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Silent Orth, Hellwinder of the Crimson Skies, Gets Into a Whale of a Jam—and All Because He Asks For Extra Flying Time Without Giving Reasons!

The Devil's Ace

By Lieut. Frank Johnson
Author of "Falling Leaf," "Bullet Proof," etc.

THE face of "Silent" Orth was grim and hard as he faced his squadron commander. His fists were knotted at his sides. His keen eyes were squinted as though he peered into the glare of the sun.

"I'm asking for something, sir," he said.

The major looked up.

"A bit of leave in Paris?"

"No, sir. I want to double my flying time."

The major gasped.

"Good grief, what a man, at a time like this! Other flyers want to stop flying altogether, take trips to Paris and go A. W. O. L. to keep out of the air. What's biting you?"

Orth's face didn't lighten. If anything, the jaw muscles became a bit tighter.

"Nothing, sir. I'm just hankering to paste the Germans a little harder, that's all. I've got to have more action."

The major shrugged.

"Go to it," he said, "and my best goes with you. You've carte blanche anyhow, to fly alone. More action! For the love of Heaven!"

When the lanky figure of Silent Orth— who hadn't always been silent, but had become so because his wingmates rode him half to death for bragging—strode from headquarters office, the major called in Captain Mims, his adjutant.

"Orth's breaking," he said. "And when a tough egg like Orth goes, it means danger for the squadron. Tip off the flight commanders. I always knew a man couldn't be the hellwinder Orth is and still keep going indefinitely."

Captain Mims shrugged.

"When Orth goes bad," he said, "we'll be seeing pigs with wings. Not that there haven't been times when I thought I saw them, with no help whatever from Orth. But I'll tip off the flight commanders."

AND so the whisper went the rounds, and men began to nudge one another and whisper among themselves:

"There goes Silent Orth. He's cracking."

Orth saw the staring eyes, always quickly averted when he caught them at it, and wondered. There was something in the wind. He didn't know what it was, but it must have something, to do with him. When he asked men pointblank, they evaded him. He dismissed it with a shrug of the shoulders because he was like that. He always crossed his bridges when he came to them.

Fifteen minutes after he had quit headquarters office, the major and the adjutant heard the roaring of a Hisso motor and stepped to the door. Silent Orth was scudding down the field in his cool grey Spad. The officers exchanged glances.

ORTH didn't look their way. He was one officer who didn't take off with a hand waving. He was concerned solely, when he flew, with flying. But inside he was seething. He didn't know what ailed him. He seemed to be driven by a very devil of energy. He couldn't be still. When he sat his hands trembled, wanted to be doing things. When he slept he rolled on his bunk and muttered incoherencies.

He dreamed—dreamed of men in khaki and horizon blue, pushing into Germany, being thrust back on the sawtooth bayonets of the Germans. The dream became so real to him that even while awake he could see it merely by closing his eyes.

Now, as he fled across the lines, and the black Archie flowers blossomed in the skies all about him, he looked down to see that his dream had become real. A long thin line of men in khaki were charging, with bayonets carried at high port until they were close enough to the enemy to engage. Then the bayonets would be lowered to bring their savage tips into position for thrust and parry—but mostly thrust, because fighters who stopped to parry almost always died, unless the enemy also stopped to parry.

The khaki wave, even as Orth looked down, smashed against an ocean of Germans suddenly risen out of the opposing trenches, and were hurled back, bleeding, dying, toward their own lines. Orth's lips tightened; he tilted the nose of his Spad down and dived, dived with his motor full out and his Vickers already blazing.

He dived straight into the faces of the counter-attacking Germans, dived at an angle which would carry him in a savage swoop squarely across their front. In his dream he had acted thus several times, so that now it seemed to be something he had done so often that there was no question as to the outcome. His bullets struck up dust ahead of the Germans. Americans in khaki, seeing the diversion caused by the lone Spad, hesitated on the point of retreat, looked back, singly and in squads.

Germans were being piled in rows by the guns of Silent Orth. The Americans turned. The Germans were wavering, pausing uncertainly, turning their backs on the Vickers of the Spad flyer. The khaki- clad infantry took heart again, returned to the fight—and Orth, giving his crate full gun, which he had cut to swoop along the face of the enemy, zoomed toward German skies.

In a few seconds he had forgotten what had happened, and was thinking of the eyes which watched him, of the whispers that were going the rounds within two minutes after he had left the major. What did they portend? Did they think he had ulterior motives for doubling his flying time? Did they think, perhaps, that he was contacting the enemy somewh...

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