Watcher in the Shadows
am, what the hell’s it got to do with you?” Jim said. “You mind yer own business! Mother!”
    Mrs. Melton came out of the front door. She was oddly dressed in a very dirty but quite well-fitting coat and skirt. The coat was longer than was fashionable and faintly suggested 1914. Her gray-streaked, tan-colored hair was the same shade as her face, apart from the red on her cheekbones. The coat and the coloring strongly suggested English gipsy blood.
    “Can’t offer you a drink,” Jim apologized. “She won’t ‘ave a drop in the house.”

    Mrs. Melton and I shook hands and exchanged smiles. The local prohibition was probably wise. Then she sorted out the Miss Meltons with some proper remarks on language before gentlemen. The water in the doll’s pram turned out to be a time-and-motion experiment; it was easier to take the bath to the puppy than the puppy, who didn’t like it, to the bath. But the pram leaked. I suggested the old fairy-tale remedy of stopping it with moss and daubing it with clay. Mrs. Melton, who was just leading up to all the usual mother’s remarks about playing with water, had from politeness to leave them unsaid.
    All this seemed to have acted as sufficient introduction, so when I was alone with Jim I went straight to the point.
    “Where did he hire his horse?”
    “Now, that’s just what I asks after you and me had our little talk,” Jim replied, “because if I knew enough about that ‘orse to tell the old girl out Blixworth way that it was quiet and going cheap, I’d be doing a favor to you and meself.”
    He gave me a horse-coper’s wink which dated from the last century and waited for questions. I said that I supposed he knew most of the livery stables within easy riding of Fred Gorble’s place.
    “I do. And that’s as much as to say I know where the ‘orse didn’t come from. So I guessed where he did. Right second time! He ‘ired that ‘orse from Boscastle’s stables in Woburn.”
    Jim had turned up at the stables soon after lunch.

    Having a perfect excuse for inquiries, he had been able to show as much interest in the hirer as the horse.
    The well-dressed stranger had given his name as Mr. fforde-Crankshaw. He had been fussy about the spelling with two little “f’s”; otherwise his manner was unassuming and natural. I thought fforde-Crankshaw was a fine invention —in character, impressive, but not too impressive.
    He had hired the horse on the excuse of getting his weight down. Every morning he turned up about nine, rode off and came back before dark. As he paid well, was an experienced horseman and never brought his mount in tired, the proprietor of the livery stables was not worried and would indeed have been delighted — being short of competent staff — to let him exercise his horses free of charge.
    Generally he had telephoned for a taxi and caught a ten o’clock train back to London. But on Wednesday night he had not returned till eleven, explaining that he had been dining with friends and that the horse had been well looked after. He had then taken a taxi to Watford and presumably picked up a train there.
    Last night — Thursday night —after saying that he might not be back for some days, he had simply vanished while the horse was being unsaddled. The stables did not know how he had returned to London and supposed he had been given a lift by a friend.
    I found nothing specially mysterious in that. It was common sense to disappear and cover his tracks when he could not tell exactly what trap he had escaped and whether it was a trap at all. I guessed that he had walked to the A 5 road and got himself home from there — though it seemed risky. That, if anywhere, was where the police block would be.
    “Where’s the spade, Dad?” asked the elder daughter, interrupting us.
    “Back of the shed. Under them mole traps.”
    “No, ‘t ain’t. And we want to dig some clay like the gentleman told us.”
    “Well, if ‘t ain’t, it’s where you blasted

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