Thus she sped homeward, driven at a mad race by a man whose every sense was numbed and stultified by alcohol—homeward, along a road up which, far, far away, another man, keen, sober and alert, was trudging with a knapsack on his broad back, swinging a stick and whistling cheerily as he went.
Fate, that strange moulder of human destinies, what had it in store for these two, this woman and this man? This daughter of a billionaire, and this young proletarian?
Who could foresee, or, foreseeing, could believe what even now stood written on the Book of Destiny?
For a time no danger seemed to threaten. Kate was not only fearless as a passenger, but equally intrepid at the wheel. Many a time and oft she had driven her father’s highest-powered car at dizzying speeds along worse roads than the one her machine was now following. Velocity was to her a kind of stimulant, wonderfully pleasurable; and now, realizing nothing of the truth that Herrick was badly the worse for liquor, she leaned back in the tonneau, breathed the keen slashing air with delight, and let her eyes wander over the swiftly-changing panorama of forest, valley, lake and hill that, in ever new and more radiant beauty, sped away, away, as the huge car leaped down the smooth and rushing road.
Dust and pebbles flew in the wake of the machine, as it gathered velocity. Beneath it, the highway sped like an endless white ribbon, whirling back and away with smooth rapidity. No common road, this, but one which the State authorities had very obligingly built especially for the use of millionaires’ motor cars, all through the region of country-clubs, parks, bungalows and summer-resorts dotting the west shore region of the Hudson. Let the farmer truck his produce through mud and ruts, if he would. Let the country folk drive their ramshackle buggies over rocks and stumps, if they so chose. Nothing of that sort for millionaires! No, they must have macadam and smooth, long curves, easy grades and—where the road swung high above the gleaming river—retaining walls to guard them from plunging into the palisaded abyss below.
At just such a place it was, where the road made a sharper turn than any the drunken chauffeur had reckoned on, that catastrophe leaped out to shatter the rushing car.
Only a minute before, Kate—a little uneasy now, at the truly reckless speeding of the driver, and at the daredevil way in which he was taking curves without either sounding his siren or reducing speed—had touched him on the shoulder, with a command: “Not quite so fast, Herrick! Be careful!”
His only answer had been a drunken laugh.
“Careful nothing!” he slobbered, to himself. “You wanted speed—an’ now—hc!—b’Jesus, you get—hc!—speed! I ain’t ’fraid—are—hc!—you?”
She had not heard the words, but had divined their meaning.