The Man in Lower Ten HTML version
23. A Night At The Laurels
I slept most of the way to Cresson, to the disgust of the little detective. Finally he struck
up an acquaintance with a kindly-faced old priest on his way home to his convent school,
armed with a roll of dance music and surreptitious bundles that looked like boxes of
candy. From scraps of conversation I gleaned that there had been mysterious occurrences
at the convent, - ending in the theft of what the reverend father called vaguely, "a
quantity of undermuslins." I dropped asleep at that point, and when I roused a few
moments later, the conversation had progressed. Hotchkiss had a diagram on an
"With this window bolted, and that one inaccessible, and if, as you say, the - er -
garments were in a tub here at X, then, as you hold the key to the other door, - I think you
said the convent dog did not raise any disturbance? Pardon a personal question, but do
you ever walk in your sleep?"
The priest looked bewildered.
"I'll tell you what to do," Hotchkiss said cheerfully, leaning forward, "look around a little
yourself before you call in the police. Somnambulism is a queer thing. It's a question
whether we are most ourselves sleeping or waking. Ever think of that? Live a saintly life
all day, prayers and matins and all that, and the subconscious mind hikes you out of bed
at night to steal undermuslins! Subliminal theft, so to speak. Better examine the roof."
I dozed again. When I wakened Hotchkiss sat alone, and the priest, from a corner, was
staring at him dazedly, over his breviary.
It was raining when we reached Cresson, a wind-driven rain that had forced the agent at
the newsstand to close himself in, and that beat back from the rails in parallel lines of
white spray. As he went up the main street, Hotchkiss was cheerfully oblivious of the
weather, of the threatening dusk, of our generally draggled condition. My draggled
condition, I should say, for he improved every moment, - his eyes brighter, his ruddy
face ruddier, his collar newer and glossier. Sometime, when it does not encircle the little
man's neck, I shall test that collar with a match.
I was growing steadily more depressed: I loathed my errand and its necessity. I had
always held that a man who played the spy on a woman was beneath contempt. Then, I
admit I was afraid of what I might learn. For a time, however, this promised to be a
negligible quantity. The streets of the straggling little mountain town had been clean-
washed of humanity by the downpour. Windows and doors were inhospitably shut, and
from around an occasional drawn shade came narrow strips of light that merely
emphasized our gloom. When Hotchkiss' umbrella turned inside out, I stopped.
"I don't know where you are going," I snarled, "I don't care. But I'm going to get under
cover inside of ten seconds. I'm not amphibious."