“Meanwhile,” said Barbara, “the servants’ bathroom continues to be unusable.”
“Good God!” said I, “does Rogers hold the cleanliness of this household in his awful hands?”
“Then I will sink my pride and write to him.”
“Write now,” said Barbara, leading me to my chair. “You ought to have done it three days ago.”
So with three days’ bathlessness of my domestic staff upon my conscience, and with Barbara at my elbow, I wrote my summons. I turned in my chair, holding it up in my hand.
“Is this sufficiently dignified and imperious?”
I began to declaim it. “Sir, it has been brought to my notice that the pipes—“. I broke off short. “Hullo!” said I, my eyes on the wall, “what has become of the key of Jaffery’s flat?”
There was the brass-headed nail on which I had hung it, impertinently and nakedly bright. The labelled key had vanished.
“You’ve got it in your pocket, as usual,” said Barbara.
I may say that I have a habit of losing things and setting the household from the butler to the lower myrmidons of the kitchen in frantic search, and calling in gardeners and chauffeurs and nurses and wives and children to help, only to discover that I have had the wretched object in my pocket all the time. So accustomed is Barbara to this wolf-cry that if I came up to her without my head and informed her that I had lost it, she would be profoundly sceptical.
But this time I was blameless. “I haven’t touched it,” I declared, “and I saw it this morning.”
“I don’t know about this morning,” said Barbara. “But I grant you it was there yesterday evening, because Doria drew our attention to it.”
“Doria!” I cried, and I rose, with mouth agape, and our eyes met in a sudden stare.
“Good Heavens! do you think she has taken it?”
“Who else?” said I. “She came out from here to say good-bye to me in the garden. She had the opportunity. She was preternaturally animated and demonstrative at the station—your sex’s little guileful way ever since the world began. She had the stolen key about her. She’s going straight to Jaffery’s flat to hunt for those manuscripts.”
“Well, let her,” said Barbara. “We know she can’t find them, because they don’t exist.”
“But, my darling Barbara,” I cried, “everything else does. And everything else is there. And there’s not a blessed thing locked up in the place!”
“Do you mean—?” she cried aghast.
“Yes, I do. I must get up to town at once and stop her.”
“I’ll come with you,” said Barbara.
So once more, on altruistic errand, I motored post-haste to London. We alighted at St. Quentin’s Mansions. My friend the porter came out to receive us.
“Has a lady been here with a key of Mr. Chayne’s flat?”
“No, sir, not to my knowledge.”
We drew breaths of relief. Our journey had been something of a strain.