Air Service Boys over the Rhine/Chapter 8
WHERE IS MR. RAYMOND?
Tom Raymond, having gone through a hard school since he began flying for France, soon recovered almost complete mastery of himself. The first shock was severe, but when it was over he was able to think clearly. Indeed the faculty of thinking clearly in times of great danger is what makes great aviators. For in no other situation is a clear and quick brain so urgently needed.
"Well, I'm sure of one thing, Jack," said Tom, as they walked away from the fateful ruins. "Of those we helped carry out none was my father. He wasn't among the injured or dead."
"I'm sure of that, too. Still we mustn't count too much on it, Tom. I don't want you to have false hopes. We must make sure."
"Yes, I'm going to. We'll visit the hospitals and morgues, and talk with the military and police authorities. In these war times there is a record of everybody and everything kept, so it ought to be easy to trace him."
"He arrived all right, that's settled," declared Jack. "The agent's record proves that."
"Yes. I'd like to have a further talk with that agent before we set out to make other inquiries."
This Tom was able to bring about some time later that day. The agent informed the lad that Mr. Raymond, contrary to his expectations, had arrived only the day before. Where he had been delayed since arriving in Europe was not made clear.
"But was my father in the building at the time the shell struck here?" asked Tom. "That's what I want to know."
Of this the man could not be certain. He had seen Mr. Raymond, he said, an hour or so before the bombardment, and the inventor was, at that time, in his room. Then he had gone out, but whether he had come back and was in the house when the shell struck the place, could not be said with certainty.
But if he had been in his apartment there was little chance that he had been left alive, for the explosion occurred very near his room, destroying everything. Tom hoped, later, to find some of his father's effects.
"There is just a chance, Jack," said the inventor's son, "that he wasn't in his room."
"A good chance, I should say," agreed the other. "Even if he had returned to his room, and that's unlikely, he may have run out at the sound of the first explosion, to see what it was all about."
"I'm counting on that. If he was out he is probably alive now. But if he was in his room—"
"There would be some trace of him," finished Jack.
"And that's what we've got to find."
The police and soldiers were only too willing to assist Tom in his search for his father. The ruins, they said, would be carefully gone over in an endeavor to get a piece of the German shell to ascertain its nature and the kind of gun that fired it. During that search some trace might be found of Mr. Raymond.
It did not take long to establish one fact—that the inventor's body was not among the dead carried out. Nor was he numbered with the injured in the hospitals. Careful records had been kept, and no one at all answering to his description had been taken out or cared for.
And yet, of course, there was the nerve-racking possibility that he might have been so terribly mutilated that his body was beyond all human semblance. The place where his room had been was a mass of splintered wood and crumbled masonry. There was none of his effects discernible, and Tom did not know what to think.
"We've just got to wait," he said to Jack, late that afternoon, when their search of the hospitals and morgues had ended fruitlessly.
Meanwhile the French airmen had been scouring the sky for a sight of the German craft that might have released the death-dealing bombs on the city. But their success had been nil. Not a Hun had been sighted, and one aviator went up nearly four miles in an endeavor to locate a hostile craft.
Of course it was possible that a super-machine of the Huns had flown higher, but this did not seem feasible.
"There is some other explanation of the bombardment of Paris, I'm sure," said Tom, as he and Jack went to their lodgings. "It will be a surprise, too, I'm thinking, and we'll have to make over some of our old ideas and accept new ones."
"I believe you're right, Tom. But say, do you remember that fellow we saw in the train—the one I thought was a German spy?"
"To be sure I remember him and his metzel suppe. What about him? Do you see him again?" and Tom looked out into the street from the window of their lodging.
"No. I don't see him. But he may have had something to do with shelling the city."
"You don't mean he carried a long-range gun in his pocket, do you, Jack?" and Tom smiled for the first time since the awful tragedy.
"No, of course not. Still he may have known it was going to happen, and have come to observe the effect and report to his beastly masters."
"He'd be foolish to come to Paris and run the chance of being hit by his own shells."
"Unless he knew just where they were going to fall," said Jack.
"You have a reason for everything, I see," remarked Tom. "Well, the next time we go to headquarters we'll find out what they learned of this fellow. You know we started the secret service agents on his trail."
"Yes, I know. Well, I was just sort of wondering if he had anything to do with the bombardment of Paris. You've got to look for German spies now, even under your bed at night."
The boys felt they could do nothing more that day toward finding Mr. Raymond. A more detailed and careful search of the ruins might reveal something. Until this was accomplished nothing could be done.
They ate a late supper, without much in the way of appetites, it must be confessed, and then went out in the streets of Paris. There seemed to be few signs of war, aside from the many soldiers, and even the bombardment of a few hours earlier appeared to have been forgotten. But of course there was grief in many hearts.
It was early the next morning, when Tom and Jack were getting ready to go back to the ruins in the Rue Lafayette, that, as they left their lodgings, they heard in the air above them the familiar sounds of aeroplanes in flight, and the faint popping of machine guns, to which was added the burst of shrapnel.
"Look!" cried Jack. "It's a battle in the air. The Huns are making another raid. Now we'll see how they bomb the city."
But it did not turn out to be that sort of raid. The German craft were flying low, apparently to get a view of the havoc wrought the day before. Possibly photographs were being taken.
But the French aeroplanes were ready for the foe, and at once arose to give battle, while the anti-aircraft guns roared out a stern order to retreat. It was a battle above the city and, more than once, Tom and Jack wished they could be in it.
"We'll have to get back to our hangars soon," mused Tom, as they watched the fight. "We can't be slackers, even if I can't find my father," he added bravely.
The French planes were too much for the Germans, and soon drove them back beyond the Hun lines, though perhaps not before the enemy aviators had made the observations desired.
"Well, they didn't see much," remarked Jack. "As far as any real damage was done to Paris it doesn't count, from a military stand-point."
"No, you're right," agreed Tom. "Of course they have killed some noncombatants, but that seems to be the Boche's principal form of amusement. As for getting any nearer to the capture of Paris this way, he might as well throw beans at the pyramids. It's probably done for the moral, or immoral, effect."
And this seemed to be the view taken of it by the Paris and London papers. The method of bombardment, however, remained a mystery, and a baffling one. This was a point the military authorities wished to clear up. To that end it was much to be desired that fragments of the shell should be found. And to find them, if possible, a careful search was made, not only in the ruins of the Rue Lafayette, but at the other two places where the explosions had occurred.
In no place, however, was a large enough fragment found to justify any conclusive theories, and the Parisians were forced to wait for another bombardment—rather a grim and tense waiting it was, too.
But the careful search of the Rue Lafayette ruins proved one thing. The body of Tom's father was not among them, though this did not make it certain that he was alive. He may have been totally destroyed, and this thought kept Tom from being able to free his mind of anxiety. He dared not cable any news home, and all he could do was to keep on hoping. These were anxious days for him and Jack.
Their leave of absence had been for a week only, but under the circumstances, and as it was exceptionally quiet on their sector, they were allowed to remain longer. Tom wanted to make a more thorough search for his father, and the police and military authorities helped him. But Mr. Raymond seemed to have completely disappeared. There was no trace of him since the agent for the Rue Lafayette buildings had seen him leave his room just prior to the falling of the shell.
Jack inquired about the man he suspected of being a German spy. The secret service men had him under observation, they reported, but, as yet, he had not given them any cause to arrest him. They were waiting and watching.
Meanwhile active preparations were under way, not only to discover the source of the bombardment of Paris, but to counteract it. Extra anti-aircraft guns, of powerful calibre, were erected in many places about the city, and more airmen were summoned to the defense.
As yet there had been no resumption of the bombardment, and there were hopes that the German machine, whatever it was, had burst or been put out of commission. But on the second day of the second week of the boys' stay in Paris, once more there was the alarm and the warning from the soldiers and police, and again came that explosion.
The bombardment of Paris was being renewed!