Read CHAPTER TWENTY EIGHT of Shifting Winds A Tough Yarn , free online book, by R.M. Ballantyne, on ReadCentral.com.

PLOTTERS COUNTERPLOTTED.

Meanwhile the gentlemanly house-breaker, returning to Athenbury, rejoined his rude colleagues, and these three choice spirits, after partaking of some refreshment, and treating the policeman who first came to their aid to a glass of gin, betook themselves to the railway station.

“He won’t come here, you may depend on’t,” observed the policeman to the gentlemanly burglar, when he had taken his ticket, “he’s too wide-awake for that.”

“Perhaps not; but it’s as well to watch.”

“Yes, it’s as well to watch,” assented the policeman.

“Besides, wide-awake fellows over-reach themselves sometimes,” continued the other.  “I shouldn’t wonder, now, if he had the impudence to come straight here and denounce me as a thief, just by way o’ stoppin’ me from goin’ by the train, and so having some sort o’ revenge.”

“Ha!” exclaimed the policeman, in a tone and with a slight but peculiar look that made the gentlemanly man feel a little uneasy.

The fugitive did not appear, however.  Every face that came on the platform was carefully scrutinised without any result, and at length the bell rang.

“Good-night, friend,” said the burglar, slipping a half-crown into the policeman’s hand as he was about to jump into the carriage.  “It was no fault of yours that we didn’t catch him.  You did your best.”

“Yes, I did my best.”

“Hallo! are you going by this train?” exclaimed the burglar.

“Yes, I’ve got business in Wreckumoft, so we’ll have the pleasure o’ travellin’ together.”

The gentlemanly man felt that the pleasure would be entirely confined to one side.  However, he expressed much joy at the prospect of such good company, as the policeman sat down beside him.

The train gave a pant, then a snort, then an impatient whistle.  Then the bell rang a second time, the whistle sounded a single note, and the carriages moved slowly away.  A moment more, and they were sweeping out of the station; a moment more and they were rushing over the moor; another moment, and they were dashing through space, setting all terrestrial things at naught, until a station came in view; then the whistle uttered a prolonged shriek, and the train began to slow.  Up to this point the policeman and his friends had sat together in comparative silence.

The former put his head out of the window, and remarked that, “there was a feller as would be too late for the train.”

The moonlight enabled him to perceive that the late man was a labourer of some sort.

The train ran into the station and stopped.

“Tickets ready!” shouted the guard.

“That’ll give him a chance,” observed the gentlemanly burglar.

“All right?” inquired the guard.

“All right,” replied the ticket-inspector.  The bell rang, the guard whistled, so did the engine; it puffed too, and the train began to move.

“Look sharp now,” cried the station-master eagerly to some one outside the office.  “Athenbury?  Here you are - four shillings; run!”

The guard knew that it was a late passenger, and, being a good-hearted fellow, held the door of a carriage open, even although the train was on the move.

A man in a smock-frock and slouch-hat rushed across the platform at this moment, and made for the door which the guard held open.

“Jump!” said the guard.

The gentlemanly burglar and the policeman lent their aid to pull the man into the train; the door banged, and they were away.

“You’ve all but missed it,” said the burglar.

The man in the smock-frock pulled his slouch-hat well over his eyes, and admitted that it was a “close shave.”  Then he laid his head on the side of the carriage and breathed hard.

“Take a drop o’ gin,” said the burglar in a patronising way, “it’ll bring you to in a minute.”

Kenneth knew by his manner that he did not guess who it was that sat beside him, so he resolved to accept the offer.

“Thank’ee, I loik gin.  It waarms the cockles o’ yer ’art, it do,” said Kenneth.

“Goin’ far?” inquired the policeman.

“To Wreckumoft.”

“You seems to have got on yer Sunday trousers?” observed the policeman.

“Wall, there an’t no sin in that,” replied the supposed labourer, somewhat sharply.

“Certainly not,” said the policeman.  “It’s a fine night, an’t it?”

“It is a foine night,” responded the labourer, putting his head out of the window.

“Yes, a very fine night,” repeated the policeman, also thrusting his head out at the same window, and holding a sotto voce conversation with Kenneth, the result of which was that he became very merry and confidential, and was particularly polite to the burglars, insomuch that they thought him one of the jolliest policemen they had ever had to do with - and this was not the first they had had to do with by any means!

In course of time the train ran into the station at Wreckumoft, and the occupants poured out on the platform, and took their several ways.  The three friends kept together, and observed that the policeman, after bidding them good-bye, went away alone, as if he had urgent business on hand, and was soon lost to view.  This was a great relief to them, because they could not feel quite at ease in his presence, and his going off so promptly showed, (so they thought), that he had not the remotest suspicion of their errand.

As for the country fellow in the smock-frock, they took no further notice of him after quitting the carriage.  Had they known his business in Wreckumoft that night, they might, perchance, have bestowed upon him very earnest attention.  As it was, they went off to the Blue Boar Tavern and ordered three Welsh rabbits and three pots of porter.

Meanwhile Kenneth took the road to Seaside Villa.  On the way he had to pass Bingley Hall, and rang the bell.  The door was opened by Susan Barepoles.

“Is Maister Gildart to hoam?”

Susan said he was, and Kenneth was delighted to find that his change of voice and costume disguised him so completely that Susan did not recognise him.

“I wants to see him.”

Susan bade him wait in the lobby.  In a few minutes Gildart came down, and the country fellow asked to have a word with him in private!

The result of this word was that the two sallied forth immediately after, and went towards Seaside Villa.

Here, strange to say, they found the policeman standing at the outer gate.  Kenneth accosted him as if he had expected to meet him.

“They ain’t abed yet,” observed the policeman.

“No; I see that my groom is up, and there is a light in my father’s study.  I’ll tap at the groom’s window.”

“Come in av yer feet’s clean,” was Dan’s response to the tap, as he opened the shutters and flattened his nose against a pane of glass in order to observe the intruder.

“Dan, open the back door and let me in!”

“Hallo!  Mister Kenneth!”

Dan vanished at once, and opened the door.

“Hush, Dan; is my father at home?”

“He is, sur.”

“Come in, Gildart.  Take care of that constable, Dan; give him his supper.  There’s work both for him and you to-night.  He will explain it to you.”

Saying this Kenneth took Gildart to the drawing-room, and left him there while he went to his father’s study.

At first Mr Stuart was alarmed by the abrupt entrance of the big labourer; then he was nettled and disgusted at what he deemed a silly practical joke of his son.  Ultimately he was astonished and somewhat incredulous in regard to the prospects of housebreaking which his son held out to him.  He was so far convinced, however, as to allow Kenneth to make what preparations he pleased, and then retired to rest, coolly observing that if the burglars did come it was evident they would be well taken care of without his aid, and that if they did not come there was no occasion for his losing a night’s rest.

Between two and three o’clock that morning three men climbed over the garden wall of Seaside Villa, and, having deposited their shoes in a convenient spot, went on tiptoe to the dining-room window.  Here they paused to consult in low whispers.

While they were thus engaged, three other men watched their movements with earnest solicitude from a neighbouring bush behind which they lay concealed.

After a few moments one of the first three went to the window and began to cut out part of a pane of glass with a glazier’s diamond.  At the same time, one of the second three - a tall stout man in a smock-frock -  advanced on tiptoe to watch the operation.

When the piece of glass was cut out the first three put their heads together for farther consultation.  Immediately their respective throats were seized and compressed by three strong pair of hands, and the heads were knocked violently together!

Gildart addressed himself to the red-haired man; the policeman devoted himself to the one with the beard; and Kenneth paid particular attention to the gentlemanly burglar, whose expression of countenance on beholding into whose hands he had fallen, may be conceived, but cannot be described.

Dan Horsey, who had also been on the watch, suddenly appeared with three pair of handcuffs, and applied them with a degree of prompt facility that surprised himself and quite charmed the policeman.

Thereafter the three astounded burglars were led in triumph into Mr Stuart’s study, where that sceptical individual received them in his dressing-gown and slippers, and had his unbelieving mind convinced.  Then they were conveyed to the lockup, where we shall now leave them in peace - satisfied that they are safely in the hands of justice.