Johnny repeated the word dully.
Marney married… ! It was incredible, impossible to comprehend. For a moment the stays and supports of existence dissolved into dust, and the fabric of life fell into chaos.
"Married this morning, Johnny. You'll like him. He isn't one of us, old boy. He's as straight as… well, you understand, Johnny boy? I've worked for her and planned for her all these years; I'd have been rotten if I took a chance with her future."
Peter Kane was pleading, his big hand on the other's shoulder, his fine face clouded with anxiety and the fear that he had hurt this man beyond remedy.
"I should have wired… "
"It would have made no difference," said Peter Kane almost doggedly. "Nothing could have been changed, Johnny, nothing. It had to be. If you had been convicted innocently—I don't say you weren't—I couldn't have the memory of your imprisonment hanging over her; I couldn't have endured the uncertainty myself. Johnny, I've been crook all my life—up to fifteen years ago. I take a broader view than most men because I am what I am. But she doesn't know that. Craig's here to-day—"
"Craig—the Scotland Yard man?"
Peter nodded, a look of faint amusement in his eyes.
"We're good friends; we have been for years. And do you know what he said this morning? He said, 'Peter, you've done well to marry that girl into the straight way,' and I know he's right."
Johnny stretched back in the deep cane chair, his hand shading his eyes, as though he found the light too strong for him.
"I'm not going to be sorry for myself," he said with a smile, and stretching out his hand, gripped Kane's arm. "You'll not have another vendetta on your hands, Peter. I have an idea that Emanuel Legge will keep you busy—"
He stopped suddenly. The ill-fitted butler had made a stealthy appearance.
"Peter," he began in his husky whisper, "he's come. Do you want to see him?"
"Emanuel Legge—uglier than ever."
Peter Kane's face set, mask-like.
"Where is Miss Marney—Mrs. Floyd?"
"She's gettin' into her weddin' things and falderals for the photogrypher," said Barney. "She had 'em off once, but the photogrypher's just come, and he's puttin' up his things in the front garden. I sez to Marney—"
"You're a talkative old gentleman," said Peter grimly. "Send Emanuel through. Do you want to see him, Johnny?"
John Gray rose.
"No," he said. "I'll wander through your alleged rosary. I want nothing to remind me of The Awful Place, thank you."
Johnny had disappeared through an opening of the box hedge at the lower end of the lawn when Barney returned with the visitor.
Mr. Emanuel Legge was a man below middle height, thin of body and face, grey and a little bald. On his nose perched a pair of horn-rimmed spectacles. He stood for a second or two surveying the scene, his chin lifted, his thin lips drawn in between his teeth. His attire was shabby, a steel chain served as a watch-guard, and, as if to emphasise the rustiness of his wrinkled suit, he wore boots that were patently new and vividly yellow. Hat in hand, he waited, his eyes slowly sweeping the domain of his enemy, until at last they came to rest upon his host.
It was Peter Kane who broke the deadly silence.
"Well, Emanuel? Come over and sit down."
Legge moved slowly toward his host. "Quite a swell place, Peter. Everything of the best, eh? Trust you! Still got old Barney, I see. Has he reformed too? That's the word, ain't it—'reformed'?"
His voice was thin and complaining. His pale blue eyes blinked coldly at the other.
"He doesn't go thieving any more, if that is what you mean," said Peter shortly, and a look of pain distorted the visitor's face.
"Don't use that word; it's low—"
"Let me take your hat." Peter held out his hand, but the man drew his away.
"No, thanks. I promised a young friend of mine that I wouldn't lose anything while I was here. How long have you been at this place, Peter?"
"About fourteen years."
Peter sat down, and the unwelcome guest followed his example, pulling his chair round so that he faced the other squarely.
"Ah!" he said thoughtfully. "Living very comfortable, plenty to eat, go out and come in when you like. Good way of spending fourteen years. Better than having the key on you four o'clock in the afternoon. Princetown's the same old place—oh, I forgot you'd never been there."
"I've motored through," said Peter coolly, deliberately, and knew that he had touched a raw place before the lips of the man curled back in a snarl.
"Oh, you've motored through!" he sneered. "I wish I'd known; I'd have hung my flags out! They ought to have decorated Princetown that day. Peter. You drove through!" he almost spat the words.
"Have a cigar?"
Emanuel Legge waved aside the invitation.
"No, thanks. I've got out of the habit—you do in fifteen years. You can get into some, too. Fifteen years is a long time out of a life."
So Emanuel had come to make trouble, and had chosen his day well. Peter took up the challenge.
"The man you shot would have been glad of a few—he died two years after," he said curtly, and all the pent fury of his sometime comrade flamed in his eyes.
"I hope he's in hell," he hissed, "the dirty flattie!" With an effort he mastered himself. "You've had a real good time, Peter? Nice house, that wasn't bought for nothing. Servants and whatnot and motoring through the moor! You're clever!"
"I admit it."
The little man's hands were trembling, his thin lips twitched convulsively.
"Leave your pal in the lurch and get away yourself, eh? Every man for himself—well, that's the law of nature, ain't it? And if you think he's going to squeak, send a line to the busies in charge of the case and drop a few hundred to 'em and there you are!" He paused, but no reply came. "That's how it's done, ain't it, Peter?"
Kane shrugged his shoulders indifferently.
"I don't know—I'm never too old to learn."
"But that's the way it's done?" insisted the man, showing his teeth again. "That's the way you keep out of boob, ain't it?"
Peter looked at his tormentor, outwardly untroubled.
"I won't argue with you," he said.
"You can't," said the other. "I'm logical." He gazed around. "This house cost a bit of money. What's half of two hundred thousand? I'm a bad counter!" Peter did not accept the opening. "It's a hundred thousand, ain't it? I got sixty thousand—you owe me forty."
"We got less than a hundred and twenty thousand pounds, if you're talking about the ship job. You got sixty thousand, which was more than your share. I paid it into your bank the day you went down."
Legge smiled sceptically.
"The newspapers said a million dollars," he murmured.
"You don't believe what you read in the newspapers, do you? Emanuel, you're getting childish." Then suddenly: "Are you trying to put the 'black' on me?"
"Blackmail?" Emanuel was shocked. "There's honour amongst—friends surely, Peter. I only want what's right and fair."
Peter laughed softly, amusedly.
"Comic, is it? You can afford to laugh at a poor old fellow who's been in 'stir' for fifteen years."
The master of Manor Hill snapped round on him.
"If you'd been in hell for fifty I should still laugh."
Emanuel was sorry for himself. That was ever a weakness of his; he said as much.
"You wouldn't, would you? You've got a daughter, haven't you? Young? Married to-day, wasn't she?
"Married money—a swell?"
"Yes. She married a good man."
"He doesn't know what you are, Peter?" Emanuel asked the question carelessly, and his host fixed him with a steely glance.
"No. What's the idea? Do you think you'll get forty thousand that way?"
"I've got a boy. You've never sat in a damp cell with the mists of the moor hanging on the walls and thought and thought till your heart ached? You can get people through their children." He paused. "I could get you that way."
In a second Peter Kane was towering above him, an ominous figure.
"The day my heart ached," he said slowly, "yours would not beat! You're an old man, and you're afraid of death! I can see it in your eyes. I am afraid of nothing. I'd kill you!"
Before the ferocity of voice and mien, Legge shrank farther into his chair.
"What's all this talk about killing? I only want what's fair. Fond of her, ain't you, Peter? I'll bet you are. They say that you're crazy about her. Is she pretty? I don't suppose she takes after you. Young Johnny Gray was sweet on her too. Peter, I'll get you through her—"
So far he got, and then a hand like a steel clamp fell on his neck, and he was jerked from his chair.
Peter spoke no word but, dragging the squirming figure behind him, as if it had neither weight nor resistance, he strode up the narrow pathway by the side of the house, across the strip of garden, through the gate and into the road. A jerk of his arm, and Emanuel Legge was floundering in the dusty road.
"Don't come back, Emanuel," he said, and did not stop to listen to the reply.
John Gray passed out of sight and hearing of the two men, being neither curious to know Legge's business nor anxious to renew a prison acquaintance.
Below the box hedge were three broad terraces, blazing with colour, blanketed with the subtle fragrance of flowers. Beyond that, a sloping meadow leading to a little river. Peter had bought his property wisely. A great cedar of Lebanon stood at the garden's edge; to the right, massed bushes were patched with purple and heliotrope blooms.
He sat down on a marble seat, glad of the solitude which he shared only with a noisy thrush and a lark invisible in the blue above him.
Marney was married. That was the beginning and the end of him. But happy. He recognised his very human vanity in the instant doubt that she could be happy with anybody but him.
How dear she was! And then a voice came to him, a shrill, hateful voice. It was Legge's—he was threatening the girl, and Johnny's blood went cold. Here was the vulnerable point in Peter Kane's armour; the crevice through which he could be hurt.
He started to his feet and went up the broad steps of the terrace, three at a time. The garden was empty, save for Barney setting a table. Kane and his guest had disappeared. He was crossing the lawn when he saw something white shining in the gloom beyond the open French windows of a room. Something that took glorious shape. A girl in bridal white, and her hands were outstretched to him. So ethereal, so unearthly was her beauty, that at first he did not recognise her.
A soldierly figure was at her side, Peter Kane was behind her, but he had no eyes for any but Marney.
She came flying toward him, both his hands were clasped in her warm palm.
"Oh, Johnny… Johnny!"
Then he looked up into the smiling face of the bridegroom, that fine, straight man to whom Peter had entrusted his beloved girl. For a second their eyes met, the debonair Major Floyd and his. Not by a flicker of eyelash did Johnny Gray betray himself.
The husband of the woman he loved was Jeff Legge, forger and traitor, the man sworn with his father to break the heart of Peter Kane.