Table of Contents

+ Add to Library

Previous Next

Chapter 12 "AS A THIEF IN THE NIGHT—"

  • The arrival of Dollops lighted a spark of great interest in the servants'
  • hall. The newly engaged maids accepted him for his youth and sharp manners, a_n innovation which they rather fancied than otherwise. Borkins alone stoo_loof. It seemed to the man that here, in Dollops' lithe, young form, in th_ery ginger of his carrotty hair, in the stridency of this cockne_ccent—which Cleek had endeavoured to eradicate without a particle o_uccess—was the reembodiment of the older, shorter, more mature James Collins.
  • To hear him speak in that sharp, young voice of his was to make the hair upo_ne's neck prick in supernatural discomfort. It was as though James Collin_ad come back to life again in the form of this East Side youngster, who wa_o extremely unlike his drawling, over-pampered master.
  • But Dollops had been primed for his task, and set to work at it with a will.
  • "Been in these 'ere parts long, Mr. Borkins?" he queried as they all sat a_upper, and he himself munched bread and butter and fish paste with a vigou_hat was lacking in only one quality—manners.
  • Borkins sniffed, and passed up his cup to the housekeeper.
  • "Before you were born, I dessay," he responded tartly.
  • "Is that so, Methuselah?" Dollops gave a little boyish giggle at sight of th_utler's face. "Well, seein' as I'm gettin' along in life, you must be a goo_ay parst the meridian, if yer don't mind my sayin' so… . Funny thing, on th_ay down I run across a chap wot's visitin' pals in this 'ere village, and '_ulls me the strangest yarn as ever a body 'eard. Summink to do wiv flames i_ere—Frozen Flames or icicles or frost of some kind. But 'e was so full up o_ystery that there weren't no gettin' nuffin out er' im. Any one 'ere tell m_he story? 'E fair got me curiosity fired, 'e did!"
  • A glance laden with sinister meaning flew around the table. Borkins cleare_is throat as every eye fastened itself upon him, and he swelled visibl_eneath his brass-buttoned waistcoat.
  • "If you're any wiser than you look, young man, you'll leave well alone, an_ot go stickin' your fingers in other peoples' pie!" he gave ou_ententiously. "Yes, there is a story—and a very unpleasant one, too. If yo_se your eyes to-night and look out of the smoking-room window as dusk come_n, you'll see the Frozen Flame for yerself, and won't want to be arskin' m_ny fool questions about it. One of the servants 'ere—and a rude, unmannerl_ondon creetur 'e was too!—disappeared a while ago, goin' out across the Fen_fter night-time when 'e was warned not to. Never seen a sight of 'i_ince—though I'm not mournin' any, as you kin see!"
  • " _Go on!_ " Dollops' voice expressed incredulity, amazement, and an awe_nterest that rather flattered the butler.
  • "True as I'm sittin' 'ere!" he responded grimly. "And before that a friend o_ir Nigel's—a fine, big upstandin' man 'e were, name of Wynne—went the sam_ay. Got a little the worse for drink and laughed at the story. Said 'e'd g_ut and investigate for 'imself. 'E never come back from that day to this!"
  • "Gawd's truf! 'Ow orful! You won't find yer 'umble a 'ankerin' after the fres_ir come night-time!" broke in Dollops with a little shiver of terror that wa_emarkably real. "I'll keep to me downy thank you, an' as you say, Mr.
  • Borkins, leave well enough alone. You're a wise gentleman, you are!"
  • Borkins, flattered, still further expanded.
  • "I won't say as all you cockney chaps are the same as Collins," he returne_agnanimously, "for it takes all kinds ter make a world. If you feels incline_ome time, I'll walk you down to the Pig and Whistle and you shall 'ave a wor_r two with a chap I know. 'E'll tell yer somethink that'll make your 'ai_tand on end. You jist trot along ter me when you're free, and we'll take _ittle stroll together."
  • Dollops' countenance widened into a delighted grin.
  • Later, Dollops, in the act of laying out Cleek's clothes for dinner, whil_leek himself unpacked leisurely and made the braces that held the mirror o_he dressing-table gay with multi-coloured ties, gave out the news of hi_romised visit to the Pig and Whistle with the august Borkins with somethin_kin to triumph.
  • "That's right, lad, that's right. Get friendly with 'em!" returned Cleek wit_ pleased smile. "I've an idea we're going to have a pretty lively time dow_ere, if I'm not much mistaken. Stick to that chap Borkins as you would t_lue. Don't let him get away from you. Follow him wherever he goes, but don'_et the other servants in the place slip out from your watchful eye, either.
  • Those Frozen Flames want looking into. I have grave suspicions of Borkins. Hi_ort generally knows more than almost any other sort, and he appeared to b_izing me up pretty carefully. I shouldn't wonder at all, if he had an ide_lready that I am not the 'man about town' I appear to be. It will be rotte_uck if he has… . Time I got into my togs, boy… . Here, just hand me tha_hirt, will you?"
  • That night certainly proved an even more exciting one than Cleek ha_rophesied. The household retired early, as country households are apt to do,
  • but Cleek, however, did not undress. He sat at his window, which faced upo_he Fens, watching the trail of the flames dancing across the horizon o_ight, and trying to solve the riddle that he had come to find the answer to.
  • He heard the church clock in the distance chime out the hour of twelve; an_till he sat on. The peace of the quiet night stole over him, filling hi_ctive brain with a restfulness that had been foreign to it for some time i_he stress of his busy life in London. He felt glad he had taken up this case,
  • if only for the view of the countryside at night, the stillness of the untro_arshes, and the absolute absence of every living thing at this hour.
  • The clock chimed one, and he heeded it not. Two—half-past—. Of a sudden he sa_olt upright, then got noiselessly to his feet and glided across the floor t_here his bed stood—a monstrous black object with heavy canopy and curtains, _elic of the Victorianism in which this house was born. He moved like a cat,
  • absolutely without sound, fleet, sure. His fingers found the coverlet and h_ore it down, tumbling the clothes and pushing down the pillow so that i_ooked as if he himself lay there, peacefully sleeping beneath the shelterin_lankets… . Then, still noiseless, panther-like, he slid his lithe figur_nder the bed… . Then the noise came again. Just the whisper of footsteps i_he wide hall, and then—his door opened soundlessly and for a moment th_ootsteps stopped. He could feel a presence in the room. If it were Dollop_he lad would give some sign. If not—He lay still, scarcely breathing in th_nveloping darkness. The footsteps came again, softly, softly padding acros_he room toward him. He saw the black shadows of stockinged feet as the_rossed the path of moonlight, and sucked in his breath. Man's feet!… Whose?…
  • Then something shook the bedstead with tremendous force, but without sound. I_as as if some object had been hurled forcibly into its softness. Th_ootsteps turned again, hurriedly this time, and there was a sound of a deep-
  • drawn breath—a breath full of pent-up, passionate hatred. Then the figure ra_ightly across the room, and as it flashed for a moment through the bar o_oonlight, Cleek looked out from his safe hiding-place and— _saw_! The eye_ere narrowed in the ivory-tinted face, the jaw heavy and undershot as a bull-
  • dog's, while a dark coloured mustache straggled untidily across the upper lip.
  • The moonlight, cruelly clear, picked out the point of something sharp tha_hone in one clenched hand, something that looked like a knife—that _was_ _nife.
  • Then the figure vanished and the door closed noiselessly behind him.
  • Hmm. So this question of the Frozen Flame was as urgent as all that, was it?
  • To attempt to murder him, here—in the house of the Squire of Fetchworth. H_riggled out of his hiding place, a little stiff from the cramped position h_ad held, and guardedly lit his candle. Then he surveyed the bed with se_outh and narrowed eyes. There was a sharp incision through the clothes, a_ncision quite three inches long, that had punctured the pillow which la_eneath them—the pillow that had saved him his life—and buried itself in th_attress beneath. Gad! a powerful hand that! He stood a moment thinking,
  • pinching up his chin the while. He had had his suspicions of Borkins, but th_ace that he had seen in the moonlight was not the butler's face. _Whose,
  • then, was it?_