“It ought to be.” We drew up by the stile, where I pointed to the smear of blood, and Mr. Rogers, calling to Hosken to follow him, dashed into the coppice and down the path into the rank undergrowth. I, too, was lifting a leg to throw it over the bar, when Mr. Goodfellow plucked me by the arm. “Terribly hasty friends you keep in these parts, Brooks,” he said plaintively. “What’s it all about?”
“Why, murder!” said I. “Haven’t you heard, man?”
“Not a syllable! Good Lord, you don’t mean—” He passed a shaky hand over his forehead as a cry rang back to us through the coppice.
“Here, Hosken, this way! Oh, by the Almighty, be quick, man!”
I vaulted over the stile, Mr. Goodfellow close after me. For two hundred yards and more—three hundred, maybe—we blundered and crashed through the low-growing hazels, and came suddenly to a horrified stand.
A little to the left of the path, between it and the stream, Mr. Rogers and the constable knelt together over the body of a man half hidden in a tangle of brambles.
The corpse’s feet pointed towards the path, and I recognized the shoes, as also the sea-cloth trousers, before Mr. Rogers—cursing in his hurry rather than at the pain of his lacerated hands—tore the brambles aside and revealed its face—the face of Captain Coffin, blue-cold in death and staring up from its pillow of rotted leaves.
I felt myself reeling. But it was Mr. Goodfellow who reeled against me, and would have fallen if Hosken the constable had not sprung upon one knee and caught him.
“If you ask my opinion,” I heard Hosken saying as he raised himself and held Mr. Goodfellow upright, steadying him, “‘tis a case o’ guilty conscience, an’ I never in my experience saw a clearer.”
CLUES IN A TANGLE.
“Guilty or not,” said Mr. Jack Rogers, sharply, “I’ll take care he doesn’t escape. Run you down to Miss Belcher’s kennels, and fetch along a couple of men—any one you can pick up—to help. And don’t make a noise as you go past the cottage; the women there are frightened enough already. Come to think of it, I heard some fellows at work as I drove by just now, thinning timber in the plantation under the kennels. Off with you, man, and don’t stand gaping like a stuck pig!”
Thus adjured, Constable Hosken ran, leaving us three to watch the body.
“The man’s pockets have been rifled, that’s plain enough,” Mr. Rogers muttered, as he bent over it again, and with that I suppose I must have made some kind of exclamation, for he looked up at me, still with a horrified frown.
“Hallo! You know him?”
“His name’s Coffin. He came here from Falmouth.”
For a moment Mr. Rogers did not appear to catch the words. His eyes travelled from my face to Mr. Goodfellow’s.