A SURPRISE awaited him when he came to the Charlton. Mrs. Floyd had gone—nobody knew whither. Her husband had followed her some time afterwards, and neither had returned. Somebody had called her on the telephone, but had left no name.
"I know all about her husband not returning," said Craig. "But haven't you the slightest idea where the lady is?"
The negative reply was uncompromising.
"Her father hasn't been here?"
His informant hesitated.
"Yes, sir; he was on Mrs. Floyd's floor when she was missing—in fact, when Major Floyd was down here making inquiries. The floor waiter recognised him, but did not see him come or go."
Calling up the house at Horsham he learnt, what he already knew, that Peter was away from home. Barney, who answered him, had heard nothing of the girl; indeed, this was the first intimation he had had that all was not well. And a further disappointment lay in store for him. The detective he had sent to find Johnny returned with the news that the quarry had gone. According to the valet, his master had returned and changed in a hurry, and, taking a small suit-case, had gone off to an unknown destination.
An inquiry late that night elicited the fact that Jeff was still living, but unconscious. The bullet had been extracted, and a hopeful view was taken of the future. His father had arrived early in the evening, and was half mad with anxiety and rage. "And if he isn't quite mad by the morning, I shall be surprised," said the surgeon. "I'm going to keep him here and give him a little bromide to ease him down."
"Poison him," suggested Craig.
When the old detective was on the point of going home, there arrived a telephone message from the Horsham police, whom he had enlisted to watch Peter's house.
"Mr. Kane and his daughter arrived in separate motorcars at a quarter past twelve," was the report. "They came within a few minutes of one another."
Craig was on the point of getting through to the house, but thought better of it. A fast police car got him to Horsham under the hour, the road being clear and the night a bright one. Lights were burning in Peter's snuggery, and it was he himself who, at the sound of the motor wheels, came to the door.
"Who's that?" he asked, as Craig came up the dark drive, and, at the sound of the detective's voice, he came half-way down the drive to meet him. "What's wrong, Craig? Anything special?"
"Jeff's shot. I suppose you know who Jeff is?"
"I know, to my sorrow," said Peter Kane promptly. "Shot? How? Where?"
"He was shot this evening between a quarter to ten and ten o'clock, at the Highlow Club."
"Come in. You'd better not tell my girl—she's had as much as she can bear tonight. Not that I'm worrying a damn about Jeff Legge. He'd better die, and die quick, for if I get him—"
He did not finish his sentence, and the detective drew the man's arm through his.
"Now, listen, Peter, you've got to go very slow on this case, and not talk such a darned lot. You're under suspicion too, old man. You were seen in the vicinity of the club."
"Yes, I was seen in the vicinity of the club," repeated Peter, nodding. "I was waiting there—well, I was waiting there for a purpose. I went to the Charlton, but my girl had gone—I suppose they told you—and then I
went on to the Highlow, and saw that infernal Lila—by the way, she's one of Jeff's women, isn't she?"
"To be exact," said the other quietly, "she's his wife."
Peter Kane stopped dead.
"His wife?" he whispered. "Thank God for that! Thank God for that! I forgive her everything. Though she is a brute—how a woman could allow—but I can't judge her. That graft has always been dirty to me. It is hateful and loathsome. But, thank God she's his wife, Craig!" Then: "Who shot this fellow?"
"I don't know. I'm going to pull Johnny for it."
They were in the hall, and Peter Kane spun round, open-mouthed, terror in his eyes.
"You're going to pull Johnny?" he said. "Do you know what you're saying, Craig? You're mad! Johnny didn't do it. Johnny was nowhere near—"
"Johnny was there. And, what is more, Johnny was in the room, either at the moment of the shooting or immediately after. The elevator boy has spoken what's in his mind, which isn't much, but enough to convict Johnny if this fellow dies."
"Johnny there!" Peter's voice did not rise above a whisper.
"I tell you frankly, Peter, I thought it was you."
Craig was facing him squarely, his keen eyes searching the man's pallid face. "When I heard you were around, and that you had got to know that this fellow was a fake. Why were you waiting?"
"I can't tell you that—not now," said the other, after turning the matter over in his mind. "I should have seen Johnny if he was there. I saw this girl Lila, and I was afraid she'd recognise me. I think she did, too. I went straight on into Shaftesbury Avenue, to a bar I know. I was feeling queer over this—this discovery of mine. I can prove I was there from a quarter to ten till ten, if you want any proof. Oh, Johnny, Johnny!"
All this went on in the hall. Then came a quick patter of footsteps, and Marney appeared in the doorway.
"Who is it—Johnny? Oh, it is you, Mr. Craig? Has any-thing happened?" She looked in alarm from face to face. "Nothing has happened to Johnny?"
"No, nothing has happened to Johnny," said Craig soothingly. He glanced at Peter. "You ought to know this, Marney," he said. "I can call you Marney—I've known you since you were five. Jeff Legge has been shot."
He thought she was going to faint, and sprang to catch her, but with an effort of will she recovered.
"Jeff shot?" she asked shakily. "Who shot him?"
"I don't know. That's just what we are trying to discover. Perhaps you can help us. Why did you leave the hotel, Was Johnny with you?"
She shook her head. "I haven't seen Johnny," she said, "but I owe him—everything. There was a woman in the hotel." She glanced timidly at her father. "I think she was an hotel thief or something of the sort. She was there to—to steal. A big Welsh woman."
"A Welsh woman?" said Craig quickly. "What is her name?"
"Mrs. Gwenda Jones. Johnny knew about her, and telephoned her to tell her to take care of me until he could get to me. She got me out of the hotel, and then we walked down the Duke of York steps into the Mall. And then a curious thing happened—I was just telling daddy when you came. Mrs. Jones—she's such a big woman—"
"I know the lady," said Craig.
"Well, she disappeared. She wasn't exactly swallowed up by the earth," she said with a faint smile, "and she didn't go without warning. Suddenly she said to me: 'I must leave you now, my dear. I don't want that man to see me.' I looked round to find who it was that she was so terribly afraid of, and there seemed to be the most harmless lot of people about. When I turned, Mrs. Jones was running up the steps. I didn't wish to call her back, I felt so ridiculous. And then a man came up to me, a middle-aged man with the saddest face you could imagine. I told you that, daddy?"
"He took his hat off—his hair was almost white—and asked me if my name was Kane. I didn't tell him the other name," she said with a shiver. "'May I take you to a place of safety, Miss Kane?' he said. 'I don't think you ought to be seen with that raw-boned female.' I didn't know what to do, I was so frightened, and I was glad of the company and protection of any man, and, when he called a cab, I got in without the slightest hesitation. He was such a gentle soul, Mr. Craig. He talked of nothing but the weather and chickens! I think we talked about chickens all the way to Lewisham."
"Are you sure it was Lewisham?"
"It was somewhere in that neighbourhood. What other places are there there?
"New Cross, Brockley—" began Craig.
"That's the place—Brockley. It was the Brockley Road. I saw it printed on the corner of the street. He took me into his house. There was a nice, motherly old woman whom he introduced to me as his housekeeper."
"And what did he talk about?" asked the fascinated Craig.
"Chickens," she said solemnly. "Do you know what chickens lay the best eggs? I'm sure you don't. Do you know the best breed for England and the best for America? Do you know the most economical chickens to keep? I do! I wondered what he was going to do with me. I tried to ask him, but he invariably turned me back to the question of incubators and patent feeds, and the cubic space that a sitting hen requires as compared with an ordinary hen. It was the quaintest, most fantastic experience. It seems now almost like one of Alice's dreams! Then, at ten o'clock, I found a motor-car had come for me. 'I'm sending you home, young lady,' he said."
"Were you with him all the time, by the way?" asked Craig.
She shook her head.
"No, some part of the time I was with his housekeeper, who didn't even talk about chickens, but knitted large and shapeless jumpers, and sniffed. That was when he was telephoning. I knew he was telephoning because I could hear the drone of his voice."
"He didn't bring you back?"
"No, he just put me into the car and told me that I should be perfectly safe. I arrived just a few minutes ahead of daddy."
The detective scratched his chin, irritated and baffled.
"That's certainly got me," he said. "The raw-boned lady I know, but the chicken gentleman is mysterious. You didn't hear his name, by any chance?"
She shook her head.
"Do you know the number of the house?"
"Yes," she said frankly, "but he particularly asked me to forget it, and I've forgotten it." Then, in a more serious tone: "Is my—my—"
"Your nothing," interrupted Peter. "The blackguard was married—married to Lila. I think I must have gone daft, but I didn't realise this woman was planted in my house for a purpose. That type of girl wouldn't come at the wages she did if she had been genuine. Barney was always suspicious of her, by the way."
"Have you seen Johnny?" the girl asked Craig.
"No, I haven't seen him," said Craig carefully. "I thought of calling on him pretty soon."
Then it came to her in a flash, and she gasped.
"You don't think Johnny shot this man? You can't think that?"
"Of course he didn't shoot him," said Peter loudly. "It is a ridiculous idea. But you'll understand that Mr. Craig has to make inquiries in all sorts of unlikely quarters. You haven't been able to get hold of Johnny to-night?"
A glance passed between them, and Peter groaned.
"What a fool! What a fool!" he said. "Oh, my God, what a fool!"
"Father, Johnny hasn't done this? It isn't true, Mr. Craig. Johnny wouldn't shoot a man. Did anybody see him? How was he shot?"
"He was shot in the back."
"Then it wasn't Johnny." she said. "He couldn't shoot a man in the back!"
"I think, young lady," said Craig with a little smile, "that you'd better go to bed and dream about butterflies. You've had a perfect hell of a day, if you'll excuse my language. Say the firm word to her, Peter. Who's that?" He turned his head, listening.
"Barney," said Peter. "He has a distressing habit of wearing slippers. You can hear him miles away. He's opening the door to somebody—one of your people, perhaps. Or he's taking your chauffeur a drink. Barney has an enormous admiration for chauffeurs. They represent mechanical genius to him."
The girl was calmer now.
"I have too much to thank God for to-day, for this terrible thing to be true," she said in a low voice. "Mr. Craig, there is a mistake, I'm sure. Johnny couldn't have committed such a crime. It was somebody else—one of Jeffrey Legge's associates, somebody who hated him. He told me once that lots of people hated him, and I thought he was joking; he seemed so nice, so considerate. Daddy, I was mad to go through that, even to make you happy."
Peter Kane nodded.
"If you were mad, I was criminal, girlie," he said. "There was only one man in the world for you—"
The door opened slowly, and Barney sidled in. "Johnny to see you folks," he said, and pulled the door wider.
John Gray was standing in the passage, and his eyes fell upon Craig with a look of quiet amusement.