At the instance of the petty constable she even brought out a sheet, which smelt sweetly of lavender, and gave it to the watchmen, so that they might decently cover up the dead; she also gave them three elm chairs on which to lay him down.
Across those three chairs the body now lay, covered over with the lavender-scented sheet, in the corner of the blacksmith’s forge, over by the furnace. A watchman stayed beside it, to ward off sacrilege: anyone who desired could come, and could—if his nerves were strong enough—view the body and state if, indeed, it was that of the foreigner who all through last summer had haunted the woods and park of Acol.
Of a truth there was no doubt at all as to the identity of the dead. His fantastic clothes were unmistakable. Many there were who had seen him wandering in the woods of nights, and several could swear to the black silk shade and the broad-brimmed hat which the watchmen had found—high and dry—on a chalk boulder close to where the body lay.
Mistress Lambert had refused to look on the dead. ’Twas, of course, no fit sight for females, and the constable had not insisted thereon: but she knew the black silk shade again, and young Master Lambert had caught sight of the murdered man’s legs and feet, and had thereupon recognized the breeches and the quaint boots with their overwide tops filled with frills of lace.
Master Hymn-of-Praise Busy, too, though unwilling to see a corpse, thought it his duty to help the law in investigating this mysterious crime. He had oft seen the foreigner of nights in the park, and never doubted for a moment that the body which lay across the elm chairs in the smith’s forge was indeed that of the stranger.
Squire Boatfield was now quite satisfied that the identity of the victim was firmly established, and anon he did his best—being a humane man—to obtain Christian burial for the stranger. After some demur, the parson at Minster declared himself willing to do the pious deed.
Heathen or not, ’twas not for Christian folk to pass judgment on him who no longer now could give an explanation of his own mysterious doings, and had of a truth carried his secrets with him in silence to the grave.
Was it not strange that anyone should have risked the gallows for the sake of putting out of the way a man who of a surety was not worth powder or shot?
And the nerve and strength which the murderer had shown! ... displacing great boulders with which to batter in his victim’s face so that not even his own kith and kin could recognize that now!
Sir Marmaduke de Chavasse cursed the weather and cursed himself for being a fool.
He had started from Acol Court on horseback, riding an old nag, for the roads were heavy with mud, and the short cut through the woods quite impassable.