Aiming at the figures on the ground as best he could, just as Reade left the ground for the air, Prescott fired, loaded and fired, jamming in a fresh magazine whenever the automatic became emptied.
Twenty feet up in the air, fifty, a hundred! Tom Reade rose as fast as he could make the machine move. More star shells, and now the anti-aircraft guns came into action.
At three hundred feet above the ground shells exploded about the fugitives. One lucky shot of the enemy would be enough to bring them to earth.
The pistol was now too hot to use further. Dick sat back, closing his eyes, while Reade drove at all the speed he could compel, ever rising higher. Both Americans knew that other anti-aircraft guns further south would be turned upon them.
Finally Tom, after a glance at the barograph, roared at Prescott:
“Five thousand feet up on a dark night, and we’re going to fifteen thousand feet. All we now have to fear will be other German aircraft, but there’ll be fleets of them sent out to look for us!” Prescott nodded, though he could not hear in the roar of the motors and the rush of the air past him.
A mile below them the blackness of the night was punctured by a lively little volcano of red and yellow jets. A dozen anti-aircraft guns opened fire on the fugitive airplane, whose course must have been telephoned along the line. Some of the shells burst so close that fragments of metal whizzed about the ears of both Americans; some of the shells went far wide of the mark, but at least two of the gunners followed the moving craft for the distance of a mile with an accuracy that caused the two fugitives in the sky the liveliest uneasiness. The gunners were aiming by the sound of the engines.
“Give us fifteen minutes more at this speed,”
Tom roared, “and we’ll be back over our own French lines!”
They were soon going at terrific speed, fifteen thousand feet up in the air, when a terrifying peril beset them.
Out of the blackness ahead, bearing straight at them,
came a dozen
German airplanes in splendid formation!
“Hurrah!” yelled Tom Reade. “Sink or swim—–but never say die! Now we’ll give it to ’em, real Yankee Doodle, ‘over there’ style!”
It sounded like sheer bravado, but Reade was fired with the new genius of the war.
Tom headed straight for the nearest plane, and Dick turned the machine gun loose. Almost immediately he had the great good luck to cripple that enemy and send the craft fluttering down to earth.
But another plane had attempted to go under them with a view to shooting up. It came too near, in the maneuver shot too badly, and Dick let loose with the machine gun again. Down came the enemy plane while Reade took a wide swerve to the right.