It had already dropped some form of deadly souvenir we judged, for we saw a jet of black smoke go geysering up from a woodland where a German corps commander had his field headquarters, just after the airship passed over that particular patch of timber. As it swirled down the wind in our direction the vigilant balloon guns again got its range, and, to the throbbing tune of their twin boomings, it ducked and dodged away, executing irregular and hurried upward spirals until the cloud-fleece swallowed it up.
The driver of that monoplane was a persistent chap. I am inclined to believe he was the selfsame aviator who ventured well inside the German lines the following morning. While at breakfast in the prefecture at Laon we heard the cannoneer-sharpshooters when they opened on him; and as we ran to the windows—we Americans, I mean, the German officers breakfasting with us remaining to finish their coffee—we saw a colonel, whom we had met the night before, sitting on a bench in the old prefecture flower garden and looking up into the skies through the glasses that every German officer, of whatsoever degree, carries with him at all times.
He looked and looked; then he lowered his glasses and put them back into their case, and took up the book he had been reading.
“He got away again,” said the colonel regretfully, seeing us at the window. “Plucky fellow, that! I hope we kill him soon. The airmen say he is a Frenchman, but my guess is that he is English.” And then he went on reading.
Getting back to the afternoon before, I must add that it was not a bomb which the flying man threw into the edge of the woods. He had a surprise for his German adversaries that day. Soon after we left the stand of the field guns a civilian Red Cross man halted our machines to show us a new device for killing men. It was a steel dart, of the length and thickness of a fountain pen, and of much the same aspect. It was pointed like a needle at one end, and at the other was fashioned into a tiny rudder arrangement, the purpose of this being to hold it upright—–point downward—as it descended. It was an innocent-looking device—that dart; but it was deadlier than it seemed.
“That flyer at whom our guns were firing a while ago dropped this,” explained the civilian. “He pitched out a bomb that must have contained hundreds of these darts; and the bomb was timed to explode a thousand or more feet above the earth and scatter the darts. Some of them fell into a cavalry troop on the road leading to La Fere.
“Hurt anyone? Ach, but yes! Hurt many and killed several—both men and horses. One dart hit a trooper on top of his head. It went through his helmet, through his skull, his brain, his neck, his body, his leg—all the way through him lengthwise it went. It came out of his leg, split open his horse’s flank, and stuck in the hard road.
“I myself saw the man afterward. He died so quickly that his hand still held his bridle rein after he fell from the saddle; and the horse dragged him—his corpse, rather—many feet before the fingers relaxed.”