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   Chapter 3 SOCIAL SUICIDE

Trailin'! By Max Brand Characters: 9739

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


At his box, Woodbury stopped only to huddle into his coat and overcoat and pull his hat down over his eyes. Then he hurried on toward an exit, but even this slight delay brought the reporters up with him. They had scented news as the eagle sights prey far below, and then swooped down on him. He continued his flight shaking off their harrying questions, but they kept up the running fight and at the door one of them reached his side with: "It's Mr. Woodbury of the Westfall Polo Club, son of Mr. John Woodbury of Anson Place?"

Anthony Woodbury groaned with dismay and clutched the grinning reporter by the arm.

"Come with me!"

Prospects of a scoop of a sizable nature brightened the eyes of the reporter. He followed in all haste, and the other news-gatherers, in obedience to the exacting, unspoken laws of their craft, stood back and followed the flight with grumbling envy.

On Twenty-Sixth Street, a little from the corner of Madison Avenue, stood a big touring car with the chauffeur waiting in the front seat. There were still some followers from the Garden.

Woodbury jumped into the back seat, drew the reporter after him, and called: "Start ahead, Maclaren-drive anywhere, but get moving."

"Now, sir," turning to the reporter as the engine commenced to hum, "what's your name?"

"Bantry."

"Bantry? Glad to know you."

He shook hands.

"You know me?"

"Certainly. I cover sports all the way from polo to golf. Anthony

Woodbury-Westfall Polo Club-then golf, tennis, trap shooting-"

"Enough!" groaned the victim. "Now look here, Bantry, you have me dead to rights-got me with the goods, so to speak, haven't you?"

"It was a great bit of work; ought to make a first-page story."

And the other groaned again. "I know-son of millionaire rides unbroken horse in Wild West show-and all that sort of thing. But, good Lord, man, think what it will mean to me?"

"Nothing to be ashamed of, is it? Your father'll be proud of you."

Woodbury looked at him sharply.

"How do you know that?"

"Any man would be."

"But the notoriety, man! It would kill me with a lot of people as thoroughly as if I'd put the muzzle of a gun in my mouth and pulled the trigger."

"H-m!" muttered the reporter, "sort of social suicide, all right. But it's news, Mr. Woodbury, and the editor-"

"Expects you to write as much as the rest of the papers print-and none of the other reporters know me."

"One or two of them might have."

"But my dear fellow-won't you take a chance?"

Bantry made a wry face.

"Madison Square Garden," went on Woodbury bitterly. "Ten thousand people looking on-gad, man, it's awful."

"Why'd you do it, then?"

"Couldn't help it, Bantry. By Jove, when that wicked devil of a horse came at my box and I caught a glimpse of the red demon in his eyes-why, man, I simply had to get down and try my luck. Ever play football?"

"Yes, quite a while ago."

"Then you know how it is when you're in the bleachers and the whistle blows for the game to begin. That's the way it was with me. I wanted to climb down into the field-and I did. Once started, I couldn't stop until I'd made a complete ass of myself in the most spectacular style. Now, Bantry, I appeal to you for the sake of your old football days, don't show me up-keep my name quiet."

"I'd like to-damned if I wouldn't-but-a scoop-"

Anthony Woodbury considered his companion with a strange yearning. It might have been to take him by the throat; it might have been some gentler motive, but his hand stole at last toward an inner coat pocket.

He said: "I know times are a bit lean now and then in your game, Bantry. I wonder if you could use a bit of the long green? Just now I'm very flush, and-"

He produced a thickly stuffed bill-fold, but Bantry smiled and touched

Woodbury's arm.

"Couldn't possibly, you know."

He considered a moment and then, with a smile: "It's a bit awkward for both of us, isn't it? Suppose I keep your name under my hat and you give me a few little inside tips now and then on polo news, and that sort of thing?"

"Here's my hand on it. You've no idea what a load you take off my mind."

"We've circled about and are pretty close to the Garden again. Could you let me out here?"

The car rolled to an easy stop and the reporter stepped out.

"I'll forget everything you wish, Mr. Woodbury."

"It's an honour to have met you, sir. Use me whenever you can.

Goodnight."

To the chauffeur he said: "Home, and make it fast."

They passed up Lexington with Maclaren "making it fast," so that the big car was continually nosing its way around the machines in front with much honking of the horn. At Fifty-Ninth Street they turned across to the bridge and hummed softly across the black, shimmering waters of the East River; by the time they reached Brooklyn a fine mist was beginning to

fall, blurring the wind-shield, and Maclaren slowed up perceptibly, so that before they passed the heart of the city, Woodbury leaned forward and said: "What's the matter, Maclaren?"

"Wet streets-no chains-this wind-shield is pretty hard to see through."

"Stop her, then. I'll take the wheel the rest of the way. Want to travel a bit to-night."

The chauffeur, as if this exchange were something he had been expecting, made no demur, and a moment later, with Woodbury at the wheel, the motor began to hum again in a gradually increasing crescendo. Two or three motor-police glanced after the car as it snapped about corners with an ominous skid and straightened out, whining, on the new street; but in each case, having made a comfortable number of arrests that day, they had little heart for the pursuit of the grey monster through that chill mist.

Past Brooklyn, with a country road before them, Woodbury cut out the muffler and the car sprang forward with a roar. A gust of increasing wind whipped back to Maclaren, for the wind-shield had been opened so that the driver need not look through the dripping glass and mingling with the wet gale were snatches of singing.

The chauffeur, partly in understanding and partly from anxiety, apparently, caught the side of the seat in a firm grip and leaned forward to break the jar when they struck rough places. Around an elbow turn they went with one warning scream of the Klaxon, skidded horribly at the sharp angle of the curve, and missed by inches a car from the opposite direction.

They swept on with the startled yell of the other party ringing after them, drowned at once by the crackling of the exhaust. Maclaren raised a furtive hand to wipe from his forehead a moisture which was not altogether rain, but immediately grasped the side of the seat again. Straight ahead the road swung up to meet a bridge and dropped sharply away from it on the further side. Maclaren groaned but the sound was lost in the increasing roar of the exhaust.

They barely touched that bridge and shot off into space on the other side like a hurdler clearing an obstacle. With a creak and a thud the big car landed, reeled drunkenly, and straightened out in earnest, Maclaren craned his head to see the speedometer, but had not the heart to look; he began to curse softly, steadily.

When the muffler went on again and the motor was reduced to a loud, angry humming, Woodbury caught a few phrases of those solemn imprecations. He grinned into the black heart of the night, streaked with lines of grey where therein entered the halo of the headlights, and then swung the car through an open, iron gate. The motor fell to a drowsily contented murmur that blended with the cool swishing of the tires on wet gravel.

"Maclaren," said the other, as he stopped in front of the garage, "if everyone was as good a passenger as you I'd enjoy motoring; but after all, a car can't act up like a horse." He concluded gloomily: "There's no fight in it."

And he started toward the house, but Maclaren, staring after the departing figure, muttered: "There's only one sort that's worse than a damn fool, and that's a young one."

It was through a door opening off the veranda that Anthony entered the house, stealthily as a burglar, and with the same nervous apprehension. Before him stretched a wide hall, dimly illumined by a single light which splashed on the Italian table and went glimmering across the floor. Across the hall was his destination-the broad balustraded staircase, which swept grandly up to the second floor. Toward this he tiptoed steadying himself with one hand against the wall. Almost to his goal, he heard a muffled footfall and shrank against the wall with a catlike agility, but, though the shadow fell steep and gloomy there, luck was against him.

A middle-aged servant of solemn port, serene with the twofold dignity of double chin and bald head, paused at the table in his progress across the room, and swept the apartment with the judicial eye of one who knows that everything is as it should be but will not trust even the silence of night. So that bland blue eye struck first on the faintly shining top hat of Anthony, ran down his overcoat, and lingered in gloomy dismay on the telltale streak of white where the trouser leg should have been.

What he thought not even another Oedipus could have conjectured. The young master very obviously did not wish to be observed, and in such times Peters at could be blinder than the bat noon-day and more secret than the River Styx. He turned away, unhurried, the fold of that double chin a little more pronounced over the severe correctness of his collar.

A very sibilant whisper pursued him. He stopped again, still without haste, and turned not directly toward Anthony, but at a discreet angle, with his eyes fixed firmly upon the ceiling.

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