Room 13

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Chapter 7

THE old man made his way back to the road and passed quickly along until he came to the main highway. Two men were seated in the shade of a bush, eating bread and cheese. They came quickly enough when he whistled them, tall, broad-shouldered men whose heavy jowls had not felt a lather-brush for days.

"Either of you boys know Johnny Gray?" he asked.

"I was on the 'moor' with him," said one gruffly, "if he's the fellow that went down for 'ringing in 'horses?"

Emanuel nodded.

"He's in the house, and it's likely he'll walk to the station, and likely enough take the short cut across the fields. That'll be easy for you. He's got to be coshed—you understand? Get him good, even if you have to do it in the open. If there's anybody with him, get him in London. But get him."

Emanuel came back to his observation post as the first of the cars went into the drive. Jeff was moving quickly—and there was need.

Presently the car came out. Emanuel caught a glimpse of Jeff and the frightened face of the girl, and rubbed his hands in an ecstasy of satisfaction. Peter was standing in the middle of the road, watching the car. If he knew! The smile vanished from the old man's face. Peter did not know; he had not been told. Why? Johnny would not let her go, knowing. Perhaps Lila was lying. You can never trust women of that kind; they love sensation. Johnny… dangerous. The two words left one impression. And there was Johnny, standing, one hand in pocket, the other waving at the car as it came into brief view on the Shoreham road, as unconcerned as though he were the least interested.

A second car went in and came out. Some guests were leaving. Now, if Johnny had sense, he would be driven to London with a party. But Johnny hadn't sense. He was just a poor sucker, like all cheap crooks are. He came out alone, crossed the road and went down the narrow passage that led to the field path.

Emanuel looked backward. His bulldogs had seen and were moving parallel to the unconscious Gray.

From the road two paths led to the field, forming a Y where they met. Johnny had passed the fork when he heard the footsteps behind him. Glancing back, he saw a familiar face and did some shrewd guessing. He could run and easily outdistance these clumsy men. He preferred to face them, and turned, holding his malacca cane in both hands.

"'Lo, Gray," said the bigger of the men. "Where'n thunder are you going in such a hurry? I want to talk with you, you dirty squeaker! You're the fellow that told the deputy I was getting tobacco in through a screw!"

It was a crude invention, but good enough to justify the rough house that was booked to follow. They carried sticks in their hands, pliable canes, shotted at the end.

The blow missed Johnny as he stepped back, and then something long and bright glittered in the afternoon sun. The scabbard of the sword cane he held defensively before him, the sword, thin and deadly, was pointed to the nearer of his enemies. They stopped, Saxon-like, appalled by the sight of steel. "Bad boy!" said Johnny reproachfully.

The razor-pointed rapier flickered from face to face, and the men stumbled back, getting into one another's way. One of the men felt something wet on his cheek, and put up his hand. When it came down it was wet and red.

"Beast, you have my brand!" said Johnny with deadly pleasantry. "Come when I call you."

He clicked the sword back in its wooden sheath and strode away. His indifference, his immense superiority, was almost as tremendously impressive as his cold toleration.

"He's ice, that fellow," said the man with the cut cheek. A sob of rage softened the rasp of his voice. "By… I'll kill him for that!"

But he made no attempt to follow, and his companion was glad.

John Gray increased his pace, and after a while emerged into the outskirts of the town. Here he found a Ford cab and reached the station in time to see the train pull out. He had made a mistake; the time-table had been changed that day, but in half an hour there was a fast train from Brighton that stopped only at Horsham.

He crossed the station yard to an hotel and was in the telephone booth for a quarter of an hour before he emerged, his collar limp, perspiration streaming down his face.

There was no sign of a familiar face when he came back to the platform. He expected to see Emanuel eventually, and here he was not disappointed, for Emanuel arrived a few minutes before the Brighton train came in.

Officially, it was their first meeting since they had been members of the same farm gang at Dartmoor, and Legge's expression of surprise was therefore appropriate.

"Why, if it isn't Gray! Well, fancy meeting you, old man! Well, this is a surprise! When did you come out?"

"Cease your friendly badinage," said Johnny shortly. "If we can get an empty compartment, I've got a few words to say to you, Emanuel."

"Been down to the wedding?" asked the old man slyly. "Nice girl, eh? Done well for herself? They tell me he's a Canadian millionaire. Ain't that Peter's luck! That fellow would fall off rock and drop in feathers, he's that lucky."

Johnny made no answer. When the train stopped and he found himself opposite a first-class carriage, he opened the door and Emanuel hopped in.

"If you're short of money—" began Legge.

"I'm not," said the other curtly. "I'm short of nothing except bad company. Now listen, Emanuel,"—the train was puffing slowly from the station when he spoke again—"I'm going to give you a chance."

The wide-eyed astonishment of Emanuel Legge was very convincing, but Johnny was not open to conviction at the moment.

"I don't get you, Johnny," he said. "What's all this talk about giving me a chance? Have you been drinking?"

Johnny had seated himself opposite the man, and now he leant forward and placed his hand upon the other's knee.

"Emanuel," he said gently, "call off that boy, and there'll be no squeak. Take that wounded fawn look from your face, because I haven't any time for fooling. You call off Jeff and send the girl back home to-night, or I squeak. Do you understand that?"

"I understand your words, Johnny Gray, but what they mean is a mystery to me." Emanuel Legge shook his head. "What boy are you talking about? I've only got one boy, and he's at college—"

"You're a paltry old liar. I'm talking about Jeff Legge, who married Peter's daughter to-day. I've tumbled to your scheme, Emanuel. You're getting even with Peter. Well, get even with him, but try some other way."

"She's married him of her own free will," began the man. "There's no law against that, is there, Johnny? Fell in love with him right on the spot! That's what I like to see, Johnny—young people in love."

If he hoped to rattle his companion he was disappointed.

"Now he can unmarry of his own free will," said Johnny calmly. "Listen to me, Emanuel Legge. When you arrive in London, you'll go straight away to the Charlton Hotel and talk very plainly to your son. He, being a sensible man, will carry out your instructions—"

"Your instructions," corrected Emanuel, his mouth twisted in a permanent smile. "And what happens if I don't, Johnny?"

"I squeak," said Johnny, and the smile broadened.

"They are married, old man. You can't divorce 'em. You can turn a brown horse into a black 'un, but you can't turn Mrs. Jeffrey Legge into Miss Marney Kane, clever as you are."

Johnny leant forward.

"I can turn Mr. Jeffrey Legge into Dartmoor Jail," he said unpleasantly, "and that's what I propose to do."

"On what charge?" Emanuel raised his eyebrows. "Give us a little rehearsal of this squeal of yours, Gray."

"He's the Big Printer," said Johnny, and the smile slowly dissolved. "The Government has spent thousands to catch him; they've employed the best secret service men in the world to pull him down, and I can give them just the information they want. I know where his stuff is planted. I know where it is printed; I know at least four of his agents. You think Jeff's secret is his own and yours, but you're mistaken, Emanuel. Craig knows he's the Big Printer; he told me so at lunch. All he wants is evidence, and the evidence I can give him. Old Reeder knows—you think he's a fool, but he knows. I could give him a squeak that would make him the cleverest lad in the world."

Emanuel Legge licked his dry lips.

"Going in for the 'con business, Johnny?" he asked banteringly. There was no amusement in his voice. "What a confidence man you'd make! You look like a gentleman, and talk like one. Why, they'd fall for you and never think twice! But that confidence stuff doesn't mean anything to me, Johnny. I'm too old and too wide to be bluffed—"

"There's no bluff here," interrupted Johnny. "I have got your boy like that!" He held out his hand and slowly clenched it.

For fully five minutes Emanuel Legge sat huddled in a corner of the compartment, staring out upon the flying scenery.

"You've got him like that, have you, Johnny boy?" he said gently. "Well, there's no use deceiving you, I can see. Slush is funny stuff—they call it 'phoney 'in America. Did you know that? I guess you would, because you're well educated. But it's good slush, Johnny. Look at this. He's a note. Is it good or bad?"

His fingers had gone into his waistcoat pocket and withdrew a thin pad of paper an inch square. Fold by fold he opened it out and showed a five-pound note. He caressed the paper with finger and thumb. The eyes behind the powerful glasses gleamed; the thin-lined face softened with pride.

"Is it good or bad, Johnny?"

Though the day was bright and hot, and not a cloud was in the sky, the four electric lamps in the carriage lit up suddenly. In the powerful light of day they seemed pale ghosts of flame, queerly dim. As the sunshine fell upon them their shadows were cast upon the white cornice of the carriage.

"There's a tunnel coming," said Emanuel. "It will give you a chance of seeing them at their best—feel 'em, Johnny! The real paper; bankers have fallen for 'em… ."

With a roar the train plunged into the blackness of the tunnel. Emanuel stood with his back to the carriage door, the note held taut between his hands.

"There's only one flaw—the watermark. I'm giving away secrets, eh? Look!"

He stretched his arms up until he held the note against one of the bracket lamps. To see, John Gray had to come behind him and peer over his shoulder. The thunder of the train in the narrow tunnel was almost deafening.

"Look at the 'F'," shouted Emanuel. "See… that 'F' in 'Five'—it's printed too shallow… ."

As Johnny bent forward the old man thrust at him with his shoulder, and behind that lurch of his was all the weight and strength of his body. Taken by surprise, John Gray was thrown from his balance. He staggered back against the carriage door, felt it give and tried to recover his equilibrium. But the thrust was too well timed. The door flew open, and he dropped into the black void, clutching as he did so the window ledge. For a second he swayed with the in and out swinging of the door. Then Legge's clenched fist hammered down on his fingers, and he dropped…

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