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    Chapter 16

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    Chapter 16
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    Mr. Hamon Is Shown Out

    The Earl of Creith came down to dinner in the care-free mood which an afternoon nap, for some mysterious reason, invariably induced, and over the coffee Joan described her interview.

    "Good heavens!" said his lordship, for the moment aghast. "What a thing to say!"

    "I had to shock her," said Joan in justification.

    "Shock her! But, merciful Moses! there were other ways of doing it, Joan. You could have told her that the wine at Creith was corked--as it undoubtedly is--or that the roof leaked--which it does. Why tell her that you're engaged to be married to a--a sort of burglar? You're not, are you?" he asked suspiciously.

    "I'm not. I don't even know him."

    "H'm!" said her father, puckering his forehead. "Suppose this gets into the papers? 'Peeress Engaged to Burglar,' or 'Earl's Daughter to Wed Notorious American Cracksman on His Release from Prison,' eh? How do you think he'd like it?"

    Joan opened her mouth in consternation.

    "I never thought of that!" she gasped.

    "After all," said the Earl, deriving infinite satisfaction from the knowledge that for once he was master of the situation, "after all, he may have his feelings. Burglars may consider themselves a cut above the new poor----"

    "Please don't be absurd, Father! Who would tell him?"

    "Anyway, it was a foolish thing to do, because this Hamon man will be coming round and bothering me about it. And nobody knows better than you, Joan, that I hate being bothered."

    "You can tell him you know nothing about it--which is true. You can also say that I am my own mistress, which is also true."

    The old man gulped down his coffee.

    "Perhaps he won't come," he said hopefully, but he had not risen from the table when Ralph Hamon's loud knock announced his arrival.

    "I'm not in!" said Lord Creith hastily. "Tell him I'm out. Joan...."

    He made a hasty and somewhat undignified exit.

    She walked into the drawing-room to find a fuming Hamon stalking up and down the carpet. He spun round as she opened the door.

    "What is this story that Lydia tells me?" he stormed.

    The change in him was remarkable. At the best he was an unpleasant-looking man--now she shuddered to see him. His jaw was out-thrust, his eyes blazed with anger.

    "So you know Morlake, do you?--you're Jane Smith!" he pointed an accusing finger at her, and her calm nod seemed to infuriate him.

    "Joan, I've told you before--I tell you again that you are the only woman in the world for me. I will have you--and nobody else. I'd kill him and you too rather! If this is true, I'll never leave him till he's dead!"

    She did not flinch, and in her quiet disdain the tortured man thought her never so beautiful. Slim and white, a fragile thing of youth, with her child face and the figure that was nearly woman. His hands went out toward her instinctively, but she did not move.

    "I know a dozen men who would take you by the collar and throw you out of this house if they knew a half of what you said."

    Her voice was steady: she showed no trace of that agitation which he expected.

    "If I am misinformed----" he began huskily.

    "You are. It was a stupid joke on my part to tell your sister that I was engaged, but I disliked her so; she was so horribly common with her affectations and her talk of the aristocrats she knew--such a feminine edition of you, Mr. Hamon. I could imagine her screaming at me, as you have been screaming. A wretched virago shrieking me down."

    She had left the door open as she came in, and Peters, she knew, was in the hall.

    "Peters," she called, and the butler came in. "Show Mr. Hamon out; he is not to be admitted either to this house or Creith."

    Peters bowed, and, his eyes upon Ralph Hamon, jerked his head to the door.

    It was one of the happiest moments of his life.

    Chapter XVII

    Gentle Julius

    Colonel Carter, of the Criminal Investigation Bureau, took his cigar from his mouth in order to smile the more comfortably.

    "My dear Welling, you are romantic, and because you are romantic you ought to have been a failure. Instead of which, by some mysterious dispensation of providence, you are a very successful detective officer. Romance plays no part in our work; there is nothing romantic about crime. A is a thief, with peculiar but well-known methods; B is a stolid, unimaginative police officer who, called into a case of burglary, larceny, anything you like, finds that the crime has been committed by somebody who employs the methods of A. Perhaps A makes a hobby of forcing kitchen windows, or using chance-found ladders, or is in the habit of taking a meal after the robbery is committed. Anyway, there are characteristics of A. So B arrests him, and generally he is right. You, on the other hand, would find, in the remnants of a stolen meal, proof that the robber was starving and would look for a hungry-looking, left-handed man!"

    Julius Welling, Chief of the 8th Bureau, sighed. He was an elderly, white-haired man with a sad face and a trick of rubbing his nose when he was embarrassed.

    "You've won through, heaven knows how," mumbled Carter through his cigar. "Maybe it is luck--maybe inspiration."

    "You have omitted all the possibilities of genius," said the other gently.

    In the service which he had adorned for thirty-five years they christened him "Gentle Julius." His rank was equivalent to a Chief Constable, for every promotion that could come to a successful police officer had been his, and on the rare occasions that he wore a uniform, his decorations ran in three straight rows from buttons to shoulder.

    Jackson Carter and he had entered the service on the same day, the former an office man with a peculiar gift for organisation, the other so immersed in his study of men and women that he scarcely noticed the passing of the years that brought him so much honour.

    "As I say, you're a romantic old dog," said Carter, on his favourite theme, which was very nearly his only recreation, the baiting of his lifelong friend. "Though I admit--and this is very handsome of me--that your dreamings have sometimes led you to queer results."

    Julius Welling smiled with his eyes.

    "Where will my present dream lead me to?" he asked.

    "To failure," said the other seriously. "We've got The Black--there is no doubt about it. I wish somebody else than Marborne had got him, for I had sharpened the toe of my right boot for him, but there is the luck of the game; Marborne has caught him. We have all the evidence we want. Apart from the fact that he was taken in the act, the burglar's kit and gun we found on him, a whole lot of stuff has been discovered in his flat in Bond Street. A parcel of money marked with the stamp of the Home Counties Bank----"

    "I could get that by applying to the Home Counties," murmured Mr. Welling.

    "A cash box buried in his garden----"

    "Why should he bury a cash box in his garden?" asked the other plaintively. "Only amateur crooks do that sort of thing."

    "Well, how did it get there?" asked the exasperated Carter.

    Mr. Welling rubbed his nose thoughtfully.

    "It may have been planted there to get a conviction," he suggested. "Marborne caught Shellman, the banknote forger, that way."

    The chief stared at him.

    "Do you mean it was a frame-up?" he asked, and Welling nodded.

    "The particular charge on which he was convicted was faked. I've known it for some time. Shellman, of course, was a forger, too clever to be caught. The charge on which he went down for ten years was undoubtedly framed for him, and Marborne did the framing."

    "That is news to me," said the other with a frown.

    "As to this Morlake man," Mr. Welling advanced his views with characteristic timidity, "doesn't the story he tells sound rather fishy? He says that his servant was ill--the servant lives at Blackheath, remember. He comes to the house and is suddenly bludgeoned. Taken unawares and bludgeoned--and he is supposed to carry a gun! He comes to burgle a house and leaves his car at a corner of the street with all the lights on, when there is a lane not half-a-dozen yards away where the car could be hidden? He is supposed to have broken in at the back of the house, where there is a garden and an easy wall that would get him into open country, and yet he escapes by the front door! He 'shows fight'--how? Never forget that he has a loaded pistol, yet he 'shows fight' to such purpose that Marborne has to take his 'stick' to him. What was his gun doing all this time?"

    Colonel Carter shook his head.

    "The story of the telephone call is a lie----"

    "On the contrary it is true," said old Julius, almost apologetically. "The New Cross exchange heard the message. They were testing junction lines because a subscriber had reported a fault, and the engineers happened to be listening in on this particular junction when the call went through."

    Colonel Carter opened his eyes.

    "You've been working on this case?" he said. "You're not tailing The Black?"

    Gentle Julius shook his head.

    "I've been tailing Marborne," he said, more gently than ever. "You see, Jack, the chief holds about the same views as you concerning the inspector, and he put me on to see that he came to no harm. And the man who called up Morlake and told him the tale about the injured servant was the inspector. I want Marborne's coat for my exhibition of ex-officers' uniforms. And, Jack, noth'n's more certain than that I'll have it!"

    "And what about Morlake?" asked Carter.

    Gentle Julius spread out his lined hands in a gesture of indifference.

    "They may convict him or they may not," he said; "but one thing I can tell you, and it is this. James Lexington Morlake is The Black, the cleverest bank smasher we've seen in twenty years. I've proof and more than proof of that, Jack."

    He pursed his lips and his white brows met in a prodigious scowl.

    "Ten years ago," he said, speaking with more than his ordinary deliberation, "the Haslemere police picked up a dying sailor on the Portsmouth Road."

    "What on earth are you talking about?" demanded the startled Carter.

    "I'm talking about The Black," said Welling, "and why he's a burglar--get that in your mind, Jack--a dying sailor with his life hammered out of him, and not a line or a word to identify him; a dying sailor that sleeps in a little churchyard in Hindhead, without a name to the stone that is over him. Ain't that enough to turn any man burglar?"

    "You love a mystery, don't you, Julius?" asked his irritated friend, when Welling rose.

    "Mysteries are my specialty," said Julius gently.
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