The Hosts of the Air by Joseph A. Altsheler
Chapter XIV. The Happy Escape
They said very little now. John drove on through a great happy silence. All the omens were good, and he believed that they would escape. Surely, fortune was with them when they had been able to come so far without challenge. The sun swam over the earth and threw golden beams into the valley. On their right a swift stream chattered over the stones and further away on their left rose the steep slopes, heavy with forest. They passed farmers and shepherds who had little time to take notice, as they saw the great machine but a moment, and then it was gone.
John had his mind set on escape by the way of the Adriatic. He had heard rumors that Italy might enter the war on the side of the Allies, but he knew that it had not yet taken any action and he had high hopes of finding a path to safety in that direction. Meanwhile, and whatever came of it, he must press on.
Toward noon he slackened speed, and they ate a little from the supplies they carried in the automobile. Just as they finished Suzanne held up her hand: "I think I hear another machine coming," she said.
"You are right," said John, after he had listened intently for a full minute. "It's the humming sound of tires, but it's only one automobile. Of that I'm sure, and I think it's a light one. We'll drive on at moderate speed, attending strictly to our own business."
But he loosened the revolver in his belt, and while he appeared to look straight ahead he had eye and ear also for the approaching machine, which obviously was coming at a great pace.
"It's a small automobile with only one person in it," said Julie.
"Then we have nothing to fear," said John. "But the figure of the man at the wheel looks familiar."
"Ah!" said John, drawing a deep breath. In that region a familiar face could scarcely be the face of a friend. He stiffened a little, and cast another look at the revolver in his belt to see that it was convenient to his hand. Then, to indicate that he was not running away and to prevent suspicion, he slackened the speed of the machine. As he did so the humming behind them rapidly grew louder and a light runabout drew up by their side. John uttered a cry of amazement as he saw the man at the wheel.
It was Weber, the Alsatian, in civilian clothing, his black beard trimmed nicely to a point, his eyes flashing a smile of welcome, as he took off his cap and bowed low to John and Mademoiselle Julie Lannes, but lower to Julie. John brought his machine down to a slow pace, and there was room for Weber's by their side in the road.
"You never dreamed of being overtaken by me here," said the Alsatian, smiling again, and showing his white teeth.
"No," replied John. "It never occurred to me that it was you behind us."
"After all, I am, I think, your good angel. In your flight with Mademoiselle Lannes you need advice and guidance, and I can give both."
"You do appear at the most opportune times. It has become a habit for which I am grateful."
"It's not chance that I'm here. It's pursuit and design. You know my duties as a spy, an ugly name, perhaps, but one that calls for daring and patriotism. Hearing of the council held at Zillenstein by Prince Karl of Auersperg I went there to learn what I could of it. The information that I was able to secure is in the hands of a confederate now on his way to Paris, and I remained to probe into the mystery of Mademoiselle Lannes' disappearance."
"Then you learned of the hunting lodge on the mountain?"
"Very quickly. I discovered, too, that Mademoiselle Lannes and her maid had been taken away by a young chauffeur, coming from somewhere in Lorraine, who had been only a short time at the castle. Knowing you for what you are, Mr. Scott, and understanding your devotion, I leaped at once to the conclusion that it was you. I slipped away as soon as the snow melted sufficiently, and was the first from the outside world to reach the lodge. The absence of the limousine, the tire tracks leading toward Tellnitz and other evidence at the lodge showed without doubt that my conclusions were right."
"And you followed immediately?"
"Without delay. I reached Tellnitz, where you stopped, obtained this light machine and came on at speed. It will be my pleasure to help as much as I can you and the sister of the great Philip Lannes, the first aviator of France."
"You left France after we did, Monsieur Weber," said Julie. "Did you hear anything of Philip?"
"That he had recovered fully of his wound, Mademoiselle, and that he and the Arrow were once more in the service of his country. He knows of your abduction by Prince Karl of Auersperg. A friend, an aviator, Delaunois, furnished him with many facts, and I cannot doubt that he will come over Austria in the Arrow to seek your rescue."
The eyes of Julie, John and Suzanne, as with one impulse, turned upward. It seemed to John, for a moment or two, that his vivid imagination could fairly create the slender and graceful shape of Philip's aeroplane, outlined against the sky. But the heavens were flawless, a pure, unbroken blue, without speck or stain, and he suppressed a little sigh of disappointment.
"Do you know the country at all?" he asked of Weber.
"Somewhat. It was a part of my work before the war to pass through all the regions of Germany and Austria, and learn as much of them as I could. At the end of this valley is a small village called Obenstein, where perhaps it would be wise for us to spend the next night. After that we must devise some method of getting out of Austria--and I do not seek to conceal from you that it will be a most difficult task. Perhaps it would be better to change your plan and enter Switzerland, a neutral country. It, of course, would end your service as a soldier, but that, I take it, would be no great hardship to you now."
The color came into John's face, but he was bound to admit that Weber was right. His interest in the war had become far less than his interest in Julie Lannes.
"Perhaps we can tell better after we spend the night at Obenstein," he said.
"Nothing can be hurt by reserving our verdict until tomorrow," said Weber. "Obenstein is very secluded. I believe that it has neither telephone nor telegraph, and we'll surely be able to leave it tomorrow before any pursuit can reach us."
"Do you think the plan a good one?" said John to Julie.
"I know of no better," she replied in English. "I trust to you and Mr. Weber."
"Then it's agreed," said John to Weber.
The Alsatian now led the way in his light machine, and the limousine followed at an interval of fifty or sixty yards. One hour, then two and three passed, and nothing came in the way of their easy and rapid progress. It all seemed too smooth and fortunate to John. It was incredible that they could travel thus great distances through Austria, the land of the enemy. He knew that chance had a way of finding a balance, and violent and fierce events might be before them.
But as he drove on he scanned the heavens now and then with a questing eye. It had not occurred to him until Weber spoke that all of them might escape through the air. Lannes would trail them, not on the earth, but through mists and clouds. He would come, too, with friends almost as daring and skillful as himself, perhaps with Caumartin and the two, Castelneau and Mery, who had responded to the thrilling signal near Salzburg, when he took his first flight. His blood leaped and danced, and once more his eyes roved over the blue in search of the Arrow.
They came to Obenstein a little before dusk. It was a tiny village, almost hidden in a recess of the mountain, with a shaggy pine forest rising above it and casting its shadow over the houses. But there was a small, neat inn, and a garage for the machines, and the guests were received with the same hospitality that had been shown at Tellnitz. John again spread the rumor that it was a princess of the house of Auersperg who came, and he added Weber to the list of those who were attending her in her flight to a safer region. Julie withdrew as before to her room with her maid, but giving John, before she went, the brilliant smile of faith and confidence that would have sent him, sword in hand, against dragons.
He and Weber sat awhile in the little smoking-room talking in low tones of their journey. Most of the time they were alone, a waiter merely passing through now and then, and they had no fear of being overheard.
"Weber," he said, "I've learned from the innkeeper that a mountain road leads from here toward Switzerland and I feel sure already that your suggestion about our escaping into that country is good. You, of course, when you reach the border will do as you choose, as you will want to continue the dangerous work upon which you're engaged. But you may be sure that if we do get through, Mademoiselle Lannes and I will never forget the help that you have given us."
"All that I do I do gladly," said Weber. "You may not have spoken to each other but it is easy for me to tell how matters stand between Mademoiselle Lannes and you."
John was silent but his color deepened.
"You must not mind my saying these things," said Weber, speaking easily. "I'm older than you and the times are unusual. When you reach Paris you and Mademoiselle Lannes will be married."
John was still silent.
"And you will take her to America for the present, or at least Until the war is over. Ah, well! You're a happy man! Youth and the springtime! Beauty and love! Kings can procure no more and seldom as much! I think I'll walk in the air a little and have a smoke."
"And I," said John, "will go to sleep. I've a tiny room on the ground floor, but it's big enough to hold me. Good night."
"Good night, Mr. Scott."
There was only a single window in John's little room, but before undressing he opened it and stood there to breathe the cool night air for a while. It looked upon the forest that ran up the slope of the mountain, and the odor of the pines was very pleasant. Looking idly at the trunks and the foliage he saw a shadow pass into the depths of the forest and something, a pulse in his temple, perhaps, struck a warning note.
A shiver ran down his back and his hair lifted, as if touched with electric sparks. Acting at once under impulse he touched the pistol inside the pocket of his jacket to see that it was all right, and slipped out of the room.
He had marked the point at which the shadow disappeared in the forest and he followed it on light foot. He had been awakened as if a stroke of lightning had blazed suddenly before his eyes, and now his brain was seething with fierce thoughts, called up by a long chain of incidents, all at once made complete.
His hand slipped again to the revolver and he drew it forth, holding it ready for instant use. Then he went forward swiftly again on noiseless steps, and once more he caught a glimpse of the flitting shadow straight ahead. He increased his speed and the shadow resolved itself into the figure of a man, a figure that seemed familiar to him.
Two or three times the man stopped and looked back, but John had shrunk behind a tree and no pursuit was visible. Then he resumed his rapid flight up the steep slope, and young Scott persistently followed, never once losing sight of the active figure.
The way led to the crest of the mountain which hung about two thousand feet above the village and it was a climb requiring some time and endurance, but though John's pulse beat fast it was with excitement and not with exhaustion. At the summit he saw the figure emerge upon an open space upon which stood a slender round tower of considerable height.
John stopped at the edge of the pines and saw the figure disappear within the tower, upon the summit of which something presently began to flash and crackle. He caught his breath and the blood leaped fiercely through his veins. He knew that the tower was a wireless signal station and that it was talking to another somewhere. It sent, too, as he well knew, through the velvety blue of the night the message that Mademoiselle Julie Lannes, Suzanne, her maid, and John Scott, the American, were in the village of Obenstein where they could be taken.
He cursed himself for a fool, thrice a fool! Why had he not understood long before? Why had he not seen that so many coincidences could not be the result of chance? Only design and skill could have brought them about! Who had disabled the automobile in that flight with Carstairs and Wharton from the Germans? Who had sought to delay Lannes until he could be caught by the enemy? Who was the mysterious man in the aeroplane who had wounded Philip, who had led John from the chateau under the very rifles of the waiting marksmen, and who had been responsible for Julie's capture at Chastel? That letter, purporting to be from Philip, and directing her to come to Chastel, was surely a forgery!
These and all the other details crashed upon him with cumulative force, and he was so mad with fury that he thought his heart would burst with the surging blood. Why had the man worked with such energy and such cruel persistence against him? But his wonder quickly passed, because the reason did not matter now. Instead he put his finger on the trigger of the automatic and waited.
The wireless flashed and crackled for five minutes, then five minutes of silence and the figure of Weber reappeared at the base of the tower. He lingered there for a little space looking warily about him, before he began the descent of the mountain, and John quietly withdrew further into the pines. Weber presently crossed the open space, entering the forest, and John, noiseless, retreated before him.
Thus they proceeded down the mountain until the wireless tower was left several hundred yards behind and they were buried deep in the pine forest. Then John stepped suddenly into the road not twenty yards before the Alsatian and leveling his automatic said sharply:
"Hands up, Weber!"
Weber started violently and slowly raised his hands. But he said with composure:
"Why this sudden violence, Mr. Scott?"
"Because you have been upon the wireless tower signaling to our enemies. I've just understood everything, Weber. You're a German and not a French spy, and you've played the traitor to Julie and Philip Lannes and me all along."
There was enough moonlight for John to see that Weber's face was distorted by an evil smile.
"You've been a trifle slow in discovering just what I am," he said, calmly. "I've wondered that a young man of your perception didn't find me out earlier."
John flushed. The Alsatian's effrontery, in truth, had been amazing and in that perhaps lay his success--so far.
"It's true," he said, "I should have suspected you sooner, but it did not occur to me that human nature could be so vile. To undertake such risks and to use so much trickery and guile there must be a powerful motive, and in your case I can't guess it. Now, Weber, why did you do it?"
"Let me drop my hands, Mr. Scott, and I'll answer you," said Weber. "It's difficult to argue a case in such a strained and awkward position."
"Put them down, then, but remember that I'm watching you, and that I'm willing to shoot. Now, go ahead. Why have you been such a persistent enemy of Mademoiselle Lannes, her brother and myself? Why have you been such a triple traitor?"
"Don't call me a traitor, because a traitor I am not. On the contrary I am loyal with a loyalty of which you, John Scott, an American, know nothing. I've called myself an Alsatian, but really I am not. I am an Austrian. I was born on the Zillenstein estate of Prince Karl of Auersperg. My family has served his for a thousand years. Great as I hold Hapsburg and Hohenzollern, Auersperg means even more to me. The Auerspergs are the very essence and spirit of that aristocracy and rule of the very highborn, in which I believe and to which your country and later the French have stood in the exact opposite. Every time that my pulse beats within me it beats with the wish that you and all that you stand for should fail."
John did not feel the slightest doubt of Weber's sincerity. The increasing moonlight, falling in a silver flood across his face, showed too clearly his earnestness. Yet that earnestness was not good to look upon. It was sinister, tinged strongly with the beliefs of an old and wicked past. He too, like his master, was of the Middle Ages.
"And so in all these deeds you were serving Prince Karl of Auersperg?" said John.
"To the death. It was a false escape that I planned for you at the chateau. You were to have been shot down, but by an unlucky chance you escaped in the water."
"I've surmised that already."
"I'm an aviator, not so great as your friend Lannes, but no mean one nevertheless. It was I who pursued him, when you were with him in the Arrow near Paris, and wounded him."
"I've surmised that, too."
"And when Prince Karl coveted Mademoiselle Julie Lannes--and I do not blame him--I was of the most help to him in that matter so near to his heart. Do you understand that it was a great honor he offered Mademoiselle Lannes, to make her his morganatic wife? He need not have offered her so much."
The great pulse in John's throat beat heavily and his hand pressed the automatic, but he compressed his lips and said nothing.
"I see that my words anger you," continued Weber, "but from my point of view I am right. I serve my overlord!"
"What message were you sending by the wireless from the tower?"
"Doubtless you have guessed it. I was sending word to the detachment now on the road from Zillenstein to come here for Mademoiselle Lannes, her maid and you. They're ahorse, and they should arrive in three hours and you can't possibly escape. Before Prince Karl was compelled to leave for the theater of war he put this most important affair in my charge. He has not yet yielded all hope of Mademoiselle Lannes."
"It may be true that we can't escape, but what of yourself, Weber? We're alone in the forest and I hold the whip hand. The score that I owe you is large. You may have wrecked the life of Mademoiselle Julie and perhaps you will destroy my own, but you said it would be three hours before the detachment arrived, and I need only a few seconds."
"But I don't think you'll fire, Mr. Scott."
"Because I fire first!"
Absorbed in the talk John had unconsciously lowered the automatic, and, as agile as a panther, Weber suddenly leaped to one side, snatched a revolver from his own pocket and pulled the trigger. But the bullet flew wild. A huge shadow hovered over him and a weight crashed upon his head, smiting him down as if he had been struck by a giant shell. He sank in the path and lay motionless, dead ere he fell.
John stared, stricken with horror. The great shadow bent down a moment over the fallen man, then straightened itself up again, and two eyes in which the vengeful fire had not yet died gazed at John. Then as his dazed mind cleared he saw and knew. It was Antoine Picard, the gigantic and faithful servitor of the Lannes family.
"Antoine! Antoine!" cried John. "How did you come here? I thought you were in Munich!"
"It seems, your honor, that I'm here at the right moment. His bullet would certainly have found your heart had not my club descended upon his head at the very instant that his finger touched the trigger. He'll never stir again."
"But Antoine, it's you, yourself! It doesn't seem real that you should be here at such a time!"
"It's none other than Antoine Picard, your honor, and he never struck a truer or more timely blow. They were to hold me a prisoner in Munich, but I escaped. I did not return to France. I could never desert Mademoiselle Julie, and I followed. My size drew their attention, but in one way or another I kept down suspicion or escaped them. I traced Mademoiselle Julie and my daughter to the great castle and then to the lodge on the mountain. I saw the traitor who lies so justly dead here talking with German troops, and I knew that there was need for me to hasten. In the night I stole the horse of a Uhlan and galloped to Obenstein.
"I approached the inn just in time to see the traitor come forth, and knowing that he was bent upon some devil's work I followed him to the signal tower. I did not see you until he started back and then I bided my time. I was in the bush not ten feet from him while you talked."
"Lucky for your mistress and lucky for us all that you were, Picard!"
"We must leave Obenstein, your honor, at once!"
"Of course, Picard. We must take flight in the machine."
"As it would be hard to explain my presence, your honor, suppose I wait down the road for you. I've already turned the horse loose in the forest. First I'll move this from the path lest someone see it and give the alarm too soon."
He lifted the body of Weber and hid it among the bushes. Then they separated, John returning quickly to the inn. He saw a light in Julie's window and inferring that she had not yet retired he went hastily to her room and knocked on the door.
"Who's there?" came the brave voice of his beloved.
"It's John!" he replied, guardedly. "Open at once, Julie! We're in great danger and must act quickly!"
He heard the bolt shoot back, the door was opened, and Julie stood before him, pale but erect and courageous. Behind her, as usual, hovered the protecting shadow of Suzanne. John stepped inside and closed the door.
"Julie," he said, in a whisper, sharp with anxiety, "we must leave Obenstein in fifteen minutes! Weber is a traitor in the service of Prince Karl of Auersperg! He followed us to get you back to him! He has been signaling from a wireless station on the mountain! A detachment of hussars will be here in three hours!"
Her pallor deepened, but the courage that he loved still glowed in her eyes.
"But Weber?" she said. "He will stop our flight?"
"He will never harm us more, Julie. He is dead."
"No, Julie, I did not kill him. It was a stronger arm than mine that struck the blow. Suzanne, your father is waiting for us in the forest. He has followed us all the way from Munich to Zillenstein, to the lodge, and here to Obenstein. It was he who sent Weber to the doom that he deserved."
"Ah!" said Suzanne, and John saw her stern eyes shining. She was the worthy daughter of her father.
"Put on your cloaks and hoods at once," said John, "and I'll have the automobile out in a few minutes! It doesn't matter what they think at the inn. We disregard it and fly."
Suzanne, quick and capable, began to prepare her mistress and John went down to the innkeeper. He was so swift and emphatic that the worthy Austrian was dazed, and, after all a princess of the house of Auersperg had a right to her whims. It was not for him to question the minds of the great, and the heavy gold piece that John dropped into his hands was potent to allay undue curiosity.
The automobile properly equipped was before the main door of the inn within ten minutes. John helped into it the hooded and cloaked figure of the great lady, and her maid, also hooded and cloaked, followed. Then he sprang into his own seat, turned the wheel, and the huge machine shot down the road. But at the first curve it slackened speed, then stopped for an instant beside a dark figure, and when it went on again four instead of three rode.
Picard sat beside his daughter and in those two faithful hearts was no doubt of their escape.
"Antoine," said Julie, "I know that we owe our lives to you."
She offered him a small gloved hand. It rested in his giant grasp a moment, then he raised it to his lips and kissed it.
"I'd have followed you across the world, my lady," he said.
"I know it, Antoine."
John, watching intently, sent the machine forward at fair speed. The road again stretched before him lone and white in the moonlight, which fell in a heavy silver shower. He did not know where they were going, but there was the road, and the hussars could not ride hard enough to overtake them. Now and then he stole a glance at Julie, and the same indomitable courage was always shining in her eyes. She was not weary and she was as wide awake as he. By and by both Antoine and Suzanne slept, sitting upright, but Julie, wrapped almost to the eyes in cloak and hood, was still quiet, watching everything with wide fearless eyes. John brought the machine down to a slow pace and guided it for the moment with one hand.
"Julie," he said softly, "I don't know where we're going, but I know that we'll escape, and knowing it I now have something to ask you."
"What is it, John?"
"When we reach Paris, you'll marry me, Julie?"
"Yes, John, I'll marry you."
The other hand came from the wheel and as he leaned back, they kissed in the moonlight. The great machine ran on, unguided but true. They kissed again in the moonlight, and for a splendid moment or two her arms were about his neck.
"Julie," whispered John, "will your mother consent?"
"Yes, when I tell her to do so."
"Yes, without telling."
The automobile, still unguided, ran on straight and true as if it were alive, and knew that it carried the precious freight of two young and faithful hearts, and that nothing else in all the world was so tender and true as young love.
Far in the night, when the road had climbed up the hills, John saw a light flashing and winking in the valley, and from a more distant point another light winked and flashed in reply. He read the fiery signals and he knew that the alarm was abroad. The hussars had come to Obenstein, only to find that the birds had flown, and doubtless, too, to find among the bushes the dead body of Weber, Prince Karl's most trusted and unscrupulous agent. Julie had gone to sleep at last and Antoine and Suzanne slumbered on.
He alone watched and worked, and for a few moments he felt a chill of dread. The hussars would spread the alarm and the whole country would now be seeking them. He saw a road turning from the main one, and leading deeper into the mountains. Instinctively he followed it, like an animal seeking hiding in the wilderness, and now the machine rose fast on the slopes, dense forest lining the way on either side. Far below in the valley the lights and the wireless signals talked incessantly to one another and the hounds were hot on the chase.
It was about halfway between midnight and morning when John stopped the machine among dense pines on the very crest of a mountain, where the road, without any reason, seemed to end. Antoine awoke with a start and, springing out, began to curse himself under his breath for having gone to sleep.
"Take no blame, Antoine," said John. "You could have done nothing then, and it was much better for you to have slept. You now have back all your strength and we may need it."
Julie awoke with a start and after a moment or two of bewilderment understood. Then she gave John that old brilliant, flashing look, softened now by the memory of a kiss when no hand was at the wheel.
"Julie," said John, trusting as ever in her courage, "we seem to have come to the end of things. Our enemies are in the valley following us, and it's not hard to trace the path of our automobile. I don't know how many will come, but Antoine and I can make a stand with the rifles."
"All hope is not yet lost!" said Suzanne, in a voice as deep as that of a man. "Remember that when the earth cannot hide us the air may open to receive us. Remember, too, Mademoiselle Julie, that your brother seeks you, and when the time comes we are to look aloft."
Driven again by that extraordinary impulse, John and Julie gazed up. But they saw only the dancing stars in the blue velvet of the sky.
"He may come! He may come in time!" said Suzanne, speaking like an inspired prophet of old, and her manner carried conviction. John, clinging to the last desperate hope, recalled how Lannes and he had summoned Castelneau and Mery from the sky to save them, and though it was a wild hope he resolved to send up the same signal.
It was a quick task to gather dry wood and build a little heap, Julie and Suzanne helping with energy and enthusiasm. There were plenty of matches in the car, and presently John lighted the heap, which crackled and sent up leaping tongues of flame.
"It may serve also as a signal to those who follow us," he said, "but we must take the chance. Cavalry can't reach us except by the road that we came and with our rifles we can hold it a long time."
The mention of the word "rifle," put a thought in the head of Antoine Picard, in whose veins the blood of Vikings flowed, and who that night was a veritable Viking of the land. Leaving John and the two women to feed the signal fire, he secured one of the powerful breech-loading rifles from the automobile, and quietly stole down the path.
Antoine, although he held a modern weapon in his hand, had shed centuries of civilization. As still as death as he trod lightly in the dark road, he was, nevertheless, consumed with the wild Berserk rage against those who followed him. He knew that hussars would soon appear on the slope, but he intended that a lion should be in their path and he stroked lovingly the barrel of the powerful breech-loader. Behind him the flames were shooting higher and higher, pouring red streaks against the velvet blue of the sky. But all of Picard's attention was concentrated now on what lay before him.
He heard soon the distant beat of hoofs and he drew a little to the side of the road, down which he could see a long distance, as it stretched straight before him, narrow and steep. He made out clearly a half dozen figures, hussars struggling forward on tired horses, and he chuckled a little to himself. It was a splendid weapon that he held in his hand, and he was a great marksman. Armed as he was, he felt that he had little to fear on that lone mountain road from six or seven horsemen.
He pushed the rifle forward a little and waited in the shadow of the pines. The hoofbeats rang louder, and the shadows became the distinct figures of horses and men. Picard uttered a deep "Ah!" because he recognized the one who led them, a powerful, erect man, the Prussian Rudolf von Boehlen, now in the very center of the moonlight.
When they were yet two hundred yards away, Picard stepped into the middle of the road and called to them in a loud voice to halt. He saw von Boehlen throw up his head, say something to his troop, and then try to urge his horse to a faster gait.
Picard sighed. He knew that von Boehlen was a brave man and he respected brave men. A disagreeable task lay before him, one that must be done, but he would give him another chance. He called again and louder than before for them to halt, but von Boehlen came on steadily. Then Picard promptly raised his rifle and shot him through the heart.
When von Boehlen fell dead in the road his hussars halted and while they were hesitating Picard shot the horses of two under them, while a third received a bullet in the shoulder. Then all of them fled on horse or on foot into the valley while Picard went calmly back to the fire which was now sending its signal across the whole heavens. He told John in a whisper of what had befallen, and soon he returned to his place in the road to watch.
John and Julie by and by left Suzanne to feed the fire and they stood hand in hand gazing now at the heavens and now at the dark pine forests. The velvet blue of the sky faded into the dark hour and then the dawn came, edged with silver, turning to pink and then to gold, like a robe of many colors, drawn slowly out of the infinite. Suzanne suddenly uttered a great cry.
"Look up! Look up, my children!" she cried.
Coming out of the west which was yet in dusk was a black dot and then three others--behind it in Indian file.
"We're saved," cried Suzanne. "It's Monsieur Philip and his friends'"
"How do you know? You can't see yet," said John, almost afraid to hope.
"I don't need to see it! I feel it, and I know!" replied Suzanne. "Look, how they come!"
John trembled and the hand of Julie in his own trembled too, but it was not fear, it was the feeling that a miracle, a miracle to save them, was coming to pass.
The four black dots moved on out of the west and John knew that they were aeroplanes coming swiftly and directly toward their mountain. The dawn reaching the zenith spread also to the west and the flying machines were outlined clearly in the luminous golden haze. Then John, too, uttered a great cry.
He knew the slender sinuous shape that led. As far as eye could reach he would recognize the Arrow. The miracle was done. They had called to Philip in their desperate need and he had come.
"Philip and the Arrow!" he exclaimed. "We're saved!"
"I knew that he would come!" Julie said, as she stared wide-eyed into the blue and gold of the heavens.
Now the aeroplanes flew at almost incredible speed, the Arrow always at their head, poised for a few moments directly over their heads, and then came down in a dazzling series of spirals, landing almost at their feet.
"Philip, my brother!" exclaimed Julie, as the slender compact figure that they knew so well stepped gracefully from the Arrow.
He took off his heavy glasses and gazed at them as they stood, forgetting that they were still hand in hand. Then he smiled and lifting his cap in his old dramatic way he said:
"It seems that for several reasons I didn't come too soon."
"No," replied John, calmly, and holding firmly the little hand in his, "you have arrived just in time to give your consent to my marriage with your sister."
"And what does Mademoiselle Julie Lannes say?"
The rising sun clothed Julie in a shower of gold. Never before had the wonderful golden hair seemed more wonderful. Never before had she seemed to the youthful eyes of her lover more nearly divine.
"Julie Lannes says," she replied bravely, "that if John Scott wishes her to be his wife and her mother and brother consent she will gladly marry him."
"Then we must hurry away, or it will be a wedding; without either a bride or a bridegroom. Are not those Austrian hussars at the bottom of the slope, Picard?"
"Then it's up and away with us. Here are Caumartin, Mery and Castelneau, old friends of yours, John, but it was Delaunois who brought me the last news of you. Caumartin has the Omnibus, and in it the bridal pair must travel. I can't take you with me in the Arrow now, John, as it admits of only a single passenger. But do you, Picard, take the rifles and come with me. We'll cover the rear of our flight. Now, hasten! Hasten!"
John and Julie in an instant were side by side in the Omnibus, Picard, forgetting all fear of aeroplanes, was with Philip, and the four machines rose, circling above the mountain, Caumartin's big plane leading. John and Julie sat very close together and her hand was again in his.
"Fear not, dearest," he said. "When all seemed lost Philip came for us."
"But you came for me first and you risked your life many times. To give myself to you seems but a small reward for all that you've done."
"It's a reward that kings and princes in their power cannot win."
Then they fell silent, their emotion too deep for speech. Philip had spoken in jest, but it was almost like a wedding trip. The hussars below had reached the abandoned automobile, and fired vain shots at the disappearing aeroplanes, but John and Julie heeded them not. War and brute passions were left behind, and they were sailing through the calm blue ether.
Caumartin, the stalwart, was wholly absorbed in steering his great machine and they sat behind him, very close together, still hand in hand, watching the great panorama of the heavens, unrolled before them. It was the most beautiful sky that they had ever seen, dyed that day into intensely vivid colors by the master hand. Far away were great pink terraces of color, changing to blue or gold or silver, while below them revolved the earth, clad in deepest green, save where far peaks were crested with snow.
Both John and Julie breathed an infinite peace. The war sank farther and farther away, as they sailed on through peaceful heavens, surcharged with infinite color. Both felt, with the certainty of truth, that their troubles and dangers were over, and they now left the journey and its needs to Philip and his able comrades.
"After we're married, Julie, you'll go to America with me for awhile," said John, "but we'll come back to France. We shall divide our time between two homes, your country and mine, now the countries of both."
The hand within his own returned his pressure. Caumartin turned his machine toward the north, avoiding neutral Switzerland, and sailing at great speed they passed beyond the German lines and over the fair land of France that all of them loved so well.
Caumartin kept his place in front. Suzanne was in the machine just behind and Philip and Picard in the Arrow always hovered in the rear. That night they descended within the French lines, and John heard the next day that Prince Karl of Auersperg had been killed in battle. It was singular, perhaps, but John felt a touch of pity for him. He had wanted something very greatly and, powerful prince though he was, his power had not been great enough to win it for him.
* * * * *
They were married in Notre Dame by the Archbishop of Paris. The influence of John's uncle, the senator and great mining millionaire, was sufficient to procure John's release from the army. In truth, General Vaugirard, although he was fat and sixty, had a strong vein of sentiment, and he was one of the most distinguished guests in Notre Dame, where he puffed mightily and kept himself with great difficulty from whistling his approval. He and Senator Pomeroy stood together and he nodded emphatically when the senator told him, with a certain pride in his whisper, that while John, his sole heir, was not a prince, he could buy and sell many who were.
General Vaugirard was not the only distinguished officer at the marriage. There was a lull in the operations and all of John's friends came to Paris to see him wed the beautiful Julie Lannes. A little man, with the brow of a Napoleon, the famous general, Bougainville, whose rise had been so astonishing, stood beside General Vaugirard.
Daniel Colton, now a colonel, his arm in a sling, was not far away. Carstairs was there, a bandage about his head, and Wharton was with him, his shoulder yet sore from the path that a bullet had made through it. It was decreed that while these friends of John's should receive many wounds, all of them were to survive the great war.
They were to spend three days at the little house beyond the Seine before sailing, and as the twilight came on they sat together and looked out over the City of Light, melting into the dusk after a golden day. The subdued hum of Paris came to them in a note of infinite sweetness and peace.
John was stirred to the depths, but his emotion, like that of most deep natures, was quiet. He felt Julie's hand tremble a little in his own, as the voice of Paris grew fainter but sweeter. The twilight faded into the night and the buildings grew misty.
"We have passed through many dangers, Julie," said John, "but for me at least the reward is greater than them all. When did you begin to love me?"
"You were my gallant knight from the first, but, if it had not been so, how could I have kept from loving the fearless crusader who dared all and who risked his life every day in the country of the enemy to save me?"
"I'd have been a poor and worthless creature if I hadn't done so, Julie."
"Few men have done so, though, even for love."
Stirred by an emotion deeper than ever, and wholly pure, he put his arms around her, and their lips met in a long kiss of young love.
The first dusk thinned away, the sky turned to a vault of burnished silver, and, the infinite stars coming out, danced their approval.