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until her hands encountered two or three pebbles.

She picked them up, then going close to the house, she threw these
pebbles one by one against the half-closed shutter of the
withdrawing-room.

The next moment, she heard the latch of the casement window being lifted
from within, and anon the rickety shutter flew back with a thin creaking
sound like that of an animal in pain.

The upper part of Sir Marmaduke's figure appeared in the window
embrasure, like a dark and massive silhouette against the yellowish
light from within. He stooped forward, seeming to peer into the
darkness.

"Is that you, Editha?" he queried presently.

"Yes," she replied. "Open!"

She then waited a moment or two, whilst he closed both the shutter and
the window, she standing the while on the stone step before the portico.
In the stillness she could hear him open the drawing-room door, then
cross the hall and finally unbolt the heavy outer door.

She pushed past him over the threshold and went into the gloomy hall,
pitch dark save for the flickering light of the candle which he held.
She waited until he had re-closed the door, then she stood quite still,
confronting him, allowing him to look into her face, to read the
expression of her eyes.

In order to do this he had raised the candle, his hand trembling
perceptibly, and the feeble light quivered in his grasp, illumining her
face at fitful intervals, creeping down her rigid shoulders and arms, as
far as her hands, which were tightly clenched. It danced upon his face
too, lighting it with weird gleams and fitful sparks, showing the wild
look in his eyes, the glitter almost of madness in the dilated pupils,
the dark iris sharply outlined against the glassy orbs. It licked the
trembling lips and distorted mouth, the drawn nostrils and dank hair,
almost alive with that nameless fear.

"You would denounce me?" he murmured, and the cry - choked and
toneless - could scarce rise from the dry parched throat.

"Yes!" she said.

He uttered a violent curse.

"You devil ... you ..."

"You have time to go," she said calmly, "'tis a long while 'twixt now
and dawn."

He understood. She only would denounce him if he stayed. She wished him
no evil, only desired him out of her sight. He tried to say something
flippant, something cruel and sneering, but she stopped him with a
peremptory gesture.

"Go!" she said, "or I might forget everything save that you killed my
son."

For a moment she thought that her life was in danger at his hands, so
awful in its baffled rage was the expression of his face when he
understood that indeed she knew everything. She even at that moment
longed that his cruel instincts should prompt him to kill her. He could
never succeed in hiding that crime and retributive justice would of a
surety overtake him then, without any help from her.

No doubt he, too, thought of this as the weird flicker of the
candle-light showed him her unflinching face, for the next moment, with
another muttered curse, and a careless shrug of the shoulders, he turned
on his heel, and slowly went upstairs, candle in hand.

Editha watched him until his massive figure was merged in the gloom of
the heavy oak stairway. Then she went into the withdrawing-room and
waited.




CHAPTER XLIII

THE SANDS OF EPPLE


Five minutes later Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, clad in thick dark doublet
and breeches and wearing a heavy cloak, once more descended the stairs
of Acol Court. He saw the light in the withdrawing-room and knew that
Editha was there, mutely watching his departure.

But he did not care to speak to her again. His mind had been quickly
made up, nay! his actions in the immediate future should of a truth have
been accomplished two days ago, ere the meddlesomeness of women had
well-nigh jeopardized his own safety.

All that he meant to do now was to go quickly to the pavilion, find the
leather wallet then return to his own stableyard, saddle one of his nags
and start forthwith for Dover. Eighteen miles would soon be covered, and
though the night was dark, the road was straight and broad. De Chavasse
knew it well, and had little fear of losing his way.

With plenty of money in his purse, he would have no difficulty in
chartering a boat which, with a favorable tide on the morrow, should
soon take him over to France.

All that he ought to have done two days ago! Of a truth, he had been a
cowardly fool.

He did not cross the hall this time but went out through the
dining-room by the garden entrance. Not a glimmer of light came from
above, but as he descended the few stone steps he felt that a few soft
flakes of snow tossed by the hurricane were beginning to fall. Of course
he knew every inch of his own garden and park and had oft wandered about
on the further side of the ha-ha whilst indulging in lengthy
sweetly-spoken farewells with his love-sick Sue.

Absorbed in the thoughts of his immediate future plans, he nevertheless
walked along cautiously, for the paths had become slippery with the
snow, which froze quickly even as it fell.

He did not pause, however, for he wished to lose no time. If he was to
ride to Dover this night, he would have to go at foot-pace, for the road
would be like glass if this snow and ice continued. Moreover, he was
burning to feel that wallet once more between his fingers and to hear
the welcome sound of the crushing of crisp papers.

He had plunged resolutely into the thickness of the wood. Here he could
have gone blindfolded, so oft had he trodden this path which leads under
the overhanging elms straight to the pavilion, walking with Sue's little
hand held tightly clasped in his own.

The spiritual presence of the young girl seemed even now to pervade the
thicket, her sweet fragrance to fill the frost-laden air.

Bah! he was not the man to indulge in retrospective fancy. The girl was
naught to him, and there was no sense of remorse in his soul for the
terrible wrongs which he had inflicted on her. All that he thought of
now was the wallet which contained the fortune. That which would forever
compensate him for the agony, the madness of the past two days.

The bend behind that last group of elms should now reveal the outline of
the pavilion. Sir Marmaduke advanced more cautiously, for the trees here
were very close together.

The next moment he had paused, crouching suddenly like a carnivorous
beast, balked of its prey. There of a truth was the pavilion, but on the
steps three men were standing, talking volubly and in whispers. Two of
these men carried stable lanterns, and were obviously guiding their
companion up to the door of the pavilion.

The light of the lanterns illumined one face after another. De Chavasse
recognized his two serving-men, Busy and Toogood; the man who was with
them was petty-constable Pyot. Marmaduke with both hands clutching the
ivy which clung round the gnarled stem of an old elm, watched from out
the darkness what these three men were doing here, beside this pavilion,
which had always been so lonely and deserted.

He could not distinguish what they said for they spoke in whispers and
the creaking branches groaning beneath the wind drowned every sound
which came from the direction of the pavilion and the listener on the
watch, straining his every sense in order to hear, dared not creep any
closer lest he be perceived.

Anon, the three men examined the door of the pavilion, and shaking the
rusty bolts, found that they would not yield. But evidently they were of
set purpose, for the next moment all three put their shoulder to the
worm-eaten woodwork, and after the third vigorous effort the door
yielded to their assault.

Men and lanterns disappeared within the pavilion. Sir Marmaduke heard an
ejaculation of surprise, then one of profound satisfaction.

For the space of a few seconds he remained rooted to the spot. It almost
seemed to him as if with the knowledge that the wallet and the discarded
clothes of the smith had been found, with the certitude that this
discovery meant his own undoing probably, and in any case the final loss
of the fortune for which he had plotted and planned, lied and
masqueraded, killed a man and cheated a girl, that with the knowledge of
all this, death descended upon him: so cold did he feel, so unable was
he to make the slightest movement.

But this numbness only lasted a few seconds. Obviously the three men
would return in a minute or so; equally obviously his own presence
here - if discovered - would mean certain ruin to him. Even while he was
making the effort to collect his scattered senses and to move from this
fateful and dangerous spot, he saw the three men reappear in the
doorway of the pavilion.

The breeches and rough shirt of the smith hung over the arm of
Hymn-of-Praise Busy; the dark stain on the shirt was plainly visible by
the light of one of the lanterns.

Petty constable Pyot had the leather wallet in his hand, and was peeping
down with grave curiosity at the bundle of papers which it contained.

Then with infinite caution, Marmaduke de Chavasse worked his way between
the trees towards the old wall which encircled his park. The three men
obviously would be going back either to Acol Court, or mayhap, straight
to the village.

Sir Marmaduke knew of a gap in the wall which it was quite easy to
climb, even in the dark; a path through the thicket at that point led
straight out towards the coast.

He had struck that path from the road on the night when he met the smith
on the cliffs.

The snow only penetrated in sparse flakes to the thicket here. Although
the branches of the trees were dead, they interlaced so closely overhead
that they formed ample protection against the wet.

But the fury of the gale seemed terrific amongst these trees and the
groaning of the branches seemed like weird cries proceeding from hell.

Anon, the midnight walker reached the open. Here a carpet of coarse
grass peeping through the thin layer of snow gave insecure foothold. He
stumbled as he pursued his way. He was walking in the teeth of the
northwesterly blast now and he could scarcely breathe, for the great
gusts caught his throat, causing him to choke.

Still he walked resolutely on. Icy moisture clung to his hair, and to
his lips, and soon he could taste the brine in the air. The sound of the
breakers some ninety feet below mingled weirdly with the groans of the
wind.

He knew the path well. Had he not trodden it three nights ago, on his
way to meet the smith? Already in the gloom he could distinguish the
broken line of the cliffs sharply defined against the gray density of
the horizon.

As he drew nearer the roar of the breakers became almost deafening. A
heavy sea was rolling in on the breast of the tide.

Still he walked along, towards the brow of the cliffs. Soon he could
distinguish the irregular heap of chalk against which Adam had stood,
whilst he had held the lantern in one hand and gripped the knife in the
other.

The hurricane nearly swept him off his feet. He had much ado to steady
himself against that heap of chalk. The snow had covered his cloak and
his hat, and he liked to think that he, too, now - snow-covered - must
look like a monstrous chalk boulder, weird and motionless outlined
against the leaden grayness of the ocean beyond.

The smith was not by his side now. There was no lantern, no paper, no
double-edged dagger. Down nearly a hundred feet below the smith had lain
until the turn of the tide. The man's eyes, becoming accustomed to the
gloom, could distinguish the points of the great boulders springing
boldly from out the sand. The surf as it broke all round and over them
was tipped with a phosphorescent light.

The gale, in sheer wantonness, caught the midnight prowler's hat and
with a wild sound as of the detonation of a hundred guns, tossed it to
the waves below. The snow in a few moments had thrown a white pall over
the watcher's head.

He could see quite clearly the tall boulder untouched by the tide, on
which he had placed the black silk shade that night, also the
broad-brimmed hat, so that these things should be found high and dry and
be easily recognizable.

Some twenty feet further on was the smooth stretch of sand where had
lain the smith, after he had been dressed up in the fantastic clothes of
the mysterious French prince.

Marmaduke de Chavasse gazed upon that spot. The breakers licked it now
and again, leaving behind them as they retreated a track of slimy foam,
which showed white in this strange gray gloom, rendered alive and moving
by the falling snow.

The surf covered that stretch of sand more and more frequently now, and
retreated less and less far: the slimy foam floated now over an inky
pool; soon that too disappeared. The breakers sought other boulders
round which to play their titanic hide-and-seek. The tide had
completely hidden the place where Adam Lambert had lain.

Then the watcher walked on - one step and then another - and then the one
beyond the edge as he stepped down, down into the abyss ninety feet
below.




THE EPILOGUE


The chronicles of the time tell us that the mysterious disappearance of
Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse was but a nine days' wonder in that great
world which lies beyond the boundaries of sea-girt Thanet.

What Thanet thought of it all, the little island kept secret, hiding its
surmises in the thicket of her own archaic forests.

Squire Boatfield did his best to wrap the disappearance of his whilom
friend in impenetrable veils of mystery. He was a humane and a kindly
man and feeling that the guilty had been amply punished, he set to work
to cheer and to rehabilitate the innocent.

All of us who have read the memoirs of Editha de Chavasse, written when
she was a woman of nearly sixty, remember that she, too, has drawn a
thick curtain over the latter days of her brother-in-law's life. It is
to her pen that we owe the record of what happened subsequently.

She tells us, for instance, how Master Skyffington, after sundry
interviews with my Lord Northallerton, had the honor of bringing to his
lordship's notice the young student - so long known as Richard
Lambert - who, of a truth, was sole heir to the earldom and to its
magnificent possessions and dependencies.

From the memoirs of Editha de Chavasse we also know that Lady Sue
Aldmarshe, girl-wife and widow, did, after a period of mourning, marry
Michael Richard de Chavasse, sole surviving nephew and heir presumptive
of his lordship the Earl of Northallerton.

But it is to the brush of Sir Peter Lely that we owe that exquisite
portrait of Sue, when she was Countess of Northallerton, the friend of
Queen Catherine, the acknowledged beauty at the Court of the
Restoration.

It is a sweet face, whereon the half-obliterated lines of sorrow vie
with that look of supreme happiness which first crept into her eyes when
she realized that the dear and constant friend who had loved her so
dearly, was as true to her in his joy as he had been in those dark days
when a terrible crisis had well-nigh wrecked her life.

Lord and Lady Northallerton did not often stay in London. The brilliance
of the Court had few attractions for them. Happiness came to them after
terrible sorrows. They liked to hide it and their great love in the calm
and mystery of forest-covered Thanet.


THE END







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