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Hall: High Adventure
Chapter 10 - Mais oui, mon vieux!

THE grand and glorious feelings is one of the finest compensations for this uncertain life in the air. One has it every time he turns from the lines toward —home! It comes in richer glow, if hazardous work has been done, after moments of strain, uncertainty, when the result of a combat sways back and forth; and it gushes up like a fountain, when, after making a forced landing in what appears to be enemy territory, you find yourself among friends.

Late this afternoon we started, four of us, with Davis as leader, to make the usual two-hour sortie over the lines. No Germans were sighted, and after an uneventful half-hour, Davis, who Is always springing these surprises, decided to stalk them in their lairs. The clouds were at the right altitude for this, and there were gaps in them over which we could hover, examining roads, railroads, villages, cantonments. The danger of attack was negligible. We could easily escape any large hostile patrol by dodging into the clouds. But the wind was unfavorable for such a reconnaissance. It was blowing into Germany. We would have it dead against us on the journey home.

We played about for a half-hour, blown by a strong wind farther into Germany than we knew. We walked down the main street of a village where we saw a large crowd of German soldiers, spraying bullets among them, then climbed into the clouds before a shot could be fired at us. Later we nearly attacked a hospital, mistaking it for an aviation field. It was housed in bessonneau hangars, and had none of the marks of a hospital excepting a large red cross in the middle of the field. Fortunately we saw this before any of us had fired, and passed on over it at a low altitude to attack a train. There is a good deal of excitement in an expedition of this kind, and soldiers themselves say that surprise sorties from the air have a demoralizing effect upon troops. But as a form of sport, there is little to be said for it. It is too unfair. For this reason, among others, I was glad when Davis turned homeward. While coming back I climbed to five thousand metres, far above the others, and lagged a long way behind them. This was a direct violation of patrol discipline, and the result was, that while cruising leisurely along, with motor throttled down, watching the swift changes of light over a wide expanse of cloud, I lost sight of the group. Then came the inevitable feeling of loneliness, and the swift realization that it was growing late and that I was still far within enemy country.

I held a southerly course, estimating, as I flew, the velocity of the wind which had carried us into Germany, and judging from this estimate the length of time I should need to reach our lines. When satisfied that I had gone far enough, I started down. Below the clouds it was almost night, so dark that I could not be sure of my location. In the distance I saw a large building, brilliantly lighted. This was evidence enough that I was a good way from the lines. Unshielded windows were never to be seen near the front. I spiraled slowly down over this building, examining, as well as I could, the ground behind it, and decided to risk a landing. A blind chance and blind luck attended it. In broad day. Drew hit the only post in a field five hundred metres wide. At night, a very dark night, I missed colliding with an enormous factory chimney (a matter of inches), glided over a line of telegraph wires, passed at a few metres' height over a field littered with huge piles of sugar beets, and settled, comme une fleur, in a little cleared space which I could never have judged accurately had I known what I was doing.

Shadowy figures came running toward me. Forgetting, in the joy of so fortunate a landing, my anxiety of a moment before, I shouted out, "Bonsoir, messieurs!" Then I heard some one say, "Ich glaube —" losing the rest of it in the sound of tramping feet and an undercurrent of low, guttural murmurs. In a moment my Spad was surrounded by a widening circle of round hats, German infantrymen's hats.

Here was the ignoble end to my career as an airman. I was a prisoner, a prisoner because of my own folly, because I had dallied along like a silly girl, to "look at the pretty clouds." I saw in front of me a long captivity embittered by this thought. Not only this: my Spad was intact. The German authorities would examine it, use it. Some German pilot might fly with it over the lines, attack other French machines with my gun, my ammunition!

Not if I could help it! They stood there, those soldiers, gaping, muttering among themselves, waiting, I thought, for an officer to tell them what to do. I took off my leather gloves, then my silk ones under them, and these I washed about in the oil under my feet. Then, as quietly as possible, I reached for my box of matches.

"Qu'est-ce-que vous faites la? Allez! Vite!" A tramping of feet again, and a sea of round hats bobbing up and down and vanishing in the gloom. Then I heard a cheery "Ca va, monsieur? Pas de mal?" By way of answer I lighted a match and held it out, torch fashion. The light glistened on a round, red face and a long French bayonet. Finally I said, " Vous etes Francais, monsieur?" in a weak, watery voice. "Mais oui, mon vieux! Mais ouil" this rather testily. He did n't understand at first that I thought myself in Germany. "Do I look like a Boche?" Then I explained, and I have never heard a Frenchman laugh more heartily. Then he explained and I laughed, not so heartily, a great deal more foolishly.

I may not give my location precisely. But I shall be disclosing no military secrets in saying that I am not in Germany. I am not even in the French war-zone. I am closer to Paris than I am to the enemy first-line trenches. In a little while the sergeant with the round red face and the long French bayonet, whose guest I am for the night, will join me here.. If he were an American, to the manner born and bred, and if he knew the cartoons of that man Briggs, he might greet me in this fashion: —

"When you have been on patrol a long way behind the enemy lines, shooting up towns and camps and railway trains like a pack of aerial cowboys; when, on your way home, you have deliberately disobeyed orders and loafed a long way behind the other members of your group in order to watch the pretty sunset, and, as a punishment for this aesthetic indulgence, have been overtaken by darkness and compelled to land in strange country, only to have your machine immediately surrounded by German soldiers; then, having taken the desperate resolve that they shall not have possession of your old battle-scarred avion as well as of your person, when you are about to touch a match to it, if the light glistens on a long French bayonet and you learn that the German soldiers have been prisoners since the battle of the Somme, and have just finished their day's work at harvesting beets to be used in making sugar for French poilus— Oh, BOY! Ain't it a GRAND AND GLORYUS FEELING?"

To which I would reply in his own memorable words, — "Mais oui, mon vieux! Mais Oui!"


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