The Day of Uniting/Chapter 15

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pp. 45–49.

CHAPTER XV.

Jimmy went early to the office of the registrar of the district to give notice of his marriage.

“Is it possible for the ceremony to be performed to-morrow?” he asked.

That morning he had read up the regulations dealing with the time of special licenses and had made the unhappy discovery that one clear day must elapse between the “notice” and the ceremony. But he had a dim recollection that during the war special facilities were given, and these might still be obtainable.

“You can be married to-day,” was the surprising answer.

“To-day?” repeated Jimmy, delighted.

“Yes, The chief registrar sent us a memorandum yesterday to that effect. The government and the archbishop have issued a schedule to the proclamation giving special facilities for people who want to be married before 'The Days of Uniting.'”

Before he had finished the delighted Jimmy had gripped him by the hand.

“My lad,” he said, “you're an angel!”

Jimmy guessed at the girl's age for the license data, and took it for granted that she had no other name than Delia, and then he drove into Greenwich, stopped before a jeweler's shop, guessed again at the size of her finger, and was at the priory with the ring in his pocket before Delia knew he had left the house. Ferdie and Stephens were the witnesses and the ceremony was ridiculously short and simple; fifty words spoken by each, and they were man and wife!

“I shouldn't have believed it was so jolly easy, Jimmy,” said Ferdie, poising a pen in his hand over the register. “This is a bit of a warning to boys, isn't it? A fellow might be yanked into a place like this, and go out with a perfectly strange wife, before the poor boy knew what was happening to him.”

Beyond the words she had repeated after the registrar, Delia had not spoken. Some of her color had come back and her face wore that ethereal, exalted look which Jimmy had seen before. Once she looked at the ring on her finger and smiled, but she made no other sign, till the last entry had been made, and the registrar had handed to her the marriage certificate in a tiny envelope, and then she said:

“I am very glad.”

She slipped her arm through Jimmy's, and they went out of the dull office together to meet the unmistakable detectives who were standing before the door.

“Mr. Blake?” said one of these.

“My name is Blake,” said Jimmy.

He felt the hand of the girl grip tighter on his arm.

“I am Inspector Cartwright, and I hold a warrant for your arrest.”

“On what charge?” asked Jimmy quietly.

“Treason-felony,” was the reply, and Jimmy nodded.

“I wondered what it would be,” he said.

He gently disengaged Delia's hand.

“You had better go with Ferdie, dear,” he said, and she did not speak; but slowly drew her arm from his, looking at him in a dazed, hurt way that broke his heart to see. A taxicab was waiting. He was hustled in by the police officers, and in a few minutes was out of sight.

“I don't understand,” the girl said slowly, and then collapsed.

The cab, with Jimmy prisoner in it, drove into the yard of Blackheath Road Police Station. Jimmy noticed that his captors did not go through the formality of charging him, but led him straight away to a cell which had evidently been prepared, for on the rough wooden bench which served prisoners for a bed, a mattress had been placed.

Left alone, Jimmy sat down with his head in his hands to consider the position. He did not doubt that he was in real trouble. The prime minister was under the impression that he had surprised a state secret. Would the fate which, for some reason, had overtaken Gerald van Roon, also be his? Or were they sending him to join the thousand or so harmless citizens who had been arrested in the previous week? Certainly no charge was preferred, and no attempt was made to question him.

His lunch was brought, and at half past five a substantial tea was carried into the cell by the jailer. He must have received instructions not to converse with the prisoner, for he made no answer to Jimmy's questions. The day had passed like an eternity. He tried to sleep, but the moment his head touched the pillow, his mind went to Delia, and it was all thought of her that he was striving so desperately to keep from his mind. At nine o'clock the lock snapped back, the cell door opened, and the jailer came in.

“Put out your hands,” he said curtly, and Jimmy obeyed.

A pair of handcuffs were snapped on his wrists. Taking his arm, the jailer led him along the corridor into the yard. A closed car was waiting, and beside the open door, a tall man, whose face was in the shadow. Jimmy stepped into the car and sank back with a sigh of comfort upon the luxurious upholstery. The stranger entered after him, slammed the door, and the car moved off. Jimmy knew where he was being taken long before the machine had stopped at the green postern gate.

Although it was much earlier in the evening than when the people of Warden's Lodge came and went, the road was deserted, and only one person saw his entry. Delia, lying flat on the grass, had kept watch since nightfall and now her vigil was rewarded.

Jimmy was pushed through the door, hurrying along the path he had trod the night before, but this time he entered through the front door. The man who was with him stood revealed in the light of the lamp which hung on the wall of the room into which he was pushed.

“Well, Mr. Blake,” said Lord Harry pleasantly. “We are very sorry to put you to this inconvenience, but if you know as much about our business as we fear you do, you will quite understand why it is impossible to leave you at large.”

Jimmy made no reply, and Lord Harry Weltman, stripping off his coat, opened a cigarette case and offered it to Jimmy. The young man extracted a cigarette with his manacled hands, and the minister of defense lit it for him.

“You can sit down,” he said courteously. And as Jimmy accepted the invitation he went on. “You were in the grounds the night before last, of course. Were you alone?”

“Quite alone,” said Jimmy.

“Did anybody know that you were coming?”

“Nobody,” replied Jimmy promptly.

“You had no companion at all?”

“No, sir.”

“Not even your friend, Mr. Ponter?”

“He was at the priory and had no idea I was coming,” lied Jimmy.

“How did you get over the wall without assistance?”

“I brought a collapsible ladder in my car.” Jimmy could tell the truth here, and he saw that Lord Harry was impressed.

“Now, Mr. Blake, I think we had better understand one another, and I might tell you at first that I am charged with the part of extracting from you the fullest possible details of your knowledge. What did you see when you were in the grounds?”

“I saw you burying the man Elmers,” said Jimmy.

“Elmers?” Lord Harry stared at the other, and then: “You imagined you did,” he said. 'And then?”

“I looked through the window and I saw the prime minister sweeping up the room, and the bishop frying something—I think it was bacon—in a frying pan.”

“It was bacon,” agreed the other gravely, “and it was very excellent bacon. What else did you see?”

“I saw Mr. Maggerson and a gentleman whose name I do not know, sitting at a table writing.”

“Do you know who the other man was?” asked Lord Harry quickly.

“I haven't the slightest idea, my lord,” said Jimmy, and met the cold scrutiny of the minister's eye without quailing.

“Were you near enough to see what they were writing?”

Jimmy shook his head.

“And you say on your honor you do not know who the other man was?”

“No, sir, I do not.”

“Well, I can give you a little information on that subject, but whether you will learn or not depends entirely on the view the prime minister takes of your case.”

Jimmy's heart beat a little faster. He raised his shackled hands to take the cigarette from his lips, and Lord Harry, noticing the gesture, smiled.

“I'm sorry we can't release you from those fetters,” he said. “I do sincerely hope you can convince us that you're not—dangerous.”

“In what way dangerous?” asked Jimmy.

“The only form of dangerousness we recognize is an inclination to talk,” said Lord Harry, and went out of the room.

He was gone a quarter of an hour, and came back with the prime minister. Mr. Chapelle had changed considerably since Jimmy had seen him last. He had passed from the pleasantly old to the painfully old, but he was as straight and held his head as high as ever, and when he spoke there was no break in his rasping, menacing tone.

“You would not keep out of this, Mr. Blake, and you have yourself to thank for your serious position. I was afraid this would happen.”

He looked at the floor, fingering his chin.

“Bring him into the room,” he said, and at a nod from Lord Harry, Jimmy followed him into the apartment at the back of the house, that very room into which he had peered.

The big table which he had then seen had gone, and so, too, had the bearded man and Maggerson. Old Sennett stood with his back to the fire, his hands behind him, but he did not meet Jimmy's eyes. Only the bishop, suave, pleasant, almost jocular, in his greeting, seemed to be free from a kind of strained nervousness which affected them all, save him.

“This is a bad business, Mr. Blake,” he said, “a very bad business. And you were married to-day, I hear.”

Jimmy looked at Joe Sennett. The old man did not raise his eyes.

“Yes, I was married to-day,” said Jimmy quietly. “In fact, about four minutes before your police gentlemen abducted me.”

“What are we to do about this man?” asked the prime minister impatiently.

“I'd appreciate something definite in the way of an idea on what you are prepared to do, myself,” said Jimmy. He was recovering a little of his balance.

“I am prepared to commit you to prison,” said Chapelle coldly. “I shall not hesitate at that, believe me! My mind is divided on the question of expediency. I would not harm a fly unnecessarily,” he added in a lower voice, “and all that is human in me will deplore your misfortune, Mr. Blake—bitterly, bitterly!”

Jimmy could not restrain a grin.

“It will be worth something to know that I am sympathized with by as eminent a man as yourself, sir,” he said, “and I shall naturally do my best to save you any unnecessary sorrow.”

“Lord Harry tells me that you did not know the other gentleman who was here.”

“No, sir.”

“You're sure of that.”

“I am prepared to swear to that, sir. I don't know him, although I seem to have seen his portrait in an illustrated paper.” He knit his brows. “Why, of course, it is the astronomer royal, Sir John Dart!”

Before the words were out he bitterly regretted his indiscretion. He saw the prime minister's chest heave up and heard the long-drawn sigh.

“I was afraid you would,” said the premier in a low voice.

All the time Joe Sennett had said no word, nor had he so much as looked at the prisoner. Now, however, he raised his eyes and they met Jimmy's for the space of a second and then dropped again.

“I was desperately afraid you would,” the prime minister was saying. “Well——” He looked at Lord Harry, and the tall, hard-faced man nodded.

“He's absolutely too dangerous to us,” said Lord Harry significantly. “We cannot afford to let him go at large. He must be imprisoned.”

The premier nodded.

Jimmy's heart went cold, and he was seized with a momentary trembling, then he grew cool.

Joe had turned so that he faced the fire. The prime minister had his hand on the handle of the door preparatory to leaving the room, and from where he stood Jimmy could not see the bishop. Then a cold rage seized him. Why should he be incarcerated like any common criminal? He was innocent of any wrongdoing.

There was just one faint hope in Jimmy's heart. Had anybody seen him being brought in? Had Ferdie. guessed where he would be taken? If any attempt was made——

“Crash!”

The window splintered into fragments. Somebody had shattered it with an iron bar, and that somebody, Jimmy knew, was Ferdie Ponter.

“Quick, Jimmy!” yelled a voice.

He dashed to the window, held up his chained hands, and something round and egg-shaped was thrust into them. Stooping, he drew out the pin of the Mills bomb with his teeth.

“Just a moment, gentlemen,” he mocked. “You may be interested to know that if any one comes near me, this bomb will fall from my hands—and explode. If any one as much as stirs,” he added, as the minister made a movement, “it will also fall—softly but efficiently—and your precious secret will be a secret no more.”

There was a silence broken only by the painful breathing of the bishop.

“Take off his handcuffs,” said the prime minister, at last. “I will give you my word of honor, Mr. Blake, that you shall not be harmed. You will go free. Bring in your friend from outside.”

Jimmy hesitated, then walked to the window.

“You can come in, Ferdie. Are you alone?”

There was no reply to this, and then the door was opened. Ferdie came in, and following him came Delia. She took no notice of anybody else, but walking across the room she took Jimmy's hand in hers.

The two ministers had left the room. Joe still stared gloomily at the floor, and had taken no notice of his daughter. The only stranger was the bishop, who had dropped into the chair by the fire, his chin sunk on his breast.

“I saw them take you in,” Delia said in a low voice. “I went straight back to Ferdie. He was wonderful, Jimmy. He remembered the bombs he had brought back for you and we came straight across. He didn't want me to come, but I just had to. There's a telegram for you—I found it on the hall stand just as I was leaving the house.”

Jimmy slipped the buff envelope into his pocket.

“And what next?” he asked.

She shook her head.

“Father, what next?” she repeated.

He threw out his hands in a gesture of despair.

“How do I know, my dear? Have you told Mr. Blake?”

She shook her head.

“Told me what?” asked Jimmy quickly.

“Perhaps you will know.”

The door opened and the prime minister came back; this time he was accompanied by the two men whom Jimmy had seen before—Maggerson and the stranger, the astronomer royal.

“Blake,” said the prime minister without preliminary. “I am going to tell you the strangest story that any man has ever told, or ever heard, and that story will explain why your cousin met his death—at my hands.”

“At your hands?” gasped Jimmy, doubting his senses.

The prime minister nodded.

“By accident I killed Gerald van Roon,” he said solemnly. “He was an indiscreet man.”