Victor Bridges.

A Rogue by Compulsion online

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room Tommy set his back against the door and beamed cheerfully on the
three of us.

"Quite a little family party," he observed.

Joyce was in my arms, and we were kissing each other in the most
shameless and unabashed way.

"Oh, my dear," she said, "I hope you haven't hurt your hand."

"It stung a bit," I admitted, "but I've got another one - and two
feet." I put her gently aside. "Get up, George," I said.

He lay where he was, pretending to be unconscious.

"If you don't get up at once, George," I said softly, "I shall kick
you - hard."

He scrambled to his feet, and then crouched back against the wall
eyeing me like a trapped weasel.

I indulged myself in a good heart-filling look at him.

"So you've been sorry for me, George?" I said. "All these three long
weary years that I've been rotting in Dartmoor, you've been really and
truly sorry for me?"

He licked his lips and nodded.

I laughed. "Well, I'm sorry for _you_ now, George," I said - "damned
sorry."

If anything, the putty-like pallor of his face became still more
ghastly.

"Don't do anything violent, Neil," he whispered. "You'll only regret
it. I swear to you - "

"I shouldn't swear," I said. "You don't want to die with a lie on your
lips."

The sweat broke out on his forehead, and he glanced desperately round
the room, as though seeking for some possible method of escape. The
only comfort he got was a shake of the head from Tommy.

"You - you don't mean to murder me?" he gasped.

I gave a fiendish laugh. "Don't I!" I cried. "What's one murder more
or less? I know you've put the police on to me, and I'd sooner be
hanged than go back to Dartmoor any day."

Tommy rubbed his hands together ghoulishly. "What are we going to do
with him?" he asked. "Cut his throat?"

"No," I said. "It would make a mess, and we don't want to spoil
Joyce's carpet."

"Oh, it doesn't matter about the carpet," said Joyce unselfishly.

"I've got it," said Tommy. "Why not throw him in the river? The tide's
up; I noticed it as we came along."

Whether he intended the suggestion seriously or not I don't know, but
I rose to it like a trout to a fly. There are seldom more than two
feet of water at high tide at that particular part of the Embankment,
and the thought of dropping George into its turbid embrace filled me
with the utmost enthusiasm.

"By Jove, Tommy!" I exclaimed. "That's a brilliant idea. The Thames
water's about the only thing he wouldn't defile."

I stepped forward, and before George knew what was happening I had
swung him round and clutched him by the collar and breeches.

"Open the door," I said, "and just see there's no one in the passage."

With a deep chuckle Tommy turned to obey, while Joyce laughed with
a viciousness that I should never have given her credit for. As for
George - well, I suppose in his blind terror he really thought he was
going to be drowned, for he kicked and struggled and raved till it was
as much as I could do to hold him.

"All clear!" sang out Tommy from the hall.

"Stand by, then," I said, and taking a deep breath, I ran George
through the flat down the passage, and out into the street, in a style
that would have done credit to the chucker out at the Empire.

There were not many people about, and those that were there had no
time to interfere even if they had wanted to do so. I just got a
glimpse of the startled face of our taxi driver as he jumped aside to
let us pass, and the next moment we had crossed the road and fetched
up with a bang against the low Embankment wall.

I paused for a moment, renewed my grip on George's collar, and took a
quick look round. Tommy was beside me, and a few yards away, down at
the bottom of some steps, I saw a number of small boys paddling in the
water. There was evidently no risk of anybody being drowned.

"I'll take his feet," said Tommy, suiting the action to the word. "You
get hold of his arms."

There was a brief struggle, a loud scream for help, and the next
moment George was swinging merrily between us.

"One! Two! Three!" I cried.

At the word "three" we let go simultaneously. He flew up into the air
like a great wriggling crab, twisted round twice, and then went
down into the muddy water with a splash that echoed all over the
Embankment.

"Very nice," said Tommy critically. "But we ought to have put a stone
round his neck."

One glance over the wall showed me that there was no danger. Dripping,
floundering, and gasping for breath, George emerged from the surface
like a frock-coated Neptune rising from the waves. He seemed to be
trying to speak, but the shrieks of innocent delight with which his
reappearance was greeted by the paddling boys unfortunately prevented
us from hearing him.

I thrust my arm through Tommy's. "Come along," I said. "We must get
out of this before there's a row."

Swift as we had been about it, our little operation had already
attracted a certain amount of notice. People were hurrying up from all
directions, but without paying any attention to them, we walked
back towards the taxi, the driver of which had apparently been too
astonished to move.

"Gor blimey, Guv'nor," he ejaculated, "what sorter gime d'you call
that?"

"It's all right, driver," said Tommy gravely. "We found him insulting
this gentleman's sister."

The driver, who evidently had a nice sense of chivalry, at once came
round to our side.

"Was 'e? - the dirty 'ound!" he observed. "Well, you done it on 'im
proper. You ain't drowned 'im, 'ave ye, gents?"

"Oh no," I said. "He's addressing a few words to the crowd now." Then
seeing Joyce standing in the doorway I hurried up the steps.

"Joyce dear," I said, "put on a hat and come as quick as you can. It's
quite all right, but we want to get out of this before there's any
bother."

She nodded, and disappeared into the flat, while I strolled back to
the taxi.

It was evident from a movement among the spectators that George was
making his way towards the steps. Some of them who had come running up
kept turning round and casting curious glances at us, but so far no
one had attempted to interfere. It was not until Joyce was just coming
out of the flats, that a man detached himself from the crowd and
started across the road. He was a big, fat, greasy person in a bowler
hat.

"Here," he said. "You wait a bit. What d'ye mean by throwing that pore
man in the river?"

I opened the door of the taxi and Joyce jumped in.

"What's it got to do with you, darling?" asked Tommy affably.

"What's it got to do with me!" he repeated indignantly. "Why, it's
just the mercy o' Gawd - "

"Come on, Tommy," I said.

Tommy took a step forward, but the man clutched him by the arm.

"No yer don't," he said, "not till ... Ow!"

With a sudden vigorous shove Tommy sent him staggering back across the
pavement, and the next moment we had both jumped into the taxi and
banged the door.

"Right away," I called out.

I think there was some momentary doubt amongst the other spectators
whether they oughtn't to interfere, but before they could make up
their minds our sympathetic driver had thrust in his clutch, and we
were spinning away down the Embankment.

Joyce, who was sitting next to me, slipped her hand into mine.

"I love to see you both laughing," she said, "but I _should_ like
to know what's happened! At present I feel as if I was acting in a
cinematograph play."

We told her - told her in quick, eager sentences of how the danger and
mystery that had hung over us so for long had at last been scattered
and destroyed. It was a broken, inadequate sort of narrative, jerked
out as we bumped over crossings and pulled by behind buses, but I
fancy from the light in her eyes and the pressure of her hand that
Joyce was quite contented.

"It's - it's like waking up after some horrible dream," she said, "and
suddenly finding that everything's all right. Oh, I knew it would be
in the end - I knew it the whole time - but I never dreamed it would
happen all at once like this."

"Neither did George," chuckled Tommy. "How long had he been with you,
Joyce?"

"About twenty minutes," she said. "He came straight to me from
Harrod's, where he's spent most of the day buying stores for his
yacht. He had quite made up his mind I was coming with him. I don't
believe he's got the faintest idea about what's happened this
morning."

"He will have soon," I said. "That's why I threw him in the river.
He's bound to go back to the house for a change of clothes, and he'll
find the police waiting for him there."

"That'll be just right," observed Tommy complacently. "There's nothing
so good as a little excitement to stop one from catching cold."

"Except lunch," I added, as the taxi rounded the corner of Piccadilly
and drew up outside the Café Royal.

What the manager of that renowned restaurant must have thought of
us, I find it rather difficult to guess. It is not often, I should
imagine, that two untidy mud-stained men and a beautiful girl turn up
at four o'clock in the afternoon and demand the best meal that London
can provide.

Fortunately, however, he proved to be a gentleman of philosophy and
resource. He accepted our request with perfect composure, and by the
time we had succeeded in making ourselves passably respectable he
presented us with a menu that deserved to be set to music.

Heavens, what a lunch that was! We ate it all by ourselves in the big
empty restaurant, with half a dozen fascinated waiters eyeing us from
the end of the room. They were probably speculating as to whether we
were eccentric millionaires, or whether we had just escaped from some
private lunatic asylum, but we were all far too cheerful to care what
they thought. We ate, we drank, we laughed, we talked, with a reckless
jubilant happiness that would have survived the scrutiny of all the
waiters in London.

"I know what we'll do, Joyce," I said, when at last the dessert was
cleared away and we were sitting in a delicate haze of cigar smoke.
"As soon as things are fixed up I'll buy a good second-hand thirty-ton
boat, and you and I and Tommy will go off for a six months' cruise.
We'll take Mr. Gow as skipper, and your little page-boy as steward,
and we'll run down to the Mediterranean and stop there till people are
tired of gassing about us."

"That will be beautiful," said Joyce simply.

"I'll come," exclaimed Tommy, "unless the Secret Service refuse to
give me up." Then he stopped and looked mischievously across at Joyce
and me. "It's a pity we can't ask Sonia too," he added.

"Poor Sonia," said Joyce. "I am so glad you got her off."

"Are you really?" asked Tommy. "That shows I know nothing about women.
I always thought that if two girls loved the same man they hated each
other like poison."

Joyce nodded. "So they do as a rule."

"Well, Sonia loved Neil all right; you can take my word for it."

Joyce laughed softly. "Yes, Tommy dear," she said, "but then, you see,
Neil didn't love _her_ - and that just makes all the difference."



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Online LibraryVictor BridgesA Rogue by Compulsion → online text (page 25 of 25)