Roy Glashan's Library.
Non sibi sed omnibus
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THE wind was bitter and cut through Dick Hanson's threadbare overcoat as if it had been so much paper; a grey pall of cloud was drawn down so low that the craggy tops of the higher tors were completely veiled; it was as ugly and cruel a winter day as even Dartmoor can show, yet Dick had a feeling that it was better than the living-room at Huccaford, with the peat fire smouldering on the hearth and his uncle glowering from the big horsehair-covered armchair.
Old George Jupp was never an easy person to live with. He was a tough old moorman who had never been farther from home than Plymouth, and Dick had had no easy life with him since his father and mother had been drowned in the wreck of the Exeter Castle three years ago.
Harsh at any time, lameness from the kick of a horse had roughed the old man's temper so that for the last ten days Dick had had a worse time than usual.
Dick was a cheery fellow by nature, and now, as he tramped across the big Newtake to the north of Huccaford Farm, he was happy to think that for a whole day he was out of reach of his uncle's bitter tongue. For another thing, he would get a good dinner at Far Tor Farm.
Silas Chowne was a decent sort, and he would be pleased to get the money that Dick was bringing. This was £17, the price of a cow Uncle George had bought. Dick had never before had so much money in his possession; but this did not worry him, for he knew the moor and the moorfolk, and if the people were rough they were honest.
There was a dry stone wall at the top of the Newtake. Dick was climbing it when a queer, thin, jangling sound came out of the misty east. He stopped and listened.
"The prison bell," he said to himself. "So one of them's away."
Clang! clang! went the distant bell. Dick could picture the scene. Blue-uniformed warders hastily gathering the outdoor parties and marching them back to the prison; mounted guards galloping along the roads. The whole great prison upset because one out of the hundreds of convicts had seized a chance and bolted. A silly thing to do, for a man never gets quite away from Dartmoor. He may hide and skulk and starve for days, but in the end is generally driven by hunger to give himself up.
Dick looked again at the lowering sky and felt the chill of the bitter north-east wind. Snow was coming, and Dick shivered at the thought of the convict's night in the open on these bleak heights.
He went on. He had a long way to go. It was nine lonely miles to Far Tor. He ought to have ridden, but the pony he usually rode was lame.
A mile farther Dick reached the Stone Brook and stopped. The path turned to the right down the valley and round the foot of the great ridge called Black Beam, which rose in front of him. By crossing the brook and climbing Black Beam he could cut off nearly two miles of distance.
At any other time Dick would not have thought twice; he would have gone straight over the hill. But now he hesitated. The top of the ridge was hidden in cloud, which meant pretty thick fog. Still, there were only a few hundred yards of fog-clad summit. He felt sure he could find his way. He hesitated no longer, but, jumping from rock to rock, crossed the brook dry-shod and went straight up the hill.
There is nothing so deceptive as fog. Long before Dick got to the top the air began to dim. Every yard it grew thicker, and by the time he reached the top he could not see more than 30 yards in any direction. There was no track or path; but Dick was not worried. All he had to do was push on till he found the down slope, then in a very short time he would be again in the clear.
He found the slope, he went briskly downward, expecting every minute to find clearer air. But the mist was dense as ever and Dick began to feel uncomfortable. He suspected that the cloud had dropped and that the whole moor was becoming enveloped.
He found himself in a big gorse patch. He stopped and tried to remember where this gorse lay. There were two gorse brakes on the far side of Black Beam, about a mile apart. For the life of him he could not tell which this was. At last he decided to keep to the right.
He passed the gorse and found himself wading in deep, wet heather. And the fog was thick as ever—thicker if anything. It wasn't like a London fog, for it was clean and very wet. Also it blew along in clouds.
Dick stopped again. He knew he was lost, but after all there was still something to guide him. That was the wind. The wind was north-east. Far Tor Farm lay east of Huccaford, so if he kept the breeze a little on his left cheek he ought sooner or later to strike the cart-track that ran from the main Taviton Road. With this idea in his head he started again.
Poor Dick! He could not know that the wind had shifted to north-west, so that he was actually going at right-angles to his proper course.
He crossed another great hill and then climbed a third. He thought it was Mar Tor, but couldn't be certain; he came down the far side, and next thing he knew was up to his knees in soft, sticky black mud.
His heart was beating hard as he scrambled back to firm ground. In front was a thicket of tall rushes which rustled eerily in the thin, cold wind. Beyond lay a great stretch of bottomless slime. Another step or two and he would never have got out.
"Merlin's Mire," he said aloud.
He was dismayed; and well he might be, for he was miles out of his way and in country he did not know at all. Dangerous country too, for it was full of bog holes. The only thing to do now was to get to the lower end of the great mire, find the brook that must run out of it, and follow it down. Exactly where it would lead Dick did not know, but downhill at any rate, and in the end he would find a road or a house.
"No dinner for me today," he said, with a wry grin. "I'll be lucky if I reach Far Tor by dark."
A nasty little chill came over him as he thought of the risk of getting benighted. In this bitter cold he would hardly last till morning. He was almost running as he went away down the edge of the bog.
DICK found the stream, which wound between boggy banks.
Again and again he went in up to his knees, and, ugh! how cold the mud was. He walked for miles and began to get very tired. By this time he had not the faintest notion where he was, and, as he had no watch, did not know the time. But his appetite told him that it was long past dinner-time. His only comfort was that he was going downhill.
At last the brook ended in a larger stream running at right-angles. He turned down this. Quite suddenly he came to a wood of very old oak trees. They were only about 20 feet high, but with thick trunks and covered with trails of grey lichen which hung dismally from their gnarled branches.
He had never seen the wood before, but had heard of it. It was called Wiseman's Wood, and was a relic of the ancient forest which once covered the moor. His heart sank, for he realised that he had been walking in a circle.
Dick was passing the end of the wood when he heard a rustle. A man stepped out from the dripping undergrowth. A short man with a beaky nose and a wide, thin-lipped mouth. He wore canvas breeches and leggings and a red and blue striped jacket. One glance was enough for Dick. This was the escaped convict, and Dick wanted no truck with him. He bolted.
Luck was against him. Ho had not taken three steps before his left foot struck a slab of smooth, wet stone. His boot skidded on the slippery surface and down he went. He was not hurt, but before he could scramble to his feet the man had him.
"What you running away for?" he demanded. "Think I'm going to do you in?"
Dick faced the fellow, who was a typical convict, just like a dozen others he had seen at work on the prison farm.
"No," he said. "I didn't think you were going to kill me, but I thought it likely you'd rob me."
"Huh! You look as if you were worth robbing!" sneered the other, as he gazed scornfully at Dick's shabby clothes, which were covered with mire and dark with moisture. "Got any grub?"
"Wish I had," said Dick. "I've been lost in the fog all day."
The other scowled, then grinned.
"You've got plenty of brass, anyway. Where are you bound?"
"Far Tor Farm," Dick answered truthfully.
"That don't tell me anything."
"It's four or five miles from here, on the Lamerton side of the moor."
"You live there?"
"No, I live at Huccaford. I'm taking a letter."
The convict stood gazing at Dick.
"See here, kid. You'll be under cover afore night. Likely I'll have to sleep out. I've got to have that coat of yours."
Dick went rather white. The envelope with the notes, was in the breast-pocket of the overcoat. If he had only put them in the pocket of his inner coat! But he pulled himself together quickly.
"All right," he said. "I'll just take the letter out of the pocket."
But the damage was done. The man had noticed Dick's face change.
"I'll just have a look at that letter," he said sharply as Dick took it out.
Dick made a frantic effort to bolt, but he hadn't a chance. The other seized him by the arm and snatched the letter from him. In a moment he had ripped it open, and his eyes bulged at the notes.
"Strike me, if this ain't luck!" he counted them. He turned on Dick, and his face was ugly.
"Trying to fool me, were you? Off with that coat, and thank your lucky stars I don't take the rest of your clothes!"
"It's not my money," Dick said.
"All the better for you!" retorted the other with a sour grin. He thrust the notes into his trouser pocket and took the coat.
"Sheer off now," he ordered; "and if you tell anyone you've seen me it'll be the worse for you. Mind that!" With that threat he vanished into the wood.
Dick's heart sank to his boots. He had never felt so miserable. It would be no use telling his uncle about the convict. No excuses counted with old George Jupp.
"Sheer off! Clear out!" came the man's harsh voice from among the trees, and Dick, who was already beginning to shiver in the bitter fog, obeyed and went on.
It was in his mind that he might reach the road and meet a warder. Every bridge on the moor would be guarded by warders that night, and if he could find one there might be some hope of catching the thief.
About a mile on Dick came to a road. But it was not a main road, only a cart-track. By this time the December dusk was falling. In less than an hour it would be quite dark. This track must lead somewhere, and Dick dared not take the chance of leaving it and looking for the main road. He turned along the track, keeping downhill.
Half an hour passed. With every minute it was getting darker and colder, yet there was no sign of any house, no light in the thick, wet gloom, and Dick grew more and more uneasy. Without his coat he was getting soaked to the skin, and though he was walking fast his teeth were beginning to chatter. To make matters worse he was growing faint with hunger. He had been going hard all day without a mouthful.
Suddenly, he found a wall across his path. There was a gate in it. He hurried through and saw he was in a paddock. He felt he must be near a house, yet could see no light nor any sign of a building.
He reached a second gate and passed through it, but still no welcome light. The cart-track turned to the left down a steep slope, and something dark loomed through the fog. There was not light enough to make out what it was, but as he got closer Dick saw a line of wind-stunted beech trees with a stone wall behind them. This made him sure that there was a house, and, when he had found and opened a third gate, there at last was the house. But it was dark as a tomb.
Dick groped his way to the back door and tried it. It was locked. He went round to the front, and found that door, too, was fast. He shouted, but there was no answer.
Dick was in despair. The last of the daylight had gone, and he had not the faintest notion where he was. What was more, he knew very well he could not go much farther. He went back into the farmyard. His idea was that he might find a barn, with hay in it into which he could burrow and sleep. Again he was disappointed. The buildings were good, but they were all empty.
Dick went again to the back of the house. He had made up his mind that he had to break in. If he did not succeed in doing so, if he could not find shelter and warmth, he knew he would be dead before morning.
BREAKING into a house, even if it is empty, is not so easy as it sounds.
Of course Dick might have picked up a stone and smashed a window, but somehow he shied at this. Instead, with his pocket-knife he tried the catch of one of the back windows.
He was able to push the latch aside, then the sash went up, and he climbed in over the sill. The room was pitch dark and felt cold and stuffy. Even so it was a great thing to get out of the bitter wind and the chill drizzle which had been driving on him all day.
One thing Dick had which was worth more than diamonds, a nearly, full box of matches. When he got them out of his pocket the box felt damp, and for a moment he had a horrid fear that they would not strike. But the very first one burned up and showed him that he was in a large and well-furnished kitchen. The sight of two candles in old-fashioned brass candlesticks on the dresser was a great relief, and when he had lighted one he set to explore.
The kitchen opened into a large living-room, to the left of which was a stone-floored passage, and on the other side of this a good-sized sitting-room with a carpet and a piano.
Dick was puzzled. The people who owned the place must, he thought, be away on a visit. Yet it was not usual for a moor farmer to leave his house empty.
Dick went upstairs. Four nice bedrooms; and the sight of beds with blankets made him yearn to peel off his wet things and tuck himself up warmly.
But he was dreadfully hungry and the first thing was to find food. He went back to the kitchen. On one side was a scullery, on the other steps led down into a larder. But the larder was sadly empty, so he tried the cupboard in the kitchen.
Here were a number of jars, mostly empty, but in one he found some oatmeal, in another salt, and in a third brown sugar. Here were materials for porridge if he could only light a fire. There was an old-fashioned range in the kitchen, and, to his amazement, a fire ready laid. Dick put a match to it and in five minutes had a good blaze. For some minutes he stood over the blaze, enjoying the luxury of the heat which made his wet clothes steam.
When he was a little warm he put on some water in a saucepan, and when it boiled stirred in oatmeal with a pinch of salt.
Hot porridge with plenty of sugar is no bad fodder for a starving lad, and by the time Dick had finished a whole bowl he was feeling much more like his cheerful self. He was also extremely sleepy.
But Dick still had a deal to do before he could think of bed. He went upstairs and fetched a quilt. He took this back to the kitchen, stripped, wrapped himself in the quilt, and hung his clothes over the range to dry. Then he washed the saucepan, the bowl and spoon, and put everything tidily away. After that he had to wait till his clothes were reasonably dry, then at last he closed the range, put his chair back, picked up his clothes, and, taking one candle, went upstairs to a front bedroom which, as he had already noticed, held a big, old four-poster bedstead.
There were no sheets, but the blankets were soft and thick. Dick rolled himself in one of them, put another on top, and the quilt over that. In less than two minutes he was sound asleep.
A gleam of pale winter sunshine falling on his face roused him, and he sat up with a start. He had fully intended to be up and away before daylight. He had not reckoned with the fact that his tired body demanded extra rest. He lay and listened a moment, but all seemed quiet, then he slipped out of bed and went to the window.
The first thing he saw was that a thin coating of snow covered the ground, the second that there was a road in front of the house, along which a girl was walking quickly.
She came straight to the garden gate, lifted the latch, and started up the path leading to the front door.
Dick's heart did a sort of flip-flap, as he dashed back and reached for his clothes. It is safe to say that he beat all records for quick dressing. While he dressed he made up his mind what to do. The girl looked nice. He would go down and meet her and explain exactly what had happened.
Then he caught sight of himself in the looking-glass and stopped, horrified. His clothes were covered with mud, his hair was unbrushed, he looked a perfect scarecrow.
"I'd scare her into a fit," he said to himself, and while he hesitated he heard the girl coming slowly upstairs!
In a moment he had straightened the bed-clothes and dived under the bed. The minute he had done it he felt he had been silly, but before he could make up his mind to come out the door opened and the girl walked into the room.
She went straight across to the chest of drawers, opened the top drawer, and began searching. Each drawer in succession she turned out, but whatever she was looking for she failed to find it. She tried the dressing-table, the wardrobe, but still it was no use. At last she stopped.
"It must be here somewhere," she said.
DICK liked her voice. It was rather deep for a girl of only about twenty, but it was rich and soft. He liked the girl too.
He was much relieved when she went out of the room; he had been terribly afraid she would look under the bed, and then he would have felt a fool. He heard her go into one of the back bedrooms, and decided that this was his chance to clear out.
He tip-toed down the stairs, reached the passage below, and paused a moment to make sure the coast was clear. It was not clear; footsteps were coming up the paved path leading to the front door. They were the steps of a man, and the man, whoever he was, was in a hurry. There was a little cloak-room on the right-hand side of the passage. Dick had just time to duck into this when the front door opened and the man came in.
One of the frosted glass panels in the door was broken, so Dick was able to see out, and the moment his eyes fell on the newcomer he recognised him as Mark Endacott.
Mark was a youngish man, stout, with hard pale blue eyes and streaky red and white cheeks. Dick had seen him in Taviton market and know that he had not a very good name. Dick wondered what he was doing here.
Mark stood for a moment in the doorway looking round suspiciously, then went straight into the sitting-room.
Once more Dick was minded to make a bolt, yet dared not, for Mark had left the door wide open and the risk seemed too great.
By the sounds which reached Dick's ears Mark was as busy searching as the girl had been. Dick could hear drawers being pulled out and closed, then noises as if the man were moving furniture. Presently Mark uttered an exclamation of angry impatience. It seemed to Dick that he was having no luck in his search. There was silence for a little, then Mark's voice again.
"I have it; it's the hearthstone!"
The hearthstone. Now Dick began to understand. Old-fashioned moor folk are often shy about banks and are given to hiding their property in their own houses. One of the favourite hiding-places is under the hearthstone.
He listened keenly. He could distinctly hear Mark's panting breath as he lifted a heavy weight, then there was a crunching sound. Yes, he was lifting the hearthstone. Dick longed to see what was happening, to know if Mark had found anything. He longed, too, to let the girl know that Mark was on the job.
He had begun to push his door open, with the idea of making a bolt upstairs when he heard steps in the sitting-room. He dodged back in a hurry, and saw Mark come out of the sitting-room into the hall. In his hand he held a long envelope and on his broad face was a self-satisfied smirk.
The sun had gone in again; there was still a haze of mist and the light was not very good. Mark, Dick realised, was short-sighted, for, after taking a document out of the envelope, he held it close to his eyes to read it. The man's smirk changed to a scowl as he read it.
"The old beast!" Dick hoard him growl. "Leave his nephew to starve, would he? Why, he hasn't even mentioned me!" Suddenly he chuckled, and it was a nasty sound. "But I have been a bit too clever for 'em," he went on. "With this out of the way—" He took out a match-box, struck a match, and put the flame to the edge of the document.
Dick was going to risk everything and make a dash when through the quiet house came the sound of a door closing sharply. Mark jumped. The change in his expression was so great and so comic that Dick almost laughed. Mark dropped the match and for a moment stood still as a statue, listening intently.
There was a sound of footsteps on the upper landing, and, muttering something that was not a blessing, Mark thrust the document and the envelope into the breast-pocket of his overcoat, swung round, and went quickly out of the front door.
Dick waited no longer. He dashed out of his cupboard and rushed to the door. But the fog had closed down again and Mark had disappeared.
There was a startled cry behind him.
"Who are you? What are you doing here?"
Dick looked round and saw the girl standing at the foot of the stairs.
"I'm Dick Hanson from Huccaford," he explained quickly. "Got lost in the fog; broke in here and slept. Had to. But Mark—Mark Endacott, he's found the papers and gone away with them."
"Mark!" The girl's face showed such dismay that Dick felt bitterly sorry for her. "You mean he found the will?"
"I don't know what it was, but it was a paper in an envelope. I think he found it under the hearthstone in the sitting-room. I didn't see, but I heard him. Then he came out in the hall and read it, and he was in an awful rage. He lit a match and was going to burn it when you banged a door upstairs. He put the paper in his pocket and ran out of the front door."
"It was Uncle Jerry's will," cried the girl. "It's what I was looking for. Uncle was buried only yesterday. Oh, if Mark has got it it will be dreadful."
There were tears in her eyes, and Dick was dreadfully distressed.
"It's Mother I'm thinking of," said the girl. "Uncle Jerry was her brother. He told her he had left the farm to her. Mark was only to have £100 because he had behaved so badly." She broke off. "But, oh, I'm wasting time. Isn't there any way of getting it back from Mark before he destroys it?"
Dick spoke quickly.
"I think it's parchment, and that isn't easy to tear up; and it won't burn very easily either," he answered. "My notion is he'll go home and put it in the fire. Where does he live? We might follow."
"He lives three miles away at Staverton. And he has a car. We haven't a chance of catching him."
Dick was dismayed, but he would not give up.
"This snow," he said, "it'll be terribly slippery. He'll have to go very slowly. Where is Staverton? Couldn't we take a short cut?"
"I hadn't thought of that." She caught his arm. "I'll show you. Come!"
Next minute they were running down the path, and Dick was surprised to find how the girl could run.
"It was easy enough to see which way Mark had gone, for the prints of his big flat feet were plain in the snow. But they could not see him for a fog bank had drifted down into the valley. The marks led down the road in an easterly direction.
"He didn't have his car," Dick said to the girl.
She paused an instant and held up her hand for silence.
"He did. I can hear it. He must have left it on the main road."
"Yes, I hear it," Dick answered. "But he can't go very fast in this fog. Where do we turn off?"
"Not yet. We can't cross the Arrow except by the road bridge. Beyond the bridge we can turn across the moor. But the fog will be as bad for us as for Mark. It will be hard to find our way."
Dick knew this was true. "We'll do out best, anyhow," was all he could find to say.
They were both panting a little when they reached the bridge. Dick pointed to the tyre marks in the snow. "No chains," he said. "He'll have a job getting up the hill."
"Here's where we turn off," said the girl as she left the road and took to the moor.
It was steep, but there was not much heather, and they kept up a good pace.
Presently they were at the top of the hill. The girl stopped again and they both listened.
"Can you hear the car?" she asked.
Dick shook his head.
"But we ought to. The road's just below us. Oh!" she cried in despair, "he must have gone faster than we thought. He's got away. Now he will burn the will, and then he will have the farm and everything."
DICK did not know what to say to comfort the girl.
If Mark had got out of hearing as well as sight there was no help for it, none so far as Dick could see. Then out of the fog came a sound like the report of a pistol.
"It's the car," Dick exclaimed. "A back fire. She's stopped. He's trying to start her. If we're quick we may catch him before he gets going again."
The girl gave a sob of relief and started running in the direction of the sound. Dick ran alongside. He was as excited as she was. For the moment he had forgotten all his own troubles— the loss of his uncle's money, the row there would be when he got home. He did not even give a thought to what would happen if he and the girl did catch up with Mark, or the very slim chance they would have of making him disgorge.
"He's got her started," the girl said, as they slowed a moment through a patch of thick heather.
"I hear her," said Dick briefly.
Another minute and they were on the road. By the sound the car was on low gear and not more than a hundred yards ahead. But the mist, though clearing, was still too thick for them to see her. They began to run again, but the girl was slowing down. She was breathing painfully. They had come a mile at full speed, and for most of the distance over rough ground. Dick, too, was beginning to feel very done.
By the sound the car was gaining. Dick heard a crunching of gears and knew that Mark had got his old machine, into second speed. That meant at least ten or twelve miles an hour. The girl heard it too.
"We are done, Dick," she said bitterly.
"Keep going," Dick urged. "He might break down again or skid. Anything might happen. Let's walk as far as the top of the hill and get our breath back."
"You're a wonder, Dick," the girl panted. "I shall never forget what you've done this morning."
He and the girl tramped along up a moderate slope. The fog was thinning fast, and Dick, who knew moor weather, was sure that the sun would soon be full out.
He was right, for as they reached the top of the slope a puff of wind scattered the mist, and in another few moments they were able to see the whole valley beneath them. A small brook ran through the bottom. Beyond the bridge (which carried the road across it) was a great thicket of gorse through which the road climbed, looking steep as a wall.
"There's the car," said Dick, pointing. The car was a small shabby two-seater. She was crawling very slowly up the hill and throwing out a cloud of smoke from her exhaust.
"We've a chance still," said Dick eagerly. "Look at the way she's slipping and sliding."
The girl shook her head.
"I'm nearly done, Dick. I can't run much more. Besides, even if we did catch him what could we do? Mark won't scare easily when it's a matter of money. The farm is freehold and worth at least three thousand pounds."
Dick bit his lip. "I'll run on and try to catch him. Perhaps I can jump in at the back of the car without his noticing. It's making such a row he'd never hear me."
"No; you stay with me," said the girl. "He might hurt you." She broke off. "Oh! He's stopped again!"
The engine had not stopped, but the wheels were going round and round without moving the car. The tyres were so worn they could get no grip. Mark accelerated, but that was no good. Then he switched off, got out, and with his boot he began to scrape away the frozen snow to get a fresh start.
Dick looked at the girl. "Here's our chance. Can you run a little bit?"
"I'll try," she said pluckily.
Dick caught the girl's arm. "Look!" he said sharply. "Someone coming out of the bushes." He dragged her aside. "Hide! It's the convict."
They ducked behind a gorse bush.
"A convict," repeated the girl.
"Yes. The fellow that held me up yesterday."
"You were held up?"
"Yes, and robbed of £17 of my uncle's money."
"But that's dreadful. But why are we hiding?" she asked.
"So that he won't see us." Dick's voice vibrated with eagerness. "If he did he'd be scared and clear out. If he thinks the coast is clear he may do our job for us."
"Oh!" gasped the girl. "You mean he'll attack Mark."
"Just what he is doing," said Dick, with a chuckle. "Watch!"
Busy trying to clear the snow, Mark never saw the man who crept out of the thick gorse by the roadside; but Dick and the girl could plainly see the fellow gather himself and leap from the top of the long bank, landing full on Mark's shoulders. Mark, taken completely by surprise, went flat on his face in the snow with the convict on top of him.
"No—he will kill him," gasped the girl.
"Not he! What he wants is Mark's clothes. He may take the car too."
"Then he will get away with the will," said the girl in fresh alarm.
"Let him! It's better he should have it than Mark. He won't bother to destroy it."
"Oh! I never thought of that."
"Watch!" Dick whispered eagerly. "He's taking Mark's coat."
Either the fall had stunned Mark or he was too scared to put up any resistance. They saw the convict roll him over and pull off his coat. He ripped off the one he was wearing, Dick's shabby old garment, threw it aside, slipped into the others, took Mark's hat and jammed it on his head, then jumped, into the car and started the engine.
Either he was a better driver than Mark or he had better luck. He got the car moving and she began to climb at the rate of about three miles an hour.
"Come on!" cried Dick. His eyes were shining. "We're all right now."
"What do you mean?"
"Where does this road go?" Dick asked.
"I thought so. Then it must cross the Dart. And the bridge will be guarded. Every bridge on a main road will have warders on it, and they stop every car."
The girl's tired face brightened. "I'd forgotten. But won't the convict know?"
"He may try to bluff and drive past them. Come on. We shall have to keep off the road, for Mark mustn't see us."
"But perhaps he's badly hurt."
"Not he! He's moving already."
This was true, for Mark was picking himself up. He staggered to the side of the road and dropped on a boulder and sat there, holding his head. The girl and Dick skirted round through the gorse and reached the top of the hill without his seeing them.
"There's the car," Dick said quickly. "His brakes must be rotten, for he's going down on low gear."
"And you're right about the warders," exclaimed the girl. "Two are on the bridge, and a mounted guard with them."
DICK nodded. He was gazing across the valley, sizing things up. A quarter of a mile below the spot where they stood the by-road found the main road. The valley here was wide and the main road ran straight to the Dart bridge. To the right of the bridge and on the far side of the river stood the Angler's Arms. The by-road joined the main road at the foot of the hill, and in the angle to the right was a beech plantation which ran some way up the slope. Just as they reached the top the convict arrived at the junction of the two roads and stopped under shelter of the trees. Quick-witted Dick at once saw his plan. He turned to the girl.
"He's seen the warders. He won't risk trying to pass them. He's going up into the wood. There's heaps of cover among the rocks above; he means to hide there till night, then strike across the moor to Okestock. With my money and Mark's coat he'll reckon to get clear."
"Then what are we going to do?" the girl asked in dismay.
"I'm going to run to the bridge and tell the warders. They'll send for help and have the chap inside an hour."
"But I can't run any more," said the girl in despair.
"I can. You come quietly."
Dick was off as he spoke; but he hadn't gone far before his legs began to feel wobbly and he had a nasty pain in his side. He got as far as the wood, then had to stop. He couldn't run any more; he began to wonder if he could even walk as far as the bridge. And every minute the convict was getting farther away. He looked back; the girl was walking slowly down the hill. She waved to him and he started again.
Half a mile. It would take all of ten minutes. Dick's spirits were falling very low when they were revived by the sound of a galloping horse. Almost at once the mounted guard came into sight, and Dick stopped and held up his hands.
"Was it you in that car?" the man demanded as he pulled up.
"It was the convict—the chap you're after."
The guard, a young man, stared at Dick.
"You're crazy, boy," he answered curtly.
"Who are you?"
"Richard Hanson, nephew of Mr George Jupp. I'm telling you the absolute truth. The convict robbed me yesterday of £17 I was taking to Far Tor Farm. This morning he stole that car from Mark Endacott, and now he's bolted up into the wood. If you don't believe me ask this lady who's coming down the hill."
Dick's straightforward speech convinced the guard.
"Up in the wood, you say. Must have seen us on the bridge. All right. I'll get help and we'll round him up in a jiffy. He's a bad un, he is."
"Wait!" cried Dick, but the guard was off as hard as he could gallop. All Dick could do was sit down and wait for the girl.
"He's gone for help," he told her.
"And meantime," she said, "the will is getting farther and farther away."
"They'll get him," Dick declared.
"Listen; there's a car." Almost as he spoke a car came roaring up. It was the hotel car, and in it were the two warders and three men from the inn.
"Connor's gone for more help," the elder warder told Dick briefly. "Now then, spread out all across the wood. Let's get him before the others come." They hurried forward.
"Oh, I do wonder if they'll get him," said the girl anxiously.
"Sure to. There's no fog now. And these chaps know the ground." Dick did believe the man would be caught, but he thought it might take a long time. He was amazed when at the end of five minutes there came a tremendous shout. "All right, chaps! I've got him."
In her excitement the girl clutched Dick's arm. "Oh, do you think he has the will, Dick?"
"Of course," said Dick. "Here they come. Hullo, the convict's hurt. They're carrying him." He ran forward.
"Fell into a hole and twisted his ankle," the elder warder told Dick. "That's how we got him so easy. We'll have to drive him up to the prison. But you ought to get the reward, Hanson."
"It isn't the reward I want," said Dick.
"It's the money he stole from me yesterday, and old Mr Endacott's will that's in that overcoat pocket."
The warder's eyes widened.
"See what he's got on him, Joe," he said to the other warder, who at once set to search the prisoner.
"Aye, here's some notes," he said. "Seventeen of 'em, just as the lad says. And this envelope—is this the will?"
"Don't you dare give him that. It's mine."
Here was Mark, his face scarlet and big drops of perspiration rolling down his cheeks. "It's mine, I tell you. Give it me at once."
The warder looked him up and down.
"It's not my job to give this stuff to anyone except the Governor," he said coolly. "I'm taking the prisoner straight back, and you folk can come and claim your property. But," he added significantly, "you'll have to prove it's yours before you get it."
Dick turned to the warder. "You're a brick," he said warmly.
The other grinned.
"You and the lady had better drive back with us. You both look about all in."
Half an hour later Dick, washed and tidy, was breakfasting at the inn with the girl, whose name he now knew to be Esther Fraine. While they ate they talked, and Dick told Esther all about his life with his uncle. She listened gravely, then spoke.
"Dick, it was you saved Crockern for us. If the will had been burned Mark would have had everything. I'm going to ask Mother to let you come and live with us. There'll be plenty of work, you may be sure, but there'll be some fun too. Would you like that?"
Dick's eyes shone. "Like it?" he replied. He could not say more.
Esther smiled at him very kindly.
"Then that's settled," she said firmly.
Roy Glashan's Library
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