“You need not fear meddling curiosity, madam,” said the captain. “I will post a sentry here to bar all entrance.”
“Thanks, sir,” said Robert. “That will be well till I can bury the poor fellow with all due respect by my mother and Oliver.”
“And then I trust his spirit will have rest,” said Martha Oakshott fervently. “And now home to your father. How will he bear it, sir?”
“I verily believe he will sleep the quieter for knowing for a certainty what has become of poor Peregrine,” said her husband.
And Anne felt as if half her burthen of secrecy was gone when they all parted, starting early because the Black Gang rendered all the roads unsafe after dark.
CHAPTER XXVIII: THE DISCLOSURE
“He looked about as one betrayed,
What hath he done, what promise made?
Oh! weak, weak moment, to what end
Can such a vain oblation tend?”
For the most part Anne was able to hold her peace and keep out of sight while Dr. Woodford related the strange revelations of the vault with all the circumstantiality that was desired by two old people living a secluded life and concerned about a neighbour of many years, whom they had come to esteem by force of a certain sympathy in honest opposition. The mystery occupied them entirely, for though the murder was naturally ascribed to some of the lawless coast population, the valuables remaining with the clothes made a strange feature in the case.
It was known that there was to be an inquest held on the remains before their removal, and Dr. Woodford, both from his own interest in the question, and as family intelligencer, rode to the castle. Sir Philip longed to go, but it was a cold wet day, and he had threatenings of gout, so that he was persuaded to remain by the fireside. Inquests were then always held where the body lay, and the court of Portchester Castle was no place for him on such a day.
Dr. Woodford came home just before twilight, looking grave and troubled, and, much to Anne’s alarm, desired to speak to Sir Philip privately in the gun-room. Lady Archfield took alarm, and much distressed her by continually asking what could be the meaning of the interview, and making all sorts of guesses.
When at last they came together into the parlour the poor lady looked so anxious and frightened that her husband went up to her and said, “Do not be alarmed, sweetheart. We shall clear him; but those foolish fellows have let suspicion fall on poor Sedley.”
Nobody looked at Anne, or her deadly paleness must have been remarked, and the trembling which she could hardly control by clasping her hands tightly together, keeping her feet hard on the floor, and setting her teeth.
Lady Archfield was perhaps less fond of the scapegrace nephew than was her husband, and she felt the matter chiefly as it affected him, so that she heard with more equanimity than he had done; and as they sat round the fire in the half-light, for which Anne was thankful, the Doctor gave his narration in order.