The Land of The Lost
The theory Wilfrid had formed led him early the following morning to the hotel, intent on testing its worth by the first means that occurred. Hugh, Jess, and half a dozen others, including the Earl of Baringbroke, who, with characteristic good nature, had returned from the Bay on hearing of Bart's disappearance, had meanwhile resumed the search with an energy and thoroughness that seemed to promise success.
Wilfrid pulled up in front of the verandah, his eye scanning the building with an interest it had never hitherto possessed for him. The innkeeper's name in white letters over the door drew more than a passing glance, and he was still thinking of it when he entered the bar.
He found two persons present in addition to Upmore. One was a freckled man with red skin and hair so light in colour as to appear almost white; the other was a big, ungainly fellow with a long neck surmounted by a small head. They were both more or less grimed from working in the track of the fire, and the face of the bigger man was swollen and discoloured as though from some severe pugilistic encounter. They gazed doubtfully and even suspiciously at Wilfrid as he entered, and the conversation he had heard in full swing while outside came to an abrupt cessation.page 276
"Good day, gentlemen," said Wilfrid, looking smilingly round the group."A charming day."
The freckled man spat viciously on the floor, and was understood to make some reference to the weather of a depreciatory character.
Wilfrid, with unabated good humour, turned to Upmore, still keeping the corner of an eye on the men on the seat.
"I have looked in," he said easily, "in connection with the disappearance of this man they call 'Bart.'"
"What about him?" Upmore asked.
"It is feared he may have been caught in the fire some time during the night before last, and it is proposed to make an exhaustive search of the field."
"Well, you'll find the field outside," said the innkeeper, indicating the doorway.
"Blow me," said the big man, chuckling, "if that ain't a good un."
"In order that the search may be pursued with additional energy," Wilfrid continued, fixing a smiling gaze on the last speaker, "I am commissioned by his lordship the Earl of Baringbroke to offer a reward of a hundred pounds for such information as may lead to the discovery of the missing man or of his body."
There was a silence that appeared to be filled in with reflection. Wilfrid noticed a momentary gleam of cunning in the eyes of the freckled man, and he made a mental note of it for future use. Then he turned to Upmore.
"I have a notice here to the effect I have stated, which it is proposed, with your permission, to fasten up in a conspicuous position on the verandah."
"Don't trouble to ask my permission," Upmore replied. "Placard the house all round if you feel the page 277least inclination to do so. I am merely here, it seems, for the convenience of the public."
"Thank you," said Wilfrid feelingly. "I felt sure of your co-operation. This is the notice. We are having a few copies struck off in type, and they will no doubt be here some time during the day or to-morrow."
"Read 'er out, boss," said the big man. "Let's 'ear what she says."
Wilfrid spread the copy out on the counter, and read as follows:—