Search      Hot    Newest Novel
HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER VII.
Font Size:【Large】【Middle】【Small】 Add Bookmark  
 The next morning Mark went up to London. “Of course, Mr. Thorndyke,” the chief at Bow Street said, “your father's suspicions as to the man's identity may or may not be justified; that, however, makes no difference to us. Here is a highwayman who has been wounded, and would certainly be a valuable capture: I will set my men to work at once; if he is in London they will get news of him before many days. My men in any case would do their duty, but your father's offer will certainly stimulate their energy. Where are you stopping?”
“At the Bull, in Holborn.”
“Very well; I will be sure to let you know as soon as we get any clew to the man's identity.”
Mark remained in London a week, and at the end of that time he received a note from Bow Street saying that the superintendent wished to see him.
“I am sorry that I have no news for you, Mr. Thorndyke,” the officer said, when he called upon him. “Every place where such a man would be likely to be in hiding has been searched, and no clew whatever has been obtained. We shall now circulate notices of the reward throughout the country. If the man was at all severely hit, we may assume that he must be somewhere in the neighborhood of London, whereas, if the wound was a slight one, he might be able to go a long distance, and may be now in York, for aught we know. However, now that the search in London has terminated, I can really see no use in your staying here any longer; we will let you know directly we have any news.”
Three months later John Thorndyke received a letter from the Detective Office asking him to call the next time he came up to town, as although no news had been obtained that would lead to the man's immediate arrest, news had at any rate been obtained showing that he was alive. It happened that Mark was intending to go up on the following day, and his father asked him to call for him at Bow Street.
“Well, Mr. Thorndyke, we have heard about your man, and that after we had quite abandoned the search. I had come to the conclusion that the wound you gave him had been a fatal one, and that he had been quietly buried by some of the people with whom he was connected. The discovery was, as half these discoveries generally are, the result of accident. Last week a gentleman entered the Bank and asked for change in gold for a fifty pound note. The cashier, looking at the number, found that it was one of those that had been stolen from a passenger by one of the south coaches several months ago. The gentleman was at once taken into a private office, and questioned as to how he had obtained the note. The account that he gave was that he was a surgeon in practice at Southampton. A gentleman had arrived there on a date which we found to be the day after that on which you were stopped; he was well dressed, and had the air of a gentleman; he had come down by coach, and was evidently very ill. He told the surgeon that he had been engaged in a duel, that the pistols had been discharged simultaneously, and that he had killed his man, but had himself been severely wounded. He said that the person whom he had killed had influential connections, and that it would be necessary for him to remain in seclusion for a time, and he asked him to take charge of his case, as he had ample means of paying him handsomely. The surgeon examined the wound, and found it to be indeed a serious one, and, as he thought, probably fatal. However, having no doubt as to the truth of the story, he had taken the gentleman in, and he remained under his charge until a week before he came up to town.
“For the first month he had been dangerously ill, but he completely recovered. The surgeon had no reason whatever for doubting his patient being a gentleman; he was fashionably dressed, and had evidently changed his clothes after the duel, as there were no bloodstains upon them. He was, however, glad when he left, as his conversation did not please him from its cynical tone. The Bank sent to us directly the man presented the note, which he stated had been given to him in part payment for his medical services and the board and lodging of the patient; the total amount had been 75 pounds, and the balance was paid in gold. As he was able to give several good references, and was identified by three gentlemen, he was, of course, released. I have no doubt whatever that the fellow he attended was your man. The surgeon said, whoever he was, he must have been a man of iron resolution to have made such a journey in the state he was.
“No doubt he must have ridden straight to the place he used as his headquarters, where he had his wound roughly bandaged, changed his clothes, and had ridden in the morning to some point that the coach passed on its way to Southampton. Of course we obtained a minute description from the surgeon of the man's appearance. We found that the people at the coach office had no remembrance of there being anyone answering to that description among the persons who traveled by the coach, but of course that would not go for much, for over three months have elapsed.
“When the coachman who had driven the down coach that day came up to town, we saw him, and he remembered perfectly that on or about that day he had picked up a passenger at Kingston—a gentleman who was in very weak health. There were only three inside passengers besides himself, and he had to be assisted into the coach. The way bill, on being turned up, showed that an inside passenger had been taken up at Kingston. I have already sent down men to make inquiries at every village in the district between Reigate and Kingston, and I trust that we shall lay hands on him, especially now we have got an accurate description of him, while before we were working in the dark in that respect.”
“What is the description, sir? My father is much interested on that point, for, as I believe I told you, he has a strong suspicion that the fellow is the man who was transported more than eight years ago to Australia, and who made his escape from the prison there.”
“Yes, I know. At first it appeared to me very improbable, but I am bound to say the description tallies very closely with that given of him. The surgeon took him to be nearly thirty; but after what he has gone through he may well look three or four years older than he is. He had light hair, rather small gray eyes, and a face that would have been good looking had it not been for its supercilious and sneering expression.”
“I can remember him,” Mark said; “and that answers very closely to him. I should say that it is certainly Bastow, and my father made no mistake when he asserted that he recognized his voice.”
The officer added a note to the description in his register: “Strongly suspected of being Arthur Bastow, transported for connivance with highwaymen; was leader of a mutiny in convict jail of Sydney two years and a half ago. Made his escape.”
“There is no doubt,” he went on, “that he is a desperate character. No doubt he is the man who has been concerned in most of these robberies in the southern suburbs. We must get hold of him if we can, and once we do so there will be an end of his travels, for the mutiny in prison and escape is a hanging business, putting aside the affairs since he got back. Well, sir, I hope he will give you and your father no more trouble.”
“I am sure I hope so,” Mark said. “I suppose that the fellow who was shot was one of the men who escaped with him from the convict prison.”
“That is likely enough. Two would get home as easily as one, and the fact that they were both strangers here would account for the difficulty our men have had in their search for him. You see, we have had nothing whatever to go on. You must not be too sanguine about our catching the man in a short time: he is evidently a clever fellow, and I think it likely that once he got back he lost no time in getting away from this part of the country, and we are more likely to find him in the west or north than we are of laying hands on him here. We will send descriptions all over the country, and as soon as I hear of a series of crimes anywhere, I will send off two of my best men to help the local constables.”
On his return home Mark told his father what he had done.
“I thought that I could not have been mistaken, Mark; we have got that rascal on our hands again. I hope now that they have got a description of him to go by, they will not be long before they catch him; but the way he escaped after being badly wounded shows that he is full of resources, and he may give them some trouble yet, if I am not mistaken. At any rate, I will have a talk with the Reigate constable, and tell him that there is very little doubt that the man who attacked us was Arthur Bastow, who has, as we have heard, escaped from Botany Bay, and that he had best tell his men to keep a sharp lookout for him, for that, owing to his animosity against us for his former capture and conviction, it is likely enough that sooner or later he will be in this neighborhood again. After his determined attempt at my life when pretending to rob us, I shall certainly not feel comfortable until I know that he is under lock and key.”
“I wish, Guardy, you would give up this magistrate's business,” Millicent said at dinner. “I am sure that it is worrying you, and I can't see why you should go on with it.”
“It does not worry me, as a rule, Millicent; indeed, I like the duty. Besides, every landowner of standing ought to take his share in public work. There are only two of the magistrates younger than I am, and whatever you may think of me, I feel myself capable of doing what work there is to do. When Mark gets a few years older I shall resign, and let him take my place on the bench. I own, though, that I should be glad if these highway robberies could be suppressed. Poaching and the ordinary offenses of drunkenness and assaults are disposed of without any trouble; but this stopping of the coaches, accompanied occasionally by the shooting of the coachman or guard, gives a great deal of trouble, and the worst of it is that we are practically powerless to put such crimes down. Nothing short of patrolling the roads in parties of three or four between sunset and sunrise would put a stop to them, and the funds at our disposal would not support such an expenditure.”
“It is a pity that you cannot get up a corps like the yeomanry, and call it the Mounted Constabulary,” said Mark. “There are at least a dozen fellows I know who would, like myself, be glad to join it, and I dare say we could get a score of young farmers or farmers' sons.”
“It is not a bad idea, Mark, and I dare say that for a time the duty would be zealously performed, but before very long you would tire of it. A few wet nights or winter's cold, and you would cease to see the fun of it, especially as you may be sure that the news that the roads are well patrolled would soon come to the ears of these scoundrels, and they would cease to work in the district.”
“Perhaps you are right, sir; but I think that a few of us would stick to it.”
“Perhaps so, Mark, but I should be sorry to wager that the work would be thoroughly done. The first county or hunt ball, or even dinner party, more than half of them would be away. I don't say that you personally might not for some considerable time persist in patrolling the roads, for you have a sort of personal interest in the matter; but I would wager that before two months have passed you would find you were the only one who attended at the rendezvous regularly.”
A fortnight later the party were seated round the fire in the dusk. Mr. Bastow was sitting next to the Squire, and was in unusually good spirits. He had heard no word of what the Squire had discovered, nor dreamed that his son was again in England, still less that he was suspected of being one of the men who had endeavored to stop the Squire and his son on their drive from London. Suddenly there was the crack of a pistol outside, and a ball passed between him and the Squire. Without a word, Mark Thorndyke rushed to the door, seized a pistol from his riding coat, and, snatching up a heavy whip, dashed out into the garden.
He was just in time to see a figure running at full speed, and he set off in pursuit. Good runner as he was, he gained but slightly at first, but after a time he drew nearer to the fugitive. The latter was but some sixty yards away when he leaped a hedge into a narrow lane. Mark followed without hesitation, but as he leaped into the road he heard a jeering laugh and the sharp sound of a horse's hoofs, and knew that the man he was pursuing had gained his horse and made off. Disgusted at his failure, he went slowly back to the house. The shutters had been put up.
“I have lost him, father. He ran well to begin with, but I was gaining fast on him when he leaped into a narrow lane where he had left his horse, and rode off before I could get up to him. I need hardly say that there was no use attempting to follow on foot. He missed you all, did he not?”
“Yes, Mark. It is not so easy to take an accurate aim when it is nearly dark. The bullet passed between myself and Mr. Bastow, and has buried itself in the mantelpiece.”
“Something ought to be done, Guardy,” Millicent Conyers said indignantly. “It is shameful that people cannot sit in their own room without the risk of being shot at. What can it mean? Surely no one can have any enmity against you.”
“I hope not, my dear,” John Thorndyke said lightly. “Some of the fellows we have sentenced may think that we were rather hard on them, but I do not think that any of them would feel it sufficiently to attempt to murder one; besides, Mark says that the fellow had a horse waiting for him, and none of our poachers would be likely to be the owner of a horse. It may be that the highwayman Mark shot at and wounded has come down to give us a fright. It is no use worrying about it now; in future we will have the shutters closed at sunset. It is hardly likely that the thing will be attempted again, and Mark's chase must have shown the fellow that the game is hardly worth the risk.”
“He might have shot you, Mark; you had no right to risk your life in that sort of way,” the girl said to him, later, as they were seated together in front of the fire, while the Squire was reading the Gazette at the table, Mrs. Cunningham was working, and Mr. Bastow, who had been greatly shaken by the event, had retired to bed.
“Do you think that he really meant to kill your father?”
“I should imagine he did; a man would hardly run the risk of being hung merely for the pleasure of shooting. I would give a good deal if I had caught him, or better still, if I had shot him,” said Mark. “However, I will make it my business to hunt the fellow down. After this evening's affair, we shall never feel comfortable until he is caught. I have no doubt that he is the fellow we have been hunting for the last four months. The people at Bow Street seem no good whatever; I will try if I cannot succeed better.”
“Don't do anything rash, Mark,” said Millicent, in a low voice; “you have no right to put yourself in danger.”
“But our lives are in danger now, Millicent—in much greater danger than mine would be when looking out for him. But there seems no guarding against attacks like this; I mean to hunt him down, if it takes me a year. I have nothing special to do, and cannot employ my time more usefully.”
When the ladies went up to bed the Squire said:
“Come into the library, Mark, and we will smoke a pipe, and have a talk over this business.” He touched the bell. “Have you got a good fire in the library, Ramoo?”
“Yes, sahib, very good.”
“Then take a bottle of number one bin of port there—and a couple of glasses.”
When they were quietly seated, glasses filled, and the long pipes alight, the Squire said: “I want to have a serious talk with you, Mark. What I am going to say will surprise you a good deal. I had not intended to tell you for another four years—that is to say, not until Millicent came of age—but after that affair tonight, I feel that my life is so uncertain that I ought not to delay letting you know the truth. I suppose you agree with me that it was Bastow who shot at me this evening?”
“I have not the least doubt about that, father.”
“I will not say that he shot at me,” the Squire said, “for he may have............
Join or Log In! You need to log in to continue reading

Login into Your Account

  Remember me on this computer.

All The Data From The Network AND User Upload, If Infringement, Please Contact Us To Delete! Contact Us
About Us | Terms of Use | Privacy Policy | Tag List | Recent Search  
©2010-2018, All Rights Reserved