|Chapter Number||I. II.|
|Chapter Title||DEATH. UNCERTAINTY.|
|Newspaper Title||The Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||The Devil's Own. An Australian Story|
THE DEVIL'S OWN.
CHAPTER I. DEATH.
"For man goeth to his long home, and the mourners go about the streets." " Oh, Hubert, Hubert—my son, my son— come back to me, come back to me! Why
did you leave me? Why have you forsaken me? God forgive me! I never meant to be hard— only to caution him. But I must have been hard—and, poor follow, he was always so sensitive. Ah, if he were only here again. Perhaps I shall get a letter this Christmas, or he may be coming home. He was so thoughtful, and he will know I am so lonely, so lonely. God bless him, poor, poor fellow ! —out in that far-away country, all alone. God forgive me, I was cruel !” The voice of anguish, the voice ' of tears,' spoken in grief and despair, were the words of Sir Lancelot Armytage, of the Towers, as he closed his Bible before retiring to rest, leaning on his hand in deep thought, whilst great tears trickled slowly down on to the book, emblems of the heart breakings of the old baronet. He rose, walked to the window, and looked out upon the night—thinking, thinking, thinking of his first-born, his favorite, his brave eldest son, who had fallen fighting gallantly at Inkerman; of his youngest, who had been killed on the hunt- ing-field in the zenith of a bright young life; then back to his second son, to whom he had not been so loving. It seemed a curse for his neglect and hasty words—for Hubert had left him for a foolish reason as the old man argued with tears in his eyes, as he looked out on the night, with its fast falling snow—crystal landscape; the silvery moon streaming bril- liantly in strong relief, as if to rebuke the silent watcher—the old church spire and the white tombs of the churchyard where he had laid his young wife long years ago. “Too sad, too sad,” he whispered as he mournfully turned away from the solemn scene—with its painful memories—returned to the fireside and opened his bible once more, as if for consolation—read a little— then closing the book; with a long weary sigh he remained buried in thought for a while. All was still save the monotonous ticking of the timepiece or the falling snow and then of a few ashes of the. dying embers—symbol of the dying out of a bright and once happy life. A sharp report, a heavy fall on the car- peted floor, and then silence reigned again, but only for a short time. A scuffling of feet. A hurrying to and fro. The first to appear was Mrs. Mathews (trem- blingly opening the door), the old housekeeper who, with her young niece; had of late al- ways occupied a small room near the baronet’s—since the day he had brought his beautiful bride home to the Tower's. For a moment the old housekeeper was too horrified to take in the scene as it really was. Aghast at the sight of her dear old master lying dead on the floor of his room, his glazed eyes and pallid face upturned, and blood trickling from beneath his head. Shaking with terror, she summoned up courage to stagger to the Tower bell and with unnatural energy pull the cord. Soon a shuddering company of servants were on the spot, headed by Benson, the faithful greyheaded butler, and Sir Lancelot's valet Wilkins. “God help us. Poor Sir Lancelot !" moaned Benson, stooping down and lifting the vener- able head gently on to a pillow. “ Better send at once for Dr. Merton, but poor gentleman ! poor gentleman ! he is past that” said the housekeeper, great tears dropping to the car- pet, as she knelt, looking sorrowfully on the recumbent figure—the face, pale with its death shadows, kind gentle looking, as if death had been too sudden, for him to feel the cruelty and agony of it. “I cannot bear to see him there” said the butler to the housekeeper,and together they lift the old baronet gently on to the bed—so gently as a mother lays her first born to sleep. No one speaks. There is a solemn hush, so panic stricken are the assembled servants. Outside the snow is still falling fast and the moon is clear and bright over the pure white valley. The fire in the room has quite gone out, as if in sympathy with the life that hits just fled. Suddenly a look of horror sweeps over some of the faces as Mrs. Mathews stares with her eyes dilated at some object (under the table) unnoticed until now. She stoops forward and picks up a silver mounted pistol —they all know so well. “The captain’s pistol; as I’m a living man," says Wilkins in ghostly tones. Hush! hold your tongue you fool,” said Benson, in an angry voice. All is silent again—carriage wheels are heard as if in the distance.'' In reality they are quite near but the snow has deadened the sound. The great Tower bell had pealed out its solemn note of warning, and the first to hear it and arrive on the scene is the vicar with Dr. Merton, thinking at first that a fire might be burning the old castle; but soon fearing worse as they notice that all is quiet. They are quickly upstairs and in Sir Lance- lot’s room, struck with horror at the sight that presents itself. “Good God !" exclaims the doctor shudder- ing, “a cold blooded murder !” Could an one enter the house?” (to the butler). “No Sir, every room and door was locked at ten o’clock, when the master generally re- tired, but I’ll make sure and have a look around." “Stay”—then quickly examining the wound at the back of the head. "Give this note to to my man to deliver at once, and then take ths telegram to the station; it is for detec- tives—the neighborhood must be watched, and Dr. Merton scribbled off hastily in pencil two notes for Benson to give to the servant be- low. “ You can all retire to your rooms; nothing more can be done. We may want you Mrs. Mathews, and perhaps Mrs Sutton (to the cook) will wait a little with you in your room until I send for you. Don’t disturb your niece, she is not strong—you say she is asleep—then don’t wake her ; there is no oc- casion to alarm her ; it can do no good—it might do harm." The door closed,—the vicar and doctor were left alone with the dead. "The brute must have fired from behind," said the doctor, sponging away the blood gently from the soft white hair. No answer. “ What could be the scoundrel's motive?" No answer. “Look here, old man, this won’t do at all, I can’t afford to lose two old friends in one night—your nerves have had a shock. No wonder, I must look after you.” But the vicar heard not. His face livid as to death with intense feeling, his eyes fixed with dilated horror as he sat staring at the pistol on the mantelpiece—as yet unnoticed by his companion. Dr. Merton went to the medicine chest he had himself fitted up, and year after year re- plenished and fixed a draught for the vicar, who seemed powerless to move or speak. The doctor then noticed the pistol for the first time, now knew exactly what was passing in the vicar’s mind. What could it mean? Never that! Surely not that, perish the thought, but there’s a mystery. “ God grant we may unravel it” said the doctor to himself, as he anxiously awaited the better man of science he had telegraped to London for to assist in his examination, and discovery of the deadly bullet that had entered his beloved old friend’s brain, causing instantaneous death. The London doctor was soon on the spot— sooner than could have been supposed—but Dr Behrens was an old and valued friend of the baronet’s, and strange to say, that very night he had been thinking of him, and had re- solved to run down and see how his old friend, Sir Lancelot, was bearing the cold, and his solitary, childless life; the kind medico in his heart of hearts, pitying with loving pity the baronet with his past life of many sor- rows—many troubles—up much, so indeed, that he had almost made up his mind to go down the very hour all had so cruelly hap- pened. But, l’homme propose et Dieu dis- pose, for just as he was about to give orders for the carriage, the worthy man was sent for most urgently to attend an old and favorite friend in the neighborhood. Is there such a thing as spiritualism or natural affinity, or animal electricity? Cer- tainly many curious things happen in every day life to make us doubt. Our belief in the very old adage itself: "Talk of a person and they will be sure to appear," is considered so true and it so often happens, that it leads one to a train of thought as to what can be the rea- son of these coincidences, if, indeed, reason there be, and we cannot help thinking that there must be something in it for the belief in spiritualism, thought reading and other supernatural phenomena is spreading. We are not expected to be gulled by the old fashioned ghost of a scooped out turnip, with two tallow candles alight in it, stuck on a while sheeted pole—nor do we quite believe in our solid dining room table walking up- stairs of itself—there is already too much imposition, and legerdemain in most of the demonstrations of mesmerism and spiritual- ism, and a good deal of harm has been done to weak-minded, feeble brained women, given to superstition of all kinds, but at the same
time when clever and scientific men take up the theory and argue the question of the existence of the embodiment spirits, and the earthly visitation of spirits who have passed or passing away, people, are too glad to have something to argue about as a rule, backed by evidence on the subject, it goes far in shaking our faith in the dis- belief of any such mysterious hallucinations of the brain—as some aver it to be. CHAPTER II. UNCERTAINTY. “Foul deeds will rise. Though all the earth oe’rwhelm them to men's eyes, For murder though it hath no tongue will speak. With most miraculous organ." Shakespeare, The day following Lancelot Armytage’s death an inquest was held. A highly respect- able jury was empannelled, mostly tenants of the late baronet. After a short but touching address from the coroner, the following witnesses were called —Archibald Merton, F. R. L. S., the clever but plain speaking surgeon of the district de- posed:—"I am a duly qualified sturgeon. I nave attended Sir Lancelot Armytage's family and household for some years. On Thursday night last about half past eleven, I had re- turned from visiting a patient some miles away— had sent my horse and trap round to the stable, and was going upstairs to bed when my housekeeper called my attention to the Tower’s bell ringing loudly. I immediately hurried round to the stable to save time—had my horse put in again and with my man started at full speed thinking it might be a fire. Saw people coming out of their houses. I met the Rector walking towards the castle, picked him up, and drove on quickly, reaching the place in a few minutes. “l met one of the grooms coming out of the house with a message for me; he stated that “it was feared the master had been mur- dered.’’ Told the groom to wait with my man as I should want them both. We hurried up- stairs to the south wing rooms where we found the deceased lying on the bed. Mrs. Mathews and Benson, as they told me having lifted him from off the floor. Life was quite extinct, and the body almost cold, but it was a very cold night and the fire in Sir Lancelot’s room had gone out. l at once telegraphed for Dr. Behren's—the baronet's London doctor—an old friend of the de- ceased. I also telegraphed for detectives. They arrived that night or rather about two o'clock in the morning. They are still here watching the neighhorhood. ” (Yes the defectives had searched the pre- mises and watched the neighborhood, but had they arrived an hour earlier they might have seen a dark looking figure busy at something down amongst the clump of old oaks, not very far from the castle.)" I examined the deceased, found a wound much discolored, by gunpowder at the back of the head, from which blood was oozing, evidently from a bullet shot from a revolver, or pistol. I have since made a post mortem examination, at which Sir James Behrens was present, though I regret to say, urgent telegrams prevented his remaining for the inquest. On strict examination of the parts injured, I find the bullet must have passed through the brain upwards from the quantity of effused blood in the brain. There were two fractures of the skull, the bone of which was broken out- wards, and must have partially resisted the bullet which then rebounded. I discovered two flattened pieces of metal with portions of the brain and some pieces of the skull and bone. Death must have been instan- taneous. There were no marks of any kind on the body which was in a particularly healthy state. The murderer must have stood close behind the deceased as he sat by the side of the fire, and, taking steady aim, the bullet was sent swiftly through Sir Lancelot’s head, the deceased falling heavily on to the floor in a side direction, the butler and housekeeper having found him lying half on his side.) (To a juror :) “ It would be morally impos- sible for the deceased to have fired straight through his own head from behind, as close as the pistol must have been held to the head when fired. The deceased was the last man likely to commit suicide. He was a par- ticularly healthy subject, both in body and mind, a man of moral courage and no morbid fancies. “I had a long conversation with him on Wednesday evening last. He was very much interested in some of the aged and sick of the parish. He talked quite cheerfully about his son's return from Captain Armytage not having written for some time. “Sir Lancelot asked me to dine with him on Christmas eve. “I have no idea what could be the motive for so foul a murder, but l have no hesita- tion in saying that it was a brutal and cowardly one, and done deliberately with steady aim. “A mystery indeed ! for Sir Lancelot was a man beloved and respected by the whole district. “I have never seen the pistol produced until the night of Thursday. It was evidently the instrument used for the purpose of the murder. The detectives have made every search and investigation, but no bullets of any kind suitable to the pistol have been found about the place.” The Rev. Evelyn Marston was next called, and stated— “I have been twenty seven years vicar of Marley. The living was presented to me by the late Sir Lancelot Armytage, a very old friend of mine. We were at Eton and Trinity together. I have spent an hour or two with the late baronet every for some years past, and lately knowing his life was a solitary and lonely one I have given all my spare time to him. He was a good man in every sense of the word—very charitable and kindly disposed towards all mankind. On Thursday last I was with! him for over two hours, talking mostly about parish matters. Sir. Lancelot spoke very sadly about the absence of his son, but was looking forward to receiving some letters next week. The late baronet had some hope that his son was on his way home, not, having heard for two months, and wished the Christmas to be kept up as usual. I gave him, as formerly, my list of requirements in the shape of Christ- mas fare—blanket, coals, etc.—for certain of the poor and sick. The deceased expressly wished the gifts to be increased this time. I cannot account for so dastardly a murder. The deceased baronet had no enemies—not one—l am quite sure. He was universally respected by the whole parish and neighbor- hood. We parted good friends, the baronet telling me we must come and spend Christmas with him.” (Here the vicar broke down altogether, and there was a long and painful silence.) A juror: “You know this pistol?” The vicar (who had recovered, his firm- ness) : “ It is something like one of a brace of pistols Sir Lancelot presented his son six years ago, but I cannot swear to its being one of the same. Pistols by certain makers are often much alike.” A juror: “But the Captain’s monogram in engraved on it." The vicar: “Captain Armytage might have given it away or sold it, or it might have, been stolen. Nothing would ever convince me that Captain Hubert Armytage was even implicated in his father’s death. He was a loving and dutiful son.” “ But he quarrelled with his father," said a juror. The vicar: “I beg to contradict you. sir, Captain Armytage never quarrelled with his father, nor do I believe he ever said an unkind word to his father. I was with the baronet the very night his son left. Sir Lancelot’s words to me were, I fear I spoke harshly, Hubert seemed to take it to heart, and he has gone away for a long time. If he does not re- turn I think my heart will break. Write at once and entreat him to come back. Un- fortunately Captain Armytage left no ad- dress. We did not hear for several months, then he wrote from Australia and other places. He has written regularly till the last two months. " Seven weeks ago I had a kind letter from him, written in the most loving terms of his father, but complaining that he had no letter from home for some months, though, I knew Sir Lancelot had written almost every month. l have seen letters addressed and stamped ready for the post, even put in the bag by the baronet himself.” A juror : “Who posted the letters at the Towers?" The vicar : “The bag was locked by the baronet, and generally taken by the coachman or one of the grooms to the post office. The baronet and postmaster kept each their own key. On Thursday night last I had retired to bed, but hearing the Towers’ bell ringing I and hurried out, thinking it was a fire. I was surprised and shocked on reach- ing Sir Lancelot’s rooms to find my kind old friend lying dead from a bullet wound. cannot swear to the pistol. I scarcely remember if it even resembles one of the brace the baronet presented to his son—that was some years ago.” Susannah Matthews was called, and almost incoherently from grief, gave her evidence thus:—“I have lived twenty-seven years in Sir Lancelot Armytage’s service first as maid to Lady Armytage and after her death
as housekeeper to the late baronet, a good and kind gentleman as ever lived. On Thursday night last my niece was so restless that I went down to the pantry for some chlorodyne I kept in a small cupboard, to give her, which sent her into a sound sleep. I remained awake for some time. At about eleven, for I looked at my watch soon after, I fancied I heard a footstep outside my door. I listened again, thinking it might be the master wanting something. I felt nervous, so got up, and as I was slipping on my dress- ing, gown I heard a sharp noise; then a heavy thud, as if someone had fallen heavily. I hurried into Sir Lancelot's bedroom and shook with terror at seeing the poor gentle- man lying on the hearthrug. I ran out of the room and pulled the rope of the Towers’ bell, which was near the baronet's rooms in case of fire. It was some ten minutes before I heard anyone about, then the servants all came together from the east wing. Benson came first and we lifted the poor dear gentle- man on to the bed, but he was past all earthly care." (Here the old housekeeper sobbed aloud). After a time she continued, " I never heard a word spoken against him. I remember the day the Captain came to the Towers’ and left that night. It was some- thing about a bill, the Captain told me, he had put his name to for a friend and brother officer. He said his father was angry. “I had known Master Hubert from a baby. He would often tell me his little troubles from a boy upwards. This time he said he had sold his commission, and was going quite away, never to return until he could pay back the sum his father had paid for him. The Captain seemed angry with himself that he had put his name to the bill, angry also with the man he had done it for. I begged him not to go: to think better of leaving his father at his time of life. I told him it would all blow over after a bit, for the old gentleman was so good, and loved his son with all his heart, but Master Hubert was rather too haughty, and nothing would alter his determination. He was often rather proud like, never to me or to any of the servants. He was a great favorite with us all.’’ A juror: “ Have you ever seen this pistol before Sir Lancelot’s death?” Mrs. Matthews : “ I remember the Captain had a case of pistols, but it was years ago. I know so little about firearms. I could not say if the pistol found at Sir Lancelot’s death ever belonged to Captain Armytage. I would certainly swear that the Captain had no hand in his father’s death. Master Hubert was always a loving and dutiful son, from a boy to the day I helped pack his things, and marked all his clothes with his monogram. I have never closed my eyes since my dear master’s death, but thinking all day and night does not help men getting at the cause of the murder. John Benson was called, and stated;— “I have lived twenty years with the late Sir Lancelot Armytage, as butler. On Thursday last the deceased had his dinner as usual, say- ing a few words to us servants quite cheer- fully at dinner, and gave me orders that some of the old port he was drinking that night was to be sent to the vicarage for the poor. The master almost immediately after dinner retired to this rooms upstairs. I saw no more of him till the Tower bell alarmed me, and I hurried to the south wing rooms to find my dear old master lying dead ; the work of some villain. I cannot account at all for the cause of it; never knew my master say an unkind word to anyone." A juror: “ The deceased was angry with his son?” Benson : “Well he seemed vexed and put out one morning at a letter he got from the Captain about a bill, and sat down at once and wrote off a letter. I think he was sorry after he had sent it. He seemed out of sorts all day. The Captain came next morn- ing. I do not know what passed in the library but the Captain came out and gave orders for his things to be packed at once. At dinner the gentlemen didn’t talk much. Sir Lancelot seemed sorrowful that his son was going, but the Captain would not change his mind, and left that night.” (TO BE CONTINUED.)