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Title: The Lonely House Author: Arthur Gask * A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook * eBook No.: 1000851h.html Language: English Date first posted: December 2010 Date most recently updated: November 2017 This eBook was produced by: Maurie Mulcahy Project Gutenberg Australia eBooks are created from printed editions which are in the public domain in Australia, unless a copyright notice is included. We do NOT keep any eBooks in compliance with a particular paper edition. Copyright laws are changing all over the world. Be sure to check the copyright laws for your country before downloading or redistributing this file. This eBook is made available at no cost and with almost no restrictions whatsoever. You may copy it, give it away or re-use it under the terms of the Project Gutenberg Australia License which may be viewed online at http://gutenberg.net.au/licence.html
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The detective had been watching for four days before he realised suddenly that the house was inhabited.
It was a sinister-looking house that stood alone upon a lonely shore in South Australia, and it lay by the margin of the waves in a little sandy cove between the dip of two high hills.
It was a place where few men came, for it was cut off from the distant townships by long, barren wastes of rock-strewn land.
There were no roads nor tracks within many miles of it, and its only highway was the dark and restless sea, forever teased and fretted by the winds that blew across the gulf.
And for four whole days he had watched it through his binoculars from the cliff less than two hundred yards away, and the whole time there had been no suggestion about it of any life within.
It was a silent house, as still and silent as the grave.
Its door had never opened, he had seen no faces from its window and no smoke had ever issued from its chimneys—yet in the falling light of dusk that evening it had flashed to him, as lightning flashes through the blackness of a midnight sky, that human beings were in hiding there.
And their hiding had been the closer because they had seen him watching.
Then they were evil-doers—they were creatures of crime.
* * * * * * * *
Exactly a week previously, and on a beautiful summer's evening towards dusk, Gilbert Larose, the best known of all the detectives of the great Commonwealth of Australia, was crouching down behind a small bush high up upon the sides of Mount Lofty, watching with an annoyed and frowning face four men who were climbing slowly up the slope towards him.
They were only about two hundred yards away, and through his binoculars he could discern plainly the expressions upon their faces. They looked alert and eager, as if they had some particular and important business on hand.
They were sturdy, thick-set men, and were all armed with stout sticks. They walked spread out, fanwise, with about ten yards between them, and they peered intently into all the bushes as they passed.
"Now if it were not impossible," muttered the detective slowly, "if it were not impossible, I would swear that they were looking for me." He nodded his head. "Yes, and they'll find me, too. I ought never to have camped with that cliff behind me. It serves me right." He glanced round quickly in every direction.
"Ah!" he ejaculated, "but that rock might save me yet, if only I could get there first."
He dropped sharply on to his hands and knees and rapidly, but with extreme caution, began to crawl towards a small rock about a hundred yards away.
"I may be able to dodge them there," he went on, "and, another chance too, they mayn't have noticed my bicycle. But what a fool I've been!"
Suddenly then he heard a shout from one of the men. "They've seen me!" exclaimed the detective disgustedly. "I knew I'd left it until too late."
But he was mistaken.
"Hell! here's a snake," called out a voice excitedly, "a big death-adder. Look out, you fellows—it'll be the very place for them here."
"Kill him." shouted someone else. "Don't run behind, you idiot! He may spring back. Hit him from the side."
There was a lot of noise, a chorus of shouting, and then the detective heard an exultant cry.
"Got him! In the middle of the back, just as he was going to turn on me too."
The detective stopped crawling, and looked round. The four men were all close together now, and bending over the ground. There was an animated discussion for a couple of minutes, and then one of them straightened himself up and gave a long look round.
"Well. I'm tired of this," he announced emphatically, "we've come quite far enough, and I'm going back on the road. I'm thirsty, and we shall be too late to get a drink if we're not quick."
There was some talking amongst the other men, and then, apparently being all in agreement, off they went at right angles to the way they had previously come.
Smiling in his relief, Larose watched them disappear, and then, after a long scrutiny to make sure that the coast was quite clear, he walked down to where they had been standing.
He found the death-adder they had killed, all fouled over now in blood and dust. The body was still quivering, and picking it up carefully, he examined the evil-looking head. He pulled the jaws wide open, and exposed the dreadful poison fangs. "Horrible," he exclaimed with a shudder. "What agonies of death lay in those little fangs! But why had it to die?" He sat down upon a bank, and with a handful of leaves, almost reverently wiped clear the body from its stains. "Yes, it is beautiful," he went on admiringly, "beautiful in its dreadful way. Its coloring and its symmetry are perfect, but I wonder—"
He paused suddenly, for out of the corner of his eye he had seen something moving among a heap of stones close by. He kept perfectly still, and a moment later a second adder glided into the open, and, raising its head off the ground, swayed itself gently from side to side.
"Evil to evil," whispered Larose very softly—"the way of the world for all time."
He reached stealthily for a piece of rock that lay near to him, and then, rising sharply to his feet, he hurled it on to the snake. The rock dropped squarely on the reptile and broke its back. It writhed viciously, but he picked up a big stone and quickly put it out of misery by battering in its head.
"His wife probably or perhaps her husband," he remarked with a sigh, "but it was best it should be so. Violence always for the enemies of the world. A stick or a stone for those that creep and crawl and then, as we get higher up, the lash, the prison, and the rope for humankind. Mercy's a mistake with evildoers. The community must protect itself." He sighed again. "And that is why such men as I have their work."
He walked back up the slope and then a thought struck him.
"But what were those men doing here?" he asked frowningly. "They couldn't have come here after rabbits, for they had no guns. What were they looking for?" He answered his own question. "Sheep probably. They have lost some sheep." He shrugged his shoulders. "Well, they won't disturb me again. I'll be off to-night. I was tired already of this place, and I feel much stronger now. Yes, I'll start for Cape Jervis, and I ought to do the seventy miles in two nights and a day."
The detective was on holiday in South Australia, but the vacation was neither of his choice nor making. It had been forced upon him by the incidence of a serious illness.
Bearing a charmed life among the desperate class in which he moved, and apparently immune always to the dangers that threatened him in pursuit of his calling, he had nevertheless fallen an easy prey to the minute typhoid bacilli, and for days had hovered between life and death. Then, convalescence supervening, he had been, ordered away for a complete rest, and Adelaide had been chosen for him as being a city least likely to remind him of his work. Adelaide was so quiet and peaceful, he had been assured. Adelaide was so law-abiding, and so rarely there did Crime lift up its baleful head.
So to South Australia, he had come, expecting to be intensely bored and wondering gloomily how he would be able to fill in his time.
Then suddenly an idea had seized him just as the train was running down through the hills into Adelaide, and he had laughed happily at the very thought of it. It was a strange and extraordinary idea, but it would provide him, he was sure, with an interesting holiday after all.
There should be no wearying hotel life for him, he told himself, no monotonous days passed in seeing the sights, no bored waiting for the holiday to end.
He knew what he would do. He would become a boy again and play at hide-and-seek. He would play a game of make-believe. He would hide himself away from everyone as if it were a matter of life or death.
He would imagine that he was an escaped convict, and would see if it were possible for him to live undiscovered and unseen in South Australia for six weeks. He would pretend that everyone was looking for him and that he himself, for once, was pitted against the law.
He would secrete himself away among the hills, in the bush upon the mountain sides, or in the lonely places on the sea-board where no one ever came.
Yes, he would creep like a phantom over South Australia, and the winning of the game would be—that no one should have set eyes on him until the time was up.
The whole adventure would be of absorbing interest, and the quietness and the solitude would be the very things that he was needing to rest his nerves.
It was typical always of Larose to make up his mind quickly, and so directly his train had drawn into the railway-station in Adelaide—he had at once set about putting his ideas into execution.
Taking only a few things from his luggage, he had left his trunk in the station cloak-room, and had then proceeded into the city to make some purchases.
He had bought a bicycle, a small camping outfit and the least quantity of provisions that he thought he would be able to make do with. A good fisherman and no mean expert in the trapping of small game, he reckoned that once well away from the city he would be easily able to provide himself with food.
He had had one good meal at the Australasian Hotel, and then in the failing light of the dusk he had slipped furtively into the Adelaide hills, and like a shadow the darkness had swallowed him up.
For seven nights and six days he had lain hidden on Mount Lofty, and, until the episode of the death-adders, no one had come near him or disturbed him.
He had made his bivouac at the base of a stretch of grey cliff near the summit. He had chosen the place there because he could light a fire and the smoke could not be seen against the color of the cliff behind him, and also because from his elevated position he could enjoy such a magnificent panorama of the wide Adelaide plains, and the miles upon miles of waving trees below.
As he had promised, he had given himself an easy restful time.
By night, he had slept the long deep slumbers of a man who was convalescing from a serious illness, and by day he had basked idly in the sun, watching a sub-conscious and disinterested sort of way the comings and goings of the great city that lay outstretched beneath him.
As the crow flies he was quite close to Adelaide, and a bare seven miles almost would have taken him into the very heart of the city itself. Through his glasses he could see plainly the trams and motors gliding through the streets and the people moving about like ants. Also, when the wind was favorable, he could hear the hourly chimes from the big clock on the Post Office opposite the Town Hall.
For four days and nights life had been quite uneventful, all peace and quiet and rest, and then on the evening of the fifth day something had happened, and henceforward a jarring note had been struck in the otherwise perfect harmony of these beautiful trees and hills.
He sensed somehow that something unusual was happening about him.
Nothing indeed that occasioned him much interest, and nothing that moved him even to speculate over-much as to its cause, but still—he felt that things were now in some subtle way different from what they had been before.
He noticed for one thing that there seemed to be more people than usual moving on the roads that led to the hills, not people in motors, but horsemen and people on foot. They seemed to hang about more, too, to be longer in view, and to be from time to time talking in groups.
Then after dark he thought the lights were kept burning much later in the scattered homes among the hills and upon two nights he had finally dropped off to sleep with some of them still shining. Also at dusk once, when he had been creeping as usual to the spring for water, a dog somewhere had heard him and barked, and immediately three men had rushed out of a nearby homestead, and for quite a long while had stood staring round in every direction. About this last episode the detective had been greatly annoyed, for it had made him about an hour late in filling his can.
So had things been up to that last night when, shortly after eleven o'clock he again took to the road.
He had provided himself with a map of South Australia, and he had a good idea of the lie of the land. It was his intention to make for a lonely stretch of coast near Cape Jervis, a part apparently untouched by roads or tracks in any direction. He reckoned he had about eighty miles to cover, and he was expecting to do it comfortably in the travelling of two nights.
But he soon found he had greatly miscalculated his chance of progress and he was hindered and delayed from the very beginning. Before even he had gone half a mile from his bivouac on Mount Lofty, he had had to lift his bicycle hurriedly off the road and hide himself in the thickets.
Two men had come by very slowly, and he was surprised to notice that, although there was a new moon, they both were carrying lanterns.
A mile farther on and a man was leaning over some fencing, for all the world as if he were waiting for someone, and it was an hour nearly before he finally turned and went into the house that lay close behind. Quite half a dozen times during the night, too, he saw people moving about, and each time he had to wait until the road was clear. Morning found him only about thirty miles from the city and he had to hide during all the day in a clump of trees not three hundred yards from the outlying houses of a small township.
The next night, however, he made a little better progress, but it was not until dawn was breaking on the third day that he found himself at the place for which he had originally set out.
He was then about seven miles off the track that led to the Cape Jervis lighthouse, and for several hours he had seen no signs of human habitation.
He was on a rugged promontory of land that jutted for about half a mile into the sea. On one side the cliff was high and sheer, but on the other side the ground sloped down gently for about three hundred yards to a little sandy cove.
The place was studded everywhere about with big rocks.
"Just what I wanted," sighed the detective wearily. "I shall be all alone here. I can bathe and fish, and there's a creek of fresh water over there." He hastily unpacked his things and then, too tired to think of preparing anything to eat, he spread his ground-sheet by the side of a big rock and, making a pillow of his arm, in a few moments was fast asleep.
He slept heavily until well past high noon, and it was then only the glaring of the hot sun that awoke him.
He stood up, and, gazing interestedly around, was more pleased than ever with his surroundings. He took out his binoculars and swept the coastline in both directions as far as he could see.
"Excellent," he remarked, "I couldn't have found a better place. I can see round everywhere for miles, except for that little dip in the cliff over there. No one will be coming here, and there should be plenty of rabbits and fish. I will have a glorious time. I will rest and sleep. I will worry about nothing. I will start writing my memoirs and the world will then know what a fine fellow I am," and he rubbed his hands gleefully and laughed happily as a boy.
Methodically he proceeded to set up his camp. He lashed his little lean-to tent securely to the rock and with his small mattock dug a deep trench all round, in case it should come on to rain. Then he made himself a neat fireplace with round stones, and gathering some dried twigs together soon had a fire going and was boiling his billy.
"But I must be careful with the water," he said, shaking his head, "until I make sure about that creek over there."
His simple meal over, he set out to explore, and a quarter of a mile away found the creek as he had anticipated.
"Not too much water," he remarked, "but still it doesn't look as if it would dry up before the time comes to leave here. Besides, we may get a shower or two any day."
He had a long bathe off the sandy cove and then, after setting a few rabbit snares, retired to his tent directly it began to get dark. The exertions of the two previous days had tired him much more than he thought.
The following day dawned bright and clear and he was early astir. He found two nice young rabbits in his snares and was very pleased with his good fortune.
"Everything here I could want," he exclaimed happily. "I couldn't wish for anything more." He looked round on every side. "Alone in the great heart of nature. Alone with the sea gulls the sea, the sun, and the sky." He drew in deep breaths of the invigorating air. "Away from the foul breath of the cities, away from the sordid struggles of competing men, away from the black haunts of crime. Why I might be the only man alive in the world now. I don't suppose, year upon year, anyone ever comes here."
He walked meditatively down to the sandy cove and then it struck him suddenly that he had not yet explored down the dip in the other cliffs, the only spot that was not in view from his little tent by the big rock.
"I must go there at once," he smiled whimsically—"it is the only part of my property that I haven't yet seen." Humming lightly to himself and pausing many times to look back and enjoy the view, he climbed up over the other side of the cove. It was a stiff climb and his legs ached when he reached the top.
He sat down upon a rock, and then, his eyes roving with interest around a startled exclamation burst from his lips.
"Hullo!" he exclaimed disappointedly, "why—there's a house, and I shall be seen and lose the game," and immediately he dropped down behind the rock exactly as if he had been shot.
Very cautiously then he peered round.
The cliff in front of him sloped down to another little bay, this time, however, only about two hundred yards distant, and upon the edge of the sands below was perched a small black house.
Viewed through his binoculars, he saw that the house was quite substantially built and was square in shape. There was one large window facing in his direction and at a good height from the ground.
By the side of the house, drawn up high above the sands, lay a good-sized rowing boat.
"Whew," exclaimed the detective disgustedly. "Fishermen! Now, I wonder if they are here now?"
For an hour and longer he lay with his eyes glued to his binoculars, alternatively watching the house and sweeping round upon the cliffs on every side.
But there was no sign of life anywhere except for about a dozen seagulls which patrolled upon the sands before the house in a lively and animated manner. Satisfied at last that at any rate for the time being there was no one near, the detective pocketed his glasses and walked down to investigate closer.
The sea-gull rose up screeching as he approached and it flew to a short distance away, to resume their previous occupation of quarrelling with each other.
The house was shut up and closed by a stout nail-studded door that was securely locked.
"Hum!—an ugly house," muttered the detective, "and built quite a while ago." He smiled to himself. "But there would be no difficulty about that lock, if I were curious. Any bit of old wire would open it."
He walked round the house. It was built solidly of stone, but had a sloping wooden roof. There were no windows to it other than the one he had noticed from the cliff and that, from its position, appeared to provide light only to some kind of upper room, for it was fully twelve feet off the ground.
He stepped back several yards, hoping that from a greater distance he would be able to look into the room, but the glass of the window was almost black with dirt, and be obtained no reward for his pains.
"Funny place," he muttered. "I wonder how often anyone comes here." He sighed. "I shall have to move off again I suppose, but I can wait, at any rate, until someone comes. I'm quite safe. They'll never notice my tent on the other cliff."
He turned round and examined the boat. There were no oars, and everything movable in it had been taken away.
"Now, more than one person comes here," he said meditatively. "One person certainly could push this boat down into the sea, but it would require more than one person of ordinary strength to haul it up on the bank where it is. It looks—hullo! it had a name on it once and it's been scraped off."
He bent down and examined carefully the side of the boat. "Yes," he went on, "and they've been at some pains to blacken the place where they scraped the name away. They had no paint so they heated a piece of iron or something, and then smeared the spot over with tar. Quite recently, too, for it is not caked hard yet." He passed his fingers along the wood. "Ah! it's quite smooth where there are no scratches. They scraped it with a piece of glass." He nodded his head. "Now that's what I should do if I had stolen the boat and had to take the name off in a hurry." He looked up and frowned thoughtfully. "Really, I should like to see inside this house."
He walked back and pushed hard against the door, but there was no movement. It did not budge the fraction of an inch.
"Good lock," he muttered, "but still I could pick it in two minutes,"—he shrugged his shoulders—"if I wanted to, which I do not."
But somehow he thought quite a lot about the house on his way back to his tent, and as a result of his cogitations he returned there again in the afternoon to have another look.
This time he had brought with him a piece of stout iron wire, which he had taken from the luggage carrier of his bicycle.
The sea-gulls were still in evidence in front of the house, and he frowned again when he caught sight of them.
"Hum!" he murmured—"it would almost seem that they were expecting to be fed. Somebody evidently comes here pretty often—I must look out."
For quite a long while he manipulated with his piece of wire upon the lock of the door, but to his disappointment he could make no impression at all. He could not get the wire to catch anywhere.
"Now I would almost swear," he muttered, "that the door is not locked at all. There seems to be no bolt to prise back."
But the door fitted too close in the jamb for him to form any certain opinion as to whether his surmise were correct or not. He gave it up at length, and sitting down, proceeded to light a cigarette. He regarded the house very thoughtfully.
"Now why does it interest me at all?" he asked, very puzzled. "It's quite an ordinary house, built, naturally, of the stone that is plentiful about here. And that high window was undoubtedly designed to give a light out to sea facing up the gulf, where the fishing grounds probably are. Yes, quite an ordinary house, and yet—yet why was that name so carefully scraped off the boat and tarred over so that the scraping should not show? It puzzles me, for of course there was a reason for it somewhere. Yes, it puzzles me."
He was a long while getting off to sleep that night, and with his last waking moments his thoughts were of the black house.
In spite of his determination to forget everything that would remind him of his normal work, his imagination would insist upon running in familiar grooves, and he kept harping upon the probable association of the house with evildoers.
It was not a house of simple fisherfolk, he told himself sleepily. It did not belong to honest men. It was a rendezvous of murderers, it was a place of crime, and it harbored breakers of the law.
He became quite annoyed with his imaginings at last and, making his mind a blank, drew in deep heavy breaths and finally hypnotised himself to sleep.
The next morning however, he found the same thoughts continually recurring to his mind, and, partly to his amusement and partly to his annoyance, the black house became the chief source of interest to him in his enforced hours of solitude and ease.
He would climb up over the far cliff and almost the whole day long, perching himself upon a big rock, watch the house below. All the time he speculated idly, weaving romantic episodes of crime, with the square black house always the storm-centre of his imaginings.
He did this almost continually for four days—four days of scorching and terrific heat, with the sun all the time like one big red blister in the sky, and then suddenly his mind seemed all at once to clear and all his thoughts to crystallise into one strange and startling fact.
It burst upon him like a thunderclap that the house below was actually inhabited and that he himself was being watched from within it all the time.
He realised it all in an instant upon the fourth evening just before dusk, but later, thinking it over, he saw that two things particularly had led him up to this final conclusion and prepared his mind to accept it irresistibly and without hesitation, as a fact.
When going for his water that morning he had noticed the imprint of a boot in the mud by the side of the creek, but without giving any thought to the matter he had taken it naturally for one he had himself made when upon the same errand the previous day. He had, however, observed idly how much larger the impression had grown, but he had attributed that to the action of the water trickling down over the sides.
Then the second thing—subconsciously he had always been curious about the seagulls. They had been so persistent in staying in front of the house as if it were quite customary for them to pick up scraps thrown outside. He knew how tame seagulls were everywhere in Australia and how rarely they were harmed, and it had struck him over and over again that these particular birds were waiting before the house in the expectation of a meal.
Then had come the climax.
Sitting perfectly motionless, as he always did in his musings, he had seen a fox come lurching down over the hill, and the animal, catching sight of the seagulls, had at once started to stalk them. Crouching low upon his stomach and taking cover of every rock and every depression in the ground, he had crept furtively forward. He had reached the back of the black house; he had crossed along the side and had progressed until he had been almost level with the door; then—he had stopped suddenly as if he had been turned to stone, and for five seconds had stood with one paw raised and his head thrust forward exactly as if he were sniffing at the door. Barely five seconds, and then—he was off back like an arrow over the hill.
Like lightning had the meaning of it come to Larose.
The fox had sensed the smell of human beings and in the vicinity of dreaded Man had flown for his very life.
The detective put up his glasses and covered the house. Then he sat perfectly still again. The sun was sinking blood-red into the sea behind him, and he knew his head and shoulders would be silhouetted in sharp outline against the sky.
He held his breath in excitement, but his brain was cold and clear. He must not betray himself; he must not give himself away. If anyone were watching him it must not be known that he had noticed anything.
He wanted time to think, to gather in his thoughts. What did it mean if the house were occupied?
If someone were there, if someone were hiding himself, then he was an evildoer and he had good reason for keeping himself hidden. He had not shown himself because he had seen there was a stranger about and was afraid.
Then quickly the detective's thoughts ran on, and his mind harked back to all the happenings since he had left the city.
Of course, he could understand everything now—the men who had killed the death-adder, the horsemen he had seen upon the roads among the hills, the lights burning in the houses late at night, and the many people he had had to avoid when travelling from the city.
It was all clear now—everything fitted in so well.
Someone was 'wanted' in the State. Some crime had been committed somewhere and everyone had been on the look-out for the perpetrator or perpetrators of the deed. They had been picketing the roads, they had been searching through the thickets round Mount Lofty, they had been beating the bush all around the hills.
And now the very criminals that were being sought for were probably here in hiding in that house below. And there must be two of them, for if they had come by sea, as seemed most likely, one alone could not have pulled up that heavy boat to where it lay. Yes, there were certainly two of them, and for four days and nights he had been the whole time within a few hundred yards of where they were concealed.
And they had seen him too.
There could be no doubt about it—they had seen him like a spy creeping about their place of refuge.
They had watched him through the window, with his binoculars glued hour after hour upon the house that sheltered them. They had heard him prowling round and manipulating, too, with his piece of wire upon their door.
Then what must they have been doing and what indeed must have been their thoughts?
Their faces must have blanched in fear, their hearts must have drummed against their ribs, and many times they must have held their breaths lest he should hear their breathing through the walls.
They must have been agog, too, with doubt as to who he was and what was his mission there. They must have felt like rats caught in a trap.
They must have suffered, too, in body as well as mind, for all the hot days long they had lain sweltering behind the heat of that closed door. No breezes from the sea had reached them, and they must have been almost suffocated for want of air.
Then one of them from dire necessity had had probably to leave the house for water, and at night he had crept like a stricken animal to the creek. All the time then his heart must have been quaking and every moment he must have been expecting the crack of a pistol and the tearing of a bullet through his loins.
The detective puckered his brow in perplexity.
But what after all, if he were mistaken? What if it were all an imagining and the fevered thoughts of a sick man's dream? He was not yet completely recovered from his illness, and might not his mind be still unsteady like his body?
He thought for a long while.
No, no, the evidence was cumulative in every way, and he understood, too, now why he had not been able to pick the lock of that door. It had not been locked at all, but simply bolted on the inside. That was why his piece of wire had not been able to engage anywhere with the catch of the lock. Oh! what a fool he had been!
Yes, things were clear now. Criminals or no criminals, crime or no crime, the house in the falling darkness there, he was sure, harbored humankind, and it was according to all the habits of his life that he should at once take steps to find out what their hiding meant.
Directly it was fully dark Larose crept back to his tent, and by the light of a carefully screened oil lamp made ready for an adventure in the night. He was determined to put his suspicions to the test.
He was going to watch the house until the moon rose, for he was sure that after the burning heat of the day someone in the house of darkness would be going again for water to the creek. He changed his boots for a pair of rubber shoes, he buckled a small hunting knife to his belt, and carefully cleaned and oiled the little automatic that was always on his hip.
Half an hour later and he was crouching within a few feet of the door of the black house. It was then just nine o'clock, and, as he knew the moon would not rise until after three, he expected that a long vigil lay before him.
He settled himself close to the wall, and strained his ears to catch the slightest sound within the house. Everything was perfectly still. Not a sound, not a movement to betoken that there were any living creatures near.
An hour passed—two—three, and then suddenly the detective sat bolt upright, and two seconds later had slipped to his hands and knees, and was creeping like a shadow to the nail-studded door. He put his head close down and then—he smiled. He was satisfied. He had smelt the odor of tobacco smoke.
In a quarter of an hour he was back again in his tent and thinking hard.
Certainly he must learn something about the occupants of the black house, but he must alter his tactics now. They must not catch sight of him again; he must make them think he had left for good. He would move his camp directly it got light, and take it away at least a mile, but he himself would return at once, and from quite a different direction would continue to watch, but now unseen.
There were plenty of places where he could find cover, and he could lie even closer to the house than he had been before; then, when those who were hiding saw no more sign of him, they would naturally think that he had gone away and would come out. He would then see what manner of men they were. But he must be careful, he must be very careful, he told himself, for they were probably dangerous men who would not be over squeamish in finding means to make him hold his tongue. If they caught him, all the surroundings of the place were so lonely there would be small chance of discovery if they did away with him by violence. They could throw his body over the cliffs into the sea, and the sharks would see to it that no evidence would ever be forthcoming as to how he had met his end.
Then another thought struck him. Suppose already they were planning to get hold of him and find out his business there! Suppose even now they were out upon his track! For four days they had seen him watching the house, and the uncertainty and anxiety they must have felt would surely have gone a long way to make them willing now to take some risks.
No, no, they could not at any rate be searching for him yet. They could not search among the rocks in the pitch dark, and they would not dare to carry a light. But what about when the moon rose, as it would do between three and four o'clock? They might slip out then and try to find out where he was sleeping, or at any rate secrete themselves in some convenient position, so that when morning came they would be able to take him unawares. They knew from which direction he had always appeared, and by making a detour they might, directly it grew light, become the trackers instead of the tracked.
He smiled grimly to himself. Well, he would sleep away from "home." So he picked up his ground-sheet and, without undressing, made his way to a long flat rock about fifty yards away. No one could get behind him there, he knew, for the rock was at the edge of the cliff, and on the far side there was a sheer drop of a hundred feet and more to the sea below. The cliff jutted out sharply and, high water or low, the waves were always lapping at its base.
He looked at his watch. It was a quarter to one. Good! Then he had just over three hours to sleep, and with his senses trained as they were he could wake as he willed, at four o'clock. He spread his ground-sheet by the side of the rock and, lying down, in five minutes was fast asleep.
He had dropped off quite certain that in the friendly darkness he was secure from all harm and that no danger to him lurked anywhere. Yet such is the uncertainty of life, a big tiger-snake lay coiled under the other side of the rock, and not ten paces away a death-adder was sleeping in a tuft of grass.
Towards morning there was a rustle of movement within the black house and the beam of an electric torch shot across the floor. "Four o'clock," said a low voice, "and the moon is up. I'll unbolt the door and we'll go round by the creek first."
Larose slept heavily and the three hours he had allotted lengthened quickly into five. His senses might certainly be trained, as he had told himself, but he had made no allowance for his recent illness, and Nature now contemptuously ignored the resolutions he had made. It was after six when he awoke and the sun was well up in the sky, and he only woke then because he heard a sound near him, the crunch of a boot upon a stone. Opening his eyes quickly, they nearly froze in his head. A man was standing not five paces from him, leaning over the very rock under which he lay.
The man was holding a pistol in one hand and with the other he was shading his eyes from the sun. The end of a thick iron bar protruded from the pocket of his coat. The man was burly and thickset, and he had a big frowning face and a square jaw. He was unshaven and unkempt. Standing with his head craned forward, he was sweeping his eyes round in every direction. There was, however, something furtive in his movements, as if he were anxious to see and yet not himself be seen. Suddenly, on the instant, the expression of his face changed, his gaze became fixed, his eyes stared and his mouth opened wide.
"He's seen my tent." muttered Larose softly. "Now—something's going to happen," and the detective very gently drew out his own automatic and released the safety catch.
The big man turned round and began to gesticulate wildly. Apparently he was pointing out the direction of the tent to someone lower down the cliff. Then he leant heavily upon the rock and, raising his pistol, appeared to be taking deliberate and careful aim.
"Oh!" whispered the detective, "he's seen my haversack and thinks it's me. He's going to shoot, the devil." But the big man was evidently uncertain what to do. Three times he lifted his pistol and three times he lowered it again to his side. Then he bent down as if he were trying to peer under the flap of the tent.
The detective thought rapidly. The man meant murder without doubt. The wretch was going to shoot on sight. It was no time for squeamishness, and hesitation was a fool's card to play. Any moment the man might turn his eyes and then his pistol would spit out instant death. Larose raised his own pistol and covered him over the heart.
Then suddenly the man made to creep stealthily forward, and he looked down to see where to plant his foot. His eyes met those of Larose, his face grew ghastly, his jaw dropped, his hand—but there was a flash of fire from under the rock, the crash of a pistol at close range, and spinning round with a hoarse cry he fell backward to the edge of the cliff. For perhaps five seconds he lay poised with inches only between him and the drop to the sea, below. Then, a last convulsive shudder shaking him, he turned on his side and suddenly, quicker than the eye could follow, disappeared from view.
Larose sprang to his feet to look over the cliff, but instantly had reason to regret his haste, for three bullets in quick succession splattered on the rock. He threw himself down again and swore deeply at his want of thought. Of course, he ought to have remembered there were two of them, he told himself disgustedly. He had seen the man he had shot beckoning to someone, and without doubt the other wretch was not far away.
The detective's heart pumped like a piston. The position now was menacing to a degree. His second adversary knew exactly where he lay, but he himself had no means of knowing from which particular direction danger threatened, and at any moment the pistol might open fire again.
Instantly the detective made up his mind. At all risks he must move away. He knew the lie of all the rocks upon the cliff, and with caution he ought to be able to work round, so that anyone who was stalking near his tent would be taken in the rear.
Ah—a thought struck him. Better still, he would make for the black house and lie in ambush there. That was the very thing. The man who was after him would sooner or later return down the cliff, and then would meet with a reception that was quite unexpected.
Larose said afterwards that all his life long he would remember the two hours that followed. He had to make a long detour and crawl low upon the ground the whole time. Never once did he dare to rise even to the level of his knees, and very soon his muscles were so sore that he could have cried out with the pain. His eyes were full of dust, the burning sun beat down upon his head, he was saturated with perspiration, and a fierce thirst tortured him.
Over every yard he covered he had to hold his pistol raised ready to fire, and all the time he had to keep on looking backwards, in case he should be sniped from behind. He was in both great physical and great mental distress.
It was a dreadful journey, and a sigh of relief burst from him when finally he had left the rocks behind, and was no longer in a position to be taken unawares.
Then suddenly he smelt something burning, and straight before him he saw faint spirals of smoke coming up from over the other side of the hill.
"Now, what the deuce?" he began, and then he rose abruptly to his feet and raced across the turf to where he could look down over the cliff.
He whistled in astonishment. The black house was on fire. Smoke was pouring out of the window, and he could hear the loud crackle of burning wood.
For a moment the smoke formed a screen, and he could see nothing beyond the house itself. Then a puff of wind came, and the screen suddenly lifted.
A cry of dismay burst from his lips. The boat was no longer by the black house. It was two hundred yards out to sea—there was a man in it, and he was hoisting a sail.
* * * * * * *
An hour later, and a very tired Larose limped back to where he had left his tent. In appearance he was very subdued.
He had watched the boat until it had become a mere white speck up the gulf, he had searched fruitlessly among the burning embers in the black house, and he had sighed many times as he had thought of all that had happened and what it must mean to him now.
The rest and peace of his holiday had been rudely broken, and he must return at once to his life's work. Crime and evil were calling to him, and it was not in his nature to turn a deaf ear. He had become involved, too, in happenings that were terrible, and it would trouble him all his life long if he could not justify his actions.
He had killed a man of whom he knew nothing at a moment's notice almost, and he must find out why it had been necessary to do it.
What now had been the reason for the deadly purpose of those in hiding in the black house that they must murder him offhand, simply because they had seen him watching in their vicinity? Why had they been hiding there at all? Was not his surmise correct that they were fugitives from the law, and 'wanted' for some dreadful crime?
Ah! But he would find out. He must find out, for his wounded pride insisted that he should. He had cut a poor figure that morning. He had greatly under-estimated the intelligence of those he had been up against, and he had suffered accordingly.
To think that all the time he had been crawling along painfully among the rocks on his stomach that second man had been calmly and contemptuously preparing for his get-away!
With the tide low as it was it must have taken the wretch quite a long while to drag that boat over the sands into the sea, and yet from all appearance he had gone back afterwards with complete assurance to set fire to the house.
The detective gritted his teeth in annoyance, but there was more annoyance for him still when he got back to his camp.
A scene of destruction awaited him.
His haversack had been torn open and all his things strewn about. His binoculars had been crushed viciously into the ground, the lenses and the prisms all broken. His water-bottle had been cut and emptied, the tyres of his bicycle slashed to ribbons, and his boots had been taken away.
"Really, a most thorough workman," sighed Larose when at last he had gauged to the full the extent of his misfortunes, "and most far-seeing, too. Evidently I am to be delayed as long as possible from getting in touch with the police." He nodded his head grimly. "Ah! but it will be a great day for me when I have him in the dock. He's bested me now, but I'll get him presently."
Some four days later the Chief Commissioner of the South Australian Police was sitting alone in his room, at headquarters, in Victoria-square.
He looked tired and anxious, and his face was puckered in a frown. He was going through some papers and he signed from time to time.
He was a small spare man of wiry physique, about fifty years of age, and his hair was growing grey about the temples. He had keen, shrewd eyes, and a good chin, but the general effect of strength in his face was marred to some extent by a certain weakness of the mouth. He had a small moustache, spikily waxed at the ends. He was well, indeed almost foppishly dressed, and he sported a large diamond pin in his cravat. His hands were well cared for and white.
A police constable knocked and entered. He handed the Commissioner a letter.
"Bearer waiting, Sir," he announced. "He gives his name as Hunter, and says he would like to see you, if you could spare him a few minutes."
The Commissioner opened the letter and then at once elevated his eyebrows.
"Show him in," he said briskly, adding after a second—"and if anyone wants me now, say I am engaged for a few minutes."
A youngish-looking man was ushered in. He appeared to be somewhere in the late twenties, and had a pleasant boyish face and smiling eyes. He was well dressed and carried himself jauntily, as if life were very happy for him and he were well satisfied with everything. He bowed politely to the Chief Commissioner.
The latter waited until the door was shut, and then with a pleased and interested expression upon his face rose from his chair.
"How do you do, Sir?" he began, smilingly. Then he seemed to start. He looked down, and began to turn over the papers on his desk.
"Colonel Mackenzie suggested I should call upon you, Sir." said the young man. "I have come over here on holiday, and he asked me to see you and give you his kind regards."
"Yes, yes," said the Commissioner, looking up after quite a long pause. "Please be seated. How is my old friend, Robert Mackenzie? I haven't seen him for years."
"Andrew, Sir," corrected the young man deferentially, "Andrew, not Robert, and he's quite well, I am glad to say."
"No more trouble with his heart, eh?" queried the Commissioner. "That excessive cigarette smoking of his hasn't knocked him up then?" and he regarded his visitor very keenly.
The young man smiled and shook his head. "He never smokes cigarettes, Sir: nothing but a pipe, and as for his heart—well, I've known him, almost intimately I may say, for seven years, and never seen him ill or heard him complain."
"Ah!" said the Commissioner, "that's good to know, very good." and he continued to regard the young man with a very thoughtful pair of eyes.
His visitor laughed shyly.
"Oh! it's quite all right, Sir, I am Gilbert Larose. I'm purposely carrying no cards or letters of introduction on me because I am on holiday, as I've told you, and am ordered to keep away from everything connected with my work. I have just got over a bad bout of typhoid." His eyes twinkled merrily. "I certainly have not had the pleasure of meeting you before, but I've handled several cases for you over in New South Wales, also I am well known to Inspector Davis and Sergeant Driller in the force here. If you remember, it was I who found Laurence, the absconding banker, for you last August and you were good enough then to send me a letter of personal thanks, also—"
"Enough, enough," said the Commissioner, and he smilingly held out his hand, "but there were suspicions, you know, and it was best that I should make sure."
"Suspicions?" asked Larose, smiling back. "Pray what suspicions, sir?"
The Commissioner frowned. "Look here, young man," he said with mock severity, "you come in here to interview me with a loaded Yankee pistol in your hip pocket. You give the name of Hunter to the constable, you tell me you are Gilbert Larose, and yet you are now staying at the Southern Cross Hotel under the name of Edgar Barratt." His face broke into an amused smile. "Now isn't that enough to make anyone suspicious to start off with?"
The detective got very red. "Oh! you know then that I am at the Southern Cross!" he exclaimed.
"Certainly," replied the Commissioner. "It is my business to know." He laughed gently. "And I know a lot more about you, besides that. Listen!" He picked up a paper from his desk and scanned down its contents. "You arrived in Adelaide fifteen days ago. To be exact, upon the seventh of the month, and you went off upon a bicycling expedition to a lonely part of the coast. You returned the day before yesterday and put up, as I have said, at the Southern Cross. Yesterday you spent two and a half hours at the Public Library, looking through the newspaper files of the past fortnight. You are interested in the escape of Miles Fallon from the Stockade, and you are of opinion that it is gross carelessness on our part that the murderer has slipped through our hands. This morning—"—the Commissioner leant back in his chair and spoke as if half in fun and half in earnest—"well, this morning you have come to tell me you can find the fugitive, and that in due time you will claim the 500 pounds reward that we are offering for his apprehension. Now is not that so?"
The face of Larose was the very picture of astonishment and he regarded the Commissioner with an expression that was almost frightened.
"You are correct, sir, as to my movement," he said very slowly, "but I won't pretend that I know how you learnt them all."
"Oh! quite simple, Mr. Larose," chuckled the Commissioner, enjoying to the full the detective's discomfiture. "Just one of those chance happenings that come to us all at times. No, I won't try and mystify you. We got on your track simply because of your curiosity yesterday at headquarters here."
"My curiosity!" exclaimed the detective. "My curiosity here?"
"Yes, here!" laughed the Commissioner. He leant forward and pointed his finger at the detective. "You were passing in the square here yesterday morning, Mr. Larose, and you stopped to read the announcement on the notice board outside. You read most carefully through the placard giving the description of the escaped Miles Fallon, and the 500 pounds reward offered for his apprehension. You then walked away but returned twice again at short intervals to re-peruse the placard. Your obvious interest attracted the attention of one of our plainclothes men who was on duty in the station yard—we are all very much on the jumps just now about anything concerning the missing man—and he followed after you the third time when you went away. He watched you go straight into the Public Library on North-terrace and saw you turning over the newspaper files. He moved near to you and saw that you were reading everything you could find about the murder at the Rialto Hotel. He is quite an intelligent fellow, this plainclothes man of ours, and he snapped you with a pocket camera as you came out of the library. Here, by the by, is the snapshot. Quite good enough to enable me to recognise you when you came in here three minutes ago. Your style of collar is rather high, and, if I may say so, at once catches the eye. Well, he shadowed you next to the Southern Cross Hotel, and when you were at lunch made some enquiries about you." The Commissioner laughed again. "And with the connivance of the manager he even went over your things in your room. He saw the obviously recently-purchased fishing rod with Fleming's name upon it, and also the Adelaide railway-station cloakroom ticket pasted on your valise. He then proceeded to pursue his enquiries at both those places. The number on the cloak-room ticket made quite clear how long the valise had been left at the railway-station, and at Fleming's they remembered you at once, when the snapshot was shown. They told him then that you had had a strap sewn on to the case of the fishing rod so that you could carry it on a bicycle. Also, you had asked them about the likely places on the coast where you could catch snapper from the rocks."
The Commissioner leant back again in his chair in great good-humor. "All very simple, isn't it, Mr. Larose? but it just shows how very dangerous chance may be. Of course, we had nothing definite against you, but the incomplete box of automatic cartridges in your valise made us curious enough to want to keep an eye on you, and I have no doubt but that someone even followed you here this morning. We don't like inter-State visitors who carry arms you know. As to your opinions of the Rialto Hotel affair, well,"—he shrugged his shoulders—"you pumped the head waiter of the Southern Cross pretty thoroughly, now didn't you?"
The eyes of the detective were on the ground. He had been expecting far more embarrassing disclosures and he was smiling in his relief. After a moment's hesitation, he looked up.
"I see I'm quite a beginner in my profession, sir," he said humbly. "I shall have to start at the bottom of the ladder again."
"Not at all, not at all," laughed the Commissioner, "you are still the star detective of the Commonwealth, our one and only incomparable Gilbert Larose." He suddenly became serious again. "But your visit to me now. You came to suggest something?"
Again Larose hesitated. "I am on holiday, sir," he said. "I have been very bad with typhoid and I came here to rest." He sighed. "But I am bored, and this is a very interesting case."
The Commissioner nodded gloomily. "A very terrible case, too," he said. "We are just at a dead end. The man has vanished completely, and there is not the ghost of a clue to suggest where he has gone. The public are calling out against us, and we are under a dreadful cloud. Your coming may turn out to be most opportune, for we will clutch now at any straw. No, no," he went on hurriedly, for he saw Larose smile. "I don't mean that at all. You are not a straw. You would be a tower of strength to us if you would help."
"But I act like a child now," said Larose sadly. "Or you wouldn't have been able to turn me inside out like this. My illness has given me a soft head."
The Commissioner spoke impressively.
"Mr. Larose, this should be just such a case as you would love. It should appeal in every way to that strange instinct of yours. Nothing apparently to help you. Nowhere to start off from. Only the bare and naked fact that the prisoner escaped from our stockade here, when all eyes must have been on him—in broad daylight, too."
The Commissioner pulled his chair forward.
"But come," he went on briskly, "you shall hear everything before you decide. I will give you all the inside information from the very beginning, and you can tell me then what you think."
He touched his bell, and the constable who had ushered in Larose immediately reappeared.
"I am engaged," said the Commissioner curtly, "and I am not to be disturbed." The constable retired.
"Now, Mr. Larose," said the Commissioner, folding his hands together and lowering his voice almost to a whisper. "I'll tell you as strange a story as has ever been recorded in all the black annals of Australian crime, a story perhaps without parallel in its easy and contemptuous flouting of the law." He raised his hand protestingly. "But please for the moment forget everything that you have read in the papers yesterday, and try and listen to me as if you had heard nothing of the matter before. I want you to approach everything with an entirely open mind."
He paused for a moment as if to weigh his words.
"Now, to begin with, you know, of course, the social conditions pertaining generally everywhere, all the world over, since the Great War." Larose nodded. "Well, ours here are just the same. Money opens all doors. Our social aristocracy is appraised to an extent on a strictly cash basis, and if you have money to throw about you are assured of a seat among the elect. Well, just about two years ago. Miles Fallon descended on the city. He came as part proprietor and manager of the Rialto, our crack hotel here. He was then about five-and-thirty years of age and a good-looking, polished man of the world. He was a man of personality, likeable and apparently with plenty of money, and was received with open arms. He went everywhere, and was a favorite with everyone. His name appeared almost every day in the social news. He was received in quiet select circles, and he hobnobbed with the rich people of importance in our State. He was lunched and tea-ed by the racing clubs, and at many public functions he was prominently in evidence. In effect, he was a big bug in our little insect world. Well—imagine the absolute amazement of his admirers and friends when just a fortnight ago he was arrested for murder. Yes! Caught at 2 o'clock in the morning, practically in the very act, and seized when the body of his victim was still quivering in the throes of death. He had smothered an old man, a visitor to his own hotel, smothered him with a pillow, and it was only by the merest chance, mind you, that he was caught.
"He had just committed the crime, and was creeping out of the bedroom, attired in a dressing gown, and with his head muffled in a towel, when he banged right into two night revellers who, in consideration of their reputations, were sneaking up the corridor with their shoes off.
"Something about the appearance of Fallon made the two men immediately suspicious—there was blood upon the towel, for one thing—and they barred his way and asked him what was up.
"Then Fallon, quite unusually for him, for he has always had the reputation of being a cool fellow, apparently lost his head and he lunged out instantly and knocked down one of his interrogators, but the other got in one under the jaw and Fallon collapsed.
"Then things happened very quickly.
"The bedroom door was still open, and while one of the men kept an eye on Fallon the other went in and switched on the lights.
"A ghastly sight met him—an old man with a blue-black face, and a bed with the pillows all smeared over with blood.
"Ten minutes later our men were on the spot, with a medical man close upon their heels. It was remarked at once that the manager of the hotel was not present, but the information was forthcoming that he could not be found.
"It was seen immediately that the old man in the bed was beyond all aid, and attention was accordingly turned to Fallon. He was still unconscious from the blow he had received, and had not yet been recognised.
"He was carried into an empty bedroom and his face sponged with cold water. Immediately then, the eyebrows and the moustache came away and, to the consternation of these standing round, the assassin was recognised as the suave and polite manager of the hotel."
The Commissioner raised his hand impressively. "Imagine the bombshell when it became known in the city! Later in the day, Fallon was charged with wilful murder and was lodged in the cells.
"The motive for the murder was quite plain. Robbery, pure and simple. The victim was a well-to-do resident of Kapunda, and it appeared he had come down the previous day to sell some property in the city. The sale had been effected late in the afternoon and as is usual in such cases the deal had been transacted in hard cash. In some way, Fallon must have got to hear of it, and so in the dead of night he had gained entrance into the old man's room with the master-key of the hotel. Absolute murder was probably not intended, although from the contents of Fallons dressing-gown pockets, the wretch was prepared to go pretty far. He was carrying not only chloroform, but also tablets of sulphate of morphia and a hypodermic syringe.
"What we think is, that the old man woke up as Fallon was attempting to chloroform him, and then the latter, in a panic, seized upon a pillow as the only way to quieten him. At any rate the old man had put up some sort of a fight, for Fallon had bled profusely from the nose, and it was actually the wretch's own blood that had made the character of the death look so ghastly."
The commissioner stopped speaking to light a cigarette, and Larose remarked thoughtfully:
"Was there any reason, do you know why the sleeping man should have been disturbed at all?"
"Oh! yes," replied the Commissioner, "I was going to tell you. Fallon was carrying away the old man's money belt that contained 3,800 pounds in Treasury notes. The old chap had undoubtedly been wearing the belt in bed, and from the disorder in the room we think Fallon had searched everywhere else first, before turning to the sleeper and discovering the belt on him."
"But how do you know," asked Larose, "that he had got the belt on him in bed?"
"Because," replied the Commissioner, "it had been torn off so hurriedly and with such violence that the straps were broken."
Larose made no comment, and the Commissioner continued.
"Well, two days later, a verdict of wilful murder was brought in in the coroner's court, and Fallon was committed for trial. Now comes the most disconcerting part of the whole business, and the one which, occasions us such profound disquiet." The Commissioner spoke very slowly. "The prisoner had not been in the stockade for forty-eight hours before he walked out again in broad daylight, as if he had been no prisoner at all."
The voice of the Commissioner took on a bitter and incredulous tone.
"Yes! Walked out as if he were a free man! Opened and shut his cell door and vanished from that moment as if he had never existed at all! No one heard his door open or shut, no one saw him go, no one noticed anything at all and yet—yet the stockade yard was full of people, there were guards on duty everywhere, and it was in the middle of the afternoon."
The commissioner dropped his voice still lower and leant forward across his desk until his face was close to that of Larose.
"Now, what does that mean, sir I ask you? What does that mean?" His voice rose and hardened. "It means, Mr. Larose, and that is why we in authority are in such trouble here—it means that the miscreant Fallon was only one of several. He must have had allies somewhere, confederates both within the Stockade and without. He was one of a gang. We are sure of it. But listen again." The Commissioner spoke now in his natural voice. "Now, what happened after? We at once suspended two of the warders at Blendiron, the assistant chief warder, who was in charge of that part of the Stockade where Fallon was confined, and Bullock, a warder under him, who had charge, amongst others, of the prisoner's particular cell." The voice of the Commissioner was slow and solemn. "Well, Blendiron, too, vanished off the face of the earth within twenty-four hours, and Bullock was found drowned in the Torrens River upon the evening of the next day." The Commissioner sat up with a jerk. "Now, Mr. Larose, ask me what questions you like."
But the detective, it seemed, was in no hurry to ask any questions at all. He was looking out of the window, and from the expression on his face his thoughts were far away. It was quite a long while before he spoke.
"The greater problem and the lesser," he said slowly. "Well, we'll take the lesser first." He became brisk and animated. "Now how much start do you think the prisoner had had, before you discovered that he had got away?"
"Ten minutes," replied the Commissioner promptly, "not a second more. We are sure of that because he had been out previously in the exercise yard, and had just been returned to his cell to be in readiness for a doctor who was coming to see him at 4 o'clock. He had been complaining of a bad cough that would not let him sleep at night."
"And it was certain," asked Larose, "that he had escaped straight away out of the stockade? I mean, he couldn't have been in hiding somewhere in the buildings, and have got away later on?"
"No, quite impossible," replied the Commissioner, shaking his head: "he must have got right away at once, for a quarter of a minute after we had discovered that the cell was empty—not even a mouse could have got outside the prison walls. Every crack and every crevice was gone through with a fine comb."
"And no traces of him were found anywhere, afterwards?"
"None whatever," said the Commissioner. "It was just as if he had gone up in smoke. No one had seen him, and there were no rumors even that anyone like him had been seen outside on the road. He couldn't immediately have got away to the city either, for we had drawn a cordon round Adelaide at once. Nor could he have got out of the State, for every road and every railway-station was watched—as indeed they have been ever since."
"There was the sea," said the detective thoughtfully. "In the description published of him, I remember he is described as tattooed with an anchor upon one arm, and that almost certainly means that at one time he has followed the sea. Yes, there was the sea, and I have always noticed that a sailor-man in trouble turns back to the sea. That is his first thought."
The Commissioner shook his head again. "No chance whatever," he said—"every outgoing vessel was searched."
"But a boat," persisted the detective. "He might have gone off in a boat."
"None was missing," said the Commissioner emphatically. "We thought of that, and most exhaustive enquiries were made."
"But there was a fire," said the detective very softly. "I saw in the newspapers that there was a fire on the night of the fifteenth in the Port Adelaide docks, and that the sailing barque Clan Robert was burnt to the water's edge." The tone of his voice became almost apologetic. "Might not now the fire have been engineered to cover the theft of one of the ship's boats?"
The face of the Commissioner grew rather pink.
"We had no report," he said brusquely, "that any of the ship's boats were not burnt, too."
The detective did not press the point.
"And the warders who were suspended?" he asked. "Had you any reason to suspect them of complicity in the escape? Anything definite, I mean."'
"No, not at the time," replied the Commissioner. "They appeared to be quite as astounded as everyone else. They were both men of long service, and we suspended them only as a matter of routine, until the official enquiry should be held."
"And they are both beyond questioning now. One is missing, you say, and the other dead?"
The Commissioner sighed wearily.
"Yes, it is mystery upon mystery, Mr. Larose, and we can make nothing of it. It looks now as if they had been implicated and were removed violently so that they should confess nothing. The man Bullock was of weak temperament, and if he had had anything to tell we should have got it all out of him very soon. But Blendiron was of quite a different type. He was of the fighting kind, and very sure of himself. He was big and burly in mind as well as in body. He would have been a hard nut to crack, I admit."
The detective stooped down suddenly to adjust the lace of his shoe.
"And have you had no news at all," he said slowly, and without looking up, "of this assistant chief warder, Blendiron, since that afternoon?"
"We know nothing," said the Commissioner, "except that he went straight home that afternoon, appeared to be very depressed, went out again just before 6 o'clock, and has never been seen since. Probably he was murdered in some such way as Bullock had been. No doubt they both knew too much, and were of no further use to their employers, so they were got rid of as speedily as possible." He shrugged his shoulders. "At any rate, that's what we think."
Larose made no comment. He had finished adjusting his shoe lace and was now looking out of the window again. There was a long silence, and the Commissioner chewed fiercely at the cold butt of his cigarette. Suddenly, however, he spoke again.
"But that is not all I have to tell you, Mr. Larose. You spoke just now of a greater and a lesser problem that lay before us, and you were quite right. These events of a fortnight ago were not isolated happenings; they were not events by themselves." He thumped his fist upon the desk. "They were links in a chain of crime: they were two events in quite a long series of crime."
He paused for a moment to relight his cigarette.
"But listen still further. For over a year now we have been conscious of a peculiar current of evil-doing stirring in the city, and we who are in authority are convinced there is a master criminal working here. There have been numerous robberies in hotels principally. There have been crimes of violence, murder has been done." He spoke with deliberation. "They have been all well-planned crimes, too, well thought out and well executed, and we have been baffled every time. No clues to pick up, nothing we could ever follow on. To take only the last few months—all crimes of night—a man drugged and robbed at the Gulf Hotel, a thousand pounds and more filched from two inter-State visitors at the Grand Australasian, a wealthy stockbroker stunned and his safe broken into when he was working late at his office, and the naked body of a man, tied up in a sheet, found under most suspicious circumstances in the Torrens River at the foot of the weir. This last man was never identified, but enquiries are now coming through from London for information as to the whereabouts of a party who was carrying a parcel of precious stones upon him, and who should have sailed from here by the Nestor ten weeks ago, and the description tallies with that of the body found in the Torrens weir." The voice of the Commissioner took on quite a pathetic tone. "Now you can understand how worried we are. The Press is up against us, the public is thirsting for our blood, and the other States are jeering at this city as being the most criminal of all the cities in the Commonwealth."
The detective smiled at the woebegone expression on the Commissioner's face.
"But this escape, Sir, from the stockade," he asked—"surely you have formed some theory as to how, when he had left his cell, he got away from the building itself?"
"We have formed no theory, Mr. Larose," said the Commissioner solemnly. "And it has amazed us all the time that even with the connivance of the two officials he was able to get clear from the buildings. Blendiron and Bullock could have helped him only a third of the way. He had to cross parts of the prison over which they had no control. But see here, I'll draw you a rough plan of the place." and the Commissioner took out his fountain-pen and pulled a pad of paper before him. "Now, here is the outer wall of the stockade, twenty-two feet high with the top four feet made up of loose bricks. You understand, of course, no one can consequently climb over without bringing down loose bricks and at once attracting attention by the noise. Well, here in the middle are the cells and here is the particular one where Fallon was confined. It opens into this corridor, which is about twenty yards long. At the end of this corridor comes the exercise yard. Unlock another door here and you are in the general courtyard. You cross this courtyard and here are the entrance gates to the stockade." He looked up at the detective. "You see, Mr. Larose, Fallon had not only to get out of his cell and along that first corridor, but he had also to open the door at the end, cross over the exercise yard, unlock another door there, cross over the main court-yard, and then induce the guard on duty at the entrance gates to unlock them and let him through. It seems a sheer impossibility, for, granting that Blendiron and Bullock had passed him through into the exercise yard, their territory ended there, and he would have needed more accomplices to see him clear of the entrance gates. The whole prison couldn't have been in his pay, yet he would have been under the observation of a score of pairs of eyes at least while passing through the two yards to reach the entrance gates. Just think of that."
"But if he were disguised," said Larose, "he could manage it?"
"But a stranger would have been remarked," retorted the Commissioner irritably. "And no one saw any stranger at all. Besides, if he were disguised, as you say, what became then of his old clothes? When he was remanded to the stockade he was wearing a light grey suit, and it was not left behind when he escaped, so undoubtedly he was wearing it."
The detective asked another question.
"Who were actually present when the discovery was made that he had escaped?"
"Three persons," replied the Commissioner. "Blendiron and Bullock and Fallon's medical man, Dr. Van Steyne. It was like this, as I have in part already explained to you. Fallon had complained that he was not feeling well, and, taking the privilege of prisoners on remand, he asked to see his own doctor. So they 'phoned to Dr. Van Steyne, who, by the way, is a foremost consulting physician in South Australia, and he arranged to come to the stockade about four o'clock. Accordingly at three-forty-five Fallon was locked in his cell to be in readiness, and within a few minutes—every one agrees certainly not more than ten—Dr. Van Steyne arrived. He was taken straight to the cell, the door was unlocked, and—the cell was found empty."
"And, of course, you asked the doctor," said Larose, "how the warders seemed to take it and whether they showed great surprise?"
"Yes," replied the Commissioner. "Van Steyne happens to be an intimate friend of mine, and I questioned him on the spot. At five minutes past four I got a telephone message from the stockade, and I was down there by a quarter past. I was told at first that the doctor had gone, but, I found he was in the infirmary yard with the prison surgeon. I questioned him minutely, and he was of opinion that the warders were in every way as much astonished as he was. He said Bullock went white as a sheet, and that Blendiron swore savagely."
There was a short silence, and then the Commissioner shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, that is all I have to tell you, Mr. Larose," he said with a sigh, "and I admit there is not much inducement for you to take up the case. As to where Fallon is hiding, as I say, we have not the remotest idea, and we don't know where to start looking." He smiled grimly. "Even you, sir, with that fabled extra sense of yours would not know where to begin. You would be bushed from the start."
"But I'm not so sure of that," said Larose thoughtfully. "There are some things that occur to me, there are some—" He hesitated, and the Commissioner broke in sharply.
"Oh! then you have some ideas, have you? You think that you can succeed where we have failed." He frowned slightly. "Good, then, you shall go down to the stockade at once. You shall—"
The detective shook his head. "No," he said quickly, "no, I'll take it on, but it is not at the stockade where I shall start. It is at the Rialto Hotel where I shall pick up the beginnings of the trail." He looked thoughtfully at the Commissioner. "A man cannot live for two years, you know, Mr. Commissioner, at any one place and not leave something of his inclinations and the tendencies of his mind behind. So we will gather up the threads of his life there, and they will help us to determine most likely what he is doing now." The face of the detective broke into a smile. "Yes, we must go to the place where he lived, and perhaps then we shall hear his voice still, speaking in the rooms that he inhabited, and maybe we shall even see his shadow still moving on the wall."
The frown on the face of the Commissioner deepened. He was at no time a man of much imagination, and he had no room in his psychology for poetical ideas.
"Good!" he said drily. "Then you shall be taken to the Rialto instead. I will detail Inspector Barnsley to go with you. He has been in charge of the case from the beginning and knows all there is to know." A suspicion of sarcasm crept into his voice. "And when you find out where Fallon is, please ring me up at once. It will be the best piece of news that has come in all my life and I shan't mind being disturbed. Now—" and he reached towards his bell.
"One moment, please, before you ring," interrupted Larose quickly. "If you don't mind. I should like as few people as possible to know that I am here. I always work as much as I can—alone."
"Oh! certainly," replied the Commissioner. "No one, indeed, except Inspector Barnsley, need know that you are helping us."
"And one other thing," went on Larose. "Before I meet anyone, I should like to make some change in my appearance." He smiled apologetically. "You see, sir, it is a rule of life with me never to be seen as my own proper self when I'm engaged on a case. My chief in New South Wales is very considerate and even when I am giving evidence in the courts allows me to be, in part, disguised." He laughed. "I have found it most helpful at times that some of my friends, even, don't know exactly what I am like."
The Commissioner smiled. "Yes. I've heard all that about you, Mr. Larose. They say you are the greatest master of disguise since Bousson died." He puckered his forehead. "But is it really true that you can so alter your appearance that I, for instance, shouldn't recognise you, even if I were looking out for you and you stood close near me?"
"I ought to be able to, sir," replied Larose quietly. "That is, of course," he added quickly, "unless you caught my features in repose. I was on the stage once and 'make-up' is my long suit in criminal work." He looked at his watch. "But I'll be back here in less than two hours and you shall judge then for yourself. My name will be Huxley now, until I've finished with the case."
"A rather overrated man, I'm afraid this Larose," sighed the Commissioner when a couple of minutes later he was alone in his room, "and I'm inclined almost to believe now that he owes most of his success to his good luck." He sniffed contemptuously. "Shadows on the wall! Well, he'll find none this time. He's up against something stiff here."
"Quite a pleasant man, the Commissioner," ruminated Gilbert Larose when he was out again in the street. "Smart too in some ways." His face clouded "But weak—rather weak. He's inclined to give up too easily and he's afraid of what people say."
That same afternoon two men walked into the entrance hall of the Rialto Hotel and enquired for the managing accountant.
There was a flutter of interest in the reception office, for, although in plain clothes, one of the men was recognised at once as Detective-Inspector Barnsley, of the South Australian Police. The features of the other were not familiar, but it was surmised instantly by the clerk that he was a detective, too, for he had policeman written all over him. Certainly he was not very tall, but his face was hard and impassive as became a sleuth-hound of the law, and he walked with the military precision of one who had for many years exercised in the barrack yard. He had big boots with thick soles, and he eyed everyone in true policeman fashion as potential criminals. The accountant appeared.
"We are going over Fallon's room again, Mr. Trewby," said Inspector Barnsley, "and afterwards my colleague would like to have a short chat with you. He is Detective Huxley, from Perth, and he is giving us a hand."
The detective from Perth nodded, and his stern face relaxed into quite a pleasant smile.
"Sorry to trouble you, Mr. Trewby," he said, "but I understand you have been in personal contact with the late manager and have worked with him ever since he has been here."
The accountant was a good-looking young fellow, of about six or seven-and-twenty. He was well groomed and his hair was parted exactly in the middle. He had had a college education, and he regarded detectives generally as common and uneducated men. He had a rather supercilious air. He bowed, however, politely.
"Yes. I have been accountant here for three years," he said, "and have worked with the late manager for the last two."
"Well, you're the man I want," smiled Detective Huxley, "and I'm sure you'll be able to help me."
They traversed a long corridor and then Inspector Barnsley, taking a key from his pocket, opened a door at the far end and ushered the two into a darkened room.
"This was Fallon's private room, Mr. Huxley," he explained as he pulled up the blinds, "and it is practically exactly as he left it. Everything's been gone through thoroughly, but nothing's been removed. We've had possession of the key all the time."
Gilbert Larose, for, of course, it was he who was the assumed detective from Perth, looked interestedly about him. The room was furnished as a bed-sitting room, and was large and commodious, and luxurious in every way. Everything spoke of comfort and of the best that money could buy. A rich Turkey carpet, furniture of the most elaborate kind, valuable etchings upon the walls, silverware in the corners, and at the far end, in an alcove screened off by long silk curtains, a handsome Jacobean bed.
"Hum!" murmured Larose, "appreciated the good things of life, this Mr. Fallon. No anchorite here. Excellent taste, too." He examined the etchings. "Quite valuable these, all signed. Rheims Cathedral, Notre Dame, and a wonderful little bit of the Bois de Boulogne." (The accountant opened his eyes—this rough looking detective's pronunciation was quite perfect.) "Varnot's seascapes and a characteristic group of pretty girls by Lionel Lindsay. This last one perhaps is one of the best examples of Lindsay's finest work. Ah! his books. Now we shall see what kind of man he is. Shakespeare, Kit Marlowe, Ibsen, Pinero, the plays of Oscar Wilde. A student of the drama and quite catholic in his tastes! 'Life of Henry Irving,' 'Memoirs of Beebohm Tree,' Amateur Theatricals, Lytton's 'Cardinal Richelieu,' with the parts scored. So, so—probably an actor himself. Tupper's 'Principles of Surgery,' Giffen's 'Medical Jurisprudence,' and Garrod's 'Materia Medica.' Dear me! Dear me! A little out of date, but a student of medicine, too!"
For a few moments the detective glanced cursorily over the other books, and then turned briskly to the well-groomed young accountant of the hotel.
"Come, Mr. Trewby," he said, "you and I can now have our little talk. We'll sit on that nice couch over there and have a cigarette. You see," he went on confidingly, "in some way you may perhaps hand over to us the key to the whole situation, and we might learn through you where this fellow has now gone. You know the man, you were in daily contact with him, and you were aware, in common and everyday circumstances, of the trend of his mind. So you can put us wise, perhaps better than anyone else, as to his habits and inclinations, that we may be able to deduce from what you tell us something of what we want to find out."
The accountant regarded Larose with more respect. In spite of his prejudices he was impressed, and realised that the detective was of no common and uneducated mind. He nodded his head.
"I shall be very pleased to tell you all I know," he said politely, "but—," and he smiled, "please remember I am no detective like you, Mr. Huxley."
"Heaven forbid," laughed Larose; "we have enough competition in our line as it is. Well," he went on briskly, "as I take it, this Fallon of yours was quite a likeable sort of man, and until the affair of a fortnight ago you had no reason to suspect that there was anything at all abnormal about him."
"No, no reason whatever," replied the accountant.
"He was a capable manager?" asked Larose.
"Certainly! We pride ourselves upon this being, as far as possible, an ideal hotel."
"Now tell me his mode of life," said Larose. "What was the usual routine of his day? Exactly, please."
"He was called at seven," said the accountant, speaking without feeling, and exactly as if he were reading from a book, "and the morning papers were taken in to him when he was called. He was in the office opening the letters by eight o'clock. He had breakfast at half-past, and then he went back to the office or was about the hotel until eleven. Then he went out and transacted any necessary business in the city. He was back for lunch before one, and after lunch rested or read in his room until about three. He generally went out again then, and didn't return until about six-thirty, when he came in for dinner."
"Where did he go in the afternoon?" asked the detective.
The accountant smiled. "I don't know. He never spoke to us about his private affairs, but I think he generally went out for a game of bridge at his club.
"What club?" asked Larose.
"The South Australian."
"The swell club of the city," commented Inspector Barnsley grimly. "All well-to-do men there, and of different flesh and blood from common fellows like you and me."
"What makes you think he went to the club?" asked Larose, ignoring the interruption.
"Well, the club is quite close, and he didn't use his car."
"Oh!" said Larose. "About his car then. Where did he garage it?"
"At the back of the hotel, in our garage here."
"What make is it?"
"A single-seater Saul. A very fine car. It cost over a thousand pounds."
"Well go on. What happened after dinner?"
"He went out again for the evening, or else he entertained friends here."
"He had a lot of friends?"
"Oh! yes! Quite a number."
"Well, who were his principal ones? Now please be exact here."
The accountant hesitated. "I really couldn't say. You see, so many different people came here that I can't single out any particular ones. I could name twenty different people right off with whom he was particularly friendly, but I couldn't say whom he saw most."
"But the telephone?" persisted Larose. "You must have often heard him speak on the 'phone?"
The accountant shook his head. "Very rarely, except on business. You see, he had his private 'phone in here."
The detective thought for a moment.
"Well, what did he eat and drink?" he asked.
"Oh! almost everything," replied the accountant, looking mildly amused. "He had the usual meals of the hotel always. Nothing extra except that he drank two glasses of milk during the morning."
"He was a teetotaler?" asked the detective.
"By no means!" replied the accountant, "but he was very abstemious, and never took alcohol except with his meals. Then he drank whisky as a rule and occasionally champagne."
"Was he a man in good health?"
"Yes, except that he used to get very bad colds and then he'd have a dreadful cough sometimes."
"Who was his doctor?"
"Dr. Van Steyne. He's been here when Mr. Fallon was ill."
The detective frowned, as if not much grist were coming to his mill. "Now tell me," he asked—"Fallon could do pretty well as much as he liked here couldn't he? There was no one, I mean, to interfere with him in any way?"
The accountant shook his head. "No one," he replied. "He could come and go when he pleased, and take what days off he liked."
"So, he took days off, did he? Many of them?"
"Well, not many, but sometimes he went away for four or five days."
"Where did he go?"
"He never told anybody. He went away in his car."
"Long journeys, do you think, far away from the city?"
The accountant hesitated.
"No. I don't think very far," he said slowly. "I don't think so, because he never came back looking as if he had been much in the open air, and I had always noticed that he sun-browned easily, in an afternoon, for instance when he had been to the races."
"Oh!" said the detective, "and that is all you can surmise?"
"Yes," went on the accountant, and then he hesitated again. "But, still, I think it must have been some little distance that he went, for he always came back at night, about 10 o'clock or just before."
"How do you come to remember that particularly?" asked Larose.
"Because I lock the office at 10, and he was nearly always back just before then."
"And when he went off on these holidays," said the detective, "what time in the day did he start?"
"Oh! Always in the evening and pretty late. He always dined here before he left."
The detective snapped his fingers triumphantly.
"Ah! now we're learning something," he exclaimed, "our gentleman came and went always after dark. He didn't want to be seen, eh?"
The accountant looked thoughtful. "I never regarded it in that light," he said, "but still—"—he shrugged his shoulders—"it never interested me at all until now."
"And how often did he take these days off," asked Larose sharply, "once a month or so?"
"No, at no regular intervals. Sometimes he would not go away for months, and then he would go away two weeks running."
"When was the last time he went away?" asked Larose. "Do you remember?"
"About five weeks ago I think, but I can easily make sure. He always signed the cashbook every time before he went, and I can consequently put an exact date to every holiday he took."
"Excellent," said Larose brightening up. "Then you might, please, let me have a list straight away of the dates. They may be useful to us." He thought for a moment and then stood up. "Well, thank you, Mr. Trewby, that's all for the present, I think. I am much obliged to you for your help. We won't keep you any longer. Inspector Barnsley and I will now go over things here. One other question though. Who cleaned and looked over his car?"
"Our man at the garage always. Mr. Fallen was most particular about his car. He was very proud of it, and always had it very spick and span."
"Quite a profitable little conversation, that," remarked Larose, when the accountant had left the room. "If we could only find out what these outings meant, it might clear things up a lot." He looked thoughtfully round the room. "Now, I think I'll go through his clothes first. They will be a good indication of the kind of man he is."
He opened the large wardrobe and at once turned to Inspector Barnsley.
"A regular dandy!" he said with a grin, "and much better dressed than either you or I, Inspector! More variety, too!" He picked out a coat and carried it to the window. He scrutinised the tab under the collar, and then carefully turned out the inner breast pocket and held it up to the light. "Ah!" he exclaimed laconically, and returned swiftly to the wardrobe. He abstracted another coat and submitted it to the same scrutiny—a hurried glance at the tab under the collar, and the breast pocket pulled out and held up to the light. The same process was gone through with every coat that he could find, and then the waistcoats and the trousers were each taken out and gone through in turn.
The inspector regarded him with a puzzled frown.
Suddenly Larose looked up and he spoke very sternly. "An habitual criminal, Barnsley. A man who is old in crime."
Inspector Barnsley opened his eyes wide. He did not understand.
"Look at these clothes, my friend!" went on Larose. "Every mark of identity in them taken out! These are good clothes, expensive clothes, and made undoubtedly by tailors of high-class repute. And every tailor who makes clothes such as these invariably puts in his own name, and very often that of his client, too, somewhere upon a little tab. Practically always it is sewn under the inner breast pocket of the coat. It has been done so in all these coats, and in every single instance, as I say, they have been taken out. Hold any of these inside breast pockets up to the light and you can see where the stitches have been cut. Now what does that mean?"
But the inspector made no response. He was a stolid, matter-of-fact man, and Larose was tapping wires that belonged to another world.
Larose went on, and he spoke now very slowly and almost as if he were speaking to himself.
"Well, it amounts to this. We can conclude that this man, from time to time, was in the habit of going somewhere where his real identity was unknown. He doubtless passed as someone different from the manager of the Rialto Hotel. Periodically, we have learnt, he set off on expeditions, and the first and last portions of these journeys must have been fraught with certain elements of danger, for he accomplished them in the hours of darkness, so that he might not be seen." The detective's voice took on suddenly a sharp and decisive tone.
"But where's that box of make-up you said you found. Somewhere in the desk, I believe."
"Second drawer down," replied the inspector promptly, "and it's just as we found it. Nothing was touched."
Larose opened a small flat tin box, but here his inspection was quick and soon over.
"Not been used often," he commented, "and only part of a much larger outfit that he's got elsewhere. A sort of emergency affair I should say. A little of everything, but in much smaller quantities than he could buy at any shop. No place would sell the small quantities that are in this box." He paused for a moment and looked thoughtfully round the room; then he shook his head. "No, not anywhere in the hotel. He's got another hiding-place somewhere, I'm sure." He turned to the inspector. "Well, I'll go through his papers now. His pass-book first, please."
It was an hour and more before Larose rose from the desk, and his comments were clear-cut and decisive.
"A gambler," he said, "and been losing heavily in stocks and shares. Caught badly by the slump in lead. Plenty of money coming in but even more going out. Those large cash deposits look peculiar, but I suppose he would explain them by saying they were bets won on the racecourse. Must have had some method, too, of getting rid of the original notes. Naturally we—"
There was a knock on the door and the accountant entered. He handed a paper to Larose.
"Here are the dates, Mr. Huxley, upon which Mr. Fallon was away from the hotel during the past year. Eleven times, and the lengths of absence vary from two to six days."
Larose thanked him and the accountant withdrew. The detective glanced over the paper and then passed it over to his colleague.
"Can you make anything of it?" he asked. "Do you remember anything happening upon these dates?"
"That I do!" exclaimed the inspector excitedly, the moment his eyes fell on the paper. "Two things for sure—September 5 was the date of that robbery at the Grand Australasian, and on the eleventh of October that man was chloroformed and lost over 700 pounds in the Gulf Hotel. Great Scot:—then they were Fallon's work. He was in those hotels in some disguise."
"You are sure of these dates?" said Larose quickly; "you are quite sure?"
"Sure!" groaned the inspector bitterly. "They left too unpleasant memories behind them to be forgotten! The public roared at us, and the press spoke openly of resignations and new blood wanted in the force. Oh! If we could get that man!"
"All in good time," said Larose.
"We'll get him sure enough if he was involved in these other crimes, and it looks as if he was." He spoke confidently. "No man can commit crime after crime and cover up all his tracks. One day comes the fatal lapse, and then it's all over with him and his number's up. We mayn't get the man straight away, but through these other affairs we ought to be able to find out with whom he has been working, and who, later on, engineered that escape from the stockade. Yes, we may trace him back through them, for almost certainly it is they who are hiding him now."
"Well, we're getting on," said the inspector hopefully; "at any rate I feel much better about it than I did a couple of hours ago."
Larose smiled. "It's a good case, and I wouldn't have missed it for worlds. But come now, have we sifted everything here? Have we, for one thing, accounted for all his keys?"
"All on his chain," replied the Inspector. "There were nine of them and I have ticked them all off."
"No others anywhere else?" asked Larose. "We want to be quite sure about everything, you know."
"There are a couple of odd ones in a little purse somewhere, but they look old and as if they haven't been used for a long time."
"Well, lets see them!" said Larose sharply. "You remember where they are?"
"In one of those bottom drawers, I think." The inspector searched for a couple of minutes. "Yes, here they are."
Larose took the purse he held out. It was a very small one and made of kid.
"Held a cigar cutter once," he commented, "and probably—Hello! hello! Who said these keys hadn't been used lately?" and he held the purse up to his nose. "Why, man, they reek of kerosine!"
Quickly resuming his seat at the desk, he tilted the keys on to a sheet of clean notepaper, and bent his face down over them.
"Yes, yes," he muttered, "it's the keys that smell. Someone has been handling them with oily hands." He turned to the inspector. "Now they were not touched here by any one of you who had got oil on his hands?"
"No, I'm sure of that," said the inspector, shaking his head. "I found them myself in the corner of that bottom drawer, and I was the only one to handle them. I put them back because I didn't think they were anything important."
Larose made no remark. He was turning the little purse inside out and shaking it over the sheet of paper. His eyebrows lifted. "Sand," he muttered, "and quite a lot of it."' He intently scrutinised the two keys. "One, a small Yale," he went on, "belonging to a small cupboard probably, and the other—the other a cheap padlock key. Outdoor padlock key," he added after a moment, "for there's rust inside the barrel from the padlock itself. Plenty of rust." A thought seemed suddenly to strike him, and he bent down and applied the tip of his tongue to the little heap of sand upon the paper. "Salty," he muttered. "Sand from the sea-shore. Now I thought it must be salt water that made the padlock so rusty. Sand and sea-water. Now let me think."
He closed his eyes and leant back in the chair.
One, two, three minutes passed and Inspector Barnsley never took his eyes off the detective's face. He, Henry Barnsley, of twenty and more years in the force, was learning things from the younger man, and he was quite prepared to pay tribute accordingly.
Larose opened his eyes at length, and, catching the inspector's intent regard, perhaps read something, too, of the latter's thoughts.
He smiled pleasantly. "I think I've got it, Inspector," he said in quite a cheerful tone of voice, "but I'll get you, if you please, to check my deductions." He swung round in his chair. "Now, in the light of what we have heard from the accountant, and what happened on certain of those dates when Fallon was absent from this hotel, these two keys may prove to be in vital relationship to what we want to know. As I look at it, he's all along had another place somewhere. Not a place where he resided when he went away, but a stepping-off place where he prepared himself for some adventures, and this place I think must be an outhouse near the sea. Look at the sand that I shook out from this little purse. You can see from the barrel what a rusty padlock is served by the bigger key—salt rust I am sure, because of its quantity and also because the sand itself tastes salty. Now I don't think the place will turn out to be a garage, because surely no one would secure a valuable thousand-pound car with such a cheap and paltry padlock as undoubtedly belongs to this key. Remember, we have learnt he was away sometimes for as long a period as six days, and if he doubled back again incognito to the city his car would have been left unattended all the time." Larose sniffed. "Just think. A thousand-pound car secured by an eighteen-penny padlock. No, no; it's not plausible on the face of it, and more especially in the case of a man who, as we have just heard, was very proud of his car."
"But why did he go away at all in his car?" asked the puzzled inspector.
"That's what we must find out," replied Larose. "Probably to give the impression to everyone that he was going a distance from the city. But we'll interview the garage man straight away. At any rate we know now what questions to ask him."
Locking the door behind them, they passed out through the back of the hotel into the yard. The garage of the hotel was a large one and had accommodation for between twenty and thirty cars.
"Some of the finest cars in Australia are generally to be found here," remarked the inspector. "This is a rich man's hotel, you know."
They found the garage-man, busy cleaning a sumptuous limousine. Inspector Barnsley introduced himself and his companion.
"We shall only keep you a few minutes," he said. "We want to look at the late manager's car."
Without a word the man led them to a low grey single-seater at the end of the garage. The car had beautiful lines and looked as polished and glossy as if it had just come out of the showroom.
"Fine car," observed Larose admiringly, "and beautifully kept." He smiled pleasantly at the man. "How long has Mr. Fallon had it?"
"Two years," was the reply. "He bought it just after I came here."
Larose took a long look again. "And when did he last use it?"
"The day before he was taken up," said the man. "He went out in it in the afternoon."
"Tell me," said Larose—"he sometimes went touring in it, didn't he? He was away touring for days at a time?"
"Well, he went away," replied the man slowly, "but he didn't tour much. He didn't go far."
"Then how long were the journeys he took?" asked Larose.
The man stopped to think. "Sometimes twenty miles," he said, "sometimes thirty. Never more than that."
"But when he was absent for nearly a week, for instance?" said Larose. "Do you mean to say then he didn't go more than 30 miles?"
The man pointed to the speedometer. "Not by that," he replied, "nor by the condition of the car. I don't remember any long journeys even when he was away for five or six days."
There was a long silence, and Inspector Barnsley tried to catch Larose's eye.
Presently, however, Larose spoke with an inflexion of carelessness in his voice.
"You don't happen to know where he went anytime, do you?"
"He went to Henley Beach once," replied the man. "I happen to know that."
Inspector Barnsley hardly breathed.
"On one of his long absences?"
The man nodded. "He was away five days that time, and his car went exactly 22 miles."
"But how do you know he'd been to Henley?" and Larose spoke as though the matter was of no particular interest to anybody.
The man laughed. "Only by accident," he said. "Mr. Fallon had had a puncture, and put on the spare wheel. Then the damaged tube had been repaired, and the garage people who had done the repair had left their cost label on. I saw 'Norgate' on it, 'South Henley, 3/6.'"
Inspector Barnsley sighed deeply.
"How do you happen to remember he'd only done 22 miles that trip?" asked Larose.
"Oh! when I saw he'd had a puncture I naturally wondered where he'd got it, and I looked at the speedometer to see if he'd been far away from the city."
"Did you tell him about the label?" asked Larose.
The man shook his head. "As a matter of fact. I never thought about it again until you questioned me just now. It had quite gone out of my mind."
Ten minutes later the two detectives were en route for Henley Beach, a seaside suburb about seven miles distant from the city.
Norgate's Garage at Henley Beach lay just off the main road and was situated about 200 yards from the promenade. It was not a large garage and there were only two cars inside when the detectives walked in.
"Good!" commented Larose, "so much the better! He hasn't a large connection evidently, and therefore will be more likely to remember about Fallon's car."
A young fellow who was working at a bench left his job and came forward, but Inspector Barnsley asked for the proprietor, and a big, alert-looking man at once appeared. His jaw dropped a little when the Inspector announced who they were and produced his official card.
"Oh! it's all right," smiled the Inspector, "we don't want you, Mr. Norgate. We've only come to make some enquiries about a car you've had in here."
The man smiled back. "At your service, gentlemen. I am sure," he said. "A car been stolen somewhere?"
"No," replied the Inspector, "nothing of that, but we're looking for a man who used to drive a Saul." He looked intently at the man. "Now, do you happen to remember repairing a tyre for a single-seater Saul, two or three months ago?"
Norgate shook his head, and smiled. "We repair a good many tyres," he said slowly, "and I can't remember exactly everyone."
"But a Saul," persisted the Inspector, "a single-seater Saul! Come, there are not so many Sauls about that you repair tyres for them every day."
"No, certainly not," agreed the man, "and that should make it easier. Bert!" he called out to the youth who had resumed his work at the bench, "have we ever repaired a tyre, for Mr. Thompson, do you remember? There's a Mr. Thompson who comes here in a single-seater Saul," he added, for the benefit of the detectives.
The young fellow looked up. "Yes," he said, after a moment's thought. "I vulcanised a patch for him once, on his spare."
"When was it?" asked his master.
"Oh, I don't remember that," replied Bert, "it must have been months and months ago."
"Well, who's the Mr. Thompson," asked the Inspector sharply, "and where does he come from?"
"He lives at Gawler," replied the garageman, "and he's one of the heads in the railway repair shops there."
Inspector Barnsley looked rather nonplussed. "How long have you known him?" he asked with a frown.
"Oh! a long time," replied Norgate. "He's been garaging here I should think for quite a couple of years."
"Well, what sort of man is he?"
"Very pleasant gentleman. About 50, I should say. Fairly tall, but stoops a little and has a small black moustache."
"Do you remember the number of his car?"
Norgate shook his head. "Know the number of Mr. Thompson's Saul, Bert?" he called out. "No, gentlemen, I thought he wouldn't. You see, we never think of a car by its number. Only by its make."
"Is it a grey car?" asked the Inspector in growing disappointment. "I suppose you will be able to remember that?"
"Yes, it's a grey car right enough," said Norgate, smiling, "but then practically all Sauls are grey. It's the color the chasses come out in over here."
The Inspector looked as if for the moment he could think of no other questions, and Larose now spoke for the first time.
"And this Mr. Thompson," he said carelessly, "has he a house down here as well as at Gawler?"
"No-o," replied Norgate slowly, "he only comes down here for short holidays occasionally. I understand he stops with friends."
"Well, who are his friends here?" asked Larose.
"I don't know even that," replied the garage-man, getting rather hot. "I really know nothing about him except that his name is Thompson, that he comes from Gawler, and that he has been garaging his car here, on and off, for a long time."
"And how do you know he comes from Gawler and that his name is really Thompson?" asked Larose.
"Well he told me so," said the garage-man, now beginning to be surly, "in exactly the same way that you told me you were detectives." He glared at his two visitors. "I've only your word to go on, you know. Anyone can get hold of a card."
Larose made haste to mollify the man.
"Look here, Mr. Norgate," he said, "we don't want to annoy you by asking unnecessary questions and wasting your time, but you see the position is like this. As Inspector Barnsley has just told you, we are looking for a man who has a single-seater Saul, and who had the tyre on his spare wheel once repaired here. We think our man is your Mr. Thompson, and to find out whether we are right or wrong is so simple a matter that it can be done in a couple of minutes."
"All right," said Norgate gruffly, "go on, but all I know is, Mr. Thompson is a very nice-spoken gentleman."
"Well," said Larose slowly, "has it ever happened that you have seen this Mr. Thompson by daylight? Has he come to the garage at any time except when it was getting late at night—when it was dark. I mean?"
The man thought for a moment. "No," he said, "but he explained that to me. He said his holidays were short and he loved the sea and grudged every minute he spent away from it. That's why he left at the earliest possible moment to come here, and returned home as late as he could."
"Can you remember," went on Larose, fixing the uneasy garage-man with his eye, "whether he has come here during the past twelve months about eleven times, and has stopped here sometimes two days or so, but never more than a week? And upon occasions have you ever seen anything of him between the moment of his arrival and the moment when he went away?"
Norgate's face broke into a reluctant smile. "Really," he said, "you almost make me feel suspicious now and yet,"—he hesitated—"the man who came here was a very pleasant man."
"And our man, too, was a very pleasant man," said Larose sternly. "He had to be to carry out the crimes that he did."
"What's he wanted for?" asked Norgate.
"Murder," said Larose, "and other crimes as well."
"Whew!" whistled the garage man, and his face got rather pale, "but he didn't look that sort to me." He shrugged his shoulders. "Well, it's nothing to do with us. We don't know anything about it anyhow." His voice became resentful. "But how do you know the man you want ever had a tyre repaired here?"
"Because he went back one night," said Larose, "with one of your labels tied on to his spare wheel—'Norgate's Garage—vulcanising patch, 3/6.' Listen, Mr. Norgate," went on the detective persuasively, "I feel sure you can help us if you will, and you ought to, too, for that man has been using your garage as a cover for his crimes. Upon each of those nights he came down here from the city it was with some dreadful purpose in his mind. He left his car in your care, and then, we are sure, took himself off to some handy place he's got close near to alter his appearance, and effect a disguise. Then he doubled back to the city and you didn't see him again until one or other of his victims was robbed or dead. Now you understand how serious a matter it is that we should find out where he went when he came down here, for it is only by tracing his movements in Henley that we can hope to get on the track of where he is hiding now."
"Who is he?" asked the garage man, undoubtedly, from the expression on his face, now impressed by what the detective had told him.
"I'll tell you later," said Larose grimly, "and when you know it will open your eyes."
Norgate thought for a few moments. "Well, gentlemen," he said. "I'd help you if I could, but honestly I haven't the remotest idea where he went. He used to come down with his car, and always got my one lock-up shed whenever it was disengaged, although I told him the Saul was just as safe in here. Then he would take out his small portmanteau from the dicky, have a short chat with us, and go off. Then we wouldn't see him any more, as you say, until he returned with his portmanteau to take out his car and go home again. That was all we ever had to do with him or he with us."
"And you have no idea at all," asked Larose disappointedly, "in which direction he went? None whatever?"
"None whatever," replied the man. "Ah! stay—" a look of importance came suddenly into his face, and he paused dramatically. "Yes," he went on, "I do think now I can tell you something. It's not much, but it may give you an idea." He spoke with tantalising slowness. "It's like this. I remember when I was called out one night several months ago, to a breakdown on the Military Road, that just when I reached where the roads fork at South Henley I saw Mr. Thompson coming up the road from the beach. He was just passing under the lamp at the corner, and I think I recognised him because of the portmanteau he was carrying. I remember saying to myself, 'Oh! Then he's coming up for his car to-night.'" Norgate smiled all over his face. "Now, does that help you?"
"Yes, it does," snapped Inspector Barnsley triumphantly. "It helps a lot. I know exactly the road you mean, although my colleague doesn't. He's a stranger here. Now, is there anything else you can tell us, anything at all?" But Norgate shook his head, and after a minute or two of further conversation the two detectives thanked him and left the garage.
Inspector Barnsley took out his pocket handkerchief and mopped his forehead. "Well, you're wonderful, Mr. Larose," he exclaimed, "and everything is turning out exactly as you said. Of course, Fallon has got one of those bathing sheds on the beach. That road where Norgate saw him with his portmanteau leads down directly to them, and we shall be able to guess too within a hundred yards which particular one he had. It must be one nearly at the end."
They turned on to the esplanade in front of the jetty.
"See!" said the Inspector, pointing to the beach. "The bathing huts begin here, and stretch along the sands for about a mile and a half. Where he saw Fallon coming from would be just about where those first sandhills are." He took out his watch. "But it's nearly six now, and too late to do anything to-night. It would be quite dark before I could get a squad ready and post them round while we searched."
"Yes," agreed Larose, "and we shan't lose anything by the delay. A few hours more will make no difference now. Besides, there's that Dr. Van Steyne to see at 8 o'clock, and I mustn't be late. He was none too pleasant as it was, when I 'phoned him, and I mustn't keep him waiting on any account."
They jumped into their waiting car, and with no delay were quickly being driven back to the city.
"Now, tell me," asked Larose, "what kind of man is this great doctor of yours I'm going to see?"
"Van Steyne?" said the Inspector. "Oh! He's one of the leading physicians in the city now. I know him well. He used to be the prison surgeon years ago. Very clever man, but very eccentric and cold as a fish. You won't get much out of him."
"Difficult to handle?" asked Larose.
"Yes, and doesn't care a damn for anyone. All the big pots go to him, but he treats everybody the same. If he's in a bad humor, policemen or Prime Ministers—he tells them all off. Very touchy at times."
"Not popular then?" said Larose.
The Inspector hesitated. "Well, I wouldn't quite say that. Everybody thinks he's a marvel of a doctor and he wasn't disliked either when he was at the prison here. Used to be very kind to the old lags, and sometimes would put them on infirmary diet when there wasn't apparently anything the matter with them. At any rate, that's what was said at the time."
"Got plenty of money?" said Larose.
The Inspector sniffed. "Tons of it. But where are you going to see him? At his rooms on North terrace?"
"No, at his private house, up at Mitcham."
"Well, you won't need to ask if he's got money when you've been up there," said the Inspector impressively. "It's a lovely place with four or five acres of garden, and he has it all to himself. He's a bachelor, but he keeps three maid-servants as well as a gardener and a chauffeur. The chauffeur's an Indian and the great Van Steyne is driven through the city like a nabob, in state. Everyone knows his turn-out."
And Larose certainly did find a lovely place when, at eight o'clock sharp, he was ushered into the library of the house. Books lined the walls everywhere except for a large picture, which was hung so as to face the door.
The picture was a gruesome one, depicting a public execution in Korea. A man had that instant been decapitated and the cut arteries were spurting like fountains from the neck.
"Lord!" ejaculated Larose, "but what a picture to have in any private house! Now that seems—"—he heard a soft footfall behind him and stopped muttering, but did not turn round. "Taking stock of me," he whispered to himself after a few moments. "Well, let him. It will be my turn soon, and then we'll see who learns the most."
He heard a slight cough and at once faced round. A man was regarding him with a hard, cold stare. The man was tall and good-looking, with a proud scornful face. He had a broad forehead and big grey eyes, and was clean-shaven except for some iron-grey whiskers that came halfway down. His lips were slightly parted over strong white teeth, and he held his head high. He wore large glasses with broad black rims and was in evening dress.
"Dr. Van Steyne?" said Larose, and the man just inclined his head. "I'm Detective Huxley, and I 'phoned you this afternoon. I apologise for troubling you, but I thought, as his medical attendant you might perhaps be able to tell me something as to the temperament and habits of the late manager of the Rialto Hotel."
"But don't you know," said the doctor coldly, "that it is not usual for members of my profession to discuss their patients with outsiders?"
"Quite so," replied the detective quickly, "but this is not an ordinary occasion, Dr. Van Steyne, and the patient here is beyond all consideration at all. He has forfeited all claim to the usual decencies of life."
There was silence for a moment.
"Well, what is it you want to know?" asked the doctor curtly.
"Why do you think the prisoner sent urgently for you to the stockade?" asked Larose. "He could have had the prison surgeon at once, if he had wished."
"Well, apparently he didn't wish," replied the doctor brusquely. "He was accustomed to me, and as a prisoner on remand he was entitled to call in whom he chose, provided he was prepared to pay the fee."
"But what was the matter with him, do you think?" asked Larose.
"How on earth should I know?" replied the doctor petulantly and staring hard at the detective as if he were surprised at the question being put. "A medical man doesn't usually know what is the matter with people until he has examined them, does he?"
Larose repressed his impatience.
"Has he been a patient of yours for long, Dr. Van Steyne?" he asked. "About two years I should say," was the reply. "I can't remember offhand."
"Have you attended him for any serious illness?" asked the detective.
"No—only for minor gastric troubles and some colds." Larose regarded the doctor thoughtfully. "Well, what I want to know, sir, is this," he said—"Can you tell me of any ailment from which Miles Fallon suffered which would handicap him in his hiding away. Any little failing of his, any idiosyncrasy that would help to betray him if, say, he were disguised and moving amongst us still in our midst?"
"Well, he used to get feverish when he'd got a cold," replied the doctor with a thoughtful expression, "but I don't see how that would help you, unless you took everybody's temperature as you went along."
Larose swore softly to himself. There was a short pause and then he smiled.
"But weren't you very surprised," he asked, "when you came to know what sort of man this Fallon really was?"
The doctor looked at him with amused contempt.
"I am never surprised at anything, Mr. Detective," he replied. "Mental aberrations, like physical ones, are always cropping up in my work."
"But did it never strike you when you were attending him," persisted Larose, "that he was not a normal man, and that he was criminally inclined?"
"But what is crime?" asked the doctor with some irritation, "and in what way does it alter a man's appearance? You seem to think it's like measles or smallpox! Crime is often only a matter of one's place of residence, isn't it? Infanticide, for example, is murder here, but in some other countries it is not even a punishable offence." His voice took on a sneering tone. "Really, we are all much too parochial in our ideas. We band ourselves together into communities and we frame certain rules of conduct that we call laws. Then, when anyone fails to comply with these arbitrary enactments that we have made, we say at once. 'Oh! he has committed a crime! He is a criminal!' Now, is not that so?"
Larose laughed. "Well, Dr. Van Steyne," he replied, "it happens that I have to earn my living by taking up those gentlemen who fall foul of our little local laws, and I was hoping you might be able to assist me in some way. You doctors notice a lot of things which we other folks would miss."
"I am no detective," said the doctor coldly, "and in my dealings with my patients I confine my observations always strictly to those matters that are material to the ailment I am called upon to treat." He shrugged his shoulders. "When I attended Mr. Fallon, he was simply a sick man to me."
"Very well, Doctor," said Larose politely, and he made a movement towards the door. "I guess I'll be going now. You are altogether too academical for me. I had hoped, if I may say it, for some human touch in you, but yours, I see, is the purely scientific mind, and the murderer, Fallon, is only of professional interest to you as a patient who was occasionally afflicted with bad colds."
"Yes, that's it exactly," said Dr. Van Steyne, with a chilly smile. "He was a patient with minor ailments to me, that was all."
"And that poor old man who was done to a dreadful death in the Rialto Hotel," went on the detective, warming up, "evokes no sympathy in you? He is only to be pitied. I suppose, by us poor folk of narrow and parochial minds!"
The doctor frowned.
"That incident was regrettable," he said, "but, from the evidence adduced at the inquest, I should say it was an accident. His death was never intended. Robbery only was the motive there."
Larose curled his lips contemptuously, and walked again towards the door. He had almost reached it when the doctor suddenly put up his hand. "One moment," he said abruptly, "but I don't seem to have heard of you before, and yet I know all the detectives here. You don't belong to this city, I suppose?"
"No," said Larose shortly. "Adelaide's not my home."
"You come from another State?" asked the doctor. Larose nodded.
"From Victoria?" went on Van Steyne.
Larose thought it easiest to say "Yes." He wanted to get away.
But Dr. Van Steyne seemed interested at last. "Melbourne's a great city," he observed. "There's more breadth in it than over here." He spoke with mild enthusiasm. "They get some wonderful cases of obscure diseases there, and a holiday at their hospitals is always well spent." He smiled grimly. "But I'm afraid that would not appeal to you. By the by," he went on, "do you happen to know anything of Sydney?"
"I've been there," replied Larose, "several times."
"Great city too," commented the doctor, and he looked intently at his visitor. "They've got a wonderful man there in your line, I understand—the detective, Gilbert Larose."
Larose felt his heart go thump and he eyed the doctor narrowly. "Yes, he's pretty good," he said in a careless tone—"that is if he's got a straight-out case to deal with but,"—he smiled—"as with all of us, he can't make bricks without straw."
Dr. Van Steyne spoke thoughtfully.
"Do you know, Mr. Huxley," he said, "when you were questioning me just now it struck me suddenly that you were asking just such things as would spring from a mentality such as I understand is possessed by this great Gilbert Larose." He smiled in quite a friendly manner and spread out his hand's. "You are a man of imagination, Mr. Huxley. You are not dry as dust! You were groping for that human touch you referred to just now."
Larose felt a cold shiver down his spine. This man was a thinker like himself, and his thoughts did not run on conventional lines. He forced himself to speak casually. "Well, we all have ways of working, doctor, and I try to sweep my net as wide as possible."
"Quite right, quite right!" And then all at once Van Steyne's manner became cold again. "Well, good evening. I regret I can be of no assistance to you," and he opened the door for Larose to pass out.
"A queer man," muttered Larose as he walked down the drive, "and, with all his cleverness, a screw loose somewhere. One of those bored high-brows who think they leave a hole in every room when they walk out." He shook his head. "He's a dangerous man, too, with those views of his about crime. He was antagonistic to me all the time. Wouldn't tell me anything about Fallon and didn't mention his cough." He frowned, "Now I'd like to know more about this Dr. Van Steyne somehow. He puzzled me for some reason. Yes, that's it—he puzzled me. There's something about him I don't understand."
It was barely light the next morning when a police car with five men in it came to a standstill off the main road behind the sandhills of Henley Beach.
"We must be quick now," said Inspector Barnsley, who was one of the five, "and get to work before the bathers come out. We don't want a crowd looking on." He turned to his subordinates. "I've found out there are a hundred and four bathing huts here, but I expect we shall get the one we want among the first twenty. Marshall and Cornell, stay on the top of the sandhills and keep an eye open for anyone coming round the back of the huts. Stop everyone you see. You, Henderson, will come with us."
The Inspector issued his commands like a general going into battle, and he spoke with the confidence of a man who was assured of success.
"Now, Mr. Larose," he went on as they walked towards the sea, "if there's anything in what you and I have put together, he's got a hut not very far from here. I know this beach pretty well, and this end is the loneliest part of all. I should say we ought to hit it off within a couple of hundred yards."
Larose made no comment. He was taking in the peace and beauty of the scene, the glory of the morning sky, the long golden sands, and the sea that lapped so softly on the shore.
He sighed heavily. "And to think," he muttered, "that the evil of this world is so often found in beautiful settings like this."
They turned round the bottom of the sandhills, and a long line of ugly bathing huts came into view. They were of all shapes and sizes, and in their construction utility had evidently been alone considered.
"Now, I don't suppose it will be a big one," said the Inspector, "and there'll be nothing flashy about it to attract attention."
The first half dozen huts were quickly passed by. They were all fitted with doors that locked and had no padlocks on them. Then suddenly the inspector gripped Larose by the arm.
"Look!" he whispered excitedly. "That one's got a padlock on it, and a common one like you described!"
They ran forward to the shed he pointed at. It was built solidly of wood, and in size was about twelve feet square. The door was fastened with a stout bolt, but the locking padlock was of an inexpensive kind.
"The key!" exclaimed the Inspector breathlessly, and he slipped an automatic pistol from his pocket.
"But he can't be inside, man!" said Larose frowning. "He can't have padlocked himself in!" And the Inspector rather sheepishly returned his pistol to his pocket.
Larose inserted the key, the padlock opened, and the bolt was slipped back. A wrench at the door and they were peering into the hut.
"Bah!" exclaimed the Inspector disappointedly, after a good look round, "nothing much here."
The hut was sparely furnished, and its contents were soon taken in. A form along one side, a chair, a little table and a small cupboard. Two kerosine lamps were hanging on either side of a good sized mirror. There was a shelf with a teapot and some cups and saucers on it. Two bathing dresses and a towel hung upon a rail. A box of cigarettes about half-full and some magazines lay upon the table, and a leather purse upon the chair. Two pairs of sandshoes and an enamel basin on the floor and—that was all.
The Inspector strode inside and pulled open the cupboard door, disclosing a half-consumed packet of tea, an unopened tin of condensed milk, and two unopened bottles of beer. Turning round his eyes fell on the purse again. He opened it. Seven shillings in silver and two pennies! He glared stolidly at Larose.
Quite a long silence then followed. The Sydney detective was still standing by the door. He was busy taking in everything, but it was his eyes only that moved. His head and body were quite motionless.
Inspector Barnsley spoke first, and he spoke with studied carelessness.
"Nothing much here," he remarked, "but perhaps we've got the wrong hut."
"No," replied Larose, shaking his head, "this is his right enough." He pointed to the mirror. "Look! A lamp on each side for his make-up. But come, let's see that basin now."
He held the basin up to the light, he let the sun's rays fall direct upon it, and sniffled hard several times.
"Grease paint!" he nodded to the Inspector. "You can smell it easily—it's hard to get off." He smiled. "I'm quite satisfied."
"But there's nothing here to help us," exclaimed the Inspector irritably. He waved his arm round. "There's nothing here."
"Pooh-pooh!" said Larose calmly. "We haven't looked yet. He's got his hiding place under the floor. You see, Inspector," he continued meditatively, "once we suppose we are right in thinking that this is Fallon's hut, everything we see here can only tend to strengthen that conviction. Note the carelessness and the abandon that would disarm all suspicion. The cheap padlock almost inviting a break-in, but at the same time striking the warning note—'It is not worth risking, nothing of value inside!' The affectation of complete innocence everywhere! All the trifling little valuables placed openly in view. The cigarettes, the bottles of beer and the money in the purse upon the chair. Just as if the owner of the hut were exclaiming to any possible thieves—'Here you are, gentlemen, here are all the little luxuries that anyone could possibly expect to find in a bathing hut like this, so don't waste any time looking further, it will not be of any use.'" Larose smiled in great good humor. "You see what I mean, Inspector, now don't you?"
Inspector Barnsley nodded. "Very clever, Mr. Larose, and, as you explain it, as plain apparently as A B C, but—" he grinned slyly—"now comes the acid test, sir. Shall we actually find anything hidden under the floor?" and he bent down and began tapping on the boards.
"I don't think they'll come up singly," said Larose thoughtfully. "Most likely three or four of them will come up together. Probably they're hinged. I've seen hiding-places under floors like this before."
For some minutes the two were busy on their knees, but there were no loose boards anywhere, and they could detect no sign of any possible movement in any direction. The boards were of stout jarrah, nailed down with good-sized nails, and the whole floor was as firm and solid as if it were made of cement.
The Inspector soon began to lose hope, but Larose was cool and unperturbed.
"You see," he said presently, "if Fallon were the man I take him to be, he wouldn't have many weak links in his chain, and his hiding-place would be a good one. But let's look outside now."
They walked round the hut, and at the back Larose knelt down and began scraping away the sand near the foundations. "There might be a fastening here," he explained, "holding some of the boards to the joists. I found it like that in a case once."
He thrust his hand deep down into the sand, first in one place and then in another. Then all at once he gave a quiet chuckle of satisfaction, and looked up smilingly at his companion.
"A bolt," he whispered. He slid his hand along under the sand. "And another! Now, wait a moment, and we shall see something."
A minute later they were back inside the hut. "Pull that form away," said Larose sharply, "the floor'll come up then. Now see if we can't move something. Ah! I thought so, hinged, as I expected! Where's your knife? That's right, up they come!" and the three end boards swung up together from the floor.
The Inspector rose to his feet and saluted Larose gravely. "It's an honor to work with you, sir," he said simply. "I shall remember this all my life."
But Larose was far too occupied to make any reply. He was on his knees and pulling eagerly at a sheet of canvas that was covering over a large-sized chest.
"Now for our little key," he exclaimed, "and we shall know the worst."
There was a click as the key turned in the lock, and immediately he lifted up the lid of the chest.
A moment's breathless silence, and then Inspector Barnsley ejaculated, delightedly:—"Whew! enough evidence here to sink a ship!"
A wig, an automatic pistol and a vicious-looking knuckle-duster lay in full view upon a neatly-folded suit of clothes. A pair of surgical rubber gloves and a cloth mask with small eyeholes in it reposed on a little wooden tray, and a green-colored glass-stoppered bottle was tucked away at one side.
"Quite a pleasant little collection," remarked Larose drily, "and symptomatic of a most gentlemanly and Christian state of mind. But now, Inspector, if you'll clear the table, I'll hand up the articles one by one."
But the little table was many times too small to accommodate all the contents of the chest, and long before the latter was emptied they were piled all round upon the floor. There were three suits of clothes, quite a collection of hats, a quantity of underlinen, some collars and ties and three pairs of shoes. A long flat box underneath was elaborately fitted up with pigments, bottles of dyes and brushes and various odds and ends for making up. There were three wigs altogether, and several moustaches and eyebrows of varying colors and sizes.
"A very thorough workman," said Larose thoughtfully, "as I have been of opinion all along." He shook his head slowly. "We have no novice here."
The Inspector held up the green bottle. "Chloroform," he exclaimed. "And plenty of it!"
"Ten ounces," observed Larose. "Now, I wonder who supplied him with quantities like that? The drugs he had on him that night at the Rialto prove that he's got a friend somewhere in the drug line, and notice!—every bottle here has had the label scraped off." The detective spoke very solemnly. "Now notice this. On nothing we have taken out of the chest is there a single mark of origin. Not a name, not an initial, and even the very markings on the collars have been cut out. This Fallon made certain that nothing he might ever leave behind him should give him away. He is a man old in the ways of crime."
"But we don't seem to have got any farther, do we?" said the Inspector dubiously. "Even though we have unearthed all these things? We are no nearer finding out where he is hiding himself now."
"Oh! I wouldn't say that," returned Larose quickly. "We may be able to find out by means of some of these clothes, with whom he has been associating, and get him that way in the end. But let's look again at that first suit we took out. Being on the top of everything else it was probably the one he last wore when he was out on his criminal stunts."
The detective picked up the suit. It was of thick cloth and of a rather conspicuous pepper and salt grey color. The pockets were all empty, but in the fob of the waistcoat there was a heavy gold chain, and attached to the chain were two massive gold seals.
"An old man's suit," said Larose meditatively. "Good clothes but badly cut. Ready made. Yes, he was undoubtedly going about as an old man here. An old boy from the country probably, of substantial means. Note the stout gold chain and the heavy old-fashioned seals. Perhaps he made out he had a sheep station or farmed in some big way. And that grey wig, of course, went with the suit. Look at the hairs on the shoulders here. And there's the hat, too, to match, and those collars of the old style. Why—I can almost picture him in my mind's eye!"
The Inspector was not too hopeful, but dissembled his doubts with a smile. "Well, what's our next move?" he asked.
"Put back everything into the chest," said Larose, "and we'll cart it back to the city." He thought for a moment. "And if you get me the largest photo you can of our esteemed friend, Miles Fallon, to-morrow maybe we'll ring up another act of this interesting drama of resourceful crime."
It was late that night and Larose had just got into bed. He had switched off the light and lay with his eyes closed—thinking.
"I've had a busy day and I'm very tired," he said to himself, "but before I go to sleep I must just sum up and see how things stand. Now it was undoubtedly partly through the aid of Blendiron, the assistant head warder, and Bullock, the other warder, that Fallon got away from the stockade. In collusion with others outside, in some way they made the escape possible, and when we find out exactly how it was done we shall probably find it was accomplished in a very simple, and almost obvious manner. Well, Fallon disappeared in broad daylight that afternoon and hid somewhere until the evening of the following day. Then, I feel sure he was joined by Blendiron, and the two together set fire to the Clan Robert, and in the confusion that ensued got off in one of the ship's boats. They reached that lonely coast beyond Cape Jervis—for of course the two men hiding there were they, and felt quite secure until I accidentally appeared upon the scene. Then they got rattled and tried to finish me, but instead—I shot Blendiron and fed him to the sharks. Then Fallon made off in the boat again, and sailed off up the gulf in the direction of Port Adelaide. Now I don't for a moment regret having shot Blendiron. It was a necessary thing to do and besides, from what I have learnt to-day, he was a blackguard, and the world is well rid of him. He was a brute to his wife anyhow, and when I interviewed her this morning she was quite chirpy at the idea that he might never come back, and her only worry was as to when she would be able to draw the insurance money."
Larose puckered up his eyebrows and smiled in the dark. "Yes, it was funny talking pleasantly with a woman whose husband you have killed! But as she was in ignorance that I had done it, there was no embarrassment on either side. Well. Blendiron is dead for certain, and I've no doubt he killed Bullock. That's supported by what I found out about his conversation with Bullock that evening over Bullock's garden gate, when Bullock nodded and replied 'All right!' That man next door swore to me he was not twenty feet away, and heard the 'all right' distinctly. That 'all right' I am sure meant that Bullock was to meet his superior somewhere later, and meet him he probably did, to die for his pains. The medical evidence was conclusive that he had been struck a violent blow on the head before he was drowned, and that looks as if he might have been walking in front of someone he was not afraid of, down one of those narrow paths that lead to the river near where his body was found among the reeds. He was killed from all I can make out because, as the Chief Commissioner said, he was a weak man and under cross-examination would have broken down. But why now did Blendiron himself cut and run? Perhaps because he expected that too awkward questions would be asked at the enquiry and felt he could not face the music. It might also be that he was afraid other tracks of his might be uncovered, particularly so if he was responsible for Bullock's death. At any rate, I am quite sure his flight was not unpremeditated, for he had drawn out all his savings from the bank three days before, and had shot his dog because he said it was getting too old. And the dog, as far as I can gather, was the only thing he had ever cared for at all.
"Well, Blendiron and Bullock are finished with, and I can wipe them off, but what about Fallon, and where is he? What became of him when, by pure chance I made him bolt from his hole? Did he sail away across the gulf and make for another lonely beach upon the other side, or did he hide himself away upon some uninhabited rock? No, I don't think he did either for his was a nature to face danger rather than to avoid it. Besides, when he slashed my bicycle tyres that morning and took away my boots, it was evidently in his mind to hinder my giving information to the authorities. He wanted time to slip past them to some hiding-place before they had had warning and could prevent him. So now let me think of what Fallon may have done. What should I have done if I had been in his shoes? Probably—go for help again to those who had already helped me—go to my friends! And, if so, where would those friends be? In the city of course, here in Adelaide! I had been helped here by them to escape and why should they not be ready and willing to help me again? Yes, that's what the rascal undoubtedly did—bolted! back here to the city, believing it to be the safest place, with the hunt for him having to some extent died down."
Larose opened his eyes wide and glared into the darkness.
"But why am I so certain that he had confederates about the city, and that he had not been working alone all the time? Now I don't regard either Blendiron or Bullock as confederates: they were just emergency helpers, and had been bribed only for the occasion to help him get out of the stockade. If he had not been imprisoned there he would probably have never heard of them, nor they of him. I am thinking of assistance that he received in carrying out those hotel and other crimes. Now I have gone carefully into the reports of all the last five other robberies with violence that lately have so puzzled the authorities here. They were all Fallon's work, of course: they were his special type of crime, and, besides, to clinch things finally, on each occasion when they took place he was absent from the managing of his hotel. Well, what strikes me here is that apparently the ground had always been surveyed beforehand for him, and he only came in at the psychological moment to collect the cash. Except in one case, his victims were all visitors to the city—not residents here, and, strangely enough, they were all elderly persons. (Ah! I must look into that, too, when I am not so tired!) It seems to me that he got reliable information from somewhere about his victims, for he never struck unless he struck it rich. Somebody, for instance, informed him that old Mr. McTavish was worth robbing at the Gulf Hotel, and he learnt somewhere that the Dawsons had the ready cash upon them at the Grand Australasian, and he robbed them upon the second night after, they arrived in the city, and so on and so on. Always, it seemed, his prey was pointed out to him, and he pounced at once."
The detective paused for a few moments in his meditations, and then he nodded his head.
"Yes, I am sure he had confederates somewhere, for how otherwise can we account for his escape? Ah! that escape was clever, but it was not only the two warders that helped him there; they played only minor parts. As the Chief Commissioner pointed out, they could not have spirited him across the courtyard under the eyes of everyone there, and they could not have opened the outer gate for him and enabled him to pass through the guards. No, there were others in it, and others outside. I am sure of that."
Larose yawned sleepily and turned on to his side.
"Well, well, to-morrow I'll start going after the gang, and if I uncover any of them it will be a pointer to friend Fallon, too. But I must be careful, I must be very careful, indeed, not to let them find out I am on their track. They can have no idea as to who the man was who shot Blendiron on the cliff, and they must be greatly puzzled. I must not on any account put them on their guard, and I must keep away from every place where the actual robberies occurred, for they'll probably have got their spies there. Like Fallon, I must have everything ready before I strike. I'll, I'll—oh! hang it. I'll go to sleep. I've worried my poor brain enough for to-day. Yes, I'll go to sleep."
During the ensuing three days a pleasant-looking old gentleman might often have been observed perambulating the main streets of Adelaide, the beautiful city of the plains. He seemed a jovial old chap, and was peculiarly dressed in a country sort of way. Anyone could have seen at once that the city was not his home.
He wore a lightish grey suit of a rather heavy cut, a big grey felt hat and a large collar of an old-fashioned style. His boots were stout and very square in shape, and it was obvious that comfort and not fashion had guided him in their selection. His hair was grey almost to whiteness, he had a heavy moustache and a small, pointed and well-trimmed beard. He wore large horn-rimmed glasses.
But his attire generally, would by no means have suggested to anyone that he was not well supplied with the means of enjoying the good things of life. For there was an air of prosperous solidity about him, as was evidenced by a thick gold watch chain and two heavy gold seals.
He was an energetic old boy in spite of his apparent age, for both mornings and afternoons he took his constitutionals regularly, and never seemed to get tired no matter how long he had been walking about.
He was interested in everything, and at busy street corners he would sometimes stand for five and ten minutes at a time, watching the people and the traffic with his keen blue eyes taking in all the happenings that were going on around him.
He would walk up King William street as far as the General Post Office, and there he would mount the steps, and, in full view of all passersby, carefully study the weather reports in the big glass cases. Then he would walk back again as far as Rundle-street and go down to the Arcade. Then he would turn around and go up to the General Post-Office again. He would do this many times, and in the course of the day must have walked many miles.
He was greatly interested in the railway-station too, and was invariably to be found waiting by the barrier when the long-distance trains came in. The East-West Continental train from Perth, the Broken Hill express, and the great Melbourne express never arrived when he was not there. And yet the strange part of it was, directly the passengers began to stream through the barrier, he had always got his back turned towards them. It really seemed as if he were desirous of giving everyone anything but the view of his face.
He would wait patiently until all the passengers had passed through, then off he would go to resume his city perambulations again.
He was a lonely old man, and seemed to have no friends, for no one ever spoke to him. Lots of people looked at him, and when they did so he always looked hard at them in return, as though he would not have been by any means averse to make acquaintance.
For three days his pilgrimage was without event, but on the fourth day something happened, and at last he found someone to speak to.
He was standing looking into a tobacconist's shop and close up to the window, when suddenly he felt a hand upon his shoulder, and a hearty voice exclaimed.
"Hello! Mr. Heggarty! Here's luck—seeing you!"
Something like a wave of intense emotion seemed instantly to pass through the old man's body, and it was almost with an effort that he turned himself round to confront the speaker.
"Oh! I beg your pardon, sir," exclaimed a well-dressed young fellow in confusion, "but I made a mistake. I thought it was someone else. I'm so sorry."
But the old gentleman smiled in great good humor. He had quite recovered his tranquillity.
"Not at all, not at all," he said quickly, "and you are not the first who's mistaken me for this Mr. Heggarty. Twice this week already I have been spoken to for him."
"It's the clothes, sir," stammered the young man, "and the hat and the color of your hair. They reminded me exactly of my friend. When you had your back to me just now, I was quite certain it was he."
The old gentleman's eyes twinkled. "And I'm really not at all like him, they say."
"Oh, no, not a bit," replied the young man. "It's only when you've got your back turned that anyone would make the mistake," He bowed politely and smiled now in his turn. "Well, I am glad you're not offended, sir," and he made to move on.
But the old gentleman was evidently unwilling that the matter should end there. "One moment, my young friend," he said, and his voice took on a serious tone. "Now I can only accept your apology upon one condition." His eyes twinkled again. "You must have something to drink with me before you go."
The young man laughed. "Certainly," he replied readily—"as a matter of fact, I was just going to have a drink myself."
The old gentleman led the way to the bar of the Southern Cross, and in a few moments they were seated at a small table.
"Well, here's luck," said the old gentleman, when they had received what he had ordered.
"Ching, ching," replied the young man, "and may we always be thirsty."
There was a silence for a few moments, and then the old gentleman asked carelessly, "And where was it you happened to meet this esteemed Mr. Heggarty of yours?"
"At the Grand Australasian," replied the young man. "I was there for a few days in November."
"He seems to have been a very decent sort of chap from all I have heard," said the old gentleman.
"Oh, one of the best. Indeed, a charming old man."
"Where does he hail from, do you know? I am always wondering if he's the Mr. Charles Heggarty from Kapunda."
The young man shook his head. "No, he's Sam Heggarty, and he comes from somewhere in New South Wales. On the border near Queensland, I believe."
"And he's in sheep, isn't he?" asked the old gentleman.
"Yes, in sheep, and done pretty well too, I should say. He must be a very well-to-do man."
"Plenty of friends at the Grand Australasian?"
The young man was quite enthusiastic. "Oh! yes, everyone likes him. He was so unaffected and so kind."
"Who were his best friends there?" asked the old man curiously. "I expect I know lots of people he knows."
The young man considered. "Really, I don't think he had any best friends. He seemed to go about at different times with everyone."
"Did he play a good game at cards?"
The young man laughed merrily. "Cards!" he exclaimed. "Why, bless your heart, the old boy's never played a game in his life. He didn't know one card from another. He's a real old innocent, and that's why we all liked him so."
They talked together for some minutes longer and then, exchanging names, parted with polite au revoirs in King William-street.
The young man went off upon his business, and the old gentleman made quickly for a public telephone box.
"Put me through to Inspector Barnsley, please," he said sharply, when he had received the number he had called for.
"Is that you, Inspector? You know who's speaking. Well, I've found out something about him—something that will help us now. I'm going home to make a change. Meet me outside the G.P.O. at two sharp. Don't speak to me when you see me, but just follow where I go. Understand? All right—everything's quite OK."
At five minutes past two exactly, Larose and Inspector Barnsley walked into the vestibule of the Grand Australasian Hotel.
"Now you do all the questioning," said Larose, "and don't introduce me. I want to watch them as they are speaking to you. Above all they mustn't know whom we are enquiring about."
Inspector Barnsley asked for the manager.
"About that robbery here last month, Mr. Plover," he said, when the manager appeared. "I want to look again, please, at the signatures in the visitors' book for the days about that period."
"Certainly, Inspector," replied the manager politely. "If you come into my room I'll have the book brought in there." He glanced casually, but with no curiosity, at Larose, and led the way out of the hall.
"Hum!" muttered Larose, "nothing doing there. He's quite conventional and the family-man type."
The book was brought in and the manager, seeing he was not wanted, retired. Larose turned over the pages quickly.
"Here it is," he said. "Sam Heggarty, Sydney. Disguised handwriting of course." He took a slip of paper out of his pocket and compared some writing on it with the signature in the book. "Yes, it's him all right. Note the slope of the letters and the distances between the words. Distance between words has always a most deadly significance, Inspector, for, however disguised a man's handwriting may be, the distance between his words never varies the thousandth part of an inch. I've always noticed that. But now ask for the daily ledger, and we'll see if he had any visitors in to meals. Suggest we go into the office, and I can give 'the one over' to the staff there at the same time."
But the ledger afforded no clues to anything, and the Inspector looked covertly at Larose for the next move.
"Ask to see the hall-book," whispered Larose. "He may have had some callers coming for him, and if he wasn't on the spot their names may perhaps have been put down. There's just a chance."
But the perusal of the hall-book proved to be a lengthy business, and many pages had to be turned over before they came to the dates they wanted. The book was kept by the hall-porter, and was the pencilled record of all the casual happenings in the vestibule of the hotel. The parcels that were sent out, the parcels that came in, the registered letters that were signed for, the times the visitors wanted to be called, and the messages that had been left for them.
Patiently Larose went through page after page, and then suddenly his body stiffened and his finger stopped fixed upon a line.
"Mr. Heggarty," he read, "to ring up Central 975 directly he comes in." He looked significantly at Inspector Barnsley.
"Perhaps something here," he whispered. "At any rate this seems to be all. Keep them in conversation," he went on, "whilst I'm in the 'phonebox. Notice particularly if anyone leaves the office, and tries to get near to hear what I say."
He went quickly across the hall and shut himself in one of the three telephone boxes there.
"Enquiry please," he said very softly, and then a moment later; "Will you please tell me whose number is Central 975?"
Back came the answer in less than half a minute. "Dr. Van Steyne, 198, North-terrace."
"Whew!" whistled Larose, with his forehead suddenly damp with perspiration. "What a find!"
About an hour later a boyish-looking young man rang the bell of Dr. Van Steyne's consulting rooms upon North-terrace, and, on being received by the nurse, asked if he were too late to consult the doctor that afternoon.
The nurse was a pretty girl, about three or four-and-twenty, and she smiled as if she were rather amused at the request.
"The doctor never consults without an appointment," she informed the visitor, "and he is full up with appointments now until the end of next week. Would you like me to arrange one for you then?"
The young man looked very crestfallen. "But I've come such a long way to see him," he said, "and I can only be in Adelaide for a few days. Mine is such a very urgent case."
The pretty nurse looked quite sorry. The young man had an engaging manner, and he seemed very distressed.
"It's for yourself, of course?" she asked.
The young man nodded. "I did so want to see him," he pleaded, "if it could possibly be arranged."
The nurse looked very sympathetic. "But I'm afraid it's quite hopeless," she said: "he's so very full up." She hesitated a moment. "Unless of course somebody else's appointment should fall through."
"Oh! I should be so grateful," said the young man, "if you could possibly put me in. I'm over from Sydney and I've heard such a lot about Dr. Van Steyne. I'm so anxious to see him."
"Well, leave me your address," said the nurse, "and I'll see what I can do. I'll 'phone you up to-morrow morning directly after I've opened the letters. It sometimes happens a patient puts off. What is your name, please, and where are you staying?"
"Gerald Tennant," replied the young man. "Grand Australasian Hotel."
"Very well," said the nurse smiling. "I'll 'phone you in any case about nine o'clock."
"What a pretty girl," murmured the detective as he turned away from the terrace, "and what a lovely little figure she had got. Now if I were a marrying man that's just the sort of wife I'd choose." He sighed heavily. "But fancy a girl like her waiting on a man like Van Steyne. It's worse than Beauty and the Beast."
It was again at a late hour when, that night, Larose put himself to bed, among the luxurious surroundings of the Grand Australasian Hotel.
"I had to come here," he muttered, "although I may get nothing out of it at all. Still, at any rate it's a treat to be one's self again if only for a little while. I'm sick of punishing my poor face so much, and I'm sick too of wearing Huxley's awkward clothes. Now I must get in touch with that Van Steyne at once. It's incredible but it's as plain as daylight now that he's a confederate of Fallon. In some evil way these two had interests in common, for twice already in these short happenings of crime have I discovered their tracks converging. Van Steyne no doubt had some fateful message for Fallon that morning at the Gulf Hotel, and later it was not chance only that took him to the stockade at the exact moment when it was discovered that Fallon had made his break-away. No, they were linked together. And what is more probable than that Van Steyne is shielding Fallon now? Van Steyne is a man of courage—note that mouth and chin of his, he is contemptuous of the conventional moral code, and if I am any judge of character, he would delight in pitting himself against the law." The detective shook his head and frowned. "But how am I to get at him—how am I to launch any attack? Well, I'll see him to-morrow or the next day or one day soon, and then I'll learn where to begin. However strong he may be, he'll have his weakness, all men of his type have. There'll be a chink in his armor somewhere. He was on his guard with me the other night, but when we meet again he'll be his natural self and with any luck at all I'll—I'll see into his very soul."
Larose dropped off to sleep presently, but strangely enough—such are the ways of life—his last thoughts were not of the unravelling of crime, not of the missing man, Miles Fallon, not of the sinister figure of the great Dr. Van Steyne, but only of the dark and lovely eyes of the girl who had opened the door to him that afternoon upon North-terrace.
It was always an obsession with Larose that a person hugging to some guilty knowledge had never quite the equanimity of a perfectly well-balanced mind, for his thoughts, the detective averred, would be continually harking back to the secret he possessed. He would have an atmosphere about him, too, different from that of normal people, and, in proportion to the magnitude of the wrong-doing in which he was involved, he would exhibit signs and symptoms which to a mind trained to watch for and note such things would soon become apparent.
So Larose was sure that once he got in touch with Dr. Van Steyne, once he got in a close and intimate relationship with him, he would find out something that would give him inspiration to determine in what particular direction other discoveries might lie.
And he was quite confident, too, that psychologically he would be more than a match for the doctor. The latter would be suspecting nothing, whereas he, Larose, would be suspicious of everything, and, added to that, would be in the happy position of being able to attack with nothing to worry him as to the provision of any defence.
So, it was in a very cheerful frame of mind that the following morning a few minutes after nine he received the intimation that he was wanted on the 'phone.
"Is that you, Mr. Tennant? It's Dr. Van Steyne's nurse speaking. Yes, I can put you in this morning. The doctor will see you at eleven-thirty. No, not at all. It's quite all right, but please be here to time, sharp, for the doctor has a very busy day."
Larose hung up the receiver and drew in a deep breath. "Now we shall see," he said to himself. "The credible—and Van Steyne is the victim of some extraordinary mistake, the incredible—and with all his talents and good name he is yet a consorter with murderers and thieves. Well, we shall soon find out now."
A few minutes before half-past eleven he was ushered into the waiting-room on North-terrace. The pretty nurse was all smiles, and he thought once again how charming she was. There was no one else in the room, and he thanked her for arranging the appointment so quickly, hoping she had not been inconvenienced in having to ring up so early.
She laughed lightly. "Oh! nine o'clock isn't early for me. I'm always here at half-past eight to unlock the rooms for the cleaner."
The bell rang, and a woman came in to make an appointment.
"The doctor knew you were down in the city, Mrs. James," said the nurse, smiling. "He passed your car parked in King William-street yesterday."
"So he saw us," said the woman. "We didn't see him."
"No, he didn't see any of you," replied the nurse. "The car was empty when he passed, but he noticed the number."
"What!" said the woman—"he knew our number?"
"Yes, he remembered there were five threes in it. He told me it was thirty-three thousand, three hundred and thirty-three."
"Goodness gracious!" exclaimed the woman, "fancy his remembering that, and noticing it too among all the other cars."
The nurse smiled again. "He notices and remembers everything. He never forgets."
"Ah!" murmured Larose, who had been an interested listener to the conversation. "I've stumbled on something hot here." His breath came a little quicker. "What if he should spot me! Lord! if he should notice anything to remind him of Huxley—now." He shook his head. "No, I was well disguised, and he only saw me at night, too."
The nurse went out to show the woman to the door and Larose sprang nimbly to his feet. He darted over to the window and examined the catch. "Quite easy, but just as well to know," he muttered. "Knowledge is always useful, but I wonder now in which room they keep the boots." His eyes fell upon a woman's handbag on the desk. The corner of a railway ticket was protruding from the outside pocket. He tip-toed over and pulled it out. "Glenelg," he whispered, "she lives at Glenelg." He heard the hall door close, and in two seconds was back again in his chair. There was the sharp ping of another bell, and immediately the nurse came and said that the doctor was ready.
With a heart that beat a little faster, the detective was ushered into the consulting-room. Dr. Van Steyne was drying his hands. He gave his visitor one sharp glance over and then motioned him to a chair. "Good morning," he said, "sit down please," and, the drying of his hands completed, he seated himself at the desk. He drew a card from an hides box and began to write.
"Your name, please," he said, "and your address."
"Gerald Tennant," replied Larose, "Grand Australasian Hotel."
"Your occupation?" asked the doctor.
"Warehouseman," said Larose promptly, and at once his heart calmed down. The battle had begun.
The doctor wrote for a few seconds, and Larose regarded him intently. Yes, the man had a strong face, a masterful and purposeful face, and, even as he wrote, the expression on it was that of one who was very sure of himself.
"No faltering there," thought the detective, "no indecision and probably no conscience either if the owner of it were determined to do wrong." And yet it was a face that demanded respect, for there was a certain grandeur in it, and there would be kindness and pity, even, in the relaxing of those lips. There was humor there, too, although it might be that it was grim. His handwriting, moreover, was just what one would have expected from such a temperament, it was—
The doctor wheeled round in his chair and looked intently at Larose.
"Now tell me what your trouble is, please," he said in cold and even tones.
"I haven't been feeling at all well lately," began the detective, who had carefully thought out his tale. "I suffer from severe headaches, I sleep very badly, and I have no appetite at all. The pain in my head is terrible sometimes and it makes me feel weak and ill. Nothing I have taken seems to do me any good."
"Whereabouts do you get the pain?" asked the doctor.
"In my forehead and just above my ears," replied the detective.
"And how long have you been having these pains?"
"Oh! about six weeks, and they are getting worse."
"When do they come on?"
"I've nearly always got them—I've got them now, but they're worse in the evening." Dr. Van Steyne leant over and laid his fingers upon the detective's pulse. Then a minute later he said curtly—
"Will you take off your clothes, please."
"Which ones?" asked the detective.
"All of them," said the doctor. "I want you quite naked."
Dissembling his astonishment, and with a reluctant sigh, Larose began to strip. "Damn!" he thought, "I didn't bargain for this. If I'm not careful I shall be out of my depth soon."
Slipping off his shoes, he took off his coat and trousers and deposited them upon a couch.
"No, not there," said the doctor, and he himself picked up the garments off the couch and laid them across a chair. "I shall want you to lie down on the couch while I examine you."
Larose made an inward grimace, but proceeding with his disrobement in a few moments stood naked as he was born. He lay down upon the couch as directed, and without a word then the doctor proceeded to examine him.
For quite a long time there was silence in the room, while the detective, with all the concentration in his power, endeavored to absorb the personality of the man who was bending over him.
"Yes," he concluded, "he'll be deuced difficult to take in, at any rate. He's very capable, and his hands are the hands of an artist in whatever walk of life."
Only once the doctor spoke, and then he shot out abruptly—"You're a warehouseman, you say?"
"Yes," replied the detective, "in the softgoods line." The examination continued for some minutes. Finally the doctor stood the detective in the full light of the window, and examined his face and eyes under a powerful magnifying glass.
"I've finished now, thank you," he said, and the detective would have sworn that a grim smile was lurking round the corners of his mouth. "You can put on your clothes. Yours is not an unusual case," he went on after a moment. "Ever had a blow on the head, a severe blow, I mean—ever been stunned?"
"No-o," replied Larose hesitatingly; "at any rate, not that I remember."
The doctor smiled drily. "Well, you would remember, if you had, now wouldn't you, Mr. Tennant?" He looked intently at the detective. "A warehouseman, you said you are?"
"Yes," replied Larose with an unpleasant feeling over his heart. "I'm a warehouseman."
"But your biceps are not developed as they should be," said the doctor, "if you were in the habit of handling heavy packages. The muscles of your arms are just ordinary, and all your pronounced muscular development is in your legs. It seems to me as if walking about were more in your line." He smiled again. "But you have had an adventurous career anyhow, Mr. Tennant." He pointed with a long forefinger. "A bullet wound in your arm there!"
"Yes, I was shot once when out kangarooing," said Larose hurriedly, with his heart going uncomfortably fast.
The face of the doctor clouded instantly.
"No, no," he said sternly "the bullet from a small pistol hit you there."
"Yes," agreed Larose promptly, "they were pistolling a wounded kangaroo and I got in the way."
The doctor laughed. "Very ingenious, I am sure!" Then his voice hardened scornfully. "And that wound on your right shoulder, and that above your left wrist, and those two ribs broken, and that incised wound on your thigh—all done kangarooing, too?"
He looked disdainful. "Really, I'm not a child! I've served in two wars. I was an army surgeon once."
Larose drew in his features to the wooden expression of a mask. To his disgust he realised that he was being outflanked, but he determined at any rate to retire in good order. He made no comment.
The doctor went on. "The skin of your face too is peculiar. Under the magnifying glass the epidermis shows up very mottled and rough, as if you were in the habit of using pigments a good deal, a condition I have only noticed in actors and in persons who have had often to adopt a disguise." He smiled as if he were amused. "And added to all these, I notice you are carrying an automatic. Oh! yes, I felt it when I was lifting your trousers just now." His smile broadened almost to real friendliness. "So do you wonder when I conclude that your career must have been an adventurous one?"
Larose regarded him with steady eyes. He was up against the unexpected with a vengeance, and all his life's training told him that he could only hope to baffle his adversary by neither admitting nor denying anything.
But the doctor had not finished. He lifted up his hands as if mildly protesting. "But please realise I am in no way concerned with your private affairs. You challenged me, however, when you told me you were a warehouseman and I knew you were not. That was all. I am a man of observation, as undoubtedly, too, are you." He paused a moment. "Thank goodness I am not conventional. Your morals or your code of life are no concern of mine. You can be any thing for all I care. I am no policeman, and the social order can take care of itself. So much for that."
He sat down in his chair and spoke now in sympathetic tones.
"But about these headaches of yours. Unless your eyes are the cause, which I do not think is so, they are probably only of nervous origin. You live on your nerves, you must understand. In the few minutes that you have been here I have discerned exactly what your temperament is. You have one of those restless brains that are never still. Now the moment you entered this room you began snap-shotting everything on to your mind. You had forgotten all your own troubles, and were busy collecting data about me that could be of no possible service to you. You craned your neck round to see what my handwriting was like, you were interested that I had a private telephone here, and when I was making my examination just now you were far more concerned with me than with your ailments." The doctor smiled in a friendly way. "Now is not that so, Mr. Tennant—is not that a true statement of facts?"
The detective felt too crestfallen to dispute any point. He had come into the room expecting that all the discoveries would be wholly on his side, and to his disgust he had found instead that it was he himself who had been turned inside out, and that he was up against a mind quite as trained and subtle as his own.
He answered very meekly. "Well, I'm always worrying about everything and that's why, I expect, I can't sleep."
The doctor picked up his pen. "Well I'll give you a prescription. You had better try that, and if you are not better come and see me again in a week. My nurse shall make a provisional appointment for you."
Five minutes later and Larose stepped out on to the terrace. He looked worried. "I didn't come too well out of that," he thought, "but then he was fighting all the time on his own ground. Besides, a man can't think of anything when he's naked; he's as helpless as a fool!" He shook his head angrily, and then his eyes gleamed. "But he's in it right enough; he was mixed up in it all, and he's the most dangerous type of criminal, too, that we can have. He is highly educated, and yet his sense of right and wrong is warped. He would regard crime as a sort of sport. He was sympathetic with me the moment he thought he had found out I was a crook." He shook his head again. "But there, I can't imagine him robbing anyone—himself—it would be too vulgar for him. He might perhaps take life without a scruple, but robbery—no! He might incite others and cynically urge them on. Then he would help them if they got into trouble. Yes, that's it! He's helping Miles Fallon now. I'm sure of it."
But the detective, in spite of the conviction that he was right, felt very downcast. His consultation with the doctor had not helped him forward in any way, and he did not know where to make the next move.
"Well, I'll go and have a bit of a sleep," he said, "and I shall feel fresher then."
He turned into the Botanic Garden and lay down under a tree. It was a beautiful summer's day, but the heat was tempered by a gentle wind. He pillowed his head upon his arm, and in five minutes was fast asleep.
It was a good three hours before he awoke, and then he sat up and rubbed his eyes. He felt the better for his rest, and at once all his old confidence revived.
"Now, Gilbert, my boy," he said, "you must get to work again. You must elaborate your ideas. You have unmasked the central character in this pretty little drama, and for the moment you must concentrate on him. Ah! Now something strikes me! I must spend an hour alone in that Van Steyne's room. His papers might be interesting and his case-book, too."
Walking meditatively out of the gardens, he turned up North-terrace, and then, just before reaching the gates of the Adelaide Hospital, he saw a large limousine draw smartly to the kerb and the object of his thoughts jump out.
"Whew! The devil himself!" he ejaculated. "And his Indian chauffeur, too!"
Dr. Van Steyne walked briskly into the hospital, and Larose, making sure that the coast was quite clear, approached near to the limousine.
"Now I'll have a good look at this chap," he thought. "Barnsley says they're thick as thieves together, and the blighter therefore may be mixed up in it, too. Oh! He wears dark glasses, does he? And yet from where he comes from he shouldn't mind any glare!"
But, as if in answer to the detective's sudden suspicion, the chauffeur at that very moment took off the glasses and disclosed a pair of dreamy brown eyes. His face was dark and swarthy, but it was by no means unpleasant, and the expression on it was mild and gentle as a child's. He polished the glasses with a handkerchief, and then, replacing them, picked up a newspaper from under the seat and commenced to read.
Larose frowned. "Another innocent," he remarked, "or, at any rate, no partner in crime." He walked up and spoke to the chauffeur.
"Can you tell me, please, the way to the General Post-office?" he asked. "I am a stranger here."
Instantly the man put down his paper. "Certainly, sir," he said in perfect English. "Take that street over there, and the third turning to the right. It's about half a mile."
Larose moved off. "Really," he said whimsically, "the doctor picks his servants well. That chap knows no more than does the nurse."
A few minutes after six that evening Dr. Van Steyne's pretty nurse was walking briskly along North-terrace in the direction of the railway-station. She wore a dress of light grey and a smart blue hat.
"Oh! there's that nice young Mr. Tennant!" she exclaimed interestedly. "Now, I wonder if he'll recognise me without my uniform? I expect he will." But apparently Mr. Tennant did not recognise her, for, although their paths almost converged as they reached the railway-station, he passed on in the direction of the booking-office.
The nurse tripped down the stairs, and then, finding she had plenty of time, stopped before the book-stall to glance over the books and magazines. At the same time she managed to keep a covert eye upon the people who were hurrying past behind her.
Presently, as, of course, she was not expecting, the pleasant-looking young Mr. Tennant came into view again. He bought a paper at the book-stall, and then, turning round, almost touched her as he was about to pass by. He gave her a careless look over, and puckered his eyes as if he were puzzled, but finally his face broke into a delighted smile. He took off his hat with a flourish.
"Fancy meeting you here!" he said. "I couldn't believe my eyes at first."
"But you didn't recognise me," said the nurse demurely. "You had forgotten me so soon."
"Not for worlds," laughed the young fellow warmly. "I was only puzzled for the moment, but I knew there could not be two young ladies like you in Adelaide." He looked up at the clock. "But I've got to go to Glenelg," he said sorrowfully. "I've got to catch the 6.15."
"Well, you must be quick," said the nurse, smiling. "You've only got three minutes." She blushed prettily, "I'm going there by that train myself."
"Splendid!" exclaimed Mr. Tennant. "What a bit of good luck! I hate travelling by myself, and it will be delightful having you to talk to."
They walked quickly down the platform, and the nurse, who evidently knew which part of the train would be the least crowded, took him to the far end, where they obtained a carriage to themselves.
"Gee!" whispered Larose to himself, "she's got some pluck, this little one, but I'll swear she's just as good as gold." He sat down opposite, and looked at her with admiring eyes. "But you haven't introduced yourself yet," he said. "Now, tell me your name—I'm sure it'll be a pretty one."
The girl laughed with just a slightly heightened color. "Well, it isn't, and it's a very common one," she said. "I'm just Mary Brown."
"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Tennant, "and Mary's my favorite name."
"Of course," said the girl smiling, "and I suppose Brown is another favorite of yours, too."
"Well, Brown is quite nice," said Mr. Tennant, with a grave, judicial air, "and it suggests kindness and common sense, and not being stuck-up or proud."
The girl shook her head. "Really, Mr. Tennant, you're quite a diplomat," she laughed. "And I really can't help remarking how well you look."
"Oh!" said the young man quickly, "there's nothing much the matter with me. I've only got headaches, and your doctor said they are all due to my nerves. He said, too, that I must take things easy or have a holiday, or get married, or do something desperate like that."
The girl smiled, and he went on. "But I say! That doctor of yours is a wonderful man. He must be awfully clever."
Miss Brown was enthusiastic. "He is wonderful, Mr. Tennant. There's no one like him in all Australia. He reads everyone like an open book."
The young man shifted uneasily in his seat. "I saw him out in his car this afternoon, with the Indian chauffeur," he said.
"Yes, Ameer Ali always drives him," replied the girl. She laughed, "I expect Ali is as well known in Adelaide as the doctor."
"How long has Dr. Van Steyne had him?" asked the young man carelessly.
"About twelve years, I believe. The doctor saved Ali's life once somewhere in India, and he's been almost like the doctor's slave ever since."
"Great friends?" asked Mr. Tennant, and he was thoughtful for a few moments when the girl replied—"Friends! why he'd do any mortal thing for the doctor. He'd lay down his life."
The journey to Glenelg was quite a short one, many times too short for both young Mr. Tennant and the detective, Gilbert Larose. But there was time for the girl to say quite a lot to her diverting companion. He learnt among other things that she had no parents, and that she and two sisters, who were both older than she, shared a bungalow between them. The bungalow, however, really belonged to her elder sister, who was a widow. They kept no maid, they all went out to work during the day, and whoever got home first prepared the evening meal. One of her sisters worked in a lawyer's office, and had about the same hours as she did, but the other one, the widow, who was a nurse like herself, had a much harder time and rarely got home before eight. Indeed it was often much later and that night, for instance, she expected it would not be before nine, which was a shame, for directly after tea on warm days they all went into the sea, as they were going to do that very evening.
When they arrived at Glenelg and had passed out of the station, the girl stopped and held out her hand.
"Well, you'll want to go now," she said. "My road turns off here and I expect you're going into the town."
"Oh! no," replied Mr. Tennant, "this road will do for me. I see it leads down towards the sea and I'm going on to the Esplanade, besides,"—and he laughed—"I may as well make sure that nobody runs off with you before you get home."
The girl pretended to look sad. "I'm never in any such danger," she retorted. "Everyone's much too proper in South Australia for things like that to happen."
They walked on for a few minutes, and then she pointed to a pretty little bungalow that was separated from the road by a short stretch of garden surrounded by a high hedge. "That's where we live," she said, "and if you turn round that corner there's a short cut over the field straight down to the Esplanade."
They stopped in front of the garden gate and for a moment an embarrassing silence fell upon them both. He looked at her gravely, but she had her eyes upon the ground.
"Well, I don't suppose I shall be seeing you again," she said presently.
"Oh! won't you?" said Mr. Tennant quickly. "I hope—I hope,"—he hesitated. "I shan't be leaving Adelaide now quite as soon as I thought, and I shall have to come down to Glenelg several times, I expect." His face brightened as if he had just thought of something. "I might give you a look up one evening if you wouldn't mind."
The girl spoke with studied carelessness. "Yes, do if you're passing. We shall be very pleased." She smiled. "I'll introduce you to my sisters—they're both pretty girls."
With no further excuse to linger, the young man bade her good-bye and with slow and thoughtful steps went down the road. Reaching the end of the garden, however, and turning round the corner as he had been directed, he stopped for a moment for a last glimpse of the girl. He peered through the hedge and was just in time to see her tilt up a big flower-pot on the verandah and pick up a key.
"O woman, woman," he thought, shaking his head; "the very first place where everyone would look."
Opening the door, the girl went into the house, and then suddenly the detective held his breath. The look of the lover faded from his face, and he was Larose, the detective, at once again.
"The keys of Van Steyne's rooms," he muttered—"she's got them in her bag. When her sister comes home, and after they've had tea, they'll go out for a swim. They'll put the door key under the pot again for the coming home of the other sister later on. There will be no one in the house then, and I could nip in and get an impression of them."
He thought rapidly. He had resolved to get into the doctor's room somehow, and the exact way seemed now made easy for him. There would be no delay either—an important point, for every day now, he was sure, was important. If Fallon were in hiding somewhere in the city he would not be kept there an hour longer than could be helped, and directly it was considered safe he would be spirited out of the State. Then all traces of him might be obliterated forever. But Larose was torn with conflicting emotions. It was mean, he told himself, to take advantage of the trustfulness of the girl, and yet it was his duty to make full use of the opportunity that presented itself. Yes, it was his duty. Besides, he consoled himself, the girl would never know, she would never be aware of what he had done. He turned back and walked quickly into the town. He went into a toyshop and bought a packet of plasticine. Then as an after-thought he went into an ironmonger's for a screwdriver.
"You never know," he decided, "and it's always well to be prepared."
A big, red-headed policeman was in the shop when he went in, buying a pocket-knife, and Larose had to wait some minutes whilst the man was being served. The policeman was very particular to obtain the exact kind of knife he wanted, and the ironmonger became quite irritable. But the big policeman was coolly persistent, and indeed was so long in making his choice that at length the ironmonger left him and attended to Larose instead.
The detective was mildly amused, and eyed the procrastinating guardian of the law with interest. "A rough diamond," was his mental comment, "but shrewd and determined—very."
He made his way back in a circuitous way to the vicinity of the house where the nurse lived and sat down among some trees in the field close by. He was near enough to the house to be able to watch all who came in and out, and yet far enough away not to be recognised even if anyone were on the look-out for him.
He looked at his watch. It was only a quarter-past seven. "Dear me!" he ejaculated, "and what a lot has happened in the last hour!" Then his thoughts reverted fondly to the pretty nurse of Dr. Van Steyne.
During the next quarter of an hour only about half a dozen people passed along the road that skirted the field where he was resting, but one, he was not too pleased to note, was the red-haired policeman he had seen in the ironmonger's shop.
He frowned in annoyance. "A policeman's the last person I want about just now," he growled, "but there—I don't suppose for a moment that he's noticed me."
And undoubtedly he was right, for the policeman marched by without giving a glance in his direction.
The vigil of the detective was very short, for before even twenty minutes had passed he saw two figures emerge from the house where the nurse lived, and trip blithely in the direction of the sea. They were in bathing caps and dresses, and had thrown light cloaks over their shoulders.
"Now for it," he said, and the moment they had turned the corner he was walking toward the house.
He sauntered into the garden nonchalantly, as if it were all his own, went straight to the flower-pot as if he were accustomed to do so every evening of his life, slipped out the key as a matter of course, and in half a minute was in the house.
Then his movements became panther like in their quickness. The front door opened directly into a large room, and into this room opened three others. None of the doors was closed, and a lightning glance sufficed to show him that two bedrooms and a kitchen lay behind them. But he was concerned with the sitting-room first. He darted to a large couch and each in turn lifted up the three cushions that lay there, taking scrupulous care, however, to return them to exactly the positions they had occupied before. Then he looked behind the curtains, under the chairs, inside the sideboard, and above a large shelf of books.
But all these searchings took only a few seconds, and they were passed through so quickly that it almost seemed as if no results had been expected from them.
Then he turned to the bedrooms, and the first one he looked into contained two beds. One was unruffled and undisturbed, but upon the other were a small attache-case and some folded clothes.
"Not hers," he said, and in three strides he was looking into the other bedroom. His heart gave a big thud. Over a chair back hung a light grey frock and on the chest of drawers was a blue hat. On the narrow bed were a pair of grey silk stockings and a little heap of dainty lingerie, the latter evidently, from its abandon, hurriedly discarded.
The face of the detective went very red, for with the thoughts that possessed him for the girl it seemed almost an outrage for him to be there.
But to the ordinarily-minded man there is always something very sacred about the sleeping-chamber of a young girl. It speaks somehow of the greatest mystery of life and it suggests the fragrance of a flower that has hitherto bowed its head only to the ceiling of the sky. It whispers of the gift of innocence that can only be given once and of the sadness of the breaking of a beautiful dream where the awakening is never quite so sweet as the thoughts in the slumber that preceded it.
But it was his duty, so Larose shut his jaws with a snap and got to business. He went straight to the head of the bed. "After 'under the flower pot.'" he remarked grimly, "'under the mattress' follows as a matter of course."
He lifted up the corner of the mattress and drew out, as he expected, the nurse's handbag. Opening it quickly he abstracted four keys on a split ring.
"The front, door," he said inspecting them, "the doctor's room, the waiting room, and—" he hesitated a moment—"and probably the key of little Mary's desk."
In three minutes he had taken careful impressions of all four keys with the plasticine that he had bought, and wiping them carefully had returned them to the bag, and the bag to its hiding-place under the mattress. He looked at his watch.
"Quick work." he whispered. "I have been in the house exactly seven minutes."
He tip-toed out of the bedroom into the sitting-room, and crept softly across to the window. Then his face puckered suddenly in an annoyed frown.
"Hullo! what's up?" he said. "Why are those two boys staring over here?"
From his position he could see along the path that led to the garden gate, and out across to the road beyond. On the other side of the road two boys were standing and staring with interested eyes towards the house.
"What's up?" he asked again, and his frown deepened.
The sun was sinking fast, and as he watched, it dipped behind the top of the high garden hedge.
"Damn!" swore the detective suddenly. "There's a policeman there and that's why those boys are watching!"
A head with a policeman's helmet on it was sharply silhouetted through the hedge.
Larose grinned in spite of his dismay. "My red-headed friend," he remarked drily, "and doubtless he's had his eye on me all the time. He saw me buy that screwdriver in the shop, and then he saw me again among those trees, and he was suspicious. Well, I thought in the shop he looked shrewd and determined, and now I suppose he's waiting to pounce upon me when I come out. Damn!—I'm in a nice hole. I've been blundering again." He stopped in disgust and looked round the room. A look of relief crossed his face. "Ah! there's a telephone. I can ring up Barnsley to come and rescue me, but "—his face clouded again—"confound it! I haven't the remotest idea where I am! I don't know the name of the house or the name of the street either. Oh! what an ass I've been."
He looked out of the window again. The two boys were still there, and more of the policeman had come into view. He was discernible down to his belt now.
The sweat broke on to the forehead of Larose. All his plans were going astray and he was faced not only with defeat, but with humiliation as well. If the policeman outside got hold of him, no explanation would be accepted until he was in the presence of the Superintendent in the police-station at Glenelg, and by that time all the mischief would have been done. He would have been seen being arrested when coming out of the house, and the news would travel like wild fire down the street, and of course the nurse and her sisters would be among the first to hear of it. Then it would get round to Van Steyne, and the latter with that acute brain of his would begin analysing things, and would get suspicious at once.
Then the shame of being shown up before the girl! How mean she would think him, and how detestable, how—he dashed over to the telephone in desperation and then suddenly a little inset card above the instrument caught his eye.
"Glenelg 606," he read.
He gazed dully at it for a second, and then moistened his dry lips and smiled.
"A chance," he whispered, "just a chance if they are quick enough in replying."
He snatched up the receiver. "Put me through to Information, please." There was a short silence, and then he rattled sharply, "Will you tell me, please, whose number is Glenelg 606?"
There was a much longer silence then, and he glanced back out of the window. He could see almost all of the policeman now, and the fellow looked very big and formidable with the sun's glare right behind him.
"Mrs. Bailey, you say, number twenty-one, Acacia-road, Glenelg. Thank you," and he hung up the receiver, to snatch it down furiously again in two seconds.
"Police Headquarters in Victoria square," he snapped, "and be quick, please. The matter's urgent, and I don't remember the number."
In less than half a minute the call was put through, and to the great thankfulness of Larose he was informed that Inspector Barnsley was on the premises. Almost immediately there came the Inspector's voice.
"You know who's speaking?" said Larose. "Well, I'm in trouble. I can't stop to explain everything now, but I'm in a Mrs. Bailey's house, number twenty-one, Acacia-road, Glenelg, and one of the local police has tracked me here. He thinks I'm on the crook, and is waiting outside to nab me as I come out. His presence is attracting attention in the neighborhood, and I can't leave the house. Ring up the Glenelg Superintendent like lightning, and tell him to send instantly to fetch the man away. He's a tall, thin, red-headed chap. Be quick, please. Good-bye."
Larose returned to the window and looked out. The sun had dropped behind a distant building, and he could no longer see the policeman through the hedge. The little boys, however, were still there, and they had been joined now by a woman, to whom they were apparently explaining the situation.
"Damn!" swore Larose for the third time. "We'll have all the town here soon if they don't send quickly."
About five minutes of intense anxiety followed, and Larose rattled the chairs about to let the policeman know he was still in the house. It was vital that the latter should not come into the garden, for in that case someone would be sure to be telling the sisters later that a policeman had been visiting the house.
Presently, to his great joy, a second policeman on a bicycle shot by the garden gate, and he heard the sound of his feet as he jumped off on to the ground. Then he heard gruff voices, and a few seconds later the eyes of the woman and the little boys opposite were turned along the direction of the road. They were evidently watching the two policeman go off. A moment later and the three of them disappeared as well.
Larose waited until he thought the coast was quite clear, and then sauntered slowly out. He quickened his footsteps directly he was well away from the house, and made straight for the railway station.
Partly to his amusement and partly to his annoyance, he plumped right into the red-headed policeman as he was going through the station gates. The latter gave him a solemn stare. The detective was passing by without any sign of recognition, when a sudden impulse seized him and he stopped.
"You're a smart chap," he said, "and I should be proud to have you working under me. I'm a Commonwealth man." he added in a whisper, "and know what I'm saying. I'll mention you to the Chief Commissioner."
The big policeman eyed him very gravely, his face got red, and then up went his arm and he made a respectful salute.
"Good," muttered Larose as he walked up the platform. "I'm not a back number by any means. If I can convince a hard-headed policeman with my bare word then I'm getting back to my old form again, I'm Gilbert Larose," and he smiled as if he were amused.
The following evening, when dusk had just fallen, a man walked quickly up the steps of the building on North-terrace in which Dr. Van Steyne had his chambers, and opening the front door with a latch-key let himself in.
The hall was deep with shadows, but the man did not switch on the lights. For quite three minutes he stood perfectly still—listening. Then, apparently satisfied that he was the sole occupant of the building, he tip-toed to the door of Dr. Van Steyne's consulting room and inserted a key in the lock. The door opened noiselessly, and the man crept into the room. He closed the door quietly behind him.
Then he switched on an electric torch and moved over to the desk. The desk was a large roll-top one and contrary, apparently, to his expectations it was unlocked. He pulled up the revolving chair and sat down. Then he took a slip of paper out of his pocket and appeared to refresh his memory about some names and dates.
Then, each in turn, he proceeded to go through the books before him. One, marked in gold letters upon its cover "Diary," took him a long time to consider, and he nodded his head often during his perusal.
"Six appointments cancelled on the afternoon that Fallon escaped," he muttered once, "and no entry made of the visit to the stockade."
Then the card-index system recording the cases and histories of all the consulting patients greatly interested him, and he had to refer to his slip of paper more than once. He smiled grimly as he picked up one from out of the T's and read:—
"Tennant, Gerald. Grand Australasian Hotel. Headaches, frontal region. No definite cause. Condition of debility. Neurotic," and underneath:—"See other side."
He turned the card over and read:—
"Assumed name. Interesting character. Probably member of the criminal class. Scars from three bullet wounds on body, also one from knife, also indications of two fractured ribs. Was carrying automatic! If had not been in debilitated condition, should have been inclined to believe he was consulting me for some ulterior reason."
Then the bank pass-book was gone through, and the nocturnal visitor whistled when a particular entry caught his eye. "Circumstantial evidence," he muttered. "It convinces me although it might not convince the jury in a court of law."
It was an hour, fully, before he had seen all he wanted to and then, making sure to leave every book in the exact position in which he had found it, he made his way into the waiting-room, and opened the nurse's desk. But there the examination was very brief. He turned over the pages of the appointment book, and appeared to be very thoughtful when he came to a certain date. He ran his electric torch down the binding, and after a few seconds nodded his head as if he were quite sure about something. Then he turned to the big cupboard in the corner of the room and went through a lot of bills upon a file. Finally he switched off his torch and, leaning back in an armchair, seemed almost to have gone to sleep. In five minutes, however, he was up again and noiselessly closing all the doors behind him, he passed like a shadow out of the building into the night.
It was night, warm, beautiful and starry, and a scented softness hung over the high-walled garden of Dr. Van Steyne. The flowers were sleeping, but in their slumbers still they gave up their incense to the air.
It was nearly half-past ten, and the big mansion, save in one place, was everywhere in darkness. From one window came out a thin ray of light.
A man sat alone in a long room, a room that spoke of culture and refinement, and the means of purchasing beautiful things. There was the small light of a reading-lamp burning upon a desk, with the shade turned over so that the room was full of shadows.
The man was not reading. He was thinking, and from the expression on his face his thoughts were not unpleasant ones. His eyes were dreamily half-closed, and there were tender lines about his mouth. From time to time he smiled happily.
Presently he looked at the clock, and then he rose to his feet and tiptoed to the large French window at the end of the room. Very quietly he drew back the heavy curtain and lifted up a corner of the blind.
For a few moments he stood watching, and then the tension of his face relaxed. He had heard light footsteps upon the gravel path. Quickly but noiselessly he unlatched the window and held it open. A shadow detached itself from the darkness outside, and the figure of a woman tripped over the threshold into the room. The window was reclosed without a sound, and the heavy curtain drawn over once again.
"Dear," whispered a gentle voice, "I'm late, I know, but only three minutes this time."
"Three minutes seemed hours, darling." whispered back the man, "but after certain punishments you will be forgiven in due course. Take off your cloak."
The woman was dark-eyed and pretty, and her figure was moulded in the round and supple glory of young womanhood. She was about six or seven-and-twenty. She was in evening dress, and the ivory of her skin stood out against the blackness of the room. Her face was very tender.
The man held her at arms' length for a few moments, regarding her with the serene passion of a lover whose privileges are assured. Then he drew her gently to him and their faces touched. Hers upturned and with her eyes shut—his bending over and with his eyes wide open. He lifted her on to the couch.
The silence of the room enveloped them, and the shadows were very still.
Presently, however, the woman stirred, and disentangled herself from the man's arms.
"Wait, dear," she said. "No more just now. I want to talk to you. I've been thinking of things to-day."
The man smiled indulgently. "But I'd rather kiss you than talk."
The woman ignored the interruption. "You know I love you—but of course you do or I shouldn't be here." Her voice quavered a little. "What I've been thinking of is—how is it all going to end?"
The man stroked her hand. "But why should it end at all, sweetheart? Can we not always meet each other—"—he sighed—"until I grow old?"
"But things will be so different soon," went on the woman. "Remember, in a month now I shall be free."
"You were free from the first moment when you kissed me," said the man. "Your bonds were broken then."
The woman bent down and laid her face against his. "But you can marry me in a month, Arnold, and I shall be all yours then, in the endless way."
The man stirred uneasily. "Bonds that would chafe, sweetheart," he said softly. "Steel that would be weaker than the gossamer of love. Iron that would rust soon under the moisture of your tears."
The woman gripped his arm. "Dearest, I don't understand you. Why should I be unhappy as your wife? All marriages are not unhappy, if mine was." Her voice quavered again. "Why do you never talk of the future? Why is it always now—to-day—tonight, with you?"
The man sat up and took both her hands in his. "Sweetheart," he said, "tell me—aren't you happy now?"
"Yes, I'm happy. I love coming here. You're all in all to me, and I count the days until the night is yours again. Yours—mine—and ours."
"And I almost count the minutes, sweetheart." He clasped her in his arms. "What could be happier than our meetings here? The mystery of them, the secrecy and the ecstasy of being all alone."
But the woman shook herself free. "Dearest," she said, and there was a trace of resentment in her tones, "I know all that, but there's no lasting content in it for me. I'm always asking myself 'why does he never mention marriage?—and am I always to be only his mistress—'." The darkness of the room hid the crimsoning of her face. "Am I always to love only by stealth?" She began to cry. "I have given up everything for you, and you are not willing to give all back in return."
The man spoke very gently. "But have I wronged you, sweetheart, have I done you any harm?" His voice hardened a little. "Remember how it was with you when I first met you two years ago. You were tied to a man you loathed. Your husband was a drunkard and worse than that, for he was physically cruel to you, and yet you could not leave him because of your child. You were friendless, and you had no resources, and, as you told me, your life was up against a blank wall. Well—I altered all that and I made it possible for you to leave him. I found you a position where you could earn your living for yourself, and I saw to it that everything possible was done for your child. Unhappily, you lost your little one, and then—then in your sorrows you came, in reality, into my life." His voice grew very tender. "We became lovers, darling. You gave me as you have just said—everything. Your love and yourself, a woman's last gift. Well, I could not marry you, for you were still tied, but I arranged that you should never want. I settled sufficient on you so that you should be free from money cares for all your life." He stroked her head fondly. "What more can you want, sweetheart? There has been no publicity, and no scandal, and no one knows what we have been to one another. Your husband is simply divorcing you for desertion, that is all."
The woman shook her head. "But I want you to marry me," she said. "I want to be with you always and to share your life."
"And if you tired of me," said the man gravely, "it would be the old story once again."
"But I shouldn't tire of you. I am old enough to choose wisely now. I am sure of that."
"You might, sweetheart." He smiled sadly. "Remember, good lovers often make bad husbands and bad wives."
The woman tapped her foot impatiently. "But you don't understand what I mean, you don't see—"—impulsively she threw her arms round his neck and buried her face upon his shoulder. Her voice dropped to a whisper. "I want a baby, dearest—I want a child by you."
It was the man now who was stirred. He breathed deeply and the arm that clasped her shook.
"Poor little woman," he exclaimed, "poor little woman, so that's the trouble is it?"
"Yes, that's what I want," she whispered. She looked up at him and went on earnestly. "You see, dearest, the climax of passion is not the end of everything to a woman, it is the noon-tide and not the sunset of her desire." A pleading note crept into her voice. "Now why don't you ask me to marry you?"
The face of the man was very grave. He had turned his eyes away and was staring into the shadows of the room.
After a long while he spoke.
"I never meant to tell you," he said, "but I see now it is right that you should know. I can never marry because parentage must not come to me." He spoke more slowly. "My father died in an asylum for the insane."
The woman looked at him with frightened eyes, the darkness in the chamber seemed to deepen and the lamp upon the desk burn very low.
The man went on, but his voice had steadied now, and it assumed even and matter-of-fact tones.
"My family history is unhappily a very bad one. There has been insanity in it for three generations. My father—his father—his father before him had madness in their veins, and I, whose life's work has lain among diseases, am averse from propagating disease myself." He signed heavily. "My race must die out."
He got up and paced restlessly down the room, but then he turned suddenly and faced her again. He bent his head down towards her.
"Sweetheart," he said tenderly, "I know the risks of married life. You and I would grow careless, and one day you would whisper to me of a new life coming, and then—then,"—he drew in his breath sharply—"the violent rending of your dear body, or the alternative—the dread shadow of an insane child for ever darkening both our lives."
She found her voice at last. "But you are not mad, dearest. No man could be saner than you."
He smiled grimly. "Sweetheart, I am forty-five; my father went into an asylum at forty-seven." He sat down upon the couch beside her. "Listen and I'll tell you something of my mother's life, and you may judge then what might perhaps come to you. My mother was by nature a good woman—sweet, gentle and kind. She lived in Queensland, and she married my father when she was twenty and he was thirty five. He was a bad husband to her, bad because he was not in his right mind. Long before he was certified he should have been put away. He made her life a hell. Then one day she met someone else, and in time she came to believe there might yet be happiness in her life if only she would take courage in her hands. Brought almost to the verge of self-destruction by my father's treatment of her, she at last left him and went to live under the protection of the other man that she had learnt to love. Then—what happened?" He ground his teeth together. "All the world knew how she had suffered, all the world knew she had been a martyr in her married life, and yet,"—his lips curled to a bitter sneer—"because she had broken the social law the world spurned her as the harlot on the streets, and society slammed every door in her gentle face." He spoke with an effort. "She felt it! Yes, with all her courage she felt it, and her crowning sorrow was that they dragged me from her—me, her only child. Well, my father divorced her, and then, not two months after her second marriage, a railway accident left her a widow and unprovided for. Sickness fell upon her and she died, almost from starvation. I think, in a Sydney slum." He smiled sadly. "Now that was what came from marrying a madman, dear."
The woman shook her head unconvinced. "But you are not mad, you—"
"No, sweetheart," said the man tenderly, "and I may never be; but there is always the dread, and I would not bind you by chains you could not break. Oh! dearest," he went on passionately "let us take what the gods have given us. Let us dream before the morning breaks. Life is so short—and we shall only live once."
At half-past one in the morning a man outside in the shrubbery whistled softly to himself.
"Whew!" he exclaimed, "a woman! Now I thought I smelt scent after she had gone in." He shook his head thoughtfully. "Well, I shall have to revise my estimate of the great doctor, that's all. He's got a human side to him that I didn't expect." He bent low down and ran swiftly across the lawn. "It's not what I'm looking for," he panted, "but still, it's best to find out who she is. A man like Van Steyne will work with all sorts of tools."
A week later, a rather weary-looking Larose was ushered into the presence of the Chief Commissioner of the South Australian Police. "Sir," he said abruptly, and without any preamble of civilities, directly they were alone. "I want a search-warrant to go through Dr. Van Steyne's house at West Mitcham."
"Dr. Van Steyne's!" exclaimed the Commissioner frowning. "Why what on earth do you want that for?"
"He's hiding Miles Fallon," said the detective grimly, "and it's my belief we shall find the man somewhere about the house."
"Hiding Miles Fallon?" echoed the Commissioner incredulously, and as if he had not heard aright. "Dr. Van Steyne hiding Miles Fallon?"
"Yes," replied Larose, "they have been working hand in glove together, and everything points to their being now under the same roof."
The Commissioner gasped. "I don't know what you mean! Dr. Van Steyne is a friend of mine as well as my medical adviser and I was dining with him at his house no later than the beginning of this week!"
"Yes," remarked the detective, "on Tuesday, to be exact, and something he learnt that night put him on his guard at once. My work has been made more difficult ever since."
The face of the Commissioner grew red with anger. "It is impossible! Ridiculous!" he exclaimed. "The doctor is a refined and cultured man, and I am proud to reckon him as my friend."
"Well, he's a friend of Miles Fallon too," commented the detective bluntly, "and it is he who has baulked you all along. He engineered and carried out the escape from the Stockade, amongst other things."
The Commissioner leant back in his chair, and regarded the detective as if the latter were not in his right mind. But the detective was quite unperturbed, and indeed returned the stare with a certain amount of resentment in his eyes.
"Yes," he remarked brusquely, after a moment's silence, "and did you happen to mention anything on Tuesday night about my being here? Did my name crop up at all?"
The face of the Commissioner reddened to a deeper hue, and he looked more angry still, but the detective had turned his eyes away now and was looking out of the window. "I only thought, I only thought," he went on much more gently, "that perhaps you had, because from the instant you left his house that night he took several precautions." Larose looked round again and faced the Commissioner. "I was watching in the garden all that evening, and knew you were a guest there. I saw you come and go, and directly you had left—it was nearly midnight—Dr. Van Steyne switched on the verandah lights and left them on till morning, so that by no chance could anyone approach near to the house without being seen. Then the next day he was undoubtedly fidgety, and whenever he got in or out of his car, wherever he happened to be, he looked up and down the road, as if he thought he were being followed. Consequently we had a lot of difficulty in shadowing him without being seen."
The Commissioner sighed and leant back again in his chair.
"But I don't understand you at all, Mr. Larose," he said. "Will you please explain first. You are like a man who has rushed in here with a bomb. But sit down and take your time."
The detective sat down as directed and proceeded to regard the Commissioner with a pair of very keen blue eyes.
"Sir," he said quietly, "if you will listen to me for only a few minutes, I will convince you that I am neither mad nor dreaming. However extraordinary it may seem to you, I am certain of what I am telling you. I was never more sure of anything in my life than that Dr. Van Steyne is mixed up in it all. But one thing, first, please," and he looked the Commissioner straight in the face. "Now does the doctor know I am over here?"
The face of the Commissioner grew red again, and he drummed with his fingers upon the desk. He hesitated for a moment and then reluctantly nodded his head.
"Yes, he does know," he said slowly. "It came out accidentally after dinner that night. He told me of your visit to him as the detective, Huxley, and he asked me where you came from. I told him from Sydney. Then he said, 'Oh! But he told me Melbourne,' and I laughed and said, 'Well, you see in our work it doesn't always do to let everyone know the exact truth; we have to prevaricate sometimes.' Then he asked me directly if you were Gilbert Larose for, he added, if we were being helped from Sydney, you would naturally be the one to come." The Commissioner looked very embarrassed. "And I, seeing no reason for reticence with him, just replied 'Yes!'"
Larose appeared at once to dismiss the matter as if it were of no further interest, and was all deference and politeness again. "How long have you known the doctor, sir?" he asked.
"Oh! I should say about seven years," replied the Commissioner thoughtfully. "I knew him before I was appointed here."
"Seven years!" commented the detective, meditatively. "Then you should have learnt something of his character, by now."
"Certainly, I have," was the emphatic reply, "and, as I say, he is a refined and cultured man. A man one can always trust, although I admit he is cynical and eccentric at times."
"Hum!—interested in crime generally?" queried the detective. "And curious about criminal matters over here?"
The Commissioner frowned. "Interested in crime as a medical man naturally would be, and most sympathetic with us. I can tell you, in all our difficulties over here."
"Of course, of course," said Larose drily, "and no doubt setting inside information every time that would be most useful to him if he were the man I say. As for his sympathy," the detective saw the anger rising in the Commissioner's face, and discreetly cut short what he had been intending to say. Instead, taking some papers quickly out of his pocket, he spread them before him, and dropped his voice into quiet and business-like tones. "Now, sir," he said. "I'll lay everything before you, and of course it will be for you to say what is necessary to be done. I've got it all cut and dried, and it won't take very long." He picked up one of the papers. "Now Inspector Barnsley has told you everything up to where we found out that Fallon had been staying as a Mr. Sam Heggarty at the Grand Australasian Hotel. You know the results of our enquiries up to then."
The Commissioner nodded surlily. He was too annoyed to speak.
"Well," went on Larose, "at first we could find out nothing about the disguised old man. He was just an ordinary visitor to the hotel, liked by everyone but with no particular friends. Nothing unusual about him, nothing to give any clues at all. Then, at last I came across his name in the hall-porter's book. There was an entry in it for him to ring up a certain number directly he came in." The detective paused for a moment and then spoke impressively. "And that number, sir, was Central 975, the number of Dr. Van Steyne."
The Commissioner interrupted. "Well, that's not much to go on," he said sharply, "if you don't know what he was being wanted for."
"Not too much to go on, perhaps," replied the detective slowly, "but it became significant later on when going I through the records of those five robberies that you mentioned to me. I found—I found,"—he spoke almost in a whisper—"I found that every one of the victims had been a patient of Dr. Van Steyne."
"Good Lord!" ejaculated the Commissioner, startled at last, "you are sure of that?"
"Quite sure," said Larose. "About all of them now I have direct proof. The man killed by Fallon in the Rialto we traced straight away through a medicine bottle we found in his room. It had got the label of Burden, the chemist of King William-street, on it, and through the number we ascertained that the prescription had been given by Van Steyne."
The Commissioner appeared to be too dumbfounded to speak. His jaw had dropped and his face had gone quite pale.
"But I am taking things out of their proper order," continued the detective. "To return to where we had discovered that Fallon had been rung up by the doctor—I decided then to interview the doctor at once. I had seen him before, as you know, as the detective, Huxley, and upon that occasion even had been peculiarly interested by two things. One, the doctor was openly sympathetic with breakers of the law, and, two, he had deliberately kept from me certain information that he might easily have given about Fallon. The accountant at the Rialto had told us that he was continually suffering from colds, and at such times was troubled by a hacking cough at night, directly he lay down. Well, when I asked Van Steyne if there was anything in any way unusual about Fallon's health, he replied emphatically that there was nothing that he knew of." The detective looked down at his notes. "Also, I was particularly struck in that interview by the fact that the doctor seemed to be unnecessarily antagonistic, and I could not understand why he should not have done his best to help me instead of trying to thwart me as he did. But I'll come now to this second interview, and there I consulted him as a patient. I wanted to see him when he was his natural self. I went without being in any way disguised, expecting, of course, to be subjected to a close examination, and, by Jove! I was, too! He made me strip, and he examined every part of me." The detective sighed. "I found him a man very difficult to deceive—in fact, he caught me out several times. His observations were shrewd, and his deductions excellent. He saw the scars from some bullet wounds that I have on my body, and declined point-blank to accept the explanations that I gave. Also he made it clear to me that he knew I was lying when I told him the supposed occupation that I followed. Honestly, I believe the man thought I was one of the criminal classes." The detective laughed. "But I got to know several things, anyhow, and I formed the opinion, too, that the man was capable of anything, was non-moral, and would stick at nothing to gain his ends. So directly I left him I went ahead with my enquiries in one particular direction, and endeavored to find out in what way I could link him up with any of the crimes with which Fallon had undoubtedly been concerned. Now it had already struck me as strange that all the victims of these robberies should have been elderly persons, but it came upon me like a thunderclap when I found out that one after another, they had all been patients of the same medical man, and that medical man, Van Steyne himself. His co-operation then with Fallon, although no actual proof was yet forthcoming, seemed at once to be quite clear."
"But how did you ascertain that they had all been his patients?" asked the Commissioner gloomily.
Larose looked just a trifle uneasy. "I straightaway traced his connection with the man killed at the Rialto, as I have told you, through the label on the medicine bottle found in his room, and as to the others—well, I found all their names on the indexed cards in the doctor's consulting-room on North-terrace." The detective hesitated a moment. "I made a little excursion there one night and had quite an interesting time."
"You broke in?" asked the Commissioner, sharply.
"No-o," replied the detective, shaking his head. "I got in and without doing any damage. I found means of opening the doors."
The Commissioner frowned. "But please remember, Mr. Larose, I have no official cognizance of that fact," he said drily. "My functions here are to support and not encourage any belittling of the law."
"Of course, of course," agreed Larose hurriedly, and as if only anxious to get on with his recital. "Well, besides the finding of these names, both in the card index and in the appointment book as well, I came across one other very significant thing. You remember you told me when I first saw you in this room of the naked body of an unknown man found one morning in the Torrens River? And how, later, enquiries had come through from London that pointed to the stranger as being a visitor with a parcel of precious stones in his possession?"
"Yes," nodded the Commissioner, "and we are sure now of the identity of the man. His name was William Thrush, and he should have sailed from here by the Nestor on October 29th." He drew in his features as if he were expecting a blow. "He also had been staying at the Rialto Hotel."
"And was last seen," added Larose briskly, "two days before the boat was due to sail, on the morning of October 29th, when he had been heard complaining at the hotel that he had been feeling very unwell."
"Oh!" said the Commissioner with some irritation. "Well, what of that? Had he been visiting Dr. Van Steyne too?"
The detective shook his head slowly.
"Shall we ever know? No entry of that name to be found anywhere, but—"—Larose spoke almost in a whisper again—"the nurse's hall book at the consulting rooms on North-terrace has been tampered with, and the two pages for October the 28th and 29th are torn out—consequently no record exists as to what patients consulted Dr. Van Steyne on those two particular days."
The face of the Commissioner was very thoughtful. He was inscribing meaningless lines and circles upon the blotting paper on his desk.
Larose continued. "Well, we come now to the escape from the stockade, and I want you to follow me very carefully here, please." He paused for a few seconds. "Now you were summoned hurriedly from headquarters just after four that afternoon,"—the Commissioner nodded—"and you had no knowledge at that moment that Fallon had requisitioned the services of Dr. Van Steyne at all."
"No," replied the Commissioner, "that matter would not have come before me. The superintendent of the stockade would deal with the request."
"Well," asked Larose, "and when did you first become aware that the doctor had been called to the stockade at all?"
"Upon my arrival at the entrance gates," replied the Commissioner. "I saw his car standing there. I saw his Indian chauffeur at once."
"And you were informed directly you went in that it was to see Miles Fallon that he had been summoned?"
"Yes, because it was explained to me that the prisoner had been locked in his cell to await the doctor's arrival, and that it had only been when the cell was actually opened for the doctor to go in that it was discovered Fallon had escaped."
"And it was Bullock who unlocked the cell door, with Blendiron and Van Steyne standing behind him, was it not?"
"Yes, and the three of them therefore learnt simultaneously of the prisoner's escape," said the Commissioner.
"Exactly," remarked the detective drily, "and no doubt it was the shock of their lives." He paused again for a moment. "Well, when you arrived, the three of them were no longer together. You saw at first only Bullock and Blendiron, and you heard the story from their lips?"
"Yes," replied the Commissioner, "and I questioned them minutely on every point."
"And then?" asked the detective sharply, "then? Now please be careful here, for we are approaching the climax of the whole affair. Then you asked for Dr. Van Steyne, as you told me in our first interview here." He picked up one of his slips of paper and looked down. "Your exact words were—'I asked for the doctor and was at first told that he had left the stockade. I found, however, they were mistaken.'"
The Commissioner frowned. "Yes," he answered slowly, and as if he were grasping for the significance of the facts, "I asked then where Dr. Van Steyne was. I wanted naturally to obtain corroboration of the account that the two warders had given me, and—and I was told as you remind me—" his words came now more slowly still—"I was told by someone that he had already left."
"Who told you that?" snapped Larose.
The Commissioner searched his memory hard. "I can't remember," he replied after a moment, "but it must have been one of the prison officers. There were several standing round."
"And then?" said Larose eagerly, "go on please."
"Oh! then," sighed the Commissioner, as if he could see no good in the examination and wished it over, "then someone mentioned that Dr. Van Steyne was in the superintendent's room and,"—he smiled—"I found him there."
The detective smiled too and his voice was gentle as a little child's. "And so, Mr. Commissioner, right under the very eyes of everyone, the man had escaped. Right under the eyes of warders, guards and other prisoners he had passed out of his cell, down the corridor and across the yard. The staff had nodded to him, the prisoners at work had noticed him and the gates had been opened for him, like a conquering hero to pass through." The voice of the detective took on a sarcastic tone. "Really, it only wanted a brass band to put the finishing touch to the whole affair, a brass band and everyone to stop and lift their hats." He threw himself back disgustedly in his chair. "Oh! can't you see that there were two Dr. Van Steynes in the prison that afternoon and each one the exact counterpart of one another? Can't you realise that Miles Fallon escaped that afternoon disguised as Van Steyne, that he was the first Van Steyne to go out and that according to all outward appearances you were being correctly informed when it was told you that the doctor had gone." The detective gathered up his papers as if the last word had been said. "It's all as plain as daylight now to me."
The Chief Commissioner of the South Australian Police sat motionless in his chair. His eyes were opened wide and a look of incredulity had frozen on his face. It almost seemed as if he hardly breathed. There was a long silence, and then at length he sighed.
"We were children," he said very gently, "but—"—he shrugged his shoulders—"we had no suspicion that afternoon and you have knowledge now that was hidden from us then."
Instantly Larose sensed a rebuke and instantly, too, the generosity of his nature made him realise that it was deserved. He spoke humbly and with respect.
"You are right, Sir, and I too should have been a child that afternoon had I been there. The whole thing was presented to you upon barely a second's notice and of all people, at that moment, it would have been most ludicrous to suspect Dr. Van Steyne." He smiled with the enthusiasm of a boy. "But it all fits in now, Sir, doesn't it?"
The Commissioner nodded grimly. "Given the compliancy of the two warders, it could all have been done."
"Yes," said Larose, "and to an adept at making up, as Fallon undoubtedly is, the personation of Dr. Van Steyne would be quite simple. In build and figure the two men are not unalike and the whole personality of the doctor is an ideal one for copying in other respects. The sober, professional attire, the black morning coat and the black cravat, the big rimmed glasses, and the grey suede gloves, and the usual doctor's bag. And then the man himself. The bushy eyebrows and the iron-grey hair, the suggestion of whiskers and the prominent front teeth. Oh! yes, his whole appearance is unusual, and to those accustomed to seeing him one glance only would always satisfy and fill the eye." The detective spoke admiringly. "And the whole method and thoroughness of all their preparations! Everything smuggled into the cell whilst the prisoner was at exercise, and then the get-away timed to the exact minute. The true Van Steyne arriving at the gates at a quarter to four, the false Van Steyne ready and waiting, leaving five minutes after in the certainty that the guard at the gate would be changed exactly at four o'clock, and that the same guard would not be on duty to see two Dr. Van Steynes going off, one after the other." The detective rubbed his hands together with enthusiasm. "As pretty a little plot as the most exacting critic would require and most efficiently carried out to the minutest detail."
The Commissioner frowned. "But I walked out, I remember now, with the doctor to his car. It was out there in the same place outside."
"Yes," said the detective promptly, "and it was facing away from the city. The doctor jumped in quickly and it was driven off in the direction of Port Adelaide. He told you he had a consultation at Semaphore."
The Commissioner smiled faintly. "You might almost have been present, Mr. Larose. How do you know?"
"Oh!" replied the detective. "The man who was on duty at the gate told me. He remembered it quite well. He happened to be particularly interested in the doctor, for he had been a patient of his once."
"And where, then, was Fallon all the time?" asked the Commissioner.
Larose laughed drily. "Covered by the doctor's large kangaroo rug, probably, on the floor at the back of the car. Goodness knows; the car's roomy enough, anyhow." He shook his head and frowned. "But that's where we must start guessing, sir. My own opinion is that he was driven away and hidden somewhere in Port Adelaide until he could clear off upon the following night. Oh! One thing more,"—the detective looked down at the notes—"I went through Van Steyne's passbook when I got into his rooms that night, and I saw that on the morning of the day that Fallon escaped, the doctor drew out 600 pounds from the Bank of Adelaide. The cheque was drawn to 'Self.'"
The Commissioner sighed deeply and took up his pen. "It all seems a nightmare to me," he said, "but still what you have told me now certainly deserves very serious consideration, and, although some of it is only very ingenious supposition on your part, still, on the whole, I am obliged to admit that you have made out a certain case against Dr. Van Steyne." He hesitated and frowned. "But a search-warrant now to go through his house!" He spoke seriously. "Think what a dreadful scandal if we strike and find nothing there! The doctor is one of our most prominent public men, and is respected by everyone. It would be a veritable catastrophe for us at headquarters here if it turned out that we were wrong."
"I know that, sir," said Larose quickly, "but I am convinced he has got Miles Fallon somewhere about his house. I am sure of it."
"And your reasons?" asked the Commissioner. "Remember, you have given me no reasons as yet."
"Sir," said Larose distinctly and deliberately, "for a week now I have been watching his house, and, except for short snatches of sleep, night and day I have been about the place. As far as is possible, without actually being one of them, I know the routine of the daily life of everyone in the establishment. And one thing is very certain to me. Since that night when you dined at the house and it was mentioned that I was working on the case, there has been a pronounced uneasiness apparent in the attitude of two of the inmates there. In that of the doctor himself and in that of Ameer Ali. They are both on the alert, and the chauffeur especially so. They never come anywhere into the garden now without looking inquisitively about. The doctor gives a long sweep round in every direction and the chauffeur cocks his eye into every bush. Then directly they drive out of the gates on their way to the city in the morning the doctor looks up and down the road with a quick movement of his head, and the same just before he goes into the gates when coming home in the evening. He always turns round and looks back."
"But you may be imagining all this," said the Commissioner coldly—"one is always inclined to see what one expects."
"No," said Larose quickly, "I don't imagine it, sir. It was never apparent until after last Tuesday night, but still that is no concrete evidence, I admit. However, there are other things." He leant over towards the Commissioner and lowered his voice. "For two nights now, at intervals someone has been coughing somewhere in Van Steyne's house, and whoever it is makes desperate efforts to strangle the cough." He emphasised his point with upraised hand. "Now, you remember what the accountant at the Rialto told us about Fallon's cough?"
"But where does the cough come from?" asked the Commissioner. "It may be one of the maids."
"No, it is a man's cough," said the detective emphatically. "I am sure of that." He paused considering. "But where it comes from I am never certain. Sometimes it seems to come from the garage and sometimes from somewhere about the doctor's rooms."
"But where can they be hiding him," asked the Commissioner, "without the whole house knowing everything about it? Dr. Van Steyne keeps three maids and a gardener, besides the chauffeur, and you don't surely suggest they are all in the plot."
"No, not for a moment," returned the detective quickly. "As I take it, Van Steyne is far too cautious a man to have any but Ameer Ali in his confidence. Fallon sleeps either in the garage or comes into the doctor's study for the night. You see," he went on rather ruefully, "because of the lights being always burning now on the verandah, I can't get within fifty yards of the house. There is not cover for a mouse to hide, and consequently I can't locate with any degree of certainty where the cough comes from."
"But what do they do with him during the day," asked the Commissioner, with some irritation, "when Ali and Dr. Van Steyne are up in the city?"
"Ah! there the mystery," said Larose. "Ali always locks the garage at West Mitcham when he leaves each morning, but still I'm not certain Fallon remains there." He paused for a moment. "Do you know I sometimes think they take him with them up in the car."
"Up in the car?" queried the Commissioner.
"Yes, up in the car, hidden under the rug."
"How do you know that?"
"I don't know it. I am only inclined to believe it as probable, because an expensive lock has been fitted recently to the door of Van Steyne's garage behind North-terrace, and, moreover, an electrical connection has been installed there which rings a bell in the house directly the garage door is opened. I have heard the bell go when I have been in hiding in the yard. Oh! yes, and another thing. Ali buys two pint bottles of milk every day and during the morning unlocks the garage to put them in the car. You remember we were told at the Rialto that Fallon drank a lot of milk."
The Commissioner looked dubious. "Well, how do you know he hasn't always been buying two bottles of milk. He may have been getting them for years."
Larose shook his head. "No, sir," he said, "he's only been buying them for about a fortnight. We followed him and made enquiries at the shop. Oh! and yet another thing, before I forget, to suggest that Van Steyne and Fallon have been working together. When I was going through the North-terrace rooms the other night, I saw from an invoice on a file that on September the 21st last the doctor bought a ten-ounce bottle of chloroform from Faulding's, the wholesale chemists." He looked hard at the Commissioner. "Well, you will remember, sir, that Fallon had an unopened bottle of that size in his hut at Henley Beach. Evidently Van Steyne had passed it over to him and bought it expressly for him, too. Consulting physicians don't need chloroform in their work."
The Commissioner made no comment. He was drumming again with his fingers on the desk, and had got his eyes anywhere but on Larose.
"Damn!" swore the detective under his breath. "He wants a devil of a lot of convincing. He's afraid."
A long silence followed and then it was Larose who spoke again.
"You see, sir," he said, and there was almost a note of reproach in his tone, "I am only able to prosecute my enquiries in any direction to a certain limited extent, for I am always handicapped by the knowledge that I must never let the other side suspect. But mind you—" and he spoke with great earnestness now—"they have become very uneasy, as I have pointed out; they are watchful and they are on the defence. A little more, a very little more, and from all I know of criminal ways—there will be a bolt to another hole."
The Commissioner looked thoughtfully at the detective, "But to hark back a moment, please," he said slowly. "You told me just now that they had just recently had an expensive lock fitted to the North-terrace garage door. Now how do you know it's been recently fitted?"
"Because Ali's not too handy yet in opening it," replied Larose promptly. "The key fits in upside down, and he fumbles with it every time. Besides, there are still some little bits of shavings lying round in the yard, and you can see where they planed away the wood to get the lock in against the jamb of the door. From the marks outside the new lock appears to be bigger than the old one."
"Hum!" muttered the Commissioner, reluctantly. "Well, as I take it, all your superstructure of evidence against Dr. Van Steyne has for its base the fact that, when Fallon was staying at the Grand Australasian Hotel, a message was left for him to ring up the doctor's telephone number when he came in."
"Oh! dear no," said Larose hurriedly. "That's not the base! That's the apex of the building! It's true I caught sight of that first, but I worked downward, and with each step my building became broader. I found Fallon and Van Steyne, not linked together by the mere incident of one telephone call, but by a score and more of happenings that make it impossible not to believe they are conspirators together."
The Commissioner fidgeted in his chair, but after a moment he sat up with some appearance of resolution and unscrewed the top off his fountain pen.
"Well, you shall have your search warrant," he said with a grimace, "but the Lord help us if you are wrong. One thing remember, please. When you execute it, don't let it appear to be a personal matter directed against Van Steyne himself. Say it has been reported that a man resembling Miles Fallon has been seen in the neighborhood, and you are making a search all round. That will in some way cover us if we draw blank. You understand?"
"Certainly, sir," replied Larose, "it shall be executed in that way," and he added under his breath, "The man's afraid still."
The following morning at ten minutes past eight precisely two motor cars, arriving swiftly from opposite directions, dropped twelve tall and hefty-looking members of the South Australian police in front of the entrance gates of the garden of Dr. Van Steyne at West Mitcham.
Exactly at the same moment Inspector Barnsley and Detective Huxley arrived at the gates on foot.
"Now, take your places," said the Inspector sharply, "half of you to come inside, and the others to picket the whole place. You can't make any mistake, for the high wall runs all round without a break. Keep your eyes skinned and stop anyone who drops over. Keep in touch with one another all the time and have your whistles ready. Now hand out the dog."
A perky looking terrier held in by a short leash was produced from one of the cars, and passed to the Inspector.
"Now, Mr. Huxley," said the latter after a few moments, "we are all ready and a mouse can't creep through!"
Noiselessly closing the gates behind them, the little party walked quickly up the drive. Rounding a sharp bend the house immediately came into view.
Beyond the house was the motor garage, and before the open doors of the latter stood a large limousine. A man was busy sponging it down.
"The chauffeur," snapped the inspector, "Ameer Ali. Well, at any rate, we shan't take him by surprise. Quick, you fellows," he went on, "three of you round the other side of the house, and keep your eye on the other end of the garage from there. The garage has doors at both ends, remember. Stop anyone that comes out, but don't interfere with Ali. You all know him. You others wait here."
The Inspector and Detective Huxley approached the front door. It was open, and a smart-looking maid could be seen inside dusting round the hall. She looked up curiously.
"We want to see the doctor," said Inspector Barnsley, walking in without any ceremony. "Take us to him at once, please."
"He's at breakfast," replied the girl frowning, "and I don't know whether he'll be able to see you yet. I'll go—"
"And we'll follow," broke in the inspector grimly. "Take us there at once, please. Our business is important."
For the moment, it seemed, the girl was going to refuse, but, apparently thinking better of it, she tossed her head and with heightened color went down the hall and tapped on a door at the end.
"Two persons to see you, sir," she said, when in response to her knock a voice had bade her come in and she had opened the door. "I told them—"
But Inspector Barnsley had pushed by her, and entered the room to confront Dr. Van Steyne who had just risen from the breakfast-table and was standing with a newspaper in his hand.
"I'm sorry, Dr. Van Steyne," began the inspector, "I—"
"Not at all, Inspector," interrupted the doctor pleasantly, "and you come in too, Mr. Huxley. You're not disturbing me—I've finished my meal."
The inspector produced a paper from his pocket, and cleared his throat as if he were facing an unpleasant task. "I have a—" he began.
But Dr. Van Steyne held up his hand. "One moment, please," and he looked past his visitors to the maid who was standing behind. "Grace," he said sharply, "tell Ali to come and bring some tools with him. I told him to see to my bell yesterday and he's forgotten all about it. Also, the fan in the dining-room's gone wrong. Tell him to come at once."
"Very good, sir," replied the maid, and she went out and closed the door.
Detective Huxley made a quick movement, as if he, too, were leaving the room, but he checked himself almost instantly, and a grim smile curled to the corners of his mouth.
"No, no, it doesn't matter," he muttered. "He can't get away, and it'll be all the same in the end. Besides, I want to keep an eye on my gentleman here for the moment. I must see how he takes it and be ready, too, to ginger up Barnsley. The Inspector doesn't like the job."
"Well, gentleman," said Dr. Van Steyne politely, "and what is it you want?"
The Inspector held out a paper. He cleared his throat again and spoke in a gruff voice.
"I have a search-warrant, sir, to go through the house and grounds. We are looking for the escaped prisoner, Miles Fallon, and believe he is hiding himself there. We have got our men posted all round the place."
A look of mingled anger and astonishment surged into the doctor's face, and he almost snatched the paper from the Inspector's hand. He glanced down rapidly over its contents and then he drew in his features to a black scowl.
"Who told you?" he asked sneeringly. "How did you find it out?"
Inspector Barnsley looked uncomfortable. He could not forget the many occasions upon which he had taken orders from the doctor when, years ago, the great man had been the official surgeon to the force.
"There have been rumors, doctor," he stammered, "that someone like Miles Fallon has been seen here about the house. This search-warrant is not directed against you."
"But it's an insult," snarled the doctor with suppressed fury, "it's an insult all the same!" He raised his voice. "It's a damnable insult to me and, worse still, it's ridiculous too! What should I have to do with Miles Fallon anyhow?"
"But, we've got to make the search," said the Inspector weakly. "We have to act on information received."
"Have to?" repeated the doctor, contemptuously. "Who informed you, pray, that Fallon had been here? Who suggested—" He turned with a swift movement and pointed angrily at Detective Huxley. "It's you, fellow, who are at the bottom of all this. It's you—"—but in a single second all his resentment seemed to die, and his voice dropped instantly to an amused and mocking tone. "You, Detective Huxley, from Melbourne or Timbuctoo? You—"
There was a gentle knock upon the door, and it opened noiselessly to admit of the dark-skinned chauffeur, Ameer Ali. He salaamed gravely to the doctor and then stood motionless, regarding his master intently, as if he were quite unaware there was anyone else in the room.
The doctor with a sneering smile waved his hand in introduction. "Ameer Ali," he announced, "my worthy chauffeur. Non-European, Asiatic, a descendant of thugs, but no relation that I know of to the absent Mr. Fallon." He seemed suddenly to remember something. "Ah! but by the by you know Inspector Barnsley, don't you, Ali? He's ridden behind you many times in my car. Yes, I thought so. And this is Detective Huxley. Detective Huxley, my chauffeur, Ameer Ali. Salaam, Ali, salaam. He is a great man, this Detective Huxley. He comes from, he comes from—"—the doctor hesitated. "Now where do you come from, Mr. Huxley? Is it Melbourne or New South Wales?" He smiled sardonically. "Really you seem to have so many places of origin that it is quite impossible for me to keep pace with all their locations." He turned sharply to the inspector. "But assure Mr. Huxley that this is my chauffeur, please. He may perhaps be thinking that Ali is Miles Fallon in disguise. This man is my chauffeur isn't he?"
Inspector Barnsley nodded sullenly. "That's him right enough."
"And to make quite certain, how long have you known Ali here?" pressed the doctor.
"Oh, a long time," said the Inspector with a jerk of his head. "Ten years, perhaps fifteen."
The doctor turned to his chauffeur. "And do you know, Ali," he said smilingly, "they say we are hiding Mr. Fallon here—that you have got him in the garage most likely, and they believe, perhaps, that even since they have arrived in here I have sent you some secret message by the maid to pack the poor chap away. Mr. Huxley was most uneasy a minute or two ago, when Grace went out to call you in."
The chauffeur stood as if he were carved in stone. He made no movement, and his eyes never for one second left his master's face.
"Yes," went on the doctor, working himself up, "and they consider the whole matter so serious that—who do you think they have sent for to help them in their search?" With dramatic suddenness, his arm shot out again, and for the second time he pointed at Detective Huxley. "Look, Ali, look." His voice vibrated to a deeper tone. "It is our good fortune, we are privileged—" he made a low bow—"we are honored to be hunted down by the celebrated, the arch-tracker of crime—Gilbert Larose."
Inspector Barnsley swore under his breath. Detective Huxley smiled and shrugged his shoulders, and the chauffeur, after one swift glance in the direction indicated, resumed his placid contemplation of his master's face.
Larose stepped forward as if for the first time he had found his cue. "Well, Doctor," he said pleasantly, "and if we don't find him there'll be no harm done anyhow." He made a move towards the door. "But if you don't mind, we'd better be starting to look now. We're only taking up your time in talking here."
Dr. Van Steyne had quite recovered his composure. "Oh, do as you like!" he replied scornfully, "but you'll excuse me, of course, if I don't come with you. I've some letters to write now." He looked towards his desk, and then apparently his eye fell again on Ameer Ali. "Oh, damn you. Ali," he swore angrily, as if relieved to be able to vent his anger upon someone, "why didn't you do this bell as I told you yesterday? And the fan, too, you've never touched." He smiled sneeringly again. "Really, I'll put Gilbert Larose on you if you don't mind, and he'll report to me how you waste your time."
"Look out," whispered Larose sharply to the Inspector as they both left the room, "he meant something by that. He's playing with us somewhere."
"I don't think much of it," replied the Inspector, shaking his head. "It looks now like a mistake to me."
"Pooh!—pooh!" said Larose confidently. "He was acting the whole time. Didn't you see the sweat marks on the table when he took away his hand? We're on the right track sure enough!"
They went back to the front door. "We'll have the dog now, please," said Larose to one of the detectives who was waiting outside. "Seen anyone moving about?"
"Only the chauffeur," replied the man. "He came out from the garage and went in here."
"That's all right," said the Inspector, "we saw him, too."
Taking the dog with them, they went back through the hall and then, just when they were passing the breakfast-room door, Larose stopped suddenly.
"We shall want the keys if there are any cupboards to open," he whispered—"you just step into Van Steyne and ask where we shall get them. I won't come with you because seeing me will only enrage him again. I'll go on and wait for you in that room on the left. I think from the windows that it's the dining-room."
The door of the room he pointed to was ajar, and, leaving the Inspector, Larose walked in. Ali, the chauffeur, was squatted down just inside, and with an array of tools before him was proceeding to unscrew an electric fan. The detective gave him one glance over and then looked round the room. He was soon, however, assured that there was no place there where anyone could hide. It was a large room, but contained very little furniture. He looked in the sideboard, under the sofa, and behind the big armchairs. "No, no," he muttered, "if there is any secret hiding-place it will be in the garden or the garage. A hiding-place in the house—and the three maids would have to be taken into his confidence, and that, with a man of the mentality of the doctor, is quite unthinkable."
Leaving the room with no more ado he met Inspector Barnsley just outside.
"He says no keys will be required," said the latter; "everything everywhere is unlocked." The Inspector lowered his voice to a whisper. "I've altered my mind now. He was distinctly nervous when I went in, and all the time he seemed to be listening for something while he was talking to me."
"Quite so!" answered Larose briskly, but puckering his forehead a little, "and I hope he'll soon be hearing something that won't be quite to his liking, we'll go through the house now, although I don't suppose for a moment we shall find him there. It won't take us long."
The house was very quickly gone through. In spite of its old-world surroundings, it was comparatively speaking quite a modern house, and in every way up to date in the simplicity of its furnishings. There were no carpets anywhere, only rugs on the polished floors, and although all the rooms were large and spacious there were, as in the dining-room, no heavy pieces of furniture.
"Not room for a mouse to hide," was the verdict of Inspector Barnsley a few minutes later. "We'd better get on to the garage at once: that's the only likely place I can think of." He chuckled quietly. "Well, if Fallon's anywhere about, he won't have been able to move a yard. We've got everywhere perfectly surrounded."
"Seen anybody?" asked Larose of one of the detectives who was standing outside, near the back door.
"Only the chauffeur," was the reply. "He came from the garage and went into the house, directly after you did."
They approached the garage, and Larose retrieved an automatic from his hip-pocket.
"I'll go first," he said sharply to the inspector, "and don't you stand directly behind me. Before now I've seen a bullet go through two men."
The garage was a large one and housed three cars. As the inspector had informed his men, it was open at both ends. Big sliding doors admitted entrance or exit of the cars in either direction, and a car in going out could circle round either side of the house to reach the drive that led to the entrance gates. The chauffeur's quarters consisted of one long single room running the whole length of the garage, with its one door opening inside the garage itself, and exactly in the middle.
Larose approached warily, holding his automatic ready. The door of the chauffeur's room was wide open, and, walking in, he saw with one rapid glance that there was no one in it.
Like the house itself the room was sparely furnished. A stretcher bed in one corner, a table in the centre, two wooden chairs, a large cupboard that stood open, and that was all. The floor of the room was of cement with strips of matting laid across it, and the ceiling was the roof of galvanized iron. There was one long window about six feet off the ground, the opening and shutting of which was operated by cords hitched on to catches on the wall.
A few seconds only sufficed to show that there was no one hiding anywhere.
"Now, for the grounds," said Larose briskly, in no wise showing any disappointment he may have felt. "We must go over them every inch."
About twenty yards from the garage an old man, very bent, was hoeing among some rows of potatoes.
"Morgan, the gardener," remarked the Inspector. "Been with Van Steyne for donkey's years. Drinks, and is very stupid and rather deaf."
Larose nodded, and then for some reason turned and directed his steps as if to pass close by the gardener. Then, like lightning, his arm shot out and he clutched the old man in a grip of steel.
"Don't move," he hissed, "don't struggle or I'll break your arm."
But there was obviously no need to warn, for the old man just sagged heavily in the detective's arms; indeed, he would have slipped down completely if the latter had not held him up. His ragged hat fell off, to be followed immediately by a shabby old brown wig.
"What's the matter?" panted the Inspector, who had run breathlessly from another path. "That's Morgan, I told you, the gardener."
"Look at him now," said Larose sharply, "without that wig."
"But it is Morgan," persisted the Inspector, and then his face broke suddenly into a delighted grin. "He always wears that wig. He got badly burnt about the head when he got drunk one night, about three years ago."
The face of the detective crimsoned in vexation, and he lowered the limp body of the old man quickly to the ground.
"And what about this pistol?" he asked sharply, as he plucked an automatic from the gardener's hip pocket? "Does a gardener usually carry a gun? I saw the shape of it as he was bending down."
The grin faded from the Inspector's face, and with widely-opened eyes he took the weapon that Larose held out. "A Bayard," he ejaculated, "and loaded in all chambers! Now, that's a rum thing."
He jerked the gardener to his feet. "Now you, Morgan, what do you mean by carrying this?" he shouted in the old man's ear. "What do you want with a pistol here? Where's your license, man?"
The gardener glared angrily at his captors. His eyes were bleary and he had the tremulous lower lip of the confirmed drunkard.
"It's not mine," he growled. "I just found the damn thing." He rubbed his arm and scowled resentfully at Larose. "What the hell did you nip like that for?"
"Sorry, old man," said Larose loudly, but in most conciliatory tones, and picking up the wig and the hat. "I mistook you for another chap." He fished two half-crowns out of his pocket. "Here, take these and have a good drink presently."
The old man's face lost its angry look. He spat on the coins and then winked jovially at Larose, who continued.
"But when did you find this pistol, Morgan?"
"Not ten minutes ago," replied the old man, "over in the tomater bed there."
"Show us the exact spot," said Larose.
The gardener took them about 20 paces. "That's where it was, by that plant there."
"Whom does it belong to?" asked Larose.
"Dunno," replied the gardener, "never seen it before. The boss, I expect."
"Well, what were you going to do with it?" said Larose.
"Why, give it to the boss, of course, when he comes out."
"Not to Ali? You weren't going to give it to him?"
The gardener looked at Larose in disgust. "Give it to Ali?" he sneered. "Not me. I never speak to the damned black. I never go near him."
"Well, who do you think's likely to have dropped it here?" asked Larose.
"Dunno," said the gardener, now himself looking very puzzled. "No one's supposed to come here except me." He scratched his head. "It warn't here last night either, because I was picking from that very row."
"What time do you start work?" asked Larose. "Oh! any time after 6," replied the gardener. "I live in that shed there," and he pointed to the far end of the grounds.
"Now, look here," said Larose confidentially, "we're police officers, as I expect you guess."
"I know Mr. Barnsley," grinned the gardener. "I've been fined once or twice when I've had too many spots!"
"Well," went on Larose, "we're looking for Miles Fallon, that chap who escaped from the stockade, and he's supposed to have been seen about here. Now, have you caught sight of him at all? Have you seen anyone strange about here?"
The gardener did not appear to be much interested. He shook his head. "No, I never seen him. I never seen no man here except Ali, and the boss, and I'm always about."
Larose regarded the old man intently. No, here was no plotter. The man was speaking the truth. He frowned.
"Well, about this pistol. We'll take it, and if you don't say a word to anyone there'll be a half-note for you later on. Understand?"
The gardener nodded and, the two now turning away, picked up his hoe and plodded on with his work again.
"Well, that's something, Inspector," said Larose, and he darted his eyes round in every direction. "It means he's somewhere here and, what's more, without his gun now. We needn't be so careful."
For an hour, and more, the detectives searched through the grounds, but without the slightest promise of any success. Every yard of the garden was gone over, the plantation was examined as through a magnifying-glass, and every brick almost of the wall scrutinised for a secret exit. The terrier was hustled this way and that to smell out a fugitive somewhere. But no sign of anyone was forthcoming, no suggestion of any place where a man could hide, no suspicion anywhere of anything unusual.
At last then, Larose allowed his face to show something of the disappointment that he felt. He puckered his forehead and moistened his lips as if his mouth were dry.
"But this pistol," he muttered—"I can't be very wrong. A house of innocence—and there would be no loaded automatic to be found in the garden."
They returned to the garage, and then a ray of hope seemed to rise to the detective's face again.
"Now, Inspector," he said briskly, "let you and me go in together, and try and get the proper atmosphere of the place. It's here in this garage, I am sure, that the battle is going to be either lost or won. We mayn't find the man now, but we ought at any rate to learn whether he has been here or not."
Each in turn he carefully examined the three cars. He scrutinised the upholstery, and went over every inch of the seats.
Then he turned to the chauffeur's room and for a long time stood still upon the threshold.
"Now let me see," he muttered. "Let me take it all in. What can this room tell me? I must read from the Book of Little Things. These very walls may speak if I am patient enough."
His eyes roved round the chamber floor, walls, roofing, the contents of the open cupboard, the bed, the things upon the shelves.
There was a long silence and then he walked quickly over to the bed. He bent low down and with his eyes only an inch or two off the pillow moved his head to and fro. Suddenly then he straightened himself, and turned to the Inspector.
"Bah!" he said bitterly, "we've been tricked somewhere. This pillow reeks of aniseed—and it was aniseed cough lozenges that we found in the hotel in Fallon's room. Fallon slept in this bed last night, and Ali in one of the cars. If you're curious, Inspector," he continued, and his voice dropped to careless and indifferent tones, "just look on the back seat of that limousine. That folded rug there's been used as a pillow, and you can see two of Ali's black hairs upon it."
He scowled and gritted his teeth together. "But we're not done with yet, we'll go over the whole place again, we'll—"—he hesitated, and then shook his head slowly. "No! We're beaten this round, and if we search any more now the result will be only just the same. They've been too clever for us somehow, and our only chance now lies in playing the waiting game. We'll let them think we believe it's hopeless, and then, having been so successful in fooling us as they undoubtedly have been, they'll be content with the present arrangements and we'll get another chance. Yes, that's it. We'll get another chance." He sighed heavily. "Call up your men, Inspector, and we'll go back with our tails between our legs."
"Well, are you satisfied now, Mr. Larose?" asked the Chief Commissioner with a bitter smile, when a couple of hours later Larose was making his report. "You've got me in a nice mess anyhow, and I don't know where the end will be."
"But I'm certain I did not mislead you, sir!" said Larose firmly. "I'm certain that we failed simply because we were dealing with an intelligence acuter than our own. Our appearance this morning could not by any possibility have been anticipated, yet—"—he hesitated—"it had been prepared for in every way." He sighed. "But it was a near thing anyhow, and at one moment, I am convinced, we were within a hair's breadth of success."
"But you had the place surrounded," said the Commissioner querulously, "and you went through everywhere, so how could anyone possibly escape?"
"I don't know," said Larose slowly, and he sighed again. "That's where we got beat." His voice hardened. "But listen, sir, and then perhaps you'll realise better what I mean." He raised his hand impressively. "That was no house of innocence we went through this morning. It was no place where there was nothing to hide. There was a secret there, and those guarding it were on tenterhooks the whole time. Look for one thing at this automatic here—do innocent parties carry loaded pistols about their gardens during the early morning hours or during the night?"
"But the gardener," said the Commissioner crossly, "may have lied when he told you that he picked it up. It may have been his all the time, and he probably denied it because he had not a license to carry firearms. He may have had it for his own protection, living alone as he does in that old shed."
"But he did not lie, sir," said Larose solemnly. "There was moist earth in the end of the barrel when I pulled it from his pocket, and I particularly noticed there was no bulge in the pocket after I had taken the pistol out. You can tell at a glance the hip-pocket that has been carrying a pistol."
"Well," said the Commissioner brusquely, "what else?"
"Then, Dr. Van Steyne had all the appearance of a man in a corner," said Larose. "He was like a man who had been taking things very lightly, and then suddenly found himself in a situation of grave peril. He acted superbly, but that he was acting I am positive. He burst into a sweat when Inspector Barnsley handed him the search warrant, and he had to steady himself by gripping to the table. With all his courage, he was like a man at bay."
"And next?" demanded the Commissioner.
"Next," replied the detective—and he seemed to hearten himself with his argument—"next there was the garage, and in the garage we found many things to suggest at once that more than one person was living under that roof. Too much food, to begin with, for one man to be consuming, and too great a variety, and some of it of too fine a quality for the likely tastes of Ameer Ali the chauffeur. I saw French mustard in the cupboard, and, by-the-by, two recent champagne corks upon the rubbish heap outside. Then there were four eggshells in the kitchen tidy from the remains of the meal this morning, and the dregs of both coffee and cocoa, too." The detective smiled for the first time. "Now, is it reasonable to suppose that one person would have had both cocoa and coffee at the same meal? About this cocoa and coffee, moreover, there was something very significant which seemed to me to point undoubtedly to the recent coming to the garage of another individual of different tastes. It was in this way—I noticed that all the unpacketed stores of the kitchen were kept in old cocoa tins. A cocoa tin for the salt—one for the sugar—one for the rice, and cocoa tins for other things, too, suggesting that cocoa all along had been the one habitual drink. Then, suddenly, coffee had been introduced, and a partly filled coffee tin and a partly filled cocoa tin came to stand in rivalry, side by side. But only one coffee tin, notice! Just as if it had only recently happened that cocoa no longer completely filled the bill. Coffee—"
"Small things, Mr. Larose," interrupted the Commissioner impatiently. "Reasoning—very ingenious, I admit, but,"—he shrugged his shoulders—"small things, as I say."
"Then when we come to the sleeping arrangements," went on Larose, as if the interruption did not refer to him, "and there it was certain to my mind that two persons had been sleeping in the garage. A folded rug had been used for a pillow in one of the cars, and there were black hairs upon it that might have come from Ali, the chauffeur. Then on the pillow on the bed there was a strong smell of aniseed and,"—he looked intently at the Commissioner—"you will remember, sir the aniseed cough lozenges that we found in Fallon's bedroom at the Rialto Hotel. I think—"
"But Mr. Larose," burst in the Commissioner, "what good are all these things, if you didn't find your man? According to your own showing he couldn't possibly have got away! You had seen to it that the house had been watched for days, and the search warrant was executed with a cordon of our men posted round. If Fallon then were in the place, drinking this coffee, and consuming all the delicacies as you suggest, how in the name of fortune did he vanish when you appeared without warning and turned over, as you have told me, every stick and stone of that place? How—"
The telephone bell rang sharply and the Commissioner picked up the receiver.
"Who wants to speak to me? Oh! oh!—" He hesitated a moment. "Yes, I suppose so. Put him through."
He covered over the mouth of the receiver with his hand and darted a quick warning glance at Larose. "Hush," he whispered sharply. "It's Dr. Van Steyne, and I shall have to mollify the man!" He dropped his hand to the table and his face broke into a forced smile. "Oh! Is that you, doctor? Yes, yes. Ha! ha!—only a matter of form, of course, very annoying but we had to do it. Had to act on information received. Of course, of course, but then I knew someone would be going for my scalp in any case. I was between the devil and the deep sea. Oh, I know, I know, but then if I hadn't done it someone would have got up in Parliament and said I was shielding one of my friends. You know what those beggars are, and I am a public official, you see. Always getting into hot water somewhere. Yes, yes, quite a joke, but we were told someone like him had been seen in your garden. Quite satisfied? Certainly I am. Well, well. A very zealous man." The Commissioner turned round and winked at Larose. "Oh, yes, very capable, but of course everyone is liable to make mistakes, and he made a bad one here. No, indeed! I don't know what he'll suggest next. Perhaps he'll be raiding my place now! Ha! Ha! What? A pistol, did they. Oh! you lost it yourself last night. Well I'll see to it. Of course. You shall have it back to-night. No, dear no! The matter's ended, and I'll find myself a small bottle and drink it with you when we meet next at the club. So long. Good-bye."
The Commissioner hung up the receiver, and turned with a wry smile to Larose.
"Unfortunate that you should be here, Mr. Larose, but at any rate you got a certain idea of what is in my mind. Half of what I said was true and the other half was, well—prevarication or—be charitable to me and call it, tact."
He spoke with an effort. "You see, Mr. Larose, I really don't know what to think. One moment, you almost convince me with an array of startling facts, and the next I rub my eyes and think the whole suggestion too absurd for words." An expression of intense annoyance crossed over his face. "Yes, and on the face of it, it is absurd. It is impossible."
"What did he say about the pistol?" asked Larose quite unmoved by the outburst of the Commissioner.
"He said it was his, and that he must have dropped it in the garden last night. The gardener told him you had taken it away."
"Oh, indeed!" said Larose sarcastically. "Then he must have gone out directly after we had left, to pump Morgan about what we had done. From my own personal observation on the house, he never goes near or speaks to Morgan, and the gardener is much too stupid to have gone up himself on his own initiative and told about the pistol we had taken from him. Besides, the man was half sozzled with beer this morning."
The Commissioner made no comment. His whole attitude was that of a man who was very sorry for himself, and had been badly served.
The detective rose to his feet. "Well, sir," he said wearily, "I'll report to you again later on. I'm not finished with yet."
The Commissioner sighed. "But no more search-warrants, if you please, Mr. Larose," he said weakly, "and keep out of the doctor's sight. I don't want to be embroiled again with him at whatever cost. Enough harm has been done in that direction already...."
"A weak man, that Commissioner," frowned the detective when he was once again in the street. "I shall have to act now on my own. I shall get no more encouragement from him." His face brightened. "But one thing at any rate is good. If Fallon is still there, they won't be shifting him away. They'll decide now that that's the safest place in the State seeing that the Chief Commissioner seems to be frightened that a search-warrant was issued at all. Yes, that's my strong card. Van Steyne will keep Fallon close to him for a time. Yes, I'll go no trumps on that. Now I'll think out what I must do."
* * * * * * * *
Two mornings later Dr. Van Steyne was going through the day's appointments with his pretty nurse.
"Oh! by the by," he said slowly and as if smiling to himself, "that young Mr. Tennant who came the week before last—he's not 'phoned up for another appointment, has he?"
"Oh! by-the-by," she said slowly, "and I don't think he'll want one. He's ever so much better. I happened to see him last night."
Dr. Van Steyne was running his finger down the names in the appointment book. "Mrs. Shearer, Mr. Mildred, Miss Giles," he muttered. He looked up suddenly as if he had only just caught what the girl had said. "Oh! you saw him," he asked, "young Mr. Tennant, did you?"
The girl got a little red. "Yes," she replied carelessly. "He was bathing with us last night at Glenelg, with my sisters and me. We met him on the beach."
For a moment there was silence: the doctor was preoccupied and still going through the names in his book.
"A very heavy day," he remarked at length, "and I particularly wanted to get off early this afternoon, too." He handed the book back to the girl and then looked up at her and smiled. "Oh! that young Mr. Tennant we were speaking of," he said, as if he had only at that very moment remembered they had been talking about him. "So you were bathing with him, were you, nurse?" He pursed up his lips. "I'm shocked." The girl laughed lightly.
"He's got friends down at Glenelg, doctor, and we've seen him several times."
Dr. Van Steyne became serious. "I suppose he's told you who he really is, Mary? Tennant's not his real name, and he's a detective from New South Wales."
"He's Gilbert Larose, doctor," replied the girl importantly. "He only took the other name because he's here on a holiday, and didn't want anybody to know."
"Indeed," remarked Dr. Van Steyne thoughtfully, "and when, pray, did he tell you he was Gilbert Larose?"
"Last night—because he's going home this evening." She got rather red again, and moved towards the door.
"Did he ever ask you any questions about me, Mary?" asked the doctor frowning.
The girl shook her head. "No, doctor, but he spoke about you often. He said he knew your house at West Mitcham and what a lovely garden you had got. He's very interested in flowers."
The doctor regarded his nurse very thoughtfully, and then he smiled. "Well, don't you lose your heart there, Mary. He's a very nice young man, but he may be married already for all you know."
The girl smiled back. "He says he isn't, doctor, but then—"—she cast her eyes demurely down—"I know what men are." She went out and closed the door softly behind her.
"Now, I wonder if that piece of information that he's going away were intended for me?" muttered Dr. Van Steyne. "I believe it is proverbial among the so-called criminal classes that when Gilbert Larose is most open he is hiding most, that when he speaks most he is most silent, and that when he is doing nothing he is working at his hardest." The doctor rested his head upon his hands. "But why now has he singled me out, why has he come near me at all? Why have I crossed his path or rather why has he crossed mine? However did he come to connect me with Fallon in the first instance?" He frowned and then smiled again. "Well, I must ask my dear Commissioner. I'll make a point of seeing him to-morrow, and then he'll lay bare his little soul."
He rang the bell for the first patient to be shown in.
One waning night that same week, in the dark minutes that precede the dawn a shadowy figure dropped stealthily over the high wall that surrounded the garden of Dr. Van Steyne. It was clutching to a large bundle, and it alighted just behind a bed of tall artichoke plants. It fell exactly as a dead body would fall, and for quite a long time no sign of any further movement followed. Then softly the tops of the artichokes began to sway, and the face of a man peered out into the dimness from among the leaves.
The man looked round intently on every side and then apparently satisfied that he was quite alone, turned to his bundle and brought out three thin iron rods. These he drove quickly into a bare patch of ground at intervals of a few feet, with each one about a yard distant from the face of the wall. Than he produced a length of canvas and stretched it out in front of the rods, attaching it to the two end ones with small clips of steel. The canvas was painted to match the color of the wall, and it formed a sort of screen about three feet in height and seven feet long. In daylight it would be in full view both of the garage and the house, but so natural was the coloring of the canvas that unless anyone should approach to within a few feet he would not be aware that it was not part of the wall itself.
It made a hiding-place where no one would have thought it possible to contrive one. The man spread out a rug behind the canvas and lay down.
Morning soon came, and in due time the household awoke and the daily routine of everyone's life began.
Morgan appeared from his shed. Ameer Ali swung back the garage doors, and a maid came out of the house and shook some mats. In their separate ways they went about their several tasks, and in their own minds, probably, the day was in no way different from the day that preceded it, nor would it be very different either from the day that would follow on.
And yet—there was a difference, and had they only known it the surroundings of their lives were not the same.
There was a watcher at the foot of that high wall, and every happening in that garden and outside that house was recorded in the memory of one who would forget nothing, and who would use all his knowledge for the furthering of his own aims.
* * * * * * * *
Then it seemed in the days which followed that there were two Morgans in that garden of Dr. Van Steyne—two gardeners with bent backs and shabby coats, two with the same brown wigs and disreputable turned-down hats. But, strange to say, these two gardeners were never to be seen at the same time, and though similar in appearance their habits were quite different, and their personalities were not by any means akin.
One of them took no notice of anything that went on around him. He was heavy-minded and dull of brain. He did all his work in the garden mechanically, and had no interests there beyond his potatoes, his cabbages, and his beans. Also, he turned very often to his shed to take his ease, and he lubricated his throat very often with liquid from a big stone jar that smell of beer. He seemed well supplied with money, but he often counted the silver in his pocket as if he were both impressed and surprised to find so much there.
And the other? The other Morgan was all eyes and ears—and was alert in every way! He seemed to know to the exact second when the first Morgan had gone into the shed. Then he would rise mysteriously from the ground nearby, where the artichokes grew. He would steal to the shed door and peer through a crevice to see what his double was doing. Then if he heard snores, or saw indications that the contents of the stone jar were getting low, he would unobtrusively borrow a rake or a hoe and carry on. He would wander all round the garden in search of erring weeds, he would keep an eye on everything that went on about the house, and he would be for ever coming back and finding work not far away from the garage doors. Then when night came his activities would be redoubled—but to quite a different way. He would prowl like a phantom about the place when everything was quiet, listening, watching, listening. For hours at a time he would crouch in the shadows by the garage doors, straining his ears to hear someone speak or—cough. Then he would steal to the long French windows of the house when the lights told him that Dr. Van Steyne was in his study, and keep patient vigil there—watching and listening for the faintest sound.
He very rarely seemed to sleep, this second Morgan, and except for a few hours in the dead of night when he slipped back over the wall, he was always on duty.
In this manner for four days Larose lived in the garden of Dr. Van Steyne, and whenever the gardener was safe in his shed he roamed where he would. He always felt secure, too, when behind his canvas screen, for, nothing being planted there, there was no reason for anyone to come near. He saw very little of Van Steyne, for the master of the house never came into the garden, and very rarely visited the garage either. The chauffeur, too, kept close to his own quarters, and indeed was never seen outside except when cleaning or driving one of the cars.
After the first day the detective lost something of the high opinion that he had entertained of Ameer Ali as a chauffeur. The man, except at spasmodic intervals, never seemed too keen on his work, and set about everything as if he were tired and his duties were a bore. He did not always clean the car as thoroughly as he should have done, and each time he hosed it down he splashed water clumsily all around.
"Wouldn't do for me," muttered Larose once. "The doctor's got hold of two slackers in Morgan and Ali, but I suppose he puts up with them because they've been with him so long. I wonder now if Ali takes drugs. He looks dopey enough for anything."
The daily routine of things was always very much the same. At six o'clock or thereabouts the milkman arrived, and Larose noticed that he was the only tradesman who called at both the garage and the house. At seven or later, Morgan came out of his shed with his wig and his pipe, and started work. He always looked sodden and bleary-eyed, yet strangely enough he worked best in the mornings, and Larose quickly realised that he had been a competent gardener once. At about eight o'clock Ameer Ali appeared. He rolled open the garage doors, had a good stare all round—Larose always noticed that—and then pushed out the limousine and started hosing in the concrete yard. At about nine-thirty he went back into the garage, and there was no more seen of him until a few minutes before ten when, having donned his uniform, he drove out the car to pick up the doctor at the front door.
Then nothing much happened until six o'clock, when the doctor arrived home again and Ali drove the car into the garage and closed the doors. After that no more was seen of Ali or the doctor until the next morning. Neither of them ever went out again after they had once returned home.
During the day the garage was left wide open, and Larose, emboldened by the continual silence, at last upon the fourth day ventured to enter it.
He gripped his automatic in his jacket pocket, and his heart beat very rapidly when from out of the hot noonday sun he tiptoed softly inside. He had been prepared for anything, a flash from another automatic, a figure hurling itself upon him, or Miles Fallon lying asleep upon the bed. But he found—nothing! Just the empty, silent garage, with everything disposed conventionally and in order!
He had another disappointment, too.
He examined the French mustard, the unusual condiments, and the coffee in the tin, and upon all of them, he saw at once, good inroads had been made since last he had been there. The coffee tin was a large one, and now there was less than a quarter left. "Ah!" he muttered disgustedly. "I must have made a mistake about that coffee and those other things."
He also smelt carefully round the bed again, but, sniff as he would, he was unable to detect any scent of aniseed. Also there was no folded rug in the car and no suggestive black hairs lying round.
"Gone!" was his disgusted exclamation. "He was packed away after all! They knew that damned Commissioner had got the wind up, and so Fallon went whilst the going was good."
Later that afternoon Larose lay on his rug behind the stretch of canvas and, shutting his eyes tightly, endeavored to think everything out.
"Now, am I wrong after all?" he wondered. "Have I given myself all this trouble for nothing?" He sighed deeply. "I believe I'm losing grip!"
"Now let me see," he went on. "A great doctor, a man of education, a man of science and—the criminal Fallon. A man of culture and a man of crime. Can there be any connection between the two? Ah! but the doctor's not a normal man. Look at that picture in his study, remember his expressions of sympathy for breakers of the law, and how he sneered that the community was only a form of trade union for the selfish benefit of itself!" The detective frowned. "A man of courage too: a man of great courage, a man who would take risks, a man who would enjoy danger as a sport. No, no, the material is certainly there. He would be proudly contemptuous of the view of the world. He would help Fallon from pure devilry. The crimes of the man would amuse him, and he would befriend him all he could. Now let me see again—let me see."
But Larose was very tired and the sun was very hot. He was grateful for the pleasant shade the artichokes cast, and gradually the tense muscles of his body relaxed; his eyelids were no longer closed tightly and at effort they met deliciously of their own accord. He continued to think, but he thought every moment slower and more slowly. He repeated himself many times, and then the softness of his whispers soothed him and—he fell asleep.
It was past 6 when he awoke, and his sleep was only broken then by the noise of the car coming to the garage from the house. He sat up with a jerk, and was just in time to see the limousine disappear between the garage doors.
"Cripes!" he exclaimed, looking at his watch. "I've slept for five hours." He smiled faintly. "But I wonder if I missed anything. No, I don't think so." He drank some tepid water from a bottle at his side, and made a wry face.
"I'm fed up with all these discomforts," he murmured, "and I'm doing no good as far as I can see. I'll clear off to-night, I think, and the crooks in Adelaide can do all they want to for all I care. I've lost my punch and become a dud somehow."
He lay back again, and then suddenly, about a minute later, he heard footsteps on the gravel path. He was up on his knees in an instant, and, peering through the canvas, saw Dr. Van Steyne coming down the drive, carrying something in his hand that in the distance looked like a bottle. The doctor reached the garage doors and made to slide one back, but apparently it was fastened on the inside, for he began to knock softly with his knuckles.
"It is I," Larose heard him say, "you've forgotten something."
The door was drawn back gently and there was a laugh. A few whispered words followed, and then Van Steyne at once turned away and the door was drawn to again.
"Now what does that mean," muttered the detective with a frown, "and why the devil was there any need for them to whisper what they had to say? Why, too, did Ali bolt the door inside? I didn't know he did that before."
He lay down again behind his screen. "And if I've been wrong all along," he went on, "why is there something secret going on between master and man?" He shook his head. "It's not like Van Steyne to wait upon his chauffeur, and if he had anything to give him why the deuce didn't he send it by one of the maids? Or, better still, why didn't he ring the garage bell? Why?—"—but suddenly there came up the faint but distinct sound of the popping of a cork.
"Great Scott!" exclaimed the detective, "the doctor brought him a bottle of champagne. That's what he handed in and that's what Ali had forgotten. Champagne for the chauffeur! Champagne—"—he clenched his hands in his excitement and his eyes blazed. "It's not for Ali," he whispered hoarsely—"it's for Fallon—Fallon's come back."
The face of the detective went white as death, and he could but with difficulty get his breath. "Fallon back," he repeated hoarsely. "But what can I do? I'm all alone."
He lay back and closed his eyes. "Now don't get excited, Gilbert," he said shakily. "Take plenty of time and keep your head cool! You've been in worse difficulties than this and yet come out top in the end. It's true you've only got yourself to depend on, and that the odds against you are three to one! But remember that you are in the lucky position of being able to take the other side by surprise. You are attacking and not being attacked. It is your turn to make the move, and you can take your time." His face clouded over with an uneasy frown. "But can you take your time, Gilbert? That's it! Are the others just going to sit still whilst you do all the brain work and elaborate some plan to rope them in?" He shook his head. "No, I don't think so. They'll be scheming just the same as you are, they'll be looking for an opening, they'll—" He hesitated, and then went on very slowly. "And I believe—I almost believe they're going to do something straightaway now." He thought for a long moment. "Yes, the popping of that champagne cork suggests to me that they are drinking to the success of something, and that that bottle was opened to mark an event. Something is going to be attempted in the next few hours."
He passed his hand across his forehead. "But I can do nothing." he said wearily. "I can only wait—and watch."
The evening drew gradually in, the shadows lengthened, and darkness stole gently over the garden of Dr. Van Steyne. All was peace and rest and calm in the scent of the sleeping flowers and with the soft sighing of the night wind in the trees.
"Curse it," swore the detective softly, "I'm tired as a dog already, and yet I musn't close my eyes a moment tonight!"
The hours went slowly by and the lights of the house were extinguished one by one, until just before eleven—and then another light went up suddenly and sparks began to fly from a small chimney.
"The bath-heater!" exclaimed Larose. "I've never known the doctor start as late as that." He smiled grimly. "But what a dope I am, perhaps, to be sitting here rubbing my eyes with nothing more important going on than the great man taking his bath! Am I imagining things again?"
He lay back and closed his eyes luxuriously, and then a moment later he was galvanised into watchfulness again. He heard the garage door grate softly, and, springing to his knees, in the faint light of the moon saw the dark face of Ameer Ali peering out.
The chauffeur took a long and cautious look round.
"Oh! oh!" whispered Larose with animation, "something's going on and so I wasn't wrong after all."
For a few moments the chauffeur stood quite still and then, stepping outside, he pulled the door carefully to and locked it behind him. Then he proceeded with swift steps along the garden path towards the back of the house.
He reached the side door and at once disappeared into the house.
At that very moment a clock in a neighboring church began to chime the hour.
"Timed to the exact second," ejaculated the detective. He nodded his head thoughtfully. "Yes, something's going to happen to-night! They've got Fallon back in the garage, and Ali and Van Steyne are now arranging to get him away."
As Larose had seen, the chauffeur entered the house by the side door. The door was closed when he reached it, but he did not knock, for it was opened the moment after he arrived. It was opened silently, and it was closed behind him, too, without a sound.
"Tiptoe," whispered Dr. Van Steyne warningly—for it was he who opened the door. "The maids are not asleep yet. I heard them talking just now."
The chauffeur followed Van Steyne along the passage, and they proceeded noiselessly into the latter's study. The door was closed softly, and then the chauffeur threw himself down into an armchair.
"Damn!" he swore irritably. "I'm sick of this!"
Dr. Van Steyne laughed as if he were amused.
"But my dear Miles," he exclaimed, "at any rate, it's better than the stockade. Indeed, you might have been hanged by now but for our poor services. Ali's and mine. Have a cigarette?"
The chauffeur winced but took the preferred cigarette. "You always were blunt, Arnold," he said rather reproachfully. "You never trouble to wrap things up."
Dr. Van Steyne smiled. "Truth, my friend, truth. I have a passion for truth except when dealing with the minions of the law." He looked curiously at his companion. "But what are you particularly sick of to-night, just when you know it is all coming to an end?"
"Oh, this chauffeur business," replied Miles Fallon. "And everything besides! It's been hell these last few days. That morphia stunt of yours has got on my stomach as well as my nerves. I've been as heavy as lead all day."
"But you had to have it, my friend," replied the doctor emphatically. "I wouldn't have had you coughing at night for worlds! Up against a man like Larose, I wouldn't take any chance, however remote." He turned a professional eye upon Fallon. "But I quite understand how you've been feeling with the big doses I had to give you, and I confess that the consequences of the drug have not been without their unpleasantness for me, too. I tell you frankly I shall be glad when Ali is back and at the wheel again. Your driving has been most erratic and, as you know, we've had quite a number of most narrow escapes. For a few seconds this morning I would have staked my life that you were going head-on for that tram, and your woman, too, this evening, was within inches of an early grave."
"Well, it's over now," said Fallon wearily, "and to-morrow literally I shall sink or swim. One thing, I'll never be taken alive."
"And I shouldn't be either, if I were you," remarked the doctor feelingly, "for the death you could give yourself would at any rate be pleasanter than the decease the authorities would give you here."
"But I'd have liked to have settled with that Larose," snarled Fallon bitterly. "He's been the cause of all the worry to us. I'd have liked to have put a bullet in him before I went."
"No chance at all," said the doctor convincingly. "We shan't be meeting Larose again now that obliging Chief Commissioner has taken him off our track, unless, unless—." He frowned and shook his head. "Besides, I shouldn't have countenanced it in any case myself. Quite enough blood has been shed already."
"But he shot Blendiron," said Fallon sullenly. "He was that man on the Cliff."
"No doubt, no doubt," said the doctor, coolly. "But then Blendiron deserved to die. Blendiron was a coarse and brutal man, and a murderer to boot. I've always been sorry we ever had to employ him. It's annoyed me all along."
Fallon eyed the doctor intently. "You're a strange man, Arnold," he said, "and I've often wondered why you've gone as far as you have in befriending me."
The doctor laughed. "And I've often wondered that too, my friend." He shrugged his shoulders. "But it was a game to me—it was an escape from the monotony of life. It was delicious to watch the clumsy police floundering after the mysterious criminal, and I loved to see you like a weasel among the fowls. After all, as far as I helped you, you only took from those who had plenty, and you were paying back to society part of the debt that is owing to me." His voice grew hard and bitter. "I curse the world daily for the way they treated me and mine. I've not forgotten, and I never shall." He calmed himself. "But I tell you frankly, Miles, I'm glad you're going. As I have mentioned to you several times already, that affair at the Rialto was altogether over the line. Even now, the memory of your violence to that poor old man appals me."
"But it was an accident, as I've always told you," returned Fallon sullenly. "I had to finish him or I should have been caught myself."
The doctor pursed his lips up grimly. "You were no longer an artist there, Miles. I miss the touch of the master hand. You bungled things badly, and you rang the curtain down in a horrible manner on our little play."
"Well, I'm glad you had some amusement out of it, Arnold, for that's all you did get anyway."
"Oh, yes, I certainly had some amusement out of it," agreed Van Steyne cheerfully. He smiled and rubbed his hands. "Really, I think the most thrilling moment of my life was when Barnsley and Ali were with me in here, and at the same time you and Larose were closeted in the dining room. Yes, it was thrilling, but—" his voice suddenly grew serious and he looked grave, "I think then I felt fear."
"Fear!" exclaimed Miles Fallon, sitting up with a shiver. "Why, it was nearer panic with me! I was biting my tongue to keep back a cry, and if I hadn't had my back turned to that damned Larose he'd have seen the blood on my lips." He passed his hands over his eyes. "Bah! we ran it too fine that time."
"Not at all, not at all," retorted the doctor, who had now recovered his cheerfulness. "It was all right if we only kept our heads." He laughed. "It was the master-stroke of a mastermind. Everything foreseen, arranged for, and timed to the exact second." He shook his head. "Ah, Miles, my friend, if I had only willed it, I could have been a greater criminal even than you, for I should always have anticipated everything. I should have always been prepared."
"No doubt, Arnold," said Fallon drily. "You've a wonderful imagination for so cold-blooded a type. But, by the by, talking about anticipations, do you know I've been having some faint suspicions about that damned gardener of yours these last two days, and if I had been stopping any longer I should have been inclined to give him the once-over at close quarters. Do you think he could have been got at, to do a bit of spying for anyone?"
"Morgan?" said the doctor frowning. "What on earth do you mean?"
"Oh! nothing particular," replied Fallon quickly, "but he rather worried me both yesterday and to-day, and I've had a feeling several times that there was something about him that was unusual."
"Explain, please," said the doctor sharply.
"Well, he's been more busy about the garden for one thing, more than is usual for him with his lazy habits. Then, again, when I've had the garage doors open, he's always somehow found work to do close near. He's never had his back towards me, always his face. He's been watching me, I think."
Dr. Van Steyne regarded his companion very thoughtfully, and then shook his head. "It's impossible," he said slowly. "Morgan has not intelligence enough to plot. He would be a bent tool in anybody's hands."
Fallon looked obstinate. "Well, he's different anyhow. I'm sure of that." There was a moment's silence and then he went on. "But that other thing puzzles me, Arnold, and I shall go away with the same big hungry aching query in my mind—how did this Gilbert Larose come to give any attention to you? How did he ever come to guess that you had got me here?"
Dr. Van Steyne spoke very slowly.
"He didn't guess, Miles—he knew. In some unerring way he sensed there were bonds between us, and out of a million chances he dropped like a plummet on the right one. I am convinced now that he suspected me from the very beginning, that he was curious from the first moment that he spoke to me in the room. Mind you,"—and the doctor held up his finger warningly—"it was quite an accident that he ever went down by Cape Jervis; it was chance alone that took him there. What happened on those cliffs interested him, and he followed you up. He is a remarkable man."
"Too damned remarkable to please me!" commented Miles Fallon. "The fellow ought to be shot." He yawned and looked up at the clock. "But my bath, Arnold—don't you think I'd better have it now? There's a lot to do yet, and I've only got about four hours."
"Yes, yes," replied the doctor, "go and have it at once! It'll take some soaking to get all that stain away, but you'll find the water hot. Change your things in my room, and when you come back we'll go over the final arrangements." He smiled grimly. "I too shall be glad when all this excitement is over. I want some peace of mind."
Opening the door very gently, Fallon left the room and Dr. Van Steyne sank back into his armchair. An uneasy look had come into his face and he frowned heavily.
"But that's curious what Miles said about Morgan," he muttered, "and I don't like it too much somehow. Miles can't be too observant with all that morphia he's been taking, and for him to have noticed anything is rather strange. The Commissioner says he thinks Larose has gone back, but he is not sure of it,"—his eyes hardened—"and neither am I. What if Larose has got hold of Morgan, somehow? Yet, no, that is impossible. But what if he has got Morgan away and is taking his place? That sounds impossible, too, but then they say anything is possible with Larose. Larose is a superman, he is the evil genius of crime, he—"—the doctor got up and began pacing the room. "Well, it's easy to make sure. I dare say I'm a fool, but I'll go out and see. We are too near success now to take any risks."
He opened a drawer in the desk and picked out an electric torch. Then, switching out the lights in the room, he tip-toed to the French window, unfastened the catch, and crept outside. He hesitated a moment, as if uncertain in which direction to go, and then turned and went cautiously round the house, in the opposite way to that leading to the garage. Avoiding as much as possible the gravel paths, he passed through a small plantation and reached the gardener's shed from the back. He heard snores proceeding from the inside.
"Quite healthy snores," he muttered grimly, "but then—whoever is in there may have seen me cross in the moonlight, and to snore would be his first idea. Everyone who wishes to feign sleep always snores. It's laid down in all the melodramas that it must be so."
Passing round to the front of the shed he found the door open and, peering inside, he saw by the moonlight a recumbent figure upon the bed. The sleeper lay with his face towards the wall, but one arm lay turned back and hung partly over the side of the narrow bed. The doctor crept in and flashed his torch upon the uncovered hand.
"Morgan, right enough," he whispered. "I should know those dreadful hands anywhere. Now as to whether he's feigning sleep, or is awake and has been spying on us." He laid his fingers very gently upon the snorer's pulse. "Not sixty," he went on, "and it would have been at least a hundred and twenty if he knew that I was standing here."
He tiptoed out of the shed and turned back towards the house. For a few seconds it seemed as if he were going to return by a different way, but a broad belt of moonlight across the path apparently made him change his mind, and he went back the same way that he had come.
Upon what little things do big things depend! Had the doctor but carried out his first intention he would have run right into Larose, who was crouching near the side door of the house. The detective had got his hat off and was fanning himself vigorously with a facsimile of Morgan's old brown wig. The night was very hot.
It was an anxious and uneasy vigil for the detective in the evening hours, and many times he began to think that Ali was going to spend the whole night in the house.
He had left his shelter by the high wall and had taken up a position behind a plot of beans. There he was nearer the house and could keep a closer watch upon the side door. He had to be very careful how he moved, for the moon was half full, and in some places the garden was almost as light as day. Twice, however, he took a risk and crept round to the front of the house, but, seeing a light still in the doctor's study he returned again to his crouching among the beans.
Midnight was sounded by some distant chimes—one o'clock, and then presently by his watch he saw it was nearly a quarter to two. At that moment he heard a slight sound, the side door was gently opened and Dr. Van Steyne came out. The door was immediately closed again. The doctor carried a rucksack and a small bag and he was fully dressed.
The detective's heart beat quickly. "He's going out somewhere," he whispered. "He's got his hat on and that's his luggage. He's going away with Fallon."
The doctor passed close near to where Larose was crouching, so near that the latter could detect the strong odour of cigars about his clothes.
"His house-jacket!" he muttered, "and Manillos! I should know that smell anywhere." He smiled wrily. "I could enjoy one now, myself."
The doctor went straight to the garage and, fumbling for a moment with the key, unlocked the door and let himself in. He closed the door carefully with the minimum amount of noise.
Larose remained crouching where he was. "Now that's funny," he frowned, "what's become of Ali? They can't surely be going without him. Perhaps they're coming out singly to make less noise." He shook his head. "No, it's hardly that. Van Steyne has closed the garage door."
He waited expectantly for more than ten minutes, but nothing further happened, and he left the shelter of the beans and scouted round the house. The place was all in darkness now and not a sound was to be heard. The distant clock struck two o'clock.
The detective was very puzzled. He retraced his steps and, after a moment's hesitation, worked his way through the bushes round to the garage. Hoisting himself up on the wall, he saw there was a light burning in the chauffeur's room, and straining his ears he thought he heard low voices inside. He would have sworn once too that he heard a chuckling laugh.
"Cripes!" he exclaimed disgustedly. "Now I wonder if Ali has gone in through the other door! He could have dodged me when I was down among the beans, or he might have come out by the side door, when I went to see if the lights were still on in the front of the house." He rubbed his eyes ruefully. "But this means not a wink of sleep for me at all. I'll get back to the artichokes and watch from there. If anyone should come out suddenly, they'd catch me here."
But it was not destined he should do more watching that night, for a heavy bank of clouds came and obscured the moon from sight. There were no stars and he could not see five yards beyond his face.
"Damn!" said Larose, "I must get nearer at once. I can hear when I can't see, so I'll have to lie among the cabbages now." He sighed whimsically. "Really, I'm having quite a vegetable night."
He felt his way to where he knew the cabbages were, and lay down uncomfortably between the rows. "Now, it only wants a shower of rain," he thought, "and my misery will be complete. It looks like coming, too."
But happily no rain came, although the clouds continued to obscure the moon from view. Larose lay motionless in the inky darkness, straining his ears to catch the slightest sound. The minutes lengthened and he heard the chimes of three and four.
"In half an hour now," he reflected, "it will be beginning to get light, and I shall have to shift my quarters again. I've had a rotten night, and I've got nothing much for all my pains. But I'm sure somehow something's going to happen yet. I feel it in my bones."
Suddenly he heard steps upon the gravel—the hesitating, cautious steps of a man who was picking his way in the darkness. They came from the direction of the drive leading to the gate.
He was alert on the instant.
The steps came nearer and nearer, and then he heard a gentle tapping somewhere quite close. There was a half-minute's silence, and then came the unmistakable grating of the sliding garage door. A short whispered colloquy followed and then there was more grating. This time, however, the grating was continued for much longer.
"Hullo! hullo!" exclaimed Larose. "Why! they're sliding back both doors!" The detective's heart beat wildly in excitement. "They're going to get out one of the cars."
For half a second there was the quick flash of an electric torch, and he saw the big limousine being pushed out into the yard. He heard it pulled up with the brake, and then the torch was flashed again.
Dr. Van Steyne was getting into the tonneau, and Ali upon the driver's seat.
More whispering followed, and then Ali started the engine sharply and let in the clutch. At the same moment he switched on the lights and the car began quickly to glide away.
Larose had not a second even to make up his mind. He sprang up from among the cabbage rows and dashing after the car jumped lightly on to the luggage-grid behind.
The car quickly gathered pace and, sweeping round the front of the house, passed up the drive, and then to the road outside.
"I'm in for it," said the detective grimly, "and the play's beginning in real earnest now. All the actors are present, for I'll swear that Fallon's under one of the rugs in the car. They're smuggling him off just like they did when they got him away from the stockade."
He made sure that his pistol was quite handy in his pocket, and then shook his head solemnly. "Yes, but this is a tragedy and not a comedy we're going to play. It'll be a play in one act too, and, unless I am very much mistaken, the Angel of Death is included in the cast."
Ameer Ali was a daring driver, and the roads were clear. The big car sped on as if it were pursued by evil spirits. Its great lights flashed like ogres' eyes, and its huge engine roared as if it were a hurricane enchained. Down a broad highway through avenues of ghostly trees, over the dim park lands, through dark and silent city streets, and then over park lands once again, until the long Port-road was reached.
"They're going to Port Adelaide," said the detective, gripping like grim death to his uncomfortable seat, "and they don't intend that anyone should overtake them either. We must be touching fifty at least."
But Larose soon learnt that Port Adelaide was not to be their destination, for the car ran through with very little slackening of speed and then turned off along the road towards the Outer Harbor.
The dawn began now to manifest its coming, and was ushered in by great gusts of wind that swept boisterously from the direction of the sea.
They soon left behind all signs of habitation, and were running across the great arm of flat sand country that stretches between the Port River and St. Vincent's Gulf. A few miles at speed, and then the car slackened down to take a rough track that turned off at right angles in the direction of the river and away from the sea. Larose craned his neck round to see where they were going.
"I don't like it, Gilbert," he remarked anxiously. "There won't be any cover here in five minutes, and when the light gets stronger and they stop they'll see me at once before I can fade away."
A rough and bumpy few minutes, and then the car gained a smoother track and began to run by the side of the river. At this spot the river was about three hundred yards wide, and its dark and swollen waters ran swiftly between low embankments to the sea. There was a sting of salt in the air, and the wind was lashing the water into waves.
"A lonely place," thought the detective with a shiver, "and an evil-looking one, too. I've let myself in for something. Just the very spot—"
But his cogitations were interrupted, for the car began to slow down and then stopped altogether. He heard one of the doors open, and saw that Dr. Van Steyne was getting out. Like lightning Larose realised that it was his opportunity. He slipped off the luggage grid on the far side of the car, and threw himself like a shadow into a ditch flanking the road. He crouched low down. A hoarse voice cried, "All right," a door was banged, and then off went the car without a moments delay.
"Lord," ejaculated the detective, "and now what next?" He waited a minute and then looked cautiously over the side of the ditch.
There was no one in sight.
Fearful that he had been cheated, he darted across the road and then as suddenly jerked himself to a standstill.
Not a dozen feet away, Dr. Van Steyne was bending down over the embankment, and pulling in a small dinghy that was moored in the shelter of some nearly submerged piles.
Across on the other side of the river and out of the main current were moored several small vessels, one of which in the rapidly growing light looked like a motor boat.
A big ruck-sack and a small handbag lay on the ground beside the doctor.
The detective stood as if fascinated, he no longer knew how to act. His indecision certainly was only of a few seconds' duration, but those seconds, brief as they were, were fatal to his having any choice in the matter at all.
He had just decided to creep back at from the security of the ditch watch where the dinghy went, when a sudden gust of wind lifted off his hat and deposited it roughly at the doctor's feet. Van Steyne sprang round as if he had been shot, with a look of startled terror on his face. He just clapped eyes on the crouching figure of the detective, and then like lightning his hand went to his hip. He snatched out a pistol and without the hesitation of a fraction of a second fired point blank at Larose's heart.
Then his mouth gaped, and he stood staring as if waiting for his victim to fall.
But Larose stool solid as a rock—sheer amazement bereft him of power of action and paralysed his limbs.
Suddenly, then, the expression of Van Steyne's face altered. His mouth snapped tightly to, his eyebrows came together, and he looked puzzled and surprised. Some five seconds of intense silence, and then, with a furious oath upon his lips his right arm again shot forward and he fired at Larose for the second time.
But apparently the detective was still unharmed, and his period of inactivity, too, had passed.
"You scoundrel," he shrieked, and his right arm went back and then shot out, too.
There was a flash of fire and a red bubble burst upon the forehead of Van Steyne. The wind caught it and in an instant his face was flecked over with blood. He uttered a deep moan, his body swayed, and in the flicker of an eye he toppled over the embankment and was lost to view. In his fall, the ruck-sack went with him.
Horrified at the turn events had taken, Larose struggled to get his breath. He felt as if his heart were going to burst.
"My God!" he exclaimed, almost choking in his emotion, "but that was a near thing. I could even smell the powder when he fired. How he missed me, I don't know." He looked at the smoking pistol in his hand. "But I've killed Dr. Van Steyne," he went on hoarsely. "I've shot the wrong man." The sweat burst upon his forehead in big drops. "But I had to, I had to," he said shakily—"it was his life or mine, and he was a devil, anyhow."
He sprang to the embankment and looked over. He saw the body only a few yards distant, floating face down, but the strong current was rapidly drawing it into mid-stream. Suddenly it became animated in a series of quick jerks, as if it were still alive, and the detective saw close to it a dark fin.
"Sharks!" he ejaculated, with a face white to the very lips, "what a dreadful end!"
The body disappeared from view.
The detective sat down on the embankment to recover. He shook from head to foot.
"Fate! fate! It is fate," he muttered. "I was destined to be the avenger. First Blendiron, and then Van Steyne." He sighed heavily. "But I have still to get the worst one of them all." He shivered. "Oh, but I was near to death. He missed me when it was impossible to miss." A puzzled look came into his face. "And yet he brought up his gun like a man accustomed to shoot."
He looked across the river. "But where was he going to?" he went on. "Fallon must be somewhere over there for he evidently wasn't in the car after all. On one of those boats most likely, and probably a witness of our little play. The first shot would have brought him up on deck, and then he must have seen what happened in the end. Possibly he's watching me now through his binoculars. But what was Van Steyne taking to him, I wonder. And what can I do next?" He shook his head sadly. "No, I can do nothing for the moment. I must get back to the city at once."
His eyes fell on the small handbag and he picked it up. "Locked, of course, and Van Steyne has got the key. Well, I'll not open it here. It can wait till I get back, but I must hurry now."
At an ambling run he started back along the way the car had come. Not a habitation, not a living soul in sight. Only the swift-moving river and the dreary wastes of sparsely covered sand.
The detective's thoughts ran on.
"But, Good Lord! aren't things complicated now, and what on earth am I to tell the Chief Commissioner?" He frowned uneasily. "And how much will he believe if I tell him all? The man's decidedly antagonistic to me now, and he may doubt if I am speaking the truth. I've no witnesses to support my story, and not a shred of evidence, except this bag. I'm half—I'm half inclined to keep everything to myself and still go after Fallon in my own way." He whistled softly. "But what a sensation there will be when it gets known that the great Van Steyne has disappeared! The darling of the ailing rich, and the doyen of all the doctors here! And shouldn't I come in for it, too, if they knew that I had shot him!" He frowned again. "Yes, things are not, too promising for me, and I must be careful what I do. One thing, I'll get back to West Mitcham right at once, and remove all traces of my having been there, also, also,"—and his eyes glistened—"I'd like to get a chance now of getting into Van Steyne's room. His papers might be interesting, and I might be able to draw some conclusions as to what steps have been taken to get Fallon away. These clever men like Van Steyne still often make mistakes." He thought for some moments. "Yes, I'll chance it anyhow."
A quarter of an hour later he reached the main road. Then, to his great satisfaction, he saw a motor lorry coming from the direction of the Outer Harbor and he hailed it as it drew level.
"Going to the city, mate?" he shouted. "I'm worth a couple of bob."
The man nodded and pulled up, and the detective jumped on, hoping now for a speedy arrival in the city.
But the lorry was not too speedy, and there were several stops on the way and in the end it was fully an hour and a half before he reached his lodgings. He left there the still unopened bag, and made at once for the General Post-Office, where he waited for a West Mitcham tram to come along.
While waiting he suddenly caught sight of Inspector Barnsley standing on the pavement and, a thought striking him, he moved close up and touched the Inspector on the arm.
The latter looked round and then scowled angrily at the dirty-looking fellow who stood near him.
"Hush, I'm Larose," came a hoarse whisper. "Move back a bit—I want to speak to you."
"Not giving it up then, Mr. Larose," said Barnsley as they walked away. "The Chiefs pretty sick with you, but he thinks you've left the State."
The detective ignored the remark.
"Tell me, Inspector," he asked, "do you know a place on the left bank of the Port river, only about a couple of miles from the Outer Harbor I should say where there are stone steps leading down from a low embankment, and where there is a mooring-place for small vessels opposite?"
"Yes," replied the inspector promptly. "It's called Fisher's Bend. Boats are out of the current there."
"And how do you get to Fisher's Bend by road?" asked Larose.
The Inspector pursed up his lips. "Never been," he said, "but I know it's a terrible road and a long way round." He grinned. "Got the oil yet about Fallon?"
Larose shook his head. "Not yet." He grinned back at the Inspector. "Later on. Good-bye."
"Oh! one moment," said the Inspector as Larose was turning away. "You know, the chief thinks you're all wrong about Van Steyne, but I don't—quite." He frowned. "And I'll tell you why. You remember that time when you sent me in to the doctor to ask for his keys, the morning when we were searching the house?"
"Yes," said Larose. "Well, what then?"
"Well," said the Inspector slowly, "for some reason I've often thought of that moment since, and I am sure now there was something fishy going on, and that Ali was in it up to the neck too."
"Why?" demanded Larose quickly, with his eyes narrowing to two little slits.
"Why?" repeated the Inspector impressively—"because it has come back to me many times since that Ameer Ali was shivering. He'd got his back to me unscrewing that posh-button on the desk, but I have remembered often that his hands were shaking. It strikes me as very suspicious, because I've known Ali for many years, and he's quite an emotionless man. A man of wood where his feelings are concerned."
The face of Larose was a study. His eyes glared, and he looked suddenly white and drawn.
"You—saw—Ali—standing—by—the—doctor?" he said chokingly—"when—I —was—in—the—dining-room?"
There was a long moment's silence.
"Well, I must be going," said Larose very quietly, and moved off without another word.
He groaned when he had gone about a dozen yards.
"And I think myself a detective!" His voice choked again. "I'm only a boob after all. Of course that was what they did. There were two Alis that morning—one came in by the front door and the other by the back, both at the same time. Barnsley saw one in the doctor's study, when at the same moment I was ogling the other in the dining-room." He clenched his hands. "Fallon was probably the one I saw because there was no shivering there. His nerves would be under cast-iron control. Oh! oh!" he groaned again. "I had him right in my hands, and then I let him slip through."
Gradually he calmed himself down, and then set his face in determined lines. "Well, they've not bested me in every way," he sneered. "Van Steyne made food for the sharks this morning, and as for Fallon he's not safe even yet. Now for West Mitcham, and I'll see if I can't get into the doctor's room."
He boarded a Mitcham tram and considered how he would continue his campaign. He was uncertain for one thing as to how he could best approach the Van Steyne garden now in broad daylight, when fortunately the matter was decided for him.
Just where the tram stopped at the terminus he caught sight of Morgan going into a public house, and it was plain that the gardener was already staggering drunk.
"Good!" said the detective grimly, and then he smiled—"my luck's beginning and the stars are fighting for me now. I'm going still to be Morgan for a little while. It's a good thing I didn't change my clothes."
Arriving at Dr. Van Steyne's, he saw Ali in front of the garage hosing down the car.
"I suppose it is Ali," he mused thoughtfully, "but of course it is. They got Fallon away somehow the very day we searched, I'll bet." He frowned. "Anyhow, I'll have a good look at the gentleman to make sure, and then if all's O.K. I'll see about getting into the house."
He skirted round to the back of the garden and made for Morgan's shed.
"I'll get a hoe now," he said, "and do a bit among the parsnips. I shall be close up and can get a good view." For ten minutes he watched Ali cleaning down the car. The chauffeur whistled as he worked.
"Seems brighter this morning," remarked the detective, "and more energetic too." He caught his breath. "Good God! what would he say if he knew he was never to see his master again!"
A shabby looking car came up the drive and drove towards the garage. In the buckboard behind it were two new tyres. The driver, jumping out, stepped up to Ali and clapped him familiarly upon the shoulder.
"Two beauties, my lad," he said heartily, "and don't you grouse this time."
He dumped the two tyres off the car. Ali regarded them dubiously.
"Hope they'll be better," he said in his gentle voice, "than the last ones were."
"That's what you said before," exclaimed the tyre-man with indignation. "The very words you used to me last year." He mimicked the chauffeur's voice. "Hope they'll be better than the last ones were." He spat on the ground. "And what's been wrong with any of them, pray?"
"They wear out sooner than they should," replied Ali, "with the small mileage that we do." He looked up reproachfully. "And you told the doctor it was because of the way I drove."
"And quite true," said the tyre-man truculently. "You use your brakes far too much. I'm always telling you that." Ali picked up his wash-leather, and resumed the interrupted polishing of the car.
"But there!" said the tyre-man taking off his hat, and mopping his head with a greasy-looking handkerchief. "I'm not a man to cheat anyone. You'll find these all right." He became amiable and friendly again, and eyed the chauffeur as a brother. "Now what about a drink. I could just do with one now."
"Cocoa," said Ali politely. "I never drink anything else."
The detective bending over the parsnips groaned.
"Cocoa be damned," said the tyreman scornfully—"not got any beer?"
Ali shook his head. "Only cocoa," he said. "I never drink beer." The tyre-man jumped on to his car in contempt. "Good-bye, sonny. I know now why you'll never make a decent driver. Cocoa," he snorted, "on a hot day like this!" and he backed round the car and drove off in great disgust.
"That's Ali right enough," sighed Larose from among the parsnips. "It's no good waiting here."
He was just about to move off when he heard footsteps on the ground round the other side of the garage, and a pleasant cultured voice called out.
"Now don't be long please, Ali. I must be off in less than ten minutes. I told you I wanted to be early this morning."
The speaker appeared in sight round the garage door.
It was Dr. Van Steyne and he was smoking a big cigar.
Looking back in after days, Larose always regarded it as one of the wonderful happenings of his life that he did not fall prostrate among the parsnips when at that moment by the garage he saw Dr. Van Steyne alive and unharmed in the flesh.
He, Larose, was then of all people in a condition to fall an easy prey to any untoward shock.
He was almost at the end of his tether, a physical and mental wreck.
He had had no sleep for more than thirty hours and his repose for many days previously had been of a scanty and insufficient nature. He had not broken his fast since the previous afternoon. He was weak and had never really fully recovered from a very serious illness. He had had moments of intense and poignant emotion that very morning, and mentally he was fretted and chafed with the bitter memories of failure and disappointments on every side.
So it would not have been any wonder if he had completely collapsed right away and been unconscious for many minutes of all that happened next.
But no—he just continued hoeing among the parsnips and took notice of everything that was going on.
With his back still bent, he watched Ali and the doctor out of the corner of his eye.
Dr. Van Steyne stood observing Ali as he put the finishing polish on the car.
"Yes, you're a good man, Ali," he said pleasantly, "and it's a credit to you the way you keep my cars." He laughed lightly. "But I suppose you found you had a lot to do this morning."
Ali laughed too. "Yes, and some of the mud was caked very badly, too."
"Well, well," commented the doctor, "each one to his trade, all the world over. It's always true."
He turned round and now saw the gardener for the first time. He stared hard for a long moment, and then he put up his hand and passed it over his face.
Then he turned back and watched Ali again. A minute later and he yawned as if he were rather tired.
"Well, don't be long," he said, and he spoke very slowly. "Bring it up in five minutes," and he left the garage and walked up to the house.
In less even than the prescribed five minutes, the car was at the front door. There was a short delay before the doctor came out, and then the car door was banged and the car swept up the drive.
Larose trailing his hoe behind him, tottered into the gardener's shed. He threw himself upon the bed and lay with his head held tightly in his hands. His eyes stared up at the roof but he saw nothing.
His thoughts were bitter, for everything was clear now. He had been beaten on the field of battle of his own choosing—he had been the blind hunter with his quarry just before him. He had had his prey under his very eyes during every one of the past four days and had not known it. Fallon had been the chauffeur in the garage during the whole time he, Larose, had been keeping watch. Fallon had been close near him, and save when out driving with Dr. Van Steyne, the two had lived and slept almost side by side.
Oh! it was agony to think of it, the hunter and the hunted in the same lair, and neither of them aware of the other's presence.
Then from last night, Fallon had been Ali, the chauffeur, no longer. He had bathed and changed in Van Steyne's house, and then disguised as the doctor himself had gone back to the garage, to wait for the return of the real Ali in the dying hours of the night.
Then he had been whirled away to escape in some vessel lying in the Port river.
Ah! but he had not escaped. He, Larose, had been the master there. Fallon was dead, and he had died with a bullet between his eyes. The dark waters had taken him, and the sharks had been his grave. Fallon would rob and murder no longer, and if he had escaped one tribunal—he had been hurried bloodily before another. He was—
But a shadow fell across the open door of the shed, and the detective started to his feet. "Mr. Morgan," came a woman's voice, "here's a letter for you from the master. He told me to give it you at once. I'll put it here outside."
Larose waited until the sound of the woman's retreating footsteps had died away. Then he peered cautiously round the shed door and, seeing no one about, picked up an envelope lying on the ground.
The envelope was unaddressed, and he hesitated a moment before he opened it. Then he unfolded the single sheet of paper it contained and—the writing danced before his eyes.
"Thursday, 9.25 a.m.
"My Dear Mr. Larose,—
"You really need not bother to hoe between those parsnips any more. Morgan did them well enough last week, and there are now many more important things wanting to be done. So really if you are in such a passion to do some gardening, you might try your hand at nailing up those creepers by my study window. I have twice reprimanded Morgan for not attending to them.
"By the by, if you should have half an hour to spare, I should like to have a chat with you before you leave our beautiful city. I am to be found at home, as you know, almost every evening, and for instance shall be free tonight, any time after eight.
"Hoping you are sleeping better and not working too hard with all your many varied interests.
"Believe me, my dear Mr. Larose,
"Your admiring friend,
"ARNOLD VAN STEYNE."
"P.S.—I gave Morgan the day off, and he went away before eight this morning. I understand a near relative of his died yesterday."
Larose suddenly became calm. "Yes, quite a sportsman," he commented. He sighed heavily. "Really, I wish he had been on my side."
Dismantling his canvas screen, and with no attempt now at any concealment, the detective left the garden of Dr. Van Steyne and returned in a very chastened frame of mind to his lodgings in the city. Then, for the first time, he gave attention to the small handbag that he had picked up after the morning's dreadful happenings upon the embankment by the Port River.
For a few minutes he tried to pick the lock with a piece of wire, but, meeting with no success, he finally forced the bag open with a screwdriver, and soon had all the contents spread out upon the table.
For the moment there seemed nothing of much interest. A small bottle of tincture of iodine, a phial of morphia tablets, a roll of adhesive plaster, and a large packet of aniseed cough lozenges. About a couple of dozen fish-hooks, a hundred .32 pistol cartridges, and two boxes of large-size Turkish cigarettes.
"I might perhaps be able to nail Van Steyne upon some of these things," he mused thoughtfully. "Perhaps on those cigarettes; they are an expensive kind, and it might be remembered who bought them. However, I won't try now. I've slipped badly on the main issue, and the chief criminals are done with, anyhow."
The last thing that he turned over was a small brown paper packet, well tied round with string and fastened with black sealing-wax at both ends. It was heavy, and yet it was not solid. It rustled when he pinched it. He cut the string and, breaking the sealing wax, unfolded the paper wrapping.
A roll of dirty-looking wash-leather was revealed.
"Whew," he whistled, and his eyes opened very wide, "precious stones!"
With hands that trembled slightly he untied the tape that bound it and spread out the roll.
There were a dozen pockets, and in each was tightly tucked a small white tissue paper packet.
At random he pulled out one of them and, holding his hands over the table, carefully unfolded it. The sparkle of a score and more of fine diamonds flashed upon his eyes.
"Lord!" he ejaculated, "there's a fortune here!" Their glinting beauty fascinated him, and for a few minutes he gave himself up to a rapt contemplation. With a good knowledge of precious stones, he perceived they were gems of fine quality.
Then he frowned as if some chord of memory had been stirred in him, and at once he was the cold and unromantic detective again.
He turned over the wash-leather roll, and in one corner he saw inked in bold characters. "William Thrush."
"Exactly," he said, "and William Thrush was the man whose naked body they found in the river by the weir. He was the man who disappeared from the Rialto Hotel and who was carrying a parcel of diamonds on him. Well, here's something tangible for that doubting Commissioner at last!" He frowned again. "But, really, I'm almost sorry to help him to any success at all." He sighed. "I think—I think I am beginning to dislike that Commissioner."
It was just after lunch-time when Larose, now spick and span, and his natural self in well-cut and well-fitting clothes, presented himself at the police headquarters in Victoria-square and asked to see the Chief Commissioner.
He gave his proper name, and was mildly gratified with the interest that it invoked. But he was kept waiting for so long that he at length asked the constable on duty if the Commissioner had been told that he was there.
"Yes," replied the man rather apologetically, "and I'm sure I don't know why he is keeping you. He was only talking about golf to a friend of his when I went in."
But minute after minute went by, and still no summons came. Larose looked at his watch and his pleasant face clouded over.
"Well, I'll give him three minutes more," he remarked angrily to himself, "and after that he can go to the devil."
Almost immediately after, however he heard voices, and the Chief Commissioner appeared, ushering out in plus fours a stout, sporting-looking man.
"Ha! Ha!" laughed the latter. "That was a good one, but not so good as the others. I can't think how you can remember them all, Chief!"
Larose clenched his teeth. So he had been kept waiting, had he, whilst the Commissioner told a number of stories, with no doubt suitable intervals between them for merriment! He, Larose, acknowledged the premier detective of New South Wales, and always received at headquarters in Sydney with an importance barely less than was accorded to the Chief Commissioner there himself: He, Larose, who was never kept waiting, he—but suddenly he calmed himself, and with an even placid face followed the Commissioner into the latter's room.
The Commissioner lost no time in opening the conversation, and, before even either of them were seated, began in quick and querulous tones.
"But I quite thought you had left the city, Mr. Larose. Inspector Barnsley gave me to understand you were going back some days ago, and I only learnt to the contrary this morning when I met Dr. Van Steyne quite by chance at the club. He said you were still watching him, although he didn't tell me how he knew."
He paused as if to give Larose an opportunity to explain, but the detective made no comment. He was looking indifferently out or the window.
The voice of the Commissioner hardened. "But you must realise, Mr. Larose, you've got me into very serious trouble, and if Dr. Van Steyne hadn't happened to be a friend of mine a grave scandal would have occurred, and I might, indeed, have been asked to resign." He spread out his hands. "People have been everywhere commenting on that search at West Mitcham, and we have had great difficulty in keeping it out of the press."
"I suppose so," agreed Larose politely. "It would have made excellent copy."
"But it was a dreadful mistake, Mr. Larose. It was terrible judgment on your part. You see it now."
Larose made no reply.
"I ought never to have allowed it," went on the Commissioner. "There were no facts before us really to warrant it, and I've regretted it bitterly ever since."
But Larose was still silent, and, after an awkward pause, the Commissioner continued in the same fretful manner.
"The fact that all the victims happened to be patients of Dr. Van Steyne explains nothing, for, of course, as the leading physician in the State, he was consulted by practically all the visitors to the city." He leant forward to the detective. "Now you realise that they would, don't you?"
Larose yawned and then nodded his head. "Yes, of course," he said. "It would be quite natural."
"Then about that telephone call to Fallon at the Grand Australasian Hotel—Dr. Van Steyne says he remembers nothing about it."
"How would he after all this time?" agreed Larose, and he yawned again.
The Commissioner looked uncomfortable. "You see, I had to give him some little explanation when I met him to-day," he went on hesitatingly. "I think he deserved it. I think it was due to him after the annoyance we have put him to."
"Quite so," said Larose, "quite so."
"Then about his helping in Fallon's escape from the stockade—it was all conjecture on your part, now, wasn't it?"
"All conjecture," agreed Larose again. "And his association with Fallon, all conjecture, too?"
Larose looked at the commissioner and nodded.
The Commissioner paused. Somehow he felt awkward. He wished the detective would have more to say. He had expected argument and contradiction and, instead, the man was admitting everything and in the most off-hand and casual manner, too. He forced his face into a watery smile.
"Well, Mr. Larose, we all make mistakes sometimes, and yours were certainly not as bad as some I've seen made. After all, no lasting harm has probably been done, your position here being quite unofficial." His smile became more genuine. "But really up to a certain point I think your discoveries were very good, and you brought some things to light in quite a clever way." He shrugged his shoulders. "But where did they lead us to? Nowhere."
"Nowhere," echoed the detective, as if very dejected, "nowhere."
"We were bushed."
The Commissioner now in his turn looked out of the window. It seemed that he had finished his remarks. There was a long silence, and then he looked up at the clock.
"Well," he said almost briskly. "I am sure I am very obliged to you for your help, but I have an appointment at half-past two and so it must be goodbye now." He laughed good-humoredly. "I expect we shall have to catch Fallon and Blendiron ourselves if they are to be found anywhere," and he stood up to intimate that the interview was over.
But the detective was apparently in no hurry to go and remained seated, regarding the Commissioner with an inscrutable expression upon his face.
"About those two—Fallon and Blendiron," he said slowly after a long pause—"I shouldn't build too much on ever seeing them again, for I believe,"—his voice became very low and solemn—"I believe they are dead."
"Dead!" exclaimed the Commissioner quickly, "and why do you say that?"
"Because," replied the detective, "because I believe I shot them myself." He smiled and then at once went on more quickly. "Oh! I beg your pardon, I mean, I conjecture that I shot them. That sounds better, now doesn't it?"
The Commissioner glared at Larose as if he thought the latter had gone mad.
"What do you mean?" he asked brusquely. "I don't understand."
Larose rose laughing to his feet. "Well, I say they're conjectures, for after our little talk just now I'm afraid to call them facts. You see, sir," he explained, "you regard so many things that I am certain of as only conjectures, that now I'm afraid to state anything positively in case you should convince me that I'm not stating the truth." His eyes glistened in triumph. "But look here, I'll show you something!" He put his hand back to his hip-pocket and brought out a little well-worn leather purse.
"I have had an adventurous life, you must understand, sir," he said respectfully, "and for ten years in New South Wales I've been in the very thick of crime. I've been put on all the obscure murder cases in my State, and, rightly or wrongly, I've sent eleven men up to the rope, I've often been in danger and I've had to defend myself." His voice hardened. "Yes, more than once I've killed in self-defence. I've always been pretty handy with my pistol and I—but there, I'll not talk any more of that, I'll show you some little souvenirs instead." He smiled apologetically as if he were rather ashamed of what he was going to confess. "I've a weakness that very few of my friends even know of. I keep little mementoes that are associated with important events in my life and—"—he opened the little purse—"here are two."
With dramatic swiftness he plumped down two spent pistol cartridges upon the desk before the mystified Commissioner, and his voice grew cold and deadly.
"Look at the dates and the Initials scratched there upon the sides," he said sternly. "One, Jan. 2. 27, initials, G.B.—I'm told Blendiron's Christian name was George—and the other Jan. 29. 27, M.F., January 29th. Sir—this morning." For perhaps a full minute the Commissioner was allowed to stare open-mouthed at the two little objects placed before him, and then Larose swept them back into the purse.
"Dreams, Mr. Commissioner," he sneered sarcastically, "dreams and conjectures, no doubt, for I'm only a dud detective after all. My reason is always faulty and my judgments are always bad." His voice rose and it was harsh in anger. "And here's another dream for you, another conjecture, and this one you can keep and ponder over at your leisure."
He snatched a small brown paper packet from his pocket and threw it on the desk.
"The precious stones of William Thrush, sir," he said curtly. "The diamonds that they are enquiring about from London! Those that belong to the dead man picked up by the Torrens Weir! I found them—I found them under a gooseberry bush upon the parklands. He must have dropped them there, I think, before he fell into the water. At any rate, that's all I am obliged to tell you, for, of course—my position here is quite unofficial, as you have just observed."
He inclined his head curtly and moved towards the door.
"Good morning, sir—I'll go now, for you mustn't forget you've an appointment at half-past two!" and before the astounded Chief Commissioner could make any comment the door closed, and the head of the South Australian police was alone in his room.
"Good Lord!" he ejaculated feebly after a moment. "What does it all mean?" He took up the brown paper parcel and began untying the strings.
At half-past eight that same evening Larose was ushered by the trim parlor-maid into Dr. Van Steyne's study at his palatial residence at West Mitcham. The doctor, who had been reclining in an armchair, rose at once to his feet.
"Good evening, Mr. Larose," he said smilingly. "I'm very pleased you've come. Will you shake hands?"
"Certainly," replied the detective, and he added significantly: "I've shaken hands before now with men who were about to be hanged."
The doctor made a grimace. "Oh! come now, Mr. Larose," he said rather reproachfully. "Don't be too hard on me all at once!" He laughed as if he were amused. "Have a cigarette, will you? There's a box behind you there."
Larose helped himself to one and sat down in the chair indicated by his host. Then there followed a full minute of complete silence, although the portents of the room were anything but those of peace. The atmosphere was electric and exactly as if it encompassed two adversaries, each with a deadly purpose, but each waiting for the other to commence the attack. The doctor was the first one to break the silence. "I had a long conversation this morning with our friend the Chief Commissioner," he said slowly, "and I confess he surprised me with his recital of some of your adventures." Van Steyne smiled drily. "Apparently you're not in great favor with him just now."
"No," said the detective indifferently. "I suffered an eclipse."
"A shame," said the doctor warmly, "because all the time—"—he hesitated—"all the time you were—"
"Right," interrupted the detective sharply. "All the time I was right."
"You say so," said the doctor, and he inclined his head and smiled again, "but perhaps that is your opinion only. You may be mistaken still."
Larose made no reply—he was looking up towards the ceiling and blowing wreaths of smoke.
There was a long silence again and then once more it was Van Steyne who spoke first.
"A great battle, Mr. Larose," he said, "an epic fight, but—"—he smiled grimly—"I think the victory was mine."
"Not at all," said the detective brusquely, "you just saved yourself, that was all? Otherwise you were beaten, all along the line."
"Oh!" ejaculated the doctor sarcastically. "That's news to me!"
"I killed Blendiron," said Larose—"it was I who shot him on the cliff."
"Granted," replied the doctor, "but that's your only point."
Larose waited a moment and he eyed Van Steyne intently to note how he would parry the next blow.
"I killed Miles Fallon," he snapped sharply. "I shot him at fire-thirty-five this morning by the bank of the Port River at Fisher's Bend, and the sharks took his body down afterwards."
Dr. Van Steyne gave a violent start. Incredulity and amazement leapt to his face, his eyes glared, and he held his breath. Then with a great effort he pulled himself together. His eyelids drooped and the amazement on his face died down to be replaced by an appearance of icy calm.
"Yes," went on Larose, enjoying for the second time that day a triumph totally unexpected by the adversary to whom he had been opposed. "I shot Miles Fallon this morning, and this afternoon I handed over to the Commissioner of Police the William Thrush diamonds that Fallon was taking away."
Dr. Van Steyne passed his hand up to his forehead and rose to his feet.
"Excuse me a moment," he said shakily. "I'm rather upset," and walking slowly towards the sideboard he helped himself to some brandy from a decanter.
Larose smoked stolidly at his cigarette. Outwardly he was quite indifferent to the shock that Dr. Van Steyne was experiencing, but inwardly he was feeling very sorry for the man. The blow had been a knock-down one, and the position of the fighters was now completely reversed.
The doctor returned in a minute or so to his chair, and with a brave effort at nonchalance relighted his cigarette. He looked curiously at Larose and sighed.
"I believe, Mr. Larose," he said slowly, and after a long pause, "that you are a man of honor, and not given to the telling of lies."
Larose smiled drily. "I have my own code of honor, Dr. Van Steyne, and I don't lie where the big things of life are concerned." His voice was firm and convincing. "I killed Miles Fallon and I have given the diamonds to the Commissioner, as I have just said."
"But how did you come to find Fallon at all?" asked the doctor, speaking with an obvious effort.
"I was a passenger, too, on your limousine when Ameer Ali drove him away this morning. I was on the luggage-grid behind. I had been watching in the garden the whole night."
"And his body," asked the doctor thoughtfully, "you say it is gone?"
"Yes, it toppled back into the river," said Larose, "and I saw it pulled under by the sharks." He nodded his head. "So you are quite safe there."
Again there was silence, and then the doctor spoke as if he had quite recovered his composure.
"Well, let us know where we both stand," he said in a matter of fact tone. "Let us both put all our cards upon the table. You didn't come here for nothing, I am sure."
"No," replied Larose. "I am curious, and I want to clear up several things."
"But what is my position now?" asked the doctor frowning—"you don't expect me to say anything that will incriminate myself!"
"There can be no incrimination, Dr. Van Steyne," said the detective sternly. "I know nearly everything about you already, as you perhaps can guess. I know what you have done, but—"—and he paused a moment—"I tell you with great regret that I have no legal proof that can take you into a court of law. The things I know are only believed in by myself. I am unable to prove them. I have no witnesses!" He smiled whimsically. "I have killed them all!"
"But," questioned the doctor quickly, "what about the Commissioner of the Police. What did he say to your tale?"
A contemptuous expression crossed into the detective's face. "Bah!" he exclaimed. "I didn't tell him much. He was rude to me, and jumped down my throat directly I went in. He didn't give me an opportunity to tell him anything. He said they would get Blendiron and Fallon for themselves, if they were to be got, and when I told him they were both dead he glared at me as if I were mad." Larose laughed. "I didn't tell him how I got the diamonds either. I just plumped them down before him and came away." He shrugged his shoulders. "Yes, I have done with him, and I return to Sydney to-morrow, or at any rate in a few days."
Dr. Van Steyne regarded the detective curiously. "And that is your position, finally," he said. "You have finished trying to bring me in?"
"I don't lie," said the detective frowning, and then he added scornfully—"The Chief Commissioner of the Police is unwittingly your buckler and defence, although—"—he became calm and emotionless again—"although if he were my stanch ally there is still not sufficient evidence against you, as I say, to indict you before any court. If there were—"
"Well, if there were," asked Dr. Van Steyne, seeing that the detective hesitated.
"I should not be here now," replied Larose sharply, "confiding in you like this."
The doctor seemed satisfied. "But tell me!" he said slowly, his voice shaking a little—"How did it happen that you shot Miles Fallon this morning?"
"I shot him in self-defence," replied Larose, "believing at the time that he was you. After your car had left us both on the embankment, accidentally he became aware that I was watching him, and he instantly fired twice at me before I had even got my own gun out."
"Oh! he fired at you twice," said the doctor, frowning.
"Yes, at about five yards' distance only, and—he missed me both times."
"Missed you twice at five yards!" said the doctor scornfully, and he gave a contemptuous laugh. "Why, man! Miles Fallon was a dead shot!" He leant over towards the detective and spoke in cold and measured tones. "Do you know, sir, he could have pinked you straight between the eyes every time at twenty yards! There was no man in all Australia a quicker or a surer shot. I've seen him often on the target and know what he was."
"Well, he missed me," said Larose complacently, "or I shouldn't be here speaking to you now. He had every chance."
"He had no chance, sir," said the doctor sternly, "and it is I—"—his voice shook again—"it is I, I know now, whom am responsible for his death."
"Indeed," said Larose politely, "but I don't see it anyhow."
"But for me," went on Dr. Van Steyne solemnly, "it is you and not he who would have been given to the Port River and the sharks."
"Doped, eh?" queried Larose, impressed now by the other's earnestness. He shook his head. "No, he was too ready with the gun for that."
Dr. Van Steyne swung round in his chair and pulled out one of the drawers in the desk. For a few moments he groped inside and then, turning round, held out the contents of his open hand.
"Look!" he said quietly, "and you'll understand why you are not dead." He paused dramatically. "There were no bullets in the cartridges that he fired. I had taken them out."
The eyes of the detective opened very wide. His face paled, and his mouth suddenly grew dry.
"Count them," went on the doctor grimly. "Two, four, six, seven and look—on each one the pincer marks where I gripped them to pull them out. I did it last night. He left his clothes in here, when he was having his bath."
Larose spoke with a catch in his voice. "What was your game?" he asked hoarsely.
The doctor sighed and returned the bullets to the drawer in the desk. "I wanted no more bloodshed," he said wearily, "and I knew Fallon was a violent man."
There was another silence in the room. The detective was recalling every moment of that early morning to his mind. The dawn rising over those drear wastes of sand, the long and lonely road by the river, the boisterous wind, the swiftly rushing waters, and the wonder in the eyes of the miscreant who had stood with the smoking pistol lowered in his hand. Yes, death had been very near him then, but it had not been, as he had thought, the death to receive—it had been instead only the death to give. He, only, had been the possible doner. He had no doubts—he was quite convinced.
He looked up searchingly at the doctor. The latter's eyes were on the ground, and it was evident that his thoughts too were far away.
"But why were you mixed up with Fallon at all?" asked the detective sharply. "That's what I want to know. How were you a gainer by his crimes? Money was surely no temptation to you. With all your work you are wealthy enough. Why did you help, or, at any rate, why did you shield the man and, knowing he was a murderer. Why did you befriend him as you did?"
Van Steyne regarded the detective very solemnly. "He was my cousin," he said quietly. "We were of the same blood, and I helped him in his need."
"Ah!" exclaimed the detective, and a light leapt to his eyes, "then that is why he could disguise himself so easily as you. Yes, yes, I see it now. The same type of head, a similar profile, and the stoop of the shoulders like yours. No wonder they were deceived when he escaped from the Stockade."
The doctor smiled. "Your deductions were excellent then," he said, "and when our worthy commissioner opened his mind to me, as I have told you he did very freely this morning, I was greatly intrigued by his confidences, although by no means for the reasons he imagined."
"But you countenanced murder if you did not actually help commit it," said Larose sternly. "What about that man Thrush with the diamonds in his belt? You were privy to murder there."
"No, no!" remonstrated Dr. Van Steyne, quickly—"that was no murder."
"The man died suddenly in my rooms, of heart seizure, angina pectoris. He was a late patient, and my nurse had gone directly after he was shown in. I was alone with him until Fallon by chance arrived.
"We found the diamonds in the dead man's belt, and then—"—the doctor hesitated—"and then I let Fallon have his way, provided he removed the body, which he did."
"But you kept the stones here all the time?" asked the detective.
"Yes, Fallon had no private safe at the Rialto, and he asked me to keep them until he went to Europe, to dispose of them next year."
"But why did you countenance Fallon in his thefts?" persisted Larose. "You knew all the time what was going on and, besides that, you put him wise as to who had come down to the city and which of them were worth robbing."
The doctor laughed sardonically. "It amused me," he replied, "that was all. I was not pecuniarily the gainer, as you have said, but I was entertained by the frights the public got and by the frantic rushing about of the police. The newspaper daily reports were like instalments of an exciting serial story to me." He yawned. "They relieved the monotony of life!"
"Your consideration for the feelings of the community," said the detective sarcastically, "was most commendable and society, I am sure—"
"Society!" interrupted the doctor angrily. "Ah! there you have it. You'll understand now why I acted as I did. You've touched the hatred of my life." He shot out his arm towards Larose, and his voice was menacing and hard. "Society, sir, can claim no consideration from me! It fell like a scourge on all my boyhood's days! It killed my mother, the only being—"—he halted just a fraction of a second—"save one, that I have ever loved. It has embittered every waking moment of my life and I wish it every harm and evil that its enemies can give." He snapped his fingers. "So much for that!"
Larose made no comment; he had stirred waters murky and tragic, but of no concern to him, and he waited for them to subside.
There was a moment's pause and then the doctor added—"But I confess things for some time had begun to go much farther than I had intended they should. My cousin was a man difficult to restrain, and he revelled in the dangers that he ran." The doctor laughed suddenly. "But what do you think of me, Mr. Larose," he asked—"am I a new type to you?"
The detective regarded his interrogator very gravely.
"No," he said thoughtfully. "Lots of men like you have lived in history, and their records occur often in the annals of crime. You belong to a most dangerous class of criminal, because at moments you endow your evil doing with a chivalry that belongs to conduct of quite a different nature, and in those who have not directly suffered by your wickedness you might in some degree excite admiration. People are sorry for such as you to be laid by the heels." He nodded his head emphatically. "Yes, sir, in my opinion you are a bad and a dangerous man!"
"Exactly," smiled the doctor, apparently in no wise offended by the strictures the detective had passed on him, "bad and dangerous, according to your ideas of life." He paused to shake the ashes from his cigarette. "But has it ever struck you. Mr. Detective, that we are all very much as God has made us, and that to a great extent we cannot help ourselves? The babe who is born with his eyes close together will grow up a cunning man; the youth with a retreating chin will be weak and irresolute, and the sensual person was marked for sensuality by his lips and mouth from the very moment that he saw the light."
"Very interesting, doctor," said the detective grimly, "and so, according to you we have very little choice in the shaping of our lives."
"Very little," repeated the doctor emphatically. "Heredity is the overlord of all our ways. Nature stamps us, as I say, from the very beginning, and we are all only creatures of her varying moulds. Notice for yourself. The wide-headed man, for example, is always a fighter like all other wide-headed animals—like the lion, the tiger, and the bear; whilst the narrow-headed man is mild and peace-loving, like the other narrow-headed animals, like the sheep, the rabbit, and the deer. Can they help themselves? Think now for yourself. But come," he went on smilingly after a moment, "we'll leave these philosophical matters alone. I want to ask you several things." He leant forward in his chair. "Now was it quite by chance that you went to Cape Jervis? I think it was."
"Yes," nodded Larose. "I was on a holiday, and I chose that part of the coast because it was unfrequented and quiet."
"Well," said the doctor sadly, "it was a malign chance as far as they were concerned. But for you they would probably have got safely out of the State later on when the hue and cry had died down. Your coming scared them quite a lot, I can tell you, and they couldn't size up the situation. They thought at first you were one of a fishing party camping in one of the other bays. If they had known you were there alone they would have gone for you straight away, for they were desperate men. But it took them four days to make up their minds, and then they acted too late."
"I wasn't certain myself," said Larose, "that anyone was in the house until that last evening, and then it came to me all at once."
"And Miles Fallon saw that it had, too," said the doctor emphatically. "He had far better binoculars than yours, and at that short distance could watch every expression on your face. He had the glasses on you every moment of that evening, and he swore he could tell to the exact second when you became sure that someone was in the house. He said it was when a fox came scouting near them, and then ran for his life, when he must have caught their smell. Fallon saw you were startled, and then you jerked up your glasses and glued them on to the house. You never once looked at the retreating fox, which in his mind was highly suspicious and not natural."
"He was right," said Larose reluctantly. "Somehow we never think that the other fellow can reason like ourselves."
"But you were lucky to escape from Blendiron that next morning," continued the doctor. "Fallon said the man passed right in front of you before he went round to the other side of that rock, and he must have missed stepping on you by inches. Fallon would have had you himself, too, if it hadn't been for the light. He couldn't pick you up against the rock. He thought—"
"But about Blendiron," interrupted the detective, "how did you know before I told you this evening that it was I who was the man on the cliff who shot him?"
"You consulted me professionally, Mr. Larose," replied the doctor blandly. "I was suspicious of your automatic and your scars. I mentioned them to Miles Fallon in here in conversation that same evening, and from my description of you he recognised you at once as the man who had been watching the house by the cliffs." The doctor pursed up his lips and shook his head reprovingly. "Ah, that was a mistake, sir, a very bad mistake as it happened, for you let me know that you were curious in my direction, and I pumped the Chief Commissioner at once. Yes, you gave us warning, and we made our preparations immediately to deal with any contingency, including the one that did actually arise when you came here with a your search warrant. We were quite ready for you."
"Yes, yes, I know," said the detective testily, "and Fallon was produced as the double of Ameer Ali. The real Ali fiddled with that bell there upon your desk, whilst Fallon, the pretender, unscrewed the electric fan in the dining-room. One came in by the front door, the other by the back. Very simple, but it was bad luck only that we were taken in by it. It was not a sound gamble, and its success was due solely to the fact that Barnsley and I had unluckily divided our forces. If we had kept together—"—he looked sternly at the doctor—"you would have been in the stockade now, awaiting trial."
Dr. Van Steyne laughed. "Really, Mr. Larose, you are a truly wonderful man. You seem to learn all things, although unhappily for yourself you always learn them all just a little bit too late."
Larose frowned. "But about Blendiron—he killed Bullock, of course?"
Van Steyne nodded. "I am sure so," he said gravely, "but under what circumstances I don't know. Fallon told me that even he himself had never got at the exact truth. At any rate, Blendiron and Bullock quarrelled that evening. Blendiron admitted it. And one significant fact, too—no mention was made by the authorities of 500 pound in notes that should have been in Bullock's possession when he died."
"Oh! they got 500 pounds, did they?" asked Larose.
"Yes, 500 pounds each," replied the doctor, "and both of them might still have been at their posts now if Blendiron hadn't lost his head and bolted with my cousin. Mind you," and the speaker's voice was convincing. "I have never countenanced violence, and after that tragedy at the Rialto I told Miles Fallon that he must go out of my life for ever. I said I would help him out of the State, and when I had done that I had finished with him for good."
A thought seemed suddenly to strike the doctor.
"But you, yourself, Mr. Larose—have you no feelings of compunction that you have killed these two men?"
"None whatever," said the detective emphatically. "It is my trade to bring death to such creatures as they. My only regret is that their endings were unaccompanied by the pomp and ceremonial of the law. They had no moments of the sufferings that they gave to others." He paused. "But I did my best."
"And so the manner of their passing," said Van Steyne thoughtfully, "will be unknown to anyone save to you and me?"
"Until the sea gives up its dead," added Larose, "whenever that may be."
There was a brief silence, and the detective rose to his feet.
"You are a strange man, Dr. Van Steyne," he said solemnly, "and, if you will take it from me, the wrong in you comes out mainly because you have no stability in your life. A wife and children might save you perhaps, and be the hostages that you would give to the community for your good conduct in the years to come. Alone—and you will drift into a madhouse or, worse still, you will swing in the hangman's rope. I've seen others like you, and know what your kind is like." He smiled apologetically. "So much for my little sermon, sir. I'll bid you good-night now."
"Thank you, Mr. Larose," said the doctor slowly and as though he were very tired. "I'll think over your advice." He rose to his feet too. "We'll not offer to shake hands. We know too much about each other now. That hand—"—he hesitated.
"Yes," said Larose quietly, "I understand."
"And would you please mind letting yourself out?" went on the doctor. "The heat I think has made me feel rather faint."
"Certainly," said Larose. "Good night."
"And good-bye," said the doctor. The door closed softly and Dr. Van Steyne sank back into his chair. He switched off the light and closed his eyes.
Daylight had nearly gone, and in the falling dusk Gilbert Larose was walking with the pretty nurse of Dr. Van Steyne upon the sands of Glenelg. They had been out for a stroll and were returning home. The girl's hair was untidy and her face was flushed.
"A nice sight I look, to go through the town," she said with an effort to appear indignant.
"Yes, you do," said Larose admiringly, "but you can't help it so there's no occasion to be proud."
"You'd no business to kiss me like that," said the girl, tossing her head.
"Like what?" asked Larose innocently. "Like you did behind that sandhill. We're not formally engaged, you know."
"Well, they weren't formal kisses, were they?"
The girl turned her head away and bit her lip. Larose whistled cheerfully. "My collar's all crumpled up too," he said, "and I shall have to buy a new one to-morrow. You must have been very rough. But I'm not complaining," he went on hastily. "I'd go through it all again if you asked me."
The girl looked straight before her. "Perhaps I shall never marry," she said presently.
"Perhaps not," said Larose. He laughed reassuringly. "But I guess you will. Your luck's in, you're booked. I've told you so."
"And how do I know you're not married already?" asked the girl with a studied appearance of indifference.
"You don't know," said Larose, and he stroked his face dubiously. "We shall have to risk that." He pretended to sigh. "At any rate I should only get about two years. Judges are very lenient nowadays."
"And you mayn't be earning enough either to keep a wife," went on the girl.
"Well, you'll soon be able to find out that," said Larose airily, "and, if I'm not, you can go out and work yourself. I'll stop at home then and mind the ba—, I mean I'll stop at home and read. I'm fond of books."
"I wonder if I'm really silly in trusting you," said the girl thoughtfully. "I've known you for such a little while." She lifted her head sharply. "But quick, let go my hand, there are some people coming round that boat there. Let go of my hand at once, I say. Please—Gilbert, dear! please."
They walked on with some distance between them, and then, the boat passed, Larose slipped his arm into hers again.
"Yes, I must go back to Sydney tomorrow, Mary," he said sadly, "but a month from to-day I'll be here again and then—"
"I'll give you my answer," said the girl softly.
They stopped for a moment, and the darkness hid them. Then, both sighing, they walked on.
The girl's hair was now even more untidy.
* * * * * * * *
It was night in a high-walled garden, and the scented darkness clung like a mantle of forgetfulness upon the sleeping world.
It was really an enchanted garden, for it belonged to fairy-land, and was full of unreal things.
A man and a woman were walking there, and they were very close together. The man had his arm round the woman's waist, and she was leaning back heavily upon him. Her face was upturned and her eyes had something in them of the light of the stars. The man's head bent down from time to time and then he kissed the woman on the lips. There were flowers of wondrous beauty all around them in that fairy garden, but none were half as beautiful as the passionflowers that were twining round their hearts.
Presently the man spoke, and the tree-tops heard the words that the night-wind carried up among their leaves.
"And I should never have dared to marry you, darling, if he had not been so positive. He is the greatest living authority, and he writes so strongly that never in all his experience has he known madness to descend through three generations. It is inevitable, he says, that the taint will have died out. Also—"
But the night-wind was sighing now among the roses and the tree-tops heard no more.
"On the 13th instant at The Cedars, West Mitcham, to the wife of Arnold Van Steyne—a son (Gilbert Arnold.")
Extract from a letter written in Sydney:—
"—and thank you so much, dear. The little woollen ones are too sweet for anything, and I have been taking them out and looking at them ever since. I shall have quite enough now. No, I am not making an invalid of myself anyhow. I help a lot with the housework, and go out for a walk every day.
"I am very happy. Think of me in about a fortnight's time, but I am sure I shall be quite all right.
"Your loving sister.
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