The Nest of the Sparrowhawk
VIII. Secret Service
Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy was excessively perturbed. Matters at the Court
were taking a curious turn. That something of unusual moment had happened
within the last few days he was thoroughly convinced, and still having it in his
mind that he was especially qualified for the lucrative appointments in my Lord
Protector's secret service--he thought this an excellent opportunity for perfecting
himself in the art of investigation, shrewdly conducted, which he understood to be
most essential for the due fulfillment of such appointments.
Thus we see him some few days later on a late afternoon, with back bent nearly
double, eyes fixed steadily on the ground and his face a perfect mirror of
thoughtful concentration within, slowly walking along the tiny footpath which
wound in and out the groups of majestic elms in the park.
Musing and meditating, at times uttering strange and enigmatical exclamations,
he reached the confines of the private grounds, the spot where the surrounding
wall gave place to a low iron gate, where the disused pavilion stood out gray and
forlorn-looking in the midst of the soft green of the trees, and where through the
woods beyond the gate, could just be perceived the tiny light which issued from
the blacksmith's cottage, the most outlying one in the village of Acol.
Master Hymn-of-Praise leaned thoughtfully against the ivy-covered wall. His
eyes, roaming, searching, restless, pried all around him.
"Footprints!" he mused, "footprints which of a surety must mean that human foot
hath lately trod this moss. Footprints moreover, which lead up the steps to the
door of that pavilion, wherein to my certain knowledge, no one hath had access
Something, of course, was going on at Acol Court, that strange and inexplicable
something which he had tried to convey by covert suggestion to Mistress
Charity's female--therefore inferior--brain.
Sir Marmaduke's temper was more sour and ill even than of yore, and there was
still an unpleasant sensation in the lumbar regions of Master Busy's spine,
whenever he sat down, which recalled a somewhat vigorous outburst of his
Mistress de Chavasse went about the house like a country wench frightened by a
ghost, and Mistress Charity averred that she seldom went to bed now before
midnight. Certain it is that Master Busy himself had met the lady wandering about
the house candle in hand at an hour when all respectable folk should be abed,
and when she almost fell up against Hymn-of-Praise in the dark she gave a
frightened scream as if she had suddenly come face to face with the devil.
Then there was her young ladyship.
She was neither ill-tempered nor yet under the ban of fear, but Master Busy
vowed unto himself that she was suffering from ill-concealed melancholy, from
some hidden secret or wild romance. She seldom laughed, she had spoken with
discourtesy and impatience to Squire Pyncheon, who rode over the other day on