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Title: My Only Murder
Author: Ernest Favenc
* A Project Gutenberg of Australia eBook *
eBook No.: 1900081h.html
Language: English
Date first posted:  January 2019
Most recent update: January 2019

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My Only Murder
by

Ernest Favenc


It was simply a choice between killing a man, and outraging all the finer sensibilities of my nature. Had I not done the deed I should have had to appear in another man's eyes as a coldblooded, selfish ingrate. I swear to you that it was to spare the feelings of both of us that I took upon myself the terrible responsibility of slaying a fellow-creature.

Do I regret the deed? Not at all.

Twelve years ago, I was just coming to the end of my term of partnership in a North Queensland station, and well pleased I was to get out of it, for pastoral property was falling rapidly. My two partners were not so happy over the matter. The rate at which they were buying me out had, under our agreement, been fixed some time previously, and as prices had since steadily fallen, they had to pay me more than the market value. But, then, had stations gone up, as was anticipated by them when the rate was agreed upon, I should have been forced to accept less than the market value, so it was just the fortune of war.

I had to be up on the station by a fixed date, the wet season had arrived, and there was not a day to spare. If I did not attend on the date specified for delivery, it might form a pretext for the other side to repudiate their bad bargain. The rain came down steadily, and I knew that my work was cut out to reach the place in time. Once across the Banderoar river, I was safe, but when I arrived on the bank it was a swim, and fast rising. There was too much at stake to hesitate; crocodiles or not, I must cross. My horse could swim well, I knew, and so could I. It was growing late, so, without more ado, I undressed, strapped my clothes on the saddle, unbuckled the reins, crossed the stirrup-leathers in front, and started.

As soon as old Hielandman (my horse) was out of his depth and swimming straight, I slipped off and swam alongside him. We were nearly two-thirds of the way across when suddenly Hielandman struck against a submerged snag. The shock and the strong current made me foul him, and ere I could get clear he had clipped me on the head with his fore-foot. I don't remember much about what happened immediately afterwards, only it seemed mighty hard to drown just as I was about to retire with a small competency and get married. Then I felt cold, and oh! so sick, and, after an interval, I found myself ashore with a great singing in my ears and a taste in my mouth as though I had swallowed all the flood-water in North Queensland.

I had been pulled out by one of a party of men camped on the bank I was making for. He had bravely jumped in without waiting to undress, and after being nearly drowned himself, had dragged me ashore. He was standing by the fire wringing out his wet clothes, and, with the glow of new-born life within me, I thought he was the most glorious fellow I had ever seen.

'By Jove, old man!' he said to me cheerily, 'if I had waited to take my trousers off you would have been feeding the crocodiles now.'

I did not doubt it, and I told him how deeply grateful I felt, and how I could never thank him sufficiently. To die just then would have been especially bitter, and I said so.

Hielandman had got free of the snag and swum to land safely. Beyond the lump on my head there was no damage done. My new friends were a party of drovers returning from delivering a mob of cattle. I camped with them that night, and next morning, with a light heart, departed for my destination. Needless to say, I had assured Jenkins, my rescuer, of my undying gratitude, and told him that whenever he desired it, my home should be his home, and my purse his purse. He took it all very nicely, told me that he was sure I would have done the same for him, that he wanted nothing; but to oblige me, if ever he did become 'stone broke' he would remember my kind offer.

* * *

Twelve years elapsed. The money I had received for my share of I he station had, by judicious investment, turned into a nice little fortune. I was married to a wife exactly suited to me, we had three healthy children, and lived in good style in one of the prettiest suburbs of Sydney. I had often told my wife of the gallant way in which Jenkins, whom I had never since seen, plunged into the flooded river and rescued me, and she as often said that it would crown the happiness of her life to see him and thank him with her own lips.

One day I was accosted in George street by a bearded and sunburnt bushman dressed in unmistakeable slop clothes, who seized me by the hand and ejaculated, 'But for being told, I should never have known you. You look a different sort of fellow to what you did when I pulled you out of the Banderoar. By love, old man, had I waited to take off my trousers you'd have been a gone coon!' It was Jenkins, my preserver.

I was delighted to see him and insisted on his coming out to stay with me. He agreed willingly, and I was at last able to present to my wife the saviour of her husband. That she was disappointed, I could see; but, being a good little woman, she did not let the guest observe it. Truth to tell, I somehow shared her sentiments. I had, perhaps, rather over done my description, and had made my wife expect to see something akin to one of Ouida's heroes. Jenkins certainly did show to better advantage at his own camp fire than in town in his newly-creased reach-me-downs, but we forgave all that, and made him royally welcome. At dinner he was rather awkward, and insisted on telling my wife the story of my rescue twice over, always emphasising the fact that, had he stopped to doff his trousers, I should have been drowned.

From that date there commenced an ordeal which I would not willingly—nay, one which I could not—again endure. When Jenkins gained a little confidence he became argumentative and dictatorial. I am a sociable man, and my house was a favourite with my friends, but Jenkins sat upon them all. He asserted his opinions loudly and emphatically, and when unacquainted with the place or topic under discussion, always had some friend of the past to quote who knew all about it. He held views on the labour troubles which were rank heresy to my circle of pastoral friends, but never did he hesitate to loudly assert them. And yet he was a good fellow, evidently looking upon me as a sort of a creation of his own.

'Ah!' he would say, as we stood regarding my pretty house, the sunny, flowering garden, and the children playing on the lawn, 'we should never have seen this if you had gone to the bottom of the Banderoar. If I had stopped to take off—"

I felt this, too, and wrung his hand in response. Perhaps that very evening we had a small dinner-party, and when I saw a demure smile steal over everybody's face, I knew that in the coming silence I should hear Jenkins describing what would have happened had he 'stopped to pull'—Then, I could have slain him. We had not a lady friend to whom he had not confided, in a loud voice, that singular instance of his presence of mind in refraining from undressing. Those male friends whom Jenkins had not insulted, I had quarrelled with on account of their frivolity in always asking me if 'Jenkins had taken his trousers off yet?'

But the worst of it was that the dear fellow really believed that he was affording me the most exquisite happiness in entertaining him. He was convinced that for twelve years I had been pining to pay off my debt, and that now I was enraptured. He was my shadow and reverenced everything belonging to me. How could I break this charm by declaring that I was tired of him? It would have been worse than heartless.

At last my patient wife began to grow short-tempered and restless. She told me plainly once that Jenkins had not pulled her out of the Banderoar, and that she did not see why she should put up with him any longer. I tried to point out that as she and I were one it really amounted to the same thing, but she replied that it certainly did not. We were not married when it happened, and if I had been drowned she would have married somebody else—perhaps someone not oppressed by having barnacled to him a devoted rescuer who was eternally advertising that he had not taken off his trousers.

I felt that a climax neared—and that something must be done to prevent the breaking up of my once happy home. At times I meditated investing a portion of my capital in a small selection somewhere and getting Jenkins to go and look after it for me, but he expressed himself as being contented where he was, and so greatly averse to returning to the bush, that I abandoned the ideas. Now, too, he began to indulge in sheepish flirtations with the maids, and my wife sternly requested me to 'speak to your friend.' I attempted to do so, but when I saw his mild, affectionate eyes gazing at me and knew that he was thinking of the time when he struggled beneath the muddy flood waters without taking off his trousers, I broke down. I could not wound his gentle heart.

It came to me suddenly—the inspiration, the solution of the difficulty. Jenkins must die!

Once resolved, I acted. I knew it was wrong, but I couldn't help it, any more than Deeming could help killing his wives, or Mr Neill Cream could help poisoning all those poor girls in London. Jenkins was a friendless bushman; I was a man with responsibilities and a family. Their happiness stood first, and it was kinder to Jenkins to kill him at once than to undeceive him.

I shall not enter into details as to the carrying out of my design. Enough to say that it was perfectly successful. I have no intention of teaching the art of murder made easy. Jenkins died peacefully and painlessly. The doctor said that his constitution had been undermined by exposure and hardship. When he was confined to his bed my wife forgave him everything, and nursed him with unremitting care. I have even seen tears in the poor little woman's eyes as she murmured that she was afraid we should lose him. Other people came to see him, and he passed away happy in the firm belief that he left behind him a large circle of sorrowing friends.

I buried him in my own ground in Waverley cemetery, and erected a neat stone with a suitable inscription, stating that he had risked his life in preserving me from death.

All my old friends are back again. Everybody has told me what a manly fellow I was, and how they admired my social pluck in not looking coldly upon an old benefactor who did not happen to be quite up to the Government House standard of dress and manners. My conscience is easy.


THE END

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