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Aces Up by Covington Clarke

Siddons accepted the delay in the same cool


This same boastful confidence was present among the pilots with whom McGee and Larkin were daily associated, but fortunately it was somewhat counterbalanced by the long-delayed orders sending the squadron to the front. April slipped away and May came. Still no orders. It was maddening! Yancey, Fouche, Hampden, Hank Porter, Rodd--in fact all members of the command, save Siddons, fretted and fumed and voiced their opinions of a stupid G.H.Q., that failed to appreciate just what a whale of a squadron this was.

Siddons accepted the delay in the same cool, indifferent manner with which he met all the vexations of the army. It was as water on a duck's back; he seemed not to care a hoot whether he ever engaged an enemy. Then in May, with alarming suddenness and force, the German Crown Prince began his great drive at Paris. His ears, it seemed, were yet intact, and those Americans who had so earnestly hoped to get them were soon to discover that the possessor thereof was all too safely ensconced behind an advancing horde of German infantrymen who were driving forward in a relentless, unhalting advance that struck terror to the very heart of war-weary France. In three days the enemy forces swept from the Aisne southward across the Vesle and the Ourcq. Their most advanced position came to rest on the Marne.

For the second time the German army was on the banks of the Marne. "Papa" Joffre

had hurled them back from this river in the first year of the war; now Marshal Foch must do as well--or France was doomed.

But Foch was handicapped. He had an army bled white by four years of dreadful warfare. The French soldiers, no less valiant than when the war began, found themselves too weak in numbers to stem the tide of an advance conducted by an ambition crazed Crown Prince determined to reach Paris regardless of the cost to him in human sacrifice.

Sullenly the French fell back, fighting like demons, contesting every inch of the way, but none the less retreating. In this hour of peril France turned her eyes upon the newly arrived and partially trained Americans, and in those eyes, now almost hopeless, was a look of mute, desperate appeal. It must be now or never!

All the roads leading back from the front were choked with refugees too weary, too heartbroken, too barren of hope to do anything but hurry their children before them and strain at their hand drawn, heavy carts piled high with the household belongings which they hoped to save. Old men, old women, the lame, the halt, the blind; dogs, cats, goats, with here and there a dogcart, all struggling to the rear. Many came empty-handed, facing they knew not what, and looking with pity upon the French troops who were moving forward to battle the enemy unto death.

"Ah," said the refugees, shrugging their shoulders, "_finis la guerre!_ These poor Poilus of ours, they cannot stop the Boche. They are too tired, too worn with war. If only we had new blood. If only the Americans would come now. But no, perhaps it is now too late."

Behind them, all too close, rumbled and roared the angry guns--guns of the enemy furrowing fields and leveling houses and villages; guns of the French in savage defiance protesting every inch of advance and holding on with a rapidly failing strength. Help must come now, quickly.

And help came. Two American divisions, ready for action, were summoned by Foch to move forward with all possible speed. The 2nd Division came hurrying from their rest billets near Chaumont-en-Vexin, northwest of Paris; the 3rd Division came thundering by train and camion from Chateau-Villain, southeast of Paris. Two converging lines of fresh, eager warriors came marching, marching, the light of battle in their eyes and with rollicking, boisterous songs on their lips. At quick rout step they came. This was no parade; this was a new giant coming up to test its strength. And all up and down the brown columns the giant was singing as it came....

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