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    Chapter 33

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    Chapter 33
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    The Cord

    What made Marborne raise his eyes, he did not know. In the glass above the mantelpiece he saw the glitter of the knife and leant forward, pushing the table with him. He had turned to confront the assassin and in that instant he lifted the edge of the table and flung it over against his assailant. His gun came into his hand and the lights went out simultaneously; for though Ahmet, the muleman, was a barbarian, he lived in a city that was lit by electric light, and he knew the value of a near-by switch.

    Marborne heard the patter of his feet on the stairs and ran after him, tripping and falling over the table. By the time the lights were on, the stairs and passage were empty. There was no sign of the sailor in the street, and double-locking the door, he came back to his room and reached for a handy whisky bottle, and he did not trouble to dilute the fluid.

    "The swine!" he breathed. He put down the bottle and examined the letter that the man had dropped.

    It consisted of a package of old newspapers.

    So that was it! He had, as Welling told him, tinned the wildcat and the cat had shown his claws.

    He was cool now, in mind if not in body, for his forehead was streaming. So that was Hamon--the real Hamon, who would stick at nothing to get back the thing he had lost. He sat for half-an-hour, then, rising, took off his coat, his vest, his shirt, and then the silk singlet beneath. Fastened to his body with strips of sticking plaster was a small bag of oiled silk, through which he could read certain of the words which appeared on the document which Hamon, no less than Morlake, so greatly desired.

    He fixed two fresh strips of sticking plaster, dressed himself, and, examining his revolver carefully, slipped it into his hip pocket. There was only one thing to be done, and that must be done immediately. He had a thought of calling on Slone, but Slone might easily complicate matters, and he decided on the whole that it would be best if he worked alone. He must go at once, before the would-be murderer recovered from his fright. He put on his overcoat, took a loaded cane from the hall stand, and went out.

    Jim Morlake was the solution to his difficulties and the shield to his danger. He saw that with startling clearness. Closing the door behind him, he looked left and right, but, as he expected, there was no sign of the foreign-looking sailor.

    A cab took him to Victoria, and he found he had half-an-hour to wait for a train to the nearest railway junction. Another whisky fortified him for the journey, and he ensconced himself in the corner of a first-class carriage which was occupied by two other men.

    At eleven o'clock that night, Jim, who was genuinely working in his study, heard feet coming up the gravel drive, and, opening the door, was audience to a parley between Binger and some unknown person. Presently Binger came in in a state of great excitement.

    "It's that damned Marborne," he whispered.

    "Show him in," said Jim, after a moment's thought.

    What would Marborne be wanting, he wondered? That he should suspect Jim of being The Black was natural, but he would hardly have taken a journey at that hour of the night, either to express his reproaches or to conduct a cross-examination.

    "Bring him in here."

    Marborne was looking very haggard and drawn, he thought. He expected trouble, but the man's attitude and manner were civility itself.

    "I'm sorry to interrupt you at this time of night, Mr. Morlake," he said, "and I hope that you won't think I've come to see you about that little job last night."

    Jim was silent.

    "The fact of the matter is," said Marborne, dropping his voice, "I'm in----" Suddenly he spun round. "What's that?" he croaked.

    There was a crunch of slow footsteps on the gravel outside.

    "Who is it?" he asked hoarsely.

    "I'll find out," said Jim.

    He himself opened the door to the visitor.

    "Come in, Welling. You're the second last person I expected to see."

    "And who was the first?" asked Welling.

    "An old friend of yours, who has just arrived--Marborne."

    The white eyebrows of Captain Welling rose.

    "Marborne! How interesting! Has he come down to get his money back?"

    "I thought that at first," said Jim good-humouredly, "and of course, I couldn't very well refuse. No, I think it is something more serious than the loss of money that is bothering him."

    Marborne's relief at seeing Jim's visitor was so evident that Jim was puzzled.

    "Expecting a friend, Marborne?" said Julius genially.

    "No--no, sir," stammered the man.

    "I thought you weren't. You can put your gun away. Very bad business, carrying guns. I'm surprised at an old policeman like you thinking of such things. A good stick is all that a policeman needs--a good stick and the first blow!"

    Something of Marborne's nerve had returned at the sight of the man who, more than any other, had been responsible for his ruin. He seemed suddenly to rid himself of the terror which had enveloped him like a cloud a few moments before.

    "I won't trouble you about my business to-night, Mr. Morlake. Perhaps you could give me a few minutes in the morning?"

    "If I'm in the way----" began Welling.

    "No, sir. Where can I sleep to-night? I suppose there's an hotel here?"

    "There is an inn," said Welling, "the Red Lion. I'm staying there myself. But I can wait; my business isn't very important. I merely wanted to ask Mr. Morlake a question or two."

    "No, the morning will do," said Marborne.

    He had come to a definite decision. Hamon should have his last chance. He was here, within a stone's throw. In the morning he would make his offer, and perhaps, with the accusation of an attempted murder hanging over his head, Hamon would pay more handsomely and more readily.

    "You'll find two other friends of yours waiting outside--Milligan and Spooner," said Julius Welling. "Don't corrupt them, Marborne!"

    "I thought you'd sent your bloodhounds back to town?" asked Jim when Marborne had gone.

    "I did, but the man who was responsible for their being here sent them back to Creith by the next train. In our service, Mr. Morlake, it is a great mistake for one department to butt into the affairs of another. Messrs. Spooner and Milligan are not in my department."

    He chuckled at this little comedy of inter-departmental dignity.

    "But I'll shift them. I'll have them moved for you. I came up to-night to tell you that they were here--I shouldn't like you to think that I'd broken a promise. To-morrow I will apply humbly to the superintendent whom I asked to send these men, that he will be gracious enough to withdraw them, and they will be withdrawn. What is wrong with Marborne?"

    "I don't know. He talked about being in something--I think he was going to say 'danger.' Maybe he has been drinking."

    Welling shook his head.

    "He wasn't drunk," he said. "I wonder what he means?" He was talking to himself. "We'll have him back, Morlake. He'll be talking with those fellows of mine."

    They went out into the road together and the two detectives who were waiting for Welling's return came over to them.

    "Is Marborne there?"

    "No, sir," said Milligan.

    "Has he gone?"

    "I don't know what you mean, sir. I haven't seen him."

    "You haven't what?" almost shouted Welling. "Didn't he come out of this gate two minutes ago?"

    "No, sir," the two men spoke together. "Nobody came out of that gate until you came out."

    There was a silence.

    "Have either of you men got a lamp?"

    For answer, Milligan's pocket torch shot a fan of light on to the ground, and, seizing the lamp, Welling walked back, sweeping the drive from left to right.

    Half-way between the gates and the house he stopped and turned the light on to the bushes that bordered the drive.

    Marborne lay face downward. There was a slight wound at the back of his head, but it was the knotted silk cord wound tightly around his throat that had killed him.
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