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    Chapter 27

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    Chapter 27
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    Mr. Welling Gives Advice

    On the day that Ralph Hamon received an answer to his Moorish cablegram, Mr. Marborne dined well and expensively, for he had reached that blissful stage of conscious prosperity when money came natural.

    His guest that night was Mr. Augustus Slone; and Sergeant Slone, from being an uninteresting, snub-nosed man with a vacuous face and an apologetic air, had developed into a man of fashion.

    So they dined in the largest restaurant in Oxford Street, and it was a dinner of many courses.

    "Another bottle," said Mr. Marborne grandly.

    He pushed down the stiff front of his shirt, which bulged above the white waistcoat, and examined his cigar with a critical air.

    "Well, Slone, this is more my idea of life than rousting round looking for little tea-leaves."[A]

    [Footnote A: In the argot of the London crook, a tea-leaf is a thief.]

    "You've said it," said Slone simply.

    He also was dressed in expensive raiments and if his black dress bow had an edging of purple, it was only because a certain gentlemen's outfitter had assured him that this was the latest and most recherche vagary of fashion.

    "How long is it going on?" he asked, leaning back in his chair and regarding his companion with a glassy stare.

    "For ever," said the other, and as he waved his hand the overhead lights were reflected brilliantly from the diamond in his new ring.

    "What have you got on Hamon?"

    "What do you mean--what have I got on him?"

    "You've got something." Slone nodded with drunken wisdom. "You've put som'n on to him somehow. What have you found out about him?"

    "Never mind what I've found out. All you've got to do is to be satisfied and ask no questions. Am I doing the right thing by you or am I not?"

    "You're certainly doing the right thing by me," admitted Slone with warmth and they shook hands fervently across the table.

    "I'll tell you--not everything, but a little. A certain document has come into my possession," said Marborne. "I won't say what it is or how I got it, but it is something which would do him a lot of no good. That fellow is worth a million, Slone, and he has a sister...!" He kissed the tips of his fingers and waved them to the ceiling ecstatically.

    "I know all about his sister," said Slone, "and she's not the sort of girl who would have anything to do with you, Marborne."

    Marborne's face went a dull red. In his cups he was somewhat quarrelsome.

    "What do you mean?" he demanded. "What was she before Hamon made his money? A barmaid! That's what she was. She served the drinks in a little dive off Glasshouse Street. She's no better than me--in fact, she is not so good."

    Slone assented sycophantically.

    "And there's no sense in talking about putting the black on Hamon," Marborne went on. "What is he--a thief, that's what he is and I can prove it."

    "Is that what you know about him, Marborne?"

    "Never mind what I know," retorted Marborne, beckoning the waiter as a resolve came to him.

    "Let us have another drink," suggested Slone.

    "You've had enough," said the other. "There's that old swine, Welling!"

    The shock of the discovery that he had been under the observation of that grey-haired sleuth probably all the evening, sobered him. As he caught Marborne's eye Welling rose from the little table where he had been enjoying a protracted dinner and walked across to the two and instinctively Slone stood to attention.

    "Sit down, you fool," said Marborne under his breath. "You're not in the police force now. Good evening, Captain Welling."

    "Good evening, Marborne. Having a good time?" He sat down at the unoccupied end of the table and his mild eyes surveyed the former police officer with interest. "Doing well, eh? Making a lot of money? That's the thing to do, Marborne. Honest money brings happiness, crook money brings time."

    "I'm not going to discuss with you, Captain Welling, whether my money's honest or dishonest. If you think----"

    Welling stopped him with an almost humble gesture.

    "You can't mean to suggest that you aren't making a fortune?" he said. "How is friend Hamon?"

    "I don't know Mr. Hamon--at least not very well," protested Marborne loudly. "What are these innuendoes, Captain? I don't know why you should intrude yourself upon me. I've got nothing to thank you for."

    "You've a lot to thank me for," said Welling, lighting the ragged stub of a cigar which he extracted with care from his waistcoat pocket. "The Commissioner wanted to prosecute you, and I think you would have had nine months' hard labour as the result of certain indiscretions of yours, but I persuaded him, in the interests of the service, that it would be better if we let bygones be bygones. Hamon is well, you say?"

    "I didn't say anything about Hamon."

    "A nice man," mused Julius softly, "an extremely nice man. You're working for him?"

    "I tell you, I've nothing to do with Mr. Hamon."

    "You must be working for him," said the other with gentle insistence. "He drew a thousand pounds from the bank only a week ago and at least three of the notes have been passed by you. He would hardly pay you for nothing, would he, Marborne, because that is not the way of the world." He sighed heavily. "Our cruel employers get the last ounce out of us, and perhaps they're right. What are you now--a financier?"

    Marborne was silent.

    "I've been worrying about Hamon," Welling went on. "I saw him for a few minutes the other day and he looked ill. As if he had some trouble on his mind. He couldn't have lost anything from Grosvenor Place, or he would have reported the matter to the police, wouldn't he? Of course he would! Yes, I'm glad to see you're getting on, Marborne. And Slone too! They tell me he's living in a Bloomsbury hotel like a gentleman! You boys are making money." He shook a finger waggishly at the infuriated and a little frightened Marborne. "You're simply dragging it in, Inspector----It sounds better to call you Inspector, doesn't it? Somebody was telling me, you've had a safe put up in your apartments--a beautiful new, green, warranted-to-defy-fire-and-thieves safe."

    "You've been tailing me up, Welling," said Marborne roughly. "You've no right to do that."

    "Tailing you up?" Julius Welling seemed shocked at the charge. "That is the last thing in the world I should think of doing. But gossip gets around--you know how small London is. One man sees one thing, one man sees another, and they sort of pass on the information. And I think you are wise. If you've got a lot of loose money lying around, and you don't patronise banks, it is only an intelligent precaution to have a good safe."

    "What do you mean by not using banks?" said Marborne hotly. "I've got a banking account in Holborn."

    "But you never use it," said the gentle Julius, shaking his head, "and again I'm sure you are right. You never know when a bank will fail. On the other hand, if you've got a nice, big, green, fire proof safe, there's nothing to fear except burglars. And what are burglars? The Black wouldn't rob you, even if he hadn't gone out of the burglarly business for good--which of course he has."

    He looked round quickly and then lowering his voice, he said:

    "Marborne, have you ever tried to tie a tin can to the tail of a wildcat? I see by your expression that you haven't. It is less dangerous than 'tinning' Ralph Hamon. The Old Book says there's a time to make merry and a time to be sad, a time to sleep and a time to eat; and let me tell you that there is a time to quit, too! And that's very near at hand. I wish you no harm, Marborne. You're a bit of a bad lad, but there's a lot about you that I like. Your simplicity is one of the things and your transparent honesty is another. And I shouldn't feel right if I didn't pass on these few words of wisdom and guidance. Pack up your bundle and go while the going's good."

    "Go where?" asked the puzzled Marborne.

    Welling rose heavily from the table.

    "They tell me Spain is a pretty useful place. But keep to the north. The south is too near to Morocco. Italy is another country where living is cheap and the climate is passable. I'll do what I can to protect you."

    "Protect me!" gasped Marborne, and Welling nodded.

    "Yes, sir, that is the word I used. I tell you I'll do my best for you, but I'm not superhuman. Keep away from wildcats."

    To Marborne's intense irritation, the old man patted him on the shoulder.

    "Remember that easy money stings. You don't feel the sting for a long time after, but when you do, it'll hurt like hell!"
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