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    Chapter 24

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    Chapter 24
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    The Cablegram

    In a week a remarkable change had come over Ralph Hamon. There were times when he appeared to his sister to be a little old man. He was greyer, new lines had appeared in his forbidding face, and he seemed to stoop more. Lydia, wise in her generation, did not attempt to probe too deeply into the cause. To her surprise, when she had reported the result of her interview with Morlake, he had not, to use her own expression, gone up in the air, but had accepted her account of the talk with the greatest calmness. Even her little titbit about Joan Carston's presence at Wold House had not aroused him.

    She went to his office that day after her interview with Jim, her baggage at the station, her railway ticket and reservation in her handbag.

    "I'm going back to Paris this afternoon," she said airily, "and I want a little money."

    He looked up at her.

    "Who told you you were going back to Paris?" he asked, and her simulated surprise did not impress him. "You're staying in London until I ask you to go. I told you that a week ago. It may be necessary for us to move, and move pretty quick."

    "What is wrong?" she asked, realising for the first time the immense seriousness of the position. "Are things very bad?" she asked.

    "As bad as they can be," said Hamon, and added: "for the moment. You see, Lydia," he went on in a kindlier tone, "I don't want to be left quite alone at this moment. You're part of the baggage. And besides"--he hesitated--"I promised Sadi that I would take you out to Tangier."

    She did not speak until she had pulled a chair up to the table and sat down opposite him, her elbows on the desk, her eyes fixed on his.

    "Have you promised Sadi anything more?" she asked.

    He avoided her gaze.

    "Five or six years ago you were very keen on my living at Tangier," she said. "Why? What have you promised Sadi?"

    "Nothing, directly. You used to like him, Lydia."

    She made a little face.

    "He interested me, naturally. Any young girl would be interested in a picturesque Moor--and, from what you tell me, he isn't even picturesque any longer. Besides, I've got my values in order."

    "Sadi is very useful to me--extremely useful. He belongs to one of the first Moorish families, he is a Christian--at least, he's supposed to be--and he's rich."

    She smiled contemptuously.

    "So rich that he draws a quarterly allowance from you! No, Ralph, you can't bluff me. I know all about Sadi, as much as I want to know. He's just a tricky Moor; and if you expect me to play Desdemona to him, you've got another guess coming. Othello was never a favourite play of mine. He is very amusing, I daresay, and he is quite a big person in Tangier, and he may be a Christian, though I doubt it. But I'm not going to be Number Twenty-three in his establishment, and the Lord didn't intend me to end my days in an unventilated harem, even though I become the pearl of great price and the principal wife of the Shereef Sadi Hafiz. I've been reading a few books on the subject lately," she went on, "and I understand that there's a whole lot of romance in the desert, but, to anybody who's sniffed the Near East, there's not enough romance to compensate for one bad smell. The last weeks I was in Paris I had several letters from you, Ralph, talking about the languorous joys of Morocco, and I've had it in my mind to ask you just what you were thinking about."

    "Sadi is very fond of you," he said awkwardly. "And these marriages often turn out well. He is a man well thought of by the Government, and he has more decorations than a general."

    "If he was as well decorated as a Christmas tree, he wouldn't appeal to me," said she decisively, "so let us consider that matter settled finally."

    She was secretly astonished that he accepted her very plain talk without protest.

    "Have it your own way," he said, "but you'll have to stay in London, Lydia, until I'm through with this other business."

    After she had gone, he made an effort to work, but without success. From time to time he glanced at the clock on his desk, as though he were expecting some visitor. A cable from Tangier had come that morning, and once or twice he took it from his pocket-book and read it over gravely. Sadi's impecuniosity was no new experience, but this last demand was interesting in view of possible contingencies.

    A small and frugal lunch was served in his office, and after it was cleared away he rang for his clerk, and taking his cheque-book from the safe, wrote reluctantly.

    "Take this to the bank and bring the money back in fives."

    The well-trained clerk did not whistle when he saw the figures, for he was used to dealing with large sums, but seldom had Mr. Hamon drawn actual cash to that amount.

    He returned in half-an-hour with three stout packages, which Hamon did not even trouble to count.

    "I am expecting Mr. Marborne," he said, as he put the money away in a drawer. "Show him right in."

    Marborne was due at half-past two. It was nearer three when he swaggered into the office, a marvellously transformed man, for he was dressed in what he conceived to be the height of fashion, and added to the outrage of a crimson tie a grey top-hat. He took the big cigar from his teeth and nodded jovially at the watchful man behind the desk.

    "'Morning, Hamon! Sorry I'm a bit late, but I had one or two calls to make."

    He had been drinking: Hamon was quick to notice this. On the whole, he preferred to deal with people who drank. One of his stock arguments against prohibition was that it put the habitually sober at a disadvantage with the occasionally drunk.

    "Got the money, old man?"

    Without a word, Hamon opened the drawer and threw the notes on to the table.

    "Thanks," said Marborne, who invariably developed gentility in his cups. "How does it feel, having a family retainer, eh?"

    Hamon leant his elbows on the table and glared across at the blackmailer.

    "See here, Marborne, I'm willing to finance you up to the limit, but you've got to keep your promise."

    "I don't remember having made any," said the other coolly. "I told you that your little secret was safe with me. You aren't going to kick about expenses again, are you?" he asked humorously. "I've got a position to keep up. Thanks to working for you, I've been kicked out of the police force without my pension, and so has Slone. You would have left us to starve if I hadn't had a bit of luck and a naturally prying disposition."

    "Where have you left that--that paper? Suppose it falls into somebody else's hands?" asked Hamon, and Marborne laughed.

    "Do you think I'm such a fool that I'd throw away a good living?" he asked contemptuously.

    Unconsciously he pressed his hand to his left side. It was an involuntary movement, but it did not escape the attention of Hamon.

    "It is in a safe," said Marborne loudly, "burglar-proof and fire-proof, and I am the only person that's got the key. See?"

    "I see," said Hamon, and was almost cheerful when he opened the door to facilitate his visitor's departure.

    He came back to his desk, and without hesitation took a cable form and addressed a message to "Colport, Hotel Cecil, Tangier." There was only one possible solution to the tyranny of Marborne. He must go the way of the unknown sailor whom a cyclist had found dying on the Portsmouth Road.
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