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- The Flyers - 4/15 -
"Good Lord!" he gasped.
"I thought you were going to catch it. Oh, here's the ladder. Do you think I'll fall? Oh, oh!"
"Don't be afraid. Climb out, dear--and hurry!"
She was brave enough in the crisis. While he held the bottom of the ladder she scrambled through the window and hurried downward. Before she reached the bottom he lifted her from the ladder in his strong arms and held her close for a moment.
"Take the ladder down, dearest," she whispered between kisses. "I don't want mother to know I left that way--not just yet,--nor Mr. Windomshire, either."
"Come this way," he whispered, after replacing the ladder. "I left the car just around the corner. Come on, darling, and we'll soon be safe. Don't make a noise!"
"Goodness, isn't it dark! What a horrid night! Oh, what's that?"
"Gad, I thought I heard something over there in the croquet ground. Sounded like some one mixing it up with a wicket. Quick! Out this way!" He had her hand in his, and was rushing ruthlessly through flower-beds toward the big gate, her travelling bag banging against his knee with the insistence of a hundredweight.
Panting and gasping for breath, they finally floundered into the roadway, and dashed off through the muddy surface toward the unseen automobile.
She was half fainting with the panic of excitement as he started to lift her into the tonneau of the car. "No, no! Please let me sit with you in the front seat," she implored. She had her way, and a moment later he was up beside her, both wrapped in the oil-cloths, the drizzle blowing in their hot faces.
"We're off, thank God!" he whispered joyously, as the car leaped forward under his hand.
"I wonder--oh, dear, how I wonder what mamma will say," she was crying in his ear.
Dauntless grinned happily as the car shot onward through the blackness of the night. Its lanterns were dark and cold, but he knew the road.
THE FLYERS CATCH THE FLYER
No one would have recognised either of them had it been possible to see them,--so carefully were their heads swathed in their coverings. She was veiled and he was goggled, and both of them scrooged down in the seat apprehensively. Hardy's car, borrowed in reality for the occasion, was performing nobly. It careened through the muddy streets of the village with a sturdiness that augured well for the enterprise. Out into the country road, scudding northward, it sped. Dauntless increased the speed, not to the limit, on account of the fog and uncertainty of the road, but enough to add new thrills to the girl who crouched beside him. Neither spoke until they were far from the town line; the strain was too intense.
"What will everybody say?" she finally cried in his ear--the most natural question in the world. "And the newspapers? Oh, dear!"
"You're not weakening, are you?" he cried. "Shall I turn back?"
She was silent for half a mile.
"No," she replied at last, "I couldn't climb UP that ladder. And besides--" with a gasp as the car shot over the railroad tracks,--"we never could get as good a start as this again."
"Bully for you!" he shouted.
"How far is it to Fenlock, Joe?" she asked, a quaver in her high- pitched voice.
"About seven miles. We'll take the short cut through O'Brien's Lane and strike Cobberly Road again at the crossroads. Then it will be easy going. We'll catch the flyer all right, Nell. Everything's arranged. You go into Car 5 and I in Car 7--"
"With a whole car between us? Heavens!"
"It's safest, dear. There might happen to be some one on board who'd know us and suspect. Keep your veil down until you get into the berth. There's not much danger of any one being up at this time of night, but don't take any chances."
"Goodness, isn't it thrilling! And when do we get to Omegon?"
"Little after seven in the morning. My cousin will meet us in a hack and drive us straight to the church. His wife will go with us as the extra witness. By eight o'clock we'll be married. Derby will be on the train with us. He's a full-fledged preacher now, and he'll marry us without a whimper."
"Oh," she sighed deliciously, in spite of the jarring of the motor, "isn't it nice to have old college chums who can be depended upon?"
"Poor old Windomshire," he laughed in the buoyancy of conquest.
"I don't think he'll---" She stopped.
"Care very much," she concluded. He laughed doubtingly.
Mile after mile the car traversed the misty night, jolting over the ruts in the lane, taking the hills blindly--driven entirely by the hand of Good Luck.
Suddenly the "honk, honk!" of an invisible motor struck upon their tense ears, the sound coming from some point ahead in the black, narrow lane. Dauntless sat straight and peered ahead, sounding his horn sharply.
"I hope no one is coming toward us," he groaned, slowing up sharply. "We never can pass in this confounded lane. If we get off into the soft ground--Hello! Here he comes--and no lights either! Hey! Look out!" He brought his car to an abrupt standstill.
"Where are we, Joe?" she cried.
"Near the crossroads, I'm sure. Curse an idiot that runs around without lights on a night like this," he growled, forgetting that his own lamps were dark.
Out of the misty blackness loomed another car, directly ahead. It had come to a sudden stop not ten feet away. Both cars were tooting their horns viciously.
"Where are your lights?" roared Dauntless.
"Where are yours?" came back angrily through the fog.
"Good Lord!" gasped Joe, panic-stricken.
"It's Mr. Windomshire," whispered Eleanor, in consternation.
Before she realised what was happening her companion lifted her bodily over the back of the seat and deposited her in the bed of the tonneau.
"Hide, dearest," he whispered. "Get under the storm blankets. He must not see you! I'll--I'll bluff it out some way."
"Wha--what is he doing out here in a machine?" she was whispering wildly. "He is pursuing us! He has found out!"
In the other car Windomshire--for it was the tall Englishman--was hoarsely whispering to some one beside him:
"It's Dauntless! Hang him! What's he doing here?" Then followed a hurried scuffling and subdued whispers. A long silence, fraught with an importance which the throbbing of the two engines was powerless to disturb, followed the mutual discovery. Joe's brain worked the quicker. Disguising his voice as best he could, he shouted through the fog:
"We can't pass here."
"Is--is this Cobberly Road?" cried Windomshire, striving to obtain what he considered the American twang.
"No, it's not. It's O'Brien's Lane."
Then, after a long silence, "Can't you back out?"
"It's rather--I mean sorter risky, mister. I don't know how far I'd have to back, doncherknow--er, ahem!"
"The crossroads can't be more than a hundred yards behind you. Where are you going?"
"I'm going for--a doctor," called Windomshire, hastily.
"Well, then, we ought not to stand here all night," groaned Joe, his ears open to catch the sound of the locomotive's whistle. There was no time to be lost.
"I'll--I'll try to back her out," shouted Windomshire. Eleanor whispered something shrilly and anxiously from the tonneau, and Joe called out instantly:
"Who is ill?"
"Mrs.--Mrs. Smith," replied the other, bravely.
"Good!" exclaimed Dauntless, heartily. Windomshire was not in the least annoyed by the lack of sympathy. He began to drive his car backward by jerks and jolts, blindly trusting to luck in the effort to reach the road which he had passed in his haste a few minutes before. Joe was shouting encouragement and pushing slowly forward in his own
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