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Chapter 11 THE TWO CARS

  • “It is highly improper on my part to come here and meet you,” said Winifred.
  • “What can it be that you have to say to me of such ‘high importance’?”
  • The two were in the lane behind the church, at seven that same evening.
  • Winifred, on some pretext, had escaped the watchful eyes of Rachel Craik, o_ancied that she had, and came hurriedly to the waiting Carshaw. She was al_flutter with expectancy not untinged by fear, she knew not of what. Th_ights were beginning to darken early, and it was gloomy that evening, for th_ky was covered with clouds and a little drizzle was falling.
  • “You are not to think that there is the least hint of impropriety about th_atter,” Carshaw assured her. “Understand, please, Winifred, that this is n_overs’ meeting, but a business one, on which your whole future life depends.
  • You cannot suppose that I have followed you to Fairfield for nothing.”
  • “How could you possibly know that I was here?”
  • “From the police.”
  • “The police _again_? What a strange thing!”
  • “Yes, a strange thing, and yet not so strange. They are keenly interested i_ou and your movements, for your good. And I, of course, still more so.”
  • “You are wonderfully good to care. But, tell me quickly, I cannot stay te_inutes. I think my aunt suspects something. She already knows about the not_ropped to-day into my lap.”
  • “And about the boy in the fit. Does she suspect that, too?”
  • “What, was that a ruse? Good gracious, how artful you must be! I’m afraid o_ou—”
  • “Endlessly artful for your sake, Winifred.”
  • “You are kind. But tell me quickly.”
  • “Winifred, you are in danger, from which there is only one way of escape fo_ou—namely, absolute trust in me. Pray understand that the dream in which yo_eard some one say, ‘She must be taken away from New York’ was no dream. Yo_re here in order to be taken. This may be the first stage of a long journey.
  • Understand also that there is no bond of duty which forces you to go agains_our will, for the shrewdest men in the New York police have reason to thin_ou are not who you imagine you are, and that the woman you call your aunt i_o relative of yours.”
  • “What reason have they?” asked Winifred.
  • “I don’t care—I don’t know, they have not told me. But I believe them, and _ant you to believe me. The persons who have charge of your destiny are no_ormal persons—more or less they have done, or are connected with wrong. Ther_s no doubt about that. The police know it, though they cannot yet drag tha_rong into the light. Do you credit what I say?”
  • “It is all very strange.”
  • “It is _true_. That is the point. Have you, by the way, ever seen a man calle_oles?”
  • “Voles? No.”
  • “Yet that man at this moment is somewhere near you. He came in the same trai_ith you from New York. He is always near you. He is the most intimat_ssociate of your aunt. Think now, and tell me whether it is not a disturbin_hing that you never saw this man face to face?”
  • “Most disturbing, if what you say is so.”
  • “But suppose I tell you what I firmly believe—that you _have_ seen him; tha_t was _his_ face which bent over you in your half-sleep the other night, an_is voice which you heard?”
  • “I always thought that it was no dream,” said Winifred. “It was—not a nic_ace.”
  • “And remember, Winifred,” urged Carshaw earnestly, “that to-day and to-morro_re your last chances. You are about to be taken far away—possibly to Franc_r England, as surely as you see those clouds. True, if you go, I shall g_fter you.”
  • “You?”
  • “Yes, I. But, if you go, I cannot be certain how far I may be able to defen_nd rescue you there, as I can in America. I know nothing of foreign laws, an_hose who have you in their power do. On that field they may easily beat me.
  • So now is your chance, Winifred.”
  • “But what am I to do?” she asked in a scared tone, frightened at last by th_incerity blazing from his eyes.
  • “Necessity has no rules of propriety,” he answered. “I have a car here. Yo_hould come with me this very night to New York. Once back there, it is onl_hat my interest in you gives me the right to expect that you will consent t_se my purse for a short while, till you find suitable employment.”
  • Winifred covered her face and began to cry. “Oh, I couldn’t!” she sobbed.
  • “Don’t cry,” said Carshaw tenderly. “You must, you know, since it is the onl_ay. You cry because you do not trust me.”
  • “Oh! I do. But what a thing it is that you propose! To break with all my pas_n a sudden. I hardly even know you; last week I had not seen you—”
  • “There, that is mistrust. I know you as well as if I had always known you. I_act, I always did, in a sense. Please don’t cry. Say that you will come wit_e to-night. It will be the best piece of work that you ever did for yourself, and you will always thank me for having persuaded you.”
  • “But not to-night! I must have time to reflect, at least.”
  • “Then, when?”
  • “Perhaps to-morrow night. I don’t know. I must think it over first in all it_earings. To-morrow morning I will leave a letter in the office, telling you—”
  • “Well, if you insist on the delay. But it is dangerous, Winifred—it i_orribly dangerous!”
  • “I can’t help that. How could a girl run away in that fashion?”
  • “Well, then, to-morrow night at eleven, precisely. I shall be at the end o_his lane in my car, if your letter in the morning says ‘Yes.’ Is tha_nderstood?”
  • “Yes.”
  • “Let me warn you against bringing anything with you—any clothes or a grip.
  • Just steal out of the inn as you are. And I shall be just there at th_orner—at eleven.”
  • “Yes.”
  • “I may not have the chance of speaking to you again before—”
  • But Carshaw’s pleading stopped short; from the near end of the lane a tal_orm entered it—Rachel Craik. She had followed Winifred from the hotel, suspecting that all was not well—had followed her, lost her, and now ha_efound her. She walked sedately, with an inscrutable face, toward the spo_here the two were talking. The moment Carshaw saw this woman of ill omen h_nderstood that all was lost, unless he acted with bewildering promptness, an_uickly he whispered in Winifred’s ear:
  • “It must be to-night or never! Decide now. ‘Yes’ or ‘No.’”
  • “Yes,” said Winifred, in a voice so low that he could hardly hear.
  • “At eleven to-night?”
  • “Yes,” she murmured.
  • Rachel Craik was now up to them. She was in a vile temper, but contrived t_urb it.
  • “What is the meaning of this, Winifred? And who is this gentleman?” she said.
  • Winifred, from the habit of a lifetime, stood in no small awe of that auster_oman. All the blood fled from the girl’s face. She could only say brokenly:
  • “I am coming, aunt,” and went following with a dejected air a yard behind he_aptor. In this order they walked till they arrived at the door of the Maple_nn, neither having uttered a single word to the other. There Miss Crai_alted abruptly. “Go to your room,” she muttered. “I’m ashamed of you.
  • Sneaking out at night to meet a strange man! No kitchen-wench could hav_ehaved worse.”
  • Winifred had no answer to that taunt. She could not explain her motives.
  • Indeed, she would have failed lamentably had she attempted it. All she kne_as that life had suddenly turned topsy-turvy. She distrusted her aunt, th_oman to whom she seemed to owe duty and respect, and was inclined to trust _oung man whom she had met three times in all. But she was gentle and soft- hearted. Perhaps, if this Mr. Rex Carshaw, with his earnest eyes and wheedlin_oice, could have a talk with “aunty,” his queer suspicions—so oddly borne ou_y events—might be dissipated.
  • “I’m sorry if I seem to have done wrong,” she said, laying a timid hand o_achel Craik’s arm. “If you would only tell me a little, dear. Why have w_eft New York? Why—”
  • “Do you want to see me in jail?” came the harsh whisper.
  • “No. Oh, no. But—”
  • “Obey me, then! Remain in your room till I send for you. I’m in danger, an_ou, you foolish girl, are actually in league with my enemies. Go!”
  • Winifred sped through the porch, and hied her to a window in her room on th_irst floor which commanded a view of the main street. She could see neithe_arshaw nor Aunt Rachel, the one having determined to lie low for a few hours, and the other being hidden from sight already as she hastened through the rai_o the small inn where Voles and Mick the Wolf were located.
  • These worthies were out. The proprietor said they had hired a car and gone t_ridgeport. Miss Craik could only wait, and she sat in the lobby, prim an_uiet, the picture of resignation, not betraying by a look or gesture th_assions of anger, apprehension, and impatience which raged in her breast.
  • Voles did not come. An hour passed; eight struck, then nine. Once the word “carousing”! passed Miss Rachel’s lips with an intense bitterness; but, on th_hole, she sat with a stiff back, patient as stone.
  • Then after ten there came the hum and whir of an automobile driven at hig_peed through the rain-sodden main street. It stopped outside the inn. _inute later the gallant body of Voles entered, cigar in his mouth, and a loo_f much champagne in his eyes.
  • “What, Rachel, girl, you here!” he said in his offhand way.
  • “Are you sober?” asked Rachel, rising quickly.
  • “Sober? Never been really soused in my life! What’s up?”
  • He dropped a huge paw roughly on her shoulder, and her hard eyes softened a_he looked at his face and splendid frame, for Ralph “Voles” was Rache_raik’s one weakness.
  • “What’s the trouble?” he went on, seeing that her lips were twitching.
  • “You should have been here,” she snapped. “Everything may be lost. A man i_own here after Winifred, and I’ve caught her talking to him in secret.”
  • “A cop?” and Voles glanced around the otherwise deserted lobby.
  • “I don’t know—most probably. Or he may be that same man who was walking wit_er on Wednesday night in Central Park. Anyway, this afternoon he tried t_and her a note in offering her a newspaper. The note fell, and I saw it.
  • Afterward he managed to get it to her in some way, though I never for a momen_et her out of my sight; and they met about seven o’clock behind the church.”
  • “The little cat! She beat you to it, Rachel!”
  • “There is no time for talk, Ralph. That man will take her from us, and the_oe to you, to William, to us all. Things come out; they do, they do—th_eepest secrets! Man, man—oh, rouse yourself, sober yourself, and act! We mus_e far from this place before morning.”
  • “No more trains from here—”
  • “You could hire a car for your own amusement. Rush her off in that. Snatch he_way to Boston. We may catch a liner to-morrow.”
  • “But we can’t have her seeing us!”
  • “We can’t help that. It is dark; she won’t see your face. Let us be gone. W_ust have been watched, or how could that man have found us out? Ralph! Don’_ou understand? You must do something.”
  • “Where’s this spy you gab of? I’ll—”
  • “This is not the Mexican border. You can’t shoot here. The man is not th_oint, but the girl. She must be gotten away at once.”
  • “Nothing easier. Off, now to the hotel, and be ready in half an hour. I’l_ring the car around.”
  • Rachel Craik wanted no further discussion. She reached the Maples Inn in _lurry of little runs. Before the door she saw two glaring lights, the lamp_f Carshaw’s automobile. It was not far from eleven. Even as she approache_he hotel, Carshaw got in and drove down the street. He drew up on a patch o_rass by the roadside at the end of the lane behind the church. Soon afte_his he heard a clock strike eleven.
  • His eyes peered down the darkness of the lane to see Winifred coming, as sh_ad promised. It was still drizzling slightly—the night was heavy, stagnan_nd silent. Winifred did not come, and Carshaw’s brows puckered with care an_oreboding. A quarter of an hour passed, but no light tread gladdened his ear.
  • Fairfield lay fast asleep.
  • Carshaw could no longer sit still. He paced restlessly about the wet grass t_ase his anxious heart. And so another quarter of an hour wore slowly. The_he sound of a fast-moving car broke the silence. Down the road a pair o_ragon-eyes blazed. The car came like the chariots of Sennacherib, in reckles_light. Soon it was upon him. He drew back out of the road toward his ow_acer.
  • Though rather surprised at this urgent flight he had no suspicion tha_inifred might be the cause of it. As the car dashed past he clearly saw o_he front seat two men, and in the tonneau he made out the forms of two women.
  • The faces of any of the quartet were wholly merged in speed and the night, bu_ome white object fluttered in the swirl of air and fell forlornly in th_oad, dropping swiftly in its final plunge, like a stricken bird. He darte_orward and picked up a lady’s handkerchief. Then he knew! Winifred was bein_eft from him again. He leaped to his own car, started the engine, turned wit_eckless haste, and in a few seconds was hot in chase.