Charles Goddard.

The Perils of Pauline online

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suspense, entered the Frenchman's "hangar" and added her blandishments
to Owen's financial inducements. The gallant foreigner succumbed and a
bargain was struck. He exhibited his tame bird of steel and wood and
cloth with the utter pride of a mother showing off her only child.

The aviator's fingers touched one of the wires and the easy smile left
his face. He turned to his mechanics and sharp words followed. A
moment later one of his assistants was at work tightening the wire.
Owen's eyes scarcely left the wire, and when the opportunity arose he
questioned the mechanic as, to what would happen if that particular
steel strand should fail during flight. The foreigner explained
frankly that the aeroplane would capsize and plunge to the earth. But
he assured Owen that no such thing would happen, as he had just
tightened the wire in question and would make another inspection after
the practice flight that afternoon.

All the way home Owen's thoughts were of that wire and what it would
mean to him. In the meanwhile Harry, after watching the car depart
toward Hempstead, concluded to follow. He went to the picturesque
private garage behind the Marvin mansion and soon was, following in the
tracks of the bigger car.

Arrived on the field, he recognized Pauline's car and awaited patiently
until he saw it drive away. Then he interviewed the aviator and
learned of the proposed trip on the morrow. Harry's French was nothing
to boast of, nor was the Frenchman's English. But they managed to have
a long and in the end a heated argument. The birdman said he had given
his word to a beautiful lady, and that settled it. Besides, there was no
danger in his wonderful machine. Had he not flown upside down and done
all the things the great Pegoud himself had done?

"As you Americans say - let's see, what is your idiom?"

One of his mechanics prompted him:

"Ah, yes," he said, with a smile. "I believe the proper expression is,
'I should worry.'"

Harry threw up his hands and went home. As he buzzed his horn outside
the garage the door was opened by the Marvin chauffeur with a telegram
in his hand. The chauffeur's wife was sick and he wanted a couple of
days' leave of absence. Harry granted it instantly. That evening he
made no mention of either the chauffeur's absence or his trip to the
field. Pauline thought she was teasing Harry by saying nothing of her
plans. She was sure he was eaten up with curiosity to know the result
of her visit and admired his ability, as she thought, to conceal it.

Owen spent a nervous evening. He walked out soon after dinner and from
a drug-store telephone booth called up a friend in the insurance
business. To the secretary's surprise and disappointment he learned
that the percentage of accidents to aviators had become comparatively
small. Passengers were particularly fortunate. The friend even agreed
to obtain accident insurance for any one at a reasonable premium.

If aeroplanes had become reasonably safe the chance of Pauline's being
killed during the flight on the following day was insignificant. He
must give up all hope of wealth from the permanent control of her
estate. As the evening wore on Owen began to feel how he had
unconsciously relied on this hope. He doubled his evening dose of
morphine, but it neither soothed his disappointment nor brought him
sleep.

Hour after hour, during the night, his sleepless eyes seemed to see
that loose wire which the mechanic had explained to be so vitally
important. He could see in imagination the machine flying off into the
clouds with Pauline in it. He could see it suddenly waver, dip and
plunge to the earth. In his mind's eye he saw himself rushing to, the
wreck, lifting out the girl's crushed form, wildly calling for a
doctor, and exulting all the time that she was beyond human aid.

About two o'clock Owen fell into a doze, and in that doze came one of
his vivid opium dreams. He beheld Hicks enter his bedroom. It was not
Hicks, the blackmailer, but Hicks, the counselor, who had told Owen how
he might become rich. Hicks was speaking to him in a sort of noiseless
voice, very different from his usual tones. He spoke in a sort of
shells or husks of words. The consonants were there, but the vowels
were lacking. Yet he heard as plainly as if the red-faced man had
shouted. Hicks advised him to be a man, to show courage for once, to
risk something, and then reap the reward forever afterward. "Take your
motorcycle, ride to the aviation field before daylight, file that wire
half through, and fate will take care of the rest."

But Owen lacked the nerve. He feared that he would be seen sneaking
onto the field at night or at daybreak. Hicks replied that the field
was deserted at this hour. Owen then insisted that the aeroplane would
be guarded, and even if it were not locked in its hangar the first rasp
of a file on the wire would call the attention of some one on guard.
No, it was too much, Owen could not do it. Instead, he made a counter
suggestion that Hicks should undertake the task, since he was so
certain of its success. For his part the secretary agreed to divide
all that the estate might be made to yield him.

Owen, like everybody else, had seen many strange things in dreams, but
never had he known of any character in a dream admitting or even
suggesting that he was a dream. Yet this was just what Hicks did.

"I would, Owen. I would do it in a minute if I were talking to you.
But this isn't me at all. I'm only a dream, in, reality I'm sound
asleep in a hotel on upper Broadway, where I am dreaming that I am
talking to you. Tomorrow morning I'll remember enough of this dream to
make me go down to the aviation field with a sort of premonition that
Pauline is going to be killed in an aeroplane."

"How did you know about that wire and that she is going to fly
tomorrow," asked Owen.

"I don't know that," said the phantom Hicks frankly in his empty
voice. "There is a third party in this and I don't know who he is or
much about him, except that he is not a living being. He seems to be
somebody from the past, a priest of some old religion I ought to have
studied about when I was at school. I don't know what his motive is,
but he is with us. He wants her killed for some reason. He brought
this dream of me to you so I could explain.

"You needn't worry about the man on guard over the aeroplanes. That
man won't wake up, no matter how much noise you make."

"How do you know?" Owen asked.

"He knows," replied Hicks, "because he has transferred the effects of
your morphine from your astral body to his. That's how he knows. You
ought to know, too, because you have taken almost enough of the drug to
kill you tonight, and yet this is the first time you have even closed
your eyes. You'd better let him help us and file that wire as he
advises. I'm going now, you will wake up in a moment. This priest man
told me after I had given you the message to drop this out of my hand
and the dream would end. So here goes. Goodbye."

Owen saw Hicks hold his hand over a table and drop a small black shiny
object upon it. As it dropped Hicks vanished and Owen awoke. He heard
a sharp snap and saw something black and shiny on the table. For a
moment the secretary sat quietly in his chair staring at the table and
making sure that he was no longer dreaming. Then he examined the black
object. It was the scarab which old Mr. Marvin had removed from the
folds of the mummy. An image of the beetle which Egypt held sacred,
carved in black stone. Owen had not noticed the scarab before his
short nap and he could not account for its presence in his room
anyway.

A little later he donned his motor-cycling suit, tip-toed downstairs,
noiselessly went out by a back door and was soon trundling his big
two-cylinder motorcycle from the garage. He was careful to push it out
of the Marvin premises onto the highway before lighting his lamp and
starting.

Arriving at the field just at dawn Owen found it as deserted as the
spectral Hicks had promised. From the tool kit of his motor-cycle he
took two files of different shapes and a pair of pliers and walked
briskly and fearlessly over the uneven ground to the hangars. All were
closed except one, and that one contained the French machine in which
Pauline was to ascend. The secretary knew that this hangar would be
open. He knew in advance that he would find a mechanic on guard and
sound asleep.

Whether real or unreal, awake or asleep, the business of the moment was
the filing of that wire. Owen recognized it readily and found it not
to be a single wire, as he supposed, but a slender cable composed of
many strands. These strands resisted his file and even the clipper
attached to his pliers. After what seemed an hour's work he had
weakened or broken enough of the metal threads so that the cable
stretched perceptibly at that point to do more might cause the cable to
break at once and betray what had been done.

Owen hurriedly, returned to his machine had dashed back through the
beautiful morning air to the Marvin home. Servants were stirring in
their rooms and the gardener was engaged in shaking some sort of powder
from a can onto a bare spot on the front lawn. He glanced up at Owen
without surprise, for these early rides were known to be an old habit
of the secretary.

Owen took the machine to the garage, satisfied that there was nothing
guilty in his appearance or the gardener would have noted it. Stepping
out of the garage he met Harry and could not help starting
perceptibly. Harry looked him in the eye, and there was nothing for
Owen to do but stare steadily back.

"You are up very early, Owen," said Harry, looking at the dust on the
motor.

"Yes, I've been for a long ride. I think the morning air does me
good."

"You don't look well, Owen. Why don't you go to bed today. I'll take
Polly to the meet."

"No, thanks. I wouldn't miss seeing Miss Pauline fly," said Owen
firmly.





CHAPTER IV

OWEN WINS THE FIRST GAME

Harry Marvin entered the little private garage back of the Marvin
mansion, locked the door and drew the shades of the small windows.
There were only two automobiles in the garage. One was the big six
cylinder touring car in which Pauline and Owen had made their trip the
day before to the aviation field. The other was the two-seated
runabout that Harry had driven over the same ground just behind them.

Having made sure that nobody was about, Harry lifted up the hood of the
touring car and without the slightest provocation attacked it with a
wrench. He removed the carburetor, took it to pieces, lifted out the
hollow metal float and deliberately made two punctures in it. Then he
tossed the dismembered parts upon a work bench and was about to operate
on the runabout when he heard voices outside.

He was barely in time to unlock the door and be found busily working on
the car when Pauline entered. She had just learned of the chauffeur's
absence. Harry volunteered the additional bad news that the big car
was out of order. Like every disappointed woman, she insisted on
knowing exactly what was wrong. Harry told her, with many long
technical details, and, not knowing at all what he was talking about,
she had to be satisfied.

Could he fix it in time to get her to the aviation field before the
race?

Well, that depended partly on whether she would go away and not bother
him until breakfast.

Pauline could, and she certainly would refrain from bothering him.
Never before had Harry found her a bother, nor, for that matter, had
any other man in her recollection. Out she went, with more color than
usual in her pink cheeks and the light of battle in her eyes.

"By George, I've got to play my cards carefully," thought Harry, as he
contemplated the runabout. It was evident that he had designs on the
health of the two-seater also. But he felt the necessity of subtlety
in this case. He could not assassinate it boldly by tearing out a
vital organ as he had done to the bigger car. This runabout must die a
slow, lingering death. How was he to do it? His first idea was to
weaken the tires and invite "blowouts" on the road. But this could not
be done with certainty, and some kind friend might supply him with new
tires.

A more promising idea was to drain the engine of its oil, knowing that
sooner or later the pistons would run dry and stick. Such a proceeding
would ruin the engine, and Harry was too good a mechanic to spoil a
first rate engine, especially one built by his father. He would as
soon think of hamstringing a faithful horse. A better plan soon came
to him and put him into action. It soon had him flat on his back under
the car, boring a hole in the bottom of the gasoline tank. When the
life-blood of the car began to trickle out in a stream he stopped the
hole with a small wooden peg.

The young man now frowned at the only remaining vehicle which had, not
received his attention, Owen's motorcycle.

Harry went to the hose used for washing down the cards and collected a
little water in the palm of his hand. With the other hand he removed
the cap from the motorcycle's tank and allowed two or three drops of
water to mingle with the gasoline.

This done, Harry let down his sleeves, washed his hands, and sauntered
in to breakfast, with the unwelcome announcement that the big car was,
for the day at least, beyond human aid.

There was a flicker of suspicion in Owen's sallow face at the news. He
wondered if Harry had disabled the touring car that he might ride alone
with Pauline.

"I am afraid," said Harry, quietly, "that you will have to ride in the
runabout alone with me, Polly. It's rather hard on Raymond, but I
guess he must go on his motorcycle or by train."

"Oh, I think you wrecked it on purpose," said Pauline, without the
slightest suspicion that she was stating the truth.

Owen, worried by vague misgivings about Harry, looked into the tank of
the runabout to make sure that it was full, and then scurried away on
his two wheeled mount. He considered waiting until the runabout was
ready to start and keeping the machine in sight, but it seemed wiser to
be on the field where he could make sure the Frenchman would not forget
his bargain nor start before Pauline arrived.

Pauline was ready with such record-breaking suddenness that it gave her
the novel experience of waiting for Harry.

She bad not forgotten that her lover had asked her not to bother him
while he worked on the car. After that slight to her pride the young
lady would rather die than go near the garage while he was in it.
During the next five minutes unpleasant doubts entered her mind. What
could this indifference and neglect mean? She had looked upon Harry
ever since his return from college as a personal possession. Of
course, technically he wasn't hers until she married him. But if he
were not her property, at least she had an option on the handsome youth
until such time as she saw fit to either take his name or relinquish
him to some one else. In that case she wondered to whom she would like
to turn him over. There was her schoolmate and chum, Miss Hamlin. How
lucky any man would be to get her, and Harry - how would he feel about
it? Then, like a cold draught in her brain came the recollection that
Lucille and Harry had corresponded all the four years he was at
college.

Could it be that she, Pauline, had been too willful and headstrong with
Harry? If so, was it possible that the keen edge of his adoration was
wearing dull? Pauline had just succeeded in stamping these unpleasant
questions deep down into the subconscious parts of her mind when the
young man whisked up in the runabout.

Pauline's wrath melted rapidly. Harry drove, as he did everything out
in the open air, magnificently. His judgment of distances and openings
was precise, and his skill in weaving his way through heavy traffic was
startling. A good looking young man is seldom seen to better
advantage, especially by a girl, than when driving a powerful car.
Pauline loved to drive with Harry. Besides his spectacular tricks he
had a guileless manner of getting the better of arguments with crossing
policemen.

Harry was not driving as fast as usual. This fact was impressed on her
by shouts and waving of hands from a car which passed them from
behind.

"That's Lucille," cried Pauline, waving.

"Yes, and, confound it, that's Billy Madison taking her to the races."

"Well, why shouldn't he?" asked Pauline. "Isn't it all right?"

"Yes but it seems to me he is paying deal of attention to Lucille and
- say, Polly, you don't suppose she'd be silly enough to care for him,
do, you?"

That sensation of a cold wave in the back of her brain came again.

"I'm sure I don't know," she replied, a little coldly. "Why - does it
matter very much to you?"

Harry hesitated, even stammered a little, in denying that it did. He
stammered, as Pauline well understood, because he was not telling her
his true thoughts. It did matter, and she knew it. In reality it
mattered because Harry knew too much about young Madison to want him to
win the affection of any friend of his, but Harry did not wish to
explain.

"So Harry does care for Lucille and always has cared," thought
Pauline. The sense of possession of the youth beside her faded and he
seemed far away. If a man fears he is losing his grip on a girl he
redoubles his attentions and racks his brains to be more interesting
and attractive to her. A girl in the same situation reverses the
tactics.

Just as Harry felt the absolute zero which scientists talk about
settling upon him, he remembered a very important duty.

"Seems to me we don't drift the way we ought to," said Harry, pressing
on his clutch pedal and trying to took concerned.

"I think we have been a long time getting to the aviation field," was
Pauline's chilly answer.

Harry stopped the car, went back and pulled out the little wooden plug
in the gasoline tank. Then away they went again, leaving a little wet
line in the dust of the road. Pauline stared straight ahead. Harry's
attempts at conversation fell on the stony ground of silence, or at
best brought forth only the briefest and most colorless answers. Soon
Harry's practiced ear caught the preliminary warning of waning
gasoline, and a moment later, half way up a gentle hill, with a sob
from all its six cylinders the car gave up the ghost.

A few miles ahead Owen also was in difficulties. He had been sailing
along merrily until he stopped at a little roadhouse for a drink. The
machine had been all right when he got off and he knew nobody had
touched it, yet now it acted as if possessed by the evil one. With
great difficulty he was able to start it, and once started it coughed,
bucked and showed all the symptoms of bronchitis and pneumonia. By
dint of strenuous pedaling Owen helped the asthmatic motor to the top
of the next hill. It ran as smoothly as a watch all the way down the
other side and then imitated a bunch of cannon crackers on the
following rise.

Owen was a good motorcycle rider, but a very poor mechanic. His
machine had been adjusted, cleaned and kept in repair by the Marvin
chauffeur, and the secretary had seldom, cause to investigate it on the
road. He had always used the carefully filtered gasoline from the
garage, so that he neither understood the present alarming symptoms nor
knew their simple cure. His motor was protesting at a drop of water
which had entered the needle valve of his carburetor and, being heavier
than gasoline, had lodged there and stopped its flow. It would have
been an easy, matter to drain the carburetor, but instead Owen with
nervous fingers adjusted everything he could get his hands on, and
after two hours' work trundled it into a farmhouse and hired the farmer
to drive him the short remaining distance to the aviation field.

Several machines were in the air, but not the Frenchman's, when the
farmer drove up. The roads and the edges of the field were alive with
cars and spectators as the secretary hastened to the "hangars." The
French aviator welcomed Owen and inquired for the mademoiselle. This
confirmed Owen's fears that something had happened to her on the way.
It had troubled him a little that the runabout had not passed him on
the road, but Harry might have made a detour to avoid some section of
bad road.

Owen lost another hour in watching and worrying before he made up his
mind to go to the rescue. There were plenty of idle cars, but it was
not easy to hire one, as they were mostly guarded by chauffeurs with no
right to rent or lend them. At last a man was found who was willing to
pick up $10 and take a chance that his master would not know about it.

The rescue car found them just where they had stopped, half way up the
hill. Pauline had run the scale of feminine annoyance, from silence to
sarcasm, to tears. The tears produced almost the same effect on
Harry's determination to keep Pauline from flying that the drops of
water had in Owen's carburetor. The spectacle of the girl he loved
weeping had almost broken up his resolve when Owen dashed by, shouted,
turned around and drew up alongside.

Harry asked for help, and the chauffeur who had never had the pleasure
of tinkering with a "Marvin Six," was inclined to dismount and aid at
least in diagnosing the car's ailment. While he was thinking about it
and surveying the parts which Harry had taken out and strewn about the
running board in his pretended trouble hunt Pauline had dashed away her
tears and transferred her pretty self to the new car. Pauline and Owen
both knew there was barely time to reach the field before the
Frenchman's ascent. So with scanty farewells Harry was left to
reassemble his car. When he had set up the last nut he replaced the
little plug in the tank, produced a can of gasoline from the locker
behind the seats, emptied it into his tank and drove at reckless speed
for the aviation grounds.

He was just in time to see a tiny speck on the edge of the horizon.
This, he learned, was the Frenchman's machine. He was told that it
carried a passenger. The speck grew rapidly in size, developed the
insect shape of a biplane and soon seemed to be over the other end of
the aviation field. The young man's joy at seeing the aeroplane
returning in safety was dampened by a little feeling of shame that by
such devious means he had almost spoiled Pauline's pleasure.

"I act like an old woman worrying Polly this way," he decided. "No
wonder she is cross to me lately. She must think I would be a tyrant
of a - "

Harry's last words were choked by a spasm of the throat.

There were shouts and gestures from the spectators.

A light gust of wind had struck the aeroplane on the right wing. It
wavered an instant, like a dragon fly about to alight, and then instead
of responding to the aviator's levers turned on its left side and
plunged to the ground. A cloud of dust arose, half hiding the wreck,
and then the crash of impact came to his ears.

There was a second of silence, broken by a groan. Harry heard the
groan and didn't even know it came from his own throat. He was in
motion now, forcing people to the right and left and running down the
field. It seemed miles to the other end, and he was gratefully
conscious that others nearer were hurrying to the rescue, if rescue it
might be called.

The aeroplane had dropped like a stone from a height that forbade hope
of escape. Would she be conscious and would he be in time to give and
receive a last message of love before her splendid young life was
quenched in the black blot of death? Besides grief there was fury in
the runner's heart, wrath against Owen for encouraging this foolish and
dangerous caprice, against the unfortunate driver who had failed to
preserve his precious freight, and against nature who condemns every
living thing by one means or another to that same final failure and
wreck death.

Gasping for breath from his exertions, he was at last within a hundred
feet of the ruin, and saw people lifting up the engine and removing a
limp figure. Just then two people stepped in his way. He did not turn
out but rushed straight at them, rather glad to have something to burl
aside in his blind anger, nor did he notice that one was a woman.
Harry's plunge carried him between them and knocked both down, just as
he had often bowled over the "interference" in his football games. On
he lurched, wondering vaguely at hearing his name called. He heard it
again and it sounded like Pauline's voice.


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Online LibraryCharles GoddardThe Perils of Pauline → online text (page 3 of 18)