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THE DAY AFTER
The feeling which prevailed in Thanet with regard to the murder of the mysterious foreigner on the sands of Epple Bay was chiefly one of sullen resentment.
Here was a man who had come from goodness knows where, whose strange wanderings and secret appearances in the neighborhood had oft roused the anger of the village folk, just as his fantastic clothes, his silken doublet and befrilled shirt had excited their scorn; here was a man, I say, who came from nowhere, and now he chose--the yokels of the neighborhood declared it that he chose--to make his exit from the world in as weird a manner as he had effected his entrance into this remote and law-abiding little island.
The farmhands and laborers who dwelt in the cottages dotted about around St. Nicholas-at-Wade, Epple or Acol were really angry with the stranger for allowing himself to be murdered on their shores. Thanet itself had up to now enjoyed a fair reputation for orderliness and temperance, and that one of her inhabitants should have been tempted to do away with that interloping foreigner in such a violent manner was obviously the fault of that foreigner himself.
The watches had found him on the sands at low tide. One of them walking along the brow of the cliff had seen the dark object lying prone amongst the boulders, a black mass in the midst of the whiteness of the chalk.
The whole thing was shocking, no doubt, gruesome in the extreme, but the mystery which surrounded this strange death had roused ire rather than horror.
Of course the news had traveled slowly from cottage to cottage, although Petty Constable Pyot, who resided at St. Nicholas, had immediately apprised Squire Boatfield and Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse of the awesome discovery made by the watches on the sands of Epple Bay.
Squire Boatfield was major-general of the district and rode over from Sarre directly he heard the news. The body in the meanwhile had been placed under the shelter of one of the titanic caves which giant hands have carved in the acclivities of the chalk. Squire Boatfield ordered it to be removed. It was not fitting that birds of prey should be allowed to peck at the dead, nor that some unusually high tide should once more carry him out to sea, ere his murderer had been brought to justice.
Therefore, the foreigner with the high-sounding name was conveyed by the watches at the squire's bidding to the cottage of the Lamberts over at Acol, the only place in Thanet which he had ever called his home.
The old Quakeress, wrathful and sullen, had scarce understood what the whole pother was about. She was hard of hearing, and Petty Constable Pyot was at great pains to explain to her that by the major-general's orders the body of the murdered man should be laid decently under shelter, until such time as proper burial could be arranged for it.
Fortunately before the small cortège bearing the gruesome burden had arrived at the cottage, young Richard Lambert had succeeded in making the old woman understand what was expected of her.
Even then she flatly and obstinately refused to have the stranger brought into her house.
"He was a heathen," she declared emphatically, "his soul hath mayhap gone to hell. His thoughts were evil, and God had him not in His keeping. 'Tis not fit that the mortal hulk of a damned soul should pollute the saintliness of mine own abode."
Pyot thought that the old woman was raving, but Master Lambert very peremptorily forbade him to interfere with her. The young man, though quite calm, looked dangerous--so thought the petty constable--and between them, the old Quakeress and the young student defied the constables and the watches and barred the cottage to the entrance of the dead.
Unfortunately, the smith was from home. Pyot thought that the latter had been more reasonable, that he would have understood the weight of authority, and also of seemliness, which was of equally grave importance.
There was a good deal of parleying before it was finally decided to place the body in the forge, which was a wooden lean-to, resting against the north wall of the cottage. There was no direct access from the cottage to the forge, and old Mistress Lambert seemed satisfied that the foreigner should rest there, at any rate until the smith came home, when, mayhap, he would decide otherwise.
At the instance of the petty constable she even brought out a sheet, which smelt sweetly of lavender, and gave it to the watchmen, so that they might decently cover up the dead; she also gave them three elm chairs on which to lay him down.
Across those three chairs the body now lay, covered over with the lavender-scented sheet, in the corner of the blacksmith's forge, over by the furnace. A watchman stayed beside it, to ward off sacrilege: anyone who desired could come, and could--if his nerves were strong enough--view the body and state if, indeed, it was that of the foreigner who all through last summer had haunted the woods and park of Acol.
Of a truth there was no doubt at all as to the identity of the dead. His fantastic clothes were unmistakable. Many there were who had seen him wandering in the woods of nights, and several could swear to the black silk shade and the broad-brimmed hat which the watchmen had found--high and dry--on a chalk boulder close to where the body lay.
Mistress Lambert had refused to look on the dead. 'Twas, of course, no fit sight for females, and the constable had not insisted thereon: but she knew the black silk shade again, and young Master Lambert had caught sight of the murdered man's legs and feet, and had thereupon recognized the breeches and the quaint boots with their overwide tops filled with frills of lace.
Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy, too, though unwilling to see a corpse, thought it his duty to help the law in investigating this mysterious crime. He had oft seen the foreigner of nights in the park, and never doubted for a moment that the body which lay across the elm chairs in the smith's forge was indeed that of the stranger.
Squire Boatfield was now quite satisfied that the identity of the victim was firmly established, and anon he did his best--being a humane man--to obtain Christian burial for the stranger. After some demur, the parson at Minster declared himself willing to do the pious deed.
Heathen or not, 'twas not for Christian folk to pass judgment on him who no longer now could give an explanation of his own mysterious doings, and had of a truth carried his secrets with him in silence to the grave.
Was it not strange that anyone should have risked the gallows for the sake of putting out of the way a man who of a surety was not worth powder or shot?
And the nerve and strength which the murderer had shown! ... displacing great boulders with which to batter in his victim's face so that not even his own kith and kin could recognize that now!
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