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    Chapter 43

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    Chapter 43
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    Murder

    She heard a terrified cry in the house, and her first impulse was to run to Mrs. Cornford's help. But somebody else had heard the shot. There came the noise of running feet, a police whistle was blown and a man dashed through the gates and ran up the path as the door opened.

    "What was that?" he asked sharply.

    "I don't know," said Mrs. Cornford's agitated voice. "Something dreadful has happened. I think Mr. Farringdon has shot himself."

    The girl waited, trembling with terror. What should she do? If she said that she had been a witness of the shooting, she must also describe the assailant. As the visitor disappeared through the door, she crept to the garden gate and slipped out.

    There were flying footsteps on the road. They must not see her; the presence of these strangers decided her. In another minute she was racing along the wall path. Her heel caught in a soft path and she all but fell. Before she realised what she was doing, she was running up the stairs of Creith House. Happily, there was nobody in the hall. Lord Creith, who was in his room, heard the slam of her door and came along to ask a question about his collars. He found the door locked.

    "Have you gone to bed, my dear?" he called.

    "Yes, Daddy," she gasped.

    The room was in darkness. She staggered to the bed and flung herself upon it.

    "Jim, Jim!" she sobbed in her anguish of soul. "Why did you? Why did you?"

    She must have fallen asleep, for she came to consciousness to the insistent knocking on her door. It was her father's voice:

    "Are you asleep, Joan?"

    "Yes, Daddy. Do you want me?"

    "Can you come down? Something dreadful has happened."

    Her heart sank. She knew what that "something dreadful" was.

    "Can I come in?"

    She opened the door.

    "Haven't you got a light?" he asked and was reaching for the switch but she stopped him.

    "Don't put the light on, Daddy; I've got a headache. What is it, dear?"

    "Farringdon has met with an accident," said Lord Creith, who lacked something in diplomacy. "In fact, he's shot. Some people think that he shot himself, but Welling is not of that opinion."

    "Is Mr. Welling here?" she asked, her heart sinking.

    Of a sudden she feared that shrewd old man.

    "Yes, he came back from town to-night. He is downstairs. He wanted to see you."

    "He wants to see me, Daddy?" she said in consternation, seized with a momentary panic.

    "Yes, he tells me that you had only left Mrs. Cornford's house a few minutes before the shooting occurred."

    He heard her little gasp in the dark.

    "Oh, is that why?" she said softly. "I will come down."

    Welling had returned to Creith that night and had had time to take his baggage to the Red Lion. He was, in fact, on his way to Wold House when he had heard the shot and the scream. The Red Lion was less than fifty yards from the gardener's cottage and the wind had been blowing in his direction.

    "There is no doubt about it being murder," he explained to Lord Creith. "The window was open and no weapon has been found. The only clue I have is footprints on the garden bed outside."

    "Was he dead when you found him?"

    "Quite dead," replied Welling. "Shot through the heart. Two shots were fired in such rapid succession that it sounded to me like one, which means that an automatic pistol was used. You have no idea why Lady Joan went to Mrs. Cornford's?"

    "I haven't. Mrs. Cornford is a great friend of hers, and probably she went down to enquire after Farringdon. She has been there before on that errand," said Lord Creith quietly and Welling nodded.

    "That is what Mrs. Cornford told me," he said.

    "Then why the dickens did you ask me?" demanded Lord Creith wrathfully.

    "Because it is a detective's business to ask twice," said Julius at his gentlest, and his lordship apologised for his display of temper.

    "Here is my daughter," he said. As Joan came into the library he shot a quick, searching glance at her. The pale face and shadowed eyes might mean anything. Mr. Welling was one of the few people who knew the secret of the church in the forest and could forgive her emotion.

    "His Lordship has told you that Farringdon has been killed?" he said.

    She inclined her head slowly.

    "You must have been very near the house when the shot was fired. Did you hear anything?"

    "Nothing."

    "Or see anybody?"

    She shook her head.

    "Not in the garden or in the road?" persisted Welling. "Mrs. Cornford tells me that you had not left the house a minute when the shot was fired."

    "I heard nothing and saw nobody," she said, and he looked thoughtfully at the carpet.

    "The wind would be blowing in the opposite direction," he mused, "so it is quite possible you did not hear the shot. Is there any place in the garden where a man could conceal himself?"

    "I don't know the garden well enough," she answered quickly.

    "Hm!" He scratched his nose with an air of irritation. "You don't know this man Farringdon, of course?" he said, and when she did not answer, he went on: "Perhaps it is better that you didn't know him. It would save a lot of unnecessary pain to many people and your knowledge of him will not help the cause of justice."

    Walking down the dark drive, he tried to piece together the puzzle which this new outrage made. Who had shot Farringdon? Who had reason to shoot him? "Find the motive and you find the criminal," is an old axiom of police work. Who had a motive for destroying that useless life? Only one person in the world--Joan Carston.

    "Pshaw!" he said with a shrug. "Why not Lord Creith? His motive was certainly as obvious."

    He had come back to the village single-handed, and had to depend upon the local constabulary, represented for the moment by a sergeant of police.

    Nothing had been found in the preliminary search and Welling decided to put into execution his original plan, which was to call on Jim Morlake. When he got to Wold House no light showed from any of the windows; the garden gate was wide open and that was unusual. Welling had found his way along the road by the aid of a torch and he was using this to guide him up the drive, when he saw what were evidently fresh wheel tracks. The garage stood at the side of the house, and, acting on the impulse of the moment, he turned his steps toward this building. He came abreast of it and put the light on the garage. The doors were wide open and the little shed was empty.

    Welling knew that Jim had got his car back--where was it?

    Cleaver opened the door to him.

    "Do you want to see Mr. Morlake?" he said. "I'm afraid he's out."

    "How long has he been out?" asked Welling.

    "He's been gone about half-an-hour. I was rather surprised to see him go, because he'd already made arrangements for me to call him early in the morning--Binger has gone back to town."

    "Did he tell you he was going?"

    Cleaver shook his head.

    "No, sir, the first intimation I had was when I saw the lights of Mr. Morlake's car going through the gates. He went away in a great hurry, because he left his pipe and tobacco pouch behind and he doesn't usually do that. Not only that, but he went by the window. I hadn't any idea he was out of the house until I saw the machine."

    The French window in the study was still unfastened. Pushing open the door, Welling looked carefully on the floor.

    "So he went in a hurry, did he?" said Welling softly. "Went half-an-hour ago? Will you leave me, Mr. Cleaver? I want to use the telephone."

    His first call was to Horsham police headquarters.

    "Hold a two-seater car, painted black. The driver's name is Morlake. I want you to hold him--not arrest him, you understand, but hold him."

    "What is the charge, Captain Welling?"

    "Murder," said Welling laconically.
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