Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.



Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on an image created with Microsoft Bing software


Ex Libris

First published in Chums, Cassell & Co., London, 11 January 1919

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2023
Version Date: 2023-08-07

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

Click here for more books by this author



Then the storm broke—Claude felt as if it had, at any rate.

A SQUARELY built, straight backed young fellow of about seventeen came striding down the cliff road leading front Claston station to Claston Cove. He was rather a striking looking youngster, for though, his hair was dark and curly, his eyes were as blue as the sea below the cliffs.

Merry eyes they ought to have been, and to look at him you would have said that he was naturally a cheery sort of chap, but at present his lips were tightly set; there were lines down his forehead, and his whole face had a strained and anxious expression.

He walked at a tremendous rate, and never stopped until he reached the gate of a small, neat-looking house which stood on the slope facing the sea.

He had hardly raised the latch before the door of the cottage opened and a man hurried out: a tall, fair young man, of about twenty-five, with a slight, yellow moustache. He had a pleasant face, but looked rather delicate.

"Am I in time, Philip?" questioned the new-comer anxiously.

Philip Fawcett shook his head.

"I'm sorry, Douglas," he said sadly. "Your uncle died yesterday."

Douglas March gasped.

"I knew it," he said bitterly; "it was that storm, Philip; that awful gale and rain we had yesterday. A bridge was washed away on the Great Southern, and we were hung up for hours. I had started the minute I got your wire."

"I knew you would do that, Douglas," said Philip. "Come in, my dear follow. You must be simply starved. Come in and have some tea."

"No. Not yet. I must go straight to the Court. I can't rest till I know how things stand."

"You might guess," replied Philip Fawcett, speaking with a curious bitterness.

"You mean that Claude has pouched the lot?"

"Of course he has. That precious cousin of yours has been there for months, and he and that ugly brute Cutts have gradually got hold of everything. Your uncle was a child in their hands. As for me, they wouldn't even let me see the old man, so I couldn't put in a word for you.

"You ought to have been here yourself, Douglas," he went on. "You were the only person who could have done anything."

"You know I couldn't be here, Philip," exclaimed young March. "I only got back from my last voyage a few days ago; and I didn't even know what was going on. Your letter never reached me."

"You may just as well come in," said Philip. "You can't do anything now."

"I can. I can see my uncle. Claude can't stop me doing that."

"I wouldn't bet on it," replied Philip. "You know how he hates you."

"I'm going, anyhow," vowed Douglas, "and if he tries to stop me—" His jaw tightened ominously.

Philip Fawcett saw it was no use arguing. He knew Douglas of old.

"All right; I'll come too," he said; and picking up a hat, joined the other; and they walked off through the little village, and up a winding road on the far side of the cove.

"You had the gale here?" said Douglas.

"Rather! I thought the house was coming down," replied the other. "There was a big cliff fall somewhere, too. I heard the crash of it about two in the morning."

Douglas merely nodded, and the two did not speak again until they arrived at the Court.

Claston Court lay at the top of a deep valley running down to the sea. It was not a big house, but a very old and beautiful one. With the late evening sun full on its mellow tiled roof and twisted back chimneys, and the smooth, terraced lawns in front, it was a home that anyone might be proud of.

By every right it ought to have been Douglas's. His father had been the only brother of David March, the late owner. Unfortunately, the place was not entailed, and while Douglas was away at sea his cousin Claude Swayne had managed to crawl into David's good graces, and had come to live at the Court.

"Working together with a man called Cutts—who was supposed to be a male nurse, but was as big a blackguard as himself—Claude had worked things so that David March had left him the place and all in it. That, at least, was what Philip believed.

Douglas strode straight up to the front door and rang the bell. A maid answered, and stood staring with startled eyes at Douglas and Philip.

"Is Mr. Swayne at home?" inquired Douglas calmly.

"Yes, sir. I will find out if he can see you. It is Mr. March, is it not?"

"Mr. Douglas March—yes," and Douglas followed her into the old oak-timbered hall which he knew so well.

"I think Mr. Swayne is dressing for dinner, sir," said the maid. "I will tell him you are here."

Douglas said nothing, but his face was grim. The idea of this fellow already settled down in the old house was not easy to bear.

"Go slow, Douglas," whispered Philip warningly. "No use making a row."

"I've no idea of making a row, Philip. But, I say, what's become of old Truman, Uncle David's butler? Why don't he answer the door?"

"Claude sacked him weeks ago. Didn't you know that?"

"The swab! No, I didn't know. Where's he gone?"

"I can't make out. He never came to me, as I told him to."

"H'm! We'll have to find out about that," remarked Douglas.

There were steps on the stairs, and through the archway at the end of the hall, two people appeared. The first was a young man of about twenty; the second, a fat person of fifty, with a thick-lipped mouth, heavy jowls, and small, pig-like eyes.

The younger man was in evening kit. From his sleek head and beautifully laundered shirt-front down to the tips of his shining, patent leather shoes, everything about him was of the best and most expensive. He was not bad looking in his way, but the scowl he wore would have spoilt a better face than his.

"So it's you, Douglas," he began. "I should have thought you might have had better taste than to come here at a time like this."

Douglas looked him up and down.

"I didn't come to see you, Claude," he answered with quiet scorn. "I came to see the last of my poor uncle."

"Your poor uncle, as you call him, is in his coffin," returned Claude Swayne. "So you can't see him."

"When did he die?"

"That's no business of yours," retorted the other. "It's enough for you that he is dead. If he'd been alive you're the last person he'd have seen."

Douglas looked his cousin very straight in the face.

"That's a lie!" he said curtly.

Claude Swayne flushed hotly.

"Get out of my house," he snarled. "Get out, or I'll put you out."

"Don't you think you'd better try?" answered Douglas; and his voice was so quiet that Claude did not realise the calm before the storm. All he saw was that Douglas was younger and shorter than he. Also, he trusted to the help of the ponderous Cutts, who stood behind him.

"Try! It won't take much trying," he sneered. "You whining young beggar; I know what you came for—just to spy around, and go and spread stories about me. You clear out quick—you and your sneaking pal here."

As he spoke he stepped forward, raising his hands as if to lay hold of Douglas.

Then the storm broke—Claude felt as if it had, at any rate, for Douglas's solid fist took him square between the eyes. Douglas had a punch like a prize fighter. The force of the blow lifted Douglas clean off his feet, and planted the full weight of him in the stomach of the fat man behind him.

The latter lost his balance and went over backwards, falling upon a small table. He, Claude, table and all, reached the floor together with a crash that shook the polished boards.

Douglas, cool as ever, stood over them.

"I'm sorry to have done this in the house where my uncle lies dead," he said; "but apart from that, Claude, you have got exactly what was coming to you. If you care to get up and come outside, we will continue our conversation."

He waited, but Claude only lay and groaned. As for the fat Cutts, he had no breath left to say anything at all.

Fawcett laid a hand on Douglas's arm.

"Come away," he said. And Douglas followed him quietly out of the house.

Neither spoke until they reached the drive gate. Then Douglas turned to Philip.

"I couldn't help it," he said.

"I know you couldn't," replied Philip. "Now come back to my place. You must stay the night, at any rate; and for the funeral, if you will."

Douglas nodded.

"Thanks, old chap. Yes, I think I'll stay for the funeral, even if it means seeing that fellow Claude again."

PHILIP gave Douglas a capital supper and a most excellent bed. But, in spite of the spring mattress, Douglas slept badly. Small wonder! He had been really fond of his uncle, and equally fond of the old home, which he had always been allowed to believe would one day be his own. Now his uncle was dead, and he would never again put foot inside the home of his family.

Even that he could have borne, if it had not been for the fact that the place had fallen into the hands of such an utter young blackguard as Claude Swayne.

Soon after daylight he got up, and, taking his clothes and a towel, went down to the sea. A plunge in the fresh, cool waves did him a power of good.

He had dressed and was turning to go back to the house when the whim seized him to stroll along the coast and have a look at the big fall that Philip had talked of. Philip had said it was in Claston Cove.

Rounding the point, he stopped and stared. He had been prepared for something big, but this was tremendous. The whole beach was blocked by a gigantic pile of raw, red rock. Half an acre of cliff had come down bodily.

"Phew! but that's the biggest, ever!" he muttered, as he stared at the mountain which barred his progress. "I must get up on the top and have a look-see."

"It was not easy climbing, or safe either, for that matter. More than once a big rock rolled over under his feet, and went thundering down the precipitous slope. But he got to the top all right, and from there found himself looking straight up at the Court, not more than a hundred yards away. The top edge of the fall was almost level with the lawn.

"Didn't know I was so close," he muttered, and stared longingly at the old place. "Wonder how long that swab will keep it. Chances are he'll run through everything and sell it, or let it go to blazes. Hang it all! it's no use looking at it. Let's get back to breakfast."

He was turning to scramble down again when, just on a level with the upper edge of the fall, he spotted a small opening in the cliff face.

"What the mischief is that?" he muttered, and went towards it.

He found himself in the mouth of a tunnel, a tunnel quite clearly cut by man.

A sudden thrill ran through him.

"The Priest's Passage! he exclaimed. "This must be the very tunnel dad used to tell me about, where the priests used to go to and fro from boats in the cove in the days of Queen Bess. Why, I remember he told us that he had often tried to find the mouth, but never could. Now this fall has cleared it.

"I must go up and have a look," he added.

He felt in his pocket, found a full box of wax matches, and started at once. For the first fifty feet there was enough light from the entrance to see his way. After that he had to strike matches. The tunnel itself was easy enough. Floor and roof alike were as sound as the day they had been cut, centuries earlier.

So was the door which Douglas presently reached. At least, the timber was, but the lock and hinges were little more than red rust. Douglas felt a thrill of excitement as he tried to open it. It was stiff. He put his shoulder to it, and one good shove did the trick. Did it too well, indeed, for Douglas, door and all, pitched forward, and landed with a fearful clatter on a floor of stone flags.

Douglas scrambled up and struck another match. The small flame showed him that he was standing in a large, low-ceilinged cellar, flagged with stone, and cumbered with a lot of old broken kegs and cases. The air was musty, but good enough, and the place wonderfully dry.

At first he did not see any other way out, but presently caught sight of the remains of a heavy wooden ladder clamped against the opposite wall. Above, was a trap-door made of a single flat stone. He went across towards the ladder, but there were kegs in the way and he had to go round.

Suddenly he pulled up short, and a startled exclamation escaped him. The object that lay flat on the floor in the open space between the kegs and the wall was enough to give even his tough nerves a shock. It was the body of a man lying flat on its face upon the floor. The arms were stretched straight, out. He had been dead a long time.

For some seconds Douglas stood still, staring down at the dead man. The match burnt his fingers; he dropped it and lit another with hands that were none too steady.

Now he saw the body more plainly, and noticed the grey head and black clothes. He stooped and turned it over, then started back with a choked exclamation: "Truman! Old Truman!"

Truman it was, his uncle's old butler. The features were quite plain. In this cool, dry air the body had not decayed, but had simply turned into a mummy.

But how had he got here? What was he doing in this forgotten cellar? For the life of him, Douglas could find no answer to these questions.

Another match—then he saw what had before escaped his notice: a hollow in the wall about three feet up. In it a small black dispatch box, and on the floor below a few bricks, a cone of dried mortar, and a small trowel. It was clear at once that the old man had been in the act of hiding this box when death took him suddenly.

Douglas lifted out the box. It was locked, but he easily forced it open. In it were a bundle of papers neatly docketed and, on top a long blue envelope which bore the words in David March's well-known writing:

"To my dear nephew, Douglas March."

Douglas's matches were running short. He slipped the papers and letter into his pocket, and fairly ran down the passage.

Out in the white sunlight of the summer morning, he dropped upon a rock, and with shaking fingers tore open the envelope. This is what be read:

My Dear Douglas.—

I am very ill. I feel that I shall never see you again. Even if you came they would keep you away from me. They think they have everything. They have forced me to sign a will in Claude's favour. But with Truman's help, I and you can still laugh at them. This will, which I have written in the middle of the night, and which Truman and Mary Mapp, the cook, have witnessed, is dated a week later than the will which they hold. It leaves everything to you.

Truman will take charge of it, and hand it either to Philip Fawcett or yourself. God bless you, my boy! I know you love the old place, and will take care of it. Goodbye.—

Your affectionate uncle,

David March.

Douglas read it once—twice, then turned to the will itself, and scanned it. It was, so far as he could tell, all in order. His eyes were moist, and for the moment he felt no joy in his triumph because of sorrow at the cruel end to his uncle's and to old Truman's lives.

"Dear old chap!" he said. "Dear old chap! So he did not forget me after all."

"What the blazes are you doing here?"

The angry question roused him from his thoughts, and, looking up, there was his precious cousin, standing on the cliff top, a few feet above him.

Douglas thrust the papers into his pocket.

"Just taking the air, Claude," he answered easily. "Taking the air, and looking round."

His light reply clearly puzzled Claude, who frowned and glared at him.

"You're trespassing," he snarled. "You're on my property."

Douglas shook his head.

"No, Claude," he said mildly. "This isn't your property. It's mine."

"You're crazy," sneered Claude. "Get out, or I'll call my men and have you thrown off the place."

"Call 'em." said Douglas. "Call 'em, Claude. Nothing I'd like better. Only, mind you, it's you who'll get chucked out, not me."

Claude began to look scared. He really believed that Douglas was off his head. He turned and began to move away.

"Stop, Claude!" called Douglas; and as Claude only hurried faster, Douglas made a run and a scramble, and in a moment was up over the top of the slope and beside him.

Claude turned at bay.

"I warn you I'll prosecute you for trespassing," he snarled. "I'll call the police."

"That's just what I was going to do, Claude. They may have something to say to you for keeping an unburied body in your cellar."

Claude's cheeks went like chalk.

"W-what do you meant?"

"What about old Truman?" demanded Douglas.

"Truman! He left three months ago. What are you talking about?"

"His body lies at the inner end of the Priest's Passage," replied Douglas. "Right under the Court, if I'm not mistaken. His body is there, and so was something else—something I have in my pocket this minute."

Claude gasped for breath.

"W-what do you mean? What did you find! Give it up. If it was in the cellar, it's mine."

"It was addressed to me, Claude, so it's mine, not yours. Shall I tell you what it is?"

Claude's face was ghastly. Sweat stood in big drops on his forehead.

"You dog, Claude!" Douglas's voice was suddenly harsh and threatening. "You utter blackguard! What I found is a letter from Uncle David which tells me something of how you and that brute Cutts treated him. How you forced him to make a will in your favour."

"I didn't—I swear I didn't." Claude's voice was a scream. "I defy you to prove any such thing."

"I don't need to prove it," Douglas answered sternly. "That will you hold is worth only the paper it is written on. He left another, and that is in my pocket this minute."

With a scream, Claude was on him, wrenching and tearing at him like a tiger cat.

"Cutts!" he shrieked. "Cutts!"

IN the distance Douglas saw the fat man ambling across the lawn. He tore himself loose from Claude, sprang back, then, as the fellow came at him again, hit him with all his strength on the jaw. Claude crumpled like a rag on the smooth turf.

Then Douglas went for Cutts. The fat man saw him coming and ran. Douglas caught him in ten strides, caught him with the toe of his boot, and booted him all across the lawn to the drive. There he got him by the collar and ran him down to the gate, through which he flung him into the road.

Then, locking the gate, he returned to the house and sent a message to Philip to come up at once.

Before Philip arrived, Claude had vanished, and Cutts with him.

David March and old Truman were buried on the same day in the little churchyard at Claston, and Douglas and Philip Fawcett returned to the Court together.


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.