The Mystery of the Ravenspurs - Fred M. White - ebook

The Mystery of the Ravenspurs ebook

Fred M White

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Opis

Ravenspurs is a quiet, dignified family, as rich and respectable as they come. However, recently they have become victims of mysterious crimes. But who is behind these tragedies? The last of the family must figure out before the whole line is destroyed.

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Liczba stron: 450

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Contents

I. THE SHADOW OF A FEAR

II. THE WANDERER RETURNS

III. THE CRY IN THE NIGHT

IV. 101 BRANT STREET

V. A RAY OF LIGHT

VI. ABELL CARRIES OUT HIS ERRAND

VII. MORE LIGHT

VIII. A MASTER OF FENCE

IX. APRIL DAYS

X. A LITTLE SUNSHINE

XI. ANOTHER STROKE IN THE DARKNESS

XII. GEOFFREY IS PUT TO THE TEST

XIII. REELING OFF THE THREAD

XIV. “IT MIGHT BE YOU”

XV. RALPH RAVENSPUR’S CONCEIT

XVI. THE WHITE FLOWERS

XVII. WHENCE DID THEY COME?

XVIII. MRS. MONA MAY

XIX. VERA IS NOT PLEASED

XX. A FASCINATING WOMAN

XXI. THE MYSTERY DEEPENS

XXII. DEEPER STILL

XXIII. MARION EXPLAINS

XXIV. MARION’S DOUBLE

XXV. GEOFFREY IS PUZZLED

XXVI. GEOFFREY BEGINS TO UNDERSTAND

XXVII. AN UNEXPECTED GUEST

XXVIII. MORE OF THE BEES

XXIX. MRS. MAY AT RAVENSPUR

XXX. A LEAF FROM THE PAST

XXXI. THE SILK THREAD

XXXII. MORE FROM THE PAST

XXXIII. VERA SEES SOMETHING

XXXIV. EXIT TCHIGORSKY

XXXV. MRS. MAY IS PLEASED

XXXVI. MRS. MAY LEARNS SOMETHING

XXXVII. DIPLOMACY

XXXVIII. GEOFFREY GETS A SHOCK

XXXIX. PRINCESS ZARA’S TERMS

XL. THE IRON CAGE

XLI. WAITING

XLII. THE SEARCH

XLIII. NEARER

XLIV. 3

XLV. BAFFLED

XLVI. NEARING THE END

XLVII. TCHIGORSKY FURTHER EXPLAINS

XLVIII. MORE FROM THE PAST

XLIX. RALPH TAKES CHARGE

L. A KIND UNCLE

LI. “WHAT DOES THIS MEAN?”

LII. “AS PROOF OF HOLY WRIT”

LIII. A LITTLE LIGHT

LIV. EXIT THE ASIATICS

LV. A SHOCK FOR THE PRINCESS

LVI. MARION COMES BACK

LVII. HAND AND FOOT

L’ENVOI

I. THE SHADOW OF A FEAR

A grand old castle looks out across the North Sea, and the fishermen toiling on the deep catch the red flash from Ravenspur Point as their forefathers have done for many generations.

The Ravenspurs and their great granite fortress have made history between them. Every quadrangle and watch-tower and turret has its legend of brave deeds and bloody deeds, of fights for the king and the glory of the flag. And for five hundred years there has been no Ravenspur who has not acquitted himself like a man. Theirs is a record to be proud of.

Time has dealt lightly with the home of the Ravenspurs. It is probably the most perfect mediaeval castle in the country. The moat and the drawbridge are still intact; the portcullis might be worked by a child. And landwards the castle looks over a fair domain of broad acres where the orchards bloom and flourish and the red beeves wax fat in the pastures.

A quiet family, a handsome family, a family passing rich in the world’s goods, they are strong and brave–a glorious chronicle behind them, and no carking cares ahead.

Surely, then, the Ravenspurs should be happy and contented beyond most men. Excepting the beat of the wings of the Angel of Death, that comes to all sooner or later, surely no sorrow dwelt there that the hand of time could fail to soothe.

And yet over them hung the shadow of a fear.

No Ravenspur had ever slunk away from any danger, however great, so long as it was tangible; but there was something here that turned the stoutest heart to water, and caused strong men to start at their shadows.

For five years now the curse had lain heavy on the house of Ravenspur.

It had come down upon them without warning; at first in the guise of a series of accidents and misfortunes, until gradually it became evident that some cunning and remorseless enemy was bent upon exterminating the Ravenspurs root and branch.

There had been no warning given, but one by one the Ravenspurs died mysteriously, horribly, until at last no more than seven of the family remained. The North country shuddered in speaking of the ill-starred family. The story had found its way into print.

Scotland Yard had taken the case in hand, but still the hapless Ravenspurs died, mysteriously murdered, and even some of those who survived had tales to unfold of marvellous escapes from destruction.

The fear grew on them like a haunting madness. From first to last not one single clue, however small, had the murderers left behind. Family archives were ransacked and personal histories explored with a view to finding some forgotten enemy who had originated this vengeance. But the Ravenspurs had ever been generous and kind, honorable to men and true to women, and none could lay a finger on the blot.

In the whole history of crime no such weird story had ever been told before. Why should this blow fall after the lapse of all these years? What could the mysterious foe hope to gain by this merciless slaughter? And to struggle against the unseen enemy was in vain.

As the maddening terror deepened, the most extraordinary precautions were taken to baffle the assassin. Eighteen months ago the word had gone out for the gathering of the family at the castle. They had come without followers or retainers of any kind; every servant had been housed outside the castle at nightfall, and the grim old fortress had been placed in a state of siege.

They waited upon themselves, they superintended the cooking of their own food, no strange feet crossed the drawbridge. When the portcullis was raised, the most ingenious burglar would have failed to find entrance. At last the foe was baffled; at last the family was safe. There was no secret passages, no means of entry; and here salvation lay.

Alas, for fond hopes! Within the last year and a half three of the family had perished in the same strange and horrible fashion.

There was Richard Ravenspur, a younger son of Rupert, the head of the house, with his wife and boy. Richard Ravenspur had been found dead in his bed poisoned by some lemonade; his wife had walked into the moat in the darkness; the boy had fallen from one of the towers into a stone quadrangle and been instantly killed.

The thing was dreadful, inexplicable to a degree. The enemy who was doing this thing was in the midst of them. And yet no stranger passed those iron gates; none but Ravenspurs dwelt within the walls. Eye looked into eye and fell again, ashamed that the other should know the suspicions racking each poor distracted brain.

And there were only seven of them now, who almost longed for the death they dreaded.

There was Rupert Ravenspur, the head of the family, a fine, handsome, white-headed man, who had distinguished himself in the Crimea and the Indian Mutiny. There was his son Gordon who some day might succeed him; there was Gordon’s wife and his daughter Vera. Then there was Geoffrey Ravenspur, the orphan son of one Jasper Ravenspur, who had fallen under the scourge two years before.

And also there was Marian Ravenspur, the orphan daughter of Charles Ravenspur, another son who had died in India five years before of cholera. Mrs. Charles was there, the child of an Indian prince, and from her Marion had inherited the dark beauty and soft, glorious eyes that made her beloved of the whole family.

A strange tale surely, a hideous nightmare, and yet so painfully realistic. One by one they were being cut off by the malignant destroyer, and ere long the family would be extinct. It seemed impossible to fight against the desolation that always struck in the darkness, and never struck in vain.

Rupert Ravenspur looked out from the leads above the castle to the open sea, and from thence to the trim lawns and flower-beds away to the park, where the deer stood knee-deep in the bracken.

It was a fair and perfect picture of a noble English homestead, far enough removed apparently from crime and violence. And yet!

A deep sigh burst from the old man’s breast; his lips quivered. The shadow of that awful fear was in his eyes. Not that he feared for himself, for the snows of seventy years lay upon his head, and his life’s work was done.

It was others he was thinking of. The bright bars of the setting sun shone on a young and graceful couple below coming towards the moat. A tender light filled old Ravenspur’s eyes.

Then he started as a gay laugh reached his ears. The sound caught him almost like a blow. Where had he heard a laugh like that before? It seemed strangely out of place. And yet those two were young, and they loved one another. Under happier auspices, Geoffrey Ravenspur would some day come into the wide acres and noble revenues, and take his cousin Vera to wife.

“May God spare them!” Ravenspur cried aloud. “Surely the curse must burn itself out some time, or the truth must come to light. If I could only live to know that they were to be happy!”

The words were a fervent prayer. The dying sun that turned the towers and turrets of the castle to a golden glory fell on his white, quivering face. It lit up the agony of the strong man with despair upon him. He turned as a hand lay light as thistledown on his arm.

“Amen with all my heart, dear grandfather,” a gentle voice murmured. “I could not help hearing what you said.”

Ravenspur smiled mournfully. He looked down into a pure, young face, gentle and placid, like that of a madonna, and yet full of strength. The dark brown eyes were so clear that the white soul seemed to gleam behind them. There was Hindoo blood in Marion Ravenspur’s veins, but she bore no trace of the fact. And out of the seven surviving members of that ill-fated race, Marion was the most beloved. All relied upon her, all trusted her. In the blackest hour her courage never faltered; she never bowed before the unseen terror.

Ravenspur turned upon her almost fiercely.

“We must save Vera and Geoffrey,” he said. “They must be preserved. The whole future of our race lies with those two young people. Watch over them, Marion; shield Vera from every harm. I know that she loves you. Swear that you will protect her from every evil!”

“There is no occasion to swear anything,” Marion said in her clear, sweet voice. “Dear, don’t you know that I am devoted heart and soul to your interests? When my parents died, and I elected to come here in preference to returning to my mother’s people, you received me with open arms. Do you suppose that I could ever forget the love and affection that have been poured upon me? If I can save Vera she is already saved. But why do you speak like this to-day?”

Ravenspur gave a quick glance around him.

“Because my time has come,” he whispered hoarsely. “Keep this to yourself, Marion, for I have told nobody but you. The black assassin is upon me. I wake at nights with fearful pains at my heart–I cannot breathe. I have to fight for my life, as my brother Charles fought for his two years ago. To-morrow morning I may be found dead in my bed–as Charles was. Then there will be an inquest, and the doctors will be puzzled, as they were before.”

“Grandfather! You are not afraid?”

“Afraid! I am glad–glad, I tell you. I am old and careworn, and the suspense is gradually sapping my senses. Better death, swift and terrible, than that. But not a word of this to the rest, as you love me!”

II. THE WANDERER RETURNS

The hour was growing late, and the family were dining in the great hall. Rupert Ravenspur sat at the head of the table, with Gordon’s wife opposite him. The lovers sat smiling and happy side by side. Across the table Marion beamed gently upon the company. Nothing ever seemed to eclipse her quiet gaiety; she was the life and soul of the party. There was something angelic about the girl as she sat there clad in soft, diaphanous white.

Lamps gleamed on the fair damask, on the feathery daintiness of flowers, and on the lush purple and gold and russet of grapes and peaches. From the walls long lines of bygone Ravenspurs looked down–fair women in hoops and farthingale, men in armor. There was a flash of color from the painted roof.

Presently the soft-footed servants would quit the castle for the night, for under the new order of things nobody slept in the castle excepting the family. Also, it was the solemn duty of each servitor to taste every dish as it came to the table. A strange precaution, but necessary in the circumstances.

For the moment the haunting terror was forgotten. Wines red and white gleamed and sparkled in crystal glasses. Rupert Ravenspur’s worn, white face relaxed. They were a doomed race, and they knew it; yet laughter was there, a little saddened, but eyes brightened as they looked from one to another.

By and bye the servants began to withdraw. The cloth was drawn in the old-fashioned way, a long row of decanters stood before the head of the house and was reflected in the shining, brown polished mahogany. Big log fires danced and glowed from the deep ingle-nooks; from outside came the sense of the silence.

An aged butler stood before Ravenspur with a key on a salver.

“I fancy that is all, sir,” he said.

Ravenspur rose and made his way along the corridor to the outer doorway. Here he counted the whole of the domestic staff carefully past the drawbridge, and then the portcullis was raised. Ravenspur Castle and its inhabitants were cut off from the outer world. Nobody could molest them till morning.

And yet the curl of a bitter smile was on Ravenspur’s face as he returned to the dining-hall. Even in the face of these precautions two of the garrison had gone down before the unseen hand of the assassin. There was some comfort in the reflection that the outer world was barred off, but it was futile, childish, in vain.

The young people, with Mrs. Charles, had risen from the table and had gathered on the pile of skins and cushions in one of the ingle-nooks. Gordon Ravenspur was sipping his claret and holding a cigar with a hand that trembled.

Hardy man as he was, the shadow lay upon him also; indeed, it lay upon them all. If the black death failed to strike, then madness would come creeping in its track. Thus it was that evening generally found the family all together. There was something soothing in the presence of numbers.

They were talking quietly, almost in whispers. Occasionally a laugh would break from Vera, only to be suppressed with a smile of apology. Ravenspur looked fondly into the blue eyes of the dainty little beauty whom they all loved so dearly.

“I hope I didn’t offend you, grandfather,” she said.

In that big hall voices sounded strained and loud. Ravenspur smiled.

“Nothing you could do would offend me,” he said. “It may be possible that a kindly Providence will permit me to hear the old roof ringing with laughter again. It may be, perhaps, that that is reserved for strangers when we are all gone.”

“Only seven left,” Gordon murmured.

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