Chapter XVII -- A Capture From The Skies
Jack went off to see what he could discover, and Harry, left behind with Dick, racked his brains for some means of blocking the plan he was so sure the Germans had made. He was furious at Graves, who had discredited him with Colonel Throckmorton, as he believed. He minded the personal unpleasantness involved far less than the thought that his usefulness was blocked, for he felt that not information he might bring would be received now.
As he looked around it seemed incredible that such things as he was trying to prevent could even be imagined. After the early rain, the day had cleared up warm and lovely, and it was now the most perfect of things, a beautiful summer day in England. The little road they had taken was a sort of blind alley. It had brought them to a meadow, whence the hay had already been cut. At the far side of this ran a little brook, and all about them were trees. Except for the call of birds, and the ceaseless hum of insects, there was no sound to break the stillness. It was a scene of peaceful beauty that could not be surpassed anywhere in the world. And yet, only a few miles away, at the most, were men who were planning deliberately to bring death and destruction upon helpless enemies - to rain down death from the skies.
By very contrast to the idyllic peace of all about them, the terrors of war seemed more dreadful. That men who went to war should be killed and wounded, bat though it was, still seemed legitimate. But his driving home of an attack upon a city all unprepared, upon the many non-combatants who would be bound to suffer, was another and more dreadful thing. Harry could understand that it was war, that it was permissible to do what these Germans were planned. And yet --
His thoughts were interrupted by a sudden change in the quality of the noisy silence that the insects made. Just before he noticed it, half a dozen bees had been humming near him. Now he heard something that sounded like the humming of a far vaster bee. Suddenly it stopped, and, as it did, he looked up, his eyes as well as Dick's being drawn upward at the same moment. And they saw, high above them, an aeroplane with dun colored wings. Its engine had stopped and it was descending now in a beautiful series of volplaning curves.
"Out of essense - he's got to come down," said Harry, appraisingly, to Dick. "He'll manage it all right, too. He knows his business through and through, that chap."
"I wonder where he'll land," speculated Dick.
"He's got to pick an open space, of course," said Harry. "And there aren't so many of them around here. By Jove!"
"Look! He's certainly coming down fast!" exclaimed Dick.
"Yes - and, I say, I think he's heading for this meadow! Come on -- start that motor, Dick!"
"Why? Don't you want him to see us?"
"I don't mind him seeing us - I don't want him to see the car," explained Harry. "We'll run it around that bend, out of sight from the meadow."
"Why shouldn't he see it?"
"Because if he's out of petrol, he'll want to take all we've got and we may not want him to have it. We don't know who he is, yet."
The car was moving as Harry explained. As soon as the meadow was out of sight, Harry stopped the engine and got out of the car.
"He may have seen it as he was coming down - the car, I mean," he said. "But I doubt it. He's got other things to watch. That meadow for one - and all his levers and his wheel. Guiding an aeroplane in a coast like that down the air is no easy job."
"Have you ever been up, Harry?"
"Yes, often. I've never driven one myself, but I believe I could if I had to. I've watched other people handle them so often that I know just about everything that has to be done.
"That's an English monoplane. I've seen them ever so often," said Dick. "It's an army machine, I mean. See it's number? It's just coming in sight of us now. Wouldn't you like to fly her though?"
"I'd like to know what it's doing around here," said Harry. "And it seems funny to me if an English army aviator has started out without enough petrol in his tank to see him through any flight he might be making. And wouldn't he have headed for one of his supply stations as soon as he found out he was running short, instead of coming down in country like this?"
Dick stared at him.
"Do you think it's another spy?" he asked.
"I don't think anything about it yet, Dick. But I'm not going to be caught napping. That's a Bleriot - and the British army flying corps uses Bleriots. But anyone with the money can buy one and make it look like an English army plane. Remember that."
There was no mistaking about the monoplane when it was once down. Its pilot was German; he was unmistakably so. He had been flying very high and when he landed he was still stiff from the cold.
"Petrol!" he cried eagerly, as he saw the two boys. "Where can I get petrol? Quick! Answer me!"
Harry shot a quick glance at Dick.
"Come on," he said, beneath his breath. "We've got to get him and tie him up."
The aviator, cramped and stiffened as he was by the intense cold that prevails in the high levels where he had been flying, was no match for them. As they sprang at him his face took on the most ludicrous appearance of utter surprise. Had he suspected that they would attack him he might have drawn a pistol. As it was, he was helpless before the two boys, both in the pink of condition and determined to capture him. He made a struggle, but in two minutes he was laying roped, tied, and utterly helpless. He was not silent; he breathed the most fearful threats as to what would happen to them. But neither boy paid any attention to him.
"We've got to get him to the car," said Harry. "Can we drag him?"
"Yes. But if we loosen his feet a little, he could walk," suggested Dick. "That would be ever so much easier for him, and for us too. I should hate to be dragged. Let's make him walk."
"Right - and a good idea!" said Harry. He loosened the ropes about the aviator's feet, and helped him to stand.
"March!" he said. "Don't try to get away - I've got a leading rope, you see."
He did have a loose end of rope, left over from a knot, and with this he proceeded to lead the enraged German to the automobile. It looked for all the world as if he were leading a dog, and for a moment Dick doubled up in helpless laughter. The whole episode had it's comic side, but it was serious, too.
"Now we've got to draw off the gasoline in the tank in this bucket," said Harry. The German had been bestowed in the tonneau, and made as comfortable as possible with rugs and cushions. His feet were securely tied again, and there was no chance for him to escape.
"What are you going to do?" asked Dick. "Are you going to try to fly in that machine?"
"I don't know, yet. But I'm going to have it ready, so that I can if I need to," said Harry. "That Bleriot maybe the saving of us yet, Dick. There's no telling what we shall have to do."
Even as he spoke, Harry was making new plans, rendered possible by this gift from the skies. He was beginning, at last, to see a way to circumvent the Germans. What he had in mind was risky, certainly, and might prove perilous in the extreme. But he did not let that aspect of the situation worry him. His one concern was to foil the terrible plan that the Germans had made, and he was willing to run any risk that would help him to do so.
"The Zeppelin is coming here to Bray Park - it's going to land here," said Harry. "And if it ever gets away from here there will be no way of stopping it from doing all the damage they have planned, or most of it. Thanks to Graves, we wouldn't be believed if we tell what we know - we'd probably just be put in the guard house. So we've got to try to stop it ourselves."
They had reached the Bleriot by that time. Harry filled the tank, and looked at the motor. Then he sat in the driver's seat and practiced with the levers, until he decided that he understood them thoroughly. And, as he did this, he made his decision.
"I'm going into Bray Park tonight," he said. "This is the only way to get in."
"And I'm going with you," announced Dick.