Then a messenger was seen hurrying toward them. Jack became almost wild with excitement, until he knew for a fact the notifications had arrived.
“And now,” said Tom, “let’s put for the field and get away without any further loss of time. It’s a long way to Dunkirk, remember, even by way of the air line, as a bee would take it. And we must get there before dark!”
They ran part of the way, and thus presented themselves before the hangar. Ample preparations had already been made. The petrol tank had been filled, and, everything being in readiness, they would have nothing to do but jump aboard and make a quick start.
But Tom was too old a pilot to take things for granted. After that recent experience with treachery he meant to be doubly careful before risking their lives in the air. Dunkirk on the Channel was a considerable distance off; and a drop when several thousand feet above French soil would go just as hard with them as if it were German territory.
Accordingly he took a survey of the plane from tip to tip of the wings; looked over the motor, tested every strut and stay, leaving nothing to Jack, who was fairly quivering with the intensity of his feelings.
Even the longest day must come to an end, and Tom’s examination was finally completed.
“Get aboard!” he told Jack. “We’re in great trim to make a record flight of it. And even the breeze favors us, you notice.”
“Let’s hope it keeps on as it is,” said Jack, quickly; “because an easterly wind will help carry us on our way to-night!”
“We’ll be in luck to have such help,” Tom replied. “As a rule, the passage from Europe to America meets with head winds most of the way. How are you fixed, Jack?”
“All ready here, Tom.”
“Half a minute more, and I’ll be the same. Take your last look for some time, Jack, at the American fighting front. We’ll never forget what we’ve met with here, and that’s a fact.”
“But, Tom, we expect to come back again, if all goes well,” expostulated Jack. “In fact, we’ve just got to, or be accused of running away. We arranged all that, you remember, and how we’d manage to get across in such a way that no one will be any the wiser for our having been out of France.”
“Don’t let’s worry about that yet,” said Tom. “The first big job is to get across the Atlantic. Ready, back there? Here goes!”
Another minute, and with a rush and a roar the plane sped along the field, took an upward slant, and set out for the coast. The first leg of the great flight had actually been started!
OFF FOR THE CHANNEL
“Tom, do you think that spy left behind by my cousin could have learned in any way about our plan?”
They were passing over a section of Northern France, keeping a mile and more above the surface of the earth, when Jack called out in this fashion. Talking is never easy aboard a working plane. The splutter of the motor, added to the noise caused by the spinning propellers, as well as the fact that as a rule pilot and observer keep well muffled up because of the chill in the rarified air, all combine to make it difficult.