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    Chapter 36

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    Chapter 36
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    LOLLIE PROPOSES

    What should she do? It was her sense of loyalty which brought the colonel first to her mind. She must warn him. She went into a Tube station telephone box and rang through but received no answer. Her quest for Crewe had as little result. She drove off to the flat, thinking that possibly the telephone might be out of order or that they would have returned by the time she reached there, but there was no answer to her ring. She went out again into the street in despair and walked slowly towards Regent Street. Then she saw two people ahead of her, and recognised the swing of the colonel's shoulders. She broke into a run and overtook them. The colonel swung round as she uttered his name and peered at her.

    "Lollie!" he said in surprise, and he looked past her as though seeking some police shadow.

    "I have something important to tell you," she said. "Let us go up here."

    They turned into a deserted side street, and rapidly she told her story.

    "So Pinto's getting out, is he?" said the colonel thoughtfully. "Well, it is no more than I expected. An aeroplane, too? Well, that's enterprising. I thought of something of the sort, but there's nowhere I could go, except to America."

    He dropped his head on to his chest and was considering something.

    "Thank you, Lollie," he said simply. "I'm glad that you didn't go with Selby--you would never have got to the Continent alive."

    He said this in an ordinary conversational tone, and the girl gasped. She did not ask him for an explanation and he offered none. Crewe, standing in the background, looked at the man with something like bewilderment.

    "And now I think you'd better make a real getaway, and not trust to the police," said the colonel. "Maybe with the best intentions in the world, Stafford King can't save you if I happen to be jugged. And you too, Crewe," he turned to the other.

    "So Pinto is going, eh?" he bit his nether lip, "and that is why he promised to bring the fifty thousand to-morrow morning. Well, somehow I don't think Pinto will go," he spoke deliberately. "I don't think Pinto will go."

    "It is too dangerous for you to stop him----" began Crewe.

    "I shall not try to stop him," said the other; "there's somebody besides myself on Pinto's track, and that somebody is going to pull him down."

    "But why don't you escape, colonel?" she urged. "There is the aeroplane waiting at Bromley. We could easily persuade the man that Pinto had sent us."

    He shook his head.

    "You take your own advice," he said, "and clear out to-night. Get her away, Crewe. Don't worry about the police. You've got twenty-four hours in hand. This is Pinto's night," he said between his teeth. "Pinto--the dirty hound!"

    Slowly they paced the street together in silence. When they came to the end the colonel turned.

    "I want to shake hands with you, Lollie. I shook hands with you once before, intending to send you to a very quick decease. You're carrying your money with you, aren't you, Crewe?"

    "Yes," said the other.

    "Good!" responded the colonel. "Now get away."

    He took no other farewell but turned abruptly and left them. Crewe was following him, but the girl caught his arm.

    "Don't go," she said in a low voice. "Don't you know the colonel better?"

    "I hate leaving him like this," he said.

    "So do I," said the girl quietly. "I've still got some decent feeling left. We're all in this together. We're all crooks, as bad as we can possibly be, and if he's used us we've been willing tools. What is your Christian name?" she asked.

    He looked at her in surprise.

    "Jack," he said. "What a weird question to ask!"

    "Isn't it?" she said with a laugh but a little catch in her throat. "Only we're to be comrades and stick to one another, and I hate calling you by your surname, so I'm going to call you Jack."

    It was his turn to be amused. They walked in the opposite direction to that which the colonel had taken.

    "You're very quiet," she said after a while.

    "Aren't I?" he laughed.

    "Have I offended you?" she asked quickly. "Was it wrong to call you Jack? Oh, yes, somebody else must have called you Jack."

    "No, no, it isn't that," he said, "but I haven't been called by my Christian name for years and years," he said wearily, "and somehow it seems to span all the bad times and take me back to the--the----"

    "The 'Jack' days?" she suggested, and he nodded.

    Then after another period of silence.

    "This is a queer ending to it all, isn't it?" he said, and her heart skipped a beat.

    "Ending?" she whispered. "No, no, not ending! It may be the beginning of a new life. I haven't got religious," she added quickly, "and I'm not getting sentimental. All my past life doesn't come up in front of me as it does in the story-books. Only I've just faith that there's something better in life than I've ever found."

    "I should think there is," said Crewe. "It couldn't be much worse, could it?"

    "I haven't been bad," she said--"not bad like you probably think I have."

    "I never thought you were bad," he said. "You were just a victim like the rest of them. You were only a kid when you started working for the colonel, weren't you?"

    She nodded.

    "Well, there's a chance for you, Lollie. Your passage is booked and all that sort of thing--have you sufficient money?"

    "I've plenty of money," she said.

    "Fine!" He dropped his hand lightly on her shoulder. "There's a big, big chance for you, my girl."

    "And for you?" she asked.

    He laughed.

    "There is no chance for me at all," he said simply. "They'll take me and they'll take Pinto and last of all they'll take the colonel. It is written," he added philosophically. "Why--why, what is the matter?"

    She stood stock-still and was holding on to his arm with both hands.

    "You mustn't say that, you mustn't say that!" she said brokenly. "It isn't finished for you, Jack. There's a chance to get out, and the colonel has told you there's a chance. He meant it. He knows much more than we do. If you've got murder on your soul, or something worse; if you feel that you're altogether so bad that there isn't a chance for you, that there's no goodness in your life which can be expanded, why, just wait and take what's coming. But for God's sake know your mind, and if you feel that in another land, with--with someone who loves you by your side----"

    Her voice broke.

    "Why, Lollie," he said very gently. "You don't mean----?"

    "I'm just as shameless as I've ever been" she said, "but I'm not proposing to marry you, I'm not asking for anything save your friendship and your comradeship. I think people can love one another without--marrying and all that sort of thing; but do you--will you----"

    "Will I go?" he asked.

    She nodded.

    "I'll go anywhere with that prospect in sight," and he slipped his arm round her shoulders, and, bending, kissed her on the cheek.
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