To Parker, the valet, as he laid out Johnny's dress clothes, there was a misfortune and a tragedy deeper than any to which Johnny had been a spectator. Johnny, loafing into his bedroom, a long, black, ebonite cigarette-holder between his teeth, found his man profoundly agitated.
"The buckle of your white dress waistcoat has in some unaccountable way disappeared," he said in a hushed voice. "I'm extremely sorry, sir, because this is the only white dress waistcoat you have."
"Be cheerful," said Johnny. "Take a happier view of life. You can tie the tapes behind. You could even sew me together, Parker. Are you an expert needle worker, or do you crochet?"
"My needlework has been admired, sir," said Parker complacently. "I think yours is an excellent suggestion. Otherwise, the waistcoat will not sit as it should. Especially in the case of a gentleman with your figure."
"Parker," said Johnny, as he began to dress leisurely, "have you ever killed a man?"
"No, sir, I have never killed a man," said Parker gravely. "When I was a young man, I once ran over a cat—I was a great cyclist in my youth."
"But you never killed a man? And, what is more, you've never even wanted to kill a man?"
"No, sir, I can't say that I ever have," said Parker after a few moments' consideration, as though it were possible that some experience had been his which had been overlooked in the hurry of his answering.
"It is quite a nice feeling, Parker. Is there a hip pocket to these—yes, there is," he said, patting his trousers.
"I'm sorry there is," said Parker, "very sorry indeed. Gentlemen get into the habit of carrying their cigarette cases in the hip pocket, with the result that the coat tail is thrown out of shape. That is where the dinner jacket has its advantages—the Tuxedo, as an American gentleman once called it, though I've never understood why a dinner jacket should be named after a Scottish town."
"Tuxedo is in Dixie," said Johnny humorously, "and Dixie is America's lost Atlantis. Don't worry about the set of my coat tail. I am not carrying my cigarette case there."
"Anything more bulky would of course be worse, sir," said Parker, and Johnny did not carry the discussion any farther.
"Get me a cab," he ordered.
When Parker returned, he found his master was fully dressed.
"You will want your cane, sir. Gentlemen are carrying them now in evening dress. There is one matter I would like to speak to you about before you go—it is something that has been rather worrying me for the past few days."
Johnny was leaving the room, and turned.
"Anything serious?" he asked, for a moment deceived.
"I don't like telling you, sir, but I have discussed the matter with very knowledgeable people, and they are agreed that French shapes are no longer worn in silk hats. You occasionally see them in theatrical circles—" |
Johnny put up a solemn hand.
"Parker, do not let us discuss my general shabbiness. I didn't even know I had a hat of French shape." He took off his hat and looked at it critically. "It is a much better shape than the hat I was wearing a week ago, Parker, believe me!"
"Of course I believe you, sir," agreed Parker, and turned to the door.
Johnny dismissed his cab in Shaftesbury Avenue and walked down toward the club. It was dark now; half-past nine had chimed as he came along Piccadilly.
It was a point of honour with all members of the Highlow that nobody drove up to the club, and its very existence was unknown to the taximen. That was a rule that had been made, and most faithfully adhered to; and the members of the Highlow observed their rules, for, if a breach did not involve a demand for their resignation, it occasionally brought about a broken head.
Just before he reached the club, he saw somebody cross the road. It was not difficult to recognise Jeff Legge. Just at that moment it would have been rather embarassing for Johnny to have met the man. He turned and walked back the way he had come, to avoid the chance of their both going up in the elevator together.
Jeff Legge was in a hurry: the elevator did not move fast enough for him, and he stepped out on to the third floor and asked a question.
"No, sir, nobody has come. If they do, I'll send them along to you. Where will you be? You haven't a room engaged—your own room is taken. We don't often let it, but we're full to-night, and Mr. Legge raised no objection."
"No, I don't object," said Jeff; "but don't you worry about that. Let me see the book."
Again the red-covered engagement book was opened. Jeff read and nodded.
"Fine," he said. "Now tell me again who is here."
"There is Mr. George Kurlu, with a party of friends in No. 3; there's Mr. Bob Albutt and those two young ladies he goes about with—they're in No. 4." And so he recited until he came to No. 13.
"I know all about No. 13," said Jeff Legge between his teeth. "You needn't bother about me, however. That will do."
He strode along the carpeted hallway, turned abruptly into the right-angled passage, and presently stopped before a door with a neat golden "13" painted on its polished panel. He opened the door and went in. On the red-covered table was a bottle of wine and two glasses.
It was a moderately large room, furnished with a sofa, four dining chairs and a deep easy chair, whilst against one wall was a small buffet. The room was brilliantly lighted. Six bracket lamps were blazing; the centre light above the table, with its frosted bulbs, was full on. He did not shut the door, leaving it slightly ajar. There was too much light for his purpose. He first switched out the bracket lamps, and then all but one of the frosted bulbs in the big shaded lamp over the table. Then he sat down, his back to the door, his eyes on the empty fire-grate.
Presently he heard a sound, the whining of the elevator, and smiled. Johnny stepped out to the porter's desk with a friendly nod.
"Good evening. Captain," said the porter with a broad grin. "Glad to see you back, sir. I wasn't here last night when you came in. Hope you haven't had too bad a time in the country?"
"Abroad, my dear fellow, abroad," murmured the other reproachfully, and the porter chuckled. "Same old crowd, I suppose?"
"Same old bolt down the fire-escape when the 'busies' call—or have you got all the 'busies 'straightened?"
"I don't think there's much trouble, sir," said the porter. "We often have a couple of those gentlemen in here to dinner. The club's very convenient sometimes. I shouldn't think they'll ever shut us up."
"I shouldn't think so, either," said Johnny. "Which of the 'busies' do you get?"
"Well, sir, we get Mr. Craig, and—once we had that Reeder. He came here alone, booked a table and came alone! Can you beat it? Came and had his dinner, saw nobody and went away again. I don't think he's right up there "—he tapped his forehead significantly. "Anything less like a 'busy' I've never seen."
"I don't know whether he is a detective," said Johnny carelessly. "From all I've heard, he has nothing whatever to do with the police."
"Private, is he?" said the other in a tone of disappointment.
"Not exactly private. Anyway," with a smile, "he's not going to bother you or our honourable members. Anybody here?"
The porter looked to left and right, and lowered his voice.
"A certain person you know is here," he said meaningly.
"It would be a funny club if there wasn't somebody I knew," he said. "Don't worry about me; I'll find a little corner for myself… ."
Jeff looked at his watch; it was a quarter to ten, and he glanced up at the light; catching a glimpse of himself in the mirror of the buffet, was satisfied.
Room 13! And Marney was his wife! The blood surged up into his face, gorging the thick veins in his temples at the thought. She should pay! He had helped the old man, as he would help him in any graft, but he had never identified himself so completely with the plan as he did at that moment.
"Put her down to the earth," had said Emanuel, and by God he would do it. As for Johnny Gray… .
The door opened stealthily, and a hand came in, holding a Browning. He heard the creak of the door but did not look round, and then: "Bang!"
Once the pistol fired. Jeff felt a sharp twitch of pain, exquisite, unbearable, and fell forward on his knees.
Twice he endeavoured to rise, then with a groan fell in a huddled heap, his head in the empty fireplace.