The Secret of the Garden, by Arthur Gask

Chapter 2

I stared at him in horrified and amazed surprise. The shock of his appearance, and of his addressing me by name, had completely taken away all my powers of speech, and all I could do for the moment was gape, and wonder what was going to happen next. My tongue seemed to be cleaving to the roof of my mouth and there was a horrid feeling of sickness about me that made me feel limp.

He was a good-looking man, about forty-five, with a fine intellectual face, and dark, thoughtful eyes. There were hard stern lines about his mouth, but his expression was softened just now by an amused, if rather grim, smile.

‘Surprised, are you, Mr Cups?’ he went on quite genially. ‘Oh, no, you needn’t shake your head. I know all about you. We’ve been close neighbours for four days, and I must tell you that to me, at all events, your little excursion here has been quite an incident in an otherwise monotonous life.’

‘What do you mean?’ I asked savagely, finding my speech at last. ‘I’m sure I don’t know what you’re talking about.’

The smile left his face instantly, and he closed his teeth with a snap.

‘Don’t be foolish, Mr. Cups,’ he said sternly, ‘and don’t be frightened either. I tell you, man, I’m your friend. I saw you come in here on Tuesday dinner-time, and when the evening paper arrived I knew at once who you were. I saw you get in through the roof and, had I wanted to, could have given you away any time.’ He advanced into the summer-house and sat himself down carelessly upon the seat opposite to me. Taking a silver case from his pocket, he offered me a cigarette, and upon my refusing complacently helped himself to one.

‘Well, don’t if you don’t want to,’ he remarked, and then he went on slyly, ‘but perhaps your stay here has given you a partiality to cigars.’ He laughed in great amusement and nodded towards his own house. ‘Yes, I’ve got a pair of excellent binoculars over there, and I’ve seen a lot that’s been going on.’ He sat silent for a long moment, but the whole time he was watching me intently. ‘Look here, Cups,’ he said at last, ‘I’ll put all the cards upon the table and explain exactly what I’m prepared to do.’ He puffed thoughtfully at his cigarette. ‘I expect you’ve heard something about me, and know that, like you, I’ve got a grievance against the world too.’ His voice became very hard and bitter. ‘I hate what they call society, and there’s no justice in any court of law. I read what you told them all the other day, and it’s quite true. I agree the dice were loaded against you, and that the evidence on which you were convicted was weak in the extreme. I admired the way in which you spoke out, and I admired the damned impudence with which you got away. I tell you, the newspapers have been most entertaining reading since Tuesday, and several times I’ve almost been inclined to throw you one over. But we’ll talk of that later on. The thing is now, what were you proposing to do. Mind you’ — and he smiled very gravely at me —‘you can trust me. I’m quite prepared to help you and be your friend.’

All the time he had been speaking my eyes had been fixed intently on his. There was no deceit or trickery about him, I felt sure, and a contemptuous mocking at convention was quite in accordance with the strength and courage of his face. I realised that he was being, as he said, quite open with me, and that it was in every way to my advantage to make of him a friend. Commonsense, too, told me that already, as he said, I was in his power, and had everything to gain and nothing to lose.

‘Well,’ I said slowly, and I smiled for the first time, ‘I had thought of getting away tomorrow night. I’ve found some money in the house and with some of the judge’s clothes I thought of going to North Road Station and booking to somewhere in the hills.’

He shook his head ominously in a disapproving frown. ‘Ah, the very thing they were expecting,’ he said. ‘They’re reckoning you’ve been hiding somewhere close to the city for four days without food, and will be bound to come out some time today or tomorrow. Through the newspapers, the police have especially warned everyone to be on the look-out now, and your description is posted up in leaded type everywhere.’

I felt myself go cold in fright again and the awful sickly feeling came back to the pit of my stomach. The man in front of me stood up and looked at his watch.

‘Well, I don’t think we’d better stop talking here, at any rate. Come over to my place and we’ll talk over what had best be done. At any rate, I’ll give shelter for tonight.’ He walked out of the summer-house but, when outside, turned back suddenly. ‘Look here, my friend,’ he said eyeing me very sternly, ‘no tricks, mind. I’m trusting you and, besides, I tell you straight I’m a dangerous man to mishandle at any time. I’m just helping you because everyone’s against you and because I liked the look of your face.’

For the moment he glared at me dark and menacing, but almost instantly he broke again into a smile.

I felt myself grow hot in annoyance at his distrust, but I answered him meekly enough. ‘I’m not quite a fool, sir,’ I said quickly, ‘and you’ve told me enough to make me understand how hopeless things are. My only chance now is to take what you give me, and I swear to you I’ll be grateful, whatever you do.’

He nodded and led the way towards a corner of his own wall.

‘One second, Doctor,’ I exclaimed, ‘Mayn’t I go into the house and fetch some things? I came out into the garden tonight, you see, quite unprepared.’

He thought for a moment and then nodded again. ‘Yes, but be quick,’ he said curtly, ‘we may have wasted valuable time already. Close the door after you, when you come out.’ He smiled grimly. ‘It will make them more puzzled than ever to know how you got in.’

In less than a minute I was out in the garden again. I had brought a hat and light overcoat of the judge’s, and some small odds and ends that I thought would prove useful.

Dr Carmichael was waiting for me at the foot of a light ladder propped up against the wall. He smiled when he saw the look of surprise in my eyes. ‘How did you think I got over?’ he asked. ‘The wall’s much too high to climb, and the judge is too devilish fond of broken glass.’

He mounted first and I followed. On the top of the wall there were some thick sacks over the glass. I pulled the ladder up after me and, as he had done, dropped to the ground on the other side. Taking the sacks with us, we crossed through the garden and went up to the house.

‘You go inside there and wait for me,’ he said pointing to the back door. ‘I’m just going to unloose my dogs again. They’re fierce with strangers, although they wouldn’t hurt you if I were with you.’

He rejoined me in a minute or so and led the way into a very large room that at one time had evidently been used as some sort of servants’ hall.

‘This is where I live,’ he said. ‘I spend most of my time in this room.’ He put his hand on my arm and led me up to the window. ‘Now let me have a good look at you, in front of the light, if you please, Mr. Cups.’

For quite a minute, and a very long minute it seemed to me, he took me all in. His eyes were deep and thoughtful, and his face was the face of a man with whom other people’s opinion would count very little and who would always determine all things for himself.

‘Hum,’ he said presently, but very softly and more to himself. ‘Plenty of courage, almost reckless in fact. Rather self-indulgent but not vicious. A good hater, but perhaps a good lover too. Trustworthy, I should think.’ He raised his voice and smiled pleasantly. ‘Yes, I’ll trust you, Mr. Cups, and I don’t think I shall be going far wrong, although, of course’ — and he made a pretension of some fear — ‘by so doing I’m bringing myself under the displeasure of the law. Yes, I’ll help you to get away.’

A wave of some deep feeling touched me, and I felt an embarrassing mist before my eyes.

‘Tut, tut, man,’ he went on quickly, ‘we are both outcasts, you and I, and it will be most amusing to see those who would catch you, at their wits’ ends. But come, you’re the only visitor I’ve had for a very long time now, and you’re in luck’s way. I’m cooking a leg of lamb tonight, and it’ll be better than the tucker you’ve had at the judge’s, I’m sure. Sit over there and I’ll have things ready for you in five minutes.’

In silence, I watched his preparation for the meal and meditatively called to my memory all that I had heard about this strange man.

Half a dozen years ago Robert Carmichael had been perhaps the best known surgeon in the Commonwealth. He had been the doyen of his profession in Sydney and the most brilliant and daring operator in the state. His income had run well into five figures. Just when he was in the zenith of his fame, a woman, a patient and the wife of a patient, had crossed his path. The woman’s husband had been well known as a brute and a blackguard. Openly defying convention, the woman had left her husband and gone to live under Dr. Carmichael’s protection. The whole business had caused a dreadful scandal, and the husband had sought for and obtained a divorce. The suit had been undefended and the judge, hearing only one side, had referred in scathing terms to the conduct of Dr. Carmichael. He had strongly urged the matter upon the consideration of the General Medical Council and the doctor having many enemies, the council had taken it up. They found that Robert Carmichael in the pursuit of his professional duties had led astray one of his patients, and had been guilty of infamous conduct in a professional way. They accordingly at once erased his name from the medical register.

It meant the end of everything for Carmichael and sounded the death-knell to all his hopes, ambitions and fame. Professionally speaking, he was to be henceforth a dead man and the fruits of his mighty talents were to be no longer gathered for the world.

In an hour, so to speak, his professional life was closed. But a worse tragedy was in store for him. The woman for whom he had sacrificed so much committed suicide. She dared not live to share the sorrow she had brought upon her lover.

The shock of it all had almost broken Carmichael but, shaking off the dust of Sydney from his feet, he had come to Adelaide and for five years, surrounded by these high, enclosing walls, he had lived alone.

Report had it that, a rich man, he was devoting his life to literature and chemical research. But no one knew much about his present life, and there were hardly half a dozen people in the whole city who had even seen his face.

Such, then, was the life story of the man who was now preparing my meal for me.

Soon, seeing that I was watching him, his handsome face broke into a bitter smile.

‘You know all about me, as I say, Cups? No, don’t pretend you don’t. It’s a good thing, and at all events, will save me from referring to the matter myself.’

In a few minutes we sat down to our dinner. My host produced a bottle of good white wine and under its genial influence our sorrows receded to the background for a while.

He chatted humorously of the details of my escape from the court and I was naturally exceedingly interested in all that had taken place afterwards in the city during the last few days. It appeared that the authorities had been thunderstruck at my disappearance, and for a long while would not believe it was possible I could have left the court building. Finding the key of the handcuffs still in the warder’s pocket, and no handcuffs in the room, they had jumped to the conclusion at once, as I had intended they should, that the handcuffs were still on me. Therefore, for the first hours after my escape, they had concentrated on searching every crack and cranny of the buildings of the court, holding it impossible that a handcuffed man could go out for half a dozen yards in the public street without being noticed and pounced upon. When it had begun to dawn on them that I must have got rid of the handcuffs somehow, and they began to look farther afield for my humble self, evidence began to pour in that I had at least got as far as the street. Pepple, the vegetarian, had come forward and said he had seen me when he was buying a paper in the street. Pressed to explain why he hadn’t given the alarm, he’d said he hadn’t remembered who I was, until he was having his tea. The police had been furious with the man, and the following day Pepple had written indignantly to the Advertiser, giving in detail the abuse he said he had received.

Then, Drivel Jones had rather incautiously admitted that a man, uncommonly like me, had passed him in the hall and a considerable amount of ridicule had in consequence descended upon his head. To get a poor devil five years and then to unprotestingly allow him to escape before he had served five minutes, seemed to the public incomprehensible, and the blustering advocate had come in for a good deal of chaff.

On the whole, Dr. Carmichael said, the people were treating my escape as a sort of joke and the general hope seemed to be that I should get away. That was why the police had been sent on so many fool’s errands and put on so many false scents.

My nose, as I had heard from the conversation in the garden, had figured largely in all my descriptions, and it appeared that considerable annoyance had been passed on to certain respectable members of the community because of their nasal appendages. One of the city aldermen had been twice stopped and asked to give an account of himself in the street, and an over-zealous policemen had actually arrested the Reverend Pumpkin Tosh just as he was setting out to preside at a leg-of-mutton supper in aid of the chapel funds.

The good people of Adelaide were making quite a game of anyone with a big nose, and with small boys it was now the custom to follow excitedly after anyone so endowed.

But if the public were laughing, the police were in deadly earnest. I had made them the laughing-stock of the city, and from the youngest to the oldest they were working their hardest to get hold of me again.

After our meal, Dr. Carmichael took me round the house. Only four rooms were furnished at all.

‘Nothing like Judge Cartright’s,’ he remarked smiling, ‘and you won’t sleep in a feather bed tonight. But you can sleep soundly all the same, for the dogs wouldn’t allow a rat to cross the garden when they’re about.’

We went into the library and from floor to ceiling, the walls were lined with books.

‘The great souls of the world to commune with,’ commented the doctor solemnly. ‘One can never be quite alone, with all the mighty spirits here.’

He asked me whether I played chess and when I told him my analysis of the King’s Gambit in the judge’s house, he seemed very pleased.

‘We’ll have a game tonight then,’ he said enthusiastically, ‘but I warn you beforehand that I’m pretty strong.’

We climbed up into the tower and he whispered to be very quiet.

‘Sound carries wonderfully in these gardens,’ he muttered, ‘the walls are so high. I nearly always heard you when you opened the kitchen door and always knew when you turned on your bath at night.’

There was a splendid view from the top of the tower and, when I looked over, I could quite understand the uneasy feeling I had so often experienced in the judge’s place.

Every yard of the judge’s garden was plainly visible, and I almost seemed to be looking into the windows of the house.

Dusk had just fallen as we went up the tower and, for a long while, we both stood silent watching the lights of the far-flung city beneath us.

‘Look,’ he whispered presently. ‘See those two policemen up the road there under the lamp. They’ve always been in couples at night since you escaped. The impression seems to be that you’re a desperate man.’

Before I could make any reply, we heard the clang of a gate and the sound of high laughing voices from the direction of the judge’s garden.

‘Look out,’ whispered the doctor, and he pulled me sharply down on to the floor of the tower. ‘Don’t show up above the rail whatever you do, there’s the afterlight of the sunset behind us.’ Then he began to laugh very softly. ‘Now for some fun. They’re the judge’s servants who’ve just come back. The first act of the play begins.’

Breathlessly, we lay and watched through the rails. There were four of them — three girls and a man — and they all came very slowly up the drive towards the house. In the half light of the new moon, we could see they were all well laden with parcels. They bundled them down unceremoniously outside the kitchen door, and the three girls with shrieks of merriment raced for the apricot trees in the back garden. We heard them pulling down the branches and the sounds of breaking twigs as they greedily plucked at the fruit.

‘Pigs,’ called out the man. ‘I’ll tell the judge tomorrow, and won’t old Cartright give it to you. You’ll all get six months.’ Then he moved very leisurely to unlock the door and, a few seconds later, up went the lights.

For a long while, it seemed nothing happened, only loud giggles from the vicinity of the apricot trees. Then the man pushed open the door and called out sharply. ‘Hi, come here, you girls. Stop your fooling, I want you at once. Come along now, quick.’

By way of reply one of the girls threw an apricot and we heard it ping against the wire of the fly-proof door.

‘Damn,’ shouted the man. ‘Come at once. Someone’s been and broken in.’

A minute later, one of the girls gave a shriek and the telephone bell began to whirr violently inside the house. We heard a lot of shouting in the receiver and several times we caught the word ‘police’.

‘Now for it,’ whispered the doctor, rubbing his hands. ‘In ten minutes, your friends will be up here.’

But the police were up in five, it seemed to me. First came two, running breathlessly up the drive, then another one, who was evidently a superior, and finally, a big motor-car discharged half a dozen more through the gates.

‘It’s him right enough,’ called out one of the first policemen to the newcomers as they reached the house. ‘He’s been here. We’ve found the handcuffs. He’s not been gone long either, for the soap in the bathroom’s still wet.’

The doctor gripped hard on my arm to attract attention and turning round I saw his face looked rather anxious.

‘Hush,’ he whispered with his finger to his lips. ‘We must go down at once. They’ll want to search this place. I never thought of that.’

Very softly we crept down the stairs and then Dr. Carmichael pulled me into the darkness of the hall.

‘Look here, Cups,’ he said quickly. ‘Of course, the police will want to come over here. They’re bound to search my place. It’s quiet and lonely and if you’ve only just got away from next door it’s just where they would think you’d try and hide. I can refuse them for the moment and make them get a search warrant, it is true, but that will only mean greater trouble in the end. They’ll be suspicious then and the search will be hotter than either you or I will like. So I am bound to let them come if they ask, you understand.’

‘Yes,’ I replied numbly and with a great sinking in my heart. ‘Then do you want me to cut and run?’

He scowled angrily at me. ‘Thank you, Cups,’ he said icily, ‘but I’m not that sort. I promised I’d help you, and I was never a liar in all my life. I’ll hide you somewhere, man.’ He eyed me hard for a few seconds and then rapped out harshly, ‘You’re not a coward, are you? I take you to be a brave man.’

I could feel my face draw up almost into a sneer. ‘Try me,’ I replied curtly. ‘Nothing frightens me over much.’

He seemed to hesitate for a moment, and then, opening the door leading into the garden, he whistled very softly into the night. ‘You shall hide in the kennels then,’ he said grimly. ‘No one will dream of looking for you there.’

Hide in the kennels. I gasped in horror to myself. What does he mean? My blood might well run cold. I thought of those dreadful beasts I had seen through the gates, with their horrid jowls and fierce bloodshot eyes. Hide in the kennels — surely not when they were there?

My uneasy contemplations were cut short by swift rustling sounds outside. The noise of padded footfalls on the gravel and the deep breathing of big beasts scurrying along.

‘Stand close to me,’ muttered Dr Carmichael, ‘and don’t let them for a moment think you are afraid.’

We had drawn back into a corner of the hall and he had switched on one of the lights. A moment later and three huge creatures padded in stealthily and came noiselessly towards their master. I say, noiselessly, but once they saw me they emitted low deep growls and, with paws uplifted, halted menacingly in their approach. If they had been unpleasant to look at when I had gazed on them at a distance the other day, they looked terrible when seen now close at hand. They were large as young calves but with beautiful long sinuous bodies that had all the grace and elegance of deer. They had huge heads and terrible-looking jaws, and their eyes were wild and fierce like beasts of prey.

‘Livonian wolf-hounds,’ whispered the doctor, ‘the fiercest and most dangerous dogs in the world, but loyal and obedient to those they love. Come here, Pilate, here Herod, here Diana.’

Very slowly and very reluctantly, it seemed, the huge beasts approached their master, with their eyes, however, the whole time fixed on me.

‘Now, Cups,’ said the doctor quickly, ‘stand still and let them get your smell. They’ll never touch you when I’m here and when I’m not here either, once they understand. They’re very intelligent.’

I stood quite still as he directed and gradually they stopped their growling. Then they let me stroke them and although they certainly evinced no signs of friendship, they at least stopped glaring at me with their awful eyes.

Suddenly the telephone bell whirred and with a grim nod to me the doctor made to pick up the receiver.

‘Just in time,’ he whispered. ‘I was sure it would come.’

I held my breath almost, lest I should make a sound.

‘Hello,’ called out the doctor. ‘Yes, I’m Dr. Carmichael. What do you want? . . . what? . . . who? . . . No possibility at all. I’ve three big dogs always loose in the garden. They wouldn’t let a rat cross over . . . He couldn’t have possibly, I tell you . . . Do you think it really necessary . . . Who are you, do you say? Inspector Benton . . . Well, I suppose I must, but I tell you I think it great nonsense . . . All right, wait till I’ve called in the dogs, and when I’ve shut them up, I’ll come and open the gate . . . But it’s most annoying.’ He hung up the receiver and turned back to me.

‘They believe you were actually in the house when the servants came in and they’re dead sure you got over here. We must be quick as lightning. Oh, one moment, wait. Lie down, Diana. Down, Pilate, down.’

He ran out of the room, but was back again in less than half a minute. He was carrying a small bottle and a dagger-shaped open knife.

‘Here, take these,’ he said quickly, ‘although I’m sure you’ll not need them. They’ll give you confidence. The bottle contains strong ammonia. If the dogs threaten you, just pull out the stopper. Diana’s the only one I’m afraid of. She’s the least certain of them all. Look out if she makes for you, crouching very low. Now, come on quick, and whatever you do, don’t speak. Keep close to me in the dark. Come on, Diana, come on, Pilate, come on, Herod.’

He switched off the lights and, followed ghost-like by the three huge hounds, we passed from the utter darkness of the house into the faint moonlight of the night.

My feelings were not pleasant to consider. It was no good pretending I wasn’t afraid. My teeth were chattering in fear. Half an hour in the darkness with three ferocious dogs. Anything might happen. Still, I tried to console myself, all things were preferable to five years in the Stockade.

We had not far to go. The kennels were only a few yards away and just round the side of the house. Dr. Carmichael flashed a little electric torch, and I saw for the first time that he was carrying a short whip.

‘Tread very softly,’ he whispered, ‘and follow me close as I go inside.’

We passed by a small narrow door into a high-railed sort of caged enclosure, about twelve feet square. It was cement-floored. At the back, there was another portion roofed over and partly protected from the wind and rain by a length of abutting wall. There was no door between the two parts.

‘In you go,’ whispered the doctor, ‘right inside. Lie close up to the wall, for they may flash their torches round. I’ll try and make the dogs keep close to the rails, here outside, but as you value your life, don’t move and don’t make a sound.’ He raised his voice sharply to a menacing tone. ‘Lie down, Diana, lie down,’ and he cracked angrily with his whip. ‘Down, Pilate, damn you,’ and there was a startled yelp.

The three huge beasts crouched sullenly by the rails and for quite a long minute it seemed their master stood threateningly over them with the whip uplifted. Then he stepped back through the door and, closing it with a bang, strode quickly down the carriage drive towards the entrance gates.

A tense deep silence followed and by the faint moonlight I could see the three dogs crouching motionless, and staring like graven images into the shadow in which their master had just gone.

Presently, in the distance, there was the rattling of a chain, the clang of opening gates and the murmur of gruff voices. Then came quick footsteps over the gravel, and the murmur and voices grew louder. The dogs pricked up their ears and, all getting simultaneously to their feet, they emitted low, deep growls.

Dr. Carmichael came up the drive with a tall fine-looking man in an inspector’s uniform. Behind, followed four ordinary policemen. Almost at once they came within earshot of where I lay.

‘I’m, of course, sorry, sir,’ I heard the inspector say, ‘but everything points to the man getting over here.’

‘Everything but my dogs,’ said Dr. Carmichael. ‘I tell you they’ve got a keener scent than bloodhounds on a short trail, and a cat couldn’t have come here without their knowing it and giving tongue.’

‘Well, sir,’ replied the inspector, ‘we’ll soon see. We’ll run through this place in five minutes and be satisfied one way or another.’

Arriving opposite the kennels, the party at once stopped, as I expected it would. At the sight of so many strangers the dogs bristled with rage, and their angry growls fell most unpleasantly on my ears. One of the policemen started to flash his torch on their faces, but the doctor seized his hand quickly and turned it down.

‘Don’t do that, please,’ he said sternly. ‘If you anger the beasts, there’ll be no peace for any of us here tonight. They’ll be growling and disturbing everyone the whole night through.’

‘Yes, drop that, Simpson,’ the Inspector said sharply. ‘He’s not likely to be hiding in there although, on second thoughts, from his impudence, it’d be the very place he’d go to,’ and the inspector, who was himself nearer than any of them to the rails in his turn flashed a torch right on to the angry dogs.

The effect was startling. With a fierce snarl Diana sprang forward and hurled herself savagely against the bars. The whole railing seemed to quiver under the shock, and the badly frightened Inspector jumped back so hurriedly that he fell over and dropped his torch.

‘By James,’ he swore disgustedly, as he picked himself up, ‘if the beggar’s in there he deserves to escape. What dreadful brutes to have on the premises. Aren’t you sometimes in danger yourself, Doctor?’

But Carmichael gave him no answer. He was far too busy with Diana. He had wrenched open the kennel gate and, long before the inspector had picked himself up, he was in among the dogs and driving them savagely back into the corner with his whip. He lashed at them without mercy and in a few seconds they were crouching down cowed, and only the bitch now making any sound at all. She was still growling faintly. For quite a long while their master stood over them with the whip, and then slowly, very slowly, he retreated backwards out of the cage.

‘Look here, Inspector,’ he said sharply, and noticed his face was very white. ‘Take your men away from these kennels quick. So many strangers enrage the dogs, and candidly I’m not at all confident about the railings here. They want recementing. Did you see how they moved when the bitch sprang just now? I quite thought they were coming down.’

‘All right, sir,’ said the inspector in an uneasy tone. ‘Move off, you fellows. Spread out and go over every yard of the garden, although from what I’ve seen just now,’ and he looked significantly at the big beasts in the cage, ‘I think, after all, it’s a waste of time.’

The four policemen with evident relief disappeared into the garden, and I saw their torches immediately flashing all over the place.

The inspector and Dr. Carmichael, however, remained close to the kennels and stood thoughtfully regarding the dogs. The latter were quite silent again, at last.

‘Gave me quite a shock, sir, that,’ remarked the inspector mopping his face. ‘I had not idea the brutes could look so awful.’

‘They’re very dangerous animals,’ replied the doctor seriously, ‘and I’m afraid their bout of rage is not over yet.’ He raised his voice. ‘One wants a bottle of strong ammonia when they’re like this. It would keep them well at a distance. Just open a bottle and let some of it dribble on the ground.’

‘Oh?’ asked the inspector, ‘would that keep them away?’

‘Just for a while it would; at any rate, until help was forthcoming.’

‘Yours is a very lonely life here, Doctor, isn’t it?’

‘Yes,’ Carmichael said drily, ‘but I like it so. I have my books and my studies.’

The inspector shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well, give me the city, Doctor, for preference; the lights, the pictures and the bars. These brutes would soon get on my nerves, and I’d expect to be torn to pieces one day.’

They moved off a little way and their voices sank so that I could no longer catch their words, but Carmichael, I noticed, still kept looking my way. He never, as far as possible, for one moment took his eyes off the kennels.

And all this time I was bathed in a sweat of horrible anticipation. I could not exactly say I was afraid, but I was without hope and numb in my despair. I was sure that evil was coming to me in one way or another. Either I would be discovered by the police, or I would be torn to pieces by the bitch, Diana. But I don’t think I worried about it particularly. I was cool and collected in a way and quite prepared to defend myself to the end. I held my dagger softly, loosened the stopper in the ammonia bottle. As far as possible I was prepared.

For the moment, however, it seemed the danger had passed. As Carmichael and the inspector moved away, a deathly silence fell over the place. The great dogs crouched in the corner by the rails, and I, only a few feet away, crouched in the shadows cast by the abutting wall.

About fifty yards down the drive I could see a solitary policemen keeping watch, and I could just notice that he was smoking. A sudden and familiar aroma came up to me through the night. He had taken one of the judge’s cigars.

It must have been quite five minutes before anything stirred. Then I saw the four policemen return and with Dr. Carmichael and the inspector a consultation was held in front of the house door. The lights had been switched on in the hall and they were all in full view.

‘Well, sir,’ I heard the inspector say, ‘what about inside the house?’

‘Just as you please,’ Carmichael said. ‘You can go where you like.’

‘Well,’ said the inspector after a pause, ‘I’m quite satisfied, but I’m thinking of what headquarters will say. We’ll just run through the place and, as you tell me only a few rooms are furnished, it won’t take us long. At any rate, it will satisfy everyone, and you won’t be bothered again.’

They all immediately went inside the house but, as the lights in the rooms only went up slowly, one by one, I guessed the search, in spite of the casual tone of Inspector Benton, was the thorough one he doubtless intended it should be.

At last, however, they all appeared again, and the inspector and Carmichael chatting pleasantly together, they set off leisurely to leave the place.

Unfortunately, however, the direction of their steps brought them near to the kennels again, and one of the wretched policemen, the one behind all the rest, had to flash his torch, in pure bravado, as he passed.

In a second the fat was in the fire again. Diana was hurling herself in fury against the bars, and this time Pilate and Herod joined in the uproar.

Dr. Carmichael turned like a madman and, racing back, lashed furiously at them with his whip. Herod crouched back obediently at once, but it was a minute before Pilate and Diana could be driven from the rails and it was safe for the doctor to get inside the cage.

‘Don’t move,’ he shouted to the policemen. ‘If they see you moving it will only make things worse.’

I guessed what was in his mind: he wanted to be quite sure when all of them had left the place. He was taking no chances that one of them might hide somewhere and remain behind to play the spy.

Diana gave a lot of trouble again. Not content with growling this time, she snarled and showed her teeth and once I was almost sure she was on the point of throwing herself on her master. She subsided at last, however, and the three of them crouched sullenly in the corner to where they had been driven by the whip.

‘Only two minutes now, Cups,’ whispered the doctor as he pulled the gate behind him. ‘I shall be back before that, I hope, and then it’ll be all over.’

‘All right,’ I whispered back, ‘I’ll hold on until then.’ A moment after and I cursed that I had answered at all. It was damnably foolish of me to have spoken, and I realised it before Carmichael had gone even five yards.

My voice had attracted the attention of Diana. It was like a change of scene in a theatre and the sudden shifting of interest from one set of actors to another. A moment back and the huge bitch had been all eyes and ears and fangs only for the men outside her cage. Nothing had been of interest to her except the strange intruders she could see beyond the bars that held her back. They were the cause of her anger and it was upon them she desired to vent her wrath. Now all was changed. In a second they were forgotten and another set of obsessions gripped her mind. Inside the cage was now the focus of the storm.

She raised herself up stealthily upon her feet and like a statue carved in stone stood peering in my direction. A low deep growl — another — and her right paw was uplifted ominously from the ground. Then followed a long tense silence and softly, very softly, I tipped up my bottle of ammonia and allowed a thin small stream to trickle to the ground.

Not a sound was breaking on the silence of the night and not a movement anywhere, not even the rustling of a leaf or the quivering of a tree. Scarce daring to breath, I watched the bitch.

Suddenly, after a long while it seemed, I heard the clanging of a gate, but it brought no meaning to my mind. I was numb and hypnotised and had my being in another world. All my thoughts were centred on Diana. Nothing else mattered.

The bitch was puzzled. She put down her paw and growled again. Then she walked round to get nearer to me in another way and finally she stood still with her great head thrust sharply forward, her tail behind her stretched out stiffly like a rod of steel. And all the time, neither of us took our eyes off each other for one second. There was no movement near me, only the trickle, trickle, of the ammonia on to the floor of the cage.

Suddenly Diana crouched, and I knew the extreme moment had arrived. I held my knife up ready and prepared myself for the struggle that I thought was about to come.

But nothing came in the way I expected. As I drew the one long deep breath that in tense expectant moments one always takes, there came up to me a choking blast of the strong ammonia I had been pouring away.

For eyes, nose, and throat it was horrible, and heedless of all consequences, I gasped out loudly with the pain. I was dimly conscious of what was evidently the beginning of a roar from Diana, but its tone was changed abruptly to one in which surprise and, as with me, pain, had the greater part. The huge beast choked and spluttered and jumped back precipitately to the corner of the cage furthest from where I lay. Her two companions started to snarl angrily, but they could evidently now smell the ammonia too, and they made no attempt at all for a nearer acquaintanceship with me.

Just as I was beginning to realise that, at any rate, I was now safe for the moment, I heard the voice of Dr. Carmichael and the cracking of his whip. ‘All right, Cups? Thank goodness the police have gone at last.’

Two minutes later and I was lying faint and sick upon a bed in the house. The doctor had carried me in.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gask/arthur/secret-of-the-garden/chapter2.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14