“Yes, Billy, I remember,” Thayor had answered. “Poor beast. I remember also that you said in the letter that Bergstein was indefatigable in his efforts to save him.”
“Perhaps so—but I don’t think so now, and I’ll tell you why in a minute. You remember, too, that Jimmy said he was all right that night when he got through work and put him in the barn for the night?” Thayor raised his eyes in surprise. “That barn was locked,” Holcomb went on, “and Bergstein had the key.”
“What was the veterinary’s opinion?” Thayor had asked seriously, after a moment’s thought.
“Quite different from mine,” declared Holcomb; “he pronounced it congestion.”
“Was he a capable man?” demanded Thayor.
“So Bergstein said,” replied Holcomb slowly. “He got him from Montreal.”
Thayor bent his head in deep thought.
“And what do you think, Holcomb?”
“That the horse was poisoned, sir.”
Thayor started. “That’s a serious charge. What proof have you got?”
“This”—and he opened the wisp of paper the hide-out had given him and laid it on the table. “There’s strychnine enough in that to kill a dozen horses. This was found under Bergstein’s mattress—the rest of it is in the gray horse’s stomach.” Then had followed the sum of his discoveries in which, however, no mention was made of the hide-out’s help. That was too dangerous a secret to be entrusted to anyone not of the woods.
These discoveries had revealed a condition of things Thayor little dreamed of, and yet the facts were undeniable. Within the last month two horses had died; another had gone so lame that he had been given up as incurable. Leaks had also been frequent in expensive piping. Moreover, the men had begun to complain of bad food at the lower shanty; especially some barrels of corned beef and beans which were of so poor a quality and in such bad condition that the shanty cook had refused to serve them.
That not a word concerning these things had reached Thayor’s ears was owing, so Holcomb told him, to the influence of the trapper and the Clown, who prevented the men from coming to him in open protest. In the meantime he—Holcomb—had been secretly engaged in ferreting out the proofs of a wholesale villainy at the bottom of which was Bergstein. What he destroyed he replaced at such a good profit to himself that he had, during his connection with Big Shanty, already become exceedingly well off. Not content with laming and poisoning dumb beasts to buy others at a fat commission, he had provided condemned meat for the men under him at the lower shanty, had secretly damaged thousands of dollars’ worth of expensive plumbing, and had sown hatred among the men against the man whose generosity had befriended him. He had accomplished this systematically, little by little, carrying his deeds clear from suspicion by a shrewdness and daring that marked him a most able criminal. He had had freedom to do as he