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Army Boys in the French Trenches by Homer Randall

And its machine gunner opened fire

The boys in the American airplane gazed at each other with white faces, but they had little time to devote to thoughts of the fallen, for by now the remaining German machine was on a level with them, and its machine gunner opened fire. The Americans, crouching low to avoid the murderous stream of bullets, returned the fire from both their machine guns, with a deadliness of purpose and aim for which the German was no match. Suddenly a tiny flame appeared in the body of the German machine, grew with lightning rapidity, and in a few seconds one side of the machine was enveloped in leaping yellow flames.

"Punctured the gas tank!" exulted Lever. "They're done for now."

And he was right. The machine gun fire from both fighting planes died out, and the boys could see the Germans vainly trying to beat out the hungry flames. Their efforts were useless, however, and in a few seconds the German machine, a roaring mass of flame and black smoke, dropped downward as swiftly as a stone. As it went, the boys saw two figures hurl themselves out into space, and then everything was hidden in a haze of billowy smoke.

"That's awful!" exclaimed Tom, drawing in his breath with a great sigh, while all relaxed from the terrible tension they had been under.

"Awful, yes," said Dick Lever. "But it's only what they would have done to us if they had been able. Instead of 'live and let live,' it's 'kill or get killed' in this game."

Frank nodded his head gloomily, but none of the boys felt like talking then, and sat silent as their pilot got his bearings and then straightened out swiftly in the direction of the American lines.

With the roar of the motor in their ears and the rush of wind past their faces, much of the horror of the deadly air battle was swept from their minds, and they began to enjoy the exhilaration of their first flight. The distant earth streamed rapidly by, like a swiftly flowing river, and a wonderful panorama was spread out below them. It was an exceptionally clear day, and they could see for many miles in every direction. Below them, groups of gray clad figures, after a glance in the direction of the soaring monster overhead, broke for cover, or, shaking impotent fists, trudged stolidly onward, contemptuous of one more danger among the many that daily surrounded them.

"No prison camp for us this time," exulted Frank, as he looked down at his enemies.

"We wouldn't have been in a prison camp long," declared Tom. "Those fellows had picked us out for a firing squad. They were going to get all they could out of us, and then about six feet of earth would have been our size."

"I'll bet that sergeant's jaw aches yet from the clip that Frank handed him," chuckled Billy happily.

"I skinned my knuckles," said Frank, looking at them ruefully.

"Never mind," laughed Bart. "You never hurt them in a better cause."

"We can't be far from the lines now," shouted Frank, in Dick's ear.

"Pretty close," responded the aviator. "We ought to be down fifteen minutes from now."

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