Mr. Gillingham Talks Nonsense

Antony came down in a very good humour to breakfast next morning, and found that his host was before him. Cayley looked up from his letters and nodded.

“Any word of Mr. Ablett⁠—of Mark?” said Antony, as he poured out his coffee.

“No. The inspector wants to drag the lake this afternoon.”

“Oh! Is there a lake?”

There was just the flicker of a smile on Cayley’s face, but it disappeared as quickly as it came.

“Well, it’s really a pond,” he said, “but it was called ‘the lake.’ ”

“By Mark,” thought Antony. Aloud he said, “What do they expect to find?”

“They think that Mark⁠—” He broke off and shrugged his shoulders.

“May have drowned himself, knowing that he couldn’t get away? And knowing that he had compromised himself by trying to get away at all?”

“Yes; I suppose so,” said Cayley slowly.

“I should have thought he would have given himself more of a run for his money. After all, he had a revolver. If he was determined not to be taken alive, he could always have prevented that. Couldn’t he have caught a train to London before the police knew anything about it?”

“He might just have managed it. There was a train. They would have noticed him at Woodham, of course, but he might have managed it at Stanton. He’s not so well-known there, naturally. The inspector has been inquiring. Nobody seems to have seen him.”

“There are sure to be people who will say they did, later on. There was never a missing man yet but a dozen people come forward who swear to have seen him at a dozen different places at the same time.”

Cayley smiled.

“Yes. That’s true. Anyhow, he wants to drag the pond first.” He added dryly, “From what I’ve read of detective stories, inspectors always do want to drag the pond first.”

“Is it deep?”

“Quite deep enough,” said Cayley as he got up. On his way to the door he stopped, and looked at Antony. “I’m so sorry that we’re keeping you here like this, but it will only be until tomorrow. The inquest is tomorrow afternoon. Do amuse yourself how you like till then. Beverley will look after you.”

“Thanks very much. I shall really be quite all right.”

Antony went on with his breakfast. Perhaps it was true that inspectors liked dragging ponds, but the question was, did Cayleys like having them dragged? Was Cayley anxious about it, or quite indifferent? He certainly did not seem to be anxious, but he could hide his feelings very easily beneath that heavy, solid face, and it was not often that the real Cayley peeped out. Just a little too eager once or twice, perhaps, but there was nothing to be learnt from it this morning. Perhaps he knew that the pond had no secrets to give up. After all, inspectors were always dragging ponds.

Bill came in noisily.

Bill’s face was an open book. Excitement was written all over it.

“Well,” he said eagerly, as he sat down to the business of the meal, “what are we going to do this morning?”

“Not talk so loudly, for one thing,” said Antony. Bill looked about him apprehensively. Was Cayley under the table, for example? After last night one never knew.

“Is⁠—er⁠—” He raised his eyebrows.

“No. But one doesn’t want to shout. One should modulate the voice, my dear William, while breathing gently from the hips. Thus one avoids those chest-notes which have betrayed many a secret. In other words, pass the toast.”

“You seem bright this morning.”

“I am. Very bright. Cayley noticed it. Cayley said, ‘Were it not that I have other business, I would come gathering nuts and may with thee. Fain would I gyrate round the mulberry-bush and hop upon the little hills. But the waters of Jordan encompass me and Inspector Birch tarries outside with his shrimping-net. My friend William Beverley will attend thee anon. Farewell, a long farewell to all⁠—thy grape-nuts.’ He then left up-centre. Enter W. Beverley, R.

“Are you often like this at breakfast?”

“Almost invariably. Said he with his mouth full. Exit W. Beverley, L.

“It’s a touch of the sun, I suppose,” said Bill, shaking his head sadly.

“It’s the sun and the moon and the stars, all acting together on an empty stomach. Do you know anything about the stars, Mr. Beverley? Do you know anything about Orion’s Belt, for instance? And why isn’t there a star called Beverley’s Belt? Or a novel? Said he masticating. Re-enter W. Beverley through trap-door.”

“Talking about trap-doors⁠—”

“Don’t,” said Antony, getting up. “Some talk of Alexander and some of Hercules, but nobody talks about⁠—what’s the Latin for trap-door?⁠—Mensa⁠—a table; you might get it from that. Well, Mr. Beverley,”⁠—and he slapped him heartily on the back as he went past him⁠—“I shall see you later. Cayley says that you will amuse me, but so far you have not made me laugh once. You must try and be more amusing when you have finished your breakfast. But don’t hurry. Let the upper mandibles have time to do the work.” With those words Mr. Gillingham then left the spacious apartment.

Bill continued his breakfast with a slightly bewildered air. He did not know that Cayley was smoking a cigarette outside the windows behind him; not listening, perhaps; possibly not even overhearing; but within sight of Antony, who was not going to take any risks. So he went on with his breakfast, reflecting that Antony was a rum fellow, and wondering if he had dreamed only of the amazing things which had happened the day before.

Antony went up to his bedroom to fetch his pipe. It was occupied by a housemaid, and he made a polite apology for disturbing her. Then he remembered.

“Is it Elsie?” he asked, giving her a friendly smile.

“Yes, sir,” she said, shy but proud. She had no doubts as to why it was that she had achieved such notoriety.

“It was you who heard Mr. Mark yesterday, wasn’t it? I hope the inspector was nice to you?”

“Yes, thank you, sir.”

“ ‘It’s my turn now. You wait,’ ” murmured Antony to himself.

“Yes, sir. Nasty-like. Meaning to say his chance had come.”

“I wonder.”

“Well, that’s what I heard, sir. Truly.”

Antony looked at her thoughtfully and nodded.

“Yes. I wonder. I wonder why.”

“Why what, sir?”

“Oh, lots of things, Elsie.⁠ ⁠… It was quite an accident your being outside just then?”

Elsie blushed. She had not forgotten what Mrs. Stevens had said about it.

“Quite, sir. In the general way I use the other stairs.”

“Of course.”

He had found his pipe and was about to go downstairs again when she stopped him.

“I beg your pardon, sir, but will there be an inquest?”

“Oh, yes. Tomorrow, I think.”

“Shall I have to give my evidence, sir?”

“Of course. There’s nothing to be frightened of.”

“I did hear it, sir. Truly.”

“Why, of course you did. Who says you didn’t?”

“Some of the others, sir⁠—Mrs. Stevens and all.”

“Oh, that’s just because they’re jealous,” said Antony with a smile.

He was glad to have spoken to her, because he had recognized at once the immense importance of her evidence. To the Inspector no doubt it had seemed only of importance in that it had shown Mark to have adopted something of a threatening attitude towards his brother. To Antony it had much more significance. It was the only trustworthy evidence that Mark had been in the office at all that afternoon.

For who saw Mark go into the office? Only Cayley. And if Cayley had been hiding the truth about the keys, why should he not be hiding the truth about Mark’s entry into the office? Obviously all Cayley’s evidence went for nothing. Some of it no doubt was true; but he was giving it, both truth and falsehood, with a purpose. What the purpose was Antony did not know as yet⁠—to shield Mark, to shield himself⁠—even to betray Mark⁠—it might be any of these. But since his evidence was given for his own ends, it was impossible that it could be treated as the evidence of an impartial and trustworthy onlooker. Such, for instance, as Elsie appeared to be.

Elsie’s evidence, however, seemed to settle the point. Mark had gone into the office to see his brother; Elsie had heard them both talking; and then Antony and Cayley had found the body of Robert⁠ ⁠… and the Inspector was going to drag the pond.

But certainly Elsie’s evidence did not prove anything more than the mere presence of Mark in the room. “It’s my turn now; you wait.” That was not an immediate threat;⁠—it was a threat for the future. If Mark had shot his brother immediately afterwards it must have been an accident, the result of a struggle, say, provoked by that “nasty-like” tone of voice. Nobody would say “You wait” to a man who was just going to be shot. “You wait” meant “You wait, and see what’s going to happen to you later on.” The owner of the Red House had had enough of his brother’s sponging, his brother’s blackmail; now it was Mark’s turn to get a bit of his own back. Let Robert just wait a bit, and he would see. The conversation which Elsie had overheard might have meant something like this. It couldn’t have meant murder. Anyway not murder of Robert by Mark.

“It’s a funny business,” thought Antony. “The one obvious solution is so easy and yet so wrong. And I’ve got a hundred things in my head, and I can’t fit them together. And this afternoon will make a hundred and one. I mustn’t forget this afternoon.”

He found Bill in the hall and proposed a stroll. Bill was only too ready. “Where do you want to go?” he asked.

“I don’t mind much. Show me the park.”


They walked out together.

“Watson, old man,” said Antony, as soon as they were away from the house, “you really mustn’t talk so loudly indoors. There was a gentleman outside, just behind you, all the time.”

“Oh, I say,” said Bill, going pink. “I’m awfully sorry. So that’s why you were talking such rot.”

“Partly, yes. And partly because I do feel rather bright this morning. We’re going to have a busy day.”

“Are we really? What are we going to do?”

“They’re going to drag the pond⁠—beg its pardon, the lake. Where is the lake?”

“We’re on the way to it now, if you’d like to see it.”

“We may as well look at it. Do you haunt the lake much in the ordinary way?”

“Oh, no, rather not. There’s nothing to do there.”

“You can’t bathe?”

“Well, I shouldn’t care to. Too dirty.”

“I see.⁠ ⁠… This is the way we came yesterday, isn’t it? The way to the village?”

“Yes. We go off a bit to the right directly. What are they dragging it for?”


“Oh, rot,” said Bill uneasily. He was silent for a little, and then, forgetting his uncomfortable thoughts in his sudden remembrance of the exciting times they were having, said eagerly, “I say, when are we going to look for that passage?”

“We can’t do very much while Cayley’s in the house.”

“What about this afternoon when they’re dragging the pond? He’s sure to be there.”

Antony shook his head.

“There’s something I must do this afternoon,” he said. “Of course we might have time for both.”

“Has Cayley got to be out of the house for the other thing too?”

“Well, I think he ought to be.”

“I say, is it anything rather exciting?”

“I don’t know. It might be rather interesting. I daresay I could do it at some other time, but I rather fancy it at three o’clock, somehow. I’ve been specially keeping it back for then.”

“I say, what fun! You do want me, don’t you?”

“Of course I do. Only, Bill⁠—don’t talk about things inside the house, unless I begin. There’s a good Watson.”

“I won’t. I swear I won’t.”

They had come to the pond⁠—Mark’s lake⁠—and they walked silently round it. When they had made the circle, Antony sat down on the grass, and relit his pipe. Bill followed his example.

“Well, Mark isn’t there,” said Antony.

“No,” said Bill. “At least, I don’t quite see why you know he isn’t.”

“It isn’t ‘knowing,’ it’s ‘guessing,’ ” said Antony rapidly. “It’s much easier to shoot yourself than to drown yourself, and if Mark had wanted to shoot himself in the water, with some idea of not letting the body be found, he’d have put big stones in his pockets, and the only big stones are near the water’s edge, and they would have left marks, and they haven’t, and therefore he didn’t, and⁠—oh, bother the pond; that can wait till this afternoon. Bill, where does the secret passage begin?”

“Well, that’s what we’ve got to find out, isn’t it?”

“Yes. You see, my idea is this.”

He explained his reasons for thinking that the secret of the passage was concerned in some way with the secret of Robert’s death, and went on:

“My theory is that Mark discovered the passage about a year ago⁠—the time when he began to get keen on croquet. The passage came out into the floor of the shed, and probably it was Cayley’s idea to put a croquet-box over the trap-door, so as to hide it more completely. You know, when once you’ve discovered a secret yourself, it always seems as if it must be so obvious to everybody else. I can imagine that Mark loved having this little secret all to himself⁠—and to Cayley, of course, but Cayley wouldn’t count⁠—and they must have had great fun fixing it up, and making it more difficult for other people to find out. Well then, when Miss Norris was going to dress-up, Cayley gave it away. Probably he told her that she could never get down to the bowling-green without being discovered, and then perhaps showed that he knew there was one way in which she could do it, and she wormed the secret out of him somehow.”

“But this was two or three days before Robert turned up.”

“Exactly. I am not suggesting that there was anything sinister about the passage in the first place. It was just a little private bit of romance and adventure for Mark, three days ago. He didn’t even know that Robert was coming. But somehow the passage has been used since, in connection with Robert. Perhaps Mark escaped that way; perhaps he’s hiding there now. And if so, then the only person who could give him away was Miss Norris. And she of course would only do it innocently⁠—not knowing that the passage had anything to do with it.”

“So it was safer to have her out of the way?”


“But, look here, Tony, why do you want to bother about this end of it? We can always get in at the bowling-green end.”

“I know, but if we do that we shall have to do it openly. It will mean breaking open the box, and letting Cayley know that we’ve done it. You see, Bill, if we don’t find anything out for ourselves in the next day or two, we’ve got to tell the police what we have found out, and then they can explore the passage for themselves. But I don’t want to do that yet.”

“Rather not.”

“So we’ve got to carry on secretly for a bit. It’s the only way.” He smiled and added, “And it’s much more fun.”

“Rather!” Bill chuckled to himself.

“Very well. Where does the secret passage begin?”