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    Chapter 66

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    Chapter 66
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    The Return

    It had snowed all night. The roads were ankle-deep but the man who tramped doggedly through the mean streets of East London hardly noticed the weather. It was too early to get a cab. The little ship had come in with the tide and was moored near Tower Bridge and he had had some difficulty in persuading the man at the docks to let him pass, but as he carried no luggage, that difficulty had been overcome, and now he was heading for the city.

    He passed Billingsgate, crowded even at that early hour, and turning up Monument Hill, came to the Mansion House. Here he found a wandering taxi which set him down at the end of Grosvenor Place. There was nobody in sight. The snow was falling again and a fierce wind had driven the policeman to cover. The blinds of the house were drawn, he noticed, and wondered whether it was empty. Taking a key from his pocket, he opened the door.

    Nothing had been moved. He had sold the house and the new tenant had told him he would not wish to take possession for a year. He muttered his satisfaction. Looking into the drawing-room, he saw it was untouched. On one of the tables was an embroidery frame, the needle showed in the fabric and he nodded. Lydia was here then, she had not returned to Paris, and she was wise. On the way upstairs he met a servant coming down and the woman stared at him as though he were a ghost. Fortunately he knew her.

    "You needn't tell anybody I'm back," he said gruffly and went on to his room.

    It looked very desolate with its sheeted furniture. The floors were bare and the bed innocent of clothing. He took off his overcoat and looked at himself in the glass with a queer smile, and he heard a rustle of feet on the landing outside. The door opened suddenly and Lydia came in in her dressing-gown.

    "Ralph!" she gasped. "Millie told me that she had seen you."

    "Well, she told the truth," he said, looking at her strangely. "So you're here, are you?"

    "Yes, Ralph, I came straight back."

    "After telling the police as much as you could about me?"

    "I told them nothing," she said.

    He grunted his disbelief.

    "Ralph, there's a story about Sadi Hafiz. He was murdered in Morocco and you were--you were in the house."

    "Well?" he asked.

    "Is that true?"

    "I didn't know he was dead," he said, not meeting her eyes. "Besides, what happened in Morocco is nothing to do with us here. They can't extradite me for a murder committed in a foreign country. And if they do who's to prove I did it? Sadi Hafiz got what was coming to him," he said cunningly. "I killed him because he insulted you."

    She knew he was not speaking the truth but did not argue with him.

    "The police have been here," she began.

    "Of course they've been here. Haven't you been running round with old Welling? I heard about it in Tangier. As to the police, I'm going to Welling this morning."

    "Ralph, you're not!" She laid her hand on his arm but he shook it off.

    "I'm going to Welling this morning, I tell you. I've been thinking things over on the ship and I'm sick of living like a hunted dog. If they've got anything on me, let them produce it. If it is a question of trial, why I'll stand my trial! Get me something to eat."

    She hurried away, coming back to tell him that she had laid a tray in his study.

    "I suppose the police have looked there too, haven't they?"

    "They didn't look anywhere, Ralph," she said, "they merely called. They had no warrant----"

    "Hadn't they?" He turned on her quickly, a gleam in his eyes. "That means that they're not sure of themselves," he added. "I'll see old Welling to-day and he will be a very surprised man. Then I'm going down to Creith, my property," he said emphatically.

    "Ralph, you're mad to go to the police," she said tremulously, "couldn't you go abroad somewhere?"

    "I've had too much of abroad already. I tell you I'm going to surprise old man Welling."

    Inspector Welling was not easily shocked, but when a policeman came into his office that morning and laid a card on his table he almost jumped from his chair.

    "Is he here?" he asked incredulously.

    "Yes, sir, in the waiting-room."

    "He himself?" He could not believe his ears.

    "Yes, sir."

    "Bring him along," and even then he did not expect to see Ralph Hamon.

    Yet it was the Ralph of old, with his immaculate silk hat and his well-fitting morning coat, who walked into the office and laid his cane upon the officer's table and smiled down into his astonished face.

    "Good-morning, Welling," he said cheerfully. "I understand that you have been looking for me?"

    "I certainly have," said Welling, recovering from the shock of surprise.

    "Well, here I am," said Hamon, and found a chair for himself.

    He looked ten years older than he had when Welling saw him last, and the frothy little locks that covered the top of his head had completely disappeared, leaving him bald.

    "I want you to account for what you did--or, at any rate, for your movements--in Morocco," said Welling, beginning cautiously. Anything further that he might have said was interrupted by his visitor's laughter.

    "You can't ask me anything, Welling, or make any enquiries, unless you are requested to do so by the police authorities of that district in which Sadi Hafiz died. You see, I am making no disguise of the fact that I know it is Sadi Hafiz's murder you are thinking about. My sister tells me you also require certain information concerning Farringdon and his untimely end. I can only tell you that, at the time of his murder, I was in London, and if you can prove to the contrary you are welcome to take any steps which you may think necessary."

    The detective looked at him from under his bushy eyebrows.

    "And what of the murder in the little cottage overlooking the Devil's Punch Bowl?" he asked.

    Not a muscle of Ralph Hamon's face moved.

    "That is a new one to me," he said, "though the locality sounds familiar. I had a bungalow there--or in that region."

    "It is about the bungalow I am speaking," said Welling. "A man was killed there, stripped and put into a sailor's suit, and left for dead on the Portsmouth Road. He was picked up, as you probably know, by Mr. James Lexington Morlake, and conveyed to the Cottage Hospital, where he died. I have examined the premises, and I find bloodstains on the wall of the kitchen."

    Ralph Hamon smiled slowly.

    "Have you also found that I put them there?" he asked drily. "Really, Captain Welling, I am not prepared to discuss these crimes in detail. What I do ask you plainly is this." He got up and walked across to the table, and stood leaning upon its edge, looking down into Welling's upturned face.

    "Have you any charge to make against me? Because, if you have, I am here to answer that charge."

    Welling did not reply. The enemy had carried the war into his country, and had established a very favourable point for himself. He was practically demanding an enquiry into rumour and a precipitation of suspicion. There was no warrant for the man, no definite charge against him. Even Scotland Yard would hesitate to arrest Ralph Hamon on the information it possessed; and he knew that the man was on safe ground when he said that no charge could follow the murder of Sadi Hafiz unless representations had been made by the Moorish Government--and none had been made.

    "Most of the charges are those which you are bringing yourself," he drawled. "I do not even ask you to produce your pocket-case and show me its contents."

    He watched the man narrowly as he spoke. If Hamon had shown the slightest uneasiness, if he had turned the conversation elsewhere, if he had protested against the suggestion, he would have arrested the man on the spot and have searched him, on any charge that came into his head. But the answer of Ralph Hamon was characteristic. He dived his hand into his pocket and flung the case on to the table.

    "Look for yourself," he said, "and if you wish to search me ..." he flung out his arms--"you are at liberty."

    Welling opened the case and examined the papers it contained with a professional eye. Then he handed the leather pouch back to its owner.

    "Thank you," he said. "I will not detain you, Mr. Hamon."

    Hamon picked up his hat and stick, pulled on his gloves and walked leisurely to the door.

    "If you want me, you know where you will find me--either at my house in Grosvenor Place, or at my country residence, Creith House."

    Welling smiled.

    "I never find anybody except in the place I put them," he said.

    Ralph Hamon strolled down the long corridor, twirling his stick, and out on to the Thames Embankment, where a hired car was awaiting him. On his way through the Park he looked back wondering which of the taxicabs which were bowling along behind contained the shadow that Welling had affixed to him.

    He found Lydia waiting in a state of nervous tension.

    "What did they say, Ralph?" she asked, almost before he was in the room.

    "What could they say?" he smiled contemptuously.

    He went to her writing bureau, pulled out a cheque book and sat down.

    "Since you are so infernally nervous, you had better go off to Paris this afternoon," he said, and, writing a cheque, tore it out and handed it to her.

    She looked at the amount and gasped; then, from the cheque, her eyes went back to her brother.

    "Have you this amount in the bank?" she asked, and he swung round to stare at her.

    "Of course I have," he said.

    He turned again to the table, wrote another cheque and, enclosing it in an envelope, added a card: "With Compliments," and, having addressed the envelope, rang the bell.

    "We have no butler now, Ralph," she said nervously. "Would you like me to take the letter to the post? Are you staying in?" she added.

    "No," he answered curtly, "I am going to my wife."

    Her hand went up to her mouth.

    "Your wife, Ralph?" she faltered. "I did not know you were married."

    "I am referring to Joan," he said gravely, and went out, and up to his room.

    She sat motionless, twisting a torn handkerchief in her hand, and after a while she heard him come down again and the street door close. She went to the window and looked out, to see him enter his car and drive off. He had changed his attire, and wore the suit he had been wearing when he arrived that morning. Before the car was out of sight, she was flying up to her room to dress, for she knew that the moment of crisis was at hand.
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