The Nest of the Sparrowhawk HTML version
XXXII. The Path Near The Cliffs
The mist had not lifted. Over the sea it hung heavy and dank like a huge sheet of
gray thrown over things secret and unavowable. It was thickest down in the bay
lurking in the crevices of the chalk, in the great caverns and mighty architecture
carved by the patient toil of the billows in the solid mass of the cliffs.
Up above it was slightly less dense: allowing distinct peeps of the rough carpet of
coarse grass, of the downtrodden path winding towards Acol, of the edge of the
cliff, abrupt, precipitous, with a drop of some ninety feet into that gray pall of mist
to the sands below.
And higher up still, above the mist itself, a deep blue sky dotted with stars, and a
full moon, pale and circled with luminous vapors. A gentle breeze had risen about
half an hour ago and was blowing the mist hither and thither, striving to disperse
it, but not yet succeeding in mastering it, for it only shifted restlessly to and fro,
like the giant garments of titanic ghosts, revealing now a distant peep of sea,
anon the interior of a colonnaded cavern, abode of mysterious ghouls, or again a
nest of gulls in a deep crevice of the chalk: revealing and hiding again:--a shroud
dragged listlessly over monstrous dead things.
Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse had some difficulty in keeping to the footpath which
leads from the woods of Acol straight toward the cliffs. Unlike Adam Lambert, his
eyes were unaccustomed to pierce the moist pall which hid the distance from his
Strangely enough he had not cast aside the fantastic accouterments of the
French prince, and though these must have been as singularly uncomfortable, as
they were inappropriate, for a midnight walk, nevertheless, he still wore the
heavy perruque, the dark mustache, broad-brimmed hat, and black shade which
were so characteristic of the mysterious personage.
He had heard the church clock at Acol village strike half an hour after eleven and
knew that the smith would already be waiting for him.
The acrid smell of seaweed struck forcibly now upon his nostrils. The grass
beneath his feet had become more sparse and more coarse. The moisture which
clung to his face had a taste of salt in it. Obviously he was quite close to the edge
of the cliffs.
The next moment and without any warning a black outline appeared in the moon-
illumined density. It was Adam Lambert pacing up and down with the impatience
of an imprisoned beast of prey.
A second or two later the febrile hand of the smith had gripped Sir Marmaduke's
"You have brought those proofs?" he queried hoarsely.
His face was wet with the mist, and he had apparently oft wiped it with his hand
or sleeve, for great streaks of dirt marked his cheeks and forehead, giving him a
curious satanic expression, whilst his short lank hair obviously roughed up by