Dale frowned. ‘We can’t er?’
‘No, we certainly cannot. Why, all the men in the place will know about it by now. It’d be bound to leak out pretty soon. And that wouldn’t look too good. No, I’m afraid you’ll have to go through with it.’
Dale was still frowning. ‘Damnation! That means the end of our privacy. The papers will be splashing it all round. The place will be overrun with reporters sniffing into every corner and trying to bribe everybody. I wanted to keep it quiet for months yet and now they’ll get the whole thing. Oh, hell!
Fuller, the secretary, put in ‘Does it really matter very much now? After all, we’re well into construction nobody else could possibly build a challenger in the time available. It doesn’t seem to me that we’ve really much to lose except our peace, of course.’
‘That’s true,’ Dale nodded. ‘It’s too late for them to start building now, but we’re going to be pestered and hindered at every turn. And once the secret’s out, it won’t all be unintentional hindering.’
The doctor paused in the act of lighting his pipe. He looked thoughtfully at Dale.
‘It strikes me that the secret’s already been blown. What do you suppose he was nosing around for?’ He nodded in the direction of the black suited corpse. ‘He wasn’t just a casual burglar, you can depend on that. Silenced gun, no marks of identification, knew his way about here. No, somebody’s on to you already, my boy, and whoever it is sent a spy to get hold of some more details or to do some damage.’
‘But it’s too late. Nobody could build in time. We shall have all our work cut out to finish by the end of September ourselves.’
‘Unless,’ said the doctor, gently, ‘unless they are building already. Two can play at secrecy. One of the odd things about you men of action is that you so frequently forget that there are other men of action. Well, now I suppose we’d better call the police.’
CHAPTER II. DALE.
DALE CURTANCE could not be called a man without fear. Not only because a man without fear is a man without imagination, but also because the old terrors die hard and the world has so multiplied the causes of fear that no one is left entirely unafraid. But, looking at Dale, at his six foot, broad shouldered form, his long arms with their strong, freckled hands, his blue eyes, cold and hard as ice, one could seem to see far back along a line of Norse descent to less complex ancestors: stern fighters who, sword in hand, feared nothing in this world and little in the next for they honoured Odin only to secure for themselves an eternity of battle among the champions of Valhalla. Of Dale, their descendant into a world where the battle is not necessarily to the strong, nor even the race to the swift, it might truthfully be said that he feared less and dared more than his fellows.
But this is an age of hair splitting. Many could be found to say that while Dale’s Norse ancestors were physically courageous, they were spiritually cowardly that the motive of their courage was the fear of losing a reputation for valour. .
Dale should not have married at least, he should not have married a woman of Mary’s type. And inwardly Mary herself knew that now.
He should have swept up one of the worshipping little things he had thrilled in the past. He should have installed in his home one of those pretty little goldenheads whose hope it was, and whose perpetual joy it would be, that she was the chosen and the closest to the hero acclaimed by millions. The envy of those millions would have been her constant nourishment; she would have lived in the reflected blaze of his triumphs, and all might have been happy ever afterwards or until Dale should break his neck.
Mary had not been a worshipper. She had not the temperament though she could not, at first, remain quite insensitive to the glamour of his success. It may have been her calm in contrast with the bubbling delight of the others which attracted him at their first meeting. He may have been in a mood which was tired of popular triumph and easy conquest. Whatever the cause, he fell very blindly in love with her. And Mary did not fall in love; she began to love him in a way which he never could and never did understand.
This morning, sitting up in bed with the newspaper spread across the untouched breakfast tray, she went back over it all.
A swift wooing and a swift marriage. She had been swept by a word out of her calm life into an insane volution of publicity. Her engagement had been a time of pesterment by interviewers, offers for signed articles, requests from photographers, suggestions by advertisers. The Press had played the occasion up well: they had even taken her own wedding away from her and substituted a kind of public circus.
That she resented it, Dale never knew. He never seemed to feel as she did that the journalists’ avidity for details was all but a violation of the decencies. And she had tried not to mind. It was inevitable that they should see things differently. The circle of her upbringing had been unostentatious folk who had neither suffered from nor wanted popular publicity. Dale, on the other hand, had been born practically on the front page of a newspaper with a silver spoon in his mouth and a silver megaphone to announce his arrival. The first and, as it transpired, the only son of David Curtance, known far and wide, despite his personal antipathy to the phrase, as ‘The Aerial Ford’.
Yes, Dale had been NEWS from the time of his birth.
They had splashed it about in large type: To David Curtance, the man who made the Gyrocurts the Flivvers of the Air the Multimillionaire, the world’s paramount mass producer of aircraft, a son, Dale. No wonder publicity failed to worry him.
After their limelit honeymoon, the Press had let them go for a time. And though Mary could almost feel the journalistic eyes peering at her in the hope of scooping the first news of an impending ‘happy event’, more than two years had passed in comparative peace. Dale’s name was to be seen only infrequently on the front pages. He had seemed to be well in the process of changing from a current to a legendary hero.
And now, this…!
Under the date, the tenth of March, 1981, ran the banner headline:
DOUBLE DEATH IN CURTANCE HANGAR
closely followed by:
TRAGEDY AT SPEED KING’S WORKS
Mary, frowning, read the fates of a night watchman and an intruder, identity at present unknown. The latter, it appeared, had been worsted by Dale himself in the course of prolonged and desperate duel. All readers would join with the Editor in his expression of thankfulness that the speed ace himself was untouched. She was wise enough now in the ways of journalism to discard a large percentage of the sensational wrapping. But the fact remained that two deaths had occurred, and Dale was once more on the front page. All her efforts at withdrawal had been nullified in a single night, and they were back again where they had been more than two years ago.
But, if the account made her irritable, it had been left to the final paragraph to arouse her real perturbation.
One of the effects of the tragedy has been to reveal that much secret experimenting has been lately taking place at the Curtance shops. We are informed from a reliable source that a new type of craft is already in an advanced state of construction though no details can yet be revealed. ‘What is Curty going to do next?’ is the question which many will ask themselves. Though Dale Curtance himself maintains strict silence on the subject, there can be no doubt that this new rocket ‘plane is intended to contest yet another record. Whatever he intends to attempt with it, we know that not only our own’ good wishes but those of all our readers will go with him. ‘Curty’, who has done more than any other man to put England ‘on top in the air’, will find when he makes his comeback that no one has been allowed to usurp his place in England’s Hall of Fame. Good Luck to you, Curty.
Mary pressed the bell push beside ‘her bed. To the maid who answered she said:
‘Doris, tell Mr. Curtance I would like to see him at once, please.’ The girl hesitated.
‘He’s very busy, madam,’ she said, uncertainly. ‘The gentlemen from the newspapers.’
Mary raised herself on her elbows and looked out of the window. A number of gyrocurts and other small aircraft was dotted about the lawn and the field beyond. Odd that she had not noticed them arriving.