Room 13

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Chapter 8

HE struck a layer of thick sand and turned a complete somersault. The wall of the tunnel caught and almost dislocated his arm, and he rebounded toward the whirling wheels. One wheel flicked him back against the wall, and he slid, his arms covering his face, the flint ballast of the road ripping his sleeves to ribbons… .

He was alive. The train had passed. He saw the red tail-lights closing to one another. Gingerly he moved first one leg and then the other; then he rolled over toward the wall and lay on his back without further movement. His heart was pounding furiously; he felt a soreness working through the numb overlay of shock. Shock… shock sometimes killed men. His heart was going faster yet; he experienced a horrible nausea, and he found himself trembling violently.

The proper thing to do was to inject a solution of gum-acacia into his veins (his thoughts were curiously well ordered). Doctors did that; he remembered the doctor telling him at Dartmoor.

But there was no gum-acacia to be had… .Ten minutes later he lifted his body on his elbow and struggled to a sitting position. His head swam, but it did not ache; his arms… he felt them carefully. They were very sore, but no bones were broken.

A roadman at the exit of the tunnel nearly dropped with amazement as a grimy young man whose clothes were in rags emerged, limping.

"I fell out," said Johnny. "Can you tell me if there is anywhere I can hire a car?"

The roadman was going off duty and was willing to act as guide. Johnny hobbled up the steep slopes of the railway cutting, and with the assistance of the interested workman, traversed a wide field to the road. And then came a blessed sportsman on his way back from Gatwick Races, and he was alone in his car.

At first he looked suspicious at the bruised and ragged figure that had held him up. In the end he flung open the door by his side.

"Step up," he said.

To the railway worker Johnny had a few words to say.

"Here's five," he said. "Two for your help and three to stop your talking. I don't want this business to be reported, you understand? The truth is, I had been looking on the wine when it was red and gaveth its colour aright."

Johnny had evidently touched a sympathetic chord.

"You mean you was boozed?" said the man. "You can trust me."

The angel who drove him to London was not a talkative angel. Beyond expressing the wish that something drastic had happened to him before he went racing, and the advancement of his view that all racing was crooked and all jockeys thieves, he contributed little to the entertainment of his passenger, and the passenger was glad.

At the first cab-rank they struck—it was in Sutton—Johnny insisting upon alighting.

"I'll take you home if you like," said his gloomy benefactor.

Gently the other declined.

"My name is Lawford," said the motorist in a sudden outburst of confidence. "I've got an idea I know your face. Haven't I seen you on the track?"

"Not for some time," said Johnny.

"Rather like a fellow I once met… well, introduced to… fellow named Gay or Gray… regular rascal. He got time."

"Thanks," said Johnny, "that was I!" and the hitherto reticent Mr. Lawford became almost conversational in his apologies.

The young man finished the journey in a Sutton taxi and reached Queen's Gate late in the afternoon. Parker, who opened the door to him, asked no questions. "I have laid out another suit for you, sir," he returned to the study to say—the only oblique reference he made to his employer's disorder.

As he lay in a hot bath, soaking the stiffness out of his limbs, Johnny examined his injuries. They were more or less superficial, but he had had a terribly narrow escape from death, and he was not wholly recovered from the violence of it. Emanuel had intended his destruction. The attempt did not surprise him. Men of Legge's type worked that way. He met them in Dartmoor. They would go to a killing without fire of rage or frenzy of despair. Once he had seen a convict select with deliberation and care a large jagged stone and drop it upon the head of a man working in the quarry below. Fortunately, a warder had seen the act, and his shout saved the intended victim from mutilation. The assailant had only one excuse. The man he had attacked had slighted him in some way.

In the hearts of these men lived a cold beast. Johnny often pictured it, an obscene shape with pale, lidless eyes and a straight slit of a mouth. He had seen the beast staring at him from a hundred distorted faces, had heard its voice, had seen its hatefulness expressed in actions that he shivered to recall. Something of the beast had saturated into his own soul.

When he came from his bath, the masseur whom Parker had summoned was waiting, and for half an hour he groaned under the kneading hands.

The evening newspaper that Parker procured contained no news of the "accident "—Emanuel was hardly likely to report the matter, even for his own protection. There were explanations he could offer—Johnny thought of several.

Free from the hands of the masseur, he rested in his dressing-gown.

"Has anybody called?" he asked.

"A Mr. Reeder, sir."

Johnny frowned.

"Mr. Reeder?" he repeated. "What did he want?"

"I don't know, sir. He merely asked for you. A middle-aged man, with rather a sad face," said Parker. "I told him you were not at home, and that I would take any message for you, but he gave none."

His employer made no reply. For some reason, the call of the mysterious Mr. Reeder worried him more than the memory of the tragic happening of that afternoon, more, for the moment, than the marriage of Marney Kane.

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