Emmuska Orczy.

The Nest of the Sparrowhawk online

. (page 17 of 22)
Online LibraryEmmuska OrczyThe Nest of the Sparrowhawk → online text (page 17 of 22)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


hands, and stood close to the edge of the cliff. Sir Marmaduke now took
his stand beside it, one foot placed higher than the other. Close to him
Adam in a frenzy of restlessness had thrown himself down on the heap;
below them a drop of ninety feet to the seaweed covered beach.

"Let me see the papers," quoth Adam impatiently.

"Gently, gently, kind sir," said de Chavasse lightly. "Did you think
that you could dictate your own terms quite so easily?"

"What dost thou mean?" queried the other.

"I mean that I am about to place in your hands the proof that you are
heir to a title and fifteen thousand pounds a year, but at the same time
I wish to assure myself that you will be pleasant over certain matters
which concern me."

"Have I not said that I would hold my tongue."

"Of a truth you did say so my friend, and therefore, I am convinced
that you will not refuse to give me a written promise to that effect."

"I cannot write," said Adam moodily.

"Oh! just your signature!" said de Chavasse pleasantly. "You can write
your name?"

"Not well."

"The initials A. and L. They would satisfy me,"

"Why dost thou want written promises," objected the smith, looking up
with sullen wrath at Sir Marmaduke. "Is not the word of an honest man
sufficient for thee?"

"Quite sufficient," rejoined de Chavasse blandly, "those initials are a
mere matter of form. You cannot object if your intentions are honest."

"I do not object. Hast brought ink or paper?"

"Yes, and the form to which you only need to affix your initials."

Sir Marmaduke now drew a packet of papers from the inner lining of his
doublet.

"These are the proofs of your parentage," he said lightly.

Then he took out another single sheet of paper from his pocket, unfolded
it and handed it to Lambert. "Can you read it?" he asked.

He stooped and picked up the lantern, whilst handing the paper to Adam.
The smith took the document from him, and Sir Marmaduke held the lantern
so that he might read.

Adam Lambert was no scholar. The reading of printed matter was oft a
difficulty to him, written characters were a vast deal more trouble,
but suspicion lurked in the smith's mind, and though his very sinews
ached with the desire to handle the proofs, he would not put his
initials to any writing which he did not fully comprehend.

It was all done in a moment. Adam was absorbed in deciphering the
contents of the paper. De Chavasse held the lantern up with one hand,
but at such an angle that Lambert was obliged to step back in order to
get its full light.

Then with the other hand, the right, Sir Marmaduke drew a double-edged
Italian knife from his girdle, and with a rapid and vigorous gesture,
drove it straight between the smith's shoulder blades.

Adam uttered a groan:

"My God ... I am ..."

Then he staggered and fell.

Fell backwards down the edge of the cliff into the mist-enveloped abyss
below.

Sir Marmaduke had fallen on one knee and his trembling fingers clutched
at the thick short grass, sharp as the blade of a knife, to stop himself
from swooning - from falling backwards in the wake of Adam the smith.

A gust of wind wafted the mist upwards, covering him with its humid
embrace. But he remained quite still, crouching on his stomach now, his
hands clutching the grass for support, whilst great drops of
perspiration mingled with the moisture of the mist on his face.

Anon he raised his head a little and turned to look at the edge of the
cliff. On hands and knees, like a gigantic reptile, he crawled, then lay
flat on the ground, on the extreme edge, his eyes peering down into
those depths wherein floating vapors lolled and stirred, with subtle
movements like spirits in unrest.

As far as the murderer's eye could reach and could penetrate the density
of the fog, white crag succeeded white crag, with innumerable
projections which should have helped to toss a falling and inert mass as
easily as if it had been an air bubble.

Sir Marmaduke tried to penetrate the secrets which the gray and shifting
veil still hid from his view. Beside him lay the Italian knife, its
steely surface shimmering in the vaporous light, there where a dull and
ruddy stain had not dimmed its brilliant polish. The murderer gazed at
his tool and shuddered feebly. But he picked up the knife and
mechanically wiped it in the grass, before he restored it to his belt.

Then he gazed downwards again, straining his eyes to pierce the mist,
his ears to hear a sound.

But nothing came upwards from that mighty abyss save the now more
distinct lapping of the billows round the boulders, for the tide was
rapidly setting in.

Down the white sides of the cliff the projections seemed ready to afford
a foothold bearing somewhat toward the right, the descent was not so
abrupt as it was immediately in front. The chalk of a truth looked slimy
and green, and might cause the unwary to trip, but there was that to
see down below and that to do, which would make any danger of a fall
well worth the risking.

Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse slowly rose to his feet. His knees were still
shaking under him, and there was a nervous tremor in his jaw and in his
wrists which he tried vainly to conquer.

Nevertheless he managed to readjust his clothes, his perruque, his
broad-brimmed hat. The papers he slipped back into his pocket together
with the black silk shade and false mustache, then, with the lantern in
his left hand he took the first steps towards the perilous descent.

There was something down below that he must see, something that he
wished to do.

He walked sidewise at times, bent nearly double, looking like some
gigantic and unwieldy crab, as the feeble rays of the mist-hidden moon
caught his rounded back in its cloth doublet of a dull reddish hue. At
other times he was forced to sit, and to work his way downwards with his
hands and heels, tearing his clothes, bruising his elbows and his
shoulders against the projections of the titanic masonry. Lumps of chalk
detached themselves from beneath and around him and slipped down the
precipitous sides in advance of him, with a dull reverberating sound
which seemed to rouse the echoes of this silent night.

The descent seemed interminable. His flesh ached, his sinews creaked,
his senses reeled with the pain, the mind-agony, the horror of it all.

At last he caught a glimmer of the wet sand, less than ten feet below.
He had just landed on a bit of white tableland wantonly carved in the
naked cliff. The rough gradients which up to now had guided him in his
descent ceased abruptly. Behind him the cliff rose upwards, in front
and, to his right, and left a concave wall, straight down to the beach.

Exhausted and half-paralyzed, de Chavasse perforce had to throw himself
down these last ten feet, hardly pausing to think whether his head would
or would not come in violent contact with one of the chalk boulders
which stand out here and there in the flat sandy beach.

He threw down the lantern first, which was extinguished as it fell. Then
he took the final jump, and soon lay half-unconscious, numbed and aching
in every limb in the wet sand.

Anon he tried to move. His limbs were painful, his shoulders ached, and
he had some difficulty in struggling to his feet. An unusually large
boulder close by afforded a resting place. He reached it and sat down.
His head was still swimming but his limbs were apparently sound. He sat
quietly for a while, recouping his strength, gathering his wandering
senses. The lantern lay close to his feet, extinguished but not broken.

He groped for his tinder-box, and having found it, proceeded to relight
the tiny tallow dip. It was a difficult proceeding for the tinder was
damp, and the breeze, though very slight in this hollow portion of the
cliffs, nevertheless was an enemy to a trembling little flame.

But Sir Marmaduke noted with satisfaction that his nerves were already
under his control. He succeeded in relighting the lantern, which he
could not have done if his hands had been as unsteady as they were
awhile ago.

He rose once more to his feet, stamped them against the boulders,
stretched out his arms, giving his elbows and shoulders full play.
Mayhap he had spent a quarter of an hour thus resting since that final
jump, mayhap it had been an hour or two; he could not say for time had
ceased to be.

But the mist had penetrated to his very bones and he did not remember
ever having felt quite so cold.

Now he seized his lantern and began his search, trying to ascertain the
exact position of the portion of the cliff's edge where he and Lambert
the smith had been standing a while ago.

It was not a difficult matter, nor was the search a long one. Soon he
saw a huddled mass lying in the sand.

He went up to it and placed the lantern down upon a boulder.

Horror had entirely left him. The crisis of terror at his own fell deed
had been terrible but brief. His was not a nature to shrink from
unpleasant sights, nor at such times do men have cause to recoil from
contact with the dead.

In the murderer's heart there was no real remorse for the crime which
he had committed.

"Bah! why did the fool get in my way?" was the first mental comment
which he made when he caught sight of Lambert's body.

Then with a final shrug of the shoulders he dismissed pity, horror or
remorse, entirely from his thoughts.

What he now did was to raise the smith's body from the ground and to
strip it of its clothing. 'Twas a grim task, on which his chroniclers
have never cared to dwell. His purpose was fixed. He had planned and
thought it all out minutely, and he was surely not the man to flinch at
the execution of a project once he had conceived it.

The death of Adam Lambert should serve a double purpose: the silencing
of an avowed enemy and the wiping out of the personality of Prince Amédé
d'Orléans.

The latter was as important as the first. It would facilitate the
realizing of the fortune and, above all, clear the way for Sir
Marmaduke's future life.

Therefore, however gruesome the task, which was necessary in order to
attain that great goal, the schemer accomplished it, with set teeth and
an unwavering hand.

What he did do on that lonely fog-ridden beach and in the silence of
that dank and misty night, was to dress up the body of Adam Lambert, the
smith, in the fantastic clothing of Prince Amédé d'Orléans: the red
cloth doublet, the lace collars and cuffs, the bunches of ribbon at knee
and waist, and the black silk shade over the left eye. All he omitted
were the perruque and the false mustache.

Having accomplished this work, he himself donned the clothes of Adam
Lambert.

This part of his task being done, he had to rest for a while. 'Tis no
easy matter to undress and redress an inert mass.

The smith, dressed in the elaborate accouterments of the mysterious
French prince, now lay face upwards on the sand.

The tide was rapidly setting in. In less than half an hour it would
reach this portion of the beach.

Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, however, had not yet accomplished all that he
meant to do. He knew that the sea-waves had a habit of returning that
which they took away. Therefore, his purpose was not fully accomplished
when he had dressed the dead smith in the clothes of the Orléans prince.
Else had he wished it, he could have consigned his victim to the tide.

But Adam - dead - had now to play a part in the grim comedy which Sir
Marmaduke de Chavasse had designed for his own safety, and the more
assured success of all his frauds and plans.

Therefore, after a brief rest, the murderer set to work again. A more
grim task yet! one from which of a truth more than one evil-doer would
recoil.

Not so this bold schemer, this mad worshiper of money and of self.
Everything! anything for the safety of Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, for
the peaceful possession of £500,000.

Everything! Even the desecration of the dead!

The murderer was powerful, and there is a strength which madness gives.
Heavy boulders pushed by vigorous arms had to help in the monstrous
deed!

Heavy boulders thrown and rolled over the face of the dead, so as to
obliterate all identity!

Nay! had a sound now disturbed the silence of this awesome night, surely
it had been the laughter of demons aghast at such a deed!

The moon indeed hid her face, retreating once more behind the veils of
mist. The breeze itself was lulled and the fog gathered itself together
and wrapped the unavowable horrors of the night in a gray and ghoul-like
shroud.

Madness lurked in the eyes of the sacrilegious murderer. Madness which
helped him not only to carry his grim task to the end, but, having
accomplished it, to see that it was well done.

And his hand did not tremble, as he raised the lantern and looked down
on _that_ which had once been Adam Lambert, the smith.

Nay, had those laughing demons looked on it, they would have veiled
their faces in awe!

The gentle wavelets of the torpid tide were creeping round that thing in
red doublet and breeches, in high top boots, lace cuffs and collar.

Sir Marmaduke looked down calmly upon his work, and did not even shudder
with horror.

Madness had been upon him and had numbed his brain.

But the elemental instinct of self-preservation whispered to him that
his work was well done.

When the sea gave up the dead, only the clothes, the doublet, the
ribands, the lace, the black shade, mayhap, would reveal his identity,
as the mysterious French prince who for a brief while had lodged in a
cottage at Acol.

But the face was unrecognizable.




PART IV




CHAPTER XXXIII

THE DAY AFTER


The feeling which prevailed in Thanet with regard to the murder of the
mysterious foreigner on the sands of Epple Bay was chiefly one of sullen
resentment.

Here was a man who had come from goodness knows where, whose strange
wanderings and secret appearances in the neighborhood had oft roused the
anger of the village folk, just as his fantastic clothes, his silken
doublet and befrilled shirt had excited their scorn; here was a man, I
say, who came from nowhere, and now he chose - the yokels of the
neighborhood declared it that he chose - to make his exit from the world
in as weird a manner as he had effected his entrance into this remote
and law-abiding little island.

The farmhands and laborers who dwelt in the cottages dotted about around
St. Nicholas-at-Wade, Epple or Acol were really angry with the stranger
for allowing himself to be murdered on their shores. Thanet itself had
up to now enjoyed a fair reputation for orderliness and temperance, and
that one of her inhabitants should have been tempted to do away with
that interloping foreigner in such a violent manner was obviously the
fault of that foreigner himself.

The watches had found him on the sands at low tide. One of them walking
along the brow of the cliff had seen the dark object lying prone amongst
the boulders, a black mass in the midst of the whiteness of the chalk.

The whole thing was shocking, no doubt, gruesome in the extreme, but the
mystery which surrounded this strange death had roused ire rather than
horror.

Of course the news had traveled slowly from cottage to cottage, although
Petty Constable Pyot, who resided at St. Nicholas, had immediately
apprised Squire Boatfield and Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse of the awesome
discovery made by the watches on the sands of Epple Bay.

Squire Boatfield was major-general of the district and rode over from
Sarre directly he heard the news. The body in the meanwhile had been
placed under the shelter of one of the titanic caves which giant hands
have carved in the acclivities of the chalk. Squire Boatfield ordered it
to be removed. It was not fitting that birds of prey should be allowed
to peck at the dead, nor that some unusually high tide should once more
carry him out to sea, ere his murderer had been brought to justice.

Therefore, the foreigner with the high-sounding name was conveyed by the
watches at the squire's bidding to the cottage of the Lamberts over at
Acol, the only place in Thanet which he had ever called his home.

The old Quakeress, wrathful and sullen, had scarce understood what the
whole pother was about. She was hard of hearing, and Petty Constable
Pyot was at great pains to explain to her that by the major-general's
orders the body of the murdered man should be laid decently under
shelter, until such time as proper burial could be arranged for it.

Fortunately before the small cortège bearing the gruesome burden had
arrived at the cottage, young Richard Lambert had succeeded in making
the old woman understand what was expected of her.

Even then she flatly and obstinately refused to have the stranger
brought into her house.

"He was a heathen," she declared emphatically, "his soul hath mayhap
gone to hell. His thoughts were evil, and God had him not in His
keeping. 'Tis not fit that the mortal hulk of a damned soul should
pollute the saintliness of mine own abode."

Pyot thought that the old woman was raving, but Master Lambert very
peremptorily forbade him to interfere with her. The young man, though
quite calm, looked dangerous - so thought the petty constable - and
between them, the old Quakeress and the young student defied the
constables and the watches and barred the cottage to the entrance of the
dead.

Unfortunately, the smith was from home. Pyot thought that the latter had
been more reasonable, that he would have understood the weight of
authority, and also of seemliness, which was of equally grave
importance.

There was a good deal of parleying before it was finally decided to
place the body in the forge, which was a wooden lean-to, resting against
the north wall of the cottage. There was no direct access from the
cottage to the forge, and old Mistress Lambert seemed satisfied that the
foreigner should rest there, at any rate until the smith came home,
when, mayhap, he would decide otherwise.

At the instance of the petty constable she even brought out a sheet,
which smelt sweetly of lavender, and gave it to the watchmen, so that
they might decently cover up the dead; she also gave them three elm
chairs on which to lay him down.

Across those three chairs the body now lay, covered over with the
lavender-scented sheet, in the corner of the blacksmith's forge, over by
the furnace. A watchman stayed beside it, to ward off sacrilege: anyone
who desired could come, and could - if his nerves were strong
enough - view the body and state if, indeed, it was that of the foreigner
who all through last summer had haunted the woods and park of Acol.

Of a truth there was no doubt at all as to the identity of the dead. His
fantastic clothes were unmistakable. Many there were who had seen him
wandering in the woods of nights, and several could swear to the black
silk shade and the broad-brimmed hat which the watchmen had found - high
and dry - on a chalk boulder close to where the body lay.

Mistress Lambert had refused to look on the dead. 'Twas, of course, no
fit sight for females, and the constable had not insisted thereon: but
she knew the black silk shade again, and young Master Lambert had
caught sight of the murdered man's legs and feet, and had thereupon
recognized the breeches and the quaint boots with their overwide tops
filled with frills of lace.

Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy, too, though unwilling to see a corpse,
thought it his duty to help the law in investigating this mysterious
crime. He had oft seen the foreigner of nights in the park, and never
doubted for a moment that the body which lay across the elm chairs in
the smith's forge was indeed that of the stranger.

Squire Boatfield was now quite satisfied that the identity of the victim
was firmly established, and anon he did his best - being a humane man - to
obtain Christian burial for the stranger. After some demur, the parson
at Minster declared himself willing to do the pious deed.

Heathen or not, 'twas not for Christian folk to pass judgment on him who
no longer now could give an explanation of his own mysterious doings,
and had of a truth carried his secrets with him in silence to the grave.

Was it not strange that anyone should have risked the gallows for the
sake of putting out of the way a man who of a surety was not worth
powder or shot?

And the nerve and strength which the murderer had shown! ... displacing
great boulders with which to batter in his victim's face so that not
even his own kith and kin could recognize that now!




CHAPTER XXXIV

AFTERWARDS


Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse cursed the weather and cursed himself for
being a fool.

He had started from Acol Court on horseback, riding an old nag, for the
roads were heavy with mud, and the short cut through the woods quite
impassable.

The icy downpour beat against his face and lashed the poor mare's ears
and mane until she tossed her head about blindly and impatiently, scarce
heeding where she placed her feet. The rider's cloak was already soaked
through, and soon even his shirt clung dank and cold to his aching back;
the bridle was slippery with the wet, and his numbed fingers could
hardly feel its resistance as the mare went stumbling on her way.

Beside horse and rider, Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy and Master Courage
Toogood walked ankle-deep in mud - one on each side of the mare, and
lantern in hand, for the shades of evening would have drawn in ere the
return journey could be undertaken. The two men had taken off their
shoes and stockings and had slung them over their shoulders, for 'twas
better to walk barefoot than to feel the icy moisture soaking through
leather and worsted.

It was then close on two o'clock of an unusually bleak November
afternoon. The winds of Heaven, which of a truth do oft use the isle of
Thanet as a meeting place, wherein to discuss the mischief which they
severally intend to accomplish in sundry quarters later on, had been
exceptionally active this day. The southwesterly hurricane had brought,
a deluge of rain with it a couple of hours ago, then - satisfied with
this prowess - had handed the downpour over to his brother of the
northeast, who breathing on it with his icy breath, had soon converted
it into sleet: whereupon he turned his back on the mainland altogether,
and wandered out towards the ocean, determined to worry the deep-sea
fishermen who were out with their nets: but not before he had deputed
his brother of the northeast to marshal his army of snow-laden cloud on
the firmament.

This the northeast, was over-ready to do, and in answer to his whim a
leaden, inky pall now lay over Thanet, whilst the gale continued its
mighty, wanton frolic, lashing the sleet against the tiny window-panes
of the cottage, or sending it down the chimneys, upon the burning logs
below, causing them to splutter and to hiss ere they changed their glow
to black and smoking embers.

'Twere impossible to imagine a more discomforting atmosphere in which to
be abroad: yet Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse was trudging through the mire,
and getting wet to the skin, even when he might just as well be sitting
beside the fire in the withdrawing-room at the Court.

He was on his way to the smith's forge at Acol and had ordered his
serving-men to accompany him thither: and of a truth neither of them
were loath to go. They cared naught about the weather, and the
excitement which centered round the Quakeress's cottage at Acol more
than counterbalanced the discomfort of a tramp through the mud.

A rumor had reached the Court that the funeral of the murdered man
would, mayhap, take place this day, and Master Busy would not have
missed such an event for the world, not though the roads lay thick with
snow and the drifts rendered progress impossible to all save to the
keenest enthusiast. He for one was glad enough that his master had
seemed so unaccountably anxious for the company of his own serving men.
Sir Marmaduke had ever been overfond of wandering about the lonely woods
of Thanet alone.

But since that gruesome murder on the beach forty-eight hours ago and
more, both the quality and the yokels preferred to venture abroad in
company.

At the same time neither Master Busy nor young Courage Toogood could
imagine why Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse should endure such amazing
discomfort in order to attend the funeral of an obscure adventurer, who
of a truth was as naught to him.

Nor, if the truth were known, could Sir Marmaduke himself have accounted
for his presence here on this lonely road, and on one of the most
dismal, bleak and unpleasant afternoons that had ever been experienced
in Thanet of late.


1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 17 19 20 21 22

Online LibraryEmmuska OrczyThe Nest of the Sparrowhawk → online text (page 17 of 22)