Johnnie caught her uncle's hand and ran with him through the little thicket of saplings toward the main road.
"We'll get the track of the wheels, and when we find that car--and Shade Buckheath--and Pap Himes....I ..." Johnnie panted, and did not finish her sentence. Her heart leaped when they came upon the broad mark of the pneumatic tires still fresh in the lonely mountain road.
"Looks like they might have passed here while we was standin' back there talkin' to Roxy," Uncle Pros said. "They could have--we'd not have heard a thing that distance, through this thick woods. Wonder could we catch up with them?"
Johnnie shook her head. She remembered the car flying up the ascents, swooping down long slopes and skimming like a bird across the levels, that morning when she had driven it.
"They'll go almost as fast as a railroad train, Uncle Pros," she told him, "but we must get there as soon as we can."
After that scarcely a word was spoken, while the two, still hand in hand, made what speed they could. The morning waxed. The March sunshine was warm and pleasant. It was even hot, toiling endlessly up that mountain road. Now and again they met people who knew and saluted them, and who looked back at them curiously, furtively; at least it seemed so to the old man and the girl. Once a lean, hawk-nosed fellow ploughing a hillside field shouted across it:
"Hey-oh, Pros Passmore! How yuh come on? I 'lowed the student doctors would 'a' had you, long ago."
Pros ventured no reply, save a wagging of the head.
"That's Blaylock's cousin," he muttered to Johnnie. "Mighty glad we never went near 'em last night."
Once or twice they were delayed to talk. Johnnie would have hurried on, but her uncle warned her with a look to do nothing unusual. Everybody spoke to them of Gray Stoddard. Nobody had seen anything of him within a month of his disappearance, but several of them had "hearn say."
"They tell me," vouchsafed a lanky boy dawdling with his axe at a chip pile, "that the word goes in Cottonville now, that he's took money and lit out for Canada. Town folks is always a-doin' such."
"Like as not, bud," Pros assented gravely. "Me and Johnnie is goin' up to look after the old house, but we allowed to sleep to-night at Bushares's. Time enough to git to our place to-morrow."
Johnnie, who knew that her uncle hoped to reach the Consadine cabin by noon, instantly understood that he considered the possibility of this boy being a sort of picket posted to interview passers-by; and that the intention was to misinform him, so that he should not carry news of their approach.
After this, they met no one, but swung on at their best pace, and for the most part in silence, husbanding strength and breath. Twelve o'clock saw them entering that gash of the hills where the little cabin crouched against the great mountain wall. The ground became so rocky, that the track of the automobile was lost. At first it would be visible now and again on a bit of sandy loam, chain marks showing, where the tire left no impression; but, within a mile or so of the Consadine home, it seemed to have left the trail. When this point arrived, Johnnie differed from her uncle in choosing to hold to the road.
"Honey, this ends the cyar-tracks. Looks like they'd turned out. I think they took off into the bushes here, and where that cyar goes we ought to go," Pros argued.
But Johnnie hurried on ahead, looking about her eagerly. Suddenly she stooped with a cry and picked up from the path a small object.
"They've carried him past this way," she panted. "Oh, Uncle Pros, he was right here not so very long ago."
She scrutinized the sparse growth, the leafless bushes about the spot, looking for signs of a struggle, and the question in her heart was, "My God, was he alive or dead?" The thing she held in her hand was a blossom of the pink moccasin flower, carefully pressed, as though for the pages of a herbarium; The bit of paper to which it was attached was crumpled and discoloured.
"Looks like it had laid out in the dew last night," breathed Johnnie.
"Or for a week," supplied Pros. He scanned the little brown thing, then her face.
"All right," he said dubiously; "if that there tells you that he come a-past here, we'll foller this road--though it 'pears to me like we ought to stick to the cyar."
"It isn't far to our house," urged Johnnie. "Let's go there first, anyhow."
For a few minutes they pressed ahead in silence; then some subtle excitement made them break into a run. Thus they rounded the turn. The cabin came in sight. Its door swung wide on complaining hinges. The last of the rickety fence had fallen. The desolation and decay of a deserted house was over all.
"There's been folks here--lately," panted Pros. "Look thar!" and he pointed to a huddle of baskets and garments on the porch. "Mind out! Go careful. They may be thar now."
They "went careful," stealing up the steps and entering with caution; but they found nothing more alarming than the four bare walls, the ash-strewn, fireless hearth, the musty smell of a long-unoccupied house. Near the back door, at a spot where the dust was thick, Uncle Pros bent to examine a foot-print, when an exclamation from Johnnie called him through to the rear of the cabin.
"See the door!" she cried, running up the steep way toward the cave spring-house.
"Hold on, honey. Go easy," cautioned her uncle, following as fast as he could. He noted the whittling where the sapling bar that held the stout oaken door in place had been recently shaped to its present purpose. Then a soft, rhythmic sound like a giant breathing in his sleep caught the old hunter's keen ear.
"Watch out, Johnnie," he called, catching her arm, "What's that? Listen!"
Her fingers were almost on the bar. They could hear the soft lip-lip of the water as it welled out beneath the threshold, mingled with the tinkle and fall of the spring branch below.
Johnnie turned in her uncle's grasp and clutched him, staring down. Something shining and dark, brave with brass and flashing lamps, stood on the rocky way beneath, and purred like a great cat in the broad sunlight of noon--Gray Stoddard's motor car! The two, clinging to each other on the steep above it, gazed half incredulous, now that they had found the thing they sought. It looked so unbelievably adequate and modern and alive standing there, drawing its perfectly measured breath; it was so eloquent of power and the work of men's hands that there seemed to yawn a gap of half a thousand years between it and the raid in which it was being made a factor. That this pet toy of the modern millionaire should be set to work out the crude vengeance of wild men in these primitive surroundings, crowded up on a little rocky path of these savage mountains, at the door of a cave spring-house--such a food-cache as a nomad Indian might have utilized, in the gray bluff against the sky-line--it took the breath with its sinister strangeness.
They turned to the barred door. The cave was a sizable opening running far back into the mountain; indeed, the end of it had never been explored, but the vestibule containing the spring was fitted with rude benches and shelves for holding pans of milk and jars of buttermilk.
As Johnnie's hand went out to the newly cut bar, her uncle once more laid a restraining grasp upon it. A dozen men might be on the other side of the oaken door, and there might be nobody.
"Hello!" he called, guardedly.
No answer came; but within there was a sound of clinking, and then a shuffling movement. The panting motor spoke loud of those who had brought it there, who must be expecting to return to it very shortly. Johnnie's nerves gave way.
"Hello! Is there anybody inside?" she demanded fearfully.
"Who's there? Who is it?" came a muffled hail from the cave, in a voice that sent the blood to Johnnie's heart with a sudden shock.
"Uncle Pros, we've found him!" she screamed, pushing the old man aside, and tugging at the bar which held the door in place. As she worked, there came a curious clinking sound, and then the dull impact of a heavy fall; and when she dragged the bar loose, swung the door wide and peered into the gloom, there was nothing but the silvery reach of the great spring, and beyond it a prone figure in russet riding-clothes.
"Uncle Pros--he's hurt! Oh, help me!" she cried.
The prostrate man struggled to turn his face to them.
"Is that you, Johnnie?" Gray Stoddard's voice asked. "No, I'm not hurt. These things tripped me up."
The two got to him simultaneously. They found him in heavy shackles. They noted how ankle and wrist chains had been rivetted in place. Together they helped him up.
As they did so tears ran down Johnnie's cheeks unregarded. Passmore deeply moved, yet quiet, studied him covertly. This, then, was the man of whom Johnnie thought so much, the rich young fellow who had left his work or amusements to come and cheer a sick old man in the hospital; this was the face that was a stranger's to him, but which had leaned over his cot or sat across the checker-board from him for long hours, while they talked or played together. That face was pale now, the brown hair, "a little longer than other people wore it," tossed helplessly in Stoddard's eyes, because he scarcely could raise his shackled hands to put it right; his russet-brown clothing was torn and grimed, as though with more than one struggle, though it may have been nothing worse than such mishap as his recent fall. Yet the man's soul looked out of his eyes with the same composure, the same kindness that always were his. He was eaten by neither terror nor rage, though he was alert for every possibility of help, or of advantage.
"You, Johnnie--you!" whispered Gray, struggling to his knees with their assistance, and catching a fold of her dress in those manacled hands. "I have dreamed about you here in the dark. It is you--it is really Johnnie."
He was pale, dishevelled, with a long mark of black leaf-mould across his cheek from his recent fall; and Johnnie bent speechlessly to wipe the stain away and put back the troublesome lock. He looked up into the brave beauty of her young, tear-wet face.
"Thank God for you, Johnnie," he murmured. "I might have known I wouldn't be let to die here in the dark like a rat in a hole while Johnnie lived."
"Whar's them that brought you here? The keepers?" questioned the old man anxiously, in a hoarse, hurried whisper.
"Dawson's gone to his dinner," returned Gray. "There were others here--came in an auto--I heard that. They've been quarrelling for more than an hour."
--"About what they'd do with you," broke in Pros. "Yes, part of 'em wants to put you out of the way, of course." He stooped, eagerly examining the shackles on Gray's ankles. "No way to git them things off without time and a file," he muttered, shaking his head.
"No," agreed Stoddard. "And I can't run much with them on. But we must get away from here as quick as we can. Dawson came in and told me after the other had gone that they had a big row, and he was standing out for me. Said he'd never give in to have me taken down and tied on the railroad track in Stryver's Gulch."
Johnnie's fair face whitened at the sinister words.
"The car!" she cried. "It's your own, Mr. Stoddard, and it's right down here. Uncle Pros, we can get him to it--I can run it--I know how." She put her shoulder under Stoddard's, catching the manacled hand in hers. Pros laid hold on the other side, and between them they half carried the shackled captive around the spring and to the door.
"Leggo, Johnnie!" cried her uncle. "You run on down and see if that contraption will go. I can git him thar now."
Johnnie instantly loosed the arm she held, sprang through the doorway, and headlong down the bluffy steep, stones rattling about her. She leaped into the car. Would her memory serve her? Would she forget some detail that she must know? There were two levers under the steering-wheel. She advanced her spark and partly opened the throttle. From the steady, comfortable purr which had undertoned all sounds in the tiny glen, the machine burst at once into a deep-toned roar. The narrow depression vibrated with its joyous clamour.
Suddenly, above the sound, Johnnie was aware of a distant hail, which finally resolved itself into words.
"Hi! Hoo--ee! You let that car alone, whoever you are."
She glanced over her shoulder; Passmore had got Gray to the top of the declivity, and was attempting to help him down. Both men evidently heard the challenge, but she screamed to them again and again.
"Hurry, oh hurry! They're coming--they're coming."
Stoddard had been stepping as best he could, hobbling along in the hampering leg chains, that were attached to the wrists also, and twitched on his hands with every step. His muscles responded to Johnnie's cry almost automatically, stiffening to an effort at extra speed, and he fell headlong, dragging Pros down with him. Despairingly Johnnie started to climb down from the car and go to their aid, but her uncle leaped to his feet clawing and grabbing to find a hold around Gray's waist, panting out, "Stay thar--Johnnie--I can fetch him."
With a straining heave he hoisted Gray's helpless body into his arms. The car trembled like a great, eager monster, growling in leash. Johnnie's agonized eyes searched first its mechanism, and then went to the descending figures, where her uncle plunged desperately down the slope, fell, struggled, rolled, but rose and came gallantly on, half dragging, half carrying Gray in his arms.
"Let that car alone!" a new voice took up the hail, a little nearer this time; and after it came the sound of a shot. High up on the mountain's brow, against the sky, Johnnie caught a glimpse of the heads and shoulders of men, with the slanting bar of a gun barrel over one.
"Oh, hurry, Uncle Pros!" she sobbed. "Let me come back and help you."
But Passmore stumbled across the remaining space; mutely, with drawn face and loud, labouring breath he lifted Gray and thrust him any fashion into the tonneau, climbing blindly after.
The pursuit on the hill above broke into the open. Johnnie moved the levers as Gray had shown her how to do, and with a bound of the great machine, they were off. Stoddard, dazed, bruised, abraded, was back in the tonneau struggling up with Uncle Pros's assistance. He could not help her. She must know for herself and do the right thing. The track led through the bushes, as they had found it that morning. It was fairly good, but terribly steep. She noted that the speed lever was at neutral. She slipped it over to the first speed; the car was already leaping down the hill at a tremendous pace; yet those yelling voices were behind, and her pushing fingers carried the lever through second to the third speed without pausing.
Under this tremendous pressure the car jumped like a nervous horse, lurched drunkenly down the short way, but reeled successfully around the turn at the bottom. Johnnie knew this was going too fast. She debated the possibility of slackening the speed a bit as they struck the highway, such as it was. Uncle Pros, yet gasping, was trying to help Gray into the seat; but with his hampering manacles and the jerking of the car, the younger man was still on his knees, when the chase burst through the bushes, scarcely more than three hundred feet behind them.
There was a hoarse baying of men's voices; there were four of them running hard, and two carried guns. The noise of the machine, of course, prevented its occupants from distinguishing any word, but the menace of the open pursuit was apparent.
"Johnnie!" cried Gray. "Oh, this won't do! For God's sake, Mr. Passmore, help me over there. They wouldn't want to hurt her--but they're going to shoot. She--"
The old man thrust Gray down, with a hand on his shoulder.
"You keep out o' range," he shouted close to Gray's ear. "They won't aim to hit Johnnie; but you they'll pick off as far as they can see ye. Bend low, honey," to the girl in the driver's seat. "But freeze to it. Johnnie ain't no niece of mine if she goes back on a friend."
The girl in front heard neither of them. There was a bellowing detonation, and a spatter of shot fell about the flying car.
"That ain't goin' to hurt nobody," commented Pros philosophically. "It's no more than buck-shot anyhow."
But on the word followed a more ominous crack, and there was the whine of a bullet above them.
"My God, I can't let her do this," Gray protested. But Johnnie turned over her shoulder a shining face from which all weariness had suddenly been erased, a glorified countenance that flung him the fleeting smile she had time to spare from the machine.
"You're in worse danger right now from my driving than you are from their guns," she panted.
As she spoke there sounded once more the ripping crack of a rifle, the singing of a bullet past them, and with it the flatter, louder noise of the shot-gun was repeated. Her eye in the act of turning to her task, caught the silhouette of old Gideon Himes's uncouth figure relieved against the noonday sky, as he sprang high, both arms flung up, the hands empty and clutching, and pitched headlong to his face. But her mind scarcely registered the impression, for a rifle ball struck the shaly edge of a bluff under which the road at this point ran, and tore loose a piece of the slate-like rock, which glanced whirling into the tonneau and grazed Gray Stoddard's temple. He fell forward, crumpling down into the bottom of the vehicle.
"On--go on, honey!" yelled Pros, motioning vehemently to the girl. "Don't look back here--I'll tend to him"; and he stooped over the motionless form.
Then came the roaring impression of speed, of rushing bushes that gathered themselves and ran back past the car while, working under full power, it stood stationary, as it seemed to Johnnie, in the middle of a long, dusty gray ribbon that was the road. The cries of the men behind them, all sounds of pursuit, were soon left so far in the distance that they were unheard.
"Ain't this rather fast?" shouted Uncle Pros, who had lifted Stoddard's bleeding head to his knee and, crouched on the bottom of the tonneau, was shielding the younger man from further injury as the motor lurched and pitched.
"Yes, it's too fast," Johnnie screamed back to him. "I'm trying to go slower, but the foot-brake won't hold. Uncle Pros, is he hurt? Is he hurt bad?"
"I don't think so, honey," roared the old man stoutly, guarding Gray's inert body with his arm. Then, stretching up as he kneeled, and leaning forward as close to her ear as he could get: "But you git him to Cottonville quick as you can. Don't you werry about goin' slow, unlessen you're scared yourself. Thar ain't no tellin' who might pop up from behind these here bushes and take a chance shot at us as we go by."
Johnnie worked over her machine wildly. Gray had told her of the foot-brake only; but her hand encountering the lever of the emergency brake, she grasped it at a hazard and shoved it forward, as the god of luck had ordered, just short of a zigzag in the steep mountain road which, at the speed they had been making, would have piled them, a mass of wreckage, beneath the cliff.
The sudden, violent check--shooting along at the speed they were, it amounted almost to a stoppage--gave the girl a sense of power. If she could do that, they were fairly safe. With the relief, her brain cleared; she was able to study the machine with some calmness. Gray could not help her--out of the side of her eye she could see where he lay inert and senseless in Passmore's hold. The lives of all three depended on her cool head at this moment. She remembered now all that Stoddard had said the morning he taught her to run the car. With one movement she threw off the switch, thus stopping the engine, entirely. They must make it to Cottonville running by gravity wherever they could; since she had no means of knowing that there was sufficient gasoline in the tank, and it would not do to be overtaken or waylaid.
On and on they flew, around quick turns, along narrow ways that skirted tall bluffs, over stretches of comparatively level road, where Johnnie again switched on the engine and speeded up. They were skimming down from the upper Unakas like a great bird whose powerful wings make nothing of distance. But Johnnie's heart was as lead when she glanced back at the motionless figure in the tonneau, the white, blood-streaked face that lay on her uncle's arm. She turned doggedly to her steering-wheel and levers, and took greater chances than ever with the going, for speed's sake. The boy they had talked with two hours before at the chip pile, met them afoot. He leaped into the bushes to let them pass, and stared after them with dilated eyes. Johnnie never knew what he shouted. They only saw his mouth open and working. Mercifully, so far, they had met no vehicles. But now the higher, wilder mountains were behind them, there was an occasional horseman. As they neared Cottonville, and teams were numerous on the road, Johnnie, jealously unwilling to slacken speed, kept the horn going almost continuously. People in wagons and buggies, or on foot, drawn out along the roadside, cupped hands to lips and yelled startled inquiries. Johnnie bent above the steering-wheel and paid no attention. Uncle Pros tried to answer with gesticulation or a shouted word, and sometimes those he replied to turned and ran, calling to others. But it was black Jim, riding on Roan Sultan, out with the searchers, who saw and understood. He looked down across the great two-mile turn beyond the Gap, and sighted the climbing car. Where he stood it was less than an eighth of a mile below him; he could almost have thrown a stone into it. He bent in his saddle, shaded his eyes, and gazed intently.
"Fo' God!" he muttered under his breath. "That's Mr. Gray hisself! Them's the clothes he was wearin'!"
Whirling his horse and digging in the spurs, he rattled pell-mell down the opposite steep toward Cottonville, shouting as he went.
"They've done got him--they've found him! Miss Johnnie Consadine's a-bringin' him down in his own cyar!"
At the Hardwick place, where the front lawn sloped down with its close-trimmed, green-velvet sward, stood two horses. Charlie Conroy had come out as soon as the alarm was raised to help with the search. He and Lydia had ridden together each day since. Moving slowly along a quiet ravine yesterday, out of sight and hearing of the other searchers, Conroy had found an intimate moment in which to urge his suit. She had begged a little time to consider, with so encouraging an aspect that, this morning, when he came out that they might join the party bound for the mountains, he brought the ring in his pocket. The bulge of the big diamond showed through her left-hand glove. She had taken him at last. She told herself that it was the only thing to do. Harriet Hardwick, who had returned from Watauga, since her sister would not come to her, stood in the door of the big house regarding them with a countenance of distinctly chastened rejoicing. Conroy's own frame of mind was evident; deep satisfaction radiated from his commonplace countenance. He was to be Jerome Hardwick's brother-in-law, an intimate member of the mill crowd. He was as near being in love with Lydia Sessions at that moment as he ever would be. As for Lydia herself, the last week had brought that thin face of hers to look all of its thirty odd years; and the smile which she turned upon her affianced was the product of conscientious effort. She was safely in her saddle, and Conroy had just swung up to his own, when Jim came pelting down the Gap road toward the village. They could see him across the slope of the hill. Conroy cantered hastily up the street a bit to hear what the boy was vociferating. Lydia's nerves quivered at sight of him returning.
"Hurrah! Hurrah!" shouted Conroy, waving his cap. "Lord, Lord; Did you hear that, Lydia? Hoo-ee, Mrs. Hardwick! Did you hear what Jim's saying? They've got Gray! Johnnie Consadine's bringing him--in his own car." Then turning once more to his companion: "Come on, dear; we'll ride right down to the hospital. Jim said he was hurt. That's where she would take him. That Johnnie Consadine of yours is the girl--isn't she a wonder, though?"
Lydia braced herself. It had come, and it was worse than she could have anticipated. She cringed inwardly in remembrance; she wished she had not let Conroy make that pitying reference--unreproved, uncorrected--to Stoddard's being a rejected man. But perhaps they were bringing Gray in dead, after all--she tried not to hope so.
The auto became visible, a tiny dark speck, away up in the Gap. Then it was sweeping down the Gap road; and once more Conroy swung his cap and shouted, though it is to be questioned that any one marked him.
Below in the village the noisy clatter brought people to door and casement. At the Himes boarding-house, a group had gathered by the gate. At the window above, in an arm-chair, sat a thin little woman with great dark eyes, holding a sick child in her lap. The sash was up, and both were carefully wrapped in a big shawl that was drawn over the two of them.
"Sis' Johnnie is comin' back; she sure is comin' back soon," Laurella was crooning to her baby. "And we ain't goin' to work in no cotton mill, an' we ain't goin' to live in this ol' house any more. Next thing we're a-goin' away with Sis' Johnnie and have a fi-ine house, where Pap Himes can't come about to be cross to Deanie."
High up on Unaka Mountain, where a cluttered mass of rock reared itself to front the noonday sun, an old man's figure, prone, the hands clutched full of leaf-mould, the gray face down amid the fern, Gideon Himes would never offer denial to those plans, nor seek to follow to that fine house.
The next moment an automobile flashed into sight coming down the long lower slope from the Gap, the horn blowing continuously, horsemen, pedestrians, buggies and wagons fleeing to the roadside bushes as it roared past in its cloud of dust.
"Look, honey, look--yon's Sis' Johnnie now!" cried Laurella. "She's a-runnin' Mr. Stoddard's car. An' thar's Unc' Pros ... Is--my Lord! Is that Mr. Stoddard hisself, with blood all over him?"
Lydia and Conroy, hurrying down the street, drew up on the fringes of the little crowd that had gathered and was augmenting every moment, and Johnnie's face was turned to Stoddard in piteous questioning. His eyes were open now. He raised himself a bit on her uncle's arm, and declared in a fairly audible voice:
"I'm all right. I'm not hurt."
"Somebody git me a glass of water," called Uncle Pros.
Mavity Bence ran out with one, but when she got close enough to see plainly the shackled figure Passmore supported, she thrust the glass into Mandy Meacham's hand and flung her apron over her head.
"Good Lord!" she moaned. "I reckon they've killed him. They done one of my brothers that-a-way in feud times, and throwed him over a bluff. Oh, my Lord; Why will men be so mean?"
Pros had taken the glass from Mandy and held it to Gray's lips. Then he dashed part of the remaining water on Stoddard's handkerchief and with Mandy's help, got the blood cleared away.
From every shanty, women and children came hastening--men hurried up from every direction.
"Look at her--look at Johnnie!" cried Beulah Catlett. "Pony! Milo!" turning back into the house, where the boys lay sleeping. "Come out here and look at your sister!"
"Did ye run it all by yourself, Sis' Johnnie?" piped Lissy from the porch.
The girl in the driver's seat smiled and nodded to the child.
"Are you through there, Uncle Pros?" asked Johnnie. "We must get Mr. Stoddard on to his house."
The women and children drew back, the crowd ahead parted, and the car got under way once more. The entire press of people followed in its wake, surged about it, augmenting at every corner.
"I'm afraid my horse won't stand this sort of thing," Lydia objected, desperately, reining in. Conroy glanced at her in surprise. Bay Dick was the soberest of mounts. Then he looked wistfully after the crowd.
"Would you mind if I--" he began, and broke off to say contritely, "I'll go back with you if you'd rather." It was evident that Lydia would make of him a thoroughly disciplined husband.
"Never mind," she said, locking her teeth. "I'll go with you." One might as well have it done and over with. And they hurried on to make up for lost time.
They saw the car turn in to the street which led to the Hardwick factory. Somebody had hurried ahead and told MacPherson and Jerome Hardwick; and just as they came in sight, the office doors burst open and the two men came running hatless down the steps. Suddenly the factory whistles roared out the signal that had been agreed upon, which bellowed to the hills the tidings that Gray Stoddard was found. Three long calls and a short one--that meant that he was found alive. As the din of it died down, Hexter's mills across the creek took up the message, and when they were silent, the old Victory came in on their heels, bawling it again. Every whistle in Cottonville gave tongue, clamouring hoarsely above the valley, and out across the ranges, to the hundreds at their futile search, "Gray Stoddard is found. Stoddard is found. Alive. He is brought in alive."
MacPherson ran up to one side of the car and Hardwick to the other.
"Are you hurt?" inquired the Scotchman, his hands stretched out.
"Can you get out and come in?" Hardwick demanded eagerly.
On the instant, the big gates swung wide, the factory poured out a tide of people as though the building had been afire. At sight of Stoddard, the car, and Johnnie, a cheer went up, spontaneous, heart-shaking.
"My God--look at that!" MacPherson's eyes had encountered the shackles on Stoddard's wrists.
"Lift him down--lift him out," cried Jerome Hardwick. With tears on his tanned cheeks the Scotchman complied; and Hardwick's eyes, too, were wet as he saw it.
"We'll have those things off of him in no time," he shouted. "Here, let's get him in to the couch in my office. Send some of the mechanics here. Where's Shade Buckheath?"
A dozen pairs of hands were stretched up to assist MacPherson and Pros Passmore. As many as could get to the rescued man helped. And when the crowd saw that shackled figure raised, and heard in the tense silence the clinking sound of the chains, a low groan went through it; more than one woman sobbed aloud. But at this Gray raised his head a bit, and once more declared in a fairly strong voice:
"I'm not hurt, people--only a little crack on the head. I'm all right--thanks to her," and he motioned toward the girl in the car, who was watching anxiously.
Then the ever thickening throng went wild; and as Gray was carried up the steps and disappeared through the office doors, it turned toward the automobile, surging about the car, a sea of friendly, admiring faces, most of them touched with the tenderness of tears, and cheered its very heart out for Johnnie Consadine.