Victor Bridges.

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that seemed to me the most perfect thing I had ever tasted. It was
followed rapidly by another and another, all equally beautiful.

My host stood by watching me with a sort of half-amused interest.

"I shouldn't eat it quite so fast," he observed. "It will do you more
good if you take it slowly."

The first few spoonfuls had already partly deadened my worst pangs,
so following his advice I slackened down the pace to a somewhat more
normal level. Even then I emptied the bowl in what I think must
have been a record time, and with a deep sigh I handed it to him to
replenish.

I was feeling better - distinctly better. The food, the rest in the
chair, and the comparative warmth of the room were all doing me good
in their various ways, and for the first time I was beginning to
realize clearly where I was and what had happened.

I suppose my host noticed the change, for he looked at me in an
approving fashion as he gave me my second helping.

"There you are," he said in that curious dry voice of his. "Eat that
up, and then we'll have a little conversation. Meanwhile - " he paused
and looked round - "well, if you have no objection I think I will shut
that window. I daresay you have had enough fresh air for today."

I nodded - my mouth was too full for any more elaborate reply - and
crossing the room he closed the sash and pulled down the blind.

"That's better," he observed, gently rubbing his hands together; "now
we are more comfortable and more private. By the way, I don't think I
have introduced myself yet. My name is McMurtrie - Doctor McMurtrie."

"I am charmed to meet you," I said, swallowing down a large chunk of
bread.

He nodded his head, smiling. "The pleasure is a mutual one, Mr.
Lyndon - quite a mutual one."

The words were simple and smooth enough in themselves, but somehow or
other the tone in which they were uttered was not altogether to my
taste. It seemed to carry with it the faint suggestion of a cat
purring over a mouse. Still I was hardly in a position to be too
fastidious, so I accepted his compliment, and went on calmly with my
bread and milk.

With the same rather catlike smile Dr. McMurtrie drew up a chair
and sat down opposite to me. He kept his right hand in his pocket,
presumably on the revolver.

"And now," he said, "perhaps you have sufficiently recovered to be
able to tell me a little about yourself. At present my knowledge of
your adventures is confined to the account of your escape in this
morning's _Daily Mail_."

I slowly finished the last spoonful of my second helping, and placed
the cup beside me on the floor. It was a clumsy device to gain time,
for now that the full consciousness of my surroundings had returned to
me, I was beginning to think that Dr. McMurtrie's methods of receiving
an escaped convict were, to say the least, a trifle unusual. Was his
apparent friendliness merely a blind, or did it hide some still deeper
purpose, of which at present I knew nothing?

He must have guessed my thoughts, for leaning back in his chair he
remarked half-mockingly: "Come, Mr. Lyndon, it doesn't pay to be too
suspicious. If it will relieve your mind, I can assure you I have no
immediate intention of turning policeman, even for the magnificent sum
of - how much is it - five pounds, I believe? On mere business grounds I
think it would be underrating your market value."

The slight but distinct change in his voice in the last remark
invested it with a special significance. I felt a sudden conviction
that for some reason of his own Dr. McMurtrie did not intend to give
me up - at all events for the present.

"I will tell you anything you want to know with pleasure," I said.
"Where did the _Daily Mail_ leave off?"

He laughed curtly, and thrusting the other hand into his pocket pulled
out a silver cigarette-case.

"If I remember rightly," he said, "you had just taken advantage of the
fog to commit a brutal and quite unprovoked assault upon a warder." He
held out the case.

"But try one of these before you start," he added. "They are a special
brand from St. Petersburg, and I think you will enjoy them. There
is nothing like a little abstinence to make one appreciate a good
tobacco."

With a shaking hand I pressed the spring. It was three years since I
had smoked my last cigarette - a cigarette handed me by the inspector
in that stuffy little room below the dock, where I was waiting to be
sentenced to death.

If I live to be a hundred I shall never forget my sensations as I
struck the match which my host handed me and took in that first
fragrant mouthful. It was so delicious that for a moment I remained
motionless from sheer pleasure; then lying back again in my chair with
a little gasp I drew another great cloud of smoke deep down into my
lungs.

The doctor waited, watching me with a kind of cynical amusement.

"Don't hurry yourself, Mr. Lyndon," he observed, "pray don't hurry
yourself. It is a pleasure to witness such appreciation."

I took him at his word, and for perhaps a couple of minutes we sat
there in silence while the blue wreaths of smoke slowly mounted
and circled round us. Then at last, with a delightful feeling of
half-drugged contentment, I sat up and began my story.

I told it him quite simply - making no attempt to conceal or exaggerate
anything. I described how the idea of making a bolt had come suddenly
into my mind, and how I had acted on it without reflection or
hesitation. Step by step I went quietly through my adventures, from
the time when the fog had rolled down to the moment when, half
fainting with hunger and exhaustion, I had climbed in through his
kitchen window.

Leaning on the arm of his chair, he listened to me in silence. As far
as any movement or change of expression was concerned a statue could
scarcely have betrayed less interest, but all the time the steady
gleam of his eyes never shifted from my face.

When I had finished he remained there for several seconds in the same
attitude. Then at last he gave a short mirthless laugh.

"It must be pleasant to be as strong as you are," he said. "I should
have been dead long ago."

I shrugged my shoulders. "Well, I don't exactly feel like going to a
dance," I answered.

He got up and walked slowly as far as the window, where he turned
round and stood staring at me thoughtfully. At last he appeared to
make up his mind.

"You had better go to bed," he said, "and we will talk things over in
the morning. You are not fit for anything more tonight."

"No, I'm not," I admitted frankly; "but before I go to bed I should
like to feel a little more certain where I'm going to wake up."

There was a faint sound outside and I saw him raise his head. It was
the distant but unmistakable hum of a motor, drawing nearer and nearer
every moment. For a few seconds we both stood there listening: then
with a sudden shock I realized that the car had reached the house and
was turning in at the drive.

Weak as I was I sprang from my chair, scarcely feeling the thrill of
pain that ran through me at the effort.

"By God!" I cried fiercely, "you've sold me!"

He whipped out the revolver, pointing it full at my face.

"Sit down, you fool," he said. "It's not the police."




CHAPTER IV

ECHOES OF A FAMOUS CASE


Whatever my intentions may have been - and they were pretty venomous
when I jumped up - the revolver was really an unnecessary precaution.
Directly I was on my feet I went as giddy as a kite, and it was only
by clutching the chair that I saved myself from toppling over. I was
evidently in a worse way than I imagined.

Lowering his weapon the doctor repeated his order.

"Sit down, man, sit down. No one means you any harm here."

"Who is it in the car?" I demanded, fighting hard against the accursed
feeling of faintness that was again stealing through me.

"They are friends of mine. They have nothing to do with the police.
You will see in a minute."

I sat down, more from necessity than by choice, and as I did so I
heard the car draw up outside the back door.

Crossing to the window the doctor threw up the sash.

"Savaroff!" he called out.

There came an answer in a man's voice which I was unable to catch.

"Come in here," went on McMurtrie. "Don't bother about the car." He
turned back to me. "Drink this," he added, pouring out some more
brandy into the wine-glass. I gulped it down and lay back again in my
chair, tingling all through.

He took my wrist and felt my pulse for a moment. "I know you are
feeling bad," he said, "but we'll get your wet clothes off and put you
to bed in a minute. You will be a different man in the morning."

"That will be very convenient," I observed faintly.

There was a noise of footsteps outside, the handle of the door turned,
and a man - a huge bear of a man in a long Astrachan coat - strode
heavily into the room. He was followed by a girl whose face was almost
hidden behind a partly-turned-back motor veil. When they caught sight
of me they both stopped abruptly.

"Who's this?" demanded the man.

Dr. McMurtrie made a graceful gesture towards me with his hand.
"Allow me," he said, "to introduce you. Monsieur and Mademoiselle
Savaroff - our distinguished and much-sought-after friend Mr. Neil
Lyndon."

The big man gave a violent start, and with a little exclamation the
girl stepped forward, turning back her veil. I saw then that she was
remarkably handsome, in a dark, rather sullen-looking sort of way.

"You will excuse my getting up," I said weakly. "It doesn't seem to
agree with me."

"Mr. Lyndon," explained the doctor, "is fatigued. I was just proposing
that he should go to bed when I heard the car."

"How in the name of Satan did he get here?" demanded the other man,
still staring at me in obvious amazement.

"He came in through the window with the intention of borrowing a
little food. I had happened to see him in the garden, and being under
the natural impression that he was - er - well, another friend of ours,
I ventured to detain him."

Savaroff gave a short laugh. "But it's incredible," he muttered.

The girl was watching me curiously. "Poor man," she exclaimed, "he
must be starving!"

"My dear Sonia," said McMurtrie, "you reflect upon my hospitality. Mr.
Lyndon has been faring sumptuously on bread and milk."

"But he looks so wet and ill."

"He is wet and ill," rejoined the doctor agreeably. "That is just the
reason why I am going to ask you to heat some water and light a fire
in the spare bedroom. We don't want to disturb Mrs. Weston at this
time of night. I suppose the bed is made up?"

Sonia nodded. "I think so. I'll go up and see anyhow."

With a last glance at me she left the room, and Savaroff, taking off
his coat, threw it across the back of a chair. Then he came up to
where I was sitting.

"You don't look much like your pictures, my friend," he said,
unwinding the scarf that he was wearing round his neck.

"Under the circumstances," I replied, "that's just as well."

He laughed again, showing a set of strong white teeth. "Yes, yes.
But the clothes and the short hair - eh? They would take a lot of
explaining away. It was fortunate for you you chose this house - very
fortunate. You find yourself amongst friends here."

I nodded.

I didn't like the man - there was too great a suggestion of the bully
about him, but for all that I preferred him to McMurtrie.

It was the latter who interrupted. "Come, Savaroff, you take Mr.
Lyndon's other arm and we'll help him upstairs. It is quite time he
got out of those wet things."

With their joint assistance I hoisted myself out of the chair and,
leaning heavily on the pair of them, hobbled across to the door. Every
step I took sent a thrill of pain through me, for I was as stiff and
sore as though I had been beaten all over with a walking-stick. The
stairs were a bit of a job too, but they managed to get me up somehow
or other, and I found myself in a large sparsely furnished hall lit by
one ill-burning gas jet. There was a door half open on the left, and
through the vacant space I could see the flicker of a freshly lighted
fire.

They helped me inside, where we found the girl Sonia standing beside a
long yellow bath-tub which she had set out on a blanket.

"I thought Mr. Lyndon might like a hot bath," she said. "It won't take
very long to warm up the water."

"Like it!" I echoed gratefully; and then, finding no other words to
express my emotions, I sank down in an easy chair which had been
pushed in front of the fire.

I think the brandy that McMurtrie had given me must have gone to my
head, or perhaps it was merely the sudden sense of warmth and comfort
coming on top of my utter fatigue. Anyhow I know I fell gradually into
a sort of blissful trance, in which things happened to me very much as
they do in a dream.

I have a dim recollection of being helped to pull off my soaked and
filthy clothes, and later on of lying back with indescribable felicity
in a heavenly tub of hot water.

Then I was in bed and somebody was rubbing me, rubbing me all over
with some warm pungent stuff that seemed to take away the pain in my
limbs and leave me just a tingling mass of drowsy contentment.

After that - well, after that I suppose I fell asleep.

* * * * *

I base this last idea upon the fact that the next thing I remember is
hearing some one say in a rather subdued voice: "Don't wake him up.
Let him sleep as long as he likes - it's the best thing for him."

Whereupon, as was only natural, I promptly opened my eyes.

Dr. McMurtrie and the dark girl were standing by my bedside, looking
down at me.

I blinked at them for a moment, wondering in my half-awake state where
the devil I had got to. Then suddenly it all came back to me.

"Well," said the doctor smoothly, "and how is the patient today?"

I stretched myself with some care. I was still pretty stiff, and my
throat felt as if some one had been scraping it with sand-paper, but
all the same I knew that I was better - much better.

"I don't think there's any serious damage," I said hoarsely. "How long
have I been asleep?"

He looked at his watch. "As far as I remember, you went to sleep
in your bath soon after midnight. It's now four o'clock in the
afternoon."

I started up in bed. "Four o'clock!" I exclaimed. "Good Lord! I must
get up - I - "

He laid his hand on my shoulder. "Don't be foolish, my friend," he
said. "You will get up when you are fit to get up. At the present
moment you are going to have something to eat." He turned to the girl.
"What are you thinking of giving him?" he asked.

"There are plenty of eggs," she said, "and there's some of that fish
we had for breakfast." She answered curtly, almost rudely, looking at
me while she spoke. Her manner gave me the impression that for some
reason or other she and McMurtrie were not exactly on the best of
terms.

If that was so, he himself betrayed no sign of it. "Either will do
excellently," he said in his usual suave way, "or perhaps our
young friend could manage both. I believe the Dartmoor air is most
stimulating."

"I shall be vastly grateful for anything," I said, addressing the
girl. "Whatever is the least trouble to cook."

She nodded and left the room without further remark - McMurtrie looking
after her with what seemed like a faint gleam of malicious amusement.

"I have brought you yesterday's _Daily Mail_," he said; "I thought it
would amuse you to read the description of your escape. It is quite
entertaining; and besides that there is a masterly little summary of
your distinguished career prior to its unfortunate interruption." He
laid the paper on the bed. "First of all, though," he added, "I will
just look you over. I couldn't find much the matter with you last
night, but we may as well make certain."

He made a short examination of my throat, and then, after feeling my
pulse, tapped me vigorously all over the chest.

"Well," he said finally, "you have been through enough to kill two
ordinary men, but except for giving you a slight cold in the head it
seems to have done you good."

I sat up in bed. "Dr. McMurtrie," I said bluntly, "what does all this
mean? Who are you, and why are you hiding me from the police?"

He looked down on me, with that curious baffling smile of his. "A
natural and healthy curiosity, Mr. Lyndon," he said drily. "I hope
to satisfy it after you have had something to eat. Till then - " he
shrugged his shoulders - "well, I think you will find the _Daily Mail_
excellent company."

He left the room, closing the door behind him, and for a moment I
lay there with an uncomfortable sense of being tangled up in some
exceedingly mysterious adventure. Even such unusual people as Dr.
McMurtrie and his friends do not as a rule take in and shelter escaped
convicts purely out of kindness of heart. There must be a strong
motive for them to run such a risk in my case, but what that motive
could possibly be was a matter which left me utterly puzzled. So far
as I could remember I had never seen any of the three before in my
life.

I glanced round the room. It was a big airy apartment, with ugly
old-fashioned furniture, and two windows, both of which looked out in
the same direction. The pictures on the wall included an oleograph
portrait of the late King Edward in the costume of an Admiral, a large
engraving of Mr. Landseer's inevitable stag, and several coloured and
illuminated texts. One of the latter struck me as being topical if a
little inaccurate. It ran as follows:

THE WICKED
FLEE
WHEN NO MAN
PURSUETH

Over the mantelpiece was a mirror in a mahogany frame. I gazed at it
idly for a second, and then a sudden impulse seized me to get up and
see what I looked like. I turned back the clothes and crawled out of
bed. I felt shaky when I stood up, but my legs seemed to bear me all
right, and very carefully I made my way across to the fireplace.

The first glance I took in the mirror gave me a shock that nearly
knocked me over. A cropped head and three days' growth of beard will
make an extraordinary difference in any one, but I would never
have believed they could have transformed me into quite such an
unholy-looking ruffian as the one I saw staring back at me out of the
glass. If I had ever been conceited about my personal appearance, that
moment would have cured me for good.

Satisfied with a fairly brief inspection I returned to the bed, and
arranging the pillow so as to fit the small of my back, picked up the
_Daily Mail_. I happened to open it at the centre page, and the big
heavily leaded headlines caught my eyes straight away.

ESCAPE OF NEIL LYNDON
FAMOUS PRISONER BREAKS OUT OF DARTMOOR
SENSATIONAL CASE RECALLED

With a pleasant feeling of anticipation I settled down to read.

_From our own Correspondent.
Princetown_.

Neil Lyndon, perhaps the most famous convict at present serving his
sentence, succeeded yesterday in escaping from Princetown. At the
moment of writing he is still at large.

He formed one of a band of prisoners who were returning from the
quarries late in the afternoon. As the men reached the road which
leads through the plantation to the main gate of the prison, one of
the warders in charge was overcome by an attack of faintness. In the
ensuing confusion, a convict of the name of Cairns, who was walking
at the head of the gang, made a sudden bolt for freedom. He was
immediately challenged and fired at by the Civil Guard.

The shot took partial effect, but failed for the moment to stop the
runaway, who succeeded in scrambling off into the wood. He was pursued
by the Civil Guard, and it was at that moment that Lyndon, who was in
the rear of the gang, also made a dash for liberty.

He seems to have jumped the low wall which bounds the plantation,
and although fired at in turn by another of the warders, apparently
escaped injury.

Running up the hill through the trees, he reached the open slope of
moor on the farther side which divides the plantation from the main
wood. While he was crossing this he was seen from the roadway by
that well-known horse-dealer and pigeon-shot, Mr. Alfred Smith of
Shepherd's Bush, who happened to be on a walking tour in the district.

Mr. Smith, with characteristic sportsmanship, made a plucky attempt
to stop him; but Lyndon, who had picked up a heavy stick in the
plantation, dealt him a terrific blow on the head that temporarily
stunned him. He then jumped the railings and took refuge in the wood.

The pursuing warders came up a few minutes later, but by this time a
heavy mist was beginning to settle down over the moor, rendering
the prospect of a successful search more than doubtful. The warders
therefore surrounded the wood with the idea of preventing Lyndon's
escape.

Taking advantage of the fog, however, the latter succeeded in slipping
out on the opposite side. He was heard climbing the railings by
Assistant-warder Conway, who immediately gave the alarm and closed
with the fugitive. The other warders came running up, but just before
they could reach the scene of the struggle Lyndon managed to
free himself by means of a brutal kick, and darting into the fog
disappeared from sight.

It is thought that he has made his way over North Hessary and is lying
up in the Walkham Woods. In any case it is practically certain that he
will not be at liberty much longer. It is impossible for him to get
food except by stealing it from a cottage or farm, and directly he
shows himself he is bound to be recaptured.

Considerable excitement prevails in the district, where all the
inhabitants are keenly on the alert.

THE MARKS MURDER
ECHOES OF A FAMOUS CASE

The escape of Neil Lyndon recalls one of the most famous crimes of
modern days.

On the third of October four years ago, as most of our readers will
remember, a gentleman named Mr. Seton Marks was found brutally
murdered in his luxurious flat on the Chelsea Embankment. It was
thought at first that the crime was the work of burglars, for Mr.
Marks's rooms contained many art treasures of considerable value. A
further examination, however, revealed the fact that nothing had been
tampered with, and the next day the whole country was startled and
amazed to learn that Neil Lyndon had been arrested on suspicion.

At the trial it was proved beyond question that the accused was the
last person in the company of the murdered man. He had gone round to
Mr. Marks's flat at four o'clock in the afternoon, and had apparently
been admitted by the owner. Two hours later Mr. Marks's servant
returning to the flat was horrified to find his master's dead body
lying in the sitting-room. Death had been inflicted by means of a
heavy blow on the back of the head, but the state of the dead man's
face showed that he had been brutally mishandled before being killed.

The accused, while maintaining his innocence of the murder, did not
deny either his visit to the flat, or the fact that he had inflicted
the other injuries on the deceased. He declined to state the cause of
their quarrel, but the defending counsel produced a witness in the
person of Miss Joyce Aylmer, a young girl of sixteen, who was able to
throw some light on the matter.

Miss Aylmer, a young lady of considerable beauty, stated that for
about a year she had been working as an art student in Chelsea, and
used occasionally to sit to artists for the head. On the afternoon
before the murder she had had a professional engagement of this kind
with Mr. Marks. There had been a visitor in the flat when she arrived,
but he had left as soon as she came in. Subsequently, according to her
statement, the deceased had acted towards her in an outrageous and
disgraceful manner. She had escaped from his flat with difficulty, and
had subsequently informed Mr. Lyndon of what had taken place.

In his re-examination, the accused admitted that it was on account
of Miss Aylmer's statement he had visited the flat. Up till then, he
declared, he had had no quarrel with the deceased.

This statement, however, was directly contradicted by Lyndon's
partner, Mr. George Marwood. Giving his evidence with extreme
reluctance, Mr. Marwood stated that for some time bad blood had
undoubtedly existed between Mr. Marks and the accused. He added that
in his own hearing on two separate occasions the latter had threatened
to kill the deceased.

Pressed still further, he admitted meeting Mr. Lyndon in Chelsea
on the night of the murder, when the latter had to all intents and
purposes acknowledged his guilt.

On the evidence there could naturally be only one verdict, and Lyndon
was found guilty and sentenced to death by Mr. Justice Owen.



Online LibraryVictor BridgesA Rogue by Compulsion → online text (page 3 of 25)