The Man Who Drove the Car
THE LADY WHO LOOKED ON
I wonder how many nowadays remember that pretty bit of goods, Maisa Hubbard, who used to drive the racing cars in France, and was the particular fancy of half the motormen who drive on the other side of the blue water.
I first met her at the Gordon Bennett of 1901, and I must say I thought her "sample goods." It's true that many would have it she was over-well-known in America, and more than one young man got on the rocks because of her; but the world rather likes a bit of scandal about a pretty woman, and there's no shorter road to the masculine favour.
Anyway, Maisa Hubbard was popular enough down at Bordeaux, and you might still have called her the belle of the ball on June 26 in the year 1902, when we started from Champigny for the great race across the Arlberg Mountains. That was the occasion, you will remember, when two of our little company did something by way of a record in smashing up their cars—but the story of one of these, Max, who drove for a French company, has so often been told that I shall certainly not re-tell it here. The other is a different story, and since it is the story of a good man, a good car, and a pretty woman, there's no reason why Lal Britten should not put his pen to it.
Well, I was driving for an English company at that time, the Vezey they called themselves, though Wheezy would have been the better name. Such a box of tricks I do believe was never put upon a chassis before or since. It took two of us to start the engine in the morning, and the same number to persuade her to leave off firing at night. The works manager, Mr. Nathan, whose Christian name was Abraham, said that she'd done eighty miles an hour with him easily; but the only time I got her over fifty she broke her differential by way of an argument, and nothing but a soft place in a hayfield saved me from the hospital. All of which, of course, was good advertisement for the firm—and, truly, if it came to making a noise in the world, why, you could hear their car a good quarter of a mile away.
This was the flier I took over to France and tried to break in upon the fine roads we all know so well. As I finished the race almost before I began it, the less said about the affair the better—but I shall never forget that Paris to Vienna meeting, and I shall never forget it because of my friend Ferdinand, [ 1 ] one of the best and bravest who ever turned a wheel, and the right winner of that great prize, but for the woman who said "No," and said it so queerly and to such effect that a magician out of the story-books couldn't have done it better.
I liked Ferdinand, liked him from the start. A better figure of a man I shall never see; six feet to an inch, square set and wonderfully muscular. His hair was dark and ridiculously curly, so much so that talk of the "irons and brown paper" was the standing joke amongst the racing men in Paris, who knew no more of him than that he was an Italian by birth and had spent half his life in America. For the rest, he spoke English as well as I did, and I never knew whether Ferdinand was his real name, or one he took for the racecourse—nor did I care.
They say that there is no cloud without a silver lining—a poor consolation in a thunderstorm when your hood is at home and the nearest tree is three miles away. There had been a thunderstorm, I remember, on the morning I met poor Ferdinand, and my batteries had refused to hand out another volt, notwithstanding the plainest kind of speech in which I could address them. Just in the middle of it, when the rain was running in at the neck and out at the ankles, and I was asking myself why I wasn't a footman in yellow plush breeches, what should happen but that a great red car came loping up on the horizon, like some mad thing answering to the lightning's call—and no sooner was it a mile distant than it was by me, so to speak, and I was listening to my friend Ferdinand for the first time.
"Halloa, and what's taken your fancy in these parts?" he asked in a cheery voice. I told him as plainly.
"This musical box don't like the thunder," said I; "she's turned sour."
"Are you stopping here for the lady, or do you want to get back to Paris?"
"Oh," says I, "I haven't taken a lease of this particular furlong, if that's what you mean."
"Then I'll give you a tow," says he, and without another word, he got down from his seat and began to make a job of it. We were at Vendreux half an hour afterwards, and there we breakfasted together in the French fashion. That meal, I always say, was the luckiest friend Ferdinand ever ate.
He told me a lot about himself and a lot about his car; how he had been everything in America, from log-roller in the backwoods to cook in the Fifth Avenue palaces; how he met Herr Jornek, the designer of the Modena car, on a trip to St. John's to explore Grand River, and how he had come back to Europe to drive it in the big race. His luck, he said, had been out in New York because of a woman; to get far away from that particular lady was the inducement which carried him to Europe.
Here was something to awaken my curiosity, as you may well imagine, and I asked him all sorts of questions about the girl; but to no good purpose. His interest was in the car, one of the first made by the famous Herr Jornek, and called the Modena after the factory in that town. He told me it was unlike any car on the market, and that new features of gearbox, ignition, and engine design would certainly stamp it a winner if no bad luck overtook him. This persistent talk about misfortune set me wondering, and I fell to questioning him a little more closely about his story, and especially that part of it which concerned the woman.
"Who is the lady, and how did she interfere with you?" I asked. He would say no more than that he had known her by half a dozen names over in America, and that she was formerly a dancer at the old Casino Theatre in New York.
"She's done everything," he said: "gone up in balloons, ridden horses astride at Maddison Square Gardens, played the cowboys' show with Buffalo Bill, and sailed an iceboat on the Great Lakes. Whenever she's out to win I'm out to lose. Make what you like of it, it's Gospel truth. As certain as I'm up for one of the big prizes of my life, the girl's there to thwart me. If I were what my schoolmaster used to call a fatalist, I'd say she was the evil prophetess who used to play ducks and drakes with the soldier boys at Athens. But I don't believe anything of the sort—I say it's just sheer bad luck, and that woman stands for the figure of it."
I was troubled to hear him, and put many more questions. How did the girl thwart him? Was it just an idea, or had he something better to go upon? He did not know what to say; I could see it troubled him very much to speak of it.
"She puts it into my head that I shall lose, and lose I do," he said; "it's always been the same, and always will be. When I rode that great leaping horse, Desmond, and put him over the fences, she was in the arena with a bronco, and she just looked up to me as sweetly as a child, and said, "Ferdy, your horse is going to fall next time," and fall, sure enough, he did, and laid me on my bed for more than a month. After that I rode the bicycle match against the Frenchman, Devereux, and there she was, dressed like a picture amongst the crowd, and smiling like an angel in the Spanish churches. When I nodded to her she called me back a moment, and just put in her pretty word.
"Ferdy," she said, "that Frenchman can't ride straight; he's going to run into you, Ferdy." Will you believe it, we cannoned together at the last corner, and I was thrown so badly that although he walked his machine in I couldn't beat him."
He was serious enough about it all, and I must say that his talk put some queer ideas into my head. I've never been a believer over-much in luck myself, holding that we make it or mar it for ourselves, and that what some call misfortune is nothing more or less than misdoing; but here was a tale to make a man think, and think I did while he ate his breakfast and went on to speak of his car almost as lovingly as a man speaks of the new girl he met for the first time yesterday. Just as we were leaving the hotel and he was getting back to his doleful manner a bit, I put in my word and I could see that he took it well enough.
"All said and done," said I, "there's a little matter of three thousand miles between you and the lady just at present. Whatever may have happened over yonder is hardly likely to happen in La Belle France, look at it how you like. You should think no more about it, Ferdinand. You're to win this great race, and win it you certainly will if I'm a judge. Why, then, think about a woman at all?"
"Because," he replied, and he was as grave as a judge at the moment, "because I must; I've been thinking of her ever since I picked you up. It's queer, Britten, but I do believe you're going to bring me luck, and that's as true as Gospel."
"And true it shall be," said I, "if good wishes can do it, my boy. Let's go and get the cars. My box of tricks will be melted down if I leave it in the sun any longer. Let's get back to Paris and have some fun; I'm sure that's what you're wanting."
He did not object; and the storm having passed, and my coil behaving itself properly now that the damp was off the contacts, we jogged along the road to Paris in company with many who were returning from their morning practice, and just a few amateurs out to see the fun. We had gone a mile, I suppose, when we met a girl driving one of the De Dion motor tricycles, and no sooner had I seen her than she went by with a flash and a nod; and I knew her for little Maisa Hubbard, of whom the town had been talking for three days past. Then I ran my car alongside Ferdinand's just to make a remark about it—but, will you believe me?—he was as pale as a sheet, and his eyes were staring right into vacancy, as though a ghost stood in his path, and he didn't know how to get by it.
"Why," cried I, "and what's up now?"
He brought himself to with an effort, closed his hand about the wheel, and then answered me:
"That's the girl, right enough," he said; "you saw her for yourself."
"Oh, look here, I can't take that. Don't you know Maisa Hubbard, who drove the big Panhard last autumn?"
"I know Maisa Hubbard who used to dance at the Casino Theatre in New York, and she's the same. Didn't I tell you she'd follow me to France?"
"You told me a lot of things," I retorted; "perhaps you dreamed some of them."
"Perhaps I did," he answered, and then I was sorry I had spoken, for his face was as sad as a woman's in sorrow, and just as pitiful.
"You want cheering up, my boy," said I; "wait till we get back to Paris, and I'll take you in hand myself. It's over-driving that's done it; I've known the kind of thing, and can understand what you feel; but you wait a bit, and then we'll see. Didn't you say I was going to bring you luck?"
"I did, but not while Maisa Hubbard's in France. There's no man born could do it."
He was down enough about it, I must say, and a more melancholy driver never steered a car into Champigny—the place where the great race was to start from, and our destination for the time being. When we had done the necessary tuning up and had cleaned ourselves, I took Ferdinand back to Paris, and gave him a bit of dinner at a little restaurant near the Faubourg St.-Honoré.
When we had eaten five shillings' worth for three-and-sixpence, and drunk a good bottle of sour red wine apiece, I took him round to "Olympia," and there we saw the famous show they called the "Man in the Moon." This didn't cheer him up at all, and once during the evening he told me that he thought he'd soon be in the moon himself, or any place where they have a job for damaged racing drivers. This made me laugh at him, but laughing wasn't any good, and I had it in my mind to take him off to supper at a little place I knew on the Boulevards, when what should happen but that Maisa Hubbard appeared suddenly in the promenade where we stood, and immediately came up to him with such a smile as might have brought a saint out of a picture to say "Good evening" to her.
"Why, it's Ferdy!" she cried, "and he's trying to turn his back on me. Oh, my dear boy, whatever do you look like that for?"
He shook hands with her quite civilly, and made some excuse about the show and his not feeling very funny about it. She had another girl with her, and her brother, Jerome Hubbard, the "whip" who used to drive with Mr. Fownes. When I had been introduced, she asked me to come to supper at a place I'd never heard of, and declared that her brother would have a fit if we didn't disburse some of his savings immediately. The little girl who was with her (I shan't write her name down) was a lively bit of goods, and I was ready enough to go if only to cheer up "Ferdy," who, to be sure, had become a different man already, and was talking and laughing with Maisa just as though they had been first "cousins" for a twelvemonth or more. In the end we ate Mr. Jerome's supper, and got back to our little beds at two in the morning: not an over-good preparation for a great race, as any driver will admit; but my friend seemed himself again, and I would have eaten half a dozen suppers to bring that about.
This was two days before the meeting, I should tell you, and I saw little of Ferdinand until that memorable June morning, when, at half-past three precisely, Girardot got away on his C.G.V., and was followed two minutes later by Fournier on his Mors. I have taken part in many a big race since, but never one which excited me more than that famous dash from Paris to Vienna, which was to make the fortune of more than one English house, and to bring the Gordon Bennett Cup to England for the first time in the motor story.
I firmly believed my friend Ferdinand was to win the race, and presentiment goes farther in this world than many folks think. Such a dashing, daring driver I never saw. His car was a wonder. I took several trips with him before the race, and I do believe that we made eighty or ninety miles an hour upon her—a miracle for those days, though not thought so much of in this year 1909. What was more, he seemed to have forgotten all about that little devil of a Maisa Hubbard and her prophecies, and when we breakfasted together upon the morning of the start I would have said that he was fit to race for his life.
And what a start it was, notwithstanding the hour! What a roaring and racing of engines, cars tearing here and tearing there, gendarmes everywhere, men with silver on their heads and silver on their toes; jabbering officials telling you to do twenty things at once, and quarrelling because you did them. The enclosure itself was like the meat-market at Smithfield on a busy morning. I never heard so much noise in any one place before; and if there was a man, woman, or child who slept through it in the peaceful village of Champigny, well, he, she, or it ought to go into a museum.
Of course, all this was exciting enough, and I caught something of the fever when twenty soldiers pushed my old rattle-trap into the roadway, and a very fine gentleman gave the signal to "Go." Upon my word, I do believe there was just a moment when I thought I could get to Vienna before the others; and, letting my clutch in gently, and telling Billy, my mechanician, to make himself fast, I soon had her upon third speed, and was racing as fast as the bad road would let me towards Provins. This was a bumpy bit, to be sure, and if I had put her on the "fourth," some one would have had to sweep up the pieces quickly. But I kept her steady, though the great cars began to go by like roaring locomotives on a down incline, and really she was doing very well when the offside front tyre asked for a change of air, and we knew that it was No. 1, so far as punctures were concerned.
Well, this was twenty miles from Provins, upon a long and desolate stretch of a poor road, with a distant view of the hills and a couple of sleepy peasants out among the hay. We had been lucky with our draw, and started early in the list, and you can imagine my surprise when a car flashed into view and I recognised Ferdinand, who was almost the last to get off, and must have passed any number of cars to overtake us as he did. My word, and he was driving, too! His great machine frightened you to watch it, leaping over the bumps as it did, and threatening every moment to be flung sheer off the road into the hayfield on the other side of the dyke. But there was a master at the wheel, and with a cheery wave of the hand to us Ferdinand went by, and was lost immediately in a mighty cloud of dust which rose clear above the poplars.
I need hardly tell you how glad I was to see him doing so well, and how I laughed at all his foolish ideas about Maisa Hubbard. Win I felt he would, though all the ladies of the Casino ballet came out to tell him not to; and when old Dobbin, my own particular turn-out, condescended to move again, I pushed on for Belfort, no longer deluding myself that I was to be within a hundred miles of the winner, but hoping that I should get to Vienna in time to shake "Ferdy" by the hand and to tell him what a fool he had been.
If I didn't say this at Belfort, where Herr Jornek, the designer of the car, stood in between us and took Ferdy away for the evening to talk to him, it was well enough said at Brigenz. There a second halt was made; and although we turned in at an early hour, I had plenty of time to put the idea of winning into his head, and the idea of Maisa Hubbard out of it. All the world knows that we had to go through France, Switzerland, Germany, and Austria for that big race, and the Swiss part was slow enough, since no racing was allowed by the timid old gentlemen at the capital. Indeed, if there is one country in Europe a motorist does well to keep out of at any time, it is Switzerland. We simply rolled through the place on that particular journey, and at Brigenz my friend Ferdinand was high up in the list, none but De Knyff, Jarrott, and the Farmans being ahead of him. I told him that if he got over the Arlberg Mountains as his car ought to get, he was winner for a certainty. And that was the point we stuck to until it was time to turn into our little beds and dream about to-morrow.
"I hear that the devil himself might be frightened to drive across that pass at any speed," said I, "and there's your chance, Ferdy. You say it will be the making of you to win this race. Well, you give your mind to it, and don't shirk the risks, and you're as good as a winner already. There isn't a car in the bunch can hold you on the mountains, and you know it."
"You're right," said he, "and I wish I could say the same to you. But Lal, my boy, it isn't exactly a war-horse that you've got under you, and I can't say it is. I'm not frightened of the mountains, and can break my neck as well as most; don't think otherwise. If my luck holds, Lal Britten has fixed it up, and I shan't forget him when the shekels are paid out. You may think me a bit dotty, but this I will say, that I never felt so sure of myself or of the car as I do this night, and if confidence and a good engine won't win across the Arlberg, then we'll give it up, Lal, and take to perambulators."
"Not meaning any reference to the lady," said I; but his face clouded, and I wished I hadn't spoken.
"She's in Paris, and thank God for it," he exclaimed, rising to go up to bed; "if she were here in Brigenz to-night, I wouldn't give sixpence for my chances, and that's the whole truth. Now, let's go to by-by; if we don't, I'll be dreaming of her, and dreams won't win laurel-wreaths, as even you will admit."
I let him go, and followed some ten minutes later to my own room. It was just cussedness, I suppose, which kept me back, for, as I went across the corridor of the first floor of our hotel I heard a woman with a laugh which struck sparks off you; and turning round, there was Maisa Hubbard herself in a fine Paris gown and a great straw hat, with a pink feather in it large enough to decorate the Shah. She just gave a pleasant nod to me and then went downstairs, while I made for my bedroom, wondering what Ferdy would have said if he had seen her, and what real bad luck brought her to Brigenz at such a time.
Of course, she had come on by train. Lots of people did, to follow the racing; and here she was with a merry party, just as simple-looking and as guileless as a shepherdess at the Vic, and looking no older than a school-girl. When I got up at four next morning I was full of curiosity to know if Ferdy had seen her. But he was out at his car in the "control," cheerful enough as far as he himself was concerned, but mighty anxious about his mechanician, Down, who had broken his arm trying to start up the engine, and had already been taken to the hospital. A minute later I heard that our old wheezer wouldn't start at all, and there it was, as though a special Providence had ordered it.
"You can't move your own char-à-banc—the crank-shaft's broken," Ferdinand said to me, as he asked me for the tenth time to get up beside him; "I've got no one, and I'm going to win this race. If you could conjure up a new crankshaft out of nothing, you would still be three behind the last in, and all the town out to laugh at you. Get up, Lal, and have done with it. I tell you I knew it from the first."
Well, I stared at this: and having just a word with my mechanician Billy, and being quite sure that the Vezey, however good she was at going back on me, wouldn't go forward that day or for some days to come, I left instructions for telegrams to be sent to England, and was up beside Ferdinand without further ado.
I have told you that he stood already high in the list, and so you will understand that we hadn't long to wait for the word "Go!" Before that could be given, however, and while the car was still in the "control," who should come up to us but Maisa Hubbard herself; and, will you believe it, I felt all my confidence, both in man and car, oozing out of my finger-tips, just like water running out of a tap. How or why that should have been I am not the man to say; but there was the fact, that this pretty woman could work this magic upon me just by a look out of her sly eyes, and could do worse to my friend Ferdinand, as I plainly perceived. As for that poor chap, he turned as white as a ghost directly he saw her, and I really thought he would never be able to start the car at all.
"Oh, my dear boy, I have been looking for you everywhere," cried she, offering him a little bunch of red roses, just as though she loved him dearly. "Now, won't you take these for luck? I'm sure you'll want luck to-day, Ferdy. Do you know, I dreamed about you last night?"
He said "Yes," and laid the flowers on the seat beside him. I could see him licking his lips as though his mouth were dry, and presently he asked her a question.
"What did you dream, Maisa?"
She shook her head and began the play-actress style.
"Oh, I guess I wouldn't tell you, anyway."
"But I want to know, Maisa?"
"It was only a dream, of course—aren't they real sometimes, Ferdy? Why, I saw you drive your car over the side of the mountain, just as plainly as ever I saw anything in my life."
He laughed quietly, looking at me with a look I shall never forget.
"You're quite a wonder at dreaming, Maisa. Suppose I disappoint you this time?"
"Don't be foolish, Ferdy—you shouldn't have asked me to tell you. Why, you're too clever to be such a silly, and you know it. Good-bye and good luck. I shall see you in Vienna."
He just nodded his head and let in his clutch with such a bang that he nearly threw me over the dash. I could see that his nerve had gone to the winds with the woman's words, and if wishes could have repaid her, she'd have got something for her pains, I do assure you. As it was, I could do nothing but pretend to laugh at it, and that I did to the best of my ability.
"Dreams go by contraries," said I; "any child knows that."
"She didn't dream it at all," was his answer; "she said it out of spite."
"Why should she be spiteful——?"
"You ask the man and his master. She's out for another car to win, and will spoil my chances if she can."
"More fool you, then, to listen to her. Make up your mind to forget it. You can do it if you try."
"Ah," he said, and upon my word I was sorry for him, "that girl's going to be my ruin, Lal, as sure as we're on this car."
"You speak like a coward, Ferdy—didn't you say I brought you luck——"
"And you shall—I'll try to believe, Lal—I've thought it from the start. If it wasn't for her——"
"Oh, be d——d to her," said I; and that I really meant.
We were on the starting line as these words were spoken, and in two minutes we got the word to go, and the great Modena car rushed away like some giant bird upon the wing. This was the crucial stage of that famous race, when we had to climb the Arlberg Mountains and drop down to Innsbruck. It was the day which saw Edge the proud winner of the Gordon Bennett Cup, and the morning upon which Jarrott broke up his bedroom furniture to stiffen the frame of his 70-h.p. Panhard. Our car was not in for the Gordon Bennett, and our race did not finish at Innsbruck, but at far Vienna—that is, if we crossed the terrible Arlberg Mountains safely, and got down the other side with our heads still upon our shoulders. This depended upon my friend Ferdinand, the greatest driver that ever lived upon an ordinary day, but a mad devil that morning if ever there was one.
Oh! you could see it from the start. That woman's words had entered into his very soul, and he did not deny that he believed his hour had come. We were early away, and the two big cars ahead of us we caught almost in the first hour. When we came to the mountain we began to climb as though a magic wind was lifting us. Grand as the scene was, with the mighty mountains towering above us and the valley full of wonders spreading out below, I had eyes for nothing but the winding road, nor thoughts of any goal but that of distant Innsbruck, where the danger would be passed. Sometimes I wished that Ferdinand would change seats with me and let me drive. No woman that ever was born would frighten me, I thought, and yet I could not be sure even about that. The words that were spoken in the "control" went echoing in my head. "We were going over the mountain-side." Good God, if it were true!
The climb up the Arlberg Mountains is a wonderful thing, but I would have you know that it is child's play to the drop down on the other side. Imagine a series of fearful zigzags with a sheer wall of rock on one side, and on the other a precipice just as sheer, and so open and undefended that some fellows in this race were driven almost mad with terror at the bare sight of it. Luckily for me, I sat upon the left-hand side of the car and could see very little of what was going on; but I knew that our off-side front wheel was within two inches of the edge more than once as we went up; and when we passed over the top and began the descent I could have sworn that even Ferdinand himself had lost all hope of getting down safely.
Once, I remember, he gave a great cry, and shot the car over to the inside with such a twist that our wheels scraped the very rock; there were moments when he came to a stand altogether, and passed his hand over his eyes as though he could not see clearly. By here and there I thought he drove like a madman, swooping round a fearful corner with our wheels over the very chasm, or dashing down a straight as though nothing could save him at the bottom. If I called out at this and implored him not to be a fool, he answered back that "What was to be, would be"; and then he mentioned Maisa's name, and I knew he had not forgotten.
Well, as many know, the end came at that great dome of rock which looks for all the world like St. Paul's Cathedral. I confess that I should have been no wiser here than Ferdinand. We seemed to be following a gentle curve round the dome, with the rock upon our left hand, and the valley three thousand feet down upon our right. There was nothing to tell us of the danger trap; and, thinking he had a clear road, Ferdinand opened his throttle and we shot ahead like a shell from a gun. Less than a second afterwards I had made a wild leap from my seat—and Ferdinand, without a cry or a sound, had gone headlong to the valley below.
I suppose five good minutes must have passed before I knew anything at all, either of the nature of this awful accident or of the good luck which attended my leap. Lying there on my back, I became conscious presently that I was in a thick scrub of gorse, which lined the road hereabouts. It had caught me just as a spider's web catches a fly. I ached intolerably, that is true—my whole body seemed numbed, as though it had been hit with irons, while my leather clothes were torn to rags. But, by-and-by, it came to me that I could get up if I chose, and when I looked below me and saw the sheer precipice, and that nothing but a bush stood between me and it, you may be sure I scrambled back to the road quicker than a man counts two. And there I lay, trying to remember what had happened, and what my duty called upon me to do.
Ferdy and the car! Good God, what had happened to them? The sweat poured off me like rain when the truth came back. Ferdy was over there, down that awful precipice. Quaking in every limb, I dragged myself to the edge and looked over. Yes, I could see the car, looking like a little toy thing, far down in the valley. It lay wheels upwards, in what appeared to be a little brook or river; but of my comrade not a sign anywhere. In vain I shouted his name again and again. The cars began to pass me, and, warned by my presence, they took that awful corner safely; but not a man of their drivers guessed that a good fellow had gone over, and that I was half mad because of it. Away they went, with a nod and a shout, leaving that cold silence of the mountains behind them, and Lal Britten crying like a woman because they didn't stay. In the end I ceased to think of them at all, and, going to the brink again, I shouted "Ferdinand" until the hills rang.
He answered me—as I am a living man—Ferdinand answered me at last. At first I could believe so little in the truth of what I heard that I almost thought the mountains were mocking me and sending my voice back in echoes. Then I understood that it was not so at all, but that my friend really called to me from a place thirty or forty yards down the road, where the scrub was thicker. It was the spot where our tank and tool-box, cast ahead as the car swerved and went over, lay shattered on the rocks. These I hardly noticed at the moment; but, dashing to the place, I threw myself flat on my face and hung right over the precipice to answer my comrade. And then, in an instant I knew what had happened—then I understood.
The car, I say, had swerved away to the right as she took the precipice. The tremendous force of it not only sent all our loose impedimenta flying down the road, which turned to the left, but it threw Ferdinand sideways; and, although he had gone over, he fell, as the newspapers have told you, just where the sheer wall bulged; and here, holding for dear life to the shrubs, he waited for me to save him. Such a torture I have never known, or shall know again. The sight of my friend, not ten feet away from me, the precipice forbidding me to go down, for it was quite sheer at the top; his white face, his desperate hold at the scrappy shrubs—oh, you can't imagine or think of the truth of it as I had to upon that awful morning.
"How long can you hold on?" I asked him, clenching my teeth when I had spoken.
"Perhaps a minute, perhaps two. If you could get a rope, Lal——"
"I'll stop a car," said I—a madder thing was never said, but I had to say something—"I'll stop a car and make them help me. Perhaps my shirt will do it, Ferdy."
"Good-bye if it doesn't," he said quite quietly; and I knew then that he was prepared for death, and had expected it; but I was already busy with my shirt, tearing it up with twitching fingers, when he spoke again.
"Pity we haven't got the rope I towed you with the other day," he said suddenly; and at that I started up as though he had hit me.
"The rope—where did you carry it?"
"It was in the tool-box," he answered, still quite calm.
I think I shouted out at that—I know I was crying like a woman a minute afterwards. The tool-box! Why, it lay there, against the rock, before my very nose, the d——d fool! And the very rope which had first brought our friendship about: was it accident or destiny which put it into my hands, and did Ferdinand do right or wrong to say I brought him luck?
I shan't answer these questions—for he was sitting beside me less than two minutes afterwards, and we were hugging each other like brothers.
Maisa Hubbard's friend didn't get first to Vienna, and pleased enough I was. Whether Ferdy just imagined that she had an evil influence over him, or whether it is true that some women are the mistresses of men's destiny, I don't pretend to say. The story is there to speak for itself.
And Maisa, I may add, is in the halfpenny papers. Do you remember that famous case of Lord—but perhaps it isn't my place to speak about that?
[ 1 ] The names of the driver, Ferdinand, and the car, the Modena, have been substituted by the Editor for those in Mr. Britten's own narrative. The reasons for this will be obvious to the reader.