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    Chapter 41

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    Chapter 41
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    Captain Welling: Investigator

    Julius Welling appeared in the record office at headquarters, and the officer on duty hurried to discover his wishes, for this white-haired man seldom made a personal call, and if he did, there was big trouble on the way for somebody or other.

    "Just tell me if my memory is failing. It was ten years ago when The Black robberies started, wasn't it, Sergeant?"

    A drawer was opened, a procession of cards flickered under the Sergeant's nimble fingers, and:

    "Yes, sir--ten years this month."

    "Good! Now give me a list of all the murders that were committed for a year before."

    Another drawer shot out noiselessly.

    "Shall I make a list, sir, or will you see the cards--they have a précis of the crimes."

    "The cards will do."

    A package of fifty large cards was put before him, and he turned them over, speaking to himself all the time.

    "Adams, John, hanged; Bonfield, Charles, insane; Brasfield, Dennis, hanged--all these are 'knowns,' Sergeant."

    "The unknowns are at the bottom, sir."

    These Welling read without comment until he came to the last.

    "Man unknown, believed murder. Assailant unknown----"

    His eyes opened wide.

    "Got it!" he cried exultantly, and now he read aloud.

    "Man, apparently sailor, was found on the edge of the Punch Bowl, Hindhead, unconscious. Lacerated wounds and contusion of scalp. No identity established. Deceased was found by a cyclist, whose name is not available (U.S.D.I.6. (See F.O.) Foreign Intelligence Officers' Regulation, c. 970). Deceased died soon after admission to cottage hospital. All stations notified and portrait published. No identification."

    Welling looked up over his glasses.

    "What is U.S.D.I.6?" he asked.

    "United States Diplomatic Intelligence--6 is the number of the department," said the officer promptly. "The F.O. Regulation deals with the treatment offered to Foreign Intelligence officers in this country. I was looking it up the other day, sir."

    "And what is the regulation?"

    "If they are acting on behalf of their Government, with the knowledge of our people, they are not to be interfered with unless there is a suspicion that they are engaged in espionage."

    Captain Julius Welling rubbed his nose.

    "Then it comes to this; the cyclist was an intelligence officer of a foreign Government. When he was questioned as to the identity of the dead man, I presume he produced his card to the local police inspector, and the local police inspector, in accordance with the regulations, did not put his name in the report."

    "That's about what it is, sir."

    "Then obviously, the person to see is the local police inspector," said Welling.

    Late in the afternoon he arrived at Hindhead and interviewed the chief of police.

    "The Inspector who took that report has left the service some years ago, Captain Welling," said the official. "We've got our own record, but the name of the man would not be there."

    "Who was the inspector at the time?"

    "Inspector Sennett. He lives at Basingstoke now. I remember the day when the sailor was found; I was acting-sergeant at the time, and was the first man to report at the hospital, but he was dead by then."

    The hospital authorities gave Welling all the technical details he required, together with a description of the clothing the man had worn when he was brought into the hospital unconscious. Welling read the entry very carefully. No money was in his pocket, no books or papers of any kind to identify him.

    "I think," said Welling as they left the hospital, "I should like to see the place where the body was found if you know where it is?"

    "I can point to the exact spot," said the local inspector.

    They entered the officer's car and drove until they came to a lonely stretch of road that bordered that deep depression which is known locally as the Devil's Punch Bowl.

    "It was here," said the officer, stopping the car, and pointed to a grassy stretch by the side of the road.

    Welling got down and stared for a long time at the scene of the tragedy.

    "Did you personally visit this place after the man was found?" he asked.

    "Yes," nodded the other.

    "Was there any sign of struggle, any weapon?"

    "None whatever. The impression I had at the time was that he had been brought to this place after the assault was committed and thrown on to the grass."

    "Ah!" said Welling, a gleam in his eye. "That sounds to me like an intelligent hypothesis."

    He scanned the countryside, beginning with the hollow and ending with the hill that sloped up from the road on the opposite side.

    "Whose house is that?"

    The Inspector told him; it was the property of a local doctor.

    "How long has he been living there?"

    "Fifteen or twenty years. He built the house himself."

    Again the detective's eyes roved.

    "Whose cottage is that? It seems to be empty."

    "Oh, that is a little bungalow that belongs to a lawyer who died two or three years ago. It hasn't been occupied since '14."

    "How long did he have it?"

    "A few years."

    "And before then?" asked Welling, continuing his inspection of the country.

    "Before then----" The Inspector frowned in an effort to recall the name of its previous proprietor. "I know; it used to belong to a man named Hamon."

    "What! Ralph Hamon?"

    "Yes, he's a millionaire now. He wasn't so rich then, and he used to live here in the summer."

    "Oh, he did, did he?" said Welling softly. "I'd like to see that cottage."

    The path up the hillside was overgrown with weeds, though at one time it had been well kept, for it was gravelled and in places steps had been made to facilitate the owner's progress. The house bore a lifeless appearance; the windows were shuttered, spiders had spun their webs in the angles of the doorposts.

    "How long did the lawyer live here, you say?"

    "He never lived here. He owned the place, but I think it has been unoccupied since Mr. Hamon left--in fact I'm sure it has. Mr. Hamon sold it to him as it stood, furniture and all.... I'm sure of that because Mr. Steele--that was the lawyer's name--told me he intended letting it furnished."

    Welling tried to pry open one of the shutters and after a while succeeded. The windows were grimed with dust and it was impossible to see the interior.

    "I intend going into this cottage," said Welling and brought his stick down with a crash upon one of the window-panes.

    Inserting his hand, he drew back the window-bolt and lifted the sash. There was nothing unusual about the appearance of the room. It was a simply furnished bedroom, and though dust lay thick upon every article, there was a certain neatness about the character and arrangement of the furniture which defied the dishevelling results of neglect. Nor was there anything remarkable about the other rooms. The furniture was good and the carpets, which had been rolled up, were almost new.

    But the furnishing of the room did not seem to interest Welling. His attention was devoted to the walls, all of which were distempered in pink. At the back of the house was a fairly large kitchen, the windows being heavily barred.

    "Would you like me to search the bureau----"

    Welling shook his head.

    "You will find nothing there," he said. "What I am looking for is----"

    He opened the window and pushed out the shutter.

    "Now I think I can find what I want," he said, and pointed. "Do you see that patch?"

    "I see nothing," said the puzzled officer.

    "Can't you see that a portion of the wall here has been repainted?"

    The kitchen was distempered white, and the irregular patch of new paint was distinct.

    "Here is another," said Welling suddenly.

    He took a knife from his pocket and began to scrape the wash carefully.

    "Murder will out," he said, speaking to himself.

    "Murder?" said the other in surprise.

    For answer, Welling pointed to a pear-shaped stain that his knife had uncovered.

    "That is blood, I think," he said simply.

    With his pocket handkerchief he cleared the dust from the table and examined the top inch by inch.

    "It has been scraped here. Do you feel that?"

    He felt tenderly along the surface of the pine wood.

    "Yes, it has been scraped."

    "Do you suggest----?"

    "I suggest that your unknown sailor was hammered to death in this very room," said Welling.

    "But Mr. Hamon would have known."

    "He probably wasn't in residence," said Welling, and his companion accepted this as completely exonerating the former owner of the bungalow.

    "Naturally you wouldn't think of searching a near-by house to discover how some poor sailor had met his death," mused Welling. "I think that is all I want to know, Inspector. You had better nail up the shutters and give instructions that whoever comes to take possession must first interview me because I want this house empty for a week or two."

    He came down the hill path and paced the distance between the spot where the path joined the road and the place where the dying man was found, and made a few notes.

    "Now, Inspector, if you will lend me your car to go to Basingstoke, I don't think I will trouble you any further."

    He found the pensioned policeman without any difficulty--he was a well-known local character--but it was less easy to induce him to talk, even to a high official of Scotland Yard--or possibly because of that, for the jealousy between the country police and police headquarters is proverbial.

    But Captain Welling had a way of his own; a fund of anecdotes calculated to soften the sourest of pensioned officers with a grievance against headquarters.

    "It's against all regulations," he said, mollified at last, "but I can tell you all you want to know, because I kept his card as a curio. These highbrow intelligence people had never come my way before and naturally I was interested."

    The finding of the card involved an hour's search amongst such oddments as an old man, with a passion for hoarding old race cards, old dance programmes and other mementoes of a cheerful life will accumulate through the years. Watching him, Welling wondered whether the same spirit guided Ralph Hamon and whether it was just the innate craving of the miser for holding on to useless scraps of paper that conduced to the folly of keeping in his possession a document which might hang him.

    "Here it is," said the pensioner in triumph and handed a stained card to his guest.

    Captain Welling fixed his glasses and read:

    "Major James L. Morlake, U. S. Consulate, Tangier."

    He handed back the card with a beatific smile.

    All the mysteries but one were solved, and that one defied solution. It was the mystery of Ralph Hamon's passion for clinging to his own death warrant.
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