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HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER XV.
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 “The burglary season seems to have recommenced in earnest,” Mark's chief said some nine months after he had been at work. “For a time there had been a lull, as you know, but I have had three reports this week, and it strikes me that they are by the same hand as before; of course I may be mistaken, but they are done in a similar way, the only difference being that there is ground for believing that only one man is engaged in them. I fancy the fellow that you are after has either been away from London for some time, or has been keeping very quiet. At any rate, we have every ground for believing that he keeps himself aloof from London thieves, which is what I should expect from such a man. If one has nerve enough to do it, there is nothing like working singly; when two or three men are engaged, there is always the risk of one being caught and turning Queen's evidence, or of there being a quarrel, and of his peaching from revenge. “If your man has been away from town, he has certainly not been working any one district; of course, one gets the usual number of reports from different quarters; but although burglaries are frequent enough, there has been no complaint of a sudden increase of such crimes as there would have been judging from the numerous daring attempts here, had Bastow been concerned; therefore I feel sure that he has been living quietly. He would have his mate's share—that man you shot, you know—of the plunder they made together; he would know that after that affair at your place there would be a vigilant hunt for him, and it is likely enough that he has retired altogether from business for a time.
“However, men of that sort can never stand a quiet life long, and are sure sooner or later to take to their trade again, if only for the sake of its excitement. Now that the burglaries have begun again, I shall be glad if you will devote yourself entirely to this business. You have served a good apprenticeship, and for our sake as well as yours I should be glad for you to have it in hand.”
“I shall be very pleased to do so, sir. Although we do not know where he is to be found, I think I can say that it is not in the slums of London; it seems to me that he may be quietly settled as an eminently respectable man almost under our noses; he may show himself occasionally at fashionable resorts, and may be a regular attendant at horse races.
“He would not run any appreciable risk in doing so, for his face is quite unknown to anyone except the constables who were present at his trial, and even these would scarcely be likely to recognize him, for he was then but eighteen, while he is now six or seven and twenty, and no doubt the life he has led must have changed him greatly.”
“I quite agree with you,” the chief said. “After the first hunt for him was over, he might do almost anything without running much risk. Well, I put the matter in your hands, and leave it to you to work out in your own way; you have given ample proof of your shrewdness and pluck, and in this case especially I know that you will do everything that is possible. Of course you will be relieved of all other duties, and if it takes you months before you can lay hands upon him, we shall consider it time well spent, if you succeed at last. From time to time change your quarters, but let me know your address, so that, should I learn anything that may be useful, I can communicate with you at once. You had better take another name than that by which you are known in the force. I shall be glad if, after thinking the matter over, you will write me a few lines stating what you propose to do in the first place.”
Mark went back to his lodgings, and sat there for some time, thinking matters over. His first thought was to attend the races for a time, but seeing the number of people there, and his own ignorance of Bastow's appearance, he abandoned the idea, and determined to try a slower but more methodical plan. After coming to that conclusion he put on his hat and made his way to Mrs. Cunningham's.
“Well, Mr. Constable,” Millicent said saucily, as he entered, “any fresh captures?”
“No, I think that I have for the present done with that sort of thing; I have served my apprenticeship, and am now setting up on my own account.”
“How is that, Mark?”
“There is reason to believe that Bastow has begun his work again near London. As I have told you, it is absolutely certain that he is not hiding in any of the places frequented by criminals here, and there is every reason for supposing that he has been leading a quiet life somewhere, or that he has been away in the country. As long as that was the case, there was nothing to be done; but now that he seems to have set to work again, it is time for me to be on the move. I have seen the chief this morning, and he has released me from all other' duty, and given me carte blanche to work in my own way.”
“Then why don't you leave the force altogether, Mark? You know that I have always thought it hateful that you should be working under orders, like any other constable.”
“Of course, women don't like to be under orders, Millicent; but men are not so independent, and are quite content to obey those who are well qualified to give orders. I have had a very interesting time of it.”
“Very interesting!” she said scornfully. “You have nearly been killed or shot half a dozen times; you have been obliged to wear all sorts of dirty clothes, to sleep in places where one would not put a dog, and generally to do all sorts of things altogether unbecoming in your position.”
“My dear, I have no particular position,” he laughed, and then went on more seriously: “My one position at present is that of avenger of my father's murder, and nothing that can assist me in the task is unbecoming to me; but, as I said, it has been interesting, I may almost say fascinating, work. I used to be fond of hunting, but I can tell you that it is infinitely more exciting to hunt a man than it is to hunt a fox. You are your own hound, you have to pick up the scent, to follow it up, however much the quarry may wind and double, and when at last you lay your hand upon his shoulder and say, 'In the King's name,' there is an infinitely keener pleasure than there is when the hounds run down the fox. One sport is perhaps as dangerous as the other: in the one case your horse may fail at a leap and you may break your neck, in the other you may get a bullet in your head; so in that respect there is not much to choose between man and fox hunting. There is the advantage, though, that in the one you have to depend upon your horse's strength, and in the other on your own courage.”
“I know that you are an enthusiast over it, Mark, and I can fancy that if I were a big strong man, as you are, I might do the same; but if you are going now to try by yourself, why should you not leave the force altogether?”
“Because, in the first place, I shall get all the information they obtain, and can send for any assistance that I may require. In the next place, by showing this little staff with its silver crown, I show that I am a Bow Street runner, and can obtain information at once from all sorts of people which I could not get without its aid.”
“Well, I won't say anything more against it, Mark. How are you going to begin?”
“I mean to go the round of all the places near London—say, within ten miles. I shall stay from a week to a fortnight in each, take a quiet lodging, give out that I am on the lookout for a small house with a garden, and get to talk with people of all kinds.”
“But I cannot see what you have to inquire for.”
“I imagine that Bastow will have taken just the sort of house that I am inquiring for, and in the course of my questions I may hear of someone living in just that sort of way—a retired life, not making many friends, going up to London sometimes, and keeping, perhaps, a deaf old woman as a servant, or perhaps a deaf old man—someone, you see, who would not be likely to hear him if he came home in the middle of the night, or in the early morning. Once I hear of such a man, I should ascertain his age, and whether generally he agreed in appearance with what Bastow is likely to be by this time, then get down one of the constables who was at the trial, and take his opinion on the subject, after which we should only have to watch the house at night and pounce upon him as he came back from one of his excursions. That is the broad outline of my plan. I cannot help thinking that in the long run I shall be able to trace him, and of course it will make it all the easier if he takes to stopping coaches or committing murderous burglaries.”
“Then I suppose we are not going to see you often, Mark?”
“Well, not so often as you have done, Millicent, for some time, at any rate. I shall not be more than five or six miles away, and I shall often ride into town for the evening, and return late with some sort of hope that I may be stopped on the road again; it would save me a world of trouble, you see, if he would come to me instead of my having to find him.”
“Which side of London are you going to try first?”
“The south side, certainly; there are a score of places that would be convenient to him—Dulwich, Clapham, Tooting, Wimbledon, Stockwell; the list is a long one. I should say Wimbledon was about the most distant, and I should think that he would not go so far as that; if he only acted as a highwayman he might be as far off as Epsom; but if he is really the man concerned in these burglaries he must be but a short distance away. He would hardly risk having to ride very far with the chance of coming upon the patrols. I think that I shall begin at Peckham; that is a central sort of position, and from there I shall work gradually west; before I do so perhaps I shall try Lewisham. He is likely, in any case, to be quite on the outskirts of any village he may have settled in, in order that he may ride in and out at any hour without his coming and going being noticed.”
“You certainly seem to have thought it over in all ways, Mark; you almost infect me with your ardor, and make me wish that I was a man and could help you.”
“You are much nicer as you are, Millicent.”
The girl tossed her head in disdain at the compliment.
“It is all very well, Mark,” she went on, ignoring his speech, “but it seems to me that in finding out things a woman would be able to do just as much as a man; she can gossip with her neighbors and ask about everyone in a place quite as well, if not better, than a man.”
“Yes I don't doubt that,” Mark laughed, “and if I want your aid I shall have no hesitation in asking for it. Until then I hope you will go on with your painting and harping steadily, like a good little girl.”
“I am nearly eighteen, sir, and I object to be called a good little girl.”
“Well, if I were to say a good young woman you would not like it.”
“No, I don't think I should. I don't know why, but when anyone says a girl is a good young woman or a nice young woman, there always seems something derogatory about it; it is almost as bad as saying she is a very respectable young person, which is odious.”
“Then, you see,” he went on, “you are quite getting on in society; since Mr. Cotter's introduction to Mrs. Cunningham and his mother's subsequent call you have got to know a good many people and go about a good deal.”
“Yes, it has been more lively of late,” she admitted. “At first it was certainly monstrously dull here, and I began to think that we should have to change our plans and go down again to Weymouth, and settle there for a time. Now I am getting contented; but I admit, even at the risk of making you conceited, that we shall certainly miss you very much, as you have been very good, considering how busy you have been, to come in three or four evenings every week for a chat.”
“There has been nothing very good about it, Millicent; it has been very pleasant to me; it is like a bit of old times again when I am here with you two, and seem to leave all the excitement of one's work behind as I come in at the door.”
“I wonder whether the old time will ever come back again, Mark?” she said sadly.
“It never can be quite the old time again, but when you are back at the old place it may be very near it.”
She looked at him reproachfully.
“You think that I shall change my mind, Mark, but at heart you know better. The day I am one and twenty I hope to carry out my intentions.”
“Well, as I have told you before, Millicent, I cannot control your actions, but I am at least master of my own. You can give away Crowswood to whom you like, but at least you cannot compel me to take it. Make it over to one of the hospitals if you like—that is within your power; but it is not in your power to force me into the mean action of enriching myself because you have romantic notions in your mind. I should scorn myself were I capable of doing such an action. I wonder you think so meanly of me as to suppose for a moment that I would do so.”
“It is a great pity my father did not leave the property outright to your father, then all this bother would have been avoided,” she said quietly. “I should still have had plenty to live upon without there being any fear of being loved merely for my money.”
“It would have been the same thing if he had,” Mark said stubbornly. “My father would not have taken it, and I am sure that I should not have taken it after him; you are his proper heiress. I don't say if he had left a son, and that son had been a second Bastow, that one would have hesitated, for he would probably have gambled it away in a year, the tenants might have been ruined, and the village gone to the dogs. Every man has a right to disinherit an unworthy son, but that is a very different thing from disinheriting a daughter simply from a whim. Well, don't let us talk about it any more, Millicent. It is the only thing that we don't agree about, and therefore it is best left alone.”
The next day Mark established himself at an inn in Peckham, and for six weeks made diligent inquiries, but without success. There were at least a dozen men who lived quietly and rode or drove to their business in town. Many of them were put aside as needing no investigation, having been residents there for years. Some of the others he saw start or return, but none of them corresponded in any way with the probable appearance of the man for whom he was in search. During this time he heard of several private coaches being held up on the road between Epsom and London, and three burglaries took place at Streatham.
He then moved to Stockwell. Before proceeding there he had his horse up again from Crowswood, and rode into Stockwell from the west. He was dressed now as a small country squire, and had a valise strapped behind his saddle. The inn there was a busy one.
“I want a room,” he said, as he alighted. “I shall probably stay here a few days.”
Presently he had a talk with the landlord.
“I am on the lookout,” he said, “for a little place near town. I have come in for a small estate in the country, but I have no taste for farming, and want to be within easy reach of town, and at the same time to have a place with a paddock where I can keep my horse and live quietly. I don't much care whether it is here or anywhere else within a few miles of town, and I intend to ride about and see if I can find a place that will suit me. I do not want to be nearer the town than this, for I have not money enough to go the pace; still, I should like to be near enough to ride or walk in whenever I have a fancy for it.”
“I understand, sir. Of course there are plenty of places round here, at Clapham and Tooting, and I may say Streatham, but most of them are a deal too large for a bachelor, still I have no doubt you would find a place to suit you without much difficulty. These sort of places are most in request by London tradesmen who have given up business and want to get a little way out of town and keep a gig. I should say there must be a score of such people living round here. I am often asked about such places, but I don't know of one to let just at the present moment.
“Still, there ought to be, for of late people have not car............
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