“Yes. Bed’s the best place, just now,” I lied.
“Right oh! Good-night, old chap,” Ronnie said effusively.
I pretended to be going upstairs and they did not wait for me to disappear. As soon as they had left the Hall, I sneaked down again, recovered from the cloak-room the light overcoat I had worn on our expedition to the Farm—I have no idea to whom that overcoat belonged—borrowed a cap, and let myself out stealthily by the front door.
As I quietly shut the door behind me, a delicious whiff of night-stock drifted by me, as if it had waited there for all those long hours seeking entrance to the stale, dry air of the Hall.
* * * * *
And it must have been, I think, that scent of night-stock which gave me the sense of a completed episode, or first act, as I stood alone, at last, on the gravel sweep before the Hall. Already the darkness was lifting. The dawn was coming high up in the sky, a sign of fair weather.
I have always had a sure sense of direction, and I turned instinctively towards the landmark of my promised destination, although it was invisible from that side of the Hall—screened by the avenue of tall forest trees, chiefly elms, that led up from the principal entrance to the Park. I had noticed one side road leading into this avenue as I had driven up from the station the previous afternoon, and I sought that turning now, with a feeling of certainty that it would take me in the right direction. As, indeed, it did; for it actually skirted the base of “Jervaise Clump,” which touched the extreme edge of the Park on that side.
As I cautiously felt my way down the avenue—it was still black dark under the dark trees—and later up the tunnel of the side road which I hit upon by an instinct that made me feel for it at the precise moment when I reached the point of its junction with the avenue—I returned with a sense of satisfaction to the memory of the last four hours. I was conscious of some kind of plan in the way the comedy of Brenda’s disappearance had been put before us. I realised that, as an art form, the plan was essentially undramatic, but the thought of it gave me, nevertheless, a distinct feeling of pleasure.
I saw the experience as a prelude to this lonely adventure of mine—a prelude full of movement and contrast; but I had no premonition of any equally diverting sequel.
The daylight was coming, and I believed, a trifle regretfully, that that great solvent of all mysteries would display these emotions of the night as the phantasmagoria of our imagination.