Read The Red House Mystery Online

Authors: A. A. Milne

The Red House Mystery

THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY
* * *
A. A. MILNE

 
*

The Red House Mystery
First published in 1922
ISBN 978-1-775417-98-9
© 2010 The Floating Press

While every effort has been used to ensure the accuracy and reliability of the information contained in The Floating Press edition of this book, The Floating Press does not assume liability or responsibility for any errors or omissions in this book. The Floating Press does not accept responsibility for loss suffered as a result of reliance upon the accuracy or currency of information contained in this book. Do not use while operating a motor vehicle or heavy equipment. Many suitcases look alike.

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Contents
*

Chapter I - Mrs. Stevens is Frightened
Chapter II - Mr. Gillingham Gets Out at the Wrong Station
Chapter III - Two Men and a Body
Chapter IV - The Brother from Australia
Chapter V - Mr. Gillingham Chooses a New Profession
Chapter VI - Outside or Inside?
Chapter VII - Portrait of a Gentleman
Chapter VIII - "Do You Follow Me, Watson?"
Chapter IX - Possibilities of a Croquet Set
Chapter X - Mr. Gillingham Talks Nonsense
Chapter XI - The Reverend Theodore Ussher
Chapter XII - A Shadow on the Wall
Chapter XIII - The Open Window
Chapter XIV - Mr. Beverley Qualifies for the Stage
Chapter XV - Mrs. Norbury Confides in Dear Mr. Gillingham
Chapter XVI - Getting Ready for the Night
Chapter XVII - Mr. Beverley Takes the Water
Chapter XVIII - Guess-Work
Chapter XIX - The Inquest
Chapter XX - Mr. Beverley is Tactful
Chapter XXI - Cayley's Apology
Chapter XXII - Mr. Beverley Moves On

 
*

TO
JOHN VINE MILNE
MY DEAR FATHER,

Like all really nice people, you have a weakness for detective
stories, and feel that there are not enough of them. So, after
all that you have done for me, the least that I can do for you
is to write you one. Here it is: with more gratitude and
affection than I can well put down here.

A.A.M.

Chapter I - Mrs. Stevens is Frightened
*

In the drowsy heat of the summer afternoon the Red House was taking its
siesta. There was a lazy murmur of bees in the flower-borders, a gentle
cooing of pigeons in the tops of the elms. From distant lawns came
the whir of a mowing-machine, that most restful of all country sounds;
making ease the sweeter in that it is taken while others are working.

It was the hour when even those whose business it is to attend to
the wants of others have a moment or two for themselves. In the
housekeeper's room Audrey Stevens, the pretty parlour-maid, re-trimmed
her best hat, and talked idly to her aunt, the cook-housekeeper of Mr.
Mark Ablett's bachelor home.

"For Joe?" said Mrs. Stevens placidly, her eye on the hat. Audrey
nodded. She took a pin from her mouth, found a place in the hat for it,
and said, "He likes a bit of pink."

"I don't say I mind a bit of pink myself," said her aunt. "Joe Turner
isn't the only one."

"It isn't everybody's colour," said Audrey, holding the hat out at arm's
length, and regarding it thoughtfully. "Stylish, isn't it?"

"Oh, it'll suit you all right, and it would have suited me at your
age. A bit too dressy for me now, though wearing better than some other
people, I daresay. I was never the one to pretend to be what I wasn't.
If I'm fifty-five, I'm fifty-five—that's what I say."

"Fifty-eight, isn't it, auntie?"

"I was just giving that as an example," said Mrs. Stevens with great
dignity.

Audrey threaded a needle, held her hand out and looked at her nails
critically for a moment, and then began to sew.

"Funny thing that about Mr. Mark's brother. Fancy not seeing your
brother for fifteen years." She gave a self-conscious laugh and went on,
"Wonder what I should do if I didn't see Joe for fifteen years."

"As I told you all this morning," said her aunt, "I've been here five
years, and never heard of a brother. I could say that before everybody
if I was going to die to-morrow. There's been no brother here while I've
been here."

"You could have knocked me down with a feather when he spoke about him
at breakfast this morning. I didn't hear what went before, naturally,
but they was all talking about the brother when I went in—now what
was it I went in for—hot milk, was it, or toast?—well, they was
all talking, and Mr. Mark turns to me, and says—you know his
way—'Stevens,' he says, 'my brother is coming to see me this afternoon;
I'm expecting him about three,' he says. 'Show him into the office,' he
says, just like that. 'Yes, sir,' I says quite quietly, but I was never
so surprised in my life, not knowing he had a brother. 'My brother from
Australia,' he says—there, I'd forgotten that. From Australia."

"Well, he may have been in Australia," said Mrs. Stevens, judicially; "I
can't say for that, not knowing the country; but what I do say is he's
never been here. Not while I've been here, and that's five years."

"Well, but, auntie, he hasn't been here for fifteen years. I heard Mr.
Mark telling Mr. Cayley. 'Fifteen years,' he says. Mr. Cayley having
arst him when his brother was last in England. Mr. Cayley knew of him,
I heard him telling Mr. Beverley, but didn't know when he was last in
England—see? So that's why he arst Mr. Mark."

"I'm not saying anything about fifteen years, Audrey. I can only speak
for what I know, and that's five years Whitsuntide. I can take my oath
he's not set foot in the house since five years Whitsuntide. And if he's
been in Australia, as you say, well, I daresay he's had his reasons."

"What reasons?" said Audrey lightly.

"Never mind what reasons. Being in the place of a mother to you, since
your poor mother died, I say this, Audrey—when a gentleman goes to
Australia, he has his reasons. And when he stays in Australia fifteen
years, as Mr. Mark says, and as I know for myself for five years, he
has his reasons. And a respectably brought-up girl doesn't ask what
reasons."

"Got into trouble, I suppose," said Audrey carelessly. "They were saying
at breakfast he'd been a wild one. Debts. I'm glad Joe isn't like that.
He's got fifteen pounds in the post-office savings' bank. Did I tell
you?"

But there was not to be any more talk of Joe Turner that afternoon. The
ringing of a bell brought Audrey to her feet—no longer Audrey, but now
Stevens. She arranged her cap in front of the glass.

"There, that's the front door," she said. "That's him. 'Show him into
the office,' said Mr. Mark. I suppose he doesn't want the other
ladies and gentlemen to see him. Well, they're all out at their golf,
anyhow—Wonder if he's going to stay—P'raps he's brought back a lot of
gold from Australia—I might hear something about Australia, because if
anybody can get gold there, then I don't say but what Joe and I—"

"Now, now, get on, Audrey."

"Just going, darling." She went out.

To anyone who had just walked down the drive in the August sun, the open
door of the Red House revealed a delightfully inviting hall, of which
even the mere sight was cooling. It was a big low-roofed,
oak-beamed place, with cream-washed walls and diamond-paned windows,
blue-curtained. On the right and left were doors leading into other
living-rooms, but on the side which faced you as you came in were
windows again, looking on to a small grass court, and from open windows
to open windows such air as there was played gently. The staircase went
up in broad, low steps along the right-hand wall, and, turning to the
left, led you along a gallery, which ran across the width of the hall,
to your bedroom. That is, if you were going to stay the night. Mr.
Robert Ablett's intentions in this matter were as yet unknown.

As Audrey came across the hall she gave a little start as she saw Mr.
Cayley suddenly, sitting unobtrusively in a seat beneath one of the
front windows, reading. No reason why he shouldn't be there; certainly
a much cooler place than the golf-links on such a day; but somehow there
was a deserted air about the house that afternoon, as if all the guests
were outside, or—perhaps the wisest place of all—up in their bedrooms,
sleeping. Mr. Cayley, the master's cousin, was a surprise; and, having
given a little exclamation as she came suddenly upon him, she blushed,
and said, "Oh, I beg your pardon, sir, I didn't see you at first," and
he looked up from his book and smiled at her. An attractive smile it was
on that big ugly face. "Such a gentleman, Mr. Cayley," she thought to
herself as she went on, and wondered what the master would do without
him. If this brother, for instance, had to be bundled back to Australia,
it was Mr. Cayley who would do most of the bundling.

"So this is Mr. Robert," said Audrey to herself, as she came in sight of
the visitor.

She told her aunt afterwards that she would have known him anywhere for
Mr. Mark's brother, but she would have said that in any event. Actually
she was surprised. Dapper little Mark, with his neat pointed beard and
his carefully curled moustache; with his quick-darting eyes, always
moving from one to the other of any company he was in, to register
one more smile to his credit when he had said a good thing, one more
expectant look when he was only waiting his turn to say it; he was
a very different man from this rough-looking, ill-dressed colonial,
staring at her so loweringly.

"I want to see Mr. Mark Ablett," he growled. It sounded almost like a
threat.

Audrey recovered herself and smiled reassuringly at him. She had a smile
for everybody.

"Yes, sir. He is expecting you, if you will come this way."

"Oh! So you know who I am, eh?"

"Mr. Robert Ablett?"

"Ay, that's right. So he's expecting me, eh? He'll be glad to see me,
eh?"

"If you will come this way, sir," said Audrey primly.

She went to the second door on the left, and opened it.

"Mr. Robert Ab—" she began, and then broke off. The room was empty. She
turned to the man behind her. "If you will sit down, sir, I will find
the master. I know he's in, because he told me that you were coming this
afternoon."

"Oh!" He looked round the room. "What d'you call this place, eh?"

"The office, sir."

"The office?"

"The room where the master works, sir."

"Works, eh? That's new. Didn't know he'd ever done a stroke of work in
his life."

"Where he writes, sir," said Audrey, with dignity. The fact that Mr.
Mark "wrote," though nobody knew what, was a matter of pride in the
housekeeper's room.

"Not well-dressed enough for the drawing-room, eh?"

"I will tell the master you are here, sir," said Audrey decisively.

She closed the door and left him there.

Well! Here was something to tell auntie! Her mind was busy at once,
going over all the things which he had said to her and she had said to
him—quiet-like. "Directly I saw him I said to myself—" Why, you could
have knocked her over with a feather. Feathers, indeed, were a perpetual
menace to Audrey.

However, the immediate business was to find the master. She walked
across the hall to the library, glanced in, came back a little
uncertainly, and stood in front of Cayley.

"If you please, sir," she said in a low, respectful voice, "can you tell
me where the master is? It's Mr. Robert called."

"What?" said Cayley, looking up from his book. "Who?"

Audrey repeated her question.

"I don't know. Isn't he in the office? He went up to the Temple after
lunch. I don't think I've seen him since."

"Thank you, sir. I will go up to the Temple."

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