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- The Flyers - 3/15 -
"No, they're playing bridge over at Mrs. Thursdale's and that lets me out. Beastly headache, too. Got out for a breath of air." The silence that followed this observation seemed to call for further explanations. "Miss Thursdale retired soon after dinner, wretchedly under the weather. That rather left me adrift, don't you know. I'm not playing bridge this year."
"You're not? Why not, pray?"
"Chiefly because of last year. My Mercedes came on from New York yesterday and I got her out for a spin. Couldn't resist, don't you know. She's working beautifully."
"There's one thing about a Mercedes that I don't like--and you don't find it in a Panhard. I've got a Panhard and--" Dobson was saying with all the arrogance of a motor fiend, when Mrs. Scudaway ruthlessly and properly cut him off.
"We know all about your Panhard, Dobby. Don't bother. Is Eleanor really ill, Mr. Windomshire?"
"I had it from her own lips, Mrs. Scudaway."
"Oh, you know what I mean. Is it likely to be serious?"
"Really, I can't say. I offered to go and fetch the doctor in my car, but she assured me she'd be all right in the morning. What say, Mr. Dauntless?"
"I didn't speak, Mr. Windomshire."
"I thought you did." More than one at the table had heard Joe's involuntary chuckle.
"I say, Windomshire, what's the name of that pretty governess over at Thursdale's?" asked the busy bore. "Saw her this morning."
The Englishman looked down and flecked the ashes from his cigarette before answering.
"Miss Courtenay," he responded.
"She's a corking pretty girl." Windomshire went through the unnecessary act of flecking ashes again, but said nothing in reply. "Are there any more at home like her?" with a fine chuckle in behalf of his wit.
"She's of a very good family, I believe," said Windomshire, looking about helplessly. Mrs. Scudaway caught the look in his eyes and remembered that English gentlemen are not supposed to discuss women outside of their own set.
"It must be time for the 'bus," she said. "We're all going in by the 10.10, Mr. Windomshire."
"Can't I take some of you over to the station in my car?"
"The 'bus is dryer, I think, thank you." She led the way, and the other women followed her upstairs. "We'll be down in time," she called.
"I'll take some of you men over in Hardy's machine," volunteered Dauntless. "I've got it out here this week, while he's east."
"Ain't you going in, Joe?" demanded Rolfe.
"Not to-night. I'm staying overnight with my uncle in Cobberly Road."
"The 'bus is good enough for me. I haven't forgotten how you ran off the Peters Bridge last fall," said Carter.
"Hang it, man, he wasn't thinking about bridges that time," said the cheerful bore. "There was a girl with him. Elea--Ahem! I say, old man, what the devil time is it? Time for the confounded 'bus? Don't want to miss the train." He had caught the scowl of warning from Carter and, for a wonder, understood.
"By the way," said Windomshire, irrelevantly, "what was the disturbance over in O'Brien's Lane this morning? Anybody hurt? I was driving the car up Andrews' Hill when I saw the excitement. Couldn't make it out. Were all of the horses running away?"
"Running away!" roared the blase man, forgetting his pose for the first time. "Running away!" and he broke into a roar of laughter. "Why, that was the advance guard of the Faraway Country Club. Good Lord, did you see them coming in?"
"My word, they were coming in. But what was the rush? I came over to- night to see if any of the women had been hurt. I could have sworn the horses were absolutely unmanageable. They were tearing through bushes and taking fences they'd never seen before. Egad, I give you my word, one of the women took the fence at the south end of the golf course, and she didn't turn out for the bunker at No. 7, either. She took it like a bird, and straight across the course she flew on a dead line for the home green. What the deuce---"
"Sh! Windomshire, it will cost you your life if she hears you. That was Mrs. Scudaway. You don't know what happened, so I'll tell you. Half a dozen of the women went out with us for a run over the usual course. They are among our best and oldest hunters, too. Well, they were keeping right up with the men and having a splendid hunt, when all of a sudden a real, live fox dashed into view. By gad, sir, he started a panic. They'd never seen one in their lives, and they set up a howl that went clear to heaven. And they started for home--well, you saw 'em on the stretch. It was great! There never has been such riding in America. Mrs. Hooper lost her hat in the woods, and Mrs. Graves lost part of her habit coming through that break in the hedge over there. That skinny Miss Elperson, who never before has had nerve enough to jump her horse over the lawn hose, cleared the wall that runs along O'Brien's mill,--nobody's ever done it before,--and she came in hanging to the horse's mane and yelling like a wild-cat. Gad, it was two hours before we got 'em quiet and sent'em to town. They thought it was a tiger, I understand, although some of them held out for the lion and the hyena. Mrs. Scudaway was game enough to stay and enjoy the laugh."
"What became of the fox?" demanded the Englishman, his eyes glistening. At that moment the women came trooping down stairs; the 'bus bell was clanging sleepily.
"The fox? Oh--er--hanged if I know. I--er---"
"Were you riding?"
"Well--er--just a practice run, you know, old man. Er--I say, ladies, the 'bus waits!"
Two minutes later the 'bus rolled away in the fog and drizzle, leaving Dauntless and Windomshire alone on the steps.
"Good-night," said the Englishman, after an awkward silence.
"Good-night," was the response. Then, following a brief pause, both started toward their cars. The next minute they were chugging away, in the night and the lights in the clubhouse began to go out.
Two hours later a stealthy figure crept across the Thursdale lawn, lurking behind the rose beds and lilac bushes, finally worming its way to a dripping but secluded spot under the weather side of the house. It was past twelve o'clock, but there were still lights in the front part of the big summer-house. Quiet reigned there, however; the noise of merry-making came from the servants' quarters overlooking the ravine. A handful of gravel left an impatient hand and rattled against the second-story window above. Almost instantaneously the window was raised and a head came forth.
"Joe?" came a shrill whisper from above.
"What's the matter?" whispered the man below. "I've been waiting out there for two hours--well, half an hour, at least. Aren't you coming, dear?"
"I can't get out," came in a whispered wail. "I've had my hat on for hours, but---"
"Why can't you get out? Good Lord, you just must!"
"They're playing bridge in the front part of the house and the servants are having a reunion in the back. Oh, I've been nearly crazy. What are we to do? Shall I jump?"
"Don't! Is there no way to sneak out?"
"I'm afraid of being seen. It would give everything away if any one saw me in this automobile rigging at this time of night--and in a rain like this, too. Oh, dear, dear, I know I shall go mad! You poor darling, aren't you wet to the skin? I really couldn't help it. I just couldn't be there at 11.30."
"We'll never make that train--never in the world," groaned Dauntless. "It's ten miles, and the road's horrible all the way. By Jove, Nell, you must get out some way. It's now or never. I've got everything fixed."
"Oh, Joe--listen! Do you think you can get a ladder out from under the verandah? The painters left them there this morning. Look out for paint, dear. Don't make a noise--not a sound. Mr. Windomshire's room is just over the porte cochere. For Heaven's sake, don't arouse him."
"Drop your bag down first, dear,--here! I'll catch it."
"I've got to put some things in it first. It isn't quite ready," she gasped, darting away from the window.
"'T was ever thus," he muttered in despair. Cautiously he made his way to the end of the verandah. A close listener might have heard him snarl "damn" more than once as he tugged away at the painters' ladders, which had been left there when the rain began. He was a good- natured chap, but barking his knuckles, bumping his head, and banging his shins, added to the misfortunes that had gone before, were enough to demoralise a saint.
He imagined that he was making enough noise to rouse the neighbours for blocks around. No time was to be lost in self-commiseration, however. He hurriedly dragged out a ladder, which he managed to place against the window-sill without accident.
"Here it is," she whispered excitedly. The next instant a heavy object dropped at his feet with a crash. "Oh!" she exclaimed with horror, "my perfume bottles!"
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