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    Chapter 4

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    Chapter 4
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    A Caller at Wold House

    James Morlake sat in the shade of the big cedar that grew half way between his house and the river. His lame fox-terrier sprawled at his feet, and a newspaper lay open on his knees. He was not reading; his eyes were fixed on the glassy surface of the stream. A splash, a momentary vision of wet silver as a trout leapt at an incautious fly, brought his head round, and then he saw the man that stood surveying him from the drive.

    One glance he gave, and then returned to the placid contemplation of the little river.

    Hamon walked slowly forward, his hands thrust into his pockets.

    "Well," he said, "it is a long time since I saw you. I didn't know that you were living around here."

    Jim Morlake raised his eyes and yawned.

    "I should have sent you a card," he said lazily. "One ought to have 'at home' days. If I had known you were coming this morning, I'd have hired the village band and put up a few flags."

    Mr. Hamon pulled forward a chair and sat down squarely before the other, and when he spoke, it was with the greatest deliberation.

    "I'll buy this house from you--Morlake----"

    "Mister Morlake," murmured the other. "Let us remember that we are gentlemen."

    "I'll buy this house from you and you can go abroad. I'll forgive your threats and your mad fool talk about ... well, you know--but you will get out of the country in a week."

    Morlake laughed softly, and Hamon, who had never seen him laugh, was astounded at the transformation that laughter brought to the sombre face.

    "You are a most amusing person," said the tall man. "You drop from the clouds, or spout out from the eternal fires after an absence of years, and immediately start in to rearrange my life! You're getting fat, Hamon, and those bags under your eyes aren't pretty. You ought to see a doctor."

    Hamon leant forward.

    "Suppose I tell your neighbours who you are!" he asked slowly. "Suppose I go to the police and tell them that Mister Morlake"--he laid a sneering emphasis on the title--"is a cheap Yankee crook!"

    "Not cheap," murmured Morlake, his amused eyes watching the other.

    "Suppose I tell them that I once caught you red-handed robbing the Prescott Bank, and that you blackmailed me into letting you go!"

    Morlake's eyes never left the man's face.

    "There has been a series of burglaries committed in London," Hamon went on. "They've been worked by a man called The Black--ever heard of him?"

    Morlake smiled.

    "I never read the newspapers," he drawled. "There is so much in them that is not fit for a country gentleman to read."

    "A country gentleman!"

    It was Mr. Hamon's turn to be amused. Putting his hand in his pocket, he withdrew a note-case, and, opening its worn flap, he pulled out a tight wad of banknotes.

    "That is for your travelling expenses," he said, as Morlake took the money from his hand. "As for your little house and estate, I'll make you an offer to-morrow. Your price----"

    "Is a hundred thousand," said Morlake. "I'd take this paltry sum on account if it wasn't for the fact that you've got the number of every note in your pocket-book and a busy detective waiting at the gate to pull me as soon as I pocketed the swag! A hundred thousand is my price, Hamon. Pay me that, in the way I want it paid, and I'll leave you alone. One hundred thousand sterling is the price you pay for a month of quietness!"

    He threw the money on to the grass.

    "A month--what do you mean, a month?"

    Again the big man raised his quiet eyes.

    "I mean the month that elapses in this country between trial and execution," he said.
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