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HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER XIV.
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 Some little time after this Mark was intrusted by his chief with the work of discovering a man who had committed a very atrocious murder, and was, it was tolerably certain, hiding in the slums of Westminster. It was the first business of the kind that had been confided to him, and he was exceedingly anxious to carry it out successfully. He dressed himself as a street hawker, and took a small lodging in one of the lanes, being away the greater portion of the day ostensibly on his business, and of an evening dropped into some of the worst public houses in the neighborhood. He was at first viewed with some suspicion, but it was not long before he became popular. He let it be understood that he had got into trouble down in the country, and that he was quite ready to take part in any job that promised to be profitable. But he principally owed his popularity to the fact that the bully of the locality picked a quarrel with him, and, to the astonishment of those present, Mark invited him to go outside. “You had better make it up with him, mate,” a man sitting by his side whispered. “He was in the prize ring at one time, and thrashed big Mike Hartley at Kennington. He had to give it up owing to having fought a cross. He would kill you in five minutes.”
“I will chance that,” Mark said quietly, as he moved towards the door. “I don't think that he is stronger than I am, and I can use my fists a bit, too.”
By the time they had taken off their upper garments a crowd had assembled. The news that a hawker was going to stand up against Black Jim circulated rapidly, and caused intense excitement. To the astonishment of the spectators, the bully from the first had not a shadow of a chance, and at the end of the third round was carried away senseless, while the hawker had not received a scratch. A few days later Mark, who, on the strength of his prowess, had had two or three hints that he could be put up to a good thing if he was inclined to join, was going down to Westminster when two men stopped and looked after him.
“I tell you, Emerson, that is the fellow. I could swear to him anywhere. What he is got up like that for I cannot tell you, but I should not be surprised if he is one of that Bow Street gang. He called himself Mark Thorndyke, and Chetwynd said that he was a gentleman of property; but that might have been part of the plant to catch us. I have never been able to understand how a raw countryman could have caught you palming that card. I believe that fellow is a Bow Street runner; if so, it is rum if we cannot manage to get even with him before we go. It seemed to me that luck had deserted us altogether; but this looks as if it was going to turn again. Let's go after him.”
Keeping some fifty yards behind him, they watched Mark to his lodgings, waited until he came out again, and followed him to a public house.
“He is acting as a detective, sure enough,” Emerson said. “The question is, what are we to do next?”
In half an hour Mark came out again. Several people nodded to him as he passed them, but they saw a big man, who happened to be standing under a lamp, turn his back suddenly as Mark approached him, and, after he had passed, stand scowling after him, and muttering deep curses. Flash at once went up to him. “Do you know who that fellow is, my man?” The fellow turned savagely upon him.
“I don't know who he is; but what is that to you?”
“He is not a friend of ours,” Flash said quietly; “quite the contrary. We have known him when he was not got up like this, and we are rather curious to know what he is doing here.”
“Do you mean that?”
“I do; I owe the fellow a grudge.”
“So do I,” the man growled. “Just step up this next turning; there won't be anyone about there. Now, then, what do yer want to know?”
“I want to know who he is.”
“Well, he calls himself a hawker; but my idea of him is he is one of the fancy, perhaps a west countryman, who is keeping dark here till he can get a match on. I have been a prize fighter myself, but he knocked me out in three rounds the other day.”
“Well, the last time I saw him,” Flash said, “he was dressed as a swell. My idea of him is, he is a Bow Street runner, and he is got up like this to lay his hands on some of the fellows down here.”
“You don't mean it!” the man said with a deep oath. “Then I can tell you he has come to the wrong shop. I have only got to whisper it about, and his life would not be worth an hour's purchase. I had meant to stick a knife in him on the first opportunity, but this will save me the trouble.”
“Well, you can have your revenge and five guineas besides,” Flash said. “But we must be there at the time. I should like him to know that I was at the bottom of his being caught.”
They stood talking together for a few minutes, and then separated, Flash and his companion going back to a quiet lodging they had taken until they could finish their arrangements for disposing of their furniture and belongings before going abroad, while at the same time they finished plucking a country greenhorn they had met at a coffee house. Two days later, wrapped up in great coats, and with rough caps pulled down over their eyes, they entered the thieves' resort half an hour before Mark's usual time of getting there. A larger number of men than usual were assembled, and among them was Black Jim. The men were all talking excitedly, and were evidently furious at the news that the pugilist had just told them.
“Those are the gents that have given me the office,” he said, as Flash and his companion entered. “They can tell yer he is one of that cursed Bow Street lot.”
“That is right enough, my men,” Flash said. “He and four of his mates broke into a place where we were having a bit of play, three weeks since, marched us all away to Bow Street, and shut the place up. I don't know what he is down here for, but you may be sure that it's for no good to some of you. We owe him a heavy one ourselves. He came spying on us dressed up as a swell and spoilt our game, and got the darbies put on us, and we have sworn to get even with him.”
“You will get even, don't you fear,” one of the men growled, “and more than even, strike me blind if you don't.”
“Look here, lads,” Flash said. “There is one thing I say—don't use your knives on him; remember he is a runner, and no doubt his chief knows all that he is doing, and no doubt ordered him to come here. There will be a big search, you may be sure, when he don't turn up to make his report. So don't let's have any bloodshed. Let the thing be done quietly.”
“We can chuck his body into the river,” one said.
“Yes, but if it is picked up with half a dozen holes in it, you may be sure that they will be down here, and like enough every man who has used this place will be arrested; you know that when there are twenty men in a job the chances are that one will slip his neck out of the halter by turning King's evidence.”
An angry growl went round the room.
“Well, you know well enough it is so, it is always the case; besides, we ought to give him a little time to prepare himself. My idea is that the best plan will be to bind and gag him first, then we can hold a little court over him, and let him know what is coming. An hour later, when the place gets a bit quiet, we can carry him down to the river—it is not above fifty yards away—tie a heavy weight round his neck, cut his cords the last thing, and chuck him over; if his body is found, it will be thought it is that of some chap tired of life who took pains to drown himself pretty quickly, and there won't be any fuss over him, and there will be nothing to come upon any of you fellows for.”
There was a general murmur of assent. Several of those present had already committed themselves to some extent with the supposed hawker, and were as eager as Flash himself that he should be killed; still, all felt that it was as well that it should be managed with the least possible risk of discovery, for while an ordinary man could be put out of the way without any trouble arising, the fact that he was a Bow Street runner added enormously to the risk of the discovery of his fate.
There was a little talk, and then two of the men went out and brought back a couple of strong ropes. A few minutes after their return Mark Thorndyke came in. He paused as he entered the room, in surprise at the silence that reigned, for he was accustomed to be greeted with friendly exclamations. However, as he walked in the door closed, and then suddenly, with shouts of “Down with the spy!” the men sprang from their seats and made a sudden rush at him. For a minute the struggle was tremendous; man after man went down under Mark's blows, others clung onto him from behind, a rope was passed round his legs and pulled, and he fell down with a crash, bringing down five or six of his assailants; a minute later he was gagged and bound.
While the struggle was going on no one noticed that a Lascar's face was pressed against the window; it disappeared as soon as Mark fell, and ten minutes later a dark faced sailor ran into Gibbons'; it was a quiet evening at Ingleston's, and Gibbons, after smoking a pipe with half a dozen of the pugilists, had just returned.
“Hallo,” he said, as he opened the door, “what the deuce do you want?”
The man was for a moment too breathless to answer.
“You know Mr. Thorndyke,” he said at last, in very fair English.
“Yes, I know him. Well, what of him?”
“He has been attacked by a number of thieves in a public house near the river, at Westminster, and he will be murdered unless you go with others to help him.”
“What the deuce was he doing there?” Gibbons muttered, and then, seizing his cap, said to the Lascar,
“Come along with me; it aint likely that we shall be in time, but we will try, anyhow.”
He ran to Ingleston's.
“Come along, Ingleston,” he exclaimed, “and all of you. You all know Mr. Thorndyke. This man says he has been attacked by a gang down at Westminster, and will be murdered. I am afraid we shan't be in time, but it is worth trying.”
The prize fighters all leaped to their feet. Mark had sparred with several of them, and, being open handed and friendly, was generally liked. In a moment, headed by Ingleston and Gibbons, they started at the top of their speed, and in less than a quarter of an hour were at bank side.
“That is the house,” the sailor said, pointing to the public, where a red blind had been lowered at the window, and two men lounged outside the door to tell any chance customer that might come along he was not wanted there at present.
Inside a mock trial had been going on, and Mark had been sentenced to death as a spy, not a voice being raised in his defense. As soon as he had been lifted up and seated so that he could see the faces of those present, he recognized the two gamblers, and saw at once that his fate was sealed; even had they not been there the chance of escape would have been small. The fact that one of the detectives had been caught under circumstances when there was but slight chance of its ever being known how he came to his end, was in itself sufficient to doom him. Several of the men present had taken him into their confidence, and he had encouraged them to do so, not that he wanted to entrap them, or that he intended to do so, but in order to obtain a clew through them as to the hiding place of the man he was in search of.
The savage exultation on the faces of the two gamblers, however, was sufficient to extinguish any ray of hope. He felt sure at once that they had been the authors of his seizure, and that no thought of mercy would enter the minds of these two scoundrels whose plans he had frustrated, whose position he had demolished, and to whom he had caused the loss of a large sum of money. Neither Flash nor Emerson would have taken share in a crime known to so many had they not been on the point of leaving England. Their names were known to no one there, and even should some of these afterwards peach they would at least be safe. Mark had been asked whether he could deny that he was a member of the detective force, and had shaken his head. Even if he had told a lie, which he would not do, the lie would have been a useless one. No one would have believed it, for the two gamblers would have been witnesses that he was so.
He had been placed in one corner of the room, so that what light there was would not fall on his face, and had anyone entered they would not have noticed that he was gagged. One, indeed, had suggested that it would be better to lay him under one of the benches, but Black Jim said, with a brutal laugh:
“No, no; it is better that we should keep sight of him, and if anyone asks a question of course we can say that the gentleman has the toothache.”
Presently Flash spoke to the ruffian in a low voice.
“Yes, I think you are right,” he replied. “Look here,” he went on, raising his voice. “There is no occasion to have such a lot in this business; Jake Watson, Bill the Tinker, and me are quite enough to carry him to his bed. I reckon the rest had better make themselves scarce when the times comes, go home, and keep their mouths shut. I need not say that anyone who lets his tongue wag about it is likely to come to a worse end than this bloodhound. We will have another glass of grog before you turn out; the streets won't be quiet for another hour yet, and there is another guinea of this worthy hawker's to be spent. Summers, make another big bowl of punch. Don't put so much water in it as you did in the last.”
The landlord, a notorious ruffian, was just coming into the room with a huge bowl when there was the sound of a scuffle outside.
“You had better see what is up,” Black Jim said, and two of the men nearest the door unbarred and opened it. As they did so there was a rush, and eight powerful men ran in, knocking to the floor those who had opened the door. The rest sprang to their feet; Gibbons looked round, and as hi............
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