Where the Blue Begins

第36章

"He's never been frocked!" roared the Bishop."Impostor!" cried Mr.Airedale."Excommunicate him!" screamed Mr.Towser.

"Take him before the consistory!" shouted Mr.Poodle.

Gissing started toward the vestry door, but was delayed by the mass of scuffling choir-puppies who had seized this uncomprehended diversion as a chance to settle some scores of their own.The clamour was maddening.The Bishop leapt the chancel rail and was about to seize him when Miss Airedale, loyal to the last, interposed.She flung herself upon the Bishop.

"Run, run!" she cried."They'll kill you!"Gissing profited by this assistance.He pushed over the lectern upon Mr.Poodle, who was clutching at his surplice.He checked Mr.Airedale byhurling little Tommy Bull, one of the choir, bodily at him.Tommy's teeth fastened automatically upon Mr.Airedale's ear.The surplice, which Mr.Poodle was still holding, parted with a rip, and Gissing was free.With a yell of defiance he tore through the vestry and round behind the chapel.

He could not help pausing a moment to scan the amazing scene, which had been all Sabbath calm a few moments before.From the long line of motor cars parked outside the chapel incredible chauffeurs were leaping, hurrying to see what had happened.The shady grove shook with the hideous clamour of the bell, still wildly tolled by the frantic sexton.The sudden excitement had liberated private quarrels long decently repressed: in the porch Mrs.Retriever and Mrs.Dobermann-Pinscher were locked in combat.With a splintering crash one of the choir-pups came sailing through a stained-glass window, evidently thrown by some infuriated adult.He recognized the voice of Mr.Towser, raised in vigorous lamentation.To judge by the sound, Mr.Towser's pupils had turned upon him and were giving him a bad time.Above all he could hear the clear war-cry of Miss Airedale and the embittered yells of Mr.Poodle.Then from the quaking edifice burst Bishop Borzoi, foaming with wrath, his clothes much tattered, and followed by Mr.Poodle, Mr.Airedale, and several others.They cast about for a moment, and then the Bishop saw him.With a joint halloo they launched toward him.

There was no time to lose.He fled down the shady path between the trees, but with a hopeless horror in his heart.He could not long outdistance such a runner as the Bishop, whose tremendous strides would surely overhaul him in the end.If only he had known how to drive a car, he might have commandeered one of the long row waiting by the gate.But he was no motorist.Miss Airedale could have saved him, in her racing roadster, but she had not emerged from the melee in the chapel.Perhaps the Bishop had bitten her.His blood warmed with anger.

It happened that they had been mending the county highways, and a large steam roller stood a few hundred feet down the road, drawn up beside the ditch.Gissing knew that it was customary to leave these engines with the fire banked and a gentle pressure of steam simmering in the boiler.It was his only chance, and he seized it.But to his dismay, whenhe reached the machine, which lay just round a bend in the road, he found it shrouded with a huge tarpaulin.However, this suggested a desperate chance.He whipped nimbly inside the covering and hid in the coal-box.Lying there, he heard the chase go panting by.

As soon as he dared, he climbed out, stripped off the canvas, and gazed at the bulky engine.It was one of those very tall and impressive rollers with a canopy over the top.The machinery was not complicated, and the ingenuity of desperation spurred him on.Hurriedly he opened the draughts in the fire-box, shook up the coals, and saw the needle begin to quiver on the pressure-gauge.He experimented with one or two levers and handles.The first one he touched let off a loud scream from the whistle.Then he discovered the throttle.He opened it a few notches, cautiously.The ponderous machine, with a horrible clanking and grinding, began to move forward.

A steam roller may seem the least helpful of all vehicles in which to conduct an urgent flight; but Gissing's reasoning was sound.In the first place, no one would expect to find a hunted fugitive in this lumbering, sluggish behemoth of the road.Secondly, sitting perched high up in the driving saddle, right under the canopy, he was not easily seen by the casual passer-by.And thirdly, if the pursuit came to close grips, he was still in a strategic position.For this, the most versatile of all land-machines except the military tank, can move across fields, crash through underbrush, and travel in a hundred places that would stall a motor car.He rumbled off down the road somewhat exhilarated.He found the scarlet stole twisted round his neck, and tied it to one of the stanchions of the canopy as a flag of defiance.It was not long before he saw the posse of pursuit returning along the road, very hot and angry.He crunched along solemnly, busying himself to get up a strong head of steam.There they were, the Bishop, Mr.Poodle, Mr.Airedale, Mr.Dobermann-Pinscher, and Mr.Towser.Mr.Poodle was talking excitedly: the Bishop's tongue ran in and out over his gleaming teeth.He was not saying much, but his manner was full of deadly wrath.They paid no attention to the roller, and were about to pass it without even looking up, when Gissing, in a sudden fit of indignation, gave the wheel a quick twirl and turned his clumsy engine upon them.

They escaped only by a hair's breadth from being flattened out like pastry.Then the Bishop, looking up, recognized the renegade.With a cry of anger they all leaped at the roller.

Christopher Morley

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