Air Service Boys over the Rhine/Chapter 5
THE BOMBARDMENT OF PARIS
"There, Jack! what did I tell you? I win! You lose, and it's me for a fine dinner at your expense! You lose! Do you hear?"
Tom Raymond, with a hearty laugh, clapped his chum on the shoulder, and seemed mirthfully excited over something. As for Jack Parmly he looked first at his chuckling comrade and then at the man he suspected of being a German spy. The latter, who had glanced keenly at the boys, with something akin to anger on his face, now was plainly puzzled.
"Do you understand?" demanded Tom in a loud voice, which attracted the attention of many in the car. But a look at the two, showing them to be Americans and, therefore, to the French mind, capable of any eccentricity, seemed to make matters right. Most of the diners resumed their meals.
"See what I mean, Jack?" went on Tom. "You lose! Understand?"
"No, I don't understand," was the low-voiced and somewhat puzzled answer.
"Then for the sake of your gasolene tank pretend that you do!" fiercely whispered Tom in his chum's ear. "Play up to my game! Don't you see that fellow's suspicious of us? He thinks we've been talking about him. I win, do you understand?"
"Oh, yes," answered Jack, and then, in a louder tone, intended to allay suspicion on the part of the suspect, he added: "You win all right, Tom! I'll buy the dinner. I didn't think the train would get in so soon! It's one on me all right!"
And then, laughing and talking in seeming carelessness, as though they had not a thought in the world but the friendly wager they had made, they went back to their coach.
"That was a narrow squeak," observed Tom. "He was getting suspicious all right, and in another moment might have made an indignant demand of the guard that we cease observing him. It might have made trouble for us. We're not members of the secret police, remember."
"Well," remarked Jack, "he might have made trouble for us, but I could do the same for him. I'd let fall a hint about the map of the railway he was sketching."
"You mean all right, Jack, but I don't believe your plan would work. If that fellow really is a German spy, which I doubt, he'd destroy the map, if he made one, the moment he thought himself in danger."
"Maybe you're right, Tom," agreed his chum, a bit dubiously. "But I certainly think there is something wrong about that man."
"Maybe you think he is Carl Potzfeldt, disguised, Jack."
"No, nothing like that. Though I wouldn't be surprised if he happened to be friendly with that sneaking spy. And, speaking of Potzfeldt, Tom, though he isn't by any means a pleasant subject, do you know we are soon to be in Paris where—"
"Where Bessie and her mother are, you mean. You're right, old chap, I haven't forgotten that, and I'll wager one chance for promotion that you haven't forgotten it either."
Jack's blush was sufficient answer to his friend.
"I couldn't quite understand what you meant, Tom, by talking so suddenly and loudly about you winning and me losing," went on Jack, as they got their baggage ready, for the train was about to enter the Paris station.
"That was camouflage, Jack, pure and unadulterated camouflage," answered Tom I'd have won, for here we are, right on the dot, which is unusual in these days, I believe."a laugh. "I had to do something in a hurry to get that fellow's gaze off us, or he might have made a scene, and we don't want that. But if I had made a wager with you about the time,
"You said something, Tom. But what are we going to do about our spy?"
"Well, if you insist that's what he is, I think the best thing would be to notify some secret service official. There must be plenty of them around the station. Every passenger, before he leaves the station, has to have his papers stamped by the military authorities. Then's your chance to tip them off about this chap."
"I'll do it, Tom. I'm not going to lose any chances of putting German enemies out of the way."
It was about five o'clock when the train pulled into the Gare de l'Est, and the passengers, including many soldiers on leave, prepared for the joys of Paris. Tom and Jack, proceeding as did the others to the place designated for the official stamping of papers, found a chance to tell their suspicions to an officer, and to point out the man Jack suspected.
"The matter shall be attended to," said the military official, treating the information with the utmost respect, and evidently considering it of more importance than Tom imagined would be attached to it. "We are greatly indebted to you, not only because you are of our beloved aviators, but because you also think to do this for France—to protect her from enemies within as well as from those who are without. France thanks you, gentlemen!" and the aged officer saluted the two young men as though he considered them his equals.
"Well, now that's off our minds we can get down to the real business that brought us to Paris," suggested Tom. "And that's to find my father—if he's here. After that we can look up Bessie and her mother, if you like. Jack."
"Of course I'll be glad to do that, Tom, and I should think that you—"
"Oh, of a surety, yes, as a Frenchman would say. I'll be happy also, to see our friends again, but I know Bessie will consider—"
"Oh, drop it, will you?" begged Jack, for he could see that his chum was about to start to rally him about the girl.
"Then," went on Tom, "the first thing to do, in my opinion, is to get to this address in the Rue Lafayette where dad said he would make his headquarters, and see why he hasn't answered any of my messages. When I once see him, and know he's all right, I'll feel better."
"Even capable of eating that dinner you claim to have won from me?" asked Jack.
The two Air Service boys had the satisfaction of seeing the "tip" they gave acted on, for as they left the station they observed the officer to whom they had reported, detailing a man in plain clothes, evidently one of the secret police, to follow the man they had watched in the dining car.
"We can leave the rest to the military," said Tom. "And now let's get to where we're going."
"Hadn't we better arrange for hotel accommodations, or to stop at a pension?" asked Jack. "You know Paris is crowded now, even in war times, and we've got to stay here all night, even if we learn that your father hasn't yet arrived."
"That's so," agreed Tom. "Maybe we had better get a place to bunk first."
It would not have been an easy task had they not worn the uniforms of aviators. But once these were noted, they were welcomed with smiles, and though at the first place they applied there was no room, the proprietor busied himself to such advantage that the boys were soon settled in a big double room with a fine view of a busy section of Paris.
On every side was seen evidence of the joy and satisfaction felt at the showing made by the progress of the United States in her war programme.
The stars and stripes were seen floating from many staffs, mingled with the tricolor of France and the English union jack. That Uncle Sam had at last gotten beyond the bounds of patience with a ruthless and sneaking enemy and was making energetic warfare against him was welcome news to those who had so long borne the unequal brunt of battle.
"Americans? Ah, everything that I have is yours!" the hotel proprietor told Tom and Jack. "You have but to ask. And now come, I will show you the way to the cellar."
"But we don't care to see the cellar," remarked Tom in wonder. "No doubt it is a very fine one, monsieur," he added in his best French, which was nothing to boast of. "No doubt it is most excellent, but we don't care for cellars."
"Ah, I know, but it is for protection in case of an air raid that I show it to you. It is there we all take shelter. There have been raids, and there will be more. It is well to be prepared. It is a well-protected cellar."
"Oh, well, that's different," observed Jack. "Come on, Tom, we'd better learn the best and quickest route to the basement. No telling when we might want to use it."
They descended with the proprietor and saw that he had arranged the cellar with a false roof of beams, on top of which were sand bags. In ease a bomb was dropped on the hotel or in its vicinity the cellar would offer almost certain protection.
The boys arranged for a stay of at least a week in Paris, having told the proprietor their errand to the capital. By the time they had finished their dinner they found it was too late to set out in search of Mr. Raymond, as in the changed, war-time Paris little could be done in the evening. So Tom and Jack retired to their room and their bed.
"Are you going right to the Rue Lafayette?" asked Jack of his chum, the next day.
"Yes, and if we can't get any news of him there we'll appeal to the military authorities. I have a letter of introduction to persons high in authority from our captain."
The boys hailed a taxicab and gave the chauffeur the necessary directions. They were bowling along through the beautiful streets of Paris, noting on all sides the warlike scenes, and their thoughts were busily occupied, when they suddenly became aware that something had happened.
Like a thunderbolt from a clear sky there sounded a terrific explosion, and at no great distance. The concussion shook the ground, and they could feel the taxicab tremble under the shock, while the chauffeur instantly threw on all brakes, making the machine skid dangerously.
"What is it? What's the matter?" yelled Jack.
"Airship raid most likely!" shouted Tom. "Boches are dropping bombs on Paris! Oh, where's our cellar, Jack?"
The taxicab driver jumped down and opened the door.
"You had best alight, gentlemen," he said. "You must seek shelter."
"Is it an airship raid?" asked Tom.
"No, there is not an airship in sight. No such alarm has been sounded by the police. I fear the bombardment of Paris by the Germans has begun!"