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Errant Flight

By F. E. Rechnitzer

Washed Up, the Instructors Said He Was, Because Garner Couldn't Land a Spadand Then Fate Gave Him Something Worth While to Play With

HE sat in the shade of a hut at the pilots' pool in St. Omer, a fledgling, staring off into space with dreamy eyes. Far off in the east, where the blue dome of the heavens met the hot earth, he saw visions. Day dreams, in which he was the central character, slipped across the screen of his mind.

He saw a grey Spad flashing across the cloud-flecked heavens, tearing and slashing at black-crossed ships with fangs of smoking lead, twisting and turning, tearing through Hun formations with the skill of a veteran.

A slow frown crept across his weathered cheeks, twisting round freckles into odd shapes. His lips curled from his even white teeth, as the vision of a burning Fokker registered, with the aid of a keen imagination, on his fertile mind. A sigh welled from his broad chest, as he visioned his fifth victory grinding into the blood-soaked earth in the arena of war.

"That's the one that would have made me an ace," he growled. "I was gonna tear 'em to bits when I got assigned to an outfit." A frown crossed his face. "This waiting around gets my goat. If they are gonna send me home, why don't they get it over with? Everybody's laughing at me behind my back—I'm a washout."

Suddenly he jerked erect on the hard wooden bench. His head, with its touseled crop of reddish hair, was cocked to one side. A look of anticipation flickered across his face.

Once again the call came loud and clear down the dusty path between the huts.

"LIEUTENANT P. T. GARNER— Lieutenant P. T. Garner." Garner leaped to his feet and turned toward the direction from which the hail came.

"Sounds as if I'm being paged," he muttered, a bit dreamily.

"Lieutenant Garner—Lieutenant P. T. Garner." The cry came from in back of the huts.

"Right over here, in section three!" Garner yelled, now fully awake, with day dreams swept from his mind.

He saw a stubble-faced orderly come around the corner of the far hut and stand looking up and down the lane.

"Here you are, orderly," said Garner apprehensively. "Looking for me?"

"You Lieutenant P. T. Garner?" the little orderly stood in front of the six- footer, fiddling with a slip of yellow paper.

"That's me," snapped Garner, eyeing the paper in the orderly's hand with suspicion. "What is it, a letter?"

"No, sir," answered the orderly. "It's an order. The car is waiting for you."

Garner snatched the paper from the surprised orderly's fist.

"Let me see that," he growled. "Bet it's telling me what boat I'm going home on."

He tore the message open and read the typewritten words. A grin spread across his face.

"Listen, orderly," he laughed, grabbing the little man by the shoulders. "It says that they are assigning me to Squadron 18. Gonna give me another chance. I'm getting a break,"

The orderly tried to smile.

"I don't understand, sir."

"Neither do I," laughed Garner, waving the slip, "but here she is. You know, they were washing me out—said I couldn't fly Spads—set them down too heavy. Wouldn't give me the fourth shot to show that I could set one down without crashing it. Said I'd cost them too much already."

"Well, I'm glad," grinned the orderly, trying to shake himself loose from the bear hug which Garner had clamped down on him.

"Boy," shouted Garner, "they're sending me to the front! Maybe it's only as an observer or machine-gunner—but I'm gonna see action!"

The orderly slipped from the American's grasp and stepped back, still a bit puzzled over the crazy actions of this pilot who had been moping around the pool for the past three days.

Garner swung away and started for his hut.

"I'll get my kit together right away," he shouted. "An' I thought I was gonna be shipped back home to sell Liberty Bonds." He paused and turned to the orderly, who stood scratching his head. "Where is this 18 Squadron?"

The orderly shrugged his shoulders.

"All I know is that it's a British outfit. They use American pilots, you know. Sort of break them in and send them down to newly organized American squadrons."

"A British outfit," gasped Garner.Then he smiled. "Oh, well, I'll see some action, anyway. Maybe I can be transferred after a while. I got another chance—that's all I wanted. I'd even fly with the Portuguese. Action's what I crave."

PRESENTLY a tender, with P. T. Garner riding a bunch of mess stores in the back, rattled over the cobbled road leading out to the flying fiel...

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