George Henty.

The Curse of Carne's Hold: A Tale of Adventure



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"That is right, Ruth," the doctor said, cheeringly, "try and rouse yourself, child. You remember me, don't you?" Ruth opened her eyes and looked up.

"That's right, child, I mustn't have you on my hands again, you know." Ruth looked round with a puzzled air, then a sharp look of pain crossed her face.

"I know, Ruth," said the doctor, soothingly; "it is terrible for every one, but least terrible for your poor young mistress; she passed away painlessly, and went at once from life into death. Every one loved her, you know; it may be that God has spared her much unhappiness."

Ruth burst into a paroxysm of crying; the doctor nodded to the old servant.

"That's what I wanted," he whispered, "she will be better after this. Get a cup of hot tea for her, or beef-tea will be better still if you have any, make her drink it and then leave her for a time. I will see her again presently."

Immediately the doctor left him, Reginald Carne wrote a telegram to the Chief Constable of the county, and despatched a servant with orders to gallop as fast as he could to the station and send it off.

Mr. Volkes, the magistrate, arrived half an hour later, terribly shocked by the news he had heard. He at once set about making inquiries, and heard what the doctor and constable had to say. No one else had been in the room except the old cook, Mr. Carne, and the poor girl's own maid.

"It would be useless for you to question the girl to-day, Volkes. She is utterly prostrate with the shock, but I have no doubt she will be able to give her evidence at the inquest. So far as I can see there does not seem to be the slightest clue. Apparently some villain who knows something about the house has climbed through the window, stabbed her, and made off with her jewellery."

"It is a hideous business," the magistrate said; "there has not been such a startling crime committed in the county in all my experience. And to think that Margaret Carne should be the victim, a girl every one liked; it is terrible, terrible. What's your opinion, doctor? Some wandering tramp, I suppose?"

"I suppose so. Certainly it can be none of the neighbours. In the first place, as you say, every one liked her and in the second, a crime of that sort is quite out of the way of our quiet Devonshire people. It must have been some stranger, that's evident. Yet on the other hand it is singular that the man should have got into her room. I don't suppose there has been a window fastened or a door locked on the ground floor for years; the idea of a burglary never occurs to any one here. By the way, the coroner ought to be informed at once. I will speak to Carne about it; if we do it this morning he will have time to send over this evening and summon a jury for to-morrow; the sooner it is over the better. Directly the Chief Constable arrives he will no doubt send round orders everywhere for tramps and suspicious persons to be arrested. Plymouth is the place where they are most likely to get some clue; in the first place it's the largest town in this part, and in the second there are sure to be low shops where a man could dispose of valuables."

In the afternoon, Captain Hendricks, the Chief Constable, arrived, and took the matter in hand.

In the first place he had a long private conversation with Job Harpur, who had been steadily keeping watch in the garden beneath the window, leaving him with strict orders to let no one approach the spot.

He then, with a sergeant who had arrived with him, made a thorough search of the bedroom. After this he examined every one who knew anything about the matter, with the exception of Ruth Powlett, for whom the doctor said absolute quiet was necessary, as to all they knew about it. Then he obtained a minute description of the missing watch and jewels, and telegraphed it to Plymouth and Exeter. Having done this he went out into the garden again, and there a close search was made on the grass and borders for the marks of footsteps. When all this was done he had a long private conversation with Reginald Carne.

The news of Margaret Carne's murder created an excitement in Carnesford, such as had never been equalled since the day when Lady Carne murdered her child and the curse of Carne's Hold began its work. There was not a soul in the valley but knew her personally, for Margaret had taken great interest in village matters, had seen that soups and jellies were sent down from The Hold to those who were sick, had begged many a man off his rent when laid up or out of work, and had many pensioners who received weekly gifts of money, tea, or other little luxuries. She gave prizes in the school; helped the parson with his choir; and scarcely a day passed without her figure being seen in the streets of Carnesford. That she could be murdered seemed incredible, and when the news first arrived it was received with absolute unbelief. When such confirmation was received that doubt was no longer possible, all work in Carnesford was suspended. Women stood at their doors and talked to their neighbours and wept freely. Men gathered in knots and talked it over and uttered threats of what they would do if they could but lay hands on the murderer. Boys and girls walked up the hill and stood at the edge of the wood, talking in whispers and gazing on the house as if it presented some new and mysterious attraction. Later in the day two or three constables arrived, and asked many questions as to whether any one had heard any one passing through the street between one and three in the morning; but Carnesford had slept soundly, and no one was found who had been awake between those hours.

The little conclave in the sanctum at the "Carne's Arms" met half an hour earlier than usual. They found on their arrival there a stranger chatting with the landlord, who introduced him to them as Mr. Rentford, a detective officer from Plymouth.

"A sad affair, gentlemen, a sad affair," Mr. Rentford said, when they had taken their seats and lit their churchwardens. "As sad an affair, I should say, as ever I was engaged in."

"It is that," Jacob Carey said. "Here's Mr. Claphurst here, who has been here, man and boy, for nigh eighty years. He will tell you that such an affair as this has never happened in this part in his time."

"I suppose, now," the detective said, "there's none in the village has any theory about it; I mean," he went on, as none of his hearers answered, "no one thinks it can be any one but some tramp or stranger to the district?"

"It can't be no one else," Jacob Carey said, "as I can see. What do you say, Hiram Powlett? I should say no one could make a nearer guess than you can, seeing as they say it was your Ruth as first found it out."

"I haven't seen Ruth," Hiram said; "the doctor told me, as he came down, as she was quite upset with the sight, and that it would be no good my going up to see her, as she would have to keep still all day. So I can't see farther into it than another; but surely it must be some stranger."

"There was no one about here so far as you have heard, Mr. Powlett, who had any sort of grudge against this poor lady?"

"Not a soul, as far as I know," Hiram replied. "She could speak up sharp, as I have heard, could Miss Carne, to a slatternly housewife or a drunken husband; but I never heard as she made an enemy by it, though, if she had, he would have kept his tongue to himself, for there were not many here in Carnesford who would have heard a word said against Miss Carne and sat quiet over it."

"No, indeed," Jacob Carey affirmed, bringing down his fist with a heavy thump on his knee. "The Squire and his sister were both well liked, and I for one would have helped duck any one that spoke against them in the Dare. She was the most liked, perhaps, because of her bright face and her kind words and being so much down here among us; but the Squire is well liked, too; he is not one to laugh and talk as she was, but he is a good landlord, and will always give a quarter's rent to a man as gets behindhand for no fault of his own, and if there is a complaint about a leaky roof or any repairs that want doing, the thing is done at once and no more talk about it. No, they have got no enemies about here as I know of, except maybe it's the poachers down at Dareport, for though the Squire don't shoot himself, he preserves strictly, and if a poacher's caught he gets sent to the quarter sessions as sure as eggs is eggs."

"Besides," the old clerk put in, "they say as Miss Carne's watch and things has been stolen; that don't look as if it was done out of revenge, do it?"

"Well, no," the detective said, slowly; "but that's not always to be taken as a sign, because you see if any one did a thing like that, out of revenge, they would naturally take away anything that lay handy, so as to make it look as if it was done for theft."

The idea was a new one to his listeners, and they smoked over it silently for some minutes.

"Lord, what evil ways there are in the world," Reuben Claphurst said at last. "Wickedness without end. Now what do you make out of this, mister? Of course these things come natural to you."

The detective shook his head. "It's too early to form an opinion yet, Mr. Claphurst – much too early. I dare say we shall put two and two together and make four presently, but at present you see we have got to learn all the facts, and you who live close ought to know more than we do, and to be able to put us on the track to begin with. You point me out a clue, and I will follow it, but the best dogs can't hunt until they take up the scent."

"That's true enough," the blacksmith said, approvingly.

"Have there been any strangers stopping in the village lately?" the detective asked.

"There have been a few stopping off and on here, or taking rooms in the village," the landlord answered; "but I don't think there has been any one fishing on the stream for the last few days."

"I don't mean that class; I mean tramps."

"That I can't tell you," the landlord replied; "we don't take tramps in here; they in general go to Wilding's beershop at the other end of the village. He can put up four or five for the night, and in summer he is often full, for we are just about a long day's tramp out from Plymouth, and they often make this their first stopping-place out, or their last stopping-place in, but it's getting late for them now, not many come along after the harvest is well over. Still, you know, there may have been one there yesterday, for aught I know."

"I will go round presently and ask. Any one who was here the night before might well have lain in the woods yesterday, and gone up and done it."

"I don't believe as you will ever find anything about it. There's a curse on Carne's Hold, as every one knows, and curses will work themselves out. If I were the Squire, I would pull the place down, every stick and stone of it, and I would build a fresh one a bit away. I wouldn't use so much as a brick or a rafter of the old place, for the curse might stick to it. I would have everything new from top to bottom."

"Yes, I have heard of the curse on Carne's Hold," the detective said. "A man who works with me, and comes from this part of the country, told me all about it as we came over to-day. However, that has nothing to do with this case."

"It's partly the curse as that heathen woman, as Sir Edgar brought home as his wife, laid on the place," the old clerk said, positively; "and it will go on working as long as Carne's Hold stands. That's what I says, and I don't think as any one else here will gainsay me."

"That's right enough," the blacksmith agreed, "I think we are all with you there, Mr. Claphurst. It ought to have been pulled down long ago after what has happened there. Why, if Mr. Carne was to say to me, 'Have the house and the garden and all rent free, Jacob Carey, as long as you like,' I should say, 'Thank you, Squire, but I wouldn't move into it, not if you give me enough beside to keep it up.' I call it just flying in the face of Providence. Only look at Hiram Powlett there; he sends his daughter up to be Miss Carne's maid at The Hold, and what comes of it? Why, she tumbles down the hill a-going up, and there she lies three weeks, with the doctor coming to see her every day. That was a clear warning if ever there was one. Who ever heard of a girl falling down and hurting herself like that? No one. And it would not have happened if it hadn't been for the curse of Carne's Hold."

"I shouldn't go so far as that," Hiram Powlett said. "What happened to my lass had nothing to do with The Hold; she might have been walking up the hill at any time, and she might have slipped down at any time. A girl may put her foot on a loose stone and fall without it having anything to say to The Hold one way or the other. Besides, I have never heard it said as the curse had aught to do except with the family."

"I don't know about that," the smith replied. "That servant that was killed by the Spanish woman's son; how about him? It seems to me as the curse worked on him a bit, too."

"So it did, so it did," Hiram agreed. "I can't gainsay you there, Jacob Carey; now you put it so, I see there is something in it, though never before have I heard of there being anything in the curse except in the family."

"Why, didn't Miles Jefferies, father of one of the boys as is in the stables, get his brains kicked out by one of the old Squire's horses?"

"So he did, Jacob, so he did; still grooms does get their brains kicked out at other places besides The Hold. But there is something in what you say, and if I had thought of it before, I would never have let my Ruth go up there to service. I thought it was all for the best at the time, and you knows right enough why I sent her up there, to be away from that George Forester; still, I might have sent her somewhere else, and I would have done if I had thought of what you are saying now. Sure enough no good has come of it. I can't hold that that fall of hers had aught to do with the curse of the Carnes, but this last affair, which seems to me worse for her than the first, sure enough comes from the curse."

"Who is this George Forester, if you don't mind my asking the question?" the detective said. "You see it's my business to find out about people."

"Oh, George hadn't nothing to do with this business," Hiram replied. "He's the son of a farmer near here, and has always been wild and a trouble to the old man, but he's gone away weeks ago. He got into a poaching scrape, and one of the keepers was hurt, and I suppose he thought he had best be out of it for a time; anyhow, he has gone. But he weren't that sort of a chap. No, there was no harm in George Forester, not in that way; he was lazy and fonder of a glass than was good for him, and he got into bad company down at Dareport, and that's what led him to this poaching business, I expect, because there was no call for him to go poaching. His father's got a tidy farm, and he wanted for nothing. If he had been there he couldn't have wanted to steal Miss Carne's jewellery. He was passionate enough, I know, and many a quarrel has he had with his father, but nothing would have made me believe, even if he had been here, that old Jim Forester's son had a hand in a black business like this; so don't you go to take such a notion as that into your head."

"He would not be likely to have any quarrel with Miss Carne?" the detective asked.

"Quarrel? No," Hiram replied sharply, for he resented the idea that any possible suspicion of Margaret Carne's murder should be attached to a man with whom Ruth's name had been connected. "I don't suppose Miss Carne ever spoke a word to him in her life. What should she speak to him for? Why, he had left the Sunday school years before she took to seeing after it. 'Tain't as if he had been one of the boys of the village."

As Jacob Carey, Reuben Claphurst, and the landlord, each gave an assenting murmur to Hiram's words, the detective did not think it worth while to pursue the point further, for there really seemed nothing to connect this George Forester in any way with Margaret Carne's death.

"Well," he said, taking up his hat, "I will go round to this beershop you speak of, and make inquiries as to whether any tramps have been staying there. It is quite certain this young lady didn't put an end to herself. What we have got to find out is: Who was the man that did it?"

CHAPTER V.
THE INQUEST

It was six o'clock, and already quite dark, when, as Lieutenant Gulston was writing in his cabin, his servant told him that Dr. Mackenzie had just come off from the shore, and would be glad if he could spare him a few minutes' conversation.

"Tell him I will be on the quarter-deck in a minute." He added a few lines to the letter he was writing, put it in an envelope, and, taking his cap, went out, dropping the letter into the post-bag that hung near his cabin, and then went on to the quarter-deck. He was rather pleased with the doctor's summons, for he highly esteemed him, and regretted the slight estrangement which had arisen between them.

"Well, doctor," he asked, cheerily, "have some of the men been getting into mischief ashore?"

"No, lad, no," the doctor replied, and the first-lieutenant felt that something more serious was the matter, for since he had obtained his rank of first-lieutenant the doctor had dropped his former habit of calling him lad. "No, I have heard some news ashore that will affect you seriously. I am sorry, dear lad, very sorry. I may have thought that you were foolish, but that will make no difference now."

"What is it, doctor?" Lieutenant Gulston asked, with a vague alarm at the gravity of the doctor's manner of treating him.

"The evening papers came out with an early edition, Gulston, and the boys are shouting out the news of a terrible affair, a most terrible affair at your friends the Carnes'. Be steady, lad, be steady. It's a heavy blow for a man to have to bear. Miss Carne is dead."

"Dead! Margaret dead!" the lieutenant repeated, incredulously. "What are you saying, doctor? There must be some mistake. She was well yesterday, for I was over there in the evening and did not leave until nine o'clock. It can't be true."

"It is true, lad, unhappily; there is no mistake. She was found dead in her bed this morning."

The lieutenant was almost stunned by the blow.

"Good God!" he murmured. "It seems impossible."

The doctor walked away and left him for a minute or two to himself. "I have not told you all as yet, lad," he went on, when he returned; "it makes no difference to her, poor girl – none. She passed out of life, it seems, painlessly and instantly, but it is worse for those who are left."

He paused a moment. "She was found stabbed to the heart by a midnight robber."

An exclamation of horror broke from the sailor. "Murdered? Good Heavens!"

"Ay, lad, it is true. It seems to have been done in her sleep, and death was instantaneous. There, I will leave you for a while, now. I will put the paper in your cabin, so that when you feel equal to reading the details you can do so. Try and think it is all for the best, lad. No one knows what trouble might have darkened her life and yours had this thing not happened. I know you will not be able to think so now, but you will feel it so some day."

An hour later Lieutenant Gulston entered the doctor's cabin. There was a look of anger as well as of grief on his face that the doctor did not understand.

"Doctor, I believe this is no murder by a wandering tramp, as the paper says. I believe it was done from revenge, and that the things were stolen simply to throw people off the scent. I will tell you what took place yesterday. I drove up as far as the gate in the garden; there one road sweeps round in front of the house, the other goes straight to the stables; so I got down, and told the man he might as well drive straight in, while I walked up to the house. The road follows close under the drawing-room windows, and, one of these being open, as I passed I heard a man's voice raised loud in anger, so loudly and so passionately, indeed, that I involuntarily stopped. His words were, as nearly as I can recollect, 'You have fooled me and spoilt my life, but you shall regret it. You think after all these years I am to be thrown off like an old glove. No, by Heaven; you may throw me over, but I swear you shall never marry this sailor or anybody else, whatever I may have to do to prevent it. You say I have the curse of the Carnes in my blood! You are right, and you shall have cause to regret it.' The voice was so loud and passionate that I believed the speaker was about to do some injury to Margaret, for I did not doubt that it was to her he was speaking, and I ran round through the hall-door to the door of the room; but I found Carne himself standing there. He, too, I suppose, when he had been about to enter, had heard the words. He said, 'Don't go in just at present, Margaret and her cousin are having a quarrel, but I think it's over now.' Seeing that he was there at hand I went away for a bit, and found afterwards that Mervyn had jumped from the window, gone to the stable and ridden straight off. Margaret didn't come down to dinner, making an excuse that she was unwell. Now, what do you think of that, doctor? You know that Mervyn's mother was a Carne, and that he has this mad blood that you warned me against in his veins. There is his threat, given in what was an almost mad outburst of passion. She is found dead this morning; what do you think of it?"



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