“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.”