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Authors: Dornford Yates

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BOOK: Red In The Morning
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And that was as much as we heard of the good man’s tale. But it was worth waiting for, because it told us plainly that the Bagots were close to Gedge. He might have the faster car, for Bell had suggested that it must have been ‘specially tuned’: but that any one of the four could drive a car as could Audrey, I simply did not believe.

Mansel rounded a bend at eighty, passed a car which was passing a char-à-banc, ‘cut in’ between two waggons of six wheels each and put the Rolls at a hill at ninety-six. There were nine cars using that hill: three were coming towards us, and six were going our way. Mansel went by in the middle, as though they were, none of them, there. As we swung to the right, at the top, I turned to look back for Carson: there were then ten cars on that hill, of which Carson’s made one. And the French do not drive slowly.

“I hope you feel better,” said Mansel. “I know I do. That fellow’s report was a tonic. And unless that Lowland’s a winner, we must be coming up.”

“I do feel better,” I said. “And my brain’s more clear. And now listen. Ahead of us is Libourne – some forty miles off. If I were Gedge, I’d avoid a town of that size.”

“So,” said Mansel, “should I. If he knows where he is, the fellow will turn at Mielle. To the left, of course. He’s obviously driving south.”

“I agree. But we can’t be sure. If he has perceived that the Bagots are on his tail, he may do anything.”

“Except turn north,” said Mansel. “Twist and double, perhaps: but he’ll always bear south.”

I thought this was sound, and said so: but when we had covered another three miles in two minutes, only to be checked in a village and lose the time we had won, my desperation came back, as clouds return after the rain.

Check or no, we must have gained on the others: with ordinary luck, we should sight them before they could reach Mielle –
provided that they did not turn off before they came to that place
: but Mielle was twenty miles distant, and in those twenty miles there were at least three crossroads running east and west.

As though he had read my thoughts –

“Unless,” said Mansel, “unless we are checked again, I think that we ought to turn off before we get to Mielle. I decline to believe that they’re moving as fast as we – they’re meeting checks, too, you know. There are crossroads at Balet: that’s nine – no eight miles ahead. If we haven’t caught them by Balet, I’ll swear they’re not on this road.” He cornered perfectly – not skirting the side of the road, but skirting the side of a swift-moving limousine, flashed between two lorries and raced for a level crossing on which a furniture van was bearing down. As we whipped across the bows of the van and over the rails, “I suggest,” he went on, “that we should turn east at Balet. What do you think?”

“I think so. And Carson, too, It’s no good his going on; and if Gedge is southward bound, he’s sure to turn east; otherwise he’d find himself faced with threading Libourne or Bordeaux.”

“True,” said Mansel. “And then?”

“Look at it this way,” I said. “If we haven’t caught up by Balet, they’ve either turned at Balet or turned before.”

“At Poule,” said Mansel. “That’s just about two miles on. If we go on to Balet, but Carson–”

“I think that’s them,” I cried. “Them, or the Bagots. Steady. They’re slowing down… Petrol, They’re stopping for petrol. My God, if it’s…”

Before the Lowland had stopped, I saw John Bagot fling out and rush to the back of the car. Before he had the cap off the tank, we had drawn alongside.

Mansel addressed Audrey Bagot, white as a sheet.

“Were they in your view?” he said.

“Jonah! Thank God! Yes, yes. They’ve only just rounded that bend.”

“Their number?”

“Six two four two.”

“Carson’s behind,” said Mansel. “Tell him to turn east at Poule. Report by wire to Orthez and Auch. You go on to Libourne.”

And then we were gone.

We had lost twenty seconds, perhaps – no more than that. But that is a lot to make up in a mile and a half. You see, we wanted to know if Gedge turned at Poule… We could, of course, leave him to Carson – Carson was as ‘safe as a house’, and Bell would be sound by now. But we naturally wished to deal with the matter ourselves.

“He’ll turn at Poule,” I said. “If they could see him, it follows that he could see them. And now that he thinks he’s lost them, he’ll turn at once.”

Mansel said nothing. But he drove as even that day he had never driven before. And that noble car responded – like the thoroughbred that she was. Mercifully, the road was open…

Poule is a very long village, as villages go; and the main road runs straight through it, as a river between its banks. The moment I saw it, I remembered that the crossroads of which I have spoken lay right at its farther end.

It was half a mile off when I sighted the streak of grey which it made. With the speed of a Disney drawing, the streak took shape. Always increasing in stature, I watched Poule tear towards us, exactly as though it belonged to some motion picture and we to the audience.

“I can see two cars,” I said. “No – three. One’s coming our way. I think one’s standing still. There’s a fourth…and a fifth – right ahead. And now a bus coming – Oh, blast his neck, he’s right in my line of view… That’s better, but where’s the fifth? By God, he’s turned off! He must have – the road’s dead straight.”

Ahead of us people were straggling, and standing and talking, too. Mansel sounded his high-pitched horn – and kept the button pressed down. Discretion beat Assertion – the figures fled.

“Did he turn left?” said Mansel.

“I couldn’t say. As you turn, I’ll look to the right. But I’ll swear it was he that turned: there’s nothing ahead.”

This was a fact; and we could see the road for a third of a mile.

As we swept past the waiting bus, Mansel lifted his foot and clapped on his brakes.

A volley of indignation just flicked my ears, as a flash of summer lightning will flick the sight.

I slewed myself round in my seat, and as Mansel swung to the left, I looked behind – to see some three hundred yards of an empty road.

“Go on,” I said. “We must risk it. If they’re not in view in two minutes, we must come back.”

Our new road curled like a serpent, defying a very high speed. But it ran down into a valley that opened out to the west, and, knowing the way of the country hereabouts, I was ready to swear that it climbed up out of the valley upon the opposite side. I tried my best to pick up the line that it took.

And then, below where I was looking, the tail of my eye reported the tiniest flash. The screen of a car that was moving had rendered the brilliant light of the sinking sun.

“They’re down there,” I said somehow. “God send it’s Gedge.”

“Amen,” breathed Mansel. “And now we’ve got to be careful: but, first of all, we must see their number plate.”

“Stop,” I cried. “There’s their road. For God’s sake, give me the glasses – I daren’t look away.”

It was but a glimpse of the road some twenty yards of its length: to anyone where we were, anything moving upon it would be completely exposed: but it lay too far away for the naked eye to determine the make of a car. I should not, of course, be able to see the number plates; but, if it was a Lowland…

Mansel thrust binoculars into my hand…

He need not have hurried to do so: thirty seconds dragged by, while we listened to the drone of the engine, not turning as fast as it could.

“I think,” breathed Mansel, “I think that’s a Lowland’s note.”

With his words, a Lowland slid into and out of my view.

“Good for you,” said I, and put the binoculars down.

As he let in his clutch –

“We must close up a bit,” said Mansel. “We mustn’t lose them now.”

(Here, perhaps, I should say that had the rogues chosen to do as we had done, that is to say, to look across the valley, they must, I think, have seen us, for we were much more exposed: that they did not was, I am sure, because they were not used to the countryside and so thought of nothing more than of looking directly behind: for this reason, time and again, we had the advantage of them, for we were at home in country of any kind; but they were at home in a city, as felons usually are.)

The road, which was still serpentine, now stood us in stead. We were able to draw very close, without being seen. Indeed, as we rounded one of the last of the bends, we saw the tail of the Lowland flick out of view round the next.

“If,” said Mansel, “we can avoid being seen…for the moment, of course. I mean, we must have no shooting, till Jenny is out of the way.”

“We’re nearly up,” said I. “Stop at the last of the bends, and I’ll have a look round.”

Once we stopped in vain, for another bend lay ahead. But that was the last of the turnings; and when I peered cautiously round it, I saw the Lowland at rest a hundred yards off. She was out of the valley and up on the top of a hill, just short of a fork in the road; and a slice of an opened map was sticking out of a window, to show that someone was seeking to settle which way to go. So for ten seconds or so. Then the map was withdrawn, and the Lowland began to move.

I waited until I saw her enter the road that bore to the right. As I turned to beckon to Mansel, Carson whipped round the last but one of the bends.

The eagles were gathering…

I returned to the Lowland, to see her slide out of sight.

As I took my seat beside Mansel –

“Go on gently,” I said, “and then bear right. They don’t know where they are; for they’ve just been using the map. And they’ve taken the road to Stère. Can you picture Stère? I remember it very well.”

“I can,” said Mansel. “A most inconvenient townlet. Streets about twelve feet wide, and police all over the place.”

I cannot better that description. Stère was not built for these days: and its Mayor was determined that accidents should not occur: for a motorist in a hurry, the place was a nightmare.

“More,” I said. “There are two ways into Stère.”

“That’s right: they start at the same point: they then diverge – and return, to meet at the bottleneck – an idle and offensive performance, for which there is no excuse.”

“They may help us this evening. Carson follows the Lowland; but we take the way which the Lowland does not take: so we are in front of Gedge when he comes to the bottleneck: and Carson is just behind.”

“Very good indeed,” said Mansel. “Ah, here we are, STÈRE – 7 MILES. And there they go round that bend. Summon Carson, will you? We’ll put him wise.”

At a sign from me, Carson drew alongside.

“Are you better, Bell?” I cried.

“All right now, sir, thank you.”

“Listen, Carson. The Lowland is just ahead. If and when you see us leave her, you will close up to her tail. We are going to bypass her, so that when she enters Stère, she will be directly between us. At least, we shall try to do that. But, whatever happens, don’t lose her.”

“I won’t do that, sir.”

“If it comes off, they won’t be looking round – they’ll be watching us: but I shouldn’t like them to miss you, so, the moment my hand comes out, close right up to their bumper and then you and Bell get out and open their doors.”

“Very good, sir.”

I nodded, and he fell in behind.

“William,” said Mansel, “you have my sympathy.”

I knew what he meant. Violence could hardly be done in the main street of Stère. In such a place, with no chance of getting away, even Gedge would see the wisdom of holding his hand. So I must postpone my vengeance. Still, once Jenny was out of the Lowland, I promised myself a word or two with the swine. Of course, had she been ill used…

Stère was some seven miles off; but the road was in our favour and alive with just enough traffic to mask our policy. Besides, I was later to learn that Gedge and his companions were sure they were out of the wood and hardly looked behind them, when once they had left the valley and borne to the right. As though to seal their doom, they did not drive fast, so that when the time came for us to overtake them, using the second road which ran into Stère, we did so comfortably.

Of course, their luck was dead out, and ours was in: had they known Stère as we did, and had they dreamed that we were upon their heels, they would have gone fifty miles to avoid the place. As it was, they tooled into the trap, to find us directly before them – and not a side street for more than a hundred yards.

Mansel was driving very slowly. Then he stopped altogether and started to back. As he did so, my hand went out…

I had hardly left my seat, before Carson and Bell were opening the Lowland’s rear doors.

“Richard, Richard!”

“Come, my darling,” I said. “We’re holding the traffic up.”

In the most pregnant silence that I have ever known, I handed my wife from the Lowland into the cobbled street.

“Has anyone touched you?” I said.

“They put a coat over my head when they put me into the car: but that was all.”

“Except for that, have they been rough with you by word or deed?”

“No, Richard. I can’t say they have.”

“Just as well,” said I, and gave her over to Bell. Then I turned to regard the occupants of that car.

All three were sitting so still that they might have been images. On the back seat was sitting Brevet, staring ahead. Looking upon him, I saw a bead of sweat roll down the side of his face. Gedge was beside the driver – a man I had never seen: he was short and very thickset, and his forehead was very low. From his hands, which were on the wheel, I judged him to have been a mechanic. (In fact, I was not far out: the fellow had been a tester – and so could play with a car.)

Since I could do them no violence, I would have given much to lash the three with my tongue, but, now that they were before me, I had no words.

Feebly enough –

“Punter should have warned you,” I said.

I can only suppose that Punter had said something, for the driver sniggered and Gedge made as though to turn.

“Sit still,” snapped Mansel. “You can’t fire, but I can – on the men who are wanted at Biarritz. If I wasn’t a fool, I should: but, as you have reason to know, I have a certain weakness for dealing direct. That is how I shall deal with you, Gedge.”

BOOK: Red In The Morning
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