The Man Who Drove the Car
THE SILVER WEDDING
Yes, I shall never forget "Benny," and I shall never forget his beautiful red hair. Gentlemen, I have driven for many ... and the other sort, but "Benny" was neither the one nor the other—not a man, but a tribe ... not a Jew nor yet a Christian, but just something you meet every day and all days—a big, blundering heap of good-nature, which quarrels with one half the world and takes Bass's beer with the other. That was Benjamin Colmacher—"Benny" for short—that was the master I want to tell you about.
I was out of a job at the time, and had picked up an endorsement at Hayward's Heath and left a matter of six pounds there for the justices to get busy with. Time is money, they say, and I have found it to be so ... generally five pounds and costs, though more if you take a quantity. It isn't easy for a good man with a road mechanic's knowledge and five years' experience, racing and otherwise, to place himself nowadays, when any groom can get made a slap-bang "shuffer" for five pounds at a murder-shop, and any old coachman is young enough to put his guv'nor in the ditch. My knowledge and my experience had gone begging for exactly three months when I heard of Benny, and hurried round to his flat off Russell Square, "just the chap for you," they said at the garage. I thought so, too, when I saw him.
It was a fine flat, upon my word, and filled up with enough fal-de-lals to please a duchess from the Gaiety. Benny himself, his red hair combed flat on his head and oiled like a missing commutator, wore a Japanese silk dressing-gown which would have fired a steam car. His breakfast, I observed, consisted of one brandy-and-soda and a bunch of grapes; but the cigar he offered me was as long as a policeman's boot, and the fellow to it stuck out of a mouth as full of fine white teeth as a pod of peas.
"Good-morning," says he, nodding affably enough; and then, "You are Lionel Britten, I suppose?"
"Yes," says I—for no road mechanic who respects himself is going to "sir" such as Benny Colmacher to begin with—"that's my name, though my friends call me Lal for short. You're wanting a driver, I hear."
He sat himself in a great armchair and looked me up and down as a vet looks at a horse.
"I do want a driver," says he, "though how you got to know it, the Lord knows."
"Why," says I, "that's funny, isn't it? We're both wanting the same thing, for I can see you're just the gentleman I would like to take on with."
He smiled at this, and seemed to be thinking about it. Presently he asked a plain question. I answered him as shortly.
"Where did you hear of me?" he asked.
"At Blundell's garage," I answered.
"And I was buying a car?"
"Yes, a fifty-seven Daimler ... that was the talk."
"Could you drive a car like that?"
"Could I—oh, my godfathers——"
"Then you have handled fast cars?"
"I drove with Fournier in the Paris-Bordeaux, was through the Florio for the Fiat people, and have driven the big Delahaye just upon a hundred and three miles an hour. Read my papers, sir ... they'll show you what I've done."
I put a bundle into his hand, and he read a few words of them. When next he looked at me, there was something in his eyes which surprised me considerably. Some would have called it cunning, some curiosity; I didn't know what to make of it.
"Why would you like to drive for me?" he asked presently.
"Because," said I, quickly enough, "it's plain that you're a gentleman anybody would like to drive for."
"But you don't know anything at all about me."
"That's just it, sir. The nicest people are those we don't know anything at all about."
He laughed loudly at this, and helped himself to the brandy-and-soda, but didn't drink over-much of it. I could see that he was much relieved, and he spoke afterwards with more freedom.
"You're one that knows how to hold his tongue?" he suggested. I rejoined that, so far as tongues went, I had mine in a four-inch vice.
"Especially where the ladies are concerned?"
"I'd sooner talk to them than about them, sir."
"That's right, that's right. Don't take the maid when you can get the mistress, eh?"
"Take 'em both for choice, that's my motto."
"You're not married, Britten?"
"No such misfortune has overtaken me, sir."
"Ha!"—here he leered just like an actor at the Vic—"and you don't mind driving at night?"
"I much prefer it, sir."
He leered again, and seemed mightily pleased. A few more questions put and answered found me with that job right enough ... and a right good job, too, as things are nowadays. I was to have four pounds a week and liveries. Such a mug as "Benny" Colmacher would not be the man to ask about tyres and petrol, and if he did, I knew how to fill up his tanks for him. Be sure I went away on my top speed and ate a better lunch than had come my way for six months or more. Who the man was, or what he was, I didn't care a dump. I had got the job, and to-morrow I would get up in the driver's seat of a car again. You can't wonder I was pleased.
I slept well that night, and was round at Benny's early on the following morning. If I had been surprised at my good luck yesterday, surprise was no word for what I felt when the valet opened the door to me and told me that Mr. Colmacher was in the country and wouldn't be back for a month. Not a word had been said about this, mind you—not a hint at it; and yet the stiff and starched gentleman could tell me the news just as coolly as though he had said, "My master has gone across the street to see a friend." When I asked him if there was no message for me, he answered simply, "None."
"He didn't give no instructions about the car?"
"The car is at the yard being repaired."
"But I was engaged to drive her——"
"You will drive Mr. Colmacher when he returns."
"And my wages——?"
"Oh, those will be paid. This is a place where they know what is due to us."
"And I am to do nothing meanwhile?"
"If you have nothing to do, by all means."
It was an odd thing to hear, to be sure, and you can well understand my hesitation as I stood there on the landing and watched that stiff and starched valet, who might have just come out of a tailor's shop. Gentlemen are not usually reserved between themselves, but this fellow beat me altogether, and I liked him but little. Such a "don't-touch-me-or-I-shall-vanish" manner you don't come across often even in Park Lane, and I soon saw that whatever else happened, Joseph, the valet, as they called him, and Lal Britten, the "shuffer," were never going to the North Pole together.
"If it's doing nothing," said I at last, "Mr. Colmacher won't have cause to complain of his driver. Am I to call again, or will he send for me?"
"He will send for you, unless you like to see Mr. Walter in the meantime?"
I looked up at this. There had been no "Mr. Walter" in the business before.
"Mr. Walter—and who may Mr. Walter be?"
"He is Mr. Colmacher's son."
"Then I will see him just as soon as you like."
He nodded his head and invited me in. Presently I found myself in a fine bedroom on the far side of the flat, and what was my astonishment to discover Mr. Walter himself in bed with a big cut across his forehead and his right arm in a sling. He was a lean, pale youth, but with as cadaverous a face as I have ever looked upon; and when he spoke his voice appeared to come from the back of his head.
"You are the new driver my father has engaged?"
"Yes, sir, I am the same."
"I hope you understand powerful cars. Did my father tell you that ours is a steam car?"
"He talked about a fifty-seven Daimler, sir."
"But you have had experience with steam cars——"
"How did you know that, sir?"
He smiled softly.
"We have made inquiries—naturally, we should do so."
"Then you have not been misinformed. I drove a thirty-horse White three months last year."
"Ah, the same car that we drive. Unfortunately, I cannot help my father just now, for I have met with an accident—in the hunting field."
I jibbed at this. Motor-men don't know much about the hunting field, as a rule, but I wasn't such a ninny that I supposed men hunted in July.
"Hunting, did you say, sir?"
"That is, trying a horse for the hunting season. Well, you may go now. Leave your address with Joseph. My father will send for you when he returns, and meanwhile you are at liberty."
I thanked him and went off. Oddly enough, this fellow pleased me no more than the valet. His smile was ugly, his scowl uglier still—especially when I made that remark about the hunting field. "Better have held your tongue, Lal, my boy," said I to myself; and resolving to hold it for the future, I went to my own diggings and heard no more of the Colmachers, father or son, for exactly twenty-one days. The morning of the twenty-second found me at the flat again. "Benny" Colmacher had returned, and remembered that he had paid me three weeks' wages.
Now this was the middle of the month of August, and "Benny" certainly was dressed for country wear. A dot-and-go-one suit of dittoes went for best, so to speak, with his curly red hair, and got the better of it by a long way. He had a white rose in his button-hole, and his manner was as smooth as Vacuum B from a nice clean can. He had just breakfasted off his usual brandy-and-soda and dry toast when I came in; and the big cigar did sentry-go across his mouth all the time he talked to me.
"Come in, come in, Britten," he cried pompously, when I appeared. "You like your place, I hope—you don't find the work too hard?"
"That's so—sir—a very nice sort of place this for a delicate young man like myself."
"Ah, but we are going to be a little busier. Has Mr. Walter shown you the car?"
"No, sir, not yet. I hear she is a White steamer, though."
"Yes, yes; I like steam cars; they don't shake me up. When a man weighs fifteen stun, he doesn't like to be shaken up, Britten—not good for his digestion, eh? Well, you go down to the Bedford Mews, No. 23B, and tell me if you can get the thing going by ten o'clock to-morrow—as far as Watford, Britten. That's the place, Watford. I've something on down there—something very important. Upon my soul, I don't know why I shouldn't tell you. It's about a lady, Britten—ha, ha!—about a lady."
Well, he grinned all over his face just like the laughing gorilla at the Zoo, and went on grinning for a matter of two minutes or more. Such a laugh caught you whether you would or no; and while I didn't care two-pence about his business, and less about the lady, yet here I was laughing as loudly as he, and seemingly just as pleased.
"Is it a young lady?" I ventured to ask presently. But he stopped laughing at that, and looked mighty serious.
"You mustn't question me, my lad," he said, a bit proudly. "I like my servants to be in my confidence, but they must not beg it. We are going down to Watford—that is enough for you. Get the car ready as soon as possible, and let me know at once if there is anything the matter with her."
I promised to do so, and went round to the mews immediately. "Benny" seemed to me just a good-natured lovesick old fool, who had got hold of some new girl in the country and was going off to spoon her. The car I found to be one of the latest forty White's in tip-top trim. She steamed at once, and when I had put a new heater in, there was nothing more to be done to her, except to wash her down, a thing no self-respecting mechanic will ever do if he can get another to take the job on for him. So I hired a loafer who was hanging about the mews, and set him to the work while I read the papers and smoked a cigarette.
He was a playful little cuss to be sure, one of those "ne'er-grow-ups" you meet about stables, and ready enough to gossip when I gave him the chance.
"He's a wonder, is Colmacher," he remarked as he splashed and hissed about the wheels. "Takes his car out half a dozen times in as many hours, and then never rides in her for three months. You would be engaged in place of Mr. Walter, I suppose. They say he's gone to America, though I don't rightly know whether that's true or not."
I answered him without looking up from my paper.
"Who says he's in America?"
"Why, the servants say it. Ellen the housemaid and me—but that ain't for the newspapers. So Mr. Walter's home, is he? Well, he do walk about, to be sure, and him not left for New York ten days ago."
"You seem to be angry about it, my boy."
"Well no, it ain't nothing to me, to be sure, though I must say as Benny's one after my own heart. The girls he do know, and mostly after 'em when the sun's gone down. Would it be the young lady at Bristol this time, or another? He wus took right bad down in Wiltshire larst time I heard of 'im, but perhaps he's cured hisself drinking of the waters. Anyway, it ain't nothing to me, for I'm off to Margate to-morrow."
He waited for me to speak, but seeing that I was bent on reading my paper, made no further remark until his job was done. When next I saw him it was at eleven o'clock on the following day, just as I was driving the car round to "Benny's" to take the old boy down to Watford as he wished. Jumping on the step, the lad put a funny question:
"You're a good sort," he said. "Will you forward this bit of a telegram to me from any place you chance to stop at to-night?"
"Why, what's up now?" I asked.
"Nothing much, but my old uncle won't let me go, and I want to take Ellen to Margate for the day. This telegram says mother's ill and wants me. Will you send it through and put in the name of the place where you stop to-night?"
I said that I would, and sticking the sixpence inside my glove and the form into my pocket, I thought no more about it, and drove straight away to Benny's. The old boy was dressed fit to marry the whole Gaiety ballet, white frock suit, white hat, and a rose as big as a full-blown tomato in his button-hole. To the valet he gave his directions in a voice that could have been heard half down the street. He was going to Watford, and would return in a week.
"Mind," he cried, "I'm staying at the King's Arms, and you can send my letters down there." Then he waved his hand to me, and we set off. The road to Watford via Edgware is traps from end to end, and, well as the White was going, I did not dare to let her out. It was just after half-past eleven when we left town, and about a quarter to one when we dropped down the hill into Watford town. Here "Benny" leant over and spoke to me.
"Shan't lunch here," he cried, as though the idea had come to him suddenly; "get on to St. Albans or to Hatfield if you like. The Red Lion will do me—drive on there and don't hurry."
I made no answer, but drove quietly through the town, and so by the old high road to St. Albans and thence to Hatfield. Truth to tell, the car interested me far more than old Benny or his plans. She was steaming beautifully, and I had six hundred pounds' pressure all the time. While that was so I didn't care the turn of a nut whether old Benny lunched at Watford or at Edinburgh, and as for his adventure with the girl—well, you couldn't expect me to go talking about another man's good luck. In fact, I had forgotten all about it long before we were at Hatfield, and when we had lunched and the old chap suddenly remembered that he would like to spend the night at Newmarket, I was not so surprised—for this is the motorist's habit all the world over, and there's the wonder of the motor-car, that, whether you wish to sleep where you are or a hundred miles distant, she'll do the business for you and make no complaint about it.
Perhaps you will say that I ought to have been surprised, ought to have guessed that this man was up to no good and turned back to the nearest police station. It's easy to be a prophet after the event; and between what a man ought to do and what he does do on any given occasion, there is often a pretty considerable margin when it comes to the facts. I drove Benny willingly, not thinking anything at all about the matter. When he stopped in the town of Royston and said he would take a cup of tea with a cork to it, I thought it just the sort of thing such a man would do. And I was ready myself for a cigarette and a stroll round—for sitting all that time in the car makes a man's legs stiff, and no mistake about it. But I wasn't away more than ten minutes, and when I got back to the hotel "Benny" was already fuming at the door.
"Where have you been to?" he asked in a voice unlike his own—the voice of a man who knows "what's what" and will see that he gets it. "Why weren't you with the car?"
"Been to the telegraph office," said I quietly, for no bluster is going to unship me—not much.
"Telegraph office!" and here his face went white as a sheet, "what the devil did you go there for?"
"What people usually go for, sir—to send a telegram."
We looked each other full in the face for a moment, and I could see he was sorry he had spoken.
"I suppose you wanted to let your friends know," he put it to me. I said it was just that—for such was the shortest way out of it.
"Then get the car out at once and keep to the Newmarket Road. I shall sleep at the Randolph Arms to-night."
I made no answer and we got away again. But, for all that, I thought a lot, and all the time the White was flying along that fine bit of road, I was asking myself why Benny turned pale when he heard I had sent a telegram. Was this business with the girl, then, something which might bring trouble on us both? Was he the man he represented himself to be? Those were the questions I could not answer, and they were still in my head when we reached the village of Whittlesford and Benny suddenly ordered me to stop.
"This looks a likely inn," he said, pointing to a pretty little house on the right-hand side of the road; "I think we might stop the night here, lad. They'll give us a good bed and a good glass of whisky, anyway, and what does a man want more? Run the car into the yard and wait while I talk to them. You won't die if we don't get to Newmarket to-night, I suppose?"
I said that it was all one to me, and put the car into the yard. The inn was a beauty, and I liked the look of it. Perhaps Benny's new manner disarmed me; he was as mild as milk just then, and as affable as a commercial with a sample in his bag. When he appeared again he had the landlord with him, and he told me he was going to stop.
"Get a good dinner into you, lad, and then come and talk to me," he said, putting a great paw on my shoulder, and leering apishly. "We mayn't go to bed to-night, after all, for, to tell you the truth, I don't like the colour of their sheets. You wouldn't mind sitting up, I daresay, not supposing—well, that there was a ten-pound note hanging to it?"
I opened my eyes at this.
"A ten-pound note, sir?"
"Yes, for robbing you of your bed. Didn't you tell me you were a wonder at night driving. Well, I want to see what stuff you're made of."
I did not answer him, and, after talking a lot about my cleverness and the way the car had run, he went in and had his dinner. What to make of him or his proposal I knew no more than the dead. Certainly he had done nothing which gave me any title to judge him, and a man with a job to serve isn't over-ready to be nice about his masters, whatever their doings. I came to the conclusion that he was just a dotty old boy who had gone crazy over some girl, and that he was driving out by night to see her. All the talk about Watford and his letters was so much jibarree and not meant for home consumption; but, in any case, it was no affair of mine, nor could I be held responsible for what he did or what he left undone.
This was the wisest view to take, and it helped me out afterwards. He made a good dinner, they told me, and drank a fine bottle of port, kept in the cellars of the house from the old days when gentlemen drove themselves to Newmarket, and didn't spare the liquor by the way. It was half-past ten when I saw him again, and then he had one of the roly-poly cigars in his mouth and the ten-pound note in his hand.
"Britten," he said quite plain, "you know why I've come down here?"
"I think so, sir."
"Chercher les femmes, as they say in Boolong—I'm down here to meet the girl I'm going to marry."
"Hope you'll find her well, sir."
"Ah, that's just it. I shan't find her well if her old father can help it. Damn him, he's nearly killed her with his oaths and swearing these last two months. But it's going to stop, Britten, and stop to-night. She's waiting for this car over at Fawley Hill, which isn't half a mile from this very door."
He came a step nearer and thrust the ten-pound note under my very nose. "It's Lord Hailsham's place—straight up the hill to the right and on to the high road from Bishop's Stortford. There's a party for a silver wedding, and Miss Davenport is staying there with her father and mother. Bring her to this house and I'll give you fifty pounds. There's ten as earnest money. She's over age and can do what she likes—and it's no responsibility of yours, anyway."
I took the note in my hand and put a question.
"Do I drive to the front door—I'm thinking not?"
"You drive to the edge of the spinney which you'll find directly you turn the corner. Wait there until Miss Davenport comes. Then drive her straight here and your money is earned. I'll answer for the rest and she shall answer for herself."
I nodded my head, and, folding up the note, I put it in my pocket. The night was clear when I drove away from the inn, but there was some mist in the fields and a goodish bit about the spinney they had pointed out to me. A child could have found the road, however, for it was just the highway to Newmarket; and when I had cruised along it a couple of hundred yards, to the very gates of Lord Hailsham's house, I turned about and stood off at the spinney's edge, perhaps three hundred yards away. Then I just lighted a cigarette and waited, as I had been told to do.
It was a funny job, upon my word. Sometimes I laughed when I thought about it; sometimes I had a bit of a shiver down my back, the sort of thing which comes to a man who's engaged in a rum affair, and may not come well out of it. As for the party Lord Hailsham was giving, there could be no doubt about that. I had seen the whole house lighted up from attic to kitchen, and some of the lights were still glistening between the pollards in the spinny; while the stables themselves seemed alive with coachmen, carriages, and motor-cars. The road itself was the only secluded spot you could have pointed out for the third of a mile about—but that was without a living thing upon it, and nothing but a postman's cart passed me for an hour or more.
I should have told you that I had turned the car and that she now stood with her headlights towards home. The mists made the night very cold, and I was glad to wrap myself up in one of the guvnor's rugs and smoke a packet of cigarettes while I waited. From time to time I could hear the music of fiddles, and they came with an odd echo, just as though some merry tune of long ago chided me for being there all alone. When they ceased I must have dropped asleep, for the next thing I knew was that some one was busy about the car and that my head-lamps had both gone out. Be sure I jumped up like a shot at this, and "Hallo," cried I, "what the devil do you think you are doing?" Then I saw my mistake. The new-comer was a girl, one of the maids of the house, it appeared, and she was stowing luggage into the car.
"Oh," says I, "then Miss Davenport is coming, is she?"
The girl went on with her work, hardly looking at me. When she did speak I thought her voice sounded very odd; and instead of answering me she asked a question:
"Do you know the road to Colchester?"
"You take the first to the left when we leave here—then go right ahead until I tell you to stop. Understand, whatever happens you are to get ahead as fast as you can. The rest is with——"
He came to an abrupt halt, and no wonder. If you had given me ten thousand pounds to have kept my tongue still, I would have lost the money that instant. For who do you think the maid was? Why, no other than the starchy valet, Joseph, I had seen at Mr. Colmacher's flat.
"Up you get, my boy," he cried, throwing all disguise to the winds, "Don't you hear that noise? They have discovered Miss Davenport is going and the job's off. We'll tell Benny in the morning—the thing to do to-night is to show them our heels and sharp about it."
He bade me listen, and I heard the ringing of an alarm bell, the barking of hounds, and then the sound of many voices. Some suspicion, ay, more than that, a pretty shrewd guess at the truth was possible then, and I would have laid any man ten pounds to nothing that "love" was not much in this business, whatever the real nature of it might be. For that matter, the fellow had hardly got the words out of his mouth when the glitter of something bright he had dropped on the ground, caused me to stoop and to pick up a gold watch bracelet set in diamonds. The same instant I heard a man running on the road behind me, and who should come up but the very "ne'er-do-well" who helped me to wash down my car but yesterday morning.
"Hold that man!" he cried, throwing himself at the valet. "He's Marchant, the Yankee hotel robber—hold him in the King's name—I'm a police officer, and I have a warrant."
Now, this was something if you like, and I don't think any one is going to wonder either at my surprise, or at the hesitation which overtook me. To find myself, in this way, confronted by two men who had seemed so different from what they were, and that not twenty-four hours ago; to discover one of them disguised as a woman and the other saying he was a police officer—well, do you blame me for standing there with my mouth wide open, and my eyes staring with the surprise of it? Pity I did so, all the same, for the "ne'er-do-well" was on the floor next moment, and it didn't need a second look to tell me that it would be a long time before he got up again.
I shall never forget if I live a hundred years (which would be pretty lucky for a man who thinks less than nothing of speed limits and is known to all the justices in Sussex), I shall never forget the way that valet turned on poor Kennaway (for that was the detective's name) and laid him flat on the grass. Such a snarl of rage I never heard. The man seemed transformed in an instant from a silent, reserved, taciturn servant to a very maniac, fighting with teeth and claw, cursing and swearing horribly, and as strong as a gorilla.
Again and again he struck at his victim, the heavy blows sounding like the thud of iron upon a carpet; and long before I got my wits back and leaped to Kennaway's assistance, that poor fellow was insensible and moaning upon the grass at the roadside. The next thing that I knew about it was that I had a revolver as close to my forehead as a revolver will ever be, and that the man Joseph was pushing me toward the car, the while he said something to which I must listen if I would save my life.
"Get up, you fool," he cried. "Do you want me to treat you as I've treated him? Get up, or by the Lord I'll blow your brains out!"
Well, judge me for it how you will, but I obeyed him as any child. What I had tried to do for poor Kennaway was shown by the cut across my forehead, which I shall carry to my dying day. Such strength and such temper I have never known in any man, and they frightened me beyond all words to tell you. There are human beings and human animals, and this fellow was of the latter sort. No raving maniac could have done worse to any fellow creature; and when I got up to the driver's seat and started the engine, my hands trembled so that I could hardly keep them on the wheel.
We jumped away, a roar of voices behind us and the alarm bell of the house still ringing. What was in my head was chiefly this, that I was going out upon the road with this madman for a companion, and that sooner or later he would make an end of me. Judge of my position, knowing, as I did, that a murderer sat in the tonneau behind, and that he held a revolver at full cock in his hand. My God! it was an awful journey, the most awful I shall ever make.
He would kill me when it suited him to do it. I was as sure of it as of my own existence. In one mile or twenty, here in the lanes of Cambridgeshire, or over yonder when we drew near to the sea, this madman would do the business. More fearful than any danger a man can face was this peril at the back of me. I listened for a word or sound from him; I tried to look behind me and see what he was doing. He never made a movement, and for miles we roared along that silent road, through the mists and the darkness to the unknown goal—a murderer and his victim, as I surely believed myself to be.
There is many a man who has the nerve for a sudden call, but few who can stand a trial long sustained. All that I can tell you of what fear is like, the fear of swift death, and of the pain and torture of it, would convey nothing to you of my sensations during that mad drive. Sometimes I could almost have wished that he would make an end of it then and there, shooting me in mercy where I sat, and sparing me the agony of uncertainty. But mile after mile we went without a sound from him; and when, in sheer despair, I slowed down and asked him a direction, he was on me like a tiger, and I must race again for very life. Through Haverhill, thence to Sibil Ingham and Halstead—ay, until the very spires of Colchester stood out in the dawn light, that race went on. And I began to say that he might spare me after all, that I was necessary to him, and that his destination was Harwich and the morning steamer to Holland. Fool! it was then he fired at me, then that the end came.
I thought that I heard him move; some instinct—for there is an instinct in these things, let others say what they please—caused me to turn half about, and detect him standing in the tonneau. No time for prudence then, no time for resolution or anything but that fear of death which paralyses the limbs and seems to still the very heart. With a cry that was awful to hear, he fired his pistol, and I heard the report of it as thunder in my ear, the while the powder burned my face as the touch of red-hot iron. But a second shot he never fired. A sudden lurch, as I let go the wheel, sent the car bounding on to the grass at the road-side, threw the murderer off his balance and hurled him backwards. There was a tremendous crash, I found myself beneath the tonneau, and then, as it seemed, on the top of it again. At last I went rolling over and over on to the grass, and lay there, God knows how long, in very awe and terror of all that had overtaken me.
But the valet himself was stone dead, caught by the neck as the car went over and crushed almost beyond recognition. And that was the judgment upon him, as I shall believe to my life's end.
They never caught old "Benny," not for that job, at any rate. He turned out to be the head of a swindling crew, known in America and Paris as the "Red Poll" gang, because of his beautiful sandy hair. He must have been wanted for fifty jobs in Europe, and as many on the other side. As for his supposed son, Mr. Walter, and the valet Marchant, they were but two of the company. And why they came to engage me was because of a motor accident to the man Walter, which put him out of the running when the burglary job at Lord Hailsham's was to be undertaken.
Kennaway, the detective, was three months in hospital after his little lot. It was clever of him to make me post a telegram on the road, for, directly he got it, he wired to the Chief Constable at Cambridge, and came on himself by train. The local police furnished a list of all the house-parties being held about Royston that week-end, and, of course, as Lord Hailsham was celebrating his silver wedding, it didn't need much wit to send Kennaway there; the valet, meanwhile, being already in the house, disguised as a maid.
We were to have had a bit of a silver wedding ourselves, it appears, for I doubt not "Benny" would have led all the silver, to say nothing of the gold and precious stones, to the altar as soon as possible. But the best laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley, as do motor-cars when the man who's driving them has a pistol at his head.