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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Forbes Colin

«Precipice», Colin Forbes

Colin Forbes



'This could be dangerous.' Philip Cardon said as he felt the wheels of the Land Rover sliding in the mud.

'If you're nervous give me the wheel. I like to be in the driver's seat.' suggested Eve.

There was a challenging note in her tone which jarred on Philip. He switched off the engine and Eve, sitting beside him, lit a fresh cigarette from the one she had just smoked. It was night and they were high up in the Purbeck Hills, approaching the cliffs which dropped into the sea.

Philip thought that Dorset in February was hellish. For days it had rained nonstop and the lowland fields they had long ago left behind were lakes, swamps. They were driving along the deep ruts of a track which led up the spine of a high ridge. It was bitterly cold and Eve was buttoning up the collar of her camel-hair coat round her neck.

At this point they were sheltered from the wind. Philip found the silence was eerie, as though issuing a warning. The sky was clear and the moon cast an unsettling glow over the vast landscape to their right. Only a few yards from the track the ridge dropped in a steep slope to a small valley hemmed in by another slope on the far side. They had their first sight of the sea, of the grim coast stretching westward. Jagged capes projected into the sea which was rough. Surf-tipped mountainous waves rolled in endlessly.

'That must be Sterndale Manor down there.' Philip remarked.

At the base of the valley – little more than a wide gorge – stood an Elizabethan house, its chimneys rearing up. As he watched, lights came on and Philip took a monocular glass from his windcheater pocket, focused it.

'General Sterndale must have arrived back from our hotel with his son. Someone is closing all the shutters…' He watched as lights came on, vanishing again as more shutters were closed. 'It's like life being extinguished.' he mused.

'Now you're being morbid.' Eve chided him as she jumped to the ground, nearly slipped in the mud, grabbed the side of the vehicle.

'Watch it. The ground's like a marsh.'

He resumed watching the manor. He couldn't rid himself of a premonition that a tragedy was imminent. Must be the weird atmosphere up here, he told himself.

'He certainly locks himself in at night.' he observed.

'Well, you remember in the bar back at the Priory Hotel he said he was so isolated he turned it into a fortress at night.' Eve reminded him. 'Just the two of them inside that great house and the servant. Marchat. Funny name. Wonder what nationality it is.' She flashed the smile which had first attracted him when they'd met by chance at the Priory. 'Move over so I can take the wheel.'

'Get back where you were. I'm driving and that's it.'

'Be stubborn, then. But don't take us down into that gorge.'

She sounded annoyed at not getting her own way. As she settled herself back in the passenger seat her buoyant mood seemed to return.

'Is this Lyman's Tout we're climbing? And what does Tout mean?'

'Cape. Lookout point. Local word. Over to our left is Houns Tout. Don't ask me what Houns means.'

Philip started up the engine and continued up the track. To his left stretched a large area of scrubby grass running up to a drystone wall. Earlier he had tried driving over the grass and found it sodden with water. Still disturbed, he glanced down at Sterndale Manor and drove higher and higher.

'They told us back at the hotel the wind would hit us when we cross the crest of that ridge – straight off the sea. Batten down the hatches.'

He had just spoken when they arrived at the highest point of the ridge. The wind hit them like a huge door slamming in their faces. Eve pulled up the hood of her coat, wrapped it round her head. Philip slowed down as the earth became a flat plateau of miserable grass. To his left the drystone wall bent away east, as though shrinking from the onslaught. The roar of the sea was a drumbeat. Philip stopped the vehicle, turned off the engine, leaned over so Eve would hear him.

'I'm going a bit further on foot. I think we're close to the edge.'

'This is close enough for me.'

'I wonder who that weird old pile belongs to?'

Way over to his left, well back from the sea, crouched a bleak mansion, two storeys high, its walls of granite. It had a deserted look and from it the ground sloped downwards steadily towards what he suspected was the cliff rim.

Bending against the force of the gale battering him he walked cautiously forward. He stopped abruptly. With nothing to indicate the danger he found himself at the brink and thanked God the wind was blowing against him.

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