Room 13

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Chapter 2

Two days later, Johnny Gray was summoned to the Governor's office and heard the momentous news.

"Gray, I have good news for you. You are to be released immediately. I have just had the authority."

Johnny inclined his head.

"Thank you, sir," he said.

A warder took him to a bathroom, where he stripped, and, with a blanket about him, came out to a cubicle, where his civilian clothes were waiting. He dressed with a queer air of unfamiliarity, and went back to his cell. The warder brought him a looking-glass and a safety-razor, and he completed his toilet.

The rest of the day was his own. He was a privileged man, and could wander about the prison in his strangely-feeling attire, the envy of men whom he had come to know and to loathe; the half madmen who for a year had been whispering their futilities into his ear.

As he stood there in the hall at a loose end, the door was flung open violently, and a group of men staggered in. In the midst of them was a howling, shrieking thing that was neither man nor beast, his face bloody, his wild arms gripped by struggling warders.

He watched the tragic group as it made its way to the punishment cells.

"Fenner," said somebody under his breath. "He coshed a screw, but they can't give him another bashing."

"Isn't Fenner that twelve-year man, that's doing his full time?" asked Johnny, remembering the convict. "And he's going out to-morrow, too!"

"That's him," said his informant, one of the hall sweepers. "He'd have got out with nine, but old Legge reported him. Game to the last, eh? They can't bash him after to-morrow, and the visiting justices won't be here for a week."

Johnny remembered the case. Legge had been witness to a brutal assault on the man by one of the warders, who had since been discharged from the service. In desperation the unfortunate Fenner had hit back, and had been tried. Legge's evidence might have saved him from the flogging which followed, but Legge was too good a friend of the warders—or they were too good friends of his—to betray a "screw." So Fenner had gone to the triangle, as he would not go again.

He could not sleep the last night in the cell. His mind was on Marney. He did not reproach her for a second. Nor did he feel bitter toward her father. It was only right and proper that Peter Kane should do what was best for his girl. The old man's ever-present fear for his daughter's future was almost an obsession. Johnny guessed that when this presentable Canadian had come along, Peter had done all in his power to further the match.

Johnny Gray walked up the steep slope for the last time. A key turned in the big lock, and he stood outside the gates, a free man. The red-bearded head warder put out his hand.

"Good luck to you," he said gruffly. "Don't you come over the Alps again."

"I've given up mountain climbing," said Johnny.

He had taken his farewell of the Governor, and now the only thing to remind him of his association with the grim prison he had left was the warder who walked by his side to the station. He had some time to wait, and Johnny tried to get some information from another angle.

"No, I don't know Jeff Legge," said the warder, shaking his head. "I knew the old man: he was here until twelve months ago—you were here, too, weren't you, Gray?"

Johnny nodded.

"Mr. Jeff Legge has never been over the Alps, then?" he asked sardonically.

"No, not in this prison, and he wasn't in Parkhurst or Portland, so far as I can remember. I've been at both places. I've heard the men talking about him. They say he's clever, which means that he'll be putting out his tins one morning. Good-bye, Gray, and be good!"

Johnny gripped the outstretched hand of the man, and, when he was in the carriage, took out his silk handkerchief and wiped his hand of the last prison contact.

His servant was waiting for him at Paddington when he arrived that afternoon, and with him, straining at a leash, a small, lop-eared fox terrier, who howled his greeting long before Johnny had seen the group. In another second the dog was struggling in his arms, licking his face, his ears and his hair, and whining his joy at the reunion. There were tears in Johnny's eyes when he put the dog down on the platform.

"There are a number of letters for you, sir. Will you dine at home?"

The excellent Parker might have been welcoming his master from a short sojourn at Monte Carlo, so very unemotional was he.

"Yes, I'll dine at home," said Johnny. He stepped into the taxicab that Parker had hired, and Spot leapt after him.

"There is no baggage, sir?" asked Parker gravely through the open window.

"There is no baggage," said Johnny as gravely. "You had better ride back with me, Parker."

The man hesitated.

"It would be a very great liberty, sir," he said.

"Not so great a liberty as I have had taken with me during the past year and nine months," said Johnny.

As the cab came out into dismal Chapel Street, the greatly daring Parker asked:

"I hope you have not had too bad a time, sir?"

Johnny laughed.

"It has not been pleasant, Parker. Prisons seldom are."

"I suppose not, sir," agreed Parker, and added unnecessarily: "I have never been in prison, sir."

Johnny's flat was in Queen's Gate, and at the sight of the peaceful luxury of his study he caught his breath.

"You're a fool," he said aloud to himself.

"Yes, sir," said the obliging Parker.

That night many men came furtively to the flat in Queen's Gate, and Johnny, after admitting the first of these, called Parker into his small dining-room.

"Parker, I am told that during my absence in the country even staid men have acquired the habit of attending cinema performances?"

"Well, sir, I like the pictures myself," admitted Parker.

"Then go and find one that lasts until eleven o'clock," said Johnny.

"You mean, sir—?"

"I mean I don't want you here to-night."

Parker's face fell, but he was a good servant.

"Very good, sir," he said, and went out, wondering sorrowfully what desperate plans his master was hatching.

At half-past ten the last of the visitors took his leave.

"I'll see Peter to-morrow," said Johnny, tossing the end of his cigarette into the hall fireplace. "You know nothing of this wedding, when it is to take place?"

"No, Captain. I only know Peter slightly."

"Who is the bridegroom?"

"A swell, by all accounts—Peter is a plausible chap, and he'd pull in the right kind. A major in the Canadian Army, I've heard, and a very nice man. Peter can catch mugs easier than some people can catch flies—"

"Peter was never a mug-catcher," said John Gray sharply.

"I don't know," said the other. "There's one born every minute."

"But they take a long time to grow up, and the women get first pluck," said Johnny good-humouredly.

Parker, returning at 11.15, found his master sitting before a fireplace which was choked with burnt paper.

Johnny reached Horsham the next afternoon soon after lunch, and none who saw the athletic figure striding up the Horsham Road would guess that less than two days before he had been the inmate of a convict cell.

He had come to make his last desperate fight for happiness. How it would end, what argument to employ, he did not know. There was one, and one only, but that he could not use.

As he turned into Down Road he saw two big limousines standing one behind the other, and wondered what social event was in progress.

Manor Hill stood aloof from its suburban neighbours, a sedate, red-brick house, its walls gay with clematis. Johnny avoided the front gates and passed down a side path which, as he knew, led to the big lawn behind, where Peter loved to sun himself at this hour.

He paused as he emerged into the open. A pretty parlourmaid was talking to an elderly man, who wore without distinction the livery of a butler. His lined face was puckered uncomfortably, and his head was bent in a listening attitude, though it was next to impossible for a man totally deaf to miss hearing all that was said.

"I don't know what sort of houses you've been in, and what sort of people you've been working for, but I can tell you that if I find you in my room again, looking in my boxes, I shall tell Mr. Kane. I won't have it, Mr. Ford!"

"No, miss," said the butler, huskily.

It was not, Johnny knew, emotion which produced the huskiness. Barney Ford had been husky from his youth—probably squawked huskily in his cradle.

"If you are a burglar and trying to keep your hand in, I understand it," the girl continued hotly, "but you're supposed to be a respectable man! I won't have this underhand prying and sneaking. Understand that! I won't have it!"

"No, miss," said the hoarse Barney. John Gray surveyed the scene with amusement. Barney he knew very well. He had quitted the shadier walks of life when Peter Kane had found it expedient to retire from his hazardous calling. Ex-convict, ex-burglar and ex-prizefighter, his seamy past was in some degree redeemed by his affection for the man whose bread he ate and in whose service he pretended to be, though a worse butler had never put on uniform than Barney.

The girl was pretty, with hair of dull gold and a figure that was both straight and supple. Now her face was flushed with annoyance, and the dark eyes were ablaze. Barney certainly had prying habits, the heritage of his unregenerate days. Other servants had left the house for the same reason, and Peter had cursed and threatened without wholly reforming his servitor.

The girl did not see him as she turned and flounced into the house, leaving the old man to stare after her. "You've made her cross," said John, coming up behind him. Barney Ford spun round and stared. Then his jaw dropped. "Good Lord, Johnny, when did you come down from college?" The visitor laughed softly.

"Term ended yesterday," he said. "How is Peter?"

Before he replied the servant blew his nose violently, all the time keeping his eye upon the newcomer. "How long have you bin here?" he asked at length. "I arrived at the tail-end of your conversation," said Johnny, amused. "Barney, you haven't reformed!" Barney Ford screwed up his face into an expression of scorn. "They think you're a hook even if you ain't one," he said. "What does she know about life? You ain't seen Peter? He's in the house; I'll tell him in a minute. He's all right. All beans and bacon about the girl. That fellow adores the ground she walks on. It's not natural, being fond of your kids like that. I never was." He shook his head despairingly. "There's too much lovey-dovey and not enough strap nowadays. Spare the rod and spoil the child, as the good old poet says."

John Grey turned his head at the sound of a foot upon a stone step. It was Peter, Peter radiant yet troubled. Straight as a ramrod, for all his sixty years and white hair. He was wearing a morning coat and pearl-grey waistcoat—an innovation. For a second he hesitated, the smile struck from his-face, frowning, and then he came quickly his hand outstretched.

"Well, Johnny boy, had a rotten time?"

His hand fell on the young man's shoulder, his voice had the old pleasure of pride and affection.

"Fairly rotten," said Johnny; "but any sympathy with me is wasted. Personally, I prefer Dartmoor to Parkhurst—it is more robust, and there are fewer imbeciles."

Peter took his arm and led him to a chair beneath the big Japanese umbrella planted on the lawn. There was something in his manner, a certain awkwardness which the newcomer could not understand.

"Did you meet anybody… there… that I know, Johnny boy?"

"Legge," said the other laconically, his eyes on Peter's face.

"That's the man I'm thinking of. How is he?"

The tone was careless, but Johnny was not deceived. Peter was intensely interested.

"He's been out six months—didn't you know?"

The other's face clouded.

"Out six months? Are you sure?"

Johnny nodded.

"I didn't know."

"I should have thought you would have heard from him," said John quietly. "He doesn't love you!"

Peter's slow smile broadened.

"I know he doesn't; did you get a chance of talking with him?"

"Plenty of chances. He was in the laundry, and he straightened a couple of screws so that he could do what he liked. He hates you, Peter. He says you shopped him."

"He's a liar," said Peter calmly. "I wouldn't shop my worst enemy, Ho shopped himself. Johnny, the police get a reputation for smartness, but the truth is, every other criminal arrests himself. Criminals aren't clever. They wear gloves to hide fingerprints, and then write their names in the visitors book. Legge and I smashed the strong-room of the Orsonic and got away with a hundred and twenty thousand pounds in American currency—it was the last job I did. It was dead easy getting away, but Emanuel started boasting what a clever fellow he was; and he drank a bit. An honest man can drink and wake up in his own bed. But a crook who drinks says good morning to the gaoler."

He dropped the subject abruptly, and again his hand fell on the younger man's shoulder.

"Johnny, you're not feeling sore, are you?"

Johnny did not answer.

"Are you?"

And now the fight was to begin. John Gray steeled himself for the forlorn hope.

"About Marney? No, only—"

"Old boy, I had to do it." Peter's voice was urgent, pleading. "You know what she is to me. I liked you well enough to take a chance, but after they dragged you I did some hard thinking. It would have smashed me, Johnny, if she'd been your wife then. I couldn't bear to see her cry even when she was quite a little baby. Think what it would have meant to her. It was bad enough as it was. And then this fellow came along—a good, straight, clean, cheery fellow—a gentleman. And well, I'll tell you the truth—I helped him. You'll like him. He's the sort of man anybody would like. And she loves him, Johnny."

There was a silence.

"I don't bear him any ill-will. It would be absurd if I did. Only, Peter, before she marries I want to say—"

"Before she marries?" Peter Kane's voice shook. "John, didn't Barney tell you? She was married this morning."

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