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A Rogue by Compulsion by Victor Bridges

Part 2 out of 7

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"I have no objection to the bargain," I said slowly, helping myself to
a match off the table; "the only question is whether it is possible to
carry it out. My experiments aren't the kind that can be conducted
in a back bedroom. I should want a large shed of some kind, and the
farther away it was from any houses the better. There is always the
chance of blowing oneself up at this sort of business, and in that
case an explosive like mine would probably wreck everything within a
couple of miles."

"You shall work under any conditions you please," said McMurtrie
amiably. "If it suits you we will fix you up a hut and some sheds down
on the Thames marshes, and you can live there till the experiments are
finished."

"But I should be recognized," I objected. "I am bound to be
recognized. I am fairly well known as it is, and with my picture and
description placarded all over England, I shouldn't stand a dog's
chance. However lonely a place it was, some one would be bound to see
me and give me away sooner or later."

McMurtrie shook his head. "You may be seen," he said, "but there is no
reason why you should be recognized."

I paused in the act of lighting my cigarette. "What do you mean?" I
asked with some curiosity.

"My dear Mr. Lyndon," said McMurtrie, courteously, "as a scientist
yourself you don't imagine that it's beyond the art of an intelligent
surgeon to cope with a little difficulty like that?"

"But in what way?" I objected. "A disguise? Any one can see through a
disguise except in novels."

The doctor smiled. "I am not suggesting a wig and a pair of
spectacles," he observed. "It is rather too late in the world's
history for that sort of thing." Then he stopped and studied me for an
instant attentively. "In a fortnight, and practically without hurting
you," he added, "I can make you as safe from the police as if you were
dead and buried."

I sat up in bed. "Under the circumstances," I said, "you'll excuse my
being a little inquisitive."

"Oh, there is no secret about it. Any surgeon could do it. I have
only to alter the shape of your nose a trifle, and make your forehead
rather higher and wider. A stain of some sort will do the rest."

"Yes," I said; "but what about the first part of the programme?"

He shrugged his shoulders. "Child's play," he answered. "Merely a
question of paraffin injections and the X-rays."

He spoke with such careless confidence that for once it was impossible
to doubt his sincerity.

I lay back again and drew in a large exulting lungful of cigarette
smoke. I had suddenly realized that if McMurtrie's offer was genuine,
and he could really do what he promised, there were no longer any
difficulties in the way of my getting at George. The idea of meeting
him, and perhaps even speaking to him, without his being able to
recognize me filled me with a wicked satisfaction that no words can do
justice to.

I don't think I betrayed my emotion, however, for McMurtrie's keen
eyes were on me, and I was not in the least anxious to take him into
my confidence. I blew out the smoke in a grey cloud, and then, raising
myself on my elbow carefully flicked the ash off my cigarette.

"How am I to know that you will keep your promise?" I asked.

Savaroff made an angry movement, but before he could speak, McMurtrie
had broken in.

"You forget what an embarrassing position we shall be putting
ourselves in, Mr. Lyndon," he said with perfect good temper.
"Shielding a runaway convict is an indictable offence--to say nothing
of altering his appearance. As for the money"--he made a little
gesture of contempt--"well, do you think it would pay us to cheat you?
There is always the chance that a gentleman who can invent things like
this explosive and the Lyndon-Marwood torpedo may have other equally
satisfactory notions."

"Very well," I said quietly. "I will accept the offer on one
condition--that I can have a week in London before beginning work."

With an oath Savaroff started up from the window-sill.

"Gott in Himmel! and who are you to make terms?" he exclaimed roughly.
"Why, we have only to send you back to the prison and you will be
flogged like a dog!"

"In which distressing event," I observed, "you would not get your
explosive."

"My dear Savaroff," interrupted McMurtrie, soothingly, "there is
no need to threaten Mr. Lyndon. I am sure that he appreciates the
situation." Then he turned to me. "I suppose you have some reason for
making this condition?"

Silently in my heart I invoked the shade of Ananias.

"If you had been in Dartmoor three years," I said, with a rather
well-forced laugh, "you would find several excellent reasons for
wanting a week in London."

My acting must have been good, for I could have sworn I saw a faint
expression of relieved contempt flicker across McMurtrie's face.

"I see. A little holiday--a brief taste of the pleasures of liberty!
Well, that seems to me a very natural and reasonable request. What do
you think, Savaroff?"

That gentleman contented himself with a singularly ungracious grunt.

"I don't think there would be much risk about it," I said boldly. "If
you can change my appearance as completely as you say you can, no one
would be the least likely to recognize me. After three years of that
dog's life up there I can't settle down in a hut on the Thames marshes
without having a few days' fun first. I should be very careful what
I did naturally. I have had quite enough of the prison to appreciate
being outside."

McMurtrie nodded. "Very well," he said slowly. "I see no objection to
your having your 'few days' fun' in London if you want them. It would
be safer perhaps to get you away from this house as soon as possible.
I should think three weeks would be quite enough for our purposes
here--and I daresay it will take us a month to fix up a satisfactory
place for you to work in." Then he paused. "Of course if you go to
town," he added, "you will have to stay at some address we shall
arrange for, and you will have to be ready to start work directly we
tell you to."

"Naturally," I said; "I only want--"

I was saved from finishing my falsehood by a sudden sound from
outside--the sound of a swing gate banging against its post. For a
moment I had a horrible feeling that it might be the police.

Savaroff jumped up and looked out of the window. Then with a little
guttural exclamation he turned back to McMurtrie.

"Hoffman!" he muttered, apparently in some surprise.

Who Mr. Hoffman might be I had not the faintest notion, but the
mention of the name brought the doctor to his feet at once. I think
he was rather annoyed with Savaroff for being unnecessarily
communicative. When he spoke, however, it was with his usual perfect
composure.

"Well, we will leave you at peace now, Mr. Lyndon. I should try to go
to sleep again for a little while if I were you. I will come up later
and see whether you would like some supper." He stopped and looked
round the room. "Is there anything else you want that you haven't
got?"

"If you could advance me a box of cigarettes," I said, "it shall be
the first charge on the new explosive."

He nodded, smiling. "I will send Sonia up with it," he answered. Then,
following Savaroff, he went out into the passage, carefully closing
the door after him.

Left alone, I lay back on the pillow in a frame of mind which I
believe novelists describe as "chaotic." I had expected something
rather unusual from my interview with McMurtrie, but these proposals
of his could hardly be classed under such a mild heading as that. For
sheer unexpectedness they about took the biscuit.

I had read in books of a man's appearance being altered so completely
that even his best friends failed to recognize him, but it had never
occurred to me that such a thing could be done in real life--let alone
in the simple fashion outlined by the doctor. Of course, if he was
speaking the truth, there seemed no reason why his plan, fantastic as
it might sound, should not turn out perfectly successful. A private
hut on the Thames marshes was about the last place in which you would
look for an escaped Dartmoor convict, especially when he had vanished
into thin air within a few miles of Devonport.

What worried me most in the matter was my apparent good luck in having
fallen on my feet in this amazing fashion. There is a limit to one's
belief in coincidences, and the extraordinary combination of chances
suggested by McMurtrie's smooth explanations was just a little too
stiff for me to swallow. I felt sure that he was lying in some
important particulars--but precisely which they were I was unable to
guess for certain.

That he wanted the secret of the new explosive, and wanted it badly,
there could be no doubt, but neither he nor Savaroff in the least
suggested to me a successful manufacturer of cordite or anything
else. They seemed to me to belong to a much more interesting if less
conventional type, and I couldn't help wondering what on earth such
a curious trio as they and Sonia could be doing tucked away in an
ill-furnished, deserted-looking country house in a corner of South
Devon.

However it was no good worrying, for as far as I was concerned it was
painfully clear that there was no alternative. If I declined their
offer and refused to let McMurtrie carve my face about, they had only
to turn me out, and in a few hours I should probably be back in my
cell with the cheerful prospect of chains, a flogging, and six months'
semi-starvation in front of me.

Anything was better than that--even the wildest of plunges in the
dark. Indeed I am not at all sure that the mystery that surrounded
McMurtrie's offer did not lend it a certain charm in my eyes. My life
had been so infernally dull for the last three years that the prospect
of a little excitement, even of an unpleasant kind, was by no means
wholly disagreeable.

At least I had my week's "fun" in London to look forward to, and the
thought of that alone would have been quite enough to make me go
through with anything. I had lied to McMurtrie about my object,
but the falsehood, such as it was, did not sit very heavily on my
conscience. The precise meaning of "fun" is purely a matter of
opinion, and I was as much entitled to my definition as he was to his.
After all, if a convicted murderer can't be a little careless about
the exact truth, who the devil can?

CHAPTER VI

THE FACE OF A STRANGER

McMurtrie had left me under the impression that he meant to start work
on my face the next day, but as it turned out the impression was a
mistaken one. Both the paraffin wax and the X-ray outfit had to be
procured from London, and according to Sonia it was to see about these
that her father went off to town early the following morning. She told
me this when she brought me up my breakfast, just after I had heard
the car drive away from the house.

"Well, I suppose I had better get up too," I said. "I can't stop in
bed and be waited on by you."

"You've got to," she replied curtly, "unless you would rather I sent
up Mrs. Weston."

"Who's Mrs. Weston?" I inquired.

Sonia placed the tray on my bed. "She's our housekeeper. She's deaf
and dumb."

"There are worse things," I observed, "in a housekeeper." Then I sat
up and pulled my breakfast towards me. "Of course I would much rather
you looked after me. I was only thinking of the trouble I'm giving
you."

"Oh, it's not much trouble," she said; then after a little pause she
added, in a rather curious voice: "Anyway I shouldn't mind if it was."

"But I am feeling perfectly fit this morning," I persisted. "I might
just as well get up if your father would lend me some kit. I don't
think I could squeeze into McMurtrie's."

She shook her head. "The doctor says you are to stop where you are.
He is coming up to see you." Then she hesitated. "One of the prison
warders called here last night to warn us that you were probably
hiding in the neighbourhood."

"That was kind," I said, "if a little belated. Had they found the
bicycle?"

"No," she answered, "and they are not likely to. My father went out
and brought it in the night you arrived. It's buried in the back
garden."

There was another short silence, and then she seated herself on the
foot of the bed. "Tell me," she said, "this girl--Joyce Aylmer--do you
love her?"

The question came out so unexpectedly that it took me by utter
surprise. I stopped in the middle of conveying a piece of bacon to my
mouth and laid it down again on the plate.

"Why, Joyce is only a child," I said; "at least she was when I went to
prison. We were all in love with her in a sort of way. Her father had
been an artist in Chelsea before he died, and we looked on her as
a kind of general trust. She used to run in and out of the various
studios just as she pleased. That was the reason I was so furious with
Marks. It was impossible to believe that a man who wasn't an absolute
fiend could--" I pulled up short in some slight embarrassment.

"But she is not a child now," remarked Sonia calmly. "According to the
paper she must be nineteen."

"Yes," I said, "I suppose people grow older even when I'm in prison."

"And she loves you--she must love you. Do you think any woman could
help loving a man who had done what you did for her?"

"Oh, I expect she has forgotten all about me long ago," I said with
a sudden bitterness. "People who go to prison can't expect to be
remembered--except by the police."

I had spoken recklessly, and even while the words were on my tongue a
vision of Joyce's honest blue eyes rose reproachfully in my mind. I
remembered the terrible heartbroken little note which she had sent me
after the trial, and then her other letter which I had received in
Dartmoor--almost more pitiful in its brave attempt to keep hope and
interest alive in my heart.

Sonia leaned forward, her hands clasped in her lap.

"I thought," she said slowly, "I thought that perhaps you wanted to go
to London in order to meet her."

I shook my head. "I am not quite so selfish as that. I have brought
her enough trouble and unhappiness already."

"Then it is your cousin that you mean to see," she said softly--"this
man, Marwood, who sent you to the prison."

For a second I was silent. It had suddenly occurred to me that in
asking these questions Sonia might be acting under the instructions of
McMurtrie or her father.

She saw my hesitation and evidently guessed the cause.

"Oh, you needn't think I shall repeat what you tell me," she broke
out almost scornfully. "The doctor and my father are quite capable of
taking care of themselves. They don't want me to act as their spy."

There was a genuine ring of dislike in her voice as she mentioned
their names which made me believe that she was speaking the truth.

"Well," I said frankly, "I was thinking of looking up George just to
see how he has been getting on in my absence. But apart from that I
have every intention of playing straight with McMurtrie. It seems to
me to be my only chance."

A bell tinkled faintly somewhere away in the house, and Sonia got up
off the bed.

"It _is_ your only chance," she said quietly, "but it may be a better
one than you imagine."

And with this encouraging if somewhat obscure remark she went out and
left me to my thoughts.

McMurtrie came up about an hour later. Suave and courteous as ever,
he knocked at my door before entering the room, and wished me good
morning in the friendliest of fashions.

"I have brought you another _Daily Mail_--yesterday's," he said,
throwing the paper down on the bed. "It contains the second instalment
of your adventures." Then he paused and looked at me with that curious
smile that seemed to begin and end with his lips. "Well," he added,
"and how are the stiffness and the sore throat this morning?"

"Gone," I said, "both of them. I have no excuse for stopping in bed
except lack of clothes."

He nodded and sat down on the window-sill. "I daresay we can find a
way out of that difficulty. My friend Savaroff would, I am sure, be
delighted to lend you some garments to go on with. You seem to be much
of a size."

"Well, I should be delighted to accept them," I said. "Even the joy of
being in a real bed again begins to wear off after two days."

"I am afraid you can't expect very much liberty while you are our
guest," he said, leaning back against the window. "It would be too
dangerous for you to go outside the house, even at night time. I
expect Sonia told you about our visitor yesterday."

"Yes," I said; "I should like to have heard the interview."

"It was quite interesting. From what he told me I should say that few
prisoners have been more missed than you are. It appears that there
are over seventy warders hunting about the neighbourhood, to say
nothing of volunteers."

"I seem to be giving a lot of trouble," I said sadly.

The doctor shrugged his shoulders. "Not to us. I am only sorry that
we can't offer you a more entertaining visit." He opened his case and
helped himself to a cigarette. "On the whole, however, I daresay you
won't find the time drag so very much. There will be the business
of altering your appearance--I hope to start on that the day after
tomorrow--and then I want you to make me out a full list of everything
you will need in connection with your experiments. It would be best
perhaps to have a drawing of the actual shed--just as you would like
it fitted up. You might start on this right away."

"Certainly," I said. "I shall be glad to have something to do."

"And I don't suppose you will mind much if we can't arrange anything
very luxurious for you in the way of living accommodation. We shall
have to choose as lonely a place as possible, and it will probably
involve your feeding chiefly on tinned food, and roughing it a bit
generally. It won't be for very long."

"I shan't mind in the least," I said. "Anything will be comfortable
after Princetown. As long as you can fix me up with what I want for my
work I shan't grumble about the rest."

He nodded again in a satisfied manner. "By the way," he said, "I
suppose you never wore a beard or a moustache before you went to
prison?"

"Only once in some amateur theatricals," I answered "and then the
moustache came off."

"They will make a great difference in your appearance by themselves,"
he went on, looking at me critically. "I wonder how long they will
take to grow."

I passed my hand up my face, which was already covered with a thick
stubble about half an inch in length. "At the present rate of
progress," I said, "I should think about a week."

McMurtrie smiled. "Another fortnight on top of that will be nearer the
mark, I expect," he said, getting up from the bed. "That will just fit
in with our arrangements. In three weeks we ought to be able to fix
you up with what you want, and by that time there won't be quite so
much excitement about your escape. The _Daily Mail_ will have become
tired of you, even if the police haven't." He stopped to flick the ash
off his cigarette. "Of course you will have to be extremely careful
when you are in London. I shall change your appearance so that it
will be quite impossible for any one to recognize you, but there will
always be the danger of somebody remembering your voice."

"I can disguise that to a certain extent," I said. "Besides, it's not
likely that I shall run across any one I know well. I only want to
amuse myself for two or three evenings, and the West End's a large
place as far as amusement goes." Then I paused. "If you really thought
it was too risky," I added carelessly, "I would give up the idea."

It was a bold stroke--but it met with the success that it deserved.
Any lingering doubts McMurtrie may have had about my intentions were
apparently dispersed.

"I think you will work all the better for a short holiday," he said;
"and I am sure you are sensible enough to keep out of any trouble."

He walked to the door, and stood for a moment with his hand on the
knob. "I will send you up the clothes and some paper and ink," he
added. "Then you can get up or write in bed--just as you like."

After three years of granite quarrying--broken only by a short spell
of sewing mailsacks--the thought of getting back to a more congenial
form of work was a decidedly pleasant one. During the half-hour that
elapsed before Sonia came up with my things, I lay in bed, busily
pondering over various points in connection with my approaching task.
I had often done the same in the long solitary hours in my cell, and
worked out innumerable figures and details in connection with it on my
prison slate. Most of them, however, I had only retained vaguely in my
head, for it is one of the intelligent rules of our cheerful convict
system to allow no prisoner to make permanent notes of anything that
might be of possible service to him after his release.

There seemed, therefore, every prospect that I should be fully
occupied for some time to come. Indeed, it was not until I had dressed
myself in Savaroff's clothes (they fitted me excellently) and sat down
at the table with a pen and a pile of foolscap in front of me, that I
realized what a lengthy task I had taken on.

All my rough notes--those invaluable notes and calculations that I
had spent eighteen months over--were packed away in my safe at the
Victoria Street office. I had not bothered about them at the time, for
when you are being tried for your life other matters are apt to assume
a certain degree of unimportance. Besides, although I had told George
of their existence, I knew very well that, being jotted down in a
private cypher, no one except myself would be able to make head or
tail of what they were about.

Still they would naturally have been of immense help to me now if I
could have got hold of them. Clear as the main details were in my
mind, I saw I should have to go over a good bit of old ground before
I could make out the exact list of my requirements which McMurtrie
needed.

All that afternoon and the whole of the following day I stuck steadily
to my task. I had little to interrupt me, for with the exception
of Sonia who brought me up my meals, and the old deaf-and-dumb
housekeeper who came to do my room about midday, I saw or heard
nobody. McMurtrie did not appear again, and Savaroff, as I knew, was
away in London.

I took an hour off in the evening for the purpose of studying the
_Daily Mail_, which proved to be quite as entertaining as the previous
issue. There were two and a half columns about me altogether, the
first consisting of a powerful if slightly inaccurate description of
how I had stolen the bicycle, and the remainder dealing with various
features of my crime and my escape. It was headed:

STILL AT LARGE
NEIL LYNDON'S FIGHT FOR LIBERTY

and I settled myself down to read with a feeling of enjoyment that
would doubtless have gratified Lord Northcliffe had he been fortunate
enough to know about it.

"Neil Lyndon," it began, "whose daring escape from Princetown was
fully described in yesterday's _Daily Mail_, has so far successfully
baffled his pursuers. Not only is he still at liberty, but having
possessed himself of a bicycle and a change of clothes by means of an
amazingly audacious burglary, it is quite possible that he has managed
to get clear away from the immediate neighbourhood."

This opening paragraph was followed by a full and vivid description of
my raid on the bicycle house. It appeared that the machine which I
had borrowed was the property of a certain Major Hammond, who, when
interviewed by the representative of the _Mail_, expressed himself of
the opinion that I was a dangerous character and that I ought to be
recaptured without delay.

The narrative then shifted to my dramatic appearance on the bicycle,
as witnessed by the surprised eyes of Assistant-warder Marshfield.
According to that gentleman I had flashed past him at a terrific
speed, hurling a handful of gravel in his face, which had temporarily
blinded him. With amazing pluck and presence of mind he had recovered
himself in time to puncture my back wheel, a feat of marksmanship
which, as the _Daily Mail_ observed, was "highly creditable under the
circumstances."

From that point it seemed that all traces of me had ceased. Both I and
the bicycle had vanished into space as completely as Elijah and his
fiery chariot, and not all the united brains of Carmelite House
appeared able to suggest a wholly satisfactory solution.

"Lyndon," said the _Mail_, "may have succeeded in reaching Plymouth on
the stolen machine, and there obtained the food and shelter of which
by that time he must have been sorely in need. On the other hand it
is possible that, starved, frozen, and most likely wounded, he is
crouching in some remote coppice, grimly determined to perish rather
than to surrender himself to the warders."

It was "possible," certainly, but as a guess at the truth that was
about all that could be said for it.

The thing that pleased me most in the whole paper, however, was the
interview with George in the third column. It was quite short--only a
six-line paragraph headed "Mr. Marwood and the Escape," but brief as
it was, it filled me with a rich delight.

"Interviewed by our Special Correspondent at his residence on the
Chelsea Embankment, Mr. George Marwood was reluctant to express any
opinion on the escape. 'The whole thing,' he said, 'is naturally
extremely distasteful to me. I can only hope that the unhappy man may
be recaptured before he succumbs to exposure, and before he has the
chance to commit any further acts of robbery and violence.'"

In regard to the last sentiment I had not the faintest doubt that
George was speaking the truth from the bottom of his heart. As long as
I was at liberty his days and nights would be consumed by an acute and
painful anxiety. He was no doubt haunted by the idea that I had broken
prison largely for the purpose of renewing our old acquaintance, and
the thought that I might possibly succeed in my object must have been
an extremely uncomfortable one. I laughed softly to myself as I sat
and pictured his misgivings. It cheered me to think that whatever
happened later he would be left in this gnawing suspense for at least
another three weeks. After that I might perhaps see my way to relieve
it.

There were other people, I reflected, who must have read the _Mail_
with an equally deep if rather different interest. I tried to fancy
how the news of my escape had affected Joyce. For all my cynical
outburst in the morning, I knew well that no truer or more honest
little heart ever beat in a girl's breast, and that the uncertainty
about my fate must even now be causing her the utmost distress.

Then there was Tommy Morrison. Somehow or other I didn't think Tommy
would be quite as anxious as Joyce. I could almost see him slapping
his leg and laughing that great laugh of his, as he read about my
theft of the bicycle and my wild dash down the hill past the warder.
He was a great believer in me, was Tommy--and I felt sure that nothing
but the news of my recapture would shake his faith in my ability to
survive.

It was good to know that, whatever the rest of the world might be
thinking, these two at least would be following my escape with a
passionate hope that I should pull through.

Just about six o'clock in the evening of the next day Savaroff
returned. I heard the car drive up to the house, and then came the
sound of voices and footsteps, followed by the banging of a door.
After that there was silence for perhaps twenty minutes while my two
hosts were presumably talking together in one of the rooms below.
Whether Sonia was with them or not I could not tell.

At last I heard some one mounting the stairs, and a moment later
McMurtrie's figure framed itself in the doorway.

"I'm afraid I am interrupting your work," he said, standing on the
threshold and looking down at the sheets of foolscap which littered
the table in front of me.

"Not a bit," I returned cheerfully. "I've just finished"; and I began
to gather up the fruits of my two-days' toil into something like
order.

He shut the door and came across to where I was sitting. "Do you mean
you have made out the full list of what you want?" he asked, picking
up one of the sheets and running his eye rapidly over the notes and
calculations.

"I have done it all in the rough," I replied, "except the drawing of
the shed. That will only take an hour or so."

"Excellent," he exclaimed. "I can see there won't be much time wasted
when we once get to work." Then he laid down the paper. "Tomorrow
morning I propose trying the first of our little operations. Savaroff
has brought me the things I needed, and I think we can finish the
whole business in a couple of days."

"What part of me are you going to start on?" I inquired with some
interest.

"I think I shall alter the shape of your nose first," he said. "It's
practically a painless operation--just one injection of hot paraffin
wax under the skin. After that you have only to keep quiet for a
couple of hours so that the wax can set in the right shape."

"What about the X-ray treatment?" I asked.

He shrugged his shoulders. "That's perfectly simple too. Merely a
matter of covering up everything except the part that we want exposed.
One uses a specially prepared sort of lead sheeting. There is
absolutely no danger or difficulty about it."

I thought at first that he might be purposely minimizing both
operations in order to put me at my ease, but as it turned out he was
telling me nothing except the literal truth.

At half-past ten the next morning he came up to my room with Sonia in
attendance, the latter carrying a Primus stove and a small black bag.

At his own suggestion I had stayed in bed, and from between the sheets
I viewed their entrance not without a certain whimsical feeling of
regret. When one has had a nose of a particular shape for the best
part of thirty years it is rather a wrench to feel that one is
abandoning it for a stranger. I passed my fingers down it almost
affectionately.

McMurtrie, who appeared to be in the best of spirits, wished me
good-morning in that silkily polite manner of his which I was getting
to dislike more and more. Sonia said nothing. She simply put the
things down on the table by my bedside, and then stood there with
the air of sullen hostility which she seemed generally to wear in
McMurtrie's presence.

"I feel rather like a gladiator," I said. "Morituri te salutant!"

McMurtrie, who had taken a shallow blue saucepan out of the bag and
was filling it with hot water, looked up with a smile.

"It will be all over in a minute," he said, reassuringly. "The only
trouble is keeping the wax liquid while one is actually injecting it.
One has to stand it in boiling water until the last second."

He put the saucepan on the stove, and then produced out of the bag
a little china-clay cup, which he stood in the water. Into this he
dropped a small lump of transparent wax.

We waited for a minute until the latter melted, McMurtrie filling up
the time by carefully sponging the bridge of my nose with some liquid
antiseptic. Then, picking up what seemed like an ordinary hypodermic
syringe, he warmed it carefully by holding it close to the Primus.

"Now," he said; "all you have to do is to keep perfectly still. You
will just feel the prick of the needle and the smart of the hot wax,
but it won't really hurt. If you move you will probably spoil the
operation."

"Go ahead," I answered encouragingly.

He dipped the syringe in the cup, and then with a quick movement of
his hand brought it across my face. I felt a sharp stab, followed
instantly by a stinging sensation all along the bridge of the nose.
McMurtrie dropped the syringe at once, and taking the skin between his
fingers began to pinch and mould it with swift, deft touches into the
required shape. I lay as motionless as possible, hoping that things
were prospering.

It seemed to me a long time before the job was finished, though I
daresay it was in reality only a matter of forty-five seconds. I
know I felt vastly relieved when, with a quick intake of his breath,
McMurtrie suddenly sat back and began to contemplate his work.

"Well?" I inquired anxiously.

He nodded his head, with every appearance of satisfaction.

"I think we can call it a complete success," he said. Then he stepped
back and looked at me critically from a couple of paces away. "What do
you think, Sonia?" he asked.

"I suppose it's what you wanted," she said, in a rather grudging,
ungracious sort of fashion.

"If you won't think me vain," I observed, "I should like to have a
look at myself in the glass."

McMurtrie walked to the fireplace and unhooked the small mirror which
hung above the mantelpiece.

"I would rather you waited for a couple of days if you don't mind," he
said. "You know what you used to look like better than any one else,
and it will be a good test if you see yourself quite suddenly when
the whole thing is finished. I will borrow this--and keep you out of
temptation."

"Just as you like," I returned. "It will at least give me time to
train myself for the shock."

Quick and easy as the first operation had been, the second proved
equally simple. The only apparatus it involved was an ordinary X-ray
machine, with a large glass globe attached to it, which McMurtrie
brought up the next morning and arranged carefully by my bedside. On
his pressing down a switch, which he did for my benefit, the whole
interior of this globe became flooded with those curious lambent
violet rays, which have altered so many of our previous notions on the
subject of light and its power.

McMurtrie placed me in position, and then producing a large sheet of
finely-beaten-out lead, proceeded to bend and twist it into a sort of
weird-looking helmet. When I put this on it covered my head and face
almost completely, leaving only an inch of hair along the forehead and
perhaps a little more over each temple exposed to the light.

Thus equipped, I sat for perhaps an hour in the full glare of the
machine. It was dull work, and as McMurtrie made no attempt to enliven
it by conversation I was not sorry when he eventually flicked off the
switch, and relieved me of my headgear.

I had expected my hair to tumble out in a lump, but as a matter of
fact it was over two days in accomplishing the task. There was no
discomfort about the process: it just came off gradually all along
my forehead, leaving a smooth bare line which I could feel with my
fingers. As soon as it was all gone, McMurtrie proceeded to decorate
me with some kind of stain that he had specially prepared for my
face and neck--a composition which according to him would remain
practically unaffected either by washing or exposure. It smelt
damnably in the pot, but directly it was rubbed in this slight
drawback disappeared.

I was naturally anxious to see what result all these attentions had
had upon my personal appearance, but McMurtrie insisted on my waiting
until my hair and beard had grown to something like a tolerable
length. I can well remember the little thrill of excitement that
ran through me when, on the fourth day after my first operation, he
brought me back the looking-glass.

"I think we might introduce you to yourself today," he said, smiling.
"Of course another fortnight will make a considerable difference
still, but even now you will be able to get a good idea of what you
will look like. I am curious to hear your opinion."

He handed me the glass, and the next moment, with an involuntary cry
of amazement, I was staring at my reflection.

Instead of my usual features I saw a rough-looking, bearded man of
about forty-five, with an aquiline nose, a high forehead, and a dark
sunburned skin. It was the face of a complete stranger: at the
best that of a hard-bitten war correspondent or explorer; at the
worst--well, I don't know what it mightn't have been at the worst.

I stared and stared in a kind of incredulous fascination, until
McMurtrie's voice abruptly recalled me to my surroundings.

"Well, Mr. Neil Lyndon," he said, "do you recognize yourself?"

I laid down the glass.

"Don't call me that," I replied quietly. "Neil Lyndon is dead."

CHAPTER VII

A KISS AND A CONFESSION

One would hardly expect an escaped murderer to complain of being
dull--especially when the whole country is still ringing with the
story of his disappearance. Yet I must confess that, when I had once
got used to the strangeness of my position, the next two weeks dragged
intolerably.

I was accustomed to confinement, but in the prison at all events I had
had plenty of hard work and exercise, while here, cooped up entirely
in one room, I was able to do nothing but pace restlessly up and
down most of the day like a caged bear. I had finished my lists and
drawings for McMurtrie, and my only resources were two or three
sensational novels which Sonia brought me back one day after a visit
to Plymouth. I cannot say I found them very entertaining. I had been
rather too deeply into life in that line myself to have much use for
the second-hand imaginings of other people.

Of the doctor and Savaroff I saw comparatively little. Both of them
were away from the house a good deal of the time, often returning in
the car late at night, and then sitting up talking till some unholy
hour in the morning. I used to lie awake in bed, and listen to the
dull rumble of their voices in the room below.

That there was something mysterious going on which I knew nothing
about I became more convinced every day, but what it could be I was
unable to guess. Once or twice I tried to sound Sonia on the matter,
but although she would talk freely about my own affairs, on any point
connected with herself or the curious household to which she belonged
she maintained an obstinate silence.

The girl puzzled me strangely. At times it almost seemed as though she
were being forced against her will to take part in some business that
she thoroughly disliked; but then the obvious way in which the two
men trusted her scarcely bore out this idea. She showed no particular
affection for her father, and it was plain that she detested
McMurtrie, yet there was evidently some bond between them strong
enough to keep all three together.

To me she behaved from the first with a sort of sullen friendliness.
She would come and sit in my room, and with her chin resting on her
hand and her big dark eyes fixed on mine, she would ask me questions
about myself or listen to the stories I told her of the prison. Once,
when I had been describing some peculiarly mean little persecution
which one of the warders (who objected on principle to what he called
"gen'lemen lags") had amused himself by practising on me, she had
jumped up and with a quick, almost savage gesture, laid her hand on my
arm.

"Never mind," she said; "it's over now, and you shall make them pay
for what they have done to you. We can promise you that at least," and
she laughed with a curious bitterness I failed to understand.

Of the mysterious Mr. Hoffman, who had turned up at the house on the
second day after my arrival, I saw or heard nothing more. I asked
Sonia about him one day, but she only replied curtly that he was a
business friend of the doctor's, and with this meagre information I
had to remain content.

The point that I felt perhaps most inquisitive about was whom
McMurtrie could have mistaken me for when I had crawled in through the
kitchen window. I had a distinct recollection of his having mentioned
some name just before I had collapsed, but it had gone out of my head
and for the life of me I couldn't recall it. You know the maddening
way a name will hang about the tip of one's tongue, just avoiding
every effort at recapture.

Apart from my talks with Sonia, my chief entertainment was reading the
_Daily Mail_. Not a day passed but some one seemed to discover a fresh
clue to my hiding-place. I was seen and recognized at Manchester,
Yarmouth, London, and Edinburgh; while one gentleman wrote to inform
the editor he had trustworthy information I was actually in St.
Petersburg, having been engaged by the Russian Government to effect
certain improvements in their torpedo service. All this was quite
pleasing, for, in addition to showing me that the police were still
utterly at sea as to my whereabouts, I knew that each fresh report
would help to keep George in an acute state of nervous tension.

Just as my imprisonment was becoming almost unbearably irksome, the
end arrived with an unexpected abruptness. I was sitting at the window
one morning smoking an after-breakfast pipe--a pipe which Sonia had
brought me back from Plymouth at the same time as the books--when I
heard a loud ring at the front door-bell, followed by a couple of
sharp knocks. Despite my three years' absence from worldly affairs, I
recognized the unmistakable touch of a telegraph-boy.

Since it was hardly likely that the wire was for me, I continued to
smoke with undisturbed serenity. Perhaps ten minutes passed, and I
was just wondering whether the message had anything to do with the
arrangements which McMurtrie was making on my behalf, when a door
slammed and I heard someone coming up the stairs. I knew from the
sound that it was the doctor himself.

He entered the room, and looked round with his usual suave smile. To
all outward appearance he was as composed as ever, but I had a curious
presentiment that something unexpected had happened. However, I
thought it best to show no sign of any such impression.

"Good-morning," I said, knocking out my pipe and stuffing it away in
my pocket--or rather Savaroff's pocket. "A grand day, isn't it!"

"Beautiful," he answered genially--"quite beautiful." Then he walked
across and sat down on the end of the bed. "As a matter of fact, I
came up to see whether you felt like taking advantage of it."

"Do you mean that it's safe for me to go out?" I asked with some
eagerness.

He shrugged his shoulders. "It's as safe as it ever will be; but I
meant rather more than that."

There was a pause.

"Yes?" I said encouragingly.

"I meant that our preparations are going on so well, that as far as I
can see there is nothing to be gained by keeping you here any longer.
I have just had a wire to say that the cottage and shed we have been
arranging for near Tilbury are practically finished. If you want your
week in London I think you had better go up this afternoon."

His proposal took me so completely by surprise that for a moment I
hardly knew what to say. Somehow or other, I had a suspicion that he
was keeping something back. I knew that he had intended me to stay
where I was for at least another three days, and he was not the sort
of man to change his plans without an uncommonly good reason.

Still, the last thing I wanted was to let him think that I in any way
doubted his good faith, so pulling myself together, I forced a really
creditable laugh.

"Right you are," I said. "It's rather short notice, but I'm game to
start any time. The only thing is, what am I to do about clothes?"

"You can keep those you're wearing to go up in," he answered. "When
you get to London you must buy yourself an outfit. Get what you want
at different shops and pay for them in cash. I will advance you fifty
pounds, which ought to be enough to last you the week."

"One can do quite a lot of dressing and dissipation on fifty pounds,"
I replied cheerfully. "Where am I going to stay?"

He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out an envelope. "Here's the
address," he said. "It's a lodging-house near Victoria Station, kept
by a sister of Mrs. Weston. You will find it comfortable and quiet,
and you needn't worry about the landlady having any suspicions. I have
told her that you have just come back from abroad and that you want
to be in London for several days on business. You will pass under the
name of Nicholson--James Nicholson."

He handed me the envelope, and I read the address.

Mrs. Oldbury,

3, Edith Terrace,

S.W.

_Nr. Victoria Station_.

"Very well," I said, getting up from my seat; "I understand I am to
stop with Mrs. Oldbury and amuse myself spending the fifty pounds
until I hear from you."

He nodded. "Directly things are ready we shall let you know. Till then
you are free to do as you like." He opened a small leather case and
handed me a bundle of bank-notes. "Here is the money," he added with a
smile. "You see, we trust you absolutely. If you choose to make a bolt
to America, there will be nothing to stop you."

It was said with such apparent frankness that it ought to have carried
conviction; but as a matter of fact it did nothing of the kind. I felt
certain that it would not be McMurtrie's fault if he failed to keep
himself informed about my movements while I was in London. Too much
trustfulness in human nature did not seem likely to be one of his
besetting weaknesses.

However, I pocketed the notes cheerfully enough; indeed the mere touch
of them in my hand gave me a pleasant feeling of confidence. It is
always nice to handle money in comparative bulk, but being absolutely
without it for thirty-six months invests the operation with a peculiar
charm.

"You had better be ready to start from here about half-past one," said
McMurtrie. "Savaroff will take you into Plymouth in the car, and there
is a fast train up at two-five. It gets you into London just before
seven."

"Good!" I said. "That will give me time to buy what I want when I
arrive. It would spoil my dinner if I had to shop afterwards."

McMurtrie, who had crossed to the door, looked back at me with a sort
of half-envious, half-contemptuous smile.

"You are a curious fellow, Lyndon," he said. "At times you might be a
boy of twenty."

"Well, I am only twenty-nine," I protested; "and one can't always
remember that one's an escaped murderer."

I was sitting on the window-sill when I made the last remark; but as
soon as he had gone I jumped to my feet and began to pace restlessly
up and down the room. Now that the moment of my release was really at
hand, a fierce excitement had gripped hold of me. Although I had
had plenty of time to get used to my new position, the amazing
possibilities of it had never seemed to come fully home to me
till that minute. I suddenly realized that I was stepping into an
experience such as probably no other human being had ever tasted. I
was like a man coming back from the dead, safe against recognition,
and with all the record of my past life scarred and burnt into my
memory.

I walked to the glass and once again stared long and closely at my
reflection. There could be no question about the completeness of my
disguise. Between Neil Lyndon as the world had known him, and the
grim, bearded, sunburned face that looked back at me out of the
mirror, there was a difference sufficiently remarkable to worry the
recording angel. People's wits may be sharpened both by fear and
affection, but I felt that unless I betrayed myself deliberately, not
even those who knew me best, such as George or Tommy, would have the
remotest suspicion of my real identity. Anyhow, I intended to put my
opinion to the test before very many hours had passed.

I was pondering over this agreeable prospect, and still inspecting
myself in the glass, when I heard a soft knock at the door. I opened
it, and found Sonia standing outside. She was holding a bag in her
hand--a good-sized Gladstone that had evidently seen some hard work
in its time, and she came into the room and shut the door behind her
before speaking.

"Well," she said, in her curious, half-sullen way, "are you pleased
you are going to London?"

"Why, yes," I said; "I'm pleased enough."

As a matter of fact the word "pleased" seemed rather too simple to sum
up my emotions altogether adequately.

She placed the bag on the floor and sat down on the bed. Then, leaning
her face against the bottom rail, she stared up at me for a moment
without speaking.

"What did the doctor tell you?" she asked at last.

"He told me I could go up to London by the two-five," I said.

"Is that all?"

"Dr. McMurtrie," I reminded her, "is never recklessly communicative."
Then I paused. "Still I should like to know the reason for the change
of programme," I added.

She raised her head and glanced half nervously, half defiantly at the
door.

"We are going to give up this house tomorrow--that's the reason," she
said, speaking low and rather quickly. "Our work here is finished, and
it will be best for us to leave as soon as possible."

"I wish," I said regretfully, "that I inspired just a little more
confidence."

Sonia hesitated. Then she sat up, and with a characteristic gesture of
hers pushed back her hair from her forehead.

"Come here," she said slowly; "come quite close to me."

I walked towards her, wondering at the sudden change in her voice.
As I approached she straightened her arms out each side of her, and
half-closing her eyes, raised her face to mine.

"Kiss me," she said, almost in a whisper; "kiss my lips."

I could hardly have declined such an invitation even if I had wished
to, but as a matter of fact I felt no such prompting. It was over
three years since I had kissed anybody, and with her eyes half-closed
and her breast softly rising and falling, Sonia looked decidedly
attractive. I bent down till my mouth was almost touching hers. Then
with a little sigh she put her arms round my neck, and slowly and
deliberately our lips met.

It was at this exceedingly inopportune moment that Savaroff's guttural
voice came grating up the stairs from the hall below.

"Sonia!" he shouted--"Sonia! Where are you? I want you."

She quietly disengaged her arms, and drawing back, paused for a moment
with her hands on my shoulders.

"Now you understand," she said, looking straight into my eyes. "They
are nothing to me, my father and the doctor--I hate them both. It
is you I am thinking of--you only." She leaned forward and swiftly,
almost fiercely again kissed my mouth. "When the time comes," she
whispered--

"Sonia! Sonia!" Once more Savaroff's voice rose impatiently from the
hall.

In a moment Sonia had crossed the room. I had one rapid vision of
her looking back at me--her lips parted her dark eyes shining
passionately, and then the door closed and I was alone.

I sat down on the bed and took a long breath. There was a time when an
unexpected incident of this sort would merely have left me in a state
of comfortable optimism, but a prolonged residence in Dartmoor had
evidently shaken my nerve.

I soon collected myself, however, and lighting a cigarette with some
care, got up and walked to the open window. If Sonia was really in
love with me--and there seemed to be rather sound evidence that she
was--I had apparently, succeeded in making a highly useful ally. This
may appear to have been rather a cold-blooded way of regarding the
matter, but to tell the truth the whole thing had taken me so utterly
by surprise that I could scarcely realize as yet that I had been
personally concerned in it. I had kissed her certainly--under
the circumstances I could hardly have done otherwise--but of any
deliberate attempt to make her fond of me I was beautifully and
entirely innocent, it had never struck me that an escaped murderer
with an artificial and rather forbidding countenance was in danger of
inspiring affection, especially in a girl whose manner had always
been slightly suggestive of a merely sullen tolerance. Still, having
succeeded in doing so, I felt no qualms in making the best of the
situation. I needed friends rather badly, especially friends who had
an intimate working acquaintance with the eminent firm of Messrs.
McMurtrie and Savaroff. If the not wholly disagreeable task of
returning Sonia's proffered affection was all that was necessary, I
felt that it would be flying in the face of Providence to decline such
an opportunity. I was not the least in love with her--except by a very
generous interpretation of the word, but I did not think that this
unfortunate fact would seriously disturb my conscience. A life
sentence for what you haven't done is apt to rob one's sense of honour
of some of its more delicate points.

With a pleasant feeling that things were working for the best, I
got up again; and hoisting the Gladstone bag on to the bed began to
collect the books, the tooth-brush, and the few other articles which
made up my present earthly possessions.

CHAPTER VIII

RT. HON. SIR GEORGE FRINTON, P.C.

That journey of mine to London stands out in my memory with
extraordinary vividness. I don't think I shall ever forget the
smallest and most unimportant detail of it. The truth is, I suppose,
that my whole mind and senses were in an acutely impressionable state
after lying fallow, as they practically had, for over three years.
Besides, the sheer pleasure of being out in the world again seemed to
invest everything with an amazing interest and wonder.

It was just half-past one when Savaroff brought the car round to the
front door. I was standing in the hall talking to McMurtrie, who had
decided not to accompany us into Plymouth. Of Sonia I had seen nothing
since our unfortunately interrupted interview in the morning.

"Well," said the doctor, as with a grinding of brakes the car pulled
up outside, "we can look on this as the real beginning of our little
enterprise."

I picked up my Gladstone. "Let's hope," I said, "that the end will be
equally satisfactory."

McMurtrie nodded. "I fancy," he said, "that we need have no
apprehensions. Providence is with us, Mr. Lyndon--Providence or some
equally effective power."

There was a note of irony in his voice which left one in no doubt as
to his own private opinion of our guiding agency.

I stepped out into the drive carrying my bag. Savaroff, who was
sitting in the driving seat of the car, turned half round towards me.

"Put it on the floor at the back under the rug," he said. "You will
sit in front with me."

He spoke in his usual surly fashion, but by this time I had become
accustomed to it. So contenting myself with a genial observation to
the effect that I should be charmed, I tucked the bag away out of
sight and clambered up beside him into the left-hand seat. McMurtrie
stood in the doorway, that mirthless smile of his fixed upon his lips.

"Good-bye," I said; "we shall meet at Tilbury, I suppose--if not
before?"

He nodded. "At Tilbury certainly. Au revoir, Mr. Nicholson."

And with this last reminder of my future identity echoing in my ears,
we slid off down the drive.

All the way into Plymouth Savaroff maintained a grumpy silence. He was
naturally a taciturn sort of person, and I think, besides that, he had
taken a strong dislike to me from the night we had first seen each
other. If this were so I had certainly not done much to modify it. I
felt that the man was naturally a bully, and it always pleases and
amuses me to be disliked by bullies. Indeed, if I had had no other
reason for responding to Sonia's proffered affection I should have
done so just because Savaroff was her father.

My companion's sulks, however, in no way interfered with my enjoyment
of the drive. It was a perfect day on which to regain one's liberty.
The sun shone down from a blue sky flecked here and there with fleecy
white clouds, and on each side of the road the hedges and trees were
just beginning to break into an almost shrill green. The very air
seemed to be filled with a delicious sense of freedom and adventure.

As we got nearer to Plymouth I found a fresh source of interest and
pleasure in the people that we passed walking along the road or
driving in traps and cars. After my long surfeit of warders and
convicts the mere sight of ordinarily-dressed human beings laughing
and talking filled me with the most intense satisfaction. On several
occasions I had a feeling that I should like to jump out of the car
and join some group of cheerful-looking strangers who turned to watch
us flash past. This feeling became doubly intense when we actually
entered Plymouth, where the streets seemed to be almost inconveniently
crowded with an extraordinary number of attractive-looking girls.

I was afforded no opportunity, however, for indulging in any such
pleasant interlude. We drove straight through the town at a rapid
pace, avoiding the main thoroughfares as much as possible, and not
slackening until we pulled up outside Millbay station. We left the car
in charge of a tired-looking loafer who was standing in the gutter,
and taking out my bag, I followed Savaroff into the booking office.

"You had better wait there," he muttered, pointing to the corner. "I
will get the ticket."

I followed his suggestion, and while he took his place in the small
queue in front of the window I amused myself watching my fellow
passengers hurrying up and down the platform. They looked peaceful
enough, but I couldn't help picturing what a splendid disturbance
there would be if it suddenly came out that Neil Lyndon was somewhere
on the premises. The last time I had been in this station was on my
way up to Princetown two and a half years before.

At last Savaroff emerged from the throng with my ticket in his hand.

"I have taken you a first-class," he said rather grudgingly. "You will
probably have the carriage to yourself. It is better so."

I nodded. "I shouldn't like to infect any of these good people with
homicidal mania," I said cheerfully.

He looked at me rather suspiciously--I think he always had a sort of
vague feeling that I was laughing at him--and then without further
remark led the way out on to the platform.

McMurtrie had given me a sovereign and some loose silver for immediate
expenses, and I stopped at the bookstall to buy myself some papers. I
selected a _Mail_, a _Sportsman, Punch_, and the _Saturday Review_. I
lingered over the business because it seemed to annoy Savaroff: indeed
it was not until he had twice jogged my elbow that I made my final
selection. Then, grasping my bag, I marched up the platform behind
him, coming to a halt outside an empty first-class carriage.

"This will do," he said, and finding no sound reason for contradicting
him I stepped in and put my bag upon the rack.

"Good-bye, Savaroff," I said cheerfully. "I shall have the pleasure of
seeing you too at Tilbury, I suppose?"

He closed the door, and thrust his head in through the open window.

"You will," he said in his guttural voice; "and let me give you a
little word of advice, my friend. We have treated you well--eh, but if
you think you can in any way break your agreement with us you make a
very bad mistake."

I took out my cigarette case. "My dear Savaroff," I said coldly, "why
on earth should I want to break my agreement with you? It is the only
possible chance I have of a new start."

He looked at me closely, and then nodded his head. "It is well. So
long as you remember we are not people to be played with, no harm will
come to you."

He let this off with such a dramatic air that I very nearly burst out
laughing.

"I shan't forget it," I said gravely. "I've got a very good memory."

There was a shrill whistle from the engine, followed by a warning
shout of "Stand back there, please; stand back, sir!" I had a last
glimpse of Savaroff's unpleasant face, as he hurriedly withdrew his
head, and then with a slight jerk the train began to move slowly out
of the station.

I didn't open my papers at once. For some time I just sat where I was
in the corner and stared out contentedly over the passing landscape.
There is nothing like prison to broaden one's ideas about pleasure. Up
till the time of my trial I had never looked on a railway journey as a
particularly fascinating experience; now it seemed to me to be
simply chock-full of delightful sensations. The very names of the
stations--Totnes, Newton Abbot, Teignmouth--filled me with a sort of
curious pleasure: they were part of the world that I had once belonged
to--the gay, free, jolly world of work and laughter that I had thought
lost to me for ever. I felt so absurdly contented that for a little
while I almost forgot about George.

The only stop we made was at Exeter. There were not many people on the
platform, and I had just decided that I was not going to be disturbed,
when suddenly a fussy-looking little old gentleman emerged from the
booking office, followed by a porter carrying his bag. They came
straight for my carriage.

The old gentleman reached it first, and puckering up his face, peered
in at me through the window. Apparently the inspection was a success.

"This will do," he observed. "Leave my bag on the seat, and go and see
that my portmanteau is safely in the van. Then if you come back here I
will give you threepence for your trouble."

Dazzled by the prospect, the porter hurried off on his errand, and
with a little grunt the old gentleman began to hoist himself in
through the door. I put out my hand to assist him.

"Thank you, sir, thank you," he remarked breathlessly. "I am extremely
obliged to you, sir."

Then, gathering up his bag, he shuffled along the carriage, and
settled himself down in the opposite corner.

I was quite pleased with the prospect of a fellow passenger,
unexciting as this particular one promised to be. I have either read
or heard it stated that when people first come out of prison they feel
so shy and so lost that their chief object is to avoid any sort of
society at all. I can only say that in my case this was certainly not
true. I wanted to talk to every one: I felt as if whole volumes
of conversation had been accumulating inside me during the long
speechless months of my imprisonment.

It was the old gentleman, however, who first broke our silence.
Lowering his copy of the _Times_, he looked up at me over the top of
his gold-rimmed spectacles.

"I wonder, sir," he said, "whether you would object to having that
window closed; I am extremely susceptible to draughts."

"Why, of course not," I replied cheerfully, and suiting my action to
my words I jerked up the sash.

This prompt attention to his wishes evidently pleased him; for he
thanked me civilly, and then, after a short pause, added some becoming
reflection on the subject of the English spring.

It was not exactly an inspiring opening, but I made the most of it.
Without appearing intrusive I managed to keep the conversation going,
and in a few minutes we were in the middle of a brisk meteorological
discussion of the most approved pattern.

"I daresay you find these sudden changes especially trying," commented
my companion. Then, with a sort of apology in his voice, he added:
"One can hardly help seeing that you have been accustomed to a warmer
climate."

I smiled. "I have been out of England," I said, "for some time"; and
if this was not true in the letter, I don't think that even George
Washington could have found much fault with it in the spirit.

"Indeed, sir, indeed," said the old gentleman. "I envy you, sir. I
only wish my own duties permitted me to winter entirely abroad."

"It has its advantages," I admitted, "but in some ways I am quite
pleased to be back again."

My companion nodded his head. "For one thing," he said, "one gets
terribly behindhand with English news. I find that even the best of
the foreign papers are painfully ill-informed."

A sudden mischievous thought came into my head. "I have hardly seen a
paper of any kind for a fortnight!" I said. "Is there any particular
news? The last interesting thing I saw was about that young fellow's
escape from Dartmoor--that young inventor--what was his name?--who was
in for murder."

The old gentleman looked up sharply. "Ah! Lyndon," he said, "Neil
Lyndon you mean. He is still at large."

"From what I read of the case," I went on carelessly, "it seems rather
difficult to help sympathizing with him--to a certain extent. The
man he murdered doesn't appear to have been any great loss to the
community."

My companion opened his mouth as if to speak, and then hesitated.
"Well, as a matter of fact I am scarcely in a position to discuss the
subject," he said courteously. "Perhaps, sir, you are unaware who I
am?"

He asked the question with a slight touch of self-conscious dignity,
which showed me that in his own opinion at all events he was a person
of considerable importance. I looked at him again more carefully.
There seemed to be something familiar about his face, but beyond that
I was utterly at sea.

"The fact is, I have been so much abroad," I began apologetically--

He cut me short by producing a little silver case from his pocket and
handing me one of his cards.

"Permit me, sir," he said indulgently.

I took it and read the following inscription:

RT. HON. SIR GEORGE FRINTON, P.C.
_The Reform Club_.

I remembered him at once. He was a fairly well known politician--an
old-fashioned member of the Liberal Party, with whose name I had been
more or less acquainted all my life. I had never actually met him in
the old days, but I had seen one or two photographs and caricatures
of him, and this no doubt explained my vague recollection of his
features.

For just a moment I remained silent, struggling against a strong
impulse to laugh. There was something delightfully humorous in the
thought of my sitting in a first-class carriage exchanging cheerful
confidences with a distinguished politician, while Scotland Yard and
the Home Office were racking their brains over my disappearance. It
seemed such a pity I couldn't hand him back a card of my own just for
the fun of watching his face while he read it.

MR. NEIL LYNDON
_Late of His Majesty's Prison_,
_Princetown_.

Collecting myself with an effort, I covered my apparent confusion with
a slight bow.

"It was very stupid of me not to have recognized you from your
pictures," I said.

This compliment evidently pleased the old boy, for he beamed at me in
the most gracious fashion.

"You see now, sir," he said, "why it would be quite impossible for me
to discuss the matter in question."

I bowed again. I didn't see in the least, but he spoke as if the point
was so obvious that I thought it better to let the subject drop. I
could only imagine that he must be holding some official position, the
importance of which he probably overrated.

We drifted off into the discussion of one or two other topics;
settling down eventually to our respective newspapers. I can't say I
followed mine with any keen attention. My brain was too much occupied
with my own affairs to allow me to take in very much of what I read. I
just noticed that we were engaged in a rather heated discussion
with Germany over the future of Servia, and that a well-meaning but
short-sighted Anarchist had made an unsuccessful effort to shoot the
President of the American Steel Trust.

Of my own affairs I could find no mention, beyond a brief statement to
the effect that I was still at liberty. There was not even the usual
letter from somebody claiming to have discovered my hiding-place, and
for the first time since my escape I began to feel a little neglected.
It was evident that as a news topic I was losing something of my first
freshness.

The last bit of the journey from Maidenhead onwards seemed to take us
an unconscionably long time. A kind of fierce restlessness had begun
to get hold of me as we drew nearer to London, and I watched the
fields and houses flying past with an impatience I could hardly
control.

We rushed through Hanwell and Acton, and then suddenly the huge bulk
of Wormwood Scrubbs Prison loomed up in the growing dusk away to
the right of the line. It was there that I had served my
"separates"--those first ghastly six months of solitary confinement
which make even Princetown or Portland a welcome and agreeable change.

At the sight of that poisonous place all the old bitterness welled up
in me afresh. For a moment even my freedom seemed to have lost its
sweetness, and I sat there with my hands clenched and black resentment
in my heart, staring out of those grim unlovely walls. It was lucky
for George that he was not with me in the carriage just then, for
I think I should have wrung his neck without troubling about any
explanations.

I was awakened from these pleasant reflections by a sudden blare of
light and noise on each side of the train. I sat up abruptly, with
a sort of guilty feeling that I had been on the verge of betraying
myself, and letting down the window, found that we were steaming
slowly into Paddington Station. In the farther corner of the carriage
my distinguished friend Sir George Frinton was beginning to collect
his belongings.

I just had time to pull myself together when the train stopped, and
out of the waiting line of porters a man stepped forward and flung
open the carriage door. He was about to possess himself of my fellow
passenger's bag when the latter waved him aside.

"You can attend to this gentleman," he said. "My own servant is
somewhere on the platform." Then turning to me, he added courteously:
"I wish you good-day, sir. I am pleased to have made your
acquaintance. I trust that we shall have the mutual pleasure of
meeting again."

I shook hands with him gravely. "I hope we shall," I replied. "It will
be a distinction that I shall vastly appreciate."

And of all unconscious prophecies that were ever launched, I fancy
this one was about the most accurate.

Preceded by the porter carrying my bag, I crossed the platform and
stepped into a waiting taxi.

"Where to, sir?" inquired the man.

I had a sudden wild impulse to say: "Drive me to George," but I
checked it just in time.

"You had better drive me slowly along Oxford Street," I said. "I want
to stop at one or two shops."

The man started the engine and, climbing back into his seat, set off
with a jerk up the slope. I lay back in the corner, and took in a
long, deep, exulting breath. I was in London--in London at last--and
if those words don't convey to you the kind of savage satisfaction
that filled my soul you must be as deficient in imagination as a
prison governor.

CHAPTER IX

THE MAN WITH THE SCAR

My shopping took me quite a little while. There were a lot of things
I wanted to get, and I saw no reason for hurrying--especially as
McMurtrie was paying for the taxi. I stopped at Selfridge's and laid
in a small but nicely chosen supply of shirts, socks, collars, and
other undergarments, and then, drifting slowly on, picked up at
intervals some cigars, a couple of pairs of boots, and a presentable
Homburg hat.

The question of a suit of clothes was the only problem that offered
any real difficulties. Apart from the fact that Savaroff's suit was by
no means in its first youth, I had a strong objection to wearing his
infernal things a moment longer than I could help. I was determined to
have a decently cut suit as soon as possible, but I knew that it would
be a week at least before any West End tailor would finish the job. In
the meantime I wanted something to go on with, and in my extremity I
suddenly remembered a place in Wardour Street where four or five years
before I had once hired a costume for a Covent Garden ball.

I told the man to drive me there, and much to my relief found the
shop still in existence. There was no difficulty about getting what I
wanted. The proprietor had a large selection of what he called "West
End Misfits," amongst which were several tweeds and blue serge suits
big enough even for my somewhat unreasonable proportions. I chose the
two that fitted me best, and then bought a second-hand suit-case to
pack them away in.

I had spent about fifteen pounds, which seemed to me as much as a
fifty-pound capitalist had any right to squander on necessities. I
therefore returned to the taxi and, arranging my parcels on the
front seat, instructed the man to drive me down to the address that
McMurtrie had given me.

Pimlico was a part of London that I had not patronized extensively in
the days of my freedom, and I was rather in the dark about the precise
situation of Edith Terrace. The taxi-man, however, seemed to suffer
under no such handicap. He drove me straight to Victoria, and then,
taking the road to the left of the station, turned off into a
neighbourhood of dreary-looking streets and squares, all bearing a
dismal aspect of having seen better days.

Edith Terrace was, if anything, slightly more depressing than the
rest. It consisted of a double row of gaunt, untidy houses, from which
most of the original stucco had long since peeled away. Quiet enough
it certainly was, for along its whole length we passed only one man,
who was standing under a street lamp, lighting a cigarette. He looked
up as we went by, and for just one instant I had a clear view of his
face. Except for a scar on the cheek he was curiously like one of the
warders at Princetown, and for that reason I suppose this otherwise
trifling incident fixed itself in my mind. It is funny on what queer
chances one's fate sometimes hangs.

We pulled up at Number 3 and, mounting some not very recently cleaned
steps, I gave a brisk tug at a dilapidated bell-handle. After a minute
I heard the sound of shuffling footsteps; then the door opened and a
funny-looking little old woman stood blinking and peering at me from
the threshold.

"How do you do?" I said cheerfully. "Are you Mrs. Oldbury?"

She gave a kind of spasmodic jerk, that may have been intended for a
curtsey.

"Yes, sir," she said. "I'm Mrs. Oldbury; and you'd be the gentleman
I'm expectin'--Dr. McMurtrie's gentleman?"

This seemed an accurate if not altogether flattering description of
me, so I nodded my head.

"That's right," I said. "I'm Mr. Nicholson." Then, as the heavily
laden taxi-man staggered up the steps, I added: "And these are my
belongings."

With another bob she turned round, and leading the way into the house
opened a door on the right-hand side of the passage.

"This will be your sitting-room, sir," she said, turning up the gas.
"It's a nice hairy room, and I give it a proper cleaning out this
morning."

I looked round, and saw that I was in a typical "ground-floor front,"
with the usual cheap lace curtains, hideous wall paper, and slightly
stuffy smell. At the back of the room, away from the window, were two
folding doors.

My landlady shuffled across and pushed one of them open. "And this
is the bedroom, sir. It's what you might call 'andy--and quiet too.
You'll find that a nice comfortable bed, sir. It's the one my late
'usband died in."

"It sounds restful," I said. Then walking to the doorway I paid off
the taxi-man, who had deposited his numerous burdens and was waiting
patiently for his fare.

As soon as he had gone, Mrs. Oldbury, who had meanwhile occupied
herself in pulling down the blinds and drawing the curtains, inquired
whether I should like anything to eat.

"I don't think I'll trouble you," I said. "I have got to go out in any
case."

"Oh, it's no trouble, sir--no trouble at all. I can put you on a nice
little bit o' steak as easy as anything if you 'appen to fancy it."

I shook my head. A few weeks ago "a nice little bit o' steak" would
have seemed like Heaven to me, but since then I had become more
luxurious. I was determined that my first dinner in London should be
worthy of the occasion. Besides, I had other business to attend to.

"No, thanks," I said firmly. "I don't want anything except some hot
water and a latchkey, if you have such a thing to spare. I don't know
what time you go to bed here, but I may be a little late getting
back."

She fumbled in her pocket and produced a purse, from which she
extricated the required article.

"I'm not gen'rally in bed--not much before midnight, sir," she said.
"If you should be later per'aps you'd be kind enough to turn out the
gas in the 'all. I'll send you up some 'ot water by the girl."

She went off, closing the door behind her; and picking up my parcels
and bags I carried them into the bedroom and started to unpack. I
decided that the blue suit was most in keeping with my mood, so I laid
this out on the bed together with a complete change of underclothes. I
was eyeing the latter with some satisfaction, when there came a knock
at the door, and in answer to my summons the "girl" entered with the
hot water. She was the typical lodging-house drudge, a poor little
object of about sixteen, with a dirty face and her hair twisted up in
a knot at the back of her head.

"If yer please, sir," she said, with a sniff, "Mrs. Oldbury wants ter
know if yer'll be likin' a barf in the mornin'."

"You can tell Mrs. Oldbury that the answer is yes," I said gravely.
Then I paused. "What's your name?" I asked.

She sniffed again, and looked at me with round, wondering eyes.
"Gertie, sir. Gertie 'Uggins."

I felt in my pocket and found a couple of half-crowns.

"Take these, Gertie," I said, "and go and have a damned good dinner
the first chance you get."

She clasped the money in her grubby little hand.

"Thank you, sir," she murmured awkwardly.

"You needn't thank me, Gertie," I said; "it was a purely selfish
action. There are some emotions which have to be shared before they
can be properly appreciated. My dinner tonight happens to be one of
them."

She shifted from one leg to the other. "Yes, sir," she said. Then with
a little giggle she turned and scuttled out of the room.

I washed and dressed myself slowly, revelling in the sensation of
being once more in clean garments of my own. I was determined not to
spoil my evening by allowing any bitter or unpleasant thoughts to
disturb me until I had dined; after that, I reflected, it would be
quite time enough to map out my dealings with George.

Lighting a cigarette I left the house, and set off at a leisurely pace
along Edith Terrace. It was my intention to walk to Victoria, and then
take a taxi from there to whatever restaurant I decided to dine at.
The latter question was not a point to be determined lightly, and as I
strolled along I debated pleasantly in my mind the attractions of two
or three of my old haunts.

By the time I reached Victoria I had decided in favour of
Gaultier's--if Gaultier's was still in existence. It was a place that,
in my time at all events, had been chiefly frequented by artists and
foreigners, but the food, of its kind, was as good there as anywhere
in London.

I beckoned to a passing taxi, and waving his arm in response the
driver swerved across the street and drew up at the kerb.

"Where to, guv'nor?" he inquired.

I gave him the direction, and then turned to open the door. As I did
so I noticed a man standing on the pavement close beside me looking
vacantly across the street. For an instant I wondered where I had seen
him before; then quite suddenly I remembered. He was the man we
had passed in Edith Terrace, lighting a cigarette under the street
lamp--the man who had reminded me of one of the prison warders. I knew
I was not mistaken because I could see the scar on his face.

With a sudden vague sense of uneasiness I got into the taxi and shut
the door. The gentleman on the pavement paid no attention to me at
all. He continued to stand there staring aimlessly at the traffic,
until we had jerked forward and turned off round the corner of
Victoria Street.

All the same the incident had left a kind of uncomfortable feeling
behind it. I suppose an escaped convict is naturally inclined to be
suspicious, and somehow or other I couldn't shake off the impression
that I was being watched and followed. If so, I had not much doubt
whom I was indebted to for the honour. It had never seemed to me
likely that McMurtrie would leave me entirely to my own sweet devices
while I was in London--not, at all events, until he had satisfied
himself that I had been speaking the truth about my intentions.

Still, even if my suspicions were right, there seemed no reason for
being seriously worried. The gentleman on the pavement might have
overheard me give the address to the driver, but that after all was
exactly what I should have liked him to hear. Dinner at Gaultier's
sounded a most natural preliminary to an evening's dissipation, and
unless I was being actually followed to the restaurant I had nothing
to fear. It was quite possible that my friend with the scar was only
anxious to discover whether I was really setting out for the West End.

All the same I determined to be devilish careful about my future
movements. If McMurtrie wanted a report he should have it, but I would
take particular pains to see that it contained nothing which would in
any way disturb his belief in me.

We pulled up at Gaultier's, and I saw with a sort of sentimental
pleasure that, outside at all events, it had not altered in the least
during my three years' exile. There was the same discreet-looking
little window, the same big electric light over the door, and, unless
I was much mistaken, the same uniformed porter standing on the mat.

When I entered I found M. Gaultier himself, as fat and bland as ever,
presiding over the scene. He came forward, bowing low after his usual
custom, and motioned me towards a vacant table in the corner. I felt
an absurd inclination to slap him on the back and ask him how he had
been getting on in my absence.

It seemed highly improbable that he would remember my voice, but, as
I had no intention of running any unnecessary risks, I was careful to
alter it a little when I spoke to him.

"Good-evening," I began; "are you M. Gaultier?"

He bowed and beamed.

"Well, M. Gaultier," I said, "I want a good dinner--a quite
exceptionally good dinner. I have been waiting for it for some time."

He regarded me keenly, with a mixture of sympathy and professional
interest.

"Monsieur is hungry?" he inquired.

"Monsieur," I replied, "is both hungry and greedy. You have full scope
for your art."

He straightened himself, and for an inspired moment gazed at the
ceiling. Then he slapped his forehead.

"Monsieur," he said, "with your permission I go to consult the chef."

"Go," I replied. "And Heaven attend your council."

He hurried off, and I beckoned to the head waiter.

"Fetch me," I said, "a Virginian cigarette and a sherry and bitters."

A true gourmet would probably shudder at such a first course, but
it must be remembered that for three years my taste had had no
opportunity of becoming over-trained. Besides, in matters of this sort
I always act on the principle that it's better to enjoy oneself than
to be artistically correct.

Lying back in my chair I looked out over the little restaurant with a
sensation of beautiful complacency. The soft rose-shaded lamps threw a
warm glamour over everything, and through the delicate blue spirals of
my cigarette I could just see the laughing face of a charmingly pretty
girl who was dining with an elderly man at the opposite table. I
glanced at the clock on the mantelpiece. It was close on eight--the
hour when the cell lights at Princetown are turned out, and another
dragging night of horror and darkness begins. Slowly and luxuriously I
sipped my sherry and bitters.

I was aroused from my reverie by the approach of M. Gaultier, who
carried a menu in his hand.

He handed me the card with another bow, and then stepped back as
though to watch the result. This was the dinner:

Clear soup.

Grilled salmon.

Lamb. New potatoes.

Woodcock.

Peche Melba.

Marrow on Toast.

I read it through, enjoying each separate word, and then, with a faint
sigh, handed it back to him.

"Heaven," I said, "was undoubtedly at the conference."

M. Gaultier picked up a wine list from the table. "And what will
Monsieur drink?" he inquired reverently.

"Monsieur," I replied, "has perfect faith in your judgment. He will
drink everything you choose to give him."

Half an hour later I again lay back in my chair, and lapped in a
superb contentment gently murmured to myself those two delightful
lines of Sydney Smith's--

"Serenely calm, the epicure may say:
Fate cannot harm me, I have dined today."

I sipped my Turkish coffee, lighted the fragrant Cabana which M.
Gaultier had selected for me, and debated cheerfully with myself what
I should do next. I had had so many unpleasant evenings since my trial
that I was determined that this one at all events should be a complete
success.

My first impulse of course was to visit George. There was something
very engaging in the thought of being ushered into his presence by a
respectable butler, and making my excuses for having called at such
an unreasonable hour. I pictured to myself how he would look as
I gradually dropped my assumed voice, and very slowly the almost
incredible truth began to dawn on him.

So charming was the idea that it was only with some reluctance I was
able to abandon it. I didn't want to waste George: he had to last me
at least three days, and I felt that if I went down there now, warmed
and exhilarated with wine and food, I should be almost certain to give
myself away. I had no intention of doing that until the last possible
moment. I still had a sort of faint irrational hope that by watching
George without betraying my identity, I might discover something which
would throw a little light on his behaviour to me.

But if I didn't go to Cheyne Walk, what was I to do? I put the
question to myself as I slowly lifted the glass of old brandy which
the waiter had set down in front of me, and before the fine spirit
touched my lips the answer had flashed into my mind. I would go and
see Tommy!

It was the perfect solution of the difficulty; and as I put down the
glass again I laughed softly in sheer happiness. The prospect of
interviewing Tommy without his recognizing me was only a degree less
attractive than the thought of a similar experience with George. I
knew that the mere sight of his velvet coat and his dear old burly
carcase would fill me with the most delightful emotions--emotions
which now, amongst all my one-time friends, he and perhaps poor little
Joyce would alone have the power to provoke. The others seemed to me
as dead as the past to which they belonged.

One thing I was determined on, and that was that I wouldn't give away
my secret. It would be difficult not to, for there were naturally a
hundred things I wanted to say to Tommy; but, however much I might be
tempted, I was resolved to play the game. It was not the thought of my
promise to McMurtrie (that sat very easily on my conscience), but the
possibility of getting Tommy himself into trouble. I knew that for me
he would run any risk in the world with the utmost cheerfulness, but
I had no intention of letting him do it. He had done more than enough
for me at the time of the trial.

I called for the waiter and paid my bill. It seemed absurdly cheap
for such a delightful evening, and I said as much to M. Gaultier, who
insisted on accompanying me to the door. He received the remark with a
protesting gesture of his hands.

"Most people," he said, "feed. Monsieur eats. To such we do not
wish to overcharge. It is a pleasure to provide a dinner which is
appreciated."

The porter outside volunteered to call me a taxi, and while he was
engaged in that operation I had a sharp look up and down the street
to see whether my friend with the scar was hanging about anywhere. I
could discern no sign of him, but all the same, when the taxi came up,
I took the precaution of directing the man in a fairly audible voice
to drive me to the Pavilion, in Piccadilly Circus. It was not until
we were within a few yards of that instructive institution that I
whistled through the tube and told him to take me on to Chelsea.

I knew Tommy was in the same studio, for Joyce had told me so in her
second letter. It was one of a fairly new block of four or five at the
bottom of Beaufort Street, about half a mile along the embankment
from George's house. All the way down I was debating with myself what
excuse I could offer for calling at such a late hour, and finally
I decided that the best thing would be to pretend that I was a
travelling American artist who had seen and admired some of Tommy's
work. Under such circumstances it would be difficult for the latter
not to ask me in for a short chat.

I stopped the cab in the King's Road, and getting out, had another
good look round to see that I was not being followed. Satisfied on
this point, I lighted a second cigar and started off down Beaufort
Street.

The stretch of embankment at the bottom seemed to have altered very
little since I had last seen it. One or two of the older houses had
been done up, but Florence Court, the block of studios in which Tommy
lived, was exactly as I remembered it. The front door was open, after
the usual casual fashion that prevails in Chelsea, and I walked into
the square stone hall, which was lighted by a flickering gas jet.

There was a board on the right, containing the addresses of the
various tenants. Opposite No. 3 I saw the name of Mr. T.G. Morrison,
and with a slight quickening of the pulse I advanced along the
corridor to Tommy's door.

As I reached it I saw that there was a card tied to the knocker. I
knew that this was a favourite trick of Tommy's when he was away, and
with a sharp sense of disappointment I bent down to read what was
written on it. With some difficulty, for the light was damnable, I
made out the following words, roughly scribbled in pencil:

"Out of Town. Please leave any telegrams or urgent letters at No. 4.
T.M."

I dropped the card and stood wondering what to do. If Tommy had some
pal living next door, as seemed probable from his notice, the latter
would most likely know what time he was expected to return. For a
moment I hesitated: then retracing my steps, I walked back into the
hall and glanced at the board to see who might be the tenant of No. 4.

To my surprise I found it was a woman--a "Miss Vivien."

At first I thought I must be wrong, for women had always been the one
agreeable feature of life for which Tommy had no manner of use. There
it was, however, as plain as a pikestaff, and with a feeling of lively
interest I turned back towards the flat. Whoever Miss Vivien might
be, I was determined to have a look at her. I felt that the girl whom
Tommy would leave in charge of his more important correspondence must
be distinctly worth looking at.

I rang the bell, and after a short wait the door was opened by a
little maid about the size and age of Gertie 'Uggins, dressed in a cap
and a print frock.

"Is Miss Vivien in?" I asked boldly.

She shook her head. "Miss Vivien's out. 'Ave you got an appointment?"

"No," I said. "I only want to know where Mr. Morrison is, and when
he's coming back. There's a notice on his door asking that any letters
or telegrams should be left here, so I thought Miss Vivien might
know."

She looked me up and down, with a faint air of suspicion.

"'E's away in 'is boat," she said shortly. "'E won't be back not till
Thursday."

So Tommy still kept up his sailing! This at least was news, and news
which had a rather special interest for me. I wondered whether the
"boat" was the same little seven-tonner, the _Betty_, in which we
had spent so many cheerful hours together off the Crouch and the
Blackwater.

"Thanks," I said; and then after a moment's pause I added, "I suppose
if I addressed a letter here it would be forwarded?"

"I s'pose so," she admitted a little grudgingly.

There seemed to be nothing more to say, so bidding the damsel
good-night, I walked off down the passage and out on to the
embankment. If I had drawn a blank as far as seeing Tommy was
concerned, my evening had not been altogether fruitless. I felt vastly
curious as to who Miss Vivien might be. Somehow or other I couldn't
picture Tommy with a woman in his life. In the old days, partly from
shyness and partly, I think, because they honestly bored him, he had
always avoided girls with a determination that at times bordered
on rudeness. And yet, unless all the signs were misleading, it was
evident that he and his next-door neighbour were on fairly intimate
terms. The most probable explanation seemed to me that she was some
elderly lady artist who darned his socks for him, and shed tears
in secret over the state of his wardrobe. There was a magnificent
uncouthness about Tommy which would appeal irresistibly to a certain
type of motherly woman.

I strolled up the embankment in the direction of Chelsea Bridge,
smiling to myself over the idea. Whether it was right or not, it
presented such a pleasing picture that I had walked several hundred
yards before I quite woke up to my surroundings. Then with a sudden
start I realized that I was quite close to George's house.

It was a big red-brick affair, standing back from the embankment
facing the river. As I came opposite I could see that there was a
light on the first floor, in the room which I knew George used as a
study. I stopped for a minute, leaning back against the low wall and
staring up at the window.

I wondered what my cousin was doing. Perhaps he was sitting there,
looking through the evening paper in the vain hope of finding news
of my capture. I could almost see the lines on his forehead and the
nervous, jerky way in which he would be biting his fingers--a trick of
his that had always annoyed me intensely. He would bite harder than

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