Josephine Daskam Bacon ~ An Idyll of All Fools’ Day

I.

THE ESCAPE

‘TWAS a bloomy morning, all crocuses and tree buds, and Antony
sniffed it into his nostrils thankfully, even while he scowled.

“Come, come!” said his Uncle Julius, a wealthy old gentleman
buttoned firmly into a white vest, “what a face! It is nothing so
terrible that I ask of you! One would think it a hanging matter, to
beau a pretty young girl about the place!”

“You know that I do not care for schoolgirls, Uncle Julius,” said
Antony severely.

“Fiddlestick!” his Uncle Julius cried, “and what are you sir, but a
school boy, I should like to know? What shall we hear next, I
wonder?”

Antony put on some fresh grey gloves with a sigh.

“Schoolgirl! Schoolgirl!” his uncle repeated mimickingly, “she
will not be reciting her lessons, I suppose!”

Antony buttoned his gloves.

“Or if she does, it will be your fault, sir,” pursued his uncle.

Antony selected a slender walking stick from a rack of many, and
reviewed his collar with a critical hand.

“The young lady’s topics of conversation will be a matter of
indifference to me, Uncle Julius,” said he, “I assure you.”

“And I assure _you_,” cried Uncle Julius, “that if we were not on
this open porch, I should be strongly tempted to apply that stick
of yours where, as we used to say, it would do the most good!”

Antony adjusted his coat trimly and started down the steps.

“But since we are upon this open porch, let us, Uncle Julius,”
said he, “go where duty calls us. _En avant!_”

He strode along the flagged walk with Uncle Julius puffing behind
him, loquaciously indignant.

“Look at your mates, sir, as we pass them, and notice how enviously
they smile,” he urged the youth, who replied shortly that he
observed them.

“In my time, I can tell you,” said Uncle Julius, “there was no
shilly shallying in these matters. We had more blood. Let any
college lad be given a free day–and a fine day, too–and one of
the prettiest girls that ever wore a petticoat to enjoy It with
him, and he was the envy of all his fellows. And I believe,” he
ended with a fine optimism, “that it is so now! Not one of these
lads but would change places with you at a nod.”

“But you will not
nod, my dear Uncle Julius,” Antony responded
calmly, “and so these lads–as you so felicitously call them–will
never lose the opportunity I would cheerfully relin—-”

“Hush! there she is!” his uncle whispered, and Antony at once
removed his hat with a lordly and accomplished gesture, which Uncle
Julius noted with unwilling admiration.

“Well, here we are!” he said, with an attempt at prankish levity in
which he received no assistance from Antony. “Here we are at last,
Nette dear, dressed in our best for you!”

“So I see. And this is, I suppose, your young nephew, Mr. Julius?”
said the person at whose face Antony had not yet looked.

If she had intended to remedy this omission she could not have
devised a more efficacious means. Not only did Antony look at her:
he stared. From the topmost strand of her braided chestnut hair to
the lowest dimple In her olive cheek–for she was of that
irritatingly attractive class of females that combines deep-set
violet eyes with a gipsy colouring–every curve of her audacious
body spelled youth, unmitigated youth, and her tone was
correspondingly insulting.

“I am truly pleased to meet you,” he said with the air of one to
whom experience has lent tolerance.

“I should truly never have guessed it,” she returned promptly with
an amused smile.

Antony flushed. An impudent chit, this. A girl to be taught her
place, and that right early.

“I am to have, I believe,” he said, with a fine air of disregard
for any previous conversation, “the honour of escort–of show–of,
er, of entertaining you for the day.”

“That distinction is indeed yours,” she replied gravely, “I have no
doubt that I shall be escort–show–er, entertained most
agreeably.”

With this insulting remark she but half concealed a yawn and
Antony’s blood boiled within him.

“Come,” chirped Uncle Julius with a fatuous chuckle, “we are
getting along famously! What did I tell you? Yes, indeed!”

To this idiotic speech neither his nephew nor that nephew’s new
acquaintance made any further reply than two eloquent but totally
ineffective glances. They were ineffective because the glance
as a medium of expression had not been included in Uncle Julius’s
aesthetic training.

“And what are you going to do first, hey? Where does the great day
begin–see the town sights, I suppose?” this Imbecile old relative
maundered on.

“It will give me great pleasure, if she wishes to see them,” said
Antony coldly, “to point out the various objects of local interest
to Miss—-”

“Good gracious!” Uncle Julius interrupted, “what’s come over the
boy? ‘Miss,’ indeed! Didn’t I tell you that this is my old
godmother’s own daughter’s stepdaughter? ‘Miss!’ Her name is
Nette.”

“Ah,” said Antony.

“And his,” continued Uncle Julius, with a flip of his finger at his
nephew and a wink at the young lady, “is Tony. Let’s have no
formality among chicks of your age. No, no; Tony’s his name.”

“Indeed!” the young lady observed, gazing critically at the
embarrassed possessor of the cognomen, “and a quaint little name, I
am sure.”

She smiled with a perfunctory brightness and continued in some
inexplicable manner to look down at her escort–though had she been
presented with ten thousand dollars for every one of the inches
over five feet in her height she would not have appeared before the
world as any considerable heiress. The object of this remarkably
achieved envisagement writhed inwardly. Uncle Julius rubbed his
hands in maudlin delight at her appreciation of his nephew’s
baptismal acquirements, and she continued, prettily stifling a
second yawn between her white little pointed teeth:

“Since our young friend naturally pants to show us the beauties of
his Alma Mater, let us by all means begin with them,” _and get them
over_, said the strangled yawn.

Antony bit his tongue in his seething rage and the pain turned him
crimson and wet-eyed. This did not escape the intolerable chit and
her deep-set violet eyes twinkled maliciously.

“It will not be at all necessary to see”–he began, when Uncle
Julius’s round, astonished eyes interrupted them.

“He is not going to show ‘us’ at all,” explained this worthy
but misguided man, “he is going to show you, my dear. I knew all
these sights well forty years ago. Dear, dear! yes, indeed.”

Antony could have choked him for the apprehension that passed over
his young charge’s face.

“You will not desert me, Mr. Julius?” she cried with a melting
glance that visibly warmed the cockles of his infatuated old heart,
“you can’t mean to leave me”–_to the awkward attentions of this
red faced boy!_ her eyebrows continued the appeal, intelligible
only to Antony.

“But that’s just what I do mean, Miss Nette,” he assured her,
winking incredibly, “I am this moment due at my trustees’ meeting.
I’m off directly. You must”–and he flapped his hand with airy
abandon–“endure the time without me!”

Here he smiled with disgusting coquetry and pattered like a plump
white rabbit down the shady brick path. As they stared blankly
after him he turned and waved his stick at them.

“Oh, I’m no spoil-sport!” he crowed, and rounded his corner. They
were left alone.

“Silly old ass!” Antony muttered, and then glared angrily at
the spot the buxom gentleman had quitted.

“I beg your pardon?” said the young lady, “did you speak?”

“Not to you,” he replied briefly. She shook out a fluffy white
parasol and under its becoming shadow looked curiously about her.

“Indeed–to whom, then,” she inquired.

Antony was silent.

“Minx!” he thought.

“You are not at all like your uncle, are you?” she began, after a
moment of this pregnant silence. Then after another moment she
added absently, “he has such pleasant, easy manners!”

Antony settled his fleckless straw hat firmly upon his head and
tightened his grip on his stick.

“My uncle,” he began with great control, “is an estimable man. His
intentions are of the best–that is to say, I have always believed
them to be–but like too many others he does not always carry out
his intentions. Take, for instance, this present situation. It was
evidently his intention to give you (and me) a pleasurable day. It
is quite obvious to me, at least, that he has failed in his
intention–to a certain extent,” he added politely, for he had
by now talked himself into his usual superior calm. His eyes were
fixed upon the tip of the young lady’s parasol, some distance below
him, as she sat on the brick steps of the old porch before which he
stood, her slender figure leaning against a white pillar.

“Now, I have a suggestion to make,” he continued, quite pleasantly
by this time. “I can plainly see that my uncle’s somewhat
Philistine scheme for my showing you about the place is likely to
bore you extremely. Let us, then, omit that part of the programme
altogether. We must try to think of something that will attract
you, however,” Antony had by this time a fairly paternal interest
in the young lady, “and if you will help me out, no doubt we can.
Perhaps,” he concluded tentatively, “you would really prefer to
remain by yourself, and not be entertained at all?”

He paused, and as no reply appeared to be forthcoming, slowly
lowered his eyes along the fluffy parasol till they reached the
level of those deep-set violet ones. He could not have recognised
them by their colour, however, for they were closed; the gentle
rise and fall of the young lady’s breast, the placid and
uncharacteristic kindness of her half-smile made the reason
for this closing only too obvious. She was sleeping.

Antony swallowed hard. Sheer rage choked him and his collar became
intolerably tight. His fingers itched along the supple stick he
carried and a longing to employ it in an absolutely unheard of
manner nearly flooded him off his feet. “Where it would do the most
good”–the obnoxious phrase flashed luminously across his mind.

The sudden silence had its natural effect upon the young person on
the brick steps. Slowly, inquiringly, her eyelids lifted, and the
peculiar, rain-washed effect of those dark blue eyes, so startling
above her olive cheeks, was not lost upon Antony.

“Not entertained at all?” she repeated vaguely, diving under the
ruffles of the parasol to cover the positively unconcealable
paroxysm of the third yawn, “oh, on the contrary! Really. I am
delightfully entertained, Mr.–Mr. Tony!”

“So it appears,” he returned acidly. A soft dark colour suffused
her gipsy cheeks, but she brazened it out. She seemed to possess no
sense of shame whatever.

“This sun makes one almost sleepy,” she said calmly, “and I sat up
quite late last night, too–playing picquet with your uncle. He is
a poor sleeper.”

“Indeed. I am not acquainted with his habits,” Antony responded.
“We will look at the buildings now, I think, if you are
sufficiently rested.” A fell purpose had suddenly found itself in
his humiliated breast. This insolent young puss should have cause
indeed for drowsiness.

She sprang instantly to her feet with a quick and pleasing muscular
co-ordination, which, again, was not lost upon Antony. She wore a
white flannel costume dotted with a dull blue–the blue of Canton
china. Of this colour, too, was the silk stocking that flashed down
the steps above her low-cut shoes. A ludicrous and daring colour
for a brunette–until you encountered her eyes.

“I am quite ready,” she said demurely, and Antony started briskly
down the street.

“On the right,” he began didactically, “you will see Wadsworth
Hall, the building of applied sciences. It was presented by the two
sons of Mr. Ezra Bement Wadsworth in memory of their father, a
prominent graduate. It cost three hundred thousand dollars and is
one of the most completely equipped buildings of its kind in the
country, I believe.”

“How interesting!” she murmured.

“Yes,” Antony agreed, “it _is_ interesting.”

“To what are the sciences applied?” she inquired placidly.

“To–er, to–really, I have never gone into it so far as that,”
Antony returned, biting his lip, “I am not interested in science
myself. But that is what it is generally called: it is on a bronze
tablet on the corner. It is probably only an expression.”

“Ah, yes, probably,” she assented.

“Beyond it and a shade to the left you will see,” he continued,
with a wave of his stick, “Mansfield Hall. It is a dormitory,
occupied by sophomores.”

“And who presented that?” his companion inquired, gazing
respectfully at the end of his stick.

“I do not know,” he informed her briefly.

“Oh, you do not know,” she repeated in her low voice. Something in
the falling inflection caused her guide to wriggle uneasily.

“Nobody knows,” he added, rashly. “I should think nobody would want
to, it is so hideous.”

“To be sure,” she said. “And sophomores live there. Are you perhaps
a sophomore, Mr. Tony?”

“I?” Antony exclaimed; then in level tones, “I am a senior.”

“Really!” she murmured. “I suppose that means that you are one of
the older pupils, then? In the first class?”

“It does,” he assented grimly, adding as a cutting afterthought, “a
sophomore, I suppose, would be beneath your notice?”

She smiled sweetly. “Oh, dear me, no!” she assurred him, “not in
the least–it is all the same to me, you see, Mr. Tony!”

Antony should have realised by this time the folly of any further
tilting, but he did not.

“Your interest naturally turns, then, to men of my uncle’s age?” he
inquired caustically.

She considered this with a pretty seriousness.

“N-no, hardly that,” she said at length. “It is only that I do not–
that I am not–somehow, young men (_and such very young men!_ her
eyes added) do not exactly . . .”

“You need not trouble to explain yourself any further,” Antony
broke in coldly. “It is somewhat unfortunate,” he continued,
enunciating carefully, with averted eyes, “that I, of all people,
should have been selected for your escort this morning.”

He had never said anything so nearly rude to a woman; but then he
had never to his recollection been so thoroughly annoyed by one,
since the dimly distant days when a series of deprecating aunts and
spying nurses had darkened his youthful horizon.

“Indeed. And why is that?” she asked pleasantly. She had, when she
chose, an exceedingly pleasant manner.

“Because,” he returned, astonished at himself, but firm
nevertheless, “I am not sufficiently accustomed to the society of
young ladies to be certain of my ability to entertain even the
ordinary variety–much less those who prefer the society of
eccentric old gentlemen.” _Come_, he reflected, _that’s not half
bad. Perhaps that will teach her a thing or two!_

It seemed to him that there was a flash of respect in her eyes, but
he could not be sure, it was so fleeting.

“I suppose your studies take up so much of your time that you have
no leisure for society,” she said kindly, “but you must not let
yourself grow shy: ladies are not very difficult to entertain,
really!”

To this remark Antony made no reply, perhaps because he could not
think of one which combined the expression of his feelings with
anything remotely resembling propriety. They walked on, therefore,
in utter silence.

The village through which they took their way was but a tiny one, a
green and sheltered cradle for the warm brick walls and lichened
chapel of the old college; and soon the grass-grown flagged walk
gave way to one of trodden earth, the houses grew sparser and
smaller, the trees thicker and less carefully tended. They were in
the country. The season was well forward: though the calendar
marked April, the warm blue sky, the odorous earth, the fresh,
full grass, all smelled of May. The early flowers were out long
before their wonted times; the birds, misled by the generous sun,
were already nesting musically; shock-headed urchins, those most
delicate barometers of the real seasons, had bravely cast off their
shoes and stockings and renewed the year in the splashing puddles
of some recent rain. All the scene spoke peace and promise of
better to come–all, I say, but those two fractious young souls who
walked diverse among the lovely unity of the pleasant world about
them. Antony strode on, his eyes fixed on the winding road, though
it is to be doubted if he saw it. Who would have thought to find
him, Antony, in such a baited, hot-necked frame? The day had gone
hideously awry from the beginning, and it was all the fault of this
blue-eyed, brown-cheeked chit.

She, for her part, moved easily and it must be admitted,
gracefully, beside him. Her step shot out from the hip, elastic as
a boy’s; only the faintest shade of red under her skin confessed to
the pace he drove her; she drew regular breaths, through her small
nostrils. Though she could not match his stride, she yet fell into
a sort of rythmical accompaniment to it; evidently she was an
accomplished and enduring dancer.

They swung around a sharp corner under a great sprawling oak and
fairly mowed down an unattractive red-headed boy, insufficiently
attired and freckled beyond belief, who was hurrying frantically in
a direction only too obviously opposed to their own. Conscious of a
distinct relief at the necessity for constructive action, Antony
stooped and raised the howling and resentful creature, who dug his
grimy knuckles into his eyes and yelled the louder at each polite
query as to his injuries. After a few minutes of this
fruitless performance, Antony, irritated at his failure to bring
even this sordid incident to a triumphant conclusion, was about to
produce a coin and leave his victim to the sovereign solace of
Time, that great healer, when his companion, who had stood,
hitherto, discreetly aside from the business, now stepped forward
and laid a small brown hand on the heaving shoulder of the injured
infant.

“Where were you going, Bubby?” she asked abruptly.

He looked up from his bent and screening arm, stared a moment, and
replied in a matter-of-fact tone, without a trace of the sobs that
still echoed about them:

“To see the big snake!”

“The snake?” She shuddered involuntarily. Had the child mentioned
Leviathan, the monster would not have seemed more exotic to this
rural and domestic spot. By judicious questioning they elicited
from the suddenly secretive imp the successive facts of the
spectacular and recent arrival of an enormous foreign reptile; its
display under a tent on the outskirts of the village, very near
their present station; the establishment of a tariff of
fifteen cents for one view, or two separate opportunities for
excitement at the comparatively small sum of a quarter of a dollar;
and lastly, the cruel certainty that the delay occasioned by this
unexpected and sudden meeting had undoubtedly cost their informant
his only possible view of the monster, since the price of his
admission, though offered voluntarily by his maternal uncle, was
contingent upon his arrival at the tent ahead of his cousin, who,
in case of a previous appearance, was to receive the prize.

Overcome afresh by the bitterness of his lot, the red-headed boy
would have renewed his unpleasant and gulping demonstrations, had
not Antony hastily produced a coin of sufficient size to insure two
periods of ecstasy and offered it in reparation for what he
handsomely described as his clumsiness. Staggered by this princely
generosity, the urchin balanced the silver piece doubtfully, then
with a shy and unlooked-for courtesy suggested that they should use
it together.

“And what should I do, then?” asked the young lady with a smile–I
have mentioned that she had, when she saw fit to employ it, an
exceedingly pleasant manner.

The boy hesitated.

“Girls don’t like snakes,” he finally mumbled; “you could wait
outside!”

“Where is that tent?” she demanded indignantly, and they hurried
on, one on each side of their unconscious guide. No kindly
premonition laid a thrilling chill along Antony’s stiff spine; no
wholesome doubts as to the successful issue of that doomed
expedition slowed the springing step of his companion. They hurried
on, I say, each with a hand upon the earth-stained, ragged shoulder
of that freckled imp whom Fate had selected as the instrument of
their destiny, and in ironic rivalry they literally urged him on,
and shot him, panting, through the roped enclosure that protected
the elect possessors of the admission price from contact with the
envious herd.

With the curt direction to their guide to invite, if he pleased, a
friend to enter with him, Antony slapped down a coin on the
improvised counter, received two greasy green cardboard slips and
strode towards the canvas flap of the small tent. The mingled odour
of tobacco smoke, crushed grass, and tethered horses, the cheerful,
chattering crowd, the honk and blare of a great claret-coloured
motor-car, hurtling inquiringly up the slope, all imparted a festival
air, a holiday spirit; and it was with a mild excitement that Antony
pushed into the close tent, clearing the way punctiliously for his
companion.

In the middle, under the opening, was a standard painted a dull,
forbidding red, and on this, in a cage of twisted iron, lay a
monstrous, coiled thing, hideously and brilliantly mottled, his
blunt, flattened head lazily resting on his topmost ring, his
malignant, weary eyes fixed in a listless stare, that drooped over
the human mushrooms around him, over the seas he had travelled,
back to the old gods and the beginnings of things. The inked
diamonds along his great length gleamed in a dreadful, supple
pattern; the eye, entranced in a seductive terror, followed the
massive rounds of those murderous coils, longing, yet dreading, to
trace them to their horrid head: it seemed that a faint, uncanny
odour, a hint of dead spices, like the secret wrapping cloths of
old mummies, hung in the air. Now Antony knew, or supposed he knew,
that cobras exhale no such odour, and in a disgusted curiosity he
peered about for the source of it, but found nothing in the stained
and faded tent, nor any nook or cranny in the obvious bareness
where the source of it could lurk.

The scene was a strange one; no officious showman called attention,
in a raucous voice, to the ugly thing in the middle. There appeared
to be no director, no advertisement of any kind, no appeal to a
credulous or morbid crowd. The tent could contain but a score of
visitors simultaneously, and they pushed in, fairly quiet as soon
as they had entered, slowly encircled the scornful, wicked-eyed
heap on the standard, discussed it in low tones and went out
through another flap to make room for the next group. Indeed, the
accustomed ease with which they performed these evolutions awoke in
Antony the wonder whether they had not rehearsed them many times,
and he involuntarily mentioned this idea to the girl, who gazed, at
once fascinated and repelled, as Eve at the Seducer.

“I suppose,” she returned musingly, “they keep coming to see if it
will by any chance bite some one.”

At this precise moment there pushed through the entrance-flap one
who by his distinctive dress showed himself the mechanician of the
claret-coloured motorcar. He was as obviously a foreigner, and
among the simple rural types that filled the tent his mustachioed
personality stood out as startlingly as the great cobra’s. Elbowing
his way through the little crowd he made himself a place directly
beside Antony and the freckled boy, who had attached himself
definitely to his patron, and smiled at the young man in easy
cosmopolitan contempt of the rustics, conveying at the same time,
In a graphic Continental hint of respectful salutation, his
duty to the young lady. Antony accepted the smile with a lordly
nod, expressive of his familiarity with mechanicians as a class and
his appreciation of their place in the general scheme of things,
and the two men surveyed the reptile in silence.

“I know heem well,” volunteered the big fellow in the leather suit,
at last.

“_C’est Monsieur le Cobra_, zat one. We have take ze car all
s’rough ‘is country. Wait–I will amuse Mademoiselle. Watch heem!”

Lowering his head till the great goggles on his cap fronted the
slitted eyes in the cage he emitted a long, piercing hiss, a nerve
racking, whistling call. Everyone in the tent jumped backward
spasmodically; Antony threw out his arm and pushed the girl behind
him before he realised that there was no danger.

Upon the great snake the effect of the sudden noise was even
more appalling. His ugly flat head appeared suddenly high above
his writhing folds; no one saw the movement, for it was too
lightning-quick for sight, but it was undoubtedly the fact that
his head was no longer pillowed. The symmetrical turban on his
forehead puffed and quivered, his cold eye caught every eye
in the tent with a swift, horrible glance; and every eye shrank,
terrified, from his.

“A very unpleasant old party, that snake,” Anthony remarked, “I
trust our friend won’t think it advisable to repeat—-”

In the middle of his sentence the Frenchman hissed again. The
cobra, irritated beyond further endurance, threw its massive weight
against the side of the cylindrical cage, which swayed slightly and
then dropped forward into the panic-stricken crowd.

Antony felt a soft, sighing breath on his neck and caught his
companion as she fell; he heard the ribs of her fluffy parasol
crack under somebody’s stamping feet and braced himself to meet the
crushing, struggling rush of the frightened crowd. Through the
oaths and shrieks of the nightmare moment piped shrill the voice of
the red-headed boy.

“Mister, the cover’s on! The cover’s on tight.”

Between the grovelling legs of two infuriated men, fighting
like demons for leeway from the horrid cage, Antony caught a
glimpse of it and realised that it was, indeed, completely
fastened. Though it rolled and bounded under the lashings of its
excited occupant, it was securely padlocked, and another moment of
frenzied struggle for the door-flaps emptied the tent sufficiently
to give passage to two angry men who threw a heavy canvas over the
cage and righted it, breathing hard.

One of these as he rose to his feet met Antony’s eyes, shifted his
gaze to the fainting girl on his arm, and thrust his hand into the
capacious pocket of his flapping linen coat.

“Try her with this,” he said shortly, “I’ve got the crowd to
settle. Then we’ll kill the Frenchy, and then we’ll leave!”

Antony forced the offered flask into the girl’s mouth and
dragged her backward through the open flap. As the air reached her
she gasped and choked, gulping down the strong spirit nervously,
then stiffening herself in his arm and adjusting her hat.

“Your town is not dull, at any rate, Mr. Tony!” she observed, and
the observation, though a little breathless, was almost perfectly
under her control.

Antony felt his admiration rise into his eyes, nor did he seek to
conceal it.

“You are a brave, sensible–for heaven’s sake, what’s the matter
now?” he cried anxiously, staring at a point behind her.
Involuntarily she turned and looked in the same direction.

The greater part of the crowd had scattered and fled far down the
long hill; only a few groups of the most hardy and venturesome
among the villagers remained at varying distances from the deserted
tent. The most important of these groups now fell apart slightly,
disclosing as its centre a large and writhing human figure, prone
on the grass. The light box coat, the great goggles, proclaimed
this figure the ill-fated mechanician. Even as he sprawled and
twisted, the men who surrounded him turned and looked at
Antony and his companion, and there was an unpleasant fixity, an
unmistakable threatening, in their regard that chilled the young
gentleman slightly, though he was utterly at a loss as to its
import. Presently one of the men caught his eye and beckoned
commandingly.

“They seem to want me over there,” he said to the girl, with an
attempt at unconcern, “perhaps I’d better step over a moment–I’ll
return immediately. You don’t object?”

She looked at him with a curious vague smile, then shook her head
slowly. This he took for acquiescence to his request, and as she
said nothing, he left her and joined the group about the prostrate
foreigner. She stared idly at him, but appeared little
impressed by his irritated and repeated pantomimic denials of what
was, to judge from the faces of the men, a grave charge of some
sort. Even when he threw off a hand on his arm and hastened angrily
back to her, his countenance dark with angry concern, she did not
alter that vague smile, and this vexed him still further, as he
began to explain their situation.

“I am very, very sorry Miss–Miss Nette,” he began, his voice
fairly trembling with irritation, “but a most absurd and disgusting
complication has arisen. This French fellow swears he has been
bitten, and they think he is accusing you of hissing at the snake.
I don’t think he is really such a cad as all that, but he is
practically hysterical, and now I don’t believe he knows what he is
saying. There is certainly some mark on his wrist and one of the
men says that he saw the snake’s head touch him, and they have
filled him so thoroughly with whisky that he really is not
responsible for what he says. I think,”–he marvelled at her lack
of fright or emotion of any kind–“indeed, I am sure, that they have
merely misunderstood his broken French, but these people are so
idiotically obstinate, you know. They’ve sent for a doctor,
and they insist that they hold–me responsible, and that if we
don’t stay here quietly they’ll–in short, I don’t see what to do.
I’m dreadfully sorry.”

He paused, ready for reproaches, for tears, for rebellion. But none
of these was apparent.

“How silly!” said Nette carelessly, glancing a moment at the group
of men.

Antony felt slightly relieved, but only slightly.

“I’m afraid that it can be made quite disagreeable, however,” he
explained gently, “though it is silly. The fellow deserved to be
bitten–if he is, which I’m not at all certain of,” he interjected
hastily, “and it’s none of our business and all his fault; but I’ve
tried everything–bribing and bullying–and we seem to be caught
here. I regret it so much–as soon as we can get to my uncle, it
will be all right, of course, but nobody here will take a message
for me and–and I think perhaps it will make less publicity and
fuss, you know, if we go quietly with–with whoever they ask us to
and . . .”

He ground his teeth–if only he had been alone! He saw himself the
butt of the whole college, nick-named for eternity, blamed by his
uncle, that bulwark of convention, self-disgraced by reason of
utter, crude failure in this, the greatest social crisis of his
life. It was maddening, humiliating–and this thick-skinned,
feather-headed girl by his side seemed absolutely indifferent to
her (to say the least) embarrassing situation. Stealing a glance at
her he perceived that she was still smiling. Nay, more, she now
directed the smile straight at him, and though its warm brightness
cheered him irrationally for a moment, it was for a moment only,
and the gloom of their plight shut round him again as he caught the
eye of the leader of the hostile group beyond.

Suddenly he felt a tug at his coat, turned to see the gleaming red
head of the author of all his woes, and seized him by the arm with
a confused idea of vengeance.

“The doctor’s coming, mister, he’s nearly got here!” panted this
unconscious instrument of Fate, “and I’ll bet that foreign man
dies! I’ll bet he does! He got a terrible bite! Did you see it?”

Antony throttled the boy hastily and looked apprehensively at his
companion; he had hoped to spare her this. To his surprise she
turned to the child and laughed lightly.

“Oh, dear, no!” she said, “he won’t die, little boy. Chauffeurs
don’t die–they explode!”

Antony had a sense of moral shock. This passed frivolity. Really,
the girl was scarcely human; sympathy was wasted on her.

“Did you know the sheriff was coming?” the freckled-faced imp
pursued, after a mildly contemptuous stare at his patron’s
incomprehensible friend. “I wouldn’t go with him, if I was you. My
uncle says he’s got no right to make you.”

“Of course he’s got no right,” Antony exclaimed angrily, “but what
can I do about it? I can’t fight eight or ten men, can I? I’d
rather go than be carried.”

“Why don’t you jump into that automobile?” the boy asked abruptly.
“I would. She goes easy–I saw him start her up before. She’ll
whizz off, I’ll bet you!”

The girl turned abruptly. “That’s it!” she cried; “let’s do that,
Mr. Tony!”

In a flash he caught the practical possibility of the scheme. Once
at his uncle’s and the affair was finished. But common sense gave
pause.

“I can’t run the thing,” he admitted with vexation, “I don’t know
the first thing about them.”

“Oh, that’s nothing–they run themselves!” she said competently,
“I’m used to them. Hurry–here comes a man, now!”

It was indeed the fact that a burly, self-satisfied creature was
advancing towards them, and Antony’s blood boiled at the pompous
rustic’s meaning glance.

“Come, come, Mr. Tony!” she urged excitedly.

“Can you run?” he muttered desperately, “it’s no good if you can’t,
you know.”

“Of course I can,” she replied, and he noted how different the
tones of her voice had grown, how much richer and more alluring. “I
can beat you to the car! Come!”

The freckled boy plucked at his coat urgingly, and in a moment, as
one flees in dreams, he was dashing down the slight slope that led
to the little tableland at the head of the steeper hill where the
huge car stood, pointed towards freedom.

A hoarse, suety cry issued from the constable, answered by the
farther group; a number of men rushed hastily in their direction,
but no one seemed to realise the object of their flight and the way
was left clear. The red-headed boy bounded beside them,
whooping madly; Nette’s pale skirt flashed valiantly a trifle ahead
of them; the loose stones rolled under their flying feet.

With a light bound the girl dropped on the wide leather seat, and
Antony tumbled in after her, an agile village boy almost at his
heels. Even as it was, this boy would have seized him had not the
freckled arbiter of their destinies dexterously tripped him,
grinning derisively at his downfall as he dashed to the side of the
car and panted:

“Let her go, mister, let her go!”

Mechanically Antony grasped the steering wheel as he had seen
others grasp it and turned to his companion. But she had toppled
breathless against his shoulder and huddled there motionless. He
stared helplessly at the approaching pursuit–his head whirled.

“Here, I’ll pull it!” cried the red-headed urchin and fumbled
mysteriously at Antony’s feet. A low, raucous buzzing began
forthwith, and as three men dashed up to them triumphantly, the
great car shuddered a moment and lurched down the hill, gathering
speed with every quarter-second.

There flashed before Antony’s eyes a quick panorama of the extended
Frenchman, the kneeling doctor, the threatening men; his ears
resounded with the gleeful cackle of that freckled Fate who had
launched them, and then he faced an empty country road, silent but
for the whirring of their chariot. He turned his face to the girl,
unconsciously moving the simple steering apparatus so as to keep
the car in the middle of the road, while he spoke.

“May I trouble you to take this now?” he said politely. “Your
knowledge of this business has undoubtedly saved you a great deal
of mortifying bother and delay.”

She stiffened sensibly beside him, and in her voice he caught no
hint of the momentary rich abandon that he had noticed at the
beginning of their flight, for she spoke with the cool and airy
dryness of their first meeting.

“My knowledge?” she repeated, with an obviously sincere surprise,
“my knowledge? What do you mean? Why should I take it? I never
handled a car in my life!”

Antony’s fingers stiffened and grew damp against the wheel. For a
few sick seconds he sat utterly silent, stunned and incredulous,
not knowing what he did, while his hands, with a strange muscular
memory all their own of the days when he had propelled a
little mechanical velocipede steered by a wheel, kept the whirring
vehicle in the centre of the long, empty road.

“Good heavens!” he muttered at last, “I thought you told me–you
certainly said–I understood you–oh, the devil!”

“Put your foot on something!” Nette cried feverishly; “that’s the
way they do! It can’t be hard to stop it for just a moment. Put
your foot—-”

With that she stamped her little white shoe on a round metal disc
projecting like a toadstool from the floor in front of her, and
immediately, whether from that cause alone, or because Antony
unwittingly complicated the manoeuvre by some untoward pressure of
knee or wrist, the car, with a tremendous jerk, began to revolve
backward upon itself in a dizzy swoop. A moment more had seen them
in the deep ditch beside the road, had not Antony dislodged her
foot with an ungraceful but timely kick and allowed the mechanism
to right itself and lumber into its course again.

“For God’s sake, sit still!” he shouted hoarsely. “Is it possible
you do not understand you are in danger? Do you wish to kill or
maim us both before it is necessary? I order you to sit perfectly
quiet until I tell you to jump!”

“Very well,” she replied meekly, with a short, frightened intake of
the breath, and they sped along.

II.

THE FLIGHT

ANTONY had now–so wonderfully resilient is youth–won sufficient
confidence in himself to realise that there was yet a chance of
bringing this dangerous expedition to some sort of successful
issue, if fate should prosper them with a straight and empty road.
They were not, fortunately, travelling at any tremendous rate of
speed; though jumping from the car would have been extremely
unwise, it remained a possibility, at least, and if, as was fairly
probable, the car had already travelled a considerable distance,
its motive power would become exhausted sooner or later and they
could dismount safely. In a few curt sentences he explained the
situation, as it appeared to him, to his companion.

“I must beg you to believe,” he concluded, “that I somehow got a
distinct impression of your telling me that you were used to
managing these things–I cannot understand how I could have
made such a mistake. I am particular in repeating this, because in
case of accident–and it would be the merest idiocy to deny that a
very grave accident is quite likely to happen at any moment–I do
not want you to think too hardly of me. But of course your realise
that unless I had been quite certain of your ability I should never
have attempted such a foolhardy thing.”

She made no answer, and at the risk of losing his straight course
he stole a rapid glance at her.

To his surprise she was crimson with what was obvious, even to his
fleeting view, as embarrassment. Her fingers twisted nervously; the
tears that suffused her eyes were certainly not tears of grief or
fright. She bit furiously at her under lip, and began more than one
sentence that faltered away into confusion. Indeed, they had
triumphantly climbed and descended a hill that sent Antony’s heart
into his throat before she succeeded in the task she evidently
loathed but had as evidently determined to fulfil.

“Mr.–Mr. Tony,” she began suddenly, alarmed in her turn at their
increased speed as they went down the hill, “in case, as you say,
anything should happen, I must tell you something. When I said
that about–about my running the car perfectly well—-”

“You didn’t, of course, put it in that way,” he interjected, as she
seemed unable to go on.

“Oh, didn’t I?” she asked. “I thought you said I did.”

“You said that they ran themselves, you remember, and that you were
used to them,” he reminded her, “and I took that to mean—-”

“Oh, that’s what I said,” she repeated, thoughtfully.

“Don’t you know what you said?” he demanded, a spasm of terror
catching him and quickening his heart-beat as a great waggon loomed
into sight horribly near them. Despairingly he glanced at the
shining metal paraphernalia that encompassed him–his eye fell upon
an unmistakable brass horn at his right, terminating in a rubber
bulb. This could be but one thing, and cautiously loosening one
clammy hand from the wheel, he pressed the bulb nervously. A loud,
harsh cry from its brazen throat relieved him inexpressibly and
sent a glow of confidence through him. He repeated the pressure,
the driver of the cart looked leisurely around, and with a
scowl drew off to one side of the road. Antony’s blood resumed its
normal pace, and as the course was now clear for a moment, anyway,
he repeated his question:

“Don’t you know what you said?”

The trees, the full brooks, the grazing cattle, unrolled behind
them like a painted ribbon for several seconds before she answered.
At length his ear caught a faint, short murmur.

“N–no.”

“Why not?” he demanded briefly.

“I would rather not tell you,” she replied with a return of her old
spirit.

“You must tell me,” he said angrily. “Here come two carriages–oh,
why did I never notice how they stopped these things? Reach under
my arms and squeeze that horn–quick!”

The carriages separated and he went, quaking, between them.

“Now, go on–this luck can hardly last,” he warned her. “I intend
to know for how much of this nightmare I am responsible.”

“You are responsible for all of it, then,” she cried recklessly.
“You had not the slightest excuse for making me drink all that
nasty, burning stuff!”

Regardless of his wheel, Antony turned and stared at her, and only
her shriek of terror saved them from the stone wall that bordered a
curve in the road.

“You mean you were—-”

“If you dare to say it I shall jump!” she interrupted, plucking
nervously at her skirt, and he saw that she was quite capable of
carrying out the threat.

“But–but you drank it yourself–I thought you knew—-” he
stammered.

“It was down in my throat–I couldn’t help it–I pushed it away as
soon as I could–I never tasted anything but champagne and sherry
and I thought they were all the same, those things. . .”

She was on the point of tears now, and even in his keen sense of
danger Antony was conscious of a gratified consciousness of that
calm masculine superiority so long denied him.

“I see, I see,” he said hastily. “I am very sorry. I did the best I
could at the time: I am not accustomed to resuscitating fainting
young ladies and I rather lost my head. I assure you that I assume
all the blame.”

“I think you had better,” she replied vindictively, and Antony’s
conscious magnanimity collapsed instantly into an intense
irritation.

“I must beg you to observe,” he said, somewhat jerkily, as they
bounced up and down the irregularities of a rough country road,
“that I am hardly responsible, even with the best will in the
world, for your inability to consume five or six swallows of bad
whisky without–without—-” in a panic of terror as her hands flew
to her skirts and her knees stiffened, he concluded
impotently, “oh, have it any way you like! It’s all my fault. Now,
for heaven’s sake, sit still and listen to me. Do you or do you not
know anything whatever about motor cars? I ask because it is
absolutely necessary,” he added hastily.

“I know nothing whatever about them,” she returned with an icy
finality, an air of uninterested irresponsibility, that maddened
even while it appalled him.

“Very good; neither do I,” he said. “We are, as you see, on a long,
empty, practically uninhabited country road. This is extremely
fortunate for us, but it will not last much longer, for we are
coming into Huntersville, which was, on the occasion when I last
went through it in one of these ungodly machines, full of babies,
chickens, unhitched horses, and large, disagreeable dogs. Rather
than go through Huntersville I would run this thing at a tree, now.
If I could estimate the force of the shock, I’d do it anyway. But I
cannot estimate it, and I do not want to frighten you to death.
Besides, it might send the thing backward. The same reasoning
applies to a steep bank. Now, as I remember it, there is a wild
sort of road that turns off to the left very soon and goes up
a long hill somewhere or other. I haven’t the least idea where, but
it must lead to something. My idea would be to go up that road and
try to wear the machinery out on it. If it runs into a field, it
can’t be helped. At any rate, I think there is less risk. Are you
willing to try it?”

His sincere and serious manner had its effect and she answered
simply, “Anything that you think is best, of course. But could we
not experiment a little, and try to stop it? It cannot be anything
very complicated, since it has to be done so often.”

“No, no, no!” Antony cried nervously, “not while I’m in my right
mind! It may seem foolish to you,” he continued more stiffly, “but
I have reached my limit of experiment. I–I know nothing of any
kind of machinery–I loathe it. As soon as I began anything of that
sort, my nerve would go. You remember the result when you stamped
on that brass knob? Well, I admit that I am not equal to a
repetition, to be quite frank.”

“I thought men always understood machinery,” she murmured
impatiently. “All the men I know are quite clever at it.”

Now, curiously enough, this pettish and really inexcusable
fling did not produce its presumable effect upon Antony. Whether he
felt that it was partly justified and that he was really in some
sort unworthy of his sex, or whether the actuality of their
pressing danger rendered him immune as regards such flighty stabs,
is not known, but it remains a fact that he merely pursed his lips
indulgently and spoke as follows:

“You are indeed fortunate in your acquaintance. I regret that
practice in steering horses, sail boats, bob sleds and to a certain
small extent, dirigible balloons, has left me little leisure–and
less inclination–for these evil-smelling devil-waggons. Neither
the steamfitter nor the engineer has ever appealed to me—-”

He ceased abruptly, and as his voice died out she looked
questioningly at him, for even her slight acquaintance with the
young gentleman had taught her that he was not one to leave a
well-planned sentence incomplete from choice.

“What is it?” she asked breathlessly.

“That wild road is on the other side of Huntersville!” he said,
with an utter absence of comment that impressed her more deeply
than any of his previous conversational embroideries.

Indeed, the pointed spire of the Huntersville church rose white
before them and scattered houses even now lined the road.

“I wish we were going uphill now,” Antony began, “and I should
advise you to jump. I don’t believe you’d make such a mess of it as
a great many girls would be likely to. Of course, you might have on
the last hill, but I hated the idea of it. It may be steering will
do. But if it’s a question of running someone down, you’ll have to,
of course, and I’ll turn sharp about and take my chance. Or aim at
tree. Now, blow the horn hard, please, and when I say jump, go the
way the car is going, and clear it well. You may sprain your ankle
or get a bruise or two, but that won’t kill you. It’s a small sort
of place, and we might get through. Don’t stop the horn a moment.
What’s that idiot doing?”

On the side of the road an overgrown boy of eighteen hopped wildly
on one foot, the other stretched at right angles in front of him,
while his lank red wrists beat the air like the arms of a windmill.

These apparently purposeless evolutions he performed mechanically
so long as his ungainly figure filled their vision, and the
maniac appearance of the yokel rasped Antony’s over-strained nerves
unendurably.

“If that is a fair sample of Huntersville youth, it would be a real
blessing to the community to murder a few,” he muttered
malevolently, as they dashed, at what seemed to him a terribly
accelerated pace, into the little town. A large sign-board sprang
up suddenly, as it seemed, and faced them.

_Village limits. Slow down to six miles an hour_ (it read) _by
order of Commissioners. Offenders Will be_—-

But Antony, though desirous of reading further, even at the cost of
a halt, was unable to do so.

It was high noon and the main artery of travel could not have
assumed a condition more favourable to an unwilling excursionist.
Save for a group of children, which scattered to safety at
the steady warning of the horn, and a laggard team of greys,
whose languid progress from the middle of the road to their
legitimate anchorage at the side cost their master his hind wheel,
only a pompous speckled hen disputed their right of way. To his
companion’s shriek of horror–“The hen! The hen, Mr. Tony!”–Antony
replied only, through set teeth, “This is no time to think of hens–
blow that horn!” and drove like Attila the implacable over whatever
of domesticity and motherhood that obstinate fowl may have
represented. One more heap of empty barrels making a treacherous
curve, one more angry woman, leaping into a puddle to protect her
wide-eyed urchin, one heart-stifling ne’er-do-weel lurching at the
last possible quarter-second with drunken luck, out of
destruction’s way, and it was over: Antony, firmly convinced
that his hair must be snowy white, suffered the pent-up breath to
escape at last from his lungs, only to catch it desperately again
as a burly man, whose ostentatiously drawn-back coat displayed a
gleaming metal badge, stood deliberately before them, not a hundred
feet away, and waved his hand with unmistakable meaning. In this
hand fluttered a bit of yellow paper which recalled irresistible
memories of the telegraph office; the other grasped a large nickel
watch that winked derisively in the sunlight.

“Stop!” he bellowed majestically, and balanced upon his bow legs.

On one side stretched a hastily constructed barrier of old boards
and flimsy crates through which the blue sky line gleamed in bright
bars; on the other a heavy waggon rested at an evidently
intentional slant.

“Blow, blow!” gasped Antony, and, “Get out of the way, you fool!”
he cried with ineffective hoarseness, grinding his teeth as it
became apparent that the creature meant to brazen it through.

“Look out! We can’t stop! Oh, please go away!”

The shrill scream of the girl at his side accomplished more than
the horn: the terror in her eyes spoke loudly for her, and with a
face wherein rage and incredulity struggled, this vidous obstructor
of highways stepped unwillingly aside and left them a scant five
feet of passageway. But for Antony, in his present state of nerves,
five feet was all too scant. Had he then escaped all the chances
and changes of this mad morning, had he won through by a
miracle of success, only to be balked at the last by an
incalculable old village marplot? Should a paunchy waddler of this
sort wreck at once his pride and his car? Thus he frothed and
boiled in his heart, and perhaps that overheated organ clouded his
eyes and vibrated in his wrists, for the heavy front wheels of the
great vehicle crashed into the flimsy right-hand barrier, mowed
down the crates and planking as if they had been of straw,
scattered them, crackling and clattering, far and wide; and worse
than this, the hind wheels, with an utterly unintentional flirt
which had nevertheless all the effect of a malicious and
brilliantly executed manoeuvre, jolted the barrier-waggon so
violently that the horse attached to it sprang quickly forward,
thus unfortunately upsetting the pursy and authoritative native who
had retreated to that side for safety. Down he rolled in the dust,
yelling frantically, while the frightened horse with a sharp turn
fled back through the town, scattering still further the wreckage
of the ill-fated barricade. Nette, turning involuntarily, saw all
this and saw, too, that even as he bit the dust the outraged wearer
of the metal badge still clutched, and as it seemed to her
brandished, with a sinister motion the square of yellow paper.

She stole a glance at Antony, but his set jaw and lowering brow did
not invite confidences, and she sat in silence during the few
remaining moments that sufficed to set them free of the village
outskirts.

“Here is the road,” said Antony briefly as they turned into a
winding, stony track that closed behind them like a gate; and on
this occasion no untoward happening checked the deep breath that he
allowed himself.

“I have ridden along this road ten miles at least,” he continued,
“and it is practically deserted. They have to keep it in some sort
of shape because it is the only way they have to haul timber in the
autumn from the woods beyond, and telegraph poles; then they send
them away by boat down the river. I never followed it to the end,
but I should suppose it would wind into Brookdale, which is on the
Northern Trunk Division, and nowhere near us by rail, you know.”

“Brookdale . . . Brookdale?” she murmured vaguely, as he seemed to
be waiting for her to speak.

“What I propose to do,” he went on, quite easily now, and steering
the car, within the simple limits possible, almost unconsciously,
“is to go on like this as long as the road is deserted as it is
now. As soon as we reach Brookdale–or whatever village we touch
first–I will try to find a big enough sweep to turn around in and
simply retrace our way. This I shall continue to do until this
brutal machinery runs down. It will be dull, but safe. All the
farmhouses have turns for their own waggons, and I can be fairly
sure of a clear path around a watering trough or sign board, you
see. There is a good broad sweep, I noticed, in front of the last
farm before we turn into the woods here and I’m not afraid to go as
near Huntersville as that. To begin with, they’d never believe that
we would be so foolish as to come back, and they will naturally
suppose that we took the regular state road and got across the
river; touring-cars like this don’t go up this way–unless they are
obliged to,” he added grimly, as an unusually rough spot shook them
till their very teeth rattled. “I hope you approve of this plan?”
he concluded politely.

“I suppose it is the best thing to do, considering
everything,” she answered after a little pause, “though I wish . . .
when shall we reach Brookdale?”

“I am unable to tell you,” Antony replied with a touch of asperity,
“and I really cannot see what difference it makes, since we can
hardly hope to stop there on our first trip.”

“To be sure,” she said, “I forgot. You manage the car so well that
I forgot that you can’t do anything you like with it. You must
excuse me.”

At these words a comforting and fragrant warmth, the very subtle
aroma of well-being, stole about Antony’s heart, and his face
relaxed insensibly. He could the more readily excuse her ingenuous
error because he had more than once in the last hour fallen into it
himself. It was difficult to believe that his control of this
cumbrous soft-bitted monster, answering so sweetly to the slightest
contraction of his wrist, was merely nominal; that only the most
extraordinary good fortune stood between him and crushing ruin.

“Why do you suppose that ugly fat man wanted to stop us, Mr. Tony?”
Nette demanded suddenly–“did he have any right to, or any reason?”

Antony sighed thoughtfully, and his various feelings struggled in
his face.

“As to his rights,” he answered judicially, “I really could not
say. He certainly had some kind of badge. But as to his reasons, I
fear the only difficulty will be to count them.”

“To count them?” she repeated curiously. “Are there so many, then?”

Antony shrugged his shoulders expressively.

“In the first place,” he began, “we are supposed to have purposely
irritated an extremely unpleasant old snake to the point of biting,
perhaps fatally, a French chauffeur. If fatally, the law wants us
on that account. In the second place, we have stolen a large
and costly touring car and are apparently occupied in making away
with it as fast as possible. And the law wants us on that account.
In the third place, we have violated the speed regulations of
Huntersville and refused to stop when called upon to answer for it,
and the law wants us on that account. In the fourth place, we have
knocked down and, for all I know, seriously injured an official of
Huntersville, and the law wants us on that account. Do I make
myself clear?”

“Quite clear,” she replied soberly, and then, without the slightest
warning, she burst into a rich gurgle of laughter, so rollicking
and infectious that Antony had joined her before he realised it,
and the wood rang with their united mirth. The massive mechanism,
whose least lever they could not have explained, had it been to
save their lives, rolled ponderously along, clanking and hissing
beneath them; and they, perched like flippant butterflies on its
upholstered surface, chuckled and trilled and rejoiced in their
youth. As the Indian child leads the mighty elephant by a leash of
meadow grass, so Antony directed his car with a flick of the wrist,
and like the child thought nothing of what he did, save that it was
amusing and showed forth his mightiness. Death glided along
beside them, revolving softly with each turn of the four broad
tires; terror lurked at every vine-twisted bend in the road; not a
smooth beech nor a rough chestnut but might have hidden behind it
some horrid destiny–and they rode on lightly, as the froth on the
breaker before it crashes on the beach.

Upon Antony, indeed, positive serenity had fallen, and a
consciousness of readiness for any emergency. It was with some
strong sense of this that he leaned down to his companion and said
with a masterful smile–the smile of one whose thorough
acquaintance with himself precludes any idea of self-gratulation:

“Perhaps, my dear Miss Nette, it is, after all, as well that you
have one of us despised young fellows with you to-day? Even the
most fascinating of greybeards might have found this crisis a
little too much for him?”

Only the lowest curve of her flushed cheek was visible. Grapelike
curls of warm brown shielded her eyes, but he remembered their
astonishing blue and glanced with keen appreciation at her silken
instep to strengthen the memory. When all was said, what pluck she
had! How many girls would have skimmed so swiftly and surely
down that hill, would have faced a danger so evident with such
buoyant courage, would have smiled so comradely in the face of
fear? What if her tongue were a little sharp? She was not the
ordinary brainless twitterer of her age. And something more than
brain had flashed and deepened in her eyes. . . . She was speaking.

“Perhaps, my dear Mr. Tony,” she responded affably–alas, too
affably–“it is, after all, as well to remember that even the least
fascinating of greybeards would be hardly likely to involve me in
such a crisis!”

The car rose to a large irregular stone that punctuated the already
rough road, and Antony bounced angrily from his seat, descending
with a shock that jarred his spine throughout its length. It seemed
to him that the machinery clanked and laboured more heavily, that
they were going a little more slowly; only a little, perhaps, but
still more slowly. But he was too vexed to care if their progress
were slow or quick. He loathed the pert, confident creature at his
side from the bottom of his heart. Viewed in the sudden sultry heat
of his feelings, what was her self-possession but brazen
effrontery? Was such diabolic quickness of _riposte_ even
creditable to her years and sex? He considered the situation
briefly: why were they in their present plight? Because, to put the
matter baldly, he had been misled by the statements of a young
woman who had openly admitted herself in no condition to be held
responsible for her words–a pretty state of things! Really, it was
hardly . . . hardly . . . but she was speaking again.

“Mr. Tony,” she said softly (she had the knack of making a soft
murmur rise above the clamour of the machinery), “please do not
think, Mr. Tony, that I do not appreciate your courage, and–and
sensibleness after it all happened! And I fully realise that it was
partly my–that I–that if I had not—-”

“Not at all,” he answered stiffly, taking pity in spite of himself
at her evident embarrassment. “As you implied, the initial
responsibility was all mine.”

But though his words were stiff, his heart had grown insensibly
supple under the pressure of her voice. After all, what did her
condition prove–that condition that had prompted their mad flight–
but her very innocence and ignorance of alcoholicstimulant? A
very good showing, in these relaxed and indecorous days. We should
always try to be just.

Drifting on these conflicting tides of feeling, Antony ceased to
study the winding road with the severe scrutiny he had hitherto
applied to it, and as the way was now very rough, he failed utterly
to observe for what it was, a certain grassy cart track curving
into their path, and took it with a twist of the wheel, even as his
companion cried out in alarm.

“What are you doing? This cannot be right!” she warned, but it was
too late, and Antony realized that on the very verge of the
wood road, just as he should have looked for a space to turn in and
retrace their safe course, he had left that course entirely and was
steering along a now barely perceptible wheelway through a rough
and rolling pasture lot.

He shut his lips tightly and affected not to have heard her, and
for a few seconds they rode, in silence, through the stony field.
Suddenly she grasped his arm and for the first time terror
sharpened her voice.

“Oh! oh! see those cows! Oh, don’t you see them? Go back! Go back!”

Antony shook her off impatiently and grazed a stump on the right
only to bump against a jagged boulder on the left. The car was
undoubtedly moving more slowly; he could swear to it.

“I believe it is an established fact that the cow is not
carnivorous,” he observed, peering in spirit to the limits of the
field and wondering if he could turn in case a stone wall
threatened.

“I am going to jump,” she announced quietly, and a spasm of fear
shot through him remembering the pointed stubble and the flinty
rocks.

“Listen,” he commanded, “and try not to be a little idiot. What
harm can a cow do you? Or if it could”–with a burst of
inspiration–“why should you throw yourself into the middle of
them–perhaps with a broken leg?”

A smothered gasp told him that this shot had told, and he drove on
grimly; the nearly obliterated track led straight into the nibbling
herd. As the monstrous, labouring chariot neared them they lifted
their heads, stared gloomily a moment, and lumbered off, herding
into a clumsy canter as the unknown enemy gained on them. Stunted
firs rose here and there beside the track; the wheels crushed the
smaller stumps now, and tipped more alarmingly as they took the
unavoidable stones. They two might have been the first (or last) of
human pairs in all the world, for they rode utterly alone between
the dun earth and the blue sky. Each moment Antony expected to
wake, gripping the sheets, and each moment this dreamlike progress,
this mad chase of dappled cows, this pitching, tossing, clangorous
flight, grew more real, more ludicrous, more menacing.

Suddenly the path grew smoother; even, it seemed to Antony, more
slippery. The wheels took a different motion, the noise of
machinery grew by tiny degrees less and lower and died into a
drone. It almost seemed that they were gliding with the force of
gravity alone, for the track (now a broad muddy band) dipped
slightly but steadily. They appeared to be bound for a providential
gap in an ugly stone wall; below this stretched a wonderfully green
field bounded by a thick row of feathery sage-coloured trees, the
first full foliage they had seen.

Drugged with the steady head-wind of their flight, his hands
mechanically glued to the wheel, his brain a mere phonograph that
sang, over and over, “Keep in the track! Keep In the track!” Antony
took his juggernaut through the scant six feet in the wall, marked
how those of the cattle that had crowded through the opening made
for the thinnest place in the fringe of trees, tried to estimate
the force of a collision with one of those gnarled and twisted
trunks, and realised to his horror that all power of initiative
was exhausted in him. Helpless and hypnotised, fatalistic as a
wild-riding Arab, he could only sit and grasp the wheel and wonder
vaguely what would happen. Would she jump? He was practically
certain that the motive-power was completely or nearly
exhausted, and that they were slipping along on a different and
sloping soil. Even as this flashed through his mind he saw a
welcome gap in the sage-green trees and made for it, though in
doing so he left the path, which, for that matter, split
inexplicably into many tiny paths.

What was that behind the green? What fields or walls or trees are
blue? What blue shimmers and sparkles? . . .

“Jump! Jump!” he cried, hoarsely, but she sat fascinated, turned to
stone by his side.

As one watches the water in a globe of coloured glass by the
seashore and smiles at the tiny splashing mites that sport in it,
so Antony watched a large red-and-white cow stagger helplessly down
a steepish slope, and smiled as she plunged clumsily into the broad
river. “It is beyond her depth, for she is swimming,” he thought,
and then they hung for three seconds on the brink of the tiny
slope, a maddening three seconds, in which they might have jumped,
but could not–and plunged, with a sharp, sweet scream from the
rigid girl by his side, into the river. It rose up strangely, as it
seemed, to meet them, and with the cold shock of the water
Antony’s will returned to him, and he rolled over the side of the
car before it was quite submerged, dragging Nette with him, and
pitching her over beyond him with his left arm. She slipped from
his grasp by the very force of the movement and went down, and the
current caught them both.

III.

THE RETURN

EVEN as he sank in the river, Antony perceived that he was in the
grip of a terrible current. He struck out with all his strength
against it for a moment, instinctively, before he realised that it
was folly to combat it; and as he rose to the surface, staring
eagerly along the course of its tugging compulsion, he saw, as he
had hoped to see, a sleek small head several yards in advance of
him. With a shout of encouragement he made for the small, floating
dot, and swam as he had never swam before, marking its distance
each second in order to be able to dive when it should disappear.
But it did not disappear. To his delight it floated serenely along,
and as he caught up with it, still yelling in his excitement, it
turned towards him.

“Don’t you think you might as well stop that noise, now?” said
Nette calmly. “We seem to be saved. Is it far to the shore?”

Antony’s jaw dropped and he swallowed more of the river water than
was conducive to his comfort.

“I–I don’t know, really,” he gasped, “but it can’t be, of course,
if this beastly current will only let us land. Shall I hold you a
little? Aren’t you tired?”

“Not yet” she answered briefly. “I’ll let you know. Of course my
clothes make a dif—-”

She paused abruptly and devoted her breath to keeping up with him.
Antony was a strong and rapid swimmer and had had more than one
occasion to practice the art when fully dressed. Rising on his
stroke, he glanced about him and saw with joy that the current was
sweeping them gradually, though not directly, to the left bank of
the river. He could in fact discern their course in the different
texture of the water as it sparkled in the sun.

“Just put your hand on my shoulder,” he begged. “There’s no use
wasting your strength. I think we ought to be there in five
minutes, at this rate. It must be awfully hard in those skirts.”

Her breath came short and hard now; with a slight motion of her
head she indicated her assent, and placed her hand on his shoulder,
and they slid in silence through the water. The bank, which now
loomed clearly over them, was quite high at this point, and Antony
deliberately neglected more than one place where a brief effort
would have got them out of the current, in order to make sure of an
easy slope by which to land. Suddenly his eye lit on what he had
been waiting for, a winding, easy path up through the cleared
underbrush, with a rough, three-sided shanty near it.

“Here we are!” he cried encouragingly. “I think I can get you
across–by Jove, it’s taking us there!”

And this was so: the current, with a distinct twist, urged them in
towards shore, and in a moment more Antony touched the bottom of
the river and towed his companion, now hanging heavily on him, in
to safety. They dragged themselves wearily up the little path,
soggy and dripping, Nette’s skirts heavy with water, and sat down
with one accord on a sunny rock in front of the decaying old
building, evidently a deserted boathouse, from the coils of rope
and broken oars that lay there. They looked dully at each other,
and as they looked they shivered, for hot as was the sun, the
river, not yet warmed by this specious early spring, had chilled
them to the bone.

Antony shook himself and tried to overcome the lassitude that had
crept on him.

“Well, here we are!” he said tentatively, pressing his teeth
together to hide their chattering. “It is a mighty good thing you
swim so well, isn’t it? Now we must get out of this as soon as
possible–your lips are blue. I suppose you really ought to run
about a little, oughtn’t you?”

“I suppose so,” she assented wearily, “but I shall not do so,
nevertheless. Is there no house near here?”

They gazed about them, but no chimney, no red barn, no white
steeple, rewarded the inspection. Robinson upon his isle could have
felt himself no more abandoned. Jutting headlands cut off their
view up and down the river; high pasture land broken with woods
covered all they could see on the opposite bank, and the one upon
which they found themselves appeared to consist entirely of sand
pits, gnarled roots, and fallen trees, with what seemed a rather
formidable forest behind.

“It seems idiotic,” Antony began, “and of course we must be
somewhere–this is a ridiculous sort of country; one would think we
were in the middle of Africa–but just at the moment I cannot say
that I see any signs of humanity but this old boathouse. I will
take a run up beyond that little promontory and look about. Please
jump up and down while I am gone, and could you not take that skirt
off and dry it in the sun?”

She nodded.

“And by the way,” she observed casually, “where is the motor-car, do
you suppose?”

Antony sat down from sheer force of surprise. He had utterly
forgotten the motor-car. Life to him had begun anew when he
staggered up the bank. He looked piteously over the shining river.

“Well, we’ve done it, now!” he exclaimed, and as he sat in huddled
misery a fit of senseless laughter shook him, nor was his dripping
companionlong in joining him. They laughed till the decayed
old boathouse echoed, and when, from very fatigue, they stopped, no
trifles such as cold or wet or isolation or the justly merited
terror of the Law could cloud their invincible youth after that
baptism of mirth.

“Anyway,” Antony began, his voice still shaking, “we are on the
other side of the river, and there is no bridge for two miles,
certainly, and we came through a pasture to get here and so the old
car is pretty safe to be under the mud by the time she could be
traced. They say the bottom is mostly quicksand all about here–if
we are here–for heaven’s sake, what is that?”

He pointed to a black rectangular object floating placidly on to
shore, not ten feet from them.

“It is a trunk,” Nette replied excitedly, “a black, waterproof
motor trunk! And a suit case behind it! And oh, see, do you see
that hat box?”

They held their breath as the strange squadron sailed majestically
along the guiding current into their tiny port, the trunk floating
high, displaying its white stenciled monogram proudly, the suit
case following, the absurd little chimney-pot ducking and bobbing
in the rear. Suddenly, as the suit case seemed likely to drift
out again, they rushed to the bank, and while Nette dragged the
trunk to shelter Antony strode into the water and gathered in the
smaller craft.

They were all of wicker, with a lining of oiled silk and a covering
of thick waterproof rubber material, and as Nette pulled at the
fastenings of the trunk and flung back the lid it was at once
evident that both these shielding materials had admirably performed
their office: the contents were uninjured. They looked upon a
shallow tray divided into two parts. In one lay what was apparently
a small, fantastically shaped cloud of palest mauve. Upon one side
of this cloud there was fastened with a sort of jewel a long, soft
feather of a slightly deeper tint of mauve. This feather curled
caressingly about the cloud and Antony’s experience instructed him
that the object was quite terrestrial–was, in fact, a hat. An
indistinguishable, fluffy, shimmering mass of mauve filled the
other compartment, and in the cover a cunning artificer had set a
fair-sized mirror, surrounded by numerous loops of leather which
held brushes, combs, and other toilet accessories. As Antony
regarded this collection of objects, he was aware of a long, soft
sigh, and turning to his companion he beheld her bowing as in a
trance before them, lost, like the persons in a well-known hymn, in
wonder, love and praise.

“Oh! How perfect!” she breathed, and at the picture of her,
dripping and draggled, shivering and ecstasied, he shook his head
in thoughtful amazement.

“Now, Miss Nette,” he said abruptly, “do you know what you are
going to do. This is simply too extraordinary to be anything less
than providential. You are going to follow me into this little shed
and when I have taken the trunk there, you are going to put on
everything you can find in it. If there’s anything sensible enough
there, please give yourself a good rub-down with it. Will you take
cold with your hair wet?” he added masterfully.

Either moisture or the sight of the mauve glories had taught her
meekness, for:

“Oh, no, my hair will dry in a few minutes–it dries very quickly,”
she assured him, adding timidly, “but ought I–they are so lovely–
have we any right—-”

“I suppose you have a right to avoid pneumonia,” he interrupted her
rudely “and as far as the question of rights is concerned, this is
rather late in the day to go into that, I think!”

He marched to the little shed, bearing the trunk, as it had been
the crown regalia, on outstretched arms, and Nette, wringing her
hair and murmurmg incoherent abnegations concerning her
unworthiness of the mauve mysteries, followed nevertheless.

Repeating sternly his injunctions as to the value of thorough
rub-downs, he left her, and falling upon the suit case, which he
prophetically connected with the comforting masculine hat box, he
carried it behind the shed, and at a chivalrous distance opened it
Then in that deserted wood there was a silence, like that which
fell in heaven, for the space of half an hour and, it may be, a
little longer. At the end of this silence there appeared from
behind a large oak a very dignified and handsome young gentleman
attired, perhaps a thought impractically for his surroundings,
in a fleckless frock coat with the appurtenances usually
thereto accredited by our leading metropolitan tailors, such as
stiffly creased grey trousers, patent-leather shoes, and delicate
gloves dangled in the hand. Walking somewhat mincingly, this
gentleman, elaborately backing around the shed and apparently not
observing it, sought a rubber-incased hat box lying on the ground,
and stooping gingerly, unclasped it, drew from it a glossy, black
hat, and after a few affectionate strokings, which, applied to its
surface, could but recall to any student of literature the painting
of the lily, placed the same upon his sleek head with an absorbed
and even slightly terrified expression, which melted slowly into
one of deep satisfaction. After this he coughed politely and
prepared to back again around the little hut. In this operation he
was, however, interrupted by a soft tug at one of his almost
too perfect coat tails.

“I look very well, too, I think,” said a hesitating, sweet voice,
and in an instant he was bareheaded before her.

Charming as Nette had appeared in her simple walking dress, Antony
was utterly unprepared for the picture she now presented. In the
absurd and yet wonderfully effective setting of the brown, budding
trees, the broken and forbidding rocks, against the dull background
of the dingy, decaying hut, her soft, pale tints of hat and gown
gleamed like some one of the perfumed daintinesses Watteau traced
upon his tricksy, tempting court fans. The whole costume, from the
sweeping cavalier feather to the saucy, buckled slippers, recalled
subtly that delightful pretense at Arcadia, that amusing pastoral
figuring and posturing that broke under a sigh too ardent, a
pressure too fiery, into the scented powder puff and the satin
stays. One looked for a spinet, garlanded with golden cupids, for a
white lamb smelling like Araby the blest, for a wreathed crook with
a tiny mirror artfully set in its curve. To gaze upon that
diabolically contrived simplicity was to produce in the susceptible
breast, and most particularly in the susceptible masculine
breast, an odd tumult of sensations too conflicting in their nature
for description.

Nette’s hair ran vine-like under the melting, tender-coloured
plume; her skin glowed softly rosy, and two faint violet shadows
under her brilliant eyes toned sweetly with the colours of her
misleading gown. Around her neck on a slender golden chain was hung
a singularly perfect fresh-water pearl, large, with shifting
colours, utterly unadorned by any jeweller’s fancies; an odd and
very elegant bauble that caught Antony’s eye instantly.

“Mademoiselle,” he began, “you are–you are—-” he paused, for
genuine lack of words. “You are absurdly charming,” he concluded,
not altogether lamely, after all, and she swept him a graceful
courtesy, her long, pale sash-ends floating out against the rough
bark behind her. Nor was Master Antony displeased at the
satisfaction at his appearance which he surprised in her eyes.
Intrinsically inartistic indeed is the garb of our modern male, and
yet to our accustomed eye there is a fine air of fitness, a grave
elegance, in his sombre bifurcation; an ordered poetry in his
candid vest, his lustrous neck scarf; a twinkling luxuriousness
in his polished and costly footwear. All this appeared to
perfection in Antony’s dignified figure, just sufficiently above
the middle height to allow of his being called tall.

“The sleeves,” he informed her, “are a little short and I am not
sure that I have not stretched the shoulder seams a little, but the
shoes are exactly my own size. The underwear,” he added absently,
“was silk. Apricot colour—-”

“My shoes,” she began hastily, “are too large, but I think I can
keep them on. The skirt is too long, of course, but I can hold it
up. The hat,” she concluded, with softened eyes, “I should like to
be buried in.”

“I should dislike to have you buried in it,” he said briefly, “and
now,” he continued briskly, “the next thing is to get away. I have
put all my things into the suit case and I will, with your
permission, put yours there too. Then we will leave the suit case
and the hat box under a pile of old boughs near where I dressed,
and the trunk–is there anything in the trunk?” he broke off.

“No, I put them all on,” she assured him, flushing delightfully.
“There was just enough–of everything.”

“I see. Well, I think we’ll simply leave it here. Perhaps I might
hide it a little,” and he tossed a dusty roll of cocoa matting and
a coil of rope over the receptacle, which being small became from
that moment unnoticed.

“And now,” said Antony, when he had conveyed the neat, damp roll
she handed him to its hiding place, “let us get along. We can do no
better than follow this path, which seems to grow broader, if
anything, and it stands to reason we must come out somewhere. I may
as well confess that I have a very poor idea of location, and I
don’t as yet find any landmarks. From the moment that we struck off
into that field track I lost my bearings entirely. I should suppose
we were opposite–or almost opposite–Brookdale; perhaps a bit
lower down. We can get a rig and drive back probably–unless we die
of hunger,” he ended angrily. “I have only a little change with me
–forgot it when I changed my clothes, of course, this morning. I
suppose, though, I could get some money on this,” and he fingered
the scarf pin at his throat. It was a horseshoe of small diamonds
of the purest water, and as Nette’s eyes fastened on it she started
suddenly.

“Was that what you had on this morning?” she asked.

“No,” he answered, flushing a little. “I found it in a jeweller’s
box on the top of the things in the suit case, with a letter. I
have the letter–it says only ‘Amory’ on it. I put the pin on,” a
trifle shamefacedly, “more or less to go with the whole rig, you
know!”

Antony looked very boyish as he made this confession and Nette
could but smile as he fingered the little horseshoe consciously.
This smile was not lost upon the youth, and turning, he walked on
in silence, advancing steadily if delicately along the path, which,
though narrow enough to force them into single file, was
sufficiently clear to afford a certain margin of safety to
Nette’s billowy splendours. Antony occasionally held back a
threatening bough, and she from time to time moaned apprehensively
as some projecting stump detained her drapery for a terrifying
second; but for this they exchanged no further conversation.

Antony’s faculties, stretched to their utmost since morning,
unfortified by food, absolutely refused to rally around him on this
occasion, and though he cudgelled his brains for a solution of the
probabilities of his conduct when they should emerge from the wood,
it was a useless performance. He was capable of walking erectly
through the trees, of keeping his shoes bright, of shielding his
hat from indignity–and of nothing more. Thus oblivious to all but
the sensations of the moment, he plodded steadily on, and it was
with an expression of positive stupor that he burst all at once and
without the slightest transition of the foliage out of the rude
woods into a trim gravel road flanked by incredibly artificial
Lombardy poplars. In front of him swept a terraced lawn; far across
it rose a lordly Elizabethan mansion composed, apparently, of
weathered oak and gay window boxes; a marvellously rolled
tennis court swam before his dazzled eyes. As he felt Nette at his
side and opened his lips to speak, a loud, triumphant shout burst
upon the air and a carriage and pair stationed at the end of the
drive sprang into rapid motion towards them.

“‘Ere you are, sir! ‘Ere! Just in time, sir, jump in! All right,
sir–I knew by the lady’s dress–could you h’open the door
yourself, sir? Mr. Richard said he knew you’d try the old road–
‘owever did you get over the old bridge, sir? I doubt we can make
it this late, but we’ll try. Excuse me, sir, but there’s no time
for talk–in you go, sir!”

Under the piercing eye of the garrulous old servant Nette slipped
into the brougham and Antony after her, as one in a dream. The fat
bays literally galloped along the crushed stone, whirled through an
elaborate iron gateway, and devoured the stretch of country road
whose scattered houses Antony tried in vain to identify.

“Where are we going?” Nette asked fearfully, but he could only
shake his head.

“Somewhere near a railroad station, I hope,” he answered; “we
couldn’t very well walk along the road dressed like this.
Evidently this old idiot knows your dress–that’s very
unfortunate.”

“He cannot know it,” she insisted, “for it has never been worn. I
am sure of it.”

“Nonsense,” said Antony brutally, and at her incredulous
displeasure he softened only so far as to demand:

“Then how did he know you?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted, and they drew up suddenly among a
crowd of carriages and motor-cars gathered around a quaint stone
church.

“Now we’ll slip out,” Antony began, when all at once a slender
young man sprang to the door of the brougham, wrenched it open,
seized Antony’s hand, and burst into a torrent of language.

“Well, you took your time, didn’t you? At last! Ritchie was sick
with rage–till we got the telegram. How’s Auguste? Car gave
out, of course. Poor Emily felt dreadfully. Miss—excuse me, but
all I can think of is Gertrude, you can just get in–dash over to
the cloister and they’ve left a place, _So_ glad to have met you–
yes, indeed. This is Williamson. Please ask for mother’s carriage
directly the ceremony is over–we’re going to form an arch or
something at the house. Hurry up, old man–I had all your work. The
rest are in by this time, but I have to attend to the carriages and
you are to take in the late ones. Family on left of white ribbons–
for heaven’s sake, Miss Gertrude–_run!_”

He dragged Nette from the step and raced her toward the church; she
lifted her skirts and skimmed like a swallow beside him. Antony
stumbled to the puffing old coachman, pulled all the silver out of
his pocket and handed it to him mechanically.

“Thank you kindly, sir–I did my best. So many not knowing either
you or the young lady, sir, it was ‘ard for us, but I did my best.
She looks beautiful, they tell me–h’isn’t that some one waving for
you, sir?”

Antony ran wildly towards the church door, whence issued a pompous
and familiar peal from the organ; a strongly accented march, to
whose measures, he reflected dizzily, no one whom he had yet
encountered had ever been able to adapt his steps. He peered up the
little, crowded aisle. Half-way along it paced a solemn party of
young men; four visions of mauve and feathers followed them, and
even as he removed his hat four more hurried past him and entered
the door. They were in couples, each bearing a great armful of
white and purple sweet peas, and the maiden nearest him in the last
couple, flushed and panting, with one bare arm, was none other than
poor Uncle Julius’s godmother’s own daughter’s stepdaughter! She
moved demurely, her eyes downcast, the great pearl rising with her
quick breath, and Antony wiped the troubled sweat from his brow. A
stir behind him, a murmured, sighing tribute, and the bride was
passing by. White as the lilies in her hands, a frostlike veil
falling over her glistening train, she glided beside her portly
father, and the crowded little church turned to mark her passage as
a hedge of sunflowers seeks the sun.

Antony sighed and turned to confront a massive lady swathed in
rose-coloured satin and variously adorned with precious stones of
all colours. She fixed him with a protruding grey eye and directed
toward him a hissing whisper.

“I am the bride’s Aunt!” she declared. Antony stared vaguely at
her.

“And I hope there is a seat well to the front,” she continued
severely, if hoarsely.

With a shock of comprehension Antony thrust forward his arm.

“I am sure that there is, madam,” he said politely, “pray come with
me.”

And so it happened that he led the massive satin creature up the
aisle in the wake of that mystic procession, outwardly a mask of
courtly solicitude, but within him the premonitions of whirling
mania. He was literally faint with hunger; the strong sweetness
of the lilies and other aromatic plants disposed about the church
for its decoration affected him almost unpleasantly with their
cloying odours, and the menacing fear that with every step he was
involving himself further in a list of crimes so confused as to be,
perhaps, yet uncatalogued in the annals of the law, shadowed his soul.

“_I, Emily Hildegarde, take thee, Richard_—-”

the tones of the frost-like bride were as clear and silvery as her
veil. Richard would encounter a certain amount of self-possession,
it appeared. But perhaps young women were all self-possessed, now.
Antony could not recall a bride that had trembled in his
experience.

The solemn service hastened to its conclusion. Suppose the marriage
should prove to have been invalid because of a fraudulent and
criminal usher? It might be possible. . . .

“I am sorry, but the church is filled,” he murmured suavely to a
beseeching violet-scented pair, marvelling at his own self-command.

It was over. Mendelssohn announced it and his echoes shook the
windows. Two more hopeful voyagers had launched out upon life,
arm in arm down the smiling, tearful aisle; two more combatants
with armour scarcely buckled smiled boastfully on entering the
field, nor noted that it was strewn with the breakage of their
predecessors!

Thus cynically did Antony muse as the glowing pair swept by, when
all at once a soft voice murmured close to his ear:

“Ask for Mrs. Williamson’s carriage!”

She was gone. They were all gone, in a perfumed cloud of mauve, and
with a bound he cleared the three entrance steps and ran to the
crowd of vehicles that began to move about.

“Is Mrs. Williamson’s carriage here?” he called loudly, and, as a
one-horse coupe drew up to him, the odour of sweet peas was wafted
across his nostrils and she swept in beside him, jealously guarding
her skirts from harmful contacts. Obedient to her imperative
gesture, he took his seat beside her, and feeling unable to combine
into any intelligible sentence his emotions and apprehensions,
gazed questioningly into her flushed and sparkling countenance. She
pressed the sweet peas to her breast, and as the carriage moved off
at a rapid pace she looked deep into his eyes and spoke.

“Wasn’t she lovely?” she said dreamily.

Antony opened his mouth and closed it, opened it again and again
closed it. For a moment it seemed to him that his mind was reeling
from its foundations; that perhaps, after all, he was the
legitimate usher of Emily’s wedding and that this lustrous-eyed
creature with him was Gertrude . . . and then a wholesome rage came
to his assistance.

“For heaven’s sake,” he cried, “talk reasonably! Where are we
going? What town is this? Do you realise the awful situation we are
in? I shall go raving mad if this thing keeps up much longer!”

She laid a small gloved hand on his knee and spoke calmly to the
quivering youth.

“Listen,” she said, “I do not see that we can do better than
go on to the house. It is a very big wedding and we can mix very
easily in the crowd if only I can get another dress–or a long
coat, somewhere. Perhaps I can. Especially now, when hardly any one
is here yet. Then you can get hold of a carriage and we can drive
to the station. We can at least get something to eat, for I know
how hungry you are. Nobody knows who half the people are at a
wedding–it is the safest place in the world for–for—-”

“For escaping criminals,” he concluded bitterly, yet with an
unreasonable lightening of heart. “It is true, nobody will know me.
And perhaps I can find out where we are.”

“And who we are,” she reminded him, smiling kindly.

He was amazed at the almost maternal gentleness, the sweet poise of
her manner. She might have been the very bridesmaid she simulated.

“Did any one speak to you?” he asked curiously.

She shook her head.

“I was so late. I think I am _her_ friend, and they don’t seem to
know each other so very well. The first four are friends, but
my four, no. Still, I can’t very well see them again, for she will
ask about me–oh, who can this be?”

They had turned in at a different gate from the one by which they
had left and were following a driveway that led along a series of
stables and offices. From one of these a house-maid ran out,
stopping the carriage with a gesture. At her embarrassed request
Antony opened the carriage door.

“I was to ask the first one that came by this way, if you please–
you are an usher, aren’t you, sir?”–Antony nodded grimly–“to go
to the laundry, right here, sir, and pick out the best arches.
They’re in the tubs. The other gentlemen will help carry them in.
Mr. Richard thought the ladies would know best about the arches,”
she added shyly, Smiling graciously, Nette stepped lightly from the
coupe, and as Antony followed her she nodded to the coachman,

“You may go back now,” she said, “we will walk up to the
house in a few moments.”

He touched his hat and drove on, the house-maid hastened in the
same direction, and Nette, followed by her companion, stepped into
the laundry. There indeed were the arches, twined with purple and
white sweet peas; the dim, damp room reeked and bloomed with them.
As they confronted each other uncertainly, a high, excited voice
floated toward them, evidently nearing rapidly.

“We must have every carriage guarded and the trains watched, that’s
all. They must be in the house, and they had no luggage, so how can
they change their clothes? That dress will mark the woman
absolutely. They will try for a motor, of course.”

Steps were at the laundry door. In an agony of terror Antony
dragged the girl into a back room, and hardly knowing what he did,
beckoned her up a narrow, dingy stair. Like shadows they fled up
it, and crouched at its head listening to the tramping feet of what
was evidently a group of men: young men from their tone and manner.

“It’s perfectly clear,” began the unmistakable voice of Williamson,
“they are, of course, that same couple that got off with
three big touring cars last season. It’s their specialty. The man
drives like a demon, and the woman is the coolest little devil that
ever walked. They have Amory’s car, they got the clothes, and by
coming so late they actually put the thing through. I hope no
jewelry is gone, but we mustn’t alarm the guests at any cost–Emily
would never forgive us.”

“The woman is marked–I know all the bridesmaids now, and I shall
make it my business to locate the eighth. Harvey, will you stay
with the presents? Ritch, like a fool, refused to have a
detective.”

“What did he look like, Williamson?” some one demanded.

“Kick me, if you want to, Harvey, I couldn’t tell to save my
life I–I was so excited, and he was so decent about it–he’s just
like anybody else. And I’m the only one that said a word to him–
it’s maddening! We’ll have to let him go–we can’t grab every man
we see, and nobody knows who half these people are. But watch the
dining-room. Amory ought to be here any minute. He’s nearly crazy,
I suppose.”

“Oh, I don’t know,” drawled a third voice. “If his precious
Gertrude is with him, what’s a scarf pin more or less to Ammy?”

“Nevertheless, I’m sorry for the man that took that car,” said
Williamson curtly, and Antony bit his lip nervously on the stairs
as he listened to the low murmur of assent that followed.

“Well, don’t let us stay here all night,” Williamson began again
fussily. “Grab some of these damned wreaths, you fellows, and see
if we can get them up to the house without sitting down in them!”

They bustled out, arguing over the best methods of tracking down
their victims, who cowered miserably above them. Fear, insensate,
reasonless fear, had laid his quivering, livid fingers on their
shoulders, and chilled the blood in their veins. To get away–
to get away, at any cost!

Antony, stooping over the crouching figure by his side, whispered
in her ear:

“I’ll step down and look about a bit. There must be some way–I’ll
get you a coat somewhere and we can slip out. Wait here.”

All was empty and silent in the laundry, but as he stopped a moment
behind the door before peering out, a hand knocked gently on it and
a boy’s voice questioned softly.

“Are ye’ there, then? Are ye, sir?” Instinctively and before he
could catch back the word, Antony whispered hoarsely:

“Yes!”

“I’ll be puttin’ this in the durway, then, and Miss Delia Nolan
said for me to say for ye to please wait an hour for her, an’ she’d
surely come. She does be needed in the bedrooms upstairs to watch
the ladies’ clothes f’r fear they’d be stolen, she says. But if
ye’ll wait the hour, she’ll be with you, with more, maybe, if she
can get it. Trust me for the horses, sir!”

There was a rattle and a thud as of some heavy object deposited on
the floor in the open door, and the messenger scurried away.
Antony looked cautiously around the door, and as he looked his eyes
grew large and round, for there before him lay a mammoth tray
filled with dainties to wake an appetite in one far less famished
than poor Antony. Two half-emptied bottles reared their grateful
promise high in the middle, and the jellied fowl vied with the
crusted croquet, the rich pâté gleamed among the feathery wheaten
rolls, the lobster nestled coyly in his luscious mayonnaise,
seeming indeed to blush under the young man’s ardent and
devouring gaze. Breathlessly he lifted it, eagerly he bore it to
that musty upper room, and there, with soft little cries of
surprise from her and long-drawn sighs of satisfaction from him,
they fell upon it. With every morsel of the food, with every
throatful of the heartening, still beaded wine, courage, nay,
audacity, crept softly over their jaded spirits, as the gentle but
inevitable tide creeps up the beach.

“To Miss Delia Nolan!” he cried lightly, raising high his glass;
“long life to her and her coachman!”

And “long life to her and her coachman!” Nette echoed, smiling from
the broken chair she sat upon at Antony, who knelt before the tray.
Through the chinks of the closed, dusty blinds vivid pencils of
light streaked her delicate dress: she gleamed like a modish crocus
in the bare lumber room. The rich viands before her, the dainty
opalescence of the frozen sweet she held in a tinted, flower-shaped
glass, the very dusk of the closed chamber, making her youth and
loveliness more jewel-like, all enhanced the piquancy of the
picture she presented. Antony’s resolution flamed high in him:
should such pluck, such beauty, such resource, be captured
now, now after all they had gone through?

Never! He swore it.

As he registered this oath she rose lightly from her chair, and
still jealously protecting her billowy skirts, began to peer about
the room. Of a sudden she stopped and stood like a pointer dog, one
finger raised to command his attention.

“What is in that basket?” she whispered excitedly.

There was no need to whisper, for not only the laundry but all the
ground about it was absolutely deserted. But secrecy and flight
have but one language and must conspire in whispers at the Pole
itself. The basket in question, which lay in the darkest corner of
the room, was of the description commonly in use among laundresses
when they would return the purified objects of their toil. Bending
over this, Nette fumbled a moment among its contents, and with a
triumphant exclamation held up to Antony’s bewildered vision a
fresh, creased garment striped alternately with blue and white.

“And here is the apron! And here is the cap!” she murmured
exultantly, “now I defy that horrid Mr. Williamson to find
me! ‘A marked woman,’ indeed!”

Instantly the feasibility of the plan struck him, and he
congratulated her warmly.

“Now all we need is to know where we are,” he assured her, “and
enough money to get away from it, wherever it is, and we are safe!
I will step out and look about a bit while you change your dress; I
feel confident that we shall find some means–luck would not have
the heart to desert us now!”

He tiptoed, needlessly, it is true, down to the laundry, and in the
very act of opening the door stumbled upon a plump old gentleman–
the very gentleman upon whose doubtless paternal arm the frost-like
bride had preceded Antony to the altar. Ere the youth had time to
catch his breath the portly one addressed him querulously.

“Oh! how d’ye do? So dark in here–senseless place to send a man!
No more sweet peas, that I can see–can you? Pack-horse, too, I
suppose like the rest of us? Fine business for my guests!”

“There is not a sweet pea left, sir,” said Antony respectfully,
“and if there were any I should certainly not allow you to
undertake the transportation of them. You have enough on your
mind, I should say.” With a long drawn sigh the portly gentleman
sank upon an inverted wash tub and wrung his hands miserably.

“Never in my life!” he mourned, “never in all my entire life!”

Antony uttered a soothing sound, of vague but apparently
satisfactory import.

“Not that we mind the loss of the car at all,” continued the old
gentleman, more collectedly now, “only this morning his mother told
me with tears in her eyes that she had offered him the price of it
to give it up; so far as that goes, she is, as she only just now
informed me, thanking her Creator on her bended knees and begging
Him never to let us see or hear of that horrible machine again.
Ammy promised her on his honour that if anything happened to
this one, he would never buy another. It was his seventh.”

Antony’s heart leaped up, but he spoke decorously.

“It seems to me, sir,” he said, “that you will, in all human
probability, never see that car again.”

“Thank God!” said his host fervently. “What is a stickpin to
Richard?” he demanded explosively, “what, in heaven’s name, do I
care for a paltry fresh water pearl? It is the disgrace, the
publicity; the laughing stock–in my house they tell me, these
scoundrels are! At my daughter’s wedding. Eating my food at this
moment, perhaps, Mr. Williamson warns me!”

“This Mr. Williamson,” said Antony gently, “seems to be a very keen
person.”

“The keenest,” replied the old gentleman eagerly, “he is hunting
for the woman now. It is unfortunate that he is the only one of the
ushers who did not know Ammy, you see.”

“I see. It was certainly unfortunate,” said Antony suavely.

“Ammy is due in a few minutes,” said the old gentleman, pulling out
a wealthy gold watch, “and here I am sitting here! I am so
overcome, you must excuse me. The five:three. I was to send
someone.”

“Can I not go, sir?” Antony asked feverishly, “just get me
somebody’s trap–anybody’s–and let me go to get him and save you
any further trouble.”

“Why, that is very kind, I am sure,” said Gertrude’s father, “I
will call the first one I see.”

There was a scurrying down the narrow stair and as the old
gentleman turned to go, a neat and very pretty housemaid rushed
towards him.

“O sir, excuse me, sir,” she cried, blushing delightfully, “but
Miss Gertrude said I was to ask you for five dollars, sir, to pay
for the C. O. D, at the station, sir. She wants it immediately. If
some one is going down, sir, could he take me?”

With a practiced hand the father of the bride reached into his
pocket, lifted from it a thick, green bundle, and placed a bill in
the pink trembling hand held out for it.

“This gentleman here will take you down directly, Mary–Delia–er,
my dear,” he said kindly, “I don’t recall his name at the moment,
but we are all very informal to-day, and I’m sure he won’t object.–
Here, boy, call me a carriage–anybody’s! I’ll see you later,
my dear boy, and I am much obliged.”

“Don’t mention it, sir,” Antony replied, and leaped nimbly into a
gorgeous station-waggon, taking his seat beside the driver. The
housemaid, displaying, as she mounted to the back seat, remarkable
hosiery and footgear for one in her humble walk of life, followed
quickly, and forth they drove.

The blood was tingling in his fingertips, his head reeled with a
strange mixture of terror and delight–the intoxication of the
artist in dangerous adventure–but Antony’s voice was level as he
inquired of the driver beside him:

“And what’s the next station up the road, do you know?”

“Brookdale, sir, and there you can get the other road if you want
it.”

“I see. And is this the up train?”

“Yes, sir. I suppose Mr. Amory had to go out of his way to make any
connection–the trains are poor here, sir. Mr. Ashley had to have
two specials put on for to-day. You see, Cliffwood is a small
place, sir.”

Cliffwood! Antony could have kicked himself for not
recognising in all this pomp of iron-gated villas, the scattered
collection of estates thus poetically christened.

“That’s a bad business about them murdering thieves, isn’t it,
sir?” pursued the driver confidentially.

Antony’s heart sank like lead. “Murdering?” he gasped, “did the
Frenchman die, then?”

“Oh, him!” returned the driver scornfully, “no, he didn’t, the
foreign pup. How could he–that old snake hasn’t a fang in his
head!”

Antony grasped the seat beneath him and drew a long, deep breath.

“I–I am glad to hear it,” he said concisely, and as he spoke the
incoming train whistled–a mellow, pleasing note that sang of
freedom (yea, and guiltless freedom!) to wedding guest and
housemaid alike.

Forth from the train, ere hardly it had stopped, leaped an eager
pair, a man and a maid, not too precisely attired, for their
garments were rumpled and not such as the critical in these matters
assume when bound for a wedding festival. Yet they did not seem
unhappy, these two, but rather lenient and tender in their
judgments upon all the world, for they smiled sweetly upon
the empty platform, and sweetly, if a little vaguely, upon Antony,
who advanced to meet them, hat in hand.

“Mr. Amory, I presume?” he said airily. “I came down to get you,
but I find I must send a telegram, on account of the trains running
so poorly here, and so I will not detain you a second, as I am sure
you cannot see Mrs.–Mrs. Richard too soon. They will send back for
me.”

“Thanks, old man–are they caught?” cried the lately arrived,
making for the station-waggon, and staring at the diamond horseshoe
in Antony’s pearl grey tie, Antony touched it knowingly and smiled.

“No. They are not caught yet,” he said, “but we’re on the scent!”

“Good!” exclaimed the other, “now jump in, dear,” and as the last
bit of baggage left the train and the waggon turned, Antony fled
through the station and raced up the steps of the moving car, hand
in hand with the pretty housemaid.

They seated themselves amid curious and friendly smiles.

“I will speak when the wheels are well started,” thought Antony,
and then, “when she gets her breath, I will say something,”
but with each minute overwhelming embarrassment wrapped him, more
deeply, and he sat, with averted eyes, in silence. Just as they
slackened pace to pause at Brookdale and he motioned her to rise,
she spoke, huskily and with an evident effort.

“What will you do with the chain and the pin?”

“Put them, with all these clothes and five dollars, in the trunk,
row the three pieces across the river, meet them with a cart and
express them to Mr. Ashley from Turnersville,” he answered,
promptly and with a rapid lucidity which astonished himself.

“They will be surprised,” she remarked indifferently, as she
descended the steps of the train, and:

“It is probable that they will,” he agreed.

* * * * *

It was some three hours later that a vehicle conducted by one horse
moved solitary under a rich and rising moon along the fair
white road that leads to one of the most venerable if not the
largest of our colleges. Dogged by its own black shadow, whose
wheels, smaller but no less symmetrical, rolled silently beside
it, this vehicle would inevitably have stirred romantic interest
in the breast of any imaginative spectator of its progress. And
this with reason, for one of its two occupants was a girl, who slept,
white-faced beneath the moon, her head, on which was perched askew a
housemaid’s cap, drooped forward on her breast, her lips slightly
parted. The other, a well-dressed young man, allowed the easy-going
beast to pick its own way, the while he gazed at the sleeping face,
compassionately, it would seem, for all at once, with a pitying
exclamation, he slipped his arm behind her, and gently guided her
head to his shoulder. With a sigh of relief she nestled against him
and her face relaxed with the comfort of her new attitude, while
still she slept. Thus they drove on for many minutes, nor did his
eyes once leave that white, appealing face. So small she seemed, so
helpless–could this slender creature have stood by him so
gallantly, have matched her wits so triumphantly against the
incredible crises of the past day? Day? Antony felt that the
ordinary partitions of time had henceforth no meaning for him and
that the philosopher who questioned the validity of time itself
knew well whereof he had written.

What a spirit the girl had! How beautiful she had looked in the
wood! He sighed, and at that or some other slight sound she opened
her eyes and gazed in terror at him. And as she gazed the terror
slowly melted and disappeared, a lovely child-like confidence grew
in its place, and she spoke softly.

“It is you!” she said, and half awake, she smiled deliciously,
straight into his bending eyes, “you are here?”

A great wave seemed to break in Antony’s breast.

“Here?” he cried, deep voiced, “where could I be but here–with
you? Who could be here–but me?”

Fully awakened now, she started from him, a flood of red sweeping
her pale face as she saw where she had been resting.

“No–no!” she stammered, “you are–we are–I was only dreaming
that—-”

With his eyes he entreated her, for their steed, spying the lights
of home, had started forward and Antony’s hands were busy.

“Ah, Nette, dearest Nette,” he begged her, and something in his
voice shook her so that she trembled beside him, “if waking makes
you hate me again, then dream! For when you dream, I am sure you
love me.”

“I do not! I do not!” she cried, covering her face with her hands.

The eager horse tugged at the bit: Antony forced her by his mere
will to meet his eyes.

“Not?” he said, low and clearly, “Not? Not after to-day, Nette?”

She bit her lip, and then, as the old college bell rang out nine
sharp strokes she laid her arms swiftly about his neck and his
cheek quivered under her warm soft hair.

“You are right,” she whispered, “after to-day–everything!”

The streets were no longer empty. They sat, separate, with whirling
hearts, trembling under the mounting moon. They were in the
familiar street. . . .

“After to-day–after to-day!” he muttered dizzily, when
suddenly she laughed out beside him, sobbed brokenly, then laughed
again.

“To-day is the first of April!” she cried.

And once again the polished moon threw her needless glory over
youth and love and laughter.

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