IT was five minutes past two in the morning when Marney, sitting in the drawing-room at the front of the house, heard the sound of a motor-car stop before the house. Going into the hall, she opened the door, and, standing on the step, peered into the darkness.
"Is that you, father?" she asked.
There was no reply, and she walked quickly up the garden path to the gate. The car was a closed coupe, and as she looked over the gate, she saw a hand come out and beckon her, and heard a voice whisper:
"Don't make a noise. Come in here; I want to talk to you. I don't want Barney to see me."
Bewildered, she obeyed. Jerking open the door, she jumped into the dark interior, by the side of the man at the wheel.
"What is it?" she asked.
Then, to her amazement, the car began to move toward the main road. It had evidently circled before it had stopped.
"What is the matter, father?" she asked.
And then she heard a low chuckle that made her blood run cold.
"Go into the back and stay there. If you make a row, I'll spoil that complexion of yours, Marney Legge!"
"Jeffrey!" she gasped.
She gripped the inside handle of the door and had half turned it when he caught her with his disengaged hand and flung her into the back of the car.
"I'll kill you if you make me do that again." There was a queer little sob of pain in his voice, and she remembered his wound.
"Where are you taking me?" she asked.
"I'm taking you to your father," was the unexpected reply. "Will you sit quiet? If you try to get away, or attempt to call assistance, I'll drive you at full speed into the first tree I see and we'll finish the thing together."
From the ferocity of his tone she did not doubt that he would carry his threat into execution. Mile after mile the car sped on, flashing through villages, slowing through the sparsely peopled streets of small towns. It was nearing three o'clock when they came into the street of a town and, looking through the window, she saw a grey facade and knew she was in Oxford.
In ten minutes they were through the city and traversing the main western road. And now, for the first time, Jeffrey Legge became communicative.
"You've never been in 'boob', have you, angel?" he asked.
She did not answer.
"Never been inside the little bird-house with the other canaries, eh? Well, that's an experience ahead of you. I am going to put you in jail, kid. Peter's never been in jail either, but he nearly had the experience to-night."
"I don't believe you," she said. "My father has not broken the law."
"Not for a long time, at any rate," agreed Jeffrey, dexterously lighting a cigarette with one hand. "But there's a little 'boob' waiting for him all right now."
"A prison," she said, incredulously. "I don't believe you."
"You've said that twice, and you're the only person living that's called me a liar that number of times."
He turned off into a side road, and for a quarter of an hour gave her opportunity for thought.
"It might interest you to know that Johnny is there," he said. "Dear little Johnny! The easiest crook that ever fell—and this time he's got a lifer."
The car began to move down a sharp declivity, and, looking through the rain-spattered windscreen, she saw a squat, dark building ahead.
"Here we are," he said, as the car stopped.
Looking through the window she saw, with a gasp of astonishment, that he had spoken the truth. They were at the door of a prison. The great, black, iron-studded gates were opening as she looked, and the car passed through under the deep archway and stopped.
"Get down," said Jeff, and she obeyed.
A narrow black door led from the archway, and, following her, he caught her by the arm and pushed her through. She was in a narrow room, the walls of which were covered with stained and discoloured whitewash. A large fireplace, overflowing with ashes, a rickety chair and a faded board screwed to the wall were the only furniture. In the dim light of a carbon lamp she saw the almost indistinguishable words: "His Majesty's Prison, Keytown," and beneath, row after row of closely set regulations. A rough-looking, powerfully-built man had followed her into the room, which was obviously the gate-keeper's lodge.
"Have you got the cell ready?"
"Yes, I have." said the man. "Does she want anything to eat?"
"If she does, she'll want," said Jeff curtly.
He took off his greatcoat and hung it on a nail, and then, with Jeffrey's hand gripping her arm, she was led again into the archway and across a small courtyard, through an iron grille gate and a further door. A solitary light that burnt in a bracket near the door, showed her that she was in a small hall. Around this, at the height of about nine feet from the ground, ran a gallery, which was reached by a flight of iron stairs. There was no need to ask what was the meaning of those two rows of black doors that punctured the wall. They were cells. She was in a prison!
While she was wondering what it all meant, a door near at hand was unlocked, and she was pushed in. The cell was a small one, the floor of worn stone, but a new bedstead had been fitted up in one corner. There was a washstand; and, as she was to discover, the cell communicated with another containing a stone bath and washplace.
"The condemned cell," explained Jeffrey Legge with relish. "You'll have plenty of ghosts to keep you company to-night, Marney."
In her heart she was panic-stricken, but she showed none of her fear as she faced him.
"A ghost would be much less repulsive to me than you, Jeffrey Legge," she said, and he seemed taken aback by the spirit she displayed.
"You will have both," he said, as he slammed the door on her and locked it.
The cell was illuminated by a feeble light that came through an opaque pane of glass by the side of the door. Presently, when her eyes grew accustomed to the semi-darkness, she was able to take stock of her surroundings. The prison must have been a very old one, for the walls were at one place worn smooth, probably by the back of some condemned unfortunate who had waited day after day for the hour of doom. She shuddered, as her imagination called to her the agony of soul which these four walls had held.
By standing on the bed she could reach a window. That also was of toughened glass, set in small, rusty frames. Some of the panes were missing, but she guessed that the outlook from the window would not be particularly promising, even supposing she could force the window.
The night had been unusually cold and raw for the time of year, and, pulling a blanket from the bed, she wrapped it about her and sat down on the stool, waiting for the light to grow.
And so, sitting, her weary eyes closing involuntarily, she heard a stealthy tapping. It came from above, and her heart fluttered at the thought that possibly, in the cell above her, her father was held… or Johnny.
Climbing on to the bed, she rapped with her knuckles on the stone ceiling. Somebody answered. They were tapping a message in Morse, which she could not understand. Presently the tapping ceased. She heard footsteps above. And then, looking by chance at the broken pane of the window, she saw something come slowly downward and out of view. She leapt up, gripping the window pane, and saw a piece of black silk.
With difficulty two fingers touched it at last and drew it gently in through the window pane. She pulled it up, and, as she suspected, found a piece of paper tied to the end. It was a bank-note. Bewildered, she gazed at it until it occurred to her that there might be a message written on the other side. The pencil marks were faint, and she carried the note as near to the light as she could get.
"Who is there? Is it you, Peter? I am up above. Johnny."
She suppressed the cry that rose to her lips. Both Johnny and her father were there. Then Jeffrey had not lied.
How could she answer? She had no pencil. Then she saw that the end of the cotton was weighted by a small piece of pencil, the kind that is found attached to a dance programme. With this unsatisfactory medium she wrote a reply and pushed it through the window, and after a while she saw it drawn up. Johnny was there—and Johnny knew. She felt strangely comforted by his presence, impotent though he was.
For half an hour she waited at the window, but now the daylight had come, and evidently Johnny thought it was too dangerous to make any further communications.
Exhausted, she lay down on the bed, intending to remain awake, but within five minutes she was sleeping heavily. The sound of a key in the lock made her spring to her feet. It was the man she had seen in the early morning; he was carrying a big tray, set with a clumsy cup and saucer, six slices of bread and butter, and an enormous teapot. He put it down on the bed, for want of a table, and without a word went out. She looked at the little platinum watch on her wrist: it was ten o'clock. Half an hour later the man came and took away the tray.
"Where am I?" she asked.
"You're in 'boob,'" he said with quiet amusement. "But it is better than any other 'boob 'you've ever been in, young lady. And don't try to ask me questions, because you'll not get a civil answer if you do."
At two o'clock came another meal, a little more tastily served this time. It seemed, from the appearance of the plate, that Jeffrey had sent into Oxford for a new service specially for her benefit. Again she attempted to discover what had happened to her father, but with no more satisfactory result.
The weary day dragged through; every minute seemed an hour, every hour interminable. Darkness had fallen again when the last of the visits was made, and this time it was Jeffrey Legge. At the sight of his face, all her terror turned to wonder. He was ghastly pale, his eyes burnt strangely, and the hand that came up to his lips was trembling as though he were suffering from a fever. "What do you want?" she asked.
"I want you," he said brokenly. "I want you for the life of my father!"
"What do you mean?" she gasped.
"Peter Kane killed my father last night," he said.
"You're mad," she gasped. "My father is here—you told me."
"I told you a lie. What does it matter what I told you, anyway? Peter Kane escaped on the way to Keytown, and he went back to the club and killed my father!"