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The Australian authoress Mary Helena Fortune (ca. 1833-1911) was one of the first women to write detective fiction, and probably the first to write it from the viewpoint of the detective. Her opus includes several novels and over 500 stories, many of which feature a detective by the name of Mark Sinclair. She wrote under the pseudonyms "Waif Wander" and "W.W."
I, MARK SINCLAIR, had been closeted with the chief of our department for some time and had received ample instructions for my guidance on the duty on which he was about to send me.
"I have chosen you because you are old enough to hold your tongue, Sinclair," he concluded, "and also because you have some little acquaintance with the locality. Are you quite certain that you understand fully the line of action I wish you to carry out and not to diverge from?"
"Quite certain, sir. I have made ample notes."
"To carry with you?" he questioned sharply.
"Yes; but there is no danger of them appearing against me, sir, for I always make my private notes in a cipher of my own invention."
"Oh, that's all right then."
"When am I to start, sir?"
"Today," he replied. "Go by train as far as Gunbar. At the police station there you can supply yourself with a horse, and proceed as circumstances direct."
So that is how I became mixed up in the tale I am about to relate to you.
I made my preparations and took my seat in the train within two hours of the time I left our inspector's office. I was in plain clothes, and had my rugs in a strap, and my valise under my seat. I had also a revolver, you may be sure, nor had I neglected the usual pair of steel bracelets, while my detective card was securely stowed away in an inner breast pocket.
During the long journey I had ample time to think over my instructions, and arrange my ideas concerning them and how I should best carry them out. At the different stopping places travelers came and went into and out of the carriage in which I sat; but though I was in reality watching everything and every one, I took care to seem so engrossed with my book that no one suspected me of undue curiosity, nor do I suppose that there were any among the passengers who had occasion to dread the watch of a detested.
At a lonely little country platform, however, there entered into my car two persons who interested me, though there was nothing in their appearance to suggest any connection with my private notes. They were a much muffled and very frail looking old woman, who was supported, and indeed half led, into a seat by a very young and not tall gentleman, whose devotion to the old person was displayed with the greatest activity in both word and deed.
The old woman was seated opposite to me, and I had ample time to see all that was to be seen of her, but that was little after all. Although it was summer, and the day warm, she was wrapped in a large mantle, the cape of which was drawn over a close black satin bonnet in hood fashion. Of her face nothing was visible save a portion of a wrinkled forehead, on which rested the borders of a widow's cap, and a pair of dull, sunken eyes that appeared to have little speculation in them, I made some few attempts to cultivate the old lady's acquaintance, but they were not responded to by even a reply.
"Pray excuse my mother," the young gentleman explained. "She is in very poor health, and quite unfit for conversation. She has had a severe paralytic seizure, and is not yet quite recovered."
"Ah, indeed? I am sorry I annoyed her by speaking."
"Oh, it doesn't annoy her, poor soul! Only so far as she feels greatly her incapacity for properly replying to kindly meant attentions. Are we far from Gunbar, do you think?"
"We are close on it," I replied, as I consulted my time table; "the station we have just passed is the last. Are you going much farther? Can I be of any assistance in helping?" and I glanced inquiringly toward the old lady.
"No, thank you all the same, our journey goes to Illilliwa, but a trap will be sure to meet us at Gunbar."
A "trap" met me too, but it was one mounted on a good horse, and leading another by the bridle. It was the trooper in charge at Gunbar and a horse he had brought for my accommodation.
"Hallo! Is it possible that it is you, Maurice?" I exclaimed, as I recognized an old chum; "this is indeed an unexpected pleasure."
"Surely you heard the name of the man at Gunbar?" he asked in rather a disappointed tone. "I knew it was you as soon as your coming was notified to me."
"I did hear that Constable Brennan was here, but how could I guess that it was my old chum Maurice Brennan? I'm heartily glad, however, that it is so, for you and I know how to work together."
As I was speaking my fellow-travelers in the train came slowly along the platform, the young man carefully supporting the feeble steps of his mother. They both appeared to be looking anxiously toward the road where Brennan and I were preparing to mount.
"You see the old woman and young man?" I asked, as I was strapping my valise on the saddle.
"I have been observing them, but they are strangers to me. Here, however, comes one who appears to know them."
An odd-looking trap was being rapidly driven toward us by an odd-looking yet gentlemanly man. The driver was not over forty, tall and thin, and with a clean-shaved face. He wore a suit of white duck from neck to heel, and a broad Panama hat, from which a monstrous puggaree floated, shading his well-cut brown face and hair black as night. As he drove his pair of excellent bays a large diamond flashed in the sunlight on his left hand, but the diamond was set in a heavy and somber-looking mourning ring.
As for the conveyance he drove it could not be assigned any name in the nomenclature of known vehicles. It was a hybrid between an American express wagon and a hawker's cart, or a furniture van on a small scale. The springs were easy, yet strong, and the covering impervious to weather, but of the accommodation inside no idea could be formed, as the vehicle had no visible entrance.
"What a strange turn-out!" I said as it dashed past us, and the driver nodded easily to my friend Maurice. "How the deuce do they get into it?"
"From the front I have heard; but you will see presently, for he's come for your fellow-travelers, I see."
"Who is he? He saluted you, I noticed."
"Oh yes, there are not many unacquainted with 'the man in charge;' but is it possible that you don't recognize him by description? That is Mr. Hewston, of Illilliwa."
"What! Well, then, all I can say is that he must be as good at making up as I am myself. Where's the black beard and the heavy moustache?"
"Oh, he always shaves in summer, though most men think the beard a protection even in summer; but he's an odd man altogether."
We mounted just as Mr. Hewston was, with some difficulty and the assistance of the younger gentleman, getting the old lady into the van-like vehicle.
"And you have no idea who the visitors may be?"
"I have just remembered that, when we were up at Illilliwa the other day for forage, Hewston said a word or two about expecting his sister-in-law and nephew—I suppose these are they."
"Um-m! We must keep our eyes open, Maurice. Ay, and our mouths shut, so don't say a word of any kind of business until we are safe in camp. By George, it's well a trooper's horse can't speak, as Balaam's ass did!" The vehicle in which we were interested soon made up with us, and, to our surprise, Mr. Hewston pulled up and spoke.
"I'm keeping that hay for you, Brennan—when will you send for it?"
"As soon as we get our stock of wood in, Mr. Hewston. Will it inconvenience you to keep it for a week or so?"
"Not at all. I have just been to meet my nephew and his mother, who are going to keep me company for a little at Illilliwa. Am I acquainted with your friend?" and he bent from his seat to get a good look at me, for I was hidden partially behind the vehicle.
"No, Mr. Hewston, you can hardly know Mark. He is an old schoolmate of mine going to stop at the camp for a day or two."
"Ah! Well bring him to Illilliwa in one of your rides. I shall be glad to see him and you. Gunbar is a dull hole, and even a visit to the station will be a change," and, with a bow to me, the odd looking gentleman drove off. "It's a pity he saw you so close," Maurice said shortly.
"Why?" asked I.
"Why! What a stupid question. You don't want him to know you have anything to do with the police, do you?"
"Ha! Ha! Maurice, my dear fellow, it's easy seen you have never been a D. I can disguise so that even you wouldn't know me."
"Where's the material?"
"There," I answered, as I laid my hand on my valise.
Evening found Maurice and me seated on the little verandah of the solitary police camp, with each a comforting pipe and a certainty of no listeners. The foot-policeman, who did duty as assistant mounted man under my friend Brennan, was engaged in and around the stable at the back, and no one could approach the station without being seen by either him or ourselves.
"Now let us talk this matter over," I began. "In the first place, how far is it to Illilliwa?"
"Only a nice walk, so far so good. And now, how far have you really been initiated into the case on which I have been sent up?"
"Not very far. I have received instructions that a notorious forger named Blewett, with half a dozen aliases, had eluded the police so successfully in Melbourne that no trace of him could be found. His description was forwarded, and I was ordered to keep my eyes open in my district."
"Yes. What description did they give you?"
"Forty-five, middle sized, thin and wiry in build. Has sharp features, and pale blue or grey eyes, short brownish hair, and a slight impediment in his speech, also a noticeable Yorkshire accent."
"Yes, that's it."
"That was the first communication I got from headquarters; and the second stated that, in consequence of a suspected and intercepted postal card, an acquaintance between Blewett and Hewston of Illilliwa was suspected, and I was urgently recommended to watch the latter closely, as well as to scan all addresses on his correspondence so as to recognize Blewett's writing if the forger should address anything to Illilliwa; and then your coming was intimated, and that's all I know."
"Well, there is little more to know, but after you got that last notice another post-card was intercepted—I have it here, you can read it for yourself," and I extracted the card in question from my pocket-book and gave it to Maurice. It was addressed to:
A. Hewston, Esq.,Illilliwa, Gunbar
and contained the following words:—
"I have safely shipped the piano and gunny bags as per order, and hope you will receive both consignments safely on or before the 13th inst."
There was no signature.
"That is all, and it was what sent me up in such a hurry."
"Well, I must own that I can make nothing out of it. What did they want you to do?"
"Intercept the piano and gunny bags, I guess, and discover if they may not have some contraband articles packed up with them," I returned, with a smile.
"Oh, you're at your old games, Mark; but I don't see any use in your trying to blind me. I could have watched for the goods well enough myself, and it's not that which has brought you to Gunbar."
"No. I am here to watch Hewston himself, who, as you know, is suspected of some communication with Blewett. Still there may be some trick about the goods—it would not be the first time a man escaped concealed in a piano. Once at Illilliwa, nothing would be easier than for Blewett to make tracks to the sea border."
We talked a good deal before retiring, and who could dream that the Jew hawker who tramped over the boundary of Illilliwa station on the following morning was Detective Sinclair; or that the crisp, black, curly wig under the felt helmet covered the short, fashionably cut hair of a member of the Force who has had as much experience as most of his fellow D's. in this or any other colony?
My name was "Leir," of course, and I put an "Isaac" before it. My clothes were such as you may see on any Jew hawker, and as seedy and dirty as was requisite. My stock-in-trade was contained in a cedar box, covered with black American cloth, and consisted of the usual to be easily seen Brummagem jewelry, and window glass, spectacles, etc., with a not easily to be seen or got at collection of real jewelry, and valuable jewelry too. Oh, that was easily managed, bless you! You should see our display of unclaimed stolen goods at the Detective Office.
On the borders of Illilliwa estate a belt of bush land ran along by the main road, but through this bush there was a footpath that led across the paddocks and up to the station, which saved me a good two miles' round of a walk. Maurice had told me that on the Illilliwa side of the trees there was a hut in which an old station hand had his abode, and from a few dropped hints of this man I was determined to see him, and so kept a good look-out for the hut.
It was easily seen. Under the overhanging boughs of a great peppermint tree it stood, a rough, weather-beaten tint, with the usual attempt at a chimney, and a few bush tools laid against the slab walls; and what was better than all, to my idea, was the form of a worn-looking man, who was sitting on a stone outside the door, busy in trying to patch in the one glass of a broken pair of spectacles, the object of mending which was evident in the greasy newspaper, at his feet, which the warm breeze was lifting and rustling fitfully.
He looked up at my step, but showed little interest in the wrinkled, discontented-looking face, with the deep set eyes, the high, sharply ridged nose, or the almost toothless mouth, so firmly sat under a grizzly grey moustache; he only resumed his attention to the broken glass. I drew the belt of my box over my shoulder, and set the precious article on the grass at my feet, as I sat down on a log at the distance of a few feet from him.
"I'm tired, mate, and I don't think you will mind me resting here for a spell."
"Oh no," he grunted; "that path's allays looked on as a thoroughfare. Be ye goin' up to the house?"
"I was making that way. Do you think I have a chance of doing any business there?"
"Depends on what ye got to sell. There's a good many hands o' one sort an' another; but I don't think the Super himself will trouble ye. Ye hain't got anything flash enough for his lordship, I guess," and a cruel look came into the old man's eyes, though they were bent on his one-eyed spectacles.
"Here I am, blind, and can't even see the bit of news without my spectacles; but he wouldn't think o' that, though he's been twice to town since I broke 'em, damn him."
There was an intensity of passion in his utterance of the muttered curse that assured me it was from his heart, and I went on in hope of making something more out of the feeling.
"When a man's eyesight begins to fail, he's helpless without his glasses," I said; "but, poor as I am, I won't see you stuck up for want of spectacles. Take a pair to suit you, and I'll make you a present of them."
The old chap looked at the handful of wire-rimmed glasses I laid on the ground beside him, and then he looked into my face. The look was a keen one, and the expression that accompanied it in the old visage was one of suspicion and doubt.
"You look as if there was Jewish blood in you," he said: "but I never heard of a Jew making a present unless he wanted something five times as vallyable back for it. Now, what may ye be wantin' from me?"
"Nothing," I replied, with a light laugh. "After all, even a hard Jew might give a pair of these without being generous; they only cost a shilling or two a gross."
He shook his head, but was not proof against the temptation, no matter to what it might tend. One by one he lifted and tried the spectacles, holding the soiled paper at arm's length or nearer until he had satisfied himself of the respective merits of the respective glasses, and only then he spoke as he removed a pair from his nose.
"I'll take them, and thank ye, for they're first-rate; but the Super must pay ye for them."
"Who is the Super? I mean by what name am I to ask for him?"
"Mr. Hewston, of course—Allan Hewston."
"Not the Mr. Hewston of Illilliwa they talk about in the township?" I asked, in unfeigned surprise.
"Why, I thought Illilliwa was Mr. Hewston's own property."
"Ha, ha! So does many a one, and so he likes them to think; but he's only the Super for all that, and he knows that old Jim knows it too! Just ye tell him that old Jim took a pair of specs, and that he's to pay for them. That will be enough; oh yes, that will be enough."
The triumph of the old bushman's tones was so evident that no ordinary ears could fail to detect it, and my ears, not being ordinary ones, gave me evidence that in this man, could I secure him, I should gain an invaluable informer on the doings at Illilliwa station.
"Well, I'll tell him," I said, as I re-fastened my box and again slung it over my shoulder. "Have you seen anything of the visitors that came to the station yesterday?"
"Visitors? Yesterday? I saw no visitors."
"Some came, then, for I saw them myself. They came up in the train, and Mr. Hewston met them with a trap."
"What kind were they?" was the eager question.
"An old sick lady and a young man. I heard say they were Mr. Hewston's nephew and his mother."
"He has no nephew hasn't Allan Hewston," the old man said, with a contemptuous twist of his mouth. "I know all about him, and he has no nephew. But I'll find out very soon what visitors he's got, and let him know he don't have any on the sly without old Jim knowin'"
With these strange words about his employer on his lips, the old man got up and lifted his axe. "It wants grinding'," he muttered, "and I'll go up and grind it," and so, without taking further notice of me, he marched sturdily up the slope toward Illilliwa, with the axe resting on his shoulder.
I followed him slowly, trying to think out any probable hold this man might have on Allan Hewston; for that there was a something I was positive. All I could do was, however, to trust to the chapter of accidents that had so often professionally benefited me, or, in other words, to "trust in Providence and keep my powder dry."
Illilliwa was a cattle station, and a homestead not of the pretentious class so frequently observable on sheep stations. The house was of wood, "a thing of shreds and patches," that is to say, a collection of addenda in the shape of rooms built on here and there to the original building, and embowered in an overgrown six or seven acres of orchard and shrubbery amalgamated. At the back, though at the distance of a hundred yards or so, was a perfect village of outbuildings for various uses, and in the middle of them a large yard; toward this yard old Jim shaped, and I followed him.
The odd vehicle I had seen at Gunbar on the previous day stood in the yard I speak of, and a man was engaged in mopping and generally polishing it up. My new acquaintance of the spectacles stopped and spoke to this man.
"Cleanin' up Noah's Ark be ye? Where's he bound for this time, Mat?"
"Nowhere, as I knows on. He was down at Gunbar yesterday, and I'm a jest cleanin' her up a bit."
"Ay, ay, I'd forgotten. Ye've got some visitors I hear?"
"I believe so. Relations I think."
"Relations?" repeated old Jim, sneeringly. "Where are they now?"
"I don't know, sprawlin' about somewhere in the aristocracy quarters I suppose. Hallo! Who's this?"
The question applied to me, for the man had only just observed me, though I was within a few yards of him.
"I am a peddler, my friend, and will be glad to sell you any little thing in my way."
"Sell me anything? God help your innocence, man! No one ever has money on this station."
"Oh, if you don't believe me, ask old Jim there."
"It's quite true, mate. Mr. Hewston keeps a store here, and sells to the hands so readily that when pay day comes there's nothing to draw. Ha, ha! Allan Hewston knows how to work the oracle."
"I suppose I must try himself," I returned. "Will you tell me the most likely place to see him?"
"On the front verandah, with a pipe in his jaw and a glass of liquor by his side," was the prompt reply; "and you can't go wrong if you go in that little gate and follow your nose. Don't forget what I told ye to say about the specs."
It was the old man that spoke, and to whom I returned, in a low voice—
"If they sell spirits here you will be able to get a bottle. Take it to your hut, and I will see you again."
From the gleam in his eyes, and the quick grasp at the coin I slipped into his hand, I saw at once that my bait had taken, and went on my way rejoicing.
Following the way indicated by old Jim, I found myself very soon in the shaded front of the house, or rather houses, and in the almost immediate presence of Hewston and his visitors.
Hewston was lounging in a verandah chair, occupied precisely as old Jim had foretold; a cigar was in his mouth, a glass half emptied on the floor of the verandah by his side. My fellow-traveler, the old woman, was propped up with pillows and rugs on a lounge, and her son, in loose linen costume, was sitting on the floor with his back against a post, and a heap of tangled vine leaves half hiding his laughing face.
For they had all been laughing. As I came in view and Hewston caught sight of me, he started and took the cigar from his mouth; but what astonished me more was the sudden movement of the invalid, who got on her feet with an agility I should not have given her credit for, and then fell back again and hurriedly drew up the rugs her movement had disordered.
"What's up?" asked the young man whose back was to me. "What are ye all pumping at? Is it a snake?" And he got up and saw me. "Oh, a peddler, eh?"
"A travelling jeweler, sir. Can I do any business with you today?" I said, as I unslung my box and laid it on the verandah, which was a couple of feet higher than the gravel on which I stood.
Mr. Hewston replaced his cigar between his lips, but I could see that his keen deep-set eyes were closely scanning me as I unhooked my box and exposed the trays with their glittering contents. The young gentleman had advanced with an eagerness that augured well for my hopes of at least an inspection of my wares.
"Jewelry!" he exclaimed contemptuously, as he lifted and examined some of the ornaments. "Do you call this jewelry? Why it's all Brummagem or at best gilt."
"True, sir; but I have wares to suit all purses," and as I spoke I unlooked my private compartment and exposed its really valuable contents.
"Ah, that's something like the thing," the young gent cried. "Just look, mother, it would do your heart good just to see it."
"As the lady is an invalid, I may carry the box nearer to her?" I half questioned. And as there was nothing said in disfavour of my proposal, I stepped on the verandah and put the box at her feet; nor did I fail to observe how, as the old woman bent forward and gazed at the glittering objects in my trays, her eyes themselves seemed to glow with a red fire that might have been borrowed from the carbuncle scarf-pin I had lifted and was holding for the young man to view.
"That is a splendid pin, sir. Any gentleman might wear it."
"What do I want with a scarf-pin?" the young fellow cried with a light laugh. "Let me see some pretty rings, or lockets, or brooches."
"You talk like a fool," said Hewston, speaking for the first time, and speaking sharp and angrily. "What will your mother think of you if you talk of buying presents for young ladies? Let me look at that scarf-pin, you peddler."
I handed him the article and watched the hot flush that mounted up to the young fellow's face. I saw easily that it was anger that occasioned the colour and no feeling of awkwardness, for there was a fierce look flashed from his bright eyes at the apparently unconscious Hewston as the young figure was quickly turned with its back toward the Super.
"Have another look at this pin, Frank," said Hewston, as he noted the young man's anger and seemed anxious to soothe it. "It's very fine, and if you think it will suit me I shall buy it for myself."
"I have no opinion, please yourself," was the pettish and contemptuously spoken reply.
"Well, well, purchase a nag or something pretty. I suppose young men must be young men."
"Yes, Mr. Hewston, and young women will be young women. I will buy nothing since I cannot choose as I wish," retorted the young chap Hewston had called Frank, and, as he spoke, he turned and stared right into the Super's face with what I judged to be a threatening look.
While this but half-hidden disagreement was taking place, the old woman had exhibited great symptoms of uneasiness; now she coughed and sat upright.
"I should like to go into the house," she said in a voice that was muffled by a thick handkerchief she held to her lips as she coughed, "I—I am not very well."
"To be sure, to be sure," cried Hewston, rising with alacrity and returning the pin to me. "We have forgotten how weak your poor mother is, Frank; come and help her to the parlor."
"Your patient can do without help from me," was the sulky reply, and the speaker stepped from the verandah and strutted down the garden.
"You may go, my good man," said Hewston to me. "I do not think we are likely to deal with you to-day."
But I had one card yet to play.
"If you please, Mr. Hewston, I want payment for a pair of spectacles," I said coolly.
"A pair of spectacles! What do you mean?"
"One of your men selected and kept a pair of spectacles, and he told me to get payment from you."
"Damn his impudence!" he exclaimed with a sudden explosion of rage, "How dare he! I'll pay for no man's spectacles, and he'll get his discharge for his cheek. Who was the man?"
"He calls himself Old Jim," I replied; "and he seemed very positive indeed that I should have no trouble about the money when you heard the articles were for him."
For a moment Hewston's aspect changed and I saw that the old man's name had not been without a certain effect; but just then a laugh that was jeering and insulting in its tone rang out from behind me, and I saw when I looked that "Frank' had paused and overheard what had passed between Hewston and me.
"Pay for the spectacles!" he cried in a sneering manner. "They're cheaper than a lady's ring, and you may lose something by refusing!"
"I'll not pay for them! I'll be at no man's beck or call, or at a woman's either! You may go to the man himself for the value of your spectacles!"
I threw my leather belt over my shoulder and, with my box, was moving off when Hewston called me. He had been exchanging a few whispered words with the invalid.
"Will you remain any time on the station?" he asked anxiously. "The lady would like to look over your jewelry, but is not well enough just now."
"I do not quite know, sir. Are there any other residences in the neighborhood? If there are I may call again as I come back."
"Oh yes; if you go in that direction," and he pointed eastward, "you will find several farms, and you could easily be here again before night. If you think well of it, I could see you had a bed for the night."
"Well, sir, I'll see," and I went off by the way I had come in, with plenty of puzzles to con over and discover the likely answers to.
As I passed through the yard, I could see nothing of the old man Jim. Mat was still cleaning the vehicle, but I passed on and out into the paddock without exchanging a word with any one. The path I had gone up by, and which led through a great pasture and luxuriant meadow, branches into two about half-way between Jim's hut and the homestead, and, with some idea that he would be awaiting me with the bottle, I turned to the right and sat down under a tree to have a good think before I joined him.
My interview at Illilliwa had given me some strange ideas that were so incongruous as to sadly require arranging and assorting. That there was some mystery in the connection between Hewston and his visitors, and that my jewelry had been the cause of a disruption, was patent; but all else was a puzzle to me, unless one of the strangest ideas I hardly dared to form should prove correct. Yet I was afraid to foster so outré an idea, knowing, as I did, my own tendency to discover, what afterwards proved in some instances to be, "mares' nests" of the first water. Dear and faithful readers of the "Detective's Album," do you remember the circumstances under which I was presented with a leather medal some twenty years ago, and which I related to you so long ago in these pages?
When, remembering the likely impatience of the old man, and how possible it was that he might be of great assistance to me in my object at Illilliwa, I got up and walked toward his hut, I had formed a sort of plan in my head if I could only work it out; and I had determined to exert every effort, fair or unfair, to secure old Jim as an ally; but I found myself in difficulties at the very commencement, for Jim was exceedingly cross, having been honest enough to leave the bottle untouched until I came.
"And I put on a bit o' steak and chops," he said; "for I saw ye coming down the paddock. Where have ye stopped on the way?"
"My box didn't hang right somehow, and I sat down to arrange the straps," I replied; "but I'm here now, so pour us out a drop and let us drink one another's health."
Nothing loath, the old fellow quaffed his grog and put his viands on his dirty table, and while we ate and drank we talked, but our talk soon verged towards the point I aimed at, for I brought in the topic of the spectacles.
"Bah! I think very little of your Hewston, Super, or whatever he may be; he did not take a pennyworth off me."
"But ye got paid for the glasses, I'll warrant."
"No, I didn't; not a penny."
"Did ye ask him?" Jim questioned, as he looked at me ominously and set down his pannikin without imbibing.
"Yes, I did, and got no for an answer."
"Did ye say it was me sent ye?"
"I did, of course."
"Old Jim? Did ye mention old Jim?"
"And he refused?"
"Yes, and went into a regular rage over it."
"Tell me what he said, word for word, as ye remember. Tell me what he said."
I paused to recall the exact words. "He said, with an oath: 'I'll not be at any man's beck or call, I'll not pay a penny for them!' As well as I can think those were Hewston's words."
The old man rose to his feet and raised a knotty, clenched fist, "Let Allan Hewston say that to my face, and by Him that made me I'll make him repent it within four stone walls."
The words were uttered in such an intensity of passion that the wrinkled face was transformed as it were, and I could recognize for the first time in his features the remains of personal vigor and beauty, as well as of the fierce temper that had perhaps been his bane in youth.
I attempted to soothe him, for I wanted no outbreak at that early stage of my duty.
"Bah! The glasses are not worth mentioning, and I may sell something to make up for them tonight, as he has asked me to call again. And, besides, he was put out at the time."
"How put out?"
"There appeared to be some quarrel or disagreement between him and the young man he calls his nephew."
"He has no nephew, I told ye."
"That may be, but I heard him call the young fellow both nephew and Frank."
"What like is the young chap?" asked the old fellow with great curiosity evinced in his eyes as he fixed them on me and resumed his seat.
"He is, I should say, not over twenty or so, medium sized, and well though not stoutly built. His hands and feet are, as I observed, particularly small, and he is a good-looking beardless lad."
"His eyes and his hair—what are they like, eh?"
"His eyes are very fine, but treacherous looking black ones; and his hair is curly, though with such eyes it is unusual to see chestnut hair, but chestnut it is."
"No, it isn't, it's red; say red at once, and be done with it!" the man cried excitedly.
"No, not red; auburn maybe, but not exactly red," I persisted.
"Oh, I know; it's the old dodge. I wonder what deviltry is up now?"
He spoke these words as to himself and with his eyes fixed on the ground. "But I wonder who Frank's mother is;" and then he sat silent, with a hand on either knee, for some minutes.
"Look here!" he cried at length, as he suddenly dashed his fist on the shaky table, "that schemer Hewston is playing me some trick, or he would not dare to hide anything from me! He was glad enough to get my help before he had any one else to depend on—now who is that old woman up there?"
That was a question I was powerless to answer, but should like to have been able to reply; as it was, I shook my head and smoked my pipe in silence. The man's next question "put," as the saying is, "the stuns on me."
"Did you ever hear tell of Slick the Demon?"
The cattle stealer of '53—the man whose rough-riding and audacity were the wonder of the colonies—the criminal for whose apprehension a heavy reward was offered in vain, and who has not been heard of for ten years? I should think I had heard of him, and I said so.
"I could lay my hand on him in twenty minutes," the old fellow roared fiercely, "and Allan Hewston had better mind how he treats me."
"Let me see," I murmured, without seeming to take any special notice of his threats, "I have almost forgotten what particular crime it was that increased that reward for Slick the Demon—there was blood spilling in it, I think."
"He shot down a mate in a fit of passion, and the man never rose from where he fell; but what did it matter? The dead man was only an outlaw like himself," and old Jim relapsed into a thoughtful silence.
Now, what was to be my next step? It would never do for me to hang round Jim's hut until time to go up, as Hewston had suggested, for I might be observed and my object frustrated; so I decided on taking a temporary leave of my host as soon as I could decently go.
"Are there any women up at the homestead?" I asked. "I know Hewston is a single man, but I didn't see even a female servant up there."
"There's only one," was his answer, as he roused himself from deep thought with an effort. "But who told ye that Hewston was a single man, eh? Ha, ha! That's a good one, too. Ye'd better tell 'Frank' that Hewston's a single man, an' there'll be wigs on the green."
"I think I'll go on a mile or two farther," I said again, "and see if I can do any business. What time are you likely to be home tonight?"
"I don't know, but you can get into the hut any time, for it's never fastened. But I can tell you the fencing will not go much ahead with me today, for I won't rest till I know who the old woman, Frank's mother, is. They needn't think to blind me, old as I am. Are you going? Well, so long. I'll go, too, but it's up to the house I'll go, and if I get a chance to see the musical instrument believe me I'll get a tune out of it."
"The musical instrument!"
"Ay, the piano."
"Have they a piano then? Who plays?"
"Hewston plays. Oh yes! And I would take heavy odds that the young gent you call 'Frank' plays too. Ho-ho-ho! What a lark! So long; I'll have the money for the glasses when you come back—never you fear."
I tramped back till I got once more to the main track, and there, before I had gone half a mile, which I passed in a perfect bewilderment of wonder and guesswork, I was glad to see Maurice Brennan riding quickly toward me.
"I never was so glad to see you in my life, man," I declared, as he drew rein beside me.
"It's mutual, Mark, my boy," returned he. "Have you any news?"
"Yours first," I said, "for I see you've heard from town."
"You're right, that came after you left. I suppose they were not sure that you would be at the station, and sent it to me."
I took the official document, opened and read it. There was but little to read, but that little was of consequence.
"Blewett left town for Lampton by rail on Saturday last. Disguised, supposed in female attire. Keep close watch at Gunbar."
"By the lord Harry I've treed him if that's correct," I shouted, as my thoughts reverted to Hewston's invalid visitor. "Let us get a corner in the bush and sit down, Brennan, for I've a lot to tell you."
"What about your dinner, Mark?"
"I've had it. Come, turn in here, I see a log and shade."
So we sat down, and I retailed my experience of the morning.
"I knew old Jim," my mate observed when I had made him acquainted with the particulars of my visit to Illilliwa. "He's a rum old card, but that he has some hold on Hewston I think very probable, for I've heard that he bounces the Boss most unmercifully. I have seen Hewston regularly shut up by him more than once myself; but as to this idea of yours that Hewston is Slick the Demon who has been so long wanted, I think the suspicion is too far fetched."
"The old man's hint was broad enough and plain enough," I replied; "but our business is not the arrest of Slick, but of Blewett. What is your opinion as to the identity of my old lady with the forger."
"It may be. Criminals, especially experienced ones, are up to no end of dodges; but I can't see any sense in him getting safe so far and stopping at Illilliwa."
"I can. How could he escape from this? But if he could manage to lie by at Illilliwa as an old woman visitor until the watch is slackened a bit, there would be a chance of taking passage from Melbourne to 'Frisco, or elsewhere."
"That's true," assented Maurice. "But what is your notion about this Frank?"
"Now, Sinclair, that's not a fair question; you have had a personal experience. Do you think the young man is a young woman?"
"What would you say to his being Hewston's wife? That is my suspicion, and that it was through her cleverness Blewett has got so far safe."
"That would involve some connection between Blewett and Hewston, eh?"
"May not Blewett have been one of Hewston's old gang if he really was Slick?"
"He may; but, Mark, it's all may be with us yet."
"Everything has been 'may be' before it 'was'; but if my idea should prove anything near the real facts I could readily account for the post-card sent to Illilliwa—you know, about the arrival of the piano and gunny bags?"
"How do you make that out?"
"Why, Hewston's wife plays and the piano is an allusion to her, while gunny bags means Blewett in petticoats."
"Oh, you're far too smart in the may be for me, Mark, and I'm sure I'd never make a Detective."
"Don't fret over that, mate, for there's no credit in being a D. nowadays, when some of the black sheep are doing us so much discredit. Now, your advice, mate, how are we to proceed?"
"What's the use of asking me such a question when you have it all cut and dried in your mind already? Detail your plans and you shall have my opinion on them, though it would have no more weight with you than a mosquito bite on my saddle there."
But I have no time to give you my conversation with my old friend in its entirety, nor would it amuse you to read it. We talked for long, and when I returned to old Jim's hut the sun was getting toward the western horizon; but I was glad to see a line of smoke creeping from the chimney and the door standing open, as an indication of the old man's presence. He saw my approach and met me with a triumphant grin on his wrinkled face that assured me he had, or fancied he had, got the better of his supposed employer.
"Any luck?" he asked. "I take it you're ready for a nip out of your own bottle anyhow. Put down the box and sit down."
"Well, how did you get on at the house?" I asked as I obeyed. "You look as if things had prospered with you."
"Prosper? Ha, ha! It's easy to prosper on a journey when ye have a good horse under you and a pocket full of money. There's the money for the glasses."
"Poof! I don't want the money, what odds are a few pence? And here I am going to eat your supper."
"And here I am drinkin' your grog. Well, wonders'll never cease, they say, for ye're the first Jew ever I heard of refuse money."
"Oh, I'm not a full-blooded Jew—perhaps that accounts for it; but how did you get on with the Boss?"
"Meanin' Hewston? That reminds me that he's dreadful anxious for ye not to fail in being up at the house as ye promised. I got strict injunctions to watch for ye, and tell ye not to fail."
"Isn't that strange?" I asked.
"Not a bit to me, man. I see through it as plain as I see your box yonder, and ye may thank the said box for it. Ho-ho-ho! Heaven help the man that has to propitiate a woman for the sake o' keepin' her tongue still!"
"It's a woman, then? The old one?"
"The old one? Faugh! Hewston doesn't care the snap of his fingers for her. No; it's a young one, and she's taken it into her head to hang some more diamonds around her, or lay them by for a rainy day—that's my opinion of it, mate."
"Well, I had better go up, for the sun has set. Hewston said he would find me a bed if necessary, but if I should come down to you I do not suppose you will be against my camping in front of your fire."
"No, no, you'll be welcome, and I wouldn't wonder if ye'd be glad to come; for, by the signs o' the weather, I think there'll be a storm at Illilliwa before the air clears."
"A storm, eh? What do you mean?"
"Never mind, least said's soonest mended. So ye're off, well we'll hear the news when ye get back."
I have said the sun had set, but it was not yet by any means dark but in the shadow of the shrubberies and trees; the lights in the front windows of Illilliwa showed under the verandah as vividly as though gleaming into a moonless night. I met no one, and made my way across the yard and through the little gate I had entered in the morning and so to the front verandah and the door, at which I knocked loudly; but I had to repeat the knock, for as I reached the door, practiced hands were rolling peals of music from a piano, and then a grand female voice burst into a hunting song with a rattling chorus. It was at the end of the first verse that I knocked again.
This time I was heard, and Hewston opened the door himself.
"Ah! It is you? I am glad to see you. Just come in here, will you."
I followed him into a room on the right hand of the entrance where were two females; one was the invalid, the other a stranger to me, an elegantly made, handsome woman of about twenty-five, dressed in the richest and most fashionable attire, and decorated with all the ornamental frippery that women of a certain taste affect. As we entered she turned round her face and laughed, as I thought, mockingly.
"Oh! The peddler! I hope he likes music, since we are obliged to entertain Jews."
If I had been a peddler or a Jew in reality, it is on the cards that I might have taken offence at the rude words; but, being neither, you see, I simply laughed in my sleeve and bowed humbly.
"Stop that damned noise!" exclaimed Hewston, with such a look of terrible rage in his white face and glittering dark eyes, that I began to realize truly how little such a man would shrink from crime were he only once roused.
She stopped, turned round on the music stool, and looked at him fixedly.
"Were you speaking to me?" she asked, with a dangerous curve of her beautiful lips.
"You know I was; don't be such a fool, Frances, but come and look at the man's gewgaws."
"I don't want any of the man's gewgaws," she said, with a hard intonation and a lowering brow; "nor am I a fool, for I know that it was not to sell gewgaws you brought that man here."
Hewston's countenance was terrible in the ill-repressed anger that was at white heat.
"Mind your tongue, woman, or I'll stop it for you!" was what he said as he made a stride toward her.
"You dare to dare me, do you?" she cried, as she stood up and faced him without an apparent fear. "I, who with one word could lay you in the dust?"
"Say it!" he shouted, but he raised his arm as he spoke.
The invalid, who had been lying back in a chair, and well wrapped up in shawls, here rose suddenly and staggered between the belligerents, but Hewston waved her back.
"Don't interfere, this woman wants a lesson; let her get it. Now say that word you are threatening," this to the girl he had called Frances as she stood defiantly before him.
"Do you think I'm afraid of you? Liar, coward, thief, murderer, do you think I am afraid of you?" and her answer was a blow that felled her to the carpet as if stricken down by lightning.
Not a hand was lifted to raise her. I made a step forward, but Hewston stopped me.
"Let her be," he said hoarsely; "I will send some one to her. Come, both of you, with me," and he looked from me to the seeming invalid, who seemed helplessly entangled by the unaccustomed drapery around her.
I once more took up my blessed box and did as I was bid, leaving the insensible woman lying on the carpet. He led the way to a smaller and more plainly furnished room that, from the pipes scattered about, I concluded to be a private sitting-room of his own. Here he handed me a chair, and placed another for the pretended invalid, who was entering with a wonderfully firm and quick step, and then he rang the bell and gave some whispered instructions to the servant that answered it, and then he seated himself and spoke to me quickly and determinedly.
"You have been kept too long in the dark, and we must not waste your time without giving you a due equivalent for it; take that in the meantime."
He laid a five-pound note on the table before me. I looked at the note and at him alternately, but I spoke not a word.
"You will guess that we want assistance from you that has nothing to do with your occupation. Are you willing to earn easily a handsome sum of money?"
"Yes, of course I am, sir, so long as it doesn't get me into any trouble with the law. I'm a poor man, but I'd rather be poor and free than rich and not certain that any hour might not bring a policeman's grip on me."
I saw that even Hewston winced, and that the pretended invalid got as white as a sheet.
"What we want you to do could not in any way reflect on yourself," Hewston replied; "and to let you see that it could not, I will explain. I have a friend under a cloud, that is to say, he has got into trouble with what you are afraid of, viz., the police, and wants to get out of the country, but being watched on all hands cannot get a chance to do it. I have been thinking you could help him."
"How?" I asked, as he paused to observe the effect of his words.
"If he was to dress himself in your clothes I think he could pass as a travelling jeweler, indeed, as yourself; for in complexion he is not at all unlike you, or in build either, and your box over his shoulder would be an excellent disguise."
"But there is value in my box, and the jewelry is not mine," I declared, to gain time and information; but I was only telling the truth, for indeed the jewelry was far from being my personal property.
"I see, you are travailing for a firm, and I am aware that persons of your profession have often a very valuable stock with them. Well, we can come down handsomely for your own benefit, but cannot afford to buy jewelry into the bargain. You could keep your employer's stock and sell the box, which you could easily replace. What do you say? Will you earn fifty pounds that way?"
"What else would I have to do for the money?"
"Very little. My friend could leave early in the morning, and walk to Carlyle, a railway platform a few miles off, in time to catch the first up train. You might supply him with any information regarding your business that might be useful to him if he should happen to be questioned, and perhaps you could give him a hint as to where he could get quiet lodging for a bit, until he secured a passage in some outgoing vessel."
"I could do all you have said," I replied, with very great seriousness; "but is that all I should have to do?"
"All, only that we should want you to stop here at Illilliwa until we had received intimation that our friend had sailed."
"I see, that is for fear I might take the money and turn traitor afterwards?"
"Just so; you are a stranger to us you know."
"And you are a stranger to me; yes. Well, before I give you an answer, has the man you want to get out of the country blood on his hands? If he has, not a finger of mine is lifted for him, and I would not handle the money of a murderer though I was starving."
Hewston became actually livid, and his hands trembled as he rose and steadied himself on the table between as; but the woman that I well knew was no woman rose up and spoke vehemently—
"No, I thank God for that at least, there is no blood on my hands! I shall never see a dead face peering at me in the awful darkness of a murderer's night!"
"Are you the man?" was my apparently astonished cry.
"Yes, I am he, and you may take my money freely, for it is not stained with blood—quick now, do you agree?"
I looked toward Hewston; he had reseated himself and let his face fall forward on his arms, which were crossed on the table. A look of absolute and despairing misery was in every abandoned curve of his figure; an extremity of hopeless woe might be guessed from the utter mental prostration that had so suddenly attacked the man who, in his terrible rage, but a little before had felled a beautiful woman to the ground.
Before I had time to make a reply, I was astonished to see old Jim standing at the door he had unceremoniously opened, and with his rough visage expressing wonder and concern. He did not seem to notice any one but Hewston, whom he touched quickly on the shoulder. The man started up as though he had been galvanized.
"Whatever's up?" asked the old man, "ye are looking awful and white. I say, what's the matter at Illilliwa?"
"Nothing that I know of, that is, nothing fresh. Do you mean to say that you have come up at this hour only to ask what is the matter? Nonsense! You know something, so out with it!" Hewston's face had regained its colour, and his eyes their fire. He stood erect and firmly grasping the back of a chair, as he desperately faced the danger he felt assured of, though he did not know in what form it was coming.
"I know nothing but that she's off," the old man replied; "but I saw her face, and it boded no good."
"Who's off? What do you mean?"
"The woman Frances; she's off toward Gunbar like a flying mad thing. She passed down the path like a flash of lightning, without hat or shawl or covering of any kind. Is there treachery afloat, do you think?"
"We are trapped like dogs!" cried the supposed female, as he looked round as if for immediate arrest; "that woman will never forgive a blow. You were a fool to strike her, Hewston. She has gone to inform the police, and I am ruined as well as you."
"What need you care? You have not murder to answer for," That is what Hewston said as he left the room, followed by old Jim.
My heart was thumping anxiously, and my ears were strained to listen. Had the woman's information at the camp interfered with the arrangements Maurice Brennan had made with me, or would he not keep the appointment he had made? I had asked myself the question over and over again ere I saw that Blewett had divested himself of his female robes and was pushing them piecemeal into the fire that burned largely on the broad hearth. A comical object he looked too, as he pranced around in white cotton drawers, brandishing a poker in one hand as he occasionally prodded the burning clothing to accelerate its destruction.
"Quick! Off with your togs, man, and hand them here!" he shouted as he almost forcibly pulled off my coat. "That is Hewston's room, and you will find plenty of clothes in it. If I don't get disguised before the police come I am undone!"
Disguised? In another few moments, at the rate he was going on, my disguise would cease to exist, so I temporized by going into the indicated room and substituting Hewston's apparel for my own, which Blewett donned in a wonderfully short space of time; yet still I heard no sounds of Brennan's approach.
"What if she has recognized me," I thought, anxiously, "and has only gone to put Maurice on a false scent? A man never knows how he has a woman; I've known them to die under the blows of a man they could have hanged with a breath from their lips."
"Tour best plan would be to leave the house," I said to the forger, for whose arrest I was quite capable single handed; "and then, if they come to catch you, you will have evaded them at least until daylight."
"They are not coming for me, but for Hewston," he said; "but I should be recognized all the same, so your advice is good. I am ready to go," and he opened the door to peer out into the deepening gloom.
To the better arrangement of my tale of Illilliwa it is well that I return to the woman whom Hewston's blow had left stunned on the drawing-room floor. Stunned, I have said; for the vitality, as well as the courage and determination of the unfortunate creature, was of the most powerful quality, and it was not many seconds before she had recovered consciousness and got up to her feet; but feeling faint and dizzy though she did, her hot blood was boiling with a fierce rage, and every pulse panting for revenge. With Frances Yokes to be insulted was to be avenged without consideration of obstacles or danger; and getting up after a moment's rest she opened the window and slipped out.
"He thinks I am half killed, I suppose," was what she thought; "but he will soon try to stay my purpose, so I will go before I am missed, and woe be to the man who drives me out in the lone night to become an accursed informer!"
Down the paddocks she ran, as old Jim had said, and she was close on his hut before she thought of avoiding it. The light from the opened door frightened her into diverging so as to seek the shelter of the bush as soon as she had passed it, but not before Jim had seen and recognized her, as you are already aware; then she took to the main road and, in semi-darkness, for it was now starlight, ran or walked towards Gunbar.
Her object, as you have guessed, was what old Jim had predicted—she was going to the police camp to give up the man she had ruined herself for, and whom also she had loved with the fierce love of an ill-regulated nature. As she sped on her unholy errand the pain of Hewston's blow burned on her temple, but it stung her heart with a far more unbearable pain. Her long silk skirts clung to and clogged her feet; her light, high-heeled shoes were totally unsuitable to the uneven surface of the bush track; but she felt nothing of the discomfort, she only knew that Hewston had struck her and that she would be revenged if she died for it.
If she died for it? Poor soul, if she could only have looked a little beyond her! If she could have known how near was the punishment of her own sin, would she have almost flown to secure the punishment of the sins of another? If she had realized that Death stood gauntly in the way before her, would she have turned back? Only He who knows all knows that.
She had gone nearly a mile when one of the sudden windstorms so common to Australia began to come roaring through the far-off forest like a mighty sea of waters, rolling nearer and nearer and bringing with it and before it a cold air that seemed to pierce the very marrow of her bones. Louder and louder roared the overwhelming storm, and crashing trees and giant limbs fell and broke as it passed and crushed them as trees and limbs of glass. An awful horror took possession of Frances Yokes, and she drew to the opposite side of the track, as if the intervening road could protect her from what she feared.
Then came growling distant thunder, and sudden flashes of lightning that darted across the dark, ominous clouds, and as the woman bent her head and tried to cover her eyes from the lightning she feared, the jewels on her white fingers flashed in rivalry to the gleams of electricity. There was another and a fiercer volume of storm-hurled wind, and her ears were for a moment deafened by the crashing of breaking timber, and wild dashing of leafy boughs, ere she was stricken to the earth by a heavier blow than had ever been struck by the arm of living man.
Through the wind-storm came Maurice Brennan and the other constable who was stationed at Gunbar, to keep the appointment made with me during our interview earlier in the day. As the storm increased and the crashing of fallen trees and broken timber made a horrid accompaniment to the war of the elements, the horses stopped short and seemed inclined to retrace their steps.
"The animals have more sense than we have," Constable White cried; "for they know they are risking their lives. Why, don't you see it is tempting Providence to be in the bush in such a wind? We don't know the moment a limb may be down on us."
"I know Sinclair will have some kind of news for us, and will keep to his time and place, so I will be there, storm or no storm. If you are afraid, you can go back."
Before White had time to retort a tree, not far in advance of them, seemed to part with some of its branches that came down with a crash, but it was too dark for them to see the exact spot.
"That's on the road," cried White; "didn't you hear the thud of the butt on the hard ground?"
"Yes, and I thought I heard a cry. Push on a bit farther." They urged forward the unwilling horses, who shortly after intimated their knowledge that their progress was barred by stopping short and refusing to move another step.
"Get down, White; there's a limb of a tree right across the track, and I am certain I hear moans."
Both men alighted, and as the fierce blast that had swept over the forest with such destructive violence seemed to have spent itself as suddenly as it had gained power, no doubt could be longer felt, for the moans of a suffering human being were plainly to be heard on their right.
"This way, the branch has fallen on some one. God forbid that it is Sinclair! White, you have the lantern-alight it."
To obey, White bent in the shelter of the fallen mass of foliage and struck a match. As the match caught the wick of the lamp and it ignited slowly, the first rays flashed full into the face of a woman—a face awful with pain and terror, a face in which the terrible eyes gleamed with a fearful and never-to-be-forgotten dread—the face of Francis Yokes.
"Lord, have mercy on us, it's a woman!" cried the horrified policeman. "Come here and lift, White; this branch is lying right across her body. Courage, you'll soon be free."
"Free! Yes, I shall soon be free indeed," she gasped, as the branch was lifted and she was gently raised to a more natural position. "For the mercy of Heaven, don't move me; it is torture. I am dying."
"Here, try to swallow a drop of this," urged Maurice Brennan, as he put his flask to her lips; "it will revive you. No, no, you are not so much hurt as you think. The branch was not a heavy one, after all."
"Heavy enough," she murmured when she had swallowed a few drops of the stimulant; "heavy enough, for it has killed me. Are you policemen?" she asked, as the lamplight fell on the buckle of Brennan's cartouche belt.
"Yes, we are policemen. Hold up now, and we will soon rig up something to carry you where medical help can be got."
"Policemen, and I was going to them! Well, it is just; I suffer the death of an informer."
"Who are you? Where did you come from?" questioned Brennan eagerly, for he saw by the light which he held close to her face that the woman was sinking fast. "Who are you, and where did you come from?"
"Ask at Illilliwa," was the faint reply, as a convulsive shudder made her limbs tremulous ere they rested for ever.
"She is dead," said Brennan. "Ask at Illilliwa. I wonder who she is. She is dressed elegantly, and look at the jewelry. I never heard of Hewston being married, but I have heard of a lady visitor who stayed for months sometimes. Ah!" and Maurice let fall the left hand of the dead woman, on the third finger of which there was no plain gold ring, but only a diamond hoop, worth a trooper's year's pay.
I now return to Illilliwa. When Blewett and I left the house I was occupied almost entirely in wonder and conjecture as to the best way of disposing of my unconscious prisoner until I could meet Brennan. In the meantime he was exhibiting the most disgusting cowardice. Holding me by the arm, he stumbled on beside me, pulling up short every now and then as he fancied approaching sounds, existent only in his own imagination.
"Listen! I hear horses' feet. They're coming. O, a curse on the woman. Couldn't she have waited an hour or two till I was out of it? I hear them! Give me that box, quick I so that I will not be suspected if we meet them in the teeth."
But the box I would not part with, though I cursed it, as well as its valuable contents, for they hampered my movements.
"No; you can't have the box now, it is far too heavy, and you could not get along in the dark with such an encumbrance. There are no horses coming, it is only your fancy."
"Where are we going?" he asked, as I struck across the paddock toward Jim's hut, the lights of which were as yet hidden by the dark trees that intervened. "Do you know of any place to hide, or must we stop in the bush all night?"
"Old Jim is a decent fellow, and I am sure he may be depended on. I'm going to his hut."
"Oh, that's all right; and it's not on the track, so we will not be suspected in the dark. I wonder where Hewston is."
That was one of my own wonders, but I did not let him know that.
"He's gone to look after the young lady," I said.
"Not he," was the reply. "He's cleared out, damn him! And left me without a shilling in my pocket to fly with."
"Cleared out? What would he clear out for! He has nothing to dread the police for, has he?"
"Hasn't he! Allan Hewston would give his right hand, ay, and his left, to be in my shoes even though there is a heavy reward for my capture! But see him I must before morning somehow, or how can I go?"
"Here's Jim's hut at all events," I returned, as we rounded the bush and saw the open door from which the light was plainly visible. "You can stop here while I go and try to hunt up Mr. Hewston. Perhaps Old Jim may know where he is as he went with him."
Of course it was my intention to leave him while I kept my appointment with my friend Maurice. I was, however, saved the awkwardness of leaving, even for a little, my prize unguarded, for even as I spoke I heard real horses on the beaten track used from the Illilliwa traffic.
Blewett heard them too and shrank into himself, as it were, while his eyes glared around the hut for some means of shelter. I all at once heard the sounds of hoofs dulled as they met the grass and knew my mates were coming, but what could have made Brennan come instead of awaiting me? Was it the sudden windstorm whose passage we had awaited in the shelter of the homestead ere we left it?
"They are troopers' horses," he whispered, casting looks of terror toward the door; "I am sure of it!"
"And so am I," I returned, with such a change of manner as attracted my victim's suspicion so that he stared at me instead of at the door. "And now that my mates are at hand I arrest you, John Blewett, for forgery."
At the touch of my hand he shrunk back and showed his set teeth like a dog.
"Trapped, by God!" he yelled. "Oh, you cowardly villain to deceive a man so! By Heaven, if it was in my power, I would tear your heart out where you stand!"
"I daresay you would. Well, to prevent your being so obliging, pray wear those bracelets—they are far more valuable to me than any of the jeweled ones in the box you wanted so badly."
Handcuffed, and in the hands of the law, he fell back to a bench and leaned helplessly against the wall, even as I heard the voice of Maurice calling to me.
"Mark, are you there?"
"Yes;" and I went out to see lying on the grass the dead body of the woman I had seen not so long ago in the pride of determination and beauty, as she flouted her destroyer to his face. "Good heavens! Is she dead?"
"Yes. Do you know her, Mark?"
"It is the 'Frank' I told you of, and suspected of masquerading in male attire. How did it happen?" And then all, as far as they knew it, was explained to me.
"I brought the body here on account of her last words, for when I asked who she was or what had brought her there, she answered me, 'Ask at Illilliwa'. Where is Hewston and the other, eh?"
"The 'other' is here and my prisoner; but where Hewston is I cannot tell you, save that he went out of the house above an hour ago in company with old Jim that lives in this hut. It will be best to send Blewett to the lock-up in White's charge, while you and I remain to hunt up Hewston. Mount the prisoner on one of the horses; you can get another at the station."
"Yes, that will be best; but see that he don't give you the slip, White."
"Ay, I'll see to that; but no horse for him, don't you believe it. Mr. Blewett goes behind me on old Jack, and with a well-fastened strap around us both. I am so fond of him that if he bolts he must take me with him."
And so it was done. Amid the gloom of the night the forger was mounted behind Constable White and securely fastened to him, and, with a volley of curses on his lips, Blewett was borne away and disappeared, leaving Maurice and I standing in front of the hut with the body of the dead woman lying at our feet.
"I don't think Blewett noticed the corpse at all," said my friend.
"Oh yes, he did, for he made a kick at it as we led him past. Old Jim guessed she had gone to the camp to inform, out of revenge for Hewston's blow, and the forger heard him say so."
We carried the body into the hut and laid it on an old rug we took from the old man's bunk. Of course, we knew that there must be an inquest, but our immediate anxiety was the arrest of him who had been Slick the Bushranger, and whose crime of bloodshed was not yet atoned for. We were discussing the best mode of procedure, when old Jim himself suddenly entered the hut.
You will remember that the old man knew, as yet, nothing of my individuality as a member of the Force, or of the awful death the woman had died; but he saw the still form on the floor, and stooped to look into the dead face.
"God bless us and save us! Have ye made a morgue of my hut after all? Eh me! Why it's Frances Yokes! How came this about? Did she bring you here?"
The question was asked of Maurice, for he did not suspect any collusion between us, and my friend's reply seemed a great relief to him.
"No; we found her lying on the road with the limb of a fallen tree across her body. Was she coming to us?"
"I don't know; I think it likely, for she'd been quarrelling with the Super, poor soul."
"Is she a connection of Hewston's?"
"Ay, ay, a connection—just a connection."
"Not his wife?"
"No, no, not his wife."
"We'll have to see him about it. Where is he?"
"That's more than I can tell you. He gave me the slip in the darkness, and I think it most likely that he went after the woman to stop her in time. Eh, sirs, but this is an awfu' warld of ups and downs! Are ye going, peddler? I thought ye were for stopping all night. Dinna forget the box. I paid ye for the specs."
I'll swear I heard that old man laughing derisively after us as we went up to search for Hewston; and as we came back unsuccessful and passed his place, we met him coming out of the hut, of which he had shut the door and extinguished the light.
"Ye needna think," he roared at us, as he relapsed into his vernacular, "that I'm gaun to stay in the hut wi' a dead woman. I'm not sae taen up wi' living ones. So I'm aft to the house, and ye may mak a kirk or a whistle o' th' auld shed for me!"
"Heartless old wretch! He doesn't care one rap for the dead woman or the living man," said Maurice.
"The latter I'm not so sure of," I returned. "I think if we want Hewston, we had better set a watch on old Jim."
A watch was set, but vainly; no tidings were ever got of the wanted Hewston. I left with my prisoner the next day, and safely lodged both him and the peddler's box in town; and in a few weeks I had the pleasure of seeing Blewett marched out of court to a seven years' term of penal servitude. But the astounding conclusion of the affair at Illilliwa I relate to you as Maurice told it to me by letter long before the forger was sentenced.
The inquest on the body of the woman known as Frances Yokes was duly held, and a verdict of accidental death duly recorded, ere the unhappy creature's remains were hidden in the grave; and, about a week after her funeral, a slight and sharp-looking gentleman, who carried a japanned tin case in his hand, entered Brennan's office and made him a very polite bow.
"I have the pleasure of addressing Senior-Constable Maurice Brennan? Good. I have called, at the request of my client, the owner of Illilliwa station, to request your presence at the reading of some papers of importance. I am Charles B—, solicitor, of Melbourne."
"The owner of Illilliwa? I think to know who is the owner of the place is just now one of the greatest anxieties of all the employees on it."
"Just so, and naturally, seeing that no one appears to have charge since the unexpected disappearance of Mr. Hewston. Well, the papers I bring will set the matter at rest, and, besides, the owner will present himself in person when the documents are being read."
"When do you intend the formality to take place?"
"Tomorrow afternoon at three o'clock. My client wishes the utmost publicity to be given to his ownership, and every one of any standing will be requested to attend. A luncheon will be provided."
"Oh, that'll draw!" Maurice said, with a laugh. "I'm not proof against a luncheon myself, especially if it if a champagne one. I'll be sure to be there."
"And so I was, Mark," he wrote in his letter; "and so was a good thirty as well as myself. When we were all gathered together, station hands, servants, visitors, and what not, there wasn't a room in the house would hold us, and we were marched into the barn, where the lawyer fixed himself at a table, with some documents before him, and began to 'ahem' like fury, as a sign he was going to begin.
"Old Jim was standing well to the front, with the oddest grin on his dirty old face. I don't believe the same face had tasted soap or water for a week, and his clothes were a neat match to his face.
"'I am here at the express wish of your employer,' the lawyer began to the hands who were all in one corner of the place together; 'for now that his late Super has in so sudden and mysterious a way disappeared from Illilliwa, he thinks it is time you should all know where to look for your wages and seek for your orders. I am not personally acquainted with the gentleman on whose part I have so long acted, but I received a letter from him in which he intimated his intention of being here today. Perhaps, however, Mr. Douglas would wish me first to read his titles to the property,'—and then, Mark my boy, he rattled a heap of parchment through his fingers, and a string of lawyer gibberish off his tongue, in which I heard very often the name of James Douglas, Squire, and the words 'property' and Illilliwa, so that when he stopped I was quite aware that an unknown person, lawfully and legally called by the name of James Douglas, was undoubted owner of Illilliwa station and all its belongings.
"'And now,' winds up the little chap in black, 'if my respected client is present, may I request him to make himself known, in accordance with my instructions from himself?'
"There was a silence of expectation and a gasp of awful wonder that stopped short of words, for who do you think stepped forward to the table and faced the crowd? Why, old Jim, our friend of the hut!
"He was enjoying a very guffaw of a laugh, and the lawyer was glaring at him in the utmost disbelief when I recovered my senses, but the old cheat handed to the man his own epistles addressed to 'James Douglas, Esq., Illilliwa.'
"'You can hardly believe that a man would live and work on his own land as I've done!' he cried; 'but Scotsmen know how to keep their cash as well as to make it, and any man that can't do both need expect no work on my property.'
"'Bosh!' cried some one irreverently; 'stow all that brag and bounce and show us your lunch!'
"'Lunch, eh? Ye'll get no lunch frae me, my man! I never ate bite or drank sup at my own expense when I could eat and drink at any one's else, that's true; but if ye think I'm the man to give ony ane a chance to do the same at my expense, ye's find yersels sorely mistaken.'
"Now you have the finale at Illilliwa, Mark, and you may be sure old Jim has plenty of sycophants, even though he's as stingy as any miser. I have never seen the old villain since but once, and then he asked me, with the grin of an old gorilla, when my friend the peddler would be up again; for 'the specs had not turned out so well as he expected, and he didn't like being cheated.' That's one for your nob, Mark, my lad!"
So far in Maurice Brennan's words; but in mine I have nothing to add, save my repeated conviction that James Douglas, Esq., helped Hewston's escape, and is well aware of his distant whereabouts at this very moment; that is if he has time, for I understand he is contemplating matrimony about the beginning of the year, and to a young lady of the ripe age of sixteen. "Music hath charms" indeed! 'Tis money that has charms, and that "makes the mare go" all the world over, as well as at Illilliwa.
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