JOHNNY GRAY came to consciousness with a violent headache and a sense of suffocating restriction, which he discovered was due to his wing collar holding tightly in spite of the rough usage that had been his. This fact would have been pleasing to Parker, but was intensely discomforting to the wearer, and in a minute he had stripped the offending collar from his throat and had risen unsteadily to his feet.
The room in which he was had a familiar appearance. It was a cell, and—Keytown Jail! He remembered Fenner's warning. So Fenner knew! Keytown Jail, sold by the Government to—Jeffrey Legge! The idea was preposterous; but why not? A timber merchant had bought a jail at Hereford; a firm of caterers had purchased an old prison in the North of England, and were serving afternoon teas in the cells.
Now he understood. Keytown Prison was the headquarters of the Big Printer. The one place in the world that the police would never dream of searching, particularly if, as he guessed, Jeffrey Legge had offered some specious excuse for his presence and the presence of his company in this isolated part of the world.
The sound of voices came faintly up to him, and he heard a door bang and the clicking of locks; and with that sound he recalled the happenings of the evening. It must be Peter: they had got him too. In spite of his discomfiture, in spite of the awful danger in which he knew he was, he laughed softly to himself.
Above his bed was a window with scarcely a whole pane. But there was no escape that way. A thought struck him, and, leaning down, he tapped a Morse message on the floor. If it was Peter, he could understand. He heard the answering tap which came feebly, and when he signalled again he knew that whoever was in the cell below had no knowledge of the Morse code. He searched his pockets and found a tiny scrap of pencil, but could find no paper, except a bundle of five-pound notes, which his captors had not troubled to remove. Here was both stationery and the means of writing, but how could he communicate with the occupant of the cell below? Presently a plan suggested itself, and he tore off the lapel of his dinner-jacket and unravelled the silk. Tying the pencil to the end to give it weight, he slowly lowered his message, hoping, though it seemed unlikely, that his fellow-prisoner would be able to see the paper.
To his joy he felt a tug, and when, a few minutes later, he carefully drew up the message, it was to find, written underneath his own, one which left him white and shaking. Marney here! He groaned aloud at the thought. It was too light now to risk any further communication. There was a ewer of water and a basin in the cell, and with this he relieved the aching in his head; and when breakfast came, he was ready.
The man who brought in the tray was a stranger to him, as also was the man who stood on guard at the door, revolver in hand.
"What's the great idea?" asked Johnny coolly, sitting on the bed and swinging his legs. "Has Jeff bought a jail to practise in? Wouldn't it have been cheaper to have gone over the Alps?"
"You shut up, Johnny Gray," growled the man. "You'll be sorry for yourself before you're out of here."
"Who isn't?" asked Johnny. "How is Peter?"
"You know damned well Peter has escaped," said the other before he could check himself.
"Escaped!" said the delighted Johnny. "You don't mean that?"
"Never mind what I mean," growled the man, realising he had said too much. "You keep a civil tongue in your head, Gray, and you'll be treated square. If you don't, there are plenty of men on the spot to make Dartmoor a paradise compared with Keytown."
The door slammed in Johnny Gray's face, but he was so absorbed in the news which the man had unwillingly given to him that he had to force himself to eat.
Soon after the man came to take away the tray.
"What's your name, bo', anyway?" said Johnny carelessly. "I hate calling you 'face'—it's low."
"Bill's my name," said the man, "and you needn't call me Bill either. You say 'sir' to me."
"Woof!" said Johnny admiringly. "You're talking like a real screw!"
The door slammed in his face. He had further time to consider his plans. They had taken away his watch and chain, his gold cigarette-case and the small penknife he carried, but these losses did not worry him in the slightest. His chief anxiety was to know the exact character of Keytown Prison. And that he determined to learn at the earliest opportunity.
It was late in the afternoon; he guessed it was somewhere in the neighbourhood of four when his lunch came, and he was quite ready to eat it, though a little suspicious of its possible accessories.
"No poison in this, Bill?" he asked pleasantly as he took the bread and cheese from the man's hand.
"There's no need to poison you; we could starve you, couldn't we?" said the other. "If Jeff was here, maybe I'd get a rapping for giving you anything."
"Gone away, has he? Well, prisons are more pleasant when the governor's away. Am I right. Bill? Now, what do you say to a couple of hundred of real money?"
"For what?" asked the man, stopping at the door. "If you mean it's for letting you make a get-away, why, you're silly! You're going to stay here till Jeff fixes you."
All the day Johnny had heard, or rather felt, a peculiar whirr of sound coming from some remote quarter of the prison.
"Got electric light here, Bill?" he said conversationally.
"Yes, we have," said the other. "This is a model boob, this is."
"I'll bet it is," said Johnny grimly. "Are you running any electric radiators in my cell to-night, or do you want all the power for the press?" He saw the man's face twitch. "Of course, you're running the slush factory here—everybody knows that. Take my advice. Bill—go whilst the going's good. Or the bulls will have you inside the realest boob you've seen." He had made the guard more than a little uncomfortable, as he saw, and sought to press home the impression he had created. "Jeffrey's going to shop you sooner or later, because he's a natural born shopper. And he's got the money. Bill, to get away with, and the motor-cars and aeroplanes. You haven't got that. You'll have to walk on your own pads. And the bulls will get you half-way over the field."
"Oh, shut up!" said the man uncomfortably, and the conversation ended, as in the morning, with the slamming of the door.
Presently a little spy-hole in the cell door opened.
"What made you think this is a print-shop?" asked Bill's voice.
"I don't think anything about it; I know," said Johnny decisively. "If you like to come to me this evening I'll tell you the name of every worker here, the position of every press, and the length of the lagging you'll get."
The cover of the spy-hole dropped.
Jeffrey was away; that was all to the good. If he remained away for the whole of the night… .He was worried about Marney, and it required all his strength of will not to fret himself into a state of nerves.
In an hour Bill returned, and this time he brought no guard but himself, but, for safety's sake, carried on his conversation through a little grille in the door.
"You're bluffing, Johnny Gray. We've got a fellow here who was in boob with you, and he says you're the biggest bluffer that ever lived. You don't know anything."
"I know almost everything," said Johnny immodestly. "For instance, I know you've got a young lady in the cell below. How's she doing?"
The man was taken aback for a moment.
"Who told you?" he asked suspiciously. "Nobody else has been here, have they?"
"Nobody at all. It is part of my general knowledge. Now listen, Bill. How are you treating that lady? And your life hangs on your answer—don't forget it."
"She's all right," said Bill casually. "They've given her the condemned cell, with a bathroom and all, and a proper bed—not like yours. And you can't scare me, Gray."
"I'll bet I can't," said Johnny. "Bring me some water."
But the water was not forthcoming, and it was dark before the man made his reappearance. Johnny listened at the door; he was coming alone. Johnny pulled up the leg of his trousers and showed those suspenders which were Parker's pride. But they were not ordinary suspenders. Strapped to the inside of the calf was a small holster. The automatic it carried was less than four inches in length, but its little blunt-nosed bullets were man-stoppers of a peculiarly deadly kind.
The door swung open, and Bill stepped in.
"Jeff's back—" he began, and then: "Step in, and step lively," said Johnny.
His arm had shot out, and the pistol hand of the jailer was pinned to his side.
"This gun may look pretty paltry, but it would blow a square inch out of your heart, and that's enough to seriously inconvenience you for the remainder of your short life." With a turn of his wrist he wrenched the revolver from the man's grasp. "Sit over there," he said. "Is anybody in the hall?"
"For God's sake, don't let Jeff see you. He'll kill me," pleaded the agitated prisoner.
"I'd hate for him to do that," said Johnny. He peeped out into the hall: it was empty, and he went back to his prisoner. "Stand against the wall. I'm going to give you the twice-over."
His hands searched quickly but effectively. The key he was putting in his pocket when he noticed the design of the ward. "Pass-key, I fancy. Now, don't make a fuss. Bill, because you'll be let out first thing in the morning, and maybe I'll have a good word to say for you at the Oxford Assizes. There's something about you that I like. Give me the simple criminal, and the Lord knows you're simple enough!"
He stepped out of the cell, snapped the lock of the door, and, keeping in the shadow, walked swiftly along the gallery until he came to the open stairway on to the floor below.
The hall was untenanted. Apparently Bill was the only jailer. He had reached the floor when the door at the end of the hall opened and somebody came in. He flattened himself in one of the recessed cell doorways. Two men entered, and one, he guessed, was Jeff. One, two, three, four—the fourth door from the end. That was Marney's door, immediately under his own. He saw Jeffrey stop, heard the too-familiar grind of the lock, and his enemy disappeared, leaving the second man on guard outside.
If Jeffrey had made an attempt to close the door behind him, Johnny would have shot down the guard and taken the consequences. But the man was absent for only a few minutes. When he came out, he was shouting
incoherently threats that made the hair rise on Johnny Gray's neck. But they were only threats.
The hall door closed on Jeffrey Legge and Johnny moved swiftly to No. 4. As the door opened, the girl shrank back against the wall.
"Don't touch me!" she cried.
At the sound of his voice she stood, rooted to the spot. The next second she was laughing and weeping in his arms.
"But, Johnny, how did you get here?… where were you?… you won't leave me?"
He soothed her and quietened her as only Johnny Gray could. "I'll stay… I think this fellow will come back. If he does, he will wish he hadn't!" And Jeffrey came. As the grip of strong hands closed on his throat, and the hateful voice of his enemy came to his ears, Johnny's prophecy was justified.