TEMPLE WITH A RED ROOF

Stan’s story told in clipped sentences over the telephone brought an
immediate response from the Chinese commander, as well as from the
British and American officers attached to the force. Colonel Fuller was
in a furious mood when Stan, with Allison and O’Malley at his side,
barged into the control room.

The headquarters at Rangoon was temporary and planned to be moved
wherever China might need the Flying Tigers most. Colonel Fuller had
been handling twice as much work as one officer could handle. He now
strode across the room and faced Stan.

“My compliments, Major Wilson. You have saved me from being taken in by
a scoundrel.”

“It couldn’t be Colonel Munson, by any chance?” O’Malley asked with a
grin.

Colonel Fuller’s scowl vanished and he laughed. “It happens to be a
certain Von Ketch,” he said.

The Colonel led Stan and his pals into a small room. There they saw a
mixture of uniforms, British, Dutch, Australian and American officers’
mingled with the Chinese. Fuller turned Stan over to three colonels.
One was a boyish young Chinese with horn-rimmed glasses. One was a
colonel of Marines, a leathery faced veteran of many campaigns. The
other was a British officer who had seen service in Norway.

Stan and Allison saluted smartly. O’Malley made a ragged gesture. The
Chinese colonel spoke to Stan.

“You have brought remarkable news from across the border. But first, my
compliments upon your daring escape from the enemy.” His English was
smooth and unaccented.

“Thank you, sir,” Stan said.

“What action would you recommend?” The colonel was smiling as he asked
the question.

“I had hoped to catch Colonel Munson at the field and thus keep him
from warning the enemy. He saw and recognized Te Nuwa’s ship and got
away,” Stan said. “But if we go over at dawn we can catch them before
they can move out many planes. I do not think their field has any large
floodlights.”

“That sounds feasible, and of course it will be a job your men will
enjoy.” The colonel regarded Stan gravely. “How will you proceed?”

Stan flushed. He wasn’t in command. The colonel had made a slight error
there. But there was no time to argue.

“The spot is a jungle hangar. I think they will have to take off one
or two at a time and rendezvous in the air for any attack or defense,”
Stan explained. “If we hit there at daylight we can go down and
smash about a hundred planes on the ground, as well as blow up their
ammunition dumps.”

“Reasonable plan,” the British officer agreed.

“But I do not happen to be in command,” Stan said. “I am merely
reporting for Colonel Fuller.”

“You have been in command a full hour,” the young Chinese colonel
said. “Colonel Fuller has so much to do he cannot be up with his
squadron.”

Stan started to protest but the colonel lifted a hand. “You are in
command of the squadron at your field. You will be joined by another
squadron from Base One. You will have twenty bombers and twenty-four
fighter planes. You will command the raid.”

“Major Allison has always been in charge of our flights,” Stan said.

“Shut up!” Allison snapped, then grinned at the young colonel. “I beg
your pardon, sir, but this Yank is stubborn at times.”

“Let’s get going,” O’Malley broke in.

The three colonels smiled widely. The Chinese officer spoke. “We have
ample need for leaders of squadrons. I have a place for at least two
more colonels at once. Major Wilson will make plans for the attack.
Please confer with the Air Commander and the supply officer.”

The three fliers saluted. As they turned away, the colonel of Marines
called after them:

“Give them a grubbing, boys. Wish I were going along, I’d like a whack
at that rat Munson.”

Stan grinned back at the Marine. Allison also smiled.

“If he’s a sample of your Marine Corps, I’d like to work with them,”
Allison said.

“He’s a typical devil dog,” Stan said. “The world’s finest fighting
men. Not many of them, but they’re tough and hard–always first at a
hot spot.”

They went into conference with General Dern, who was to have control
of the entire operation covering both Stan’s fighter escort and the
bombers. Dern was a Georgia boy who had fought all over China and who
had been in service long before the Flying Tigers came into being.
He had fought the Japs from Lashio on the Burmese border to Kweiyang
within the last year. He was a lank six-footer with a typical southern
drawl.

“You can give us the location,” he said. “That’s about all we’ll need.”

Stan prepared maps for Dern, giving the location of the temple with the
red roof and the location of the Jap planes and supply dumps.

“Sure, we know the spot,” Dern said. “I know Te Nuwa personally. The
old rascal is supposed to be one of our close friends. He was to oppose
the penetration of Thailand by the Japs. We furnished him quite a stock
of small arms for his men.”

Stan looked up from the map thoughtfully. “If we can prevent it, I
think we should avoid blasting the native quarter of the town, which is
here.” He put a circle around a spot south of the temple.

“You like the Thai natives?” Dern asked.

“I’d be stiff as a codfish right now if it hadn’t been for one of them.
She helped me get away,” Stan said. “Ever have a silk cord draped
around your neck and then have some bird yank you off the ground?”

“No,” Dern answered. “But I’ve seen a couple of fellows who were
finished off that way. You must have a way with women, Major.”

“She was a Jap spy, a Burmese girl,” Stan said seriously. “I’d hate to
think we returned her good turn by dropping a bomb on her.”

“Did you tell her you were coming back to blast her village?” Dern
asked.

“Yes,” Stan answered.

“Then she’ll clear out,” Dern said. “Now to get the big babies loaded
and ready. You get your fighters ready. We’ll assemble in your mess and
go over the whole plan with the men.”

Stan and his pals headed for their barracks. The boys were routed and
the mess soon was filled with eager fliers. Stan told them briefly what
was expected and showed them his maps. They gave a rousing cheer when
they heard he was to be Flight Commander of their group. Every man
had one ambition and one resolve, each intended to get Nick Munson if
possible. It was to be an individual duel.

Dern and his bomber crew dropped over for a few minutes. The Raid
Commander spoke briefly, then walked over to Stan and let the boys do
their own planning. After the men had talked things over, the bomber
crew left and Base Two Squadron settled down to wait for the signal to
go.

The signal came through soon after Dern had left. Stan and his boys
rushed out to their ships and piled in. The P–40’s stood on the cab
rank, their flaming exhausts making a pattern of shadows on the ground.
Stan palmed his hatch cover forward and adjusted his mike. He had a
near attack of stage fright as he set himself to take over. He was a
flight leader and had a squadron behind him.

“Temple Flight, are you ready?” he called into his flap mike.

Twenty-three signals came back to him, eager, snappy.

“Temple Flight, check your temperatures,” Stan called. The tightness
had gone out of his throat and he was eager to be off. He had a group
of deadly fighters to lead and it would take some savage fighting to
keep ahead of them. One thing he dared not do. He could not make any
mistakes. Mistakes in the air meant death for someone.

“Temple Flight, upstairs!” Stan called. He reached for the throttle
knob and opened the P–40 up.

Kicking one brake, he spun his ship around and headed down to the
shadow bar. The ground officer’s Aldis lamp blinked and lifted. A line
of trim Tigers slid down the runway and roared into the coming dawn.
With tails up, they surged off the field and circled to take formation.

“Temple Flight, close in,” Stan directed. “Right echelon line on
Allison. Left echelon line on Wilson.” Stan felt a sudden surge of
confidence run through him. He could see O’Malley in the right-hand
slot, holding on his aileron groove. Other shadowy forms slid through
the sky on either side and back of him.

The fighters went upstairs, circled and picked up the two engine
bombers. Dern’s voice came in clear and loud:

“Take the fighters up to twenty thousand, Wilson. Blank out radio. Take
over up there.”

“Fighters going up to twenty thousand,” Stan called back. He snapped an
order to his fighters and up they went.

They climbed into the sky with their exhausts roaring. They hit twenty
thousand feet above the sea level and headed south and east. As they
swept over the Salween River, day was breaking. It burst over the
jungle and the rice paddies like a great light flashed on in a dark
room.

The Flying Tigers were silent. There was no cocky banter or wisecracks
such as they would hurl at one another once they opened up on the
enemy. This was grim business and the Tigers were masters of the
surprise attack. Hit fast and hit hard. Get the yellow man’s planes off
the ground. Beat him to the punch. Stan checked his guns and listened
to his motor. He was casting an eagle eye about. The Japs should have
planes up, looking for bombers. It was his job to intercept them.

The silence was broken by the crisp voice of Dern. “Temple Flight,
Temple Flight. Bombers going down over objective. Peel off and go down.
Wilson, stand by. Kariganes coming up.”

The voice snapped off. Stan cupped his flap mike and called to his
Flying Tigers:

“Peel off and go down. Take ’em!”

Stan could see the bombers below. They were laying over and going down,
one after another. Far below he saw the red roof of the temple gleaming
in the sun. Stan could see the observer gunners in their turrets far
out on the nose of the bombers. Their guns flashed in the morning sun.

Stan spotted the fighters coming up. This would be an even battle for
once, unless he had been mistaken about the number of fighters the Japs
had available. Stan’s eyes suddenly narrowed. The Jap fighters were led
by a trim P–40. Munson was heading the pack.

“Spot that P–40,” Stan snapped. “It is 9-P–89.”

Shouts came back to him as he bored along watching his boys go down the
chute in roaring dives, white plumes of smoke lining out behind them.

Stan grinned as he looked across at O’Malley who had to wait his turn.
O’Malley probably was frothing at the mouth. Suddenly the wild Irishman
nosed over and was gone like a flash. Stan circled and went up into
the sun, near a bank of clouds.

The P–40’s broke upon the Jap fighters like streaks of fire. They cut
across the flight of Japs and in a few seconds the Kariganes had no
chance to go after the bombers. Stan watched the fight below. There was
no need to give any orders now. The Flying Tigers were lone wolves and
when unleashed they would go it on their own.

Stan watched the red roof of the temple below. That was the only
visible mark in the jungle, aside from the native village. As he laid
over and circled downward he saw great mushrooms of smoke and flame
rising from the woods. The Hudsons had located oil tanks and ammunition
dumps as well as parked planes. The flames spread and enveloped the
temple. They leaped over the tops of the trees. Stan saw wrecked
bombers and men running madly away from the woods.

Stan passed up two Jap fighters and went twisting down in a tight
circle, leaving a beautiful curl of smoke. He was looking for a
certain P–40 carrying the army insignia of China and the serial number
9-P–89. He sighted plenty of P–40’s. The air was full of them. The
Japs had gotten most of their fighters up and were making a stand.
Stan judged they had forty of them in the air. But he could not locate
Munson.

A circle of anti-aircraft guns had broken into full blast below. Stan
laughed softly. That was just what Dern needed. He saw the Hudsons
wheel and come back over. They nosed down inside the circle of gunfire,
the spot that was marked out for them. One of them lifted, half-turned
over, then tossed away a wing. It crashed into the flaming roof of the
temple. The others went through the muck and down to the tops of the
trees before they unloaded. Then they zoomed up to where the P–40’s
were having a circus.

Stan dived into a fight near him. Four Japs were trying to corner
a Flying Tiger that had been crippled. He lashed across one of the
Karigane fighters and riddled it; then spun and dived on another. It
burst into flames as his Brownings found its engine and fuel tank. The
other Karigane dived and fled.

Stan saw, as he went up, that the P–40’s were kings of the air. He
wondered who had shot Munson down. Cupping his flap mike, he called to
his men:

“Temple Flight! Fighter formation! Disabled planes, head for base.” He
had spotted two of his planes wobbling and fighting their controls. “Go
in, disabled planes. Head in! Wilson speaking!”

The two fighters headed off on the trail of the bombers. Cupping his
mike again, Stan ordered:

“Go down for ground strafing. Take out the guns on the ground!”

The P–40’s went down over the guns belching fire on the ground. They
came clipping in over the trees, nosed some more and opened up. Their
guns raked the artillery men below and many of the cannon ceased
firing. The fighters swept on, smashing grounded planes and zooming up
when there was nothing more to blast. Up they went and over and down
again.

The Hudsons had vanished and Stan nosed along over the jungle. He
sighted a bomber which had been wheeled away from the others, did a
tight turn and flipped over to go down on it. As he went he pressed
his gun button. Nothing happened. He was out of ammunition. He shot
out over the village teeming with terrified natives. He hoped Niva was
among them. If she was back in the temple grounds she could hardly have
escaped injury, possibly death.

Stan began calling his war birds together. They came up and joined
him. As they fell into formation, he checked them over. He had sent
two cripples home. One plane had gone down. He watched O’Malley drop
into place, then saw Allison take his position. He was glad they were
there. It was always good to see them come sliding in after a fight. He
wondered who had been lost.

“Going home, fast!” he called.

The P–40’s headed for their base and roared away. They came down out of
the sky and landed with the boys shouting at each other as they eased
in. Twenty-one Tigers piled out and headed for the briefing room. Stan
gave orders to have the ships spread out and made ready for instant
use.

He stamped into the briefing room and grinned at his boys. They grinned
back and he briefly complimented them on their work. The boy from Texas
stepped up to Stan and saluted.

“You were sure right about Munson. He turned out to be a rat.”

“Who got him?” Stan asked. “I had hoped he would be mine, but I never
got close to him.”

“Sure, an’ I dived for him,” O’Malley said.

“You jumped the gun, Irisher, and got in my way,” the boy from Texas
complained.

“’Twas only by the half of a second,” O’Malley countered. “I had the
spalpeen in me sights. He was my meat.”

“What happened?” Allison asked with a smile.

“I went down on him, but he wasn’t there. I’m thinkin’ he found a tree
to get under.” O’Malley shook his head sadly.

“We’ll get him yet,” Stan said. “I aim to settle with him personally.”
He looked at the briefing captain and his tone changed. “We lost
Kirby. I do not know whether he took to his silk or not.”

They tramped into the mess and half of them turned in for breakfast.
The other half remained ready for an alarm. O’Malley was greatly upset
because he was drawn for duty and could not eat.

The Chinese cook was elated. He had only a few English words at his
command, but the boys could tell by the way he waved his carving knife
and jumped up and down that he was a pleased Chinese cook. The kitchen
helpers had told him about the raid.

After breakfast Stan was very busy. His new job called for a lot
of work besides flying. He did not aim to let anyone take over in
his place. There would be no more instructors in the squadron. When
he missed a flight because he was checking supplies and parts, he
considered resigning.

Headquarters ended any hopes he had of being let go back into the line.
He was now Colonel Wilson and he had to stay that way.

The whole personnel at the base had to pitch in and work hard after the
big raid. Planes were scarce and so were repair parts. Ammunition had
to be rationed and so did gasoline. Patrols went out under Allison to
check the damage done.

Allison reported that the raid had been costly for the Japs. He felt,
however, that the enemy was still able to maintain a strong force at
the village. Bombs and ammunition were too scarce to allow another
raid. There were no ground troops to send out. Stan listened to the
Chinese colonel as he explained it.

“Today we fight here near Rangoon. Perhaps next week, next month we
will be at Lashio or even deep in China. We can only do the best
possible with what we have to use.”

On the third day after the raid an orderly ushered a ragged man into
Stan’s little office. Stan jumped to his feet, completely forgetting
his dignity.

“Kirby! You lucky dog!” he shouted.

Kirby saluted and a weary smile came to his lips. “Kirby reporting for
active duty, sir,” he said.

“Sit down. Active duty, my eye. You have to be fed and get some rest.”
He leaned forward. “Tell me, how did you get back?”

Kirby seated himself. “I hit silk and floated into a clearing. It
turned out I had landed on a field where a fellow keeps his elephants.
Before I could get untangled a lot of brown men were on me.”

Stan grinned widely. He knew just what had happened to Kirby.

“They dumped me into a stockade along with a lot of Thailanders. I
crawled through a hole I made in the stockade, borrowed a gun from one
of the guards, and came home.” Kirby took a deep breath. “And am I glad
to be here!”

“Good work,” Stan said. “I’ll have a ship for you as soon as you are
rested.”

“I met a friend of yours,” Kirby said. “She had been tossed into the
stockade for helping you get away. It seems her number is up. She’s to
be shot.”

“Niva?” Stan asked.

“Yes,” Kirby answered and his smile changed to a frown. “That rat,
Munson, came out to the stockade several times. He sentenced me to be
shot and the way he talked to that girl made me want to get my hands
on him. I think he’s just holding her there to torture her. He blames
her for upsetting all of his slick plans.”

Stan’s lips pulled into a tight line. He sat very straight behind his
desk and there was an icy gleam in his eyes.

“Thanks, Major Kirby,” he said. “Now run along and get some rest. I
have some important work to do.”

Kirby got to his feet and saluted. “I’ll be ready for combat duty
tomorrow, sir,” he said.

“You will not. Now get out,” Stan said gruffly.

He watched Kirby walk wearily out of the door. He was not seeing the
slender boy, he was seeing instead a slender girl bending toward him,
whispering a single word, “dacoit.” He stood for a long time studying
the map on his wall. It was an accurate map of the area, and the temple
and the Japanese base were well outlined on it.

Taking the map from the wall he folded it and shoved it into his
pocket. He went across to the barracks to Kirby’s room. Kirby was
already half-asleep, lying fully dressed across his bunk.

“Sorry to disturb you, Kirby,” he said.

“No trouble at all, sir,” Kirby said as he sat up.

Stan spread the map on the bunk. “Can you mark the location of that
stockade on this map? If you remember any other landmarks, I’d like to
have them, too.”

“Sure,” Kirby answered. He took the blue pencil Stan handed him and
marked the location of the stockade, the wooded areas and the buildings
he had seen. He added the guard’s billet and the machine-gun nests he
had had to avoid.

“Thanks, Major,” Stan said as he folded the map. “This is valuable
information to me.”

Kirby grinned but said nothing.

“And it is confidential,” Stan added.

“Yes, sir,” Kirby answered as he lay back on the bunk.

dispensing syringe

Continue Reading

He got away

Stan halted before entering the dark archway. He had seen a movement in
the moonlight which filtered through the leaves of a big tree beyond
the wall. Slowly Stan moved forward and as he went his hands lifted
until his fists were pressed at each side of his head. Norfloxacino

He felt something soft strike his shoulder, something that looped
around his neck like the coils of a snake. There was a quick and
powerful jerk that lifted him off the ground. His fists were pressed
into his neck with terrific force. It required all of Stan’s strength
to keep the silken cord from cutting off his breath and choking him.
His feet touched the ground, then he was lifted again and held dangling
in the air.

Stan held the cord away from his throat and let his body go limp. He
did not struggle. The expert on the top of the wall was muttering in
guttural tones, repeating strange words in a low mumble. Stan realized
that the strangler had intended that his first terrific jerk and twist
should paralyze his victim. For what seemed a long time, Stan dangled
there.

Slowly he was lowered to the ground where he let himself collapse with
every muscle relaxed. As the cord slackened he spread it and removed
his fists, then tightened the cord again until it almost choked him.
After that he lay still and waited. From the wall above came a low bird
call. The call was answered from across the garden.

Out of the gloom appeared a man swathed in a black cape. Behind him
strode two squat, burly fellows. The man in the cape knelt and felt the
taut cord around Stan’s neck with icy fingers. Then he uttered a grunt
of satisfaction, removed the cord and stood up. He spoke softly to the
two fellows beside him, turned, and melted into the night.

The two men caught Stan by the arms and dragged him through the
archway. They passed near a large building, brightly lighted, and
entered a darkened shed with a low roof and open walls. A band of
moonlight played across an earthen floor.

The men dragged Stan to a low plank platform and dumped him there.
One of them kicked him in the side with a wooden sandal. Stan did not
stiffen his body. The man bent and searched Stan’s pockets, taking out
his knife, compass and a handful of silver coins.

The two then seated themselves in the band of moonlight to argue over
the division of their loot. They wrangled and snarled, coming near to
blows before the coins and articles had been divided. Stan smiled as
he thought about his wrist watch. It was the only thing of value he
carried and they had missed it.

Finally the two men settled their argument. One of them stepped to a
corner of the room and came back with a cotton cloth. He flipped this
over Stan. A moment later Stan heard their wooden sandals clicking over
the hard floor as they left the shed.

Pushing the cloth back from his face, Stan listened. He heard a
profusion of sounds, a woman’s laugh, men talking and a night bird
calling. None of the sounds were near the place where he lay. Stan felt
sure most of these natives feared the dead and would stay away from
this morgue. What he did not know was how soon grave diggers would come
to dispose of him.

He was about to sit up when he saw someone approaching. Stan got ready
for a fight. A lone figure wrapped in a white robe crossed the floor
and passed through the moonlight. Above the robe rose a turban of
white cloth. Bending down, the visitor pulled back the shroud and laid
something on Stan’s breast. Stan looked up into the face of Niva.

With a noiseless movement, he caught her wrist.

“Don’t scream,” he said softly.

The girl tried to wrench her hand free. She did not scream or make any
sound, but she fought fiercely. Suddenly, she dropped to her knees
beside Stan. He could feel her body tremble.

“You are not dead?” she whispered.

“No, I am not dead,” Stan answered. “Won’t you help me to get out of
here? I need a guide.”

She looked into his face for a long moment. Her voice was very low when
she spoke.

“I am glad you are not dead. I watched from outside the garden. The
shadow men never fail. They have great pride in their way of killing. I
was sure you were dead. I bought a prayer at the temple and brought it
here. I thought you would need it. You had no one to buy a prayer for
you.” She paused.

Stan released her hand. “That was kind of you. But I’ll really need a
prayer unless I get out of here.”

“They will not come until daylight to get you,” she said. “That is the
way it is done. There is a ceremony going on in a dark temple room
right now. When it is over, they will come.”

“Fine,” Stan said. “Now if I can just get away from here.”

“You could not get far in those clothes. I will bring you white robes
and a turban.”

“Good for you, Niva,” Stan whispered. “I’ll just lie here and wait.”

Niva got to her feet and vanished into the night. Stan sat on the
platform and listened. After a time he heard footsteps and lay down.
Niva slipped into the shed along the dark side. She knelt beside him.

“Put this on your hands and face. It will make you brown,” she
whispered.

She poured liquid into his cupped hands out of a bowl. Stan smeared his
face and hands. The stuff smelled bad and burned like fire.

“What is it?” he asked.

“It is polish for the harness of the sacred elephants,” she said and he
heard her giggle. “I could find no other brown stain.”

Stan stood up and let her help him into the white robe. He bent down
and she fixed his turban into place.

“You will do very well,” she said. “But it is best that you walk
stooped a little. You stand too straight, too much the soldier.”

“Will you get into trouble over this?” Stan asked anxiously.

“If I am caught, yes,” she admitted. “But no one would charge me with
making the dacoit strangler fail. No one can make a dacoit fail. Unless
we are seen and recognized, the dacoit and the priests will say the
body of the white man was stolen by thieves. They would not admit
failure.” She smiled up at him.

“But what will they do with you if you are caught?” Stan insisted upon
knowing.

“I will die,” she replied simply. Her smile did not fade as she said it.

“I’d take you with me, but I have to go through the jungle,” Stan said.
“I may be a long time getting back to my base.”

“You wish to go through the jungle?” she asked.

“That is the only way I can get out of here, isn’t it?” he asked.

“Te Nuwa has a flying machine. You are a flying man,” she laughed
softly. “Te Nuwa prizes his big bird greatly.”

“Can we get to his hangar?” Stan asked.

“We can go to the field where he keeps his flying machine and his
elephants. It is across the village from the Japanese field where they
keep their war machines. Te Nuwa and the general are always quarreling
about it. The general says he will make a field of his own out of it,”
Niva explained.

“I’d like to know where the Jap flying field is, too,” Stan said
eagerly. Even though he was in danger he was, first of all, a soldier
and alert for information.

“It is mostly in the jungle where the big machines can hide, but
there is a wide road for them to run on when they leave or come in.
I will show you.” Niva seemed willing enough to help, even to giving
information.

She led the way out of the shed and down a dark lane which ended in a
street lighted by a few lamps stuck on poles. The street was crowded
with people. The girl caught Stan’s arm.

“We must not hurry. We go slowly. I will answer if we are spoken to. I
am dressed as a low-caste boy and you may well pass as my father.” Niva
pulled her white robe around her with one hand. Her dark eyes peered
out at the passing people.

Stan pulled his robe around him and held it. They moved down the street
slowly. It teemed with dark-skinned people dressed in garments of
flaming colors. Dark-eyed women looked lazily down from tottering,
wooden balconies. Guttering tallow lamps and flaring torches half
illuminated the interiors of shops and dwellings, giving Stan a
fleeting glimpse of life in a Siamese village. The street was narrow
and crooked. They were jostled as they moved along, but no one gave
them even a second glance. Stan saw no soldiers and no police.

They followed the street for a quarter of a mile, then turned off into
a darkened lane shaded by big trees. Niva looked up at Stan. She had
let her robe fall back and he saw she was dressed in a modern gown.

“I took you through the native quarter of the town because it is not
open to the Japanese soldier yet,” she explained.

“Aren’t the Japanese your people?” Stan asked.

“No,” she answered. “I am Burmese. I would now get away from the
Japanese War Office if I could. I had a job which a woman could not get
in my homeland. I traveled and I was well paid. But now there is war
and Japan will destroy my country and my people. They plan to move into
Burma soon.”

“You’re dead right in quitting them,” Stan agreed.

Niva caught his arm and pulled him out of the road. They crouched
beside a bush while a squad of soldiers walked past. They were talking
and laughing as they went along. Stan was not sure, but he did not
think they were Japanese.

They came to a wide opening where there were a few lights. The moon
flooded a large field. Near the edge of the field stood a plane. One
glance at it was enough to tell Stan what it was. Te Nuwa’s prized
flying machine was an ancient Curtiss Robin. Stan doubted that the ship
could be in good flying condition, for it would be difficult to obtain
spare parts for a Robin out here. But it was a plane and one that Stan
knew how to handle. It had wings and wings were what he desired.

Several guards stood about near a shed. No one seemed to be guarding
the plane, but the men were close to it and they were armed with
rifles. Stan sat down and pulled off his turban. It bothered him
because he was not used to such a mass of cloth on his head. He looked
the field over carefully. The night was hot and the Robin’s motor
should start without much trouble, though that depended upon its
condition. But the engine would take a few minutes to warm up even if
it started at once. The problem was to get the needed time.

Niva seated herself beside him on the grass. He was wondering if Te
Nuwa ever made early morning hops. If he did, he would have the engine
warmed up and idling for some time. He turned to the girl.

“Does Te Nuwa ever make dawn flights?”

“He used to fly in the early morning, but now the Japanese will not let
him. He must fly in the afternoon. If he flies before there is good
light, they will shoot at him.” She laughed softly. “Te Nuwa is a very
smart man for one so fat. He has the markings of the United States on
his wings so he can fly to Rangoon and other places. The Japanese shoot
at such markings.”

Stan continued to study the Robin, but his thoughts were with the Jap
base near the temple. The Flying Tigers had never spotted this base in
the jungle. He turned to Niva.

“How many planes have they hidden in the jungle?” he asked.

“They have fifty big ones and many small, fast ones, so I have heard
the officers say. They are hidden in the trees beyond the big temple
with the red roof,” Niva answered.

“They are to be used to bomb and to kill your people,” Stan said. “If I
can get away I will come back and destroy them.”

“You must get away. But I cannot go. I will be safe here. I will go
back to my room and will be in bed when my maid comes. I have work yet
to do.” She smiled up at him. “When I take off this robe and turban I
will be a girl again.”

“I’m afraid you won’t be safe,” Stan said.

“I will be safe,” Niva assured him. “I can walk out and talk to those
men. Could you get the flying machine away if I got them to take me
across the street to that little shop? I am very thirsty and they could
buy me a drink.”

Stan looked at her for a long minute. “I think you’re taking a lot of
chances just to get me off.”

“I take some chances, but always I have taken chances. For a long time
I have been a hired spy. I do not think Te Nuwa will press me with many
questions. He will call in his dacoit and the dacoit will lie as will
the temple helpers who work with him. I will have many to help me.”

“But the men out there will recognize you. They’ll probably suspect you
of helping me and tell the police,” Stan argued.

“When you start the machine it will make much noise. The men will rush
out to stop you. I will come here into the shadows and put on the boy’s
outfit. I will go down to the street and mingle with the crowd. I am a
boy much of the time. I go about listening to what the people say about
the Japanese.” Niva laughed softly. “You love the danger of flying. I
love danger, too. Get ready to act as soon as I have drawn those silly
guards away from the shed.”

“I’ll come back and get you out of here,” Stan promised.

“You may do that. I will be looking for you.” She gave him a saucy
toss of her head. “Here I go.”

She slipped out of her white robe and laid aside her turban. Then she
faced Stan. Stan looked down at her and grinned.

“I am Stan Wilson. We’ll meet again. I won’t feel right until you are
out of here.”

“Perhaps you will come,” Niva said. “But a fighter who flies in the
sky and a spy who slips around helping her enemies cannot be sure of
anything.” She turned toward the shed.

Stan watched her saunter out toward the guards as though she had come
from the shop across the street. He moved close to the shed and waited.
Niva talked and laughed with the men. They crowded around her eagerly.
Stan noticed that Niva kept her face in the shadow, standing with her
back to the moon.

When she turned toward the shop across the street the soldiers followed
her, laughing loudly at something she had said. A single flare lighted
the shop across the road. It was about a hundred yards from the field
where the Robin stood. Stan waited until the men turned their backs
upon the field as they ordered drinks at a long table. Tossing aside
his white robe, he dashed across the field.

He reached the Robin without being seen and climbed into the cockpit.
The Robin was a high-wing, five-place passenger plane with a radial
motor. Stan snapped on a small light over the instrument panel. He
checked gas and oil and the controls. The engine would have to be
twisted a few times before he could try for a start.

Carefully, Stan worked his way out and around to the propeller. He
wound up the engine, then stood looking toward the shop. Laughter
floated over to him. Niva was playing her part well. With the motor
primed, he climbed back into the plane and seated himself at the
controls. He had a plan in mind for getting her warmed up, if she
fired as quickly as she should. He kicked the contact on and the Robin
backfired with an explosion that shattered the hot silence. Her prop
jerked, slapped back, then rolled over.

Stan looked toward the shop. Two of the soldiers had whirled and were
running for their rifles which they had propped against the shop. Two
more leaped after them firing pistols at the plane. The Robin’s motor
sputtered some more but kept on turning uncertainly. Stan’s trained ear
detected loose rods and bearings. The Robin’s engine was little better
than a wreck.

The men were at the edge of the field and charging out toward the
plane. Stan saw that all of them had left the shop across the street.
Niva was moving toward the shadows under the trees where she had left
her robe. He kicked off the brakes and the Robin stirred. Slowly she
rolled ahead at a pace that was little better than a crawl.

The Robin gained speed until she was outrunning the charging soldiers.
Stan headed her down the field and, as she moved away from the
soldiers, she gained speed. By the time she had reached the end of the
runway she was moving about as fast as a horse could gallop. Two guards
were coming down the field but they had emptied their guns. Stan was
glad Te Nuwa’s field was far away from the Jap base.

He cramped the Robin around and headed her back. She did not have speed
enough to take off and he would have to make another run up the field.
He charged upon the onrushing men at a brisk pace. The guards ducked
and leaped aside. The Robin galloped past them and up to the shed,
where Stan whipped her around again and headed down the field for the
second time. Then he spied a squad of machine gunners coming out of the
woods. It was up this time or be riddled.

Stan opened the throttle wide and the ancient motor rattled and pounded
as it broke into a surge of power. He let the ship roll as far as he
dared. Machine guns were rattling away but all the bullets were going
wild. Stan hoicked the Robin’s tail and eased back on the stick.

The Robin wobbled off the ground and went slithering between two tall
trees. Her nose was up, but she wasn’t gaining much altitude. Stan had
his directions well fixed in his mind. He was not sure where the town
lay or where the Jap base was located, but he did know which way led
home.

He laid over a little and scraped over the spires of a temple. The
roof of the building was red and Stan remembered what Niva had said
about the Japanese base being close to a red-roofed temple. He surged
out over the tops of a mass of trees and saw lights dotting the jungle
below. By those lights he could see the forms of bombers and fighter
planes parked in the woods.

As he roared low over the trees, the lights below began to wink out and
a fifty-caliber gun barked at him. The Robin was lifting now and as she
moved up from the jungle, a burst of shells rocketed past her, bursting
high above.

Stan laughed softly to himself. The Japs had been careful to hide all
planes. He had spotted the take-off area and there was not a plane on
it. It lay there in the moonlight empty and deserted. That was a break
for the slow-moving Robin.

The Robin’s motor started to get hot and some of the knocks died down.
She hammered along, but Stan knew she was not doing over one hundred
twenty miles per hour. Stan thinned her mixture and went on up into the
moonlit sky.

After a bit he began watching for the Salween River. He was sure he
was in the area where they had landed with the Martin. Of course he was
not flying a P–40 at three hundred miles an hour, but he was getting
along very nicely.

He was beginning to worry about his directions when he spotted a
band of moonlight on water. The Robin roared out over the wide river
and Stan eased back. He was not helping the speed of the old ship by
leaning forward.

As he flew along, he made plans. The Japs might try to get their planes
out of the jungle base, unless the Flying Tigers went after them at
daylight. He was thinking about the attack he would lead when he heard
the old motor begin to clank and pound.

A dull, hammering sound came to him from the cowling up ahead. Stan
knew he had pushed the motor too hard. He eased back on the throttle
but the hammering continued. As he left the river and headed out over
the jungle, the noise grew louder. Stan wondered when the crash would
come.

He listened and waited. There was nothing to do but keep going. He had
no parachute and he could not see any rice fields below. Every mile he
gained was one less to walk, that was all he was worrying about.

The altimeter showed he had only six thousand feet altitude.

That was about the Robin’s ceiling. Stan tinkered with the spark and
the gas but the loosened rod kept beating away. All he could do was
wait until it smashed out in his face.

One consolation was that no Jap night fighters had showed up. Probably
they had gone too high to sight him. He checked the ship’s compass
and altered his course a little. He was easing back, looking down for
an open spot, when a dark shape came roaring down out of the sky at
him. It hurtled past, leaving a trail of exhaust flame and smoke. Stan
frowned and eased the Robin over. He did not intend to be washed out
after getting this far.

That plane was not a Karigane. It was a P–40! Stan could tell by
the whine of its Allison motor. He was glad the pilot had saved his
ammunition. The Robin was plodding along so slowly that she was almost
a stationary target.

The night fighter was a Flying Tiger, but would he spare the old Robin?
The fighter came back and circled over the Robin. Its pilot seemed
puzzled and undecided, which was to be expected. No one would expect to
meet a Curtiss Robin sailing through the Burma sky.

The P–40 kept circling and diving as Stan bored along toward Rangoon.
He spotted the blind lights at the landing field, set wide and away
from the runways to fool the enemy. Easing over, he went on down. He
did not worry about ground fire. He could not fail so close to home.

No guns blazed and the field was clear of planes. The Robin jolted down
and rolled toward a hangar. Men came running toward the ship. Stan
climbed out and faced them. The first man to get to him was Allison.

“You old sinner! I said you’d come flying back in a borrowed crate!”
Allison shouted. “O’Malley called in from patrol that he had you
covered.”

“How did O’Malley know?” Stan asked amazed.

“Well,” he said, “you have the insignia of the United States on your
wings.”

“That Thai rascal is pretty smart, only this time it worked against
him,” Stan said.

At that moment a P–40 roared to life beside a hangar. It came across
the field wide open, hopped off and knifed up out of sight.

“Who was that?” Stan shouted to the ground crew who had wheeled the
P–40 out on the field.

“That was Colonel Munson going up for a bit of night air, sir,” a
corporal answered.

“He got away,” Stan snapped. “I have to get to division headquarters
right away. Get Commander Fuller there, will you, Allison?” Stan was
off at a lope.

Continue Reading

Dispensing syringe

Dispensing syringe
Darkness had settled over the rice paddies and the city as Stan
wandered out of camp. He was in a hurry to get some of his
investigations completed. No one knew when the Flying Tigers would be
moved into China or up to Lashio. Rumors were thick that the Japs were
starting a drive toward Rangoon. The barracks and other buildings were
blacked out completely. There was no light at all in the streets.

Stan had left a wild gathering of shouting, talking men behind in the
mess. The men were discussing possible moves now that Japan had started
a fight in the Pacific. She had struck at Pearl Harbor. Within a very
short time she had spread her yellow horde over vast areas. The Flying
Tigers were mostly American army and navy pilots. They had come to the
aid of China because they were fighting men who wanted to be in the
smoke of battle skies and hated the things the little men from Tokio
stood for. They wanted to make China strong enough to strike on a fair
and even basis.

But with the Japs attacking the United States they were all eager
to get back to their old outfits, to their own squadrons. They were
Americans and wanted to fly under their own flag. Stan had talked and
had listened. Allison and O’Malley had said nothing. They were British
and Burma was British territory; Rangoon was a British port.

Stan had stepped out into the cool night to mull over the latest
developments. It seemed the whole Tiger group was about to resign
and head for home. Stan wanted to think this through before he let
his feelings run loose. He was standing in the deep gloom under the
projecting eaves. A man came up the walk and opened the door. The man
was Nick Munson.

An uneasy feeling that came over Stan forced him to follow Munson
inside. He stood near the door and watched the instructor stride to
the front of the room. The men stopped chattering and waited as Munson
faced them.

“Felt I ought to say a word,” Munson began. There was none of his usual
toughness. “My country has been attacked. I came here as an adventurer
looking for action. I was afraid the United States would never get into
this war, and I’d miss the big show.” He paused and his eyes swept over
the men.

Heads nodded agreement and a ripple of approval ran through the group.
Stan watched Munson’s face and decided the colonel was either sincere
or a good actor. Munson went on talking.

“Now that America has been attacked, I plan to head for home. I hate to
leave a fine fighting crew of men like you fellows. When I came here,
I thought I knew more than any one of you. You’ve taught me a lot. But
now I want to carry my own colors. I want to hit the Japs along with a
squadron of the U.S.A.”

The ripple of approval burst into words. Someone called up to Munson:

“How are you going to get back?”

“I have transportation on a fast seagoing yacht,” Munson replied. “A
wealthy friend of mine will see me through.”

“Got room for any more fellows?” a flier asked.

Munson held up his hand. “Now, don’t put me on the spot. I’m your
instructor not your commanding officer. I wouldn’t break up this corps.
The decision is purely a personal one.” He frowned at the men, then
a smile spread over his beefy face. “There’s room but I’m making no
offers.”

Stan edged forward. He saw that Allison and O’Malley were backing away
from the crowd gathering around Munson. Stan spoke loudly to attract
attention. The men turned to him. They respected Stan a great deal. Not
so many hours before they had agreed to help him rid the squadron of
Colonel Munson.

“We ought to think this over carefully,” he began. “We are here to
do a job. China is a vital ally of the United States. Without us,
the Chinese might not be able to carry on. We have not heard from our
commanding officer yet.”

Munson laughed. “What I’m worried about is getting to my old outfit
before they wipe the Japs off the map,” he said scornfully.

Many of the boys joined his laugh and several shouted loudly:

“Sure, that’s the stuff!”

Stan smiled at them. He knew how they felt and what made them shout.
“This isn’t going to be a short war,” he said slowly. “I think we’ll
all have to take some hard knocks out here. You fellows will be taken
back into your old outfits without prejudice if you return with clean
records. If you run out on the Chinese, you won’t get a clean slate.”

Munson glared at Stan. He was trying to smile but not making a very
good job of it. The boys were silent when Stan ceased speaking. Their
better judgment began to assert itself.

“You came here from the Royal Air Force, didn’t you, Major Wilson?”
Munson asked deliberately.

“I did,” Stan answered. “I’d like to be flying with the United States
Army, and I can get my release as quickly as you can. But I’m waiting
to hear from my commander and from Uncle Sam. If he wants me to stay
here, this is where I’ll stay.”

“Isn’t it true that you couldn’t get into the Army Air Corps? Weren’t
you grounded as a test pilot in the States?” Munson shot the questions
at Stan and went on before Stan could answer. “Wasn’t there a nasty
matter of a cracked-up ship and a few military secrets that got away to
Germany? Didn’t you get into the Royal Air Force as a Canadian?” Munson
was smiling when he finished shooting his questions at Stan. His lips
were curved into a leer of triumph.

All eyes were on Stan. He flushed. Munson certainly knew a lot about
his past record. Allison stepped up before Stan could answer. His voice
was cool and hard.

“I handled all of the papers on Stan Wilson. I had all of the
Washington and London Intelligence Office reports. Stan was framed by
spies from Germany. If his record had not been clear, he would never
have been allowed to stay in the Royal Air Force.” Allison looked
around the room and waited for someone to challenge his statement.

O’Malley had shoved in. His chin was sticking out and he was ready to
take on all comers.

“You’re a pal of his?” Munson asked the question with a sneer. “You
helped him cover up.”

“’Tis no livin’ man can make cracks at Stan an’ not feel the fist of an
O’Malley on his chin,” O’Malley snarled. “Many’s the time I’ve looked
at that big mouth of yours, Colonel, and wish’t for the chance to lay
one on it. Get up yer fists, you spalpeen!” He moved toward Munson.

Stan caught him by the arm. “Easy, Bill, you’re about to upset the
apple cart.”

Munson broke in harshly, “I’m not here to cause a lot of trouble. I
don’t blame the Royal Air Force for shoving off some of their pilots
on the Chinese. You men carry on. I wish you luck. I can’t leave for a
few days, possibly a week. If any of you get releases cleared, come
and see me.” He turned on his heel and strode away.

The men gathered in groups to talk and argue. Stan noticed that the
men avoided him and that they did not talk to Allison or O’Malley. The
three were really outsiders and the boys seemed to feel they had butted
into business not strictly their own.

“I think I need a bit of air,” Stan declared.

“I’m heading over to the barracks,” Allison said.

O’Malley went along and they walked across the dark grounds slowly.

Allison finally said, “Munson has big plans.”

“I aim to find out just what they are and I think I know just where to
start,” Stan said determinedly. “After the cracks he made back there,
I’ll have to settle with him.”

“Sure, an’ you should have let me crack him one,” O’Malley grumbled.

“That would have put the boys solidly on his side. He made a very nice,
patriotic speech. But if the fellows take time to think it over,
they’ll see what he’s up to,” Stan said.

Stan parted with his pals at the barracks door and walked across the
grounds. On the outside, he caught a ride with a supply truck headed
for Rangoon. His uniform was his passport and he was not questioned by
the guards or the driver.

Dropping off near the docks, Stan walked to the place where he had
seen the new cars leaving the parking lot. He had a hunch he wanted to
follow up. If it was wrong, he would have to try a new angle.

A coupé and two sedans, all new, were parked in the deep gloom outside
the gate. Walking toward the cars, he halted and listened, then moved
ahead. No one seemed to be guarding them. Easing in close, he saw that
no one was inside the cars. He moved over to the coupé and looked
into it. It was a de luxe model with a high turtleback and a luggage
compartment in the rear. Softly Stan lifted the lid.

A suitcase and satchel sat in the enclosure. Stan bent over them. It
would be dangerous to light his electric torch unless he was inside
the compartment and had the lid lowered. He examined the catch and
found it was exposed on the inside and could be operated from within.
Easing himself into the section he let the lid down.

Snapping on his pocket flashlight, he tried to open the satchel. It was
locked. He tried the suitcase and it snapped open. His light showed
him a neatly folded uniform of the Chinese Army with the shoulder
strappings of a colonel of the air arm. Stan dipped in, fishing through
layers of clothing. He pulled out a cigarette case and a comb and brush
set, both with Nick Munson’s name on them.

Digging further he found a silver pencil in a crevice at one end of
the bag. Lifting it out, he looked at its engraved barrel. The name
Von Ketch was carved on the pencil in German block lettering. Stan
whistled softly. Munson was a spy, possibly a Fifth Columnist who had
been working in the United States for years. He repeated the name, Von
Ketch, several times so as not to forget it.

As he was lifting the lid of the compartment he heard footsteps. A
guttural voice spoke in heavily accented English.

“We must be going quickly.”

“We’ll get out of here right away.” The speaker was Nick Munson. Stan
eased back but held the lid open.

The two men paused beside the coupé. Stan heard them open the door and
get in. Stan lowered the lid and bent forward. He could hear what they
said very clearly. There was only a thin sheet of steel between his ear
and the speakers.

“I put an idea into the heads of those dumb fliers,” Munson said.

The grind of the Bendix gear in the starter blotted out the voice of
Nick’s companion. The car engine started and the coupé began to move.
Stan reached over and latched the lid. He pressed his ear to the steel
sheet and waited.

The two men up ahead went on talking. They seemed to be in very good
spirits, judging from the tone of their voices.

“It will take much more than putting an idea into their heads to get
rid of that crowd.”

“I have plans,” Munson answered. “That was just a starter, something
to set them thinking. And it would have knocked them over if it hadn’t
been for a fellow from the Royal Air Corps. We’ll have to get him shot
down or out of the way by some other means.”

“I could send two of my shadow men,” his companion suggested.

“You mean those dacoit fellows who use silk ropes and choke a man?”
Munson asked.

“Indeed. They are as silent as shadows. There is never any struggle or
blood. Your man simply vanishes.” The rasp-voiced man chuckled softly.

“We’ll plan it when we get back,” Munson said.

The two men lapsed into silence and Stan lifted the lid to try to see
where they were going. He dropped it instantly. Two cars were directly
behind the coupé, their headlights playing on the compartment. Stan
wondered how he was going to get out of the car without being seen.

He thought about the dacoit idea, too. If Munson would go so far as
to have him assassinated, he would not hesitate to shoot on sight,
especially if he caught Stan away from camp.

The two in front resumed their conversation and Stan listened. It was
information he wanted and he was in a good spot to get it. Munson was
speaking.

“I wish the Japs had held off a little longer. This racket of selling
stolen cars is a good one. The Chinese are bending over backwards to
keep on the good side of your people. We could clean up a fortune in
time.”

“You will be paid a small fortune for breaking up the air group of
which you are a member,” the guttural voice answered. “They have to be
gotten out of the way. If they are not destroyed, they will make the
Chinese Air Force a dangerous weapon.” Again the soft chuckle followed.

Munson laughed. “Der Fuehrer expects to meet your leaders in India.
Then the whole world will be ready for us. We will divide it and finish
the United States.”

“As is right,” the man with the accent said. “We are the men of iron.
The Democracies are soft, they are women.” There was deep scorn in the
words.

“I don’t have all my plans made,” Munson went on. “But if my undercover
men can forge enough letters and papers to make that bunch of fliers
think they have been called home, I’ll get them on your boat and then
we’ll have a nice bag of prisoners who won’t shoot down any more
planes.”

“This is a fine country for spies and others who can help,” the harsh
voice said. “Such a mingling and mixing of races and creeds and ideas
is not found any other place on earth. Quite a headache for the British
and American and Chinese officials.”

“It takes years in the United States for our fellow workers to
establish themselves in places where they can obtain useful
information,” Munson said. “I spent ten years there becoming a trusted
and respected airman. Over here you just go out and hire them by the
day, any sort of agent you want.”

“We are very intelligent,” the guttural voice said. “The Americans
would say we are smart.”

They ceased talking as the car began to bounce over a very rough road.
The driver shifted to second gear and Stan knew they were on a grade.
Then the car was put into low gear. The back compartment was filled
with the roar of the engine.

Stan sat back and waited. He looked at the radium dial of his wrist
watch. They had been on the road over an hour. The road was so rough
and the car made so much noise, he could not hear the conversation in
the driver’s seat.

Stan pictured in his mind the country they must be in and wondered how
deep into the jungle they would go. He had a pocket compass which would
help him chart a homeward course if he escaped. He wanted to get away
without being seen, not only because it would be the safest way, but
also it would give him the upper hand with Munson. The luggage made
it almost certain he would be discovered, unless the cars following
dropped back and allowed him to jump out.

Stan again opened the lid a crack. The cars behind had moved up closer
and the nearest one was less than ten feet behind the coupé. Another
hour passed and they still jogged along on a rough road. The car
bounced and bumped and slid about until Stan’s elbows and knees were
barked from battering against the steel braces which were only thinly
covered.

The bumping ceased suddenly and the car moved forward smoothly. It came
to a halt and Stan heard voices. He bent forward and opened the lid a
few inches. There was a car on each side of the coupé. Stan saw lights
flickering and men moving about. Munson spoke from beside the coupé.

“I have to hurry in order to be back at the field in the morning. I’ll
get the cases with the papers and we’ll go right in to your office.”

Stan got his legs set under him. He was glad the new cars had so much
baggage space. Before he could do anything more, the door to the
compartment was hoisted and caught in place. The beam of a flashlight
was shining in his face. He heard Munson’s startled grunt as he
lunged out of the back of the car, diving straight at the colonel’s
mid-section.

Stan and Munson went down with the colonel bellowing and cursing, as
he tried to protect himself from Stan’s pumping rights and lefts. The
jolting blows freed Stan from Munson and left the colonel doubled up
and twisting on the ground, but it also gave the man with the guttural
voice a chance to shout commands.

As Stan whirled to leap away toward the shadows beyond the cars, a
crowd of little men, naked except for cotton loin cloths, leaped at him
from every side. They came at Stan with a rush, their shaven skulls
gleaming in the yellow light of smoking flares stuck on poles above a
stockade. They did not seem to be armed but there were at least fifty
of them.

Stan lowered his head and charged into the rushing line of little
yellow men. He hit the line and crashed through the first mass of
attackers, bowling them over with fists and elbows and knees. But his
progress was stopped as hands gripped at his ankles, his knees and
at his clothing. One little fellow leaped upon his back from behind.
Three or four laced arms around each of his legs. Stan went down in a
flailing pile of evil-smelling bodies. As he fell, he heard the roaring
laugh of the man with the guttural voice.

In spite of his powerful lunges and swinging fists, Stan was held down
and his hands were laced to his sides by the little men. He was jerked
to his feet and pushed over to a flare.

A short, fat man, dressed in a red silk waist and wearing baggy silk
pants of a bright yellow hue, advanced to face Stan. Two beady, black
eyes looked searchingly at the flier over a bushy beard that was
trimmed to a point at the chin. The beard parted and the man chuckled.

“So, a Flying Tiger. Te Nuwa is indeed honored.” He stepped back and
waited for Munson to step up.

Munson was grimy and his shirt was torn. One eye was swelling shut.
There was a savage leer on his lips.

“A friend of yours, Von Ketch?” Te Nuwa asked softly.

“The fellow I told you we had to get out of the way,” Munson snarled.

“Could it be that he has spared my dacoits a pleasant night’s work?” Te
Nuwa questioned.

“He has,” Munson said grimly, whipping out a German automatic. “With
him out of the way, I can handle things back at the base!”

“We have spent a very profitable evening,” Te Nuwa said pleasantly. He
lifted a hand. “I allow no blood to be spilled on my grounds. It is bad
for my little men.”

Munson scowled at him. “I’m in a mess, how can I explain this black
eye?”

“You might tell the boys you ran into a door. But if I do not return,
they will hardly believe you. They may get a few ideas as to what
happened to me,” Stan said.

Te Nuwa laughed and slapped his fat leg. “Good enough,” he said. “You
can say just that.”

“I’ll shut his mouth right now,” Munson snapped.

“Now, now, you are both guests of honor,” the fat man reminded Munson.
“I might say again both are honored guests. The entertainment of a
guest rests with me. I am the lord of this village. We have business to
transact. You are impatient to be on your way back to your duties. We
will dine and my dancers will dance as we sip wine. And we shall talk.”

“You better see to it that he’s done away with,” Munson growled. “If he
gets away, he’ll upset all of our plans. It will be your fat neck as
well as mine.”

Te Nuwa lifted a soft hand and frowned. “That cannot happen. My men
are well trained in the ways of the East. We just do not care for the
bloody methods you use. I will order the disposal of our guest in a
manner befitting his rank.” He spoke sharply to his men and turned
away.

Stan was led away from the parked cars by a dozen of the little yellow
men. His Siamese guards chattered and laughed and looked admiringly at
the big white man they had captured. They had been much impressed by
his terrible strength and by the way his fists shot out, inflicting
black eyes and swollen jaws.

The guards led Stan into a great building which he guessed once had
been a temple. They moved through a maze of columns. The place was
fitfully lighted by lamps of colored glass containing rags dipped in
grease. Everything was mingled and obscured by the gloom. Stan saw men
moving in the shadows. They were naked, wild-eyed, wild-haired men
with gaunt bodies. A foul odor of dampness and decay and filth filled
the place. Leering idols looked out of dark crannies, their glass eyes
gleaming in the flickering light.

Mentally Stan tried to check his course so that he might be able to
escape if he should get loose. The yellow men followed a twisting
course and the light was very dim. After a time they came out into a
garden and Stan could see stars overhead. He was led across the garden
and pushed into a room. A grease lamp burned on a stone table. Its
light revealed one barred window, a wooden bench and a stool.

The yellow men chattered excitedly as they untied Stan’s hands. Stan
braced himself for another fight with the little men. He drew back his
fists to punch the man in front of him as the first move for a bid for
freedom. The man ducked and drove his shiny head into Stan’s stomach.
Stan went back and fell over another man who apparently was crouched
behind him.

By the time Stan had leaped to his feet, the door had slammed and a
bolt had shot into place. Stan could hear the little men laughing
uproariously outside. He stood looking at the door. It was smooth
teakwood and Stan knew it was as strong as steel. He moved to the
window and tried the bars. They were a full inch in thickness and
embedded in rock.

Stan seated himself on the stool. He stared at the grease lamp. Slowly
a grin spread over his face. The little yellow men had pulled an old
school trick on him, one he had not seen used since he was a youngster.
He wondered what O’Malley and Allison would do when he did not show
up. They might get a clue from Munson’s black eye. He rubbed his sore
knuckles thoughtfully.

Stan put out the light. The lamp gave little illumination and its smell
was very bad. There was no guard at his door and he could see no one in
the garden. He stretched out on the hard bench and closed his eyes. He
slept fitfully but he did get a little rest.

Daylight found Stan sitting by the window. He had given up trying to
sleep on the hard bench. He watched the garden come to life. There
were palms, cinnamon trees and mulberry, and flowering shrubs growing
in clumps and beds. The air was heavy with the scent of gardenia and
crimson hibiscus blossoms. From behind a green shrub came the plaintive
notes of a native flute.

Men and women began moving about in the garden. They were dressed in
white cotton or flaming colors. They did not seem aware that the corner
room held a prisoner who was condemned to die. If they knew Stan was
there, they showed little curiosity.

The people seemed in no hurry at all. They moved languidly toward the
arches of stone which formed openings in the high garden wall, or they
came in and wandered about, then went out again. A young woman dressed
in a flowered kimono crossed the garden. She was carrying a tray with
a white cloth over it. Behind her walked four little men, naked except
for yellow silk loin cloths. The girl walked to Stan’s door and tapped.

“Come in,” Stan called.

The door did not open but a panel slid back making an opening some
six inches square. Stan was startled. He had not suspected there was
a panel in the door. The girl’s face appeared and she gave Stan a
red-lipped smile as she shoved the tray toward the opening. He took the
tray in through the hole.

“Thanks,” he said.

“You are welcome,” the girl answered.

Stan blinked. “You speak English very well,” he said.

“Quite well, thank you,” the girl said.

“Where did you learn it?” Stan asked.

“Hollywood, California.” The girl then laughed and added, “I was in
pictures. I played the part of a Siamese dancing girl.”

“Thailand to me,” Stan said.

“I went to America because I had work to do there,” the girl went on
explaining, “I learned many things of interest.”

“How did you happen to go to America?”

“I am an educated girl. I am one of the new order. I was given a job
by–” she hesitated, “the Japanese government.”

Stan’s smile faded. Another example of Jap thoroughness. The girl was
in the intelligence service of the Japanese forces. He smiled at her
again. It might be possible to outwit her, if he could make friends.

“If you could come in or I could go out, we could talk better–about
Hollywood,” he said.

“You can come out if you promise not to run away,” the girl said
demurely. “I will put you on your honor.”

“You think Americans have honor?” Stan asked.

“Surely, much honor. More than is good for them,” she answered. Then
she gave him a wide smile. “Though I do not think you would run far.
There are machine guns outside the garden archways.”

“Then why don’t you let me out?” Stan asked.

The girl slid back the bolt and opened the door. Stan stepped outside.
The four yellow men had vanished. A peacock screamed shrilly on the far
side of the wall. The girl seated herself on the door stone and looked
up at Stan.

Stan sat down and put the tray on his knees. He lifted the white cloth
and saw a bowl of rice and chopped chicken, a bowl of fruit, and a pot
of tea with a shell-thin cup tipped over a little image on the lid. He
dipped into the fruit bowl.

“What’s your name?” he asked.

“I am called Niva,” she answered.

“You spoke about machine guns. Are there soldiers, Japanese soldiers?”
Stan asked.

“Yes, many of them,” Niva answered. “Here, hidden in the jungle is a
big base of shells and planes and war materials.” She looked up at him
wide-eyed.

“And Te Nuwa is in command of the Japanese forces?” Stan asked.

“Te Nuwa is in command until the general comes. When the general is
here, Te Nuwa is just the fat one.” She spread her hands and smiled.

“Is the general a little man with a scar over his right eye?” Stan
asked.

“Oh, you know our general?” Niva asked, surprised.

“I have met him,” Stan replied and grinned as he remembered how the
little general had ordered Allison and himself shot the day they had
flown the Martin on a false alarm flight. “I owe a great deal to the
general,” he said as he dipped into the bowl of chicken.

Niva looked at Stan questioningly. It was clear the talk was not going
the way it was supposed to go. The big American had asked all the
questions so far. Not that giving him information mattered, for he
would never be able to take it to the enemy, but she was supposed to
learn something from him.

“Tell me about yourself and your friends. You have many friends who fly
with you?” Niva spoke eagerly.

“I wouldn’t lie to a nice girl like you, so I won’t tell you anything
about our forces,” Stan evaded. “But I’ll tell you the truth about what
is going on in America.”

“That would be nice,” she said with interest.

“The President of the United States has ordered the plane factories to
produce sixty thousand planes this coming year. All will be over here
or over Tokio. There will be bombers and fighter planes as thick as the
flock of birds over the jungle. You can tell your boss that. It’s the
truth.”

“Oh, that’s wonderful,” Niva said but she did not smile.

“When I get out of here I’ll fly back. I’ll pick you up and carry you
away, if you want to go back to Hollywood,” Stan smiled at her.

Niva sighed. There was a frightened look in her eyes as she said, “You
won’t leave here.” Then she added softly, “People were very good to me
in America.”

“They liked you, Niva.” Stan was sure he had roused a spark of sympathy
in the girl. If she dared, she might help him. He set the tray on the
steps.

Niva got to her feet suddenly. She bent to pick up the tray and as she
leaned forward her lips were close to Stan’s ear. She whispered one
word:

“Dacoit!”

Lifting the tray, she laughed down at him, turned and hurried away.

There was no guard to send him back to his cell so Stan walked out
into the garden. He was thinking about the word Niva had spoken. It
was clearly meant as a warning. Te Nuwa had planned his finish in the
manner he liked. He would have his stranglers do the job.

Stan did not know much about those underworld characters of India
and Burma, the dacoits. He had read a few stories about them and how
they worked, but he could not remember much of their method of attack,
except that they were sinister and sneaking, that they struck without
warning.

He sauntered toward one of the arches. The wall was five feet thick
and the archway was wide enough to allow the passage of a loaded cart.
Outside the archway a Japanese soldier squatted in the sun. He was
sitting on a little stool behind a machine gun. The gun effectively
covered the entrance to the garden. The Jap looked up and grinned at
Stan. He seemed to be inviting Stan to step out.

Stan wandered on around the wall. Each opening was guarded by a machine
gun. Te Nuwa might handle his killings after the fashion of the East,
but the general in command believed in more modern methods. Stan kept
on until he halted before the pillared hallway leading into the temple.
This was the way he had entered. Two machine guns stood inside the
temple, manned by two leering Japanese.

Stan studied the wall. It was about fifteen feet in height, he judged.
No vines or creepers grew on its smooth sides. It could not be climbed,
Stan was sure of that. The women and children and the men passing
through the garden paid no attention to him. Stan guessed that they
were used to seeing doomed men wandering about inside this prison.

Stan decided that no attempt would be made on his life until dark,
but he stayed away from the wall and from under the big trees. In the
stories he had read, the dacoits always worked at night from hidden
spots of vantage. Warned, he might be able to fool them.

As he watched the scene in the garden, a small boy entered driving a
peacock. The youngster halted and looked at Stan, then waved a leafy
branch at the fowl, shooing it across the garden. As Stan stood idly
watching the boy, an idea suddenly occurred to him whereby he might be
able to outsmart his captors. Lying down on the grass in the shade of a
mulberry tree, Stan rested his head on a green hummock and closed his
eyes. He opened them and looked up into the mulberry tree. He could
see every limb and branch. He was sure no one was hiding there. The
grass was soft, and after the hard bench it felt like a feather bed.
Stan closed his eyes and went to sleep.

He was wakened by the howling of a monkey somewhere inside the temple.
With a heave, he sat upright. The sun still was shining, but a glance
at his watch told Stan that he had slept a long time.

As he sat there, Stan had a strange feeling. He was sure someone was
watching him. He scanned the wall and the temple roof with its many
spires and small roofs. He was careful because he did not want the
watcher to know he was suspicious. He yawned and lay back. But look as
he would, he saw no one who was the least bit interested in him. At
last, he got up and strolled about.

Nothing happened to prove he had actually been watched as he lay on the
grass. He wandered about for another two hours. Just before sundown
Niva brought him a tray of chicken and rice and a pot of coffee. She
set them down on the step and stood looking at Stan.

“Thanks–for the chicken,” Stan said and grinned.

Niva flushed. “You are welcome.”

“Won’t you sit down?” Stan invited.

“No, I will stand. I cannot talk much this time,” she said.

Stan nodded. He guessed that her leader had been disappointed or
angered because she had learned nothing from him. He ate the chicken
and the rice and drank the coffee. Niva was as silent as any of the
other women passing through the grounds, but she watched him as he ate
and when he had finished, she picked up the tray and smiled at him.

“Good luck,” she said under her breath. “Tonight I will be hoping for
you.” She turned and moved quickly away.

Stan considered her words a moment. She seemed to have been hinting
that tonight was the night. He wandered about wondering why he had not
asked her a lot of questions. After he had thought it over, he knew
why. He had not wished to place her in any danger.

The west wall began to cast long shadows. Dusk fell slowly and still
no guards came to put him into his cell. Lights appeared inside the
temple and Stan saw lank men moving about lighting grease wicks. He
watched the gunner at the nearest gate meet his relief gunner. For
night guard two men with machine guns were placed at the entrance and a
lantern was hung in the archway.

Stan studied the chances of rushing the guards. He would have a full
twenty feet to charge straight into the muzzles of two rapid-fire guns.
If he had had a hand grenade, escape would have been easy. He went back
to thinking about the plan he had gone to sleep upon.

The stars came out and a full moon rose above the wall. Stan stayed out
in the open, walking about very slowly, listening to every sound. A
wind sprang up and Stan noticed that the lantern hanging in one of the
archways had gone out, probably blown out by the sudden gust of wind.

Eagerly he slid toward the opening, crouching low as he moved into the
shadows along the wall.

Continue Reading

ATTACK

The city of Rangoon lies east of the delta of the Irrawaddy River. A
hundred miles further east, the great, sluggish Salween River flows
into the ocean. Beyond the Salween lies Thailand. From Rangoon, a
railroad runs due north to Mandalay and then northeast to Lashio. Out
of Lashio runs the famous Burma Road. It swings north through a narrow
strip of Burma, then twists up and over wild mountain country belonging
to China. Making a wide circle which bends southward, it ends at
Chungking, capital of China.

The Flying Tigers were the guardians of Rangoon where the big ships
docked and unloaded supplies for the Chinese armies. They were roving
guards of the railroad and of the truck road over the mountains. With
their P–40’s, they wove a wall the Japanese could not see and one they
could not cross.

The three Royal Air Force pilots soon discovered that men of the Flying
Tigers had no real names. They were Big Moose or Jake or Sandy; any
name that happened to be tagged to them by the fancy of their fellow
fliers. They were lone wolves of the air, prowling in threes or in
pairs or alone.

To such a group, Nick Munson was poison. Within two days after he had
taken over instruction of the squadron, he had accomplished something
sinister. The Tigers were spitting at one another and were not doing
nearly so good a job of covering the vast area they had to protect.

Stan, Allison, and O’Malley were sitting in their little bunk room.
Their bodies were stripped to the waist and gleamed with moisture. The
air seemed to press down upon them, hot and suffocating. Outside, stars
gleamed and a pale moon shone through a cloudless sky.

“Somebody has to start a movement to get rid of Munson,” Stan said
grimly. “I never saw a tougher, more wild crew than we have, but
they’ll go to pieces if he keeps at them.”

“Sure, an’ we ought to punch him in the nose. We could throw him out o’
this outfit and chase him out o’ Burma,” O’Malley said.

“There ought to be a better way,” Allison said. “A way that would not
make an outlaw outfit out of the gang. The Chinese want to give us a
free hand, but if we get to staging riots, they’ll have to step in and
take control.”

“We each have to watch Munson and try to catch him at some trick or
another, then we’ll have him,” Stan said.

“’Tis a waste o’ good time,” O’Malley argued.

“Stan is right. We’ll keep an eye on him.” Allison smiled. “But just
remember this, he has the three of us spotted. He knows we became
suspicious of him on the trip up here. He’ll be doing a little watching
himself, or I miss my guess.”

Stan got to his feet. “It’s too hot in here for me,” he said. “I’m
going for a walk.”

“I’m takin’ me a nap,” O’Malley declared.

“I think I’ll try for a wink of sleep myself,” Allison said.

Stan walked out into the night. There was a breeze blowing that carried
pungent smells from the city and the harbor. The city was blacked out,
except for the lights along the dock. Stan headed in that direction and
finally reached a point where he could look down upon the scene below.

Floodlights revealed masses of trucks and cars loaded with boxed
supplies and piles of loose materials. Hundreds of new passenger cars
were lined up in the big yard. They were familiar cars, all American
made–Buicks, Chryslers, and Fords–and all destined for China’s
army. In a yard beyond the car lot stood hundreds of new trucks being
serviced by American and Chinese mechanics. Soon those trucks would be
heading for the Burma Road to haul freight over the towering mountains.

The noise and the activity attracted Stan. He sauntered toward the
car lot. Two guards stood at the gate of the yard. Stan was not in
uniform, except for his trousers, so he did not approach the gate. He
seated himself on a bank in the deep shadows under a spreading tree.

A car passed the guards and rolled away. It was a new Chrysler. A few
minutes later another car rolled out. With idle interest, Stan watched
the cars go by. He was wide awake and the busy scene fascinated him.
Another new Chrysler came out. It turned left and passed close to where
Stan sat.

Two fat men sat in the front seat. As the car rolled by, someone in the
back seat lighted a cigarette. The flare of the light revealed two men
in the rear. The cupped flame lighted a bony, hawklike set of features
which were not Oriental. Stan started and leaned forward when he saw
the figure beside the man who had lighted the match. He was wearing a
uniform and Stan got a glimpse of his face. He recognized Nick Munson.

Stan got to his feet and walked around the parking lots. Down the
street a number of men were working under a big light. He moved
down to them and saw that they all were Americans and that they were
assembling car parts.

The boss of the crew looked up. When he saw that Stan was an American,
he smiled in a friendly fashion.

“Hello,” he said. “Where did you come from?”

“I just wandered down from the flying field,” Stan replied. “Too hot to
sleep.”

The boss was instantly impressed. “You fellows are doing a swell job.
You have the toughest job there is out here. But I have my troubles,
too,” he added.

“What sort of troubles?” Stan asked.

“We have such a mixture of people that I can’t tell them
apart–Chinese, Burmans, and Malays. The Chinese on the whole are very
honest, but there are some who feel free to make off with anything they
can get hold of.” He grinned widely. “They steal the stuff and sell it
in places where there is no war at all.”

“What use would they have for car parts?” Stan asked.

“Oh, they don’t waste time stealing car parts. They steal cars and
trucks after we get them serviced and ready to roll.” The boss wiped
his forehead with the back of his hand. “This whole lower end of the
line is in Burma, not China. The Chinese just have transportation
rights. They got those rights through British pressure and some of the
Burmese don’t like it.”

“What do they do when they catch thieves stealing trucks and cars?”
Stan asked.

“It depends a lot on who they are. If they are wealthy owners of big
land grants, they just take the car and forget it. If they are poor
natives who make a business of thieving, they shoot them.” The boss
laughed. “Any way you look at it, we have a hard time delivering enough
supplies to keep the Chinese army going.”

Stan nodded. He was thinking about a number of things. “Well, I’ll run
along. I feel as though I could sleep now.”

“Drop down to the Teeka Hotel sometime,” the boss said. “I’m Matt
Willard. I’ll be glad to show you around.”

“I’m Stan Wilson,” Stan said. “I may do that soon.”

He walked up the road and headed out toward the flying field. A sentry
challenged him, and he advanced to be recognized and to give the
countersign. After he had done so, he asked:

“Many of the boys go out tonight?”

“No go out. Only two.” The Chinese sentry smiled broadly.

“Two besides me?” Stan asked.

“You and one who cooks. He is my friend.” The sentry’s white teeth
flashed.

Stan laughed and walked on toward the barracks. He found O’Malley and
Allison sleeping soundly. Slipping out of his trousers, he lay down.

Suddenly the sentry’s words, “You and one who cooks,” flashed through
his mind. He was puzzled. It was very strange. He was positive that
Nick Munson was in the automobile he had seen leaving the parking lot.
_Why_ was Munson so secretive about his movements? Stan decided to do
some sleuthing, perhaps…. Within a few minutes he was fast asleep.

The next morning the three fliers were called to Commander Fuller’s
office. Stan led the way with O’Malley trailing. Fuller looked them
over with a critical eye.

“I have a job for you fellows,” he said crisply.

The three members of Flight Five waited.

O’Malley returned the commander’s look with an insolent grin. He edged
close to the desk and leaned forward. Fuller ignored him. He spoke to
Allison.

“You are to take up a Martin bomber on a special assignment, Major. I
have a request from Colonel Munson to pick up a Chinese officer who has
been abandoned by his caravan.” Fuller pulled a map from his desk and
spread it out before him. “The Chinese general has two staff officers
with him. They were attacked by Thai guerilla forces under command of
Japanese spies. They escaped and are at a plantation just over the
border.” He placed the point of his pencil on the map. “Here is the
location of the plantation. You will spot the field to be used in
landing by an American flag planted at the edge of the woods.”

Allison picked up the map. “Will we be interned if we are caught in
Thailand?” He asked the question sharply.

“There will be no armed forces to stop you and no one will know you
landed. You will be only a few minutes on the field,” Fuller answered.

“Yes, sir,” Allison said as he turned away from the desk.

“You are in command, Major Allison,” Fuller called after him.

“Yes, sir,” Allison answered.

The three fliers walked out into the sunshine. O’Malley was the first
to speak.

“What’s the need for sendin’ three fighter pilots to herd a crate on a
passenger trip?”

“We may find that out later,” Stan said.

“We’ll make jolly well sure there is no army of Thai troops waiting for
us when we land,” Allison said.

“I can’t think of a better way of getting rid of us than having us
dumped into a native stockade where we could rot while the war goes
on,” Stan said.

They reported to the briefing room where the captain in charge gave
them their flying orders. Out on the field, a battered Martin attack
bomber sat with her propeller idling.

“The old gal looks like she has seen a hard winter,” O’Malley said. He
faced his two pals. “Suppose you boys let me take this hop. You could
sneak out on patrol and get some action. It won’t take three of us to
fly that crate.”

“We have our orders,” Allison reminded. “Besides, old man, I might need
a couple of good gunners.”

O’Malley grunted. “It’s goin’ to spoil the whole day for all three of
us.”

“I have a hunch we might meet a few Jap fighters on the way over or
back,” Stan remarked. “Just like we met them when we flew into this
jungle.”

“The best way to find out is to get going,” Allison said.

The ground men had climbed out of the bomber. O’Malley went up first
and began looking the guns over. Stan and Allison were up in front when
he came back from a prowl in the rear.

“’Tis nice equipment they furnish, these Chinese. I’m handling the rear
gun. There’s a couple o’ submachine guns in a rack back there. If I
bail out, I’ll grab one o’ them, then Mrs. O’Malley’s boy will pot any
Japs that try dirty tricks.”

Allison settled himself at the controls while Stan took over navigation
and the forward guns. The big ship rocked to the blast of its two
Pratt and Whitney motors. It spun around and headed down the field.
Hoicking its tail, the plane eased off the ground. It was designed to
fly as fast as most pursuit planes and to maneuver well in the air.
They had been up only a few minutes when Stan discovered that the
intercommunication phone was out of order and that they had no radio.

“This ship was never cleared for combat by the ground crew,” he called
to Allison.

Allison smiled back at him and opened the Martin up another notch. He
leaned toward Stan and shouted:

“You’re not in the R.A.F. now, son. You are back in the old
brush-hopping days.”

They bored along, spotting two P–40 patrols who eased down to look them
over. They saw no enemy planes at all as they knifed along above a
layer of clouds. Stan checked the map and charted their course. After a
time, he made a thumbs-down sign and Allison dropped under the clouds.

They drifted over the broad and muddy Salween River and Stan knew
they were over neutral territory. He kept a sharp watch for Jap
ships, knowing that they paid no attention to neutrality. They had an
understanding with Thailand that amounted to an alliance.

After crossing the river, Allison went down and swept low over the
jungle and land which plantation owners had cultivated. He was the
first to spot the flag planted at the edge of a rice paddy. The field
seemed smooth and the flag gave him the wind, but he did not go in. He
circled low over the jungle bordering the plantation.

As they came back over, much lower this time, they saw three men
dressed in uniform waving to them from the edge of the dense forest.
Allison came around and skimmed low over the field. As he went past, he
saw that the three men were dressed in Chinese uniforms.

“I’m setting her down,” he called to Stan. “I’ll roll in close to the
spot where those men are and then I’ll swing around so that we head
into the wind.”

Stan nodded. He had eased into position back of his gun controls. The
Martin went down lower and bumped across the rice field. It hit solidly
and rolled toward the three men. The Chinese remained at the edge of
the woods, waiting.

Allison heaved back his hatch and looked out. “They look like Chinese
officers,” he shouted above the rumble of the twin motors that he had
left idling.

With a flip, he spun the Martin around and set the brakes. Stan and
Allison swung down to the ground. They waited for O’Malley to come out
but he did not show up.

“It may be just as well to leave him to guard the ship,” Stan said.

“Good idea,” Allison agreed.

Stan called up to O’Malley. “Stick around and watch the ship. We’ll be
back with the general and his baggage in a few minutes.”

The rumbling of the motors drowned out any reply O’Malley might have
made. Stan turned to join Allison. They walked across the grass toward
the three officers advancing to meet them.

When they were a few yards away, Stan halted. “Those aren’t generals,”
he groaned. “They are Jap noncommissioned officers.”

Allison stopped and muttered softly, “Right you are.”

Before the two pilots could wheel, six men slid out of the jungle. They
were armed with rifles which were pointed at Stan and Allison. One of
the officers rasped in perfect English:

“You are our prisoners. Do not try to escape, please.”

“Stuck!” Stan gritted as he suddenly realized that neither he nor
Allison was armed.

The Japs closed in. The officer in command spoke to Stan.

“Your other man is in the ship?”

“What other man?” Stan came back.

“We know you have a crew of three,” the officer snarled.

“The best way to find out is to look there yourself,” Allison answered.

The officer spoke sharply in Japanese. He lifted his voice to almost
a shout. Instantly a company of soldiers came out of the woods and
began to spread out around the Martin. Stan waited for the blast of
O’Malley’s guns. The rear guns of the Martin could cover most of the
approaching men.

No sound came from the Martin. The Japs swarmed up into it. Stan
scowled as he waited for them to drag O’Malley out. The Irishman must
have gone to sleep. A few minutes later the soldiers came out of the
plane and moved toward the officer in charge. A rapid conversation took
place in their native tongue.

Suddenly the officer turned to Stan. “It is true that you have only two
men in your party. As you said, there is no one in the plane.”

Stan and Allison exchanged quick glances. Both managed to hide their
surprise at this news. Stan faced the officer. He had no idea what had
happened to O’Malley. What he wanted to find out was the fate awaiting
Allison and himself.

“You plan to intern us?” he asked.

“We do not intern mercenary fliers who hire out to the enemy.” The Jap
smiled sarcastically. “We are not so soft and so foolish. We shoot
them. That is the better way.”

Allison’s lips pulled into a sardonic smile. “So nice of you,” he said
softly.

“You will march over to the woods,” the officer ordered. “Before we
dispose of you, we have some questions to ask you.”

“Glad to oblige with any information you want,” Allison replied, hoping
to stall for time.

With bayonets at their backs, they walked to a shady spot under a
vine-choked tree.

“You may sit, please,” the officer said.

Stan and Allison sat down and waited for the questions. The former
planted himself with his back against a tree. That took the threat of a
bayonet thrust in the back out of the picture. Allison did the same.

“How many pilots do you have in your mercenary group?” the officer
demanded. He had a pad and pencil in hand, ready to jot down their
answers.

Stan looked at Allison. “We should have somewhere near a thousand.” He
grinned and added, “That is with the last bunch that arrived yesterday.”

The Jap looked at Stan and then jotted down the number. “Now, please,
how many planes do you have?”

“We don’t know. They are coming in so fast we can’t keep count of
them,” Allison answered.

“But some estimate, please,” the Japanese insisted.

“Oh, several thousand,” Stan answered airily.

This seemed to excite the officer greatly. He wrote the number down and
chattered to the noncom beside him. They talked for a few minutes among
themselves. When they had finished, Stan spoke up.

“Doesn’t that tally with the number Colonel Munson reported we had?”

The Jap stared at him. “Colonel Munson,” he repeated thoughtfully. He
shook his head. “I do not hear of him.”

Stan was convinced that the officer was telling the truth. He did not
seem to know Nick Munson. Before he could ask another question, a
shining, new Chrysler rolled out of the woods and a trim little man
stepped out. He was a ranking officer of the Japanese Air Force. Stan
recognized his outfit at once.

The noncommissioned officer bowed and bobbed and saluted. He talked
rapidly with the Japanese officer. The little man took the pad, looked
at it, then scowled at Stan and Allison.

“Liars,” he accused. “We waste no more time with you.”

He spoke in a smooth flow of Japanese to the noncoms, then turned about
and got into the car.

Stan stared at the new Chrysler. The Japs had not been able to import
any of that model of American cars. His mind was working fast. Allison
kicked him and mumbled:

“If we’re to make a try for it, we’ll have to do so as soon as that car
pulls out.”

Stan nodded. “We’ll dive for the brush.”

The car rolled away and was swallowed by the jungle. The Japanese
officer turned to them.

“Get up,” he commanded. “You may use your handkerchiefs to put over
your eyes. We waste no more time. My men are good shots, however.” He
sneered, exposing huge buckteeth.

Stan and Allison sprang to their feet, backing up on each side of the
tree.

“Step forward and place the blindfold,” the officer snapped.

“We don’t want any blindfolds. We can face you rats,” Stan retorted. He
shot a glance at Allison.

Allison was swaying just a little. Stan tensed himself to leap backward
and roll behind the tree. Suddenly, there was a blazing rattle of
machine gunfire from the green wall of the jungle close by. The Jap
officer spun around and tumbled to the ground. Two of his men went down
and the others scattered. They opened fire but Stan did not wait to
offer a target. He plunged behind the tree and brought up hard against
Allison.

Peering out, they saw a figure emerge from the woods. A high, wild yell
rose into the hot jungle air. Bill O’Malley was rushing upon the Japs
with a submachine gun spitting fire at them!

The charging O’Malley was too much for the Japanese. They broke and
plunged for the cover of the jungle. Stan leaped out and caught up a
rifle.

“Get to the ship! Don’t wait to fight! Run for it!” Allison shouted
behind him.

Gripping the gun, Stan sprinted for the ship. Allison was close behind
him. Stan went up and into the pilot’s seat. He rammed the throttle
knob up and the twin motors roared to life. The Martin shook and
strained at its brakes. Stan reached down and gave Allison a hand as he
kicked off one brake and wheeled the bomber around.

“Forward guns!” Stan shouted.

O’Malley was planted halfway between the plane and the jungle, potting
away and shouting. The Japs, hidden in the dense growth, had recovered
from their first panic and were sniping at him with their rifles.

Allison opened up with a blast from the forward guns of the Martin.
The shells screamed into the tops of the jungle trees. O’Malley tossed
aside his machine gun and ran to the plane. As he sprang into the
compartment, Stan headed the plane out into the field for a take-off.

The Martin lifted and Stan swung it around. With the bomber in the
air, he could nose down over the jungle and strafe the Japanese hiding
there. He was nosing in when he sighted a car moving swiftly along a
narrow road. It was the new Chrysler.

Stan laid over and went down after the car. As he roared down upon
it, he saw men spill out and tumble into the bushes beside the road.
Allison opened up, and, as they left, Stan saw that the car had been
smashed to a twisted mass of wreckage.

He went on up and headed for home. As they roared along, Allison poked
him and pointed up. Stan saw four Jap fighter planes coming down
at them. He cracked the throttle wide open. With a whoop, O’Malley
scrambled back to the rear gun turret.

The Japs came down the chute but they were not fast enough to make
contact. The Martin showed them a clean pair of heels and they gave up
the chase.

The Martin dropped in on the temporary field and slid up beside a
hangar. Ground men swarmed out to take over. The three pilots climbed
out and headed for the briefing room where they reported in.

“Let’s go report to the colonel,” O’Malley said. There was a savage
glint in his eye.

“First, you report how you happened to bail out with that tommy gun,”
Stan said to O’Malley.

“I spotted a squad o’ Japs near the woods. We had no phone an’ you
were comin’ in fast. I jest piled out and sailed down into a patch o’
timber. You were so low, the Japs didn’t see me bail out.” O’Malley ran
his fingers tenderly over a mass of scratches on his cheek. “I like to
niver got out o’ the mess o’ vines and bushes I landed in.”

“Aren’t you hungry?” Allison asked in mock surprise.

“I’m weak with hunger,” O’Malley declared solemnly. “But I’m mad, too.
I got to lay one on the beak o’ that Munson before I’ll get me full
appetite.”

“I think we’d better eat first,” Stan said. “We might be able to figure
out something while we watch you devour a couple of pies.”

O’Malley grinned widely. “Sure, an’ if I wasn’t so weak from hunger,
you couldn’t talk me out of it,” he said.

They headed toward the mess hall with O’Malley well in the lead.

The three fliers of Flight Five did not get time to argue. They were
only half through with their dinner when the loudspeaker over the mess
door began rasping and sputtering:

“Flight Three, all out! Flight Four, all out! Flight Five, all out!”

Before the speaker in the control room could repeat, there was a rush
of feet toward the briefing room. O’Malley galloped along with a
quarter of berry pie in his hand. He had bribed the Chinese cook into
making his favorite dessert daily.

They crowded into the small shack and began scrambling into their
fighting outfits.

“Munson found out we got back,” Stan said as he slid into his parachute
harness.

“Faith, an’ he’s a wise bird, that fellow,” O’Malley growled.

“This must be a real attack the way they are turning half the force
out,” Allison said as he shoved over to the desk to get his orders.

Men raced out on the field and dashed toward their idling planes. As
they ran, they looked up into the blue sky. They heard no bombers and
they could see no fighters, but they knew the Japs were up there.

Never had the enemy been able to bomb Rangoon. They had been smashed
with heavy losses on every attempt. The Flying Tigers were proud of
their record and eager to keep it clean.

As motors roared and hatch covers slammed shut, Stan heard Nick
Munson’s voice rasp in his headset:

“Instructor Munson taking command. Squadron, check your temperatures.”

Reports came crackling back.

Stan scowled as he bent forward. Nick Munson was going to lead the
attack. That was not good news.

“Up to eight thousand feet. Hold your formation for orders,” Munson
droned.

Stan jerked the throttle knob open, jammed down on one brake and
wheeled around in a tight circle. Nine other P–40’s were whipping into
line. There was less of the formality of an R.A.F. take-off. Each plane
blasted its tail up with a rush of exhaust pressure and headed down the
field. Stan saw O’Malley hop his ship off long before the others left
the field. Allison went straight out, wide open, with Stan at his right
wing.

With the ground swirling by in a blur, Stan heard Allison’s voice:

“Up, boys, and at them.”

He pulled the nose of the P–40 up and she zoomed with a lift that
fairly hurled her into the sky. Allison rode up close beside him. They
raised above O’Malley but he came on, leveling off to force his speed.

“Formation! Squadron, close in!” Munson was bellowing.

Stan grinned. This was the first flight the colonel had taken with
the Tigers and they were not acting the way he thought they should.
Finally, the nine fighters closed in and took up line formation.

“Up to twelve thousand,” Munson ordered.

The Tigers went on up, following their leader. Stan looked across
and saw O’Malley’s head bobbing back and forth. Suddenly, he heard
O’Malley’s voice:

“What kind o’ show is this?”

“We’re out for a bit of exercise,” Allison came back.

“We ought to be over in those clouds,” Stan cut in. “That’s the place
to look for trouble.”

Far to their right rose a high-piled bank of clouds. Stan kept watching
that bank and wondering when Munson would head that way. He also
wondered if the colonel had ever been in combat before. A man who would
lead his flight through the open sky with clouds on either side needed
some practical training.

Stan chuckled. The Japs would give him that training if he stayed in
this game very long and went upstairs every day. Stan was still looking
at the big cloud bank. He blinked his eyes. Around from the far side of
the cloud came a flight of Japanese planes.

“Off to the right! Jap planes on the right!” Stan shouted into his flap
mike. “Coming under the cloud.”

“Peel off and after them!” Allison chimed in.

“Sure, an’ I’m on me way!” O’Malley yelled back.

“Hold formation!” Munson bellowed. “I’m giving the orders here.” His
voice blurred out in a blast of static.

The three P–40’s on the right end of the line formation ducked and
darted away. The others stayed in formation, following orders.

It soon became evident what the Japs were after. They were diving
on the hangars and planes on the ground at the field. The three
P–40’s went in with Allison in charge. They cut across the neat enemy
formation and there was a scattering of ships. In and out, back and
forth roared the three members of Flight Five. The twenty Japanese
planes gave up the idea of strafing the field installations. They
turned to the task of smacking down the roaring demons that had hurtled
down on them. Three Japs went down in flames under the first dive.

Stan came back through with his thumb on the gun button. He twisted and
turned; but he could not get a Jap in his sights. As he went up, he
saw that O’Malley had learned his lesson. The Irishman was topping a
high-zoom and coming back over, belly to the sun. As he went in, Stan
saw him saw a wing off a Karigane and send it spinning to the ground.

The Japs seemed to be panicked by the savagery of the attack. They
whirled and fled back toward their bases. The three victorious P–40’s
roared up into the sky and circled. Allison’s voice came in with a slow
drawl:

“Does that formation headed for Rangoon look like bombers?”

“It does,” Stan called back.

At that instant, they saw the six P–40’s under Munson’s command. They
were high up above the clouds, too far up to intercept the low-flying
bombers headed for the city.

“After them!” Allison ordered.

The three ships streaked toward the bombers. Long before they had
overtaken the slow-flying 97’s, the enemy had sighted them and were
spreading out.

The three P–40’s went into the formation with a slashing dive. There
were twelve bombers and they scattered in twelve directions. Stan
rolled over and got on the tail of a killer. His Brownings spattered
lead and the bomber billowed smoke. Up he went and around and down on
another bomber.

The air above the rice fields outside the city was filled with the
scream of motors as the three fighters battled to keep a single bomber
from getting through. They were losing the fight, even though they
had shot down four bombers, when Munson and his ships came down in a
screaming dive to join them. That ended the fight. The Tigers did not
let a single 97 get away.

One by one, they drifted in and landed. Twelve of them came in. Not one
ship was missing. Stan crawled out and stood waiting for Allison and
O’Malley.

The lank Irishman waddled over to his pals. He was grinning broadly.
Allison jerked off his helmet. There was a cold, icy look in his eyes.
Stan knew Allison was finally jarred out of his half-amused attitude.

“Sure, an’ ’twas one grand party,” O’Malley beamed. “It fair gave me a
huge appetite.”

Allison turned toward the briefing shack and they walked in to report.
A sour group of pilots greeted them. The six fliers who had stayed with
Munson were thoroughly ruffled. One of them turned to Stan as the three
R.A.F. men reached the desk. He spoke so that everyone, even Munson,
who was making out his report at the end of the desk, could hear.

“Lucky for this outfit you birds put brains before orders.”

“We fly by feel, me bye,” O’Malley answered cheerfully as he barged in
to the desk and grabbed a report blank.

“I’m putting in for a transfer,” the pilot said with disgust. “This
outfit stinks.”

Stan grinned at the angry young man. The flier was four inches taller
than Stan and he had a bushy mop of black hair. His cheeks were soft
and pink. His black eyes blazed.

“You’re from Texas?” Stan asked.

“I’m from Texas and we don’t take anything from anyone in my country,”
the youth answered.

Nick Munson scowled but said nothing.

“I’m from Waco, Texas, myself,” Stan said to the pilot. “But I migrated
to Colorado and flew up there.”

The youngster stepped close to Stan. “I’m with you,” his voice had
dropped below the murmur of the other men, “when Munson opens up on you
like he will.”

“Thanks,” Stan said gratefully.

Nick Munson shoved over his report and his voice cracked out, brittle
and hard.

“I’ll see all of you men in the mess, right away.”

The fliers turned away and moved outside in a group. O’Malley growled
loudly as he walked with Stan and Allison toward the barracks.

“I need food, not jawbone. I hope he makes it snappy.”

“He will,” Allison said and smiled thinly.

“You better keep your shirt on,” Stan said to Allison. “I’d like to
have a couple of nights free to do a bit of snooping before you get us
all tossed into a guardhouse.”

“It all depends on what he says,” Allison answered coolly.

“You see, Munson is about to blow up the squadron. That’s just what he
wants to do. If we start trouble, he’ll wreck the flying strength of
this outfit. In that case, he’ll have us grounded and this sector will
be wide open.” Stan pressed his point home hard. “He has a reason. I
think he’s being paid off. I think his credentials are faked. It’s not
hard to get into an outfit like this. The Chinese need trained pilots
so bad they are not apt to go deep into their past records.”

Allison swung around. “You’re right, old man. Sorry I acted like a
silly goat. Let’s talk to the men.”

They entered the mess. The men stood around waiting restlessly for
Munson to appear. None of the fliers seemed to want to sit down. There
was a tenseness in the air and many faces showed grim anger.

Stan and Allison split up and began talking to the men. They had to
make it snappy and they did. The Flying Tigers were bright boys
and they were already suspicious of Munson. By the time the colonel
came stamping in, the group was silently waiting and there were no
mutterings.

Munson strode to the front of the room, clicked his heels and made a
turn to face them. Stan’s eyes narrowed as he watched the big fellow.
Munson looked the men over with a cold eye.

“You fellows put on a lousy show today,” he snapped. Pausing, he waited
for someone to contradict him or argue the point.

Silence filled the room. All eyes were fixed unwaveringly upon the
commander. Munson cleared his throat and went on.

“Three of you,” he glared at Stan, Allison, and O’Malley, “broke away
from formation and went off on a chase. You intercepted and broke up a
fighter attack on the field, but if that bomber squadron had been as
big as it was reported to me, the docks and the city of Rangoon would
have been blasted.” He paused and his gaze bored into Allison.

Allison stood staring at him without any expression on his face.

“You, Major Allison, ordered your flight off on that attack.” He
leveled a finger at Allison and shook it threateningly.

“Yes, sir,” Allison said. “Sorry, sir.”

Munson fairly jumped up and down. His face reddened and he bit off his
words savagely.

“You are insubordinate and–and–” He seemed unable to think of any
more words.

“Yes, sir,” Allison said and smiled insolently.

“Wipe that snicker off your face!” Munson bellowed.

Allison’s smile faded. His gaze moved over the colonel very
deliberately. O’Malley began to mutter and scowl at the commander.

“What are you mumbling about?” Munson turned on O’Malley.

“I’m after bein’ near to starved,” O’Malley said humbly.

Munson had his mouth open to shout at O’Malley. He closed it without
uttering a sound. Disgust was written on his beefy face.

“After this, orders are to be carried out,” he snapped. Then with a
shrug of his trimly tailored shoulders, he turned and marched out.

As soon as his footsteps died away, a laugh burst from the men. They
crowded around Allison and Stan. O’Malley stood back watching for a
minute, then headed for the cook’s galley.

“We got him going,” the tall boy from Texas crowed.

“I have some poking around to do and I’ll get it done as quickly as
I can. But, after this, we’ll fly an attack the way it should be
flown and let him ground us if he dares. I’m thinking he’ll not do
that because, if he did, the commander would investigate.” Stan spoke
eagerly.

“We’re with you,” a number of the men answered. The others nodded their
heads.

Allison and Stan walked to the cook’s galley after talking with the
boys for about fifteen minutes.

“What do you have on your mind?” Allison asked.

“I’m not right sure, so I’ll have to go it alone for awhile,” Stan
replied. “I guess I’ll just be snooping. But you fellows can cover up
for me. I don’t want Munson to know I’m prowling around after dark.”

“We’ll take care of that,” Allison promised.

They entered the squadron mess hall and found O’Malley enthroned behind
a huge dinner flanked by an apple pie.

“I showed the China boy how to cook that pie,” O’Malley said with
pride. “I got him to make two o’ them so you birds can have some, too.”

Allison inspected the pie with a forced look of scorn. “Heavy as a
Flying Fortress. Crust tough.” He shook his head. “I’m sorry, old man,
but I have my health to protect.”

O’Malley scowled. “Go ahead, swill iced tea and eat mutton chops. An
Englishman niver could be expected to know decent food.”

Allison laughed as he dropped into a chair. “You sure knocked all the
words out of the colonel.” He mimicked O’Malley, “I’m after bein’ near
to starved.”

Stan joined their laughter. Munson certainly had been left speechless.

Continue Reading

FLYING TIGERS

The air base on the island was temporary and would be abandoned within
a few weeks. It had been laid out to shorten the trip of bombers
delivered to China by way of Australia and Rangoon from the west
coast of the United States. Stan and his pals hurried to a flimsy
headquarters building where they were met by a number of officials.
Nick Munson went along, though O’Malley made a number of discouraging
remarks.

They presented their credentials and signed for uniforms and equipment.
Tom Koo put in an appearance as the navigator who was to take them on
the first leg of their journey, the hop to Rangoon. He did not say
anything about the details of the flight, or the course, beyond running
a finger across the map to show where they would fly across the Malay
Peninsula.

O’Malley was in high spirits and even offered to share half a stale pie
with Nick Munson. He had discovered the pie in a small canteen attached
to headquarters. Munson refused, so O’Malley devoured all of it.

Stan walked around the grounds while they were waiting for their
call to go out. He made a circle of the field and came back past
headquarters. As he passed the door he heard Nick Munson’s voice. It
sounded irritated. Munson was arguing hotly with someone. Stan halted
just beyond the door and listened.

“I want a single-seat bomber, one of those dive bombers out there.
That was the agreement when I came over here. I’m an expert and an
instructor. I fly alone.”

A smooth but firm voice answered, “I am sorry, Mr. Munson. I have
orders to assign you to Tom Koo’s bomber crew under command of Major
Allison. If you wish return transportation to Singapore, that will be
arranged. If you wish to go on to China, you will follow instructions.”

“You’ll hear about this,” Munson growled.

Stan hurried away. He did not want Nick to see him at the door. When
he arrived at the Hudson they were to fly, he found Tom Koo explaining
flight details. Nick Munson sauntered up a few minutes later and stood
listening.

“It is not unusual to be attacked by Jap fliers over the Gulf of Siam,”
Tom Koo said. “They do not recognize neutral waters or soil. But you
all know the Hudson can fly as fast as most pursuit ships and that she
is well armed. Our only danger comes from spies flashing word of our
take-off to the enemy. In that case we may be ambushed by a swarm of
fighter planes.” He smiled at the fliers. “If you sight ten or twenty
enemy planes, you duck and run for it.”

“What if we sight half a dozen?” Stan asked.

“We shoot them down,” Tom Koo said modestly.

“Very encouraging,” Allison drawled.

“Jest you furnish me a fighter to ride herd on the bombers and we’ll
show the spalpeens,” O’Malley exclaimed.

“The distance is too great for a fighter plane,” Tom Koo explained.
“We just fight our way through.”

Stan smiled. The Chinese were used to fighting with the odds against
them. They had been meeting the Japanese that way for years.

“We’ll take the Hudson through,” Stan said. “And if you hang a few eggs
underneath, we’ll drop them on Saïgon just by way of a little token.”

Tom beamed. “A very good idea. But we have no bombs here to take along.
At our China bases we will find bombs–American made bombs and very
good ones.”

Tom looked at Nick Munson who was bending over the map spread on a box.
Nick looked up. “Do you have two-way radio?” he asked.

“Yes,” Tom answered. “But the radio will be used only by Major Wilson.
One-man communication. The ship will be under command of Major
Allison.” He turned to Stan. “I will give you the code and the wave
length used at Rangoon.”

“What if something happens to Wilson?” Nick asked.

“In that case I will take over,” Tom answered.

They checked the charts carefully. Accustomed as they were to complete
weather reports and detailed instructions, this flight preparation
seemed woefully lacking. Stan shoved the code book into his pocket.
Allison gathered up his flying orders and O’Malley strapped on his
helmet.

“We’re all ready,” Allison announced.

“I’ll clear you,” Tom said.

They climbed into the Hudson. Her motors were idling smoothly as she
stood at the cab rank. A number of American mechanics smiled and waved
to them. One of the boys called up to Stan:

“We’ll see you in China in a week.”

Stan lifted a hand and grinned at the boy. He moved back to the radio
compartment. O’Malley manned the forward gun. Nick was placed in the
rear gun turret forward of the twin tail assembly. Tom was at the
navigator’s post.

The field officer flagged them and Stan felt the big ship tremble under
full throttle. She slid forward, gathering speed, her engines roaring
and flaming. The afternoon sun gleamed on the oily, tropic sea and many
birds were winging back and forth in the hot, burnished sky. The Hudson
lifted and bored away and upward. Stan connected his headset and gave
his attention to the code sheets spread before him. He had a feeling
this would be a routine flight such as he had made many times in the
United States.

Everything about the ship was familiar and gave him a snug feeling. The
instrument panel, the arching ribs, the cable lines, all were familiar
to him. He could see the top of Tom Koo’s head, and he could hear Nick
Munson muttering to himself as he lifted the intercommunication phone
to his ears. Nick evidently had the mouthpiece hanging close to his
head.

Stan leaned forward and replaced his earphones. He dialed the wave
length indicated on his code sheet. For a time he listened to routine
orders coming out of the Rangoon base. But he did not cut in with any
messages of his own. That would be taking unnecessary chances. An enemy
radio might be listening. The time passed slowly. He heard his phone
sputtering and slipped off his headset. Nick was calling him.

“Get in touch with Rangoon?”

“Cleared through O.K.,” Stan called back.

Nick grunted and lapsed into silence. Stan went back to his radio. The
hum of the twin motors beat into his senses and the radio messages
clicked off and on. He eased back and closed his eyes. It was very
restful, flying up above the layer of hot air close to the ground. He
nodded and drowsed off into a nap. There was nothing to keep him awake.

Suddenly Stan opened his eyes again. The first sense to register was
his ears. He knew, too, from the sickening lurch of the ship that she
was in a tight reversement, knifing over and going down at a terrific
rate. But it was his ears that told him the Hudson was being attacked.

There was the familiar scream of lead ripping through the dural
surfaces of the bomber. Looking out Stan saw two Karigane fighters
dropping down out of the sky. Above and behind him he could hear
Nick Munson’s guns blasting away, while up ahead he heard O’Malley’s
guns pumping lead. Stan pulled off his headset and caught up the
intercommunication phone.

The next instant the Hudson was looping back, flap guides screaming,
as she faded into a vertical turn gauged to a split second. Allison
was tossing her about like a light fighter plane and the Hudson was
responding nobly. In the swirling patch of sky and clouds that whirled
past, Stan saw at least a dozen of the Karigane fighters circling and
diving, eager to get at the bomber.

“Somebody must have tipped them off,” Stan muttered.

Then he saw that fire was licking at the forward tanks. He pawed an
extinguisher from its clamp and worked his way toward the leaking tank.
The spray from his pump blanketed the blue flame forking up from the
hole. The flame wavered, then went out.

Stan went back and cut in his radio. He got Rangoon and heard a cool
voice talking to a bomber flight. Stan broke in:

“Hudson, Flight Three out of Singapore attacked by flight of Karigane
fighters. Hudson, Flight Three calling. Do you hear me?”

The cool voice came right back at him. “Hudson, Flight Three, I hear
you loud and clear. Give your location.”

Stan looked out and down. He had no idea where they were. He did not
know how long he had slept. Below spread a placid sea, but he did not
know whether it was the Gulf of Siam or the Bay of Bengal.

“I will check location and call back,” he said.

“Better fight it out and then come in. We have no planes to send,” the
cool voice said.

Now the Hudson was going up, hammering toward a layer of clouds. The
Karigane fighters did not want the bomber to reach those clouds. Three
of them came screaming in from a head-on position. Stan heard O’Malley
open up. One of the fighters sheared off, turned over and went down in
flames, its silver belly gleaming.

Stan realized that it was not dark yet, though the sun had set. He
wondered how long the light would hang on. Then he forgot to worry
about the light as a stream of bullets ripped across the port wing,
causing the Hudson to swerve and stagger. But she went on up.

Stan shouted into the intercommunication phone to Allison. “How is it
up there? This is Stan.”

“Where have you been all this time?” Allison’s drawl was cool and
unruffled. “Get up here. Tom’s been hit and is down. I need help.”

Stan made his way forward. Tom Koo was slumped over with his head
rolling forward and his neck twisted around. Stan got hold of him and
dragged him back, then slid into his seat. Allison glanced across at
him.

“I dropped off to sleep,” Stan said grimly.

“Nice time for a nap, sorry we had to wake you up,” Allison answered.

“Got another yellow rat!” The voice of O’Malley roared in over the
phone. “’Tis a Spitfire I’d like to be flyin’ this minnit!”

“I just sawed off a wing! Nice hunting,” came the voice of Nick Munson.

Stan scowled and looked into the rear mirror. He saw a fighter swirling
and tumbling, black smoke pouring out of its cowling. He could not be
sure it was not the Jap O’Malley had potted. Still, it was back on the
tail where Nick could have hit it.

The Hudson knifed into the clouds just as four Kariganes roared down
for the kill. Allison leaned back and relaxed.

“They do a very nice job,” he said. “Slow but fast on the turn.”

“They come right in,” Stan admitted. “I’d better have a look at Tom and
see if I can fix him up. We’re safe now.”

Tom was hit in the shoulder and had a bad gash. He had struck his head
when he fell and the blow had knocked him out. Stan bound his shoulder
wound and stopped the flow of blood. He regained consciousness and sat
up blinking weakly.

“Can you take the ship in?” he asked. “Every ship is badly needed.”

“Sure we’ll take her in,” Stan assured him, “but she’ll be laid up for
repairs for a while.”

“You take over the radio. I’ll go back and pilot the Major in,” Tom
said.

Stan helped him up to the seat beside Allison, then he went back to the
radio. After a few minutes he picked up Rangoon. Allison and Tom got
their bearings and they headed in, still keeping to the cloud layer.

Over Rangoon they broke out of the clouds and began drifting in. They
saw below a calm sea and a green jungle. A beacon began to flash and
Stan contacted the field. They slid in over blue markers and down on a
long runway. As they bumped to a halt, it seemed as if they had landed
at one of the airfields in England. Only the ground men who rushed
forward were American mechanics, not British.

They climbed down, Nick Munson getting out last. He stood looking at
the Hudson, his eyes moving over the damage done by the encounter with
the Japs. Without a word he turned away.

“That bird tried to get a ship of his own for the trip up here,” Stan
said. “I figure the Japs were tipped off and that Munson didn’t care to
be riding with us.”

“Don’t go off half-cocked,” Allison warned.

They arrived at the flight office in time to see a United States Army
major warmly shaking Nick Munson’s hand.

“Well, well, Nick, old man. We’re glad to have you up here as an
instructor,” the major was saying.

“Glad to be here,” Nick answered. “I guess some of your men can learn a
few new tricks.”

“And you’re the man who can teach them,” the major said as he slapped
Nick across the shoulders.

Stan stood in the doorway watching. Apparently Nick Munson was
favorably known to some of the army men from the States. Allison
stepped forward. O’Malley was hungry and, when he was hungry, other
details could wait.

“Where’s the mess?” he demanded.

The major looked at him and smiled. O’Malley’s uniform and shoulder
markings placed him as a flier, but the officer seemed in doubt.

“Across the street,” he said gruffly.

“Flight Three out of Singapore reporting in, sir,” Allison said.

“Well, well.” The major suddenly showed some interest. The fame of
these three aces had arrived ahead of them. “Glad to have you.” He
looked again at O’Malley. “So you’re the famous O’Malley.” He held out
his hand.

“I’m not so famous as I am hungry,” O’Malley said as he shook hands.

“I’ll check you right in and show you the mess,” the major said.

The air was hot and humid. Great cumulus clouds were piled against the
sky. Out on the landing field, which was actually a converted rice
paddy, sat a flight of six Curtiss P–40 planes. The Tomahawks, as they
are called in the R.A.F., gleamed in the sun as their propellers turned
over idly.

Stan Wilson stood between O’Malley and March Allison, listening. Above
the muttering of the six Tomahawks rose the distant roar of bomber
planes coming in.

“Sounds like business,” Allison said.

A captain of the Flying Tigers appeared from a shack. He ran across
the field with three pilots after him. The three newly arrived pilots
saluted.

“Up and at ’em, boys,” the captain snapped. “And remember you’re not
in the R.A.F. now. Make every burst count and snap it off short.
Ammunition supplies are limited.”

O’Malley was away before his pals could move. He had crabbed some about
flying a P–40 until he had taken one up. Now he was bragging about the
ship. Stan and Allison raced to their planes and climbed in.

A Chinese corporal waved to them, shouting a string of words they could
not understand, then grinned broadly and ended up with:

“Give ’em the works!”

“That must be the signal to take off,” Stan muttered as he pinched one
wheel brake and blasted his tail up, snapping the P–40 around in a
tight circle.

The six Tomahawks bumped across the rice paddy, noses into the wind,
and were off. Stan lifted his ship off the ground and sent it surging
up into the sky. It was like old times when he was a test pilot back in
the United States. The instruments and controls were familiar and he
eased back against the shock pad.

Up spiraled the P–40’s above the high-piled clouds. They bored along in
close formation. Allison had charge of three planes, and an American
from Texas had charge of the other three.

“Japs on the left,” Allison’s voice cracked in over the air, “beyond
the white cloud. Take two thousand feet more air under you, Flight
Five.”

“O.K.,” Stan called back.

“Don’t be after wastin’ me time,” O’Malley grumbled. “I see a Jap down
under.”

“Take two thousand, O’Malley,” Allison drawled. “Fighter planes,
upstairs.”

They went on up, looped over a huge cloud and burst out above a flight
of twenty bombers with red circles on their wings.

“Peel off and go down,” Allison ordered. There was a happy, reckless
note in his voice. This was action again, a fling at bullet-filled
skies.

O’Malley peeled off and went roaring down the chute. Allison followed,
and Stan eased over and opened up. The P–40’s engine hammered a smooth
tune as the air rushed past the hatch cover. Stan grinned. He was glad
to be back at it again.

The bombers below were very slow. They did not break formation until
the P–40’s were on their backs. Stan drove down on a big killer and
opened his guns. He cut his burst short and knifed past. As he went
down and over in a tight, twisting dive, he saw the bomber burst into
flames. Up he went at the belly of another bomber. His Brownings
rattled a hail of lead and sheared away the bomber’s wing.

As Stan went up, he saw, coming down the chute, a flight of Jap fighter
planes. They were roaring in to save the bombers from destruction. Stan
made a quick guess and decided there must be at least thirty of them.

“Air superiority,” he muttered. “So this is the way they get it.”

He laid over and sprayed another bomber. It dived and circled, heading
back the way it had come. A glance showed that the bomber attack had
been riddled and put to flight. But there was still the flock of
fighters darting in on the P–40’s.

Stan went up and over and around. He held the P–40 wide open and shot
under the diving Japs. He was remembering what the captain had said
when he gave them instructions. “Go through them and on up. You can
outfly them and be back for a kill before they can get at you.”

As he went up and over in a screaming loop, he saw that O’Malley had
forgotten his instructions. The Irishman was in the middle of the enemy
formation of fighters and he was stunting like a madman, his guns
spitting flame and death. One Jap plane went down and then another, but
O’Malley was in a tight spot. Smoke was trailing out behind him, not
exhaust smoke but black smoke telling of fire inside the P–40.

Stan came over and went down. He ripped through the formation, darting
around O’Malley. As he went, he saw, on his right, another P–40
shuttling across the sky. He clipped a wing off a fighter that tried to
intercept him by diving at him. He saw his companion take another one
out. Then he heard Allison’s clipped words.

“O’Malley! Get moving. Shuttle across. Use your speed.”

“I’m havin’ some fun stayin’ right here,” O’Malley called back.

“You’re on fire,” Stan warned.

“I’m just learnin’ to smoke,” O’Malley called back.

As Stan went across and up, he saw the advantage the P–40 had over
the Jap fighters. They darted after him, but he slipped away on them.
As he went over and down, he saw that his pals were doing the same
thing. That is, all but O’Malley, who was battling it out with a dozen
Japanese around him.

The five Flying Tigers came back across and their roaring charge was
too much for the Japs. They dived and scattered, but, in getting clear,
they lost three more planes.

“No use trying to keep a tally!” Stan shouted.

He looked down and saw that O’Malley’s plane had burst into flame. He
watched the Irishman heave back his hatch cover and tumble out. For a
moment, he held his breath. Had O’Malley forgotten everything he had
been told? It seemed he had slept through the instruction period. His
parachute was billowing out and he was sailing through the air. But
that was not the worst of it. Two Japs were diving at him from out of
the blue.

Stan went over and down with his motor wide open. As he roared toward
the earth, a plane shot over his hatch cover and he had a glimpse of
Allison bending forward as though to push his plane faster.

“He grabbed the fastest crate,” Stan growled as he eased over and
chased Allison down the chute.

Before they could reach O’Malley, one of the Japanese had zoomed past
the dangling pilot and had opened up on him. Stan gritted his teeth and
pulled the P–40 up. He intended to get that fellow for the dirty trick
he had pulled. Furiously he twisted the gun button as the Jap came into
his windscreen.

His Brownings rattled a short burst and the Jap wobbled sickeningly.
His ship laid over and seemed to explode. Stan eased off and looped. As
he came down again, he saw that Allison was circling a parachute that
was settling into a field. Watching, he saw the parachute fold up. He
laid over and throttled down waiting for O’Malley to get up.

O’Malley did not move. He lay sprawled where he had hit. Stan gritted
his teeth and went up again, looking for more Japs. The sky was clear.
Not an enemy ship was in sight, except for a number of wrecks on the
ground.

“Flight Five, come in. Flight Five, come in,” headquarters began
calling.

“Flight Five, coming in. Allison speaking.” Stan waited. “One plane
lost. One pilot lost. Flight Five, coming in.”

They made rendezvous with Flight Four which was all intact and the five
P–40’s went in. They eased down and landed, sliding down the field with
rumbling motors.

Stan faced Allison as they climbed to the ground. Allison scowled
bleakly, then he drawled.

“The next time that wild Irisher will listen to instructions.”

“There won’t be any next time for him,” a pilot said. “You can’t make
that kind of flying stick out here. It might work against the Jerries,
but not in a ten-to-one fight with the Japs.”

“You might be right in your tactics,” Allison said with a sardonic
smile. “But you don’t know O’Malley.”

“I’m going to beat some sense into his head when he comes in,” Stan
growled.

He knew both he and Allison were just talking. He remembered clearly
the limp form lying in the rice paddy.

They stamped into the briefing shack and the captain looked them over,
frowning.

“You fellows lost a plane. Planes are valuable in this man’s country.
From now on, you’ll be one short in formation.” Then he grinned.
“Anybody have any idea how many were shot down?”

The boy from Texas spoke up, “I believe about twenty, sir.”

“We’ll make it twelve to be sure. If the ground boys pick up any more
wrecks than that, we’ll take credit.” The captain turned away.

Stan didn’t feel very good. He looked at Allison. “I’d like to see if
we can pick him up,” he said.

The captain turned on him. “You are under combat orders from daylight
until dark,” he snapped. “If you want to go poking out into the rice
fields after dark, that’s your business. The Brownies may come over
again at any moment.”

“Yes, sir,” Stan said.

Allison lowered his voice. “I’m afraid it wouldn’t do any good,” he
said. “I saw him land.”

“So did I,” Stan answered.

The captain spoke sharply and all of the pilots turned to face him.

“We have ten new planes and a new group of pilots coming in. The
whole flight will be under a new flight instructor. He will give you
instructions from now on. I’ll see you men over in the mess as soon as
you are relieved this afternoon.” He turned on his heel and walked away.

Having a new instructor meant nothing to Stan and Allison. They had not
been with the Flying Tigers long enough to know the man who was to be
relieved. They went out into the sunshine and seated themselves under a
tree to wait for action.

The Japs did not come back. Apparently their smashing defeat had slowed
their attacks. Stan kept watching the flat fields stretching away from
their base, hoping to see a lank figure coming in through the ground
haze.

An hour before sundown they were relieved and went to their barracks to
change to light uniforms. When they had changed, they walked over to
the mess.

A group of some fifty men milled around the room. They were laughing
and talking in small groups. Stan noticed at once that the men were not
acquainted with each other, except for small squads gathered together.
He and Allison stood watching. Suddenly Allison nudged Stan and said:

“There’s Nick Munson.”

Stan looked and saw Nick Munson in a uniform resplendent with braid. On
his shoulders was the insignia of a colonel.

“He sure got himself a rating in a hurry,” Stan said.

“And a good one. I say, old man, you don’t suppose he has a special
drag around here?” Allison’s lips curled into a smile.

At that moment Munson stepped to the front of the room and faced the
fliers.

“Men!” he shouted. “Give me your attention. Snap into it!”

The men faced him and silence filled the room. “I’m sorry Colonel
Fuller can’t be here. I’ll just have to introduce myself. I’m Nick
Munson, test pilot from the U.S.A. And I’m your new instructor.” He
let his eye rove over the men. His gaze flecked over Stan and Allison,
seemed to pause a moment, then it moved on.

“What do you think of that?” Stan muttered.

“I’m not saying,” Allison answered.

“Just keep your lips buttoned up and listen to me.” Nick glared
directly at Stan and Allison, though he could not have heard what they
said.

The men moved in closer and frowns creased many faces. The Flying
Tigers were easy-going, loose on discipline, deadly in the air. Many
of them were veterans of the China Army. They didn’t like this new
colonel’s attitude.

“I see some of you need a bit of military training,” Nick snapped. “I’m
here to kick some action out of you birds. And I’ll do it or hand in
my papers.”

The men stared at him, but no one said a word.

“I don’t want any more exhibitions like we had this afternoon. One
famous R.A.F. pilot who thought he knew all about flying had a plane
burned from under him and got himself shot up. You birds play this game
my way or you’ll stay on the ground.”

Stan felt his hands clench into fists.

Nick’s tone was sarcastic as he continued, “You may have been aces
where you came from, but that doesn’t mean a thing to me. Now get out
and when I give an order see that you carry it out to the letter. None
of you have any brains to do any thinking for yourselves. You do as you
are told.”

Nick Munson turned on his heel and strode out of the mess. Allison
faced Stan. The insolent mockery Stan knew so well was in his eyes.

“Imagine, old man,” he drawled, “you’re short on gray matter.”

“I may be short on brains, but I still pack a left hook and a right
cross. Nobody can insult O’Malley and get away with it. Not when he
isn’t here to speak for himself.” Stan’s chin was jutting out and his
eyes were blazing.

“I’d suggest waiting a bit. Colonel Munson may have some plans. Perhaps
he’s worried about the morale of this outfit,” Allison smiled his
cold smile. “Perhaps it’s too high. He might like to see a few fights
among the men. Possibly they might get the idea of quitting. This is a
voluntary job, you know.”

Stan laughed and his fists opened. “I believe you have something there.
Suppose we just circulate around and talk with a few of the men.”

As they talked with the irate fliers, Allison managed to slip in a word
regarding Munson’s possible intention to create unrest in their ranks.
When they left the mess hall, Allison saw that the men were beginning
to get his slant. He felt sure that they would not be goaded into
making trouble.

They were crossing the field when an officer came out of the briefing
shack. It was Nick Munson. He changed his course and approached them.
They snapped a salute. Munson looked them over.

“You fellows didn’t seem much impressed by my talk,” he said gruffly.

“We have heard a lot of speeches in this war,” Allison said very softly.

“I’m sorry that numskull Irishman isn’t with us any more. I should have
liked to have made a flier out of him,” Nick said.

“For a test pilot without combat stripes you have done well, Munson,”
Stan said and his eyes locked with those of the colonel.

“I may do even better,” Nick boasted. “This is the land of opportunity.”

Stan had suddenly lost interest in Munson. He was looking out across
the darkening rice fields. Three men were coming toward the shack. Two
walked ahead while another came on behind. Suddenly Stan laughed in
Nick’s face.

“You may get your chance to train O’Malley, after all,” he said.

O’Malley was striding across the field with two Japanese pilots in
front of him. He had lost his helmet and his flaming hair bushed out
on his head. He waved an arm to Stan and Allison and bellowed:

“Here I come with the reserves!”

He marched his prisoners up to Colonel Munson and halted them. They
were very meek. One of the men had a black eye that suggested he had
been hit by a fist. Nick stared at the Japs and then at O’Malley.

“You were reported killed,” he growled.

O’Malley looked Nick over, observed his rating and then answered
insolently:

“And you don’t like it because I wasn’t, eh, Colonel?”

“O’Malley, I outrank you. Speak in a respectful manner when you talk to
me.” Nick’s face was red and his eyes were blazing.

“Sure, an’ the Chinese are hard up for colonels,” O’Malley said. He
turned to Stan and then to Allison. “I’m thinkin’ I’ll go over an’ get
my general’s stripes as soon as I hand over these fellers.” He grinned
at his prisoners. “They are slippery ones, and don’t you ever ferget
that. My friend, here,” he nodded toward the man with the black eye,
“tried to stick a knife into me.”

“Hand over your prisoners and then report to me,” Munson ordered. “I’m
going to ground you for not following out instructions this afternoon.
You lost a valuable ship.”

“I don’t think I’ll like bein’ grounded,” O’Malley answered. “I’m
thinkin’ you and this Jap would look more alike if you had a black eye,
me foine friend.”

“Easy, Bill,” Allison warned and stepped to O’Malley’s side. “Don’t
play his game.”

Munson wheeled on Allison. “What’s that?” he demanded.

“You may outrank us, but just remember that this is a volunteer group,
and if they take it into their heads to knock those stripes off you
they can do it,” Allison answered coldly.

Munson stared hard at Allison, then he said, “No use in your getting
hot under the collar. I have to make this a military outfit.” He
turned to O’Malley. “I may not ground you, but you have to listen to
instructions. You have a lot to learn.” His voice was almost friendly.

“The Japs taught me all I’ll be needin’ to know from now on,” O’Malley
answered. “I’m a flyin’ snake from this day on. A hit-and-run driver.”

Munson turned and walked away. Stan and Allison went along with
O’Malley to deliver the prisoners.

“You sure hit the bull’s-eye when you cracked down on him,” Stan said
to Allison.

Allison frowned. “He gave himself away all right. Now we know how to
handle him.” He turned to O’Malley. “What made you lie there on the
ground as though you were dead? You had me fooled.”

“I figgered I’d better play possum. With the sky full o’ Japs, one of
them might have come down an’ peppered me,” O’Malley answered.

“And where did you meet your friends, the Japs?” Stan asked.

“I saw them crawl out of a bomber and I followed them,” O’Malley
sighed. “An’ did I work up an appetite walking all that way! Let’s get
rid of these birds and go eat.”

Continue Reading

CHINA WINGS

The air squadron mess of the Royal Air Force, Near East Command, was
hot and close. Outside, white sunlight glared down on the steaming
pavement and on the rank vegetation growing against a rock wall. Beyond
that rock wall rose the marble and stone buildings of the city of
Singapore ecbasis.

Lieutenant O’Malley of the Royal Air Force elevated his feet to the
top of a chair and lay back against a damp cushion. He craned his long
neck and looked out upon the sweltering scene. Little rivers of sweat
trickled down his neck and spread out under his shirt. Sadly, O’Malley
contemplated the large slab of berry pie he held in his hand.

“’Tis a terrible thing to consider,” he muttered.

Lieutenant March Allison, who was sitting near him, opened his eyes and
blinked.

“What,” he asked listlessly, “is so terrible?”

“I niver thought Mrs. O’Malley’s boy would iver be so hot he couldn’t
eat a slab o’ pie.” O’Malley set the pie on the window ledge and pulled
out a huge handkerchief. “This is as close to Hades as I iver plan to
get.”

Leaning back, he elevated his feet a bit higher. Bill O’Malley was a
lank Irishman with a skinny neck and a big Adam’s apple. His uniform
hung on his bony frame in a most unmilitary manner. O’Malley’s most
striking feature was his flaming red hair seldom disturbed by a comb.
He was not a person to inspire fear or confidence.

“Oh, now, I say, old chap,” Allison drawled, “this is not such a bad
spot. His Majesty’s Army has been downright thoughtful, sending us out
here to the glamorous East for a rest cure.”

Allison eased himself upward in his chair. He was a slender young man.
His uniform fitted him neatly. His blond hair was close-clipped. There
was a hint of insolent mockery in his cool, gray eyes. Allison was an
ace who had made a name for himself in the wild days of the Battle for
Britain. He smiled at O’Malley as he went on talking.

“O’Malley, you have not made good use of your time here in Singapore.
You have not seen any of the sights.” There was more than a hint
of mockery in Allison’s voice. He himself had not set foot outside
quarters.

O’Malley turned and squinted at Allison. “Sure, an’ I know all
about Singapore. Singapore, the Lion City, crossroads o’ the East!”
O’Malley’s voice dropped to a drawl. “Ivery time you open a tin can
or have a blowout you make business for Singapore, for it boasts the
biggest tin smelters in the world and half o’ the rubber in the world
comes through its gates.” He grinned widely. “And it stinks and it’s
hot and it’s dead as a graveyard. Ivery one of us might as well be
buried in County Kerry, Ireland.”

“We’ll get some patrol duty after a while. The Japs want Singapore and
will make a grab for it,” Allison predicted. His mood matched that of
O’Malley but he refused to admit it. They were stuck in the Far East,
thousands of miles from the battle lines. To his way of thinking, they
might well remain there for the rest of the war, making routine flights
over a smelly jungle infested with crocodiles, tigers and leeches.

“Mrs. O’Malley’s boy joined up to fight, not to melt,” O’Malley
growled. “I’m thinkin’ I’ll hire meself out as a deck hand an’ beat me
way back home. I can enlist under another name.”

“You won’t do that,” Allison snapped.

“Why not? I’m doin’ no good here,” O’Malley retorted.

“You won’t desert. I’d turn you in, you redheaded Irisher. As your
superior officer I’d break your neck.” Allison’s gray eyes had lost
their insolent flicker and were cold and hard.

O’Malley grinned broadly and reached for the slab of pie which was
dripping berry juice down the wall. “You mean you’d be after tryin’,”
he said as he opened his big mouth and shoved half of the piece of pie
into it.

“How can you eat a whole pie before dinner? Here it is one hundred
twenty in the shade and you eat pie.” Allison shuddered.

“Just a snack,” O’Malley assured him. “I’m really off me feed on
account o’ the heat.”

He had just finished the pie when another flier entered. He was tall
and well-built, typically Yank. Allison waved a hand lazily. O’Malley
just grunted.

Stan Wilson crossed the room and seated himself at the open window,
being careful to avoid the berry stains. Back in the United States Stan
Wilson had been a test pilot, then he had joined the Royal Air Force
and spent savage months battling for Britain.

O’Malley let his feet slide to the floor with a thud. “I’ve been
tellin’ Allison what a rotten hole this is. We’ll be seein’ no action
out here.”

“I aim to, and right away,” Stan Wilson announced excitedly. “Of course
you two bums will want to rest and enjoy the charming atmosphere of
Singapore. But I’m on my way to a war.”

“See here, old fellow,” Allison began, “just because you’re a Yank
and can get a release, you don’t have to sneak off and leave us to
dehydrate. You have to stick around until we all get called back to
London.”

“You’ll get action when the Japs cut loose, plenty of it. I think
they’re about ready to grab Singapore while it’s still asleep. But I
don’t want to wait that long,” Stan said.

“Wherever you’re goin’ I’m comin’ along,” O’Malley said. He had lost
all of his laziness.

Stan grinned widely. “It might be arranged.”

“Now see here, let me in on this plot,” Allison cut in.

“It seems the United States is lending fliers to China. A hundred or so
pilots, ships and ground men. Their job is to protect the Burma Road
and help the Chinese build up an air force of their own.” His grin
widened. “Of course there will be a few odds in favor of the Japs,
probably twenty to one or something like that.”

“They’d never release O’Malley and me,” Allison said sourly.

“I did a bit of snooping and wire-pulling. The Wing Commander is a
mighty reasonable man. He feels that the Chinese should be encouraged a
bit.” Stan got to his feet.

O’Malley and Allison were at his side at once. “When do we pull out?”
O’Malley asked eagerly.

“You boys have to get your releases and then you have to sign up with
the Chinese. Me, I’m one of Chiang Kai-shek’s majors.”

“You spalpeen! Salute one of Chiang’s generals!” O’Malley pulled
himself up as straight as he could. “I’ll most certainly get a
generalship.”

“The pay is all the same,” Stan said with a smile.

“Whom do we have to see?” Allison asked.

“You see Wing Commander Beakin for your release. He’ll put you on the
right track,” Stan said.

“I said, when do we leave?” O’Malley demanded.

“Right away. We are to ferry a Hudson bomber up to Rangoon.” Stan
laughed at the impatient O’Malley. “I have already listed you two as
probable members of the crew. Majors O’Malley and Wilson; Major Allison
commanding,” Stan explained.

“I say, old fellow,” Allison protested, “you rate the commander’s
stripes.”

“Nothing doing. This is still Red Flight of the old Channel days. There
won’t be any changes in personnel, except that we have to take along
another flier, a fellow by the name of Nick Munson.”

“Is he Royal Air Force?” Allison asked.

Stan shook his head. “No combat training, I guess. He’s an American and
is supposed to have flown test jobs over in the States. He’s signed up
and we’ll take him along.”

“What are we waitin’ for?” O’Malley cut in impatiently.

“One other thing I ought to tell you,” Stan said. “The Japs will
consider us outlaws and spies. If they catch us, they’ll shoot us. This
won’t be the Royal Air Force, this is wildcat work and mighty tough.”

“The Chinese Air Force needs a helping hand,” Allison drawled in his
most ironical manner.

Stan grinned. He had known all along that his pals would go with him.
“We may as well step across into the gardens and meet Nick Munson,” he
said.

The three fliers stepped out of the mess and walked across a broad
plaza. Outside the iron fence crowds hurried along a narrow street.
There was a babel of races and colors and castes which the wealth of
rubber and tin had drawn to Singapore from every part of the teeming
East. People hurried past, some of them half-naked, jinrikisha coolies
trotted along, their bodies gleaming with moisture, pulling carts in
which perspiring passengers sat fanning themselves.

“’Tis no white man’s country,” O’Malley muttered as they crossed the
street and shoved their way through the throng.

They entered a palm garden and Stan led the way across a lush lawn
to where a heavy-set man stood talking to a laughing group of native
girls. The girls seemed to be enjoying the white man’s jokes and well
able to understand him. Allison scowled but O’Malley grinned.

“Nick, meet your future buddies,” Stan greeted the stranger.

Nick Munson turned around and looked at O’Malley and Allison. He was a
dark-faced man with close-set eyes and a tightly cropped mustache. His
eyes darted over the slacks and white shirts of the fliers. Stan made
the introduction brief.

“This is Bill O’Malley and March Allison; Nick Munson.”

“Out here for the rest cure?” Nick’s lips curled just a trifle.
“Jerries got a bit too hot, eh?”

O’Malley’s grin faded and his chin stuck out. “’Tis not so good I am at
hearin’,” he said. “Would you be after repeatin’ that remark?”

“No offense meant,” Nick Munson answered quickly. “I hear you are both
aces.”

“We have been lucky at times,” Allison said, his voice very soft.

“They are two of the best,” Stan cut in. “You can learn a lot from
them.”

“I might and I might be able to teach them something. I’m signed
up as an instructor to show the boys some of the new wrinkles we
have developed over in the States.” Nick Munson smiled a little
patronizingly.

Stan looked at him thoughtfully. “I have had a bit of experience in the
United States,” he said.

Nick Munson did not meet Stan’s steady gaze. “That must have been a
while back,” he said.

“Not so long ago,” Stan answered, then added, “but we must be toddling
along. I just wanted you to meet the men you’ll be working with. See
you later.”

They turned away, leaving Nick to amuse the native girls. When they had
crossed the street, O’Malley growled:

“That spalpeen better not try teachin’ me any new tricks.”

“He’ll bear watching,” Allison remarked.

“If he makes any more wisecracks I’ll sock him,” O’Malley threatened.
“He made me mad first, so I get first whack.”

Allison laughed. “Don’t be a nut, Irish. He’ll make a good man once
he’s been up the glory trail and has had some hot lead smacked through
his ship. He may even learn a few new wrinkles the Americans have not
worked out.” He gave Stan a knowing leer. “Yanks are all a bit cocky at
first.”

“Nick isn’t a fair sample,” Stan said quickly. “Before you get out of
China, you’ll meet a lot of fellows who are right good men.”

They walked across the grounds to headquarters and turned in. Wing
Commander Beakin was seated at his desk. In spite of the heat, he was
dressed in full uniform. He frowned heavily as he looked at them.

“Deserters?” he asked in clipped tones.

“No, sir, just recruits,” Allison answered.

“China, eh?” The commander did not wait for an answer. “Well, boys, you
can serve up there better than down here right now. We all know trouble
is on the way. Japan is about ready to strike. The stronger China is,
the safer we are down here. We have to keep supplies moving in over the
Burma Road just as long as it can be kept open.”

“Yes, sor,” O’Malley broke in. “That’s just the way we had it figured
out. Once we get up there that road _will_ be safe.”

Commander Beakin’s leathery face cracked into a smile. “Aren’t you the
pilot who brought in a new model German gun and laid it on the desk of
my friend, Wing Commander Farrell?”

O’Malley squirmed uncomfortably. Allison spoke up. “The same man, sir.
He herded a Jerry right down on our landing field.”

Stan laughed. “We shall try to uphold the traditions of the service,
sir,” he said.

Commander Beakin cleared his throat. He pulled a sheaf of papers toward
him and glanced at them. Then he shoved them across the desk.

“Lieutenant Wilson can take you to the Chinese general who will give
you your credentials. These papers will release you and they will
entitle you to return to this service without prejudice. I understand
you are to report at once.” His face had returned to its flinty
hardness, but his eyes showed the pride he had in his men.

The three fliers gathered up their papers and about-faced. O’Malley
seemed to have forgotten the heat. He set a brisk pace. Allison slowed
him down.

“What’s your rush? China will be still there when we get to Rangoon,”
he drawled.

They walked across town to the waterfront where the harbor was crowded
with craft from every nation of the world. A mass of frail vessels
marked the Chinese boat colony where several thousand Chinese, some of
whom had never set foot on land, used boats for homes and as a means of
livelihood. The waterfront was swarming with a motley crowd of races
and colors, all jabbering and shouting and talking. Few white men were
to be seen.

“Our man lives in a little shack down a few blocks,” Stan explained.
“He has his office in one half of a single room and he lives in the
other half. But he has plenty of authority and Uncle Sam is backing
him.”

They hurried on through the colorful throng, hardly paying any
attention to what went on around them. They were eager to be on their
way to China and the skies over the Burma Road.

Stan Wilson led his pals to a small shack on the waterfront and halted
before a flimsy door of matting. Over the door and along the wall were
Chinese characters painted in red. Below the characters was a faded
poster showing a slender American girl in a riding habit and wearing a
cocky little hat. The girl was holding high a glass of Coca Cola. Stan
pointed to the familiar advertisement.

“Looks like home,” he said.

“It sure does,” Allison agreed. “Those confounded soft drink ads are
plastered all over the world.”

“Here is where you sign up. I was down yesterday,” Stan said. “Still
want to head for China?”

O’Malley eyed the dilapidated building, then his eyes moved up and down
the street crowded with similar shacks.

“Sure, an’ I’m struck dumb with admiration by the elegance o’ their
headquarters, but if they have planes and petrol I’m joinin’ up.”

“They have both,” Stan assured him.

“Suppose we have a look inside,” Allison suggested.

Stan tapped on the wall beside the door. After a brief wait the matting
swung aside and a brown face appeared. Two glittering, black eyes
regarded them. The doorman was a Malay, smaller than the average. His
lips were stained red from chewing betel nut and his skin was a rich
red-brown.

“Come,” he beckoned softly.

Stan shoved O’Malley forward and Allison dropped in behind. They
entered a small room lighted by yellow rays which filtered in through a
screen covering a high window. The room was divided into two parts by a
long grass curtain decorated with painted cherry trees and mountains.
Against this backdrop sat a gaunt Chinese at a small desk. He wore a
white jacket and a pair of billowing pants. His deep-set eyes peered
out at the three fliers from unmoving lids. Slowly he lifted a bony
hand to his chin and fingered its carved outline.

“Welcome,” he said in a soft voice. “Welcome and please sit down.”

The only place to sit was on a bench before the desk or upon one of the
many cushions scattered about on the floor. The boys seated themselves
on the bench.

“General, I have brought two men who hope to join the China Air Force.
They are the men Commander Beakin reported upon, and the same men I
told you about,” Stan explained.

“I am grateful. China is grateful. To have three aces from the Royal
Air Corps is indeed a great gift.” The general’s voice was smooth and
controlled, but his eyes were searching and watchful.

“There was to be another man. He should be here,” Stan said.

The thin, yellow lips parted in a smile. “Mr. Munson asked to come one
hour later. He informed me he had an engagement.”

“Sure, an’ I’m thinkin’ this Nick Munson is a bad one,” O’Malley broke
in.

The general beamed upon O’Malley. “It is good to be of a suspicious
nature. However, we have checked the credentials Mr. Munson presented
and find them eminently satisfactory. He boasts overmuch, perhaps, but
China has great need of instructors and pilots.”

“We’ll handle the spalpeen, General. We’ll break his neck if he gets
funny,” O’Malley assured the officer.

“He may well break his own neck if he does the things he tells us are
easy for him,” the general said without smiling.

“We are prepared to be watchful, that is what Lieutenant O’Malley
means,” Allison explained.

“I believe as much, and so we will get on with the few details which
must be settled. First, I must warn you that efforts are being made to
prevent recruited pilots from reaching China.” He smiled and went on
with hardly a pause. “You will be paid one thousand dollars a month in
American money for your services. You will be under the orders of our
renowned general, Chiang Kai-shek, as regular officers of the China Air
Force. I have made out the papers you will need to present at the air
base from which you will fly. Once you have reported you will not carry
these papers on your person. Should you be forced down behind enemy
lines or be in danger of capture, you will divest yourself of your
uniform under which you will wear Chinese clothing. This is for your
personal safety.”

“So the Japs won’t shoot us on sight?” O’Malley asked.

“They seldom shoot prisoners. They use them for bayonet drill, lashed
to a post.” The general’s eyes were hard and clear.

O’Malley straightened aggressively and started to say something
uncomplimentary about the Japs. Stan broke in.

“Thanks, General.”

O’Malley got to his feet and thrust out a huge hand. The general took
it and gripped it.

“Don’t you worry, sor. ’Tis no Japs will be botherin’ yer supplies once
we get up north,” O’Malley said gravely.

The general laughed. “You are most wonderful boys. I wish you good
luck, and, as they say, happy landings.”

Stan hesitated, then faced the general. “Where did you learn to speak
English, sir? Many of your phrases sound very familiar.”

“I come from San Francisco, where I was born. Like yourselves I am
a foreigner helping a great people resist an aggressor. When the
liberty of China is secure I shall return to San Francisco and my law
practice.” There was a twinkle in the eyes of the general.

March Allison laughed his old, cynical laugh. “A Yank,” he said and
snapped a smart salute which the general returned.

Out on the street a minute later he turned to Stan. “What is his name?”

“Tom Miller,” Stan replied.

O’Malley stopped and looked at Stan. “What sort of a country have you
got over there?” he demanded. “By the shades o’ St. Patrick, if that
general is Tom Miller, I’m Chiang himself.”

“We have Irish policemen, Chinese lawyers and Hindu doctors,” Stan
said without a smile.

“I’m going over there after the war,” O’Malley declared. “Just to have
a good look.”

At that moment the Malay boy who had admitted them to the presence of
General Miller appeared.

“Come, please,” he said.

They followed him toward the waterfront. At a small fruit stand they
met a short Chinese youth dressed in white duck pants and wearing a
flat, straw hat. Their Malay guide bobbed his head and spoke in Chinese
to the youth. The youth smiled at the three fliers, revealing two rows
of even white teeth.

“Welcome to the China Air Arm. I am Tom Koo, flight officer.”

“I am Stan Wilson. This is Bill O’Malley and March Allison,” Stan said.
“Allison will command our flight.”

O’Malley was looking closely at the soldier. Tom Koo was dressed the
same as a thousand other Chinese they had passed on the waterfront.
Suddenly he asked, “You come from San Francisco?”

“Yes,” Tom Koo answered, “but how did you know?”

“I’m an expert,” O’Malley answered. “Anyway, no man could fail to
recognize a Yank.” O’Malley grinned broadly and Tom Koo looked greatly
pleased. He turned to Stan.

“You, too, are an American?”

“I sure am, and we’ll show up the Irish and the British, Tom,” Stan
said very seriously.

The Chinese flier laughed softly. “That will be a very difficult thing
to do. You see, I am informed of the records of Majors Allison and
O’Malley.”

“It’s action we crave, Spitfires and Japs,” O’Malley broke in.

“Japs you shall have in large numbers,” Tom said. “And spies and crooks
and saboteurs to add to the excitement.” The smile faded from his face
and he looked grim. “But first you have a boat ride which will take you
to an island where we have a flying field. It is best that you do not
return to your barracks. Your bags will be forwarded to you.”

The three walked beside Tom Koo. About them milled shouting and
laughing Tamil and Hindu traders, expounding the value of their wares.
In the midst of such a group stood a fat Chinese. His shrill voice rose
above the tumult and the shouting. Tom shoved his way toward the fat
boatman.

The boatman did not seem to see them, but others turned to look. The
fliers wore street clothing and were taken for tourists who would have
money to spend.

“I will go on. You will speak to the boatman. Say you wish to take a
boat ride.” Tom Koo moved away after giving these instructions in a low
voice.

Stan was closest to the burly Chinese. “We want to see things. Have you
a boat for hire?”

The boatman turned and his black eyes fixed upon the three fliers. His
round, fat stomach bulged above the sash he had knotted around it. His
head was shaven and smooth and his face was wrinkled into a mass of
genial furrows. He was almost an exact copy of the little statues of
the god of happiness they had seen displayed in the shop windows. He
bowed stiffly and placed a huge straw hat on his head.

“You payee–big?” he asked.

“Sure,” Allison said. “American silver dollars.”

The fat man looked around, then headed toward a junk moored at the
wharf. The boat was high-pooped, square-sterned, made of carved wood,
and staring popeyes were painted on the bows. On its deck was mounted a
gun of a model which had been in use a hundred years before. Stepping
on board, the three fliers found deck chairs under a canvass awning.

Seating themselves, they watched the Chinese boatman maneuver his craft
into the bay by using a long pole. The junk slowly proceeded away from
the wharf, clearing the hundreds of odd-looking craft moored there.

A breeze fanned lazily over them and the boatman hoisted a huge sail.
The junk lumbered slowly out across the oily waters. Stan noticed that
the man kept watching the shore. He wondered what the fat boatman was
looking for. Junks and other craft were coming in or putting out, and a
motorboat darted out from among the moored vessels. The boatman grunted
and shrugged his shoulders as he gave his attention to his sail.

After that nothing happened in the bay, so Stan gave his attention to
the shore line falling away astern and to wondering if the American
instructor would get out to the island.

A number of small islands loomed ahead. The junk skirted the green
patches so closely that they could see the natives going about their
daily lives. The details of their tiny, palm-leaf shacks, standing on
stilts over the water, could be seen clearly.

The day was hot and steamy and the tide was running low. The receding
waters left vast, flat banks of slimy, stinking mud, alive with
crawling creatures chased by long-legged birds. Along the bank myriad
mangrove trees hugged the shore, their naked, crooked roots exposed.

“Reminds me of a basket o’ slimy, wrigglin’ snakes,” O’Malley observed
sourly.

“It all smells very rare,” Allison said with a grin.

Stan was not watching the shore ahead, he was looking at a motorboat
which had appeared off one of the small islands. It was the same boat
that had put out into the bay at Singapore. It was cutting toward them,
sending a white wedge of water foaming back from its prow. The Chinese
boatman saw it and burst into a high-pitched chatter.

“Looks like we might have our first taste of the stuff Tom Koo spoke
about,” Stan said.

O’Malley watched the oncoming boat with interest. “Sure, an’ we might
have a bit of excitement,” he said eagerly.

“We may have to make a detour to Rangoon,” Allison said softly.

“Our boatman is scared stiff,” Stan observed.

“If we had our service pistols we might have some fun,” Allison said.
“But all we have are our fists.”

O’Malley grinned wolfishly. He had gotten up and was leaning over the
rail. The motorboat circled the junk and came alongside. It was filled
with little brown men armed with long poles. A chunky fellow stood in
the prow. He shouted up to the boatman.

“Yer delayin’ the parade!” O’Malley shouted down at the man in the
prow. “Get that raft out of our way!”

The leader of the crew looked up at O’Malley, then turned and began
chattering to his crew. At that moment a white man appeared from a
little cabin in the rear of the motorboat. Stan and Allison got up
quickly. The man was Nick Munson. He stood looking up at O’Malley.

“I missed the junk and set out to overtake you. I’ll be aboard in a
minute,” he called to them. Ducking back into the cabin he came out
with a bag.

“Well, jest imagine that,” O’Malley drawled.

Stan looked over at O’Malley and suddenly his eyes narrowed. O’Malley
was sliding a service pistol into the ample pocket of his trousers. He
moved close to the Irishman.

“How come you filched a gun?” he asked. “We were to turn them in before
we left London.”

“I’m that absent-minded,” O’Malley said with a grin. “I got so used to
the feel o’ Nora snugglin’ in me pocket that I jest couldn’t part with
her.”

Allison looked at Stan and there was a glint in his eyes. “Sometimes
that Irisher shows a glimmer of brilliance,” he said.

Nick Munson clambered aboard the junk. Dropping his bag, he wiped his
forehead and sank into a chair. He spoke two words to the boatman in
Chinese.

“I reckon you learned to speak Chinese in a United States plane
factory,” Stan said, and his eyes locked with Munson’s.

“I picked up a few words along the waterfront in Frisco,” Nick answered.

The motorboat roared away and the junk moved on its slow course around
a small island beyond which they could see a larger expanse of land.
Stan sat back and watched Nick Munson who was giving O’Malley a big
line about dive bombers. O’Malley was taking it all in and grinning
amiably at Munson.

Presently they sighted low buildings on the island, then the gray and
silver forms of several transport and bomber planes rose into view.
As the junk moved closer they saw that the island was humming with
activity. Malays and Chinese ran about and many white men mingled with
them.

“Hudsons and P–40’s,” Stan said.

“Fine stuff,” O’Malley chimed in. “They got full armament.”

“China, here we come!” Stan shouted.

Allison leaned back and there was a sardonic look on his face. He
puffed out his cheeks as he watched.

“Not bad, old man, not bad at all.”

Nick Munson stood up, his eyes moving swiftly over the scene, taking in
all the details. His lips curved into a smile.

“Ideal spot for an attack, no cover, nothing.” He spoke slowly as
though pleased with the idea.

Continue Reading

FANTASY

Summer was almost over. It had passed quickly for Nancy, although at
first her visit had threatened to be dull, monotonous and even a little
unpleasant. But as soon as the conflict between Rosa and Orilla became
of concern to her, just so promptly did her own days at Fernlode become
absorbingly interesting.

Rosa’s worry over a few extra pounds of fat now seemed simply babyish,
but so it is with most personal appearance worries. They may mean much
to a sensitive girl, but to others they are usually accepted as they
should be, as matters of small importance. It is character that always
matters most.

All this was clear to Rosa finally, and with it had come the lesson in
self-restraint: no candy, the lesson in self-discipline: long walks,
and the lesson in common sense: to be sincere. All of which had
developed a surprisingly attractive Rosa, and in her laudable cousin’s
efforts Nancy had enjoyed an active and interesting part.

It had been thrilling–those hunts on the islands, those escapades
of Rosa’s–and it had been fun when the worry was over. As Nancy
repeatedly insisted she would not be called smart, because she wasn’t
any smarter than most girls; it was simply because Rosa had been so
oddly different that Nancy’s plain common sense shone forth.

The cousins now were affectionate chums indeed, for trouble and trials
often bring forth the brightest flowers of true affection, especially
where these troubles do not interfere with the rights of others and are
strictly matters which belong in a girl’s world.

Having the little picnic proved a welcome change, and its success was
marked by many pleasant memories of the children’s lovely time, besides
the pleasure the report of the affair was sure to bring to Lady Betty.

There remained now but one more problem for the young girls to solve:
they must reach Orilla and tell her that Margot had agreed to let her
use her old room, under the grape vines, so that she would no longer be
compelled to steal in and snatch a few precious moments in her coveted
sanctuary.

But where to find Orilla?

Leaving the station Dell drove the smallest of the fleet of cars, with
Nancy and Rosa, to hunt for the girl. Inquiring at Mrs. Rigney’s they
found Orilla’s mother in great distress.

“Something must have happened,” she wailed. “Orilla has not been home
to-day and I’ve even had the little boys and girls searching the woods
for her. Where can she have gone? Do you girls know anything about
her?” she implored, excitedly.

Nancy did not say that she too had expected to see Orilla, but the
three girls assured the worried mother that they surely would locate
her daughter, and once more they faced that almost continuous task of
searching the woods.

Driving through the woodland roads at the rear of the lake front, was
by no means as easy as sailing on its smooth waters, but this was the
way the girls were now compelled to go.

“Those logs she cut down must have been for something,” Dell reasoned.
“Have either of you found out what she did with those?”

“She intended to build a camp,” Rosa answered, “but I don’t know where.
She was as secretive as a–fox.”

“She told me too she had a place in the woods, and spoke of loving the
wilderness so much, but she never said anything to me about where it
was,” Nancy also explained.

“Well, we’ll drive along toward Weirs,” Dell suggested. “But we can’t
expect to get out onto the islands from the land side.”

Thus they journeyed in the late afternoon, over the rough hills, up and
down, in and out, but among the camps picked out along the road, where
summer folks had pitched their tents, no sign of Orilla was discovered.

“Could we hire a boat here at this landing and go along the water
front?” Nancy suggested. “I feel we must have been near her place that
afternoon we helped with the little trees.”

“Yes, we could do that,” agreed Dell. It was rather late for sailing
parties, and the man in the sailor’s uniform literally jumped at the
chance of taking them on his power boat.

“I believe she is on that island over there,” pointed out Nancy,
“because when we were on the water that afternoon, I saw a flash of
light in that clump of low pines.”

“A clue!” sang out Rosa gayly. “Depend upon Nancy to notice things.
Tell the man to steer in there, Dell. And let’s hope for the best.”

Like the other islands this was small in area; and as the girls jumped
ashore the boatman took out his “picture-paper” to look that over while
he waited, for they all knew the search would take but a comparatively
short time.

“Yes, she’s been here,” declared Rosa, almost as soon as she had
stepped on land. “See these bushes? They’ve just been trampled down–”

“Here’s a regular path,” interrupted Nancy. “And see all these pieces
of paper.”

“We are certainly on the trail,” agreed Dell. “Nancy, we’ll follow you;
this was your clue, you know,” she pointed out tersely.

Quietly they followed Nancy. The little path was leading some place,
certainly, for it was marked out clearly in the heavy grass and
undergrowth.

Suddenly Nancy stopped. She felt she was near someone, and the path was
opening into a cleared spot that was faced around from the other side
with the low scrub pine trees.

“Orilla!” she said, instinctively.

“Nancy!” came a feeble, faint reply.

“Where–is–she!” demanded Rosa, close upon Nancy’s lead. “Oh, look!”

There she was, on a bed of pine needles, lying like an Hawaiian
under the most picturesque hut. It was open on the side the girls
were facing, but the thatched roof fell over the other sides in true
tropical fashion.

“Orilla,” breathed Nancy, who was quickly beside the unhappy girl,
“what has happened?”

“I’m sick, Nancy,” she replied, “too sick to walk and–and–I’ve been
lying here–so long!”

“You want a drink, Orilla,” insisted Rosa, all excitement now. “Here’s
your tin cup, but your water pail is–empty!”

“Yes. I couldn’t get to the spring–”

“The boatman may have some drinking water,” Dell suggested. “Give me
the pail, Rosa.”

Immediately they set about to care for the sick girl, stifling their
natural curiosity at the strange surroundings.

“Don’t go away, Nancy,” Orilla begged, as Nancy rose from her side to
attend to something. “As I lay here I have been thinking of so many
things. Just let me have a drink, Dell. Thank _you_ for coming,” she
said, noticing Dell Durand’s kind attention. “I’m not worth all this
bother.”

“Hush,” ordered Nancy, “you don’t want us crying, do you? When folks
talk that way–”

“It’s so like a funeral,” spoke up the impulsive Rosa, who was secretly
looking over the hut, mystified and astounded.

“You had better not talk now,” Nancy cautioned Orilla.

“Oh, I must; I’m not so very sick, just weak and worried, and I’ll be
better when I’ve told you,” Orilla insisted. “Girls, this is the camp
I was building,” she began. “You see, my father was a carpenter and I
love even the scent of freshly cut wood.”

A smile twisted Rosa’s face at this, but she quickly conquered it. She
had disastrously followed Orilla in her quest for freshly cut wood.

“Yes, I always carried home chips,” Orilla went on, having risen on her
queer bed and settled her head against an uncovered pine pillow. “When
I was very small I would follow the men who chopped the trees, to carry
the chips home in my little sunbonnet. I have always loved new wood.”

“This place is wonderful,” Dell interrupted. “Just like a picture. I
can’t imagine you building it all alone. You are really a genius at it,
Orilla.”

“My arms are very strong–I suppose I’ve trained them to be,” Orilla
said, “but Rosa helped me with the wood–”

“You bet I did,” exclaimed Rosa, “and my hands still bear the marks.”

“Well, you see,” the sick girl continued, “I know what an attraction a
real hut in a real woods would be, and I’ve worked at this all summer.
I was going to bring parties here–”

“We had one of them to-day,” burst out Nancy, and that remark brought
on a hurried report of the party just held at Fernlode.

“You did that! You girls!” exclaimed Orilla, who was too surprised to
lie still. She was shifting to a sitting position, her thick, bright
hair hanging over her shoulders, adding the last touch to her tropical
appearance under the thatched hut.

“Why, yes,” replied Nancy. “It was the best fun we had this whole
summer. If we hadn’t been worrying about you–”

“Why should _you_ have worried about me?” Orilla asked, seriously.

“Why shouldn’t we?” retorted Nancy.

“Feel better now, Orilla?” Dell inquired. “You see, we have a hired
boat–”

“And we’ve got such glorious news, Orilla,” sang out Rosa. “You’re
coming back to live at our house–”

“I’m–going–back!”

“To your own little room,” added Nancy, smiling. “It’s all fixed.
Margot thought it only fair–”

The color rushed back into Orilla’s cheeks as if it had been suddenly
lighted there.

“My room! Back to my own–little–room!”

“These little girls are like fairies, aren’t they?” Dell interposed.
“But not more magical than you have been, Orilla. This place is
perfect. Good enough for a fancy picture!”

“If only my mother and her library friends could see it,” Nancy
commented. “And where ever did you get these queer things? Just look
at that East Indian water jug. Isn’t it one, Orilla?”

“Yes. I found most of them in a curio shop. I think they came from an
old seaman’s collection,” and the girl on the pine-needle bed smiled.
“But how lovely it is to have someone see them besides me!” Orilla
sighed. “I had planned this so long and made such a secret of it,
I just didn’t seem to know how to tell anyone about it. But I’m so
glad–now!”

“So are we,” declared Rosa. “And I’ll tell you, Orilla. You and I had
best never have any more secrets. Nancy would find them out, at any
rate, so what’s the use?”

“We must go,” announced Dell. “Orilla, do you feel strong enough to
walk down to the boat?”

“Oh, yes, I’m much better. I guess I just fretted myself ill, and when
I thought no help would come I sort of collapsed.”

“Lean on me,” commanded Rosa grandly. “You’re going to live at our
house now, so you will be my guest, sort of,” she said humorously.

“I can’t believe that,” demurred Orilla, and the puzzled look on her
drawn face showed how surprised she really was.

Presently they were going toward the boat, Orilla leaning on Dell
and Rosa, for she was quite weak and the rough path was not easy to
traverse.

“You have fever,” Dell said gently. “If we had not found you, what
would you have done?”

“Died perhaps,” Orilla answered, simply.

“But we were _sure_ to find you,” Nancy insisted. “Don’t you hate to
leave your rustic bower? Even your room in Fernlode could never be as
lovely as that camp. I’ve seen pictures like it in the Geographical,
but I never expected to visit one in reality,” she enthused.

“We’ll come back,” chanted Rosa, “and bring parties of our own. Won’t
the boys howl?”

“Step in, please,” the boatman ordered, for they had reached the edge.
“It’s getting late.”

Once seated in the boat the girls did what they could to make Orilla
more presentable. They pinned up her hair, fixed the rough khaki
blouse, and Nancy insisted upon contributing her tie, although Orilla
protested that a tie was not necessary for her to wear, she never did
so, she declared. But the bright little tie improved her looks, they
were all quite positive of that.

The transfer from boat to auto was made easily, as Orilla, who was
perhaps more frightened at finding herself ill and being alone in the
camp than actually sick, seemed much better and expressed keen interest
in all the girls’ prattle.

“Like a real story,” Nancy thrilled. “I’ll have to tell it hundreds of
times to Ted, I know,” she laughed happily, for she expected soon to
have that welcome privilege.

“Don’t let’s stop at your mother’s now,” proposed Rosa. “We can come
straight back and fetch her up after you get installed, Orilla. Margot
has been frightfully busy, but she promised to have the room aired and
everything,” she added sagely.

This plan was quickly agreed upon, and when Dell drew her car up
alongside of the porch, Orilla seemed almost too dazed to step out.

“Home, James!” joked Rosa, jumping around gayly. “Fernlode is going to
have three girls now instead of just me.”

“But I’ll soon be going home,” Nancy told her, while they all,
including Dell, marched along the porch with Orilla.

“Don’t mention it, Nancy,” begged Rosa. “If I weren’t going to school
I wouldn’t let you go. This way, Orilla. We’re going in the front door
this time.”

“Please don’t, I would so much rather not,” murmured Orilla. “I love
the way I’ve always gone in–and–I’m sort of nervous, you know.”

“Orilla’s right, Rosa,” Dell replied. “It’s much better just to get her
quietly into bed. Don’t make the least fuss–” she cautioned aside to
the two eager girls.

“Thanks,” sighed Orilla. “You see, I can’t help feeling a little
guilty, Rosa. I did fool you an awful lot.” There was the flash of a
smile with this admission.

“Not such an awful lot, either,” Rosa defended herself, “for all the
exercise was surely good for me. See how frail and fairy-like I am!”
and she attempted a little demonstration.

“Just open that door, will you?” Nancy ordered. “We’ll admire _you_
some other time, dear.”

Dell had hurried inside to bring the news quietly to Margot, and to
tell her of Orilla’s weakened condition. Promptly and in her own
capable way, Margot slipped into the hidden room, quite as if its
blinds had not been closed for so long, or as if the mustiness she had
fought for two days to conquer, were merely a new brand of natural
perfume.

It took but a few minutes to install Orilla in her bed, which had been
made fresh and comfortable, and upon Margot’s orders Rosa and Dell
then withdrew.

They were really going for Dr. Easton, although they did not let Orilla
know that. But Nancy stayed near the sick girl, who seemed still
anxious to talk of her secrets.

“The money, you know, Nancy,” she said, when Margot had left for some
fresh water. “I had saved that to buy the little lot next here.”

“Next here?” queried Nancy, again much perplexed at Orilla’s statement.

“Yes. There’s a strip of land adjoining this. It is only a fisherman’s
place and he promised to sell it to me very cheap. I had almost enough
money, and the fresh-air parties were to pay me more. But I won’t need
it now. This is–so–much better,” and the sick girl sighed happily.

“You were trying so hard to get money to buy land near here,” Nancy
repeated, beginning to understand Orilla’s struggles.

“Yes. It’s in the little brown bag, but half of it belongs to Rosa.
She must have it back,” Orilla said firmly.

“But I’m sure she won’t take it–” declared Nancy.

“Then I’ll have to give it to mother. Poor mother, she has worked so
hard,” Orilla sighed. “But this, having me here again, will surely make
her happy.”

Dr. Easton found Orilla highly nervous, and privately he told Margot
and Mrs. Rigney that the fancied injustice had so preyed upon the
girl’s mind she had been unable, for the time being at least, to
control her bitterness. This would now be removed and so her health
would be sure to improve.

Mrs. Rigney had been brought back in the car, as the girls arranged,
and in spite of her daughter’s illness they were all almost happy.

“It is her dream come true,” said Nancy to Rosa. “And she has just
given her mother the brown bag with the money. She wanted to give you
half.”

“I wouldn’t take a penny,” declared Rosa sharply. “I gave her that and
it’s all hers.”

“That’s what I told her, Rosa,” Nancy replied. “You won’t miss me so
much now, you’ll be so busy with all this,” she pointed out. “I had a
letter from mother today–”

“You can’t go home–yet,” cried Rosa instantly. “You have got to be
here when Betty and Dad come. You must know what they say when they see
me–thin!”

Continue Reading

SHEDDING SECRETS

Orilla was now moving about the room in such an excited manner that
Nancy became alarmed!

“Come on out, Orilla,” she begged. “I really have stayed too long. Rosa
will be back–”

“All right. Let’s go. But I want to tell you that I broke the fern
stand–Mrs. Betty’s, you know,” Orilla said, her voice raising beyond
the pitch of security. “I came back that night–mother was to be away a
week and I came up here for that one night–and I had forgotten my key.
I was so mad to have to go back home all alone and it was late, you
know, that I just Smashed that fancy stand for revenge!”

“Orilla! That lovely fernery!” gasped Nancy.

“Yes, I know it does seem cowardly,” admitted the girl, “but my head
was splitting–”

“You have a headache now,” interrupted Nancy, noting again the girl’s
highly flushed face.

“Yes, and I must go,” she cast a lingering look about the room, which
really was quite cozy. “How I would love to be able to come in here and
fix things up,” she sighed.

Nancy was thinking of a possible plan, but she had no time to mention
it now. She wanted to get outside and find Rosa.

“Of course I’m going to tell Rosa,” she said, making sure of speaking
positively so that Orilla would not expect to object.

“I suppose you can. I am so tired of secrets that I was determined to
tell you before my old crankiness would come over me again,” confessed
Orilla. She had locked the door and again they were treading their way
under the wild grape-vine tunnel. “I don’t know why it is that some
people can soothe one so. I should never have thought of confiding
in anyone else, and yet you’re just a little girl,” reasoned Orilla
wonderingly.

“Maybe that’s it,” replied Nancy brightly. “Because I’m little–”

“Oh, no. That isn’t all of it, but you wouldn’t care for soft soap,”
said Orilla wistfully.

“I’m sure I hear Rosa–”

“But I must go, Nancy. My head is bursting, and if I get talking to
Rosa, she’ll say so much–”

“You know she has been looking for you all day,” persisted Nancy,
anxiously.

“I can’t help it. Everything has got to wait–until to-morrow. Tell her
I’ll be here in the morning–if I’m able–”

“Orilla, I can’t let you go,” interposed Nancy. “I’m afraid you’re
sick–”

“No, I’m not, really. I have these headaches often, and bringing you
into my room, you see–”

“Yes, I understand,” said Nancy kindly. “And if you feel that perhaps,
as you say, you had better get quiet. All right; I’ll tell Rosa. Don’t
worry that she’ll find fault; she always speaks well of you, Orilla.”

“Yes, little Rosa’s all right, but silly. She was so ashamed of being
fat–why–” and a little laugh escaped Orilla’s lips. “Wasn’t she
foolish?”

Nancy heard voices from the roadway just as Orilla slipped into her
boat and paddled off. Finding the secret room had been such a sudden
revelation that Nancy could scarcely understand it all even yet. That
Orilla should have so loved that room, and that she had been coming to
it secretly for so long a time, seemed incredible.

“Uncle Frederic would have let her have it, I’m sure,” Nancy reasoned,
“and _I’m_ going to ask him to,” she determined, when the unmistakable
voice of Rosa floated in through the hedge.

It was going to be exciting, Nancy knew, this news to Rosa. It would
surely be met with one of Rosa’s typical outbursts, so she decided to
postpone the telling until Rosa was safely, if not quietly, indoors.

“Drydens want us to come to their hotel some night,” Rosa reported,
“and we must go. Nancy, they think I’m thin enough. What do you think
of that?” and Rosa took a look in the mirror to help Nancy’s answer.

“Calm yourself, Rosa,” said Nancy importantly. “I’ve got such news–”

“Orilla been here?”

“Yes–”

“And she’s gone? Why didn’t you chain her till I came–”

“I couldn’t, Rosa, she had a dreadful headache–”

“Headache! What’s that to the trouble I’ve got? Her troubles, I mean,”
and Rosa fell into a chair as if in despair.

“Do let me tell you, Rosa. I feel a little done up myself.”

“Selfish me, as usual. Go ahead, Coz. I’ve got my fingers crossed
and am gripping both arms of the chair. No, that’s a physical
impossibility; but I’ve got my feet crossed, so it’s all the same. Now
please–tell!”

“Did you have any idea that Orilla came to her room here, in this
house?” Nancy began in her direct way.

“Her room? In this house? What do you mean? She hasn’t any room here!”

“I mean the room she had before Betty came–”

“That little first floor corner–”

“Yes, behind the storeroom, down by the west wing–”

“I knew there was a corner of the house there, but it’s been shut up
for ages,” replied Rosa, already showing her eagerness to hear all of
the story.

“Well, poor Orilla could never give up that room, and she has been
coming to it every chance she got. She took me in there to-night and I
never saw anything so pathetic,” explained Nancy simply. “She fairly
loves the room and insists that it should still be hers.”

“Can you–beat–that!” Rosa was so surprised no other wording seemed
strong enough for her. “Coming to that little cubby-hole! Say, Nancy,
honestly, do you think that Orilla’s crazy?”

“No, I don’t. But I’ve heard mother tell of such cases. And I’ve read
about girls keeping their baby loves, old dolls, you know, and things
like that. But this is the oddest–”

“For mercy sakes! How ever did she manage it?” Rosa asked, blinking
hard to see through the surprising tale.

Then Nancy told her, as well as she could, how Orilla came by the
elderberry path, from the lake, through the maze of wild grape vines to
the small door of the small porch at the west end of the big rambling
house.

“I always said,” put in Rosa, “that there was a door for each servant
around this house, but I must have missed that one. Well, poor old
Orilla! I guess she’s quite a wreck, isn’t she?”

“She had a headache, as I told you, but she seemed glad to get rid of
some of her secrets, and I don’t wonder,” admitted Nancy. “She has
enough secrets to make a book. But I told her _I_ wasn’t going to keep
any more of them. I told her I was going to tell _you_ everything she
told _me_.”

“Goody for you!” chanted Rosa. “And go ahead–tell.”

“Well, she asked me not to tell you when she had been here one night,”
began Nancy, taking another chair for a fresh start in the narrative.
“I didn’t then, as it couldn’t make much difference–”

“She came sneaking in here–”

“She came through the hall the night the things came from Boston,” went
on Nancy. “And I might just as well tell you all about it.”

“All?”

“Yes. I was standing right over there trying on the blue cape–”

“Nancy! You liked that cape!”

“Yes, but I like the red one–”

“You don’t. I know now. That cape was intended for you and I’m a greedy
thing to have grabbed it. Of course, _you_ wouldn’t even hint–”

Nancy was a little confused now. She had never expected the blue cape
issue to come up again. But Rosa was positive and would not listen to
Nancy’s protests.

“But, Rosa,” Nancy insisted, “Betty said she would love to get things
for you if you would only let her. And surely, when you admired the
cape–”

“Oh, yes, I know. You being Nancy, and all that,” said Rosa, meaningly.
“Well, _I’ll_ forgive you. You did succeed in getting me to listen to
reason and now I’ll try to be civil to Betty.”

“You would have been, anyhow,” said Nancy. “Because you were bound to
be more reasonable–”

“I’m not trying to compliment you, little dear, so don’t try so
desperately hard to shut me off. But all the same, look–look at my
figger! Ain’t it just grand!” and Rosa strutted again before the
patient mirror making sure doubly sure that she was quite genteel.

“I suppose you’ll think I’m complimenting you if I tell you how well
you look,” retorted Nancy. “But I’m sure you have gone down twenty
pounds!”

“And a half,” flashed Rosa. “Twenty and one-half pounds less, and my
clothes are falling off me. Won’t dad and Betty howl?”

“But you’ve got to keep up your walking, your tennis and non-candy
schedule,” Nancy reminded her. “Don’t forget that. All right, don’t
answer, please, I have heaps more to tell you about Orilla and we’re
miles off the track.”

“My turn. I’ve get to tell now; you listen. First about the blue cape.
You’ve got to have that. No, don’t object,” as Nancy seemed about to do
so. “I feel like a thief now. To have taken that from you,” declared
Rosa.

“I wish you would keep it. Just to show Betty how you liked her
choice,” Nancy argued.

“I won’t. I care more about your choice. Besides, I can wear something
else she bought, so don’t worry. But about Orilla. You said she had let
down the bars on all secrets? That we can tell?”

“Yes, she agreed _I_ could,” replied Nancy.

“Then that’s good enough for me,” decided Rosa. “Now you sit pretty
and listen, but don’t faint. The reason I tried so desperately hard to
find her to-day was because I had a message from Boston for her. Her
fresh air kids are arriving to-morrow,” said Rosa facetiously, drawing
a funny face.

“Fresh air–children!” corrected Nancy. “What does that mean?”

“It means that the wily Orilla has made arrangements to entertain
some poor children and their caretaker at a camp that she hasn’t got.
She thought she would have it–I suppose that was what I was chopping
down trees for–but the camp doesn’t seem to have developed. And those
children leave Boston _early_ in the morning!”

“Do you mean that Orilla agreed to take children at a camp out here and
now they are coming–”

“Exactly. And the camp isn’t. That’s the little fix _I’m_ in.”

“You’re in?”

“Yep. I got her mail and it came here in my name. It didn’t seem much
to do for her, but I’d like to know how I’m going to forestall those
children, who will leave their humble homes with their breakfasts in
shoe boxes to-morrow morning.”

Rosa’s mood was happy and her expressions flippant, but for all that
Nancy knew she intended no disrespect to the strange children.

“You mean they expect to come to Fernlode?” Nancy queried, puzzled anew.

“They seem to; although, land knows, I didn’t expect them to. You see,
Orilla couldn’t give up the idea of this being her headquarters and I,
poor dumb-bell, just helped her carry it along.”

“Well, there’s no harm done,” said Nancy calmly.

“No harm done! Wait till I get you to read that telegram. There, read
it and–rejoice!”

Nancy read the message. It stated that the children, a dozen of them,
would arrive at Craggy Bluff on the morning train and directed the
recipient of the message to be sure to meet them with cars!

“Oh,” said Nancy. “That is rather complicated, isn’t it, for it’s
addressed to you?”

“Bet your life it is,” flashed Rosa. “And please tell me quickly,
pretty maiden, and all that, what’s a girl to do about it?”

“You don’t suppose Orilla has the camp ready?”

“I know she hasn’t. She sent message after message, or I did for her,
to keep them back. But now they’re coming to-morrow!”

“Then, let them come, that’s all,” said Nancy.

“Yes, just like that,” Rosa continued to joke.

“We can take care of them. It will be fun.”

“_We_ can?”

“Certainly. Why not? They’re just like any other children. In fact,
mother thinks they’re always more natural and interesting when they
come to the library.”

Rosa simply stared. Her big blue eyes were indeed lovely now in her
pretty round face, which had lost the flesh which before had all but
disfigured it. Her “figger,” as she termed her form, was also much
more shapely than it had been in early summer, for magical as the
result of her simple new living rules really were, there was no denying
its reality. Nancy was watching her now with undisguised admiration.

“Yes,” she repeated, “it will be fun, and we can get Durand’s car–”

“Oh, Nancy, I know!” almost screamed Rosa, “we’ll have them here and
say they were entertained by Betty, by Mrs. Frederic Fernell! Betty
adores that sort of thing and why shouldn’t we do it?”

“We’ll have to, I guess,” said Nancy dryly, “so just come along and
prepare Margot.”

It was amazing how everyone joined in preparing for those children.

“It’s so much better fun than just having an ordinary party,” Rosa
remarked, as she and Nancy folded the paper napkins, “because in doing
this we are doing something worth while, and just a party is–only a
party,” she deduced in her own naive way.

“Yes,” added Nancy, “this is more than a party; it’s a picnic. And
isn’t Margot lovely about it?”

“She’s going to have the best fun of any of us, for Margot loves
children, especially strange children,” Rosa said, slyly.

“If only we could get Orilla to come,” Nancy continued, “but her mother
was away all night and when she reached home this morning Orilla had
gone out. I didn’t have a chance to tell you that, Rosa,” said her
cousin. “You were so busy with the baker boy when I got back.”

“Oh, I knew you wouldn’t locate Orilla. It takes more than a little
hunting to do that. She flits around like a squirrel,” replied Rosa.
“But I’m not worrying about her. We have enough on our own hands now,”
and she proceeded to count and classify the paper plates.

“But she promised to come and she did seem so dreadfully upset last
night,” Nancy insisted upon saying. “I’m glad our party will be over
early this afternoon. Directly after they leave we must go tell Orilla
about the room. I can hardly wait, can you?”

“That was a great idea of yours, Nancy, and so simple. If we had waited
to ask Betty and Dad as I thought of doing it would have been ages
before we got our answer. But you asked Margot–”

“Margot is in charge here. There always has to be someone in charge of
every place.”

“So simple when you think; but I don’t always think,” laughed Rosa.
“Won’t Orilla be tickled? And why on earth shouldn’t she use that old
room since it means so much to her?”

“If you’ll behave, Rosa,” Nancy ventured. “You are not like Orilla, you
know; _you_ have everything.”

“But sense, and you’ve got the family supply of that.”

“Now don’t go offending me,” warned Nancy. They had little time for
this conversation and it was being pretty well mixed up with paper
plates and napkins. “You know how unpopular a smart girl is, Rosa,”
and Nancy dropped her big dark eyes with something like a suspicious
blinking.

“Ye-ah, all right, you’re a dumb-bell, if you like that better, but I
don’t know what I’m saying. I can’t think of a thing but children. What
do you suppose they’ll do and say? Think they ever saw a mountain house
before?”

“Why, Rosa? How absurd. They’re just like any other children, only not
so well off. Maybe they’ll know more about mountain houses than we
do,” said Nancy, indignantly.

“That’s so. Maybe they go on excursions every week,” contributed Rosa.
They were ready now to wash up and go to meet the train.

“It isn’t likely they go often, because there’s such a lot of them to
pass the trips around to,” Nancy reasoned out.

“Gosh!” ejaculated Rosa. “How you can think!”

“But please don’t call me smart, remember how I hate that,” again came
the warning.

“Don’t blame you. Smart girls are a pest and, as you say, unpopular,”
replied Rosa. “That’s one blessing in _my_ favor. But don’t let’s fight
about it,” concluded Rosa. “Hurry along. We’ve got to get three cars,
you know.”

The two girls were wearing their simplest frocks, out of consideration
for the coming visitors, but Nancy in her candy-stripe with the red
bindings and red belt, and Rosa in her blue chambray, to match her
eyes, looked pretty enough and well dressed enough for any picnic.

The bustle and excitement into which Fernlode had been thrown by the
girls’ sudden resolve, to take over what should have been Orilla’s
party, was little short of that which goes to make up “a swell affair,”
as Thomas the butler expressed it, when he insisted upon using the
tea carts on the lawn. He knew, he pointed out, how the Fernells did
things, and that was the way they were going to be done this time.

Margot claimed that she also knew something of the Fernlode prestige,
so she insisted upon a number of things, among them being favors for
each guest. These were substantial, as she said, being a half dozen
handkerchiefs in a pretty pictured box for each of the twelve children
to be entertained.

“And if there’s more girls than boys I suppose you and I, Nancy,
will have to chip in our best hankies to make up the right kind,”
cryptically stated Rosa. To which suggestion Nancy merely groaned.

Altogether “the help” as well as the hostesses were enjoying the
preparations, and now the girls were racing off to meet the train.

There came, first, the Fernell big open touring car, which Chet the
chauffeur drove, then the town car with the three seats which Gar
drove, and Dell Durand drove their own touring car, so that provided
plenty of room, surely. Two cars would have been ample, but Rosa was
afraid “an extra batch” might come, and it would have been dreadful not
to have had room enough.

It was really queer to be expecting strangers and not even to know what
they would look like, but when the train pulled in, and the conductor
began handing children down from the cars, both Rosa and Nancy were too
excited to care what they looked like.

Both girls, with Dell, pushed their way to the platform and claimed as
many of the youngsters as could be lined up before them.

“I’m Miss Geary,” announced the pleasant, stately, middle-aged woman
who was in charge of the outing, “and I suppose,” she said to Dell,
“you are Miss Rigney.”

“Miss Rigney is ill,” Dell quickly replied, “but this is Rosalind
Fernell and this is Nancy Brandon, both of Fernlode. I’m their neighbor
and chaperon,” Dell continued in her easy social way. “We’ll all do
what we can to give you a happy time,” she promised brightly.

There was no need for further formalities, and if there had been the
girls would have just as completely overlooked the need, for Nancy was
trailing off with a quartette of the children, two girls and two boys,
while Rosa piloted three girls and one boy. Dell was made custodian
of a pair of the “darlingest twinnies,” two little girls in blue, and
there were also with the party three older girls who assisted Miss
Geary.

To attempt to describe a children’s picnic would be as futile an
undertaking as trying to describe childhood itself, for every moment
and each hour something so new and novel developed, in the way of fun
and good times, that even a picture of a period in the merry-making
failed to record its actual happy spirit.

“And imagine!” babbled Rosa, while she spilled a whole dish of ice
cream by allowing it to slip smoothly off the paper plate, “just
imagine a photographer making a picture to be published! Did you
notice, Nancy,” and she placed a neat pile of dry leaves over the
crest-fallen ice cream, “how I looked? Did I look–thin?”

“You looked so happy surrounded by your flock,” Nancy assured her,
“that weight couldn’t count. There, call that curly-head. She hasn’t
had a balloon of her own yet and she’s exploded a half dozen of them.
Give her one, Rosa, and tell her–_that’s all!_”

They were picnicking and frolicking around stately old Fernlode, and
the sight was such a pleasant one that numbers of cars were drawn up,
while their occupants witnessed the festivities.

“All our neighbors!” exclaimed Nancy. “There’s the Pickerings. Let
Thomas bring them cream–”

“And they’ll tell Betty! There’s the Gormans! Oh, Nancy, why don’t we
have a big folks party, too?” proposed the over-joyed Rosa.

“No, we couldn’t. That would spoil this,” Nancy pointed out, having a
mind to correct standards. “We must do all we can to have this go off
well, and that–”

“Will be plenty,” agreed Rosa, steering her tea cart of “empties” (the
glasses, cups and real dishes) along the driveway toward the house.

Miss Geary and Dell found each other mutually attractive, their taste
for work among children being alike, so that they not only took care of
the little ones but had an exceptionally fine time doing so.

“Just look at Margot’s face. She hasn’t room for all the smiles,” Nancy
took time to say to Rosa. She was on the lemonade staff and Thomas, the
butler, had made the drink pink, “just to make the young ones think
of a circus,” he explained. That may have accounted for the rush at
Nancy’s booth, a kitchen table draped with the ends of the vines that
formed a canopy above.

At the moment Margot was trying to carry a huge plate of chocolate cake
in one hand, and with the other help little Michael, age five, to
navigate toward Nancy’s lemonade stand. He had a lollypop in each of
his hands, so the leadership was rather difficult to carry out.

How they romped, shouted, sang, cheered and even choked! For the bounty
provided this day’s outing was plentiful to the point of extravagance.

“Why can’t we take them on the lake?” pleaded Rosa again, that offer
having been politely refused by Miss Geary a short time before.

“Too risky!” replied Nancy. “But look down at the landing! There are
the twinnies all alone!”

“And they’re too near the edge,” joined in Rosa. “I thought those big
girls were watching them. Let’s run! They’ll topple over–”

But Nancy and Rosa were on their way. The twinnies were in danger and
the lake was deep at that point. Innocently the little tots, hand in
hand, gazed upon the dazzling water. They seemed fascinated, watching
something.

“A flish! A flish!” shrilled little Molly, the fairest of the fair
twins.

Then her sister Mattie leaned over– Norfloxacin

“Oh!” screamed Nancy. “She’s in!”

“It’s deep,” Rosa warned, seeing Nancy toss off her sweater. But the
next moment Nancy jumped into the water and before anyone knew that
little Mattie had fallen in, she was promptly fished out! Wet and
somewhat scared, the child clung to her rescuer, who easily brought her
to shore. It was no trouble at all for Nancy.

“Oh, there’s the photographer!” joyfully called out Rosa, and then–

Nancy had to have her picture taken, standing on the end of the
landing, with her dripping little friend in her arms. The photographer
would call it, he said, “a prompt rescue.”

This brought the entire picnic down to the water’s edge, and the usual
accident had presently been successfully disposed of. There were other
incidents, many of them, but they did not prevent the day from drawing
to a close. Shadows hovered threateningly near when Margot and Thomas
passed around the favors, those pretty handkerchiefs, and the ride back
to the station was soon marked as the final treat.

Nancy had changed into a fresh outfit and little Mattie was made happy
in the smallest dress that could be borrowed in the neighborhood,
prettier than the one she wore before the wetting, which made up for
everything to Mattie.

It had been wonderful, that day in all the summer for the Fernlode
folks, but Rosa and Nancy had not forgotten Orilla.

“We can go directly from the train to her mother’s,” Nancy proposed,
as they neared the station. “I have a feeling that something is really
wrong with Orilla.”

“Because she was sick last night?” Rosa asked. They were presently
piling the children in the cars and had little chance to talk.

“That and–you know she said she would be here to-day if she were
able,” Nancy made opportunity to answer. “And I know she meant to keep
her word.”

Continue Reading

ENTANGLEMENTS

A week passed and still Nancy guarded the bag, but in that time had
neither seen Orilla nor heard from her. The girl’s promise to meet
her at the lakeside, on the evening following that upon which she had
imposed the trust upon Nancy, had not been kept. Nancy waited until
dark, and even a little later than she felt comfortable, out there
alone away from everyone, and at a considerable distance from the
house; but Orilla did not come.

Nancy imagined many reasons for her failure to appear. Perhaps she
had feared detection, as she had the person she suspected of being
after her money. Or perhaps her mother was keeping watch. Mrs. Rigney
had been around Fernlode almost daily in the past week, and more than
once Nancy heard her talking to Margot, as if she were in distress.
Orilla’s name was mentioned often, but Nancy knew nothing more than
that.

Finally, it was Rosa who broke the spell. She burst in upon Nancy one
morning before breakfast.

“Nancy!” she exclaimed, “I’m just worried to death about Orilla.
There’s a reason why, but I just can’t explain, if you don’t mind.
You’ve been such a dear, I perfectly hate to go at things this way
again,” and Rosa’s face bore out that statement. “But if you’ll only
trust me this once more–”

“Of course I trust you, Rosa–”

“I knew you would. Then don’t worry about me this morning. I’ve just
got to go off and find her–”

“I’ll go with you.”

“If you don’t mind, dear, I’d rather go alone.”

“But I want to go, Rosa. I’m interested in finding her. In fact, I’ve
got a reason–”

“Really! Are we both having secrets about Orilla? That would be
funny if we weren’t so worried, wouldn’t it? But, Nancy, please let
_me_ find her and then I’ll tell _you_ where she is. I hate to seem
secretive but–well, I just have to this time.”

Nancy was baffled. Rosa was so positive in wanting to go off alone.
And she, Nancy, was just as anxious to get in touch with Orilla. Why
shouldn’t they both go together?

“Rosa,” she began again, “I’d love to tell you my secret, but you see I
promised Orilla–”

“So did I,” interrupted Rosa, smiling in spite of herself. “And, _you_
see, if we both went she would believe we both told.”

This sounded reasonable and Nancy hesitated. Rosa saw her chance and
pressed it further.

“I’ll come back as quickly as I can,” she promised, “and then you can
go talk to her.”

“But you haven’t had breakfast–”

“Yes, I have. I couldn’t rest. I got to fussing and I went downstairs
before even Margot was around. Don’t worry about me, Nancy love,”
begged Rosa, pressing her cousin’s hand impulsively. “I’ll take good
care of myself this time, and I promise not to cut down a single tree.”

“But you are not going on the lake alone?”

“No; a friend is going to take me in her motor boat.”

“Not Dell, nor Gar?”

“No. But someone just as trustworthy. You know Katherine Walters you
met last week at Durand’s? She’s a regular old sea captain on the lake,
and runs a boat like one.”

“I saw her out the other day, in a big green launch–”

“The Cucumber. That’s her boat and that’s the one we’re going in.”

“Who else is going?” asked Nancy. “Why couldn’t I sit in the boat with
Katherine–”

“If Orilla saw _you_ along she would never believe me,” persisted Rosa,
a little disconsolately.

“Don’t you think we are humoring her an awful lot, Rosa?” Nancy asked
in a strained voice; she too was bothered.

“Well, I suppose _I_ am; not you. But just this once. You see, Nancy,
Orilla hasn’t much in life and she expected such a lot.”

“You’re good to her, Rosa, perhaps too good. But I hope you’re not
making another mistake; you know how she influences you.”

“She couldn’t now, Coz. I’m not in need of her services. You see, my
doctor is a resident. I have her with me all the time,” and again she
flung her arms affectionately around Nancy.

There seemed nothing to do but agree, so after many admonitions from
Nancy and promises from Rosa, the latter started off. She had arranged
things with Margot so as to allay her suspicions, and when Rosa waved
to Nancy from the green launch, called the Cucumber, Nancy sighed in
spite of the beautiful morning and all other favorable circumstances.

Hours dragged by slowly. First Nancy wrote letters–it would soon be
time for homecomings–then she drew a pen and ink sketch for Ted. She
even finished the little handkerchief she was hemstitching for Manny,
but yet there remained a full half hour before lunch time. And no sign
of Rosa!

It might have been that Nancy had not yet gotten over that anxious
search for Rosa, when she and the Durands finally found her on Mushroom
Island, at any rate, all that morning Nancy worried.

Lunch time came but Rosa did not. One, two, three o’clock! Nancy could
stand it no longer. She made some excuse to Margot and hurried over to
Durand’s.

It happened that Paul was there, and, of course, Gar was with him; but
Dell had gone out.

“Look for Rosa!” shouted Gar, just as she knew he would when she told
why she had come. “Say, Nance, what is this, anyway? A bureau of
missing persons?”

She explained without fully explaining, and the boys gladly enough set
sail in the Whitecap, once more to search for the illusive Rosa.

“But no wood carving, wood chopping, nor wood lugging,” declared Gar,
gayly. Then he told Paul about his previous experience in that line,
embellishing the story with extravagant little touches peculiar to the
style of Garfield Durand.

Paul and Nancy, as usual, found many things to talk about, to discuss
and even to disagree over, for Paul proclaimed the beauties of New
Hampshire while Nancy held with unswerving loyalty to the glories of
Massachusetts.

But her anxiety over the delay of Rosa’s return was not even thinly
covered by these assumed interests, and only Gar’s continual threats to
do something dreadful to the runaway “this time sure” and his repeated
avowals that he positively, absolutely and unquestionably would not
“dig up the woods nor chop down trees in this search,” kept Nancy’s
real worry from being mentioned.

“We don’t have to go on the islands to look for the Cucumber,” Gar
insisted. “The girls couldn’t hide that boat if they tried. It’s so
green you can hear it, to say nothing of the noise that engine makes.”

“Oh, no, we don’t have to go inland at all,” Nancy agreed with
elaborate indifference. “I just wanted to look around and hurry Rosa
along. She has a way of staying over, if it’s only to gather weeds.
Rosa doesn’t seem to worry, ever, about keeping her appointments, but
I didn’t want Margot to spoil any of our fun, just because Rosa stayed
out all day, you see,” finished Nancy, quite confused from the length
of her speech and its utter improbability.

“Let’s skirt around these islands,” proposed Paul, “and if we
don’t spy the Cuke we better try over at the Point. They may be
picnicking. Katherine loves the lollypops they sell at the
Point–I know.”

“All right,” agreed, Gar, “but after that I’ve got to get back.
Promised to drive down for Dell, you know, and _she_ isn’t walking off
fat.”

They skirted the islands but did not discover the long green boat at
any landing or out upon the lake. Then they proceeded to navigate
in the direction of the Point. Here they encountered many boats of
many descriptions, for the Point was not only a pretty point of land
extending out into the water, but it was also a point of recreation
and general interest for summer folk for miles around.

“Not here,” reported Paul, for there was no sign of the girls, and the
boat was nowhere to be seen. “Better go back home. They could have gone
in through the cove, you know.”

“Of course they could, and I’ll bet they have,” declared Gar. “Well,
we had a fine sail, anyway. Hope _you_ enjoyed it, Miss Brandon?” he
finished in assumed formality.

“Very much,” simpered Nancy imitating Gar’s affectation. “I had been
rather dull all day, but _this_–” she swept the lake with a broad
gesture–“this is glorious.”

“Joking aside,” said Paul, “are you having any fun, Nancy? That cousin
of yours is as hard to manage as a young colt, I’d say.”

“Oh, no, she isn’t, really,” replied Nancy. “We have wonderful times
now, much better than we did at first when we didn’t understand each
other.”

“And you claim to understand Rosa now?” asked Gar, swerving his boat
into the small cove that lay beside his own summer home and Fernlode.

“Well, yes, I think I do,” spoke up Nancy. “But then, Rosa’s my own
cousin and that makes it easier.”

“Maybe that’s it,” retorted Gar, “because I’m not so dreadfully stupid,
I hope, yet I can’t understand her a-tall.”

“Now look!” cried Paul suddenly, standing up and pointing to Fernlode.
“There they are! What did I tell you!”

“That,” replied Gar, crisply, slowing down his engine.

“Oh, I’m so glad,” breathed Nancy, in her joy betraying how anxious she
had been. “But the boat is going off!”

“Yes, but your dear little Rosalind is all right, standing there all by
her little self. See her?” said Gar, as usual teasing about Rosa.

It took but a few moments to pull up to the long landing, but the
Cucumber had already steamed off and, as Gar had said, Rosa stood
there, waiting alone.

One look at her cousin’s face and Nancy knew she had been disappointed.
She had not found Orilla.

Nancy found Rosa, as she suspected, disappointed and even worried.

“It was the strangest thing,” Rosa explained, “every time we thought we
had found Orilla she just seemed to disappear. Of course she didn’t,
but on the lake there are so many turns, and ins and outs and, being in
the boat, we stayed on the water. I suppose Orilla was on land,” she
finished sullenly.

“Why was it so important for you to see her to-day?” Nancy asked,
innocently enough.

“I had a message for her, and that should have reached her to-day,”
replied Rosa. But she did not go into details and Nancy felt that she
could not question further. However, she did try to reassure Nancy that
Orilla would probably be around before nightfall.

“I hope so,” Rosa said, “if not, I simply don’t know what I shall do.
I went to all her woodland haunts that _I_ know of, and land knows
she’s got enough of them, but there wasn’t even a trace to show that
human footprints had been over the ground lately. Oh, dear, isn’t it
awful to be a crank? Orilla is just a crank, and I tell you I’m about
sick of her ways,” Rosa pouted. “But I have to get some of the loose
ends tied up before I can wash my hands of it, as Margot would say.”

“And there she is,” Nancy reminded Rosa, for at that moment Margot was
coming down the path at a brisk rate.

“On the war path,” Rosa remarked. “I’ve got to surprise her with some
news. Let me see! Oh, I’ll tell her about a big sale of linens down
at Daws,” and forthwith Rosa rushed up the path to proclaim the glad
tidings to the unsuspecting Margot–or the Margot who was pretending to
be unsuspecting.

From that moment until after dinner and until almost nightfall, the
cousins had not a moment to themselves, for company came, and Rosa
had to entertain. Nancy also helped out, the visitors being most
interested in her simple reports from the neighboring state. When they
were leaving (they were the Drydens from the Weirs and were staying at
a hotel in Craggy Bluff) Rosa drove in town with them to bring some
mail to the post office, but Nancy declined to go. Rosa was to meet
Dell Durand and drive back with her, and as Dell had talked to Nancy on
the phone and assured her she would be back before dark (all this in
coaxing Nancy to go), there seemed no danger of delay for Rosa.

When they had all gone Nancy felt herself free at last to take her
favorite stroll along the lake front. The sunset was glorious; golds,
purples, greens and ashes of roses, in hues too brilliant to be so
tersely described. Is there anything which can beggar description as
can a sunset on that great, majestic lake! Words cannot tell of it, no
more than the mist can veil it.

“It looks as if heaven were leaking joy,” thought Nancy, as she watched
the descending beauty.

Thinking of her mother, of Ted and of dear Manny, as she did every
evening, this being a part of her filial love and devotion, Nancy gazed
and wondered, until suddenly a step near her startled her from her
reverie.

It was Orilla!

“Oh!” exclaimed Nancy. “I didn’t see you coming–”

“No, one can’t. I have so many secret little paths around here,” spoke
Orilla, and Nancy noticed that her voice was very low, subdued, and her
words rather well chosen.

“But I’m so glad you came,” Nancy hurried to add. “We’ve been looking
everywhere for you, all day.”

“I’ve been away, to the city, and I’m so tired!” With a sigh she sank
down upon the lake-side bench. “I believe I would die if I had to live
in a city,” she murmured.

“It is dreadfully stuffy after air like this,” agreed Nancy. “But you
are not sick, are you, Orilla?” she asked anxiously, for Orilla did
seem very unlike herself.

“No, I guess not. I have an awful headache but–don’t let us talk
about sickness,” Orilla broke off suddenly. “I have something more
important to talk of to-night.”

“First, Orilla,” interrupted Nancy, “won’t you please let me give you
your little bag? It has worried me–”

“If you’ll only keep it a few more days, Nancy–”

“But why? Shouldn’t your mother take care of it for you?” questioned
Nancy. She had been determined to get rid of the treasure and this was
her chance.

“Mother?” Orilla’s voice showed disapproval of that idea, most
emphatically. “No, mother is good and has given me much freedom, but
she doesn’t quite understand me, you see, Nancy,” finished the girl
with one more of those weary, heavy sighs.

Before Nancy could speak again Orilla had risen and was leading the way
to the other end of the spacious grounds.

“Come this way,” she said. “We won’t meet anybody and I must not delay
too long.”

“But Rosa may be along–”

“Let me tell you alone, Nancy, please,” pleaded Orilla. “Then you may
tell Rosa if you want to. I’m tired of secrets, tired of being hated
and tired of fighting. Until you showed some friendliness for me, I
haven’t ever remembered kindness except from mother, and, well, just a
few others,” finished Orilla, evasively.

She was hurrying toward the rear of the big house and Nancy was
following. The path she picked out was quite new to Nancy, who thought
she had discovered every little nook and corner of the big summer
place, but this was a mere strip of clearance, tunneled in under heavy
wild grape vines that grew clamorously over high and low shrubbery, and
even climbed into the biggest wild cherry tree.

Neither girl spoke for some minutes. Then Orilla asked Nancy if she
liked Fernlode.

“Why, yes,” Nancy replied, “I love it.”

“So do I,” declared Orilla sharply, “and you know they–put me out!”

“Oh, no, Orilla, they didn’t do that,” Nancy hurried to correct her.
“When Uncle Frederic married–”

“I know all that, Nancy, but don’t let’s talk of it. It makes me
furious, even now. Don’t talk any more–some one might hear us. Just
come quietly after me,” she whispered.

Where could she be leading her, Nancy wondered? Surely this was the end
of the house just back of the servant’s dining room–

Orilla stepped up to the corner of the building, and then Nancy saw
that they faced a small door. It was situated at the extreme end of the
first floor and almost hidden in heavy shrubbery. While Nancy waited,
Orilla surprised her still further by taking a key from her dress and
turning it in the lock.

The door opened!

“Orilla!”

“Hush! Just keep close,” whispered the girl. “It is only dark at the
entrance.”

By keeping close Nancy soon found herself in a quarter of Fernlode she
had never before explored. She knew that it must be the servants’
quarters, and before she could speculate further, Orilla had unlocked
another door and they both found themselves in a pleasant little room!

“This is–my–room!”

Nancy could scarcely breathe, she was so frightened at the tone in
which Orilla said that.

Her room!

“You see, these are all my things, and I come here whenever I get a
chance,” Orilla confessed. “No one ever thinks of looking in here, and
I never take anything away. I wouldn’t do that, you know,” she said
very positively, as if fearing Nancy’s opinion.

“Your–room!” Nancy was too surprised to get past that unbelievable
statement.

“Yes; and no one else cares for it or needs it.” Orilla was
straightening around the brown reed chairs and patting the small table
cover, and as she touched a thing, her affectionate interest in it was
plain even to Nancy’s excited gaze.

“Doesn’t Rosa know?” Nancy asked finally.

“No. Rosa has been away a lot, you know, and besides, the Fernells
only come here in summer. I was born in these mountains, and as a
child mother brought me here. She’s a nurse, you know, and a wonderful
mother.” Orilla sat down and pointed out a chair to Nancy, which the
latter gratefully accepted.

Nancy knew little about Mrs. Rigney, but she guessed now that probably
her love for Orilla had led her into the mistake of allowing her
daughter to grow up believing Fernlode to be her own home.

As if divining Nancy’s thoughts, Orilla said almost that very thing.

“Mother was devoted to the real Mrs. Fernell,” she said, thereby
disputing Lady Betty’s later claim, “and Mrs. Fernell was lovely to me.
While Rosa was away at school I played around here as–well–you can
imagine how I felt to be put out of _this_ room!” she again challenged.

In vain did Nancy try to explain the situation, defending Lady Betty’s
purpose in keeping no one but servants on Fernlode, but Orilla would
not be convinced of its justice. Suddenly she threw herself upon the
bed with such secret enjoyment, that Nancy knew the girl’s mind had
become morbid on the subject of ownership.

As so often happens with those who are physically delicate, her
reasoning also was at fault. She imagined she had been unjustly
treated, whereas nothing of the sort had happened. Mr. Fernell had been
generous to the point of bounty in educating Orilla and in giving a sum
of money to the mother. This had all been done because of Mrs. Rigney’s
devotion to Nancy’s Aunt Katherine, the first Mrs. Fernell, and Nancy
knew the story well.

“Yes,” Orilla began again, “it was not mother’s fault. And she has
tried to make me see things her way; but I can’t. I’ve always been a
wild mountain girl and all that I’ve loved has been here. You don’t
think I did wrong to come back here once in a while, do you?” she asked
plaintively.

Nancy gazed silently at the girl upon the bed. Her hair, always so
fiery red, did not look quite so peculiar on that pillow–Orilla’s
own pillow, that she had so long loved. The room was musty and needed
a thorough airing, but Nancy noticed a small casement window opened
slightly–this was, she reasoned, Orilla’s way of secretly ventilating
the room.

“I don’t see what could be very wrong about your coming here,” Nancy
finally answered Orilla’s question. “But why didn’t you ask?”

“Ask? After being turned away?”

“You were not turned away, Orilla, and that’s a foolish thing to say.
Uncle Frederic simply changed his plans and there was no need of a
nurse here,” stoutly and emphatically proclaimed Nancy.

“And they didn’t like me to be with Rosa–”

“Now, Orilla, you can’t deny you were not a suitable companion for
Rosa, because you could make her do anything. You are older, and you
worked on her sympathies,” Nancy felt obliged to point out.

“I’ll admit that now, Nancy, to you, but it didn’t seem that way
before. I never told anyone, not even mother, how I felt, and it just
all piled up inside of me until I imagined myself like a volcano,
always ready to–erupt.”

This was the first time that Nancy had noticed any depth to Orilla’s
character, and she had continually wondered where the educational
influences, said to have been provided by her uncle, had been hidden in
the girl’s personality. But the confession of her morbid, morose state
of mind was plainly the answer. She had fought down culture, choosing
to be simply a wild girl of the mountains.

“My mother always insists upon us talking things out,” said Nancy
quietly. “It’s so much better to share our worries–”

“I know that now. I feel like a different girl, just from talking to
you, and you’re only a kid,” said Orilla, again betraying her disregard
of polite English. “I’m through with secrets, Nancy,” she continued,
jumping up suddenly from the bed, with evident nervousness. “One secret
leads to another until I am fairly smothered in them. Now, this one is
not so heavy, but there–are–more.”

Continue Reading

QUEER CONFIDENCE

When the excitement died down, and Nancy found an opportunity to “look
Rosa over,” as she expressed her scrutiny of the cousin’s physical
condition, she found so many cuts, scratches, bruises and other marks
of violence, that she really wanted to call Margot in to attend to
their cleansing and bandaging.

“I tell you, Nance, they’re all right,” insisted Rosa rather
petulantly. “I don’t poison easily and those are all scratches from the
trees and bushes.”

“But just see that long cut on the side of your leg–”

“A wire, I guess it was a barbed wire–”

“That’s always dangerous,” interrupted Nancy. “The rust is one of the
worst things. Rosa, how could you be so silly?” Nancy’s patience was
by no means abundant. She hated to see Rosa’s skin torn that way;
besides, she realized the danger of it.

“Nancy Brandon!” called out the cousin in a determined voice, “you
have no idea what I went through. Orilla acted like a lunatic and I
was honestly afraid of her. She seems quite fond of you–” there was
sarcasm in this–“that is, she spoke of you as if you and she were
pals. Just another one of her oddities, of course, so I let it go that
way.”

Here was Nancy’s chance to tell Rosa why the girl considered her
friendly. But the hot flush in her cheeks warned her. Besides, there
was in Nancy’s mind a new thought. It came when Orilla had smiled at
her in the woods. Perhaps Nancy could help Orilla!

So the moment passed and the cousins continued to bathe and bind the
scratches. Rosa’s hands were cruelly torn and, as the girls talked,
Rosa gave Nancy an inkling of the whole absurd plot.

“I never expected she would ask me to chop down trees, of course,”
explained Rosa. “She had always insisted that what I needed was hard
work. She made fun of me for being soft, and I suppose that made me
mad. At any rate, she promised that I would lose five pounds a week if
I faithfully followed her advice.”

“Five pounds a week?” repeated Nancy, incredulously.

“Yes. And you see, if I lost twenty pounds in the month the folks are
in Europe I would be quite–quite slender when they came back,” and she
smiled so prettily that Nancy wondered Why she wanted to spoil those
dimples with trimming off their scallops.

“And she was going to do all that–with violent exercise?” Nancy
questioned in amazement.

“That and–starvation.” Rosa uttered the last word tragically. “I
didn’t promise to starve but–now, Coz, haven’t I been humble enough?
You don’t want to hear any more of the horrible details, do you?”

“Well, I’d like to know,” continued Nancy cautiously, “why she wanted
the trees cut down? What was she going to do with them?”

“That’s just what I wanted to know, too,” Rosa said in reply. “I knew
for a long time that she had some secret scheme; you know the night
I hurt my foot we saw that she had a hatchet in her car, but she has
never told me what the real plan was. I’ve known Orilla since I was
a baby, and I suppose I’m used to her ways, but I must say she is
secretive. And sly! I couldn’t find out the least thing, ever, that she
didn’t want me to know.”

“Yes, I think she is like that,” agreed Nancy, thereby dismissing for
a time at least the mystery of the plot. “But what we have got to do
now is to fix up her damages. Rosa, I do wish you would let Margot see
that big scratch. I’m no good at nursing and I don’t want to take the
responsibility–”

“I’ll be as beautiful as ever in a day or two–see if I don’t,”
replied Rosa, making desperate efforts not to wince as she poured the
disinfectant over her hands.

“But when Margot smells this drug store she’ll surely suspect,”
intimated Nancy, for, as she said, the disinfectants had made havoc
with the atmosphere of Rosa’s little dressing room, that adjoined her
bath.

“I’m always getting cuts on my hands,” replied Rosa. “All I have to do
is to hide the rest of me. Margot is pretty busy now, you know. If she
hadn’t been she would have heard old Pixley’s story. Can’t that woman
talk though?”

Nancy agreed that she could, and that led to further discussion of
Mrs. Pixley, Orilla, Mrs. Rigney and some other folks that Nancy had
recently become acquainted with.

This was to have been the evening of the dance at Sunset Hotel, but
there was now no possibility of the girls attending it. Not only did
Rosa’s battered condition make it impossible, but a heavy summer
storm had descended upon the mountains, and showed no indications of
subsiding.

Rain, wind, thunder, lightning! The girls watched the great spectacle
from a west window, and at times it seemed as if the heavens were
splitting asunder. The lightning flashed in a solid sea of fire behind
one great mountain, and this looked indeed as if the sky were rent and
another world was breaking through.

Somehow the storm seemed a fitting finish for the turbulent day that
Nancy and Rosa had just passed through, and as they watched the display
in the heavens they worried about Orilla. Was she safely under shelter?
Why did not her mother prevent her foolish work? And, Nancy secretly
wondered, what had that little flash of light meant which she had seen
flame up suddenly and then die out?

For days following this there was no sign of Orilla nor did any word
from her come to Fernlode. But this was in no way unusual, rather was
it regarded as a good thing for Rosa and Nancy.

Mrs. Rigney came around occasionally, Nancy noticed, and she was
surprised to find her a woman of intelligence. She appeared to be on
the best of terms with Margot and the other servants at Fernlode, and
this seemed to be cause for greater wonderment that Orilla should be
so antagonistic.

Rosa recovered quickly, as she had promised to, and she also
“reformed.” That is, she no longer kept secret trysts with the
“fat-killer,” as she now called Orilla, although Nancy knew that
letters, messages, and even bundles addressed to Orilla went out very
privately from Rosa’s room.

The arrival of a lovely white scales for Rosa’s bath room came as a
surprise one day, but a letter from Lady Betty presently explained it.

Rosa was to take long walks with Nancy, as she had promised to do; she
was also to follow some sensible advice in the matter of diet, and just
to keep up her courage she was to watch the scales!

This plan, which was really the fulfillment of Nancy’s written
suggestion to Lady Betty, brought the dove of peace to Fernlode, in so
far as Rosa’s conduct was concerned. For in the first week of her trial
of it she actually lost three and one half pounds.

“And no barked paws nor skinned shins,” she gayly announced to
everyone, including, of course, the Durands.

“I can’t see why you didn’t know that insistent exercise and cut-down
rations was the real cure,” argued Nancy, reasonably enough. “Even at
grammar school, and in the lower grades, babes, fat dimply little ones,
are walking miles to school and turning their backs on lollipops.”

“But I hate to walk and I love lollipops,” explained the shameless Rosa.

“And you loved the excitement of a woodland mystery?”

“Yes; I could just see myself in a movie cutting down trees and falling
away into skeleton lines. It was romantic now, Nance, wasn’t it,
really?”

“Very. Especially when we brought you back on a tray. All carved up
like a tatooed injun–”

They yelled at this, and Nancy was so relieved at Rosa’s change of
disposition that she, Nancy, began to get fat! Just as Lady Betty had
hoped!

Everything was so happy and cheerful; Rosa’s friends came almost every
afternoon and evening, numbers of them, girls and boys, and at last the
summer had opened up into a real vacation for Nancy.

They finally went to a dance at Sunset Hotel, and Rosa wore the blue
cape. It was a perfect evening and everyone was so happy that even
the sight of the cape upon Rosa’s shoulders failed to bring regret to
Nancy. Four car loads of young folks from their summer homes paraded
down the hillside road at nine o’clock. It seemed late to Nancy, but
she knew better than to say so.

“The hotel children have the ball-room from eight until nine,” Dell had
explained, “then the young folks swarm in. Don’t worry about being too
young, Nancy. You look like a young lady in that stunning rig.”

The “rig” was stunning, even Nancy conceded that, for it was a
flame-colored chiffon robe that fell down straight from her shoulders,
sleeveless, and with the fashionable high neck. Her dark hair set
the flame color off beautifully, as did the glints of her dark eyes,
and she really did look lovely. This costume was one of Lady Betty’s
presents.

Whether a girl was fourteen or nineteen no one could tell, for the
bobbed heads were so much alike and so ineffably youthful, everyone
looked very young indeed.

The hotel was fascinating to Nancy; its great posts and pillars flanked
with baskets of growing vines, the spectacular lights set all over the
ceilings, and the music!

It was a scene of gaiety such as Nancy had never before witnessed, and
when Gar had danced with her and had then taken her out to the great
porch to see the lake illuminations, Nancy Brandon felt like a girl in
a dream. Summer life at a fashionable resort was to her like a page
from a book, or a scene in a play.

“But I’d die if I had to stay at a hotel,” Gar assured her as she
commented upon the grandeur. “It’s all right once in a while, but you
would hate this artificial living as a regular diet.”

Nancy agreed that she might, but she also expressed her interest in a
sample like this. Rosa had a wonderful time also, the best part of it
being the number of compliments she received.

“Wasn’t she getting thin!”

The dance ended early for the Durand party, as Dell was a practical
chaperon, and she insisted upon returning to the hills at a reasonable
hour. But the memory of that first night stayed in Nancy’s mind just as
she remembered her own little party in the Whatnot Shop last year.

Only Ted and her mother had been there to make that first one really
complete.

And Rosa was getting thin! In this simple, easy, pleasant way–just
long walks, daily. That meant rain or shine and “long” meant all the
way to the village, clear down to the post office, two miles each way.
At first Rosa objected; she found her feet untrained for such tramps,
but Nancy knew and insisted.

“Why not try _my_ cure?” she urged. “It’s not near as unpleasant as
Orilla’s.”

“Very well,” Rosa would sigh. “But you better tip off the scales. If
they don’t mark me low–”

“They will,” Nancy promised, and of course they always did.

Gar proposed tennis. Rosa had never before played–“good reason why,”
she explained, but now she was anxious to try the splendid summer game.

“You look wonderful in your sport suit, Rosa,” Nancy encouraged, “and
out on the courts–”

“All right. Anything once, but don’t expect me to fly up in the air
after the ball, the way you do, Nance. I’m still something of a paper
weight, you know.”

So tennis was tried, successfully.

“I know what was the matter with you, Rosa,” her cousin told her one
afternoon after an especially enjoyable set with Paul and Gar, “you
thought you were fat, and so you were self-conscious and miserable. Now
you think you aren’t very fat, and you’re proud.”

“I think I’m not! I am not, am I Nancy? Tell me quickly! End this
‘crool’ suspense–” and Rosa performed a wonderful stunt with tennis
racket and ball, actually “flying” off her feet in a really creditable
manner.

She was so happy! No one who has always been free from such an
insistent worry as Rosa’s had been, can actually understand the joy of
hope that a few pounds less flesh can bring. The hand of that little
white scale became a friend, an understanding friend, and every time
it pointed to a figure Rosa held her breath.

But this did not solve the mystery built around Orilla. Rosa herself
was as keenly interested in that as was Nancy, in spite of her rescue
from any actual need of it. Bit by bit she confided in Nancy details of
the queer bargain between her and Orilla. She had shared her allowance
with her, who insisted she had a right to some of it anyway, and that
she would not “make Rosa as thin as herself” if she didn’t pay well for
it.

“But what has she done with the money?” Nancy asked, after that
admission.

“Oh, I don’t know,” replied Rosa, innocently. “You see, she had some
big project in her mind and everything else she could get was supposed
to go toward it.”

One evening when Nancy was seeking a little solitude along the lake
front, there to read again her latest letter from her mother and the
latest “funny page” from Ted, she was startled by someone calling her
name in a hushed, whispering voice.

“Who is it?” she asked, although quite certain of whom it would prove
to be.

“I, Orilla,” came the answer, as the girl stepped from behind the
shrubbery into Nancy’s path.

“Oh, how you frightened me!” Nancy exclaimed. “I was so intent upon–my
own thoughts. How are you, Orilla? We haven’t seen or heard of you in
such a long time.”

“Oh, I’m all right,” replied the girl, who as usual wore the dingy suit
of khaki, and a boy’s soft hat upon her thick red hair. “I’m glad I met
you here. I want to ask a favor of you.”

“All right, Orilla,” said Nancy sincerely, “I shall be glad to help you
if I can.”

“I believe you. You’re different. Maybe it’s because you’re poor–”

Nancy smiled broadly at this, but Orilla did not appear to notice it.
She motioned to a rustic seat and they both sat down. Nancy was curious
and a little anxious, for Orilla, while assuming friendship, still
had that queer, furtive look in her eyes, and her face was surely
unnaturally flushed.

“Have you been working too hard, Orilla?” Nancy asked kindly. “You
aren’t strong and you shouldn’t–”

“I’m strong as an ox,” interrupted the girl. “That’s because I live out
doors. I was sick once, and since I cured myself no one has interfered
with my ways.”

This, thought Nancy, must be why Orilla’s mother allowed her to do as
she pleased. But even so, she surely might have saved her daughter from
wood chopping!

“Yes, I only go indoors at night–I steal in. No one knows where I go,”
this meant much to Orilla, evidently. “But you’re my friend and we both
have a secret, so that’s what I want to tell you.”

Nancy was so surprised she merely listened, not venturing to interrupt
with a single word. Orilla kept locking and unlocking her fingers in a
nervous way, and she fidgeted in her seat even more nervously.

As if the secret so long waited for was about to burst over Nancy’s
head, like a cloud before a storm, she waited.

“Yes, I know I can trust you,” Orilla continued after a pause. “You’re
what they call an idealist, aren’t you?”

“No, I don’t think I am,” faltered Nancy. “Why should I be?”

“Because you’re so square. I’ve read about girls like you. They always
want everything just right, no tricks nor sneaking. I knew that night
when you tried on that cape that you were doing something for Rosa.”

“Why? How did you know?”

“You looked it. When a girl is sneaking she doesn’t flare up and get
mad the way you did,” went on the surprising Orilla and Nancy knew
better than to prolong the discussion by any arguments. She merely
smiled and accepted the words as they were intended.

“And since then you’ve never told,” Orilla declared, her features drawn
and strained as she talked, and her eyes shifting. “You never told
Rosa, for if you had she would have told me. What she knows the world
knows,” said Orilla, scornfully.

“But Rosa has never said anything against you, Orilla,” spoke up Nancy.
“I’m sure you ought to give her credit for that.”

“There you go again. I told you you were an idealist. But that’s all
the better for me. I can trust you, too.”

This sounded like trickery to Nancy, and she said so.

“But you are lots older than I am and you ought to have lots more
sense,” she pointed out. “I don’t mind helping you, if it’s something
you can’t do yourself, but I must be loyal to my own family,” she
insisted, firmly.

“It won’t interfere with your family, don’t worry,” replied Orilla. “I
just want you to take care of some money for me. That’s not so hard to
do, is it?”

“Money!” Nancy remembered what Rosa had said about that. “Why can’t
_you_ take care of it?” she asked.

“Because I suspect that someone knows I’ve got it, and they’re after
it.” Orilla was very calm and composed now, and Nancy noticed how
quickly her moods changed. “It’s in this little bag,” Orilla continued,
showing to Nancy a square, brown bag made of khaki, just like her suit.
It was bulky and seemed to contain quite a lot of money–if it were all
money.

“Well, if you just want me to take it for a few days I don’t suppose
there is any harm in that,” reasoned Nancy. “But suppose someone stole
it from me?”

“No one would around here, that is, not up in your rooms,” replied
Orilla. “Please take it, Nancy. It means an awful lot to me,” and she
laid the bag on Nancy’s lap as she pleaded.

“All right. But don’t hold me responsible. I’ll do the best I can to
take care of it, of course,” Nancy assured her, “but if anything _does_
happen–”

“It won’t. Thank you for taking it, Nancy. Now I am free to–finish my
work,” and she stood up to leave.

“But, Orilla, you were going to tell me something else; your secret
place, wasn’t it?” Nancy felt now she should know more about Orilla’s
business if she were going to act as her secret treasurer.

“Oh, I can’t wait now, but meet me here to-morrow evening at this time,
and then I’ll tell you. Good-bye, I must go. Don’t mention having seen
me,” and just as she had done before, Orilla slipped away, back of the
bushes like a wild creature of the woods, indeed.

For a few minutes Nancy sat there, the brown bag lying in her lap, an
unwelcome treasure.

“How queer!” she was thinking. “And most of this was Rosa’s. But
Rosa gave it to her, so it really is Orilla’s now. Imagine my being
her–cashier!” and a little laugh escaped from Nancy’s lips.

The gentle splash of a canoe paddle told of Orilla’s departure, and
Nancy checked her thoughts to listen.

“She is certainly the oddest girl I have ever met,” she reflected. “But
I had no idea of becoming a chum of hers. What would Rosa say if she
knew?”

This was not a pleasant consideration, but somehow Nancy knew she
could serve even Rosa best by agreeing, partly, with Orilla, so her
misgivings were presently quieted.

Having the bag of money was certainly a tangible link between her and
Orilla, and already Nancy understood its significance.

“I’d love to tell Rosa,” she pondered, “but if I did Orilla would not
trust me further, and I know I must keep her confidence, for a while at
least. Just now Rosa is getting along so splendidly,” she told herself,
“and she’s so relieved from her worries, that it surely must be best to
keep her out of Orilla’s affairs.”

The little brown bag assumed almost a live form as Nancy clutched it.
How long had Orilla been saving all that money? Some of it was in
bills–that was easily felt through the cloth–and much of it was in
coin; the weight vouched for that.

However, it was all in Nancy’s keeping now, and she tucked it under her
scarf as she entered the house. Meeting Rosa in the hall, Nancy then
accepted the plan for an evening at Durand’s.

“Anything easy for to-night,” she replied to Rosa’s suggestion. “I
don’t feel a bit like thinking–hard.”

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