George Manville Fenn.

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Produced by Nick Hodson of London, England

Crown and Sceptre
A West Country Story
By George Manville Fenn
Illustrations by J Nash
Published by Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, London.

Crown and Sceptre, a West Country Story, by George Manville Fenn.


I groaned a bit when I saw that this story was about the Civil War in
England, in the mid-seventeenth century. But I soon realised that it
was a very good story, told in the tension-laden Fenn style.

We start off in the Devon coombes (valleys near the sea) with two
families that are close friends. The Markhams live at The Hall, while
the Forresters live at The Manor. There are two teenage boys: Scarlett
Markham and Fred Forrester. The boys come upon secret passages and
secret chambers in the Hall, and also some other long-forgotten shafts
and wells leading to the outside.

Then came the Civil War, in which the Roundheads fought for a country
subservient to Parliament, while the Cavaliers fought for the King.
The Markhams and their household became Cavaliers, while the Forresters
were Roundheads. Thus the two families became, at least in theory,
deadly enemies. Needless to say, it didn't always work out exactly like
that, and the boys at least, now young officers, and the family
retainers, sometimes helped one another in ways the fathers would not
approve of.

The manor is burnt down, and Sir Godfrey Markham very seriously wounded.
It is only by Scarlett's knowledge of the secret passages that he is
saved. We will not spoil the rest of the story for you by telling you
the rest of it, but we assure you that it very well written, and did not
at all merit my initial groans. Another very good read, or listen.





"Derry down, derry down, derry down!"

A cheery voice rolling out the chorus of an old west-country ditty.

Then there was a run of a few yards, a sudden stoppage, and a round, red
missile was thrown with considerable force after a blackcock, which rose
on whirring wings from among the heather, his violet-black plumage
glistening in the autumn sun, as he skimmed over the moor, and
disappeared down the side of a hollow coombe.

"Missed him," said the thrower, thrusting his hand into his pocket, and
bringing out a similar object to that which he had used as a missile,
but putting it to a far different purpose; for he raised it to his
mouth, drew back his red lips, and with one sharp crunch drove two rows
of white teeth through the ruddy skin, cut out a great circular piece of
apple, spat it out, and threw the rest away.

"What a sour one!" he cried, as he dived after another, which proved to
be more satisfactory, for he went on munching, as he made his short cut
over the moor towards where, in a sheltered hollow, a stone building
peeped from a grove of huge oaks.

The sun shone brightly as, with elastic tread, the singer, a lad of
about sixteen, walked swiftly over the elevated moorland, now descending
into a hollow, now climbing a stiff slope, at whose top he could look
over the sea, which spread away to north and west, one dazzling plain of
damasked silver, dotted with red-sailed boats. Then down another slope
facing the south, where for a moment the boy paused to deliver a sharp
kick at something on the short fine grass.

"Ah, would you!" he exclaimed, following up the kick by a jump which
landed him upon a little writhing object, which repeated its first
attack, striking with lightning rapidity at the lad's boot, before lying
crushed and helpless, never to bask in the bright sun again.

"Serve you right, you nasty poisonous little beast!" cried the boy,
crushing his assailant's head beneath his heel. "You got the worst of
it. Think the moor belonged to you? Lucky I had on my boots."

He dropped upon the ground, drew off a deer-skin boot, and, with his
good-looking, fair boyish face all in wrinkles, proceeded to examine the
toe, removing therefrom a couple of tiny points with his knife.

"What sharp teeth adders have!" he muttered. "Not long enough to go

The next minute he had drawn on his boot, and set off at a trot, which
took him down to the bottom of the slope, and half up the other side of
the coombe, at whose bottom he had had to leap a tiny stream. Then,
walking slowly, he climbed the steeper slope; and there was a double
astonishment for a moment, the boy staring hard at a noble-looking stag,
the avant-guard of a little herd of red deer, which was grazing in the
hollow below.

The boy came so suddenly upon the stag, that the great fellow stood at
gaze, his branching antlers spreading wide. Then there was a rush, and
the little herd was off at full speed, bucks, does, and fawns, seeming
almost to fly, till they disappeared over a ridge.

"That's the way!" said the lad. "Now, if Scar and I had been out with
our bows, we might have walked all day and never seen a horn."

As the lad trudged on, munching apples and breaking out from time to
time into scraps of song, the surroundings of his walk changed, for he
passed over a rough stone wall, provided with projections to act as a
stile, and left the moorland behind, to enter upon a lovely park-like
expanse, dotted with grand oaks and firs, among which he had not
journeyed long before, surrounded on three sides by trees, he came in
full sight of the fine-looking, ruddy stone hall, glimpses of which he
had before seen, while its windows and a wide-spreading lake in front
flashed in the bright sunshine.

"Whoa hoo! whoa hoo! Drop it! Hoi!" shouted the boy; but the object
addressed, a great grey heron, paid no heed, but went flapping slowly
away on its widespread wings, its long legs stretched straight out
behind to act as balance, and a small eel writhing and twisting itself
into knots as it strove in vain to escape from the scissor-like bill.

"That's where the eels go," muttered the boy, as he hurried on,
descending till he reached the shores of the lake, and then skirting it,
with eyes searching its sunlit depths, to see here some golden-bronze
pike half-hidden among lily leaves, shoals of roach flashing their
silver sides in the shallows, and among the denser growth of weeds
broad-backed carp basking in the hot sunshine, and at times lazily
rolling over to display their golden sides.

"Oh yes, you're big and old enough, but you don't half bite. I'd rather
have a day at our moat any time than here, proud as old Scar is of his
big pond."

As the lad reached the head of the lake, where the brown, clear waters
of a rocky stream drained into it from the moor above, he caught sight
of a few small trout, and, after crossing a little rough stone bridge,
startled a couple of moor-hens, who in turn roused up some bald coots,
the whole party fluttering away with drooping legs towards the other end
of the lake. Here they swam about, twitching their tails, and dividing
their time between watching the now distant intruder and keeping a sharp
look-out for the great pike, which at times sought a change of diet from
constant fish, and swallowed moor-hen or duckling, or even, preferring
four-footed meat to fowl, seized upon some unfortunate rat.

"Hi, Nat!" shouted the boy, as he neared the grassy terrace in front of
the hall, and caught sight of a sturdy-looking young man busy in the

"Hullo, Master Fred!"

"Where's Master Scarlett?"

"Where's Master Scarlett, sir?" said the man, slowly and deliberately
straightening his back, and resting upon the tool he handled.

"Yes. Don't you say he has gone with them, or I'll never give you a mug
of cider again."

"Well, I wasn't going to say as Master Scar's gone with 'em," said the
man, with a look of wonder in his eyes. "He was here a bit ago, though
I didn't see him."

"Then, how do you know he was here?"

"Because nobody else wouldn't - "

"Wouldn't what?"

"Well, you see, Master Fred, it was like this here. I was a-stooping
over the bed, tidying up the edge o' the grass, when - whop!"

"What, did he hit you, Nat!" said the boy, grinning.

"Well, sir, he did and he didn't, if you can understand that."

"No, I can't. What do you mean?"

"This here fox-whelp come and hit me side o' the head, and it must ha'
been him as throwed it; and that made me know as he was at home."

As the man spoke, he took a cider apple from his pocket, a hard, green,
three-parts-grown specimen of the fruit, and involuntarily began to rub
the place where he had been struck.

"Yes; that looks as if he was at home, Nat," said the boy, showing his
white teeth.

"Yes, Master Fred, that looks as if he was at home; but you wouldn't
have laughed if you'd had it."

"He did it to wake you up, Nat."

"Oh, I was waken enough, Master Fred; but how's Brother Samson?"

"Like you, Nat, half asleep," cried the boy, looking back as he hurried
on toward the house, leaving the man staring after him thoughtfully.

"Yes," he muttered, "Samson is a deal like me. Wonder whether Master
Fred ever chucks apples at he?"

Meanwhile the lad addressed as Master Fred made his way along the house
front, peering in at first one and then another window, till he reached
the great door opening on to the end of the shingled terrace.

Without the slightest hesitation, and behaving like one who was quite at
home, he entered the great oak-floored hall, and looked round - not at
the groups of weapons and suits of armour that were arranged as trophies
about the place, nor yet at the pictures and various interesting objects
hung between the stained-glass windows, on the oaken panels surrounded
by carving and surmounted by the heads and antlers of deer killed on the
adjacent moor.

Fred Forrester had eyes for none of these objects, as he looked here and
there, now in the low-ceilinged and carved-oak dining-room, then in the
drawing-room, and, lastly, in Sir Godfrey Markham's library - a gloomy,
tree-shaded room, where he thought it possible that his friend and
companion might be hiding. But all was still, and there was no one
behind the heavy curtains, nor inside the huge black oak cabinet beside
the great mullioned window.

"Wonder whether he's in the stables?" said Fred, half aloud, as he came
slowly out of the gloomy room and stood beneath the broad gallery which
crossed the end of the hall. "I know. He's with the dogs," said the
lad, taking a step from out of the shelter of the gallery, and then
staggering forward and nearly going down on hands and knees; for at that
moment a wool mattress, which had been poised ready on the gallery
balustrade, was dropped upon his head, and a peal of laughter echoed
from the panelled ceiling as Fred recovered himself, and rushed up the
broad staircase to attack his aggressor.

There was a good-tempered wrestling bout on the landing, and then the
two lads, Fred Forrester and Sir Godfrey Markham's son Scarlett, stood
panting and recovering their breath.

"And you are quite alone?" said Fred at last.

"Yes, all but the women; but I knew you'd come over, and I lay wait for
you, as soon as I saw you crossing the park."

"Well, what shall we do?"

"Let's fish."

"Come along, then. Got any bait?"

"No; but we'll make Nat dig us some worms. Let's go and get that
mattress first. It belongs to the spare-room."

No sooner said than done. The two boys ran down the broad oaken stairs,
leaping the last six, and, each seizing one corner of the mattress, they
trailed it up the stairs, along the gallery, and into a sombre-looking
room, after which Fred rushed to the top of the staircase, seated
himself astride the broad balustrade, and began to glide down, but only
to be overtaken by Scarlett, with the effect that the latter portion of
the descent was achieved with additional velocity.

The ride was so satisfactory, that it was tried again and again,
sometimes one first, sometimes the other.

"Wonder whether I could travel all along the gallery and down to the
bottom, hanging on to the balusters," said Fred, looking up at the
turned supports, which grew thin in one place, and offered a tempting
grip for the hands.

"Try," said his companion.

"You'd play some trick!"

"No, I wouldn't."

"Honour bright!"

"Honour bright."

"Here goes, then."

Fred bounded up the stairs, ran along the gallery, climbed over the
balustrade, and lowered himself down till he hung by his hands, holding
on to the thin part of the balusters, while Scarlett looked up and his
grim-looking ancestors looked down.

For as Fred Forrester, son of Colonel Forrester, of the Manor, performed
his feat, with no little display of agility, old Sir Gabriel Markham,
who had built the hall in the days of Henry the Seventh, frowned from
his canvas in one of the panels, and looked as cold and angry as an old
knight clad in steel could look.

There, too, was Sir Henry, seeming equally stern in his court suit and
hat, and Dame Markham, in stomacher and farthingale and ruff, with quite
a look of alarm on their countenances, which was reflected from that of
another of the old Markhams - all appearing either angry or startled at
such a freak being played in their august presence.

There was one exception though, in the face of a sweet-looking lady of
about twenty, whose eyes seemed to follow the boys, while a pleasant,
mirthful smile was upon her lip.

But the boys did not even give a thought to the portraits, whose eyes
seemed to watch them till the feat, which required the exercise of no
little muscular effort, was dexterously performed, and Fred stood on the
oaken floor.

"Well, I suppose you think I couldn't do that, do you?" cried Scarlett.

"Not I. Any one could do it if he tried."

"Yes, I should think he could, and in half the time you took. Look
here; I'll show you."

"Try if you can do it with your face turned this way, Scar," cried Fred.

For answer, the boy, who had reached the gallery, ran along to the end,
climbed over, and then lowered himself down till he hung at full length
by both hands clasping the balusters. Then he hung by one, and cleverly
swinging round, grasped another baluster, and hung facing his companion,
who stood looking up and eagerly watching every movement.

"Go on, Scar."

"Oh yes, it's very easy to say go on; but see how awkward it is this

"Well, try the other."

"Going to," said Scarlett, laconically, as he swung himself back, and
then hand over hand passed along the front of the gallery, reached the
turn, grasped the second of the descending balusters, loosed his hold of
the last one on the level of the landing, made a dash to catch the first
baluster side by side with that he already held, missed it, and swung
round, hanging by one hand only, when suddenly there was a loud
_crick-crack_, and, under the impression that the slight wooden pillar
had broken, Fred sprang up the stairs to his companion's assistance, but
only to trip as he nearly reached the top and fall sprawling upon the
landing upon a great deer-skin rug.



Fred was up again in a moment, ready to pass his arms through and help
his friend; but the latter had already recovered himself, and was
holding on with both hands, now staring between the balusters like a
wild beast through the bars of his cage.

"What's the matter?" he said.

"I thought you were falling. Which one broke?"

"I don't know; neither of them."

"But what was that clacking noise?"

"I don't know. The baluster seemed to turn half round, and then fly
back as if it had a spring at the bottom."

"I know! Look here. It wrenched this stair loose. I trod on it, and
that's what made me fall."

"Wait till I've gone down to the bottom," said Scarlett, "and we'll soon
put that right."

As he spoke, the lad went on down, hand by hand, as Fred had made the
descent before him, and then came running up the polished oaken stairs
to where his companion stood by the top stair but one, upon which lay a
broad stain of red and gold, cast by a ray of light passing through one
of the painted windows.

"It must have come unnailed," said Scarlett, as he knelt down.

"I don't think it has," replied Fred, as he knelt beside him. "Look
here, it's quite loose; and see here, you can push it right in."

He thrust at the oaken board as he spoke, and it glided horizontally
from them under the top step which formed the landing, and left a long
opening like a narrow box the length and width of the stair.

"Don't push too far," cried Scarlett, "or we shan't get it back. Pull."

The boys pulled together, and the oaken tread glided back toward them
with the greatest ease, like a well-made drawer.

"Mind!" shouted Fred. And they snatched away their fingers just in time
to save a nasty pinch, for the board came swiftly back into its
position. There was a sharp _crick-crack_, and the stair was as solid
as before, and the broad stain from the painted window lay in its old
place on the dark brown wood.

Scarlett Markham turned and stared at Fred Forrester, and Fred Forrester
turned and stared at him.

"I say, what do you think of that?" said Scarlett.

"I don't know. What do you?"

"I don't know either," said Scarlett, trying to move the board again.
But it was firm as the rest of the stairs.

"Did you see that baluster?" said Fred.

"See it? No. What do you mean?"

"It seemed to me to move and make that noise."

"Nonsense! How could it?"

"I don't know, but it was just the same noise as it made when you missed
your hold and swung round."

"So it was; and I had hold of it," said Scarlett, thoughtfully, as he
laid his hand on the piece of turned and carved wood. "But it's quite
firm." He gave it a shake, but with no effect. "You come and try," he

Fred took his place, and shook the baluster, then the other - its
fellow - but there was no result.

"I don't know what to make of this," said Scarlett. "I wonder whether
all the stairs are made the same. There, never mind; let's go and

"Stop a moment!" cried Fred, excitedly. "Look here; you can turn this
thing half round. See!"

"Well, that's only because it's loose. They're getting old and - "


Scarlett Markham started back, so quick and sudden was the sound, but
only to resume his position on his knees before the oaken stair-tread,
which again yielded to a thrust, and glided under the landing once more,
leaving the opening the length and breadth of the great stair.

"Why, it's like the lid of a sliding box, Scar," cried Fred. "Now then,
let's pull it over once more. But look here, it won't go any further."

This was the case, for about an inch of the carved front was left for
them to take hold of and draw it back, which they did, the board gliding
easily toward them, and closing with a loud snap.

"There! I did see it then," cried Scarlett.


"That baluster. It half twisted round. Why, Fred, it's a hiding-place.
Here, let's open it again. Perhaps it's full of gold."

Fred was quite willing, for his curiosity was excited; so, seizing the
baluster with both hands, he gave it a twist. There was the sharp sound
as of a catch being set at liberty; the board moved, and was once more
thrust back.

"Now let me try," cried Scarlett, "so as to make sure."

The opening was closed again, the baluster twisted, and it was again
opened, the lads pausing before the dark cavity, across which the
coloured rays played over a bar of dancing motes.

"Seems to me," said Fred, "that we've discovered a secret. Does your
father know of it, do you think?"

"I feel sure he doesn't. I say, let's see if there's anything inside."

"Do you think we ought to?"

"I wouldn't, if I thought my father knew about it; but I don't believe
he does, so I shall try. Of course I shall tell him."

"Yes, of course," said Fred, whose curiosity pricked him on to action,
and who felt relieved by his companion's words. "But do you think it's
a secret drawer?"

"Yes, I'm sure it is, or it wouldn't be made like that."

"But perhaps they are all made this way."

This was a damper; for if the stairs were all made in this fashion,
there could be no secret.

"Let's try," said Scarlett; and together they turned and twisted with
all their might at every baluster from top to bottom, but without

"Then it is a secret drawer," said Fred, in a low, husky voice.

"More like a coffin," said Scarlett.


"I hope no one's buried here."

"Oh, I say, don't talk like that," cried Fred. "It's too horrible."

"Well, it might be so. Some one been killed years ago, and put there."

"'Tisn't likely," said Fred. "But, if it is a secret place, we oughtn't
to let any of the servants know."

"I didn't think of that," replied Scarlett; and, drawing the oaken board
back, the spring was closed, and the boys went and looked out to see
that Nat Dee was busy over the garden beds; and further investigation
proved that the indoor servants were all in the other part of the house.

"They would go up the back-stairs if they wanted anything," said
Scarlett, as they returned to the place where the coloured light shone;
but it had already somewhat altered its position as Fred seized the
baluster, turned it, and the board lay loose.

"Now, then, what are we going to find?" cried Scarlett, as he thrust
back the board, and then recoiled a little and looked at his companion.

Fred looked at him, and both lads felt that their hearts were beating

"Not scared, are you, Fred!"

"No, I don't think so."

"Then you may have first try if you like. What do you say?"

"Nothing," replied Fred. "I feel as if I should like to, but all the
same I don't like. Let's try with a stick. There may be something
nasty there; perhaps rats."

"They wouldn't have stopped; but you're right. Go down and fetch a

"You will not try till I come back?" said Fred, doubtingly.

"No, I shall not try. Make haste."

Fred was not long running down to one corner of the hall, and obtaining
a stout ashen cudgel, which he handed to his companion, who, after a
moment's hesitation, thrust in the staff, and found that the opening was
about half as deep again as the height of the step; but though he tapped
the bottom, which seemed to be firm, and tried from side to side, there
was nothing solid within, nothing but a fine, impalpable dust, which
made its presence known, for both lads began to sneeze.

"I'm glad there are no bones in it," said Scarlett. "It was only meant
to put something in; made on purpose, I suppose. Just a long box:
nothing more, and - Halloa!"

"What have you found?"

"Nothing, only that it's all open at the back, and I can - yes, so I
can! - reach right back; yes, as far as the stick will go."

"That place wouldn't be made for nothing, Scar," cried Fred. "I know.
That's the way to somewhere."


"I don't care; I know it is, and you see if - "

"Some one coming," whispered Scarlett, stooping down and dragging the
board toward him, when there was a sharp crack, and the stair was once
more firm, just as steps were heard coming along the corridor, and one
of the servant-maids passed along the gallery and entered a room at the

"Wait a bit," whispered Scarlett, as soon as the maid had passed out of
hearing. "We'll get a bit of candle and lock the end door, and then
we'll see what this means; for, as you say, it must have been made for
something. But it can't be a way anywhere, or they would have made it
upright like a door."

"If they could," said Fred, thoughtfully. "Perhaps it was meant for
people to go through lying down."

"Well, wait a bit," said Scarlett, "and we'll see."

Unkind people say that girls have the bump of curiosity greatly
developed, far more so than boys. This is a vulgar error, for the
latter are quite as eager to know as their sisters, and from the moment
that the heavy oak board was replaced, Fred Forrester and Scar Markham
suffered from a fit of excitement which they could not allay. For, as
is usually the case, the person they wanted to go seemed determined to
stay. That person was the maid, who appeared to have found something
very important to do in the room at the end of the corridor; and it was
impossible to continue the examination till she had returned to the
servants' quarters.

Scar fetched a candlestick with a short piece of candle burning therein,
and shut it up in one of the great cupboards in the hall, so as to lose

Online LibraryGeorge Manville FennCrown and Sceptre: A West Country Story → online text (page 1 of 31)