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The Black Bag Part 46

And as Kirkwood ducked, the whip-lash shot out over the roof with a crack like the report of a pistol. Startled, the horse leaped indignantly forward. Momentarily the cab seemed to leave the ground, then settled down to a pace that carried them round the Avenue Theatre and across Northumberland Avenue into Whitehall Place apparently on a single wheel.

A glance behind showed Kirkwood that already they had gained, the pursuing hansom having lost ground through greater caution in crossing the main-traveled thoroughfare.

"Good little horse!" he applauded.

A moment later he was indorsing without reserve the generalship of their cabby; the quick westward turn that took them into Whitehall, over across from the Horse Guards, likewise placed them in a pocket of traffic; a practically impregnable press of vehicles closed in behind them ere Calendar's conveyance could follow out of the side street.

That the same conditions, but slightly modified, hemmed them in ahead, went for nothing in Kirkwood's estimation.

"Good driver!" he approved heartily. "He's got a head on his shoulders!"

The girl found her voice. "How," she demanded in a breath, face blank with consternation, "how did you dare?"

"Dare?" he echoed exultantly; and in his veins excitement was running like liquid fire. "What wouldn't I dare for you, Dorothy?"

"What have you not?" she amended softly, adding with a shade of timidity: "Philip..."

The long lashes swept up from her cheeks, like clouds revealing stars, unmasking eyes radiant and brave to meet his own; then they fell, even as her lips drooped with disappointment. And she sighed.... For he was not looking. Man-like, hot with the ardor of the chase, he was deaf and blind to all else.

She saw that he had not even heard. Twice within the day she had forgotten herself, had overstepped the rigid bounds of her breeding in using his Christian name. And twice he had been oblivious to that token of their maturing understanding. So she sighed, and sighing, smiled again; resting an elbow on the window-sill and flattening one small gloved hand against the frame for a brace against the jouncing of the hansom. It swept on with unabated speed, up-stream beside the tawny reaches of the river; and for a time there was no speech between them, the while the girl lost consciousness of self and her most imminent peril, surrendering her being to the lingering sweetness of her long, dear thoughts....

"I've got a scheme!" Kirkwood declared so explosively that she caught her breath with the surprise of it. "There's the Pless; they know me there, and my credit's good. When we shake them off, we can have the cabby take us to the hotel. I'll register and borrow from the management enough to pay our way to Chiltern and the tolls for a cable to New York. I've a friend or two over home who wouldn't let me want for a few miserable pounds.... So you see," he explained boyishly, "we're at the end of our troubles already!"

She said something inaudible, holding her face averted. He bent nearer to her, wondering. "I didn't understand," he suggested.

Still looking from him, "I said you were very good to me," she said in a quavering whisper.

"Dorothy!" Without his knowledge or intention before the fact, as instinctively as he made use of her given name, intimately, his strong fingers dropped and closed upon the little hand that lay beside him. "What _is_ the matter, dear?" He leaned still farther forward to peer into her face, till glance met glance in the ending and his racing pulses tightened with sheer delight of the humid happiness in her glistening eyes. "Dorothy, child, don't worry so. No harm shall come to you. It's all working out--all working out _right_. Only have a little faith in me, and I'll _make_ everything work out right, Dorothy."

Gently she freed her fingers. "I wasn't," she told him in a voice that quivered between laughter and tears, "I wasn't worrying. I was ... You wouldn't understand. Don't be afraid I shall break down or--or anything."

"I shan't," he reassured her; "I know you're not that sort. Besides, you'd have no excuse. We're moving along famously. That cabby knows his business."

In fact that gentleman was minute by minute demonstrating his peculiar fitness for the task he had so cheerfully undertaken. The superior horsemanship of the London hackney cabman needs no exploitation, and he in whose hands rested the fate of the Calendar treasure was peer of his compeers. He was instant to advantage himself of every opening to forward his pliant craft, quick to foresee the fortunes of the way and govern himself accordingly.

Estimating with practised eye the precise moment when the police supervisor of traffic at the junction of Parliament and Bridge Streets, would see fit to declare a temporary blockade, he so managed that his was the last vehicle to pass ere the official wand, to ignore which involves a forfeited license, was lifted; and indeed, so close was his calculation that he escaped only with a scowl and word of warning from the bobby. A matter of no importance whatever, since his end was gained and the pursuing cab had been shut off by the blockade.

In Calendar's driver, however, he had an adversary of abilities by no means to be despised. Precisely how the man contrived it, is a question; that he made a detour by way of Derby Street is not improbable, unpleasant as it may have been for Stryker and Calendar to find themselves in such close proximity to "the Yard." At all events, he evaded the block, and hardly had the chase swung across Bridge Street, than the pursuer was nimbly clattering in its wake.

Past the Houses of Parliament, through Old Palace Yard, with the Abbey on their left, they swung away into Abingdon Street, whence suddenly they dived into the maze of backways, great and mean, which lies to the south of Victoria. Doubling and twisting, now this way, now that, the driver tooled them through the intricate heart of this labyrinth, leading the pursuers a dance that Kirkwood thought calculated to dishearten and shake off the pursuit in the first five minutes. Yet always, peering back through the little peephole, he saw Calendar's cab pelting doggedly in their rear--a hundred yards behind, no more, no less, hanging on with indomitable grit and determination.

By degrees they drew westwards, threading Pimlico, into Chelsea--once dashing briefly down the Grosvenor Road, the Thames a tawny flood beyond the river wall.

Children cheered them on, and policemen turned to stare, doubting whether they should interfere. Minutes rolled into tens, measuring out an hour; and still they hammered on, hunted and hunters, playing their game of hare-and-hounds through the highways and byways of those staid and aged quarters.

In the leading cab there were few words spoken. Kirkwood and Dorothy alike sat spellbound with the fascination of the game; if it is conceivable that the fox enjoys his part in the day's sport, then they were enjoying themselves. Now one spoke, now another--chiefly in the clipped phraseology, of excitement. As--

"We're gaining?"

"Yes--think so."

Or, "We'll tire them out?"

"Sure-ly."

"They can't catch us, can they, Philip?"

"Never in the world."

But he spoke with a confidence that he himself did not feel, for hope as he would he could never see that the distance between the two had been materially lessened or increased. Their horses seemed most evenly matched.

The sun was very low behind the houses of the Surrey Side when Kirkwood became aware that their horse was flagging, though (as comparison determined) no more so than the one behind.

In grave concern the young man raised his hand, thrusting open the trap in the roof. Immediately the square of darkling sky was eclipsed by the cabby's face.

"Yessir?"

"You had better drive as directly as you can to the Hotel Pless," Kirkwood called up. "I'm afraid it's no use pushing your horse like this."

"I'm sure of it, sir. 'E's a good 'oss, 'e is, but 'e carn't keep goin' for hever, you know, sir."

"I know. You've done very well; you've done your best."

"Very good, sir. The Pless, you said, sir? Right."

The trap closed.

Two blocks farther, and their pace had so sensibly moderated that Kirkwood was genuinely alarmed. The pursuing cabby was lashing his animal without mercy, while, "It aren't no use my w'ippin' 'im, sir," dropped through the trap. "'E's doing orl 'e can."

"I understand."

Despondent recklessness tightened Kirkwood's lips and kindled an unpleasant light in his eyes. He touched his side pocket; Calendar's revolver was still there.... Dorothy should win away clear, if--if he swung for it.

He bent forward with the traveling bag in his hands.

"What are you going to do?" The girl's voice was very tremulous.

"Stand a chance, take a losing hazard. Can you run? You're not too tired?"

"I can run--perhaps not far--a little way, at least."

"And will you do as I say?"

Her eyes met his, unwavering, bespeaking her implicit faith.

"Promise!"

"I promise."

Chapter end

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