Possibilities of a croquet set
"What's the matter?" said Bill sharply.
Antony looked round at him with raised eyebrows.
"You've thought of something suddenly," said Bill. "What is it?"
"My dear Watson," he said, "you aren't supposed to be as clever as this."
"Oh, you can't take me in!"
"No… . Well, I was wondering about this ghost of yours, Bill. It seems to me—"
"Oh, that!" Bill was profoundly disappointed. "What on earth has the ghost got to do with it?"
"I don't know," said Antony apologetically. "I don't know what anything has got to do with it. I was just wondering. You shouldn't have brought me here if you hadn't wanted me to think about the ghost. This is where she appeared, isn't it?"
"Yes." Bill was distinctly short about it.
"I said, 'How?'"
"How? How do ghosts appear? I don't know. They just appear."
"Over four or five hundred yards of open park?"
"Well, but she had to appear here, because this is where the original one—Lady Anne, you know—was supposed to walk."
"Oh, never mind Lady Anne! A real ghost can do anything. But how did Miss Norris appear suddenly over five hundred yards of bare park?"
Bill looked at Antony with open mouth.
"I—I don't know," he stammered. "We never thought of that."
"You would have seen her long before, wouldn't you, if she had come the way we came?"
"Of course we should."
"And that would have spoilt it rather. You would have had time to recognize her walk."
Bill was interested now.
"That's rather funny, you know, Tony. We none of us thought of that."
"You're sure she didn't come across the park when none of you were looking?"
"Quite. Because, you see, Betty and I were expecting her, and we kept looking round in case we saw her, so that we should all be playing with our backs to her."
"You and Miss Calladine were playing together?"
"I say, however do you know that?"
"Brilliant deductive reasoning. Well, then you suddenly saw her?"
"Yes, she walked across that side of the lawn." He indicated the opposite side, nearer to the house.
"She couldn't have been hiding in the ditch? Do you call it the moat, by the way?"
"Mark does. We don't among ourselves. No, she couldn't. Betty and I were here before the others, and walked round a bit. We should have seen her."
"Then she must have been hiding in the shed. Or do you call it the summer-house?"
"We had to go there for the bowls, of course. She couldn't have been there."
"It's dashed funny," said Bill, after an interval for thought. "But it doesn't matter, does it? It has nothing to do with Robert."
"I say, has it?" said Bill, getting excited again.
"I don't know. We don't know what has, or what hasn't. But it has got something to do with Miss Norris. And Miss Norris—" He broke off suddenly.
"What about her?"
"Well, you're all in it in a kind of way. And if something unaccountable happens to one of you a day or two before something unaccountable happens to the whole house, one is well, interested." It was a good enough reason, but it wasn't the reason he had been on the point of giving.
"I see. Well?"
Antony knocked out his pipe and got up slowly.
"Well then, let's find the way from the house by which Miss Norris came."
Bill jumped up eagerly.
"By Jove! Do you mean there's a secret passage?"
"A secluded passage, anyway. There must be."
"I say, what fun! I love secret passages. Good Lord, and this afternoon I was playing golf just like an ordinary merchant! What a life! Secret passages!"
They made their way down into the ditch. If an opening was to be found which led to the house, it would probably be on the house side of the green, and on the outside of the ditch. The most obvious place at which to begin the search was the shed where the bowls were kept. It was a tidy place as anything in Mark's establishment would be. There were two boxes of croquet things, one of them with the lid open, as if the balls and mallets and, hoops (neatly enough put away, though) had been recently used; a box of bowls, a small lawn-mower, a roller and so forth. A seat ran along the back of it, whereon the bowls-players could sit when it rained.
Antony tapped the wall at the back.
"This is where the passage ought to begin. It doesn't sound very hollow, does it?"
"It needn't begin here at all, need it?" said Bill, walking round with bent head, and tapping the other walls. He was just too tall to stand upright in the shed.
"There's only one reason why it should, and that is that it would save us the trouble of looking anywhere else for it. Surely Mark didn't let you play croquet on his bowling-green?" He pointed to the croquet things.
"He didn't encourage it at one time, but this year he got rather keen about it. There's really nowhere else to play. Personally I hate the game. He wasn't very keen on bowls, you know, but he liked calling it the bowling-green, and surprising his visitors with it."
"I love you on Mark," he said. "You're priceless."
He began to feel in his pockets for his pipe and tobacco, and then suddenly stopped and stiffened to attention. For a moment he stood listening, with his head on one side, holding up a finger to bid Bill listen too.
"What is it?" whispered Bill.
Antony waved him to silence, and remained listening. Very quietly he went down on his knees, and listened again. Then he put his ear to the floor. He got up and dusted himself quickly, walked across to Bill and whispered in his ear:
"Footsteps. Somebody coming. When I begin to talk, back me up."
Bill nodded. Antony gave him an encouraging pat on the back, and stepped firmly across to the box of bowls, whistling loudly to himself. He took the bowls out, dropped one with a loud bang on the floor, said, "Oh, Lord!" and went on:
"I say, Bill, I don't think I want to play bowls, after all."
"Well, why did you say you did?" grumbled Bill.
Antony flashed a smile of appreciation at him.
"Well, I wanted to when I said I did, and now I don't want to."
"Then what do you want to do?"
"Oh, right-o!" said Bill eagerly.
"There's a seat on the lawn I saw it. Let's bring these things along in case we want to play, after all."
"Right-o!" said Bill again. He felt safe with that, not wishing to commit himself until he knew what he was wanted to say.
As they went across the lawn, Antony dropped the bowls and took out his pipe.
"Got a match?" he said loudly.
As he bent his head over the match, he whispered, "There'll be somebody listening to us. You take the Cayley view," and then went on in his ordinary voice, "I don't think much of your matches, Bill," and struck another. They walked over to the seat and sat down.
"What a heavenly night!" said Antony.
"I wonder where that poor devil Mark is now."
"It's a rum business."
"You agree with Cayley that it was an accident?"
"Yes. You see, I know Mark."
"H'm." Antony produced a pencil and a piece of paper and began to write on his knee, but while he wrote, he talked. He said that he thought Mark had shot his brother in a fit of anger, and that Cayley knew, or anyhow guessed, this and had tried to give his cousin a chance of getting away.
"Mind you, I think he's right. I think it's what any of us would do. I shan't give it away, of course, but somehow there are one or two little things which make me think that Mark really did shoot his brother I mean other than accidentally."
"Well, manslaughtered him, anyway. I may be wrong. Anyway, it's not my business."
"But why do you think so? Because of the keys?"
"Oh, the keys are a wash-out. Still, it was a brilliant idea of mine, Wasn't it? And it would have been rather a score for me if they had all been outside."
He had finished his writing, and now passed the paper over to Bill. In the clear moonlight the carefully printed letters could easily be read:
"GO ON TALKING AS IF I WERE HERE. AFTER A MINUTE OR TWO, TURN ROUND AS IF I WERE SITTING ON THE GRASS BEHIND YOU, BUT GO ON TALKING."
"I know you don't agree with me," Antony went on as Bill read, "but you'll see that I'm right."
Bill looked up and nodded eagerly. He had forgotten golf and Betty and all the other things which had made up his world lately. This was the real thing. This was life. "Well," he began deliberately, "the whole point is that I know Mark. Now, Mark—"
But Antony was off the seat and letting himself gently down into the ditch. His intention was to crawl round it until the shed came in sight. The footsteps which he had heard seemed to be underneath the shed; probably there was a trap-door of some kind in the floor. Whoever it was would have heard their voices, and would probably think it worth while to listen to what they were saying. He might do this merely by opening the door a little without showing himself, in which case Antony would have found the entrance to the passage without any trouble to himself. But when Bill turned his head and talked over the back of the seat, it was probable that the listener would find it necessary to put his head outside in order to hear, and then Antony would be able to discover who it was. Moreover, if he should venture out of his hiding-place altogether and peep at them over the top of the bank, the fact that Bill was talking over the back of the seat would mislead the watcher into thinking that Antony was still there, sitting on the grass, no doubt, behind the seat, swinging his legs over the side of the ditch.
He walked quickly but very silently along the half-length of the bowling-green to the first corner, passed cautiously round, and then went even more carefully along the width of it to the second corner. He could hear Bill hard at it, arguing from his knowledge of Mark's character that this, that and the other must have happened, and he smiled appreciatively to himself. Bill was a great conspirator worth a hundred Watsons. As he approached the second corner he slowed down, and did the last few yards on hands and knees. Then, lying at full length, inch by inch his head went round the corner.
The shed was two or three yards to his left, on the opposite side of the ditch. From where he lay he could see almost entirely inside it. Everything seemed to be as they left it. The bowls-box, the lawn-mower, the roller, the open croquet-box, the—
"By Jove!" said Antony to himself, "that's neat."
The lid of the other croquet-box was open, too. Bill was turning round now; his voice became more difficult to hear. "You see what I mean," he was saying. "If Cayley—"
And out of the second croquet-box came Cayley's black head.
Antony wanted to shout his applause. It was neat, devilish neat. For a moment he gazed, fascinated, at that wonderful new kind of croquet-ball which had appeared so dramatically out of the box, and then reluctantly wriggled himself back. There was nothing to be gained by staying there, and a good deal to be lost, for Bill showed signs of running down. As quickly as he could Antony hurried round the ditch and took up his place at the back of the seat. Then he stood up with a yawn, stretched himself and said carelessly, "Well, don't worry yourself about it, Bill, old man. I daresay you're right. You know Mark, and I don't; and that's the difference. Shall we have a game or shall we go to bed?"
Bill looked at him for inspiration, and, receiving it, said, "Oh, just let's have one game, shall we?"
"Right you are," said Antony.
But Bill was much too excited to take the game which followed very seriously. Antony, on the other hand, seemed to be thinking of nothing but bowls. He played with great deliberation for ten minutes, and then announced that he was going to bed. Bill looked at him anxiously.
"It's all right," laughed Antony. "You can talk if you want to. Just let's put 'em away first, though."
They made their way down to the shed, and while Bill was putting the bowls away, Antony tried the lid of the closed croquet-box. As he expected, it was locked.
"Now then," said Bill, as they were walking back to the house again, "I'm simply bursting to know. Who was it?"
"Good Lord! Where?"
"Inside one of the croquet-boxes."
"Don't be an ass."
"It's quite true, Bill." He told the other what he had seen.
"But aren't we going to have a look at it?" asked Bill, in great disappointment. "I'm longing to explore. Aren't you?"
"To-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow. We shall see Cayley coming along this way directly. Besides, I want to get in from the other end, if I can. I doubt very much if we can do it this end without giving ourselves away. Look, there's Cayley."
They could see him coming along the drive towards them. When they were a little closer, they waved to him and he waved back.
"I wondered where you were," he said, as he got up to them. "I rather thought you might be along this way. What about bed?"
"Bed it is," said Antony.
"We've been playing bowls," added Bill, "and talking, and—and playing bowls. Ripping night, isn't it?"
But he left the rest of the conversation, as they wandered back to the house, to Antony. He wanted to think. There seemed to be no doubt now that Cayley was a villain. Bill had never been familiar with a villain before. It didn't seem quite fair of Cayley, somehow; he was taking rather a mean advantage of his friends. Lot of funny people there were in the world funny people with secrets. Look at Tony, that first time he had met him in a tobacconist's shop. Anybody would have thought he was a tobacconist's assistant. And Cayley. Anybody would have thought that Cayley was an ordinary decent sort of person. And Mark. Dash it! one could never be sure of anybody. Now, Robert was different. Everybody had always said that Robert was a shady fellow.
But what on earth had Miss Norris got to do with it? What had Miss Norris got to do with it? This was a question which Antony had already asked himself that afternoon, and it seemed to him now that he had found the answer. As he lay in bed that night he reassembled his ideas, and looked at them in the new light which the events of the evening threw upon the dark corners in his brain.
Of course it was natural that Cayley should want to get rid of his guests as soon as the tragedy was discovered. He would want this for their own sake as well as for his. But he had been a little too quick about suggesting it, and about seeing the suggestion carried out. They had been bustled off as soon as they could be packed. The suggestion that they were in his hands, to go or stay as he wished, could have been left safely to them. As it was, they had been given no alternative, and Miss Norris, who had proposed to catch an after-dinner train at the junction, in the obvious hope that she might have in this way a dramatic cross-examination at the hands of some keen-eyed detective, was encouraged tactfully, but quite firmly, to travel by the earlier train with the others. Antony had felt that Cayley, in the tragedy which had suddenly befallen the house, ought to have been equally indifferent to her presence or absence. But he was not; and Antony assumed from this that Cayley was very much alive to the necessity for her absence.
Well, that question was not to be answered off-hand. But the fact that it was so had made Antony interested in her; and it was for this reason that he had followed up so alertly Bill's casual mention of her in connection with the dressing-up business. He felt that he wanted to know a little more about Miss Norris and the part she had played in the Red House circle. By sheer luck, as it seemed to him, he had stumbled on the answer to his question.
Miss Norris was hurried away because she knew about the secret passage.
The passage, then, had something to do with the mystery of Robert's death. Miss Norris had used it in order to bring off her dramatic appearance as the ghost. Possibly she had discovered it for herself; possibly Mark had revealed it to her secretly one day, never guessing that she would make so unkind a use of it later on; possibly Cayley, having been let into the joke of the dressing-up, had shown her how she could make her appearance on the bowling-green even more mysterious and supernatural. One way or another, she knew about the secret passage. So she must be hurried away.
Why? Because if she stayed and talked, she might make some innocent mention of it. And Cayley did not want any mention of it.
Why, again? Obviously because the passage, or even the mere knowledge of its existence, might provide a clue.
"I wonder if Mark's hiding there," thought Antony; and he went to sleep.