Tam O’ the Scouts - Edgar Wallace - ebook

Tam O’ the Scouts ebook

Edgar Wallace



The book consists of 10 short stories about Tam a brilliant Scottish pilot, a thriller novel fan, socialist and cigar addict. The stories of Tam the pilot are not mysteries. Tam’s dialogue is written phonetically and he is great fun and saves the rather silly pre-Biggles stories from being too ridiculous to be enjoyable. The characters are broad, the situations light, but the stories are exciting and fun. „Tam” is a real person, and all the adventures set forth have actually happened, though names and places are necessarily fictitious. These are some of the earliest examples of air pulp, which exploded in popularity a decade after this book’s publication, following Linderberg’s famous flight, and the release of Wellman’s „Wings”.

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LIEUTENANT BRIDGEMAN went out over the German line and “strafed” a depot. He stayed a while to locate a new gun position and was caught between three strong batteries of Archies.

“Reports?” said the wing commander. “Well, Bridgeman isn’t back and Tam said he saw him nose-dive behind the German trenches.”

So the report was made to Headquarters and Headquarters sent forward a long account of air flights for publication in the day’s communiqué, adding, “One of our machines did not return.”

“But, A’ doot if he’s killit,” said Tam; “he flattened oot before he reached airth an’ flew aroond a bit. Wi’ ye no ask Mr. Lasky, sir-r, he’s just in?”

Mr. Lasky was a bright-faced lad who, in ordinary circumstances, might have been looking forward to his leaving-book from Eton, but now had to his credit divers bombed dumps and three enemy airmen.

He met the brown-faced, red-haired, awkwardly built youth whom all the Flying Corps called “Tam.”

“Ah, Tam,” said Lasky reproachfully, “I was looking for you–I wanted you badly.”

Tam chuckled.

“A’ thocht so,” he said, “but A’ wis not so far frae the aerodrome when yon feller chased you–”

“I was chasing him!” said the indignant Lasky.

“Oh, ay?” replied the other skeptically. “An’ was ye wantin’ the Scoot to help ye chase ain puir wee Hoon? Sir-r, A’ think shame on ye for misusin’ the puir laddie.”

“There were four,” protested Lasky.

“And yeer gun jammed, A’m thinkin’, so wi’ rair presence o’ mind, ye stood oop in the fuselage an’ hit the nairest representative of the Imperial Gairman Air Sairvice a crack over the heid wi’ a spanner.”

A little group began to form at the door of the mess-room, for the news that Tam the Scoot was “up” was always sufficient to attract an audience. As for the victim of Tam’s irony, his eyes were dancing with glee.

“Dismayed or frichtened by this apparition of the supermon i’ the air-r,” continued Tam in the monotonous tone he adopted when he was evolving one of his romances, “the enemy fled, emittin’ spairks an’ vapair to hide them from the veegilant ee o’ young Mr. Lasky, the Boy Avenger, oor the Terror o’ the Fairmament. They darted heether and theether wi’ their remorseless pairsuer on their heels an’ the seenister sound of his bullets whistlin’ in their lugs. Ain by ain the enemy is defeated, fa’ing like Lucifer in a flamin’ shrood. Soodenly Mr. Lasky turns verra pale. Heavens! A thocht has strook him. Where is Tam the Scoot? The horror o’ the thocht leaves him braithless; an’ back he tairns an’ like a hawk deeps sweeftly but gracefully into the aerodrome– saved!”

“Bravo, Tam!” They gave him his due reward with great handclapping and Tam bowed left and right, his forage cap in his hand.

“Folks,” he said, “ma next pairformance will be duly annoonced.”

*     *


Tam came from the Clyde. He was not a ship-builder, but was the assistant of a man who ran a garage and did small repairs. Nor was he, in the accepted sense of the word, a patriot, because he did not enlist at the beginning of the war. His boss suggested he should, but Tam apparently held other views, went into a shipyard and was “badged and reserved.”

They combed him out of that, and he went to another factory, making a false statement to secure the substitution of the badge he had lost. He was unmarried and had none dependent on him, and his landlord, who had two sons fighting, suggested to Tam that though he’d hate to lose a good lodger, he didn’t think the country ought to lose a good soldier.

Tam changed his lodgings.

He moved to Glasgow and was insulted by a fellow workman with the name of coward. Tam hammered his fellow workman insensible and was fired forthwith from his job.

Every subterfuge, every trick, every evasion and excuse he could invent to avoid service in the army, he invented. He simply did not want to be a soldier. He believed most passionately that the war had been started with the sole object of affording his enemies opportunities for annoying him.

Then one day he was sent on a job to an aerodrome workshop. He was a clever mechanic and he had mastered the intricacies of the engine which he was to repair, in less than a day.

He went back to his work very thoughtfully, and the next Sunday he bicycled to the aerodrome in his best clothes and renewed his acquaintance with the mechanics.

Within a week, he was wearing the double-breasted tunic of the Higher Life. He was not a good or a tractable recruit. He hated discipline and regarded his superiors as less than equals–but he was an enthusiast.

When Pangate, which is in the south of England, sent for pilots and mechanics, he accompanied his officer and flew for the first time in his life.

In the old days he could not look out of a fourth-floor window without feeling giddy. Now he flew over England at a height of six thousand feet, and was sorry when the journey came to an end. In a few months he was a qualified pilot, and might have received a commission had he so desired.

“Thank ye, sir-r,” he said to the commandant, “but ye ken weel A’m no gentry. M’ fairther was no believer in education, an’ whilst ither laddies were livin’ on meal at the University A’ was airning ma’ salt at the Govan Iron Wairks. A’m no’ a society mon ye ken–A’d be usin’ the wrong knife to eat wi’ an’ that would bring the coorp into disrepute.”

His education had, as a matter of fact, been a remarkable one. From the time he could read, he had absorbed every boy’s book that he could buy or borrow. He told a friend of mine that when he enlisted he handed to the care of an acquaintance over six hundred paper-covered volumes which surveyed the world of adventure, from the Nevada of Deadwood Dick to the Australia of Jack Harkaway. He knew the stories by heart, their phraseology and their construction, and was wont at times, half in earnest, half in dour fun (at his own expense), to satirize every-day adventures in the romantic language of his favorite authors.

He was regarded as the safest, the most daring, the most venomous of the scouts–those swift-flying spitfires of the clouds–and enjoyed a fame among the German airmen which was at once flattering and ominous. Once they dropped a message into the aerodrome. It was short and humorous, but there was enough truth in the message to give it a bite:

Let us know when Tam is buried, we would a wreath subscribe.

Officers, German Imperial Air Service. Section–

Nothing ever pleased Tam so much as this unsolicited testimonial to his prowess.

He purred for a week. Then he learned from a German prisoner that the author of the note was the flyer of a big Aviatic, and went and killed him in fair fight at a height of twelve thousand feet.

“It was an engrossin’ an’ thrillin’ fight,” explained Tam; “the bluid was coorsin’ in ma veins, ma hairt was palpitatin’ wi’ suppressed emotion. Roond an’ roond ain another the dauntless airmen caircled, the noo above, the noo below the ither. Wi’ supairb resolution Tam o’ the Scoots nose-dived for the wee feller’s tail, loosin’ a drum at the puir body as he endeavoured to escape the lichtenin’ swoop o’ the intrepid Scotsman. Wi’ matchless skeel, Tam o’ the Scoots banked over an’ brocht the gallant miscreant to terra firma –puir laddie! If he’d kept ben the hoose he’d no’ be lyin’ deid the nicht. God rest him!”

*     *


You might see Tam in the early morning, when the world was dark and only the flashes of guns revealed the rival positions, poised in the early sun, fourteen thousand feet in the air, a tiny spangle of white, smaller in magnitude than the fading stars. He seems motionless, though you know that he is traveling in big circles at seventy miles an hour.

He is above the German lines and the fleecy bursts of shrapnel and the darker patches where high explosive shells are bursting beneath him, advertise alike his temerity and the indignation of the enemy.

What is Tam doing there so early?

There has been a big raid in the dark hours; a dozen bombing machines have gone buzzing eastward to a certain railway station where the German troops waited in readiness to reinforce either A or B fronts. If you look long, you see the machines returning, a group of black specks in the morning sky. The Boches’ scouts are up to attack–the raiders go serenely onward, leaving the exciting business of duel à l’outrance to the nippy fighting machines which fly above each flank. One such fighter throws himself at three of the enemy, diving, banking, climbing, circling and all the time firing “ticka–ticka–ticka–ticka!„ through his propellers.

The fight is going badly for the bold fighting machine, when suddenly like a hawk, Tam o’ the Scoots sweeps upon his prey. One of the enemy side-slips, dives and streaks to the earth, leaving a cloud of smoke to mark his unsubstantial path. As for the others, they bank over and go home. One falls in spirals within the enemy’s lines. Rescuer and rescued land together. The fighting-machine pilot is Lieutenant Burnley; the observer, shot through the hand, but cheerful, is Captain Forsyn.

“Did ye no’ feel a sense o’ gratitude to the Almighty when you kent it were Tam sittin’ aloft like a wee angel?”

“I thought it was a bombing machine that had come back,” said Burnley untruthfully.

“Did ye hear that, sir-rs?” asked Tam wrathfully. “For a grown officer an’ gentleman haulding the certeeficate of the Royal Flying Coorp, to think ma machine were a bomber! Did ye no’ look oop an’ see me? Did ye no’ look thankfully at yeer obsairvor, when, wi’ a hooricane roar, the Terror of the Air-r hurtled across the sky–‘Saved!’ ye said to yersel’; ‘saved – an’ by Tam! What can I do to shaw ma appreciation of the hero’s devotion? Why!’ ye said to yersel’, soodenly, ‘Why! A’ll gi’ him a box o’ seegairs sent to me by ma rich uncle fra’ Glasgae–!’”

“You can have two cigars, Tam–I’ll see you to the devil before I give you any more–I only had fifty in the first place.”

“Two’s no’ many,” said Tam calmly, “but A’ve na doot A’ll enjoy them wi’ ma educated palate better than you, sir-r–seegairs are for men an’ no’ for bairns, an’ ye’d save yersel’ an awfu’ feelin’ o’ seekness if ye gave me a’.”

Tam lived with the men–he had the rank of sergeant, but he was as much Tam to the private mechanic as he was to the officers. His pay was good and sufficient. He had shocked that section of the Corps Comforts Committee which devoted its energies to the collection and dispatch of literature, by requesting that a special effort be made to keep him supplied “wi’ th’ latest bluids.” A member of the Committee with a sneaking regard for this type of literature took it upon himself to ransack London for penny dreadfuls, and Tam received a generous stock with regularity.

“A’m no’ so fond o’ th’ new style,” he said; “the detective stoory is verra guid in its way for hame consumption, but A’ prefair the mair preemative discreeptions, of how that grand mon, Deadwood Dick, foiled the machinations of Black Peter, the Scoorge of Hell Cañon. A’ve no soort o’ use for the new kind o’ stoory–the love-stoories aboot mooney. Ye ken the soort: Harild is feelin’ fine an’ anxious aboot Lady Gwendoline’s bairthmark: is she the rechtfu’ heir? Oh, Heaven help me to solve the meestry! (To be continued in oor next.) A’m all for bluid an’ fine laddies wi’ a six-shooter in every hand an’ a bowie-knife in their teeth–it’s no’ so intellectual, but, mon, it’s mair human!”

*     *


Tam was out one fine spring afternoon in a one-seater Morane. He was on guard watching over the welfare of two “spotters” who were correcting the fire of a “grandmother” battery. There was a fair breeze blowing from the east, and it was bitterly cold, but Tam in his leather jacket, muffled to the eyes, and with his hands in fur-lined gloves and with the warmth from his engine, was comfortable without being cozy.

*     *


Far away on the eastern horizon he saw a great cloud. It was a detached and imperial cumulus, a great frothy pyramid that sailed in majestic splendor. Tam judged it to be a mile across at its base and calculated its height, from its broad base to its feathery spirelike apex, at another mile.

“There’s an awfu’ lot of room in ye,” he thought.

It was moving slowly toward him and would pass him at such a level that did he explore it, he would enter half-way between its air foundation and its peak.

He signaled with his wireless, “Am going to explore cloud,” and sent his Morane climbing.

He reached the misty outskirts of the mass and began its encirclement, drawing a little nearer to its center with every circuit. Now he was in a white fog which afforded him only an occasional glimpse of the earth. The fog grew thicker and darker and he returned again to the outer edge because there would be no danger in the center. Gently he declined his elevator and sank to a lower level. Then suddenly, beneath him, a short shape loomed through the mist and vanished in a flash. Tam had a tray of bombs under the fuselage– something in destructive quality between a Mills grenade and a three-inch shell.

He waited...

Presently–swish! They were circling in the opposite direction to Tam, which meant that the object passed him at the rate of one hundred and forty miles an hour. But he had seen the German coming... Something dropped from the fuselage, there was the rending crash of an explosion and Tam dropped a little, swerved to the left and was out in clear daylight in a second.

Back he streaked to the British lines, his wireless working frantically.

“Enemy raiding squadron in cloud–take the edge a quarter up.”

He received the acknowledgment and brought his machine around to face the lordly bulk of the cumulus.

Then the British Archies began their good work.

Shrapnel and high explosives burst in a storm about the cloud. Looking down he saw fifty stabbing pencils of flame flickering from fifty A-A guns. Every available piece of anti-aircraft artillery was turned upon the fleecy mass.

As Tam circled he saw white specks rising swiftly from the direction of the aerodrome and knew that the fighting squadron, full of fury, was on its way up. It had come to be a tradition in the wing that Tam had the right of initiating all attack, and it was a right of which he was especially jealous. Now, with the great cloud disgorging its shadowy guests, he gave a glance at his Lewis gun and drove straight for his enemies. A bullet struck the fuselage and ricocheted past his ear; another ripped a hole in the canvas of his wing. He looked up. High above him, and evidently a fighting machine that had been hidden in the upper banks of the cloud, was a stiffly built Fokker.

“Noo, lassie!” said Tam and nose-dived.

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