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The Nest of the Sparrowhawk
by Baroness Orczy
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Her wealth, up to now, had only had a meaning for her, as part of some noble scheme for the regeneration of mankind. Now she hoped vaguely, as she put that wallet down on the table, then pushed it towards her husband, that she was purchasing her freedom with her wealth.

Certainly she realized that his thoughts had very quickly been diverted from her beauty to the contents of the wallet. The mocking laugh died down on his lips, giving place to a sigh of deep satisfaction.

"You were very prudent, my dear Suzanne, to place this portion of your wealth in my charge," he said as he slipped the bulky papers into the lining of his doublet. "Of course it is all yours, and I—your husband—am but the repository and guardian of your fortune. And now methinks 'twere prudent for you to return to the Court. Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse will be missing you...."

It did not seem to strike her as strange that he should dismiss her thus abruptly, and make no attempt to explain what his future plans might be, nor indeed what his intentions were with regard to herself.

The intensity of her disappointment, the utter loneliness and helplessness of her position had caused a veritable numbing of her faculties and of her spirit and for the moment she was perhaps primarily conscious of a sense of relief at her dismissal.

Like her wedding in the dismal little church, this day of her birthday, of her independence, of her handing over her fortune to her husband for the glorious purposes of his selfless schemes had been so very, very different to what she had pictured to herself in her girlish and romantic dreams.

The sordidness of it all had ruthlessly struck her; for the first time in her intercourse with this man, she doubted the genuineness of his motives. With the passing of her fortune from her hands to his, the last vestige of belief in him died down with appalling suddenness.

It could not have been because of the expression in his eyes, as he fingered the wallet, for this she could not see, since his face was still in shadow. It must have been just instinct—that, and the mockery of his attempt to make love to her. Had he ever loved her, he could not have mocked ... not now, that she was helpless and entirely at his mercy.

Love once felt, is sacred to him who feels: mockery even of the ashes of love is an impossible desecration, one beyond the power of any man. Then, if he had never loved her, why had he pretended? Why have deceived her with a semblance of passion?

And the icy whisper of reason blew into her mental ear, the ugly word: "Money."

He opened the door for her, and without another word, she passed out into the dark night. Only when she reached the tiny gate at the end of the flagged path, did she realize that he was walking with her.

"I can find my way alone through the woods," she said coldly. "I came alone."

"It was earlier then," he rejoined blandly, "and I prefer to see you safely as far as the park."

And they walked on side by side in silence. Overhead the melancholy drip of moisture falling from leaf to leaf, and from leaf to the ground, was the only sound that accompanied their footsteps. Sue shivered beneath her damp cloak; but she walked as far away from him as the width of the woodland path allowed. He seemed absorbed in his own thoughts and not to notice how she shrank from the slightest contact with him.

At the park gate he paused, having opened it for her to pass through.

"I must bid you good-night here, Suzanne," he said lightly, "there may be footpads about and I must place your securities away under lock and key. I may be absent a few days for that purpose.... London, you know," he added vaguely.

Then as she made no comment:

"I will arrange for our next meeting," he said, "anon, there will be no necessity to keep our marriage a secret, but until I give you permission to speak of it, 'twere better that you remained silent on that score."

She contrived to murmur:

"As you will."

And presently, as he made no movement towards her, she said:

"Good-night!"

This time he had not even desired to kiss her.

The next moment she had disappeared in the gloom. She fled as fast as she dared in the inky blackness of this November night. She could have run for miles, or for hours, away! away from all this sordidness, this avarice, this deceit and cruelty! Away! away from him!!

How glad she was that darkness enveloped her, for now she felt horribly ashamed. Instinct, too, is cruel at times! Instinct had been silent so long during the most critical juncture of her own folly. Now it spoke loudly, warningly; now that it was too late.

Ashamed of her own stupidity and blindness! her vanity mayhap had alone led her to believe the passionate protestations of a liar.

A liar! a mean, cowardly schemer, but her husband for all that! She owed him love, honor and obedience; if he commanded, she must obey; if he called she must fain go to him.

Oh! please God! that she had succeeded in purchasing her freedom from him by placing L500,000 in his hands.

Shame! shame that this should be! that she should have mistaken vile schemes for love, that a liar's kisses should have polluted her soul! that she should be the wife, the bondswoman of a cheat!



CHAPTER XXIX

GOOD-BYE

"Sue!"

The cry rang out in the night close to her, and arrested her fleeing footsteps. She was close to the ha-ha, having run on blindly, madly, guided by that unaccountable instinct which makes for the shelter of home.

In a moment she had recognized the voice. In a moment she was beside her friend. Her passionate mood passed away, leaving her calm and almost at peace. Shame still caused her cheeks to burn, but the night was dark and doubtless he would not see.

But she could feel that he was near her, therefore, there was no fear in her. What had guided her footsteps hither she did not know. Of course he had guessed that she had been to meet her husband.

There were no exclamations or protestations between them. She merely said quite simply:

"I am glad that you came to say 'good-bye!'"

The park was open here. The nearest trees were some fifty paces away, and in the ghostly darkness they could just perceive one another's silhouettes. The mist enveloped them as with a shroud, the damp cold air caused them to shiver as under the embrace of death.

"It is good-bye," he rejoined calmly.

"Mayhap that I shall go abroad soon," she said.

"With that man?"

The cry broke out from the bitterness of his heart, but a cold little hand was placed restrainingly on his.

"When I go ... if I go," she murmured, "I shall do so with my husband.... You see, my friend, do you not, that there is naught else to say but 'good-bye'?"

"And you will be happy, Sue?" he asked.

"I hope so!" she sighed wistfully.

"You will always remember, will you not, my dear lady, that wherever you may be, there is always someone in remote Thanet, who is ready at any time to give his life for you?"

"Yes! I will remember," she said simply.

"And you must promise me," he insisted, "promise me now, Sue, that if ... which Heaven forbid ... you are in any trouble or sorrow, and I can do aught for you, that you will let me know and send for me ... and I will come."

"Yes, Richard, I promise.... Good-bye."

And she was gone. The mist, the gloom hid her completely from view. He waited by the little bridge, for the night was still and he would have heard if she called.

He heard her light footsteps on the gravel, then on the flagged walk. Anon came the sound of the opening and shutting of a door. After that, silence: the silence of a winter's night, when not a breath of wind stirs the dead branches of the trees, when woodland and field and park are wrapped in the shroud of the mist.

Richard Lambert turned back towards the village.

Sue—married to another man—had passed out of his life forever.



CHAPTER XXX

ALL BECAUSE OF THE TINDER-BOX

How oft it is in life that Fate, leading a traveler in easy gradients upwards along a road of triumph, suddenly assumes a madcap mood and with wanton hand throws a tiny obstacle in his way; an obstacle at times infinitesimal, scarce visible on that way towards success, yet powerful enough to trip the unwary traveler and bring him down to earth with sudden and woeful vigor.

With Sir Marmaduke so far everything had prospered according to his wish. He had inveigled the heiress into a marriage which bound her to his will, yet left him personally free; she had placed her fortune unreservedly and unconditionally in his hands, and had, so far as he knew, not even suspected the treachery practiced upon her by her guardian.

Not a soul had pierced his disguise, and the identity of Prince Amede d'Orleans was unknown even to his girl-wife.

With the disappearance of that mysterious personage, Sir Marmaduke having realized Lady Sue's fortune, could resume life as an independent gentleman, with this difference, that henceforth he would be passing rich, able to gratify his ambition, to cut a figure in the world as he chose.

Fortune which had been his idol all his life, now was indeed his slave. He had it, he possessed it. It lay snug and safe in a leather wallet inside the lining of his doublet.

Sue had gone out of his sight, desirous apparently of turning her back on him forever. He was free and rich. The game had been risky, daring beyond belief, yet he had won in the end. He could afford to laugh now at all the dangers, the subterfuges, the machinations which had all gone to the making of that tragic comedy in which he had been the principal actor.

The last scene in the drama had been successfully enacted. The curtain had been finally lowered; and Sir Marmaduke swore that there should be no epilogue to the play.

Then it was that Fate—so well-named the wanton jade—shook herself from out the torpor in which she had wandered for so long beside this Kentish squire. A spirit of mischief seized upon her and whispered that she had held this man quite long enough by the hand and that it would be far more amusing now to see him measure his length on the ground.

And all that Fate did, in order to satisfy this spirit of mischief, was to cause Sir Marmaduke to forget his tinder-box in the front parlor of Mistress Martha Lambert's cottage.

A tinder-box is a small matter! an object of infinitesimal importance when the broad light of day illumines the interior of houses or the bosquets of a park, but it becomes an object of paramount importance, when the night is pitch dark, and when it is necessary to effect an exchange of clothing within the four walls of a pavilion.

Sir Marmaduke had walked to the park gates with his wife, not so much because he was anxious for her safety, but chiefly because he meant to retire within the pavilion, there to cast aside forever the costume and appurtenances of Prince Amede d'Orleans and to reassume the sable-colored doublet and breeches of the Roundhead squire, which proceeding he had for the past six months invariably accomplished in the lonely little building on the outskirts of his own park.

As soon, therefore, as he realized that Sue had gone, he turned his steps towards the pavilion. The night seemed additionally dark here under the elms, and Sir Marmaduke searched in his pocket for his tinder-box.

It was not there. He had left it at the cottage, and quickly recollected seeing it lying on the table at the very moment that Sue pushed the leather wallet towards him.

He had mounted the few stone steps which led up to the building, but even whilst he groped for the latch with an impatient hand, he realized how impossible it would be for him anon, to change his clothes, in the dark; not only to undress and dress again, but to collect the belongings of the Prince d'Orleans subsequently, for the purpose of destroying them at an early opportunity.

Groping about in inky blackness might mean the forgetting of some article of apparel, which, if found later on, might lead to suspicion or even detection of the fraud. Sir Marmaduke dared not risk it.

Light he needed, and light he ought to have. The tinder-box had become of paramount importance, and it was sheer wantonness on the part of Fate that she should have allowed that little article to rest forgotten on the table in Mistress Lambert's cottage.

Sir Marmaduke remained pondering—in the darkness and the mist—for a while. His own doublet and breeches, shoes and stockings were in the pavilion: would he ever be able to get at them without a light? No, certainly not! nor could he venture to go home to the Court in his present disguise, and leave his usual clothes in this remote building.

Prying, suspicious eyes—such as those of Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy, for instance, might prove exceedingly uncomfortable and even dangerous.

On the other hand, would it not be ten thousand times more dangerous to go back to the cottage now and risk meeting Richard Lambert face to face?

And it was Richard whom Sir Marmaduke feared.

He had, therefore, almost decided to try his luck at dressing in the dark, and was once more fumbling with the latch of the pavilion door, when through the absolute silence of the air, there came to his ear through the mist the sound of a young voice calling the name of "Sue!"

The voice was that of Richard Lambert.

The coast would be clear then. Richard had met Sue in the park: no doubt he would hold her a few moments in conversation. The schemer cared not what the two young people would or would not say to one another; all that interested him now was the fact that Richard was not at the cottage, and that, therefore, it would be safe to run back and fetch the tinder-box.

All this was a part of Fate's mischievous prank. Sir Marmaduke was not afraid of meeting the old Quakeress, nor yet the surly smith; Richard being out of the way, he had no misgivings in his mind when he retraced his steps towards the cottage.

It was close on eight o'clock then, in fact the tiny bell in Acol church struck the hour even as Sir Marmaduke lifted the latch of the little garden gate.

The old woman was in the parlor, busy as usual with her dusting-cloth. Without heeding her, Sir Marmaduke strode up to the table and pushing the crockery, which now littered it, aside, he searched for his tinder-box.

It was not there. With an impatient oath, he turned to Mistress Martha, and roughly demanded if she had seen it.

"Eh? ... What?" she queried, shuffling a little nearer to him, "I am somewhat hard of hearing ... as thou knowest...."

"Have you seen my tinder-box?" he repeated with ever-growing irritation.

"Ah, yea, the fog!" she said blandly, "'tis damp too, of a truth, and ..."

"Hold your confounded tongue!" he shouted wrathfully, "and try and hear me. My tinder-box...."

"Thy what? I am a bit ..."

"Curse you for an old fool," swore Sir Marmaduke, who by now was in a towering passion.

With a violent gesture he pushed the old woman aside and turning on her in an uncontrolled access of fury, with both arms upraised, he shouted:

"If you don't hear me now, I'll break every bone in your ugly body.... Where is my ..."

It had all happened in a very few seconds: his entrance, his search for the missing box, the growing irritation in him which had caused him to lose control of his temper. And now, even before the threatening words were well out of his mouth, he suddenly felt a vigorous onslaught from the rear, and his own throat clutched by strong and sinewy fingers.

"And I'll break every bone in thy accursed body!" shouted a hoarse voice close to his ear, "if thou darest so much as lay a finger on the old woman."

The struggle was violent and brief. Sir Marmaduke already felt himself overmastered. Adam Lambert had taken him unawares. He was rough and very powerful. Sir Marmaduke was no weakling, yet encumbered by his fantastic clothes he was no match for the smith. Adam turned him about in his nervy hands like a puppet.

Now he was in front and above him, glaring down at the man he hated with eyes which would have searched the very depths of his enemy's soul.

"Thou damned foreigner!" he growled between clenched teeth, "thou vermin! ... Thou toad! Thou ... on thy knees! ... on thy knees, I say ... beg her pardon for thy foul language ... now at once ... dost hear? ... ere I squeeze the breath out of thee...."

Sir Marmaduke felt his knees giving way under him, the smith's grasp on his throat had in no way relaxed. Mistress Martha vainly tried to interpose. She was all for peace, and knew that the Lord liked not a fiery temper. But the look in Adam's face frightened her, and she had always been in terror of the foreigner. Without thought, and imagining that 'twas her presence which irritated the lodger, she beat a hasty retreat to her room upstairs, even as Adam Lambert finally succeeded in forcing Sir Marmaduke down on his knees, not ceasing to repeat the while:

"Her pardon ... beg her pardon, my fine prince ... lick the dust in an English cottage, thou foreign devil ... or, by God, I will kill thee! ..."

"Let me go!" gasped Sir Marmaduke, whom the icy fear of imminent discovery gripped more effectually even than did the village blacksmith's muscular fingers, "let me go ... damn you!"

"Not before I have made thee lick the dust," said Adam grimly, bringing one huge palm down on the elaborate perruque, and forcing Sir Marmaduke's head down, down towards the ground, "lick it ... lick it ... Prince of Orleans...."

He burst out laughing in the midst of his fury, at sight of this disdainful gentleman, with the proud title, about to come in violent contact with a cottage floor. But Sir Marmaduke struggled violently still. He had been wiser no doubt, to take the humiliation quietly, to lick the dust and to pacify the smith: but what man is there who would submit to brute force without using his own to protect himself?

Then Fate at last worked her wanton will.

In the struggle the fantastic perruque and heavy mustache of Prince Amede d'Orleans remained in the smith's hand whilst it was the round head and clean-shaven face of Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse which came in contact with the floor.

In an instant, stricken at first dumb with surprise and horror, but quickly recovering the power of speech, Adam Lambert murmured:

"You? ... You? ... Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse! ... Oh! my God! ..."

His grip on his enemy had, of course, relaxed. Sir Marmaduke was able to struggle to his feet. Fate had dealt him a blow as unexpected as it was violent. But he had not been the daring schemer that he was, if throughout the past six months, the possibility of such a moment as this had not lurked at the back of his mind.

The blow, therefore, did not find him quite unprepared. It had been stunning but not absolutely crushing. Even whilst Adam Lambert was staring with almost senseless amazement alternately at him and at the bundle of false hair which he was still clutching, Sir Marmaduke had struggled to his feet.



CHAPTER XXXI

THE ASSIGNATION

He had recovered his outward composure at any rate, and the next moment was busy re-adjusting his doublet and bands before the mirror over the hearth.

"Yes! my violent friend!" he said coolly, speaking over his shoulder, "of a truth it is mine own self! Your landlord you see, to whom that worthy woman upstairs owes this nice cottage which she has had rent free for over ten years ... not the foreign vermin, you see," he added with a pleasant laugh, "which maketh your actions of just now, somewhat unpleasant to explain. Is that not so?"

"Nay! but by the Lord!" quoth Adam Lambert, still somewhat dazed, vaguely frightened himself now at the magnitude, the importance of what he had done, "meseems that 'tis thine actions, friend, which will be unpleasant to explain. Thou didst not put on these play-actor's robes for a good purpose, I'll warrant! ... I cannot guess what is thy game, but methinks her young ladyship would wish to know something of its rules ... or mayhap, my brother Richard who is no friend of thine, forsooth."

Gradually his voice had become steadier, his manner more assured. A glimmer of light on the Squire's strange doings had begun to penetrate his simple, dull brain. Vaguely he guessed the purport of the disguise and of the lies, and the mention of Lady Sue's name was not an arrow shot thoughtlessly into the air. At the same time he had not perceived the slightest quiver of fear or even of anxiety on Sir Marmaduke's face.

The latter had in the meanwhile put his crumpled toilet in order and now turned with an urbane smile to his glowering antagonist.

"I will not deny, kind master," he said pleasantly, "that you might cause me a vast amount of unpleasantness just now ... although of a truth, I do not perceive that you would benefit yourself overmuch thereby. On the contrary, you would vastly lose. Your worthy aunt, Mistress Lambert, would lose a pleasant home, and you would never know what you and your brother Richard have vainly striven to find out these past ten years."

"What may that be, pray?" queried the smith sullenly.

"Who you both are," rejoined Sir Marmaduke blandly, as he calmly sat down in one of the stiff-backed elm chairs beside the hearth, "and why worthy Mistress Lambert never speaks to you of your parentage."

"Who we both are?" retorted Lambert with obvious bitterness, "two poor castaways, who, but for the old woman would have been left to starve, and who have tried, therefore, to be a bit grateful to her, and to earn an honest livelihood. That is what we are, Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse; and now prithee tell me, who the devil art thou?"

"You are overfond of swearing, worthy master," quoth Sir Marmaduke lightly, "'tis sinful so I'm told, for one of your creed. But that is no matter to me. You are, believe me, somewhat more interesting than you imagine. Though I doubt if to a Quaker, being heir to title and vast estates hath more than a fleeting interest."

But the smith had shrugged his broad shoulders and uttered an exclamation of contempt.

"Title and vast estates?" he said with an ironical laugh. "Nay! Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, the bait is passing clumsy. An you wish me to hold my tongue about you and your affairs, you'll have to be vastly sharper than that."

"You mistake me, friend smith, I am not endeavoring to purchase your silence. I hold certain information relating to your parentage. This I would be willing to impart to a friend, yet loath to do so to an enemy. A man doth not like to see his enemy in possession of fifteen thousand pounds a year. Does he?"

And Sir Marmaduke appeared absorbed in the contemplation of his left shoe, whilst Adam Lambert repeated stupidly and vaguely:

"Fifteen thousand pounds a year? I?"

"Even you, my friend."

This was said so simply, and with such conviction-carrying certainty—that in spite of himself Lambert's sulkiness vanished. He drew nearer to Sir Marmaduke, looked down on him silently for a second or two, then muttered through his teeth:

"You have the proofs?"

"They will be at your service, my choleric friend," replied the other suavely, "in exchange for your silence."

Adam Lambert drew a chair close to his whilom enemy, sat down opposite to him, with elbows resting on his knee, his clenched fists supporting his chin, and his eyes—anxious, eager, glowing, fixed resolutely on de Chavasse.

"I'll hold my tongue, never fear," he said curtly. "Show me the proofs."

Sir Marmaduke gave a pleasant little laugh.

"Not so fast, my friend," he said, "I do not carry such important papers about in my breeches' pocket."

And he rose from his chair, picked up the perruque and false mustache which the other man had dropped upon the floor, and adjusting these on his head and face he once more presented the appearance of the exiled Orleans prince.

"But thou'lt show them to me to-night," insisted the smith roughly.

"How can I, mine impatient friend?" quoth de Chavasse lightly, "the hour is late already."

"Nay! what matter the lateness of the hour? I am oft abroad at night, early and late, and thou, methinks, hast oft had the midnight hour for company. When and where wilt meet me?" added Lambert peremptorily, "I must see those proofs to-night, before many hours are over, lest the blood in my veins burn my body to ashes with impatience. When wilt meet me? Eleven? ... Midnight? ... or the small hours of the morn?"

He spoke quickly, jerking out his words through closed teeth, his eyes burning with inward fever, his fists closing and unclosing with rapid febrile movements of the fingers.

The pent-up disappointment and rebellion of a whole lifetime against Fate, was expressed in the man's attitude, the agonizing eagerness which indeed seemed to be consuming him.

De Chavasse, on the other hand, had become singularly calm. The black shade as usual hid one of his eyes, masking and distorting the expression of his face; the false mustache, too, concealed the movements of his lips, and the more his opponent's eyes tried to search the schemer's face, the more inscrutable and bland did the latter become.

"Nay, my friend," he said at last, "I do not know that the thought of a midnight excursion with you appeals to my sense of personal security. I ..."

But with a violent oath, Adam had jumped to his feet, and kicked the chair away from under him so that it fell backwards with a loud clatter.

"Thou'lt meet me to-night," he said loudly and threateningly now, "thou'lt meet me on the path near the cliffs of Epple Bay half an hour before midnight, and if thou hast lied to me, I'll throw thee over and Thanet then will be rid of thee ... but if thou dost not come, I'll to my brother Richard even before the church clock of Acol hath sounded the hour of midnight."

De Chavasse watched him silently for the space of three seconds, realizing, of course, that he was completely in that man's power, and also that the smith meant every word that he said. The discovery of the monstrous fraud by Richard Lambert within the next few hours was a contingency which he could not even contemplate without shuddering. He certainly would much prefer to give up to this uncouth laborer the proofs of his parentage which eventually might mean an earldom and a fortune to a village blacksmith.

Sir Marmaduke had reflected on all this, of course, before broaching the subject to Adam Lambert at all. Now he was prepared to go through with the scheme to the end if need be. His uncle, the Earl of Northallerton, might live another twenty years, whilst he himself—if pursued for fraud, might have to spend those years in jail.

On the whole it was simpler to purchase the smith's silence ... this way or another. Sir Marmaduke's reflections at this moment would have delighted those evil spirits who are supposed to revel in the misdoings of mankind.

The thought of the lonely path near the cliffs of Epple Bay tickled his fancy in a manner for which perhaps at this moment he himself could not have accounted. He certainly did not fear Adam Lambert and now said decisively:

"Very well, my friend, an you wish it, I'll come."

"Half an hour before midnight," insisted Lambert, "on the cliffs at Epple Bay."

"Half an hour before midnight: on the cliffs of Epple Bay," assented the other.

He picked up his hat.

"Where art going?" queried the smith suspiciously.

"To change my clothing," replied Sir Marmaduke, who was fingering that fateful tinder-box which alone had brought about the present crisis, "and to fetch those proofs which you are so anxious to see."

"Thou'lt not fail me?"

"Surely not," quoth de Chavasse, as he finally went out of the room.



CHAPTER XXXII

THE PATH NEAR THE CLIFFS

The mist had not lifted. Over the sea it hung heavy and dank like a huge sheet of gray thrown over things secret and unavowable. It was thickest down in the bay lurking in the crevices of the chalk, in the great caverns and mighty architecture carved by the patient toil of the billows in the solid mass of the cliffs.

Up above it was slightly less dense: allowing distinct peeps of the rough carpet of coarse grass, of the downtrodden path winding towards Acol, of the edge of the cliff, abrupt, precipitous, with a drop of some ninety feet into that gray pall of mist to the sands below.

And higher up still, above the mist itself, a deep blue sky dotted with stars, and a full moon, pale and circled with luminous vapors. A gentle breeze had risen about half an hour ago and was blowing the mist hither and thither, striving to disperse it, but not yet succeeding in mastering it, for it only shifted restlessly to and fro, like the giant garments of titanic ghosts, revealing now a distant peep of sea, anon the interior of a colonnaded cavern, abode of mysterious ghouls, or again a nest of gulls in a deep crevice of the chalk: revealing and hiding again:—a shroud dragged listlessly over monstrous dead things.

Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse had some difficulty in keeping to the footpath which leads from the woods of Acol straight toward the cliffs. Unlike Adam Lambert, his eyes were unaccustomed to pierce the moist pall which hid the distance from his view.

Strangely enough he had not cast aside the fantastic accouterments of the French prince, and though these must have been as singularly uncomfortable, as they were inappropriate, for a midnight walk, nevertheless, he still wore the heavy perruque, the dark mustache, broad-brimmed hat, and black shade which were so characteristic of the mysterious personage.

He had heard the church clock at Acol village strike half an hour after eleven and knew that the smith would already be waiting for him.

The acrid smell of seaweed struck forcibly now upon his nostrils. The grass beneath his feet had become more sparse and more coarse. The moisture which clung to his face had a taste of salt in it. Obviously he was quite close to the edge of the cliffs.

The next moment and without any warning a black outline appeared in the moon-illumined density. It was Adam Lambert pacing up and down with the impatience of an imprisoned beast of prey.

A second or two later the febrile hand of the smith had gripped Sir Marmaduke's shoulder.

"You have brought those proofs?" he queried hoarsely.

His face was wet with the mist, and he had apparently oft wiped it with his hand or sleeve, for great streaks of dirt marked his cheeks and forehead, giving him a curious satanic expression, whilst his short lank hair obviously roughed up by impatient fingers, bristled above his square-built head like the coat of a shaggy dog.

In absolute contrast to him, Sir Marmaduke looked wonderfully calm and tidy. In answer to the other man's eager look of inquiry, he made pretense of fumbling in his pockets, as he said quietly:

"Yes! all of them!"

As if idly musing, he continued to walk along the path, whilst the smith first stooped to pick up a small lantern which he had obviously brought with him in order to examine the papers by its light, and then strode in the wake of Sir Marmaduke.

The breeze was getting a bother hold on the mist, and was tossing it about from sea to cliff and upwards with more persistence and more vigor.

The pale, cold moon glistened visibly on the moist atmosphere, and far below and far beyond weird streaks of shimmering silver edged the surface of the sea. The breeze itself had scarcely stirred the water; or,—the soft sound of tiny billows lapping the outstanding boulders was wafted upwards as the tide drew in.

The two men had reached the edge of the cliff. With a slight laugh, indicative of nervousness, Sir Marmaduke had quickly stepped back a pace or two.

"I have brought the proofs," he said, as if wishing to conciliate a dangerous enemy, "we need not stand so near the edge, need we?"

But Adam Lambert shrugged his shoulders in token of contempt at the other's cowardice.

"I'll not harm thee," he said, "an thou hast not lied to me...."

He deposited his lantern by the side of a heap of white chalk, which had, no doubt, been collected at some time or other by idle or childish 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 Amede d'Orleans.

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 Amede d'Orleans: 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 Orleans 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 L500,000.

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 cortege 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.

He should at this moment have been on the other side of the North Sea. The most elemental prudence should indeed have counseled an immediate journey to Amsterdam and a prompt negotiation of all marketable securities which Lady Sue Aldmarshe had placed in his hands.

Yet twice twenty-four hours had gone by since that awful night, when, having finally relinquished his victim to the embrace of the tide, he had picked his way up the chalk cliffs and through the terror-haunted woods to his own room in Acol Court.

He should have left for abroad the next day, ere the news of the discovery of a mysterious murder had reached the precincts of his own park. But he had remained in England. Something seemed to have rooted him to the spot, something to be holding him back whenever he was ready to flee.

At first it had been a mere desire to know. On the morning following his crime he made a vigorous effort to rally his scattered senses, to walk, to move, and to breathe as if nothing had happened, as if nothing lay out there on the sands of Epple, high and dry now, for the tide would have gone out.

Whether he had slept or not since the moment when he had crept stealthily into his own house, silently as the bird of prey when returning to its nest—he could not have said. Undoubtedly he had stripped off the dead man's clothes, the rough shirt and cord breeches which had belonged to Lambert, the smith. Undoubtedly, too, he had made a bundle of these things, hiding them in a dark recess at the bottom of an old oak cupboard which stood in his room. With these clothes he had placed the leather wallet which contained securities worth half a million of solid money.

All this he had done, preparatory to destroying the clothes by fire, and to converting the securities into money abroad. After that he had thrown himself on the bed, without thought, without sensations save those of bodily ache and of numbing fatigue.

Vaguely, as the morning roused him to consciousness, he realized that he must leave for Dover as soon as may be and cross over to France by the first packet available, or, better still, by boat specially chartered. And yet, when anon he rose and dressed, he felt at once that he would not go just yet; that he could not go until certain queries which had formed in his brain had been answered by events.

How soon would the watches find the body? Having found it, what would they do? Would the body be immediately identified by the clothes upon it? or would doubt on that score arise in the minds of the neighboring folk? Would the disappearance of Adam Lambert be known at once and commented upon in connection with the crime?

Curiosity soon became an obsession; he wandered down into the hall where the serving-wench was plying her duster. He searched her face, wondering if she had heard the news.

The mist of the night had yielded to an icy drizzle, but Sir Marmaduke could not remain within. His footsteps guided him in the direction of Acol, on towards Epple Bay. On the path which leads to the edge of the cliffs he met the watches who were tramping on towards the beach.

The men saluted him and went on their way, but he turned and fled as quickly as he dared.

In the afternoon Master Busy brought the news down from Prospect Inn. The body of the man who had called himself a French prince had been found murdered and shockingly mutilated on the sands at Epple. Sir Marmaduke was vastly interested. He, usually so reserved and ill-humored with his servants, had kept Hymn-of-Praise in close converse for nigh upon an hour, asking many questions about the crime, about the petty constables' action in the matter and the comments made by the village folk.

At the same time he gave strict injunctions to Master Busy not to breathe a word of the gruesome subject to the ladies, nor yet to the serving-wench; 'twas not a matter fit for women's ears.

Sir Marmaduke then bade his butler push on as far as Acol, to glean further information about the mysterious event.

That evening he collected all the clothes which had belonged to Lambert, the smith, and wrapping up the leather wallet with them which contained the securities, he carried this bundle to the lonely pavilion on the outskirts of the park.

He was not yet ready to go abroad.

Master Busy returned from his visit to Acol full of what he had seen. He had been allowed to view the body, and to swear before Squire Boatfield that he recognized the clothes as being those usually worn by the mysterious foreigner who used to haunt the woods and park of Acol all last summer.

Hymn-of-Praise had his full meed of pleasure that evening, and the next day, too, for Sir Marmaduke seemed never tired of hearing him recount all the gossip which obtained at Acol and at St. Nicholas: the surmises as to the motive of the horrible crime, the talk about the stranger and his doings, the resentment caused by his weird demise, and the conjectures as to what could have led a miscreant to do away with so insignificant a personage.

All that day—the second since the crime—Sir Marmaduke still lingered in Thanet. Prudence whispered urgent counsels that he should go, and yet he stayed, watching the progress of events with that same morbid and tenacious curiosity.

And now it was the thought of what folk would say when they heard that Adam Lambert had disappeared, and was, of a truth, not returning home, which kept Sir Marmaduke still lingering in England.

That and the inexplicable enigma which ever confronts the searcher of human motives: the overwhelming desire of the murderer to look once again upon his victim.

Master Busy had on that second morning brought home the news from Acol, that Squire Boatfield had caused a rough deal coffin to be made by the village carpenter at the expense of the county, and that mayhap the stranger would be laid therein this very afternoon and conveyed down to Minster, where he would be accorded Christian burial.

Then Sir Marmaduke realized that it would be impossible for him to leave England until after he had gazed once more on the dead body of the smith.

After that he would go. He would shake the sand of Thanet from his heels forever.

When he had learned all that he wished to know he would be free from the present feeling of terrible obsession which paralyzed his movements to the extent of endangering his own safely.

He was bound to look upon his victim once again: an inexplicable and titanic force compelled him to that. Mayhap, that same force would enable him to keep his nerves under control when, presently, he should be face to face with the dead.

Face to face? ... Good God! ...

Yet neither fear nor remorse haunted him. It was only curosity, and, at one thought, a nameless horror! ... Not at the thought of murder ... there he had no compunction, but at that of the terrible deed which from instinct of self-protection had perforce to succeed the graver crime.

The weight of those chalk boulders seemed still to weigh against the muscles of his back. He felt that Sisyphus-like he was forever rolling, rolling a gigantic stone which, failing of its purpose—recoiled on him, rolling back down a precipitous incline, and crushing him beneath its weight ... only to release him again ... to leave him free to endure the same torture over and over again ... and yet again ... forever the same weight ... forever the self-same, intolerable agony....



CHAPTER XXXV

THE SMITH'S FORGE

Up to the hour of his departure from Acol Court, Sir Marmaduke had been convinced that neither his sister-in-law nor Lady Sue had heard of the news which had set the whole of Thanet in commotion. Acol Court lies very isolated, well off the main Canterbury Road, and just for two days and a half Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy had contrived to hold his tongue.

Most of the village gossips, too, met at the local public bars, and had had up to now no time to wander as far as the Court, nor any reason to do so, seeing that Master Busy was always to be found at Prospect Inn and always ready to discuss the mystery in all its bearings, with anyone who would share a pint of ale with him.

Sir Marmaduke had taken jealous care only to meet the ladies at meal-time, and under penalty of immediate dismissal had forbidden Hymn-of-Praise to speak to the serving-wench of the all-absorbing topic.

So far Master Busy had obeyed, but at the last moment, just before starting for Acol village, Sir Marmaduke had caught sight of Mistress Charity talking to the stableman in the yard. Something in the wench's eyes told him—with absolute certainty that she had just heard of the murder.

That morbid and tenacious curiosity once more got hold of him. He would have given all he possessed at this moment—the entire fruits of his crime perhaps—to know what that ignorant girl thought of it all, and it caused him acute, almost physical pain, to refrain from questioning her.

There was enough of the sense of self-protection in him, however, to check himself from betraying such extraordinary interest in the matter: but he turned on his heel and went quickly back to the house. He wanted to catch sight of Editha's face, if only for a moment; he wanted to see for himself, then and there, if she had also heard the news.

As he entered the hall, she was coming down the stairs. She had on her cloak and hood as if preparing to go out. Their eyes met and he saw that she knew.

Knew what? He broke into a loud and fierce laugh as he met her wildly questioning gaze. There was a look almost of madness in the hopeless puzzlement of her expression.

Of course Editha must be hopelessly puzzled. The very thought of her vague conjecturings had caused him to laugh as maniacs laugh at times.

The mysterious French prince had been found on the sands murdered and mutilated.... But then ...

Still laughing, Sir Marmaduke once more turned, running away from the house now and never pausing until his foot had touched the stirrup and his fingers were entangled in the damp mane of the mare. Even whilst he settled himself into the saddle as comfortably as he could, the grim humor of Editha's bewilderment caused him to laugh, within himself.

The nag stepped slowly along in the mud at first, then broke into a short trot. The two serving-men had started on ahead with their lanterns; they would, of course, be walking all the way.

The icy rain mingled with tiny flakes of snow was insufferably cutting and paralyzing: yet Sir Marmaduke scarcely heeded it, until the mare became unpleasantly uncertain in her gait. Once she stumbled and nearly pitched her rider forward into the mud: whereupon, lashing into her, he paid more heed to her doings.

Once just past the crossroad toward St. Nicholas, he all but turned his horse's head back towards Acol Court. It seemed as if he must find out now at once whether Editha had spoken to Lady Sue and what the young girl had done and said when she heard, in effect, that her husband had been murdered.

Nothing but the fear of missing the last look at the body of Adam Lambert ere the lid of the coffin was nailed down stopped him from returning homewards.

Anon he came upon Busy and Toogood painfully trudging in the mire, and singing lustily to keep themselves cheerful and warm.

Sir Marmaduke drew the mare in, so as to keep pace with his men. On the whole, the road had been more lonely than he liked and he was glad of company.

Outside the Lamberts' cottage a small crowd had collected. From the crest of the hill the tiny bell of Acol church struck the hour of two.

Squire Boatfield had ridden over from Sarre, and Sir Marmaduke—as he dismounted—caught sight of the heels and crupper of the squire's well-known cob. The little crowd had gathered in the immediate neighborhood of the forge, and de Chavasse, from where he now stood, could not see the entrance of the lean-to, only the blank side wall of the shed, and the front of the Lamberts' cottage, the doors and windows of which were hermetically closed.

Up against the angle formed by the wall of the forge and that of the cottage, the enterprising landlord of the local inn had erected a small trestle table, from behind which he was dispensing spiced ale, and bottled Spanish wines.

Squire Boatfield was standing beside that improvised bar, and at sight of Sir Marmaduke he put down the pewter mug which he was in the act of conveying to his lips, and came forward to greet his friend.

"What is the pother about this foreigner, eh, Boatfield?" queried de Chavasse with gruff good-nature as he shook hands with the squire and allowed himself to be led towards that tempting array of bottles and mugs on the trestle table.

The yokels who were assembled at the entrance of the forge turned to gaze with some curiosity at the squire of Acol. De Chavasse was not often seen even in this village: he seldom went beyond the boundary of his own park.

All the men touched their forelocks with deferential respect. Master Jeremy Mounce humbly whispered a query as to what His Honor would condescend to take.

Sir Marmaduke desired a mug of buttered ale or of lamb's wool, which Master Mounce soon held ready for him. He emptied the mug at one draught. The spiced liquor went coursing through his body, and he felt better and more sure of himself. He desired a second mug.

"With more substance in it, Master Landlord," he said pleasantly. "Nay, man! ye are not giving milk to children, but something warm to cheer a man's inside."

"I have a half bottle of brandy here, good Sir Marmaduke," suggested Master Mounce with some diffidence, for brandy was an over-expensive commodity which not many Kentish squires cared to afford.

"Brandy, of course, good master!" quoth de Chavasse lustily, "brandy is the nectar of the gods. Here!" he added, drawing a piece of gold from a tiny pocket concealed in the lining of his doublet, "will this pay for thy half-bottle of nectar."

"Over well, good Sir Marmaduke," said Master Mounce, as he stooped to the ground. From underneath the table he now drew forth a glass and a bottle: the latter he uncorked with slow and deliberate care, and then filled the glass with its contents, whilst Sir Marmaduke watched him with impatient eyes.

"Will you join me, squire?" asked de Chavasse, as he lifted the small tumbler and gazed with marked appreciation at the glistening and transparent liquid.

"Nay, thanks," replied Boatfield with a laugh, "I care naught for these foreign decoctions. Another mug, or even two, of buttered ale, good landlord," he added, turning to Master Mounce.

In the meanwhile petty constable Pyot had stood respectfully at attention ready to relate for the hundredth time, mayhap, all that he knew and all that he meant to know about the mysterious crime.

Sir Marmaduke would of a surety ask many questions, for it was passing strange that he had taken but little outward interest in the matter up to now.

"Well, Pyot," he now said, beckoning to the man to approach, "tell us what you know. By Gad, 'tis not often we indulge in a genuine murder in Thanet! Where was it done? Not on my land, I hope."

"The watches found the body on the beach, your Honor," replied Pyot, "the head was mutilated past all recognition ... the heavy chalk boulders, your Honor ... and a determined maniac methinks, sir, who wanted revenge against a personal enemy.... Else how to account for such a brutal act? ..."

"I suppose," quoth Sir Marmaduke lightly, as he sipped the brandy, "that the identity of the man has been quite absolutely determined."

"Aye! aye! your Honor," rejoined Pyot gravely, "the opinion of all those who have seen the body is that it is that of a foreigner ... Prince of Orleans he called himself, who has been lodging these past months at this place here!"

And the petty constable gave a quick nod in the direction of the cottage.

"Ah! I know but little about him," now said Sir Marmaduke, turning to speak to Squire Boatfield, "although he lived here, on what is my own property, and haunted my park, too ... so I've been told. There was a good deal of talk about him among the wenches in the village."

"Aye! I had heard all about that prince," said Squire Boatfield meditatively, "lodging in this cottage ... 'twas passing strange."

"He was a curious sort of man, your Honor," here interposed Pyot. "We got what information about him we could, seeing that the smith is from home, and that Mistress Lambert, his aunt, I think, is hard of hearing, and gave us many crooked answers. But she told us that the stranger paid for his lodging regularly, and would arrive at the cottage unawares of an evening and stay part of the night ... then he would go off again at cock-crow, and depart she knew not whither."

The man paused in his narrative. Something apparently had caused Sir Marmaduke to turn giddy.

He tugged at his neckbands and his hand fell heavily against the trestle-table.

"Nay! 'tis nothing," he said with a harsh laugh as Master Mounce with an ejaculation of deep concern ran round to him with a chair, whilst Squire Boatfield quickly put out an arm as if he were afraid that his friend would fall. "'Tis nothing," he repeated, "the tramp in the cold, then this heady draught.... I am well I assure you."

He drank half a glass of brandy at a draught, and now the hand which replaced the glass upon the table had not the slightest tremor in it.

"'Tis all vastly interesting," he remarked lightly. "Have you seen the body, Boatfield?"

"Aye! aye!" quoth the squire, speaking with obvious reluctance, for he hated this gruesome subject. "'Tis no pleasant sight. And were I in your shoes, de Chavasse, I would not go in there," and he nodded significantly towards the forge.

"Nay! 'tis my duty as a magistrate," said Sir Marmaduke airily.

He had to steady himself against the table again for a moment or two, ere he turned his back on the hospitable board, and started to walk round towards the forge: no doubt the shaking of his knees was attributable to the strong liquor which he had consumed.

The little crowd parted and dispersed at his approach. The lean-to wherein Adam Lambert was wont to do his work consisted of four walls, one of which was that of the cottage, whilst the other immediately facing it, had a wide opening which formed the only entrance to the shed. A man standing in that entrance would have the furnace on his left: and now in addition to that furnace also the three elm chairs, whereon rested a rough deal case, without a lid, but partly covered with a sheet.

To anyone coming from the outside, this angle of the forge would always seem weird and even mysterious even when the furnace was blazing and the sparks flying from the anvil, beneath the smith's powerful blows, or when—as at present—the fires were extinguished and this part of the shed, innocent of windows, was in absolute darkness.

Sir Marmaduke paused a moment under the lintel which dominated the broad entrance. His eyes had some difficulty in penetrating the density which seemed drawn across the place on his left like some ink-smeared and opaque curtain.

The men assembled outside, watched him from a distance with silent respect. In these days the fact of a gentleman drinking more liquor than was good for him was certes not to his discredit.

The fact that Sir Marmaduke seemed to sway visibly on his legs, as he thus stood for a moment outlined against the dark interior beyond, roused no astonishment in the minds of those who saw him.

Presently he turned deliberately to his left and the next moment his figure was merged in the gloom.

Round the angle of the wall Squire Boatfield was still standing, sipping buttered ale.

Less than two minutes later, Sir Marmaduke reappeared in the doorway. His face was a curious color, and there were beads of perspiration on his forehead, and as he came forward he would have fallen, had not one of the men stepped quickly up to him and offered a steadying arm. But there was nothing strange in that.

The sight of that which lay in Adam Lambert's forge had unmanned a good many ere this.

"I am inclined to believe, my good Boatfield," quoth Sir Marmaduke, as he went back to the trestle-table, and poured himself out another half-glass full of brandy, "I am inclined to believe that when you advised me not to go in there, you spoke words of wisdom which I had done well to follow."



CHAPTER XXXVI

THE GIRL-WIFE

But the effort of the past few moments had been almost more than Marmaduke de Chavasse could bear.

Anon when the church bell over at Acol began a slow and monotonous toll he felt as if his every nerve must give way: as if he must laugh, laugh loudly and long at the idiocy, the ignorance of all these people who thought that they were confronted by an impenetrable mystery, whereas it was all so simple ... so very, very simple.

He had a curious feeling as if he must grip every one of these men here by the throat and demand from each one separately an account of what he thought and felt, what he surmised and what he guessed when standing face to face with the weird enigma presented by that mutilated thing in its rough deal case. He would have given worlds to know what his friend Boatfield thought of it all, or what had been the petty constable's conjectures.

A haunting and devilish desire seized him to break open the skulls of all these yokels and to look into their brains. Above all now the silence of the cottage close to him had become unendurable torment. That closed door, the tiny railing which surrounded the bit of front garden, that little gate the latch of which he himself so oft had lifted, all seemed to hold the key to some terrible mystery, the answer to some fearful riddle which he felt would drive him mad if he could not hit upon it now at once.

The brandy had fired his veins: he no longer felt numb with the cold. A passion of rage was seething in him, and he longed to attack with fists and heels those curtained windows which now looked like eyes turned mutely and inquiringly upon him.

But there was enough sanity in him yet to prevent his doing anything rash: an uncontrolled act might cause astonishment, suspicion mayhap, in the minds of those who witnessed it. He made a violent effort to steady himself even now, above all to steady his voice and to veil that excited glitter which he knew must be apparent in his eyes.

"Meseems that 'tis somewhat strange," he said quite calmly, even lightly, to Squire Boatfield who seemed to be preparing to go, "that these people—the Lamberts—who alone knew the ... the murdered man intimately, should keep so persistently, so determinedly out of the way."

Even while the words escaped his mouth—certes involuntarily—he knew that the most elementary prudence should have dictated silence on this score, and at this juncture. The man was about to be buried, the disappearance of the smith had passed off so far without comment. Peace, the eternal peace of the grave, would soon descend on the weird events which occupied everyone's mind for the present.

What the old Quakeress thought and felt, what Richard—the brother—feared and conjectured was easy for Sir Marmaduke to guess: for him, but for no one else. To these others the silence of the cottage, the absence of the Lamberts from this gathering was simple enough of explanation, seeing that they themselves felt such bitter resentment against the dead man. They quite felt with the old woman's sullenness, her hatred of the foreigner who had disturbed the serenity of her life.

Everyone else was willing to let her be, not to drag her and young Lambert into the unpleasant vortex of these proceedings. Their home was an abode of mourning: it was proper and seemly for them to remain concealed and silent within their cottage; seemly, too, to have curtained their windows and closed their doors.

No one wished to disturb them; no one but Sir Marmaduke, and with him it was once again that morbid access of curiosity, the passionate, intense desire to know and to probe every tiny detail in connection with his own crime.

"The old woman Lambert should be made to identify the body, before it is buried," he now repeated with angry emphasis, seeing that a look of disapproval had crossed Squire Boatfield's pleasant face.

"We are satisfied as to the man's identity," rejoined the squire impatiently, "and the sight is not fit for women's eyes."

"Nay, then she should be shown the clothes and effects.... And, if I mistake not, there's Richard Lambert, my late secretary, has he laid sworn information about the man?"

"Yes, I believe so," said Boatfield with some hesitation.

"Nay, Boatfield, an you are so reluctant to do your duty in this matter, I'll speak to these people myself.... You are chief constable of the district ... indeed, 'tis you should do it ... and in the meanwhile I pray you, at least to give orders that the coffin be not nailed down."

The kindly squire would have entered a further protest. He did not see the necessity of confronting an old woman with the gruesome sight of a mutilated corpse, nor did he perceive justifiable cause for further formalities of identification.

But Sir Marmaduke having spoken very peremptorily, had already turned on his heel without waiting for his friend's protest, and was striding across the patch of rough stubble, which bordered the railing round the front of the cottage. Squire Boatfield reluctantly followed him. The next moment de Chavasse had lifted the latch of the gate, crossed the short flagged path and now knocked loudly against the front door.

Apparently there was no desire for secrecy or rebellion on the part of the dwellers of the cottage, for hardly had Sir Marmaduke's imperious knock echoed against the timbered walls, than the door was opened from within by Richard Lambert who, seeing the two gentlemen standing on the threshold, stepped back immediately, allowing them to pass.

The old Quakeress and Richard were seemingly not alone. Two ladies sat in those same straight-backed chairs, wherein, some fifty hours ago Adam Lambert and the French prince had agreed upon that fateful meeting on the brow of the cliff.

Sir Marmaduke's restless eyes took in at a glance every detail of that little parlor, which he had known so intimately. The low lintel of the door, which had always forced him to stoop as he entered, the central table with the pewter candlesticks upon it, the elm chairs shining like mirrors in response to the Quakeress' maddening passion for cleanliness.

Everything was just as it had been those few hours ago, when last he had picked up his broad-brimmed hat from the table and walked out of the cottage into the night. Everything was the same as it had been when his young girl-wife pushed a leather wallet across the table to him: the wallet which contained the fortune that he had not yet dared to turn fully to his own account.

Aye! it was all just the same: for even at this moment as he stood there in the room, Sue, pale and still, faced him from across the table. For a moment he was silent, nor did anybody speak. Squire Boatfield felt unaccountably embarrassed, certain that he was intruding, vaguely wondering why the atmosphere in the cottage was so heavy and oppressive.

Behind him, Richard Lambert had quietly closed the front door; the old woman stood in the background; the dusting-cloth which she had been plying so vigorously had dropped out of her hand when the two gentlemen had appeared in her little parlor so unexpectedly.

Sir Marmaduke was the first to break the silence.

"My dear Sue," he said curtly, "this is a strange place indeed wherein to find your ladyship."

He cast a sharp, inquiring glance at her, then at his sister-in-law, who was still sitting by the hearth.

"She insisted on coming," said Mistress de Chavasse with a shrug of the shoulders, "and I had not the power to stop her; I thought it best, therefore, to accompany her."

She was wearing the cloak and hood which Sir Marmaduke had seen round her shoulders when awhile ago he had met her in the hall of the Court. Apparently she had started out with Sue in his immediate wake, and now he had a distinct recollection that while the mare was slowly ambling along, he had looked back once or twice and seen two dark figures walking some fifty yards behind him on the road which he himself had just traversed.

At the moment he had imagined that they were some village folk, wending their way towards Acol: now he was conscious of nerve-racking irritation at the thought that if he had only turned the mare's head back toward the Court—as he had at one time intended to do—he could have averted this present meeting—it almost seemed like a confrontation—here, in this cottage on the self-same spot, where thought of murder had first struck upon his brain.

There was something inexplicable, strangely puzzling now in Sue's attitude.

When de Chavasse had entered, she had risen from her chair and, as if deliberately, had walked over to the spot where she had stood during that momentous interview, when she relinquished her fortune entirely and without protest, into the hands of the man whom she had married, and whom she believed to be her lord.

Her gaze now—calm and fixed, and withal vaguely searching—rested on her guardian's face. The fixity of her look increased his nerve-tension. The others, too, were regarding him with varying feelings which were freely expressed in their eyes. Boatfield seemed upset and somewhat resentful, the old woman sullen, despite the deference in her attitude, Lambert defiant, wrathful, nay! full of an incipient desire to avenge past wrongs.

And dominating all, there was Editha's look of bewilderment, of puzzledom in her face at a mystery whereat her senses were beginning to reel, that mute questioning of the eyes, which speaks of turbulent thoughts within.

Sir Marmaduke uttered an exclamation of impatience.

"You must return to the Court and at once," he said, avoiding Sue's gaze and speaking directly to Editha, "the men are outside, with lanterns. You'll have to walk quickly an you wish to reach home before twilight."

But even while he spoke, Sue—not heeding him—had turned to Squire Boatfield. She went up to him, holding out her hands as if in instinctive childlike appeal for protection, to a kindly man.

"This mystery is horrible!" she murmured.

Boatfield took her small hands in his, patting them gently the while, desiring to soothe and comfort her, for she seemed deeply agitated and there was a wild look of fear from time to time in her pale face.

"Sir Marmaduke is right," said the squire gently, "this is indeed no place for your ladyship. I did not see you arrive or I had at once persuaded you to go."

De Chavasse would again have interposed. He stooped and picked up Sue's cloak which had fallen to the ground, and as he went up to her with the obvious intention of replacing it around her shoulders, she checked him, with a slight motion of her hand.

"I only heard of this terrible crime an hour ago," she said, speaking once more to Boatfield, "and as I methinks, am the only person in the world who can throw light upon this awesome mystery, I thought it my duty to come."

"Of a truth 'twas brave of your ladyship," quoth the squire, feeling a little bewildered at this strange announcement, "but surely ... you did not know this man?"

"If the rumor which hath reached me be correct," she replied quietly, "then indeed did I know the murdered man intimately. Prince Amede d'Orleans was my husband."



CHAPTER XXXVII

THE OLD WOMAN

There was silence in the tiny cottage parlor as the young girl made this extraordinary announcement in a firm if toneless voice, without flinching and meeting with a sort of stubborn pride the five pairs of eyes which were now riveted upon her.

From outside came the hum of many voices, dull and subdued, like the buzzing of a swarm of bees, and against the small window panes the incessant patter of icy rain driven and lashed by the gale. Anon the wind moaned in the wide chimney, ... it seemed like the loud sigh of the Fates, satisfied at the tangle wrought by their relentless fingers in the threads of all these lives.

Sir Marmaduke, after a slight pause, had contrived to utter an oath—indicative of the wrath he, as Lady Sue's guardian, should have felt at her statement. Squire Boatfield frowned at the oath. He had never liked de Chavasse and disapproved more than ever of the man's attitude towards his womenkind now.

The girl was in obvious, terrible distress: what she was feeling at this moment when she was taking those around her into her confidence could be as nothing compared to what she must have endured when she first heard the news that her strange bridegroom had been murdered.

The kindly squire, though admitting the guardian's wrath, thought that its violent expression was certainly ill-timed. He allowed Sue to recover herself, for the more calm was her attitude outwardly, the more terrible must be the effort which she was making at self-control.

Sue's eyes were fixed steadily upon her guardian, and Richard Lambert's upon her. Both these young people who had carved their own Fate in the very rock which now had shattered their lives, seemed to be searching for something vague, unavowed and mysterious which instinct told them was there, but which was so elusive, so intangible that the soul of each recoiled, even whilst it tried to probe.

Entirely against her will Sue—whilst she looked on her guardian—could think of nothing save of that day in Dover, the lonely church, the gloomy vestry, and that weird patter of the rain against the window panes.

She was not ashamed of what she had done, only of what she had felt for him, whom she now believed to be dead; that she gave him her fortune was nothing, she neither regretted nor cared about that. What, in the mind of a young and romantic girl, was the value of a fortune squandered, when that priceless treasure—her first love—had already been thrown away? But now she would no longer judge the dead. The money which he had filched from her, Fate and a murderous hand had quickly taken back from him, crushing beneath those chalk boulders his many desires, his vast ambitions, a worthless life and incomparable greed.

Her love, which he had stolen ... that he could not give back: not that ardent, whole-souled, enthusiastic love; not the romantic idealism, the hero-worship, that veil of fantasy behind which first love is wont to hide its ephemerality. But she would not now judge the dead. Her romantic love lay buried in the lonely church at Dover, and she was striving not to think even of its grave.

Squire Boatfield's kindly voice recalled her to her immediate surroundings and to the duty—self-imposed—which had brought her thither.

"My dear child," he said, speaking with unwonted solemnity, "if what you have just stated be, alas! the truth, then indeed, you and you only can throw some light on the terrible mystery which has been puzzling us all ... you may be the means which God hath chosen for bringing an evildoer to justice.... Will you, therefore, try ... though it may be very painful to you ... will you try and tell us everything that is in your mind ... everything which may draw the finger of God and our poor eyes to the miscreant who hath committed such an awful crime."

"I fear me I have not much to tell," replied Sue simply, "but I feel that it is my duty to suggest to the two magistrates here present what I think was the motive which prompted this horrible crime."

"You can suggest a motive for the crime?" interposed Sir Marmaduke, striving to sneer, although his voice sounded quite toneless, for his throat was parched and his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth, "by Gad! 'twere vastly interesting to hear your ladyship's views."

He tried to speak flippantly, at which Squire Boatfield frowned deprecation. Lambert, without a word, had brought a chair near to Lady Sue, and with a certain gentle authority, he forced her to sit down.

"It was a crime, of that I feel sure," said Sue, "nathless, that can be easily proven ... when ... when it has been discovered whether money and securities contained in a wallet of leather have been found among Prince Amede's effects."

"Money and securities?" ejaculated Sir Marmaduke with a loud oath, which he contrived to bring forth with the violence of genuine wrath, "Money and securities? ... Forsooth, I trust ..."

"My money and my securities, sir," she interposed with obvious hauteur, "which I had last night and in this self-same room placed in the hands of Prince Amede d'Orleans, my husband."

She said this with conscious pride. Whatever change her feelings may have undergone towards the man who had at one time been the embodiment of her most cherished dreams, she would not let her sneering guardian see that she had repented of her choice.

Death had endowed her exiled prince with a dignity which had never been his in life, and the veil of tragedy which now lay over the mysterious stranger and his still more mysterious life, had called forth to its uttermost the young wife's sense of loyalty to him.

"Not your entire fortune, my dear, dear child, I hope ..." ejaculated Squire Boatfield, more horror-struck this time than he had been when first he had heard of the terrible murder.

"The wallet contained my entire fortune," rejoined Sue calmly, "all that Master Skyffington had placed in my hands on the day that my father willed that it should be given me."

"Such folly is nothing short of criminal," said Sir Marmaduke roughly, "nathless, had not the gentleman been murdered that night he would have shown Thanet and you a clean pair of heels, taking your money with him, of course."

"Aye! aye! but he was murdered," said Squire Boatfield firmly, "the question only is by whom?"

"Some footpad who haunts the cliffs," rejoined de Chavasse lightly, "'tis simple enough."

"Simple, mayhap ..." mused the squire, "yet ..."

He paused a moment and once more silence fell on all those assembled in the small cottage parlor. Sir Marmaduke felt as if every vein in his body was gradually being turned to stone.

The sense of expectancy was so overwhelming that it completely paralyzed every other faculty within him, and Editha's searching eyes seemed like a corroding acid touching an aching wound. Yet for the moment there was no danger. He had so surrounded himself and his crimes with mystery that it would take more than a country squire's slowly moving brain to draw aside that weird and ghostlike curtain which hid his evil deeds.

No! there was no danger—as yet!

But he cursed himself for a fool and a coward, not to have gone away—abroad—long ere such a possible confrontation threatened him. He cursed himself for being here at all—and above all for having left the smith's clothes and the leather wallet in that lonely pavilion in the park.

Squire Boatfield's kind eyes now rested on the old woman, who, awed and silent—shut out by her infirmities from this strange drama which was being enacted in her cottage—had stood calm and impassive by, trying to read with that wonderful quickness of intuition which the poverty of one sense gives to the others—what was going on round her, since she could not hear.

Her eyes—pale and dim, heavy-lidded and deeply-lined—rested often on the face of Richard Lambert, who, leaning against the corner of the hearth, had watched the proceedings silently and intently. When the Quakeress's faded gaze met that of the young man, there was a quick and anxious look which passed from her to him: a look of entreaty for comfort, one of fear and of growing horror.

"And so the exiled prince lodged in your cottage, mistress?" said Squire Boatfield, after a while, turning to Mistress Lambert.

The old woman's eyes wandered from Richard to the squire. The look of fear in them vanished, giving place to good-natured placidity. She shuffled forward, in the manner which had so oft irritated her lodger.

"Eh? ... what?" she queried, approaching the squire, "I am somewhat hard of hearing these times."

"We were speaking of your lodger, mistress," rejoined Boatfield, raising his voice, "harm hath come to him, you know."

"Aye! aye!" she replied blandly, "harm hath come to our lodger.... Nay! the Lord hath willed it so.... The stranger was queer in his ways.... I don't wonder that harm hath come to him...."

"You remember him well, mistress?—him and the clothes he used to wear?" asked Squire Boatfield.

"Oh, yes! I remember the clothes," she rejoined. "I saw them again on the dead who now lieth in Adam's forge ... the same curious clothes of a truth ... clothes the Lord would condemn as wantonness and vanity.... I saw them again on the dead man," she reiterated garrulously, "the frills and furbelows ... things the Lord hateth ... and which no Christian should place upon his person ... yet the foreigner wore them ... he had none other ... and went out with them on him that night that the Lord sent him down into perdition...."

"Did you see him go out that night, mistress?" asked the squire.

"Eh? ... what? ..."

"Did he go out alone?"

The dimmed eyes of the old woman roamed restlessly from face to face. It seemed as if that look of horror and of fear once more struggled to appear within the pale orbs. Yet the squire looked on her with kindness, and Lady Sue's tear-veiled eyes expressed boundless sympathy. Richard, on the other hand, did not look at her, his gaze was riveted on Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse with an intensity which caused the latter to meet that look, trying to defy it, and then to flinch before its expression of passionate wrath.

"We wish to know where your nephew Adam is, mistress," now broke in de Chavasse roughly, "the squire and I would wish to ask him a few questions."

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