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    Chapter 5

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    Chapter 5
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    The Monkey and the Gourd

    Ralph Hamon leapt to his feet as if he had been shot. His face was livid, his thick lips bloodless.

    "You're a liar ... a damned Yankee crook! Hang me? I'll settle with you, Morlake! I know enough about you...."

    Morlake raised a hand in mock alarm.

    "Don't frighten me! My nerves are not what they were. And be a sensible man. Tell me all about yourself. I hear that you cleared half a million in Varoni Diamonds. Honestly too; which is queer. If you had only waited, Hamon! You wouldn't be going about in fear of your life. Do you know how the natives catch monkeys? They put a plum or a date at the bottom of a narrow-necked gourd. And the monkey puts in his hand and grips the date but can't get his clenched first through the narrow neck. He is too greedy to loose hold of the date and hasn't the strength to smash the gourd. And so he's caught. You're a monkey man, Hamon!"

    Hamon had mastered his rage, but his face was deadly white.

    "I don't understand you," he said. "You're one of these clever Alecs who like to hear themselves talk. I've warned you. Maybe you're the gourd that is going to get smashed."

    "That occurred to me," nodded the other, "but I shall be broken in a good cause. In the meantime, I shall stay at Wold House, rejoicing in my mystery and in the interest I inspire in the country bosom."

    "I'll settle that mystery!" roared Hamon. He paused at the edge of the gravel path and raised an admonitory finger. "I give you seven days to clear," he said.

    "Shut the gate as you go out," said James Morlake, not troubling to turn his head.

    Hamon sprang into the car that he had left on the road and drove homeward in a savage mood; but the shocks of the day were not at an end.

    He had to follow the main road before he reached the uneven lane that bordered the Creith estate. It was the Hamon estate now, he reflected with satisfaction. He was master of these broad acres and sleepy farms that nestled in the folds of the downs. But his mastership was incomplete unless there went with his holding the slim, straight girl whose antagonism he sensed, whose unspoken contempt cut like the lash of a whip.

    To tame her, humble her, punish her for her insolence, would be a sport more satisfying than any he had followed in his chequered life. As for the man called James Morlake ... he winced as he thought of that almost exact counterpart to Joan Carston.

    He had turned the bonnet of his car into the lane when his eyes rested upon the whitewashed cottage behind the wooden fence, and he stopped the machine. He remembered that a friend of Joan's had been installed here--a woman.

    Ralph Hamon was an opportunist. A friend of Joan's might become a friend of his, and if, as he guessed, she was not too well blessed with the goods of this world, he might find a subterranean method of sapping the girl's prejudice against him.

    He got down from the machine and walked back to the road and through the gateway. A red brick path flanked by tall dahlias led to the cottage door. He glanced left and right. The occupant was not in the garden, and he knocked. Almost immediately the door opened and the tall figure of a woman confronted him.

    Their eyes met, and neither spoke. He was staring at her as if she were a visitant from another world, and she met his gaze unflinchingly.

    He tried to speak, but nothing came from his throat but a slurred growl; and then, turning violently, he almost ran down the path; the perspiration rolling down his face, his mouth dry with fear; for Elsa Cornford had that half of his secret which the master of Wold House did not guess.
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