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Title: The Dark Highway
Author: Arthur Gask
* A Project Gutenberg Australia eBook *
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Language: English
Date first posted: June 2012
Date most recently updated: June 2012

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------------------------------------------------------------------------

Title: The Dark Highway
Author: Arthur Gask

*

Published in The Courier Mail, Brisbane, Qld. in serial form commencing
Tuesday 19 April, 1938.

*

Originally published in book form in 1928.



_______________________________________

For motor traffic, between Melbourne and Adelaide, the route for many
miles lies along the fringe of the great Ninety-Mile Desert, between the
desert and the waters of the Coorong.

The Coorong is a long, sinuous lake running for sixty miles parallel
with the coast and separated from the sea only by a narrow chain of sand
hummocks.

To the traveller, this part of the Adelaide-Melbourne route has always
been the one most dreaded--because of its drifting sands, its
loneliness, and the absence of all help should help be required.

_______________________________________



Chapter I.


The sun had set a good four hours, but night hung heavy, like a
smouldering furnace, over the sandhills of the Coorong.

One hundred and twenty degrees in the shade had been registered during
the day, and even now, with the hour well on towards midnight, the
temperature had fallen to only just below the century.

Not a breath of air stirred anywhere, and the dead black waters of the
Coorong seemed hardly stiller than were the just faintly lapping waves
of the hot sea itself.

A ghostly silence brooded over everything. Sea, land, and air lay wrapt
in torpor, and only the myriad stars of an Australian summer night
peeped through and twinkled with any signs of life.

But still, late as the hour was and desolate as was at most times the
long Coorong track, to-night it was not altogether deserted by
humankind.

Almost at its wildest part, and about thirty-five miles from the
township of Meningie, was drawn up a small, black touring car.

The car lay just off the track itself, and round a bend where the curve
was sharp, between two huge sand hummocks.

There was no one visible in the car.

Close near, however, and upon a high sandhill were two men, and,
although motionless and outstretched at full length upon the sand, they
were evidently not asleep, for their attitudes were not those of rest or
repose.

They were watching.

One of them, a tall, big man, was clutching a pair of large binoculars,
and, his arms supported upon his elbows, he never for one moment took
his eye off the windings of the Coorong track. He looked always,
however, in the direction of Melbourne.

He breathed hard, and every now and then his hands trembled.

His companion, a man of small physique and with a pair of ferrety little
eyes set deeply in his head, was obviously, too, ill at ease, for he
kept swallowing as if he had a lump in his throat, and from time to time
he sighed heavily.

For a full hour the two men had exchanged no word, and, although so
close together, so uncommunicative were they, it might almost have been
assumed that each was actually unaware of the other's presence.

Suddenly, however, the man with the binoculars jerked up his head and
spoke.

"Here he is!' he exclaimed, with a catch in his voice. 'There's a car
coming over the swamp."

The little man shivered violently, and his teeth began to chatter like
castanets.

The big man turned on him with a snarl.

"Pull yourself together," he exclaimed savagely. "What are you afraid
of, you fool? There's no danger if you do as you're told." He gritted
his teeth menacingly. "But, by God, I tell you, it'll be the end of you
if you mess it up. You'll pay for it first if anything goes wrong, and
you just take that in."

"All right, all right," replied the little man testily. "I'm not afraid,
but this long waiting's got on my nerves. It's three hours nearly since
we came up here, and it's enough to make anyone feel bad. But I won't
mess it up. I know what to do. I'll go and get the lamp now."

"No, you just wait," growled the other. "It'll be a long while before he
gets here yet, and we must be sure it's him in the car."

He turned back to his binoculars, and again there was silence between
the two men, only this time the smaller one remained standing up.

Far away, a faint spot of light had appeared, very faint at first, and
visible only through the binoculars. It moved like a glow-worm, trailing
languidly along by the edge of the lake.

"He can't come fast," muttered the big man. "The going's bad, and he'll
be in low gear all the way."

Gradually, however, the light waxed stronger, and in a few minutes the
two men from their high vantage point could plainly trace each foot of
its journey as a big motor car made its laborious way along the winding
track in and out among the sandhills.

"It's an eight-cylinder Jehu, right enough," whispered the big man in
tense, hoarse tones, "and it's a hundred to one it'll be him. But we'll
have to be quick now. You know where to wave the lamp."

He snapped his glasses together with a click, and, rising quickly to his
feet, without further comment followed his companion in a slouching run
down the high hummock side towards the waiting motor car.

Eli Barton, the wealthy cattle king, and the owner of vast properties in
the Commonwealth, was motoring from Melbourne to Adelaide to see his
great horse, Abimeleck, run in the Christmas Cup.

Strong and active in spite of his age, and strenuous alike both in his
work and in his pleasure, he had left Melbourne in the very early hours
of the previous morning. The five hundred and eighty odd miles that
separate the two cities he expected to cover, as he had often done
before, in two days. As usual, he was bringing no chauffeur with him,
but was driving the car himself. The long journey was nothing to him,
and it was well known to be his constant habit to negotiate it quite
alone. He liked to go alone, he always told his friends, for so full was
every hour of his busy life that it was only when motoring, he averred,
that he could be entirely free from business worries and quit of the
eternal weighing up of the value of other people's ideas.

So, whenever occasion offered, he took the Melbourne--Adelaide journey
alone, and drove his mighty eight-cylinder Jehu with all the speed that
the roughness and the danger of the track allowed.

But on this particular journey it so happened that he was not
unaccompanied. A very old friend had arrived unexpectedly from the
United States, and, breaking his usual procedure, Eli Barton had brought
him as a companion.

The two occupants of the car were both drowsy, apparently from the heat,
but maybe, also, it was the good dinner they had just eaten that made
them disinclined to talk. At any rate, it was a long ten miles before
either of them spoke, and then it was Eli Barton who first broke the
silence.

"Eighty-two miles to go, yet, my boy," he remarked, "before we get to
Meningie and, with not a house to pass, it's a million to one we don't
meet a soul."

"But isn't the heat awful?" went on Eli. "I'd give almost anything now
for a good downpour of rain."

"Good gracious! Not to-night, I hope. We don't want it here."

Eli Barton laughed. "Don't get nervous, Sam," he replied. "We're not
likely to get it, but it was of Abimeleck I was thinking, not of
ourselves." His voice dropped into anxious tones. "I don't know even now
if I shall run him on Saturday. The going will be like iron, I am
afraid, and, as I've told you, I'm a bit worried about his legs. He's
done a lot of racing this year, and I'm not going to risk anything now,
even for the Adelaide Christmas Cup. He's far too valuable to me for
that, and if there's the slightest suspicion of anything wrong, I tell
you, I shall scratch him to-morrow, directly I arrive."

"There'll be an awful howl, Eli, won't there, if you do?"

Eli Barton set his face in that determined frown which all his life his
enemies had known so well.

"I can't help it if there is," he replied decisively. "I shall be a
greater sufferer than anybody if he doesn't run. I had another thousand
on him last week, and the public have made him so hot that I only got
two's. Two's mind you, and he's got ten stone four to shoulder over a
mile and three-quarters, and with some clinking good horses in the race,
too." He smiled proudly. "But I shan't scratch him if I can possibly
help it, for I want to show the Adelaide folks what a really good horse
can do. He's the best horse I've ever owned and, with all his weight, I
believe he'll romp home."

A silence fell again upon the occupants of the car and, as old Barton
had prophesied, he had soon to drop on to low gear.

Eli looked round and then smiled to himself.

"Dear old Sam, like me, he's getting old," he muttered. "I suppose now
he'll sleep right on to Meningie."

But he was mistaken.

The big Jehu was ploughing its way through a particularly deep drift of
sand, when suddenly, to his great astonishment, he saw a light being
waved ahead, and a few seconds later the headlights of the car brought
into view a smallish-looking man standing in the middle of the track and
gesticulating wildly. The track sloped up sharply behind where the man
stood, curving abruptly between huge sandhills on either side.

Eli Barton brought the car gently to a standstill. They were in the
middle of a sort of sand ravine and the headlights, because of the bend,
illuminated the track only for about thirty yards.

"Don't come on," shouted the man with the lantern. "The track's blocked
and you can't get through. There's been an accident."

"Good Lord! what a place," ejaculated Eli. "Anybody hurt?"

"Yes, one of them's killed," replied the man, and he shielded his eyes
with his hand. "Oh! Oh!" he muttered instantly to himself, "he's got
someone with him. There'll be two of them now."

Eli Barton sprang out of the car, and was followed promptly by his now
thoroughly awakened companion.

"Thirty-five miles from Meningie, Sam," said Eli, "and no help for them
until they get there. How did it happen?" he called to the man. "Was
there a collision?"

But the man with the lantern made no reply. He stood hesitating, as if
uncertain what to do. He made no attempt to move back to the scene of
the accident.

Eli repeated his question.

"Was it a collision?" he asked sharply. "Here, you fellow, have you lost
your tongue?"

The man seemed to bring himself together with an effort. "Yes, there was
a collision," he replied, and at once he made to shamble back along the
track.

But the two travellers were close upon his heels when the bend was
reached.

Then suddenly Eli Barton flashed an electric torch. "Hullo! Hullo!" he
exclaimed suspiciously. "The track's not blocked and there's only one
car. Where was the collision?"

But the man with the lantern only muttered something indistinctly, and
Eli, losing patience, caught him roughly by the arm.

"What's your game?" he asked sharply. "Turn round and let's look at your
face," and he flashed the torch full upon him.

Instantly the man ducked his head, and at the same time, jerking away
his arm, he started to run.

"Look out, Sam," shouted Eli. "Catch the beggar, quick, there's
something fishy here. Shoot if he doesn't stop. Shoot, I tell you,
quick."




Chapter II.


They were the last words Eli Barton ever spoke. There was a sudden flash
of fire from behind the small car in the shadows--the loud crack of a
revolver fired at close range, and the great cattle king dropped
lifeless upon the sands of the Coorong with a bullet in his brain.

With a cry of rage Sam Gover sprang forward and the man with the lantern
went down under a fierce blow upon the head.

The lantern was extinguished in his fall.

Instantly Sam Gover darted to seize him, but the man was too quick, and,
springing to his feet, he dashed off towards the small car.

Then the big revolver cracked again, but this time obviously without
effect, for it was answered at once by the snapper and much sharper bark
of a little automatic pistol.

Old Sam Gover had not passed half his life out West for nothing, and he
could size up a situation as quickly as any man.

Three times the little automatic barked and there was a shrill squeal of
pain from the man who had waved the lantern. Unhappily for him, he had
not been quite quick enough in getting into cover, and with the bone of
an arm shattered he subsided, a faint and huddled heap, upon the sands.

Then followed long moments of dreadful silence, the hard, tense silence
of men waiting--with the angel of death hovering near.

All in an instant, as it were, a spirit of dark evil had descended on
the place, and into the peace and stillness of the night had avalanched
a hell of furious strife.

The smoke from the revolver clung like a funeral pall upon the track,
and the acrid reek of powder, like incense in some horrible temple of
pain, hung sickeningly upon the air.

Sam Gover had flung himself flat upon the sands, and, although his heart
beat like a piston, his mind was deadly cold and clear.

He was making no mistake about the peril he was in. That they had fallen
into a carefully prepared ambush he was sure, but what exactly was the
strength of it he did not attempt to guess.

Eli Barton was most probably already dead, and he himself was in the
worst predicament possible. Within a few yards of an assassin with a
revolver, he was lying right out in the open air with no cover at all.
The slightest sound and it would betray where he was.

He began to wriggle stealthily back along the sand.

* * *

Suddenly, however, there was a sharp click, and he was blinded in a
ghostly glare. The man with the revolver had switched on the spot-light
of his car.

Realising instantly the peril that now faced him. Sam Gover sprang to
his feet and fired rapidly at the light, but for the third time the
revolver spoke, and immediately the automatic dropped from his grasp. He
tottered and half fell, but without mercy the revolver was fired again,
and the old man, with no attempt now to recover himself, dropped bloody
and unconscious upon the sands.

A moment later, and the man with the revolver stepped out from behind
the light, walking warily, and ready upon the instant to fire again.

But that it was unnecessary was at once apparent, for Sam Gover lay
quite motionless and his eyes were closed.

With his teeth chattering, the man turned quickly to the body of Eli
Barton, and he shuddered when he saw the bullet-hole in the very centre
of the forehead. He bent down, however, and tore violently at the dead
man's coat, abstracting a thick wallet from the breast pocket. His eyes
glistened as he noted the contents.

Then, all at once, it seemed as if for the first time he had become
afraid, and sweat burst out upon his forehead in big drops. He looked
round wildly in every direction, and then, almost as if someone was
actually pursuing him, ran to the top of the big sandhill near, and
breathlessly regarded the outlook from every side.

But there was nothing to occasion any alarm. He could see nothing but
the lights of Eli Barton's car behind the hummocks, the dim blackness
everywhere upon the sands, and the bright stars peeping overhead.

He ran back to his own car.

"Look here," he exclaimed breathlessly to the small man who was lying on
the sands and moaning faintly, "both of them are dead, and we shall be
hanged for it if we don't look out."

"I shall say I didn't do it," wailed the other; "my arm's broken, and
I'm bleeding to death."

"We shall be hanged, I tell you," went on the big man excitedly, and,
jerking his head in the direction of the bodies lying out in the glare
of the light. "We must get rid of them, quick, and their car, too. We
haven't a second to spare. Someone may come by any moment. Do you hear?"

But the small man only shook his head. "I'm done with," he groaned. "I'm
fainting with pain."

The voice of the big man hardened into rage. "Pull yourself together,
you whining fool," he exclaimed furiously. "It's all your fault that you
were hit at all. You oughtn't to have stopped them when you saw there
were two in the car, and then you muddled everything by starting to run.
You're not much hurt, anyhow--it's only a scratch."

He snapped viciously at the spot light, and turned it round so that its
rays fell full upon the wounded man. Then his jaw dropped in dismay. The
face of his companion was ghastly white, his right arm lay at a dreadful
angle, and he was drenched in blood.

The big man cursed deeply. "Now, what are we to do, with you like this?"
he asked desperately. "We must get their car off the track at once. It
must be hidden 20 miles in the bush before we shall be safe." His breath
came in trembling gasps. "The black trackers will be put on, if
anything's found here." His voice broke to a sob. "The black trackers,
do you understand? And there'll be the bloodhounds, too."

But the small man only shook his head again. "I can't do anything," he
moaned. "I shall faint if I move. I believe I'm going to die."

For a long minute the big man stood speechless in his fears, but then,
suddenly resolved upon some course of action, he ran at full speed to
the big Jehu car.

It was barely 50 yards away, but he was panting hard when he reached it.

He jumped in, and, starting the engine, drove fiercely through the heavy
sand. Arriving where the bodies lay he pulled up, and, springing out
bundled them both into the back of the car. Then, without an instant's
further delay, he drove on again, and as furiously as the big Jehu could
plough its way, proceeded along the track in the direction of Meningie.

But he did not drive that way very far.

A couple of hundred yards, at most, and he turned off sharply at right
angles to the track. The ground was very heavy, but by putting the car
on to its lowest gear he managed to make headway, although at times the
wheels were buried almost to their axles in the sand.

Soon he was well away from the Coorong track and deep among the
sandhills. His surroundings were now as desolate and lonely as the mind
of any human being could conceive, but for all that he kept on looking
round as if he were expecting any moment to encounter someone.

All at once he saw that he was passing close to a small gully, and after
a moment's indecision he stopped the car abruptly and lugging out the
body of Sam Gover dragged it to the gully-side, and rolled it in. He was
about to do the same to Eli Barton, when, on the still night air, there
came up the distant barking of a fox.

He knew at once that it was only a fox, but the suddenness of the sound
startled him, and, with an oath of terror, he dashed round the car and
switched off both the engine and the lights.

Then, holding his breath, he stood motionless. His face had taken on a
dreadful hunted look and his eyes were strained and bulged with fear. He
listened.

But there was now no sound to be heard anywhere. The stillness of a dead
world and the silence of the grave encompassed him.

Pulling himself together with an effort, and with no care any longer for
the car and its ghostly burden, he dashed off at a feverish run, back
along the way he had just come.

And all the time he was thinking hard.

He had killed two men and he was faced starkly with the consequences of
his crime. He was in danger, great danger, for he could not now, he saw,
effectively cover up all traces of the murders, hampered as he was with
a wounded man.

If only he could have driven the car away to where he had intended, he
would have felt quite safe, he told himself, for exactly what had
happened to Eli Barton might then never have become known.

Out in the loneliness of the great Ninety-Mile Desert there were places
that he knew of where no one ever came, and, given there to the winds
and the sands, the car with its contents would soon have become
impenetrably hidden from all human eyes. It could never have been proved
then with any certainty that, whatever had occurred to the two men,
their fate had overtaken them upon the track of the Coorong.

No one would have ever been sure that the two travellers had not
successfully negotiated the whole length of the Coorong, and vanished in
some other part of the State of South Australia.

But now everything was different.

He had been able to take the car only a short distance away, because
every yard he had driven it into the desert he had had to retrace
himself on foot, for with his companion helpless there was no one to
follow behind with the second car. And so the big Jehu was lying close
at hand as damning evidence within a half-mile of the track itself.

Then what would happen when, within a few hours, the hue and cry was
raised for the missing man? Eli Barton was an important person in the
Commonwealth, and, once the sinister nature of his disappearance was
suspected, the police of South Australia would be turned hot-foot upon
the trail.

The Coorong would, of course, become at once the starting point for all
investigations, for the last thing definitely known of the travellers
would be that they had taken the track from Kingston. So search parties
would be rushed down, and the vicinity of the Coorong track would be
combed from end to end.




Chapter III.


At latest the car would be found in a few days, and then it would be
known definitely how Eli Barton and his friend had met their deaths.
Then would follow inquiries and investigations in every direction, and
how--how would he be able to account for the condition of the wounded
man?

The very nature of the wound itself would be suspicious. And once any
questioning began, how could he be certain either that his companion
would not show the white feather and give everything away? In any case a
satisfactory explanation would be difficult to find.

He cursed deeply again at his predicament. Then suddenly a cruel and
dreadful expression crossed his face, and the sweat that dropped from
his forehead was not now the sweat only of his laboured pace.

Abruptly his running was slowed down and, approaching the small car, he
dropped all at once to a slow and stealthy walk. Then--it might almost
have been said that he was creeping forward on his toes. He seemed, too,
to be holding in his breath, and his right hand had slipped back to the
pocket on his hip.

Without a sound he crept up to where the wounded man lay and
then--suddenly there came a loud report. The man with the ferrety eyes
was in suffering no more. His brains had been blown away.

So that night there were three men sleeping by the dark track of the
Coorong.

One was tucked huddled in a shallow grave beneath the sands; a second
there was who stiffened and grew cold in the tonneau of the big Jehu
car, while, close by, a third lay ghastly and uncovered to the sky.

Towards this last, as dawn was breaking, a fox came slouching up.

Perhaps the animal was only inquisitive or perhaps--he sniffed the smell
of blood.

He crept up close and--he turned suddenly and scampered off. Something
had frightened him.

* * *

IT was the Christmas Cup day at Adelaide, and long before the time when
the first race was due to be run an enormous crowd was gathering on the
racecourse at Cheltenham.

A good programme of events had been arranged, but on all sides the great
attraction was the Cup race itself. In addition to a gold cup, it was
for the fine stake of 3000, and there were some first-rate performers
down to run. Indeed, the very cream of South Australian thoroughbreds
would line up before the starter, and so well had the handicapper done
his work that no one particular horse among the home State entries stood
out prominently in the public favour. But, at the same time, few could
have said that it promised to be a good betting race.

Everything was overshadowed by the presence of an Inter-State horse from
across the border.

Eli Barton, the wealthy stockowner from Victoria, had sent his great
horse, Abimeleck, to throw down the gauntlet to the equine aristocracy
of South Australia, and the general opinion was that they would all go
down before him in the lists.

It was true the handicapper had by no means forgotten the distinguished
visitor, and had given him the steadier of ten stone four, or sixteen
pounds more than had been allotted to the next horse below him, but then
Abimeleck, as everyone knew, was in a class quite by himself.

A son of Judah out of Sweetness, he was a magnificent specimen of a four
year-old, and had well earned every ounce of the big weight that had
been allotted to him.

A great horse, he had not been beaten since his two-year-old days, and
in his last eight races he had never been really extended. Carrying top
weight always, he had won, it seemed, with effortless ease.

So, directly the acceptances had been published, he had been seized upon
by the public as a good thing and 'fours' had been the greatest odds at
any time offered against him.

Even 'fours' would certainly not have been obtainable had there not been
for some time suspicions of trouble in one of his legs. It was true the
suspicion was only a very slight one, but his owner, unwilling to run
risks, had twice at the last moment, on that account, withdrawn him from
an engagement.

It was this uncertainty, this slight element of doubt, that had enabled
the horse's admirers to obtain the extended odds, and up to the very
morning of the race they had been all on the best terms with themselves.

Everything had seemed propitious for the champion's success, A week
previously he had arrived safely in Adelaide, and his subsequent
performance on the track had been all that his admirers could have
desired.

He had gone splendidly at exercise, he had taken his food well, and his
trainer, who had accompanied him, had been observed as wearing always a
most confident and happy smile.

So things had been right up to this the very morning of the race, and
then, all suddenly, the presentiment of some impending misfortune had
come to his backers, and as the crowds gathered upon the racecourse side
this uneasy feeling was soon everywhere apparent.

* * *

What exactly was happening no one knew, and on the face of it, the
apprehension seemed absurd.

The horse had actually arrived upon the racecourse and, the centre of a
big admiring crowd, he was now duly standing in his allotted stall in
the paddock. (His admirers noticed with a pang, however, that the number
of the stall was thirteen.) The jockey, too, who was to ride him was
actually on the spot--Pat O'Connor, the famous Sydney crack. Lots of
people had seen him drive up to the racecourse in a car. So everything
was satisfactory there.

Still, however, the public were uneasy, and long before the time when
the first race was due to be run rumours began to crystallise and take
on ugly forms.

An anxious consultation was being held between Tom Sellick, the trainer
of Abimeleck, young Stanley Barton, the nephew of Eli Barton, and the
secretary of the Port Adelaide Racing Club.

It was being held in the secretary's room, and it was evident that those
taking part were moved by some strong emotion. The trainer's face was
grave, that of the young nephew of Eli Barton was frowning, and that of
the secretary was flushed and angry.

"No," Tom Sellick was saying, doggedly, "I can't bring him out, sir. If
I did, it would be directly contrary to the orders that I have
received."

"But the animal's perfectly fit and well to run, isn't he," insisted the
Secretary.

"As far as my opinion goes, yes," replied the trainer, slowly. He shook
his head determinedly. "But that's nothing to do with his running. I
tell you I'm not the owner. I'm only the trainer. I've just got to obey
orders. Mr. Barton employs me, and his last words to me were: 'Mind, I
shan't decide about his running until I go over him myself.'"

"But look at the crowds here," pleaded the secretary, "and think of the
way he's been backed. It'll be a dreadful take-down for the public if he
doesn't run."

Tom Sellick looked straight before him. "It's not my horse, sir," he
said firmly, "and, I tell you again, I've nothing to do with his
running. Nothing at all."

The secretary turned impatiently to young Stanley Barton. "I suppose you
have no authority, Mr. Barton? You can't help us in any way?"

The young man shook his head grimly. He was a good-looking young fellow,
between four and five and twenty and, although the general expression of
his face was frank and boyish, there were lines of determination about
his mouth and chin that would have made an observant stranger chary of
antagonising the forces that he saw there.

"Mr. Sellick is quite right," he said slowly, "and if I were in his
place, although I grant you it's unpleasant, I should take the same
stand. He can't up-saddle till my uncle tells him to."

"But where on earth is your uncle?" queried the secretary irritably,
"and why is it he isn't here?"

The young man eyed his interrogator very gravely.

"If we could tell you that, Mr. Secretary, we should be much easier in
our minds than we, at present, are." He shrugged his shoulders and went
on slowly. "Neither Mr. Sellick here nor I can think of the slightest
reason for my uncle not being here now. He left Melbourne for Adelaide
in his car early on Wednesday morning. That I know for certain, for I
myself saw him start. He can't have been taken ill for he had a friend
with him, who would certainly have let us know. His car can't have
broken down either, for I followed after him twenty-four hours later,
exactly along the same way he must have come. I heard of him all the way
as far as Kingston, and then no one mentions his having passed." He
shook his head very solemnly. "I tell you, I don't like it, for it's not
my uncle's way to let people down."

A couple of minutes later young Barton and the trainer, leaving the
secretary's room, almost ran into a tall, middle-aged man, and a pretty
dark eyed girl, who were standing just outside.

The trainer started to apologise, and then suddenly his worried, anxious
face broke into a smile.

"Hullo, Jim," he said to the tall man, "nearly knocked you over that
time, didn't I?"

"Yes, you did, Tom," replied the latter smiling, too. "But I'll forgive
you if you never do worse to me than that."

"Who was he?" whispered Stanley, when a moment later they had passed on.

"He's called Dice," replied the trainer. "He's got a station down the
south-east. I used to know him, however, years ago in Victoria. He was
in the Light Horse with my brother during the Boer War. He is a very
decent chap, but always a very unlucky one. He's got a horse running in
the Cup to-day. Black Wolf, but it's not got the ghost of a chance."

"Who's the girl?" asked Stanley, carelessly.

"I don't know," replied the trainer, the worried look beginning to cloud
over his face again. "His wife perhaps. She doesn't look like his
daughter. He was a widower, I remember, a couple of years ago."

A few minutes later and up went the number for the Cup. All doubts about
the favourite were at once dispelled, for it was now seen for certain
that he was not going to run. His number was absent from the frame.

A flutter of dismay ran through the crowd, a long murmur of
disappointment, and then a perfect babel of inquiry buzzed round. It was
undoubtedly a great set-back for the public, but it spoke well for the
reputation of Eli Barton that there was no suggestion anywhere of shady
reasons for the sudden withdrawal of the horse.

The Victorian owner was far too well known for that, and it was realised
everywhere there must be some very good reason why Abimeleck was not to
run, and the only query was--what was it?

But no definite answer was forthcoming, and, reconciling themselves to
the inevitable, most people had soon given up conjecturing, and for the
moment were philosophically settling down to make the best of things as
they were.

And after all, there was no doubt that the absence of Abimeleck made the
race for the Christmas Cup, in some ways, a much more interesting one.

Quite a fair number of the runners now undoubtedly had chances, and no
less than five of them were at once made almost co-equal favourites in
the totalisator.

The money began to pour into the machine.

With the betting settling down Gay Hussar began to advance strongly in
public favour--no doubt, however, because Wilkie, the Adelaide crack,
was riding him--and by the time 3000 had been invested he was leading
by near 100. Next to him came Wattle Day, and then much farther away
followed Rattlesnake, The Bloater, and Lord Burke, all in a bunch. Quite
low down and almost neglected were Pretty Boy and Black Wolf. For quite
a long time the investments on the last-named totalled under 20.




Chapter IV.


THE weighing out was accomplished quickly, and the candidates were soon
parading before the stands. There were eighteen runners, and not a few
of them were as magnificent specimens of the thoroughbred as one could
wish to see.

Gay Hussar was now top weight, and, carrying nine stone two, he led the
procession. He was a fine, upstanding roan, and he looked trained to the
hour.

"There goes the winner," said a man on the rails as he passed by. "He'll
put paid to everything in the last hundred yards."

"Not he," said another man disdainfully. "He'll never last with nine
stone two in a fast run race, and old Rattlesnake'll make the pace a
cracker. You see if he doesn't with Muggins up."

"Blow Muggins," returned the first man. "He's a bad finisher. There's
always too much jumping about when he starts using his whip. He
unbalances his mounts every time."

"Wattle Day'll win," remarked a woman. "It's a good thing to-day, and
they're trying. The milkman told my cook so, this morning."

There was a guffaw from those standing round, and the woman got very
red.

"Hullo," called out someone a moment later, "look at that one. His
jockey's got a handful there."

A big and unprepossessing black horse was just passing, and he was
evidently not appreciating the proximity of the crowd. He edged along
sideways, and kept showing the whites of his rather evil-looking eyes.
His jockey had got him hard held.

"That's Black Wolf," replied a horsey man, "trained by James Dice, over
near the Coorong."

"Well, he doesn't stand an earthly," remarked his friend, "and yet I see
they've got the cheek to declare six pounds over-weight."

"So they have," said the horsey individual, glancing thoughtfully upon
his card. "Six thirteen, instead of six seven. Now what does that mean,
I wonder?" He looked up again and craned his neck to get another view of
the horse. "Well, I don't agree with you, old man," he went on the next
moment, "that he's got no chance. From all his looks, he seems to me to
have a darned good chance. He's ugly for sure, and I don't like his
forelegs, but look at his long, deep quarters and the way he's muscled
up. He's workmanlike, and a stayer, and by cripes I'll have a dollar on
him, anyhow. Hell pay fifties if he'll pay a penny," and off the speaker
hurried towards the tote.

But the horsey-looking man was not by any means the only one who was
discussing the possibilities of Black Wolf.

* * *

Two men on the trainers' stand, amongst others, were speaking about them
at that very moment.

"Anything in it, do you think, Fred?" asked one of them, cocking his eye
very shrewdly. "I asked Dice just now and he said he'd got a tenner on
him."

The other pursed his lips sceptically. "And that's about all he could
have, Bob," he replied. "I heard last month he was dead broke and on the
rocks. No, I don't think his brute is any good at all in this company,
although I admit I was a bit taken with the look of him just now in the
paddock."

"But I've heard rumours, I tell you, Fred," persisted the other. "Months
ago, I heard a tale that old man Dice had got a rough 'un on his station
quite out of the ordinary. He was keeping it very dark, they said, but
one day he was going to rip everything up. Ugly as the devil his horse
was, but could go like the wind."

His friend shrugged his shoulders and smiled. "Well," he remarked, "he
would have hardly chosen to-day to bring off his big trick, now would
he? With Abimeleck running, he would have known his chance was hopeless,
and we all thought Abimeleck a fairly certain runner, until up to a
couple of hours ago. But come on, we'll go and look at the tote."

The starting bell had just rung and the horses were preparing to line
up. The two men reached the totalisator building, in front of which the
usual crowd was thronging to watch the last moments of the betting.

With the withdrawal of the great Abimeleck, it was undoubtedly turning
out to be a good race for speculation, and the figures on the indicator
were mounting briskly at every moment.

Already over 8000 had been invested in the machine, and Gay Hussar was
now easily the first public choice. He carried over 1500. Next to him
were Wattle Day with 1235 and Lord Burke with just over a thousand.
Rattlesnake had nearly 350 to his credit, and there was a big drop then
to The Wowser, with one hundred and five.

Right down at the bottom, 35/10/ had been entrusted to Black Wolf, and
15 only to Pretty Boy.

"Look, Bob," laughed the man whom his companion had called Fred. "If
Black Wolf wins, James Dice will have the scoop of his life. It'll pay
not far off two hundred, I should say."

But the other was intently watching the crowd, and for the moment it
seemed he did not hear what his friend was saying.

Then he turned round suddenly. "I say," he said quickly. "I'm going to
have a fiver on Black Wolf, anyhow. No, I don't care what you say," as
the other laughed, "I'm going to have it on. Look here," and he dropped
his voice to an impressive whisper. "I've just been watching Dice. There
he is. Quick--standing by that girl in the grey hat. Look at his face
now, and look at his sneering smile. I tell you, Fred, he's exactly like
a man who's keeping in some tremendous secret, and if he's only got a
tenner on as he says, I'll swear all the same he believes he's going to
win. I'm going to row in with him anyhow, on the chance. So there now."

"Don't be a fool, Bob," said his companion contemptuously. "Here, give
me the fiver. I'll take on the bet."

"No, you don't, and I'm not a fool either. There's not a better judge of
a horse in all Australia than James Dice, and now you just wait for me
here while I go and put my fiver on."

They were not far from the 5 window, and, his money invested, the man
was back again in less than a minute. His friend was still standing
where he had been left, and greeted his return with an amused smile.

"I saw your fiver go up right enough," he remarked, "and it makes
40/10/ now on the brute, but--hullo--hullo, what the devil's happening
now?"

He pointed in astonishment to the totalisator index, and, looking up,
the other gasped in astonishment, too. The figures above Black Wolf had
suddenly become animated into a giddy whirl. Up, up they went, one, two,
five, ten, twenty, forty, fifty.

"Great Scot!" ejaculated the one who had taken the ticket. "Someone's
just put fifty on. Now, where's old Dice?"

But the question was never answered There was the clang of a bell, a
mighty shout--"They're off!" and everyone rushed to get some point of
vantage for the viewing of the race.

* * *

The start had been an excellent one, and, whatever should eventuate,
there could certainly be no grumbling on that score.

All had got away together, and for the first few yards it almost seemed
that they were running in a straight line. Then Rattlesnake shot out his
bony head in front, and, as the clever ones had predicted, at once
proceeded to make the pace a cracker. Two furlongs from the start, and
he was out a good three lengths by himself, with the field already
becoming an extended one. Gay Hussar was running second, and his backers
noticed with satisfaction that he had secured a good position on the
rails. Close behind the favourite came a little group of four, with Lord
Burke the most prominent of these.

"Rattlesnake's going too fast," remarked a thin, flashily-dressed woman
in the front row of the grandstand. "I never did like Muggins--he's got
such ugly teeth."

"Hush, Mother," reprovingly whispered a young girl who looked like her
daughter. "Do be careful what you say."

"Well," insisted the thin woman obstinately. "He is riding Rattlesnake
very badly, and I wish to goodness your father had never told us to back
him. I'd have much rather had the half crown on Wattle Day."

Rattlesnake was still going like the wind, and with half of the journey
covered he was still in front. Wattle Day, however, was not far behind
him now, and, in the bunch of horses that followed Gay Hussar was the
most prominent, still running on the rails. Several of the others,
however, were also close up, with the big Black Wolf lurching furtively
along on the outside. The latter's action was certainly not pretty, for
he ran too low on the ground to please most people, but his method of
progression was at any rate effective, and he reached out well with
every stride.

"Rattlesnake's tiring," said a man on the flat, peering through an
antiquated pair of glasses. "His jockey's moving on him with his hands."

"I like Gay Hussar as well as anything," said another. "So far, at any
rate. Wilkie's had an arm-chair ride."

All this while young Stanley Barton had been standing at the back of the
grandstand, but mechanically only was he taking in the incidents of the
race. He was much too worried about his uncle to be really concerned as
to what was happening on the course and, in a bored, indifferent sort of
way, he was idly taking stock of the people near him. Suddenly his eyes
fell upon the girl whom he had seen with the owner of Black Wolf. She
was only a few yards from him, and instantly he was interested. For some
reason, she vibrated some strange chord in him. She was certainly very
pretty. Looking about one or two and twenty, she was of medium height,
with a well rounded and beautifully proportioned figure. She had fine,
clear-cut features and a wealth of rich, dark brown hair. Her eyes, he
thought, were lovelier than any he had ever seen.

He meditatively regarded the man who stood with her, the man who owned
Black Wolf, and the latter struck him at once as of an unusual
personality. He was tall and fine looking, with a strong, self-reliant
pose. The face was handsome, but marred a little by a certain hardness
and contemptuous arrogance of expression. He looked like a man who would
always have a good opinion of himself, and be always quite confident
that his ideas were the only ones to be considered.

Young Barton wondered rather jealously what was the nature of the man's
relation to the girl, and his query was, in part, answered almost at
once.

The girl put up a shapely little hand to adjust her hat. The hand was
her left one and it was ungloved. She wore neither wedding nor
engagement ring.

The young man smiled to himself, but in whatever channel his thoughts
might then have wandered they were turned back suddenly to the
happenings on the course.

A great storm of shouting had arisen, for the race was now approaching
its critical stage. The horses were well into the straight for home, and
to the great joy of his supporters it was seen that the favourite was
leading, well in front.

For the moment it seemed actually that he was coming home alone, but by
the one furlong post he began to falter, and in a few yards three horses
flashed up level with him, almost simultaneously together. They were
Wattle Day, Lord Burke, and the early pace-maker, Rattlesnake--the last,
to the great surprise of many, now coming great guns again.

"Wattle Day wins," roared the crowd. "No, its Rattlesnake. Good old
Rattlesnake; come on now."

But then, as so often upon the racecourse side, the unexpected happened.

Something big and gaunt was seen to loom up on the outside--a horse that
came suddenly from nowhere and that no one had considered before. A
low-running, black animal that was going twice as fast as anything and
galloping like the wind.

"Why it's Black Wolf!" roared a man in amazement, "and he'll win as he
likes."

And there was no doubt about it. Black Wolf was running like a racehorse
incarnate.

He passed Gay Hussar and Wattle Day almost as if they were standing
still; he shook off Lord Burke in a couple of strides, and, when the
gallant Rattlesnake, for just one fraction of a second, seemed to hold
him, his jockey lifted his whip once, and the tiring son of Venom was
left instantly behind.

The farther Black Wolf ran the farther he was in front, and he passed
the judge's box, hard held, three lengths to the good. The amazed crowd
just gasped in their surprise.

"By jove," swore one disgusted owner under his breath, "but what a
certainty to bet on if we had only known."

In their astonishment the crowd seemed at first quite unable to take it
in, and then with envious faces they thronged round the totalisator,
curious to see what dividends the horses would pay.




Chapter V.


Very quickly the totalisator figures came up: Black Wolf 63/17/,
Rattlesnake 5 (for each pound invested). 8740 had altogether been
invested on the race. 90/10/ had gone on Black Wolf, and 382/10/ on
Rattlesnake.

The owner of Black Wolf came down off the grandstand looking unruffled
and unconcerned. He smiled when he was congratulated, and when asked if
he had expected Black Wolf to win he replied inscrutably: "Well, I
thought he was pretty good."

But the girl with him, it was easy to see, was greatly excited. She was
flushed and animated, and coming suddenly face to face with her, young
Barton thought again, with a strangely quickening pulse, how
delightfully pretty she was.

He was with Sellick, the trainer, and the latter stopped at once to
congratulate James Dice.

"I hope you had a good win, Jim. Your gelding ran a splendid race."

The owner of Black Wolf smiled pleasantly.

"Not so bad, old man, thank you," he replied, "but it was perhaps a good
thing for me Abimeleck wasn't there."

"You can bet your life on that," said Tom Sellick, looking very serious,
"for, however good your animal is, I don't think the forty odd pounds
Abimeleck had to give him would have brought the two together, and young
Mr. Barton here will, I am sure, agree with me."

"Introduce me, Sellick," broke in Stanley, smiling. "I have not met this
fortunate gentleman yet."

"This is Mr. Stanley Barton, Jim," began the trainer, "Mr. Eli's nephew.
He----"

But old Sellick stopped, for he saw that James Dice was not listening.
The owner of Black Wolf had turned right round and he was staring hard
into the crowd. He had suddenly become pale, and it looked almost as if
he were trying to master some great emotion.

"Uncle, uncle!" exclaimed the girl at his side in a reproving tone,
"don't you hear? This gentleman is speaking to you," and she pulled him
by the arm.

The big man turned round instantly.

"Oh, I beg your pardon," he apologised in confusion, "I'm so very sorry,
but I recognised a man just then whom I had believed was dead. It gave
me quite a shock." He passed his hand shakily across his forehead. "But
you were saying--you were saying----"

"I was introducing you to Mr. Stanley Barton," replied the trainer,
smiling, "Mr. Eli Barton's nephew."

James Dice shot a quick glance at young Barton, and then lifted his hat
politely. "Very pleased, I am sure." He went on speaking rapidly. "And
this is my niece, Miss Bevan. Margaret, this is Mr. Sellick." He smiled
quite easily now--"I knew him years ago in Victoria, before I came over
here."

The girl shook hands with Mr. Sellick and young Stanley, and the four
stood chatting for some minutes.

* * *

Young Stanley had his eyes the whole time upon the girl, and a slight
flush seemed to deepen the radiancy of her face when at length they said
good-bye.

"Very decent fellow, that Dice," remarked the trainer, directly they
were out of earshot, "and I'm glad his horse won. But I don't suppose
he's got much out of it, except the stake. The dividend was too large
for any one to have helped himself liberally. He couldn't have had much
hope of his horse anyhow, and I expect Black Wolf's win was just one of
those flukes that come to racing men, sometimes. They've had a cast-iron
certainty in their hands, and yet they've not known it, until too late."

Trainer Sellick was quite convinced that he had sized up the situation
pretty accurately, and undoubtedly for the first few minutes after the
race the public generally held much the same opinion.

The outsider's win was quite unexpected, they told one another, and the
owner-trainer had had only a few pounds on. He had missed the chance of
a life-time and would be kicking himself about it until the very day
that he died. It had been a 'skinner' too, for the city bookmakers;
none of them, probably, had ever had Black Wolf's name in his books.

And then--somehow these ideas began all at once to undergo a subtle
change, and very quickly quite different notions took possession of the
knowing ones upon the course.

No, it had not been an unexpected win, they now said. The owner had gone
solidly for his animal, and nearly all the money paid out from the
totalisator had been on his investment alone. He had been seen himself
drawing nearly 5000 in notes from the paying-out window.

Rumours swept round like eddies in a stream, and then surmises began to
crystallise out into solid facts.

Black Wolf had been heavily backed away from the course, and the city
bookmakers had been hard hit. In fact, they had been most methodically
tapped all round. Pete Maloney, the biggest bookmaker in the State,
admitted it frankly and without any ill-feeling. He said so openly on
the grandstand. It was true, he explained, that not large sums had been
invested on Black Wolf but, at the odds offered against the horse on the
previous day quite a small bet would soon have taken all the stuffing
out of any turf accountant's book. He himself had given James Dice a
thousand to ten, and taken the bet twice, while his friend, Walter Hind,
had been let in for exactly the same amount.

The owner of Black Wolf, moreover, had shown himself a great strategist
in placing his commissions. The previous afternoon, it appeared, he had
approached bookmaker after bookmaker, and had secured bets with them
all. None of his wagers was for a large amount, such was the cleverness
of his plan, but he had been laid the odds to tens and fives and in some
cases even to only threes and twos. Nearly always he had been
accommodated at a hundred to one, and he had betted fearlessly, making
no place bets but going always for an outright win.

The racing crowd generally, with their first disappointment over, were
intensely interested in the big coup that had seemingly been brought off
and, although all losers themselves, they were not chary of expressing
their admiration for the pluck that the owner of Black Wolf had shown.

"A mad thing to do, though," remarked a prominent racing man scornfully,
"but a devilish plucky one all the same. Just fancy going like that for
an outright win, with Abimeleck in the acceptances! Dice must have been
off his chump at the time."

* * *

But long before the afternoon had waned people were not quite so sure
that James Dice had indulged in so reckless a gamble as had at first
been assumed. A remarkable story began to get about.

A man in the half-crown Derby enclosure, so it was said, had had five
pounds on Black Wolf. Quite a number of people had watched him draw the
dividend afterwards, and they had crowded curiously round to find out
what had made him back the horse. But, at first, the man would offer no
explanation and, beyond the cock-sure assertion, many times repeated,
that he had known all the while that he was 'on a cert.' no one could
get anything out of him. A few long beers judiciously administered,
however, had soon loosened his tongue, and an interesting tale he had
then proceeded to tell. According to him, Black Wolf had been anything
but the despised and untried animal that people had imagined. Instead,
he had been put through as good a test as anyone could wish, and he had
been asked a very searching question before being even entered for the
Christmas Cup. He had beaten a no less useful performer than the well
known Basil's Pride, in a stripped gallop over a mile and a half, with a
stone the worse of the weights, and everyone would remember that Basil
had won the Kidman Cup at the Port, not two months ago. Oh yes, the man
averred, he knew what he was talking about, and was quite as well aware
as anyone that Basil had been sold for fifteen hundred guineas to Mr.
French, of Melbourne. He knew that, but he knew also what other people
did not know, and that was that French was a relation of James Dice and
had lent him Basil for a week. The horse when he had been sold had not
been taken straight to Melbourne, as people thought, but the journey had
been broken somewhere, he would not say where, and the trial he referred
to had then taken place. It had all been kept very secret, and Basil's
Pride had been altered in appearance, so that none of Dice's station
hands should recognise him. He had been hog-maned for one thing, and the
white marks on his forehead coloured out for another. Oh, yes, it had
all been beautifully arranged, and they deserved every dollar they had
won.

Such was the man's story, and much further interesting information would
doubtless have been elicited but for the potency of more long beers. The
narrator had then became pugnacious, and, mainly, no doubt, to prevent
his being robbed of his winnings, a kind-hearted sergeant of police had
shut him up in the police room for the remainder of the afternoon.

The public were, of course, greatly interested, and a representative of
the Press endeavoured to get in touch with James Dice and find out how
much of the story was true. But the owner of Black Wolf was nowhere to
be encountered. He had left the racecourse, so it was said, an hour
before.




Chapter VI.


The following morning, with still no news forthcoming of his uncle, or
Sam Gover, Stanley Barton interviewed the Chief Commissioner of the
South Australian Police, and, laying everything before him, asked that
the authorities should at once take some steps to find out where the
missing men were.

He insisted that, nothing having now been heard of them for nearly three
days, there appeared, under the peculiar circumstances, to be a most
sinister significance about their silence.

He told the Commissioner how they had set out from Melbourne en route
for Adelaide on the previous Wednesday morning; how they had arrived at
Kingston on Thursday evening; how they had left there again that night
with the expressed intention of getting as far as Meningie; how they had
never been heard of at the latter place, and how they had vanished as
utterly as if the earth had swallowed them up.

He emphasised the importance of his uncle's journey from Melbourne, in
view of the Christmas Cup in Adelaide on the Friday, and how greatly his
interest had, in all probability, suffered by the withdrawal of his
horse, Abimeleck, from the race. He impressed upon the Commissioner that
Eli Barton was a most methodical man in all his actions, and he insisted
that his uncle's absence at the present juncture was in every respect
foreign to the latter's general mode of life.

The Commissioner had been at first inclined to treat the matter very
lightly, but the convincing way in which the young man marshalled his
facts soon moved the official to thoughtfulness, and in the end, from
the expression on his face, he seemed to regard the matter in much the
same light as his visitor.

There was silence for a moment when young Barton had finished, and then
the Chief Commissioner pulled a writing block before him.

"You did quite right in coming to me, Mr. Barton," he said gravely, "for
the matter does not look healthy, I agree. But let's get everything
shipshape and see exactly how we stand." He took up his pen. "Now you
have already made every inquiry, you say, as far as possible, to find
out if they have stopped anywhere on their way--I mean, of course, since
leaving Kingston?"

"I have almost lived on the telephone during the last twenty-four
hours," replied young Barton, "and have inquired in every conceivable
direction on the chance of anybody knowing anything about them. But I
can learn nothing--nothing at all. Nothing has been seen or heard of
them."

"Well, let us begin right at the beginning," said the Commissioner.
"Now, you yourself saw them start off from Melbourne last Wednesday
morning, and you know definitely, you tell me, that they got as far as
Kingston on Thursday evening?"

"Yes," replied Stanley. "I saw them start off myself, and, as I tell
you, I followed with a friend exactly twenty four hours after getting to
Kingston in time for lunch on Friday. We had our meal at the Hotel of
the Broken Bough, and we learnt then that they had dined there the
previous evening. We were expecting they would have called there in
passing, for Helling, the proprietor of the Broken Bough, is an old
crony of ours, and in consequence none of us ever goes through Kingston
without pulling up to have a word with him. He is a useful man to
motorists, for he always knows the conditions prevailing along the
Coorong track."

"What time exactly did they leave the hotel, then, after dinner on
Thursday?" asked the Commissioner.

"Helling said it was just before ten," replied young Barton.

"Well," went on the Commissioner, making a note, "they left for the
Coorong a little before ten on Thursday night, and that is the last
thing you have heard of them, the very last?"

"Yes, that's the dreadful part of it." Young Barton spoke very slowly.
"They are known positively to have entered the Coorong track, but no one
ever saw them leave it. They left Kingston but they never reached
Meningie, and yet Meningie is the only outlet from the track this end,
the only way they could have come."

The Commissioner frowned. "But why are you so positive they never
reached Meningie?" he asked.

"Because," replied young Barton emphatically, "no one saw or heard them.
Their only way from the Coorong track lay right through the township,
and even in the dead of night no car could have slipped by there without
being noticed or heard by someone. Nearly everyone was sleeping outside,
and the hotel people there have made exhaustive inquiries. Menzies
himself, the hotel proprietor, was sleeping out on his front veranda
and, being a very light sleeper, he is certain that he, for one, would
have heard them."

The Commissioner rose from his chair and attentively regarded a large
map of South Australia that was hanging on the wall.

"Hum!" he observed after a long pause. "Ninety-two miles from Kingston
to Meningie and, with the route to Keith impassable, no turning off the
main track the whole time. Therefore the track along the lake from
Kingston leads only to Meningie, and, once upon it, a car can only go
forward or go back." He turned round to the young man.

"And I suppose there is no possibility of your uncle for some reason
having suddenly altered his mind and returned back towards Melbourne?"

"None whatever," was the reply, "and if he'd wanted to he couldn't have
done it without its being known. The Broken Bough at Kingston is right
on the Coorong track, almost the last house, in fact, and an
eight-cylinder Jehu doesn't creep through a township like a ghost. No,
the car could no more have passed back unnoticed through Kingston than
it could have gone forward unnoticed through Meningie.

"Their intention was, you say, to have slept at Meningie?"

"Yes, Helling telephoned on for them to the hotel there, saying they
would probably arrive about two in the morning, and their beds had been
got ready for them."

"Didn't you find out then that they hadn't slept there, when you
yourself passed through Meningie, the next day?"

Young Barton shook his head. "Unfortunately," he relied, "we didn't pull
up. We came straight on to the city from Kingston without a stop."

The Chief Commissioner took a different line.

"Does your uncle generally carry much money on him?"

"Well, always a fair amount when he goes racing. He supports his own
horses freely, and he likes betting through the totalisator."

"I suppose it was well known in sporting circles, your uncle being such
a public character, that he was coming to Adelaide last week?"

"Most certainly it was. It was mentioned in the Press and, besides, all
racing people know how he hardly ever races a horse anywhere without
himself being present to see it run. Last week, especially, he was
interested to see what his cup horse, Abimeleck, would do."

"He often comes to Adelaide, doesn't he?" asked the Commissioner.

"Yes, three or four times a year, at least."

"And it's well known he always comes in his car?"

"Yes, he never comes by train, except in very bad weather, when the
Coorong track was quite impassable."

* * *

There was a long pause then, and the Commissioner went carefully through
his notes. Presently, however, he looked up and intently took in the
handsome face of the young fellow opposite to him.

"Now look here, Mr. Barton," he said quietly. "As I take it, the matter
in a nutshell stands like this. Your uncle, a well-known, well-to-do
man, and probably carrying a good sum of money with him, sets out on a
six hundred mile motor journey and is now, say, forty-eight hours late
for an important engagement here in the city. This in itself would not
be in any way significant, excepting for the peculiar circumstances
surrounding and ensuing upon his non-arrival. To take the latter first,
he is probably financially a great loser by his unpunctuality. His horse
was a non-runner for the Cup, and apart from the value of the stake, if
he had won, at any rate he has now to pay up for all the antepost wagers
that he may have made.

"These facts stand out plainly, and so we can assume, therefore, as you
say, that he would not lightly have broken his engagement. Now touching
one other set of circumstances: Two-thirds of the six hundred mile
journey are known to have been accomplished safely. Then comes the
mysterious part of the affair. Your uncle enters upon the great Coorong
track--a blind alley except where Meningie is concerned. He enters it at
night. A long, lonely track, practically uninhabited throughout its
whole length. Not a hamlet or a township along the whole eighty-odd
miles and only a couple of sheep stations with their boundaries any
where near. I say, he enters on this road and there--the story ends."
The Commissioner bent forward over his desk and his voice became very
grave.

"Now, we may well ask what has happened to your uncle and his friend. As
you say, they can't have mistaken the way, for there was only one track
for them to follow. They can't have broken down, for apart from your own
journey on Friday, quite a score of cars must have come along the
Coorong during the daytime in the last twenty-four hours." He shrugged
his shoulders. "So, if they didn't ever pass Meningie--then, what has
happened to them?"

There was again a silence and then the Commissioner spoke very slowly.
"Well, Mr. Barton," he said, "of course, we'll help you all we can, and
the matter shall be at once taken up officially, as you wish." He smiled
pleasantly. "Still, still, I'm not quite convinced yet, I may tell you,
that the car didn't pass through Meningie. It's public knowledge, of
course, that Mr. Eli Barton is a man of masterful character and if he
thought it good to alter his plans in any way, then"--the Commissioner
shrugged his shoulders--"from all I have heard of him, he would do it
and be answerable for the consequences only to himself. However," and
the Commissioner took up his pen again, "now give me, please, most
accurate descriptions of the car and the missing men. As I say, I'll set
everything going. In two hours every police station in South Australia
will have been notified and inquiries will be pushed in every
direction." He smiled again. "At any rate I'm sanguine we'll have
located the Jehu before evening, that is of course if it's anywhere in
South Australia and has not been purposely hidden away. But keep in
touch with me please from time to time during the day so that I can give
you the news speedily if it comes along."

But no news came along, and the big Jehu was not located anywhere, as
the Commissioner had so hopefully expected. So the following morning,
just before noon, found Stanley Barton again closeted with the head of
the South Australian Police.

"It's no good denying it," the latter said ominously; "we're up against
something that requires explaining badly. The inhabited parts of the
whole State were combed thoroughly yesterday." He shook his head. "But
as I say, nothing about your uncle was brought to light. One thing,
however, we did learn. What you told me yesterday about their having
entered the Coorong track from Kingston on Thursday night was confirmed.
A rabbit trapper camping four miles out from the township saw them
passing along the track soon after ten that night. At any rate, a big
car with two men in it passed him. He was asleep about a hundred yards
away from the track, but the noise awoke him, and he is quite sure about
there being two men in the car. Also, another item of importance: One of
the night nurses of the Meningie Hospital was on duty on the front
veranda all night, and she is positive no car went by between midnight
and eight o'clock. So much for that, but now I want to ask you"--the
Commissioner looked keenly at young Barton--"who is this Mr. Gover who
was with your uncle?"

In spite of his anxiety Stanley smiled. "He is a very old friend of my
uncle, and they have known each other for over forty years. He is about
sixty-five years of age. As sane and level-headed a man as you would
meet anywhere, and, besides that, a very rich man, too." Stanley spoke
dryly. "So no suspicion on that account, anyhow."

The Commissioner smiled in his turn. "Well, we have to know everything,"
he remarked, "for our calling makes us naturally suspicious of
everyone." He became grave and decisive. "Now, we must have the Coorong
searched straight away, or as much of the Coorong, I mean, as lays just
off the track." He pointed to the map of South Australia on the wall.
"An army of soldiers could hardly search all those miles of bush and
desert. But, still, an army of soldiers will not be needed, or, as I
look at it, if your uncle and his friend have come to any harm on the
Coorong, the Jehu car cannot be very far away. If it was diverted from
the track it would soon get held up somewhere by the gullies in the
sand." He leant over and touched a bell. "Now I'll introduce you to
Harker. He's one of the best detectives in this State, and, luckily for
us, knows the Coorong well. He was born in the south-east. I'll send
five other picked men with you, and a black tracker, and they'll be
ready in two hours. You'd better stop at Meningie to-night and start in
the Coorong directly morning breaks. You've a big business before you,
tackling those ninety-two miles, and----"--he shook his head
doubtfully--"I'm not certain you'll find anything, if, indeed, there's
anything to be found."




Chapter VII.


For the ensuing two days the search party worked energetically, but with
no success, along the Coorong track. Bad fortune met them at the very
onset of their quest. A strong southerly wind sprang up in the early
hours of the first morning, and, almost before light had come, sand was
masking over everything on the track. Wherever sand could gather, every
mark of every foot-fall and every wheel track was obliterated.

"There goes our greatest chance of marking any deviation from the
track," said Harker, the detective ruefully. "If they have wandered from
the track, we did at any rate stand some chance of finding from where
they started, before this blarmed wind came to cover everything up."

Harker, the man whom the Chief Commissioner had spoken of as knowing the
Coorong, was in charge of the expedition, and it annoyed young Barton
that the detective from the very first expressed himself as being in no
way sanguine as to the success of their search. Indeed, he seemed quite
sceptical about the whole business.

"You see, Mr. Barton," he said, "although I certainly agree, after our
inquiries on the spot last night in Meningie, that your uncle and his
friend probably never reached the township, still I cannot bring myself
to believe that they are now anywhere about the Coorong at all." He
shook his head emphatically. "No, I've been over the Coorong scores and
scores of times and, knowing it as I do, I can't possibly imagine how
anyone could have lost his way here. With the track running close along
the lake, you have only to keep alongside the water and you're bound to
go right."

"I know all that, as well as you do," replied young Barton sharply, "but
I know also that my uncle was seen definitely to enter the Coorong and
there is no evidence that he ever left it. Between here and Kingston
something happened to them, and I believe they are about the track
still. Everything points to it."

"Well," remarked the detective argumentatively, "they can't have run
into the lake, that's certain. There are no high, over-hanging banks
anywhere, and the water is shallow wherever they could possibly have
gone over, all the way along the sides. A car plunging in would be
stopped dead by the mud long before it could get into water deep enough
to be covered up from sight."

"I realise that," said Stanley. "It isn't on the lake side of the road
that we must look for them. It's on the other side away from the water
that they'll be."

The detective shrugged his shoulders. "And what chance do you think we
stand there?" he asked dubiously. "How shall we know where their car
first turned off the track into the sandhills or the Ninety-Mile Desert?
We must have a starting point, remember, and think what a desolate place
this is. Miles and miles of sandhills and behind them more sand, and
then miles and miles of uninhabited bush. How are we to search a
thousandth part of the place?--and yet, until every part is gone
through, the search will be incomplete and we may anywhere be missing
the car." He dropped his voice sympathetically. "I don't want for a
moment to discourage you, sir, but I'm afraid you're building too much
on the certainty of finding them if they are here, and I'm only pointing
out the difficulties that face us."

But if the detective had only known it, there was nothing of certainty
in young Barton's mind. He was in a state of great depression about
everything now, although he was obsessed every moment, as he had been
from the very first, that among the dark sandhills of the Coorong lay
the secret of his uncle's fate.

For the first day, travelling very slowly, the search party made their
way along the whole length of the Coorong, reaching Kingston only just
as night had fallen. It had been a very tiring day for all. In
accordance with a settled plan they had stopped continuously and had
searched diligently for any sign of a car having left the track.

But no success had in any way rewarded their efforts, and the farther
they proceeded the more apparent became the uncertainty of their quest.

As Harker had said, they had no definite starting point. If, for some
unexplainable reason, the big Jehu had been deliberately driven off away
from the track--then, until they were able to determine the exact point
from where the car had started upon its clandestine journey, it was
sheer madness to leave the track anywhere haphazard, on the million to
one chance that the missing trail could be picked up in a blindfold and
happy-go-lucky sort of way.

Young Barton had come to realise this fully before they had gone many
miles upon their journey, and, by the time they reached Kingston, he
frankly admitted to the detective that he was almost as pessimistic as
the former himself as to the ultimate result of the search.

"But still," he went on doggedly, "they must be here. You heard what we
were told at Meningie this morning--that night or day no car could pass
through the township without its being seen, and you heard them say over
and over again that no car came through after midnight on Thursday. Now
you'll hear what the people tell us at Kingston and then make of the two
stories what you can."

With the arrival of the party at the hotel of the Broken Bough, the
proprietor was put through a most searching cross-examination by the
detectives, but he was positive to the point of anger that Eli Barton
had gone on the Meningie road, and he laughed to scorn any idea that the
car could by any possibility have doubled back and returned towards
Melbourne in the night.

"Impossible," he said roughly. "Why, everyone sleeps outside on these
hot nights, and I and all the family are out on the front verandah here,
right over the road. Not even a dog could go by without some of us
hearing him, let alone a big Jehu car," and he snorted in disgust.

"Tell me, Mr. Helling," asked Harker presently, when for a moment he had
got the proprietor alone. "What do you make of this business? I tell you
honestly I didn't think much of it yesterday when we left the city, but
after what I've heard, first at Meningie and now here from you. I admit
I'm beginning to feel a bit puzzled. What could have happened to them,
do you think?"

The landlord regarded his questioner with troubled eyes. He looked round
to make sure that they were alone, and then put his mouth close near to
the detective's ear.

"I don't like it at all," he whispered, "but I haven't told young Barton
so. I believe some evil's happened to them. I had a long talk with the
Meningie people over the 'phone to-day. Menzies, the landlord there, is
a friend of mine and a very shrewd fellow. He'll stake his life the car
never reached Meningie, and upon my soul I believe him. He was out on
his front verandah, just like I was all night long, and he swears the
car couldn't possibly have gone by."

"Then what the devil has happened?" asked the detective with a
frown--"if they're still on the Coorong, where are they?"

The landlord shook his head. "I believe they're dead," he said
seriously. "I can think of nothing else."

"And why?" said the detective brusquely. "Who'd want to kill them?"




Chapter VIII.


When Detective Harker brusquely asked the landlord of the hotel at
Broken Bough who would want to kill Barton and Gover, the landlord
shrugged his shoulders.

"Eli Barton was a rich man," he said stubbornly, "and his habits were
well known. Anyone would guess he'd be carrying a bit of money with him,
and he'd be worth holding up, any night."

"But who was going to know, man," asked the detective sharply, "that
they would be taking the Coorong track, at night. You yourself told us
just now that they said they only made up their minds at midday on
Thursday."

"Yes," replied the landlord nodding his head, "I've thought of that
point right enough." He looked at the detective rather contemptuously.
"But who would know? Why lots of people might have known, of course. The
telephone people had been informed, and anyone in the bar here may have
heard me talking on the 'phone. Anyone, too, may have caught the message
at the other end at Meningie." He shook his head in scorn. "There are
always plenty of ears about when the telephone's being used, and someone
may have accidentally picked up the information and then got ready to
act on it at once." He shrugged his shoulders. "Yes, they've both
probably been murdered, and the Jehu's been driven off and hidden
somewhere in the sandhills or among the scrub. I hope to blazes I'm not
right, but I know I've never felt easy at any time when I've seen old
Barton going that way alone."

The two men continued to discuss the matter, and in the end the
landlord's misgiving undoubtedly in part communicated themselves to the
detective, for when the party left the township the next morning upon
their return journey he was most sympathetic in his attitude towards
young Barton.

* * *

The return search was conducted upon much the same lines as upon the
previous day, except that upon several occasions the party explored much
deeper among the sandhills.

But, as before, they met with no success at all, and darkness found
them, dispirited and disheartened, returning to Adelaide.

Hoping against hope, Stanley looked for news upon their arrival in the
city, but beyond the information that the mystery of his uncle's
disappearance was now public property, there was, unhappily, nothing to
record.

The next day the matter was the sole topic of conversation everywhere,
and the newspapers made every effort to ensure that their readers were
duly informed as to everything that was taking place.

There was no need, however, for secrecy, and, realising the help that
the Press might possibly give him, young Stanley made a candid avowal of
all the anxiety he was in.

In an interview with a representative of the Times of Adelaide he
explained exactly what had happened, and emphatically gave it as his
opinion that it seemed now only possible to explain his uncle's
disappearance by foul play.

The public were generally of the same opinion, too, and as day upon day
went by without any news coming to hand, uncomplimentary references were
made everywhere as to the capacity of the South Australian police.

Two men certainly, the public commented, might easily be murdered, and
their bodies hidden away. Dreadful as the idea was, yet that could be
readily understood in the knowledge of the sparsely inhabited condition
of many parts of South Australia, but for a motor car to get hidden, and
a huge, uncommon car like a Jehu at that--well, at any rate some
explanation was required there. A car had more or less all the time to
keep to roads and tracks, and surely something ought to have been
discovered when it was known fairly accurately where it had been last
seen.

The Commissioner of the Police swore under his breath, and wondered
angrily how many of his critics had been near the Coorong.

A Government aeroplane from Seaton Park was brought into requisition,
and for two days, at some little risk to the aviator, it cruised low
down, backwards and forwards, over the Ninety-Mile Desert, but nothing
eventuated, and no sign of the missing car was seen.

So was everything in complete darkness until the Saturday morning, and
then suddenly light came.

It came in a horrible and ghastly manner, and a shudder rippled through
the great Commonwealth of Australia.

The big Jehu car was found, with the dead body of Eli Barton in it, and
it was known that the old man had been murdered.

The discovery was made in this way:

Two young clerks from the Bank of Adelaide were holidaying in the
Coorong, and in a small boat had set out to sail down the whole length
of the lake. Taking things easily and amusing themselves by fishing as
they went along, they had pulled up the boat each evening and camped out
upon the sands.

The third day out from Goolwa, towards noon, they found themselves about
mid-way across the lake. And the wind suddenly dropping altogether,
rather than take to the oars in the oppressive heat, they decided to
land and explore among the sandhills on the chance of getting a rabbit
or two for the evening meal.

Accordingly, they pulled their boat well up and, taking their rifles
with them, set out upon a voyage of discovery.

Their progress was slow, for they soon tired in the heavy going. One
minute they would be in a deep gully and the next they would be toiling
laboriously up the slope of a miniature mountain, with their feet always
ankle deep in the yielding sand.

Presently they sat down to rest on the summit of one of the hummocks.

Suddenly, however, one of them rose interestedly to his feet. "Now,
what's that over there?" he asked quickly--"something bright that keeps
on catching the sun. On the other side of that gully, over to the left."

His companion looked in the direction indicated and then he, too, stood
up at once.

"Funny!" he ejaculated, "but it looks like the radiator of a motor car."
There was a moment's silence and then he burst out. "And, by Jove, I
believe it is." His voice rose to a delighted shout. "Come on, quick.
Here's something interesting at last."

All thoughts of their fatigue forgotten, they raced down the hummock
side and very quickly were within a few yards of the object that had
caught their eyes.

Then one of them clutched the other by the arm. "It's a car that's been
drifted over by the sand," he said hoarsely, his voice trembling, "and
there's somebody dead there, too."

They both halted, and, with frightened faces, stared into each other's
eyes.

A dreadful taint was borne towards them on the air.

"Eli Barton!" came an awed whisper. "The two missing men."

A moment's hesitation and they fearfully approached nearer. There was no
doubt about it. A big car lay in front of them, but three parts of it
were buried in the sand. Against the back and all one side the sand was
piled higher than the hood. The wheels and running boards were all
covered over, and even on the exposed side of the car only the very tops
of the mudguards were discernable.

Holding their breath, they peeped into the car, and then both, as with
one movement, darted back.

A man's leg was protruding from the sand that nearly filled the tonneau.

The faces of the two boys went chalk-white in horror and, under the
burning sun, they shivered. For the first time in their lives they were
in the presence of Death, and the dread majesty of it struck at them
like a blow.

"But why did they bring the car here?" whispered one. "And how did they
come to die? They must have gone mad or else"--his voice trailed away
almost to nothing--"or else, they were murdered."

For a minute neither of them spoke, and then the elder gathered his wits
together.

"Well, it's no good our touching anything," he said huskily. "We must go
and get help. We must get back to the boat."

Climbing breathlessly upon a high sandhill to get their bearings, they
debated in jerky sentences what they must do. That they must get in
touch with the police at once was the one idea in their minds, but the
difficulty was--how were they going to do it?

It was nearly forty long miles along the track to Meningie, and to
return to Goolwa along the lake, as they had come, would take the best
part of two days.

Then another idea seized them. They would wait where they were until
some motorist came along. The Melbourne--Adelaide track, they knew, ran
by the edge of the lake, and no car could pass by except within a few
yards of where their boat was drawn up. There was some risk, of course,
in waiting for anyone coming, but they reckoned that at that season of
the year someone would be sure to pass by long before the time when they
could reach Meningie on their own.

So, confident that they were doing the right thing, they put up their
tent, and proceeded to wait with what patience they could for help.

But it was a weary and trying afternoon that followed.

The heat got worse and worse, and, after a scrappy and unrelished meal,
discarding everything but their hats, they reclined in more or less
discomfort in the hot and shallow water at the edge of the lake. Towards
five o'clock, and just when they were beginning to despair of anyone
coming along that evening, to their almost frenzied delight they heard
the unmistakable chug-chug of a motor bicycle coming from the direction
of Kingston.

Hastily throwing on a few garments, with palpitating hearts they placed
themselves in the middle of the track so that by no chance could they
possibly be unseen.

* * *

A motor bicycle appeared round the bend and with one accord they waved
frantically for it to stop.

A moment's hesitation and the rider pulled up. He kept his distance
however. He was a tall, spare man, and he was heavily goggled.

"Well, what do you want?" he asked sharply. "What's up?"

"There's a motor car with a dead body in it," called out one of the
clerks, "just over in the sandhills here, and we think it's Mr. Eli
Barton. It's a Jehu car."

The man took off his goggles. He showed a keen alert face and he
frowned.

"What is it, you say," he asked, "a dead body? Where?"

The clerks told him and related shortly how they had chanced upon the
car. "But who are you?" asked the man brusquely.

"We are officers of the Bank of Adelaide," replied one of the clerks,
"and we are on holiday here. That is our boat there and we came along
the lake from Goolwa."

The stranger kicked the stand under his motor bicycle and proceeded
methodically to take off his gloves. He smiled pleasantly.

"Well, your luck's in for once, young men," he said, "for I happen
myself to be a doctor. Dr. Stark, of Meningie, at your service. Lead the
way and we'll soon see what your find is. About half a mile, you say?"




Chapter IX.


Walking quickly this time, in a few minutes they reached the derelict
car, and with none of the qualms that the young men had exhibited, the
doctor proceeded at once to make an investigation.

"Hum," he remarked, "quite right--a Jehu car and our friend inside has
been dead a good many days, I should say. Now, let's see a little more
of him. No, you needn't help. Keep away; I'm used to such things."

Quickly, but with great care, he scooped away the sand from inside the
tonneau and in a few seconds there came into view first the trunk and
then the head and face of the dead man.

"Whew!" whistled the doctor, "not pretty to look at certainly, and--ah!
a wound. A bullet wound or I'm much mistaken. A hole in the middle of
the forehead." He spoke very gravely. "This man was murdered, my lads,
and by all tokens, as you guessed, he's the missing Eli Barton." His
eyes searched quickly round. "But there were two of them lost, and
where's the other body." He shook his head. "But no; it's no good our
getting busy. We'll leave everything now to the police." He took out his
watch. "Nearly half-past five. Well, ten minutes back to my motor
bicycle and then, say an hour and three-quarters to get to Meningie. By
7.30 the police will have been notified in Adelaide, and by
midnight----" he shrugged his shoulders. "No, you mustn't expect them at
all to-night. The darkness would be no good to them, and so you'll have
to keep your vigil by yourselves until the morning. Go back to your
tent, boys, and don't think too much about this poor chap here.
To-morrow you'll be famous."

It was a troubled night then for the two young officers of the Bank of
Adelaide, and, when the scanty moon came up, to the fervid imagination
of youth the silvered sands of the Coorong were peopled everywhere with
ghosts of the murdered dead.

Hour after hour the boys sat huddled and dry-eyed in their tent, and it
was not until dawn was almost breaking that they sank into a fitful
sleep. Then, hardly had they closed their eyes, it seemed, when they
were awakened by the roar of a big motor car, and two minutes later big,
burly police officers were questioning them before their tent.

Three cars in all arrived, the last one being driven by a white-faced
young man, whom they learned later was the nephew of Eli Barton.

Then followed a hurried procession through the sandhills, a silent
grouping round the derelict car, and a few words whispered as some of
them looked inside.

Then a cry of fury came, a cry of dreadful anger that ended in a sob.

Stanley Barton had identified his uncle, and the murder of the old man
was established without doubt.

* * *

Two days later and all that was known as to the murder of Eli Barton was
made public, and in the subsequent twenty-four hours the Commonwealth
generally was treated to a perfect orgy of sensationalism.

Not only was everything told of the finding of the car and the body, but
the authorities made no secret either of their opinion as to what had
become of the other missing man.

The latter had been murdered, too, they were quite sure, but they were
frankly puzzled, they admitted, at not finding any trace of the body.
They never gave a moment's credence, however, to the idea that sprang at
once to many minds that it was Sam Gover who had murdered his friend and
was now in consequence hiding himself away.

Apart from the great improbability of Sam Gover having suddenly gone out
of his mind and shot his friend--and that would be the only explanation
for his taking on the role of murderer--there were other things that
stood out sharply to negative entirely the entertainment of any such
idea.

To begin with, Sam Gover was an old man and built rather on a small
scale, whereas Eli Barton was big and heavy, and weighed over fifteen
stone. It was quite impossible, therefore, the police considered, for
any but a very strong man to have lifted the body of Eli Barton and
deposited it in the position in which it was found upon the floor of the
car. It had been thrown into the tonneau head downward, and with such
violence that one of the fittings of the foot-rest had deeply indented
the top of the skull. Also, there was one very significant thing to be
noticed upon the back cushion of the car. There was evidence of much
more blood there than could be accounted for by the presence of the body
of Eli Barton on the floor of the tonneau.

The medical evidence was that Eli Barton had been killed by a revolver
bullet of large calibre, that he had died instantly, and that from the
very manner of his death there would have been very little haemorrhage
from the wound. The heart would have ceased functioning instantly, and
there would have been no great gush of blood from the ruptured vessels
of the brain.

But upon the back cushions had been found quite a quantity of blood,
proving that a wounded and not a dead man had been lying there. Also
there were blood-stains across the top of the door-side, as if a
bleeding body had been dragged over it.

So the idea of Sam Gover having any complicity in the murder of his
friend had never been entertained, and strenuous efforts had been made
to discover a second body in the vicinity if the derelict car.

A whole army of detectives had been rushed down to the Coorong and,
working with the energy of a pack of hounds, they had dug and probed in
every likely-looking place within several hundred yards of the car.

But nothing had eventuated, and in due time they had been all withdrawn
back to the city and the Coorong left as lonely and as silent as before.

The tragedy, however, still continued to occasion tremendous sensation,
the uppermost feeling being everywhere one of intense indignation that
such a ghastly crime should have been committed and the perpetrator
allowed to get clear away.

On the fourth day, following upon the discovery of the body of Eli
Barton, the special Commissioner of the Times of Adelaide, returning
from a tour of investigation in the Coorong, gave it reluctantly as his
opinion that, in all human probability, the perpetrators of the murder
would now never be discovered. They had had too long a time of immunity,
he considered, and everything had been in their favour to enable them to
cover up their traces and escape.

He doubted also that the body of Eli Barton's companion would ever be
found either.

He pointed out the vastness of the wilderness of the Coorong, and he
dwelt forcibly on the silence and loneliness of these great waste spaces
that might hide, untroubled, a thousand guilty secrets and, like the
shark-infested seas of Australasia, never give up their dead.

* * *

The article in the Times of Adelaide made a great impression, but within
twenty-four hours of its appearance one part, at least, of the
Commissioner's prophecy was proved to be untrue.

Sam Gover was produced alive and very much in the flesh.

The first intimation, strangely enough, came from Mr. James Dice, the
owner of Black Wolf. He 'phoned up to the Adelaide police, from his
sheep station, Mundulla, about fifteen miles distant from Meningie.

Six days before, one of his boundary riders, he told them, had come
across a man wandering in the bush. The man was in the last stages of
exhaustion and, almost delirious, could give no account of himself. He
was on the verge of starvation, and was suffering also from injuries to
his side and right arm.

The boundary rider had carried the man to his hut, and so serious had
been the latter's condition that for a while he had been afraid to leave
him and make for the station to obtain help.

Ultimately, however, the man had been brought in a waggon to the
station, and with due care and attention he had revived and been enabled
to tell his story.

To everyone's amazement he had then made himself known as Sam Gover, the
companion of the ill-starred Eli Barton, and ample proof was immediately
to hand that he was speaking the truth.

Again there was a lightning exodus of the heads of the police to
Meningie, and then, there being as before no occasion for secrecy,
Gover's story was very quickly made known. And an extraordinary and
almost incredible one at first it was.

Eli Barton had been held up and murdered in a style and manner in every
way reminiscent of the wild days of the early sixties.

Sam Gover had seen him shot down before his very eyes, and he himself
had been wounded twice, experiencing, the latter time, an almost
miraculous escape from death.

Without the slightest doubt whatever, the two travellers had fallen into
a carefully prepared and arranged ambush.

They had left Kingston, Sam Gover said, on the Thursday evening, and for
a while everything had gone well. The night had been terribly hot, and
not a breath of air had been stirring anywhere. Just as they were
passing the twelfth milestone he remembered he was almost on the point
of dropping to sleep, and after that nothing more seemed to happen until
he had been suddenly awakened by the abrupt stopping of the car.

Eli Barton had pulled up because there had suddenly appeared on the road
in front of them a man waving a light.

Approaching the car, the man had called out that there had been an
accident just round the near hummock of sand, and he had warned them not
to bring their own car any farther because the track was blocked.

At once Eli Barton and he had got out of the car and, following the man
with the light, they had hurried towards the spot where the supposed
accident had taken place.

There, to their surprise, they had seen no sign of any accident at all.
The place was not blocked, and there was only one car, standing back off
the track and away in the shadows.

They had at once become suspicious that something was wrong, and Eli
Barton had tried to seize hold of the man who had waved the light. But
the man had dropped his lantern and dashed away, and a second later Eli
Barton himself had been shot down by some one who was firing from behind
the stationary car.

Realising instantly the murderous nature of the attack that was being
launched against them, Sam Gover had drawn his automatic and had
succeeded, he was sure, in at least wounding one of their assailants.

Then he had thrown himself prone upon the sand to make as small a mark
as possible for the man with the revolver behind the car, but the latter
had suddenly switched on the car lights, and, exposed in the glare, Sam
Gover had speedily been hit twice.

The first time a bullet had passed through the fleshy part of his right
arm, and the second time he had been struck in the side. The second
bullet, however, had almost missed him, but it had ploughed a furrow
about four inches in length in his thigh and had occasioned considerable
loss of blood.

All he remembered then was falling on his back, with everything fading
away.




Chapter X.


Sam Gover told the police that he had no idea how long it was before he
became conscious again, but he dimly remembered being carried somewhere
in a car and then being flung out violently on to the sand.

When he seemed to wake up fully again the sun was high in the sky and,
everything coming back to him, he had tried to find his way on to the
road. But he was hopelessly lost, and, all efforts to find it proving
futile for three days and nights he had wandered despairingly in the
bush with death facing him nearer and nearer every hour.

Then, just when he was finally giving up all hope, he had been found by
the boundary-rider of Mr. Dice and in great suffering from his thirst
and his wounds, had lost consciousness again.

Such was his story, and there was no doubt, from the subsequent medical
examination, that, as with the murdered Eli Barton, his injuries had
been occasioned by a revolver bullet of large size.

Questioned as to what the men who had attacked him were like, although
he had a lively recollection of everything that had taken place as long
as he was conscious, unhappily he could throw very little light indeed
upon the personalities of their assailants.

About the man who had been firing with the revolver he could say
absolutely nothing at all, for he had never once caught a glimpse of
him. About the other man, however, the man with the lantern who had
acted as the decoy, he could certainly give a little more information.
He described him as being thin and rather small and spare; also the man
had seemed hesitating in his manner and slow of speech. Of the facial
appearance, however, he could say nothing.

The revelations of Sam Gover created something almost like consternation
in not a few parts of South Australia. There was on all sides an uneasy
feeling that the ambush and the murder were the work of a criminal gang,
and people in lonely and outlying parts of the State began to ask
themselves how soon it would be before their turn to be attacked became
due.

They asked one another, too, what the police were doing to discover the
murderers, and they gave it as their opinion that the matter was too
complicated and too involved for the Adelaide authorities alone. The
Commonwealth, generally, should be consulted, they insisted, and help
obtained from the Melbourne and Sydney police.

* * *

And then the obsession began suddenly to get about everywhere that one
man in particular should be called in, namely Larose, the great
detective of New South Wales.

Larose, it was declared, was the man to solve the mystery. Larose had
never been beaten yet. He was a master of every trick of the underworld,
and a very prince among the trackers of crime.

But, unhappily, it appeared, the services of Larose were not available,
for barely a month previously, following upon a disagreement with a high
official, he had severed all connection with the police.

The public were greatly disappointed, for, with his many successes
behind him, Gilbert Larose was in their eyes almost a hero of romance.

A man still under thirty, he was by far the greatest detective that the
Commonwealth had ever known, and his personality was undeniably a most
unusual and interesting one. Considered generally to be almost a genius
in his particular calling, upon first sight, however, in appearance he
seemed quite conventional, and, indeed, almost commonplace. He was just
a simple, merry-hearted fellow to look at, with a happy boyish face, and
with eyes bright like a bird's. He might easily have been mistaken
anywhere for an ordinary every-day clerk, working in some office, or a
young fellow serving, perhaps, behind the counter of some shop, and it
needed a keen judge of character to discern the great forces that lay
behind the very ordinary, though pleasing, exterior.

It was no exaggeration to say that his intellect was one of the most
subtle kind, and in addition he was well educated, of wide knowledge,
and of a most profound imagination. In his ideas he was a poet, an
artist, and a dreamer--in fact, he was almost the last man one would
have associated in any way with crime, yet crime in all its phases was
the study and obsession of his life.

He studied criminals as another would study venomous reptiles. They were
his hobby as well as his profession. He collected them, so to speak, and
when he had got them cased, and had withdrawn their poison fangs, it
became almost a grief to him that the law should snatch them away.

Tireless in his pursuit of them, he had almost an affection for those
who had occasioned him the most trouble, and he was never spiteful or
bitter when the throw of the cards went against him.

Neglectful of nothing that would help him in the pursuit of his
profession, he was a mighty master in the art of disguise, and, given a
case to follow up, while never for one second leaving the trail, he
would seem nevertheless sometimes to fade completely away from it, as
if, in fact, he had turned the whole thing up.

For weeks or months, perhaps, he would be unheard of and unseen, and
then he would appear suddenly, and some astonished malefactor would find
himself laid by the heels, through the disclosures, perhaps, of his
bosom friend, or of the very man he had trusted most.

It was said that his disguises were impenetrable, and that once he had
actually served unrecognised part of a term of imprisonment, rather than
disclose his identity to the authorities, at a particularly critical
moment.

A man of originality, he held very unorthodox views as to crime
generally, and views that were not always approved by those in high
places.

Crime, he insisted, was the natural instinct of all mankind, and
everyone, he averred, was criminally inclined.

It was just natural for man to take what he wanted, and it was fear or
custom only that kept everyone within the law.

All criminals he divided into two classes--those who broke the law
because they were weak, and those who broke it because they were strong,
and he argued that once he was brought in contact with a suspect it was
always possible to surmise as to his probable guilt or innocence very
quickly.

"Pooh!" he would say, "that man is no thief. He hasn't got the right
atmosphere about him to steal. He is too conventional," and he would
forthwith dismiss him from his inquiries, as if he did not exist.

"Now that fellow," he would say another time, "is worth watching. He is
a capable, resourceful man, and chin and forehead both show that he
possesses courage and brains enough to pit himself successfully against
the law."

He was held in great respect by the criminal classes, and several times
attempts had been made to bring him to a violent end. He had had many
hair's-breadth escapes from death, but he was a dead shot with an
automatic, and hitherto had been always found with the trump card.

Such then was the man whom the public were now deciding was the only one
in the Commonwealth capable of handling the Eli Barton case, and it was
not the public only who were anxious for him to be called in.

Sam Gover and young Stanley Barton were both just as insistent, too,
that he should be the man of the hour.

Sam Gover was still an honoured if, at the same time, a rather reluctant
guest at the station of James Dice. Young Stanley Barton was also a
guest there, but it must be admitted at once that there was no
reluctance at all about his stay. He was more than ordinarily interested
in Dice's niece, pretty Margaret Bevan, and as far as he was concerned
there was no anxiety that their visit should come to an end.

For a fortnight Sam Gover was much too ill to be moved, and James Dice
was kindness itself in his consideration for the invalid. A great
friendship had sprung up between the two. James Dice was all pity and
compassion for the terrible ordeal the other had been through, and Sam
Gover, apart from the natural gratitude that he felt for the care that
was being given him, had come to admire greatly the fine and
self-reliant character of the owner of Black Wolf.

"I'm glad, man," he said to him one day, "that some decent chap at any
rate got something good out of all the ghastly business."

James Dice smiled his easy, pleasant smile. "Well, it was luck for me
there at any rate, my friend, wasn't it? As Tom Sellick said, I
shouldn't have stood much chance with the great Abimeleck in the way,
should I?"

Sam Gover was much longer than he should have been in getting well, but,
as Dr. Stark told him bluntly, he retarded his convalescence not a
little by grieving so continually over the failure of the police to
uncover any traces of the man who had killed his friend.

"I can't help it, doctor," the old man replied. "I can't get out of my
mind the way poor old Eli died." He ground his teeth savagely together.
"The very moment I'm off this bed I'll hustle things up. I'll spend
every penny I've got to find the devil who killed him. What are the
police doing? I tell you they should call in Larose. He is the only man
with the brains to discover the murderers."

And young Stanley Barton, with all his interest in pretty Margaret, was
just of the same opinion.

* * *

At length Sam Gover was well enough to be brought to Adelaide, and his
arrival there reanimated again all the interest in the dead Eli Barton.

The public were exasperated more than ever that nothing had yet been
discovered, and one began to hear everywhere again the question--"Where
is Larose?"

The man in the street asked it; the people in the hotels asked it; they
asked about it in private homes. The City magnates discussed it
frowningly over their coffee in the luncheon hour; in the shops and
warehouses it seemed almost for the moment the sole topic of
conversation, and the very police themselves whispered about it when
their superiors were not near.

The Press in no uncertain tones voiced the matter, too, but it was given
to the Times of Adelaide first to take the matter up openly in the way
the public wished.

Three days after Sam Gover's arrival in the City, it surprised its
readers with the announcement, in big type upon the front page, that on
its own initiative it was sending for Larose and that, in the public
interest, it was prepared to pay any fee that the great detective might
demand for his services.

A delightful chorus of approval went up everywhere, and the answer to
the telegram that the Times had dispatched to Sydney was awaited with
intense eagerness by the good citizens of the beautiful city of the
plains.

But the Times of Adelaide was mistaken in imagining that it had been the
first in the field.

Sam Gover and Stanley Barton themselves had already sent for Larose,
offering to pay all his expenses, and the handsome consideration of a
thousand guineas in addition, if he were successful in discovering the
murderers. They had sent off their letter two days before the
announcement by the Times of Adelaide, and the very morning when that
journal made its intention known they were hoping to receive a reply at
any minute.

But no reply came to them on that day or the next. Nor was the Times of
Adelaide able to announce to its readers that the services of the great
detective had been obtained on their behalf.

A chilling and disappointing silence reigned in both quarters.




Chapter XI.


But the matter was certainly not going to be allowed to rest there, and
on the third day urgent telegrams were dispatched again to Larose.

Again, however, no replies were forthcoming, and those behind the scenes
began to believe that the correct address of Larose could not have been
obtained and that in all likelihood he must have left the Commonwealth.

But on the fourth morning the silence was broken suddenly, and it was
apparent at once that all the communications had reached Larose.

To the Times of Adelaide he wired: "Offer declined with thanks. Refuse
definitely to have anything to do with case. Have retired.--Larose."

His telegram to Sam Gover and Stanley Barton was much the same, only
couched perhaps in a little less peremptory tone:

"Greatly regret unable to help. Am declining all private
investigations.--Larose."

Almost a groan of dismay went up in Adelaide when the contents of the
telegram became known, and the detective attracted not a little censure,
and in some places actual abuse.

Sam Gover and young Barton were bitterly disappointed. They had built so
much upon obtaining the help of Larose, and his abrupt refusal struck at
them both, and at the elder man especially, as a cruel and unexpected
blow.

They seemed now to be facing a blank wall, and what their next step was
going to be neither of them could in any way determine.

On the evening of the day when the news of Larose's definite refusal had
been published in the Times and adversely commented upon all over the
city, they were sitting despondently in a private room upon the first
floor of the Australasian Hotel.

They were not speaking, and the elder man was considering for perhaps
the hundredth time the telegram received that morning from the
detective.

"Damn him!" he muttered bitterly. "Instinct tells me he would have found
out everything, if he had only come."

There was a sudden knock upon the door, and in response to Sam Gover's
"Come in!" one of the hall porters entered the room.

"A man to see you, sir," he announced. "He says he's come from the
garage about your car."

"Oh, tell him I'm busy," replied Sam Gover irritably. "Ask him to come
another time."

"Very well, sir," replied the porter, at once retiring from the room.

He was back again, however, almost immediately.

"He tells me it's very important he should see you, sir," he said
apologetically. "It's something about the repairs to the car, and they
can do nothing until you've been spoken to. He's brought a note."

Sam Gover frowned angrily.

"What the devil's up now?" he asked. "There's nothing wrong with our
car. It must be some mistake. It's not us he wants."

"He gives your name, sir, and Mr. Stanley Barton's, too. He says it's
very urgent, if you want the car tomorrow."

Sam Gover looked at young Barton, but the latter shook his head.

"I know nothing about it," he remarked, "but perhaps we had better see
him and find out what he means."

The porter went out again, and a minute later the insistent caller was
admitted into the room. He was a rather oily-looking individual, with a
black smutted face, and a mop of dark, greasy hair.

He stood respectfully twiddling a very dirty cap in a pair of even
dirtier hands.

"Well," asked Sam Gover, sharply. "What is it you want? What's this
about our car?"

But the man seemed to be in no hurry at all. He slowly produced a
crumpled-looking envelope from his pocket and handed it solemnly across
the table.

"Read that, sir," he said gruffly. "It tells you all about it."

The porter, seeing he was not needed, retired quietly, closing the door
behind him.

The man with the letter looked round, as if to see that the door were
shut.

Still frowning, Sam Gover opened the envelope. In it there was a small,
twice-folded piece of paper. He unfolded it hesitatingly as if for some
unexplainable kind of reason he were expecting a hoax. There were just a
few words on the paper, lightly scrawled in pencil.

"It is vital," he read, "that no one should know I am here."

Twice Sam Gover went through the message, and then without a word, but
with a gesture of resigned annoyance, pushed the paper across the table
to young Stanley, who was sitting at the other end. He knew his nerves
were not in good order, and he would not trust himself to speak.

Evincing but very little interest, Stanley Barton picked up the paper
and let his eyes fall casually upon the words that were written there.
"It is vital that no one should know I am here."

For a moment it appeared that, like Sam Gover, he failed to make any
meaning out of the words, and then a startled and almost incredulous
expression crossed his face. His mouth hardened and his eyes grew set
and stern. He rose abruptly from his chair and faced their visitor.

"Who are you?" he asked sharply. "Remember we are not children here."

The man from the motor garage smiled a pleasant easy smile. He passed
one hand carelessly up to his face, and then with a quick movement he
jerked off a greasy wig and deposited it upon the table. He straightened
himself up. His eyes took on a different expression, and his features
seemed to alter and lengthen out. He spoke and his voice was quiet and
gentle.

"I'm Larose," he answered simply. "Gilbert Larose."

For a moment there was a hushed and breathless silence in the room, and
then, before either Sam Gover or Young Barton could recover from their
astonishment, Larose picked up his wig again and carefully readjusted it
upon his head.

"We can't afford to take any chances," he said quietly, "and I don't
want to be recognised if any one should come in. Now, Mr. Gover," he
went on briskly, "will you be well enough to take another motor journey,
say, about the middle of next week? I shall want Mr. Barton here to
drive the car."

But Sam Gover did not answer for a moment. He was looking fixedly at the
detective, and he had all the appearance of a man who had had to pull
himself suddenly together. He was frowning angrily and there was more
than a trace of resentment in his eyes.

"You say you are Larose," he asked very slowly, at length. He leant back
and continued dryly, "How do we know it, pray?"

"Good," replied the detective admiringly. "We shall get on capitally
together, you and I. A most proper question to ask." He paused for a
moment. "How are you to know I am Larose?" He shrugged his shoulders.
"Well, I certainly carry no cards on me, and every stitch of clothing I
have on is marked J. Bunting." His face broke into a smile. "I think I
may be able to convince you, however. Listen. Your names are
Samuel--Andrew Gover. You are sixty-three years of age, and you were
born in Glasgow. You came out to Australia when you were fifteen years
of age. Just before you were thirty you went to the United States. You
are an engineer by profession, but your interests now are wholly
commercial. Your home is in New York City. You are chairman of the Bonzo
Oil Company, managing director of Hespers Ltd., and on the board of the
South West Grain Trust. You are over here on holiday, and you arrived in
Sydney on December the 3rd. You came over on the Nerbudda, and your
cabin number was 26. You gave 10 to the chief steward on leaving the
boat, 5 to your table steward, and 5 to the bath steward. Your chief
associates on the voyage over were Colonel Mackinnon, of Brisbane, Mr.
Harold Notley, of Broken Hill, and a Mrs. Selwyn Fleming. The day after
your arrival in Sydney you took the lady to the Grand Theatre to see
Passing Pain; the next day you sent her a basket of flowers from
Villier's, the florist, and the day following----"

"All right, all right," broke in Sam Gover, looking rather
uncomfortable. "I believe you are Larose all right, but why the deuce
you've taken all this trouble about me I don't pretend to understand." A
rather sly expression crossed the old man's face. "I suppose you know
all, too, about Mr. Barton here, and everything he's done since he was a
boy."

"At 9.25 this morning," replied the detective monotonously, and as if he
were repeating a lesson, "Mr. Stanley Barton left this hotel. He
proceeded at once to Harrups' confectionery store and purchased there a
large box of----"

"Thank you, thank you," interrupted young Barton hurriedly, and looking,
in his turn, a trifle red, "but I don't need any more of that. I know
you're Gilbert Larose. I recognise you from the photos I've seen in the
newspapers. So you needn't trouble any more on that score." He went on
quickly, "Was it at your instigation then that those telegrams were sent
saying you couldn't come?"

"Yes, I arranged for them," he replied coolly. "There are particular
reasons why I wish that no one should know I am on the case, and I am
looking, too, to you gentlemen to keep faith with me there." He dropped
his voice to a whisper, and it became very stern. "Not a soul must
know--not even your greatest friends." He looked intently at young
Barton. "Mind, no man, nor woman neither."

"All right," said Stanley coldly, "we quite understand. Now go ahead."

Larose appeared satisfied. He took out a battered gun-metal watch. "I
allowed myself ten minutes here," he remarked, "and eight of them are
already gone. Any longer might perhaps look suspicious."

He turned to Sam Gover, "Well, sir," he went on, "are you well enough to
motor again, say one day next week?"

"Quite well enough," replied the old man sturdily. "It's only doing
nothing that makes me feel bad now."

"All right then," said the detective. "Now please listen carefully to
what I'm going to say. You'll have to help me a lot in this business,
but I don't want to ask you any questions now. I know everything that's
been made public so far. I've been interested in the case from the
beginning. Another time, I want to hear all your story from your own
lips, and I want you also to take me over the place where everything
occurred." He paused for a moment as if to think, and then went on
rapidly. "Now this is what I want you to do. Remain here at this hotel
until I send for you. Never go far away. Be ready to leave at any time
at a moment's notice. I shall want you to meet me somewhere, but I don't
exactly know where yet. At any rate it will be a good many miles from
Adelaide, and you must come there in a hired car. I don't want your own
to be recognised. No one must know where you are going, and up to the
last minute your going away must not be disclosed." His voice dropped
into a stern, hard whisper, "You understand, no one must know--no
one----"

There was a knock upon the door, and the porter appeared again.

"Mr. Dice and a lady to see you, sir," he said addressing Sam Gover.
"Shall I show them in?"

The old man received a lightning glance from Larose, and the latter at
once nodded his head.

"All right, sir," came gruffly from the motor mechanic, as if he had
just received some orders. "It shall be done exactly as you say," and he
made as if he were about to leave the room.

But the porter had gone off to show up the visitors, and it was Larose
in his own person who turned to issue his final orders.

"Now mind," he hissed sharply, and almost as if he was addressing his
subordinates, "not a word, not a whisper to anyone that you have seen me
or are going to meet me. If it gets out, I tell you quite half my
chances are taken away. Remember--quite half."

Footsteps were heard in the corridor, and instantly the imperious
detective was merged back into the obsequious workman.

The door opened, and it was Margaret Bevan who entered first. She
blushed prettily when she saw young Barton. Mr. James Dice came in
looking spruce and trim. He was advancing to Sam Gover, when the motor
mechanic caught his eye. The owner of Black Wolf glanced casually at him
for just one second, and then perhaps for a fraction of another second
looked back again.

"H'm," muttered the detective, as he edged out of the room and closed
the door behind him, "so that's Mr. James Dice is it? So far the only
person that we know of who made anything out of this business." He shook
his head thoughtfully as he went down the stairs. "No--it's too easy to
be true. Still--still, why did he look at me twice?" The expression on
the detective's face was a thoughtful one, but a couple of minutes later
he was walking up the street as if, for him at any rate, there was not a
care nor a mystery in all the world.




Chapter XII.


On the Monday week following upon their brief interview with Larose, in
the very early morning, Sam Gover and young Barton left the Australasian
Hotel. Acting under the instructions they had received, they had
informed no one of their intended departure, and up to within a few
minutes of their going no one in the hotel was aware of it.

Carrying only a hand valise each, they made their way to a distant
garage, and a few minutes later were driving away in a hired car from
the city. Their destination was to be the town of Goolwa, about 60 miles
away.

Sam Gover was excited and hopeful but young Barton was pensive and
rather sad. The old man was quite certain now that everything would go
well. He had unbounded faith in Larose, and the masterful way in which
the detective had taken possession of everything and issued his orders
was balm and comfort to the big business man, who all his life long had
commanded others and understood the satisfying content, whatever might
eventuate, of serving under a decisive master mind.

But Stanley was thinking of the pretty Margaret. She and her uncle were
still in Adelaide, and he had promised himself a continuance of some
delightful adventures with the girl before she returned home. Now, he
had had to tear himself suddenly away and, worse still, he had not been
able even to tell her that he was going. What would she be thinking of
him, he wondered, and why on earth hadn't he been able to give her an
inkling of what was happening?

But Sam Gover had been adamant in that respect, although he himself had
had to exercise a lot of self-restraint in not mentioning anything at
all to his new friend, James Dice.

He had, however, given his word to Larose and with that, for him, the
matter ended, though he held privately to the opinion that, knowing the
whole Coorong district as he did, James Dice should have been the very
man of all others to be called in and consulted as to the best method of
their quest.

They made for Goolwa in a very round-about way, and, as instructed, did
not arrive at the Bush hotel until a few minutes before six o'clock in
the evening.

Putting up their car in the garage, they proceeded into the office to
engage rooms. They found then, however, to their great dismay, it being
in the height of the summer season, the hotel was full, and no rooms
were for the moment available. Sam Gover was almost apoplectic in his
disappointment, and strenuously insisted that accommodation must be
found for them somewhere. The young woman in the office, however,
reiterated that it was quite impossible, but the head waiter, happening
to pass at that moment, quickly took in the situation and a short
whispered colloquy took place between the two. The engagement book of
the hotel was produced and gone through.

Then to the great relief of the travellers, and not a little to their
surprise, too, the girl suddenly became all smiles, and thought she
could just manage it. The waiter bowed deferentially, a smart
chambermaid was at once summoned, and very quickly Sam Gover and young
Barton were being shown into a large and well-appointed room upon the
ground floor.

"Good man, that waiter," enunciated old Gover, when they were alone.
"He's got the sense to see we're people worth looking after, and he
shall have a good tip for it when we go. I always like to deal with
folks who use their brains. It was certainly lucky for us though that he
came upon the scene just when he did."

A few minutes later at dinner, too, their good luck seemed certainly to
be continuing. Although the dining saloon was packed, they were provided
with two of the best seats, just under an electric fan, and at the cool
end of the room. Their friend, the head-waiter, also kept a solicitous
eye upon them the whole time, and saw to it that the small army of
menials under him provided them quickly with everything they wanted.

He was so attentive that Sam Gover soon became quite enthusiastic about
him, but really it was no more than the man deserved, for there was no
doubt about his being a most efficient head-waiter. Even the most
unobservant visitor to the hotel could not have failed to be impressed
with the way he carried out his duties. He was here, there and
everywhere at the same time, and his attention was seemingly focussed on
each individual person, in their own particular turns. He had an eye for
everything. Was there a fork missing, and he noticed it. Was the cruet
not handy--and he was there to put it in his place. Had anyone not been
asked if they would be taking wine, and he seemed to know it.
Altogether, he was like a great strategist making sure that no single
item of the dinner campaign should miscarry or go wrong.

There were between fifty and sixty other diners, and, with the edge off
his appetite, Sam Gover began to take stock of them.

"I don't see anyone here like Larose," he whispered presently, "but from
what he wrote I hardly think he'll be here for a day or two, and then I
expect he'll turn up in some new disguise."

"Most probably he will," sniffed Stanley Barton, who was thinking of
Margaret Bevan, and objected to his thoughts being interrupted. "Our
good friend, Larose, has certainly always had the reputation of being
gifted with strong histrionic talent, and no doubt, in due course, he
will spring upon us another surprise. Perhaps even now he is watching us
somewhere from another table." A dry smile crossed the young man's face.
"Perhaps he's that big, fat woman opposite us," he whispered. "I notice
she keeps on looking at you."

"Don't be ridiculous, Stanley," frowned old Gover, "you're only annoyed
because--because----" he hesitated, and then smiled in his
turn--"because I've dragged you away from the City. Bless your heart, my
boy, I was your age once."

Stanley laughed good-naturedly. "Yes, and by Jove from what Larose told
us you're by no means old yet. What about that affair of yours on the
boat? What about those----"

"Coffee, sir?" broke in a voice at his elbow, and he turned to find the
headwaiter standing deferentially behind.

Sam Gover frowned a warning glance, and the two friends subsided into
silence. When they spoke again it was about the weather.

* * *

For nearly a week the two remained at the Bush Hotel and, although they
were most impatient for the coming of Larose, time, nevertheless, did
not hang heavy on their hands.

Situated as Goolwa is, near the mouth of the great Murray River and
handy to the entrance of the Coorong, there is always plenty of life and
interest there in the summer time. The township becomes the Mecca of the
boating and the yachting world, and a good number of motor-boat folk are
always to be found there.

At the suggestion of the head-waiter, who took a most respectful
interest in the two friends, Sam Gover had requisitioned a small
motor-boat himself, and daily excursions were made up the Murray and
along the great lake of the Coorong.

The holidays and rest were obviously doing the old man a lot of good,
and young Stanley, too, would have been almost happy except for thinking
of the absent Margaret.

Still, neither of them could forget the purpose that had brought them to
Goolwa and, as day after day went by and neither sign nor sound came to
them of Larose, they began at last to chafe at the delay and wonder what
could have happened.

"I don't understand it," said old Gover mournfully on the morning of the
sixth day as they were going in to breakfast, "and I hope to goodness no
illness has come upon the man. The worst of it is we are cut off from
everything and can't communicate with him. Larose seems to have made a
mistake there."

They sat down to their table, and, as was his custom, the head-waiter at
once glided up to take their orders.

"Fish, sir?" he asked Sam Gover. "The Murray cod is excellent this
morning."

Old Gover nodded his head. "You're quite a prince of waiters, Fenton,"
he remarked, smilingly, "and I shall be really sorry when you're not
near to tell me what to have. Indeed I'm half inclined to steal you away
from the hotel, when we leave."

The man smiled back as if pleased with the compliment, but there was not
the slightest trace of familiarity about his appreciation, and he moved
quickly away to continue unconcernedly his other duties.

The two friends dawdled over their breakfast, and most of the other
guests had already disappeared from the room when they, in turn, rose
from the table.

Immediately then the head-waiter again glided up and, with a low bow,
presented a paper on a salver to Sam Gover.

"What's this?" asked the old man in some surprise.

"Your bill, sir," replied the waiter quietly. "You'll be leaving this
afternoon after lunch."

"Leaving!" ejaculated Sam Gover. "What the devil----"

But the words died suddenly upon his lips, and he drew in a deep breath.
The waiter was looking at him fixedly and intently, and there was no
appearance now of servility on his face.

"Take up your bill," he said, very sternly. "You'll find a note
underneath it. I'm Larose, Gilbert Larose."




Chapter XIII.


Sam Gover gasped in amazement, and young Barton set his face hard to
conceal his surprise. With hands that shook, the old man picked up the
bill and the folded paper underneath. Then, upon a sign from Larose, he
put both into his pocket.

The detective moved off, and it was the obsequious waiter again who was
attending to the wants of a young couple at an adjoining table.

Two minutes later and, secure in their rooms, Sam Gover and young Barton
breathlessly opened the letter.

"I am sorry you have been kept in the dark," they read, "but it was best
for the end we have in view. I will explain later. I have a billet here
for a month, but I have got a day off from this afternoon. I want to go
up the Coorong with you tonight. The conditions will be just right. Take
the motor boat and get in some provisions. Leave the landing-stage
exactly at three o'clock, and pick me up about a mile down. If anybody
asks where you are going, say up towards Murray Bridge. You can return
to the City to-morrow afternoon."

"Well I'm darned!" explained Sam Gover enthusiastically. "Nothing will
surprise me now. Not even if Larose turns out to be one of the beggars
who held us up."

* * *

"Yes," said Larose that afternoon when their little motor boat was
rapidly 'chug-chugging; along the Coorong, "I saw they were advertising
for a head waiter at the Bush Hotel, and I applied for the post and got
it. I was afraid at first there might have been a little difficulty
about a reference upon such short notice, but"--and here he coughed
modestly behind his hand--"a little visit to the writing room in the
Australasian Hotel and the difficulty was soon got over. Most people,"
he went on meditatively, "are surprisingly unsuspicious until their
suspicions are in the first instance aroused, and that is what,
unfortunately, makes roguery profitable and so easy. How did I know
about waiting?" He laughed as if in great amusement, to himself. "Why,
bless you, I've been affiliated for years to the Sydney Waiters' Union,
and I can tell you I've found it very useful sometimes. People often
talk most openly before waiters, even the most reserved people, too, and
in my work I've picked up many a good piece of information when handing
round the dishes and the plates. This week, for instance, I've learnt
several things that may be useful and help us on. One thing in
particular was interesting." He looked curiously from one to the other
of his companions. "Did you know the local folks at Meningie and
Kingston have established a sort of patrol over the Coorong? At least,
whenever a car passes through either township to take the track, its
number is secretly noted and news telephoned on at once to the other
end. Your friend, Mr. Dice, is the head of the movement, I understand,
and they all take it in turn to keep watch. That's why we've had to come
by boat to-night."

"No," replied Sam Gover, speaking for them both. "We knew nothing about
it, but still I don't see why that should have prevented us going by
car. Mr. Dice might have been a great help to us there."

The detective looked thoughtfully into the water. "Well, it's always
been a life rule of mine," he remarked, "to have as few hunting in a
pack as possible. The most unlikely people are often the very ones to
give you away."

It was not far off seven o'clock when they began to draw near to their
destination. For several miles the Coorong track had been winding at the
edge of the lake, and they had been able to note the figures upon the
mile posts. Thirty-two miles from Meningie, thirty-three, and then
thirty-four. Conversation dragged, and then finally dropped altogether.
They were all, however, silent for different reasons.

Young Barton was thinking of the uncle he had loved, and then later of
the foul and dreadful thing that had lain huddled in the tonneau of the
car; Sam Gover was un-nerved and shaking with the memory of the agonies
that so recently had been his upon those burning sands, and
Larose--well, Larose was just holding himself in. To all outward
appearances by far the calmest of the three, in reality he was hot and
eager as a bloodhound, straining to be unleashed upon the trail.

It was he who broke the silence first "Well, here we are," he said
softly. "The thirty-fifth mile post at last. Now, Mr. Barton, if you'd
just turn the boat in, please."

Stanley switched off the engine and with a turn of the tiller the boat
glided to the shore. The detective stepped out, and made fast with the
anchor into the sand.

"Now, I think we'll have our meal first," he said in brisk and
businesslike tones. "There's an hour yet to darkness, and I don't want
to do anything before then. You see, Mr. Gover," he went on, "I have not
really asked you anything as yet about the death of your friend, and I
have purposely refrained from doing so because I want to obtain your
answers with all the surroundings of the murder exactly before your
eyes. I mean, I want to question you under the best conditions possible
to stimulate your memory. Tonight I want the darkness, the smell of the
hot sand, and the limited area of visibility as will be given by our
lights. To-morrow at dawn I want you in that gully where you returned to
consciousness again, and I want you to recall then the first thoughts
that came to you when you rose up from the sands." The detective's voice
was grave and earnest. "Remember, we are up against cunning and
resourceful minds, or perhaps one cunning and resourceful mind, and it
is only on the assumption that they or he made a mistake somewhere that
we have any chance at all." He shrugged his shoulders. "At present I
have no idea where to begin my search, but any moment when we are going
over the actual scene of the happenings you may tell me something that
will provide me with the initial clue. But now for something to eat
first."

Darkness had well fallen when the three men were pacing the sand ravine
where the big Jehu had been held up. Larose was carrying a powerful
acetylene lamp, and Stanley Barton an oil hurricane lantern.

"Now, Mr. Gover," said the detective, briskly, "this is about where Mr.
Barton pulled up his car. You will remember, you said he remarked to you
at that moment that you were thirty five miles from Meningie, and this
is the only place, nearby, where the track runs between two high
sandhills as you described."

"Yes," replied Sam Gover huskily. "It was here we pulled up and the
hurricane lantern was waved over by the bend there. It's quite clear to
me. I remember it distinctly."

"Well," went on the detective. "Mr. Stanley and I will remain here, but
I want you to walk on now with the hurricane lantern and do exactly as
the man who stopped you did. Do exactly as he did, mind. This acetylene
lamp here will act for the Jehu car. Wave the lantern as you think the
man did, then come forward and call out your message and then turn back,
all exactly as he did."

With a nervous smile Sam Gover walked off until he had proceeded for
about a hundred paces, and then he turned and jerkily swung the
hurricane lantern to and fro, calling out at the same time. Then he
walked forward until he almost reached the light, and then stood
stock-still shading his eyes with his hand.

"Well, say something," said Larose sharply. "The man didn't stand there
as if he were struck dumb, did he?"

"But he hesitated," replied Sam Gover, "he seemed uncertain about
something." The old man spoke testily. "You told me to do exactly as he
did."

"Oh! Oh!" exclaimed Larose most interested. "He hesitated, did he? He
was uncertain, eh? Well, go on, go on. When you turn back we'll follow,
without the light."

* * *

At once Sam Gover turned round, and at a much quicker pace than when he
had approached them made for the bend where the track came out from
between the two sandhills.

"Keep close to me," he called out. "We were right on the beggar's heels
here." He swallowed a lump in his throat. "Now, this is where Eli
flashed his torch."

There was a click and a ray of light stabbed the darkness. Larose had
come prepared for everything.

"That's where their car was," exclaimed Sam Gover excitedly. "It stood
in front of that bush. That's where Eli fell when they shot him and this
is just about where I lay on the sands." He ground his teeth savagely
together. "Oh! the devils! if only I'd got the one behind the car."

"But you hit the other?" queried the detective. "You are sure of that?"

"Perfectly," replied Sam Gover. "I heard him yell."

"But you didn't see him fall?" asked Larose.

"No, it was too dark for that. You see, the lantern had gone out and
there was then no light at all. But I hit--I hit him, for he shrieked
out, 'Oh my arm.' It was with my second shot, too, I am sure. The first
shot I had fired at random, and in the second shot I think I must have
been guided by what I saw in the flash of the first. I remember getting
a lightning glimpse of a figure running towards the car."

"And he called out instantly as if hurt?" asked Larose.

"Yes, he shrieked several times."

"You didn't mortally wound him? You think it was only his arm?"

Sam Gover shook his head.




Chapter XIV.


When Sam Gover, relating to Larose on the spot, the details of the
shooting that ended in Eli Barton being murdered and one assailant
wounded, was asked did he kill the bandit, Gover shook his head.

"No, I am sure I didn't kill him," he said. "Too much squeal about him
for anyone vitally hurt. I don't believe even that I hit him anywhere
except in one of his limbs." The old man paused for a moment and then
went on thoughtfully. "It's like this. Whenever I have thought things
over since it always seems to me that I must have hit a bone somewhere,
because the man was instantly in pain. He cried out just as a man often
does when he's hit that way."

"Oh," said Larose, as if surprised, "then you've been in some fighting
before this?"

The old man laughed slily. "Certainly, sir. You're not by any means the
only man who's had adventure in his life. As a matter of fact, I've seen
quite a lot of fighting in my time, and amongst other scraps I was in
the Boer War. I've often had men hit beside me, and the other night when
this chap squealed out I remember thinking subconsciously to myself:
'Well, I've broken a bone of him, anyhow.' Broken a bone, mind you, no
vital hit. That's how it struck me at the time, thinking automatically
as it were."

"Very interesting, Mr. Gover," commented Larose, "and very well
explained, too. But the police tried hard to follow up upon your idea
and looked everywhere for a wounded man. They made inquiries of every
doctor and every chemist in the State. Nothing however came of it, as
you know, and they were completely at a dead end. Now, just one more
thing. Point out to me exactly where their car stood and I want you to
be very particular here."

"It was exactly over there," said Sam Gover, indicating the position
with his hand. "I remember that bank behind it, and on the top that
bush."

"And it was the spot-light he turned on you? Not the head-lights of the
car?"

"Yes, it was the spot-light," replied the old man emphatically, "and he
deliberately turned it round until it fell on me."

"How far did he have to turn it then?" asked the detective sharply.

"A good half-turn, I should say, but it was done very quickly, and I was
immediately blinded in the light."

"Which way did he turn it?" said Larose quickly. "Do you happen to
remember?"

"This way," replied Sam Gover waving his arm, "from left to right."

The detective was silent for a moment and then he switched off his
torch. "A last question, Mr. Gover," he said, "and then we'll go back to
the boat. In your opinion, and speaking as a man who knows something of
firearms, what was the nature of the weapon the man used?"

"A revolver, firing a bullet of large calibre," said Sam Gover promptly,
"old fashioned and probably pinfire. It was using black powder, for when
the spot-light was switched on the light came through a haze of murky
smoke. There was a smell of gunpowder, too. Yes, it was old fashioned
certainly, and banged like the cavalry revolvers we used in the Boer
War."

"Well, thank you, Mr. Gover," said the detective, "and now we'll go back
and get some sleep. We must be up at sunrise to-morrow and you'll talk
to us next in the gully where you were probably thrown out." He smiled
approvingly on the old man. "Really, you're a most satisfactory person
to deal with, and you've helped me quite a lot just now."

The following morning, and before five o'clock, Sam Gover was standing
in the little gully from where, so short a time ago, he had commenced
his dreadful wanderings across the Ninety-Mile Desert.

* * *

Stanley Barton had led them to the spot where the Jehu car had been
found and the gully was within a few yards, at the side.

"Whew," whistled Sam Gover disgustedly, "and I was so near the car the
whole time. This is the spot right enough, for I remember climbing up
over the bank there. If only I had climbed up this other side. You see,"
he went on, "I was so dazed and so confused when I came to that I
couldn't think at all, or I might have judged pretty well where the
track was by the position of the sun. As it was, I went off in exactly
the wrong direction, and all my troubles began." His voice became hard
and bitter. "Do you realise, Mr. Larose, the hell that I went through
then? Three days and nights of pain and awful thirst. If it had not been
for the little whisky and water that I had in my flask I should have
died sure enough before I was found."

"Well," replied the detective, "you were at any rate lucky there, but
come, Mr. Gover, are you sure you remember nothing, absolutely nothing,
of anything that happened between the time you were shot down on the
track and the time you became conscious again next day when, as you say,
the sun was up?'"

"I've told you," said Sam Gover slowly, "that I was conscious of being
carried somewhere in a car. I felt the jolts distinctly, and then after
I had been thrown out, and was lying on the sand, I remember I groaned."

"Lucky the wretch who threw you out didn't hear you then, or he'd have
finished you off at once."

"Oh, I don't think I groaned then, but I remember coming partly to some
time and groaning because of my other arm. It must have got twisted
under me when I was thrown out, and the cramp had made it more painful
for the time being even than the wounded one."

"Is that all you remember, everything?"

"Yes, I can think of nothing more."

"But, Mr. Gover," persisted the detective, "if you were conscious enough
to remember that you groaned, surely you must remember other things.
What did you think had happened to you, for instance? You must have been
wondering where you were."

"Oh, yes," replied the old man promptly, "I remember I thought for a
moment that I was back in the Boer War. I knew well enough I was
wounded, and--I heard firing, too."

"You heard firing," jerked out the detective sharply, "when you were
lying in the gully there? What do you mean?"

"Well," said Sam Gover very slowly. "At least I think now that I did."
He looked in a puzzled way at his interrogator. "Yes, I seem to remember
that I did somehow. By Jove," he went on, more positively, after a
moment, "yes, I'm sure I did, and it was that big revolver, too, that
was cracking again. It all comes back to me now. It roused me up, and I
wondered where the stretcher bearers were."

He suddenly stopped speaking, and with his lips parted, stood staring
into the shadows of the little gully where he had once lain. His face
was white and drawn, and he had the appearance of a man in mental pain.
The memories of that black night had been stirred in him, and he was
recalling to his mind the long hours of agony he had endured upon the
sands.

The detective eyed him anxiously and for the moment was obviously afraid
to break into the reverie. When he did at length speak, it was slowly
and very softly, as if he were addressing someone who was walking in his
sleep.

"How many times did you hear this firing?" he asked.

"Oh! only once," replied Sam Gover, with a long drawn sigh.

"And how soon was it after you were thrown in the gully, do you think?"
continued the detective, his voice still almost in a whisper.

"I don't know, but I don't think it could have been very long, for it
was the bang that woke me up, and I remember at once starting to spit
the sand out of my mouth, before I lost consciousness again. I expect I
must have fallen face downwards when I was pulled out of the car."

Larose asked one more question only.

"Did the bang sound quite close or very far away?"

"Neither," replied Sam Gover. He hesitated for a moment. "It might
easily have come from the very place where we had been held up."

An hour later, and proceeding quickly back along the lake, Larose
appeared to take his companions fully into his confidence. At least,
that was, at any rate, the impression that he gave them, as no doubt he
intended to.

"Now let us see exactly where we are," he commenced briskly. "I don't
think our little expedition has by any means been wasted, and time may
show that we have really found the beginning of the trail. Only one
thing I must impress upon you, on your honours. Not a whisper of where
we have been must get about. Neither of you must tell a soul that you
have ever seen me." His tones became most grave and serious. "When you
say good-bye to me at Goolwa to-night, forget that you have seen me. I
shall drop out of your lives for a little while and Larose must mean
nothing more to you than just the name of the man of whom you have
heard. You have never met me. I never called upon you. I wired refusing
your offer and there the matter ended. See?" His voice became almost
menacing in its insistence. "Remember, it is vital. It is vital that no
one should know I am at work. I have hopes, I have great hopes, of
laying hands upon the actual murderer, but I shall only get him if he
thinks that the pursuit has all died down. I must catch him off his
guard." The detective shrugged his shoulders and his face broke into a
smile. "When you get back to the city, just say you have been to Goolwa
for a rest. Now I can depend on you both, can I not?"

"All right," said Sam Gover rather testily, and young Barton nodded as
if the matter needed no discussion.

"Well," resumed the detective as if quite satisfied, "and how does the
position stand, I say? What is the extent of our exact knowledge and
what more may we reasonably surmise?" He paused for a moment and then
went on in brisk and businesslike tones. "Listen, two men made up their
minds to waylay and murder your uncle. There were almost certainly not
more than two men involved. Quite apart from what Mr. Gover has told us,
I gained the impression right from the very beginning that it was only a
two man affair. Moreover, one thing stands out to me quite clearly.
Whoever they were, they were not habitual criminals, at any rate in the
assassination line." The detective sniffed contemptuously. "They were
amateurs and bunglers all along, and at the critical moment, too, the
master mind of the two lost his head, as witness the fact, for instance,
that Mr. Gover is alive here to-day."

Larose paused again. "The murder was not a haphazard one," he continued.
"They were not out to murder any chance traveller on the Coorong that
came along. It was Mr. Eli Barton sure enough that they were after, and
it was him only they were expecting to come. Surely it would be
incredible to conceive that any assassins would be waiting at midnight,
in the very loneliest part of the Coorong, on the off-chance that some
stray car might come along?" He shrugged his shoulders. "For one thing
they would not be able to know beforehand if what they were ambushing
were worth the very serious risk of the capital charge, and moreover
they would be quite ignorant when a car did arrive as to what exactly
they were taking on. It might have turned out to be only a lorry with a
load of empty petrol tins, or again it might have been a car with five
or six passengers in it. What good to them, pray, would either of these
have been? No, they knew what to expect--they knew the car they were
waylaying would be Mr. Eli Barton's. They were sure of that."




Chapter XV.


Detective Larose, having heard all Sam Gover could remember of the night
he and Eli Barton were held up and shot near the Coorong Lake, and
having deduced that the banditry had been carefully planned, turned
again to Gover. "Then how did they come to expect that Mr. Eli would be
passing at midnight through the Coorong? Was it his habit to do so?" He
shook his head. "No, we know he had never done so before. Plenty of
daylight passings, but never by night, never once. Well, how did they
know?"

"We didn't know it ourselves until about midday, as I've told you,"
broke in Sam Gover, "and it was I who suggested it first. Then we
telephoned to the Broken Bough and asked them to pass the message
through to Meningie."

"Exactly," said the detective, "and therefore the idea of holding up Mr.
Barton could never have come into the murderers' heads until the
afternoon of that very day. They might of course have guessed that he
would be travelling to Adelaide through the Coorong, because his horse
was running in the Christmas Cup, but they would never have dared to
molest him in broad daylight. It would have been too dangerous with the
almost certain passing of other cars in both directions. They might have
shot him, of course, but their presence on the Coorong track, either
before or after the shooting, would certainly have been noticed by some
one, and, as I say, the risk of everything would have been too great. So
we may take it for granted that the information the murderers acted upon
so promptly was picked up by them by chance. And we may reasonably
assume, also, that they didn't acquire it themselves at first hand. I
mean they were not actually present themselves when the message came
through to the Kingston or Meningie Hotels. They probably heard some one
else say: 'Oh, Eli Barton is coming through the Coorong to-night. I
heard them talking over the telephone about it.' What makes me think
this is they obviously didn't seem to know Mr. Barton was to have a
companion with him as they would have done if they had themselves heard
the conversation over the phone." Larose spoke very emphatically. "It is
too much to believe they would have dared to attack two men, and I am
sure they thought Mr. Barton was coming alone. One thing specially
inclines me to this view. Note the marked hesitation of the man with the
lantern when Mr. Gover as well as Mr. Barton stepped out of the car. He
was glib enough when he was calling upon the car to stop, but when he
saw two passengers alight instead of one he was tongue tied at once and
did not know what to say or do. Now, the man with the lantern was
undoubtedly the subordinate criminal to my mind, acting under
instructions, and the orders he had received only pertained to the
decoying of one victim, not of two. So he lost his head straight away
and started to run, thus arousing at once the suspicion of Mr. Eli and
immediately bringing down upon your friend the fatal shot."

Larose stopped speaking, and turning from his companions, allowed his
eyes to wander for a moment upon the sandhills across the lake. Very
soon, however, he took up his argument again.

"Well, who now," he asked solemnly, "were these men who that night set
out deliberately upon this quest of murder? Were they just chance
travellers like yourselves, passing through the Coorong, or were they
local men who lived about here." He looked questioningly at Sam Gover.
"What about that lantern they used--does nothing strike you there?"

The old man shook his head. "It was a hurricane lantern, like the one we
used last night," he said slowly. "I am sure of that, for I can see the
shadows now that it cast upon the track as the man went on in front of
us."

"Well," the detective sharply, "and is a hurricane lantern, pray,
included in the ordinary equipment of the usual touring car? No, no," he
went on, at once answering the question for himself, "and that is why I
so insist that nothing of our journey here should get known. The
assassins we are looking for are local men. They live somewhere near
here, and that hurricane lantern they used is no doubt still seeing
service on some near station or outlying farm." He looked at Sam Gover
again. "And is nothing significant to you either, from the way in which
they had parked their car? Can you gather nothing from the way the
spot-light had to be turned round so that it should focus upon you as
you lay upon the sand? From left to right you said. Well, that meant
surely that the car itself was facing towards Meningie, for you had
approached from the direction of Kingston, and only in that case would
the spot-light need to be swung back, from left to right, to pick you
out."

"But it was," said Sam Gover. "It was all done in a second, of course
but I remember distinctly it was turned back."

"And so with their car facing towards Meningie," continued the detective
"That was, of course, the direction in which they intended to go,
directly after they had finished with Mr. Barton, for it stands to all
reason and common sense that they would have made all preparations for a
quick getaway directly the matter was finished. Their car would have
been all ready in position for them to bolt away at once."

"But no car passed through Meningie that night," broke in Stanley
Barton. "We are sure of that."

"Pooh! pooh!" answered Larose, "and who said one did?" He frowned at the
young man. "Is it not feasible that, having removed all traces of any
crime from the track, the murderers could have driven almost as far as
Meningie during the night but not have actually entered the township
until the sun was well up? Knowing every foot of the Coorong as they
most probably did, they could easily have hidden just off the track
somewhere and waited until they could pass through Meningie without
their presence exciting any comment, or perhaps even being remembered
afterwards." The detective shook his head emphatically. "You see, Mr.
Barton, everything points to the probability that the men who murdered
your uncle knew the Coorong well, and worked, too, from this end of the
track. The place they chose for the ambush was the one ideal on the
Meningie side. There was that convenient bend in the track between those
big hummocks, and from one of the hummocks they could watch him coming
for over seven miles," Larose laughed slily. "Oh! yes, I myself know
some parts of this Coorong of yours pretty well now, I spent three days
and three nights here three weeks ago."

"Before you wired to us?" frowned Sam Gover. "Then you had already taken
up the case?"

"Well, not, exactly," smiled Larose, "but it happened I was holidaying
in Adelaide; and the case interested me and gave me something to do."
The smile died quickly from his face. "But I tell you once again, it is
vital no one should know I have been here. Everything depends upon it.
You understand?"

Sam Gover and young Barton nodded. "Then do you think," asked the
former, "that you'll have any success in the end? Have you any idea at
all as to what kind of men they were who held us up?"

"Mr. Gover," said Larose very solemnly, "the death of your friend was
accomplished by two very ordinary and commonplace men and novices, too,
in the shedding of blood. They were not habitual criminals in any way in
that respect, and they just took to murder in this instance upon the
particular urge of some fixed motive that to me, at all events, is not
yet clear." He regarded the old man with very thoughtful eyes. "Was it
for robbery alone, do you think, that they planned this crime, and did
they really expect to find upon Mr. Barton money enough to compensate
them for the risk of being hanged?" He shook his head. "No, I am puzzled
there, I am puzzled. Remember, they were not down-and-outs. They were
not men without resources of any kind, as witness they were in the
position of being able to requisition a motor car. As I say, I am
puzzled, very puzzled."

He stopped speaking, and it seemed as if his thoughts had gone voyaging
again, upon their own, but in a moment he turned and resumed in
business-like tones.

"Well, we'll leave that for the present and try now to think what the
assassins originally intended to do when they had shot down and robbed
Mr. Barton. They would not have just driven off, would they? They would
not have left the body and the car for the first passer-by to find, do
you think?" Larose clenched his hands emphatically. "No, a thousand
times no. All their safety lay in hiding what had happened, quite as
much as in hiding that they were the perpetrators of the crime. They
wouldn't want the crime to be discovered at all, or if it had to be
discovered, they would want that discovery to be so retarded and so
belated that people would have forgotten altogether by that time all the
doings of their neighbours about the date when the crime was committed.
Jones wouldn't remember then that Smith had been away ostensibly on a
fishing expedition that night, and Black would have no recollection that
he had passed White in his car just before dawn was up, on that fateful
day. And so on and so on. So what had these miscreants intended to do?
Why, very much what they did do, but in a much more efficient and
thorough manner. They would have driven the Jehu not a bare miserable
half-mile or so into the bush, but 20 or perhaps 30 miles there, and the
probability is then that the body of Eli Barton would have remained
undiscovered for ever."

Larose stretched out his arm and pointed towards the Ninety-Mile Desert.
"Yes," he went on, "a dozen miles off that track and there are places,
perhaps, where no man has ever been. An army could be hidden there, let
alone a car and one dead man."




Chapter XVI.


Detective Larose continued his reconstruction of the crime. He turned to
Sam Gover. "Try to visualise now what exactly did take place after you
and Eli Barton were struck down," he said.

"We take it for granted, as we have no reason to believe otherwise, that
the hold-up was carried out by only two men. Well, you had wounded one
and he was probably too sick forthwith to be interested in what was
going on. But the other man would be very much interested. He had to be,
for he had just committed, as he thought, two murders, and hanging is
not for anyone a pleasant thing. So he proceeded to dispose of the
bodies, and the assumption is that he dealt with Mr. Eli Barton's first.
It looks like it anyhow, for undoubtedly his body, from the position it
was found in the car, was the one thrown in first. It lay huddled down
upon the floor, whereas you, from the blood marks, were pitched in
afterwards and reclined, at any rate partly, upon the back seat. And
here one thing stands out as most significant to me. The man searches
Mr. Barton, but he does not search you. He tears out Mr. Eli's wallet
from the inside vest pocket and tears it out so violently that he pulls
off the safety-button and slits the pocket itself as well. He was in
such a desperate hurry that he hadn't time to unbutton the pocket but,
as I say, he just tore the wallet out. But you--he never searched you,
and missed, as you informed the the police, over 300 in good Australian
bank notes. He never apparently examined you in any way, or he would
have seen at once you were not dead. Now, what does all that mean?"
Larose leant over and tapped Sam Gover upon the arm. "Panic, my friend,
panic. The man was suddenly in desperate fear, and he had lost his head.
He was no longer the man of steady aim who could hit Mr. Eli in the
centre of the forehead with his first shot, the man who had coolly
switched on the spotlight when he was himself under fire, the man who
had been able to think and act collectedly when the bullets from your
automatic were pinging round his car. No, he was quite a different man
now and his actions show he had completely lost his nerve."

Larose puckered his eye-brows.

"Now, I ask you why had he got so flurried? If, as I have surmised he
had found he had two bodies to get rid of instead of one, that is not
sufficient, in any way, to account for it. All cars going through the
Coorong carry as we know, a spade and--goodness gracious--there is sand
enough here for many times a million graves. Then what was the trouble,
and why was he so suddenly put out?"

The detective looked from one to the other of his companions, but
neither of them spoke. "Well, I'll tell you what I think," he went on
slowly. "The man was in some sort of panic about the cars. You see, the
farther away that the big Jehu was removed from the actual place of the
hold-up, if it were found, the most difficult would be the picking up of
any actual clues, and if it were never found at all the position of the
malefactors would have been absolutely secure. Mr. Barton would then
have simply vanished, and it would never have been proved that his
disappearance had occurred upon the Coorong. Notwithstanding all we have
heard to the contrary, it would never have been certain that he had not
doubled back through Kingston during the night or slipped through
Meningie in the hours just before the dawn. No, I am sure that the
wretches counted upon getting the car hidden so far away in the desert
or the bush somewhere that it would never have been found. Now, if that
be so, then what had upset their plans?"

Larose looked solemnly at Sam Gover. "It was you who had upset them, Mr.
Gover. You had wounded the man with the lantern and there were now two
cars with only one man able to drive them."

The detective smiled. "Then, just think in what a quandary the man with
the revolver was. He had to act with the greatest despatch possible, for
every second he delayed only added to his danger. But--if he bolted
straight away and left the Jehu and the bodies where they were, the hue
and cry would be raised next day and with the interest and curiosity
that would be everywhere aroused how could he satisfactorily account for
the bullet wound of his companion? Explanations would have to be
forthcoming, and he no doubt realised it was more than possible, with
any suspicion falling on them, that certain other and more damning facts
might come out and point to them directly as the murderers. So, he
couldn't leave the car on the track to be found where it was, and it had
to be driven away somewhere. But the devil of it was, he couldn't drive
it far, for he had, of course, to return to the other car on foot. So he
just drove it, as we know, to the spot where we went last night, less
than a mile off the track, and left it as it was afterwards found. And
it's quite clear to me that all the time the man was working in a
perfect frenzy of fear. You, Mr. Gover, were just picked up anyhow; you
were unsearched, and you were just flung in and pulled out with no
caution at all. Something, too, must have suddenly accentuated his fears
the moment after he had pitched you down that gully, for why was not the
body of Mr. Barton flung out too? No, everything was done in a frenzied
hurry as if his only thought uppermost was to get away. It was panic, I
tell you, panic, and there--there for the moment our surmises must
almost end."

Larose stopped speaking and, folding his arms, leant back against the
side of the boat. It seemed as if he had suddenly become tired, for he
sighed heavily and half closed his eyes.

"Well," said Stanley Barton breaking into the silence, "and do you think
we shall ever know who the wretches were?"

"Certainly, I do," replied Larose emphatically, and at once reopening
his eyes. "It requires time and patience; that is all."

"But that wounded man," said Sam Gover, "I am always wondering how he
was hidden away. If only we could have discovered him."

"Don't worry," replied the detective grimly, "I shall find him. Soon I
shall come back here to look. He is not far away." He spoke very
solemnly. "He lies buried somewhere under these sands." Sam Gover and
young Barton stared incredulously. "Yes," went on Larose, "his companion
killed him because of his wound, and that was his death-shot that you
heard when you thought you were back in the Boer War. Yes, he lies
buried here."

That evening Sam Gover and young Barton left Goolwa upon their return
journey to the city, and Fenton, the popular and efficient head-waiter,
resumed for a time his duties at the Bush Hotel.

* * *

One morning, just a week after the visit of Sam Gover and Stanley Barton
to the Coorong, a man with all the obvious appearance of a holiday-maker
could have been observed leaving the railway station at Goolwa,
immediately following the arrival of the midday-train. He had brought
quite a fair amount of luggage with him in addition to his large
rucksack, and a porter was trundling a portmanteau on a barrow. A
gun-case and a fishing-rod were also much in evidence.

The holiday-maker had not come quite alone, for he had brought a dog
with him; an ugly-looking customer, half terrier and half spaniel, and a
critical observer would have surmised at once that the animal was quite
a recent purchase. He was undeniably restive, and he and his possessor
seemed by no means, as yet, on good terms with one another. He was held
in by a stout chain, attached to a strong collar, and that both were
necessary was evidenced more than once, even before they had gone 50
yards from the railway station by the determined efforts he made to
break away.

But the man was always good tempered about it, and by alternate coaxing
and pulling he managed to get the brute along.

The party duly arriving at the Bush Hotel, the dog and the luggage were
deposited for the moment in a place of safety, and, the porter being
paid and dismissed, the man himself proceeded into the hotel to partake
of luncheon.

He thoroughly enjoyed the meal, notwithstanding the bad service and the
long waits between the courses.

"I am extremely sorry, sir," was the whispered apology of the hotel
proprietor, when, not until the third course had been served, could the
holiday maker obtain anything to drink, "but we're all at sixes and
sevens just now. I lost my head-waiter suddenly only a couple of days
ago. Taken ill, and had to go to Adelaide at once. Such a good man, and
everything's been disorganised since he went."

The holiday-maker smiled good-naturedly.

"Bad luck, I'm sure," he commented sympathetically, "but you'll soon be
getting another one, anyhow."

The proprietor shook his head. "Not like the last one, sir, never. He
was a wonderful man. He wasn't here long but I never met anyone like
him. He knew what everyone wanted, and everyone's business, too, before
they had been in the hotel half an hour. He was a marvel."

The holiday-maker leant back and appreciatively sipped his wine. Then
crossed, however, over his face what might easily have been taken for an
amused and gratified smile.

Finishing his lunch, he lighted a cigarette and strolled leisurely round
to the kitchen door. He seemed, as it were by instinct, to have a
knowledge of where all the offices of the hotel were. He begged some
bones for his dog from the head-cook, and opining, again apparently by
instinct, that the latter gentleman was a racing enthusiast, gave him a
couple of tips for the races the next afternoon, and then smiled him
into making a neat little parcel of the food that had been sorted out.

Then he walked down to the Quay and after a lot of bargaining, in which
he certainly did not come off second best, hired a nice roomy sailing
boat for a week.

Then behold him, a couple of hours later sailing slowly away from Goolwa
his luggage bestowed methodically about the boat, the ugly looking dog
squatting disgustedly upon an old sack that had been allotted to him in
the bow, and he himself lying contentedly back in the stern with a
cigarette between his lips.

For a long while then there was silence. The dog shuffled uneasily on
his sack, and pricked his ears anxiously at the gurgling of the water on
the boat's sides. He contemptuously ignored however, the man opposite
him, and also a juicy-looking bone that lay in close proximity to the
sack. Indeed, so studied was his attitude of indifference to everything
pertaining to food or master that, had he been a human being, it might
have been said that he was in the sulks.

Presently the man laughed. He leant forward and snapped his fingers in
the dog's face.

"Make it up, Swipes," he coaxed persuasively. "It's no good, old man,
I've bought you for two pound twelve and six, and until I've done with
you I'll be the only pal you're going to have." Then he seemed to eye
the animal rather dubiously. "But you certainly don't look up to much
old chap," he remarked, "although your late master is not a born liar
you are indisputedly the most intelligent mongrel at present in South
Australia, and a regular pocket bloodhound when you're put upon the
trail." He pushed the bone nearer to the dog. "Well don't, if you don't
want to. The flies can have a tuck in first. You'll be glad of it
to-morrow, anyhow, or I'm a poor prophet and my name's not Gilbert
Larose."

Two evenings later a happy and now quite sociable couple were encamped
among the sandhills on the Coorong. A meal was in the course of
preparation and the detective was roasting a nice fat rabbit upon a
cleverly contrived spit, before a roaring fire. A delicious aroma filled
the air and the impatient cook kept smacking his lips expectantly and
prodding the rabbit with a fork to see if it were done.

The dog was equally interested and never for a moment took his eyes off
the spit. His ears were cocked intelligently and he watched all the
proceedings with such an air of wisdom and understanding that Larose,
observing him, congratulated himself and felt amply justified in his
expenditure of two pounds twelve and six.

"You really now look worth the money, Swipes," he commented admiringly.
"Well, we'll both have a rattling good dinner and then, directly it gets
dark, we'll get to business." His face grew hard and stern. "Someone,
perhaps, is going to swing from tonight's work."

* * *

They were camped only about two hundred yards from the place where Eli
Barton had met his death, and Larose had already spent the greater part
of the afternoon making himself acquainted with the ground.

Time after time he had set off from exactly where the two travellers had
been struck down. He had wandered round the sandhills, he had inspected
all the little gullies, and he had noted all the undulations and the
drifted banks of sand. He had climbed up all the hummocks within a
radius of several hundreds of yards, and had walked methodically down
every ditch that could be found. But always he had returned to the place
he had started from, and always for a long time upon his return had
stood thoughtfully gazing back upon the way he had just come.

His movements to any observer would have seemed very mysterious, and a
casual passer-by would at once have wondered what on earth was
happening. If anyone had been told the detective was looking for a body,
they would certainly then have thought he was going about it in a very
queer and unsatisfactory manner. He made absolutely no attempt to probe
the ground anywhere and, although he had a dog with him the whole time,
he never once spoke to him or encouraged him to sniff about.

Then, just before he returned to the camp to prepare the evening meal,
his proceedings would have seemed even more mysterious and inscrutable
than ever.

He cut down about a dozen tall reeds and to the ends of each of them he
tied a small piece of white rag. The whole bundle he then hid by the
bank of the lake, covering them lightly over with a little sand.

The last proceeding over, he seemed then suddenly to become all at once
a different man. He threw off his preoccupation; he started humming a
lively tune; he whistled to the dog, and then finally doffing his
clothes, raced down the sands and had a long refreshing bathe in the
lake.

It was just after eight that night and Larose, the great Sydney
detective, was standing exactly on the spot where, nearly six weeks
before, had been parked the small black car from behind which someone
had fired the fatal bullet that had struck down Eli Barton.

Dusk was falling rapidly, but Larose was waiting for the exact moment
when it would be quite dark. To the top of a stout pole, about five feet
in height and thrust deep into the sand behind him was lashed an
acetylene lamp, but the lamp was as yet unlit. At his feet lay the
bundle of reeds that he had cut that afternoon, and also a large
ruck-sack, stuffed out roughly to the shape of a man.

If he had been quiet and restrained earlier in the day, there was
certainly nothing like that about him now. He was trembling violently,
and his heart was pumping as if he had been running hard. Indeed, it was
plain that he was in a state of great expectancy and excitement. But he
had good reason anyhow, he would have told anybody, for this condition.

A profoundly critical moment had arrived, and he was about to put to the
test all the elaborate theories that he had been working out. He was
staking everything upon what would eventuate from the happenings of the
next half hour, for, if his reasoning were correct, he would have
located by then a body hidden somewhere in the sands.

He was quite confident about it, however, for no matter how hot and
eager he was now, had not everything, he continually reminded himself,
been reasoned and thought out when his mind was calm and icy cold.

He believed with certainty that a hidden body was quite near, and he
argued to himself that he would find it, because he was about to
surround himself with exactly the same set of circumstances that had
surrounded the murderer when he had shot his victims down.

He was acting on the idea that all men, with certain allowances for
temperament, would act in exactly the same way under the influences of
panic or fear, and he was believing he would be able to track every step
of the murderer by the very footprints he would make himself.




Chapter XVII.


Detective Larose looked round into the blackness. Darkness had at last
fallen with all the suddenness of an Australian night. He lit the
acetylene lamp and a long beam of light shot out across the sands.

The supreme moment had arrived.

"Now let me think," he muttered hoarsely; "let me put myself exactly in
his place. I am in deadly fear. I have just run nearly a mile over heavy
sands. I have killed a man and I must hide his body and get away quick.
I must bury him, of course. I must drag him away somewhere. No, I must
not drag him, I must leave no trail. I must carry him, but I must be
careful for he is dripping with blood. I shall have to hold him at arm's
length. I cannot carry him far, for I am in a desperate hurry, and I
have also to burden myself with a spade. Now in which direction shall I
go? Away from the track, of course, and out of sight of it, too. I know
how the sand is blown about when the winds come, and therefore I must
bury him where the winds are least likely to expose the grave. I must be
quick for I have very little time. Now, here goes."

Hurriedly he picked up the rucksack and one of the reeds that he had
ornamented only a few hours previously with the pieces of white rag. He
held his burden at arm's length, and, stumbling heavily, made his way as
if in desperation across the sands. Fifty yards, a hundred, and he had
rounded the base of a big hummock that loomed black and sinister against
the sky. He was out of sight of the track now, and there was desolation
everywhere. He looked round sharply from side to side as he ran. Ah!
here was a likely spot, just where the sand began to rise again. It lay
in the dip between two hills. It would be in shelter, no matter from
which way the winds would blow, and it was sown over here and there with
tufts of coarse sea-grass that would keep the sand from drifting far.

Without a second's, pause he dropped the ruck-sack and quickly drove in
one of the reeds he carried to mark the spot.

Then, with the sack again in his arms, he returned at a run to the place
from where he had first started. He picked up another reed, and, with
his breath now coming jerkily from his exertions recited part of the
same formula that he had used just before. "I am in deadly fear. I have
run nearly a mile over heavy sands. I have killed a man and I must hide
his body and get away quick."

Then off he ran as he had just done before, but this time in quite a
different direction. In about three minutes he was back again. He gave
himself a moment's rest, picked up another reed, and then again the
blackness of the night swallowed him up. Five times he repeated his
manoeuvre and then, with every pore of his body dripping with
perspiration, threw himself down exhausted upon the sands to rest.

"Now have I gone everywhere likely?" he panted. "I have marked six
places and I can think of nowhere else where he can possibly have gone.
Let me reason again calmly."

"Here, where I am now lying, is the centre of the circle, and in
whatsoever direction the body is hidden it cannot be farther away than,
say, a hundred and fifty yards. I am sure of it, for he dared not have
waited here too long." He was silent for a minute.

"No, no," he muttered, slowly shaking his head. "I cannot be making a
mistake. I cannot be going wrong. It is incredible he can have driven
the body away with him in his own car, for then his cushions would have
been drenched with blood."

He stood up and stared round into the night. One by one he ticked off
the directions in which he had gone, and gradually the hard tension of
his features relaxed.

"Well," he remarked at last with a sigh, "that's all for the present, I
think, and directly it gets light it'll be Master Swipes who'll have to
do his bit. If there's any virtue in that two-twelve-six, it'll have to
show up then."

Throwing the ruck-sack over his shoulder and picking up the remainder of
the reeds, he gave one last look round and was about to move away. Then
a thought seemed suddenly to strike him, and an amused smile crossed
upon his face.

"Ah," he remarked with a laugh. "But now I was leaving out the most
unlikely of the likely spots. The Centre of the circle itself. Of
course, of course," and he drove a reed, the seventh one, deep into the
sand just where he stood.

He returned leisurely to where he had made his camp, and was welcomed
boisterously and with all evidences of delight by the mongrel, Swipes.
The dog had been left behind to mount guard over his master's
belongings, but his duties and responsibilities had evidently been of an
enforced nature, for he had been attached securely by his chain to the
tent pole.

"All right, old man," smiled the detective genially. "So I'm better than
no one now, am I, and that little affair of the two pounds twelve and
six is all passed over, is it? Well, well, to-morrow we'll see what sort
of dog you really are, and if the money was just thrown away or, after
all, well spent."

The following morning it was barely light when the detective left his
camp. He carried a spade with him and this time he was accompanied by
his mongrel companion. Neither had had anything to eat and the dog was
sniffing anxiously about, as if he, at all events, could have done with
a good meal.

Approaching the nearest of the seven places which on the previous
evening he had marked with his reeds, without even a moment's delay the
detective commenced to dig. Although the hour was still so early, the
sand was hot, but it was loose and easy, and with wide sweeping
movements he worked strenuously to clear it away.

"Find it, Swipes. Good dog, find it now."

The animal was interested at once, and scratched and sniffed as
vigorously as the most exacting master could have desired. He whined in
great excitement ran backwards and forwards, and in a few minutes was
panting hard from the energy of his exertions.

"Steady, old man," reproved Larose. "We may have a long way to go yet,
and I don't want you tired out at the beginning. Go easy now."

* * *

For a good half hour the spade was plied vigorously round the spot, and
a wide circle of tumbled sand at length spoke eloquently of Larose's
work.

Then the detective paused and looked round, frowningily at the havoc he
had made.

"He can't have dug very deep," he muttered. "A couple of feet, at most,
is all I give him, and even allowing for the drifting, Swipes would have
smelt anything if it had been here."

He shook his head disappointedly and sighed.

"No, no, we've drawn blank so far, that's certain, but it would have
been too lucky to find things first go, so now for spot number two."

He moved off about fifty yards, and the same process was gone through in
the vicinity of another reed.

But nothing eventuated there, either, and disappointment awaited them
also at reeds three and four.

By this time the sun was high up in the sky and the heat had become very
trying. Larose was drenched in perspiration, and the dog was suffering
too. He lay panting by his master, and his lolling tongue and heaving
sides told of the distress and discomfort he was in.

"Come, come old chap," said the detective rather sadly. "I think we'll
both have a rest, and I guess a bit of a swim wouldn't be a bad thing
for you."

Shouldering his spade he moved off in the direction of the lake, coming
out upon the track just where the travellers had been held up upon that
eventful night.

The dog, with no ceremony, plunged at once into the water, and his
master, forgetting for the moment his disappointment, sat down upon the
bank and enviously regarded the animal's relief.

Very soon, however, his thoughts were dragged back to the search he had
been making in the sand, and from the expression of his face there could
have been no doubt but that he was crestfallen and uneasy at his lack of
success.

He had been so certain that his grasp of the whole matter was secure,
and that his reasoning had been almost infallibly mathematical and
exact, that even at the half stage of the proceedings his failure
puzzled him and in spite of the hope and optimism of his nature, made
him apprehensive and uneasy.

He was sure he could not be wrong and yet, and yet--his eyes roved round
and fell suddenly upon the last reed he had planted the previous
evening.

"Ah," he ejaculated thoughtfully, "the seventh reed--the centre of the
circle itself."

For a moment he looked at it listlessly and then, with a startled
exclamation of surprise, he rose abruptly to his feet. He stood like a
statue carved in stone, with his mouth wide open and his eyes fixed. His
hat was tilted back upon his head and the scorching sun beat down
unheeded on his face.

Suddenly he drew in a deep breath. He snapped his fingers derisively.

"Gilbert, Gilbert," he exclaimed, "you're a fool. You're nothing but a
baby yet. The light! you never thought of that. Oh, what an ass you've
been!"

He shakily resumed his seat. "Now, let me think," he muttered. "Yes, I
quite forgot about the light and above all things I ought to have
remembered that. There was no moon. It was only a starlit night, and in
the darkness he could not have seen to bury the body. He had to have
light, for even in the frenzy of his haste he would know he would have
to do the burial with some care.

"Well, now, what lights had he? The hurricane lantern we know had been
overturned and probably all the oil in it was spilled. Besides, too, in
any case, he would probably have been too flurried to relight it. No, I
can rule that out. Then there was Eli Barton's electric torch. Sam Gover
said it was only a little pocket one, and we don't know what happened to
it when Eli fell. Certainly it went out, for we know the place was in
darkness again until the spot-light was switched on. It is probable then
that he stopped to find it, and is it probable again, if he did, that it
would have answered his purpose? No again, both times here. His haste
was his obsession then, and Sam Gover tells us there was light only from
the torch when the finger was pressing on the catch. So it would have
been no good in any case, and therefore the only lights that could have
been of service to him were the lights of his own car." The detective
paused for a moment, and, with the forefinger of his right hand
outstretched, solemnly elaborated his points. "Now let me be quite
clear," he went on. "I must make no mistake this time. He wanted light
to bury his third man that he had shot, and what surely would be more
natural than that he should use the lights of his own car? He was in a
desperate hurry, as we know, and the lights were all handy there. Well
supposing that were so, would he move the car anywhere to a more
secluded spot. No, I don't think so. It would mean taking up more time,
and apart from that it would mean also handling a body fouled with
dripping blood. Well, if he used his car lights, then it is obvious he
would bury the body within a few yards of where the car stood."

Larose closed his eyes and thought.

"Yes, just near where the car stood," he muttered. "Just near where the
car stood."




Chapter XVIII.


He sprang up and became all animation again. Every sign of his fatigue
had passed and the anxiety that had before possessed him had given way,
once more, to confidence and trust.

He whistled to the dog and ran quickly to where, on the previous night,
he had planted the seventh reed.

He was close to a bank of sand about three feet high.

"Yes, this must be the spot," he muttered. "Somewhere about here," and
he commenced to dig feverishly.

"Fetch him, Swipes. Good dog! Fetch him now," he cried.

Refreshed and invigorated by his bathe, the dog was eager, too, and he
nosed into the sand with all the expectation of being close upon his
prey.

Larose dug feverishly in a circle round the reed, but, as before, he
contented himself with shovelling away the sand for about two feet in
depth. The dog followed every movement of the spade as if his very life
depended upon what was going to happen next. He sniffed and scratched
excitedly wherever his master dug, whining plaintively all the while.

Suddenly, however, the animal paused, and for a moment all the haste and
fury seemed to have passed completely out of him.

He stood stock still, with his head outstretched, and with one front paw
uplifted. Only his nostrils quivered, and they were widely dilated. He
looked fixedly into a hole Larose had just made.

Then with a low growl he sprang forward, and commenced to scratch
furiously into the sand. A moment later, and he was yelping in a perfect
frenzy of excitement. A whole cascade of sand was thrown out, and then,
as if jerked up by the releasing of a spring, there came into view--a
dried and blackened human hand.

Larose stood staring as if petrified, and then, as the dog tugged out
first an arm and then a shoulder, he sprang into the hole and seizing
the animal by his collar dragged him roughly away.

But it was not without a struggle that Swipes would relinquish his find,
and the detective's boot had several times to be brought into
requisition before the dog could be made to understand that, at any rate
for the time, his services would be no longer required.

Then, the animal disposed of, Larose, holding his breath in his
excitement, knelt down and very carefully proceeded to expose the rest
of a body.

As he had surmised, it had been interred only about two feet below the
surface of the sands. It was fully clothed, and at first glance was
obviously that of an adult man. There were no signs of putrefaction,
however, although all the same it was by no means a pleasant thing to
handle.

The detective realised instantly what had happened. No rain had fallen
on the Coorong for more than five months, and with no moisture reaching
it the body had become mummified by the intense heat upon the sands. It
was dry and shrivelled, and the flesh was almost black in colour. The
clothes hung on to it as if they were many sizes too big.

Very gently Larose lifted it out, and laid it on the sands, and then,
for quite a long while he knelt over it and regarded it without making a
sound.

The dog had slunk away and was taking a bathe again.

"Hum," muttered Larose presently, with a grim smile. "Not the slightest
doubt about it, it's the man we want--and there's not the slightest
doubt, either, as to how he met his death." He gently lifted up the
dreadful-looking head. "Large bullet hole in occipital region: that's
what killed him, of course. Bullet came out again, too, through parietal
bone. Brain blown away by revolver fired from close behind." He lifted
one of the arms. "Left elbow shattered--old Sam Gover's doing here. Coat
and shirt well soaked with blood all down left side, showing clearly
elbow-wound bled for long time before second shot was fired. Quite
probably half an hour. Now for the gentleman's pockets. I may perhaps
find something there!"

But to Larose's disappointment, the pockets yielded almost nothing. A
half empty packet of cigarettes, a box of matches, an old pocket knife,
seven shillings in silver, and that was all.

"Nothing doing," grumbled the detective, and then he grinned amusedly to
himself, "but still one could hardly expect he would be carrying his
visiting cards upon an expedition like that." He looked disgustedly at
the mummy. "And now, I suppose, I shall have to strip him, but I
think--I think I'll have a picture first." He took out his watch. "But I
must be quick," he added. "Anyone may be coming along now."

He whistled up the dog, and together they ran hurriedly to the tent.
Swipes was evidently of opinion that there was more sport in view, but
was speedily disillusioned, and it was a very disgusted animal that was
made fast to the tent pole. Then Larose fished out quite a fair sized
camera from his portmanteau, and unstrapping it as he ran, was soon back
again by the body.

* * *

Without wasting a moment, he quickly and methodically adjusted his
horrible find to the position he required.

He stretched out the shrivelled limbs, and to the dreadful looking head
he gave a pillow of sand. He was most particular to get everything
exactly as he wanted it, and then once satisfied, without an instant's
delay, he rapidly obtained three impressions.

Next he took off his coat, and baring his arms to the elbows, proceeded,
not, however, without a certain expression of repugnance, to go
carefully over the body.

He stripped off all the clothing and laid the articles carefully to one
side. The body looked more hideous than ever when naked, but Larose
appeared now to have forgotten his feelings of disgust. He was far too
interested in his examination.

"Small, spare man," he muttered thoughtfully, "undersized as Sam Gover
told us. Oval, narrow face, eyes set rather close together. Nothing
peculiar about the mouth, but front teeth very prominent. Nose
irregular, and appears to have been broken. Clean shaven, hair brown,
rather scanty at the temples. Probably man about 35 to 40. Now, let me
look at his hands. Hum--rather interesting here. Small, almost refined.
No particular manual work. Skin of right forefinger thickened at one
side. Accustomed, evidently, to ride a good deal. Ah! Let me look at his
boots. Been driving a car, too. Yes, but did a lot of riding and rode
with a very short stirrup, I should say. Now, what does that mean?" He
shook his head and returned again to the body. He passed his hands
inquisitively round the blackened shoulders and the neck. "Ah!" he
muttered after a moment, "both collar bones been broken sometime or
other." He paused and went on significantly. "At least once." He
examined the limbs. "Bone of right arm thickened in two places, as well.
Good Lord, he's had a leg broken some time too." A startled note of
triumph swelled into his voice. "Of course, of course," he exclaimed
joyfully. "He's been a jockey. Just the very build, no doubt about it,
none at all. I ought to have seen it at once. That's why he rode with a
short stirrup, of course."

He stood up and smiled as happily as a boy. "This will make it much
easier, Gilbert," he remarked. "You ought to have very little difficulty
now. You're really quite a clever fellow. But we must have a couple more
photographs quick, and then----"

He paused in his congratulations and looked thoughtfully round. His face
dropped into cold hard lines again, his eyes narrowed, and it was
evident that he was thinking hard. "No, no," he murmured presently, "I
can do as I think best now. I'm not a policeman any more. I'm just on my
own, the freelance, Gilbert Larose."

He looked back on the body and his voice became very stern. "There lies
the one who can tell me everything," he said, "and in good time I will
make him speak, but for the present I shall have to bury him again. Yes,
it's best," he went on. "Publicity would only warn the murderer, and
might ruin everything just now."

He picked up the spade and, slightly deepening the hole, in a few
minutes had returned the mummy to its grave. Then he smoothed over the
sand about the place and, satisfied that no trace of his work remained,
picked up the clothing he had stripped from the body, and, rolling it
into a small bundle, returned quickly to the tent.

Half an hour later, and with all despatch, he was sailing back towards
Goolwa.

* * *

It was on the Monday that Larose had made the discovery of the mummy
under the sands.

On the following Thursday a pebble was thrown violently into the pool of
what constituted the daily and usually monotonous life of Police
Constable Abel Black, of the small township of Meningie, South
Australia.

A most zealous, capable officer of the law was Policeman Black, and
always on the alert for misdemeanours of every kind, but so quiet and
law-abiding was the district under his charge that nothing ever seemed
to happen that could give scope and activity to the undoubted qualities
that he possessed.

He was a very disappointed man.

In vain he studied the records of crime in South Australia; in vain he
kept himself well posted and up to date in all the criminal happenings
of the other States, in vain he looked for evil-doers close at hand.
Nothing, unhappily, seemed ever to eventuate and his memoranda and
reports to headquarters were perforce colourless and tame in the
extreme.

It was true the trouble over Eli Barton had stirred things up a little,
but there, too, his evil star had been in the ascendant, and absolutely
nothing of the case had passed directly through his hands. Owing to its
importance it had all been conducted entirely from the headquarters of
the police in Adelaide, and he had been left completely out in the cold.

He was bicycling slowly along about a mile out of the township, when
suddenly a man stepped out from behind a tree at the side of the road,
and peremptorily called upon him to halt.




Chapter XIX.


Police Constable Abel Black pulled up at once and then, without a word
stood quietly by his machine and critically regarded the individual who
had accosted him. His impressions were not prejudiced in the latter's
favour.

In spite of the confident way in which the man had addressed him there
was nothing imposing or important about his appearance. He wore dirty
black overalls and looked, if anything, like a motor mechanic. A straw
hat, which, to say the least of it, was old, served him for head
covering, and his boots, the policeman noticed, were well worn and had
undoubtedly seen good service on the tramp.

"I want to speak to you, please," reiterated the man, and then he, in
his turn, stared hard at the policeman, as if he were examining him
critically.

"Well," replied the policeman brusquely, at last, "what is it you want?"
He did not somehow like the way the man was addressing him, for in spite
of his general shabby appearance there seemed a note of easy
familiarity, and almost authority, in his tones.

"You can help me," went on the man smilingly. "You can give me some
information, if you will, please." He looked up and down the road and
then, quickly doffing his hat, he took off a small black wig. He pulled
himself erect, the smile dropped away from his eyes, and stern hard
lines formed about the corners of his mouth.

"I'm Larose," he said tersely, "Gilbert Larose."

The policeman opened his eyes very wide. He stared very hard and took in
a deep breath.

The man readjusted his wig, replaced the old straw hat, and again smiled
in a pleasant, easy way.

"You are Police Constable Abel Black," he continued. "You have been in
this neighbourhood for about three years, and therefore you should be
able to give me all the information I want. I have made inquiries about
you, and you are a man to be trusted. I should not have dared to make
myself known to you if you were not so."

The policeman continued to stare very hard, but he made no attempt to
speak. He just stared and stared as if he would read the fellow through.
There was quite a minute's silence.

"Good," remarked Larose. "I see you're the man I want. Thought before
speech--that's the ticket every time."

The policeman looked coldly at him, but he spoke at last.

"What sentence did Barton get," he said very slowly, "for shooting
Sergeant McHains?"

"Ten years," replied Larose promptly, "and he'd have been a lifer if we
could have proved that it was his automatic that fired the particular
shot."

"Who defended Strangways in the Spinnet Vale murder case?"

"Pudson, K.C. Blackler was his junior."

"Show me your arm."

With a grin that was a delighted one, Larose bared his left arm.
"Excellent," he exclaimed brightly, "you should rise high in the force,
I see. It's a positive treat to meet anyone like you." He thrust his arm
under the policeman's eyes. "Yes, that's where Rider hit me. The bullet
passed through the flesh only and missed the radial artery by a tenth
part of an inch. You remember he fired twice, and his second shot just
grazed my shoulder. Like to see that place, too?"

"No, no," replied the policeman, hastily, and now very red in the face,
"I am quite satisfied, sir, and I apologise for questioning you, but you
see----" He drew himself up to attention and saluted.

"Of course, I see," exclaimed Larose with enthusiasm, "and I have the
greatest admiration for your caution. I tell you, man, you're not the
ordinary policeman by a long chalk, and if ever chance comes to you
you'll go up on a wave. I'm sure of it. I, Larose, say it, and you know
I've had hundreds of you chaps under me, in my time."

Policeman Black flushed deeper than ever in his delight, and he eyed the
great detective with all the devotion of a disciple for his master.

"Now, Black," went on Larose confidingly, "I've left the Force as you
know, lad, and I'm here working on my own. It isn't very much of you I
want, just now, but it may lead to big things, and I won't forget you,
you may be sure, if it does." He paused for a moment as if exactly to
weigh his words. "What I want to know now is this: Has anyone gone away
from here lately, from about this district I mean, say six or seven
weeks ago--a medium sized, rather spare man, about forty I should think,
wears an old grey coat, blue shirt, cord riding breeches and pig-skin
leggings? Rides with a very short stirrup, has been a jockey once, and
can drive a motor car."

"Yes, Sid Ferris," said the policeman promptly, and without a moment's
hesitation, "stable man and lad to Mr. Dice. Mr. Dice lives at Mundulla
and is the Chief Magistrate here."

"Ah," ejaculated the detective deeply, but as if he were not at all
surprised.

"They trained Black Wolf," went on the policeman, "for the Christmas
Cup. They skinned half the bookies in the State and won a fortune over
it, so everyone says."

"When did this Ferris leave here then?" asked the detective
meditatively, with a faraway look in his eyes.

Black thought for a moment. "Can't say for certain, but I know he's not
been back at all since the Cup was run, and that was on Boxing Day." He
sniffed rather grimly. "There are lots of people here who've been
wanting a word with him over that Cup affair. Mr. Dice and he knew they
had a fair snip for the race in Black Wolf, and yet Ferris swore all
along the horse was no good. He put off everyone here from backing it."
The policeman warmed up in his indignation. "Why, only two days before
the race, he told everyone in the hotel here he couldn't understand why
his master was running the horse. He said it has no chance at all if it
ran."

"Oh," said Larose quickly, and with an intent gleam in his eyes. "So he
was in the hotel two days before the race, was he?"

"Yes," replied, the policeman gloomily, "he was there just before the
dinner time. I happen particularly to remember it because I was calling
there myself about an application the proprietor was making for
extension of his licence. There was going to be a dance there on Boxing
Day and he wanted a late wine permit. Ferris was in the bar at the time,
and as I say, warned everyone not to have a penny on Black Wolf. The
liar! I should have had a bit on myself, but for him."

"And when do you say this Ferris left the neighbourhood?"

The policeman shook his head. "I don't know that at all, but I'm sure
he's not been back since the Cup, or I should have heard of it. As I say
lots of folk were anxious to have a word with him."

"Did he go to the Cup meeting himself, do you think?"

Black laughed sarcastically. "Sure he did. Why, everyone knows they won
a fortune over it, and Ferris had had all the riding of the horse in his
gallops. He wouldn't have missed the race for worlds."

Larose was silent a long time.

"What sort of a reputation has this Mr. Dice got?" he asked presently.

The policeman spoke deliberately. "Well respected and liked, too, before
this Black Wolf affair. He's the chief magistrate here, as I say. He's
proud and very reserved, and keeps himself very much to himself. We
never see him much about here, except on session days, but his niece
often comes to the township."

"What's she like?" asked Larose.

"Very nice and very pretty," replied the policeman. "A real little lady
if ever I saw one."

"Is Mr. Dice well-to-do, do you think?"

"Plenty of money now since the race, but on the rocks before that, if
there's truth in all the rumours that were about. It is believed
generally that he was in Queer Street until his win on Black Wolf pulled
him through."

"Was the Black Wolf business kept purposely dark, do you think?"

The policeman sniffed contemptuously. "Not a doubt about it," he
replied. "The horse was a cast-iron certainty. He was just kept bottled
up for months. We know now he had been tried secretly to beat Basil's
Pride, and they just timed the training to the very hour. Bah," he
exclaimed bitterly, "they knew what they were about, and they arranged
it to get a hundred to one."

"How long has Ferris been with Mr. Dice, do you know?"

"No, I don't know that. Donkey years, I believe. I understand they knew
one another long before Dice came here."

"Has Dice been on sheep all his life?"

"The greater part, I think, but he went soldiering once. He was wounded
in South Africa, they say--in the Boer War."

"He's a big man, isn't he?"

"Yes, as big and strong as a bull."

Again a deep and expressive "Ah," from Larose, and then again a long
silence.

"What motor car has he got?"

"He has a Punic now, but he had only a Kent before."

"Did Ferris drive the car often?"

"No, only every now and then. When he came into the township he
generally hacked it on Mr. Dice's grey mare."

"How did he dress?"

"Always the same as you described. Old slouch hat, old grey jacket, blue
shirt, and breeches and leggings. Always untidy and looked as if he had
never had a wash. He used to ride all hunched up and with a short
stirrup, too, as you say."

"Well," said Larose meditatively after a pause. "I think that's all just
now, and thank you very much." He looked significantly at Abel Black. "I
needn't, of course, ask you not to let a soul know I have spoken to you
or have been anywhere about here." The policeman nodded his head. "Oh,
one thing more, please. I suppose you don't happen to know if there is
any job going about anywhere that I could take as an excuse for hanging
about the township. That chap Ferris might come back any day you see,
and I want to get a look at him to make certain he's the man I want."

The policeman grinned. "They want a waiter at the hotel," he replied,
"if that's at all in your line, and I believe a cook as well."

Larose smiled back as if in amusement, too. "Oh, I make a very excellent
waiter, my friend," he laughed, "and at a pinch I'm a bit of a cook,
too. But both those jobs would tie me down too much and keep me too much
indoors. I want something more outdoors so that I can keep an eye on
people as they pass through the township."

"Well," said the policeman promptly, "they want an odd man at the
garage, I know. Travers is very hard pushed just now, and he's
advertised several times for a man, and can't get one, but it's someone
who understands cars they want," and he looked doubtfully at Larose.

"The very thing," replied the detective gaily. "I'm a first-class
mechanic in the motor line."




Chapter XX.


"I'm going straight off to apply for that garage job," Larose told
Constable Black, "and if I get it please don't come near me at all when
I'm there. I'll have another yarn, maybe, in a day or two. In any case,
I'll see you before I leave the place, and you shall know how I've got
on."

A few days later and Travers, the proprietor of the Meningie Motor Works
was almost hourly congratulating himself upon the very excellent
mechanic he had recently acquired. An intelligent, hardworking, and
pleasant man, his new employee seemed to give satisfaction everywhere.
He was quick, capable, and obliging, and thoroughly understood his work.
It is true he had all along given out that Punic cars were his
speciality, but his acquaintance with all cars in general was
surprising, and he was seldom long at fault in locating any trouble or
dealing with any difficult and intricate repair.

He seemed, too, to have the gift of pleasing everyone, and quickly made
friends everywhere. Bert Tullock, the chauffeur of Mr. James Dice, was
one of the very first to come under his spell.

In the ordinary way Tullock was a surly, uncommunicative sort of man,
with never a good word for anyone. He had no friends, for no one seemed
to be able to get on with him.

But Beeton, for such was the new mechanic's name, was most cordial to
him upon the very first occasion that he came into the township and, a
small job to Mr. Dice's car having being got over a friendly suggestion
had been put forward for a quiet adjournment for a drink.

And it was not one only that was stood the chauffeur. There was no
meanness anywhere about Beeton, and Tullock went off thinking what a
fine fellow he had struck.

After that Tullock always made an excuse to call in at the garage when
ever he came into Meningie, which he did almost every day, and his
friend, however busy as he was, somehow always found time for a few
minutes' chat. Soon Tullock was confiding all his troubles to him, and
no one could have been kinder or more sympathetic than Beeton was.

Tullock, it appeared, had come from Brisbane, and he badly wanted to get
back there because of a girl. But he had not the money for the expensive
journey, and the devil of it was, he wailed, he could never get enough
out of his wages to save.

Then an idea came suddenly one day to Beeton, and with no beating about
the bush he at once advanced it to the chauffeur. He would lend Tullock
the money, he said; he had got 20 saved up, but it was upon certain
conditions, of course.

First he must swear to pay him back and second he must put him, Beeton,
in the way of getting his, Tullock's job.

Tullock opened his eyes wide at his friend's generosity, and inwardly he
marvelled at the simplicity of the chap, but agreeing on the spot to
both conditions he screwed up his face violently and swore fearful oaths
upon the matter of paying back.

It was soon all arranged. At Beeton's instigation Tullock was to clear
out suddenly without notice, but before doing so he was to tamper with
the magneto of Mr. Dice's car and do certain other little
disarrangements that Beeton carefully pointed out.

So, it came to pass that Mr. Dice awoke one morning minus a chauffeur,
and, when he went to get his car out--behold, the wretched thing would
not go.

In great annoyance he rang up the Meningie garage with the request that
someone should be sent out at once, and it was the mechanic Beeton, of
course, because of his special knowledge of Punic cars, who was
immediately despatched.

The man was most respectful in his demeanour, and it was evident he was
not a little over-awed by the importance of being brought in personal
contact with the Chief Magistrate of the district, but he at once set
about going over the car in a methodical and workmanlike way.

"I'm afraid it's been tampered with," remarked Mr. Dice quietly. "It was
quite all right when I came in yesterday, and, if anyone has misused it,
it's that man, Tullock, who, for some reason has taken himself away."
His voice hardened perceptibly as he spoke.

For the moment the mechanic made no reply. He appeared to be entirely
engrossed with the car and, his professional instincts aroused, he
seemed to have no thought now for anything else.

Mr. Dice watched him critically. "Quite a good man," was his mental
comment. "He knows his work and he'll soon find out what's wrong."

There certainly may have been no doubt that the mechanic knew his work,
but, in those particular seconds, it happened that he was not actually
thinking about the car at all. It was the personality of James Dice that
was alone occupying all his thoughts.

Larose was saturating himself in the atmosphere of 'a suspect,' and,
with every sense upon the alert, was endeavouring to grip something of
the psychology of the man who was standing by his side.

"Hum," he muttered to himself. "Yes, decidedly a possibility. A man of
strong character, no doubt; strong and very determined. Bold, too, and
proud. A secretive man, and, as Black said, very reserved. Perhaps quite
kind generally, but a hard man probably when crossed. Undoubtedly
capable and enterprising, but rather hasty, I should say, in his
decisions."

"You won't be long, do you think?" here broke in Mr. Dice with a frown.
"I am going to Stratalbyn to-day."

"Ah," thought on Larose, "fidgety is he, and apt to get flurried. Now
that's his weakness, I suspect--not a well balanced mind."

The mechanic looked up. "Nothing much wrong, I think, sir. There's a
short circuit somewhere, but I'll soon have it right. Still, it's a good
thing I came up anyhow. The radiator wants tightening a lot; the nuts
are quite loose at the bottom there."

Mr. Dice's face lost its frown. "Good," he said, "and the quicker you
are the better, for I'm very late as it is."

In a quarter of an hour at most, the mechanic had got everything right
and, looking very pleased with himself, he drove the car out of the
garage and round to the front door. He assured Mr. Dice that there would
now be no more trouble.

"You've been very quick," remarked the magistrate pleasantly.

The mechanic smiled with pride. "Well, I know every bolt and nut of this
model, sir, and I can tell in a second where anything is wrong. I've had
to do with Punics now for years."

Mr. Dice regarded the man thoughtfully. "I suppose," he said, "I suppose
you are not keen on a chauffeur's job, are you?"

"But I am, sir," replied the mechanic eagerly. "It's just what I do
want. I've only been with Mr. Travers a little while, and he knows that
I'm only there temporarily. I've got a weak chest and the doctors tell
me I must be as much as possible in the open air."

Mr. Dice looked pleased. "Well, I shall be in Meningie to-morrow," he
said at once, "and I'll call round then and see Mr. Travers. You may be
just the very man I want."

Two days later, and Gilbert Larose had taken up his duties as handy-man
and chauffeur to James Dice, Esq., Senior Magistrate of the District of
Meningie.

* * *

James Dice was by no means a repulsive type of man. On the contrary, he
had quite a pleasant face, and, as his physiognomy denoted, in
disposition he was neither cruel or unkind. He was undeniably good
looking. He held his head up high, and there was a quiet dignity about
him that suggested strength and purpose and a temper well under control.
In manner, he was proud and reserved.

As chairman of the bench of magistrates, he occupied an important
position in the district, and if he did not trouble to form any
friendships he was still well respected by all who were brought in
contact with him. He was considered a stern and just man, but one who
was taciturn and unsociable by nature and who preferred to be left
alone.

But there was a side to his character that the public never saw, nor
even suspected that he possessed.

Temperamentally he was not a normal man.

Twenty and odd years before, he had received a bad head injury in the
Boer war and he had never afterwards been the same man. He suffered from
violent headaches, and in times of excitement or great mental stress he
would become almost unbalanced in his mind. Then he would altogether
lose the right perspective of things, and would consider everything that
he did himself as perfectly necessary and right.

And he had been very much in this condition just prior to the running of
the Adelaide Christmas Cup.

He had been in desperate straits financially, and almost at the very end
of his tether. He had been gambling heavily on the Stock Exchange, and
everything he had touched had gone wrong. His station was mortgaged up
to the very hilt, and he was in dire need of ready money.

Ruin had been staring him in the face, and the breaking up of his home
had been imminent, and a matter seemingly only of weeks.

In all his troubles there had been only one bright spot--his gelding,
Black Wolf.

Here it seemed he had been served by an almost miraculous chance for,
with a life's experience of horses, he was sure he had never possessed
such a good one before, and he believed that it was quite possible all
his losses might yet be retrieved by one great gamble upon the turf.

Secretly he had tried out the gelding to be a marvel of stamina and
speed. He had bought him as a foal running with his mother, and he had
got him almost for a mere song. Unbroken until nearly three years old,
it had only been intended then that the gelding should be used as a
hack. The horse was quite commonplace to look at, and it was some time
before Dice had become aware of what a treasure he possessed. Indeed, it
was almost by accident that it was discovered how very much out of the
ordinary the animal was. His master's suspicions being once aroused,
however, it was soon realised that Black Wolf could go like the wind
and, pitted against other horses on the station he had simply smothered
them with the greatest of ease. Recourse being then made to the clock,
it was found he could negotiate long gallops in almost record time.

Hardly still believing that it could be his good fortune to possess such
a potential champion, Dice had secretly borrowed Basil's Pride, a
notable performer in both States, from a cousin of his in Melbourne,
quickly to find that his most rosy expectations were confirmed.

Black Wolf, at even weights, could leave the Pride almost as if the
latter were standing still.




Chapter XXI.


Appalled then by the magnitude of the possibilities that might lie
before him, with such a horse as Black Wolf, Dice had not breathed a
word to any outsiders, and indeed only one of his station hands, Sid
Ferris, had been a complete sharer of the secret with him.

With little time to spare, the gelding had been entered for the
forthcoming Adelaide Christmas Cup, and, getting in at the featherweight
of six stone seven, his success had seemed absolutely assured.

Of only one of the other horses entered had they any fear. Abimeleck,
the inter-State horse, alone, they thought, could by any possibility
upset their calculations. But Abimeleck, they were certain, would never
run. Dice had received secret information about him from his cousin in
Melbourne, and he had been advised that the crack's legs had given out.

So they had not worried about Abimeleck, and had slept their sleeps in
peace, dreaming happily of the great fortune that was so surely coming
to them both.

Then, like a bomb, had come the news that Abimeleck had been put on rail
for Adelaide, and was an almost certain runner for the Cup.

Dice thought and dreamt of Abimeleck and Eli Barton day and night long,
and the brooding over his seemingly lost fortune became an absolute
obsession with him. He grew positively ill.

Then, two days before the race, Sid Ferris had gone into Meningie, and
at the hotel there had heard someone saying that Eli Barton was coming
through the Coorong that night. He had rushed back to his master with
some wild idea in his mind about kidnapping the old man and preventing
him from getting to Adelaide. It was notorious what a martinet old
Barton was about his horses, and that under no circumstances would
Abimeleck be allowed to start until he had been inspected by the owner
himself just prior to the running of the race.

James Dice had at first received with great contempt the very idea that
they could successfully kidnap Eli Barton and not afterwards be found
out, and then, suddenly, the dreadful thought had flashed through him
that it might be quite possible to get rid of the old man altogether.

* * *

For a moment he had put away the idea as bordering on madness, but the
deep straits that he was in had forced it back again and again, into his
mind, and at last, in less even than an hour from its first conception,
he was feverishly making preparations for its execution.

What then happened we already know. He had shot both Eli Barton and Sam
Gover, and then, in dreadful panic to cover up his tracks, he had shot
Ferris, too. At the time he had been almost mad with terror, but the
drive home had calmed and steadied him, and reaching his station just
before the dawn his old confidence began to take hold of him again.

He had brought death to three men but he would never be found out, he
told himself, for he had left no traces behind. He had only to sit tight
and the whole night's doings would be only like the memory of some
dreadful dream. Hopeful, therefore, in his expected certain immunity, he
very quickly pulled himself together and when, only two days later,
Black Wolf so gallantly headed the Christmas Cup field there was
practically no more delighted man in all Australia.

All his money troubles were over at last. Life was all rosy again, and
so secure did he feel himself that not even the subsequent discovery of
Eli Barton's body, and the astonishing resurrection, too, of Sam Gover,
caused him much uneasiness or alarm.

There was, however, one little fly in his ointment; just one little
misgiving when he allowed himself to dwell on the happenings of that
dreadful night. One little possibility that somehow or other he might
one day be found out.

He had a morbid fear of the possible activities of the Sydney detective,
Gilbert Larose. Of course the idea was all foolishness, he told himself
repeatedly, but somehow or other he could never completely shake it off.
It was impressed by peculiar circumstances deep into his subconscious
mind.

Some years before two men sitting near him had been conversing about a
murder that had just then occurred in a back street in one of the slums
of Sydney, and one of them had remarked that the perpetrator of the
crime would certainly never be found out, for he had not left behind him
even the very ghost of a clue. But the other man had shaken his head
emphatically and warned the first speaker not to be too sure, for
Larose, he said, had been put upon the case. Larose, he went on to
insist, would be certain in time to discover everything, for Larose had
got powers and senses that no one else possessed. Larose could reason
backwards much easier than other people could reason forward, and, as
for clues, well--Larose would see things that had been invisible to
every one else, and he could mark even the shadow that a murderer had
left upon the wall.

So, when later he had learnt of the strenuous efforts that both Sam
Gover and the Times of Adelaide were making to get hold of Larose, he
had not been without decided qualms of uneasiness, but he had been
comforted and reassured again when he had heard of their lack of
success, and with the quiet passing of the weeks he had begun calmly to
believe that the whole inquiry had died down.

He had smiled grimly to himself that he should so strangely have got to
know Sam Gover and young Barton, and for the elder man he had soon
acquired quite a liking. As for Stanley Barton, it amused him
considerably when he noticed the young man's admiration for pretty
Margaret, and in his own mind he thought it would not be at all a bad
thing if the affair became serious.

But of Larose, what of Larose? What were the detective's hopes and
intentions when he had so manoeuvred that he had been taken into the
employ of James Dice? We may say at once that he was supremely confident
of nothing. He certainly believed that Dice had been concerned in the
murder. He was almost sure of it. Indeed, everything was pointing that
way. But still, for too long Larose had been associated with crime to
allow his mind to jump hastily to any unestablished conclusion. There
was nothing absolutely definite, as yet, to link up Dice with the
murder. There was no actual proof that after all he had been the other
man by the car. Sid Ferris might have had an entirely different
accomplice and been acting quite independently of his master. Larose had
no evidence as yet, he knew, that would incriminate James Dice, in a
Court of Law, and so like a wise old dog he was prepared to nose on
farther along the trail.

* * *

He was sure that a man who was not an habitual criminal and yet who had
suddenly committed two murders could not possibly pass on through his
life quite unaltered. To the experienced eye he would at times be
certain to exhibit the undoubted signs that are inseparable from a
watchful attitude.

Also Larose thought that if James Dice were really the man he wanted, he
might pick up some definite clue in James Dice's house itself. For one
thing, he badly wanted the revolver that the murderer had used, and he
believed that there was no reason why it should have been made away
with. It would be a big, old-fashioned one, he knew, of large calibre.
Just such a one as might have been used twenty years back in the Boer
War, in South Africa, where James Dice had been. Then there was the
hurricane lantern he would expect to find. Not that he could make very
much of that, for hurricane lanterns, he knew, were plentiful on
stations and farms, but still it would help him and encourage him to go
on. Also, he wanted to learn what the station hands thought of Sid
Ferris, and what their explanation was for the man's sudden going away.
It was possible, too, he thought, that he might diplomatically ferret
out something which would throw light upon Dice's movements on the night
of the murder. The night would probably be remembered, because of its
being so near to the actual day of the Christmas Cup race.

So Gilbert Larose entered upon his services at Mundulla Station with
both the hope and the expectation of finding something that might lead
him nearer to the end, and, with all the thoroughness of his nature, he
proceeded at once to carry out all his duties so pleasantly and so
efficiently that he became a general favourite almost within a few
hours.

He kept his eyes and his ears open every time, and he absorbed
information like a sponge.

But with the master, James Dice--with the man he had come to shadow, it
could not truthfully be said that at first he made much progress. He had
just been bidden good morning, been given his orders, been asked to do
this and do that, and nothing more.

From the very beginning, the detective was puzzled. There was certainly
no sign of any uneasy watchfulness about James Dice. No appearance that
he had any worry on his mind. He was just a quiet, thoughtful, and
reserved man, and that was all.




Chapter XXII.


When Larose had been on Dice's station a full week he had reluctantly to
admit that so far, but for two things, he had drawn absolutely blank,
and of the value of those two things even he could not be very sure.

Firstly, he had found the hurricane lamp, or, to be exact, he had found
two hurricane lamps. But there was no mystery or secret about them at
all. They were both openly in use every night. The kitchen had one and
the stable had another. The latter he had examined most carefully, but
there were no signs of accident or ill-usage about it, and both lamps
were the very spit of one another.

"Not much to go on here," he remarked thoughtfully to himself, "but
still--still, finding them at all is certainly better than their not
being here."

The second discovery, however seemed much more important, and made him
think a lot. James Dice had bought a book on Medical Jurisprudence. It
had come by post from Adelaide. Larose had brought it up himself with
the letters from Meningie, and he had taken the liberty to stop en route
and unwrap it to see what kind of book it was.

Now what on earth could Dice be wanting a book on Medical Jurisprudence
for, he asked himself, and in the intervals of reading it why was he
always so particular to put it in his pocket and not leave it about? One
morning when Dice was having his bath Larose slipped like a shadow into
his bedroom and saw the book by the bedside. He balanced it for a moment
on the palm of his open hand, and then with a quick jerk allowed the
book to open itself. It opened right in the middle of a chapter on
'gun-shot wounds.' Holding his breath, he shut it up and tried it again.
It opened on exactly the same page. With a low whistle, but tempting
fortune no farther, he replaced the book and stole noiselessly from the
room.

Now here was certainly something very odd, he told himself, when a few
seconds later he had gained the sanctuary of the garage, and was
apparently intent only on the car. Why should Dice be interested in
gun-shot wounds, or why, indeed, in Medical Jurisprudence at all? He
went back in his mind over the temperament and character that he
believed the murderer of Eli Barton and Sid Ferris could undoubtedly
possess. Bold, strong, and forceful to a point, and then--then with a
streak of weakness in him that would give him in a lightning flash
completely over to panic and to fear.

Did James Dice answer accurately to this supposed temperament? He
shrugged his shoulders. He must wait and see.

On the eighth day after Larose's arrival at the station he drove Miss
Bevan and her uncle into Meningie. The girl had some shopping to do, and
Mr. Dice some business of his own too, in the township. It was a bright
pleasant morning, with a cool breeze tempering the air. Margaret was in
the happy mood so usual to her, and chatted gaily to her uncle as they
drove along. The latter seemed in wonderfully good spirits, too, and
several times Larose heard him laugh at something the girl was saying.
The detective frowned as he listened to them. Surely things for him, at
any rate, were not fitting in at all too well.

They pulled up at the Post Office and the uncle and niece went in. A
minute or so later, just as they were coming out, they almost ran into a
tall, professional-looking man.

"Hullo, Doctor!" exclaimed James Dice genially, "and how's the world
serving you?"

"Excellently," smiled back the local medical man, taking off his hat
admiringly to Miss Bevan, "at least from my point of view. There's quite
a little sickness about just now."

They chatted lightly for a few moments, and then the doctor made ready
to go.

"Oh, by the by," he remarked, as if in an afterthought, "poor Black's
very seriously ill."

"Policeman Black," asked Miss Bevan interested, at once, "why what's the
matter with him?"

"He's got double pneumonia," replied Doctor Stark gravely, "and if I'd
seen you yesterday I should have said he was going to die. This morning,
however, he's a shade better, and it's possible now he may pull
through."

"Oh, I'm so sorry," exclaimed the girl. "He's always so very polite to
us, and everyone likes him, too."

"Yes, he's quite a decent sort, isn't he? But as I say the poor chap's
very bad now. He's been delirious for two days." The doctor turned to
James Dice. "Extraordinary thing, delirium, Mr. Dice," he went on. "When
these poor old brains of ours go wrong we get some really wonderful
fancies into our minds. We live in new worlds all so very different from
those of our real own. For example, there's this poor old Black here.
He's just, as you know, a very commonplace policeman, and when he's well
his life's probably as drab and colourless as anyone's could be. He has
quite a boring time then, I expect, but now--now that he's ill he's an
individual of a very different degree. Wonderful things are happening to
him all day long, and he's mixing with the very top-notchers of his
profession. He keeps on thinking that he's holding a conversation with
that Sydney detective, Gilbert Larose. 'Very proud to meet you, Mr.
Larose,' he's been saying. 'Very pleased, indeed, to help you in any
way. Yes, I'll tell you about every person in the neighbourhood that you
want to know. We'll find out everything, we will, for we are men who
think, you and I.' Very pathetic isn't it? for, as I say, in reality old
Black's one of those cold, stodgy men who are just town-stuck policemen,
from top to toe. He'll never be anything better, or anything worse."

"Poor man," exclaimed Miss Margaret. "I am so sorry, but does he know
how ill he is, Doctor Stark?"

"Not at all, young lady," smiled back the doctor. "I tell you he's quite
happy at present, and in the seventh heaven because he imagines he's
working with Larose."

And all this while, Beeton, the chauffeur, was standing close beside
them with the cold and deferential pose of a well-trained gentleman's
servant. He had no interest, of course, in the conversation of his
betters--no, not he. He was just an automaton at so much wage per week,
and what his employers said or thought was only of as much moment to him
as what was then happening in Jerusalem or far off Timbuctoo. So he did
not, of course, see the strong face of his master blanch and harden, he
did not notice the quick movement of the eyebrows, he did not hear the
sharp intake of breath, and the embarrassed cough, as of a man who had
been abruptly startled into confusion. No, he noticed none of these
things for was he not just an ordinary and commonplace chauffeur, with
his mind obsessed only with thoughts of bolts and nuts.

Dr. Stark lifted his hat and smilingly bade them good-bye; Miss Bevan
went about her shopping, and Mr. Dice, after a moment's hesitation,
walked slowly into the Meningie Hotel.

* * *

Beeton garaged the car, and then, being free for half an hour, himself
turned into the hotel bar to get something to drink.

"Morning. Beeton," said the landlord, "and how are you getting on in
your new place?"

"Very nicely, thank you, sir," replied the chauffeur. "I'm getting on
fine."

The landlord jerked his thumb over his shoulder. "What's the matter with
the governor?" he whispered. "He's had a couple of brandies just now,
and that's not like him."

"Oh," replied Beeton indifferently. "He's quite all right that I know."

There were certainly two very disturbed men going home that morning in
the car, but certainly neither of them showed it. James Dice had pulled
himself together very quickly, and there was outwardly no trace of the
dismay that had surged into his heart. It had jarred him terribly, for
the moment, when Dr. Stark had told them of the policeman and Larose,
for he divined instantly what had happened. The policeman was betraying
in his delirium that Larose was in the neighbourhood, and that he and
the great Sydney detective had met.

Now the master of Mundulla station was anything but a stupid man, and
there were no doubts whatever in his mind as to why the detective had
come. He was there after the destroyer of Eli Barton, and he was
believing that in the vicinity of Meningie the murderer would be found.
But how was it, James Dice considered anxiously, that they had managed
to get hold of the detective after all, and on whose behalf was he now
taking up the case?

Was it through the Times of Adelaide, or through old Gover that the man
had come down? In any case, surely he ought to have heard of it, for, of
course, Sam Gover must know. Sam Gover was his friend--he smiled in grim
amusement here--and it was a shabby thing that he had been kept in the
dark.

Then he fell to weighing up what possible danger could threaten him,
even if Larose were in Meningie on the case. Surely there was nothing
that could possibly be discovered now to connect him with the murder.
Then why on earth should he be afraid?




Chapter XXIII.


Well before the return journey was accomplished, the master of Mundulla
had lulled himself into a state of confidence again and by the time they
finally reached home and Beeton was deferentially holding open the car
door, there was no trace at all of any unusual emotion upon his normally
placid face.

But if James Dice had been successful in masking the disturbed
conditions of his mind, so also had Larose been successful in concealing
his. His face was equally as calm and impressive as his master's,
although in his mind, too, gaunt fears had taken shape.

For the moment, when he heard the doctor speaking, he had been
absolutely appalled that Dice should have been so unluckily put on his
guard. It was the worst thing that could have happened, he swore to
himself, for he would be dealing now with a man wary and suspicious at
every turn. All his investigations would be hampered, and he would get
no chance whatever of making the quiet searches over the house that he
had intended. His trump card all along had been that if Dice were really
the guilty party he would be so lulled into security by the passing of
the weeks that he would be less likely to conceal evidence that might
become vital and conclusive to connect him with the crime. Yes, the
whole business was a terrible setback to all his chances of success, and
he was certainly working under an unlucky star. And then it came to him,
on the other side of the account, that it might not be such an
unfortunate thing after all. At any rate, he knew now that he was not
wasting his time, and that he was absolutely on the right track.

James Dice was the guilty party sure enough, and it would be only the
question of bringing things home to him now. He, Larose, need no longer
have any misgivings. He could go straight forward in absolute confidence
now. He must concentrate, he must reason, he must force himself to
uncover the traces that, surely, could not possibly be all hid.

Then, too, there was another thing, and he felt quite elated here. He
had proved definitely that his estimation of the murderer's character
was quite correct. All along he had believed, in spite of the apparently
bold and fearless manner in which the crime had been carried out, that
the perpetrator of it had a white streak somewhere.

That evening Mr. Dice was giving a small dinner party to some men
friends of his, and Beeton, the chauffeur, was called upon to help carry
the dishes to the dining-room door. From time to time he heard a lot of
the conversation that was going on, and once, to his amusement, they
were talking about the great Sydney detective, Larose.

"But I tell you, man," he heard a protesting voice say, "Larose never
gives up a case until he's absolutely pulled off from it, like a terrier
from a rat. He'll hang on to it for months and months, and nothing
discourages him or puts him off. Every case he's put on to becomes an
absolute mania with him, and he's then really a sort of madman himself.
I've met him several times in Court, and know exactly what he's like."

* * *

The chauffeur, Beeton, swore gently under his breath. "I really must be
a devil of a fellow," he muttered, "but I wonder now who is this fine
gentleman here."

After dinner Mr. Dice sent for his chauffeur to explain to them some
point about the gearing of the Punic car, and Beeton answered so
intelligently that the guests afterwards congratulated their host upon
the acquisition he had got.

Trundle, a well-known barrister from New South Wales, was most emphatic
in his praise. "But what's his name, Dice?" he asked suddenly, as if in
an afterthought.

"Beeton," replied his host. "Christian name, Thomas, I believe, but why
do you want to know?"

"Well," said the barrister slowly, "when he was speaking to you just now
I had a peculiar feeling somehow that I had met him somewhere before.
Beeton, Beeton," he muttered and then he shook his head. "No, his name's
not in any way familiar. It must have been his voice that reminded me of
someone else, but I can't remember who the deuce it was now."

Now no one could possibly have made a greater mistake than did James
Dice when he imagined so fondly that, as far as the detective Larose was
concerned, his feelings henceforth would be at worst only those of
contemptuous and indifferent annoyance.

Directly he was alone by himself again, he began to worry, and the very
next day following upon his visit to Meningie with his niece, he
realised, to his disgust, that he was thinking of the detective to the
exclusion of everybody and everything else.

In spite of the seeming impossibility of any discoveries being made by
Larose, even if he were in the neighbourhood and hot upon his trail, it
came most unpleasantly home to the master of Mundulla that all his
one-time certainty of security nevertheless was lost, and that his peace
of mind hung now only by a very frail and insecure thread.

He wondered suddenly also whether he were not already being shadowed,
and the very horror of this last idea was quite unnerving. It gripped
him like a palsy, as, with his waking moment, he first thought of it.

He instantly got out of bed, and, snatching out his race glasses from a
drawer, went out on to the veranda just as he was, and took a good
sweeping view round. He was really not expecting to see anything
unusual, and there was certainly nothing in sight that should have
disturbed him, but still he noticed not without considerable uneasiness,
from how many different places a hidden man could be keeping watch over
the house.

Turning round, he saw that Beeton, the chauffeur, was looking at him.
The man was busy cleaning the car just by the open garage door, but
directly he noticed his master observing him he touched his cap
respectfully before going on with his work.

"Ah," thought James Dice suddenly, "now if anything ever happens, that
man might be of great use to me." He strolled over to the garage.

"Good morning, Beeton," he said pleasantly. "Mind now and always look
carefully over the tyres for thorns. There are always plenty about
here."

"I always do, sir," replied the chauffeur. "I found two in them
yesterday."

"That's right," replied his master, "They gave a lot of bother this time
last year. By-the-bye," he went on casually, after a moment's pause,
"did you notice a strange man up on the road a little while ago. I
thought I saw someone there by the far fence, but he doesn't appear to
have come up to the house."

"No, sir," replied Beeton, slowly, shaking his head. "There's been no
one on the road since I've been here, and that must have been more than
an hour now."

"Oh, well," commented James Dice lightly, "I must have been mistaken,
then, but I certainly thought I saw someone there. You see, Beeton," he
went on, dropping his voice, "as a magistrate here I have necessarily to
administer the law." He shrugged his shoulders and smiled dryly. "And
that doesn't always tend to make one popular, now does it?"

Beeton grinned back intelligently, as if he quite understood.

"So," his master went on, "it is always possible that there may be
people about willing to do me a bad turn." He shaded his eyes with his
hand for a few moments and stared intently down the track that led from
the station towards the main road. "If you should ever see any strange
man," he continued slowly, "lurking about as if he didn't want to be
seen, just let me know at once, will you? Tell me immediately wherever I
am, you understand?"

"All right, sir," said Beeton, as if very much impressed. "I'll keep my
eyes open and tell you at once. I'll keep a look out all day."

"Do you know anything about firearms?" asked his master presently.

"I'm pretty quick with a shot-gun, sir," replied the chauffeur, "but
I've not had much experience with a rifle."

"Not got a pistol, eh?"

Beeton smiled as if he were rather amused, and shook his head.

"A spanner's more in my line, sir, I think, but still"--and his open
honest face beamed with enthusiasm--"I could soon get accustomed to a
pistol I think, if I had one."

The chauffeur's heart beat very quickly. Was fate dealing him the ace of
trumps so soon?

"I--I used to have a pistol somewhere," said his master, hesitatingly,
"but it's got mislaid somehow, and I can't remember where it is." He
thought for a moment. "Anyhow," he jerked out quickly, "I'll buy a
couple of automatics to-morrow. We might want them sometime, and they'll
be always handy to have about the place."

The chauffeur's hopes sank instantly to zero.

"Not yet, my child," he murmured sadly, as his master moved away. "Not
yet, not yet."




Chapter XXIV.


A couple of days later and it was plain to everyone that the master of
Mundulla Station was not in a happy state of mind.

He was fidgety and restless, and his one-time calm and placid face was
clouded always now with a worried frown.

He was irritable and bad-tempered, too, and the slightest thing upset
him. Quite trivial matters seemed to annoy him, and he was moody and
very short of speech.

No one knew better than himself the change that had come over him, and
the very knowledge of it annoyed and worried him to a degree. He was
anything but a coward, and up to a certain point his nature was as
strong and self-reliant as could be.

Yet there was a peculiarity about his courage, for it was of the cold
and calculating type.

He was a man who in the actual presence of a danger he had anticipated
would be bold and unflinching to the bitter end. He would have no fear
of his enemies, and if defeat came in him he would accept things calmly
and without repining. He would stand then in the eyes of the world as a
strong and absolutely fearless type of man, but, in order to exhibit
these qualities, he must never be rushed into anything. He must never be
startled into situations with no time given him to make up his mind,
and, again, to be at his best, he must be seeing definitely from what
direction the danger was about to come. He could not stand uncertainty
and suspense, and that was the trouble that was eating his heart out
now.

If he were only sure that Larose was on his track, if he had only some
idea as to how much the latter guessed or thought he knew, if he had
only some inkling as to how Larose was going to appear, then, in a way,
he would have worried very little, and just prepare himself to meet the
whole thing as if he did not fear or care at all.

But he was in the dark everywhere, he was suspicious of everything, and
the poison of suspense began to sink into the marrow of his bones.

Within a week, then, it followed that he began to alter all his usual
habits, and, instead of riding energetically about the station, as had
been his wont, he gave out that he was not feeling well, and passed most
of the time sitting out upon the verandah.

He read nearly all day long, or at any rate made a pretence of reading,
for the chauffeur noticed that more often than not his eyes were gazing
out towards the road rather than being turned upon the book.

Strangely enough, it was to the chauffeur himself, the latest comer to
the station, that he was the most communicative, and quite often he
crossed the yard to the garage, and had a chat with the man.

At times, then, he seemed for the moment to shake off the cold reserve
of his nature and unloosen his restraint.

"Know Sydney, Beeton?" he asked suddenly, one morning.

"Yes, sir," replied the chauffeur. "I've passed most of my life there."

"Beautiful city," went on James Dice, "but too rough and noisy for me.
Give me the quietness of country like this, every time."

"Yes, sir," agreed the chauffeur, "not much peace in Sydney, night or
day."

"What did you do there?" asked his master. "You were in the motor line?"

"Yes, I drove for a doctor, sir," replied Beeton.

"Oh," remarked James Dice, "then you know the city well?"

"Almost every street and road in it, sir, as well as I know this yard
now."

There was silence for a minute, and then Dice spoke again. "I suppose,"
he said, as if quite casually, "I suppose there really are some very
rough districts in Sydney. There are a lot of bad characters about, I
mean?"

"Oh yes, sir, Sydney has always some of the wickedest people in the
world in it, they say."

"Are the police pretty good there?"

The chauffeur nodded his head emphatically. "They have to be, sir.
There's always such a lot for them to do."

"What about their detectives?"

"Oh, the detectives! Well, sir, some of them are very good. One or two
of them are supposed to be the best any country's ever known."

James Dice got up from the box where he had been sitting, and slowly
stretched his arms. It seemed as if he were beginning to get bored.

"Ever heard," he asked, stifling a yawn, "ever happen to hear of a chap
they've got there called--called Larose?"

Beeton drew himself up straight with a jerk, and his face beamed over
with pride and enthusiasm.

"Oh yes, sir," he exclaimed. "Everyone who's lived in Sydney has heard
of Larose. He's a long way the best detective they've got. We were
always hearing about him. He's said to be really wonderful."

James Dice seemed to be stifling another yawn. He was obviously getting
bored now, and it was quite a sneering face that he turned upon his
chauffeur.

"What's wonderful about him?" he asked contemptuously. "Is he so
different, then, from other men?"

Beeton hesitated. "Well, sir, it's like this," he replied. "People
believe he can bring back to himself whatever's happened in any place.
He can stand, say, where a man's been murdered and he'll just close his
eyes and be able to see the very face of the person who killed him."

"Bosh," said Dice angrily.

"I know, sir, it does seem absurd," went on the chauffeur in an ashamed
sort of way, "but then he's done it, time after time. Why, when they
found the policeman's body in that cellar in Jury Street last year no
one could make head or tail of it until Larose was called in. Then
within an hour or two he'd found it all out, and they got hold of the
man straight away--although no one ever came to know exactly how Larose
had done it."

James Dice mopped his face vigorously with his handkerchief. He looked
white and sickly with the heat.

"What's Larose like?" he asked rather huskily. "Have you ever seen him?"

"No, sir, and there's something very funny about that, too. Lots of
photographs of him have been published, but he looks a different person
every time. They say he can change his face just as he wants to by
screwing up his eyes and stretching the muscles of his cheeks."

"You're a fool, Beeton," commented his master with a sneer again. "I
didn't think you could be such an ass." He took out his watch. "Bring
the car round in ten minutes," he went on brusquely. "I shall be going
into Meningie this morning."

He walked leisurely across the yard back into the house, humming
casually to himself as he went along and no one, from his outward
appearance would have guessed for a moment the agitation that was in his
mind. With shaking hands he mixed himself a stiff brandy and soda, and
again he had to have recourse to his handkerchief to clear his face of
sweat.

"Damn," he swore savagely. "What makes me think of it at all? There's
not one chance in a million of anything coming out, but if I go on like
this I shall become really mad. I must pull myself together and be a
man. If I face things boldly there is absolutely nothing to worry
about."

But it was a different tale again when he was in bed that night and a
very different tale, too, the next morning when he rose, tired and
unrefreshed, from snatches only of broken sleep. All his fears and
gloomy forebodings were back, and in spite of all his reasoning he could
not shake them off. Over and over again he told himself he was a fool,
that his position was impregnable, and that he had only to sit tight
and, Larose or no Larose, all would be well.

But, do all he would, he could not convince himself, and, as day followed
upon day, although outwardly he had managed to school himself to more
self-control, inwardly there was the continual piling up in his mind of
the cumulative effect of worry and strain.

The thought of Larose had by then become absolutely to obsess him, and
in some guise or other he was expecting the detective at every hour of
the day.

He scrutinised every tradesman or caller that came up the road, and,
although they were quite unaware of it, each one of them before they
finally reached the house had been under his binoculars for many
hundreds of yards.

He thought, too, that Larose might be hiding in almost every place.
Larose was in the gullies, he was in the ditches, he had scooped himself
a hole in the sand hummock tops. Larose was walking round the house at
night, he was skulking in the wood shed, he was peering through the
fly-proof windows directly it got dark--in fact, he was ubiquitous; he
was everywhere all at once.

It could not be denied, however, that James Dice had got some very good
reasons for believing that he was being shadowed. One morning he had
found distinct marks of a tool upon the frame of his bedroom window
outside, and Beeton, the chauffeur, being whisperingly called into
consultation, had at once given it as his opinion that they were the
marks of a chisel. Some one, he said, must have been trying to force the
window during the night.

Dice went almost green with apprehension, and his horror was redoubled
when the chauffeur reluctantly admitted that twice lately he had thought
he had heard someone prowling about the place in the dark.

"Then why the hell didn't you tell me at once?" snarled his master
desperately, between his teeth. "I told you to keep a look out."

"But I wasn't sure, sir," pleaded the chauffeur, "and perhaps now I was
mistaken, because the dog never barked."




Chapter XXV.


"Ah! the dog!" ejaculated Dice. "I thought yesterday he looked dull and
sleepy. Perhaps he's been doped. Keep him on his chain in future, and
then we shall know where we are. And don't let anyone give him any food
but yourself."

"I ought to have got those pistols I spoke about the other day," he went
on. "I'll phone up for them to Adelaide straight away. In the meantime
you shall have one of the shot guns, and just keep a couple of
cartridges always handy by your bed. I'll keep half a dozen by mine, and
by James," he ground his teeth viciously together, "by James, I'll give
anyone hell if I catch them prowling round." He looked determinedly at
Beeton. "Fire instantly, man, when you see anyone, and you can't miss
with a shot gun, you know. I'm a magistrate, remember, and I'll take all
the blame."

"What ho!" whistled Larose thoughtfully, when a few minutes later he was
back again by himself in the motor shed. "Things are certainly moving on
now. Still, I don't quite like the idea of these shot-guns, and I'll
have to attend to those cartridges of his before to-night. I don't want
to be going to my own funeral just yet, and in the mood he's now in he
isn't safe. Now, if only he'd produce that pistol he's got. I'm sure
it's hidden somewhere, and it would make all the evidence click.
Still--still, I really think we're getting on. Yes, we're getting on."

So the confined and intense drama on Mundulla station proceeded for a
few more days, and then the curtain was rung down suddenly in a manner
totally different from that expected by both principal actors, and in a
way certainly most disconcerting to one.

James Dice became suddenly of the opinion that his chauffeur
was--Larose!

It happened like this. Everything had seemed to be going well for
Larose, and day by day he had been getting more and more into his
victim's confidence. Besides being the chauffeur, he had now become the
valet of his master as well. He had pressed his clothes for him, he had
sharpened his razors, and he had looked after his boots. He had been the
first one to call him in the morning, and the last one to see that he
had got all he wanted at night.

James Dice had opened his mind and confided in him, and he had told him
plainly that he believed that there was someone hiding about the station
who was wishing to do him harm. As Beeton, the chauffeur, Larose had
been all sympathy and offers of help, and, with the opportunities of his
new position, he had made not a few little discoveries most interesting
to himself.

He had found, for one thing, a coat at the back of the wardrobe with
dark stains on it all down the front, that might well have been those of
blood, and, most significant, too, was a letter in the inside pocket of
the coat with a postmark on the envelope of the very date upon which Eli
Barton had met his death. Undoubtedly it suggested that James Dice had
been wearing the coat on the exact day of the murder.

Then, too, Larose had had several peeps among James Dice's private
papers when the latter was having his bath, and he had looked through
his bank pass-book as well. He saw there had been actually less than 20
to his credit in the bank on the day before Black Wolf had won the
Christmas Cup; also, from some letters he had hastily run over, it was
plain James Dice had been hard pressed for money at that time, with
several summonses actually on the point of being issued. The week after
the race, however, no less than 13,700 had been paid into the bank, and
taking everything altogether the cumulative evidence to the detective
seemed very black.

So things had been one morning when they had all started off in the car
for a picnic jaunt on the banks of the River Murray, near to the
township of Wellington. Margaret Bevan had got two girl friends staying
with her and, worried and anxious about her uncle, she had persuaded him
that a day's outing would do him good. So off they had all driven with a
well-packed hamper strapped on to the side of the car.

James Dice had occupied the front seat next to his chauffeur, and the
two, in low tones, had discussed the possible advent of the mysterious
visitor that at least one of them was expecting imminently.

"We'll see him soon enough," said Dice with absolute confidence, "and
between us both he ought to get a warm reception."

"I'll pepper him right enough, sir," replied Beeton with enthusiasm,
"and afterwards it'll be easy to explain that I thought it was a
rabbit." He grinned with great amusement. "When we've both done with
him, sir, I don't suppose he'll be feeling healthy enough to raise many
awkward questions."

His master smiled back, and for the thousandth time thought what a gem
of a servant he had got.

Lunch was taken on a high knoll just overlooking the river.

But the master of Mundulla station did not enjoy his meal at all. His
uneasiness was with him as much as ever, and he was looking round all
the time and wondering if they had been followed.

There was a man fishing from a boat about a quarter of a mile away, and
it took many long stares through the binoculars before he was quite
satisfied that they were not being watched from that quarter.

He was, however, satisfied there, at length, but do all he would he
could not shake off the obsession that some time, sure as death, Larose
was going to spring up before him, in some strange and totally
unexpected guise. Perhaps, he thought, he would appear like someone he
knew very well, like one of his brother magistrates for instance, maybe
even like the policeman, Abel Black. Perhaps--but here he cursed himself
for his folly and, more to divert his thoughts than from any prospect of
enjoyment, he opened his case and took out a cigarette.

He took a few deep puffs, and then, looking wearily round, his eyes fell
languidly upon his chauffeur, only a few yards away.

Beeton, at any rate, he saw, was enjoying his meal with gusto. He was
seated by himself, a little apart from the others, just by the foot of a
tree, and he had all the appearance of a man who was taking life well.
He was eating slowly and with appreciation, and he took his wine slowly,
too, as if it were a nectar to be sipped caressingly, and not a beverage
to be savagely gulped down.

His master, idly watching him, thought suddenly what nice table manners
the man had, and how like a gentleman he took his food. He broke his
bread with both hands, he took small mouthfuls, and he emptied his mouth
every time before he drank. Why he might really pass as a gentleman
anywhere! He might be anybody but a common chauffeur. He might--Ah!... A
thought shrieked into James Dice's mind, an idea positively leaped at
him, and then a shock of sheer amazement seemed absolutely to freeze the
very marrow in his spine. He leant back sick and giddy, and he felt his
very heart stand still. His eyes grew dazed, and the happy voices near
him sounded faint and far away.

Beeton--the chauffeur! No, he was Larose, he was Larose! The name was
caught up into his brain, and whirled round and round like the eddies of
some fierce, imprisoned wind.

Larose! Larose! Yes, it was Beeton who was Larose!

James Dice went cold as death. Every sense in him seemed to become numb,
and then a sort of faintness seized him, and his mind refused to think
of anything at all. He was like a man stricken with paralysis, and he
just lay quiet and held his breath.

Then gradually, very gradually, a realisation of everything came back.
He knew again what was happening, and, with an effort, he turned his
face sideways so that his agitation should not be seen. Presently he
found that he could begin to think clearly again, and his thoughts
became instantly most bitter ones. Oh, what a fool he'd been, and what a
dupe in Larose's hands! He had just walked into the trap the latter had
set for him, with his eyes wide open, and a child even could not have
been more easily taken in. Of course Beeton was Larose; there was not
the slightest doubt of it when he thought of everything now.

Beeton's recent appearance in the neighbourhood, the mysterious flitting
away of the old chauffeur, and the artful way in which Beeton had so
manoeuvred as to get himself taken on in the missing man's place. The
complete way in which his new servant had discharged all his duties, his
ingratiating manner, and the superior intelligence he had always shown!
The very appearance of the man, now he came to think of it
critically--all, all pointed to something very, very different from an
ordinary and common chauffeur. He bore the stamp of refinement and
education, and was obviously much too good and capable a man to be
working for so small a wage, in a situation like that at Mundulla. If
motoring were really his line he would be earning a good salary in the
city.

* * *

Then James Dice's thoughts ran on. But if Beeton were Larose, why had he
come to Mundulla at all? Why had he, the chief magistrate, been singled
out for suspicion?

Bah! It was gossip, of course. Gossip. Just because Black Wolf had won
the Christmas Cup. Larose had merely followed up the easiest lines of
suspicion, and had come down to Mundulla on the chance that, if James
Dice were really the murderer, then he, Larose, would be dealing only
with some raw country bumpkin, with hayseeds in his hair.

James Dice sneered contemptuously. Larose was no miracle worker. The
fellow was a fool after all, and he must be realising now that he had
been very much mistaken. He had been at Mundulla nearly a month and he
had found out nothing, absolutely nothing. All he had done had been to
put in four weeks of hard work as a common servant, and make a few
chisel marks outside his master's bedroom window.

James Dice ground his teeth together viciously here and grew hot with
shame. Yes, the fool had frightened him--there was no doubt about that.
Damn him, and his lies about the wonderful Larose. He'd give him Larose.
The boot was on the other foot now, and it was hell and torment for
Larose instead. He'd toy with him, he'd lead him on--an evil smile
curved round James Dice's lips, and he nodded significantly to himself.

The master of Mundulla pulled himself up straight. He was quite himself
again. He picked up his binoculars and shut them in their case with a
snap.




Chapter XXVI.


LAROSE heard the snap. He was just in the act of putting a piece of
cheese into his mouth.

"Hullo! Hullo!" he thought. "What's happening now? Something decisive.
His royal highness has made up his mind about something. Now what on
earth can that be?"

James Dice turned to his niece. "Do you know, Margaret," he said
smiling. "I think I'll have a piece of ham after all. I feel quite
hungry again now."

"Hullo! Hullo!" thought Larose again. "What does it mean? Something's
happened for sure. Eating ham now, is he? I must look out. I must take
care."

All that afternoon and during the long drive home James Dice seemed to
Larose, who missed nothing, to have become quite a different man. He
appeared to have thrown off all the depression of the morning and to be
entirely free of worry. He laughed and joked quite a lot with the girls,
and was as pleasant and confidential as ever to his chauffeur; indeed,
towards the latter it seemed almost as if he were unusually anxious to
be nice.

"You really do drive splendidly, Beeton," he remarked once, "and you
never seem to get tired." Then he added interestedly: "Did you have many
long journeys to make when you drove for that doctor you told me about,
in Sydney?"

"Yes, sir," replied Larose, who sensed somehow that more lay behind the
simple question than, at any rate, seemed outwardly to be the case. "He
was often called into the country, and then we had long distances to
go."

"Well," smiled James Dice, "it made you an excellent driver, and you
could hold a situation anywhere."

When they reached home and Dice was enjoying a cool shower bath,
preparatory to the evening meal, he congratulated himself that he had
acted very well, and that no inkling of any suspicion could possibly
have entered his chauffeur's mind.

But he would not have been quite so certain about it if he could have
seen into his chauffeur's mind when he, too, was partaking of his
evening meal.

The latter was in his little room, by himself, just off the garage, and
he was very thoughtful. He knew something had happened, and he was
puzzling as to what it was.

It was well on towards midnight before Larose gave up trying to puzzle
the problem out, and it was a very uneasy detective who finally
undressed and got into bed.

He had missed something somewhere, he told himself, and he grunted
disgustedly at the thought that, in consequence, he would now be forced
straightaway to alter his whole plan of campaign.

Incidentally, he had meant to go out that very night in order to make
some mysterious foot-prints in the flower bed under James Dice's bedroom
window, for the due attention of that gentleman directly he awoke.

But now he judged it better to remain in bed, and had he only known he
would have rejoiced at the wisdom of his caution.

James Dice was waiting up for him until past two in the morning. He was
hoping for more chisel marks upon the window-frame, and he was nursing a
loaded shot-gun across his knees.

* * *

The next day was one of some unpleasant surprises for Larose, and, as
far as he and the master of Mundulla were concerned, he soon found that
the tables were now completely turned.

It was he himself who was now being watched. He half thought it the very
first thing in the morning after he had thrown open the garage doors and
started to attend to the car. The idea was strengthened after breakfast,
and by mid-day he was as sure of it as of anything he had ever been in
all his life.

His master never seemed to take his eyes far from him the whole time.
Not that James Dice ever appeared to be actually watching him openly.
The master of Mundulla sat as usual on the verandah, with his book, and
with the binoculars close handy upon his knee. He read a page or two and
then he lazily picked up his glasses and made the usual sweep round. He
focussed them, as he had always done, first on one place and then on
another, but Larose soon noticed, and with a growing uneasiness, too,
that they always ended up by being focussed straight on him.

Then again, when James Dice did appear for a moment to be absorbed in
his book, if Larose made even the very slightest change in his position
when working on the car, if he moved only from one side to the other, he
saw that his master looked up at once, and kept a ready eye on the scene
below.

"Hum!" muttered Larose, "this wants some more thinking out. I don't like
the look of things at all."

By the time evening came, however, it was quite clear to Larose that his
employer had indeed outflanked him, and that the snug security of his
chauffeur-pose had passed.

How it had exactly come about he had not the faintest idea, but there
was no glossing over the fact that the man had somehow stumbled upon the
truth.

Everything in his manner pointed to it, and his whole line of conduct
was now exactly what the detective would have expected, in a person of
his temper and disposition, under such circumstances.

All his one-time restlessness had disappeared, and all his quiet
confidence had returned, as if in the actual presence of the danger he
had once so feared he had become cool and collected, and had in every
way recovered his nerve.

Larose sighed deeply to himself when he thought of it, but he understood
what it was. James Dice had dreaded him terribly in the spirit but,
brought face-to-face with him in the flesh, his fear had been completely
lifted.

For a long while the detective debated with himself what he had best now
do. At first he was almost inclined to pack up his traps and take his
departure without delay, but then, he reasoned to himself, his continued
presence at Mundulla station was not, even now, without a certain
element of strength.

James Dice might know who he was, but he was certainly not aware that
he, Larose, was in the possession of the knowledge that had come his
way. He would not have so openly shown such interest in him, his
chauffeur, if that were so, and he would not so obviously have tried to
draw him out and trip him up with questions, as had been the case, at
intervals, the whole day long.

Then, too, there was another point to consider. James Dice might be
absolutely confident to-day that in the chauffeur, Beeton, he had
unmasked the detective Larose, but it was quite possible that by
to-morrow his complete confidence might have somewhat abated. After all,
he could have no proof positive that Beeton was Larose, and there was
always the chance that, with no strengthening of the conviction, the
pendulum might soon swing back the other way, and once again the
murderer's mind be in that condition of flux and uncertainty which, in
some unguarded moment, might give the whole game away.

So Larose took heart again, and, remembering how often his adventurous
career victory had come to him from the very ashes of defeat, he smiled
confidently to himself, and prepared to carry on his investigations to
the end.

* * *

For two days James Dice was supremely happy in the absolute conviction
that he was playing with Larose, and then all suddenly his mood
underwent yet another change.

The ghost of grey fear crept subtly into his heart and he found himself
in the grip of worry once again.

If Beeton were actually the detective Larose--and he was quite sure of
it--why on earth then, he asked himself, was the man so content to
remain on now at the station, as if he were still expecting to find
something out?

It would be childish, of course, even in the face of his present
blunderings, to under-estimate the fellow's ability. His reputation in
the Commonwealth was so wide and so broad-based that there must be
something in him to have deserved it. He could not be such a
simple-minded fool as to keep on dangling about Mundulla Station unless
he had some hope definitely in view. Then what on earth was it?

James Dice swore savagely to himself and then decided that it was time
for him to act. He was getting tired of this hide-and-seek business, he
told himself, and besides, in some way or other, Larose might prove
dangerous after all. The fellow must be cleared out, he must be taught a
lesson, he must be injured in some way--at any rate he must be dealt
with promptly before any suspicions that his ruse had failed came into
his mind.




Chapter XXVII.


Larose sensed very quickly that something had happened. He noted that
his employer had suddenly stopped coming over to the garage for a chat,
and that now he was hardly spoken to at all. Upon several occasions,
too, he found he was being regarded with a very ugly frown.

"Hullo," he asked himself grimly, "but what's his lordship up to now?"

And it was not very long before he began to find out. On the fourth
afternoon following upon the day of the picnic, James Dice suddenly
announced that he should be wanting the car to go into Meningie at three
o'clock sharp. Then at the last moment, and just as Larose was about to
bring the car round, his master sent him across the paddocks with a
message to one of the station hands, who was working on some fencing
about a mile away.

Larose thought it strange at the time that he should have been detailed
as a messenger, and he regarded as peculiar also the manner in which his
employer bustled him so quickly off. He gave his instructions without
looking at the detective, and the latter was sure that he deliberately
avoided his eye.

Larose was gone about half an hour, and then, upon his return, his
employer was all hurry and impatience to get away in the car.

Larose turned quickly into the garage and something there struck him as
remarkable at once. Schafer, the dog, was stretched half asleep upon
some old sacks in the corner.

Now the dog, Larose knew, was a very companionable sort of animal, and
never remained anywhere alone by himself if he could possibly help it.
He never, for instance, by any chance entered the garage unless some one
was there at the time.

"Hullo," thought the detective, directly he saw the dog, "some one's
been here and stopping in here, too, or Schafer wouldn't be lying down,
the governor for sure; now what's he been up to, I wonder?"

He looked quickly and searchingly round, but there appeared to be
nothing unusual about the garage and nothing was apparently out of
place.

Very puzzled, he jumped on to the car and proceeded to operate the
self-starter. But nothing happened. The self-starter was as dead as a
door nail. He tried again, but with the same result.

Then the shadow of his master loomed up and James Dice stood suddenly
before the garage door.

"Be quick," he exclaimed sharply. "I'm in a hurry, please!"

"The self-starter won't work, sir," explained Larose. "I can't get it to
go."

"Then start it with the handle," replied James, Dice irritably. "I don't
want to be kept here, all day."

Without a word, the detective got down and prepared to swing the handle.
There was nothing unusual in the command, and he had often swung it
before. The Punic was a big, high powered car, but it always started
easily and, with the magneto as he knew it was, the swinging was quite
safe.

In quite a matter-of-fact way, then he pressed in the handle, and was
just preparing to swing carelessly when suddenly his deep subconscious
self flashed him a lightning signal of alarm. "Something unusual going
on," it warned him. "Your master's watching you very queerly. Look out,
danger ahead." Larose was on the qui vive at once, and, as with him no
precaution was ever too trivial to be neglected, he very warily
proceeded now to swing the handle with the maximum amount of care,
when--crack!--and with a vicious and violent back-fire it was jerked out
of his hand.

"Ah!" ejaculated Larose, "so he's starting his tricks is he? The brute's
altered the timing. He wanted me to break my arm," and, without a word
to his master, he lifted up the bonnet of the car.

Ten minutes later a secretly amused Larose and an openly sullen and
morose James Dice were speeding along the road towards Meningie. Their
minds were both full of thought, but they neither of them said a word.

The next morning the chauffeur had just fetched his breakfast from the
kitchen.... It was a plate of curry and, as usual, he was going to
partake of it by himself in his own little room, off the garage. He had
just sat down, when his master called to him to fetch a cucumber from
the garden. He was not gone two minutes, but upon resuming his seat
before his yet untasted breakfast it came to him suddenly that he could
sense the smell of cigars. Not the smell of a cigar that was being
smoked, but just the faint tinge of heavily cigar-impregnated clothes,
the aroma that hangs about a coat whose owner has smoked boxes and boxes
of cigars while wearing it.

"Whew," whistled Larose after a good sniff round into the air, "my
friend the enemy again. More tricks now, I suppose."

He looked very searchingly upon his breakfast, spread upon the tray. The
bread was certainly all right, likewise the butter, the jam also had not
been disturbed. The tea in the teapot was doubtful, and the curry--ah,
the curry looked as if it had been stirred!

Larose pursed up his lips and stared hard at the contents of the plate
before him.

"It seems fanciful," he mused, "but it is quite on the cards after all.
As friend James most truthfully remarked the other day, any kind of
accident here would be easily explained away. He is a magistrate, and
above reproach. No, I won't risk it."

He made quite a satisfactory breakfast upon the bread and butter and
some cheese that he fetched from his cupboard. Then, awaiting a
favourable opportunity, he carried out his plate of curry and presented
it to two ducks who were foraging in the grass at the back of the
garage.

They were both very greedy, and quickly gobbled it up. He then proceeded
about his usual morning's work of attending to the car. He whistled
cheerfully to himself as if he had not a care in all the world.
Presently, out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that his master was
watching him.

All that day James Dice never came near the garage, and the services of
Beeton were never once required.

He had found two dead ducks that evening by the creek. Their feathers
were all mired and ruffled, and there was all evidence from where they
lay that they had flapped their wings many times in the agonies of some
dreadful form of death.

"Weed-killer most likely," had sighed Larose. "The usual kind of handy
family poison. Most reliable, too, if you only use enough. But I must be
careful now, very careful. Do you know, Gilbert, I really think you are
beginning to get afraid."

The next day things were very much the same. James Dice quite ignored
his chauffeur, and did not call for his services even once. He had
apparently given up watching, too, and Larose saw nothing of him, either
on the veranda or in the yard.

It was terribly hot all day, and towards evening Margaret Bevan came out
and suggested to Larose that he should take the dog down to the creek,
about half a mile distant, and give the animal a bathe.

The detective was delighted with the opportunity of getting away from
the house for an hour or so, and gladly compiled. So he whistled to
Schafer, and the two made their ways leisurely across the paddocks.

The dog enjoyed his bathe immensely, even though there was not much
water in the creek and what there was of it at that was hot and very
muddy.

* * *

Larose sat smoking on the high bank and enviously regarded the animal
swimming round.

"After all, old chap," he sighed, "I really believe that you are happier
than I. You're not supposed to have a soul, but you don't get any worry,
and there's no one thirsting for your blood."

His thoughts reverted again to James Dice, and he wondered what his
master was up to at the moment.

"I must be careful. I must be very careful," he mused. "Our friend has
clearly got to the homicidal stage and anything may happen if I don't
look out. But what do I get at all by remaining on here now? I'm half
inclined to think I shall have to take my leave and yet, somehow, I
don't like to say 'good-bye.'" He smiled in amusement to himself. "Nice
comfortable place this, Gilbert, my boy. You'd be quite sorry to leave
it, wouldn't you? Highly moral master, justice of the peace--wages very
fair--meals, especially the curries, very good--hours----"

His meditations were interrupted suddenly by a loud explosion just
behind him. At the same instant his hat was lifted roughly from his head
and whirled up into the air, to several yards away. Then, before he
could take in what was happening or had even time to move a limb, there
was a second report, equally loud, and this time he felt a sharp blow
upon his left shoulder.

He sprang like lightning to his feet and, turning round, saw James Dice
standing not 10 yards away. He was holding a still smoking gun in his
hands, and there was a look of absolute amazement upon his white and
startled face.

There was the sound of voices from a little way down the creek, and two
men came running quickly up. They had heard the firing and had come to
see what had been shot.

Larose saw they were two of the station hands, and, realising now that
he was quite safe, he made no attempt to disarm James Dice. The latter
was trembling violently, and his face was dripping with sweat.

In an instant the detective had made up his mind. He saw that nothing
was to be gained by accusing James Dice, and that the best plan would be
to pretend he thought the shooting was an accident.

But James Dice could hardly speak; he still eyed Larose as if something
altogether incredible and impossible had happened.

"I thought, I thought," he muttered hoarsely, "that it was a rabbit up
there. Your hat looked just like one against the sky. It was a miracle
you weren't hit."

But the detective knew it was no miracle at all. He had escaped injury
simply because James Dice had been using cartridges that had been
tampered with by Larose.




Chapter XXVIII.


Late that night Larose made up his mind finally that it was time for him
to leave Mundulla station.

"It's no good remaining on," he told himself, "for one thing, because
it's too dangerous now. Dice would do anything in his present mood, and
that shooting this evening was as cool a piece of impudence as I've ever
known. The beast just openly followed me down and didn't even take the
trouble to make sure there was no one else about." He scowled angrily to
himself. "But my gentleman's not done with me yet. I've still one or two
good cards to play if only I manage to get out of this place all right."

The next morning the cook called across to the garage for Beeton to come
and fetch his breakfast but she got no response, and, after a moment's
waiting, she ran over and rapped upon the garage door.

But there was silence still, and when she looked both into the garage
and the chauffeur's room, adjoining, she found them both empty and no
sign of the man anywhere.

Meeting Miss Bevan as she was returning to the kitchen, she asked her if
Beeton had gone out upon some errand, for, she said, she had not seen
him at all as yet that morning. Miss Bevan said she didn't know, and a
moment later, running up against her uncle as he was coming out of the
bathroom, she passed on the inquiry.

"Sent Beeton anywhere?" asked her uncle suspiciously.

"No, certainly not. Isn't he anywhere about?" and then, hearing what the
cook had said, he walked at once over to the garage and threw open both
the doors.

"Ha," he muttered in tones of mingled satisfaction and annoyance, "and
has the bird really flown?"

Entering the garage an envelope conspicuously placed upon the bonnet of
the car immediately caught his eye.

It was addressed "James Dice, Esq.," and he tore it open quickly.

"Respected Sir," he read. "Will you please forgive me going away for a
few days. I don't feel very well, and the accident yesterday has got on
my nerves. I have left my things and I will come back directly I am
better. I hope I shall not have to stay away long. Please excuse the
inconvenience I am causing,

"From your obedient servant,

"THOMAS BEETON.

"P.S.--Everything in the car is all right and the tank is full."


"Ah!" sneered the master of Mundulla, "so I've frightened you, my dear
Larose, have I, but you'll return, will you?" James Dice curled his lips
in great contempt. "Not on my life, I'll swear to that. You have been
taught a lesson here, at any rate, you damned fool," and, crushing the
letter in his hand, he returned into the house.

After lunch James Dice came into the garage again and himself fetched
out the car. His niece mounted up beside him, and a couple of minutes
later anyone upon the station, who had happened to be interested, would
have marked the sounds of the engine getting fainter and fainter, as the
big Punic proceeded briskly on its way.

And certainly one person, at all events, was most interested.

The moment all sounds of the car had definitely passed away there was a
distinct movement from the direction of a bundle of old sails suspended
from some planks that rested among the rafters of the garage. One end of
the sails seemed gradually to unwind and then, very cautiously, the head
of a man was thrust out. Anyone on the station would have sworn at once
that it was the head of the chauffeur, Beeton. And they would have been
quite right, too, for a moment later the chauffeur of Mr. Dice appeared
bodily from the sails, and, with a circumspect glance all round, to make
sure that there was nobody at hand, dropped softly upon the ground.

"Good," muttered Larose, luxuriously stretching his cramped limbs, "and
now to see that Martha is not about."

He tiptoed quietly to the garage door, and for a long while stood
watching to find out if the coast were clear. Then, suddenly, he heard
the cook singing in the kitchen, and, knowing then definitely where she
was, he darted like an arrow across the yard, and in a few seconds was
safely ensconced in the master of Mundulla's own particular room.

* * *

He lost no time in preliminaries, and producing a small wedge from his
pocket thrust it under the door, and at once proceeded to make a
thorough search of the room.

He had been in it alone many times before, but never for more than a few
minutes at a time, and the searches he had been able to make had been
only lightning-like and casual in their nature. Now he reckoned that if
he made no noise he would have at least a couple of hours.

He turned his attention first to the big Cutler desk, and found it, as
he had expected, locked, but some cunningly shaped pieces of stout wire
soon got over that difficulty, and in less than five minutes he was
methodically going through the contents of drawer after drawer.

At first it was only for a bulky object that he was looking. He wanted
the big revolver that Eli Barton had been shot with, and he had reckoned
confidently that it would be there. But complete disappointment, at any
rate in that respect, awaited him, and there was no sign of any weapon
at all. He made no pause, however, in his work, and proceeded most
carefully to examine the other contents of the drawers. Everything they
contained, he reasoned, had been kept for a purpose, and it was with the
purpose of James Dice's mind that he had to deal.

Nothing was too small for him to examine, and paper after paper was
subjected to quick scrutiny. James Dice was business-like and methodical
in his way, and everything in the desk was arranged neatly. But Larose
found nothing bearing on the tragedy of Eli Barton until he came to a
drawer devoted entirely to matters connected with racing. Here there
were racing programmes, calendars, and newspaper cuttings almost without
end, and finally he fished out a small bundle of letters of
comparatively recent date. One from Melbourne immediately caught his
eye. It was from "Your affectionate, cousin, Thomas French," and was
dated the previous December 5.

"My dear Jim," it commenced, "I don't want to dishearten you, but just
you make up your mind straightaway that--however good your nag may
be--he doesn't stand an earthly if old Eli decides to run his. Abimeleck
could give the Pride a couple of stone and then beat him easily by
twenty lengths. So just you put that in your pipe, old man, and smoke it
for all it is worth," and then followed three closely-written pages of
reasons for the writer's so emphatic opinion.

"I'll take this," muttered Larose, nodding his head. "Yes and it was
this chatty, innocent letter that was probably responsible, later, for
Eli Barton's death. Black Wolf was to have an easy run at any
price--but, as I live, here is a photograph of the animal himself!" He
picked up a photograph about three inches square, and, from its
mounting, evidently the work of an amateur. It was an excellent
photograph, nevertheless, and depicted a big, awkward-looking horse,
just stripped for a gallop, with his rider ready astride him.

"Fine big eyes," mused Larose, "sprightly cocked ears, head--Hullo,
hullo"--he drew in his breath with a low whistle--"why, why, as I live
again, it's that poor wretch, Ferris, who's got the mount."

Stealthily he tiptoed to the window and held up the photo to the light.

"Yes, yes," he murmured, "it's Master Ferris right enough. The low,
brutal forehead, the eyes close together, the weak, self-indulgent chin.
Yes, it's the mummy of the sands." He put the photo in his pocket. "A
nice picture for my gallery of crime--Black Wolf and his trainer. Beast
of Prey. I'll keep this."

He turned back to the desk, but nothing of much interest further
rewarded his search until he suddenly lighted upon a badly-scrawled and
ill-written letter. His eyes gleamed when he saw it was signed 'Sid
Ferris,' but to his disappointment there was nothing particular in it.
It was written from Adelaide about six months previously, and was just a
short business note about some parts for a pump that Dice had evidently
been ordering.

"Hum. I'll keep that too, I think," remarked the detective. "It may come
in useful, perhaps." An amused smile crossed upon his face. "Really, an
idea is growing in my mind. Maybe, I'll surprise you yet, Mr. James
Dice."

He went rapidly through the remaining papers, and then, just, as he was
about to close the desk, a book marked 'Wages' caught his eye. He turned
over the pages until he came to some entries under 'Ferris.'

"Two ten a week," he remarked to himself. "So that was what the man got,
was it? Paid every fortnight was it, too, and the last payment on
December 12th. Hum--so Master Ferris was owed ten days' when he died,
was he? Yes, and, I see, fifteen shillings for some expenses as well.
Now that gives me another idea. I'll just tear out that page, I think."
He shook his head. "No, I won't. It's not necessary, and Dice might
notice it, perhaps."

He closed and re-locked the desk, and then turned his attention to the
wardrobe. There something worse almost than disappointment awaited him.
The jacket with the dark stains upon it had been taken away. Three times
he went over each garment before he was sure and then he scowled
disgustedly.

"That looks bad," he muttered, "very bad for me. The wretch has taken,
precautions, just as I feared. He's got rid of it somehow, for certain.
Most likely he burnt it when they lit the copper the other day. I
thought then the wood smelt very rank." A worried frown came over his
face. "Gilbert, Gilbert," he went on, "I believe you're losing grip!" He
sighed deeply. "But I should so like to nail the wretch. There's not a
shadow of doubt but that James Dice is a double murderer. But he's
artful--he's devilish artful now."

A few minutes later he was back again in the garage, and then, long,
long before the reverberant hum of its engine announced the return of
the big Punic car, he was only a faint black speck among the sandhills
far away from the station of Mundulla.

Dice had never wavered for one moment from the idea that his late
chauffeur was the detective, and he was confident now that for all
practical purposes he had done with the man.

Now his chief interest in Larose was just the speculation as to what
exactly would be the report that the discomfited detective would be now
making to his disappointed employers.

Indeed, he had thought a lot about the latter aspect of the case, and,
finally, had arrived at the conclusion that at any rate neither Sam
Gover nor young Barton knew anything about the matter.

"It's the Times of Adelaide," the master of Mundulla sneered. "It's that
beastly rag that sent the fellow here." He wreathed his face into a
mocking smile. "Well, it's to be hoped they paid him handsomely, for he
certainly got some nasty shocks here, and they couldn't have been too
good for his nerves."




Chapter XXIX.


Once more James Dice settled down into quite an easy frame of mind, with
the comfortable satisfaction that he had proved more than a match even
for the great Sydney detective, Gilbert Larose.

The first intimation of any trouble came one morning from one of the
boundary riders on the station.

"So I see you've got Sid Ferris back, Mr. Dice," remarked the man, "but
he's certainly given himself a good holiday this time."

"Sid Ferris," queried James Dice, as if not quite taking it in, "why,
what do you mean?"

"Well, he's back here, isn't he?"

The master of Mundulla appeared to be amused.

"It's the first I've heard of it," he replied with a smile, "and if it
were so I should probably get to know of it at least as soon as anybody
else."

The man looked rather puzzled. "Well, I saw him last night, and of
course I thought he had returned here to work."

"Where did you see him?" asked Dice, but without much interest in his
voice.

"Down by the creek," replied the man. "He was riding old Stumpy."

James Dice looked at him sarcastically.

"Stumpy," he remarked quietly, "never left the paddock all day
yesterday, and he was round by the house gate most of the evening. Miss
Margaret was feeding him with carrots after tea."

"Well," said the boundary rider. "I couldn't swear to the horse, because
I wasn't near enough, but it being a grey one I naturally thought it was
Stumpy."

"Could you swear to the man, then?" asked James Dice very dryly. The man
seemed surprised at the question being asked.

"Oh yes--it was Ferris, without the slightest doubt. Schafer was with me
and he recognised him at once, too. He swam across the creek and jumped
up to him, barking all the time. He was very excited, and followed after
him as he rode away."

"Where did the man go then?" asked Dice, with a frown.

"Out away over the sandhills. I shouted to him, but he didn't look up. I
thought that was funny, I admit."

Dice shrugged his shoulders. "Well, I know nothing about it," he said.
"He's certainly come nowhere near the house," and he walked away as if
he had no more interest in the matter at all.

During all the rest of that day, however, in spite of his certain
knowledge that the man the boundary rider had seen could not possibly
have been Sid Ferris, Dice felt uneasy and uncomfortable. He was
restless, and kept harking back to what the man had said.

Ever since it had come to him suddenly that afternoon upon the bank of
the river that his chauffeur, Beeton, was the detective, Larose, his
mind had been, so to speak, in an analytical phase, and about every
question that came now before him he had automatically got into the
habit of weighing up all the pros and cons, as if he himself were a
detective following up upon some trail.

Why had Schafer, the dog, jumped up and been so friendly with the
strange man? What did it mean?

There was nothing in it, of course, he told himself, but still it was
certainly peculiar. Schafer, of all dogs he had known, was not a
friendly dog, and all the time he had been on the station the animal had
always consistently hated strangers, and had never got on friendly terms
quickly with anyone, except--except--and the master of Mundulla
remembered it suddenly with a sort of pang--that damned brute, Larose.

Larose!--Larose! Was the wretch going to worry him again? he asked
himself, and then he dismissed the idea at once as preposterous.

What had Ferris to do with Larose? Larose had probably never heard of
the man, and there could be no possible link between the two.

James Dice cursed himself for an idiot. Sid Ferris was dead. With his
own eyes he had seen the top of the head blown away, and the very bones
even would be picked white and clean by now. He would not give the idea
another thought.

The next day one of the station hands said he had seen Sid Ferris. He
told the cook so, and she repeated it to Margaret Bevan, who in turn
passed the news on to her uncle at breakfast.

The man had passed Ferris, he said, the previous evening on the Meningie
road. Ferris was riding a grey horse, and he was looking very ill. His
head was bandaged, his face was ghastly white, and he had got one arm in
a sling. He had taken no notice when he had been spoken to, but had just
ridden straight on, without even turning his head.

James Dice went grey with horror when his niece came out with it at the
meal, but fortunately she was too occupied with pouring out the tea to
notice her uncle's face.

He pretended, however, to be not much interested, and suggested the man
must have been drinking. Of course, Ferris would have come at once up to
the station if he had been anywhere near.

He certainly got through the breakfast very well, but again by himself,
in his own room, his mouth became dry with fear. "What the hell is
happening now?" he asked himself. "It couldn't--it couldn't be Ferris,
but--good God--the bandaged head and the broken arm!"

He sat down in his armchair and tried to think things calmly over. Was
there the chance--was there the remotest chance that Sid Ferris was not
dead after all? If the man were alive it would be a terrible thing for
him, for he would be completely in his power.

But it was impossible, he told himself, absolutely impossible. He went
back in his mind over all that had happened that night on the Coorong.
He had seen Sid Ferris with his left arm hanging free, then he had seen
him with the top of his skull blown away, and then he had buried him a
good two feet under the sand. He couldn't possibly have lived, even if
the wounds had not been mortal. He would have suffocated in a few
seconds.

James Dice drew in a deep breath of relief. No, it was ridiculous, but
then--who was this man now riding about? He was interrupted by his niece
coming in to remind him that he was taking her into the township that
morning, and a few minutes later he had, in part, thrown off his worry,
in listening to her bright conversation as she sat next to him in the
car. But his thoughts were thrown back into their unpleasant groove
again directly they arrived in Meningie.

* * *

Almost immediately a friend he met mentioned Sid Ferris, and remarked
casually that the ex-jockey was looking "damned bad."

James Dice choked back some sort of lump in his throat, and asked his
friend where he had seen Ferris.

"Last night," was the reply, "he passed me at the end of the township,
on the grey. He looked like a ghost, I thought, all done up like that.
What's the beggar been up to? Has he had a fall, or been in a fight?"

But the master of Mundulla only remarked that Ferris was always a
drunken beast, and then turned the conversation to another channel. He
did not feel equal to going into explanations, and, besides, he knew he
had no explanations to give.

He returned to the station in great despondency, and as an excuse
explained to his niece that he was not feeling very well. That night he
slept very badly, and long before morning came he had to admit to
himself that all his worries and anxiety had returned.

As before, he was fighting against the unknown, and the uncertainty as
to whether he was in any danger or not took all the courage out of him,
and made him as limp as a rag.

On the morning but one following upon his visit to Meningie with his
niece he had another shock.

Just before eight o'clock he heard the telephone ring, and a minute
later the cook knocked at the bedroom door with a message for him.

"It was Ferris, sir," she explained when her master had bidden her to
come in. "He'll be coming back in a day or two, he says, but he's been
very ill. In the meantime he asked me to remind you that there's ten
days' wages owing to him, and fifteen shillings for expenses as well,
and would you please send them to him at the Post Office at Meningie. He
said something else, sir, but his voice was very low and weak, and I
couldn't make out what it was."

Dice made some sort of grunt that gave the cook to understand he had
received the message properly, and she at once retired from the room.

For some minutes then there was no sound at all from the occupant of the
bed, and it might almost have been supposed that he had dropped again to
sleep. But the supposition would have been very far from a right one,
for James Dice was choking with terror, and a muck sweat was drenching
him from head to foot.

So Ferris was alive after all--the impossible had happened, and somehow,
like Sam Gover, he had risen from the dead!

There was no getting away from it now, for who but Ferris himself would
possibly have known there were ten days' wages owing to him and fifteen
shillings for expenses besides?

Then, what would happen next? He shook with the terror as it came to him
suddenly that there must be some one else in the secret now, besides
Ferris himself. Ferris must have been found and nursed somewhere, for
with his dreadful wounds he could not have revived by himself. Where had
he been, too, all this time, and how had he been hidden, when the police
were searching high and low for a wounded man?

Then, what was Ferris thinking himself? What was his attitude of mind
now? Could it possibly be that he had lost his memory, and had no
recollections of the happenings of that night? Had he no idea as to who
had shot him and subsequently buried him beneath the sand? Had he no
thought of vengeance? No, apparently he could not have, for his message
was that he was coming back. But why, then, had he not returned before?
If he had no ill-will against his master why had he stayed away, and why
had he been haunting the station without coming near the house?

All that day James Dice sat on the veranda, brooding and wondering what
was going to happen next, and by nightfall he had worked himself into a
perfect torture of dreadful anticipation. It was as if some deadly
poison had entered into his mind. His nerves were strung up to their
highest pitch, and he started at every sound about the house. The
clicking of a door even, or the rattling of a plate, brought great drops
of perspiration to his face.

He gave no thought at all to Larose now. The detective had passed right
out of his life again, and it was the bloody face of Sid Ferris that was
rising always before his eyes.




Chapter XXX.


The next day, however, he had to pull himself together somehow, for, as
senior magistrate of the district, it was his duty to preside over the
sitting of the Court.

He told himself it was imperative that he should be there, for the more
he kept himself in the public eye, he had sense enough to see, the
stronger and more unassailable would be his position if any suspicion
should be raised about him later.

If it ever became a question of his word against Ferris's, it would be
well, he argued, that his should be supported by all the weight of his
important and responsible public position in the district.

So he went into Meningie outwardly is if nothing had happened, cold,
proud and reserved, and as if he were the incarnation of rectitude
itself.

He presided with dignity over the sitting, and then, as usual, adjourned
to the hotel with his brother magistrates and some friends for
conversation and light refreshments, until the time came for them to
separate upon their several ways.

One part of the balcony upon the first floor was always kept reserved
for them upon these occasions, and, reclining on comfortable chairs, and
with long, cool drinks beside them, they could, for the time, forget the
arduous duties of the day.

For the moment James Dice had thrown off his depression and, enlivened
by the cheerful conversation of his companions, was inclined to take
quite a hopeful view of things again.

But his peace of mind, even there, was destined to be of short duration,
for suddenly one of his friends called out interestedly:

"Here you are, Dice, here's that old, bad egg of yours again," and the
speaker leant over the balcony and looked down the street.

At first Dice had no idea what his friend meant but, turning his eyes
round in the direction in which everyone was now gazing, they fell upon
a horseman, about a hundred yards away. The man was riding a grey horse,
and he was coming slowly up the street towards them.

It was Sid Ferris!

Dice's heart thumped like a piston, and his legs shook under him. His
mind was gripped in dreadful fear, and with hard, set lips he stared at
the advancing horseman as if he were regarding an apparition from the
dead. He wetted his dry lips with his tongue, and he clenched his hands
so tightly that the nails dug into the flesh.

There was no doubt about it. It was the ex-jockey that he thought he had
killed, and he was dressed in exactly the same clothes that he had worn
that night upon the Coorong.

A dirty red neck-cloth, a shabby old grey coat, tattered riding
breeches, of a faded brown, and wrinkled pigskin leggings. He was
wearing a battered old felt hat, low down upon his forehead, and not
much of the upper part of his face could be seen, but here was no
mistaking that stubbly little moustache and the narrow peaked chin. He
looked weak and ill, and his skin was of a peculiar deathly white. He
carried his left arm in a sling, and there was a broad bandage over the
back of his head. He rode all hunched up with his feet high in the
stirrups. He was on the other side of the road, away from the hotel.

"Nice looking chap, that lad of yours," banteringly remarked the man who
had spoken before. "A most respectable looking individual for our Senior
Justice to be employing. Upon my soul, Dice," he went on, "you ought to
give the beggar six months. He'd do with a wash as well."

But Dice took no notice of the remarks. His eyes were glued upon the
approaching figure, and every faculty he possessed was concentrated to
take in the meaning of it all.

The horse came slowly on, in a slow ambling trot. The rider was gazing
straight out before him, and he rode like a man in a dream. He drew
level with the hotel veranda.

"By Jove, but how ill he looks," commented the facetious man. "Too much
Scotch wine, I expect. No prohibitionist there!"

But no one followed up his remarks. They were only mildly interested,
and, if the Senior Justice himself were disinclined to make any comments
about his servant, then politeness forbade any further curiosity at all.

* * *

Slowly the horse and its rider passed before the hotel, but, when about
10 yards beyond, a big lorry was suddenly backed out of a side street,
and the horseman was obliged in consequence to pull his mount up
sharply.

The horse swerved a little under the bit, and, turning half sideways,
brought the back of his rider in a clear straight line with the veranda
of the hotel.

Dice was still staring with the intensity of one held spellbound. The
bunched up figure on the horse, he knew, meant ruin and perhaps death
for him, and his mind, alert and quickened by the menace, took in
feverishly the minutest details of the man.

How often had he not seen that shabby hat and coat before! How often had
his eyes been offended with the dirty neck-cloth that the fellow wore!
How many times--but suddenly another memory flashed up strangely to his
mind. What freak of recollection was it that touched him now?

Where had he seen that neck before, that neck and those well-shaped
ears? The recollection of them seemed later and much more recent than
that of the other points about the man. No, they didn't remind him of
Sid Ferris at all; they struck quite a different chord in his memory,
and he was sure he had seen them many times before.

They seemed--ah! he knew what they reminded him of now. They were just
like those of Beeton, the chauffeur. He had not sat behind Beeton for
hundreds of miles for nothing, and so many times he had noticed those
ears.

Yes, they were Beeton's, not Ferris's. He was sure of it. They were not
Ferris's at all.

Beeton? He half rose from his chair, and, quick as lightning, another
thought flashed through him, too.

Larose! Of course it was Larose again!

He bent forward over the balcony, but the horseman had disappeared. A
motor was passing, and for the moment everything was obscured in a cloud
of dust.

With an oath he sprang to his feet, resolved to run down into the
street, but a second's reflection, and he subsided again into his seat.

He shrugged his shoulders contemptuously. What did it matter if he knew
for certain that the rider was Larose? He would be only making a fool of
himself if he ran after the man, and he was not exactly sure what he
could do if he did catch him up. No, he must be careful. There was
something in this he did not understand. Why was Larose now
masquerading, as he believed, as the dead Sid Ferris? What did Larose
know of Sid Ferris, and who had helped him to disguise himself as the
dead man? There must be more than one in the plot now.

The sweat of fear again spread over Dice's forehead, and all the
exultant triumph of a few seconds back died down in the horrible torment
of uncertainty.

Many, many times, during the next twenty-four hours Dice wished that,
anger or no danger, he had kept his first resolve and run after the man
on the grey horse.

He felt now that the uncertainty of everything was killing him. Again he
expected danger at every turn, and the torment of it was that he had no
idea from what direction it would come.

He was sure of nothing now, and his mind felt drugged. He was absolutely
bewildered.

He was not certain any longer, even, that the horseman, after all, was
not Sid Ferris.

The confident conviction he had first formed that the neck and ears
belonged to Larose had gradually grown weak and thin, and he had cursed
himself over and over again that he had not followed the horseman and
made sure. Then, at any rate, he would have known where he was.

Finally, he told himself that things could not go on any longer as they
were, and that he must get some peace of mind at any price. It would be
very simple to clear up everything if he had only got the nerve.

He remembered to a foot where he had buried Sid Ferris, and nothing
would be easier for him, he was sure, than just to scrape away a little
of the sand and see if the body were still there.

Yes, he would do it straightaway.

That night he announced his intention of going fishing the next day, and
he asked his niece to arrange for some sandwiches to be got ready for
him early next morning. He patted the girl affectionately on the cheek.
No, he preferred to go alone, for once. He would be glad of the
solitude, for he had a lot of business matters to think over.




Chapter XXXI.


It had often been insisted by the admirer's of Larose that the great
detective was never seen to better advantage than when his fortunes were
apparently at their lowest ebb.

Confronted with a failure that it seemed absolutely impossible to avoid,
and seemingly overwhelmed by difficulties from which there was no
escape, he would complacently turn off from his original course, only to
reappear in a few days or weeks with victory well in sight.

His powers of recovery were wonderful. He was never long discouraged,
for it was always his belief that success in everything came rather to
the patient rather than to the strong.

And so it was now in the case of James Dice. Larose had been deeply
chagrined at having to leave Mundulla without achieving his end, and it
had been not a small blow to his pride that its master had succeeded in
unmasking him.

He had been so certain of success at one time and so sure that he was
actually on the very point of linking up James Dice with the destroyer
of Eli Barton.. ..

And then, just when everything had seemingly been going on so well, had
come the man's sudden and unaccountable change of manner, his
ill-disguised contempt for the chauffeur, Beeton; his vicious desire to
do his servant harm, and, finally, the open and murderous attack that
evening upon the bank of the creek.

Yes, it had certainly been very unfortunate, and Larose had sighed
deeply when trudging wearily back in the darkness that night to
Meningie, but, still--still, he had thought, all was not lost yet. He
would just have to work in other ways. That was all.

And James Dice had soon come to experience what those other ways were.
Larose had sought out Abel Black again, and, to his delight, had found
that the policeman was not only willing but well enough and free to help
him.

Black was now convalescing from his illness, and had been given a
month's leave by the authorities to recover his health completely.

Larose had confided in him, or at any rate, had confided in him as much
as he had thought fit, and between them both they had brought the dead
Ferris back to life.

Larose had a different object in view. If he had failed in linking up
James Dice with Eli Barton, well, he would try now to link him up with
Sid Ferris, for, he rightly argued that if he could establish his guilt
as the murderer of Sid Ferris, then by circumstantial evidence it could
certainly be brought home that he was the murderer of Eli Barton, also.

* * *

So Sid Ferris was to be the bait now, and it was Larose's object to make
Dice betray the fact that he knew the ex-jockey had been murdered, and
knew also where the body lay.

Dice must be lured back somehow to the grave he had dug by the
thirty-fifth mile post on the Coorong, and there must be witnesses to
prove that he had returned there.

And the witnesses Larose was choosing were Abel Black and the camera.

The next morning if any stranger had been leaning against the
thirty-fifth mile post, he would have been quite certain that he was all
alone in that vast wildernesses of sand, and that for the moment, at all
events, he was free from the inquisitive peering of human eyes. There
was not a sign of habitation, not a sign of any human being,
anywhere--only the sea and the sand and the sky.

Behind a sand hummock, less than a hundred yards away, there was parked
a small light car, and close behind it was erected quite a
comfortable-looking little bell tent. More than that, not even 50 yards
distant from where he would have stood, a small pit had been dug, and in
it were two men.

It was the trap of Larose.

The mouth of the pit had been carefully screened over with a length of
canvas of exactly the same colour as the surrounding sand, and hidden
among some high tufts of coarse grass was the top of a good sized
camera, the lens of which had been most carefully focussed upon one
particular spot.

* * *

Larose, the detective, was setting his trap with all the scrupulous
attention to detail that he had learnt from long years of association
with the tracking of crime.

"Now, Black," he said impressively, "if we have measured things up
correctly, within forty-eight hours at most some one will come and start
digging by that bank over there, and we've got to get his picture
directly he begins turning the sand. We shall have plenty of warning of
his coming, for unless a strong wind blows up we shall hear his car at
least a couple of miles away. He'll come in the day-time, too, for there
will be no moon up to-night, and apart from that he'd know his car would
be more likely to attract notice, both leaving and returning home, if he
travelled by night. So he'll come by day, I say, and I expect early,
too, to avoid any meeting with other cars. But we must leave nothing to
chance, and every moment, day and night, one or other of us must be on
the watch. If he doesn't put in an appearance today, then to make
certain we'll have to take it in turns to watch for him to-night."

The policeman assented joyfully, for surely in all Australia there was
no happier man now than Abel Black. Was he not working in harness, he
kept on reminding himself, with the great Larose? Was he not going to
make history, and would he not remember these days for all the remainder
of his life? He was indeed a fortunate man.

It was true he did not quite understand what was going on, and that he
had no idea at all who exactly was the person the detective was
expecting to come and dig, but then those, he told himself, were quite
minor considerations when he remembered that he was acting as the
colleague of Larose.

All that day, save for a few minutes when they each, in turn, made for
the tent to snatch a little food, they sat watching on the sandhill. But
there was no sign of the Punic at all. Three other cars passed, at long
intervals. They were all going towards Adelaide, and Larose began
wondering uneasily if by any chance their appearance had frightened
James Dice away, and that the latter had thought better of his project
and turned back.

But then Larose remembered how correct hitherto had been his estimate of
James Dice, and he consoled himself with the thought that he had every
reason to expect the man to come.

By seven in the evening it was almost dark and, according to the
arrangements they had made, Black turned in to the tent to get some
sleep. He was to be free for six hours, and he wanted rest badly. In the
excitement of the previous night they had neither of them really had any
sleep, and the policeman was now beginning to feel quite done up. He was
still weak after his illness.

So, directly he lay down, he dropped into heavy sleep, and when Larose
called him at one o'clock in the morning the poor fellow wished devoutly
that he could have had six hour's more.

But if the policeman had been able to sleep every moment of his time, it
was very different with Larose, who could not sleep at all. He had a
splitting headache and his limbs were aching--so much so that he
believed he had caught a chill. He tossed and turned and turned and
tossed, and when dawn at last came was quite relieved for an excuse to
get up.

* * *

He made himself a cup of strong coffee and then, feeling a little
better, joined Black at the top of the sandhill.

"Now, my boy," he said with a great air of vivacity, "the critical time
is coming. Between now and say ten o'clock our bird will walk into the
net. You see if he doesn't."

The policeman rubbed his hands together with a feeling of joy in his
heart. Like Larose, he was feeling dead tired, but expectation of the
triumph to come made him for the moment forget everything, except, yet
once more, that he was the colleague of this great man.

"You see," went on Larose impressively, "the camera will catch him in
the very act and, for the time being, he need have no idea at all that
he has been seen. The picture will be the last link in the chain of
evidence that we have forged."

Black simply thrilled with ecstasy at the sound of the word "we."

"Of course," went on Larose, "we could shoot him down at once instead of
taking his photograph, but we should hardly be justified in that.
Instead, we will just quietly arrest him in a day or two's time, and it
will be you who will execute the warrant."

Black rubbed his hands together again in his joy, and nodded his head,
too overcome to speak.

The sun rose hot and coppery, with all prospects of another scorching
day, but towards eight o'clock the sky clouded over quickly and a soft
breeze began sighing up from the sea.

"Cool change coming," muttered Larose, "and by to-night the sand will be
whirling all over the place, I bet."

The detective was beginning to get really anxious. He had believed so
confidently that James Dice would fall into the trap, and in his own
mind he had calculated almost to the very hour when the man was most
likely to appear.




Chapter XXXII.


That very morning it would be, he had told himself, and at about nine
o'clock.

He reckoned Dice would leave Mundulla Station very early, and that about
three hours' driving, at most, would bring him to the spot.

But nine o'clock came, and nothing happened. Ten o'clock--eleven, and
then twelve.

Larose was quite sick with disappointment then, and faint almost for
want of sleep.

"This will never do," he told himself. "I am failing at the very
critical moment of the whole business. At all events I must get some
rest." He turned to Abel Black. "Look here, old man," he said wearily,
"I'm feeling a bit crook and think I'd better go and lie down a little
while. I shan't go to sleep and I shall hear any motor just as quickly
as you, but still, if you hear anything coming, give me a shout at
once," and with steps that were stumbling and unsteady he turned off
towards the tent.

With every muscle in him aching, he stretched himself upon the ground
sheet and, with his head upon the rug that he had folded for a pillow,
shut his eyes and devoutly hoped for some relief.

But he soon got more than that. Sleep, that had denied herself to him
when, in the night, he had courted her so ardently, now flung herself
brazenly upon him and would accept no repulse. In two minutes he was
drowsy and in five he was fast asleep. Everything was forgotten--Eli
Barton and James Dice, Sid Ferris and Policeman Black, the crime and all
its consequences, the slayer and the slain. All, all were drugged to
sweet oblivion in the opiate of gentle sleep.

Half an hour later Abel Black peeped into the tent and smiled
affectionately when he saw the detective sleeping.

"Wonderful man," he muttered, "and just like a little child. He unravels
everything as if he were just playing with a box of bricks. But, thank
the Lord, he's getting some sleep now."

The policeman returned to his watch upon the sandhill, and, stretching
at full length, pillowed his own head luxuriously upon his arm.

"Ah, it's bonzer to lie down," he murmured, "and there's nothing nicer
in all the world than a good old sleep. I'll have one presently, too,
when my turn comes." His thoughts ran on. "But I do wish this damned
motor car would turn up. Larose can't be wrong." He yawned wearily--a
great big yawn, and then shut his eyes for a moment to feel how it would
be if he himself were free to sleep. He opened them reluctantly in a
moment, and looked lazily round. Nothing in sight, of course. He slowly
shut them again, and, half a minute later--he too was fast asleep.

* * *

Poor Larose, poor Policeman Black! They were both so tired, and they
could fight Nature no more. Exhaustion had made them weak; and their
slumbers were deep and holding.

So it happened that neither of them, about an hour later, heard the
faint hum of a distant motor car, neither of them saw it ploughing its
way laboriously through a stretch of heavy sand about a quarter of a
mile away, neither noticed the sudden stopping of the engine, less even,
than a couple of hundred yards away, and neither of them saw a man
running breathlessly in their direction, with a spade upon his shoulder
and with his eyes and mouth agape with fear.

No--they saw none of those things, for their sleep encompassed them and
their world was, for the time, a world only of heavy and never to be
remembered dreams.

It was nearly six o'clock in the evening before Larose awoke. The wind
had freshened to a stiffish breeze, and it was the flapping of the tent
door that first aroused him. He blinked his eyes dreamily and then,
suddenly realising where he was, jumped instantly to his feet, and in a
second was out of the tent. He stared in horrified surprise. The sun was
quite low in the sky, and the sandhills were casting long shadows over
the Coorong.

He looked at his watch; in five minutes it would be six o'clock. He
gasped in disappointment. So nothing had happened and the day was gone.
Abel Black had allowed him to sleep for six hours.

He felt weak and tottery, but some dreadful apprehension suddenly seized
him and lent him strength. He ran round the sandhill to where he had
left his companion. Abel Black was fast asleep.

For a second the detective stood gazing stonily upon the policeman, too
chagrined and too angry even to speak. Then his eyes roamed round and
they fell suddenly upon the spot where the mummified body of Sid Ferris
had lain just beneath the sand. The sand was all disturbed.

For a moment he stood gaping with his mouth wide open, and then with a
low cry of despair he rushed furiously over towards the bank.

Yes, some man had been there. There were footprints all over the place.
He had been digging with a spade--he had--Oh Heavens! there was a great
hole in the sand. The body had been taken away!

In the barest fraction of a second he saw it all and then in another
fraction, automatically as it were, his agony of mind was giving place
to the life-long instinct of the detective on the trail.

His eyes flashed round to see from what direction the footsteps had
come, and instantly they showed him much more than that.

Some one had been dragging a burden over the sands, and there was a
strange peculiarity about the marks it had left in its track.

"He was dragging it by one heel," hoarsely exclaimed the detective, "and
those are the impressions of the head and the broken arm."

His eyes followed up the markings in the sand, and then, forgetful of
his weakness and fatigue, he ran feverishly to see where they would end.

He had not very far to go. A hundred yards--another fifty and then just
before him on the track was a stretch of drifted sand. The stretch was
about twenty yards broad, and then, on the farther side, the track was
firmer and there was only just a little sand.

The detective gave almost a cry of pain. The impression of the dragged
body ended there, and it ended just where there were signs that a big
motor car had been turned round. With his heart beating like a piston,
he bent down over the impression of the wheels. The south wind was
slowly filling them with sand, but they were not quite obliterated yet.

"The tyres of the Punic," he groaned. "I knew it, I knew it."

It was easy to see what had happened.

The driver of the car, seeing the deep drift of sand across the track
and knowing he was so near the place that he was wanting to reach, had
not taken the risk to drop on lowest gear and plough through it.
Instead, he had just turned the car round, and completed his journey on
foot.

For a long minute Larose stood weighing up everything in his mind. It
would be hopeless to try and follow up the car. It might have come and
gone hours and hours ago; the very effects of the wind on the sand
showed that a pretty considerable time must have passed since it left.
James Dice had been the man, of course, and the reason for his snatching
the body was quite plain. He would have seen at once that it had been
meddled with and the clothes stripped off and taken away, and he had
judged that safety lay best in hiding the body again, so that whatever
happened it could not be produced in evidence against him.

And where had he re-buried it?

Tears almost came into Larose's eyes when he thought of the thirty-five
miles of lonely road with sand everywhere on either side; with the
thousand upon thousand of little gullies which might safely hide almost
a million bodies, let alone a single one.

The wind, too, was dead against him now. Blowing up as it was, it would
obliterate in less even than half an hour all footsteps of any person
turning off the track.

No--it was no good; all further search was hopeless now.

He had failed--and failed just at the last moment, because, instead of
relying upon himself, he had relied upon Policeman Black. Ah!--Policeman
Black! He would choke the fellow. He would just tell him what a clod he
was. The wretch should suffer for it now and all his life. His mind
should rankle with the thought of how he had betrayed his trust. He,
Larose, knew how to punish him. He knew how to make him wince. He had
not been blind to the fellow's hero worship. He had seen all along that
the fool was in the seventh heaven because they had been working side by
side. Well, he would loose a scathing tongue upon him now, and would
gall his feelings to the very quick.

Full of this idea of punishment, Larose strode quickly back. The
policeman was just where he had been left, still asleep. Larose bent
down to shake him roughly by the collar, but then something, strangely,
made him stay his hand.

The man was smiling in his sleep. He was smiling like a little child.
His chest rose and fell ever so softly, and there was about his whole
pose the abandon of perfect peace and rest.

Larose sneered to himself. "He's quite happy anyhow; he's dreaming that
he's a great detective perhaps--he thinks"--but the sneer died suddenly
from the detective's face, and a great pity surged there in its stead.
"Poor chap," he muttered huskily, "how pale and thin he looks. No, no, I
can't blame him. It's all my fault for not remembering he'd been ill. I
expected too much. I made no allowance for the state of weakness he's
still in. I'm the duffer every time," and the detective crept quietly
away.

Half an hour later and a loud honking from the little car brought
Policeman Black abruptly to his feet. He looked guiltily round and, to
his amazement, found it was beginning to get dark.

"By gosh," he stuttered, "I must have been asleep--and all the
afternoon, too! My God!"

He rubbed his knuckles vigorously into his eyes and, pulling his cap
hard down upon his head, strode round the back of the sandhill to the
tent.

There was a bright fire burning and Larose was just sugaring a large
billy of freshly steaming tea.

"Come on, old man," called out the detective heartily. "I thought you'd
hear the bell, and you must be just about ready for a good tea now.
We've had nothing much all day."

The policeman looked with great relief at his companion. So it was all
right, and Larose didn't know. He took a hunk of bread and cheese and
with great relish began to eat.

"Bad luck," went on Larose cheerfully. "I'm afraid the beggar won't come
now." He smiled whimsically. "I expect his car must have broken down."




Chapter XXXIII.


A few days after the return of Larose and Policeman Black from the
Coorong, a dapper and well-dressed man inquired at the bureau of the
Australasian Hotel, in Adelaide, for Mr. Gover. He was informed that
that gentleman had left the city, and for the present was staying along
with his friend, Mr. Stanley Barton, at Mundulla, near Meningie, on the
station of a Mr. James Dice.

The stranger thanked the clerk for his information, and at once left the
hotel.

The following day just before noon, the telephone rang at Mundulla, and
someone with a deep, rich voice inquired if he could speak for a moment
to Mr. Samuel Gover.

Mr. Gover happened to be close by, and almost at once was handling the
receiver.

"Is that you, Mr. Gover?" came the rich, deep voice.

"Yes," was the reply, "Mr. Gover speaking."

"Don't make any remark, then," came a sharp reply, in quite a different
voice. "Don't say a word, please, don't speak until I tell you. I'm
Larose, Gilbert Larose."

There was a tense silence for a moment, and then Larose went on: "Now
answer me in monosyllables, please. Just a plain yes or no. Are you
quite alone in the hall?"

"Yes," was the reply.

"Is there anyone about? Speak more quietly, please."

"No."

"Is Mr. Dice in the house?"

"No."

"Has he gone out then?"

"Yes."

"I mean, has he gone quite away from the place?"

"Yes."

"He's out on the station?"

"Yes."

"All right then, you can be more explicit. When is he expected
back?--but continue to speak quietly, please."

"Not until this evening, just before dinner, I think."

"Is Mr. Stanley in the house with you?"

"No, he's gone out for a walk with Miss Bevan. I was here alone, writing
letters, when the telephone rang."

"Good. Then I want to see you at once."

"Where are you ringing from?"

"From Meningie. But now listen. I can be out in a little over an hour. I
won't come up to the house, for a reason that I'll explain later. Meet
me at the turning on the Meningie road, at two o'clock. You'll have just
about a mile to walk, that's all, and I'll be waiting for you in a
biscuit-coloured car. Don't mention a thing to any one. Not even to Mr.
Stanley. You understand. Make the excuse you are going to have a pot at
the rabbits."

"All right, but you're very mysterious, my friend."

"I shan't be so long," and the telephone bell rang off.

Some minutes before two Sam Gover, with a small rifle over his shoulder,
turned off from the station track into the Meningie Road, and, almost
before he had had time to look round, was met by a biscuit-coloured car.

"Jump-in," said its driver quickly. "It's not wise to talk here."

* * *

For about three miles the car proceeded on its journey, and then,
skirting round the base of a high sandhill, Larose, who was the driver,
slowed down.

"We'll pull in here, just off the track," he announced. "Then if any one
goes by they'll either miss us altogether or else think we are here
after duck. Now, let's get out and have a quiet talk."

They walked about fifty yards away from the car and sat down upon a bank
of sand. Sam Gover took out his case and began puffing nervously at a
cigarette. Somehow, he sensed an unpleasant surprise approaching.

The detective looked at him very solemnly, and came at once straight to
the point.

"James Dice killed your friend," he said quietly. "He was the murderer,
without a doubt."

"Ah," from the old man. He sat up, stiff as a rock, and glared
incredulously at Larose. His face got very pale, and dark shadows came
under his eyes.

"Yes," went on Larose, "James Dice was the murderer, but unhappily we
have not got the legal proof."

The old man found his tongue.

"You're a fool," he burst out impulsively. "The thing's impossible."

"It's a fact though," said Larose quietly. "James Dice killed Eli
Barton, and the small man who decoyed you, too. He was called Sid
Ferris, and was in Dice's employ."

Sam Gover leant back and drew in a deep breath.

"Man, man, it's not true," he exclaimed. "It's too horrible. I don't
believe it. Prove it to me." His voice became angry and resentful. "But
you say you've got no proof. What do you mean?"

"No legal proof," corrected the detective. "Unhappily, I haven't
evidence enough to make him hang, but I'll convince you that I'm right
in ten minutes. Now listen."

"And I'll want some convincing, I tell you," said the old man fiercely.
"I'll want convincing proof."

Larose took a large envelope out of his breast pocket, but, without
opening it, laid it across his knees.

"Now, Mr. Gover," he said, in brisk and business-like tones, "I'll put
all the cards upon the table and tell you frankly where I succeeded and
where I failed."

Larose leant forward and his voice became low and stern. "I found the
body of the small man who had swung the hurricane lantern that night
when you were held up. It lay buried close near where you showed me the
little car had been."

"Good God!" gasped Sam Gover. "But I didn't kill him. I'm sure of that."

"No, you didn't kill him, you only shattered his elbow with your shot.
Dice killed him because he couldn't be hampered with a wounded man. He
realised the wound would require more explaining than he could give, and
with any inquiries being made, things might get dangerous for him. So he
just blew out the man's brains with the same revolver that he used upon
your friend. But now, please, look at these photographs here. The first
one is of the body I dug up."

With shaking hands Sam Gover took the photo that the detective held out,
and at once his face went white to the lips.

But the picture was terrible enough to nauseate anyone. It showed a
shrivelled, naked body outstretched upon some sand. A body ape-like and
unhuman. Its skin was black and wrinkled, and its face had dreadful
sockets where the eyes had been. Its mouth was bared and snarling over
big protruding teeth, and its forehead was all fouled with stains of
mottled jet black blood. Its limbs hung stiff, like sticks of wood.

"But, how did you find it?" whispered Sam Gover through his dry white
lips.

"I took a dog with me," replied Larose, "and went back to the place
where I had been with you and Mr. Stanley that night. I was quite
certain that a body was hidden near." The detective shrugged his
shoulders. "We soon found it. It had become mummified by the absence of
moisture, and the intense heat under the sands."

"But how do you know," asked old Gover shakily, "that this body is that
of the man who waved the lamp that night? That this was the man I shot?"

The detective passed over another photograph. "Well, look at this--it's
an enlargement of the left arm. You can see the wound plainly, just on
the elbow. That's where you hit him. See the sharp, clear wound that
your little automatic made, and now look at this third photo--one this
time of the head and face, enlarged. See the hole here which the bullet
that killed him made. Notice how large the hole is, and how it bulged
the plate of bone as it came out again. A big revolver was used there,
and fired almost at point blank range."

"A .455 most likely," muttered old Gover. "The old cavalry type, last
used in the Boer War."

"Exactly," said Larose dryly, "and you remember that James Dice was out
there too. Now, look at this next photo, and you must examine it very
carefully, please. It's of the body, just as I found it and before I
stripped off the clothes. See the grey jacket and the old baggy riding
breeches and look at the shape of those leggings. Notice how the bottoms
curl up over the boots. They look to me at least a dozen years old. Now
for quite a different photograph, photograph number five."

This time the photograph the detective held out was roughly mounted on
cardboard, and showed a man astride a rather ugly-looking, black horse.
But the animal had a beautiful head, and right in the middle of his
forehead was a big, irregular-looking, white star. The rider was looking
straight into the camera.

"Now," said Larose briskly, "we'll just compare two of these
photographs, side by side. The one of the enlarged head and face of the
mummy and the other of the face of the man on the horse. Look at them
together, and tell me what you see."

For a minute there was silence and the old man intently regarded the
photographs upon his knee.

"I know what you mean," he said very slowly, after a while--"they're
both of the same man. They're both wearing the same clothes."

"Not a doubt about it," said Larose. "There can be no mistake there.
Look at the peculiarly-shaped oval face, look at the low forehead and
above everything notice the narrow space between the eyes. It doesn't
want two glances to see that they are the same man. Now for my last
picture, and it's a Press photo this time." His voice became very grave
and solemn. "It's a picture from The Times of Adelaide of Black Wolf,
the winner of the Adelaide Christmas Cup."

Sam Gover took the paper with hands that trembled. He knew what was
coming, for he had already recognised the horse in the mounted
photograph as Black Wolf. To a man with a keen eye for horses there
could be no mistaking the fine black head and the irregular-shaped white
star upon the forehead.

"Now read what it goes on to say underneath," said Larose briskly.
"'Black Wolf,' etc., etc., 'was trained privately by his fortunate
owner, Mr. James Dice, at Mundulla, but it must not be forgotten that he
has all along had the valuable assistance of the one time crack jockey,
Sid Ferris, of New South Wales. To the present generation the name of
Sid Ferris will recall no memories, but five and twenty years ago there
was no finer nor more promising lightweight than the pilot of Hornet's
Beauty in the Caulfield Cup.'"




Chapter XXXIV.


"Now, Mr. Gover," said Detective Larose quietly, "have I fully
established in your mind the connection between the man you shot and the
man who helped James Dice in the training of Black Wolf?"

"Go on," said Sam Gover gruffly, without replying to the question.
"Let's hear the rest."

The detective carefully replaced all the photographs in the envelope and
then proceeded to light a cigarette.

"Well," he said, after a short pause, "at the time I dug up that body I
hadn't the remotest idea whose it was. I only knew, from what I had
learnt from you, that it must be one of the men who had held you up, and
I was sanguine that we should get to his companion through it. After I
had taken the photographs you have just seen I reburied the body in the
same place. I had no mind to take anybody into my confidence just then,
least of all the police. I wanted no publicity. I have no official
position now, as you know, and my inquiry was quite a private one, on
your behalf. I work in my own way, and it was my trump card that the
double murderer should have no inkling that the body of his second
victim had been found. So, I just covered up all my traces and came
away. Then I started at once to find out who the dead man was, and
believing, as I have told you, that the hold-up had been a hurriedly
arranged local affair, I of course tried Meningie first of all. I had
something very definite to go upon, however, from the general appearance
of the body for I was sure the dead man had been a jockey at some time
or other. He had had bones broken all over him, and in some places they
had been broken several times. Also, I saw from the markings on the
soles of his boots that he was accustomed to ride with high stirrups, as
jockeys always do. Well, as I say, I began prospecting at Meningie, and
I struck oil at once. I disclosed my identity to the township policeman,
and I asked him if he knew of the absence of anybody from the
neighbourhood since about last Christmas. I added that the man I wanted
to find out about had been a jockey once. The police was able to tell me
instantly." Larose looked intently at Sam Gover, and almost whispered
his next words, "Mr. Dice's station-hand, Sid Ferris, had not been seen
in the township since December 22."

"How did he remember the date?" asked the old man sharply, but with his
eyes averted from the detective's face.

"Because he had to go to the hotel that morning, on the 22nd, to
interview the proprietor about his licence. He remembered that the man
Ferris was in the bar, because he heard him telling people not to back
Black Wolf. The incident was all the more impressed upon his mind
because when the horse afterwards won, a lot of people were on the
lookout for Ferris, to give him a bit of their minds. The time, too,"
added Larose significantly, "was just before one o'clock, which would
about coincide, wouldn't it, with the message from you and Eli Barton
that was passed on from the hotel at Kingston?"

"Go on," said Sam Gover still gruffly. "Go on--you're a long way from
the end yet."

"Well," continued Larose, "the information that the policeman gave me,
of course, at once made me think hard about Ferris's master, James Dice.
In common with everybody else, I had heard Dice had been a big winner
over Black Wolf, but that in itself had had no particular significance
for me as regards the murder of Mr. Barton, and I had hardly given the
connection a second thought. After all, it is still only supposition
that Abimeleck would have won had he been in the race, and it would
certainly have been ridiculously far-fetched to have suspected the owner
of Black Wolf simply because he had benefited by the absence of Mr.
Barton's horse that day.

"So, as I say, the fact that Dice had brought off a big coup with Black
Wolf had not suggested to my mind any complicity in the murder of Mr.
Barton. It was in no way significant by itself, but"--Larose paused for
a moment here and his voice was deadly now--"it became very significant
when I learnt that one of the two men who had held you up that night on
the Coorong was a man in Mr. Dice's employ. It had an ugly look--a very
ugly look, I tell you."

* * *

Sam Gover made no remark; indeed, it might almost have been said he was
not listening. He was looking straight out before him, over the sands,
and there was no particular expression on his face. The detective went
on. "Well, I made it my business at once to get in touch with James
Dice. No matter how I managed it, but Dice's chauffeur left in a hurry,
and I got taken on in his place."

"What, at the station?" asked Sam Gover turning round sharply and in an
incredulous tone of voice.

"Yes, at Mundulla. I was five weeks there. I was Beeton, the chauffeur."

"Good God!--and he never found you out?"

The detective looked embarrassed. He blushed uncomfortably.

"I am sorry, Mr. Gover, but he did find me out. I don't know how it
happened. I haven't the remotest idea. But, from being most confidential
and friendly, he suddenly became exactly the reverse, and I tell you I
had a very unpleasant time." Larose stamped his foot angrily. "Bah! I
made a mistake somewhere. I gave myself away. I did something foolish,
and it will worry me all the rest of my life." He smiled whimsically at
the old man. "I am vain, Mr. Gover, you know, very vain in some ways,
and it annoys me most of all that I cannot find out yet the false step
that I must have made. It puzzles me a lot. But, to return to what I was
telling you--I got taken on as I say, as his chauffeur, and I found my
master very much the type of man you would judge him to be from his
face. He was cold and reserved, very reserved at first, but quite a good
master to work for and not a man anyone would think capable of a crime.

"He was well liked by his men, very fond himself of his niece, and the
whole atmosphere of the station was just ordinary and commonplace. No
mysteries at all, and nobody seemed to have anything to hide. There
appeared to be no curiosity, either, about Ferris. He had taken himself
off, I was told, two days before the races at Adelaide, and it was
generally supposed that he had had such a good win over Black Wolf that
he was giving himself a holiday in some other State. No one thought
anything about it, for it was accepted as a matter of course that he was
just that sort of irresponsible and unreliable kind of man.

"Well, for more than a week I only saw this one side of James Dice's
character--the strong, quiet, reserved man, and then suddenly the other
side was revealed to me. The Meningie policeman, Abel Black, to whom I
had made myself known, fell very ill with pneumonia and, becoming
delirious, he gave the game away about me. He talked of my being in the
township and of our having met. The doctor who was attending him
mentioned about it casually to the Dice party when I was with them in
the car. James Dice was dreadfully upset, and I saw him go white as a
ghost. From that moment he was a changed man. He believed that I was hot
upon his trail. He began to brood and worry, and in a few days I was the
obsession of his mind. I, Larose the detective I mean--not I, Beeton,
the chauffeur. He altered all his habits, and all day long was sweeping
the station round with his binoculars to see me come. He took me, the
chauffeur, a lot into his confidence, and warned me repeatedly to be on
the look-out for a prowling man. I was to shoot on sight and, in his
capacity of Chief Magistrate, he was going to make it all right with the
authorities. It was to pass as an accident, he said." Larose shook his
head thoughtfully. "Yes, I tell you, he was very much afraid then. He
was in deadly fear. I saw the naked savage in the man, and the wretch
who would stop at nothing when the blinding panic gripped his brain. He
was exactly in that condition of mind that he must have been that night
when he dumped you down in the gully thinking you were dead. He was like
a bullock driven mad by fear. Well, everything was going on swimmingly
for me, and I was expecting every day to pick up the final evidence I
was just waiting for, when--something happened. Somehow, as I have told
you--he found me out. His whole manner suddenly altered, and he
absolutely lost all fear. He became quietly and contemptuously confident
again. He was exactly like a man who had shaken a millstone from his
neck.

"He stopped having anything to do with me, and I caught him glaring at
me whenever he thought I wasn't looking. Then he got vicious and tried
to injure me. He put poison in my food and, finally, he brazenly fired
point blank at me with a shot gun. It was one evening by the creek and I
wasn't ten yards away."

"He shot at you?" ejaculated Sam Gover. "He shot at you?"

"Yes, with both barrels, and the wads of both cartridges hit me, one,
too, on the shoulder. It would have been the end of everything if the
cartridges had had any shot in them, but I had seen to it that they were
harmless some days before. There was only sand and paper behind the
wads." The detective sighed deeply. "Well, after that, I had to leave.
It wasn't so much that I was afraid, but I realised I could do no good
by waiting on. So I cleared out next day, but not quite so soon as Mr.
James Dice thought I did."

"What do you mean by that?" asked Sam Gover sharply.

"He thought I left in the morning," said Larose dryly, "but I didn't
really go until the afternoon. I was hiding up in the rafters of the
garage under an old sail. I waited for him to go out in the car, and
then made a last search in his room. But I didn't get much out of it,
and not the main thing I was looking for--the revolver that he used that
night on you and Mr. Barton. I am convinced he's still got it, however,
hidden away somewhere."

"Yes, yes," said the old man testily, "but what absolutely have you got
to identify him with the man who fired at us that night?"

"Nothing absolute," replied the detective firmly. "I told you I had no
proof that would satisfy a court of law, but there were scores of little
things that, taken altogether, pointed to him conclusively as the
murderer. Listen, for I've not finished yet by a long way."




Chapter XXXV.


"During the time I was with Dice, I was able to make two searches in his
room," Larose told Sam Gover. "One a very quick and hurried one, but the
other a very thorough one. The first time I examined his clothes, and,
tucked away right at the back of the wardrobe, I found a coat with dark
stains all down the front and on the inside of both sleeves. They looked
to me like those of old blood." Larose shrugged his shoulders. "Of
course they may have not been blood--they may have been paint or
anything, but"--he looked peculiarly at Sam Gover--"their significance
to me became very deadly when I found an empty envelope in the coat
addressed to James Dice and dated December 22nd." He paused for a
moment, and then asked quietly: "You remember that date, don't you, Mr.
Gover? Well, doesn't that look as if he had worn the coat on the very
night the tragedy occurred?" His voice became hard and emphatic. "But
that isn't all. I saw that coat the first time I searched the room. Dice
had no suspicions of me then, and I was searching hurriedly when he was
having his bath." He lowered his voice again and rapped out his words
slowly and one by one. "The second time I searched his room the coat was
not there. He had got rid of it as damaging evidence because he had
found out who I was."

"But good God! man," broke in Sam Gover, "why didn't you take the coat
when you had the chance. You could have proved everything then."

Larose shook his head. "No, no, sir. It was proof to me because I myself
found the envelope there, and it will be proof to you because you
believe me. But it would be no proof to a jury because I might have
found it somewhere else and put it there to strengthen my case." He took
a letter out of his pocket. "Now look at this, Mr. Gover. I got this
from Dice's desk, and it helps materially to show where the motive comes
in. It's from Dice's cousin, Mr. Thomas French, and I can tell you Mr.
French is recognised everywhere as one of the shrewdest judges of a
horse in the whole Commonwealth. He is one of the shining lights of the
racing world, and perhaps the most prominent member of the Victorian
Jockey Club. Listen to what he says--it is dated December 5th last.

"My dear Jim, I don't want to dishearten you, but just you make up your
mind straight away that--however good your nag may be--he doesn't stand
an earthly if old Eli decides to run his. Abimeleck could give the Pride
a couple of stone and then beat him easily by twenty lengths. So just
you put that in your pipe, old man, and smoke it for all it is worth."

Larose stopped reading abruptly. "Now, Mr. Gover," he said, "what do you
think of that?"

"Horrible, horrible," ejaculated Sam Gover brokenly. "My dear old
friend!--to think he should have been murdered just so that some
wretched horse might win some paltry race." He clenched his hands
together violently. "But the brute shall suffer, the brute shall hang."

"Listen to the end, Mr. Gover," said the detective. "I've the strangest
part yet to tell. But first, what do you think was James Dice's
financial position a fortnight after he had received that letter from
his cousin French?" Again he paused for a moment, as if to emphasise the
words he was about to say--then he spoke very slowly and very solemnly
as once before. "He had less than 20 to his credit in the bank--less
than 20, Mr. Gover, and yet the week after Black Wolf had won the
Christmas Cup he had 13,000 odd lying there. Now what do you think of
that? What do you think of that?" The detective leant forward to drive
his argument in. "Believing what an extraordinary horse he had in Black
Wolf, can't you see what was in the fellow's mind, and how, to him, it
was life or death if Abimeleck were absent--or were allowed to run in
the Christmas Cup?"

"Mr. Gover," he went on, "directly I left the station I set a trap for
the man--I set a trap for the murderer of Eli Barton." His voice
deepened in its intensity. "A trap that only the murderer himself could
be ensnared in. A trap the place of which could only possibly be known
to two men--to me, who set it, and to the murderer of Eli Barton, for
whom it was intended to be sprung."

* * *

The detective ceased speaking abruptly, and for the moment, of the two
there, he was now the more emotional.

"I set the trap," he went on after a moment, very slowly, "and I baited
it with the dead body of the jockey, Ferris. James Dice walked into it,
in broad daylight, as I thought he would, and--he walked out of it,
dragging the body with him, because we who should have been watching for
him--were asleep--just asleep."

"Damn," said Sam Gover explosively: "Then you bungled when at last you
had him in your hands."

Larose smiled very sadly. "Yes," he said quietly, "I bungled--I was
wanting at the critical moment. The murderer came, but, I tell you, I
was asleep."

"You see, I had not been all those weeks in Dice's company for nothing,
and I knew unerringly where the man's weakness lay. He could not stand
worry and uncertainty. They crumpled him up. I had seen them sap all his
strength of character and make him like a baby in anyone's hands. So I
thought I would prey on his mind with Sid Ferris. By disguising myself I
would resurrect the ex-jockey before his eyes and so worry and bewilder
him that he would be wondering if the man he had buried were actually
come to life again. He would be always remembering, I knew, how you had
returned from the dead, and in a very little time I was sure he would be
thinking the same of the other man. At any rate, I thought I could work
him up to the pitch of going back to where he had buried the body to
make sure it was still there. I would lure him again to the scene of his
crime. And then I would catch him, I thought. I would be ready with
witnesses by the thirty-fifth mile post. I would be waiting for him with
a hidden camera. I would snap him directly he started digging at the
grave. We would catch him red-handed and, as far as the murder of Ferris
was concerned, the chain of evidence would be complete. Then I would lay
everything before the authorities, and the arrest would follow as a
matter of hours."

Larose stopped for a minute and lit another cigarette. His voice had
lost all his sadness and he was like a man telling a good tale.

"Well," he went on presently, "at first everything went well. I got Abel
Black, the policeman, of Meningie, who was convalescent from his
illness, to help me. I told him something of my plans but never
mentioned that the man I wanted was the Senior Magistrate, James Dice.
With the help of the policeman I got myself up to a very fair
resemblance of the dead Sid Ferris." The detective shuddered
whimsically. "I even wore his clothes. He was a smaller man than I, but,
as I was only seen when on horseback, I managed by hunching myself up to
get along without too much discomfort. At first I only perambulated
round Mundulla, taking care that some of the station hands should see
me. I never let them get too near me, however, and they only saw me in
the distance. I knew it would get to Dice's ears, and it would set him
worrying at once. Then one day I telephoned up as Sid Ferris and asked
for some wages due to me. I asked that the money should be sent to the
post office at Meningie. Finally, I rode openly through the township,
and right past the Meningie hotel when I knew Dice would be on the
veranda there. Then, thinking I had done enough, and that he would
certainly be strung up now to fever pitch, I hurried with the policeman
Black, to the thirty-fifth mile post on the Coorong, and together we
secreted ourselves there and waited for the wretch's coming. For a day
and a half we kept watch, and then I was taken ill." Larose spoke very
hurriedly here as if anxious to get this part of his story told. "The
weather had suddenly turned cold and I had got some sort of chill. I had
had no sleep for two days. I lay down for a few minutes' rest and--I
fell asleep and slept for over six hours. I slept like a dead man." The
detective was silent for a moment; he sighed deeply, and his face was
the very picture of sadness and bitter thought. "When I woke up," he
went on chokingly, "when I woke up, I found Abel Black had been sleeping
too. I rushed over to the grave; the sand was all disturbed, the body
had been dug up and taken away." Larose could hardly speak now in his
emotion, but with an effort he steadied his voice and went on.

"I could see plainly where it had been dragged along over the sand. A
couple of hundred yards or so away there were the wheel marks of a big
car. The wind had risen and they were being fast filled in by the
blowing sand, but I could recognise them as the tyres of Dice's car, for
there were patches in them that I had vulcanised myself. It was plain to
me what had happened. Dice had come, as I had thought he would to see if
the body were still there, and, finding it stripped of its clothes (I
had taken them all away), he had instantly suspected something, and to
make himself secure had driven away with the body to hide it somewhere
else."

Larose laughed bitterly. "And that Mr. Gover, almost ends my tale. The
next day I was back in Meningie and, finding that Dice was in the
township, as Beeton the chauffeur I rang up the cook on the station and
incidentally asked her where her master had been the previous day. She
told me he had been away by himself all day fishing, but he had come
back with no fish, although his boots and leggings were mudded up to
right above the knees. I guessed where he had been. In one of the
thousand and one creeks off the Murray he had got rid of the body and
buried it so that it will never be found again." Larose shrugged his
shoulders and his voice took on a brisk and business-like tone. "That
finishes my report, Mr. Gover," he said. "Dice is, without doubt, the
murderer of Mr. Barton, but, as I say, there is no evidence to convict
him in a court of law. He must go free."

"I don't know so much about that," said Sam Gover very quietly, after a
long pause. He drew in a deep breath. "At any rate you've convinced me
that our friend, Mr. James Dice, is the guilty party, and I shall make
it my duty, I shall make it my duty, I say"--he spoke very slowly, and
there was a slight tremor in his voice--"to see that he meets with his
just reward."

"But you can do nothing, sir," said Larose, shaking his head sadly. "All
the evidence that I had has slipped through by fingers, and at best
there could be only suspicion now. What can you do?"

"I shall kill him," said the old man emphatically. "I shall kill him
myself."

A frown crossed over the detective's face. "No, Mr. Gover, we must have
none of that. You would hang or at best get imprisonment for life."

"But I shall kill him," repeated Sam Gover, like a man talking to
himself in a dream. "I shall kill him directly I see him." He turned
savagely on Larose. "What do you think, man? Is that brute to go free
when we know how he served my poor friend?" His voice became choked with
tears. "Poor Eli, poor old Eli--he never did a soul in this world any
harm. He was as kind and good a man as ever lived. He was so full of
life and so happy even growing old. He had still so much to live for.
Ah!" The old man spat viciously on the ground. "I'll kill his murderer
if I have to throttle him with my bare hands."

Larose swore softly under his breath. He had made yet another mistake,
he told himself. He had been so full of proving his case against James
Dice that he had not calculated at all what the effect would be on Eli
Barton's old friend. He had totally forgotten that. He ought not to have
disclosed anything until he had got Sam Gover away from the station.
Then there would have been time for the old man to cool down, and he
could have been brought to reason before he had had time to do anything
rash. Now--now, things might very easily get into a dreadful mess, and a
lot of tact would be required to keep Sam Gover in hand.




Chapter XXXVI.


Suddenly, a sharp metallic noise struck upon their ears. It sounded like
a horse champing his bit, and it came from close near, behind a small
hummock of sand.

They both turned curiously to see what it was, and a moment later a
horseman appeared over the rise. He was a big, tall man, and he was
leisurely walking his mount.

He had a gun slung by a broad strap over his shoulders, and he was
followed closely by a big dog.

"My God," gasped Sam Gover, "it's James Dice!"

"Hullo! Sam," he called out genially, "and what the dickens are you
doing here? Who's your friend?"

"Is your rifle loaded?" Larose whispered hoarsely to Sam Gover.

"No," groaned the old man, "and the cartridges even are not undone."

"Then drop it," snapped Larose, "and whatever happens don't let him
suspect anything or he'll shoot without a second's warning. I know
him--he'll go mad. Let him get close up. That's our only chance, so that
he can't use his gun. Now, pull yourself together quick or there'll be
more murder done. Act, man," he hissed, "and don't glare at him like
that."

"Damn," swore Larose under his breath, "the old fool's going to ruin
everything. I'll----" but the detective stopped suddenly, and, composing
his face to calm, stretched down his hands, and began playing idly with
the sand.

Dice sauntered up quite slowly and then, stopping a little way away,
proceeded to light his pipe.

For the moment Dice was too busy with his pipe to notice the silence,
but, with the pipe alight, he looked up at the old man, and a rather
puzzled expression came at once into his face.

"What's up, Sam?" he remarked. "You look as if you'd got the blues; but
who's your friend, here?" and he glanced for the first time since
dismounting at Larose.

It was quite a casual glance, but he at once frowned slightly, as if
some disagreeable memory had been stirred up in his mind. He could not,
however, see the detective very plainly, for the latter had got his hat
jammed down over his eyes, and his face, too, was half-averted. He was
still playing with the sand.

Dice looked back again to Sam Gover, and immediately then took his pipe
out of his mouth. There could be no failing, now, to notice the
expression on the old man's face.

"You vile beast," he shouted. "You murderer, James Dice--you--you----"

There was a moment, then, of dreadful silence, with James Dice standing
stiff and motionless, as if all suddenly he had turned to stone. His jaw
had dropped to an expression of horrible surprise, his face was ashen
grey, and he stared incredulously at Sam Gover for all the world as if
the old man were an apparition from the dead.

For perhaps five seconds nothing happened, and then Larose rose
stealthily to his feet. His action would probably have passed quite
unnoticed but for the interest his movement at once aroused in Dice's
dog.

His manifest interest in Sam Gover's companion drew the attention of
James Dice, and in a subconscious sort of way the latter, too, turned
his eyes upon Larose. At first there was no obvious inquiry in his gaze,
but then something seemed to quicken in him, and a tense expression
crossed his face.

Suddenly Dice gave a gasp of amazement, his eyes widened to their
fullest extent, and in a flash he had whipped the gun off his shoulder
and was pointing it straight at Larose.

"Hands up," he shouted hoarsely, "hands up, Larose. Hands up or I fire,"
and his voice vibrated to a lightning note of furious and triumphant
hate.

There was no mistaking the savagery of the command, and Larose, who in
his life had heard the twang of every string upon the harp of human
passion, realised upon the instant that he was very near to death.

So he lifted up his hands without a second's hesitation, and with them
high above his head stood motionless before James Dice. His face had
taken on a deathly pallor, but it was yet still calm and stony.

Dice stepped back a pace and, swinging round his gun, had now both the
detective and Sam Gover covered.

"Two barrels, gentlemen," he sneered mockingly, "and this time neither
of the cartridges has been tampered with." His voice became again savage
in his fury. "You won't get off now, like you did last time, you damned
policeman swine, with your sand and bits of paper. Oh, you fool!--Just
to think I shouldn't spot you." He laughed contemptuously. "I recognised
your neck and ears the moment I caught sight of you. Beeton, the
chauffeur! The fool who tried to masquerade as Sid Ferris. The wonderful
Gilbert Larose! Oh, you ass."

"But you don't deny then that you killed Eli Barton," called out Sam
Gover in a voice that shook with rage. "You can't deny it, for we know
everything about you."

"Oh," sneered James Dice, "the great Gilbert Larose again, of course?"

"You murdered your man, Ferris, too," went on the old man. "That was the
second murder that you did that night."

Dice gave a violent start, and the gun he was pointing wobbled
unsteadily, from side to side. His face grew grey again, and an
expression of terror came into his eyes. He looked searchingly at
Larose.

"Everything has come out," continued Sam Gover recklessly, "through you
murdering Ferris. We've found out everything through that."

Dice glared in deadly hatred at Larose. "You little beast," he hissed.
"So you've been sneaking round me again, have you?" His voice hardened
in its savagery.

"Now, Mr. Larose, now Gilbert Larose, get ready; say your prayers. I'm
going to count sixty and then----"

He closed his words with a snap, and for a moment there was
silence--then, "One--two--three," he began.. ..

* * *

Larose was standing motionless with his hands still high above his head.
His eyes had narrowed to two little slits, and his forehead was picked
out in beads of sweat.

He believed he was close to death, but promised as he was only a few
seconds more to live, the expression on his face was still not one of
fear, nor indeed, despair. Instead, he looked watchful and alert, as if
he had not yet even lost hold of the game.

"Thirty-five, thirty-six, thirty-seven," went on James Dice,
"thirty-eight, thirty-nine," and then--something happened.

A seagull alighted on the sands less than ten yards distant from where
they stood.

Perhaps it was that the gull was curious because they were all so still,
or perhaps the bird was hungry and believed there might be scraps of
food about.

At any rate, it swooped down boldly to the ground.

Larose saw it just out of the tail of his eyes, but Schafer, the dog,
instantly had both eyes fully turned upon it.

The animal rose promptly to his feet and growled.

The seagull was not frightened for, with its bird-instinct, it knew that
distance made it safe, but the effect of the growl on James Dice was
very different. He had not seen the bird at all, for it had alighted on
the sand behind him, and, not knowing therefore what had disturbed the
dog, he was seized instantly with alarm. He knew the dog would not growl
for nothing, and he began at once to conjecture wildly what it was.

Still keeping his eyes upon the detective, and the gun pointed directly
towards the latter's breast, he edged back sideways for a couple of
yards, and then, for one fleeting second, half-turned his head. It was
only for the very briefest moment that he looked away, but it was
sufficient for Larose.

The detective's arms shot forward in a lightning stroke, his fingers
opened and spread out, and two handfuls of sand struck James Dice
straight in the face.

There was a fierce oath, a splutter of rage, and, releasing one hand
from his gun, Dice strove wildly to clear his eyes.

But the sand had hit him squarely, and for the moment he was blinded. He
heard the gasp of a sharp intake of breath; a snarl, as from some savage
animal, and he was seized violently by the throat. His legs were knocked
viciously from under him, and as he fell backwards someone pulled hard
to wrench away his gun. But he was strong and muscular, and, his
surprise over, he not only retained the gun but with his free arm
gripped his adversary as he fell and brought him stumbling to the
ground.

A breathless struggle followed, lasting perhaps for five seconds, and
then--a deafening report burst up upon the air.

There was a yelp from the dog, a long-drawn sigh from the master of
Mundulla, as if he were very tired, and then--a death-like silence fell
upon the place.

The seagull had flown away.....

"It was an accident," wailed old Gover, almost in tears, when a minute
or two later he and the detective were capable of coherent conversation
again. "It was an act of God, Larose."

"Yes, an act of God," sighed the detective wearily. "Still, it was well
my finger found the trigger when it did."

He got up shakily from the sand, and stood over the prostrate figure of
what had at one time been the proud master of Mundulla. The latter had
died instantaneously, for the greater part of his face had been blown
away.

"Bah!" muttered the detective bitterly, "his death was much too
merciful. He ought to have been hanged." He turned to Sam Gover. "Look
here," he said sharply, "it's we who are in the soup now." He pointed to
the body. "What are we going to do about that?"

"Oh! I suppose everything will have to come out now," replied the old
man weakly. "At any rate, I can be witness as to how he died."

Larose spoke roughly. "Aren't young Barton and the girl sweethearts?" he
asked.

Sam Gover sat up with a jerk. "My God!" he exclaimed brokenly, "I never
thought of that, and she's a real good girl, too."

"Pull yourself together," said Larose sharply, "and everything will be
all right yet. The man's death shall be made appear as the result of an
accident. It shall look as if his gun had gone off and killed him as he
was unfastening the gate. Take off your coat, now, and roll up your
sleeves." He took out his watch. "Quick, we must be quick. We have no
time to lose. The mailman passes here every day, just after four, and
it's half-past three already. He shall be the one to discover the body,
and we needn't be mixed up in it at all. Steady now, and be sure and
don't get any blood on your clothes."

Things happened very much as Larose had arranged, and the unfortunate
accident to the master of Mundulla aroused great interest in the
district, and was the occasion of much sympathy for all the friends and
relatives concerned. It was a dreadful shock, people said, particularly
to Mr. Samuel Gover, who was on a visit to the station, and for over a
week the old man was obliged to keep to his bed. Fortunately, however,
for the household at Mundulla, the chauffeur, Beeton, had returned to
his duties, and in the versatility of his accomplishments he had at once
taken over the role of nurse and attendant to the sick man.

Three months later all interest in the affair had died down, and the
pretty Margaret Bevan was married very quietly, in Adelaide to young
Stanley Barton.

* * *

Winter had passed and spring had come again. It was a Saturday
afternoon, and the race for the great Viceroy Cup was being run at
Flemington.

The mighty horse, Abimeleck, was the popular favourite, and it was
generally conceded that none of the 23 other runners held an outstanding
chance. The distance was two miles, and Abimeleck was carrying 9.12.

Amongst the others running was an ex-Adelaide horse--one Black Wolf. He
had recently been bought out of South Australia by a Victorian
sportsman. He had been allotted 7.7.

The start was an excellent one, and the field got off together in almost
a straight line.

At the six furlong post the far-striding Abimeleck took command. Five
furlongs from home and he was leading by three lengths. Suddenly a black
horse was seen to dart out from the ruck behind.

Black Wolf was actually passing the favourite!

At the three-furlong post he was a length ahead; a furlong farther and
he was two lengths to the good, with Abimeleck now being hard ridden
under the whip. A hundred yards from home and the advantage was still
greater, and finally the Adelaidian ran past the judge's box the easiest
of winners by about five lengths.

"Oh! Fate, Fate," muttered a man among the crowd, "and why did you so
uselessly throw away three lives?"

"You mocked at James Dice and maddened him that he played foul, when all
along you knew that it was he who held the trump card. Oh, if he had
only known it, too!"

He moved off among the crowd.

It was Gilbert Larose.



THE END


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