Charles Goddard.

The Perils of Pauline online

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For an instant a few desperate hands held to the wrenching car.
Panatella had all but reached the platform; Harry was within arm's
length of it, when, with a writhing twist the bag jerked the basket
sideways and upward, knocking to the ground the last two men who had
held it and whirling forth into the deathly emptiness of space a
cowering, stunned girl, whose white face peered and white hands pleaded
over the basket rim - peered down upon the upturned faces of thousands
who would have risked their lives to aid, but who stood helpless in
their pity, hushed in fear.

For a moment Harry had stood dazed. It was as if the twanging taut of
the ropes, as the bag tore almost from his grasp the most precious
being in the world, had snapped the fibers of action in him.

The daze passed quickly, but in the moment of its passing. The
balloon, risen now five hundred feet in the air, had swept its way
westward over a mile of ground.

Harry turned to look for his motor car. Standing as he was at the spot
from which the balloon had ascended, he now faced a human barricade.
With a shout of warning he charged at what seemed to be a vulnerable
point in the files of wedged shoulders. The wall resisted. The throng
was lost to all but the dimming view of the balloon. Harry swung right
and left with his broad shoulders. He tore his way through.

The car was standing where he had left it on the outskirts of the
field. As he approached it he saw Owen emerge from the crowd and hurry
toward a runabout that had just been driven upon the field.

"What's the matter?" yelled a man in the machine, and Harry recognized
the voice of Hicks.

"Miss Marvin - carried away in the balloon!" cried Owen in a tone of
excitement that was not all feigned. He joined Hicks beside the
runabout.

Harry sprang to the seat of his touring car. It seemed to leap
forward. He shot past the two conspirators and heard Owen's voice
calling after him:

"Wait! Where are you going? I'll go with you."

"You're too late," shouted Harry bitterly, over his shoulder. An
envelope of dust sealed itself around the spinning wheels of the big
machine as he took the road after the balloon.

Steadfast but hopeless he fixed his eyes upon the unconquerable thing
in its unassailable element - a thing that seemed to be fleeing from
him as if inspired by a human will. Death rode beside him at his
breakneck speed, but he did not know it. He knew only that he must
follow that black beacon in the sky - that he must be there when its
flight was over - when the end came.

He did not know that Owen and Hicks, in the runabout, were also
following - that they, too, watched with an interest as deep as his,
with a hope as poignant as his hopelessness, the dizzy voyage of
Pauline.






CHAPTER XI

FROM CLOUD TO CLIFF

"Wonder what he thinks he can do," growled Hicks as they sat in the
runabout and watched Harry pass them.

"Trying to break his own neck - for nothing," replied Owen. "If he
keeps up that speed we'll get both birds with one sand bag."

"I hope so. He didn't speak, did he? You can see by the way he acts
he don't want us around - even now."

"It doesn't matter what he wants - it's what he does."

"You don't think he can save her?"

"He might - and I don't want her saved this time, Hicks, you
understand. I can't afford it this time. I've said too much."

"Well?"

"Where did you get this runabout?"

"Upper East Side - private party; I didn't want to do any business
near home."

"That's right."

"How much is this machine worth?" asked Owen irrelevantly.

"Oh, six or seven hundred - it ain't new. Why?"

"If anything should happen to it, there wouldn't be any trouble,
provided the bill was paid, would there?"

"I got an idea the owner would grab at $300 for this here buggy.
But why?"

"And if this automobile disappeared, vanished - no trace of it; you're
sure there wouldn't be any investigation?" pursued Hicks.

"Yes - it would be all right, I tell you. But I want to know what
your scheme is. How can you use this machine to get rid of Harry?
Tell me," Owen insisted.

"Never mind - yet. How do you make the course of the balloon now?"

"I guess she'll go over Quirksborough and then up between Hoxey and
Brent."

"Then we can pass him at Quirksborough."

"How do you figure that?"

"He'll stop for gasoline. He hasn't got enough to go more than two
miles beyond there. I saw that he hadn't when we set out."

"What do you want to pass him for? Why not let 'em both break their
own merry little necks an' us pick 'em up an' do the weepin'
afterward? That's our music."

"You fool! Don't you think a balloon ever came down safe yet? Don't
you know that young devil has got his head full of schemes to beat me
out' again? I tell you we've got to make sure of this trick. We've
got to get him."

Unconsciously Hicks brought the machine to a stop as both men strained
their eyes at the balloon, now traversing a lower course more slowly.

They saw Pauline stand erect in the basket and lift the heavy anchor
over the side.

Harry, going at terrific speed on the deserted road, saw the drop of
the anchor with a thrill of hope. At least - even if it was useless in
itself - it showed him that Pauline was brave and calm enough to use
her wits. He waved again but there was no answering signal.

Suddenly the balloon itself was lost to sight from the road. At the
lowering angle, drawn downward partly by the anchor and partly by the
gradual loss of gas, it swung over the hills.

The road led between two hills. Beyond it curved to the east and
north. As he reached the curve Harry was surprised that the balloon
was not in sight. When after circling another hill Harry had still
failed to pick it up he was alarmed as well as puzzled. The hills had
muddled his senses of direction, but he knew that he was near the river
again - back on the verge of the Palisades. This added to his fears.

There was but one thing to do, though - follow the road. He went on
slowly.

Suddenly he uttered a cry and threw on full speed. Over the top of a
high, jagged cliff, set like a rampart between two bastion knolls, he
saw the upper half of the gas bag.

It veered and tossed in the wind like a tethered thing. The basket was
invisible, but Harry knew that the anchor had caught on the cliff
side.

As he neared it he discovered that what was a cliff on one side was the
river wall on the other. He thanked heaven that the road led to the
top of it. He turned the machine up the road, which threaded narrow
ledges through growths of bramble and stunted trees.

He saw and turned sick in soul and body, for the pulling of the balloon
held the basket almost inverted, and Pauline was not in the basket.

The anchor had doubled itself into rock or root far down the cliff
side. From it the balloon dragged toward the river instead of toward
the shore. The taut rope writhed fifty feet out from the top of the
declivity.

To the edge of the cliff crawled Harry. He moved rapidly, but at the
uttermost verge he paused and covered his eyes with his, hand.

At last he looked down.

To Pauline on her wild flight had come increasing calm. As she felt
the balloon reaching lower levels - though it still soared high above
the hills - she even allowed herself a little hope. Leaning over, she
watched the shining blades of the anchor dance through the air.
Northeastward she could see the waves of the great river dancing. On
the little anchor, hung her hope of life; in the water beyond the
farthest cliff lay her final peril.

She had lost track of Harry and the other automobile long ago. She had
given up all hope of aid from any living thing.

The balloon moved slowly above the palisade. The anchor dragged on the
landward side of the knolls. These were sheer rock that the steel
talons clawed in vain.

The balloon moved out over the river, then suddenly glided back. An
eddy of breeze from the water had turned its course. The anchor
dangled along the river wall of the precipice.

Pauline seized the rope. She alternately pulled and loosened it,
trying to hook the anchor to tree or shrub. Suddenly she was flung
forward - almost out of the basket. The balloon had stopped with a
jerk. Hopefully, fearfully, she pulled in the rope. The anchor held.
The balloon was tugging and swaying wildly, but its tether did not
break. She looked down at the ledge. Between her and that narrow
footing the only thoroughfare was two hundred feet of swaying rope.
She pulled upon the rope again. She dropped two more of the heavy
ballast bags over the side, and the bag shook and groaned upon its
stays as it dragged the anchor deeper into the rock. She put her feet
over the edge of the basket. With her hands clutching the rim, she
lowered herself. Taking her hands from the basket and grasping the
rope, she started down.

The raw hemp tore her hands. The fearful strain upon her arms made her
sick and faint. Only desperation nerved her after the first ten
yards. The wrenching of the balloon whirled and jostled her. At
first, holding only by her hands, she was flung out from the aft
halyard like a flag. Then instinct told her to wrap her feet around it
and she trembled on. She looked down once, saw the far swaying river,
and looked quickly up again. It was not until her groping feet touched
the rock of the ledge that she opened her eyes again. At the top of a
slender rope whirled and veered and battled a balloon with an empty
basket. The sound of creaking ropes mingled in her ears with the
chugging of a motor car. The chugging seemed a long way off, but its
noise seemed to make her dizzy. She sank in a dead faint upon the
narrow ledge beside the hooked anchor.

"Pauline! Pauline! It's I - Harry. Can't you hear me? Pauline!"

There came no sound in answer - only the creaking of the balloon rope
in the air, the rasping of the anchor fluke upon the stone.

He sprang up and back to the motor and began throwing out the robes,
blankets, tools and chains. He laid a blanket on the ground and began
to slash it into strips with his pocket knife. In the ends of the
strips he cut slits and linked the slits with the chains to form a
rope. He paused only once in his frantic labor. That was when he
rushed back to the edge of the cliff to look again and call again-in
vain. He fastened the chain at the end of his strange line to a
sapling growing some ten feet back of the verge and with a throb of
relief saw the other end drop to within a few feet of the unconscious
girl. He tested the strength of the cable by pulling on it with all
his might. It did not give. He put himself over the cliff side and
began the descent.

Owen and Hicks had not only lost the balloon, but had lost Harry, too.
They could follow him only by the deep cut tracks of his flying car,
and these were as likely to be over marshes and fields as on the
highway.

More than once Hicks urged that they turn back.

"We can't do no good," he argued. "If they ain't dead they ain't -
that's all."

"I've got to be sure," muttered Owen.

The little runabout had a hard fight to climb the cliff that Harry's
big car had taken so easily. But as they came through the grove into
view of the balloon and the empty basket the two felt amply rewarded
for their worry and trouble and toil.

"By George, it has happened. It's done!" cried Owen. No artist gazing
on a finished masterpiece, no conqueror thanking the fates for victory
could have spoken with more triumphant fervor.

But Hicks was out of the machine and running to Harry's car. He saw
the shreds of the blankets; he saw the knife; finally he caught a
glimpse of the chain that was fastened to the sapling.

"Don't be so sure," grumbled Hicks. "Come on - but come quiet."

He got down on his hands and knees and crawled to the edge of the
cliff. Owen followed him. Together they drew back with gasps of
surprise and anger.

Hicks sprang to his feet. His big-bladed knife flashed in his hand.
He sawed excitedly at the small chain. A low curse escaped him as the
blade bent on the links.

Owen had dashed to Harry's auto. He was back with a pair of heavy
pliers. In a flash he had cut the chain. The end of it shot over the
cliff. There was a startled cry from below.

It was several minutes before Hicks and Owen looked down again.

The man they thought they had just killed and the girl whom they had
marked to die stood on the ledge in each other's arms, oblivious of
life or death, or foe or friend, of everything but love.

Pauline was still aquiver with the shock of her waking. A cry ringing
above her had brought her from her swoon and she had looked up to see
the terrible balloon still reeling over her and to find Harry dangling
from a rope's end not ten feet away.

She rose weakly and stretched out her arms to him.

"Be still; don't move, dear," he called softly.

"You can't help me. You - "

There was a sudden snapping sound from over the top of the cliff. The
chain end of the line fell upon his shoulders. He dropped joltingly to
the ledge and lunged forward toward a further fall. It was the soft
arms of Pauline that caught and held him. Both trembling a little as
their lips met.

From overhead came the sound of a starting automobile. Harry shouted
at the top of his voice. There was no answer. He stopped quickly and
picked up the severed end of the life line.

"Look; it wasn't broken; it was cut;" he cried. "Good heaven, Polly,
who is it that hates us like that?"

For answer she merely nestled nearer in his protecting arms.

They sat down on the ledge, and Harry's keen eyes watched the tantrums
of the balloon in the wind. It was pulling fiercely toward the river
now, but the anchor held fast.

Suddenly Harry sprang up. Pauline started to follow his example, but
he motioned her to stay where she was. In his hand gleamed the
revolver, that he had carried ever since the battle in Baskinelli's
den.

"Who is it?" whispered Pauline. "Can you see some one?"

He raised the revolver in the air, took aim and fired. The balloon
rope at his feet suddenly slacked and he caught at its sagging loop to
gave the anchor from loosening. He fired twice again at the balloon
bag, and Pauline, clinging to his shoulder saw the monster that had
held her a slave to its elemental power, that, like some winged gorgon
had held her captive in the labyrinth of air, crumple and wither and
fall at the prick of a bullet; saw it collapse into a mass of tangled
leather and rope and slide in final ruin down the smooth cliff.

She looked at Harry with the whimsical smile that she could not
suppress even on the dizzy heights of danger.

"Did you really think I would fly away again?" she asked.

"Hopeless ward," he said. "Pitiful case. Miss Pauline Marvin, crazy
heiress - thinks she's funny when she's merely getting killed. No,
Miss Flippancy, I wanted a line to slide the rest of the way on," he
announced as he gave the anchor rope a twist around a rock.

Pauline's merriment vanished like a flash.

"Oh, I can't do it again, Harry, I can't," she cried tremulously.

"It will be easy this time," he told her. "Here, give me your hands."

With a piece of the blanket rope he tied her wrists together, and
placed her arms about his shoulders, grasping a rope that sagged away
to the wrecked balloon on the road far below. He placed a leg over the
ledge, wrapped it around the rope and bracing the other foot against
the rock wall, started joyously on his fearful task.

Joyously, for if ever man rejoiced at the gates of death it was Harry
Marvin. To him the chance to risk his life today was a blessing and a
boon. It was what he had prayed for, hopelessly, on the long motor
dash in the wake of the balloon - just the chance to try and save
her. To die with her was all he asked; to die fighting for her was all
he wanted; and here he was, holding her in his arms on a stout rope,
already half way down the cliff.

At the bottom he let her feel the firm earth once more. "Now you can
open your eyes," he said.

With his torn hands he started to lift her arms from his neck; but she
clung there, weeping.

"Oh, Harry, you are so patient, so good and brave, and I have made you
risk your life again for me."

"Sure; that's it; worry about me, now," he grumbled, although he held
her tenderly and close. "When will you find out that my life doesn't
matter; it's yours that counts?"

"I will never, never do it again," said Pauline like a naughty child.

"You used to say that when you were four years old. It was usually a
lie," said Harry.

"I love you," said Pauline irrelevantly.

"Then why-in-the-dickens-don't-you-marry me?" he demanded.

"Because - "

She stopped. Steps sounded from the roadway. They peered through the
thicket that concealed them and saw Owen approaching.

Pauline hailed him. He turned toward the thicket in obsequious haste.

"Thank Heaven, Miss Marvin," he cried. "It must be a miracle. And you
are safe, too," he added, turning to Harry.

"How did you know I was ever in danger?" inquired Harry grimly.

"We heard shots," explained Owen. "We saw the balloon fall and we knew
what you had done. It was magnificent. I congratulate you."

"Congratulate Polly," said Harry. "She slid out of Heaven, while I
only slid down hill."

"Where is your car, Mr. Marvin?"

"Up on the hill - if the kind persons who cut the chain didn't take it
with them."

Owen did not change color. "I will go and see if it is there. If not,
I'll find Hicks and his runabout. He's waiting somewhere about."

He set off briskly up the road.

"Polly, you still trust that man?" asked Harry.

"One has to trust one's guardian, doesn't one?"

He tossed his hands above his head in a gesture of "Give it all up."

"That's right; keep 'em there," said a rough voice, and a wiry man with
white handkerchiefs tied over his face below the eyes sprang with
crunching strides through the bushes. "Keep up your hands, I say," he
thundered at Harry, as he leveled a revolver.

Pauline was beside him and Harry dared not move. But Pauline dared.
With the resourceful courage that always inspired her she whipped his
revolver out his hip pocket and fired at the intruder's head.

His hat fluttered off into the road. He sprang at Pauline and wrested
the gun from her. As Harry rushed him, he had no time to fire, but the
butt of one revolver crashed on the young man's forehead. Harry sank
unconscious in the road.

Pauline knelt beside him. She was screaming for Owen - even for
Hicks. Hicks was instantly beside her but not to aid or rescue, for
Hicks was the man with the handkerchief mask. He half dragged, half
carried Pauline to a thicket that concealed the runabout. He drew a
roll of tire tape from under the seat and bound it cruelly around her
lips. He took ropes and tied her hands and feet, placed her in the
seat beside him and started the machine. If Harry, struggling to rise
out of the dust of the road, could have seen Pauline now, bound and
gagged beside Hicks in the runabout, he would have known her to be in
greater peril than ever the balloon had brought her.

Pauline was not long unhidden. As the quick ear of Hicks caught the
sound of wheels, he grasped her roughly by the arm and thrust her into
the bottom of the machine. Without taking his hand from the lever or
slackening speed, he pulled a blanket over her and tucked it in with
one hand.

"Don't move, either," he growled, "or you know."

A farmer on his wagon came around a bend. His cheery "good morning"
brought only a grunt from Hicks, but the sound of the kind voice
thrilled Pauline. She struggled under the blanket and almost reached a
sitting posture before Hicks crushed her back.

The runabout had flashed by, but the farmer had seen something that
alarmed even his stolid mind.

When a half mile up the road he came upon a young man, dazed and
wounded, staggering through the dust, he drew rein and leaped out.

A draught of whiskey from the farmer's bottle braced Harry.

"You passed them on the road?" he cried.

"A machine with a man in it and somethin' else - somethin' in the
bottom of it that moved," said the farmer.

"A horse," said Harry, "quick - one of yours will do."

The farmer hesitated. Harry thrust money into his hand. "Quick," he
shouted.

Together they unharnessed the team. Coatless and hatless, tattered,
wounded and stained, Harry swung himself to the bare back of a
stirrupless steed and galloped out on what he knew was the most
dangerous of all the pathways of Pauline.





CHAPTER XII

THE OLD GRIGSBY HOUSE PAYS PENANCE

To young Bassett, of The American, the excitement of existence, since
he became a reporter and joined the jehus of the truth wagon, had
consisted mainly of "chasing pictures" in the afternoons and going to
strings of banquets at night. He had no more enthusiasm for
photographs than he had for banquets. Word painting and graining was
his art. And so when a big story walked up and beckoned to him he was
as happy as a boy in love.

It had been a dull day for news. The evening papers were barren of
suggestions and the assignments had run out before Bassett's name was
reached. That meant another afternoon of dismal lingering in the
office, without even a photograph to chase.

Bassett flung himself disgustedly into a chair and straightened a
newspaper with a vicious crackle as the last of the other reporters
hurried out. He thought he caught a gleam of merry pity in the
reporter's eye. Never mind. Let 'em laugh. Let 'em wait. One of
these days he'll be the one getting the real stuff and putting it
through, too, from tip to type, without a rewrite man or a copy reader
touching it. Let 'em wait!

"In a balloon? Where?"

The suddenly vibrant voice of the city editor talking over the
telephone caused Bassett to lower his paper and hushed even the chatter
of the office boys.

"Palisades - Panatella; yes. Who's the girl? You don't know?"

The paper dropped from Bassett's hands.

"Much obliged. I'll have a man over there, but you go right ahead."
The city editor clicked down the receiver and whirled in his chair.

"Oh - Bassett. Our Weehawken man says a young woman has been carried
off by Panatella's balloon. They've lost the balloon. Get a car and
get over there quick. Go as far as you like, only find the girl and
let me hear from you - quick."

Bassett jumped to a phone and ordered a high-powered machine to meet
him at Ninety-sixth street. He ran down William street, with his straw
hat under his arm, and dived into the subway. An express had him at
Ninety-sixth street in a few minutes. His machine was there. They
dashed for the ferry and were on the aviation field before the
bewildered crowd that had witnessed the runaway flight of the balloon
had dispersed.

Bassett jumped out and mingled with the people. They knew nothing
except the general direction toward the west that the balloon had
taken. Automobilists had pursued for a long way, but had seen the gas
bag turn to the north and disappear in the hills. The automobilists
had returned - most of them. Two who had been with the girl before
she leaped into the basket had not returned.

Bassett got back in the car beside the driver, and they glided off on
the westward road.

Every one in the farm houses along the route had seen the balloon. But
the houses were further and further apart as Bassett's course was drawn
northward and, often he missed the trail.

The trail was blazed by the wheel ruts of a giant touring car and a
small runabout that frequently left the highways and plowed across the
fields. He lost them in the middle of a field that was marshy where
the automobiles left the road and rock-dry at the middle and further
side. After a half-hour's maneuvering he ordered the driver to go back
to the road.

"Maybe they done the same thing - turned round an' come back,"
suggested the chauffeur. "Hello, what kind of a rig is that?" he added
as a wagon appeared around a bend in the road.

The peculiar thing about the "rig" was that while it was a tongued
wagon with whiffletrees for two horses, there was only one horse. The
driver, a bearded farmer, was urging the patient animal on, although it
was impossible for it to do more than plod in its awkward harness.

"What's the matter?" called Bassett, cheerily, as the machine drew
alongside and stopped.

"I dunno," replied the farmer, shaking his grizzled bead. "Ef I was a


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Online LibraryCharles GoddardThe Perils of Pauline → online text (page 9 of 18)