start at 10:00
Chapter 3 Part II BEING DETECTIVES
All the gardens have gates; they lead into a kind of lane that runs behind them. It is a sort of back way, very convenient when you don’t want to say exactly where you are going. We heard the gate at the end of the next garden click, and Dicky nudged Alice so that she would have fallen out of the tree if it had not been for Oswald’s extraordinary presence of mind. Oswald squeezed Alice’s arm tight, and we all looked; and the others were rather frightened because really we had not exactly expected anything to happen except perhaps a light. But now a muffled figure, shrouded in a dark cloak, came swiftly up the path of the next-door garden. And we could see that under its cloak the figure carried a mysterious burden. The figure was dressed to look like a woman in a sailor hat.
We held our breath as it passed under the tree where we were, and then it tapped very gently on the back door and was let in, and then a light appeared in the window of the downstairs back breakfast-room. But the shutters were up.
Dicky said, ‘My eye!’ and wouldn’t the others be sick to think they hadn’t been in this! But Alice didn’t half like it and as she is a girl I do not blame her. Indeed, I thought myself at first that perhaps it would be better to retire for the present, and return later with a strongly armed force.
‘It’s not burglars,’ Alice whispered; ’the mysterious stranger was bringing things in, not taking them out. They must be coiners and oh, Oswald! don’t let’s! The things they coin with must hurt very much. Do let’s go to bed!’
But Dicky said he was going to see; if there was a reward for finding out things like this he would like to have the reward.
‘They locked the back door,’ he whispered, ’I heard it go. And I could look in quite well through the holes in the shutters and be back over the wall long before they’d got the door open, even if they started to do it at once.’
There were holes at the top of the shutters the shape of hearts, and the yellow light came out through them as well as through the chinks of the shutters.
Oswald said if Dicky went he should, because he was the eldest; and Alice said, ’If any one goes it ought to be me, because I thought of it.’
So Oswald said, ‘Well, go then’; and she said, ‘Not for anything!’ And she begged us not to, and we talked about it in the tree till we were all quite hoarse with whispering.
At last we decided on a plan of action.
Alice was to stay in the tree, and scream ‘Murder!’ if anything happened. Dicky and I were to get down into the next garden and take it in turns to peep.
So we got down as quietly as we could, but the tree made much more noise than it does in the day, and several times we paused, fearing that all was discovered. But nothing happened.
There was a pile of red flower-pots under the window and one very large one was on the window-ledge. It seemed as if it was the hand of Destiny had placed it there, and the geranium in it was dead, and there was nothing to stop your standing on it so Oswald did. He went first because he is the eldest, and though Dicky tried to stop him because he thought of it first it could not be, on account of not being able to say anything.
So Oswald stood on the flower-pot and tried to look through one of the holes. He did not really expect to see the coiners at their fell work, though he had pretended to when we were talking in the tree. But if he had seen them pouring the base molten metal into tin moulds the shape of half-crowns he would not have been half so astonished as he was at the spectacle now revealed.
At first he could see little, because the hole had unfortunately been made a little too high, so that the eye of the detective could only see the Prodigal Son in a shiny frame on the opposite wall. But Oswald held on to the window-frame and stood on tiptoe and then he saw.
There was no furnace, and no base metal, no bearded men in leathern aprons with tongs and things, but just a table with a table-cloth on it for supper, and a tin of salmon and a lettuce and some bottled beer. And there on a chair was the cloak and the hat of the mysterious stranger, and the two people sitting at the table were the two youngest grown-up daughters of the lady next door, and one of them was saying
’So I got the salmon three-halfpence cheaper, and the lettuces are only six a penny in the Broadway, just fancy! We must save as much as ever we can on our housekeeping money if we want to go away decent next year.’
And the other said, ’I wish we could all go every year, or else Really, I almost wish ’
And all the time Oswald was looking Dicky was pulling at his jacket to make him get down and let Dicky have a squint. And just as she said ’I almost,’ Dicky pulled too hard and Oswald felt himself toppling on the giddy verge of the big flower-pots. Putting forth all his strength our hero strove to recover his equi-what’s-its-name, but it was now lost beyond recall.
‘You’ve done it this time!’ he said, then he fell heavily among the flower-pots piled below. He heard them crash and rattle and crack, and then his head struck against an iron pillar used for holding up the next-door veranda. His eyes closed and he knew no more.
Now you will perhaps expect that at this moment Alice would have cried ‘Murder!’ If you think so you little know what girls are. Directly she was left alone in that tree she made a bolt to tell Albert’s uncle all about it and bring him to our rescue in case the coiner’s gang was a very desperate one. And just when I fell, Albert’s uncle was getting over the wall. Alice never screamed at all when Oswald fell, but Dicky thinks he heard Albert’s uncle say, ‘Confound those kids!’ which would not have been kind or polite, so I hope he did not say it.
The people next door did not come out to see what the row was. Albert’s uncle did not wait for them to come out. He picked up Oswald and carried the insensible body of the gallant young detective to the wall, laid it on the top, and then climbed over and bore his lifeless burden into our house and put it on the sofa in Father’s study. Father was out, so we needn’t have crept so when we were getting into the garden. Then Oswald was restored to consciousness, and his head tied up, and sent to bed, and next day there was a lump on his young brow as big as a turkey’s egg, and very uncomfortable.
Albert’s uncle came in next day and talked to each of us separately. To Oswald he said many unpleasant things about ungentlemanly to spy on ladies, and about minding your own business; and when I began to tell him what I had heard he told me to shut up, and altogether he made me more uncomfortable than the bump did.
Oswald did not say anything to any one, but next day, as the shadows of eve were falling, he crept away, and wrote on a piece of paper, ’I want to speak to you,’ and shoved it through the hole like a heart in the top of the next-door shutters. And the youngest young lady put an eye to the heart-shaped hole, and then opened the shutter and said ‘Well?’ very crossly. Then Oswald said
’I am very sorry, and I beg your pardon. We wanted to be detectives, and we thought a gang of coiners infested your house, so we looked through your window last night. I saw the lettuce, and I heard what you said about the salmon being three-halfpence cheaper, and I know it is very dishonourable to pry into other people’s secrets, especially ladies’, and I never will again if you will forgive me this once.’
Then the lady frowned and then she laughed, and then she said
’So it was you tumbling into the flower-pots last night? We thought it was burglars. It frightened us horribly. Why, what a bump on your poor head!’
And then she talked to me a bit, and presently she said she and her sister had not wished people to know they were at home, because And then she stopped short and grew very red, and I said, ’I thought you were all at Scarborough; your servant told Eliza so. Why didn’t you want people to know you were at home?’
The lady got redder still, and then she laughed and said
’Never mind the reason why. I hope your head doesn’t hurt much. Thank you for your nice, manly little speech. You’ve nothing to be ashamed of, at any rate.’ Then she kissed me, and I did not mind. And then she said, ’Run away now, dear. I’m going to I’m going to pull up the blinds and open the shutters, and I want to do it at once, before it gets dark, so that every one can see we’re at home, and not at Scarborough.’