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HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER XI.
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 Mark called that evening, as he had promised, upon Mrs. Cunningham. “I hope that you feel all the better for your day's rest, Millicent,” he said.
The girl looked quickly at him to see if there was any sarcasm in the question, but it was evident that the inquiry was made in earnest.
“Yes, I feel better now,” she said. “I have dozed a good deal today. I did not feel up to anything. Mrs. Cunningham's work has progressed wonderfully. I should say that she has done more today than she ordinarily finds time to do in a week. What have you been doing with yourself?”
“I have been having a long talk with Mr. Prendergast about the lost treasure.”
“And of course he said that you would never find it, Mark?”
“Well, yes, he distinctly expressed that opinion.”
“And afterwards?”
“Afterwards I went to Bow Street and had a long talk also with the chief officer there.”
“I don't like the idea of your searching for this man, Mark. In the first place, I don't see why you should hope to succeed when the men whose business it is to do such work have failed. In the next place, I think that you may get into serious danger.”
“That I must risk, Millicent. I have already proved a better shot than he is, and I am quite ready to take my chance if I can but come upon him; that is the difficult part of the matter. I know that I shall need patience, but I have plenty of time before me, and have great hopes that I shall run him to earth at last.”
“But you would not know him if you saw him?”
“I think I should,” Mark said quietly; “at least, if he is the man that I suspect.”
“Then you do suspect someone?” Mrs. Cunningham said, laying down her work.
“Yes, I know of no reason why you should not know it now. I suspect—indeed, I feel morally certain—that the man who murdered my father was Arthur Bastow.”
An exclamation of surprise broke from both his hearers, and they listened with horror while he detailed the various grounds that he had for his suspicions. They were silent for some time after he had brought his narrative to a conclusion, then Mrs. Cunningham said:
“What a merciful release for Mr. Bastow that he should have died before this terrible thing came out! For after what you have told us I can hardly doubt that you are right, and that it is this wicked man who is guilty.”
“Yes, it was indeed providential,” Mark said, “though I think that, feeble as he has been for some months, it might have been kept from him. Still, a word from a chance visitor, who did not associate Bastow the murderer with our dear old friend, might have enlightened him, and the blow would have been a terrible one indeed. It is true that, as it was, he died from the shock, but he did not know the hand that struck the blow.”
“Now that you have told me this,” Millicent said, “I cannot blame you, Mark, for determining to hunt the man down. It seems even worse than it did before; it is awful to think that anyone could cherish revenge like that. Now tell me how you are going to set about it.”
“I have promised the chief officer that I will tell absolutely no one,” he said. “I have a plan, and I believe that in time it must be successful. I know well enough that I could tell you both of it without any fear of its going further, but he asked me to promise, and I did so without reservation; moreover, I think that for some reasons it is as well that even you should not know it. As it is, you are aware that I am going to try, and that is all. If I were to tell you how, you might be picturing all sorts of imaginary dangers and worrying yourself over it, so I think that it will be much the best that you should remain in ignorance, at any rate for a time. I can say this, that I shall for the present remain principally in London, and I think that I am more likely to come upon a clew here than elsewhere.”
Millicent pouted, but Mrs. Cunningham said: “I think, perhaps, that you are right, Mark, and it is better that we should know nothing about it; we shall know that you are looking for a clew, but of course no danger can arise until you obtain it and attempt to arrest him. I feel sure that you will do nothing rash, especially as if any harm befell you he might escape unpunished, and therefore that when the time comes to seize him you will obtain such help as may be necessary, and will, if possible, arrest him at a moment when resistance is impossible.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Cunningham; I shall certainly spare no efforts in taking him that way, and would far rather he met his fate on a gibbet than by a bullet from my pistol.”
“I agree with you, Mark,” Millicent said; “even hanging is too good for such a wicked man. When are you going to set about it?”
“I hope to be able to begin tomorrow,” he said. “I am impatient to be at work, even though I know perfectly well that it may be months before I can get on his track. I hope to get a good deal of information as to the habits of men of his kind from the Bow Street runners, and I have an appointment tomorrow morning to see their chief, who will give me every assistance in his power.”
“Then you will not be able to take us out?” Millicent said.
“I trust to do so later on, but I cannot say how long I shall be engaged. However, I hope to get away so as to go out with you after lunch, and may possibly be able to postpone my getting regularly to work until after you have gone, so as to be able to devote myself to your service.”
“But what sort of work? I cannot make out how you are going to begin.”
“I can tell you this much, that to begin with I shall go in company with a constable to various places where such a man is likely to be found. It will take some time to acquaint myself with all these localities; the next step will be to find out, if possible, if anyone at all answering to his description is in the habit of coming there occasionally, and whom he visits; another thing will be to find out the places where receivers of stolen goods do their business, and to watch those with whom highwaymen are suspected of having dealings. All this, you see, will entail a lot of work, and require a very large amount of patience. Of course, if nothing whatever comes of such inquiries, I shall have to try quiet places in the suburbs; you must remember that this fellow during his time as a convict must have had opportunities of getting a vast amount of information likely to be useful to him, such as the addresses of men holding positions of apparent respectability, and yet in alliance with thieves. You may be sure that when he returned he took every imaginable pains to obtain a safe place of concealment before he began his work; my own opinion is that I am more likely to find him living quietly in a suburban cottage than in a London slum.”
Millicent was now thoroughly interested in the search. “It seems a great business, Mark, but going into it as thoroughly as you are doing I feel sure that you will succeed. I only wish that I could help you; but I could not do that, could I?” she asked wistfully.
He saw that she was in earnest, and suppressed all semblance of a smile.
“I am afraid, dear, that you would be a much greater source of embarrassment than of assistance to me,” he said gravely. “This is essentially not a woman's work. I believe that women are sometimes employed in the detection of what we may call domestic crimes, but this is a different matter altogether.”
“I suppose so,” she sighed; “but it will be very hard to be taking our ease down at Weymouth while we know that you are, day after day, wearing yourself out in tramping about making inquiries.”
“It will be no more fatiguing than tramping through the stubble round Crowswood after partridges, which I should probably be doing now if I were down there. By the way, before you go we shall have to talk over the question of shutting up the house. We had too much to think of to go into that before we came away, and I suppose I shall have to run down and arrange it all, if you have quite made up your mind that you don't mean to return for a year or two.”
“Decidedly our present idea is to have a few weeks at Weymouth, and then when we feel braced up to come back here and look for a house. Where are you likely to be, Mark?” Mrs. Cunningham asked.
“I shall consult with Dick Chetwynd; he knows the town thoroughly, and is more up here than he is down in the country; he will recommend me to some lodging in a street that, without being the height of fashion, is at least passable. I have not the least wish to become a regular man about town, but I should like to go into good society. One cannot be at work incessantly.”
The next morning the chief of the detective department told Mark that he had decided to accept his offer.
“As you will receive no pay,” he said, “I shall regard you as a sort of volunteer. For the first two or three months you will spend your time in going about with one or other of my men on his work. They will be able to put you up to disguises. When you have once learned to know all the thieves' quarters and the most notorious receivers of stolen goods, you will be able to go about your work on your own account. All that I require is that you shall report yourself here twice a day. Should I have on hand any business for which you may appear to me particularly well suited, I shall request you to at once undertake it, and from time to time, when there is a good deal of business on hand, I may get you to aid one of my men who may require an assistant in the job on which he is engaged.”
“I am sure I am very much obliged to you, sir,” Mark said, “and will, I can assure you, do my best in every way to assist your men in any business in which they may be engaged.”
“When will you begin?”
“It is Saturday today, sir. I think I will postpone setting to until Monday week. My cousin and the lady in whose charge she is came up with me on Thursday, and will be leaving town the end of next week, and I should wish to escort them about while here. I will come on Monday morning ready for work. How had I better be dressed?”
“I should say as a countryman. A convenient character for you to begin with will be that of a man who, having got into a poaching fray, and hurt a gamekeeper, has made for London as the best hiding place. You are quite uncertain about your future movements, but you are thinking of enlisting.”
“Very well, sir, I will get the constable at Reigate, who knows me well, to send me a suit. I might find it difficult to get all the things I want here.”
Accordingly, for the next week Mark devoted himself to the ladies. Millicent, in her interest in the work that he was about to undertake, had now quite got over her fit of ill temper, and the old cordial relations were renewed. On the Friday he saw them into the Weymouth coach, then sauntered off to his friend Chetwynd's lodgings.
Ramoo had already sailed. On his arrival in town he had said that he should, if possible, arrange to go out as a steward.
“Many men of my color who have come over here with their masters go back in that way,” he said, in answer to Mark's remonstrances. “It is much more comfortable that way than as a passenger. If you go third class, rough fellows laugh and mock; if you go second class, men look as much as to say, 'What is that colored fellow doing here? This is no place for him.' Much better go as steward; not very hard work; very comfortable; plenty to eat; no one laugh or make fun.”
“Well, perhaps it would be best, when one comes to think of it, Ramoo; but I would gladly pay your passage in any class you like.”
“Ramoo go his own way, sahib,” he said. “No pay passage money; me go to docks where boats are sailing, go on board and see head steward. Head steward glad enough to take good servant who is willing to work his way out, and ask for no wages. Head steward draw wages for him, and put wages in his own pocket. He very well satisfied.”
On Wednesday he came and told Mark that he had arranged to sail in the Nabob, and was to go on board early the next morning. He seemed a great deal affected, and Mark and Millicent were equally sorry to part with the faithful fellow.
“Well, old man,” Dick Chetwynd said, when Mark entered the room, where he was still at breakfast, “I was beginning to wonder whether you had gone to Reigate............
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