Watching Hill - E. W. Hornung - ebook
Opis

his surprisingly sophisticated series of linked tales will definitely ensnare the attention of fans of supernatural fiction. Set in a small community called Witching Hill, the book recounts several strange episodes that have occurred in the area. Are they connected, or a mere series of coincidences? Do they have an otherworldly cause, or are they readily explainable flukes? Read Witching Hill to find out.

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Witching Hill

E. W. Hornung

.

Unhallowed Ground

THE Witching Hill Estate Office was as new as the Queen Anne houses it had to let, and about as worthy of its name. It was just a wooden box with a veneer of roughcast and a corrugated iron lid. Inside there was a vast of varnish on three of the walls; but the one opposite my counter consisted of plate-glass worth the rest of the structure put together. It afforded a fine prospect of Witching Hill Road, from the level crossing by the station to the second lamp-post round the curve. Framed and glazed in the great window, this was not a picture calculated to inspire a very young man; and yet there was little to distract a brooding eye from its raw grass-plots and crude red bricks and tiles; for one's chief duties were making out orders to view the still empty houses, hearing the complaints of established tenants, and keeping such an eye on painters and paper-hangers as was compatible with "being on the spot if anybody called." An elderly or a delicate man would have found it nice light work; but for a hulking youth fresh from the breeziest school in Great Britain, where they live in flannels and only work when it is wet or dark, the post seemed death in life. My one consolation was to watch the tenants hurrying to the same train every morning, in the same silk hat and blacks, and crawling home with the same evening paper every night. I, at any rate, enjoyed comparatively pure air all day. I had not married and settled down in a pretentious jerry-building where nothing interesting could possibly happen, and nothing worth doing be ever done. For that was one's first feeling about the Witching Hill Estate; it was a place for crabbed age and drab respectability, and a black coat every day of the week. Then young Uvo Delavoye dropped into the office from another hemisphere, in the white ducks and helmet of the tropics. And life began again.

"Are you the new clerk to the Estate?" he asked if he might ask, and I prepared myself for the usual grievance. I said I was, and he gave me his name in exchange for mine, with his number in Mulcaster Park, which was all but a continuation of Witching Hill Road. "There's an absolute hole in our lawn," he complained "and I'd just marked out a court. I do wish you could come and have a look at it."

There was room for a full-size lawn-tennis court behind every house on the Estate. That was one of our advertised attractions. But it was not our business to keep the courts in order, and I rather itched to say so.

"It's early days," I ventured to suggest; "there's sure to be holes at first, and I'm afraid there'll be nothing for it but just to fill them in."

"Fill them in!" cried the other young man, getting quite excited. "You don't know what a hole this is; it would take a ton of earth to fill it in."

"You're not serious, Mr. Delavoye."

"Well, it would take a couple of barrow-loads. It's a regular depression in the ground, and the funny thing is that it's come almost while my back was turned. I finished marking out the court last night, and this morning there's this huge hole bang in the middle of one of my side-lines! If you filled it full of water it would take you over the ankles."

"Is the grass not broken at the edges?"

"Not a bit of it; the whole thing might have been done for years."

"And what like is this hole in shape?"

Delavoye met me eye to eye. "Well, I can only say I've seen the same sort of thing in a village churchyard, and nowhere else," he said. "It's like a churchyard starting to yawn!" he suddenly added, and looked in better humour for the phrase.

I pulled out my watch. "I'll come at one, when I knock off in any case, if you can wait till then."

"Rather!" he cried quite heartily; "and I'll wait here if you don't mind, Mr. Gillon. I've just seen my mother and sister off to town, so it fits in rather well. I don't want them to know if it's anything beastly. May we smoke in here? Then have one of mine."

And he perched himself on my counter, lighting the whole place up with his white suit and animated air; for he was a very pleasant fellow from the moment he appeared to find me one. Not much my senior, he had none of my rude health and strength, but was drawn and yellowed by some tropical trouble (as I rightly guessed) which had left but little of his outer youth beyond a vivid eye and tongue. Yet I would fain have added these to my own animal advantages. It is difficult to recapture a first impression; but I think I felt, from the beginning, that those twinkling, sunken eyes looked on me and all things in a light of their own.

"Not an interesting place?" cried young Delavoye, in astonishment at a chance remark of mine. "Why, it's one of the most interesting in England! None of these fine old crusted country houses are half so fascinating to me as the ones quite near London. Think of the varied life they've seen, the bucks and bloods galore, the powder and patches, the orgies begun in town and finished out here, the highwaymen waiting for 'em on Turnham Green! Of course you know about the heinous Lord Mulcaster who owned this place in the high old days? He committed every crime in the Newgate Calendar, and now I'm just wondering whether you and I aren't by way of bringing a fresh one home to him."

I remember feeling sorry he should talk like that, though it argued a type of mind that rather reconciled me to my own. I was never one to jump to gimcrack conclusions, and I said as much with perhaps more candour than the occasion required. The statement was taken in such good part, however, that I could not but own I had never even heard the name of Mulcaster until the last few days, whereas Delavoye seemed to know all about the family. Thereupon he told me he was really connected with them, though not at all closely with the present peer. It had nothing to do with his living on an estate which had changed hands before it was broken up. But I modified my remark about the ancestral acres and made a worse.

"I wasn't thinking of the place," I explained, "as it used to be before half of it was built over. I was only thinking of that half and its inhabitants I mean that is the people who go up and down in top-hats and frock-coats!"

And I was left clinging with both eyes to my companion's cool attire.

"But that's my very point," he laughed and said. "These city fellows are the absolute salt of historic earth like this; they throw one back into the good old days by sheer force of contrast. I never see them in their office kit without thinking of that old rascal in his wig and ruffles, carrying a rapier instead of an umbrella; he'd have fallen on it like Brutus if he could have seen his grounds plastered with cheap red bricks and mortar, and crawling with Stock Exchange ants!"

"You've got an imagination," said I, chuckling. I nearly told him he had the gift of the gab as well.

"You must have something," he returned a little grimly, "when you're stuck on the shelf at my age. Besides, it isn't all imagination, and you needn't go back a hundred years for your romance. There's any amount kicking about this Estate at the present moment; it's in the soil. These business blokes are not all the dull dogs they look. There's a man up our road but he can wait. The first mystery to solve is the one that's crying from our back garden."

I liked his way of putting things. It made one forget his yellow face, and the broken career that his looks and hints suggested, or it made one remember them and think the more of him. But the things themselves were interesting, and Witching Hill had more possibilities when we sallied forth together at one o'clock.

It was the height of such a June as the old century could produce up to the last. The bald red houses, too young to show a shoot of creeper, or a mellow tone from door-step to chimney-pot, glowed like clowns' pokers in the ruthless sun. The shade of some stately elms, on a bit of old road between the two new ones of the Estate, appealed sharply to my awakened sense of contrast. It was all familiar ground to me, of course, but I had been over it hitherto with my eyes on nothing else and my heart in the Lowlands. Now I found myself wondering what the elms had seen in their day, and what might not be going on in the red houses even now.

"I hope you know the proper name of our road," said Delavoye as we turned into it. "It's Mulcaster Park, as you see, and not Mulcaster Park Road, as it was when we came here in the spring. Our neighbours have risen in a body against the superfluous monosyllable, and it's been painted out for ever."

In spite of that precaution Mulcaster Park was still suspiciously like a road. It was very long and straight, and the desired illusion had not been promoted by the great names emblazoned on some of the little wooden gates. Thus there was Longleat, which had just been let for 70 on a threeyear tenancy, and Chatsworth with a C. P. card in the drawing-room window. Plain No. 7, the Delavoyes' house, was near the far end on the left-hand side, which had the advantage of a strip of unspoilt woodland close behind the back gardens; and just through the wood was Witching Hill House, scene of immemorial excesses, according to this descendant of the soil.

"But now it's in very different hands," he remarked as we reached our destination. "Sir Christopher Stainsby is apparently all that my ignoble kinsman was not. They say he's no end of a saint. In winter we see his holy fane from our back windows."

It was not visible through the giant hedge of horse-chestnuts now heavily overhanging the split fence at the bottom of the garden. I had come out through the dining-room with a fresh sense of interest in these Delavoyes. Their furniture was at once too massive and too good for the house. It stood for some old home of very different type. Large oil-paintings and marble statuettes had not been acquired to receive the light of day through windows whose upper sashes were filled with cheap stained glass. A tigerskin with a man-eating head, over which I tripped, had not always been in the way before a cast-iron mantelpiece. I felt sorry, for the moment, that Mrs. and Miss Delavoye were not at home; but I was not so sorry when I beheld the hole in the lawn behind the house.

It had the ugly shape and appearance which had reminded young Delavoye himself of a churchyard. I was bound to admit its likeness to some sunken grave, and the white line bisecting it was not the only evidence that the subsidence was of recent occurrence; the grass was newly mown and as short inside the hole as it was all over. No machine could have made such a job of such a surface, said the son of the house, with a light in his eyes, but a drop in his voice, which made me wonder whether he desired or feared the worst.

"What do you want us to do, Mr. Delavoye?" I inquired in my official capacity.

"I want it dug up, if I can have it done now, while my mother's out of the way."

That was all very well, but I had only limited powers. My instructions were to attend promptly to the petty wants of tenants, but to refer any matter of importance to our Mr. Muskett, who lived on the Estate but spent his days^ at the London office. This appeared to me that kind of matter, and little as I might like my place I could ill afford to risk it by doing the wrong thing. I put all this as well as I could to my new friend, but not without chafing his impetuous spirit.

"Then I'll do the thing myself!" said he, and fetched from the yard some garden implements which struck me as further relics of more spacious days. In his absence I had come to the same conclusion about a couple of high-backed Dutch garden chairs and an umbrella tent; and the final bond of fallen fortunes made me all the sorrier to have put him out. He was not strong; no wonder he was irritable. He threw himself into his task with a kind of feeble fury; it was more than I could stand by and watch. He had not turned many sods when he paused to wipe his forehead, and I seized the spade.

"If one of us is going to do this job," I cried, "it sha'n't be the one who's unfit for it. You can take the responsibility, if you like, but that's all you do between now and two o'clock!"

I should date our actual friendship from that moment. There was some boyish bluster on his part, and on mine a dour display which he eventually countenanced on my promising to stay to lunch. Already the sweat was teeming off my face, but my ankles were buried in rich brown mould. A few days before there had been a thunder-storm accompanied by tropical rain, which had left the earth so moist underneath that one's muscles were not taxed as much as one's skin. And I was really very glad of the exercise, after the physical stagnation of office life.

Not that Delavoye left everything to me; he shifted the Dutch chairs and the umbrella tent so as to screen my operations alike from the back yard behind us and from the windows of the occupied house next door. Then he hovered over me, with protests and apologies, until the noble inspiration took him to inquire if I liked beer. I stood upright in my pit, and my mouth must have watered as visibly as the rest of my countenance. It appeared he was not allowed to touch it himself, but he would fetch some in a jug from the Mulcaster Arms, and blow the wives of the gentlemen who went to town!

I could no more dissuade him from this share of the proceedings than he had been able to restrain me from mine; perhaps I did not try very hard; but I did redouble my exertions when he was gone, burying my spade with the enthusiasm of a gold-digger working a rich claim, and yet depositing each spadeful with some care under cover of the chairs. And I had hardly been a minute by myself when I struck indubitable wood at the depth of three or four feet. Decayed wood it was, too, which the first thrust of the spade crushed in; and at that I must say the perspiration cooled upon my skin. But I stood up and was a little comforted by the gay blue sky and the bottlegreen horse-chestnuts, if I looked rather longer at the French window through which Delavoye had disappeared.

His wild idea had seemed to me the unwholesome fruit of a morbid imagination, but now I prepared to find it hateful fact. Down I went on my haunches, and groped with my hands in the mould, to learn the worst with least delay. The spade I had left sticking in the rotten wood, and now I ran reluctant fingers down its cold iron into the earth-warm splinters. They were at the extreme edge of the shaft that I was sinking, but I discovered more splinters at the same level on the opposite side. These were not of my making; neither were they part of any coffin, but rather of some buried floor or staging. My heart danced as I seized the spade again. I dug another foot quickly; that brought me to detached pieces of rotten wood of the same thickness as the jagged edges above; evidently a flooring of some kind had fallen in but fallen upon what? Once more the spade struck wood, but sound wood this time. The last foot of earth was soon taken out, and an oblong trap-door disclosed, with a rusty ring-bolt at one end.

I tugged at the ring-bolt without stopping to think; but the trap-door would not budge. Then I got out of the hole for a pickaxe that Delavoye had produced with the spade, and with one point of the pick through the ring I was able to get a little leverage. It was more difficult to insert the spade where the old timbers had started, while still keeping them apart, but this once done I could ply both implements together. There was no keyhole to the trap, only the time-eaten ring and a pair of hinges like prison bars; it could but be bolted underneath; and yet how those old bolts and that wood of ages clung together! It was only by getting the pick into the gap made by the spade, and prizing with each in turn and both at once, that I eventually achieved my purpose. I heard the bolt tinkle on hard ground beneath, and next moment saw it lying at the bottom of a round bricked hole.

All this must have occupied far fewer minutes than it has taken to describe; for Delavoye had not returned to peer with me into a well which could never have been meant for water. It had neither the width nor the depth of ordinary wells; an old ladder stood against one side, and on the other the high sun shone clean down into the mouth of a palpable tunnel. It opened in the direction of the horse-chestnuts, and I was in it next moment. The air was intolerably stale without being actually foul; a match burned well enough to reveal a horse-shoe passage down which a man of medium stature might have walked upright. It was bricked like the well, and spattered with some repulsive growth that gave me a clammy daub before I realised the dimensions. I had struck a second match on my trousers, and it had gone out as if by magic, when Delavoye hailed me in high excitement from the lawn above.

He was less excited than I expected on hearing my experience; and he only joined me for a minute before luncheon, which he insisted on our still taking, to keep the servants in the dark. But it was a very brilliant eye that he kept upon the Dutch chairs through the open window, and he was full enough of plans and explanations. Of course we must explore the passage, but we would give the bad air a chance of getting out first. He spoke of some Turkish summer-house, or pavilion, mentioned in certain annals of Witching Hill, that he had skimmed for his amusement in the local Free Library. There was no such structure to be seen from any point of vantage that he had discovered; possibly this was its site; and the floor which had fallen in might have been a false basement, purposely intended to conceal the trap-door, or else built over it by some unworthy successor of the great gay lord.

"He was just the sort of old sportsman to have a way of his own out of the house, Gillon! He might have wanted it at any moment; he must have been ready for the worst most nights of his life; for I may tell you they would have hanged him in the end if he hadn't been too quick for them with his own horse-pistol. You didn't know he was as bad as that? It's not a thing the family boasts about, and I don't suppose your Estate people would hold it out as an attraction. But I've read a thing or two about the bright old boy, and I do believe we've struck the site of some of his brightest moments!"

"I should like to have explored that tunnel."

"So you shall."

"But when?"

We had gobbled our luncheon, and I had drained the jug that my unconventional host had carried all the way from the Mulcaster Arms; but already I was late for a most unlucky appointment with prospective tenants, and it was only a last look that I could take at my not ignoble handiwork. It was really rather a good hole for a beginner, and a grave-digger could not have heaped his earth much more compactly. It came hard to leave the next stage of the adventure even to as nice a fellow as young Delavoye.

"When?" he repeated with an air of surprise. "Why, to-night, of course; you don't suppose I'm going to explore it without you, do you?"

I had already promised not to mention the matter to my Mr. Muskett when he looked in at the office on his way from the station; but that was the only undertaking which had passed between us.

"I thought you said you didn't want Mrs. Delavoye to see the pit's mouth?"

It was his own expression, yet it made him smile, though it had not made me.

"I certainly don't mean either my mother or sister to see one end till we've seen the other," said he. "They might have a word too many to say about it. I must cover the place up somehow before they get back; but I'll tell them you're coming in this evening, and when they go aloft we shall very naturally come out here for a final pipe."

"Armed with a lantern?"

"No, a pocketful of candles. And don't you dress, Gillon, because, I don't, even when I'm not bound for the bowels of the globe."

I ran to my appointment after that; but the prospective tenants broke theirs, and kept me waiting for nothing all that fiery afternoon. I can shut my eyes and go through it all again, and see every inch of my sticky little prison near the station. In the heat its copious varnish developed an adhesive quality as fatal to flies as birdlime, and there they stuck in death to pay me out. It was not necessary to pin any notice to the walls; one merely laid them on the varnish; and that morning, when young Delavoye had leaned against it in his whites, he had to peel himself off like a plaster. That morning! It seemed days ago, not because I had met with any great adventure yet, but the whole atmosphere of the place was changed by the discovery of a kindred spirit. Not that we were naturally akin in temperament, tastes, or anything else but our common youth and the want in each of a companion approaching his own type. We saw things at a different angle, and when he smiled I often wondered why. We might have met in town or at college and never sought each other again; but separate adversities had driven us both into the same dull haven one from the Egyptian Civil, which had nearly been the death of him; the other on a sanguine voyage (before the mast) from the best school in Scotland to Land Agency. We were bound to make the most of each other, and I for one looked forward to renewing our acquaintance even more than to the sequel of our interrupted adventure.

But I was by no means anxious to meet my new friend's womankind; never anything of a lady's man, I was inclined rather to resent the existence of these good ladies, partly from something he had said about them with reference to our impending enterprise. Consequently it was rather late in the evening when I turned out of one of the nominally empty houses, where I had gone to lodge with a still humbler servant of the Estate, and went down to No. 7 with some hope that its mistress at all events might already have retired. Almost to my horror I learned that they were all three in the back garden, whither I was again conducted through the little dining-room with the massive furniture.

Mrs. Delavoye was a fragile woman with a kind but nervous manner; the daughter put me more at my ease, but I could scarcely see either of them by the dim light from the French window outside which they sat. I was more eager, however, to see "the pit's mouth," and in the soft starlight of a velvet night I made out the two Dutch chairs lying face downward over the shaft.

"It's so tiresome of my brother," said Miss Delavoye, following my glance with disconcerting celerity: "just when we want our garden chairs he's varnished them, and there they lie unfit to use!"

I never had any difficulty in looking stolid, but for the moment I avoided the impostor's eyes. It was trying enough to hear his impudent defence.

"You've been at me about them all the summer, Amy, and I felt we were in for a spell of real hot weather at last."

"I can't think why you've put them out there, Uvo," remarked his mother. "They won't dry any better in the dew, my dear boy."

"They won't make a hopeless mess of the grass, at all events!" he retorted. "But why varnish our dirty chairs in public? Mr. Gillon won't be edified; he'd much rather listen to the nightingale, I'm sure."

Had they a nightingale? I had never heard one in my life. I was obliged to say something, and this happened to be the truth; it led to a little interchange about Scotland, in which the man Uvo assumed a Johnsonian pose, as though he had known me as long as I felt I had known him, and then prayed silence for the nightingale as if the suburban garden were a banqueting hall. It was a concert hall, at any rate, and never was sweeter solo than the invisible singer poured forth from the black and jagged wood between glimmering lawn and starry sky. I see the picture now, with the seated ladies dimly silhouetted against the French windows, and our two cigarettes waxing and waning like revolving lights seen leagues away. I hear the deep magic of those heavenly notes, as I was to hear them more summers than one from that wild wood within a few yards of our raw red bricks and mortar. It may be as the prelude of what was to follow that I recall it all so clearly, down to the couplet that Uvo could not quite remember and his sister did:

"The voice I hear this passing night was heard In ancient days by emperor and clown."

"That's what I meant!" he cried. "By emperor, clown, and old man Mulcaster in his cups! Think of him carrying on in there to such a tune, and think of pious Christopher holding family prayers to it now!"

And the bare thought dashed from my lips a magic potion compounded of milky lawn k and ebony horse-chestnuts, of an amethyst sky twinkling with precious stars, and the low voice of a girl trying not to drown the one in the wood; the spell was broken, and I was glad when at last we had the garden to ourselves.

"There are two things I must tell you for your comfort," said the incorrigible Uvo, as we lifted one Dutch chair from the hole it covered like a hatchway, but left the other pressed down over the heap of earth. "In the first place, both my mother and sister have front rooms, so they won't hear or bother about us again. The other thing's only that I've been back to the Free Library in what the simple inhabitants still insist on calling the Village, and had another look into those annals of old Witching Hill. I can find no mention whatever of any subterranean passage. I shouldn't wonder if good Sir Chris had never heard of it in his life. In that case we shall rush in where neither man nor beast has trodden for a hundred and fifty years."

We lit our candles down the shaft, and then I drew the Dutch chair over the hole again on Delavoye's suggestion; he was certainly full of resource, and I was only too glad to play the practical man with my reach and strength. If he had been less impetuous and headstrong, we should have made a strong pair of adventurers. In the tunnel he would go first, for instance, much against my wish; but, as he put it, if the foul air knocked him down I could carry him out under one arm, whereas he would have to leave me to die in my tracks. So he chattered as we crept on and on, flinging monstrous shadows into the arch behind us, and lighting up every patch of filth ahead; for the long-drawn vault was bearded with stalactites of crusted slime; but no living creature fled before us; we alone breathed the impure air, encouraged by our candles, which lit us far beyond the place where my match had been extinguished and deeper and deeper yet without a flicker.

Then in the same second they both went out, at a point where the overhead excrescences made it difficult to stand upright. And there we were, like motes in a tube of lamp-black; for it was a darkness as palpable as fog. But my leader had a reassuring explanation on the tip of his sanguine tongue.

"It's because we stooped down," said he. "Strike a match on the roof if it's dry enough. There! What did I tell you? The dregs of the air settle down like other dregs. Hold on a bit! I believe we're under the house, and that's why the arch is dry."

We continued our advance with instinctive stealth, now blackening the roof with our candles as we went, and soon and sure enough the old tube ended in a wad of brick and timber.

In the brickwork was a recessed square, shrouded in cobwebs which perished at a sweep of Delavoye's candle; a wooden shutter closed the aperture, and I had just a glimpse of an oval knob, green with verdigris, when my companion gave it a twist and the shutter sprang open at the base. I held it up while he crept through with his candle, and then I followed him with mine into the queerest chamber I had ever seen.

It was some fifteen feet square, with a rough parquet floor and panelled walls and ceiling. All the woodwork seemed to me old oak, and reflected our naked lights on every side in a way that bespoke attention; and there was a tell-tale set of folding steps under an ominous square in the ceiling, but no visible break in the four walls, nor yet another piece of movable furniture. In one corner, however, stood a great stack of cigar boxes whose agreeable aroma was musk and frankincense after the penetrating humours of the tunnel. This much we had noted when we made our first startling discovery. The panel by which we had entered had shut again behind us; the noise it must have made had escaped us in our excitement; there was nothing to show which panel it had been no semblance of a knob on this side and soon we were not even agreed as to the wall.

Uvo Delavoye had enough to say at most moments, but now he was a man of action only, and I copied his proceedings without a word. Panel after panel he rapped and sounded like any doctor, even through his fingers to make less noise! I took the next wall, and it was I who first detected a hollow note. I whispered my suspicion; he joined me, and was convinced; so there we stood cheek by jowl, each with a guttering candle in one hand, while the other felt the panel and pressed the knots. And a knot it was that yielded under my companion's thumb. But the panel that opened inward was not our panel at all; instead of our earthy tunnel, we looked into a shallow cupboard, with a little old dirty bundle lying alone in the dust of ages. Delavoye picked it up gingerly, but at once I saw him weighing his handful in surprise, and with one accord we sat down to examine it, sticking our candles on the floor between us in their own grease.

"Lace," muttered Uvo, "and something in it." The outer folds came to shreds in his fingers; a little deeper the lace grew firmer, and presently he was paying it out to me in fragile hanks. I believe it was a single flounce, though yards in length. Delavoye afterward looked up the subject, characteristically, and declared it point de Venise; from what I can remember of its exquisite workmanship, in monogram, coronet, and imperial emblems, I can believe with him that the diamond buckle to which he came at last was less precious than its wrapping. But by that time we were not thinking of their value; we were screwing up our faces over a dark coagulation which caused the last yard or so to break off in bits.

"Lace and blood and diamonds!" said Delavoye, bending over the relics in grim absorption. "Could the priceless old sinner have left us a more delightful legacy?"

"What are you going to do with them?" I asked, rather nervously at that. They had not been left to us. They ought surely to be delivered to their rightful owner.

"But who does own them?" asked Delavoye. "Is it the worthy plutocrat who's bought the show and all that in it is, or is it my own venerable kith and kin? They wouldn't thank us for taking these rather dirty coals to Newcastle. They might refuse delivery, or this old boy might claim his mining rights, and where should we come in then? No, Gillon, I'm sorry to disappoint you, but as a twig of the old tree I mean to take the law into my own hands" I held my breath "and put these things back exactly where we found them. Then we'll leave everything in plumb order, and finish up by filling in that hole in our lawn if ever we get out of this one."

But small doubt on the point was implied in his buoyant tone; the way through the panel just broached argued a similar catch in the one we sought; meanwhile we closed up the other with much relief on my side and an honest groan from Delavoye. It was sufficiently obvious that Sir Christopher Stainsby had discovered neither the secret subway nor the secret repository which we had penetrated by pure chance; on the other hand, he made use of the chamber leading to both as a cigar cellar, and had it kept in better order than such a purpose required. Sooner or later somebody would touch a spring, and one discovery would lead to another. So we consoled each other as we resumed our search, almost forgetting that we ourselves might be discovered first.