The wind was cold across the fens, ruffling the tops of the reeds and sedge; it was a soft voice whispering in my ears as the shallow boat slid silently over the brackish waters. I sat huddled in the prow of the punt, arms about my knees, staring ahead of me at the infinitude of fronds that formed this corner of the world I was moving through, in which the boatman and I were the only living things, other than the waterfowl.
I was thoroughly miserable. The wind was biting in this springtime of the year; it cut through the worn fabric of my cloth coat, bringing goosebumps to my flesh, warning me of the trials and pitfalls that lay ahead of me at the house called Greytowers. I had been shivering all day long, what with my fears and fancies, and the chill of these fenlands did nothing to cheer me. I was out of place, here. I had nothing in common with this England where I traveled; I was an American more used to the snows and gales of the little Massachusetts town from which I had come at the summons of an elderly landowner named Richard Guyfford who claimed to be my grandfather.
And so I brooded, chin on hands, leaning forward to stare with unseeing eyes at the brackish waters, at the peat beds here and there, at the limestone hills in the far distance and the forests that coated them. My grandfather! The mere idea of anyone being my grandfather was numbing in itself. All my life I had known only one relative, my father. My mother was dead; father had told me so. And he never spoke of any other family.
Of course, I knew father was an Englishman. From time to time, perhaps in front of a fire in the hearth on a cold and blustery winter’s night, he would talk of the Lincolnshire where he had been born and raised, and had fallen in love and been married. What had happened after that, why he had run away with me, he never mentioned despite my pleas and teasings to be told. His face would grow sad, his memories would be in his eyes, locked away in his brain, but his tongue would never speak of them.
Short weeks ago, a letter had come from a London law firm, Gillespie and Jackman of Temple Bar, stating that after a long search, they believed me to be the long-lost granddaughter of Sir Richard Guyfford of Greytowers, Lincolnshire. There was a check enclosed, which was to pay my way by ocean liner and railroad train from Wellington Station to the little station at Wainfleet. A car would be waiting for me, to whisk me off to meet this man who claimed to be the father of my own father.
I went, without really believing all that was said in that letter. I had just finished my nursing course, I was waiting for an assignment in a Holyoke hospital, and I looked on what had happened as a summons to a great adventure.
The wind grew colder. I shivered.
“Aye! She has a nip to it, that breeze,” said the boatman.
He was a taciturn Englishman, long of face and lean of body. He wore thick woolen trousers, sweaters, and a greatcoat that sheathed him from neck to boots. His hands were red and hairy, but there was strength in them. He worked his pole with an effortless ease that sent the punt sliding across the fenwaters with scarcely more than a faint gurgling of the water.
My train had deposited me at Wainfleet. I had been the only person to step down onto that lonely, windswept platform. My baggage had been put on the platform beside me, then the train had pulled out with a few eerie blasts of its whistle. Never had I been so alone as I was at that moment, not even when my father had died.
I was in a foreign country, I had nothing but the letter from Gillespie and Jackman to vouch for me, and I had spent most of the money on clothes and luggage and my fares. I looked about me for signs of a buggy, or any other sort of conveyance, telling myself I was going to freeze to death on that platform if nobody showed up to claim me.
I waited half an hour. Then I stamped my foot and set out to find another human being. The walking did me good; it sent the blood pounding through me, it eased my tensions, it brought the flush of anger to my face. If this was someone’s notion of a joke, to lift me bodily from the little town where I had grown into young womanhood and drop me off here in what seemed—to me, at least—a Godforsaken section of England in this third year of the reign of Edward the Seventh, then I was going to do something about it.
I walked down the street until I saw a comer pub. My feet angled a path toward its little windows, the big door with its glass panes all gnarled and twisted. I put a gloved hand to that door and pushed.
There were five men at the bar. They all turned and stared at me as I marched myself up to the counter and rapped on it with my knuckles. It was a shocking thing to see a respectable woman in a pub, but I cared nothing for that.
“Is there anyone here who can direct me to Greytowers?” I asked.
A hush seemed to fall upon the place. It was as though I had spoken a forbidden word. I sensed an opposition from all these men; they drew away from me slightly and looked at one another.
The man behind the bar cleared his throat. “You’ll be the second American lady, then?”
I stared at him. “The second American lady?”
His customers broke into grins, their interest aroused.
“Aye, the other granddaughter.”
My wits whirled. What other granddaughter was he referring to, with that curious little mocking smile? I shook my head, stating that I knew of no other granddaughter, and please! would he be so good as to tell me how I might get to Greytowers?
“Amos here could take you.”
A lean man with a sour look glanced at him, then lifted his tankard of Midlands ale and finished it at a long swallow. His hands were enormous, with long fingers, reddish skin, and much black hair.
“You’ll have to go by boat,” he told me.
“By boat? But I thought—a buggy, a dogcart of some sort . . .”
My words trailed off. I looked helplessly at the proprietor, at the man named Amos, and I made myself smile. “Of course. I’ll pay, naturally. My baggage . . .”
“No baggage,” growled Amos. “Just yourself. My punt cannot carry heavy loads. Now be you wantin’ to go or not?”
Two other men said they would carry my luggage to the pub and keep it there for me. I followed Amos out into the cold gray day and trailed at his heels along a narrow little street between brick houses with thatched roofs and down an incline toward a small wooden wharf to which a shallow boat was tied.
I could have wept as I stepped into that jouncing boat, almost losing my balance. I had visualized friendly faces, the warmth of a happy meeting, hugs from a doting grandfather, and much laughter. Instead, there was the overcast gray sky, the rising wind where it swept across these fenwaters, and a sullen man who thrust a long pole against the wharf to push us free.
Now as the punt slid between patches of sedge, Amos spoke again. “Bean’t you didn’t know ’bout t’other one?”
“The other granddaughter, you mean? No, I didn’t. I—I don’t think I’d have come if—”
I turned around and stared at his long face. “Are you trying to tell me something? It isn’t possible this Richard Guyfford had two lost granddaughters?”
“Only the one.”
I thought about that, then said, “I—see. This other girl is a rival of some sort. Is that it? Sir Richard doesn’t know which of us is his real granddaughter and so he’s brought us both here. To question us, no doubt?”
“Something like that.”
“Then he’s wasted his money on me. I can’t tell him a single thing. I might as well turn around and go home. Except that—”
The boat slid forward silently for a little time.
“T’other one can,” said the boatman suddenly.
I swiveled about on the thwart and stared at him, curious. “I wish you wouldn’t mumble so, and speak in monosyllables all the time. If you have anything to say, come out with it!”
Our eyes met. His were cold, at first, and then they seemed to warm to me. “Bean’t my place to talk. Still! You seem like a babe, so innocent and all.”
“I’m a nurse! I’ve passed all my tests.”
He grinned, showing bad teeth. “Bean’t that kind of innocence I meant.” The pole lifted, the punt drifted for a few moments as he turned his thoughts over in his head.
He muttered, “Greytowers is an evil place. Murder’s been done there. Aye, and worse. A bad breed, the Guyffords, for the most part. Haughty and cold, the lot of them. And dangerous.”
The pole dipped into the water, the shallow boat surged forward. I waited, but his eyes and all his attention were focused on the watery channels between the reeds up ahead of us. I listened to the gurgle, felt the forward push of the punt, and swayed to its movement.
“Surely, you don’t mean my grandfather has brought me here to—kill me? That’s preposterous! He could have let me live out my life in the United States. I’d never have known about him, nor he about me.”
I drew the cloth coat closer about me, filled with dread. Could Sir Richard Guyfford be a madman? Is this why father had fled from him to take up a new life in America? The more I thought about it, the more sense it made. And now I, his daughter, was here to face the madness from which he had fled.
“Mightn’t be the grandfather you have to fear.”
Well! My boatman had spoken again, like the Pythoness at Delphi. I began to understand this man a little better. He would never come out and say just what he meant, but he would hint and rid himself of little innuendos which I must catch and hold tightly.
“My rival, then,” I said softly. “You think she might have designs upon my life?”
“The Guyffords be rich people. Very wealthy. A granddaughter would inherit—everything.”
“I don’t care about his money!”
“Then you be a fool.”
I threw back my head and laughed. It was the first time I had laughed since leaving Holyoke. The tears ran down my cheeks, and wiping them away—they were tears of honest mirth—I turned around and smiled at my sullen boatman.
“There are other relations, then?”
I could have shaken him, he was so uncommunicative. My chin shot forward, defiantly. I would worm out of him what news he had to tell me of the Guyffords, or go down to defeat with all my flags flying.
“If these loving relatives whom I seem to have inherited want me dead—certainly they’ll want my—my rival dead, as well?”
He nodded gravely.
“What’s she like, this other one?”
“A hoity-toity piece. Much taken with her own airs. Pretty, too. Not at all like you.”
I sighed. True, I am no ravishing beauty, but my face is fair enough, though a little too generous of lips, with dark brown eyes that look at the world about me through long brown lashes. My hair is long and brown, with faintly reddish tints in certain lights. My chin is firm and slightly oval, with a dimple. I have been told by men that I am attractive, though not pretty.
A chuckle roused me from my reveries. “You be pretty enough. That bean’t what I meant.”
“Why, thank you, Amos,” I smiled.
“You be proud. She be—arrogant.”
After that there was only the gurgle and the swish of the fenwaters as the punt slid over them. I watched a reed bunting fly up from a clump of sedge and soar into the sky. Then a duck attracted my eyes as it paddled furiously for cover when the punt came into view.
This was an entirely new world into which I was slipping. And from what the boatman had told me, a far more dangerous one than that which I had known. I felt gratitude toward him; if it hadn’t been for his few words, I might have rushed headlong and with open arms toward my own death.
I told myself to be wary at Greytowers.
My grandfather would love and protect me, I was sure—once he could acknowledge me as his relation. There was another claimant to that honor, however, who might well be the real granddaughter. For I carried no proofs in the little mesh bag to which I clung with both hands; there was no birth certificate, not one shred of evidence that I was Lizabeth Gifford. All I had was the letter from Gillespie and Jackman, addressed to me at the little house that had been my home in Holyoke.
I felt more despairing than ever.
I was here on a wild-goose chase that might end in my being killed. Why, oh why, had I ever thought this to be a great adventure? Indeed, I was of half a mind to tell Amos to turn the punt about and take me back to Wainfleet station, where I could catch, in time, a train back to London.
Then the sedge and the reeds fell away and there was clear water before us, all the way to a long stone wharf and rolling countryside covered with green grass and shrubs, neatly tended, and I had my first glimpse of Greytowers.
The house was of gray stone; and looked vaguely like a castle. Four towers rose upward into the sullen gray sky, one at each comer of the long rectangle that was the house proper. The roof was leaded, dotted here and there by chimney-stacks A great many windows looked out over the fens, and a massive front door with steps leading down to a circular drive gave the impression of age and brooding strength. It was an old house, I felt sure; how old I was not to know until later.
It seemed deserted. I saw no life about it.
The neatly clipped lawns ran up to the circular drive, stretching from water’s edge to trees that formed a small forest far behind them, in which the house was like an island. From the angle at which we came, I could make out other buildings behind Greytowers, probably stables and perhaps an oast-house or shed or two. It was quite a sizable holding, I thought, being used to the small residences of my own home town.
My eyes never left that house as the shallow boat slid onward toward the stone quay. Were other eyes watching our approach from one or more of those many windows? It was impossible to tell. They were as blank and empty as the house itself was lifeless.
“They don’t seem to know I exist,” I murmured.
“Belike they know. They’m watchin’ you.”
I swung on him, irritated at his supreme self-confidence. “How do you know that? How can you tell? Or are you only—guessing?”
“I know the folks hereabouts, I do. Aye, and very well. They be expecting you. They’ll be watchful.”
“But they didn’t send a buggy for me. Don’t they have a buggy at Greytowers? Or horses?”
His chuckle was reassuring, for some indefinable reason. “Oh, aye. Plenty of good horseflesh. And buggies for them to haul. Also farm wagons and wains, and even a dogcart or two.”
“Then they mean to be insulting!”
There was no answer to that, by which I took Amos to be agreeing with me. I felt my face flush as a slow anger began to burn. I sat up straighter, my head lifted high. Moments before I had been a miserable creature, filled with self-pity. Now I was angry, with a cold and hard fury.
“Do they, indeed! Well, two can play at this game of theirs. If they think I’ll come sniveling to their doorstep with my hand out begging for alms, they can go to—”
I broke off, thinking that it was not ladylike to swear. Sounds from behind me made me whip about. Amos was bent over with laughter that seemed to shake him from time to time. After a while, feeling my furious eyes fastened on him, he straightened slowly and nodded his wool-capped head at me.
“A long time it be since I hear such words from a female. Belike you’ll be the real granddaughter. You’m got a way of talking that fits to the Guyffords as line to a twig.”
The rage was still in me. “And how is that?”
“Like you was the lady of the manor already, and your servants hadn’t come fast enough to your beck and call. It be the Guyfford way, that.”
The anger ebbed in me. “I didn’t mean to sound so—so haughty.”
“Nor could you help it, lady. It’s bred in the bone, that pride. It goes back a long ways, a goodly number of centuries.”
It was on the tip of my tongue to question him more about the Guyffords and their imposing Greytowers home, but the stone quay was before us, and I could feel him poling strongly to bring the prow within touching distance of the mold-stones A willow warbler rose up from some clumps of alder buckthorn at the water’s edge and flew off. I stretched out a hand toward that cold gray stone, missed my clutch, then caught it as Amos swung the boat about.
An instant later I was stepping onto the quay, fumbling at my mesh bag. “How much do I owe you, Amos?”
“A shillin’ will do.”
“Then take a guinea. I need friends here, Amos. I want you to be mine.”
His gray eyes twinkled as he nodded his head. “You be needin’ friends, for certain sine.” He hesitated, looking up at me through narrowed eyelids, head cocked to one side. “It might be dangerous to be your friend, lady. Still, for what it’s worth—I will be.”
His hands moved with the long pole and the punt was out in midstream, moving away swiftly, as though glad to be relieved of its female burden. Amos stood tall and straight in the bow, working with that effortless ease that told of long hours on those brackish waters. Once he turned, and seeing I still watched him—much as though he were the last link with the world I had known all my life—he took off his wool cap and waved it at me.
I waved back, suddenly glad of his gesture.
For long minutes I stood there, staring after him, until he and his punt were hidden by the high reeds. The breeze that had been sweeping the fens grew stronger, and now that I stood here to my full height of five feet two, rather than huddled in the punt—where I had also been protected somewhat by the sedge and reeds that abounded in these marshes—I felt its full force.
I bent my head against it, and my eyes began to water. My ears grew red, I am sure. Swinging around, I turned my stare from the fens to the house that stood high on its grassy knoll, staring back at me.
“Damn you all,” I whispered between clenched teeth. “I’m going to stand here until you show some hospitality.”
I moved my feet, jumped up and down to keep my blood circulating, and walked the length of the wharf, then back again. I must have made a sorry sight to anyone who might be watching from Greytowers, if anyone cared to look, trudging back and forth with my head bent and shivering like a person with the ague.
The more I thought of it, the more my lips quivered. Not from approaching tears, but because I was starting to giggle. Thank heaven, I am blessed with a sense of humor, and that sense of humor came to my rescue. I began to whoop with laughter at the sight I must make, striding back and forth on this stone wharf.
“I fail to see the reason for your merriment.”
I whipped about. I’d been staring out over the marshland when I had laughed. A man sat a dappled gray horse, a man in his early thirties I should say, handsome enough in a dark, saturnine way, and clad in a riding habit of gray tweed with whipcord breeches thrust into black leather field boots. His face was darkly tanned, as though he were out-of-doors a lot, and his blue eyes held a quizzical look.
“Which one of my gracious family are you?” I wondered.
He gave a brief laugh and shook his head. “I’m none of your Guyffords, thank you. I’m a neighbor. Conal Stanford. Actually, I’m a bit of a trespasser at the moment. Sir Richard and I do not see eye to eye on very many things. One of which, I might add, is his treatment of guests.”
He swung down out of the saddle and walked toward me, as I strolled toward him. He was taller than I had imagined, his shoulders were broad and looked very muscular even under the tweed riding jacket. There was a sardonic look about him that went well with my own mood at the moment.
He stopped when I came to the end of the quay and stepped onto the grass. His eyes went over me slowly. “You’ll be Lizabeth Guyfford,” he murmured softly. “The old man’s granddaughter.”
“We pronounce it Gifford in the United States. And I’m not so sure whether I’m his granddaughter or not. I understand there’s another claimant for the honor.”
He chuckled. “Amos has been wagging his tongue.” At my surprise, he waved a hand westward. “I was riding on the high ground—there’s a road there but you can’t see it from here. I saw you approaching and decided to ride over and discover for myself what you looked like.”
My chin lifted. “And now that you have?”
“You’re the real granddaughter. My money on it.” He hesitated, then added grimly, “Unfortunately for you.”
My eyes touched the big house that seemed so empty, so desolate. “Now why do you say that? Amos hinted at some opposition, yes. But I can’t believe my life is in danger. Not really.”
“There are evil forces in that house,” he muttered diffidently, as though ashamed of his melodramatic words. His hand lifted, waved. “Oh, I know I sound like a character out of a Barrie play, but believe me. Walk softly, watch everyone about you.”
“I’m of half a mind to turn around and go home,” I told him.
“You won’t. If you’re the Guyfford I take you for, you’ll fight back. And it’s worth it, believe me. Sir Richard is very rich. Made his money in Ancaster stone and woolen mills in Yorkshire, to say nothing of his dabbling in iron-mongering and tulip bulbs. A potpourri of endeavor, at all of which he made money.”
I laughed, feeling a strange camaraderie with this tall stranger. Sir Richard and he were enemies, and I was beginning to think that, grandfather or not, Sir Richard and I were not exactly friends. Some of this I said to him as we stood there conversing as though we had known one another for years.
“Yes, you’ll be an enemy to a lot of people living under that roof. Not to your grandfather, however. Or so I think. He hated his son with an unholy hatred—or so the local gossip has it—and his son returned that hatred. That son was your father, I believe.”
“But why? What could come between a son and his father to such an extent that they would hate one another?”
His shoulders shrugged. “You’ll have to ask him about that. It was a long time ago, over twenty years. I only came here fifteen years back, when I bought Seacroft Old Hall, refurbished it, and made it my home. Like you, I’m a newcomer to this part of the fen world.”
A voice hailed us, cutting into the words I was about to speak. Conal Stanford and I turned to see a man coming down the grassy slope toward us at great, loping strides. He wore riding breeches and a woolen shirt open at the throat. He was brawny and solid, without an ounce of fat on him, and his skin, like that of the man beside me, was tanned from long exposure to sunlight. His face bore a sullen expression; there was anger smoldering in his black eyes as he stared at us.
“And what do you two want?” he growled from twenty feet away.
Conal Stanford opened his mouth to reply, but I said sweetly, “This gentleman has been making me welcome, which is more than I can say for the people to whom I am supposed to be related.”
Out of the corner of an eye, I saw Conal Stanford give me a quick smile and an admiring look. The man with the sullen face sneered, but said nothing.
“I am Lizabeth Gifford. Sir Richard Guyfford claims to be my grandfather,” I snapped. “I have a letter from his solicitors in my bag, which I shall present to him, when somebody up at that house decides to notice me.”
The sullenness fled before a sudden slyness in the black eyes. I think he was about to make an insulting comment, but Conal Stanford was slapping a long riding whip against his breeches, and fastening his hard stare on the man.
“Nobody saw you,” he muttered.
“An outright lie,” said Conal, “for I saw two faces at the upper windows as I rode across the lawn.” He rubbed the weighted end of the whip against his jaw, then added, “I can understand why the people in Greytowers don’t want any part of this young lady, but that’s no excuse for rudeness.”
The sullen man growled, “I was ’round back, in the stables.”
“Why wasn’t I met at the railroad station?” I asked.
“I know nowt about that,” was the answer.
I looked at Conal Stanford, he at me. Then he extended his arm with a faint smile. “In the absence of any true greeter, may I escort you to the door?” He looked at the man in the woolen shirt. “I assume it will be all right to take her to the front door—and not the back?”
The man shrugged and stepped aside.
“My welcome is far different from what I anticipated,” I told him as we walked up the sloping lawn. “I visualized hugs and kisses and many tears of happiness at finding a long-lost member of the family. That is, if I really am the true granddaughter of Sir Richard. I find I’m not so enchanted by the prospect, at the moment.”
His big hand squeezed mine. “Don’t let them push you about. And remember, you have a friend at Seacroft Old Hall, any time you need him.”
When we were on the front porch, Conal Stanford bowed and, catching my hand, kissed it very cavalierly. No man had ever done any such thing to me before, and I was quite enchanted by it. His eyes met mine, he winked, and then he was gone, striding off across that vast lawn toward his horse. I watched him go with something like dismay in my heart. He was my last tie with pleasure.
“Very pretty,” snapped a female voice.
I turned, stared at a woman in her late fifties, at black hair tinged with gray, parted in the middle and drawn over her ears in buns. Her rather full face was cold and hard, as though she had already adjudged me an enemy and was determined to treat me as such. She wore a long black dress relieved only by white lace cuffs and collar. There was the fragrance of lilacs about her.
I am afraid my own eyes were as cold as hers. “I am Lizabeth Gifford. I have come from American to see the man who claims to be my grandfather.”
She blinked at that, surprise showing in her gray eyes. She snapped, “You’re the woman who claims to be his granddaughter,” as though to correct me.
“Not at all. He says I am his granddaughter. I never made such a claim; I do not make it now. And may I ask if I am to be kept forever out in this sharp wind? Or do English manners end with Conal Stanford?”
“Well!” she huffed, almost visibly swelling with irritation.
I smiled at her sweetly. “I find the manners of the people here at Greytowers to be something less than desired.” Then I added, purely out of pique, “If I am truly Sir Richard’s granddaughter, that will be a matter that I shall make it my business to amend, once I come into my inheritance.”
She stepped back, giving me a malevolent glance.
I heard soft laughter and a very thin young man with long brown hair come out of the shadows, offering me his hand. “Oh, don’t mind Janet. She’s been housekeeper here so long she thinks she and not the Old Man is the owner of the place.”
The malignant look was transferred to him as I brushed past her and smiled up at the youth who smiled back at me. His hand was long and thin, much like himself, and his grip was weak, almost listless.
“I’m a cousin. Mortimer Wolverton. I’m a poor relation, I’m afraid, just a hanger-on at the festive table of Sir Richard. Let me, at least, make you welcome here.”
I liked Mortimer Wolverton, for all his languorous airs. His face was friendly, and his eyes smiled. He said, “What about your luggage? Don’t tell me Amos carried it in his punt.”
I turned to the housekeeper who stood by with her hard eyes studying me carefully. “My bags are at a pub called The Bull, I believe. I left them on the railroad platform, where I fully expected someone from the house would meet me, to carry them here. Some gentlemen at the Bull offered to get them, keep their eyes on them for me.”
The housekeeper blinked, said, “I had no orders to send anyone to meet you.”
“And that’s a falsehood if I ever heard one,” murmured Mortimer. “At the dinner table last night, I distinctly heard the Old Man giving orders to that effect.”
The housekeeper rounded on him, sneering. “You, that takes charity! You’re a fine one to talk about obeying orders.”
“I do what I’m told,” the young man said softly.
Janet tossed her head, moved out of the hall and through a doorway. I stared after her, frowning. “This isn’t a very happy house, is it?”
“Hasn’t been for ages. Janet—her last name is Phillips—considers herself so much a part and parcel of Greytowers that she can’t conceive of anyone disputing her word. Except for Sir Richard himself, of course. No, she runs things around here.”
I turned to stare about me, at this home that might someday be my own, if I were indeed related to Sir Richard. The hall was wide, paneled in wood, with a magnificent oaken staircase. Mirrors on the wall in gilded frames and set above a console table or two, here and there, together with an occasional oil painting, gave the hall a rich splendor.
A chuckle warned me I was staring. “The place isn’t so bad, is it, for an old house?” asked Mortimer. “I’m something of a historian, I can tell you all about it, and I shall, once you’re safely ensconced. Right now, you must be tired.”
“A little, I admit. It’s been quite a day. But—don’t you think I ought to present myself to Sir Richard? After all, he did send me the money to come here, you know. It would only be polite to let him know I’ve arrived.”
“Oh, you won’t see him until dinnertime. He takes a nap right about now, every day. Nobody is permitted to interrupt that. But come along, I’ll see you to your room, where you can freshen up or lie down or whatever it is girls do in the privacy of their boudoirs after a long journey.”
His pale hand gestured me toward the big oak staircase. I hesitated; I had caught glimpses of the rooms on either side of this great hall and what I had seen made me want to see more of them. Yet I was tired—the long ride in that shallow punt and the effects of the fen winds on me made a lie-down on a bed something vastly appealing, and so I nodded and moved where his head gestured, toward the wide, curving lower treads.
I mounted the stairs slowly.
“Good Lord—look out!” Mortimer shouted.
He leaped at me, caught me and dragged me to one side. Out of the comers of my eyes I saw something fall past, to land with a crash on the carpeted staircase. I shrank back against the wainscoting, looking down at a heavy earthenware flowerpot, out of which fell dirt and a few flowers.
If that had hit my head, I might be dead, I told myself numbly. I was shaking in reaction. It was all I could do to lift my head and glance upward.