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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Share - Chapter 34. The Tank-Room
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The Lion's Share - Chapter 34. The Tank-Room Post by :nileshkurhade Category :Long Stories Author :Arnold Bennett Date :May 2012 Read :2625

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The Lion's Share - Chapter 34. The Tank-Room

CHAPTER XXXIV. THE TANK-ROOM

"Did you get my letter?" breathed Miss Ingate weakly, after she had a little recovered from the shock, which had the appearance of being terrific.

"No," said Audrey. "How could I? We're yachting. Madame Piriac, you know Miss Ingate, don't you? And this is my friend Jane Foley." She spoke quite easily and naturally, though Miss Ingate in her intense agitation had addressed her as Audrey, whereas the Christian name of Mrs. Moncreiff, on the rare occasions when a Christian name became necessary or advisable, had been Olivia--or, infrequently, Olive.

"Yachting!"

"Yes. Haven't you seen the yacht at the Hard?"

"No! I did hear something about it, but I've been too busy to run after yachts. We've been too busy, haven't we, Miss Foley? I even have to keep my dog locked up. I don't know what you'll say. Aud--Mrs. Moncreiff! I really don't! But we acted for the best. Oh! How dreadfully exciting my life does get at times! Never since I played the barrel organ all the way down Regent Street have I--! Oh! dear!"

"Have my tea, and do sit down, Winnie, and remember you're an Essex woman!" Audrey adjured her, going to the china cupboard to get more cups.

"_I'll just tell you all about it, Mrs. Moncreiff, if you'll let me," Jane Foley began with a serene and happy smile, as she limped to a chair. "I'm quite ready to take all the consequences. It's the police again, that's all. I don't know how exactly they got on the track of the Spatts at Frinton. But I dare say you've seen that the police have seized a lot of documents at our head-quarters. Perhaps that explains it. Anyway I caught sight of our old friend at Paget Gardens nosing about, and so as soon as it was dark I left the Spatts. It's a horrid thing to say, but I never was so glad about anything as I was at leaving the Spatts. I didn't tell them where I was going, and they didn't ask. I'm sure the poor things were very relieved to have me go. Miss Ingate tells me to-day she's heard they've both resigned from the Union. Mr. Spatt went up to London on purpose to do it. And can you be surprised?"

"Yes, you can, and yet you can't!" exclaimed Miss Ingate. "You can, and yet you can't!"

"I met Miss Ingate on Frinton front," Jane Foley proceeded. "She was just getting into her carriage. I had my bag and I asked her to drive me to the station. 'To the station?' she said. 'What for? There's no train to-night.'"

"No more there wasn't!" Miss Ingate put in, "I'd been dining at the Proctors' and it was after ten, I know it was after ten because they never let me leave until after ten, in spite of the long drive I have. Fancy there being a train from Frinton after ten! So of course I brought Miss Foley along. Oh! It was vehy interesting. Vehy interesting. You see we had to think of the police. I didn't want the police coming poking round my house. It would never do, in a little place like Moze. I should never hear the last of it. So I--I thought of Flank Hall. I----"

Jane Foley went on:

"Miss Ingate was sure you wouldn't mind, Mrs. Moncreiff. And personally I was quite certain you wouldn't mind. We left the carriage at Miss Ingate's, and carried the bag in turns. And I stood outside while Miss Ingate woke up Mr. Aguilar. It was soon all right."

"I must say Aguilar was vehy reasonable," said Miss Ingate. "Vehy reasonable. And he's got a great spite against my dear Inspector Keeble. He suggested everything. He never asked any questions, so I told him. You do, you know. He suggested Miss Foley should have a bed in the tank-room, so that if there was any trouble all the bedrooms should look innocent."

"Did he tell you I'd come here to see him not long since?" Audrey demanded.

"And why didn't you pop in to see _me? I was hurt when I got your note."

"Did he tell you?"

"Of course he didn't. He never tells anybody anything. That sort of thing's very useful at times, especially when it's combined with a total lack of curiosity. He fixed every, thing up. And he keeps the gates locked, so that people can't wander in."

"He didn't lock the gate at the bottom of the garden, because it won't lock," said Audrey. "And so he didn't keep me from wandering in." She felt rather disappointed that Aguilar should once more have escaped her reproof and that the dream of his double life should have vanished away, but she was determined to prove that he was not perfect.

"Well, I don't know about that," said Miss Ingate. "It wouldn't startle me to hear that he knew you were intending to come. All I know is that Miss Foley's been here for several days. Not a soul knows except me and Aguilar. And it seems to get safer every day. She does venture about the house now, though she never goes into the garden while it's light. It was Aguilar had the idea of putting this room straight for her."

"And it was he who cut the bread-and-butter," added Jane Foley.

"And this was to be our first tea-party!" Miss Ingate half shrieked. "I'd come--I do come, you know, to keep an eye on things as you asked me--I'd come, and we were just having a cosy little chat in the tank-room. Aguilar's gone to Colchester to get a duplicate key of the front gates. He left me his, so I could get in and lock up after myself, and he put the water on to boil before leaving. I said to Miss Foley, I said, up in the tank-room: 'Was that a ring at the door?' But she said it wasn't."

"I've been a little deaf since I was in prison," said Jane Foley.

"And now we come down and find you here! I--I hope I've done right." This, falteringly, from Miss Ingate.

"Of course you have, you silly old thing," Audrey reassured her. "It's splendid!"

"Whenever I think of the police I laugh," said Miss Ingate in an unsettled voice. "I can't help it. They can't possibly suspect. And they're looking everywhere, everywhere! I can't help laughing." And suddenly she burst into tears.

"Oh! Now! Winnie, dear. Don't spoil it all!" Audrey protested, jumping up.

Madame Piriac, who had hitherto maintained the most complete passivity, restrained her.

"Leave her tranquil!" murmured Madame Piriac in French. "She is not spoiling it. On the contrary! One is content to see that she is a woman!"

And then Miss Ingate laughed, and blushed, and called herself names.

"And so you haven't had my letter," said she. "I wish you had had it. But what is this yachting business? I never heard of such goings-on. Is it your yacht? This world is getting a bit too wonderful for me."

The answer to these questions was cut short by rather heavy masculine footsteps approaching the door of the drawing-room. Miss Ingate grew instantly serious. Audrey and Jane looked at each other, and Jane Foley went quickly but calmly to the door and opened it.

"Oh! It's Mr. Aguilar--returned!" she said, quietly. "Is anything the matter, Mr. Aguilar?"

Aguilar, hat in hand, entered the room.

"Good afternoon, Aguilar," Audrey greeted him.

"'Noon, madam," he responded, exactly as though he had been expecting to find the mistress there. "It's like this. I've just seen Inspector Keeble and that there detective as was here afore--_you know, madam" (nodding to Audrey) "and I fancy they're a-coming this way, so I thought I'd better cut back and warn ye. I don't think they saw me. I was too quick for 'em. Was the bread-and-butter all right, Miss Ingate? Thank ye."

Miss Ingate had risen.

"I ought to go home," she said. "I feel sure it would be wiser for me to go home. I never could talk to detectives."

Jane Foley snatched at one of the four cups and saucers on the table, and put it back, all unwashed, into the china cupboard.

"Three cups will be enough for them to see, if they come," she said, with a bright, happy smile to Audrey. "Yes, Miss Ingate, you go home. I'm ever so much obliged to you. Now, I'll go upstairs and Aguilar shall lock me in the tank-room and push the key under the door. We are causing you a lot of trouble, Mrs. Moncreiff, but you won't mind. It might have been so much worse." She laughed as she went.

"And suppose I meet those police on the way out, what am I to say to them?" asked Miss Ingate when Jane Foley and Aguilar had departed.

"If they're very curious, tell them you've been here to have tea with me and that Aguilar cut the bread-and-butter," Audrey replied. "The detective will be interested to see me. He chased me all the way to London not long since. Au revoir, Winnie."

"Dear friend," said Madame Piriac, with admirable though false calm. "Would it not be more prudent to fly back at once to the yacht--if in truth this is the same police agent of whom you recounted to me with such drollness the exploits? It is not that I am afraid----"

"Nor I," said Audrey. "There is no danger except to Jane Foley."

"Ah! You cannot abandon her. That is true. Nevertheless I regret ..."

"Well, darling," Audrey exclaimed. "You would insist on my coming!"

The continuing presence of Miss Ingate, who had lost one glove and her purse, rendered this brief conversation somewhat artificial. And no sooner had Miss Ingate got away--by the window, for the sake of dispatch--than a bell made itself heard, and Aguilar came back to the drawing-room in the role of butler.

"Inspector Keeble and a gentleman to see you, madam."

"Bring them in," said Audrey.

Aguilar's secret glance at Inspector Keeble as he brought in the visitors showed that his lifelong and harmless enemy had very little to hope from his goodwill.

"Wait a moment, you!" called the detective as Aguilar, like a perfect butler, was vanishing. "Good afternoon, ladies. Excuse me, I wish to question this man." He indicated Aguilar with a gesture of apologising for Aguilar.

Inspector Keeble, an overgrown mass of rectitude and kindliness, greeted Audrey with that constraint which always afflicted him when he was beneath any roof more splendid than that of his own police-station.

"Now, Aguilar," said the detective, "it's you that'll be telling me. Ye've got a woman concealed in the house. Where is she?"

He knew, then, this ferreting and divinatory Irishman! Of course Miss Ingate must have committed some indiscretion, or was it that Aguilar was less astute than he gave the impression of being? Audrey considered that all was lost, and she was aware of a most unpleasant feeling of helplessness and inefficiency. Then she seemed to receive inspiration and optimism from somewhere. She knew not exactly from where, but perhaps it was from the shy stiffness of the demeanour of her old acquaintance, Inspector Keeble. Moreover, the Irishman's twinkling eyes were a challenge to her.

"Oh! Aguilar!" she exclaimed. "I'm very sorry to hear this. I knew women were always your danger, but I never dreamt you would start carrying on in my absence."

Aguilar fronted her, and their eyes met. Audrey gazed at him steadily. There was no smile in Audrey's eyes, but there was a smile glimmering mysteriously behind them, and after a couple of seconds this phenomenon aroused a similar phenomenon behind the eyes of Aguilar. Audrey had the terrible and god-like sensation of lifting a hired servant to equality with herself. She imagined that she would never again be able to treat him as Aguilar, and she even feared that she would soon begin to cease to hate him. At the same time she observed slight signs of incertitude in the demeanour of the detective.

Aguilar replied coldly, not to Audrey, but to the police:

"If Inspector Keeble or anybody else has been mixing my name up with any scandal about females, I'll have him up for slander and libel and damages as sure as I stand here."

Inspector Keeble looked away, and then looked at the detective--as if for support in peril.

"Do you mean to say, Aguilar, that you haven't got a woman hidden in the house at this very moment?" the detective demanded.

"I'll thank ye to keep a civil tongue in your head," said Aguilar. "Or I'll take ye outside and knock yer face sideways. Pardon me, madam. Of course I ain't got no woman concealed on the premises. And mark ye, if I lose my place through this ye'll hear of it. And I shall put a letter in the _Gardeners' Chronicle_, too."

"Well, ye can go," the detective responded.

"Yes," sneered Aguilar. "I can go. Yes, and I shall go. But not so far but what I can protect my interests. And I'll make this village too hot for Keeble before I've done, police or no police."

And with a look at Audrey like the look of a knight at his lady after a joust, Aguilar turned to leave the room.

"Aguilar," Audrey rewarded him. "You needn't be afraid about your place."

"Thank ye, m'm."

"May I ask what your name is?" Audrey inquired of the detective as soon as Aguilar had shut the door.

"Hurley," replied the detective.

"I thought it might be," said Audrey, sitting down, but not offering seats. "Well, Mr. Hurley, after all your running after Miss Susan Foley, don't you think it's rather unfair to say horrid things about a respectable man like Aguilar? You were funny about that stout wife of yours last time I saw you, but you must remember that Aguilar can't be funny about his wife, because he hasn't got one."

"I really don't know what you're driving at, miss," said Mr. Hurley simply.

"Well, what were you driving at when you followed me all the way to London the other day?"

"Madam," said Mr. Hurley, "I didn't follow you to London. I only happened to arrive at Charing Cross about twenty seconds after you, that was all. As a matter of fact, nearly half of the way you were following me."

"Well, I hope you were satisfied."

"I only want to know one thing," the detective retorted. "Am I speaking to Mrs. Olivia Moncreiff?"

Audrey hesitated, glancing at Madame Piriac, who, in company with the vast Inspector Keeble, was carefully inspecting the floor. She invoked wisdom and sagacity from heaven, and came to a decision.

"Not that I know of," she answered.

"Then, if you please, who are you?"

"What!" exclaimed Audrey. "You're in the village of Moze itself and you ask who I am. Everybody knows me. My name is Audrey Moze, of Flank Hall, Moze, Essex. Any child in Moze Street will tell you that. Inspector Keeble knows as well as anybody."

Madame Piriac proceeded steadily with the inquiry into the carpet. Audrey felt her heart beating.

"Unmarried?" pursued the detective.

"Most decidedly," said Audrey with conviction.

"Then what's the meaning of that ring on your finger, if you don't mind my asking?" the detective continued.

Certainly Audrey was flustered, but only for a moment.

"Mr. Hurley," said she; "I wear it as a protection from men of all ages who are too enterprising."

She spoke archly, with humour; but now there was no answering humour in the features of Mr. Hurley, who seemed to be a changed man, to be indeed no longer even an Irishman. And Audrey grew afraid. Did he, after all, know of her share in the Blue City enterprise? She had long since persuaded herself that the police had absolutely failed to connect her with that affair, but now uncertainty was born in her mind.

"I must search the house," said the detective.

"What for?"

"I have to arrest a woman named Jane Foley," answered Mr. Hurley, adding somewhat grimly: "The name will be known to ye, I'm thinking.... And I have reason to believe that she is now concealed on these premises."

The directness of the blow was terrific. It was almost worse than the blow itself. And Audrey now believed everything that she had ever heard or read about the miraculous ingenuity of detectives. Still, she did not regard herself as beaten, and the thought of the yacht lying close by gave her a dim feeling of security. If she could only procure delay!...

"I'm not going to let you search my house," she said angrily. "I never heard of such a thing! You've got no right to search my house."

"Oh yes, I have!" Mr. Hurley insisted.

"Well, let me see your paper--I don't know what you call it. But I know you can't do anything-without a paper. Otherwise any bright young-man might walk into my house and tell me he meant to search it. Keeble, I'm really surprised at _you_."

Inspector Keeble blushed.

"I'm very sorry, miss," said he contritely. "But the law's the law. Show the lady your search-warrant, Mr. Hurley." His voice resembled himself.

Mr. Hurley coughed. "I haven't got a search-warrant yet," he remarked. "I didn't expect----"

"You'd better go and get one, then," said Audrey, calculating how long it would take three women to transport themselves from the house to the yacht, and perpending upon the probable behaviour of Mr. Gilman under a given set of circumstances.

"I will," said Mr. Hurley. "And I shan't be long. Keeble, where is the nearest justice of the peace?... You'd better stay here or hereabouts."

"I got to go to the station to sign on my three constables," Inspector Keeble protested awkwardly, looking at his watch, which also resembled himself.

"You'd better stay here or hereabouts," repeated Mr. Hurley, and he moved towards the door. Inspector Keeble, too, moved towards the door.

Audrey let them get into the passage, and then she was vouchsafed a new access of inspiration.

"Mr. Hurley," she called, in a bright, unoffended tone. "After all, I see no reason why you shouldn't search the house. I don't really want to put you to any unnecessary trouble. It is annoying, but I'm not going to be annoyed." The ingenuous young creature expected Mr. Hurley to be at once disarmed and ashamed by this kind offer. She was wrong. He was evidently surprised, but he gave no evidence of shame or of the sudden death in his brain of all suspicions.

"That's better," he said calmly. "And I'm much obliged."

"I'll come with you," said Audrey. "Madame Piriac," she addressed Hortense with averted eyes. "Will you excuse me for a minute or two while I show these gentlemen the house?" The fact was that she did not care just then to be left alone with Madame Piriac.

"Oh! I beg you, darling! "Madame Piriac granted the permission with overpowering sweetness.

The procedure of Mr. Hurley was astonishing to Audrey; nay, it was unnerving. First he locked the front door and the garden door and pocketed the keys. Then he locked the drawing-room on the passage side and pocketed that key. He instructed Inspector Keeble to remain in the hall at the foot of the stairs. He next went into the kitchen and the sculleries and locked the outer doors in that quarter. Then he descended to the cellars, with Audrey always in his wake. Having searched the cellars and the ground floor, he went upstairs, and examined in turn all the bedrooms with a thoroughness and particularity which caused Audrey to blush. He left nothing whatever to chance, and no dust sheet was undisturbed. Audrey said no word. The detective said no word. But Audrey kept thinking: "He is getting nearer to the tank-room." A small staircase led to the attic floor, upon which were only servants' bedrooms and the tank-room. After he had mounted this staircase and gone a little way along the passage he swiftly and without warning dashed back and down the staircase. But nothing seemed to happen, and he returned. The three doors of the three servants' bedrooms were all ajar. Mr. Hurley passed each of them with a careless glance within. At the end of the corridor, in obscurity, was the door of the tank-room.

"What's this?" he asked abruptly. And he knocked nonchalantly on the door of the tank-room.

Audrey was acutely alarmed lest Jane Foley should respond, thinking the knock was that of a friend. She saw how idiotic she had been not to warn Jane by means of loud conversation with the detective.

"That's the tank-room," she said loudly. "I'm afraid it's locked."

"Oh!" murmured Mr. Hurley negligently, and he turned the searchlight of his gaze upon the three bedrooms, which he examined as carefully as he had examined anything in the house. The failure to discover in any cupboard or corner even the shadow of a human being did not appear to discourage him in the slightest degree. In the third bedroom--that is to say, the one nearest the head of the stairs and farthest from the tank-room--he suddenly beckoned to Audrey, who was standing in the doorway. She went within the room and he pushed the door to, without, however, quite shutting it.

"Now about the tank-room, Miss Moze," he began quietly. "You say it's locked?"

"Yes," said the quaking Audrey.

"As a matter of form I'd better just look in. Will you kindly let me have the key?"

"I can't," said Audrey.

"Why not?"

Audrey acquired tranquillity as she went on: "It's at Frinton. Friends of mine there keep a punt on Mozewater, and I let them store the sail and things in the tank-room. There's plenty of room. I give them the key because that's more satisfactory. The tank-room isn't wanted at all, you see, while I'm away from home."

"Who are these friends?"

"Mr. and Mrs. Spatt," said Audrey at a venture.

"I see," said the detective.

They came downstairs, and the detective made it known that he would re-visit the drawing-room. Inspector Keeble followed them. In that room Audrey remarked:

"And now I hope you're satisfied."

Mr. Hurley merely said:

"Will you please ring for Aguilar?"

Audrey complied. But she had to ring three times before the gardener's footsteps were heard on the uncarpeted stone floor of the hall.

"Aguilar," Mr. Hurley demanded. "Where is the key of the tank-room?"

Audrey sank into a chair, knowing profoundly that all was lost.

"It's at Mrs. Spatt's at Frinton," replied Aguilar glibly. "Mistress lets her have that room to store some boat-gear in. I expected she'd ha' been over before this to get it out. But the yachting season seems to start later and later every year these times."

Audrey gazed at the man as at a miracle-worker.

"Well, I think that's all," said Mr. Hurley.

"No, it isn't," Audrey corrected him. "You've got all my keys in your pocket--except one."

When the police had gone Audrey said to Aguilar in the hall:

"Aguilar, how on earth did you----"

But she was in such a state of emotion at the realisation of dangers affronted and past that she could not finish.

"I'm sorry I was so long answering the bell, m'm," replied Aguilar strangely. "But I'd put my list slippers on--them as your father made me wear when I come into the house, mornings, to change the plants, and I thought it better to put my boots on again before I come.... Shall I put the keys back in the doors, madam?"

So saying he touched his front hair, after his manner, and took the keys and retired. Audrey was as full of fear as of gratitude. Aguilar daunted her.

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