Charles Amory Beach.

Air service boys over the enemy's lines: or, The German spy's secret online

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Jack fancied there was a sort of haunted air about the place, something
uncanny, as he told himself. And then those sobs or screams could not be
forgotten.

"Let's go around first, and see what lies in the rear," whispered Tom.

He had an object in view when he said this. Having noted carefully their
route in coming from the open field where they had left their big plane,
Tom knew that the window from whence the sobbing had come must be either
at the back of the house, or on the eastern side.

He was heading in that quarter now, and looking for signs of a light in
some upper window. This he discovered speedily, and pointed it out to
his companion.

"Whoever was crying, Jack, must be up there," he said, close to the
other's ear so as to insure safety.

"But how can we find out?" queried Jack. "If you say the word I'm
willing to climb up, and learn what's wrong."

"Not yet. We must take a turn around, and pick up more knowledge of this
place, as well as the people who live in the house."

"Then why not creep up and look in at that lower window?" suggested
Jack, pointing as he spoke. "I've seen a shadow passing back and forth,
as if some person were walking up and down like a caged tiger. It's a
man, too, Tom, because I could easily make out his figure, a tall man to
boot."

Tom led the way, with Jack at his heels. They managed to crawl through
the bushes that cluttered the ground close to the wall of the stone
building, and were at length in a position to raise themselves from
their knees and peep under the drawn shade.

Jack was the first to look. Almost instantly he drew back with a low
ejaculation of wonder. Tom, spurred on by this fact, also raised his
head until his eyes were on a level with the small strip of open space
just below the shade. He too had a thrill at what he saw.

"I feel as if I must be dreaming!" whispered Jack huskily. "Tell me, is
that man in there really Carl Potzfeldt, the good-for-nothing guardian
of little Bessie Gleason?"

"It's no other than our old acquaintance of the Atlantic liner,"
admitted Tom, though he himself had some difficulty in believing the
startling fact.

This man, whom they felt sure was a German spy, had last been seen
descending the gangway from the steamer at an English port, with Bessie
Gleason, his pretty little ward, held by the hand, as though he feared
she might try to run away from him.

Many times had Jack tried to picture the conditions under which he might
run across Carl Potzfeldt again; but no matter what line of flight his
imagination took he certainly had never dreamed of such a thing as this.
Here in the heart of Lorraine, many miles back of the German front, on a
moonlight night, and in a lonely country house, he once more beheld the
object of his former detestation.

He clutched his chum by the arm almost fiercely.

"Well, that settles it, Tom!" he muttered savagely.

"Settles what?" whispered the other, for the window was closed, and
there did not seem to be any chance of their low-voiced exchange of
opinions being overheard.

"I don't leave here until I've seen _her_. For if he's at this
place it stands to reason Bessie must be here also. Tom, that was Bessie
we heard sobbing, I just know it now."

Tom had already jumped to the same conclusion. Nevertheless he did not
mean to let it interfere with his customary caution. Nothing was to be
gained through reckless and hurried action. They must go slowly and
carefully. This house by the roadside on the way to Metz he concluded
might be a nest of spies, perhaps the headquarters of a vast network of
plotters.

"Hark! There's a car coming along the road and stopping at the gates
here!" he told his chum, as he drew Jack down beside him. "We must be
more careful how we look in lighted windows. If any one chanced to be
abroad in the grounds we'd be seen, and perhaps fired on."

They crept from the vicinity of the window. Tom led the way toward the
front of the house, as if he had an object in view. The car was now
coming in along the crooked drive. They could see its one light, for
economy in the use of all means for illumination was a cardinal feature
of the German military orders in those days of scarcity.

The car stopped in front of the house, and a man jumped out. Tom saw
that he wore a uniform of some sort, and judged that he might be a
captain, at least. There was a second figure on the front seat, also in
the dark-green garb of a soldier, but a private possibly.

The two young Americans crouched amidst the dense bushes and listened.
So many thrilling things were happening in rapid succession that their
pulses beat with unwonted speed.

Before this the sound of the approaching car must have reached the ears
of the man they had seen pacing the floor in the spacious room that
looked like a library. There were many books in cases and on shelves,
while pictures and boars' heads decorated the walls.

Potzfeldt opened the door just as the officer alighted, and there was an
exchange of stiff military salutations. Tom discovered that his guess
was a true one, for the man of the house addressed the other as
"Captain."

It was too bad that they spoke in German as they stood by the open door.
Jack for once bitterly regretted the fact that he had never taken up the
study of that language when at school, as he might have done easily
enough. It would have paid him handsomely just then, he believed.

The two men talked rapidly. Apparently the officer was asking questions,
and demanding something, for in another minute Carl Potzfeldt took an
object out of a bill book and handed it to the other. As near as the
watchers could make out this object was a slip of paper, very small, but
handled as though it might be exceedingly precious.

Jack had a sudden recollection of a correspondingly minute slip of paper
which he and Tom had found hidden in that little receptacle attached to
the leg of the homing pigeon the latter had shot.

More talk followed between the two men. Presently the man turned and
hastened inside again. He had left the door standing open, however, with
the German officer waiting as if for something he had come after besides
the scrap of paper.

Jack knew now that the man in uniform was from the headquarters of the
Crown Prince. That accounted for the numerous marks of car tires which
Tom had discovered on the drive. This lonely house by the roadside on
the way to Metz was a nest of spies. Perhaps Carl Potzfeldt might be the
chief, through whom negotiations were conducted and lesser agents sent
forth.

Jack had got no further in his deduction when he saw the tall man
returning. He carried a bundle that was wrapped in a cloth, and depended
from his hand by means of a heavy cord, or some sort of handle.

This he set down on the landing, while he passed further words with the
captain; and now it was Potzfeldt who asked the questions, as though he
wished to learn how things were going at the front.

Between queries and guttural replies the hidden air service boys heard a
series of sounds that gave them sudden light. Jack's hand pressed on
Tom's arm, as though in this manner he wished to call the attention of
the other to the noise.

Many times both of them had listened to similar sounds while watching
some pigeon on the barn roof dare a rival to combat, or when wooing his
mate. And as they could easily trace this to the covered package which
Carl Potzfeldt had just brought out of the house, the meaning was
obvious.

Of course there were pigeons in that cage, homing pigeons at that, like
the one Tom had shot! Doubtless had that one escaped its tragic fate the
message it carried would have been delivered to the owner of this lonely
house, in turn to be handed over to one of the messengers from German
headquarters.

And now the German captain, stooping over, took possession of the cage
containing at least two of the trained birds. They would be carried to
some point from which, on another night, a daring Boche airman would
attempt to take them far back of the French front, to hand over to the
agent who was in communication with the master spy, Carl Potzfeldt.

It was all very simple. Nevertheless it was also amazing to realize how
by what might be called a freak of fate the air service boys had been
enabled to discover these facts. But for the accident to the motor they
would not have dreamed of making a landing short of the aviation field
at Bar-le-Duc. Then, had they not caught that woeful sound of loud
sobbing, the idea of looking around would never have occurred to them.

The officer was now starting back to his car, which would carry him
post-haste to German headquarters, where the fresh message in a cipher
code from beyond the French lines might be translated, and the valuable
information it possibly contained be taken advantage of.

Presently the military chauffeur started to swing around a curve that
would allow them to leave the grounds by the same gates through which
they had entered. The car's course could be followed by the strong ray
its one light threw ahead; and the boys were able to tell when it
reached the road again.

As they expected it returned the same way it had come, probably heading
for the headquarters of the Crown Prince.




CHAPTER XX

JACK CLIMBS A WALL


"What luck we're in to be here, Tom!" murmured Jack.

Carl Potzfeldt had again entered the house and closed the door; and the
air service boys could no longer hear the car speeding along the road.
Jack was quivering all over with excitement. The events that had just
come to their attention filled him with a sensation of wonder
approaching awe.

"It certainly is strange how we've stumbled on this nest of spies,"
admitted Tom.

"And the paper he gave the captain - it must have been a message in
cipher that an incoming pigeon brought from back of our lines, eh, Tom?"

"I guess it was, Jack. We could see it was only a small scrap of paper,
thin paper at that; but both of them handled it as if it were pretty
valuable."

Jack was chuckling, such a queer proceeding that Tom could not help
noticing it, and commenting on it.

"What's struck you as funny now?" he asked, puzzled to account for this
sudden freak on the part of his companion.

"I was wondering," explained Jack, "whether that mightn't be the
doctored message we believed our commander meant to send through some
time or other with one of the pigeons we got that day we went hunting."

"That's possible," Tom agreed, also amused at the thought. "But then,
whether it is or not, it means nothing to us, you understand. We are
here, and must decide on our movements. If that was a bogus message, and
will coax the Germans to make an attack at a certain place where a trap
has been laid, that's their lookout."

"Somewhere about here must be the pigeon loft where those homing birds
have been bred," suggested Jack, following up a train of thought.

"Yes, it may be on the flat roof of the château, or in the barn at the
rear," Tom admitted. "One thing is certain, they know only this place as
home; and wherever they're set free their first instinct is to strike a
bee-line for here. Some people are so foolish as to fancy homers can be
sent anywhere; but that's silly. It's only home that they're able to
head straight toward, even if hundreds of miles away."

"Oh Tom! how about Bessie?" inquired Jack eagerly.

His chum considered, while he rubbed his chin with thumb and finger in a
thoughtful way he had when a little puzzled.

"It might be done in a pinch," he finally muttered.

"What, Tom?"

"She's such a little mite that her weight wouldn't amount to much, if
only she had the nerve to do it, Jack."

"Do you mean that you'd be willing to carry Bessie off with us? To help
her escape from her guardian? I'm sure he must be treating her badly, or
else she wouldn't be sobbing her poor little heart out, as we heard
her."

"That would have to depend a whole lot on Bessie."

"As far as that goes I know she's a gritty little person," Jack
instantly remarked. "Many times she said to me she wished she were a boy
so that she might also learn to fly and fight for France against the
detested Kaiser. Why, she even told me she had gone up with an aviator
who exhibited down at a Florida resort, one having a hydro-airplane in
which he took people up. And Bessie declared she didn't have the least
fear."

"That sounds good to me, Jack."

"Then let's get busy, and try to let her know we're here," continued
Jack.

"First of all, we'll get under the open window where she must have been
standing at the time we heard her crying. I think I saw a movement up
there while the two men were conversing on the porch. Perhaps Bessie was
listening to what they said."

Tom's words gave his chum a new thought.

"Oh, it would certainly be just like Bessie to do it! She seemed to be
full of clever ideas."

Tom, being mystified by such words, he naturally sought further
information.

"What would she do?" he demanded.

"Send me that mysterious message by the little hot-air balloon," Jack
announced with a vein of pride in his voice, feeling delighted over
having solved the puzzle that had baffled him for so long.

"It hardly seems probable," Tom answered softly. "At the same time it
isn't altogether impossible."

"How far are we from the French front, do you think, Tom?" pursued his
comrade, determined to sift the whole thing out.

"Twenty miles or so, I should imagine."

"That isn't very far. Once I caught just such a little balloon in a tree
in our yard that had a tag on it, telling that it had been set free in a
village that lay _seventy_ miles off. The wind had carried it along
furiously, so that it covered all that distance before losing buoyancy,
and coming down in the heavy night air."

"Yes, I know of other circumstances where such balloons have traveled
long distances before falling. Then again, Jack, this valley extends
pretty much all the way to the Verdun front, and the current of air
would carry a balloon along directly toward our home patch."

"Oh, Bessie sent it, believe me!" asserted Jack again, more confidently
than ever. "And she'll tell us so too, when she gets the chance."

Thus whispering the air service boys arrived at that side of the house
where the lighted window on the second floor seemed to indicate that the
object of their present concern could be found.

Tom examined the building as well as the limited amount of light
allowed. He could easily see that any agile young fellow, himself or
Jack for instance, might scale the wall, making use of some projections,
and a cement flower trellis as well, in carrying out the project.

"We might throw pebbles up, and bring her to the window," he suggested,
though pretty confident at the time Jack would find fault with such an
arrangement.

"That wouldn't help her get down here to us, Tom," protested the other.
"And that's what we're planning, you remember; for you said she could
accompany us if she felt equal to it. I must go up myself and help
Bessie get down. There's nothing else to do, Tom."

It looked very much as though Jack was right. Tom admitted this to
himself; at the same time he wished there were some other way by means
of which the same end could be gained, or that he could undertake the
thing, instead of his comrade.

But to this Jack would never agree. Bessie was his own particular
friend; and they had been most "chummy" while aboard the Atlantic liner
crossing the submarine infested ocean. Then again that warning had been
addressed to him, and not to both, showing that the writer had only been
concerned about the danger he, Jack, was running, should his plane be
tampered with by some emissary of Carl Potzfeldt.

"All right then; you go, Jack! But be careful about your footing. If you
fell it'd be a bad thing in many ways, for even if you escaped a broken
neck or a fractured leg you'd arouse the house, and all sorts of trouble
would drop down on us in a hurry."

"Don't worry about me, Tom. I'll show you I'm as nimble as any monkey.
Besides, that isn't much of a climb. Why, I could nearly do it with one
arm tied fast."

"Go to it!" Tom told him, settling back to watch the performance and
give whispered advice if it seemed necessary.

Jack waited no longer. He was wild to find himself once more face to
face with the pretty young girl in whom he had taken such an interest.
Her recent sobs and cries still haunted his heart, and he felt certain
she must be in great sorrow over something.

He commenced climbing. While his boast about being equal to any monkey
that ever lived among the treetops may have been a bit of an
exaggeration, all the same Jack was a very good athlete, and especially
with regard to feats on the parallel bars or the ladders in a gymnasium.

He made his way nimbly upward, with Tom's eyes following every movement.
It seemed an easy task for the climber. Just what he would discover when
he had gained the open window was another question.

The light still remained, for which both boys felt glad. It afforded
Jack a goal which he was striving to gain; and it told Tom further down
that the inmate of the upper room was awake and still moving about,
though her sobs had ceased.

Once Tom fancied he heard something stirring back of the house. He hoped
it might not prove to be a servant attached to the Potzfeldt place or an
attendant who had charge of the pigeon loft.

Jack was almost up now. He had only to cover another yard of space when
he could look into the room of the lighted window. That was where fresh
peril must lie, because his figure would be outlined in silhouette, and
any one moving about the grounds might discover that uninvited guests
had arrived.

Tom wished he had told his chum to insist that the light be immediately
extinguished, if, as they believed, it proved to be Bessie who occupied
that room. He hoped his chum would think of it without being told.

There! At last Jack had arrived, and without accident! Now he was
cautiously thrusting his head up a little, to peer within.

Tom held his breath. So much depended on what would follow Jack's
betrayal of his presence.

"Tell her to put out the light, first of all, Jack!" Tom gently called
out, using both hands as a megaphone to carry the sounds.

It seemed that he must have been heard, and his directions understood,
for immediately there was another movement above, after which the
illumination ceased, as though Bessie had blown out the lamp.

Tom breathed easier, though he still continued to look, and wonder how
his chum was going to get the girl safely down from her elevated
apartment. Jack was not so fertile in expedients as his chum, and many
times depended on Tom to suggest ways and means.

While Tom was still waiting, and hoping for the best, he heard his
comrade whisper down to him as he hung suspended, clutching the sill of
the open window.

"After all, you'll have to come up too, Tom," he was saying feverishly.
"There are complications that'll need your judgment, knots to untangle
that are beyond me."




CHAPTER XXI

IN THE OLD LORRAINE CHÂTEAU


What Jack said in his cautious fashion puzzled Tom. For the life of him
he could not understand what had arisen, calling for any unusual display
of generalship. Surely Jack should have been equal to the task of
getting Bessie down from the window, even if he had to make use of
knotted bed-clothes in lieu of a rope.

Still he had asked Tom to come up, and there was nothing to do but grant
his request. "Complications," Jack said, had arisen. That was a
suggestive word, and to Tom's mind seemed to hint at further mystery.

Accordingly he proceeded to imitate the example of his comrade. Jack had
shown the way, and all his chum had to do was to follow. As Tom was also
an all-around athlete, accustomed to much climbing from small boyhood,
after nuts and birds' nests and all such things as take lads into tall
trees, he found but little trouble in making the ascent.

When he drew himself alongside Jack, the other gave a sigh of relief.

"Whee! I'm glad you've come, I tell you, Tom," he said. "It was getting
too big a job for me to tackle."

"What's happened, Jack?" asked the late arrival on the stone ledge under
the window of the upper room.

"First, here's Bessie, Tom," Jack went on. "She wants to shake hands
with you. Since we parted, when the steamer was docked, the poor girl
has been having all sorts of trouble; and she's glad as can be to see us
both again; aren't you, Bessie?"

Tom, feeling a small, trembling hand groping for his, immediately
grasped it, and gave a squeeze that must have carried conviction to the
heart of the girl.

"Oh, I'm shivering like everything!" she murmured, adding quickly: "But
not with fear. It's because my prayers have been answered, and help has
come at last, when everything looked so awfully dark - and I'm so very,
very hungry."

"Hungry!" repeated Tom, starting, it seemed such a very strange word for
the girl to use, even though they were in Germany, where all food he
knew must be getting exceedingly scarce.

"Yes, what do you think, that rotten bounder of a spy is half starving
the poor girl! He ought to be tarred and feathered, that's what!"
growled the indignant Jack.

"Not so loud," warned Tom. "Some one may hear you, Jack. But tell me
what you've learned."

"Why, first of all, Tom, it was Bessie who wrote that warning message I
had, and attached it to that little balloon, hoping the favorable breeze
would carry it over the front to the French lines. So that mystery is
explained. Then, Tom, there are _two_ we've got to take out of this
place, instead of just one, as we thought."

"I don't get you!" Tom ejaculated. "What do you mean by two?"

"It's a story in itself, I guess," whispered Jack. "I don't wholly
understand it myself. But it seems that Bessie's mother didn't drown
after all when the _Lusitania_ went down, as Potzfeldt reported she
did."

"You surprise me, Jack! How could that be?" demanded the other youth,
thrilled by the startling information.

"Oh, that slick rascal managed it somehow," came the soft if indignant
reply. "We'll learn more about it later on. He was picked up by a
fishing boat. The lady was temporarily out of her mind, so he gave it
out later that she had gone down. How he ever got her over here in
Germany beats me. But he managed to do it it seems. And she's been kept
a prisoner in this old château of his ever since!"

"But what was his object?" asked the amazed Tom.

"It had a heap to do with finances," Jack told him. "While he held a
paper that gave him charge over her daughter over in America, and a part
of the big Gleason fortune also, there were valuable papers he had been
unable to get his greedy hands on. She absolutely refused to tell him
where they were hidden. As a last resort what did the wretch do but go
all the way back to America."

"You mean to fetch his ward across with him, Jack?"

"Yes, just to use Bessie as a lever to compel her mother to give up
those valuable papers. I always said, you remember, Tom, that man was
hugging some secret to his heart. And so he was."

"He's been treating Bessie badly then, half starving her, I think you
said?" continued Tom.

"Just what he has, poor girl," growled his chum, savagely. "It's an
awful thing to be hungry! I don't see how any one can stand it. But he
hasn't broken the spirit of either of them yet, though Bessie's getting
so weak she finds herself crying every now and then, just as we heard
her. And it was that which brought us over to find out what it meant.
But Tom, tell her we mean to stand by, and see that both her mother and
herself are taken to a place of safety."

This Tom readily did, though as yet he could hardly understand just how
their promise could be fulfilled. One they might manage to take aloft
with them, by crowding, but the Caudron was not capable of seating four;
nor would it be safe to carry a couple of inexperienced passengers along
with themselves.

"But we're losing valuable time," he observed. "The sooner we get in
touch with Mrs. Gleason the better. There's a whole lot to be done
before we can say we're on the safe side of the fence."

"Then first of all we'd better climb inside the room, hadn't we?"
suggested Jack.

In answer Tom proceeded to get one leg over the sill, and then pass his
entire body across. Jack quickly followed. In the semi-darkness, for the
moon gave a dim light, they clustered there, and continued to map out
their immediate plans in whispers that could not have been heard a dozen


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Online LibraryCharles Amory BeachAir service boys over the enemy's lines: or, The German spy's secret → online text (page 8 of 10)