“Christine told me he took Charles’ life,” William said.
“Did she?” Earl Beaulieu’s voice was dull and emotionless. His gaze clung to the plague mask with muted horror. “His name was Dr. Payne,” he said flatly, “at least that’s what he told us. He was a madman, claiming to do the impossible; yet there was so much he knew which convinced us to believe otherwise. The most dangerous madmen, Saville, are those who act sane. I know that now.
“Dr. Payne said he could fix Charles, reverse the effects of his condition. He only made things worse. Charles is dead now.”
Earl Beaulieu said no more, snatching the box from William’s hands. William protested.
“It would be best for all if this burned,” said the earl. “There is but one place for this mask, and that is the fireplace.”
“Very well,” William relented, “but first I must ask you: why did you not try Dr. Payne in court for malpractice or murder? I’m certain you would have won the case and gotten compensation and perhaps retribution.”
The earl sighed. “I would have tried him if he had not disappeared. I sent men to search for him, but there was no trace of him, almost as if he never truly existed. I have long since given up my search and resolved to bury the past.”
“Including Charles,” William added grimly.
Earl Beaulieu frowned. “It is for the best,” he said. “Charles is dead and that is the end of him. His legacy died the day Dr. Payne appeared at our doorstep. Excuse me.”
The earl was about to close the door when William, placing his foot in the doorway, cried, “One last question, my lord!”
Seeing that William wouldn’t move his foot when the door smacked against it, the earl answered dryly, “What, sir?”
“What happened to Charles’ body after he died?” William asked.
The earl stared coolly at the barrister. “He was buried.”
He tried once more to close the door, but William’s foot stayed fast.
“Where was he buried?”
“In the churchyard.”
“Thank you, my lord.” William removed his foot from the doorway, and Earl Beaulieu closed it with an indignant huff.
“Meseems a visit to the churchyard is in order,” William said quietly to himself. “And the truth of Charles’ fate shall be buried no longer.”
He returned to his room to grab his hat and coat then set out into the streets of Beaulieu. The church wasn’t hard to find after a few inquiries. William roamed the churchyard in search of Charles’ tombstone. He was so engrossed in his search, he didn’t notice the soft tread of shoes against the leaf-littered earth.
“Looking for someone?”
William started and turned around, meeting the mild gaze of a slim, middle-aged man clad in black.
“Did I startle you? Forgive me,” said the man. He offered his hand in greeting. William took it.
“I am Reverend Townsend,” the man continued. “I’ve never seen you here before. Are you new here?”
“Yes,” William replied. “My name is William Saville. I’m only staying here for a little while; I’ll be gone in less than a fortnight. But I am looking for someone, just as you first suggested. Did you know Lord Charles Montagu?”
“Charles?” mused Rev. Townsend. “Yes, I knew him, but you must be mistaken. Charles died before he could receive the title of ‘lord’.”
“What?” Had Christine lied about two Lord Montagu’s? “What do you mean by that?” William asked.
“You don’t know?” said the reverend. “Baron Beaulieu was made an earl in 1784, making his sons lords. But Charles had died in 1783. There, see?”
Townsend had led William across the churchyard and now pointed to a large tombstone. Amidst other things, it read,
“CHARLES EDWARD HUSSEY-MONTAGU
“He was only five-and-thirty,” said William grimly. “Just three years my senior.”
“Four-and-thirty,” Townsend corrected. “His elder sister died even younger. She was hardly past twenty when she passed. As St. James wrote, life is ‘even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away’, what?”
William nodded. “May I ask how he died? Charles, that is.”
“You may,” Townsend answered, “but first may I ask (and I pray you forgive my frankness) why is a stranger like you so interested in the fate of a man you seem to know nothing about?”
“I am currently residing in the palace,” William said. “I’ve met the Montagu family and have noticed the strange attitudes they take about Charles.”
Rev. Townsend nodded in understanding. “They still grieve him, especially Christine. He was the world to her, and she was his little treasure. Now that I think of it, both Montagu boys adored her, actually. She was a charming little girl.” The reverend paused, putting a hand to his brow. “My, how I’ve digressed! You asked how Charles died? It was his condition which killed him.”
“What condition might that be?” William asked.
Rev. Townsend furrowed his brow in thought. “Acromegaly, I think it was called, amongst other things.”
“Is it a terminal condition?” William asked.
“The doctors didn’t think so,” Townsend replied. “But Earl Beaulieu insisted the condition had killed his son.”
“How did Charles look before he was buried? Sickly?”
“I didn’t see. No one saw except his family in the palace. His funeral was a quiet one; only his family and I attended. Even his father was the one to place his body in the coffin and put the coffin in the ground. His burial closer resembled one of a peasant than one of a baron’s son. Some rumour that Charles’ body wasn’t even in the coffin when it was buried. But that’s mere gossip,” the reverend added hastily, “nothing to worry your head about. Love me, I’ve this awful habit to prattle on and on. Hurry and speak before I continue.”
“I don’t mind,” William said. “However, I think I’ve heard all that I want to. Good day, reverend.”
“Good day,” Townsend replied. “Have a pleasant stay!”
William made his way back to the palace, his mind deep in thought. If Charles wasn’t in his coffin, it was possible the palace creature took his body. But why would it do such a thing?
If the creature could speak, then it could surely give an account of itself. Tonight, if it showed itself, William would confront it. He had brought with him a pistol if ever he needed to use it. If the creature proved itself violent, he would shoot.