The ROPE THAT WASN'T LONG ENOUGH
YOU'LL like this short story if you like to read about a fellow who is willing to take a big chance for a big stake. Bill Hathaway is that kind of a fellow, and if you'll start with him on his bug adventure, wether he win or loses, your sympathy will be with him to the end.
The train had stopped, for which Bill Hathaway was grateful, because he hated to walk through a moving train, and he had just finished breakfast and he wanted to go back to the observation platform and smoke. Early in the day though it was, he was bored. Trains always did bore him. But he expected to have a pretty good time at the house party for which he was bound
Idly, as he wandered through the long train, Bill took note of the fact that it was at a station that the train had stopped. It didn't look like the sort of station at which a really good train would stop; he had glimpses, form windows, of a row of shops, a dejected-looking station, a long platform.
He watched an elderly man climb over bags and suitcases and get out. And then, a moment or so later, he saw a girl descend from the car.
And, upon the instant, Bill ceased to be bored. For he knew this girl. That is–well, it might be put so, that he knew her. He did, in a manner of speaking.
And he sprinted for the nearest vestibule and dropped to the ground–observing, perhaps subconsciously, that the porter was wandering about aimlessly, as if the train meant to stay there quite a long time
A brisk wind blew her white skirt tight about her made her orange sweater hug her close It set her short hair to waving, too; it might account for the color in her cheeks,although Bill knew, of course that that didn't follow. She hadn't seen him get off the train, so she was smiling. Bill knew she'd stop smiling as soon as she did see him. But he walked right up to her, just the same
"Lord, but you look nice today!" he said. She spun around and looked at him. And she did stop smiling, and frowned instead, and looked very severe, indeed–and a severe look from her was just about the last word in severity. But he didn't quail.
"Well––!" she said. And that was a mistake. She should have maintained a silence dignified enough to match her look. Then, aware of her error, she proceed to make bad worse. "Are there no limits to your–your––"
And still worse!
He looked interested.
"–effrontery!" she achieved, at lasst. She was by no means sure all of the syllables, but
ut shook Bill.
"Well––" he said. "Well–yes, there are. But this isn't the same as it was before, at all." "I'd like to know why it isn't" she said, still severely, but not quite so severely.
"Well, you see–that first time– of course I didn't really know you at all, then," he said, in the tone of one making rather a handsome admission. "And now–well, I do know you now in a way don't I? I mean to say, we have met– sort of – haven't we?"
She might as well have slapped him as have looked at him as she did.
"You're hopeless!" she said.
>"Oh,no–no!"he insisted."Really, I'm not. I'm–I'm not confident exactly, but I am hopeful."
And he smiled, in a manner that really was engaging
"You needn’t be!" she snapped. "I would not know you now if you found t w e n t y of my o l d e s t friends to introduce you!"
"But, look here!" he said. "You do know me. You knew me right away just now–just as soon as you saw me. And every time you'll know me a little better until–"
She wasn't looking at him anymore. Her eyes, interested, speculative, had wandered away from him.
"Didn't you get off that train?" she asked suddenly.
"Train? What train?" He turned to look. The only train there was moving. Not fast yet, but purposefully. It was going away. Trains make you hurry so with tenses. It was gone. Bill chuckled.
"Why, yes," he said, "I did." His chuckle grew into a laugh. "That's one on me. rater, isn't it?'
And then suddenly he thought of something else. His hands went into his pockets. He continued to laugh.
"I'll say it is! I forgot to change the things in my pockets! Money–cigaretes–all going–gone!"
His thoughts continued to be active. "I say–how did you know I got off that train?"
"OH,I guessed." But that wasn't quite good enough. Not for Bill. Not when she blushed like that–and there couldn't be any doubt about her color this time.
"Well," he said, profoundly cheerful," that's that!"
"It certainly is!" she said viciously. "Haven't you any money at all in those clothes?"
He explored his pockets again; brought up a handkerchief, a package of cigarets flattened out by a pressing iron.
"Not a cent! But here's a bit of luck!" He extracted one of the cigarets. "May I?" She made a face.
"No go; I haven't a match, of course," he said mournfully.
"Oh––!" she exclaimed furiously. But then she smiled. It was not really a smile to cheer one who stood with her as Bill did, though.
"You've no money at all?" Bill muffed that one badly. "No," he said. "But it doesn't matter. Please don't think of––"
He was hanged if he'd take any from her! He needn't have worried though.
"That makes things much simpler," she said. "Do you see that black sedan over there? Well, in about one minute my father is coming back from sending some telegrams, and we're going away in it. Every and e v e r so far away! I will never come here again–or anywhere else you're likely to be, if you ever do getaway. And so––"
"I see," he said. "Yes. You've got a good chance to shake me!"
He looked so crestfallen that she was almost sorry for him. His friends could have told her that it was when he looked like that that you must be on your guard.
"It's your fault," she said. "If––"
It never even occurred to Bill that here, at the eleventh hour, was his chance to make peace with her. But then, of course, he wasn't looking at matters from her point of view, and he didn't want honorable terms, and peace without the victory, and that sort of thing, anyway.
What he was actually looking at was a very red, very low, very high powered motor can that an aggressive looking man in a most improbable golf suit had parked by the platform–and had left unlocked
"My own fault?" he repeated, rather absently. "Oh, ofcourse–and it's perfectly all right, really––"
"Good-by!" she said, in a pink rage, and held out her hand just to make him feel worse. But he was consistently outrageous to the end; he took and kissed it, instead of shaking it, and, though she snatched away as quickly as she could, you could see, even though Bill didn't that she was having some difficulty in explaining matters to her father, who came along just afterward.
He watched the sedan start away and didn't hesitate, once they were off; he'd made up his mind sometime before, while she had supposed he was worrying about his penniless estate.
Bill took a chance–because he had no real choice, in the matter–on the man in the gold suit, slipped down behind the steering wheel of his high powered car, stepped on the starter, and gave chase to the sedan.
NOTHING happened nothing whatever. No one yelled "Stop thief! Hey! Come back, there!"
It hadn't been likely that anyone would, except the man in the gold suit, and Bill had just bet with Fate that he would be out of sight of his car. He'd turn up presently, of course, and make the devil of a fuss and turn out the state police, and send then telegrams in all direction, and be most frightfully dogged and persistent.
But about what would, in anything from five to fifty minutes, begin happening Bill was sublimely unconcerned. He was going to have no trouble in keeping the sedan in sight, and that was, for the moment, all that mattered
After a time the sedan slipped around a curve; Bill had slowed down, as he thought, or her father had become reckless. It was several moments before Bill, too, got around that curve, and they were anxious ones; the sedan might have turned off the road.
But he needn't have worried. The sedan was in plain sight. In fact, it had stopped, of course and sprang out.
Father and daughter stood by their engine as Bill drove up. He stopped, of course, and sprang out.
She looked at him. It seems futile, on the whole, to try to describe that look. It represents an attempt to register emotions that might have baffled even a cinema actress of experience
"Hello! said Bill brightly. "It's you, isn't it? Trouble?"
Her father considered an appropriate reply. "Yes," he said finally. "The–the damned thing stopped." "Ah!" said Bill.
He looked first at the gasoline tank, whereupon she turned her back. Bill didn't care. He knew the book of this sort of thing. At least ten or twelve gallons, though. Then he bent over the motor in a manner calculated to make it understand the hopelessness of trying to deceive him. He played with the carburetor; tried the starter did Swedish exercises with the crank; looked grave. Then he said, "Ah!" again. And: "It's the distributor," he announced. "Rotten in this car. There's a connection and now–well, I mean to say, nowthere isn't. You don't get any Spark." "How long will it take to fix it?" F a t h e r speaking: "About six m i n u t e s–after you get the part," said Bill. "The record for getting that is three weeks and two days. They always have to send to the factory, and the factory seems to resent it."
Father looked as if that h a d b e e n exactly what he had expected to hear. "I did have a tow rope," said Bill. "Let's see––"
BUT he wasn't sorry that the golfer's extraordinarily complete equipment didn't include a rope.
"Sorry," said Bill, "Perhaps you––?" ?Oh, no," said her father, with concentrated bitterness. "You needn't waste time looking, Dorothy. THere's nothing one could use–just a lot of tools."
"Have to get the next garage to send back and tow her in, then," said Bill. "But I'll take you wherever you’re going, of course."
“Ah, thanks! Very good of you, Mr.––” He stopped and glared at his daughter, who jumped
“Oh, yes!” she said. “You haven’t met, have you? My father, Judge Preston, Mr.–
Bill felt that she deserved some credit for that, Still, in simple fairness to himself, he couldn’t have it. He laughed merrily.
“Sorry!” he said. “Don’t wonder, through–most people are such dumbbells about introduction. You’ve got me mixed with old Sam. I am Hathaway–Bill Hathaway––” “Hathaway?” said the judge. Bill wished he wouldn’t look so beastly professional. “Name’s familiar––” “He writes plays!” said Dorothy, and Bill stared at her, and she grew faintly red.
“That’s it,” said the judge. “Knew I’d heard it. Man I know had to go to a theatre party the other night. Your play. He and his wife were having words about it, rather, when I dined with them.”
“She didn’t like it?” said Bill.
“Oh, she did!” said the judge, as if that pleased her. “Will that car of yours run?”
“Of course it Will!” said Dorothy. “If you’d bought one, as I begged you to, instead of that–that–hearse––!”
BILL raced his motor for a few moments, made a wholly superfluous adjustment of the carburetor, while his keen eye noticed the number of the engine, and then proceeded to transfer stuff from the sedan. The judge too charge of the operation, and when it was just too late for her to do anything about it Dorothy saw that they had filled up all the space in the rear seat except that occupied by her father. The air of resignation with which she settled into the seat beside Bill was very well done.”Where to?” said Bill. “Harrod’s” said the judge. Bill waited, expectantly. “Harrod’s,” repeated the judge. “Don’t you know this country?” “Not–er–not very well,” said Bill. “ I assumed you lived around here; you have no luggage with you––” “Yes,but–you see––” “It’s a camp,” said Dorothy. “There’s a lake that sounds as if a German had tried to invent an Indian name. Go straight on to Smith’s Corners and we’ll ask the way from there on.”
“I see,” said Bill. They started. She sat perfectly still, looking straight ahead. Bill admire her profile, but ten miles of it seemed enough.
“Beautiful day,” he said, after a good deal of thought. “Isn’t it?” “Yes,” he said, upon reflection. “Pretty good road?” he ventured, after another mile and a half. “Splendid!” “Warm enough?” “Quite, thank you.” “Like the windshield down?” “No, thanks.” Three miles of silence “Ever going to let up on me?” One mile of profile. “Oh, I say–have a heart!” “No, thanks.” Subsidence of Mr. William Hathaway, the well known playwright.
“YOU’RE going to fast,” said Dorothy after a time. :Father doesn’t like it.” “Iknow things he’d like less,” said Bill. “Is there a telegraph office at Smith’s Corners?” “I don’t know,” she said. “But it doesn’t matter to you. You haven’t any money.”
He gave her, morosely, look that is practically the lone survivor in man’s armory of that array of weapons that gave him once the upper hand in the warfare of the sexes. It maddened her, because it was the only thing he could do which she had no rejoinder.
“How should you understand?” it said. “You’re wonderful–you’re everything–but you're a woman, after all. Ten minutes ago–tomorrow–but now you don’t count!”
“Look here!” she said. “Where did you get this car?”
“Hanged if I know! I never noticed the name of the place.”
“You know what I mean! Whose is it?”
“I don’t know that, either. Chap is a silly suit–all green and purple. I never saw him before. He didn’t lock his switch.”
She devoted a mile or so to the proper assimilation of that information. Then she nodded.
“I never thought of that,” she admitted.
Bill wished he knew the road. To some extent he did; he had the real driver’s instinct for what lay around a turn. It was that which lifted his foot from the gas half a mile before he reached a long, sweeping curve; brought him so, at a sedate twenty-five miles an hour, into an orderly, elm lined street.
Peace brooded upon it; at the sight of a blue clad figure with lifted hand Bill slid down to a quivering stop, his throttle open, his hand upon his gear lever.
The constable regarded them closely. But not with Bill’s engaging smile, not in a manner so calm, almost so prim, do the desperate drivers of stolen cars come into town.
“All right!” he said. “Lookin’ for a car–same make. Not you, though. Nice day!”
Bill waved his hand; passed on. He looked at Dorothy. She was breathing a little fast, that was all.
“Oh you’re the other seven wonders of the world!” he said.
“He never looked at the number,” she said. “Why––?”
“I know!” Bill frowned. “That had me guessing, too. Of course, we look respectable, but still––”
He couldn’t understand that omission. It was like an extra piece in a puzzle, put in just to make things harder. All very well to call the man a fool, but that wasn’t enough. Far back in Bill’s mind was the explanation that had occurred to him at once–pushed back, so, because it was so absurd, so utterly impossible.
HE drove more slowly now, and paid less attention to the road. It presented no particular problems anyway.
Again, before them, a policeman held up a warning hand.
And beside him, gesticulating like one demented, danced the man the improbable golf suit. He was flushed with rage to the color of a newly boiled lobster. He wasn’t in the least glad to see his car again; he was simply eager for vengeance upon Bill.
Bill stopped and regarded the golfer with disapproving eyes.
“They are the rotten crooks!”
Bill turned deprecatingly to Dorothy. But behind him the judge rose his wrath. “What do you mean, sir?” he said. “Whom are you addressing? I would have you know––”
“Oh, go to the devil, you!” said the golfer. “You’re in my car that was stolen in Whitby this morning by this–this––” He lacked imagination. “–this crook!” he said, repeating himself lamely.
“Yes?” said Bill sweetly. He smiled at the policeman. “Your car? One of us seems to be mistaken! You have your license card, I suppose?”
Crimson yield to a rich Tyrian purple in the golfer’s face. Bill’s heart, that, for a moment, had stopped beating, went back triumphantly to work.
He had been right! The one grotesque explanation of why the other constable hadn’t looked at the car’s number was the right one. Its owner hadn’t known it himself!
?I–I–as it happens–another coat–– But I know my own car, you crook! And you were seen to take it!”
“I–I–damn it, sir, no! But you were described–accurately–by those who did.”
Bill looked about.
“And they recognize me–now?” Again the golfer danced in his rage. “They’re not here!” he shouted. Bill looked again at the policeman, who scratched his head.
“You claim this party’s mistook?” he said.
“You put it charitably,” said Bill.
The golfer sputtered.
“You remember the engine number, perhaps?”
“I–I–no, I don’t!”
“One thousand four hundred and sixteen, series 11-Y,” said Bill–and blessed his freakish, cameralike memory and that wholly unnecessary inspection of the motor he had made! “If you’ll lift the hood on the right side, officer, and look–yes, right on the crankcase#8211;–”
“That’s right–fourteen hundred and sixteen, 11-Y,” said the officer.
LET this farce end!” said the judge sternly. He had stepped from the car, and before the menace of his lifted finger the golfer quailed. “This gentleman is Mr. William Hathaway, a playwright of some distinction. [It was like him, Bill reflected, to say “some.”] I am Judge Preston of the Supreme Court of New York. Mr. Hathaway is a friend of my daughter’s–whose presence you, sir, judging from your language, have not observed.”
“But–but––” The golfer was beginning to have doubts. “You––” Bill’s smile fanned his rage again. “Where’s your license card?”
“I left it in another coat,” said Bill sweetly.
Someone in the little crowd that had gathered laughed. So did some others. But, regrettably, from Bill’s point of view, the golfer’s intelligence, hitherto a minus quantity, chose that moment in which to assert itself.
“Look here!” he said. “I can prove that’s my car. Telegraph to Albany–ask whose name goes with that number”
“Excellent!” said the judge. “There must be someplace where one can lunch?”
“Satisfied!” said Bill.
“Pull over to the curb–telegraph office is in the station,” said the constable. “I’ll watch the car.”
The judge and the golfer drafted the dispatch. Bill, to whom it was referred, nodded an indifferent approval. Since he could hardly hope to substitute the number of his own plates, he didn’t care how they put it! Casually, then. While the judge went to the newsstand, and Dorothy glanced at a mirror, and the golfer chewed an unlighted cigar, Bill approached the ticket office and asked some questions.
The golfer went outside to smoke his cigar– choosing the street, not the platform. Bill rejoined the judge and Dorothy
“I’ve been finding out things,” he said. “There’s a good train for New York in five minutes. I really think we’d better take it.”
“So do I,” said Dorothy. She regarded Bill balefully, “It’s a long rope that wouldn’t hand you.” The judge only stared.
“You see,” said Bill, “it really is his car.”
The judge looked first at Bill and then at his daughter. And then he proved that he was, beyond all doubt, her father.
“Ah!” he said. “Yes, I see. You’re quite right about the train. We’d better take it.”
THEY wandered out in the manner of people killing time. They crossed the tracks–and were, consequently, completely hidden from the golfer and the constable so soon as the train came in.
“ I want a drawing room–to New York,” said the judge to the Pullman conductor.
“Allright–Car B, right here.” The whistle sounded; the train began to move.
“Dorothy––?” said the judge. He didn’t even look at Bill. “I like that!” she said. “It’s all his fault!”
“Mr. Hathaway’s? By the way, that really is his name?”
“Oh yes!” she said, too quickly, and bit her lip as she saw Bill looking at her.
“I am entirely indifferent as to which if you offers an explanation–but I am waiting for it,” said the judge.
“Well–you see–my getting off the train and leaving my money in my other clothes complicated things. It really is a bit confusing, sir. I supposed it all began when I met Miss Dorothy––”
“You didn’t meet me,” she said. “You never have met me.”
“Well–when I thought I knew you, and spoke to you, that time, at––”
“You didn’t think you knew me. You’d seen me several times, and you knew perfectly well you didn’t know me. Your behavior was un-un-consciable––”
“I have asked you repeatedly not to use words you don’t know how to pronounce!” said the judge.
“How did you know I’d seen you several times?” asked Bill.
“I decline to be cross examined!” she said. “I––”
The judge looked at Bill with eyes that were, oddly, not wholly unsympathetic.
“She sees everything and she hears everything,” he said. “Especially when she shouldn’t.”
“And then, this morning––” said Bill, It seemed to him that it was time to be getting on with this explanation.
“Yes–this morning?” said the judge.
“Well, I’d finished breakfast–in the train, you know–and as I was going back O saw her–Dor–Miss Dorothy again on the platform. And I wanted to–well, to explain, you know, and apologize, and all that––” “Liar!” she said. “You didn’t, at all.”
“And then–the train went–and I found out about my money–and you turned up–and you were going off–and I knew how unreliable that care of yours was, and I thought I’d better be around in case you broke down, and––”
“I see,” said the judge. “The situation is as you say, a little complicated. Offhand it is difficult to see how you are to keep out of prison. The gentleman who owned the car did not strike me as being of a forgiving disposition. Still, I’m not without influence. And––”
He turned upon his daughter a look under which she wilted Bill started. It was a curious look. Amusement was in it and some malice, and a profound understanding.
“Dad!” she said. “Don’t you––” “–and as,” the judge went on, unmoved. “You are, in all probability, going to be mu son-in-law––”
“You brute!” cried Dorothy. “He’s not–ever––”
“I don’t care to have you convicted of a felony,” the judge ended.
For, perhaps, the first time in his life, Bill was speechless. The judge surveyed him benevolently. He took a cigar from his pocket, and his knife. Standing by the door, he turned to look at them; at Bill, turned scarlet; at Dorothy, trying to look tall.
“ I am going to smoke this cigar and to compose a telegram to the governor of the sovereign state whose laws you have been outraging, young man,” he said. “The sentence if this cour is that you be confined within the limits of this drawing room, in the company of my daughter, until I return. And may God have mercy on your soul!”