Portrait of a gentleman
They walked in silence for a little, until they had left the house and gardens well behind them. In front of them and to the right the park dipped and then rose slowly, shutting out the rest of the world. A thick belt of trees on the left divided them from the main road.
"Ever been here before?" said Antony suddenly.
"Oh, rather. Dozens of times."
"I meant just here where we are now. Or do you stay indoors and play billiards all the time?"
"Oh Lord, no!"
"Well, tennis and things. So many people with beautiful parks never by any chance use them, and all the poor devils passing by on the dusty road think how lucky the owners are to have them, and imagine them doing all sorts of jolly things inside." He pointed to the right. "Ever been over there?"
Bill laughed, as if a little ashamed.
"Well, not very much. I've often been along here, of course, because it's the short way to the village."
"Yes… . All right; now tell me something about Mark."
"What sort of things?"
"Well, never mind about his being your host, or about your being a perfect gentleman, or anything like that. Cut out the Manners for Men, and tell me what you think of Mark, and how you like staying with him, and how many rows your little house-party has had this week, and how you get on with Cayley, and all the rest of it."
Bill looked at him eagerly.
"I say, are you being the complete detective?"
"Well, I wanted a new profession," smiled the other.
"What fun! I mean," he corrected himself apologetically, "one oughtn't to say that, when there's a man dead in the house, and one's host—" He broke off a little uncertainly, and then rounded off his period by saying again, "By Jove, what a rum show it is. Good Lord!"
"Well?" said Antony. "Carry on, Mark"
"What do I think of him?"
Bill was silent, wondering how to put into words thoughts which had never formed themselves very definitely in his own mind. What did he think of Mark? Seeing his hesitation, Antony said:
"I ought to have warned you that nothing that you say will be taken down by the reporters, so you needn't bother about a split infinitive or two. Talk about anything you like, how you like. Well, I'll give you a start. Which do you enjoy more a week-end here or at the Barrington's, say?"
"Well; of course, that would depend—"
"Take it that she was there in both cases."
"Ass," said Bill, putting an elbow into Antony's ribs. "It's a little difficult to say," he went on. "Of course they do you awfully well here."
"I don't think I know any house where things are so comfortable. One's room—the food—drinks—cigars—the way everything's arranged: All that sort of thing. They look after you awfully well."
"Yes." He repeated it slowly to himself, as if it had given him a new idea: "They look after you awfully well. Well, that's just what it is about Mark. That's one of his little ways. Weaknesses. Looking after you."
"Arranging things for you?"
"Yes. Of course, it's a delightful house, and there's plenty to do, and opportunities for every game or sport that's ever been invented, and, as I say, one gets awfully well done; but with it all, Tony, there's a faint sort of feeling that well, that one is on parade, as it were. You've got to do as you're told."
"How do you mean?"
"Well, Mark fancies himself rather at arranging things. He arranges things, and it's understood that the guests fall in with the arrangement. For instance, Betty—Miss Calladine—and I were going to play a single just before tea, the other day. Tennis. She's frightfully hot stuff at tennis, and backed herself to take me on level. I'm rather erratic, you know. Mark saw us going out with our rackets and asked us what we were going to do. Well, he'd got up a little tournament for us after tea—handicaps all arranged by him, and everything ruled out neatly in red and black ink—prizes and all—quite decent ones, you know. He'd had the lawn specially cut and marked for it. Well, of course Betty and I wouldn't have spoilt the court, and we'd have been quite ready to play again after tea—I had to give her half-fifteen according to his handicap—but somehow—" Bill stopped and shrugged his shoulders.
"It didn't quite fit in?"
"No. It spoilt the effect of his tournament. Took the edge off it just a little, I suppose he felt. So we didn't play." He laughed, and added, "It would have been as much as our place was worth to have played."
"Do you mean you wouldn't have been asked here again?"
"Probably. Well, I don't know. Not for some time, anyway."
"Oh, rather! He's a devil for taking offence. That Miss Norris, did you see her? She's done for herself. I don't mind betting what you like that she never comes here again."
Bill laughed to himself.
"We were all in it, really—at least, Betty and I were. There's supposed to be a ghost attached to the house. Lady Anne Patten. Ever heard of her?"
"Mark told us about her at dinner one night. He rather liked the idea of there being a ghost in his house, you know; except that he doesn't believe in ghosts. I think he wanted all of us to believe in her, and yet he was annoyed with Betty and Mrs. Calladine for believing in ghosts at all. Rum chap. Well, anyhow, Miss Norris—she's an actress, some actress too—dressed up as the ghost and played the fool a bit. And poor Mark was frightened out of his life. Just for a moment, you know."
"What about the others?"
"Well, Betty and I knew; in fact, I'd told her—Miss Norris I mean—not to be a silly ass. Knowing Mark. Mrs. Calladine wasn't there—Betty wouldn't let her be. As for the Major, I don't believe anything would frighten him."
"Where did the ghost appear?"
"Down by the bowling-green. That's supposed to be its haunt, you know. We were all down there in the moonlight, pretending to wait for it. Do you know the bowling-green?"
"I'll show it to you after dinner."
"I wish you would… . Was Mark very angry afterwards?"
"Oh, Lord, yes. Sulked for a whole day. Well, he's just like that."
"Was he angry with all of you?"
"Oh, yes sulky, you know."
"Oh, no. He got over it he generally does. He's just like a child. That's really it, Tony; he's like a child in some ways. As a matter of fact, he was unusually bucked with himself this morning. And yesterday."
"Rather. We all said we'd never seen him in such form."
"Is he generally in form?"
"He's quite good company, you know, if you take him the right way. He's rather vain and childish well, like I've been telling you and self-important; but quite amusing in his way, and—" Bill broke off suddenly. "I say, you know, it really is the limit, talking about your host like this."
"Don't think of him as your host. Think of him as a suspected murderer with a warrant out against him."
"Oh! but that's all rot, you know."
"It's the fact, Bill."
"Yes, but I mean, he didn't do it. He wouldn't murder anybody. It's a funny thing to say, but well, he's not big enough for it. He's got his faults, like all of us, but they aren't on that scale."
"One can kill anybody in a childish fit of temper."
Bill grunted assent, but without prejudice to Mark. "All the same," he said, "I can't believe it. That he would do it deliberately, I mean."
"Suppose it was an accident, as Cayley says, would he lose his head and run away?"
Bill considered for a moment.
"Yes, I really think he might, you know. He nearly ran away when he saw the ghost. Of course, that's different, rather."
"Oh, I don't know. In each case it's a question of obeying your instinct instead of your reason."
They had left the open land and were following a path through the bordering trees. Two abreast was uncomfortable, so Antony dropped behind, and further conversation was postponed until they were outside the boundary fence and in the high road. The road sloped gently down to the village of Waldheim a few red-roofed cottages, and the grey tower of a church showing above the green.
"Well, now," said Antony, as they stepped out more quickly, "what about Cayley?"
"How do you mean, what about him?"
"I want to see him. I can see Mark perfectly, thanks to you, Bill. You were wonderful. Now let's have Cayley's character. Cayley from within."
Bill laughed in pleased embarrassment, and protested that he was not a blooming novelist.
"Besides," he added, "Mark's easy. Cayley's one of these heavy, quiet people, who might be thinking about anything. Mark gives himself away… . Ugly, black-jawed devil, isn't he?"
"Some women like that type of ugliness."
"Yes, that's true. Between ourselves, I think there's one here who does. Rather a pretty girl at Jallands" he waved his left hand "down that way."
"Well, I suppose it used to be a farm, belonging to a bloke called Jalland, but now it's a country cottage belonging to a widow called Norbury. Mark and Cayley used to go there a good deal together. Miss Norbury—the girl—has been here once or twice for tennis; seemed to prefer Cayley to the rest of us. But of course he hadn't much time for that sort of thing."
"What sort of thing?"
"Walking about with a pretty girl and asking her if she's been to any theatres lately. He nearly always had something to do."
"Mark kept him busy?"
"Yes. Mark never seemed quite happy unless he had Cayley doing something for him. He was quite lost and helpless without him. And, funnily enough, Cayley seemed lost without Mark."
"He was fond of him?"
"Yes, I should say so. In a protective kind of way. He'd sized Mark up, of course his vanity, his self-importance, his amateurishness and all the rest of it but he liked looking after him. And he knew how to manage him."
"Yes… . What sort of terms was he on with the guests—you and Miss Norris and all of them?"
"Just polite and rather silent, you know. Keeping himself to himself. We didn't see so very much of him, except at meals. We were here to enjoy ourselves, and well, he wasn't."
"He wasn't there when the ghost walked?"
"No. I heard Mark calling for him when he went back to the house. I expect Cayley stroked down his feathers a bit, and told him that girls will be girls… .—Hallo, here we are."
They went into the inn, and while Bill made himself pleasant to the landlady, Antony went upstairs to his room. It appeared that he had not very much packing to do, after all. He returned his brushes to his bag, glanced sound to see that nothing else had been taken out, and went down again to settle his bill. He had decided to keep on his room for a few days; partly to save the landlord and his wife the disappointment of losing a guest so suddenly, partly in case he found it undesirable later on to remain at the Red House. For he was taking himself seriously as a detective; indeed, he took himself seriously (while getting all the fun out of it which was possible) at every new profession he adopted; and he felt that there might come a time after the inquest, say when he could not decently remain at the Red House as a guest, a friend of Bill's, enjoying the hospitality of Mark or Cayley, whichever was to be regarded as his host, without forfeiting his independent attitude towards the events of that afternoon. At present he was staying in the house merely as a necessary witness, and, since he was there, Cayley could not object to him using his eyes; but if, after the inquest, it appeared that there was still work for a pair of independent and very keen eyes to do, then he must investigate, either with his host's approval or from beneath the roof of some other host; the landlord of 'The George,' for instance, who had no feelings in the matter.
For of one thing Antony was certain. Cayley knew more than he professed to know. That is to say, he knew more than he wanted other people to know he knew. Antony was one of the "other people"; if, therefore, he was for trying to find out what it was that Cayley knew, he could hardly expect Cayley's approval of his labours. It would be 'The George,' then, for Antony after the inquest.
What was the truth? Not necessarily discreditable to Cayley, even though he were hiding something. All that could be said against him at the moment was that he had gone the longest way round to get into the locked office and that this did not fit in with what he had told the Inspector. But it did fit in with the theory that he had been an accessory after the event, and that he wanted (while appearing to be in a hurry) to give his cousin as much time as possible in which to escape. That might not be the true solution, but it was at least a workable one. The theory which he had suggested to the Inspector was not.
However, there would be a day or two before the inquest, in which Antony could consider all these matters from within The Red House. The car was at the door. He got in with Bill, the landlord put his bag on the front seat next to the chauffeur, and they drove back.