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    Chapter 34

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    Chapter 34
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    The Letter That Came by Post

    "He's dead, I'm afraid," said Jim, at the end of half-an-hour's work on the still figure that lay on the floor of the study.

    Stripped to his singlet, he had applied artificial respiration, but without effect. The man must have died a few seconds before they found him.

    "Thorough!" said Welling, biting his lip thoughtfully, "very thorough and very quick. Searched to the skin, you notice."

    The dead man's clothes had been torn open, so that his breast was exposed.

    "That is where the mystery was hidden--fastened to his skin. It is an old dodge, which Marborne must have learnt in the course of his professional career."

    Milligan returned from a search of the grounds, to report failure.

    "We can do nothing till daylight, except warn the local police. Put a call through, Spooner. Turn out all the men you can find to search the meadows; the murderer must have gone that way because he could not have come out of the gate. He may make for one of the woods, but that is doubtful. You know the topography of the country, Morlake; which way would he have gone?"

    "It depends entirely whether he knew it also," said Jim. "I suggest the footbridge across the river and the riverside path to the Amdon Road. But there are half-a-dozen ways that he may have gone if he can climb, and I should imagine that, if you make an inspection of the walls, you will find that he has gone that way."

    But here he was wrong.

    Neither daylight nor beaters brought the murderer into their hands. The only discovery--and that was of first importance--was made by Spooner, who found, on the towpath, a long, curved knife which the assassin had dropped in his hurry.

    "Moorish," said Jim. "That is to say, made in Birmingham and sold in Morocco. It is a type that is greatly favoured by the country folk, and unless it is a blind I think you can issue an order to pull in any Moor who is found within twenty miles of this place in the next few hours."

    The only information that came to them was that a foreign-looking sailor had been seen on the Shoreham Road, but he was not black, added the report virtuously. Welling brought the wire to Jim.

    "What do you think of the clever lads?" he groaned. "Not black! I suppose they expected to see a coal-black nigger. What colour would he be?"

    "White, as likely as not," said Jim. "Many of the Moors are whiter than you or I."

    The London police had searched Marborne's apartments, and his friend had been interviewed. Slone's evidence was that he had seen the dead man only the previous night. He had told him that he was nervous and mentioned the fact that he had seen a foreign sailor in Cambridge Circus who seemed to have lost himself.

    "That is our man," said Welling. "He went to Marborne's flat and there was a fight. The dining-room was in disorder, tables and chairs overthrown, and they found a dummy letter addressed to Marborne, which is probably the excuse on which the man secured admission. Marborne must have fought him off and come down to you."

    "Why?"

    "Obviously because he wanted to sell you the document with which he was blackmailing Hamon. Therefore, he must have thought that Hamon employed the Moor to kill him. Therefore, again, Hamon must be privy to this murder, and," he added in despair, "there is not enough evidence against Hamon even to justify a search warrant!"

    Welling had made Wold House his headquarters--a singular choice, thought and said Ralph Hamon when he was summoned to meet Julius Welling in Jim's study.

    "It may be amusing and it may be tragic," said Julius, no longer gentle, "but this place is good enough for me, and therefore I'm afraid it must be good enough for you. You know the news, Mr. Hamon?"

    "That Marborne is killed? Yes, poor fellow!"

    "A friend of yours?"

    "I knew him. Yes, I could almost say that he was a friend of mine," said Hamon.

    "When did you see him last?"

    "I haven't seen him for several days."

    "Was your interview a friendly one?"

    "Very. He came to me to borrow some money to start a business."

    "And you lent it to him, of course?" said Welling dryly. "And that is intended to explain the financial transactions between you and him?"

    "What do you mean?" demanded Ralph Hamon. "Are you suggesting that I'm lying?"

    "I'm telling you you're lying," said Welling shortly. "I suggest nothing when I'm investigating a charge of murder. I tell you again that you're lying. You gave him money for a purpose of your own. He had some document in his possession which you were anxious to recover, and since he would not return it to you, you paid him large sums of money by way of blackmail."

    Hamon's face was grey.

    "You're making a statement which may be investigated in a court of law."

    "It certainly will, if I catch the murderer," said Welling grimly.

    "Has it occurred to you," sneered Hamon, "that this man Harborne was an enemy of Morlake's, and that he was found dead in his grounds?"

    "It has occurred to me many times in the night," said Welling. "Only, unfortunately for your theory, Morlake was with me when this man was killed, and the package, which was affixed to his body by strips of sticking plaster, was taken."

    He saw the light come into Ralph Hamon's eyes and the drawn look of terror seemed instantly to disappear. It was the most wonderful facial transformation that he had seen in his long experience.

    "You didn't know it, eh? Yes, your man got the package all right."

    "My man?" said Hamon instantly. "What do you mean? You had better be careful, Welling. You're not so powerful a man at headquarters that you cannot be pulled down!"

    "And you're not so wonderful a fellow that you couldn't be hanged," said Welling good-naturedly. "Come, come, Mr. Hamon, we don't want to quarrel; we want to get at the truth. Is it true that Marborne blackmailed you? I'll save you a lot of trouble by telling you that we have absolutely convincing proof that he did so blackmail you. Slone has told us."

    Hamon shrugged his shoulders.

    "What Slone told you is of no interest to me. I can only tell you that I lent money to this unfortunate man in order to start him in business, and if you have any proof to the contrary, you may produce it."

    Nobody knew better than he that no such proof existed. Welling knew that his bluff had failed, but that did not greatly worry him. He tried a new tack.

    "You have been sending a number of cables to Morocco recently, mainly in code, one especially in which you referred to Ali Hassan. Who is he?"

    Again that look of anxiety came to Hamon's face, only to vanish instantly and leave him his cool, smiling self.

    "Now I understand why they call detectives 'busies,'" he said. "You've had a very busy night! Ali Hassan is a brand of Moorish cigar!"

    He looked at Jim and Jim nodded in confirmation.

    "That is true. It is also the name of a notorious Moorish murderer who was hanged twenty-five years ago."

    "Then take your choice," said Hamon with a quiet smile.

    "This is your writing?" An envelope was suddenly produced from behind Welling's desk and thrust under the eyes of the other.

    "No, it isn't my writing," said Hamon without hesitation. "What do you suggest, Inspector?"

    "I suggest that Marborne was killed by a Moor, who was specially brought to this country for the purpose by you."

    "In other words, that I am an accessory before and after this murder?"

    Welling nodded.

    "If the idea wasn't amusing, I should be very angry," said Hamon, "and in all the circumstances, I decline to give you any further information." He paused at the door carefully to fold the top of his soft felt hat. "And you cannot force me--nobody knows that better than you, Captain Welling. You understand--I will give you no further information."

    Welling nodded.

    "He has already given us more than he knows," he said when the door had closed upon the unwilling witness. "Who is Sadi Hafiz?"

    "He is a poisonous rascal who lives in Tangier," said Jim without hesitation, "a man entirely without scruple but immensely useful to people like Hamon and other shady company promoters who want a plausible proposition to put before the public. He is an agent of Hamon's. I knew him years ago--in fact we had a slight shooting match--when I was employed on the survey of a suggested Fez railway. There were remarkable stories about him, some of them incredible. He is certainly the pensioner of half-a-dozen interests, and, I should imagine, has more serious crime or what passes for crime on his conscience than any other man in Morocco."

    "Murder, for instance?" asked Welling.

    Jim smiled.

    "I said 'serious crimes.' Murder isn't a serious crime in the Rifi Hills."

    Welling scratched his nose again.

    "If we catch this Moorish fellow, he'll talk."

    "He'll say nothing against Sadi Hafiz," said Jim promptly. "These shereefs are, in a sense, holy men. Sadi Hafiz could not pass through the streets of Tangier without having the hem of his garments frayed by kissing, and our murderer will die without saying a word to incriminate Sadi or any other person."

    The story of the murder came to Joan through her agitated maid, and at first she was seized with a panic.

    "In Mr. Morlake's garden? Are you sure?" she faltered.

    "Yes, miss. Mr. Welling, a London gentleman, and Mr. Morlake found him, and it was only a minute or two after the poor man had left them that he was killed. Everybody is saying it is a judgment on the village for letting Mr. Morlake stay here."

    "Then you can tell everybody they're fools," said Joan relieved.

    "And they say that poor gentleman at Mrs. Cornford's is dying."

    Joan did not make any reply to this. Later in the morning she went down to the cottage and learnt that the maid's fears were exaggerated.

    At luncheon that day the murder was naturally the absorbing interest of conversation, but to Lord Creith alone.

    "By gad!" he said with satisfaction. "The jolly old village is coming on! Haven't had a murder here for three hundred years. I was looking up the old records. A gypsy murdered another gypsy and was hanged at the top of No Man's Hill. They called it Gibbet Hill for a hundred years. What is your theory, Hamon? I understand you went down and saw the police?"

    "I saw the police--yes," said Hamon shortly, "but what is the sense of discussing the matter with men of their limited intelligence? Welling is an old dotard, entirely under the thumb of that damned thief----"

    "That thief," corrected Lord Creith with a bland smile. "We never damn anybody at this table unless my daughter is--er--not here. You were talking about Morlake, of course? So the police are under his thumb? Well, well, we are getting on! I thought Welling was an exceptionally bright man; and for his being old, he is two years younger than I, and nobody could call me old! Oh, by the way, Joan, that young man who is staying with Mrs. Cornford and is so ill--do you know who he is?"

    Her lips moved, but she did not speak.

    "He is young Farringdon--Sir Willoughby Farringdon's son. You remember old Farringdon? The boy was at Hulston College. You were at a school near Hulston of course! Yes, he is young Farringdon--a sad rascal. He got into some scrape at school and was kicked out. Old Willoughby never forgave him. I think he's been drinking too, but that is the old man's fault. All the Farringdons drank too much. I remember his grandfather...."

    The girl sat rigid, listening without comment.

    "Hulston turned out some queer birds," said the earl reminiscently. "There was that fellow Bannockwaite, the rascal! The fellow that started all those tomfool societies in the schools and demoralised them most devilishly. You remember him, Joan?"

    "Yes, Father," she said, and something in her tone made Hamon look at her. She was white to the lips. Following the direction of his guest's eyes, Lord Creith jumped up and went to her side.

    "Is anything wrong, Joan?" he asked anxiously.

    "I feel a little faint--I don't know why. The day has been rather an exciting one. Will you excuse me, Daddy?"

    He took her upstairs himself and did not leave her until he had brought half the household to her side.

    Lord Creith went down to the village and in a frenzy of investigation found himself ringing the bell of Wold House. It was his first visit and Jim was flabbergasted to see him.

    "Come in, Lord Creith," he said. "This is a very unexpected honour."

    "If I didn't call now, I never should," said the earl with a twinkle in his eye. "I want to know all about this murder, and most of the police theories."

    Jim was silent. He could not detail views which were unflattering to Lord Creith's guest. So he limited his narrative to a very full description of what happened on the night Marborne was killed, and the earl listened attentively. As chief of the local magistrates, it would be his duty to conduct the preliminary enquiry if a charge was brought.

    "It is a most extraordinary happening," he said when Jim had finished, "wholly oriental in design and execution. I lived for some years in India and that type of murder is not new to me. Now what are the police theories?"

    But here Jim excused himself, and, seeing through the window Welling engaged in directing the measurements which were being taken, he seized the opportunity of taking his lordship to the fountain-head.

    "The curious thing is," said Lord Creith, "that I had a feeling that something unusual had happened. I woke an hour earlier than I ordinarily do. I should have heard about it at once from the postman, who is a great gossip, but for some reason or other, we had no early morning post to-day. In fact," Lord Creith meandered on, "only one letter came to Creith House to-day and that was at eleven o'clock and even that was not for me, but for my guest."

    Welling spun round.

    "For Mr. Hamon?" he asked quickly.

    "Yes."

    "From London?"

    "No, curiously enough, it wasn't from London; it was from a little village about eight miles from here. I meant to ask Hamon who the dickens his correspondent was, but probably he is buying property in the neighbourhood--in fact, I know he is," he added grimly.

    "What was the name of the village?"

    "Little Lexham."

    The detective frowned in an effort of concentration. If it came by the eleven o'clock mail, it would have been posted that morning.

    "Was it a thick letter?"

    "Yes. The first impression I had was that it had a pocket handkerchief in it. Why do you ask these questions? Surely my guest's correspondence does not interest you, Captain Welling?"

    "It interests me very much. You don't remember the handwriting?"

    Lord Creith's brows met.

    "I don't quite get the tendency of this inquiry," he said, "but I did notice the handwriting. It was addressed in printed characters."

    "Was the envelope a thick one?"

    "Yes, I should say it was. I remember it because it was covered with dirty finger-marks, and I asked the postman who had been handling the mail."

    Welling made up his mind quickly.

    "I am going to take you into my confidence, Lord Creith," he said. "I have reason to believe that Marborne was murdered because he had in his possession a document which Mr. Hamon was anxious to procure."

    "Good God!" said Lord Creith aghast.

    "If my theory is right--and the document was obviously taken from the body of Marborne--the murderer slipped whatever he found into an addressed envelope which had already been supplied to him. If he is a Moor, he would have enough intelligence to place the letter in the post."

    "Do you know what you're saying?" asked Lord Creith breathlessly.

    "I'm merely giving you my theory in confidence, and you're entitled to receive it in confidence, Lord Creith, since you are a magistrate in this county. Is it possible to get that envelope?"

    Lord Creith thought for a little while.

    "Come back to the house with me," he said. "I don't know whether I'm standing on my head or my heels--by the time we get to the Hall I shall be more certain of myself."

    Hamon was out. He had followed Joan into the park, to her intense annoyance.

    "I'm blessed if I know what to do," said his lordship helplessly. "I suppose I might as well be hanged for a sheep as for a lamb, so go ahead and look at his room."

    Welling's search was thorough and rapid; it was also in part fruitless. There was a writing-table and a waste-paper basket, but the basket was empty--had been emptied in the early morning.

    "Ah, there it is!" said Welling suddenly and pointed to the large open fireplace.

    A scrap of burnt ash had blown into the corner and he picked it up tenderly.

    "This is the envelope and something else." There were ashes which were not of paper.

    He picked up a small portion and smelt.

    "That isn't paper," he said. Welling looked up at the ceiling for inspiration. "No, I can't place it. Will you give me an envelope?"

    He collected the ashes into two separate envelopes and put them in his pocket and got downstairs in time to see a weary Joan and her suitor coming up the broad stairs of the terrace before the house. She passed Welling with a little nod and took her father's arm.

    "Daddy, can I speak to you?" she said. "Can I come to the library?"

    "Certainly, my love," he said, looking at her closely. "You're still very pale; are you sure you ought to be out?"

    She nodded.

    "I'm quite all right," she said. "You mustn't worry. I wonder how pale you'll be when I--when I tell you what I have to tell you?"

    He stopped and looked at her.

    "And I wonder how disappointed in me you'll be?"

    Here he shook his head.

    "It is going to take a lot to make me disappointed in you, Joan," he said, and put his arm round her shoulder.

    She tried hard not to cry, but the strain was terrific. Lord Creith closed the door and led her to a recessed window seat.

    "Now, Joan," he said, and his kindly eyes were full of love and sympathy, "confess up."

    Twice she tried to speak and failed, and then:

    "Daddy, I married Ferdie Farringdon when I was at school," she said in a low voice.

    His eyes did not waver.

    "A jolly good family, the Farringdons, but addicted to drink," said his lordship, and she fell, sobbing, into his arms.
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