Page 21 of Hornet Flight

When Harald woke up, he knew that something wonderful had happened, but for a moment he could not recall what it was. He lay on the ledge in the apse of the church, with Karen's blanket around him and Pinetop the cat curled up against his chest, and waited for his memory to work. It seemed to him that the wonderful event was interwoven with something worrying, but he was so excited that he did not care about the danger.

It all came back in a rush: Karen had agreed to fly him to England in the Hornet Moth.

He sat upright suddenly, displacing Pinetop, who leaped to the floor with an indignant yowl.

The danger was that they might both be caught, arrested, and killed. What made him happy, despite that, was that he would be spending hours alone with Karen. Not that he thought anything romantic would happen. He realized she was out of his league. But he could not help how he felt about her. Even if he was never going to kiss her, he was thrilled at the thought of how long they would be together. It was not just the journey, though that would be the climax. Before they could take off they would have to spend days working on the aircraft.

But the whole plan depended on whether he could repair the Hornet Moth. Last night, with only a flashlight for illumination, he had not been able to inspect it thoroughly. Now, with the rising sun shining through the high windows over the apse, he could assess the magnitude of the task.

He washed at the cold tap in the corner, pulled on his clothes, and began his examination.

The first thing he noticed was a long piece of stout rope tied to the undercarriage. What was that for? He thought for a minute, then realized it was for moving the aircraft when the engine was off. With the wings folded, it might be difficult to find a point at which to push the machine, but the rope would enable someone to pull it around like a cart.

Just then, Karen arrived.

She was casually dressed in shorts and sandals, showing off her long, strong legs. Her curly hair was freshly washed and stood out around her head in a coppery cloud. Harald thought angels must look like that. What a tragedy it would be if she died in the adventure that was ahead of them.

It was too early to talk of dying, he told himself. He had not even begun to repair the aircraft. And, in the clear light of morning, it looked a more daunting task.

Like Harald, Karen was pessimistic this morning. Yesterday she had been excited by the prospect of adventure. Today she took a more gloomy view. "I've been thinking about mending this thing," she said. "I'm not sure it can be done, especially in ten days - nine, now."

Harald felt the onset of the stubborn mood that always came over him when someone told him he could not do something. "We'll see," he said.

"You've got that look," she observed.

"What?"

"The look that says you don't want to hear what's being said."

"I haven't got a look," he said tetchily.

She laughed. "Your teeth are clenched, your mouth is turned down at the corners, and you're frowning."

He was forced to smile, and in truth he was pleased that she noticed his expression.

"That's better," she said.

He began to study the Hornet Moth with an engineer's eye. When he first saw it, he had thought its wings were broken, but Arne had explained that they were folded back for easy storage. Harald looked at the hinges by which they were attached to the fuselage. "I think I could refit the wings," he said.

"That's easy. Our instructor, Thomas, did it every time he put the aircraft away. It only takes a few minutes." She touched the nearer wing. "The fabric is in a bad state, though."

The wings and the fuselage were made of wood covered with a fabric that had been treated with some kind of paint. On the upper surface, Harald could see the stitches where the fabric was attached to the ribs with thick thread. The paint was cracked and crazed, and the fabric was torn in places. "It's only superficial damage," Harald said. "Does it matter?"

"Yes. The rips in the fabric might interfere with the airflow over the wings."

"So we need to patch them. I'm more worried about the undercarriage."

The aircraft had been in some kind of accident, probably an awkward landing such as Arne had described. Harald knelt down to look more closely at the landing gear. The solid steel stub axle appeared to have two prongs that fitted into a V-shaped strut. The V-strut was made of oval steel tube, and both arms of the V had creased and buckled at their weakest point, presumably just beyond the ends of the stub axle. They looked as if they would easily break. A third strut, that looked to Harald like a shock absorber, appeared undamaged. Nevertheless, the undercarriage was clearly too weak for a landing.

"I did that," Karen said.

"You crashed?"

"I landed in a crosswind and swerved sideways. The wingtip hit the ground."

It sounded terrifying. "Were you scared?"

"No, I just felt such a fool, but Tom said it's not uncommon in a Hornet Moth. In fact he confessed he had done it himself once."

Harald nodded. That fitted with what Arne had said. But there was something in the way she spoke about Thomas the instructor that made him feel jealous. "Why was it never repaired?"

"We don't have the facilities here." She waved at the workbench and the tool rack. "Tom could do minor repairs, and he was good with the engine, but this isn't a metalwork shop, and we have no welding gear. Then Daddy had a minor heart attack. He's fine, but it meant he would never get a pilot's licence, and he lost interest in learning to fly. So the work never got done."

That was discouraging, Harald thought. How was he going to do metalwork? He walked to the tail and examined the wing that had hit the ground. "It doesn't seem to be fractured," he said. "I can easily repair the tip."

"You can't tell," she said gloomily. "One of the wooden spars inside might have been overloaded. There's no way to be sure just by looking at the outside. And if a wing is weakened, the plane will crash."

Harald studied the tailplane. Its rear half was hinged, and moved up and down: this was the elevator, he recalled. The upright rudder moved right and left. Looking more closely, he saw that they were controlled by wire cables that emerged from the fuselage. But the cables had been cut and removed. "What happened to the wire?" he said.

"I remember it being taken to repair some other machine."

"That's going to be a problem."

"Only the last ten feet of each cable is missing - as far forward as the turnbuckle behind the access panel under the fuselage. The rest was too difficult to get at."

"All the same, that's forty feet, and you can't buy cables - no one can get spare parts for anything. No doubt that's why they were cannibalized in the first place." Harald was beginning to feel overwhelmed by misgivings, but he deliberately spoke cheerfully. "Well, let's see what else is wrong." He moved to the nose. He found two catches on the right side of the fuselage, turned them, and opened the cowling, which was made of a thin metal that felt like tin but was probably aluminum. He studied the engine.

"It's a four-cylinder in-line layout," Karen said.

"Yes, but it seems to be upside-down."

"By comparison with a car engine, yes. The crankshaft is at the top. That's to raise the level of the propeller for ground clearance."

Harald was surprised by her expertise. He had never met a girl who knew what a crankshaft was. "What was this Tom like?" he said, trying hard to keep the note of suspicion out of his voice.

"He was a great teacher, patient but encouraging."

"Did you have a love affair with him?"

"Please! I was fourteen!"

"I bet you had a crush on him."

She was miffed. "I suppose you think that's the only reason a girl would learn about engines."

Harald did think that, but he said, "No, no, I just noticed that you talked about him in a fond way. None of my business. The engine is air-cooled, I see." There was no radiator, but the cylinders had cooling fins.

"I think all air-engines are, to save weight."

He moved to the other side and opened the right cowling. All the fuel and oil hoses seemed to be firmly attached, and there were no outward signs of damage. He unscrewed the oil cap and checked the dipstick. There was still a little oil in the tank. "It looks okay," he said. "Let's see if it starts."

"It's easier with two people. You can sit inside while I swing the propeller."

"Won't the battery be flat after all these years?"

"There's no battery. The electricity comes from two magnetos, which are driven by the engine itself. Let's get into the cabin and I'll show you what to do."

Karen opened the door then let out a squeal and fell back - into Harald's arms. It was the first time he had touched her body, and an electric thrill went through him. She seemed hardly to notice that they were hugging, and he felt guilty for enjoying a fortuitous embrace. He hastily set her upright and detached himself. "Are you all right?" he said. "What happened?"

"Mice."

He opened the door again. Two mice jumped through the gap and ran down his trousers to the floor. Karen made a disgusted noise.

There were holes in the cloth upholstery of one seat, and Harald guessed they had nested in the stuffing. "That problem is quickly solved," he said. He made a kissing sound with his lips, and Pinetop appeared, hoping for food. Harald picked the cat up and handed him into the cabin.

Pinetop suddenly became energized. He darted from one side of the little cockpit to the other, and Harald thought he saw a mouse tail disappear into a hole under the left-hand seat through which a copper pipe ran. Pinetop leaped onto the seat, then onto the luggage shelf behind, without catching a mouse. Then he investigated the holes in the upholstery. There he found a baby mouse, and began to eat it with great delicacy.

On the luggage shelf, Harald noticed two small books. He reached into the cabin and picked them up. They were manuals, one for the Hornet Moth and one for the Gipsy Major engine that powered it. He was delighted. He showed them to Karen.

"But what about the mice?" she said. "I hate them."

"Pinetop chased them off. In the future, I'll leave the cabin doors open, so he can get in and out. He'll keep them away." Harald opened the Hornet Moth manual.

"What's he doing now?"

"Pinetop? Oh, he's eating the babies. Look at these diagrams, this is great!"

"Harald!" she yelled. "That's disgusting! Go and stop him!"

He was taken aback. "What's the matter?"

"It's revolting!"

"It's natural."

"I don't care if it is."

"What's the alternative?" Harald said impatiently. "We have to get rid of the nest. I could dig the babies out with my hands, and throw them into the bushes, but Pinetop would still eat them, unless the birds got them first."

"It's so cruel."

"They're mice, for God's sake!"

"How can you not understand? Can't you see that I hate it!"

"I do understand, I just think it's silly - "

"Oh, you're just a stupid engineer who thinks about how things work and never about how people feel."

Now he was wounded. "That's not true."

"It is," she said, and she stomped off.

Harald was astonished. "What the hell was that all about?" he said aloud. Did she really believe he was a stupid engineer who never thought about how people felt? It was very unfair.

He stood on a box to look out of one of the high windows. He saw Karen marching off up the drive toward the castle. She seemed to change her mind, and veered off into the woods. Harald thought of following her, then decided not to.

On the first day of their great collaboration, they had had a row. What chance was there that they could fly to England?

He returned to the aircraft. He might as well try to start the engine. If Karen backed out, he would find another pilot, he told himself.

The instructions were in the manual.

Chock the wheels and put handbrake hard on.

He could not find the chocks, but he dragged two boxes of junk across the floor and pushed them hard up against the wheels. He located the handbrake lever in the left-hand door and checked that it was fully engaged. Pinetop was sitting on the seat, licking his paws, wearing a sated look. "The lady thinks you're disgusting," Harald told him. The cat looked disdainful and hopped out of the cabin.

Turn on petrol (control in cabin).

He opened the door and leaned into the cabin. It was small enough for him to reach the controls without climbing in. The fuel gauge was partly hidden between the two seat backs. Next to it was a knob in a slot. He moved it from "Off" to "On."

Flood carburetor by actuating the lever on either side of the engine pumps. Flow of petrol through the jet is then caused by operating the tickler of the carburetor.

The left cowling was still open, and he immediately spotted the two fuel pumps, each with a small lever sticking out. The carburetor tickler was harder to identify, but he eventually guessed it was a ring pull with a spring-back mechanism. He pulled the ring and worked one of the levers up and down. He had no way of telling whether what he was doing was having any effect. For all he knew, the tank might be dry.

He felt dejected now that Karen had gone. Why was he so clumsy with her? He was desperately keen to be friendly and charming and do whatever it took to please her, but he could not figure out what she wanted. Why could girls not be more like engines?

Put throttle in "shut" position, or nearly so.

He hated manuals that could not make up their minds. Should the throttle be closed, or slightly open? He found the control, a lever in the cabin just forward of the left door. Thinking back to his flight in a Tiger Moth two weeks ago, he recalled that Poul Kirke had set the throttle at about half an inch from the "Off" end. The Hornet Moth ought to be similar. It had an engraved scale graduated from one to ten, where the Tiger Moth had nothing. Guessing, Harald set the throttle at one.

Put switches in "On" position.

There was a pair of switches on the dashboard marked simply "On" and "Off." Harald guessed they must operate the twin magnetos. He put them on.

Swing airscrew.

Harald stood at the front and grasped one of the blades of the propeller. He pulled it down. It was very stiff, and he had to put all his strength into moving it. When finally it turned, it gave a sharp click, then stopped.

He turned it again. This time it moved more easily. It clicked again.

The third time, he gave it a vigorous heave, hoping the engine would fire.

Nothing happened.

He tried again. The propeller moved easily, and clicked each time, but the engine remained silent and still.

Karen came in. "Won't it start?" she said.

He looked at her in surprise. He had not expected to see her again today. He was elated, but replied in a matter-of-fact tone. "Too early to say - I've only just begun."

She seemed contrite. "I'm sorry I stormed off."

This was a new aspect of her. He would have guessed she was too proud to apologize. "That's all right," he said.

"It was just the thought of the cat eating the baby mice. I couldn't stand it. I know it's foolish to think about mice when men like Poul are losing their lives."

That was how Harald saw it, but he did not say so. "Pinetop's gone now, anyway."

"I'm not surprised the engine won't start," she said, reverting to practical problems - just as he did when embarrassed, he thought. "It hasn't been turned over for at least three years."

"It might be a fuel problem. Over a couple of winters, water must have condensed in the tank. But oil floats, so the fuel will lie on top. We might be able to drain off the water." He consulted the manual again.

"We should turn off the switches, for safety," Karen said. "I'll do it."

Harald learned from the manual that there was a panel on the underside of the fuselage that gave access to the fuel drain plug. He took a screwdriver from the tool rack then lay on the floor and wriggled under the aircraft to unscrew the panel. Karen lay beside him and he handed her the screws. She smelled good, a mixture of warm skin and shampoo.

When the panel came off, Karen handed him an adjustable wrench. The drain plug was awkwardly placed, being slightly to one side of the access hole. This was the kind of fault that made Harald long to be in charge, so that he could force lazy designers to do things properly. When his hand was in the gap, he could no longer see the drain plug, so he had to work blind.

He turned the plug slowly but, when it opened, he was startled by the sudden spurt of freezing liquid onto his hand. He withdrew his hand quickly, banging his numbed fingers on the edge of the access hole and, to his intense irritation, he dropped the plug.

With dismay he heard it roll down the fuselage. Fuel poured from the drain. He and Karen quickly wriggled out of the way of the gush. Then there was nothing they could do except watch until the system was empty and the church reeked of petroleum.

Harald cursed Captain de Havilland and the careless British engineers who had designed the aircraft. "Now we've got no fuel," he said bitterly.

"We could syphon some out of the Rolls-Royce," Karen suggested.

"That's not airplane fuel."

"The Hornet Moth runs on car petrol."

"Does it? I didn't realize that." Harald perked up again. "Right. Let's see if we can get that drain plug back." He guessed the plug had rolled until it stopped against a cross member. He put his arm into the hole, but could not reach far enough. Karen got a wire brush from the workbench and retrieved it with that. Harald replaced the plug in the drain.

Next they had to take fuel from the car. Harald found a funnel and a clean bucket, while Karen used a pair of heavy pliers to cut a length off a garden hose. They pulled the cover off the Rolls-Royce. Karen undid the fuel cap and fed the hose into the tank.

Harald said, "Shall I do that?"

"No," she said. "My turn."

He guessed she wanted to prove she could do dirty work, especially after the mice incident, so he stood back and watched.

Karen put the end of the hose between her lips and sucked. When the petrol came into her mouth she quickly directed the hose into the bucket, while at the same time grimacing and spitting. Harald watched the grotesque expressions on her face. Miraculously, she was no less beautiful when screwing up her eyes and pursing her lips. She caught his gaze and said, "What are you staring at?"

He laughed and said, "You, of course - you're so pretty when you're spitting." He realized immediately that he had revealed more of his feelings than he wanted to, and he waited for a sharp retort, but she just laughed.

He had only said she was pretty, of course. That was not news to her. But he had said it affectionately, and girls always noticed tones of voice, especially when you did not want them to. If she had been annoyed, she would have shown it with a disapproving look or an impatient toss of her head. But, on the contrary, she had seemed pleased - almost, he thought, as if she were glad he was fond of her.

He felt he had crossed a bridge.

The bucket filled up and the hose ran dry. They had emptied the tank of the car. There was only a gallon or so of petrol in the bucket, Harald guessed, but it was plenty for testing the engine. He had no idea where they would get enough fuel to cross the North Sea.

Harald carried the bucket over to the Hornet Moth. He flipped open the access cover and pulled the petrol cap. It had a hook to fix it to the lip of the filler neck. Karen held the funnel while Harald poured the fuel into the tank.

"I don't know where we're going to get any more," Karen said. "We certainly can't buy it."

"How much do we need?"

"The tank takes thirty-five gallons. But that's another problem. The Hornet Moth's range is six hundred miles - in ideal conditions."

"And it's about that distance to Britain."

"So if conditions are less than perfect - for example, if we have head winds, which is not unlikely . . ."

"We'll come down in the sea."

"Exactly."

"One problem at a time," said Harald. "We haven't started the engine yet."

Karen knew what to do. "I'll flood the carburetor," she said.

Harald turned on the fuel.

Karen worked the priming mechanism until fuel dribbled on the floor, then called, "Mags on."

Harald switched on the magnetos and checked that the throttle was still at the just-open position.

Karen grasped the propeller and pulled it down. Again there was a sharp click. "Hear that?" she said.

"Yes."

"It's the impulse starter. That's how you know it's working, by the click." She swung the propeller a second time, then a third. Finally she gave it a mighty heave and stepped smartly back.

The engine gave a shocking bark which echoed around the church, then it died.

Harald cheered.

Karen said, "What are you so pleased about?"

"It fired! There can't be much wrong."

"It didn't start, though."

"It will, it will. Try again."

She swung the propeller again, but with the same result. The only change was that Karen's cheeks became attractively flushed with the effort.

After a third try, Harald turned the switches off. "The fuel is flowing freely now," he said. "It sounds to me as if the problem is with the ignition. We need some tools."

"There's a tool kit." Karen reached into the cabin and lifted a cushion to reveal a large locker under the seat. She took out a canvas bag with leather straps.

Harald opened the bag and took out a wrench with a cylindrical head on a swiveling joint, designed to operate around corners. "A universal spark plug spanner," he said. "Captain de Havilland did something right."

There were four spark plugs on the right side of the engine. Harald removed one and examined it. There was oil on the points. Karen took a lace-edged handkerchief from the pocket of her shorts and wiped the plug clean. She found a feeler gauge in the tool kit and checked the gap. Then Harald replaced the plug. They repeated the process with the other three.

"There are four more on the other side," Karen said.

Although the engine had only four cylinders, there were two magnetos, each operating its own set of spark plugs - a safety measure, Harald presumed. The left side plugs were harder to get at, behind two cooling baffles which first had to be removed.

When all the plugs had been checked, Harald removed the Bakelite caps over the contact breakers and checked the points. Finally, he removed the distributor cap from each magneto in turn, and wiped out the inside with Karen's handkerchief, which had now become a filthy rag.

"We've done all the obvious things," he said. "If it doesn't start now, we've got serious trouble."

Karen primed the engine again then turned the propeller slowly three times. Harald opened the cabin door and threw the magneto switches. Karen gave the propeller a final heave and stepped back.

The engine turned over, barked, and hesitated. Harald, standing by the door with his head in the cabin, pushed the throttle forward. The engine roared to life.

Harald whooped with triumph as the propeller turned, but he could hardly hear his own voice over the noise. The sound of the engine bounced off the church walls and made a deafening racket. He saw Pinetop's tail disappear though a window.

Karen came up to him, her hair blowing wildly in the slipstream from the propeller. In his exuberance, Harald hugged her. "We did it!" he yelled. She hugged him back, to his intense pleasure, then said something. He shook his head, to indicate that he could not hear her. She came delightfully close to him and spoke into his ear. He felt her lips brush his cheek. He could hardly think of anything except how easy it would be to kiss her now. "We should turn it off, before someone hears!" she shouted.

Harald remembered that this was not a game, and that the purpose of repairing the aircraft was to fly a dangerous secret mission. He put his head inside the cabin, moved the throttle back to the closed position, and switched off the magnetos. The engine stopped.

When the noise died away, the inside of the church should have been silent, but it was not. A strange sound came from outside. At first, Harald thought his ears were still registering the din of the engine, but gradually he realized it was something else. Still he could not credit what he heard, for it sounded like the tramp of marching feet.

Karen stared at him, bewilderment and fear showing on her face.

They both turned and ran to the windows. Harald leaped on the box he used for looking out over the high sills. He gave his hand to Karen, who jumped up beside him. They looked out together.

A troop of about thirty soldiers in German uniform were marching up the drive.

At first he assumed they were coming for him, but he quickly saw that they were in no shape for a manhunt. Most of them appeared to be unarmed. They had a heavy wagon drawn by four weary horses, loaded with what looked like camping gear. They marched past the monastery and continued up the drive. "What the hell is this?" he said.

"They mustn't get in here!" Karen said.

They both looked around the interior of the church. The main entrance, at the western end, consisted of two enormous wooden doors. This was the way the Hornet Moth must have come in, with its wings folded back. Harald had also driven his bike through there. It had a huge old lock on the inside with a giant key, plus a wooden bar that rested in brackets.

There was only one other entrance, the small side door that led in from the cloisters. This was the one Harald normally used. It had a lock, but Harald had never seen a key. There was no bar.

"We could nail the small door shut, then come in and out through the windows like Pinetop," Karen said.

"We have a hammer and nails . . . we need a piece of wood."

In a room full of junk it should have been easy to find a stout plank but, to Harald's disappointment, there was nothing suitable. In the end he prized one of the shelves from the wall above the workbench. He placed it diagonally across the door and nailed it firmly to the door frame.

"A couple of men could break it down without much effort," he said. "But at least no one can walk in casually and stumble over our secret."

"They might look through the windows, though," Karen said. "They would only have to find something to stand on."

"Let's conceal the propeller." Harald grabbed the canvas cover they had removed from the Rolls-Royce. Together they draped it over the nose of the Hornet Moth. It reached far enough to cover the cabin.

They stood back. Karen said, "It still looks like an aircraft with its nose covered and its wings folded back."

"To you, yes. But you already know what it is. Someone looking in through the window is just going to see a junk room."

"Unless he happens to be an airman."

"That wasn't the Luftwaffe out there, was it?"

"I don't know," she said. "I'd better go and find out."

Source: www.StudyNovels.com