“He might have put a match in at the moment?”
“Rain or no rain? Yes, he might. But he was interrupted by more than the rain. I got into the shed myself just at the moment—I and Jacko. It was last night, when the rain was pouring. I heard the man, and dark as was the night, I saw his figure as he fled away.”
“You didn’t know him?” said Miss Daly.
“But that boy, who has the eyes of a cat, he knew him.”
“Jacko knew him by his gait. I should have hardly wanted any one to tell me who it was. I could have named the man at once, but for the fear of doing an injustice.”
“And who was it?”
“Our friend Medlicot’s prime favorite and new factotum, Mr. William Nokes. Mr. William Stokes is the gentleman who intends to burn us all out of house and home, and Mr. Medlicot is the gentleman whose pleasure it is to keep Mr. Nokes in the neighborhood.”
The two women stood awe-struck for a moment, but a sense of justice prevailed upon the wife to speak. “That may be all true,” she said. “Perhaps it is as you say about that man. But you would not therefore think that Mr. Medlicot knows any thing about it?”
“It would be impossible,” said Kate.
“I have not accused him,” said Harry; “but he knows that the man was dismissed, and yet keeps him about the place. Of course he is responsible.”
Harry Heathcote’s appeal.
For the first mile between the wool-shed and the house Heathcote and the two ladies rode without saying a word. There was something so terrible in the reality of the danger which encompassed them that they hardly felt inclined to discuss it. Harry’s dislike to Medlicot was quite a thing apart. That some one had intended to burn down the wool-shed, and had made preparation for doing so, was as apparent to the women as to him. And the man who had been balked by a shower of rain in his first attempt might soon find an opportunity for a second. Harry was well aware that even Jacko’s assertion could not be taken as evidence against the man whom he suspected. In all probability no further attempt would be made upon the wool-shed; but a fire on some distant part of the run would be much more injurious to him than the mere burning of a building. The fire that might ruin him would be one which should get ahead before it was seen, and scour across the ground, consuming the grass down to the very roots over thousands of acres, and destroying fencing over many miles. Such fires pass on, leaving the standing trees unscathed, avoiding even the scrub, which is too moist with the sap of life for consumption, but licking up with fearful rapidity every thing that the sun has dried. He could watch the wool-shed and house, but with no possible care could he so watch the whole run as to justify him in feeling security. There need be no preparation of leaves. A match thrown loosely on the ground would do it. And in regard to a match so thrown, it would be impossible to prove a guilty intention.