|Chapter Number||II.(Continued), III. IV.|
|Chapter Title||UNCERTAINTY. SORROW. DOUBT.|
|Newspaper Title||The Bendigo Independent (Vic. : 1891 - 1918)|
|Trove Title||The Devil's Own. An Australian Story|
THE DEVIL'S OWN.
AN AUSTRALIAN STORY BY MRS. RICHMOND .ENTY CHAPTER II (Continued).
(To a juror:) "They Parted affec- tionately; as the captain was putting on his coat in the hall Sir Lancelot said, kindly, 'you will come soon my boy.' But
his son didn’t answer for a minute, then he said 'yes father, when I make five thousand pounds I will return and pay my friend’s debt, till then I shall not even take your name!' He was rather haughty was the captain, it was only a manner' he had, particularly that evening. Then he shook hands kindly. However, the old gentleman seemed to fret so that night. I wrote a little note to the vicar begging him to come to the Towers as I was not satisfied about master’s low spirits. The vicar came, remained all night and cheered up the baronet wonder- fully. “I cannot swear to the pistol produced as belonging to the captain, it is so many years ago. l saw the captain’s pistols. But I would stake my life Captain Army- tage wouldn’t lift a finger against his father for he was never hot tempered ; but gentle and kind to a degree. “I had nothing to do the post- bag, but I give it as my opinion that there has been foul play somewhere by so many letters going astray.” Henry Wilkins deposed— “ I have lived as valet over five years with my late master. "On Thursday last I helped dress him as usual for dinner. I went to his room at ten o’clock, when he told me that he should not want me again that night. He was reading some old letters. “Was it a common circumstance his dissmising you so early, as he was not going to bed ? Wilkins: Yes; he never kept me or any of the servants up when he intended to be late himself." A juror: ‘Did he often remain up late?’ Wilkins: “Very often if he had letters to write or reading to get through, par- ticularly of late; he could not sleep so well. My master said good night rather sadly, I fancied that night perhaps read- ing letters made him sorrowful. I never saw him again till the alarm bell startled us all. I remember Captain Armytage coming to the castle he seemed put out about something after being some time with his father in the library, and I had orders to pack all his things. I remember a rosewood case of silver mounted pistols, I had to give them a rub before packing them! I packed the case and pistols in the captain’s heavy mail trunk. I cannot say if the pistol produced is one of the same. I only saw the captain once, the day I packed them. He was a nice gentleman, a little proud like, but I was new to the place then and he didn’t know me so well as the other servants. Sir Lancelot was the kindest of masters.” Charles Sprent, footman, was called, his evidence was much the same except that he stated, “I have lived nine years at the Towers, I had charge of all the plate, during the day, but handed it up to the butler at night who locked it in the strong room. The strong room contained iron fire-proof safes for papers, jewellery, and other valuables, besides the plate. I noticed the pistol produced lying under the table on Thursday night after master’s death, but I said nothing.” The man hesitated. “Speak up man,” said the coroner. Still the witness hesitated. “Young man if you, as you say, loved your master, you will not mistake in tell- ing us all you know about the pistol, to help us to any clue to the furthering of justice in this painful case.” Sprent: “I know nothing, sir, but when first I caught sight of the pistol I thought it must be suicide, tho’ I said nothing and never knew that my master had been shot until I heard the doctor say, ‘A cold blooded murder.’ “I then had orders to examine all the doors and windows through the castle. I found them all locked and bolted except the housekeeper’s pantry, where a pane of glass had been taken clean out of the window." A juror : " But if the door was locked how could anyone open it from tho in- side." Sprent : " I locked it at ten o’clock, but I am told by Mrs. Mathews that she had to go to the pantry cupboard for some chlorodyne for her niece, and must have left the door unlocked. “After the alarm I went out for some distance all round the house, I could see no one, not even footmarks ; the moon was shining brightly, but it was snowing hard. “None of us servants can in, any way account for the murder as master was a favorite with every one, and a kinder gentleman never lived.” A juror asked for Fanchette Marin and the girl was sent for. A shy looking timid young girl was the housekeeper’s niece. As she entered and seemed to shrink from the gaze of the jury; very beautiful, the deep blue of her eyes scarcely perceptible from the lowered lids, as in timid dread ; the face with its chiselled features, like marble itself in their deathly pallor ; the poor young thing looked so ill and terrified that the kind doctor brought her a chair and stood by her to give as it were con- fidence and courage to speak. “ My good girl,” said the coroner (who had known her all her life), “ don’t be frightened ; we shall not detain you long; we shall only ask you a few questions!” “ I think you slept with your aunt as usual on Thursday night near Sir Lancelot’s suite of rooms in the south wing?" “ Yes” (shuddering). " Can you remember hearing anything at all on Thursday or Thursday night, any noise tor instance ?" Here the girl fainted dead away, and no further questioning could be en- forced. Mrs. Mathews came forward and stated that her niece, Fanchette Marin, knew nothing of the sad troubles of Thursday night, having been ill all that afternoon and evening, restless from bad dreams and talking in her sleep. She was naturally delicate, the aunt said, and subject to fainting and hysterical fits, though she was never so bad as last Thursday evening. “She is a good girl,” continued the housekeeper, tear- fully; “ in every; way, as the Rev. Mr. Marston can testify—a great comfort to me. My niece was a great pet of Sir Lancelot's, who had known her from a little child when she was brought to me by her father, Count Marin, after my poor sister's death.” Most of the other servants were called, but their statements all coincided, and not the slightest evidence had helped to unravel the mystery of the murder or help to clue in solving the problem of the motive for it. The coro- ner was posed, and he was a clever man;
the jury were puzzled, and they were a picked community, generally sharp enough to pounce upon the culprit or the suspected, and settle it amongst them- selves easily, who was guilty, and the why and the wherefore. In this case no expense had been spared ; handsome rewards were offered, still the mystery remained a mystery. The jury gave their verdict—that the deceased, Sir Lancelot Armytage met with his death by foul mean, a pistol bullet having penetrated his brain, but by whom fired must remain to be proved, the jury strongly advising that Captain Armytage, now Sir Hubert Armytage, should at once be communi- cated with, and inquiries made as to the case of pistols at one time in his posses- sion. CHAPTER III. SORROW “His life was gentle, and the elements so mixed in him that Nature might stand up and say to all the world, ' This was a man." JULIUS CÆSAR. It has been snowing hard all night, making the roads almost impassable in the neighborhood of Towers. The ingress and egress to the Marley rail- way station is an impossibility, the snow and sleet still drifts into every hole and corner; blocking the way and blinding the few people that are struggling along in and out of the Marley Railway Hotel, for be it ever so cold, even in the freezing depth of winter, men must live and men must work, if work is to be found, which fortunately is the case at Marley. A body of hardy men are working with a will, cutting a road through the deep snow block to the station in time for the 1.30 train, when a con- siderable number of passengers are fully ex- pected to be present at the Towers’ funeral —for it is to day that Sir Lancelot Armytage is to be taken to his last resting place, in God's acre by the picturesque village church in the valley. There is an unusual stir in the generally quiet village—quiet to dullness at most times. Events are so few and far between at this unpretending hamlet that when anything does happen it creates double the excite- ment it would in a less out-of-the-way place. The few shops it is possessed of are closed, the inhabitants are all in their best Sunday attire, giving the place a holiday look, were it not that everyone turns out in black, or as sombrely attired as possible. The Armytage Arms is doing a thriving business, the sterner sex of the community evidently intending to do justice to the occasion by drowning dull care —added to the plea of an idle day with lots of neighbors to talk gossip with, knots of men stand at corners with downcast looks. It is doubtlessly a dull lookout for them—the old master dead and the heir far away, with little chance of returning for a time. Groups of women are gos- siping together at doors heads poked out all attention. “I’ll tell ee ” says old granny Wiggins, the head gossip of the district, “I was sartain sure as how trouble was in store for some of us, old farmer Snow’s brindle dog was a-howling all that blessed night— didn’t ye hear un, a death’s sure sign.” “Dogs always howl at the moon;” says Miss Fitch, the new milliner contemp- tuously. “ Then, Miss Fitch, why don't the cratur howl o' nights now ! ye didn’t hear un last night?" At which defeat! Miss Fitch subsides into silence. “ They do say as how Fanchette heard a noise and saw a ghost a walking straight; though the churchyard that night, as plain as plain, tho’ for the matter of that them foreigners with their quare notions and hay then souls ain't much to be believed. “ I remember when old parson Gibbs's son died away in Amerikay his spirit was seen for days together a haunting the old place said an old gossip.” ‘‘They’ll be here soon, I shall run in and get a bit of dinner meanwhile,” says another. Two hours later and the mournful cortege is winding its way slowly through the valley—all along the road are women waiting to join it, handkerchiefs to their faces in genuine grief for the old baronet had been revered amongst them all. Aye ; we all loved the old man, an 'tis now sixty years come Martinmas that I mind when he was born, such rejoicing ; oxen roasted, while bonfires a blazing, such a day; and to think he’s gone first whilst I—and the old dame of some eighty years, sobbed aloud. They had come to the grave, the rector, his head bared, regardless of the snow and the sleet, is reading tearfully the service, a beautifully solemn one is that English burial service. Bringing one's thoughts back to the painful reality of death. “Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery. He cometh up and is cut down like a flower, he fleeth as it were a shadow and never continueth one day.” The rector reads solemnly—there is not a dry eye among the many that fill the the church yard. It is over, the crowd have dispersed, weeping honest tears as they seek their quiet cottage homes for the good man who, has passed away from among them all. An hour later and the will is being read A good christian will ; and how rarely do men make their wills in all christian love and good feeling toward those who are to succeed them. How often do they forget that a will is not only a sacred thing but an everlasting record of the heart of the writer. The baronet had done justice to all—no one could complain for no one had been forgotten. The estates he left to my beloved son Hubert, or at his death the half to his wife should he marry, for her life should she survive him; and at her death the whole to their children lawfully begotten and of the Protestant faith." The old and faithful servants were well pensioned, and the rest might well look surprised and pleased at finding that they even had been remembered in the old squire's will by substantial legacies, even to one hundred pounds to Fanchette Marin, the little French girl, who, from a small child, had been an especial favorite of the squire of Marley Towers, who liked to have young people about him, sing- ing joyously, laughing gaily, or prattling merrily as did the housekeeper's niece. Moreover, Fanchette had a pretty fascinating way of her own, could curtsey gracefully, and would trip about in an airy fashion with her coquettish smiles and pretty feet to the utter subjection of the hearts of the village lads, who, in their solid country hearts could not understand such effective style and innate grace in a country maiden. Fanchette was a “poser” to them, and unlike any one they knew or could think of. CHAPTER IV. DOUBT. “ O death, all eloquent, you only prove. What dust we dote on when ’tis man we love.” POPE. It was the night after the funeral, all the mourners had departed, and for the first time for many many years the old castle contained no kind host, no cheerful guest, but stood in solemn silence in the
ghostly moonlight, its turretted walls, its ancient towers, full of rich old memories of past ages, from the time of Henry the 7th, looking strange and weird ; no lights from the pretty latticed windows of the south wing, brightened, as before, the picture ; no warm glow of rosy fire- light came forth from the oriel windows of the dining-rooms to cheer up the dreary outside aspect, looking still more dreary since a thaw had set in, changing the pure white snow drifts and pic- turesque icicles to a sombre looking landscape of dark looking scenery and shadowy branches. Near the postern gate of the old castle, under the wide spreading branches of a grand old cedar of Lebanon, stood a young girl, sylph-like as a spirit in the cold moonlight, and deep shadows of the overhanging dark foliage, but beautiful as a statue when the moon rays pene- trated the trysting place and lighted up the pale oval face and small head with its wealth of golden hair. “ He is not here,” she whispered sadly and wearily, “he will not come,” and (with a shudder) “ it is so cold, so dreary, so ghostly ; I wish I had never promised to meet him to-night, my heart beats so ! What is that! Oh, merciful heavens !" It was only an owl or some night bird flapping its wings overhead in its search for prey. “ Fanchette, my love, my sweet, are you there? ” whispered a voice, as a man stepped from out of the shadow, “ have you been here long? I couldn’t help it. Your aunt detained me ; does she suspect us. Surely she would not separate us if I could only provide for you, Fan. You will be true to me, my precious one. I must go to-morrow and get a good bil..t, then you will be my wife. Fanchette, speak.” The girl was silent—sorrowful looking, but with her light figure and small fair face, standing out in the moonlight, in strong contrast to her dark ond tall companion towering above her. “Need you go, Harry. My aunt is so fond of you. Why cannot we marry now and start in life together. I am clever they say; I can play and sing well. Poor dear Sir Lancelot told my aunt I had a beautiful voice, and I am to cultivate it with the £100 he left me ; he wished it.” " So you have, and you are beautiful and good in every way; too good for a poor devil like me earning only a paltry few pounds, a year. Do you think even with the hundred pounds Sir Lancelot left me, and it was very good of the old gentleman. Do you think with such a small sum I would ask you to marry me. I would never take you to any but a dainty little home ; you —with your pretty ways and nice man- ners accustomed to comfort, even luxury compared to the rough life you would have to lead with me if we married now. No, sweetest, wait a wee ; all will be well, and we shall marry and live like prince and princess in the children’s story books. I shall start early in the morning. I have excellent references. What is the good of waiting here for an uncertainty. The new baronet will doubtless have his own valet. Don’t fret (as the girl sobbed pitifully), my sweet Fanchette, it will only be for a short time, and you will be constant over, I know—don’t, my dearest—trust in me, it will be au revoir, not good-bye, my pet. You are shivering, Fanchette. It so bitterly cold to-night. I got fright- ened about you.” “ We must say good-bye now,” she said, looking up softly, and trying to smile through her tears, “ Harry, you will be true to me tor ever, and you will think of me every day, every hour, and come back soon. I shall count the hours till your return. Good-bye, my dear Harry.” He clasped the little figure in his arms and taking a long kiss and a sad fare- well she slipped away down the path to the castle whilst he strolled on and out of the gates down to the forest glen, where the snow had melted, where the deer were grazing, now and then looking up with their meek beautiful eyes, in silent wonder, towards the solitary figure as he sat down on a fallen tree and gave himself up to a train of thought until the castle bell was heard giving notice that the gates would be closed for the night (an old custom of the Armytages for centuries past, many called it the curfew). “Sweet little Fan., poor little girl ! said the lover with a sigh, starting out of his reverie at the curfew sound and wending his way back slowly to the castle still buried in thoughts too deep to even notice the gate keeper who was looking out at the night. “What a scare you gave me Henry,” said the old man, “I feel that nervous since the master’s death, a few dead leaves rustling along quakes the life out of me. " “Good reason, too, Gibbons,” says the younger man, tapping his pipe against the gate, “I begin to hate the place already ; I am off to-morrow morning. I would stay if I thought I could be of use in find- ing the murderer, five hundred pounds is not to be won easily in a day; nor in a life time, as far as I am concerned. Good night Gibbons.” “Good night, good night, may luck at- tend you, young man,” said the gate- keeper as he closed the heavy gates. Most of the servants had been retained, though, like Henry Wilkins, a few others had left to better their fortunes at once rather than wait for an uncertainty. It was a sad and melancholy household, for as one, two, three, and, more than four months passed away without any tidings or even a line from the now heir, people began to fear and wonder. Then to their relief, though not joy, came the family lawyers to the Towers one morning bringing a letter from Aus- tralia in the deepest morning stationery, written by the captain’s own hand, stat- ing, in grief stricken words, his deep sorrow at his beloved father’s cruel death ; regretting that he had ever left his father, and urging his lawyers to spare no ex- pense and leave no stone unturned in finding his father's murderer and the motive for the crime. As for the pistol with his initials he stated he had never seen them since he left the Towers; they must have been stolen in London or on the passage out. Sir Hubert mentioned that he had now no inducement to return to England, or his old home. He requested in rather coldly measured tones that all the servants should be dis- missed at once, the castle shut up and given to the hands of the gardener and his family as caretakers. No word of kindness or remembrance was even hinted about the servants. Not a line of sympathy even with the favorite old housekeeper or the faithful butler. The letter was addressed to the lawyers who, thereupon, had come down to the Towers stating that the new baronet wishes verbatim from the letter. “That is not like the captain to write such a letter as that; surely he don't suspect any of us servants,” said Benson to Mrs. Mathews. “Poor follow ! poor master Hubert! but no wonder he writes in such a demented way after leaving the poor old gentleman to die quite alone and
uncared for, then living in those foreign parts. That outlandish country is enough to turn any one’s brain, poor fellow. Oh ! if he had never gone-—never gone—but it is all too late, too late; we cannot bring back the dead to life,” and, the kind of old soul sobbed as if her heart would break. “Never mind, dear heart, he may come back again to us for all he says in his letter ’tis not like an Armytage to forsake his own people and his father’s house,’’ said Benson, who was fond of quoting the great book. And so the old couple cheered each other, trying to forget their misery in bustling about with the other servants ; covering up the furniture lovingly; taking inventories and completing other impor- tant arrangements quickly which would have taken days in finishing by less energetic hands, thereby more than satisfying the very respectable firm of old family lawyers, by devotion and attention to the late squire in doing all that could be done deftly for the sake of him they had loved so well. “Pity is akin to love,” says the old adage. Certainly there was more than a bond of sympathy between the venerable butler and the comfortable looking house- keeper, who felt they were none too old to start in life together, and as the present tenant of the “Armytage Arms” was about to retire, his lease being up, Mr. and Mrs. Benson joined fortunes and opened the comfortable hostelry on Easter Monday. The buxom hostess handling, with a smile, many an honest glass of nut brown ale to the tired pedestrians who visited the district that day, glad of a day's fishing, a look at the beautiful scenery of the valley, or, perchance, a peep through the gates, of the castle “where that horrible murder was per- petrated.” Fanchette Marin, the housekeeper’s pretty niece, had been dangerously ill, “a chill and shock to the nervous system on the night of the murder,” said the kind doctor. But the servants could have stated other causes—a letter with foreign stamps addressed to Madlle. Fanchette Marin one morning soon after the funeral, had taken all the color out of the girl’s face on reading the contents, which she had done in her own room with the door locked ; and nothing would tempt Fan- chette to reveal anything concerning the letter even to her aunt, thereby causing suspicion and misgivings amongst the girl’s best friends, and, indeed, all in the house. (TO BE CONTINUED.)