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    Chapter 9

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    Chapter 9
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    Mr. Hamon Loses Money

    Joan came down early, intending to breakfast before Mr. Hamon was up. She had nearly finished her healthy repast when Hamon burst into the room, and he was not pretty to see. He wore his socks, a pair of trousers from which the braces were hanging, and a vividly striped pyjama coat. His unshaven face was dark with anger as he glared round.

    "Where's Stephens?" he roared, and then, realising that neither his tone nor appearance was in harmony with the requirements of good breeding, he said in a more subdued voice: "Excuse me, Lady Joan, but I've been robbed."

    She had risen to her feet and was looking at him, wide-eyed.

    "Has somebody stolen your shoes and coat?" she asked, and he flushed.

    "I only just discovered it--the robbery, I mean. Somebody broke into my room last night and took a wallet with three thousand pounds! It was that dog Morlake. I'll fix him! I've given the swine his chance----"

    "It is a pity that the robber did not also steal your vocabulary, Mr. Hamon," said the girl coldly.

    She was far from feeling the indifference she displayed. Then Morlake had come back after all! She felt a sense of grievance against him--he had deceived her. She examined her mind, after the spluttering Hamon had disappeared, in search of a more sympathetic audience, for some intelligent reason for her grievance. The deception lay in the light which showed in the window of Wold House, she decided, though James Morlake might not have been responsible for its appearance. From the confusing evidence offered by the victim, by Peters, and reflected by Lord Creith, it appeared that, at some hour in the early morning, a person unknown had forced an entrance through one of the windows which flanked the hall door; that he had entered at least two rooms (Joan gasped as the possibility flashed across her mind that hers might have been one, and was unaccountably piqued to learn that the second room was an empty room next to Mr. Hamon's); that he had taken, from underneath the pillow which supported the unconscious head of Ralph Hamon, a leather wallet containing between £3,000 and £4,000 in banknotes, and added the indignity of unloading the revolver which lay on a table by the side of Mr. Hamon's bed; the cartridges were discovered in the grounds.

    "My dear good man," said Lord Creith, visibly bored by the fourth recital of Ralph Hamon's loss, "it is a simple matter to convey to the bovine constabulary which is at present tramping over my flower beds that you suspect this Morlake person. As a magistrate, I shall be happy to issue a warrant for his arrest, or, what is more important, the search of his house. If he has stolen your money, it will be discovered in his possession."

    "I don't want to do that," said Hamon, sourly. "There is no proof other than my word."

    "But I thought you said that the police had him under observation?" Joan ventured to say, though at the thought that she was assisting in the arrest of her burglar she went hot and cold.

    "Not exactly under observation," admitted Hamon; "but there are men who know about him--men at headquarters, I mean. My friend, Inspector Marborne, has been shadowing him for years. No, I'm not going to hand the case over to the local police--they'd only bungle it. Besides, a man of Morlake's character is too clever to have the stuff in the house. I'll go over and talk to him."

    He looked savagely across at the girl as the sound of her soft laughter came to him.

    "I'm so sorry," she said apologetically, "but it does sound silly, doesn't it, for the robbed to argue with the robber? I know such things happen in books, but you don't seriously mean that you will go to him and tell him you suspect him?"

    "I think all this talk about our neighbour is romantic nonsense," said Lord Creith, energising himself to take an interest in the matter. "The whole thing is so simple: if he's a burglar, and you know he's a burglar, have him arrested. If he doesn't happen to be a burglar, but is an innocent country gentleman, as we are all agreed he seems to be, then, of course, you're liable to very severe damages in any action at law which he may bring. Anyway, it was foolish of you to carry so much money about with you, my dear man! Three thousand pounds! Great heavens! What are banks for?" he looked at his watch. "I am going up to town in half-an-hour. I won't offer you a lift, because my machine can only hold two people comfortably in ordinary circumstances and one person, uncomfortably, when Joan is travelling. My dear, will you try to keep your baggage down to half-a-dozen trunks and as few hat-boxes as possible?"

    "You're going to town?" said the other, disappointed. "I thought you were staying for the rest of the week."

    "I told you on Monday I was going to town," said his lordship, who had done nothing of the sort. "There is a sale at Tattersall's to-morrow which I must attend; and Joan has an appointment with her dentist. You may stay on if you wish; don't let me interfere with your plans."

    "When will you be back?" asked Hamon.

    "In about a month," said Lore Creith.

    Ralph Hamon decided that he also would go to the metropolis, and hinted that his own car was big enough to take the whole party. The hint was neither seen nor heeded.

    "That's over," said Lord Creith, with a sigh of relief, as the car turned out of the lodge gates to the post road. "Hamon is a very admirable person, but he's inclined to get on one's nerves."

    He screwed an eyeglass in his eye as they approached Wold House.

    "That is the home of our maligned neighbour, isn't it, Joan? Never seen the fellow: what is he like?"

    "Oh, just an ordinary, inoffensive-looking man," said Joan lamely.

    "Is he now?" said his lordship, interested. "That is very suspicious. I never like inoffensive-looking men."

    At that moment the chauffeur jammed on his brakes. A car was coming out through the gates of Wold House, a long, black machine, the sole occupant of which was Mr. James Morlake. Glancing over his shoulder, he saw the danger and brought his machine perilously close to the ditch on his left as Lord Creith's car shot past.

    "Narrow squeak, that," said his lordship comfortably. "Our man was, of course, in the wrong: he should have sounded his horn. So that is Mr. Morlake, eh? I don't agree with your description, my dear. A more offensive-looking person I have never seen. From the scowl on his face he might have been a murderer."

    "I was talking of him as a man," said Joan calmly, "not as a motorist."

    A savage howl from a siren behind brought the Creith car to the near side of the road, and the snaky black machine shot past them, its driver looking neither to the right nor to the left.

    Joan knew the type of car: it was a high-powered Italian machine, and one of the costliest in Europe. Evidently Mr. James Morlake spared no expense in the pursuit of his nefarious calling.
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