It was, of course, always a part of Martin Hewitt’s business to be thoroughly at home among any and every class of people, and to be able to interest himself intelligently, or to appear to do so, in their various pursuits. In one of the most important cases ever placed in his hands he could have gone but a short way toward success had he not displayed some knowledge of the more sordid aspects of professional sport, and a great interest in the undertakings of a certain dealer therein.
The great case itself had nothing to do with sport, and, indeed, from a narrative point of view, was somewhat uninteresting, but the man who alone held the one piece of information wanted was a keeper, backer, or “gaffer” of professional pedestrians, and it was through the medium of his pecuniary interest in such matters that Hewitt was enabled to strike a bargain with him.
The man was a publican on the outskirts of Padfield, a northern town, pretty famous for its sporting tastes, and to Padfield, therefore, Hewitt betook himself, and, arrayed in a way to indicate some inclination of his own toward sport, he began to frequent the bar of the Hare and Hounds. Kentish, the landlord, was a stout, bull-necked man, of no great communicativeness at first; but after a little acquaintance he opened out wonderfully, became quite a jolly (and rather intelligent) companion, and came out with innumerable anecdotes of his sporting adventures. He could put a very decent dinner on the table, too, at the Hare and Hounds, and Hewitt’s frequent invitation to him to join therein and divide a bottle of the best in the cellar soon put the two on the very best of terms. Good terms with Mr. Kentish was Hewitt’s great desire, for the information he wanted was of a sort that could never be extracted by casual questioning, but must be a matter of open communication by the publican, extracted in what way it might be.
“Look here,” said Kentish one day, “I’ll put you on to a good thing, my boy — a real good thing. Of course you know all about the Padfield 135 Yards Handicap being run off now?”
“Well, I haven’t looked into it much,” Hewitt replied. “Ran the first round of heats last Saturday and Monday, didn’t they?”
“They did. Well”— Kentish spoke in a stage whisper as he leaned over and rapped the table —“I’ve got the final winner in this house.” He nodded his head, took a puff at his cigar, and added, in his ordinary voice. “Don’t say nothing.”
“No, of course not. Got something on, of course?”
“Rather! What do you think? Got any price I liked. Been saving him up for this. Why, he’s got twenty-one yards, and he can do even time all the way! Fact! Why, he could win runnin’ back’ards. He won his heat on Monday like — like — like that!” The gaffer snapped his fingers, in default of a better illustration, and went on. “He might ha’ took it a little easier, I think; it’s shortened his price, of course, him jumpin’ in by two yards. But you can get decent odds now, if you go about it right. You take my tip — back him for his heat next Saturday, in the second round, and for the final. You’ll get a good price for the final, if you pop it down at once. But don’t go makin’ a song of it, will you, now? I’m givin’ you a tip I wouldn’t give anybody else.”
“Thanks, very much; it’s awfully good of you. I’ll do what you advise. But isn’t there a dark horse anywhere else?”
“Not dark to me, my boy, not dark to me. I know every man runnin’ like a book. Old Taylor — him over at the Cop — he’s got a very good lad at eighteen yards, a very good lad indeed; and he’s a tryer this time, I know. But, bless you, my lad could give him ten, instead o’ taking three, and beat him then! When I’m runnin’ a real tryer, I’m generally runnin’ something very near a winner, you bet; and this time, mind this time, I’m runnin’ the certainest winner I ever run — and I don’t often make a mistake. You back him.”
“I shall, if you’re as sure as that. But who is he?”
“Oh, Crockett’s his name — Sammy Crockett. He’s quite a new lad. I’ve got young Steggles looking after him — sticks to him like wax. Takes his little breathers in my bit o’ ground at the back here. I’ve got a cinder-sprint path there, over behind the trees. I don’t let him out o’ sight much, I can tell you. He’s a straight lad, and he knows it’ll be worth his while to stick to me; but there’s some ‘ud poison him, if they thought he’d spoil their books.”
Soon afterward the two strolled toward the taproom. “I expect Sammy’ll be there,” the landlord said, “with Steggles. I don’t hide him too much — they’d think I’d got something extra on if I did.”
In the tap-room sat a lean, wire-drawn-looking youth, with sloping shoulders and a thin face, and by his side was a rather short, thick-set man, who had an odd air, no matter what he did, of proprietorship and surveillance of the lean youth. Several other men sat about, and there was loud laughter, under which the lean youth looked sheepishly angry.
“‘Tarn’t no good, Sammy, lad,” some one was saying, “you a-makin’ after Nancy Webb — she’ll ha’ nowt to do with ‘ee.”
“Don’ like ’em so thread-papery,” added another. “No, Sammy, you aren’t the lad for she. I see her ——”
“What about Nancy Webb?” asked Kentish, pushing open the door. “Sammy’s all right, any way. You keep fit, my lad, an’ go on improving, and some day you’ll have as good a house as me. Never mind the lasses. Had his glass o’ beer, has he?” This to Raggy Steggles, who, answering in the affirmative, viewed his charge as though he were a post, and the beer a recent coat of paint.
“Has two glasses of mild a day,” the landlord said to Hewitt. “Never puts on flesh, so he can stand it. Come out now.” He nodded to Steggles, who rose and marched Sammy Crockett away for exercise.
On the following afternoon (it was Thursday), as Hewitt and Kentish chatted in the landlord’s own snuggery, Steggles burst into the room in a great state of agitation and spluttered out: “He — he’s bolted; gone away!”
“Sammy — gone! Hooked it! I can’t find him.”
The landlord stared blankly at the trainer, who stood with a sweater dangling from his hand and stared blankly back. “What d’ye mean?” Kentish said, at last. “Don’t be a fool! He’s in the place somewhere. Find him!”
But this Steggles defied anybody to do. He had looked already. He had left Crockett at the cinder-path behind the trees in his running-gear, with the addition of the long overcoat and cap he used in going between the path and the house to guard against chill. “I was goin’ to give him a bust or two with the pistol,” the trainer explained, “but, when we got over t’other side, ‘Raggy,’ ses he, ‘it’s blawin’ a bit chilly. I think I’ll ha’ a sweater. There’s one on my box, ain’t there?’ So in I coomes for the sweater, and it weren’t on his box, and, when I found it and got back — he weren’t there. They’d seen nowt o’ him in t’ house, and he weren’t nowhere.”
Hewitt and the landlord, now thoroughly startled, searched everywhere, but to no purpose. “What should he go off the place for?” asked Kentish, in a sweat of apprehension. “‘Tain’t chilly a bit — it’s warm. He didn’t want no sweater; never wore one before. It was a piece of kid to be able to clear out. Nice thing, this is. I stand to win two years’ takings over him. Here — you’ll have to find him.”
“Ah, but how?” exclaimed the disconcerted trainer, dancing about distractedly. “I’ve got all I could scrape on him myself. Where can I look?”
Here was Hewitt’s opportunity. He took Kentish aside and whispered. What he said startled the landlord considerably. “Yes, I’ll tell you all about that,” he said, “if that’s all you want. It’s no good or harm to me whether I tell or no. But can you find him?”
“That I can’t promise, of course. But you know who I am now, and what I’m here for. If you like to give me the information I want, I’ll go into the case for you, and, of course, I shan’t charge any fee. I may have luck, you know, but I can’t promise, of course.”
The landlord looked in Hewitt’s face for a moment. Then he said: “Done! It’s a deal.”
“Very good,” Hewitt replied; “get together the one or two papers you have, and we’ll go into my business in the evening. As to Crockett, don’t say a word to anybody. I’m afraid it must get out, since they all know about it in the house, but there’s no use in making any unnecessary noise. Don’t make hedging bets or do anything that will attract notice. Now we’ll go over to the back and look at this cinder-path of yours.”
Here Steggles, who was still standing near, was struck with an idea. “How about old Taylor, at the Cop, guv’nor, eh?” he said, meaningly. “His lad’s good enough to win with Sammy out, and Taylor is backing him plenty. Think he knows any thing o’ this?”
“That’s likely,” Hewitt observed, before Kentish could reply. “Yes. Look here — suppose Steggles goes and keeps his eye on the Cop for an hour or two, in case there’s anything to be heard of? Don’t show yourself, of course.”
Kentish agreed, and the trainer went. When Hewitt and Kentish arrived at the path behind the trees, Hewitt at once began examining the ground. One or two rather large holes in the cinders were made, as the publican explained, by Crockett, in practicing getting off his mark. Behind these were several fresh tracks of spiked shoes. The tracks led up to within a couple of yards of the high fence bounding the ground, and there stopped abruptly and entirely. In the fence, a little to the right of where the tracks stopped, there was a stout door. This Hewitt tried, and found ajar.
“That’s always kept bolted,” Kentish said. “He’s gone out that way — he couldn’t have gone any other without comin’ through the house.”
“But he isn’t in the habit of making a step three yards long, is he?” Hewitt asked, pointing at the last footmark and then at the door, which was quite that distance away from it. “Besides,” he added, opening the door, “there’s no footprint here nor outside.”
The door opened on a lane, with another fence and a thick plantation of trees at the other side. Kentish looked at the footmarks, then at the door, then down the lane, and finally back toward the house. “That’s a licker!” he said.
“This is a quiet sort of lane,” was Hewitt’s next remark. “No houses in sight. Where does it lead?”
“That way it goes to the Old Kilns — disused. This way down to a turning off the Padfield and Catton road.”
Hewitt returned to the cinder-path again, and once more examined the footmarks. He traced them back over the grass toward the house. “Certainly,” he said, “he hasn’t gone back to the house. Here is the double line of tracks, side by side, from the house — Steggles’ ordinary boots with iron tips, and Crockett’s running pumps; thus they came out. Here is Steggles’ track in the opposite direction alone, made when he went back for the sweater. Crockett remained; you see various prints in those loose cinders at the end of the path where he moved this way and that, and then two or three paces toward the fence — not directly toward the door, you notice — and there they stop dead, and there are no more, either back or forward. Now, if he had wings, I should be tempted to the opinion that he flew straight away in the air from that spot — unless the earth swallowed him and closed again without leaving a wrinkle on its face.”
Kentish stared gloomily at the tracks and said nothing.
“However,” Hewitt resumed, “I think I’ll take a little walk now and think over it. You go into the house and show yourself at the bar. If anybody wants to know how Crockett is, he’s pretty well, thank you. By the by, can I get to the Cop — this place of Taylor’s — by this back lane?”
“Yes, down to the end leading to the Catton road, turn to the left and then first on the right. Any one’ll show you the Cop,” and Kentish shut the door behind the detective, who straightway walked — toward the Old Kilns.
In little more than an hour he was back. It was now becoming dusk, and the landlord looked out papers from a box near the side window of his snuggery, for the sake of the extra light. “I’ve got these papers together for you,” he said, as Hewitt entered. “Any news?”
“Nothing very great. Here’s a bit of handwriting I want you to recognize, if you can. Get a light.”
Kentish lit a lamp, and Hewitt laid upon the table half a dozen small pieces of torn paper, evidently fragments of a letter which had been torn up, here reproduced in fac-simile:
[Illustration: six scraps of paper: mmy, throw them ou, right away, left hi, hate his, lane wr]
The landlord turned the scraps over, regarding them dubiously. “These aren’t much to recognize, anyhow. I don’t know the writing. Where did you find ’em?”
“They were lying in the lane at the back, a little way down. Plainly they are pieces of a note addressed to some one called Sammy or something very like it. See the first piece, with its ‘mmy’? That is clearly from the beginning of the note, because there is no line between it and the smooth, straight edge of the paper above; also, nothing follows on the same line. Some one writes to Crockett — presuming it to be a letter addressed to him, as I do for other reasons — as Sammy. It is a pity that there is no more of the letter to be found than these pieces. I expect the person who tore it up put the rest in his pocket and dropped these by accident.”
Kentish, who had been picking up and examining each piece in turn, now dolorously broke out:
“Oh, it’s plain he’s sold us — bolted and done us; me as took him out o’ the gutter, too. Look here —‘throw them over’; that’s plain enough — can’t mean anything else. Means throw me over, and my friends — me, after what I’ve done for him! Then ‘right away’— go right away, I s’pose, as he has done. Then”— he was fiddling with the scraps and finally fitted two together —“why, look here, this one with ‘lane’ on it fits over the one about throwing over, and it says ‘poor f’ where its torn; that means ‘poor fool,’ I s’pose —me, or ‘fathead,’ or something like that. That’s nice. Why, I’d twist his neck if I could get hold of him; and I will!”
Hewitt smiled. “Perhaps it’s not quite so uncomplimentary, after all,” he said. “If you can’t recognize the writing, never mind. But, if he’s gone away to sell you, it isn’t much use finding him, is it? He won’t win if he doesn’t want to.”
“Why, he wouldn’t dare to rope under my very eyes. I’d — I’d ——”
“Well, well; perhaps we’ll get him to run, after all, and as well as he can. One thing is certain — he left this place of his own will. Further, I think he is in Padfield now; he went toward the town, I believe. And I don’t think he means to sell you.”
“Well, he shouldn’t. I’ve made it worth his while to stick to me. I’ve put a fifty on for him out of my own pocket, and told him so; and, if he won, that would bring him a lump more than he’d probably get by going crooked, besides the prize money and anything I might give him over. But it seems to me he’s putting me in the cart altogether.”
“That we shall see. Meantime, don’t mention anything I’ve told you to any one — not even to Steggles. He can’t help us, and he might blurt things out inadvertently. Don’t say anything about these pieces of paper, which I shall keep myself. By-the-by, Steggles is indoors, isn’t he? Very well, keep him in. Don’t let him be seen hunting about this evening. I’ll stay here to-night and we’ll proceed with Crockett’s business in the morning. And now we’ll settle my business, please.”
In the morning Hewitt took his breakfast in the snuggery, carefully listening to any conversation that might take place at the bar. Soon after nine o’clock a fast dog-cart stopped outside, and a red-faced, loud-voiced man swaggered in, greeting Kentish with boisterous cordiality. He had a drink with the landlord, and said: “How’s things? Fancy any of ’em for the sprint handicap? Got a lad o’ your own in, haven’t you?”
“Oh, yes,” Kentish replied. “Crockett. Only a young un not got to his proper mark yet, I reckon. I think old Taylor’s got No. 1 this time.”
“Capital lad,” the other replied, with a confidential nod. “Shouldn’t wonder at all. Want to do anything yourself over it?”
“No, I don’t think so. I’m not on at present. Might have a little flutter on the grounds just for fun; nothing else.”
There were a few more casual remarks, and then the red-faced man drove away.
“Who was that?” asked Hewitt, who had watched the visitor through the snuggery window.
“That’s Danby — bookmaker. Cute chap. He’s been told Crockett’s missing, I’ll bet anything, and come here to pump me. No good, though. As a matter of fact, I’ve worked Sammy Crockett into his books for about half I’m in for altogether — through third parties, of course.”
Hewitt reached for his hat. “I’m going out for half an hour now,” he said. “If Steggles wants to go out before I come back, don’t let him. Let him go and smooth over all those tracks on the cinder-path, very carefully. And, by the by, could you manage to have your son about the place to-day, in case I happen to want a little help out of doors?”
“Certainly; I’ll get him to stay in. But what do you want the cinders smoothed for?”
Hewitt smiled, and patted his host’s shoulder. “I’ll explain all my tricks when the job’s done,” he said, and went out.
On the lane from Padfield to Sedby village stood the Plough beer-house, wherein J. Webb was licensed to sell by retail beer to be consumed on the premises or off, as the thirsty list. Nancy Webb, with a very fine color, a very curly fringe, and a wide smiling mouth revealing a fine set of teeth, came to the bar at the summons of a stoutish old gentleman in spectacles who walked with a stick.
The stoutish old gentleman had a glass of bitter beer, and then said in the peculiarly quiet voice of a very deaf man: “Can you tell me, if you please, the way into the main Catton road?”
“Down the lane, turn to the right at the cross-roads, then first to the left.”
The old gentleman waited with his hand to his ear for some few seconds after she had finished speaking, and then resumed in his whispering voice: “I’m afraid I’m very deaf this morning.” He fumbled in his pocket and produced a note-book and pencil. “May I trouble you to write it down? I’m so very deaf at times that I— Thank you.”
The girl wrote the direction, and the old gentleman bade her good-morning and left. All down the lane he walked slowly with his stick. At the cross-roads he turned, put the stick under his arm, thrust his spectacles into his pocket, and strode away in the ordinary guise of Martin Hewitt. He pulled out his note-book, examined Miss Webb’s direction very carefully, and then went off another way altogether, toward the Hare and Hounds.
Kentish lounged moodily in his bar. “Well, my boy,” said Hewitt, “has Steggles wiped out the tracks?”
“Not yet; I haven’t told him. But he’s somewhere about; I’ll tell him now.”
“No, don’t. I don’t think we’ll have that done, after all. I expect he’ll want to go out soon — at any rate, some time during the day. Let him go whenever he likes. I’ll sit upstairs a bit in the club-room.”
“Very well. But how do you know Steggles will be going out?”
“Well, he’s pretty restless after his lost protégé, isn’t he? I don’t suppose he’ll be able to remain idle long.”
“And about Crockett. Do you give him up?”
“Oh, no! Don’t you be impatient. I can’t say I’m quite confident yet of laying hold of him — the time is so short, you see — but I think I shall at least have news for you by the evening.”
Hewitt sat in the club-room until the afternoon, taking his lunch there. At length he saw, through the front window, Raggy Steggles walking down the road. In an instant Hewitt was down-stairs and at the door. The road bent eighty yards away, and as soon as Steggles passed the bend the detective hurried after him.
All the way to Padfield town and more than half through it Hewitt dogged the trainer. In the end Steggles stopped at a corner and gave a note to a small boy who was playing near. The boy ran with the note to a bright, well-kept house at the opposite corner. Martin Hewitt was interested to observe the legend, “H. Danby, Contractor,” on a board over a gate in the side wall of the garden behind this house. In five minutes a door in the side gate opened, and the head and shoulders of the red-faced man emerged. Steggles immediately hurried across and disappeared through the gate.
This was both interesting and instructive. Hewitt took up a position in the side street and waited. In ten minutes the trainer reappeared and hurried off the way he had come, along the street Hewitt had considerately left clear for him. Then Hewitt strolled toward the smart house and took a good look at it. At one corner of the small piece of forecourt garden, near the railings, a small, baize-covered, glass-fronted notice-board stood on two posts. On its top edge appeared the words, “H. Danby. Houses to be Sold or Let.” But the only notice pinned to the green baize within was an old and dusty one, inviting tenants for three shops, which were suitable for any business, and which would be fitted to suit tenants. Apply within.
Hewitt pushed open the front gate and rang the door-bell. “There are some shops to let, I see,” he said, when a maid appeared. “I should like to see them, if you will let me have the key.”
“Master’s out, sir. You can’t see the shops till Monday.”
“Dear me, that’s unfortunate, I’m afraid I can’t wait till Monday. Didn’t Mr. Danby leave any instructions, in case anybody should inquire?”
“Yes, sir — as I’ve told you. He said anybody who called about ’em must come again on Monday.”
“Oh, very well, then; I suppose I must try. One of the shops is in High Street, isn’t it?”
“No, sir; they’re all in the new part — Granville Road.”
“Ah, I’m afraid that will scarcely do. But I’ll see. Good-day.”
Martin Hewitt walked away a couple of streets’ lengths before he inquired the way to Granville Road. When at last he found that thoroughfare, in a new and muddy suburb, crowded with brick-heaps and half-finished streets, he took a slow walk along its entire length. It was a melancholy example of baffled enterprise. A row of a dozen or more shops had been built before any population had arrived to demand goods. Would-be tradesmen had taken many of these shops, and failure and disappointment stared from the windows. Some were half covered by shutters, because the scanty stock scarce sufficed to fill the remaining half. Others were shut almost altogether, the inmates only keeping open the door for their own convenience, and, perhaps, keeping down a shutter for the sake of a little light. Others, again, had not yet fallen so low, but struggled bravely still to maintain a show of business and prosperity, with very little success. Opposite the shops there still remained a dusty, ill-treated hedge and a forlorn-looking field, which an old board offered on building leases. Altogether a most depressing spot.
There was little difficulty in identifying the three shops offered for letting by Mr. H. Danby. They were all together near the middle of the row, and were the only ones that appeared not yet to have been occupied. A dusty “To Let” bill hung in each window, with written directions to inquire of Mr. H. Danby or at No. 7. Now No. 7 was a melancholy baker’s shop, with a stock of three loaves and a plate of stale buns. The disappointed baker assured Hewitt that he usually kept the keys of the shops, but that the landlord, Mr. Danby, had taken them away the day before to see how the ceilings were standing, and had not returned them. “But if you was thinking of taking a shop here,” the poor baker added, with some hesitation, “I— I— if you’ll excuse my advising you — I shouldn’t recommend it. I’ve had a sickener of it myself.”
Hewitt thanked the baker for his advice, wished him better luck in future, and left. To the Hare and Hounds his pace was brisk. “Come,” he said, as he met Kentish’s inquiring glance, “this has been a very good day, on the whole. I know where our man is now, and I think we can get him, by a little management.”
“Where is he?”
“Oh, down in Padfield. As a matter of fact, he’s being kept there against his will, we shall find. I see that your friend Mr. Danby is a builder as well as a bookmaker.”
“Not a regular builder. He speculates in a street of new houses now and again, that’s all. But is he in it?”
“He’s as deep in it as anybody, I think. Now, don’t fly into a passion. There are a few others in it as well, but you’ll do harm if you don’t keep quiet.”
“But go and get the police; come and fetch him, if you know where they’re keeping him. Why ——”
“So we will, if we can’t do it without them. But it’s quite possible we can, and without all the disturbance and, perhaps, delay that calling in the police would involve. Consider, now, in reference to your own arrangements. Wouldn’t it pay you better to get him back quietly, without a soul knowing — perhaps not even Danby knowing — till the heat is run to-morrow?”
“Well, yes, it would, of course.”
“Very good, then, so be it. Remember what I have told you about keeping your mouth shut; say nothing to Steggles or anybody. Is there a cab or brougham your son and I can have for the evening?”
“There’s an old hiring landau in the stables you can shut up into a cab, if that’ll do.”
“Excellent. We’ll run down to the town in it as soon as it’s ready. But, first, a word about Crockett. What sort of a lad is he? Likely to give them trouble, show fight, and make a disturbance?”
“No, I should say not. He’s no plucked un, certainly; all his manhood’s in his legs, I believe. You see, he ain’t a big sort o’ chap at best, and he’d be pretty easy put upon — at least, I guess so.”
“Very good, so much the better, for then he won’t have been damaged, and they will probably only have one man to guard him. Now the carriage, please.”
Young Kentish was a six-foot sergeant of grenadiers home on furlough, and luxuriating in plain clothes. He and Hewitt walked a little way toward the town, allowing the landau to catch them up. They traveled in it to within a hundred yards of the empty shops and then alighted, bidding the driver wait.
“I shall show you three empty shops,” Hewitt said, as he and young Kentish walked down Granville Road. “I am pretty sure that Sammy Crockett is in one of them, and I am pretty sure that that is the middle one. Take a look as we go past.”
When the shops had been slowly passed, Hewitt resumed: “Now, did you see anything about those shops that told a tale of any sort?”
“No,” Sergeant Kentish replied. “I can’t say I noticed anything beyond the fact that they were empty — and likely to stay so, I should think.”
“We’ll stroll back, and look in at the windows, if nobody’s watching us,” Hewitt said. “You see, it’s reasonable to suppose they’ve put him in the middle one, because that would suit their purpose best. The shops at each side of the three are occupied, and, if the prisoner struggled, or shouted, or made an uproar, he might be heard if he were in one of the shops next those inhabited. So that the middle shop is the most likely. Now, see there,” he went on, as they stopped before the window of the shop in question, “over at the back there’s a staircase not yet partitioned off. It goes down below and up above. On the stairs and on the floor near them there are muddy footmarks. These must have been made to-day, else they would not be muddy, but dry and dusty, since there hasn’t been a shower for a week till to-day. Move on again. Then you noticed that there were no other such marks in the shop. Consequently the man with the muddy feet did not come in by the front door, but by the back; otherwise he would have made a trail from the door. So we will go round to the back ourselves.”
It was now growing dusk. The small pieces of ground behind the shops were bounded by a low fence, containing a door for each house.
“This door is bolted inside, of course,” Hewitt said, “but there is no difficulty in climbing. I think we had better wait in the garden till dark. In the meantime, the jailer, whoever he is, may come out; in which case we shall pounce on him as soon as he opens the door. You have that few yards of cord in your pocket, I think? And my handkerchief, properly rolled, will make a very good gag. Now over.”
They climbed the fence and quietly approached the house, placing themselves in the angle of an outhouse out of sight from the windows. There was no sound, and no light appeared. Just above the ground about a foot of window was visible, with a grating over it, apparently lighting a basement. Suddenly Hewitt touched his companion’s arm and pointed toward the window. A faint rustling sound was perceptible, and, as nearly as could be discerned in the darkness, some white blind or covering was placed over the glass from the inside. Then came the sound of a striking match, and at the side edge of the window there was a faint streak of light.
“That’s the place,” Hewitt whispered. “Come, we’ll make a push for it. You stand against the wall at one side of the door and I’ll stand at the other, and we’ll have him as he comes out. Quietly, now, and I’ll startle them.”
He took a stone from among the rubbish littering the garden and flung it crashing through the window. There was a loud exclamation from within, the blind fell, and somebody rushed to the back door and flung it open. Instantly Kentish let fly a heavy right-hander, and the man went over like a skittle. In a moment Hewitt was upon him and the gag in his mouth.
“Hold him,” Hewitt whispered, hurriedly. “I’ll see if there are others.”
He peered down through the low window. Within Sammy Crockett, his bare legs dangling from beneath his long overcoat, sat on a packing-box, leaning with his head on his hand and his back toward the window. A guttering candle stood on the mantel-piece, and the newspaper which had been stretched across the window lay in scattered sheets on the floor. No other person besides Sammy was visible.
They led their prisoner indoors. Young Kentish recognized him as a public-house loafer and race-course ruffian, well known in the neighborhood.
“So it’s you, is it, Browdie?” he said. “I’ve caught you one hard clump, and I’ve half a mind to make it a score more. But you’ll get it pretty warm one way or another before this job’s forgotten.”
Sammy Crockett was overjoyed at his rescue. He had not been ill-treated, he explained, but had been thoroughly cowed by Browdie, who had from time to time threatened him savagely with an iron bar by way of persuading him to quietness and submission. He had been fed, and had taken no worse harm than a slight stiffness from his adventure, due to his light under-attire of jersey and knee-shorts.
Sergeant Kentish tied Browdie’s elbows firmly together behind, and carried the line round the ankles, bracing all up tight. Then he ran a knot from one wrist to the other over the back of the neck, and left the prisoner, trussed and helpless, on the heap of straw that had been Sammy’s bed.
“You won’t be very jolly, I expect,” Kentish said, “for some time. You can’t shout and you can’t walk, and I know you can’t untie yourself. You’ll get a bit hungry, too, perhaps, but that’ll give you an appetite. I don’t suppose you’ll be disturbed till some time to-morrow, unless our friend Danby turns up in the meantime. But you can come along to jail instead, if you prefer it.”
They left him where he lay, and took Sammy to the old landau. Sammy walked in slippers, carrying his spiked shoes, hanging by the lace, in his hand.
“Ah,” said Hewitt, “I think I know the name of the young lady who gave you those slippers.”
Crockett looked ashamed and indignant. “Yes,” he said, “they’ve done me nicely between ’em. But I’ll pay her — I’ll ——”
“Hush, hush!” Hewitt said; “you mustn’t talk unkindly of a lady, you know. Get into this carriage, and we’ll take you home. We’ll see if I can tell you your adventures without making a mistake. First, you had a note from Miss Webb, telling you that you were mistaken in supposing she had slighted you, and that, as a matter of fact, she had quite done with somebody else — left him — of whom you were jealous. Isn’t that so?”
“Well, yes,” young Crockett answered, blushing deeply under the carriage-lamp; “but I don’t see how you come to know that.”
“Then she went on to ask you to get rid of Steggles on Thursday afternoon for a few minutes, and speak to her in the back lane. Now, your running pumps, with their thin soles, almost like paper, no heels and long spikes, hurt your feet horribly if you walk on hard ground, don’t they?”
“Ay, that they do — enough to cripple you. I’d never go on much hard ground with ’em.”
“They’re not like cricket shoes, I see.”
“Not a bit. Cricket shoes you can walk anywhere in!”
“Well, she knew this — I think I know who told her — and she promised to bring you a new pair of slippers, and to throw them over the fence for you to come out in.”
“I s’pose she’s been tellin’ you all this?” Crockett said, mournfully. “You couldn’t ha’ seen the letter; I saw her tear it up and put the bits in her pocket. She asked me for it in the lane, in case Steggles saw it.”
“Well, at any rate, you sent Steggles away, and the slippers did come over, and you went into the lane. You walked with her as far as the road at the end, and then you were seized and gagged, and put into a carriage.”
“That was Browdie did that,” said Crockett, “and another chap I don’t know. But — why, this is Padfield High Street?” He looked through the window and regarded the familiar shops with astonishment.
“Of course it is. Where did you think it was?”
“Why, where was that place you found me in?”
“Granville Road, Padfield. I suppose they told you you were in another town?”
“Told me it was Newstead Hatch. They drove for about three or four hours, and kept me down on the floor between the seats so as I couldn’t see where we was going.”
“Done for two reasons,” said Hewitt. “First, to mystify you, and prevent any discovery of the people directing the conspiracy; and second, to be able to put you indoors at night and unobserved. Well, I think I have told you all you know yourself now as far as the carriage.
“But there is the Hare and Hounds just in front. We’ll pull up here, and I’ll get out and see if the coast is clear. I fancy Mr. Kentish would rather you came in unnoticed.”
In a few seconds Hewitt was back, and Crockett was conveyed indoors by a side entrance. Hewitt’s instructions to the landlord were few, but emphatic. “Don’t tell Steggles about it,” he said; “make an excuse to get rid of him, and send him out of the house. Take Crockett into some other bedroom, not his own, and let your son look after him. Then come here, and I’ll tell you all about it.”
Sammy Crockett was undergoing a heavy grooming with white embrocation at the hands of Sergeant Kentish when the landlord returned to Hewitt. “Does Danby know you’ve got him?” he asked. “How did you do it?”
“Danby doesn’t know yet, and with luck he won’t know till he sees Crockett running to-morrow. The man who has sold you is Steggles.”
“Steggles it is. At the very first, when Steggles rushed in to report Sammy Crockett missing, I suspected him. You didn’t, I suppose?”
“No. He’s always been considered a straight man, and he looked as startled as anybody.”
“Yes, I must say he acted it very well. But there was something suspicious in his story. What did he say? Crockett had remarked a chilliness, and asked for a sweater, which Steggles went to fetch. Now, just think. You understand these things. Would any trainer who knew his business (as Steggles does) have gone to bring out a sweater for his man to change for his jersey in the open air, at the very time the man was complaining of chilliness? Of course not. He would have taken his man indoors again and let him change there under shelter. Then supposing Steggles had really been surprised at missing Crockett, wouldn’t he have looked about, found the gate open, and told you it was open when he first came in? He said nothing of that — we found the gate open for ourselves. So that from the beginning I had a certain opinion of Steggles.”
“What you say seems pretty plain now, although it didn’t strike me at the time. But, if Steggles was selling us, why couldn’t he have drugged the lad? That would have been a deal simpler.”
“Because Steggles is a good trainer, and has a certain reputation to keep up. It would have done him no good to have had a runner drugged while under his care; certainly it would have cooked his goose with you. It was much the safer thing to connive at kidnapping. That put all the active work into other hands, and left him safe, even if the trick failed. Now, you remember that we traced the prints of Crockett’s spiked shoes to within a couple of yards from the fence, and that there they ceased suddenly?”
“Yes. You said it looked as though he had flown up into the air; and so it did.”
“But I was sure that it was by that gate that Crockett had left, and by no other. He couldn’t have got through the house without being seen, and there was no other way — let alone the evidence of the unbolted gate. Therefore, as the footprints ceased where they did, and were not repeated anywhere in the lane, I knew that he had taken his spiked shoes off — probably changed them for something else, because a runner anxious as to his chances would never risk walking on bare feet, with a chance of cutting them. Ordinary, broad, smooth-soled slippers would leave no impression on the coarse cinders bordering the track, and nothing short of spiked shoes would leave a mark on the hard path in the lane behind. The spike-tracks were leading, not directly toward the door, but in the direction of the fence, when they stopped; somebody had handed, or thrown, the slippers over the fence, and he had changed them on the spot. The enemy had calculated upon the spikes leaving a track in the lane that might lead us in our search, and had arranged accordingly.
“So far so good. I could see no footprints near the gate in the lane. You will remember that I sent Steggles off to watch at the Cop before I went out to the back — merely, of course, to get him out of the way. I went out into the lane, leaving you behind, and walked its whole length, first toward the Old Kilns and then back toward the road. I found nothing to help me except these small pieces of paper — which are here in my pocket-book, by the by. Of course this ‘mmy’ might have meant ‘Jimmy’ or ‘Tommy’ as possibly as ‘Sammy,’ but they were not to be rejected on that account. Certainly Crockett had been decoyed out of your ground, not taken by force, or there would have been marks of a scuffle in the cinders. And as his request for a sweater was probably an excuse — because it was not at all a cold afternoon — he must have previously designed going out. Inference, a letter received; and here were pieces of a letter. Now, in the light of what I have said, look at these pieces. First, there is the ‘mmy’— that I have dealt with. Then see this ‘throw them ov’— clearly a part of ‘throw them over’; exactly what had probably been done with the slippers. Then the ‘poor f,’ coming just on the line before, and seen, by joining up with this other piece, might easily be a reference to ‘poor feet.’ These coincidences, one on the other, went far to establish the identity of the letter, and to confirm my previous impressions. But then there is something else. Two other pieces evidently mean ‘left him,’ and ‘right away,’ perhaps; but there is another, containing almost all of the words ‘hate his,’ with the word ‘hate’ underlined. Now, who writes ‘hate’ with the emphasis of underscoring — who but a woman? The writing is large and not very regular; it might easily be that of a half-educated woman. Here was something more — Sammy had been enticed away by a woman.
“Now, I remembered that, when we went into the tap-room on Wednesday, some of his companions were chaffing Crockett about a certain Nancy Webb, and the chaff went home, as was plain to see. The woman, then, who could most easily entice Sammy Crockett away was Nancy Webb. I resolved to find who Nancy Webb was and learn more of her.
“Meantime, I took a look at the road at the end of the lane. It was damper than the lane, being lower, and overhung by trees. There were many wheel-tracks, but only one set that turned in the road and went back the way it came, toward the town; and they were narrow wheels — carriage wheels. Crockett tells me now that they drove him about for a long time before shutting him up; probably the inconvenience of taking him straight to the hiding-place didn’t strike them when they first drove off.
“A few inquiries soon set me in the direction of the Plough and Miss Nancy Webb. I had the curiosity to look around the place as I approached, and there, in the garden behind the house, were Steggles and the young lady in earnest confabulation!
“Every conjecture became a certainty. Steggles was the lover of whom Crockett was jealous, and he had employed the girl to bring Sammy out. I watched Steggles home, and gave you a hint to keep him there.
“But the thing that remained was to find Steggles’ employer in this business. I was glad to be in when Danby called. He came, of course, to hear if you would blurt out anything, and to learn, if possible, what steps you were taking. He failed. By way of making assurance doubly sure I took a short walk this morning in the character of a deaf gentleman, and got Miss Webb to write me a direction that comprised three of the words on these scraps of paper —‘left,’ ‘right,’ and ‘lane’; see, they correspond, the peculiar ‘f’s,’ ‘t’s,’ and all.
“Now, I felt perfectly sure that Steggles would go for his pay to-day. In the first place, I knew that people mixed up with shady transactions in professional pedestrianism are not apt to trust one another far — they know better. Therefore Steggles wouldn’t have had his bribe first. But he would take care to get it before the Saturday heats were run, because once they were over the thing was done, and the principal conspirator might have refused to pay up, and Steggles couldn’t have helped himself. Again I hinted he should not go out till I could follow him, and this afternoon, when he went, follow him I did. I saw him go into Danby’s house by the side way and come away again. Danby it was, then, who had arranged the business; and nobody was more likely, considering his large pecuniary stake against Crockett’s winning this race.
“But now how to find Crockett? I made up my mind he wouldn’t be in Danby’s own house. That would be a deal too risky, with servants about and so on. I saw that Danby was a builder, and had three shops to let — it was on a paper before his house. What more likely prison than an empty house? I knocked at Danby’s door and asked for the keys of those shops. I couldn’t have them. The servant told me Danby was out (a manifest lie, for I had just seen him), and that nobody could see the shops till Monday. But I got out of her the address of the shops, and that was all I wanted at the time.
“Now, why was nobody to see those shops till Monday? The interval was suspicious — just enough to enable Crockett to be sent away again and cast loose after the Saturday racing, supposing him to be kept in one of the empty buildings. I went off at once and looked at the shops, forming my conclusions as to which would be the most likely for Danby’s purpose. Here I had another confirmation of my ideas. A poor, half-bankrupt baker in one of the shops had, by the bills, the custody of a set of keys; but he, too, told me I couldn’t have them; Danby had taken them away — and on Thursday, the very day — with some trivial excuse, and hadn’t brought them back. That was all I wanted or could expect in the way of guidance. The whole thing was plain. The rest you know all about.”
“Well, you’re certainly as smart as they give you credit for, I must say. But suppose Danby had taken down his ‘To Let’ notice, what would you have done, then?”
“We had our course, even then. We should have gone to Danby, astounded him by telling him all about his little games, terrorized him with threats of the law, and made him throw up his hand and send Crockett back. But, as it is, you see, he doesn’t know at this moment — probably won’t know till to-morrow afternoon — that the lad is safe and sound here. You will probably use the interval to make him pay for losing the game — by some of the ingenious financial devices you are no doubt familiar with.”
“Ay, that I will. He’ll give any price against Crockett now, so long as the bet don’t come direct from me.”
“But about Crockett, now,” Hewitt went on. “Won’t this confinement be likely to have damaged his speed for a day or two?”
“Ah, perhaps,” the landlord replied; “but, bless ye, that won’t matter. There’s four more in his heat to-morrow. Two I know aren’t tryers, and the other two I can hold in at a couple of quid apiece any day. The third round and final won’t be till to-morrow week, and he’ll be as fit as ever by then. It’s as safe as ever it was. How much are you going to have on? I’ll lump it on for you safe enough. This is a chance not to be missed; it’s picking money up.”
“Thank you; I don’t think I’ll have anything to do with it. This professional pedestrian business doesn’t seem a pretty one at all. I don’t call myself a moralist, but, if you’ll excuse my saying so, the thing is scarcely the game I care to pick tap money at in any way.”
“Oh, very well! if you think so, I won’t persuade ye, though I don’t think so much of your smartness as I did, after that. Still, we won’t quarrel; you’ve done me a mighty good turn, that I must say, and I only feel I aren’t level without doing something to pay the debt. Come, now, you’ve got your trade as I’ve got mine. Let me have the bill, and I’ll pay it like a lord, and feel a deal more pleased than if you made a favor of it — not that I’m above a favor, of course. But I’d prefer paying, and that’s a fact.”
“My dear sir, you have paid,” Hewitt said, with a smile. “You paid in advance. It was a bargain, wasn’t it, that I should do your business if you would help me in mine? Very well; a bargain’s a bargain, and we’ve both performed our parts. And you mustn’t be offended at what I said just now.”
“That I won’t! But as to that Raggy Steggles, once those heats are over to-morrow, I’ll — well ——”
It was on the following Sunday week that Martin Hewitt, in his rooms in London, turned over his paper and read, under the head “Padfield Annual 135 Yards Handicap,” this announcement: “Final heat: Crockett, first; Willis, second; Trewby, third; Owen, 0; Howell, 0. A runaway win by nearly three yards.”
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:11