The Nest of the Sparrowhawk by Baroness Orczy - HTML preview
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IX. Avowed Enmity
The pavilion had been built some fifty years ago, by one of the Spantons of Acol who had a taste for fanciful architecture.
It had been proudly held by several deceased representatives of the family to be the reproduction of a Greek temple. It certainly had columns supporting the portico, and steps leading thence to the ground. It was also circular in shape and was innocent of windows, deriving its sole light from the door, when it was open. The late Sir Jeremy, I believe, had been very fond of the place. Being of a somewhat morose and taciturn disposition, he liked the seclusion of this lonely corner of the park. He had a chair or two put into the pavilion and 'twas said that he indulged there in the smoking of that fragrant weed which of late had been more generously imported into this country.
After Sir Jeremy's death, the pavilion fell into disuse. Sir Marmaduke openly expressed his dislike of the forlorn hole, as he was wont to call it. He caused the door to be locked, and since then no one had entered the little building. The key, it was presumed, had been lost; the lock certainly looked rusty. The roof, too, soon fell into disrepair, and no doubt within, the place soon became the prey of damp and mildew, the nest of homing birds, or the lair of timid beasts. Very soon the proud copy of an archaic temple took on that miserable and forlorn look peculiar to uninhabited spots.
From an air of abandonment to that of eeriness was but a step, and now the building towered in splendid isolation, in this remote corner of the park, at the confines of the wood, with a reputation for being the abode of ghosts, of bats and witches, and other evil things.
When Master Busy sought for tracks of imaginary criminals bent on abducting the heiress he naturally drifted to this lonely spot; when Master Courage was bent on whispering sweet nothings into the ear of the other man's betrothed, he enticed her to that corner of the park where he was least like to meet the heavy-booted saint.
Thus it was that these three met on the one spot where as a rule at a late hour of the evening Prince Amédé d'Orléans was wont to commence his wanderings, sure of being undisturbed, and with the final disappearance of Master Busy and Mistress Charity the place was once more deserted.
The bats once more found delight in this loneliness and from all around came that subdued murmur, that creaking of twigs, that silence so full of subtle sounds, which betrays the presence of animal life on the prowl.
Anon there came the harsh noise of a key grating in a rusty lock. The door of the pavilion was cautiously opened from within and the mysterious French prince, bewigged, booted and hatted, emerged into the open. The night had drawn a singularly dark mantle over the woods. Banks of cloud obscured the sky; the tall elm trees with their ivy-covered branches, and their impenetrable shadows beneath, formed a dense wall which the sight of human creatures was not keen enough to pierce. Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse, in spite of this darkness, which he hailed gleefully, peered cautiously and intently round as he descended the steps.
He had not met Lady Sue in the capacity of her romantic lover since that evening a week ago, when his secret had been discovered by Mistress de Chavasse. The last vision he had had of the young girl was one redolent of joy and love and trust, sufficient to reassure him that all was well with her, in regard to his schemes; but on that same evening a week ago he had gazed upon another little scene, which had not filled him with either joy or security.
He had seen Lady Sue standing beside a young man whose personality--to say the least--was well-nigh as romantic as that of the exiled scion of the house of Orléans. He had seen rather than heard a young and passionate nature pouring into girlish ears the avowal of an unselfish and ardent love which had the infinite merit of being real and true.
However well he himself might play his part of selfless hero and of vehement lover, there always lurked the danger that the falseness of his protestations would suddenly ring a warning note to the subtle sense of the confiding girl. Were it not for the intense romanticism of her disposition, which beautified and exalted everything with which it came in contact, she would of a surety have detected the lie ere this. He had acted his dual rôle with consummate skill, the contrast between the surly Puritanical guardian, with his round cropped head and shaven face, and the elegantly dressed cavalier, with a heavy mustache, an enormous perruque and a shade over one eye, was so complete that even Mistress de Chavasse--alert, suspicious, wholly unromantic, had been momentarily deceived, and would have remained so but for his voluntary revelation of himself. But the watchful and disappointed young lover was the real danger: a danger complicated by the fact that the Prince Amédé d'Orléans actually dwelt in the cottage owned by Lambert's brother, the blacksmith. The mysterious prince had perforce to dwell somewhere; else, whenever spied by a laborer or wench from the village, he would have excited still further comment, and his movements mayhap would have been more persistently dogged.
For this reason Sir Marmaduke had originally chosen Adam Lambert's cottage to be his headquarters; it stood on the very outskirts of the village and as he had only the wood to traverse between it and the pavilion where he effected his change of personality, he ran thus but few risks of meeting prying eyes. Moreover, Adam Lambert, the blacksmith, and the old woman who kept house for him, both belonged to the new religious sect which Judge Bennett had so pertinently dubbed the Quakers, and they kept themselves very much aloof from gossip and the rest of the village.
True, Richard Lambert oft visited his brother and the old woman, but did so always in the daytime when Prince Amédé d'Orléans carefully kept out of the way. Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse had all the true instincts of the beast or bird of prey. He prowled about in the dark, and laid his snares for the seizure of his victim under cover of the night.
This evening certain new schemes had found birth in his active mind; he was impatient that the victim tarried, when his brain was alive with thoughts of how to effect a more speedy capture. He leaned against the wall, close by the gate as was his wont when awaiting Sue, smiling grimly to himself at thought of the many little subterfuges she would employ to steal out of the house, without encountering--as she thought--her watchful guardian.
A voice close behind him--speaking none too kindly--broke in on his meditations, causing him to start--almost to crouch like a frightened cat.
The next moment he had recognized the gruff and nasal tones of Adam Lambert. Apparently the blacksmith had just come from the wood through the gate, and had almost stumbled in the dark against the rigid figure of his mysterious lodger. "Friend, what dost thou here?" he asked peremptorily. But already Sir Marmaduke had recovered from that sudden sense of fear which had caused him to start in alarm.
"I would ask the same question of you, my friend," he retorted airily, speaking in the muffled voice and with the markedly foreign accent which he had assumed for the rôle of the Prince, "might I inquire what you are doing here?" "I have to see a sick mare down Minster way," replied Lambert curtly, "this is a short cut thither, and Sir Marmaduke hath granted me leave. But he liketh not strangers loitering in his park."
"Then, friend," rejoined the other lightly, "when Sir Marmaduke doth object to my strolling in his garden, he will doubtless apprise me of the fact, without interference from you."
Adam Lambert, after his uncivil greeting of his lodger, had already turned his back on him, loath to have further speech with a man whom he hated and despised.
Like the majority of country folk these days, the blacksmith had a wholesale contempt for every foreigner, and more particularly for those who hailed from France: that country--in the estimation of all Puritans, Dissenters and Republicans--being the happy abode of every kind of immorality and debauchery. Prince Amédé d'Orléans--as he styled himself--with his fantastic clothes, his airs and graces and long, curly hair was an object of special aversion to the Quaker, even though the money which the despised foreigner paid for his lodgings was passing welcome these hard times.
Adam resolutely avoided speech with the Prince, whenever possible, but the latter's provocative and sarcastic speech roused his dormant hatred; like a dog who has been worried, he now turned abruptly round and faced Sir Marmaduke, stepping close up to him, his eyes glaring with vindictive rage, a savage snarl rising in his throat.
"Take notice, friend," he said hoarsely, "that I'll not bear thine impudence. Thou mayest go and bully the old woman at the cottage when I am absent--Oh! I've heard thee!" he added with unbridled savagery, "ordering her about as if she were thy serving wench ... but let me tell thee that she is no servant of thine, nor I ... so have done, my fine prince ... dost understand?"
"Prithee, friend, do not excite yourself," said Sir Marmaduke blandly, drawing back against the wall as far as he could to avoid close proximity with his antagonist. "I have never wished to imply that Mistress Lambert was aught but my most obliging, most amiable landlady--nor have I, to my certain knowledge, overstepped the privileges of a lodger. I trust that your worthy aunt hath no cause for complaint. Mistress Lambert is your aunt?" he added superciliously, "is she not?"
"That is nothing to thee," muttered the other, "if she be my aunt or no, as far as I can see."
"Surely not. I asked in a spirit of polite inquiry."
But apparently this subject was one which had more than any other the power to rouse the blacksmith's savage temper. He fought with it for a moment or two, for anger is the Lord's, and strict Quaker discipline forbade such unseemly wrangling. But Adam was a man of violent temperament which his strict religious training had not altogether succeeded in holding in check: the sneers of the foreign prince, his calm, supercilious attitude, broke the curb which religion had set upon his passion.
"Aye! thou art mighty polite to me, my fine gentleman," he said vehemently. "Thou knowest what I think of thy lazy foreign ways ... why dost thou not do a bit of honest work, instead of hanging round her ladyship's skirts? ... If I were to say a word to Sir Marmaduke, 'twould be mightily unpleasant for thee, an I mistake not. Oh! I know what thou'rt after, with thy fine ways, and thy romantic, lying talk of liberty and patriotism! ... the heiress, eh, friend? That is thy design.... I am not blind, I tell thee.... I have seen thee and her ..."
Sir Marmaduke laughed lightly, shrugging his shoulders in token of indifference. "Quite so, quite so, good master," he said suavely, "do ye not waste your breath in speaking thus loudly. I understand that your sentiments towards me do not partake of that Christian charity of which ye and yours do prate at times so loudly. But I'll not detain you. Doubtless worthy Mistress Lambert will be awaiting you, or is it the sick mare down Minster way that hath first claim on your amiability? I'll not detain you."
He turned as if to go, but Adam's hard grip was on his shoulder in an instant. "Nay! thou'lt not detain me--'tis I am detaining thee!" said the blacksmith hoarsely, "for I desired to tell thee that thy ugly French face is abhorrent to me ... I do not hold with princes.... For a prince is none better than another man nay, he is worse an he loafs and steals after heiresses and their gold ... and will not do a bit of honest work.... Work makes the man.... Work and prayer ... not your titles and fine estates. This is a republic now ... understand? ... no king, no House of Lords--please the Lord neither clergymen nor noblemen soon.... I work with my hands ... and am not ashamed. The Lord Saviour was a carpenter and not a prince.... My brother is a student and a gentleman--as good as any prince-understand? Ten thousand times as good as thee."
He relaxed his grip which had been hard as steel on Sir Marmaduke's shoulder. It was evident that he had been nursing hatred and loathing against his lodger for some time, and that to-night the floodgates of his pent-up wrath had been burst asunder through the mysterious prince's taunts, and insinuations anent the cloud and secrecy which hung round the Lamberts' parentage.
Though his shoulder was painful and bruised under the pressure of the blacksmith's rough fingers, Sir Marmaduke did not wince. He looked his avowed enemy boldly in the face, with no small measure of contempt for the violence displayed.
His own enmity towards those who thwarted him was much more subtle, silent and cautious. He would never storm and rage, show his enmity openly and caution his antagonist through an outburst of rage. Adam Lambert still glaring into his lodger's eye, encountered nothing therein but irony and indulgent contempt.
Religion forbade him to swear. Yet was he sorely tempted, and we may presume that he cursed inwardly, for his enemy refused to be drawn into wordy warfare, and he himself had exhausted his vocabulary of sneering abuse, even as he had exhausted his breath.
Perhaps in his innermost heart he was ashamed of his outburst. After all, he had taken this man's money, and had broken bread with him. His hand dropped to his side, and his head fell forward on his breast even as with a pleasant laugh the prince carelessly turned away, and with an affected gesture brushed his silken doublet, there where the blacksmith's hard grip had marred the smoothness of the delicate fabric.
Had Adam Lambert possessed that subtle sixth sense, which hears and sees that which goes on in the mind of others, he had perceived a thought in his lodger's brain cells which might have caused him to still further regret his avowal of open enmity.
For as the blacksmith finally turned away and walked off through the park, skirting the boundary wall, Sir Marmaduke looked over his shoulder at the ungainly figure which was soon lost in the gloom, and muttered a round oath between his teeth.
"An exceedingly unpleasant person," he vowed within himself, "you will have to be removed, good master, an you get too troublesome."