The Childerbridge Mystery - Guy Boothby - ebook
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This book starts off in Australia with a man and his two grown children. They decide to go back to England, but before they go, an old enemy of the father's shows up. The son and daughter wonder about him. Anyway, they all move to England and buy a house that is supposed to be haunted with ghosts. All its owners have seen them and some have been killed after seeing them. Into this village they settle down. James, the son, meets a young lady he falls in love with, but her grandfather won't let them marry and, later on, even see each other. The enemy of James' father shows up again and shortly afterwards, James' father is killed...

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THE CHILDERBRIDGE MYSTERY

Guy Boothby

JOVIAN PRESS

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All rights reserved. Aside from brief quotations for media coverage and reviews, no part of this book may be reproduced or distributed in any form without the author’s permission. Thank you for supporting authors and a diverse, creative culture by purchasing this book and complying with copyright laws.

Copyright © 2017 by Guy Boothby

Published by Jovian Press

Interior design by Pronoun

Distribution by Pronoun

ISBN: 9781537821580

TABLE OF CONTENTS

CHAPTER I

CHAPTER II

CHAPTER III

CHAPTER IV

CHAPTER V

CHAPTER VI

CHAPTER VII

CHAPTER VIII

CHAPTER IX

CHAPTER X

CHAPTER XI

CHAPTER XII

CHAPTER XIII

CHAPTER I

~

ONE HAD ONLY TO LOOK at William Standerton in order to realise that he was, what is usually termed, a success in life. His whole appearance gave one this impression; the bold unflinching eyes, the square, resolute chin, the well-moulded lips, and the lofty forehead, showed a determination and ability to succeed that was beyond the ordinary.

The son of a hardworking country doctor, it had fallen to his lot to emigrate to Australia at the early age of sixteen. He had not a friend in that vast, but sparsely-populated, land, and was without influence of any sort to help him forward. When, therefore, in fifty years’ time, he found himself worth upwards of half-a-million pounds sterling, he was able to tell himself that he owed his good fortune not only to his own industry, but also to his shrewd business capabilities. It is true that he had had the advantage of reaching the Colonies when they were in their infancy, but even with this fact taken into consideration, his was certainly a great performance. He had invested his money prudently, and the rich Stations, and the streets of House Property, were the result.

Above all things, William Standerton was a kindly-natured man. Success had not spoilt him in this respect. No genuine case of necessity ever appealed to him in vain. He gave liberally, but discriminatingly, and in so doing never advertised himself.

Strange to say, he was nearly thirty years of age before he even contemplated matrimony. The reason for this must be ascribed to the fact that his life had been essentially an active one, and up to that time he had not been brought very much into contact with the opposite sex. When, however, he fell in love with pretty Jane McCalmont—then employed as a governess on a neighbouring Property—he did so with an enthusiasm that amply made up for lost time.

She married him, and presented him with two children—a boy and a girl. Within three months of the latter’s arrival into the world, the mother laid down her gentle life, leaving her husband a well nigh broken-hearted man. After her death the years passed slowly by with almost monotonous sameness. The boy James, and the girl Alice, in due course commenced their education, and in so doing left their childhood behind them. Their devotion to their father was only equalled by his love for them. He could scarcely bear them out of his sight, and entered into all their sports, their joys and troubles, as if he himself were a child once more.

It was not, however, until James was a tall, handsome young fellow of four-and-twenty, and Alice a winsome maid of twenty, that he arrived at the conclusion that his affairs no longer needed his personal supervision, and that he was at liberty to return to the Mother Country, and settle down in it, should he feel disposed to do so.

“It’s all very well for you young folk to talk of my leaving Australia,” he said, addressing his son and daughter; “but I shall be like a fish out of water in the Old Country. You forget that I have not seen her for half-a-century.”

“All the more reason that you should lose no time in returning, father,” observed Miss Alice, to whom a visit to England had been the one ambition of her life. “You shall take us about and show us everything; the little village in which you were born, the river in which you used to fish, and the wood in which the keeper so nearly caught you with the rabbit in your pocket. Then you shall buy an old-fashioned country house and we’ll settle down. It will be lovely!”

Her father pinched her shapely little ear, and then looked away across the garden to where a railed enclosure was to be seen, on the crest of a slight eminence. He remembered that the woman lying there had more than once expressed a hope that, in the days then to come, they would be able to return to their native country together, and take their children with them.

“Well, well, my dear,” he said, glancing down at the daughter who so much resembled her mother, “you shall have it your own way. We will go Home as soon as possible, and do just as you propose. I think we may be able to afford a house in the country, and perhaps, that is if you are a very dutiful daughter, another in London. It is just possible that there may be one or two people living who may remember William Standerton, and, for that reason, be kind to his son and daughter. But I fear it will be rather a wrench for me to leave these places that I have built up with my own hands, and to which I have devoted such a large portion of my life. However, one can be in harness too long, and when once Australia is left behind me, I have no doubt I shall enjoy my holiday as much as any one else.”

In this manner the matter was settled. Competent and trustworthy managers were engaged, and the valuable properties, which had contributed so large a share to William Standerton’s wealth, were handed over to their charge.

On the night before they were to leave Mudrapilla, their favourite and largest station, situated on the Darling River, in New South Wales, James Standerton, called Jim by his family and a multifarious collection of friends, was slowly making his way along the left bank of the River. He had ridden out to say good-bye to the manager of the Out Station, and as his horse picked his way along the bank, he was thinking of England, and of what his life was to be there. Suddenly he became aware of a man seated beneath a giant gum tree near the water’s edge. From the fact that the individual in question had kindled a fire and was boiling his billy, he felt justified in assuming that he was preparing his camp for the night. He accordingly rode up and accosted him. The man was a Foot Traveller, or Swagman, and presented a somewhat singular appearance. Though he was seated, Jim could see that he was tall, though sparsely built. His age must have been about sixty years; his hair was streaked with grey, as also was his beard. Taken altogether his countenance was of the description usually described as “hatchet-faced.” He was dressed after the swagman fashion, certainly no better, and perhaps a little worse. Yet with it all he had the appearance of having once been in better circumstances. He looked up as Jim approached, and nodded a “good evening.” The latter returned the salutation in his customary pleasant fashion.

“How much further is it to the Head Station?” the man on the ground then enquired.

“Between four and five miles,” Jim replied. “Are you making your way there?”

“That’s my idea,” the stranger answered. “I hear the owner is leaving for England, and I am desirous of having a few words with him before he goes.”

“You know him then?”

“I’ve known him over thirty years,” returned the other. “But he has gone up in the world while, as you will gather, I have done the opposite. Standerton was always one of Life’s lucky ones; I am one of Her failures. Anything he puts his hand to prospers; while I, let it be ever so promising, have only to touch a bit of business, and it goes to pieces like a house of cards.”

The stranger paused and took stock of the young man seated upon the horse.

“Now I come to think of it,” he continued, after having regarded Jim intently for some seconds, “you’re not unlike Standerton yourself. You’ve got the same eyes and chin, and the same cut of mouth.”

“It’s very probable, for I am his son,” Jim replied. “What is it you want with my father?”

“That’s best known to myself,” the stranger returned, with a surliness in his tone that he had not exhibited before. “When you get home, just tell your governor that Richard Murbridge is on his way up the river to call upon him, and that he will try to put in an appearance at the Station early to-morrow morning. I don’t fancy he’ll be best pleased to see me, but I must have an interview with him before he leaves Australia, if I have to follow him round the country to get it.”

“You had better be careful how you talk to my father,” said Jim. “If you are as well acquainted with him as you pretend to be, you should know that he is not the sort of man to be trifled with.”

“I know him as well as you do,” the other answered, lifting his billy from the fire as he spoke. “William Standerton and I knew each other long before you were born. If it’s only the distance you say to the Head Station, you can tell him I’ll be there by breakfast time. I’m a bit foot-sore, it is true, but I can do the journey in an hour and a-half. On what day does the coach pass, going South?”

“To-morrow morning,” Jim replied. “Do you want to catch it?”

“It’s very probable I shall,” said Murbridge. “Though I wasn’t born in this cursed country, I’m Australian enough never to foot it when I can ride. Good Heavens! had any one told me, twenty-five years ago, that I should eventually become a Darling Whaler, I’d have knocked, what I should have thought then to be the lie, down their throats. But what I am you can see. Fate again, I suppose? However, I was always of a hopeful disposition, even when my affairs appeared to be at their worst, so I’ll pin my faith on to-morrow. Must you be going? Well, in that case, I’ll wish you good-night! Don’t forget my message to your father.”

Jim bade him good-night, and then continued his ride home. As he went he pondered upon his curious interview with the stranger he had just left, and while so doing, wondered as to his reasons for desiring to see his father.

“The fellow was associated with him in business at some time or another, I suppose?” he said to himself, “and, having failed, is now on his beam ends and wants assistance. Poor old Governor, there are times when he is called upon to pay pretty dearly for his success in life.”

James Standerton was proud of his father, as he had good reason to be. He respected him above all living men, and woe betide the individual who might have anything to say against the sire in the son’s hearing.

At last he reached the Home Paddock and cantered up the slope towards the cluster of houses, that resembled a small village, and surrendered his horse to a black boy in the stable yard. With a varied collection of dogs at his heels he made his way up the garden path, beneath the trellised vines to the house, in the broad verandah of which he could see his sister and father seated at tea.

“Well, my lad,” said Standerton senior, when Jim joined them, “I suppose you’ve seen Riddington, and have bade him good-bye. It’s my opinion he will miss you as much as any one in the neighbourhood. You two have always been such friends.”

“That’s just what Riddington said,” James replied. “He wishes he were coming with us. Poor chap, he doesn’t seem to think he’ll ever see England again.”

Alice looked up from the cup of tea she was pouring out for her brother.

“I fancy there is more in poor Mr. Riddington’s case than meets the eye,” she said sympathetically. “Nobody knows quite why he left England. He is always very reticent upon that point. I cannot help thinking, however, that there was a lady in the case.”

“There always is,” answered her brother. “There’s a woman in every mystery, and when you’ve found her it’s a mystery no longer. By the way, father, as I was coming home, I came across a fellow camped up the river. He asked me what the distance was to here, and said he was on his way to see you. He will be here the first thing to-morrow morning.”

“He wants work, I suppose?”

“No, I shouldn’t say that he did,” James replied. “He said that he wanted to see you on important private business.”

“Indeed? I wonder who it can be? A swagman who has important private business with me is a rara avis. He didn’t happen to tell you his name, I suppose?”

“Yes, he did,” Jim answered, placing his cup on the floor as he spoke. “His name is Richard Murbridge, or something like it.”

The effect upon the elder man was electrical.

“Richard Murbridge?” he cried. “Camped on the river and coming here?”

His son and daughter watched him with the greatest astonishment depicted upon their faces. It was not often that their father gave way to so much emotion. At last with an effort he recovered himself, and, remarking that Murbridge was a man with whom he had had business in bygone days, and that he had not seen him for many years, went into the house.

“I wonder who this Murbridge can be?” said James to his sister, when they were alone together. “I didn’t like the look of him, and if I were the Governor, I should send him about his business as quickly as possible.”

When he had thus expressed himself, Jim left his sister and went off to enjoy that luxury so dear to the heart of a bushman after his day’s work, a swim in the river. He was some time over it, and when he emerged, he was informed that his presence was required at the Store. Thither he repaired to arbitrate in the quarrel of two Boundary Riders. In consequence, more than an hour elapsed before he returned to the house. His sister greeted him at the gate with a frightened look upon her face.

“Have you seen father?” she enquired.

“No,” he answered. “Isn’t he in the house?”

“He went down the track just after you left, riding old Peter, and as he passed the gate he called to me not to keep dinner for him, as he did not know how long it might be before he would be back. Jim, I believe he is gone to see that man you told him of, and the thought frightens me.”

“You needn’t be alarmed,” her brother answered. “Father is quite able to take care of himself.”

But though he spoke with so much assurance, in his own mind he was not satisfied. He remembered that it had been his impression that the swagman bore his father a grudge, and the thought made him uneasy.

“Look here, Alice,” he said, after he had considered the matter for some time, “I’ve a good mind to go back along the track, and to bring the Governor home with me. What do you think?”

“It would relieve me of a good deal of anxiety if you would,” the girl replied. “I don’t like the thought of his going off like this.”

Jim accordingly went to the end of the verandah, and called to the stables for a horse. As soon as the animal was forthcoming he mounted it, and set off in the direction his father had taken. It was now quite dark, but so well did he know it, that he could have found his way along the track blindfolded, if necessary. It ran parallel with the river, the high trees on the banks of which could be seen, standing out like a black line against the starlit sky. He let himself out of the Home Paddock, passed the Woolshed, and eventually found himself approaching the spot where Murbridge had made his camp. Then the twinkle of the fire came into view, and a few seconds later he was able to distinguish his father standing beside his grey horse, talking to a man who was lying upon the ground near the fire. Not wishing to play the part of an eavesdropper, he was careful to remain out of earshot. It was only when he saw the man rise, heard him utter a threat, and then approach his father, that he rode up. Neither of the men became aware of his approach until he was close upon them, and then both turned in surprise.

“James, what is the meaning of this?” his father cried. “What are you doing here, my lad?”

For a moment the other scarcely knew what reply to make. At last he said:—

“I came to assure myself of your safety, father. Alice told me you had gone out, and I guessed your errand.”

“A very dutiful son,” sneered Murbridge. “You are to be congratulated upon him, William.”

James stared at the individual before him with astonishment. What right had such a man to address his father by his Christian name?

“Be careful,” said Standerton, speaking to the man before him. “You know what I said to you just now, and you are also aware that I never break my word. Fail to keep your part of the contract, and I shall no longer keep mine.”

“You know that you have your heel upon my neck,” the other retorted; “and also that I cannot help myself. But I pray that the time may come when I shall be able to be even with you. To think that I am tramping this infernal country, like a dead beat Sundowner, without a cent in my pocket, while you are enjoying all the luxuries and happiness that life and wealth can give. It’s enough to make a man turn Anarchist right off.”

“That will do,” said William Standerton quietly. “Remember that to-morrow morning you will go back to the place whence you came; also bear in mind the fact that if you endeavour to molest me, or to communicate with me, or with any member of my family, I will carry out the threat I uttered just now. That is all I have to say to you.”

Then Standerton mounted his horse, and turning to his son, said:—

“Let us return home, James. It is getting late, and your sister will be uneasy.”

Without another word to the man beside the fire, they rode off, leaving him looking after them with an expression of deadly hatred upon his face. For some distance the two men rode in silence. Jim could see that his father was much agitated, and for that reason he forbore to put any question to him concerning the individual they had just left. Indeed it was not until they had passed the Woolshed once more, and had half completed their return journey that the elder man spoke.

“How much of my conversation with that man did you overhear?”

“Nothing but what I heard when Murbridge rose to his feet,” James replied. “I should not have come near you had I not heard his threat and seen him approach you. Who is the man, father?”

“His name is Murbridge,” said Standerton, with what was plainly an effort. “He is a person with whom I was on friendly terms many years ago, but he has now got into disgrace, and, I fear has sank very low indeed. I do not think he will trouble us any more, however, so we will not refer to him again.”

All that evening William Standerton was visibly depressed. He excused himself from playing his usual game of cribbage with his daughter, on the plea that he had a headache. Next morning, however, he was quite himself. He went out to his last day’s work in the bush as cheerfully as he had ever done. But had any one followed him, he, or she, would have discovered that the first thing he did was to ride to the spot where Richard Murbridge had slept on the previous night. The camp was deserted, and only a thin column of smoke, rising from the embers of the fire, remained to show that the place had been lately occupied.

“He has gone, then,” said Standerton to himself. “Thank goodness! But I know him too well to be able to assure myself that I have seen the last of him. Next week, however, we shall put the High Seas between us, and then, please God, I shall see no more of him for the remainder of my existence.”

At that moment the man of whom he was speaking, was tramping along the dusty track with a tempest of rage in his heart.

“He may travel wherever he pleases,” he was muttering to himself, “but he won’t get away from me. He may go to the end of the world, and I’ll follow him and be at his elbow, just to remind him who I am, and of the claims I have upon him. Yes, William Standerton, you may make up your mind upon one point, and that is the fact that I’ll be even with you yet!”

CHAPTER II

~

CHILDERBRIDGE MANOR IS CERTAINLY ONE of the finest mansions in the County of Midlandshire. It stands in a finely-timbered park of about two hundred acres, which rises behind the house to a considerable elevation. The building itself dates back to the reign of Good Queen Bess, and is declared by competent authorities to be an excellent example of the architecture of that period. It is large, and presents a most imposing appearance as one approaches it by the carriage drive. The interior is picturesque in the extreme; the hall is large and square, panelled with oak, and having a massive staircase of the same wood leading from it to a music gallery above. There are other staircases in various parts of the building, curious corkscrew affairs, in ascending which one is in continual danger of knocking one’s head against the ceiling and corners. There are long, and somewhat dark corridors, down which it would be almost possible to drive the proverbial coach and four, whilst there are also numerous secret passages, and a private chapel, with stained glass windows connected with the house by means of a short tunnel. That such a mansion should be provided with a family ghost, goes without saying. Indeed, Childerbridge Manor is reputed to possess a small army of them. Elderly gentlemen who carry their heads under their arms; beautiful women who glide down the corridors, weeping as they go; and last but not least, a deformity, invariably dressed in black, who is much given to sitting on the foot rails of beds, and pointing, with the first finger of his right hand, to the ceiling above. So well authenticated are the legends of these apparitions, that it would be almost an impossibility to induce any man, woman, or child, from the village, to enter the gates of Childerbridge Manor after dusk. Servants who arrived were told the stories afloat concerning their new abode; and the sound of the wind sighing round the house on a gusty night immediately set their imaginations to work, with the result of their giving notice of their intention to leave on the following morning. “They had seen the White Lady,” they declared, had heard her pitiful death cry, and vowed that nothing could induce them to remain in such a house twenty-four hours longer. In fact, “As haunted as the Manor House” had become a popular expression in the neighbourhood.

When the Standerton’s reached England, they set to work to discover for themselves a home. They explored the country from east to west, and from north to south, but without success. Eventually Childerbridge Manor was offered them by an Agent in London, and after they had spent a considerable portion of their time poring over photographs of the house and grounds, they arrived at the conclusion that they had discovered a place likely to suit them. On a lovely day in early summer they travelled down from London to inspect it, and were far from being disappointed in what they saw.

When they entered the gates the park lay before them, bathed in sunlight, the rooks cawed lazily in the trees, while the deer regarded them, from their couches in the bracken, with mild, contemplative eyes. After the scorched up plains of Australia, the picture was an exceedingly attractive one. The house itself, they could see would require a considerable outlay in repairs, but when that work was accomplished, it would be as perfect a residence as any that could be found. The stables were large enough to hold half a hundred horses, but for many years had been tenanted only by rats. The same might be said of the buildings of the Home Farm!

“However, taking one thing with another,” said Mr. Standerton, after he had inspected everything, and arrived at a proper understanding of the possibilities of the place, “I think it will suit us. The Society of the neighbourhood, they tell me, is good, while the hunting is undeniable. It is within easy reach of London, and all matters taken into consideration, I don’t think we shall better it.”

In this manner it was settled. A contract for repairs and decorations was placed in the hands of a well-known Metropolitan firm, a vast amount was spent in furnishing, and in due course Childerbridge Manor House was once more occupied. The County immediately came to call, invitations rained in, and having been duly inspected and not found wanting, the newcomers were voted a decided acquisition to the neighbourhood. William Standerton’s wealth soon became proverbial, and mothers, with marriageable sons and daughters, vied with each other in their attentions. James Standerton, as I have already said, was a presentable young man. His height was something over six feet, his shoulders were broad and muscular, as became a man who had lived his life doing hard work in the open air, his eyes were grey like his father’s, and there was the same moulding of the mouth and chin. In fact, he was an individual with whom, one felt at first glance, it would be better to be on good terms than bad.