The Secret of the Sands - Fred M. White - ebook

The Secret of the Sands ebook

Fred M White

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Sir Devereux’s name had stood deservedly high in the annals of the Indian Army. He was more than a soldier and a strategist, his name was known everywhere where good work was done. Sometimes he was tough and strict, his code of honor was simple and sincere. He never considered his people fighting vehicles, but treated them like members of his family. The horror that has arrived, will soon change everything.

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Liczba stron: 285

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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 XIV

CHAPTER XV

CHAPTER XVI

CHAPTER XVII

CHAPTER XVIII

CHAPTER XIX

CHAPTER XX

CHAPTER XXI

CHAPTER XXII

CHAPTER XXIII

CHAPTER XXIV

CHAPTER XXV

CHAPTER XXVI

CHAPTER XXVII

CHAPTER XXVIII

CHAPTER XXIX

CHAPTER XXX

CHAPTER XXXI

CHAPTER I

THE saffron glow in the evening sky filtered into the dining- room at Oversands, and caused the candles on the table to gleam fitfully under their green shades. The rest of the room was in shadow, picked out here and there by the dull gleam of polished oak, the gold picture frames, and the flash of silver on the sideboard. The wax candles made pools of light upon the table, at which three people were seated. At the head, Sir Horace Amory sat, facing his daughter Vera. Lady Amory had been long dead, and to Vera she was little more than a memory.

Over against the old Elizabethan sideboard sat Maria, Lady Amory, widow of Sir Gabriel Amory, Sir Horace’s deceased uncle, from whom he had inherited the title and the property. There are few families of standing without some strange story or whispered rumour, and the Amorys were no exception to the rule. The servants in the house and the people in the village generally spoke of Lady Amory with a significant glance or a smile as the case might be.

It was not that she was old; indeed, in years she had the advantage of Sir Horace. She was beautifully dressed, her face knew no wrinkles, her hair was glossy and abundant. Yet she conveyed the strange, uncomfortable impression that she was a dead thing behind a mask of wax, a corpse that had been galvanised into life. There were times when she talked on everyday topics glibly, though always with an effort, and nobody had ever seen smile on that regular face–the mask never relaxed.

She had her moods, too; there were days when she kept to the seclusion of her room and refused to see anybody; at other times she would come down to meals without a word or a sign to those at the table. If she had feeling or affection for a living soul it was for Dick Amory, Sir Horace’s scapegrace son, who had elected to try his fortune on the Stock Exchange.

The cause of all this was unknown. The tale ran that Sir Gabriel Amory had passed most of his time in the South of France, and had not been in England for many years, while his wife had never been seen until after his death, when she came as a legacy to Oversands. Her secret–if secret she had–she kept rigidly to herself. Years ago she had expressed a desire to have a place of her own, and had taken a large rambling cottage on the far side of the River Fleem, about five miles away. But she was hardly ever there, and seemed to prefer Oversands for the most part. Still, there were certain black hours, when she disappeared and took up her quarters at the cottage, waited upon by a grim, silent old man and his wife, who had been with her all her lifetime.

Sir Horace, however, had not the remotest notion who this strange relation of his really was. He could have answered no questions concerning her parentage or pedigree. That she was a lady was evident. He supposed that she was wealthy, but even this was pure surmise. On occasions she wore amazing jewels, but she was neither more nor less than a mystery, and therewith Sir Horace was fain to be content.

It was a quiet meal, slow and decorous, and a trifle prolonged for so small a family gathering. Sir Horace was rather given to ceremony. The Amorys were not an old family, Sir Horace being the third of his line. Oversands had come into their possession eighty years before, having been purchased by the first baronet net after he acquired the title. Their wealth had mainly been made in the town of Shoremouth, close by, and the banking firm of Amory and Sons was an important concern still; not what it had been, of course, since the advent of the gigantic joint-stock banks, but a great many people in the town and the country round swore by Amorys. Sir Horace was highly esteemed and his position dignified.

And yet he did not altogether look the part of a local magnate as he sat at the head of his dining-table playing with his glass. There was a moody frown on his face, a suggestion of anxiety in his eyes.

Usually Vera Amory would have been quick to remark this, but she also appeared to be wrapped up in her own thoughts this evening. She was a dainty little creature, happy of disposition, and generally wore a sunny smile on her fascinating face. She had courage and resolution, too, or the firm lines of her mouth belied her.

“If he doesn’t mind he’ll be in the quicksands!” Lady Amory cried.

Her voice rang in the silent room with a startling suddenness, but the remark passed unheeded. These weird suggestions were quite in the ordinary course. The words were loud and distinct, but the wax mask was graven and placid as ever.

“The sands will keep their secret,” the speaker went on; “but I know them. If anybody says that I pushed her in, they lie. She committed suicide.”

Again the words rang clear and still, though Lady Amory sat placidly eating an orange. A frown of annoyance crossed Sir Horace’s face. There were times when this sort of thing irritated him, and Vera intervened.

“Quite right, aunt,” she said, soothingly. “It was no fault of yours. Won’t you come into the drawing-room with me and have some music?”

“I’m going to bed,” Lady Amory muttered. “If I don’t it will get in the–everything gets into the newspapers nowadays. But they were disappointed about the inquest.”

Vera led her away gently. The poor creature was in one of her worst moods to-night. Lady Amory suffered herself to be conducted upstairs.

“Keep away from the quicksands,” she said; “and don’t go near the Red House. It’s safe for me because I know the secret, but you must avoid the place.”

The warning was uttered in a hoarse whisper. Vera shuddered slightly. That dangerous and desolate spot by the river near the old Red House had always been a nightmare to her. Gruesome legends hung around it. But why, Vera wondered, should that place be for ever uppermost in the mind of Lady Amory? She could not speak half-a-dozen sentences without alluding to it. More than once when she had wandered from the house she had been found sitting, gazing intently into those boiling, shifting grey sands, whence nothing ever emerged alive that had been engulfed in their deadly coils.

With a long sigh of relief Vera found herself alone. The studied calm left her face, and she looked anxious and unhappy. Black and bitter trouble was coming, none the less dreadful because Vera had foreseen it for a long time. She took a letter from her pocket and read it again, though she had the words by heart:

“Meet me by the Red House at ten to-night. You must manage to slip away. I am in the most awful trouble and dare not show up. DICK.”

It was not the first time that Dick Amory had distinguished himself in this fashion. His debts had been paid for him more than once; there had been stormy scenes and promises of reform, and on the last occasion Sir Horace had said that in future Dick must look to himself. But this fresh difficulty shaped like a still blacker and more bitter business. If Dick dared not show himself at home, then disgrace, dishonour, and other dreadful things that Vera did not dare to imagine too closely, seemed imminent. Was it possible that the police––

Sir Horace must be told. It was far too serious a problem for Vera to grapple single-handed. It was out of the question that she should go as far as the lonely Red House at that hour of the night. Vera went off at once to the library, where she found her father smoking his after-dinner cigar. He was not alone, as she had expected. A tall young man, with a pleasant, resolute face, lighted by frank, steady grey eyes, stood by the fireplace. He looked very handsome and manly in his evening dress. His features were oddly familiar to Vera.

“You need not go away, dear,” Sir Horace said. “This is Mr. Ronald Bastable, the son of my old steward, Joseph Bastable.”

“It is a long time since I saw you last, Miss Vera,” the young man said.

“Fifteen years, isn’t it?” Vera smiled. “We were good friends in those days.”

Sir Horace frowned. Ronald Bastable appeared to forget that only a few years ago his father had been employed on the Oversands estates in quite a subordinate capacity. Joseph Bastable had made money since then. Half the new houses in the rising watering-place belonged to him, but though he had given his only son a public school and university education, he was still the ex-steward in Sir Horace’s eyes. There had been a bitter quarrel between them two years ago, and Joseph Bastable had sworn that Sir Horace should eat his words some day.

But Vera remembered nothing of this now. The young man before her had been her playmate. He had shown her where early violets and primroses were to be found, and had brought many additions to the collection of birds’ eggs she had been so proud of in those days. Moreover, Ronald Bastable was plainly a gentleman.

“My brother would be pleased to see you again,” she said.

“It’s strange you should mention his name,” Bastable replied. “I came on purpose to get his address. I called at his office in town, and they said he was probably here.”

“My son hardly ever comes here,” Sir Horace said, stiffly. “I regret I cannot help you.”

It seemed to Vera that Bastable was looking grave, not to say anxious.

“Is it of importance?” she asked.

“Certainly,” Bastable answered. “I am sorry not to be able to speak more freely, but my business is strictly private. All I can say is that I am extremely disappointed not to find your brother’s address.”

A vague alarm possessed Vera. Was Bastable speaking to her in a language not meant for Sir Horace’s ears. It was impossible to listen to those words without feeling that there was something behind them. The speaker was sympathetic, too. He would be a good and loyal friend in the hour of need. An impulse to take him into her confidence gripped Vera. It was singular that, after all these years, she should meet Ronald Bastable again in her present dilemma.

“I am vexed,” she said; “I would help you if I could. But I am interrupting your talk. Good-night, Mr. Bastable.”

She slipped out of the room before any effort was made to detain her, but stood in the shadow of the drawing-room waiting eagerly. Come what might, she would take Ronald Bastable into her confidence. At any rate, he would respect her secret, and it might be a matter of life or death to Dick.

She heard the library door open presently, and saw Ronald cross the hall. Sir Horace bade his visitor a formal good-night, and fastened the front door behind him. No sooner was he safe in the library again than Vera rapidly crossed the drawing-room and opened the long French window leading to the lawn. The tall, athletic figure of Ronald Bastable was disappearing down the drive. There was not a moment to lose.

She ran across the grass, and laid a timid hand on Ronald’s arm.

CHAPTER II

Bastable’s eyes shone softly as he turned to his companion. He could see she was in distress. The pleading expression of her face was sufficient to tell him that.

“I hope you won’t think this is wrong,” she said. “But I have not forgotten. I know your father and mine are bitter enemies, but that is no reason why we should not be friends. It seemed strange that you should come to Oversands to-night of all times, but I see the hand of Providence in it. My brother is in trouble!”

Bastable appeared to hesitate for a moment. “Has he told you this, Miss Vera?” he asked. “Sir Horace does not know––”

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