered frae ma Glasgae factor hae been sunk by enemy action—this is no' a bad seegair, Captain Blackie, sir-r. It's a verra passable smoke an' no' dear at four-pence."
"That cigar costs eight pounds a hundred," said Blackie, nettled.
"Ye'll end yeer days in the puirhouse," said Tam.
True to his promise he swept over Lille the next morning and to his amazement no particular resistance was offered. He was challenged half-heartedly by a solitary machine, he was banged at by A-A guns, but encountered nothing of that intensity of fire which met him on his earlier visit.
And Lille was the Lille he knew: the three crooked boulevards, the jumble of small streets, and open space before the railway station. There was no evidence of any unusual happening—no extraordinary collection of rolling stock in the tangled sidings, or gatherings of troops in the outskirts of the town.
Tam was puzzled and pushed eastward. He pursued his investigations as far as Roubaix, then swept southward to Douai. Here he came against exactly the same kind of resistance which he had found on his first visit to Lille. There were the three circles of fighting machines, the strengthened Archie batteries, the same furious eagerness to attack.
Tam went home followed by three swift fighters. He led them to within gliding distance of the Allied lines; then he turned, and this time his guns served him, for he crashed one and forced one down. The third went home and told Fritz all about it.
"It's verra curious," said Tam, and Blackie agreed.
Tam went out again the following morning—but this time not alone. Six fighting machines, with Blackie leading, headed for Douai in battle formation. At Douai they met no resistance—the aerial concentration had vanished and, save for the conventional defenses, there was nothing to prevent their appearance over the town. That same afternoon Captain Sutton, R. F. C., looking for an interest in life over Menin, found it. He came back with his fuselage shot to chips and wet through from a smashed radiator.
"So far as I can discover," he said, "all the circuses are hovering about Menin. Von Bissing's is there and von Rheinhoff's, and I could almost swear I saw von Wentzl's red scouts."
"Did you get over the town?"
Sutton laughed. "I was a happy man when I reached our lines," he said.
"Maybe they're trying out some new stunt," said Blackie. "Probably it is a plan of defense—a sort of divisional training—I'll send a report to G. H. Q. I don't like this concentration of circuses in our neighborhood."
Now a "circus" is a strong squadron of German airplanes attached to no particular army, but employed on those sectors where its activities will be of most value at a critical time; and its appearance is invariably a cause for rejoicing among all red-blooded adventurers.
Two days after Blackie had made his report, von Bissing's World-Renowned Circus was giving a performance, and on this occasion was under royal and imperial patronage.
For, drawn up by the side of the snowy road, some miles in the rear of the line were six big motor-cars, and on a high bank near to the road was a small group of staff officers muffled from chin to heels in long gray overcoats, clumsily belted at the waist.
Aloof from the group was a man of medium height, stoutly built and worn of face, whose expression was one of eager impatience. The face, caricatured a hundred thousand times, was hawklike, the eyes bright and searching, the chin out-thrust. He had a nervous trick of jerking his head sideways as though he were everlastingly suffering from a crick in the neck.
Now and again he raised his glasses to watch the leader as he controlled the evolutions of the twenty-five airplanes which constituted the "circus."
It was a sight well worth watching.
First in a great V, like a flock of wild geese, the squadron swept across the sky, every machine in its station. Then, at a signal from the leader, the V broke into three diamond-shaped formations, with the leader at the apex of the triangle which the three flights formed. Another signal and the circus broke into momentary confusion, to reform with much banking and wheeling into a straight line—again with the leader ahead. Backward and forward swept the line; changed direction and wheeled until the machines formed a perfect circle in the sky.
"Splendid!" barked the man with the jerking head.
An officer, who stood a few paces to his rear, stepped up smartly, saluted, and came rigidly to attention.
"Splendid!" said the other again. "You will tell Captain Baron von Bissing that I am pleased and that I intend bestowing upon him the Order Pour la Merite. His arrangements for my protection at Lille and Douai and Menin were perfect."
"Majesty," said the officer, "your message shall be delivered."
The sightseer swept the heavens again. "I presume that the other machine is posted as a sentinel," he said. "That is a most excellent idea—it is flying at an enormous height. Who is the pilot?"
The officer turned and beckoned one of the group behind him. "His Majesty wishes to know who is the pilot of the sentinel machine?" he asked.
The officer addressed raised his face to the heavens with a little frown.
"The other machine, general?" he repeated. "There is no other machine."
He focused his glasses on the tiniest black spot in the skies. Long and seriously he viewed the lonely watcher, then:
"General," he said hastily, "it is advisable that his Majesty should go."
"I can not distinguish the machine, but it looks suspicious."
A field away, two great brown geysers of earth leaped up into the air and two deafening explosions set the bare branches of the trees swaying.
Down the bank scrambled the distinguished party and in a few seconds the cars were streaking homeward.
The circus was now climbing desperately, but the watcher on high had a big margin of safety.
Just to the rear of the last staff car fell the bomb, blowing a great hole in the paved road and scattering stones and debris over a wide area.
The cars fled onward, skidding at every turn of the road, and the bombs followed or preceded them, or else flung up the earth to left or right.
"That's the tenth and the last, thank God!" said the sweating aide-de-camp. "Heaven and thunder! what an almost catastrophe!"
In the amazing spaces of the air, a lean face, pinched and blue with the cold, peered over the fuselage and watched the antlike procession of pin-point dots moving slowly along the snowy road.
"That's ma last!" he said, and picking up an aerial torpedo from between his feet, he dropped it over the side.
It struck the last car, which dissolved noisily into dust and splinters, while the force of the explosion overturned the car ahead.
"A bonnie shot," said Tam o' the Scoots complacently, and banked over as he turned for home. He shot a glance at the climbing circus and judged that there was no permanent advantage to be secured from an engagement. Nevertheless he loosed a drum of ammunition at the highest machine and grinned when he saw two rips appear in the wing of his machine.
By the time he passed over the German line all the Archies in the world were blazing at him, but Tam was at an almost record height—the height where men go dizzy and sick and suffer from internal bleeding. Over the German front-line trenches he dipped steeply down, but such had been his altitude that he was still ten thousand feet high when he leveled out above his aerodrome.
He descended in wide circles, his machine canted all the time at an angle of forty-five degrees and lighted gently on the even surface of the field a quarter of an hour after he had crossed the line.
He descended to the ground stiff and numb, and Bertram walked across from his own machine to make inquiries.
"It's no' so parky, Mr. Bertram, sir-r," replied Tam cautiously.
"Rot, Tam!" said that youthful officer. "Why, your nose is blue!"
"Aweel," admitted Tam. "But that's no' cold, that's—will ye look at ma altitude record?"
The young man climbed into the fuselage, looked and gasped.
"Dear lad!" he said, "have you been to heaven?"
"Verra near, sir-r," said Tam gravely; "another ten gallons o' essence an' A'd 'a' made it. A've been that high that A' could see the sun risin' to-morrow!"
He started to walk off to his quarters but stopped and turned back. "Don't go near MacBissing's caircus," he warned; "he's feelin' sore."
Tam made a verbal report to Blackie, and Blackie got on to Headquarters by 'phone.
"Tam seems to have had an adventure, sir," he said, when he had induced H. Q. exchange to connect him with his general and gave the lurid details.
"It might be Hindenburg," said the general thoughtfully. "He's on the Western Front somewhere—that may explain the appearance of the circuses—or it may have been a corps general showing off the circus to a few trippers from Berlin—they are always running Reichstag members and pressmen round this front. Get Tam to make a report—his own report, not one you have edited." Blackie heard him chuckle. "I showed the last one to the army commander and he was tickled to death—hurry it along, I'm dying to see it."
If there is one task which an airman dislikes more than any other, it is report-writing. Tam was no exception, and his written accounts of the day's work were models of briefness.
In the days of his extreme youth he had been engaged in labor which did not call for the clerical qualities, and roughly his written "reports" were modeled on the "time sheets" he was wont to render in that far-off period, when he dwelt in lodgings at Govan, and worked at McArdle's Shipbuilding Yard.
Left aerodrome 6 A. M. Enemy patrols encountered 5 Ditto ditto chased 4 Ditto ditto forced down 2 Bombs dropped on Verleur Station 5 &c., &c.
Fortunately Tam possessed a romantic and a poetical soul, and there were rare occasions when he would offer a lyrical account of his adventures containing more color and detail. As, for example, his account of his fight with Lieutenant Prince Zwartz-Hamelyn:
"Oh, wad some power the giftie gi'e us Tae see oursel's as ithers see us." Thus spake a high an' princely Hun As he fired at Tam wi' his Maxim gun. Thinkin', na doot, that bonnie lad Was lookin', if no' feelin', bad. But Tam he stalled his wee machine An' straffit young Zwartz-Hamelyn.
It was Blackie who harnessed Tam's genius for description to the pencil of a stenographer, and thereafter, when a long report was needed by Headquarters, there would appear at Tam's quarters one Corporal Alexander Brown, Blackie's secretary, and an amiable cockney who wrote mystic characters in a notebook with great rapidity.
"Is it ye, Alec?" said Tam, suspending his ablutions to open the door of his "bunk." "Come away in, man. Is it a report ye want? Sit down on the bed an' help yeersel' to the seegairs. Ye'll find the whisky in the decanter."
Corporal Brown sat on the bed because he knew it was there. He dived into his pocket and produced a notebook, a pencil and a cigaret, because he knew they had existence, too. He did not attempt to search for the cigars and the whisky because he had been fooled before, and had on two separate occasions searched the bunk for these delicacies under the unsmiling eyes of Tam and aided by Tam's advice, only to find in the end that Tam was as anxious to discover such treasures as the baffled corporal himself.
"We will noo proceed with the thrillin' serial," said Tam, spreading his towel on the window-ledge and rolling down his shirt-sleeves. "Are ye ready, Alec?"
"'Arf a mo', Sergeant—have you got a match?"
"Man, ye're a cadger of the most appallin' descreeption," said Tam severely. "A'm lookin' for'ard to the day when it'll be a coort-martial offense to ask yeer superior officer for matches—here's one. Don't strike it till ye give me one of yeer common cigarets."
The corporal produced a packet.
"A'll ask ye as a favor not to let the men know A've descended to this low an' vulgar habit," said Tam. "A'll take two or three as curiosities—A'd like to show the officers the kind o' poison the lower classes smoke—"
"Here! Leave me a couple!" said the alarmed non-commissioned officer as Tam's skilful fingers half emptied the box.
"Be silent!" said Tam, "ye're interruptin' ma train o' thochts—what did A' say last?"
"You said nothing yet," replied the corporal, rescuing his depleted store.
"Here it begins," said Tam, and started:
"At ten o'clock in the forenoon o' a clear but wintry day, a solitary airman micht hae been seen wingin' his lane way ameedst the solitude o' the achin' skies."
"'Achin' skies'?" queried the stenographer dubiously.
"It's poetry," said Tam. "A' got it oot o' a bit by Roodyard Kiplin', the Burns o' England, an' don't interrupt.
"He seemed ower young for sich an adventure—"
"How old are you, Sergeant, if I may ask the question?" demanded the amanuensis.
"Ye may not ask, but A'll tell you—A'm seventy-four come Michaelmas, an' A've never looked into the bricht ees o' a lassie since A' lost me wee Jean, who flit wi' a colonel o' dragoons, in the year the battle of Balaklava was fought—will ye shut yeer face whilst A'm dictatin'?"
"Sorry," murmured the corporal and poised his pencil.
"Suddenly, as the wee hero was guidin' his 'bus through the maze o' cloods, a strange sicht met his ees. It was the caircus of MacBissing! They were evolutin' by numbers, performin' their Great Feat of Balancin' an' Barebacked Ridin', Aerial Trapeze an' Tight-rope Walkin', Loopin' the Loop by the death-defyin' Brothers Fritz, together with many laughable an' amusin' interludes by Whimsical Walker, the Laird o' Laughter, the whole concludin' with a Graund Patriotic Procession entitled Deutschland ower All—or Nearly All."
"I ain't seen a circus for years," said the corporal with a sigh. "Lord! I used to love them girls in short skirts—"
"Restrain yeer amorous thochts, Alec," warned Tam, "an' fix yeer mind on leeterature. To proceed:
"'Can it be,' says our hero, 'can it be that Mr. MacBissing is doin' his stunts at ten-thairty o' the clock in the cauld morn, for sheer love o' his seenister profession? No,' says A'—says our young hero—'no,' says he, 'he has a distinguished audience as like as not.'
"Speerin' ower the side an' fixin' his expensive glasses on the groon, he espied sax motor-cars—"
The door was flung open and Blackie came in hurriedly. "Tam—get up," he said briefly. "All the damn circuses are out on a strafe—and we're It—von Bissing, von Rheinhoff, and von Wentzl. They're coming straight here and I think they're out for blood."
The history of that great aerial combat has been graphically told by the special correspondents. Von Bissing's formation—dead out of luck that day—was broken up by Archie fire and forced back, von Wentzl was engaged by the Fifty-ninth Squadron (providentially up in strength for a strafe of their own) and turned back, but the von Rheinhoff group reached its objective before the machines were more than five thousand feet from the ground and there was some wild bombing.
Von Rheinhoff might have unloaded his bombs and got away, but he showed deplorable judgment. To insure an absolutely successful outcome to the attack he ordered his machines to descend. Before he could recover altitude the swift little scouts were up and into the formation. The air crackled with the sound of Lewis-gun fire, machines reeled and staggered like drunken men, Tam's fighting Morane dipped and dived, climbed and swerved in a wild bacchanalian dance. Airplanes, British and German alike, fell flaming to the earth before the second in command of the enemy squadron signaled, "Retire."
A mile away a battery of A-A guns waited, its commander's eyes glued to a telescope.
"They're breaking off—stand by! Range 4300 yards—deflection—There they go! Commence firing."
A dozen batteries were waiting the signal. The air was filled with the shriek of speeding shells, the skies were mottled with patches of smoke, white and brown, where the charges burst.
Von Rheinhoff's battered squadron rode raggedly to safety.
"Got him—whoop!" yelled a thousand voices, as from one machine there came a scatter of pieces as a high-explosive shell burst under the wing, and the soaring bird collapsed and came trembling, slowly, head-over-heels to the ground.
Von Rheinhoff, that redoubtable man, was half conscious when they pulled him out of the burnt and bloody wreck.
He looked round sleepily at the group about him and asked in the voice of a very tired man:
Tam leant forward, his face blazing with excitement.
"Say that again, sir-r," he said.
Von Rheinhoff looked at him through half-opened eyes. "Tam—eh?" he whispered. "You—nearly put an empire—in mourning."
Tam drew a long breath, then turned away. "Nearly!" he said bitterly. "Did A' no' tell ye, Captain Blackie, sir-r, that ma luck was oot?"
A QUESTION OF RANK
Tam stood in the doorway of Squadron Headquarters and saluted.
"Come in, Sergeant Mactavish," said Blackie, and Tam's heart went down into his boots.
To be called by his surname was a happening which had only one significance. There was trouble of sorts, and Tam hated trouble.
"There are some facts which General Headquarters have asked me to verify—your age is twenty-seven?"
"You hold the military medal, the French Medaille Militaire, the Russian medal of St. George and the French Croix de Guerre?"
"Oh, aye, Captain Blackie, sir-r, but A've no' worn 'em yet."
"You were created King's Corporal for an act of valor on January 17, 1915?" Blackie went on, consulting a paper.
Blackie nodded. "That's all, Sergeant," he said, and as Tam saluted and turned, "oh, by-the-way, Sergeant—we had a brass ha—I mean a staff officer here the other day and he reported rather unfavorably upon a practise of yours—er—ours. It was a question of discipline—you know it is not usual for a non-commissioned officer to be on such friendly terms with—er—officers. And I think he saw you in the anteroom of the mess. So I told him something which was not at the time exactly true."
Tam nodded gravely.
For the first time since he had been a soldier he had a horrid feeling of chagrin, of disappointment, of something that rebuffed and hurt.
"A' see, sir-r," he said, "'tis no' ma wish to put mesel' forward, an' if A've been a wee bit free wi' the young laddies there was no disrespect in it. A' know ma place an' A'm no' ashamed o' it. There's a shipyard on the Clyde that's got ma name on its books as a fitter—that's ma job an' A'm proud o' it. If ye're thinkin', Captain Blackie, sir-r, that ma heid got big—"
"No, no, Tam," said Blackie hastily, "I'm just telling you—so that you'll understand things when they happen."
Tam saluted and walked away.
He passed Brandspeth and Walker-Giddons and responded to their flippant greetings with as stiff a salute as he was capable of offering. They stared after him in amazement.
"What's the matter with Tam?" they demanded simultaneously, one of the other.
Tam reached his room, closed and locked the door and sat down to unravel a confused situation.
He had grown up with the squadron and had insensibly drifted into a relationship which had no counterpart in any other branch of the service. He was "Tam," unique and indefinable. He had few intimates of his own rank, and little association with his juniors. The mechanics treated him as being in a class apart and respected him since the day when, to the prejudice of good order and military discipline, he had followed a homesick boy who had deserted, found him and hammered him until nostalgia would have been a welcome relief. All deserters are shot, and the youth having at first decided that death was preferable to a repetition of the thrashing he had received, changed his mind and was tearfully grateful.
Sitting on his bed, his head between his hands, pondering this remarkable change which had come to the attitude of his officers and friends, Tam was sensible (to his astonishment) of the extraordinary development his mentality had undergone. He had come to the army resentfully, a rabid socialist with a keen contempt for "the upper classes" which he had never concealed. The upper classes were people who wore high white collars, turned up the ends of their trousers and affected a monocle. They spoke a kind of drawling English and said, "By gad, dear old top—what perfectly beastly weathah!"
They did no work and lived on the sweat of labor. They patronized the workman or ignored his existence, and only came to Scotland to shoot and fish—whereon they assumed (with gillies and keepers of all kinds) the national dress which Scotsmen never wear.
That was the old conception, and Tam almost gasped as he realized how far he had traveled from his ancient faith. For all these boys he knew were of that class—most of them had an exaggerated accent and said, "By gad!"—but somehow he understood them and could see, beneath the externals, the fine and lovable qualities that were theirs. He had been taken into this strange and pleasant community and had felt—he did not exactly know what he had felt. All he did know was that a brass-hatted angel with red tabs on its collar stood at the gate of a little paradise of comradeship, and forbade further knowledge of its pleasant places.
He pursed his lips and got to his feet, sick with a sense of his loss. He was of the people, apart. He was a Clydeside worker and they were the quality. He told himself this and knew that he lied—he and they stood on grounds of equality; they were men doing men's work and risking their lives one for the other.
* * * * *
Tam whistled a dreary little tune, took down his cap and walked over to the workshops. There was a motorcycle which Brandspeth told him he could use, and after a moment's hesitation, Tam wheeled the machine to the yard. Then he remembered that he was in his working tunic, and since it was his intention to utilize this day's leave in visiting a town at the rear of the lines, he decided to return to his bunk and change into his "best."
He opened his box—but his best tunic was missing.
"Weel, weel!" said Tam, puzzled, and summoned his batman with a shrill whistle.
"To tell you the truth, Sergeant," said the man, "Mr. Walker-Giddons and the other young officers came over for it three days ago. They got me to give it to 'em and made me promise I wouldn't say anything about it."
Tam smiled quietly.
"All right, Angus," he nodded and went back to his cycle. He did not know the joke, but it was one which would probably come to an untimely end, in view of the disciplinary measures which headquarters were taking. This incident meant another little pang, but the freshness of the morning and the exhilaration of the ride—for motorcycling has thrills which aviation does not know—helped banish all thoughts of an unpleasant morning.
He reached his destination, made a few purchases, drank an agreeable cup of coffee and discovered that he had exhausted all the joys which the town held. He had intended amusing himself through the day and returning at night, but, even before the restaurants began to fill for lunch he was bored and irritable, and strapping his purchases to the back of the cycle he mounted the machine and began his homeward journey.
It was in the little village St. Anton (in reality a suburb of the town) that he met Adventure—Adventure so novel, so bewildering, that he felt that he had been singled out by fate for such an experience as had never before fallen to mortal man.
He met a girl. He met her violently, for she was speeding along a road behind the wheel of a small motor ambulance and it happened that the road in question ran at right angles to that which Tam was following.
Both saw the danger a few seconds before the collision occurred; both applied fierce brakes, but, nevertheless, Tam found himself on his hands and knees at the feet of the lady-driver, having taken a purler almost into her lap, despite the printed warning attached to this portion of the ambulance:
DRIVER AND ORDERLIES ONLY
"Oh, I do hope you aren't hurt," said the girl anxiously.
Tam picked himself up, dusted his hands and his knees and surveyed her severely.
She was rather small of stature and very pretty. A shrapnel helmet was set at a rakish angle over her golden-brown hair, and she wore the uniform of a Red Cross driver.
"It was my fault," she went on. "This is only a secondary road and yours is the main—I should have slowed but I guess I was thinking of things. I often do that."
She was obviously American and Tam's slow smile was free of malice.
"It's fine to think of things," he said, "especially when y're drivin' an ambulance—but it's a hairse ye ought to be drivin', Mistress, if ye want to gie yeer thochts a good airin'."
"I'm really sorry," said the girl penitently. "I'm afraid your cycle is smashed."
"Don't let it worry ye," said Tam calmly. "It's no' ma bike anyway; it belongs to one of the hatefu' governin' classes, an' A've nothin' to do but mak' guid the damage."
"Oh," said the girl blankly, then she suddenly went red.
"Of course," she began awkwardly, "as I was responsible—I can well afford—"
She halted lamely and Tam's eyes twinkled. "Maybe ye're the niece of Andrew Carnegie an' ye've had yeer monthly library allowance," he said gravely, "an' maybe ye could spare a few thousand dollars or cents—A've no' got the exact coinage in ma mind—to help a wee feller buy a new whizzer-wheel. A' take it kindly, but guid money makes bad frien's."
"I didn't intend offering you money," she said hurriedly, flushing deeper than ever, "let me pull the car up to the side of the road."
Tam examined his own battered machine in the meantime. The front wheel had buckled, but this was easily remedied, and by the time the girl had brought her car to rest in a field he had repaired all the important damage.
"I was going to stop somewhere about here for lunch," she said, producing a basket from under the seat; "in fact, I was thinking of lunch when—when—"
"A' nose-dived on to ye," said Tam, preparing to depart. "Weel, A'll be gettin' along. There's nothing A' can do for ye?"
"You can stay and lunch with me."
"A've haid ma dinner," said Tam hastily.
"What did you have?" she demanded.
"Roast beef an' rice pudding," said Tam glibly.
"I don't believe you—anyway I guess it won't hurt you to watch me eat."
Tam noticed that she took it for granted that he was lying, for she served him with a portion of her simple meal, and he accepted the situation without protest.
"I'm an American, you know," she said as they sat cross-legged on the grass. "I come from Jackson, Connecticut—you've heard of Jackson?"
"Oh, aye," he replied. "A'm frae Glascae."
"That's Scotland—I like the Scotch."
Tam blushed and choked.
"I came over last year to drive an ambulance in the American Ambulance Section, but they wouldn't have me, so I just went into the English Red Cross."
"British," corrected Tam.
"I shall say English if I like," she defied him.
"Weel," said Tam, "it's no' for me to check ye if ye won't be edicated."
She stared at him, then burst into a ringing laugh. "My! the Scotch people are funny—tell me about Scotland. Is it a wonderful country? Do you know about Bruce and Wallace and Rob Roy and all those people?"
"Oh, aye," said Tam cautiously, "by what A' read in the paper it's a gay fine country."
"And the red deer and glens and things—it must be lovely."
"A've seen graund pictures of a glen," admitted Tam, "but the red deer in Glascae air no' sae plentifu' as they used to be—A'm thinkin' the shipyard bummer hae scairt 'em away."
She shot a sharp glance at him, then, it seemed for the first time, noticed his stripes.
"Oh, you're a sergeant," she said. "I thought—I thought by your 'wings' you were an officer. I didn't know that sergeants—"
Tam smiled at her confusion and when he smiled there was an infinite sweetness in the action.
"Ye're right, Mistress. A'm a sairgeant, an' A' thocht a' the time ye were mistakin' me for an officer, an' A'd no' the heart to stop ye, for it's a verra lang time since A' spoke wi' a lady, an' it was verra, verra fine."
He rose slowly and walked to his cycle—she ran after him and laid her hand on his arm.
"I've been a low snob," she said frankly. "I beg your pardon—and you're not to go, because I wanted to ask you about a sergeant of your corps—you know the man that everybody is talking about. He bombed the Kaiser's staff the other day. You've heard about it, haven't you?"
Tam kept his eyes on the distant horizon.
"Oh, he's no sae much o' a fellow—a wee chap wi' an' awfu' conceit o' himsel'."
"Nonsense!" she scoffed, "why, Captain Blackie told me—"
Suddenly, she stepped back and gazed at him wide-eyed. "Why! You're Tam!"
Tam went red.
"Of course you're Tam—you never wear your medal ribbons, do you? You're called—"
"Mistress," said Tam as he saluted awkwardly and started to push his machine, "they ca' me 'sairgeant,' an' it's no' such a bad rank."
He left her standing with heightened color blaming herself bitterly for her gaucherie.
So it made that difference, too!
For some reason he did not feel hurt or unhappy. He was in his most philosophical mood when he reached his aerodrome. He had a cause for gratification in that she knew his name. Evidently, it was something to be a sergeant if by so being you stand out from the ruck of men. As to her name he had neither thought it opportune nor proper to advance inquiries.
He smiled as he changed into his working clothes and wondered why.
* * * * *
A dozen girl drivers were waiting on the broad road before the 131st General Hospital the next morning, exchanging views on the big things which were happening in their little world, when one spied an airplane.
"Gracious—isn't it high! I wonder if it's a German—they're bombing hospitals—it's British, silly—no, it's a German, I saw one just like that over Poperinghe—it's coming right over."
"Stand by your cars, ladies, please."
The tall "chief's" sharp voice scattered the groups.
"He's dropping something—it's a bomb—no, it's a message bag. Look at the streamers!"
A bag it was and when they raced to the field in which it fell they discovered that it was improvised, roughly sewn and weighted with sand.
The superintendent read the label and frowned.
"'To the Driver of Ambulance B. T. 9743, 131st General Hospital'—this is evidently for you, Miss Laramore."
"For me, Mrs. Crane?"
Vera Laramore came forward, a picture of astonishment and took the bag.
"Oh, what fun—who is it, Vera? Open it quickly."
The girl pulled open the bag and took out a letter. It bore the same address as that which had been written on the label.
Slowly she tore off the end of the envelope.
There was a single sheet of paper written in a boyish hand. Without any preliminary it ran:
"A sairgeant-pilot, feelin' sair, A spitefu' thing may do, An' so I come to you once mair That I may say—an' true— As you looked doon on me ane day, Now I look doon on you!
"You, fra your height of pride an' clan Heard your high spirit ca', An' so you scorned the common man— I saw yeer sweet face fa'; But, losh! I'm just that mighty high I can't see you at a'!"
It was signed "T" and the girl's eyes danced with joy. She shaded her eyes and looked up. The tiny airplane was turning and she waved her handkerchief frantically.
"A friend of yours?" asked the superintendent with ominous politeness.
"Ye-es—it's Tam, Mrs. Crane—I ran into him—he ran into me yesterday—"
"Tam?" even the severe superintendent was interested, "that remarkable man—I should like to see him. Everybody is talking about him just now. Was it a private letter or an official message from the aerodrome?"
"It was private," said the girl, very pink and a note of defiance in her voice, and the superintendent very wisely dropped the subject.
"I really don't know how to send him an appropriate answer," said Vera to her confidante and room-mate that evening. "I can't write poetry and I can't fly."
"I shouldn't answer it," said her sensible friend briskly. "After all, my dear, you don't want to start a flirtation with a sergeant—I mean, it's hardly the thing, is it?"
The little pajama'd figure sitting on the edge of the bed favored her friend with a cold stare.
"I certainly am not thinking of a flirtation," she said icily, "but if I were, I should as certainly be unaffected by the rank of my victim. In America we aren't quite so strong for pedigrees and families as you English people—"
"Irish," said the other gently.
Vera laughed as she curled up in the bed and drew her sheet up to her chin.
"It's queer how people hate being called English—even Tam—"
"Look here, Vera," said her companion hotly, "just leave that young man alone. And please get all those silly, romantic ideas out of your head."
"I'm going to write to him, to-morrow," said a sleepy voice, and the rapid fire of her friend's protest was answered with a well-simulated snore.
Tam received the letter by messenger.
"Dear Mr. Tam (it ran):
"I know that is your Christian name, but I really do not know your other, so will you please excuse me? I am going into Amiens next Friday and if you have quite forgiven me, will you please meet me for lunch at the Cafe St. Pierre? And thank you so much for your very clever verse."
"'Vera Laramore,'" repeated Tam. "A've no doot she's Scottish."
He trod air that week, literally and figuratively, for the work was heavy. The high winds which had kept the British squadrons to the ground, petered out to gentle breezes, and the air was alive with craft. Bombing raid, photographic reconnaissance and long-distance scouting kept the airmen busy. New squadrons appeared which had never been seen before on this front. The Franco-American unit came up from X, and did some very audible fraternizing with what was locally known as "Blackie's lot," a circumstance which ordinarily would have caused Tam's heart to rejoice.
But Tam was keeping clear of the mess-room just now, and he either sent an orderly with his messages or waited religiously on the mat. As for the officers, he avoided them unless (as was often the case) they sought him out.
Brandspeth brought one of the new men over to his bunk the night the American contingent arrived.
"I want you to meet an American officer, Tam," he yelled. "Don't be an ass—open the door."
He was on one side of the locked door and Tam was on the other.
Tam turned the key reluctantly and admitted the visitors.
"A'm no' wishin' to be unceevil, Mr. Brandspeth, but Captain Blackie will strafe ye if he finds ye here."
"Rubbish! I want you to meet Mr. Laramore."
Tam looked at the keen-faced young athlete and slowly extended his hand.
"I think you know my sister," said the smiling youth, "and certainly we all know you."
He gave the pilot a grip which would have crushed a hand of ordinary muscularity.
"A've run up against the young lady in ma travels," said Tam solemnly.
Laramore laughed. "I saw her for a moment to-day and she asked me to remind you of your appointment."
"An appointment—with a lady? Oh, Tam!" said the shocked Brandspeth, producing from his overcoat pocket a siphon of soda, a large flask of amber-brown liquid and a bundle of cigars, and setting them upon the table. "Really, Tam is always making the strangest acquaintances."
"He never met anybody stranger than Vera—or better," said Laramore, with a little laugh. "Vera, I suppose, is worth a million dollars. She is a citizen of a neutral country. She can have the bulliest time any girl could desire, and yet she elects to come to France, drive a car over abominable roads which are more often than not under shell-fire, and sleep in a leaky old shack for forty cents a day."
Brandspeth was filling the glasses.
"You're a neutral, too—say when—I suppose you're not exactly a pauper and yet you risk breaking your neck for ten francs per. Help yourself to a cigar, Tam—I said a cigar."
"Try one o' mine, sir-r," said Tam coolly, and produced a box of Perfectos from under his bed; "ye may take one apiece and it's fair to tell ye A've coonted them."
They spent a moderate but joyous evening, but Tam, standing in the doorway of his "bunk," watched the figures of his guests receding into the darkness with a sense of depression. He had no social ambitions, he had no desire to be anything other than the man he was. If he looked forward to his return to civil life at the war's end, he did so with equanimity, though that return meant a life in soiled overalls amid the hum and clang of a factory shop.
He had none of that divine discontent which is half the equipment of Scottish youth. Rather did he possess ambition's surest antidote in a mild and kindly cynicism which stripped endeavor of its illusions.
It was on the Wednesday night after he had written a polite little note to the One Hundred and Thirty-first General Hospital accepting the invitation to lunch and had received one of Blackie's tentative permits to take a day's leave (Tam called them "D. V. Passes") that the blow fell.
"Angus," said Tam to his batman, "while A'm bravin' the terrors of the foorth dimension in the morn—"
"Is that the new scoutin' machine, Sergeant?" demanded the interested batman.
"The foorth dimension, ma puir frien', is a tairm applied by philosophers of the Royal Flyin' Coop to the space between France an' heaven."
"Oh, you mean the hair!" said the disappointed servant.
"A' mean the hair," replied Tam gravely, "not the hair that stands up when yeer petrol tank goes dry nor the hare yeer poachin' ancestors stole from the laird o' the manor, but the hair ye breathe when ye're no' smokin'. An' while A'm away in the morn A' want ye to go to Mr. Brandspeth's servant an' get ma new tunic. A'm going to a pairty at Amiens on Friday, an' A'm no' anxious to be walkin' doon the palm court of the Cafe St. Pierre in ma auld tunic."
"Anyway," said the batman, busily brushing that same "auld" tunic, "you wouldn't be walkin' into the Cafe St. Pierre."
"And why not?"
"Because," said the batman triumphantly, "that's one of the cafes reserved for officers only."
There was a silence, then: "Are ye sure o' that, Angus?"
"Sure, Sergeant—I was in Amiens for three months."
Tam said nothing and presently began whistling softly.
He walked to his book-shelf, took down a thin, paper-covered volume and sank back on the bed.
"That will do, Angus," he said presently; "ca' me at five."
The barriers were up all around—they had been erected in the course of a short week. They penned him to his class, confined him to certain narrow roads from whence he might see all that was desirable but forbidden.
* * * * *
He was so silent the next morning, when he joined the big squadron that was assembling on the flying field, that Blackie did not know he was there.
"Where's Tam? Oh, here you are. You know your position in the formation? Right point to cover the right of the American bombing squad. Mr. Sutton before you and Mr. Benson behind. You will get turning signals from me. Altitude twelve thousand—that will be two thousand feet above the bombers—no need to tell you anything. The objective is Bapaume and Achiet junctions—"
Tam answered shortly and climbed into his fuselage.
The squadron went up in twos, the fighting machines first, the heavier bombing airplanes last. For twenty minutes they maneuvered for position, and presently the leader's machine spluttered little balls of colored lights and the squadron moved eastward—a great diamond-shaped flock, filling the air and the earth with a tremulous roar of sound.
They reached their objectives without effective opposition. First, the junction to the north of Bapaume, then the web of sidings at Achiet smoked and flamed under the heavy bombardment. Quick splashes of light where the bombs exploded, great columns of gray smoke mushrooming up to the sky, then feeble licks of flame growing in intensity of brightness where the incendiary bombs, taking hold of stores and hutments, advertised the success of the raid.
The squadron swung for home.
Tam with one eye for his leader and one for the possible dangers on his flank, was a mere automaton. There was no opportunity for displaying initiative—he was a cog in the wheel.
Suddenly a new signal glowed from the leading machine and Tam threw a quick glance left and right and began to climb. The other fighters were rising steeply, though not at such an angle that they could not see their leader, who was a little higher than they. Another signal and they flattened, and Tam saw all that he had guessed.
"Ma guidness!" said Tam, "the sky's stiff wi' 'busses!"
There must have been forty enemy machines between the squadron and home. So far as Tam could see there were eight separate formations and they were converging from three points of the compass.
The safety of the squadron depended upon the individual genius of the fighters. Tam swerved to the right and dipped to the attack, his machine-guns spraying his nearest opponent. Sutton, ahead of him, was already engaged, and he guessed that Benson, in his rear, had his hands full.
Tam's nearest opponent went down sideways, his second funked the encounter and careered wildly away to his left and immediately lost position to attack, for when two forces are approaching one another at eighty miles an hour, failure to seize the psychological moment for striking your blow leaves you in one minute exactly three miles to the rear of your opponent. The first shock was over in exactly thirty-five seconds, and beneath the spot where the squadron had passed seven machines were diving or circling earthward, the majority of these in flames.
The second shock came three minutes later and again the squadron triumphed.
Then Tam, looking down, saw one of the bombing machines turn out of the line, and at the same time Blackie signaled, "Cover stragglers."
The squadron was now well behind the British lines, but they were south of the aerodrome, having changed direction to meet the attacks. Tam with a little leap of heart recognized in the distance a familiar triangular field of unsullied snow, searched for and found the rectangular block of tiny huts which formed No. 131 General Hospital and turned out of the line with a wild sense of exhilaration.
"She'll no' see me eat," he said, "but she shall see a graund ficht."
The bomber was swerving and dipping like a helpless wild duck seeking to shake off the three hawks that were now hovering over her.
"Let you be Laramore's machine, O Lord!" prayed Tam, and he prayed with the assurance that his prayer was already answered.
He came at the leading German and for a second the two machines streamed nickel at one another. Tam felt the wind of the bullets and knew his machine was struck. Then his enemy crumpled and fell. He did not wait to investigate. The bomber was firing up at his nearest opponent when Tam took the third in enfilade and saw the pilot's head disappear behind the protective armoring.
He swung round and saw the bombing machine diving straight for the earth with the German scout on his tail. Tam followed in a dizzy drop. Three thousand feet from earth the bombing machine turned a complete somersault and Tam's heart leaped into his mouth.
He banked over to follow the pursuing German and in the brief space of time which intervened before his enemy could adjust his direction to cover pilot and gunner, Tam had both in line. His two guns trembled and flamed for four seconds and then the German dropped straight for earth and crashed in a flurry of smoke and flying debris.
Tam looked backward. The bomber had pancaked and was drifting to a landing; the squadron was out of sight. Tam glided to the broad field before the hospital.
"I knew it was you—I knew it was you!"
He looked down from the fuselage at the bright upturned face.
"Oh, aye, it was me," he admitted, "an' A'm michty glad ye was lookin', for A' was throwin' stunts for ye."
He was on the ground now, loosening the collar of his leather jacket. He stepped clear of the obstructing planes of his machine and looked anxiously toward the gentle slopes of the ridge on which the bomber had landed.
"Thank the guid Lord," he said and sighed his relief.
He was making a careful inspection of his own machine preparatory to returning to the aerodrome when the girl came running across the field to say good-by.
"I can't tell you just how I feel—how grateful I am. My brother says you saved his life. He was in that other machine, you know."
"A' knew it," said Tam. "'Twas a graund adventure, like you read aboot in books—'twas ma low, theatrical mind that wanted it so. Good-by, young lady."
"Till to-morrow—don't forget you're lunching with me at the Cafe St. Pierre."
Tam smiled gravely. "A'm afraid ye'll have to postpone that lunch," he said, "till—"
"Till to-morrow," she interrupted firmly, and Tam flew back to the aerodrome without explaining.
He was feeling the reaction of the morning's thrill, and when he landed he had no answer to make to the congratulations which were poured upon him.
He made his way to his hut. His batman was cleaning a pair of boots and stood stiffly as Tam entered.
"That'll do, Angus, ye may go," he said, and then saw the folded coat upon his bed. "Ah, ye got it back, did ye—well, A'll no' be needin' it."
He picked up the coat and frowned.
"This is no' mine, Angus."
"Your tunic is in the box, sir—this is the one the officers had made for you. They wanted your other tunic for the measurements."
Tam looked at the man.
"Yon's an officer's tunic, Angus," he said; "an' why do ye say 'sir' to me?"
Angus beamed and saluted with a flourish.
"It's in General Orders this morning, sir—you've got a commission, an' Mr. Brandspeth says that the mess will be expectin' you to lunch at one-thirty."
Tam sat down on the bed, biting his lip.
"Get oot, Angus," he said huskily, "an'—stay you! Ye'll find a seegair in the box under the bed—an', Angus, A'm lunchin' oot to-morrow."
A REPRISAL RAID
There are certain animals famous to every member of the British Expeditionary Force.
There is a Welsh regiment's goat which ate up the plan of attack issued by a brigadier-general, who bore a striking resemblance to somebody who was not Napoleon, thus saving the Welsh regiment from annihilation and reproach. There is the dog of the Middlesex regiment, who always bit staff-officers and was fourteen times condemned to death by elderly and irascible colonels, and fourteen times rescued by his devoted comrades. There is the Canadians' tame chicken, who sat waiting for nine-inch shells to fall, and then scratched over the ground they had disturbed; and there is last, but not least, that famous mascot of General Hospital One-Three-One, Hector O'Brien.
Hector O'Brien was born in the deeps of a Congo forest. Of his early life little is known, but as far as can be gathered, he made his way to France by way of Egypt and Gallipoli and was presented by a grateful patient to the nursing sisters and ambulance staff of One-Three-One, and by them was adopted with enthusiasm.
Hector O'Brien did precious little to earn either fame or notoriety until one memorable day. He used to sit in the surgery, before a large packing-case, wistfully watching the skies and scratching himself in an absent-minded manner. A chimpanzee may not cogitate very profoundly, and the statement that he is a deep thinker though an indifferent conversationalist has yet to be proved; but it is certain that Hector O'Brien was a student of medicine, and that he did, on this memorable day to which reference has been made, perambulate the wards of that hospital from bed to bed, feeling pulses and shaking his head in a sort of melancholy helplessness which brought joy to the heart of eight hundred patients, some hundred doctors, nurses and orderlies, and did not in any way disturb the melancholy principal medical officer, who was wholly unconscious of Hector's impertinent imitations.
Second-Lieutenant Tam, who was a frequent visitor at One-Three-One, had at an early stage struck up a friendship with Hector and had, I believe, taken him on patrol duty, Hector strapped tightly to the seat, holding with a grip of iron to the fuselage and chattering excitedly.
Thereafter, upon the little uniform jacket which Hector wore on state occasions was stitched the wings of a trained pilot. It is necessary to explain Hector's association with the R. F. C. in order that the significance of the subsequent adventure may be thoroughly appreciated.
Tam was "up" one day and on a particular mission. He looked down upon a big and irregular checker-board covered with numbers of mad white lines, which radiated from a white center and seemed to run frantically in all directions save one. Across that course, and running parallel beneath three of them was a straight silver thread. At the edge of his vision and beyond the place where the white lines ended abruptly, there were two irregular zigzags of yellow running roughly parallel. Behind each of these were thousands of little yellow splotches.
Tam banked over and came round on a hairpin turn, with his eyes searching the heavens above and below. A thousand feet beneath him was a straggling wisp of cloud, so tenuous that you saw the earth through its bulk. Above was a smaller cloud, not so transparent, but too thin to afford a lurking place for his enemy.
Tam was waiting for that famous gentleman, the "Sausage-Killer," the sworn foe of all "O. B.'s."
He paid little attention to the flaming lines because the "Sausage-Killer" never came direct from his aerodrome. You would see him streaking across the sky, apparently on his urgent way to the sea bases and oblivious of the existence of Observation Balloons.
Then he would turn, as though he had forgotten his passport and railway ticket and must go home quickly to get them. And before anybody realized what was happening, he would be diving straight down at the straining gas-bags, his tracer bullets would be ranging the line, and from every car would jump tiny black figures. You saw them falling straight as plummets till their parachutes took the air and opened. And there would be a great blazing and burning of balloons, frantic work at the winches which pulled them to earth, and the ballooning section would send messages to the aerodrome whose duty it was to protect them, apologizing for awakening the squadron from its beauty sleep, but begging to report that hostile aircraft had arrived, had performed its dirty work and had departed with apparent immunity.
The "Sausage-Killer" was due at 11.20, and at 11.18 Tam saw one solitary airplane sweep wide of the balloon park, and turn on a course which would bring him along the line of the O. B.'s. Apparently, the "Sausage-Killer" was not so blessed in the matter of sight as Tam, for the scout was on his tail and was pumping nickel through his tractor's screw before the destroyer of innocent gas-bags realized what had happened.
"It was a noble end," said Tam after he had landed, "and A'm no' so sure that he would have cared to be coonted oot in any other saircumstances; for the shepherd likes to die amongst his sheep and the captain on his bridge, and this puir feller was verra content, A've no doot, to crash under the een of his wee—"
"Did you kill him, Tam?" asked Blackie.
"A'm no' so sure he's deid in the corporeal sense," said Tam cautiously, "but he is removed from the roll of effectives."
So far from being dead, the "Sausage-Killer," who, appropriately enough, was ludicrously like a young butcher, with his red fat face and his cold blue eye, was very much alive and had a grievance.
"Where did that man drop from?" he demanded truculently, "I didn't see him."
"I'm sorry," said Blackie; "if we had known that, we would have got him to ring a bell or wave a flag."
"That is frivolous," said the German officer severely.
"It is the best we can do, dear lad," said Blackie, and didn't trouble to invite him to lunch.
"Tam, you've done so well," said the squadron leader at that meal, "that I can see you being appointed official guardian angel to the O. B.'s. They are going to bring you some flowers."
"And a testimonial with a purse of gold," suggested Croucher, the youngest of the flyers.
"A'm no' desirin' popularity," said Tam modestly, "'tis against ma principles to accept any other presents than seegairs, and even these A'm loath to accept unless they're good ones."
He looked at his wrist watch, folded his serviette and rose from the mess-table with a little nod to the president.
It was a gratifying fact, which Blackie had remarked, that Second Lieutenant, late Sergeant, Tam, had taken to the mess as naturally as a duck to water. He showed neither awkwardness nor shyness, but this was consonant with his habit of thought. Once attune your mind to the reception of the unexpected, so that even the great and vital facts of life and death leave you unshaken and unamazed, and the lesser quantities are adjusted with ease.
Tam had new quarters, his batman had become his servant, certain little comforts which were absent from the bunk were discoverable in the cozy little room he now occupied.
* * * * *
His day's work was finished and he was bound on an expedition which was one part business and nine parts joy-ride, frank and undisguised, for the squadron-car had been placed at his disposal. The road to Amiens was dry, the sun was up, and the sky was blue, and behind him was the satisfactory sense of good work well done, for the "Sausage-Killer" was at that moment on his way back to the base, sitting vis-a-vis with a grimy young military gentleman who cuddled a rifle and a fixed bayonet with one hand and played scales on a mouth-organ with the other, softly, since he was a mere learner, and this was an opportunity for making joyful noises without incurring the opprobrium of his superiors.
Tam enjoyed the beauty and freshness of the early afternoon, every minute of it. He drove slowly, his eyes wandering occasionally from the road to make a professional scrutiny of the skies. He spotted the lonely watches of 89 Squadron and smiled, for 89 had vowed many oaths that they would catch the "Sausage-Killer," and had even initiated a sweepstakes for the lucky man who crashed him.
At a certain quiet restaurant on the Grand' Place he found a girl waiting for him, a girl in soiled khaki, critically examining the menu.
She looked up with a smile as the young man came in, hung his cap upon a peg and drew out the chair opposite.
"I have ordered the tea, though it is awfully early," she said; "now tell me what you have been doing all the morning."
She spoke with an air of proprietorship, a tone which marked the progress of this strange friendship, which had indeed gone very far since Tam's violent introduction to Vera Laramore on the Amiens road.
"Weel," said Tam, and hesitated.
"Please don't give me a dry report," she warned him. "I want the real story, with all its proper fixings."
"Hoo shall A' start?" asked Tam.
"You start with the beginning of the day. Now, properly, Tam."
Her slim finger threatened him.
"Is it literature ye'd be wanting?" asked Tam shyly.
She nodded, and Tam shut his eyes and began after the style of an amateur elocutionist:
"The dawn broke fair and bonny an' the fairest rays of the rising sun fell upon the sleeping 'Sausage-Killer'—"
"Who is the 'Sausage-Killer'?" asked the girl, startled.
"He'll be the villain of the piece, A'm thinkin'," said Tam, "but if ye interrupt—"
"I am sorry," murmured the girl, apologetically.
She sat with her elbows on the table, her chin resting on her clasped hands and her eyes fixed on Tam, eyes that danced with amusement, with admiration, and with just that hint of tenderness that you might expect in the proud mother showing off the accomplishments of her first-born.
"—fell aboot the heid of the Sausage-Killer,'" Tam went on, "bathin' his shaven croon wi' saft radiance. There was a discreet tap at the door, and Wilhelm MacBethmann, his faithful retainer, staggered in, bearin' his cup of acorn coffee.
"'Rise, mein Herr,' says he, 'get oot o' bed, ma bonnie laird.'
"'What o'clock is it, Angus?' says the 'Sausage-Killer,' sitting up and rubbing his eyes.
"'It's seven, your Majesty,' says MacBethmann, 'shall I lay out yeer synthetic sausage or shall I fry up yesterday's sauerkraut?'
"But the 'Sausage-Killer' shakes his head.
"'Mon Angus,' he says, 'A've had a heedious dream. A' dreamt,' says he, 'that A' went for to kill a wee sausage and A' dived for him and missed him and before A' could recover, the sausage bit me. 'Tis a warning,' says he.
"'Sir,' says MacBethmann, trembling in every limb and even in his neck, 'ye'd be wise no' to go out the day.'
"But the prood 'Sausage-Killer' rises himself to his full length.
"'Unhand ma pants, Angus,' says he, 'ma duty calls,' and away goes the puir wee feller to meet his doom at the hands of the Terror of the Skies."