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    Chapter 20

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    Chapter 20
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    A Volume of Emerson

    How much did the old man know, he wondered. Had Morlake told him?

    His mind went back to a sunny day in Morocco, and to two men who rode on mule back across the desert toward the blue line of the Rifi Hills. He had been one of these; his guest, a man without a name, had been the other; and as they climbed a sandy slope, a young man had come riding toward them at a gallop and had drawn rein to watch them after they had passed. It was the first time Hamon had ever seen James Lexington Morlake.

    And he remembered that he had had a wild and insensate impulse to turn upon the man who was looking after them, and shoot him down. It was one of those atavistic urges which come to civilised men whose animal instincts had not wholly atrophied. The watcher stood for danger--Ralph Hamon brought his hand mechanically to his hip where a gun had hung, and then, with an effort, he merged from the tangle of his dreams and went out to the office, to find his bored secretary waiting.

    "I am going now," he said gruffly. "Come to my house to-morrow morning: I shall not be at the office all day. Bring any personal letters and cables."

    He had forgotten another person who was waiting, until he was nearly home.

    "You told me you were coming straight back," said Lydia furiously, for patience did not appear amongst her known virtues. "I have a dinner engagement with Lady Clareborough. I can give you five minutes."

    She was resplendent in evening dress, and he looked at her stupidly.

    "You can give me five minutes, can you? Well, I guess that'll be long enough," he said. "Lydia, you don't know this man, Morlake?"

    "Morlake?" she said wearily. "Haven't we finished with him?"

    "The question is, whether he has finished with me," said Hamon.

    The hand that brushed back his scant locks trembled slightly.

    "That is the question--whether he's finished with me. You've got to get acquainted with that man. I don't care what money you spend; I don't care how you get to know him. You can see him as soon as you like. But I want to patch up some sort of peace with him, and I think you're more likely to do the trick than I am. You're clever, and you've a good invention. He may be the sort of man who'll fall for a woman like you--there are very few men who wouldn't," he said.

    She sighed with elaborate patience.

    "What do you mean by 'fall for me'? Do you mean that he'd marry me, or fall in love with me, or what?"

    "I don't care what he does so long as you can persuade him to cut out this little vendetta of his."

    "Won't the law cut it out?" she asked significantly. "I read the account of the trial and the judge's remarks, and it seems to me that you're going to give yourself a lot of trouble. Besides, Ralph, I do not intend jeopardising the position I've won for myself by making up to a convicted burglar--he's as good as convicted. I have my friends to think of."

    There was a steely look in his eye as he interrupted her.

    "Go to your dinner, my good girl," he said harshly. "I thought you'd got that social bug out of your head."

    She opened her mouth to retort, but the suppressed malignity in his glare silenced her.

    Lydia Hamon knew when to quit.

    Ralph Hamon was a rich man, with the soul of a miser. He was the kind that treasures odd scraps of useless things, in the hope that one day they may come in handy. His wardrobe overflowed with ancient and almost threadbare clothing that he would not give away. It was his practice in his own home to shed himself of the immaculate attire in which he appeared in public, and take a little further wear out of clothing which had already rendered more than its normal service. He never wasted a scrap of paper if writing space was left upon it; and when people wrote to him on double sheets, he invariably tore off that which had not been used and employed it for note-making.

    Jim Morlake had vividly illustrated this weakness when he told him the parable of the monkey and the gourd. Not only was it a weakness, but it promised to be fatal. All that was sane in Ralph Hamon told him to make a fire of one scrap of paper that was in his possession; and yet, though he had made up his mind a dozen times, he was physically incapable of applying a match to its corner.

    The library where he worked was on the first floor of the house in Grosvenor Place, and looked out upon a dreary courtyard and the roofs of a string of garages. Though he was no great reader, three of the walls were covered with bookcases filled with conventional volumes. Any student of human nature would have known that the books had been "furnished" without any respect to their literary quality. There was the inevitable twelve volumes of Scott, the usual encyclopædias, the sets of mid-Victorian authors' works. They were bound in harmony with the room, and their exterior satisfied the eye of the financier, even if their contents made no appeal to him.

    There was one book, however, which he had often occasion to take down from a narrow section of the bookshelf covered by glass doors. In this protected area was, amongst other works, a volume of Emerson's Essays, a somewhat portly collection flanked by Hazlitt and volumes of Addison's "Spectator." Slipping the room door bolt into its socket and drawing the curtains, Hamon opened the case and took this handsome volume, which was heavier than a book should be, for he had to use both hands to lift it from the shelf and carry it to the table.

    Even now it might be mistaken by the uninitiated for an ordinary volume, for the binding was skilfully imitated and even the marbled edge of the leaves had been reproduced. Selecting a key from a bunch which he carried at the end of a long chain in his pocket, Hamon thrust it between the cover and the "pages" and turned it, and, pulling back the cover, he disclosed a shallow box half filled by papers. The book was of solid armoured steel, and was the repository for such papers as Hamon wished to have near him.

    One of those he took out and laid on the desk, looking down at the closely written statement it contained. There was nothing in the words he read but was to his disadvantage. There was imprisonment and possibly death in every line. There was not one word that did not damn him, body and soul, for what he was; and yet, when he took out his matchbox and struck a light with trembling fingers, he hesitated, and finally flung the match into the fireplace and replaced the square paper in the box.

    There was a knock at the door, and, hastily shutting down the lid, he pushed the "book" back amongst its fellows, and closed the glass door.

    "Who is there?" he asked.

    "Will you see Mr. Marborne?" asked the servant in a low voice.

    "Yes. Ask him to come in."

    He slipped back the bolt and went out on to the landing to meet the disgruntled detective.

    "Well, you've made a mess of it, Marborne," he said sourly.

    "It's made a mess of me, I can tell you, Hamon," said the other. "I have been asked to turn my coat in. I wish I had never troubled with this damned Morlake."

    "There's no sense in bleating," said Hamon impatiently. "What do you mean by 'turning in your coat'?"

    He took a bottle of whisky and a syphon from a cupboard and deposited them on his desk.

    "Welling told me to do it, and I expect I'm finished. And, anyway, I should have been in bad odour after what the judge said about police methods. You've got to find me a job, Hamon."

    "Oh, I have, have I?" sneered the other, pausing with a glass in each hand. "I've got to find you a job! Now isn't that the coolest bit of nerve!"

    "I don't know who's got the nerves, you or me," said the inspector gruffly, "but----"

    "Don't let's quarrel." Hamon poured a frugal portion of whisky into the glass and set the syphon sizzling. "I daresay we can find a place for you; I happen to want a man in Tangier to look after some of my interests. It was not I who got you into trouble, my friend, it was Mr. James Lexington Morlake."

    "Damn him!" said Marborne, and swallowed the toast and the contents of the glass at a gulp.

    "That's pretty good whisky," suggested Hamon.

    "I hardly tasted it," was the reply.

    Marborne seated himself at the desk, took out his pocket book and found a sheet of paper, which he opened.

    "I have made out a list of my expenses in this business," he said. "Here they are."

    He handed them across to the other, and Hamon winced as he read the total.

    "That's a bit stiff," he said. "I didn't authorise you to incur this expenditure."

    "You told me to spend as much as I liked," said the detective.

    "Why, that's nearly a thousand!" spluttered Hamon. "What am I--a child in arms?"

    "I don't care what you are, you'll settle that," said the man. "There's a cut for Slone."

    "You seem to forget that I've paid you money already----" Hamon began, when there was an interruption.

    The butler came to the door and whispered something which Marborne could not catch.

    "Here?" said Hamon quickly.

    "Yes, sir, downstairs."

    Hamon turned to his visitor. His anger had departed.

    "He's downstairs," he said.

    "He--who?" asked the startled detective. "Do you mean Morlake?"

    Hamon nodded.

    "You'd better stay here. I'll see him. Leave the door ajar. If there's any fuss, come down."

    Jim Morlake was waiting in the hall, and Hamon greeted him with the greatest cordiality.

    "Come right in, Morlake," he said, opening the door of the drawing-room. "I can't tell you how pleased I am to read that you were acquitted."

    Jim did not answer until he was in the room and the door was shut.

    "I've decided to drop my nefarious career, Hamon," he said, coming straight to the point.

    "I think you're wise," said the other heartily. "Now is there anything I can do----"

    "There's one thing you can do, and that is to give me a certain document, signed by the man with whom I saw you in Morocco some twelve years ago."

    "Suppose I had it," said the other after a pause, "do you think I should be fool enough to give it to you, to place my--my liberty in your hands?"

    "I would give you ample time to get out of the country, and I would agree not to support the charge made in that document. And without my support and my evidence, the case against you would fall to the ground. At any rate, you would have ample time to get to another country."

    Hamon laughed harshly.

    "I've no intention of leaving England," he said, "and certainly not now, on the eve of my wedding. I am marrying Lady Joan Carston."

    "She has my sympathy," said Jim. "Isn't she Lord Creith's daughter?"

    Hamon nodded.

    "She'll not marry you without knowing something about you."

    "She knows everything about me that she should know."

    "Then I must tell her a little that she shouldn't," said Jim. "But your matrimonial adventures are entirely beside the point. I've come to give you a chance, and, incidentally, to save myself a lot of trouble and the serious consequences which would follow a certain line of action on my part. I want that document, Hamon."

    Again Hamon laughed.

    "You're chasing the wind," he said contemptuously. "And as to this precious document, it has no existence. Somebody has been jollying you and playing upon your well-known simple heart. Now listen, Morlake: can't we settle our differences like gentlemen?"

    "I could settle my differences like a gentleman," said Jim, "because I happen to have been born that way. But you'll never settle yours, except like a cheap, swindling crook who has climbed over ruined homes to his present heights of prosperity. This is your last chance, and possibly mine. Give me that statement, and I will let up on you."

    "I'll see you in hell first," said the other savagely. "Even if I had it--which I haven't----"

    Jim nodded very slowly and thoughtfully.

    "I see. The monkey's hand remains in the gourd; he's too greedy to let go." He turned to the door and raised a solemn forefinger. "I warned you, Hamon," he said, and went out.

    Hamon closed the door on him and went up the carpeted stairs to the library.

    "Well, our friend is still truculent," he said, but he spoke to an empty room.

    Marborne had gone. Hamon rang the bell for the butler.

    "Did you see Mr. Marborne go?" he asked.

    "Yes, sir, he went a few seconds ago--in fact, just before you came from the drawing-room. He seemed rather in a hurry."

    "That is very strange," said Hamon, and dismissed the servant.

    Then he saw the sheet of paper on the desk with its scribbled message.

    If you won't pay my bill, perhaps you'll pay a bigger one [it read].

    Hamon scratched his chin. What was the meaning of that cryptic message? Written, he noticed, on his best notepaper. Evidently Marborne was piqued about the questioning of his account, and had gone away in a fit of temper. Hamon shrugged his shoulders and sat down at his desk. He had no time to worry about the pettishness of his tools.

    Happening to glance round, he noticed that the door of the glass-fronted bookcase was ajar, and he could have sworn that he had closed it. And then, with an oath, he leapt to his feet.

    The steel "book" was in its place, but the title was upside down. Somebody had moved it. He pulled it down and tried the lid, and, to his horror, it opened. He had forgotten to lock it.

    He turned over the papers with a trembling hand. The fatal statement was gone!

    With a howl of rage he leapt to the door and yelled for the butler.

    "Which way did Marborne go?" he asked quickly.

    "He went to the right, sir, toward Grosvenor Square," said the butler from the bottom of the stair.

    "Get me a taxi--quick!"

    Hamon went back into his room, replaced the papers that he had tossed from the box, locked it and pushed it between the books. A minute later, a taxicab was taking him to Mr. Marborne's lodgings.

    Marborne had not returned, the landlady told him, and had only that moment telephoned through to say that he would not be coming back that night, as he might be leaving for the Continent.

    There was only one thing to do, and that was to go straight to Scotland Yard. The man was still a police officer, and would probably report to headquarters sooner or later. He had the good fortune to find Welling, and the old man seemed in no wise surprised at the visit.

    "You want to see Marborne, eh? I'm afraid he's not on duty. I'm even more afraid that he will never be on duty again," said Julius. "Is it anything important?"

    "Will he come here at all--to report, I mean?" asked Hamon breathlessly.

    "He's certain to come," said the old man. "In fact, he has a very pressing engagement with the Chief Commissioner to-morrow morning."

    "Has he any friends? Where does Slone live?"

    Julius Welling adjusted his glasses and looked keenly at his visitor.

    "You're in a great hurry to find him; is anything wrong?" he asked.

    "Yes--no. Nothing of great importance to anybody but myself--and Marborne."

    "Indeed!" said Julius politely.

    He opened a book and found Slone's address, which he wrote on a piece of paper for the visitor.

    "I'm greatly obliged to you, Captain Welling. I didn't expect you'd take this trouble," said Hamon.

    "We always do what we possibly can for members of the public," said Julius in a hushed voice.

    No sooner had his visitor left than he picked up the automatic telephone and switched to the hall.

    "A man named Hamon is coming down," he said briskly. "Tell Sergeant Lavington to tail him up and not to lose sight of him. I want to know where he's going, and what the trouble is."

    He put down the telephone and rubbed his thin hands gently together, a far-away look in his eyes.

    "And I think there is trouble," he said, addressing the ceiling; "bad trouble."
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