‘Coo! So he is.’
‘It’s a sort of disease. There’s a scientific name for it. Trau- something. Traumatic symplegia, that’s it. This cat has traumatic symplegia. In other words, putting it in simple language adapted to the lay mind, where other cats are content to get their eight hours, Augustus wants his twenty-four. If you will be ruled by me, you will abandon the whole project and take him back to the kitchen. You’re simply wasting your time here.’
My eloquence was not without its effect. She said ‘Coo!’ again, picked up the cat, who muttered something drowsily which I couldn’t follow, and went out, leaving me to carry on.
The first thing I noticed when at leisure to survey my surroundings was that the woman up top, carrying out her policy of leaving no stone unturned in the way of sucking up to the Cream family, had done Wilbert well where sleeping accommodation was concerned. What he had drawn when clocking in at Brinkley Court was the room known as the Blue Room, a signal honour to be accorded to a bachelor guest, amounting to being given star billing, for at Brinkley, as at most country-houses, any old nook or cranny is considered good enough for the celibate contingent. My own apartment, to take a case in point, was a sort of hermit’s cell in which one would have been hard put to it to swing a cat, even a smaller one than Augustus, not of course that one often wants to do much cat-swinging. What I’m driving at is that when I blow in on Aunt Dahlia, you don’t catch her saying ‘Welcome to Meadowsweet Hall, my dear boy. I’ve put you in the Blue Room, where I am sure you will be comfortable.’ I once suggested to her that I be put there, and all she said was ‘You?’ and the conversation turned to other topics.
The furnishing of this Blue Room was solid and Victorian, it having been the GHQ of my Uncle Tom’s late father, who liked things substantial. There was a four-poster bed, a chunky dressing-table, a massive writing table, divers chairs, pictures on the walls of fellows in cocked hats bending over females in muslin and ringlets and over at the far side a cupboard or armoire in which you could have hidden a dozen corpses. In short, there was so much space and so many things to shove things behind that most people, called on to find a silver cow- creamer there, would have said ‘Oh, what’s the use?’ and thrown in the towel.
But where I had the bulge on the ordinary searcher was that I am a man of wide reading. Starting in early boyhood, long before they were called novels of suspense, I’ve read more mystery stories than you could shake a stick at, and they have taught me something -viz. that anybody with anything to hide invariably puts it on top of the cupboard or, if you prefer it, the armoire. This is what happened in Murder at Mistleigh Manor, Three Dead on Tuesday, Excuse my Gat, Guess Who and a dozen more standard works, and I saw no reason to suppose that Wilbert Cream would have deviated from routine. My first move, accordingly, was to take a chair and prop it against the armoire, and I had climbed on this and was preparing to subject the top to a close scrutiny, when Bobbie Wickham, entering on noiseless feet and speaking from about eighteen inches behind me, said:
‘How are you getting on?’
Really, one sometimes despairs of the modern girl. You’d have thought that this Wickham would have learned at her mother’s knee that the last thing a fellow in a highly nervous condition wants, when he’s searching someone’s room, is a disembodied voice in his immediate ear asking him how he’s getting on. The upshot, I need scarcely say, was that I came down like a sack of coals. The pulse was rapid, the blood pressure high, and for awhile the Blue Room pirouetted about me like an adagio dancer.
When Reason returned to its throne, I found that Bobbie, no doubt feeling after that resounding crash that she was better elsewhere, had left me and that I was closely entangled in the chair, my position being in some respects similar to that of Kipper Herring when he got both legs wrapped round his neck in Switzerland. It seemed improbable that I would ever get loose without the aid of powerful machinery.