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   Chapter 2 A MYSTERIOUS DISAPPEARANCE.

Jack Haydon's Quest By John Finnemore Characters: 18492

Updated: 2017-11-30 00:04


Four days later Jack Haydon was in his study, his heels on the mantelpiece, his eyes fastened on the pages of a novel, when there was a tap at his door and a telegram was brought in. He broke open the envelope and read the contents in growing surprise and wonder. Then a look of uneasiness came into his eyes. It was a cablegram from Brindisi, and ran, "Come at once. Most urgent," and was signed "Risley." Jack went across to the Doctor's house, sent up his name, and was bidden to go up to the study. Here he laid the cablegram before the Head.

"Who is Risley, Haydon?" asked Dr. Lawrence.

"My father's man, sir," replied Jack. "It seems to me that they must have got as far as Brindisi on their way home. I feel wretchedly uneasy. Something tells me that things have gone wrong with my father."

"Oh, I hope not," said Dr. Lawrence. "There is no word of ill-news here. The urgency may be quite on another score."

"I should like to start at once, sir," said Jack. "I know my way about the Continent very well. I have spent two or three vacations in Italy."

"Quite so, quite so," said Dr. Lawrence. "Have you plenty of money for the journey, Haydon?"

"I don't need more than sufficient to carry me to London, sir," replied Jack. "I shall go there to Mr. Buxton, my father's friend, who manages all his business affairs, and he will supply me with funds."

Jack was on fire to be off to Brindisi and see what was wrong. He made short work of his packing, and within an hour he was driving to Longhampton to catch the London express. He caught it with scarcely two minutes to spare, and was soon whirling towards the great city. A short distance from Longhampton, he caught a glimpse of Rushmere School in the distance on its hill, and the strip of heath country running up to the foot of the slope. This brought to mind his adventure, which remained as mysterious an affair as ever. The police had been most active, stations had been watched, inquiries had been made in every direction, but all to no result. The Thugs had vanished and left no trace behind. But the thought of his encounter on the heath soon faded from Jack's mind. It was crushed out by the pressing question of the moment. What was the matter at Brindisi? Why had Risley cabled and not his father? Had something happened to his father? Jack felt wretchedly uneasy, for he and his father were bound together by no ordinary ties of affection.

In the first place, he had, as far as he knew, no other living relation. His mother had been dead for many years, and his father was the only close friend that Jack knew. Then the elder Haydon had always been a great hero in his son's eyes. His profession of mining engineer had carried him into many wild corners of the world, and the store of marvellous tales which he would pour forth for the boy's delight had made Jack's holidays a time of intense pleasure. Mr. Haydon had always made a point, if it was possible, of keeping himself free for such times, and he and Jack had spent the weeks joyously, until the day for return to school had become a Black Monday indeed in the boy's eyes.

As Jack mused over memories of other days, his anxiety to know what was wrong at Brindisi grew moment by moment, and the flying express seemed to crawl, so great was his impatience to be in London, where he expected to get further news from Mr. Buxton. But he was destined to learn something long before he saw Mr. Buxton. The express screamed into an important junction and pulled up for five minutes. Three fellow-passengers got out, and left Jack to himself. A boy came along the platform shouting, "London Pay-pers," and Jack bought a Daily Telegraph.

He turned to the football news, and was reading it, when the train pulled out and shot forward once more towards London. But the accounts of his beloved sport failed to interest him, and he turned the paper over listlessly, idly scanning one big sheet after another. Suddenly the word imprinted on his brain caught his eye. "Brindisi"-here was some scrap of news from Brindisi.

What was it? Jack folded the paper, and then a second name seemed to leap at him from the sheet. His own name! Haydon, Brindisi. What now? His eyes darted over the paragraph, and he drew a long, gasping breath. This, then, was the explanation of the cablegram. Over and over again Jack read the paragraph, striving to grasp what it all meant, striving to seize the inner meaning. The paragraph was short and to the point. It ran:-

"STRANGE DISAPPEARANCE.

"FROM OUR OWN CORRESPONDENT.

"Brindisi, Tuesday.

"There is much stir here over the mysterious disappearance of Mr. Thomas Haydon, the famous mining expert and engineer. He arrived here on Sunday, and it was believed that he intended to travel to England by the mail-train. He went for a walk on Sunday evening, but did not return to his hotel, where his man and his baggage were awaiting him. Since he left his hotel there has been no sign of him, and the authorities are making a diligent search."

His father had disappeared? How? Why? Jack could make nothing of it, and he stared at the paper with pale face and perplexed eyes. It was so contrary to his every idea of his father, this extraordinary disappearance. Thomas Haydon was the last man in the world to set tongues wagging and to give anxiety to friends by such a trick. There was something very strange at the back of this, and Jack struck the paper with his open hand. "Foul Play!" he murmured to himself, and then, for he was alone in the carriage, he said it aloud, "Foul Play!"

Jack glanced at his watch. The train was due at St. Pancras in an hour. How slowly that hour dragged! Now that he knew this momentous piece of news, Jack burned more fiercely than ever to be in the midst of affairs and doing something to clear up this strange mystery which had gathered about his father's name. At last, with a thrill of joy, he heard the engine give its warning shriek as it ran into the big station. He had brought nothing but a Gladstone bag with him, and he had it in his hand, and the door of the carriage open, before the train drew up. He made a leap at the first hansom, and shouted, "Lincoln's Inn. Drive fast," and away he rattled into London streets.

There was a good cob in the shafts, and little time was lost on the way. Jack paid the man double fare for the excellent speed he had made, then bounded upstairs to the landing upon which Mr. Buxton's chambers opened. In answer to his knock, a tall, thin man with a long beard came to the door, and Jack gave a cry of joy. "You are at home, then, Mr. Buxton. How glad I am! It has been my one terror that you might be away in the country."

"No, Jack, I'm here," said Mr. Buxton, shaking hands. "I've been expecting you every knock I've heard. I suppose you've seen the papers."

"Yes," cried Jack, "I saw the Daily Telegraph. Are there any further particulars in the others?"

"No," replied Mr. Buxton, leading the way into his sitting-room. "The Telegraph has as much as anyone."

"Have you heard anything? Do you know anything?" cried Jack eagerly.

"Nothing but what I've seen in the papers," replied the other. "I'm altogether at sea. I can't fathom in the least what it all means. What have you had?"

"Nothing but this cablegram," said the lad, and handed it over. Mr. Buxton read it aloud slowly, and nodded. "From Risley," he said. "Of course he wants to get you on the spot at once."

"I shall start without any delay," said Jack. "Isn't there a boat-train to-night?"

"Yes," said Mr. Buxton, glancing at a clock on the mantelpiece, "but there's plenty of time for that. Sit down and talk it over, and besides, you must have something to eat."

He rang the bell and ordered the servant who answered it to set out a meal in the adjoining apartment: he gave Jack a chair beside the fire, and took one opposite to him and began to fill a pipe.

"Mr. Buxton," said Jack earnestly, "there's something out of the common in this. My father has met with foul play. Before I know anything else I feel sure of that."

Mr. Buxton struck a match and puffed out several clouds of smoke. Then he tossed the match into the fire, and nodded through the tobacco clouds. "I agree with you, Jack," he said. "This is the queerest thing I ever came across in my life. I've known Tom Haydon, boy and man, this forty-five years, and he's as straight as a gun-barrel. If they expected him back at that hotel, if Risley expected him back, then he meant to come back. And if he didn't get back, it was because he was interfered with. I'd stake a hand on that."

Jack nodded with glistening eyes. "And I'm going to see why he didn't come back," said the lad.

"I'd come with you if I could," said Mr. Buxton, "but at present I can no more leave London than the Monument can. I'm as fast by the leg, held by press of work, as a bear tethered to a stump. How do you stand for funds?"

"I've only got a sovereign or two in my pocket," said Jack. "I was depending on you."

"Yes, yes," said Mr. Buxton, "of course you were. I made time an hour or so ago to run over your father's accounts. There's plenty to draw on." He went over to his desk and ran his fingers through a

bundle of papers. "Here it is," he remarked. "At the present moment your father is worth the respectable sum of forty-seven thousand two hundred and nineteen pounds eighteen shillings and fourpence; so he certainly hasn't run away from his creditors."

Jack nodded. "I'll start straight for Brindisi to-night, Mr. Buxton. I can't lose a minute till I get on to the spot and talk with Buck Risley."

Mr. Buxton nodded. "I quite understand your feelings, Jack," he replied. "I've wondered whether the matter might not have a very simple explanation after all. One thing struck me. Has your father ever said anything about his health to you? You know he's been a great deal in India and Burmah. It's a very easy thing to get a touch of the sun, and that will often cause a man to lose the sense of his identity and get lost for a time."

Jack shook his head. "I've never heard him mention such a thing," he said. "He's always been perfectly fit whenever I've seen him."

"Yes, yes," said Mr. Buxton, "and whenever I've seen him, too. He has a wonderful constitution. But, you know, the possibility crossed my mind, and I mentioned it."

At this moment the servant announced that the meal was ready, and Jack did his best to eat something. It was a very poor best, however, for he was too anxious to be on his way to be able to eat, and he was relieved when Mr. Buxton said it was time to start and sent the servant for a cab.

On their way to Charing Cross they did not talk much: conjecture was a pretty useless thing, and, in their present state of utter lack of information, conjecture was the only thing possible.

The bustle of getting a ticket and finding a seat occupied most of the ten minutes they had to spare before the train started, and, as the swift express glided out, Mr. Buxton waved his hat to Jack leaning through the window, and cried, "Good luck!"

Of Jack's swift scurry across the Channel and over the Continent it is not necessary to enter into details. He made the journey with the utmost speed, and chafed at every delay. At last the train ran into the station of Brindisi, and Jack hung half out of the window, his eyes searching the crowd for Risley, to whom he had telegraphed his time of arrival.

"Hullo, Buck," sang out Jack, as a middle-sized, stiff-built man of five and thirty ran up to his carriage door.

"Glad to see you, Jack," said Buck Risley, as they shook hands. "Very glad to see you."

"Any news?" snapped Jack.

"Not a word," replied Buck gravely, "not a word. Is this your bag?"

"Yes," said Jack sombrely, for he was very disappointed. He had been hoping to hear that something had been found out, or that his father had returned.

Buck took Jack's gladstone, called a carriage, and gave the name of the hotel. He did not speak till they were rattling along the streets of Brindisi.

"Say, Jack, this beats the band," he said. "I can't make a guess what's happened to the Professor."

Mr. Haydon and Buck Risley had first met in a "wild-cat" mining camp in Dakota. The Lone Wolf Clarion had introduced the English engineer to the local community as Professor Haydon, and Mr. Haydon had been the Professor ever since to his part-comrade, part-servant.

"Tell me all about it," said Jack, and Buck began his story. It was soon finished, for there was very little to tell. They had been four months in Burmah, and Mr. Haydon and Buck had gone up to Mandalay, and then on to the Mogok country. At Mogok Buck had been seized with a sharp touch of fever, and had been compelled to remain in that famous mining town while Mr. Haydon went up country, accompanied only by a few natives who had been with him in other journeys. He came back after an absence of five weeks to Mogok, found Buck better, and announced that they would return to England at once. They had packed and started forthwith, and returned by the usual route.

"Did my father seem quite himself, just as usual in every way, Buck?" asked Jack.

"No," said Buck thoughtfully. "He didn't quite. There was somethin' on the Professor's mind, I'm sure o' that."

Jack put forward Mr. Buxton's suggestion, but Buck waved it aside.

"Touch o' the sun," said he. "Oh, no, nothin' like that. The Professor was as fit as he always was, right as a bull-frog in a swamp. No, it was a sort of anxiousness there was about him. He was that careful that you might almost call him fidgetty."

"Fidgetty!" said Jack in surprise, as he remembered the perfectly equable manner of his widely-travelled father.

"Yes, that's as good a word as any I can jump on at short notice," replied Buck. "He seemed as keen on getting back to London as some o' these globetrotters who have got sick o' foreign parts."

"That was rather strange," commented Jack. "You've been with my father twelve years now, Buck. Did you ever see him like it before?"

"Never in my knowledge of him," said Buck, shaking his head. "As a general rule the Professor was as calm an' easy campin' in a jungle as another man in a front seat at a circus. It was all one to the Professor, let things come how they might. But this time he seemed as if his only idea was to get back. Not that he said much about it. The most I ever heard him say was, 'Well, Buck, I don't care how soon I get into Lane & Baumann's office,' an' he only said that once when he was fretted at losing a day by missing a boat at Rangoon."

At this moment the carriage drew up at the door of the hotel. They had scarcely entered the door when the hotel clerk came forward with a cablegram. It was from Messrs Lane & Baumann, asking if anything was yet known of Mr. Haydon.

"If he was anxious to see them, they are just as anxious to see him," said Buck, handing the form to Jack. "Every day they wire, an' sometimes twice a day, to know if I've got hold of any news."

"I wish I'd been to see them before I left London," said Jack. "I might have got some useful information from them. What do you believe has happened to my father?"

"I dunno what to think," said Risley, "except that some o' these Dagoes got him in a corner and went for his pocket-book. He'd got plenty of money with him."

"But if he'd been attacked by thieves," argued Jack, "the police would have found something out before this. He could not have been hidden away from them."

Buck shook his head. "Some o' these Dagoes are very sly and deep," he replied. "I've heard queer stories about 'em at times. They say there are brigands around."

"Yes, yes," said Jack, "in Sicily and in some of the wilder parts of Calabria, but not in Brindisi, Buck, not in this big port."

"Well, I give it up," said Buck, "but there's a queer twist at the bottom of it somewhere. The Professor ain't the sort o' man to worry us by goin' into hiding somewhere, and lyin' low."

"Of course he isn't," said Jack. "My father was prevented from returning to the hotel, that's clear enough; and we've got to find how."

"Say, I'm your man, Jack," returned Buck. "I shan't feel easy till I've had a glimpse o' the Professor with his old, quiet smile on him. We'll hunt every hole there is."

For two days Jack and Buck hunted every hole about Brindisi, and, stimulated by the promise of handsome rewards, the police, too, did their utmost, but all was in vain; the missing man had disappeared as though the earth had opened and swallowed him. Absolutely the only thing out of the ordinary that the police could discover was that a fisherman's skiff was missing one night, and was found the next morning a couple of miles down the coast, floating idly about. But the painter was drifting astern, and it might easily have happened that it had been carelessly fastened, and the rope had slipped from the mooring ring and allowed the skiff to drift away.

On the afternoon of the second day Jack announced his decision. "Buck," said he, "I'm going back to London. I want to see Lane & Baumann. It's quite possible that some information may be gleaned from them which would give us a basis to go to work upon."

"It's no good stopping here," said Risley. "When shall we start?"

"To-night," said Jack, and, being near the station, they turned in to look up the time of the fast express. Jack glanced along the platform, and soon found what he sought, one of Cook's interpreters. "I want to ask some questions of the booking-clerk," he said to the man, slipping several lire into his hand, "you might come and interpret for me."

"Yes, sir," said the man at once, and followed the tall young Englishman to the office. In three minutes Jack had learned what he wished as to the shortest route and fastest trains; then he and Risley set out to return to the hotel. Suddenly Jack remembered another point, and crying, "Half-a-minute, Buck," he rushed back to the office. He thrust open a swing door and saw that the interpreter was still there, and was now in conversation with a smaller man. Jack stepped forward, and the smaller man looked up and gave a short, quick cry of alarm. For a second Jack stood with widely-opened eyes and parted lips, an image of wild surprise. Then darting forward at full speed, he seized the second man by the throat, and clutched him as a lion clutches his prey.

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