The Guns of Europe/Chapter IV
MADAME CROCHEVILLE brought them supper, and they ate with strong appetites. John was all courage and anticipation. He was chafing over his compulsory day and night in one room, despite its comfort and safety, and he was ready for any risk. He wanted to reach his uncle and Mr. Anson, knowing how great must be their anxiety. Lannes was as eager to be away, for other reasons.
"Don't make the risks too great," said Madame Crocheville, as she paused with the tray of empty dishes.
"We will not," replied Lannes earnestly. "It is not a time for folly."
He went out with Madame, leaving John alone in the room, but he returned in two or three minutes, and thrust an automatic pistol in the young American's hand.
"Put this in your pocket," he said, "and here's a little bag of cartridges that you can drop into another pocket."
"But it's not my war," said John, "I don't want to shoot at anybody."
"No, it's not your war, but it's forcing itself upon you, and you may have to shoot. You'll be wise to take what I offer you."
Then John took them, and an hour later they stole out of the house, carrying with them the earnest hopes of Madame Crocheville. The house, doubtless, had other inmates, but she was the only one whom John had seen, and her competency gave the impression that no other was needed.
"We're going out into the country," said Lannes.
"Show the way."
"Don't you feel any curiosity about it?"
"A lot, but, remember I promised to ask no questions." Lannes laughed.
"So you did," he said, "and I knew that you were a man who'd keep your word, as you're doing. We're going to leave this town and the country about it, but I'll say nothing about the way it's to be done. There's some danger, though, and I'm armed just as you
"I'm not afraid of a little danger."
"I knew you were not. Here we are in the passage again, and it's as dark as a well. Mind your step, and, when we come out into the broader street, walk as if you had lived here all your life. But the town is half deserted. All the younger men have gone away to the war."
They came into the street and walked carelessly along, passing only an occasional old man or woman. The wonderful German mobilization, like a net, through which nothing slipped, was going on, and the youthful strength of the town was already departing toward the French border.
"No notice of us will be taken until we come to the outskirts," said Lannes, "but there they have sentinels whom we must pass."
It was on the tip of John's tongue to ask how, but he refrained. He was willing to put his trust in this young Frenchman who was proving himself so trustworthy, and he continued in silence by his side. It did not take them long to reach the area of scattered houses. Walking swiftly among them they entered a vegetable garden, and John saw beyond the metals of a railway track, a bridge, and two soldiers, gun on shoulder, guarding it.
"We're going to pass under that bridge," said Lannes.
Now John could not refrain from asking how.
"It crosses a canal and not a river," said Lannes. "It's an old disused canal, with but little water in it, and we'll go down its bed. Come on, John."
The canal flowed at the foot of the garden, and they lowered themselves into the bed, where they found a muddy footing, between the water and the bank, which rose four or five feet.
"We'll bend over and hug the bank," said Lannes. "In the darkness we may be able to go under the bridge, unseen by the two sentinels. At any rate we must chance it. If they fire on us the odds are at least twenty to one against our being hit. So, don't use the automatic unless the need is desperate."
A chill ran along John's spine. He had never fired at anybody, and nobody had ever fired at him. A week ago he was a peaceful tourist, never dreaming of bullets, and now he was fairly hurled into the middle of a gigantic war. But he was one who accepted facts, and, steadying himself for anything, he followed Lan- nes who, bent almost double, was walking rapidly.
They were within twenty yards of the bridge now, and John distinctly saw the two sentinels. They were stout Bavarian lads, with heavy, unthinking faces, but he knew that, taught in the stern German school, they would fire without hesitation on Lannes and himself. He devoutly hoped they would not be seen, and it was not alone their own safety of which he was thinking, but he did not want to use the automatic on those kindly Bavarian boys.
As they came within the shadow of the bridge they bent lower and went much more slowly. Strange thrills, the product of excitement and not of fear, ran down John's back. This was no play, no game of make-believe, he was running for his life, and a world which had been all peace a few days ago was now all war. It was impossible, but it was happening and it was true. He could not comprehend it all at once, and he was angry at himself because he could not. These emotions went fleeting by, even at the moment, when they passed under the bridge.
They paused directly beneath the superstructure, and hugged the bank. John could see the two sentinels above, one at either end. Lannes and he had come thus far in safety, but beyond the bridge the shadows were not so deep, and the banks of the canal were lower.
"I think that luck has favored us," whispered Lannes.
"I hope it will continue to do so."
"It will. It usually goes one way for a little while. Come!"
They passed from the shelter of the bridge and ran down the old canal. Luck favored them for forty or fifty yards, and then one of the sentinels caught a glimpse of John's figure. Hastily raising his gun he fired.
John felt a rush of air past his face, and heard the thud of the bullet as it buried itself in the soft bank. A cold chill ran down his spine, but he said nothing. Lannes and he increased their speed. The sentinels did not fire again. Perhaps they thought imagination had been tricked by a shadow.
A hundred yards farther on, and the canal passed through woods, where it was so dark that one could not see far. Lannes climbed the bank and threw himself down among the trees. John imitated him.
"Are you hit?" asked Lannes.
"No, but I felt the wind from the bullet."
"Then you've had your baptism of war, and as it was a German bullet that was seeking you you're one of us now."
John was silent.
Both lay a while on the grass in the dense shadow of the trees, until their panting passed into regular breathing. The darkness did not decrease, and no sound came from the fields. It was evident that they had not been followed. John felt that all his strength had returned, but he waited patiently for Lannes to lead the way.
The Frenchman rose presently and went to the edge of the grove.
"The coast is clear," he said, "and we might as well depart. Come, Monsieur John. You've shown great power over your curiosity, and I'll ask you to show it a little longer. But I'll say this much. You can barely make out a line of hills across those fields. Well, they are five or six miles away and we're going toward them at a leisurely but fairly rapid pace."
"All right. Show the way. I think I'm in good shape for a canter of several miles."
They walked steadily more than an hour, and the night lightened somewhat. As they approached the hills John saw that they were high, rough, and covered with dark green foliage. It was possible that Lannes was seeking a refuge among them, but reflection indicated that it was not probable. There could be no secure hiding place in a country so thickly populated, and in a region so far away from France. Lannes must have something else in view.
When they came to the first slope Lannes led boldly upward, although he followed no path. The trees were larger than one usually sees in Europe, and there was'some undergrowth. At a point two or three hundred feet up they stopped and looked back. They saw nothing. The town was completely hidden by the night. John had a strong feeling of silence, loneliness and awe. He would have insisted upon knowing where Lannes was leading him, but the young Frenchman had shown himself wholly trustworthy.
The way continued upward. Lannes was following no path, but he advanced with certainty. The night lightened somewhat. A few stars came out, and an edge of the moon showed, but the town was now shut off from sight by the foliage on the hills, and they seemed absolutely alone in the world.
John knew that they were not likely to see houses, owing to the habit the rural people had on the continent of living in villages, but they might pass the hut of a stray woodcutter or charcoal burner. He had no mind to be taken back to the town and his hand slipped down to the butt of the automatic.
"You've plenty of courage, John," said Lannes, "and you've a very steady nerve, too. Courage and steady nerve don't always go together. You'll need both."
"For our escape?"
"Yes. It's scarcely possible to walk out of Germany because the borders are guarded everywhere. The land is closed to us, nor can we go by water either. As an American they might have passed you on, if you had not become so strongly identified with me, but borrowing one of your English expressions we are now tarred with the same brush. But, as I told you before, we shall leave Germany nevertheless."
John's curiosity was intense, but pride still kept him from asking any questions. In silence he followed Lannes, who was traveling upward. The region now became utterly dreary, steep, stony and rain-washed. Not even the thrifty European peasant could have drawn any part of a living from those blasted rocks.
They came at last to the crest of the hills, or rather low mountains, and passed into a depression which looked to John like some age-old crater. Then he heard Lannes draw a deep breath, almost a sigh, and he knew it was caused by relief of the mind rather than of the body.
"Well, we're here," said Lannes, sitting down at the stony edge of the crater.
"Yes, we're here," said John, also sitting down, "and being here, where are we ?"
Lannes laughed. It was a pleased and friendly laugh, and John recognized it as such.
"Wait until we draw about a hundred long breaths apiece," said Lannes, "and then we'll have action."
"Suits me. That was a big climb."
As they rested, John looked down with renewed interest at the crater. He saw that the center of it was quite level, and evidently the soil on that spot was rich, as it was covered with thick long grass. Nearer by, among the stones, lay faggots, and also smaller pieces of wood.
"John," said Lannes, at the end of a few minutes, "you'll help me with these billets, won't you ?"
"Of course. What do you want to do ?"
"To build a fire. Aren't you cold ?"
"I hadn't thought about it. I'm not likely to notice either heat or cold at such a time."
Lannes laughed. It was a low laugh of satisfaction, but wholly without irony.
"You're not cold," he said, "nor am I, and if we were we wouldn't build a fire to keep us warm. But we're going to build one."
They laid the faggots and smaller pieces together, and then cut off dry splinters with their clasp knives. Lannes set fire to the splinters with a match, and the two stood away. The blaze spread rapidly, and soon crackled and burned at a merry rate, sending up high flames.
"Aren't you afraid the fire will warn some one?" asked John.
"I hope so," was the startling reply.
Lannes threw on more wood. He seemed anxious that the flames should rise higher. They obeyed his wish, shooting upward, and sending streams of sparks far above. Then he stepped back, and, sitting down on a stone, began to look into the skies, not a stray glance, but a long, unbroken anxious gaze.
The heavens were yet brightening. More stars sprang out, the segment of the moon broadened and shone like burnished silver. The last cloud was gone, leaving the skies a vast vault of dusky blue. And Lannes never took his eyes from the great arch, although they traveled from horizon to horizon, searching, searching, searching everywhere.
The young Frenchman's action and manner had an indescribable effect upon John. A warning thrill ran down his back, and there was a strange, creeping sensation at the roots of his hair. Without knowing why, he, too, began to gaze steadily into the skies. The little town from which they had escaped and the possibility of the wandering wood-cutter or charcoal burner passed from his mind. His whole soul was in his eyes as he stared into the heavens, looking for he knew not what.
The gaze of Lannes turned chiefly toward a range of mountains, to the south, visible only because of the height on which they stood. Anxiety, hope, belief and disbelief appeared on his face, but he never moved from his seat, nor spoke a word. Meanwhile the flames leaped high and crackled, making the only sound heard in all that desolation and loneliness.
How long they sat there, watching the skies John never knew, but the time seemed hours, and throughout it Lannes did no.t once take his gaze from above. Now and then, he drew a sharp breath, as if a hope had failed, but, in a moment or two, hope came back to his eyes, and they still searched.
John suddenly felt a great thrill again run down his spine, and the roots of his hair quivered. He was looking toward the mountains in the south, and he believed that he saw a black dot hanging in the air above them. Then another dot seemed to hang beside it. So much looking could make one see things that were not, and he rubbed his eyes. But there hung the dots, and they were growing larger.
John looked long and he could not now doubt. The black dots grew steadily. They were apparently side by side, and they came fast toward the hill on which Lannes and he stood. He glanced at his comrade. He had never before seen a face express so much relief and exultation.
"They come! they come!" said Lannes, "I knew they would!"
John looked back. The black dots were much nearer, and he began to make out dim shapes. Now, he knew. The full truth burst upon him. They were aeroplanes, and he knew that Lannes had summoned them out of the black ether with his fire. He felt the great thrill along his spine again. It was magic; nothing less. Flights in the air were yet too novel to allow of any other feeling.
"They're coming to us!" said John.
"Yes," said Lannes, pride showing in his tone. "I called them and they came. I told you, John, that we'd escape, neither by land, nor by water, but that we would escape. And so we will. We go by air, John. The heavens open and receive us."
He rose and stretched out his arms, as if to meet the coming black shapes. The dramatic instinct in him was strong, and John could well pardon it as he saw that his emotion was extraordinary.
"The heavens open a path for us!" he cried.
The two aeroplanes were now circling over their own hill, and John could discern human shapes in them. They began to descend gently, as the operators skillfully handled the steering rudders.
"Well done! well done!" said Lannes to himself rather than to John. "They couldn't be managed better."
Presently the machines began to loop and make spirals, and then both sank gently upon the grassy turf in the center of the glade. A man stepped forth from the seat in each machine and saluted Lannes, as if he were a commander. Lannes returned the salute promptly and gracefully.
"We saw the fiery signal, lieutenant," said one of the men in French, as he took off his great glasses, "and we came as fast as we could."
"I knew that you would do so, Castelneau," said Lannes, "and I knew that Mery would be as prompt."
The two aviators bowed with evident gratification, and Castelneau said:
"We are proud of praise that comes from the most daring and skillful airman in France, which means in this case the world. We thank you, Lieutenant Lannes."
Lannes blushed and said:
"You overrate me, Castelneau."
John glanced at him. And, so this youth with the easy manner and the wonderful eyes was the greatest of all flying men! John's own mind was not mechanical, but his glance became a gaze of admiration. What a mighty achievement it was to cleave the air like a bird, and leave the whole solid earth beneath. One, in fact, did leave the world and hang in space. For the moment, he thought more of the wonder than of its bearing upon his own fortunes.
He glanced down at the machines resting on the grass. Their motors were still throbbing, and in the dimness they looked like the rocs of Arabian mythology, resting after a gigantic flight. In truth, every- think had taken on for John an aspect of unreality. These men were unreal, Lannes and he were unreal, and it was an unreal world, in which nothing but unrealities moved.
"My new friend is an American," said Lannes, "and he's to be trusted, since his own life as well as ours is at stake. Monsieur John Scott, Messieurs Gas- ton Castelneau and August Mery. John, these are two skillful and valued members of the French flying corps. I want you to shake hands with brave men."
John gladly shook their gloved hands.
"Castelneau, and you, Mery, listen," said Lannes, and again his voice took on that dramatic ring, while his figure seemed to swell in both size and stature. "It is here! It has come, and the whole world will shake beneath its tread!"
"The war!" they exclaimed with one voice.
"Aye the war! The great war! the world war! The planet-shaking war! Germany declared war today on Russia and tomorrow she declares war on France! Never mind how I know! I know, and that's enough! The strength and weight of a Germany that has devoted its best mind and energy for nearly half a century to preparation for war will be hurled at once upon our poor France! We are to be the first and chief victim!"
"It will not be so!" said Castelneau and Mery together.
"No, I think not. Republican France of 1914 is not Imperial France of 1870. There I think Imperial Germany has made her great mistake. And we have friends, as Imperial France had not! But every son of France must be prepared to shed his blood in her defense!"
Castelneau and Mery bowed gravely. John could tell little about them, except they were short, thick men, apparently very strong. They wore caps, resembling those of a naval officer, heavy, powerful glasses, and baggy clothing, thick and warm. John saw that they paid Lannes great deference, and he remembered the words of Castelneau that the young Frenchman was the greatest airman in France. And he had a vague impression, too, that France led in flying.
"Can France win against Germany, my lieutenant?" asked Mery, who had not spoken hitherto. "The Germans outnumber us now in the proportion of seven to four, and from a time long before we were born they've thought war, dreamed war, and planned war."
"We'll not have to fight Germany, single handed, my good Mery," replied Lannes. "We'll have friends, good friends, powerful friends. And, now, I suppose that you have extra clothing with you?"
"Enough for two, sir. Your friend goes with you?"
"He does unless he wishes to remain here and be shot as a spy by the Germans."
Lannes did not glance at John as he spoke, but it was a calculated remark, and it met with an instant response.
"I'll go with you in the machine," he said.
And yet it took great courage to make the resolve.
The three Frenchmen were practised aviators. They traveled in the air as John would have traveled on the water. He had never been in a flying machine in his life, and his mind did not turn to mechanics.
"We must not waste time in delay," said Lannes. "Mr. Scott and I will go in the first machine, and we will start straight for France. John, I promised to take you to Munich, but I can't do it now. I'll carry you to France. Then you may cross over to Switzerland, and communicate with your people in Munich. It's the best that can be done."
"I know," said John, "and I appreciate the effort you're making for me. Nor would I be in your way at a time when you may be able to do so much for your country."
"Then we go at once. Castelneau, we take the 'Arrow."
He pointed to the smaller of the machines.
"Yes, my lieutenant," said Castelneau, "it is the better for a long flight."
"I thought so. Now, Castelneau, you and Mery return to the hidden station in the mountains, while Mr. Scott and I take flight for France. John, here are your clothes."
John hastily put on the heavy garments, which seemed to him to be made of some kind of oilskin, thrust his hands into heavy gloves, and put on the protecting glasses. But as he did it his pulses were beating hard. The earth on which he now stood looked very good and very solid, and the moonlit ether above him was nothing but air, thin, impalpable air, through which his body would cleave, if he fell, with lightning speed. For a moment or two he was afraid, horribly afraid, but he resolutely put the feeling down.
Lannes was also clothed anew, looking like a great baggy animal, but he was rapid and skillful. John saw at once that the praise of Castelneau was justified.
"Here is your seat, John," said Lannes, "and mine is here. All you'll have to do is to sit still, watch the road and enjoy the scenery. We'll give her a shove, and then you jump in."
There was some room on the grass for the preliminary maneuver, and the four shoved the machine forward and upward. Then Philip and John, quickly releasing their grasp, sprang into their seats.
Lannes' eyes behind the heavy glasses were flashing, and the blood was flying through his veins. The daring strain, the utter defiance of death which appears so often in French blood was up and leaping. He was like a medieval knight, riding to a tournament, confident of victory, only Philip Lannes was not any conqueror of narrow lists, the vast space in which the whole universe swings was his field of triumph. His hand sought the steering rudder, and the machine, under the impulse of the strong push it had received, rose into the air.
John's sensation as he left the earth for the very first time in his life was akin to seasickness. The machine seemed to him to be dipping and gliding, and the throbbing of the motor was like the hum of a ship's machinery in his ear. For a few moments he would have given anything he had to be back on that glorious solid earth. But again he put down the feeling of fear.
He turned his head for a last look at Castelneau and Mery, and, to his amazement, he could barely make them out standing by the other machine, which looked like some great, vague bird poised on the grass. Directly below him he saw the tops of trees, and at that moment they looked to his excited fancy like rows of glittering spear points, poised to receive him.
"Look up! Look up!" said the sharp voice of Lannes in his ear. "It's always the fault of beginners to look down and see what they've left." ,
His tone was more than sharp, it was peremptory, commanding. John glanced at him and saw his steady hand on the rudder, and his figure loose and swinging easily like that of a sailor poised on a rolling deck. He knew that Lannes' manner was for his own good, and now he looked straight up at those heavens, into which they were ascending.
The motor throbbed, and John knew that the machine was ascending, rising, but not at a sharp angle. The dizzy feeling began to depart, and he longed to look down again, but did not do so. Instead he kept his eyes upward, his gaze fixed on the dusky blue heavens, which now looked so wide and chill. He knew that the little distance they had come from the earth was nothing to the infinity of the void, but by some mental change the stars seemed to have come much nearer, and to have grown hugely in size. There they danced in space, vast and cold.
The machine dipped a little and rose again. John dared another glance at Lannes, who was swaying easily in his seat, feeling all the exaltation of a confident rider who has a swift horse beneath him.
"I'm better now," said John above the purring of the motor.
Lannes laughed deep down in his throat, and with unction.
"Getting your air-legs, so to speak," he said. "You're learning fast. But don't look down at the ground, at least not yet. By and by you'll feel the thrill, which to me is like nothing else on earth—or rather above it. You've noticed, haven't you, that it's growing colder?"
"Not yet. I suppose the excitement has made my blood flow faster than usual, and that keeps me warm."
"It won't much longer. We're up pretty high now, and we're flying fast toward that beautiful country of mine. Can't you feel the wind rushing like a hurricane past your ears?"
"Yes, I do, and in the last minute or two it's acquired an edge of ice."
"And that edge will soon grow sharper. We're going higher."
John felt the upward swoop of the plane. The sensation that a ship gives a passenger when it dips after a swell returned, but it quickly passed. With it went all fear, and instead came a sort of unreasoning exhilaration, born of a strange new tincture in his blood. His ears were pounding and his heart had a more rapid beat. He hoped that Lannes would go yet higher. >Yes, his comrade was right. He did feel the wind rushing past, and heard it, too. It was a pleasant sound, telling of trackless miles through the ether, falling fast behind them.
Those moments were filled for him with a new kind of exaltation. Despite the cold heights the blood still flowed, warm, in his veins. The intangible sky was coming nearer and its dusky blue of the night was deepening. The great, friendly stars looked down, meeting his upturned gaze, and still danced before him.
Now, he dared to stare down for the second time, and his heart took a great leap. Far beneath him, somber and dark, rolled the planet on which he had once lived. He had left war and the hate of nations behind. Here was peace, the steady throb of the motor in his ear was soothing music.
"I see that you've got your air-balance, John," said Philip, "you learn fast. I think that Castelneau and Mery would approve of you. Since you've learned to look down now with steady eyes take these glasses."
He handed him a pair of powerful glasses that he took from under the seat, and John, putting them to- his eyes turned them downward. It gave him a strange tingling sensation that he from some unknown point in space should look at the earth as a distant and foreign planet.
But the effect of the glasses was wonderful. The earth sprang forth in the moonlight. He saw forests, fields, villages, and the silver ribbon of a river. But all were racing by, and that, even more than the wind rushing past, gave him an idea of the speed at which they were going. He took a long, long look and then returned the glasses.
"It's tremendous," he said. "I confess that at first I felt both fear and physical ill. But I am getting over it, and I feel instead the thrill of swift motion."
"It's because we have a perfect piece of track."
"There's no track in the air!"
"Oh, yes, there is. If you'd thought a moment you'd have known it, though I'll admit it's a shifting one. When you stand on the ground and turn your eyes upward all the sky looks alike. But it's far from it. It's full of all kinds of winds, currents and strata, pockets, of which all aviators stand in deadly fear, mists, vapors, clouds of every degree of thickness and complexion, and then you have thunder and lightning, just as you do on land and sea. It's these shifting elements that make the navigation of the air so dangerous, John. The whole question would be solved, if there was nothing but stationary air, growing thinner in exact proportion as we rise. But such a condition of aerial peace could not be reached unless we could go up fifty miles, where there is no air, and that we'll never be able to do."
"How high are we now?"
"About three thousand feet. Draw that collar more closely about your neck. You may not feel cold, because of the new fire in your blood, but you are cold, nevertheless. Now, see those whitish streams below us. They're little clouds, vapor mostly, they don't contain rain. You've read the 'Arabian Nights,' haven't you, John?"
"Yes, and I know just the comparison you're thinking of."
"What is it, then? See if you're right."
"The roc, great, fabled bird, flying through the air .with those old Arabs perched on its back."
"Right! He guessed right the very first time. That's one of your Americanisms, isn't it? Oh, I know a lot of your choicest expressions. Hit it up lively! That's what we're doing. He's full of pep! That's what we are; aren't we, John? Come across with a double play! And we're doing that, too."
"I don't know that your baseball metaphor is exactly right, Philip, but your heart is certainly in the proper place. When do we get to France ?"
"Don't talk about that yet, because it's impossible to approximate. This smooth track will not go on forever. It's lasted longer than usual already. Then, we'll have to eat, later on. There's food here in a tiny locker that you can't see, but it may be better for us to drop down to the earth when we eat. Besides, while we're sailing through the sky, I'd like to observe as much as I can of this German mobilization and take the news of it to France. That, of course, leaves you out of consideration, John, but I'm bound to do it."
"Don't regard me. I've no right to ask anything of you. I'm a guest or a prisoner, and in either capacity it behooves me to take what comes to me."
"But I got you into it, and so I feel obligations, but, heavy as they are, they're not heavy enough to keep me from seeing what I can see. I told you that we wrere going toward France, but we're not taking the direct course. I mean to fly over the ancient city of Nuremburg, and then over Frankfort-on-the-Main. Look out, now, John, we're going to drop fast!"
The machine descended rapidly in a series of wide spirals, until it was within seven or eight hundred feet of the earth.
"Look down now," said Lannes, "and without the glasses you can see a town."
But he had taken the glasses himself, and while he held one hand on the steering rudder he made a long and attentive examination of the place, and of low iworks about it, which he knew contained emplacements for cannon.
"It's a fortified town and a center for mobilization," he said. "All day long the recruits have been pouring in here, responding to the call. They receive their uniforms, arms and ammunition at that big barracks on the hill, and tomorrow they take the trains to join the giant army which will be hurled on my France."
John heard a sigh. Lannes was afraid after all that the mighty German war machine, the like of which the world had never seen before would crush everything.
"It will be hard to stop that army," he could not keep from saying.
"So it will. The Germans have prepared for war. The French have not. John, John, I wish I knew the secrets of our foes! For more than forty years they've been using their best minds and best energies for this. We don't even know their weapons. I've heard strange tales of monster cannon that the Krupps have sent out of Essen, and of new explosives of unimagined power. I don't know whether to believe these tales or not. But (I do know that the Germans will be ready to the last cartridge."
"But something in the machine may go wrong, Phil."
"That's our hope. We've got to smash some of the wheeles, or rods or levers. If we compel them to change their plan they won't have time to organize a perfect new one."
"The old simile of the watch, I suppose. It'll run a hundred years if all the works are kept right. But if a single one of them goes wrong it's done forever."
"It's as you say. Sit steady, now. We're going to take another upward swoop. I've seen enough of that town and its forts, and I don't want to linger so close to the earth that they'll see us."
The machine rose like a mighty bird, but shortly after it reached the top of its flight John felt a slight jerk. It was a sudden movement of Lannes' hand on the steering rudder that had caused it.
"John," he said, and the voice shook a little, "take the glasses. Look off there in the northwest, and see if you can't make out a black object hanging in the sky?"
John took the glasses and put them to his eyes.