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THOMAS CHARLES BRIDGES
(WRITING AS T.C. BRIDGES)

THE RETURN OF LUKYN

Cover Image

RGL e-Book Cover
Based on a painting by Edmund Morrison Wimperis (1835-1900


Ex Libris

First published in The Penny Pictorial, 1916?

Also appeared in: The Queenslander, Brisbane, Australia, 12 Feb 1916
(This Version)

This e-book edition: Roy Glashan's Library, 2021
Version Date: 2021-11-28

Produced by Keith Emmett and Roy Glashan

All content added by RGL is proprietary and protected by copyright.

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LOTTIE WAYNE looked up the road towards the fir plantation, then back towards the prison gate. There was no one in sight, and after a moment's hesitation she put a neatly-shod foot on the first step of the stone stile, climbed to the top, and dropped lightly down into the sloping field beyond.

Through the warm, spring dusk loomed an upright figure, and next moment a sturdy arm encircled Lottie's slim waist, and a closely-clipped moustache brushed her check.

"I knew you'd meet me!" said a voice triumphantly.

"Knew, indeed!" retorted Lottie, with pretended indignation. "I like your impudence, Fred!" Then, with a sudden change of tone, "I was very nearly prevented, Fred."

"Why, you promised, sweetheart!" said Fred Medland, a well-set-up young fellow, in the dark uniform of a prison warder.

"I know I did," confessed Lottie; "but about—"

"Has your father been making trouble?" struck in Fred quickly.

"Not any more about us, Fred. But there is trouble, all the same."

"What is it, dear?" asked Fred anxiously. "Is it anything I can help in?"

Lottie shook her head.

"I don't know myself what it is, but father is terribly upset about something."

"Upset!" repeated Fred. "Why, I thought he was ever so pleased about getting his promotion to principal warder."

"So he is, Fred," the girl answered quickly—"pleased as he could be. This morning he went off gay as a lark. He was so cheerful that it was in my mind to ask him again to-night and see if he wouldn't give his leave for us two to be engaged."

She paused a moment, a frown creasing her pretty forehead.

"When he came back to dinner," she continued, "he was a changed man. He was ten years older than when he went on duty!"

"Didn't he say anything?" Fred asked.

"Mother asked him if he was ill, and wouldn't he have the doctor. Goodness! He nearly snapped her head off. 'Ill!' he said. 'Never felt better in my life!' Then he sat down to dinner, and didn't eat enough to satisfy a sparrow."

"And afterwards?" questioned Fred.

"Why, he went out without a word; and when he came back to supper he was worse than ever. Fred," she went on, "mother was so worried, I hardly liked to leave her. She doesn't know what to make of it, and no more do I, It's just dreadful to see him like this."

"See here, Lottie, there's no sense in your worrying yourself into this state," the man said quietly. "There's something wrong with your dad, that I'll allow. And what we've got to do is to find out what it is. Now, you watch him at home, and I'll watch him in the prison. I'll have a good chance to, for to-morrow he takes over party 14, instead of Gimmick. Between us," he added consolingly, "we ought to be able to find out what's up. Don't you think so?"

Lottie turned and threw her arms round his neck.

"I think you're a dear, Fred," she declared impulsively; "you've put new heart into me. And now I must get back, Fred," she said, "Mother will be worrying if I don't."

"You'll meet me to-morrow, Lottie?" begged Fred.

"I'll try, dear," answered the girl. "No, don't you come over on to the road with me. I don't want folk to see us together until we're properly engaged."

Fred watched till she was out of sight, then went back to his own quarters in the prison.


AFTER chapel next morning Party 14 were paraded as usual in the yard, and Principal Warder Wayne took charge. Young Medland. who had not seen him for a couple of days, was shocked by the change in him. Others besides young Medland glanced at Wayne curiously.

Medland himself was fairly puzzled to account for the extraordinary change in Lottie's father, and he was still wondering when, after the usual "rubbing down" of the prisoners, the party marched away to their work.

A big gang, consisting of five parties, were at work breaking up an old pasture, in which turnips were to be planted. Ploughs are not used in prison fields. The work is all done by spade.

There is no more monotonous job than watching prisoners on farm work. The warder instructor gives all the necessary advice or orders, the rest simply do sentry-go. Medland who was only a civil guard—a sort of sentry—had plenty of time to use his eyes; but the morning passed, the men were marched back to their dinner, and he was no wiser.

At one, back they came for the other three and a half hours, which made up their day's toil. As usual, things slacked a bit in the afternoon. Your old lag keeps fairly on to the collar in the morning, but in the afternoon he never does more than he absolutely must.

Still, there are limits even to slacking, and after a time Medland began to notice one man who was really going a bit over the limit.

The convict in question—Lukyn by name—was a new-comer to Moorlands, having been sent there quite recently. He was a queer-looking customer, a man of about 60, with a head as bald as a vulture's.

Talking, though against the rules, is winked at, if conducted with due decorum. But Lukyn could be heard by Medland, who was nearly 60 yards away.

Warder Wayne, who was much nearer, must have heard every word, and Medland naturally expected him to pull the fellow up. He could hardly believe his eyes when he saw Wayne actually move away to a greater distance, apparently so as to get out of earshot of the offender.

Presently Lukyn was talking in such a voice that other warders began to pay attention and glance in Wayne's direction. Wayne could not help noticing, and at last went up to Lukyn.

"Now the beggar's going to get it," muttered Medland to himself.

Instead, Wayne said in a halting voice.

"You are talking too much, Lukyn. You must be quieter, please."

Young Medland fairly gasped. This from Wayne, an ex-Service man, and known as a strict disciplinarian.

Lukyn did not answer or apologise. He fixed his deep-set grey eyes on Wayne with a malevolent stare, and Wayne once more moved back to his old position.

"There's something fishy here," was Medland's thought. "I'll have something to tell Lottie to-night."


THE rest of the afternoon passed off quietly enough. At a quarter to seven Medland came off duty, and after a hasty supper went off to keep his tryst with Lottie.

To his intense surprise and disappointment, she did not appear. He waited until it was pitch dark; then, as there was still no sign of her, went down the street, and hung about near the Waynes' house.

About nine, just as he was thinking of giving up and going back, he heard a heavy step behind him. Turning, he came face to face with Warder Wayne himself.

"What are you doing here?" burst out Wayne, in sudden fury. Then, before the other could answer, "I'll teach you to spy on me!" he cried, and hit out fiercely.

Medland just managed to dodge the blow.

"You're crazy, Mr. Wayne!" he answered sharply. "You know perfectly well you've no right to talk that way. I'm not spying on anybody."

"Then what are you doing?" demanded Wayne hoarsely.

"Waiting for Lottie, if you want to know," returned Medland defiantly.

"A nice time of night to be waiting for a decent girl! If Lottie doesn't know better than to come out at this hour, she's no daughter of mine! Now, you clear out, Fred Medland! Lottie's not for you, and the sooner you understand that the better! Clear out!" he repeated harshly.

Medland saw that the other was in no state for argument. He did the only thing possible—turned and went away without a word.


NEXT morning dawned dull and chilly, and Medland, as he went through his early duties, felt as depressed as the weather. Coming into the mess-room for breakfast, he found a letter in the rack. The address was in Lottie's handwriting, and his fingers shook as he tore the envelope open.

This was what Lottie wrote:—


My dearest Fred,

I am afraid you were upset by my not coming last night. I am writing this, last thing, to tell you how it was. Father came home in a worst way than ever. After supper he went out without saving a word, and mother was so frightened by the look on his face that she told me to go after him.

I put on my hat, and went as quick as I could, and got sight of him along by Watern Newtake. He was going very quick, close under the wall, just as if he didn't want anyone to see him. And he was carrying something under his arm.

He went as far as the little beech-wood beyond the Stone Brook bridge, stopped, and looked round, then got over the wall, and went right in among the trees. I knew he would hear me if I went through the wood after him, so I got over the wall this side the coppice, and waited. He came out of the wood just opposite where he went in, and walked as far as that pile of stones on the moor, about a hundred yards beyond the wood.

It was getting very dark by then, and I thought I'd lost him. All of a sudden I heard his steps, and only just managed to slip down into the gully by the wall when he came past again. Then he went on home, and I waited till he was out of sight, and followed.

Oh, Fred, it's terrible! I feel there is something bad going to happen, and so does mother. But we don't know what it is. I'll try to be at the old place to-morrow evening. I must get this to post now, while I can.

Ever your loving Lottie.


AT that moment Fred Midland would have given a good deal to be able to go straight off and see Lottie, and comfort her. Unfortunately, that was impossible He had only just time to have a mouthful of breakfast before the bell rang for the morning work.

The clouds were thick, and a chill breeze from the north-west swept the open, hillside as they marched the men out. Before an hour was over Medland was envying the convicts. They, at any rate could keep warm working. He himself was shivering in spite of his overcoat.

The clouds dropped lower over the blunt summit of Misty Tor. The warders began to look a little uneasy. There was every sign of fog, and the party was a long way from the prison.

Down came the clouds. Misty Tor vanished altogether. Corder, the senior warder on the spot, put his whistle to his lips, and as the sharp note trilled out the men shouldered their spades, and began to gather for the march back.

And just then, with the extraordinary inconsistency of moor weather, down came, not fog, but a regular deluge of rain.

It swept across the open field in blinding waves, it drummed on the warders' oilies, and soaked the prisoners to the skin, instantly turning their red-striped slops to clinging rags.

Midland closed in rapidly, shepherding the men, trying to keep an eye on a dozen at once.

"Look out there!" came a warning shout through the gloom, "Look out! Stop that chap!"

A rifle cracked, and Medland, spinning round, caught a fleeting glimpse of a dim figure speeding towards the nearest wall.

He flung up his rifle, and took a snap shot. But the man was almost out of range. At any rate, he failed to hit him, for the fugitive tore on.

Without an instant's hesitation, Medland raced away in pursuit.

Of the civil guards, two were mounted, and on the road outside he heard the distant clatter of their ponies hoofs, but knew that they could do no good. The man was going right across the fields and the walls were far too high for ponies to jump.

He and Doran, the other unmounted guard, were the only ones who could take up the chase, and Doran was at the lower edge of the field. He realised, with a queer thrill, that everything depended upon himself. If he could run the man down, he would save the authorities all the expense of a long chase, perhaps hundreds of pounds, he would put himself on the list for rapid promotion, and—and he would stand an infinitely better chance of being able to marry Lottie.

The thought fired him, and he ran as he had never ran before. Reaching the five-foot stone wall, he scrambled over, and caught a glimpse of the lag, just vanishing in the gloom of the rain-mist, half-way across the field.

He gasped. The man was making towards the prison!

Was he mad, or had he some special object in doing such an apparently crazy thing?

With every sense alert, Medland raced across the field; but when he gained the far wall the chase was out of sight. He paused for a moment on the top, straining his eyes, but could see nothing. The rain, pouring harder than ever, cut off everything beyond a fifty-yard radius.

A sharp exclamation burst from Medland, and he at once swung round in the direction from which the horse had come.

This led down a sleep slope, and a moment later he saw the bare tops of the beeches swaying in the storm.


ALL of a sudden he realised where he was, and with the knowledge came the recollection of Lottie's letter, and of what she had told him.

This was the coppice by the Stone Brook bridge, the spot which her father had made his queer expedition on the previous evening. And—and he had been carrying a parcel!

Oh, but it was sheer lunacy! For Wayne to be helping a lag to escape was beyond all belief. And yet the thought of Wayne's amazing behaviour with respect to Lukyn blazed itself on his mind. If this lag—this runaway—was Lukyn, why, it all fitted in like the pieces of a puzzle.

But again, if this were Wayne's doing; if the lag, as seemed likely, had some hold over Lottie's father; if Wayne wanted Lukyn out of the way, and if he—Medland—caught him and brought him back, what than? Would it not finish his chance with Lottie?

These thoughts flashed through his head. With the flickering speed of a cinema film; so fast, indeed, that he had not checked five seconds before he had taken his resolution, and was running again. He was going to get the runaway if he could!

The rain drumming among the branches drowned other sounds. He could not tell whether or not the man was in the wood. He raised his head, and instantly ducked again.

Lukyn—Lukyn himself—had first slipped out from behind the pile of stones which Lottie had told him of, and was running like a hunted fox towards the wood.

Under his arm was a parcel wrapped in a black tarpaulin.

In a flash Medland was out over the wall again. He must cut the man off before he reached the wood. If he failed, Lukyn would dodge him in the thick undergrowth.

He was hardly back in the field before Lukyn saw him, and went down the slope with a speed amazing for a man of his age.

Reaching the edge of the brook, he leaped boldly for a rock in mid-stream, gained it, and took off again. Next instant he was at the foot of the far bank.

Making a tremendous jump, Medland cleared the whole width of the brook, and landed right alongside Lukyn.

Lukyn heard his pursuer's boots grate on the shingle. He turned instantly, and went for Medland like a tiger. Medland dropped his rifle, ducked below the driving fists, caught the other round the knees, and threw him clean over his head.

In doing so one of Lukyn's clumping boots struck him heavily between the eyes, and for the moment completely stunned him. He fell heavily on the rim of shingle under the bank.

How long he lay there he did not know. He was roused by a shout and looking dizzily round saw Doran plunging knee-deep through the water.

"I had him," cried Medland bitterly—"I had him! He can't have gone far!"

Doran paused. There was an odd look in his face.

"You're right," he said, "he hasn't gone far."

As he spoke he turned to his left, and, stooping, lifted a limp, dripping figure out of the now rapidly rising stream.

He laid it on the shingle, and bent over it.

"Dead as mutton!" he remarked briefly.


THOUGH his head ached violently, Medland met Lottie as usual that evening.

Her pretty face was all aglow.

"Fred," she greeted him eagerly, "father wants to see you."

He caught her to him and kissed her, then the two walked together to her home.

Wayne, pale and haggard, yet looking more like himself again, was waiting for Medland in the sitting-room.

Wayne stepped forward.

"Fred," he said gravely. "I ask your pardon for what I said last night. I wasn't myself. I've been near mad these last three days. I got to know Matt Lukyn in South Africa," Wayne continued. "It was just after I left the army. I was now married in those days, and terribly hard up. Lukyn was younger then, and though he wasn't what you might call attractive he didn't look like he did when he came here. There's no need to tell you the whole story, but he was one of the I.D.R. Gang—diamond thieves and smugglers, you know. And he wheedled me into helping him to run a parcel of stones.

"That's how I got into his power, and a wicked use he made of it. The end came when I was caught with diamonds on me, and got two years on the Cape Town breakwater.

"I served it out, and got home, and found my wife had been keeping herself all that time by her own work. Luckily for me, I'd done my time under a false name, so, as I had my discharges all right, I got this job. Lukyn I never had heard of from that day to last week, when they brought him in here, and then you may judge the shock I got."

Wayne's voice had gone suddenly husky. He seemed hardly able to speak.

Medland saw how painful the confession was, and broke in quickly.

"Don't say any more, Mr. Wayne. He threatened he'd split, and drove you near crazy, and, I reckon most others in your would have done the same as you did, so as to be rid of him."

Wayne nodded.

"Well, you needn't worry now," said Medland cheerfully. "Lukyn's dead, the bundle's washed away in the flood, and there's no one to know anything about it but you and me. And I shan't split," he added, with a smile.

Wayne smiled back faintly.

"I don't know what Lottie would say to you if you did," he replied.


THE END


Roy Glashan's Library
Non sibi sed omnibus
Go to Home Page
This work is out of copyright in countries with a copyright
period of 70 years or less, after the year of the author's death.
If it is under copyright in your country of residence,
do not download or redistribute this file.
Original content added by RGL (e.g., introductions, notes,
RGL covers) is proprietary and protected by copyright.