The little village of Edgewater was covered by the inky pall of night.
The big clock on the steeple of the town hall had just tolled the hour of twelve.
Ever since night set in the clouds had been heavy and threatening, and as the midnight hour arrived the storm burst forth in all its fury.
The wind arose to a perfect hurricane, and the rain came down in torrents.
Van Vincent, a bright, handsome youth of eighteen years, who is to figure as the hero of this story, was awakened from his slumber by the creaking of the beams and timbers in the old-fashioned house he called his home.
Van was an orphan, as far as he knew, and lived with an uncle, who was reported as being very wealthy, though the house he lived in and his everyday appearance would not lead anyone to think so.
The last Van had ever heard of his father he had gone to Africa with an exploring party.
That was fifteen years before, and up to this time none of the party had ever returned.
Ralph Vincent, the uncle of Van, had given the boy a good education, and obtained for him the situation of bookkeeper in the largest store in Edgewater.
Consequently Van loved and respected his uncle, who had often declared that the boy should inherit what little he possessed in earthly goods.
As Van was awakened by the violence of the storm on the night upon which our story opens, he felt rather uneasy.
He had been aroused from a bad dream, and it took him several seconds to realize that he was home and in bed.
"My!" he exclaimed, leaping out of bed; "this is a fearful storm. I must close the window."
He started toward a window, the sash of which was lowered slightly, allowing the rain to dash into the room.
Just as he did so he heard a blood-curdling cry that nearly froze his soul with horror.
"Help! murder! mur——"
For the space of ten seconds Van stood as if transfixed.
The terrible cry came from his uncle's room, which was on the first floor, and almost directly beneath him.
The boy knew, too, that it was his uncle's voice that uttered the cries, and seizing a revolver from the drawer of the bureau in his room, he darted downstairs.
Reaching the door of the room whence the cries came, he found it locked.
Van Vincent was not the sort to be balked very easily when he started to do a thing. Taking a few steps back[Pg 2]ward, he let his whole weight go against the door and forced it from its hinges.
The next instant he was in the room.
Almost the first object he saw was a man clambering from an open window.
He raised his revolver, but too late! the intruder dropped to the ground below and was lost in the storm and darkness.
Van made a move to spring through the window after him, but a faint voice coming from the bed checked him.
"Van, c-c-come h-e-re!"
The next moment the boy was at the side of the bed, where his uncle lay in a pool of blood, breathing heavily.
"Van, I have been murdered!" exclaimed Ralph Vincent, faintly.
The look on his uncle's face told Van that what he said was true.
Just at that moment an old man called Ben, who was the only male servant about the house, came rushing in the room in a terrified manner.
"Oh, Lord!" he exclaimed, wildly. "Whatever has happened, Mr. Vincent?"
"Silence, Ben!" spoke up the dying man. "Van, hand me a glass of brandy and I will try and describe my murderer so that you may hunt him down and bring him to justice."
Half bewildered, Van did as he was directed, while the servant strove to quench the blood that was flowing from a ghastly wound in his employer's side.
Instead of making him rally, the glass of brandy set the dying man to coughing, and when the spell ceased he was so weak that he could not speak above a whisper.
He managed to articulate the words:
"Doc Clancy—an old enemy to our family—sandy mustache—thumb missing from right hand!"
These were the last words Ralph Vincent ever spoke, for the next moment he fell back and his soul fled to its Maker.
What lay upon the bed now was a heap of senseless clay.
"Heaven save us! but this is awful!" groaned Ben, the servant. "Who committed this terrible crime, Master Van?"
"A man named Doc Clancy; that is what uncle stated with his dying breath. Do you know or have you ever heard of such a person, Ben?"
Van turned his gaze full upon the servant as he spoke, but one glance in old Ben's eyes told him plainly that he knew nothing whatever about the murderer.
"You had better go and rouse some of the neighbors, Ben," spoke up Van, after a pause. "I will wait here till you come back."
"Yes, sir," and old Ben was off like a shot.
In less than half an hour a dozen or more people were gathered at the scene of the tragedy.
But no one touched the corpse until the coroner arrived, shortly after daylight.
An examination showed that Ralph Vincent had been stabbed through the right lung by some unknown person, and this was the verdict rendered by the coroner's jury.
All that day a crowd of the villagers thronged the house, and Van went about among them like one in a dream, hardly able to realize what had happened a few short hours before.
But his uncle's last words rang constantly in the boy's ears, and he made up his mind that as soon as the funeral was over he would start out to hunt down the villain called Doc Clancy, who had a thumb missing from his right hand.
The day of the funeral came, and the remains of Ralph Vincent were interred.
Then came the reading of the will, and, to Van's astonishment, a man whom he had never seen before was present.
Before the will was read the lawyer introduced the stranger to Van as an own cousin and a nephew of the murdered man, who had just returned from a foreign port the day following the crime.
Van was not a great deal surprised at this, as he knew he had cousins whom he had never seen.
But what was his astonishment when the will had been read and he found that he had been utterly ignored by his uncle, and that John Moreland, the stranger, came in for the entire property?
But there it was in black and white, with his uncle's signature and those of the witnesses.
The eyes of all those assembled in the room were turned upon Van when this startling fact came to light.
But the boy was not a bit more pale than he had been since the murder, and regarding the looks of the inmates of the room as a question put to him, he said in a clear, calm voice:
"I care not for the fact that my uncle left me out of his will. He has always been kind to me since I can remember, and I appreciated it and loved him. My mission now is to hunt down his murderer and bring him to justice, and I swear to do it. Cousin John Moreland, I congratulate you on being the heir to uncle's estate. Accept my hand on it."
As Van clasped the hand of John Moreland a sudden thrill shot through his frame, and he glanced downward.
The hand he held in his own was minus the thumb.
In the twinkling of an eye Van's whole manner changed.
With the force of an enraged lion he seized the man by the throat and hurled him back against the wall.
Then in a voice that rang out like a clarion note, he exclaimed:
"I accuse this man of being the murderer of my uncle!"
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