Room 13

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Chapter 22

PETER was as cool as ice when he came into the drawing-room and found Emanuel examining the pictures on the wall with the air of a connoisseur. He turned, and beamed a benevolent smile upon the man he hated.

"I didn't think you'd come here again, Legge," said Peter with dangerous calm.

"Didn't you now?" Emanuel seemed surprised. "Well, why not? And me wanting to fix things up, too! I'm surprised at you, Peter."

"You'll put nothing right," said the other. "The sooner you recognise that fact and clear, the better it will be for everybody."

"If I'd known," Emanuel went on, unabashed, "if only I'd dreamt that the young woman Jeffrey had taken up with was your daughter, I would have stopped it at once, Peter. The boy had been brought up straight and never had met you. It is funny the number of straight people that never met Peter Kane. Of course, if he'd been on the crook, he'd have known at once. Do you think my boy would have married the daughter of a man who twisted his father? Is it likely, Peter? However, it's done now, and what's done can't be undone. The girl's fond of him, and he's fond of the girl—"

"When you've finished being comic, you can go," said Peter "I never laugh before lunch."

"Don't you, Peter? And not after? I've come at a very bad time, it seems to me. Now listen, Peter. Let's talk business."

"I've no business with you." Peter opened the door.

"Haste was always your weakness, Peter," said Emanuel, not budging from where he stood. "Never lose your temper. I lost my temper once and shot a copper, and did fifteen years for it. Fifteen years, whilst you were sitting here in luxury, entertaining the lords and ladies of the neighbourhood, and kidding 'em you were straight. I'm going to ask you a favour, Peter."

"It is granted before you ask," said the other sardonically.

"I'm going to ask you and Johnny boy to come and have a bit of dinner with me and Jeffrey, and let us fix this thing up. You're not going to have this girl brought into the divorce court, are you? And you've got to get a divorce, whether he's married or whether he isn't. As a matter of fact, he isn't married at all. I never dreamt you'd be such a mug as to fall for the story that Lila was properly married to Jeff. All these girls tell you the same thing. It's vanity, Peter, a human weakness, if I may so describe it."

"Perhaps it was the vanity of the registrar who signed their marriage certificate, and the vanity of the people who witnessed the marriage," said Peter. "Your son was married to this girl at the Greenwich Registry Office; I've got a copy of the certificate—you can see it if you like."

Still the smile on Emanuel's face did not fade.

"Ain't you smart?" he said admiringly. "Ain't you the quickest grafter that ever grafted? Married or not, Peter, the girl's got to go into the court for the marriage to be—what do you call it?—annulled, that's the word. And she can't marry till she does. And they'll never annul the marriage until you get my boy caught for bigamy, and that you won't do, Peter, because you don't want to advertise what a damned fool you are. Take my advice, come and talk it over. Bring Johnny with you—"

"Why should I bring Johnny? I can look after myself."

"Johnny's an interested party," said the other. "He's interested in anything to do with Marney, eh?" He chuckled, and for a second Peter Kane had all his work to maintain his calm.

"I'm not going to discuss Marney with you. I'll meet you and the Printer, and I don't suppose Johnny will mind either. Though what you can do that the law can't do, I don't know."

"I can give you evidence that you can't get any other way," said the other. "The fact is, Peter, my poor boy has realised he's made a mistake. He married a girl who was the daughter of a respectable gentleman, and when I broke it to him, Peter, that he'd married into a crook family, he was upset! He said I ought to have told him."

"I don't know what funny business you're going to try," said Peter Kane, "but I'm not going to run away from it. You want me to meet you and your son—where?"

"What about the old Highlow?" suggested Emanuel. "What about Room 13, where a sad accident nearly occurred?"

"Where you shot your son?" asked Peter coolly, and only for a second did the man's self-possession leave him. His face turned a dusky red and then a pale yellow.

"I shot my son there, did I? Peter, you're getting old and dopy! You've been dreaming again, Peter. Shot my son!"

"I'll come to this fool dinner of yours."

"And Marney?" suggested the other.

"Marney doesn't put her foot inside the doors of the Highlow," said Peter calmly. "You're mad to imagine I would allow that. I can't answer for Johnny, but I'll be there."

"What about Thursday?" suggested the old man.

"Any day will suit me," said Peter impatiently. "What time do you want us?"

"Half-past eight. Just a snack and a talk. We may as well have a bit of food to make it cheerful, eh, Peter? Remember that dinner we had a few days before we smashed the Southern Bank? That must be twenty years ago. You split fair on that, didn't you? I'll bet you did—I had the money! No taking a million dollars and calling it a hundred and twenty thousand pounds, eh, Peter?"

This time Peter stood by the door, and the jerk of his head told Emanuel Legge that the moment for persiflage had passed.

"I want to settle this matter." The earnestness of his manner did not deceive Peter. "You see, Peter, I'm getting old, and I want to go abroad and take the boy with me. And I want to give him a chance too—a good-looking lad like that ought to have a chance. For I'll tell you the truth—he's a single man."

Peter smiled.

"You can laugh! He married Lila—you've got a record of that, but have you taken a screw at the divorce list? That takes the grin off your face. They were divorced a year after they were married. Lila got tired of the other man and came back to Jeff. You're a looker-up; go and look up that! Ask old Reeder—"

"Ask him yourself," said Peter "He's in the garden."

He had no sooner said the words than he regretted them. Emanuel was silent for a while.

"So Reeder's here, in the garden, is he? He's come for a squeak. But you can't, because you've nothing to squeak about. What does he want?"

"Why don't you ask him?"

"That fellow spends his life wandering about other people's gardens," grumbled Emanuel. A disinterested observer might have imagined that Mr. Reeder's passion for horticulture was the only grievance against him. "He was round my garden yesterday. I dare say he told you? Came worrying poor Jeff to death. But you always were fond of busies, weren't you, Peter? How's your old friend Craig? I can't stand them myself, but then I am a crook. Thursday will suit you, Peter? That gives you six days."

"Thursday will suit me," said Peter. "I hope it will suit you."

As he came back on to the lawn Reeder and the girl were coming into view up the steps, and without preliminary he told them what had passed.

"I fear," said Mr. Reeder, shaking his head sadly, "that Emanuel is not as truthful a man as he might be. There was no divorce. I was sufficiently interested in the case to look up the divorce court records." He rubbed his chin thoughtfully. "I think your dinner party at the Highlow—is that the name?—will be an interesting one," he said. "Are you sure he did not invite me?" And again Peter saw that glint of humour in his eyes.

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