But the effort of the past few moments had been almost more than Marmaduke de Chavasse could bear.
Anon when the church bell over at Acol began a slow and monotonous toll he felt as if his every nerve must give way: as if he must laugh, laugh loudly and long at the idiocy, the ignorance of all these people who thought that they were confronted by an impenetrable mystery, whereas it was all so simple ... so very, very simple.
He had a curious feeling as if he must grip every one of these men here by the throat and demand from each one separately an account of what he thought and felt, what he surmised and what he guessed when standing face to face with the weird enigma presented by that mutilated thing in its rough deal case. He would have given worlds to know what his friend Boatfield thought of it all, or what had been the petty constable’s conjectures.
A haunting and devilish desire seized him to break open the skulls of all these yokels and to look into their brains. Above all now the silence of the cottage close to him had become unendurable torment. That closed door, the tiny railing which surrounded the bit of front garden, that little gate the latch of which he himself so oft had lifted, all seemed to hold the key to some terrible mystery, the answer to some fearful riddle which he felt would drive him mad if he could not hit upon it now at once.
The brandy had fired his veins: he no longer felt numb with the cold. A passion of rage was seething in him, and he longed to attack with fists and heels those curtained windows which now looked like eyes turned mutely and inquiringly upon him.
But there was enough sanity in him yet to prevent his doing anything rash: an uncontrolled act might cause astonishment, suspicion mayhap, in the minds of those who witnessed it. He made a violent effort to steady himself even now, above all to steady his voice and to veil that excited glitter which he knew must be apparent in his eyes.
“Meseems that ’tis somewhat strange,” he said quite calmly, even lightly, to Squire Boatfield who seemed to be preparing to go, “that these people—the Lamberts—who alone knew the ... the murdered man intimately, should keep so persistently, so determinedly out of the way.”
Even while the words escaped his mouth—certes involuntarily—he knew that the most elementary prudence should have dictated silence on this score, and at this juncture. The man was about to be buried, the disappearance of the smith had passed off so far without comment. Peace, the eternal peace of the grave, would soon descend on the weird events which occupied everyone’s mind for the present.
What the old Quakeress thought and felt, what Richard—the brother—feared and conjectured was easy for Sir Marmaduke to guess: for him, but for no one else. To these others the silence of the cottage, the absence of the Lamberts from this gathering was simple enough of explanation, seeing that they themselves felt such bitter resentment against the dead man. They quite felt with the old woman’s sullenness, her hatred of the foreigner who had disturbed the serenity of her life.