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Title: The Shadow of Larose
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: November 2011
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The Shadow of Larose

by

Arthur Gask



Published in serial form in The Advertiser (Adelaide, S.A.) commencing Wednesday, 14 May, 1930.


The following prologue was published in The Advertiser on 13 May, 1930.

THRILLING ADVENTURE

"THE SHADOW OF LAROSE" STARTS TO-MORROW

"I had seen the wretch I was following participate in a brutal murder, and every instinct of good citizenship in me was insisting that he should not get away unpunished.... Perhaps we waited 30 seconds face to face. His lips had closed tight together, his shoulders had sunk a little, his head poised like a runner before a race, his hands—but then I pressed my trigger finger, and a .22 long rifle bullet crumpled him up."

The survivor of that encounter was Charlie Edis, an Adelaide bank clerk, whom Mr. Arthur Gask, for the purposes of his story, had promoted to be the leading actor in "The Shadow of Larose." It was an awkward plight to be placed in, the scene having been enacted in a lonely locality between Whyalla and Iron Knob. Such a situation might be expected to have a thrilling sequel, and Mr. Gask employs it with skill in one of his best stories.

To-morrow morning the opening chapter of "The Shadow of Larose" will appear in "The Advertiser," the Adelaide author's story having been chosen to succeed "A Kiss for Corinna." Instalments will be published daily.


CHAPTER I.—RED DEATH.

Who will deny that all men have their secrets, and that deep down in every one of us the mind is scarred somewhere with the memories of unforgotten but never-mentioned acts?

I know I have my secrets, and they must be heavier, too, than fall to the lot of most men, for I—have taken life.

Ten years ago I secretly killed two men. One I shot with a rifle and to the other I dealt out death in a different way. And I was never found out.

But I was no murderer, and I regret nothing, for their deaths were forced upon me, and they were bad men, and they both deserved to die. One himself had just violently taken life, and the other would have tortured me in a form of living death. He was a blackmailer.

But they are both long since forgotten now, these men who died, and the manner of their passing even has never become known.

One lies buried in an old-world garden near his home, and laughing children play and gambol now above his bones. His people never knew what had happened to him, but they were grateful that he did not return. He had brought unhappiness and tears to all around him, and his own blood feared and hated him as little children fear and hate the ogres of their dreams.

The other died upon the desert sands. I left him with a bullet in his brain and with his staring eyes upturned towards the sky. He died in great loneliness, this man, for it was I alone who saw his limbs grow still in death. There was no pomp nor ceremony about his burial either, and there was no stone placed over him to commemorate his sleep. His end was as it should have been—the ending of a stricken beast of prey, and he just died and was left unheeded where he'd drawn his last breath. The winds over the salt bush sang his requiem while the crows picked his bones clean.

I doubt if I could find the place now where I killed him, for his remains must have long since been covered over by the driven sands. But it can be only a few hundred yards at most off the Port Augusta track, for vengeance had followed swiftly, and he died very near to the scene of his own dark crime.

Well, no one can learn my secret now, and I have no fears. I am safe after all these years.

But I was not always safe. There were days of peril for me once and any moment. Then I might have been delivered to the law.

Following quickly upon this death upon the desert sands I fell under the suspicion of the police for a murder I had not done, and they moved heaven and earth to connect me with the crime. No one could have been in more fearful danger than I was then, for by evil fortune my tracks had crossed those of the very assassin they were looking for, and by blind chance they had stumbled on my trail.

No, no, it was not blind chance that led them to suspect me, indeed it was no chance at all. It followed inevitably upon the appearance of one man. It was Larose himself who picked up that trail. Gilbert Larose, the star of all the detectives of the great Commonwealth of Australia, the prince of all the trackers of crime. The man who never failed.

They brought Larose across from Sydney to succeed when all their searchings had been vain and almost from the first moment of his coming he suspected me.

He saw what to their blind eyes had been hidden and news came to me quickly that he had marked me down. Yes, he hovered over me as the hawk hovers over a sparrow in the grass, and nightly the scaffold loomed up to me in my dreams. I knew that he was shadowing me, but for a long time I could not tell which among my enemies was he. He waited on me with a dreadful patience, and was so certain and so sure. But he never did, after all, get the evidence that he wanted, and with all his genius he never learnt the secret that I had to hide. My love for Helen made me brave, and I met him always, with a face as calm and inscrutable as his own. I had so much to live for, if I were not found out.

But he was a just man, this Larose, with sympathy and great kindness of heart, and many times I longed to throw myself upon his mercy and tell him all. But my lips were sealed by my own folly, and I could disclose to him nothing of the things that he wanted, without incriminating myself shamefully in another way.

It was an act of madness when I took that money off the man I had shot, and I regretted it within the hour. It was done heedlessly upon the spur of the moment, but it put me in the wrong at once, and I could never right myself after that.

Ah! but he was puzzled, this great Larose, and although I shall always believe that his suspicions of me have never been quite dispelled, yet long before the end came be grew to like me and shield me too, in a way.

And he ought to have liked me, too. If only out of mere gratitude, for when he was completely at a loss I helped him to one of the greatest successes of his career. I added yet another leaf to the crown of laurel that he wears.

As I have said, it is ten years now since all these things happened, but Larose has not passed out of my life yet, and it is unlikely now that he ever will. We are good friends, he and I, and he always comes to see us when his work brings him to this State.

Yes, we are good friends, but still he often even now, regards me in an unusually thoughtful kind of way, and he seems to look searchingly too at my children sometimes, as if he were still wondering exactly what manner of man their father was.

Ah! well, the years pass on and time is not without its recompenses. I have suffered, but I have also rejoiced, and if I have plumbed once to the lowest depths of misery, surely I have climbed also to the greatest heights of joy.

I have possessed the woman of my desire. I have strained to my arms the woman that I love. Bodies and souls we have been one to one another, and I have lived to see my likeness in the faces of her children when they smile.

Yes, mine are happy days now. I am well-to-do and prosperous, and there are no shadows upon my life. But I have not forgotten my folly of those years ago, and as a Justice of the Peace, have always pity for those who from sudden temptation have fallen under the ban of the law.

I am not, and never was, a bad man, notwithstanding that I have taken life and for ever and ever shall have blood upon my hands.


Ten years ago, and I was just over three and twenty. I was alone in the world and was a clerk in the head office of the Bank of all Australia in Adelaide. For three years I had been in the thick of the fighting in the Great War, and upon my return home had never been able to quite throw off that feeling of restlessness, that for so many of us proved in the end to be the most lasting heritage of those dreadful days.

I was frittering my life away in the ordinary aimless and desultory manner of so many young fellows about the city. I just lived from day to day, and although I was not without certain ambitions, I yet lacked somehow the impulse to try to realise them by application and hard work. Instead, I was always lazily hoping for something that would lead me by a short cut to fortune.

I was interested in the sports of the day, played football occasionally, and went too often to the races. I was a good shot with the rifle, could ride well, and was a somewhat bored member of the chief dramatic society of the city.

Altogether, however, I was a rather gloomy and reserved young man, keeping myself to myself, and making few friends.

But there was one great dream of my life, one great romance that should have spurred me to much greater endeavor. I was madly in love with Helen McLaren.

I had never spoken to her, and in those days she did not even know of my existence, but for more than a year then I had regarded her as the most beautiful girl in the world. She was the only child of old Alexander McLaren, and her father was very rich. He was a retired pastoralist, and had a big home in North Adelaide. I rarely saw either of them except when they came into the bank, but there was often mention of them in the newspapers, for with the old man's wealth his doings were considered of sufficient interest to chronicle at all times.

Helen was really beautiful, in all the glory of young womanhood, and all that those could say who envied her was that her expression was sometimes unduly proud. She was just a year younger than I.

Well, so things were up to the very afternoon of that hot day in November, when I was on the eve of starting for my annual fortnight's holiday and then the avalanche swept into my life, bringing within forty-eight hours the dreadful incidence of crime and sudden death.

Fate came to me in the unromantic person of young Binks, of the Eastern Extension Cable Company. I almost knocked into him as I came down the bank steps exactly at half-past four.

His arms were full of parcels, and he scowled angrily until he realised who it was that had got in his way. Then his face broke into a friendly smile.

"Good-oh! Charlie," he said gleefully. "We've just met to say goodbye. I'm off to Northern Territory tomorrow. Going to be stationed at Darwin for two years. Only knew it last week."

"Darwin," I exclaimed enviously. "What a change from here!"

"Yes, old chap," he said, "it'll be A1. Lots of sport up there. Shooting and fishing—alligators and crocodiles,"—he winked his eye, "and beautiful young black gins. But look here," he went on, "come over to the Southern Cross and I'll stand you a drink; I've got to pick up some more parcels there."

"Now, Charlie," he said presently, "do you want to buy a motor bike? I've got one you can have dirt cheap."

"No," I said, shaking my head; "I've no money for motor bikes. My luck's been too bad at the races lately. I'm almost broke."

"Silly ass," he remarked reprovingly, "but, mind you, I'm almost giving this bike away. It's yours for a mere song. It's like this," he went on, "the bikes worth forty quid if it's worth a penny, but I had arranged to sell it to a chap at Mitcham for thirty. The beggar had agreed to that price, but at the last moment, this morning in fact, he rang up and said he would only give twenty! He knew I was going away to-morrow, and thought I should have to take anything he offered." Young Bink's face got very red. "But I told him off properly and hung up the receiver before he could think of any worse words than I had used, to say. I tell you, I'd rather give the bike away now than let that brute have it."

"A fiver's all I've got," I said solemnly, "and I'll throw in a couple of verses of God Save the King as well." I grinned, "You say you'll sell it for a mere song."

"Twenty pounds, my boy," he said firmly. "You shall have it for twenty pounds; if not, I'll let it rot until I am back in two years' time."

I shook my head. "I'm just off for my holiday," I said, "and I've barely twenty pounds to my name. I'm going for a tour on my push-bike and camping out all the time. That's all the holiday I can afford."

"Push bike!" he sneered. "Why don't you hire a pram at once? But, look here," he went on, "I'd like you to have the bike, and, what's more, you needn't pay me until it's convenient. You can send the money on whenever you like. The governor's come down handsome, and I'm pretty flush just now."

I hesitated. "Does the darn thing go?" I asked.

"Like the wind," he laughed. "You should see the way it rips down a good steep hill." He grabbed me by the arm. "Now you're coming up to my place at once to have a look at it."

"But I've no driving license," I protested, "and I shall have to register it and all that. It'll mean delay and more expense."

"Nonsense," he insisted. "I'll pass you over my license and you can run it in my name." He looked at me disgustedly. "Where's your pluck, man? You'll never get on in the world if you don't risk things. It's courage that wins every time." He pulled me towards the door. "Now, come on, you're going to have it. I'll take you home with me now. You help me with some of these parcels until I get a taxi," and three minutes later we were bowling along to where he lived.

"I can't ask you to a meal at home," he said, "for there's no one at present living in the house but me. My people are on holiday in Sydney and I've had to batch by myself. For more than a fortnight I have been getting all my tucker outside."

Young Binks's father was well off, and the house we drove to was a large one in a good neighborhood. The motor cycle was in the garage at the bottom of the garden, and he soon had it out and was pointing out the great bargain that it was.

"It wants cleaning, of course," he remarked apologetically, "and it wants tuning up, too. I haven't ridden it for nearly six months. But you can do everything easily enough yourself; I know you used to run a motor bike."

I looked over the machine and saw at once that it was a real bargain at twenty pounds.

"I'll take it," I said, "and thank you very much, Teddy. I'll send you the money within three months. But it wants a bit of attention, as you say, and if I'm going touring with it, I must see it's all O.K. Now I've no convenience at all at my digs to do anything to it, so do you mind if I leave it here to-night and come round and put in a couple of hours to-morrow, first thing, directly it gets light?"

"Certainly," said Teddy heartily, "and you can use anything you want in the garage, too. Dad thinks he's a bit of a mechanic. He's put up that lathe there and he's got all sorts of tools. But you needn't make it a break-of-day business." he laughed. "You come here to-morrow whenever you like. I'm catching the East-West express then at ten, but that needn't make any difference to you, for I'll give you the key of the garage, and you can slip it under the front door of the house when you've done. Mum and dad won't be back for three weeks, and they are expecting to find it there when they return. But we'll have a drink now to the success of both our adventures."

And then commenced a series of small happenings, each one small and insignificant in itself, but each and every one of them to make for me, in later years, all the difference between being a free and happy man—or maybe—a wretched prisoner doing penal servitude in the prison of the State.

To begin with, Teddy couldn't find a corkscrew to open the bottle of wine that he had brought out from his house, and in trying to open it in the less approved fashion of knocking off the neck, he broke the bottle and its entire contents were spilled upon the garage floor. Thereupon, determined not to omit the drinking of a farewell toast, he would insist on us going out to an Hotel and it ended in us stopping on there to dinner.

The dinner was a good one, and after a bottle of wine we were in no particular hurry to move on. Instead, we sat talking in the lounge until quite late, and interesting himself in my holiday, Teddy wanted to know all about where I was going. I told him I was going after gold and had intended to prospect among the Adelaide hills, but now with the possession of a motor cycle, I thought I should go further afield.

"That's right," commented Teddy enthusiastically, "try the Flinders Range beyond Port Augusta or else the country off the Broken Hill line, about Waukaringa. It's all very well saying every inch of that ground has been already gone over. That counts for nothing, for a heavy shower of rain may any day expose a new reef cropping up to the surface. But you ought to have a good equipment and take plenty of grub if you're going away from the townships."

I laughed and replied that I had been on the job before and always travelled light. A blanket, a ground sheet, a billy-can, a water bag, and a small .22 rifle were the chief items of my equipment, and I never went very far away from places where I could get food.

We didn't leave the hotel until nearly eleven, and finally it was past midnight when I had turned out my light and got into bed. Never at any time a good sleeper, late hours always mean for me an uncomfortable night, and it was again so with me, then. It must have been nearly four o'clock before I dropped off to sleep, but then I slept heavily and to my consternation did not wake up until the clock of the Town Hall was striking nine.

I was in a fine state of mind. I had intended to be at Teddy's before six, and start off from my rooms on the motor cycle, at latest, by about ten. Now, it would be midday or even later before I could get away, and it would make a lot of difference to the itinerary I had mapped out.

I dressed hurriedly and then an idea struck me. To save time, I would load up my luggage and go down to Teddy's with it all packed on the push bike. Then when I was ready I could start away on the motor cycle direct from there, for if Teddy were giving me the key, I could leave the push bike in the garage until after I returned from the holiday. There was also an added inducement to me in this plan. The landlady of my rooms was a very inquisitive woman, and she would not then have to speculate as to in what way I had so suddenly become the possessor of a motor cycle. She knew I had not been particularly flush of money of late, for once recently, after a bad day at the races, I had had to let my weekly account stand over, and she had been impertinently curious why. I had cursed myself at the time, for I hated people prying into my affairs.

I had a snatch at breakfast, and got down to Teddy's just in time to bid him good-bye. Then I started at once upon the motor cycle, but soon found that it wanted much more to put it in condition than he had told me. To begin with I couldn't get the engine to fire at all first, and I rushed it up and down the drive until I was red in the face, much to the amusement of a grinning painter working upon the roof of the house next door. The fellow was so interested that finally I became annoyed and took the bike round to the other side of the garage, where he could not see what was going on.

The engine was horribly dirty, and I quickly came to the conclusion that if I were going to start off upon my journey with any feeling of security I must take the whole thing down and thoroughly overhaul it.

I worked hard without a break until well into the afternoon, and then at 4 o'clock, beginning to feel hungry I knocked off to go and get something to eat. To my annoyance, too, I had to go into the city to buy two new inner tubes. The ones then on the bike were patched all over and beyond safety.

After my meal I went into a motor cycle shop in Rundle-street to get the inner tubes, and then occurred the second of those trivial happenings that were to make all the difference to my life in after years.

I was just coming out of the shop after having got what I wanted, when I saw one of the city detectives that I knew passing by. He was Ferguson, and a cousin of one of the clerks in our bank. I knew his work took him all over the State, and I thought it would be a good thing to ask him now which was the best road to take for Port Augusta. I nipped after him and had almost reached him when he suddenly dashed across the road to catch a newsboy, who was crying the afternoon papers.

"Entries for the Christmas Cup," was shouting the boy, "All the winners at Moonee Valley."

It was too much bother to follow across the road, and so I let the detective go, but—upon what small things do great ones depend.

Had Mr. Detective Alan Ferguson, at about 4.30 that afternoon not been so keen on learning the entries for the Adelaide Christmas Cup, or so anxious either to know what horses had won at Moonee Valley, I might have cross-examined him about the road to Port Augusta, and in consequence, two weeks later, he might have been well on his way to his inspectorship.

But there—that is what chance is.

It was past 7 before I had finally got the motor cycle to my satisfaction, and was washing my hands in the garage sink. I was intending to go back at once to my rooms, and after a good night's rest make a very early start in the morning, when suddenly I thought of a new plan.

I would not waste another hour of my holiday. I would start off with a long night ride. Would do the 200 odd miles to Port Augusta in the dark.

I considered for a few moments. It had been nearly a full moon when I was arriving at my rooms the previous night. Well and good. It would be moonlight again to-night. I would take the road straight away, and be in Port Augusta before the morning came.

Ah! but I was not too sure of the road, and it was too late now to buy a map. I looked at my watch. The public library was still open, however, and I could go there and work out my route.

Finally, it was exactly 20 minutes past 9 when I locked the garage door and rode off into the night. The moon had not yet risen.

Thus I left Adelaide in the darkness, and as I threaded my way along the by-streets to strike the Great North road, it happened that no one noted my going, and upon no one's memory was recorded the beginning of that journey that in so few hours only was to set the whole State of South Australia in such a fever of excitement, and for me, threaten so many anxious weeks, with the penalty of penal servitude, or worse still—perhaps with the horror of a shameful death.

I intended making for the mountain ranges beyond Port Augusta, and for most of the 200 miles my way would lie along the side of the gulf, giving me an easy and comfortable journey.

A score or so of miles to the north of the city of Adelaide, and the made roads begin to fade quickly into roads or tracks. The middle of the highway may in some parts be macadamised, but on either side, and often at a lower level, stretch the natural earth roads or dirt tracks. And in fine weather, for the motorist, these dirt tracks surely constitute one of the most glorious highways in all the world.

They are as soft as velvet on the surface, and yet there is the feeling of a hardness, as of glass, underneath, and to the ardent speedster it is an ecstacy to follow along their curves. But in wet weather, and indeed even after a little rain, it is quite another story, and then woe betide the unwary motorist who ventures upon them.

That night they were in their most perfect condition, and I shall never forget my ride. Looking back, I see it was like a delicious and entrancing overture preceding the rising of a curtain for the presentation of a dark and dreadful drama.

There was the soft and scented warmness of a perfect Australian summer night—the satin darkness shrouding the mighty distances of hill and valley that lay before me, and the loneliness and the mystery of it all.

Down the deserted highway the motor cycle sped like the projectile from a gun and the swift rushing through the air lulled my senses into the rapture of a beautiful dream.

And then when the moon rose and I glided through the little scattered hamlets, I was as if in a dead world. I saw no one and as far as I knew, no one saw me. I just passed, and was probably only a few discordant moments in the harmony of a thousand sleeps.

Dawn was just rising when I ran into Port Augusta at the head of the gulf. The motor bicycle had behaved beautifully, and I had covered the 200 and odd miles, with no hurry, in a little over six hours.

But I was not minded to stop yet. Speeding along, I had rearranged my plans. I had always wanted to visit Port Lincoln, and although this would be taking me away for the time from the Flinders Ranges, I thought it too good an opportunity to be missed. Port Lincoln was 206 mites down the other side of Spencer's Gulf, and it meant I knew a lonely ride nearly all the time. About midway I should meet the little township of Cowell, but in the 143 miles before I reached there, there would be no habitation of any kind. Just a long and lonely track winding, now through the mallee scrub, then over the desert sands, and then again among the saltbush that for miles and miles would stretch like a never ending sea, half knee-high.

For three hours after leaving Port Augusta I rode very slowly, and then, when fifty-three miles away I came upon right and left divergences from the main track with a sign post pointing to the port of Whyalla in one direction and to the mining town of Iron Knob in the other. The distances were sixteen miles to each place.

The configuration of the country began to change here and the mallee scrub rose now on either side to the height of small trees.

I rode on further for a short distance and then suddenly realised that I was both hungry and sleepy. So I turned off for about fifty yards into the mallee, and making a small fire, grilled myself a couple of chops. Then finding a clear space and making sure there were no snakes about, I folded my blanket for a pillow and lay down in the shade for a good sleep.

I dropped off at once and slept deeply and refreshingly until past two o'clock, and should not probably even have awakened then, if some crows had not found me out. Their raucous cries broke in inharmoniously upon my dreams. There were quite a number of the wretched birds perched on the bushes around, and it was obvious that they were all acutely interested in the condition of my health. They peeked their little beady eyes inquisitively at me when I stood up, but when I threw some sticks at them, they rose up screeching and after some reluctant circling round flew disgustedly away.

I soon packed up and by half-past two had taken to the track again, but trouble came to me all at once and before even I had gone a hundred yards my engine began to misfire badly and finally to completely peter out.

I found I had got a short circuit, and not only that, but one of the oil pipes was blocked. It was a long and messy job putting things right, and my hands were in a fine state when I had done. I had just finished when I heard a distant rumbling of a car, and a couple of minutes later, a motor lorry passed me coming from the direction of Port Augusta, it was a builder's lorry, carrying ladders, and pails and pots of paint. There were two men sitting behind, and they waved their hands as they passed.

Then, not a minute after, and, indeed, before I had finished wiping my hands in the sand, another car came by from the opposite direction. It was a touring one this time, and it was going at a moderate pace. A big red-faced man was driving, and he was smoking a cigar. There were two other passengers on the back seat, and the hood and side curtains were up.

As it passed I got a strong whiff of petrol. "Pugh!" I ejaculated, "they've got a leak somewhere." and my eyes followed interestedly until the car had disappeared round a bend through the scrub.

I jumped on my motor bike again, and started off in the direction of Port Lincoln, but fifty yards was the utmost it carried me before it again stopped abruptly in its tracks.

With a sigh of resignation, I got off to find speedily that this last trouble was beyond immediate remedy. I was faced with one of the worst things that could have happened in such a lonely place. The head of the valve had broken off.

Grimacing philosophically, I sat down and considered matters.

I was helpless, almost midway between Port Augusta and Cowell, with fifty and odd miles to go, either way. It was nearly four o'clock, and it was quite possible that no more cars might pass that afternoon. There was never much traffic along the track, I knew, for the Gulf towns were served mostly by the steamers that ply up and down.

Then, again, unless another motor lorry happened to pass, my position would not be much better. An ordinary car would not certainly be able to take on board a heavy motor cycle.

So I quickly decided to leave the machine somewhere in the bush, and wait my chance to be picked up by a motor car going to Port Augusta. I could get a new valve in the town there, and return at my leisure to make the bike serviceable again. At any rate, I comforted myself I was in no hurry, and, after all camping in the wilds was what I had intended my holiday should be. So I wheeled the motor cycle into the mallee scrub, and then, when about a hundred yards off the track, propped it up under a big bush that would provide a certain amount of shelter if any rain fell. I was confident that no one would interfere with it in so lonely a spot, and that, however long I might leave it, it would be quite all right.

Prepared then for a night in the bush, I packed all my camping requisites in the blanket and strapped it like a knapsack across my shoulders. My little .22 rifle I kept out, and carried in my hand.

I was just leaving the place when I noticed a quite recent snake trail in the sand, and instantly was thrilled with the prospect of reptilian sudden death.

No good Australian ever misses the opportunity of killing a snake, and quickly filling the magazine of my rifle, I picked up a stick and set off to follow the markings in the sand.

But they went quite a long way, and it was a good hundred yards before I came upon the snake sunning himself in a little open space. I walked up very quietly, and then just when he was preparing to glide off. I popped him one on the back, and it was all over. Snakes are the easiest creatures in the world to kill, and unless they are trodden upon accidentally, or are cornered, their only thought is to get away.

He was a big black fellow, this one I had killed, with a vividly red belly, and after I had well and truly bashed his head in to make sure that he was dead, I curled him artistically round one of a line of wooden posts that had evidently at one time marked the boundary of some sheep station.

I little thought then what good service this simple action was to do me in a few weeks' time.

I had just finished dealing with the snake and was congratulating myself upon what a good deed I had done, when, turning to get back on to the track again. I suddenly heard voices.

My legs were galvanized instantly into quick action, and in a few seconds I was almost out on to the track again, when in a flash, I brought myself to a stand, and stood stock still, staring between the branches of a thick bush.

The touring car that had recently passed me and that had smelt strongly of petrol, was now standing stationary not fifty yards away. There had been an accident, undoubtedly, for it was half slewed round across the track, and its radiator was rammed up close against a tree. Also, it had got a bad list to one side. Its three passengers were out upon the track behind it, and one of them was kneeling down and peering under the chassis. He was turned sideways to me, and I recognised him instantly as the man who had been driving.

But what made me suddenly stand still and froze me in my tracks, were the sinister actions of his companions close behind him. Standing with their heads near together, they yet seemed to be speaking to one another by signs. One pointed to the kneeling man, and then they both looked quickly round and stared intently up and down the track as if to see if they were being observed. One of them was dressed in a light suit, and what struck me about the other was that he was slight in build, with the trim figure of an athlete. He was wearing his coat tightly buttoned up across the chest.

All this I took in in a lightning glance, but in some way so impressed was I, that for many haunting weeks afterwards every little trivial incident of the whole scene was seared upon my mind.

Suddenly then, the man in the light suit stealthily bent down and picked up a big jack that was lying on the sand, then quick as the eye could follow, he aimed a fierce blow at the head of the man who was kneeling behind the car. But the latter rose at the exact moment and the heavy jack missed his head and fell upon the shoulder instead. He uttered a sharp cry, and, although reeling under the blow, turned and made a quick movement to rise to his feet, but the athletic-looking man darted in and struck him a terrific blow in the face, with a spanner that I now saw he had been holding in his hand. Then the dreadful jack descended again, once, twice, and I almost thought I heard it breaking into the poor wretch's skull.

Then the two men stood motionless over the prostrate figure, and I could see the face of the man in the light suit like a white patch against the blackness of the back of the car.

The athletic-looking man then made a sign with his hand, and his companion, throwing down his jack, began roughly to rifle the body.

He tore a thick wallet from somewhere, and, after a short argument with his companion, thrust it in his own pocket.

Then the two stood talking vehemently together, both of them the whole time glancing apprehensively up and down the track. They seemed uncertain what next to do. It appeared to me that the man in the white suit wanted to make off straight away, but his companion held him by the sleeve as if he were insisting upon a different course of action.

Finally they appeared to agree and, dragging the body round to the side of the car, they lumped it on to the driver's seat and banged to the door. Then they both leant down under the back of the car, and I heard the sound of knocking. In a moment they both sprang up quickly again and stood well away from the car. One of them then struck a match and threw it on to the ground. There was a flash, and a broad flame leapt up and began to lick round the back of the car. I realised instantly what they had done. They had opened the petrol tank in order to burn up the car.

They waited a few seconds, and then, seeing the flames had apparently got a good hold, as if all their plans were now cut and dried, they nodded excitedly to one another and ran quickly into the scrub, with each one, however, going off in a different direction.

The man in the light suit ran west in the direction of the township of Iron Knob, whilst his companion ran east in the direction of the Port of Whyalla.

And all this while I had stood still as if turned to stone. Everything had followed so quickly and had been of so astounding a nature that, from no sense of cowardice, I had been too astonished to act.

But with the running off of the two men the spell was broken, and with no further hesitation I rushed forward intending to try and put out the flames. The man who had been so ruthlessly thrust inside the car might not yet be dead, and, if so, he was now being burnt alive.

And then—the totally unexpected happened. Before even I had got half-way towards the car the flames suddenly died right away, there was the sound of a dull explosion, and the back of the petrol tank blew out.

"Ah," I exclaimed in excitement, "the tank was almost empty. The petrol has been leaking away, and that was why I smelt it as the car passed."

With my heart thumping hard, I ran up and pulled open the door of the car, but it required no second glance to see that its occupant was dead. The injuries to his head were horrible, and his death must have been quite instantaneous. His features were completely obscured in his blood.

A fearful rage surged through me, and with an oath upon my lips I turned into the scrub and tore after the man in the light suit.

CHAPTER II.—THE AVENGER AND THE FOOL.

Looking back in after days, I have often wondered why I so instantly determined to follow the man in the light suit. The other wretch I had seen was in every way as culpable and from all I knew would have been just as easy or just as difficult to follow. But I turned to the light suit man as a matter of course, perhaps subconsciously because it was he whom I had seen give the absolutely fatal blows, or perhaps again simply because I thought that, by reason of his light suit, he would be the easier of the two to pick out among the mallee scrub.

At any rate, after him I went at full pelt, and so enraged was I, that the heavy blanket roll upon my shoulders felt as light as a feather, and no burden at all. I ran bent down so that he should not see me if he should turn round, and I held my little rifle on the ready for anything that might happen.

I don't think, however, that I had any very clear idea as to what exactly I was going to do, but I had seen the wretch I was following participate in a brutal murder, and every instinct of good citizenship in me was insisting that he should not get away unpunished.

I soon picked him out among the scrub, for even at some hundreds of yards distance the light suit was conspicuous, and I gained upon him fast. I did not, however, run in a direct line behind him, but a good 50 yards to one side, for I was expecting him at any moment to turn round and look back.

And this was exactly what he did do when he had run, I should say, about half a mile. He almost stopped and then slewed his head round for a rapid glance behind.

But he did not catch sight of me, I was quite confident, for I had thrown myself down instantly with the first turning of his head, and I did not get up again until he was running on.

Then, about a hundred yards further in front of him, I noticed that the scrub was beginning to get very thin and soon, to my consternation, I saw it was about to disappear altogether, and give way to open salt-bush country beyond. The salt-bush grows only to about a foot in height, and in between the mallee bushes I could not glimpse it, stretching for mile upon mile towards the foot of the far distant mountain range.

How on earth then could I approach the man unawares, I asked myself, once he had left the scrub and was in the open, and I quickened my pace in my dismay.

Then suddenly I lost sight of him altogether, and for the moment I believed he must have thrown himself down to rest. But there was no sign of him on the ground anywhere, and I could see everywhere to the farthest bush.

I slackened my pace, however, at once, and approached warily to where he had seemed to disappear, just where the bushes ended, and I quickly realised that it was well I had done so, too.

Without any warning the ground broke suddenly to a little hollow, a sort of little cup that the winds had scooped among the sand, and there, all on an instant, and not ten paces away from me, I came upon the man.

He was leaning against a low bank, and with an expression of rapt attention upon his face was going over a thickish wad of banknotes that he was holding in his hand. A discarded wallet and some loose papers lay upon the sands at his feet.

He had not heard my approach, for the sound of my footstep had been deadened in the sand, and for a good half-minute at least I stood watching him.

He was not by any means a bad-looking fellow, for he had a good profile and a strong, determined face. He was quite well dressed, too.

Suddenly, then, something attracted his attention—I may have moved, or perhaps he heard me breathe—and he jerked his head round sharply and saw me standing there.

He sprang like lightning to his feet and then stood staring at me as if I were an apparition from the grave. His face was white as death, his eyes bulged, and his mouth was opened wide.

Then covertly he flashed his eyes behind me and to right and left, as if he were searching to see if I were there alone, and then a moment later his face became more composed and took on a cunning look.

He crushed up the notes he was holding, and with a sly, furtive movement thrust them into one of the side pockets of his coat.

"No good," I cut in sharply, and I spoke hoarsely from a dry mouth. "I saw where you got them from. I was watching you both from the scrub." The anger rose into my voice. "You murdered that man."

Just for the instant fear seemed to grip over him again, and then the ghost of a mocking smile crossed into his face. His eyes closed to narrow slits, so that their expression could not be seen.

He had weighed me up, I thought grimly, and was satisfied on which side the scales would turn.

But if he had been busy calculating, so had I, and I was making no mistake as to who was the stronger man.

In a rough and tumble fight the wretch would be my conqueror every time. He was about my own height, but he was much more muscular and sinewy, and looked hard as nails. Besides, I should be terribly handicapped by the blanket knapsack on my shoulder, which by now had become as if a ton in weight.

So I stepped back a pace, and with the safety catch slipped, held my rifle straight before me breast high.

Perhaps then we waited thirty seconds—it might have been less and it might have been more, and then I made the first move, and I calculated too, that I made it only just in time.

I saw the man in front of me was getting ready, and was gathering himself in for a rush. His lips had closed right together, his shoulders had sunk a little, his head was poised like a runner before a race, his hands—but then. I pressed my trigger finger and a .22 long rifle bullet crumpled him up.

I was no fool with a rifle, and had meant to take him directly over the heart, but my hands were shaking, and instead I sent the bullet high, and it struck him over the left temple. Instantly the blood spurted down his face.

He flung his hands up to his head and staggered like a drunken man. Then with a jerk he crashed backwards and dropped a quivering mass upon the sands.

His hands clawed faintly, and he moaned just once or twice. Then his head lolled sideways, his mouth fell open wide, and he lay quite still.

Breathing painfully and leaden-footed I stepped forward and stood over him. My mind seemed numb, and I did not take in yet what I had done. The preceding moments had been so full of horrors that I felt now like some sleeper in a dreadful dream.

"Here is another man." I said to myself as if it had nothing to do with me, "and he is dead and bloody like that other one. What a mess he's in."

Then suddenly the reek of burnt cordite rose into my nostrils, and it came to my understanding that the smell was clinging round the rifle in my hands. For a moment I stared blankly at the weapon and then—like a wave my fit of dreaming passed and my mind was clear again.

Too horribly clear, and I drew in my breath with a big sob. Oh! what a madman I had been!

I had mixed myself up in a ghastly murder and with my own hands, too, I had taken life. Taken life with no witnesses present, either to prove that my action had been absolutely necessary and right.

What an interfering fool to follow the man at all! My proper course would have been to have waited by the car until help came, and then to have left the whole matter to the police. It was no business of mine to mete out punishment to the murderers, and besides, who would know that I was now speaking the truth? By my stupid interference I had involved myself, at best, in a lot of unpleasant investigations by the police and at worst—to perhaps having actually to undergo punishment for having taken the law into my own hands as I had. In any case, it would not look too well to many that I had shot down an unarmed man, as I should have to admit, without giving him a chance.

Oh, yes, I had been a fool, I had—Suddenly then my eyes fell upon something lying just near the body upon the sand. I looked carelessly and then—with startled interest. It was a banknote I saw, and one moreover, for 100 pounds. I stared at it incredibly for a moment and then stifling a cry, I stooped down and picked it up.

Yes, it was for 100 pounds, and—the thought seared through me like a red-hot iron—it was only one of a bundle that I had seen the dead man stuff into his pocket.

Without waiting a second and with no consideration now for any dangers I might have incurred, I flung myself down upon my knees to search for the other notes, and so great was my excitement, that with no repugnance at all, I turned over the body to get at the pocket in the coat. In my eager haste I got blood upon my clothing, but quite unheeding that I pulled out the wad and then jumping to my feet again proceeded to breathlessly count it.

Two hundred—three—four—five—a thousand—fifteen hundred—nearly two thousand in hundreds, fifties, twenties and quite a lot of tens. And many of them could be safely passed, too, for from their appearance they had been in circulation quite a long time, and there was no sequence either in their numbers.

It was only a rough tally that I made, but the sum of about 2,000 pounds leapt into my mind.

Two thousand! Why, it was a fortune, and it was mine if I could only get away with it.

Like a hunted animal I crouched down, and then like a man who was in deadly peril I peered round fearfully on every side. Even as the wretch I had just killed had stared behind me into the mallee scrub to see if I had come alone, so I started now with the same fearing and crime-haunted eyes.

Yes, crime-haunted, for the possession of these few slips of rustling paper, following upon the mental stress I had just passed through, had completely upset the balance of my mind, and I was now a criminal, too, though it might be in a minor and less dreadful degree than that of the blood-soaked creature lying at my feet.

I had no thought any longer for the murdered man in the car, no thought for the man I had just killed; my entire obsession now was to retain my spoil and get away with it quickly.

I had all the elation of a victorious beast of prey.

I looked round on every side. No, I was watched by no human eyes. I was alone in that lonely place. The mallee scrub lay like a dark screen behind me and before me, across the far-flung salt bush plain, not a living creature moved.

I thrust the notes into my pocket and thought quickly.

I must put as many miles as possible between me and the scene of all these happenings. No one must ever know that I had been near the spot. I must make for the uninhabited mountain range, and remain in hiding there for a few days. Then, I would return again to civilisation from quite a different direction, and no one would ever be able to link me up with anything that had occurred on the Port Augusta-Port Lincoln track.

But I had a hard trek before me. The mountain range was at least fifty miles distant, and there would be the matter of getting water on the way. I knew, however, that all the country was sheep country. I was sure of that because of the gates and fences that I had had to open and close in coming from Port Augusta, and I, of course, realised that where sheep wandered necessary provision for water had always to be made. Also, I remembered seeing on the maps that I had hurriedly gone over in the Public Library the previous evening several dams marked in the stretch below the Flinders Ranges.

All these things flashed through my mind in a few seconds, and then tightening my blanket roll upon my shoulders, and with no further thought for the man I had killed, at a slow ambling run I set off across the saltbush.

It was then nearly 5 o'clock, and I reckoned I had three hours of daylight before me. Good, then when night fell I should be 15 miles away. Then I would rest until the moon rose, and later cover another 15 miles before the dawn. It would be safer to sleep by day and travel by night. In thirty-six hours I would be in the heart of the range.

I strode forward with great confidence, but before even I had gone a bare half-mile the uneasy feeling came to me that undoubtedly I had been too sanguine in my expectation as to the progress I should make.

To begin with, the going was heavy, and I very soon had to slow down to a walk. It was no light labor travelling over the saltbush, for I had to pick my way with every step. Then the wind rose suddenly, a hot north wind like the blast from a furnace door, and it swept up the sand like a thousand pin pricks against my face. It almost blinded me, and I had to lower my head to make any progress at all.

But for two hours I kept doggedly on, and then, to my great relief, the wind dropped as suddenly as it had risen, and I was able to look about again.

Close near I saw a small windmill working a bore, and feeding the water into a large trough round which a mob of sheep were gathered. There were also about a dozen horses not far away.

It was a great find, and thankfully drinking the remaining water that I had been husbanding in my flask, I filled both that and my water bag again.

Carrying the full water bag would, I knew, add to my discomfort, but it would, at any rate, ensure me a safe journey to the mountain range. So I swung it over my rifle, and with the latter upon my shoulder, started to continue on my way.

Then suddenly it struck me that as the horses seemed very tame and not at all disturbed by my presence among them, with a little care I might get hold of one and borrow him for a few hours.

So I picked out a serviceable-looking bay, and taking an apple from my knapsack approached him with it, on my open hand. He was quite willing to consider the unexpected luxury, and catching him by the mane I was soon upon his back and pressing him into my service. I understood horses well, having in my early days spent many happy holidays upon the station of an uncle beyond Broken Hill.

The horse was a comfortable mover, and we were soon ambling along quietly at about four miles an hour. It takes a good animal to keep at that pace for any length of time, but I was hoping I should be able to get twenty more miles out of him before I let him go to return home.

An hour later and it rapidly grew dark, but there were the faint stars to guide me and I pushed on.

Now I think, under normal circumstances, I should greatly have enjoyed the ride, except that, with no saddle under me, I was soon experiencing anything but the comforts of a feather bed.

The wind had completely died down, and the night was pleasantly warm. I was in a world of my very own, and the peace and stillness of it all began to soothe my jangling nerves. I was no longer in the dreadful surroundings of violence and sudden death—no longer struggling painfully across the never ending sands—no longer with my back bent double under a heavy load. Instead, comparatively speaking, I was at ease and all my plans were going well.

But soon my thoughts began to trouble me and insist that, with all my good fortune in getting away with the bank notes, and with all the rosy prospect of safety that the future seemed to hold for me, I was now nothing but a thief and a fugitive from the law.

It was no good my telling myself that I had not really stolen the money, and that it was mine by right, as the spoil of conquest from a man who, already a murderer, would have undoubtedly murdered me.

I didn't believe it for a minute, and with every yard I travelled now I wished I had left the wretched notes alone.

But, alas, it was too late to turn back and put myself right. The car with its ghastly occupant might have been found hours ago, and the telephone wires might be humming now in every direction for a look-out to be kept for any strange and wandering men.

But I was safe, I kept on comforting myself, and there was nothing but the possession of the bank notes to connect me in any way with the crime. I had only to thrust them in a few inches under the desert sand and then—even if all the police in South Australia were upon my heels, I should be as far removed from suspicion as any man in another crime.

That they would never discover the wretch I had shot I was sure. To the desolate spot where he lay, no one might come for many years, and in a week or less he would have been picked clean by the crows. The first wind, too, might cover him up. Ah, the very dust storm that I had just been through might have filled his grave, and the best black-tracker would be at fault, a yard from the car.

The black-trackers! I had never thought of them.

My heart thumped unpleasantly, and then—in all my dejection I chuckled to myself. Why, that dust storm was a mighty throw of Fate on my behalf! In two minutes there would have been no tracks of anyone to follow and the car wheels even, would be resting in a stretch of virgin sand.

So on I jogged in alternate fits of elation and depression.

Two hours after midnight and I felt the beast under me begin to flag. Even at the easy pace we had been progressing he could not go on for ever, and I myself was now sick and giddy with fatigue.

I rolled or indeed almost fell off his back, so stiff and sore was I, and then giving him another apple and piece of bread, I turned his head home-wards, and with a smart smack upon his flank sent him on his way.

He would get back all right I was sure, but so strange are our moods, that at the moment, sending him off, without at least a mouthful of the water in my bag, seemed to be my basest action of the day.

I had been riding for nearly seven hours, and at a dead reckoning had covered about 26 miles. Those, with the six miles I calculated I had walked before I came to the dam, would add up to 32. Well, it was good travelling, and the next night would see me in the range, sure enough.

Spreading out my ground sheet I rolled into my blanket, and tried to get some sleep, but I was too tired or too worried, and it was not until dawn was rising that I fell even into a fitful dose. Then, I was awake again before 7 o'clock, and sitting up eagerly to take note of where I was.

I was surrounded still on every side by the eternal salt bush, but it heartened me a lot to see that the mountains were much nearer, indeed so close was one big fellow, that I felt almost certain that I must have under-estimated my progress during the night, and might be nearer 40 miles than 30 from the Port Augusta track.

I turned to my supplies to get something to eat, and then realised for the first time, so full had my mind been of other things, that the food question was going to be an anxious one.

I had really been carrying only emergency rations for my entire supplies comprised a small tin of salmon, some dried milk, a packet of sugar, a cake of chocolate, a little tea, about a third of a loaf of bread and two apples.

Well, I told myself, I wouldn't worry until I had to. I was deadly with my little rifle, and the first rabbit I spotted would meet with instant death.

I chose the salmon for my breakfast, and recklessly cleared up the whole tin. I felt much better somehow, now that I had the sun before me once again.

After breakfast I did up my knapsack, and feeling sure that I was now far enough away from my beaten track not to encounter anybody, proceeded confidently upon my journey. My only danger now, was the chance meeting with a boundary rider from some adjacent sheep station, but the holdings there would be pretty large, I thought, and I did not worry over much.

On one side of me there was no township for over twelve hundred miles, until well into Western Australia, and on the other none, until one reached the gulf. Once in the Flinders Range, however, I should again be much nearer Port Augusta, and it would lie then only a day's journey below me.

I tramped on steadily at a slow and even pace, but all the time my thoughts were racing hard.

Had anyone yet come upon the car, I wondered, or was it lying just as I had left it sixteen hours ago? But what a shock it would be for the person who found it first, and what would he do then when he saw the murdered man?

Would he race off to Port Augusta or would he take the nearer journey to Whyalla, to inform the police? Ah, Whyalla! I could feel my face pucker up into a frown—now what had become of the other murderer whom I had seen turn off in the direction of the Whyalla track? And now I came to think about it, where was the man I had shot making for? He was, I felt sure, heading for the township of Iron Knob. Well, what was he going to do there? Had he got his home in that place, and was he going to slip into it unnoticed, and was that why he had taken charge of the notes for safety?

I shook my head in perplexity. Looking back on everything, it seemed to me that the murder, like my own lapse, had been purely one of chance. It had not been a premeditated crime and had only happened because the car had broken down where it did.

So the murderers had had to make their plans at a minute's notice, and they had gone widely separate ways, perhaps because they knew that two passengers had been seen in the car of the murdered man and therefore it was two men together that would be searched for directly the fact of the murder had become known. And then who was the murdered man, and how was it he had come to be carrying so much money about him on such a lonely track?

I thought on and on about the murder in all its bearings until I came at last to considering what exactly the police would do when they found the body. How would the detectives start off on looking for clues? Would they commence by searching among the mallee scrub in the vicinity? Would they—oh, hell! there was my motor cycle there!

A fit of dreadful nausea seized me—I felt as if I were going to suffocate. I stopped dead in my tracks and sank down upon the sands.

Why, what had I forgotten all this time? What had my addled brain not taken in?

My motor cycle was within a hundred and fifty yards of the murdered man and the derelict car. It was plain for the first person to see who went into the scrub, and it had both its number plates on. The police would find out that its owner was Teddy Binks, and then in no longer time than it would take to wire to and receive back a reply from Darwin, they would be hot-foot upon my track.

Of course they would be on to me instantly, for directly all the facts of the murder were made known the tradesmen on the lorry that had passed me would report at once that they had seen a man upon a motor cycle almost at the exact spot where the murder had been committed and within a minute of the same time too, when they had passed the car.

I spent a terrible half-hour when there first came to me a realisation of all these things, and then something seemed suddenly to stiffen in me, and I pulled myself together again.

Well, if I was in for it—I was, but I would not anyhow crumple up and take the most hopeless view of everything straight away. It was quite possible that no one, after all, would ever search the scrub near the car. On the face of it, they would not expect the murderer to be hanging round the place of his crime, and if they suspected the motor cyclist, then the last thing they would think of would be that he had forsaken his machine to flee away on foot. How on earth would they possibly guess that it had broken down?

So I tried hard to comfort myself, but in spite of it all, at the back of my mind, there lurked the black spectre of a dreadful fear.

Anyhow, I told myself, my flight was going to be in deadly earnest now, and I must be well into the range when night fell. So I tightened my blanket roll yet again, and set off bravely at a swinging pace.

Now I remember very little of that final effort to reach the mountains, except that it was like a nightmare of a most horrible kind. I know, however, that I walked without halting a single moment, for over six hours, and that I was in great mental and physical distress the whole time.

I was not fit to undertake such a trying journey, even if my mind had been at rest. I had come straight from my sedentary occupation at the bank, and my muscles were not tuned up to any arduous work. Then I had had practically no sleep for two nights, and I was almost worn out before I started.

But fear urged me on, a black fear gripping at my heart and making my mouth drier even than from the pangs of thirst. So I felt only in a nightmare sort of way, the dreadful aching of my sodden limbs, the terrible galling of the knapsack upon my shoulders, and the blistering of the sun upon my neck and hands.

It was really that my mental sufferings were so great that I was in consequence numb and forgetful to my physical ones.

I reached the mountain range in mid-afternoon, and climbing painfully to an elevated plateau strewn all around with big black rocks, threw myself in absolute exhaustion upon the ground.

And then for a time I forgot everything. Body and mind I was dead to the world. Murderers and assassins might have hovered over me, policemen and detectives might have come and gone, death adders, even, might have crawled beside me, and I should not have cared.

Towards sunset, however, I revived a little, and with aching arms tipped up my water bag for a long drink, then I ate a piece of chocolate and finally propped myself up against a rock and stared sullenly across the plain below.

There was the gulf not very far away; there in the far distance was some little township by the waterside; and there, like a winding ribbon stretched the Adelaide track.

Night however, fell very soon, and then my teeth began to chatter with the cold, so I wrapped my blanket round me and with my arm only for a pillow, composed myself for sleep.

But sleep was long in coming, and then it was fitful only, and full of dreadful dreams. A dozen times I woke during the night, and a dozen times my memory scourged my mind. The man I had seen murdered and the wretch I had killed myself were never far from me, and I was thankful when morning came at last.

But morning brought no comfort, and so still and sore was I that I could hardly move. I felt weak and ill, and scarcely able to stand. I ate the remainder of my chocolate and my two apples, and drank more of my water, which I realised was now getting perilously low.

All day I lay about, dozing and waking, but with no refreshment from my rest. My mind had become more active again and my thoughts were harrowing ones all the time. I was down and out. I was absolutely at the end of my tether, and there was no hope left.

No matter who was after me, I could hide no longer in the mountains. On the morrow I must crawl down as best I could and get food somewhere, and then, I supposed, if I were being looked for, I should be taken, and that would be the end of all.

But I would not be caught, I thought, with the notes upon me, at any rate. So I tied them tightly up in my pocket handkerchief, and limping painfully to about a hundred yards away, thrust the bundle deeply into a crevice between two big rocks.

CHAPTER III.—THE STRANGER.

The day seemed endless, but when darkness came at last, so great was my nervous tension that I burst into tears. I sobbed as I had not sobbed since my childhood days, and then, utterly worn out and spent, I sank into the sleep of pure exhaustion and the whole world was blotted out.

The sun was well up when I awoke, and I awoke to find a man watching me.

For the moment I thought it was only the breaking of a dream and waited for the man to fade away, but he smiled gravely at me, and I knew he was real.

I went sick with fear. The man was sitting on a rock not five paces from me, and he was nonchalantly smoking a cigarette. He was a man about middle age and had a pleasant face, with big, calm, grey eyes. He was clean shaven, with a strong chin and a firm humorous mouth. He was dressed in a shabby, well-worn suit.

I sprang tottering to my feet, and grabbing up my rifle pointed it directly at him.

But he appeared to be in no wise concerned. He remained seated, and just carelessly nicked the ashes from his cigarette.

"Tut, tut!" he said lightly, "there are no cartridges in it. I've emptied the magazine." He frowned. "But never point a rifle at anyone, my friend, unless you mean to shoot. It's clownish and the action of a fool, and you ought to know it."

"But who are you?" I gasped hoarsely. "And what do you want. What are you doing here?"

"Three questions, young sir," he laughed; "and you ask them, like a woman, all at once." His voice became grave. "I'm just a friend, whom Chance or Fate or Providence, or just sheer cussedness, whichever you will, has sent to give you help. Now, now," he went on sternly, "put down your rifle and have some sense. If my intentions had been unfriendly I could have clubbed you hours ago as you lay asleep. Besides, I've been watching you now, on and off, for the greater part of two days, and last night, particularly, I had my eyes upon you." He waved round his arm. "My own bivouac's not two hundred yards away behind those rocks, and I wonder you haven't smelt the wood of my fire before now."

"But what did you watch me for?" I asked still hoarsely, "and who told you I wanted help?"

He took the cigarette out of his mouth. "My friend," he said quietly, and there was no mistaking the kindness in his tones, "I watched you because anyone would naturally be curious about anyone else who came to a desolate spot like this; and as to your requiring help—well!" he shrugged his shoulders, "physically you are a wreck and mentally, too; save that your sleep has now done you some good, you are not in a much better way." He smiled sadly. "From my knowledge of life you are in trouble. I heard you crying last night, and tears in a man spring generally from a deeper source than mere bodily fatigue." He spoke quite casually. "I shall be pleased to help you if I can, and, believe me, I have no axe to grind. I am no spy and——" he smiled whimsically, "I'm not connected with the police."

I caught my breath sharply and steadied myself to speak. "Police!" I said slowly. "What do you mean by that?"

He looked at me very gravely. "There was one cartridge missing from the magazine—your rifle has not been cleaned since it was last fired—you have bloodstains down the front and upon one sleeve of your coat—you have come a long and unexpected journey, for you have come unprovided with food, you have motored part of the way, for you have grease on your face and hands, you have hairs from a bay horse on your breeks, and, lastly, your boots are scratched all over from long tramping through the salt-bush." He smiled whimsically again. "So I deduce that you must have had urgent reasons to make you come hurriedly to this wild range where, year in, year out, no one comes. Therefore you are here to hide."

I had listened with horror to his recital. So it was so easy, after all, for everything to be found out, so impossible to escape when suspicion had been once aroused!

But the man before me must have read something of what was passing in my mind, for he lifted up a hand as if in protest and went on at once.

"But don't think, please, that everyone would see what I see, or imagine either what I imagine." He smiled as if he were very pleased with himself. "It is a hobby of mine to be inquisitive everywhere, and I have trained myself to observe. I am a pupil of a great master, the great detective, Gilbert Larose."

I felt dazed and giddy and a dreadful mist rose up before my eyes. Oh! into what a hornet's nest I had fallen, and what ghastly misfortune had overtaken me now! This man, a friend of Larose, and Larose the last of all men of whom I wanted to hear! Larose, the superman in the detection of crime, the greatest detective the Commonwealth had ever known, the man who would follow his prey to the end of the earth if need be, and to whom no trail was ever cold.

"Yes," went on the stranger, "I have learnt everything from this Larose, I have——"

But I heard no more. Coming upon the fatigue and privations I had so recently been through, my emotions were too much for me, and I swooned away.

It was nearly an hour, I learnt afterwards, before I finally came to. I and was able to look about me and take an intelligent interest in my surroundings, and then I found I was no longer in the spot where I had lost consciousness, but had been carried to the stranger's bivouac.

Stretched upon a blanket, I was lying before a fire in a small, clear space upon the mountain side, with all the impedimenta of a comfortable and even luxurious little camp about me. Behind, and on two sides rose big rooks shutting off all view in those directions, but in front a magnificent vista of the plain below rolled before me.

Not ten yards away a strip of canvas was stretched across two rocks, and to my astonishment there was a horse tethered underneath.

The strange man who had interfered so masterfully in my affairs was close near me too. He was busy stirring the contents of a saucepan upon the fire, but he looked up presently and caught my eye.

"That's right," he said smilingly, "a cup or two of hot soup and you'll feel a hundred times better. It's food you want and plenty of it. You look half starred to me."

A little later I was certainly much more myself, and I reclined propped up against a rock, curiously regarding my companion.

"Yes," he said, "it was very thoughtless of me, and I ought to have given you a drink and something to eat, before I started telling you what a clever fellow I was, but I didn't realise then how really weak you were." He looked at his watch. "But I must leave you now for a couple of hours. I've got a little matter on hand." He came close and regarded me very gravely. "But, look here," he said solemnly, "set your mind straight away at rest upon one point. I give you my word of honor that no one shall know through me that you are here, and, more than that, when you have gone from here, I promise you it shall be as if you had never been. I will never speak of you, and so far as any mention of you, you will have completely passed out of my mind. I take this attitude because I regard you as my guest, and, besides, you don't look like a bad man to me." He laughed lightly. "And I don't want any confidence, either, that you may feel disinclined to give. I only mentioned about helping you because I am a much older man than you are, and——" he hesitated a moment—"and in my life's work I am brought into contact with many stricken souls."

I spoke with an effort. "I'm very grateful to you, sir," I said weakly, "but I'm afraid I've given you a lot of trouble."

"No trouble at all, my boy," he said; "and now I'm off for the present. Oh, by-the-by, there's no mystery at all about what I'm here for. I'm after a pair of eagles that are doing a lot of damage to some lambs. No, I'm not in sheep myself," he smiled, "but I've an interest in a station near-by and being on holiday, I've promised to do my best to get the birds." He shook his head. "But I haven't had any luck yet, although I've seen them several times. Their eyrie is in this end of the range right enough, and I think I know, too, where they go for water, now. But, unfortunately, they spot me long before I spot them, and I get no chance with the rifle. However, I've got a new idea, and the next twenty-four hours may see something happen." He untethered his horse and began to lead it away. "Well, don't worry. Just take things easy, and if you feel inclined for anything more to eat before I come back, help yourself to anything you can find."

I lay back and closed my eyes with a beautiful feeling of contentment stealing over me. I felt like some storm-tossed vessel that had come safely into harbor. I had found a friend, for although I knew nothing about this man, he instinctively inspired confidence, and I had absolute trust in his word.

I dropped off to sleep presently, a long, refreshing sleep, and the sun was well off one side of the mountain when I awoke.

I felt much better, and got up at once to replenish the fire. The wind was coming from the south now, and at the elevation where we were there was a chilling feeling in the air. I took a long drink of water from the big water bag, and then, feeling hungry, I looked round, as my host had suggested, for something to eat.

I reached for a biscuit tin across some other tins, and in doing so upset one of the latter. The lid falling off, I saw that it contained a few apples and some grapes. Hesitating a moment in my choice, I selected one of the apples, and then, with a handful of biscuits, returned to the fire. But the fire was burning badly, and for a few minutes I had to coax it to function at all. At last, however, I got it to a blaze, and then, with a sigh of satisfaction turned to my biscuits and the apple. I proceeded to eat the biscuits first, and was just on my second one, when I heard the sound of the stranger returning.

"Hullo!" he called out genially as he turned the corner. "Feeling better, eh? I thought you would. No, I've had no luck with the eagles yet, but I've got a bit of luck in another way," and he held out a fine big hare for my inspection. "Now, it isn't cold yet, and we'll put it in the pot straightaway. Then it won't be tough. It's just the thing that you want."

He jumped off his horse and then noticed for the first time the biscuits I had taken. "That's right," he said. "I am glad you foraged for yourself. I was away much longer than I intended or you wouldn't——" A startled look came into his face. "But where did you get that apple from?"

"From one of the tins there underneath the biscuits," I replied. "I happened to knock the lid off and saw there were apples and grapes there, shouldn't I——"

But with a hurried exclamation be stepped forward and kicked the apple fiercely from my side.

"Don't touch it," he said sharply. "Don't touch it again, even with your hand." He stood over me and regarded me with a grim smile. "Your luck's in, my friend," he went on, "and what ever you may have done, you're not going to suffer for it, evidently. That apple's poisoned, and those grapes, too. I put strychnine in them this morning, with gloved hands. They're for those eagles I was telling you about." He drew in his breath "Good God! But what an escape you've had."

I felt a horrid feeling in my stomach, and I regarded my hands as something unpleasant in their way.

"Yes, go and wash them," said the stranger, "in that bucket over there." He frowned angrily "But what a jape I was. It's inexcusable my not thinking to warn you."

"Well, never mind, sir," I smiled shakily, "I'll take it as a good omen, as you say."

It was quite a merry meal that we had that evening, and I saw my strange friend in a most attractive light. I soon found that he was a highly educated and well-travelled man of the world, and had thought out for himself his views of life. So entertaining was he and so inspiring was his conversation that long before the meal was over, I had thrown off all feelings of depression and when so inclined, was disagreeing with him in a spirited and animated way.

"You had me at a disadvantage this morning," I laughed, "but I'm not going to agree with you in everything you say now."

"I don't want you to," he laughed back, "although I think you are quite wrong when you ascribe everything to Fate. Fate is the excuse of the weak man when he has failed. The strong makes his fate for himself." He looked at me thoughtfully. "But I admit our actions in this world and our line of conduct during all our lives, are to a very large degree determined before we are born. As we are bred, as our parents have made us, and as to a greater or a lesser degree they have endowed us with their dispositions—so we are born good or so we are born bad. The handicap is too great to be overcome and the men born cruel and the men born kind, no matter what their education and environment may be, cruel and kind they will remain until the end."

"So you are only being kind to me now," I laughed, "because you can't help it. It is no merit on your part?"

The stranger shrugged his shoulders. "Boiled down to nothing, it means that in everything we all try to do exactly what we want to. Confronted with a certain opportunity, I resist temptation whereas you fall to it, but—we both derive a like amount of satisfaction from our actions. I give myself as much pleasure in resisting the temptation as you do in yielding to it. We both please ourselves." He laughed. "But come, you're an invalid and no more arduous disputations to-night. As your spiritual adviser, I insist on your going to rest."

The next morning and it was only faintly light when I heard the stranger stirring and putting on his boots.

"Don't get up yet," he whispered when he saw me leaning upon my elbow, "and don't make a fire until its quite light. I'm going off to lay my baits. I shan't be long this time, less than an hour."

But I felt so much better that directly he had gone I rolled myself out of my blanket and watched him down the mountain side. He led his horse part of the way and then the incline becoming much easier, he mounted and cantered briskly away. I watched him through my glasses until he had become a mere speck in the distance, and then he abruptly disappeared.

I got up and walked about to keep myself warm. The air was chilly and I was glad when the sun came out. I kindled a fire and put the kettle on to boil for coffee.

Yes, I certainly felt much better. I was still stiff and sore, but the terrible feeling of lassitude had left me and I no longer ached in every limb. Mentally, too, I felt much brighter, and although there was unpleasant qualms in the pit of my stomach whenever my mind harked back to the events of the preceding days, still I was no longer without hope, and indeed, had already begun elaborating plans to slip through the meshes of the net that I believed to be surrounding me.

The stranger was back as he had promised, well within the hour, and we breakfasted without much conversation, together.

The meal finished, and he drew me to the open side of the mountain.

"Now we must have a quiet morning," he said. "I'm hoping to get those birds to-day before noon." He pointed with his arm down across the plain. "You see that brown smudge there against the red earth, about three miles away. Well, that's the wall of a dam and there's still water in it, although it's very low. That's where my birds have been coming for a drink lately and both times when I have spotted them, they have come before noon. They were there both yesterday and the day before. I've seen their imprints in the mud. Well I've put the poisoned fruit there. I've artistically stuffed the skin of that hare we ate last night with earth to draw their attention first, and then when they swoop down, I'm hoping they'll go for the grapes. I remember throwing grapes to the eagles in the Zoo, as a boy and they ate them up quickly then, right enough."

He took a pair of powerful Zeiss glasses from their case. "Now, if you'll oblige me, well watch by turns this morning. The birds I am sure are both over seven feet from wing to wing, but that's a deuced small mark at three miles. I'm hoping, however, they'll fly along the range here towards the dam, and if so, we'll be able to pick them up easily enough with the naked eye. We must keep quiet, however, and lie close to the rocks, for they are darned suspicious birds, and anything out of the ordinary may send them off on a different course altogether for their water."

I got out my own little glasses and we lay down close together and conversed in low tones.

"A foul business altogether this strychnine," he said presently, "and I hate to think that I had to put it down." He sighed heavily. "Just imagine what's going to happen to those majestic birds if my plans succeed and what an awful thing to them the few grains of those white crystals will mean. Free, vibrant and pulsating with life, their kingdom these beautiful blue skies and—in less than two minutes they will pass through gates of agony to become nothing but a heap of rumpled feathers and carrion flesh." He shook his head sadly. "There is nothing more regal in all the world than the sight of an eagle, nothing more symbolic of power than the proud disdainful sweep of their wings, and yet, I—I am to destroy all this grandeur and humble all this majesty—for a small matter of pounds, shillings and pence. Put crudely, they are killing our lambs and so lessening the profits of our station."

He seemed anxious to put himself right and went on, "Of course, there is another side to it. It's a ghastly business when they get among the lambs. They inflict dreadful agony then, and the suffering is terrible."

There was silence for a few minutes and then suddenly he spoke again.

"Ever seen a poison cart used, young man," he asked, "when we are after the rabbits, when they've got too numerous and are eating up the feed?"

I shook my head. "No, but I've heard it's none too good."

"None too good!" he replied warmly, "why its fiendish. Look here. A plough is drawn along making a single furrow and a little cart behind drops a ball of poisoned meal into the furrow at regular intervals. The poison is of a most diabolic kind, phosphorous. It burns up the insides of the rabbits—burns them up slowly and sometimes takes a couple of hours to kill. The squealing of the poor creatures is terrible." He shuddered. "It shames my humanity to think that phosphorous is used but there—" he hesitated a moment, "it's the only effective poison and it's our welfare or theirs."

For two hours we lay talking, with no appearance of the eagles on the horizon, and then suddenly he grabbed my arm. "Look, there they are," he whispered in tones of great excitement, "and they'll come close by, too. Now whatever you do, don't stir."

In two minutes at most the huge birds were right before us flying with slow languid strokes and yet speeding with great swiftness through the air. They flew one closely behind the other, and I imagined I could see their cruel heads sweeping round to glimpse their prey.

"They're making for the dam," whispered my companion. "Keep your glasses steady and focus them upon the wall. It'll be decided one way or the other very quickly now," and there was a look of anxiety on his face that I had not seen before.

In a magnificent swoop the eagles swept down. They circled twice over the dam and then they both dived together and disappeared.

"They saw the hare," whispered the stranger, "and now's the critical moment." He took out his watch and spoke with a tremor in his voice. "I give them five minutes and then—then if they don't rise up again, they're dead. The strychnine will kill in two minutes."

One—two—three—four—five minutes passed and then with a quick movement he lowered his binoculars and thrust them into their case.

"They're dead," he said laconically, "their sufferings are over now," and without another word he untethered his horse and led him round the rocks.

I watched him down the mountain and all the way towards the dam, and I imagined there was a reluctance with each yard that he progressed the nearer to his goal. He was only out of sight for a few minutes and then he reappeared. I saw that he had got the eagles with him. His return to the mountain, as I told him later, was like a funeral march, and there was no elation on his face when I greeted him.

"I feel like a murderer, my friend," he said, "and, as I expected, I gave them a horrible death."

He laid the birds down and spread their wings out to take the measurement from tip to tip. They were magnificent creatures, and both exceeded by several inches the seven feet that he had expected. Even in death they retained something of their grim majesty, but I shuddered to think of the havoc their cruel beaks and dreadful talons could inflict.

The stranger spent the best part of the afternoon in preparing the skins, and alternatively watched his skilful fingers and his strong masterful face. Speculating idly, I tried to place his occupation in life, but with no satisfaction, although I was convinced he was a master in whatever calling his work lay.

Presently he looked up and caught my eye, then he smiled as if he had read my thoughts.

"We don't know much about each other, do we?" he said, "and we've both shown a lot of trust?"

"You, more than I," I replied, and I shrugged my shoulders, "that is if I'm anything like what you think."

"Which means?" he frowned. "What do you imagine, I think?"

"Well," I said slowly, "you have befriended a man whom you as good as said you believe to be a fugitive from the law, a criminal in fact. And you have let that man have the run of your camp and have slept by him when you knew he had a rifle and the cartridges to load it, too."

"Pooh!" he laughed lightly, "you are no criminal, except perhaps, upon great provocation or upon the lightning temptation of some unhappy chance, and in both these respects——" he sighed deeply, "if the provocation or the temptation were great enough, we might all fall."

"But you think I've done something wrong," I urged.

"Oh, yes," he replied instantly; "I'm sure of it, and I think, also, you're mighty remorseful about it, too. For two pins the other night you'd have blown your brains out. That's why I took your cartridges away."

I made no comment for a few moments, and then I spoke huskily and with a lump in my throat.

"I'd like to tell you something of what happened, sir," I said slowly, "and you might advise me, if you would."

"All right," he said lightly, "but you needn't mention any names."

"But I don't know any," I replied, shaking my head. "One of the dreadful things is, I don't know any of the people who are involved."

"Well, let's hear," he said. "You needn't necessarily particularise, you can just give me the general outline, if you prefer."

It was quite a minute before I spoke, and then my words came quickly and without any hesitation. I wanted to get it over.

"Three days ago," I said, "by chance I saw two men commit a dreadful murder, and then rob the man they had killed. I saw everything too late to interfere, but afterwards I followed one of the murderers and meted out the same punishment to him. I shot him. I had to do it or he would have killed me. Then I lost my head and myself robbed the spoiler of his gains. Then, I fled away, not realising what I had done until it was too late to return and put things right. Now, it seems I may be held responsible for the crime these men committed, and I may not be able to clear myself if I am caught. At any rate, I am a thief." A catch came into my voice. "Can you wonder then at the distress that I am in?"

But the stranger seemed suddenly to have become a different man. All the light and careless bonhomie had slipped off him, and he sat up stiffly, and regarded me with stern, cold eyes.

"And you deliberately killed one of the murderers," he said slowly, "upon the scene of his own crime?"

"No, not upon the scene," I replied. "Some hundreds of yards away, quite half a mile, I should think."

"And you killed him?" asked the stranger, "because he attacked you?"

"No," I explained, "but I had followed him to a lonely place among the saltbush, and I had told him that I had seen what he had done."

"And what did he say?"

"He didn't say anything. He never spoke. I never heard his voice. But I saw he was going to spring upon me, and so I shot him at once."

"And no one was by you when you shot him?"

"No, it was a very lonely place. So lonely that I don't suppose his body will be ever found. It lies in a little hollow in the salt-bush, far away off any track."

"But the other man?" raid the stranger sharply. "You said there were two."

I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't know where he went. He ran off in a different direction, towards Whyalla, directly they had committed the murder. He never saw me. He doesn't even know that I exist."

"And the man they murdered," came the next question, "will it be known about him. Will his body be found?"

The sweat burst on my forehead in the remembrance of it all. "Oh! yes," I said bitterly, "he died on the open track, mid-way between Port Augusta and Port Lincoln, and by now, if we only knew, every policeman in South Australia is looking for the murderer."

"How did they kill him?"

"With the jack of his motor car," I explained, "and a heavy spanner. They were passengers in the car with him, and it had broken down. I was watching in the scrub."

"How did you happen to be there?"

"I am on my holiday, and I was touring on a motor cycle. My machine had broken down, and I was leaving it hidden in the scrub until I could return with a new valve to make it all right."

There was silence for a moment, and then the stranger rapped out——

"You saw them rob the murdered man?"

"Yes, I saw the man I killed take his wallet."

The next question came at me with the swiftness of a bullet.

"And you followed him because of that, because you knew that he had what the murder had been done for?"

"No, no," I protested. "I never thought of it. I think I went after him because when I ran up to the murdered man, I saw the head had been cloven nearly in two with the jack and he was the one I had seen use it. I was furious."

"And did the man see you coming after him?"

"No; he ran on until he came to this little hollow, and then he stopped there to open the wallet. When I came upon him he was counting a wad of bank notes that it had contained."

"And then?"

"I shot him as I have told you."

"And at once took the notes?"

I shook my head, "No, not at once," I said. "It hadn't then entered my mind. I was dazed at having killed him, and stood over him as if I were in a dream. Then I saw a bank note for a hundred pounds lying on the ground. I didn't take in anything for a moment, and then I realised the note must be one he had dropped when he had hurriedly thrust the wad into his pocket when he first caught sight of me. Then it came to me like lightning that perhaps all the other notes were of a one hundred pounds' value, too, and, if so—then it was a fortune he had upon him." I sighed and shrugged my shoulders. "Then I had no thoughts for anything but the notes. I took them off him and within two minutes was running away."

"And the value of the notes—what did it amount to?"

"Eighteen hundred and fifty pounds." I replied. "They are hidden in the rocks, close near where you found me the other day."

"And what kind of men were these assassins?" asked the stranger.

"The man I killed was well dressed, he wasn't a working man."

"And the other one—should you recognise him?"

I shook my head again. "Hardly. I'm not quite sure. I didn't see him close enough." I hesitated. "But I seem to remember now that he was slim and dark, and wore a blue suit. Also, it keeps coming back to me, that he ran in a peculiarly restrained kind of way, as if he knew he had a long journey before him, and was conserving his strength."

For a long time then, there was silence, and then the stranger turned to me and spoke in a very quiet tone of voice.

"Well, I'm glad you've been frank with me," he said, "although your story is a very much worse one than I expected to hear." He sighed heavily. "But, come, let's try and put things in their proper perspective, and see what we can do." He looked at me very solemnly. "Now, I'm not prepared to blame you about the man you killed, and if your interference had stopped there it would certainly have been praise rather than blame you would have earned. From all you tell me, it would have been a service you had been rendering to the community, and apart from that, through the identification of the one murderer which would have followed, undoubtedly the identity of the second might have been known. Well, so much for that, but now about the money you took from the dead man." A note of sternness crept into his voice. "Of course, you did very wrong, and as you've realised now yourself, it was a criminal act." His face brightened a little. "Still, to anyone who takes a broad and human view of the matter, there are explanatory circumstances that put things in a much less criminal light. When you took those notes, as I look at it, you were in an atmosphere of lawlessness, and your own actions were perhaps only responding automatically, as it were, to the environment. You had seen dreadful murder done—you had been in peril from violence, and you had taken life yourself. Everything about you was abnormal, and it is quite understandable, in the emotional stress you were in at the moment that you should have acted as you did. Mind you, I am not condoning your action—I am explaining it with the intention of taking away something of the sharpness of the sting that I know you feel. When you have made restitution, which, of course, you will do at the first opportune moment——" he paused, as if to let his words weigh in—"I would not hold you as a worse man that if you had never taken the notes at all."

He smiled kindly. "Well, what are you going to do now? That's what we must consider." He hesitated a moment. "You see the sad aspect of everything is that if you are brought into a court of law over this, there is no doubt you will have ruined your life. I don't suppose, of course, if you make a clean breast of everything that any severe sentence will be imposed upon you. Allowance will certainly be made for all the circumstances I have mentioned, and the suddenness of the temptation that assailed you will be taken into account, but, still—still, you will suffer a great deal in other ways. Your friends will drop you, your reputation will be gone, and if you are working for any firm or employer you will certainly be sent away. You see that, of course, don't you?"

"Oh, yes," I replied miserably. "I've thought of all that." And then I smiled grimly. "I work in a bank."

The stranger started. "A bank!" he exclaimed. "Good gracious, it couldn't be worse."

For a moment we stared solemnly at each other, and then suddenly some strange fancy struck us both at the same moment, and we both burst into a hearty laugh.

"A bank!" the stranger choked, "and you purloining eighteen fifty in notes. Oh! how interested the customers would be!"

A minute later, however, and we were serious again. "Well, sir," I said, "you see the trouble I am in. To free myself from participation in one crime, I must confess to another."

The stranger looked very thoughtful. "But, why," he said slowly, "should they happen upon you at all? What is there to suggest to anyone that you were near the scene of the murder?"

"The number-plates upon my motor cycle," I said grimly. "They will pick me up at once through them."

"Ah!" ejaculated the stranger, "I understand. That looses the avalanche then."

"Yes," I explained, "the machine is barely a hundred and fifty yards away in the scrub, and directly they search——"

"But why should they search?" he interrupted suddenly. "They won't expect the perpetrators of the crime to have been hiding a hundred and fifty yards away from the car."

"Then, you don't think!" I said hopefully, "that they'll search the surrounding scrub?"

"No, I don't," he replied. "I don't——" He stopped abruptly, and, then, in a moment, went on in a very different tone of voice. "Unless they get Larose." He shook his head. "Larose thinks of everything."

A long silence followed. I felt there was nothing more for me to tell, and I waited anxiously for what he would say. But he seemed in no hurry to speak again. Instead, he was looking out across the plain, and there was no particular expression upon his face. It was calm, placid, and emotionless as that of a graven image.

At last, however, he turned.

"How old are you?" he asked, and his voice was very gentle.

"Twenty-four," I replied.

"My son was that age," he said musingly, "when I lost him in the war. He was something like you, too, and that is why I think I wanted to help you yesterday." He smiled sadly. "He was all I had, that boy of mine, and when he went, all the bottom dropped out of my life. Now—now my line will end with me, and there will be no blood of mine in the hands that close my eyes. I shall die alone."

Again, there was silence, and then he laughed lightly. "But I apologise. I am telling you of my troubles instead of dealing with your own. Now what advice can I give you?" A humorous smile lit up his face. "It is a strange position for me to be in. If I advise you as I feel inclined to, I'm compounding a felony."

"You don't advise me when to give myself up?" I asked.

The lines of his face grew grave and stern. "Look here, my boy," he said slowly, and he fixed me with his calm, grey eyes, "lest we should ever meet again, we must promise each other solemnly now, never, under any circumstances, to betray that we have spoken together on this wild mountain side. Never to remember that we have talked together as man to man; never to remember that we have ever seen each other. You understand?"

"Yes, sir," I replied, "and I promise."

"Well," he said, he spoke briskly and in a businesslike tone, "this is my advice. Give your good fortune a run. Make restitution at the earliest possible moment, and then do your best to keep yourself out of the mess. Take your courage in your hands, remembering that the coward never wins. If you are in danger—well to a brave man danger is always the incentive to triumph and overcome. Weakness is always the unpardonable sin." He stretched out his arm and pointed out across the plain. "There lies the track to Adelaide, take it tomorrow and make haste whilst the going's good. I don't think for a moment that they will have found your motor cycle yet."

We talked for a long time over our camp fire that night and as far as my own affairs were concerned our conversation was of an intimate nature. The stranger showed his interest in everything I told him and over and over again was insistent that I was wasting my life.

"You've no go in you," he said laughing, "and you'll miss all the good things. The plums on the tree are for the climber and not for the lazy one who loafs upon the ground."

I say our conversation was intimate, but it was intimate only as far as I myself was concerned. He told me absolutely nothing about himself and with all his free and easy manner, and with all his absence of side, there was still something about him that made the very idea of questioning him, to me, a matter of the grossest impertinence.

"Well, to-morrow, we'll both go on our own ways again," he said at last, "and so we'll have a drink now to our mutual good fortune. It's going to be bitter to-night and I'll give you a little rum to keep out the cold."

Almost the moment then that I wrapped myself in my blanket it seemed to me that I dropped to sleep. I slept heavily too, and remembered nothing until the daylight was strong and the sun even hot upon my face. Then I awoke with a start and sat up quickly.

I was quite alone.

Yes, there was no sign anywhere of the stranger and all the equipment of his camp was gone, too. The fire was, however, burning brightly and a billy-can of coffee standing there ready to be boiled.

I jumped up at once and ran to look down over the plain but all the wide expanse was empty. My companion had completely disappeared.

I returned to the fire with an aggrieved feeling at my heart. So, he had not trusted me after all. He had gone off secretly so that I should not learn in which direction he was going.

Then I saw a sheet of paper pinned to the blanket which I had thrown off and I comforted myself at once that at any rate he had left me a message of farewell.

"My friend," I read, "forgive me if I made your sleep a little heavier than it should have been, but it is best we should part with the conversation of last night to remain the last memory in our minds. Courage—have courage and all may yet be well. Hope for, and expect victory. Go back to your life a conqueror, but if through mischance the battle goes against you, comfort yourself—I may come to your help again. But remember—remember your promise. Burn this."

I read the note carefully three tunes and was about to commit it to the flames when I noticed some writing on the reverse side of the paper.

"For goodness sake, shave yourself," it ran. "You look worse than an assassin with all that beard. I would have left you my razor but I saw you had one in your kit. Good-bye."

I laughed in amusement and then drew myself up and threw out my chest. "Good," I said grimly. "Then if I am to live under the shadow of the sword I will enjoy my life until the sword falls. I will take risks and go down fighting to the end."

CHAPTER IV.—THE GAMBLER'S CHANCE.

After a good shave and dusting my clothes and making myself as respectable-looking as possible I set off about noon at a smart pace down the mountain side.

I had put away my fears, and it was just in my mind that I was setting forth upon some new adventure. I had steeled myself to expect the worst, and therefore, if anything but the worst happened was prepared to return thanks and be truly grateful. But at the same time I was determining that the worst should not happen, and with every ounce of resource in me, was prepared to meet every move of my enemies with a better one.

The first thing, I told myself, was to establish an alibi. It must never be able to be proved that I had been upon the Port Augusta—Port Lincoln track at all. I must double back to Adelaide somehow, get out my push bicycle and trek off somewhere to the south for the rest of my holiday. Then I would make out I had been south all the time, and knew nothing of these northern tracks. If they traced the motor cycle back to me then I must say that it had been stolen from Teddy's garage the very day after I had bought it, when I was out at lunch, and that I had been so sick of the rotten thing that I had not troubled to inform the police. No one that I was aware of had seen me with the motor cycle except those painters on the lorry, and they had had so brief a glimpse of me that they would surely, I thought, be unable to identify me, even, indeed, if called upon to do so.

Yes, I must get back to the city at once, but my journey should not be by the direct way. I would avoid Port Augusta like the plague, and would cut across country about fifty miles, and take the train from Orroroo, instead. Then no one at Port Augusta would have seen me, and I should be safe at all events from identification there.

So I comforted myself, and with brisk and swinging steps made my way over the plains to cross the Adelaide track, hoping almost that my resource would be tried speedily and that adventure should come to me soon.

And indeed I had not long to wait.

I was making for the little township of Wendover, which, as the stranger had pointed out to me, was lying about twelve miles from the foot of the range, and right upon the Adelaide track. I was obliged to call in there, for I had to get provisions and cigarettes.

It was rather heavy going over the rough ground, but I kept up at a good four miles an hour, and it was about three o'clock when I reached the track. Wendover was then only about a couple of hundred yards away, and I was quite close to the little straggling line of houses that composed the township. I was just turning in their direction when suddenly I heard the sound of a motor car in the distance, and I ducked down behind a clump of bushes on the side of the track.

I had reasoned it all out, and people in motor cars, I was of opinion, were the ones most to be feared. They came from the city, and the city meant detectives and police and men of inquisitive minds.

The car passed within a few yards of me, and its passengers, I saw, were four burly men. Policemen all over they looked, and I was glad that I had hidden away.

I let them pass right through the township before I got up, and then seeing that the coast was quite clear I walked leisurely to locate the general Store.

The township was certainly a very small one, and there were only a dozen buildings at most, but they included, I saw, an inn and a motor garage with a kerbside petrol pump. In front of the garage a big motor lorry had evidently just finished refuelling, and the garage man and the driver had got their heads close together as if they were enjoying some good joke. The driver was leaning out of his seat, and the garage man had got one foot upon the lorry step. They both laughed heartily, and then the driver jerked his head in the direction of the little inn. The garage man nodded, and stepped on to the footboard, and the lorry gliding forward, in a few seconds came to rest behind a large hay cart that was standing just in front of the inn door. The two men then went inside.

I walked briskly forward to find the village store, when suddenly I heard a motor car again, and turning round saw to my dismay that it was the same one that had just passed me, coming back.

I was on the open road now, and this time there were no bushes to get behind, but I was exactly opposite to the garage, and seeing the door open after a moment's hesitation I walked boldly in. As an excuse, I thought I would ask for a refill for my electric torch.

But the garage, I found, was empty. It was only a one-room affair, and a glance told me that it was untenanted.

Congratulating myself upon my good luck, I crouched down behind the window and waited for the car to pass by, but to my horror on approaching the garage it slowed down and then pulled up directly opposite the door.

A man with an inner tube over his arm got out, and for a moment stood talking to the others inside.

I looked round in desperation. There was nowhere possible to hide. Half a dozen or so of empty packing cases standing by the wall, an untidy bench upon which were strewn a lot of greasy tools, a small cupboard about 3 ft. high, and that was all. Not room even for a cat to tuck itself away, much less a good-sized man.

Then suddenly I saw a dirty overall hanging upon a nail and an inspiration seized me. Off came my knapsack to be bundled down like lightning into one of the packing cases, with my coat following next in the twinkling of an eye. Then into the overalls I almost jumped, and picking up a dirty piece of cotton waste I ruffled up my hair and smutted over my face and was ready forthwith to receive customers.

I was only just in time, too, for the man with the inner tube came into the garage at the exact moment when I turned round. He was a stout, thickset man, and he fixed me with a pair of steely blue eyes.

"Want puncture mending," he said brusquely, "and look slippy, please. We're in a hurry."

With hands that I was proud to notice did not tremble, I took the inner tube that he held out and proceeded to examine it.

"The rubber's perishing," I said gruffly, not relishing the idea of having to mend a puncture when at any moment the garage man might return. "You want a new tube and I haven't got one this size in stock. You'll get it in Port Augusta."

The man glared at me malevolently. "Perishing, be damned." he sneered, "there's two or three thousand miles more in it yet. Vulcanise a patch on it, man." He jerked his head. "I'll take the risk."

I looked casually round to see where the vulcanising patches were kept, but searched no further, when I saw a new one-minute vulcanising outfit exposed for sale in the window. I got it out without any haste, and undoing the package proceeded to deal methodically with the puncture.

"You can't mistake it," growled the man, "there it is. I took a nail out of the tyre and marked the place at once."

Now I always flatter myself that I made a fairly neat job of that puncture. Although my nerves should really have been on tender-hooks the whole time, strangely enough they were not, and after the first shock was over, even a confident obsession held me that all would go well.

So I did not slur over my work in the slightest, and did not mind either the searching glances that I could feel my customer was putting over me while I worked.

Presently he spoke, and in a manner almost as if he were considering it his duty to cross-examine me.

"You're not the boss?" he said sharply.

"No," I replied, "he's out."

"I knew you weren't," and there was a sneer in his voice, "because you opened a new tin of those damned things, and there are plenty others, back on the bench."

"These ones are fresh," I said coldly. "We've had trouble with the others."

There was silence for a moment, and then he said curiously. "You keep your hands well, young fellow, for a motor mechanic."

"Have to," I replied. "I play the violin."

"Oh," he grunted, and then his next question was harsh and peremptory, and I sensed the true policeman touch.

"Seen any strangers about here lately?"

I pretended to be stupid. "Always seeing them," I replied. "We live on them. You're one."

"But a man on a motor cycle," he asked me, and I saw that he was frowning when I looked up, "on the afternoon or evening of Wednesday last."

A feeling of delightful warmth surged up into my heart. So they had not found my bicycle obviously, and I was safe as yet!

"Not that I remember," I replied offhandedly, "but I've no doubt plenty passed."

At last the tube was finished, and I handed it over with a laconic "Three and sixpence, please." I was anxious for him to go. My good fortune had been splendid up to now, but with every minute the danger was becoming the more pressing, and I was unwilling to tempt fate even a second longer than I could help.

But indeed he might as well have been in co-operation with me, too, for with just a curt nod, he handed over the money, and with the tube over his shoulder returned to the car.

The car moved off before even he had closed the door, and in less then half a minute it was disappearing down the road in a cloud of dust.

I wiped the sweat from my forehead with the back of my hand.

"Whew!" I exclaimed. "Comedy instead of tragedy after all. But what an escape! He was a policeman right enough."

Swiftly I peeled off the dirty overall and restored it to its proper nail. Then I resumed my coat and knapsack, and as a last thought, repacked the one minute vulcanised outfit and returned it to the window. For a moment I was in two minds about leaving the three and six behind, but then realising that the presence of the money would only create mystery, and raise speculation, I kept it in my pocket and stepped blithely out into the road. There was no one in sight, and I made once more for the general store.

I drew level with the motor lorry, and the bright crimson color of its body-work caught my eye. It was obviously new, and looked indeed as if it had just come out of the factory. "Canaway, Furniture Remover, Burnside-road, Adelaide," I read on the side, and then my heart almost stopped beating.

"Burnside-road, Adelaide!" I ejaculated, and I could hardly get my breath. Why that was where the Binks' house was, and the lorry had got its bonnet turned towards the city! It was going back there. What if I bargained for a lift?

I looked over into the back of the lorry. It was empty save for a pile of hessian and a couple of big tarpaulin sheets.

My heart beat furiously now. Why bargain for a lift? I could slip under the pile of hessian and return unseen to the city, an uninvited passenger. Oh, what a piece of luck if I were quick enough! The lorry was behind the haycart, and out of view of both the windows and the door of the inn.

I vaulted over the side and in two seconds had slipped like an eel under the hessian.

Then I held my sides and rocked with suppressed laughter. It had all been so easy, and it was too funny for words. Yes, as the stranger had said, the plums of life were for the climber, and I—the tears came into my eyes—I had just climbed into the lorry. Truly, life was a jest.

I calmed down after a few moments, and taking stock of my position, proceeded to make myself as comfortable as possible. There was a long journey before us. I laughed again at the word 'us.' It was 225 miles at least to the city, and I should get a terrible jolting on the way. So I tucked as much of the hessian under me as I thought safe, and making a pillow of my blanket, prepared to wait patiently for my chauffeur.

And I had not long to wait, either. Hardly had I settled myself down to the right position when I heard the sounds of laughter and the springs of the lorry quivered as a heavy person, evidently, jumped on to the driver's seat.

"Well, good-bye my lad," I heard a jovial voice say. "Those tales of yours are as good as any I've heard in the city. But where you get 'em from, I can't think. That one about the soldier and the girl was a stunner. Ha! ha! ha! But you're a nice prize packet for a little hole like this. They ought to chain you up. Well, be a good boy, sonny. I mustn't stop another moment now. What's the time you say? Nearly five past four! Cripes, and I've got to strike the great smoke by midnight, and there's a hell of a way to go. But the old bus'll go like hell, too, when I step on the juice. Good-bye, old cock, good-bye," and the car glided off, and the second part of my adventure had begun.

Now, under any circumstances that journey back to the city would have been a tiring one, but I am quite sure it was not nearly as tiring as I had expected it would have been under the circumstances. Before we had gone a hundred yards I realised that the lorry was beautifully sprung, and with the thick rolls of hessian for a cushion I really didn't feel the jolting very much. Also the driver was undoubtedly a good one, and from the rate of speed he maintained nearly all the time he must have had some sure knowledge of the track.

The jovial rascal called at four places before reaching the city, and as the car proceeded quicker and quicker after each stop I was inclined to believe that upon each occasion liquid refreshment had been taken in. At the last stop quite an amusing thing happened.

He had been gone from the lorry for only about two minutes and I was taking advantage of the stillness to try and doze off, when suddenly I was startled to feel the hessian being disturbed above me, and a moment later a hard object was thrust abruptly into the small of my back. I had difficulty in preventing myself from crying out and waited tremblingly for what was going to happen next. But, all that did happen was that I felt the driver jump back on to the lorry and lurch into his seat, and then the car proceeded as before upon its furious way.

I waited a few moments and then cautiously explored to find out what had struck me in the back. Then to my amazement my hand came in contact with two bottles, and holding one of them up to my nose I was of the opinion that it contained beer. It was a screw-top bottle, too, and in less than a minute then I was gratefully drinking to the driver's health. It was cool and refreshing, and I gurgled with amusement in thinking how it had come about that I was drinking it, but I salved my conscience upon remembering that it had been bought unlawfully, 'after hours.'

In the last twenty miles or so, on a good bitumen road, we must have been breaking records every mile, and many times I fully expected the cemetery or the Adelaide Hospital would be receiving us next.

But, no—we reached the city without mishap, and the post-office clock was chiming midnight as we passed.

I crept out of my wrappings and strapping on my knapsack made ready to alight at the earliest possible moment. I felt stiff and sore, but a glorious elation thrilled me through. The stars were fighting for me, and I was escaping from the toils. My most sanguine expectations had been exceeded, and in a few hours, instead of days, I had passed altogether out of the danger zone.

Suddenly I felt the lorry slackening down, and looking out over the side I saw we were about to turn round a narrow corner. I prepared for a getaway at once. The brakes squeaked noisily, and at the same moment I dropped over the back of the lorry. With thankfulness in my heart I waved a grateful but unseen farewell to my alcoholic friend, and then he and his crimson conveyance went out of my life forever. I sighed to think how often the good deeds of the world go unrewarded.

I recognised the road I was in. I was not a quarter of a mile from the Bink's house, and in five minutes at most I had stolen up the drive and was unlocking the garage door.

Now I had at first been minded to spend the night in the garage and go openly upon my way in the early hours of the next morning, but a more adventurous idea had come into my mind. Fate had dealt so generously with me in the last few hours that I felt I should be an ingrate if I did not continue to exploit her favors to the full. So I determined I would make another night journey and go south to Victor Harbour before the dawn. The most fashionable watering place in South Australia, there were always, I knew, crowds of people visiting Victor Harbour in the summer months, and I could slip in among them, and camping on the shore, no one would have noticed how and when I had come.

Thus I could swear I had been there all the time, and my journey north could never be proved and would be known only to myself. The promise of the stranger I regarded as inviolate and I had no fear on that score.

So ten minutes later I was again upon the road and laboriously climbing into the Adelaide hills. It was fifty odd miles in a direct way to Victor Harbour, but I was not going to risk going by the South-road, the star road of South Australia and bituminous in its entire length, for it was occasionally in the summer months a festive highway at all hours of the twenty-four, and it was possible night revellers might see and perhaps remember meeting a solitary cyclist with his pack.

So I resolved to go by another way, a little longer one, but on roads which were not so frequented, and where, knowing the country as I did, I could make short cuts from time to time by unfrequented tracks.

It was a calm, still night, but there was a nip in the air that made it pleasant to go fast, so I sped quickly along, elaborating my plans as I went.

I was out to prepare an alibi, and I was determined to make that alibi as thoroughly as possible, so I went over in my mind every question that I thought was likely to be asked me.

Where had I gone the first day? Where had I pitched my camp, and from where had I got my food? Where had I gone the second day, where had I slept then, and so on and so on?

At half past four I was passing through the broad flat stretch of country that borders upon Lake Alexandrina. It was just beginning to get light, and I was keeping a sharp lookout for any signs of recent camping places by the side of the track. People often came there, I knew, after rabbits, and for the fishing too, which on the lake was very good.

Suddenly then I noticed a small ruined stone house about a hundred yards from the track, and I got off my machine at once and went to have a look inside. Only three of the walls were standing, and there was no roof, but I saw, as I half expected, that it had been used by campers, and pretty recently too.

Fires had been made, and with greasy and well-blackened lengths of fencing wire lying about I was sure that meat had been roasted. Indeed I saw what I took to be rabbit bones among the ashes. Also I noticed an empty beer bottle and an old salmon tin.

"Good," I said to myself, "then I camped here two nights and ate tinned salmon and roasted a rabbit. Also," I added, uncreasing a large brown paper bag that I had seen tucked away under a stone. "I brought some bread here from 'The Bakery,' of Strathalbyn," and I carefully tucked back the bag.

By this time I was beginning to feel desperately tired, but the vital importance of being in Victor Harbour by breakfast time still spurred me on, and I bent over the handle bars again like a convict upon the treadmill.

I noticed another camping place for myself under the arches of a bridge about ten miles farther on, and the humor of it raised my spirits, and for the time, at all events, put renewed vigor into my poor legs.

At seven o'clock I was within a mile of my destination, and slipping down over the low cliffs, I dragged off my garments and plunged into the sea.

It was wonderful what the dip did for me. A few minutes' splashing about, a quick, sharp swim, and all my fatigue had for the time being left me, and I felt no more tired than if I had been in bed all night.

I dressed again quickly, and then hiding my camping outfit under some bushes by the cliff, I mounted my bicycle again and rode down into the town.

I intended inviting myself to breakfast with the local manager of the branch of our bank there. I knew the chap, Frank Dowsett, pretty well. He was a very decent fellow, and would be glad to see me, I was sure. Coming along, I had thought that breakfast with him would clinch home my alibi in the most secure and decisive way.

Approaching the town I noticed at once that there were more people about than usual, even for that time of year, and then I saw flags and bunting displayed in the principal street.

"The regatta," I muttered. "I ought to have remembered that." An uneasy feeling stirred in me. "It'll be a public holiday in the town, and perhaps Dowsett will be away."

But I need not have worried myself. I found Dowsett was at home and heavily involved, too, in the abnormal happenings of the day. He was chairman of the sports committee and full of his importance, and he welcomed me with open arms.

I told him I was camping out among the cliffs, and as I intended he dragged me in at once to breakfast.

"Delighted, my boy," he said warmly when I told him I had called for a civilised meal, "and you shall have one of the best. You've come at a most opportune moment too, and I shall have a favor to ask you when your little Mary's full."

He was a bachelor and lived over the bank, and we at once sat down to an excellent breakfast. He was very interested in my camping holiday, which I briefly sketched out for him in a week of imaginary adventures upon the shores of Lake Alexandrina.

I was coming towards the end of my recital when there was a knock on the door and his housekeeper entered.

"Sergeant Trescowthick to see you, sir," she announced. "He says it is a matter of importance, but he will only keep you two minutes."

My heart sank into my boots—a sergeant of police of course; What the devil did it mean? They couldn't already have followed me there!

But there was not time given me to work myself into a turmoil for my host said instantly—-

"Show him in, Mrs. Jepps." He turned to me smilingly, "Don't worry, Edis. He's not after you, he's only come probably about the sports." He winked his eye. "I'm a big bug here to-day, with all the sports programme on my hands."

The door opened again, and a burly minion of the law entered, cap in hand. He frowned slightly when he saw me.

"This is a friend of mine, sergeant," explained Dowsett. "Mr. Charles Edis, he's one of my colleagues in our bank."

The sergeant's face brightened. "Oh! if he's in the bank that's all right. It doesn't matter speaking before him then." He assumed a cold judicial air. "Re that Hansen murder case, I've come to give you the numbers of some of the notes."

"Ah! they've been able to trace the numbers then, have they?" asked Dowsett interestedly. "That's good."

"But only three of them," said the sergeant, "three of the 100 pound ones." He passed over a small slip of paper. "This has just been sent down."

"R.13—77754—55—and 56," commented my friend. "Yes, we shall remember those all right. The three sevens will stick in our minds."

The sergeant turned towards the door. "Well, you'll keep an eye out, gentlemen, won't you, and let us know at once if anything turns up?"

"Too right!" said Dowsett. "It'll be a feather in anybody's cap to catch the murderer." He looked enquiringly at the sergeant. "But have you people got any clues yet?"

The sergeant pursed up his lips mysteriously. "Not that we can broadcast just at present, Mr. Dowsett, but——" he nodded his head grimly. "We've got our best men on the job, and something may be made known soon."

Dowsett left the door to see him out, and then I gasped out chokingly——

"Good God, but I've left the notes up in the mountain."

Yes, strange as it may seem, it had never entered into my mind until that moment that I had not retrieved the notes from the place when I had put them between those rocks. Indeed, I had forgotten all about having hidden them, and had not given them a further thought.

I had tramped those rough miles to Wendover, travelled all that way upon the motor lorry, broken my back almost upon that dreadful journey by push bike to Victor Harbour, and, the whole time the wherefor of all my troubles had as completely passed out of my mind as if it had never been.

My heart sank into my boots at the thought of the impossibility now of making speedy restitution.

I heard the front door shut, and then Dowsett returned to finish his interrupted breakfast.

"Heavy-minded men, the police," he remarked, with his mouth full of toast. "They've no imagination, and that's why they fail so often. There's only one man worth a curse in the Commonwealth and that's Gilbert Larose. He specialises in these lonely crimes, too, and they ought to get him over at once. He has a nose like a bloodhound on the desert tracks."

I affected an air of sudden interest. "But what's this murder the sergeant was talking about. Remember, I haven't seen a newspaper for a week."

Dowsett put down the cup he had been raising to his lips. "Good Lord!" he burst out, "and is there a man in all the State who hasn't heard of the Hansen murder by now?"

"But I've been out in the bush all the time," I protested, "and until I camped on the cliffs here yesterday have not been near a town. Tell me about the murder; what happened?"

Dowsett laid down his knife and fork. "Last Wednesday afternoon, about 4 o'clock," he began slowly, "on the Port Augusta-Port Lincoln track, Otto Hansen, a Port Pirie auctioneer, was murdered in his car and £1,850, the proceeds of a sale that afternoon in Cowell, taken from his dead body. He was beaten to death with a car jack, and an abortive attempt was made to burn the car afterwards. The affair took place on the loneliest part of the track, almost exactly 54 miles from Port Augusta, but, strangely enough, although the track is always a lonely one, the crime was discovered within a few minutes of its completion, and more strangely still, by two carloads of people who appeared upon the scene almost simultaneously, but coming from opposite directions. One car had come from Port Augusta and the other from Cowell, and they each contained four people, so there were plenty of witnesses."

"Well, what happened?" I asked with my voice trembling in excitement.

"What happened!" repeated Dowsett, important with the sensation he was causing, "why—nothing."

"Nothing?" I said. "Didn't they see anyone about?"

"No," said Dowsett sarcastically, "the murderer or murderers with great modesty had not waited to receive any congratulations upon their work, and, moreover, my boy, inexcusably they had omitted to leave their names and addresses."

I ignored his attempt at humor. I was too anxious to know how things stood, to smile. "But hadn't anyone passed them on the track?" I asked, "and had the auctioneer been travelling alone?"

The bank manager at once became serious. "That's the mysterious part of it, Edis," he said, "and where the police can get so little to start away from." He shrugged his shoulders. "Although a motor lorry passed him as he was driving in his car, within three hundred yards of where he was subsequently killed, and within, it is gauged, ten minutes of his death, there is no certainty as to whether the auctioneer had companions or not with him. The driver of the lorry which met him says there were two men on the back seat, but the three men on the back of the lorry say they rather think he was alone, and that there was no one else in the car, but they couldn't see at all clearly because of the dust."

"Well, they've no clues then?" I asked.

"Only one," he replied, and my heart prepared to sink again into my boots. "There is a mysterious motor cyclist unaccounted for. The lorry people passed one just before they met the car, and from the time and place of their passing him the police are sure he must have been in at the death. He must be mixed up in it in some way, for he's absolutely never been seen since. He and his machine have vanished off the face of the earth. No one can be found who has any recollection of a motor cyclist entering Port Augusta or Cowell that night, and its the same both at Whyalla and Iron Knob."

"Well," I said slowly, and there was a great thankfulness in my heart, "if the crime were discovered so soon, and it was in such a lonely spot, I should have thought the police could have 'phoned up everywhere and drawn a cordon round in a couple of hours so that no one could escape."

"And that's where you're mistaken, Edis," said Dowsett, shaking his head. "In defence of the police, I must say that they had the devil's own luck. When the body was found, warm and with the blood on it hardly yet congealed, it was realised that instant action was necessary, for the murderers could not be far away. So the faster of the two cars went hell for leather for Port Augusta. Those in it were Port Augusta men, and they reckoned the hue and cry could be raised most effectively from their own town. Their car was a big Jehu, and they expected to do the 55 miles in an hour, but——" (he spoke very slowly) "it was actually nearly midnight before they got word to the police. They broke a back axle in their hurry, and two of them had to walk the last 20 miles. Now can you imagine worse luck?"

"Rotten," I said, "and so the murderers got clear?"

"Yes, quite clear," commented Dowsett, "and in my own opinion they will never be caught now."

"And the numbers of only three notes are known?" I asked.

"Yes, only three, as you have heard."

"But didn't they find out anything about the auctioneer at Cowell?" I asked. "Surely they would have noticed whether he left with companions or by himself."

"Oh! he left by himself," replied Dowsett, "but who knows he didn't give someone a lift on the road?" The bank manager took out his watch. "Well, I must be off, old man. I've a lot—Ah! now for the favor." He smiled benignly at me. "Now you can run a bit, can't you?"

"Like the devil," I grinned, "when anyone's after me."

"Well," said Dowsett, grinning back, "you're going to run to-day. You're going to run at our sports this afternoon, the Sheffield distance—a hundred and thirty yards."

"No," he went on, for I was shaking my head emphatically, "you've got to help me out of a hole, old man, and when you rang the bell this morning I knew it was Providence who had sent you here. It's like this. I'm responsible for the sports to-day, and of course I want everything to go off A1. Well, it looks as if the chief race, this one of a hundred and thirty yards is going to fall flat. Stupidly, to benefit the Cottage Hospital funds, the committee made the entrance fee a quid, and we only got four entries in consequence. Now I believe two of these men are not going to turn up, and that means there will be only Fraser, of Mount Barker, and Ellerslie, of Peterborough, to run. It makes the race a farce."

I shook my head more emphatically still. "I can't really, Dowsett," I said, regretfully. "I had a rotten night's sleep last night, and I don't feel fit."

"But they'll give you twenty yards start, man," implored Dowsett, "against Fraser and Ellerslie, and the prize is a gold medal and a silver cup. Well worth running for, and I don't forget how you romped home at the Bank's sports two years ago. Just the same distance, too."

"Dowsett—" I began, and then a thought flashed through me—what a clinching alibi, in public, too, with my name in all the newspapers. I hesitated.

"All right," said Dowsett, cheerfully, "then you'll run. I'll stretch a point and get your entry down as if it were put in yesterday. I'll lend you my shorts. As for your bad night, well have a sleep here on the sofa this morning. I shall be away till 1 o'clock, then you'll have a hot bath, and you'll run the race of your life on two tablespoons of brown sugar as a dope. You trust me, I've had to do with runners before."

And so he had his way. I had four hours of refreshing sleep, the two tablespoons of brown sugar as he suggested, and—I won the race.

Yes, it was a really crook affair, but I won the medal and the cup.

The story of the race is very simple. I was on the twenty-yard mark, as Dowsett had prophesied, and I got off like lightning when the pistol went. Fraser and Ellerslie came after me quite leisurely, but the rumor went round afterwards that in view of their being in a seventy pound event that was coming off at Loxton on New Year's Day, and to get their handicap low there, they were neither of them too anxious to beat one another. At any rate they left the catching of me until too late, and I breasted the rope a good yard in front of them, with the two running a dead-heat.

I received a good ovation from the crowd, and when the Mayoress of Victor Harbour presented the prizes later, it added not a little to my gratification to notice the burly Sergeant Trescowthick standing just behind her, smiling on me, too.

Dowsett was most nice to me that evening, and would insist upon my fetching my camping outfit from the cliffs and spending a few days with him.

I was jolly glad to do so, and had six days of comfort and ease. On the quiet next day I went round to the local institute and looked up the files of the newspapers for the previous week.

They had all featured the murder in big staring headlines, and there were columns and columns describing everything in the minutest detail. The 'Times,' of Adelaide, had some excellent photographs, too, of the Port Lincoln track near where the murdered man had been found, and one also depicting 'a typical scene in the mallee scrub near by.' This last one made me shudder, for I would have sworn it had been taken within ten yards of where my incriminating motor cycle was lying hidden away.

Of course, as I had expected, the painters on the motor lorry had jumped into the limelight at once, and they had furnished a description of me making up in fullness what it lacked in accuracy. I was described as tall and sullen-looking, and with a smutted face, also in the opinion of one of them—so wonderful is imagination—I had deliberately turned away my face as if not anxious to be seen. Funnily enough, neither of them had apparently mentioned anything about my rifle, which at the time I had met them, had been tucked in the strap outside my luggage.

The public imagination had undoubtedly been stirred, for with so many homes far flung in the lonely places of the state, feelings of uneasiness and insecurity naturally occur whenever lawlessness breaks out away from the city. The general opinion, however, appeared to be that with the passing of each day the chances of any discovery of the perpetrators would become more and more remote.

Well, I enjoyed that time at Victor Harbour. It was the very thing I wanted to quiet my nerves. I went to tennis parties, I played bridge, and I spooned with pretty girls, and I got on with Dowsett like a house on fire.

When Monday came I had several offers of a motor ride back to Adelaide, but I was true to my push bike, and after tea, leaving the town as I had entered it, I pedalled leisurely back to the city.

I had left in darkness, and so in darkness I returned. Really, I had begun to think that darkness was my proper environment.

CHAPTER V—DREAMS.

I returned to the bank that morning, a very different man from the one who had left it so carelessly but a few short days ago. I was no longer an easy-going, aimless sort of creature at peace with all the world, but instead was now a calculating and hard-bitten adventurer who was prepared to accept as a cold fact that at any moment all men's hands might be against him.

But if I was in any degree inclined to assume my attitude as an heroic one, I was speedily disillusioned, and put in my proper place within a few minutes even of my arrival at the bank.

The whole atmosphere was so inimical to any spirit of lawlessness. The peace and order, the quiet, the method, and the feeling, too, that I was regarded as a trusted officer there, all very quickly acted as a cold douche, and I was very soon anathematising myself as a traitor within the gates.

Not only had I fallen grievously away from the moral standard of all who served the institution, but worst of all, in my baseness I had trafficked in the very life-blood of all banks. I had stolen bank notes! Yes, my conduct could not have been baser.

And yet another thing added to my discomforture. With full opportunity, I had not purged myself of my fault, and returned the notes to the authorities as I ought to have done. It was unpardonable carelessness on my part to have left them on the mountain as I had done, for it might be a long time now before I should be able to get them back and make restitution.

So there were two distinct spirits in me that morning, one branding me as a traitor, and the other bidding me not to let memories of past folly so paralyze all my energy and resource that I should fall weakly into the hands of the law, and thus mar all my future life.

In the end the latter spirit prevailed. It came back to me so strongly how the stranger had insisted that cowardice was always the unforgivable sin, and finally, I resolved at any rate to try and win back my self-respect by meeting any danger that might confront me, boldly, and without fear.

So I gradually dragged myself back into a more cheerful frame of mind, and prepared to set about finding exactly how things stood.

I was not lulled into security that because nothing had apparently been found out as yet about me, that therefore I was safe altogether. I knew the authorities would still be working feverishly, and I realised that at any hour some enterprising searcher might take it into his head to wander into that particular spot of the scrub where my motor cycle was hidden. Then as far as not being under suspicion was concerned, it would be all up with me and I should have to fight for my very life.

But in a way this thought did not wholly terrify me, for there was a distinct thrill in the idea of pitting myself against those who would come to interrogate me, and also, I was eager to put to the test if my so carefully prepared alibi could be broken down.

One thing, however, I was determined upon. If nothing were found out in a couple of weeks or so I would hire a motor cycle and make another midnight ride up north to recover both the notes and the incriminating number-plates of my motor bike. Then I should feel safe and nothing that could happen would affect me.

At lunch time I waited for Ferguson, whose cousin was the detective I had seen in Rundle-street a fortnight ago, and we went out for our meal together. Young Ferguson lived with his cousin, and bringing the conversation round to the murder, I was soon, as I had expected, under strict promise of secrecy, in possession of all the inside information I required.

The police were very puzzled, and had really found out very little. They were of opinion that the crime had been an unpremeditated one and would not have occurred if the car had not broken down. They were in two minds as to whether the murdered man had been driving alone, but they were certain the motor cyclist was in some way involved in the crime, for otherwise he would not have so unaccountably disappeared and would certainly have come forward with some explanation.

They were afraid he had slipped by through Port Augusta on the evening of the murder, before they had had any notification to keep a look out. They were sure he had come from the city, for at three towns upon the road from Adelaide they had found people who were prepared to swear that they had heard a motor cycle go through in the night preceding the day of the murder. And the evidence they tendered was quite conclusive, for the times they gave just fitted in with the times a motor cycle, going at about thirty-five miles an hour, would have passed through their different towns.

About any return journey of the motor cyclist, however, upon the night after the murder they could glean no information at all. No one had seen him, no one heard him pass, and, more mysterious still, they could light upon no garage that had supplied petrol to a strange motor cyclist upon that night. But if the man had returned to Adelaide he must have got petrol somewhere, for the murder had been committed at a spot exactly 256 miles from the city, and no motor cycle had a range of twice that distance upon one intake of fuel, even if the rider carried with him extra supplies, as he possibly did.

So the police were of the opinion that the motor cyclist had either not returned to the city at all, or else had abandoned his machine and returned by some other means. They were, therefore, concentrating upon unearthing him by the first half of his journey. They were methodically tapping all the petrol service stations in the city to find out if anyone remembered refuelling a machine the day before the murder, where any baggage on the carrier suggested that the owner was about to go upon a long journey. So far they had been led on many blind trails and had had no success, but every day they were hoping some garage man would be found who would remember what they were wanting about one of his customers.

About the actual murder there was only one clue and that was a closely guarded secret. The police had a set of finger prints to help them, but from where they got them only those very high up in the service knew. All other possible finger prints had unhappily been obliterated by a fierce dust storm that had come on almost immediately upon the discovery of the crime.

I listened with mingled feelings to what young Ferguson told me. It was a great relief to know there was no idea that my motor cycle was lying so close to the scene of the murder, but at the same time, I shuddered to think exactly whose finger prints they had obtained.

They might be mine on the handle of the car door, for I remembered I had wrenched it open to lean over the murdered man, and if I had not banged if to afterwards, which I probably had not done in my haste, it might have remained folded back against the side of the car, and perhaps in that position have escaped the covering of dust as the storm had blown by.

I worried about it a lot for a short time, but then reasoning everything over, I came to the conclusion that it was highly improbable that no one had touched the handle of the door after me. It was not likely that the men who discovered the crime would have left the door swinging until the police arrived. It was on the off side, the track was narrow, and an open door would have been a menace to other cars passing by.

The next day turned out to be a red letter day in my life, for Helen and her father coming to the bank, with a courage born of my new realisation that the prizes of the world come only to those who fight for them, I resolved to get to know the girl.

I have often told my wife since, that never in all her moods have I seen her look more lovely than she did that morning when I saw her talking to our manager in the hall.

In the times that followed, I have seen upon her face all those varying expressions of emotion that ordinarily touch every woman between her unclouded maiden days and the first hours of radiant motherhood.

I have seen anger, contempt, a sadness that should have made the angels weep, love, a tenderness too deep for words, passion that made my arms the horizon of all her world, and exquisite content when tiny hands were pressed against her breast. But she never looked more queenly or more lovely than she did that day.

I was passing with some papers when I saw her and her father, and I made an excuse to stop and speak to one of the tellers in order to watch them out of the corner of my eye.

Her father was telling the manager about one of his cars. "Well, never buy a Hustler," he said in conclusion, "something's always going wrong with mine, and I'm going to sell the darned thing or give it away. I'm sick of it."

They said good-bye and then, turning round, the girl looked at me for a moment. I felt myself grow pale and I glanced down at the papers in my hand.

"Great Scot, Edis," said the teller, "what's the matter with you, man? You look like a ghost."

"Oh! nothing." I replied, recovering myself, "I've got a bit of a headache, that's all."

That evening I suddenly settled upon a plan of campaign, and accordingly at about half-past seven, with a quickly beating heart, was walking up the drive towards the McLaren residence. I had almost reached the front door when it opened, and Helen herself came out. She was carrying a tennis racquet in her hand. My heart gave one big thump and then quieted down. It was the beginning of my greatest adventure.

The girl looked at me with enquiring eyes, and I lifted my hat. "Could I speak to Mr. McLaren, please?" I said. "I want to see him about a car."

She hesitated a moment, and then answered in tones that sounded like a silver bell.

"Mr. McLaren's in the garage. I'll take you to him, if you come with me."

"I'm so sorry to trouble you," I said.

"Not at all," she replied, and she led the way in the manner of one who has no interest nor curiosity in the slightest degree. The garage was about a hundred yards away, and we traversed the distance in complete silence. I walked to one side but a couple of paces or so behind her, and admiringly regarded her as we went.

We reached the garage all too soon for me. There was a man there, whom I at once saw was Mr. McLaren himself. He had his coat off, and was lying upon some sacks by one of the back wheels of a big car. He sat up directly we came.

"This gentleman wants to speak to you, father," Helen said, and then without even so much as a glance at me, she turned and left us.

"Good evening, sir," I said to Mr. McLaren. "My name's Edis, and I'm on the staff of the Bank of All Australia. I've come about that Hustler car you have. I happened to overhear this morning that you want to get rid of it, and I think perhaps I know a purchaser."

Mr. McLaren eyed me intently. "Too late, young man," he said smilingly. "I passed it over to a friend of mine this afternoon." His smile broadened, "Or, perhaps, I should rather say, to an enemy, for I expect he'll be one soon, at any rate. That Hustler was a regular beast." He looked at me hard. "But what do you want with a car like that. It ate up money and cost a fortune to run."

"Oh! I wasn't going to buy for myself," I replied, "but I know a man who might have taken it, if it had been in the market."

"Well, it's lucky for him you're too late," he said. "It's no good looking for trouble in this world." He turned back to the big car. "This one's giving me some trouble, too. I like to do what I can for myself, but I can't get these darned brakes right." and he lay down upon his back again and began fumbling with some nuts.

I stood watching him whilst he worked. I knew that he had intended to intimate that our interview was over, but I had come there for a purpose, and was not going to be shaken off.

"Know anything about cars?" he grunted presently.

"Yes," I replied. "I've doctored up some rotten ones in my time."

"Well, what's the matter here?" he said. "I can't adjust these brakes so that they'll hold, and yet the lining's almost new."

I bent down and looked under the wheel. "You can't take up any more there," I said. "You must do the adjustment at the other end, at the connecting-rod under the footboard at the front seat."

He looked impressed. "Oh! That's it, is it?" he said frowningly, and then he smiled grimly. "Well, as you're so clever, perhaps you'll do it for me yourself. You're younger than I am."

"Certainly," I replied, and I whipped off my coat instantly and threw it on the car.

"Oh, I didn't really mean it," he said, getting rather red. "You'll make your hands in a fearful mess."

"No, I shan't," I replied, "if you'll give me a piece of soap to rub them over with first."

"But it's taking up your time," he apologised.

"I've nothing particular to do," I said, "and it won't take me five minutes, either."

But it took me a good deal longer than five minutes, and it was fully half an hour before I had got the adjustment to my satisfaction. I made a really good job of it, however, and the old man was very pleased.

"Beautiful," he said, when he had run the car down the drive and tried it. "Now, when you've washed your hands——" he seemed to hesitate a moment, "we'll come in and have a drink."

A few minutes later, and entering the house through the French windows opening upon the verandah, he ushered me into a large and sumptuously furnished room. The room was not untenanted, however, for Helen McLaren and a man whom I recognised at once as Mark Rivers were seated on the sofa, and I noted with a pang that the girl's face was more bright and animated now than before.

The old man frowned slightly when Mark Rivers rose to greet him, and in my own mind I did not wonder why. Rivers was one of the rich men of the State, but his reputation was a bad one in many ways. As a racehorse owner few people had any respect for him, and in his private life the position was no better. He was living apart from his wife, and if there was any truth in the rumors that were going about, the fault was all his, and she was well rid of him. At any rate, his relations with women were notoriously lax, and scandal after scandal had been associated with his name. His acquaintance with the McLarens I could, however, in some part understand, for he and the old man, I knew, were co-directors on the board of a big pastoral company in the north.

Mr. McLaren introduced us. "My daughter, whom you have already spoken to and this is Mr. Mark Rivers. Rivers this is Mr. Edis, of the All-Australia Bank."

Helen smiled distantly, but Rivers only gave a curt nod, and I fancied a slight sneer curled up to his handsome face. I supposed he wondered what the devil a bank clerk was doing there.

Mr. McLaren mixed me a drink and a polite conversation was started. I affected a coolness I did not feel but with a settled plan in my mind, was prepared at any moment to try to deal with the situation. I was exultant that by a lucky stroke of fortune I had succeeded in getting into the house, and I was determined in some way or other to make good, so that I should be asked there again.

I was not going to be awed, I told myself, because I was in the company of rich men. After all, we were flesh and blood together; we were breathing the same air and for the moment sitting in that room, we were all equal except where our brains would help us, or our mother-wit was concerned.

I had pretty well sized up the character of Mr. McLaren by now. He was a bluff and kindly, but rather self-opinionated old man, but broadminded enough all the same to tolerate another person's opinion even if it were entirely contrary to the one he himself had; indeed, I rather believed direct contradiction would be more provocative of interest in him than any complete and polite agreement with his views.

So I made ready to arouse his opposition as speedily as possible, and the opportunity came sooner than I had dared to hope.

Mark Rivers brought up the subject of the murder on the Port Lincoln track, and was insistent in a bored and superior way that the police had bungled the whole affair. Of course the man on the motor cycle had committed the crime, he said, and they ought to have been easily able to trace him and his machine. Mr. McLaren agreed, and was of the opinion also that he did not see how anyone could possibly think otherwise.

"Oh!" I broke in coolly, "but I take quite an opposite view; in fact, I should rule out the motor cyclist at once. I don't think he had anything at all to do with the crime."

A moment of complete silence followed. Old McLaren stared as if he were very astonished at my interruption, and Mark Rivers, after a moment of surprise, too, looked up at the ceiling and blew rings of smoke from his cigarette, with a contemplative smile upon his handsome face.

"Yes," I went on as if the matter were of only casual interest to me, "I should never have considered him as far is the actual crime was concerned. He had nothing to do with it, I am sure."

"Oh," said Mr. McLaren politely, and he, too, looked as if he were amused, "and why do you think so Mr. Edis?"

"Well," I said slowly, "now you don't usually associate a crime such as murder with a young man, do you? I mean murder done deliberately for gain and not for revenge or under the provocation of some fancied wrong?"

"No," said the old man thoughtfully after a pause, "I don't suppose you do generally."

"Of course not," I went on. "Murder for gain presupposes a man old enough to be more or less hardened to crime. A man who, so to speak, has graduated in evil and who is not to any way a novice in wrongdoing. Well, from all we can gather, this murder on the Port Lincoln track was never one accomplished by those who were not already versed in crime, and so——"

"I don't follow you," interrupted the old man bluntly. "How do you know the murderer or murderers were, as you call it, versed in crime?"

"Well," I said, "the murder was unpremeditated, wasn't it? It must have been," I went on quickly, "for it could not have occurred if the car had not broken down. The stopping was quite accidental. The steering rod snapped and the stubb axle was broken by the front wheel striking against that tree." I raised my hand to emphasise my point. "Well, the accident happening, there were those on the spot ready to take instant advantage of the chance put in their hands. That's what I mean, there were men there to whom violence and robbery were no novelty and they made an instant decision in that direction."

The old man look puzzled. "But how does that exonerate the motor cyclist?" he asked. "You've forgotten him."

"No, I've not," I replied emphatically. "I've been insisting that the murder was not done by a man who was young, and that, as I say, ruled out the motor cyclist. The motor cyclist was a young man. With no evidence before us, we should assume, as a matter of course, that he was a young man, for only young men, as a general rule, ride motor cycles. Older men have no liking for their discomforts and fatigue as compared with the far greater ease of motor cars. So, as I say, with no evidence before us, we should be justified in assuming that he was young, but——" and I paused to regard Rivers, who was still blowing wreaths of smoke, "we have distinct evidence on that point. One of the men on the lorry definitely described him as 'young.' His exact words were, 'A young man with a smutted face.'" I shrugged my shoulders and dropped my voice to careless tones. "So what more do you want?"

Mr. McLaren said nothing for a moment. He seemed interested, but I thought somehow that his interest was tinged, too, with some annoyance that I should have been so positive in my opinions. Then he smiled politely.

"Very ingenious reasoning, Mr. Edis," he said, and turned to Mark Rivers. "But what do you think about it, Rivers? What do you think now?"

"I think——" replied Rivers slowly, and he did not deign to even give me a glance, "I think this gentleman must have been there."

We all laughed, but I could have struck Rivers for the impertinence in his voice.

Dismissing the matter of the murder, we began to discuss racing or rather, Mr. McLaren and Mark Rivers did, for I for the moment now dropped out of the conversation. They spoke of a recent happening in turf circles, of a racehorse owner who had been warned off for having given his jockey instructions to pull one of his horses when the animal was a hot favorite and in a big field, was starting odds-on in the totalisator. The owner in question was, like Mark Rivers, a prominent and wealthy racing man, but for a long time he had not been popular with the public. When his horses were well backed they did not win, but when they started at good odds they were often successful. The stipendiary stewards had been continually censored because enquiries had not been made, but at last, so startling had been the reversal of form of one particular horse that they had been compelled to take action, with the result that, as I have said, the owner had been warned off.

Mr. McLaren thought that it was in the best interests of the turf that the enquiry had been held and upon the evidence tendered the stewards had had no option but to do as they had done, but Mark Rivers contended the stewards were a cowardly lot and had been stampeded into action only by the clamor of a certain section of the public who were enraged because they had lost a few half-crowns.

"It's mob rule," he sneered in conclusion, "and enough to make every reputable owner give up racing altogether."

I put down my cigarette. Here was my chance of getting one in at Rivers straightaway.

"Reputable!" I echoed, as if in great surprise. "But where on earth is J. K. Slatterton esteemed as a reputable person?" I turned and addressed myself directly to Mark Rivers. "Why, don't you know that last month, when he stood for committeeman at Tattersalls Club, he only received twenty-two votes of over eleven hundred recorded, and that among racing men, too, who are proverbially broadminded and charitable in their views? Yes, only twenty-two," I went on, "and yet he's always ready to stand champagne to anyone whenever he goes into the building."

Mark Rivers made no reply. He was leaning back in his chair, blowing wreaths of smoke again, but I went on speaking as if I had quite expected he would make no comment.

"And then look at his reputation before he came to Adelaide three years ago. Two libel actions against Sydney newspapers, and he was non-suited, with costs against him, both times. And the Melbourne 'Argus,' too, bluntly described him as unscrupulous and warned the public to fight shy of any financial venture that he sponsored." I smiled as if I were amused. "And then his racing career in the other States. I will admit that here, as far as we know, he has never been warned off before, but——" (the smile dropped from my face) "it is significant that two successive men who trained his horses for him in New South Wales had their licenses taken away, and everyone remembers how young Beddings, the jockey who always rode for him, was wiped out." I raised my hand as if to anticipate any protest. "Oh, yes; I know that in none of these instances Slatterton himself was found to be involved, but still——" (I put as much sarcasm in my voice as I could) "still it is funny the company our friend has always kept."

Mark Rivers spoke at last, coldly and contemptuously, and as if he were addressing a little child.

"You pick up a lot of scandal at the bank, don't you, Mr.—Mr.—I didn't catch your name?"

"Julius Caesar," I laughed, "or, at any rate, that will do for the time. Yes," I went on, good-humoredly, "we hear a lot about various people there, but we soon get to be able to sift the false from the true."

"Excellent," he commented drily, "and I have no doubt that in time if you cultivate a habit of discrimination, you will be able to do some of the sifting for yourself," and he turned at once to Mr. McLaren and began talking about the prospects of a good lambing season.

I ground my teeth in annoyance. This man was insufferable in his contemptuous indifference to my opinions, but there was apparently no means of getting through his armour.

And all this time I had seen Helen regarding me with a curious expression upon her pretty face. She was frowning slightly, but I had been glad to notice she had not smiled at the undoubted snubbing I had received.

I looked at the clock. I had been there with them for over an hour, and could think of no reason for prolonging my stay. Therefore I reluctantly rose to go, and Helen and her father rose, too.

Then I noticed for the first time a magnificent set of chessmen upon a big board on a table in the corner. The pieces were fully four inches in height and turned and carved in box-wood and ebony.

"Oh, what a magnificent set," I said with real enthusiasm. "I've never seen anything like them before."

Mr. McLaren looked pleased. "Yes, I had them specially made," he said, "and the man who made them was an artist."

I crossed over to the table and handled the pieces. "Yes, beautiful," I said, "it must be a treat to play with them."

"Oh! you play, then?" asked Mr. McLaren, and then he smiled. "But I might have guessed you did from the analytical turn of your mind."

I smiled back. "Yes, I play," I replied, "and here's a game——" I glanced round at Mark Rivers, and still smiled, "where there can be no pulling nor unsportsmanlike tricks."

"Would you like a game?" asked Mr. McLaren, and there was eagerness in his voice. "I don't meet many young fellows nowadays who play chess."

My heart gave a great bound, but I hesitated, for I did not want to appear to be too anxious to stay. Then Helen broke in, and her voice thrilled through me like a beautiful note on an organ.

"Do play, Mr. Edis," she said, with a grave smile. "It will be such a treat to my father to have a game with someone new. I'm not much sport for him."

I acquiesced at once, and we sat down to play.

"Good-night, Mr. McLaren," said Mark Rivers. "I expect I shall be seeing you again sometime this week," and he gave the curtest of nods to me. Then the whole expression of his face altered and he broke into a courtly smile. "You'll see me out, Miss McLaren. Your father mustn't be disturbed now."

I cursed the fellow in my mind. It needed no intuition to see that he wanted to get Helen alone. The girl nodded with the face of a sphinx, and they left the room together.

Mr. McLaren and I drew for first move, and he won, but he paused for a moment before making his move, and looked round to see that the door was closed.

"I think that perhaps I owe you a little apology, Mr. Edis," he said gravely. "Our friend was rather rude to you just now, but you see you unintentionally trod on a tender spot. Mr. Slatterton is a friend of his."

"I know it," I said quietly. I shrugged my shoulders, "and everyone knows it, too."

"What do you mean by that?" asked the old man frowning.

I felt uncomfortable. I hardly knew what to say. "Well, sir," I got out at length, "it's generally known that Mr. Rivers and this man Slatterton have shared in their long-priced winners together."

"Oh!" said Mr. McLaren thoughtfully, and then he went on, "Well, let's have our game."

He moved, and I replied, and then at once he made the sacrifice of a pawn, but a few moves later he shook his head and remarked, "I ought not to have done that. You're pretty strong, I can see."

The game turned out to be an interesting one. We were both good players, and we neither of us made any mistake. Presently Helen came in and stood by her father to watch, and as she rested a hand upon his shoulder, I could see in what affectionate relationship they stood.

We played for nearly two hours, and then I offered to make it a draw.

"You're generous," said Mr. McLaren, "for although there's not much in it, you've a shade the better position with your pawns. However, we'll call it a draw and fight things out another evening; that is, if you don't mind coming up and being bothered with an old man."

"I shall be very pleased to come." I replied. "You can always get me at the bank if you ring up during office hours."

I went home that evening in the seventh heaven of delight. I had shaken hands with Helen, and she had smiled upon me. I had found out too that the color of her eyes was dove-grey.

All the next day my state of exaltation continued, and the tragedy of the Port Lincoln track occupied quite a secondary position in my mind. It was all Helen, Helen, Helen.

Three days later Mr. McLaren telephoned to me at the bank, and I went to his house again. Then followed for me, nearly a month of happy days. I was continually up at 'The Pine,' as the McLaren residence was called, and three times was invited to dinner. The old man it seemed, had taken quite a fancy to me, and apart from the games of chess, we got on famously together.

He was a widower, and Helen was his only child. In spite of his wealth and position I soon found that his life was a lonely one and in a way indeed, that he lived only for his daughter. The two were greatly attached to one another, and it was delightful to see their mutual affection.

As for Helen herself and her relation to me, it never seemed to me that I could get the least bit closer.

She was always sweetly gracious, and greeted me always with a friendly smile, but I could see plainly that she had no interest in me except as one whose society gave pleasure to her father.

I say they were happy days, but they carried with them one very disquieting thought. Several times I met Mark Rivers again at the McLaren's, and with the jealous eye of one who loves, I saw that he loomed large in Helen's mind. Indeed in time I came to believe that there was some secret understanding between them. Unspoken, it might be, and indeed perhaps unconscious on her part, but still—still it existed. I was pretty certain. It was the way she smiled when she saw that he was looking at her, and then the way she turned away her eyes. She seemed then to me like a woman in love.

Rivers and I made no attempt to get on with one another, indeed, we hardly ever exchanged a word. There was mutual dislike between us, and neither of us attempted to hide it either. But one good thing that animosity brought me. It stiffened my back and gave to me a greater measure of pride, so that I never allowed him to think that I suffered from any feelings of inferiority.

I learned to stare as insolently through him as he stared insolently through me. Indeed, there I had the better of him, for it must have annoyed him not a little to consider that a man who was only a bank clerk could dare to treat him so cavalierly.

In the meanwhile apparently nothing fresh had come to light about the murder, and the newspapers no longer made any reference to it. Young Ferguson could get no more news from his cousin, and it began to seem that the whole matter was well on the way to being forgotten. It pricked my conscience, however, not a little that I had been so dilatory about retrieving the bank notes from their hiding place, but I would do it very soon now, I told myself, for I had had one very good day at the races, and was now in a position to buy a new motor cycle whenever I was so inclined.

Then one morning I got a great surprise, and was convinced that as far as the murder was concerned, Fate was again dealing all the trump cards into my hand.

The manager called me into his room, and told me that he wanted me to go up to our branch at Port Augusta, on relief duty. The head clerk there was down with pneumonia, and I should be wanted there for at least a month or six weeks.

My first thoughts were ones of delight. Living at Port Augusta, I could so easily obtain both the number plates of the incriminating motor cycle and—the bank notes. Then I should feel completely safe and my conscience also would be clear.

I hated, however, that there should be a break in my intercourse with Mr. McLaren, and that I should see no more of Helen for a while, but I comforted myself that it would not be for very long, and with the possession again of a motor cycle—thanks to a very lucky win on Saturday at the races, I was now in the position of being able to buy one—it would be very easy to run up to the city any time for the week-end.

The old man was visibly upset with my news, and at first suggested that he should use his influence at the bank—he was a director as well as a customer—to get someone else sent up to Port Augusta in my place. I laughingly thanked him, but said he must not do it.

"It's to my credit, Sir, that they've asked me," I said, "and I ought really to be very grateful for the chance. It's only a temporary advancement, certainly, but then it marks me for permanent promotion later on." I made a wry face. "Still, I'm very sorry to go," and without thinking, I turned and let my eyes rest on Helen, who was arranging some flowers in a vase.

I thought wistfully how pretty she looked, and it struck me with a pang how greatly I should miss her, although I knew I was nothing to her.

I sighed heavily and looked back at Mr. McLaren, to find that the old man was now regarding me with a frown upon his face. I blushed, guiltily, believing that he had read my thoughts.

"Well," he said gruffly, after a long moment, "let's have a last game now at all events."

The next day I sent up my luggage by train, and then purchasing a new motor cycle, the following morning I started upon my second expedition up north.

CHAPTER VI.—DANGER.

It was a glorious summer morning when I set out in all the pride and glory of my new machine for Port Augusta, but I soon began to realise in some strange and subtle manner that a very distinct feeling of uneasiness was accompanying me upon my journey.

There was a foreboding somehow that I was entering into a danger zone, that trouble was lurking for me somewhere, and that I was foolishly courting discovery and disaster by returning to the vicinity of the murder. Then my nerves began quickly to get on edge, and my imagination to take hold of me in a most disquieting way.

I thought as I passed through the little townships that people stared at me as if they were wondering if I were the same motor cyclist who had passed by upon the night preceding the murder, and I was certain again that there was more than usual interest taken in me when I stopped at a little wayside hotel for lunch.

The landlord himself came into the dining-room, and with his eyes wandering all over me, expressed his hopes that the meal was satisfactory. Then, when I had finished and went outside, I found him, with another man, intently regarding my machine with an interest almost as if they had never seen a motor cycle before.

Later on, too, when I was going through Port Broughton, a policeman deliberately stood stock-still as I came up, and I would have sworn that he took down my number as I passed.

Altogether it was an unpleasant and uneasy journey, and I was relieved when just before six o'clock I pulled up in front of our bank in the main street of Port Augusta, and getting off my machine, rang the bell of the door of the private entrance.

The door opened almost before the bell had ceased to tingle, and I saw the manager, Mr. McKenzie, in company with another man, in the hall.

"Hullo, Edis!" he said heartily. "Good man! Dinner will be ready in less than a quarter of an hour, and you can have a cold shower at once if you like." He shook his head in mock reproof. "But just fancy your preferring to come over two hundred miles on a tiring motor cycle when you might have had a most comfortable train journey in a first class carriage and at the bank's expense, too." He turned and smiled to his companion. "Now that's like youth, Willoughby, isn't it. They don't know when they are on a good thing. This young man has ridden all the way from the city to-day, and——" he broke off suddenly.

"Oh! I'm so sorry. I beg your pardons both of you. How stupid of me. I haven't introduced you yet and you're going to see a lot of each other you know in the next few weeks. This is our Mr. Edis, Willoughby, who's come up to take young Smithers' place, and this is Mr. Willoughby, Edis, the proprietor of the Northern Hotel. I've arranged for you to stay there whilst you're up here."

We shook hands, and I liked the look of Mr. Willoughby at once. He had a keen intelligent face, and a very pleasant smile.

"Seen him before, Edis?" asked the manager laughingly. "I notice you're having a good stare."

And I certainly was staring, for his face had somehow stirred some strange chord of memory in me. I was sure I had seen him before.

Mr. McKenzie chuckled. "You're a nice sport, Edis, not to remember him," he said. "Why, I thought everyone in Australia would know Jasper S. Willoughby by sight."

Jasper S. Willoughby! Why, of course I knew him, and good gracious, who didn't? J.S.W., the one-time international cricketer, and the man who in by-gone days had so often been a thorn in England's side. One of the best fast bowlers Australia had ever had, and who even now, although he was approaching well towards the forties, might yet be chosen to play against the Englishmen in the Test matches next year.

I shook hands again, and with enthusiasm this time. "Delighted to meet you, sir," I said. "I was at the Adelaide Oval in 1913, the day when you mowed down the Englishmen's wickets and saved the game for us. You took six wickets for fifty-two runs, I remember. I was only a boy at the time, but I shall never forget it."

Willoughby shrugged his shoulders. "And I've come down to keeping inns now," he smiled. He pretended to look sad. "Just keeping inns!"

"But very good inns, Willoughby," laughed the bank manager. "Two of the best in the State."

"I'd quite forgotten you were up north, Mr. Willoughby," I said, "although I remember now reading about it. You must find it very slow here."

"Not at all," he smiled, "and especially in this town where I pass most of my time. We're not a big town, certainly, but there are always plenty of people passing through, and the Transcontinental trains bring a lot of business to the place." He turned to the bank manager, "And we get plenty of excitement here sometimes, don't we, McKenzie?"

"Too much indeed," sighed Mr. McKenzie. "That Port Lincoln track affair shook us all to our foundations."

I felt my pulse quicken a little. Of course, I thought they would still be all talking 'murder' here. I should be all the time in the very thick of it.

"Yes," said Willoughby very gravely, and turning now to me, "and how can you expect otherwise, situated as we are. When you leave Port Augusta, there are long and lonely tracks to be negotiated in whatever direction you go, and no one has any particular fancy to be held up and murdered on the way."

I thought I must make some comment.

"Oh! Are they still nervous about it then?" I asked.

The hotel proprietor looked reprovingly at me.

"Nervous?" he said frowning. "Why, of course they are." He spoke in rather a sharp tone. "Why bless your heart, man, if you were out on any of the tracks to-morrow, if you were alone in a motor car, and a man stood out in front of you and waved for you to stop, you'd think several times about it if you'd not got a pistol ready to your hand. And yet he might be only some poor innocent devil who was simply wanting a lift."

"But do they think then that whoever did that murder is still about?" I asked. "Do they think he was a local man?"

"They don't know what to think," said Willoughby grimly, "but they're not taking any chances, that's all." His face broke into a pleasant smile again. "But come, we mustn't frighten you, Mr. Edis, or you won't want to stir out of the town."

"Oh! it doesn't frighten me," I laughed, "but all the same I think I'll borrow one of the bank's automatics when I go out."

We chatted on together for a few minutes, and then the hotel proprietor took his leave.

"Well, good-bye for the present, Mr. Edis," he said on parting. "I'll be seeing you again later to-night. Mr. McKenzie has made me reserve the best bedroom in the hotel for you. Good-bye."

"Very nice chap, Willoughby," remarked my host when the door was shut. "It's only about six months since he took over The Northern here. It was a bit rough before he came, but now he's completely changed the whole tone, and it's as good as his other place in Port Pirie, which is saying everything, for the Royal Standard there is one of the best hotels in the State. Also, Willoughby's a great acquisition to this town in other ways. He's a man of public spirit, and his energies and purse are always at the service of the community, every time."

"I should think he's very keen on everything he takes up," I said. "His face gave me that impression, anyhow."

"Oh! yes," said Mr. McKenzie, with enthusiasm. "He's a live wire at all events and as straight as a die, too."

In a very few days I had settled down comfortably in my new surroundings. My work at the bank was responsible, but it was not heavy and I had plenty of spare time on my hands.

The feeling of uneasiness that had been so manifest in me upon the day of my arrival had soon passed away, and although I often heard people speaking about the murder, a sense of safety and security had completely repossessed me, and I could listen now in an incurious and even detached manner to the varying speculations put forward about the crime.

Upon one point, however, connected with it, everyone seemed agreed. They were all certain that the motor cyclist was involved, and if only he had been forthcoming the mystery would have soon been made clear.

I smiled to think how right and wrong they were, and was amused that they would never know the truth. All the same I resolved to remove the only evidence that could connect me with the crime as speedily as possible.

I had intended to go after the number plates the first Sunday following upon my arrival, but Mr. McKenzie had got a tennis party on that day and I didn't see how I could get out of it without being absolutely rude.

So my expedition was left until the following Sunday, and just after nine o'clock that morning I wheeled my motor cycle out and took once again to the Port Lincoln track.

I had made no secret that I was going for a long ride, and had told everyone openly that I was going to Cowell and should have lunch there and spend a couple of hours or so upon the beach before returning. It would be a longish journey, about two hundred and ten miles in all but taking things quite easily, the time either way would be only about three hours.

Three miles out of Port Augusta, and the going was good. So I opened out the throttle and speeded up to forty-five miles an hour, for now that I was actually embarked upon my quest I felt decidedly nervous, and wanted to get the matter over as quickly as possible.

In a little over an hour therefore I gained the place where the track forked right and left to Iron Knob and Whyalla, and then, a quarter of a mile or so further on, I came upon the place where the dreadful tragedy had occurred.

I recognised the spot instantly by the scarred trunk of the tree against which the car had crashed, and my heart beat painfully as the whole memory of everything came back. My face burst into a sweat, and I could hardly see to steer correctly.

So I slowed down at once, and then when about fifty yards further on, with a quick glance everywhere around to make sure that I was quite alone, I wheeled my machine into the bush. I did not wheel it far, but only just deep enough so that it would be out of sight of anyone going by.

Then I went back and carefully obliterated my wheel marks leading off from the track. I smoothed the sand over with my hands so that to the sharpest eyes there would be no evidence that a motor cycle had crossed.

It would be only for a very few minutes, I knew, that I should be leaving the machine there, but I had thought everything over, and I was taking no chances at all. In my own mind I thought I would try to act exactly as the great Gilbert Larose would act under the same circumstances.

Then I turned to look for my old motor cycle, and a thousand emotions thrilled through me with every step that I took deeper into the bush.

The place was desolate and lonely as the grave, and even with the bright sun streaming down, was full of shadows. At once almost I came across a reminder of my dreadful experiences. I saw the big black snake that I had coiled round the post, but he had been pecked open by the crows now, and there was only the husk of his lithe body remaining. But his head was still intact, and as I approached up close, the evil eyes in it seemed to stare at me as if asking why I had come there again.

Fifty yards further and my heart gave a big thump. Yes, there was the motor cycle, and even at the distance I could read the registration number at the back—29034, and as distinct, surely, as the day when they first put on the paint.

But a great burst of thankfulness surged up into my heart. The motor cycle had evidently never been discovered, and I was safe at last.

It was propped up against the bush exactly as I had left it, and from all appearances it might have been left there only yesterday. There had been no rain in the two months, and consequently there was no rust nor sign of deterioration anywhere. Only the sand had blown upon it and caked over wherever oil had clung.

In two ticks I had got the number plates off and I breathed a great sigh of relief when I had stowed them safely away in my breast pocket.

Then I turned my attention to the engine, and I glowed with self-congratulation that I had come prepared for everything. Yes, there was its number right enough, upon the lower side of the crank case, as glaring a piece of evidence perhaps as the number-plates themselves.

I had brought a file with me, and throwing the machine down I very quickly cut deep into the aluminium. I knew something about photography, and had read how a photograph will reveal markings invisible to the naked eye. So I cut deep to make certain that the stamping marks should be beyond all camera disclosures, and I prepared to desist only when I had made a deep concavity in the metal. Then I gave it a last final cut and so vigorously, too, that I broke the file.

I smiled grimly. "Faithful unto death," I mused, and then ungratefully threw the broken pieces away.

Then I stood up and noticed for the first time that the reek of petrol invaded the air. With the machine upon the ground the spirit from the tank was leaking out.

"It's your life-blood, too," I smiled. "Well, old girl, I don't suppose anyone'll ever want to ride you again. You weren't bad when you went, but you landed me in an awful mess when you refused to go. Now, didn't you? Good-bye," and I turned and made my way back quickly to where the new favorite was standing.

I was wheeling the machine out on to the track when at that very second a big motor car glided by. It must have been in the act of stopping before it reached me, for the engine was switched off and on the soft track the car made no sound.

It came to rest about 50 yards behind me and within a few paces of the exact spot where the murder had been done.

I stood fascinated, holding my breath.

Three men jumped out quickly, and then they all stood staring at me. I stared interestedly back.

With nothing to hide it would have been uncanny at any time for two parties to stop at the same place at the same moment upon that lonely track, but hugging the guilty secret that I did I sensed instantly something dark and sinister in the encounter.

"Good-day," presently called out one of the men as he wiped his face with his handkerchief. "Very hot, isn't it?"

I made my voice sound careless. "Very," I replied, "but not so hot when you're on this," and I tapped the tank of my machine.

The men continued to stare at me, but I took out a cigarette and lighted it very slowly, covertly, however, regarding them the whole time.

"Good-day," I said after a minute. "Pleasant journey. You will find the track quite good," and with a wave of my hand I mounted my machine and rode slowly away.

I say I rode slowly, but I really rode very slowly, and at a pace very little faster than a walk, for two of the three men behind me I was sure were policemen, and my security I thought might be hanging by a single hair.

There was no doubt these two were policemen. I was certain of it. The big, burly forms, the lowered heads, the hard, staring faces, and the very way in which they had stood as they were watching me.

Terror, too, had given me eyes in the middle of my back, and I knew they were still watching me as I rode away.

Any second I expected to hear a harsh voice shout "Stop!" and any second, almost—so wrought up was I—I expected to hear the ping of a bullet and the crash of an automatic to burst upon my ears.

So I rode slowly on, with a heart that thundered more than the engine of my motor cycle, but nothing happened, and in a minute I was round the bend.

Still I rode slowly, but I now adjusted the mirror on my handle bar so that I could take a much wider sweep of the track behind.

But I saw no one. Nothing but the winding silver track and the dense scrub on either side.

A minute longer and I began to increase my pace, and then upon turning another bend in the track, I flew.

Forty, fifty, sixty miles an hour my speedometer registered. I was going like the wind, and no car, however powerful, could, I knew, be driven fast enough to catch me on that narrow track. I was safe once again.

And then I began gradually to grow angry with myself. Was I not worrying over nothing, and what did it really matter if the men had been policemen? What had they been there for? Probably they had only been passing, and had stopped merely out of curiosity. The spot where the murder had been committed had by now become one of the popular showplaces in the district, and so much had been written up about it that its exact position on the track could be easily found by anyone who was interested enough to remember a few simple directions.

Yes, that was it. They were only passers-by who had stopped out of curiosity, and really none of them might have been policemen after all. I had got policemen and detectives on the brain.

I slowed down when upon nearing Cowell, the track, as is generally usual in such cases, became all at once a properly surfaced road. The township was only a very small one, a village it be called in England, but it boasted, I knew, two good hotels, and before one of them I stood up my motor cycle, and going inside ordered a seat to be reserved for lunch.

From the bustle outside the hotel there seemed to be a number of visitors staying there, and I wanted to be sure of getting a meal.

Then, with some time to spare before lunch, after padlocking my motor cycle and removing an essential part of the magneto as well, I strolled off to the jetty to throw the incriminating number plates into the sea. The jetty was quite a long one and its end I was certain would be always in deep water because the gulf steamers which formed the principal means of communication with the big towns on the other side were I knew, able to draw in close at any state of the tide.

When I got to the end, there was no one near and so, descending the steps until I was level with the sea, I took the number plates out of my pocket and prepared to throw them in. I was at first minded to throw them in as they were but—thinking of Larose again—I first bent them backwards and forwards until all the enamel had cracked off, and there was not the vestige of any figures left on them at all. Then and then only, I consigned them to the deep and afterwards, with a great sigh of satisfaction, climbed back on to the jetty and regarded myself at last as a free man.

There was nothing now to worry me, I told myself. I could shake off all care.

I walked slowly back to the hotel and seating myself among some other people on the verandah there, waited patiently for the luncheon bell to ring.

Suddenly then, we heard the roar of a motor car coming at a great speed, and in the distance saw a cloud of dust rising above the trees.

"Hullo!" remarked a man sitting next to me, to his companion, "Someone's in a deuce of a hurry, anyhow."

A big motor car came tearing round the corner, and then, when just before the hotel, the brakes were applied sharply and the car seemed almost to skid to a standstill immediately behind my motor cycle.

"Jibbed at your motor bike," laughed the man who had spoken before, turning to me. "That's what made it stop, anyway."

But I made no comment. I was taking in the car and its occupants with amused and exultant eyes. It was the same car that had drawn up behind me on the track that morning and those in it were the same three men.

I looked at them hard when they got out, and this time had the advantage, inasmuch as they were looking at me.

Yes, they were policemen without doubt, or at least two of them were, but about the third one I again had my doubts. He was rather insignificant looking and wore dark glasses, also he was more nattily dressed than either of the others, and sported quite a pretty lavender tie.

Without a glance in my direction the three of them entered the hotel, and at that moment the luncheon bell rang.

I went into the dining-room along with about a dozen others and found I had been allotted a seat at a small table under one of the windows. There was no sign of the three men.

At first I was alone at my table, but just as I had finished the soup, two men came in and were assigned to seats opposite me. They politely said good-day, but then dismissing me as if I were not present, began to talk animatedly together.

I soon gathered from their conversation that they were bookmakers from the city, for they talked wholly about racing and betting matters.

Towards the end of the second course, my three friends of the motor car came in. They all looked spick and span, as if they had had a good wash and brush up. I noticed, too, that they all glanced interestedly round, the moment they entered the room, and I would have sworn that the glances of two of them rested for more than an appreciable second upon me, but the third man I thought purposely looked away.

They sat down at a table quite near, and then their heads all bent together over the wine list.

The meal went on slowly, for the service was very bad. There were evidently more guests than could be looked after expeditiously by the three waitresses, and the long waits between the courses were painful.

My eyes wandered round and round the room, taking in all the other lunchers, but they returned always to the three men at the table near by.

Presently a scrap of conversation from one of the bookmakers near me fell casually upon my ear, and then I stiffened to attention at once.

"Yes, that's Armitage, the 'tec.," he was saying, "the brute that got me fined fifty pounds by Sabine last Easter. And that's Inspector Scrutton, the other devil gulping down his claret. He's just as bad. I don't know who the other Johnny is, but he's probably someone they picked up to pay for their lunch. Awful spongers the police."

"Oh! that's Inspector Scrutton, is it?" commented the second bookmaker interestedly. "Well, he's just been putting through a long distance call. I heard him tell the landlord it was urgent, and so someone was sent over to the postmaster to stir things up."

His companion made some answering remark, but I never heard what he said for there was a fierce drumming in my ears, and for a few seconds all the room seemed to fade away.

I glanced down at my plate and clenched my hands under the table. I set my face like a mask and stiffened all my limbs so that I should not tremble.

So it was true, I gasped. I had fallen under the suspicion of the police, and at the very moment when I was consummating my own safety they had got upon my tracks.

And evidently they had found out something, too, after I had left them, that had made them drive like mad to catch me up. They had not been coming this way when I first met them. They had been going in the opposite direction.

I made a rapid calculation. Yes, they must have been doing 50 miles an hour at least upon some parts of the way to have arrived here as quickly as they had done, and driving at that pace in that heavy car of theirs must have been distinctly dangerous upon the narrow track, which fact they surely must have known.

Then why had they been willing to take that risk? They must have had some very urgent reason. They must have found out something very important, and yet—yet there was nothing to find there except my old motor bike.

In spite of my dismay here, I smiled, and with that smile came back all my courage and assurance. Indeed, I almost laughed.

They had found the motor cycle, of course, but just a few minutes too late, and now it would be of no earthly use to them. They could not possibly connect it with me, or, for the matter of that, with anyone. It was a barren victory they had gained.

Then I frowned. Of course, I could see now what had happened. Damn it all! They would have smelt the leaking petrol, and been as certain as anything on earth that I had left the bike only a few minutes. Also they would have seen that the number plates had been just recently taken off, and—damn it again—there would be the aluminium filings scattered all about and uncovered by any sand.

But why was I so certain that they had found the motor cycle and were after me now? Why was I so sure it was no fit of imagination this time? Now, let me see.

First of all, they were detectives, or, at any rate, two of them were. Secondly, they had come at a perfectly terrific pace for a large car like theirs upon a narrow winding track. Thirdly, the chase was ended for them the very second they set eyes on my machine before the hotel door. Fourthly, Inspector Scrutton had had the telephone opened on a Sunday and had put in a long distance call, describing it as urgent, too.

Yes, there was something in the wind, and my firm opinion was that it was poor me.

But I was quite myself again, and I looked up and glanced across at my three enemies. The piercing eye of Inspector Scrutton was fixed full on me. Detective Armitage was filling up his glass with claret, and the man with the lavender tie was delicately peeling a pear, holding it transfixed upon a fork.

I glanced carelessly round the room, and then the conversation of my bookmaker friends broke in upon my consciousness again.

"Yes," I heard one say. "Scrutton's the biggest brute in Adelaide and he bullies everyone. He's afraid of nobody, and they say, talks to the Chief Commissioner himself as if he were one of his subordinates. He respects no one."

"Well, I don't agree with you there, Bert," the other replied, and then he laughed and went on quickly. "Mind you, I don't know anything of this Scrutton of yours, and, as you're quite aware, I've only been in the city three weeks, but still I'm sure you're wrong about the man in one respect. He can be quite polite and deferential when he likes. Look, I've been watching him with that chap in the lavender tie for the last few minutes, and he's been bowing and scraping to him as if he were the King. Every time the lavender Johnny speaks, your Inspector Scrutton stops eating to listen, and when he dropped his serviette just now, why——"

But I had risen from my seat, and was making my way out of the room. I was intending to put to the proof at once that my surmises were quite correct. I expected to be followed if I were right.

I had got half-way towards the door when a bluff and hearty voice assailed me from the direction of a side table, a voice that could be heard without difficulty all over the room.

"Hullo, Edis!" it cried, "you're not going to pass an old friend, are you? Come here. I want to introduce you to my brother."

I looked round in dismay. It was old Tom Whistle, from Unley. He was very deaf, and always shouted as if everyone else were deaf too. I went over at once to stop his flow of conversation.

"Billy, this is Charlie Edis," he bawled, "of the Bank of All-Australia in the city, but he's on duty now in Port Augusta. He's billeted at the Northern Hotel. We must go and look him up next time we're passing. He's a special pal of mine, and will stand us a dinner, sure."

I groaned in anguish. Of what need were long-distance telephone calls to ascertain who owned my motor cycle when old Tom Whistle was about. All my life history would be broadcast in five minutes.

I dragged myself away as quickly as I could and went outside. A man was standing near my motor cycle, and examining it with interest, and I was sure before I looked at him that he would be one of the three. Yes, he was the fellow with the lavender tie. I calmly walked up as if he were not there, and proceeded to put back the part of the magneto I had taken out.

There was a quiet chuckle at my side. "No faith in human nature, then," remarked a gentle voice, "and I see you've got a chain on as well."

I looked up. Yes, the man was quite commonplace. His face was freckled and he had a weak chin. He looked almost simple.

"One needs an automatic now-a-days." I said coldly, "to protect what one owns."

"Didn't we pass you on the track this morning?" he went on pleasantly, "up Whyalla way?"

"Yes," I replied curtly, and then I looked at him steadily and took the bull by the horns. "Just by the place where the murder was done."

"Oh!" he exclaimed interestedly, "well, you must have come pretty fast."

I thought it would be well to exaggerate to show that pride in my machine was my uppermost thought.

"Only about seventy," I said, "but she'd have gone much faster if I'd liked." I looked at their car and frowned. "But you came pretty quickly, too, unless you followed after me at once." I spoke as casually as if I were asking someone the time. "How long did you wait where I saw you, before you drove on?"

Just for the fraction of a second it seemed he was not ready with an answer, and it struck me as a joke that if my surmises were correct then I was now turning the tables.

"Perhaps a quarter of an hour," he said thoughtfully, "or twenty minutes at most."

"Well, you came much too fast," I said reprovingly, "for a heavy car like yours, and whoever was driving had no knowledge of the danger of these tracks." I frowned hard again. "If you'd met another car on one of the bends there'd have been an accident and a bad one, too."

He changed the subject. "Nice little place, this," and he looked round. "They've got a jetty here, too, I understand?"

"Yes," I said carelessly. "I've just been on it." I pointed with my hand. "It's over there."

And all this time I saw Inspector Scrutton had been hovering in the background, with both eyes intently on us and yet pretending he was not interested in any way. But now he came up and began looking up and down the road.

"Mr. Armitage is in the post-office," I said calmly, "if you're wanting him. I just saw his head over the wire screen there," and with a curt nod to them both I straddled my motor cycle and, starting the engine, rode off.

My last impression was that Inspector Scrutton looked as if he had suddenly been taken very ill.

I had quite an uneventful ride back to Port Augusta that afternoon, and except that there was a very innocent-looking policeman standing outside the Northern Hotel, who did not, however, give me even the suspicion of a glance when I arrived, there was nothing at all to make me think that everything was not quite uneventful in my life, and that my imagination had not been running riot again.

The next day, however, I received a severe shock.

It was young Ferguson's duty at the head office of our bank in Adelaide to make up the daily parcel for our branch in Port Augusta and he had taken advantage of this to slip in a private letter for me. It was dated the previous Saturday and it contained come startling news.

After some scandalous items about the doings of my colleagues in the city, I read—"and one thing more. I am sure you will be interested to know that the great Gilbert Larose is over here at last, in Adelaide. They've got him for that murder case, and although he's not yet been here for forty-eight hours, already he's begun to make things hum. It appears that he's censuring our men for not having got hold of the motor cyclist at once. He says that they could easily have traced him through his machine, and as for finding that machine, well he is of opinion that it is lying somewhere close near the scene of the murder. It seems that he bases this belief upon the fact that the lorry men described the motor cyclist as having a smutted face when they passed him, and he argues from that that the fellow was oiled and dirty because the bike had been giving him trouble and he had been trying to tinker it up. Larose thinks that then the man became involved in some way or other in the murder and to escape apprehension abandoned the bike in the bush. Now, what do you think of it? Very ingenious reasoning, no doubt, but is it folly or genius? Who knows? At any rate, we shall learn soon, for Larose is going on to the Peninsula himself. Inspector Scrutton is taking him in charge."

I put down the letter and a mist rose up before my eyes. The man with the lavender tie—the innocent-looking simpleton—the mighty Gilbert Larose! No wonder Scrutton had been polite for once, no wonder. I held my throbbing head in my hands. Verily verily, I was in the toils at last.

CHAPTER VII.—THE GATHERING OF THE STORM.

It was only a purely mechanical attention that I was able to give to my work that day at the bank. All my thoughts were of Larose, and at first, so full of consternation was I at the contents of young Ferguson's letter that with every opening of the swing doors I expected someone to enter who would immediately announce that he was a detective from the city, and was wanting a private word with me.

But then I remembered that was not Larose's way. It was proverbial that the great detective never hurried, that he never appeared upon the scene, and that he invariably showed no cards at all until he was quite sure, and then—but I smiled grimly to myself here, and was positive it would take him a very long while to be quite sure of anything about me.

In the light of what young Ferguson had written, I accepted as a fact that the insignificant-looking young man with the lavender tie, of the hotel in Cowell, was the detective from New South Wales, and the more I thought about it the more I was sure that the disguise he was undoubtedly then adopting would be the very sort of disguise he would best love. He had been the weasel masquerading as the rabbit.

Everyone in the Commonwealth had some sort of idea as to what manner of man Larose was. Indeed, his name was almost a household word, and although still well under thirty, to many of his exploits there had been given already quite a legendary character.

As a tracker of crime he had no equal in the Western Hemisphere. He was esteemed a genius in his calling, and was many-sided in the activities that helped him in his work. He was well educated, widely read, a great student of character, and, above all, a mighty master in the art of disguise. In this latter respect it was supposed that by mere muscular effort that he was able to so completely alter his features as to raise doubt and uncertainty in the minds even of his closest friends.

And this then was the man, I thought bitterly, who was now pitting himself against me, and who would bring all the craft and guile of a great professional against an inexperienced and untried amateur whom it would seem was bound to falter and give in, if only the contest were continued long enough.

But I comforted myself not a little when I sat that night in the dark upon the hotel verandah after dinner.

I carefully considered everything.

Really, I told myself, they had absolutely nothing but suspicion against me, and if only I now kept a bold face upon the matter, there was surely no possibility of their getting beyond the stage of suspicion either.

With all his genius, Larose would not be able to pick up the missing links of the chain.

He had certainly caught me in close proximity to the motor cycle that from all appearances was undoubtedly in some way connected with the crime, and I took it for granted also that he had found out immediately afterwards that the machine had just been tampered with by some one who was obviously interested enough to have gone to the trouble of removing the number plates and filing off the engine number as well.

Well and good for him there. He had got someone on whom to fasten suspicion at once, and he had subsequently gained, and without any trouble, too, the knowledge that I was Charles Edis, a bank clerk.

Then he would go on to find out more about me and straight away his suspicions would be redoubled when he learnt that I had been away from the bank on holiday, at the very time when the murder had been committed. That, in his opinion, would no doubt seem to clinch the fact that in some way I was mixed up in it, and his satisfaction would be supreme.

Then he would set about the gathering of more evidence against me, and then—then he would find himself up against a blank wall. He would be baffled at every turn. He would find out nothing, absolutely nothing. It would be like falling off over the edge of the world.

He would never be able to pick up any traces of mine in the direction he desired. He could never prove that I had been within two hundred miles even of the Port Augusta-Port Lincoln track. He would find no association between me and any motor cycle, and he would learn that there was no license nor registration for any such machine against my name.

Then what would he do next? Ah, I could see it. He would try and make me betray myself. He would expect me myself to provide him with the evidence that he wanted.

Yes, that was it. He would send down detectives from the city to try and stampede me into admissions that would give me away. They would pounce upon me without warning to take me unawares. And no doubt they would expect to find me unprepared, to find me an easy prey to their harsh questionings and steely eyes, to find—but I paused to snap my fingers and grin.

Well, they would be mistaken for once. They would find—I shut my teeth viciously together—they would find someone very different from the individual they had been expecting. Someone who was prepared and willing to give them fight, and someone, moreover, who had not by any means been caught unawares.

I walked to and fro upon the verandah. Yes, I would act every minute now as if the blow were about to fall. I would expect every second for a hand to be laid upon my shoulder. I would be always well prepared.

Next day at the bank I was quite myself, for now, almost in the actual presence of the danger I had so long thought possible, a spirit of fearlessness had entered into me, and I went about my work not only without a single tremor of nervousness, but with a feeling of gladness even, that the period of suspense was so soon now to reach its end.

So, as I say, I held myself prepared, and never for one moment released my vigilance. I kept my face hard set and my eyes ready to stare as coldly and steelily as any eyes that might regard me.

But nothing happened for three days, and then that which I realised afterwards marked the beginning of my travail, commenced in the tamest manner possible.

A mild and rather melancholy-looking man came into the bank and whispered across the counter that he wanted to see the manager on private business.

I went in and told Mr. McKenzie, and then ushered the caller into the manager's room. A few minutes passed and then Mr. McKenzie appeared and beckoned to me to come in.

"Mr. Edis," he said, "this gentleman is Detective Dayus from Adelaide, and he warns us to be on the look-out for spurious notes of the denomination of ten pounds that are being put in circulation. Here is one of them, and will you please look carefully at it, and show it to the others, too. The chief difference is that the color is a shade too light and the water mark not very clear."

I gave a careless glance at the detective and went out with the note.

My heart beat a little faster. Any proximity of a detective was suspicious now, and had the man come only about the spurious notes I asked myself? If bad notes were really in circulation I understood enough about banking methods to know that it was strange we had had no notification from headquarters to be on the look-out.

I took back the note after a couple of minutes, and had a good look this time at the detective. No, he was nothing like the man in the lavender tie. He was not Larose. He was a much more stockily-built man, and also his face was of an entirely different shape.

"Quite a pleasant chap that," remarked the manager when finally the detective had gone out, "and not a bit secretive either. He told me he was here to keep an eye on any passengers getting out of the Transcontinental express when it arrives from Perth. It seems they're expecting some shady characters to try and slip into the State unnoticed, by breaking their journey here and going on to the city by car. He's a shrewd fellow, this Dayus."

I made no comment, but privately determined to keep myself more on the look-out than ever, and soon there were other happenings to think over and consider.

Going out of the bank that afternoon just after four, I almost ran into a man whom I would have sworn was watching the bank doors.

He pretended not to see me, and then turning sharply round, he tripped and fell awkwardly to the ground.

I waited in grim amusement to see him rise, but apparently he was dazed by his fall for the most he could do was to raise himself to a sitting position and hold on to one of his knees with both bands. From the expression on his face he appeared to be in considerable pain.

A small crowd quickly gathered, and I was just bending down to see if the man were really hurt when a single-seater car drew up sharply to the kerb, and its driver jumped out and forced his way amongst us.

"All right," he said authoritatively. "I'm a doctor. Now what's happened?"

I glanced up at the speaker. He was a capable looking young fellow, very sure of himself I could see, and with a breezy boyish manner. He had a healthy tanned complexion as if he had been much in the open air.

I told him what had occurred, and he methodically proceeded to examine the injured man.

"Not much the matter," he said heartily after a few seconds. "No bones broken, and nothing put out. Just a simple twist. See if you can stand."

The man stood up with some difficulty.

"Where do you live?" asked the doctor, "I'll give you a lift, if it's not far."

The man shook his head. "I shall be all right," he said huskily. "It made me a bit faint that's all."

"But where are you going?" asked the doctor.

The man seemed reluctant to say. "To the railway station," he mumbled at length, and I would have sworn again that he looked furtively at me.

"Well, come on," said the doctor. "I'll drive you there." He helped the man into the car and then, just before getting in himself, he turned to me with a smile and asked me which was the best hotel. I told him the Northern, and thanking me, he drove away.

The afternoon was very sultry, and I went down to the bathing beach for a swim. The water was delicious and I felt I could have stopped in for ever, but just before 6 I tore myself away.

I was late for dinner and the dining room was crowded. I made my way to my accustomed place and then, to my disgust, saw that the diner opposite me was the melancholy-looking detective of the morning. He just nodded to me, but made no attempt to speak, and so far as we two were concerned the meal proceeded in silence.

But if there were no conversation at our table, it was very different in other parts of the room, and I had not been seated two minutes before I heard the hearty laugh and confident tones of the young doctor I had met outside the bank.

At any rate, he was having a good time and monopolising most of the talk at his table. He was giving his companions a graphic description of his journey up from the city. It appeared that he had two punctures, several drinks, and had run over a fowl, and he told everything in so amusing a manner that I am sure no one grudged him the attention be was receiving.

After dinner I ensconced myself in a quiet corner of the lounge and prepared to consider my position for the hundredth time that day. A waiter, whose face was not familiar to me, came up with the coffee, and I began wondering if he, too, were a detective. Certainly he had big feet. I asked him what had become of his predecessor, and he replied that he didn't know as he himself had only that afternoon come up from the city.

"Come up from the city!" I commented to myself. "Dam it, everyone to-day seems to be 'coming up from the city,'" and I relapsed into my former train of thought again.

But I was not left undisturbed for long. The young doctor was passing with a book in his hand, when, noticing me, he stopped and then came up.

"Nothing much the matter with that man this afternoon," he smiled. "I drove him to the station and stood him a drink. He seemed O.K. at once." His eyes roved round the room. "By-the-by, I must thank you for recommending me to the hotel. It's a topping place and the food seems quite good." He sat down in the armchair next to mine and put his book upon the table. "Are you stopping here, too, may I ask?"

"Yes," I replied coldly. "I'm on duty here in the town at the bank."

"Oh, good!" he exclaimed in a most friendly way, "then I hope I shall see a lot of you. I may be up here for some weeks." He smiled all over his face. "But I'd better introduce myself now." He produced a card from his pocket book. "I'm Harry Thorn, Dr. Thorn, from Melbourne, but I don't practise as a doctor. I'm up here about the water. I've got to report on the water from a lot of wells."

I wanted to be alone, and was annoyed at being disturbed, but the boyish manner of the doctor quite disarmed me, and I smiled now in return.

"My name's Charles Edis," I said, "I'm at the All-Australian Bank, taking duty for a man who's sick."

We talked for a few minutes, and then I noticed the title of the book he had put on the table. 'Staunton's Chess' I read.

"You play chess?" I asked.

"Rather," he replied, and his face brightened. "Do you play, too?"

"A bit," I replied non-commitally, "when there's nothing else to do."

"Oh! do let's have a game then," he said. "Can we get any chessmen here?"

I leaned over and pressed a bell. "A dozen sets if we want them," I replied. "The local chess club meets here, and Willoughby, the proprietor of this hotel, is a pretty keen player, too. Have you met the proprietor yet?"

"Yes, and had a long talk with him," said the doctor. "He's a nice chap, and when I come to think of it, he's got the mental build of a good chess player, too."

I smiled covertly to myself. If there was anything in appearances, this doctor chap, in chess, would not shape too well. He was far too cocksure about everything to make a good player, I thought.

The chessmen were brought and we got ready to play, and then at the very moment when I made first move—I had drawn white—the melancholy detective glided up from nowhere and stood by my side.

"Mind if I watch?" he asked expressionlessly.

I frowned and looked at the doctor, but the latter was all good humor and smiles.

"Mind!" he said heartily, "of course we don't. The more the merrier," and he glued his eyes upon the board.

Now I thought I had summed up the doctor pretty accurately, but in that game of chess I came an awful thud. If I were a good player, he was far and away a better one, and by the time we had played a dozen moves I saw I should have to fight for my very life. He was quick and resourceful, and gave me no chance. Presently I made a slight miscalculation, only a very slight one that, with an ordinary player, would have made no difference at all, but he jumped on it, and then I had no hope whatever. I soon saw that it was useless to continue, and so hiding my chagrin, resigned with the best grace I could.

"Have another game," said the doctor smiling, "you'll beat me this time."

But I shook my head, pleading that it was too hot for chess.

"Another night," I said, "and I'll give you a better run."

We stood up to put away the chessmen and then suddenly the detective put his hand on the doctor's arm.

"I'll give you a game, sir," he said most respectfully, "if you're not too tired."

The doctor stared hard at him, for all the world as if he had been caught in surprise, and I didn't wonder, either, for the solemn, melancholy detective, to me, looked even less like a chess player than the doctor himself had appeared to be. I was amazed that he should have the temerity, too, to butt in after he had seen us play.

The doctor laughed. "All right," he said, "and the loser shall pay for drinks. Now that's fair, isn't it?"

"Yes, sir," said the detective meekly, and they sat dawn to play.

Then I got my second shock of the evening, and I'm sure the doctor got one, too.

The solemn detective beat him easily, sacrificing a piece and a pawn about the fifteenth move, and giving him the alternative of losing his queen or mate in three.

The doctor thought hard for a good five minutes, and then, with a deep sigh, he shrugged his shoulders and downed his king as a sign of surrender.

During the progress of the game the features of the detective had been as mask-like as ever, but it seemed to me that just for one fleeting moment now, there was an expression of sheer vindictiveness about his eyes.

"We common detectives," he said huskily, "can score sometimes, Mr.——, Doctor, I mean." The light died suddenly in him and he was all respect and humility again. "My father was Professor of Mathematics once at Brisbane University," he added gently, "and he was a great master of chess then."

The expression on the face of the doctor was curious. Was he angry, furiously angry? No, no, he couldn't be, for he caught my eye and winked.

"You're a fine player, Mr.——, Mr.——; I don't know your name," and he gripped the poor detective's arm with a grip that was undoubtedly meant to be friendly, but which evidently was so powerful that it brought a contortion of pain into the man's face.

"Dayus," said the detective meekly, "and I heard you tell Mr. Edis here that you are Dr. Thorn."

"Dr. Harry Thorn," laughed the doctor jovially, "and, by Jove, you've made me feel pretty small." He pointed to the chessboard. "That ending was as pretty a one as I've ever seen, and I really oughtn't to feel peeved for falling to it."

At that moment I saw Mr. Willoughby at the other end of the lounge, and I beckoned him to us, pointing to the chessmen on the table.

He came up interestedly at once.

"Mr Willoughby," I said, "here's something very funny. I beat you last night, the doctor here beat me half an hour ago and now in comes this gentleman," I pointed to Detective Dayus, "and gives——"

"Gives me the damndest licking possible," broke in the doctor. "I was a child in his hands."

Mr. Willoughby looked smilingly from one to the other of us and the doctor, turning to the chessboard, went through the game again.

"Excellent! excellent!" commented the proprietor of the hotel. He assumed a very judicial air. "Really, I think it's worthy of a drink." He lowered his voice to a stage whisper. "Come into my room all of you and we'll have a couple of bottles of sparkling hock just off the ice."

And then commenced a week of very happy evenings for me, happy, although I could never forget that I was living under the shadow of the sword, and that it was only for some unexplained reason that the police were holding their hands.

Every evening after dinner Mr. Willoughby, the doctor, Detective Dayus, and myself formed ourselves into a fraternal and harmonious quartet, and comfortably seated in the first named's private room, gave four or five hours to bridge or chess.

Mr. Willoughby was hospitality itself, and our meetings always ended up with a pleasant little supper at which there were the best of things to eat and drink.

We all became great friends; the doctor and Mr. Willoughby I had liked from the first, and I soon learnt that the solemn Detective Dayus had many good points about him, and wasn't at all a bad sort.

He told me a lot about his adventures and the work he was now on. Every evening at half-past seven he proceeded to the railway-station to meet the overland train from Perth, and he always went in some sort of disguise. He took me up in his room one day and explained to me the various ways in which he made himself up. He had a whole suitcase full of wigs and various other things for altering his appearance, so that the men he was going to meet should not recognise him.

With the camaraderie engendered of our close association in the evenings he became very confidential, but still—still I had always an uneasy feeling that he was a good deal more interested in me even than he professed. I always somehow seemed to find him near me, and I often caught him looking at me in a peculiar way.

I had other suspicions, too. On and off, I was quite convinced I was being watched, and I imagined that the things in my room had been gone through several times. Not that I had noticed anything particularly out of place, but with all my senses on the alert I was certain every now and then that the position of various things had been altered.

A jacket in the wardrobe was not quite as I had left it; my spare boots and shoes had been picked up and replaced in a straight line, and the lock of my trunk opened much easier than it should have done, at times.

And after a few days these little alterations struck me as always happening after I had been away somewhere. After I had been for a bathe at one of the beaches—after I had had my motor bicycle out or after I had been for a walk to shake up my liver.

I never somehow noticed them when I had gone straight to, and had come straight back, from the bank.

I wondered vaguely that if anyone were really watching me, they were expecting me to retrieve the notes of the murdered man from some secret hiding place outside of the town, and—in the belief that all was safe—secrete them one day among the belongings in my room.

One thing happened too that made me speculate very much and I could in no way explain it. A little thing certainly, but still something that in the suspicious condition of mind I was in, was pregnant with many possible explanations.

We four were playing bridge as usual one evening, when the head schoolmaster of the town dropped in. He was a friend of Willoughby and we had all been introduced to him. He was amusing and quite a character in his way. He was very blunt and outspoken, and always pluming himself upon the fact that he was a great student of human nature. He had told us many times that psychology was the hobby of his life.

Well, he was watching us play bridge that evening, and we were in the middle of a hand, when suddenly he broke into the silence with a loud guffaw. We all stopped playing and, looking up to see what had happened, found he was regarding us with a mocking smile.

"What's up, eh?" asked Willoughby, frowning, for with him as with all good card-players, complete silence was the supreme law when a game was on.

"I was thinking," said the schoolmaster chuckling, "only thinking." But his appreciation of himself was so great that it would not allow him to refrain from an explanation even though it was breaking in, he knew, upon the most sacred moments of the game. "It's like this," he went on, "you four gentlemen are all apparently in harmony and intent upon this game, but that is not the position, really. I was watching you all,"—he raised his hand to emphasise his point. "You are all at variance, somehow; you are all hiding something; you are all upon your guard, and have all got a secret in your lives. I can see it."

My heart throbbed and I felt the hot blood surging to my face, and then—do all I might—I could not prevent a lightning glance round, to see who was noticing my embarrassment.

But I need not have worried. I need not have felt the feeling of swift agony that someone was about to find me out.

No one was watching me, no one was looking up. All heads were down and all eyes were glued upon the cards.

"You're an idiot, schoolmaster," said Willoughby off-handedly, and he threw down a king.

"But I'm damned if he is," burst out the doctor vehemently. "I had a secret but it's out now," and with a triumphant flourish he threw down an ace.

We all laughed and without further comment the hand went on. With great relief that no one had seen me I instantly recovered my composure. I could not, however, help marvelling that Willoughby had been so mild in his reproof. From what I knew of his character and the serious way in which he regarded all forms of sport, I should have expected some stinging censure for the schoolmaster's indiscretion.

We finished the hand in silence, and then nothing further happened except that the doctor caught my eye suddenly and with a jerk of his head, backwards in the direction of the disturber of the game, winked smilingly as if he thought the matter were only a good joke.

That night, however, just before dropping off to sleep, I wondered drowsily why the schoolmaster's challenge had not been taken up more seriously. I had a good reason for keeping silence, but the others—the doctor and Willoughby especially—surely they were not being drawn into the whirlpool that was now swirling about my life. My subsequent dreams I remember were very troubled. The next day was very hot, a scorcher even for Port Augusta, and the temperature up to 115 deg. in the shade. To me it was not unpleasant, for the heat was very dry, and suitably clad, it had a rather bracing effect than otherwise.

But towards evening the weather conditions began to change, big black clouds banked up, the heat became moist and oppressive, and it looked as though a thunderstorm was developing.

After dinner there was no thought of any chess or cards, and we lolled about on the verandah, cursing the heat and praying for rain.

Suddenly the doctor suggested a motor drive to get some air, and we all jumped at the idea. Anything was better than this stifling inaction.

The four of us therefore got into Willoughby's big limousine, and he drove out of the town. Instinct told me he would take the Port Lincoln track, and I was right. We crossed the bridge that spans the gulf, and in a few minutes, with all windows open, were tearing along the foot of the range at forty to fifty miles an hour.

"I'm going this way," Willoughby called out, "because the track's good, and I can let her out."

At his request, we three were in the back of the car, and he occupied the front seat, alone. It would balance the car better he had said, and she would be steadier under good speeds.

So there I was between the detective and the doctor, wedged in tight, and for all the world, I thought whimsically, as if I were being taken away.

"Let her go," yelled the doctor, and the speedometer at once rose to seventy.

The wind roared in our ears, the narrow track unwound itself like a lightning thread of silver through the saltbush, and we had to hold on like grim death to our seats.

"Hell!" shouted the doctor; "the blighter's going too fast. If a tyre bursts we shall all be dead men!"

Willoughby must have seen the expression on the doctor's face in the mirror, for, half turning his head, we could see that he was grinning, and then he slowed down and presently stopped.

"A cigarette, somebody!" he asked, smiling. "I think I've deserved one, if only for not frightening you all to death."

"Good Lord!" cried the doctor, "you were going seventy-five."

"Eighty!" he corrected, "and it would have been ninety if I hadn't seen you were afraid."

"Where are we?" asked the detective.

Willoughby looked on the dashboard. "Thirty-two miles from Port Augusta, and we've done it in twenty-seven minutes by that clock."

We got out to stretch our legs for a few minutes, and the detective began poking about among the bushes for snakes.

"Just the very day to find them," laughed Willoughby, "and then—you look out. Don't you forget this is an ill-omened track."

A thought seemed suddenly to strike the detective. "How far off are we from where the murder was done?" he asked.

"About twenty miles," said Willoughby after a moment's thought.

"Oh, do let's go there, then!" said the detective, and there was more eagerness in his voice than I had thought possible.

Willoughby hesitated a moment. "What do you others say?" he asked. He looked round upon the landscape. "You know, I think there's going to be a hell of a storm."

"Don't bother," said the doctor; "I'm not morbid enough. I've read all I want to know about the damned affair." He turned to me. "What do you say, Edis? Don't you agree?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I don't mind either way," I said. "It's all the same to me."

"Oh! do let's see it," pleaded the detective. "It might just happen that I might be able to pick up some clue,"—he smiled solemnly—"and then I should get my salary raised."

Willoughby's lip curled. "Jump in, gentlemen," he said. "Heaven forbid that I should stand between Mr. Dayus and his rise in screw."

We drove on at once, but much more solemnly than before. It seemed, somehow, that a shadow had fallen across our spirits, and we were all disinclined to talk.

"Who knows the exact spot?" asked the detective presently, and although he leant over and addressed Willoughby I thought his eyes were turned on me.

"I think I can find it," said Willoughby.

"I know it," I said calmly. "I know the very tree."

I marvelled inwardly at the evenness with which I spoke, but all my senses were alert, and I was acting on a set plan. It had come to me suddenly that there was some understanding between Willoughby and the detective, for twice since we had come out of the hotel I imagined I had surprised a significant look pass between them. The first time, when the drive had been suggested, and the second one when the detective had asked that we should be taken on to the scene of the murder. I had been sure then that Willoughby was not going to refuse, however much the doctor and I might have objected.

So I was acting exactly as if I had nothing to hide and that my association with the guilty spot had commenced only on that day when I had afterwards had lunch at Cowell. I knew the police had knowledge there, and I was, in consequence, not going to plead any ignorance of the spot.

"Oh!" remarked the doctor, elevating his eyebrows, "take note, Mr. Detective, that Charlie Edis knows the very tree. We must look into that."

A few minutes later and we passed the Iron Knob-Whyalla cross tracks, and proceeding very slowly, Willoughby turned round to me.

"Where is it, Edis? You say you know."

"I'll stop you," I said carelessly. "It's the biggest tree you'll meet. On the onside."

A couple of hundred yards further on and we drew up where I pointed out. We all alighted and stood round the tree. My emotions were completely under control. A solemn hush had fallen on us all.

"So there," said Willoughby, very softly and gulping, as if he had got a lump in his throat, "a dreadful murder was committed and some poor fellow's wretched soul set free."

I looked curiously at him. I had not thought him capable of such emotion. He had seemed too much of a hardened man of the world.

The doctor took up the tale. "And I wonder," he said slowly, "what happened next." He looked round and shuddered. "Which way, then, did the murderers go?" He turned to the detective. "There were two of them, weren't there, Mr. Dayus?" he asked sharply.

"We believe so," replied the detective.

"Well, then, what happened," went on the doctor, "when they had committed the crime? How did they escape? Did they rush away together, or did they separate and go different ways?" He spoke musingly. "I think that if I had been one of the murderers I should have preferred to escape alone."

"But what about the motor cycle?" said the detective. "They could both have got away on that."

"Bah!" exclaimed the doctor, contemptuously, "but it's all conjecture that they used the phantom motor cycle, now, isn't it? We can only guess, too, that they escaped at all." He threw out his hands. "What if the murdered man had put up some sort of a fight and so wounded both his attackers that all they were able to do afterwards was to crawl into the bush and die. Now, have you thought of that?" He glared at him as if he were reprimanding an inferior. "Are you sure the surrounding bush has been well searched?"

The detective grinned stolidly. "I haven't been working on the case."

But the doctor evidently would not take the snub. "Of course not," he said. "I don't suppose they searched a single yard." He smiled grimly. "Well, we'll have a look now, and Mr. Willoughby's car'll be handy to take the bodies home."

He put his arm through mine, and began to draw me away from the track.

"You come, too, Dayus," he said, "and Willoughby as well. We'll have no slackers here to-night." Then suddenly he burst into a hearty laugh and tapped the detective on the arm. "But there might be something in my idea, now, mightn't there, my friend?"

"There might," said the detective coldly, "but I don't think it probable. It's much too far-fetched."

"Aren't you coming, Willoughby?" called out the doctor.

"No," replied the hotel proprietor curtly. "It's all damned rot," and he sat down on the footboard of the car and lit a cigarette.

The detective led the way into the bush, and, of course, as I expected he would, he walked straight in the direction of the place where I had abandoned my motor bike.

"Ah!" I muttered, "so that's it, is it? He's going to try the third degree on me," I smiled grimly. "Well, he won't get much out of it anyhow."

We heard hurried sounds behind us, and Willoughby came running up.

"May as well come," he said sneeringly. "Perhaps we'll find a cool drink shop open here."

"He's frightened," whispered the doctor, who had still got his arm tight in mine, "he doesn't like being left alone."

And I didn't wonder at it either, for the surroundings were as gloomy and depressing as anyone could conceive. A great bank of inky clouds had rolled up overhead, making the bush almost as black as night. There were deep shadows everywhere, and a dreadful silence filled the place.

We walked on slowly, with the detective and the doctor peering round intently on every side. I tried to appear bored, and Willoughby, it was plain to everyone, was sneering, and sneering angrily, too.

The bush under which I had leant my motor bicycle came into view, and with the eyes of the detective, I was sure, upon me, I neither stared too long at it, nor deliberately left it out.

The machine was gone, of course. I had expected that, and it required no play acting on my part therefore to exhibit no surprise. I yawned.

"Ha!" exclaimed the doctor suddenly, "I smell petrol."

All of us at once stopped and raised our heads. There certainly was a strange taint in the air but it was not that of petrol, I was certain.

"Poof," I said, frowning as if I were puzzled. "It's not petrol. It's oil."

"Well, it's all the same," exclaimed the doctor excitedly, "a car's been here."

But I knew what had happened. When I had thrown the machine over to file out the engine number some of the oil must have trickled away down in the sand, and now the intense heat was volatilising it.

The doctor let go my arm, and began frenziedly rushing round searching for wheel marks, when suddenly a vivid flash of lightning leapt through the gloom and immediately a violent clap of thunder followed.

"Quick!" shouted Willoughby, "back to the car. The storm's just overhead, and it's going to rain like hell."

I felt a splash upon my face, and then another, and another. A sound, as if of an enormous sigh rustled through the bush and then, patter, patter, the rain began to fall.

With all ideas of any further search abandoned, we rushed for the car, and reached it only just in time. Down came the rain in torrents crashing upon the car roof like a veritable cascade of stones.

"Jove!" ejaculated Willoughby, "what a storm! We shall have to wait a bit here. I can't see twenty yards, but what a place to have to stop in."

"Yes," said the doctor cheerfully, "if Edis is right, we're exactly on the spot of the murder. Hardly a matter of inches I should say."

Willoughby made a gesture of annoyance, but the doctor rubbed his hands together delightedly. "Really, I feel psychic forces working in me—I'm full of electricity too." He let down one of the windows and peered out into the inky blackness. Then he took out his watch. "No wonder it's so dark," he said. "Night's falling now."

No one made any comment. A strong wind had now risen, and the rain crashed on us with a fierce swishing sound. The doctor leant out of the window.

"Yes, we must be over the very spot," he announced peering down. "I can almost imagine the rain uncovering the hardened blood that must be lying just beneath the sand."

"Oh! shut up," said Willoughby savagely, and his face, I saw, looked drawn and ghastly under the dim interior lights of the car. "Shut up—I'm sick of it."

A blinding flash of lightning lit up the sky and then again immediately a deafening roll of thunder followed.

"We must be still in the very centre of the storm," shouted the doctor, and then he pulled up the window as the rain began to splash in as it poured off the roof. "No good getting wet and spoiling Willoughby's nice car."

Again no one made any comment, and then for a few minutes, as far as we were concerned, there was complete silence inside the car. The lightning flashed, the thunder rolled, and the rain poured down. I thought I had never been in such a dreadful storm before.

I lay back and half closed my eyes so that I could watch the others without being seen. The detective kept looking at me, the doctor kept rubbing the moisture off the window with the sleeve of his coat, so that he could look through outside; and Willoughby had switched on the electric screen wiper so that he too could see what was going on. He was evidently fidgeting and anxious to get off.

It was the doctor who spoke first again. "I wouldn't have missed this for worlds," he said, "it's a wonderful experience for me." His voice dropped to an awed tone. "And do you know, you fellows, that I don't suppose any of us here, in all our lives will ever be in such dramatic circumstances again." He fixed us each in turn with solemn eyes. "Here are we, miles and miles from any habitation of men, in a most lonely part and in the blackness of night, a dreadful storm is raging about us, as if Nature were loosening all the elemental forces of heaven and earth in her anger, and we are on the spot, the very spot where, as Willoughby told us a few minutes ago, a poor soul was sped to a foul and bloody manner into the hereafter. Well, now I've got an idea." He paused for a moment, and I saw that Willoughby was scowling at him with furious eyes. "I know something about hypnotism; I've dabbled in it at the hospital. Well, suppose I try and hypnotise any one of you now. If I can get Dayus, or Willoughby, or Edis here into a trance, we may unravel all the mystery of the murder. We may call up a picture of all that happened here, and whoever is hypnotised, may describe even the face of the murderer. Now, what do you fellows say?"

But a hard, tense silence gripped us all. My heart thumped unpleasantly and my mouth was dry. Could he really hypnotise us, I asked myself, and should I be betrayed? Could he throw us into a trance? No, it was absurd.

The doctor went on, but now in quite businesslike tones.

"Well, who shall it be? I don't think Dayus, for, it I may say it, he's too stodgy, and would be only thinking of his rise in screw. No, it must be either Edis or Willoughby," He tucked his sleeves up. "Now then, gentlemen, who will volunteer?"

But there was a curse from Willoughby and, without a moment's warning, he pressed savagely on the self-starter. The car was started in a fierce jerk, it positively leapt into the higher gears, and then off we roared into the very teeth of the storm.

"Stop, Willoughby," shouted the doctor in real alarm now. "I'll let you off, if you stop. It isn't safe to take the track here in a storm."

But Willoughby took not the slightest notice. The car was in top gear in twenty seconds, and in a minute we were going like the wind.

For the moment, from his attitude, I was sure that the doctor was going to jump over on to the seat beside Willoughby, but he evidently thought better of it, for with a shrug of his shoulders as if in resignation, he threw himself back into the corner and accepted the inevitable.

The rain was still descending in torrents, and the big lights of the car powerful as they were, illuminated the track only for a bare hundred yards. The track itself curved in and out, and at times we could see no further than a man could throw a stone. Yet all the while Willoughby kept up the tremendous pace, taking the curves and the straight stretches alike without the slightest slackening of speed. He drove with perfect judgment, and sitting over the steering wheel, directed the movements of the big car with only the slightest movement of his arms. I could see his white face and glittering eyes reflected in the mirror over the windscreen, and fascinated for some unknown reason my gaze was drawn to him over and over again.

Suddenly, going round a short curve the car began to sway ominously, and the detective, rising in consternation, stretched forward to touch Willoughby on the arm.

But his hand never reached him, for the doctor darted out from the other side of me and seized the detective's wrist.

"Don't touch him," he shouted fiercely, "our only chance is to leave him alone. He's a madman for the time."

I looked curiously at the doctor. All his happy pleasantry had dropped off him, and he was frowning hard. In the dim light his face had taken on a strange mottled color, and I thought he looked like a man who was greatly afraid.

He saw me staring at him, and at once his expression altered and he conjured up a smile.

"We've about an even chance," he bawled in my ear, "not more than that." He reached up and switched off the light in the roof. "Better have it dark here. Nothing to distract our mad friend, then."

He leant back, but in a few seconds he bawled again. "What'll the going be like further on in the rain?"

"All good," I shouted back. "It'll be all right as long as we're on the sand, but if he doesn't slow down when we get on the dirt tracks leading into Port Augusta, there'll be hell to pay. We shall be all over the place."

Then for the next half-hour no one spoke. What were my feelings? Really I think I was the coolest of them all. I was so relieved that the hypnotising suggestion had fallen through that I looked upon any other happening as a lesser evil. Besides, I was aware better than the others what an excellent driver Willoughby was, and although as a born gambler he would be always prone to take great chances, still from what I knew of his character I was sure he would not run the margin of safety too finely even when he was angry, as he undoubtedly was now.

I had to confess to myself, however, that I had seen Willoughby in a new light, and that he had shown himself much more nervous and excitable than I had hitherto thought he was. The hot weather or the doctor, or both of them together, had rattled him a lot.

Well, if the speed of our outward journey had been terrifying, that of our homeward one was much more so. Willoughby never gave us a moment's respite. He just went on and on at the same breakneck speed, and with every curving of the track we fully expected to crash head on into another car. But nothing happened, we met no other car, and we began to breathe a little easier when we came out of the bush and were on the saltbush plains. Also, presently the weather conditions began to improve with great rapidity. The rain stopped almost as suddenly as it had begun, the storm rolled away behind us, and we passed from under the canopy of black clouds into the bright starlight of a perfect summer night.

Approaching Port Augusta, Willoughby at last slowed down to negotiate the sodden dirt tracks; we opened the windows, and all in our different ways pulled ourselves together again.

The detective sank into melancholy, the doctor became jovial, and started to crack jokes, and the handsome face of J. S. Willoughby lost all its hardness and was pleasant and good-natured again.

"By Jove! Colonel," said the doctor, as we finally pulled up before the hotel door, "you're a wonderful driver, but all the same I'll be damned if I ever ride with you again. I guess I have lost half a stone since dinner to-night."

"Nonsense, man," replied the hotel proprietor smiling, "what's the good of having speed in a car if you don't use it. We were only doing seventy to-night."

"Only seventy!" exclaimed the doctor, pretending to be astonished, "why I thought it ran into three figures at least."

"It was a great ride, doctor," went on Willoughby, "and I'll tell you and Dayus something, too." His face be came quite solemn, and he shot out his arm and pointed at me. "This Edis here has got more nerve than either of you two. I was watching all your faces in the mirror, and Edis looked positively happy when I started to come home in all that rain. You and Dayus went awfully funny colors, but, Edis never turned a hair. He's a cool chap, Edis, anyhow."

The doctor eyed me interestedly, as if he had just discovered I was with them. "Yes, you're a cool fellow, Edis," he said thoughtfully. "I believe you beat us all there."

He linked his arm in mine as we went into the hotel.

"Fifty-four miles in fifty-one minutes," he whispered confidentially. "The fellow ought to be put away."

That night, turning over the events of the evening in my mind just before I went to sleep I was very puzzled about two things. The first—had Willoughby and the detective really been in collusion together that evening, and if so what did the former know? To what extent had he been taken into the confidence of the detective, and had he all along, as far as his relations with me were concerned, been acting a part?

And then the second thing—and here I did not really know what was puzzling me—I had missed something. Some idea had occurred to me at some moment when we had been sitting in the car that evening, some idea that had struck some chord of unpleasant memories in me, and I could not remember now what it was. Something had flashed suddenly into my mind and I had been about to follow up the line of thought when I had been interrupted and I had let whatever it was go. And I could remember nothing now—nothing. It was like a dream that had faded before one had had time to record any of its happenings on one's waking thoughts.

I was puzzled, very puzzled.

The next day I found another letter from Ferguson in the parcel that arrived at the bank. It was a longish letter but only part of it was of any interest to me.

"About that murder affair," I read, "they are still on the job. Alan doesn't know much about it, but he says he had heard something about soon drawing in the net. At any rate, it appears that they have now got someone under suspicion, and they are scouring the State to get evidence against him. Alan says there are at least a dozen men working on the case."

"A dozen!" I ejaculated, licking my dry lips. "Dayus, Willoughby, the doctor, the new waiter! Good Lord! they must all be in it then. I must be literally surrounded by spies."

That evening just before dinner the doctor came into my room to borrow a clothes brush. I eyed him narrowly, but was doubtful after all, if he were a detective. As usual, he was laughing and full of jokes. He took off his dinner jacket and was starting to brush it, when suddenly he remembered he wanted to put in a telephone call before six. He had barely two minutes to do it. Throwing down his jacket upon the bed, he tore down the stairs just as he was, and with the door open I heard him shouting into the telephone in the hall.

I saw some letters half protruding from his jacket pocket, and like lightning my fingers were on them and I had taken them out.

They were all of recent date, and addressed to "Dr. Harry Thorn, Northern Hotel, Port Augusta."

Like lightning again, I went through their contents. One was from Fauldings, the Adelaide wholesale chemists, an invoice for some chemicals and glass retorts that were being sent up. Another which I didn't read, I saw from the heading of the notepaper came from the office of the Hydraulic Engineer in the city, and the third addressed and dated from Melbourne, three days previously began—

"My Darling Harry,—I am glad you are meeting such nice people. Your letters are a great——"

I turned hastily to the foot of the fourth page. "With always fondest love to you my dear boy.—Your loving Mother, Marion Thorn."

I thrust the letter back into the envelope and the envelopes back into the pocket of the jacket. I felt a thorough beast.

When the doctor came up again in about a couple of minutes, I was penitently brushing his dinner jacket for him myself. I had heard the dinner gong sound just before.

We went down to dinner arm in arm.

CHAPTER VIII.—THE STORM BREAKS.

It was on a Friday evening that Willoughby had taken us for that memorable ride, and with the Monday that followed, began the most dreadful week of all my life. Peril faced me from two entirely different directions, and had my opponents only pooled their knowledge, I should have been at once incarcerated behind prison bars.

The expected and the unexpected both happened, and in each instance my safety and my freedom hung balanced on a razor's edge.

And yet the week began so happily, too. I had a letter from Mr. McLaren, and he wrote almost in an affectionate vein. He said how much he missed me, and how he hoped I should soon come back. He would always be pleased to see me, and I was to remember that I could always invite myself to a week-end with him, whenever I wished. He had not been out much recently, for his poor old heart had not been too well, and he had been warned by his doctors not to over-exert himself in any way. Still, he hoped with care that he was good for some years to come, and among other pleasures, would enjoy plenty of chess with me. He added in conclusion that Miss McLaren sent her kind regards.

My heart glowed with a feeling of intense happiness. Helen would be always the lode-star of my life, I knew, but believing that any dreams I might have about her were impossible of realisation, and surrounded as I was now by dangers that might come home to me at any moment, I had resolutely put her dear face in the background, and tried my utmost to forget.

But now there was something in the old man's letter that gave birth to hope again, something that I thought, reading between the lines, held out to me the possibility that hitherto I had not believed even to exist.

At any rate I was to have the opportunity of seeing Helen again, and whenever I chose, too.

All that day I was in a state of happiness, and for the time all apprehension of Larose had passed away. Indeed, I was so light-hearted at dinner that evening that the doctor as a joke informed the other diners that he believed I had won first prize in the big Tasmanian sweepstake, and later, in spite of my denials, I was warmly congratulated on all sides.

Just after eight o'clock the doctor said he had a photograph of some girl he wanted to show me, a girl in Melbourne that he was rather sweet on, and he suggested that I should go up to his room and give him my opinion.

So upstairs we went, and sitting on the bed with the photo of a young woman before us, with our heads close together, we judicially considered her points of beauty.

Suddenly then, in the middle of our inspection, the door opened and three men walked in. They closed the door behind them and then they all stood and looked fixedly at me. One was the Inspector Scrutton I had seen at the Cowell Hotel, another was the man who had given me the tyre to mend at the garage in Wendover, and the third I didn't know.

For an appreciable number of seconds they did not speak.

And that was their fateful mistake, I saw afterwards, a mistake that was to lose them everything in the battle of wits that followed.

They gave me time to recover, to pull myself together and put up my guard, for in spite of all my fancied preparedness they had undoubtedly caught me unawares, whether they realised it or not.

All my thoughts that day had been of Helen, and I had forgotten for the time even that crime and lawlessness could exist, so that now, faced as I was unexpectedly by these hostile-looking men, I was in a way to crumple up and capitulate through panic, forthwith.

My limbs shook, my jaw dropped, and I could feel by the tightening of the skin that I was white and ashen to the very lips.

But their silence, brief though it was, gave my courage time to assert itself, and mind and body responded instantly to the call. My heart returned to its normal beating, my limbs ceased to tremble, and my face dropped coldly into hard, fixed lines.

I was at once again all prepared.

"That's him," said the stoutest of the party emphatically, breaking into the silence. "He's the fellow that mended my puncture. I'd recognise——"

But the doctor had sprung angrily to his feet. "What the hell does this mean?" he asked. "Do you know that this is a private room?"

They all looked at him for the first time.

"We're police officers," said Inspector Scrutton sharply, "and we've come for Charles Edis here." He turned back to me. "You admit you're Charles Edis, don't you?"

I looked as flabbergasted as I could. "I'm Edis all right," I said, staring from one to the other, "and I believe that I was christened Charles, but——" I shrugged my shoulders, "what you particularly want with me I can't conceive."

"Oh, can't you?" sneered the Inspector nastily. "Well, I'll tell you straight away. We want you about the murder of Otto Hansen on the Port Lincoln track, and we want you badly, too."

"Murder!" I ejaculated, as if I were quite dazed, "what have I got to do with his murder, anyway?"

"That's what you're going to tell us," said the Inspector significantly, "and tell a judge and jury, maybe, too."

I began to get angry. I hadn't acted in amateur theatricals for nothing, and I knew I could put up a fine rage. "But, damn it, man," I blustered, "what in the name of heaven have I to do with Otto Hansen or his murder? It's nothing to do with me."

"Oh! isn't it?" said the Inspector grimly. "Well, we will soon see about that." He turned to his stout companion. "You recognise him, don't you, Inspector Doyle?"

"Sure," said the one he addressed, fixing me with steely eyes. "I'd know him anywhere by his hands." His voice dropped into monotonous policeman tones. "He mended an inner tube for me at about 3.45 p.m. on the afternoon of Monday, the 15th of November last year, on the premises known as Young's Garage, in Wendover."

I laughed in his face. "Never been there in my life," I said. "Never heard of the place even until I came up here to the bank three weeks ago, so you're mistaken again."

The stout inspector glared at me with the ferocity of an angry bull, and was evidently going to add to his remark, when Inspector Scrutton waved him back, and then, taking a small notebook out of his pocket, addressed me with his face pushed out very close to mine.

"Now, look here, Edis," he said truculently, "I want some information out of you, and if it's not satisfactory we're going to put the handcuffs on you and lodge you in the cells straight away."

"But you've not told me yet what you've got against me," I replied hotly. "You've said I'm wanted for murder, and yet you have not told me why."

"I'll tell you in a brace of shakes," he said savagely, "but I've got to warn you first that anything you say may be used as evidence against you. That's the law."

"All right," I replied, "but it doesn't frighten me, as I've nothing to hide."

He shot out his finger. "Now, Edis," he said, "where were you on Wednesday, November the 10th last?"

"Working in the Bank of All Australia in Adelaide," I replied promptly. "where I always work."

"No, you weren't," he snarled quickly, "you were on holiday. You left the bank on the evening of Monday, November 8th."

"Ah! so I did!" I remarked carelessly, after a moment's thought. "I'd forgotten about my holiday. It's so long ago, and I'm always bad at dates."

"Well, where were you on November the 10th?" he blustered. "Now, out with it quick."

"In the Finniss district," I replied instantly, "on the banks of Late Alexandrina. I was camping there between Goolwa and Milang."

"It's not true," he almost shouted, "you were on the Port Lincoln track, and you were riding a motor bike."

I stared at him as if I were bewildered. "But I wasn't," I protested. "I was by Lake Alexandrina, three hundred miles from here, and I hadn't a motor cycle, only a push bike."

"Only a push bike!" he sneered, "and do you mean to deny that you didn't abandon a motor cycle 54 miles from here on the Port Lincoln track on Wednesday, November 10th; that you didn't return there,"—he gave a lightning glance at his notes—"on Sunday, February 3rd. file out the engine number of the machine you had hidden, and make off with the number plates. Now do you deny that?"

I drew in a deep breath and then sighed as if I were tired.

"You're dreaming," I said wearily. "I know nothing about engine numbers and number plates. Mine was only a push bike last year, I tell you, and I was down south on my holiday then."

"But I saw you myself," he asserted roughly, "three weeks ago, on the Sunday, coming out of the bush where the motor bike was. Do you deny it?"

I opened my eyes wide as if a light had suddenly broken in upon me. "Oh! no," I said readily, "and I remember now seeing you there. You were one of three men then that I saw draw up in a car, where I was, by the tree where the murder was done, and you had lunch where I did afterwards, at the same hotel in Cowell."

A triumphant smile lit up the face of the inspector. "Ah! Now we're coming to it," he said. "So you admit we saw you coming out of the bush?"

"Of course, I do," I replied. "You did see me coming out. I'd gone in after a snake I'd seen crossing the track."

"Snake!" he sneered; "what a stupid lie. Think of something else. There are no snakes within miles of there. There is no water for them for one thing."

"Oh! isn't there?" I asked sneeringly in my turn, "why, there's a Government dam within a quarter of a mile, let me tell you, and I saw a dead snake there only the day before yesterday. It's coiled round the top of a post about twenty yards in the bush just near where you saw me coming out."

He shook his head angrily as if the matter were of no consequence. "But do you deny then that you didn't go into the bush to tamper with a motor cycle that you had left there on November 10th?"

"Of course I do," I said firmly, "the suggestion's absurd. I do deny it."

"And that you didn't go on to the jetty at Cowell and throw the number plates into the sea?" He raised his hand menacingly. "Remember, you were watched," and he glared triumphantly at me.

But I could see by his very manner that he now was the liar. He was on tenterhooks for me to admit what he was stating. I looked at him without any emotion.

"I went on to the Jetty at Cowell," I said slowly, "as I told your silly-faced friend in the lavender tie that afternoon, but as for throwing number plates or dish plates,"—I sneered contemptuously—"into the sea——" I shrugged my shoulders. "No one saw me, and it's all on a par with your other ridiculous suggestions."

And then suddenly I would have sworn the two inspectors were grinning. Scrutton was reddish in the face, and Doyle, with all his ferocity, looked as if he were wanting to laugh!

But their amusement was very momentary, and then Scrutton was at me like a ferret again.

"And you say you were down by the lake on the Wednesday, the second day of your holiday?" He thrust his jaw out menacingly at me. "Can you prove it?"

"Certainly," I said confidently. "I can remember every hour of it."

"You can remember," he sneered, "but can anybody else? That's what interests us."

"Well," I sneered back, "I didn't take anyone in my pocket to make notes all the time, but all the same every day of my fortnight can be checked."

"Let's hear then," snapped the inspector, and he took out a pencil and moistened it with his lips.

"Well, I left the city on my bicycle on the Tuesday morning," I began, "and——"

"What time?" interrupted the inspector.

"9.30 I should say, or at any rate soon after breakfast."

"Go on."

"I rode straight through to Strathalbyn, bought some provisions there and then went on to the Finniss."

"Anyone see you."

"Yes, everyone, I expect, if they had eyes."

Inspector Scrutton made no comment. He just glared. He was evidently holding himself in.

"Well," I went on, "I camped three days there, close by the lake."

"Exactly where, please?" snapped the inspector.

"In the ruined house by the three big gum trees. You can't mistake it. It's not a hundred yards off the Goolwa track."

"Have a fire there?" asked the inspector making a note.

"Yes, every day, and I roasted a rabbit once. For the other meals I had tinned salmon and fish from the lake." I grinned. "I may as well be precise."

"Go on," said the inspector.

I appeared to think. "I left there on the Friday morning, and camped next under the bridge at Currency Creek. On the Saturday and Sunday I was on Goolwa beach. On Monday I reached Victor Harbour, and I remained there all the rest of the holiday until the Monday week."

"Where did you stop at Victor?" came the sharp question.

"On the Monday night I camped on the cliffs to the south of the town, and the rest of the time I stopped with Mr. Dowsett, the branch manager of our bank."

Inspector Scrutton turned to Inspector Doyle. "And you saw him this very Monday at Wendover's," he said grimly, "when he was impersonating the garage man?"

"Yes, I saw him then right enough," replied Inspector Doyle, glaring confidently at me as if there were no question at all about the matter. "I recognise him without the slightest doubt and he made the same kind of pert answers to me then that he's making to you now. I asked him if he had seen any strangers about, and he replied, 'Yes, you're one.' Yes, that's the man, and he was nowhere near Victor Harbour on the afternoon of Monday, November 15. I'll stake my life on it."

"Ah," I opened my eyes very wide and made as if a thought had suddenly struck me. I looked at Inspector Doyle. "And what was the date of the month you said you saw me in Wendover?" I asked eagerly.

"The 15th," he replied roughly. "Monday the 15th. at about 3.45 p.m., and I saw you as plain as I see you now."

With hands that I made tremble, I whipped out my pocket book and abstracted from one of the compartments a little white tissue-papered parcel.

"Well, here's some evidence," I cried exultingly, "that will make you think," and I unfolded the tissue paper and excitedly thrust a small gold medal under his eyes. "Look. Read what's engraved on it. 'Victor Harbour, November 16, 1924. Charles Edis. 220 yards.'" My voice rose in its triumph. "Now, what do you say to that? If I were up in Wendover mending tyres just before four o'clock on the Monday afternoon, is it likely I should be running in the regatta sports at Victor Harbour the next day, and besides——" I become more excited still. "Besides I remember I was at breakfast with our manager there, that same morning before eight o'clock."

Inspector Doyle frowned, and after a brief scrutiny handed over the medal to his fellow inspector, who was frowning also.

And then for the first time the third man spoke, and instantly my eyes were rivetted upon his face. He was younger I saw, than either of his companions and his features were of a decidedly more intellectual cast. He was quite good-looking, and had more the appearance of a soldier than a policeman. He had a pleasant even voice.

"I don't think you quite understand the position, Mr. Edis," he said quietly. "We are not necessarily hostile to you, but we must get at the truth. We tell you frankly that circumstances have fastened certain suspicions on you, but at the same time it lies wholly in your power to dispel these suspicions if they are not correct."

He paused for a moment, and then went on in quite a friendly tone.

"Briefly, the position is this. A motor cyclist was seen just before Otto Hansen was murdered on the Port Lincoln track, very near the exact place, and as nothing was heard of this motor cyclist afterwards, it was reasonably supposed that he was in some way mixed up with the murder. Well, three weeks ago yesterday you were seen coming out of a certain part of the bush, very close again to the scene of the murder, and a few minutes after you had gone off, the missing motor cycle was itself found with signs that all means of identifying it had very recently been removed." He shrugged his shoulders. "Naturally then, it was thought you had something to do with it, and that also you were anxious that your complicity should not become known. Enquiries were made about you, and it was discovered at once that you were away from Adelaide at the time the murder was committed. That naturally strengthened our suspicions that you were the motor cyclist. So now we come to ask you how you spent those absent days, where you were on your holiday. You tell us, the first week you were touring on your bicycle and camping by Lake Alexandrina and Goolwa, and the second, you spent in Victor Harbour. Well—" and his voice became almost silky in its pleasantness—"surely we can verify these statements easily enough. For instance, during the week you were at Victor Harbour you must have seen hundreds of people you knew, dozens of whom will be able to remember and say that they saw you there. Now is not that so?"

"Of course it is," I replied stoutly. "I met, as you say, hundreds of acquaintances and friends who can all undoubtedly remember that I was there."

"Well," he went on, "that will completely satisfy us there, but, Mr. Edis—" and all the pleasantness went suddenly out of his face and it was stern and cold, "if a hundred people can testify to having seen you during that second week of your holiday," his hand shot out accusingly, "can you find one who will testify to having seen you during the first?"

I drew in a deep breath and clenched my teeth hard so that my jaw should not drop. A wave of fear surged through me. He had set a trap for me and I had fallen into it. With one sentence he had shown me how weak and wanting my alibi was, and in one moment he had brought my castle of security in ruins to the ground. But then it flashed upon me, too, that if I could not bring witnesses to prove where I said I had been that week, neither could they bring witnesses to prove the contrary. It was stalemate.

I tried to look as if I were amused.

"Very dramatic," I said smiling, "but surely the comparison is hardly fair. You wouldn't expect me to run up against hundreds or even dozens of people who knew me in the lonely bush-lands, now would you?"

"Then you can't bring anyone to bear witness," he persisted coldly, "that they saw you on any of those seven days?"

"No-o," I said hesitatingly, but with an air, I hoped, of perfect candor. "I spoke to no one except the people in a few shops, and I could hardly expect they would remember me after all these months."

"And then absolutely the first person who can testify to us where you were on your holiday," he went on, "comes in only on the eighth day?" His voice was quiet but scornful. "For each and every one of the preceding days you cannot produce a single person who saw you?"

"Quite so," I replied with equal quietness, "and I have explained to you exactly why. I didn't get in touch, so to speak, with civilisation until I had breakfast that Tuesday morning with our Mr. Dowsett at eight o'clock."

He frowned. "Don't you make rather a lot of that breakfast, Mr. Edis?" he said thoughtfully—"that breakfast at the bank on the Tuesday at eight o'clock? You have mentioned it twice, and I noted that on both occasions you have laid stress upon the hour. Do you mean by that to endeavor to convince us that because you were breakfasting in Victor Harbour on the Tuesday morning at 8 o'clock, therefore you couldn't possibly be the man whom Inspector Doyle here saw in Wendover at about 4 o'clock the previous afternoon? Do you mean that?"

My mouth went dry again, and I wanted to moisten my lips. The man was reading my thoughts as if they were his own. I shook my head as if I were weary of the whole business.

"I really don't mean anything," I said, and I yawned. "I was only stating a fact."

"Because, if you do," he went on, ignoring my reply, "it wouldn't convince anybody at all. You might easily have been twenty miles up north from here on the Monday afternoon at 4 o'clock and have been in Victor Harbour the next morning by 8. The distance would be under three hundred miles, and a good car would make nothing of it."

"Oh! oh!" I said incredulously and as if in sarcastic surprise; "then I'm supposed to be one day murdering people on a motor cycle, and five days later to be gadding about in the same neighborhood and breaking records in a high speed car." I shrugged my shoulders. "Really, I'm a most versatile criminal and with substantial resources at my command, too."

But my humor was wasted on them, and on none of their faces was there even the ghost of a smile. Suddenly, then, Inspector Doyle stepped forward.

"Show me your hands!" he said, but quite politely for him, and I held them both out at once. He touched the tips of my fingers with his own.

"Musical?" he asked. I nodded. I guessed what was coming. "You play the violin?" he went on.

"No," I replied; "only the flute." I grinned, "But what's up now? Do you want me to play in a concert for the police?"

He made no reply, however, but instead stepped back and said something very quietly to Inspector Scrutton, who nodded as if he agreed. Then a short and whispered consultation took place between the three, and finally Inspector Scrutton turned round and glared at me.

"I'm not satisfied," he barked, "and I'm going to take you into custody pending further enquiries."

For a moment I was too astonished to take in what he meant, and then my heart almost stopped beating in my dismay.

"Take me into custody!" I gasped. "You don't mean that?"

"But I do," he said brusquely, "and the less fuss you make about it the better." He waved his hand round. "Get some things together at once!"

A mist came up before my eyes, a dreadful feeling of nausea seized me, and my legs shook as if I were in an ague. So all my cleverness had come to nothing, all my lies had been in vain, and in spite of all my precautions I was to fall actually into the hands of the police. I was to be taken to the police station, and to-morrow it would be broadcast everywhere that Charles Edis, of the All Australian Bank, had been arrested. What a terrible disgrace, and what would everyone say? What would the McLarens think—what would Helen? An awful thought surged through me. It would be in all the newspapers of the Commonwealth. Teddy Banks would hear of it up in Darwin—he was a talker—and he would certainly mention that he had sold me his motor bike. Then everything would be found out, and then—but my misery was so great that I could think no more. I composed my features to a frozen mask and stared stolidly at the inspector.

"Get a move on," he said roughly. "Don't you hear what I say?"

But then suddenly one of the unexpected things of life happened, and help came to me from a quarter that I should never have dreamed possible.

The doctor strode between me and the inspector. His face was red as a tomato, and he was bristling with rage.

"Don't be a damned fool," he shouted, "and just think a moment before it's too late. You'll cover yourself with ridicule if you arrest Mr. Edis, and besides that, remember,"—he spoke much more quietly all at once—"there are such things as action for false imprisonment against the police." He raised his hand warningly. "I'm a doctor, but I know something about evidence, too, and you've not a shred of real proof, I tell you, about anything against my friend here. I've been listening intently, and I've been taking in everything from an unprejudiced point of view, and I warn you solemnly that you've nothing to justify you doing such grievous wrong to Mr. Edis as putting him under arrest." He spoke more loudly again. "Don't you see, man, by arresting a bank official like Edis, if your action is not justified afterwards, and justified, too, up to the very hilt, you have done him a harm that is quite irreparable, and I would not like to be in your shoes when the authorities at headquarters are telling you what they think of you, or when the jury is afterwards assessing the damages in a civil court."

Dr. Thorn stopped here, apparently from sheer want of breath, and I was able to at last withdraw my astounded eyes from his face and regard those of the three officers of the law.

To my astonishment, here, again, there was nothing very bellicose about any of their expressions. I had expected that Inspector Scrutton, especially, would have been down upon the doctor like a load of bricks, but instead here he was listening quietly, and evidently to some degree impressed.

"It's all very well what you point out, doctor," he said, after a moment, "but you forget Inspector Doyle recognises him as the man who was posing as a garage assistant in Wendover that afternoon."

"But goodness gracious," said the doctor, very puzzled, "what on earth's that to do with the murder done nearly a week previously and 80 miles away?"

"That's exactly what we want to know ourselves," said the inspector significantly, "and what we've come here to find out. It's like this. We were combing the countryside at that time for any suspicious strangers hanging about, and Inspector Doyle happened to call in at that garage to have an inner tube repaired. He was waited upon, it turned out afterwards, by a man who had nothing to do with the garage at all; by a man who had just walked in there during the temporary absence of the garage proprietor, to escape our observation, we believe. Inspector Doyle called there again a few days later to complain that the repair had been most ineffectual, and to his astonishment, he learned that the garage proprietor knew nothing about it. Our view is that the impersonator was the man we wanted and that he was out in the road and saw us coming and bolted into the garage to hide. And Inspector Doyle now recognises the man as this Charles Edis here."

"Pooh!" said the doctor, "and he denies it."

"He would," sniffed the inspector, "what else would you expect?"

"But he has proof, he says," urged the doctor, "that he was nearly 300 miles away in Victor Harbour at eight o'clock the next morning, and while that, if he can prove it, does not, I admit, make it impossible, it certainly makes it very improbable, and in my opinion renders your action in arresting him upon such slender grounds, a criminal act in itself. It seems to me that you are just groping in the dark to arrest someone at any cost."

The inspector looked uneasy "But how do we know, if we don't take him now," he said, "that we shall ever get another chance? He may bolt away now he knows he is under suspicion."

"Bah!" said the doctor, "if you've no more evidence than what you've produced up to the present—and you seem to have put all your cards pretty well upon the table—I shouldn't think he'll be troubling much."

A silence fell upon the room, and for a long minute no one spoke. The doctor had resumed his seat upon the bed and had lit himself a cigarette. Inspector Scrutton was idly tracing an imaginary pattern upon the carpet with his foot. Inspector Doyle was looking out of the window, and only the third officer had got his eyes fixed on me. I had quite recovered my composure, and was hoping that in all my feelings of dire apprehension I had never let the full extent of my anxiety be seen. Whatever happened, I could retain now a cold and passionless mask up to the end.

Presently Inspector Scrutton looked up at me and spoke.

"Well," he said quietly, "and I take it Mr. Edis, that if we withhold our hands for the present, you will give a solemn understanding not to go away; that you will be always at hand if we want you." He smiled grimly. "That you won't try and go into smoke."

I repressed the exultation in my heart. "You needn't worry," I replied coldly, "you will always find me at the bank or else they'll know where I am."

"Very well," he said, "we'll leave it at that." He glanced curiously at me. "But I must say you're either a very innocent fellow, Mr. Edis, or else,"—he paused just the fraction of a second, "or else you're a very cool hand." He made a sign to his companions, and they all moved towards the door. "Oh! but one moment," he went on, and he turned towards the doctor. "I'd like a word with you, if you will, sir—" he gave another half-glance at me "outside."

"Certainly," replied the doctor with alacrity, and in a few seconds they had all gone, closing the door behind them, and I was alone.

It was in my mind to snap my fingers and laugh in exultation, but I remembered in time that I was just opposite the keyhole—I had resumed my seat upon the bed—and so, instead, I looked carelessly at my watch and then lit a cigarette.

The doctor was back in five minutes and he was laughing all over his face.

"A near squeak, Edis," he said, looking very pleased with himself. "If I hadn't sworn at them they'd have had you in jail to-night."

"Yes, and I'm very grateful to you, Doc.," I replied. "You've been a real friend to-day. It would have been such an awful disgrace if they had taken me even for the night."

"The police have no brains," he said, "and no imagination ether."

"Oh? haven't they?" I replied. "Well, they had too much imagination today, especially that third man, and he has plenty of brains, too." I hesitated a moment. "If I had really been the man they wanted, I should have shaken in my shoes, the way he summed things up. I wonder who he is?"

"Detective-Inspector Glass, they told me," said the doctor promptly. "I was introduced to him outside. They didn't tell me where he came from, but from a chance remark, I gathered he's a Port Pirie man. Head of the 'tecs there, perhaps."

"Cripes," I thought to myself, "I wonder now if he's Larose."

"But look here," went on the doctor with a grin, "what the devil do you think that Inspector Scrutton wanted me outside for?"

I shook my head. "Wanted you to spy on me perhaps."

"No, no," laughed the doctor, "stranger than that." He became solemn again. "They wanted my opinion, Edis, as a medical man as to whether you were the type of person to commit suicide or not."

An unpleasant feeling ran up my spine. "And what did you say?" I asked.

"I said, Edis," replied the doctor, and there was no mistaking the sincerity in his voice, "I said you were a cool fellow and would fight to the last ditch and never give in."

I was just going off to bed that night when Willoughby came up to me in the lounge. We had had no cards nor chess and I had not seen him since dinner. He looked as if he had got a bad headache, and although he was quite sober, it struck me that he had had more than his usual amount of drink.

"Excuse me, Mr. Edis," he said, "and don't answer me if you don't want to." He lowered his voice to a whisper. "Anything wrong at the Bank? You see, I know that two of those three men who went up to see you this evening belong to the Adelaide police, and I wondered what the trouble was."

"Spurious notes," I whispered back. "Don't take any tenners from anyone, to be quite safe."

"All right," he nodded, and then he asked, "But who was the third man? I know Scrutton and Doyle by sight."

"Detective-Inspector Glass from Port Pirie," I replied.

He looked mystified for a moment. "No, no," he said emphatically, "I know all the Port Pirie men, and there's no such man there."

But I was too tired to discuss the matter and so, bidding him good night, went straight to bed.

CHAPTER IX.—THE LIVING DEATH.

I had a dreadful night that night, but had I only known it it was but the prelude to an even more dreadful day.

I lay awake for hours and hours, and tossed and tossed, until I thought oblivion would never come.

A hundred times and more I went over in my mind all that had happened in the interview that evening with the police, and the disturbing factor was always that I had been actually then, I was sure, in the presence of the dreaded Gilbert Larose.

An instinct told me that a master had all along been directing that interview, that he had been handling it from first to last, that it had been all rehearsed beforehand, and that it had only been allowed to terminate as it had done because that master had willed it to be so. At some moment, I could realise now, he had given the signal, and then at once the truculent Inspector Scrutton had altered his whole demeanor and come like an obedient dog to heel.

And of course the detective, Glass, had been Gilbert Larose. I was sure of it now.

The way he had summed up the whole situation, the way he had torn my alibi to shreds and the whole intellectual flavor of his comments, all betrayed a mind far out of the ordinary and one moreover, not likely to be possessed by any ordinary member of the force. Besides, now I came to think it over, he was not unlike the man in the lavender-colored tie at Cowell. He was of the same shape and build, although his face and expression were quite dissimilar. Then why had I been allowed to go, I asked myself? Why had they let me still remain free after they had so openly disclosed their hands?

Of course, I knew the doctor had spoken up well for me, and decisively laid bare the weak parts of their case in a manner far better than I could ever have thought possible of him, but still when I came to think everything carefully over, the threat of an action for false imprisonment would not have frightened them for one second, knowing, as of course they did, that they were acting under high authority, and an authority moreover that would have been quite prepared to shoulder all the blame.

No, that was not why they had let me go. There was a deeper motive for their action, and in the small hours of the morning it came to me suddenly that I knew what it was.

To begin with, as I had comforted myself all along, Larose with all his genius had not been able to pick up the missing links of the chain, and for the moment he and his co-workers as far as any further incriminating evidence against me was concerned, were at a standstill.

So the interview had been arranged, and it had been in part a matter of bluff, engineered by Larose to determine if they could not possibly trap me into some admission that would give me away. Larose had probably wanted to be brought into contact with me himself. He had wanted, so to speak, to see me under fire, and he had looked hopefully for me to make some little slip that would have put him in the way of getting the information he required.

And he had been disappointed. He had not got what he wanted, and so he had given some secret signal, and for the time being had called off the fight. I was to be lulled into false security, and I was to be given a further length of rope so that the chance would still exist that, figuratively speaking, I should yet hang myself.

Larose knew I was hiding something, and he would be moving heaven and earth to find out what it was. He would—but mercifully at last sleep took me, and I sank to rest.

The next morning I felt altogether wretched, but pulling myself together with a great effort, under the watching eyes of Detective Dayus I ate a good breakfast and went off in apparently good spirits to the bank.

I was hardened to all trouble, I told myself grimly, and would meet whatever would eventuate, with a stiff upper lip.

And it was well I had taken this attitude, for trouble loomed up in a dreadful form that day.

The bank had hardly opened when a common and untidy-looking man came into a cash a small cheque. It was made out to 'Thomas Sloop or Order,' and as I knew the drawer had a good account I just turned it over to see if the endorsement was correct before paying out. I glanced up to ask the man how he would have it, to find that he was staring at me in a curious and startled way.

He had got his mouth wide open and his eyes fixed as if he had suddenly met with some great surprise.

I didn't know the man from Adam, and receiving no answer to my question, repeated it sharply, thinking that the fellow had been drinking. Then at once he dropped his eyes and mumbled a reply.

I gave him the money as he wanted, and without counting it he hurriedly scooped it up and thrust it into his pocket. Then with a swift and embarrassed looking glance at me he shuffled out of the bank.

I gave him no further thought, and indeed he would have passed completely out of my mind if I hadn't noticed him about half an hour later looking through the door of the bank. He had got his face glued close to the glass panel and his eyes wandered round until they lit on me. Then his mouth opened and his gaze was fixed again. But he realised that I was looking back at him and immediately, to my surprise, bobbed down and disappeared.

I saw him again when I went out to lunch. He was lounging on the other side of the street now, smoking a cigar. He had seen me come out of the bank, I was sure, but he pretended to be looking the other way. I walked briskly round to the Northern Hotel, and then turning round instinctively, just before I entered, saw that he had been following me and was not twenty yards away.

I was half-minded to stop, and ask him what he wanted, but thinking better of it, I look no notice and went in.

Now what the devil did it mean, I asked myself? He was common-looking enough and couldn't be anything to do with the police, for obviously they would not employ anyone so clumsy to do their shadowing. Besides, if he were anything to do with the police there was no sense in his following me to the hotel. It was known perfectly well where I was staying.

I ate my lunch thoughtfully, and going out to return to work fully expected to find the man again on the watch.

But, no, there was no one outside the hotel except the hall porter, who was surreptitiously smoking a cigarette.

"Beg pardon, sir," he said, as I was just turning away, "but there was a party here just now who wanted to know your name. He was a working man and was just behind you when you came in. I told him. I suppose it was all right?"

"Wanted to know my name?" I asked, now genuinely surprised. "Yes, of course it was all right. But what on earth did he want it for, do you know?"

The hall porter shook his head. "No, sir," he replied, "but he said he thought he had seen you in Adelaide and used to know you some time ago."

I walked on, very puzzled. I had no recollection of the man at all, but I determined if I saw him again to go up at once and enquire what it was he wanted to know about me.

But I need not have made any such resolve, for the moment I came out of the bank that afternoon I found him beside me. He had evidently been waiting for me.

"Mr. Edis, I think," he said, and his voice, I thought, sounded very nervous.

I glared haughtily at him. He was a dissipated looking individual about 35, and dressed in shabby working clothes. He had a white unhealthy face and bleary eyes, and his lips were parted over big yellow teeth that from their prominence gave him the appearance, as far as his mouth was concerned, of some unpleasant bird.

I nodded curtly. "What do you want?" I asked.

"I want a little talk with you," he said gruffly. He jerked his head to one side. "Come down on the wharf. We can be private there."

I started at him in astonishment. "Come down on the wharf with you," I echoed. "What the devil for? I don't know you."

His face took on a cunning look. "But I know you," he said, lowering his voice to a hoarse whisper, and at the same time he looked round furtively as if to make certain we were not being overheard.

A sickening feeling of foreboding surged through me. The man was not fooling, and I felt suddenly that some dreadful blow was about to fall.

"My name's Sloop," he went on, turning his eyes back on me, "and I was painting the roof of the house next door to Mr. Binks the morning you were messing with young Mr. Teddy's bike and the next afternoon—" his alcoholic breath nearly poisoned me, he bent his face so close; "we passed you in our lorry on the Port Lincoln track, just by where that auctioneer chap was killed." He leered triumphantly. "Now will you come?" and apparently taking my answer for granted he turned and began walking away.

Without a word, I followed like a lamb.

"Yes," he said cheerfully when about three minutes later we were seated on some blocks of wood behind the big goods shed on the wharf, "it struck me all of a heap when I saw you this morning in the bank. I recognised you, first as the chap who had had young Teddy's motor bike, and then, like a slap in the jaw, I knew you were the chap as well of the Port Lincoln track." He grinned knowingly. "Yes, and by gum I put two and two together mighty quick, when I went outside to chew the cud a bit. Then I had another squint at you through the door to make sure, and at dinner time I followed you to your pub." He struck his thigh triumphantly. "Then I knew I'd clicked."

I made no comment. I was numb and speechless with the horror of it all. I was completely in the power of this beast-like man.

He went on and he frowned now. "But I know I told those damned police I couldn't remember anything about the motor bike man we'd passed, and I couldn't neither when they asked me, for I'd a skinful of beer. But I remembered afterwards right enough. I wasn't going to help them though. I'll have no truck with the Johns. They're no pals of mine." He swore savagely. "They got me a month last Christmas for knocking the missus about, and I only bashed her because she answered me back. They told a lot of lies, like they always do, and swore I was a menace to the place. Damn them."

He stopped speaking for a moment to light a cigarette, and then he looked up curiously at me.

"But you're a cool one," he said, with admiration in his voice, "to do a job like that. Fancy a damned bank clerk having the nerve to kill a bloke with his own motor jack and get off with two thousand quid in notes!"

"But I didn't do it," I said angrily. "It was nothing to do with me."

He eyed me for a moment as if he were greatly amused. "No, of course not," he said sarcastically. "You didn't know nothing about it, and you just kept mum because you hadn't read the newspapers, that's it, eh?"

"Now look here," I burst out fiercely, "and don't you make any mistake. I had nothing at all to do with the murder, and I just kept silence because I didn't want to be mixed up in it at all. I admit I was the motor cyclist, but no one's got anything against me. So I tell you flat."

He shook his head protestingly. "It's no good trying to kid me, old chap, and I know a good deal more about things than you think. Since I saw you this morning, my old headpiece has been working double time, and I'll tell you something now—" he looked at me very solemnly. "I believe I ain't the only one in Port Augusta interested in you, Charley Edis. There's others got their eye on you, too. So there."

"What do you mean?" I asked boldly, but all the time my heart was going pit-a-pat.

"I mean," he said emphatically, "that this damn town is full of 'tecs and top-notchers, too. There's Scrutton and Dempster and Doyle, besides Dayus, who's been living at your pub. The best we've got in the State, and all in this lousy little town. I've been up here a fortnight on a job, and I've seen them all nosing about, the last few days." He laughed sneeringly. "I haven't been jailed as a drunk as often as I have not to know their dials by now, and I've spotted them all."

"But what's this to do with me?" I asked with my mouth very dry.

He looked thoughtful. "That's what I was awondering. There was three of them at your place at the Northern, last night. I saw them going in as I passed, and I heard old Scrutton say, 'Now look out, for, by cripes, he's not a mug.' Then this morning,—" but a thought seemed suddenly to strike him here and he broke off and jerked out. "But where's that motor bike of yours now?"

"What motor bike?" I asked, pretending to be dense.

He smiled scornfully. "Why, the one belonging to young Binks, of course, the one we saw you with on the track."

"Oh! down in Adelaide," I said carelessly, "I took it back there."

"You're a liar," he said exaltingly. "It's in the police-station stable, here. I saw it yesterday. We were painting the sheds there." He laughed with great enjoyment. "Oh! how bonzer everything fits in. I saw Scrutton showing it to his pals, and I wondered then what the devil there was in it to interest them so." He rubbed his hands together. "Then, when I saw you this morning, I remembered about Binks's motor bike. Then just now, when I was waiting for you to come out of the bank, I thought of the police-station bike and remembered it was the very spit of the one you rode, and, gee wiz, the whole damned business was as plain as a pint of beer to me." He leered, "Oh! you big innocent, and you said you had nothing to hide."

I burned in my discomforture. This wretched creature could think and reason, and, despite his alcoholic proclivities, was by no means an enemy to be despised. Suddenly, however, he bent over towards me and laid a filthy paw upon my arm.

"But look here, matey," he said in a most friendly way, "don't you be worrying as to how I'm going to give you away, because I'm not." He patted my arm. "Damn it all, I don't think any worse of you, I think you've bonzer pluck." He lowered his voice confidentially, "And between you and me and the gatepost, I don't mind telling you I've done a stretch myself. Two years for 'breaking and entering' in Perth. They don't know it over here or, by gosh, the damned cops would have suspected me of a lot of things that they haven't. I'm out on ticket-of-leave, and haven't reported lately." He chuckled gleefully. "So don't you worry, matey. You're not much worse than me. I won't give you away."

I regarded the wretch with horror. Words failed me, and I sat with the feelings, almost of death, within my heart.

But he went on, and his face had hardened now to a threatening look.

"But no tricks; no tricks, matey; no monkeying." His eyes glared into mine. "I want half of that two thousand, you understand."

"I haven't got it," I said emphatically. "I've told you I didn't kill the man."

"Half of it," he snarled, completely ignoring my denial, "or else,"—he nodded his head viciously—"I'll peach all I know."

But my number brain was beginning to work again. I must try and propitiate the man. I must reason with him.

"Now listen to me." I said, and I sprang up in my earnestness.

The effect was electrical. He sprang to his feet, too, and darted back half-a-dozen paces.

"No, you don't!" he said, sneeringly. "You just keep away from me. I'll have none of that motor-jack business here. Keep away, I say, or I'll give you a bash myself," and he seized on a bit of old chain that lay handy, and brandished it over his head.

I sat down again at once. "You're a fool," I said coldly. "What should I want to harm you for?"

"Awkward witness," he grinned, "and I ain't taking no risks." Still holding to the piece of chain he came up and stood near me. "Now, Charlie Edis," he went on, determinedly, "I've had enough of this parlez-voo. I want my share of the money, and I'm going to have it, too. No, no; I don't expect you've got it on you, man," for I had made a contemptuous pretence of turning out my pockets, "but I guess it's put away all right, and you've got to fork it out." He made a clumsy attempt to mollify me. "Of course, it must be disappointing a bit, having to part. I know that, but it's all in the game, and your luck's out to-day. Now you think it over and be a sensible chap, and we'll be good pals yet, you and me. I'll meet you again to-morrow, same time, same place. You come along to this wharf." He took out a battered-looking watch. "I must get off now before the pubs shut."

He thrust a hand into his trousers pocket and withdrawing it, counted up some small change.

"Gimme a pound!" he said. "I lost that other money on a horse." I hesitated a moment, but then, with no fight left in me, complied with his request.

The sound of his footsteps died away, and I was left alone with only my own thoughts.

But I couldn't think; it was all too horrible, and a couple of minutes later I, too, started back for the town. I felt faint and miserable, and wanted a drink of brandy as badly as I have ever wanted one in my life.

I had just reached the main street and was turning round by the bank, when I saw a small crowd surrounding a fox terrier that was lying upon the pavement. The animal was writhing in convulsions and frothing at the mouth.

"He's picked up a bait," I heard someone say. "Poor little devil, he's got a dose of strychnine right enough." In my own misery, the suffering of the world struck at me like a blow, and I forced my way savagely amongst them and laid hands upon the dog.

"Get some salt, quickly," I called out, "and someone lend me a knife."

"A vet lives just round the corner," said a man, "and he's at home now. I saw him just go in. I'll show you his place."

I grabbed up the dog in my arms and at a run followed the speaker, noticing then that the doctor was also running beside me.

"I'll come with you," he said quickly, "but don't mention I'm a doctor. The vet'll know what to do best."

In half a minute the three of us were at the vet's house. The surgery was at the side and there was a notice on the door. "Ring and enter." We burst in unceremoniously to find ourselves in the presence of a mild-looking little man with big horn glasses, who was in the act of making up a draught. The surgery was a large room, and one end of it was completely occupied right up to the ceiling with drawers and shelves, upon which were standing innumerable bottles of all shapes and sizes.

The vet, for it was he whom we saw, took in the situation at a glance.

"Strychnine!" he said. "Hold him tight and don't let him struggle whilst I make him sick," and in less time almost than it takes to tell it he was applying remedies to save the animal's life.

"That's right, old boy," he said, "bring it all up, and now I'll let out some blood."

It was a ghastly business whilst it lasted, and I was so distressed with the poor animal's sufferings that all thoughts of my own misery were forgotten.

"I'm afraid it's too late," said the vet after a couple of minutes, "he's going to die."

And die the poor little beast did almost as soon as the words were spoken. His struggling ceased, his eyes shut, his head sank down, and he was dead.

The old man sighed. "He was Clancy's dog," he said, "and the children will cry their eyes out when they know. He was such a pet with them and they were so fond of him." He turned round to me. "Where was the bait picked up, do you know?"

I shook my head. "He was lying on the pavement opposite the bank when I came up," I said. "I didn't see the beginning."

"Ah! well," said the vet. "He picked it up in the main street if that was so. Animals don't travel far after a strychnine bait, often not twenty yards." He frowned angrily. "But just think what brutes there are who can lay baits right in the middle of the town."

"Strychnine is much too easily obtained," commented the doctor. "Any one can get it over here."

The vet. shrugged his shoulders. "And how can it be prevented?" he asked. "There's any amount used on the stations and the farms. They are always laying baits for the foxes and the dingoes, and the crows, and no one can blame them for that." He frowned thoughtfully. "But the evil to me is that this poison habit makes folk so callous to the suffering of animals that they inflict it at any time. They don't confine their poisoning to occasions where it can be justified, but they poison indiscriminately when they have no justification and upon the slightest whim. To take this instance here. Some wretch in this town is annoyed, perhaps because he has heard a dog barking or perhaps because some animal has trodden upon a few flowers in his garden, and what does he do? He scatters baits right and left among domestic animals, not caring in the least what heart-burnings or what agonies he causes." The old man warmed himself up in his indignation. "Do you know, gentlemen, that I have practised in three good residential suburbs of Adelaide, three high-class suburbs, all peopled by the well-to-do, and in each of those places, if you kept a dog it was an even-money chance that it would be poisoned within six months." He smiled sadly. "It may be a very cultured city, but as far as domestic animals are concerned, there are some very cruel and callous people in it as well."

Thanking the old man for his services, we bade him good-bye and returned to our hotel.

With all my fancied control over myself, I was poor company at dinner, and when later at Willoughby's invitation we adjourned to his private room, try as I might, I could not raise a smile.

"By jove, Edis," said the doctor sympathetically, "but that dog business has upset you more than the ride did that night when Willoughby went mad."

"Mad indeed!" exclaimed Willoughby, shaking his fist at the doctor in mock anger, "but what dog business is this?"

The doctor told him.

"Poof!" said Willoughby as if surprised, "but I thought Edis was made of sterner stuff than that." He looked intently at me. "Yes, my lad, you do look chippy, but I've got the remedy for that," and he turned and touched the bell.

"Two bottles of Moet," he said when the waiter appeared.

"Oh no, Willoughby," I protested. "I'm not as bad as that."

"But I want some myself," he smiled, "and the doc. here looks pretty crook."

The champagne was brought, and we drank it wantonly in tumblers. It was really the very thing I needed, and in a few minutes I was feeling ever so much better. Mr troubles were put away, if not forgotten, and in a burst of relief, I confidently challenged Dayus to a game of chess.

"All right," said Willoughby laughing, "and I'll give two to one against you in pounds."

"Done," I said promptly, "and I'll get a new hat out of it to-morrow."

The solemn looking detective was by far the best player of us all, and the odds that the proprietor of the hotel was offering against me were by no means extravagant.

The chess-men were brought out and we sat down to play, with Willoughby and the doctor confidently expecting as they told me afterwards an early collapse on my part.

But they never made a greater mistake in their lives, for that game the detective was like a child in my hands.

The wine had unloosed all caution in me and I played with a boldness that made him surprised and uneasy after less even than a dozen moves. I sacrificed a knight to break up his position, an unsound move, but one that required most careful and accurate play to counter correctly. He just failed to do it, and playing for safety he enabled me to level down the number of pieces at once. Then he was in the worst position, and playing with the utmost confidence I never gave him the ghost of a chance. He resigned at last, with a dry inscrutable smile upon his face.

"You can play a bold game when it suits you, Mr. Edis," he said quietly. "And then you're a very difficult man to beat."

I could have sworn the doctor was annoyed about something.

We had some bridge then, and it was well towards midnight before I was finally up in my bedroom and alone with my own thoughts. I sat on my bed in the darkness, and through the open window looked out into the beautiful summer night. It was bright moonlight, and far away I could see the mountains silhouetted against the sky.

Well, I was up against it right enough. I was all peace and quietness now, and the bad old world was taking its guilty rest, but to-morrow—to-morrow—what tortures for me might not to-morrow bring?

To-morrow I might sleep in prison; I might—but suddenly the distant mountains gripped my thoughts and I remembered all that had happened there.

"Courage! Courage!" the stranger had said. "The coward always fails."

I laughed grimly. So be it; I would take life as it came. To-morrow might be heavy laden with sorrow, but to-night—was to-night.

I threw off my clothes quickly, and, tumbling into bed, almost instantly, so sapping of my strength had been all the emotions of the day, dropped off to sleep.

By breakfast time next morning I had hardened myself again to a callous acceptance of all that might happen. I could think of no plan as yet for circumventing my blackmailer, and was almost completely without hope of keeping him at bay. I dreaded the coming interview with him on the wharf.

I was kept very busy that morning in the bank, but no matter how great the pressure of business, the sinister figure of Thomas Sloop was always in the background of my thoughts, and to my consternation, just about midday, the wretch himself loomed up in person before me.

I happened to be looking in that direction when he furtively pushed open the bank door. He caught my eye at once, and grinned rather embarrassedly as he shuffled straight towards me at the counter where I was paying out.

He had to wait a couple of minutes or so while I was attending to some previous customers, and then when his turn came he asked boldly in quite a loud tone of voice if I could oblige him with change for a ten pound note.

The manager was at the table behind me, and within a few feet were my two fellow clerks, and I knew they all must have heard. I gulped down a lump in my throat and curtly answered "Yes," and then the wretch pushed over the counter—a ten-shilling note!

"Nine ones," he called out loudly, "and two halves, please."

I was aghast at his audacity, and for the moment glared at him too astonished to think of my reply.

But he repeated louder still. "Nine ones and two halves, please," as if in all innocence he thought I had not understood, and then, producing a dirty pocket handkerchief from his pocket, he looked round at the other clerks, and blew his nose like a trumpet.

My colleagues grinned, and out of the corner of my eye I saw the manager look up curiously. I ground my teeth together, but then—not daring to provoke a scene—handed over the notes to the value of ten pounds, as requested.

He counted them very carefully, and then, with a grim nod to me of thanks, tucked them in his pocket, and shuffled out.

I was simply boiling with rage, and had to avert my face to prevent anyone seeing how I felt. What would he dare to do next? Was I so completely in his power?

At half-past four that afternoon I walked down on to the wharf. I was almost in a homicidal frame of mind, and it would have taken very little for me to throw all caution to the winds and strike Mr. Thomas Sloop.

He was not this time behind the goods shed where we had met the previous day, but was sitting on a big coil of rope, right out in the open, and only about fifty yards from some men who were unloading a boat.

He grinned sheepishly when I came up, and made chuckling noises in his throat as if he were very pleased with himself and enjoying a good joke.

I sat down opposite to him, and restraining my anger with an effort, I eyed him stonily, waiting for him to be the first to speak.

"A good wheeze that," he laughed nervously after a few moments' silence. "Old Tommy Sloop's not a fool, you see, by any means, and I thought it a bonzer way of getting a bit on account." He seemed to hearten himself with the thought of his own cleverness, and now looked in a defiant way at me. "And that's what I'm going to do again to-morrow," he said.

I lit a cigarette. "It won't work a second time," I replied coldly. "I shall refer you to the other clerk if you come in again."

"Oh, you will, will you?" he snarled savagely. "Then it'll be Scrutton and quod for you, that's all, you understand?"

I could see it would not pay for me to lose my temper. The man had evidently been drinking, and in that condition was more dangerous than when completely sober. I spoke very quietly.

"Now listen, Sloop," I said firmly, "the sooner you and I come to an understanding the better. I told you yesterday, and I tell you again to-day, I had nothing to do with the killing and robbing of that man. I admit, as you know, I was the man on the motor cycle, and I admit again that for some reason of my own, I don't want it known. Now I will pay you a bit to keep quiet, but I tell you straight I can't pay much, for I haven't got it. So that's plain. If you keep mum, I'll give you a pound or two from time to time, but if you peach,"—I shrugged my shoulders—"you'll be a damned fool and get nothing for your pains."

He looked at me scornfully. "Won't wash, matey," he sneered, "you're a deep chap if ever there was one, and I don't believe a word you say. You've got that money somewhere, and you'll fork out if only I put the screw on tight enough. I told you I've been in quod myself and I've seen plenty of your flash sort." He laughed mockingly. "I know you, Charlie Edis, and I know the game you're trying to play." He thrust his ugly face up close to mine. "You're gone on that McLaren girl, and you've been cottoning to the old man so that he wouldn't mind now having you for a son-in-law to prevent that chap Rivers getting hold of her. She's dead nuts on him, and the old man's got the wind up about it."

I held my breath in amazement. What in heaven's name would be discovered next? By one fell chance upon another the drunken wretch was happening upon the main secrets of my life, and with every hour, it seemed that I was more in his power than ever. But what did it mean his saying Mr. McLaren would welcome me as a son-in-law? I was too astounded to speak.

Sloop was obviously enjoying my discomfiture. "Ah!" he grinned slyly. "I thought that would astonish you." He nodded his head vigorously. "Yes, Mr. Charles, you and me had better come to terms at once, or else—" he clenched his teeth together, "you know what to expect."

"But how did you learn I've had anything to do with Mr. McLaren," I asked frowning.

"Very simple," he replied, and he grinned. "My old woman's sister is parlor-maid there. You know her—the red-haired bit, called Jane."

And then in a flash all about Sloop himself was made plain. I had heard Mr. McLaren speak of the trials of their maid's married sister! Left a widow a few years previously, she had had the misfortune to chose a dreadful character for her second husband. He was a drunkard and a wife-beater, and treated his two step-children cruelly. He was in and out of prison continually, and no one had a good word to say for him.

And this then was the man now speaking to me, the wretch in whose hands all my fortune or misfortune lay. It was terrible, and for the moment I was too stunned to speak.

But Sloop was impatient, evidently thinking that he had now completely got the upper hand. His face hardened, and he spoke with truculent insistence.

"But I tell you, I'm not going to argue any more, Edis," he said. "Now, have you brought them notes?"

I looked him resolutely in the face. I had made up my mind suddenly that a bold game would be the best I could play. "I haven't," I replied, "and I'm not going to argue any more about it, either, so we're both of the same mind about that."

He snatched out his watch. "Well, the police'll know in ten minutes," he snarled viciously, "you can bet your life on it," and he stood up and made as if to move off.

"And what'll you gain?" I sneered, "you silly fool!"

"What'll I gain," he snarled, and his eyes closed vengefully to narrow slits. "Well, I'll have put a dirty dog in quod, that's what I'll gain."

"And you'll go there yourself, too," I said scornfully. "What about that broken ticket of leave?"

His jaw dropped, and it was almost comical the look of consternation that flashed suddenly into his face. "I—er—was only joking about that," he stammered. "It isn't true. Only a joke, I say."

"Ah! well," I said scornfully, "then it'll be a joke too to tell Inspector Scrutton about it. He looks a humorous man."

For quite a long minute then Sloop stood staring at me. His face was puckered, and his bleary eyes winked. He was evidently thinking hard.

"Well, I ain't going to hurry you," he said slowly, and with a great effort, "I'll leave things a day or two maybe, until you make up your mind." He regarded me warningly. "But you remember you've got more to lose in it than me. I'm a boozer, and I got a weak heart, and the quacks have told me I shan't make old bones, but you're young and a sweetheart's great shakes to a young chap—specially when she's a girl like old McLaren's." He leered horribly at me. "Purty little figure she's got, and she's as lovely as a peach,"—he saw me wince. "Fancy that mouth of hers all your own, fancy them——"

But I cut him short with an oath, and he stepped some feet distant from me, pretty quickly.

"No offence, Mr. Edis," he exclaimed hurriedly. "I was only wanting you to see, you can't fall out with me without you get the worst of the trouble in the end."

"Well, you keep your filthy tongue quiet about other people," I said furiously, "or I won't care what happens, and you can go to hell."

"No temper," he said soothingly. "We're both in the same boat, and we'll have a little talk now—as man to man," and with a covert glance over his shoulder at the lumpers who were still unloading the boat, no doubt to make sure they were quite handy in case of any violence on my part, he reseated himself near me on the coil of rope as if everything between us was quite amicable, and we were the best of friends.

It was nearly six o'clock before I had at last got rid of him, and then he shuffled off hurriedly to get a final drink before the public houses closed.

He had argued, and I had protested, he had called me a liar many times, and many times I had called him a fool, and then in the end nothing was agreed upon, except that I was to meet him again the next evening.

A dreadful week for me then followed. I was never free from the man, and night and day he was the obsession of my thoughts.

Every afternoon, directly I had finished my work at the bank, I had to hurry away to meet him, with my heart beating painfully, never knowing what indiscretions he had been up to during the day. He was always more or less fuddled with drink, and I was terrified that in his cups he might let fall a chance word that would be carried to the police, for once he was brought into contact with them, I made no mistake he would be like wax in their hands.

Instead of going any more to the wharf, I used to meet him at the bathing beach, for there was always a number of bathers about every evening, and I considered it would be less significant to any possible onlookers, if we were seen talking there together. I never knew if I were being shadowed or not. Luckily, the doctor, strangely enough for a man of his physical fitness, had no fondness for sea bathing, so I was quite secure from curiosity there.

I found Sloop a most unsatisfactory creature to handle. He was like a jelly fish in his temperament, and there was no finality about him in any of his moods. I neither convinced him, I am sure, that I had not committed the murder, nor on the other hand I was a desperate and daring breaker of the law. He could never make up his mind about anything, and he changed so quickly, too.

One minute for example, he would be scowling and threatening, and hitching up his trousers to go straight to the police, and next he would be wheedling and coaxing and asserting plaintively that all he wanted was a 'square deal.'

I had to give him money every day. He lost it he said on betting, two-up and cards, and I dreaded all along that his companions would be suspicious as to the source of his funds.

His home was in Adelaide, not very far from where the McLarens lived, but he had been working in Port Augusta for a man, and had just finished the job and was about to return to the city, when unhappily he had lighted upon me.

He was a degenerate of a most despicable type, and had no moral sense whatever. He was simple-minded and extremely cunning by turns, but always treacherous and never to be relied upon. One evening in one of his more fraternal moods he actually suggested that with his assistance, I should frame a hold-up at the bank some midday when the other clerks were away, and the manager in his room, and he was furiously angry and abusive when I turned it down!

This state of things went on for just a week, and the worry of it began to make me look haggard and ill. I was glum and silent at meals, as often as not after dinner pleading a headache and going straight to my room.

The detective, Dayus, eyed me curiously, but the doctor was most sympathetic. He wanted to prescribe a tonic for me, and was always asking if he could do anything for me in any way. His interest embarrassed me, and I was quite glad when in the middle of the week he was called away to the city. He said he should only be away for a few days.

On the Friday when I met Sloop the wretch was more sober than usual, and I could see at once from his expression that some new scheme was on his mind. And to my relief and thankfulness it was one of which I cordially approved.

He was tired of Port Augusta, he said, and he wanted to get back to Adelaide for the races that were to be run at Victoria Park on the Saturday afternoon. He had a certain winner, an animal called Black Rogue—I thought certainly the name was appropriate—- and it would pay quite a hundred to one in the totalisator.

A man he knew was motoring down to the city, and was starting at seven o'clock that evening. He had offered to give him a lift.

So far, so good, but he added, he must have thirty pounds, and then I told him bluntly I couldn't raise it. He got angry at once and cursed me generously from a copious vocabulary of bad words. Then he started wheedling. He said he would never bother me again. He would go right out of my life, if only I gave him the money, and swear a solemn oath that he had done with me for ever. He would write it down in black and while, if I liked.

Of course, I didn't believe in any of his promises for a moment, but the prospect of getting him away from Port Augusta at the present critical time was very tempting, and although I at first pretended to emphatically refuse, I was all the time turning over the suggestion in my mind.

Finally, I appeared to relent and I said I would go into the town and see what I could raise; the bank was shut, I pointed out, and it was impossible to get any from there.

I had twelve pounds of my own in my breast pocket and, walking quickly away to the hotel, wished heartily that the doctor had not gone away. I would have borrowed without a qualm from him, but now I should have to ask Willoughby, and somehow the idea did not too well please me, although I knew the loan would be only until the morrow.

But the hotel proprietor was niceness itself when I asked him and delighted to oblige. I borrowed only ten pounds, but he would quite as readily have made it fifty had I wished.

Then I started back for the bathing beach to settle up with Sloop, to find to my rage that the man himself was waiting not fifty yards from the hotel door. He had either trusted me so little, or in his childish and impetuous way had been so anxious to lay hands upon the money, that he had intended to hardly let me out of his sight.

I cursed angrily at him for coming into the town to meet me, and then, anxious not to be seen in his company, led him quickly into a side street. There I gave him the twenty-two pounds. He was furious at first, that it was eight pounds less than the sum he had demanded, but upon my pointing out, with a sarcasm that was, however, quite wasted upon him, that if the horse he was intending to invest my money upon were going to pay a hundred to one, a few pounds less put into the totalisator would still provide an enormous sum of money, sufficient, at any rate, for all present requirements, he became more reasonable and saw things in a different light.

"But you'll have to send me the other eight," he scowled. "I'll write to you when I want it. You can bet your life on that."

I went hot with apprehension all at once.

"Write to me!" I gasped. "You dare! Don't you see, you fool," I went on angrily, "that if the police are watching me as you say, they'll be opening every letter that comes up to me here, and so if you write, it'll be good-bye to every penny you're going to get out of me. They'll be suspicious about you at once, and come round to see who you are, and then they'll find you've broken your ticket-of-leave, and you'll be in prison before me." I snarled viciously at him. "Oh! you are a fool."

He seemed impressed a little, but still he persisted sullenly. "But I shall write to you all the same if I'm hard up so I tell you straight." He blinked cunningly at me with his bleary eyes. "You're going to be meat and drink to me for a long time, my son."

I saw it was no good getting into a temper. I must provide for this new danger, and not ignore it.

"But, damn it, man," I exclaimed earnestly, "whatever you do, never write to me here to my own name. If you must write, send your letter to John Brown, care of the bank. I sort out all the bank letters, and will get hold of it first."

So it was left at that, and the brute went off without a word of thanks. The relief, however, of getting rid of him, if only for the time being, was so great that to celebrate the occasion I ordered a bottle of wine at dinner and invited Dayus to share it with me. The detective accepted with his usual cold and solemn smile, but I noticed that when he thought I wasn't looking, he kept taking covert glances at me as if he were curious as to the reason for my high spirits. With all his secretive demeanor he was not a very good detective. His eyes always gave him away.

After dinner he went to the telephone box and put through a long call. I should not have known he was there in the ordinary way, for always after the meal I was to be found outside on the verandah, but that evening it happened I was short of cigarettes, and went up to my bedroom to get some, also I wanted to change my shoes. They were new ones, and hurt me.

I was upstairs quite five minutes, but the detective was still in the box when I came down.

That night in bed I took stock of my position, and pretty soon came to the conclusion that I could do absolutely nothing, and that the only course to be followed was to let things drift on. My great hope now was that things would gradually die down, and if I could only manage to keep the wretched Sloop quiet, the whole matter might soon be in a way of being forgotten altogether. Of the latter eventuality I would have been quite sure if it had not been for—Gilbert Larose. I was terribly afraid of him.

The next day I was still in good spirits, but just before the bank closed at noon, I got another terrible shock, and in one minute was plunged again into the depths of woe.

Another communication from young Ferguson arrived in the bank parcel and mentioning the murder, he wrote that his cousin had informed him that the police were about to offer a substantial reward.

"That's Larose's doing, of course," he added. "He's still hot upon the scent, and the general belief is now that there were three men in it. They think they know who one is, but they can't place the other two at present."

I tore the letter into shreds, and put it, as I always did, in the waste paper basket of the bank. I never risked carrying one of Ferguson's letters about me, in case my pockets should be searched.

Then I sternly faced the dreadful possibilities that his news held out.

If the police did offer a reward, then every atom of my security with Sloop was gone. In one of his varying moods he would be certain I had committed the murder, and then off he would go to the authorities and, risking whether they would learn he was on ticket-of-leave or not, would disclose all he knew about me to claim the reward.

Looking back in after days, I believe that on that Saturday and the two days that followed, my fortunes were at their lowest ebb, and that never had the imminence of evil loomed stronger to me than it did then.

Waking and sleeping, I was faced with ruin and disaster, and everything that I held dear in life might have been taken from me in the ticking of a second. I sat under the very shadow of the sword, and with every breath I drew I expected that sword to fall.

And the real terror of it to me was that I never knew when to expect the calamity to come. I never knew when a hand was not to be laid upon my shoulder, and a stern voice was to speak my name. I was to have no hour of preparedness, no minute to pull myself together, no second even to harden my face to repose.

Monday afternoon brought the Adelaide morning newspapers, and on the front page, under 'Public Notices,' were the big, ugly block letters:

"MURDER——

THREE HUNDRED POUNDS REWARD."

With dry lips and a clammy face I read on. The money was to be paid to any person or persons not the actual perpetrator or perpetrators of the deed, who would furnish such information as would lead to the discovery and conviction of the murderers.

Rapidly I thought it all out. To-day Sloop would read the paper; to-day, or to-morrow at the latest, then off he would go to the police, and after that—I shrugged my shoulders—any moment I should be arrested.

All the rest of the day I moved about with my eyes cast down but with my ears strained to their uttermost for the measured footfalls of the men who had come to take me. Every time the bank doors opened I expected them to admit a policeman, and every voice I heard I thought was about to summon me to hold up my hands.

Then, when I went back to the hotel it was just the same. The whole time I was on tenterhooks, and even when night came, and I lay tossing on my bed, the very silence only meant for me that my pursuers were tiptoeing outside my chamber door.

But nothing happened, nothing came as I expected, and then at lunch-time the next day I received what, at any rate for the moment, I knew amounted to a reprieve.

A letter arrived at the bank from Sloop addressed to John Brown, and giving me three days in which to deliver a thousand pounds to him or else he was going to make known everything to the police.

A newspaper cutting was enclosed. "Murder. Three Hundred Pounds Reward." with the Three Hundred deeply underlined. I caught my breath a little, but I had expected it, and the feeling of consternation at once passed. The letter was short, and consisted of only one page, written on common lined paper, that might have been torn from a school exercise book. The hand writing was quite legible.

"To C. Edis," I read. "This is my last word, and I want no more lies. You have till Friday next to give me my thousand pounds, or you know what. Meet me Friday, 9 p.m. sharp, outside the Broome Hotel, Middle street, opposite the parklands. Write to me you are coming, and no dam nonsense."

"From Thomas Sloop, 10, Heffer-street, Adelaide.

P.S.—You won't see your flash friends this time. The old man and Helen have gone to Melbourne for a week."

I put the letter in my pocket, and with a calm unruffled face, but with a sickening feeling of despair in my heart, resumed my seat at the bank counter and prepared for the afternoon's work.

CHAPTER X.—THE MORPHIA TABLETS

And now I come to the chapter in my life that pricks my conscience most. For I was a murderer then in intent, if not in actual fact.

I went home to the hotel that evening in a truly desperate condition. I was at the end of my tether, and about to lose everything. And I was being worsted, too, not by a man of the acute intelligence of Gilbert Larose, not by the accumulated activities of the best brains of the South Australian detective staff—but by a drunken, bleary-eyed degenerate, who owed every atom of his success to chance. Just chance, blind chance.

Later, I sat in my bedroom in the dark, and with, aching head and throbbing pulse, went over every possibility of escape that I could conceive. But it was no good, I could see; there was absolutely no hope. Across every avenue of escape loomed the sinister figure of Sloop, the painter, and he leered triumphantly at me, demanding with filthy oaths, his pounds of flesh.

And then gradually the idea came to me that I was not facing this latest danger with the same boldness and resource as I had faced a score of others, that I was weakening at the critical moment, and that if I were only brave enough there was a way out.

I could kill Stoop and silence him for ever!

I shuddered when I first thought of it, and put the idea resolutely away from me, but it returned again and again, and finally I was attempting to justify it, and regard it as quite the natural and desirable thing.

Sloop was a blackmailer, and I had often read of judges denouncing blackmail as a most dreadful form of crime. It might be worse than murder, I remember reading one of them had once said. Sloop was a thoroughly evil man, too, and in every way a menace to the community. He believed me to be a callous murderer, and yet had no abhorrence for my supposed crime. Indeed, he applauded it, and his only anxiety was that he himself should share, without risk, in the ill-gotten gains. Sloop was all-round 'bad,' and his decease would be of benefit to everyone. There was not one redeeming feature in his beast-like mode of life.

Gradually, and step by step, then I reasoned myself into the determination that Sloop must die, and at last, so convinced was I that the extremest measures were justifiable, long before the chimes of midnight sounded I was resolutely considering ways and means.

The next morning I was awake early and, with a great feeling of relief in my heart, set about maturing my plans.

The very thought of action braced me up, and I was soon reviewing everything in a cool and matter-of-fact spirit of calculation, without any undue trepidation at the risks I was going to run.

I determined to effect the removal of the wretch in so secret a manner that a hundred Gilbert Laroses would not be able to light upon the ghost of a clue that the killer had left behind him. If a crime it should be a perfect one.

To begin with, I replied at once to Sloop's letter, but, not knowing into whose hands my own letter might ultimately fall, I used no material that could be in any way traced back to me, and I inscribed nothing in my own hand with either pencil or pen.

I took a common, unused, castaway envelope out of the waste paper basket of the bank—one that some customer had brought in, as they often did when they came to deposit or cash some cheque. It was a common habit with station and farm hands, when they got their wages cheque, to put it into an envelope to keep it clean, and then cast away the latter afterwards. So I knew I should be safe there.

Then, for the address, I just cut out the piece of Sloop's letter in the man's own handwriting, 'Thomas Sloop, 10, Heffer-street, Adelaide,' and stuck it on the envelope—no, not with paste from the bank paste-pot, but with gum scraped laboriously from the flaps of half a dozen moistened envelopes. Safe again, there.

Then, for the message to Sloop, I cut out eight letters to form the words 'All right' from a newspaper, and gummed them on to a piece of its blank margin. I let everything get nice and dry, and then I rubbed all the surfaces lightly over with a piece of sandpaper taken from my motor bicycle repair outfit, so that no possible fingerprints should be left anywhere, and closing the envelope with a piece of blotting paper between it and my fingers, I dropped the letter into the post.

I was a little dubious about what Mr. Mackenzie would say when I went in to ask him for two days' leave to go up to the city, but he proved not difficult to persuade. I told him I wanted to go up and see my friends the McLarens before they went away, and aware of the position that the old man held in financial circles he was obviously impressed that I knew them. Then I delicately brought in Helen McLaren, and I blushed frankly at my own impudence, but at once he smiled and patting me encouragingly upon the shoulder, without any further pressing gave me his consent to go. I was to have the Friday and the Saturday off.

My next move was a more hazardous one. Leaving the bank about five minutes earlier than my usual luncheon time, I slipped quickly round to the veterinary surgeon's house where we had once taken the poisoned dog. According to the consulting hours inscribed upon his brass plate. It was not a time when it was likely he would be at home, but I reckoned, anyhow, on not finding the door locked.

And I was right in my conjecture, for turning the handle very gently the door yielded at once, and in two seconds I was in the consulting room where the vet. was in the habit of receiving his patients.

I tiptoed softly across the floor and then for a long minute stood listening. Not a sound anywhere near me, but inside the house the noise of pots and the rattling of plates. They were getting dinner ready, I told myself, and I must be quick. And so moving over to a nest of drawers built into a recess in the wall I began rapidly to pull them out, one by one. I remembered upon my previous visit seeing the old man abstract a hypodermic syringe and some tablets from somewhere there.

And I soon came upon what I wanted. A box with a number of little cardboard packets, containing small glass tubes filled with tablets for hypodermic use. Cocaine, strychnine, morphia, belladonna, and the name of many other drugs, I read. The old man was evidently very careless, for there was quite a quantity of loose silver, too, in the drawer, as if that were the place of his private till.

I quickly seized upon an unopened tube labelled 'morphine sulphate, one grain,' and then with a sigh of relief that I could in some way purge my dishonesty, I took two half-crowns out of my pocket and added them to the money already in the drawer. It was long odds, I thought, against the old man noticing anything.

Then I tiptoed outside again and was out of the side street and into the main road without having met anyone. So far, so good. All was going well.

The doctor returned from the city that evening, and I was unfeignedly glad to see him. He was as cheery and full of good humor as ever. At dinner he pretended to express great surprise that I was still in the town.

"Quite thought you would have bolted by now, Edis," he said gaily. He dug Dayus, who was sitting next to him, in the ribs. "And didn't you think so, too, you melancholy-looking old bloodhound of the law?"

The detective was mildly annoyed. "You're a little bit rough, doctor," he said reproachfully, and then he added in reply to the question. "No, I should never expect Mr. Edis to do anything silly. I should say he always thinks hard before he acts, every time."

"Good for you, sir," I said, smiling. "I'll remember you in my will for that." I lowered my voice and became serious. "But, I say, do you know if they are shadowing me? Scrutton and his lot I mean?"

The detective's face was absolutely expressionless. He just looked at me as if he hadn't heard. "Because if they are," I went on, "it will save them a lot of trouble if you tell them I am going away."

The doctor at all events looked very surprised. "Going Edis," he ejaculated, "back to the city; leaving here?"

"No, no," I laughed, but grateful to him all the same for the crestfallen way in which he had received the news, "I only mean that I've got two days' leave to go to the city and see some friends. I'm biking up on Friday and returning on Sunday. That's all."

"Oh!" he exclaimed. "I'll drive you up in my car."

I laughed again. "Fancy offering that," I said, "to a man who has a brand new motor cycle that he's only possessed a few weeks. Why, doctor that's the chief joy of the holiday that——" I lowered my eyes modestly "and meeting a very charming girl at the journey's end."

The doctor winked a very jovial eye at the detective. "By jove, Dayus," he said, "we must look into this. Our friend here is evidently a breaker of hearts as well as a supposed breaker of heads."

"Yes," I went on frowning, and as if the doctor's remark had recalled to me my original question. "But do you know if I am being shadowed, Mr. Dayus?"

The detective had to answer now, but the expression on his face was more wooden than the table. "I don't know anything," he said evasively; "they only tell me my job."

"Well, you're acquainted with Inspector Scrutton anyhow," I said sternly. "So just tell him; it will save him time."

The next evening, directly I had finished at the bank, I attended to my motor cycle in the garage behind the hotel. I had a look at all the nuts, and oiled and greased it, and then ran it out to get a fill up with petrol.

The doctor was standing outside the hotel as I passed to return to the garage.

"Ready for all adventures," I called out, and he winked and jerked his head in the direction of Dayus, who was just coming up the street.

A few minutes later and we all three went into dinner together, the doctor, Dayus and I. We took our usual seats, and then, just as the soup was brought on I made an excuse to go out and fetch a handkerchief. I ran upstairs, but not to my own room, instead I darted into the detective's, on the same floor, and pushing to the door, pulled out a large suitcase from under the bed. It was the one that I remembered had held Dayus' many disguises when he had shown them to me one evening when he had first come to stay at the hotel.

It was unlocked, and in two seconds I was feverishly going over its contents. There were five or six wigs, and I whipped one out, a brown one with rather curly hair. Then I took a pair of green glasses, an old Trilby hat, and finally, one of three shabby-looking dustcoats that were crushed in a corner.

I tucked my spoil under my coat, closed and pushed back the suitcase, and was hiding everything under the mattress of my own room, quicker almost than it takes to tell.

Then I was back again in the dining-room before the others had finished their soup. The doctor rallied me for being out of condition. If I was in good form, he said, my heart would not pump so, after the little exertion of running upstairs. He could see I was out of breath.

We went and stood outside the hotel after dinner, and presently our veterinary surgeon acquaintance came marching briskly by. He had got an ancient-looking dog of a decidedly nondescript type with him. The old man recognised us and stopped to chat for a moment.

Then the doctor made a laughing remark about the beauty of the dog and the vet was up in arms at once.

"She mayn't be a beauty," he said warmly, "but there isn't a more intelligent animal in the whole Commonwealth. Listen to what happened yesterday. We came in to dinner rather late and, as usual, the bitch was given her dinner along with ours. But would she eat it? No, not she. She kept sniff, sniff, sniff round the surgery door, and as fast as I called her away, back she went. At last I got up and let her go in there, and round and round the room she smelt. She told me as plainly as if she had spoken that someone had been there. You know—in that room in which you came."

"Well," asked the doctor, for the old man had paused to look contemplatively up the street, "had you been robbed of anything?"

The vet. frowned. "That's what I don't know," he said, "and that's what's puzzling me. Someone had been in there right enough and messing about, too, with the drawers, and I'm rather inclined to think I'm a tube of morphine short." He shook his head. "I'm not certain about that, but I am certain that there was five shillings more in my till than there should have been." He laughed. "Now what do you think of that?"

But we none of us offered any explanation, and in a few minutes, with a friendly good-night, the old man went off.

"Great Scot," I thought, "if I meet with many more coincidences like that, I shall soon be taking the morphine myself. Now it only needs Dayus to be wanting those things of his to-night, and then——" I shrugged my shoulders—"coincidence number two will about finish things up."

"Funny world this, Edis," remarked the doctor thoughtfully, when later we were sitting in the lounge, "and strange how things come out. About what the old vet. told us just now—there is all the making of some sinister tragedy in it. As I read things, someone sneaked into his surgery yesterday and stole a tube of his morphia. Then, to salve his conscience, the thief left five shillings behind. An honest thief, we see, and certainly therefore not a drug addict. Morphia fiends have no moral scruples, and with all of them not one tube only would have been taken, but the whole jolly lot, and there would have been no five shillings left either." He frowned heavily. "Thus we have a man stealing who is not accustomed to steal—and he steals poison. An honest and apparently decent-minded fellow stealing morphia because he is not able, or is afraid, to buy it. Now what does that mean?" He frowned more heavily still, and spoke very solemnly. "I think, Edis, and I hope I am not right—I think that someone is about to die."

I had to clench my teeth together very tightly to prevent my face showing what I felt. Good God! Here was another who could at times read everything like an open book. What a fool I was to think I could ever be really safe!

After a troubled night it was just after half-past 5 when I finally awoke, and jumping quickly out of bed I at once proceeded to dress. I put on all my usual clothes, and then over everything my motor cycling suit. The latter was both rain and dust proof, and would always allow me to appear fairly respectable, even after the longest journey.

Then in a small handbag I packed a pint bottle of whisky, a small sack that I had annexed from the stable yard, and the things I had taken from the detective's kitbag the previous day. Then closing my bedroom door rather noisily I made my way to the kitchen and got them to give me some bread and butter and a cup of tea. I stopped a little while chatting with the cook, and then going out into the garage started my motor bike before I wheeled it out of its stall. I fiddled about with it for a minute or two, and roared up the engine several times to make sure everything was all right.

"No one can say now that I sneaked off quietly," I grinned to myself, "and friend Dayus will certainly have been awakened by now."

Then with the town clock striking 6 and to the honking of my horn that I sounded to drive a sleepy dog out of the way, I glided out into the road and made off in the direction of Adelaide.

There were a few people about in the town, but directly I got outside and before even the metalled road gave way to the usual dirt track, I was quite by myself and there was no one in sight.

And it was well for my plans that it was so, for when I was not yet a mile distant from the town, after a quick backward glance to make sure that no one was following me. I turned off at right angles and rode into the bush.

I picked my way in and out among the scrub for about two hundred yards, and then selecting the biggest bush that I could find, packed my machine on the farther side of it, away from the direction I had just come.

Then I stripped off my motor cycle suit, and unstrapping my bag from the carrier, with all haste attired myself in the belongings of Detective Dayus. Wig, glasses, old dustcoat, and slouch hat were all called quickly into requisition, and then soiling over my hands, face, and the bottoms of my trousers with earth, I was of the opinion that no one would recognise me any longer. Indeed, taking a small mirror from my pocket I was quite pleased, for with my old hat, and the collar of my dust coat turned up high, I looked as different to my ordinary self as I could have imagined.

But I didn't stop to admire myself long. I folded up my motor cycle suit and cap, and stuffed them into the bag, and then the bag itself into the small sack I had brought. Then I walked out of the bush the way I had come, and with the sack over my shoulder, started back quickly for town. I knew I had not much time to spare.

I was going up to Adelaide by train, and the train was due to leave in exactly twenty minutes, at 6.30.

CHAPTER XI.—THE GRAVE IN THE GARDEN.

It was a cloudy sultry morning, and a hot north wind had risen suddenly, and was driving up the dust everywhere. Returning towards Port Augusta I got the full force of it, but happily the railway-station was on the outskirts of the town nearest to me, and with a few minutes to spare I was shortly seated in an empty carriage at the far end of the train. I had met no one I knew, and, indeed, had hardly seen a soul upon my way. Punctual to the time advertised the train started, and I was alone with my thoughts.

I was filled with elation that as far as it was humanly possible to be sure of anything I had got away from the town without being seen. I had slipped through the cordon that I was equally as sure had been posted secretly on every track to mark where I had gone.

As I understood the position Larose and his companions were everywhere at a stalemate, and had there been any other than Larose directing the operations I should have been perfectly confident that the game had ended definitely in a win for me.

But I had read too much about Larose and heard too much about his methods, too, to feel for one single second safe and secure. Larose suspected me, he more than suspected, he was sure.

The more I thought things over the more I was convinced he would consider the coincidences he had happened upon, linking me up with the murder of the auctioneer as altogether too startling not to mean anything. He would be certain, absolutely certain that in some way or other I was involved in the crime, and believing so it would be contrary to all his well known rules of life to let me alone. He would be watching, waiting, and certain that one day I would make one slip that would uncover everything and give me into his power.

And so it was that I was certain too that he was now trying to keep me continually in view, believing perhaps, as young Ferguson had written, that I should lead him to some confederate whom he might then shadow, too. Mine has proved an unprofitable track for him to follow, but he would hope sanguinely for better fortune with someone else's.

And I had read, too, all about the cordons that Larose upon occasions was accustomed to draw about his suspects in crime. No clumsy, close surrounding, giving the suspected party no elbow room to move, no close ring round the suspect's house, but a cordon far flung and invisible to the most suspicious eyes.

So I had no doubt that my description and that of my motor cycle had been broadcast in every direction, and that in every town, hamlet and lonely little collection of bush homes, wherever there was a telephone bell to clang, word had been passed that day, to tick off my progress north, south, east, and west.

And that was why I had come by train, challenging their cunning at its very source, and hoping by the very impudence of my action to squeeze through the meshes of their net. They would very soon, I knew, be in a quandary with no messages coming through from anywhere, but I reckoned they would never dream I had doubled back to start another trail from their very midst, and as for black tracking my motor bike, well—thank heaven for that hot north wind.

It was a wearisome and tiring journey up to Adelaide, and the inactivity of those long hours galled and chafed me as no risks and dangers would have done. My conscience was not by any means at rest, and it needed the anodyne of constant action to lull it into forgetfulness. I made no mistake. Mine was a mission of destruction, and my mind oscillated continually between two extremes. One moment I was loathing myself as having fallen to the most degraded depths of crime and the next I was trying to believe that after all I was only condemning a worthless wretch who was deserving of no pity, and whose continued existence meant misery and shame to many who had done him no harm.

Suddenly, however, to my great relief an inspiration came to me, and there flashed into my mind a plan whereby I might perhaps save myself without having to resort to the dreadful morphia tablets.

Before pretending to agree to hand over to him a half share of the notes I would trap him into giving me a written acknowledgment that he was fully aware that I was the murderer, and was only keeping silence because he was going to receive a part of the proceeds of the crime. In effect I would make him an accessory after the act, and then surprise him that he could no longer betray me without exposing himself as a criminal of almost equal turpitude.

The train stopped at every station, and it seemed as though the journey would never end, but at length, just before five, we reached the city, and giving up my ticket I passed quickly out of the station, thankful that whatever happened now my period of inactivity was at all events at an end.

Out in the street the newsboys were crying the evening paper, and I heard one of them calling out something about Port Augusta. Instantly a dreadful fear took possession of me, and I was terrified that something was being broadcast about my escape, but then I caught the words again, "Cyclone at Port Augusta! Great Damage Done!" and curiosity took the place of fear.

I bought a newspaper and breathlessly scanned over the headlines. A violent windstorm had passed along the foot of the ranges between Port Augusta and Port Pirie, I read, and great damage had been done to the telegraph and telephone wires. I chuckled in amusement, for if the police were really shadowing me, as I believed they were, then a veritable bomb would have been cast among their plans, with so many sources of information as to my movements being cut off. I read further, and saw the storm had occurred a few minutes before seven.

"Just when things would have begun to be interesting," I grinned, for if I had been on the Gulf track I should have been midway between Port Augusta and Port Pirie at that very time.

I thrust the paper in my pocket for further perusal later, and turning my back upon the city walked briskly across the parklands. My destination first, was the house of the McLarens in North Adelaide.

In less than a quarter of an hour I was at the entrance gates, peering up the drive. There was no one in sight, and I nipped round into the shrubbery inside the high garden wall. Then off came my hat, wig, glasses, and shabby dustcoat, to be replaced in less than half a minute by my motor cycling overalls and cap. Then, stuffing everything I had discarded, including my small sack, into the bag, I left the latter where I had changed, and seeing that the coast was clear stepped briskly into the drive and walked up to the house.

Benson, the old butler, answered my ring and smiled pleasantly when he saw who it was.

"The master and Miss Helen are away in Melbourne, Mr. Edis," he said in reply to my enquiry, "and they won't be back for about ten days."

Appearing very crestfallen, I expressed my disappointment, and then bidding him tell them I had called, I said good evening to him and turned away.

"Oh, by-the-bye," I called out as he was shutting the door, "I've got my motor bike in the shrubbery just by the gates. I want to leave it there for a little while until I go to get something to replace what's gone wrong. It'll be quite safe there, won't it? No one can see it, and they can't ride it off, anyhow."

The butler nodded. "Yes, it'll be quite safe, Mr. Edis," he said, "but, still, if you like I'll open the garage and you can lock it up there."

"Oh! no," I replied, "it'll only be for a few minutes so I won't bother you, thanks," and I walked off down the drive.

Returning into the shrubbery, I retrieved my bag and, passing out of the gates, set off at a quick pace again across the parklands.

At the first garage I came to I went in and bought a new sparking plug.

"How much? I asked.

"Four and sixpence," replied the man.

"Well, I shall pay you mostly in threepenny pieces, if you don't mind," I said. "They've been accumulating in my pocket and I want to get rid of them." I laughed as if it were a good joke. "No, I'm not a clergyman, and I haven't been robbing a collection box, either, so you needn't be afraid." The man laughed back. "But one's got a hole in it," I added. "Will that put you off?"

"No, no," said the man, smiling, "I'll run a piece of thread through it and give it to my little girl."

I went off well satisfied. At any rate, I had established myself in the man's recollection, and if need be he would be able to bear witness that I had had need of a sparking plug that evening.

Reaching the city, I went round to the King William Hotel, where I was well known to the proprietor and the various members of the staff, having often had meals there.

I booked a room and, after a cold shower, was just ready in time when the gong sounded for dinner at six o'clock.

I was put at a table by myself and was soon doing justice to an excellent meal. Presently I heard the sound of laughter behind me and recognised a voice I knew. I turned round and saw young Ferguson, one among a merry party at a large table. He caught sight of me at the same time, and waved his hand.

"Damn!" I swore under my breath, "and now perhaps I shall not be able to get rid of him."

But I need not have worried. He left his companions and came to sit at my table for a few minutes when dessert was being served, explaining that it wasn't his party, and apologising that he could only leave them for a very little while.

"And how's 'Murder Town' my boy?" he asked when we had exchanged a few casual remarks.

"Meaning Port Augusta," I laughed. "Well, it's not at all a bad place, but how's your great Larose?"

He looked round sharply and put his finger to his lips. "Hush!" he said, and he lowered his voice to a whisper. "My cousin would murder me if he knew I'd told you anything, it's supposed to be a dead secret everywhere."

"Sorry, old man," I whispered back, "but no one heard what I said," I affected a lively interest. "But is there anything new about him?"

"Yes and no," he said after a moment's hesitation. "Larose hasn't fixed all the murderers, but he thinks he's got one of them."

"Oh!" I exclaimed, and appeared very surprised, "but who is he?"

"I don't know," he replied, shaking his head, "and Alan doesn't know, either. None of our men know except Scrutton and the inner few. My cousin's not on that job and he only picks up bits of gossip at headquarters now and then." His face brightened. "But I can tell you this: Larose is supposed to have done some wonderful things. For instance, he bowled out the man they suspect in a simply marvellous way. The chap tried to put up a great alibi, and swore he'd been camping somewhere and killed a rabbit for his tucker." Young Ferguson leant back and fixed me intently with his eye. "Well, what do you think Larose did? He went to where the blighter said he'd made his camp and examined the bones of the animal he said he'd killed, and what do you think he found?" Ferguson tapped me very slowly on the arm. "He found they weren't rabbit bones at all. They were those of a hare. Now, what do you think of that?"

But I didn't say anything at all. I had a dreadful feeling at my heart and I could feel my face had gone icy cold.

"Yes," went on young Ferguson. "Alan says he's a wonder, and they admit they've got no one like him over here."

"Where—is—he—now?" I managed to get out at length in a voice that didn't sound to me like my own.

I sat on for a long time after my friend Ferguson had left me, in a whirl of dreadful thoughts. What a strangle-hold Larose had got on me and what a babe I was in his hands! He had caught me out in all my poor little lies and in his own good time surely, I should rest behind prison bars. Of course, he was the Detective Glass, and, as I had surmised before, his had been all along the sinister and dominating personality behind Scrutton and Doyle in that interview with me in the Northern Hotel. Now he had faded away again, but in his very absence I must be the more afraid, for it only meant, as young Ferguson had just made plain, that in his untiring and relentless way, he was accumulating more evidence to be used against me.

But would he ever get all the evidence he wanted, I asked myself? Teddy Binks and Sloop the painter were still the missing links in his chain. Ah! Sloop, the painter. Sloop was the one I had to fear.

And then suddenly my mood changed and anger began to take the place of fear. But who was this Gilbert Larose I asked myself, and why should he imagine that he was always going to deal with everyone just as if they were wooden monkeys on a stack? He was only ordinary flesh and blood himself, and it was inevitable that he would meet his conqueror one day. And why not now? My lips curled to a sneer. Larose! Larose! I was sick of hearing about Gilbert Larose. Why not someone else for a change? Why not Charles Edis for instance? Might not mine, as well as his, be a master mind?

All at once then I became calm again, and I smiled grimly. I must not forget I had an appointment at eight o'clock, and it would be discourteous to be late.

I went up to my bedroom to get my hat and, five minutes later, with plenty of time to spare, was sauntering off to keep my rendezvous opposite the Broome Hotel.

There was one thing at all events about my plan of campaign that was now approaching its critical moment, and that was its simplicity. I was hoping to get Sloop to an unfrequented spot in the parklands, and then if I couldn't get the document out of him that I wanted, to make him drunk with the pint of whisky that I was carrying and then administer a big dose of morphia that would end his worthless life for ever.

I knew enough of the habits of the man to be tolerably sure that he would keep his appointment in a more or less fuddled condition if he had been in the possession of any money at all during the day, and I was hoping to goodness that in some way or other his funds had not run low.

I had no intention, however, of meeting him outside the Broome Hotel as he had suggested, for that place would be far too public and someone might remember afterwards that they had seen me in his company. So my idea was to catch him if possible somewhere on the way, as he was coming from his home. The hotels closed at six o'clock, so I was pretty certain he would be starting out to meet me straight from Heffer-street.

I walked slowly along, turning over in my mind the most likely spots where I could take him, when all at once passing a large house with a big board 'To Let' in the front garden, an idea seized me. Here was the very place, I told myself, if only the house were unoccupied, and there were no caretaker on the premises?

I pushed open the gate and walked up the garden to the house. No, there was no one in it. The verandahs were thick with dust, the doors were locked, and peering through the windows, I was chilled with all the gloom and darkness of the big empty rooms.

The garden was a wilderness of untrimmed bushes and tall, tangled weeds and I thought with a shudder that it was an ideal setting for a crime. A body might lie undiscovered for months and months in the shadows of its high walls.

I was out quickly again into the road lest I should miss Sloop as he passed by, but then I walked slowly up and down, so that I should never be many yards away from the empty house.

But Sloop was a long while putting in an appearance, and I was beginning to think I had missed him altogether, when with mingled feelings of relief and dread, I at last saw him coming up the road, and my heart began to jump unpleasantly.

I managed it that we should meet exactly opposite the empty house. Then for a long minute we both stood still eyeing each other without speaking.

To my dismay the man appeared to be quite sober, but it struck me, too, that he looked ill and shaky. He was not in his working clothes, but was dressed in a dark suit and sported a soft felt hat. He was more presentable than I had ever seen him before.

"Well," I said presently, and I looked very sternly at him. "I've come."

He grinned sheepishly. "I thought you would, Mr. Edis," he replied, and he rubbed his hands together. "I guessed you'd see it was best." His expression hardened a little. "But you've brought the money?"

I nodded curtly. "But I've deducted what you've already had, forty-one pounds."

He pretended to reflect a moment, and then nodded his head. "That's quite fair," he said. "I must expect that." He sidled up close to me and looked up and down the road. "Give me the rest of the notes, then," he went on, with an excited catch in his breath, "and I'll cut away."

"Steady," I said, and I held up my hand, "you've got to give something for them first."

"Give what?" he asked quickly, and all the pleasant expression died instantly from his face.

"Your written agreement," I said sternly, "that from now on you're going to leave me alone. You're not going to get all this money and then, when it's spent, come down on me again." I spoke bitterly. "I tell you I want to be done with you. You're a blight upon my life."

"All right, all right," he said, testily, "I'll write anything you want." He threw his hands out. "But I can't do it now."

"Oh! yes you can," I said firmly, "and you're going to before you touch a single pound. I've got a fountain pen here and some paper, and we'll go somewhere where it's quiet and you can write."

"But it'll be dark in a few minutes," he grumbled.

"Well, the quicker it's done the better," I said. "Come on, we'll find somewhere close by," and I began to move off down the road. Then suddenly I stopped and pretended to look round. I made as if I had noticed the empty house now for the first time.

"The very place," I said. "Well go on to the verandah. Come in whilst no one's passing by," and I pushed open the gate and began to walk up the path.

But he called out "Hi!" and I looked round to see that he was only a few yards within the gate.

"Well, what is it?" I asked irritably.

"I'm not coming in," he said, shaking his head. "None of your jokes for me. I'm not going to be alone with you any time!" I retraced my steps sharply in a few strides.

"What do you mean?" I blustered. "Do you think I'll eat you, man?"

"I'm not coming, Edis," he repeated stubbornly, "and you know why. You're too jolly handy with your motor jacks for me."

"You fool!" I sneered angrily. "How could I do for you, right in sight of anyone passing along this road. Besides, I've got no weapon on me." I strode up close to him, and turning my back, held up my arms over my head. "Feel, if I've got anything," I sneered again, "if you're afraid."

There was a moment's hesitation, and then his filthy hands began to paw up and down my body, and it was no perfunctory examination, either. He squeezed over every inch of me before he was satisfied.

"What have you got in that bottle?" he asked when at last I had put down my arms and turned round again.

"Whisky," I replied carelessly. "You can have a drink of it if you want to."

He shook his head. "No thanks, matey, I'm teetotal until after I've touched those notes and got away from you." He leered cunningly. "So it's no good you trying me on that tack. No dope for Tommy Sloop to-day, my boy."

"You're a fool," I said, roughly, "and always will be." I turned round towards the house. "Come on, now, and get it over quickly."

"Yes, I'll come," he said, briskly; "but I warn you, none of your tricks." He tapped his breast pocket significantly. "I've got a little friend with me, if you haven't. A nice bit of iron piping," he gritted his teeth savagely, "and, by gosh, I'll use it on you quicker than you can say 'knife' if I have to."

I made no reply, but tossing my head contemptuously I led the way on to the verandah. Then we sat down a couple of yards apart and I produced pen and paper and proceeded to indite what he was to write.

In this respect, at all events, he gave me no trouble at all. He was so eager to get the money, and no doubt, too, he regarded me as being so very simple in believing that he would necessarily keep faith with anything that he promised, that I am sure he would have written anything that I had asked him to, just to get the matter settled.

"I, Thomas Sloop," he wrote, as I dictated, "in consideration of receiving 950 pounds of the money Charles Edis took off the body of the murdered Otto Hansen, hereby agree that I will keep my tongue quiet and saying nothing about it to the police or anyone; also I will not blackmail Charles Edis for anything more.—(Signed) Thomas Sloop, ticket-of-leave man from Perth, of 110, Heffer-street, Adelaide."

I read what he had written very carefully, and then waving the paper about for a few moments until the ink was quite dry folded it methodically and placed it in my breast pocket.

"Now for the money," said Sloop excitedly, and his eyes bulged like those of some hideous and repulsive fish.

I leant back and regarded him scornfully.

"Do you know what you've written, Sloop?" I asked.

"What you wanted me to," he replied sharply. "You just hand over the money now."

"You've compounded a felony," I said drily, "and you're now an accessory to the murder after the act."

"What the hell does that mean?" he asked angrily, "and what does it matter at all? Hand over the money now, that's all I want, and be quick."

I tapped significantly on the pocket that held the paper. "And this little document you have just written," I went on, "will prevent you ever claiming the reward. It makes you as guilty of committing the murder as me, in the eyes of the police. You're an accomplice now, in fact."

"Well, what about it?" he blustered. "I don't care. I'm not going to ask them for the reward, am I?"

I rose to my feet and looked him squarely in the face. "I've got no money for you, Sloop," I said firmly, "and as I've told you many times already, I never killed that man." I grinned. "That thick packet that I noticed you felt in my pocket just now when you were pawing me over with your dirty hands is folded newspaper. Nothing less, nothing more. Here it is for what it's worth." And snatching it out I threw it contemptuously at his feet.

The face of the wretch was a perfect study of chagrin and amazement. He was too dumbfounded to speak.

"Yes," I went on airily, "and now, if you give me away and the police come to take me up, the first thing they'll find when they search me will be this precious paper of yours in my breast pocket. I'll always carry it about with me, I can promise you for sure."

At last he found his speech, and words and actions followed like lightning upon each other.

"You damned dog!" he roared, and he whipped out his piece of piping and sprang upon me in a fury.

He was so quick that he caught me unawares, and if it had not been that in his rage he miscalculated his distance I should have received a crashing blow, square in the face. As it was, he struck just a fraction of an inch too short, and, meeting with no resistance, the iron slipped from his fingers and went slithering along the verandah. He darted forward to recover it, and, suddenly regaining my wits, I made a grab to prevent him, but all I caught was the tail of his jacket, and, with a resounding split, half of the garment was left in my hand, the release of the strain causing me to fall at once to the floor.

Then things happened very quickly. He recovered his iron piping and was back again on me in a flash. I was on my feet only just in time, as he struck viciously at my head. I ducked sideways, but did not escape entirely scot-free this time, for I received a glancing blow that grazed my ear and landed heavily on my shoulder. But it was my turn now, and I swung in and caught him viciously between the eyes with my fist. Over he toppled backwards, straight before me, and I heard his head crack like a broken cocoanut upon the stone verandah floor.

And all this occurred right in full view of anyone who might have been going by in the road; indeed, I remembered afterwards that subconsciously I had heard two motors pass.

For a few moments I stood waiting in a dazed and confused condition, expecting to see him get up, but then, gradually coming to realise that he was unconscious—if, indeed, he were not dead—a dreadful feeling of faintness seized me, and, regardless now of all personal safety, I sank down just where I was, and my eyes closed.

I did not become unconscious, I am sure, but for quite three or four minutes I was mentally and physically numb, and the whole police force of South Australia might have appeared upon the scene without interesting me in the slightest degree. Then, gradually, I opened my eyes and, turning my head round slightly to ease the shoulder that was now beginning to feel painful, I became dully aware that there was a face near me, very close to my own.

For a few moments I stared without comprehending, and then, with a stifled cry, I jerked myself up into a sitting position, and then shuffled terror-stricken a few paces away.

It was the face of Sloop I had been regarding, a dreadful corpse-like face with open mouth and half-closed eyes. We had been lying side by side in our little rest—the living and the dead, the killer and the killed.

He was stretched out, very still; there was blood everywhere upon the ground, where a pillow might have been, and behind his head there was dreadful evidence that he would never move again.

Holding my breath in horror, a moving object cut across my vision, and I glanced up hastily to see a man passing in the road before the garden gate. He did not glance round, however, and was gone in a few seconds, but the danger I was in, flashed instantly across my mind.

I sprang up, and seizing the body, dragged it roughly along the verandah round the corner of the house. In its passage it left a dreadful trail.

Then for the moment I knew I was safe. In that deserted garden we were as much out of sight of everyone as if we were in the bush. I stared at the body, and beginning now to recover my wits, at once began wondering what I should do next.

I was at first minded to clear off without further delay. Dusk was beginning to fall, and it would be dark in ten minutes, and I could slip out then into the road unnoticed, and be back in the hotel in another quarter of an hour. It might be days or even weeks before the body was discovered and then there would be nothing to bring home the death to me.

Ah, would there not? That was the uncertainty. Had Sloop told anyone he was going to meet me? No, I didn't think he would have done so, for there would have been nothing to gain by taking a third party into his confidence. It would only have meant sharing the money with someone else, and placing himself in another person's power.

For a couple of minutes or so I stood in dire perplexity, and then suddenly my train of thought was interrupted by a broad shaft of light that shot down the side of the house adjacent to the path leading on to the road and like a frightened rabbit I instantly dashed off the verandah into the tangled undergrowth of the garden for cover.

I barked my shins and scratched my hands and cursed wildly in my fear, for I was sure someone was coming round the corner with a light. Then after about a minute I cursed deeper still, and leaving my hiding place, crept up the path by the verandah.

Yes, it was as I had thought. They had switched on the city lights, and there was a big electric standard in the road right opposite the garden gate. Now, indeed, I was in a predicament, for if I were seen by any of the neighbors leaving the empty house it might at once excite suspicion, and it was easily on the cards, too, that I might run into the patrolling policeman.

Then another misfortune avalanched itself upon me, before even I had fully taken in the extent of the first.

A pandemonium of noise began to descend all at once upon the place.

Motor horns tooted, brakes ground harshly, and one after another cars began to park in the road. I heard the sound of happy voices and of people calling to one another, and finally a string band somewhere struck up to the entrancing strains of the Blue Danube waltz.

I gasped in dismay. There was a perfect hive of activity now about me. They were giving a dance in the house next door.

Stealing around by the other side of the garden, I crept up to the hedge facing the road and peered through, to see that there were cars parking for fully a hundred yards on either side of the gate, and to add to my consternation there was a policeman walking up and down, whose obvious mission it was to keep an eye upon the cars.

I returned quickly to the back of the house, and laying hasty but reluctant hands upon the body of Sloop, dragged it off the verandah into some bushes by the wall.

I sat down to think.

It was now a few minutes past nine, and I realised that I must remain in that garden for at least four or fire hours. I could not leave by the front of the house until all the cars had gone, and as I knew nothing of the lie of the land beyond the high garden wall at the back, in that direction I was going to take no risks. Then it dawned upon me, too, that if I could not get away until one or two in the morning it was certainly no good leaving then at all. My appearance walking in the streets at so belated an hour might be noticed and perhaps remembered by patrolling police, and, besides, I could not go and ring up the night porter of the hotel, for that, in the event of any subsequent enquiries would prove a fatal blunder. It would not be likely to be forgotten then, the lateness of my return.

So I saw I was doomed to pass the night where I was, and to share my lonely vigil with the ghastly huddled thing that lay stiffening by the wall.

In the meantime the music went on. They were playing old-time dance melodies and in other circumstances I should have rejoiced in the beauty of it all.

Shortly before ten the moon rose. It was nearly full, and made everything in the garden as light as day, save in one corner where a small tool shed held the shadows.

Suddenly it struck me I might be able to find a good hiding place for the body, somewhere where it might not be found for a long while. Immediately I thought of the tool shed and crept round to investigate. Better still, right in the far corner of the garden behind the shed was a big rubbish pit about ten feet square. The pit was half full of decayed leaves and other garden debris, and there was a rank and mouldy smell about it. I wondered about the smell, for everything in a neglected garden at that time of year should have been bone dry, until I found a water tap that had not been turned off properly and surmised that for months past, probably, it had been dripping away.

By the side of the pit, there was a rusty old garden fork, with one prong missing. Evidently the late occupiers of the house had not considered it worth taking away.

My heart beat excitedly. Here was the very place I wanted. I had all the night before me, and I could bury the body five or six feet deep.

Taking off my coat I threw it over a bush, and turning up my trousers I grabbed hold of the fork and set vigorously to work.

Making as little mess as possible on the ground surrounding the pit, I threw up every scrap of rubbish that it contained, and then in the damp earth floor of the now empty pit I commenced to dig a deep hole. The hole was to be only against one side of the pit, and so the other side of it I used as a shelf upon which to pile the excavated soil. The earth was easy enough to turn up, but all the same it was hard work, and in about an hour I stopped to have a rest. I lit a cigarette and went and sat on the verandah.

I was full of hope and confidence now. I would bury the body deep, and then with all the rubbish again replaced nothing might be ever found at all. There would be no discovery of any violent death. Sloop would simply have disappeared.

Suddenly however I heard the clicking of the front gate, the whisper of low voices, and the crunch of footsteps on the garden path. I was off the verandah in a flash, and after a second's hesitation darted to the body, and snatching hold of it anywhere dragged it deeper into the bushes. Then I crouched down and watched holding my breath.

A man and a girl came round the corner of the house. They were both in evening dress, and were walking a little way apart. Immediately the corner was turned, however, they closed up together, and were wrapped in each other's arms. Then the man took the girl's face in his two hands and looked tenderly down upon it. Then, after a moment, they kissed. A very long kiss.

The moon was shining full upon them, and I could see every expression of their faces. The girl was very pretty, and she was very much in love, but it was she who shook herself free and spoke first.

"We musn't be long, dearest. Only just a minute or two or we shall be missed. And don't rumple my hair, whatever you do."

"Come and sit down for a moment, sweetheart," I heard the man say, "on the verandah."

The girl shook her head. "No, dearest, just think of my dress."

The man laughed tenderly. "You little witch. How beautiful you are tonight."

"Well, be a good boy," she laughed back, "and don't rumple me anywhere."

A long silence followed, and then the girl spoke again. She was nestling in the man's arms.

"Isn't everything heavenly to-night?" she said, "and can there be any place more lovely than this old garden under the moon?" She snuggled her head into his shoulder. "It's a beautiful world, dear, isn't it, and it was made for happiness and love."

I felt something sticky on my fingers and rubbed them shudderingly into the earth.

Then there was some more kissing and I heard many times "Just one more," and, "No, you mustn't." Finally they turned round the corner again, the man walking as if he were bored and the girl with her head high up and looking as if there were no such things as kisses or crumpled hair.

I went hack to the pit and worked feverishly for nearly two hours, before I got the hole deep enough to please me. It came nearly up to my shoulders, and I am not quite an inch off six feet high.

Then a thought striking me, I searched the body, hoping to find by good fortune the letter that I had sent to Sloop from Port Augusta in one of the pockets. But it was not there, and with no further delay I lowered all that remained of Thomas Sloop into the hole and proceeded to fill it in. Then Fate played a ghastly joke, for with the first fork full of earth that went down the band next door struck up the waltz from 'The Merry Widow.'

Well, it was not inappropriate, I told myself, for his family were now freed from the tyranny and cruelty of a thoroughly bad man.

I filled in the grave thoroughly and levelled down all the floor of the pit, then I carefully replaced all the leaves and rubbish I had taken out and finally was of the opinion that as far as I could see by the light of the moon I had made a good job.

But I was not quite out of danger yet, I knew. I had still to remove the bloodstains from the verandah but I must wait for daylight to do that. I could get plenty of water then from the taps. I had purposely kept back half of the dead man's jacket to use as a mop.

I crept on to the verandah again and leaned back to ease my aching limbs. I was thoroughly tired out, and had a big blister on the palm of my right hand.

The dance finished soon after half-past two, and quiet gradually fell upon the place. But I had one fright more.

Just when I thought it would be safe to doze off for a couple of hours, I heard the front gate click again, and this time I darted round the other side of the house. Hearing no further sounds, I peeped out after a few moments and to my horror saw a policeman standing just at the entrance to the drive. He was bending down, and for a second I thought from his attitude that he was crouching, preparatory to making a fierce rush. But suddenly he straightened himself up and I heard the popping of a cork. Then up went his head and I could see he was drinking from a bottle. He was evidently very thirsty, and it was a long drink he took. Then he began to swing the bottle in his hand, and before I could fathom his purpose round went his arm and whizz, the bottle came straight in a line for me and crashed into the bushes just above my head. A foot lower, and it would have caught me full in the face.

I was in a cold bath of perspiration, but in spite of my fright, I grinned. Fate was dealing me all the good cards that night.

The gate clicked again, and the policeman went out. Then I went back on to my old place on the verandah, and I believe I must have very quickly fallen asleep. At any rate, I remember nothing more until I awoke with a start just as the distant post-office clock was striking six.

It was the rattling of milk cans on the road outside that had awakened me up and for once, at all events, I was heartily grateful for the usual noisy habits of the purveyors of milk.

I made short work of the mess on the verandah, and then I buried the part of the jacket deeply behind a bush. I tidied over the edges of the rubbish pit and after a good wash under one of the taps, making the best toilet that I could, at half-past seven I walked boldly into the road and set out for the hotel.

I bought a newspaper on the way, and approaching the King William Hotel, slipped off my cap and lounged carelessly outside, waiting there until I heard the breakfast bell ring. Then I ran in, and upstairs to my bedroom. It was just as I had left it. I ruffled my bed about to give it the appearance of having been slept in, and then after a good wash and brush up, went down to the dining-room and had a pick at breakfast.

Settling my account at the office, before a quarter to nine, I was out in the street, and walking towards the parklands. I made a lightning change again into Dayus's things behind some trees, and at nine fifteen was seated in the Port Augusta express. I had timed everything almost exactly to the minute. The train drew slowly out of the station, and with a sigh of relief I opened the morning's paper and commenced to read.

Although everything had progressed so satisfactorily and all my plans were succeeding so well, yet I cannot say that the return journey to Port Augusta was by any means a cheerful one.

I was feeling exactly like some gambler who has plunged for a heavy stake upon a certain racehorse, and who is now watching the race run. He has backed the horse at very long odds and has got everything he possesses upon it. It means fortune for him if it wins, and ruin and disaster if it loses. Well, the horses have just turned into the straight for home and to his frenzied delight he sees his own animal right out in front and leading the field. Nearer and nearer to the winning post they come, with his horse still leading them all. Then in an agony of doubt he has to endure the last hundred yards. It looks as if it is certain that his horse will win, and yet—yet in those five or six seconds he knows anything may happen. His horse may be headed and fall back, and then the end of everything will come.

And so it was with me. I had started so well, I had run such a good race. I was so near the winning post, and yet—again yet, I might be beaten in the last stride.

The whole journey long I was on tenterhooks. I thought that many people stared at me suspiciously, that almost every man I saw was a detective, disguised, and that at every station when we stopped, we were stopping only in order that the police might go through the train and search for me. But—as several times before in these dreadful episodes in my life when I was expecting everything—nothing happened.

We arrived at Port Augusta just before half-past five. I hopped out of the train, and, with no one apparently taking any interest in me, set off along the Port Pirie track in the same disguise that I had traversed it on the morning of the previous day.

I found my motor cycle apparently just as I had left it, and with relief in my heart, made a lightning alteration in my appearance, as once before.

CHAPTER XII.—AN AMAZING REVELATION.

Then I changed one of the sparking plugs for the new one I had bought in the city, and buried the discarded one deep in the sand. Then I let out nearly all the petrol so that I should reach home with very little left, and finally, wheeling my machine on to the road, and seeing no one in sight, in order to ensure a well-travelled appearance. I gave everything a good covering of dust, including my own self. About this latter precaution, however, I need not have troubled for I had hardly started the engine and moved off when a heavy rain storm swept down and both the machine and I were soon well spattered over with mud.

For two or three minutes the rain descended in torrents, and entering the town I saw Dayus the detective sheltering under a verandah and talking to another man. In pure devilry I tooted loudly on my horn to attract the former's attention, and was delighted upon his companion turning round in my direction too, to see that the latter was no less than the detective Glass.

I waved my hand towards them in the friendliest manner possible, but would have sworn that there was animosity as well as surprise in both their glances.

"Now for the few last strides," I muttered breathlessly, "and then it will be Charlie Edis's number that will go up. I've only got to put back Dayus's wig and things, and then I shall have won the race hands down."

I roared like an aeroplane up the street and drove fiercely into the garage of the hotel. Then off from the carrier came my bag, and I darted through the back way into the hotel. I made straight for the detective's room and with trembling yet swift hands, replaced everything that I had borrowed in exactly the same places, where I had been careful to memorise they had been before.

Then back into the lounge with my bag in my hand and still travel-stained as I was, I sat down and ordered a large brandy and soda.

Oh! the exquisite sweetness of that moment. Could my triumph in any way have been the more complete?

A bare thirty-six hours ago I had set out to accomplish the almost impossible. I had pitted myself against some of the most acute brains in the Commonwealth. I had faced mischance and dangers innumerable. I had depended fearlessly upon a long sequence of happenings of good fortune. I had staked everything upon a gambler's throw—and the dice had fallen exactly as I had wished them to.

And another thing, too. In great thankfulness, I knew that throughout all my life I should be spared the remorse now that I had deliberately shed human blood again, for whatever provocation Sloop had given me, and however meet it was that his worthless days should have come suddenly to a dreadful end, it was actually he and not I who had forced the final issue. I had killed accidentally and in self-defence. I should remember always it had been his life or mine.

Not five minutes later, Dayus burst violently into the lounge. He was very red in the face, and all his clothes were soaked through. Something evidently very important had made him scurry through the rain, and rather amused I thought I knew what it was.

He started visibly when he saw me sitting there, and then would have passed with just a nod and a faint smile if I had not made him stop by rising from my chair.

"Hullo!" I exclaimed smilingly, "but you've got wet through. Have a drink before you change?"

"No, thank you," He replied with his eyes searching my face. "I'll go up and get these things off before I catch cold."

"Well, you shall have it at dinner," I said as he moved off, and added, "but that was my friend Glass you were talking to, wasn't it?"

Hesitating just the fraction of a second, he nodded and then moved off quickly, as if he had no wish for further questioning.

"Glass!" I laughed to myself. "Well, I can meet the great Larose on better terms now. I am no longer afraid of him in spite of that little mistake about the rabbit bones turning out to be hare. He can do his worst now, and I shan't mind."

I did not see the doctor about anywhere and making enquiries at the office learnt that he had been unexpectedly called away and it was not known exactly when he would return. He had said, however, he might be only away for a couple of days.

Willoughby followed me out of the office, and leading me into a corner started a little chat. Then all at once he lowered his voice mysteriously and asked me if everything were all right at the bank.

"Good gracious, yes, I hope so," I replied, "but I haven't been round there yet," I looked at him very puzzled, "but what on earth makes you ask that?"

"Oh! nothing nothing," he said carelessly, "but I was wondering if there were any news yet of those spurious notes you spoke of. Your friend, Glass, is up here again, and yesterday he was fidgetting about in the town like a cat on hot bricks. He had a car out twice from Fripp's garage, and I happened to see him both times. He was tearing off in different directions looking as worried as if he swallowed a fish bone and couldn't get it out."

I shook my head slowly. "Well, I've heard nothing," I said, "but at any rate I will give Mr. Mackenzie a ring on the 'phone to-night and let you know."

Willoughby lowered his voice again to a whisper. "Oh! and another thing," he went on impressively, and he looked round to make certain we were not being overheard. "Do you know, I'm darned sure that Dayus is more interested in the doctor than he would like anyone to know. He was following your pal about just like a dog yesterday. Not close to him, I mean, but wherever Doc. was, Dayus was not far away. I noticed it four or five times." The face of the hotel proprietor was puckered in a frown. "Now, what do you make of it yourself, Edis?"

But I was only amused. "Perhaps then the doctor's the chap they're looking for about those banknotes," I laughed. "He looks like a crook, doesn't he?" and, excusing myself, I went off to change for dinner.

"What ho!" I grinned as I was going up the stairs, "so dear Gilbert has been wasting a lot of energy on a wild goose chase, has he? Good luck to him and friend Scrutton, too. But it's not about Dayus and the doctor. They can't surely imagine that he's in with me."

Dayus was very quiet that night at dinner, and hardly spoke a word to me. He never enquired about my journey, how I'd enjoyed myself, or why it was I'd returned a day earlier than I'd said. What few remarks he made were all directed to a commercial traveller next to him. The latter was bemoaning at great length what long credit his customers now expected, and how very difficult it was to get any money in. I missed the genial society of the doctor terribly.

Feeling very tired I went to bed early, but upon going up to my room I would have sworn that all my things had been gone through again since I had arrived home that evening.

It might have been imagination that my handbag had been turned inside out, that my shoes had been moved and the mud in front of both heels and the insteps scraped away; but it was certainly not so that my suitcase under the bed was hard to open, and that something had made the lock of it much more to negotiate than when I had last served it with its proper key.

However, I just smiled to myself and let my suspicions in no wise disturb my rest; indeed that night was the best one I had had since the malignant figure of Thomas Sloop had begun to intrude itself into my dreams.

The next day being Sunday, I got up late and then spent the best part of the morning cleaning my motor bike. Just before noon I heard a car turn into the yard, and looking round, saw it was the doctor who was driving in.

"Good man!" I called out. "I'm so glad you're back. It was deadly dull without you. And everyone up here seems to have got the hump."

"But what does this mean?" asked the doctor in surprise. "I thought you weren't coming back until to-night."

"They had gone away," I said tragically, "and there's nothing like a bit of danger to make one forget." I patted my machine proudly. "I got eighty out of her yesterday and risked my bally neck."

He disappeared into the hotel, and I went on with the cleaning. Then, presently, the lunch-bell sounding, I made a quick wash and went into the meal.

The presence of the doctor certainly did make a lot of difference to us all, and we were as so often before, quite a merry party at our table. The detective, Dayus, particularly unbent, and instead of taking no interest in me as on the previous night he was now, in his cold and solemn way, a real note of interrogation; and when the doctor wasn't monopolising the conversation, plied me with a lot of questions about my journey.

He wanted to know which way I had gone; which way I had come back, and where I had stopped to refill. Indeed, he was so inquisitive that the doctor at last interrupted and warned me laughingly to beware, as anything I said might perhaps be going to be used against me.

"No," said the detective, with just the ghost of a faint smile, "but it struck me I might one day get a machine myself. It would be very useful in my work, and I should get my expenses from the authorities when I was out on duty."

And so I had regaled him with details of a very interesting journey. Details, however, that had been carefully rehearsed for such a contingency as this questioning of his. I had neither gone up nor come back the direct route, but had made certain little detours either for a change or to make the journey more interesting. Also, I had only taken in petrol once, and that at one of the biggest service stations in the city. About this latter statement I was certain I was quite safe, for there was always such a run of business at the place I mentioned that I knew it would be quite impossible for the attendants to remember everyone they had served.

After lunch and when I had seen Dayus go up to his room, I took the doctor into a corner of the lounge and told him about Willoughby's suspicion of the detective.

For the moment he looked incredulous, and then he burst into a hearty laugh.

"Then they must think we're in partnership, my boy," he exclaimed, and he poked me gleefully in the ribs, "Edis and Thorn, Assassins; Murders most carefully carried out." Then suddenly he grew solemn and shook his head. "No, I think it's all Willoughby's imagination. He's an excitable sort of chap. He's all nerves and between you and me, he drinks too much. He'll get hob-nailed liver or something equally as nice if he doesn't look out."

I went up to my room to write a letter to Mr. McLaren, that should be waiting for him upon his return to Adelaide, and coming down about half an hour later, found the doctor still sitting where I had left him.

He yawned and stretched himself when I came up, and then suddenly suggested we should go for a ride in his car.

"Anything's better than doing nothing, and well go for a breath of fresh air." His face broke suddenly into a boyish smile. "Yes, and by jove, well invite Dayus to go with us too. We'll study the man at close quarters and try and see if we can find out if there's anything in what Willoughby said." He was full of energy and enthusiasm all at once. "Now, you go up and ask him, Edis. He won't suspect any base motives in you. You always look such a mug." He chuckled merrily. "No, no, my boy, I didn't mean that. I only meant that you always manage to hide your wickedness under such an innocent air."

"It's a gift, doc," I laughed, "and the most necessary accomplishment of a man of crime."

"Well, go and wake up old Dayus now," he laughed back, "and we'll be on the detective stunt ourselves this afternoon."

I went up and knocked at the detective's door. He was not asleep, and at once called to me to come in. I gave him the doctor's invitation. He hesitated a moment, and then said he'd come.

"The doctor's full of energy," he added with a slow smile. "He never seems to want any rest."

"Well, where shall we go, you chaps," asked the doctor as we squeezed into the single-seater, with Dayus sitting on the outside, and then neither of us making any suggestion, he decided for himself. "We'll run along the foot of the range," he said. "I've always wanted to go that way, but my work's never taken me anywhere near. We'll go easy and keep our eyes out for hares. I've got my rifle with me in the back."

In a few minutes we were well out on the northern track, along the way I had come when upon that afternoon, now so many weeks gone by, I had invited myself to a lift under the tarpaulin of the motor lorry. We soon got a good view of the distant mountain ranges, and I could easily pick out the particular peak under which I had slept with the stranger in his camp.

My heart began to beat tremulously. What tragedy I had been in then and through what tragedy, too, I had passed since? There I had given way to despair, and there I had been almost ready to take my own life; there—but my conscience lashed at me suddenly like a scourge—there, lacking the courage to make restitution, through all those months I had left those bank notes.

I grew hot with shame. Yes, I had been so intent upon my safety that I had made no attempt to pay the price that real contrition demanded. I ought to have sent the stolen money to the police weeks ago. The risks in doing that would have been as nothing to the risks I had run in other ways. I had been a coward. I had——.

"Any sport up in those ranges, do you think?" interrupted the doctor, loudly.

"What do you mean?" I asked, frowning, with my thoughts still far away.

"Anything to kill?" and his eyes twinkled humorously.

"Eagles," I replied. "There are eagles up there."

"Good!" he said. "How do you cook 'em? Baked or boiled?"

But I was in no mood for merriment, and the conversation died away.

"Hullo!" cried the doctor presently. "By Jove! what city is this?"

A small number of tin-roofed houses had come suddenly into view. A little dusty street, a public house with its hanging sign, and a few yards further on a red petrol bowser on the kerb.

Wendover! Where I had impersonated the garage man? The garage where I had mended the policeman's tyre!

"What's this place?" asked the doctor again, and I could feel the detective slew round so that he could fix me with his eyes. But I was quite calm and collected. I was sure I held all the winning cards.

"Wendover," I grinned, "where I ministered once to the motor requirements of one, Inspector Doyle."

"Gee whiz!" exclaimed the doctor, "then we'll pull up and interview the garage man. I could do with some petrol, anyhow."

We pulled up by the bowser, and the garage man at once appeared.

"Five gallons," said the doctor, and without a word the garage man proceeded to manipulate the pump. We all got out to stretch our legs, and then the doctor bent down and pretended to examine one of his back tyres. "You open the ball, Dayus," he whispered, "you look less like a detective than either of us."

But Dayus shook his head and the doctor turned impatiently to me. "Then you, Edis. I want to watch the man's face, and I'll chip in later."

I smiled. The doctor always acted like a big schoolboy when he was in one of his joking moods.

"Nice day," I said to the garage man, and he agreed. "But we want more rain," I added, and he agreed again. "How's the tyre-mending business?" I went on. "Pretty brisk, eh?"

"Not too bad," said the man. "A good hot day plays the deuce with inner tubes up here."

"And that assistant of yours," I asked, "have you ever heard any more of him again?"

The man stared as if he didn't understand. "What assistant?" he said. "I've never kept one."

"But the chap who took on your job for you one day, when you were away, who mended that tube for those police fellows?"

"Ah!" exclaimed the man, and his face broke into an amused smile, "I'd forgotten all about him. No, I've never heard of the blighter since." He nodded his head admiringly. "But he was a cool chap if ever there was one."

"But how was it he was never spotted," said the doctor, "in a little one-horse place like this? How did he get away afterwards? That's what gets over me."

"And that's the mystery to me, too," said the man impressively. "Look here, gentlemen, it's like this," he went on, "I'm as much in the dark about everything as you or anyone else, and if they hadn't put themselves to so much trouble about it, I'd be thinking the darned police were having a lark with me. You see, I never saw the man, and no one in any of these houses round saw him either." He shrugged his shoulders. "I've just got the affidavy of that detective that they called here that afternoon and met a bloke here who wasn't me. That's all."

"But where were you then," asked the doctor, "that afternoon when they called?"

The man shrugged his shoulders. "How should I remember? The 'tecs didn't come to me until four days afterwards, and how the deuce could I tell them then exactly what I had been doing at that time four days before?" He grinned. "Now can you gents here remember exactly what you all had for dinner last Wednesday?"

"Nothing probably," said the doctor gloomily. "We've been living in an expensive boarding-house in the city." He changed the subject. "But see here. Is there any sport to be got in the neighborhood just now. Any hares or anything?"

"A few hares," replied the man, "if you go towards the gulf."

"But up in the mountains?" asked the doctor. "Anything there?" The man shook his head.

"But there are eagles, surely?" said the doctor, eyeing me in pretended disgust. "Unless, indeed, I've been grossly misinformed."

"I've never seen one," laughed the man, "and I've been here over seven years." He appeared suddenly, however, to remember something. "Oh, no, I've made a mistake. I'm forgetting. I've seen two."

"Ah!" said the doctor; "now that's better. I like the exact truth in other people, if I don't speak it myself."

"But they were both dead ones," went on the man. "No sport for anyone." His face brightened. "But my young lady got a good fox skin out of them, anyhow."

"A fox skin out of two dead eagles!" exclaimed the doctor; "now that seems like a conjuring trick. But tell us how it was done."

"Cripes!" said the man, becoming suddenly excited. "Now it's funny you gents should bring up first about that fellow mending the tyre and then about eagles being here, because both those two things happened in the same week, last November."

"Ah!" the doctor exclaimed, and I sensed somehow that all at once he was no longer in a joking mood. "And was there any connection between them, do you think?"

"I dunno," said the man slowly, and he stood now wrapt in thought.

"Well, about those eagles?" asked the doctor after a moment. "You haven't told us yet."

The man woke up. "Oh, there's nothing much to tell," he said, "but what happened was this. The Sunday after the Thursday when those 'tecs came cursing here, business being slack, I took the afternoon off and went fossicking up in the ranges on the lookout for gold." He pointed his arm. "I went as far as that large peak yonder, and about halfway up saw that someone had been recently camping there. There had been a fire, and some empty tins and other things were lying under the rocks. Also, I saw the bodies of two big eagles and a dead fox. I guessed from the look of them that the fox hadn't been dead much more than a day, but the eagles had been dead much longer than that. They had been skinned and the skins taken away. It was easy to see what had happened. The eagles had been poisoned with strychnine, and the fox had had a good meal off them and then had been poisoned himself." The man laughed. "I took the fox's skin, and that's how my young lady got it from two dead eagles. See?"

I grew hot with annoyance and cursed under my breath. What a fool I'd been to try to show off my knowledge and mention eagles at all! And by what evil chance, too, had we brought Dayus with us that afternoon? Now everything would be reported to Larose, and I trembled to think what he would find out.

"How do you know they'd all been poisoned with strychnine?" asked the detective quietly.

"The fox had died that way, right enough," said the man, smiling. "I've poisoned too many in my time not to know. He had died in convulsions and had bitten his tongue half in two. As to the eagles, well, they hadn't been shot or were not bruised anywhere, so I guessed it had been the usual good Australian dope. Strychnine's our best friend up here."

"Well, now," broke in the doctor briskly, "we're out driving for our own pleasure, and so we'll go and have a look in the ranges ourselves. How near can we get to them in my car?"

"Right to the very foot," replied the man, "with the ground as hard as it is now. Turn right off the track directly you've passed the last house here, and make straight for that big peak. It's only about ten miles, and you needn't stop until the ground gets too steep. You'll find the camp I saw, behind some rocks about half-way up."

Bidding the man good-bye, we all bundled back into the car, and in the next minute were tearing off in a beeline straight towards the mountains.

"Now, this is what I like," shouted the doctor against the rush of wind, "adventure, my boys. Who knows what we may find? A knob of gold perhaps, as big as our heads."

But I made no reply. I was uneasy and still cursing myself for my stupidity. I hoped to goodness that one of our tyres would blow out or that some accident would happen to the car.

However, nothing happened, and in little more than a quarter of an hour we were right under the shadow of the tall peak that held so many bitter memories for me.

The doctor drove close up, and, indeed, only stopped when the ground became too steep and broken for him to proceed further with safety. Then—an action that was to have far-reaching consequences later—he was not satisfied until with some difficulty he had manoeuvred the car into the shade cast by a big rock.

"My tyres, gentlemen," he laughed when he had turned and swerved and backed until I thought he would never get the exact position that he wanted. "A good motorist always looks after his tyres, and I don't want sun-bursts in a God-forsaken hole like this."

With the doctor striding away in front, we climbed up the mountain side and soon reached the plateau where the stranger had had his camp. A small heap of empty tins under a rock immediately caught our eyes.

My heart thumped unpleasantly, and I drew in my breath sharply in sudden fear. Was it possible I had left behind me any traces? Was it possible that after all these weeks even Larose himself could ever read the secret of those lonely rocks?

"Ah!" exclaimed the doctor gleefully, "now this must be the place our friend from the garage mentioned, and if I mistake not, there are the bones of those poor poisoned creatures of the wild. That's a fox's skull, anyhow."

I glanced furtively at Dayus. The detective was standing a little apart from us, and there was a look of wrapt attention upon his face. His lips were slightly parted, and his hands were tightly clenched. He was sweeping his head round in every direction, and his eyes were darting quickly under every rock and into each crevice that he saw.

It struck me with feelings of growing uneasiness that I had never seen him look so alert and intelligent before.

But the doctor, in his usual way, pushed himself into the limelight again. "It was a prospector who camped here," he announced confidently, and as if he were sure of everything without any doubt, "and he was here after gold, of course."

"No," snapped the detective quickly, and with, I thought, a trace of disappointment in his voice, "he wasn't prospecting. He came on purpose to get those eagles, and when he'd got them he went away."

"Oh! oh!" sneered the doctor with a sudden frown. "Then he was a friend of yours, eh?"

But, the detective ignored the enquiry. "His camp was tidy," he said softly, and more as if speaking to himself. "His fireplace of stones was very neat, and all his rubbish was in one spot. None of those empty tins scattered about, but all gathered under the same rock. Now a man like that would not let anything dead be lying anywhere near his camp if he were staying on. It was summer time, and the flies would have been terrible." He shook his head emphatically. "No, no, he broke up his camp directly he had killed those birds, and that's why we find them left here now."

I stared at the detective in astonishment. So, under that cold and fish-like demeanor there was a thinker, a man who could drop like a plummet upon facts. And I had hardly given him a thought; I had never worried about him at all. I had——

But the doctor interrupted rudely. "Wonderful," he exclaimed with a sneer. "A veritable Gilbert Larose, generously broadcasting his discoveries to the world. Now aren't you thrilled, Edis?"

The face of the detective got very red, and in spite of my uneasiness I felt sorry for him. And I felt quite angry with the doctor too. The latter was annoyed because Dayus had seen things he hadn't. He was a schoolboy who'd been trying to show off, and who'd been snubbed.

"Mr. Dayus is right," I replied coldly, "and if you ask me I think his is a fine peace of reasoning." I laughed scoffingly. "Why, what the devil would a prospector want to skin those eagles for?" I pointed to the heap of tins under the rock. "From the amount of stuff that was got through the man who camped was here for several days, and if he came expressly after the birds, when he'd got them what was more natural than that he should want to take the skins home to recompense him in some way for his trouble?"

The doctor regarded me very curiously for a second, and then turned quickly to the detective.

"Beg pardon, Dayus," he said contritely. "I stand corrected as a jealous child. Edis is smarter than me too." His face brightened. "But come, we'll see which of us discovers the next thing," and with all his good humor back he walked over and began poking among the tins.

I scanned carefully round. How well I remembered everything! There, I had lain when the stranger had carried me up, there he had slept opposite me—but suddenly something on the ground between two rocks caught my eye.

An envelope, a letter perhaps! Good heavens, could it be anything that I had left there, or could it be anything either belonging to the stranger? I walked over and carelessly leaning against one of the rocks, shuffled my foot in the direction of the envelope, meaning to draw it unobtrusively towards me.

But Dayus must have been watching me, or else he had seen the envelope at the same time, too, for with a solemn "Ah," he darted forward to pick it up. But I was too quick for him, and it was in my hand the fraction of a second before he reached me. I could feel it was empty, and I thrust it behind my back.

"What is it?" asked the detective, with his eyes staring. "Let's look?" and, hearing the question, the doctor at once left his tins and came up too.

I thought rapidly. I should have to give up the envelope now, whatever happened, and however disastrous it might prove afterwards to me, so I might as well give it up with a good grace.

"But it may be a love letter," I protested mockingly, "and then we oughtn't to read it."

Tantalisingly I brought my hand round from behind my back, and then all our eyes together darted on the envelope. "The Garage, Wendover," I read, and I chuckled in relief. What a sell for us all! The garage man must himself have dropped it when he came up here.

The detective's face was inscrutable, but the doctor's was one big grin.

"No one scores there," he said. "Dayus is still leading, but I'll find out something yet," and he returned once more to his tins.

I sat down and lit a cigarette. My feelings of uneasiness had passed, and I was sure now that no grist would come to the detective's mill. No, there was nothing here to suggest the slightest connection with me, and as for the stranger, well, had I not gone over everything myself when the surroundings were much more favorable than they were now?

Quite half an hour passed, and then the doctor suggested that we should go up higher into the mountain and explore. Dayus was agreeable, but I, pleading that I was tired, declined.

"I'm sleepy," I said, "after yesterday. I'll have a snooze, and if you don't find me here when you come back, you'll know I've gone down to the car."

Adjusting myself to a comfortable pose, I lay back and, with half-closed eyes, followed them until they had turned off round the rocks. Then I darted up and was after them in a trice. I crept to the corner and looked round. They were now about a hundred yards away, talking animatedly together, and from his attitude I could see that, as usual, it was the doctor who was laying down the law. They were not hurrying, and twice before they turned out of sight round another bend I saw the detective look round as if to see if they were being followed. Greatly to my surprise he had now got a pair of small field glasses in his hand. "By Jove," I though, "how he's coming out."

I waited two minutes to make sure they did not retrace their steps and then raced off quickly in the opposite direction, for the sudden idea had seized me that the present circumstances afforded a Heaven-sent opportunity of regaining possession of the bank notes I had hidden months ago. Their hiding place was not very far away, and with an ounce of luck I could lay hands upon them and be back by the car long before the others had had time to return.

What a triumph it would be to get them back almost under the very eyes of the detective whom I was sure now, had relegated all his time to shadowing me. Why, what a jest! The notes would be within inches of his itching fingers all the way home.

I ran swiftly down, and soon came upon the group of rocks I sought. Yes, there were the six I had counted, and between the two middle ones was the cleft where the notes were hidden. But I must be quick, for the moment when I was actually at the rocks, I should be within full view of anyone on that side of the mountain.

I looked around intently. There was no one in sight. Not a sign of life anywhere under the quivering heat.

I jumped on to the rock and, thrusting my arm down into the crevice, felt for the ledge upon which I had left the packet, and a few seconds later was back on the ground with the notes in my hand. Then with one upward glance to comfort myself that I was still unobserved, I made with all speed to the car.

For the second time within twenty-four hours a great thrill of triumph ran through me, and my feelings of delight lasted until suddenly I thought what I was going to do with the notes?

Suspicion was still heavy upon me, and it might be that, within the next few days, under certain circumstances they might for the time being become even heavier still. So I dare not risk having the money in my possession a single moment longer than I could help. What a tragedy it would be if, after all my cunning, I had made a slip somewhere and the police got hold of me before I had had an opportunity to send the notes away. I sat down on one of the footboards of the car to think.

And then all at once I became terribly afraid. No, it would not be safe to have them on my person even when now returning to the hotel. They must never indeed be near me until the last moment when I was actually putting them in the post to return them to the police.

I looked round to think where to hide them again. I was all alone behind the big rock and out of sight of prying eyes in any direction. Then I laughed, a laugh, however, in which there was more of hysteria than of mirth.

I jumped up and pulled out the seat of the car. The packet of notes should be hidden underneath. No, better still, I would push them through the leather among the springs. They would be as safe there as in a bank, and I could retrieve them at my leisure, whenever I desired.

No sooner said than done. The leather was slightly frayed at the bottom of the seat, and in two seconds I had torn a little rent just wide enough to push the packet through.

Then I replaced the seat, and once again in my conceit I was sure I had outwitted all the detectives in the Commonwealth.

Dayus and the doctor arrived much sooner than I had expected. I had not even finished one cigarette before they appeared, and I trembled to think what would have happened if there had been any delay on my part in finding the notes. They came very quietly, and the first thing I knew of their presence was the doctor addressing me by name as I was lying back in the car.

"Hullo, Edis," he called out. "Well, you nipped back pretty quickly. What, were you frightened man?"

"No," I replied with a yawn, "but the ground was devilish hard, and I thought I should sleep better in the car. I didn't expect you back for quite an hour. Got any gold?"

"No," he grunted, and I thought for some reason he was rather cross.

We were all very quiet on the drive home, and a few words passed between us. I, however, chuckled many times to think that the solemn detective was actually sitting right on top of the very notes which the whole police force of South Australia at the present moment were so concerned about.

The next afternoon I waited eagerly for the arrival of the Adelaide newspapers to see if there were any mention of the disappearance of Sloop. But I could see nothing. In the obituary columns, however, I came upon a startling notice, and my heart almost stopped beating. It was the first name in the column, and I read:——"Binks—On the night of Friday, the 11th inst., at Port Darwin, suddenly, the result of an accident, Edward Peter Binks, of the Eastern Extension Cable Company the only son of Edward and Mary Binks, of Toorak Gardens, Adelaide."

A lump came into my throat, and in spite of the knowledge that he could not now give any testimony against me, I checked a scalding tear. Poor old Teddy, poor Teddy Binks. And he had been such a happy fellow, too. Always bright. Always so full of life.

It was with genuine sorrow that I read of his death, and then I looked again for the date. Friday, the night of the 11th. Good heavens! And that was the night, too, Sloop had died. Fate! Fate! Death was indeed taking a bloody toll of all who had been drawn within the eddies of the whirlpool of this dreadful drama. Four of the six were already dead, and now only I and one of the murderers remained. Would death stay his hand now, or was there yet more violence to come?

I was very depressed that evening, and both the doctor and Dayus, I could plainly see were curious. But I told them nothing, just alleging that I had a headache, and that was all.

The next day, however, I felt better, and in the afternoon again went through the Adelaide papers for mention of Sloop. But, no, there was nothing in any of them, and so I determined to risk the final step and post off the notes that very evening.

I had prepared a brown paper packet and cut letters out of the newspaper and gummed them on to it so that the address read, 'Commissioner of Police, Adelaide,' and I reckoned confidently upon getting to the doctor's car just after dinner.

Like everyone else, he had a separate lock-up in the hotel yard, and as the key had a heavy brass tab attached to it, he never, as with us all again, carried it about with him more than was absolutely necessary. Instead, it was always to be found when not in use, in his bedroom, either upon the mantelpiece, or upon the chest of drawers.

Well, my plan was to make an excuse and leave the dinner-table just before dinner was over. Then I would nip up into his bedroom, borrow his garage key, and get the whole thing over and the key replaced before even he was out of the dining-room. Then I would slip straight away round to the post-office and put the packet in.

Accordingly, that evening at dinner just as dessert was coming in, I pleaded to be excused as I had to run out and post a letter that must go that night. Then to my annoyance, Dayus asked me if I would mind posting one for him too. Of course, I said "yes," and then he fumbled, for a long time through his pockets before he found the letter.

Whilst I was waiting, the doctor impaled an apple on his fork and proceeded to peel it carefully. I was staring hard at him, when happening to look up, he caught my eye and then with just a barely-perceptible nod towards Dayus, winked knowingly. His mouth framed the words, "in love," and then he winked again.

At last the detective found his letter, and I slipped away, trembling to get my business over, but disturbed strangely about something else, that in my haste I could not place correctly.

What was it, I wondered, that had flashed some sudden warning across my mind? Was Dayus's letter now a trap to catch me? Well, I would look at it when I got outside, and at any rate, for sure would not post it at the same time as my own packet. As it went down into the box, there might be someone watching inside, and his might be a pilot letter to draw attention to anything that was posted with it. I had heard of such tricks before.

I ran into the lounge, and there, as bad luck would have it, I encountered the manager of our bank, and had to stop. Old Mackenzie was very voluble, and three or four minutes were wasted before I could choke him off. At last, however, I was free, and like a hare, I raced up to the doctor's room. But there, another vexatious check met me. I could not see the key anywhere at first. It was not on the mantelpiece, nor on the dressing table, nor on the chest of drawers, and I was just giving way to despair when, to my great joy; I saw it lying on the carpet just by the bed.

I stopped to pick it up, and then at that exact moment I heard quick footfalls in the corridor outside, and then the voice of Dayus say: "It's all right, Sir, we are quite safe. He's gone out, sure enough." What did it mean? Was Dayus spying on the doctor after all, and was he now coming to spy in his room? But I must not be seen here whatever happened. Oh! how awful if I were caught.

I crept under the bed and lay flat down. Then I saw six feet appear in the room, and a moment later a heavy body banged down on to the bed. Someone was sitting right above me. Then I heard a voice and I held my breath. The cultured, even tone of the detective Glass—of Gilbert Larose! I should never be mistaken there.

"I had to come here to the hotel," he said. "My news wouldn't wait."

Then Dayus interrupted. "Should I lock the door, Mr. Larose?" he said, and my blood froze to my veins, my heart stopped beating, and I almost swooned, for the voice that replied was the voice of the doctor—Dr. Harry Thorn!

CHAPTER XIII.—THE SHADOW OF THE ROPE.

I can never quite determine, even after all these years, what exactly were my feelings when it was suddenly revealed to me that the doctor was Gilbert Larose. I know for one thing that I felt furious at the treachery of my so-called friend, but I do not think again that I was so amazed as the discovery warranted.

I am sure somehow that subconsciously I had been curious about, and in a strange way distrustful, of the doctor many times, for the moment I did know the truth, a perfect flood of enlightening memories at once surged into my mind.

His relations with Dayus, for one thing, I remembered had always been so peculiar, seeming almost as if they were suggesting that he was holding some ascendancy over the man. Twice, particularly, I had seen him make the detective cower and bring the latter crestfallenly to heel. The first time, when Dayus having beaten him at chess, was gloating over the victory, and the second, when the detective had been speaking his thoughts so openly upon the mountain side.

Then again the doctor's appearance had always unduly interested me. His complexion had always been as uniform as if his face were made up, and I remembered, particularly, how strange he had looked that evening during the mad ride in Willoughby's car. Then he had been frightened, and his pallor had shown up in mottled patches under his disguise. He had switched off the light, too, directly he had seen me looking at him.

Yet another thing, and barely five minutes before. He had been peeling an apple on his fork in exactly the same way as the man whom I had learned afterwards was Gilbert Larose had done that Sunday afternoon in the hotel at Cowell.

But lying there under the bed I had had no time to give more than a lightning thought to the many ways in which my mind had been prepared for the accepting of the startling fact that the doctor and the great detective from New South Wales were one and the same person. I was in too dreadful a state of fear as to what was going to happen next.

"Yes, lock it," Larose had replied, for I will no more call him the doctor, and then I had heard the key turn.

"Hang that towel on the door handle," he went on. "We don't want any keyhole business here. He's not likely to come up yet, but he's as crafty as a fox, and we'll not give anything to chance."

I saw Dayus's legs move and a moment of complete silence followed. Then Larose spoke again and he spoke sharply as a man talking to his subordinates.

"Now, Mr. Glass, what is it?"

"Edis was up in the city, sir, last Friday," came a calm voice. "He met Sloop by appointment that same evening and the painter has been missing ever since."

"Ah!" ejaculated Larose with a sharp intake of breath, "and Sloop was one of the three men who were on the lorry that passed the motor cyclist on the afternoon of the murder, if I remember?"

"Yes," replied Glass, "he was one of the two sitting behind."

"But are you sure Edis was up in the city?" jerked Larose testily. "Our opinion here is that he never went 20 miles from Port Augusta."

"Sir," said Glass impressively, "he put up openly at the King William Hotel, where he's well known. He registered in his own name and I myself identified his signature in the arrival book. The hotel manager had a talk with him, as well as the young woman in the office. Also at dinner he was recognised and spoken to by other diners."

"Ah," came again from Larose, and then there was a long silence, and the room was so still that I could almost hear the beating of my heart. I slewed my head round until through the fringe of the counterpane over the bed I could just see the long mirror in the door of the wardrobe. The reflection of both Larose and the detective Glass then came into view. The former was seated on the bed just above me, and Glass was leaning against the wall. From his legs, I knew Dayus was by the window.

Larose was frowning hard. He was still to all outward appearance the doctor, except that the expression on his face was now greatly altered. The boyish, happy look had gone, and was replaced now by one of great sternness. He was staring fixedly at Glass. Presently he spoke.

"But this upsets all our calculations," he sighed. "We were certain he never went far from here. We have photographs of a marked section of his back tyre, taken both before and after his journey last week, and the difference in the wear and cuts shown in them is so infinitesimal that any extensive mileage on his machine is quite impossible." He shrugged his shoulders. "But go on with your tale. Let's hear the whole of it."

"Well, sir," began Glass, "as you instructed, I started at once upon investigations up our end, and soon, as I say, I picked up Edis's trail at the King William Hotel. He had arrived, I found, just before dinner on Friday, and he had left directly after breakfast on Saturday. He had come in motor cycling overalls, and he had gone away in the same garments." The detective looked troubled. "Unfortunately no one has any recollection of anything that he did between dinner and breakfast, and we have no proof that he stirred even from the hotel between the hour of his arrival and that of his departure."

"Where did be garage his motor cycle?" asked Larose sharply

"We don't know," replied Glass frowning, "and what's more, it doesn't look as if we shall find out. We have tried every garage in the city, and only four of them admit having had a strange motor cycle in at all on the Friday night, but then none of these four could possibly have been Edis's, for the machines were of different makes to the one he rides."

"But was he in the city at all on a motor bicycle?" scowled Larose. "He may have beaten us there in some way we don't understand yet."

"Oh! yes," replied Glass, "he had his motor cycle up in Adelaide right enough, because, pursuing my enquiries, I rang up the McLaren's house, as a matter of routine and asked if he had been there, and the answer I got was that he had called on his motor cycle at about a quarter past 5 on Friday evening."

"Who told you that?" asked Larose sharply.

"The butler, and he said as well, that Edis had been very disappointed at learning the McLaren's were away."

"And that's what Edis himself told me on Sunday," snarled Larose snapping his fingers together. "Damn the man! It's just like him all over. He mixes truth and falsehood together so cleverly that it's a miracle, almost, to catch him out. But go on, lets hear about Sloop. One moment, though." and the voice of Larose hardened angrily. "But didn't you tell me Sloop was somewhere on the West Coast and couldn't be found when I wanted to question him when I first came over. I was told that his testimony was of no account, that he was a fool, and could not remember anything."

Glass met the angry look quite calmly. "I didn't tell you anything about Sloop Mr. Larose," he said quietly. "I have had no dealings with him at all, and I was only put on the case when you came. I had been working under you the whole time."

"All right, then," said Larose, nodding his head. "I remember it was Scrutton, now. Go on with your tale."

"On Saturday night," continued Glass, "a woman came up to headquarters and reported that her husband had been missing since the previous evening. I knew nothing of it at the time, but glancing down the report book yesterday I was struck with the name of Sloop. I made immediate enquiries to learn if he were the same man who had been on that lorry on the Port Lincoln track and finding it was so, within half an hour was interviewing his wife. What she told me was this. Her husband had not returned, and she was greatly puzzled about his absence, particularly so, because his actions had been very strange lately. Up to eight days previously, up to last Friday week, it appeared he had been working up here in Port Augusta. Then on that night he had returned to the city, very flush of money—with more than twenty pounds in his possession. Nearly all of this, however, he had lost at the races on the Saturday, but on the following Tuesday—a week ago to-day—he had become strangely excited upon reading the morning's paper and had informed his wife that he should soon be in funds, good funds, again. He had refused any explanation, but had immediately sat down and written a letter which with a great affectation of secrecy he had consigned that same evening to the post. Then on the Thursday he received a letter himself with the Port Augusta postmark on it—I will show you the letter in a minute—and from that moment he became more excited and mysterious than ever. He appeared to pull himself together, his wife says, as if he were waiting for some important event. He altered all his habits and, an habitual drunkard, he abstained from liquor for two whole days. On the Friday, last Friday, he stayed at home all day and was fidgetting about the whole time. The only particular thing he did was to go out into the backyard and hack off a short length from a long piece of iron gas-piping that had been lying there. Then at twenty minutes to eight that evening, dressed up in his best clothes, and quite sober, he went out," the detective paused here for a long moment, and then added with dramatic intensity, "and that is the end of Thomas Sloop. He has not been seen nor heard of since."

And all this while Larose had never once taken his eyes off the speaker's face. He had sat silent with his head bent forward, his forehead puckered up and his lips pressed tightly together. But with the ending of the recital he spoke, and he spoke very quietly as if the whole business were of not much account.

"And he went to meet Edis, you say? You have proof? You have a letter Edis sent him in reply to his?"

Glass nodded and opened his pocket book. "Yes, here it is," he said, "we found it in the old jacket left at home."

"Then, by heaven," burst out Larose exultantly, "we've got him!" and he almost snatched the letter from the outstretched hand.

But I saw a grim smile cross into Glass's face, and he flashed a covert glance in the direction of the window, where Dayus was standing "No, I don't think so, Mr. Larose," he said quietly. "He's been too clever for us once again."

"This is not his handwriting," said Larose quickly.

"No, it's Sloop's own," replied the detective, "and cut undoubtedly from the letter Sloop himself wrote to Edis. Sloop tore a page from one of his stepdaughter's school exercise books to write his letter on, that Tuesday morning, and that gummed-on slip on the address side you are looking at, is of exactly the same kind of paper."

Larose took the letter out of the envelope.

"All right," he read slowly, and then, after a long stare, he held the paper up to the light and proceeded to examine it carefully in every position. "Sandpapered," he muttered sadly, "and I shouldn't wonder if he didn't use gloved hands as well." He sighed heavily. "A shrewd fellow, this Edis, and very difficult to catch." He looked up suddenly at the detective, and spoke now in quite an ordinary tone.

"Well, go on, Mr. Glass. I'm interested in your tale."

The detective took out his watch. "I arrived here just an hour ago and have made some enquiries in the town. I knew you would be at dinner with Edis, and I wanted to wait to get you until the coast was clear. I went to where Sloop had lodged, and this is what I heard about him. He worked for three weeks for Peter and Lawkins, the house decorators here, one of his jobs, by the bye, being the painting of the outside of the police station. A little more than a fortnight ago, however, he suddenly gave up work, and for a week proceeded to live, as the lodging house keeper expresses it, like a gentleman. He was gambling and drinking all day long. He was never short of money, but where he got it from no one had any idea, for he was always a secretive man and never talked much when he was drunk. He was——"

"What was the exact date on which he stopped working," interrupted Larose.

"I was just going to tell you." replied Glass. "A fortnight ago yesterday, the same morning," he added significantly, "that he had been sent by the firm to change a cheque at the bank—the bank where Edis works."

"Ah," exclaimed Larose again, and he jumped quickly to his feet. "Now, wait until I look at some notes of mine. I'll just see what my impressions of that day were. A fortnight ago yesterday, now that will be the 8th."

I heard the jingling of some keys, and saw Larose bending over his large, travelling trunk, which he pulled out from under the dressing table. Then he resumed his seat upon the bed, and I heard the rustling of paper. I saw he had a small book in his hand, and was turning over the pages. He looked up after a moment.

"Go on, Mr. Glass," he said. "What next?"

"That's all sir," replied the detective, "except that I have a photo of Sloop here, that I got from his wife," and drawing an envelope from his pocket, he took out a photograph and handed it to Larose.

"Hum!" muttered Larose, after a very brief inspection. "A degenerate of a pronounced criminal type. Cunning and treacherous—look at those eyes, vicious and cruel—look at that mouth." He frowned thoughtfully. "A drunkard because he was a degenerate, not a degenerate because he drank." He tossed the photo over towards the window. "Ever seen him in the town, Dayus? His is the kind of face we fellows would not be likely to forget."

"Ye-s," came slowly from Dayus after a moments pause, "several times when he was painting the police station, and once——" the detective hesitated—"once when he was talking to Edis by the bathing shed."

"What?" exclaimed Larose explosively, "and you didn't shadow him then?"

"No-o," replied Dayus in an embarrassed tone, "because, you see, I knew who he was. I didn't think anything of it. I knew he was one of the painters working for the contractors here, and, besides, when I saw him with Edis he only appeared to be asking him the time. Edis took out his watch and said something, and then the man went off at once."

I saw Larose was frowning angrily, but his face soon cleared. "Well," he said grimly, "at any rate it establishes conclusively that the two have been in touch with one another." He turned again to Glass. "Now, could Sloop's wife tell you nothing, absolutely nothing, as to whom he was going to meet or in what direction he was going?"

"No, sir," replied Glass. "She knew nothing at all, and when I pressed her she said it was always like that. Her husband's life was always a sealed book to her, and she admitted frankly that he terrorised over her too much to ask him any questions. The man's bad all through. He's well known at headquarters, and to my own recollection has been gaoled half a dozen times within the last twelve months. He got a month's hard one time for beating his wife." Glass smiled grimly, "So if he never turns up again, I don't suppose his family will be sorry."

Larose looked thoughtful. "And so from what you tell me now," he said, "we must infer that Sloop had been blackmailing Edis, but when he put the screw on too hard Edis turned upon him and did him in."

"Oh! I don't go quite so far as that," replied Glass hurriedly. "I don't say for certain that there's been bloodshed here, but I do think at least that Sloop had been bribed to make himself scarce, and perhaps leave the State."

Larose shook his head solemnly.

"Edis returned here on Saturday," he said very slowly, and punctuating each word with his arm, "with a wound upon his left ear, with a big blister on the palm of his right hand, and with traces of garden mould under the insteps of both shoes." He sighed heavily. "So unless I am very much mistaken, there's been a grave dug somewhere."

I felt myself grow icy cold in the tense silence that followed. So once again had Larose dropped unerringly upon the truth, once again had he gathered together isolated fragments to make a perfect whole, once again he had lifted the veil.

But he went on and he shook his head in vexation now. "But I can't for the life of me understand it. It is the most puzzling case I have yet met. Edis is not naturally a criminal. He has not the criminal mind in any way. He is by nature a moral, law-abiding man. He has a conscience, and I would have sworn that in matters of general conduct he would have been as correct in big things, as I know he is in small."

"Oh!" said Glass drily, "that's a side of his character I've not seen. He's been telling lies pretty consistently to us all along."

Larose frowned. "He was justified in that—that's only the answer to the lies we've been giving him. Look at the lies Dayus and I have had to tell. It's all in the game."

Glass pursed up his lips and looked down at his shoes. It was obvious that he did not agree, but it was obvious too that he did not consider it politic to press the point. Larose went on.

"What I mean is this. It is more natural for the man to be honest than otherwise. We have one clear instance of this, for when he walked into the vet's surgery here last Wednesday, and annexed a tube of morphia, he put five shillings in the till to pay for it."

"Great Scott!" exclaimed Glass with his eyes opening very wide. "He stole morphia from the vet. here?"

"Yes," nodded Larose grimly. "I see he was the thief now, and I shouldn't wonder after your news tonight, that it wasn't administered to the missing Thomas Sloop."

I clenched my teeth hard to prevent them chattering. I was in muck sweat under the bed.

A short silence followed, and then it was Larose who spoke again.

"Well," he said briskly, "let us see now exactly how we stand. Let us briefly sum up things from the very beginning." He looked intently at Glass. "A man is murdered on that lonely track towards Port Lincoln, and the only clue at first in our possession is a bloody finger mark upon a spanner. Then Edis appears upon the scene and by ten minutes only, we fail to catch him red-handed tampering with that motor cycle in the scrub. His, we find out, does not prove to be the finger mark upon the spanner, but we have nevertheless succeeded in establishing beyond a doubt that he is involved somehow in the murder. The strongest evidence that we have of this, is that all along we have seen him so desperately anxious to cover up all movements of his upon that fateful day. Well, Dayus and I come up to get in close touch with him here, believing that though he himself be not the actual murderer, he may yet lead us to the one who committed the crime. We think it certain he knows who the assassin is, and we reasonably suppose he is sharing the money that was seized. And what have we found? What is the outcome of all our shadowing—of our daily, almost hourly contact with the man during all these weeks?" Larose shrugged his shoulders. "We have found Charlie Edis a very hard nut to crack, and we have practically made no headway at all. We have found him a man with a secret. However, a man of moods and a man of ups and downs. We have seen him in great fear some days, and upon others, happy in his relief. We have tried many times to corner him, but whenever he is hard pressed, he twists and turns, and we can never get a grip. We have unearthed a lot more evidence that he is hiding something, and we are convinced more than ever that we are on the right track, but we can get nothing tangible to work on, and every time he slips through our hands. Look at the Sloop business. We can be absolutely certain now that he is involved in it, but we can produce no actual proof?" Larose held up the book that a few minutes previously he had taken from his trunk.

"Now a fortnight ago yesterday, according to my notes, the day—" he looked at Glass, "you tell us Sloop suddenly ceased work after going to the bank, Edis came home here in the evening in a very disturbed frame of mind. He was very upset about something, and we could hardly get a word out of him at dinner. But I put it down at the time to a dog that we had just seen poisoned and that Edis and I had carried round to the vet. Well, so much for that. Then a week ago I see by my notes that Edis had another fit of depression, and that would exactly correspond to the day upon which he would have received that letter from Sloop, if it had been sent to him, as you surmise. Sloop had, of course, seen the offer of the Three Hundred Pounds reward in the newspapers that morning, and he was undoubtedly threatening Edis to speak up. At any rate, Edis was like a limp rag that evening, but be brightened up considerably the next day as if he had definitely resolved upon some course of action, and then he announced to us that he was going to the city on Friday."

"And he did go up," commented Glass grimly, "as publicly and openly as you please."

Larose frowned. "But I don't know how we slipped there," he said irritably. "He had told us frankly that he was going up to Adelaide and we had taken all precautions to keep in touch with his movements. We didn't believe for a moment that the city was his real destination, but we thought we had cast a wide cordon round so that he could not turn in any direction without being spotted. He left here that morning at 20 minutes past 6, making enough noise with his motor cycle to wake up the whole town, and Dayus himself saw him on the lower Port Pirie track. Then what happened?" Larose shrugged his shoulders. "He disappeared exactly as if the earth had swallowed him up and no one caught sight of him again until 36 hours later, when you two saw him re-entering the town."

"Well," Glass remarked thoughtfully after a moment's pause. "He was helped by those telephone wires being broken down, but still that doesn't explain——"

"Explain!" interrupted Larose sharply. "Of course that doesn't explain. He ought to have been spotted in a score of places. How did he pass through Port Germein? How did he pass Port Pirie, Port Broughton, or Redhill or Laura or Crystal Brook, or how did he reach Adelaide by any of the northern roads?" Larose looked angry and puzzled. "He couldn't have picked up the train anywhere because we have made enquiries all along and the first time, too, he could have touched the railway was, as you both know, at Port Pirie, 60 miles from here. Then how did he get back?" Larose spoke very quietly now. "We were of opinion until you came in ten minutes ago that he had either not gone a dozen miles from here or else that he had early parted with his motor cycle and had been met by someone in a motor car, or failing that, had finished his journey on foot to wherever he wanted to go."

"He was up in the city, sir, with his motor cycle," said Glass doggedly. "I am sure of that."

Larose shrugged his shoulders again and sighed. "Well, we'll leave that journey of his alone for the present, and take it for granted that he slipped through up to the city in a manner yet to be found out. Now to return to that matter of Sloop." He looked frowningly at Glass. "Of course you are making enquiries in every direction to find out if the man is anywhere about? I may be mistaken of course about that burial?"

The detective nodded. "Since nine o'clock yesterday morning, Sir, we have been combing the city and all over the State, and we have made inter-State enquiries, too."

"Well, I don't think you'll find him," said Larose thoughtfully, "for reasons I have already given, and I doubt either if we shall ever know exactly what's happened." He smiled grimly. "Our friend Edis can be a very thorough workman when he's hard put to it. We've seen that already."

"But that conscience of his, Mr. Larose," asked the detective slily, "does Edis exhibit signs of remorse?"

"A shrewd blow, sir," smiled Larose, "but all the same it draws no blood." He looked very stern. "A blackmailer, my friend, is beyond the pale of any law, and I doubt if any man of courage would have much scruple in circumstances such as we are now discussing, in being both judge and executioner if he got the chance. I might not publicly applaud such a crime, but as a private individual I should certainly in some way myself condone it."

Quite a long silence followed, and then Larose spoke again.

"But about that letter Sloop wrote, it seems impossible Edis could have got it, for every letter mailed to him has been opened, and we know all his correspondence. He has not received a line from anyone that we have not read." Larose sighed heavily. "It is puzzling, very puzzling, and Edis must have resources that we know nothing of." He spoke very slowly. "Well, what are we to do now? Are we up against a blank wall still?" He shook his head. "No, I don't think we are, quite, for Edis has made one slip. I said just now that he had never given us any chance, but he has given us one, and he gave it to us on Sunday. His tongue wagged then, and we are certain that he was up in the ranges above Wendover just before the very time when he mended that tyre at the garage, and we are following up a good clue there."

He took out his watch and then jumped to his feet.

"But look here," he said quickly, "it's not wise for us to stop talking any longer here. Edis will be back in the hotel by now, and he may come up to look for me. It would be fatal for me to sew any seeds of suspicion in him, for just now we are very pally together, and there is always the chance yet that I may catch him off his guard." He shrugged his shoulders. "It's a nasty business playing up to a man to betray him, but there, it's all in the game."

He went over to his trunk and locked up his book.

"Oh, one thing more," he remarked, "and it's very interesting. Whenever Edis is suddenly disturbed about anything, I've noticed he always clenches his left hand. Only his left hand, mind. Not his right. I don't suppose he knows he does it, but you fellows look out for it, it's very significant." He unlocked the door and then whispered, "I'll meet you both is half an hour at the usual place, behind the station. Well discuss then what next to do," and with a cautious preliminary look outside into the corridor the three tiptoed out and I was left alone.

CHAPTER XIV.—I RECOGNISE THE MURDERER.

Waiting a few moments to make sure that the coast was all clear, I crept to my room and threw myself down upon the bed.

My brain was in a turmoil of bewilderment, but, strange to say, I do not think I was very much afraid. Instead a certain feeling of exultation thrilled through me as when one has faced some great danger and come through it unscathed. I had been put to the supreme test, I thought, and I had not been found wanting. For all these weeks the most astute detective in the Commonwealth had been devoting his entire energies to uncovering the secret he knew that I was hiding and he was now admitting that he had utterly failed. And I could all the more congratulate myself, because I had been attacked in an entirely unexpected quarter, and in one where I had made no extraordinary preparations for any defence.

But fancy the doctor turning out to be the great Gilbert Larose! How mean of him, though, and what treachery to pretend that he was my friend! But no—it was not mean, and it was not treachery either. It was all, as he had put it, just in the game. I was against the law, and he was on its side, and we were both trying for a win.

Well, he had failed so far, and he would go on failing, for now all the advantage was with me. I knew from where the danger threatened, and could make my defence accordingly. Yes, he was bound to fail.

Ah! but was he?

Two sudden thoughts came stinging through me, and my heart began to jump again. What about Sloop and that mistake I had made too in speaking about the eagles?

Was it possible they would ever find where Sloop was buried, and if they did was it possible again that they could ever find anything to bring home to me his death and burial?

No, no, a thousand times no. Any discovery there was humanly speaking impossible. Adelaide was a far-flung city, and its gardens and its suburbs covered many miles from the foot of the hills to the sea. The detective, Glass, had been insistent that Sloop had given no inkling to anyone as to which direction he was going, and the garden where I had buried him was a mile and more away from his home. Besides, even if they did come to examine the very garden that held my secret they would surely find no traces now, for there had been heavy rain all over the city on the Saturday night I had read in the newspapers, and that would mean that all signs of my work would have been obliterated. No, I was quite safe there.

But about that matter of the eagles, I was not so certain; indeed, when I came to consider it the position seemed almost one of dread. A man of the resources of Larose would speedily pick up a trail there. If whosoever had shot the eagles had come there for that express purpose, as it appeared likely, as Dayus had deduced, surely the first thing Larose would do would be to search for those who had been suffering from their depredations; would canvass the contiguous sheep stations to ascertain who had been losing their lambs, or a shorter cut still, he would perhaps enquire among the Adelaide ornithologists for whom they had recently stuffed two eagles. The stranger, I had seen, had skinned those birds so carefully that it could only have been for the purpose of getting them mounted later on.

Then what would happen? The identity of the man with whom I had camped in the range would be uncovered at once, and he would be pressed to state whom he had met up there. Then—Good heavens! A wave of recollection roared through me. Why, the stranger had said he was a friend of Gilbert Larose!

I sat bolt upright on the bed. A friend of Gilbert Larose! Then he would tell Larose everything at once. He would tell it to him with all innocence probably, as an interesting episode of his holiday in the ranges, and would not realise until too late the dreadful consequence for me.

Then for the second time that evening I was in a bath of perspiration. So I was on the precipice side again, all my cunning had availed me nothing, and after a hundred escapes I was to fall at last by my own folly.

Then suddenly there came up to me a memory of the stranger as I had seen him that last evening when I had made my confession to him, and he had given me his advice.

I remembered the strong calm face, the serene, thoughtful eyes, the mouth that told of courage, and the brow that marked a thinker who would weigh the consequences of each word before he uttered it.

And I remembered the promise, too, that out of both our lives that meeting in the ranges was to be for ever blotted out as if it had never been.

And at once I sighed in relief, as one who had awakened from some dreadful dream. No, I was quite safe there. I was quite assured. Friend or no friend, the stranger would be in every way a match, even for Gilbert Larose. He would never betray me, either by intention or inadvertence.

I got off the bed in quite good spirits, and proceeded to brush my hair and make myself tidy before going down into the lounge. Then, all at once, with my own reflection before me in the mirror. I saw my jaw drop and my eyes open very wide, and I burst into a laugh which I really had some difficulty in suppressing.

Well, could anything more extraordinary have occurred? Could there have been a more fantastic happening staged upon the boards of any theatre?

The money of the murdered man, the bank notes, the very holding of which should, according to all police tradition, point unerringly to the committor of the crime, were now actually in the possession of the great detective, Gilbert Larose himself, under the seat of his own car—and he did not know it.

I chuckled delightedly to myself, but then a few minutes later, going out of the hotel through the lounge, was greatly relieved that Larose was not anywhere about. With all my self-confidence I dreaded the first moment of our next meeting, for, above all things, I knew Larose was a profound student of psychology, and I was fearful lest he should notice some change now in my manner. I must arrange it, I told myself, not to come upon him when he was alone. If there were others present, it would not be so dangerous. I could just smile at him and pass things over.

I went down the street, and turning into a tobacconist to buy some cigarettes, rather to my amusement came face to face with Detective Glass, who was just then coming out. He pretended not to notice me, and would have passed, but I stopped him by thrusting myself right in his way.

"Hullo," I exclaimed heartily, as if he and I were the greatest of friends. "So you're still about here, are you? Trade brisk, eh?"

He pretended not to know me, and frowned as if he were resenting the impertinence of being so addressed by a stranger.

But his coolness roused the imp of mischief in me. "On the sleuth business still, I suppose," I grinned. "Been chalking up any more murders against me?"

For the moment he looked as if he could not believe his ears, and then his lips curved to a contemptuous smile.

"Ah, Mr. Edis, I remember," he said grimly, and his eyes held mine in a hard menacing stare.

"Yes, Charles Edis," I replied sarcastically, "and if I remember, too, you're Mr. Glass. I'm sure I must be right."

But he made no comment, and only just continued to stare as if by his very pertinacity he would read me through and through.

"Well," I went on after a moment, "as I say, have you been finding out any more about me? Any further murderings or tyre mendings or anything like that?"

He appeared to consider, and then spoke very quietly. "I'm afraid I must have a poor sense of humor, Mr. Edis," he said. "To my thinking it is no fitting subject for mirth."

"But it is to me," I laughed, "and honestly I've enjoyed the joke ever since I once got over the shock." I lowered my voice to a whisper. "But about Dayus," I asked, "is he still up here to look after me?"

The face of the detective was as expressionless as a mask. "Ask him," he said curtly, and he turned on his heel and went up the street.

The cigarettes purchased, I was laughing all the way back to the hotel. The detective had looked so dumbfounded and so very different to the confident and forceful individual who had been so mercilessly cross-examining me only a couple of weeks ago.

"Now, it's always safest to carry the warfare straight into the enemy's country," I grinned. "It saps his confidence and demoralises him at once."

And it was well I was laughing and amused for the first person I encountered in the lounge of the hotel was Larose himself.

Luckily he saw me grinning before I caught sight of him at all, and then I continued to grin without, I thought, in any way overdoing it.

"Such a joke," I explained laughingly. "I've just met that fellow Glass and I pulled his leg beautifully. I asked him what other murders he'd chalked up against me, and if he'd found out if I'd been mending any more tyres."

"Oh!" laughed back Larose, "do tell me about it. He's a conceited chap, and I'd love to see him taken down."

We talked for a few minutes and then to my great relief Willoughby came up and took us off for a game of chess.

We played until nearly eleven, and then pleading I was very tired, I slipped off quickly so that Larose would get no further opportunity of being with me alone.

The next day was the annual Port Augusta cricket festival, and we were to get a half-holiday at the bank. Port Augusta was to play Port Pirie, and with the redoubtable Willoughby on our side we were very hopeful of the result.

It was an all day affair for the cricketers, and Port Pirie won the toss and went in to bat first. I was very disappointed when I heard it, for I had particularly wanted to see our champion bowl. The visitors were not supposed to make up a very strong team, and I quite expected them to be all out before the afternoon.

But, contrary to the sanguine prophecies of the wiseacres, Port Pirie put up a very good fight, and at the luncheon interval they were a hundred and ten runs, with still two wickets to fall.

With the resumption of play after lunch, however, they quickly collapsed, only five runs being added before their innings closed.

Then our men went on, and to the disappointment of the crowd the opening batsmen stonewalled for more than half an hour, only nineteen runs going up upon the board in that time.

Then the first wicket fell, and there was a great clapping of hands when Willoughby took his place at the wicket. To me he looked rather tired, and I didn't wonder, for I knew he was very out of condition, and had been bowling all the morning.

The first over after he went in was a maiden, and he didn't get a strike. Then his turn coming, he stepped out promptly, and driving the ball hard to leg started to run.

Now what was that? What extraordinary thought had leapt suddenly into my mind? Why did I suddenly draw in a deep breath? Why did my jaw drop?

I stared fascinated across the field. Two runs were scored, and then the bowler sent down another ball. Again Willoughby struck it, and I watched him breathlessly as he scored a run. Then I lowered my eyes upon the ground.

Now what was happening to me? I felt sick, and my heart was jumping so that I was almost deaf.

Faintly, and as in a dream, I heard someone hit the ball again. A roar of delight followed from the crowd, and then, although my eyes were raised up now and widely open, the scene before me faded right away.

It was no cricket ground that I saw now; there were no happy smiling faces about me on every side; no shouts of laughter filled the air.

Instead, I was far away upon a lonely track among the stunted eucalyptus trees, and with eyes that were almost starting from their sockets, I was watching two men whispering together behind a motor car. Their heads were close together, and their faces were blanched and drawn in fear. Suddenly then they parted as if an unseen hand had been abruptly thrust between them, and they both started to run off in different directions. One was lithe and tall, and his coat was buttoned tightly to his collar. He ran with his head thrust forward, and he took long strides in a peculiar panther like manner. He ran—my God! but he ran just like Willoughby was running now!

It was several minutes before I had so recovered myself that I could look quietly over the cricket field again, and then with grim pursed lips, I watched every stride that Willoughby took as he piled up run upon run to the delighted plaudits of the crowd.

Yes, I was sure now that I was watching the murderer of the Port Lincoln track. Willoughby had the face, the figure, and the exact movement of the man who had struck down the auctioneer with a spanner and I remembered now and could catch up what had so puzzled me that night in the storm, when we had been riding in his car. Swaying and bumping in the back seat on that terrifying journey as I had been, the mirror in front of Willoughby had continually brought the reflection of his face within my range of vision, and it had recalled to me some unpleasant memory that I could not, however, place then.

But I could place it readily enough now. Willoughby's dreadful expression had been that on the face of the tall man who had struck so murderously with the spanner behind the car.

And then I remembered another thing. How shaken and unnerved Willoughby had been when Larose, masquerading as the doctor, had suggested the throwing one of us into a trance so that the secret of the murder might be revealed upon the spot.

Of course it had been all bluff on Larose's part, but what a queer world it was, for instead of frightening and betraying me as the detective had no doubt fondly expected it would, it had actually, had the latter only known it, uncovered the real culprit of whom at the moment no one could have been holding the slightest suspicion.

For a few minutes longer I continued to watch the play, and then feeling that I must get away somewhere, to weigh up exactly what my dreadful discovery meant, I left the cricket field and proceeded to walk slowly back to the hotel.

Again for the second time within twenty-four hours my poor brain was in a perfect whirl of excitement, and I wondered desperately what I must do next. It was unthinkable, if I were right, that I should keep my knowledge to myself. Reaching the hotel a sudden idea seized me and I turned into the office.

The girl in charge there was quite an attractive one, and she and I had often chatted together. She was alone by herself when I entered.

"I'm sorry to bother you, Miss Drew," I said, "but would you mind letting me have half a dozen stamps. I meant to have got some this morning, but I quite forgot. I have to write several letters."

She opened her drawer with a smile, and then remarked as if surprised, "But aren't you going to the cricket, Mr. Edis? Surely you are not going to miss that?"

"I've just come from there," I replied. "I didn't stop because I've got rather a headache," I smiled. "The boss is batting and going very strong. He'd made sixteen when I left, and we're three wickets for forty-five. It's going to be quite an exciting game."

"Oh! I'm so glad," she exclaimed, and then added wistfully. "But I wish I could have been there. We get so little excitement in this town!"

It was the very opportunity I wanted. "Nonsense," I laughed, "why, I call this a very lively town. We had a motor accident on Saturday, a circus was here last month; and in November, look at that exciting murder you had."

She affected to shiver. "Oh! don't call that excitement, Mr. Edis. It was a nightmare for us here."

I dropped my laughing manner and looked serious at once. "Yes, I suppose it was," I said sympathetically. "It must have upset you all a lot."

"It frightened everyone," she went on. "Why, we were all afraid to go out at night."

"But Mr. Willoughby wasn't afraid," I ventured. "I'll bet my life it wouldn't have frightened him."

The girl hesitated. "No-o," she said thoughtfully, "but still he was dreadfully upset. He seemed a different man to me for quite a long time; in fact," she hesitated again, "sometimes I think he's never been quite the same since. He wasn't always nervy like he is now."

"But why should he have been so upset?" I asked curiously. "Did he know the auctioneer?"

"Know him!" said the girl. "Why they were great friends, and, worse still, Mr. Willoughby had been with him that very afternoon at the sale."

"Oh! how dreadful," I exclaimed, "and did Mr. Willoughby then come back before him, by the same track to Port Augusta?"

She shook her head. "No, he went to the sale at Cowell from Port Pirie, across the gulf by boat, and, unhappily, he returned the same way. If he'd have been coming back here to Port Augusta they'd have both returned together, and then the murder would never have happened."

"But what a shock it must have been to him when he heard of it," I said.

"Yes," she replied, "he got the news next morning over the 'phone, and then he was here in less than two hours. He helped a lot in the search for the murderer."

"Oh, then," I asked, "did the people here help the police?"

"Yes, everyone," she said. "That is everyone who'd got a car. They scoured the country for miles and miles. Why Mr. Willoughby went as far as Iron Knob, I believe, that day. Over fifty miles."

"What an excitement it must have caused," I said.

"Yes," she went on, "and it lasted for days and days and everyone was on the jump. Why, whenever the telephone went, if Mr. Willoughby was anywhere about, he used to rush to answer it himself, hoping it would be a message from the police that the murderer had been found, and whenever he came in too, after he'd been out in the town anywhere, his first question always was—'Anyone ring me up?' He's a magistrate, you see." She sighed reminiscently. "Yes, he was terribly upset."

We chatted for a few minutes and then I went up to my room and, sitting on the bed, proceeded to digest all the information that had been given me.

Yes, everything undoubtedly fitted in. Of course, Willoughby had not come back by boat, not all the way. He had arrived back at Port Pirie no doubt upon the boat, but then he had probably slipped on it in the dark when it had called in, en route, at Whyalla.

Admitting that Willoughby was one of the murderers, what had happened, I figured, was this. After the sale that afternoon at Cowell, Willoughby and the unknown man I had afterwards shot, had got a lift from the auctioneer to return by the bush track to Port Augusta. The latter must have picked them up towards the end of the town and that was why no one had remarked upon them as being with him. Then half way along the track, the accident having occurred, they had seen the auctioneer bending down in a defenceless position under the back of the car, and being aware, of course, of the large sum of money he carried, they had fallen to the sudden temptation and murdered him. Then they had separated, perhaps because they had believed the men on the motor lorry might have noticed two passengers with the auctioneer in the car and they argued that with the raising of the hue and cry, any two men seen about together would be much quicker under suspicion than one. So the man in the light suit had fled towards Iron Knob and Willoughby had bolted in exactly the opposite direction to Whyalla, arrangements having no doubt been made for the latter to pick up his companion somewhere at a rendezvous agreed upon, the next day. Then Willoughby had entered Whyalla that night after dark and slipped round on to the quay to await the coming of the Cowell-Whyalla-Port Pirie boat. The boat always arrived there about half-past nine, and as there was generally, I knew, about a half-hour's wait whilst the cargo was being taken in, passengers as often as not came ashore to stretch their legs. So it would have been very easy for Willoughby to slip on board, and no doubt, having a return ticket for the whole trip upon him, who would have noticed that he had not been on board for the first part of the voyage?

Then the next morning, news of the discovery of the body having been 'phoned up to him, he motored at great speed up to Port Augusta and pretended to take an heroic part in the hunt for the murderer. His real object, however, had been to pick up his fellow-assassin with the stolen notes, and that was why, of course, he had gone so far afield as Iron Knob.

I smiled grimly to myself when I had finished and I didn't wonder at all why he had been interested enough to answer every ring of the telephone himself. Of course, he had been expecting every moment for the other man to 'phone and say what had happened to him, and he must have been in a fine state of worry and rage as day after day had passed with no news arriving. He would be undoubtedly thinking that his companion had double-crossed him and had bolted away with both shares of the plunder. So I didn't wonder, again, that he had appeared upset to the girl in the office. He had taken part in a dreadful crime, and he had not gained a penny by it.

Now, what must I do? A word to Larose, and the whole nightmare chase after me would be abandoned. I had seen Willoughby strike viciously with the spanner, and his would be, of course, the bloody finger mark, the impression of which the police were now possessing. It was so simple. If I were right that he was actually one of the murderers, then he could be identified at once.

I smiled grimly again. And then what a slap in the face it would be for the great Gilbert Larose. For weeks and weeks he had been laboring along a false trail, and all the while the true murderer had been close before him under his very eyes.

It would be a sharp lesson for him, anyhow.

I went down to dinner that evening, dreading the meeting with Willoughby far more than that with Larose. I had escaped the latter at breakfast by going in half an hour earlier, and to my relief I had not seen him at lunch.

Dayus was in his accustomed place when I entered the dining-room, and for a few minutes we chatted about the afternoon's cricket; then Larose came in, and partly to my amusement and partly to my annoyance, I found myself clenching my left hand.

"Well, how are you, young man?" asked Larose, and he smiled in such a friendly way that it seemed quite impossible to me that he could be really the man whom I knew he was.

"Oh! pretty well," I smiled back, "for a man who is under a cloud." I jerked my thumb in the direction of Dayus. "Do you know I asked Glass point blank last night if it was the job of our friend here to shadow me?"

"Hah, hah!" laughed Larose, but I noticed he looked down once upon his plate, "and what, then, did the secretive Glass say?"

"He told me to ask him myself," I laughed on.

"Well!" said Larose, and he looked up and smiled as if he were greatly amused, "and what was Mr. Dayus's answer?"

"Oh!" I replied carelessly, "I haven't asked him yet. As a matter of fact, I quite forgot all about the matter until you came in."

There was silence for a moment, and then Larose winked at me. "Well, Mr. Dayus," he said, "and what are you going to tell him?"

But Dayus appeared not to have heard the question. He was regarding some new-comers to the dining-room, and Larose had to address him again before an answer was forthcoming.

"Oh, shadowing Mr. Edis?" he said then, and he frowned as if he were puzzled. "No, I've had no orders about him at any time from headquarters," and he turned his eyes again across the room.

"Very non-committal, eh Edis?" Larose laughed, and he winked at me again. "No orders from headquarters. But he doesn't say anything, we notice, about Glass or Scrutton or Doyle."

But Dayus did not evidently intend to be drawn any further, and the conversation for a few minutes died down while we were all busy with our dinners. Then Larose looked up and suddenly appeared to notice something about my head.

"What's the matter with your ear, young man," he said. "You have had a knock there, haven't you?"

I put up my hand and tenderly stroked the wounded organ. "Yes," I replied feelingly. "I've been in the wars lately. I got that jumping up after an apple on one of the trees in Mr. McLaren's garden. I'm allowed a free run with the fruit there—and look at this——!" I held open the palm of my right hand, "a nasty blister from my motor bite. The rubber grip's too loose on the handlebar and curls up if I don't hold it tightly."

Larose regarded the blister very thoughtfully with intent professional interest, but Dayus looked down his nose, as if he were smiling.

Our meal over, we went and sat down in the lounge where, a few minutes later Willoughby found us. My heart began to thump a little when be came up, but I managed, I think, to regard him in quite as friendly a fashion as Larose had generally regarded me. And yet—we each thought now, the object of our smiles to be a murderer.

Willoughby was very elated about the cricket. Port Augusta had won by one wicket, he himself having made more than half the runs—and he would insist upon us coming along with some other into his private room to celebrate the victory.

It was a merry gathering, and we broke up so late that when I at last got into bed following upon all the excitement of the day I was really too tired to worry my poor brain any more. So I just closed my eyes, made my mind a blank, and dropped off to sleep.

CHAPTER XV.—I FACE LAROSE.

The next day from the earliest moment of my awakening I was worrying about this latest dreadful secret that had come into my life, but harass my poor brain as I did, I could espy no way for bringing Willoughby to book without incriminating myself.

Quite apart, however, from the desire of ensuring my own safety, I was continually spurred on to fury by the rememberance of that brutal thrust of Willoughby with the spanner, when the poor wretch I had seen murdered had been first rising to his feet.

I could shut my eyes and recall every happening of those dreadful moments. The other man had struck and partly missed with the big motor jack, the auctioneer with his face white and terror-stricken, had been struggling to his feet, and then Willoughby had crashed forward with the heavy spanner, and down instantly the victim had fallen, to have his life battered out of him within ten seconds.

All that day the matter obsessed my mind absolutely to the exclusion of all else, but yet, morning, afternoon, and evening passed without my coming to any decision as to what action I should take.

Then all at once the whole thing was decided for me in a terrible and ghastly manner, and within a few hours I was speaking openly to Larose.

I was late in leaving the bank that afternoon, and then walking up the street to the hotel I met Willoughby, who was coming in my direction.

I should have passed him with just a smile and a nod as if I were in a hurry, but he pulled up, and I had to stop.

"I'm just going to the bank, my boy," he said, smiling and showing his beautiful even teeth. "Is your boss in, do you know?"

"Yes," I replied, and I turned my eyes up the street, so that he should not see the expression in them. "I've just come from there, and Mr. Mackenzie was in when I left."

"Well, I want to take him for a day's fishing to-morrow," he said. "We'll go out in the launch and ought to have some good sport. There are a ton of fish in the Gulf just now." He grinned. "I suppose it'll be quite safe to leave you and young Bradshaw alone with all the money to-morrow."

"Quite," I answered, and I put my hand over my month as if to stifle a yawn, and making no attempt to continue the conversation.

"Well, ta-ta," said Willoughby briskly. "I'll go and seduce the old man. He'll jump at the idea when I tell him the size of the fish that have been seen," and off he went as if he were one of the best and most inoffensive men in the wold.

I smiled grimly to myself. I knew he had no chance whatever of getting Mr. Mackenzie to go fishing on the morrow, but it was not my business to tell him so.

The previous day some large payments in notes had been made into our bank, and the manager was taking about £7,000 pounds into Port Pirie with him next morning. It was not ever customary for us to retain more than a certain amount of money in reserve, and whenever accumulations got too heavy, a transfer was always made to the larger town. Then Mr. Mackenzie always took the cash in himself by car, as being considered not only quicker and safer, but also as affording an opportunity for the adjustment of certain little matters of business that were always cropping up.

The manager had not been intending to take the notes in until the following week, but at the last moment that afternoon, and indeed after my fellow clerk had left the bank, he had suddenly decided to make the journey the next day, and so I had stayed behind and helped make up the packages with him.

The money had been mostly in notes of small dimensions, and it had taken us about three-quarters of an hour to sort and verify the number of bundles of £100 and pack them into the travelling bag. Then the bag had been placed in the large safe and the latter locked with both our keys. As customary, as senior clerk, I retained one key and the manager the other, and the safe could then only be unlocked again, upon both our keys being called into requisition.

I was amused to think that Mr. Mackenzie would not be seduced as easily as Willoughby had imagined.

I saw Willoughby in the lounge again just before dinner, but there were some other men with us, and as he made no mention as to the result of his visit to Mr. Mackenzie, so neither did I. Suspecting all I did about him, I wanted to have as little speech with him as possible.

I sat between Dayus and Larose as usual at dinner, and I wondered grimly what they would either of them have given me for my thoughts.

Directly the meal was over, Larose linked his arm in mine and, leading me into the smoking-room, suggested a game of chess. Nothing loath, and agreeable to anything that would change the current of my thoughts, after a few minutes of conversation we sat down to play. Presently the old schoolmaster dropped in and, along with Dayus, sat interestedly watching the game.

The first game was not a long one, and I was easily beaten. Larose manoeuvred to a good position early and then I never got a chance.

"Ah!" commented the schoolmaster in his usual blunt and outspoken way, "Mr. Edis played a very irresolute game." He smiled. "And the way one plays chess, you know, is always symptomatic of one's state of mind at the time; therefore, judging from what we've just seen, Mr. Edis is worrying about something and can't decide what he must do, whereas the doctor here is grim and determined and has no mercy for weaknesses of any kind."

"Oh! oh!" laughed Larose, "now, Schoolmaster, don't you be too hard on me. I'm not a man like that. I'm always ready to consider extenuating circumstances whenever they arise." Something of the laughter seemed to die out of his voice, and he went on quietly and almost it seemed to me in a musing sort of way, "I'm always sorry when Edis has to be beaten, but then it's all in the game, you see."

I felt uncomfortable, and wished to goodness the old schoolmaster would keep his uncanny ideas to himself. He had sized us both up, however, I thought pretty accurately.

Just as we were arranging the pieces for a return game, Willoughby came in, and looking at him it struck me instantly that if there were anybody in the room now in a worried state of mind then certainly it was he. He was white and drawn, and there was a strained look about his eyes.

"Well," he exclaimed wearily, "I'm glad you're playing chess, for I can't suggest any cards to-night. I've got an awful headache, and I'm going straightaway, to bed." He took out his watch and laughed. "Fancy having to go to bed, and it's only just twenty past seven. I feel a regular baby."

There were general expressions of sympathy, but when he had left the room the schoolmaster took his pipe out of his mouth and remarked thoughtfully——

"Now there's something very curious there. Willoughby wanted our sympathy to-night, and that's a condition of mind that I should say was very unusual with him." The old man hesitated, and then shook his head. "Yes, it's funny, for he's of the type that keep all their troubles to themselves."

Larose nudged me under the table, and went through the pantomime of lifting a tumbler to his lips. He evidently thought that the hotel proprietor had been drinking.

He started another game, and this time it proved a much longer one. The schoolmaster left quite an hour before it was over, and it was nearly half-past ten before it ended finally in a draw.

"By Jove," said Larose with enthusiasm, "but you put up a magnificent fight, Edis, and I wish old Multiplication Table had remained here to see it. I thought I had you in the early part of the game, but ten or eleven moves ago you ought to have got me. If you'd only pushed on your queen's pawn then I should have had to have resigned." He began putting back the pieces. "Wait a moment and I'll show you."

But it was not destined he should ever show me for at that moment the hall porter came into the room and said there was a man outside wanting to speak to him.

Larose frowned as if he were annoyed at being interrupted, and then, I thought, he flashed a quick look at Dayus.

"All right," he said. "Where's the man?"

"At the front door," replied the hall porter, "he won't come in."

Left alone, Dayus and I turned back to the board and started to replace the pieces. We had almost got them right when Larose strode back into the room.

Resuming his chair without a word, he glanced down to see what we had done. Then he picked up one of the pieces, and I noticed that his hand was trembling. I looked up curiously to his face and saw to my astonishment that it was all patched and mottled, as it had been that night once when he had gone pale in Willoughby's car.

But before I had time to speculate and almost before I could thoroughly take in that Larose was intensely agitated about something, the door of the room opened again, and two policemen walked in. One of them remained by the door, but the other came straight up to me.

"Mr. Edis," he asked sternly, "of the bank here?"

I went cold with fear and gasped, to draw in a deep breath. Then I snapped my jaws together resolutely, and stared hard at him, as he was staring hard at me. I nodded.

"Well," he said, "I'm Sergeant Rankin, of the police here, and I've bad news for you——" He went straight on and spoke in cold, staccato tones. "Mr. Mackenzie has been murdered at the bank, and we want you to come with us and see if the safe's been tampered with."

"What!" I could hear myself almost shriek, and I sprang to my feet. "Mr. Mackenzie murdered at the bank, you say?"

"Yes," he replied sharply, "between 7.50 and 10.20 this evening, when the housekeeper and the maid were away at the pictures. They found him dead when they returned. His head had been battered in."

I sank back half fainting in my chair. "My God, my God!" I exclaimed, "but it can't be true."

"It's true, right enough," said the sergeant grimly, "and you'll please come along with us straight away. The housekeeper says you always have the second key of the safe, and we want you to open it in our presence."

"But what did they murder him for?" I gasped. "They couldn't open the safe without both our keys together, unless they blew it up."

"They didn't do that," said the sergeant, shaking his head, "but, come along, please, at once. Got your keys on you?"

I rose shakily to my feet. "Yes," I replied weakly, and I thrust my hand into my trouser pocket. "No," I added hastily, and I felt my face grow hot with mortification. "I left them in my other clothes when I changed for dinner."

The sergeant pursed up his lips as if in disapproval. "Well, go and get them," he said frowning. "We'll come with you."

Feeling sick and faint, I walked totteringly towards the door, and then Larose put his arm through mine and held me steady.

"All right, old man," he said sympathetically, "take it easy. I'll come with you, too. It's enough to make anyone feel sick."

In a few moments we were in my room, and then, disengaging myself from Larose, I darted to the wardrobe and took down a pair of trousers from the hook.

"But they've gone!" I exclaimed wildly, when I had thrust my hand into one of the pockets. "Someone's taken them—no, they're here." I corrected myself, and I drew a bunch of keys from the other pocket.

A quick glance, and I saw that the safe key was on the bunch. "Yes, it's all right," I said, now more quietly. "Then they can't have got to the safe, anyhow."

"Well, let's go," said the sergeant, "and the quicker the better." Then for the first time he appeared to notice Larose, and he eyed him, I thought, with interest.

"You can come, too, with your friend, if you like," he said gruffly, after a moment. "I understand you're a doctor, but you won't be wanted as such by us. Our own surgeon should be at the bank by now."

Larose nodded his thanks, and we were soon hurrying down the street, whilst the sergeant was explaining briefly what had occurred.

The housekeeper and the maid had arrived back from the pictures, it appeared, as near as possible to twenty five minutes past ten, and everything at the bank, according to all outward appearances, had seemed to them all right. The private door was closed, as usual, and the light was burning in the hall. They rang the bell expecting the door to be opened at once, but nothing happened, and after repeating the ring twice, they went round to the back of the house and effected an entrance by lifting out a window screen that they knew had got a broken catch. The maid then got in through the window and opened the back door for the housekeeper. Then they walked through to the front rooms of the house to find, to their horror, Mr. Mackenzie lying stretched out dead upon the floor of the dining-room. They had immediately then rushed to the 'phone and given the alarm.

The sergeant had just time to finish his narrative when we arrived at the bank. A constable was standing outside and saluted his superior when we came up.

"Dr. Pitcher's inside, sir," he said in a whisper. "He's just come."

With a heart that was beating almost to bursting, I followed the sergeant into the hall. Larose was just beside me, and behind him was Dayus. The sergeant gently pushed open the dining-room door, and we silently filed into the room.

The body of Mr. Mackenzie was stretched prone before the fireplace, and the police surgeon, whom I had met several times in the bank, was kneeling down and examining the head. He looked up and nodded as we came in.

"Been dead about two hours, I should say," he said in crisp business-like tones. "Struck first behind the left ear, and then two terrific blows in the front of the face, one on the forehead and the other that broke through the orbit wall. The blow behind the ear, done with a blunt instrument, but the other two with an instrument with a square edge. Death practically instantaneous after the last blows."

I took another swift glance upon the floor, and then a dreadful mist rolled up before my eyes, my ears drummed horribly, and I leant with tottering legs against the wall. I heard the sound of low voices that seemed very far away, but I did not take in anything that was being said until I felt someone tugging at my arm, and realised that the sergeant was addressing himself to me.

"These are the manager's keys, Mr. Edis," he was saying. "Now come and open the safe along with yours," and mechanically I followed him to an alcove where the large safe stood.

As in a dream I picked out a key from the bunch he handed me, and inserted it in the safe, then I inserted one of my own, and in two seconds the safe door swung back.

"Now, does anything appear to have been disturbed?" snapped the sergeant. "Pull yourself together, sir, and see."

For a few moments I stared in a dazed and uncomprehending way into the safe, and then a sudden wave of light seemed to surge through me, my senses all came back, and I called out shrilly—

"Yes, a bag with £7,000 in it has gone."

My head swam, the dreadful mist came up again, my limbs shook, and sinking to the floor, I remembered nothing more.

When I came to I was lying on the settee in the hall, and the police surgeon was forcing brandy down my throat, whilst Dayus was supporting my head with his arm. There was no sign anywhere of Larose.

"All right, young man," said the doctor kindly, "I'll run you back now to the hotel," and between them both they helped me up and supported me to a car outside.

I shall never forget that night after Dayus had left me in my room.

With trembling limbs I undressed and got into bed, and then, jerking off the light, in the darkness was delivered into the hell of my own thoughts.

Of course it was Willoughby who had murdered Mr. Mackenzie, and I was in a way to blame for it, because in my hesitation and cowardice I had allowed the wretch to remain at large. At all costs I ought to have denounced him to Larose at once when I was assured who he was.

Yes, it must be Willoughby who had killed the old man, for it could only possibly have been Willoughby who could have come into the possession of the knowledge that there was all that money in the safe and it could only have been him again who could have got hold of both keys and opened the safe as it had been done.

I could follow every step that had led up to the crime.

Willoughby had asked the manager to go fishing to-morrow, and in declining, poor old Mackenzie had incautiously told of his contemplated visit to Port Pirie, and the reason for it. Then, no doubt, also, he had mentioned that he was going to be alone at the bank that evening, and perhaps had suggested that Willoughby should drop in, as I knew he had often done before, to keep him company.

Then Willoughby had returned to the hotel, with a dreadful project in his mind, and there had been every opportunity afterwards for him to successfully carry it out.

Everything had favored him. It had been a hot night, and I had changed for dinner into a linen suit. He would guess that I had left my keys in the other clothes, and even if my bedroom door were locked, that would have presented no difficulty for he had the master key of every door in the hotel. So he had borrowed my keys, and with his absence accounted for by his plea of not feeling well, all circumstances were propitious for the committing of the crime.

I ground my teeth together. There was no help for it. I must make a confidant of Larose. I might be handing, I knew, a blade that would be two-edged, but I must chance it, and meet all risks as they came.

Then if it had to be done, the sooner the better. I would go to Larose directly it got light.

I did not get a moment's sleep that night, and indeed I do not think I tried to sleep. I just lay awake and waited for the dawn, going over and over again in my mind what should be my first words to Larose.

Directly the first streaks of light began to climb into the sky, I got up and dressed, and then gently tip-toed into the passage and made my way to Larose's room.

I tapped lightly on the door, and was immediately bidden softly to come in. Entering, I was surprised to see that Larose was fully dressed, too. He was seated by the window and was writing in the little book that I knew was his diary. If I were surprised about him, he was certainly, too, surprised in some way about me, for his eyebrows came together in a puzzled frown, and he stared hard and curiously.

"I want a talk with you," I said quietly. "I've a lot to tell you."

An eager and expectant look sprang instantly into his face to be replaced, however, in two seconds by one of some embarrassment. He turned away his eyes.

"Yes," I went on. "It's time you and I came to an understanding. I want——"

"One moment, please," he interrupted, and he looked at me very solemnly. "Remember the spoken word is one of the things that can never be taken back." He smiled grimly. "If I were our friend Glass now, I should have to warn you that everything you say may be used against you." He hesitated a moment. "You understand that, don't you?"

"Good fellow!" I exclaimed warmly. "Yes, I quite understand what you mean." My voice shook a little. "You're a good chap—Gilbert Larose."

He took the blow manfully. One quick intake of breath, one lightning straightening of the brows, one little narrowing of the eyes, and then—he just shrugged his shoulders and sighed.

"Oh, yes," I went on, calmly. "I know who you are, and its because you're Gilbert Larose that I've come to speak to you, now. If you'd been Glass or Scrutton or any of that lot, I think I should have let things muddle on, but with you its different."

He made no remark, but just stood regarding me with no expression on his face. Almost, he might not have been interested in what I was saying, instead of receiving, as he once told me afterwards, the most unexpected blow of his life.

"Now," I said emphatically, "please understand I'm not going to ask questions, and I'm not going to answer any either. You and I must start quite afresh. You're Gilbert Larose and I'm Charles Edis, and we commence this business together with a clean slate." I looked him straight in the face and spoke very deliberately. "One thing, however, I will tell you—whether you believe it or not. I had nothing whatever to do with the murder of Otto Hansen, and you've been on the wrong track all along, from the very first moment when you spoke to me outside the hotel at Cowell that Sunday afternoon, until last night, when you told the sergeant to come in and tell me Mr. Mackenzie had been murdered, so that you could watch how I received the news."

He winced here, and I could see him redden, even under his make-up.

"Yes," I went on. "You've been wrong all the time, and you and Dayus and Glass and Scrutton and all the rest of you have just been wasting your time and following a blind trail, that whatever you might have discovered about me would lead you nowhere in the matter of the murder on the Port Lincoln track. Mind you," I added sharply, "I admit I have a secret to hide, but that's neither here nor there, but——" I shrugged my shoulders—"it's not too bad a one, and for all the good it will do you, you may just as well leave it alone." I smiled. "But you're not very polite, for you've not asked me to sit down. What I've got to discuss will take some time, and I'm very tired."

Larose immediately pulled forward a chair. "Sit down!" he said kindly. "You look worn out."

"I am," I sighed; "I've had no sleep at all."

He sat down on the bed, facing me, and for a long minute there was silence in the room. Again his face was mask-like in its expression. He waited for me to begin.

Then I shot out quickly, but I spoke in quiet and unemotional tones.

"Willoughby murdered old Mr. Mackenzie, and unless I'm very much mistaken it was he who murdered the auctioneer as well."

Larose sat up with a jerk. He made no pretence that he was not startled now, and he stared at me with widely opened eyes, set in a face of stone.

"Yes," I went on, "and he's got those seven thousand pounds now—and you'll get them on him if you're quick. Only he could have known they were there to take." I drew my chair up close to the bed and spoke almost in a whisper.

"Now, listen to me. Yesterday afternoon, just as I was on the point of leaving the bank, Mr. Mackenzie spoke about some large sums of money that had recently been paid in to us in notes, and told me that he had decided to take the over-plus in to-morrow to our branch at Port Pirie. So I had to stop and help him get them ready to take away. The notes were mostly those of small dimensions and were done up in bundles of £100. They took a little time to pack up, and I didn't leave the bank until about a quarter to five. Coming up the street I met Willoughby, who stopped me and asked if the manager were at home, because, if so, he was going up to invite him for a day's fishing to-morrow—that is, today." I paused for a moment and then went on. "Well, that's fact, and we must fill in a break now with a little conjecture. Willoughby saw Mr. Mackenzie, and Mr. Mackenzie told him he couldn't go fishing because he was going into Port Pirie, and to emphasise why he couldn't put the journey off he explained to Willoughby that he was carrying in a large sum of money. Then, to soften down his refusal, he asked Willoughby to come and spend the evening with him, informing him that the housekeeper and the maid were going to the pictures, and he should be all on his own. Now we come back to fact again. Willoughby returns here and after dinner comes, where we all are, into the smoking-room, and to establish an alibi, announces that feeling very unwell, he is going straight off to bed. He undoubtedly did look ill then, and yet less than two hours previously I had seen him in good spirits and apparently in the best state of health. He had been drinking, as you noticed, but——" I spoke emphatically. "I am sure now that it took more than a few drinks to make him look as bad as he did. No, he was ill with the thought of the dreadful crime he was about to do." I raised my voice a little. "Why, didn't the schoolmaster say how strange Willoughby's behaviour was and how he was sure there was some ulterior motive behind his coming in to speak to us?" I smiled grimly. "And old Multiplication Table, as you call him, is nothing if not a shrewd old man. Remember that night when he summed us all up as we were playing cards? He said then that we all four of us, you, Dayus, Willoughby, and I, were each hiding some secret, and were all different to what we were pretending to be?" I nodded my head vigorously. "And, by Gosh, we were. You and Dayus were thirsting for my blood. I was bent on thwarting you at every turn, and Willoughby was holding to that other dreadful secret that I am going to tell you about later."

I paused again for a moment to get my breath, and Larose broke in impatiently.

"Get along a bit quicker, please." He glanced towards the window.

"All right," I replied sharply, "and we'll fill in another break now with more conjecture. Well, Willoughby, having established his alibi as he thought, slipped up to my room and stole my keys, that is, of course," I added, "if he had not already got them in his pocket when he came into the smoking-room."

"But how do you know," interrupted Larose drily, "that he was aware then you had not got them at the time, in yours?"

"He would have deduced that if they were not already in his possession," I replied calmly, "having seen I had changed into a light suit for dinner. Who ever carries anything bulky in a thin suit? Willoughby knew I very rarely left the hotel after dinner, and consequently that I should be leaving all the unwanted articles out of my pockets, in my other suit?"

"But how did Willoughby know it was customary for you to possess one of the safe keys at all?" persisted Larose.

I sniffed scornfully, "Why, doesn't everybody know its the custom at all banks for two keys to be necessary to open the safe, with each one being in the possession of a different officer? And Willoughby knew I was the chief clerk, under Mr. Mackenzie, so that he would have been sure there that I was holding the second key."

But Larose shook his head. "Willoughby may have known nothing of your key," he said coldly. "It's all conjecture on your part."

"No, not conjecture," I said sharply; "it's deduction. He would have guessed, too, in another way, because once when the lock of my door had gone wrong and was being put right, as I was going down to the bathing beach, I asked him to put my keys for the time being in the hotel cafe, as it was very important they should not go astray." I smiled drily. "And he would surely hardly think my own keys were of such vital importance that I should be afraid to be carrying them on me when I went down for a swim."

"But I have," I replied almost angrily. "I have the surest evidence they had been touched, if not by Willoughby, then by someone else." I shot out my arm quickly. "Show me your own keys, now, quick."

"What do you mean?" he asked, frowning. "What's that to do——?"

"Show me your keys," I reiterated. I shook my head impatiently. "Humor me, man. Time's flying, and I'm not fooling. I promise you."

At once Larose then thrust his hand into one of his trouser pockets and produced a bunch of keys. He looked very puzzled.

"Exactly!" I cried triumphantly. "You knew without any hesitation where they were to be found, and you automatically, as a matter of habit, felt in the right-hand pocket. Now," I went on, "cast your mind back to last night, when you all came up with me to my room when I was to get my keys. What happened?" I bent my face very close to his. "I took my trousers out of the wardrobe, and then told all of you at once that they were gone. Why?" I spoke very slowly and impressively. "Because I had felt for them in the left-hand pocket, where I always keep them, and they were not there. Not there, because someone had taken them out, and in returning them to my clothes had replaced them in the right-hand pocket, where I never put them. Why, it's a life-long habit with me to keep my keys in my left-hand pocket. I carry no purse, and the right-hand pocket is only for any loose coins that I may have." I nodded my head emphatically again. "That's why I knew they had been taken by someone."

Larose made no comment, and after a moment I continued——

"Well, Willoughby gets my keys and goes into his bedroom and switches off the light so that everyone may believe he is in bed. Then what is easier for him to leave the hotel by the window? With his room upon the ground floor, he could slip into the garden, dodge under the trees until he came to the wall at the end, climb over the wall—by-the-by, examine the tips of his shoes for mortar and brick dust—drop into the back lane, creep along the back of the houses for less than two hundred yards when he would come to the corner and then be within fifty yards of the private entrance to the bank. He would wait until the street was clear, and then in ten seconds would be in the bank garden and out of view of anyone passing by, be ringing the bell." I shrugged my shoulders again. "Then we can guess what happened, and, with the murder and robbery accomplished, he returned in the same way, his last action being no doubt, to return my keys."

Larose looked at me very thoughtfully. I had finished for the moment, and now waited for him to speak. He drummed gently with his fingers on the bedpost. Presently be spoke very slowly.

"And this other murder, Mr. Edis? The one on the Port Lincoln track?" he asked. "Tell me now about that."

I took up my tale again.

"Well, given that Willoughby was the murderer last sight," I said solemnly, "there are many things to suggest that it was not his first crime. Now go back to that mad ride Willoughby gave us in his car. You and Dayus had worked things so that I was to be put through the third degree at the actual scene of the murder. We had all got out of the car, and then Willoughby had refused point blank to come with us into the bush, but he followed a few seconds later, and his face was ghastly. He was terribly afraid about something. Then, when we were back in the car and the rain was pouring in torrents, you suggested that you should throw either Dayus or me into a trance so that everything about the murder would come out. Remember what happened. The suggestion for the time being drove Willoughby out of his mind, and he started us instantly upon that ride of death. He is a very superstitious man—there is no room thirteen in either of his hotels, and he was terrified that you could do as you said."

Larose smiled drily. "A little bit thin, isn't it? Because a man doesn't want to discuss a horrible murder under as terrible surroundings as one can possibly conceive, does it necessarily mean that the man committed the murder himself?"

"Certainly not," I replied warmly, "but taken in conjunction with other facts, this exaggerated condition of fear that Willoughby showed that night, impresses upon us that he acted just as a man who was guilty would have done. Willoughby is no coward, and you must admit that his terror then was unnatural."

"You say 'taken in conjunction with other facts'," commented Larose sharply. "What do you mean?"

"Willoughby was at the sale at Cowell," I replied slowly, "on the day of the murder. He went there by boat across the gulf from Port Pirie and returned the same way by night. The following morning, when news of the murder was 'phoned to him at Port Pirie, he motored post haste over here and the same day, presumably engaged in helping to look out for the murderer, made a mysterious journey to a place as far afield as Iron Knob. He was in a state of great agitation for long afterwards, and, indeed, according to Miss Drew in the office has never been the same man since. I had a long talk with the girl about it."

Larose frowned. "You appear to have become acquainted with things that I have not heard," he said slowly, "but still I don't see in any way how they make out your case. Why, man, if Willoughby went back from Cowell to Port Pirie by the boat, as you say, how the deuce could he have murdered the auctioneer, miles away on the Port Lincoln track?"

"But I don't say he did go back to Port Pirie by boat from Cowell all the way," I replied impatiently. "My contention is that he was is the auctioneer's car for the first fifty miles towards this town, and then, that after he had committed the murder or helped to commit it, he walked into Whyalla and slipped unnoticed on to the boat when it touched in there that night at half-past nine. All the times can be made to fit in."

Larose frowned again. "And did you suspect Willoughby to have had anything to do with the murder on the track before Mr. Mackenzie was killed last night?"

"Of course I did," I replied quickly; "if not, why did I make all these enquiries of Miss Drew?"

Larose eyed me sternly. "You are keeping back something Mr. Edis, you are not telling me all you know."

I laughed drily, "And if I am, what of it?" I eyed him every whit as sternly as he was eyeing me. "I'm not confessing to you, Mr. Larose, I've just come to help you now because I see you're at a dead end." I felt my voice grow harsh with anger. "Good heavens, sir, be grateful for what I've told you and act on it at once. Add my information to the clues that I know you already have and before noon you should have Willoughby in the cells."

"But why should Willoughby have gone to Iron Knob the day after the murder?" asked Larose, frowning. "What do you mean to suggest by that?"

"What about a rendezvous with his fellow murderer?" I said coolly. "Didn't the men on the motor lorry say there were two passengers in the auctioneer's car? Don't you see, man," I went on quickly, "if two men took part in the murder, isn't it probable that they would separate at once so as to attract less attention when the hunt was raised, and if one went towards Whyalla, in what direction, pray, would the other be likely to go? Goodness, gracious!" I went on, "look at your map. There was only one other way he could have gone if he was to be picked up somewhere the next day. On the Iron Knob track, of course. A car couldn't cross into the salt bush to meet him, but would have had to get in touch with him somewhere adjacent to some track."

Larose glared at me with challenging eyes. "What you are saying," he said sternly, "implies to me, actual knowledge of the facts."

"Not at all," I replied carelessly. "I've just observed and made enquiries in the right direction and thought," I laughed sneeringly. "All of which you might have done if you had not had your mad obsessions about me. Well, I've finished now."

"But one moment, please," said Larose, for I had risen to my feet. "How long, pray, have you known Willoughby?"

"Only since the day I was sent up here for duty at the bank." I replied. "Mr. Mackenzie introduced me the afternoon when I arrived. I had never spoken to him before and he had never set eyes on me up till then." I laughed scornfully, "So if you're thinking——"

I stopped suddenly. I had heard the faint sound of a door opening in the yard below. I darted to the window and then sprung back. I put my finger to my lips and beckoned to Larose.

"Hush," I whispered, "here he is!"

Larose stepped softly to my side, and together we looked down. The window overlooked the garages and the yard, and we saw the proprietor of the hotel walking across towards the garage doors. He was fully dressed, and there was nothing stealthy about his movements. He was only just walking slowly, as if he were not too full of energy at that time of the morning. He approached the 'lock-up' where he kept his own car.

"But he can't be going to take it out," I whispered. "His radiator was leaking badly yesterday, and I heard he'd sent it up to the city by train last night."

Larose nodded his head quickly and whispered back "Watch."

Willoughby reached the door and casually and very slowly felt in his pocket for the key. Then, very slowly still, he inserted the key in the lock and pulled the door ajar. Then suddenly, with a quick movement, he jerked up his head and swept his eyes round all the windows of the hotel only for one second, but it was a sinister and anxious look, and then he disappeared inside the lock-up, where his car was.

"That's done it," whispered Larose sharply. "That glance gives him away."

"He's gone to get something," I said.

"Or to put something back," snapped Larose, and his face, I saw, was now excited and eager. He sprang to the wardrobe, and from behind some coats produced a small camera. "Now you go down at once," he went on sharply as if he were speaking to one of his subordinates, "and hold him in conversation, but for the Lord's sake, man, keep him there for five minutes. I'm going into his room to get some finger prints." He pulled open the door and then turned back to smile whimsically. "And not a word to anybody, mind, this is between you and me," and taking my acquiescence for granted, he dashed from the room.

CHAPTER XVI.—ON THE SIDE OF THE ANGELS.

Despite the dreadful happenings of the preceding hours, it was with a distinct feeling of elation that I hurried down upon my mission of intercepting the proprietor of the hotel.

I had crossed swords in open combat with the great Gilbert Larose and not for one second could he imagine that he had come out of the encounter best.

A mighty master of surprise himself, I had given him a brimming dose of his own medicine and I must have left him dreadfully puzzled, too, both as to the source of my information and to its extent. In effect, I had exposed all his own cards and yet shown him none of mine. Moreover, I had let him see pretty plainly that I was not in the least afraid of him and as far as my own secrets were concerned, intended withholding them from him to the very end.

I emerged into the hotel yard just in time to catch Willoughby coming out of the lock-up. He scowled involuntarily when he saw me, but then immediately recovered himself, and wreathed his face in a sickly smile.

"You're up early," he said slowly, and staring very hard. "It's not half-past five."

I regarded him critically. He looked white and ill and his lower lip was quivering, but I thought of old Mackenzie and a sense of loathing filled me. I wanted to throw myself upon him and shriek "Murderer," but I choked the impulse down.

"I've not been to bed," I said wearily, "and I've got dreadful news." I paused a second. "Mr. Mackenzie's been murdered. He was killed at the bank last night. I don't expect you've heard."

Willoughby gave a great start and his eyes opened very wide.

"Mackenzie murdered," he gasped, "by whom?"

"We don't know," I said shaking my head. "It was done when the maids were out. They found him dead when they came in."

"Good God!" he exclaimed, "and the bank was robbed?"

"We haven't found out yet," I replied, "but the safe was still locked when the police went in. They have sealed it up now until our people come up from Adelaide. It's an awful business."

Willoughby sank weakly down on to an empty packing case. "It's incredible," he gasped again, "and I was talking to him only yesterday evening."

"Yes," I went on, "he was quite all right when the servants went out, but when they came back at half-past ten, they found him upon the floor with his head all battered in—stone dead."

For the moment Willoughby appeared too overcome to make any further comment and then, taking plenty of time, I gave him some sort of account of what had happened when the police came to fetch me after the discovery of the murder. I kept a lot back and mentioned nothing about any keys, then when I considered I had given Larose much longer than the five minutes he had asked for, I said I wanted the office opened at once, so that I could ring up our city manager at his private address.

"I ought to have done it last night," I added, "but I was completely knocked up and could think of nothing."

With Willoughby very shaky on his legs, we went into the hotel together, and raising the exchange I got through almost at once to our chief official.

But I might have saved myself the trouble there, for I found the police had already communicated with him and he would be up, he said, in Port Augusta, within a few hours. He was coming by aeroplane. He was curt, and didn't say much, and I was glad of it, for Willoughby was hovering about the whole time and would have heard the conversation at my end of the 'phone, at any rate.

Leaving the hotel proprietor in the office, I went out, to run into Larose, who had been waiting for me at the end of the corridor.

"How did he take it?" he whispered.

"Very white and startled," I replied, "but not any more so than when he first saw me coming into the yard. Asked with his second question if the bank had been robbed."

"What did you tell him?" asked Larose sharply.

"That the safe was still locked, and had been sealed until our people came up from Adelaide." I shook my head emphatically. "Let him have no suspicions about anything until you're quite ready."

"Good man," nodded back Larose, "you did right." He smiled drily. "Shrewd fellow, Edis, always ready for everything."

"By-the-by," I went on, ignoring his raillery, "he's just said he'll have to go into Port Pirie this morning. His heart was bad in the night and he's going to see his doctor."

"Oh! is he?" snapped Larose with a stern look in his eyes. "Well, we'll block that. It's a good thing you told me." He regarded me kindly. "But, look here, you go up and get a little sleep. You may have a tiring day before you and you look fagged out already."

Realising how really worn out I was, I did as he suggested, and so great apparently was the relief to my mind because I had confided in him that I dropped off to sleep almost the moment that I threw myself down. I had a good two hours of sound, refreshing slumber, and then it was only the loud clanging of the breakfast bell that aroused me.

Feeling ever so much better I tidied myself up quickly and went down into the dining-room. Larose was sitting in his usual place, but there was no one else at our table.

"Good morning, doctor," I said, and he just nodded grimly and smiled down his nose. The waiter attended to my wants, and then we were left alone. I was intensely curious to know what Larose's plans were, but I took care not to show it, and made no attempt to start any conversation. Presently, however, Larose himself spoke.

"Our friend's acting very suspiciously," he said, looking at me as if he were rather amused; "but we've had a bit of bad luck." He frowned. "He gave us the slip for twenty minutes just before six and we don't know where he went. He slipped out into the street through the bar when we thought he had only gone in there to get himself a drink. It's some fishy business he was on, for it's unlawful to open that door so early and he could just as conveniently have gone out through the main entrance, if it hadn't been that he evidently didn't want to be seen." The detective sighed. "But never mind, we've made one or two useful little discoveries, and he can't stir a foot now without being followed."

"Found out anything important?" I asked.

Larose nodded. "He's sponged one of the sleeves of the jacket he was wearing last night, but there are some stains on the collar that he's overlooked, also there's a smear of something on the wire screen of his window that shows signs of recently being taken out—the bolts have been rubbed over with soap. As for his shoes, he wore tennis ones. There's a very dirty pair tucked under his clothes in the wardrobe, which I shall examine later."

"Then you think he did it?" I asked, with my breath coming quicker.

"Shouldn't wonder," replied Larose, and then he frowned. "But I can't strike yet for an hour or two, until I hear from the city. I'm waiting——Hullo! look out, here our gentleman comes."

I turned my head carelessly and saw Willoughby entering the dining-room. He was looking much better now and more like his old confident self. He smiled pleasantly to some other visitors, but without stopping to speak to them, made straight for us. He came and stood beside Larose's chair.

"Look here, doctor," he said, and his voice was easy and quite free from nervousness. "I'm wondering if you're going out to-day?"

"Going out?" asked Larose smiling, "what do you mean?"

"Well, are you going to use your car this morning?"

A long train of thought must have been started instantly in Larose's mind, but he answered quickly enough all the same.

"I don't think so, why?"

"Well," replied Willoughby, and he hesitated uncomfortably. "I was going to ask a great favor of you. I was wondering if you would lend it to me. It's like this," he went on quickly, "I want to go into Port Pirie. My heart was pretty crook in the night, and I want to go and see my own quack and get him to pass the rule over me to know if there's anything much wrong. My own car's out of action, with the radiator up in the city, and I can't get another bus for love or money in the town. I've rung up the three garages but the police have booked them all."

"Good gracious! What for?" asked Larose innocently.

Willoughby frowned. "No one knows, but I suppose the idiots think they may have to go rushing about all over the country if they find out anything to-day."

"Now let me think," said Larose, and he hesitated for a moment and looked thoughtfully into space. "Yes, I'll lend it to you, with pleasure, that is, after ten o'clock. I shall know for certain if I've got any journey to make by then." He shook his head. "I don't think for a moment I shall have any job on to-day, but with my work I'm never sure and I must wait." He appeared to look very sympathetic. "But what about your heart? Do you think you're well enough to drive yourself to Port Pirie? Should I come with you?"

"No, no, not for worlds," said Willoughby hurriedly. "I'm quite all right again now, and really feel fit as a fiddle." He heaved a big sigh. "It's half nerves with me, I believe."

"Well," said Larose smiling, "come to me at ten o'clock and I'll give you the key."

Expressing his thanks, Willoughby left us and went out of the room, then I turned to Larose.

"But you're not going to let him have it?" I said incredulously. "If he did in Mackenzie, he may be going to take those notes away with him."

"Exactly," smiled Larose, "and what could be better?" He rose from his chair and flashed a stern look at me. "That car of mine won't go ten yards from the hotel, I'll see to that," and smiling again he gave me an exultant wink and made to leave the room. But he stopped before he had gone half a dozen steps, and coming back, bent down towards me.

"But about that talk of ours this morning, Edis," he said in a low voice, "let us quite understand one another, please." He spoke very slowly. "Now in the event of my pinning Willoughby down on either charge, do you wish your part in the matter to become known?" He shrugged his shoulders. "Although I may finally clinch the matter, all the credit of everything will be yours, of course, and the reward as well."

I shook my head emphatically. "For pity's sake leave me out entirely," I said. "Don't bring me into the limelight in any way. Don't say I told you anything." I heaved a big sigh. "I'm sick of crime and I want to have a little private life again."

"All right," he replied, and he looked at me significantly. "You'll miss some of the fame, my boy, but perhaps its wisest," and he went quickly from the room.

Long before my usual time I was at the bank and greatly relieved to find that the body of Mr. Mackenzie had been taken away, and that there were now no policemen and detectives about. The housekeeper, however, informed me that it had been past four in the morning before they had all finally gone away, and from her story I gathered that it had been Larose, of course, who had taken charge of everything the whole time.

A good half hour before the time of opening the bank, the manager-in-chief and another of our high officials arrived from Adelaide, and although I very soon found they were in possession of all the facts, I was nevertheless put through a searching cross-examination. The big safe was unlocked, and it was at once verified that nothing was missing except the travelling bag and its contents. None of the drawers had been in any way disturbed or tampered with.

At ten o'clock exactly, the bank doors were opened and business proceeded as usual, and to anyone unaware of the the dreadful tragedy that had taken place, there would have been nothing to indicate that everything was not quite as usual. I went about my duties in the ordinary way, and was quite sure that from my demeanor no one would have dreamt the anxiety and doubts that were possessing me.

I guessed, of course, what Larose was waiting for—the arrival from Adelaide of the photograph of those finger prints, the finger prints that the police had found on that blood-stained spanner in the auctioneer's car after the murder. If then they coincided with those he had obtained from Willoughby's room that morning it would clinch everything. He would then arrest Willoughby at once, and no doubt, with Willoughby safe in the cells, he would soon unearth evidence that would indisputably connect the hotel proprietor with this second murder, that of Mr. Mackenzie.

And then, suddenly, a dreadful thought oppressed me. Suppose the finger prints on the spanner did not turn out to be those of Willoughby—what would happen then? Would not Larose be again at as dead an end as when I had spoken to him this morning? Was it possible that if Willoughby escaped on the one count, he would be able to escape also on the other?

I put the thought away from me resolutely. No, no; I need have no fear. In the black and bloody ways of crime there was no astuter brain than that of Larose in all the Commonwealth of Australia, and if I, untutored, had found so many clues to link up Mackenzie's death with Willoughby, then surely the great detective from New South Wales would find a hundred more.

The morning went on, and in the press of business I had for the moment quite forgotten both Larose and Willoughby, when suddenly I saw Sergeant Rankin and another man push open the bank doors and come in. The sergeant gave a quick glance in my direction; but made straight for my fellow clerk, who was nearer the entrance, and whispered something to him. Young Bradshaw nodded and leading the way round the counter, the sergeant and his companion disappeared into the manager's room. Bradshaw came out again in a few seconds and made a significant face at me.

One minute, two minutes, five minutes passed, and then the manager appeared and beckoned sharply to me. He looked pleased and excited, I imagined.

Suppressing all sign of the tumultuous thoughts that were surging through me, with a cold and impressive face I followed him into the private room. He had held the door open for me, and he closed it carefully again when I had entered.

The sergeant and his companion were standing together at one end of the table. The sergeant I just glanced at, but the other man for some reason attracted my attention. He was a stranger to me, but yet in some way I thought there was something about him that was familiar. He was quite young and boyish-looking, with a merry face, and he was smiling now with a rather amused smile.

"Mr. Edis," broke in the voice of the manager, and I turned to see that he was smiling, too, "do you recognise these?"

I looked on to the table where he pointed, and instantly I was jerked violently out of my self-control.

"The notes," I gasped; "you've got them back!"

I might well gasp, for spread out before me were bundle upon bundle of treasury notes, with each bundle held together with the so well-known and familiar elastic bands that we used in our bank.

"You've got them?" I reiterated. "Who'd taken them, then?"

At once the smile fell off from their faces, and I looked from one to the other of the three now solemn men.

"Jasper Samuel Willoughby," announced the sergeant importantly, "was arrested at 10.15 this morning, and these notes were taken out of the car in which he was driving away."

The blood surged to my head, and mingled thankfulness and triumph thrilled through me. So I had made no mistake. Willoughby was the murderer and it was I who had laid him by the heels.

"And he murdered Mr. Mackenzie?" I asked, hoarsely.

"For sure," replied the sergeant stolidly. "We shall prove it. But, he's not been charged with that yet. He was arrested just now for the murder of Otto Hansen on the Port Lincoln track on the afternoon of November the 10th last."

Thought upon thought coursed like lightning through my mind. That murder on the track! Then Larose had found the finger prints the same, and they knew Willoughby for the assassin there. Then I could breathe again. They would hunt and harry me no longer, the shadow would be lifted from my life, the haunting—I looked up suddenly to find the sergeant's companion regarding me with a curious smile.

"But I haven't introduced you, Mr. Edis," broke in the bank manager, "to a gentleman we have to thank for very much. Sergeant Rankin here, of course, you know, but——" he inclined his head towards the stranger with great respect and smiled, "this is Mr. Gilbert Larose."

No wonder I had thought the face familiar! Of course, it was Larose, and I ought to have recognised him at once. How mortifying that I who had thought myself such a worthy foeman for the great detective should have been deceived so easily!

But Larose held out his hand, and when I took it very coldly—although his face was solemn as an owl's—he began tickling my palm with his little finger, and, in spite of my disgust, I had to smile.

"But we haven't got back all the notes," said the manager. "There's £4,000 here, which leaves £3,000 still missing."

"Oh, but I'm sure we shall find them, sir," said Larose confidently. "They can't be very far away."

"Did he make much resistance?" I asked hesitatingly, and it was to the sergeant I spoke. I would keep up the farce I determined, and make out that I thought Larose had only been playing second fiddle.

"Didn't get a chance," laughed the sergeant. "Although he saw what was up in the last second. He whipped out a gun and was for taking a pull at our Detective Dayus, when Mr. Larose here jumped on him and pulled him down."

I was opening my mouth to ask another question when Larose frowned a warning glance at me and took out his watch.

"If you please, sir," he said, addressing the manager, "I should be very much obliged if you would spare Mr. Edis to come over to the police-station for a few minutes, say at 12 o'clock. He has to give evidence at the inquest, and I want to take some notes."

"Certainly," replied the manager "he'll be at liberty for you whenever you want him," and seeing there was now no reason for me to linger, I nodded to Larose and the sergeant and left the room.

At 12 o'clock exactly I walked into the police-station, and it was Dayus whom I happened to meet first.

"A very terrible thing, Mr. Edis," he said solemnly, as he was conducting me in to Larose, "and it'll always be dreadful for us to remember how friendly we've been with him all these weeks." He dropped his voice to an awed whisper. "But what a marvel, Mr. Larose! To get on his trail so quickly after last night and then to give him just those few hours of freedom so that unsuspiciously he might pile up more and more evidence to convict himself. Why, it's wonderful."

I agreed smilingly, but I was not smiling when a few seconds later I was alone with Larose. I was still annoyed that I had not recognised him in the bank manager's room. Larose, however, in the most friendly manner possible got up at once from his chair and shook me warmly by the hand.

"I'm very grateful to you, Edis," he said earnestly. "You've been a good friend to me to-day. Your reasoning and deductions were excellent in every particular, and thanks to you we've got enough evidence now, I should say, to hang him on both counts." He made a sort of grimace. "And I suppose you think now you're a much smarter detective than me." A stern note crept into his voice. "But you had inside information, Edis, don't forget that. You know much more than you've told me, I'm quite certain of it."

I pulled my chair up to the table and sat down as if I were very tired.

"Now, be a good boy, Gilbert," I said wearily, "and don't worry me any more. I've told you all I'm going to, and it's your turn to talk to me. I want to know all that happened. What did he do after he got your car?"

But Larose ignored my question and regarded me with a frown. "You are certainly cleared of one charge, Edis," he said slowly, "but——" he hesitated a moment, "remember that there may be still other things hanging over your head. There are suspicions——"

"And they will remain suspicions," I broke in impatiently, "they'll never get beyond that stage." I laughed scornfully. "You take that from me. I'm not worrying at all."

"But——" he went on, "there are lots of things I'm curious about myself. How did you learn who I was? How did you get up to the city on your motor cycle the other day? How——"

"Look here, Mr. Detective," I interrupted, and I spoke with some irritation. "You're not playing fair. You're going over the same old ground again. As I told you this morning, it was no confession I'd come to make. I came to help you and——" I shrugged my shoulders, "you've just admitted that I delivered the goods." I smiled and held out my hand. "So give me a cigarette, Doc. and shut up."

For a moment he looked almost furiously at me, and then slowly the tension of his face relaxed, a reluctant smile wreathed his lips, and finally he regarded me with complete good nature.

"Well, it's a queer alliance," he laughed, "but I suppose I must leave it at that." He nodded his head gaily. "Yes, it was quite O.K. about Willoughby, and it's as satisfactory a catch as I've ever made. But I'll tell you everything from the beginning." His face was now all smiles. "I wanted to wait for a photograph of some fingerprints to come up from the city. They were strange fingerprints that the police had found on a blood stained spanner in the auctioneer's car that evening after he had been killed on the Port Lincoln track, and if there was anything in what you thought I expected them to turn out to be Willoughby's. And they were Willoughby's, too, right enough." He rubbed his hands gleefully. "It was plain as daylight directly I clapped eyes on them. Well, then, I went to our friend at once and gave him the key of my lock-up and the key of my car as well, telling him he could have the car straight away. He was very grateful, and would insist upon opening a small bottle of champagne. I thought it best to humor him, because I reckoned the wine would give him confidence and make him feel that everything was safe. Well, I shared the fizz, and then went out and at once called off everybody who was shadowing him. Henceforth he was to be perfectly free and unwatched, until the exact moment when he would be riding away in my car. So we left him completely alone, and he never set eyes on any of us again until he was actually turning slowly into the street in my little bus. Then Dayus gave the whole show away, but, fortunately, too late to make any difference to the result. He thought that something had gone wrong, and that Willoughby was escaping. It was partly my fault, because I had changed out of my disguise as the doctor, and he hadn't seen me since, so he didn't recognise me as I am now, standing by the kerb. I was just on the point of jumping on the car. Anyhow Dayus lost his head and shouted to Willoughby to stop, and he shouted, too, in such a way that it made Willoughby instantly certain that something was up. Out came Willoughby's gun but I was near enough to spring, and he never got the safety catch up. Then Rankin was on him too, and it was soon over, although he struggled like a madman till we'd got the handcuffs on. Well, we searched the car for what he was taking away with him, and I can tell you we got much more than we had expected."

Larose paused like a good raconteur at the dramatic moment, and I held myself steady as a rock. I knew what was coming, and prepared myself how to act.

"We found," he went on impressively, "not only the £4,000 you saw just now in the bank, but also the whole £1,850 taken from the auctioneer when he was on the Port Lincoln track." He leant back in his chair and regarded me exultingly. "Now what do you think of that?"

I knew what I thought. It was the most wonderful happening in this long epic of dreadful crime. To think that these bloodstained notes which had already been responsible for three deaths by violence, should, after all their wanderings, have returned now like a homing pigeon to convict one of the very miscreants who had seized them from the murdered man. It was Nemesis that they should have been found, so to speak, upon him, but as far as the actual possession of them was concerned I alone knew they would be lying witnesses as to his guilt.

There was no need for me to do any acting. I could feel my body shake and the sweat come to my forehead in big beads.

"What a devil!" I exclaimed hoarsely. "He must have been an old hand in crime."

But Larose shook his head. "No, I don't think that necessarily," he said. "At any rate, not as yet. Both of these crimes as I take them, were crimes of unsought opportunity, and but for mischance, both Otto Hansen, and poor old Mackenzie would have been alive to-day. Hanson died because a fractured steering rod brought his car to a standstill, and Mackenzie because both his maids went out to the pictures together."

I made no comment. For the moment I was too full of emotion to speak.

"But there are some puzzling features about these notes," went on Larose thoughtfully, "and there's much more for us to find out yet. The two lots were not found in the car together. The bank money was in a neat newspaper parcel under the seat, while that taken from the auctioneer was rolled up in a dirty handkerchief and had been thrust through a hole in the leather among the springs of the seat itself." His face brightened. "Anyhow, we couldn't have taken him at a better moment. He had just got all the evidence together as if it had been his intention to convict himself, and although he was arrested this morning, as you know, only for the murder of Otto Hansen, after the inquest on old Mackenzie to-morrow he will be committed for trial on the coroner's warrant for the murder there also."

"What did he say after you'd arrested him?" I asked.

"Nothing," replied Larose, "after he'd finished cursing us. He shut up like a clam when he had asked us to communicate with his lawyer, and refused an explanation of everything we brought up. He glared furiously at me, and if looks would have killed I'd have been cold meat by now." Larose chuckled maliciously. "He was smarter than you, Edis; he recognised me at once, for he never took his eyes off my face."

"Have you found out anything more to prove that he killed Mackenzie?" I asked, ignoring his grin.

"Yes, a lot," Larose nodded. "We found the weapon he used for one thing. It was a big motor wrench, and he was undoubtedly returning it to his tool box when we saw him going into his lock-up this morning."

"But those other notes," I said, "the other £3,000. Have you found them?"

Larose shook his head. "No, not as yet," he said, "nor the bag either." He frowned. "We're puzzled there. It's any odds he went out and hid them somewhere in that twenty minutes this morning when he gave us the slip through the bar. Never mind, we'll get them soon, they can't be far away." His face brightened. "But now, my friend, about that inquest to-morrow. I want to talk to you about it. You'll have to give evidence but you needn't be afraid."

And I certainly was not afraid when the next morning I found myself one of many in the crowded room where the inquest was held.

The proceedings were much briefer than I had expected, for Willoughby, acting upon the advice of his legal representative never opened his mouth and no cross-examination of any of the witnesses was made.

The finding of the dead body of Mr. Mackenzie was described, the evidence of the police surgeon was taken, and Sergeant Rankin going into the box, testified that acting upon information received, he had arrested Willoughby as he was leaving the Northern Hotel, in a motor car. He said they had found in the possession of the accused £4,000 in notes that had undoubtedly been taken from the bank on the night of the manager's murder, and in the accused's private room at the Hotel, blood-stained garments that he refused to account for. Also they found in the motor car of the accused a large and heavy wrench, the jaws of which, as they had heard from the police surgeon later, exactly fitted in to one of the wounds on the forehead of the murdered man.

Then I went into the box, and after I had identified the bundles of notes as having all the appearance of being certain of those I had seen placed in the bank safe on the afternoon preceding the night of the murder, the proceedings abruptly closed.

Willoughby's lawyer stated that he was reserving his defence and a verdict of wilful murder was at once brought in and the accused committed for trial.

CHAPTER XVII.—IN DANGER STILL

Returning to the bank directly after the inquest, our general manager called me into the private room, and informed me that if I wished he would arrange for me to be returned straightaway to the city. He quite understood, he said, that my nerves must be terribly upset by the tragedy that had overtaken us, and that therefore perhaps it would be best if I were withdrawn from Port Augusta. I thanked him very much, and jumped at the suggestion, and so upon the following day, the officer to succeed me having arrived, I went down by the night train to Adelaide.

And then for the time at least I hoped all the hectic days of association with detectives and police would be over, and that I should see no more of Larose or Dayus, or any of the others.

The trial of Willoughby was not down to take place for nearly two months, and until then I thought confidently that I could resign myself to peace and quiet.

I quickly picked up again the thread of my old life in the city, and tried resolutely to relegate to the back of my mind all ideas that I need be in any further apprehension.

I did not worry at all about the death and burying of Sloop, for I felt sure I had covered up all my tracks there, and that even if the body were found it would need a miracle to connect it in any way with me.

I took religious care, however, to keep altogether away from the neighborhood of the garden where the body lay, and made no efforts to satisfy my curiosity as to whether the house were still untenanted or not, for if Larose himself were not attempting to follow up Sloop's disappearance, which somehow I thought now most probable, I had still far too much respect for the intelligence of Glass to risk taking any chances. I was never sure that the smooth-voiced detective might not still be dogging my footsteps after business hours. I had summed him up with certainty as a man of stubborn and determined purpose.

But if, as I say, I saw no more of Larose, I at any rate heard plenty about him, for indeed his exploits were the main topic of conversation everywhere, and they certainly lost nothing in their recital.

The public were both thrilled and horrified with the arrest of a man so well known as the cricketer, Jasper S. Willoughby, and extraordinary rumors were current as to the part Larose had played in bringing it about.

Undoubtedly, it was said, the great detective had saved the situation in Port Augusta, for without him nothing would have been found out. But then, they said, the committer of no crime was safe when Larose was upon his track, for however long the trail, Larose was never beaten in the end. His was the cold and dreadful patience that would wait for months and months, and be seemingly finding out nothing at all, and then—then just as surely as death and quarter day, would come that lightning spring and in the twinkling of an eye the evil-doer would find himself discovered and unmasked.

Yes, Larose was quite a legendary hero with the man in the street, and, strangely enough, he was a good bit of a hero too with the unromantic and hard-bitten men of the State detective force itself. They could not always follow his exact methods of work, as indeed they could not in this case of Jasper S. Willoughby, but they could at any rate appreciate his results, and were unstinting in their praise accordingly.

There was one discordant note, however, to this general chorus of approval, and I heard all about it in great secrecy from young Ferguson a few days after I had been back in Adelaide.

Detective Inspector Glass it appeared was very annoyed with Larose, being of opinion that for some reason the latter was unwilling to completely round off his investigations. He was declining, so Glass grumbled, to prosecute further enquiries in a direction that he, Glass, was sure to lead to profitable results.

Young Ferguson did not know quite what it was, but it was something to do, so his cousin had heard, with the disappearance of a most material witness, a disappearance too under circumstances that were highly suggestive of foul play. Glass was positive that there was another criminal besides Willoughby involved in the murder of Otto Hansen.

I sighed deeply when Ferguson had confided all this to me, and wished to goodness that Glass would mind his own business, and realise once and for all that Larose was a much better man than he.

But if I had been inclined after this last item of news to brood that I was not yet entirely out of my troubles, at any rate the uneasiness was of very short duration, for in a few days another and much more pleasing matter was filling all my thoughts to the entire exclusion of everything else.

Helen came into my life again, and resuming my friendship with her father, I found at once that at any rate with him it was to run in a far deeper and more significant way than in the old days before I had gone up to Port Augusta.

I realised this directly I went up to see them.

The old man had missed me very much, and was as genuinely pleased to get me back as if I were some near and dear relative of his. He had not been very well I found, and with the curtailing of his business energies his interests were centering the more upon his home life. No one's company pleased him quite like mine, Helen told me sweetly, and it was quite a Godsend to have me back.

They were both intensely interested in all the happenings at Port Augusta, and when under a pledge of secrecy I told them a lot about my association with the great Gilbert Larose during those weeks when he had been posing as a medical man at the hotel, the old man's interest at all events, knew no bounds.

I told him of the games of chess we used to play, and he was thrilled to think of us all sitting round the board, with Larose amicably exchanging moves with the man he was now intending to get hanged.

"It's wonderful, my boy," he said, shaking his head, "to think of people with such dreadful secrets on their minds, being able to sit down calmly and enjoy this noble game. Why, of all the four players you were probably the only one who had not got blood on his hands. Willoughby is a proved murderer. Larose, everyone knows, has several times had to kill in self-defence, and it's quite probable the other detective too, Dayus I think you said his name was, in his calling, has had to take life."

I felt myself grow hot and I avoided his eyes. Dear, innocent old man, I thought, and I was responsible for two graves!

I used to go up to the house almost every evening, and my infatuation for Helen grew the deeper and the stronger with each time that I saw her.

How I loved her, and how the divine madness of passion enveloped me in those days! I was always watching her, and everything about her enthralled me. The proud poise of her little head, the beautiful dark eyes, with their serenity of a madonna, the sweet sensuous curving of her lips, the low, white brow, and the wealth of chesnut hair that crowned it! And then her hands, her body, the grace of everything whenever she moved!

Folly and madness it may be, but then, may heaven in some way compensate the man who has not so dreamed and sighed!

I was sure her instinct must be telling her what my thoughts were, but she never gave me the slightest encouragement any more than before, and when our eyes met, buoy myself up as I might, I could never see anything in them but just the ordinary conventional friendliness towards a visitor who was pleasing to her father.

I had only been coming up to the house, however, for a few nights before I became aware in some subtle way that there was some feeling of restraint now between father and daughter. There was some rift in the lute somewhere, some discordant note in the otherwise perfect harmony of their relations. Sometimes she would bend over him and kiss him affectionately, but I always thought that at those moments there was something wistful and self-reproachful in her attitude, as if she were desirous in some way of making atonement for something. Then the old man would pat her hand and look up at her smilingly, but always with an expression on his face as if he were in some way, too, sorry for her.

Remembering what Sloop had said, I thought it might have something to do with Mark Rivers, and one night I purposely brought up his name. I asked casually if they had seen anything of him lately, and what then happened immediately strengthened my suspicion that I had hit the right nail upon the head.

The old man replied with a curt "No," and Helen at once got up from where she had been sitting, and turned away so that I could not see her face.

I did not follow up my question, but that night I went home in a very thoughtful frame of mind, and before undressing lay back upon the bed, and for the first time in all my infatuation for Helen thought seriously and sensibly of where my passion was going to lead me.

I was madly in love with her, I knew, but was there the slightest hope, I now asked myself, that I could ever actually possess her?

She was obviously quite indifferent to me, but altogether apart from that were not our positions so different that it could only be an impertinence for me to dream that she might ever become my wife?

I had precious little to offer her. I was an impecunious bank clerk, with a few pounds a week, and she was the only child of a very rich man. Money went to money always, I knew, and it was a well-established axiom in social life that in the mating of two people money was never more demanded than when it was least required.

For a long time I thought over everything from every possible angle, and then in the small hours of the morning a burst of common sense came suddenly to me, and I realised conclusively that I was a fool, and must henceforward put Helen altogether out of my mind. It was quite hopeless for me to think of winning her, I told myself, and I should only embitter my life and weaken all my manhood if I continued to give further shelter to the thought that things could end as I desired.

So I determined to play the man, and shutting my teeth together with a snap, swore that once and for all, I would cease hankering after the impossible. A bank clerk I was, and bank clerk I should probably remain, so that was the end of it.

And then, strangely enough, directly it seemed that I had fully realised that Fortune and I were to have nothing in common, the fickle jade began to smile on me at once.

I was busy the next afternoon over some long columns of figures, when a message was brought to me that there was a gentleman in the hall who wanted to see me. He was by himself, the boy said, but he wouldn't give his name. He was quite elderly.

"Now who the devil's this?" I asked myself uncomfortably. "It can't be a 'tec. for they always work in two's."

With some trepidation, however, I walked out, to be greeted smilingly by a big, stout man with ruddy cheeks and old-fashioned white whiskers.

"You don't know me, my boy," he boomed in a deep voice as he held out his hand. "Why, I'm your Uncle David, you young reprobate."

And then I recognised him. Of course it was Uncle David. He was my dead mother's brother, and he came from New South Wales. But it was no wonder my recognition was tardy, for I had only seen him once, and then at my mother's funeral three years previously. His home was in Sydney, and he had big interests in coal. He had a large family, and was reported to be very well-to-do.

"I'm going home to England for a holiday," he explained, "and am just passing through. I'm here for a couple of days, until Sunday morning. I'm stopping at the Australasian and am all alone. What about coming and having a bit of dinner with me tonight?"

I thanked him and said I would be very pleased, so that night found us sharing a good dinner and a large bottle or French champagne. I was rather surprised at the wine, for I had always understood the old man was a bit tight in money matters. Certainly, although he knew I was alone in the world, he had never taken the slightest notice of me before, and even in my mother's lifetime I never remembered him being much interested in her.

But that night he wanted to know everything about me, and with the privilege of an old man, plied me with lots of questions about my life and conditions of living generally.

"Rather monotonous, bank work, isn't it?" he asked presently, "and I suppose promotion's very slow?"

"Very," I replied, "and sometimes it never comes."

"I wonder you never went on the land," he went on, "the land's the place for young fellows now. I've got all my boys there, four of them, and they're all doing well."

"Yes," I said, "I wish I had gone on now. I'm sick of banking, and often think I'll chuck it and try and get a job as a hand on some sheep station," I shrugged my shoulders, "but I'm in a groove and it's hard to get out of it."

"How much do you get a week?" he asked sharply after a moment.

"Six pounds," I replied.

"Any money saved?" he asked; "any property?"

"About thirty pounds," I grinned; "and property, a motor bike."

"Ah!" he ejaculated, and he looked at me very thoughtfully.

I spent quite a nice evening with him, and the next day, at his suggestion, we went together to the races. I was glad to go, for I knew Helen and her father would be there. We met them in the paddock, and I introduced my uncle. The two old men took to one another at once, and with them chatting together I was left to look after Helen.

It was the first time we had ever been alone, and without in any way intending to weaken in my resolution to buoy myself up no longer with false hopes about her, I was soon making the most of it.

"Come on, Miss McLaren," I said, laughing, "and I'll show you Black Bruiser. I've got five shillings on him, and if he wins I'll take you down to tea."

With the nicest smile that she had yet given me, she came into the paddock as I suggested, and we were soon standing admiringly in front of the black gelding's stall.

"Do you know much about horses, Mr. Edis," she asked sweetly, and I could have eaten her, she looked so pretty.

"A little," I nodded, "but the main thing I know about them is that, like your charming sex, they're very hard creatures to understand." I made a grimace, "that's why I never intend to marry. But now about Black Bruiser here," I went on, "if he's in a good humor to-day he'll mop up all this crowd as easy as winking, but if he's not in the mood,"—and I shrugged my shoulders and pretended to look very sad—"he'll run nearer last than first, and you'll get no cup of tea."

We went up on to the grand stand to watch the race, and I told her about some of the horses engaged. How Beauty never won unless she was showing a good dividend in the totalisator. How Magpie had won once, and made a small fortune for its little owner by paying over 300 to 1; how Black Bruiser stood no earthly unless she hit the front before the corner was turned; and how Sweet Mary was one of the fastest horses in training up to half a mile.

She appeared to be quite interested, and it seemed strange to me that now I had given up all hope of winning her, the feeling of restraint between us seemed to have all passed away. I imagined, however, that somehow she sensed something of what was in my mind, and in consequence was no longer on her guard to discourage me and keep me at a distance.

The race was soon over. Black Bruiser won easily, and we went down to tea. The place was very crowded, and so full of people, all occupied with their own affairs, that I had the delight of being with her as if we two were quite alone, and no one else was there.

She enjoyed her tea, and after two pieces of cake, was contemplating a third, when I abruptly moved the dish away.

"No more cake," I said firmly; "bread and butter now. The cake's too rich, and you'll spoil that nice schoolgirl complexion of yours. Your father told me to look after you, and I'm going to."

She opened her pretty eyes wide in astonishment, and an annoyed blush suffused her face. She looked at me like a surprised child, and then suddenly her features relaxed, and she broke into a low music laugh.

"Well, Mr. Edis," she said, and there was just a trace of resentment in her tones. "I really should be very angry with you, but as you are my host—" she shrugged her shoulders—"I suppose I must only give you a smile instead."

"And the very nicest present you could make me," I said gallantly. "Why, I'm almost inclined to risk your father's displeasure and allow another piece of cake."

"Thank you," she said, in mock demureness, "but I'll drink my tea, and then I've finished."

A few moments later she said suddenly—"Ah! There's a friend of mine at that second table, that girl at the end in the blue hat. Now, what do you think of her, Mr. Edis? Don't you think she's very smart?"

I looked around. "Oh, Miss Trixie Vender!" I exclaimed carelessly, "no, I don't admire her at all. She's much too made up. And I admire her escort even less. He's a bad egg. He jilted a really nice girl for Trixie's money. That's all he's going after her for, and I wonder she doesn't see it. I detest the man."

Helen frowned. "Really, Mr. Edis," she said sharply, "you're not afraid of expressing your opinions, anyhow."

"Never should be," I replied carelessly, "when I don't like anyone." I pretended to sigh heavily. "But I used to be meek and gentle like you once."

She laughed, and we went out to watch the next race. Then when that was over, we looked round for her father and my uncle, and found them in the paddock. They were both in great humor, and I learnt we were all to dine that evening together at the Pines.

It was a very happy little party that night, and both Helen and old McLaren were brighter than I had ever remembered them before. We had some bridge, and with Helen for a partner I had every opportunity of looking at her as much as I liked. She often caught my eyes, and there was now no feeling of embarrassment between us, and she only smiled as if she were amused.

We bade them good-bye about half-past 11, and I walked back with my uncle to his hotel. He seemed rather preoccupied, and spoke very little, but just before parting he remarked thoughtfully, "A lovely girl that Miss McLaren, one of the most beautiful I've seen."

"Yes, she is as pretty as a peach," I replied carelessly, "and of a most sweet disposition, too."

"Then why——" he asked, and he hesitated a moment—"why don't you try and hang up your hat there. Old McLaren spoke very nicely about you to-day."

"Hang up my hat there!" I replied, as I prepared to leave him, "with thirty pounds cash and property, a motor bike," I laughed scornfully. "I haven't the cheek."

The next morning I went down to the station to see him off, and just as the whistle blew he leant out of the carriage, and thrust an envelope into my hand.

"Look here, Charles," he said hurriedly. "I don't think you've had many chances in your life as yet, but I'm going to give you one now. Leave that darned bank of yours, go out and work on a sheep station, and here's a little bit of capital to help you along later. Good luck to you, my boy, and take my tip and keep in touch with that pretty Helen McLaren. Good-bye, and think kindly of your old Uncle Dave. He's not a bad sort," and the train steamed out of the station.

Wondering what en earth he had given me, I opened the envelope and whistled. It contained a cheque for a thousand pounds.

Now, I have often heard people say that money is not everything, but curiously enough, I have never heard those who have got any, say it, and I myself found straight-away that its possession at once gave me an entirely different outlook upon life.

The next day when I went down to the bank, I felt quite an important person. I threw out my chest, and eyed everybody with the assurance of a man who knew he had probably more money than most of the people he was meeting. I nodded familiarly to our chief clerk, and when the manager said good morning to me, I returned his greeting with a confidence as though we were on equal terms. And it was the same when I went up to the McLaren's in the evening. I felt as rich as my host, and exactly as if my single thousand pounds had avalanched me all at once into the exclusive circles of the well-to-do.

During the course of the evening, however, Mr. McLaren came out with a piece of news which in some degree disturbed my happy state of mind. He brought up about the parlor-maid's sister, Mrs. Sloop. He had already several times upon different occasions mentioned how active the detectives had been in their efforts to trace her missing husband, and now, to-night, he spoke about it again.

"What on earth do you think they've been up to to-day?" he asked. "One of them has been round and taken away some lengths of iron piping from the back yard. It's very mysterious, and the poor woman can't make out what they have done it for. Why, goodness gracious," he went on, "what are they bothering about him at all for? It'll be a mercy for the family if they never hear anything of the wretch again. It was the best thing for them that could have happened, when he disappeared."

I expressed my surprise at his piece of news, but very puzzled myself, made a mental note that I must give serious thought to the matter when I was alone. Evidently the detective, Glass, was still upon the warpath, but evidently, also, they had not found the body, or Mrs. Sloop would have been called upon to identify it.

The next day I had just finished tea, when who should walk into my room but Larose.

"Excuse me, old man," he said smilingly, "but I said I'd announce myself. I told the maid I was an old friend." He laughed slyly. "No, I've not come to take you up. I've only looked in for a little chat."

"Well, how are you getting on?" I asked with my heart returning to its usual beat.

He frowned slightly. "Not too good," he replied. "We've not found the bag or the rest of the money, and in Otto Hansen's case, I see we'll be fighting a strong attempt to put up a complete alibi. Driven Jones is defending Willoughby, and I understand they've got witnesses who'll swear he was on the boat the whole way from Cowell to Port Pirie that day."

"But it's a lie," I exclaimed hotly. "Now, don't you think it is." I thought Larose looked at me a little queerly. "Yes, I do," he nodded, "but all the same if they've got reputable witnesses, it'll be rather a snag in our case, as you can see." He was silent for a moment, and then he spoke very gently. "Now, see here, Charlie, a bargain's a bargain, and I'm not going to worry you again, but don't you think,"—he hesitated—"don't you think you could help me just a little more? We want to get him for sure, and juries are a tricky lot, you know."

I stared at him very coldly. "What do you mean?" I asked.

"Well," he said slowly. "I'll tell you exactly how far we've got, and then you can give me your advice." He paused for a moment to light a cigarette. "Now, I'm certain there were two men involved in the auctioneer's murder," he went on. "The driver of the passing lorry thought then that he saw two passengers in the back seat of the car as it flashed by. He admits, however, that he couldn't see clearly because the side curtains were up on account of the dust storm that was threatening, and so I'm not banking on his opinion alone. But I've found out other things. Otto Hansen bought a cardboard carton containing five cigars at the tobacconist's in Cowell that afternoon just before he set out on his return to Port Augusta upon that fatal journey, and on his dead body afterwards the police found the carton with only two cigars remaining in it. Now, Hansen, we learn, was a very abstemious smoker and of not a too generous nature also in his gifts. So we may presume that he only smoked one of the cigars himself and gave away two of the others to the company with him, and knowing as I say what we do about him, I consider it most improbable that he offered two smokes to one man. So much for that. Now I have learnt also that just after lunch that afternoon, Willoughby called on a man in Cowell about a pedigree Fox Terrier that the latter had been advertising for sale, and the significant part is that the dog fancier lived at the extreme edge of the township, in the last house in fact in the direction of Port Augusta. But that is not all. After Willoughby had interviewed the man and declined the Fox Terrier as not being what he wanted, he left the house, and outside the garden gate had an encounter with some one whom he addressed excitedly with 'Hullo, hullo, now fancy meeting you.' The dog-man is emphatic that he heard Willoughby say those exact words, and he is prepared to swear also that the two stood talking there for at least a quarter of an hour. In fact he went away, milked two cows, came back, and then went away again down to the far end of his paddock leaving them still talking. Unfortunately he didn't actually see the second man because the garden hedge was in the way, but he says he had a deep voice and spoke very quickly."

Larose paused again for a moment and lit the cigarette that had gone out.

"Now you see, Charles, what all this means, and how beautifully it fits in. Willoughby and his unknown friend were talking in the road when Otto Hansen came by. They stopped him and he took them in his car, and so getting in, outside the township, we have the explanation at once why no one saw them leave in his company.

"Very good work," I exclaimed with enthusiasm, "but that's only what one would expect from a Gilbert Larose."

"Well, help me," he said at once. "We must get hold of that man. I'm giving all my time to it."

I shook my head slowly. "But I can't help you, Gilbert," I said solemnly. "Honestly, I would if I could."

"Then you don't know him?" he urged, "you have no idea who he was?"

"Not the slightest," I replied. "I have no idea at all."

Larose sighed. "I'm disappointed," he said. "Very. Somehow I was depending on you. Another thing, too, is worrying me—the auctioneer's money found in the cushion of my car. We can't fathom the motive there. Why he should have kept those notes intact for all those months, and why he should have left them, too, in that dirty handkerchief all the time." He frowned. "We can see their line of defence shaping here, too. Mine was only a hired car, and since the day of Hansen's murder lots of people have used it besides me. The defence have been making enquiries in that direction, we know for certain, and the garage-people have admitted that they can't trace all who've had it out on hire. So the suggestion will be that many besides Willoughby had the opportunity to hide the notes where they were found."

He got up from where he had been sitting. "Well, old man," he said, "I must be going. Good luck to you. I'll see you at the trial."

I went with him to the garden gate and then just as he was turning away I laid my hand upon his arm.

"One moment, Gilbert," I said, and I spoke carelessly as if my remark were of no importance, "about that other man in the car, about Willoughby's pal, I mean." I put my hand up to my mouth as if to stifle a yawn. "I don't think I should trouble any more about looking for him if I were you because,"—I looked him straight in the eyes—"because you won't find him, I'm sure. That's all."

For a moment, a long moment, he stared at me without any expression on his face, then he nodded and spoke just as carelessly as I had done. "Thank you, Edis," he said, "so that's it, is it? You say you are sure?"

"Yes," I said slowly, "quite sure. I shouldn't wonder if he wasn't dead."

A tense and embarrassed moment followed, and it was a very long drawn out moment too. We both stood stock-still, staring anywhere but in the direction of each other's faces, then suddenly Larose broke into a low chuckling laugh.

"It's funny, Edis," he said, "you may have all sorts of evil deeds to your credit, but all the same I trust you implicitly." His voice became solemn and impressive again. "And now I'll give you a tip in return. Look out for friend Glass, and don't let him bounce you into anything." I laughed as if amused. "I don't want to lose my most important witness." And off he went, waving his hand in good-bye.

I puzzled vainly over what he meant, but the solution of the riddle came to me the next evening, when in the middle of my tea two visitors were announced.

"What are they like?" I asked crossly when the girl had said they wouldn't give their names.

"One's big and stout," she explained, "and the other looks like a minister."

"Well, show them in," I said, frowning, and a moment later Glass and Inspector Doyle entered the room.

"Hah!" I sneered, to cover my first feelings of dismay, "my worthy friends of the motor bicycle. Good evening, gentlemen. What can I do for you?"

But they did not in any degree respond to my pleasantry. They just stared hard until the girl had retired and closed the door behind her, and then Inspector Doyle rapped out bluntly:

"We want a word with you, Edis, and according to the regulations, it's our duty to warn you that anything you say may be used against you. Understand?"

"Quite," I replied. "More tommy-rot I suppose," and even in my dismay thinking of my thousand pounds, I resented his familiarity and added. "But you might add the prefix 'Mr.,' please. You're not one of my superiors, and certainly not one of my friends."

"No fencing, please, Mr. Edis," broke in Glass quietly. "The matter's much too serious for that." He held my eyes with his own. "Now, when did you last see Thomas Sloop?"

With an effort I turned my eyes back to the table and picked up the piece of bread and butter that I had been eating when they had interrupted my meal.

"Ah! Thomas Sloop," I said, and I now faced them squarely with the piece of bread and butter in my mouth. "The man who disappeared?"

"The man who was killed," burst out Inspector Doyle. "And we've come to arrest you for his murder."

In spite of all my efforts at self-control. I could feel my face go cold and deathly pale. My jaw dropped and my legs shook so that I could hardly stand. The charge was so direct and made with such assurance that I had no nerve ready to parry the blow.

A look of triumph leapt into Glass's face, and he whipped out something wrapped in brown paper from his breast pocket. Then for a moment I could take nothing in, a mist rose up before my eyes, and all I could hear was my heart thundering in my ears. It was only for a moment, however, and then I found myself staring fascinated at a piece of iron piping that the detective was holding in front of me.

Sloop's iron piping! I recognised it instantly. The piping that he had tried to kill me with, the piece that I had buried in the garden with him. Then—then they must have disinterred the body and everything must have been found out. Surely I was in the toils at last.

I heard the voice of Glass, polite and suave, yet not so emotionless that it could hide the note of triumph in it. "Now make a clean breast of everything," he said. "It's the only thing for you to do. You've given us a lot of trouble, but we've tracked you down at last."

My eyes left the piece of piping he was holding and wandered to his face, and, strangely then, it struck me somehow at once that it seemed to lack something of the confidence of his words. He looked eager and expectant, and as if he were—waiting.

My eyes wandered back to the piece of piping. What a conclusive piece of evidence it was that they had discovered the body and how—but I heard Glass still speaking.

"Now come on, Mr. Edis," he said, "tell us truthfully how you came to kill the man; it's no good——"

But I was staring hard again at the piping. What was it that was puzzling me and why could I not take my eyes away? And then suddenly a great light broke in upon me, and I wanted to laugh—wanted to laugh hysterically, and felt almost, too, as if I wanted to cry.

Why, it was not Sloop's piece of piping at all! He had flattened his at one end to give him a better grip as a handle, and this piece was as round in all its length as the day it was cast.

Oh! what a piece of bluff, and how nearly successful it had been, too! Of course, that was what Glass had been doing in Mrs. Sloop's back yard. He had measured the cut piece of piping, and then from another rod had lopped off a piece of the same length. And that was what Larose had meant when he had warned me to beware of Glass's bounce.

I shut my eyes and pretended to feel faint.

"Let me sit down, please," I said. "I'll be better in a minute, and then I can talk."

They waited quite a long time, and then I opened my eyes and burst suddenly into a hearty laugh. Never surely then were there such an astonished pair of detectives. Glass narrowed down his eyes in steely malevolence, and Inspector Doyle got as red as an angry turkey cock.

"Now, what about it?" snarled the latter. "Are you going to confess?"

"Confess what?" I asked shakily, and I pretended to wipe the tears from my eyes. "Why, it's all a joke to me."

"When did you last see Sloop?" hissed Glass furiously.

I checked my laughter all at once and froze my features to an anger quite as furious as his own.

From their obvious discomforture I knew now I held all the cards, and I felt a different man.

"Now, look here," I said sternly. "I'm tired of all this. You say you've come to arrest me for the murder of the man Sloop. Well, do it straight away without any more talk, or else clear out and let me finish my tea. That's final." I thumped on the table, "I call your bluff; I know nothing about the man."

Their faces were a study, but Detective Glass was the first to recover himself, and he spoke quietly now and with no resentment in his tones.

"My colleague was perhaps a little too precipitate, Mr. Edis," he said, "but we know certain things about you and we require an explanation either here now or at headquarters later on." A menace crept into his voice again. "You've got to explain, you know."

But I was making no compromise. I had got them beaten and intended they should know it, so with no reply I walked over and pressed the bell.

"Jean," I said quietly, when the maid appeared, "show these gentlemen out, and if they call again just say that I'm not at home. You understand?"

Glass hesitated just a moment, and then making a sign to Inspector Doyle to follow, with no expression on his face, picked up his hat and left the room.

I waited until I had heard the hall door shut behind them, and then walking shakily over to the sideboard mixed myself a stiff brandy and soda. I thought the occasion justified one.

CHAPTER XVIII.—THE TRIAL.

A fortnight later—and one crisp autumn morning I sat in the crowded court waiting for the trial of Jasper S. Willoughby to begin. My heart beat a little quickly as I looked round, for so many anxious memories were stirred in me by the faces that I saw there.

Larose was close near, my archenemy Glass, Dayus, solemn and impassive as ever; Inspector Doyle, who gave me a hard cold stare; Inspector Scrutton, who scowled at me as if he were certain I ought to be in the dock, too; and a score of others, who in some way or another reminded me of the perilous times I had been through.

A little way away sat Tresidder-Jarvis, K.C., who was to lead for the Crown. He was a big stout man, with a bull face and bull neck, and his very appearance, I thought, was enough to put the fear of heaven into any poor wretch he was up against. He was by no means a great orator, I had heard, but his style was forcible and convincing, and he was as merciless as a weasel when he was cross-examining a witness whom he thought was not speaking the truth.

Facing him sat Driven Jones, also a K.C. and the man who was to defend Willoughby. He was just the opposite to Tresidder-Jarvis, and was built on the slight side. He was tall and stooped, and cultivated a bored supercilious air. He was the bully of the bar in South Australia, and his fine modulated voice could rise to shrieks of anger when a witness was giving testimony that he did not like. But he was a fine pleader, and could lead juries astray by superb flights of melodramatic eloquence, more suitable to a theatre than to a court of law. Generally speaking, he was not considered too particular, and any client who could find means of paying his exorbitant fees, no matter how bad his reputation or how heinous his offence, was assured of being represented to the jury as an angel of light almost, and of so saint-like a character that it would be rank blasphemy, even to conceive of him committing any wrong. Under any circumstances, Driven Jones was undoubtedly a mighty tower of strength when the client he was defending happened to be a crook.

The judge who was trying the case was Mr. Justice Fortescue. I had never seen him, but he had unquestionably the highest reputation of all the judges in the State. He was a man of many talents, and great learning, and most broad-minded and humane as well.

The trial was a few minutes late in commencing, and then came a moment of intense silence as we rose to our feet, before the judge came in.

A tall commanding figure swept to the judge's seat, bowed to the court, and then sat down. My heart thumped in my ribs, and I gasped in amazement.

It was the stranger!

Now I have often in after days looked back upon that amazing moment when I recognised in Judge Fortescue, the stranger who had befriended me in the Flinders Range, and my first feeling was one, I remember, of dire consternation.

What on earth would he think of me I asked myself shamefully, when certain parts of the evidence upon which the Crown was depending to make good the case against Willoughby were brought forward?

He would recognise me, of course, and directly it came to the mention of the finding of the auctioneer's money in the cushion of the car that Willoughby had been driving away he would know at once that it could only have been I who had placed it there, and he could not fail to be disgusted with me accordingly.

However strong the other evidence against Willoughby, he could not but regard it as a most despicable action on my part to so load the dice against the accused man, and the dreadful part of it was there would be no opportunity afforded me of clearing myself and of letting him know the strange part that chance alone had played in the matter.

I grew hot with shame as I thought of it. But I had no time to brood over my own feelings, for Willoughby was brought up into the dock, and at once all interest for the moment was centered upon him.

To my astonishment he looked quite at ease, and there was nothing of the appearance of a guilty man about him. He was spick and span and well groomed, and if certainly his face were paler than when up at Port Augusta and had lost something of its healthy tan, he, nevertheless appeared to be in quite good health and spirits.

He glanced round the crowded court quite confidently and as if he had nothing to fear.

After a few preliminaries the trial began.

Tresidder-Jarvis opened the case for the Crown in calm, even, and matter-of-fact tones. There were two capital charges against the prisoner, he said, and although there was an interval of fourteen weeks and three days between the two charges they were both being taken together because it would save time and expense, and so, again, because certain parts of the evidence so overlapped that it would be a matter of extreme difficulty to separate them. It was a story of dreadful deeds, he told the jury, that he had to unfold; murders of as brutal and ferocious a character as it had ever been his lot to deal with in all the course of his career. The prisoner was charged with the murder of Otto Hansen on the 10th of November last, and of Robert Alan Mackenzie on the 20th of February. For the purpose of convenience he would deal with the latter charge first.

Robert Alan Mackenzie was the manager of the Port Augusta branch of the All Australian Bank, and he was found murdered at 10.25 on the night of the date mentioned in his private room on the bank premises. The murder was discovered upon the return of the two servants from the pictures. They had left the bank manager alone in the house just before 8 o'clock, and upon returning about two and a half hours later they had found him stretched out dead upon the floor. The house had not been broken into, and evidence would be adduced to show that whosoever had committed the murder was well known to the dead man and had been brought into the house by the deceased himself. Medical witnesses would testify that the manager had first been struck down from behind and then that, lying prone upon the floor, his death had been consummated by two terrific blows upon the front of his face. The motive for the crime had been easily found. It had not been one for revenge or coming from some savage and unpremeditated burst of temper. It had been one of robbery pure and simple, for the bank had been opened and £7,000 in notes taken away.

"That was the brief history of the crime, and he was prepared to prove that there was indisputable evidence linking up the accused, Jasper Samuel Willoughby, with every phase of it. He would convince the jury that the accused had an appointment with the deceased that very evening, that he visited him, that he slew him, and that he then abstracted the money from the safe.

"It was quite true that a portion of the evidence he would adduce would be circumstantial, but that would be no bar to most clearly substantiating the prisoner's guilt, for, after all, was not most evidence of the ordinary happenings of life purely circumstantial, and if juries had to rely upon direct evidence alone, would there not in all manners of crime be very few breakers of the law convicted and duly punished.

"He would show his Honor and the jury how a few hours before the actual committing of the murder the prisoner visited the manager at the bank, and he would put it then that he obtained information upon that visit that suggested to him the perpetration of the crime. He learnt that there was a large sum of money lying in the bank awaiting transfer on the morrow to Port Pirie, and he learnt also that that evening the bank manager would be alone upon the bank premises, his domestic staff having received permission to attend the pictures. He saw then that all that stood between him and the acquisition of the sum of money was the obtaining of the safe keys and the life of the bank manager. And he would put it to the jury again that the prisoner realised at once that it was possible to get hold of these keys. There were two of them, and one, of course, he knew the manager himself would be holding, and the other, he knew, according to the usual custom prevailing at all branch banks, would be in the custody of the second officer. Now this second officer was staying at the prisoner's own hotel, and if he changed his clothes at dinner, as he usually did, it would be the easiest thing possible to obtain access to his bedroom by the use of the hotel master key and abstract the bank safe key.

"Then what happened?" asked Tresidder-Jarvis, for the first time raising his voice. "The prisoner, with a fiendish purpose in his mind, secured the second key, and at once started preparing the ground for an alibi. He intended to make quite sure that if his deadly plans succeeded, no suspicion should rest upon him. So what did he do? Fit and in perfectly good health at five o'clock, he gave out at a quarter to seven that he was feeling very ill and going into the smoking-room, informed three of his visitors and a town president there, that he was going straight off to his room to put himself to bed. He was observed then to be in a state of some mental agitation, and it was unfortunate for him that one of his visitors present in the smoking-room was the well-known detective from Sydney, Mr. Gilbert Larose, who had been staying for some weeks at the hotel, being regarded there as a medical man, one Dr. Harry Thorn."

A flutter of delighted sensation here ran round the court, and Tresidder-Jarvis paused for a moment to let it settle down whilst he sipped from a glass of water.

"But did Jasper Samuel Willoughby go to his bed?" he resumed. "No, it was the contention of the Crown that he simply retired to his room to await the coming of the night. He had armed himself with a heavy motor wrench that he had taken from his car, and directly darkness fell he let himself out of his window, his room was upon the ground floor, and crossing the garden under the trees climbed over the wall, and proceeding by the lane at the back of the house reached the bank premises themselves. Then he slipped into the bank garden and out of the view of anyone passing in the street, rang the bell attached to the private door.

"Then what exactly happened only the prisoner and the eye of God saw. At any rate, the manager of the bank was killed, the safe opened, and a travelling bag containing £7,000 abstracted and the safe closed again. Then the murderer returned in the same way that he had come, put back the second key he had borrowed, and was no doubt of opinion that he had covered all his tracks and would never be suspected.

"But he was mistaken, very much mistaken, and by five o'clock the next morning Mr. Larose and other officers of the law were drawing a net around him. He was already under suspicion and his fingerprints had been taken. At ten minutes past five he was seen going into his lock-up garage in the yard, undoubtedly to put back the weapon he had used, and from that moment he was rigorously shadowed, except, unfortunately, for 20 minutes between six and half-past, when he escaped from the hotel through the saloon bar opening on to the street, and to prove that there was something sinister in this action and that for some reason he didn't want to be seen, he knew perfectly well that it was unlawful for him under any circumstances to open that particular door before seven o'clock. Well, the early morning passed, and then during breakfast he approached the man he believed to be Dr. Thorn and begged the loan of the latter's car to go into Port Pirie on an urgent matter to consult his medical man. His own car, he explained, was out of action, and for some reason he could not understand he had not been able to hire one from the garages. Mr. Larose complied with his request, expecting the prisoner would be taking the stolen notes away with him, and Mr. Larose was right, too.

"By 10 o'clock certain suspicions had been verified and all preparations being completed the prisoner was arrested just as he was driving out of the hotel yard in the borrowed car. He resisted furiously and attempted to shoot one of the police officers, resolutely refusing later to explain in any way certain things that they wanted to know.

"The car was searched, and to deal for the moment with this present charge only £4,000 in notes were found wrapped up in brown paper and tucked, under the seat of the car." Tresidder-Jarvis paused for a moment to let this sink in, "and all these notes, your Honor and gentlemen of the jury, were done up in £100 lots, and each one held together by the usual kind of rubber band that does service in all branches of the All-Australasian Bank of South Australia."

The great counsel took another gulp of water and then looked round the court. All eyes were fastened on him, and in the silence the proverbial pin dropping would have sounded like a bomb.

"And what did the officers of the law require information about?" he asked slowly, and he answered his own question at once with hand and forefinger outstretched to emphasise his points. "They wanted to know," he said solemnly, "why Jasper S. Willoughby had washed one sleeve of his coat, what were the meaning of the bloodstains—on his coat collar, under his right arm and inside upon the lining of his trouser pocket? How did the smear of blood come upon the movable wire screen of his window? How it was that the big motor wrench in his motor car had been recently cleaned in boiling water, and how it happened that of all the tools in his kit it was the only one that had no oil upon it? Why it was that he had tucked his tennis shoes away at the back of his wardrobe, and how it was they had come to be fouled all over with the same dust as in the back lane behind the hotel, and, finally, who it was who had recently soaped the bolt in his window wire screen so that it would be drawn back easily and without noise?"

Almost a shudder ran round the court, and I looked at Willoughby to see how he was taking it, but he looked calm and unperturbed, and his face showed no traces of the anxiety I thought he must be in.

"And to clinch everything," went on Tresidder-Jarvis fiercely, "I shall call medical evidence to establish in a most conclusive manner that the head of the motor wrench found in the prisoner's car exactly fitted into that most ghastly wound in the murdered man's face, when with the final blow the wall of the eye was broken down to the extent of absolute penetration into the cavity of the brain."

Again that dreadful silence in the court, and then he returned once more to calm and even tones.

"And now I come to this second charge, and here again I shall contend that all the evidence points to the prisoner at the bar being the perpetrator of yet another dreadful crime, and a crime carried out strangely enough again, with the tools usually carried in a motor car."

"On the afternoon of Wednesday, November the 10th last, Otto Hansen, the well-known auctioneer of Port Augusta, returning from a sale of property that he had been holding that morning at Cowell, was murdered upon the Port Lincoln track when half-way upon his journey towards his home. Here, again the motive was obviously that of robbery, for when the body was discovered it was found that the sum of £1,850, the proceeds of that morning's sale had been abstracted from the dead man's pocket. Upon the face of it, it does not seem that the crime here was premeditated, and had not the steering gear of his car gone wrong, in all probability the unfortunate man would have been alive to-day. But the tie rod of the steering broke, that was proved afterwards from the marks of dragging on the track, and the car crossed over to the wrong side, and crashed into a tree."

"Then what happened is pretty clear. The bag of tools was taken out from under the seat, and the car jack got ready to lift up one of the wheels. We may assume that the auctioneer knelt down to place the jack in position, for the dust of the track was distinct on both his hands, and also on both his knees, but he had no time given him to carry out his project, for he fell in a pool of blood by the side of the car. Four distinct blows were struck, so the medical testimony avers. One with a large spanner straight between his eyes, and three with the heavy motor jack. His head was completely battered in. Then an attempt was made to burn up the car after the murdered man had been lifted and flung on the front seat. We are sure of this, because the plug at the bottom of the petrol tank had been nearly unscrewed to its full length, and a match thrown down to ignite the escaping spirit. In his hurry the murderer afterwards dropped the entire box of matches, too."

"Well, the petrol blazed up, and we may assume that the murderer, thinking that the car would be wholly consumed, precipitately made off from the scene of the crime. But the car was not wholly consumed; indeed, from its appearance the flames would have burned for hardly more than a minute, and experts who examined the car later explain this by the discovery of a crack at the bottom of the petrol tank. The tank must have been nearly empty, they say, and have been leaking all the way from Cowell, where we learn the murdered man had taken in 10 gallons of spirit about 2 o'clock."

"Well, the murder was discovered very quickly, so quickly indeed after its consummation that we can be sure that whoever committed it did not escape in a motor car. We can say this with certainty, as will be shown later, because strangely enough for that lonely country there were that afternoon passing cars on all the four stretches of track in the vicinity of the scene of the murder."

Tresidder-Jarvis again had recourse to his tumbler of water, and then he paused for quite an appreciable moment of time to intently regard the jury.

"Now, your honor and gentlemen of the jury," he went on. "Why does the Crown contend that the prisoner at the bar is inseparably connected with this murder?" He raised his hand again to emphasise his points. "For two reasons, only two reasons, but two reasons so damning and so convincing in their strength that there can be no possible chance whatever for my learned friend conducting the defence to belittle them or explain them away. The first reason," and the hushed court was again thrilled with expectancy, "upon the handle of a bloody spanner found by the police on the footboard of the car were finger prints, and these fingerprints——" Tresidder-Jarvis shot out his arm dramatically and pointed straight at Willoughby, "after nearly four months of long and patient enquiry, we now know to be those of the prisoner before you."

Everyone looked at Willoughby, but it was still not possible to say that he had lost anything of his perfect composure. His eyes were cast down, and he was writing on a sheet of paper.

"And the second reason," went on Tresidder-Jarvis, and he spoke now with a dry and almost cynical expression upon his face, "when the prisoner was arrested in the car in the manner I have described to you, he was carrying away with him, besides that four thousand belonging to the bank, the very £1,850 in notes that the auctioneer had received as the proceeds of the sale upon that fateful day in Cowell. The very self-same notes, your honor and gentlemen of the jury."

I felt myself grow hot with shame, and I looked across towards the judge. He was frowning, and for the moment I saw that his eyes were wandering round the court. But he pulled them back again quickly and then took up his pen. Tresidder-Jarvis went on.

"Now I shall prove to you that the prisoner attended the sale at Cowell, proceeding thence by boat from Port Pirie for the whole journey, but I shall put it to you that he did not return to Port Pirie by boat for the whole journey. I shall prove to you that immediately after dinner in Cowell that afternoon, at about half-past 1, he made a call at a house at the extreme end of the town nearest to the track leading on to Port Augusta, and I shall put it to you that he was picked up then by Otto Hansen, that he was in the latter's company when the car broke down, and that finally their association together as sentient beings was only terminated when the unfortunate auctioneer was left a bloody and inert mass in his own car upon that lonely track."

Tresidder-Jarvis looked very sternly at the Jury. "Then, what is the further contention of the Crown? That the accused having accomplished his fell purpose and secured to himself the booty for which he had paid the price of blood, proceeded with all haste from the scene of his crime. He walked sixteen miles over the saltbush into Whyalla and picked up the Cowell-Port Pirie boat upon its arrival there at nine o'clock. He slipped on board in the darkness—the boat stops there always for at least a quarter of an hour—and mingling with the other passengers, trusted to his good fortune that in the event of an enquiry ensuing, it would be assumed he had been with them the whole time." A sarcastic sneer crossed into the great counsel's face. "And that, I suppose, will be the alibi he will attempt to put up."

A few moments' silence followed, and it was seen that he had finished his address. Then he rapped out sharply——

"Sergeant Rankin, please."

"A great speech." I heard a man behind me whisper, "and it will take Driven-Jones all his time to answer it."

Sergeant Rankin testified to the official finding of Robert Mackenzie's body, to its position and surroundings, and the general condition of the room when he arrived. Then the two maids described what happened upon their return from the pictures and how they had at once rung up the police-station for help. Then the parlor-maid told of having answered the door to Willoughby about a quarter past five that evening, how he had talked to Mr. Mackenzie for about five minutes, and finally how she had heard him say as the bank manager was showing him out of the front door, that he himself hated pictures and hadn't been to see one for years. She also mentioned that after she had cleared away the dinner things that night, Mr. Mackenzie had asked her to bring in the syphon of soda-water and put two tumblers upon the sideboard instead of the usual one.

Driven-Jones in his cross-examination was in his most cooing mood, and dealt with the three witnesses very lightly. He just put a couple of unimportant questions to the sergeant, and was most polite and smiling then to the parlor-maid.

"And how long have you been with Mr. Mackenzie?" he asked her.

"A little more than three years," replied the girl.

"He was a kind and considerate master, I suppose?"

"Oh! yes, sir, always most kind."

"And I suppose he was pretty popular with everyone in Port Augusta?" smiled Driven-Jones, "and had plenty of friends?"

"Yes, sir, he had," replied the girl.

"And so Mr. Willoughby was not the only one," urged Driven-Jones silkily, "who came up from time to time and spent the evening with him, was he?"

The girl hesitated. "Well, very few came up, Sir," she said, "in fact I only remember Mr. Shakes, the Baptist minister, and Mr. Stumpy, from the Methodist Church."

"Ah? well," said Driven-Jones, and he smiled now more than ever, "then I suppose we shall have to make enquiries about these two gentlemen, too."

The police surgeon was the next witness, and he described the wounds upon the body and the results of the post-mortem he had made. There was one wound at the back of the head, in the occiput, one on the temporal bone and one that had completely broken into the cavity of the brain through the frontal sinus and the orbit wall. It was this last wound that had been the cause of death. It would have been delivered with great force and death would have been practically instantaneous. The first would had been made with a blunt round instrument, and the two subsequent ones with a weapon with a sharp square edge. He had been shown a large motor wrench by the police, the one now produced in court, and he found that the head of it, seven-eighths of an inch across, exactly fitted into the wound in the upper wall of the eye. He had taken a plaster cast of this last wound, which he now produced, and it could be seen by this cast that his statement was correct. Reconstructing the crime, in his opinion, deceased was first struck down from behind, then when lying prone upon the floor he had been turned over upon his back and the two subsequent blows given with the assailant standing behind his, the unconscious man's head. The deceased had been dead, he should say, just about two hours when he first viewed the body that night at 10.35.

Driven-Jones got up to cross-examine almost as if he were bored. He asked the surgeon if there would have been much spurting of blood when the wounds were inflicted, and he received the reply that there would have been no spurting at all. There would have been considerable hemorrhage from the last wound, the surgeon said, but very little from either of the others. No, he could not swear that the wrench now before him had made the wounds, all he could swear was that they had been made by a weapon exactly like it.

Then Larose was called, and there was a great flutter of excitement and a great craning of heads when he went into the box. He looked more boyish than ever, and there was no trace of sternness, of austerity about him such as one would have thought must have inevitably accompanied a reputation such as his. He spoke very quietly but in a clear and distinct tone of voice that carried everywhere in the hushed and crowded court.

He told how he had come to view the body of the murdered bank manager on the premises of the bank and he was of the opinion that the crime had been committed by some person with whom the deceased was upon trustful friendly and familiar terms, for he was wearing at the time bedroom slippers, and his coat had been taken off and hung upon the back of a chair. Also, although the deceased himself had been smoking a cigar at the moment when he was struck down—where it had been flung from his hand it had charred the pile of the carpet before it had gone out—it was clearly apparent that he was aware of the tastes of his expected visitor, for there was a box of cigarettes placed ready on the table, which was entirely contrary to the usual custom, so the maids averred, as their master never smoked cigarettes himself.

He was of opinion that both the murder and robbery had been very swiftly carried out and that the perpetrators of them had remained only a very few minutes in the house, otherwise he would have had time to notice the smell of the smouldering carpet and to have seen in consequence that there was pressing danger of the window curtains catching fire. They were of light flimsy material, and would have blazed up instantly and exposed the interior of the burning room to the street. It had certainly been a close thing, for the fringe of the curtains had been at one time almost touching the smouldering cigar, and it was a wonder that no conflagration had ensued. The cigar had burnt itself out, for when he discovered it the ashes were quite intact. It had not been stamped upon or disturbed in any way.

He had searched the room carefully and had found bloodstains on the tablecloth where it was hanging over the table, close near to the murdered man. The assassin had undoubtedly wiped his weapon there, and the Government analyst would show later there were distinct traces of oil among the blood.

Yes, there was every appearance that the crime had been most methodically carried out, according to set plan, and accomplished quickly, as everything showed—then it was evident that the perpetrator was operating upon ground with which he was perfectly familiar.

Then Larose went on to state how the next morning he had watched the prisoner and how the actions of the latter had been highly suspicious. Then he told of the arrest, of the finding of the two lots of notes in the car and the discoveries he had made afterwards both in the prisoner's room and in the garage.

Contrary to expectation, Driven-Jones handled Larose very gingerly in the cross-examination, and, indeed, seemed really to only stress the fact that he, Larose, had found no traces of the missing travelling bag nor of the other £3,000 in notes. He questioned him to some length, however, about his car and as to upon how many occasions he had garaged it in strange garages.

To my delight, at the end of the cross-examination the judge himself took a hand and asked Larose about the car, too. He asked if he were not correct in thinking that until during breakfast time upon the morning after the murder there had been no question at all of Willoughby borrowing the car, and that the idea originated entirely with Willoughby himself, and upon Larose replying "Yes," to both questions he wanted to know if anyone could have got to the car between the time of its loan being requested and the actual moment when he, Larose, handed over the key to the accused.

Larose soon satisfied him, declaring emphatically that no one could have got near the car on account of its being garaged by itself, and with the door, moreover, fastened with his own private padlock, which padlock was a large stout Yale one. It showed no signs subsequently of having been tampered with. The key, he added, had never left his person until he had given it to the accused in the garage yard itself.

I knew the judge would be in a way of being very puzzled with this information, but I thought that at any rate he would realise now that I had not wilfully placed the notes in the car for the police to find.

The next day I was the first witness called, and, stepping into the box, was aware at once that I was being very closely scrutinised by the judge. He regarded me very thoughtfully with his keen grey eyes, but there was not the faintest sign of recognition in them and if I had not been mindful of the pact that we had made between us, I should have sworn that he had forgotten me.

I testified as to the £4,000 found in the car as being identical in its parcels of £100 to the parcels I had packed in the travelling bag on the afternoon preceding the night of the murder. I detailed the conversation I had had with Willoughby in the street when he had said he was going up to Mr. MacKenzie; I told how ill and agitated he had appeared to be that evening when he had come into the smoking-room to inform us that he was going to bed; I mentioned about finding my keys in the wrong pocket of my trousers, and I told about meeting Willoughby coming out of his lock-up garage at about twenty minutes past five the next morning.

Driven-Jones was still in one of his polite moods, and did not worry me much in his cross-examination. He asked me a few questions, what I considered unimportant ones, and then he suddenly said:—

"Well, as I take it, Mr. Edis, you can't really help the court at all in determining the identity of those £100 parcels of notes. You say you can't swear they are the identical ones you packed in the travelling bag; you only think they are so." He leant over towards me and raised his hand. "Now, that is the position, is it not?"

"Yes," I replied slowly, "I can't swear they are the same."

"Exactly," he replied drily, "and then your evidence determines nothing at all." He looked down at his brief. "Ah! and another thing. You testified just now that when the prisoner came into the smoking-room that evening, he was looking very ill and agitated."

"Yes," I said, "he was."

"And he told you he was ill, didn't he?"

"Yes," I nodded, "he did."

"Well, then," said Driven-Jones, all politeness and smiles again, "he was speaking the truth, wasn't he?" and the great man sat down as if everything were going well and he was very pleased with himself.

Then for the rest of all that day and the next a large number of witnesses were called to support the case of the Crown and it was not until the fourth day of the trial that the ground was clear for Driven-Jones to open the case for the defence.

CHAPTER XIX.—THE TRIAL (CONTINUED).

It was universally admitted that in his cross-examination Driven-Jones had all along hitherto acted with great self-restraint. There had been no fireworks and no spectacular glaring at the witnesses.

Each and every one had been handled by him as if it were his sole desire to get at the truth, irrespective as to whether it might be harmful to his client, or not.

But it had been easy to gather by the astute ones in what way the defence was taking shape. In the case of Otto Hansen, Driven-Jones was going to stake everything upon the establishment of an alibi, and with regard to the murder of the bank manager, he was going to plead that there was no direct evidence as to his client's guilt, and that some very simple explanations would remove all suspicions from him.

He opened his address by remarking very quietly that, of course, it was quite unnecessary for him to remind the court that he, in common with everybody else, regarded with feelings of the utmost horror the terrible and ghastly crimes that were causing them to foregather day after day under that roof. Both crimes, as had been shown to them, had been carried out with such callous and brutal ferocity that no right-thinking and normal man could but desire that their perpetrator or perpetrators should be discovered and visited with the utmost penalties of the law.

But whilst their detestation of the criminal had stirred them naturally to righteous anger, they must be careful that their feelings did not so possess them that they in any way became prejudiced at once against any and every individual towards whom suspicion was pointing.

They must remember that justice demanded that upon facts, and facts alone, should the guilt or innocence of any suspected person be determined, and above all things, he insisted, they must not let the sheer horror of any crime unbalance their minds.

Driven-Jones paused here, and then continued after a moment with a cynical and sarcastic smile upon his face.

Now, his learned friend, he said, had remarked that in substantiating his cases against the prisoner he should be relying to an extent upon evidence that was not direct but only circumstantial. Driven-Jones's smile here became more sarcastic still. Well, surely such an admission had been quite unnecessary, for as the trial had proceded, it must have been increasingly apparent to everyone that the Crown, in these serious matters, was depending not upon what it could exactly prove, but upon what it could only suggest. In effect, they were raising a superstructure of guilt, not upon the evidence they could produce, but upon the gaps in the evidence they could not bridge over.

His learned friend would state a simple happening about which there could be no argument, and then he would tag on to it ideas for which there was not the very slightest justification. He had 'put it to the Court' this—he had 'put it to them' that—and all along he had been as versatile in his imagination as any writer of blood and thunder romance. He had told the court that upon circumstantial evidence men and women judged the ordinary happenings of life, but he had not said—and here Driven-Jones dropped his voice to low and impressive tones—that this was not an ordinary happening, it was a very extraordinary one, and was providing, they must remember, an occasion most pregnant with frightful possibilities for the unhappy prisoner in the dock.

For quite a minute then, Driven-Jones took another rest, refreshing himself with graceful sips of water from the tumbler at his elbow, and at the same time looking carelessly round the court.

"Well," he went on presently, and it was noted for the first time that his beautifully modulated voice had taken on something of that vibrant note of passion so beloved of those who regarded criminal trials as highly sensational forms of entertainment, "I shall leave now all forms of philosophical generalities behind me, and deal point by point with each and every issue raised by the Crown, and upon every issue, save one," his voice became very low and solemn, "I shall be able to convince your honor and gentlemen of the jury, that the charges laid against the prisoner have no foundation whatever in fact, and are unworthy of the credence of all reasoning and thinking men." He shrugged his shoulders. "I shall review the charges one by one, as I say, and then I shall put my client in the box," (great sensation in court) "and leave my learned friend to ask him what questions he will."

With a quick movement Driven-Jones picked up his brief, and, after a moment's rapid inspection, spoke in brisk and business-like tones.

"Now I will take the case of the murder of Otto Hansen, the auctioneer, first, and I urge at once, that a great deal—indeed, a very great deal, of what my learned friend has been at such laborious efforts to prove, we are willing to admit as plain and unvarnished statements of fact, about which there can be no contention at all. The prisoner was on terms of familiar friendship with the murdered man; he was in his company both before and after the sale; he did see him place the £1,850 in his pocket-book, and he did call on that fox-terrier man at the last house in the township at the exact time named." Driven-Jones looked very sternly at the jury. "But that is all we shall admit, for from that moment,"—he spoke very slowly—"when the prisoner said good-bye to Otto Hansen in the hotel yard, he never set eyes upon him again, living or dead."

He turned almost sneeringly towards Tresidder-Jarvis.

"But my learned friend says that at four o'clock that afternoon, fifty-two miles away from Cowell, upon the Port Augusta track, the prisoner was at murder with the auctioneer. Well——" the voice of the great counsel boomed suddenly like a clarion call. "I shall prove to you that at four o'clock, the prisoner was embarking from Cowell jetty upon the steamer Gentle Rose, and I shall bring three reputable and unimpeachable witnesses who will testify that they saw him several times upon the boat between that hour when it left Cowell, and 9 o'clock that night when it tied up to the jetty at Whyalla. Yes, and another thing," he thrust out his jaw and glared at Tresidder-Jarvis, "my learned friend has made a mountain of the fact of their finding my client's fingerprints upon the spanner in the dead man's car. Well, what of it?" He paused dramatically, and looked round the court with a cold, mocking smile. "Just before lunch that day," he went on slowly, "my client assisted Otto Hansen to tighten up the nuts under the front springs on his car, and he made use of that very spanner to do it with."

A thrilled and breathless "Ah!" ran round the court, and for a long moment again Driven-Jones paused and regarded Tresidder-Jarvis with studied insolence. Then his eyes wandered off in the direction of the jury, and suddenly his arm shot out.

"And mark you, mark well," he boomed, "although there was blood upon that spanner, there were no finger marks super-imposed upon any of the blood, because——" he dropped his voice, and was all smiles again, "because, as I have mentioned, the finger marks were there first."

The spectators breathed heavily. They were getting real sensation now. Their great actor was at last showing his best form.

Driven-Jones picked up his brief again, and all at once he looked intensely troubled. The elation of a moment back had completely left him, and he was frowning heavily.

"And now, your Honor and gentlemen of the jury," he said slowly, "I would remind you that I said a few minutes ago that upon all charges, save one, I could dispel all suspicion against the prisoner. Well, I come now to that one charge, and I admit candidly that here we are up against a blank wall, for we can give no explanation, and can in no way understand it ourselves." He shrugged his shoulders. "I refer to the finding of the £1,850 in the cushion of the car that the prisoner was driving away." He spoke very rapidly. "He declares he knows nothing whatever about it. He never had the notes in his possession, he says; he never handled them, he never saw them, and——" Driven-Jones looked round the court, "I believe him. He had not had possession of the car for two minutes before he was arrested, and he had had no opportunity, even if he wanted it, to bodily lift out that cushion and secret the notes where I understand they were subsequently found. The whole thing is a complete mystery both to him and to me."

Driven-Jones's face brightened quickly. "So your Honor and gentlemen of the jury, I want you to regard the presence of those notes in the car as being simply one of those extraordinary coincidences that we, all of us, at one time or another, meet in our lives." He smiled whimsically. "Why, not two months ago an even more extraordinary coincidence than that happened to me. I'll tell you about it. On a Tuesday morning, here in this very court, I successfully defended a client of mine against a charge of driving his motor cycle to the public danger, and on the following Thursday, not 48 hours afterwards,"—Driven-Jones made one of his dramatic pauses, "in a bush township, more than 300 miles distant from this city, the same man on the same machine ran into me and damaged my car. Now, gentlemen, what do you think of that? Can you conceive of a more marvellous happening?" He laughed merrily. "But didn't it serve me right, too?"

A ripple of amusement ran round and Driven-Jones, joining in, gave a fine exhibition of his beautiful white teeth.

"Oh! yes, and another coincidence," he went on; "and this one, no doubt, will be within the memory of many here to-day. Last summer a claim for damages was heard in this city in the court next door. It was a case of collision between a motor car and a dray. Well, the plaintiff's name was White, the defendant's was Black, and the policeman who witnessed the accident was called Green. Now who could beat that? It seems absolutely impossible that such a combination of names could occur."

For a few moments the court was all smiles, and then it was seen that the face of Driven-Jones had suddenly become stern again.

"But my learned friend," he remarked scornfully, looking in the direction of Tresidder-Jarvis who was laughing quietly with his junior, "seems possessed of an hilarity greater than the occasion warrants. Of course, we all know what impression this merriment is intended to convey." He banged on the table before him. "Well, I will put it to him—which he will consider the more extraordinary. The prisoner, innocent and knowing nothing about those notes, or the prisoner guilty, and preserving them in their entirety together, as the most damning piece of evidence conceivable against him should they be ever found anywhere in his vicinity?"

Driven-Jones turned again towards the jury and spread out his hands.

"Just think," he said incredulously, "if this man committed that diabolical murder for those notes is it conceivable that for fourteen weeks and four days he would have made no use of any of the money, that he would have kept all the notes intact together, and that they would be found wrapped to a dirty weather-beaten handkerchief that shows all signs from the dust and sand upon it of having been left exposed for a long time in the open air?"

He paused for a moment for breath. "No, no, it is unthinkable," he went on, "and to account for them being found in that car much more explanation is demanded than that my learned friend has given us." He shrugged his shoulders again. "They were found in the cushion of the car. Well, remember that car was a hired car from a garage at Port Pirie, and through how many hands, I ask, has that car passed since the middle of November last? Mr. Larose had it only for just over six weeks, and the owner of it, the proprietor of Wells's garage at Port Pirie, will testify to you presently that previous to Mr. Larose hiring it, it had been out almost every day, and driven by many hirers, some of whom may have taken it over the exact scene of the committal of the murder. Now, just think what possibilities that opens to the imagination! Why the notes may have been picked up soon after the murder, by someone using the car—the handkerchief exhibited has all the appearance of having been trampled in the dust and then hidden away among the springs of the cushion with the idea of retrieving them later when the intensity of the investigation concerning the robbery and the murder had died down."

For a few moments Driven-Jones looked from one to the other of the jurymen, and then be smiled.

"But I am as much puzzled as you must be, gentlemen," he said, shaking his head, "and I say frankly that, either as prosecutor or defender, I could make nothing of it either way."

He picked up his brief and after a very rapid scrutiny faced the court again.

"And I come now to the second charge," he went on briskly. "The murder of the bank manager, Robert Alan Mackenzie, and I must confess that if I were surprised at the audacity of my learned friend in imagining that he had substantiated his case against the prisoner in the matter of the murder of Otto Hansen, I am perfectly amazed that be should have any belief that he has substantiated the case here." Driven-Jones threw out his hands. "His procedure, I will admit, was, however, just the same. He took simple, ordinary happenings and invested them with a sinister significance entirely alien to the truth. He suggested that every action of the prisoner must of necessity have some weight of guilt behind it, and he gave credence to no supposition unless it was going to strengthen his already preconceived idea that my client was a criminal of the most melodramatic type." Driven-Jones shook his head pityingly. "Well, I am going presently, as I have said, to put the prisoner in the witness-box, and your Honor and gentlemen of the jury can then determine the issue for yourselves."

He looked impressively round the court. "Now, as far as my client is concerned, what exactly are the facts that centre round that fatal evening, night, and morning?" His voice rose stridently in emphasis. "He did meet Mr. Edis that evening in the street; he did call upon Mr. Mackenzie at about a quarter past five at the bank, and the manager did tell him of a contemplated journey to Port Pirie on the morrow, but——"—Driven-Jones looked challengingly towards Tresidder-Jarvis—"the manager did not mention anything to him of the transfer of a sum of money, and he did not invite him up to the house that night, and he did not say he was going to be alone."

He laughed scornfully and then addressed himself directly to the jury. "Now, gentlemen, I ask you——"—and his voice grew very solemn—"I ask you, as business men and as men of the world, if you think it probable that Mr. Mackenzie, an honored and trusted servant of the bank, a man who had grown old in banking service, a man who had lived all his years steeped in the rules and tradition of his calling——"—his hand shot out again and his voice rang through the court—"would have been so false to all the principles of his life as to betray that secret of the £7,000." He paused just a second. "No, no; it is incredible that the manager made any mention of the money, and if he did not, then what in heaven's name, I ask you, was the hidden urge that so swiftly, according to the prosecution, avalanched the prisoner at the bar down this path of bloody crime?" Driven-Jones smiled sarcastically. "You will remember, your Honor and gentlemen of the jury, that it is the contention of my learned friend that the prisoner saw a sudden opportunity and seized it, and it is my contention," again his voice boomed out, "that Robert Alan Mackenzie would never have been so false to his trust as to permit the prisoner seeing that this opportunity existed."

He took another sip of water, and then resumed in calm and emotionless tones.

"Well, the prisoner returned home that evening from his visit to Mr. Mackenzie at about a quarter to six, and before seven he was in the throes of a violent headache. He is subject to these headaches, as I shall prove to you later. He went into the smoking-room and told those present that he would not be suggesting the usual game of cards for he was feeling ill, and was going off to bed. Then he started to go to his bedroom, and half way up the passage——" Driven-Jones paused once again, and then finished the sentence very slowly, "half way up the passage his nose commenced to bleed."

In the dead silence that, followed I could sense the thrill that was gripping everyone present. I looked across at Willoughby, and saw that he was smiling. But Driven-Jones went on speaking now in an easy and almost conversational tone.

"Yes, his nose was bleeding, and realising what had happened, he held his hand up to his face and hurried to his room. Then he did what he always does when his nose bleeds—I shall bring evidence to prove to you that it is nothing unusual with him for his nose to bleed when he gets a headache such as he had that night—he bathed his face in cold water. It was some few minutes before the bleeding stopped, and then taking off his coat, he saw that one sleeve of it had got blood all round the cuff. He didn't search for other stains, but as I say, he noticed those upon the sleeve, and he therefore wrung it out in cold water under the tap before he undressed and got into bed." Driven-Jones's voice rose again. "And from that moment, your Honor and gentlemen of the jury, he never left that bed until about a quarter to five the next morning."

In the ensuing moments of silence I looked across to the jury to see how they were taking it, but I got no reward for my pains. They were all staring hard at Driven-Jones, and their faces, at any rate to me, gave no indication of their thoughts. Driven-Jones went on—

"And now I come to the matter of the motor wrench——" he smiled drily, "and the explanation here is every whit as simple as that about the bloodstains on the prisoner's clothing. There undoubtedly was no oil upon this wrench when the officers of the Crown seized it, because my client had had occasion to clean it thoroughly the previous day. He had been taking off the radiator of his car, as you will learn later, and inadvertently he had put down the wrench in a pool of thick gear oil lying upon the garage floor. So he cleaned it, but not in boiling water as the prosecution has alleged, but in petrol. He immersed it bodily in petrol until all the oil was all away. As for the wrench itself, it is quite an ordinary wrench of standard pattern, and there must be scores exactly like it in Port Augusta. Making enquiries, we have found that at three out of the four garages in the town exactly the same pattern and size of wrench can be purchased any time. So much for that. Now I come to the matter of the £4,000 in notes that the prisoner was taking away, and if you admit a little eccentricity on his part, the explanation is quite simple there, too. Eighteen months ago my client received a legacy of £500 upon the death of an aunt in Geelong, and a year last November he did the Melbourne Cup week and gave the £500 a run. He happened to be very fortunate, and finished up with between four and five thousand pounds. Well, you know he is a hotel keeper, and you know also that the prohibition question has of late years been very much to the fore in Australia. Those in the liquor trade have never been certain that prohibition might not come suddenly, and then their livelihood, as publicans, be summarily taken away without any compensation whatever. At any rate, the prisoner had got the wind up, and he determined to keep four thousand pounds of this money he had won as a nest egg, so that he could never be ruined, whatever happened. Very foolishly, he decided that he would not invest it, but would have it always to his hand so that he could touch it instantly whenever he wanted to. So for more than a year the money remained locked in the private drawer of his safe, and neatly divided into units of one hundred pounds, just as he had noticed money is always held together by the tellers at the banks. Then the murder and robbery at the Port Augusta bank unnerved him, and he determined straight away to transfer everything to Port Pirie, where his major account was always held."

Driven-Jones paused, and looked smilingly across to his great rival.

"And now we come to a consideration which must have embarrassed my learned friend not a little in his confident assumption that the prisoner was the robber as well as the murderer at the bank." He turned towards the jury, and the smile died from his face. "Seven thousand pounds," he said slowly, "were taken from the bank, but only the sum of four thousand was found in the possession of the prisoner. Now what does that signify?" He shrugged his shoulders. "The Crown cannot urge that the prisoner divided the money so that in the event of detection the whole incriminating sum should not be found upon him in one lump, because almost in a previous breath, dealing with the other charge, my learned friend had been triumphantly pointing out that the exact incriminating sum, £1,850, was in the prisoner's possession." Driven-Jones smiled sarcastically. "The prosecution cannot have it both ways, for if my client had divided the £7,000 to escape certain conviction if it were found upon him, then surely he would have adopted the same procedure with the £1,850 and divided that also."

He stopped speaking, and looked from the jury to Tresidder-Jarvis, and then back to the jury again.

"Well," he went on after a long minute and smiling more sarcastically than ever, "I shall leave it to the ingenuity of my learned friend to explain," he laughed drily, "for as a plain and simple man, it is quite beyond me." Me picked up his brief, "and now lastly—if this £4,000 found on the prisoner is part of the £7,000 bank money, where is the other £3,000 and where——" he thumped loudly upon the desk before him, "where is the bank travelling bag as well?"

He took a long drink of water, and then regarded the jury in a droll and humorous manner.

"Really,"' he smiled, "I feel quite ashamed to put so many problems before my learned friend, and this one, in a way, is as hard as any he will have to solve. You can certainly get rid of £3,000 in notes somewhat easily, but a bag is an entirely different thing. It is a bulky object, and unless the prisoner had a confederate, which has never been suggested, what opportunity did he have of effectually disposing of it. It isn't likely he threw it into the gulf, for the bank is in the very centre of the town, and to reach the water he would have had to pass in whatsoever direction he took, through the main street, with the almost certainty of being seen and recognised. Then did he bury it?" Driven-Jones shook his head. "No, I don't think so, for if he did his time was so very limited that he must have done it very near the scene of the crime. He would have been hampered by the darkness, too, and I am sure,"—Driven-Jones looked at the Jury and laughed—"in that case Mr. Larose would have discovered it long before now."

He sat down and the court then adjourned for the day. We all trooped out with the buzz of conversation rising everywhere. As far as I could gather from the remarks around me, it was considered that Driven-Jones was putting up a fine defence.

"He'll get him off," I heard one man say, "whether he's guilty or not. The jury won't dare to convict now."

Going into the street I saw Larose and Glass talking together on the pavement. I was going to pass them with a nod, for I felt a bad headache coming on, and was disinclined for company, when Larose smiled and beckoned to me.

"This is Detective-Inspector Glass," he said slily when I came up, "I think you've met him before."

"Oh! yes, Doc," I replied coolly, "and I've seen him again since I returned to the city. He dropped in for a chat the other night." I turned in an offhand way to the other detective. "How is Doyle?"

But Glass made no reply; he just stared stonily as if he had not heard.

"I only asked," I went on, suppressing a yawn, "because I thought he looked darned liverish in court yesterday. He glared at me as if he wasn't well. He ought to go on soft drinks for a while."

"Well, how do you think the trial's going?" asked Larose, with a grin, after the silence that had followed.

"Not as badly as it seems," I replied carelessly. "Jones and Tresidder-Jarvis will carry about equal weight with the jury, and then his Honor will sum up dead against the prisoner, and they'll convict. He'll swing right enough. I'm certain."

Larose's jaw dropped, and he stared at me now as hard as Glass was doing. They both looked surprised.

"Well, good-bye," I said and I moved away. "I've got a headache and I'm going home. I'll see you here to-morrow."

But I was wrong. I did not see them there on the morrow nor on any of the subsequent days of the trial, for when the morning came I was in the throes of a bad bout of influenza, with dreadful aching limbs and a high temperature.

I sent round a note to the Crown Solicitor explaining the reason for my absence, and in the evening Larose came up to see me. He brought me the latest news of the trial.

Willoughby had been in the box nearly the whole day, he said, and, he added with a frown, that the hotel proprietor had come through the ordeal "damned well." He had been cool and imperturbable the whole time, and had given his evidence in a manner that was almost faultless. He had stuck boldly to the story outlined by Driven-Jones, and not once had Tresidder-Jarvis caught him out and made him contradict himself. Only on one little point had the crown been able to make any score at all, and that was in the matter of the rubber bands on the notes. Tresidder-Jarvis had asked him why, if he himself had made up every one of those forty bundles of Treasury notes and put on each individual rubber band, how it was that no spare rubber bands had been found anywhere about, had he used up the last one on the fortieth bundle? Willoughby had hesitated a fraction of a second before replying, and then had said no, and that a number of them should have been found in his private drawer if they hadn't been deliberately removed by the police when they were searching.

Larose was of opinion that this answer had made a bad impression on the jury.

The next evening, when Larose came to see me, he was very thoughtful; indeed I imagined he was really uneasy. The day had gone wholly in favor of Willoughby, he said, for amongst other evidence in his favor, three good witnesses had testified emphatically that they had seen him on the boat when it was travelling between Cowell and Whyalla, and no amount of cross-examination had shaken them in the very slightest.

Then upon the seventh day of the trial counsel had made their final address to the jury, and Larose, when he came up at night, frankly admitted that Driven-Jones's had been by far the better one of the two. He had spoken up to the last moment before the court had adjourned for the day, and Larose was of opinion that had the verdict been taken there and then it would have been one of swift and unanimous acquittal.

"So now, Edis," he smiled drily, "all depends as to whether you are right or wrong as to the way you say his honor will sum up to-morrow. I am as positive Willoughby is guilty,"—he looked impressively at me—"as you are, but Driven-Jones has played upon the jury like a harp, and unless they get a strong direction to-morrow our case will fall through."

The next day I was almost well, but the weather had turned cold and my doctor would not allow me to go out, so I had to speculate at home as to all that was going on.

Just before five o'clock I got the evening paper, and saw that the judge had finished his summing up at three o'clock that afternoon, and that the jury had retired to consider the verdict.

The paper gave a long resume of the judge's speech, and I rejoiced to read almost in his first words that he had come straight to the point in no uncertain way.

He remarked to the jury that for seven days now they had been patiently, and, he was sure, intelligently considering the charges against the prisoner at the bar. A large amount of evidence had been forthcoming, and upon many occasions during the trial they must have been perplexed with the conflicting nature of the statements put before them.

But now that all the testimony was concluded they were in a position to regard everything in its right and proper perspective, and he was convinced they would be able without difficulty to speedily return a verdict upon the issues involved.

Then, piece by piece, he proceeded to review the evidence, and it was plain that, as I had anticipated, his summing up was dead against Willoughby, and when it came to the matter of the finger prints, it seemed particularly so.

Of course, it did look highly suspicious, he said, that the finger prints of the prisoner should have been found upon the spanner that had indisputably played some part in the killing of Otto Hansen, for certainly it was difficult to credit that if they had been innocently placed there in the yard of the hotel at Cowell, as the defence alleged, that they could subsequently have survived beyond the clutch of the guilty hand that had clasped the spanner later. But, of course, again, if the prisoner had been on the boat between Cowell and Whyalla, then it was perfectly impossible, as everyone could see, for him to have taken any part in the murder at all. But had he been on the boat then? That was the question. Now there was no reason to doubt the perfect honesty of the witnesses who had come forward to state that they had seen him there, but, then, the jury must remember that people very often believed in all sincerity what they wanted to believe, and these three witnesses all admitted that they were friends of the prisoner. It was rather astonishing, too, that after more than four months' interval they should remember so certainly and be so positive about a casual happening, which, after a time, would have been to them of no significance at all.

Then, when he came to the matter of the £4,000 and the way the notes had been done up with the rubber bands, it seemed to me from the account in the paper that the judge had been quite as sceptical about Willoughby's story as had been Tresidder-Jarvis himself. He stressed the fact that no spare bands had been found and he asked the jury point blank whether they were inclined to believe as the prisoner averred, that the police and detectives had actually entered into a conspiracy and were deliberately suppressing the fact that spare bands had been found.

Then finally, when dealing with Willoughby's arrest, he asked them to most carefully consider whether they were of opinion that the prisoner's actions there had been consistent with an innocent state of mind. Taken off his guard and on the spur of the moment, the accused had attempted to shoot the detective, Dayus, giving as his explanation later in court that he had thought at the time he was the victim of a "hold up." But his Honor reminded the jury that Willoughby had known Dayus intimately for nearly two mouths, and was quite aware that the man was no robber desperado, but was a police officer and on the side of the law. How, then, he asked, in dismissing them to consider their verdict, could they reconcile his actions with those of an innocent man?

I read and re-read the account several times, and then just after dinner I heard the step of Larose in the passage outside. Without ceremony he opened the door and came into the room.

"Guilty!" he said, and he sank down into a chair, "on both charges." He mopped his face with his handkerchief. "But it took them over three hours."

"My God!" I exclaimed, and my voice shook, "but he deserved it. He was guilty—both times."

"Yes, he was guilty right enough," said Larose, smiling, "and he practically admitted it before the sentence was passed. He lost his temper then and shouted that I, for one, would never have left the hotel alive that morning if he had known who I was, and he swore, too, that we should never find the rest of the money."

And so Willoughby passed out of my life, but he was not hanged after all, for three days before the sentence was to be carried out he had a heart seizure and died almost instantaneously from angina pectoris.

CHAPTER XX.—THE SACRIFICE

And now I come to what is perhaps the strangest part of my story, how I came to marry Helen McLaren and how my most wonderful dream became real.

I have told of blood and horrors; I will tell now of joy unutterable and of that perfect happiness that can come surely only once to a man in all his life.

It all began just a week after the trial. I had severed my connection with the bank and was busy getting my things together for a journey to one of Mr. McLaren's sheep stations up beyond Quorn. I was going there the following week for six months on trial.

I had had a busy day and it was rather late in the evening when I arrived at the McLaren residence. The butler had opened the front door to me and I had walked into the drawing-room, as I had been always bidden to do, unannounced, but it needed only one glance then to see that I had come at an inopportune moment, and that something unusual was going on.

Mr. McLaren was lying back in his chair looking white and tired, and Helen had obviously been crying. They both, however, when they saw me, at once made a brave effort to recover themselves. Mr. McLaren sat up and began looking unconcernedly for his pipe, and Helen turned away and began re-arranging some flowers in a vase upon the piano.

"Good evening," I said, pretending not to notice anything. "It's turned quite warm again, hasn't it?"

Mr. McLaren had now found his pipe, and he looked at me and frowned. "Yes, it's warm, Charles," he said gruffly, "it's warmer——" A startled expression crossed suddenly into his face, and he thumped his fist sharply upon the table. "And now, by Jove," he cried, "who says that God doesn't answer prayers?"

I stared at him in surprise. He was stirred evidently by some strong emotion, for he was breathing hard and his hands shook.

"What's the matter, sir," I asked.

"Matter?" he asked, and he smiled grimly. "Why, you've come at a most opportune time, that's all, my boy."

I looked round at Helen. She had quite recovered her composure, and her face was set in cold, proud lines. There were no tears now, and but for her pallor, I should not have been aware that she had had any part in the emotions of a moment ago.

"Charles," went on her father sharply, "now, I want to ask you a favor."

"Certainly, sir," I smiled, "to my last sixpence and my last breath. What is it?"

But the old man looked at me very sternly, and there was not the ghost of an answering smile upon his face as he said very quietly.

"I want you to do me the honor of asking me if you may marry my daughter."

"Father!" came in a startled cry from Helen, and I turned to see her face flaming in indignation.

"Silence!" thundered the old man, and he rose shakily to his feet, and his breath began to come in quick gasps. "Silence, girl, and be thankful if an honorable man solicits your hand."

Helen went as white as death, and for a moment I thought she was going to burst into tears, but she recovered herself instantly, and there was only anxiety in the manner in which she regarded her father.

"All right, Daddy," she said quickly, and there was a choke in her voice. "But do sit down or you'll make yourself ill," and she crossed over to him at once and stood near him.

The old man clutched at the side of his chair, and sat down heavily. "Yes, yes," he said weakly. "I'm not to be worried, I know, as the doctors said." He smiled faintly at me. "I'm not overstrung, you see, Charles. Old age and wear and tear."

But I was standing stock still, looking from one to the other. That the waters of some deep pool of tragedy had been stirred I was quite sure, but what it all meant was quite beyond me.

"Well," went on Mr. McLaren testily, "you haven't answered my question, Charles. I ask you, are you willing to marry my daughter?"

I saw Helen flinch as if she had received a blow, and then she looked at me, with her eyes as wide as saucers.

I affected to treat the matter as a joke.

"Yes," I said, smiling, "certainly. The offer's most tempting. I'm quite willing."

"But I'm serious, boy," snapped the old man. "I want to save my daughter from a scoundrel. Read this letter now, and you'll understand," and he thrust a crumpled sheet of notepaper into my hand. "Spread it out yourself. I'm shaking too much for the moment."

Mechanically and with my head in a whirl, I took the paper and unfolded it. It was a letter of that day's date, and written from the Australasian Hotel in Adelaide. "My darling Helen," it began, but I dropped my eyes immediately to the signature, and my whole body stiffened. It was signed "Mark."

"But it's private," I said, and I felt a shiver run down my spine.

"No, no," sneered the old man, "it's public now, for I've read it, and if his wife had got hold of it, in a few weeks' time it would be more public still, in every newspaper in the Commonwealth, as a piece of spicy evidence in a divorce court." He sank back helplessly in his chair. "Just fancy, my daughter dropped it a few minutes ago, and I picked it up off the floor, here, in this very room. It's incredible, it's——" His voice began to rise in anger.

"Don't, Daddy," broke in Helen imploringly, and choking back her tears, "I've been very foolish, I know, but I've done nothing very wrong, and it shall all end now, I promise you. It shall never be again."

"Bah!" sneered the old man, "it's in a woman's nature to be weak, and I——" his voice almost broke. "I shall never have a moment's peace now until you have a husband who'll protect your honor."

I dared not look at Helen, but I could see that the slim white hand which rested now upon the old man's shoulder was trembling.

A moment's silence followed, and then Mr. McLaren said irritably——

"But you haven't answered me yet, Edis. I asked you, man, if you'd marry my daughter?"

I looked him straight in the face. "But Miss McLaren has no affection for me," I said quietly, "and it would be insulting to her for me to make any reply."

"But you're fond of her," insisted the old man quickly, "and it's no good you're pretending you're not." He shook his head emphatically. "Why man, I've known it for months and months now, in a score of different ways. I've seen you look for her the first thing whenever you come into the room, and I've watched your eyes following her about. I've——"

I felt myself grow hot with embarrassment. "But it's impossible, sir," I interrupted, "with your daughter's feelings as they are."

The old man's voice became very solemn.

"But will you marry her, Edis, if she expresses her willingness to have you for her husband? Please answer my question."

I felt sick to think how Helen must be suffering, and to save her further pain, I was about to give a curt reply in the negative, when, to my astonishment, I saw that she was making signs to me from behind her father's chair. She held up one finger and was vigorously nodding her head. "Good God," I thought, "she wants me to say 'Yes,' so that her father may not be upset any more." I looked back at Mr. McLaren.

"Sir," I said slowly, and, weighing every word carefully. "I should esteem myself as the most fortunate man on earth if your daughter would consent to be my wife." My feelings carried me away. "I have always regarded her from the first moment that I saw her as the sweetest and prettiest girl I have ever seen."

Helen reddened now up to the roots of her hair, and her face was now the embarrassed one, but her father smilingly stretched out and took my hand. Then he turned to his daughter.

"You hear, Helen? Charles does you the honor of asking you to be his wife." Helen smiled faintly. "And your answer is 'Yes.'"

She hesitated, and then replied slowly and with no emotion in her voice "Yes, I suppose so," and she cast down her eyes.

"Good," said the old man; "then that's settled." He turned to me. "Well, Charles, I'm sure you'll make her a good husband. I've watched you now for a long time, and——" he smiled grimly, "if I'm any judge of character you'll kill Mark Rivers if he comes near Helen again. I don't forget you tried to warn me about him almost the first day I came to know you." He got up shakily from his chair. "But now if you'll excuse me I'll leave you two for a few minutes. I shan't be long away," and he walked slowly from the room.

"Thank you, Mr. Edis," said Helen hurriedly the moment the door was shut, "it's everything that my father should have time to calm down. The doctors say that at any cost he must be kept from worry." She looked at me again with some embarrassment. "I think it was perfectly wonderful the way you grasped so quickly what I meant and answered as you did."

But I was angry with her, angry that she had gone so far with Mark Rivers that he had dared to call her "Darling," and furious—that she should pretend now that she thought I had been only making believe in what I had said about her. I eyed her very sternly.

"And a nice way you've acted to keep him from worry," I said, "to let a man like Rivers get mixed up with your life." I curled my lip to a sneer. "Pardon my saying so, but you're a little fool." My indignation got the better of me. "Why the man's name is a bye-word where women are concerned, and for a girl like you to get mixed up with him——" I shrugged my shoulders, "well you deserve almost any punishment you may get."

Her face was the very picture of surprise. Then she crimsoned up in anger, her breast rose and fell in her emotion, and the look she gave me seared like a hot iron. But I was quite unperturbed and returned glance for glance.

She found her voice at last, but pride had come to her aid, and she spoke evenly and in icy tones.

"Really, you are impertinent, Mr. Edis. What right have you, a stranger, to comment on my actions, whatever I may do."

"A stranger!" I sneered, "and you've just promised to marry me!" I laughed scornfully. "Who, pray, should have a better right than I to criticise your conduct." My voice dropped, and I was without anger now. "But that poor old man, you'll break his heart if you don't have a care. I've seen for weeks past that he's been worrying about you, but I never dreamed that it was this and now you've humiliated him terribly by making him ask me if I would take you for my wife."

I saw I had her there, for all in a moment the strength and pride fell from her face, and she looked again as if she were going to cry.

"Oh! he mustn't be worried any more," she choked. "His heart's all wrong, and the doctors say anything may happen if he has a great upset."

"Yes," I said grimly, "and we've agreed to be married, you and I. Now how are we going to get out of that?"

She looked at me like a frightened child.

"He was hasty," she said, "and acted on impulse. To-morrow he may think very differently."

The door opened suddenly, and Mr. McLaren came in. He walked quite steadily now, and except for dark shadows under his eyes, he looked his old self again.

"Well, Helen and Charles," he announced briskly, "you'll be married in Melbourne the day after to-morrow. I've reserved berths for us all in the express to-morrow afternoon, and I've wired Archdeacon Head to meet us and have everything ready for a special license directly we arrive." He rubbed his hands together. "Nothing like striking when the iron's hot."

The silence of amazement held me, then glancing round at Helen my heart started suddenly to beat like a piston. She was white as death again, but the sheer beauty of her gripped me and with fierce exultation came the lightning thought that chance was now going to throw her to my arms.

That proud little head would rest upon my shoulder. I should press those beautiful lips, the lovely curves of that body would—but I scowled to myself.

I was a brute to harbor such thoughts. She was coming to me only by force, and there would be no divine moments for her in her surrender. A conqueror, indeed, I might be, but my victory would be cold and joyless, and I should be plucking a flower that was unfolded and a fruit that had no taste.

But Mr. McLaren was evidently intending that there should be no further argument about the matter. He was all bustle and animation.

"Now, Charles, of course I've a lot to arrange with you," he said briskly, "for we must get everything ship shape to-night." He hesitated a moment and then turned to Helen. "So if you don't mind, dear, I think you might leave us now. Better go to bed straight away, for you'll have a busy day to-morrow." He smiled and patted her hand. "I feel quite all right now. You're a good girl and I'm sure everything's going to turn out well after all. Good-night, my dear."

A moment's hesitation, and Helen bent down and kissed him, and then with a little cold nod to me she was making for the door, when I jumped up suddenly to follow her.

"Just a minute, sir," I said to Mr. McLaren, "I want to speak to Helen, please."

"Well," I whispered, when she and I were together in the hall, "what are we going to do about it now?"

She looked as white as if she were going to faint, and with no ceremony I took her by the arm and led her to a seat. I sat down beside her, full of pity now for the distress that she was in.

"Look here," I said very gently, "I'm as sorry about this as you are, and I think I'll tell your father at once that I can't go on with it. I'll take all the blame."

"No, no," she exclaimed quickly. "You must not do that to-night. Another upset and it might kill him. We must wait now until the morning."

"But, good gracious, girl," I insisted brusquely, "at the rate he's going on he'll have arranged a dozen more things by to-morrow, and the longer we leave it the more difficult it will be to draw out."

"Oh! I know that," she whispered, and she looked the very picture of misery, "but we must leave it now, I tell you." She wrung her hands. "I'd rather marry you even than anger him any more to-night."

"The whole business is very embarrassing," I said, not over pleased with her last remark.

"Embarrassing!" she exclaimed hotly, "why, it's dreadful for me." Tears choked her voice. "You're the last man in the world I'd have chosen to marry."

Her words stung, and I felt my face flame up. Then a quiet rage seized me. I forgot all my pity for her, and only longed now for the opportunity, to show her she was wrong.

"Thank you," I said coldly, "I'm sure I'm sorry I'm so distasteful to you. I can't help it. I would please you if I could," and without a further word I turned hack into the dining-room.

Mr. McLaren eyed me curiously as I came in.

"Well," he asked, "what's happened? I know she likes you."

"Look here, sir," I said bluntly, "I don't fancy this business at all, and it's not fair to your daughter. She's terribly upset."

"I expected she would be," he said, gravely, "and I know it's only her affection for me that's made her consent." He looked at me out of half-closed eyes. "It's a terrible thing for a young girl to have a husband thrust upon her like this." He sighed heavily. "She'll be missing those glorious moments that every bride should have, and you'll be taking from her in cold blood what she should only herself offer in a very different way."

"No, no," I said quickly. "If I marry her now there'll be none of that. There'll be no favors asked nor taken, and unless any liking for me comes to her later, you're condemning us both to the loneliest form of life a man or woman can have. Do you understand that?"

The old man immediately leant forward and placed his hand upon my shoulder.

"That's what I expected of you, Charles," he said warmly, "and what I wanted you to tell me, too. I purposely led up to it." He smiled quite happily. "Now, my boy, we can talk openly and frankly together. I know it's a risk for you two to marry like this, but it's a greater risk if Helen were not to have any protection at all." He shrugged his shoulders. "My heart's bad, and although with care I may live for years, I've been warned I may go off any time. Then what would she do?"

"But, Mr. McLaren, don't you think your daughter's had her lesson now?" I urged, "and that she'll never let that man address her again?"

The old man shook his head. "No, I don't," he said emphatically. He placed his hand upon my knee. "Charles," he went on solemnly, "the best of women have a streak of folly in them, and every one of them, they cannot help it if one day they fall to one particular man." He shrugged his shoulders. "Custom and convention then count for nothing to a woman when that one particular man comes along. All my life I've seen it. Girls as good as gold, refined, particular, almost as cold as ice where men are concerned, the last creatures in the world you would think to have any weaknesses at all, and then one day—along comes some blackguard, and then, seemingly without a struggle, they throw everything to the winds, I tell you I've seen it over and over again, and good girl that she is, I'm afraid of Helen because she's a woman. I want someone to protect her, and I rejoice that I've found you."

"But she hasn't the slightest affection for me, sir," I sighed.

"Tut, tut," he replied. "If you're kind to her right away and don't make her hate you in the beginning, she'll come round in the end. She's bound to." He laughed. "Treat her like a princess, my boy, and you'll wake up one day and find you've got a slave." He turned round to his desk and took a cheque book out of a drawer. "But now we'll talk business. How are you off for money?"

"Plenty," I said quietly, "I've more than a thousand pounds on deposit in the bank."

He raised his eyebrows as if very surprised.

"Then it's a millionaire who's coming into the family," he said after a moment.

"No," I laughed, "that money's most of what I've got. It's my nest egg."

"Well," he said thoughtfully, "it's nice to know that you can start off all on your own, and when you come back, you'll have to train to become my confidential agent. I've wanted one for long enough, goodness knows." He rubbed his hands together again. "Really, I think everything's going to turn out well, and unless some unforeseen piece of bad luck comes along, we'll all be off for Melbourne to-morrow."

But no piece of bad luck did come along and just after four o'clock we all met at the railway-station as arranged, and took possession of the berths that had been reserved for us.

The old man was in excellent spirits, and greeted me warmly, and Helen, contrary to what I expected, appeared to be very much her usual self, and showed no traces of the anguish of the night before. She colored hotly however, when she saw me, and gave me a rather constrained little smile.

Mr. McLaren went off to get some newspapers, and we were left alone together for a minute.

Helen turned to me at once and spoke hurriedly.

"I am very sorry for the way I treated you last night, Mr. Edis," she said. "I was rude and unjust. I've thought over everything, and had a long talk with dad, too, this morning. You're making a sacrifice just as I am," she sighed heavily, "for the whim of an old man, and I ought to be very grateful to you for taking things so nicely."

It was now my turn to grow red. Sacrifice! I looked at the lovely face before me. Grateful! What man in the flush of manhood would not have given years of his life to be in my place? A wave of tremendous happiness thrilled through me, for with tact and patience, I thought, she might yet come to me in the world's old sweet way.

But she went on. "So please understand I'm not going to make any scenes. As you told me so bluntly last night I've been fool enough to deserve any punishment I may get now, and so for Dad's peace of mind," her voice trembled just a little, "although it seems the end of life for me, I'm resigned to take everything as it comes." She bit her lips and turned her eyes away to look out of the window. "You understand?"

"Perfectly," I replied quietly, "but please don't imagine there's going to be any added unhappiness for you. We'll be married in name only, and directly your father has left us, we'll go somewhere as——" but her father at that moment returned with an armful of papers, and I broke off in the middle of my sentence.

"By Jove!" the old man exclaimed, "but who do you think's on the train?" He paused a moment. "Mr. Justice Fortescue, and I've just passed the time of day with him. I told you we knew him slightly, didn't I, Charles?" He laughed lightly. "Don't look so uncomfortable, my boy. He's not likely to recognise you."

But I was uneasy. Not remember me, I scoffed! Why, he'd know me instantly if he met me anywhere, and of all people on the train I should undoubtedly be the one to interest him most.

And what would he think if he saw me travelling like this in intimate association with Helen and her father? He would put two and two together at once, and then knowing all he did about me, what would his idea be as to my fitness to enter the McLaren family?

Really, it was very dreadful. Was I to be for ever shadowed by the ghosts of the Port Lincoln track?

The train moved out of the station, and the long journey to Melbourne began. Mr. McLaren handed out the literature he had bought, and for a little while we all pretended to read. But I was quite unable to collect my thoughts, and presently glancing furtively up, saw that Helen was not reading either, but was looking listlessly out of the window. For the ensuing two hours then we hardly spoke a word, and I am sure were all relieved when the steward came round at last to announce that dinner was ready.

We were placed at a table that held four. I sat next to Helen, and her father sat opposite to her. The dining car began to fill rapidly, but the seat opposite to me was still vacant, when I noticed a tall man striding up in quest of a place. One glance, and I saw it was Mr. Justice Fortescue. Just at that moment Mr. McLaren turned round to look for the wine waiter, and his eyes apparently caught those of the judge, for they both smiled together, and his honor at once made for the vacant seat opposite to me.

He leant over the table and shook hands with Helen. She blushed prettily, and I saw his eyes linger admiringly upon her face. He was not as yet aware of my presence.

"I haven't had the pleasure of seeing you for a long time, young lady," he said, and then settling himself in his chair his eyes fell on me. His eyebrows lifted, and his lips slightly parted.

"Mr. Charles Edis," broke in Mr. McLaren promptly, "a friend of ours, travelling with us."

An engaging smile crossed instantly into the judge's face, and half rising, he extended his hand.

"How do you do?" he said, and I felt my face grow hot as fire.

Shaking hands, I subsided back into my chair with the feelings that I should imagine a pickpocket would have if he had been caught in the very act.

But Mr. McLaren was vigorously taking up the conversation, and I was thankful, for the moment, to be able to sit still and collect my thoughts. I did not know whether the judge would desire to recognise me as having been one of the witnesses at the trial, and I was uneasy that Mr. McLaren would bring the matter up.

But the old man did nothing of the kind, and for quite five minutes the conversation was only on general topics, and sustained entirely by the two elders of the party. Mr. McLaren tried several times to bring me in, but to my great annoyance I was almost tongue-tied, and could only answer in plain monosyllables.

Champagne was served, but it might have been plain water for all the exhilaration it brought to me.

Then my attention wandering, my eyes roved round the dining car, and at the far end I saw a man whose face was familiar to me. I could not place him, however, at first, and puzzled over him for quite an appreciable time. Then suddenly I remembered who he was. He was the man who kept the little sandwich shop in Pirie-street, where up to a few days ago I had been in the habit of having my somewhat frugal lunch. But he was so grandly got up now that it was no wonder I had been tardy in recognising him.

"One ham and beef with mustard please," I muttered to myself, and then I burst into a suppressed laugh.

Oh! how different things were now, I thought. I had five hundred pounds in notes in my pocket and a draft, in addition, for a like amount. The prettiest girl in all Australia was my affianced bride, and she was the only daughter of a very rich man.

I warmed to the happiness of it all. Gone was my monotonous toil at the bank, and gone, too, those drab standup lunches in that little shop. The future was all bright and rosy for me, I was—but the voice of Mr. McLaren broke in upon my meditations, and I turned to find that they were all looking curiously at me.

"What's the joke, Charles?" asked Mr. McLaren smilingly. "You seem very amused."

Then something seemed to break in me, and all in a moment the constrained feeling that had so oppressed me passed. I felt light and buoyant, with the whole world at my feet. I took a good drink of my champagne.

"Oh, nothing much," I laughed, "but there's a man dining at that end whom I've met in very different circumstances in the city. He keeps a little sandwich shop in Pirie-street, but to-night he's togged up, and wearing a diamond ring with the stone in it as big as the pickled onions that he sells. I never dreamed there was so much money in ham and beef."

"Mr. Edis is very observant," commented the judge smilingly, and then he added seriously, "and it's a good thing for law and order that he is."

"Oh! then," ejaculated Mr. McLaren gleefully, "you remember you've met him before, do you?"

His Honor laughed drily. "Most certainly," he replied, "and I know a great deal more about him than you would dream." He paused a moment, evidently to puzzle the old man. "He's a friend of a great friend of mine, Mr. Gilbert Larose."

"A wonderful man, Sir," I exclaimed, "and I shall never forget the time when I was with him at Port Augusta."

"Yes, wonderful," repeated the judge. He looked me straight in the eyes, "and he's quite an admirer of yours, too, Mr. Edis. He came up to see me a little while ago—he had heard somewhere that I had a pair of eagles stuffed—and he spoke most nicely of you."

I understood quite well what the judge meant, and I felt myself warm up, but I said carelessly, "Very nice of him, I'm sure," and then I laughed. "He's a man for whose opinion I have the greatest respect."

"And I, too," laughed back the judge, "and so I'm prepared to give quite a good character for you to anyone who comes along."

I looked at him gratefully. Again I understood what he meant. I need be in no way afraid of him, and he was purposely letting me know that he was standing my friend.

"It must have been very interesting to meet Larose," remarked Mr. McLaren, "and I suppose he told you quite a lot."

"No-o," replied the judge, "not too much." He smiled gravely. "He keeps his secrets just as I keep mine."

"A dreadful affair, that at Port Augusta," went on Mr. McLaren. "What an extraordinary person Willoughby must be."

"A very bad man," said the judge solemnly. "One of the worst." He lowered his voice slightly. "It is no secret now, at any rate in official circles, that there are some very suspicious circumstances surrounding him, too, in his earlier life. Twice, years ago, there have been violent and unexplained deaths in places where he was residing, and in both cases the victims passed as his friends. One case was in Bendigo and the other in Colac. Of course, it was Larose who unearthed these facts. His is a mind insatiable for the minutest details when once he's on anyone's track." He turned and looked intently at me. "Is not that your opinion, too, Mr. Edis?"

"Exactly," I replied. "He explores every avenue for facts."

"You saw a lot of him at Port Augusta?" asked the judge.

I nodded. "For more than six weeks," I said quietly, "except when I was in bed or on duty at the bank, we were almost inseparable, and if I had only been aware of it, it was the most thrilling time of my life."

The judge made no comment, but sat with his eyes fixed upon me as if waiting for more. Evidently, I thought, he was curious for me to fill in some of the gaps that Larose must have left unbridged. So I started to tell him what I had once told the McLarens, and with the good champagne coursing through me, I soon found that I was telling him a good deal more.

Now, I was never a bad raconteur and that night, without boasting, I am sure I told a good story. It seemed to me that I had two audiences—one Helen and her father, who were just listening to the report of a spectator of some tragic scenes; and the other the judge, who was receiving the confession of one of the chief actors in a poignant drama.

And, I believe I pleased them both. The McLarens, as I say, had already heard a lot about my life with Larose at Port Augusta, but now I went much deeper and filled in some much more intimate details. And soon, too I broke new ground.

I brought up that wild night ride with Willoughby. I told how, in the light of later events, it was clear that Larose had set a trap to unmask the real culprit upon the actual scene of the murder; how he had made his plans that we should be all assembled upon the exact spot when night was falling, and how chance had favored him by avalanching upon us at the very critical moment a most violent storm.

I pictured us all sitting in the car in the inky darkness, with the thunder crashing and the rain descending in sheets; and I told how Larose had leant out of the window and suggested that perhaps under our very wheels there might still be traces of the actual blood of the murdered man.

Then I described how Willoughby had lost his nerve and broken down and how, to the clash of the changing gears, and before anyone could stop him, he had hurled us into the blackness of the night. I pictured that awful ride with death, and how upon that narrow winding track every second might have been our last.

Then I told how the danger affected them all. Dayus, as cold and impassive as a policeman on point duty; Willoughby with his eyes of maddened fear; and Larose, with his face all white and mottled under the pigments of his disguise. Finally, I mentioned the disquieting thoughts that had come to me about Larose and Willoughby, and how from that moment I had been suspicious that, somehow, all was not as it seemed with either of them.

I could not put things as plainly as I would have liked to, but, anyhow, I let the judge know that my recognition of Willoughby as the murderer did not come immediately upon my introduction to him at Port Augusta.

There was a moment's silence when I had finished, and then the judge said thoughtfully——

"Thank you, Mr. Edis. I'm sure you have been most entertaining, and I don't wonder Mr. Larose was so interested in you," and then the conversation drifted back into commonplace channels.

After dinner, with the judge still with us, we adjourned to our own compartment and passed a pleasant evening before we finally made for our respective berths. I could see quite well that Helen's father had been very pleased with the impression that he thought that I had made upon his Honor.

CHAPTER XXI.—OUR MARRIAGE.

The next day at twelve o'clock we were married, and Mr. McLaren bade us good-bye at the church door with the injunction that we were to return to Adelaide in three weeks. The church was barely two hundred yards from the hotel where we had left our luggage, and so we walked back.

If I remember rightly we did not exchange a single word upon our short journey, but that was partly to be accounted for by the crowded condition of the pavements—it was the luncheon hour—and the noise of the traffic.

Directly we reached the hotel, however, I led Helen to a quiet corner of the lounge, and we sat down. She was rather pale, but quite composed and looked me bravely in the eyes.

"Well, Helen," I said in matter-of-fact tones, "now for my splendid idea. We'll have lunch here, and then we'll collect our things and move off to another hotel and book there as brother and sister." I lit a cigarette. "We'll forget all about being married for the present, and we'll just have a nice holiday together and try and bore each other as little as possible. Don't you think that's the best plan?"

She blushed just a little and turned away her eyes. "Yes," she replied listlessly, "anything to forget what's happened to-day."

And then commenced surely as strange a honeymoon as any man and woman ever had.

After lunch we drove off to another hotel and booked there as Mr. and Miss Edis. We were given rooms next to one another, and as the porter carried up the luggage I followed her to her room door, as if it were quite the natural thing.

"Now, you look awfully tired," I said, "so have a rest this afternoon and I'll meet you in the lounge for dinner at half-past six. Then if you feel inclined we'll go out. There's a good opera company here this week, I see, and 'Cavalleria Rusticana' is on to-night."

So I left her and went out to do some shopping. I hunted up some books that I thought she might like, and long before the time arranged was in the lounge awaiting her. She came in presently, a real vision of loveliness, and I did not wonder that everyone there turned to look. But I greeted her quite casually, and I am sure no one would have ever dreamed that we were man and wife.

There was naturally a certain feeling of restraint between us at dinner, but I did my best to gloss it over and gave her no opportunity to retreat long into her own thoughts. I talked to her the whole time, and she had to answer me. At first it was nearly all only "yes," and "no," but she became more responsive after a little while, and was trying, I could see, to be as agreeable as she could. She had no intention of being sulky, it was quite apparent. Afterwards we went to the opera, and I think she enjoyed it.

Coming back I said, "Now, to-morrow, we'll go out and buy a car and I'll teach you to drive." I laughed. "We'll really have some nice times if only we can forget that we are married."

I took a long while in selecting the car, and made her interested in the purchase. Indeed, I would not decide finally upon it, until she had fully approved of the body.

Then I took the car out into the country and gave her her first lesson. Keeping a chauffeur, as they alway did, she had never attempted to drive before, but she had the temperament to make a good driver, and I soon found that I had got an apt pupil. I was delighted also to see that for that hour at least she was oblivious to all her troubles.

So every day we went out motoring, and in the evening we did the pictures and the theatres. Without thrusting myself too much upon her, I nevertheless saw to it that she was left alone as little as possible.

At first there was always constraint between us, especially when we met at breakfast in the mornings but gradually I saw that this feeling was wearing off, and that for one thing, she was no longer avoiding my eyes. I was perfectly frank and open with her, and let her see plainly that her comfort and enjoyment were the first things in my mind, but I never in the very slightest attempted any familiarity, and never even touched her hand or took her arm.

I made no secret, however, of the fact that I admired her, and in various ways let her know that I thought how nice she looked. We had struck a good patch of weather, and motoring so much with the hood of the car down, her face had soon taken on a beautiful tan.

"Really, Helen," I said one day, when we had been married a little over a week, "we may have no affection for each other, but still you're quite a testimonial to the way I've looked after you, and you're quite a different girl now to the wan, shaking creature that your father said good-bye to at the church." I laughed. "I'm sure he'll be pleased with me when he sees you."

She looked at me with no embarrassment. "Yes, you've been very considerate to me, Charles," she said quietly, "and I'm sorry your life's spoilt, as well as mine." She sighed prettily. "You'd have made quite a good husband, I think, to anyone who cared for you at all."

"Well," I laughed, "if you die first I'll have a second chance and look for some nice girl."

Another day I spoke to her frankly about Mark Rivers. We had made quite a long ride to a lonely little bay and I was lying on the sand while she was reading or pretending to read in the car.

"Tell me, Helen," I said casually and as if the matter was of only slight interest to me, "are you very fond of Mr. Rivers? I've always been intending to ask you, and may as well do it now to get it over."

She looked up slowly from her book and her voice was quite as casual as had been mine. "I've always liked him, Charles," she said and she hesitated a moment, "but I don't quite know how much."

"He's a very fascinating man," I yawned, "and very good-looking, too."

Her eyes flashed instantly. "You never liked him," she said, "you were rude to him the first day when you saw him at our house."

"Oh, the rudeness was mutual," I laughed. "He was just as off-hand with me." I thought for a moment. "But I suppose it was only jealousy on my part then."

"Jealousy!" she exclaimed sharply. "What about?"

"You," I said promptly. "Men are always jealous of one another where a pretty girl is concerned."

She sniffed disdainfully and turned her eyes again upon her book.

"Sorry," I said, "I won't bring it up again," and I leant back and watched her covertly, thinking as I always did, how lovely she was.

There was a moment's silence, and then she looked up again and caught my eyes.

"I'm sorry, too, Charles," she said very gently. "I oughtn't to have snapped you up like that but the encouragement I gave Mr. Rivers is a sore memory with me and I want to forgot it." She hesitated just the fraction of a second. "I've thought everything over. No, I'm not fond of him now."

I could have hugged her not only for what she had just said, but also for the sweet humility in the way she had spoken.

"You're a good woman, Helen," I said solemnly, "and if ever you love any man again," I laughed lightly, "I'd like to exchange places with him."

That night there was a dance at the hotel and Helen danced four times with a young doctor to whom we had been introduced. He was a good looking young fellow, and it was obvious that he was very much taken with her.

"You didn't mind, Charles, did you?" she asked me just as she was going off to bed.

"Good gracious, no," I replied heartily, "I was glad to see you enjoying yourself."

She tilted up her chin a little and smiled slyly. "But I thought perhaps you might be jealous again."

"A bit," I laughed, "but I'm not quite as bad as all that." I felt myself be ginning to frown. "But don't lead him on too much, Helen. He may take it seriously."

And take it seriously the young doctor was certainly quite prepared to do, for the next morning he buttonholed us after breakfast and invited us to go with him in his motor launch. We had no excuse ready and so after a moment's hesitation, and not wishing to appear ungracious, we had to accept, but when I saw the ramshackle arrangement that we were to entrust ourselves to I sincerely regretted we had come. The doctor was a great enthusiast and started off at a good speed, but Helen made a little grimace of uneasiness to me behind his back, so I asked him to slow down a bit, as I was feeling shaky in my nerves. But Helen soon got accustomed to the speed and then wanted to stand up and see how the bow of the boat was lifting out of the water.

"All right," he told her. "But your brother must hold you tightly or it won't be safe."

So I at once took hold of her and held her close and it wasn't imagination that her heart was beating very fast. I felt her warm, supple body against my own, and for the moment no waters in the world then had any terrors for me. I was quite content if the boat did sixty instead of thirty.

But she shook herself free after a minute and resumed her seat, and looking furtively down, I saw there was a flush about her now that required more explanation I was sure, than the rushing of the wind against her face.

The young doctor kept us in tow all the morning, and then after lunch fished so outrageously for an invitation that ultimately I had to squeeze him next to Helen in the car, and take him with us on our usual ride. He was very good company, however, and Helen sparked up visibly in his society. I rejoiced to see her for once so bright and lively, but all the same I was relieved to find that the enterprising medico was not in evidence again after dinner.

That night we went out to a concert, separating as usual at bedtime about half-past eleven. I was smoking a last cigarette in my room before undressing when I heard footsteps out in the corridor, followed by a gentle tap upon my door.

"Come in," I said. "Who's there?" and Helen entered and pushed to the door behind her. Her eyes were bright, but at the same time she looked, I thought, rather disturbed.

"What's up?" I asked, and my heart beat a little faster to think that she should be alone with me in my room.

"Look," she said. "I found these waiting for me on the dressing-table," and she held out a letter and a large box of chocolates.

"Good," I remarked, but with a frown. "I could do with some sweets myself. From your latest conquest, the doctor, I suppose?"

"Yes," she replied, frowning too, "and the letter makes me rather uncomfortable. Read it please, Charles," and she handed it over.

"Well, sit down," I said, "and make yourself at home. Open the chocolates, we'll have one at once."

It was quite a nice little letter, but it ran into nearly four pages. He was sorry he had not seen her that evening, but he had had to go unexpectedly to Bendigo on business, and would not be back until the day after to-morrow. He would be back early on that day, however, and he would be so glad if we would keep it clear and go out with him to visit his mother near Geelong. He was sure she would be delighted to meet us, and the road was a splendid one, so we could try out the car to its fastest. He hoped she would forgive him sending the chocolates but they were special ones and he was sure she would like them.

"Hum!" I remarked, "he's got it right enough and you'll have to go slow now."

"What had I better do?" she asked looking worried. She shrugged her shoulders. "Men are so silly where we are concerned."

"He's not silly," I said brusquely, as I looked into the piquant face before me. "Not for a moment. Most men would say he was a darned good judge."

There was silence then, and Helen's eyes roamed round the room.

"Well," I went on, "I think we had better clear out to-morrow. We've been here long enough, and we can start slowly. Going home. We'll go by way of Naracoorte and see the caves."

A shadow flitted over her face. "Yes, that would be best," she said, "and I'll leave him a letter saying good-bye." She rose up to go.

"No, stop a few minutes," I said, "and have a cigarette, there's no hurry for a moment."

She took a cigarette I proffered, and sank back in her chair. Then a short silence followed.

"Well," I remarked grimly, "I see you're going to be a trouble to me, and I think the sooner I get you back to your father the better. You women are always a worry."

She regarded me thoughtfully, and then she puckered up her eyebrows in a frown.

"What do you really expect to get out of our marriage, Charles?" she asked suddenly. "I often wonder."

"I'm not sure," I answered casually. "I often think you'll come to like me in the end."

"Oh! I like you now, Charles," she said frankly, "but I shall never have the feelings for you that a wife should have."

"You may," I remarked, yawning. "Women are funny creatures, and never know their minds. I repel you then?" I added. "I'm sorry."

"No, not at all," she said quickly. "You're quite handsome—I thought so to-night at dinner—and you're kind and considerate and all that. I trust you too——" she blushed slightly, "or I shouldn't be here now in your room." She smiled nicely. "No, I've no repulsion for you. You don't appeal to me that's all."

I eyed her as indifferently as I could. "Ever had any sweethearts?" I asked.

"No-o," she replied hesitating. "I suppose I've been too fond of father for that." She flashed a quick look at me. "Have you ever had any?"

"Lots," I said, and sighed heavily. "I've always fallen for every pretty girl all my life." I lit another cigarette. "If you encouraged me, there's a chance that I might even fall for you."

She got up at once, but gave me quite a friendly smile.

"I'm glad we've had this talk," she said, in parting. "It's cleared the air and we both understand each other now, don't we?"

"Yes," I replied, laughing. "I like you, and you're beginning to like me."

I turned to open the door for her, and at that moment saw she had dropped her handkerchief. I was about to call her attention to the fact and pick it up for her, but something made me alter my mind, and I let her go without it. When she had gone, however, I retrieved it at once.

It was a flimsy little bit of cambric, only a few inches square, but my heart beat strongly as I held it, for in some subtle way it smelt of her. I folded it reverently and put it in my pocket-book.

The next morning we left Melbourne to make our way slowly back towards South Australia. We did not go straight on, however, but turned off each afternoon so that we could sleep somewhere near the coast, and the third morning found us only just past Warrnambool. Then we nearly had a most dreadful accident, it being only by the tiniest fraction of a second that we escaped a head-on collision with another car.

Helen was driving, and we were just passing slowly round a gentle curve with a rather steep bank on the driver's side. The road was narrow, and turning to look at some sheep in a paddock, she swung the car very much over on to the wrong side. Suddenly then there was a terrifying hoot in front, and we saw a car coming straight for us round the curve at a good speed. There was no room for it to pass, and we had not enough way on us to get over to our proper side in time. For two dreadful seconds I thought it was all up with us, but the driver of the on-coming car with great presence of mind, roared his car up to the side of the steep bank. It reached the top, hovered for one sickening moment, at a fearful angle, sped along above us for about ten yards, and then again almost turning over righted itself and glided down on to the road. I heard the grinding of his mudguard against the trunk of a tree.

"Stop, Helen," I cried, "perhaps he's damaged his car. We must go back and see."

I ran back quickly to where the other car had stopped and was received with a volley of swear words by its hard breathing occupant. He was a big stout man, and his face would have been ruddy if it had not been for the fright he had had. He glistened with perspiration, and his eyes were starting from his head.

"Curse you, you damned lunatic!" he cried. "You nearly killed me, do you understand?"

"I'm very sorry, sir," I began. "My wife——"

"Curse your wife, too," he roared. "Why the hell do you let her drive?"

I tried in vain to mollify him, but it was no good, and he abused me with every expletive that he could lay his tongue to. I forbore to show any temper, however, for like us, he had had an awful fright, and he was of an age, too, less able to bear it. Besides, we had been so palpably in the wrong, and it was all our fault.

He was just indulging in some new terms of abuse that had come into his mind when he stopped suddenly and his jaw dropped. I heard footsteps behind me and turned to see that Helen had come up. She was white as a ghost, but she held herself bravely and there was a wan smile upon her face.

"I'm so sorry," she panted. "I don't know how to apologise to you. It was all my fault and I don't think I shall ever drive again."

In spite of her pallor she looked extraordinarily pretty, and I could see that my wrathful abuser had instantly taken it in.

He still scowled but, rather to my astonishment, he politely lifted his hat.

"Well don't," he snapped gruffly. "I never do approve of women driving. They're not cut out for it. They lose their heads."

"It was wonderful the way you saved us," went on Helen, "and I don't understand now how you got up that bank." She looked at him gratefully, "We owe our lives to you."

The man appeared to be mollified at once. "All right, young lady," he said kindly. "After all, we're none of us dead." He wiped his face with his pocket handkerchief. "But, by cripes, it was a near shave. I still feel sick."

"We've some champagne in the car," said Helen quickly. "My husband will get it and it will do us all good."

I left them talking and went for the wine and two glasses. When I returned they were both sitting together on the bank talking in a most friendly fashion. The man's color had come back and I saw now that he had quite a pleasant face. He looked about sixty years of age and his hair was snow while. He was well dressed, and from his appearance seemed quite well-to-do.

I handed him a brimming tumbler of champagne and he grinned sheepishly as he took it.

"I told you off a bit just now," he said, "but I take it back. I was naturally upset, you see."

"Of course you were," I replied, "and we deserved all the bad words and a good few more besides."

He looked at our car and then back at Helen and his face softened.

"Honeymooning?" he said slily, and I nodded. "I thought so," he went on, and he sighed. "Well, I went honeymooning once and I know it was the best time I ever had." He looked admiringly at Helen. "And I don't wonder you're mazed about her, either. I'm sure I should be, too." He rose to his feet and patted me on the shoulder. "I can see it, boy, in your eyes."

I covered my confusion with a laugh, but I did not dare to look at Helen, and after a few minutes more he shook hands with us both and got back into his car.

"Well, good-bye," he said, "and mind, young man, you don't let her drive any more." He started his engine and let in the clutch. "And I say," he called out heartily, "my Christian name's Anthony." He chuckled. "Good name for a boy if you should ever happen to want one, see."

We walked back slowly to where we had left our car, and then Helen said suddenly—

"Oh! hold me, Charles, I believe I'm going to faint," and, white as death again, she tottered into my arms.

I lifted her up bodily and carried her to the car, and although I was torn with anxiety, I remember the ecstasy of those minutes now.

Her warm, sweet body was close to mine, and her dear little head lay within the hollow of my arm. Her face was only a few inches from me, and one soft hand was clutching tight to mine. I longed to kiss her, but I knew it would be mean.

I propped her length-ways upon the seat, put a cushion under her head, pulled down her dress that had become disarranged in my arms, and wrapped the rug round her shapely legs. Then I started rubbing her hands.

But she had not gone right off, and soon her color began to return, and she sat up. She thanked me prettily, and then I saw two big tears welling from her eyes.

"It's all right, my dear," I said huskily. "It was a dreadful moment, but you'll soon forget it."

"Never!" she replied weakly; "it was so awfully careless of me; it will always be on my mind."

"It was partly my fault, as well," I said. "I ought to have noticed we were on the wrong side, but I happened at the moment to be looking at you."

She flashed a quick glance at me. "You're generous, Charles," she said, "but all the same, I only blame myself."

We drove on in a few minutes, but stopped at the first hotel we came to for lunch. Then I insisted we should go no farther that day, but should put up where we were.

"This is quite a nice place," I said, "and when you've had a bit of a rest, come out and find me. I'll be over by the bridge there with my book."

She came out much sooner than I had expected, and we sat together on the bank and read. At least, I suppose she read, but I know I was covertly watching her most of the time and thinking it was a form of occupation of which I should never tire.

She looked up once and caught my eye. Then she smiled brightly and remarked—"You needn't worry; I feel quite all right." Then the smile died from her face and she became serious. "Do you know, Charles," she went on, "you've got some very nice points about you, and I noticed it particularly to-day."

"Really," I said banteringly, "then you're waking up at last."

"What I mean is," she laughed, "what happened when that man swore at you to-day. I heard every word he said, and I saw how meekly you took it. Now, you're not a meek man by any means, and you might easily have sworn back, especially when he brought me in." She nodded her head. "But I thought you were very good, and kept your temper as you ought to have done, for you told him afterwards, I deserved the worst that he could say."

"Bless your heart!" I said. "I felt awfully sorry for the man. His poor old body was shaking like a leaf."

Intending to make an early start on the morrow, we both went to bed early that evening, and in saying our good-nights, I was sure that I noticed something in her manner that had never been there before. She was warmer in her smile, I thought, and she turned her eyes away quickly in a way that was almost coquettish. At any rate I know my pulses were set bounding at quite an unusual rate, and it was a long while afterwards before I could finally get off to sleep.

And I noticed then more subtle changes in her both upon the next day and the next.

She was shy with me again. I mean shy in that she did not look at me so openly, and that she often now turned her eyes away when she was speaking. She was much more silent, too, and I had to start making most of the conversation again. She had got some long thoughtful mood upon her I could see, but what was in her mind I could in no way fathom.

But if she were shy, she was in no way colder, nor kept herself more aloof. On the contrary, for I could have sworn that she now sat much closer up to me in the car. Often I could feel the actual warmth of her body, a thing I had never noticed before, and sometimes when the car swayed, there was the distinct pressure of her limbs against mine.

Then, too, she was not nearly so ready in drawing her hand away when accidentally it came in contact with mine, and once when I was driving and dropped my hand down between us on the cushion of the seat, it was quite a long minute before she apparently became aware that it was touching hers. Then, when she did draw it away she smiled.

And all the time I was feeling simply crazy about her. Every day I thought she grew more lovely, and there were a hundred and one little things about her that I was discovering, that all day long goaded me fiercely on to seize her in my arms.

But no, I kept myself well in hand, and neither sparkling eye nor winsome lips nor little queenly head nor delicious curves of body made me fall. She should never say I was determined, that with all my opportunities I had ever cast the slightest shadow of a fear across her maiden mind. Her favors might indeed be heaven for me, but I would never take that which she did not give, and I would never beg from an unwilling hand.

On the evening of the fourth day after our narrow escape from the accident, we arrived at Mount Gambier at about a quarter past five. The weather had turned bitterly cold, and we were both happy in the expectation of a hot bath and a good fire. We drew up before the hotel we had selected, and followed closely by Helen, I went in to book our rooms. There were a lot of people sitting about in the lounge, so many that the disquieting thought flitted through my mind that the hotel might be already full up.

"Can you put us up to-night." I asked the girl in the office, and then, before she could reply. I heard an excited call in a female voice just behind us.

"Oh! Helen, darling," it came, "but just fancy meeting you here," and I turned sharply to see a tall fair girl rushing up to my wife.

"Now we're in for it," I muttered, and my heart made a big thump.

"Yes, certainly," I heard the girl in the office say. "Room No. 69. Will you register, please," and she pushed the bulky visitors' book across the counter towards me.

"Mr. and Mrs. Charles Edis, Adelaide," I wrote, and the writing blurred before my eyes.

But Helen was speaking, and her sweet and musical voice was quite calm and self-contained.

"This is my husband, Dorothy, and this is Dorothy Cairns, Charles. You've often heard me speak of her."

"Bless her heart," I thought, "and may heaven forgive her for that lie." I had never heard the name of this fair-haired young women before.

But I bowed and smiled and held out my hand in the most delighted way possible.

"Adelaide was simply thrilled with Helen's marriage," she gushed, "and we are all dying to meet you."

I smiled more broadly than ever, but then, looking down, was immensely relieved to see that Helen was still wearing her gloves. Heaven only knew where she had put her wedding ring.

We talked a few minutes, and I was introduced to quite half a dozen people. Then Helen, taking advantage of a lull in the conversation, announced that we really must be going to our room.

"We're frozen," she shivered prettily, "and want hot baths."

So up to our room we went, and with the door shut we looked into each others' eyes.

"Bad luck, little woman," I said gently. "We ought to have thought of this and been more careful, now we're nearer home."

"Couldn't be worse," whispered Helen. "Dorothy Cairns's the biggest gossip in Australia."

I say that she was trembling and hastened at once to relieve her fears.

"Never mind," I laughed, "it'll be quite all right. I'll slip out the last thing and go and sleep in the motor car. With the hood up and the curtains and our big rug, I'll be as warm as toast, whatever happens."

I looked round the bedroom. It was daintily and cosily furnished, and in one corner stood a big and sumptuously covered bed. There was a bathroom en suite, and the door of the latter stood invitingly open.

"Now look here," I said, and I took out my watch, "dinner's at half-past six, and it's now twenty minutes to." I made my voice sound quite casual. "Well, suppose I give you until a quarter past. I'll go down now into the lounge, and have a drink, and you can get your bath and dress. Then when you come down I'll come up and get a lightning dip. It won't matter if I'm a few minutes late."

"Very well, Charles," she replied meekly, and her eyes were anywhere but on mine. "I'll be as quick as I can."

I went down and had my drink, and then recognising no one in the lounge I picked up a periodical and attempted to read. But it was a poor attempt at best, and I very soon relinquished my own thoughts.

"Poor little Helen," my mind ran on, "the lucks all against her, and she thinks she's in a tight corner now. But she shall not be worried. I'll play the game, and when she does come to me, it will be all the sweeter in the end."

The big hand of the clock was barely on the figure ten when I heard a light step behind me and Helen was bending down.

"You can go up now," she whispered, "but be quick, please. I've turned on the bath for you, and it comes in very fast." Her face got rather pink. "And when the dinner gong goes I'll come up and tie your tie for you. You never seem to do it right, and that girl will notice everything."

I rose at once from the arm-chair, and then for a few moments I literally could not take my eyes off her. I could not understand how she had done it, but in those few minutes, almost in less than half an hour, she had transformed herself from her quiet motoring dress into one of the gayest and most beautiful butterfly creatures I had ever seen. Face, bosom, limbs, from the crown of the shapely little head to the dainty instep of a perfect foot, she was a sight for the gods to see.

But not for a moment I knew had it been done for me. All for that other girl, Dorothy Cairns. Well, God bless Dorothy Cairns for one of the finest visions of sweet womanhood that a man would ever see!

I hurried up to our room to find the bath almost ready and my evening clothes neatly lying out upon the bed—suit, shirt, collar, tie—everything that I wanted.

"Lord," I ejaculated, "but what a woman will not do to be even with one of her own sex."

I made for the bathroom after quickly throwing off my clothes, and was thrilled then to see two little wet footmarks upon the cemented floor.

"Hers," I thought, "and this bath has held her such a little time ago. And this is the sponge she used and this the towel that dried her." I sighed heavily. By right of sacrament and ceremony I should be so near now to all these intimacies of her life, and yet—she was a stranger to me and I'd never even kissed her hand.

I took a hurried bath and dressed quickly. I must be ready for the tying of that tie.

I sat on the edge of the bed waiting, and then I heard the ringing of the dinner gong. A minute later and there were light footfalls outside, and then came a tapping on the door. I rose to my feet.

"Come in," I said, in a most matter-of-fact tone of voice, and immediately Helen entered.

"We must be quick," she said smiling. "They're waiting for us in the lounge."

Her face was flushed and her eyes were bright and she looked rather amused.

"Sit down please," she went on. "I can do it better than when you are standing up."

And then followed as tantalising a minute as ever I remember. Her face was within a few inches of mine, her slim pink fingers were working about my neck and the smell of her hair was like the incense in a temple of love.

But I made my mood fall in with hers and regarded her with an easy and good-natured smile.

"You look rather nice to-night, Helen," I said. "That frock suits you splendidly."

"That's all right, then," she smiled, but with her eyes still intent upon her task. "Dorothy says she will be seeing father at the races on Saturday and then she's bound to tell him everything." Her smile changed to a frown. "She's by way of being a bit of a cat, is Dorothy."

"But who is she?" I asked. "I've never seen her at your place at any time."

"No," she replied. "We're not as friendly as you might think, but we went to school together and she always gushes when we meet."

We went down and joined the waiting party in the lounge. There were eight of them, four married couples, and we all trooped in together to the dining-room. We had a table to ourselves of course, and with champagne coming round, we were soon all on good terms with one another.

Now that dinner always remains in memory to me as one of the golden hours of my life for it was then for the first time that I saw how bright and happy Helen could be. She was the life and soul of the party, and her mood reacting on me, without boasting, I backed her up well. We laughed and joked and told of the adventures of our tour, and even found humor in the recital of our near escape from accident in our encounter with the red-faced man.

Helen sat opposite me, but the table was small and from time to time I ventured to find her foot with mine and once when the fair Dorothy was particularly gushing, it was not my foot that took the initiative but Helen's on its own.

After dinner we got up an impromptu dance, and it was not until it was well after half-past eleven that there was any suggestion of the party breaking up.

Then Dorothy Cairns said they must be going to bed for they were all leaving the hotel next morning.

"We're going the whole way to Adelaide to-morrow, dear," she said to Helen, "more than three hundred miles," and then she added, "but you'll be up to see us off and say good-bye, won't you?"

"Of course," replied Helen. "We're always early risers, Charles and I."

So we all said good night to one another and then not being able to shake them off, Dorothy and her husband accompanied us upstairs, their bedroom being in the same corridor as ours. Then there was another long talk outside our door and finally it was just striking midnight when they left us and we were alone in our room.

And then with the door closed all the life went out or Helen, and I could see that she was trembling. There was a bright fire burning in the grate, and she moved over to it and shivered.

"It's bitterly cold," she said, but I knew it was not the cold that made her shiver. She was afraid.

I sank down into an armchair and then for a long minute neither of us spoke. The fire crackled cheerfully, but there was a howl of wind outside.

Presently, however, I broke the silence, speaking as carelessly as possible.

"It's all right, dear," I yawned, "I'm going very soon, but I can't go at once. I must give them time to settle down. I don't want to meet anyone with my overcoat on in the corridor."

As if acting on some sudden impulse then, she turned round and faced me.

"Give me back my handkerchief," she said gently.

"Your handkerchief," I exclaimed, "what handkerchief?"

Her eyes searched my face but with an expression I could not read.

"The one I dropped in your room," she replied steadily, "the last night we were in Melbourne."

I opened my pocket book and handed it to her without a word, and then she turned and stared into the fire. I could just see the profile of her face and it was not, I thought, altogether an unhappy one.

"So you knew," I said and my voice was husky.

"Of course I did," she said slowly, "I dropped it on purpose," and she immediately moved from the fire and came up close to me. It was now I who was trembling, as I rose to my feet.

"Charles," she said and there was a catch in her voice. "I suppose you think I've been a perfect little beast to you, don't you?"

"No dear, I don't," I replied at once and shaking my head, "I think in the circumstances, you've been quite nice, and very brave too."

"But I have been a beast." she said, "and now I'm sending you out into the cold on a night like this." Her voice sounded strangely soft. "You're willing to go, aren't you?"

"Not willing," I laughed grimly, and I looked into her eyes, "but I'll go all the same."

"Well you needn't go," she said gently. "I don't want you to," and she looked down at her feet. But her eyes were upon me again in a flash, and she went on hurriedly.

"You called me a little fool once, Charles, and I was one, too, but——" she laughed nervously. "I've never been quite such a fool as to imagine we could go on like this for ever. The scandal of it would kill father if it continued when we got home, so——"


A week later we were back in Adelaide, and when that night after dinner her father and I were alone for the first time the old man glanced slyly at me and smiled.

"Really, Charles," he said, "you must be quite a wizard. Helen looks so happy. Indeed, I don't think I have ever known her to look so happy before. All the world can see, too, that you are both lovers now," he chuckled. "And wasn't I right, boy? Didn't I tell you so?" The tone of his voice deepened. "Yes, the love of a woman is a love very different from ours. They love more than we do once they have given their affection, but they love generally where they are chosen and less often where they choose for themselves." He rose to his feet. "But come, we'll have some chess now if you're not tired." He smiled again. "And you play a very good game there, too, Charles. You may make a slip now and then at the beginning, I notice, but you always put up a fine defence in a tight corner, and it's very difficult to get you in the end."

I smiled, too, but it was not of chess that I was thinking.


THE END

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