Room 13

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Chapter 9

MARNEY made her journey to London that afternoon in almost complete silence. She sat in a corner of the limousine, and felt herself separated from the man she had married by a distance which was becoming immeasurable. Once or twice she stole a timid glance at him, but he was so preoccupied with his thoughts that he did not even notice. They were not pleasant thoughts, to judge by his unchanging scowl. All the way up he nibbled at his nails; a wrinkle between his eyes.

It was not until the big car was bowling across one of the river bridges that the strain was relieved, and he turned his head, regarding her coldly.

"We're going abroad to-morrow," he said, and her heart sank.

"I thought you were staying in town for a week, Jeff," she asked, trouble in her eyes. "I told father—"

"Does it matter?" he said roughly, and then she found courage to ask him a question that had been in her mind during that dreary ride.

"Jeff, what did you mean this morning, on the way back from the church… ? You frightened me."

Jeff Legge chuckled softly.

"I frightened you, did I?" he sneered. "Well, if that's all that's going to happen to you, you're a lucky girl!"

"But you're so changed… " she was bewildered. "I—I didn't want to marry you… I thought you wanted… and father was so very anxious… "

"Your father was very anxious that you should marry a man in good society with plenty of money," he said, emphasising every word. "Well, you've married him, haven't you? When I told you this morning that I'd got your father like that "—he put out his thumb suggestively—"I meant it. I suppose you know your father's a crook?"

The beautiful face flushed and went pale again.

"How dare you say that?" she asked, her voice trembling with anger. "You know it isn't true. You know!"

Jeffrey Legge closed his eyes wearily. "There's a whole lot of revelations coming to you, my good girl," he said, "but I guess we'd better wait till we reach the hotel."

Silence followed, until the car drew up before the awning of the Charlton, and then Jeff became his smiling, courteous self, and so remained until the door of their sitting-room closed upon them.

"Now, you've got to know something, and you can't know it too soon," he said, throwing his hat upon a settee. "My name isn't Floyd at all. I'm Jeffrey Legge. My father was a convict until six months ago. He was put in prison by Peter Kane."

She listened, open-mouthed, stricken dumb with amazement and fear.

"Peter Kane is a bank robber—or he was till fifteen years ago, when he did a job with my father, got away with a million dollars, and squeaked on his pal."

"Squeaked?" she said, bewildered.

"Your father betrayed him," said Jeffrey patiently. "I'm surprised that Peter hasn't made you acquainted with the technical terms of the business. He squeaked on his pal, and my father went down for twenty years."

"It is not true," she said indignantly. "You are inventing this story. My father was a broker. He never did a dishonest thing in his life. And if he had, he would never have betrayed his friend!"

The answer seemed to amuse Legge.

"Broker, was he? I suppose that means he's a man who's broken into strong-rooms? That's the best joke I've heard for a long time! Your father's crook! Johnny knows he's crook. Craig knows he's crook. Why in hell do you think a broker should be a pal of a 'busy'? And take that look off your face—a 'busy' is a detective. Peter has certainly neglected your education!"

"Johnny knows?" she said, horror-stricken. "Johnny knows father is—I don't believe it! All you have told me is lies. If it were so, why should you want to marry me?"

Suddenly she realised the truth, and stood, frozen with horror, staring back at the smiling man.

"You've guessed, eh? We've been waiting to get under Peter's skin for years. And I guess we've got there. And now, if you like, you can tell him. There's a telephone; call him up. Tell him I'm Jeff Legge, and that all the wonderful dreams he has had of seeing you happy and comfortable are gone! Phone him! Tell him you never wanted to marry me, and it was only to make him happy that you did—you've got to break his heart, anyway. You might as well start now."

"He'd kill you," she breathed.

"Maybe he would. And that'd be a fine idea too. We'd have Peter on the trap. It would be worth dying for. But I guess he wouldn't kill me. At the sight of a gun in his hands, I'd shoot him like a dog. But don't let that stop you telling him, Marney darling."

He stretched out his hand, but she recoiled from him to horror and loathing.

"You planned it all… this was your revenge?"

He nodded.

"But Johnny… Johnny doesn't know."

She saw the change in the man's face, that suave assurance of his vanish.

"He does know." She pointed an accusing finger at him. "He knows!"

"He knows, but he let you go, honey," said Jeff. "He's one of us, and we never squeak. One of us!" he repeated the words mechanically.

She sat down and covered her face with her hands, and Jeffrey, watching her, thought at first that she was crying. When she raised her face, her eyes were dry. And, more extraordinary to him, the fear that he had seen was no longer there.

"Johnny will kill you," she said simply. "He wouldn't let me go… like that… if he knew. It isn't reasonable to suppose that he would, is it?"

It was Jeff Legge's turn to be uncomfortable. Not at the menace of Johnny's vengeance, but at her utter calmness. She might have been discussing the matter impartially with a third person. For a moment he lost his grip of the situation. All that she said was so obviously, so patently logical, and instinctively he looked round as though he expected to find Johnny Gray at his elbow. The absurdity of the situation struck him, and he chuckled nervously.

"Johnny!" he sneered. "What do you expect Johnny to do, eh? He's just out of 'bird'—that's jail; it is sometimes called 'boob'—I see there's a whole lot of stuff you've got to learn before you get right into the family ways."

He lounged toward her and dropped his hands on her shoulders.

"Now, old girl," he said, "there are two things you can do. You can call up Peter and put him wise, or you can make the best of a bad job."

"I'll call father," she said, springing up. Before she could reach the telephone, his arm was round her, and he had swung her back.

"You'll call nothing," he said. "There's no alternative, my little girl. You're Mrs. Legge, and I lowered myself to marry the daughter of such a squealing old hound! Marney, give me a kiss. You've not been very free with your tokens of affection, and I haven't pressed you, for fear of scaring you off. Always the considerate gentleman—that's Jeff Legge."

Suddenly she was in his arms, struggling desperately. He tried to reach her lips, but she buried her face in his coat, until, with a savage jerk that almost dislocated her shoulder, he had flung her at arm's distance. She looked up at the inflamed face and shuddered.

"I've got you, Marney." His voice was hoarse with triumph. "I've got you properly… legally. You're my wife! You realise that? No man can come between you and me."

He pulled her toward him, caught her pale face between his hands, and turned it up to his. With all the strength of utter horror and loathing, she tore herself free, fled to the door, flung it open, and stood back, wide-eyed with amazement.

In the doorway stood a tall, broad woman, with vividly red hair and a broad, good-humoured face. From her costume she was evidently one of the chambermaids of the hotel. From her voice she was most obviously Welsh.

"What are you doing here?" demanded Jeff. "Get out, damn you!"

"Why do you talk so at me now, look you? I will not have this bad language. The maid of this suite I am!"

Marney saw her chance of escaping, and, running into the room, slammed the door and locked it.

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