Chapter XIII. Seeking a Quarrel
 

There was an ominous silence in the engine room, following the flash and the report. The young inventor took in every bit of machinery in a quick glance, and he saw at once that the main dynamo and magneto had short-circuited, and gone out of commission. Almost instantly the airship began to sink, for the propellers had ceased revolving.

"Bless my barograph!" cried Mr. Damon, appearing on the scene. "We're sinking, Tom!"

"It's all right," answered our hero calmly. "It's a bad accident, and may delay us, but there's no danger. Ned, start up the gas machine," for they were progressing as an aeroplane then. "Start that up, and we'll drift along as a dirigible."

"Of course! Why didn't I think of that!" exclaimed Ned, somewhat provoked at his own want of thought. The airship was going down rapidly, but it was the work of but a moment to start the generator, and then the earthward motion was checked.

"We'll have to take our chance of being blown to France," remarked Tom, as he went over to look at the broken electrical machinery. "But we ought to fetch the coast by morning with this wind. Lucky it's blowing our way."

"Then you can't use the propellers?" asked Mr. Petrofsky.

"No," replied Tom, "but if we get to France I can easily repair this break. It's the platinum bearings again. I do hope we'll locate that lost mine, for I need a supply of good reliable metal.

"Then we'll have to land in France?" asked the Russian, and he seemed a trifle uneasy.

"Yes," answered Tom. "Don't you want to?"

"Well, I was thinking of our safety."

"Bless my silk hat!" cried Mr. Damon. "Where is the danger of landing there? I rather hoped we could spend some time in Paris."

"There is no particular danger, unless it be comes known that I am an escaped exile, and that we are on our way to Siberia to rescue another one, and try to find the platinum mine. Then we would be in danger."

"But how are they to know it?" asked Ned, who had come back from the gas machine.

"France, especially in Paris and the larger cities, is a hot-bed of political spies," answered Mr. Petrofsky. Russia has many there on the secret police, and while the objectors to the Czar's government are also there, they could do little to help us."

"I guess they won't find out about us unless we give it away," was Tom's opinion.

"I'm afraid they will," was the reply of the Russian. "Undoubtedly word has been cabled by the spies who annoyed us in Shopton, that we are on our way over here. Of course they can't tell where we might land, but as soon as we do land the news will be flashed all over, and the word will come back that we are enemies of Russia. You can guess the rest."

"Then let's go somewhere else," suggested Mr. Damon.

"It would be the same anywhere in Europe," replied Ivan Petrofsky. "There are spies in all the large centres."

"Well, I've got to go to Paris, or some large city to get the parts I need," said Tom. "Unfortunately I didn't bring any along for the dynamo and magneto, as I should have done, and I can't get the necessary pieces in a small town. I'll have to depend on some big machine shop. But we might land in some little-frequented place, and I could go in to town alone."

"That might answer," spoke the Russian, and it was decided to try that.

Meanwhile it was somewhat doubtful whether they would reach France, for they were dependent on the wind. But it seemed to be blowing steadily in the desired direction, and Tom noted with satisfaction that their progress was comparatively fast. He tried to repair the broken machinery but found that he could not, though he spent much of the night over it.

"Hurrah!" cried Ned when morning came, and he had taken an observation. "There's some kind of land over there."

The wind freshened while they were at breakfast and using more gas so as to raise them higher Tom directed the course of his airship as best he could. He wanted to get high enough so that if they passed over a city they would not be observed.

At noon it could be seen through the glass that they were over the outskirts of some large place, and after the Russian had taken an observation he exclaimed:

"The environs of Paris! We must not land there!"

"We won't, if the wind holds out," remarked Tom and this good fortune came to them. They succeeded in landing in a field not far from a small village, and though several farmers wondered much as the sight of the big airship, it was thought by the platinum-seekers that they would be comparatively safe.

"Now to get the first train for Paris and get the things I need," exclaimed Tom. He set to work taking off the broken pieces that they might be duplicated, and then, having inquired at an inn for the nearest railroad station, and having hired a rig, the young inventor set off.

"Can you speak French?" asked Mr. Petrofsky. "If not I might be of service, but if I go to Paris I might be

"Never mind," interrupted Tom. "I guess I can parley enough to get along with."

He had a small knowledge of the tongue, and with that, and knowing that English was spoken in many places, he felt that he could make out. And indeed he had no trouble. He easily found his way about the gay capital, and located a machine shop where a specialty was made of parts for automobile and airship motors. The proprietor, knowing the broken pieces belonged to an aeroplane, questioned Tom about his craft but the young inventor knew better than to give any clew that might make trouble, so he returned evasive answers.

It was nearly night when he got back to the place where he had left the Falcon, and he found a curious crowd of rustics grouped about it.

"Has anything happened?" he asked of his friends.

"No, everything is quiet, I'm glad to say," replied Mr. Petrofsky. "I don't think our presence will create stir enough so that the news of it will reach the spies in Paris. Still I will feel easier when we're in the air again."

"It will take a day to make the repairs," said Tom, "and put in the new pieces of platinum. But I'll work as fast as I can."

He and Ned labored far into the night, and were at it again the next morning. Mr. Damon and the Russian were of no service for they did not understand the machinery well enough. It was while Tom was outside the craft, filing a piece of platinum in an improvised vise, that a poorly- clothed man sauntered up and watched him curiously. Tom glanced at him, and was at once struck by a difference between the man's attire and his person.

For, though he was tattered and torn, the man's face showed a certain refinement, and his hands were not those of a farmer or laborer in which character he obviously posed.

"Monsieur has a fine airship there," he remarked to Tom.

"Oh, yes, it'll do." Tom did not want to encourage conversation.

"Doubtless from America it comes?"

The man spoke English but with an accent, and certain peculiarities.

"Maybe so," replied the young inventor.

"Is it permit to inspect the interior?"

"No, it isn't," came from Tom shortly. He had hurt his finger with the file, and he was not in the best of humor.

"Ah, there are secrets then?" persisted the stranger.

"Yes!" said Tom shortly. "I wish you wouldn't bother me. I'm busy, can't you see."

"Ah, does monsieur mean that I have poor eyesight?"

The question was snapped out so suddenly, and with such a menacing tone that Tom glanced up quickly. He was surprised at the look in the man's eyes.

"Just as you choose to take it," was the cool answer. "I don't know anything about your eyes, but I know I've got work to do."

"Monsieur is insulting!" rasped out the seeming farmer. "He is not polite. He is not a Frenchman."

"Now that'll do!" cried Tom, thoroughly aroused. "I don't want to be too short with you, but I've really got to get this done. One side, if you please," and having finished what he was doing, he started toward the airship.

Whether in his haste Tom did not notice where he was going, or whether the man deliberately got in his way I cannot say, but at any rate they collided and the seeming farmer went spinning to one side, falling down.

"Monsieur has struck me! I am insulted! You shall pay for this!" he cried, jumping to his feet, and making a rush for our hero.

"All right. It was your own fault for bothering me but if you want anything I'll give it to you!" cried Tom, striking a position of defense.

The man was about to rush at him, and there would have been a fight in another minute, had not Mr. Petrofsky, stepping to the open window of the pilot house, called out:

"Tom! Tom! Come here, quick. Never mind him!"

Swinging away from the man, the young inventor rushed toward the airship. As he entered the pilot house he noticed that his late questioner was racing off in the direction of the village.

"What is it? What's the matter?" he asked of the Russian. "Is something more wrong with the airship?"

"No, I just wanted to get you away from that man.

"Oh, I could take care of myself."

"I know that, but don't you see what his game was? I listened to him. He was seeking a quarrel with you."

"A quarrel?"

"Yes. He is a police spy. He wanted to get you into a fight and then he and you would be arrested by the local authorities. They'd clap you into jail, and hold us all here. It's a game! They suspect us, Tom! The Russian spies have had some word of our presence! We must get away as quickly as we can!"