The Mystery of the RavenspursFred M. White / Mystery & Detective
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THE MYSTERY OF THE RAVENSPURS
A ROMANCE AND DETECTIVE STORY OF THIBET AND ENGLAND.
BYFRED M. WHITE,
Author of The Crimson Blind, The Corner House, Etc.
ILLUSTRATIONS AND COVER DESIGN BYANDRE CH. DE TAKACS.
NEW YORK:J. S. OGILVIE PUBLISHING COMPANY,57 ROSE STREET.
COPYRIGHT 1911, BYJ. S. OGILVIE PUBLISHING COMPANY.
And inside that dark circle there came a face, a darkEastern face, with awful eyes, filled with agony and rage and pain.--Page 110.]
THE MYSTERY OF THE RAVENSPURS
THE SHADOW OF A FEAR
A grand old castle looks out across the North Sea, and fishermen toilingon the deep catch the red flash from Ravenspur Point, as theirforefathers have done for many generations.
The Ravenspurs and their great granite fortress have made historybetween them. Every quadrangle and watch-tower and turret has its legendof brave deeds and bloody deeds, of fights for the king and the glory ofthe flag. And for five hundred years there has been no Ravenspur who hasnot 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 probablythe most perfect medi?val castle in the country. The moat and thedrawbridge are still intact; the portcullis might be worked by a child.And landwards the castle looks over a fair domain of broad acres wherethe orchards bloom and flourish and the red beeves wax fat in thepastures.
A quiet family, a handsome family, a family passing rich in the world'sgoods, they are strong and brave--a glorious chronicle behind them andno carking cares ahead.
Surely, then, the Ravenspurs should be happy and contented beyond mostmen. Excepting the beat of the wings of the Angel of Death, that comesto all sooner or later, surely no sorrow dwelt there that the hand oftime 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 longas it was tangible; but there was something here that turned thestoutest heart to water, and caused strong men to start at their ownshadows.
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 aseries of accidents and misfortunes, until gradually it became evidentthat some cunning and remorseless enemy was bent upon exterminating theRavenspurs root and branch.
There had been no warning given, but one by one the Ravenspurs diedmysteriously, horribly, until at last no more than seven of the familyremained. The North-country shuddered in speaking of the ill-starredfamily. The story had found its way into print.
Scotland Yard had taken the case in hand; but still the haplessRavenspurs died, mysteriously murdered, and even some of those whosurvived had tales to unfold of marvelous escapes from destruction.
The fear grew on them like a hunting madness. From first to last not onesingle clue, however small, had the murderers left behind. Familyarchives were ransacked and personal histories explored with a view tofinding some forgotten enemy who had originated this vengeance. But theRavenspurs had ever been generous and kind, honorable to men and true towomen, and none could lay a finger on the blot.
In the whole history of crime no such weird story had ever been toldbefore. 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 precautionswere taken to baffle the assassin. Eighteen months ago the word hadgone out for the gathering of the family at the castle. They had comewithout followers or retainers of any kind; every servant had beenhoused outside the castle at nightfall, and the grim old fortress hadbeen placed in a state of siege.
They waited upon themselves, they superintended the cooking of their ownfood, no strange feet crossed the drawbridge. When the portcullis wasraised, the most ingenious burglar would have failed to find entrance.At last the foe was baffled; at last the family was safe. There were nosecret passages, no means of entry; and here salvation lay.
Alas for fond hopes! Within the last year and a half three of the familyhad perished in the same strange and horrible fashion.
There was Richard Ravenspur, a younger son of Rupert, the head of thehouse, with his wife and boy. Richard Ravenspur had been found dead inhis bed, poisoned by some lemonade; his wife had walked into the moat inthe darkness; the boy had fallen from one of the towers into a stonequadrangle and been instantly killed.
The thing was dreadful, inexplicable to a degree. The enemy who wasdoing this thing was in the midst of them. And yet no stranger passedthose iron gates; none but Ravenspurs dwelt within the walls. Eye lookedinto eye and fell again, ashamed that the other should know thesuspicions racking each poor distracted brain.
And there were only seven of them now--seven pallid, hollow-cheekedwretches, almost longing 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 theIndian Mutiny. There was his son Gordon who some day might succeed him;there was Gordon's wife and his daughter Vera. Then there was GeoffreyRavenspur, the orphan son of one Jasper Ravenspur, who had fallen underthe scourge two years before.
And also there was Marion Ravenspur, the orphan daughter of CharlesRavenspur, another son who had died in India five years before ofcholera. Mrs. Charles was there, the child of an Indian prince, and fromher Marion had inherited the dark beauty and soft glorious eyes thatmade her beloved of the whole family.
A strange tale surely, a hideous nightmare, and yet so painfullyrealistic. One by one they were being cut off by the malignantdestroyer, and ere long the family would be extinct. It seemedimpossible to fight against the desolation that always struck in thedarkness, and never struck in vain.
Rupert Ravenspur looked out from the leads above the castle to the opensea, 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, farenough removed apparently from crime and violence. And yet!
A deep sigh burst from the old man's breast; his lips quivered. Theshadow of that awful fear was in his eyes. Not that he feared forhimself, for the snows of seventy years lay upon his head, and hislife's work was done.
It was others he was thinking of. The bright bars of the setting sunshone on a young and graceful couple below coming towards the moat. Atender light filled old Ravenspur's eyes.
Then he started as a gay laugh reached his ears. The sound caught himalmost like a blow. Where had he heard a laugh like that before? Itseemed strangely out of place. And yet those two were young, and theyloved one another. Under happier auspices, Geoffrey Ravenspur would someday come into the wide acres and noble revenues, and take his cousinVera to wife.
May God spare them! Ravenspur cried aloud. Surely the curse must burnitself out some time, or the truth must come to light. If I could onlylive to know that they were happy!
The words were a fervent prayer. The dying sun that turned the towersand turrets of the castle to a golden glory fell on his white, quiveringface. It lit up the agony of the strong man with despair upon him. Heturned as a hand lay light as thistledown on his arm.
Amen with all my heart, dear grandfather, a gentle voice murmured. Icould 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. Thedark brown eyes were so clear that the white soul seemed to gleam behindthem. There was Hindoo blood in Marion Ravenspur's veins, but she boreno trace of the fact. And, out of the seven surviving members of thatill-fated race, Marion was the most beloved. All relied upon her, alltrusted her. In the blackest hour her courage never faltered; she neverbowed before the unseen terror.
Ravenspur turned upon her almost fiercely.
We must save Vera and Geoffrey, he said. They must be preserved. Therest of us are as nothing by comparison. The whole future of our racelies with those two young people. Watch over them, Marion; shield Verafrom every harm. I know that she loves you. Swear that you will protecther 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 toyour interests? When my parents died, and I elected to come here inpreference to returning to my mother's people, you received me with openarms. Do you suppose that I could ever forget the love and affectionthat 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 toyourself, Marion, for I have told nobody but you. The black assassin isupon me. I wake at nights with fearful pains at my heart--I cannotbreathe. I have to fight for my life, as my brother Charles fought forhis two years ago. To-morrow morning I may be found dead in my bed--asCharles was. Then there will be an inquest, and the doctors will bepuzzled, as they were before.
Grandfather! You are not afraid?
Afraid! I am glad--glad, I tell you. I am old and careworn, and thesuspense is gradually sapping my senses. Better death, swift andterrible, than that. But not a word of this to the rest, as you loveme!