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HOME > Short Stories > Colonel Thorndyke's Secret > CHAPTER XVI.
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 At four o'clock Mark put up his horse at the Greyhound, and chatted for a quarter of an hour with the ostler, who had been making inquiries, and had heard of one or two other houses in the neighborhood which were untenanted. Mark then strolled up the town, exchanging a passing glance with Chester, who, in a velveteen coat, low hat and gaiters, was chatting with a wagoner going with a load of hay for the next morning's market in London. He turned into an inn, called for a pint of the best port, and sat down in the parlor at a table close to the window, so that he could see all who went up or down. He entered into conversation with two or three people who came in, and so passed the time till seven, when he felt too restless to sit still longer, and went out into the street. When he was halfway to the Greyhound he heard the sound of a horse's hoofs behind him, and saw a quietly dressed man coming along at an easy trot. Had it not been that he recognized the horse, he could not have felt sure that its rider was the man whose coming he had been waiting for, there being nothing in his appearance that would excite the slightest suspicion that he was other than a gentleman of moderate means and quiet taste, either returning from a ride or passing through on his way to town. He had a well built and active figure, carried himself with the ease of a thorough horseman, and nodded to one or two persons of his acquaintance, and checking his horse at the principal butcher's, ordered some meat to be sent in that evening.
Mark could trace no resemblance in the face to that of the young fellow he remembered. It was a quiet and resolute one. If this were Bastow, he had lost the sneering and insolent expression that was so strongly impressed on his memory. It might be the man, but if so, he was greatly changed. Mark's first impression was that it could not be Bastow; but when he thought over the years of toil and confinement in the convict prison, the life he had led in the bush, and the two years he had passed since he returned home, he imagined that the insolence of youth might well have disappeared, and been succeeded by the resolute daring and dogged determination that seemed to be impressed on this fellow's face.
Mark paused fifty yards before he reached the inn. In a few minutes he saw Chester coming along. There was no one else in sight.
“Is it Bastow?” he asked, as the officer came up.
“It's Bastow sure enough, sir. But he is so changed that if I had not had him in my mind I should not have recognized him. I calculate that a man who has gone through what he has would have lost the expression he had as a boy. He must have learnt a lot in the convict prison, and the fact that he headed the mutiny and escaped from the searchers and managed to get home showed that he must have become a resolute and desperate man. All those burglaries, and the way in which he has several times stopped coaches single handed, show his nerve and coolness. I had all that in my mind as he came along, and his face was pretty much as I expected to see it. He is a cool hand, and I can understand how he has given us the slip so long. There is none of the shifty look about his eyes that one generally sees in criminals, no glancing from side to side; he rode with the air of a man who had a right to be where he was, and feared no one. He will be an awkward customer to tackle if we do not take him by surprise.”
“Yes, I agree with you there. However, he won't have much chance of using either his pistols or his strength. Here is Malcolm coming, so I will walk away for a few minutes, and let you go in first. You can tell the ostler now that you will have your horse put in at nine o'clock. I have been thinking, by the way, that we had better take the trap round behind the house instead of leaving it in the drive. The man may come back this way, and if so, he might hear the horse stamp or make some movement, and that would at once put him on his guard.”
As the officers entered the inn Mark went into the yard and told the ostler that he had met some friends, and should let his horse remain there for the night.
“It is possible that they may drive me into the town in the morning,” he said; “and I shall very likely send a man down for the horse.”
At a quarter to nine he went out again, and walked to the house he had before visited; in ten minutes he heard the sound of wheels, threw open the gate, and the men, jumping down, led the horse in.
“You may as well take him out of the trap,” he said. “We cannot very well get that round the house, but there is no difficulty about taking the horse.”
The officers had brought a halter and a nosebag full of corn. The horse was fastened to a tree with soft ground round it, the nosebag put on, and a horse cloth thrown over its back; then Mark and his two companions went out into the lane, and in a couple of minutes entered the next gate, treading lightly, and going round to the back of the house.
A light burned in the kitchen, and an old woman could be seen knitting. They lifted the latch and walked in. Dropping her knitting, she rose with an exclamation of terror.
Mark advanced alone.
“Do not be frightened,” he said; “we are not going to do you any harm.” He took out his little ebony staff. “We are constables,” he went on, “and have orders to search this house. We must secure you, but you will be released in the morning. Now, which is your room?”
In spite of Mark's assurance, the old woman was almost paralyzed with terror. However, the two constables assisted her up to her room, and there secured her with a rope, taking care that it was not so tightly bound as to hurt her. Then they placed a gag in her mouth, and left her.
“Now let us search his room in the first place,” Mark said, when they came downstairs again. “I hardly expect we shall find anything. You may be sure that he will have taken great pains to hide away any booty that he may have here, and that it will need daylight and a closer search than we can give the place now, before we find anything.”
The search of the house was indeed fruitless. They cut open the bed, prized up every loose board in the bedroom and the parlor, lifted the hearth stone, tapped the walls, and searched every drawer; then, taking a lantern, went out into the stable. The officers were both accustomed to look for hiding places, and ran their hands along on the top of the walls, examining the stone flooring and manger.
“That is a very large corn bin,” Mark said, as he looked round, when they desisted from the search.
“You are right, sir. We will empty it.”
There were two or three empty sacks on the ground near it, and they emptied the corn into these, so that there should be no litter about. Chester gave an exclamation of disappointment as they reached the bottom. Mark put his hand on the bin and gave it a pull.
“It is just as I thought,” he said. “It is fastened down. I saw an ax in the woodshed, Malcolm; just fetch it here.”
While the man was away Mark took the lantern and examined the bottom closely. “We shan't want the ax,” he said, as he pointed out to Chester a piece of string that was apparently jammed in the form of a loop between the bottom and side. “Just get in and clear those few handfuls of corn out. I think you will see that it will pull up then.”
There was, however, no movement in the bottom when Mark pulled at the loop.
“Look closely round outside,” he said, handing Malcolm, who had now returned, the lantern. “I have no doubt that there is a catch somewhere.”
In a minute or two the constable found a small ring between two of the cobblestones close to the foot of the wall. He pulled at it, and as he did so Mark felt the resistance to his pull cease suddenly, and the bottom of the bin came up like a trapdoor.
“That is a clever hiding place,” he said. “If I had not happened to notice that the bin was fixed we might have had a long search before we found it here.”
Below was a square hole, the size of the bin; a ladder led down into it. Mark, with a lantern, descended. Four or five sacks piled on each other lay at the bottom, leaving just room enough for a man to stand beside them.
“The top one is silver by the feel,” he said, “not yet broken up; these smaller sacks are solid. I suppose it is silver that has been melted down. This—” and he lifted a bag some eighteen inches deep, opened it, and looked in “—contains watches and jewels. Now I think we will leave things here for the present, and put everything straight. He may be back before long.”
Mark ascended, the bottom of the trap was shut down again, the corn poured in, and the bags thrown down on the spot from which they had been taken. They returned to the house, shut the door, and extinguished the light.
“That has been a grand find,” he said; “even if this is not Bastow, it will be a valuable capture.”
“That it will, Mr. Thorndyke. I have no doubt that this fellow is the man we have been in search of for the last eighteen months; that accounts for our difficulty in laying hold of him. He has been too crafty to try to sell any of his plunder, so that none of the fences have known anything about him. No doubt he has taken sufficient cash to enable him to live here quietly. He intended some time or other to melt down all the rest of the plate and to sell the silver, which he could do easily enough. As for the watches and jewels, he could get rid of them abroad.”
“No doubt that is what he intended,” Mark agreed. “It is not often these fellows are as prudent as he has been; if they were, your work would be a good deal more difficult than it is.”
“You are right, sir; I don't know that I ever heard of such a case before. The fellow almost deserves to get away.”
“That would be rewarding him too highly for his caution,” Mark laughed. “He is a desperate villain, and all the more dangerous for being a prudent one. Now, I think one of us had better keep watch at the gate by turns. We shall hear him coming in plenty of time to get back here and be in readiness for him. We must each understand our part thoroughly. I will stand facing the door. It is possible that he may light that lantern we saw hanging in the stable, but I don't think it likely he will do so; he will take off the saddle, and either take the horse in there—there is plenty of food in the manger—or else turn it out into the paddock. As he comes in I will throw my arms round him and you will at once close in, one on each side, each catch an arm tightly, handcuff him, and take the pistols from his belt. Don't leave go of his arms until I have lit the candle; he may have another pistol inside his coat, and might draw it.”
It was now one o'clock, and half an hour later Malcolm, who was at the gate, came in quietly and said he could hear a horse coming along the lane.
“Which way, Malcolm?”
“Tooting way.”
“That is all right. I have been a little nervous lest if he came the other way our horse might make some slight noise and attract his attention; that was our only weak point.”
They had already ascertained that the front door was locked and bolted, and that he must therefore enter through the kitchen. They heard the horse stop in front, a moment later the gate was opened, and through the window they could just make out the figure of a man leading a horse; then the stable door opened, and they heard a movement, and knew that the horse was being unsaddled; they heard it walk into the stable, the door was shut behind it, and a step approached the back door. It was opened, and a voice said with an oath, “The old fool has forgotten to leave a candle burning;” then he stepped into the kitchen.
In an instant there was a sound of a violent struggle, deep oaths and curses, two sharp clicks, then all was quiet except heavy breathing and the striking of flint on a tinderbox; there was the blue glare of the sulphur match, and a candle was lighted. Mark then turned to the man who was standing still grasped in the hands of his two captors.
“Arthur Bastow,” he said, producing his staff, “I arrest you in the King's name, as an escaped convict, as a notorious highwayman and house breaker.”
As his name was spoken the man started, then he said quietly:
“You have made a mistake this time, my men; my name is William Johnson; I am well known here, and have been a quiet resident in this house for upwards of a year.”
“A resident, but not a quiet resident, Bastow. I don't think we are mistaken; but even if you can prove that you are not Bastow, but William Johnson, a man of means and family, we have evidence enough upon the other charges. We have been in search of you for a long time, and have got you at last. You don't remember me, though it is but eighteen months since we met; but I fancy that I then left a mark upon you that still remains on your shoulder. I am Mark Thorndyke, and you will understand now why I have hunted you down.”
“The game is not finished yet,” the man said recklessly. “The hunting down will be the other way next time, Mark Thorndyke.”
“I don't think so. Now, Chester, you may as well tie his feet together, and then search him. When that is done I will look after him while you fetch the trap round.”
In his pockets were found two gold watches, forty-eight pounds in gold, and a hundred pounds in bank notes.
“We shall hear where this comes from tomorrow,” Malcolm said, as he laid them on the table; “it will save us the trouble of getting evidence from Australia.”
The prisoner was placed in a chair, and then the two officers went out to fetch the trap round.
“So you have turned thief catcher, have you?” he said in a sneering tone, that recalled him to Mark's memory far more than his face had done, “and you carry a Bow Street staff about with you, and pretend to belong to the force: that is a punishable offense, you know.”
“Yes, it would be if I had no right to use it,” Mark said quietly; “but it happens that I have a right, having been for a year and a half in the force. I joined it solely to hunt you down, and now that I have done so my resignation will be sent in tomorrow.”
“And how is the worthy squire?”
Mark started to his feet, and seized one of the pistols lying before him.
“You villain!” he exclaimed, “I wonder you dare mention his name—you, his murderer.”
“It was but tit for tat,” the man said coolly; “he murdered me, body and soul, when he sent me to the hulks. I told him I would be even with him. I did not think I had hit him at the time, for I thought that if I had you would have stopped with him, and would not have chased me across the fields.”
“You scoundrel!” Mark said. “You know well enough that you came back, stole into his room, and stabbed him.”
Bastow looked at him with a puzzled expression.
“I don't know what you are talking about,” he said. “I fired at him through the window—I don't mind saying so to you, because there are no witnesses—and saw him jump up, but I fancied I had missed him. I saw you bolt out of the room, and thought it better to be off at once instead of taking another shot. You gave me a hard chase. It was lucky for you that you did not come up with me, for if you had done so I should have shot you; I owed you one for having killed as good a comrade as man ever had, and for that bullet you put in my shoulder before. If I had not been so out of breath that I could not feel sure of my aim I should have stopped for you, but I rode straight to town.”
“A likely story,” Mark said shortly. “What, you will pretend that there were two murderers hanging round the house that night?—a likely tale indeed.”
“I tell you that if your father was killed by a knife or dagger, I had nothing to do with it,” the man said. “I am obliged to the man, whoever he was. I had intended to go down again to Reigate to finish the job myself; I should scarcely have missed a second time. So it is for that you hunted me down? Well, I don't blame you; I never forgive an injury, and I see your sentiments are mine. Whether I killed your father or not makes no difference; he was killed, that is the princi............
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