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    Chapter 18

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    Chapter 18
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    The Tea Shop

    Half in amazement, half amused, he stared at her.

    "Jane Smith?" he repeated. "Are you the lady who wrote a letter warning me about Hamon?"

    She nodded.

    "Do you know him? Is he a friend of yours?"

    "Oh, no." She shook her head vigorously. "But I have seen him; he sometimes comes to the village where I am staying--to Creith."

    "Oh, you live at Creith? I don't remember having seen you there."

    She smiled.

    "I shouldn't imagine you know a soul in the village," she said drily. "You're not exactly sociable, are you? And anyway," she went on quickly, "you're hardly likely to call on people of our humble circumstances."

    The "restaurant" proved to be a tea shop, which, at this hour of the day, was almost deserted, luncheon having been finished and the tea rush not having yet started. She took a seat at a table in the corner, and gave the order for tea in such a businesslike way that Jim Morlake guessed she was not unused to domestic management. He wondered who she was, and how it came about that he had not noticed so strikingly beautiful a girl.

    "Have you lived at Creith long?"

    "I was born there," said Jane Smith.

    He ruminated for a few minutes, and then:

    "How did you come to know that Hamon was plotting this frame-up?"

    "I didn't know, just guessed," she said. "A friend of mine lives at Creith House, and she has heard a great deal about Mr. Hamon."

    Jim nodded.

    "I owe Lord Creith something for his good intentions," he said, speaking half to himself and half to the girl, and smiled faintly. "I don't suppose his lordship would be very pleased if I called in person to thank him. He has a daughter, hasn't he?"

    Jane Smith nodded.

    "Somebody told me about her--a very pretty and a very wilful young lady, and, if I understand aright, somewhat romantic?"

    Jane Smith's lips curled.

    "I never heard that Lady Joan was romantic," she said, almost sharply. "I think she is a very practical, intelligent girl--she is certainly pretty, but that is no credit to her."

    The tea came, and she busied herself pouring out for him. He watched her thoughtfully until she had finished and handed the cup to him. Suddenly her manner underwent a change.

    "Mr. Morlake," she said seriously, "this has been a terrible lesson to you, hasn't it?"

    "The trial?" he asked, and nodded. "Yes, it has been rather a lesson. I underrated Hamon, for one thing, and overrated the genius of the unscrupulous Mr. Marborne, for another. It was a very crude and stupid attempt to catch me."

    She was looking at him steadily, her unwavering eyes fixed on his.

    "You're not going to break the law any more, are you, Mr. Morlake?" she asked quietly. "You've been very--very successful. I mean you must have made a lot of money. It isn't necessary to take any further risks, is it?"

    He did not reply. There was something about her that was familiar to him, something he recognised and which yet evaded him. Where had he seen her? Or was it her voice he recognised? Then:

    "I know you," he said suddenly. "You were the girl who was knocked out by the storm!"

    She went suddenly red.

    "Yes," she confessed. "You didn't see my face."

    "I remember your voice: it is one of those peculiarly sweet voices that are very difficult to forget."

    He was not being complimentary or offensive, but the colour deepened in her face.

    "You said you were a visitor, too. How could you be a visitor if you live in the village?"

    "Jane Smith" recovered herself instantly.

    "I told a lie," she said coolly. "I find lying is the easiest way out of most difficulties. If you must know, Mr. Morlake, I was in service at the Hall."

    "A servant?" he said incredulously.

    She nodded.

    "I am a parlourmaid," she said calmly, "and a very good parlourmaid."

    "Of that I am sure," he hastened to say, and then he looked at her hands, and she was thankful that she was wearing her gloves. "So that is how you knew, eh? Well, I'm very much obliged to you, Miss Smith. Are you still at the Hall?"

    She shook her head.

    "I lost my job," she said mendaciously, and added: "Through being out so late on the night of the storm."

    And then, her conscience beginning to prick her, she turned the conversation to safer channels.

    "You are not going to be a burglar any more, are you?" To her amazement, he smiled.

    "But surely not!" she gasped. "After your terrible escape, and all that the judge said! Oh, Mr. Morlake, you wouldn't be such a fool!"

    This time he laughed aloud.

    "It is evident to me, young lady, that you do not estimate the joys and thrills of a burglar's life, or you would not ask me so light-heartedly to give up what is something more than a recreation and a means of livelihood. The judge was certainly fierce! But really, I don't take much notice of judges and what they say. The chances are that, by the peculiar system obtaining in England, I shall never go before that judge--there are half-a-dozen who try cases at the Old Bailey, and possibly, on my next appearance, I shall meet a kind and humanitarian soul who will dismiss me with a caution."

    His quizzical eye and bantering tone awakened no response in the girl. She was troubled, almost hurt, by his obduracy.

    "But isn't there anybody"--she hesitated--"who could persuade you? Somebody who is very dear to you, perhaps? A relation or--a--a girl?"

    He shook his head.

    "I have no relatives or friends in the world," he said; "and if that sounds pathetic, I beg of you to believe that I feel no particular sorrow that I am so unencumbered. It is very kind of you, Miss Smith"--his voice and his tone softened--"and I do appreciate the thought that is behind your request. But I must go on in my own way, because my own is the only way to peace of mind. And now I think you have been too long in a criminal's company, and I'm going to send you home. Are you living in London?"

    "Yes, I live here--I mean, I have friends here," she said, somewhat confused.

    "Then off you go to your friends."

    He paid the bill, and they walked out of the shop together. Suddenly, to his surprise, she turned and walked back to the shop again and he followed her.

    "There is a man I don't want to see," she said breathlessly, and, looking through the window, he saw Mr. Ralph Hamon striding savagely along the sidewalk, and watched him turn into an office building, his whole attitude betraying the wrath which the acquittal of James Morlake had aroused.
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