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Chapter Thirty-Three

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Author Topic: Chapter Thirty-Three  (Read 35 times)
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« on: July 17, 2023, 04:18:21 am »

SARAH did not even start. It seemed entirely natural that he should be there. He leaned in a little farther and said, “I should push her along a bit now. I’ll take over as soon as we get clear, but the road keeps skirting the farm and we can’t afford to stop till we’re really away.”

“What do you mean?” said Sarah. “They couldn’t catch us now.”

He said in something like his old impassive voice, “That depends. If anyone saw your lights and had the gumption to think of it, they could cut us off by taking the cart track from the stables---it comes in about a quarter of a mile farther on. Let’s hope they didn’t see your lights. You shouldn’t have put them on.”

“I couldn’t drive without them.”

He put a hand on her shoulder for a moment.

“Look here, I’ll tell you when we’re getting close to where the track comes in. If there’s anyone there, you’ll have to rush them. Go as fast as you can and don’t stop whatever happens. They may shoot.”

Sarah said, “Oh!” and heard him laugh.

“I shouldn’t expect old Cattermole to hit a haystack, but I’m not so sure about the parson.” His hand pressed down upon her. “Why did you run away?”

“Did you expect me to stay?”

“Yes, I did.”

“After hearing with my own ears that you were in with them?”

One bit of Sarah was so happy and confident that she could enjoy letting the other half say these things. You don’t mind reading a sad book when you are happy. It is only when you are sad that you can’t, can’t bear it.

He said, “Silly of me, but I really did think so.”

“I heard them talking to you in the study. I heard them planning to frighten me, and you were to pretend to help me so as to get the papers.”

“Don’t you think it was a very good plan? It seems to be working out all right. I wanted you, and I wanted the papers, and it looks as if I was going to get away with them. And now step on it! That’s where the track comes in---just at the corner. Rush it, and don’t stop for anything!”

The road had been bearing all the time to the right. They would not come out upon the moor until they were past the boundary of Maltings. There was a high hedge dropping to a ditch on either side. Ice rattled as the low-hung branches brushed the roof of the car. A flurry of snow caught the wind-screen and blurred it. The hooded light struck two rough stone pillars where the track came in, right on the corner. A man shouted with a great bull voice, a torch flashed. And, quick and sharp on that, two shots.

Sarah had a moment of exhilaration, a moment of agonized fear. There was a loud bang which felt as if it were under her feet, and the wheel was jerked out of her hands. The car gave a lurch and went skidding and crashing past the farther pillar into the right-hand ditch and the hedge. She was flung violently sideways. Branches sharp with ice came thrusting through the window where Wickham had leaned. But he wasn’t there any longer. The car tilted and settled. She fell against the branches.

That was all in a moment. She had shut her eyes when the crash came. Now she opened them and saw the beam of a torch come flashing in through the window on the other side. It travelled across her face and dazzled on her staring eyes. A voice said, “She’s alive all right. Here---take this!”

And with that the beam was gone and she was being pulled up out of the tangle of branches.

The voice was Mr. Brown’s, and the hands which pulled her out---very strong hands---must be his too. They set her on her feet. The voice said in a booming whisper, “Any bones broken?”

Sarah said, “No,” and then wondered why she had said it, because she couldn’t feel her body at all. For all she knew, it might be in pieces, or she might be dead. It came to her quite impersonally that it might be better for her if she was dead. Because if you are dead, you haven’t still got to die, and something told her in plain, positive tones that these men meant her to die. They had murdered Emily Case, and they would murder Sarah Marlowe without any compunction at all.

Her mind was quite clear and she was not at all afraid. Fear belonged to her body, and for just this queer space between living and dying her body didn’t belong to her. It stood there upon its feet, and it moved when she told it to move, but it wasn’t her any more. She heard her own voice say, “Where is he? What have you done with him?” And then, when no one answered her, it said again with a dreadful calm, “Is he dead?”

No one answered that either. The light from the torch went to and fro. She walked round the car, and did not know until afterwards that the Reverend Peter’s hand was on her arm. The beam of the torch showed John Wickham sprawled head downwards in the ditch. His legs were under the car, his neck was turned awry, his face was down in the snow. He did not move. Someone went down into the ditch and jerked at his shoulder. The head fell over.

Mr. Brown called out in protest, “Don’t touch him, you fool! It’s got to be an accident, hasn’t it?”

The voice which Sarah knew was her own said again, “Is he dead?” and close above her head in the darkness the Reverend Peter laughed.

“If he isn’t now he soon will be. Neck broken, by the look of him.”

The word echoed in some empty place---“broken”. It echoed dreadfully. A broken neck. A broken body. A broken heart. There were so many things that you could break. And no way of mending any of them. John Wickham’s body lay broken in a ditch, Sarah Marlowe’s body stood here in the snow and felt nothing, and Sarah Marlowe’s heart was broken.

It was then that she did feel something---the heavy compulsion of the Reverend Peter’s hand on her shoulder. It brought her round so that she stood face to face with him. She could see him, huge and hairy against the snow. He said in a deep, threatening voice, “What does it matter to you whether he’s dead or not? He’s the chauffeur, isn’t he? What does it matter to you?”

Sarah said, “It doesn’t matter.”

She said that because it was true. Nothing mattered any more. Everything had come to an end.

He shook her a little, but without hurting her.

“Of course it doesn’t matter to you, Miss Marlowe---how could it? But I’d like just to know what he was doing on the running-board of that car. If he’s nothing to you, you can tell me that.”

Sarah put up a hand and brushed it across her eyes, as if she could brush the darkness away. There was a darkness between them, and a darkness in her mind. But she could answer his question.

“I took the car out.”

“Yes---why did you do that? It’s Mr. Cattermole’s car, isn’t it?”

She said, “I wanted to get away----” Her voice died.

He made her feel the pressure of his hand again.

“Go on. You were going to explain how Wickham came to be on the running-board.”

She stared up at him.

“He saw my lights---I had to put them on---I couldn’t see. He came running---out of the yard. He jumped on the running-board.”

“Is that true?”

She said, “Yes, it’s true,” in an exhausted voice.

After a minute he asked her sharply,

“What did he say to you when he saw us? Did he tell you to go on, or did he tell you to stop?”

Under the surface of Sarah’s darkened mind a thought moved. It said, “He’s dead. But if he wasn’t dead, they would kill him if they knew he had said ‘Go on’.” She said,

“He tried to stop me. He said, ‘Stop!’ and he tried to stop the car. That’s why we went into the ditch.”

Mr. Brown gave his hearty laugh.

“Oh, no, it isn’t---that’s where you’re wrong. You went into the ditch because I blew a hole in your front tyre. Well, Wickham didn’t have much luck, did he?” He lifted his voice and called, “Hi, Grimsby---run the torch over that front wheel! I fired two shots, and both of them ought to be in the tyre. A bullet hole anywhere else would fairly give the show away. Go on---look lively!”

Grimsby had the torch. He turned it here and there upon the tilted front wheel. Presently he called out, “Both holes there, boss,” and Mr. Brown called back,

“All right, change the wheel, and don’t be all night! Can you manage?”

Grimsby said, “You’ll have to give a hand.” And with that Sarah was marched round to the other side of the car and pushed down on the edge of the running-board.

The Reverend Peter had disappeared, but someone else had taken his place, a shadow against the snow. The shadow had neither outline nor features, yet there was something horribly familiar about its aspect. If she had not been too much detached to feel, Sarah would have been shocked, because this shadow was Wilson Cattermole, and he had a pistol in his hand. It was Mr. Brown who had mentioned the pistol---“You’ll sit still and you’ll keep quiet, because he’s got a pistol, and if you don’t he’ll shoot.” It was like being warned that an ant was going to shoot you. She had always thought of Wilson Cattermole as an ant---dull, indefatigable, fussy. But an ant with a pistol was a monstrous thing and outside nature. She remembered Blake’s dreadful drawing of the ghost of a flea. For a moment everything rocked on the edge of nightmare. Then she could speak again.

“Mr. Cattermole!”

Yes, that was it---he was Wilson Cattermole, her employer---not something out of a bad dream.

“Mr. Cattermole!”

There was no answer, but she thought that the shadow shifted. From the other side of the car Grimsby called out, “Shurrup!”

She waited a little and tried again, dropping her voice.

“Mr. Cattermole---please----”

There was no sign that he had heard her. Grimsby called again on a savage growl, “Shurrup, d’you hear!”

She kept quiet after that. There wasn’t anything to do. It wasn’t any good appealing to Wilson---even if he wanted to help her, they wouldn’t let him. There was no help in him. She could feel him there, a hostile shadow, sharp, inimical, malicious. An ant could be all these things, but if she could have felt a shock, it would have shocked her. She had not thought of him like that. A little, dull man with a little, dull mind---earnest, fussy, painstaking. And now he held a pistol to her head in the dark, and a stinging hatred came from him like a poison.

She could hear them working to change the wheel. They went to and fro. The car lurched. She wondered how they would manage. The nose was jammed into the hedge. The wheel might be jammed too. But when the light had run over it, it didn’t look as if it was jammed. It seemed to hang down over the ditch.

The car shuddered and lurched again. The shadow of Wilson Cattermole stood over her with the pistol in his hand.

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