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A Rogue by Compulsion by Victor Bridges

Part 7 out of 7

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when I suddenly sprung it on McMurtrie."

He shook his head, smiling. "Oh no," he said--"hardly amazed." He
paused. "You see, I knew about it already," he added placidly.

If there was any amazement to spare at that moment it was certainly
mine.

"You knew about it!" I repeated. "You knew that McMurtrie had killed
Marks?"

He nodded coolly. "You remember telling me in the boat that your
friend Miss--Miss Aylmer, isn't it?--had recognized him as the man she
saw at the flat on the day of the murder?"

"Yes," I said.

"Well, if that was so, and you had been wrongly convicted, which I
was inclined to believe, the doctor's presence on the scene seemed to
require a little looking into. I knew that at that time he had only
just arrived in London, so the odds were that he and Marks were old
acquaintances. I hunted up the evidence in your trial--I had rather
forgotten it--and I found just what I expected. Beyond the fact that
Marks was a foreigner and had been living in London for about eight
years, no one seemed to know anything about him at all. The police
were so confident in their case against you that apparently they
hadn't even bothered to make the usual inquiries. If they had taken
the trouble to communicate with St. Petersburg, they could have found
out all about Mr. Marks without much difficulty. The authorities there
have a wonderfully complete system of remembering their old friends."

"But three years afterwards--" I began.

"It makes very little difference, especially as just at present we
are on excellent terms with the Russian Secret Service. They took the
matter up for me, and last night I got the full particulars I wanted
about the man who had given away McMurtrie and his friends in St.
Petersburg. There can be no question that he and Marks were the same
person."

I took a long--a very long breath.

"There remains," I said, "the Home Office."

"I don't think you need be seriously worried about the Home Office,"
returned Latimer serenely. "By this time they have a full statement of
the case--except, of course, for my direct evidence that I heard the
doctor actually bragging of his achievement. I had a long interview
with Casement before I left London this morning, and he said he would
go round directly after breakfast. He evidently arrived just too late
to prevent the order for your arrest."

I nodded. "Sonia must have gone to the police last night," I said; and
then in a few words I told him of the telegram I had received from
Gertie 'Uggins, and how it had just enabled me to get away.

"I don't know," I finished, "how much my double escape complicates
matters. However unjust my sentence was, there's no denying I've
committed at least three felonies since. I've broken prison, plugged a
warder in the jaw, and shoved an oar into a policeman's tummy. Do you
think there's any possible chance of the Home Secretary being able to
overlook such enormities?"

Latimer laughed easily. "My dear Lyndon," he said, "in return for what
you've done for us, you could decimate the police force if you wanted
to." Then, speaking more seriously, he added: "I tell you frankly,
there's every chance of a huge European war in the near future, and
you can see the different position we should be in if the Germans had
got hold of this new powder of yours. Apart from that, the Government
owe you every possible sort of reparation for the shameful way you've
been treated. If there's any 'overlooking' to be done, it will be on
your side, not on theirs."

We were entering the dreary main street of Queenborough as he spoke,
and before I could answer he drew up outside the post-office.

"We've just time to send off a telegram," he said. "I want to make
sure of seeing Lammersfield and Casement directly we get to town. They
will probably be at lunch if I don't wire."

He entered the building, and Tommy took advantage of his brief absence
to lean over the back of the seat and grip my hand.

"We've done it, Neil," he said. "Damn it, we've done it!"

"_You've_ done it, Tommy," I retorted. "You and Joyce between you."

There was a short pause, and then Tommy gave vent to a deep satisfied
chuckle.

"I'm thinking of George," he said simply.

It was such a beautiful thought that for a moment I too maintained a
voluptuous silence.

"We must find out whether they're going to prosecute him," I said. "I
don't want to clash with the Government, but whatever happens I mean
to have my five minutes first. They're welcome to what's left of him."

Tommy nodded sympathetically, and just at that moment Latimer came out
of the post-office.

We got to the railway station with about half a minute to spare.
The train was fairly crowded, but a word from Latimer to the
station-master resulted in our being ushered into an empty "first"
which was ceremoniously locked behind us. It was not a "smoker," but
with a fine disregard for such trifles Latimer promptly produced his
cigar case, and offered us each a delightful-looking Upman. There are
certainly some advantages in being on the side of the established
order.

Soothed by the fragrant tobacco, and with an exquisite feeling of
rest and freedom, I lay back in the corner and listened to Latimer's
pleasantly drawling voice, as he described to me how he had
accomplished his morning's coup.

It seems that, accompanied by Tommy and his own man Ellis, he had
arrived at Queenborough by the early train. Instructions had already
been wired through from London that the Sheppey police were to put
themselves entirely at his disposal; and having commandeered a car,
the three of them, together with our friend the sergeant, set off to
the bungalow. They pulled up some little distance away and waited for
Guthrie, Latimer's other assistant, who had been keeping an eye on the
place during the night. He reported that McMurtrie and Savaroff and
von Bruenig had just put off in the launch, leaving the other two
behind.

"I guessed they had gone to pay you a visit," explained Latimer drily,
"and it seemed to me a favourable chance of doing a little calling on
our own account."

The net result of that little call had been the bloodless capture
of Hoffman and the other German spy, who had been surprised in the
prosaic act of swallowing their breakfast.

Having been favoured by fortune so far, Latimer had promptly proceeded
to make the best use of his opportunity. It struck him that, whatever
might be the result of their visit to me, the other members of the
party were pretty sure to come back to the bungalow. The idea of
hiding behind the curtain at once suggested itself to him. It was just
possible that in this way he might pick up some valuable information
before he was discovered, while in any case it would give him the
advantage of taking them utterly by surprise.

His first step had been to tie up the prisoners, and pack them off in
the car to Queenborough police station with Guthrie and the sergeant
as an escort. (I should have loved to have heard his conversation with
Hoffman while the former operation was in progress!) He then carefully
removed all inside and outside traces of the raid on the bungalow, and
picked out a couple of convenient hiding-places in the garden, where
Tommy and Ellis could he in ambush until they were wanted. A shot from
his revolver or the smashing of the French window was to be the signal
for their united entrance on the scene.

"Well, you know the end of the story as well as I do," he finished,
nicking off the ash of his cigar. "Things could scarcely have turned
out better, except for that unfortunate accident with McMurtrie."
He paused. "I wouldn't have shot him for the world," he added
regretfully, "but he really left me no choice."

"He would have been hanged anyway," put in Tommy consolingly.

Latimer smiled. "I didn't mean to suggest that it was likely to keep
me awake at night. I was only thinking that we might perhaps have got
some useful information out of him."

"It seems to me," I said gratefully, "that we did."

Through the interminable suburbs and slums of South-East London we
steamed slowly into London Bridge Station and drew up at the platform.
There was a taxi waiting almost opposite our carriage, and promptly
securing the driver Latimer instructed him to take us "as quickly as
possible" to No. 10 Downing Street.

The man carried out his order with almost alarming literalness, but
Providence watched over us and we reached the Foreign Office without
disaster. Favoured with a respectful salute from the liveried porter
on duty, Latimer led the way into the hall.

We followed him down a short narrow passage to another corridor, where
he unlocked and opened a door on the left, ushering us into a small
room comfortably fitted up as an office.

"This is my own private den," he said; "so no one will disturb you. I
will go and see if Casement has come. If so, he is probably upstairs
with Lammersfield. I will give them my report, and then no doubt they
will want to see you. You won't have to wait very long."

He nodded pleasantly and left the room, closing the door after him.
For all his quiet, almost lethargic manner, it was curious what an
atmosphere of swiftness and decision he seemed to carry about with
him.

I turned to Tommy.

"Where's Joyce?" I asked.

"She's at the flat," he announced. "She said she would wait there
until she heard from us. I saw her last night, you know. I was having
supper at Hatchett's with Latimer when she turned up with your letter.
She'd come on from his rooms."

"There are many women," I said softly, "but there is only one Joyce."

Tommy chuckled. "That's what Latimer thinks. After she left us--I was
staying the night with him in Jermyn Street and we'd all three gone
back there to talk it over--he said to me in that funny drawling way
of his: 'You know, Morrison, that girl will be wasted, even on Lyndon.
She ought to be in the Secret Service.'"

I laughed. "I'm grateful to the Secret Service," I said, "but there
are limits even to gratitude."

For perhaps three-quarters of an hour we remained undisturbed, while
Latimer was presumably presenting his report to the authorities. Every
now and then we heard footsteps pass down the corridor, and on one
occasion an electric bell went off with a sudden vicious energy that
I should never have expected in a Government office. The time passed
quickly, for we had plenty to talk about; indeed, our only objection
to waiting was the fact that we were both beginning to get infernally
hungry, and it seemed likely to be some time yet before we should be
able to get anything to eat.

At last there came a discreet knock at the door, and an elderly
clean-shaven person with the manners of a retired butler appeared
noiselessly upon the threshold. He bowed slightly to us both.

"Lord Lammersfield wishes to see you, gentlemen. If you will be good
enough to follow me, I will conduct you to his presence."

We followed him along the corridor and up a rather dingy staircase,
when he tapped gently at a door immediately facing us. "Come in,"
called out a voice, and with another slight inclination of his head
our guide turned the handle and ushered us into the room.

It was a solemn-looking sort of apartment furnished chiefly with
bookcases, and having a general atmosphere of early Victorian
stuffiness. At a big table in the centre two men were sitting. One was
Latimer; the other I recognized immediately as Lord Lammersfield.

I had never known him personally in the old days, but I had often seen
him walking in the Park, or run across him at such popular rest
cures as Kempton and Sandown Park. He had changed very little in the
interval; his hair was perhaps a trifle greyer, otherwise he looked
just the same debonair picturesque figure that the Opposition
caricaturists had loved to flesh their pencils on.

He got up as we entered, regarding us both with a pleasant whimsical
smile that put me entirely at my ease at once.

"This is Lyndon," said Latimer, indicating me; "and this is Morrison."

Lord Lammersfield came round the table and shook hands cordially with
us both.

"Sit down, gentlemen," he said, "sit down. If half of what Mr. Latimer
has told me is true, you must be extremely tired."

We all three laughed, and Tommy promptly took advantage of the
invitation to seat himself luxuriously in a big leather arm-chair. I
remained standing.

"To be quite truthful," I said, "it's been the most refreshing morning
I can ever remember."

Lord Lammersfield looked at me for a moment with the same smile on his
lips.

"Yes," he said drily; "I suppose there is a certain stimulus in
saving England before breakfast. Most of my own work in that line is
accomplished in the afternoon." Then, with a sudden slight change in
his manner, he took a step forward and again held out his hand.

"Mr. Lyndon," he said, "as a member of the Government, and one who is
therefore more or less responsible for the law's asinine blunders, I
am absolutely ashamed to look you in the face. I wonder if you add
generosity to your other unusual gifts."

For the second time we exchanged grips. "I have common gratitude at
all events, Lord Lammersfield," I said. "I know that you have tried to
help me while I was in prison, and--"

He held up his other hand with a gesture of half-ironical protest.
"Ah!" he exclaimed, "I am afraid that any poor efforts of mine in
that direction were due to the most flagrant compulsion." He paused.
"Whatever else you are unlucky in, Mr. Lyndon," he added smilingly,
"you can at least be congratulated on your friends."

Then he turned to Latimer. "I think it would be as well if I explained
the position before Casement and Frinton arrive."

Latimer expressed his agreement, and motioning me to a chair, Lord
Lammersfield again seated himself at the table. His manner, though
still quite friendly and unstilted, had suddenly become serious.

"For the moment, Mr. Lyndon," he said, "the Prime Minister is out of
London. We have communicated with him, and we expect him back tonight.
In his absence it falls to me to thank you most unreservedly both on
behalf of the Government and the nation for what you have done. It
would be difficult to overrate its importance."

I began to feel a trifle embarrassed.

"I really don't want any thanks," I said. "I just drifted into it;
and anyway one doesn't sell one's country, even if one is an escaped
convict."

Lord Lammersfield laughed drily. "There are many men," he said, "in
your position who would have found it an extraordinarily attractive
prospect. I am not at all sure I shouldn't have myself." He paused.
"We can't give you those three years of your life back," he went on,
"but fortunately we can make some sort of amends in other ways. I have
no doubt that the moment the Prime Minister is fully acquainted with
the circumstances he will arrange for what we humorously call a 'free
pardon'; that is to say, the Law will very graciously forgive you for
having been unjustly sent to prison. As for the rest--" he shrugged
his shoulders--"well, I don't imagine you will be precisely the loser
for not having sold your secret to the Wilhelmstrasse. Our own
War Office are quite prepared to deal in any original methods of
scattering death that happen to be on the market just at present."

There was a brief pause.

"And are we free now?" inquired Tommy, with a rather pathetic glance
at the clock.

"You should be very shortly," returned Lammersfield. "Mr. Casement has
gone across to the Home Office to explain the latest developments to
Sir George Frinton. We are expecting them both here at any moment."

"Sir George Frinton?" I echoed. "Why, I thought Mr. McCurdy was at the
Home Office."

Lammersfield smiled tolerantly: "You have been busy, Mr. Lyndon, and
some of the more important facts of modern history have possibly
escaped you. McCurdy resigned from the Government nearly three months
ago."

"But Sir George Frinton!" I exclaimed. "Why, I know the old boy; I
have a standing invitation to go and look him up." And then, without
waiting for any questions, I described to them in a few words how the
Home Secretary and I had travelled together from Exeter to London, and
the favourable impression I had apparently made.

Both Lammersfield and Latimer were vastly amused--the former lying
back in his chair and laughing softly to himself in undisguised
merriment.

"How perfectly delightful!" he observed. "Poor old Frinton has his
merits, but--"

The libel he was about to utter on his distinguished colleague was
suddenly cut short by a knock at the door; and, in answer to his
summons, the butler-looking person entered and announced that Sir
George Frinton and Mr. Casement were waiting for an audience.

"Show them up at once," said his lordship gravely; and then turning to
Latimer as the man left the room he added, with a reflective smile:
"I should never have believed that the Foreign Office could be so
entertaining."

CHAPTER XXV

A LITTLE FAMILY PARTY

The moment that Sir George Frinton reached the threshold, one could
see that he was seriously perturbed. He entered the room in an
energetic, fussy sort of manner, and came bustling across to Lord
Lammersfield, who had risen from the table to meet him. He was
followed by a grey-haired, middle-aged man, who strolled in quietly,
looked across at Latimer, and then threw a sharp penetrating glance at
Tommy and me.

It was Lammersfield who spoke first. "I was sorry to bother you,
Frinton," he said pleasantly, "but the matter has so much to do with
your department I thought you ought to be present."

Sir George waved away the apology. "You were perfectly right, Lord
Lammersfield--perfectly right. I should have come over in any case. It
is an astounding story. I have been amazed--positively amazed--at Mr.
Casement's revelations. Can it be possible there is no mistake?"

"Absolutely none," answered Latimer calmly. "Our people have moved
with the utmost discretion, and we have the entire evidence in our
hands." He turned to Casement. "You have acquainted Sir George with
the whole of this morning's events?"

The quiet man nodded. "Everything," he observed, in rather fatigued
voice.

"I understand," said the Home Secretary, "that this man Lyndon is
actually here."

With a graceful gesture Lord Lammersfield indicated where I was
standing.

"Let me introduce you to each other," he said. "Mr. Neil Lyndon--Sir
George Frinton."

I bowed respectfully, and when I raised my head again I saw that the
Home Secretary was contemplating me with a puzzled stare.

"You--your face seems strangely familiar to me," he observed.

"You evidently have a good memory, Sir George," I replied. "I had the
honour and pleasure of travelling up from Exeter to London with you
about a fortnight ago."

A sudden light came into his face, and adjusting his spectacles he
stared at me harder than ever.

"God bless my soul!" he exclaimed. "Of course, I remember now." He
paused. "And do you mean to tell me that you--an escaped convict--were
actually aware that you were travelling with the Home Secretary?"

I saw no reason for dimming the glory of the incident.

"You were kind enough to give me one of your cards," I reminded him.

"Why, yes, to be sure; so I did--so I did." Again he paused and gazed
at me with a sort of incredulous amazement. "You must have nerves of
steel, sir. Most men in such a situation would have been paralysed
with terror."

The idea of Sir George paralysing anybody with terror struck me as so
delightful that I almost burst out laughing, but by a great effort I
just managed to restrain myself.

"As an escaped convict," I said, "one becomes used to rather desperate
situations."

Lammersfield, the corner of whose mouth was twitching suspiciously,
broke into the conversation.

"It was a remarkable coincidence," he said, "but you see how it
confirms Casement's story if any further confirmation were needed."

Sir George nodded. "Yes, yes," he said. "I suppose there can be no
doubt about it. The proofs of it all seem beyond question." He turned
to me. "Taking everything into consideration, Mr. Lyndon, you appear
to have acted in a most creditable and patriotic manner. I understand
that the moment you discovered the nature of the plot in which you
were involved you placed yourself entirely at the disposal of the
Secret Service. That is right, Mr. Latimer, is it not?"

Latimer stepped forward. "If Mr. Lyndon had chosen to do it, sir," he
said, "he could have sold his invention to Germany and escaped with
the money. At that time he had no proof to offer that he had been
wrongly convicted. Rather than betray his country, however, he was
prepared to return to prison and serve out his sentence."

As an accurate description of my attitude in the matter it certainly
left something to be desired, but it seemed to have a highly
satisfactory effect upon Sir George. He took a step towards me, and
gravely and rather pompously shook me by the hand.

"Sir," he said, "permit me to congratulate you both on your conduct
and on the dramatic establishment of your innocence. It will be my
pleasant duty as Home Secretary to see that every possible reparation
is made to you for the great injustice that you have suffered."

Lammersfield, who had gone back to his seat at the table, again
interrupted.

"You agree with me, don't you, Frinton, that, pending any steps you
and the Prime Minister choose to take in the matter, Mr. Lyndon may
consider himself a free man?"

Sir George seemed a trifle embarrassed. "Well--er--to a certain
extent, most decidedly. I have informed Scotland Yard that he has
voluntarily surrendered himself to the Secret Service, so there will
be no further attempt to carry out the arrest. I--I presume that Mr.
Casement and Mr. Latimer will be officially responsible for him?"

The former gave a reassuring nod. "Certainly, Sir George," he
observed.

"I am entirely in your hands, sir," I put in. "There are one or two
little things I wanted to do, but if you prefer that I should consider
myself under arrest--"

"No, no, Mr. Lyndon," he interrupted; "there is no necessity for
that--no necessity at all. Strictly speaking, of course, you are still
a prisoner, but for the present it will perhaps be best to avoid any
formal proceedings. I understand that both Lord Lammersfield and Mr.
Casement consider it advisable to keep the whole matter as quiet as
possible, at all events until the return of the Prime Minister. After
that we must decide what steps it will be best to take."

"I am very much obliged to you," I said. "There is one question I
should like to ask if I may."

He took off his spectacles and polished them with his
pocket-handkerchief. "Well?" he observed encouragingly.

"I should like to know whether Savaroff's daughter is in custody--the
girl who gave the police their information about me."

"Ah!" he said, with some satisfaction, "that is a point on which you
all appear to have been misled. I have just enlightened Mr. Casement
in the matter. The information on which the police acted was not
supplied by a girl." He paused. "It was given them by your cousin and
late partner, Mr. George Marwood."

"What!" I almost shouted; and I heard Tommy indulge in a
half-smothered exclamation which was not at all suited to our
distinguished company.

Sir George, who was evidently pleased with our surprise, nodded his
head.

"Mr. Marwood rang up Scotland Yard at half-past ten last night. He
told them he had received an anonymous letter giving two addresses,
at one of which you would probably be found. He also gave a full
description of the alterations in your appearance."

I turned to Latimer. "I suppose it was Sonia," I said. "I never
dreamed of her going to him, though."

"It was very natural," he replied in that unconcerned drawl of his.
"She knew that your cousin would do everything possible to get you
under lock and key again, and at the same time she imagined she would
avoid the risk of being arrested herself."

"Quite so, quite so," said Sir George, nodding his head sagely. "From
all I can gather she seems to be a most dangerous young woman. I shall
make a particular point of seeing that she is arrested."

His words came home to me with a sudden swift stab of pity and
remorse. It was horrible to think of Sonia in jail--Sonia eating out
her wild passionate heart in the hideous slavery I knew so well. The
thought of all that she had risked and suffered for my sake crowded
back into my mind with overwhelming force. I took a step forward.

"Sir George," I said, "a moment ago you were good enough to say that
the Government would try and make me some return for the injustice I
have suffered."

He looked at me in obvious surprise. "Certainly," he said--"certainly.
I am convinced that they will take the most generous view of the
circumstances."

"There is only one thing I ask," I said. "Except for this girl, Sonia
Savaroff, the Germans would now be in possession of my invention. If
the Government feel that they owe me anything, they can cancel the
debt altogether by allowing her to go free."

Sir George raised his eyeglass. "You ask this after she did her best
to send you back to penal servitude?"

I nodded. "I am not sure," I said, "that I didn't thoroughly deserve
it."

For a moment Sir George stared at me in a puzzled sort of fashion.
"Very well," he said; "I think it might be arranged. As you say, she
was of considerable assistance to us, even if it was unintentionally.
That is a point in her favour--a distinct point."

"How about our friend Mr. Marwood?" put in Lammersfield pleasantly.
"Between perjury and selling Government secrets I suppose we have
enough evidence to justify his arrest?"

"I think so," said Sir George, nodding his head solemnly. "Anyhow I
have given instructions for it. In a case like this it is best to be
on the safe side."

My heart sank at his words. Charming as it was to think of George in
the affectionate clutch of a policeman, I could almost have wept at
the idea of being robbed of my own little interview with him, to which
I had been looking forward for so long. It was Lammersfield who broke
in on my disappointment. "I should imagine," he said considerately,
"that you two, as well as Latimer, must be half starving. I suppose
you have had nothing to eat since breakfast."

Tommy rose to his feet with an alacrity that answered the question so
far as he was concerned, and I acknowledged that a brief interval for
refreshment would be by no means unwelcome.

"Well, I'm afraid I can't spare Latimer just yet," he said, "but you
two go off and have a good lunch. Come back here again as soon as
you've done. I will ring up the War Office and the Admiralty while you
are away, and we will arrange for a couple of their men to meet us
here, and then you can explain about your new explosive. I fancy you
will find them quite an appreciative audience."

He pressed a bell by his side, and getting up from the table,
accompanied us to the door, where I stopped for a moment to try and
express my thanks both to him and Sir George.

"My dear Mr. Lyndon," he interrupted courteously, "you have been in
prison for three years for a crime that you didn't commit, and in
return for that you have done England a service that it is almost
impossible to overrate. Under the circumstances even a Cabinet
Minister may be excused a little common civility."

As he spoke there came a knock at the door, and in answer to his
summons the impassive butler person appeared on the threshold.

"Show these gentlemen out, Simpson," he said, "and let me know
directly they return." Then, shaking my hand in a friendly fashion, he
added with a quizzical smile, "If you should happen to come across any
mutual acquaintance of ours, perhaps you will be kind enough to
convey my unofficial congratulations. I hope before long to have the
privilege of offering them personally."

I promised to deliver his message, and, following our guide
downstairs, we passed out into the street.

"I like that chap," said Tommy. "He's got no silly side about him.
Joyce always said he was a good sort."

He stopped on the pavement, and with his usual serene disregard for
the respectabilities proceeded to fill and light a huge briar pipe.

"What's the programme now?" he inquired. "I'm just dying for some
grub."

"We'll get a taxi and run down to the flat and pick up Joyce," I said.
"Then we'll come back to the Cafe Royal and have the best lunch that's
ever been eaten in London."

Tommy indulged in one of his deep chuckles.

"If anyone's expecting me in Downing Street before six o'clock," he
observed, "I rather think he's backed a loser."

It was not until we were in a taxi, and speeding rapidly past the
House of Commons, that I broached the painful subject of George.

"I don't know what to do," I said. "If he's at his house, he has been
arrested by now, and if he isn't the police will probably find him
before I shall. It will break my heart if I don't get hold of him for
five minutes."

Tommy grunted sympathetically. "It's just on the cards," he said,
"that Joyce might know where he is."

Faint as the chance seemed, it was sufficient to cheer me up a little,
and for the rest of the drive we discussed the important question of
what we should have for lunch. After a week of sardines and tinned
tongue I found it a most inspiring topic.

As we reached the Chelsea Embankment a happy idea presented itself
to me. "I tell you what, Tommy," I said. "We won't go and knock at
Joyce's flat. Let's slip round at the back, as we did before, and take
her by surprise."

"Right you are," he said. "She's probably left the studio door open.
She generally does on a hot afternoon like this."

The taxi drew up at Florence Court, and telling the driver to wait for
us, we Walked down the passage and turned into Tommy's flat. There
were several letters for him lying on the floor inside, and while he
stopped to pick them up, I passed on through the studio and out into
the little glass-covered corridor at the back.

It was quite a short way along to Joyce's studio, and from where I was
I could see that her door was slightly ajar. I stepped quietly, so as
not to make any noise, and I had covered perhaps half the distance,
when suddenly I pulled up in my tracks as if I had been turned into
stone. For a moment I stood there without moving or even breathing. A
couple of yards away on the other side of the door I could hear two
people talking. One of them was Joyce; the other--the other--well, if
I had been lying half-unconscious on my death-bed I think I should
have recognized that voice!

There was a sound behind me, and whipping noiselessly round I was just
in time to signal to Tommy that he must keep absolutely quiet. Then
with my heart beating like a drum I crept stealthily forward until I
was within a few inches of the open door. I was shaking all over with
a delight that I could hardly control.

"... you quite understand." (I could hear every word George was saying
as plainly as if I were in the room.) "I only have to ring up the
police, and in half an hour he'll be back again in prison--back for
the rest of his life. He won't escape a second time--you can be sure
of that."

"Well?"

The single word came clear and distinct, but it would be difficult to
describe the scorn which Joyce managed to pack into it. It had some
effect on George.

"You have just got to do what I want--that's all," he exclaimed
angrily. "I leave England tonight, and unless you come with me I shall
go straight from here and ring up Scotland Yard. You can make your
choice now. You either come down to Southampton with me this evening,
or Lyndon goes back to Dartmoor tomorrow."

"Then you were lying when you said you were anxious to help him?"

With a mighty effort George apparently regained some control over his
tongue.

"No, I wasn't, Joyce," he said. "God knows I'm sorry for the poor
devil--I always have been; but there's nothing in the world that
matters to me now except you. I--I lost my temper when you said you
wouldn't come. You didn't mean it, did you? Lyndon can never be
anything to you; he is dead to all of us. At the best he can only be a
skulking convict hiding from the police in South America or somewhere.
You come with me; you shall never be sorry for it. I've plenty of
money, Joyce; and I'll give you the best time a woman ever had."

"And if I refuse?" asked Joyce quietly.

It was evident from the sound that George had taken a step towards
her.

"Then Lyndon will go back to Dartmoor and stop there till he rots and
dies."

There was a short pause, and then very clearly and deliberately Joyce
gave her answer.

"I think you are the foulest man in the world," she said. "It makes me
sick to be in the same room with you."

The gasp of fury and astonishment that broke from George's lips fell
on my ears like music. He was so choking with rage that for a moment
he could hardly speak.

"Damn you!" he stuttered at last. "So that's your real opinion, is it!
That's what you've been thinking all along! Trying to use me to help
that precious convict lover of yours--eh?"

I heard him come another step nearer.

"I'll make you pay for this, anyhow," he snarled. "Sick at being
in the same room with me, are you? Then by God I'll give you some
reason--"

With a swift jerk I flung open the door and stepped in over the
threshold.

"Not this time, George dear," I said.

If the devil himself had shot up through the floor in a crackle of
blue flame, I don't think it could have had a more striking effect
on my late partner. With his mouth open and his face the colour of
freshly mixed putty, he stood perfectly still in the centre of the
room, gazing at me like a man in a trance. For a second--a whole
beautiful rich second--he remained in this engaging attitude; then,
as if struck by an electric shock, he suddenly spun round with the
obvious intention of making a dart for the door.

The idea was distinctly a sound one, but it was too late to be of any
practical value. Directly he moved I stepped in, and catching him a
smashing box on the ear with my right hand sent him sprawling full
length on the carpet. Joyce laughed gaily, while lounging across the
room Tommy set his back against the door and beamed cheerfully on the
three of us.

"Quite a little family party," he observed.

Joyce was in my arms, and we were kissing each other in the most
shameless and unabashed way.

"Oh, my dear," she said, "I hope you haven't hurt your hand."

"It stung a bit," I admitted, "but I've got another one--and two
feet." I put her gently aside. "Get up, George," I said.

He lay where he was, pretending to be unconscious.

"If you don't get up at once, George," I said softly, "I shall kick
you--hard."

He scrambled to his feet, and then crouched back against the wall
eyeing me like a trapped weasel.

I indulged myself in a good heart-filling look at him.

"So you've been sorry for me, George?" I said. "All these three long
weary years that I've been rotting in Dartmoor, you've been really and
truly sorry for me?"

He licked his lips and nodded.

I laughed. "Well, I'm sorry for _you_ now, George," I said--"damned
sorry."

If anything, the putty-like pallor of his face became still more
ghastly.

"Don't do anything violent, Neil," he whispered. "You'll only regret
it. I swear to you--"

"I shouldn't swear," I said. "You don't want to die with a lie on your
lips."

The sweat broke out on his forehead, and he glanced desperately round
the room, as though seeking for some possible method of escape. The
only comfort he got was a shake of the head from Tommy.

"You--you don't mean to murder me?" he gasped.

I gave a fiendish laugh. "Don't I!" I cried. "What's one murder more
or less? I know you've put the police on to me, and I'd sooner be
hanged than go back to Dartmoor any day."

Tommy rubbed his hands together ghoulishly. "What are we going to do
with him?" he asked. "Cut his throat?"

"No," I said. "It would make a mess, and we don't want to spoil
Joyce's carpet."

"Oh, it doesn't matter about the carpet," said Joyce unselfishly.

"I've got it," said Tommy. "Why not throw him in the river? The tide's
up; I noticed it as we came along."

Whether he intended the suggestion seriously or not I don't know, but
I rose to it like a trout to a fly. There are seldom more than two
feet of water at high tide at that particular part of the Embankment,
and the thought of dropping George into its turbid embrace filled me
with the utmost enthusiasm.

"By Jove, Tommy!" I exclaimed. "That's a brilliant idea. The Thames
water's about the only thing he wouldn't defile."

I stepped forward, and before George knew what was happening I had
swung him round and clutched him by the collar and breeches.

"Open the door," I said, "and just see there's no one in the passage."

With a deep chuckle Tommy turned to obey, while Joyce laughed with
a viciousness that I should never have given her credit for. As for
George--well, I suppose in his blind terror he really thought he was
going to be drowned, for he kicked and struggled and raved till it was
as much as I could do to hold him.

"All clear!" sang out Tommy from the hall.

"Stand by, then," I said, and taking a deep breath, I ran George
through the flat down the passage, and out into the street, in a style
that would have done credit to the chucker out at the Empire.

There were not many people about, and those that were there had no
time to interfere even if they had wanted to do so. I just got a
glimpse of the startled face of our taxi driver as he jumped aside to
let us pass, and the next moment we had crossed the road and fetched
up with a bang against the low Embankment wall.

I paused for a moment, renewed my grip on George's collar, and took a
quick look round. Tommy was beside me, and a few yards away, down at
the bottom of some steps, I saw a number of small boys paddling in the
water. There was evidently no risk of anybody being drowned.

"I'll take his feet," said Tommy, suiting the action to the word. "You
get hold of his arms."

There was a brief struggle, a loud scream for help, and the next
moment George was swinging merrily between us.

"One! Two! Three!" I cried.

At the word "three" we let go simultaneously. He flew up into the air
like a great wriggling crab, twisted round twice, and then went
down into the muddy water with a splash that echoed all over the
Embankment.

"Very nice," said Tommy critically. "But we ought to have put a stone
round his neck."

One glance over the wall showed me that there was no danger. Dripping,
floundering, and gasping for breath, George emerged from the surface
like a frock-coated Neptune rising from the waves. He seemed to be
trying to speak, but the shrieks of innocent delight with which his
reappearance was greeted by the paddling boys unfortunately prevented
us from hearing him.

I thrust my arm through Tommy's. "Come along," I said. "We must get
out of this before there's a row."

Swift as we had been about it, our little operation had already
attracted a certain amount of notice. People were hurrying up from all
directions, but without paying any attention to them, we walked
back towards the taxi, the driver of which had apparently been too
astonished to move.

"Gor blimey, Guv'nor," he ejaculated, "what sorter gime d'you call
that?"

"It's all right, driver," said Tommy gravely. "We found him insulting
this gentleman's sister."

The driver, who evidently had a nice sense of chivalry, at once came
round to our side.

"Was 'e?--the dirty 'ound!" he observed. "Well, you done it on 'im
proper. You ain't drowned 'im, 'ave ye, gents?"

"Oh no," I said. "He's addressing a few words to the crowd now." Then
seeing Joyce standing in the doorway I hurried up the steps.

"Joyce dear," I said, "put on a hat and come as quick as you can. It's
quite all right, but we want to get out of this before there's any
bother."

She nodded, and disappeared into the flat, while I strolled back to
the taxi.

It was evident from a movement among the spectators that George was
making his way towards the steps. Some of them who had come running up
kept turning round and casting curious glances at us, but so far no
one had attempted to interfere. It was not until Joyce was just coming
out of the flats, that a man detached himself from the crowd and
started across the road. He was a big, fat, greasy person in a bowler
hat.

"Here," he said. "You wait a bit. What d'ye mean by throwing that pore
man in the river?"

I opened the door of the taxi and Joyce jumped in.

"What's it got to do with you, darling?" asked Tommy affably.

"What's it got to do with me!" he repeated indignantly. "Why, it's
just the mercy o' Gawd--"

"Come on, Tommy," I said.

Tommy took a step forward, but the man clutched him by the arm.

"No yer don't," he said, "not till ... Ow!"

With a sudden vigorous shove Tommy sent him staggering back across the
pavement, and the next moment we had both jumped into the taxi and
banged the door.

"Right away," I called out.

I think there was some momentary doubt amongst the other spectators
whether they oughtn't to interfere, but before they could make up
their minds our sympathetic driver had thrust in his clutch, and we
were spinning away down the Embankment.

Joyce, who was sitting next to me, slipped her hand into mine.

"I love to see you both laughing," she said, "but I _should_ like
to know what's happened! At present I feel as if I was acting in a
cinematograph play."

We told her--told her in quick, eager sentences of how the danger and
mystery that had hung over us so for long had at last been scattered
and destroyed. It was a broken, inadequate sort of narrative, jerked
out as we bumped over crossings and pulled by behind buses, but I
fancy from the light in her eyes and the pressure of her hand that
Joyce was quite contented.

"It's--it's like waking up after some horrible dream," she said, "and
suddenly rinding that everything's all right. Oh, I knew it would be
in the end--I knew it the whole time--but I never dreamed it would
happen all at once like this."

"Neither did George," chuckled Tommy. "How long had he been with you,
Joyce?"

"About twenty minutes," she said. "He came straight to me from
Harrod's, where he's spent most of the day buying stores for his
yacht. He had quite made up his mind I was coming with him. I don't
believe he's got the faintest idea about what's happened this
morning."

"He will have soon," I said. "That's why I threw him in the river.
He's bound to go back to the house for a change of clothes, and he'll
find the police waiting for him there."

"That'll be just right," observed Tommy complacently. "There's nothing
so good as a little excitement to stop one from catching cold."

"Except lunch," I added, as the taxi rounded the corner of Piccadilly
and drew up outside the Cafe Royal.

What the manager of that renowned restaurant must have thought of
us, I find it rather difficult to guess. It is not often, I should
imagine, that two untidy mud-stained men and a beautiful girl turn up
at four o'clock in the afternoon and demand the best meal that London
can provide.

Fortunately, however, he proved to be a gentleman of philosophy and
resource. He accepted our request with perfect composure, and by the
time we had succeeded in making ourselves passably respectable he
presented us with a menu that deserved to be set to music.

Heavens, what a lunch that was! We ate it all by ourselves in the big
empty restaurant, with half a dozen fascinated waiters eyeing us from
the end of the room. They were probably speculating as to whether we
were eccentric millionaires, or whether we had just escaped from some
private lunatic asylum, but we were all far too cheerful to care what
they thought. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we talked, with a reckless
jubilant happiness that would have survived the scrutiny of all the
waiters in London.

"I know what we'll do, Joyce," I said, when at last the dessert was
cleared away and we were sitting in a delicate haze of cigar smoke.
"As soon as things are fixed up I'll buy a good second-hand thirty-ton
boat, and you and I and Tommy will go off for a six months' cruise.
We'll take Mr. Gow as skipper, and your little page-boy as steward,
and we'll run down to the Mediterranean and stop there till people are
tired of gassing about us."

"That will be beautiful," said Joyce simply.

"I'll come," exclaimed Tommy, "unless the Secret Service refuse to
give me up." Then he stopped and looked mischievously across at Joyce
and me. "It's a pity we can't ask Sonia too," he added.

"Poor Sonia," said Joyce. "I am so glad you got her off."

"Are you really?" asked Tommy. "That shows I know nothing about women.
I always thought that if two girls loved the same man they hated each
other like poison."

Joyce nodded. "So they do as a rule."

"Well, Sonia loved Neil all right; you can take my word for it."

Joyce laughed softly. "Yes, Tommy dear," she said, "but then, you see,
Neil didn't love _her_--and that just makes all the difference."

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