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A Rogue by Compulsion by Victor Bridges

Part 3 out of 7

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ever if he only knew that I was standing outside in the darkness not
more than twenty yards away from him!

I waited for a little while in the hope that he might come to the
window, but this luxury was denied me.

"Good-night, George," I said softly; "we'll meet in the morning," and
then, with a last affectionate look at the lighted blind, I continued
my way along the embankment.

I was not sure which turning I ought to take for Edith Terrace, but an
obliging policeman who was on duty outside the Tate Gallery put me on
the right track. There was something delicately pleasing to my sense
of humour in appealing to a constable, and altogether it was in a
most contented frame of mind that I inserted my latch-key into Mrs.
Oldbury's door and let myself into the house. My first day's holiday
seemed to me to have been quite a success.

CHAPTER X

MADEMOISELLE VIVIEN, PALMIST

I woke next morning at seven, or perhaps I should say I was awakened
by Gertie 'Uggins, who to judge from the noise was apparently engaged
in wrecking the sitting-room. I looked at my watch, and then halloed
to her through the door. The tumult ceased, and a head, elaborately
festooned with curl-papers, was inserted into the room.

"Yer want yer barf?" it asked.

"I do, Gertrude," I said; "and after that I want my breakfast. I have
a lot to do today."

The head withdrew itself, tittering; and a moment later I heard a
shrill voice calling down the kitchen stairs.

"Grahnd floor wants 'is 'ot water quick."

Within about five minutes the ground floor's wish was gratified, Mrs.
Oldbury herself arriving with a large steaming can which she placed
inside a hip bath. She asked me in a mournful voice whether I thought
I could eat some eggs and bacon, and having received a favourable
reply left me to my toilet.

It was about a quarter to eight when I sat down to breakfast.
Considering that for three years I had been obliged to rise
at painfully unseasonable hours, this may appear to have been
unnecessarily energetic, but as a matter of fact I was not acting
without good reasons.

To start with, it was my purpose to spend a pleasant morning with
George. I wanted to be outside his house so that I could see his face
when he came out. I felt sure that as long as I was at liberty he
would be looking worried and depressed, and I had no wish to postpone
my enjoyment of such a congenial spectacle.

Then, provided that I could restrain myself from breaking his head, I
intended to follow him to Victoria Street or wherever else he happened
to go. Beyond this I had no plan at the moment, but at the back of my
mind there was a curious irrational feeling that sooner or later I
should stumble across some explanation of the mystery of Marks' death.

I knew that as a rule George didn't start for business until
nine-thirty or ten. I was anxious to get out of the house as soon as
possible, however, just in case I was correct in my idea that the
gentleman with the scar was keeping a kindly eye on my movements. In
that case I thought that by departing before half-past eight I should
be almost certain to forestall him. If, as I believed, he was under
the impression that I had been indulging in a night's dissipation, it
was unlikely that he would credit me with sufficient energy to get
up before ten or eleven. As to waiting for George--well, I had no
objection to that. It was a nice sunny morning, and I could buy a
paper and sit on one of the embankment seats.

This, indeed, was exactly what I did. I slipped out of the house as
unobtrusively as possible, and, stopping at a little newspaper and
tobacco shop round the first corner, invested in a _Telegraph_ and a
_Sportsman_. Then, after making sure that I was not being followed, I
set off for the embankment.

Some of the seats were already occupied by gentlemen and ladies who
had apparently been using them in preference to an hotel, but as luck
would have it the one opposite George's house was empty. I seated
myself in the corner, and after cutting and lighting a cigar with the
care that such an excellent brand deserved, I prepared to beguile my
wait by reading the _D.T_.

Nothing particularly thrilling seemed to have been happening in the
world, but I can't say I felt any sense of disappointment. Just at
present my own life afforded me all the excitement my system needed.
The only important item of news that I could find was a rather
offensive speech by the German Chancellor with reference to the
dispute with England. It was a surprising utterance for a statesman in
his position, and the _Telegraph_ had improved the occasion by writing
one of its longest and stateliest leaders on provocative politicians.

I had just finished reading this effort when George appeared. He came
out of the front door and down the steps of his house, dressed as
usual in a well-fitting frock-coat and tall hat, such as he had always
affected in the old days. I stared at him with a sort of hungry
satisfaction. He looked pale and harassed, and he carried his head
bent forward like a man whose mind was unpleasantly preoccupied. It
warmed my heart to see him.

When he had gone some little way along the pavement, I got up from my
seat and began to keep pace with him on the other side of the roadway.
It was easy work, for he walked slowly, and stared at the ground as
though fully taken up with his own thoughts. I was not the least
frightened of his recognizing me, but as a matter of fact he never
even looked across in my direction.

We marched along in this fashion as far as Vauxhall Bridge Road, where
George turned up to the left in the direction of Victoria Street.
I walked on a bit, so as to allow him to get about a hundred yards
ahead, and then coming back followed in his track. As he drew nearer
to the station I began to close up the gap, and all the way along
Victoria Street I was only about ten yards behind him. It was
tantalizing work, for he was just the right distance for a running
kick.

The offices of our firm, which I had originally chosen myself, are on
the first floor, close to the Army and Navy Stores. George turned in
at the doorway and went straight up, and for a moment I stood in the
entrance, contemplating the big brass plate with "Lyndon and Marwood"
on it, and wondering what to do next. It seemed odd to think of all
that had happened since I had last climbed those stairs.

Exactly across the road was a restaurant. It was new since my time,
but I could see that there was a table in the window on the first
floor, which must command a fair view of the houses opposite, so I
determined to adopt it as a temporary scouting ground. I walked over
and pushed open the swinging doors. Inside was a sleepy-looking waiter
in his shirt-sleeves engaged in the leisurely pursuit of rolling up
napkins.

"Good-morning," I said; "can I have some coffee and something to eat
upstairs?"

He regarded me for a moment with a rather startled air, and then
pulled himself together.

"Yes, saire. Too early for lunch, saire. 'Am-an'-eggs, saire?"

I nodded. I had had eggs and bacon for breakfast, and on the excellent
principle of not mixing one's drinks, 'am an'-eggs sounded a most
happy suggestion.

"Very well," I said; "and I wonder if you could let me have such a
thing as a sheet of paper, and a pen and ink? I want to write a letter
afterwards."

This, I regret to say, was not strictly true, but it seemed to offer
an ingenious excuse for occupying the table for some time without
arousing too much curiosity.

The waiter expressed himself as being in a position to gratify me, and
leaving him hastily donning his coat I marched up the staircase to the
room above.

When I sat down at the table in the window I found that my
expectations were quite correct. I was looking right across into the
main room of our offices, and I could see a couple of clerks working
away at their desks quite clearly enough to distinguish their faces.
They were both strangers to me, but I was not surprised at this. I
always thought that George had probably sacked most of the old staff,
if they had not given him notice on their own account. Of my cousin
himself I could see nothing. He was doubtless either in his own
sanctum, or in the big inner room where I used to work with Watson, my
assistant.

It was of course impossible to eat much of the generous dish of
'am-an'-eggs which the waiter brought me up, but I dallied over it as
long as possible, and managed to swallow a cup of rather indifferent
coffee. Then I smoked another cigar, and when the things were cleared
away and the writing materials had arrived, I made a pretence of
beginning my letter.

All this time, of course, I was keeping a strict watch across the
street. Nothing interesting seemed to happen, and I was just beginning
to think that I was wasting my time in a rather hopeless fashion when
suddenly I saw George come out of his private office into the main
room opposite, wearing his hat and carrying an umbrella. He spoke to
one of the clerks as though giving him some parting instructions, and
went out, shutting the door behind him.

I jumped to my feet, and hurrying down the stairs, demanded my bill
from the rather surprised waiter. Considering that I had been sitting
upstairs for over an hour and a half, I suppose my haste did appear a
trifle unreasonable; anyway he took so long making out the bill that
at last I threw down five shillings and left him at the process.

Even so, I was only just in time. As I came out into the street George
emerged from the doorway opposite. He looked less depressed than
before and much more like his usual sleek self, and the sight of him
in these apparently recovered spirits whipped up my resentment again
to all its old bitterness.

He set off at a brisk pace in the direction of the Houses of
Parliament, and crossing the street I took up a tactful position in
his rear. In this order we proceeded along Whitehall, across Trafalgar
Square, and up Charing Cross Road into Coventry Street. Here George
stopped for a moment to buy himself a carnation--he had always had a
taste for buttonholes--and then resuming our progress, we crossed the
Circus, and started off down Piccadilly.

By this time what is known I believe as "the lust of the chase" had
fairly got hold of me. More strongly than ever I had the feeling that
something interesting was going to happen, and when George turned up
Bond Street I quickened my steps so as to bring me back to my old if
rather tempting position close behind him.

Quite suddenly in the very narrowest part of the pavement he came to a
stop, and entered a doorway next to a tobacconist's shop. In a
couple of strides I had reached the spot, just in time to see him
disappearing up a winding flight of stone stairs.

There were two little brass plates at the side of the door, and I
turned to them eagerly to see whom he might be honouring with a visit.
One was inscribed "Dr. Rich. Jones, M.D.," and the other "Mlle.
Vivien."

The moment I read the last name something curiously familiar about it
suddenly struck me. Then in a flash I remembered the pencilled notice
on Tommy's door, and the obliging "Miss Vivien" who was willing to
receive his telegrams.

The coincidence was a startling one, but I was too anxious to discover
what George was doing to waste much time pondering over it. Stepping
forward to the foot of the stairs, I peered cautiously up. I could see
by his hand, which was resting on the banisters, that he had passed
the floor above, where the doctor lived, and was half way up the next
flight. Whoever Mlle. Vivien might be, she certainly represented
George's destination.

I retreated to the door, wondering what was the best thing to do.
My previous effort in Victoria Street had been so successful that
I instinctively glanced across the street to see whether there was
another convenient restaurant from which I could repeat my tactics.
There wasn't a restaurant but there was something else which was
even better, and that was a small and very respectable-looking
public-house.

If I had to wait, a whisky-and-soda seemed a much more agreeable thing
to beguile the time with than a third helping of ham and eggs, so
crossing the road with a light heart, I pushed open a door marked
"Saloon Bar." I found myself in a square, comfortably fitted apartment
where a genial-looking gentleman was dispensing drinks to a couple of
chauffeurs.

Along the back of the bar ran a big fitted looking-glass, sloped at
an angle which enabled it to reflect the opposite side of the street.
This was most convenient, for I could stand at the counter with my
back to the window, and yet keep my eye all the time upon the doorway
from which George would appear.

"Good-morning, sir: what can I get you?" inquired the landlord
pleasantly.

"I'll have a whisky-and-soda, thanks," I said.

As he turned round to get it a sudden happy idea flashed into my mind.
I waited until he had placed the glass on the bar and was pouring out
the soda, and then inquired carelessly:

"You don't happen to know any one of the name of Vivien about here, I
suppose?"

He looked up at once. "Vivien!" he repeated; "well, there's a Mamzelle
Vivien across the road. D'you mean her?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't know," I said; then, with a coolness
which would have done credit to Ananias, I added: "A friend of mine
has picked up a little bag or something with 'Vivien, Bond Street,' on
it. He asked me to see if I could find the owner."

The landlord nodded his head with interest. "That'll be her, I expect.
Mamzelle Vivien the palmist--just across the way."

"Oh, she's a palmist, is she?" I exclaimed. The thought of George
consulting a palmist was decidedly entertaining. Perhaps he wanted to
find out whether I was likely to wring his neck.

With a side glance at the chauffeurs, the landlord leaned a little
towards me and slightly lowered his voice. "Well, that's what she
calls 'erself," he observed. "Palmist and Clairvoyante; and a smart
bit o' goods she is too."

"But I thought the police had stopped that sort of thing," I said.

The landlord shook his head. "The police don't interfere with her.
She don't advertise or anything like that, and I reckon she has some
pretty useful friends. You'd be surprised if I was to tell you some o'
the people I seen going in there--Cabinet Ministers and Bishops."

"It sounds like the Athenaeum Club," I said. "Do you know what she
charges?"

"No," he replied; "something pretty stiff I guess. With folks like
that it's a case of make 'ay while the sun shines."

He was called off at this point to attend to another customer, leaving
me to ponder over the information he had given me. I felt that somehow
or other I must make Mademoiselle Vivien's acquaintance. A beautiful
palmist, for whom George deserted his business at eleven in the
morning, was just the sort of person who might prove extremely
interesting to me. Besides, the fact that her name was the same as
that of the lady who lived next door to Tommy lent an additional spur
to my curiosity. It might be a mere coincidence, but if so it was a
sufficiently odd one to merit a little further investigation.

I drank up my whisky, and after waiting a minute or two, ordered
another. I had just got this and was taking my first sip, when quite
suddenly I saw in the mirror the reflection of George emerging from
the doorway opposite.

I didn't stop to finish my drink. I put down the tumbler, and nodding
to the landlord walked straight out into the street. The pavement was
thronged with the usual midday crowd, but pushing my way through I
dodged across the road and reached the opposite side-walk just in
time to see George stepping into a taxi a few yards farther down the
street.

I was not close enough to overhear the directions which he gave to the
driver, but unless his habits had changed considerably the chances
were that he was off to lunch at his club. Anyhow I felt pretty
certain that I could pick up his trail again later on at the office if
I wanted to. For the moment I had other plans; it was my intention
to follow George's example and pay a short call upon "Mademoiselle
Vivien."

I walked back, and throwing away the end of my cigar, entered the
doorway again and started off up the stairs. I imagined that by going
as an ordinary client I should find no difficulty in getting admitted,
but if I did I was fully prepared to bribe or bluff, or adopt any
method that might be necessary to achieve my purpose. I would not
leave until I had at least seen the gifted object of George's midday
rambles.

I reached the second landing, where I was faced by a green door with a
quaintly carved electric bell in the shape of an Egyptian girl's head,
a red stone in the centre of the forehead forming what appeared to be
the button. Anyhow I pressed it and waited, and a moment later the
door swung silently open. A small but very alert page-boy who looked
like an Italian was standing on the mat.

"Is Mademoiselle at home?" I inquired.

He looked me up and down sharply. "Have you an appointment, sir?"

"No," I said, "but will you be good enough to ask whether I can
see her? My name is Mr. James Nicholson. I wish to consult her
professionally."

"If you will step in here, sir, I will inquire. Mademoiselle very
seldom sees any one without an appointment."

He opened a door on the right and ushered me into a small
sitting-room, the chief furniture of which appeared to be a couch, one
or two magnificent bowls of growing tulips and hyacinths, and an oak
shelf which ran the whole length of the room and was crowded with
books.

While the boy was away I amused myself by examining the titles. There
were a number of volumes on palmistry and on various branches of
occultism, interspersed with several books of poetry and such unlikely
works as _My Prison Life_, by Jabez Balfour, and Melville Lee's
well-known _History of Police_.

It gave me rather an uncanny feeling for the moment to be confronted
by the two latter, and I was just wondering whether a Bond Street
palmist's clientele made such works of reference necessary, when the
door opened and the page-boy reappeared.

"If you will kindly come this way, sir, Mademoiselle will see you," he
announced.

I followed him down the passage and into another room hung with heavy
curtains that completely shut out the daylight. A small rose-coloured
lamp burning away steadily in the corner threw a warm glow over
everything, and lit up the low table of green stone in the centre, on
which rested a large crystal ball in a metal frame. Except for two
curiously carved chairs, there was no other furniture in the room.

Closing the door noiselessly behind him, the boy went out again. I
stood there for a little while looking about me; then pulling up
a chair I was just sitting down when a slight sound attracted my
attention. A moment later a curtain at the end of the room was drawn
slowly aside, and there, standing in the gap, I saw the slim figure of
a girl, dressed in a kind of long dark Eastern tunic.

I jumped to my feet, and as I did so an exclamation of amazement broke
involuntarily from my lips. For an instant I remained quite still,
clutching the back of the chair and staring like a man in a trance.
Unless I was mad the girl in front of me was Joyce.

CHAPTER XI

BRIDGING THREE YEARS OF SEPARATION

It was the unexpectedness of the thing that threw me off my guard.
With a savage effort I recovered myself almost at once, but it was too
late to be of any use. At the sound of my voice all the colour had
left Joyce's face. Her hands went up to her breast, and with a low cry
she stepped forward and then stood there white and swaying, gazing at
me with wide-open, half-incredulous eyes.

"My God!" she whispered; "it's you--Neil!"

I think she would have fallen, but I came to her side, and putting my
arm round her shoulders gently forced her into one of the chairs. Then
I knelt in front of her and took her hands in mine. I saw it was no
good trying to deceive her.

"I didn't know," I said simply; "I followed George here."

"What have they done to you?" she moaned. "What have they done to you,
my Neil? And your hands--oh, your poor dear hands!"

She burst out crying, and bending down pressed her face against my
fingers.

"Don't, Joyce," I said, a little roughly. "For God's sake don't do
that."

Half unconsciously I pulled away my hands, which three years in
Dartmoor had certainly done nothing to improve.

My abrupt action seemed to bring Joyce to herself. She left off
sobbing, and with a sudden hurried glance round the room jumped up
from her chair.

"I must speak to Jack--now at once," she whispered. "He mustn't let
any one else into the flat."

She stopped for a moment to dry her eyes, which were still wet with
tears, and then walking quickly to the door disappeared into the
passage. She was only gone for a few seconds. I just had time to get
to my feet when she came back into the room, and shutting the door
behind her, turned the key in the lock. Then with a little gasp
she leaned against the wall. For the first time I realized what an
amazingly beautiful girl she had grown into.

"Neil, Neil," she said, stretching out her hands; "is it really you!"

I came across, and taking her in my arms very gently kissed her
forehead.

"My little Joyce," I said. "My dear, brave little Joyce."

She buried her face in my coat, and I felt her hand moving up and down
my sleeve.

"Oh," she sobbed, "if I had only known where to find you before! Ever
since you escaped I have been hoping and longing that you would come
to me." Then she half pushed me back, and gazed up into my face with
her blue, tear-stained eyes. "Where have you been? What have they done
to you? Oh, tell me--tell me, Neil. It's breaking my heart to see you
so different."

For a moment I hesitated. I would have given much if I could have
undone the work of the last few minutes, for even to be revenged on
George I would not willingly have brought my wretched troubles and
dangers into Joyce's life. Now that I had done so, however, there
seemed to be no other course except to tell her the truth. It was
impossible to leave her in her present agony of bewilderment and
doubt.

Pulling up one of the chairs I sat down, drawing her on to my knee.

"If I had known it was you, Joyce," I said, "I should have let George
go to the devil before I followed him here."

"But why?" she asked. "Where should you go to if you didn't come to
me?"

"Oh, my poor Joyce," I said bitterly; "haven't I brought enough
troubles and horrors into your life already?"

She interrupted me with a low, passionate cry. "_You_ talk like
that! You, who have lost everything for my wretched sake! Can't you
understand that every day and night since you went to prison I've
loathed and hated myself for ever telling you anything about it? If
I'd dreamed what was going to happen I'd have let Marks--"

I stopped her by crushing her in my arms, and for a little while she
remained there sobbing bitterly, her cheek resting on my shoulder. For
a moment or two I didn't feel exactly like talking myself.

Indeed it was Joyce who spoke first. Raising her head she wiped away
her tears, and then sitting up gazed long and searchingly into my
face.

"There is nothing of you left," she said, "nothing except your
eyes--your dear, splendid eyes. I think I should have known you by
those even if you hadn't spoken." Then, taking my hands again and
pressing them to her, she added passionately: "Oh, tell me what it
means, Neil. Tell me everything that's happened to you from the moment
you got away."

"Very well," I said recklessly: "I shall be dragging you into all
sorts of dangers, and I shall be breaking my oath to McMurtrie, but
after all that's just the sort of thing one would expect from an
escaped convict."

Step by step, from the moment when I had jumped over the wall into the
plantation, I told her the whole astounding story. She listened to me
in silence, her face alone betraying the feverish interest with which
she was following every word. When I came to the part about Sonia
kissing me (I told her everything just as it had happened) her hands
tightened a little on mine, but except for that one movement she
remained absolutely still.

It was not until I had finished speaking that she made her first
comment. After I stopped she sat on for a moment just as she was; and
then quite suddenly her face lighted up, and with a little low laugh
that was half a sob she leaned forward and slid her arm round my neck.

"Tommy was right," she whispered. "He said you'd do something
wonderful. I knew it too, but oh, Neil dear, I've suffered tortures
wondering where you were and what had happened."

Then, sitting up again and pushing back her hair, she began to ask me
questions.

"These people--Dr. McMurtrie and the others--do you believe their
story?"

"No," I said bluntly. "I am quite certain they were lying to me."

"Why should they have helped you, then?"

"I haven't the remotest idea," I admitted. "I am only quite sure that
neither McMurtrie nor Savaroff are what they pretend to be. Besides,
you remember the hints that Sonia gave me."

"Ah, Sonia!" Joyce looked down and played with one of the buttons of
my coat. "Is she--is she very pretty?" she asked.

"She seems likely to be very useful," I said. Then, stroking Joyce's
soft curly hair, which had become all tousled against my shoulder, I
added: "But I'm answering questions when all the time I'm dying to ask
them. There are a hundred things you've got to tell me. What are you
doing here? Why do you call yourself Miss Vivien? Are you really
living next door to Tommy? And George--how on earth do you come to be
mixed up with George?"

"I'll tell you everything," she said, "only I must know all about you
first. Why were you following George? You don't mean to let him know
who you are? Oh, Neil, Neil, promise me that you won't do that."

"Joyce," I said slowly, "I want to find out who killed Seton Marks. I
don't suppose there is the least chance of my doing so, and if I can't
I most certainly mean to wring George's neck. That was chiefly what I
broke out of prison for."

"Yes, yes," she said feverishly, "but there _is_ a chance. You'll
understand when I've explained." She put her hands to her forehead.
"Oh, I hardly know where to begin."

"Begin anywhere," I said. "Tell me why you're pretending to be a
palmist."

She got up from my knee and, walking slowly to the table, seated
herself on the end.

"I wanted money," she said; "and I wanted to meet one or two people
who might be useful about you."

"But I left eight hundred pounds for you with Tommy," I exclaimed.
"You got that?"

She nodded. "It's in the bank now. I have been keeping it in case
anything happened. You don't suppose I was going to spend it? How
could I have helped you then even when I got the chance?"

"But, my dear Joyce," I protested, "the money was for you. And you
couldn't have helped me with it in any case. I had plenty more waiting
for me when my sentence was out."

"When your sentence was out," repeated Joyce fiercely. "Do you think
I was going to let you stop in prison till then!" She checked herself
with an effort. "I had better tell you everything from the beginning,"
she said. "I couldn't write any more to you, because I was only
allowed to send the two letters, and I knew both of them would be read
by somebody."

She paused a moment.

"I went away after the trial. I was very ill, and Tommy took me to a
little place called Looe, down in Cornwall. We stayed there nearly six
months. When I came back I took the flat next to him and called myself
Miss Vivien. I had made up my mind then what I was going to do. You
see there were only two possible ways in which I could help you. One
was to find out who killed Marks, and the other was to get you out of
prison--anyhow. Of course, after the trial, it seemed madness to think
about the first, but then I just had three things to go on. I knew
that you were innocent, I knew that for some reason of his own George
had lied about you, and I knew that there had been some one else in
the flat the day of the murder."

"The man who was with Marks when you arrived," I said. "But you saw
him go away, and there was nothing to connect him with the murder,
except the fact that he didn't turn up at the trial. Sexton himself
had to admit that in his speech."

"There was his face," said Joyce quietly. "It was a dreadful face. It
looked as if all the goodness had been burned out of it."

"There are about five hundred gentlemen like that in Princetown,"
I said, "including several of the warders. Did they ever find out
anything about him?"

Joyce shook her head. "Mr. Sexton did everything he could, but it was
quite useless. Whoever he was, the man never came forward, and you
see there was no one except me who even knew what he was like. It was
partly that which first gave me the idea of becoming a palmist. I
thought that up here in the West End I was more likely to come across
him than anywhere else. And then there were other people I meant to
meet--men in the Government who might be able to get your sentence
shortened. I knew I was beautiful, and with some men you can do
anything if you're beautiful, and--and you don't care."

"Joyce!" I cried, "for God's sake don't tell me--"

"No," she broke in passionately: "there's nothing to tell you. But if
the chance had come I'd have sold myself a thousand times over to get
you out of prison. The only man I've met who could do anything has
been Lord Lammersfield, and he...." She paused, then with a little
break in her voice she added: "Well, I think Lord Lammersfield is
rather like Tommy in some ways."

"I suppose there are still one or two white men about," I said.

"Lord Lammersfield used to be at the Home Office once, so of course
his influence would count for a great deal. Well, he did all that was
possible for me, but about six months ago he told me that there was no
chance of your being let out for another three years. It was then that
I made up my mind to get to know George."

I thrust my hand in my pocket and pulled out my cigarette case.
"You--you've got rather thorough ideas about friendship, Joyce," I
said, a little unsteadily. "Can I smoke?"

She picked up a box of matches from the table, and coming across
seated herself on the arm of my chair.

"Have I?" she said simply. "Well, you taught me them."

She struck a match and held it to my cigarette.

"How did you manage it?" I asked.

"Oh, it was easy enough. I asked Lord Lammersfield to bring him here
one day. You know what George is like; he would never refuse to do
anything a Cabinet Minister suggested. Of course he had no idea who I
was until he arrived."

"It must have been quite a pleasant surprise for him," I said grimly.
"Did he recognize you at once?"

Joyce shook her head. "He had only seen me at the trial, and I had my
hair down then. Besides, two years make a lot of difference."

"They've made a lot of difference in you," I said. "They've turned you
from a pretty child into a beautiful woman."

With a little low, contented laugh Joyce again laid her head on my
shoulder. "I think," she said, "that that's the only one of George's
opinions I'd like you to share."

There was a moment's silence. Then I gently twisted one of her loose
curls round my finger.

"My poor Joyce," I said, "you seem to have been wading in some
remarkably unpleasant waters for my sake."

She shivered slightly. "Oh, it was hateful in a way, but I didn't
care. I knew George was hiding something that might help to get you
out of prison, and what did my feelings matter compared with that!
Besides--" she smiled mockingly--"for all his cleverness and his
wickedness George is a fool--just the usual vain fool that most men
are about women. It's been easy enough to manage him."

"He knows who you are now, of course?" I said.

She nodded. "I told him. He would have been almost certain to find
out, and then he would probably have been suspicious. As it is he
thinks our meeting was just pure chance."

"But surely," I objected, "he must have guessed you were on my side?"

She gave a short, bitter laugh. "Yes," she said, "he guessed that all
right. It's what he calls 'a sacred bond between us.' There are times,
you know, when George is almost funny."

"There are times," I said, "when he must make Judas Iscariot feel
sick."

"I sometimes wonder why I haven't killed him," she went on slowly. "I
think I should have if he had ever tried to kiss me. As it is--"
she laughed again in the same way--"as it is we are becoming great
friends. He is taking me out to dinner at the Savoy tonight."

"But if he doesn't try to make love to you--" I began.

"Oh!" she said, with a little shrug of her shoulders, "that's coming.
At present he imagines that he is being clever and diplomatic. Also
there's a business side to the matter."

"Yes," I said; "there would be with George."

"He's horribly frightened of you. Of course he tries to hide it from
me, but I can see that ever since you escaped from prison he has been
living in a state of absolute terror. His one idea at present is a
frantic hope that you will be recaptured. That's partly where I come
in."

"You?" I repeated.

"Yes. He thinks that sooner or later, when you want help, you will
probably write and tell me where you are."

"And then you are to pass the good news on to him?"

She nodded. "He says that if I let him know at once, he will arrange
to get you safely out of the country."

I lay back in the chair and laughed out loud.

Joyce, who was still sitting on the arm, looked down happily into my
face. "Oh," she said, "I love to hear you laugh again." Then, slipping
her hand into mine, she went on: "I suppose he means to arrange it so
that it will look as if you had been caught by accident while he was
trying to help you."

"I expect so," I said. "I should be out of the way again then, and you
would be so overcome by gratitude--Oh, yes, there's quite a Georgian
touch about it."

The sharp tinkle of an electric bell broke in on our conversation.
Joyce jumped up from the chair, and for a moment both remained
listening while "Jack" answered the door.

"I know who it is," whispered Joyce. "It's old Lady Mortimer. She had
an appointment for one o'clock."

"But what have you arranged to do?" I asked. "There's no reason you
should put all your people off. I can go away for the time, or stop in
another room, or something."

"No, no; it's all right," whispered Joyce. "I'll tell you in a
minute."

She waited until we heard the front door shut, and then coming back to
me sat down again on my knee.

"I told Jack," she said, "not to let any one into the flat till three
o'clock. I have an appointment then I ought to keep, but that still
gives us nearly two hours. I will send Jack across to Stewart's to
fetch us some lunch, and we'll have it in here. What would you like,
my Neil?"

"Anything but eggs and bacon," I said, getting out another cigarette.

She jumped up with a laugh, and, after striking me a match, went out
into the passage, leaving the door open. I heard her call the page-boy
and give him some instructions, and then she came back into the room,
her eyes dancing with happiness and excitement.

"Isn't this splendid!" she exclaimed. "Only this morning I was utterly
miserable wondering if you were dead, and here we are having lunch
together just like the old days in Chelsea."

"Except for your hair, Joyce," I said. "Don't you remember how it was
always getting in your eyes?"

"Oh, that!" she cried; "that's easily altered."

She put up her hands, and hastily pulled out two or three hairpins.
Then she shook her head, and in a moment a bronze mane was rippling
down over her shoulders exactly as it used to in the old days.

"I wish I could do something like that," I said ruefully. "I'm afraid
my changes are more permanent."

Joyce came up and thrust her arm into mine. "My poor dear," she said,
pressing it to her. "Never mind; you look splendid as you are."

"Won't your boy think there's something odd in our lunching together
like this?" I asked. "He seems a pretty acute sort of youth."

"Jack?" she said. "Oh, Jack's all right. He was a model in Chelsea. I
took him away from his uncle, who used to beat him with a poker. He
doesn't know anything about you, but if he did he would die for you
cheerfully. He's by way of being rather grateful to me."

"You always inspired devotion, Joyce," I said, smiling. "Do you
remember how Tommy and I used to squabble as to which of us should
eventually adopt you?"

She nodded, almost gravely; then with a sudden change back to her
former manner, she made a step towards the inner room, pulling me
after her.

"Come along," she said. "We'll lunch in there. It's more cheerful than
this, and anyway I want to see you in the daylight."

I followed her in through the curtains, and found myself in a small,
narrow room with a window which looked out on the back of Burlington
Arcade. A couple of chairs, a black oak gate-legged table, and a
little green sofa made up the furniture.

Joyce took me to the window, and still holding my arm, made a second
and even longer inspection of McMurtrie's handiwork.

"It's wonderful, Neil," she said at last. "You look fifteen years
older and absolutely different. No one could possibly recognize you
except by the way you speak."

"I've been practising that," I said, altering my voice. "I shouldn't
have given myself away if you hadn't taken me by surprise."

She smiled again happily. "It's so good to feel that you're safe, even
if it's only for a few days." Then, letting go my arm, she crossed to
the sofa. "Come and sit down," she went on. "We've got to decide all
sorts of things, and we shan't have too much time."

"I've told you my plans, Joyce," I said, "such as they are. I mean to
go through with this business of McMurtrie's, though I'm sure there's
something crooked at the bottom of it. As for the rest--" I shrugged
my shoulders and sat down on the sofa beside her; "well, I've got the
sort of hand one has to play alone."

Joyce looked at me quietly and steadily.

"Neil," she said; "do you remember that you once called me the most
pig-headed infant in Chelsea?"

"Did I?" I said. "That was rather rude."

"It was rather right," she answered calmly; "and I haven't changed,
Neil. If you think Tommy and I are going to let you play this hand
alone, as you call it, you are utterly and absolutely wrong."

"Do you know what the penalties are for helping an escaped convict?" I
asked.

She laughed contemptuously. "Listen, Neil. For three years Tommy and I
have had no other idea except to get you out of prison. Is it likely
we should leave you now?"

"But what can you do, Joyce?" I objected. "You'll only be running
yourselves into danger, and--"

"Oh, Neil dear," she interrupted; "it's no good arguing about it. We
mean to help you, and you'll have to let us."

"But suppose I refuse?" I said.

"Then as soon as Tommy comes back tomorrow I shall tell him everything
that you've told me. I know your address at Pimlico, and I know just
about where your hut will be down the Thames. If you think Tommy will
rest for a minute till he's found you, you must have forgotten a lot
about him in the last three years."

She spoke with a kind of indignant energy, and there was an obstinate
look in her blue eyes, which showed me plainly that it would be waste
of time trying to reason with her.

I reflected quickly. Perhaps after all it would be best for me to see
Tommy myself. He at least would appreciate the danger of dragging
Joyce into the business, and between us we might be able to persuade
her that I was right.

"Well, what are your ideas, Joyce?" I said. "Except for keeping my eye
on George I had no particular plan until I heard from McMurtrie."

Joyce laid her hand on my sleeve. "Tomorrow," she said, "you must go
and see Tommy. He is coming back by the midday train, and he will get
to the flat about two o'clock. Tell him everything that you have told
me. I shan't be able to get away from here till the evening, but I
shall be free then, and we three will talk the whole thing over. I
shan't make any more appointments here after tomorrow."

"Very well," I said reluctantly. "I will go and look up Tommy, but
I can't see that it will do any good. I am only making you and him
liable to eighteen months' hard labour." She was going to speak, but
I went on. "Don't you see, Joyce dear, there are only two possible
courses open to me? I can either wait and carry out my agreement with
McMurtrie, or I can go down to Chelsea and force the truth about
Marks's death out of George--if he really knows it. Dragging you two
into my wretched affairs won't alter them at all."

"Yes, it will," she said obstinately. "There are lots of ways in which
we can help you. Suppose these people turn out wrong, for instance;
they might even mean to give you up to the police as soon as they've
got your secret. And then there's George. If he does know anything
about the murder I'm the only person who is the least likely to find
it out. Why--"

A discreet knock at the outer door interrupted her, and she got up
from the sofa.

"That's Jack with the lunch," she said. "Come along, Neil dear. We
won't argue about it any more now. Let's forget everything for an
hour,--just be happy together as if we were back in Chelsea."

She held out her hands to me, her lips smiling, her blue eyes just on
the verge of tears. I drew her towards me and gently stroked her hair,
as I used to do in the old days in Chelsea when she had come to me
with some of her childish troubles. I felt an utter brute to think
that I could ever have doubted her loyalty, even for an instant.

How long we kept the luckless Jack waiting on the mat I can't say,
but at last Joyce detached herself, and crossing the room, opened the
door. Jack came in carrying a basket in one hand and a table-cloth in
the other. If he felt any surprise at finding Joyce with her hair down
he certainly didn't betray it.

"I got what I could, Mademoiselle," he observed, putting down his
burdens. "Oyster patties, galatine, cheese-cakes, and a bottle of
champagne. I hope that will please Mademoiselle?"

"It sounds distinctly pleasing, Jack," said Joyce gravely. "But then
you always do just what I want."

The boy flushed with pleasure, and began to lay the table without even
so much as bestowing a glance on me. It was easy enough to see that he
adored his young mistress--adored her far beyond questioning any of
her actions.

All through lunch--and an excellent lunch it was too--Joyce and I were
ridiculously happy. Somehow or other we seemed to drop straight back
into our former jolly relations, and for the time I almost forgot that
they had ever been interrupted. In spite of all she had been through
since, Joyce, at the bottom of her heart, was just the same as she had
been in the old days--impulsive, joyous, and utterly unaffected. All
her bitterness and sadness seemed to slip away with her grown-up
manner; and catching her infectious happiness, I too laughed and joked
and talked as cheerfully and unconcernedly as though we were in truth
back in Chelsea with no hideous shadow hanging over our lives. I even
found myself telling her stories about the prison, and making fun of
one of the chaplain's sermons on the beauties of justice. At the time
I remembered it had filled me with nothing but a morose fury.

It was the little clock on the mantlepiece striking a quarter to three
which brought us back to the realities of the present.

"I must go, Joyce," I said reluctantly, "or I shall be running into
some of your Duchesses."

She nodded. "And I've got to do my hair by three, and turn myself back
from Joyce into Mademoiselle Vivien--if I can. Oh, Neil, Neil; it's a
funny, mad world, isn't it!" She lifted up my hand and moved it softly
backwards and forwards against her lips. Then, suddenly jumping up,
she went into the next room, and came back with my hat and stick.

"Here are your dear things," she said; "and I shall see you tomorrow
evening at Tommy's. I shan't leave him a note--somebody might open it;
I shall just let you go and find him yourself. Oh, I should love to be
there when he realizes who it is."

"I know just what he'll do," I said. "He'll stare at me for a minute;
then he'll say quite quietly, 'Well, I'm damned,' and go and pour
himself out a whisky."

She laughed gaily. "Yes, yes," she said. "That's exactly what will
happen." Then with a little change in her voice she added: "And you
will be careful, won't you, Neil? I know you're quite safe; no one
can possibly recognize you; but I'm frightened all the same--horribly
frightened. Isn't it silly of me?"

I kissed her tenderly. "My Joyce," I said, "I think you have got the
bravest heart in the whole world."

And with this true if rather inadequate remark I left her.

I had plenty to think about during my walk back to Victoria. Exactly
what result the sharing of my secret with Tommy and Joyce would have,
it was difficult to forecast, but it opened up a disquieting field of
possibilities. Rather than get either of them into trouble I would
cheerfully have thrown myself in front of the next motor bus, but if
such an extreme course could be avoided I certainly had no wish to
end my life in that or any other abrupt fashion until I had had the
satisfaction of a few minutes' quiet conversation with George.

I blamed myself to a certain extent for having given way to Joyce.
Still, I knew her well enough to be sure that if I had persisted in
my refusal she would have stuck to her intention of trying to help me
against my will. That would only have made matters more dangerous for
all of us, so on the whole it was perhaps best that I should go and
see Tommy. I had not the fainest doubt he would be anxious enough to
help me himself if I would let him, but he would at least see the
necessity for keeping Joyce out of the affair. We ought to be able to
manage her between us, though when I remembered the obstinate look in
her eyes I realized that it wouldn't be exactly a simple matter.

I stopped at a book-shop just outside Victoria, which I had noticed on
the previous evening. I wanted to order a copy of a book dealing
with a certain branch of high explosives that I had forgotten to ask
McMurtrie for, and when I had done that I took the opportunity of
buying a couple of novels by Wells which had been published since I
went to prison. Wells was a luxury which the prison library didn't run
to.

With these tucked under my arm, and still pondering over the
unexpected results of my chase after George, I continued my walk to
Edith Terrace. As I reached the house and thrust my key into the
lock the door suddenly opened from the inside, and I found myself
confronted by the apparently rather embarrassed figure of Miss Gertie
'Uggins.

"I 'eard you a-comin'," she observed, rubbing one hand down her leg,
"so I opened the door like."

"That was very charming of you, Gertrude," I said gravely.

She tittered, and then began to retreat slowly backwards down the
passage. "There's a letter for you in the sittin'-room. Come by the
post after you'd gorn. Yer want some tea?"

"I don't mind a cup," I said. "I've been eating and drinking all day;
it seems a pity to give it up now."

"I'll mike yer one," she remarked, nodding her head. "Mrs. Oldbury's
gorn out shoppin'."

She disappeared down the kitchen stairs, and opening the door of my
room I discovered the letter she had referred to stuck up on the
mantelpiece. I took it down with some curiosity. It was addressed to
James Nicholson, Esq., and stamped with the Strand postmark. I did not
recognize the writing, but common-sense told me that it could only be
from McMurtrie or one of his crowd.

When I opened the envelope I found that it contained a half-sheet
of note-paper, with the following words written in a sloping,
foreign-looking hand:

"You will receive either a message or a visitor at five o'clock
tomorrow afternoon. Kindly make it convenient to be at home at that
hour."

That was all. There was no signature and no address, and it struck
me that as an example of polite letter-writing it certainly left
something to be desired. Still, the message was clear enough, which
was the chief point, so, folding it up, I thrust it back into the
envelope and put it away in my pocket. After all, one can't expect a
really graceful literary style from a High Explosives Syndicate.

I wondered whether the note meant that the preparations which were
being made for me at Tilbury were finally completed. McMurtrie had
promised me a week in Town, and so far I had only had two days; still
I was hardly in a position to kick if he asked me to go down earlier.
Anyhow I should know the next day, so there seemed no use in worrying
myself about it unnecessarily.

It was my intention to spend a quiet interval reading one of my books,
before going out somewhere to get some dinner. In pursuance of this
plan I exchanged my boots for a pair of slippers and settled myself
down comfortably in the only easy-chair in the room. In about ten
minutes' time, faithful to her word, Gertie 'Uggins brought me up
an excellent cup of tea, and stimulated by this and the combined
intelligence and amorousness of Mr. Wells's hero, I succeeded in
passing two or three very agreeable hours.

At seven o'clock I roused myself rather reluctantly, put on my boots
again, and indulged in the luxury of a wash and a clean collar. Then,
after ringing the bell and informing Mrs. Oldbury that I should be out
to dinner, I left the house with the pleasantly vague intention of
wandering up West until I found some really attractive restaurant.

It was a beautiful evening, more like June than the end of April; and
with a cigarette alight, I strolled slowly along Victoria Street, my
mind busy over the various problems with which Providence had seen fit
to surround me. I had got nearly as far as the Stores, when a sudden
impulse took me to cross over and walk past our offices. A taxi was
coming up the road, so I waited for a moment on the pavement until
it had passed. The back part of the vehicle was open, and as it came
opposite to me, the light from one of the big electric standards fell
clear on the face of the man inside. He was sitting bolt upright,
looking straight out ahead, but in spite of his opera hat and his
evening dress I recognized him at once. It was the man with the
scar--the man I had imagined to be tracking me on the previous
evening.

CHAPTER XII

A SCRIBBLED WARNING

I have never been slow to act in moments of sudden emergency, and in
rather less than a second I had made up my mind. The mere idea
of stalking one's own shadower was a distinctly attractive one;
surrounded as I was by a baffling sense of mystery and danger I jumped
at the chance with an almost reckless enthusiasm.

Coming up behind was another taxi--an empty one, the driver leaning
back in his seat puffing lazily at a pipe. I stepped out into the road
and signalled to him to pull up.

"Follow that taxi in front," I said quickly. "If you keep it in sight
till it stops I'll give you five shillings for yourself."

All the languor disappeared from the driver's face. Hastily knocking
out his pipe, he stuffed it into his pocket, and the next moment we
were bowling up Victoria Street hard on the track of our quarry.

I sat back in the seat, filled with a pleasant exhilaration. Of course
it was just possible that I was making a fool of myself--that the
gentleman in front was as innocent of having spied on my movements as
the Bishop of London. Still if that were the case there could be no
harm in following him, while if he were really one of McMurtrie's
friends a closer acquaintance with his methods of spending the evening
seemed eminently desirable.

Half way along Whitehall my driver quickened his pace until we were
only a few yards behind the other taxi. I was just going to caution
him not to get too near, when I realized that unless we hung on as
close as possible we should probably lose it in the traffic at the
corner of the Strand. The soundness of this reasoning was apparent a
moment later, when we only just succeeded in following it across the
Square before a policeman's hand peremptorily barred the way.

Past the Garrick Theatre, across Long Acre, and up Charing Cross Road
the chase continued with unabated vigour. At the Palace the other
driver turned off sharp to the left, and running a little way along
Old Compton Street came to a halt outside Parelli's, the well-known
restaurant. As he began to slow down I picked up the speaking tube and
instructed my man to go straight past on the other side of the street,
an order which he promptly obeyed without changing his pace. I didn't
make the mistake of looking round. I just sat still in my seat until
we had covered another thirty yards or so, and then gave the signal to
stop.

The driver, who seemed to have entered thoroughly into the spirit of
the affair, at once clambered out of his seat and came round as though
to open the door.

"Gent's standin' on the pavement payin' 'is fare, sir," he observed in
a hoarse whisper. "Thought ye might like to know before ye gets out."

"Thanks," I said; "I'll take the chance of lighting a cigarette."

I was about to suit the action to the word, when with a sudden
exclamation the man again interrupted me.

"There's another gent just come up in a taxi, sir--proper toff too
from 'is looks. 'E's shakin' 'ands with our bloke."

"Is he an old man?" I asked quickly--"an old man with glasses?"

"'E don't look very old, but 'e's got a glass right enough--leastways
one o' them bow-winder things in 'is eye." He paused. "They've gone
inside now, Guv'nor; they won't spot ye if you want to 'op it."

He opened the door, and stepping out on to the pavement I handed him
half a sovereign, which I was holding in readiness.

He touched his cap. "Thank ye, sir. Thank ye very much." Then,
fumbling in his pocket, he produced a rather dirty and crumpled card.
"I don't rightly know what the game is, Guv'nor," he went on in a
lowered tone, "but if you should 'appen to want to call on me for
evidence any time, Martyn's Garridge, Walham Green, 'll always find
me. Ye only need to ask for Dick 'Arris. They all knows me round
there."

I accepted the card, and having assured Mr. Harris that in the event
of my needing his testimony I would certainly look him up, I lit
my delayed cigarette and started to stroll back towards Parelli's.
Whoever my original friend and his pal with the eyeglass might be, I
was anxious to give them a few minutes' law before thrusting myself
upon their society. I had known Parelli's well in the old days, and
remembering the numerous looking-glasses which decorated its walls, I
thought it probable that I should be able to find some obscure seat,
from which I could obtain a view of their table without being too
conspicuous myself. Still, it seemed advisable to give them time to
settle down to dinner first, so, stopping at a newspaper shop at the
corner, I spun out another minute or two in buying myself a copy of
_La Vie Parisienne_ and the latest edition of the _Pall Mall_. With
these under my arm and a pleasant little tingle of excitement in my
heart I walked up to the door of the restaurant, which a uniformed
porter immediately swung open.

I found myself in a brightly lit passage, inhabited by a couple of
waiters, one of whom came forward to take my hat and stick. The other
pushed back the glass door which led into the restaurant, and then
stood there bowing politely and waiting for me to pass.

I stopped for a moment on the threshold, and cast a swift glance round
the room. It was a large, low-ceilinged apartment, broken up by square
pillars, but as luck would have it I spotted my two men at the very
first attempt. They were sitting at a table in one of the farther
corners, and they seemed to be so interested in each other's company
that neither of them had even looked up at my entrance.

I didn't wait for them to do it either. Quickly and unobtrusively I
walked to the corner table on the left of the floor, and sat down with
my back towards them. I was facing a large mirror which reflected the
other side of the room with admirable clearness.

A waiter handed me the menu, and after I had ordered a light dinner I
spread out _La Vie Parisienne_ on the table, and bending over it made
a pretence of admiring its drawings. As a matter of fact I kept my
entire attention focused on the looking-glass.

I could only see the back of the man with the scar, but the face of
his companion, who was sitting sideways on, was very plainly
visible. It was a striking-looking face, too. He seemed to be about
thirty-five--a tall, clean-shaven, powerfully built man, with bright
blue eyes and a chin like the toe of a boot. His hair was prematurely
grey, and this, together with the monocle that he was wearing, gave
him a curious air of distinction. He looked like a cross between a
successful barrister and a retired prize-fighter.

I watched him with considerable interest. If he was another of
McMurtrie's mysterious circle, I certainly preferred him to any of the
ones I had previously come across. His face, though strong and hard,
had none of Savaroff's brutality in it, and he was quite lacking in
that air of sinister malevolence that seemed to hang about the doctor.

As far as I could see, most of the talking was being done by the man
with the scar. He also appeared to be the host, for I saw him pick
up the wine list, and after consulting his companion's taste give a
carefully selected order to the waiter. Then my own dinner began to
arrive, and putting aside _La Vie_, I propped up the _Pall Mall_ in
front of me and started to attack the soup.

All through the meal I divided my attention between the paper and the
looking-glass. I was careful how I made use of the latter, for the
waiter was hovering about most of the time, and I didn't want him
to think that I was spying on some of the other customers. So quite
genuinely I waded through the news, keeping on glancing in the mirror
over the top of the paper from time to time just to see how things
were progressing behind me.

That my two friends were getting along together very well was evident
not only from their faces but from the sounds of laughter which at
intervals came floating down the room. Indeed, so animated was their
conversation, that although I had begun my dinner later, I had
finished some little time before they had. I had no intention of
leaving first, however, so ordering myself some coffee, I sat back in
my chair, and with the aid of a cigar, continued my study of the _Pall
Mall_.

I was in the middle of a spirited article on the German trouble,
headed "What Does the Kaiser Mean?" when glancing in the mirror I saw
a waiter advance to the table behind me, carrying a bottle of port
in a basket, with a care that suggested some exceptional vintage. He
poured out a couple of glasses, and then placing it reverently on the
table, withdrew from the scene.

I watched both men take a sip, and saw them set down their glasses
with a thoroughly satisfied air. Then the man with the scar made a
sudden remark to the other, who, turning his head, looked away over
his shoulder into the restaurant. His attention could only have been
withdrawn from the table for a couple of seconds at the most, but in
that fraction of time something happened which set my heart beating
rapidly in a kind of cold and tense excitement.

So swiftly, that if I had not been looking straight in the mirror I
should have missed seeing it, the man with the scar brought his hand
down over his companion's glass. Unless my eyes were playing me a
trick, I distinctly saw him empty something into the wine.

There are rare occasions in life when one acts instinctively in the
right way before one's mind has had time to reason matters out. It was
so with me now. Without stopping to think, I whipped out a pencil from
my pocket, and snatched away a piece of white paper from underneath
the small dish of candied fruit in front of me. Spreading it out on
the table I hastily scribbled the following words:

"Don't drink your wine. The man with you has just put something into
it."

I folded this up, and beckoned to one of the waiters who was standing
by the door. He came forward at once.

"Do you want to earn half a sovereign?" I asked.

"Yes, sir," he answered, without the faintest air of surprise.

"Listen to me, then," I said, "and whatever you do don't look round.
In the farther corner behind us there's a gentleman with an eyeglass
dining with another man. Go up the centre of the room and give him
this note. If he asks you who it's from, say some one handed it you in
the hall and told you to deliver it. Then go and get my bill and bring
it me here."

The waiter bowed, and taking the note departed on his errand, as
casually as though I had instructed him to fetch me a liqueur. All the
time I had been speaking I had kept a watchful eye on the mirror,
and as far as I could tell neither of the two men had noticed our
conversation. They were talking and laughing, the man I had sent the
message to lightly fingering the stem of his wine-glass, and blowing
thin spirals of cigarette smoke into the air. Even as I looked he
raised the glass, and for one harrowing second I thought I was too
late. Then, like a messenger from the gods, the waiter suddenly
appeared from behind one of the pillars and handed him my note on a
small silver tray.

He took it casually with his left hand; at the same time setting down
his wine-glass on the table. I saw him make an excuse to his host, and
then open it and read it. I don't know exactly what I had expected
him to do next, but the result was certainly surprising. Instead of
showing any amazement or even questioning the waiter, he made some
laughing remark to his companion, and putting his hand in his pocket
pulled out a small leather case from which he extracted a card.

Bending over the table he wrote two or three words in pencil, and
handed it to the waiter. As he did so the edge of his sleeve just
caught the wine-glass. I saw the other man start up and stretch out
his hand, but he was too late to save it. Over it went, breaking into
pieces against one of the plates, and spilling the wine all across the
table-cloth.

It was done so neatly that I could almost have sworn it was an
accident. Indeed the exclamation of annoyance with which the culprit
greeted his handiwork sounded so perfectly genuine that if I hadn't
known what was in the note I should have been completely deceived.
I saw the waiter step forward and dab hurriedly at the stain with a
napkin, while the author of the damage, coolly pulling up another
glass, helped himself to a fresh supply from the bottle. A more
beautifully carried out little bit of acting it has never been my good
luck to witness.

If the man with the scar suspected anything (which I don't think he
did) he was at least intelligent enough to keep the fact to himself.
He laughed heartily over the contretemps, and taking out his
cigar-case offered his companion a choice of the contents. I saw the
latter shake his head, raising his half-finished cigarette as much as
to indicate his preference for that branch of smoking. It struck me,
however, that his refusal was possibly dictated by other motives.

Full of curiosity as I was, I thought it better at this point not to
tempt Fate any further. At any moment the man with the scar might look
round, and although I was some distance away, it was quite likely that
if he did he would recognize my reflection in the mirror. I was doubly
anxious now to avoid any such mischance, so, picking up _La Vie_, I
opened its immoral but conveniently spacious pages, and from behind
their shelter waited for my bill.

It was not long in coming. Impassive as ever, the waiter reappeared
with his little silver tray, which this time contained a white slip
folded across in the usual fashion. As I took it up I felt something
inside, and opening it I discovered a small visiting card with the
following inscription:

MR. BRUCE LATIMER
145 _Jermyn Street, W_.

Scribbled across the top in pencil were the following words:

"Thanks. I shall be still more grateful if you will look me up at the
above address."

Quickly and unobtrusively I tucked it away in my waistcoat pocket,
and glancing at the total of the bill, which came to about fifteen
shillings, put down a couple of my few remaining sovereigns. It pays
to be a little extravagant when you have been well served.

A swift inspection of the mirror showed me that neither of the
occupants of the end table was looking in my direction, so taking
my chance I rose quickly to my feet and stepped forward behind the
shelter of the nearest pillar. Here I was met by another waiter who
handed me my hat and stick, while his impassive colleague, pocketing
the two pounds, advanced to the door and opened it before me with a
polite bow. I felt rather like the hero of a melodrama making his exit
after the big scene.

Once in the street, the full realization of what I had just been
through came to me with a sort of curious shock. It seemed an almost
incredible thing that a man should make an attempt to drug or poison
another in a public restaurant, but, unless I was going off my head,
that was what had actually occurred. Of course I might possibly have
been mistaken in what I saw in the glass, but the readiness with which
Mr. Latimer (somehow the name seemed vaguely familiar to me) had
accepted my hint rather knocked that theory on the head. It showed
that he, at all events, had not regarded such a contingency as being
the least bit incredible.

I began to try and puzzle out in my mind what bearings this amazing
incident could have on my own affairs. I was not even sure as yet
whether the man with the scar had been really spying on my movements
or whether my seeing him twice on the night of my arrival in Town
had been purely a matter of coincidence. If he was a friend of
McMurtrie's, it seemed to stand to reason that' Mr. Bruce Latimer
was not. Even in such a weird sort of syndicate as I had apparently
stumbled against it was hardly probable that the directors would
attempt to poison each other in West End restaurants.

The question was should I accept the invitation pencilled across the
card? I was anxious enough in all conscience to find out something
definite about McMurtrie and his friends, but I certainly had no wish
to mix myself up with any mysterious business in which I was not quite
sure that they were concerned. For the time being my own affairs
provided me with all the interest and excitement that I needed.
Besides, even if the man with the scar was one of the gang, and had
really tried to poison or drug his companion, I was scarcely in a
position to offer the latter my assistance. Apart altogether from
the fact that I had given my promise to the doctor, it was obviously
impossible for me to explain to a complete stranger how I came to be
mixed up with the matter. An escaped convict, however excellent his
intentions may be, is bound to be rather handicapped in his choice of
action.

With my mind busy over these problems I pursued my way home, only
stopping at a small pub opposite Victoria to buy myself a syphon of
soda and a bottle of drinkable whisky. With these under my arm (it's
extraordinary how penal servitude relieves one of any false pride) I
continued my journey, reaching the house just as Big Ben was booming
out the stroke of half-past nine.

It seemed a bit early to turn in, but I had had such a varied and
emotional day that the prospect of a good night's rest rather appealed
to me. So, after mixing myself a stiff peg, I undressed and got into
bed, soothing my harassed mind with another chapter or two of H.G.
Wells before attempting to go to sleep. So successful was this
prescription that when I did drop off it was into a deep, dreamless
slumber which was only broken by the appearance of Gertie 'Uggins with
a cup of tea at eight o'clock the next morning.

Soundly and long as I had slept I didn't hurry about getting up.
According to Joyce, Tommy would not be back until somewhere about two,
and I had had so many grisly mornings of turning out at five o'clock
after a night of sleepless horror that the mere fact of being able to
lie in bed between clean sheets was still something of a novelty and
a pleasure. Lie in bed I accordingly did, and, in the process
of consuming several cigarettes, continued to ponder over the
extraordinary events of the previous evening.

When I did roll out, it was to enjoy another nice hot bath and an
excellent breakfast. After that I occupied myself for some time by
running over the various notes and calculations which I had made while
I was with McMurtrie, just in case I found it necessary to start the
practical side of my work earlier than I expected. Everything seemed
right, and savagely anxious as I was to stay in town till I could find
some clue to the mystery of George's treachery, I felt also an intense
eagerness to get to grips with my new invention. I was positively
hungry for a little work. The utter idleness, from any intelligent
point of view, of my three years in prison, had been almost the
hardest part of it to bear.

At about a quarter to two I left the house, and making my way down on
to the embankment set off for Chelsea. It was a delightful day, warm
and sunny as July; and this, combined with the fact that I was on my
way to see Tommy, lifted me into a most cheerful frame of mind. Indeed
I actually caught myself whistling--a habit which I don't think I had
indulged in since my eventful visit to Mr. Marks.

I looked up at George's house as I passed, but except for a black cat
sunning herself on the top of the gatepost there was no sign of life
about the place. My thoughts went back to Joyce, and I wondered how
the dinner party at the Savoy had gone off. I could almost see George
sitting at one side of the table with that insufferable air of
gallantry and self-satisfaction that he always assumed in the presence
of a pretty girl. Poor, brave little Joyce! If the pluck and loyalty
of one's friends counted for anything, I was certainly as well off as
any one in London.

As I drew near Florence Mansions I felt a sort of absurd inclination
to chuckle out loud. Much as I disliked the thought of dragging Tommy
into my tangled affairs, the prospect of springing such a gorgeous
surprise on him filled me with a mischievous delight. Up till now,
except for my arrest and sentence, I had never seen anything upset his
superb self-possession in the slightest degree.

A glance at the board in the hall as I turned in showed me that he
had arrived. I marched along the passage till I came to his flat, and
lifting the knocker gave a couple of sharp raps. There was a short
pause; then I heard the sound of footsteps, and a moment later Tommy
himself opened the door.

He was wearing the same dressing-gown that I remembered three years
ago, and at the sight of his untidy hair and his dear old badly-shaved
face I as nearly as possible gave the show away. Pulling myself
together with an effort, however, I made him a polite bow.

"Mr. Morrison?" I inquired in my best assumed voice.

"That's me all right," said Tommy.

"My name's Nicholson," I said. "I am an artist. I was asked to look
you up by a friend of yours--Delacour of Paris."

I had mentioned a man for whose work I knew Tommy entertained a
profound respect.

"Oh, come in," he cried, swinging open the door and gripping my hand;
"come in, old chap. Delighted to see you. The place is in a hell of a
mess, but you won't mind that. I've only just got back from sailing."

He dragged me into the studio, which was in the same state of
picturesque confusion as when I had last seen it, and pulling up a
large easy-chair thrust me down into its capacious depths.

"I'm awfully glad I was in," he went on. "I wouldn't have missed you
for the world. How's old Delacour? I haven't seen him for ages. I
never get over to Paris these days."

"Delacour's all right," I answered--"at least, as far as I know."

Tommy walked across the room to a corner cupboard. "You'll have a
drink, won't you?" he asked; "there's whisky and brandy, and Grand
Marnier, and I've got a bottle of port somewhere if you'd care for a
glass."

There was a short pause. Then in my natural voice I remarked quietly
and distinctly: "You were always a drunken old blackguard, Tommy."

The effect was immense. For a moment Tommy remained perfectly still,
his mouth open, his eyes almost starting out of his head. Then quite
suddenly he sat down heavily on the couch, clutching a bottle of
whisky in one hand and a tumbler in the other.

"Well, I'm damned!" he whispered.

"Never mind, Tommy," I said cheerfully; "you'll be in the very best
society."

CHAPTER XIII

REGARDING MR. BRUCE LATIMER

For perhaps a second Tommy remained motionless; then sitting up he
removed the cork, and poured himself out about a quarter of a tumbler
of neat spirit. He drained this off at a gulp, and put down both the
glass and the bottle.

"God deliver us!" he observed; "is it really you?"

I nodded. "What's left of me, Tommy."

He jumped to his feet, and the next moment he was crushing my hands
with a grip that would have broken some people's fingers. "You old
ruffian!" he muttered; "I always said you'd do something like this.
Lord alive, it's good to see you, though!" Then, pulling me up out of
the chair, he caught me by the shoulders and stared incredulously
into my face. "But what the devil's happened? What have you done to
yourself?"

"I know what I'm going to do to myself," I replied. "I am going to
get outside some of that drink you were talking about--if there's any
left."

With something between a laugh and a choke he let me go, and crossing
to the couch picked up the whisky and splashed out a generous tot into
the glass.

"Here you are--and I'm hanged if I don't have another one myself. I
believe I could drink the whole bottle without turning a hair."

"I'm quite sure you could, Tommy," I said, "unless you've
deteriorated."

We raised our tumblers and clinked them together with a force that
cracked mine from the rim to the bottom. I drained off the contents,
however, before they could escape, and flung the broken glass into the
fireplace.

"It would have been blasphemous to drink out of it again in any case,"
I said.

With a big, happy laugh Tommy followed my example. Then he came up
again and caught me by the arm, as though to make sure that I was
still there.

"Neil, old son," he said, "I'm so glad to see you that I shall start
wrecking the blessed studio in a minute. For God's sake tell me what
it all means."

"Sit down, then," I said; "sit down and give me a chance. It's--it's a
hell of a yarn, Tommy."

He laughed again, and letting go my arm threw himself back into the
easy-chair.

"It would be," he said.

I always have a feeling that I can talk better when I am on my feet,
and so, while Tommy sat there puffing out great clouds of smoke from a
huge cherry-wood pipe, I paced slowly up and down the room giving
him my story. Like Joyce, he listened to me without saying a word or
interrupting me in any way. I told him everything that had happened
from the moment when I had escaped from prison to the time when I had
given my promise that I would come and look him up.

"I couldn't help it, Tommy," I finished. "I didn't want to drag you
in, but you know what Joyce is when she has once made up her mind
about anything. I thought the only way was to come and see you.
Between us--"

I got no further, for with a sudden exclamation--it sounded more like
a growl than anything else--Tommy had risen from his chair.

"And do you mean to tell me that, if it hadn't been for Joyce, you
wouldn't have come! By Gad, Neil, if I wasn't so glad to see you
I'd--I'd--" Words failed him, and gripping hold of my hands again he
wrung them with a force that made me wince.

Then, suddenly dropping them, he started to stride about the room.
"Lord, what a yarn!" he exclaimed. "What a hell of a yarn!"

"Well, I told you it was," I said, nursing my crushed fingers.

"I knew something had happened. I knew at least that you weren't going
to be taken alive; but this--" He stopped short in front of me and
once more gazed incredulously into my face. "I wouldn't know you from
the Angel Gabriel!" he added.

"Except that he's clean shaven," I said. Then I paused. "Look here,
Tommy," I went on seriously, "what are we going to do about Joyce? I'm
all right, you see. There's nothing to prevent me clearing out of the
country directly I've finished with McMurtrie. If I choose to go and
break George's neck, that's my own business. I am not going to have
you and Joyce mixed up in the affair."

Tommy sat down on the edge of the table. "My dear chap," he said
slowly, "do you understand anything about Joyce at all? Do you realize
that ever since the trial she has had only one idea in her mind--to
get you out of prison? She has lived for nothing else the last three
years. All this palmistry business was entirely on your account. She
wanted to make money and get to know people who could help her, and
she's done it--done it in the most astounding way. When she found it
was too soon for your sentence to be altered she even made up some
mad plan of taking a cottage near the prison and bribing one of the
warders with that eight hundred pounds you left her. It was all I
could do to put her off by telling her that you would probably be shot
trying to get away. Is it likely she'll chuck the whole thing up now,
just when there's really a chance of helping you?"

"But there isn't a chance," I objected. "If we couldn't find out the
truth at the trial it's not likely we shall now--unless I choke it out
of George. Besides, it's quite possible that even he doesn't know who
really killed Marks. He may only have lied about me for some reason of
his own."

Tommy nodded impatiently. "That's likely enough, but it's all my eye
to say we can't help you. There are a hundred ways in which you'll
want friends. To start with, all this business of McMurtrie's, or
whatever his name is, sounds devilish queer to me. I don't believe his
yarn any more than you do. There's something shady about it, you can
be certain. When are you supposed to start work?"

I looked at the clock. "I shall know in about an hour," I said. "I
forgot to tell you that when I came back from Joyce's yesterday I
found a note--I suppose from them--saying that I should have a message
or a visitor at five o'clock today, and would I be good enough to be
home at that time. At least it wasn't put quite so politely." Then I
paused. "Good Lord!" I exclaimed, "that reminds me. I haven't told you
the most amazing part of the whole yarn." I put my hand in my pocket
and pulled out the card which had been sent me in the restaurant.
"Have you ever heard of a man called Bruce Latimer?" I asked.

To my amazement Tommy nodded his head. "Bruce Latimer," he repeated.
"Yes, I know _a_ Bruce Latimer?--lives in Jermyn Street. What's he got
to do with it?"

"You know him!" I almost shouted.

"Yes, slightly. He belongs to the Athenians. He used to do a lot of
sailing at one time, but I haven't seen him down there this year."

"Who is he? What is he?" I demanded eagerly.

"Well, I don't know exactly. He's in some Government office, I
believe, but he's not the sort of chap who ever talks about his own
affairs. Where on earth did you come across him?"

As quickly as possible I told Tommy the story of my visit to
Parelli's, and showed him the card which Latimer had sent me by the
waiter. He took it out of my hand, looking at me with a sort of
half-sceptical amazement.

"You're not joking?" he said. "This is Gospel truth you're telling
me?"

I nodded. "Humour's a bit out of my line nowadays, Tommy," I answered.
"The Dartmoor climate doesn't seem to suit it."

"But--but--" he stared for a moment at the card without speaking.
"Well, this beats everything," he exclaimed. "What in God's name can
Bruce Latimer have to do with your crowd?"

"That," I remarked, "is exactly what I want to find out."

"Find out!" repeated Tommy. "We'll find out right enough. Do you think
he guessed who it was that sent the note?"

"Most likely he did," I said. "I was the nearest person, but in any
case he only saw my back. You can't recognize a man from his back."

Tommy took two or three steps up and down the studio. "_You_ mustn't
go and see him," he said at last--"that's quite certain. You can't
afford to mix yourself up in a business of this sort."

"No," I said reluctantly, "but all the same I should very much like to
know what's at the bottom of it."

"Suppose I take it on, then?" suggested Tommy.

"What could you say?" I asked.

"I should tell him that it was a friend of mine--an artist who was
going abroad the next day--who had seen it happen, and that he'd given
me the card and asked me to explain. It's just possible Latimer would
take me into his confidence. He would either have to do that or else
pretend that the whole thing was a joke."

"I'm quite sure there was no joke about it," I said. "Whether the chap
with the scar belongs to McMurtrie's crowd or not, I'm as certain as I
am that I'm standing here that he drugged that wine. He may not have
meant to murder Latimer, but it looks uncommon fishy."

"It looks even fishier than you think," answered Tommy. "I'd forgotten
for the moment, when you asked about him, but I remember now that some
fellow at the Athenians once told me that Latimer was supposed to be a
secret-service man of some kind."

"A secret-service man!" I repeated incredulously. "I didn't know we
went in for such luxuries in this country except in novels. Do you
believe it?"

"I didn't pay much attention at the time--I thought it was probably
all rot--but this business--" He stopped, and thrusting his hands into
his pockets, again paced slowly up and down the room.

I gave a thoughtful whistle. "By Jove, Tommy!" I said; "if that's a
fact and the gentleman with the scar is really one of our crowd, I
seem to have dropped in for a rather promising time--don't I! I knew
I was up against the police, but it's a sort of cheerful surprise to
find that I'm taking on the secret service as well."

Tommy pulled up short. "Look here, Neil!" he said. "I don't like it;
I'm hanged if I do. There's some rotten dirty work going on somewhere;
that's as plain as a pikestaff. I believe these people are simply
using you as a cats-paw. All they want is to get hold of the secret of
this new explosive of yours; then as likely as not they'll hand you
over to the police, or else...." he paused. "Well, you've seen the sort
of crowd they are. It may be all rot about Latimer being in the secret
service, but there's no doubt they tried to poison or drug him last
night. Men who will go as far as that wouldn't stick at getting rid of
you if it happened to suit their book."

I nodded. "That's all true enough, Tommy," I said; "but what am I to
do? I took the bargain on, and I've no choice now except to go through
with it. I can't walk up to a policeman and say I think Dr. McMurtrie
is a dangerous person engaged on some sort of illegal enterprise."

Tommy came up, and laid his hand on my shoulder. "Drop it, Neil; chuck
the whole thing and go to America. Joyce has got that eight hundred
pounds of yours; and I can easily let you have another two or three.
In six months' time you'll be able to make as much money as you
choose. You've had three years of hell; what's the good of running
any risks that you can avoid? If there's the least faintest chance
of getting at the truth, you can be certain I'll do it. Don't go and
smash up all the rest of your life over this cursed business. What
does it matter if all the fools in England think you killed Marks?
He deserved to be killed anyway--the swine! Leave them to think, and
clear off to some country where you can start fresh and fair again. It
doesn't matter the least where you go to, you're bound to come to the
top."

It was about the longest speech I had ever heard Tommy make, and
certainly the most eloquent. For a moment indeed I was almost tempted
to take his advice. Then the thought of George and all the complicated
suffering that I had been through rose up like a wall across my mind.

"No," I said firmly; "I'm damned if I'll go. I'll see this out if it
means the end of everything."

As I spoke there came a sharp "ting" from the clock on the
mantelpiece, and looking up I saw that it was half-past four. "By Gad,
Tommy," I added, "I must go from here, though. I've got to be back
at Edith Terrace by five o'clock, or I shall miss this mysterious
visitor."

"You're coming back here afterwards?" he asked.

I nodded. "If I can. I haven't the least notion how long they'll keep
me, but I told Joyce I would come round and let you know what had
happened."

"Good," said Tommy. "Don't be longer than you can help. I'll get in
something to eat, and we'll all have supper together--you and I and
Joyce, and then we can have a good jaw afterwards. There are still
tons of things I want to know about."

He thrust his arm through mine and walked with me to the door of the
flat.

"By the way, Thomas," I said, "I suppose the police aren't watching
your place, just on the off-chance of my rolling up. They must
remember you were rather a particular pal of mine."

"I don't think so," he answered. "They may have had a man on when you
first escaped, but if so he must have got fed up with the job by now.
Don't you worry in any case. Your guardian angel wouldn't recognize
you in that get up--let alone a policeman."

"If there's any justice," I said, "my guardian angel got the sack
three years ago."

With this irreverent remark, I shook his hand, and walking down the
passage passed out on to the embankment.

Having a good two miles to cover and only five-and-twenty minutes to
do it in, it struck me that driving would be the most agreeable method
of getting home. I hesitated for a moment between a taxi and a
motor bus, deciding in favour of the latter chiefly from motives of
sentiment. I had not been on one since my arrest, and besides that
the idea of travelling along the streets in open view of the British
public rather appealed to me. Since my interview with Tommy I was
beginning to feel the most encouraging confidence in McMurtrie's
handiwork.

So, turning up Beaufort Street, I jumped on to a "Red Victoria" at
the corner, and making my way upstairs, sat down on one of the front
seats. It was the first time I had been down the King's Road by
daylight, and the sight of all the old familiar landmarks was as
refreshing as rain in the desert. Twice I caught a glimpse of some one
whom I had known in the old days--one man was Murgatroyd, the black
and white artist, and the other Doctor O'Hara, the good-natured Irish
medico who had once set a broken finger for me. The latter was coming
out of his house as we passed, and I felt a mischievous longing to
jump off the bus and introduce myself to him, just to see what he
would do.

At the corner of Sloane Square I had an unexpected and rather dramatic
reminder of my celebrity. As we emerged from the King's Road a
procession of five or six sandwich-men suddenly appeared from the
direction of Symons Street, shuffling dejectedly along at intervals
of a few yards. They were carrying double boards, on which, boldly
printed in red-and-black letters, stared the following announcement:

MADAME TUSSAUD'S

MARYLEBONE ROAD

NEIL
LYNDON

A LIFELIKE PORTRAIT

I gazed down at them with a sort of fascinated interest. Somehow
or other it seemed rather like reading one's own tombstone, and I
couldn't help wondering whether I was in the main hall or whether I
had been dignified with an eligible site in the Chamber of Horrors. If
it hadn't been for my appointment I should most certainly have taken a
cab straight up to Marylebone Road in order to find out.

Promising myself that treat on the morrow, I stuck to my seat, and at
ten minutes to five by the station clock we drew up outside Victoria.
I got off and walked briskly along to Edith Terrace. Turning the
corner of the street, I observed the figure of Miss Gertie 'Uggins
leaning against the front railings, apparently engaged in conversation
with an errand boy on the other side of the road. As soon as she
recognized me she dived down the area steps, reappearing at the front
door just as I reached the house.

"I was watchin' for yer," she remarked in a hoarse whisper. "There's
summun wants to see yer in there." She jerked her thumb towards the
sitting-room. "It's a lidy," she added.

"A lady!" I said. "What sort of a lady?"

"Ow! A reel lidy. She's got a lovely 'at."

"Is she young and dark and rather nice to look at?" I asked.

Gertie nodded. "That's 'er. She wouldn't give no nime, but that's 'er
right enough."

I didn't wait to ask any more questions, but putting down my hat on
the hall table, I walked up to the sitting-room and tapped lightly on
the door.

"Come in," called out a voice.

I turned the handle, and the next moment I was face to face with
Sonia.

CHAPTER XIV

A SUMMONS FROM DR. McMURTRIE

She had risen from the sofa as I entered and was standing in the
centre of the room. The neatly cut, close-fitting dress that she was
wearing suited her dark beauty to perfection and showed off the
lines of her lithe, slender figure. She gave me a curious momentary
impression of some sort of graceful wild animal.

"Ah!" she exclaimed softly. "I am glad you weren't late. I have to go
away quite soon."

I took the hand she held out to me. "My dear Sonia," I said, "why
didn't you let me know that you were going to be the visitor?"

"I didn't know myself," she answered. "The doctor meant to come, but
he was called away unexpectedly this afternoon, so he sent me instead.
I have got a letter for you from him." She let go my fingers gently,
and picking up her bag which was lying on the table, opened it and
took out an envelope.

"Shall I read it now?" I asked.

She nodded.

I slit up the flap and pulled out a folded sheet of foolscap from
inside. It was in McMurtrie's handwriting, but there was no date and
no address.

"DEAR MR. NICHOLSON,

"All the necessary arrangements have now been made with regard to your
workshop at Tilbury. It is situated on the marshes close to the river,
three miles east of the town and a mile to the west of Cunnock Creek.
You can reach it either by the main road which runs half a mile
inland, or by walking along the saltings under the sea-wall.

"You cannot mistake the place, as it is an absolutely isolated
building, consisting of a small cabin or hut, with a large shed
attached for your work. It is not luxurious, but we have at least
fitted up the interior of your living-room as comfortably as possible,
and you will find in the shed everything that you specified in your
list as being necessary for your experiments.

"I should be glad if you would arrange to go down there and start work
the day after tomorrow. There is a train from Fenchurch Street to
Tilbury at 11.45 in the morning, and if you will catch that I will
see that there is a trap to meet you at the station and drive you out
along the road as near to the place as it is possible to get. This
hardly gives you the full week in London which you wished for, but
circumstances have arisen that make it of great importance to us to
be able to place your invention on the market as quickly as possible.
From your own point of view the sooner the work is done the sooner you
will be in possession of funds, and so able to make any use of your
liberty you choose.

"Sonia has the keys of the building, and will give them you with this
letter.

"While you are working at the hut, it will be better, I think, if you
stay entirely on the premises. I believe you will find everything
you want in the way of food and cooking materials, and you will, of
course, take down your own personal belongings with you. In the event
of anything you really need having been forgotten, you can always walk
into Tilbury, but I should strongly advise you not to do so, except
in a case of absolute necessity. Apart from any danger of your being
recognized, we are extremely anxious that no one connected with the
powder trade should have the least idea that experiments are being
conducted with regard to a new explosive. A large part of the
immediate value of your invention will consist in its coming on the
market as an absolute surprise.

"I have been unexpectedly called away for a few days, but directly I
return I shall come down to Tilbury and see you. Should you wish to
communicate with me in the interval, you can do so by writing or
wiring to me at the Hotel Russell, London, W.C.

"I hope that you have enjoyed your well-earned if rather long-delayed
holiday.

"Your sincere friend,

"L.J. McMURTRIE."

I finished reading and slowly refolded the letter.

"You know what this is about, of course, Sonia?" I said.

She nodded again. "They want you to go down there at once. You must do
it; you must do everything you are told just at present."

"I ought to be able to manage that," I said grimly. "I've had plenty
of practice the last three years."

With a swift, silent movement she came up to me and put her hands on
my arm. "You must trust me," she said, speaking in that low passionate
voice of hers. "You know that I love you; you know that I am only
waiting for the right time to act. When it comes I will give you a

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