Chapter XIV. Hurried Flight
 

The announcement of Ivan Petrofsky came to Tom with startling suddenness. He could say nothing for a moment, and then, as he realized what it meant, and as he recalled the strange appearance and actions of the man, he understood the danger.

"Was he a spy?" he asked.

"I'm almost sure he was," came the answer. "He isn't one of the villagers, that's sure, and he isn't a tourist. No one else would be in this little out-of-the-way place but a police official. He is in disguise, that is certain."

"I believe so," agreed Tom. "But what was his game?"

"We are suspected," replied the Russian. "I was afraid a big airship couldn't land anywhere, in France without it becoming known. Word must have been sent to Paris in the night, and this spy came out directly."

"But what will happen now?"

"Didn't you see where he headed for? The village. He has gone to send word that his trick failed. There will be more spies soon, and we may be detained or thrown into jail on some pretext or other. They may claim that we have no license, or some such flimsy thing as that. Anything to detain us. They are after me, of course, and I'm sorry that I made you run such danger. Perhaps I'd better leave you, and--"

"No, you don't!" cried Tom heartily. "We'll all hang together or we'll hang separately', as Benjamin Franklin or some of those old chaps once remarked. I'm not the kind to desert a friend in the face of danger."

"Bless my revolver! I should say not!" cried Mr. Damon. "What's it all about? Where's the danger?"

They told him as briefly as possible, and Ned, who had been working in the motor room, was also informed.

"Well, what's to be done?" asked Tom. "Had we better get out our ammunition, or shall I take out a French license."

"Neither would do any good," answered the Russian. "I appreciate your sticking by me, and if you are resolved on that the only thing to do is to complete the repairs as soon as possible and get away from here."

"That's it!" cried Ned. "A quick flight. We can get more gasolene here, for lots of autos pass along the road through the village. I found that out. Then we needn't stop until we hit the trail for the mine in Siberia!"

"Hush!" cautioned the Russian. "You can't tell who may be sneaking around to listen. But we ought to leave as soon as we can."

"And we will," said Tom. "I've got the magneto almost fixed!"

"Let's get a hustle on then!" urged Ned. "That fellow meant business from his looks. The nerve of him to try to pick a quarrel that way."

"I might have told by his manner that something was wrong," commented Tom, "but I thought he was a fresh tramp and I didn't take any pains in answering him. But come on, Ned, get busy."

They did, with such good effect that by noon the machinery was in running shape again, and so far there had been no evidence of the return of the spy. Doubtless he was waiting for instructions, and something might happen any minute.

"Now, Ned, if you'll see to having some gasolene brought out here, and the tanks filled, I'll tinker with the dynamo and get that in running shape," said Tom. "It only needs a little adjustment of the brushes. Then we'll be off."

Ned started for the village where there was a gasolene depot He fancied the villagers regarded him rather curiously, but he did not stop to ask what it meant. Another odd fact was that the usual crowd of curious rustics about the airship was missing. It was as though they suspected trouble might come, and they did not want to he mixed up in it.

Never, Ned thought, had he seen a man so slow at getting ready the supply of gasolene. He was to take it out in a wagon, but first he mislaid the funnel, then the straining cloth, and finally he discovered a break in the harness that needed mending.

"I believe he's doing it on purpose to delay us," thought the youth, "but it won't do to say anything. Something is in the wind." He helped the man all he could, and urged him in every way he knew, but the fellow seemed to have grown suddenly stupid, and answered only in French, though previously he had spoken some English.

But at last Ned, by dint of hard work, got him started, and rode on the gasolene wagon with him. Once at the anchored airship, Tom and the others filled the reserve tanks themselves, though the man tried to help. However he did more harm than good, spilling several gallons of the fluid.

"Oh, get away, and let us do it!" cried Tom at last. "I know what you--"

"Easy!" cautioned Mr. Petrofsky, with a warning look, and Tom subsided.

Finally the tanks were full, the man was paid, and he started to drive away.

"Now to make a quick flight!" cried Tom, as he took his place in the pilot house, while Ned went to the engine room. "Full speed, Ned!"

"Yes, and we'll need it, too," said the Russian.

"Why?" asked Tom.

"Look!" was the answer, and Ivan Petrofsky pointed across the field over which, headed toward the airship, came the man who had sought a quarrel with Tom. And with the spy were several policemen in uniform, their short swords dangling at their sides.

"They're after us!" cried Mr. Damon. "Bless my chronometer they're after us!"

"Start the motor, Ned! Start the motor!" cried Tom, and a moment later the hum of machinery was heard, while the police and the spy broke into a run, shouting and waving their hands.