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    Chapter 31

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    Chapter 31
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    Captain Welling Understands

    He was dreaming, he told himself mechanically. It couldn't be true; it was too absurd to think about. She had been shocking him as she had shocked Lydia Hamon. Of course it wasn't true. How could it be? She was only a child....

    He found himself with drawn reins before the Cornford cottage. He could go in there and learn the truth--could drag it from the drunkard. Then he saw the doctor coming out and the old man nodded to him cheerily.

    "How is your patient?" Jim found voice to say.

    "Pretty bad. I think he's got rheumatic fever. He has little or no resistance, so what will happen to him heaven only knows. You look a bit under the weather, Morlake. I haven't seen you since you came from your----"

    "Since I came from Brixton Prison," smiled Jim. "No, I don't think we've met. You needn't worry about me, doctor. I'm as fit as the Derby favourite."

    "My experience is that they are usually unfit," growled the doctor, "though you never discover it until after the race is won and you've lost your money."

    He walked by Jim's side into the village.

    "Queer fish, that man Farringdon," he said, breaking the silence. "A college man, I should think, but a queer fish. He is quite delirious to-day and the things he is saying would make your hair stand on end. Happily," he said after a moment's thought, "I am bald. Ever heard of the Midnight Monks?"

    "Eh?" said Jim.

    "Midnight Monks. I wonder if, in your wider knowledge of the world, you may have heard of them. Some sort of secret society, I should think. He's been babbling about them all the time, though it is not my business to give away my patient's secrets. The only satisfaction you can get out of my unprofessional conduct is that I shall probably give away yours. Hm! The Midnight Monks and Joan," he mused. "I wonder what Joan it is?"

    Jim did not answer and he rambled on.

    "It is a common enough name. Have you ever noticed how names go in cycles? All the Marjories belong to '96; they're contemporary with the Doras and the Dorothys. And all the Joans are about twelve years old. Just now there is an epidemic of Margarets. It is a curious world," he added inconsequently, as, with a wave of his hand, he dived into his surgery.

    Jim did not hear him.

    That must be the explanation. She was shocking him in her impish way. He told himself this with a firmness that sought to mask his act of self-deception.

    He was turning into Wold House when a big Italian car swept past. He caught a glimpse of a face, and turning his horse, watched the car out of sight. Hamon's presence would bring happiness to nobody, he reflected. It certainly gave him none.

    "The hofficers of the law have been 'ere," hissed Binger melodramatically, coming half-way down the drive to meet him.

    "Which particular hofficers? And, by-the-way, I'll have to be careful or I shall be talking like you."

    "I was always considered a very classy talker in my military days," said Binger complacently. "I remember once my colonel telling me----"

    "Shut up about your colonel. Let's get down to common busy fellows. Do you mean Spooner or Finnigan?"

    "All of 'em," said Binger. "He saw William--it's funny his name being William and mine being William----"

    "It is so funny that I'm screaming with laughter," said Jim impatiently. "What did he say to William?"

    "He wanted to know whether you were out last night. It was the other fellow who asked the question. And William said that so far as he knew you were hindoors. And, of course, I knew that you were hindoors, so I gave my testimony hunsolicited, as it were."

    "When did they go?"

    "They're not gone. They're in the study," said Mr. Binger. "And the other gentleman--there was three--he said he felt faint and would like to sit down away from the glare of the sun."

    "There has been no sun for a month. I gather the other gentleman's name is Welling. It sounds rather like him."

    "That's right, sir--Mr. Welling. An old gentleman, not very right in his head, I should think--childish as a matter of fact. He's had that gramophone on the table and has been asking what the little holes in the side were for. It's hawful to see a man in the prime of life talk like that."

    "Horrible," agreed Jim in all sincerity.

    When he walked into the study, Welling was examining with an air of quiet, detached admiration a big etching that hung over the carved mantelpiece. He bent his head sideways, looking over his glasses as Jim came in.

    "Here you are then, Morlake," he said. "I think you're looking remarkably well."

    "The village doctor has just passed an opinion which is directly contrary, but I guess you know," said Jim as he shook hands.

    "I thought I'd look you up," said Welling. He had a trick of thrusting his chin into the air and looking down at his vis-à-vis. The taller they were, the farther rose his chin. His face was almost turned to the ceiling as he regarded Jim with that queer pale stare which had broken down so many obdurate and uncommunicative criminals.

    "I only discovered last night that, outside of all my knowledge, the Yard had sent two men down to shadow you. Now, that's not right," he said, shaking his head. "It isn't right at all. The moment I discovered this, I decided that I would come down personally and withdraw these officers. I can't have you annoyed; you must have your chance, Morlake."

    Jim laughed aloud.

    "I haven't the slightest doubt, Welling, that you were the gentleman who sent these sleuths to watch me," he said.

    "And I have less doubt," said Welling frankly, "that I did send them! That is the worst of our business," he shook his head mournfully. "We have to lie! Such unnecessary lies. I sometimes shudder when I recall the stories I have to tell in the course of a day. That is a nice little gramophone of yours. Have you any records?"

    "Plenty," said Jim promptly.

    "Ah! I set it going just now."

    He turned the switch as he spoke and the turn-table slowly revolved.

    "Very slow, eh? Now, I've been thinking that, if you had a lamp on the top of that turn-table and a figure cut in the shape of a man, so placed that every time the dial turned the shadow fell across that blind--how's that for an idea? When I write my little text-book for burglars, that notion is going to be put very prominently--with illustrations."

    Jim turned the regulator and the disc spun quickly.

    "It only shows how even a clever plan can come unstuck for want of an elementary precaution," he said. "I should have turned that back to full speed if I had been a criminal and had been endeavouring to deceive the good, kind police. You mustn't forget to put those instructions in your text-book, Welling."

    "No, I mustn't," agreed the other warmly. "Thank you very much."

    He looked round at Spooner and his superior.

    "All right, sergeant, I don't think you need wait. You can take Spooner back to town with you by the next train. I will join you at the station. In the meantime, I want just a little private talk with Mr. Morlake--just a little exchange of reminiscences, shall we say?" he beamed.

    He walked to the window and watched the two officers disappear.

    "They're very good fellows," he said, turning, "but they have no brains. Beyond that, they are perfect policemen. In fact, they are the ideal of our force. Where were you last night, Morlake?" He asked the question curtly.

    "Where do you think I was?" said Jim, taking down his pipe from the mantelshelf and loading it.

    "I think you were at 302, Cambridge Circus, opening the safe of my friend Mr. Marborne. When I say 'I think' I mean I know. That isn't the game, Morlake," he shook his head reproachfully. "Dog does not eat dog, nor thief rob thief. And that Marborne was the biggest thief that ever wore a uniform jacket, heaven and the Commissioner know. You made a killing, but did you get what you wanted?"

    "I did not get what I wanted," said Jim.

    "Then why take the money?"

    "What money?" asked Jim innocently.

    "I see." Captain Welling settled himself down on a settee and pulled up the knees of his trousers as outward evidence that he intended making a long stay. "I see we shall have to bicker awhile, Morlake."

    "Don't," begged Jim. "I only take money when the money I want belongs to the man I am after."

    Welling nodded.

    "I guessed that. But this was Marborne's own--money dishonestly earned, and therefore his by right. What is Marborne's pull with Hamon?"

    "Blackmail, I should imagine--in fact, I am pretty certain. He has come into possession of a document which is very incriminating to Hamon, and he is bleeding that gentleman severely; that is my diagnosis."

    Again Welling nodded.

    "Now we come to the one mystery that intrigues me," he said. "There is a document, which you want to get, and which you say Marborne has got. It is a document, the publication of which, or should it fall into the hands of the law officers, would lead to very disastrous consequences to Hamon. Have I stated the matter right?"

    "As nearly as possible," said Jim.

    "Very well, then." Welling ticked off the points on his finger-tips. "First, we have a document, a letter, a statement, and anything you like, the publication of which will, let us say, put Hamon in a very awkward position. Now, tell me this: is there anything in that document which it is absolutely necessary Hamon should keep?"

    "Nothing," said Jim.

    "Then why on earth doesn't he destroy it?" asked Welling in amazement.

    A slow smile dawned on Jim's face.

    "Because he's a monkey," he said. "He's put his hand into the gourd and he has grasped the fruit; he cannot get his hand out without letting go his prize."

    "But you say that there is nothing in the wording of this paper which can possibly advantage him, and yet he does not destroy it! That is incredible. I've heard he is a miser, somebody told me that he's got thirty pairs of boots that he's hoarded since his childhood. But why on earth does he hoard a thing which may----"

    "Put his head in a noose," suggested Jim, and Welling's face went grave.

    "As bad as that?" he asked quietly. "I had a feeling it might be. The man is mad--stark, staring, raving mad. To hold on to evidence that can convict him--why, there's no precedent in the history of jurisprudence. A man may keep a document through sheer carelessness, or forgetfulness, but deliberately to hoard it! Is it something he has written?"

    Jim shook his head.

    "It is something written by another, accusing him of conspiracy to defraud and attempted murder."

    Captain Welling was a man who was not readily surprised, but now he sat speechless with amazement.

    "I give it up," he said. "It is killing Hamon, anyway. I saw him yesterday and he looked like a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown."

    "I should hate to see Hamon die--naturally," said Jim. "He's down here, by-the-way."

    Welling nodded.

    "Yes, he telegraphed to Lord Creith this morning, asking if he could put him up. He has sent his sister away to Paris." He scratched his chin. "One would like to get to the bottom of this," he said. "I have an idea that we should discover a little more than you know or guess."

    "There is nothing bad about Hamon that I cannot guess," said Jim.

    He liked Welling and would, in other circumstances, have gladly spent the day with him; but now he was not in the mood for company and was relieved when the old man took his departure. Jim was sick at heart, miserable beyond belief. The shock of Joan Carston's declaration had stunned him. She would not play with him; she must have spoken the truth. Twice that afternoon he found himself riding in the direction of Mrs. Cornford's cottage, and once he stopped and asked after the patient, and his enquiry was not wholly disinterested.

    "He is very ill, but the doctor takes a more hopeful view," said the lady. "Lady Joan very kindly came and brought some wine for him."

    A little pang shot through Jim Morlake's heart, but he was ashamed of himself the next minute.

    "Of course she would," he said, and Mrs. Cornford smiled at him.

    "You are a friend of hers--she spoke of you to-day."

    "Do you know anything at all about Mr. Farringdon?" he asked her.

    "Nothing, except that he has no friends. An allowance comes to him from a firm of lawyers in the city. I wish I knew where I could find his relations, they ought to be told. But he speaks of nobody except these 'Midnight Monks' and the only name he mentions besides that of a girl is one which seems very familiar to me--Bannockwaite. It has some sort of significance for me, but I can't tell what."

    Jim had heard the name before and it was associated in his mind with something unsavoury. A thought struck him. He had passed Welling in the village street, and the old man had told him that he was staying on for a day or two and Jim had asked him up to dinner. He rode back to the Red Lion where the detective was staying and found him in the public bar, the least conscious of its habitués, and he was drinking beer out of a shining tankard.

    "Do you know anybody named Bannockwaite?"

    "I knew a man named Bannockwaite," said Welling instantly, "and a rascal he was! You remember the case? A young parson who got into a scrape and was fired out of the church. There was nothing much wrong with him, except natural devilry and a greater mistake than choosing a clerical career I cannot imagine. Then he was mixed up with a West End gang of cardsharpers and came into our hands, but there was no case against him. When the War broke out he got a commission--in his own name, remarkably enough. He did magnificently, earned the V.C., and was killed on the Somme. You probably remember him in connection with one of those societies he started. He never actually came into our hands on that score----"

    "What do you mean by societies?"

    "He had a mania for forming secret societies. In fact, when he was at school, he initiated one which disorganised not only his own school but a dozen in the neighbourhood. He was something of a mystic, I think, but devilry was his long suit."

    "What was his school? I suppose you wouldn't know that?"

    "Curiously enough I do. It was Hulston--a big school in Berkshire."

    Jim went back and wrote to the headmaster at Hulston, hoping most fervently that the schoolmaster would not recognise him as the hero of an Old Bailey trial. Late in the afternoon he saw Hamon's car flash past toward London and wondered what urgent business was taking the financier back to town. Long after midnight he heard the peculiar roar of the Italian engine, and, looking through the window, saw the car returning.

    "He is a very busy fellow in these days," thought Jim, and he thought correctly, for Ralph Hamon had spent two hours in a profitable interview with a stranger, who had arrived in London and the conversation had been carried on exclusively in Arabic.
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