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    Chapter 42

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    Chapter 42
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    The Man in the Night

    Creith House was in that turmoil which comes to every house, big or little, when the family is on the point of leaving for a holiday. Lord Creith was looking forward to his voyage with the zest and enthusiasm of a schoolboy.

    "Young people are not what they used to be," he said. "Now, when I was your age, Joan, I'd have been dancing round at the prospect of a real holiday free from bother. We shan't see Hamon for two months. That ought to be enough to make you cheerful."

    "I'm bubbling over with cheer, Daddy," she said wearily, "only I'm rather tired."

    If she had said she was exhausted, she would have been nearer the truth. The events of the day had taken their toll, she realised, as she dragged herself to her room, undecided as to whether she should go to bed or try to find, in the pages of a book, the quietness of mind that was so desirable. Oscillating between the two alternatives, she took the course which was least profitable. She thought. She thought of Jim and the haggard man at the cottage, and of Hamon a little. It was curious how he had receded into the background.

    Her maid came to pack her clothes, but she sent her away. How was Farringdon, she wondered? Was that outburst of his part of his disease ... was he mad? She wished there were a telephone at the cottage, so that she could ring up Mrs. Cornford and ask her. On the spur of the moment she went to her writing-table and wrote a note, but when her maid came, in answer to her ring, she had changed her mind. She would go down to the cottage herself and see the man, reason with him, if he was in a reasonable frame of mind. She must know just where she stood.

    Lord Creith saw her coming down the stairs.

    "Going out?" he asked in consternation. "My dear old girl, you can't go out to-night. It is blowing great guns!"

    "I'm only going to walk as far as the lodge gates, Daddy," she said.

    She hated lying to him.

    "I'll come with you."

    "No, no, please don't. I want to be by myself."

    "Can't you take your maid?" he insisted. "I don't like you roaming around alone. By gad! I haven't forgotten the fright you gave me on the night of the storm."

    But, with a reassuring smile, she went out through the big doors on to the terrace and he stood uncertainly, half-inclined to follow her. She followed the drive almost to the lodge gates, then turned off by what was known as the wall path, that would bring her within a few yards of the cottage. Half a gale was blowing, and the trees creaked and groaned, and the bare branches rattled harshly above her. But she was for the moment oblivious to the elements and to any storm but that which raged in her own heart.

    Mrs. Cornford had had a very uneasy evening with her patient, and the doctor, hastily summoned, now took a graver view of the disorder.

    "You'll have to keep nurses here," he said. "I am afraid this man is certifiable. I'll bring in Dr. Truman from Little Lexham to-morrow to examine him."

    "Do you mean he is insane?" she asked in horror.

    "I am afraid so," said the doctor. "These dipsomania cases generally end that way. Has he had a shock?"

    "No, nothing that I know about. He was up this morning, walking in the garden and was quite rational. Then this afternoon," she pointed to an empty whisky bottle, "I found it in the garden. I don't know how he got it, but probably he sent one of the villagers to the Red Lion."

    The doctor glared at the bottle.

    "That is the cause," he said. "I don't think our friend will drink again for a very long time. I would have him moved to-night, but I cannot get in touch with the hospital authorities. Hark at him!"

    The patient was yelling at the top of his voice, but it was quite impossible to distinguish any consecutive sentence.

    "Joan," occurred at intervals.

    "That Joan is certainly on his nerves," said the doctor. "Have you any idea who she is?"

    "None," said Mrs. Cornford.

    In her heart of hearts she harboured a faint suspicion, which she had dismissed as being disloyal to the girl who had done so much for her.

    "It may be an hallucination, but the chances are that there is a Joan somewhere in the world who could fix matters for him."

    As he went out, he saw a girl on the garden path.

    "Is that you, Nurse?" he asked.

    "No, Doctor, it is Joan Carston."

    "Lady Joan!" he gasped. "Whatever are you doing out to-night?"

    "I've come to see Mrs. Cornford," said Joan.

    "Well, well, you're a brave girl. I wouldn't turn out to-night for anything but dire necessity."

    "How is your patient?" she asked.

    He shook his head.

    "Very bad, very bad. Don't you go anywhere near him."

    She did not answer him. Mrs. Cornford, hearing the voices, had hurried to the door and was as much surprised as the doctor to see who the visitor was.

    "You must not see him," she said, shaking her head vigorously when Joan, in the privacy of the sitting-room, told her why she had come.

    "But I must, I must! I must talk to him."

    Her heart sank as the sound of the raving voice came to her.

    "Is he so bad?" she asked in a whisper.

    "He is very bad," said the puzzled Mrs. Cornford.

    "You can't understand why I want to talk to him, can you?" said Joan, smiling faintly. "I see that you can't! Perhaps one day I will tell you."

    She waited awhile, listening with knit brows at the animal sounds that came from the other room.

    "He'll not be quiet all night," said Mrs. Cornford. "The nurses are coming at any moment now; the doctor has sent for them."

    "Aren't you afraid?" asked Joan wonderingly.

    Mrs. Cornford shook her head.

    "No, I--I once had a case almost as bad," she said, and Joan did not ask her any more.

    Her journey had been a folly and this end to it was a fitting finish.

    "It was silly of me to come," she confessed, as she grasped her cloak. "No, no, don't come with me. I can find my way back to the house. And please don't even come to the door."

    She went out, closing the front door behind her. To the left was a lighted window--Farringdon's bedroom. She crept nearer and could hear, and shuddered as she heard, the wild sound that came forth. Then, wrapping her cloak about her, she stole down the path.

    She heard the click of the gate and stepped behind the big elm that grew before the house, not wishing to be seen. Was it the doctor? The nurse, she supposed. But it was a man's figure she saw dimly in the darkness. There was something remarkable in his gait; he was moving stealthily, noiselessly, as though he did not wish his presence to be known. She could have reached out and touched him, he passed so close. Who was he, she wondered, and waited in curiosity to discover Mrs. Cornford's visitor.

    But he did not knock at the door. Instead, he moved towards the window of the sick man's room. Then she heard him fumbling with the window-latch. It was a casement window, and as he pulled it opened, the window-shade began flapping, and he lifted it with one hand, while the girl stood, frozen with horror. She could not move, she could not scream. She saw the glitter of the man's pistol, but her eyes were on the black-masked face.

    "Jim!" she gasped feebly.

    At that moment the intruder fired twice, and Ferdinand Farringdon screamed and rolled over on to the floor, dead.
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