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Tam O' The Scoots (1919)
Edgar Wallace



To

 QUENTIN ROOSEVELT

AND ALL AIRMEN, FRIEND AND FOE
ALIKE, WHO HAVE FALLEN IN CLEAN FIGHTING

     The world was a puddle of gloom and of shadowy things,
         He sped till the red and the gold of invisible day
     Was burnish and flames to the undermost spread of his wings,
         So he outlighted the stars as he poised in the grey.

     Nearer was he to the knowledge and splendour of God,
         Mysteries sealed from the ken of the ancient and wise--
     Beauties forbidden to those who are one with the clod--
         All that there was of the Truth was revealed to his eyes.

     Flickers of fire from the void and the whistle of death,
         Clouds that snapped blackly beneath him, above and beside,
     Watch him, serene and uncaring--holding your breath,
         Fearing his peril and all that may come of his pride.

     Now he was swooped to the world like a bird to his nest,
         Now is the drone of his coming the roaring of hell,
     Now with a splutter and crash are the engines at rest--
         All's well!

E. W.




CONTENTS


   I THE CASE OF LASKY
  II PUPPIES OF THE PACK
 III THE COMING OF MÜLLER
  IV THE STRAFING OF MÜLLER
   V ANNIE--THE GUN
  VI THE LAW-BREAKER AND FRIGHTFULNESS
 VII THE MAN BEHIND THE CIRCUS
VIII A QUESTION OF RANK
  IX A REPRISAL RAID
   X THE LAST LOAD





CHAPTER I

THE CASE OF LASKY


Lieutenant Bridgeman went out over the German line and "strafed" a
depot. He stayed a while to locate a new gun position and was caught
between three strong batteries of Archies.

"Reports?" said the wing commander. "Well, Bridgeman isn't back and Tam
said he saw him nose-dive behind the German trenches."

So the report was made to Headquarters and Headquarters sent forward a
long account of air flights for publication in the day's communique,
adding, "One of our machines did not return."

"But, A' doot if he's killit," said Tam; "he flattened oot before he
reached airth an' flew aroond a bit. Wi' ye no ask Mr. Lasky, sir-r,
he's just in?"

Mr. Lasky was a bright-faced lad who, in ordinary circumstances, might
have been looking forward to his leaving-book from Eton, but now had to
his credit divers bombed dumps and three enemy airmen.

He met the brown-faced, red-haired, awkwardly built youth whom all the
Flying Corps called "Tam."

"Ah, Tam," said Lasky reproachfully, "I was looking for you--I wanted
you badly."

Tam chuckled.

"A' thocht so," he said, "but A' wis not so far frae the aerodrome when
yon feller chased you--"

"I was chasing him!" said the indignant Lasky.

"Oh, ay?" replied the other skeptically. "An' was ye wantin' the Scoot
to help ye chase ain puir wee Hoon? Sir-r, A' think shame on ye for
misusin' the puir laddie."

"There were four," protested Lasky.

"And yeer gun jammed, A'm thinkin', so wi' rair presence o' mind, ye
stood oop in the fuselage an' hit the nairest representative of the
Imperial Gairman Air Sairvice a crack over the heid wi' a spanner."

A little group began to form at the door of the mess-room, for the news
that Tam the Scoot was "up" was always sufficient to attract an
audience. As for the victim of Tam's irony, his eyes were dancing with
glee.

"Dismayed or frichtened by this apparition of the supermon i' the
air-r," continued Tam in the monotonous tone he adopted when he was
evolving one of his romances, "the enemy fled, emittin' spairks an'
vapair to hide them from the veegilant ee o' young Mr. Lasky, the Boy
Avenger, oor the Terror o' the Fairmament. They darted heether and
theether wi' their remorseless pairsuer on their heels an' the seenister
sound of his bullets whistlin' in their lugs. Ain by ain the enemy is
defeated, fa'ing like Lucifer in a flamin' shrood. Soodenly Mr. Lasky
turns verra pale. Heavens! A thocht has strook him. Where is Tam the
Scoot? The horror o' the thocht leaves him braithless; an' back he
tairns an' like a hawk deeps sweeftly but gracefully into the
aerodrome--saved!"

"Bravo, Tam!" They gave him his due reward with great handclapping and
Tam bowed left and right, his forage cap in his hand.

"Folks," he said, "ma next pairformance will be duly annoonced."

       *       *       *       *       *

Tam came from the Clyde. He was not a ship-builder, but was the
assistant of a man who ran a garage and did small repairs. Nor was he,
in the accepted sense of the word, a patriot, because he did not enlist
at the beginning of the war. His boss suggested he should, but Tam
apparently held other views, went into a shipyard and was "badged and
reserved."

They combed him out of that, and he went to another factory, making a
false statement to secure the substitution of the badge he had lost. He
was unmarried and had none dependent on him, and his landlord, who had
two sons fighting, suggested to Tam that though he'd hate to lose a good
lodger, he didn't think the country ought to lose a good soldier.

Tam changed his lodgings.

He moved to Glasgow and was insulted by a fellow workman with the name
of coward. Tam hammered his fellow workman insensible and was fired
forthwith from his job.

Every subterfuge, every trick, every evasion and excuse he could invent
to avoid service in the army, he invented. He simply did not want to be
a soldier. He believed most passionately that the war had been started
with the sole object of affording his enemies opportunities for annoying
him.

Then one day he was sent on a job to an aerodrome workshop. He was a
clever mechanic and he had mastered the intricacies of the engine which
he was to repair, in less than a day.

He went back to his work very thoughtfully, and the next Sunday he
bicycled to the aerodrome in his best clothes and renewed his
acquaintance with the mechanics.

Within a week, he was wearing the double-breasted tunic of the Higher
Life. He was not a good or a tractable recruit. He hated discipline and
regarded his superiors as less than equals--but he was an enthusiast.

When Pangate, which is in the south of England, sent for pilots and
mechanics, he accompanied his officer and flew for the first time in his
life.

In the old days he could not look out of a fourth-floor window without
feeling giddy. Now he flew over England at a height of six thousand
feet, and was sorry when the journey came to an end. In a few months he
was a qualified pilot, and might have received a commission had he so
desired.

"Thank ye, sir-r," he said to the commandant, "but ye ken weel A'm no
gentry. M' fairther was no believer in education, an' whilst ither
laddies were livin' on meal at the University A' was airning ma' salt at
the Govan Iron Wairks. A'm no' a society mon ye ken--A'd be usin' the
wrong knife to eat wi' an' that would bring the coorp into disrepute."

His education had, as a matter of fact, been a remarkable one. From the
time he could read, he had absorbed every boy's book that he could buy
or borrow. He told a friend of mine that when he enlisted he handed to
the care of an acquaintance over six hundred paper-covered volumes which
surveyed the world of adventure, from the Nevada of Deadwood Dick to the
Australia of Jack Harkaway. He knew the stories by heart, their
phraseology and their construction, and was wont at times, half in
earnest, half in dour fun (at his own expense), to satirize every-day
adventures in the romantic language of his favorite authors.

He was regarded as the safest, the most daring, the most venomous of
the scouts--those swift-flying spitfires of the clouds--and enjoyed a
fame among the German airmen which was at once flattering and ominous.
Once they dropped a message into the aerodrome. It was short and
humorous, but there was enough truth in the message to give it a bite:

      Let us know when Tam is buried, we would a
     wreath subscribe.

          Officers, German Imperial Air Service.
          Section ----

Nothing ever pleased Tam so much as this unsolicited testimonial to his
prowess.

He purred for a week. Then he learned from a German prisoner that the
author of the note was the flyer of a big Aviatic, and went and killed
him in fair fight at a height of twelve thousand feet.

"It was an engrossin' an' thrillin' fight," explained Tam; "the bluid
was coorsin' in ma veins, ma hairt was palpitatin' wi' suppressed
emotion. Roond an' roond ain another the dauntless airmen caircled, the
noo above, the noo below the ither. Wi' supairb resolution Tam o' the
Scoots nose-dived for the wee feller's tail, loosin' a drum at the puir
body as he endeavoured to escape the lichtenin' swoop o' the intrepid
Scotsman. Wi' matchless skeel, Tam o' the Scoots banked over an' brocht
the gallant miscreant to terra firma--puir laddie! If he'd kept ben the
hoose he'd no' be lyin' deid the nicht. God rest him!"

       *       *       *       *       *

You might see Tam in the early morning, when the world was dark and only
the flashes of guns revealed the rival positions, poised in the early
sun, fourteen thousand feet in the air, a tiny spangle of white, smaller
in magnitude than the fading stars. He seems motionless, though you know
that he is traveling in big circles at seventy miles an hour.

He is above the German lines and the fleecy bursts of shrapnel and the
darker patches where high explosive shells are bursting beneath him,
advertise alike his temerity and the indignation of the enemy.

What is Tam doing there so early?

There has been a big raid in the dark hours; a dozen bombing machines
have gone buzzing eastward to a certain railway station where the German
troops waited in readiness to reinforce either A or B fronts. If you
look long, you see the machines returning, a group of black specks in
the morning sky. The Boches' scouts are up to attack--the raiders go
serenely onward, leaving the exciting business of duel _à l'outrance_ to
the nippy fighting machines which fly above each flank. One such fighter
throws himself at three of the enemy, diving, banking, climbing,
circling and all the time firing "_ticka--ticka--ticka--ticka!_" through
his propellers.

The fight is going badly for the bold fighting machine, when suddenly
like a hawk, Tam o' the Scoots sweeps upon his prey. One of the enemy
side-slips, dives and streaks to the earth, leaving a cloud of smoke to
mark his unsubstantial path. As for the others, they bank over and go
home. One falls in spirals within the enemy's lines. Rescuer and rescued
land together. The fighting-machine pilot is Lieutenant Burnley; the
observer, shot through the hand, but cheerful, is Captain Forsyn.

"Did ye no' feel a sense o' gratitude to the Almighty when you kent it
were Tam sittin' aloft like a wee angel?"

"I thought it was a bombing machine that had come back," said Burnley
untruthfully.

"Did ye hear that, sir-rs?" asked Tam wrathfully. "For a grown officer
an' gentleman haulding the certeeficate of the Royal Flying Coorp, to
think ma machine were a bomber! Did ye no' look oop an' see me? Did ye
no' look thankfully at yeer obsairvor, when, wi' a hooricane roar, the
Terror of the Air-r hurtled across the sky--'Saved!' ye said to yersel';
'saved--an' by Tam! What can I do to shaw ma appreciation of the hero's
devotion? Why!' ye said to yersel', soodenly, 'Why! A'll gi' him a box
o' seegairs sent to me by ma rich uncle fra' Glasgae--!'"

"You can have two cigars, Tam--I'll see you to the devil before I give
you any more--I only had fifty in the first place."

"Two's no' many," said Tam calmly, "but A've na doot A'll enjoy them wi'
ma educated palate better than you, sir-r--seegairs are for men an' no'
for bairns, an' ye'd save yersel' an awfu' feelin' o' seekness if ye
gave me a'."

Tam lived with the men--he had the rank of sergeant, but he was as much
Tam to the private mechanic as he was to the officers. His pay was good
and sufficient. He had shocked that section of the Corps Comforts
Committee which devoted its energies to the collection and dispatch of
literature, by requesting that a special effort be made to keep him
supplied "wi' th' latest bluids." A member of the Committee with a
sneaking regard for this type of literature took it upon himself to
ransack London for penny dreadfuls, and Tam received a generous stock
with regularity.

"A'm no' so fond o' th' new style," he said; "the detective stoory is
verra guid in its way for hame consumption, but A' prefair the mair
preemative discreeptions, of how that grand mon, Deadwood Dick, foiled
the machinations of Black Peter, the Scoorge of Hell Cañon. A've no
soort o' use for the new kind o' stoory--the love-stoories aboot mooney.
Ye ken the soort: Harild is feelin' fine an' anxious aboot Lady
Gwendoline's bairthmark: is she the rechtfu' heir? Oh, Heaven help me to
solve the meestry! (To be continued in oor next.) A'm all for bluid an'
fine laddies wi' a six-shooter in every hand an' a bowie-knife in their
teeth--it's no' so intellectual, but, mon, it's mair human!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Tam was out one fine spring afternoon in a one-seater Morane. He was on
guard watching over the welfare of two "spotters" who were correcting
the fire of a "grandmother" battery. There was a fair breeze blowing
from the east, and it was bitterly cold, but Tam in his leather jacket,
muffled to the eyes, and with his hands in fur-lined gloves and with the
warmth from his engine, was comfortable without being cozy.

       *       *       *       *       *

Far away on the eastern horizon he saw a great cloud. It was a detached
and imperial cumulus, a great frothy pyramid that sailed in majestic
splendor. Tam judged it to be a mile across at its base and calculated
its height, from its broad base to its feathery spirelike apex, at
another mile.

"There's an awfu' lot of room in ye," he thought.

It was moving slowly toward him and would pass him at such a level that
did he explore it, he would enter half-way between its air foundation
and its peak.

He signaled with his wireless, "Am going to explore cloud," and sent his
Morane climbing.

He reached the misty outskirts of the mass and began its encirclement,
drawing a little nearer to its center with every circuit. Now he was in
a white fog which afforded him only an occasional glimpse of the earth.
The fog grew thicker and darker and he returned again to the outer edge
because there would be no danger in the center. Gently he declined his
elevator and sank to a lower level. Then suddenly, beneath him, a short
shape loomed through the mist and vanished in a flash. Tam had a tray of
bombs under the fuselage--something in destructive quality between a
Mills grenade and a three-inch shell.

He waited....

Presently--swish! They were circling in the opposite direction to Tam,
which meant that the object passed him at the rate of one hundred and
forty miles an hour. But he had seen the German coming.... Something
dropped from the fuselage, there was the rending crash of an explosion
and Tam dropped a little, swerved to the left and was out in clear
daylight in a second.

Back he streaked to the British lines, his wireless working frantically.

"Enemy raiding squadron in cloud--take the edge a quarter up."

He received the acknowledgment and brought his machine around to face
the lordly bulk of the cumulus.

Then the British Archies began their good work.

Shrapnel and high explosives burst in a storm about the cloud. Looking
down he saw fifty stabbing pencils of flame flickering from fifty A-A
guns. Every available piece of anti-aircraft artillery was turned upon
the fleecy mass.

As Tam circled he saw white specks rising swiftly from the direction of
the aerodrome and knew that the fighting squadron, full of fury, was on
its way up. It had come to be a tradition in the wing that Tam had the
right of initiating all attack, and it was a right of which he was
especially jealous. Now, with the great cloud disgorging its shadowy
guests, he gave a glance at his Lewis gun and drove straight for his
enemies. A bullet struck the fuselage and ricocheted past his ear;
another ripped a hole in the canvas of his wing. He looked up. High
above him, and evidently a fighting machine that had been hidden in the
upper banks of the cloud, was a stiffly built Fokker.

"Noo, lassie!" said Tam and nose-dived.

Something flashed past his tail, and Tam's machine rocked like a ship at
sea. He flattened out and climbed. The British Archies had ceased fire
and the fight was between machine and machine, for the squadron was now
in position. Tam saw Lasky die and glimpsed the flaming wreck of the
boy's machine as it fell, then he found himself attacked on two sides.
But he was the swifter climber--the faster mover. He shot impartially
left and right and below--there was nothing above him after the first
surprise. Then something went wrong with his engines--they missed,
started, missed again, went on--then stopped.

He had turned his head for home and begun his glide to earth.

He landed near a road by the side of which a Highland battalion was
resting and came to ground without mishap. He unstrapped himself and
descended from the fuselage slowly, stripped off his gloves and walked
to where the interested infantry were watching him.

"Where are ye gaun?" he asked, for Tam's besetting vice was an
unquenchable curiosity.

"To the trenches afore Masille, sir-r," said the man he addressed.

"Ye'll no' be callin' me 'sir-r,'" reproved Tam. "A'm a s-arrgent. Hoo
lang will ye stay in the trenches up yon?"

"Foor days, Sergeant," said the man.

"Foor days--guid Lord!" answered Tam. "A' wouldn't do that wairk for a
thoosand poonds a week."

"It's no' so bad," said half-a-dozen voices.

"Ut's verra, verra dangerous," said Tam, shaking his head. "A'm
thankitfu' A'm no' a soldier--they tried haird to make me ain, but A'
said, 'Noo, laddie--gie me a job--'"

_"Whoo!"_

A roar like the rush of an express train through a junction, and Tam
looked around in alarm. The enemy's heavy shell struck the ground midway
between him and his machine and threw up a great column of mud.

"Mon!" said Tam in alarm. "A' thocht it were goin' straicht for ma wee
machine."

       *       *       *       *       *

"What happened to you, Tam?" asked the wing commander.

Tam cleared his throat.

"Patrollin' by order the morn," he said, "ma suspeecions were aroused by
the erratic movements of a graund clood. To think, wi' Tam the Scoot,
was to act. Wi'oot a thocht for his ain parrsonal safety, the gallant
laddie brocht his machine to the clood i' question, caircling through
its oombrageous depths. It was a fine gay sicht--aloon i' th' sky, he
ventured into the air-r-lions' den. What did he see? The clood was a
nest o' wee horrnets! Slippin' a bomb he dashed madly back to the ooter
air-r sendin' his S. O. S. wi' baith hands--thanks to his--"

He stopped and bit his lip thoughtfully.

"Come, Tam!" smiled the officer, "that's a lame story for you."

"Oh, ay," said Tam. "A'm no' in the recht speerit--Hoo mony did we
lose?"

"Mr. Lasky and Mr. Brand," said the wing commander quietly.

"Puir laddies," said Tam. He sniffed. "Mr. Lasky was a bonnie lad--A'll
ask ye to excuse me, Captain Thompson, sir-r. A'm no feelin' verra weel
the day--ye've no a seegair aboot ye that ye wilna be wantin'?"




CHAPTER II

PUPPIES OF THE PACK


Tam was not infallible, and the working out of his great "thochts" did
not always justify the confidence which he reposed in them. His idea of
an "invisible aeroplane," for example, which was to be one painted sky
blue that would "hairmonise wi' the blaw skies," was not a success, nor
was his scheme for the creation of artificial clouds attended by any
encouraging results. But Tam's "Attack Formation for Bombing Enemy
Depots" attained to the dignity of print, and was confidentially
circulated in French, English, Russian, Italian, Serbian, Japanese and
Rumanian.

The pity is that a Scottish edition was not prepared in Tam's own
language; and Captain Blackie, who elaborated Tam's rough notes and
condensed into a few lines Tam's most romantic descriptions, had
suggested such an edition for very private circulation.

It would have begun somewhat like this:

"The Hoon or Gairman is a verra bonnie fichter, but he has nae
ineetiative. He squints oop in the morn an' he speers a fine machine
ower by his lines.

"'Hoot!' says he, 'yon wee feller is Scottish, A'm thinkin'--go you,
Fritz an' Hans an' Carl an' Heinrich, an' strafe the puir body.'

"'Nay,' says his oonder lootenant. 'Nein,' he says, 'ye daunt knaw what
ye're askin', Herr Lootenant.'

"'What's wrong wi' ye?' says the oberlootenant. 'Are ye Gairman heroes
or just low-doon Austreens that ye fear ain wee bairdie?'

"'Lootenant,' say they, 'yon feller is Tam o' the Scoots, the Brigand o'
the Stars!'

"'Ech!' he says. 'Gang oop, ain o' ye, an' ask the lad to coom doon an'
tak' a soop wi' us--we maun keep on the recht side o' Tam!'"

All this and more would have gone to form the preliminary chapter of the
true version of Tam's code of attack.

       *       *       *       *       *

"He's a rum bird, is Tam," said Captain Blackie at breakfast; "he
brought down von Zeidlitz yesterday."

"Is von Zeidlitz down?" demanded half a dozen voices, and Blackie
nodded.

"He was a good, clean fighter," said young Carter regretfully. "When did
you hear this, sir?"

"This morning, through H. Q. Intelligence."

"Tam will be awfully bucked," said somebody. "He was complaining
yesterday that life was getting too monotonous. By the way, we ought to
drop a wreath for poor old von Zeidlitz."

"Tam will do it with pleasure," said Blackie; "he always liked von
Zeidlitz--he called him 'Fritz Fokker' ever since the day von Zeidlitz
nearly got Tam's tail down."

An officer standing by the window with his hands thrust into his pockets
called over his shoulder:

"Here comes Tam."

The thunder and splutter of the scout's engine came to them faintly as
Tam's swift little machine came skimming across the broad ground of the
aerodrome and in a few minutes Tam was walking slowly toward the office,
stripping his gloves as he went.

Blackie went out to him.

"Hello, Tam--anything exciting?"

Tam waved his hand--he never saluted.

"Will ye gang an' tak' a look at me eenstruments?" he asked
mysteriously.

"Why, Tam?"

"_Will_ ye, sir-r?"

Captain Blackie walked over to the machine and climbed up into the
fuselage. What he saw made him gasp, and he came back to where Tam was
standing, smug and self-conscious.

"You've been up to twenty-eight thousand feet, Tam?" asked the
astonished Blackie. "Why, that is nearly a record!"

"A' doot ma baromeeter," said Tam; "if A' were no' at fochty thousand,
A'm a Boche."

Blackie laughed.

"You're not a Boche, Tam," he said, "and you haven't been to forty
thousand feet--no human being can rise eight miles. To get up five and a
half miles is a wonderful achievement. Why did you do it?"

Tam grinned and slapped his long gloves together.

"For peace an' quiet," he said. "A've been chased by thairty air Hoons
that got 'twixt me an' ma breakfast, so A' went oop a bit an' a bit more
an' two fellers came behint me. There's an ould joke that A've never
understood before--'the higher the fewer'--it's no' deefficult to
understand it noo."

"You got back all right, anyhow," said Blackie.

"Aloon i' the vast an' silent spaces of the vaulted heavens," said Tam
in his sing-song tones which invariably accompanied his narratives, "the
Young Avenger of the Cloods, Tam the Scoot, focht his ficht. Attacked by
owerwhelmin' foorces, shot at afore an' behint, the noble laddie didna
lose his nairve. Mutterin' a brief--a verra brief--prayer that the Hoons
would be strafed, he climbt an' climbt till he could 'a' strook a match
on the moon. After him wi' set lips an' flashin' een came the
bluidy-minded ravagers of Belgium, Serbia an'--A'm afreed--Roomania.
Theer bullets whistled aboot his lugs but,

     "His eyes were bricht,
     His hairt were licht,
     For Tam the Scoot was fu' o' ficht--

"That's a wee poem A' made oop oot o' ma ain heid, Captain, at a height
of twenty-three thoosand feet. A'm thinkin' it's the highest poem in the
wairld."

"And you're not far wrong--well, what happened?"

"A' got hame," said Tam grimly, "an' ain o' yon Hoons did no' get hame.
Mon! It took him an awfu' long time to fa'!"

He went off to his breakfast and later, when Blackie came in search for
him, he found him lying on his bed smoking a long black cigar, his eyes
glued to the pages of "Texas Tom, or the Road Agent's Revenge."

"I forgot to tell you, Tam," said Captain Blackie, "that von Zeidlitz is
down."

"Doon?" said Tam, "'Fritz Fokker' doon? Puir laddie! He were a gay
fichter--who straffit him?"

"You did--he was the man you shot down yesterday."

Tam's eyes were bright with excitement.

"Ye're fulin' me noo?" he asked eagerly. "It wisna me that straffit him?
Puir auld Freetz! It were a bonnie an' a carefu' shot that got him. He
wis above me, d'ye ken? 'Ah naw!' says I. 'Ye'll no try that tailbitin'
trick on Tam,' says I; 'naw, Freetz--!' An' I maneuvered to miss him. I
put a drum into him at close range an' the puir feller side-slippit an'
nose-dived. Noo was it Freetz, then? Weel, weel!"

"We want you to take a wreath over--he'll be buried at Ludezeel."

"With the verra greatest pleasure," said Tam heartily, "and if ye'll no
mind, Captain, A'd like to compose a wee vairse to pit in the box."

For two hours Tam struggled heroically with his composition. At the end
of that time he produced with awkward and unusual diffidence a poem
written in his sprawling hand and addressed:

     Dedication to Mr. von Sidlits
       By Tam of the Scoots

"I'll read you the poem, Captain Blackie, sir-r," said Tam nervously,
and after much coughing he read:

     "A graund an' nooble clood
     Was the flyin' hero's shrood
     Who dies at half-past seven
     And he verra well desairves
     The place that God resairves
     For the men who die in Heaven.

"A've signed it, 'Kind regards an' deepest sympathy wi' a' his loved
ains,'" said Tam. "A' didna say A' killit him--it would no be delicate."

The wreath in a tin box, firmly corded and attached to a little
parachute, was placed in the fuselage of a small Morane--his own machine
being in the hands of the mechanics--and Tam climbed into the seat. In
five minutes he was pushing up at the steep angle which represented the
extreme angle at which a man can fly. Tam never employed a lesser one.

He had learnt just what an aeroplane could do, and it was exactly all
that he called for. Soon he was above the lines and was heading for
Ludezeel. Archies blazed and banged at him, leaving a trail of puff
balls to mark his course; an enemy scout came out of the clouds to
engage him and was avoided, for the corps made it a point of honor not
to fight when engaged on such a mission as was Tam's.

Evidently the enemy scout realized the business of this lone British
flyer and must have signaled his views to the earth, for the
anti-aircraft batteries suddenly ceased fire, and when, approaching
Ludezeel, Tam sighted an enemy squadron engaged in a practise flight,
they opened out and made way for him, offering no molestation.

Tam began to plane down. He spotted the big white-speckled cemetery and
saw a little procession making its way to the grounds. He came down to a
thousand feet and dropped his parachute. He saw it open and sail
earthward and then some one on the ground waved a white handkerchief.

"Guid," said Tam, and began to climb homeward.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next day something put out of action the engine of that redoubtable
fighter, Baron von Hansen-Bassermann, and he planed down to the British
aerodrome with his machine flaming.

A dozen mechanics dashed into the blaze and hauled the German to safety,
and, beyond a burnt hand and a singed mustache, he was unharmed.

Lieutenant Baron von Hansen-Bassermann was a good-looking youth. He was,
moreover, an undergraduate of Oxford University and his English was
perfect.

"Hard luck, sir," said Blackie, and the baron smiled.

"Fortunes of war. Where's Tam?" he asked.

"Tam's up-stairs somewhere," said Blackie. He looked up at the unflecked
blue of the sky, shading his eyes. "He's been gone two hours."

The baron nodded and smiled again.

"Then it was Tam!" he said. "I thought I knew his touch--does he 'loop'
to express his satisfaction?"

"That's Tam!" said a chorus of voices.

"He was sitting in a damp cloud waiting for me," said the baron
ruefully. "But who was the Frenchman with him?"

Blackie looked puzzled.

"Frenchman? There isn't a French machine within fifty miles; did he
attack you, too?"

"No--he just sat around watching and approving. I had the curious sense
that I was being butchered to make a Frenchman's holiday. It is curious
how one gets those quaint impressions in the air--it is a sort of ninth
sense. I had a feeling that Tam was 'showing off'--in fact, I knew it
was Tam, for that reason."

"Come and have some breakfast before you're herded into captivity with
the brutal soldiery," said Blackie, and they all went into the mess-room
together, and for an hour the room rang with laughter, for both the
baron and Captain Blackie were excellent raconteurs.

Tam, when he returned, had little to say about his mysterious companion
in the air. He thought it was a "French laddie." Nor had he any story to
tell about the driving down of the baron's machine. He could only say
that he "kent" the baron and had met his Albatross before. He called him
the "Croon Prince" because the black crosses painted on his wings were
of a more elaborate design than was usual.

"You might meet the baron, Tam," said the wing commander. "He's just off
to the Cage, and he wants to say 'How-d'-ye-do.'"

Tam met the prisoner and shook hands with great solemnity.

"Hoo air ye, sir-r?" he asked with admirable sang-froid. "A' seem to
remember yer face though A' hae no' met ye--only to shoot at, an' that
spoils yeer chance o' gettin' acquainted wi' a body."

"I think we've met before," said the baron with a grim little smile.
"Oh, before I forget, we very much appreciated your poem, Tam; there are
lines in it which were quite beautiful."

Tam flushed crimson with pleasure.

"Thank ye, sir-r," he blurted. "Ye couldna' 'a' made me more
pleased--even if A' killit ye."

The baron threw back his head and laughed.

"Good-by, Tam--take care of yourself. There's a new man come to us who
will give you some trouble."

"It's no' Mister MacMuller?" asked Tam eagerly.

"Oh--you've heard of Captain Müller?" asked the prisoner interestedly.

"Haird?--good Lord, mon--sir-r, A' mean--look here!"

He put his hand in his pocket and produced a worn leather case. From
this he extracted two or three newspaper cuttings and selected one,
headed "German Official."

"'Captain Muller,'" read Tam, "'yesterday shot doon his twenty-sixth
aeroplane.'"

"That's Müller," said the other carefully. "I can tell you no
more--except look after yourself."

"Ha'e na doot aboot that, sir-r," said Tam with confidence.

He went up that afternoon in accordance with instructions received from
headquarters to "search enemy territory west of a line from Montessier
to St. Pierre le Petit."

He made his search, and sailed down with his report as the sun reached
the horizon.

"A verra quiet joorney," he complained, "A' was hopin' for a squint at
Mr. MacMuller, but he was sleeping like a doormoose--A' haird his snoor
risin' to heaven an' ma hairt wis sick wi' disappointed longin'. 'Hoo
long,' A' says, 'hoo long will ye avoid the doom Tam o' the Scoots has
marked ye doon for?' There wis naw reply."

"I've discovered Tam's weird pal," said Blackie, coming into the mess
before lunch the next day. "He is Claude Beaumont of the American
Squadron--Lefèvre, the wing commander, was up to-day. Apparently
Beaumont is an exceedingly rich young man who has equipped a wing with
its own machines, hangars and repair-shop, and he flies where he likes.
Look at 'em!"

They crowded out with whatever glasses they could lay their hands upon
and watched the two tiny machines that circled and dipped, climbed and
banked about one another.

       *       *       *       *       *

First one would dart away with the other in pursuit, then the chaser, as
though despairing of overtaking his quarry, would turn back. The "hare"
would then turn and chase the other.

"Have you ever seen two puppies at play?" asked Blackie. "Look at Tam
chasing his tail--and neither man knows the other or has ever looked
upon his face! Isn't it weird? That's von Hansen-Bassermann's ninth
sense. They can't speak--they can't even see one another properly and
yet they're good pals--look at 'em. I've watched the puppies of the pack
go on in exactly the same way."

"What is Tam supposed to be doing?"

"He's watching the spotters. Tam will be down presently and we'll ask
David how he came to meet Jonathan--this business has been going on for
weeks."

Tam had received the recall signal. Beneath him he saw the two
"spotters" returning home, and he waved his hand to his sporting
companion and came round in a little more than twice his own length. He
saw his strange friend's hand raised in acknowledgment, and watched him
turn for the south. Tam drove on for a mile, then something made him
look back.

Above his friend was a glittering white dragon-fly, and as he looked the
fly darted down at the American tail.

"Missed him!" said Tam, and swung round. He was racing with the wind at
top speed and he must have been doing one hundred and twenty miles an
hour, but for the fact that he was climbing at the extreme angle. He saw
the dragon-fly loop and climb and the American swing about to attack.

But his machine was too slow--that Tam knew. Nothing short of a miracle
could save the lower machine, for the enemy had again reached the
higher position. So engrossed was he with his plan that he did not see
Tam until the Scot was driving blindly to meet him--until the first
shower from Tam's Lewis gun rained on wing and fuselage. The German
swerved in his drive and missed his proper prey. Tam was behind him and
above him, but in no position to attack. He could, and did fire a drum
into the fleeing foeman, but none of the shots took effect.

"Tairn him, Archie!" groaned Tam, and as though the earth gunners had
heard his plea, a screen of bursting shrapnel rose before the
dragon-fly. He turned and nose-dived with Tam behind him, but now his
nose was for home, and Tam, after a five-mile pursuit, came round and
made for home also. Near his own lines he came up with the circling
"Frenchman" and received his thanks--four fingers extended in the
air--before the signaler, taking a route within the lines, streaked for
home.

"Phew!" said Tam, shaking his head.

"Who were you chasing?" asked Blackie. "He can go!"

"Yon's MacMuller," said Tam, jerking his thumb at the eastern sky. "He's
a verra likeable feller--but a wee bit too canny an' a big bit too fast.
Captain Blackie, sir-r, can ye no get me a machine that can flee? Ma wee
machine is no' unlike a hairse, but A'm wishfu' o' providin' the
coorpse."

"You've got the fastest machine in France, Tam," said the captain.

Tam nodded.

"It's verra likely--she wis no' runnin' so sweet," he confessed. "But,
mon! That Muller! He's a braw Hoon an' A'm encouraged by the fine things
that the baron said aboot ma poetry. Ech! A've got a graund vairse in ma
heid for Mr. Muller's buryin'! Hae ye a seegair aboot ye, Captain
Blackie? A' gave ma case to the Duke of Argyle an' he has no' retairned
it."




CHAPTER III

THE COMING OF MÜLLER


There arrived one day at the aerodrome a large packing-case addressed
"Sergeant Tam." There was no surname, though there was no excuse for the
timidity which stopped short at "Tam." The consignor might, at least,
have ventured to add a tentative and inquiring "Mac?"

Tam took the case into his little "bunk" and opened it. The stripping of
the rough outer packing revealed a suave, unpolished cedar cabinet with
two doors and a key that dangled from one of the knobs. Tam opened the
case after some consideration and disclosed shelf upon shelf tightly
packed with bundles of rich, brown, fragrant cigars.

There was a card inscribed:

     "Your friend in the Merman pusher."

"Who," demanded Tam, "is ma low acqueentance, who dispoorts himsel' in
an oot-o'-date machine?"

Young Carter, who had come in to inspect the unpacking, offered a
suggestion.

"Probably the French machine that is always coming over here to see
you," he said, "Mr. Thiggamy-tight, the American."

"Ah, to be sure!" said Tam relieved. "A' thocht maybe the Kaiser had
sent me droogged seegairs--A'm an awfu' thorn in the puir laddie's side.
Ye may laugh, Mister Carter, but A' reca' a case wheer a bonnie
detective wi' the same name as ye'sel', though A' doot if he wis related
to ye, was foiled by the machinations o' Ferdie the Foorger at the
moment o' his triumph by the lad gieing him a seegair soaked in laud'num
an' chlorofor-rm!"

He took a bundle, slipped out two cigars, offered one to his officer,
after a brief but baffling examination to discover which was the worse,
and lit the other.

"They're no' so bad," he admitted, "but yeer ain seegairs never taste so
bonnie as the seegairs yeer frien's loan ye."

"They came in time," said Carter; "we'd started a League for the
Suppression of Cigar Cadging."

"Maybe ye thocht o' makin' me treesurer? Naw? Ah weel, a wee seegair is
no muckle to gie a body wha's brocht fame an' honor to the Wing."

"I often wonder, Tam," said Carter, "how much you're joking and laughing
at yourself when you're talking about 'Tam, the Terror of the Clouds,'
and how much you're in earnest."

A fleeting smile flickered for a second about Tam's mouth and vanished.

"In all guid wairks of reference, fra' Auld Morre's Almanac to the
Clyede River Time-Table," he said soberly, "it's written that a Scotsman
canna joke. If A'd no talk about Tam--would ye talk aboot ye'sel's? Naw!
Ye'd go oop an' doon, fichtin' an' deein' wi'oot a waird. If ye'll talk
aboot ye'sel's A'll no talk aboot Tam. A' knaw ma duty, Mister
Carter--A'm the offeecial boaster o' the wing an' the coor, an' whin
they bring me doon wi' a bullet in ma heid, A' hope ye'll engage anither
like me."

"There isn't another like you, Tam," laughed Carter.

"Ye dinna knaw Glasca,'" replied Tam darkly.

       *       *       *       *       *

Lieutenant Carter went up on "a tour of duty" soon after and Tam was on
the ground to watch his departure.

"Tam," he shouted, before the controls were in, "I liked that
cigar--I'll take fifty from you to-night."

"Ower ma deid body," said Tam, puffing contentedly at the very last inch
of his own; "the watch-wairds o' victory are 'threeft an' economy'!"

"I've warned you," roared Carter, for now the engine was going.

Tam nodded a smiling farewell as the machine skipped and ran over the
ground before it swooped upward into space.

He went back to his room, but had hardly settled himself to the
examination of a new batch of blood-curdling literature before Blackie
strode in.

"Mr. Carter's down, Tam," he said.

"Doon!"

Tam jumped up, a frown on his face.

"Shot dead and fell inside our lines--go up and see if you can find
Müller."

Tam dressed slowly. Behind the mask of his face, God knows what sorrow
lay, for he was fond of the boy, as he had been fond of so many boys who
had gone up in the joy and pride of their youth, and had earned by the
supreme sacrifice that sinister line in the communiques: "One of our
machines did not return."

He ranged the heavens that day seeking his man. He waited temptingly in
reachable places and even lured one of his enemies to attack him.

"There's something down," said Blackie, as a flaming German aeroplane
shot downward from the clouds. "But I'm afraid it's not Müller this
time."

It was not. Tam returned morose and uncommunicative. His anger was
increased when the intercepted wireless came to hand in the evening:

"Captain Müller shot down his twenty-seventh aeroplane."

That night, when the mess was sitting around after dinner, Tam appeared
with a big armful of cigars.

"What's the matter with 'em?" asked Blackie in mock alarm.

"They're a' that Mister Carter bocht," said Tam untruthfully, "an' A'
thocht ye'd wish to ha'e a few o' the laddie's seegairs."

Nobody was deceived. They pooled the cigars for the mess and Tam went
back to his quarters lighter of heart. He slept soundly and was wakened
an hour before dawn by his batman.

"'The weary roond, the deely task,'" quoted Tam, taking the steaming mug
of tea from his servant's hands. "What likes the mornin', Horace?"

"Fine, Sergeant--clear sky an' all the stars are out."

"Fine for them," said Tam sarcastically, "they've nawthin' to do but be
oot or in--A've no patience wi' the stars--puir silly bodies winkin' an'
blinkin' an' doin' nae guid to mon or beastie--chuck me ma breeches an'
let the warm watter rin in the bath."

In the gray light of dawn the reliefs stood on the ground, waiting for
the word "go."

"A' wonder what ma frien' MacMuller is thinkin' the morn?" asked Tam;
"wi' a wan face an' a haggaird een, he'll be takin' a moornfu' farewell
o' the Croon Prince Ruppect.

"'Ye're a brave lad,' says the Croon Prince, 'but maybe Tam's awa'.'

"'Naw,' says MacMuller, shakin' his heid, 'A've a presentiment that
Tam's no' awa'. He'll be oop-stairs waitin' to deal his feelon's-blow.
Ech!' says Mister MacMuller, 'for why did I leave ma fine job at the
gas-wairks to encoonter the perils an' advairsities of aerial
reconnaissance?' he says. 'Well, I'll be gettin' alang, yeer Majesty or
Highness--dawn't expect ma till ye see ma.'

"He moonts his graind machine an' soon the intreepid baird-man is
soorin' to the skies. He looks oop--what is that seenister for-rm
lairking in the cloods? It is Tam the Comet!"

"Up, you talkative devil," said Blackie pleasantly.

Tam rode upward at an angle which sent so great a pressure of air
against him that he ached in back and arm and legs to keep his balance.
It was as though he were leaning back without support, with great
weights piled on his chest. He saw nothing but the pale blue skies and
the fleecy trail of high clouds, heard nothing but the numbing,
maddening roar of his engines.

He sang a little song to himself, for despite his discomfort he was
happy enough. His eyes were for the engine, his ears for possible
eccentricities of running. He was pushing a straight course and knew
exactly where he was by a glance at his barometer. At six thousand feet
he was behind the British lines at the Bois de Colbert, at seven
thousand feet he should be over Nivelle-Ancre and should turn so that he
reached his proper altitude at a point one mile behind the fire trenches
and somewhere in the region of the Bois de Colbert again.

The aeronometer marked twelve thousand feet when he leveled the machine
and began to take an interest in military affairs. The sky was clear of
machines, with the exception of honest British spotters lumbering along
like farm laborers to their monotonous toil. A gentlemanly fighting
machine was doing "stunts" over by Serray and there was no sign of an
enemy. Tam looked down. He saw a world of tiny squares intersected by
thin white lines. These were main roads. He saw little dewdrops of water
occurring at irregular intervals. They were really respectable-sized
lakes.

Beneath him were two irregular scratches against the dull green-brown
of earth that stretched interminably north and south. They ran parallel
at irregular distances apart. Sometimes they approached so that it
seemed that they touched. In other places they drew apart from one
another for no apparent reason and there was quite a respectable
distance of ground between them. These were the trench lines, and every
now and again on one side or the other a puff of dirty brown smoke would
appear and hang like a pall before the breeze sent it streaming slowly
backward.

Sometimes the clouds of smoke would be almost continuous, but these
shell-bursts were not confined to the front lines. From where Tam hung
he could see billowing smoke clouds appear in every direction. Far
behind the enemy's lines at the great road junctions, in the low-roofed
billeting villages, on the single-track railways, they came and went.

The thunder of his engines drowned all sound so he could not hear the
never-ceasing booming of the guns, the never-ending crash of exploding
shell. Once he saw a heavy German shell in the air--he glimpsed it at
that culminating point of its trajectory where the shell begins to lose
its initial velocity and turns earthward again. It was a curious
experience, which many airmen have had, and quite understandable, since
the howitzer shell rises to a tremendous height before it follows the
descending curve of its flight.

He paid a visit to the only cloud that had any pretensions to being a
cloud, and found nothing. So he went over the German lines. He passed
far behind the fighting front and presently came above a certain
confusion of ground which marked an advance depot. He pressed his foot
twice on a lever and circled. Looking down he saw two red bursts of
flame and a mass of smoke. He did not hear the explosions of the bombs
he had loosed, because it was impossible to hear anything but the angry
"Whar--r--r--!" of his engines.

A belligerent is very sensitive over the matter of bombed depots, and
Tam, turning homeward, looked for the machines which would assuredly
rise to intercept him. Already the Archies were banging away at him, and
a fragment of shell had actually struck his fuselage. But he was not
bothering about Archies. He did swerve toward a battery skilfully hidden
behind a hayrick and drop two hopeful bombs, but he scarcely troubled to
make an inspection of the result.

       *       *       *       *       *

Then before him appeared his enemy. Tam had the sun at his back and
secured a good view of the Müller machine. It was the great white
dragon-fly he had seen two days before. Apparently Müller had other
business on hand. He was passing across Tam's course diagonally--and he
was climbing.

Tam grinned. He was also pushing upward, for he knew that his enemy,
seemingly oblivious to his presence, had sighted him and was getting
into position to attack. Tam's engine was running beautifully, he could
feel a subtle resolution in the "pull" of it; it almost seemed that this
thing of steel was possessed of a soul all its own. He was keeping level
with the enemy, on a parallel course which enabled him to keep his eye
upon the redoubtable fighter.

Then, without warning, the German banked over and headed straight for
Tam, his machine-gun stuttering. Tam turned to meet him. They were less
than half a mile from each other and were drawing together at the rate
of two hundred miles an hour. There were, therefore, just ten seconds
separating them. What maneuver Müller intended is not clear. He
knew--and then he realized in a flash what Tam was after.

Round he went, rocking like a ship at sea. A bullet struck his wheel and
sent the smashed wood flying. He nose-dived for his own lines and Tam
glared down after him.

Müller reached his aerodrome and was laughing quietly when he
descended.

"I met Tam," he said to his chief; "he tried to ram me at sixteen
thousand feet--Oh, yes. I came down, but--_ich habe das nicht
gewollt!_--I did not will it!"

Tam returned to his headquarters full of schemes and bright "thochts."

"You drove him down?" said the delighted Blackie. "Why, Tam, it's fine!
Müller never goes down--you've broken one of his traditions."

"A' wisht it was ain of his heids," said Tam. "A' thocht for aboot three
seconds he was acceptin' the challenge o' the Glasca' Ganymede--A'm no'
so sure o' Ganymede; A' got him oot of the sairculatin' library an' he
was verra dull except the bit wheer he went oop in the air on the back
of an eagle an' dropped his whustle. But MacMuller wasn't so full o'
ficht as a' that."

He walked away, but stopped and came back.

"A'm a Wee Kirker," he said. "A' remembered it when A' met MacMuller.
Though A'm no particular hoo A'm buried, A'm entitled to a Wee Kirk
meenister. Mony's the time A've put a penny i' the collection. It sair
grievit me to waste guid money, but me auld mither watchit me like a
cat, an' 'twere as much as ma life was worth to pit it in ma breeches
pocket."

       *       *       *       *       *

Tam spent the flying hours of the next day looking for his enemy, but
without result. The next day he again drew blank, and on the third day
took part in an organized raid upon enemy communications, fighting his
way back from the interior of Belgium single-handed, for he had allowed
himself to be "rounded out" and had to dispose of two enemy machines
before he could go in pursuit of the bombing squadrons. In consequence,
he had to meet and reject the attentions of every ruffled enemy that the
bombers and their bullies had fought in passing.

At five o'clock in the evening he dropped from the heavens in one
straight plummet dive which brought him three miles in a little under
one minute.

"Did you meet Müller?" asked Captain Blackie; "he's about--he shot down
Mr. Grey this morning whilst you were away."

"Mr. Gree? Weel, weel!" said Tam, shaking, "puir soul--he wis a verra
guid gentleman--wit' a gay young hairt."

"I hope Tam will pronounce my epitaph," said Blackie to Bolt, the
observer; "he doesn't know how to think unkindly of his pals."

"Tam will get Müller," said Bolt. "I saw the scrap the other day--Tam
was prepared to kill himself if he could bring him down. He was out for
a collision, I'll swear, and Müller knew it and lost his nerve for the
fight. That means that Müller is hating himself and will go running for
Tam at the first opportunity."

"Tam shall have his chance. The new B. I. 6 is ready and Tam shall have
it."

Now every airman knows the character of the old B. I. 5. She was a fast
machine, could rise quicker than any other aeroplane in the world. She
could do things which no other machine could do, and could also behave
as no self-respecting aeroplane would wish to behave. For example, she
was an involuntary "looper." For no apparent reason at all she would
suddenly buck like a lunatic mustang. In these frenzies she would answer
no appliance and obey no other mechanical law than the law of
gravitation.

Tam had tried B. I. 5, and had lived to tell the story. There is a
legend that he reached earth flying backward and upside down, but that
is probably without foundation. Then an ingenious American had taken B.
I. 5 in hand and had done certain things to her wings, her tail, her
fuselage and her engine and from the chaos of her remains was born B. I.
6, not unlike her erratic mother in appearance, but viceless.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tam learned of his opportunity without any display of enthusiasm.

"A' doot she's na guid," he said. "Captain Blackie, sir-r, A've got ma
ain idea what B. I. stands for. It's no complimentary to the inventor.
If sax is better, than A'm goin' to believe in an auld sayin'."

"What is that, Tam?"

"'Theer's safety in numbers,'" said Tam, "an' the while A'm on the
subject of leeterature A'd like yeer opinion on a vairse A' made aboot
Mr. MacMuller."

He produced a folded sheet of paper, opened it, and read,

     "Amidst the seelance of the stars
     He fell, yon dooty mon o' Mars.
         The angels laffit
     To see this gaillant baird-man die.
     'At lairst! At lairst!' the angels cry,
     'We've ain who'll teach us hoo to fly--
         Thanks be, he's strafit!'"

"Fine," said Blackie with a smile, "but suppose you're 'strafit'
instead?"

"Pit the wee pome on ma ain wreath," said Tam simply; "'t 'ill be true."




CHAPTER IV

THE STRAFING OF MÜLLER


On the earth, rain was falling from gray and gloomy clouds. Above those
clouds the sun shone down from a blue sky upon a billowing mass that
bore a resemblance to the uneven surface of a limitless plain of lather.
High, but not too high above cloud-level, a big white Albatross circled
serenely, its long, untidy wireless aerial dangling.

The man in the machine with receivers to his ears listened intently for
the faint "H D" which was his official number. Messages he
caught--mostly in English, for he was above the British lines.

"Nine--Four.... Nine--four ... nine--four," called somebody insistently.
That was a "spotter" signaling a correction of range, then.... "Stop
where you are .... K L B Q.... Bad light.... Signal to X O 73 last
shot.... Repeat your signal .... No.... Bad light.... Sorry--bad
light.... Stay where you are...."

He guessed some, could not follow others. The letter-groups were, of
course, code messages indicating the distance shells were bursting from
their targets. The apologies were easily explained, for the light was
very bad indeed.

"Tam ... Müller.... Above ... el."

The man in the machine tried the lock of his gun and began to get
interested.

Now his eyes were fixed upon the rolling, iridescent cloud-mass below.
From what point would the fighting machine emerge?

He climbed up a little higher to be on the safe side. Then, from a
valley of mist half a mile away, a tiny machine shot up, shining like
burnished silver in the rays of the afternoon sun, for Tam had driven up
in a drizzle of rain, and wings and fuselage were soaking wet.

The watcher above rushed to the attack. He was perhaps a thousand yards
above his enemy and had certain advantages--a fact which Tam realized.
He ceased to climb, flattened and went skimming along the top of the
cloud, darting here and there with seeming aimlessness. His pursuer
rapidly reviewed the situation.

To dive down upon his prey would mean that in the event of missing his
erratic moving foe, the attacker would plunge into the cloud fog and be
at a disadvantage. At the same time, he would risk it. Suddenly up went
his tail. But Tam had vanished in the mist, for as he saw the tail go
up, he had followed suit, and nothing in the world dives like a B. I. 6.

No sooner was he out of sight of his attacker than he brought the nose
of the machine up again and began a lightning climb to sunshine. He was
the first to reach "open country" and he looked round for Müller.

That redoubtable fighter reappeared in front and below him and Tam
dived for him. Müller's nose went down and back to his hiding-place he
dived. Tam corrected his level and swooped upward again. There was no
sign of Captain Müller. Tam cruised up and down, searching the cloud for
his enemy.

He was doing three things at once: He was looking, he was fitting
another drum to his gun, and he was controlling the flight of his
machine, when "chk-chk-chk" said the wireless, and Tam listened,
screwing his face into a grimace signifying at once the difficulty of
hearing, and his apprehension that he might lose a word of what was to
follow.

"L Q--L Q," said the receiver.

"Noo," said Tam in perplexity, "is 'L Q' meanin' that A' ocht to rin for
ma life or is it 'continue the guid wairk'?"

Arguing that his work was invisible from the earth and that a more
urgent interpretation was to be put upon the message, he turned westward
and dived; not, however, before he had seen over his shoulder a dozen
enemy machines come flashing up from the clouds.

"Haird cheese!" said Tam; "a' the auld cats aboot an' the wee moosie's
awa'!"

He had intended going home, but a new and bright thought struck him. He
turned his machine and pushed straight through the cloud the way he had
come. He knew they had seen him disappearing and, airman like, they
would remain awhile to bask in the sunlight and "dry off."

       *       *       *       *       *

As a general rule Tam hated clouds. You could not tell whether you were
flying right side up or upside down, and he had always a curious sense
of nervousness that he would collide with something. Yet, for once, he
drove through the swirling "smoke" with a sense of joyous anticipation,
and presently began to rise gently, keeping his eyes aloft to detect the
first thinning of the fog. Presently he saw the sunlight reflected on
the upper stratas and began to climb steeply. His machine ripped out
into the sun, a fierce, roaring little fury.

Not a hundred yards away was a fighting machine.

"_Ticka--ticka--ticka--ticka--tick!_" said Tam's machine-gun.

Tam's staring blue eyes were on the sights--he could not miss. The pilot
went limp in his seat, the observer took his hand from his gun to grip
the controls. Too late; the wide-winged fighter skidded like a motorbus
on a greasy road and fell into the clouds sideways.

But now the enemy was coming at him from all points of the compass.

"Dinna let oor pairtin' grieve ye!" sang Tam and dropped straight
through the clouds into the rain and a dim view of a bedraggled earth.

"There's Burley," said Blackie, clad in a long oilskin and a sou'wester
as he checked off the home-coming adventurers. "Do you ever notice how
his machine always looks lop-sided? There's Galbraith and Mosen--who's
that fellow on the Morane? Oh, yes, that's Parker-Smith. H'm!"

"What's wrong?"

"Where's Tam--I hope those beggars didn't catch him--There he is, the
devil!"

Tam was doing stunts. He was side-slipping, nose-diving and looping--he
was, in fine, setting up all those stresses which a machine under
extraordinary circumstances might have to endure.

"He always does that with a new machine, sir," said Captain Blackie's
companion. "I've never understood why, because if he found a weak place,
he'd be too dead for the information to be of any service to him."

       *       *       *       *       *

Later, when Tam condescended to bring himself to earth, Blackie asked
him.

"Why do you do fool stunts, Tam? The place to test the machine is on the
ground?"

"Ye're wrong, sir-r," said Tam quietly; "the groond's a fine place to
test a wee perambulator or a motor-car or a pair of buits--but it's no'
the place to test an aeroplane. The aeroplane an' the submarine maun be
tried oot in their native eelements."

"But suppose you _did_ succeed in breaking something--and you went to
glory?"

"Aye," said Tam quietly, "an' suppose A'm goin' oop wi' matchless
coorage to save ma frien's frae the ravishin' Hoon an' ma machine plays
hookey? Would it no' be worse for a' concairned, than if A' smash oop by
mesel'?"

"Did you see Müller?"

"In the clouds. A' left him hauldin' a committee-meetin', Captain
MacMuller in the cheer.

"'Resolvit,' says the cheerman, 'that this meetin', duly an' truly
assembled, passes a hairty vote o' thanks to Tam o' the Scoots, the
Mageecian o' the Air-r, for the grand fight he made against a superior
enemy--Carried.

"'Resolvit,' says the cheerman, 'that we'll no' ta' onny more risk, but
confine oor attentions to strafin' spotters--"

"Carried wi' acclaimation. The meetin' then adjoorned to enquire after
machine noomber sax, eight, sax, two, strafed in the execution of ma
duty."

It seemed almost as though Tam's words were prophetic, for the next day
Smyth and Curzon were attacked whilst "spotting" for the "heavies" and
fell in flames in No-Man's Land. They got Smyth in during the night and
rushed him back to a base hospital; but Curzon was dead before the
machine reached the ground.

The same morning Tam read in the German "Official":

"In the course of the day Captain Müller shot down his thirtieth enemy
aeroplane, which fell before the English lines."

"It were no' the English lines, but the Argyll an' Sootherland
Hielanders' lines," complained Tam. "Thairty machines yon Muller ha'
strafit. Weel, weel!"

He went to his room very thoughtful, and the day following, being an
"off" day, he spent between the machine-shop and the hangar where the B.
I. 6 reposed. It must never be forgotten that Tam was a born
mechanician. To him the machine had a body, a soul, a voice, and a
temperament. Noises which engines made had a peculiar significance to
Tam. He not only could tell you how they were behaving, but how they
would be likely to behave after two hours' running. He knew all the
symptoms of their mysterious diseases and he was versed in their
dietary. He "fed" his own engines, explored his own tanks, greased and
cleaned with his own hands every delicate part of the frail machinery.

There was neither strut nor stay, bolt nor screw, that he did not know
or had not studied, tested or replaced. He cleaned his own gun and
examined, leather duster in hand, every round of ammunition he took up.
He left little to chance and never went out to attack but with a "plan,
an altairnitive plan an'--an open mind."

And now since Müller must be settled with, Tam was more than careful.

The difficulty about aeroplanes is that they look very much like one
another. Tam fought indecisively three big white Albatross machines
before a Fokker hawk darted down from the shelter of a cloud-wraith and
revealed itself as the temporary preoccupation of Captain Müller.

The encounter may be told in Tam's own words.

"I' the ruthless pairsuit of his duty, Tam was patrollin' at a height o'
twelve thoosand feet, his mind filled wi' beautifu' thochts aboot
pay-day, when a cauld shiver passes doon the dauntless spine o' the wee
hero. 'Tis a preemonition or warnin' o' peeril. He speers oop an' doon
absint-mindedly fingerin' the mechanism of his seelver-plated Lewis gun.
There was nawthing in sicht, nawthing to mar the glories of the morn.
'Can A' be mistaken?' asks Tam. 'Noo! A thoosand times noo!' an' wi'
these fatefu' wairds, he began his peerilous climb. Maircifu' Heavens!
What's yon? 'Tis the mad Muller! Sweeft as the eagle fa'ing upon his
prey, fa's MacMuller, a licht o' joy in his een, his bullets twangin'
like hairp-strings. But Tam the Tempest is no' bothered. Cal-lm an'
a'most majeestic in his sang-frow--a French expression--he leps gaily to
the fray--an' here A' am!"

"But, Tam," protested Galbraith, "that's a rotten story. What happened
after the lep--did you get up to him?"

"A' didna lep oop," said Tam gravely; "A' lep doon--it wis no' the time
to ficht--it wis the time to flee--an' A'm a fleein' mon."

That he would deliberately shrink an issue with his enemy was
unthinkable. And yet he rather avoided than sought Müller after this
encounter.

       *       *       *       *       *

One afternoon he came to Galbraith's quarters. Galbraith was rich and
young and a great sportsman.

"Can A' ha'e a waird wi' ye?" asked Tam mysteriously.

"Surely," said the boy. "Come in--you want a cigar, Tam!" he accused.

"Get awa' ahint me, Satan," said Tam piously. "A've gi'en oop cadgin'
seegairs an' A' beg ye no' tae tempit a puir weak body. Just puit the
box doon whair A' can reach it an' mebbe A'll help mesel' absintminded.
A' came--mon, this is a bonnie smawk! Ye maun pay an awfu' lot for
these. Twa sheelin's each! Ech! It's sinfu' wi' so many puir souls in
need--A'll tak' a few wi' me when A' go, to distreebute to the sufferin'
mechanics. Naw, it is na for seegairs A'm beggin', na this time--but
ha'e ye an auld suit o' claes ye'll no be wantin'?"

"A suit? Good Lord, yes, Tam," said Galbraith, jumping down from the
table on which he was seated. "Do you want it for yourself?"

"Well," replied Tam cautiously, "A' do an' A' doon't--it's for ma
frien', Fitzroy McGinty, the celebrated MacMuller mairderer."

Galbraith looked at him with laughter in his eyes.

"Fitzroy McGinty? And who the devil is Fitzroy McGinty?"

Tam cleared his throat

"Ma frien' Fitzroy McGinty is, like Tam, an oornament o' the Royal
Fleein' Coor. Oor hero was borr-rn in affluent saircumstances his
faither bein' the laird o' Maclacity, his mither a Fitzroy o' Soosex.
Fitz McGinty lived i' a graund castle wi' thoosands o' sairvants to wait
on him, an' he ate his parritch wi' a deemond spune. A' seemed rawsy for
the wee boy, but yin day, accused o' the mairder o' the butler an' the
bairglary of his brithers' troosers, he rin frae hame, crossin' to
Ameriky, wheer he foon' employment wi' a rancher as coo-boy. Whilst
there, his naturally adventurous speerit brocht him into contact wi'
Alkali Pete the Road-Agent--ye ken the feller that haulds oop the
Deadville stage?"

"Oh, I ken him all right," said the patient Galbraith; "but, honestly,
Tam--who is your friend?"

"Ma frien', Angus McCarthy?"

"You said Fitzroy McGinty just now."

"Oh, aye," said Tam hastily, "'twas ain of his assoomed names."

"You're a humbug--but here's the kit. Is that of use?"

"Aye."

Tam gathered the garments under his arm and took a solemn farewell.

"Ye'll be meetin' Rabbie again--A' means Angus, Mr. Galbraith--but A'd
be glad if ye'd no mention to him that he's weerin' yeer claes."

He went to a distant store and for the rest of the day, with the
assistance of a mechanic, he was busy creating the newest recruit to the
Royal Flying Corps. Tam was thorough and inventive. He must not only
stuff the old suit with wood shavings and straw, but he must unstuff it
again, so that he might thread a coil of pliable wire to give the figure
the necessary stiffness.

"Ye maun hae a backbone if ye're to be an obsairver, ma mannie," said
Tam, "an' noo for yeer bonnie face--Horace, will ye pass me the
plaister o' Paris an' A'll gi' ye an eemitation o' Michael Angy-low, the
celebrated face-maker."

His work was interluded with comments on men and affairs--the very
nature of his task brought into play that sense of humor and that
stimulation of fancy to which he responded with such readiness.

"A' doot whither A'll gi'e ye a moostache," said Tam, surveying his
handiwork, "it's no necessairy to a fleein'-mon, but it's awfu' temptin'
to an airtist."

He scratched his head thoughtfully.

"Ye should be more tanned, Angus," he said and took up the varnish
brush.

At last the great work was finished. The dummy was lifelike even outside
of the setting which Tam had planned. From the cap (fastened to the
plaster head by tacks) to the gloved hands, the figure was all that an
officer of the R. F. C. might be, supposing he were pigeon-toed and limp
of leg.

       *       *       *       *       *

The next morning Tam called on Blackie in his office and asked to be
allowed to take certain liberties with his machine, a permission which,
when it was explained, was readily granted. He went up in the afternoon
and headed straight for the enemy's lines. He was flying at a
considerable height, and Captain Müller, who had been on a joy ride to
another sector of the line and had descended to his aerodrome, was
informed that a very high-flying spotter was treating Archie fire with
contempt and had, moreover, dropped random bombs which, by the greatest
luck in the world, had blown up a munition reserve.

"I'll go up and scare him off," said Captain Müller. He focussed a
telescope upon the tiny spotter.

"It looks more like a fast scout than a spotter," he said, "yet there
are obviously two men in her."

He went up in a steep climb, his powerful engines roaring savagely. It
took him longer to reach his altitude than he had anticipated. He was
still below the alleged spotter with its straw-stuffed observer when
Tam dived for him.

All that the nursing of a highly trained mechanic could give to an
engine, all of precision that a cold blue eye and a steady hand could
lend to a machine-gun, all that an unfearing heart could throw into that
one wild, superlative fling, Tam gave. The engine pulled to its last
ounce, the wings and stays held to the ultimate stress.

"Tam!" said Müller to himself and smiled, for he knew that death had
come.

He fired upward and banked over--then he waved his hand in blind salute,
though he had a bullet in his heart and was one with the nothingness
about him.

Tam swung round and stared fiercely as Müller's machine fell. He saw it
strike the earth, crumple and smoke.

"Almichty God," said the lips of Tam, "look after that yin! He wis a
bonnie fichter an' had a gay hairt, an' he knaws richt weel A' had no
malice agin him--Amen!"




CHAPTER V

ANNIE--THE GUN


"A've noticed," said Tam, "a deesposition in writin' classes to omit the
necessary bits of scenery that throw up the odious villainy of the
factor, or the lonely vairtue of the Mill Girl. A forest maiden wi'oot
the forest or a hard-workin' factory lass wi'oot a chimney-stalk, is no
more convincin' than a seegair band wi'oot the seegair, or an empty pay
envelope."

"Why this disquisition on the arts, Tam?" asked Captain Blackie testily.

Three o'clock in the morning, and freezing at that, a dark aerodrome and
the ceaseless drum of guns--neither the time, the place nor the ideal
accompaniment to philosophy, you might think. Blackie was as nervous as
a squadron commander may well be who has sent a party on a midnight
stunt, and finds three o'clock marked on the phosphorescent dial of his
watch and not so much as a single machine in sight.

"Literature," said Tam easily, "is a science or a disease very much like
airmanship. 'Tis all notes of excl'mation an' question mairks, with one
full stop an' several semi-comatose crashes--!"

"Oh, for Heaven's sake, shut up, Tam!" said Blackie savagely. "Haven't
you a cigar to fill that gap in your face?"

"Aye," said Tam calmly, "did ye no' smell it? It's one o' young Master
Taunton's Lubricatos an' A'm smokin' it for an endurance test--they're
no' so bad, remembering the inexperience an' youth o' ma wee frien'--"

Blackie turned.

"Tam," he said shortly, "I'm just worried sick about those fellows and I
wish--"

"Oh, them," said Tam in an extravagant tone of surprise, "they're comin'
back, Captain Blackie, sir-r--a' five, one with an engine that's
runnin' no' so sweet--that'll be Mister Gordon's, A'm thinkin'."

Captain Blackie turned to the other incredulously.

"You can hear them?" he asked. "I hear nothing."

"It's the smell of Master Taunton's seegair in your ears," said Tam.
"For the past five minutes A've been listenin' to the gay music of their
tractors, bummin' like the mill hooter on a foggy morn--there they are!"

High in the dark heavens a tiny speck of red light glowed, lingered a
moment and vanished. Then another, then a green that faded to white.

"Thank the Lord!" breathed Blackie. "Light up!"

"There's time," said Tam, "yon 'buses are fifteen thoosand up."

They came roaring and stuttering to earth, five monstrous shapes, and
passed to the hands of their mechanics.

"Tam heard you," said Blackie to the young leader, stripping his gloves
thoughtfully by the side of his machine. "Who had the engine trouble?"

"Gordon," chuckled the youth. "That 'bus is a--"

"Hec, sir!" said Tam and put his hands to his ears.

They had walked across to the commander's office.

"Well--what luck had you?" asked Blackie.

Lieutenant Taunton made a very wry face.

"I rather fancy we got the aerodrome--we saw something burning
beautifully as we turned for home, but Fritz has a new searchlight
installation _and_ something fierce in the way of Archies. There's a new
battery and unless I'm mistaken a new kind of gun--that's why we
climbed. They angled the lights and got our range in two calendar
seconds and they never left us alone. There was one gun in particular
that was almost undodgable. I stalled and side-slipped, climbed and
nose-dived, but the devil was always on the spot."

"Hum," said Blackie thoughtfully, "did you mark the new battery?"

"X B 84 as far as I could judge," said the other and indicated a tiny
square on the big map which covered the side of the office; "it wasn't
worth while locating, for I fancy that my particular friend was
mobile--Tam, look out for the Demon Gunner of Bocheville."

"It is computed by state--by state--by fellers that coont," said Tam,
"that it takes seven thoosand shells to hit a flyin'-man--by my own
elaborate system of calculation, A' reckon that A've five thoosand
shells to see before A' get the one that's marked wi' ma name an'
address."

And he summarily dismissed the matter from his mind for the night.
Forty-eight hours later he found the question of A-A gunnery a problem
which was not susceptible to such cavalier treatment.

He came back to the aerodrome this afternoon, shooting down from a
great height in one steep run, and found the whole of the squadron
waiting for him. Tam descended from the fuselage very solemnly,
affecting not to notice the waiting audience, and with a little salute,
which was half a friendly nod, he would have made his way to squadron
headquarters had not Blackie hailed him.

"Come on, Tam," he smiled. "Why this modesty?"

"Sir-r?" said Tam with well-simulated surprise.

"Let us hear about the gun."

"Ah, the gun," said Tam as though it were some small matter which he had
overlooked in the greater business of the day. "Well, now, sir-r, that
is _some_ gun, and after A've had a sup o' tea A'll tell you the story
of ma reckless exploits."

He walked slowly over to his mess, followed by the badinage of his
superiors.

"You saw it, Austin, didn't you?" Blackie turned to the young airman.

"Oh, yes, sir. I was spotting for a howitzer battery and they were
firing like a gas-pipe, by the way, right outside the clock--I can't
make up my mind what is the matter with that battery."

"Never mind about the battery," interrupted Blackie; "tell us about
Tam."

"I didn't see it all," said Austin, "and I didn't know it was Tam until
later. The first thing I saw was one of our fellows 'zooming' up at a
rare bat all on his lonely. I didn't take much notice of that. I thought
it was one of our fellows on a stunt. But presently I could see Archie
getting in his grand work. It was a battery somewhere on the Lille road,
and it was a scorcher, for it got his level first pop. Instead of going
on, the 'bus started circling as though he was enjoying the 'shrap'
bath. As far as I could see there were four guns on him, but three of
them were wild and late. You could see their bursts over him and under
him, but the fourth was a terror. It just potted away, always at his
level. If he went up it lived with him; if he dropped it was alongside
of him. It was quaint to see the other guns correcting their range, but
always a bit after the fair. Of course, I knew it was Tam and I somehow
knew he was just circling round trying out the new gun. How he escaped,
the Lord knows!"

Faithful to his promise, Tam returned.

"If any of you gentlemen have a seegair--" he asked.

Half a dozen were offered to him and he took them all.

"A'll no' offend any o' ye," he explained, "by refusin' your
hospitality. They mayn't be good seegairs, as A've reason to know, but
A'll smoke them all in the spirit they are geeven."

He sat down on a big packing-case, tucked up his legs under him and
pulled silently at the glowing Perfecto. Then he began:

"At eleven o'clock in the forenoon," said Tam, settling himself to the
agreeable task, "in or about the vicinity of La Bas a solitary airman
micht ha' been sighted or viewed, wingin' his way leisurely across the
fleckless blue o' the skies. Had ye been near enough ye would have
obsairved a smile that played aroond his gay young face. In his blue
eyes was a look o' deep thought. Was he thinkin' of home, of his humble
cot in the shadow of Ben Lomond? He was not, for he never had a home in
the shadow of Ben Lomond. Was he thinkin' sadly of the meanness o' his
superior officer who had left one common seegair in his box and had
said, 'Tam, go into my quarters and help yourself to the smokes'?"

"Tam, I left twenty," said an indignant voice, "and when I came to look
for them they were all gone."

"A've no doot there's a bad character amongst ye," said Tam gravely; "A'
only found three, and two of 'em were bad, or it may have been four. No,
sir-rs, he was no' thinkin' of airthly things. Suddenly as he zoomed to
the heavens there was a loud crack; and lookin' over, the young hero
discovered that life was indeed a bed of shrapnel and that more was on
its way, for at every point of the compass Archie was belching forth
death and destruction"--he paused and rubbed his chin--"Archie A' didn't
mind," he said with a little chuckle, "but Archie's little sister,
sir-r, she was fierce! She never left me. A' stalled an' looped, A'
stood on ma head and sat on ma tail. A' banked to the left and to the
right. A' spiraled up and A' nose-dived doon, and she stayed wi' me
closer than a sister. For hoors, it seemed almost an etairnity, Tam o'
the Scoots hovered with impunity above the inferno--"

"But why, Tam?" asked Blackie. "Was it sheer swank on your part?"

"It was no swank," said Tam quietly. "Listen, Captain Blackie, sir-r;
four guns were bangin' and bangin' at me, and one of them was a good
one--too good to live. Suppose A' had spotted that one--A' could have
dropped and bombed him."

Blackie was frowning.

"I think we'll leave the Archies alone," he said; "you have never shown
a disposition to go gunning for Archies before, Tam."

Tam shook his head.

"It is a theery A' have, sir-r," he said; "yon Archie, the new feller,
is being tried oot. He is different to the rest. Mr. Austin had him the
other night. Mr. Colebeck was nearly brought doon yesterday morn. Every
one in the squadron has had a taste of him, and every one in the
squadron has been lucky."

       *       *       *       *       *

"That is a fact," said Austin; "this new gun is a terror."

"But he has no' hit any one," insisted Tam; "it's luck that he has no',
but it's the sort of luck that the flyin'-man has. To-morrow the luck
may be all the other way, and he'll bring doon every one he aims at. Ma
idea is that to-morrow we've got to get him, because if he makes good,
in a month's time you won't be able to fly except at saxteen thoosand
feet."

A light broke in on Blackie.

"I see, Tam," he said; "so you were just hanging around to discourage
him?"

"A' thocht it oot," said Tam. "A' pictured ma young friend William von
Archie shootin' and shootin', surroonded by technical expairts with long
whiskers and spectacles. 'It's a rotten gun you've got, Von,' says they;
'can ye no' bring doon one wee airman?' 'Gi' me anither thoosand shots,'
gasps Willie, 'and there'll be a vacant seat in the sergeant's mess;'
and so the afternoon wears away and the landscape is littered wi' shell
cases, but high in the air, glitterin' in the dyin' rays of the sun,
sits the debonair scoot, cool, resolute, and death-defyin'."

That night the wires between the squadron headquarters and G. H. Q.
hummed with information and inquiry. A hundred aerodromes, from the
North Sea to the Vosges, reported laconically that Annie, the vicious
sister of Archie, was unknown.

       *       *       *       *       *

Tam lay in his bunk that night devouring the latest of his literary
acquisitions.

Tam's "bunk" was a ten-by-eight structure lined with varnished pine. The
furniture consisted of a plain canvas bed, a large black box, a
home-made cupboard and three book-shelves which ran the width of the
wall facing the door. These were filled with thin, paper-covered
"volumes" luridly colored. Each of these issues consisted of thirty-two
pages of indifferent print, and since the authors aimed at a maximum
effect with an economy of effort, there were whole pages devoted to
dialogue of a staccato character.

He lay fully dressed upon the bed. A thick curtain retained the light
which came from an electric bulb above his head and his mind was
absorbed with the breathless adventures of his cowboy hero.

Now and again he would drop the book to his chest and gaze reflectively
at the ceiling, for, all the time he had been reading, one-half of his
brain had been steadily pursuing a separate course of inquiry of its
own; and while the other half had wandered pleasantly through deep and
sunless gulches or had clambered on the back of a surefooted bronco up
precipitous mountain-slopes, the mental picture he conjured was in the
nature of a double exposure, for ever there loomed a dim figure of a
mysterious anti-aircraft gun. He took up the book for about the tenth
time and read two lines, when a bell in the corner of the room rang
three times. Three short thrills of sound and then silence.

Tam slipped from the bed, lifted down his leather jacket from the wall
and struggled into it. He took up his padded helmet, switched off the
light and, opening the door, stepped out into the darkness. Buttoning
his jacket as he went, he made his way across by a short cut to the
hangars and found Blackie surrounded by half a dozen officers already on
the spot.

"Is that you, Tam? I want you to go up--there she goes!"

They listened.

_"Whoom!"_

"Fritz has sneaked across in the dark and is industriously bombing
billets," he said; "he dodged the Creeper's Patrol. Go and see if you
can find him."

_"Whoom!"_

The sound of the bursting bomb was nearer.

"'Tis safer in the air," said Tam as he swung into his fuselage.
"Contact!"

A few seconds later, with a roar, the machine disappeared into the black
wall of darkness.

It came back in less than a minute well overhead and Blackie, straining
his eyes upward, followed its progress against the stars until it melted
into the sky.

_"Whoom!"_

"He is looking for us," said Blackie; "stand by your hangars."

To the northwest two swift beams of light were sweeping the sky
urgently. From a point farther south sprang another beam.

"If Fritz doesn't locate us now he ought to be shot," growled Blackie.

But apparently Fritz had overshot the aerodrome, for the next explosion
came a mile to the west.

"Tam will see the burst," said young Austin and Blackie nodded.

There were no other explosions and they waited for ten minutes, then--

"_Ticka-ticka-ticka-ticka!_"

The sound came from right overhead.

"Tam's got him," whooped Blackie; "the devil must have been flying low."

"_Tocka-tocka-tocka-tocka!_"

"That's Fritz," said Blackie, "and that's Tam again."

Then one of the waving searchlights strayed in their direction, and down
its white beam for the space of a hundred yards slid a ghostly white
moth. It dipped suddenly and fell out of the light and in its wake, but
above, burst three little green balls of fire--Tam's totem and
sign-manual.

"Landing lights!" roared Blackie, and they had hardly been switched on
when Tam swooped to the ground.

In the meantime a motor-car had gone swiftly in the direction of the
fallen Hun machine.

"He crashed," said Tam breathlessly, as he jumped to the ground; "A'm
afeered the puir body is hurt."

But the poor body was neither hurt nor frightened, nor indeed had he
crashed.

In point of fact he had made a very good landing, considering the
disadvantages under which he labored. They brought him into the
mess-room, a tall stripling with shaven head and blue laughing eyes, and
he took the coffee they offered him with a courteous little bow and a
click of his heels.

"Baron von Treutzer," the prisoner introduced himself.

"I was afraid that a thousand meters was too low to fly, even at night,"
he said; "I suppose I didn't by any lucky chance get you. By the way,
who brought me down? Tam?"

"Tam it was," said Blackie cheerfully, "and you didn't get us."

"I am sorry," said the baron. "May I ask you whether it was Tam who was
doing stunts over our new gun?"

Blackie nodded.

"I thought it was. They have been cursing him all the evening--I mean,
of course, the technical people," he added hastily, as though to
emphasize the fact that the Imperial Air Service was above resentment.
"Naturally they swore you had some kind of armor on your machine, and
though we told them it was most unlikely, they insisted--you know what
obstinate people these manufacturers are; in fact, they say that they
saw it glitter," he laughed softly. "You see," he went on, "they don't
understand this game. They can not understand why their wonderful"--he
corrected himself swiftly--"why their gun did not get you. It would have
been a terrible disappointment if they had brought you down and
discovered that you were not sheeted in some new patent shell-proof
steel."

"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 débris,
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."




CHAPTER VI

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 Château 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
débris 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 entrée
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'?"

Blackie nodded.

"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, Müller, 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--?"

Zeiglemann nodded.

"I think he will keep his word. Do not forget, Herr Lieutenant, that Tam
brought down von Müller, the greatest airman that the Fatherland ever
knew."

"Von Müller!"

The young man's face went a shade paler. The story of von Müller 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 débris 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.




CHAPTER VII

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 Mérite_. 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."

"Huh?"

"I can not distinguish the machine, but it looks suspicious."

_"Whoom! Whoom!"_

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.

_"Whoom!"_

Just to the rear of the last staff car fell the bomb, blowing a great
hole in the paved road and scattering stones and débris 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.

"Parky, Tam?"

"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.

Thus:

       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:

"Which--of--you--fellows--bombed--our Kaiser?"

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?"




CHAPTER VIII

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?"

"Yes, sir-r."

"You hold the military medal, the French _Médaille 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.

"Yes, sir-r."

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."

A silence--then,

"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 Café 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 Café St. Pierre in ma auld tunic."

"Anyway," said the batman, busily brushing that same "auld" tunic, "you
wouldn't be walkin' into the Café St. Pierre."

"And why not?"

"Because," said the batman triumphantly, "that's one of the cafés
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 débris.

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 Café 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."




CHAPTER IX

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-à-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."

"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?"

Tam nodded.

"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.

She nodded.

"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, _vorwärts_!"

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.




CHAPTER X

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.

"Symptoms."

"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."

"Elizabeth!"

"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.

"Engines--?"

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--"

"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!"

Blackie nodded.

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 END



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