“You must turn the key sharply in the lock,” she said weakly, as he fumbled at the locked part of the desk.
So he turned the key sharply.
“You’ll see a bag in the little drawer on the right,” she murmured.
The key turned round and round. It had begun by resisting, but now it yielded too easily.
“It doesn’t seem to open,” he said, feeling clumsy.
The key clicked and slid, and the other keys rattled together.
“Oh yes,” she replied. “I opened it quite easily this morning. It is a bit catchy.”
The key kept going round and round.
“Here! I’ll do it,” she said wearily.
“Oh no!” he urged.
But she rose courageously, and tottered to the desk, and took the bunch from him.
“I’m afraid you’ve broken something in the lock,” she announced, with gentle resignation, after she had tried to open the desk and failed.
“Have I?” he mumbled. He knew that he was not shining.
“Would you mind calling in at Allman’s,” she said, resuming her chair, “and tell them to send a man down at once to pick the lock? There’s nothing else for it. Or perhaps you’d better say first thing to-morrow morning. And then as soon as he’s done it I’ll call and pay you the money myself. And you might tell your precious Mr Herbert Calvert that next quarter I shall give notice to leave.”
“Don’t you trouble to call, please,” said he. “I can easily pop in here.”
She sped him away in an enigmatic tone. He could not be sure whether he had succeeded or failed, in her estimation, as a man of the world and a partaker of delicate teas.
“Don’t forget Allman’s!” she enjoined him as he left the room. He was to let himself out.
He was coming home late that night from the Sports Club, from a delectable evening which had lasted till one o’clock in the morning, when just as he put the large door-key into his mother’s cottage he grew aware of peculiar phenomena at the top end of Brougham Street, where it runs into St Luke’s Square. And then in the gas-lit gloom of the warm summer night he perceived a vast and vague rectangular form in the slow movement towards the slope of Brougham Street.
It was a pantechnicon van.
But the extraordinary thing was, not that it should be a pantechnicon van, but that if should be moving of its own accord and power. For there were no horses in front of it, and Denry saw that the double shafts had been pushed up perpendicularly, after the manner of carmen when they outspan. The pantechnicon was running away. It had perceived the wrath to come and was fleeing. Its guardians had evidently left it imperfectly scotched or braked, and it had got loose.
It proceeded down the first bit of Brougham Street with a dignity worthy of its dimensions, and at the same time with apparently a certain sense of the humour of the situation. Then it seemed to be saying to itself: “Pantechnicons will be pantechnicons.” Then it took on the absurd gravity of a man who is perfectly sure that he is not drunk. Nevertheless it kept fairly well to the middle of the road, but as though the road were a tight-rope.