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    Chapter 12

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    Chapter 12
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    Miss Lydia Hamon

    The detective turned from his examination of the letter to glower at his companion.

    "You're a fine thief, Lieber!" he snarled. "Is this all you could get?"

    Lieber's puffy face fell.

    "Ain't it enough, Mr. Marborne?" he asked, aggrieved. "You said 'Get a letter,' and I got it."

    "You got it all right," said the other grimly. "Oh, yes, you got it!"

    He stuffed the letter into his pocket and left his gaping agent staring after him.

    Little things amuse, but they also distress little minds. The discovery that his association with Hamon was known to "Jane Smith" worried him horribly--it worried him more because he was so deeply committed to the plot that it was impossible to go back. The scheme must be carried through, but first he must make sure of his ground. He hailed a taxi and drove to Grosvenor Place. The servant who admitted him, and who knew him, said that Mr. Hamon was out.

    "Will you see Miss Hamon?" asked the man.

    "Miss Hamon?--I didn't know there was a Miss Hamon," said Marborne in surprise.

    The butler might have explained that the visits of Miss Hamon to London were few and far between, and he could have supplemented the information that, rare as they were, the household of 307 Grosvenor Place would have been delighted if they were even rarer. For Lydia Hamon was that type of young woman (and the type was not exclusively confined to the young) who, having risen to affluence from the borderland of poverty, lived in a state of perpetual fear that their superiority to the rest of the world was not being duly recognised.

    "Oh, yes, Mr. Hamon has a sister--she lives in Paris."

    Lydia certainly lived in Paris. She had a small apartment on the Bois and a very highly-polished coupé that was driven by a Japanese chauffeur in a rose-red livery. She studied art in a genteel way, knew many old Royalist families and spoke French to her own satisfaction.

    Leaving Marborne in the hall, the servant went into the drawing-room, closing the door behind him. It was a little time before he reappeared to beckon the visitor forward.

    Lydia Hamon was pretty and thin. Her hair, a dull red, was bobbed in the French manner and bound by a filet of bronze-coloured ribbon. Her arms, otherwise bare, were encircled by bracelets that flashed and glittered in the light of shaded wall brackets. She turned her dark eyes languidly in the direction of the detective as he entered, and the thin eyebrows arched inquiringly. Otherwise, she made no attempt to greet the visitor, nor did she rise from the couch on which she was lying.

    Marborne, a susceptible man, was struck dumb by what he regarded as her unearthly beauty. The green evening gown, the dull gold of dainty shoes and silken stockings, the delicate hands that shaded her eyes as though his coming had introduced a new brilliancy into the room, were all parts of the charm which momentarily overwhelmed him.

    "You want to see my brother?" she drawled (she actually said "brothah," and the gentility of the intonation took his breath away).

    "Yes, miss, I have a little business with him."

    She looked at the diamond-studded watch on her wrist.

    "He will be back very soon," she said. "I know nothing about business, so I'm afraid I can't help you. Won't you sit down, Mr. Marlow?"

    "Marborne," murmured the detective, seating himself gingerly on the edge of a chair. "I haven't had the pleasure of meeting you before, Miss Hamon."

    She inclined her head, signifying her regret that this pleasure had not been his.

    "I live mostly abroad, in my dear Paris," she said. "Life there is so different, so real! London, with its commercialism and absence of soul, frightens me."

    Inspector Marborne, who was not a classy talker, felt it was a moment to suggest that the efficiency of the London police force was such that nobody need be frightened, but happily, before she could lead him again out of his depth, Hamon came in.

    "Hullo, Marborne!" he said anxiously. "What is wrong?" He glanced at the reclining figure on the sofa. "You've met my sister? Lydia, this is Mr. Marborne, a friend of mine and an officer of the Metropolitan Police."

    "Really?" She raised her eyebrows again, but, to Marborne's disappointment, did not seem particularly impressed.

    "We'll go up to my den," said Hamon, and he hustled the detective from the room before the impressionable Marborne could begin taking leave.

    Behind the closed doors of Hamon's room, the inspector told his story.

    "Let me see the letter," said Hamon.

    He studied it under the light of the table lamp, his lips pursed, his eyebrows gathered in a frown.

    "Jane Smith? Who the dickens is Jane Smith?" he muttered.

    "Is there anybody who knows about--about this matter?" asked Marborne.

    "Nobody. I mentioned it to my sister, but to no other soul."

    At first astonished, Marborne was a little perturbed.

    "I wish you hadn't mentioned it to anybody, Mr. Hamon," he said.

    "I haven't," said the other impatiently. "I did no more than tell Lydia that I'd got a scheme for settling with Morlake. One thing I'll swear--that the writing isn't Lydia's, and anyway, she doesn't know the man, and would not write to him if she did. Is this all you've got?"

    "It is all that is necessary," said Marborne airily. "I've got the scheme so well fixed that it isn't necessary we should have anything of Morlake's. The envelope will be found--any clue that leads us to Morlake is sufficient."

    He did not tell of the visit he had paid, feeling that it was hardly the moment to confess a fresh failure.

    "When are you going to do the job?" asked Hamon.

    Marborne shrugged.

    "It depends entirely upon circumstances. I hope to fix it this week," he said. "You need have no fear. I can get enough evidence to convict him, and once he's pinched, it will be easy to search his flat and his house in Sussex. Why didn't you have him arrested in the country? It would have been an easy matter to have got a search-warrant----"

    "Don't ask dam' fool questions," said the other impatiently. "Let me know when you're taking him, and I'll be on hand to furnish the etceteras."

    When the detective had gone, Hamon went down to his sister.

    "Who is that man?" she asked, yawning undisguisedly. "You always seem to have such queer people at your house, Ralph."

    "Why did you come over?" he asked.

    "Because I'm short of money. I've bought the loveliest little statuette--a genuine Demetri; and I've been losing a terrible lot at cards. One must keep one's end up, Ralph."

    He looked at her without speaking.

    "Besides, I've promised to spend a week-end with dear Lady Darlew. She has an awfully nice boy at Eton----"

    "Now listen to me, Lydia," interrupted Hamon. "When I started making money, you were serving in a West End bar, earning enough to keep body and soul together, and I'd like you to remember that fact. I'm not made of money, and I'm not going to increase your allowance. You forget these friends of yours who have sons at Eton, and remember that you were serving bad drinks at Lembo's Dive." He saw the fury in her eyes, but went on.

    "The time is rapidly approaching when you are going to earn your keep, my girl."

    "What do you mean?" she asked. She was no longer the languid child of fashion, but stood before him, her hands on her hips, her voice harsh with anger. "Do you expect me to go back serving drinks whilst you're making tens of thousands? I've helped you, Ralph, and don't forget it! You haven't forgotten Johnny Cornford, I hope, and what I did for you there?"

    His face went a shade paler.

    "You needn't talk about Johnny Cornford or anybody else," he said roughly; "and don't go up in the air, because I'm talking to you for your good. I shall want your help, I tell you. Marborne's got a big idea of catching Morlake, and if we can't catch him one way he's got to be caught another, and you've got to do it."

    "Oh, I have, have I?" she sneered. "And what do I get for it? The same as I got out of the Cornford business--nothing!"

    "I got nothing, either," he said quickly.

    "That is a lie! Oh, you needn't scowl at me, Ralph: I'm not afraid of you! I heard that tale about Cornford before. Nothing!"

    "I got nothing, I tell you," he said loudly. "It was the biggest disappointment I ever had. If the luck hadn't run for me, I'd have been down and out. I never had a penny of Cornford's money."

    There was a brief but ominous silence, and then she asked:

    "What am I to do with this Morlake? Is he to be jollied along? Has he any money?"

    "Stacks of it," said the other tersely, "but it isn't his money I want."

    She raised her thin eyebrows.

    "You must be pretty well off not to worry about his money," she said, and asked again: "What am I to do?"

    "It depends entirely on how well Marborne's plan goes," said her brother. "We needn't discuss it till then."

    "What is he like?" she asked. "This Morlake?"

    He went out of the room and came back with a photograph, which he handed to her, and she looked at the picture with a calculating eye.

    "He's rather nice-looking," she said. "Who is he?"

    "I'd give a lot of money to know," snapped Hamon. "Don't ask questions, Lydia. All I want to know from you is: is he the type of man that you could make up to if it paid you good money?"

    She looked from the picture to her brother.

    "That type, and any type," she said briefly.
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