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Chapter 6 - Mr. Campion Brings the House Down

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Author Topic: Chapter 6 - Mr. Campion Brings the House Down  (Read 6 times)
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« on: December 19, 2022, 07:18:02 am »

Abbershaw sat up for some time, smoking, after Prenderby left him, and when at last he got into bed he did not sleep at once, but lay staring up into the darkness of the beamed ceiling—thinking.

He had just fallen into a doze in which the events of the evening formed themselves into a fantastic nightmare, when a terrific thud above his head and a shower of plaster upon his face brought him hurriedly to his senses.

He sat up in bed, every nerve alert and tingling, waiting for the next development.

It came almost immediately.

From the floor directly above his head came a series of extraordinary sounds. It seemed as if heavy pieces of furniture were being hurled about by some infuriated giant, and between the crashes Abbershaw fancied he could discern the steady murmur of someone cursing in a deep, unending stream.

After a second or so of this he decided that it was time to get up and investigate, and slipping on his dressing-gown he dashed out into the corridor, where the grey light of morning was just beginning to pierce the gloom.

Here the noise above was even more distinct. A tremendous upheaval seemed to be in progress.

Not only Abbershaw had been awakened by it; the whole house appeared to be stirring. He ran up the staircase in the direction from which the noise was coming to discover that an old-time architect had not built another room above the one in which he slept but a wide gallery from which a second staircase descended. Here he was confronted by an extraordinary scene.

The man-servant he had noticed so particularly on the evening before was grappling with someone who was putting up a very stout resistance. The man was attacking his opponent with an amazing ferocity. Furniture was hurled in all directions, and as Abbershaw came up he caught a stream of oaths from the infuriated footman.

His first thought was that a burglar had been surprised red-handed, but as the two passed under a window in their violent passage round the place, the straggling light fell upon the face of the second combatant and Abbershaw started with surprise, for in that moment he had caught a glimpse of the vacant and peculiarly inoffensive features of Mr. Albert Campion.

By this time there were many steps on the stairs, and the next moment half the house-party came crowding round behind Abbershaw; Chris Kennedy in a resplendent dressing-gown was well to the fore.

‘Hullo! A scrap?’ he said, with something very near satisfaction in his voice, and threw himself upon the two without further preliminaries.

As the confusion increased with this new development Abbershaw darted forward and, stooping suddenly, picked up something off the floor by the head of the second staircase. It was very swiftly done, and no one noticed the incident.

Chris Kennedy’s weight and enthusiasm brought the fight to an abrupt finish.

Mr. Campion picked himself up from the corner where he had been last hurled. He was half strangled, but still laughing idiotically. Meanwhile, Chris Kennedy inspected the butler, whose stream of rhetoric had become much louder but less coherent.

‘The fellow’s roaring tight,’ he announced, upon closer inspection. ‘Absolutely fighting-canned, but it’s wearing off a bit now.’

He pushed the man away from him contemptuously, and the erstwhile warrior reeled against the stair-head and staggered off down out of sight.

‘What’s happened? What’s the trouble?’ Wyatt Petrie came hurrying up the passage, his voice anxious and slightly annoyed.

Everybody looked at Mr. Campion. He was leaning up against the balustrade, his fair hair hanging over his eyes, and for the first time it dawned upon Abbershaw that he was fully dressed, and not, as might have been expected, in the dinner-jacket he had worn on the previous evening.

His explanation was characteristic.

‘Most extraordinary,’ he said, in his slightly high-pitched voice. ‘The fellow set on me. Picked me up and started doing exercises with me as if I were a dumb-bell. I thought it was one of you fellows joking at first, but when he began to jump on me it percolated through that I was being massacred. Butchered to make a butler’s beano, in fact.’

He paused and smiled fatuously. ‘I began to hit back then,’ he continued. ‘The bird was tight, of course, but I’m glad you fellows turned up. I didn’t like the idea of him chipping bits off the ancestral home with me.’

‘My dear fellow, I’m frightfully sorry this has happened. The man shall be discharged tomorrow. I’ll see to it.’ Wyatt spoke with real concern, but Abbershaw was not nearly so easily satisfied.

‘Where did he get at you?’ he said, suddenly stepping forward. ‘Where were you?’

Mr. Campion met the question with charming ingenuousness. ‘Just coming out of my room—that’s the door, over there,’ he said. ‘I opened it and walked out into a war.’

He was buttoning up his waistcoat, which had been ripped open in the fight, as he spoke.

Abbershaw glanced at the grandfather clock at the head of the staircase. It showed the hour at eight minutes past four. Mr. Campion followed the direction of his eyes.

‘Yes,’ he said foolishly, ‘I—I always get up early.’

‘Amazingly early,’ said Abbershaw pointedly.

‘I was, this morning,’ agreed Mr Campion cheerfully, adding by way of explanation, ‘I’m one of those birds who can never sleep in a strange bed. And then, you know, I’m so afraid of ghosts. I didn’t see any, of course,’ he went on hastily, ‘but I said to myself as I got into bed last night, “Albert, this place smells of ghosts,” and somehow I couldn’t get that idea out of my head all night. So as soon as it began to get light I thought a walk was indicated, so I got up, dressed, and sallied forth into the fray.’ He paused and yawned thoughtfully. ‘I do believe I shall go back to bed now,’ he remarked as they all stared at him. ‘I don’t feel much like my walk now. In fact, I don’t feel much like anything. Bung-ho, everybody, Uncle Albert is now closing down until nine-thirty, when the breakfast programme will begin, I hope.’ On the last word he waved his hand to them and disappeared into his own room, shutting the door firmly behind him.

As Abbershaw turned to go back to his bedroom he became aware of a slender figure in a dressing-gown at his side. It was Meggie. Seized by a sudden impulse, he spoke to her softly.

‘Who brought Campion down?’

She looked at him in surprise.

‘Why, Anne,’ she said. ‘I told you. They arrived together about the same time that I did. Why the interest? Anything I can do?’

Abbershaw hesitated. ‘Well, yes,’ he said at last. ‘She’s a friend of yours, isn’t she?’

Meggie nodded.

‘Rather; I’ve known her for years.’

‘Good,’ said Abbershaw. ‘Look here, could you get her to come down into the garden? Meet me down there in half an hour in that shrubbery we found last night? There’s one or two things I want to ask her. Can you manage that for me?’

‘Of course.’ She looked up at him and smiled; then she added, ‘Anything happened?’

Abbershaw looked at her, and noticed for the first time that there was a faintly scared expression in her narrow brown eyes, and a sudden desire to comfort her assailed him. Had he been a little less precise, a little less timid in these matters, he would probably have kissed her. As it was, he contented himself by patting her hand rather foolishly and murmuring. ‘Nothing to get excited about,’ in a way which neither convinced her nor satisfied himself.

‘In half an hour,’ she murmured and disappeared like a fragile ghost down the corridor.

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