Charles Goddard.

The Perils of Pauline online

. (page 10 of 18)
Online LibraryCharles GoddardThe Perils of Pauline → online text (page 10 of 18)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

young feller like you I'd go right off an' find out."

"I'll go right away; what's up?"

"I dunno. I ain't knowed anythin' like it in this part o' the country
in fifty year. First, down yonder on the old river road I meets a
autymobile, with a man drivin' it and somethin' alive an' movin' lyin'
in a blanket by his feet. I ain't got more'n a half mile back from
there when I finds a fine young feller, with his good clothes - what
he's got left - tore to pieces, no shoes, or hat on him, an' his head
bleedin' bad from cuts. 'Where are they? Did you see a autymobile?'
he yells at me. I tells him what I had saw, an' he takes my off hoss
there an' goes gallopin' up the road."

"What road?" cried Bassett.

"Ye circle this here field an' climb the hill, then take the first

"Which way?"

"West, if you don't want ter jump in the river."

"What, we're back at the river," gasped Bassett.

"That's about my luck. The balloon's gone over the river; it's in New
York, and some Harlem reporter is leading it down to his office on a
leash to have it photographed, and I'm - I'm hoodooed, that's all."

"I dunno," said the farmer, "but ef ye ast me, I'd say that feller in
the autymoble was makin' for the woods beyond Quirksborough. It's
lonely up through there, an' he had somethin' in that there machine
that he wanted to keep lonely, I'm guessin'."

Bassett motioned to the driver to go on. "We might as well see what it
is; the balloon's gone home for supper," he said bitterly.

In five minutes they reached the turn where the farmer had last seen
Harry Marvin disappear. They took the turn into an ill-kept,
dust-heavy road that had cast its blight of brown upon the reeds
bordering it. The woods became more and more dense and the road more
narrow. In some places the dust was crusted, as it had dried after the
last rain, and the men in the automobile could see that the wheels of
another machine and the hoofs of a galloping horse had plunged through
this crust but a short time before.

Around a bend in the road, going at full speed, Bassett sighted Harry
Marvin for the first time. He stood up beside the driver and hailed
him, but Harry did not even turn around. The beat of his horse's hoofs
drowned the sound. The deep lines of the runabout's wheels in the dust
held his gaze and his senses to one thing alone - the rescue of
Pauline. He urged the poor beast to its last tug of strength. Weak
and dizzy from his wound, he knew that he could go but a little way
afoot. The road's high, close-set wall of trees was broken for the
first time by a little clearing. Harry's passing glance showed him
that there was a house in the clearing. He was exhausted and a thirst,
but his eyes swept back to the wheel tracks on the road.

The runabout had gone on. Harry, without drawing rein, was about to
follow. But suddenly, weirdly, the rickety walls of the deserted house
gave forth a sound, a rattle and a crash, and from a shuttered window
beside the low-silled door bellied a sheet of smoke.

Harry reined the foaming horse and sprang off. Freed of his weight,
the animal staggered on a few paces and fell, panting, in the dust.

Harry did not see it. He was battering at the door of the burning

Hicks could hardly be called a nervous or a timid man. He was
certainly not a coward, like Owen; but neither did he have the shrewd,
scheming mind which was the bulwark of the craven secretary's
weakness. At the moment when they discovered the young lovers safe at
the foot of the cliff after the escape from the balloon and rock ledge,
the two arch conspirators were two very different men. Owen was
shaking like a leaf in his terror of discovery, but thinking of a
hundred schemes to save himself. Hicks was deadly cool, and thinking
of just one thing - immediate and cold-blooded murder.

But now, although he thought he had killed Harry, although he knew he
had Pauline gagged and bound in the bottom of the runabout, Hicks was
afraid. He was afraid of the incompleteness of the thing. He was
eager to have done with the girl as well as with the man. And now this
latest plan of Owen's was but another chapter of procrastination.

The incident of the farmer's curiosity had unnerved him, too. He put
back over his face one of the white handkerchiefs that he had taken off
when he began the flight.

"There's no more 'pity-the-poor-girl' stuff in this," he said gruffly
to Pauline. "If you don't keep quiet I'll kill you. I mean what I

He still had the instinctive crook sense to conceal his natural voice.
Hicks was afraid, but as mile after mile fell behind them and the
westerning sun gave promise of the early shelter of dark, he began to
gain confidence. He mumbled to himself reminiscently:

"The old Grigsby house, eh? Nobody but - " he checked himself.
"Nobody but somebody would thought've that."

The "old Grigsby house," in front of which the runabout came to a stop
after many miles of travel, was set back from the road about three
hundred yards. In front of it and on either side, the trees had been
cut away, but a tangle of riotous shrubbery lined the path to the
door. Behind the house the trees had been left untouched, and now in
its tottering condition the venerable building literally rested on two
of the great elms, like an old man on crutches.

The windows were few and shuttered. The black steel blinds were dead
as the eyes of a skull. The steel was not rusted and only a little

There were no steps to the door. It opened on the ground level, with a
cracked board serving as both porch and foot mat. The signs of
attempted preservation were what gave the place its ominous air. There
was a menace in the steel shutters of the old Grigsby house, and in the
fact that the path to the door was kept clear.

Up this path Hicks carried Pauline. Before he lifted her in his arms
he tested her bonds. He did not know that Pauline was too terrified to
conceive the simplest plan of action. Compared with the fear that
possessed her now the torturing suspense of the balloon flight seemed
like peace and safety.

Hicks held her with one arm while with the other he unlocked the low
door. Swinging heavy on strong hinges, it opened into a narrow hall,
mildewed with the dampness of decay, the dust of disuse. He carried
Pauline up the stairs, which groaned and bent under his steps and
pushed open a door. There was a broken chair, a table, a cot, a
washstand, with pitcher and bowl, and a small oil lamp set in a bracket
on the wail.

Hicks laid Pauline on the cot, and lighted the lamp, using the same
match for a cigarette. He seemed spurred by a desire to get away as if
the tottering, grimy halls held memories too grim for even his hardened
soul. After testing the shutters of the window, which were locked on
the outside, he stepped back to the cot and cut Pauline's bonds, and
removed the bandage from her lips. As she fell back in a half swoon he
hurried through the door, closed and locked it and went down the

Half way down he stopped abruptly, stood for a moment listening, then
hastened on, dropping his cigarette over the banister. He did not see
where it fell. He did not care. His only aim was to get out - to get
away. He had heard a sound as he came down the stairs that turned his
fear to terror - it was the distant grumble of an automobile horn. He
locked the door and sped down the bramble-walled path to the
runabout. He had left it in the middle of the road, so that as he
leaped in and started again it left no swerve of its wheel ruts toward
the old Grigsby house. It was five miles to the nearest town, but
Hicks made it in twenty minutes, and without hearing again the
threatening automobile horn. The first thing he did was to telephone
to Owen.

For half an hour Owen had been locked in the library of the Marvin
house. The events of the early afternoon, the failure of his best-laid
plans, the suspense of waiting the result of Hicks's final move, had
made him a nervous wreck. He had lighted a dozen cigars and thrown
them away. As many times he had picked up the telephone only to set it
down again without calling a number. At last he had taken out the thin
tube of light pills, had drawn the shades, switched on the electric
lights, and sat down to wait for the half-peace that morphine brought
to his conscience.

As he leaned back in his chair, awaiting the effect of the drug, the
mummy in its case stood in front of him. He closed his eyes in a
pleasant stupor. He opened them in terror. For a moment his hands
were outstretched in front of him, with claw-like fingers clutching at
thin air; then he covered his eyes with them to shut from view the
mummy, which stood over him, its upraised hand pointing to him the
finger of accusation; its woman's eyes blazing with anger; its cold
lips speaking a message that chilled his blood.

The telephone bell jangled again and again before Owen found courage to
open his eyes. When he did so he clutched at the instrument, eager for
the sound of a human voice.

"Hello! . . . Yes, this is Owen . . ." He glanced apprehensively over
his shoulder at the mummy. Its hand was lowered and it stood
motionless as before. He turned excitedly back to the telephone.
"It's YOU! Hicks? . . . What news? . . . . She's at Grigsby's?
What do you mean? Somebody after you? . . . Not him? . . . I
give you my word there hadn't been anything on that road for two
months. . . . What have you done? What! Nothing? You should have
called the police from Jersey. . . . All gone to pieces? . . .
Stay over there, I'll join you tonight. Yes, go back to the house
and watch. . . . What? . . . All right."

Pauline, left alone, began to regain her courage. After a few moments
she was able to stand up and move slowly about her prison room. She
tried the door and the window shutters mechanically. She searched the
room for something that might be used to batter down the door. There
was nothing. She sat on the cot and tried to think.

She sprang up again, trembling. The dry, choking smell of smoke had
reached her. Hicks's lighted cigarette had fallen among the wisps of
old wall paper in the hall.

She ran to the door. Baffled, piteous, alone, she turned - and looked
on death.

For through the cracks in the floor flashed now the golden daggers of
flame in sheaths of stifling smoke. She cowered, choking, by the outer
wall of the room.

The flame daggers grew into scimitars. The inner wall caught fire.
There was no outlet for the suffocating smoke.

She sprang to the middle of the room and seized the broken chair. With
all her might she crashed it against the door. It fell in pieces at
her feet.

She picked up a leg of the chair and, running to the window, pounded
upon the shutters. She screamed, and beat upon the shutters. It was
the rattle and crash upon the shutters that made Harry rein in his
horse before the old Grigsby house.

He saw smoke burst from the lower windows, and, battering on the locked
door, he heard her screams.

"Harry! Harry!"

It was to him she called again in her peril, as she had called before
- in the wreck of the yacht, in the den of Baskinelli, and even this
day from the rim of the runaway balloon. Always, inspired by that
call, he had found their way to safety.

He thrust the full weight of his mighty body against the door which
held like solid rock.

"Harry! Harry!" came the cries again.

"I'm coming, Polly; I'm here!"

He dashed to where a heavy tree limb had fallen, carried it to the
door, raised it and charged with it as a battering ram. He might as
well have slapped the door with his flat palm.

He looked at the windows whence the smoke poured - smoke mingled with
flame. Half crazed by the cries from above, he raised the limb to try
to break the shutters. He stopped and let it fall. The toot of an
automobile horn and the excited voice of young Bassett stopped him.

"What's doing?" gasped the reporter. "Is anybody in there?"

Harry pointed to the shuttered window of the upper room. The cries
came again, and with the sound, of the woman's voice Bassett turned
sick. He made a dizzy charge at the door, but Harry caught him back.

"All three together," he said.

They flung their strength at the portal - but still it held.

Bassett turned away, sobbing. He looked up to see Harry spring into
the big car which he forced through the brambles.

"What are you doing? You're crazy!" yelled the chauffeur, running
toward the machine.

"Get her - if I can't - after the smash!" was Harry's answer. The
car lunged on at full speed.

The impact rocked the burning house. Frame and door crashed down
together before the battering car. It plowed for half its length into
the smoke and fire, stopped an instant, quivered and backed out again,
splendid ruin.

On Harry's forehead a deep cut streamed.

Bassett sprang to catch him, but he climbed out unhelped. Together
they leaped the shattered wall. Through searing smoke they climbed the
quaking stairs and burst into the shuttered room.

The lamp still flickered dimly in its bracket.

"Pauline," called Harry, chokingly, "Pauline, answer me."

There was no answer.

On hands and knees he groped over the hot floor. He found her by the
window, where she had fallen. And flames choked them as they fled.

Outside he knelt beside her, chafing her hands, when she wakened. He
had turned her so that she did not see the towering glare of the flames
as the old Grigsby house furnished burnt penance for its crimes.
Pauline raised her arms and touched tenderly his bleeding brow. He
lifted her into the car that Bassett and the driver had patched up.

"Home, James," said Bassett, with a tired grin, "but stop at a telephone
somewhere and let me tell my boss that I've got a piece for the paper."



"I tell you, Harry, I can't endure it. I couldn't face anyone I know.
I want to run away - far, far away, where nobody ever heard of
balloons or automobiles, or me."

"Polly, you aren't afraid of a little talk, are you? Everyone is
saying how brave you were, and, here, when the danger's over, I find
you a flimsy little coward!"

She picked up one of a pile of newspapers that lay on the stand beside
her, and thrust it before Harry's eyes with a manner at once
questioning and rebuking. He read the head lines:


Miss Pauline Marvin Has Remarkable Experience
After Accident on Palisades.

Harry laughed and patted her hand reassuringly. "Oh, but that's only
one of them," wailed Pauline. "Look at this one:


"Can any woman live after that," she cried.

"Why, it's no crime to be lost in a balloon," said Harry. "See, they
tell it just as it was - they make you a real heroine."

"A man might live it down, dear, but a woman, never! To be 'lost in
the sky' is altogether too giddy. Margaret!" she called.

The maid stepped quickly forward.

"You may pack my things, Margaret, and be sure to put in some warm
winter ones. Is the snow on mountains cold like real snow, or is it
like the frosting on cake?" she inquired, turning again to Harry.

"What are you up to this time?" he demanded.

"Montana first," she proclaimed with a melodramatic flourish. "And if
I am followed by my fame or by my relatives - I shall go on - to the
end of the world."

Harry had long ago abandoned the idea of laughing at her whims. Even
the most fantastic of her projects was serious to her.

He merely looked at her in mute suspense awaiting the fall of the

"You needn't begin to see trouble-yet," she laughed. "But I am going,
Harry. I'm going to accept Mary Haines's invitation and visit her and
her nice, queer husband on their ranch. You remember Mrs. Haines, that
dear Western girl that we met on the steamer when she was on her

"Well, it's pretty tough just at this time," objected Harry. "Business
is bothersome, and I ought to be here; but if you insist . . . "

"Oh, you're not coming with me," stated Pauline, cheerily. "In the
first place you are not invited, and in the second place you are not
needed in the least. Now get me a telegraph blank."

He came back with the desired paper and a fountain pen and she

Mrs. Mary Haines, Rockvale, Montana. Care Double Cross Ranch.

Arrive Thursday at 8 a.m. Will explain haste when see you.,

Pauline Marvin."

"Run down and 'phone that to the telegraph office," she told Harry.
"And now for the packing, Margaret." She thrust a tiny foot in a pink
slipper over the edge of the bed.

"But you are ill, Miss Marvin," protested the nurse with a first faint
assertion of authority.

"That's so," said Polly. "How can we get around that? Oh, yes; it's
time for your airing, dear - and when you come back I shall be well
and packed."

"Plenty of air," suggested Harry sarcastically from the doorway, "if it
takes you as long to pack as it does to put on your hat."

Pauline flung him a laughing grimace and he strode off to the library.
As he was repeating the brief message to the telegraph office he did
not hear the light footfalls that ceased at the library door, nor could
he see the drawn, gray face of Owen who heard the message spoken over
the telephone, and was passing up the stairs with his slow, dignified
tread when Harry came into the hall.

"Good morning, Mr. Harry. I see you are quite yourself again.
Yesterday was a terrible day."

"You do look done up," retorted Harry, curtly, as he picked up his

Owen's step was not slow or dignified after the door shut upon Harry.
He sprang up the last stairs and into his own room.

Here on a small writing desk was another telephone. He snatched it up
nervously and gave the call number of the place where he had held his
first conference with Hicks.

He held a brief conversation over the wire, snapped down the receiver,
sprang to a wardrobe for his hat and stick and hurried from the house.

The dullness that a sleepless night had left in his eyes had
disappeared. The fear that had shaken him ever since the uncanny
reappearance of Harry and Pauline was dissipated, or at least concealed
by a new hope - a new plan of destruction.

He knew only that Pauline was going away and that she must be followed
- no matter whither her whims might lead.

Hicks was seated in a corner of the rendezvous drinking whiskey and
water. He was plainly in a black mood.

"You got a pretty fat roll yesterday, Hicks. But," Owen drew out his
wallet, "here is a little. Get yourself ready to make a trip
tomorrow. I'll let you know the time and the train."

Hicks looked covetously at the bills, but he demurred: "You mean we're
after them two again!"

"Hicks, we must be after them because one of them will soon be after

"Where they goin' now?"

"Rockvale, Montana. That is, the girl's going. What I haven't found
out yet is whether Harry goes, too. If he stays here, I'll stay, and
you'll go West."

"After Pauline?"

"Ahead of her!"

"And then what?"

"Then you will have to use your own judgment. But don't get excited
and kill her, Hicks."

He accompanied the sharp warning with the alleviating roll of
yellowbacks, which Hicks quickly deposited in an inside pocket.

The next morning they shook hands at the gate of the Pennsylvania
station. Hicks looking a bit uncomfortable but much improved, in a
suit of new clothes, and carrying a suitcase, hurried to catch the
flyer for the West. A few hours later Owen was wishing a happy journey
to Pauline at the same station rail.

Mary Haines stood in the low doorway of the Double Cross ranch house
and gazed down the sun-baked road to where, in the far distance, a
little wisp of dust was visible.

Laughing, she turned and called to someone inside the house. A
towering, slow-moving, but quick-eyed man, in a flannel shirt, with
corduroys tucked into the tops of spurred boots, appeared on the
stoop. Hal Haines was so tall that his broad-brimmed hat grazed the
porch roof of the house.

"Hal! Hal!" she cried eagerly. "What do you think? Pauline Marvin is
coming to visit us - Pauline Marvin!"

"The little girl we met on the ship that I had to yarn to about the
wild West?"

"Yes, of course. How you did lie to her! Goodness, I hope that's not
why she's coming. She'll be awfully disappointed."

"Oh, I don't know as it's necessary to disappoint her," said Haines.
"If the State of Montana don't know how to entertain a lady from the
East as she likes to be entertained it's time to quit bein' a State at

"Hal!" Mrs. Haines eyed her husband sternly. "I want you to remember
who Pauline Marvin is. I'm not going to have her frightened by any of
your wild jokes."

Haines burst into a ringing laugh.

"Honest, my dear, I promised that young lady if she ever came to
Rockvale she'd see all the Wild West I told her about. I gave her my
word. You don't want to make me out a liar, do you?"

"You can say that conditions have changed greatly in the last two

"Oh, come, just one little hold-up the day she gets here. She'll think
it's great. She'll think she's the lost heiress that was carried off
in the mountains - the one I told her about."

"I tell you I will not hear a word of it. She may be ill or something;
it would scare her to death."

"I'll ask her if she's ill before I let the boys rob the buck-board.
What dye say, mother? Just this once."

His boyish joy in the prank brought laughter to her eyes, and he knew
that his sins would be condoned.

Four days later Hicks, who looked as far from home in his excellent
clothes as the clothes looked far from home in Rockvale, alighted, from
a lumbering local train. He made an inquiry of a man on the platform,
and, carrying a heavy suitcase, slouched up the main street of the

Ham Dalton's place was the one the man had directed him to, and Hicks,
I after engaging the best rooms in the house for seventy-five cents,
scrubbed a little of the dust of travel from his person and went down
to the bar and gambling room. The drink of whiskey he got made even
his trained throat writhe, and he strolled over to the poker table to
join a group of calm and plainly-armed spectators of high play.

From the conversation he learned that the dam at Red Gut was washed
out; that Case Egan, a noted rancher, was in jail for shooting a deputy
sheriff, and that Hal Haines was expecting a "millionairess gal"
visitor from New York.

"When'll she be on?" drawled one of the players.

"Tomorrow's express."

"Sence when did the express stop at Rockvale?"

"Sence the president o' the road told it to stop for this here young
person," replied the informant crushingly.

Hicks was scanning the faces of the men about him with a purposeful
eye. Especially he watched one - a lean man in red shirt and leather
breeches, booted and spurred, who stood near the table.

Hicks approached him. "Hello, Patten," he said.

The man whirled so sharply that the revolver he had drawn, in whirling,
caught in Hick's coat and jerked him into the middle of the room. The
poker game went on without a sound or sign of interruption. The
bartender took a casual look at Hicks and the gunman, then went on
talking to a customer, as before.

"Hello, Hicks," said Patten, putting up the gun. "I'm much obliged
that I didn't kill you. We don't greet old friends quite so hasty out
here, boy, as you do in New York - especially when we haven't heard
our right name in some years," he added in a lowered voice.

"How long have you been here, Pat?"

"Eight-nine-twelve years; ever since that friend of yours, Mr. Owen,
paid me $10,000 for getting rid of a certain - what he called a
certain obstacle."

"Which you didn't get rid of?"

"No, he made the mistake of paying me in advance, and it didn't seem
necessary to harm anybody."

"Got any of the money left?"

The lean gunman held his head back and guffawed.

"It's near here, I guess, but it ain't mine. It dropped between this
bar and that table."

"Do you want a little job?" asked Hicks. "But let's go in the back

They strolled into an empty wine room and ordered drinks.

"What kind of a job?" asked Patten.

Hicks leaned across the table and whispered rapidly. His old
acquaintance drew back, with a sudden suspicion.

"But no foolin' this time," warned Hicks. "Only part money in

He produced $5,000 in bills from his trousers pocket, but secreted it

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 10 12 13 14 15 16 17 18

Online LibraryCharles GoddardThe Perils of Pauline → online text (page 10 of 18)