lerk's coat, "there be summun up yander in the church. I heerd un lock the door on hisself—I heerd un strike a loight wi' a match."
The clerk trembled and leaned against me heavily.
"Come! come!" I said encouragingly. "We are not too late. We will catch the man, whoever he is. Keep the lantern, and follow me as fast as you can."
I mounted the hill rapidly. The dark mass of the church-tower was the first object I discerned dimly against the night sky. As I turned aside to get round to the vestry, I heard heavy footsteps close to me. The servant had ascended to the church after us. "I don't mean any harm," he said, when I turned round on him, "I'm only looking for my master." The tones in which he spoke betrayed unmistakable fear. I took no notice of him and went on.
The instant I turned the corner and came in view of the vestry, I saw the lantern-skylight on the roof brilliantly lit up from within. It shone out with dazzling brightness against the murky, starless sky.
I hurried through the churchyard to the door.
As I got near there was a strange smell stealing out on the damp night air. I heard a snapping noise inside—I saw the light above grow brighter and brighter—a pane of the glass cracked—I ran to the door and put my hand on it. The vestry was on fire!
Before I could move, before I could draw my breath after that discovery, I was horror-struck by a heavy thump against the door from the inside. I heard the key worked violently in the lock—I heard a man's voice behind the door, raised to a dreadful shrillness, screaming for help.
The servant who had followed me staggered back shuddering, and dropped to his knees. "Oh, my God!" he said, "it's Sir Percival!"
As the words passed his lips the clerk joined us, and at the same moment there was another and a last grating turn of the key in the lock.
"The Lord have mercy on his soul!" said the old man. "He is doomed and dead. He has hampered the lock."
I rushed to the door. The one absorbing purpose that had filled all my thoughts, that had controlled all my actions, for weeks and weeks past, vanished in an instant from my mind. All remembrance of the heartless injury the man's crimes had inflicted—of the love, the innocence, the happiness he had pitilessly laid waste— of the oath I had sworn in my own heart to summon him to the terrible reckoning that he deserved&