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Tasmanian Jim's Specialities by A. E. W. Mason

 

AUDREY LANE decided to become a vamp at half-past ten on the night of the first Sunday in August. The decision, surprising in an efficient secretary of an earnest Member of Parliament, can be traced back to an unwise prayer uttered a fortnight before.

Roddy Garrow had said, "God bless you, Miss," as he tripped down the staircase. That was all. But the perfunctory and professional tone of Roddy's voice, as much as the cant phrase itself, betrayed him. For half an hour Roddy had been draping himself in the murky dignity of a great criminal. A moment's relaxation when the costume was complete had stripped him bare. He was shown to be just a cadger.

"God bless you. Miss," said Roddy, and the girl wearing the eyeshade and the heavily rimmed spectacles and the holland sleeves upon her arms slammed the door of the flat with a quite startling violence. Roddy stopped and looked upwards uneasily, and with the hand which did not hold the parcel, he tilted his hat on one side and scratched his head. His story and the honest manliness with which he told it were his stock-in-trade, his special contribution to a very simple piece of roguery which in spite of its simplicity seldom failed.

"It's my business to get the necessary money," Roddy reflected, "and if there's anything wrong with the way I get it I've got to know about it."

But the story held together. It was big. It was moving. A boy in a circus; manager of the western circuit at the age of twenty-four; a bet on a horse-race and a win; other bets and losses; the profits of a season used in a desperate plunge; a bit of forgery—the big crime. The big punishment followed. None of your trumpery little sentences in the squalid court of a magistrate, but the Assizes; trumpeters, sheriffs, and a red Judge. Five years' penal servitude; freedom at the age of twenty-nine, but freedom destitute. A relapse into peddling trickeries, and at last the chance to stand upright. His little wife—had he said "little"?—he hoped not—no!—his wife had stood by him all through. She was a waitress at Dreamland, a kind of permanent fair in Margate, and if he could only meet some generous person who would give him an old dress-suit and lend him his railway money to Margate and a pound or two to pay off his lodging, she could find a place for him too. He would be free of Tasmanian Jim and his little squad of sneak-thieves. He would be able to run straight.

It was a good story Roddy assured himself. He had told it well too, without a whine or a break of the voice over the fidelity of his wife. He had three pounds of the girl's salary in his pocket, and wrapped in a brown-paper parcel an old dress-suit which she had commandeered from her employer's wardrobe. Yet at the end she had slammed the door on him. His uneasiness remained with him. He pawned the dress-suit in the Marylebone Lane for eight shillings, he extracted twenty-five pounds from a soft-hearted lady and smaller sums from others. He had a quite successful day. Yet he was troubled.

"I don't get it," he said to himself.

But he was to get it later on and in the neck. For he left behind the slammed door a highly resourceful young woman in a state of extreme exasperation. Audrey Lane never suffered fools gladly and when she had behaved like one herself, her indignation was unbounded. She flew out into the hall the moment she heard her employer's latchkey in the lock.

"Mr. Giscombe," she cried breathlessly, "I have given an old dress-suit of yours to a thief and you must stop it out of my salary."

"I can do better than that," Mr. Giscombe returned. "I'll take it out in overtime for the Brighton Conference. I have been chosen to propose a motion for the reform of our penal system."

"I can certainly help you there," said Miss Lane viciously. "We'll stiffen it up a bit."

The Annual Conference of Political Associations was going to be an affair of crowded hours. Mr. Giscombe was booked for meetings, speeches, receptions, and dinners. Thus the fortnight of preparation was heavy and Miss Lane worked overtime. But at Brighton she had her reward. Mr. Giscombe lunched with her on the Sunday in the big hotel on the sea-front.

"There will be nothing for you to look after but the routine letters," he said. "So you must take a holiday which you thoroughly deserve. You will probably find a girl friend amongst the other secretaries. So—"

He handed her a couple of envelopes with a smile.

Audrey opened the envelopes and found in them vouchers for the Grand Stand.

"You're a dear," she said vaguely, her thoughts rather aloof.

"The first three days Brighton, the second three Lewes," he explained. "The Brighton week, you know."

"Races?" cried Audrey Lane suddenly.

"Yes."

"That's it! Of course that's it," she exclaimed. "And that's Tasmanian Jim."

Mr. Giscombe was puzzled for a moment. But he prided himself on being a man of the world.

"Tasmanian Jim!" he replied. "Oh, I see. A horse."

"A pig of a horse," said Miss Lane with violence.

"You have lost money on him, I'm afraid," said Mr. Giscombe.

"No, but I have on Roddy," said Miss Lane.

"I see," Mr. Giscombe remarked. "They're both from the same stable, I suppose."

Now, no man objects to be thought a wit even if he only achieves his witticism by accident. Mr. Giscombe had not the remotest idea why Miss Lane's eyes danced and why her laugh was so hearty. But it was his doing and he rewarded her for her appreciation.

"Brighton races are not Ascot," he remarked. "There will probably be undesirable people present."

"Tough babies," said Miss Lane sedately.

"Tough, certainly, but babies only in the matter of bottles," Mr. Giscombe returned. "So I think that if during this week you take a car from the hotel and keep it to bring you back, we should reckon it under legitimate expenses."

"I said you were a darling," Miss Lane observed. She had not, but Mr. Giscombe did not correct her. It was the more attractive word of the two. He looked at his watch. In twenty minutes the Chief Organizer of his Party would arrive at the Railway Station.

"I must be off," he said, "and please, Miss Lane"—he smiled. Oh, he could talk the vernacular as naturally as anyone—"Don't put your shirt on Tasmanian Jim. He might be scratched."

"I'd willingly go without my shirt if I could do the scratching," said Miss Lane, and her fingers curved suddenly in the most illustrative fashion.

To Mr. Giscombe that morning his secretary was rather cryptic, but in fact she had never been more natural. For on the opposite side of the most expensive restaurant in Brighton sat the man who should have been waiting on trippers at Dreamland in Mr. Giscombe's old dress-suit. Roddy was elegantly clothed in pale grey, he was eating sumptuous food and between courses was consulting privately with a small, elderly, sharp man.

"Wait till Roddy catches sight of me," said Miss Lane to herself. "I shan't see him for dust."

She walked out of the restaurant and straight to the office counter in the hall. On the counter stood the Visitors' Book. Miss Lane looked down the list of arrivals—and there the names were written not as lasting but certainly as bold as brass.

Mr. James Kershaw. Hobart, Tasmania.

Mr. Roderick Garrow. London.

As she turned away she saw Roddy. He too was on his way to the Visitors' Book. Audrey Lane was in his path and she remained in his path, savouring delightedly the moment of triumph which must be hers when Roddy recognized her. But the moment never came. Audrey with her fair hair prettily waved, her shining brown eyes, her lips properly varnished, Audrey wearing a modish blue hat, a white frock and smart shoes, was not to be identified with the little pale grub of a secretary who wore an eyeshade and horn spectacles. All the return she got for standing in Roddy's way was a glad eye—or rather half a glad eye, for Roddy was bent upon serious business and not even a prepossessing young woman must interfere with that.

Audrey plumped herself down in a chair and quivered with rage. She had an impulse to seek the hotel manager and tell him about Roddy in revenge. But she would probably not be believed.

"Oh, if I could only show him,"—it was curious how exactly the American idioms expressed her moods, "—if I could only show him where he gets off!"

And her chance came that evening. She was sitting in the lounge, a novel upon her lap, a cigarette between her lips. She had chosen that particular seat because Roddy and Mr. Kershaw occupied a settee close by. Suddenly Mr. Kershaw sat up straight and touched his companion on the sleeve.

"By Jingo, if that isn't Carstairs!" he cried in a voice unnecessarily loud. "Over there! Just coming out of the dining-room."

Audrey looked as well as Roddy and her heart exulted within her. A tiny man with a wide mouth, a short chin and an air indefinably horsey was standing by the dining-room door. Now, Carstairs was the name of the leading jockey of the day, but it was more than that to Audrey. It was a key-word, a revelation. Roddy the good story-teller had ingeniously woven fact with fiction when he had melted the clasp of Audrey's purse. The big crime and the red Judge were fiction, but the squalid little swindles were taken from life—Roddy's life. If Miss Lane did not yet know where Roddy got off, she at all events knew where she was; and she settled herself in her chair like a visitor at the play.

Mr. James Kershaw's voice rose again.

"Why not ask him to play you a hundred up, my boy?" and Roddy moved obediently off.

Miss Lane asked herself for whom the little scene was staged. The young couple obviously on their honeymoon? No! The stout Hebrew on his holiday? It might be. He looked wealthy—and then she saw the intended victim, to make sure of whose arrival Roddy had been hurrying to the Visitors' Book that afternoon. An ingenuous and lonely young man was sitting within earshot, a newspaper folded at the sporting page upon his knees, a little book with a brown-paper cover on the floor beside his chair. From the cut of his clothes, the packet of Camel cigarettes which he held in his hand and his eager, puzzled air, she classified him as one of the minor plutocrats from one of the smaller towns of America curious to learn something of the cultures and pleasures of Europe. The name of Carstairs had set him on fire. He watched Roddy pilot the little horsey man to the settee. He heard Mr. Kershaw boom:

"Yes, you two run along! I'll join you in a minute."

He saw the two wander off, and he began to shift in his seat. The American desire to make friends was fighting the tradition of the Englishman's inaccessibility. But just when he was resigning himself to his paper and his brown book, Mr. Kershaw's eyes swept round the hall, embracing the whole company with a smiling benevolence. The young man plunged, or as Audrey put it, was hooked. In a second he was at the settee.

"May I speak to you, sir?"

"Of course, my boy." Mr. Kershaw could have sat for a statue of geniality. "Sit down!" and he patted the settee at his side.

The young man sat down.

"My name's Conroy," he said. "Henry Conroy. I am from Dallas in the United States."

"Ah! Your first visit to us?"

"Yes. I know no one here at all."

"You'll make friends when you wish for them, Mr. Conroy."

"I was wondering—was that Mr. Carstairs, the famous jockey?" he asked.

Kershaw shook his head and laughed indulgently.

"Oh, no, no! Carstairs the jockey is probably sitting in the hot room of a Turkish Bath. He rides to-morrow, you know. Still, you weren't so far wrong," and Mr. Kershaw had a look of admiration in his eyes and a note of admiration in his voice. "You were very near to it, in fact. He's the jockey's brother. We'll join him if you like."

The two men got up and followed Roddy and Carstairs to the billiard-room. But before they were out of sight Mr. Kershaw stopped his new young friend and said something to him in a whisper, something serious like a warning.

A little while after they had gone, Audrey noticed that the little brown book with the paper cover was still lying upon the carpet by the side of Conroy's chair. She moved unobtrusively and picked it up. It was entitled Form at a Glance. Holding it in her hand she looked at the clock. It was half-past ten and it was precisely at half-past ten that she decided to become a vamp.

II

The next morning after the routine letters had been written and Mr. Giscombe packed off to his meeting, Miss Lane descended to the hall with Form at a Glance in her hand. She was fortunate enough to find Mr. Conroy busy with the morning papers. She went straight up to him. She was wearing a dress of pale yellow with a big white straw hat and she looked like a summer morning. Mr. Conroy could not believe that it was breaking upon him.

"This is yours, I think," she said, with a smile. "I thought that if I didn't retrieve it for you, you'd never see it again."

"Oh, say!" Conroy exclaimed. How kind people were! "I'm ashamed to have caused you the trouble."

Audrey laughed away his apologies.

"As a matter of fact, I rather jumped at the opportunity of looking up some of those horses' records myself."

"Then you're going to the races?"

"I am."

At this point Audrey should have turned away, but she did not.

"Of course, you're with a party," said Mr. Conroy.

"I'm alone," Miss Lane replied. She told him who she was and why she would be alone.

"Look at here!" exclaimed Mr. Conroy. "Do you think—I mean—would you mind if I came up and spoke to you?"

"I shan't call for the police if you do," Audrey returned.

Heaven, it seemed, was opening for this young man.

"We might have some tea together," he said.

"If you're allowed," said Audrey coldly.

Heaven seemed to be closing. Nevertheless, at half-past four that afternoon—just after a horse at three to one on had won a race, Henry found the lonely Miss Lane in the Paddock.

"May I offer you some tea?" he asked, and Miss Lane, who was hot and bored stiff into the bargain, responded with alacrity.

Across the tea-table Mr. Conroy burst into enthusiasm.

"It's wonderful, Miss Lane. Yesterday I could have cut my throat. I landed in England three weeks ago and I've done nothing ever since but play solitaire. Now I've had the honour of meeting you—that's first, of course—and three quite charming gentlemen."

Miss Lane's lips twitched and a dimple showed in each cheek.

"By the way," she said. "I take it that you backed that horse at three to one on."

Mr. Conroy's eyes grew round with amazement at her sagacity.

"How in the wide world did you know. Miss Lane? I did. I won thirty-three shillings in your coinage. But," and after a look this way and that, he continued in a whisper, "I'm promised a big tip for to-morrow."

"I am sure you are," said Miss Lane.

"I'll tell you about it as soon as I know," he went on.

"I think I'll tell you about it first," Miss Lane said dryly.

Henry Conroy became subtle and wily, but there was never anything so obvious as his subtlety and wiliness.

"You couldn't tell me about it this evening, could you? If perhaps—you won't think it impertinent, will you—if perhaps you would dine with me?"

Miss Lane shook her head.

"I won't dine with you, Mr. Conroy, but you might dine at my table," she said. "And now I'm going back to the hotel."

Conroy found her car for her and she drove away.

Miss Lane had a cunning little black velvet frock which she reserved for what her circle called soirees. She put it on that evening and she allowed Mr. Conroy to order champagne, chiefly because Mr. Kershaw and his companions across the room were watching them with goggle-eyed dismay.

"And how do you like Tasmanian Jim?" she asked, towards the end of dinner.

Conroy stared.

"I beg your pardon."

"Mr. Kershaw I mean, of course," she explained carelessly.

"Tasmanian Jim!" young Conroy repeated. "Do you know, Miss Lane, that sounds as if he wasn't straight."

"It does and he isn't," said Miss Lane.

"But how can you know?"

"I've had some," said Miss Lane.

Conroy leaned back in his chair.

"But really—"

"Please don't look round, they are watching us."

"I won't," and young Conroy gladly leaned forward over the table, for Audrey's eyes were getting to work at the vamp business. "But I'm sure you must be mistaken."

"You're not from Dallas," Miss Lane remarked. "You're from Missouri and I'm showing you—that is, if I'm allowed," she added hastily. For she detected signs of haste across the room.

Mr. Kershaw's little wee lamb was being stolen from him, was being vamped by a yellow-haired siren. Tasmanian Jim wouldn't stand for it. He had made his plans and they mustn't be interfered with. Miss Goldilocks must pick up somebody else. Kershaw demanded his bill so that he might initial it and demanded it urgently. Miss Lane decided that that formality should be postponed at her table.

"Let's slip out on to the Parade quickly. You don't want a hat with all that hair"—Conroy had just the ordinary amount of hair, but he smoothed it with a smile—"and my wrap's on the back of my chair."

They were only just in time, but they were in time. They found a dark shelter where only the whiteness of their faces was visible. The sea was spread in front of them, placid as a lagoon; overhead the stars moved in their slow procession across a clear sky; Audrey sighed with contentment.

"That was a pleasant sound," said the young man; and Audrey was a little disturbed. She had a strong suspicion that her sigh was no part of her vamping but an honest-to-goodness sigh.

"Give me a Camel," she said, and as he held the lighted match to it, her eyes looked at him over the flame and danced.

"Let us be serious!" she said. "Here is a true account of your acquaintance with Tasmanian Jim. When he stopped you last night on the way to the billiard-room it was to warn you not to refer to the jocky at all. Carstairs was very sensitive about it, for the moment it got known he was the jockey's brother, he was surrounded by undesirable people clamouring for information."

"That's just what Kershaw did say," cried young Conroy, round-eyed with amazement.

"Of course Carstairs' real name isn't Carstairs at all," she continued. "Tasmanian Jim probably told you also that Roddy's business was to buy blood stock for Lord Derby in the Argentine, but that mustn't be mentioned either."

"That's all true," said Mr. Conroy. "But you don't know—"

"But I do know," Audrey Lane insisted. "You were warned off betting. You were told it's a mug's game. You were very reluctantly allowed to give Carstairs a five-pound note to put on a horse if he could find his brother to tip him a winner. Carstairs stayed away until a horse was three to one on. Then he returned and gave you back your fiver and one pound thirteen shillings and told you you had won it. Ground bait, Mr. Conroy."

Mr. Conroy sat without speaking. He was shaken and hurt. But he had a young man's stubborn faith in his knowledge of the world. Audrey had, however, a master stroke of an argument.

"Did you, by any chance, go into Mr. Kershaw's bedroom? she asked.

"Yes, we all went up with him and had a final drink."

"Did you notice that he had a set of silver-backed toilet things spread out rather elaborately on his dressing-table?"

"I did," cried Conroy.

"Now listen!" She explained to him how Roddy Garrow had come to tell her some of the tricks of his gang. He had to collect some money—not so very much—but enough to pay their single railway fares, their entrances into Tattersall's Ring and a good second-hand dressing-case with solid silver fittings to inspire confidence in the hotel staff. The silver fittings were essential. They made it sure that the bill would not be presented until the end of the week.

"But at the end of the week it would still be presented," Conroy argued.

"And they would have your money to pay it with," said Audrey. She turned quickly towards him. "I take it that you have a certain amount of money which you can afford to lose."

"I have."

Audrey nodded.

"Tasmanian Jim has two specialities. One is to know what a given victim can afford to lose without squealing and to be content with just that. So he seldom gets into trouble."

Young Conroy was convinced. But he was very downcast.

"No one took me for a sucker in Dallas," he said, and he stared gloomily out over the black sea. "I suppose I go back to solitaire unless you'd let me go to the races with you to-morrow."

"But I'm not going to the races to-morrow," she returned. "I'm going to take the loveliest drive in the world. Through Arundel and across the Downs to a little old sleepy town called Midhurst, and back again in the cool of the evening."

There was quite a pause when she had ended. Audrey was conscious of disappointment. It began to look as if there was a flaw in her vamping. But at last he spoke.

"I've heard of your Arundel Castle."

He called it Arundel Castle with the accent on the run, but the accent was not more noticeable than the wistfulness in his voice. Audrey cheered up.

"Would you care to come with me?" she asked.

"Oh!" said Mr. Conroy, clasping his hands together. So he went.

III

The car was descending Bury Hill on the following afternoon when Miss Lane said accusingly:

"You have something on your mind, Mr. Conroy."

Mr. Conroy grew red.

"I ought to have knocked him down," said he.

"Which one?" Miss Lane asked.

"Roddy Garrow."

Miss Lane set her lips together.

"What did he say about me?" she asked, and Conroy jumped in his seat.

"You are quick!" he exclaimed. "I didn't do a thing because I didn't want a scandal and—"

"What did he say?" Miss Lane interrupted.

"I could never tell you."

And then he told her.

"When I said to him in the lounge that I wasn't going to the races, he answered nastily. I really ought to have hit him. He said—oh, I can't repeat it—he said, 'You've fallen for the bird who tried to pick me up in the hall on Sunday.'"

Miss Lane flushed scarlet, but she only said meekly and quietly:

"Yes, I've quite a lot to thank Roddy for."

There was, besides, a question at the back of Conroy's mind, but subdued by the magic of that summer day and the wealth of gold and green through which they passed, he forgot it until they were once more in the hall of the hotel. Then he said:

"Oh, yes. I wanted to ask you. What is Tasmanian Jim's second speciality?"

Audrey Lane was startled.

"Yes...Yes..." she said. "That reminds me," and she walked straight to the Visitors' Book on the counter. She examined it and nodded her head in relief.

"It's all right so far, as the man who fell off the roof was heard to say at the sixth storey," she said, but from that moment in the intervals of revealing to the young American at Mr. Giscombe's expense the beauties of West Sussex, she kept an eye on the Visitors' Book.

"You are expecting someone," said Mr. Conroy, accusing her.

"No, something," Audrey answered; and on the afternoon of Thursday it had happened. Tasmanian Jim had changed his room. He had moved down, but not to the third floor where Conroy was lodged as she had expected, but to the fourth on which she slept herself.

For a foolish second Audrey went cold.

"You're shivering," said Harry Conroy, who stood close to her. He was Harry now and usually close to her.

Audrey lifted her head and laughed. The big motives, revenge for instance, and the big crimes, for instance murder, were not for Tasmanian Jim and his crew of sneak-thieves. They were after the money for the Saturday bill. Harry Conroy had failed them. Well, then, Tasmanian Jim's second gift must be called upon.

Audrey looked carefully for the names of the visitors upon the fourth floor and an obvious name flashed out at her.

"Mr. Joseph Amersheim."

Yes, that was the stout and prosperous man whom she had noticed in the lounge on her first night in the hotel. She had met him once or twice in the corridor. His room was near to hers, but on the opposite and more expensive side.

"I suppose Mr. Amersheim is a regular visitor?" she said to the clerk.

The clerk smiled. He was for the moment free.

"Every summer, Miss, and every Christmas. He calls the hotel his little grey home in the west. Witty, I call it, though it isn't really in the west, if you understand me."

"Nor is it grey," said Audrey, thinking of the red bricks.

"Nor is it little," added the clerk. "But it's witty, isn't it?

"It's rich," said Audrey, "like Mr. Amersheim."

The clerk spread out his hands to indicate Mr. Amersheim's wealth. Then he added: "It's funny you should ask about him. Someone else was doing the same yesterday."

"Ah?" said Audrey, quite carelessly.

"A gentleman who has left, I think."

"Mr. Carstairs," Audrey suggested. Mr. Carstairs had left on the day before.

"I believe it was, Miss. Funny, isn't it?"

"Funny but not witty," said Audrey as she turned away.

So Mr. Amersheim was to be the victim of Tasmanian Jim's second gift, and either to-night or to-morrow night. For the Saturday bill was imminent.

At this point Miss Lane undoubtedly misbehaved. She should have warned the manager of the hotel and there is not very much to be said for her. This, perhaps. Tasmanian Jim never carried firearms and never fought. If they were caught they submitted and took their little sentences as the order of the day. The worst that could happen in Miss Lane's opinion was that Mr. Amersheim should have a fright. Against that she set the overwhelming pleasure which she herself would enjoy. There were three lovely Latin words which were so much in her mind that evening that she was afraid that unconsciously that she would speak them aloud. In flagrante delicto.

To-night or to-morrow night! Think of it! Miss Lane could think of nothing else, not even of Harry Conroy. At some time after eleven Tasmanian Jim, followed by Roddy, walked towards the lift. As the door was thrown open, he said to Roddy:

"You might have a drink in my room and we'll discuss that plan for next week."

He spoke loudly enough for the lift man and anyone near to hear him. Audrey heard him and Audrey was thrilled. Here was the prepared excuse if the pair were found late at night in the corridor. Mr. Kershaw, the conversation finished, was conducting his friend to the lift. It was to be for to-night, then. Audrey rubbed her hands together. She looked about the lounge. Mr. Amersheim was early to bed and late to rise. He had gone up to his room an hour ago. Audrey waited for another ten minutes. Then she ascended to her floor. She did not undress. She placed a chair in position, set her door slightly ajar, arranged the telephone instrument so that it would be by her hand, switched off her light and sat down in the darkness to wait. Through the chink she looked obliquely across the passage to the door of Amersheim's room. There was only one light left burning and that at a distance. Here all was silence and shadows.

It was in the natural contrariety of things that after an hour's vigil during which nothing had happened an intense desire to sleep should steal over Audrey. Her head would fall forward, her eyelids would close and her bed called to her like a church bell. Certainly she dozed in her chair—and then was suddenly awake, wide awake. Someone was moving very quietly in the corridor. Two people. She saw their shadows on the wall and with a heart beating so noisily that she feared it would warn them, she recognized them. She heard a whisper.

"Watch!"

Then in a second Tasmanian Jim, in a dressing-gown over his pyjamas, was exercising his second gift. He was stooping at the door of Amersheim's room with his ear against the panel, holding his breath. The gift by which he had profited a score of times was that of knowing from the sound of the breathing whether the sleeper slept heavily or slept light. Snoring, according to the experience of Tasmanian Jim, meant nothing at all. Some of the noisiest snorers awoke at the creak of a wardrobe or the flutter of a blind against the frame of an open window. It was obvious in a moment or two that Tasmanian Jim was not satisfied to-night. He stood up, straightening his shoulders to relieve his back, and stooped again. He was puzzled rather than disappointed. It looked to Audrey as if he had come across some kind of respiration which he could not understand or classify. Roddy crept to his side and his movement decided Tasmanian Jim.

"We've got to," Roddy whispered.

Kershaw nodded. He took a little shining forceps of steel from the pocket of his dressing-gown and inserted it into the lock of the door. The key turned, the door swung slowly inwards. A dim light was burning within the room and shone on the side wall. For a couple of tense seconds the two men stood one behind the other ready for flight. But no sound reached Audrey at all and none reached the watchers beyond the breathing of their quarry. They slipped like shadows into the room and noiselessly closed the door behind them.

Audrey closed her door too and got busy. She telephoned to the night porter. Two men had managed to unlock Mr. Amersheim's door. She knew them as thieves. Would the porter get the manager and the police and be very quick and very silent? Audrey slipped out of her room and past Mr. Amersheim's door. A few paces beyond it a broad hall branched off and from the hall the staircase and the lift descended. Audrey planted herself at the junction of corridor and hall. "Only over my dead body," she said to herself with a little giggle of excitement. It seemed to her that hours passed before the lift door opened, but when it did there emerged the night porter, a half-dressed manager, and a calm and hefty policeman. Audrey vamped him with a smile, laid her forefinger on her lips and led the little party on tiptoe to Mr. Amersheim's door. As they reached it, it opened. Tasmanian Jim peeped out. Audrey had a glimpse of a face convulsed with terror. For a moment, though his eyes wandered from the manager's face to the policeman and from the policeman to Audrey, he was not aware of them. Then with a little squeal he tried to close the door again. But he did not succeed.

"Now then! Now then! What's up here?" said the policeman, and suddenly they were all in the room and all silent. Most silent of all was Mr. Amersheim. For he lay in his bed with his eyes staring at the ceiling and his chin dropped.

"We never touched him, I swear," Kershaw stammered. "I knew there was something wrong when I listened outside. You can't fix it on us."

"He didn't wake up," Roddy explained in a shaking voice. Audrey had never seen terror in the raw before, and she did not like it. "I was watching him. We didn't frighten him. He never knew we were in the room. He stopped breathing and his eyes opened—oh," and his face was contorted and a spasm of sickness shook his body. "He never woke up."

That was the question. Mr. Amersheim's doctor refused to commit himself. Mr. Amersheim's heart? Yes, he might have died naturally and peacefully in his sleep. On the other hand, the shock of finding thieves in his room might very well have killed him. And in that case Roddy and Tasmanian Jim would have been guilty of manslaughter certainly and murder perhaps. The magistrates sent the prisoners to the Assizes and so Roddy and his friend came before a red Judge at last. They were acquitted on the graver charge. Audrey, who was in Court, saw the colour return to their faces as the verdict was given. They had pleaded guilty to burglary, however, and the tale of their squalid little villainies, recited by an officer of the C.I.D., bleached them again.

"Ten years' penal servitude," said the red Judge, and Roddy clutched at the rail of the dock. If he had not committed the big crime, he had got the big punishment.

"Ten years!" he repeated with a slobbering mouth. "Ten years!" Suddenly he stopped and the slobbering mouth hung open. For looking straight at him from the seat occupied a second ago by the bird who had tried to pick him up in the lounge of the hotel, was the little grub of a secretary with the eyeshade and the hornrimmed spectacles.

"Well, I'm jiggered!" said Roddy as the warder tapped him on the shoulder. Even in the minor matters of expressing himself Roddy was a poor creature.

 
 
 

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