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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Lion's Skin - Chapter 17. Amid The Graves
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The Lion's Skin - Chapter 17. Amid The Graves Post by :Kim_Birch Category :Long Stories Author :Rafael Sabatini Date :May 2012 Read :2930

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The Lion's Skin - Chapter 17. Amid The Graves

CHAPTER XVII. AMID THE GRAVES

What time Sir Richard had been dying in the inner room, Mr. Green and two of his acolytes had improved the occasion by making a thorough search in Sir Richard's writing-table and a thorough investigation of every scrap of paper found there. From which you will understand how much Mr. Green was a gentleman who set business above every other consideration.

The man who had shot Sir Richard had been ordered by Mr. Green to take himself off, and had been urged to go down on his knees, for once in a way, and pray Heaven that his rashness might not bring him to the gallows as he so richly deserved.

His fourth myrmidon Mr. Green had dispatched with a note to my Lord Rotherby, and it was entirely upon the answer he should receive that it must depend whether he proceeded or not, forthwith, to the apprehension of Mr. Caryll. Meanwhile the search went on amain, and was extended presently to the very bedroom where the dead Sir Richard lay. Every nook and cranny was ransacked; the very mattress under the dead man was removed, and investigated, and even Mr. Caryll and Bentley had to submit to being searched. But it all proved fruitless. Not a line of treasonable matter was to be found anywhere. To the certificates upon Mr. Caryll the searcher made the mistake of paying but little heed in view of their nature.

But if there were no proofs of plots and treasonable dealings, there was, at least, abundant proof of Sir Richard's identity, and Mr. Green appropriated these against any awkward inquiries touching the manner in which the baronet had met his death.

Of such inquiries, however, there were none. It was formally sworn to Lord Carteret by Green and his men that the secretary's messenger, Jerry--the fellow owned no surname--had shot Sir Richard in self-defence, when Sir Richard had produced firearms upon being arrested on a charge of high treason, for which they held the secretary's own warrant.

At first Lord Carteret considered it a thousand pities that they should not have contrived matters better so as to take Sir Richard alive; but upon reflection he was careful not to exaggerate to himself the loss occasioned by his death, for Sir Richard, after all, was a notoriously stubborn man, not in the least likely to have made any avowals worth having. So that his trial, whilst probably resulting sterile of such results as the government could desire, would have given publicity to the matter of a plot that was hatching; and such publicity at a time of so much unrest was the last thing the government desired. Where Jacobitism was concerned, Lord Carteret had the wise discretion to proceed with the extremest caution. Publicity might serve to fan the smouldering embers into a blaze, whereas it was his cunning aim quietly to stifle them as he came upon them.

So, upon the whole, he was by no means sure but that Jerry had done the state the best possible service in disposing thus summarily of that notorious Jacobite agent, Sir Richard Everard. And his lordship saw to it that there was no inquiry and that nothing further was heard of the matter.

As for Lord Rotherby, had the affair transpired twenty-four hours earlier, he would certainly have returned Mr. Green a message to effect the arrest of Mr. Caryll upon suspicion. But as it chanced, he had that very afternoon received a visit from his mother, who came in great excitement to inform him that she had forced from Lord Ostermore an acknowledgment that he was plotting with Mr. Caryll to go over to King James.

So, before they could move further against Mr. Caryll, it behooved them to ascertain precisely to what extent Lord Ostermore might not be incriminated, as otherwise the arrest of Caryll might lead to exposures that would ruin the earl more thoroughly than could any South Sea bubble revelations. Thus her ladyship to her son. He turned upon her.

"Why, madam," said he, "these be the very arguments I used t'other day when we talked of this; and all you answered me then was to call me a dull-witted clod, for not seeing how the thing might be done without involving my lord."

"Tcha!" snapped her ladyship, beating her knuckles impatiently with her fan. "A dull-witted clod did I call you? 'Twas flattery--sheer flattery; for I think ye're something worse. Fool, can ye not see the difference that lies betwixt your disclosing a plot to the secretary of state, and causing this Caryll to disclose it--as might happen if he were seized? First discover the plot--find out in what it may consist, and then go to Lord Carteret to make your terms."

He looked at her, out of temper by her rebuke. "I may be as dull as your ladyship says--but I do not see in what the position now is different from what it was."

"It isn't different--but we thought it was different," she explained impatiently. "We assumed that your father would not have betrayed himself, counting upon his characteristic caution. But it seems we are mistook. He has betrayed himself to Caryll. And before we can move in this matter, we must have proofs of a plot to lay before the secretary of state."

Lord Rotherby understood, and accounted himself between Scylla and Charybdis, and when that evening Green's messenger found him, he gnashed his teeth in rage at having to allow this chance to pass, at being forced to temporize until he should be less parlously situated. He returned Mr. Green an urgent message to take no steps concerning Mr. Caryll until they should have concerted together.

Mr. Green was relieved. Mr. Caryll arrested might stir up matters against the slayer of Sir Richard, and this was a business which Mr. Green had prevision enough to see his master, Lord Carteret, would prefer should not be stirred up. He had a notion, for the rest, that if Mr. Caryll were left to go his ways, he would not be likely to give trouble touching that same matter. And he was right in this. Before his overwhelming sense of loss, Mr. Caryll had few thoughts to bestow upon the manner in which that loss had been sustained. Moreover, if he had a quarrel with any one on that account, it was with the government whose representative had issued the warrant for Sir Richard's arrest, and no more with the wretched tipstaff who had fired the pistol than with the pistol itself. Both alike were but instruments, of slightly different degrees of insensibility.

For twenty-four hours Mr. Caryll's grief was overwhelming in its poignancy. His sense of solitude was awful. Gone was the only living man who had stood to him for kith and kin. He was left alone in the world; utterly alone. That was the selfishness of his sorrow--the consideration of Sir Richard's death as it concerned himself.

Presently an alloy of consolation was supplied by the reflection of Sir Richard's own case--as Sir Richard himself had stated it upon his deathbed. His life had not been happy; it had been poisoned by a monomania, which, like a worm in the bud, had consumed the sweetness of his existence. Sir Richard was at rest. And since he had been discovered, that shot was, indeed, the most merciful end that could have been measured out to him. The alternative might have been the gibbet and the gaping crowd, and a moral torture to precede the end. Better--a thousand times better--as it was.

So much did all this weigh with him that when on the following Monday he accompanied the body to its grave, he found his erstwhile passionate grief succeeded by an odd thankfulness that things were as they were, although it must be confessed that a pang of returning anguish smote him when he heard the earth clattering down upon the wooden box that held all that remained of the man who had been father, mother, brother and all else to him.

He turned away at last, and was leaving the graveyard, when some one touched him on the arm. It was a timid touch. He turned sharply, and found himself looking into the sweet face of Hortensia Winthrop, wondering how came she there. She wore a long, dark cloak and hood, but her veil was turned back. A chair was waiting not fifty paces from them along the churchyard wall.

"I came but to tell you how much I feel for you in this great loss," she said.

He looked at her in amazement. "How did you know?" he asked her.

"I guessed," said she. "I heard that you were with him at the end, and I caught stray words from her ladyship of what had passed. Lord Rotherby had the information from the tipstaff who went to arrest Sir Richard Everard. I guessed he was your--your foster-father, as you called him; and I came to tell you how deeply I sorrow for you in your sorrow."

He caught her hands in his and bore them to his lips, reckless of who might see the act. "Ah, this is sweet and kind in you," said he.

She drew him back into the churchyard again. Along the wall there was an avenue of limes--a cool and pleasant walk wherein idlers lounged on Sundays in summer after service. Thither she drew him. He went almost mechanically. Her sympathy stirred his sorrow again, as sympathy so often does.

"I have buried my heart yonder, I think," said he, with a wave of his hand towards that spot amid the graves where the men were toiling with their shovels. "He was the only living being that loved me."

"Ah, surely not," said she, sorrow rather than reproach in her gentle voice.

"Indeed, yes. Mine is a selfish grief. It is for myself that I sorrow, for myself and my own loneliness. It is thus with all of us. When we argue that we weep the dead, it would be more true to say that we bewail the living. For him--it is better as it is. No doubt it is better so for most men, when all is said, and we do wrong to weep their passing."

"Do not talk so," she said. "It hurts."

"Ay--it is the way of truth to hurt, which is why, hating pain, we shun truth so often." He sighed. "But, oh, it was good in you to seek me, to bring me word with your own lips of your sweet sympathy. If aught could lighten the gloom of my sorrow, surely it is that."

They stepped along in silence until they came to the end of the avenue, and turned. It was no idle silence: the silence of two beings who have naught to say. It was a grave, portentous silence, occasioned by the unutterable much in the mind of one, and by the other's apprehension of it. At last she spoke, to ask him what he meant to do.

"I shall return to France," he said. "It had perhaps been better had I never crossed to England."

"I cannot think so," she said, simply, frankly and with no touch of a coquetry that had been harshly at discord with time and place.

He shot her a swift, sidelong glance; then stopped, and turned. "I am glad on't," said he. "'Twill make my going the easier."

"I mean not that," she cried, and held out her hands to him. "I meant not what you think--you know, you know what 'twas I meant. You know--you must--what impulse brought me to you in this hour, when I knew you must need comfort. And in return how cruel, were you not--to tell me that yonder lay buried the only living being that--that loved you?"

His fingers were clenched upon her arm. "Don't--don't!" he implored hoarsely, a strange fire in his eyes, a hectic flush on either cheek. "Don't! Or I'll forget what I am, and take advantage of this midsummer folly that is upon you."

"Is it no more than folly, Justin?" she asked him, brown eyes looking up into gray-green.

"Ay, something more--stark madness. All great emotions are. It will pass, and you will be thankful that I was man enough--strong enough--to allow it the chance of passing."

She hung her head, shaking it sorrowfully. Then very softly: "Is it no more than the matter of--of that, that stands between us?" she inquired.

"No more than that," he answered, "and yet more than enough. I have no name to offer any woman."

"A name?" she echoed scornfully. "What store do you think I lay by that? When you talk so, you obey some foolish prejudice; no more."

"Obedience to prejudices is the whole art of living," he answered, sighing.

She made a gesture of impatience, and went on. "Justin, you said you loved me; and when you said so much, you gave me the right--or so I understood it--to speak to you as I am doing now. You are alone in the world, without kith or kin. The only one you had--the one who represented all for you--lies buried there. Would you return thus, lonely and alone, to France?"

"Ah, now I understand!" he cried. "Now I understand. Pity is the impulse that has urged you--pity for my loneliness, is't not, Hortensia?"

"I'll not deny that without the pity there might not have been the courage. Why should I--since it is a pity that gives you no offense, a pity that is rooted firmly in--in love for you, my Justin?"

He set his hands upon her shoulders, and with glowing eyes regarded her. "Ah, sweet!" said he, "you make me very, very proud."

And then his arms dropped again limply to his sides. He sighed, and shook his head drearily. "And yet--reflect. When I come to beg your hand in marriage of your guardian, what shall I answer him of the questions he will ask me of myself--touching my family, my parentage and all the rest that he will crave to know?"

She observed that he was very white again. "Need you enter into that? A man is himself; not his father or his family." And then she checked. "You make me plead too much," she said, a crimson flood in her fair cheeks. "I'll say no more than I have said. Already have I said more than I intended. And you have wanted mercy that you could drive me to it. You know my mind--my--my inmost heart. You know that I care nothing for your namelessness. It is yours to decide what you will do. Come, now; my chair is staying for me."

He bowed; he sought again to convey some sense of his appreciation of her great nobility; then led her through the gate and to her waiting chair.

"Whatever I may decide, Hortensia" was the last thing he said to her, "and I shall decide as I account best for you, rather than for myself; and for myself there needs no thought or hesitation--whatever I may decide, believe me when I say from my soul that all my life shall be the sweeter for this hour."

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