"For several reasons. In the first place, the gun might have been heard by some of those cussed revenue men. Then there would be an inquiry and a search. They would have seen by the direction he had been going, that he must have been shot from the bushes, and as no one would have been in sight when they ran up, the thing would have been such a puzzle to them that you may be sure they would have suspected there must be some hidden way out of the clump. Besides, they would probably have hunted every inch of the ground to see if they could find anything that would give them a clue as to who had fired the shot. That is one reason."
He went down to the clump of bushes, still holding his gun in readiness for instant use. The patch was but some thirty feet long by half as wide. He walked backwards and forwards among the low bushes, but the fugitive was certainly not there. Going to the end of the patch he could see plainly enough the track where the man had entered, for although there was little snow on the top of the ground it lay among the tufts of grass. He walked round the clump, but there were no signs of any footsteps leaving it. "This is the rummest thing I ever saw," he muttered; "the fellow can't have flown away; yet, he certainly has not walked off."
"Strelinski," the man said.
"There is no occasion for heat, sir," Mr. Probert said quietly. "You are in the position of a witness at present and not of a magistrate, and must reply like any other witness. Well, you deny having abused him. Do you consider that calling a gentleman of good standing in this town, the son of a distinguished officer, a loafing young scoundrel, not abuse; or by telling him that six months in one of His Majesty's jails would do him a world of good?"
"The whole thing is perfectly plain to me," Frank said excitedly. "Julian was in the road, he heard the report of the gun close by in the wood, and perhaps heard a cry; he jumped over the hedge and made for the spot, and possibly, as Mr. Faulkner said, ran into the drive and stooped over him; then he started in pursuit of the murderer, of whom he may possibly have obtained a sight. There was not enough snow under the trees for him to follow the footprints, he therefore ran to the edge of the wood, and then to the road, in search of the man's track. Then he turned and ran back again till he came upon them leaving the wood, and then set off in pursuit."
"Will there never be an end to this blundering?"
"I am aware of that," Jules said, looking at Stephanie as she stood laughing and talking with some of the soldiers at a fire close by; "but I believe that I shall save her. I cannot help thinking she would never have given that little cry which met my ears as I passed by the broken carriage, if it had not been meant that she should be saved. To all appearance she was well-nigh insensible, and she would have suffered no more pain. It would have been a cruel instead of a kind action to save her, when she was already well-nigh dead. I firmly believe that, whoever falls during the struggle that may be before us, that child will get through safely and be restored to her parents. I don't say that I think that I myself shall go through it, but my death does not necessarily mean hers. If she falls into the hands of the peasants, and tells them who she is, they may take care of her for the sake of getting a reward, and she may in time be restored to her friends. At any rate, as long as I have strength to carry her I shall assuredly do so; when I cannot, I shall wrap her in my cloak and shall lie down to die, bidding her sit wrapped up in it till she sees some Russians approaching. She will then speak to them in their own language and tell them who she is, and that they will get a great reward from her parents if they take care of her and send her to them."
At half-past one Frank went down to the court-house. It was already crowded, but Captain Downes, who came up at the same moment, took him in, and obtained a place for him at the solicitors' table. The seizure had created quite a sensation in Weymouth, not only because two or three Weymouth men were among the prisoners, but because, owing to the fight that had taken place, the matter was very much more serious than a mere capture of contraband goods. There was a general buzz of conversation until three magistrates came in and took their places, and there was a little murmur of satisfaction as Colonel Chambers, the chairman, took his seat; for, had he not been present, Mr. Faulkner, who was next in seniority, would have taken the chair. A minute later, twelve prisoners were brought in. Five Frenchmen and two Englishmen were a portion of the crew of the smuggler; two were farmers' men, the drivers of the carts; one was a local fisherman; the eleventh was one of the party that had gone from Weymouth; Julian Wyatt made up the number.