“The wood itself, Prince,” he explained, as they walked along, “is a noisome place. There are quagmires even in the middle of it, where a man may sink in and be never heard of again. Every sort of vermin abounds there, every unclean insect and bird are to be found in the thickets. I suppose the character of the place has encouraged the local superstition in which every one of those men firmly believes.”
“They absolutely believe the place to be haunted, then?”
“The superstition goes further,” Dominey continued. “Our locals say that somewhere in the heart of the wood, where I believe that no human being for many years has dared to penetrate, there is living in the spiritual sense some sort of a demon who comes out only at night and howls underneath my windows.”
“Has any one ever seen it?”
“One or two of the villagers; to the best of my belief, no one else,” Dominey replied.
Terniloff seemed on the point of asking more questions, but the Duke touched him on the arm and drew him to one side, as though to call his attention to the sea fogs which were rolling up from the marshes.
“Prince,” he whispered, “the details of that story are inextricably mixed up with the insanity of Lady Dominey. I am sure you understand.”
The Prince, a diplomatist to his fingertips, appeared shocked, although a furtive smile still lingered upon his lips.
“I regret my faux pas most deeply,” he murmured. “Sir Everard,” he went on, “you promised to tell me of some of your days with a shotgun in South Africa. Isn’t there a bird there which corresponds with your partridges?”
“If you can kill the partridges which Middleton is going to send over in the next ten minutes,” he said, “you could shoot anything of the sort that comes along in East Africa, with a catapult. If you will stand just a few paces there to the left, Henry, Terniloff by the gate, Stillwell up by the left-hand corner, Mangan next, Eddy next, and I shall be just beyond towards the oak clump. Will you walk with me, Caroline?”
His cousin took his arm as they walked off and pressed it.
“Everard, I congratulate you,” she said. “You have conquered your nerve absolutely. You did a simple and a fine thing to tell the whole story. Why, you were almost matter-of-fact. I could even have imagined you were telling it about some one else.”
Her host smiled enigmatically.
“Curious that it should have struck you like that,” he remarked. “Do you know, when I was telling it I had the same feeling.—Do you mind crouching down a little now? I am going to blow the whistle.”