Ravensdene Court (Serapis Classics)
Joseph Smith Fletcher (1863-1935) was a journalist and the author of over 200 books. Born in Halifax, West Yorkshire, he studied law before turning to journalism. His earlier works were either histories or historical fiction, and he was made a fellow of the Royal Historical Society. He didn't start writing mysteries until 1914, though before he died he had written over 100 in the genre.
Ravensdene Court (Serapis Classics)
It was very evident to Claigue and myself, interested spectators, that the new-comer's announcement, sudden and unexpected as it was, had had the instantaneous effect of making Quick forget his beef and his rum. Indeed, although he was only half-way through its contents, he pushed his plate away from him as if food were just then nauseous to him; his right hand lifted itself in an arresting, commanding gesture, and he turned a startled eye on the speaker, looking him through and through as if in angry doubt of what he had just said.
"What's that?" he snapped out. "What says you? Say it again-no, I'll say it for you-to make sure that my ears ain't deceiving me! You met a man-hereabouts-what asked you if you knew where there was graves with a certain name on 'em? And that name was-Netherfield? Did you say that?-I asks you serious?"
The drover, or shepherd, or whatever he was, looked from Quick to me and then to Claigue, and smiled, as if he wondered at Quick's intensity of manner.
"You've got it all right, mister," he answered. "That's just what I did say. A stranger chap, he was-never seen him in these parts before."
Quick took up his glass and drank. There was no doubt about his being upset, for his big hand trembled.
"Where was this here?" he demanded. "Recent?"
"Two nights ago," replied the man readily. "I was coming home, lateish, from Almwick, and met with this here chap a bit this side o' Lesbury. We walked a piece of the road together, talking. And he asked me what I've told you. Did I know these parts?-was I a native hereabouts?-did I know any churchyards with the name Netherfield on gravestones? And I said I didn't, but that there was such-like places in our parts where you couldn't see the gravestones for the grass, and these might be what he was asking after. And when we came to them cross-roads, where it goes to Denwick one direction and Boulmer the other, he left me, and I ain't seen aught of him since. Nor heard."
Quick pushed his empty glass across the table, with a sign to Claigue to refill it; at the same time he pointed silently to his informant, signifying that he was to be served at his expense. He was evidently deep in thought by that time, and for a moment or two he sat staring at the window and the blue sea beyond, abstracted and pondering. Suddenly he turned again on his informant.
"What like was this here man?" he demanded.
"I couldn't tell you, mister," replied the other. "It was well after dark and I never saw his face. But, for the build of him, a strong-set man, like myself, and just about your height. And now I come to think of it, spoke in your way-not as we do in these quarters. A stranger-like yourself. Seafaring man, I took him for."
"And you ain't heard of his being about?" asked Quick.
"Not a word, mister," affirmed the informant. "He went Denwick way when he left me. That's going inland."
Quick turned to me.
"I would like to see that map of yours again, master, if you please," he said. "I ought to ha' provided myself with one before I came here." He spread the map out before him, and after taking another gulp of his rum, proceeded to trace roads and places with the point of his finger. "Denwick?" he muttered. "Aye I see that. And these places where there's a little cross?-that'll mean there's a church there?"
I nodded an affirmative, silently watching him, and wondering what this desire on the part of two men to find the graves of the Netherfields might mean. And the landlord evidently shared my wonder, for presently he plumped his customer with a direct question.
"You seem very anxious to find these Netherfield gravestones," he remarked, with good-humoured inquisitiveness. "And so, apparently, does another man. Now, I've been in these parts a good many years, and I've never heard of 'em; never even heard the name.