Charles Goddard.

The Perils of Pauline online

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There was a furtive haste about the departure of the Orientals. And
there was a quavering in the manner of the oldest priest - the only
one who remained - that seemed born of a hidden fear.

The old priest lifted one of the lamps from a wall bracket and set it
on the floor beside the idol. He knelt near it and began to pray.

The three Italians waited only a moment, then followed the Chinese out
of the room.

"It is late - we ought to be going," pleaded Lucille.

Complete silence had fallen on the room and her words, a little
tremulous, had instant effect on the other women.

"What about it, Baskinelli? Had we better be going?" asked one of the
men.

"Yes - yes, I beg only a moment. I wish to show Miss Pauline the - "

"You mean Miss Marvin, do you not?" blazed Harry, striding to
Baskinelli's side and glaring down at him.

"I was interrupted. I had not finished my words. They are, at best,
awkward, I beg - "

"You beg nothing," said Harry through clenched teeth. Then slowly,
grimly:

"I want to tell you, you little leper, that if anything happens here
tonight - it is going to happen to you."

He was so near to the musician that the others did not hear.

Baskinelli backed away. Pauline, with the swift, inexplicable, yet
unerring instinct of woman, moved as if to seek the shelter of Harry's
towering frame.

He did not see her. He had whirled at the sound of the opening of a
door - a peculiar door set diagonally across a corner of the room
behind the joss.

Through the yellow silk curtains that hid the entrance came two
Chinamen as fantastically hideous as the embroidered dragons on the
tapestry.

"Put those men out; they cannot come in here; they are full of opium,"
commanded Baskinelli.

"Stop; let them come in; we are going," said the mild voice of Owen.

The understanding look of Baskinelli met his. Baskinelli frowned and
Owen smiled. They were playing perfectly their roles.

The two Chinamen shuffled into the room. The priest arose in jabbering
protest. They argued with him acridly. A few feet away one could see
that their cheap linen robes covered the ordinary street garb of the
Chinamen; that the ugly lines on their faces were painted, as on the
face of the Joss.

Baskinelli was laughing. The others watched the argument in silence.
Every one but the host, and Owen, and Pauline, seemed a little
nervous.

Suddenly the lamp on the floor went out. There was another at the
farther side of the room, but its dim light made the scene more weird
than darkness could have made it.

"Well, I thought we were going," snapped Harry's strident voice.

"We are," replied Baskinelli. "Miss - er - I am afraid to speak -
Miss Marvin, shall we go?"

Pauline took his arm.

"Ali, but I have forgotten the most precious sight of the evening,"
suddenly exclaimed the musician. "Only a moment - look here."

Interested, Pauline did not notice that Owen softly shut the door upon
the receding footsteps of the others. Baskinelli guided her back to
the little door behind the screen - the door from which the Chinamen
had entered.

Baskinelli drew aside the curtain.

"There - that is one form of adventure."

Pauline looked through the curtain. A suffocating, narcotic odor came
to her. What she saw was stifling not only to the senses - but to the
soul. She turned away.

"Polly!"

Harry's voice rang through the little choked room like a thunder
blast.

"We are coming - we are quite safe," called Baskinelli, with the sneer
tinge in his tone.

"Very well, then; hurry."

Harry's manner aroused Pauline's temper again. She purposely
lingered.

The two Chinamen were arguing violently now with the priest.

Harry had closed the door and followed the others down the outer
passage.

"Miss Marvin - Pauline!" called Baskinelli with sudden passion. "Have
you a heart of stone? Can you not see me helpless in your presence?
Do you know what love is?"

He stepped towards her and tried to take her in his arms. But she was
stronger and far braver than he. She thrust him aside and fled through
the door.

Baskinelli followed, protesting, pleading.

Strangely, as she fled through the narrow corridor, the low, flaring
gas jets were extinguished one by one.

She groped in darkness.

Baskinelli's pleading voice became almost a consolation, a protection.

Her elbow struck something in the passageway. The something shrank at
the touch. She heard a quick drawn breath that was not Baskinelli's.
She tried to run. The tiny passageway chocked her flight. She plunged
helplessly between invisible, but gripping walls. She reeled and
screamed.

There was the sound of a struggle behind her. She heard Baskinelli
crying for help - but, oh, so quietly! She reached the stairs. The
stairs were blocked by a closed door. The door was barred. But there
was a light left burning by the door.

Her weak hands beat upon the panels, helplessly, hopelessly. How
should she know that there were two doors, locked and sealed beyond?

Her wild screams rang through the long passage, through the dark, above
the shuffle and beat and cursing of the staged fight.

In the dim light she could see the three Italians grappling with the
other men. Baskinelli's voice called to her reassuringly. It might
well. Baskinelli was in no danger.

She placed her softly clothed shoulder to the door and strove to break
it. She screamed again.

"Harry! Harry!"

Dull crashes answered. There was the crack and cleaving of splintered
wood.

"Hold on! I'm here!" she heard.

She fell beside the door. Strong arms seized her. For an instant she
felt that she was saved. But she looked up into the lowering face of a
man with tilted mustachios. From the wide thick lips came threats and
curses.

From the outer passageway sounded the crashing of the doors.

She let herself be lifted, then, with sudden exertion of her trained
strength, she broke the grasp of the man.

The door fell open.

Harry, bloody and tattered, stood there - alone.

"Polly?"

"Oh - yes - where are the others? They'll kill you - run!" she
cried.

He ran forward into the black corridor. A knife thrust, sheathed in
silence, ripped his shoulder gave him his cue. He had one man down and
trampled. But another was upon him and yet a third.

A sharp pain dulled the pulsing of his throat. He felt a tickle down
his bared and swinging arm.

He fought blindly in the dark.

"Polly!" he panted.

There was no answer.

* * * * *

In the Joss House of the Golden Screens the two Chinamen, dazed with
opium, set of purpose, were still arguing with the trembling priest.

The door fell open and a white woman - with bleeding hands - fell at
their feet.

"Ha, she has come back!" cried one of the Chinese in his own tongue.

There was the sound of steps in the outer passage.

"Quick - inside!" breathed the Chinaman, pointing to the den.

They lifted Pauline. The old priest stopped them.

"Not there - not there!" he cried. "Any one would look in there."

They dragged her back. The priest hurried to the outer door and locked
it.

There was the blunt, battering thrust of a body against the door.

"Open, or I'll break it in!" yelled the voice of Harry.

The priest opened the door.

In deferential silence he saluted the battle grimed newcomer.
Battered, panting, bleeding, Harry lunged at the man, gripped him.

"Quick - where is she? You'll die like a spiked rat. Where?" he
roared.

The two other Chinamen were kneeling before the Joss.

There was a moment's silence, then a strange sound - like a cry heard
afar off.

Harry strode to the little pedestal where the suit of armor stood.

"Where is she? - or I'll rip this place to cockles!" he thundered.

"We do not know what you mean," said the priest.

The two Chinamen began to jabber.

Other figures reeled from the room behind the curtains. But over all
their clamor sounded again the faint cry - distant, but near.

In a flash Harry caught from the mailed glove the haft of the sword.
As he rushed across the room the Chinese withered away from him. There
was a crash as the great sword fell upon one of the windows. Through
the broken pane Harry shouted for help. His voice was like a clarion
in the silent streets.

He turned in time. Three Chinamen, with drawn knives, were upon him.
He swung the unwieldy sword above his head. Its sweep saved him. He
dashed at the Joss. Again he lifted the sword. A grasp and then a
wail of fear sounded through the room.

He struck. The head of the statue thudded to the floor.

The Chinese rushed upon him. They were desperate now in the face of
the violation of their god. But he was behind their god prying open
the secret door to the hollow within the statue.

"It's all right, Polly," he said as he drew her gently forth.

He stood above her with his back to the wall swinging the sacred sword
against the onslaught of fanatic men. They fell before him, but more
came on.

His hands could hardly hold the mighty weapon. For more than half an
hour he had been fighting. He was weakening but he braced himself and
swung for the last time.

There came a hammering at the door. It crashed in. Police clubs
whistled right and left. The Chinese fled into their secret lairs.

* * * * *

"And I guess that will be all," panted Harry in the taxi that took them
home. "I don't think you'll ask for any more adventures after this
one."

"Why didn't you pick up the Joss's head?" replied Pauline. "It would
have looked so nice and dreadful in the library?"

But the glory of her golden hair nestled upon his torn shoulder and he
knew that he would go through all the perils in the world for happiness
like this.





CHAPTER X

KABOFF'S WILD HORSE

For several months after old Mr. Marvin's death, Owen had kept to his
cubby-hole room adjoining the financier's small, plain-furnished,
workaday office. But recently he had got the habit of doing his work
in the library, where the tall, pure statues looked down upon his
skulking head and the grand old books that had borne their messages of
good from generation to generation, held their high thoughts in stately
contrast to his skilled and cruel plots.

Above the bowed bald head that was planning the death of a young girl
to gain her fortune stood a figure of Persephone-child of innocence and
sunlight shadowed by black robes of Dis. Upon the coward who feared
all but the darkest and most devious passages of crime shone high,
clear brows of Caesar and Aurelius. Gray folios of Shakespeare held up
to the ambitious ingrate the warning titles of "Lear" and "Hamlet" and
"Macbeth." And by his side brooded ever that mystic relic of the
farther past - the Mummy, from whose case had stepped a daughter of
the Pharaohs in the likeness of Pauline.

But Owen thought little of contrasts.

He was opening his mail on a morning in early May when he came across
an envelope addressed in the awkward scrawl of Hicks. He tore it apart
nervously, for if Hicks could be moved to write, it must be a matter of
concern.

"Dear Owen, No doubt he suspects you of foul play. He has seen his
attorneys and is about to take steps to have you removed from the
trustee-ship."

The paper crackled in Owen's trembling hand. So the Baskinelli
incident had gone a little too far. Harry Marvin had sense enough to
know that he would not have to fight three murderous Italians and a
rabble of Chinese unless there had been a plot behind Pauline's peril.
It might be best to go directly after Harry - to put him out of the
way first. And yet, Owen pondered, there was no proof of anything
wrong. Pauline was admittedly plunging into these adventures of her
own free will. Nothing could be proved against him or Hicks.

He resumed his work. Among the letters lay an advertising dodger which
had been dropped through the door. Owen glanced at it carelessly at
first, then with keen interest. He read it over:

"BALLOON ASCENSION FROM PALISADES

"Signor Panatella, the famous Italian Aeronaut, will make parachute drop
from height never before attempted."

The ascension was to be made that afternoon from one of the amusement
parks on the New Jersey shore of the Hudson.

"This is Providence," he muttered to himself, catching up the dodger.
Slipping through the door and up the stairs, he tapped at the door of
Pauline's room. When there came no answer he entered swiftly, laid a
paper on the table and glided back to the hall, back to the library.

From there he called up Hicks.

Hicks' domiciles were so many and suddenly changeable that he claimed
nothing so dignified as a regular telephone number. But he had
scribbled on the bottom of his note the number of a saloon on the lower
West Side.

He was there when Owen rang.

"Hello, Hello, . . . Is that you, Hicks? . . . I want to see you. . . .
What? . . . No, right away. . . . Broke? . . . you always are ....
you'll get the cash all right. . . . What's that? .... Come here? ....
Not on your life. I'll come to you .... Not half that time ....
I'll take the motorcycle. All right .... Good-by."

He hung up the receiver, went up to his room and got into cycling kit.
As he came down stairs he met Pauline, who was returning from a
shopping trip.

"Good morning, Owen," she said brightly. "Do you know, I believe there
is more peril in a dry goods store than on a pirate yacht. What parts
of my new hat are left?"

"Only the becoming ones."

She sped on up the stairs. After her first imperative inquiries of the
mirror concerning what she considered her wild appearance, she picked
up the letters on her dressing table and began to run through them.

The large black type of an advertising dodger loomed among the
letters.

Pauline tripped down the stairs. To Harry, seated on the steps
enjoying the Spring sunshine and puffing a leisurely cigarette,
appeared a mysterious vision.

He knew by the elaborate way in which she took her seat beside him and
hid the piece of paper in her hand that she had some new whim in
fermentation - something to ask him that she knew he wouldn't want to
do.

"Yes," he said, moving along the step away from her. "I know you've
just bought me the loveliest cravat, that I'm the nicest brother in the
world, that I look so handsome in Springy things and - well, what it
is?"

Pauline pouted at the other end of the step.

"I'm going up in a balloon and jump down," she announced, "from a
height never before attempted."

"Polly I You are going to do nothing of the - "

"No, I wasn't going to, until you grew so great and grand. I just
wanted to go over and see him fly."

She tossed the dodger over to him. He glanced at it.

"Well, if you promise you aren't plotting any more pranks, I'll take
you."

"That's a worth-while brother. It's a pink one."

"Pink one?"

"Cravat, of course."

Harry groaned. "Give it to the cook," he pleaded. "He wears 'em
alive. If that fellow goes up at 2:30, you'd better hurry."

"I'll be ready before you are."

She rose quickly, but Owen, looking, listening, had time to close the
door unseen, unheard.

At the rear of a little West Side saloon, he signaled with his horn,
and Hicks came out. He was a bit shabbier than usual, and he had been
drinking, but he was not intoxicated.

Owen locked his machine and taking his arm walked him rapidly up the
avenue.

"What do you mean by writing to me?" demanded Owen. "Haven't I told
you never to put words on paper?"

"Oh, I guess you got that house wired so nobody'll catch you," grunted
Hicks. "Live wires, too-clever butlers, footmen, maids, chauffeurs,
cooks; you're safe enough."

"You forget those are your wires. They don't know they're working for
me. Hicks, are you out of your head? Have you told Bemis that you and
I are working together?"

"Sure not; but that butler is no fool, Mr. Owen."

"Was it from him you found out that Harry had the lawyers after us?"

"No - queer thing that, that - it wasn't."

"Who, then?"

"The little Espinosa."

"Espinosa - in New York?"

"Yes - met her at the Trocadero a week ago. She'd seen old Calderwood
already. I guess she blackmails him - the old reprobate, and him the
noble counselor at law for Mr. Harry Marvin!"

"So you put her on the scent - for us?"

"Why not? The young fellow's been acting suspicious for a long time."

"You did very well."

"How about some money - I haven't seen the color of a roll since you
put that fool Baskinelli into the game. Ain't you coming across?"

"Certainly; here," said Owen, handing over enough to sate even the
predatory greed of Hicks. "Now, what I want you to do is to find me
some one among your horse racing friends who is down and out enough to
take a little cash job - at certain slight risks?"

"Yes - what?"

"I want a good rider on a wild horse. He could make a thousand dollars
in an afternoon if the horse should happen to get wild at the right
time and do the right thing."

"Hm'm," mused Hicks. "I wonder if Eddie Kaboff has still got his
livery stable down on Tenth avenue. We might go see."

After ten minutes' walk Hicks brought up in front of a bill-plastered
door in a fence. He held it open for Owen and they passed across a
vacant lot to a large dilapidated-looking stable at the further end.

The short, dark man who sat in a tilted chair against the doorway and
puffed lazily at a pipe, seemed to embody the spirit of the building
and the business done there.

He was a man who had once - in the days of racing - been called a
"sport." He might still be called "horsey" and would consider the term
a compliment. But Eddie Kaboff's fame and fortune had both dwindled
since the good old betting days when little swindling games larded the
solid profits of crooked races. One by one his thoroughbreds had given
up their stalls to truck horses, just as Eddie's diamond studs had
given place to plain buttons.

His beady black eyes watched the two newcomers on their way across the
lot, but he gave no sign of recognition until Hicks and Owen reached
the door.

"Hello, Eddie," said Hicks.

Kaboff got up slowly and extended a flabby hand to his acquaintance.
He was introduced to Owen, who let Hicks do the talking.

"What's new, Eddie?"

"Nuthin'."

"Still got that wild horse you never was able to sell?"

"Yep."

"Can you still manage him yourself?"

"I guess I could, but he ain't safe to take among traffic."

Hicks stepped close to Kaboff, talking in rapid whispers. The little
man turned white.

"No, no; I'm too old for that kind of game," he said.

Owen drew from his pocket a roll of yellowbacks - the biggest roll
Eddie Kaboff had seen since the days of "easy money."

"This much to try it," said Owen, "and as much again if you make good."

Kaboff's glance wavered a moment between the penetrating eyes of Owen
and the money in his hand.

"Take it; it's yours."

The flabby hand closed almost caressingly around the roll. "We'll go
in and have a look at the brute," he said.

They followed him through a line of stalls to a large padded box at the
far end of the barn. A beautiful bay saddle horse occupied the box.
Kaboff entered and called the animal, which answered by flying into a
seeming fury, plunging about the box, kicking, rearing and snapping.

"Same old devil," muttered Hicks. "He'll do."

The sight of an apple in Kaboff's hand calmed the animal. It came to
him and ate docilely while he slipped a bridle over its head. Once
outside the stall, however, it began another rampage.

Hicks held a last whispered conversation with Kaboff, giving him minute
instructions.

"I can just try it, you know," said Kaboff. "I can't guarantee to get
away with it."

"As much again if you do, you know," said Owen as he started briskly
away with Hicks.

The place that Panatella had chosen for the start of his balloon
ascension was a field upon the crest of the Palisades above the
amusement park.

Panatella had brought with him from abroad a reputation for dare-devil
adventures in the air. And he had proved his reckless courage in the
several brief ascensions that he had already made on this side.

Today, with his promise of the longest parachute drop on record, people
flocked to the field from New York and all adjacent New Jersey.

"I wish you wouldn't always invite that velvet-pawed servant on our
trips," grumbled Harry to Pauline, as Owen went for his dustcoat.

"Owen is my trustee and guardian. You have no right to speak of him as
a servant. Besides, when he's along he keeps you from being silly."

Harry stamped out to the garage, swung a new touring car around to the
door, and soon, with Owen and Pauline, was speeding for the ferry.

Signor Panatella was superintending the filling of the great gas bag.
He was a tall, lithe man in pink tights beneath which his muscles
bulged angularly like the gas filling the balloon bag.

A Latin rapidity of speech and motion added to the pink tights made him
comically frog-like, and even the abattis of medals on his breast could
not save his dignity.

He bustled about giving orders to the workmen who were preparing to cut
the ropes, then flitting back to the crowd to answer the questions of
impromptu admirers.

Pauline had left the car and was standing between Owen and Harry near
the rapidly filling bag.

"I wish I could talk to him, too - he's so cute and hippety-hoppy,"
she said.

Owen stepped to Panatella's side.

"Would you permit the young lady to see the balloon basket?" he asked.

"With pleasure," said the airman after a glance at Pauline. He led the
way to the basket, and helped Pauline up so that she could look at the
equipment, the anchor with its long coil of rope, the sand bags and
water bottles.

She was plainly fascinated as Panatella explained the manner of his
flight and his drop through the air. As she saw them attach the basket
to the tugging bag she was thrilled.

At this moment there was a flurry of excitement on the outskirts of the
crowd. A horseman on a beautiful bay mount, that was evidently
unmanageable, came plunging and swerving down the field.

The crowd broke and scattered in front of the menacing hoofs that flew
in the air as the vicious animal reared.

The horseman, clad in a somewhat threadbare riding suit, was a small
man with beady black eyes that turned from side to side as he swayed in
his saddle. He seemed to be afraid of his mount and to be looking for
help. But it was remarkable that apparently so poor a rider held his
seat and actually managed to bring the beast to a nervous stand some
fifty yards from the balloon.

The little man looked around over the heads of the crowd. He caught
sight of Owen beside Pauline near the balloon basket. The lifting of
his riding cap might or might not have been a salute and signal.

"Oh, I wish I hadn't promised Harry not to go up. I know Signor
Panatella would take me," sighed Pauline.

Harry had turned away to watch the actions of the strange horseman.

"You might scare him a little," Owen suggested.

Those words were the greatest risk he had taken in all his deeply laid
plots.

Pauline caught at the suggestion eagerly. She sprang lightly from the
little platform into the balloon car.

A murmur of mingled astonishment, applause and alarm rose from the
crowd. Two of the workmen were cutting the last ropes that held the
basket to earth. Ten others were holding it with their hands awaiting
the airman.

Panatella purposely delayed the moment of mounting the basket. The
tugging of the huge balloon against the strength of a dozen men gave
impress to his feat, and he liked the state of suspense.

But the sound from the surprised throng called his attention now to a
scene that made him forget affectation and effect. He started to run
toward the basket, shouting peremptory orders:

"Out of the car; out of the car instantly, madame! You are risking
your life."

His excitement infected the crowd. Surging, it seemed to sweep with it
the rider on the restive horse. For, as a hand was suddenly lifted in
the midst of the crowd the horse apparently overcame the legs braced to
spring, it shot forward directly at the balloon basket.

The hand that had been raised was the hand of Raymond Owen.

All was happening so swiftly that neither Harry nor Panatella reached
the basket before the maddened animal.

The crowd had given way in panic before it. Cries of fright were
mingled with cries of pain as the beast charged straight upon the men
holding the basket, felling and crushing them with shoulder and hoof.


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Online LibraryCharles GoddardThe Perils of Pauline → online text (page 8 of 18)