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    Chapter 46

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    Chapter 46
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    The Yacht

    She stared at him for a minute, and then burst into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.

    "Oh, Mr. Welling, for a moment you scared me. Daddy wouldn't kill anybody: it would be too much bother!"

    The detective was unruffled.

    "I am not suggesting that your father did shoot this man. I am merely saying that Lord Creith is the only man within ten miles who wears pointed shoes."

    "How silly!" she scoffed. "Why, lots of people wear pointed shoes. Mr. Hamon wears pointed----"

    She checked herself suddenly.

    "That is what I wanted to know," said Julius gently, "that is all I wanted to know! Does Mr. Hamon wear pointed shoes? I know Lord Creith does, because I've interviewed the village cobbler, and the village cobbler knows the secret history of every pair of boots in your house."

    "Mr. Hamon is so rich that he doesn't need to have his shoes repaired," said the girl, and then, seriously: "You don't suspect Mr. Hamon? He wasn't in Creith last night."

    "If he shot Farringdon, then he certainly was in Creith. If he didn't shoot Farringdon, I don't care where he was," said Welling.

    The reaction after that night of terror and anxiety was so great that she felt hysterical. She could have flung her arms round the neck of this interesting old man and hugged him in her joy and relief.

    "Are you sure--absolutely sure?"

    "About Morlake?" he asked, sensing the cause of her anxiety. "I don't think there is any doubt about that. He is one of those big-hoofed fellows. He could not have got his feet into the shoes that left the marks. Though," he added cautiously, "it is by no means certain that the owner of the shoes was also the murderer. What makes it look so queer against Morlake is that Pointed Shoes was in the grounds of Wold House last night. We've got a cast of his feet leading toward the river, and at the bottom of the river it is any odds on finding the pistol with which the crime was committed."

    "Why do you say that?" she asked.

    "What is more," he went on, "I guess we're going to get a letter from some person unknown, telling us exactly where to look for that gun. I love anonymous letters, especially when I'm expecting 'em. The letter will be in printed characters and will be posted"--he looked up to the dull sky and considered--"will be posted ... now where will it be posted? Yes, I have it," he said brightly. "It will be posted at the G. P. O."

    "You're a prophet," she smiled.

    "I'm a student," he replied.

    When they got to the house, Lord Creith was superintending the labelling of the baggage, which meant that every package had been labelled wrongly.

    "Hullo, Welling!" he said. "Who have you arrested this morning?"

    "I never arrest people on Saturdays: it spoils their week-end," said Welling. "You've had a telephone message from Mr. Hamon?"

    "Yes," said the Earl in surprise. "How do you know?"

    "It came last night, didn't it?"

    "About midnight. How on earth do you know that? If the exchange was in the village I could quite understand, but my calls are put through from Lexham."

    "It was about something he'd left behind, asking you to forward it?"

    "No. As a matter of fact, he wanted to know what time I would be leaving this morning."

    "Why, of course," nodded Welling, "that was the natural thing to do. About twelve o'clock?"

    "A little before, I should imagine. You've been listening in," accused Lord Creith.

    When he went away to discover the whereabouts of a sporting rifle which had mysteriously disappeared at the last moment, Joan asked:

    "How do you know all this, Captain Welling?"

    "I guessed," said the old man. "It is natural that, if Pointed Toes was friend Hamon, he should seize the earliest opportunity of establishing the fact that he was in town." He shook his head sadly. "Telephonic alibis are terribly numerous," he said.

    Her mind was occupied by one pressing thought, and after a while she expressed the question that was in her mind.

    "Why did Mr. Morlake go away?" she asked.

    She had asked Welling to breakfast with them, which meant breakfasting with her, for the choler of Lord Creith was rising rapidly. Some fishing rods had joined the rifle, and his favourite tennis racquet had suddenly disappeared from the face of the earth.

    "I don't know," said Welling helplessly. "That fellow is beyond the understanding of normal people. Something is wrong--I don't know where, I don't know how. But all I know is that he's left in a hurry."

    "You don't think...?" she asked quickly, and he smiled at her.

    "These fellows are in danger and out of danger all the time," he said carelessly. "Probably he is carrying out some quiet little burglary----"

    "Don't be horrid, Captain Welling," she said hotly. "You know Mr. Morlake is not a burglar."

    "If there is one thing I know," said Welling, "it is that he is a burglar! I don't care what noble incentive he has, but that doesn't make him less a burglar. What is more, he is the cleverest safe-breaker in this country."

    "Has he stolen much money?" she asked.

    "Thousands, but it has all been Hamon's. That is the rum thing about this burglar, although it isn't so rum to me as it was. He's broken into other safes and other boxes, but not one of the people who have suffered from his curiosity have complained that they lost money. Hamon has complained about nothing else. And the crowning queerness of his action is that it isn't money he is after."

    If she was hoping, as she was, for a miracle to happen and for Jim to reappear at the last moment, she was doomed to disappointment. The car which took her and her father to Southampton passed Wold House, and she craned out of the window in the hope that she might catch one glimpse of him. When the machine had passed the entrance she looked back through the window of the hood.

    "Expecting anybody, dear?" asked Lord Creith drily. "Missed anything?"

    "Yes, Daddy, I have," she said, with some spirit.

    "You can buy almost anything you want at Cadiz," said His Lordship, wilfully dense. "Cadiz is my favourite city. Unfortunately, it is rather late for the bull fights."

    "I never dreamt you were so bloodthirsty, Father," she said.

    "Bulls' blood, yes, but human blood, no," he said with a shiver. "By gad, I'm glad to be out of Creith! I was scared that they'd hold me for a witness. Happily, I was drinking the waters of Lethe in the presence of the impeccable Peters when the murder was committed. In fact, I heard the shot through the window."

    "The waters of Lethe" was Lord Creith's synonym for his normal whisky and soda.

    The first emotion which Joan experienced when she saw the yacht lying out in Southampton Water was one of pleasurable surprise. She had expected to see a very small ship, and, when she had time to think about such matters, had felt a little uneasy at the prospect of a voyage across the Bay of Biscay in a tiny craft. L'Esperance had the appearance of a small cruiser, and was unusually large even for an ocean-going yacht: the same idea seemed to strike Lord Creith.

    "That must have cost friend Hamon a pretty penny," he said. "Why, the infernal thing is as big as a liner!"

    The captain, an Englishman, welcomed them at the gangway, and apparently every preparation had been made to leave as soon as the party was on board.

    "Mr. Hamon is not coming, I understand?" said Captain Green, a typical teak-faced sailorman. "If you like, my Lord, we'll get under way. There is a moderate sea in the Channel, and with any kind of luck we ought to get through the Bay without so much as a roll."

    "Let her go, Captain," said Lord Creith gaily.

    The girl's cabin was beautifully appointed and smothered with hothouse flowers. She did not trouble to ask who had sent them. Mr. Hamon would not lose an opportunity of emphasising his devotion. She was too fond of flowers to throw them out of the porthole, but the knowledge that he had sent them robbed them of at least one attraction.

    Lord Creith and she dined alone that evening. The captain was on the bridge, for they were steaming down the crowded Channel, and fog banks were reported by wireless between Portland Bill and Brest.

    "A jolly good dinner," said his lordship with satisfaction. "You've got an excellent cook, Steward."

    "Yes, sir," said the chief steward, a Frenchman who spoke English much better than his lordship spoke French, "we have two."

    "All the crew are French, I suppose, as this is a French yacht?"

    The steward shook his head.

    "No, my Lord," he said, "most of the hands are English and Scottish. The owner of the yacht prefers an English crew. We have a few Frenchmen on board--in fact, we've almost every nationality, including a man who I think is either a Turk or a Moor. He came on board at the last moment to work in the pantry, and he's been ill ever since we came out of the Solent. I believe he is a servant of the owner's; we are dropping him at Casablanca."

    He served the coffee, and Lord Creith took a gulp and made a wry face.

    "I praised your dinner too soon, Steward," he said good-humouredly. "That coffee is execrable."

    The steward snatched up the cup and disappeared into the mysterious regions at the back of the saloon. When he returned, it was with apologies.

    "The chef will send you in some more coffee, my Lord. We've got a new assistant cook who isn't quite up to his job."

    After dinner, Joan strolled on to the deck. It was a calm night, with a sea that was absolutely still. Through the mist she could see the stars twinkling overhead, and on the starboard beam a bright light flickered at irregular intervals.

    "That is Portland Bill," explained one of the officers who had come down from the bridge, "and the last of the lights of England you'll see until you return."

    "Will it be foggy?" she asked, looking ahead.

    "Not very. I think you're going to have an ideal voyage for this time of the year. If we can get abreast of Cherbourg without slackening speed, we shall be quit of the fog for good."

    She stood, leaning over the taffrail, talking to the officer, until Lord Creith joined her, smoking a long cigar and at peace with the world. He brought with him an acceptable coat, which she was glad to put on, for the night was very cold--a fact she had not noticed until she came on deck.

    They stood side by side, her father and she, watching in silence the faint phosphorescence of the waters; and then:

    "Happy, old girl?"

    "Very happy, Daddy."

    "Whom were you sighing about just now?"

    He heard her low laugh, and grinned to himself in the darkness.

    "I didn't know that I was sighing. I was thinking about Jim Morlake."

    "A very nice fellow," said his lordship heartily. "An American, but a very nice fellow. I don't want a burglar in the family--naturally. But I'd just as soon have a burglar as a moneylender. In fact, I should prefer one. I don't know whether that is particularly generous to our beloved host, but there is something in the sea air that makes me candid."

    The days that followed were, for Joan, days of almost perfect peace. The yacht was a delightful sea boat; the comfort and luxury of the appointments, and a glimpse of a scarcely remembered sun, added to her happiness. If, by some miracle ... the waving of a magic wand, or the muttering of some potent incantation, she could have brought Jim into that deep, red-cushioned armchair--Jim, in white flannels, Jim, with his classical face and a patch of grey at his temples.... She sighed.
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