THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY
THE RED HOUSE MYSTERY
A. A. MILNE
JOHN VINE MILNE
MY DEAR FATHER
Like all really nice people you have a weakness for detective
stories and feel that there are not enough of them. So after
all that you have done for me the least that I can do for you
is to write you one. Here it is: with more gratitude and
affection than I can well put down here.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
I. MRS. STEVENS IS FRIGHTENED
II. MR. GILLINGHAM GETS OUT AT THE WRONG STATION
III. TWO MEN AND A BODY
IV. THE BROTHER FROM AUSTRALIA
V. MR. GILLINGHAM CHOOSES A NEW PROFESSION
VI. OUTSIDE OR INSIDE?
VII. PORTRAIT OF A GENTLEMAN
VIII. "DO YOU FOLLOW ME WATSON?"
IX. POSSIBILITIES OF A CROQUET SET
X. MR. GILLINGHAM TALKS NONSENSE
XI. THE REVEREND THEODORE USSHER
XII. A SHADOW ON THE WALL
XIII. THE OPEN WINDOW
XIV. MR. BEVERLEY QUALIFIES FOR THE STAGE
XV. MRS. NORBURY CONFIDES IN DEAR MR. GILLINGHAM
XVI. GETTING READY FOR THE NIGHT
XVII. MR. BEVERLEY TAKES THE WATER
XIX. THE INQUEST
XX. MR. BEVERLEY IS TACTFUL
XXI. CAYLEY'S APOLOGY
XXII. MR. BEVERLEY MOVES ON
Mrs. Stevens is Frightened
In the drowsy heat of the summer afternoon the Red House was
taking its siesta. There was a lazy murmur of bees in the
flower-borders a gentle cooing of pigeons in the tops of the
elms. From distant lawns came the whir of a mowing-machine that
most restful of all country sounds; making ease the sweeter in
that it is taken while others are working.
It was the hour when even those whose business it is to attend to
the wants of others have a moment or two for themselves. In the
housekeeper's room Audrey Stevens the pretty parlour-maid
re-trimmed her best hat and talked idly to her aunt the
cook-housekeeper of Mr. Mark Ablett's bachelor home.
"For Joe?" said Mrs. Stevens placidly her eye on the hat.
Audrey nodded. She took a pin from her mouth found a place in
the hat for it and said "He likes a bit of pink."
"I don't say I mind a bit of pink myself" said her aunt. "Joe
Turner isn't the only one."
"It isn't everybody's colour" said Audrey holding the hat out
at arm's length and regarding it thoughtfully. "Stylish isn't
"Oh it'll suit you all right and it would have suited me at
your age. A bit too dressy for me now though wearing better
than some other people I daresay. I was never the one to
pretend to be what I wasn't. If I'm fifty-five I'm fifty-five
--that's what I say."
"Fifty-eight isn't it auntie?"
"I was just giving that as an example" said Mrs. Stevens with
Audrey threaded a needle held her hand out and looked at her
nails critically for a moment and then began to sew.
"Funny thing that about Mr. Mark's brother. Fancy not seeing
your brother for fifteen years." She gave a self-conscious laugh
and went on "Wonder what I should do if I didn't see Joe for
"As I told you all this morning" said her aunt "I've been here
five years and never heard of a brother. I could say that
before everybody if I was going to die to-morrow. There's been
no brother here while I've been here."
"You could have knocked me down with a feather when he spoke
about him at breakfast this morning. I didn't hear what went
before naturally but they was all talking about the brother
when I went in--now what was it I went in for--hot milk was it
or toast?--well they was all talking and Mr. Mark turns to me
and says--you know his way--'Stevens' he says 'my brother is
coming to see me this afternoon; I'm expecting him about three'
he says. 'Show him into the office' he says just like that.
'Yes sir' I says quite quietly but I was never so surprised in
my life not knowing he had a brother. 'My brother from
Australia' he says--there I'd forgotten that. From Australia."
"Well he may have been in Australia" said Mrs. Stevens
judicially; "I can't say for that not knowing the country; but
what I do say is he's never been here. Not while I've been here
and that's five years."
"Well but auntie he hasn't been here for fifteen years. I
heard Mr. Mark telling Mr. Cayley. 'Fifteen years' he says.
Mr. Cayley having arst him when his brother was last in England.
Mr. Cayley knew of him I heard him telling Mr. Beverley but
didn't know when he was last in England--see? So that's why he
arst Mr. Mark."
"I'm not saying anything about fifteen years Audrey. I can only
speak for what I know and that's five years Whitsuntide. I can
take my oath he's not set foot in the house since five years
Whitsuntide. And if he's been in Australia as you say well I
daresay he's had his reasons."
"What reasons?" said Audrey lightly.
"Never mind what reasons. Being in the place of a mother to you
since your poor mother died I say this Audrey--when a gentleman
goes to Australia he has his reasons. And when he stays in
Australia fifteen years as Mr. Mark says and as I know for
myself for five years he has his reasons. And a respectably
brought-up girl doesn't ask what reasons."
"Got into trouble I suppose" said Audrey carelessly. "They
were saying at breakfast he'd been a wild one. Debts. I'm glad
Joe isn't like that. He's got fifteen pounds in the post-office
savings' bank. Did I tell you?"
But there was not to be any more talk of Joe Turner that
afternoon. The ringing of a bell brought Audrey to her feet--no
longer Audrey but now Stevens. She arranged her cap in front of
"There that's the front door" she said. "That's him. 'Show
him into the office' said Mr. Mark. I suppose he doesn't want
the other ladies and gentlemen to see him. Well they're all out
at their golf anyhow--Wonder if he's going to stay--P'raps he's
brought back a lot of gold from Australia--I might hear something
about Australia because if anybody can get gold there then I
don't say but what Joe and I--"
"Now now get on Audrey."
"Just going darling." She went out.
To anyone who had just walked down the drive in the August sun
the open door of the Red House revealed a delightfully inviting
hall of which even the mere sight was cooling. It was a big
low-roofed oak-beamed place with cream-washed walls and
diamond-paned windows blue-curtained. On the right and left
were doors leading into other living-rooms but on the side which
faced you as you came in were windows again looking on to a
small grass court and from open windows to open windows such air
as there was played gently. The staircase went up in broad low
steps along the right-hand wall and turning to the left led
you along a gallery which ran across the width of the hail to
your bedroom. That is if you were going to stay the night. Mr.
Robert Ablett's intentions in this matter were as yet unknown.
As Audrey came across the hall she gave a little start as she saw
Mr. Cayley suddenly sitting unobtrusively in a seat beneath one
of the front windows reading. No reason why he shouldn't be
there; certainly a much cooler place than the golf-links on such
a day; but somehow there was a deserted air about the house that
afternoon as if all the guests were outside or--perhaps the
wisest place of all--up in their bedrooms sleeping. Mr. Cayley
the master's cousin was a surprise; and having given a little
exclamation as she came suddenly upon him she blushed and said
"Oh I beg your pardon sir I didn't see you at first" and he
looked up from his book and smiled at her. An attractive smile
it was on that big ugly face. "Such a gentleman Mr. Cayley"
she thought to herself as she went on and wondered what the
master would do without him. If this brother for instance had
to be bundled back to Australia it was Mr. Cayley who would do
most of the bundling.
"So this is Mr. Robert" said Audrey to herself as she came in
sight of the visitor.
She told her aunt afterwards that she would have known him
anywhere for Mr. Mark's brother but she would have said that in
any event. Actually she was surprised. Dapper little Mark with
his neat pointed beard and his carefully curled moustache; with
his quick-darting eyes always moving from one to the other of
any company he was in to register one more smile to his credit
when he had said a good thing one more expectant look when he
was only waiting his turn to say it; he was a very different man
from this rough-looking ill-dressed colonial staring at her so
"I want to see Mr. Mark Ablett" he growled. It sounded almost
like a threat.
Audrey recovered herself and smiled reassuringly at him. She had
a smile for everybody.
"Yes sir. He is expecting you if you will come this way."
"Oh! So you know who I am eh?"
"Mr. Robert Ablett?"
"Ay that's right. So he's expecting me eh? He'll be glad to
see me eh?"
"If you will come this way sir" said Audrey primly.
She went to the second door on the left and opened it.
"Mr. Robert Ab--she began and then broke off. The room was
empty. She turned to the man behind her. "If you will sit down
sir I will find the master. I know he's in because he told me
that you were coming this afternoon."
"Oh!" He looked round the room. "What d'you call this place
"The office sir."
"The room where the master works sir."
"Works eh? That's new. Didn't know he'd ever done a stroke of
work in his life."
"Where he writes sir" said Audrey with dignity. The fact that
Mr. Mark "wrote" though nobody knew what was a matter of pride
in the housekeeper's room.
"Not well-dressed enough for the drawing-room eh?"
"I will tell the master you are here sir" said Audrey
She closed the door and left him there.
Well! Here was something to tell auntie! Her mind was busy at
once going over all the things which he had said to her and she
had said to him--quiet-like. "Directly I saw him I said to
myself--" Why you could have knocked her over with a feather.
Feathers indeed were a perpetual menace to Audrey.
However the immediate business was to find the master. She
walked across the hall to the library glanced in came back a
little uncertainly and stood in front of Cayley.
"If you please sir" she said in a low respectful voice "can
you tell me where the master is? It's Mr. Robert called."
"What?" said Cayley looking up from his book. "Who?"
Audrey repeated her question.
"I don't know. Isn't he in the office? He went up to the Temple
after lunch. I don't think I've seen him since."
"Thank you sir. I will go up to the Temple."
Cayley returned to his book.
The "Temple" was a brick summer-house in the gardens at the back
of the house about three hundred yards away. Here Mark
meditated sometimes before retiring to the "office" to put his
thoughts upon paper. The thoughts were not of any great value;
moreover they were given off at the dinner-table more often than
they got on to paper and got on to paper more often than they
got into print. But that did not prevent the master of The Red
House from being a little pained when a visitor treated the
Temple carelessly as if it had been erected for the ordinary
purposes of flirtation and cigarette-smoking. There had been an
occasion when two of his guests had been found playing fives in
it. Mark had said nothing at the time save to ask with a little
less than his usual point--whether they couldn't find anywhere
else for their game but the offenders were never asked to The
Red House again.
Audrey walked slowly up to the Temple looked in and walked
slowly back. All that walk for nothing. Perhaps the master was
upstairs in his room. "Not well-dressed enough for the
drawing-room." Well now Auntie would you like anyone in your
drawing-room with a red handkerchief round his neck and great big
dusty boots and--listen! One of the men shooting rabbits.
Auntie was partial to a nice rabbit and onion sauce. How hot it
was; she wouldn't say no to a cup of tea. Well one thing Mr.
Robert wasn't staying the night; he hadn't any luggage. Of
course Mr. Mark could lend him things; he had clothes enough for
six. She would have known him anywhere for Mr. Mark's brother.
She came into the house. As she passed the housekeeper's room on
her way to the hall the door opened suddenly and a rather
frightened face looked out.
"Hallo Aud" said Elsie. "It's Audrey" she said turning into
"Come in Audrey" called Mrs. Stevens.
"What's up?" said Audrey looking in at the door.
"Oh my dear you gave me such a turn. Where have you been?"
"Up to the Temple."
"Did you hear anything?"
"Bangs and explosions and terrible things."
"Oh!" said Audrey rather relieved. "One of the men shooting
rabbits. Why I said to myself as I came along 'Auntie's
partial to a nice rabbit' I said and I shouldn't be surprised
"Rabbits!" said her aunt scornfully. "It was inside the house
"Straight it was" said Elsie. She was one of the housemaids.
"I said to Mrs. Stevens--didn't I Mrs. Stevens?--'That was in
the house' I said."
Audrey looked at her aunt and then at Elsie.
"Do you think he had a revolver with him?" she said in a hushed
"Who?" said Elsie excitedly.
"That brother of his. From Australia. I said as soon as I set
eyes on him 'You're a bad lot my man!' That's what I said
Elsie. Even before he spoke to me. Rude!" She turned to her
aunt. "Well I give you my word."
"If you remember Audrey I always said there was no saying with
anyone from Australia." Mrs. Stevens lay back in her chair
breathing rather rapidly. "I wouldn't go out of this room now
not if you paid me a hundred thousand pounds."
"Oh Mrs. Stevens!" said Elsie who badly wanted five shillings
for a new pair of shoes "I wouldn't go as far as that not
"There!" cried Mrs. Stevens sitting up with a start. They
listened anxiously the two girls instinctively coming closer to
the older woman's chair.
A door was being shaken kicked rattled.
Audrey and Elsie looked at each other with frightened eyes.
They heard a man's voice loud angry.
"Open the door!" it was shouting. "Open the door! I say open
"Don't open the door!" cried Mrs. Stevens in a panic as if it
was her door which was threatened. "Audrey! Elsie! Don't let
"Damn it open the door!" came the voice again.
"We're all going to be murdered in our beds" she quavered.
Terrified the two girls huddled closer and with an arm round
each Mrs. Stevens sat there waiting.
Mr. Gillingham Gets Out at the Wrong Station
Whether Mark Ablett was a bore or not depended on the point of
view but it may be said at once that he never bored his company
on the subject of his early life. However stories get about.
There is always somebody who knows. It was understood--and this
anyhow on Mark's own authority--that his father had been a
country clergyman. It was said that as a boy Mark had
attracted the notice and patronage of some rich old spinster of
the neighbourhood who had paid for his education both at school
and university. At about the time when he was coming down from
Cambridge his father had died; leaving behind him a few debts
as a warning to his family and a reputation for short sermons
as an example to his successor. Neither warning nor example
seems to have been effective. Mark went to London with an
allowance from his patron and (it is generally agreed) made
acquaintance with the money-lenders. He was supposed by his
patron and any others who inquired to be "writing"; but what he
wrote other than letters asking for more time to pay has never
been discovered. However he attended the theatres and music
halls very regularly--no doubt with a view to some serious
articles in the "Spectator" on the decadence of the English
Fortunately (from Mark's point of view) his patron died during
his third year in London and left him all the money he wanted.
From that moment his life loses its legendary character and
becomes more a matter of history. He settled accounts with the
money-lenders abandoned his crop of wild oats to the harvesting
of others and became in his turn a patron. He patronized the
Arts. It was not only usurers who discovered that Mark Ablett no
longer wrote for money; editors were now offered free
contributions as well as free lunches; publishers were given
agreements for an occasional slender volume in which the author
paid all expenses and waived all royalties; promising young
painters and poets dined with him; and he even took a theatrical
company on tour playing host and "lead" with equal lavishness.
He was not what most people call a snob. A snob has been defined