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    Chapter 19

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    Chapter 19
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    A Caller

    Ralph Hamon's business activities were many, his interests varied. The high, narrow-fronted office block in which were housed his various enterprises rejoiced in the name of Morocco Building, for Mr. Hamon's interests were mainly centred in that country. Here were the head offices of the Rifi Concession, the Marakash Lead Mines, Moroccan Explorations, and half-a-dozen other incorporated concerns.

    He slammed through the outer office, his face black with anger. The trial he had not attended, deeming it expedient to keep away from the precincts of the court, but the result of the case had come through on the tape machine at his club, and as the words "Not Guilty" were spelt out before his outraged eyes, Mr. Hamon's wrath had flamed to red heat.

    It was incredible, monstrous. And yet he had been warned by Marborne that the case was not going so well against his enemy as he could have wished. The discovery by the police (it was not Marborne who had made this) that a call had been put through summoning Morlake to Blackheath, had made all the difference between conviction and acquittal. So satisfied was Hamon, who knew little of the processes of the law, and regarded a man as doomed from the moment a policeman's hand fell upon his shoulder, that a conviction would follow, that he scouted the possibility of Morlake escaping. And now the dreadful fact stared him in the face. Jim Morlake was free. The old struggle was to be continued, the old menace revived.

    Mr. Hamon's office had something of the air of a boudoir, with its thick carpet and tapestried furniture. A faint aroma of cedar hung in the air, for he favoured the heavy perfumes of France. Pushing aside the accumulation of correspondence which his clerk brought in, he dismissed him with a curse.

    "There are three cables from Sadi, sir," said his secretary, standing at the entrance of the room, ready to make a more hasty retreat.

    "Bring them in," growled Hamon.

    He read and, with the aid of a book he took from his desk, decoded the messages, and apparently they did not add to his pleasure, for he sat huddled up in his chair, his hands stuffed in his pockets, a scowl on his face, for a quarter of an hour, until, reaching out for the telephone, he gave the number of his house in Grosvenor Place.

    "Tell Miss Lydia I want to speak to her," he said, and when, after an exasperating delay, he heard her voice: "Put the connection through to my study," he said in a low voice. "I want to talk to you privately. Morlake has been acquitted."

    "Really!" asked the languid voice.

    "And cut out that 'reahly'!" he snarled. "This isn't the time for any of your fancy society stuff! Get that connection through."

    There was a click, and after a few seconds her voice called him again.

    "What is wrong, Ralph? Does it make much difference--Morlake getting off?"

    "It makes all the difference in the world," he said. "You've got to get at him, Lydia. I never thought it would be necessary, but it is! And, Lydia, that trip of yours to Carlsbad is off. I may have to go to Tangier, and I shall want you to come with me."

    He heard her exclamation of concern, and grinned to himself.

    "You said you would never ask me to go back there," she said, almost plaintively. "Ralph, is that necessary? I'll do anything you ask me, but please don't let me go back to that dreadful house."

    There was no affectation in her voice now; she was very sincere, very earnest, pleading almost.

    "I'll see," he said. "In the meantime, you wait for me; I'll be back in half-an-hour."

    He put down the receiver and hastily ran through the smaller pile of correspondence on his desk which called for personal attention, marking a letter here and there, putting a few into his pocket to answer at his leisure. He was on the point of ringing for his clerk, when that harassed individual appeared in the doorway.

    "I can't receive anybody," snapped Hamon, seeing the card in the man's hand.

    "He says----"

    "I don't care what he says; I can't see anybody. Who is it?"

    He snatched the card from the clerk's hand, and read:

    Captain Julius Welling.

    Criminal Investigation Bureau.

    Ralph Hamon bit his lip. He had heard of Welling in a vague way. Once or twice Marborne had made an uncomplimentary reference to the Chief of the 8th Bureau, from which he gathered that Welling was both honest and efficient. Why should Welling want to see him, he wondered.

    "Show him in," he said curtly, and Julius Welling was ushered into the room.

    Hamon was taken aback to find a man much older than he had expected; a mild-looking, white-haired gentleman, with a slight stoop and a deferential manner. He looked less like a policeman than any man Mr. Ralph Hamon had seen.

    "Won't you sit down, Captain Welling?" he said. "Can I be of any service to you?"

    "I thought I'd just call in," said Julius gently. "I happened to be passing--you're very handily situated here, Mr. Hamon--only a few yards from the Central Criminal Court."

    Hamon shifted uncomfortably as this dubious advantage was pointed out to him.

    "I suppose you weren't in court for the trial of Morlake?" said Julius, depositing his hat carefully upon the ground and hanging his short umbrella on the edge of the desk.

    "No," said the other curtly, "I was not very much interested in the case."

    "Weren't you now?" said Julius. "I had an idea you were. Now, how did I get that into my head?"

    His mournful eyes were fixed upon the other, and Hamon grew uncomfortable under the glance.

    "I suppose I was, in a sense," he admitted. "This fellow has been a nuisance to me for years. And of course, as you know, I was able to supply some valuable information to the police."

    "Not to the police," said Julius, "but to Inspector Marborne--which I admit, at first glance, looks to be the same thing, but which isn't. A queer man, Mr. Morlake, don't you think?"

    "All criminals are queer, I understand," said Hamon, and the other nodded slowly.

    "All criminals are queer," he agreed. "Some are queerer than others. And quite a lot of people are queer who aren't criminals; have you noticed that, Mr. Hamon? He has a Moorish servant--Mahmet; and I understand that he speaks Arabic rather well. For the matter of that, you speak the language also; isn't that so?"

    "I speak the Moorish Arabic, yes," said Hamon shortly.

    "Dear me!" mused Gentle Julius, gazing out of the window. "Isn't that a remarkable coincidence? Both you men have an association with Morocco. You've floated a number of companies with a Moorish end to them, haven't you, Mr. Hamon? Of course you have; I needn't have troubled to ask you that question, because all the information I require is in the Stock Exchange Year-book. The Marakash Company now; that was to exploit some oil wells which existed in the desert of Hari. There was a desert, but there was no oil, if I remember rightly, and you went into liquidation."

    "There was oil, but the wells went dry," corrected Hamon.

    "And Morlake--was he interested in Moorish finances? He lived there for some time, I understand. Did you meet him?"

    "I never met him--I saw him once," said the other, shortly. "I know he lived there. But Tangier is the sink into which all the refuse of Europe flows."

    Julius agreed with a nod.

    "That is so," he said. "Do you remember the Rifi Diamond Syndicate? I think you floated that about twelve years ago?"

    "That also went into liquidation," said Hamon.

    "I'm not thinking so much about the company, and what happened to the company, as of the shareholders."

    "You needn't think about them at all, because I was the only shareholder," said Hamon roughly. "If you have come in to make enquiries about my companies, Captain Welling, I'd be very glad if you wouldn't beat about the bush, but tell me plainly what you want to know."

    "I want to know nothing," Julius put out his hands in a gesture of deprecation. "I have reached the age, Mr. Hamon, when a man loves to gossip. Dear, dear, dear! It doesn't seem so many years ago that I saw the prospectus of the Rifi Diamond Syndicate and heard about the wonderful stones that had been taken out of that mine, about forty-five miles south-west of Tangier. Did you catch many suckers on that?"

    The air of the question was so innocent, the bland voice so even, that for a moment Hamon did not realise its offensiveness.

    "What do you mean--suckers?" he stormed. "I tell you none of the shares were issued, or, if they were, none were taken up. Not a penny came from the public. And if you doubt my word, you can see the books. An article appeared in one of the London financial papers, attacking the Syndicate and calling into question the bona-fides of the vendors, and sooner than have the slightest scandal attaching to my name, I washed my hands of the whole affair."

    "And not a share was issued," said Mr. Welling.

    Hamon's attitude was tense; he seemed suddenly to have grown old.

    "Not a share," he said defiantly.

    Julius Welling sighed, gathered up his umbrella and hat, and rose stiffly to his feet.

    "Gracious me!" he said in his mild way. "Then the whole thing is an inexplicable mystery! For, if no shares were issued, why is James Morlake on your trail, Hamon? Why for ten years has he been robbing banks? Why is he a burglar?"

    Julius walked to the door, opened it and turned for his final shot.

    "Ever meet a sailor on the Portsmouth Road, Hamon?" he drawled, and, as the man staggered under the shock: "You don't meet them often nowadays; they go by railroad! It is safer: there's less chance of being clubbed to death on the cars than on the lonely Portsmouth Road. Think that over!"
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