After they had gone some distance along the old road and had found nothing, they stopped and held a consultation as to what they should do.
“Suppose we divide up and search through the woods,” Jasper suggested. “Andy, you and Dave come with me, and we’ll work back on this side of the road, while the rest of the men do the same on the other.”
Acting upon this suggestion, they at once plunged into the woods and took up their positions several rods from one another. Jasper was nearest the road. Next to him was Dave, while Andy was farthest off. Walking abreast among the trees, they were thus enabled to examine every portion of the ground. In a way it seemed almost a hopeless task, but there was nothing else for them to do. They knew that other men would be scouring up and down the main road, as well as through the fields, and in fact every place where David might have strayed.
They had been thus searching for some time and were not far from the main highway, when they heard loud shouting from the men on the other side of the old wood-road. Feeling sure that they were needed, the three men hurried forward in the direction from whence the sounds came. Jasper led, and his heart beat fast as he bounded through the woods, unheeding scratches upon his face and hands from the rough branches which brushed his body.
It took him only a few minutes to accomplish this, and he suddenly came upon the men grouped around something which was lying upon the ground. When his eyes rested upon the form of David huddled there, he gave a half-suppressed cry, and brushing the men aside, dropped upon his knees by the old man’s side.
“Is he dead?” he asked in a hoarse whisper.
“Dead as a door nail,” Jim Goban replied. “Guess he’s been dead fer some time by the look of things. Mighty bad piece of business this, I call it.”
“Do you suppose he was killed?” Jasper enquired.
“Sure. There’s no doubt about that from the mark on his head. He’s been knocked down like an ox.”
A shiver shook Jasper’s body at these words, and he straightened himself up. He did not notice that several of the men were watching him closely and observing his every word and action.
“Who could have done such a diabolical thing?” Jasper mused, as if to himself. “Let us examine the ground very carefully to see if the man who did this deed left any trace. He might have dropped something.”
“We have looked,” Jim replied, “and we found this.”
Jasper’s eyes had been searching the ground, but something in Jim’s voice caused him to turn suddenly, and as he did so his heart almost stopped beating and his face turned ghastly pale, for there in the man’s out-stretched hand was an envelope with his own name upon it.
“Where did you find that?” he gasped, as he reached out to take it.
But Jim drew back, while an expression of exultation gleamed in his eyes.