"That's you," said the girl.
"Ye're a good guesser," said Tam, pouring out the tea the waiter had brought. "Do ye take sugar or are ye a victim of the cocktail habit?"
"Did you kill him?" asked the girl.
"Poleetically and in a military sense the 'Sausage-Killer' is dead," said Tam; "as a human being he is still alive, being detained during his Majesty's displeasure."
"You will tell me the rest, won't you?" she pleaded. With her, Tam invariably ended his romances at the point where they could only be continued by the relation of his own prowess, "and I'm glad you brought him down—it makes me shudder to see the balloons burning. Oh, and do you know they bombed Number One-Three-One last night?"
"Ye don't say!"
There was amazement in his look, but there was pain, too. The traditions of the air service had become his traditions. A breach of the unwritten code by the enemy was almost as painful a matter to him as though it was committed by one of his own comrades. For his spiritual growth had dated from the hour of his enlistment, and that period of life wherein youth absorbs its most vivid and most eradicable impressions, had coincided with the two years he had spent in his new environment.
He understood nothing of the army and its intimate life, of its fierce and wholesome code. He could only wonder at the courage and the endurance of those men on the ground who were cheerful in all circumstances. They amazed and in a sense depressed him. He had been horrified to see snipers bayoneted without mercy, without being given a chance to surrender, not realizing that the sniper is outside all concession and can not claim any of the rough courtesies of war.
He had placed his enemy on a pedestal, and it hurt almost as much to know that the German fell short of his conception as it would have, had one of his own comrades been guilty of an unpermissible act.
Hospitals had been bombed before, but there was a chance that the wandering night-bird had dropped his pills in ignorance of what lay beneath him. Of late, however, hospitals and clearing stations had been attacked with such persistence that there was very little doubt that the enemy was deliberately carrying out a hideous plan.
"Ye don't say?" he repeated, and the girl noticed that his voice was a little husky. "Were ye—" he hesitated.
"I was on convoy duty, fortunately," said the girl, "but that doesn't save you in the daytime, and I have been bombed lots of times, although the red cross on the top of the ambulance is quite clear—isn't it?"
"There was no damage?" he asked anxiously.
"Not very much in one way," she said, "he missed the hospital but got the surgery and poor Hector—" She stopped, and he saw tears in her eyes.
"Ye don't tell me?" he asked, startled.
"Puir Hector; well, that's too bad, puir wee little feller!"
"Everybody is awfully upset about it, he was such a cheery little chap. He was killed quite—nastily." She hesitated to give the grisly details, but Tam, who had seen the effect of high explosive bombs, had no difficulty in reconstructing the scene where Hector laid down his life for his adopted country.
When he got back to the aerodrome that night he found that the bombing of hospitals was the subject which was exciting the mess to the exclusion of all others.
"It's positively ghastly that a decent lot of fellows like German airmen can do such diabolical things," said Blackie; "we are so helpless. We can't go along and bomb his collecting stations."
"Fritz's material is deteriorating," said a wing commander; "there's not enough gentlemen to go round. Everybody who knows Germany expected this to happen. You don't suppose fellows like Boltke or Immelmann or Richthoven would have done such a swinish thing?"
That same night One-Three-One was bombed again, this time with more disastrous effects. One of the raiders was brought down by Blackie himself, who shot both the pilot and the observer, but the raid was only one of many.
The news came through in the morning that a systematic bombing of field hospitals had been undertaken from Ypres to the Somme. At two o'clock that afternoon Blackie summoned his squadron.
"There's a retaliation stunt on to-night," he explained; "we are getting up a scratch raid into Germany. You fellows will be in for it. Tam, you will be my second in command."
* * * * *
At ten o'clock that night the squadron rose and headed eastward. The moon was at its full, but there was a heavy ground mist, and at six thousand feet a thin layer of clouds which afforded the raiders a little cover.
Tam was on the left of the diamond formation, flying a thousand feet above the bombers, and for an hour and a half his eyes were glued upon the signal light of his leader. Presently their objective came into sight: a spangle of lights on the ground. You could follow the streets and the circular sweep of the big Central Platz and even distinguish the bridges across the Rhine, then of a sudden the lights blurred and became indistinct, and Tam muttered an impatient "Tchk," for the squadron was running into a cloud-bank which might be small but was more likely to be fairly extensive.
They were still able to distinguish the locality, until three spurts of red flame in the very center of the town marked the falling of the first bombs. Then all the prominent lights went out. There were hundreds of feeble flickers from the houses, but after a while these too faded and died. In their place appeared the bright, staring faces of the searchlights as they swept the clouds.
Tam saw the flash of guns, saw the red flame-flowers of the bombs burst to life and die, and straining his eyes through the mist caught the "Return" signal of his leader. He banked round and ran into a thicker pall of fog and began climbing. As he turned he saw a quick, red, angry flash appear in the clouds and something whistled past his head. The guns had got the altitude of the bombers to a nicety and Tam grinned.
By this time Blackie's lights were out of sight and Tam was alone. He looked down at his compass and the quivering needle now pointed to his right, which meant he was on the homeward track. He kept what he thought was a straight course, but the needle swung round so that it pointed toward him. He banked over again to the right and swore as he saw the needle spin round as though some invisible finger was twirling it.
Now the airplane compass is subject to fits of madness.
There are dozens of explanations as to why such things occur, but the recollection of a few of these did not materially assist the scout. The thing to do was to get clear of the clouds and take his direction by the stars. He climbed and climbed, until his aeronometer pointed to twenty thousand feet. By this time it was necessary to employ the apparatus which he possessed for sustaining himself at this altitude. It was amazing that the clouds should be so high, and he began to think that his aeronometer was out of order when he suddenly dived up into the light of a cold moon.
He looked around, seeking the pole-star, and found it on his left. So all the time he had been running eastward.
And then his engine began to miss.
Tam was a philosopher and a philosopher never expects miracles. He understood his engine as a good jockey understands his horse. He pushed the nose of his machine earthward and planed down through an interminable bank of clouds until he found a gray countryside running up to meet him. There were no houses, no lights, nothing but a wide expanse of country dotted with sparse copses.
There was sufficient light to enable him to select a landing-place, and he came down in the middle of a big pasture on the edge of a forest of gaunt trees.
He unstrapped himself and climbed down, stretching his limbs before he took a gentle trot around the machine to restore his circulation. Then he climbed back into the fuselage and tinkered at the engine. He knew what was wrong and remedied the mischief in a quarter of an hour. Then he inspected his petrol supply and whistled. He had made a rough calculation and he knew within a few miles how far he was in the interior of Germany, and by the character of the country he knew he was in the marshy lands of Oosenburg, and there was scarcely enough petrol to reach the Rhine.
He left his machine, slipped an automatic pistol into the pocket of his overall and went on a voyage of exploration.
Half a mile from where he landed, he struck what he gathered was a high-road and proceeded cautiously, for the high-road would probably be patrolled, the more so if the noise of his machine had been correctly interpreted, though it was in his favor that he had shut off his engines and had planed down for five miles without a sound.
There was nobody in sight. To the left the road stretched in the diffused moonlight, a straight white ribbon unbroken by any habitation. To the right he discerned a small hut, and to this he walked. He had taken a dozen steps when a voice challenged him in German. At this point the road was sunken and it was from the shadow of the cutting that the challenge came.
"Hello," said Tam in English, and a little figure started out.
Tam saw the rifle in his hand and caught the glitter of a bayonet.
"You English?" said a voice.
"Scotch," said Tam severely.
"Aha!" There was a note of exultation. "You English-escaped prisoner! I haf you arrested and with me to the Commandant of Camp 74 you shall go."
"Is it English ye're speakin'?" said Tam.
The little man came closer to him. He stood four feet three and he was very fat. He wore no uniform, and was evidently one of those patriotic souls who undertake spare-time guard duty. His presence was explained by his greeting. Some men had escaped from the German prison-camp seven miles away and he was one of the sentries who were watching the road.
"You come mit me, vorwaerts!"
Tam obeyed meekly and stepped out to the hut.
"I keep you here. Presently the Herr Leutnant will come and you shall go back."
He walked into the hut and waited in silence while the little man struck a match and lit an oil-lamp. The sentry fixed the glass chimney and turned to face the muzzle of Tam's automatic pistol.
"Sit down, ma wee frien'," said Tam; "let ma take that gun away from ye before ye hairt yeersel'—maircifu' Heavens!"
He was staring at the little man, but it was not the obvious terror of the civilian which fascinated him, it was the big, white, unshaven face, the long upper lip, and the low corrugated brow under the stiff-bristling hair, the small twinkling eyes, and the broad, almost animal, nose that held him for a moment speechless.
"Hector O'Brien!" gasped Tam, and almost lost his grasp of the situation in the discovery of this amazing likeness. "A' thought ye was dead," said Tam. "Oh, Hector, we have missed ye!"
The little man, his shaking hands uplifted, could only chatter incoherently. It needed this to complete the resemblance to the deceased mascot of One-Three-One.
"Ma puir wee man," said Tam, as he scientifically tied the hands of his prisoner, "so the Gairmans got ye after all."
"You shall suffer great punishment," his prisoner was spurred by fear to offer a protest. "Presently the Herr Leutnant will come with his motor-car."
"God bless ye for those encouraging words," said Tam. "Now will ye tell me how many soldiers are coming along?"
"Four—six—" began the prisoner.
"Make it ten," said Tam, examining the magazine of his pistol. "A' can manage wi' ten, but if there's eleven, A' shall have to fight 'im in a vulgar way wi' ma fists. Ye'll sit here," said he, "and ye will not speak."
He went to the untidy bed, and taking a coarse sacking-sheet he wound it about the man's mouth. Then he went to the door and waited.
Presently he heard the hum of the car, and saw two twinkling lights coming from the eastward. Nearer and nearer came the motor-car and pulled up with a jerk before the hut.
There were two men, a chauffeur and an officer, cloaked and overcoated, in the tonneau. The officer opened the door of the car and stepped down.
"Franz!" he barked. Tam stepped out into the moonlight.
"Is it ma frien' ye're calling?" he asked softly. "And will ye pit up yeer hands."
"Who—who—" demanded the officer.
"Dinna make a noise like an owl," said Tam, "or you will frighten the wee birdies. Get out of that, McClusky." This to the chauffeur.
He marched them inside the hut and searched them. The officer had come providentially equipped with a pair of handcuffs, which Tam used to fasten the well-born and the low-born together. Then he made an examination of the car, and to his joy discovered six cans of petrol, for in this deserted region where petrol stores are non-existent a patrol car carries two days' supply.
He brought his three prisoners out, loosened the bonds of the little man, and after a little persuasion succeeded in inducing his three unwilling porters to carry the tins across a rough field to where his plane was standing.
In what persiflage he indulged, what bitter and satirical things he said of Germans and Germany is not recorded. They stood in abject silence while he replenished his store of petrol and then—
"Up wi' ye," said he to Hector O'Brien's counterpart.
"For why?" asked the affrighted man.
"Up wi' ye," said Tam sternly; "climb into that seat and fix the belt around ye, quick—A'm taking ye back to yeer home!"
His pistol-point was very urgent and the little man scrambled up behind the pilot's seat.
"Now, you, McClusky," said Tam, following him and deftly strapping himself, "ye'll turn that propeller—pull it down so, d'ye hear me, ye miserable chauffeur!"
The man obeyed. He pulled over the propeller-blade twice, then jumped back as with a roar the engine started.
As the airplane began to move, first slowly and then gathering speed with every second, Tam saw the two men break into a run toward the road and the waiting motor-car.
Behind him he felt rather than heard slight grunts and groans from his unhappy passenger, and then at the edge of the field he brought up the elevator and the little scout, roaring like a thousand express trains, shot up through the mist and disappeared from the watchers on the road in the low-hanging clouds, bearing to the bereaved and saddened staff of One-Three-One Hector O'Brien's understudy.
THE LAST LOAD
Along a muddy road came an ambulance. It was moving slowly, zigzagging from side to side to avoid the shell holes and the subsidences which the collapse of ancient trenches on each side of the road had caused. It was a secondary or even a tertiary road, represented on the map by a spidery line, and was taken by driver Vera Laramore because there was no better.
From the rear end of the ambulance showed eight muddy soles, three pairs with toes upturned, the fourth at such an angle, one foot with the other, as to suggest a pain beyond any but this mute expression.
On the tail-board of the ambulance an orderly of the R. A. M. C. balanced himself, gaunt-eyed, unshaven, caked from head to foot in yellow mud, the red cross on his untidy brassard looming faintly from its grimy background. Beyond the soles with their worn and glaring nails, a disorderly rumple of brown army blankets, and between the stretchers a confusion of entangled haversacks, water-bottles and equipment, there was nothing to be seen of the patients, though a thin blue haze which curled along the tilt showed that one at least was well enough to smoke.
The ambulance made its slow way through the featureless country, past rubble heaps which had once been the habitations of men and women, splintered trunks of poplar avenues, great excavations where shells of an immense caliber had fallen long ago and the funnel shapes of which were now overgrown with winter weeds.
Presently the ambulance turned on to the main road and five people heaved a sigh of thankfulness, the sixth, he of the eloquent soles, being without interest in anything.
The car with its sad burden passed smoothly along the broad level road, such a road as had never been seen in France or in any other country before the war, increasing its speed as it went. Red-capped policemen at the crossroads held up the traffic—guns and mechanical transport, mud-splashed staff cars and tramping infantry edged closer to the side to let it pass.
Presently the car turned again, swept past a big aerodrome—the girl who drove threw one quick glance, had a glimpse of the parade-ground but did not recognize the man she hoped to see—and a few minutes later she was slowing the ambulance before the reception room of General Hospital One-Three-One.
The R. A. M. C. man dismounted, nodded to other R. A. M. C. men more tidy, more shaven, and a little envious it seemed of their comrade's dishabille and the four cases were lifted smoothly and swiftly and carried into the big hut.
"All right, driver," said the R. A. M. C. sergeant when four stretchers and eight neatly folded blankets had been put into the ambulance to replace those she had surrendered, and Vera, with a little jerk of her head, sent the car forward to the park.
She brought her machine in line with one of the four rows, checked her arrival and walked wearily over to her quarters. She had been out that morning since four, she had seen sights and heard sounds which a delicately nurtured young woman, who three years before had shuddered at the sight of a spider, could never in her wildest nightmare imagine would be brought to her sight or hearing. She was weary, body and soul, sick with the nausea which is incomparable to any other. And now she was at the end of it. Her application for long leave had followed the smashing up of her airman brother and his compulsory retirement in England.
And yet she could not bear the thought of leaving all this; the horror and the wonder of it were alike fascinating. She felt the same pangs of remorse she had experienced on the one occasion she had run away from school. She branded herself as a deserter and looked upon those who had the nerve and will to stay on with something of envy.
Her plain-spoken friend was sitting on her bed in a kimono as the girl came in.
"Well?" she asked.
"Well, what?" asked Vera irritably.
"Are you sorry you are leaving us?"
"I haven't left yet," said the girl, sitting down and unstrapping her leather leggings slowly.
"You don't go till to-morrow, that's true," said the other girl calmly, "and how have you rounded off all your little—friendships?" There was just the slightest of pauses between the two last words.
"You mean Lieutenant MacTavish?" asked Vera distraitly.
"I mean Tam," said the girl with a nod.
"Exactly what do you mean by 'rounded off'?"
The other girl laughed. "Well, there are many ways of a friendship," she smiled; "there's the 'If-you-come-to-my-town-look-me-up' way. There's the 'You'll-write-every-day' way—and—" She hesitated again.
"Go on," said Vera calmly.
"And there's—well, the conventional way."
Vera smiled. "I can't imagine Tam doing anything conventional," she said.
Elizabeth jumped up with a laugh, walked to the little bare dressing-table and began brushing her hair.
"Why do you laugh?" asked Vera.
"The whole thing's so curious," replied the girl. "Here's a man who is head-over-heels in love with you—"
"In love with me!"
Vera Laramore went red and white by turns and lost, for a moment, her grasp of the situation, then grew virtuously indignant, which was a tactical error for if she were innocent of such a thought as that which her friend expressed she should have been either amused or curious.
"How can you talk such rubbish? Tam and I are jolly good friends. He is a real fine man, as straight as a die and as plucky as he's straight. He has more sense, more judgment—" She was breathless.
"Spare me the catalogue of his virtues," said Elizabeth drily. "I grant he is perfection and therefore unlovable. All that I asked you out of sheer idle curiosity was: How is your friendship to be rounded off?"
Vera was silent. "I shall see him to-night, of course," she said with a fine air of unconcern, "and I hope we shall part the best of friends; but as to his being in love with me, that is nonsense!"
"Of course it is," said Elizabeth soothingly.
"What makes you think he is in love with me?" Vera asked suddenly.
"But what symptoms?"
"Well, you are always together. He drops bunches of flowers for you on your birthday."
"Pshaw!" said Vera scornfully. "I thought you had more knowledge of men and women. That is friendship."
"Ha, ha!" laughed Elizabeth politely.
"But honestly," asked Vera, "what makes you think so?"
"I won't tell you any more," said the girl, turning around and tying her hair, "but I will put a straight question to you, my dear; do you love Tam?"
"Of course not," Vera was red; "you are making me very uncomfortable. I tell you he is a good friend of mine and I respect him enormously."
"And you don't love him?"
"Of course I don't love him. What a stupid thing to imagine!"
"Such things have happened," said the girl.
"I have never thought of such a thing," said Vera; "but suppose I did, of course it's an absurd idea, but suppose I did?"
"If I were you and I did," said the girl, "I should tell him so."
"It sounds bold, doesn't it? But I will tell you why I make that suggestion, because if you don't tell him he won't tell you. You see, my dear, you are a very rich young woman, a very well-educated young woman, you have a social position and a large number of friends. Tam is a self-educated man, with no money and very few prospects and no social position, and, as you say, he is straight and honest—"
"He is the straightest and most honest man in the world," said Vera warmly.
"Well, in those circumstances can't you see, he would no more think of asking for you than he would of calling at Buckingham Palace and demanding the Kohinoor!"
"In America," said Vera, "we haven't those absurd ideas."
"Oh, shucks!" said Elizabeth contemptuously. "You seem to forget I was born in Pennsylvania."
And there the conversation ended, and for the rest of the day Vera was silent and thoughtful, excusing her taciturnity by the fact that she had a lot of packing to do and needed to concentrate her mind upon its performance.
The mortal foe to instinct is reason. They are the negative and positive of mental volition. The man who retains the animal gift of unreasoning divination, preserving that clear power against the handicaps which mind training and education impose, is necessarily psychic, or, as they say in certain Celtic countries, "fey."
Tam went up on patrol flying a new "pup"—a tiny machine powerfully engined, which climbed at an angle of fifty degrees and at a surprising speed. He pushed up through a fog bank at three thousand feet and reached blue skies. His engine was running sweetly, there was just the "give" in his little chaser, the indefinable resilience which a good machine should possess, his guns were in excellent order, his controls worked smoothly, but—
Tam was at a loss how to proceed from that "but."
He turned the nose of the "pup" to earth and planed down to the aerodrome.
Blackie left the machine he was about to take and walked across to Tam.
"Anything wrong?" he asked.
"Weel," replied Tam cautiously, "I'd no' go so far as to say that there's verra much wrong wi' the young fellow."
Blackie looked at him keenly.
Tam shook his head.
"No, they were wairking bonnily—there's nothing to complain aboot only I just felt that 'pup' an' Tam was no thinkin' the same way."
"Oh!" said Blackie.
He examined the machine, a new one, with the greatest care, tested the controls, examined and sounded stays and struts and shook his head.
"Take up Bartholomew's machine—he went sick this morning," he said.
Tam superintended the preparation of Lieutenant Bartholomew's "pup" and climbing in gave the signal.
"What's the matter with Tam?"
Thornycroft, a flight commander of 89 A, had strolled across and stood with Blackie watching Tam's tiny machine humming cloudward.
"Tam has what is called on the other side a 'hunch,'" said Blackie; "come and look at this machine and see if you can find anything wrong with it. She's new from the maker," he went on, "in fact, the young gentleman who represents the firm is at this moment in the mess laying down the law on aviation, its past, present and illimitable future—there he is!"
Thornycroft paused in his inspection to watch the newcomer. He was a young man of singular confidence, who talked so very loudly to the officer who accompanied him that the two men by the machine felt themselves included in the conversation long before they could make themselves audible in reply.
"Hello—hello," said Mr. Theodore Mann, "what's wrong—eh?"
"One of my best pilots took her up and didn't like her," said Blackie.
"Didn't like her? What's wrong with her—cold feet, eh? Bless you, they all get it sooner or later—'the pitcher goes often to the well,' et cetera. That's a proverb that every flying man should unlearn, eh?"
He leapt lightly into the machine and jiggled the joy-stick.
"I'll take her up if you don't mind—hi, you!" he called a mechanic, "start her up—ready—contact! Z-r-r-r—!"
The little bird skimmed the smooth floor of the aerodrome and dived upward in a wide circle.
"She's all right," said Thornycroft, shading his eyes; "what's wrong with Tam, I wonder?"
"Tam doesn't funk a thing," protested Blackie, "I've never known him—my God!"
Apparently nothing happened—only the machine without warning buckled up and broke two thousand feet in the air, a wing dropped off and a crumpled thing, which bore no resemblance to an airplane, dropped straight as a plummet to earth.
It fell less than a hundred yards from the aerodrome and Mr. Theodore Mann was dead when they pulled him from the wreckage.
Blackie directed the salvage work and returned a very thoughtful man. When Tam returned from his tour he sent for him.
"You have heard the news, I suppose?"
Tam nodded gravely.
"Now, tell me, Tam," said Blackie, "did you feel anything wrong with the machine—why did you bring her down?"
"Sir-r," said Tam, "I'll no' romance an' A'm tellin' ye Flyin'-Coor truth. I saw nothin' an' felt nothin'—the engines were guid an' sweet an' she swung like a leddy, but—"
"Weel, what would ye say if ye were zoomin' up an' of a sudden, for no reason, yeer hair stood up an' yeer flesh went creepy an' yeer mouth grew as dry as Sunday morning? An' there was a cauld, cauld sensation under yeer belt an' the skin aboot yeer eyes was all strained and ye smelt things an' tasted things sharper, as if all yeer senses was racin' like the propeller of a boat when her bow goes under water?"
Blackie shivered. "That's how you felt, eh?" he asked. "Well, you needn't explain further, Tam."
"'Tis the airman's sixty-sixth sense," said Tam. "If he's worried or sad that sixty-sixth sense gets thrown up and becomes more veevid, if ye'll understand me."
"Worried? Sad?" said Blackie quickly. "What's worrying you, Tam? Haven't you had your pay this month?"
Tam smiled slowly. "What that young fellow, Cox, is doing wi' ma fortune doesna keep me awake at nights," he said; "the MacTavishes are feckless, extravagant bodies and it no' concairns me whether ma balance is one poond or two."
"What is worrying you?" asked Blackie.
"Weel," said Tam slowly, "A'm just a wee bit grieved. A frien' o' mine is leaving France."
"Friend of yours?" said Blackie. "Who is your friend?"
"He is a braw big fellow about six foot high wi' muscular arms and curly hair," said Tam. "His name's Jamie Macfarlane, and his mither's a leddy in her own right."
Thus embarked upon his career of mendacity the artist in Tam compelled him to complete the picture.
"We were at school together, Angus and A'."
"You said Jamie just now, Tam," reproved Blackie.
"Angus is his second name," said the glib Tam; "we were brought up in the same village, the village of Glascae, and tramped off to the same college at six every morning when the bummer went. There'd we sit, me and Alec."
"Angus," suggested Blackie.
"Me and Alec Angus Jamie Macfarlane," said the undisturbed Tam, "listenin' wi' eager ears to the discoorses of Professor Ferguson who took the Chair in Rivets at the Govan Iron Works Seminary, drinkin' out of the same mug—"
"Tam, you're lying," said Blackie; "what is really worrying you and who's your friend?"
Tam heaved a sigh. "Ah, weel," he said, "A' shall be wanting to go into Amiens, to-night, Captain Blackie, sir-r, and A've a graund poem at the back of me heid that A'd like to be writing. You'll no' be wanting me?"
"Not till four," said Captain Blackie; "I want you to stand by then in case Fritz tries something funny. The circus paid a visit to 89 yesterday evening and it may be our turn to-night."
Tam closed and locked the door of his room, produced a large pad of writing-paper, an ink-well, and fitted his pen with a new nib before he began his valedictory poem.
Never had a poem been more difficult to write to this ready versifier. He crossed out and rewrote, he destroyed sheet after sheet before the rough work of his hands was ready for polishing.
"How may a puir wee airman fly When ye have carried off his sky?"
the verse began, and perhaps those were the two most extravagant lines in the farewell verse.
He wrote a fair copy, folded it carefully, inserted it into an envelope and slipped it into his breast pocket. He was to see Vera that night and had no other feeling but one of blank helplessness, for he had neither the right nor the desire to reveal by one word his closely guarded secret, a secret which he fondly believed was shared by none.
His plan was to give her the envelope on the promise that it should not be opened and read until she had reached America. He had invented and carefully rehearsed certain cautious words of farewell, so designed that she might accept them on the spot as conventional expressions of his regret at her leaving, but pondering them afterward, could discover in these simple phrases a hint of his true sentiment.
Such was the difficulty of composition that he was late for parade. All the squadron which was not actually engaged in routine duty was present. Ordinarily they would have been dismissed after the briefest wait, but to-day Blackie kept gunners, observers and pilots standing by their machines.
At half-past four Blackie hurried across from his office. "There's a general alarm," he said. "Everybody is to go up. Tam, take number six and patrol the area."
As the machines rose a big motor-car came flying on to the ground and two staff officers alighted.
Blackie turned and saluted his brigadier. "We only just got the message through, sir," he said.
The general nodded. "It was signalled to me on the road," he said; "I expected it. Who is in charge of that flight?"
"Mr. MacTavish, sir."
"Tam, eh?" The general nodded his approval. "The circus is getting big and bold," he said; "Fritz has a new machine and he is making the most of it. There they come, the beauties!"
He slipped his field-glasses from the case at his belt and focused them upon the sky. The enemy came, a graceful V-shaped flight of monstrous geese, throbbing and humming, and the wandering patrols above changed direction and flew to meet them.
As at a signal the V parted at the fork, each angle divided and subdivided into two, so that where one broad arrow-head had been, were four diamonds. The anti-aircraft guns were staining the evening skies brown and white till the attacking squadrons came gliding like tiny flies into the disturbed area, when the gun-fire ceased.
And now friend and enemy were so mixed that it needed an expert eye to distinguish them. They circled, climbed, dived, looped over and about one another, and it seemed as if the tendency of the oncoming wave was to retire.
"They're going. They've had enough," said the general.
Two machines were wobbling to earth, one in a blaze, whilst a third planed down toward the enemy's lines. The fighters were going farther and farther away, all except three machines that seemed engaged in weaving an invisible thread one about the other.
Under and over, round, up, down, and all the time the ceaseless chatter of machine-guns.
Then one side-slipped, recovered and dropped on his tail to earth. The fight was now between two machines, the maneuvers were repeated, the same knitting of some queer design until—
"Got him!" yelled the general.
The German plane fell in that slow spiral which told its own tale to the expert watchers. Then suddenly his nose went down and he crashed.
"Who's the man? Tam, for a ducat!"
Tam's machine was planing down to earth.
"He'll miss the aerodrome," said the general.
"That's not Tam's way of returning at all," said Blackie with knitted brows.
The machine dropped in the very field where the "Sausage-Killer" had been brought down a week before. It did not skim down but landed awkwardly, swaying from side to side until it came to a stand-still.
Blackie was racing across the field. He reached the machine and took one glance at the pilot. Then he turned to the mechanic who followed at his heels.
"'Phone an ambulance," he said; "they've got Tam at last."
For Tam sat limply in his seat, his chin on his breast, his hand still clasped about the bloody grip of his machine-gun.
* * * * *
The matron beckoned Vera.
"Here's your last job, Vera," she said with a smile. "Take your car to the aerodrome. One of the pilots has been killed."
Vera stared. "At the aerodrome?"
Control it as she might, her voice shook.
"Yes—didn't you see the fight in the air?"
"I came out as it was finishing—oh, may I take the ambulance?"
The matron looked at her in wonder. "Yes, child, take the Stafford car," she nodded to an ambulance which waited on the broad drive.
Without another word Vera ran to the car and cranked it up. As she climbed into the driver's seat she felt her knees trembling.
"Please God, it isn't Tam!" she prayed as she drove the little car along the aerodrome road; "not Tam, dear Lord—not Tam!"
And yet, by the very panic within her she knew it was Tam and none other.
"To the left, I think."
She looked round in affright.
She had been oblivious to the fact that a doctor had taken his seat by her side—it was as though he had emerged from nothingness and had assumed shape and substance as he spoke.
She turned her wheel mechanically, bumped across a little ditch and passed through a broken fence to where a knot of men were regarding something on the ground.
She hardly stopped the ambulance before she leapt out and pushed her way through the group.
"Tam!" she whispered and at that moment Tam opened his eyes. He looked in wonder from face to face, then his eyes rested on the girl.
She was down on her knees by his side in a second and her hand was under his head.
"Tam!" she whispered and thrilled at the look which came into his blue eyes.
Then before them all she bent her head and kissed him.
"From which moment," said Blackie afterward, "Tam began one of the most remarkable recoveries medical science has ever recorded. He had three bullets through his chest, one through his shoulder-blade, and two of his ribs were broken."
Tam closed his eyes. "Vera," he murmured.
She looked up, self-possessed, and eyed Blackie steadily as the doctor stooped over the stricken man on the other side and gingerly felt for the wounds.
"Tam is going to live, Captain Blackie," she said, "because he knows I want him to—don't you, dear?"
"Aye—lassie," said Tam faintly.
"Because—because," she said, "we are going to be married, aren't we, Tam?"
He nodded and she stooped to listen. "Say it—in—Scotch."
She said it—in his ear, her eyes bright and shining, her face as pink as the sunset flooding the scene and then she got up to her feet and they lifted the stretcher and slid it gently into the grooved guides on the floor of the ambulance.
"Now—driver," said the doctor with a little smile.
She went to her place and mounted to the seat. The hands that touched the polished wheel trembled and she slipped back to the ground again, her face white.
"I can't—I can't drive him," she said and burst into tears upon Blackie's shoulder.
So Blackie drove the car himself and left his general to wipe Vera's eyes.
A month later Captain Blackie went to Havre to see Tam en route for home.
"You're a wonderful fellow, Tam—you ought to be dead really instead of being bound for England."
"Scotland," corrected Tam.
"But don't you think you're lucky?"
"Weel," said Tam, "I did until the morn, then I struck a verra bad patch."
"Bad luck," said the innocent and surprised Blackie, "I am sorry to hear that. What happened?"
"The big feller, the principal doctor," said Tam, "said I might smoke a wee seegair, and, believe me, Captain Blackie, sir-r, when I looked in ma pooch there wasna a single—"
Blackie took his cigar-case from his pocket, opened and extended it.
"Tam," he said, "you're nearly well."
The greatest pleasure in life is that of reading. Why not then own the books of great novelists when the price is so small
Of all the amusements which can possibly be imagined for a hard-working man, after his daily toil, or in its intervals, there is nothing like reading an entertaining book. It calls for no bodily exertion. It transports him into a livelier, and gayer, and more diversified and interesting scene, and while he enjoys himself there he may forget the evils of the present moment. Nay, it accompanies him to his next day's work, and gives him something to think of besides the mere mechanical drudgery of his every-day occupation—something he can enjoy while absent, and look forward with pleasure to return to.
Ask your dealer for a list of the titles in Burt's Popular Priced Fiction
In buying the books bearing the A. L. Burt Company imprint you are assured of wholesome, entertaining and instructive reading
THE BEST OF RECENT FICTION
Adventures of Jimmie Dale. Frank L. Packard. Adventures of Sherlock Holmes. A. Conan Doyle. Adventures of the D. C. I. Major C. E. Russell. Affair in Duplex 9B, The. William Johnston. Affair at the Chateau, The. Mrs. Baillie Reynolds. Affinities and Other Stories. Mary Roberts Rinehart. After House, The. Mary Roberts Rinehart. After Noon. Susan Ertz. Ah, the Delicate Passion. Elizabeth Hall Yates. Ailsa Page. Robert W. Chambers. Alcatraz. Max Brand. All at Sea. Carolyn Wells. All the Way by Water. Elizabeth Stancy Payne. Altar of Friendship, The. Blanche Upright. Amateur Gentleman. Jeffery Farnol. Amateur Inn, The. Albert Payson Terhune. Anabel at Sea. Samuel Merwin. An Accidental Accomplice. William Johnston. Ancestor Jorico. William J. Locke. And They Lived Happily Ever After. Meredith Nicholson. Angel Esquire. Edgar Wallace. Angel of Terror. Edgar Wallace. Anne of the Island. L. M. Montgomery. Anne's House of Dreams. L. M. Montgomery. Annihilation. Isabel Ostrander. Ann's Crime. R. T. M. Scott. An Ordeal of Honor. Anthony Pryde. Anything But the Truth. Carolyn Wells. April and Sally June. Margaret Piper Chalmers. Are All Men Alike, and The Lost Titan. Arthur Stringer. Aristocratic Miss Brewster, The. Joseph C. Lincoln. Around Old Chester. Margaret Deland. Arrant Rover, The. Berta Ruck. As a Thief in the Night. R. Austin Freeman. A Self-Made Thief. Hulbert Footner. Astounding Crime on Torrington Road, The. William Gillette. At Sight of Gold. Cynthia Lombardi. At the Foot of the Rainbow. James B. Hendryx. At the Mercy of Tiberius. Augusta Evans Wilson. At the South Gate. Grace S. Richmond. Auction Block, The. Rex Beach. Aunt Jane of Kentucky. Eliza C. Hall. Aurelius Smith—Detective. R. T. M. Scott. Autocrat, The. Pearl Doles Bell. Aw Hell! Clarke Venable.
Minor changes have been made to correct typesetters errors and omissions, and to regularize usage within the Scot's dialect of the main character; otherwise, every effort has been made to ensure that this e-text is true to the original book.