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- The Devil's Paw - 5/44 -
"Don't worry about me," Julian begged. "Remember that I am practically at home. It's only three miles to the Hall from here so you mustn't look upon me as an ordinary guest. I am going for a tramp in a few minutes."
"Lucky chap!" Furley declared enviously. "Sunshine like this makes one feel as though one were on the Riviera instead of in Norfolk. Shall you visit the scene of your adventure?"
"I may," Julian answered thoughtfully. "The instinct of the sleuthhound is beginning to stir in me. There is no telling how far it may lead."
Julian started on his tramp about half an hour later. He paused first at a bend in the road, about fifty yards down, and stepped up close to the hedge.
"The instinct of the sleuthhound," he said to himself, "is all very well, but why on earth haven't I told Furley about the car?"
He paused to consider the matter, conscious only of the fact that each time he had opened his lips to mention it, he had felt a marked but purposeless disinclination to do so. He consoled himself now with the reflection that the information would be more or less valueless until the afternoon, and he forthwith proceeded upon the investigation which he had planned out.
The road was still muddy, and the track of the tyres, which were of somewhat peculiar pattern, clearly visible. He followed it along the road for a matter of a mile and a half. Then he came to a standstill before a plain oak gate and was conscious of a distinct shock. On the top bar of the gate was painted in white letters.
and it needed only the most cursory examination to establish the fact that the car whose track he had been following had turned in here. He held up his hand and stopped a luggage trolley which had just turned the bend in the avenue. The man pulled up and touched his hat.
"Where are you off to, Fellowes?" Julian enquired.
"I am going to Holt station, sir," the man replied, "after some luggage."
"Are there any guests at the Hall who motored here, do you know?" Julian asked.
"Only the young lady, sir," the man replied, "Miss Abbeway. She came in a little coupe Panhard."
Julian frowned thoughtfully.
"Has she been out in it this morning?" he asked.
The man shook his head.
"She broke down in it yesterday afternoon, sir," he answered, "about halfway up to the Hall here."
"Broke down?" Julian repeated. "Anything serious? Couldn't you put it right for her?"
"She wouldn't let me touch it, sir," the man explained. "She said she had two cracked sparking plugs, and she wanted to replace them herself. She has had some lessons, and I think she wanted a bit of practice."
"I see. Then the car is in the avenue now?"
"About half a mile up, on the left-hand side, sir, just by the big elm. Miss Abbeway said she was coming down this afternoon to put new plugs in."
"Then it's been there all the time since yesterday afternoon?" Julian persisted.
"The young lady wished it left there, sir. I could have put a couple of plugs in, in five minutes, and brought her up to the house, but she wouldn't hear of it."
"I see, Fellowes."
"Any luck with the geese last night, sir?" the man asked. "I heard there was a pack of them on Stiffkey Marshes."
"I got one. They came badly for us," Julian replied.
He made his way up the avenue. At exactly the spot indicated by the chauffeur a little coupe car was standing, drawn on to the turf. He glanced at the name of the maker and looked once more at the tracks upon the drive. Finally, he decided that his investigations were leading him in a most undesirable direction.
He turned back, walked across the marshes, where he found nothing to disturb him, and lunched with Furley, whose leg was now so much better that he was able to put it to the ground.
"What about this visitor of yours?" Julian asked, as they sat smoking afterwards. "I must be back at the Hall in time to dine to-night, you know. My people made rather a point of it."
"You'll be all right," he replied. "As a matter of fact, he isn't coming."
"Not coming?" Julian repeated. "Jove, I should have thought you'd have had intelligence officers by the dozen down here!"
"For some reason or other," Furley confided, "the affair has been handed over to the military authorities. I have had a man down to see me this morning, and he has taken full particulars. I don't know that they'll even worry you at all--until later on, at any rate."
"Jove, that seems queer!"
"Last night's happening was queer, for that matter," Furley continued. "Their only chance, I suppose, of getting to the bottom of it is to lie doggo as far as possible. It isn't like a police affair, you see. They don't want witnesses and a court of justice. One man's word and a rifle barrel does the trick."
"I suppose," he observed, "that if I do my duty as a loyal subject, I shall drop the curtain on last night. Seems a pity to have had an adventure like that and not be able to open one's mouth about it."
"You don't want to join the noble army of gas bags," he said. "Much better make up your mind that it was a dream."
"There are times," Julian confided, "when I am not quite sure that it wasn't."
Julian entered the drawing-room at Maltenby Hall a few minutes before dinner time that evening. His mother, who was alone and, for a wonder, resting, held out her hand for him to kiss and welcomed him with a charming smile. Notwithstanding her grey hair, she was still a remarkably young-looking woman, with a great reputation as a hostess.
"My dear Julian," she exclaimed, "you look like a ghost! Don't tell me that you had to sit up all night to shoot those wretched duck?"
Julian drew a chair to his mother's side and seated himself with a little air of relief.
"Never have I been more conscious of the inroads of age," he confided. "I can remember when, ten or fifteen years ago, I used to steal out of the house in the darkness and bicycle down to the marsh with a twenty-bore gun, on the chance of an odd shot."
"And I suppose," his mother went on, "after spending half the night wading about in the salt water, you spent the other half talking to that terrible Mr. Furley."
"Quite right. We got cold and wet through in the evening; we sat up talking till the small hours; we got cold and wet again this morning--and here I am."
"A converted sportsman," his mother observed. "I wish you could convert your friend, Mr. Furley. There's a perfectly terrible article of his in the National this month. I can't understand a word of it, but it reads like sheer anarchy."
"So long as the world exists," Julian remarked, "there must be Socialists, and Furley is at least honest."
"My dear Julian," his mother protested, "how can a Socialist be honest! Their attitude with regard to the war, too, is simply disgraceful. I am sure that in any other country that man Fenn, for instance, would be shot."
"What about your house party?" Julian enquired, with bland irrelevance.
"All arrived. I suppose they'll be down directly. Mr. Hannaway Wells is here."
"Good old Wells!" Julian murmured. "How does he look since he became a Cabinet Minister?"
"Portentous," Lady Maltenby replied; with a smile. "He doesn't
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