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feet distant.

It appeared that Bessie knew where her mother was confined, though both
doors were fastened on the outside to prevent their having
communication. But the girl had found a way. Night after night she was
accustomed to slipping from her window, when everything was quiet below
and the lights all out, making her way along that narrow coping, or
ledge, and tapping softly at the window of her mother's room.

They would remain together until toward morning, when the girl made it a
practice to return by the same perilous route.

On this particular night it had seemed as though the lights below would
never go out. Carl Potzfeldt, the master spy, expecting important news
and a messenger from the headquarters of the Crown Prince, had been
waiting up until long after midnight in order to fullfil the important
duties entrusted to him.

Jack suggested that he creep along that coping and inform the lady of
the golden chance for escape that had arrived. But as she would hardly
be able to return by the same way, it seemed as though some other scheme
must be considered.

Bessie herself had a brilliant thought bordering on an inspiration.

"Listen, and I will tell you," she said at this juncture. "All the time
I have been here my one thought has been of escape. I dreamed nothing
else save getting my poor mother away from the clutches of that coward
who had hypnotized her in the past, and made her believe he was a good
man as well as her cousin from Alsace-Lorraine. And I know of a way it
can be done."

"Tell us your plan, please," begged Jack; though he would be sorry to
learn that the honor of releasing Bessie's imprisoned mother was not to
fall to his share in the undertaking.

"There is another window. It opens upon a hallway; and I can get through
it, because I've tried it more than once. But the proper time hadn't
come, for how were we to flee from this awful country? Wait for me here,
both of you. I shall be able to open her barred door, and then my own.
And it is better that I carry her the good news than some one who would
be a stranger to my mother, however much I have told her about you."

Tom saw that her plan was the best, after all. He himself had been a
little afraid that if Jack came tapping at the window of Mrs. Gleason's
room she might take the alarm, thinking it but another twist to the
odious schemes of Potzfeldt, and perhaps shrieking out in terror, which
would cause an alarm, and ruin everything.

Bessie climbed nimbly out of the window, showing how accustomed she was
to such athletic exercises. Jack held on to her to the last, and his
whispers were all of an entreating character, as he begged her to be
very careful, and not slip in her excitement.

Now she was gone, and the two air service boys, left by themselves in
that room of the old Lorraine château, counted the seconds and the
minutes until they should hear a gentle signal at the door, to signify
that Bessie and her mother were there, about to enter.

Jack walked softly up and down, like a velvet-footed tiger in its cage.
He was so worked up by the excitement of the occasion that Tom did not
have the heart to ask him to stop his movements, though he certainly
would have done so had not the other been keeping on his tiptoes all the
while.

What a remarkable turn their venture into the country back of the
enemy's lines had taken! And what astounding discoveries they had made
in the bargain!

Jack was getting more and more impatient. Several times did he pause at
the door, to lay his ear close to the heavy panel, and listen. He
wondered what could be keeping Bessie. Surely she had had ample time to
open the door of her mother's room and explain everything to the lady.
In his excitement he pictured all sorts of fresh trouble as having
befallen the girl. What if by accident she had run across the master
German spy in the corridor? But then, in such a case, Bessie surely
would have screamed in order to warn her two friends that they were in
danger of being discovered, should Potzfeldt and some of his assistants
burst into the room.

Of course Jack had magnified things wonderfully. Less than half the time
had elapsed than he thought had passed when there came a soft scratching
on the door to notify them Bessie was there. They next heard a slight
creaking sound, and then the soft closing of the door.

"Bessie, is it you?" asked the eager Jack, softly.

A reply in the affirmative followed.

"And here is mother with me," added the girl, a note of joy in her
voice, even though she spoke in a whisper.

So they came together. In the semi-darkness the boys could not see what
Bessie's mother looked like. They did note, however, that she was small
of stature; and this fact pleased Tom very much indeed. For already he
had figured out just how the rescue must be carried out, since there
seemed to be no other way.

His plans would entail some sacrifice on Jack's part, and also more or
less exposure to peril; but then Tom knew his chum too well to imagine
he would hesitate even a moment when called upon to take this additional
burden on his shoulders.

Both of them squeezed the trembling hand of the woman, and as best they
were able assured her that they meant to carry both Bessie and herself
to a place of safety, provided they were courageous enough to trust
themselves to the care of two air pilots.




CHAPTER XXII

FACING MORE DIFFICULTIES


"As for me," spoke up Bessie, immediately, just as Jack felt positive
she would, "I'd like nothing better. I've been up once in a
hydro-airplane, and would have gone many times if mother had allowed
me."

The lady did not seem to anticipate having a very delightful time of it,
for Tom felt her shudder; but she was courageous, and evidently ready to
attempt any hazard in order to gain her freedom.

"If only there is some way to fasten me securely," she told them, "I am
willing to do anything you say, my brave boys. So make your plans
without regard to my feelings in the matter."

Jack about this time evidently began to scent something with regard to
Tom's intuitions; at least his word implied a growing skepticism
concerning their ability to find room for two passengers aboard a plane
intended only for a pilot and an observer, or a gunner.

"Of course one could squeeze in alongside me, Tom," he mentioned
hesitatingly; "but do you think it's wise to have anybody with you?
Mightn't it interfere with the working of the controls, and add to the
danger?"

"It certainly would, Jack; and that's why I'm forced to call on you to
make a sacrifice."

"Go on and say what's on your mind, then," demanded Jack. "No matter
what it's going to be, you'll find me ready and willing for anything."

"You'll have to wait for the second trip," Tom announced.

"All right, just as you say, Tom. When will that be, later on to-night?"

"If it's possible to get back, yes," said the other.

"But if you can't make it, then to-morrow night, Tom?"

Jack was not overcome with fear, even though the prospect did appear
anything but cheerful. Bessie listened to this low talk, and gave
evidence of growing anxiety.

"But why should this be necessary?" she put in at that juncture. "I can
stay behind just as well as not. Then perhaps another night later on you
could come again, and take me with you to the French lines, and safety."

Jack sniffed in disdain.

"Well, I guess not, Bessie!" he told her, almost sternly. "I'd just like
to see myself sailing away, and leaving you here to stand the racket.
No, both of you are going to accompany Tom. I can find a hiding place
somewhere around; and besides, no one will suspect that an American
flier is hanging out here. There's only one thing I hate like everything
to think of."

"And I can guess what that is," Tom said, quickly. "You dread to
contemplate a long eatless day before you. That's the worst punishment
anyone could hand out to you, Jack."

"As far as that goes," interrupted Bessie; "I can tell Jack where the
pantry window lies. As the catch is broken you can easily climb in
through it later on to-night, and lay in a supply of food. There is
always something there. Before that bad man shut me up he tried to
starve me, and I stole food myself. Then he guessed what was happening,
for he fastened my door, and only allowed me to walk in the grounds in
company with a woman he has for a housekeeper."

Thereupon Bessie gave Jack minute directions how to find the window
leading into the storeroom. Thus armed the young aviator felt that he
ought to be able to stand it, in case his comrade found it impracticable
to return on the same night.

"Since all that is fixed," remarked Tom, "it strikes me we had better
get out of this place quickly. Can you lead us down by way of the
stairs, Bessie?"

"Oh, yes; for I know every foot of the way," she told him without
hesitation. "You see, I expected that some time we would have to slip
away by stealth; and so I made myself familiar with everything, even to
the fastenings of the great front door, with its chain and catch."

"Then we're in great luck," Jack observed, while Tom on his part went on
to ask further.

"All seems dark outside now, Bessie; would that indicate your jailer has
gone to his bed? And do you happen to know where his apartment is? That
might mean a whole lot to us, you understand."

"I don't believe he ever does really go to bed," she replied. "Once I
heard him complain that there were so many times during the night that
messengers came from headquarters with demands, or after information
expected from over the lines, that he had to secure his sleep while
fully dressed, and by throwing himself down on a Turkish lounge he has
in his room."

"Well, so long as his sleep is sound it's little we care how or when he
gets it," announced Jack, flippantly. "And when you give the word, Tom,
we'll all be ready to follow Bessie down the stairs."

Tom was even opening his mouth to say there was really nothing to detain
them, if Bessie and her mother had secured what trifles they wished to
take away, but after all he did not speak the words that were on his
lips.

Through the open window they suddenly heard the sound of heavy, guttural
voices. They seemed to come from the road near the entrance gates.

Tom stepped over to the window and looked out. What he saw gave him an
unpleasant feeling. There were lights already on the crooked driveway,
and a number of men seemed to be advancing in a group.

Jack at his elbow was also staring, and grinding his teeth with anger.

"Hang the luck, I say!" he gritted. "That fresh bunch of Boche officers
is bound to knock our plans silly. They'll stir things up again, and we
can't get away. Then perhaps some one will discover the doors of the two
rooms are unfastened, and that'll start a hornet's nest about our ears."

"Get down, and keep hidden, Jack," urged his companion. "They have
lights with them, and might see us as they come along. There's a
general, at least, in the lot, that big stout man in the center, and I
imagine those other officers belong to his staff."

"But what are they walking for?" whispered Jack, incredulously. "German
officers in the High Command don't often tramp along the roads like
that, do they?"

"They may have broken down in their car; and learning they were close to
this house have come on here to wait till repairs are made. Lots of them
know Potzfeldt, I suppose, and one of these men may have been here
before on business. The worst of it all is we'll have to give up our
scheme of going down by way of the stairs."

They crouched down and watched as best they could, while the half-dozen
men in the gray-green uniforms of German officers, and with many
decorations on the breast of the martial-looking commander, approached
the château's front door.

Already lights had sprung up on the lower floor. Undoubtedly Potzfeldt
had heard his unexpected guests coming, and was bestirring himself to
welcome them, though inwardly raving over having his rest so frequently
disturbed.

He met them at the door, and there ensued more or less talking, all of
it in the choicest of German. Again Jack felt sorry that his education
was so incomplete that he could only guess at what most of it meant.

Still, Tom could pick up a little of what was said. There was certainly
mention made of an unfortunate accident to a car, that would necessitate
a delay of some hours for repairs, possibly until morning. The general
did not altogether fancy sitting in the car for hours in the cool night
air. Especially was this the case after he had learned that there was a
house half a mile or so further on where food and drink could be
obtained in plenty, if only they chose to walk that far.

All of the newcomers had by now stalked inside the house, and the coast
seemed to be clear, so far as those above could see. But down below
there was much hurrying to and fro, which would indicate that Potzfeldt
must have aroused his retainers, and they were running up and down from
wine-cellar to dining-room, bearing acceptable refreshments for the
unbidden guests.

"Say, I wonder if that old stout chap could be Hindenburg himself?" Jack
whispered in his chum's ear. "I noticed that Mr. Potzfeldt seemed mighty
obsequious, as if he felt highly honored at having such a noble visitor,
and nothing could be too good to set before him."

"Well, I wouldn't be surprised if you'd hit the nail on the head when
you said that, Jack," the other told him. "He was a big, burly man, with
a mighty important air about him; and he wore a mustache such as we've
always seen in pictures of Hindenburg. But no matter, it doesn't concern
us at all, if we can find a way to get down from here."

"Only," said Jack, whimsically, "I do hope if they've got their German
appetites along, they don't clean out that pantry before I get my
look-in, that's all. Twenty-four hours without a single bite would be
the limit for me. I don't think I'd survive the ordeal. Now what, Tom?"

Tom was looking out again.

"That's lucky," Jack heard him mutter.

"Of course it is. But tell me what you're referring to, Tom."

"Some clouds have come along. One is right now covering the face of the
moon, you notice. Well, if we are forced to lower Bessie and her mother
from the window by means of a rope made from knotted bed-sheets, we
stand a chance to avoid being discovered at work by any one who might
happen to be abroad just then."

Jack chuckled as though pleased.

"Sure, that's the game, Tom! I knew you'd be equal to getting up some
sort of clever scheme. And I'll start in right away making that rope. We
want to be certain it's strong enough to bear their weight, that's all."

"I'll help you at the job," Tom told him, for he too wished to be
positive about the twisted parts of the sheets, before trusting the girl
and her mother to their care.

Fortunately they found that Carl Potzfeldt had some of the airs of a
millionaire about him. The sheets were of stout linen, instead of the
customary cotton to which the American boys were accustomed. When these
were cut first with a sharp pocket-knife, and then torn into long strips
about a foot or so in width, they could be twisted and knotted until the
result was a novel rope of at least twenty feet in length.

Neither Bessie nor her mother said a single word. They seemed more than
willing to be thus lowered to the ground. Such a novel experience might
not be delightful, but it amounted to very little when compared with
what they had suffered at the hands of their rude and cruel captor.

Soon the odd rope was ready for use.

"Let me be the first to go down," Bessie then said to Tom, in an
authoritative voice.

As he had been about to propose the same thing he made not the least
objection, but proceeded to secure one end of the strange rope around
her body just below the arms, Bessie herself assisting in the operation.

Before attempting the task, Tom stood at the window listening for some
little time. He wished to make sure that none of the German officers had
remained outside. Tom also meant to satisfy himself that there was no
lurking form among the bushes on that side of the château, since the
light streaming from the lower windows dissipated some of the advantages
gained by the temporary clouding of the moon.




CHAPTER XXIII

LEFT BEHIND IN THE ENEMY'S COUNTRY


Tom appeared finally to be satisfied, for he turned around to Bessie.

"Now if you're ready we'll lower you safely," he told her.

The girl showed considerable nimbleness in climbing over the
window-sill. Jack insisted in having a hand in dropping her slowly down.
It was not far, and in a few breaths the girl had reached the solid,
ground. She understood what was expected of her, and immediately cast
off the rude rope, so it might be drawn up and made to serve once more.

Mrs. Gleason showed just as much bravery as her daughter, and was also
lowered without trouble.

"You go down next, Tom," whispered Jack. "Then I'll draw it up, and can
join you easily enough without the help of the rope. A white thing like
this dangling here would be sure to attract attention, if any one came
around the corner of the house, and might cost us dearly in the end."

Tom understood. He preferred being the last to stay, but since Jack had
taken that upon himself, and was moreover adept at scaling walls, it was
folly to dispute his right.

So down Tom went. He had hardly landed when the sheet-rope was swiftly
drawn up, and vanished within the room. After that Jack was seen making
his way down over the same route he had taken while ascending.

Soon they were all together again, and their queer exit from the room
seemed not to have been discovered, for which they felt very thankful
indeed.

Tom led the way into the friendly bushes close by. It was his intention
to skirt the carriage-drive, as it might contain elements of danger for
them. Once they had passed out on the main road to Metz, it would not
take them long to reach the field where the big Caudron airplane lay
like an exhausted and enormous bat, awaiting their coming to spring into
activity.

In passing along they were enabled to catch a glimpse of the interior of
the dining-room where Carl Potzfeldt was entertaining his distinguished
visitor to the best of his ability in those times when scarcity ruled.

Tom managed to get a better look at the general. He was more than ever
convinced that the big man with the strong features and all these
decorations on his uniform, was in fact Hindenburg, the head of the
whole German army, whose opinion carried even more weight with the
people just then than that of Kaiser Wilhelm.

It would be something worth while to be able to say they had been within
a dozen feet of the famous commander, the Iron Man of Germany. Tom
vaguely wished he had some means of capturing the general then and
there, and carrying him over the lines to the French headquarters. That
would indeed be a feat well worth praise from General Petain; but of
course it was utterly impossible.

They gained the gate, and there Tom insisted on looking carefully around
so as to make doubly certain that no sentinel had been left on duty
while General Hindenburg remained within the house.

When this fact was made clear he led the way forth. The little party of
four almost ran along the road, so eager were they to place as much
ground as possible between themselves and the seat of danger.

There was always a chance that the flight of Bessie and her mother might
be discovered by some one connected with the household, and communicated
to Potzfeldt. He, of course, would exhaust every means in trying to
overtake the fugitives.

But Tom chuckled while telling himself that they must needs have
extraordinary and fleet steeds who could successfully pursue those who
had trusted their safety to his care and that of the big Caudron
airplane.

Jack hardly knew where the field lay, having become "rattled," as he
called it, from the adventures at the château. So after all it was
fortunate that Tom had taken his bearings as well as he had. He knew
just when to leave the road, and start across the open space. Then the
lone tree began to loom up, for the moon had once more thrust her face
from behind the enveloping cloud.

"It's all right, Bessie," said Jack reassuringly. "Our plane lies close
to the foot of that tree ahead there. If all goes well you'll be on your
way before many minutes have passed."

"Thanks to you, Jack," murmured the girl admiringly.

"Shucks! that isn't a circumstance to what I'd be willing to do for you
and your mother!" Jack boldly told her.

"But all the same it is very brave of you, Jack, and I can never forget
your kindness to us," she insisted. "I hope and pray that nothing
terrible will happen to you while we're gone, and that I'll soon see you
again."

"I hope so too, Bessie," he chuckled, as if amused. "As to anything
happening to me, I guess I know how to hide all right. The worst that
can knock me is getting a little mite hungry, you know. If that big
German general and his staff leave a bite in the pantry I'm going after
it, believe me! Then I'll find a hole, and crawl in, somewhere close by
here, so I can watch for Tom's return."

Apparently Jack had mapped his whole programme out; and it seemed that
an adequate supply of provisions occupied the most prominent place in
them.

They were now at the spot where the Caudron had been left. Tom's mind
was eased of the secret fears he had entertained when he saw the machine
was still where they had left it. So far as he could tell no one had
been near to meddle with it.

First of all Bessie and her mother must be fastened securely to the seat
where Jack had sat on the trip to Metz. Tom, like a wise general, had
provided himself with plenty of the strips of linen from the torn
sheets. This he utilized in tying the passengers, so that there would
not be the slightest chance of their falling out.

Even if Mrs. Gleason should faint through terror on finding herself a
mile up in the air, she could not fall out of the machine. But Tom
entertained high hopes that both of his passengers were going to display
extraordinary courage, and give him no cause at all for anxiety.

Jack tried to assist in the operation, but his hands were trembling so
with the excitement that Tom pushed him away.

"Leave the job to me, Jack," he told the other. "Too many cooks spoil
the broth, you know. I'll make everything secure, depend on it."

"Of course I know you will, Tom," the other hastened to assure him.
"Perhaps it is better only one handled the business. And Bessie - "

"Yes, Jack," said the girl, slipping a hand out toward him, which Jack
took in his, and pressed reassuringly.

"Don't bother your head for a single minute about me, mind. I'll be all
right, and perhaps able to join you again this very night. It's a great
lark for me, and I wouldn't miss it for a heap. But oh, if only we could
kidnap that big commander, and carry him over to have an interview with
General Petain, how proud I'd be!"

Tom smiled on realizing that the same idea had occurred to Jack that had
flashed through his own mind.

"Here, take my automatic, Jack," Tom said. "You may find occasion to use
it before I come back."

The other complied, and apparently he felt more confidence, once he knew
he had in his possession the means for defending himself should any
ordinary danger threaten. Tom was loath to depart, once he had
everything arranged. The truth of the matter was he hated to leave his
chum in the enemy country; it seemed as though he were deserting him.

So he "fiddled" around, testing this wire guy, and using his electric
hand torch to give him light, so he could once more run his eye over the
motor on which he had been working.

"Come, Tom, it's no use hanging around here a minute longer," Jack had
finally to tell him. "Get aboard and I'll spin your wheel for you and
give you a boost for a start. Then I'll drop out of sight, because some
of them may run this way when they hear the clatter and guess the
cause."

Tom climbed to his seat and settled himself according to his customary
thorough manner. He tried the controls, and was not satisfied until he
had tested everything within reach.

"Say when, Tom!" Jack remarked, having finally left Bessie's side and
gone to the propellers of the big plane.

Tom drew in a long breath. He knew he had a risky venture ahead, taking
those two inexperienced passengers over the hostile lines, possibly
amidst showers of exploding shrapnel shells. But it was not this that


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Online LibraryCharles Amory BeachAir service boys over the enemy's lines: or, The German spy's secret → online text (page 9 of 10)