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 Mark was some hours before he went to sleep. The news that he had heard that evening was strange and startling. Full of health and strength, the fact that he was not, as he had always supposed, the heir to the estate troubled him not at all. The fact that in four years he would come in for some twelve thousand pounds was sufficient to prevent his feeling any uneasiness as to his future; and indeed in some respects it was not an unpleasant idea that, instead of being tied down to the estate, he should be able to wander at will, visit foreign countries, and make his own life. In one respect he was sorry. His father had in the last year hinted more than once that it would be a very nice arrangement if he were to make up a match with his ward; he had laughed, and said that there would be plenty of time for that yet. But the idea had been an agreeable one. He was very fond of Millicent—fond, perhaps; in a cousinly way at present; but at any rate he liked her far better than any of the sisters of his friends. Of course she was only seventeen yet, and there was plenty of time to think of marriage in another three years. Still, the thought occurred to him several times that she was budding out into a young woman, and every month added to her attractions. It was but the day before he had said to himself that there was no reason to wait as long as three years, especially as his father seemed anxious, and would evidently be glad were the match to take place. Now, of course, he said to himself, that was at an end. He had never given her any reason to suppose that he cared for her, and now that she was the heiress and he comparatively poor, she would naturally think that it was for the estate, and not for herself, that she was wooed. Then there was the question of this curiously lost treasure, with the mysterious clew that led to nothing. How on earth was he to set about the quest? He puzzled for a long time over this, till at last he fell asleep. He was roused by Ramoo entering the room.
“What is it, Ramoo?”
“Me not know, sahib. Massa Thorndyke's door shut. Me no able to make him hear.”
“That is curious, Ramoo,” Mark said, jumping hastily out of bed. “I will be with you in a minute.”
He slipped on his trousers, coat, and slippers, and then accompanied Ramoo to his father's door. He knocked again and again, and each time more loudly, his face growing paler as he did so. Then he threw himself against the door, but it was solid and heavy.
“Fetch me an ax, Ramoo,” he said. “There is something wrong here.”
Ramoo returned in a short time with two men servants and with the ax in his hands. Mark took it, and with a few mighty blows split the woodwork, and then hurling himself against the door, it yielded. As he entered the room a cry broke from his lips. Within a pace or two of the bed the Squire lay on the ground, on his face, and a deep stain on the carpet at once showed that his death had been a violent one. Mark knelt by his side now, and touched him. The body was stiff and cold. The Squire must have been dead for some hours.
“Murdered!” he said in a low voice; “my father has been murdered.”
He remained in horror struck silence for a minute or two; then he slowly rose to his feet.
“Let us lay him on the bed,” he said, and with the assistance of the three men he lifted and laid him there.
“He has been stabbed,” he murmured, pointing to a small cut in the middle of the deep stain, just over the heart.
Ramoo, after helping to lift the Squire onto the bed, had slid down to the floor, and crouched there, sobbing convulsively. The two servants stood helpless and aghast. Mark looked round the room: the window was open. He walked to it. A garden ladder stood outside, showing how the assassin had obtained entrance. Mark stood rigid and silent, his hands tightly clenched, his breath coming slowly and heavily. At last he roused himself.
“Leave things just as they are,” he said to the men in a tone of unnatural calmness, “and fasten the door up again, and turn a table or something of that sort against it on the outside so that no one can come in. John, do you tell one of the grooms to saddle a horse and ride down into the town. Let him tell the head constable to come up at once, and also Dr. Holloway. Then he is to go on to Sir Charles Harris, tell him what has happened, and beg him to ride over at once.
“Come, Ramoo,” he said in a softer voice, “you can do no good here, poor fellow, and the room must be closed. It is a heavy loss to you too.”
The Hindoo rose slowly, the tears streaming down his face.
“He was a good master,” he said, “and I loved him just as I loved the Colonel, sahib. Ramoo would have given his life for him.”
With his hand upon Ramoo's shoulder, Mark left the room; he passed a group of women huddled together with blanched faces, at a short distance down the passage, the news that the Squire's door could not be opened and the sounds made by its being broken in having called them together. Mark could not speak. He silently shook his head and passed on. As he reached his room he heard shrieks and cries behind him, as the men informed them of what had taken place. On reaching his door, the one opposite opened, and Mrs. Cunningham in a dressing gown came out.
“What is the matter, Mark, and what are these cries about?”
“A dreadful thing has happened, Mrs. Cunningham; my father has been murdered in the night. Please tell Millicent.”
Then he closed the door behind him, threw himself on his bed, and burst into a passion of tears. The Squire had been a good father to him, and had made him his friend and companion—a treatment rare indeed at a time when few sons would think of sitting down in their father's presence until told to do so. Since he had left school, eight years before, they had been very much together. For the last two or three years Mark had been a good deal out, but in this his father had encouraged him.
“I like to see you make your own friends, Mark, and go your own way,” he used to say; “it is as bad for a lad to be tied to his father's coattail as at his mother's apron string. Get fresh ideas and form your own opinions. It will do for you what a public school would have done; make you self reliant, and independent.”
Still, of course, a great portion of his time had been with his father, and they often would ride round the estate together and talk to the tenants, or walk in the gardens and forcing houses. Generally Mark would be driven by his father to the meet if it took place within reasonable distance, his horse being sent on beforehand by a groom, while of an evening they would sit in the library, smoke their long pipes, and talk over politics or the American and French wars.
All this was over. There was but one thing now that he could do for his father, and that was to revenge his death, and at the thought he rose from his bed impatiently and paced up and down the room. He must wait for a week, wait till the funeral was over, and then he would be on Bastow's track. If all other plans failed he would spend his time in coaches until at last the villain should try to stop one; but there must be other ways. Could he find no other he would apply for employment as a Bow Street runner, serve for a year to find out their methods, and acquaint himself with the places where criminals were harbored. It would be the one object of his life, until he succeeded in laying his hand on Bastow's shoulder. He would not shoot him if he could help it. He should prefer to see him in the dock, to hear the sentence passed on him, and to see it carried out. As to the treasure, it was not worth a thought till his first duty was discharged.
Presently a servant brought him a cup of tea. He drank it mechanically, and then proceeded to dress himself. Sir Charles Harris would be here soon and the others; indeed, he had scarcely finished when he was told that the doctor from Reigate had just arrived, and that the constable had come up half an hour before. He at once went down to the library, into which the doctor had been shown.
“You have heard what has happened,” he said, as he shook hands silently. “I expect Sir Charles Harris here in half an hour. I suppose you will not go up till then?”
“No, I think it will be best that no one should go in until he comes. I have been speaking to Simeox; he was going in, but I told him I thought it was better to wait. I may as well take the opportunity of going upstairs to see Mr. Bastow. I hear that he fainted when he heard the news, and that he is completely prostrate.”
“Two such shocks might well prove fatal to him,” Mark said; “he has been weak and ailing for some time.”
“Two shocks?” the doctor repeated interrogatively.
“Ah, I forgot you had not heard about the affair yesterday evening: a man fired at us through the window when we were sitting round the fire, before the candles were lit. The ball passed between my father's head and Mr. Bastow's; both had a narrow escape; the bullet is imbedded in the mantelpiece. I will have it cut out; it may be a useful item of evidence some day.”
“But what could have been the man's motive? Your father was universally popular.”
“Except with ill doers,” Mark said. “I ran out and chased the fellow for half a mile, and should have caught him if he had not had a horse waiting for him in a lane, and he got off by the skin of his teeth. I hope that next time I meet him he will not be so lucky. Mr. Bastow was very much shaken, and went to bed soon afterwards. I am not surprised that this second shock should be too much for him. Will you go up and see him? I will speak to Simeox.”
The constable was out in the garden.
“This is a terrible business, Mr. Thorndyke. I suppose, after what you told me, you have your suspicions?”
“They are not suspicions at all—they are certainties. Did you hear that he tried to shoot my father yesterday evening?”
“No, sir, I have heard nothing about it.”
Mark repeated the story of the attempt and pursuit.
“Could you swear to him,' Mr. Thorndyke?”
“No, there was not much light left; besides, as I have not seen him for the last eight years, I should certainly not be able to recognize him unless I had time to have a good look at him. Had it only been last night's affair it might have been anyone; but the shooting through the window was not the act of a thief, but of an assassin, who could only have been influenced by private enmity. I quite see that at present I have no legal evidence against Bastow; I am not even in a position to prove that he is in the country, for it cannot be said that my father's belief that he recognized the voice of the man who said 'Stand and deliver!' is proof. I doubt if anyone could swear that, when he only heard three words, he was absolutely sure that it was the voice of a man he had not seen for some years. However, fortunately, that will make no difference; the man is, as I told you, wanted for his heading the mutiny in the convict prison at Sydney, which will be quite sufficient to hang him without this business. But I own that I should prefer that he were hung for my father's murder if we could secure sufficient evidence. Moreover, there is the attack upon us three or four months ago, and with the evidence of the surgeon who attended him as to his wound, that would be enough to hang him. But we have first got to catch him, and that I mean to make my business, however long the search may take me.”
“Was anything taken last night, sir?”
“I don't know; I did not look. We shall see to that when we go upstairs. We may as well go indoors now; Sir Charles may be here in a few minutes, and I want to hear Dr. Holloway's report as to Mr. Bastow.”
“He does not suspect, I hope, sir?”
“No, thank God; my father never mentioned to him anything he heard about his son, or his suspicions, therefore he has no reason to believe that the fellow is not still in the convict prison at Sydney. We shall keep it from him now, whatever happens; but it would, for his sake, be best that this shock should prove too much for him. He has had a very hard time of it altogether.”
“He is terribly prostrate,” the doctor reported when Mark joined him. “I don't think that he will get over it. He is scarcely conscious now. You see, he is an old man, and has no reserve of strength to fall back upon. Your father has been such a good friend to him that it is not surprising the news should have been too much for him. I examined him at the Squire's request some months ago as to his heart's action, which was so weak that I told the Squire then that he might go off at any time, and I rather wonder that he recovered even temporarily from the shock.”
In a few minutes Sir Charles Harris drove up.
“This is terrible news, my dear Mark,” he said, as he leaped from his gig and wrung Mark's hand—“terrible. I don't know when I have had such a shock; he was a noble fellow in all respects, a warm friend, an excellent magistrate, a kind landlord, good all round. I can scarcely believe it yet. A burglar, of course. I suppose he entered the house for the purpose of robbery, when your father awoke and jumped out of bed, there was a tussle, and the scoundrel killed him; at least, that is what I gather from the story that the groom told me.”
“That is near it, Sir Charles, but I firmly believe that robbery was not the object, but murder; for murder was attempted yesterday evening,” and he informed the magistrate of the shot fired through the window.
“Bless me, you don't say so!” the magistrate exclaimed. “That alters the case altogether, and certainly would seem to make the act one of premeditated murder; and yet, surely, the Squire could not have had an enemy. Some of the men whom we have sentenced may have felt a grudge against him, but surely not sufficient to lead them to a crime like this.”
“I will talk of it with you afterwards, Sir Charles. I have the very strongest suspicions, although no absolute proofs. Now, will you first come upstairs? Doctor Holloway is here and Simeox, but no one has entered the room since I left it; I thought it better that it should be left undisturbed until you came.”
“Quite so; we will go up at once.”
An examination of the room showed nothing whatever that would afford the slightest clew. The Squire's watch was still in the watch pocket at the head of the bed, his purse was on a small table beside him; apparently nothing had been touched in the room.
“If robbery was the object,” Sir Charles said gravely, “it has evidently not been carried out, and it is probable that Mr. Thorndyke was partly woke by the opening of the window, and that he was not tho............
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