an ebook published by
Project Gutenberg Australia
The Phantom Launch:
Aidan de Brune:
eBook No: 1701141h.html
Date first posted: Oct 2017
Most recent update: Apr 2022
This eBook was produced by Terry Walker, Colin Choat and Roy Glashan, and proofread by Gordon Hobley
View our licence and header
Aidan de Brune
This book is a product of a collaborative
effort undertaken by Project Gutenberg
Australia, Roy Glashan's Library and the bibliophile Terry Walker to collect, edit
and publish the works of Aidan de Brune, a colourful and prolific but little-known
Australian writer and adventurer whose opus is well worth saving from oblivion.
There is always a special thrill of excitement about a mystery story, especially when the main characters cover their tracks successfully. It is an Australian story through and through, its main setting being Sydney and Melbourne, and the swiftness and sureness with which both the launch people and amateur sleuths act will keep the reader breathless. Wireless plays an important part in this story. We defy any reader to guess the perpetrators of the crimes and the secret of the launch until the author reveals them.
The World's News, Sydney, NSW, 25 June 1927
|Chapter XXVIII |
"WHAT the devil? Say, Phelps, were you trying to put one over on me, or have you taken to writing fiction?"
"What's the trouble, Sergeant?" The young officer looked up at the burly officer who had just entered the room.
"What's the trouble?" Sergeant Miller made a gesture of mock despair. "Here's one of the most promising members of the Force puts in a report that reads like a shilling shocker, and asks, 'What's the trouble?' If you're really serious in the pursuit of knowledge, me lad, I'll tell you. I've got to sub-edit this fairy story of yours before it goes to Headquarters, and you haven't given it a title. Any objection to 'A Constable's Dream While On Duty'?"
"Better call it 'The Phantom Launch,' Sergeant." Constable Phelps looked up at his superior officer, a broad grin on his face.
"Then it's a leg-puller! You young devil! If I'd sent it to Headquarters—"
"Go easy, Sergeant." There was a note of seriousness in the constable's voice. "There's precious little fiction about that report. It's the first bit of adventure I've had since I started walking the lonely rounds out of Balmoral, and I made the best of it. But it's true, every word of it."
Sergeant Miller slumped into a chair and gazed at his subordinate officer in amazement.
"You mean to tell me you saw this—this—Yes, I'll give it your name—this Phantom Launch. A boat without masts or sails, that goes up the harbour at top speed without crew—"
"Who's the novelist, now?" Phelps rose slowly to his feet and stretched himself. "I said nothing about no crew. In fact, I saw three men on the launch, and I saw its wake when it went out of Myella Cove. It's a goer, sure enough."
Miller referred to the report in his hand. He was beginning to believe that it contained some truth. Constable Phelps was a promising youngster. A bare twelve months in the Force, he was already recognised for his coolness and bravery. The report was absurd; so absurd that it was impossible to send it to Headquarters. But there might be something in it; something that it was his duty to inquire into, and test.
"Let's get this straight, boy." Miller placed the report on the table and leaned forward, his hands on his knees. "Sit down. I can't talk all the way up there. Now, I detailed you to go over to Obelisk Bay on the sly-grog report. Nothin' doing, you state."
"That's right." Phelps sat down again, and leaned his elbows on the table, "Old Manners was about in that puffin'-billy he sweeps the harbour with, but he hadn't a bottle in sight. 'Sides, most of the camps were deserted. Those that were occupied had mostly women and children in them. All asleep when I got there. More like a Sunday school picnic than the drinkin' den you spoke of."
"We'll pass that." The Sergeant again referred to the report. "The camp being quiet, you went on to Middle Head, taking the path over the cliffs. Rounding the head, you came to Myella Cove. There you sat down. Had a doze, I suppose, and dreamed the rest?"
"Look here—" Phelps got to his feet angrily.
"Aw! Sit down!" Miller thumped the table with a fist like a knuckle of ham. "We'll leave it that you sat down and thought about girls, past, present, and future. That do? Now, let's get on with the facts. You sat down and looked out over the harbour. S'pose South Head Lighthouse was working?"
"I'd have telephoned through if it hadn't been."
"Humph! Glad to see your brains are not all wool." Miller laughed, drily. "Now comes the fairy story. Author's title, 'The Phantom Launch.' Out from under the silvery sheen of the moon, glistening on the silent waters of the famous harbour beside the well-known city of Syd—"
"I never wrote that tosh!"
"You didn't." Miller spoke, emphatically. "If you had, I'd have placed you in a cell until the doctor came. Still, it's near enough, so we'll go on. You noticed a high-powered launch coming into the cove. You couldn't hear any engine, although the boat travelling at a good speed. Correct?"
"Yep. She was absolutely silent."
"Engine shut off, of course," commented Miller. "Real truth of the matter is, you were moon-struck, and didn't see anything of her until she cut out her engines before charging the sands."
"I saw her before she began to turn towards the Cove," interposed Phelps, impatient. "Say, Sergeant, what are you getting at? I put the thing straight in my report, you're just hashing it up."
"Well," the Sergeant's broad face broke into a wide grin; "just tryin' to put in a few fancy strokes. Would you like it to go to the Star or the Evening Moon? I'd advise the latter. They like it a bit tall. Sure you can't add a fair captive, strapped to the mast?"
"There wasn't a ma—. Funny, I don't think." Phelps turned away disgustedly.
Sergeant Miller rose from his seat, and walked towards his private office, carrying the report with him. He was puzzled. When he first read it, he thought the constable had dreamed the details, around some simple happenings to a motor-boat returning up harbour late at night. The indignation, the certainty, displayed by the constable altered his views. There must be something worth examining. At his desk, Miller went over the report again, scanning each word thoughtfully.
Constable Phelps had reported for duty at seven o'clock the previous evening. He had been detailed to proceed to Obelisk Bay, and inquire into a report of sly grog-selling at the summer camps in the vicinity.
The constable had remained among the camps until late at night. He had seen the suspected bootlegger, and had searched his boat without results. Satisfied that nothing illegal was going on that night, Phelps left the sleeping camps, and walked over the paths to Middle Head. Almost immediately around the Head, he came to Myella Cove, a small bay, containing a patch of fine sands. The cove was almost inaccessible from the land side, by reason of the steep cliffs, and on the water side was guarded by partly submerged reefs, jutting out from the headlands, leaving only a narrow and dangerous passage to the cove.
Phelps had had a long spell of duty, and a fair walk. He stated in his report that he was tired, and sat down for a few minutes rest. Just as he was about to resume his journey, he noticed a high-powered launch, speeding towards the Heads, turn sharply and make for the cove. The constable was curious. There were no houses on the shores thereabouts, and the cliffs were so steep that they were difficult to climb. The only reason for the visit of the speed-boat could be that something had happened, making it necessary to beach her immediately.
The boat did not appear to be in difficulties. Completing the quarter-turn, the engines were shut off, and she came to rest on the edge of the sands. Two men got out. One held the boat afloat while the other waded ashore, disappearing from the constable's view for some minutes.
Phelps acknowledged to some curiosity. The boat did not appear to be in distress. Had he seen signs of distress, he would have climbed down the cliffs, and offered what help he could give. The actions of the men were mysterious. The constable dropped to his hands and knees, and crawled to the edge of the cliff. The man was kneeling on the sands, at the foot of the cliff. The moon shadows covered him, and Phelps could only see that he was working earnestly—at something.
A quarter of an hour, and the man got to his feet, and went to the water's edge. Another man came from the launch to the sands. The two men walked to the foot of the cliff and knelt down. Five minutes later they returned to the launch, and the little vessel backed out into the Cove. Very silently, the boat turned, and swept out into the harbour, travelling at incredible speed.
For some minutes, Constable Phelps lay on the edge of the cliff, watching the disappearing boat. At length, satisfied that it was not likely to return, Phelps scrambled down the cliffs to the sands. He had a pocket torch with him, and by its light he was able to trace the footsteps of the men from the waters' edge to the face of the cliff.
The sands had been disturbed and roughly swept into place again. A few minutes burrowing, and Phelps found his fingers grating on the rough surface of a wooden box. He bad some trouble in uncovering it, for the sand filtered into the hole almost as quickly as he pulled it out, but he persisted. At length, he uncovered the box. It was about four feet long, by two feet-wide, made of very thick, common wood. There was a rope handle at each end.
Phelps lugged the box to the surface. It was fastened by a heavy lock, covered by a close-fitting slide-plate. He tried to force the lock, but it was too strong. It was impossible to carry the box up the face of the cliff. Phelps decided to re-bury the box, and report his find at the police station.
Sergeant Miller pondered, deeply. There might be something in this matter. Almost he reproached himself for allowing the box to remain hidden during the time Constable Phelps had been off duty. He should have sent at once to Myella Cove, and found the box. He rose to his feet, and strode to the door.
"You can find that box again? Yes. Take Fellowes, and go over the cliffs tonight, and get that box."
"Might do better from the sea," suggested Phelps thoughtfully.
"Very well. Tell—"
The insistent ring of the telephone bell cut short the Sergeant's words. He crossed to the instrument, and lifted the receiver.
"Headquarters, Criminal investigation Branch, speaking, Superintendent Hanson's compliments to sergeant Miller. Will he be so good as to release a man to watch the Harbour from Middle Head this night, starting at midnight. Very important. Report immediately any sign of a long, narrow, high powered speed-launch, low in the water, half-decked, painted silver-grey, no mast, no funnel, driven electrically, or has a very competent silencer; said to be absolutely noiseless. Please repeat message."
Mechanically, Miller repeated the words he had scribbled on the pad lying on the telephone desk. As he turned from the instrument, he faced Constable Phelps, his face ablaze with excitement.
"Sergeant. That boat—"
"That's the description of the boat I saw in Myella Cove last night, or, rather, early this morning."
"Absolutely—I'd swear to her anywhere."
"Which way was she heading when she left the Cove?"
"You're certain you'd recognise her again?"
"Not a doubt of it." Phelps spoke confidently.
"Then you're for Middle Head." A broad grin came to the Sergeant's face. "We'll defer the question of a title for your fairy story, Phelps. Seems like you've elected your own punishment. A night on Middle Head, looking for the 'Phantom Launch,' may make a complete cure. You heard what was said?"
"Then get to it—and if you don't bring in that Phantom Launch I'll send that damn fool report you wished on me to the Commissioner."
CONSTABLE PHELPS climbed the long, rough path from Balmoral to Middle Head about half-past eleven that night. The long, silent watch over the waters of the harbour did not appeal to him, although, from what he had overheard of the message from Headquarters, there appeared to be a prospect of again seeing the mysterious speed-boat.
A walk along the rough track around the head, and Phelps looked about him for a place where he could make his long watch with some comfort. He found a narrow slab of rock forming a comfortable seat and which would prove a good couch, if he dared to trust himself to lie down. Here, he determined to establish his headquarters for the night. Directly before him rose the towering heights of the twin North and South Heads, guarding the entrance to the triple harbours.
Almost due south from where sat, outlined the inner South Head that, with middle head, forms the entrance to Port Jackson. Between those heads streamed the commerce of the State, almost continuously during the 24 hours of the day. Away north was shining the light of Grotto Point. Beyond that lay the queerly hand-shaped Middle Harbour, across the bottom of which stretched the long point of land known as The Spit.
Far to the north-east twinkled the lights of the pleasure town of Manly. About half-way, and almost hiding the town from Middle Head, jutted Dobroyd Point forming, with the North Head, the entrance to North Harbour. Due east, on the long slope of North Head, the buildings of the Quarantine Station showed indistinctly beneath the waning light of the three-quarter moon.
Phelps lighted a cigarette and sat down on the ledge of rock. A late ferry-boat was hurrying across the waters in the direction of Manly, its brightly-lit decks throwing quaint shadows over the silent waters. A few minutes later, another ferry slid into view, close in shore, its decks almost deserted. It was the last boat from Balmoral to Circular Quay. So close did it skirt the Head that the constable could have thrown a stone on its decks.
There were no signs of the Phantom Launch in the silent waters. If the boat came at all it would probably be at a later hour of the night. Phelps did not feel at all certain that the boat would return to Myella Cove. The men on the launch had appeared to be satisfied with their work on the mysterious box. Had it not been for the message from Detective Headquarters, he would have raced round to the cove and dug up the box. It might possibly contain some clue to the Phantom Launch. Perhaps the next night, after—
Why had Superintendent Hanson requested Sergeant Miller to place a watch on Middle Harbour for the Phantom Launch? What did Headquarters know of the boat? He had made his report of the queer happenings at Myella Cove the previous night, but that report had remained in the hands of Sergeant Miller.
Detective Headquarters were interested in the Phantom Launch. For what reason? Were they interested in the box the men from the mystery boat had buried in the sands at Myella Cove? Phelps almost wished the Sergeant had forwarded his report to Phillip Street, instead of retaining it under the plea that it was exaggerated or untrue. The constable had some slight satisfaction that Sergeant Miller must now be feeling uncomfortable. The story of the entry of the Phantom Launch—the same boat Superintendent Hanson was seeking—into Myella Cove would certainly attract attention, and Miller would be asked to account for the delay.
"Duty or pleasure, Constable Phelps?" A quiet, grave voice spoke from behind the seated constable.
"Jove! Mr. Lister. You gave me quite a start."
"Humph!" The newcomer, a tall, thin man, about 32 to 33 years of age, walked from the track to the ledge of rock and sat down beside the constable. "If I didn't know better, I might believe you were suffering from a common complaint that requires solitude and moonlight as a palliative."
"You know better, Mr. Lister." Phelps laughed quietly.
"I'm guessing." Sydney Lister drew from his pocket an evening paper. "I find Constable Phelps perched on a ledge of rock, gazing earnestly out towards the Heads. A few hours ago I read an intriguing paragraph in the Evening Moon. I may be mistaken, but I scent a connection."
"A queer paragraph in the paper?" The constable swung round eagerly towards his companion. "What was it, Mr. Lister? I didn't get a paper this evening."
Lister managed, by the little light of the moon, to find two paragraphs on the front page and pointed them out to Phelps.
The constable produced his electric torch and threw a beam of light at the printing. He read the paragraphs twice; the second time slowly and thoughtfully.
MAN TAKEN FROM OVERSEAS BOAT
Captain Anstey, of the British mail-boat, which arrived at Sydney this morning, reports an uncommon incident on the voyage between Melbourne and Sydney. Three miles outside the heads, a fast motor-launch came alongside the mail boat, and hailed a passenger standing on the lower deck. A few sentences were exchanged and the passenger threw a suitcase down on the launch, following himself. The launch immediately darted away at an incredible speed.
The police are seeking information as to a long, narrow, high-powered speed-launch, no funnel nor mast, painted silver-grey, with absolutely silent engine.
"Not much of a description," commented Phelps guardedly, returning the newspaper to Lister. "You'd have thought seamen could have provided a better one. If the launch was alongside the mail boat for any length of time, the officer on watch would surely read the name on the bows or stern."
Lister did not reply. He was gazing out over the Harbour, towards the Heads. The constable waited, watching his companion curiously.
"Looking for the Phantom Launch, Mr. Lister?" Phelps asked the question with a slight laugh.
"So that is the name you have given it at the police station?" Lister turned towards the constable. "I guessed you were up here on watch for the strange launch, directly I saw you. Well, you'll have your search for nothing, I'm afraid, constable. The launch is not likely to try that game on two succeeding nights, even if a mail boat was due tomorrow morning."
"What do you know, Mr. Lister?" Phelps turned quickly.
"Know?" Lister's lean face broke into a swift smile. "I know just what the newspaper states—and that Constable Phelps is watching at midnight on Middle Head. The two facts lie together, but I can't make more than two of them. They're independent units."
"Walt a moment." The constable sat thoughtful for a minute. "You're a yachtsman Mr. Lister; do you know a boat in the Harbour, or the river, answering to that description?"
"Can't say I do." Lister stood beside the shelf of rock on which Phelps was seated. "Personally, I have no time for speed boats. They make too much commotion on the Harbour, They should be banished outside the Heads."
"This boat is absolutely noiseless," urged Phelps.
"Then what drives her?" Lister flashed the question back immediately. "There's no silencer that can make an internal combustion engine nearly noiseless. Electricity might be the motive power, but I do not think there are accumulators that would give an electrically-driven boat any great radius."
"I saw her last night," Phelps answered. "I know you'll say nothing, Mr. Lister. I saw her last night and I know she's noiseless. There was not a sound."
Very briefly, Phelps recounted his adventure with the Phantom Launch at Myella cove the previous evening. Lister sat thoughtful. When the constable described the wooden box he had dug from the sands, the man became alert.
"What did you do with the box, Phelps?"
"Buried it again. I was instructed to dig it up, and take it to the station, when orders for this watch on the Heads came through. Suppose I'll go for it tomorrow."
"Take my advice and leave it there." Lister spoke carefully. "With that box under the sands at Myella Cove you have a lure for the Phantom Launch. Keep the box there, and keep someone watching it. Before long you will be able to catch the launch, and then the mystery of the box will be automatically solved. If you dig up that box, and the men on the launch go to Myella Cove, and do not find it, they will clear away, and you will have all your work to do over again."
"There's something in that." Phelps mused for a moment. "I'll have a talk to the Serg—"
"Let him forget it," Lister interrupted. "Your report will be in the hands of the C.I.B. tomorrow morning, anyway. You will have to be approached before they can find the box. Perhaps you'll have a chance to object to the removal of the box before further information regarding the Phantom Launch is obtained."
"Which way did the Phantom Launch go after leaving Myella Cove?" interrupted Lister.
"Yep. Absolutely certain. Why?"
"You saw the Phantom Launch after midnight—say between one and two o'clock. She ran into Myella Cove and then turned up river. That means she went through the city and up the Parramatta or Lane Cove River. Yet, a few hours later, she was outside the Heads, taking a passenger from the mail boat."
"Looks strange," muttered the constable, scratching his head.
"There's something more than strange in it. Who was the passenger removed from the mail boat? Was he removed voluntarily or involuntarily? Where did the Phantom Launch land him, or is he still on board the boat? Did the boat come into the Harbour again, or did it seek shelter in some place along the coast?" Lister asked the questions half to himself.
"The Harbour's rather unsafe for it, now," commented Phelps, with a grin, "They've put up a defiance of the Customs, and, although the newspapers don't say much, I'll bet the Water Police are searching the waters of the Harbour at full pressure. No, Mr. Lister. She's outside the Harbour and won't come in again until the matter's blown over."
"No!" Lister was watching out towards the Heads, intently. "What do you make of that, Constable Phelps?"
On the moon-silvered waters between the high heads appeared a slight wave of foam, approaching at a terrific rate. The two men watched as it came rolling towards them. All they could distinguish was the cresting wave, breaking back in a shower of foam, yet ever rolling swiftly towards them. For some minutes it held directly towards Middle Head, then, suddenly, it swerved to the north and entered Middle Harbour.
The boat was travelling at a terrific pace, yet not a sound broke the silence of the night. It was as if it was a shadow—the ghostly vehicle of some uneasy spirit doomed to haunt the Harbour during the silent hours of night. Quickly it came, and passed.
"Gone up Middle Harbour." There was a note of exultation in Phelps' voice. "They've made their mistake there. Coming, Mr. Lister? I'm going back to Balmoral. In an hour the Spit Bridge will be closed, and the Phantom Launch bottled up."
CONVINCED that the Phantom Launch had sought shelter in Middle Harbour, Constable Phelps hurried back to Balmoral to organise means to close the waters at the Spit. A little more than a mile up from the Harbour entrance a long finger of sand stretches from the west shore out into the waters, almost to the opposite shore. This finger of land is known as "The Spit," and the continuing bridge passes the tram-lines from North Sydney to Manly.
The bridge, from the end of the Spit to the north-east shore forms almost a gate across Middle Harbour. The bridge is low, and only the smallest boats can pass beneath; the larger vessels requiring the spans of the bridge to be lifted. The Phantom Launch, however, could pass under the bridge without difficulty, for it had neither masts nor structure above the deck.
The Harbour contains numerous inlets, islets, coves, and creek mouths, providing a multitude of hiding-places for any small boat wishing to avoid attention. There is little settlement around the coast-line of the Harbour, and most of the waterways and islets are in a wild state.
Sydney Lister slowly followed the constable along the cliff paths, towards Balmoral. At the time he had pointed out the Phantom Launch to Phelps he had been possessed by the spirit of the chase. Now that he had seen the mystery boat enter the natural trap of Middle Harbour, and the door closed upon her, he began to look at the matter from a more sentimental angle.
So far as he was aware the crew of the Phantom Launch was only guilty of moving a passenger from a mail boat before pratique had been granted by the Customs and Health authorities. True, they had made a bad precedent; one to be discouraged by fine, and even imprisonment, but certainly not criminal. To the average person it was the ordinary game of wits played by many law-abiding citizens when they return to their native land after a foreign tour. Customs charges and regulations are fair game. There is an element of sport in defeating the well-trained officers—the "sin" element of the contest being in discovery.
When the facts of the abduction of the passenger from the Arathusa became public property there would be a general laugh at the "slick" manner in which the Customs had been evaded. Almost certainly there would be imitators; the matter ending, probably, in Customs officers accompanying overseas ships while they were in Australian waters. The Customs would press for the discovery and capture of the Phantom Launch and her crew. The eyes of the continent would be turned towards Middle Harbour, while the Water Police searched the many miles of waterways. Public sympathy would be on the side of the hunted, and when the search ended in the inevitable discovery of the Phantom Launch, her crew would be elevated to the heroic.
Lister passed through the little town of Balmoral, and on the outskirts of the town, came to a small cottage, within a hundred yards of the northern end of the bay. It was nearly two years since he had first rented the place for the summer. The house had suited him, and with a few alterations he found the winter months comfortable in it. He had purchased the place, and was making it his home.
A well-known newspaper proprietor had described Sydney Lister as "a good newspaperman spoilt." Asked to define his statement, he added:—"The fellow's got too much money. A journalist in this country is only good when he's dead broke and up against it."
Lister passed into the cottage. A lamp was burning on the table in the front room, and beside it a tray holding glasses and a soda syphon. The spirit-cabinet had been moved from the miniature sideboard, and stood beside the tray. Over the back of a dilapidated lounge-chair hung his working coat. Lister dropped his hat on the table and slipped into the comfortable old coat. He mixed a drink, and carried it to the rear of the cottage.
The back door opened on to a sandy yard. From the back step a bricked path had been laid to a well-built shed, standing along the rear fence. Lister went to the shed and opened it with a key, hung on his watch-chain. The interior of the shed was fitted up somewhat similar to the wireless room of an ocean liner. A door on the right led to another room, in which stood a small, powerful oil engine and dynamo, carefully shielded to prevent interference.
Lister spent much of his time in this wireless room, sometimes remaining there the better part of the night. A great deal of the apparatus in the room was unique, built by himself, many of the instruments his own invention. Against the left wall stood an eight-valve receiving set, one of the most powerful in Australia. It had become a habit to spend the early hours of the morning by this set, idly travelling from length to length, and from power to power.
During the past three nights he had been puzzled by certain sounds that come over the air, to be caught on his delicate instruments. At first they had seemed to come from afar but now he believed they originated within a few miles from his room. They were not spoken words: merely a regular "tick tick," like the workings of a watch, suspended close against a microphone. Another thing, they never came on the same wave-length. Since he had first heard them they had covered quite an appreciable number of lengths, often three or four the same night.
Sitting down at the eight valve receiver, Lister tuned-in to 37 metres, the wave length on which he had detected the "tick-tick" the previous night. There was no response, and he slowly tuned to a higher wave. At 56 metres, he caught the first "tick," and commenced to amplify, until he had the sound filling the little room. They had no meaning; entirely regular, they went on for over half an hour, with a monotonous regularity that bored.
Someone must be playing a joke. The tick of a watch on the air could only be a signal, unless the sender was altogether inconsequent. It might be possible to discover what the signals meant. Going into the machine-room, Lister started the engine. Hanging his watch before a very delicate microphone, Lister transmitted the sound a few metres higher than the strange ticking. He lowered the wave length gradually until the sound of his watch mingled with the strange "tick" on his receiver. All of a sudden the strange watch ceased to tick. Lister held the signal. For a space of twenty the strange "tick" came again.
The "tick" was certainly a signal. Lister waited a few minutes, and then placed the tick of his watch on the air at 70 meters. Still the "tick-tick" continued. Very slowly he tuned down to a lower wave-length. At 65 metres, the tick suddenly stopped. Lister held the length. For a space of twenty seconds nothing happened. He could hear the gentle "tap-tap" of his watch, swinging before the microphone. The strange "tick" had ceased. With a quiet motion, Lister switched off the transmitter. He rose from his seat, and crossed to the eight-valve set. His fingers were on the switch, when a low whisper crept through the room.
"Silver Swan! Silver Swan!" it was difficult to discover whether the speaker was a man or a woman, the whisper was so delicate.
There was an interval of silence. Again came the small, faint voice:—"Silver Swan! Silver Swan!"
The interval of silence recurred. Lister stood beside the receiver, undecided. Someone was calling, and he did not know how to answer.
Silver Swan! What meaning had the words? It might be a recognition code—the identification words of some experimenter. Around Sydney were scattered quite a number of experimental stations. At one time or another, Lister had been in communication with most of them. Sometimes one of them would put on the air a code word for identification, but mainly the owner of the station used his name.
"Silver Swan!" Lister's mind leaped to the scene on the cliffs of Middle Harbour. Again he saw the wall of water driving through the outer Heads towards where Phelps and he stood. Again he saw the swirling waters swing to the left, and behind them the long, low shadow of the Phantom Launch. Surely, it might be said to resemble in some faint way a Silver Swan, homing in the late hours of the night.
Automatically he stepped to the transmitter, and switched on power. Again he threw on the air the slow "tick-tick" of his watch. Allowing an interval of exactly 20 seconds to pass, he switched off and listened. A long pause, and the words came again to him.
"Silver Swan! Silver Swan!"
Lister had recovered his watch from the microphone, and had placed it in his pocket. Again he threw in the power, first switching the microphone out of circuit. With hasty fingers he reduced amplification to normal, and switched in again.
"Silver Swan! Silver Swan!"
"Police guarding the Spit bridge. Silver Swan caught."
What impulse caused him to couple "Silver Swan" with the Phantom Launch? Lister spoke without thought. He had deliberately conveyed to the unknown listener the fact that the police were aware of the identity of the Silver Swan with the boat they had seen rushing to its refuge in Middle Harbour.
For a long space there was silence. Lister thought he had frightened the speaker away. Again he switched on power and bent towards the microphone. He was about to call when the loud speaker came to life. It was the ticking of a watch. Lister sat back in his chair and counted the ticks. At the 56th tick the sounds stopped. An interval of silence.
"Thanks, stranger." The voice was still the strange, low, sweet sound. It was followed by light, girlish laughter.
FOR about half an hour Lister tried every device he could think of to attract the attention of the person who had called "Silver Swan," but without success. At length he gave up the fruitless task, and went to bed. He was irritated, mainly with himself. This mysterious speed-boat, that Constable Phelps had named the Phantom Launch, and which had been called "Silver Swan" over the air, threatened to involve him in a maze of indefinite speculation. What business was it of his? It was for the Customs and health authorities, with their widespread organisations and the help of the police, to hunt down and capture the fugitive boat. It might be that, if the authorities came to him and asked his help—But that was fruitless theory. What help could he give them?
So far as he knew, he possessed one item of information the authorities had not yet obtained. He believed he had a definite link between the Phantom Launch and the Silver Swan. If that was so, then it should be possible to trace "Silver Swan." More than probable the boat was registered with one of the numerous yacht or motor-boat clubs around Sydney waters. Possibly, during the hours of light, the Silver Swan posed as an innocent and moderately-speeded pleasure cruiser. Only after nightfall were the controls set to their limit, and the Silver Swan became the Phantom Launch, openly laughing at and defying authority.
As a responsible citizen of the State it might be his duty to inform the police of the voice on the air and the probable connection of the hunted Phantom Launch with the lawful Silver Swan. Lister felt he had that duty to perform. But, if he went to the police, would he be compelled to confess that some impulse had urged him to warn the crew of the speed-boat that the authorities were taking steps to bottle them up in Middle Harbour? Awkward questions would be asked; the register of wireless licenses would be combed; many quite innocent experimenters would be occasioned a deal of trouble; and only because some person had wanted to leave the mail boat before the ship's arrival against the wharf.
Lister decided to keep his own counsel. He had only one clue of the many that undoubtedly littered the harbour. There was the wooden box in Myella Cove; certainly the boat itself, bottled up and certain of discovery. Yet the wireless puzzle persisted. He was casting back along the allotted wave lengths of Australian experimenters when he [?] own counsel.*
[* It seems that there are words missing in this paragraph. Unfortunately, the newspaper from which the text was taken is the only newspaper known to have published this serial. The story was not published in book form.]
HE awoke to find the sun high in the heavens, and the questions he had striven to put from him the previous night awaiting his consciousness. After breakfast he went to the wireless room and examined the instruments. They were as he had left them the previous night. He switched the power on to the transmitter, to find the air dead. The eight-valve was set for 56 metres and, without altering the length, Lister amplified to the limit. There were no sounds coming over the air.
On the wall hung a directory of allotted wave lengths. Lister ran his eyes down the list. Neither 56 metres nor 68 metres, the previous night's set of his transmitter, were registered on the list; his own personal allocation was the nearest. Lister made a record of the set of his instruments, and then turned his dials off the lengths. That night he would try again to get in touch with the mysterious voice over the air, or with the "Silver Swan." Until he had succeeded or definitely failed, he would keep his own counsel.
Lister had an appointment in the city that morning. After lingering in the wireless room for some time, he took his hat and wandered down to the ferry wharf. At the bookstall he purchased the morning papers, and searched for some mention of the Phantom launch. One or two of the papers had made passing references to the passenger on the mail boat who had been taken off by the launch, but it was evident the police were concealing Constable Phelps' watch on Middle Head and the entry of the Phantom Launch into Middle Harbour.
"Why the Daily Pictorial, my friend?" Lister swung round to face Tony Weston, the star reporter of the paper mentioned. "Surely our wireless expert has not deserted the many technical journals in favour of a general newspaper?"
"Hullo, Tony." Lister shifted up the seat. Then he noticed that Weston was accompanied by a lady, and rose to his feet. "I beg your pardon."
"My sister." Weston spoke carelessly. "Ysobel. Let me introduce Mr. Sydney Lister, a lucky man with nothing to do but explore the vibrations of the air."
Lister bowed to the tall, dark-eyed girl, and met her glance surveying him with some interest. He had seen Ysobel Weston about the small town, but had not connected her with his late journalistic comrade, Tony Weston.
He bowed with some confusion; there seemed to be more than the happening of a new acquaintance in her regard. Weston, unconsciously, covered him.
"What's this about a Phantom Launch? Heard anything, Lister? There was a good scoop in the Moon last night. The Pictorial has a par., but not even mentioning the name of the passenger who got away from the liner."
"What do you make of it, Tony?" Lister was interested. Weston was a recognised newspaper authority on mysteries.
"Some crook with a bit of cash who had no desire to run the gauntlet of the police on the wharves."
"And the boat?"
"What do you mean?"
"High-powered, with incredible speed, yet absolutely noiseless engines?" Lister spoke as if quoting from some report.
"Humph!" The journalist was about to continue when the ferry-boat drew alongside the wharf. The three found seats on the upper deck, some little distance from the bulk of the passengers.
"Mr. Lister knows more than he has told us, Tony." Ysobel returned to the subject of the Phantom Launch, quietly, but firmly.
"Possibly Anthony knows as much as I, Miss Weston." Lister was afraid he had spoken carelessly. He had decided he did not want his special knowledge of the voice on the air to be made public for a time. "He referred to the Phantom Launch and that phrase has a police flavour about it."
"Good guess," Weston grinned. "Reaching through space sharpens the wits. I did have a talk with Sergeant Miller, and he used the expression. I thought it good, and remembered it."
"He told you of the adventure at Myella Cove?"
"Yes, and the watch on the Head last night. I met him down on the beach, going in for a dip before work. From what he says, they seem to have the Phantom Launch bottled up in Middle Harbour."
"Suppose you've arranged for the story to be kept from the afternoon papers?" Lister laughed. Weston appeared to have great influence in the police force.
"No hope. They'll get the inside of the story. The Water Police are at Middle Head now, with possibly all the disengaged journalists in Sydney in close attendance, sweeping the waters for the hidden launch. There won't be much news before night, anyway, and then only if the boat makes a dash for liberty."
"They can lie hid for a month in Middle Harbour," objected the wireless expert. "The place is a maze of waterways and islands."
"Killarney." Ysobel spoke softly. "I love a ramble among the islands; a real bit of wilderness, and yet but a few miles from the centre of the big city. Last time we were up there we saw a number of black swans."
"Silver Swan!" Lister spoke the words involuntarily, and under his breath.
"What's that?" The newspaper man asked quickly. "Silver Swan?"
"Miss Weston spoke of black swans. I thought of the silver-grey launch as a silver swan."
Lister felt his explanation to be terribly weak. Weston said nothing, but the expert sensed that he was suspicious.
"Black swans, silver swans, and possibly one or more of Tony's geese," laughed Ysobel, quietly.
Lister looked round at the girl with a startled glance. Had she uttered the two words, "Thanks, stranger," he would have been certain Ysobel Weston was the girl whose voice came over the air in the early hours of the morning.
The idea was absurd. What could Anthony Weston's sister have to do with the fugitive launch now hidden in Middle Harbour? He had been thinking of the "voice" and that, in conjunction with the slip he had made in mentioning "Silver Swan," had led his imagination to run away with his reason.
The ferry-boat drew alongside the wharf at Circular Quay. Ysobel went across the road to board a Pitt Street tram. The two men walked up towards the Daily Pictorial offices.
"What are you doing this morning?" asked the newspaper man, suddenly, as he halted at the door.
"Two or three calls, then to lunch at the club." Lister was slightly astonished. Once Weston entered the doors of the newspaper office, meals and ordinary happenings did not exist, except as news.
"Right. May drop in to lunch at the club. One o'clock do? All serene." Then, as Lister nodded and moved off: "Say, old man, don't let that 'Silver Swan' stunt out to anyone. There may be a lot behind it."
Before the expert could ask questions, the journalist pushed through the revolving doors and disappeared. Lister had an impulse to follow him, but after reflection shrugged his shoulders and walked down quickly to Phillip Street. He had an appointment with his solicitors within a few minutes, and the questions on his lips could well wait until lunch time. Yet the expert puzzled. What did Weston know? He had looked quite startled when he let slip the word, "Silver Swan." Ysobel had laughed, and her laughter was vaguely reminiscent of the voice that had come to him over the air.
The journalist did not turn up at the club to lunch. Lister waited for some time, and then went into the dining-room alone. He had half-completed his meal when a pageboy called him to the telephone.
"That you, Sydney?" It was Weston's voice on the wire. "Good. I was afraid you might have gone home."
"Where are you? I waited lunch, but—"
"Lunches have to wait." There was strain in the newspaper man's voice. "Doing anything this afternoon?"
"Nothing important. Thought of a tailor and a few similar things of that nature."
"They can wait. Look here, old man. There's a bit of a mess down Como way. Can you spare time to run down with me? I've a car here and will pick you up."
"Maybe. I'm not talking over the wire. It's only an hour's run and we may be gone three or four, all told. Come, if only for the drive, old fellow."
Lister hesitated. Some impulse urged him to accept the journalist's invitation. Weston was plainly agitated, and when that astute individual was unbalanced over his daily work, events were in the making. In past days the expert had worked with the Pictorial star reporter, and always with interest and appreciation.
"Right." He made up his mind, suddenly. "Anything you want me to bring?"
"Nothing but a good pair of eyes," Weston hesitated. "It's a queer matter. Murdered man, and not a sign of how the affair happened."
TEN minutes later Anthony Weston drove up to the doors of the Times Club in a small high-powered car. Lister was standing on the pavement awaiting him. Weston nodded as the expert got into the car, and started off abruptly, driving at almost a reckless pace through the city traffic. Lister tried to ask questions, but the reporter would only reply with nods and grunts. They had passed through Tempe before Weston eased the pace and turned to his companion.
"Suppose you're wondering what all the hurry's about, Syd?" The newspaper man spoke in a seemingly careless tone. "Trouble is the correspondent at Sutherland has managed to queer one of the best stories we've had in the office of late. Instead of forwarding the facts as they came into the police station, and then going out to make inquiries, he tried to organise a scoop on his own. Consequently the noon papers got on the streets with it before we were absolutely certain a murder had been committed. There's likely to be another when I get there."
"What do you know? Facts, I mean."
"Body of man discovered at Yaney's Inlet, about two miles eastward from Como. Body on a patch of sand, and there does not appear to be any visible means of death. Old man, possibly tramp, certainly not of any standing. Death not from natural causes. Left hand badly burned."
"That's what I got from the noon papers." Weston frowned. "When we get to Como we may learn more. Detective-Sergeant Priestly is in charge. Went from Headquarters about ten this morning. He'll keep what he can for me. Pal of mine, y'know."
He lapsed into silence and increased the pace of the car in spite of the awful roads they were bumping over. Six miles on they came within sight of the George's River, and bumped slowly down to Tom Ugly's punt. They had a fair wait here, sufficient to cause Weston to threaten several articles on governmental disregard of public welfare. At length they crossed and drove into the little town of Como. There the journalist made direct for the police station to find the constable in charge was absent. A man, loafing about, was able to place them on the right road to where the tragedy had taken place, and offered to accompany them as guide. Weston seized the opportunity to gather local gossip, and Lister relinquished his seat to the man. All Weston gained was some items of local geography.
They were travelling over a sandy bush-road, filled with sharp-pointed stumps of saplings. Weston had to devote most of his attention to the car. Continually they were catching glimpses of the river, now widening out to quite a broad stream, and coming to its junction with Botany Bay. At other times they appeared to be far inland, surrounded with a scanty, poverty-looking bush, the wheels of the machine sinking deep into the yielding sands.
"Turn here." The man spoke suddenly, pointing down a narrow track leading to their left. There was barely room between the trees for the car to pass, but Weston drove determinedly on. He had no intention of walking over that bush road so long as he could keep wheels turning.
The scrub became thicker. Once or twice they had to leave the track and make a detour because of large stumps in the centre of the road. At length they passed round a patch of thick scrub, and came out above a small sandy beach. At one end of the sand patch a small bluff stood, rising about fifteen feet above the water-level. Against this bluff stood a group of men.
There was a small patch of clearing just above the beach. Weston ran his car on to this, and shut down the engine. Then, with Lister by his side, and their guide tailing them, he made his way to the group of officials.
"Hullo, Lister." A slight, grey man with keen blue eyes came from the group to meet them. "Wondering when you'd get here."
"Only heard of it just before lunch," grumbled the journalist. "What do you know?"
"Very little." Inspector Mack pointed to a bundle of clothing close up against the bluff. "He's lying there. I won't have him moved until the doctor comes."
"Doctor?" Weston raised his eyebrows. "Thought I heard Priestly came down here at ten. Where's the doctor? Can I see the body?"
"Like to know myself where that fool doctor is." The Inspector spoke irritably. "He was sent for about eleven, and hasn't turned up yet. See him? Yes, later. Wait until the doctor's made his examination. So far as I can see, the cause of death is likely to be a puzzle."
"Name?" Weston pointed to the body, at the same time pulling a pad of papers from his pocket.
"Don't know." Mack shrugged his shoulders. "I told you there's nothing to give out at present. I'll say he's a roughly dressed man, about fifty to fifty-five years of age, tanned, bearded, grey-haired, about middle height, and sparsely-built, and you're as wise as I am. Wish that fool doctor would come."
Almost as the Inspector spoke another car appeared at the top of the bank and a man alighted. He walked down slowly on to the sands towards where Mack was standing. The Inspector advanced to meet him, and for some minutes the two men stood talking in undertones.
"Doctor Macdermott, from Sutherland." The Inspector introduced the doctor as they came up to Lister and Weston.
The doctor gave a quick look at the two men, and then turned abruptly towards the dead body, without speaking. Lister looked after him curiously. He was a youngish-looking old man, very fair, tall, and with the stooping shoulders of a scholar. The eyes were blue and of exceeding hardness; his hair was white, and flowed in waves over the broad forehead. There was a look of settled pain on the face, a queer, laughing look that set Lister wondering.
"Anything wrong with the doctor?" Weston asked the question in a low voice, catching the Inspector by the arm. "He looks worried."
"Been out at a case all night," Mack whispered rapidly, watching the man advance to where the body lay. "Clever chap, too."
He went quickly to where the doctor knelt by the body, Lister pressed forward with the other men. The Inspector's description of the dead man was good. He was a typical hobo, and, seeing him tying there, apparently asleep, one instinctively looked around for the accompanying swag.
For a quarter of an hour the men stood round watching the doctor working methodically over the body. At length he stood up and motioned to the Inspector.
"Take him to the station, Mack. There's something queer here."
"No. Heart failure—and with one of the strongest hearts in the district. Know him?"
"I do. He came to me about a week ago. Complained of pains in the chest. Examined him and found he was structurally sound enough to live to a hundred. Now he's dead. Humph."
"Pay you, doctor?" Weston asked the question, gravely.
"Yes. New five-pound note. Got it at home now." He turned quickly towards the inspector. "Suppose you'll want that note, Mack. Thought so. Well, remember, four nine-six is my money—if you won't allow me to charge for telling a man he's as sound as a bell. I claim the whole fiver. Money earned, y'know."
"What about the burn on the palm of the hand?" asked Lister, curiously. He had strolled over to where the dead man lay, and had looked for the burn mentioned by Weston while driving down.
Dr. Macdermott turned sharply towards the corpse. His face had suddenly tensed. A quick glance at the hand, end he moved away, shrugging his shoulders, indifferently.
"Have that burn when he came to your surgery, Macdermott?" asked the Inspector sharply.
"Not to my knowledge. No." The doctor spoke positively. "I remember him exposing both palms while he was talking to me. There was no sign of a burn on them. What does it matter? Tramps, like him, acquire burns handling their bush-fires."
The Inspector had drawn a constable aside, and was speaking in a low tone. The others had moved some little distance from the corpse, and were listening to a friendly argument between Detective-Sergeant Priestly and Weston regarding unsolved mysteries in New South Wales.
Another vehicle came into sight at the top of the bank. It was the motor-ambulance from Sutherland. The Inspector motioned for the driver to come down on the sands and pull up beside the corpse. There was a little delay in getting the heavy machine in a position by the body. At last it was lifted in, and the ambulance climbed the bank and disappeared along the dirt road. Slowly the Inspector and Priestly walked up to the clearing where the motor cars were parked. At the top of the bank the Inspector looked back and called to the journalist.
"Coming into Sutherland, Weston?"
"Don't know. Maybe." Weston looked undecided. "Say, Mack. Where did you find the man's swag?"
"Haven't found it. Don't think he had one." The Inspector beckoned to the constables to follow, and walked to the official cars, leaving Weston and Lister alone on the small beach.
"There goes the official brain," commented Weston, a wry smile on his lips. "The man's a swaggie, but hasn't a swag. He's dead, but there's not a mark on him. What did you make of that burn, Syd?"
THE question was asked so suddenly that it startled the expert. Weston shrugged his shoulders, and turned to examine the beach where the dead man had lain.
"It was a burn—rather a severe one," said Lister slowly. "I—I don't think it had anything to do with the cause of death."
"No more than it had to do with the man's camp-fire." Weston was seated on the sands, scraping a deep trench, absently. "He might burn his fingers, his knuckles, or the back of his hand, but the palm—no. That's a queer place to acquire a burn under ordinary circumstance?"
"I think—" commenced Lister.
"For the sake of little devils don't think. There's that parcel of police going off happily to Sutherland, and half a hundred questions unanswered."
"Where's the man's swag? No good telling me he hasn't one. He had a swag, and it's somewhere about."
For some time Weston hunted round the bluff, searching every piece of bush jutting down on to the beach, without success. Lister gave his best endeavours to the search. At the end of the hour they found themselves against the bluff, tired and disappointed.
"Looks as if Inspector Mack was right. The man did not have a swag here," remarked Lister, squatting down on the sands.
Weston had remained standing. He was looking up the line of open water towards the George River. The bluff cut off most of the view. Weston walked to the water, and stood with the tiny wavelets almost lapping the toes of his boots. For some time he remained there, gazing around him. Then he looked down at his boots. The waters were now lapping almost to cover the toecaps. He stepped back on to dry sand, and stood looking at the impressions of his boots slowly disappearing under the influence of the tide. A few minutes and they had disappeared completely. He turned and walked over to where Lister sat.
"Notice anything, Syd?" he asked, almost too carelessly.
"High tide in about an hour. The water will be almost up to the foot of the bluff—certainly up to where the man lay."
"There were no footmarks around the man, or those blockheads of police would have guarded them like a jewel warehouse. I looked for footprints when I came down here. There were none, only the imprints of the men tramping about, thinking they were detecting crime. What do you make of that, Syd?"
"First I'm wondering at your using the word 'crime.' So far as I can see, the man died from natural causes."
The journalist sat playing with the sand. He was staring vacantly out over the inlet and did not reply for some minutes.
"There's a crime, sure enough, Syd," he observed, quietly, but earnestly. "There are no footmarks here, because the man came from around the bluff, and the tide's washed out all marks up to the head of the bluff. We'll find plenty when we get above high tide mark round the corner.
"What of the 'crime' theory, Tony?" Lister looked up at his chum, who had regained his feet.
"Of course it's a crime." Weston was still grazing out over the waters. "Why, the murderer had the cheek to send a letter to the Pictorial telling us where to find the body." He turned suddenly on Lister with a rising inflection in his voice: "Do you think those police could find a corpse out here unless they were told where to look? No."
THE tide had risen until it lapped almost on to the spot where the dead body had rested. Weston continued to stand, gazing thoughtfully across the waters. Suddenly he roused himself, shaking his body in somewhat the manner of a dog coming out of water. He turned on his heels, and led the way round the bluff.
A few minutes' search of the sands on the north side of the bluff and the journalist pointed to some faint marks. They were much wind-blown, but were distinguishable as footprints. The first showed some little distance from the point of the bluff, as if the man had walked along the firmer sands at the water's edge. The track suddenly turned and led to the low bank. Then along it for a short distance, and up and over it into the bush.
"Now for a search." Weston whistled happily to himself. "This is going to be some job. Can't be far, however, for the old fellow came out of the scrub soon after leaving his camp. The walking along the sands would be much better than through that low scrub. Spread out a bit, old chap, and walk straight into the bush. Look for the camp, not the footmarks. They'd be impossible to trace in all this muck."
Spacing out to about ten yards apart, the two men walked slowly into the bush. Weston's guess had not been wrong. Less than fifty yards from the banks of the inlet, Lister noticed the remains of a camp fire under a clump of low trees beside a small clearing. He called to his chum. A few yards from the fireplace, concealed in the bush, they found the swag.
"Now, what's the reason of that?" Weston halted some yards from the ashes of the fire, and looked around him. "The old man must have used this camp for quite a few days. He left it, and went to the bluff, possibly to meet someone. Before he left he rolled his swag, and hid it away. Looks as if he was intending to travel."
"There seems no doubt but that he left his camp to meet someone," answered Lister, thoughtfully. "We can take it that there was an appointment at the bluff, and that the old man did not intend to remain in his camp by the Inlet after he had kept the appointment. Everything's set for a quick get-away. Here's the swag, billy, and tucker-bag. He kept the appointment, and was killed."
"So far, good." Weston was walking slowly round the camp. "You've got the stage set, so far, Syd. Now, will you explain why he did not bring his visitor to his camp? That would be bush-way. We'll take it as understood that the man he went to meet did not know where the old man's camp was, but knew the way from Como to the bluff. Now, why the argument and the murder at the bluff? A bushman would certainly suggest that they walk back to his camp and boil the billy."
"Perhaps the murderer struck at sight."
"No." Weston was looking down at the ashes of the fire. "To suppose that the quarrel took place before the appointment at the bluff is absurd. Men on bad terms don't meet like that. The thing's a puzzle, and for the time we must pass it. Now we'll have a look at the swag."
"Better leave that to the police."
"Not on your life." Weston looked up from unrolling the swag. "When I've had my look I'll roll it again, and leave it here for the police to find. You can bet all you're worth, Syd, they won't give me more information than I can wring out of them; so I'm not going to be careful of their feelings."
A couple of rags, a change of clothes, a few odd pieces of underclothing, the whole wrapped in an old waterproof sheet, formed the contents of the swag. Weston tackled the collection methodically. The rugs were old and none too clean. He laid them aside. The odds and ends, and a collection of small utility objects, gave no results. Lastly came the change of clothing.
Here Weston made his find. In the breast pocket of an old coat lay a rather dilapidated pocket-book. It was well-filled, and secured by a buttoned strap. The journalist spread one of the rugs on the sand, and emptied the contents of the pocket-book out on it. There were a few old papers of little value, mostly cuttings from newspapers, and one letter, new and fresh.
"Gideah Brading." Weston read the name on the envelope, a puzzled frown on his face. "Who the devil is, or was, Gideah Brading? I've heard that name somewhere."
"Sounds familiar to me." Lister had an indistinct recollection of having heard the name frequently in past days. "Have a look inside the envelope, old man. You're getting quite early Victorian. From what I've heard in that era you were supposed to examine the stamp and the outside of the envelope; then hold a guessing competition as to the contents; lastly, and with fearful awe, open it, and express surprise that you had not been able to guess the subject-matter and the writer."
"All serene, old man." Weston laughed up at his chum. "Now for the solution of the mystery."
The envelope contained a single sheet of common paper. Weston handled it with great care. There was no address on the paper. It was headed "Sydney." and the date, three days before. There was no prefix, and only two lines of typewriting:—
THE USUAL SUM OF MONEY HAS BEEN PLACED WHERE YOU KNOW. THIS IS THE FINAL PAYMENT.
"No signature," observed the journalist, placing the letter on the rug, and examining the newspaper cuttings. "I'll make a copy of the wording. Dare say after the police get their paws on it I shan't see it again."
"There seems to be some padding at the back of this case," observed Lister, fingering the case curiously.
"'Ware finger-prints." warned Weston, quickly. "Mack will guess I had a look in the swag, but he'll pass that over unless he finds we have obliterated some important clues. Then he'll raise Cain."
Lister took out his handkerchief, and held the pocket-book in it. At one end he found a small flap, and looked into a long pouch running the whole length of the purse. Inside was a wad of papers. Taking care not to touch them with his fingers, he drew them out, and dropped them on the rug.
"Good lor'!" Weston looked up in amazement. "The man was a millionaire."
The journalist took from his pocket-knife a small pair of tweezers. With these he picked up each note separately, counting its denomination as he did so.
"Ninety-seven pounds ten shillings," he observed, when he had them arranged in a little pile. He tore a piece of paper from his pad and with it held the notes while Lister held the case open. They had some difficulty in replacing the notes without touching them with their bare fingers, but accomplished it at last. Lister closed the pocket-book, and dropped it on the rug.
"We don't have to decide what we're going to do with the swag," he said, grimly. "We have to take it to the police station. There's no sense in leaving a hundred pounds in the bush for anyone to find."
Weston nodded agreement. For some minutes he worked, repacking the swag.
When he had secured the last strap, he rose to his feet.
"I've been thinking of asking you to remain here on watch while I went for the Como constable," he said, lifting the swag to his shoulder. "But that means delay, and I want to get back to the city. Well leave a mark on the beach opposite to where the camp is in the bush. He'll find it with that for direction."
A few minutes later they were back at the bluff. Weston dropped the swag to the ground.
"There's a lot of things want explaining," he grumbled. "What the devil was the man doing here? I'm going to have a wander up the Inlet before we leave—Coming?"
Lister shook his head. Without arguing the point, Weston started along the patch of sands, walking a zigzag line from the water's edge to the bank. Lister sat down on the sands and looked after him.
There was much that required explanation. Why had the old man been stricken down at the point of the bluff? Who had been his enemy? What were the reasons for the crime? Had there been a crime at all? The body bore no signs of violence. Lister began to think they were trying to reconstruct a crime out of very indefinite material. The only reason for suggesting the man had been murdered came from the letter to the office, suggesting a murdered man would be found on the sands at Yaney's Inlet. The letter was supported in some measure by the attitude of Dr. Macdermott. He had said the man had been in full health a few days before.
The autopsy might declare the man to have suffered from some obscure disease—and, consequently, the death to have occurred through natural causes. In that case all their theories would fall to the ground. There would be no second party in the tragedy. The old man would have been found to have walked from his camp to the bluff, and have been taken ill there. He might have been overcome by sickness while in his camp, and come down to the dirt-road seeking aid.
They were working on theories—theories for and against the major theory of murder. Before they could get on the track of facts they must discover who Gideah Brading was, and the cause of his death. The name was familiar. Lister struggled hard to remember what he had heard, or read, but memory eluded him.
Lister's eyes wandered round the bluff. Against the face of the low cliff stood a long stick. He remembered seeing it there when he came down on the sands to where the little group of officials stood. He could not remember anyone handling it. Perhaps it had stood there before the police came on the scene? Or, perhaps, one of the officers had brought it with him?
The expert rose from the sands and walked to where the stick stood. It had been cut from a young sapling. The thinner end had had the bark peeled off, and was stained with water, little specks of sand adhering to it. The stick was peculiar. It had not been used for a walking stick, otherwise the thicker end would have been peeled for a grip. The stick appeared as if it had been used for a probe.
"—has been placed where you know." The words of the letter came vividly before Lister's memoir. The old man was to receive money at a place he knew of. The tone of the letter, the lack of address and signature, showed that the writer did not want to meet the old man. The money had been hidden and the stick used to probe for it.
Lister picked up the stick and looked around him. The old man had fallen about six feet from where the stick stood against the bluff. He would work from there, out to where the old man had fallen.
Weston was down at the other end of the sand-patch, examining something at the edge of the water. Lister drove the stick into the sands, forcing it down as far as he could. It met no resistance. Again he tried, some twelve inches further out. Slowly he worked to where the body of the old man had rested, and then turned, making for the bluff again.
On the third journey, about two feet from the place where the body had rested, the stick struck something hard. Lister dropped to his hands and knees and commenced to scoop out the sands. Soon he came to something hard and smooth, and commenced to clear it along its length. He was making quite a large hole, not deep, but long and narrow, before he came to the end of the hidden thing. It was a board, and he tried to get his fingers under it. He could not, for it was very thick.
"What's the game, Syd?"
Lister looked up. Weston was standing over him, grinning broadly at the large hole the expert had dug.
"There's something here, Tony." The expert did not relax his efforts. "I believe it to be a box."
A moment and Weston was down on his knees, clawing vigorously at the loose sand. For some minutes they worked in silence.
"Whoop!" Weston tugged hard at something deep in the hole. "I've got a handle."
A few more tugs, and the two men brought to the surface a long, narrow box, about two feet wide and four feet long. In depth it was approximately eighteen inches. Lister sat back and looked at it in amazement.
A LONG, narrow wooden box, about two feet wide and four feet long, lay on the sands between the two men. So far as Lister could judge, it was a replica of the wooden box hidden in the sands at Myella Cove by the crew of the Phantom Launch.
If this conjecture was right, then there must be some definite connection between the box they had just unearthed and the Phantom Launch, now prisoner in Middle Harbour. Reasoning on, Lister had to conclude there was a connection between the Phantom Launch and the dead swaggie, Gideah Brading.
Lister sat back on the sands and tried to reconstruct the events of the past two days, as he knew them. First, the Phantom Launch had visited Myella Cove, and members of the crew had worked in some way on the box buried in the sands there. Constable Phelps had unearthed the box, and reburied it, intending to return and carry it to the police station. The Phantom Launch, on leaving Myella Cove, had proceeded up the harbour; but, almost immediately, had retraced its wake and gone out to sea. The next morning it had taken a passenger from the overseas mail boat, and had disappeared for about sixteen hours. That meant the Phantom Launch had some haven round the coast. Was that refuge at Yaney's Inlet? Had the speed boat landed its passenger at that lonely spot?
If the Phantom Launch had visited Yaney's Inlet, had that visit anything to do with the dead swaggie, Gideah Brading? Had the swaggie been dead when the Phantom Launch came to the inlet, or had the crew of the mystery boat some part in the death of the man?
The Phantom Launch had returned to Sydney waters about sixteen hours after it left the Harbour, and about fifteen hours previous to the discovery of the box at Yaney's Inlet. That made a total of thirty-one hours. Dr. Macdermott had stated the man had been dead about twenty-four hours. The Phantom Launch had been outside the Heads at the time the murder took place.
The journalist had been fumbling at the lock of the box while Lister had been trying to reconstruct the facts of the murder as he knew them. At length, he found one of his keys that turned the wards of the lock, and he threw back the lid.
"Jove!" The exclamation drew the expert's attention. He turned and looked into the box. It was empty, save that, fastened to the bottom of the box by drawing pins, were some bank-notes.
WESTON reached into the box for the notes. Suddenly Lister caught him by the shoulder and drew him back. The journalist lost his balance, and rolled over on the sands. He looked up at his chum with some surprise.
"What's the game, Syd?"
Lister did not reply. He drew from his pocket a pair of rubber gloves and donned them, meanwhile carefully scanning the interior of the box. It looked bare and safe, but he could not forget the queer burn on the palm of the dead man's hand.
With the protection of the rubber gloves, Lister reached into the box and loosened the drawing pins with his penknife. Once they lay loose on the floor of the box, he lifted them carelessly. There were five notes of a hundred pounds each. He tossed them out on the sands.
"Keep your hands from that box, old man." he warned the newspaper man. "There's something in this matter I can't understand, and until we do I suggest that we take every precaution. Remember the burn on the dead man's hand. This box may have had something to do with that, although it looks pretty innocent."
"The box is empty," protested the journalist. He was peering into it, taking particular care not to touch it with his hands or clothes.
"Remember the letter." Lister was examining the banknotes. "'The money has been placed where you know.' Looks as if this box was the place where Brading was to find the final payment."
"The notes, and the burn on the hand!" Weston whistled softly. "Jove, old man, we're going some. But what of the notes we found in the pocket-book?"
"Part of the last payment," answered Lister. "That would fit in with the theory that Brading and the Phantom Launch have some connection."
The newspaper man looked puzzled, and Lister briefly reconstructed the adventures of the Phantom Launch over the past thirty-odd hours, as he believed them to have happened.
"Then we're to take this box to Como?" asked Weston.
"Well bury it again," declared the expert. "I want to get at the meaning of these boxes, and I shan't do that with them in the hands of the police. These boxes have to do with the Phantom Launch, I'm certain of that. Now, the police know of the box at Myella Cove, but only you and I know of this box. The police may want to dig up the box at the Cove, and we've got to stop that, if possible. Fact is, old man, there's a lot in this matter we're only guessing at present. We've got to keep the Phantom Launch crew thinking their boxes are unknown to the authorities. We can watch them and get the police to watch the places where they are hidden, whether we tell of this box or not. Somehow, the Phantom Launch is mixed up in the murder of Gideah Brading. I didn't think much of the Phantom Launch affair until to-day. Evading the Customs is one thing, but murder's quite another."
"What do you mean?"
"I'm taking an interest in the murder of Gideah Brading and the adventures of the Phantom Launch. I'm going to find out what I can about both matters."
"A personal interest?" Weston looked up, surprised.
"If you like to call it that, yes. Don't you see, Tony? The Phantom Launch is owned and run by men who have called to their aid the latest appliances of science. If we tell the police what we have discovered they will first fool round with the clues we give them. They will take months to realise that their methods cannot apply here. Then, with the crew fully aware that we're on their track, we may be allowed to try our hands. It's not good enough."
"No." Weston hesitated a moment. "I believe you're right, Syd. There's something out of the way here. It's your work. It's something electrical, and in that line you've got quite a big enough reputation and knowledge to handle it." He rose to his feet, and held out his hand. "I'm with you, old man. What's the next move?"
"Bury the box."
Weston immediately started to scoop out the sand that had trickled into the hole. Then they lifted the box back to its former position. Weston managed to lock it, and they shovelled the sand back, and made some attempt to destroy all evidences of their presence and discoveries. The newspaper man picked up the swag, and led the way to the motor car.
"Give the police a hint to watch the bluff, but to keep hidden in the bush," advised Lister as Weston stopped the car before the door of the Como police station.
The journalist nodded. He was absent for about ten minutes, and then returned to the car. A constable came with him to the gate, talking quickly. Weston swung the car round, and drove to the post-office.
"Want a word with our bird at Sutherland," he explained. "He's got quite a lot to get off his chest."
A quarter of an hour later Weston returned to the car. He looked very worried.
"Matthews has disappeared," he announced, without preliminary. "He received our telegram this morning, and went out. Said he was going to the police station, but would return soon. Had his car ready to come here. His wife says she thought he was with me; had met me in the town, and had driven off in my car. His car's still standing in the street, in front of his home."
"What does that mean?" asked Lister.
"Damned if I know." Weston sat silent at the wheel of the car for some time; then he started the engine, and turned back in the direction of the police station. "We'd better see Constable Williams, here. He can get me information from Sutherland they might refuse to me direct."
At the police station Lister entered the building with the journalist. Williams, a slight, capable-looking young fellow, heard Weston's story, and immediately telephoned Sutherland police station. For a few minutes he talked with the officer at the other end of the line. When he turned to face Weston he placed his hand over the mouthpiece of the instrument.
"They say Mr. Matthews came to the police station early this morning, and handed your telegram to the officer on duty. He waited until Inspector Mack came in, and they had a long conversation. Matthews offered to drive the police to the Inlet in his car, but Mack thought best to take the police car. Matthews left the station to get his own car, promising to meet Mack at the Inlet. He never turned up."
"Never turned up?" Weston looked at the officer, amazedly.
"Inspector Mack's at the telephone," said Williams. "Would you like to speak to him, Mr. Weston?"
The journalist took the receiver, and called the Inspector. Mack confirmed the statements he had made to the constable.
"Worried about Matthews?" he asked at the conclusion.
"A bit." Weston's voice showed that he was worrying greatly over the man's disappearance. "Say, Mack. Put out a bit of a search for him. He should have been at the Inlet to meet me. Shall I come to Sutherland? No need? I want to get back to my office as soon as possible, so I'll leave it to you. Give me a ring there if you hear anything."
The General Post Office clock was chiming the quarter past six when Weston drew up the car before the Pictorial's offices.
"Coming in, Syd?"
"Think not. S'pose you'll be an hour or two getting your story through? Thought so. No. I'll get some dinner in town, and then do a show, perhaps."
Lister turned into Hunter Street, and walked down to Pitt Street. Outside the Evening Moon offices he ran into Ysobel Weston.
"Sorry, Miss Weston. Afraid I was not looking where I was going."
"You were walking fast. I am going to the Pictorial offices."
"For Tony? I have just left him. We had a busy day down at George's River."
Lister turned and walked up to the office with the girl. Although Tony Weston and he had been great chums through his newspaper days, he had not met Ysobel Weston before the previous day, and had been greatly attracted to her. At the office Tony came out to them.
"Dinner, my dear child!" The journalist laughed grimly. "A formal dinner and I are not on speaking terms to-day. I have some sandwiches and a billy of tea in my room. You are welcome to a share if that will serve."
"Perhaps Miss Weston will let me deputise for you, Tony." Lister looked, almost pleadingly at the girl. "You can bear me out that I was on my way to dinner when I met her."
"Good." Weston joined their hands, mockingly. "Just the ticket. I can recommend Syd as a dinner partner, Ysobel. Not only is he at home in the haunts of the plutocrats of Australia, but he has a true knowledge of how to dine. Fact. I recommended him once for the cookery column of the Pictorial. He knows all there is to know of 'how to dine.'"
Lister found Ysobel a charming companion. The girl could talk well, and her experiences in Sydney business had given her a clear insight of the questions that interest men. At first their conversation was formal, but presently Lister found himself describing some of the items of their day's adventure in and around Como.
"What do you know of the Phantom Launch, Mr. Lister?" Ysobel asked the question suddenly.
"The Phantom Launch?" Lister looked startled. "Why, Miss Weston; why should you think I know more of the mystery boat than has been published in the newspapers?"
"You were on Middle Head the other night with Constable Phelps. You were with Tony to-day. More, Mr. Lister, you show, in the reserve with which you discuss the subject, that you have some hidden knowledge."
"Why not ask Tony?" countered the expert, his face flushing slightly. "He knows what happened today, and I believe he pumped Phelps and Miller of all knowledge possessed by the police of what happened last night."
"Because Tony was not in your wireless room last night, Mr. Lister." The girl laughed softly at the surprised look on the man's face.
Lister started. Again Ysobel reminded him of the sweet, low laugh that had come over the air but a few hours before.
FOR some minutes Lister sat and looked at the girl in silence. He was almost certain that Ysobel Weston was the girl who had called "Silver Swan," and who had uttered the words, "Thanks, stranger," on the air.
"It was you, then?" Lister leaned forward, staring at the girl. "You ask me what I know of the Phantom Launch, Miss Weston: I will ask you what you know of 'Silver Swan?'"
A slight look of amusement came into the girl's clear, dark eyes. She lowered her lashes quickly, as if to save herself from some involuntary betrayal of knowledge, but Lister caught the look, and it increased his perplexity.
"Silver Swan." Ysobel spoke the words softly. "Is that the true name of the Phantom Launch, Mr. Lister? Now I am certain you are hiding information from me. Have you told the police that the Phantom Launch is registered under the name of Silver Swan?"
"Probably the police know that, and more." Lister tried to laugh the matter off, but Ysobel would not be denied.
"I think a mystery is most fascinating. Tony will tell me the history of what happened this afternoon, for I am sure there are many details you have not spoken of." The girl spoke coaxingly. "Will you not tell me where the Phantom Launch is, and who owns her?"
"The answer to your first question is easy, Miss Weston. The Phantom Launch is lying hid in Middle Harbour, and the Water Police are searching for her. As regards who owns her—" Lister hesitated a moment, and then continued. "Perhaps the words 'Silver Swan' may bring back to your memory incidents occurring during the early hours of this morning."
"I?" The girl simulated surprise. "I do not know who the owners of the Phantom Launch are."
"Nor the man taken off the mail boat but a few hours before the Silver Swan was called on the air?"
"Yes, I know that." Ysobel spoke carefully, drawing on her gloves. "The name of the man who was taken from the mail boat by the crew of the Phantom Launch is Francis Delaney Hawson."
"That is the name on the shipping list. Mr. Hawson is said to be one of the big squatters in the west country."
"What has he to do with the Phantom Launch?" Lister asked the question under his breath. The name was familiar to him, although he had never met the owner. "Why should he wish to evade the Customs authorities?"
"I said it was the name registered on the shipping list." Ysobel rose from her chair and led the way to the door. "I did not say Mr. Hawson was on board the Arathusa."
"But—" Lister took his hat from the waiter and followed the girl into the street. He tried to question the girl again, but Ysobel adroitly parried him, forcing the conversation to general topics.
On the ferry, going to Balmoral, the expert tried to bring the conversation back to the Phantom Launch, but without success. The girl appeared to be afraid she had said too much. On the Balmoral wharf she joined some mutual acquaintances, taking from the expert the last hope of answers to the many questions hovering on his lips.
As their small party left the wharf Lister noticed Constable Phelps standing to one side. The officer made a slight sign and, after a while, Lister found an opportunity to fall back a few paces. Phelps immediately caught him up.
"I've been waiting for you, Mr. Lister," he said in a low tone. "There are orders to fetch in that box."
"No chance of delay?" Lister spoke quickly. He was glad he had asked Weston to conceal knowledge of the box at Yaney's Inlet from the police.
"Orders from headquarters." The constable smiled wryly. "I can't argue with them. All I've managed to do is to delay the job until after dark."
"Any objection to my being of the party?"
"None whatever." There was relief in the officer's tone. "In fact, I'd like to have you there, Mr. Lister. From what you said last night I don't feel like handling the thing unless there's someone about with some knowledge."
"Knowledge?" Lister looked surprised. Had the constable chanced on any of the clues that centred round his wireless room?
"Scientific knowledge, I mean." Phelps locked apologetic. "You know you warned me to be careful of that box."
"What time do you propose to go for the box?"
"As soon as you're ready, Mr. Lister." Phelps lowered his voice, although they were some distance behind Ysobel's party. "I spoke to Sergeant Miller about you being there, and he said it was a good idea. There'll be Fellowes and myself to get the box. We don't want a big party, in case there's anyone about."
"Good. Half an hour suit you, Phelps? I'll just go home and change. Where shall I meet you?"
"Go down to the beach before your house, Mr. Lister. Dress like you were going for some night fishing. Bring your rods and lines with you. We'll pick you up there."
The constable halted at the corner of an intersection and turned back towards the wharf. Lister caught up with the party, hoping they had not noticed his absence. He did not want Ysobel to connect him with the police inquiries, especially after the questions she had asked him in the restaurant. He was to be disappointed; as he came up to the group she turned and flashed at him a glance of understanding.
Lister had no time to speculate over the events of the crowded day. He changed into some rough clothes, and sought out his fishing tackle. In a basket he packed a small collection of instruments and tools he brought from the wireless room. Phelps would bring the tools required to dig the box from the sands, but the expert believed the hidden box to contain some secret danger that only he could baffle.
A few minutes after he reached the beach he saw the boat pulling parallel along the shore, with Phelps standing in the stern. The boat turned and backed to the shore. Listed waded out, and immediately he stepped into the boat Phelps took one of the oars, and the two constables pulled vigorously down to Myella Cove.
"What of the Phantom Launch, Phelps?" asked Lister, as he sat down in the stern.
"Bottled up in Middle Harbour." Phelps grinned in triumph. "I had the Water Police launches under the Spit Bridge within an hour of leaving you, Mr. Lister. They're there until the Phantom Launch is caught, even if the barnacles grow from their hulls to the bottom of the harbour."
"Are the Water Police searching Middle Harbour?"
"There are men on the shores, but no boats on the harbour yet. Expect the W.P. will have a little regatta to-morrow. They're keen on catching the launch."
They were now almost abreast of the little entrance to Myella Cove. Reefs ran from the headlands, almost closing the waters of the cove, and it was necessary for them to proceed cautiously. At length they reached the channel, and pulled for the shore.
"Now for the box," Phelps almost crowed. "Will you open it here, or at the station, Mr. Lister?"
"That's for you to say," Lister laughed, slightly. "You're in command of this expedition. I'm only a passenger."
"Then we'll take it to the station," decided the constable. "The Sergeant wanted to come, badly, but he recognised that the fewer we were the better chance of escaping observation. He'll be on pins and needles until he sees the box."
The keel of the boat grated on the sands. The three men disembarked and drew her well up and beyond the influence of the tide. Lister jointed his rods and threw out lines, fixing the rods to the thwarts of the boat. Phelps watched him for a few minutes, and then took a rod from beneath one of the thwarts and fixed it.
"We're on a fishing excursion," he grinned. "Thanks for the tip, Mr. Lister. With those lines out we have a grand alibi if we're seen. There's nothing suspicious in a party of fishermen landing to indulge in a little beach fishing. Just eccentricity."
Leaving the rods securely fastened, the three men walked to the foot of the cliffs. Phelps took the lead, and slowly passed along the face of rock until he came to a certain spot.
"Here we are," he said confidently. "The box is about a foot down, just here. Now, if you'll keep watch Mr. Lister, Fellowes and I will have her up in a few minutes."
Lister sat down and watched the constables delve into the sands. For a time they worked fast, and in silence. Then Phelps stood and gazed into the hole they had made, a puzzled expression on his good-humoured face.
"The blithering thing's not here," he exclaimed. "It was only about eighteen inches down when I found it, and a lot of sand fell in while I was replacing it. Guess it should have been about a foot under the surface this time—not more."
He turned and walked to the cliff face, examining some mark carefully.
"Here it is," he said, at length. "I marked the spot on this jutting piece of rock. There's no error. The blanky thing's gone."
THE wooden box, hidden by the crew of the Phantom Launch under the sands at Myella Cove, had disappeared. For more than an hour the two constables dug up the sand in a large area around the rock Phelps had marked, without result.
The box had been removed, probably the previous night while the constable had been watching the Phantom Launch from Middle Head. That could only mean that the crew of the mystery boat had some confederate on land in the vicinity of Myella Cove, and that the constable had been observed watching the men from the launch working at the box.
Reluctantly the three men packed their kit and returned to the boat. In silence they pulled up the coastline to Balmoral Beach. As Phelps got out of the boat, he turned to the wireless expert.
"You'll come up to the station, Mr. Lister? It would be a favour I'd appreciate. This job is going to take a lot of explaining to the Sergeant."
Lister nodded. Sergeant Miller would be furious. He would have to accept the major part of the blame for the night's failure. More, the Sergeant would undoubtedly remember that the expert had urged that the box should not be removed from the Cove. In that, the Sergeant would see an opportunity of venting some of his anger. Headquarters would not accept that as an explanation, but it would serve for his personal outburst. Immediately the three men entered the orderly room Sergeant Miller came out of his office.
"Got that box. Phelps? Where is it? Gone? What do you mean?"
"The box has been removed from the Cove, Sergeant." Lister took on himself the bulk of the explanation. "We made a long hunt, but could not find a sign of it."
"More of the mystery work." Miller's face darkened. "That's the bottom of your fairy story, me lad."
"Except for the fact that the Phantom Launch is bottled up in Middle Harbour," interposed Lister, quietly.
"On his say-so." Miller swung sharply round on the expert. "If I remember right, it was on your advice that the box was allowed to remain hidden in the sands. I wanted to bring it in at once, but Phelps talked me out of it. Some idiotic idea of allowing it to remain as a decoy. A fine decoy, I say."
"Decoys are usually watched," suggested Lister, with a ghost of a smile.
"Did you expect me to go and sit on the cliffs watching that blithering box? Seems no one here has any brains—"
"Pardon, Sergeant." Phelps hid a broad smile behind his hand.
"There's the matter of the Arathusa's passenger," observed the expert, gravely. His words punctuated the Sergeant's spluttering profanity. "You're not going to suggest that Phelps had a hand in that?"
"Oh!" Miller tried to look dignified, but had to laugh. "It's all right for you, Mr. Lister, but those chaps at headquarters will want my scalp for this. Orders came this afternoon to get that box and send it to them."
"Well, they will be disappointed. They should have the Phantom Launch in their hands any hour, now. The box, so far as I can see, is of secondary importance. The trouble will be cleared up by the capture of the boat."
Miller still fumed round the office. At length he came to a pause at the door of his room and opened it.
"There's nothing more to be done." he grumbled, under his breath. "Get me through to headquarters, Phelps. I'll make the best explanation I can, but don't forget, me lad, I promised I'd hand the Commissioner your scalp if you didn't bring in the Phantom Launch, and I will. It's yours or mine, and you've got a better crop of hair than I have."
"Then let Phelps go after the Phantom Launch," interposed Lister quickly.
"What do you mean?"
"Give him a night's rest, and then let him hunt along the shores of Middle Harbour, above the Spit Bridge, for the Phantom Launch. It may be a long job, but he's more likely to succeed from the land side, where they won't be looking for an attack, than from the water."
"Not bad." The Sergeant thought a moment. "If Phelps can track out the Phantom Launch from the land side, we'll go and bring her in. It'll score one against the Water Police, and I owe Sergeant Branston a jolt."
Miller entered his room and closed the door. Lister nodded to the constables and walked home. He had almost been inclined to take the Sergeant into his confidence in regard to the dead man at Yaney's Inlet, and the wooden box hidden under the bluff. Had he been certain that the Sergeant would keep his own counsel, he might have done so, but in the man's present temper he might be inclined to offer the box at the Inlet to headquarters as a palliative. Lister did not want that box disturbed, but it must be watched night and day.
The concealment of the five hundred-pound notes in the wooden box seemed fantastic. It was impossible that a box of that build and size was only intended for the purpose of passing large sums of money from one person to another. If such had been the intention of the crew of the Phantom Launch, then why the hiding of a similar box at Myella Cove? Was the box at the Cove empty at the time Constable Phelps visited it? Why were both boxes locked? Why lock empty boxes?
Questions crowded one another in the expert's brain as he walked slowly home. There seemed to be but one answer to them all. That answer lay with the Phantom Launch, now bottled up in Middle Harbour, and likely at any moment to fall into the hands of the Water police. Then, a full explanation of the wooden boxes might be forthcoming, but until the launch was captured it was better for the boxes to remain concealed.
Ah Sam was busy in the kitchen when Lister entered the house. With a brief word to the man, telling him he had already dined, Lister passed into the yard and to the wireless shed. Switching on the light, he turned to his instruments and tested the air. Some of the commercial stations were at work, and the broadcasting programmes were in full swing. Slowly he worked up and down the wave lengths, at times tuning in on some amateur experimenter. A glance at the chart above his head revealed the operator. Setting his eight-valve set at 56 metres, he took down the list of allotted lengths, and compared it with a list he drew from his pocket.
One of his objects in the city that day had been to obtain a revised list of the allotted wave lengths. As he lifted his directory from the wall, he noticed some pencilled words on the margin.
In his work the wireless expert had become very methodical. Scribbling pads hung at various points about the room, and on one desk stood a file for the notes. He had long since abandoned the careless method of scribbling notes anywhere, and having to hunt for them long after he had forgotten where he had made them. He knew these faint pencilled marks had not been made by him.
"Tune in to 80 metres at midnight, and wait."
The message had been written very faintly, in a broad, flowing, feminine handwriting. There was no signature—no indication as to who the writer could be.
Lister's thoughts flew to the girl he had parted from but a couple of hours before. He was certain that Ysobel had spoken to him on the air the previous evening. Now he was certain she had obtained access to his wireless room and had scribbled the message to him on the wireless directory.
But, how had she obtained entry to the wireless room? Lister was always particular that he kept the doors of the building locked. In fact, it was impossible to leave them, unintentionally, open. They were swung on spring hinges, and closed automatically, fastening with Yale locks. To keep them open they had to be hooked back against the wall.
He had the key to the wireless room on his watch-chain. There was only the one key; the other keys sold with the locks were deposited in his strong-box at his bank. He was certain there was no other key, and that he had closed the door securely that morning when he left the building. Even if he had not done so, Ah Sam was certain to have noticed the open door, and closed it.
For some time Lister wandered around the room, examining the various apparatus. Nothing had been stolen, or touched. Therefore, the only object in entering the room had been to leave the message on the directory sheet. But why not have written a note and left it at the house in an ordinary manner?
Putting the problem from him as unsolvable, for the time being, Lister looked at his watch. It was just half-past ten o'clock. There was yet an hour and a half before he would be called. He turned to the eight-valve set and went over it carefully, changing one of the valves that did not seem to be working properly. Then he went to the big transmitter and tested it. Finally he tested the batteries, and fully charged them.
Back at the house Lister found his Chinese servant had retired for the night. In the living-room the spirit cabinet and tray stood ready to his hand. He mixed himself a drink, and sat down with a book. He found it impossible to devote his attention to reading. He was nervous with expectancy at what he might hear over the air within the next couple of hours.
A telephone stood on the desk in the corner of the room. Lister thought it possible that Tony Weston might still be at the "Pictorial" offices. He obtained the connection. Yes. Tony was there; in the building, but not in his room. He would ring Mr. Lister immediately the office could get in touch with him. Ten minutes later the telephone bell rang. Lister was on his feet immediately.
"Tony? Yes, Lister here. There's another development in the P.L. matter. The box at Myella Cove is missing. Yes. You've arranged for the box at the Inlet to be watched? Good. I'm expecting that to disappear next. Right. I'll call on you in the morning. What's that? Gideah Brading known to police? Good. So long, old man."
Another step had been taken towards the solution of the mystery. With the history of the dead man known, there was a chance of finding the murderer. It might be that the murderer might lead them to the solving of the mysteries surrounding the Phantom Launch.
Lister went back to his wireless room. At ten minutes to the hour he switched on the batteries and set the dials. Then he made another examination of the machinery and sat down to wait. Exactly on the hour the loud speaker came to life, giving his personal call sign.
"Sydney Lister here." The expert opened the switch of the microphone standing before him.
"Good!" A thin, querulous voice came over the air. "There is someone in this city who can obey orders without question. Where's the Phantom Launch, Sydney Lister?"
"Bottled up in Middle Harbour."
"The box has disappeared from Myella Cove?"
"You know that? Oh, I suppose you had a hand in removing it."
"I guessed that it would be removed. Increase your power, Sydney Lister. I want to hear all that goes on in your wireless room."
"I am alone here."
"Congratulations." The thin voice became sarcastic. "I did not expect you to have the Police Department there. You might have to explain why you have not informed them that the Phantom Launch is registered the Silver Swan—and how you obtained your information."
"Listen to me." The voice became imperative. "I'm not going to be on the air all night. It's up to you, Sydney Lister, to track down the crew of the Phantom Launch and the mystery surrounding them and their boat. So far you only know that it is implicated in the removal of a passenger from the mail boat. Do you know the man's name?"
"I have been told a name. I believe my informant was correct, but I don't know for certain. Do you?"
"It is not for you to ask questions." There was an appreciable pause. "Sydney Lister, there is only one man who can track down the gang of crooks controlling the Phantom Launch. That man is you."
"I am interested in your reasons." Lister was puzzled at the speaker's attitude. When he had tuned in to the number given, he had thought he would be speaking to the girl of the previous night. For a moment he thought he was in connection with the men who controlled the Phantom Launch. He had now to put from him this hypothesis. This man was interested in tracing them down.
"You have two qualifications. First, you have a good newspaper training, the knowledge of how to get the information you require, and how to use it. Secondly, you are one of the chief wireless experts on the continent. Both knowledges are required for the adventure. If you take it on, you will be fighting against one of the world's scientific geniuses. What have you to say?"
"Yes." Lister spoke impulsively, and almost without thought. Yet, for some reason he did not repent his decision immediately he had spoken.
"Then come and see me, Austin Chosen, to-morrow, at eleven. You hear? Austin Chosen. Sergeant Miller will tell you where to find me. All you have to do, at present, is to keep a still tongue, or—What's that?"
Someone was hammering at the door of the wireless room. The sounds had carried over the air to the speaker. Lister waited a few minutes, but Austin Chosen did not speak again. A few quick touches of the dials and the connections were destroyed. Lister crossed the room and opened the door.
On the step stood Constable Phelps, panting, as if he had been running hard. He took a step into the room and looked around.
"What's the matter, Phelps?" Lister thought the man's attitude was curious. "I thought you were in bed and asleep. You've got a rough day before you tomorrow."
"Nothing doing." Phelps grinned, in spite of his worried air. "Half an hour ago the Phantom Launch broke through the blockade at the Spit Bridge and raced down the harbour and through the Heads like an express train."
"THE Phantom Launch loose!" Lister repeated the constable's statement, wonderingly. "I thought the Water Police had her bottled up tight?"
"So tight that she came down under the Spit Bridge at full speed, and ran clean over one of the patrol boats. There was a bit of a mix-up for a few seconds, but before the other boats could get near she was away and out of sight. You'd have thought she'd have been chewed to pieces by such a collision, but, from what one of the men said, she must be sheathed in armour."
"Anyone injured?" the expert asked, quickly.
"A couple of Water Police got some cuts, and most of the crew of the boat were shaken and ducked." Phelps was following Lister into the cottage. "Thanks, I feel I can do with one. Dickson was on duty when they brought the casualties over to Balmoral, and he sent to Miller at once. The Sergeant came for me on his way down to the station. Jove! He's just rampant. Sent me up to tell you the news and ask you to come down to see him."
Lister picked up his hat and accompanied Phelps to the police station. A big fire had been built in the orderly room, and before it hung a number of garments. Half a dozen men were lounging about the room, two of them wearing bandages, watching the Sergeant stride up and down the room, exploding every now and again in little rumbling growls of wrath.
"Sorry to disturb you, Mr. Lister." Miller swung round on the expert as he entered the room. "How far can you communicate with that wireless stuff of yours?"
"Anywhere there's a station to pick it up." Lister laughed. "You don't seem to realise Balmoral houses the biggest amateur wireless station on the continent."
"Don't know a darned thing about it," grumbled the Sergeant. "There's too much machinery in this world. Look at this Phantom Launch. Some new-fangled engines that don't make a noise; and speed—Lord! if what them chaps say is anywhere near the truth, she's faster than the wind."
"You want to get on the air." The expert spoke, impatiently. "Why didn't you come up to the house, then, instead of sending for me to come here? If that boat's as speedy as you say, she'll be out of reach in a little while. Come on."
He turned to the door. Miller picked up his cap from the table and followed hastily. Lister ran on ahead, and when the Sergeant groped his way through the yard, the engines in the machine-house were humming busily.
Lister took a chart of coastal stations from a drawer, and sat down at the big instrument in the middle of the room. One by one he called them, and asked that a look-out be kept for the Phantom Launch. Then he spoke to the big Amalgamated Wireless Station at Epping, asking for the position of all warships on the New South Wales coast. Crossing to the big eight-valve, he set the dials to the station's wave-length, and, clipping the ear-phones on the Sergeant's head, instructed him to take down any messages that might come through.
His next move was to communicate with all vessels on the coast carrying wireless apparatus. He fetched from the sitting-room the day's "Daily Pictorial" and propped it against the instrument. Then he worked down the list, asking for information of the speed-boat, and quoting "police" as his authority, giving his call number and wave length for reply.
So far he had done all that lay in his power; in fact, he believed he had far exceeded any authority Sergeant Miller could delegate to him. To safeguard the Sergeant, he switched in the loud speaker on the "big eight," and sent him into the house to telephone Headquarters, informing the Commissioner what had been done, and asking instructions.
Miller had hardly left the wireless room when Lister was called by the Amalgamated Wireless Station. Two warships were on the New South Wales coast, between Melbourne and Sydney. A small patrol boat was coming down from Queensland, and should be about the northern border of the State within a few hours. Lister went to his engine-room and made certain his batteries were fully charged, and that he could obtain all the power he might want. Then he went back to his instruments and called the Spitfire, the nearest warship to Sydney Heads. In a few minutes he was speaking to the wireless operator, transmitting a request that any speed-boat answering the description he gave of the Phantom Launch be detained and brought back to Sydney Harbour.
There was a little demur from the warship at first. While Lister was arguing that the request be taken at once to the officer on duty, Sergeant Miller returned from the telephone, beaming with smiles at the commendation he had received for his prompt action in getting the news of the escape on the air, and with full authority to make his requests in the name of the Commissioner of Police. Lister repeated his request to the warship, using Sir George Benson's name. A reply came back that the officer in charge would communicate with him immediately.
He next got in touch with the Panther, coming down from Queensland. He repeated the request that he had made to the Spitfire, and received an immediate reply from the chief officer that a sharp look-out would be kept. Hardly had he finished with the Panther than the Spitfire came in again, bombarding him with a volley of questions. With the Sergeant at his elbow to prompt him. Lister was able to satisfy the officer speaking that he had full authority for his requests. The Spitfire then undertook to communicate with the Hawkesbury, then on the Victorian coast, and get her to watch for the elusive launch, if she managed to avoid the nearer warship.
"Well, I'm blowed!" The sergeant sat back in his chair and scratched his chin, thoughtfully. "Seems like that I've got to take back all I've said about modern machinery. Pity you're not in the Force, Mr. Lister. It this night's work results in the capture of the Phantom Launch, there'll be a step in rank for all concerned—except you."
"Don't count eggs," laughed the expert. "We've spread a big net, but that is not to say we'll snare our fowl. There's one man I want to get, if I can. Let me see. Half-past one. Late, but he may be about."
"Who are you after now?"
Lister took up the list of amateur wireless stations and ran his finger down the column.
"Here he is. Arthur Haslington, CXY, 120 metres. Now, we'll try to raise him."
"Sutherland?" Miller was looking over the expert's shoulder. "What can he do? Sutherland's not on the coast, and you don't surely think the Phantom Launch travels overland?"
Lister raised a warning hand. An acknowledgment of the call had come over the air.
"Mr. Haslington. Yes. Sydney Lister, Balmoral, NKH 90 metres, speaking for the Commissioner of Police. Will you be so good as to take an urgent message for Inspector Mack, and telephone to him at once? It is important that he gets it immediately. Thanks. Sorry to trouble you, but it is a matter of urgent importance, and too pressing to trust to ordinary methods of communication.
"Begins. The compliments of the Commissioner of Police for New South Wales, Sir George Benson. Fast speed boat likely to visit Yaney's Inlet this night; probably near bluff where dead man found yesterday. Arrange to capture and detain crew and boat. Warrant out in Sydney for all on boat. Possibly mixed up in Yaney's Inlet murder. Men dangerous. Ends.
"Got that? Thanks. Quite correct. Now, will you please take a short description of the boat and add to the message. Good."
Lister added a few words, describing the Phantom Launch, and asked that any reply should be made to his station. He cut out and set the instrument to pick up any signals that might come through.
"Say, young man," Sergeant Miller cocked a leg over the arm of his chair. "You've taken a lot of liberty with the Police Force and the name of the Commissioner this night, haven't you?" Then, as Lister commenced to answer, he interposed, "Not that anyone'll mind. Get that Phantom Launch for us through this box of magic, and you can call the police what you like for the remainder of your days. What does this little lot cost?"
"Between five and six thousand pounds' worth of instruments here." Lister grinned at the amazed expression on the Sergeant's facet. "Are you a buyer?"
"Not unless the Government offers a few hundred thousand for the apprehension of the Phantom Launch and pay it to me." Miller made a wry face. "Good for you chaps, who have nothing to do."
Lister rose from his chair and, crossing to the "eight-valve," closed it down. Then he turned to the door.
"Anything more, in the wireless line tonight?" he asked, yawning. "If not, I propose a drink, and then to bed."
"What if a message comes to you from one of the inquiries?"
The sergeant got up from his chair and went over the big transmitter.
The expert threw over a switch and plugged in a connection. Then he went into the engine-room and shut down power.
"Just a little invention of mine," he said "Any call for me rings a bell at the head of my bed. It takes me a little over thirty seconds to get out here and to the instrument."
"Good." Out in the yard the sergeant looked up at the dark sky. "Looks like wind and rain to me. If it comes on to blow, I pity those men in that pesky little launch out at sea. Well, it's their funeral. Mine's a whisky-soda. It's on you, as you proposed it."
THE LIGHT of early morning was coming in at Lister's window when the electric bell at the head of his bed came to life. Half a minute later the expert was in the wireless house, the engines running, and the headphones in place.
"Haslington speaking. That Mr. Lister? Good. Inspector Mack to Commissioner of Police. Compliments. Arrived Yaney's Inlet too late. Found Constable Smith, placed on guard at the bluff, on sands, dead. Cause of death: Shot. Ends. Say, Lister, are we an annexe of the Police Department now?"
MILLINGTON CHAMBERS, Pitt Street, is one of the oldest houses in Sydney, built in the days when the city was rising along the stock routes converging on Circular Quay. Once the town residence of a wealthy squatter family, today it is let out in rooms to small businesses, described as "agencies."
The house is built of rough Sydney sandstone, polished and stained by generations of rain and winds. It is a gloomy-looking house, stolid and heavy, with small windows and large frontal arches. The main entrance is through a small door leading into a dark passage, at the end of which is a narrow, winding stairway. Most of the old oaken doors of the building have been removed, and their places taken by modern panelled doors, the top panels of frosted glass bearing the names and occupations of tenants.
At the head of the stairs leading to the fourth floor stands a massive oaken door—apparently one of the original doors. On it is screwed a small brass card-holder, bearing an aged engraved card, with the two words, "Austin Chosen." There is no door handle, only the circular plate of the Yale lock. On the lintel of the door-frame, on a line with the keyhole, is the blackened button of an electric bell.
Austin Chosen is one of the mysteries of Sydney. Coming from "nowhere," he established himself on the top floor of Millington Chambers, taking the rooms on a long lease, and resolutely refusing to allow the official cleaners of the building to pass the heavy door he erected at the head of the stairs. He was rarely seen by the other renters of the building. Sometimes, after nightfall, a slight, small man, about 45 years of age, and leaning on a heavy stick, walked slowly down the steep stairs, muffled in a long ulster, the hat pulled well down over his face. Very slowly, almost as if in pain, he would walk down Pitt Street to Circular Quay and along the line of wharves to Fort Macquarie. Following the small section of roadway beside the vehicular punt-dock to the end, he would stand looking out over the harbour for half an hour or more. Then he would turn and retrace his steps to Millington Chambers.
The police authorities knew Austin Chosen, and respected his wonderful deductive abilities; so, also, did the men who controlled "big business" in the capital city under the Southern Cross. Yet, to them he was little more than a name, for very rarely clients were admitted to a personal interview.
"The Mystery of the Official Papers" first brought Austin Chosen to the knowledge of the authorities. Very little of that case became public. Influence was brought to stifle publicity; yet, it became generally known that, through the peculiar knowledge of the Mystery Man, an important Under-Secretary's resignation was withdrawn, coincident with the reorganisation of the State's Cabinet and the retirement from public life of a politician who had been tipped for the highest honours.
Gradually Austin Chosen built up a small, influential clientèle, always reserving time to assist the Police Department in any problem that caused them anxiety. The series of frauds on Australian banks, later to be known as the "Renton case," were taken to him by one of the leading bankers of the Commonwealth, much in the nature of a forlorn hope. Austin Chosen solved the problem in three days, placing in the hands of his clients convincing proof of the guilty parties. It was during the trial of the guilty men a newspaper traced the hand of Austin Chosen in the prosecution, and bestowed on him the name of the "Mystery Man"%mdash;a title by which he soon became generally known.
Sydney Lister obtained the address of the Mystery Man from Sergeant Miller, and had some difficulty in parrying the Sergeant's curiosity. Exactly at eleven o'clock he mounted the stairs at Millington Chambers and pressed the electric button. The door opened immediately, revealing in the gloomy aperture the figure of a Chinese, dressed in the flowing garments of his race. On seeing Lister the man immediately stood to one side, motioning him to enter. At the same time he touched an electric switch and flooded the small hall with light.
The hall was richly furnished in a semi-Asiatic style. The carpets were rich and deep. A few lounges stood around the room. There was no table, but scattered about were several Oriental stools. The walls were hung with long tapestries, concealing the doors.
Lister had just time to gather an impression of his surroundings when a deep-tone gong struck a solitary note. The Chinese walked to the hangings on the far side of the room and drew them to one side, motioning Lister to pass through. He found himself in a room fitted up as a business office, the most prominent feature being the large number of filing cabinets lining the walls. From behind a large desk a tall, dark-haired girl came forward to meet him.
"Mr. Lister hardly expected to meet me here?" Ysobel Weston smiled slightly as she held out her hand to the expert. "I am Mr. Austin Chosen's secretary."
"That is how you knew the name of the man who left the mail boat by the Phantom Launch," exclaimed Lister, involuntarily. "I wondered if Tony informed you."
"Tony does not know the name of the man yet, unless his newspaper has obtained it from the shipping office. Our works are separate. In fact, we have an understanding not to discuss business without Mr. Austin Chosen's permission."
"I am to see Mr. Chosen?"
"I believe so." Ysobel hesitated, and then continued: "Mr. Chosen would like you to dictate to me the information you have regarding the Phantom Launch."
Lister hesitated. From what Sergeant Miller had told him of the Mystery Man he believed he was to be trusted, but to dictate his information was a different matter.
"Mr. Austin Chosen has the various police reports," suggested the girl, quietly.
"Then he possesses nearly all the information in my possession, perhaps more." Lister answered quickly, relieved at not having to utter the refusal to Ysobel's request almost on his lips.
"There are matters relating to what took place in your wireless room during the past two nights." The girl made the suggestion quietly.
"You know of them?" Lister was wondering if Ysobel had obtained access to his workshops, and had written the message from Austin Chosen on the wireless directory.
"You mentioned the Silver Swan in my hearing, Mr. Lister." Ysobel laughed lightly at the man's obvious embarrassment.
"Thanks, stranger." The words of the voice on the air came involuntarily to the man's lips.
A wave of colour flooded the girl's face, and she stared at Lister, amazedly. For some seconds there was silence in the office, broken by a thin, reedy voice.
"I will see Mr. Lister, Miss Weston."
Lister swung round in his chair. The voice was the same as had come over the air the previous night, and had purported to be from Austin Chosen. He and the girl were alone.
"Mr. Austin Chosen is a great invalid." Ysobel rose from her seat and opened a door. "Will you please be as brief as possible?"
Lister advanced into a large darkened room. For some minutes he stood just within the door, striving to accustom his vision after passing from the bright lights of the girl's office. At length, he was able to make out a few objects. The centre of the room was clear of furniture. A wide couch stood a couple of feet from the wall on the opposite side of the room, close by what appeared to be a large instrument board.
"Come and sit down beside me, Mr. Lister." Austin Chosen spoke slowly, and carefully. "As Miss Weston informed you, I am a great sufferer, and have to live mostly in the dark."
The expert walked across to the chair set by the couch, and looked down on the Mystery Man. He saw a slight, small man with a thin, wan face, in which the big blue eyes looked out from under massive eyebrows, quite at variance with the contour of the face. He was clean shaven, the lips almost straight and bloodless. The cheeks were hollow, and in the gloom appeared almost grey. As Lister seated himself a small glow lamp came to life, lighting up his features. He started, and the light was immediately extinguished.
"You will forgive me." Austin Chosen laughed weakly. "I like to see the faces of my visitors. So you are the man they write of as the big wireless expert of Australia. I am interested in the work."
"You have a very fine instrument, Mr. Chosen."
"It is good, but it broadcasts. More, I cannot see to whom I am talking. For my work, both defects are dangerous. Can you show me how to make the speech directional, and to see the people I am talking to?"
"Not at present. The secrets are known, but remain, for the time, in the hands of their inventors. Possibly, in a few years—"
"If I live so long." Austin Chosen rolled impatiently on his couch. "Well, I have to use what knowledge is available. So the Phantom Launch is free again."
"You know that?"
"I listened to you last night. Good work. Mr. Lister, but you failed in one thing."
"The Phantom Launch did not go out to sea. It went up the Harbour."
"How do you know that?" Lister looked at the man on the couch, perplexedly.
"What matters how I know? I use many instruments to serve my ends. Mr. Lister, will you act with me to run down these men who own the Phantom Launch?"
"What is your interest in the matter?"
"The interest you should have, and which I believe you possess. The interest of bringing to justice one of the biggest scoundrels infesting this continent: the imprisonment of men, who, if allowed to remain at large will one day strike such a blow at our civilisation that it will take many years to recover from."
LISTER stared at the Mystery Man in amazement. For a moment he thought the man was speaking wildly. Something of this must have shown in his face, for Austin Chosen began to laugh; a queer little chuckling laugh that left him pale and exhausted.
"You think I am mad, Lister? Well, time will tell. These men who own the Phantom Launch are dangerous. They are clever; they have big aims and ambitions, and the money to carry out their ideals."
"You mean, they are Communists?" hazarded Lister.
"If you class all who oppose law and order as Communists I will not contradict you. I call them criminals, for they seek only the satisfaction of their grosser desires. They have money, and want more. They seek safety, and use all means to that end. They have power—the power of money and what it will purchase. What have they to gain by political change?"
"You suggest their aims are not political?"
"Politics! Politics! Politics are the curse of this country. No man dare move but his aim is said to be political power. No man dare venture an opinion, but he is branded with the iron of some party. Men and women must not think for themselves. They must be of the herd, and allow their self-elected leaders to think for them. Why, even a road-sweeper has to adopt the right label before he can get a job at the basic wage. The people think, eat, drink, and sleep politics. They will know better some day."
Lister sat silent for some time. Austin Chosen was a maze of contradictions. Had it not been for the wonderful reputation he had won in the State the expert might have thought him a crank.
"Enough of this." Austin Chosen rolled over on his couch. "We are wasting time. Have you seen Captain Anstey?"
"The captain of the mail boat? No."
"Not much good. Captain Anstey can tell you little. He is what novelists describe as 'a bluff sea-dog.' That means he has sufficient brains to solve the few familiar mathematical problems necessary to steer a ship from Europe to Australia. Listen."
For some minutes the man rolled in pain on the couch, low groans coming between the bloodless lips. Lister rose to his feet to seek assistance, but the Mystery Man's thin hand beckoned him back.
"Captain Anstey will tell you that the name of the man who left the mail boat for the Phantom Launch is Francis Delaney Hawson. A reference to the Australian Who's Who will tell you Hawson is a big and successful squatter owning wide-spread stations in the Bourke district. There's your first work. Find out if Hawson has been absent from his head station—Myollongowera—for any length of time during the past six months, and where he has been."
"You infer Hawson was not the passenger on the Arathusa?"
"That remains to be proved." The thin voice snapped out the answer. "If Hawson was not on the mail boat, then someone impersonated him. Is that plain to you?"
"Have you any reason to believe Mr Hawson was impersonated on the mail boat?"
"I never believe anything but stark facts, Lister. I want to see Hawson. He's big, and he's wealthy. So are the men we are after. He may be one of them. I don't know, and I don't guess. Now, tell me of the dead man at Yaney's Inlet."
Point by point, Lister went over the adventures of the previous day with Weston.
"You left the box buried in the sands. Good. You've more sense, Lister, than most of the people I have to do with."
"From what I heard last night I was indirectly the cause of the death of the constable on guard at the Inlet," retorted Lister. "If I had allowed Weston to take the box into Como there would have been no necessity for a guard at the Inlet.
"The man was a fool. He disobeyed orders, and came out of the scrub onto the sands. Now, as to the dead swaggie, Gideah Brading, what do you know of him? Nothing. Find out. Somewhere in the history of Gideah Brading you will find a clue that will lead you to the Phantom Launch and the crew. Got that?"
Lister rose from his chair and walked up and down the room. He was feeling depressed. This slight invalid on the couch was dominating him. Why should he turn detective? He had his work—work that interested him, and he was being forced into the pursuit of criminals—work that belonged to the police.
"What's troubling you, Lister?" The Mystery Man's voice had grown low and soft. "Wondering if it's your job? You'll soon know. These men know you have been interested in the pursuit of the Phantom Launch, and they won't stand interference. Go forward, track them down, and send them to where they shall expiate their acts—and you will have nothing to fear."
"What do you know, Austin Chosen?" Lister swung round to the man. "You imply you have knowledge. Speak out then, and let me know what I have to face."
There was a long silence. Lister resumed his pacing up and down the room, the man on the couch watching him with a smile of understanding on his lips.
"You can't get away from it, Lister." The Mystery man broke the silence in a low voice. "The game enthrals you. Look at me; tied to this couch for hours each day; exhausted by a walk of a bare mile or so; racked with the pains of hell; and yet my thoughts turn incessantly to the little work I can do—the making of this evil world just one little bit better and happier for the whole human race, by tracking down to their just punishment the few men who live crooked lives. Take up the task, man. What is asked of you is but a small return for all the world has given to you. It's small; it may seem petty—a job anyone might accomplish—but I tell you before long you will see that you have the special knowledge that alone permits success. It's the small things that count. Criminals do not leave broad, straight roads of detection. It is only by following close, picking up the few mistakes they make, that gains success for justice."
"I'll do it," Lister turned, impulsively, towards the couch. "From what you say, the clue to the mystery lies in the history of Gideah Brading?"
"See me tomorrow." Austin Chosen held out his thin white hand. "Good luck to—"
A faint stroke of the bell caused the Mystery Man to stop suddenly. He held up a warning hand and touched a switch. Then he beckoned Lister to seat himself, motioning him to silence. Taking the pad that lay beside his hands he scratched a few lines.
Don't speak or make any noise.
This room and Miss Weston's office are now connected.
For a few minutes they sat silent in the gloom of the room. Then, on the air, came the sound of soft shod feet. Again a moment's silence, and the voice of Ysobel Weston.
"Mr Francis Hawson? Yes, Lou. I will see him."
The finger of the man on the couch closed the connection. He half rose.
"That man here? Lister, for your life, listen and be silent. We are at the heart of the mystery."
The switch fell into place again, and over the wire came the sound of Ysobel's voice.
"—afraid Mr Chosen cannot be seen without an appointment."
"The matter is of importance," a deep voice answered the girl. "I am willing to wait, if Mr Chosen will see me later."
"If you will state your business, I will ask Mr Chosen for an appointment. Mr Chosen is a sick man and has to refuse many persons who desire to see him."
"I'm afraid that is impossible." Hawson hesitated over the words. "I—I can only assure you that it is a matter of importance to me."
"I am Mr Chosen's secretary, and I am in his confidence. May I suggest the matter refers to the steamship Arathusa?"
"What do you know?" The man spoke quickly.
"Only what the newspapers state." Ysobel's voice was quite calm. "A Mr. Francis Delaney Hawson is reported to have been taken from the mail boat Arathusa some three miles outside the heads by a strange launch. The police are searching for Mr Hawson."
"That's so. The police are searching for me. They've been inquiring at the hotels."
"What do you want Mr Chosen to do?"
"Get me out of the trouble."
"Why not get a fast car and drive out to your station, Mr Hawson?" Ysobel spoke carelessly, but with a hidden meaning in her words. "There are people there who would say you had not left the station for months."
"The police have already made inquiries at the homestead—at Myollongowera." The man's voice sounded fretful. "If I go there now, they will find me."
"Why should Francis Hawson fear the police?" Lister turned in his chair. The Mystery Man had spoken. "Miss Weston, I will see Mr Francis Delaney Hawson in two minutes."
Austin Chosen threw out the switch, and turned sharply to the expert.
"Lister. On the table by the window is a small camera. Get me a photo of this man. Get a photo somehow, however small and bad. Pretend you are snapping the building as he comes out of the door. But get that photo. Lou Sing will show you how to get out of the house."
Lister jumped towards the window and found the camera. A door opened at the other side of the room, and the Chinese servant entered. The Mystery Man made an imperative motion, and Lister went towards the door. He had hardly reached it when the door opened. The servant caught him by the arm and dragged him into the outer darkness. For a full minute they stood waiting, then from within the room came the sound of Austin Chosen's voice, vibrant and exultant:—
"What want you of Austin Chosen?"
THE door of the room closed behind Lister and the Chinese, leaving them in darkness. For a moment the expert stood listening for what might happen in the room he had just left, but except for the one vibrant cry, on the entrance of Hawson, the voices were lowered.
A hand grasped Lister's arm, and he was led across a room out into the hall. There the servant released him and walked to the office door. Ysobel was standing by her desk, evidently awaiting him. As he entered she place her finger to her lips, and beckoned him to come to the desk. A seat had been placed for him there and the top of the desk cleared of all papers. Let into the centre of the woodwork was a large square of frosted glass about ten inches by twelve.
Ysobel went to the window and touched a spring. A long frame of black substance rose from the sill, excluding all light. For a moment the room was lit by a shaded bulb pendant from the ceiling. The girl motioned Lister to watch the frosted glass. Then the light was extinguished.
On the frosted surface appeared a picture of the room Lister had just left. It was no longer in gloom, but brightly lit. On the couch, under the large switchboard, lay Austin Chosen, his face turned towards the man seated beside him. The man's back was turned towards the aperture of the instrument. Lister waited for him to turn, but he sat, almost motionless, intent on the words the Mystery Man was speaking.
For some time the man and the girl sat looking into the glass. At length Lister, fearing that he would not get sight of the visitor's face, placed his finger on the figure of Hawson and made a motion as if to turn him around. In the glow from the frame he could see the girl nod. She touched some button at the edge of the mirror and slowly the picture revolved, until Hawson's face was clearly revealed. The man looked worried and pale. The ruddy flush, born of days in the western bush, had faded to a sickly pink. The coarse skin was almost yellow, and the eyes dilated. Even the portly figure seemed shrunken, the broad shoulders sagging dejectedly. Lister fixed the details of the man's appearance in his mind and waited. He had solved the immediate problem and would recognise the squatter when he met him on the street.
Austin Chosen was lying back on his couch, his fingers restlessly fumbling with the controls of the switchboard. Suddenly the fingers tensed.
"That's all I have to say to you, Francis Delaney." The voice of the Mystery Man came clear over the air. "Go now. I must rest."
It was the only sentence of the conversation audible in Ysobel's room, and had been sent as a warning. As the words faded away the girl touched a knob on the wall, and the vision disappeared from the glass.
"Go quickly." The girl switched on the lights. "I will manage to keep him for a couple of minutes in here."
Lister picked up his hat and the camera, and went to the door. As he reached it the Asian appeared. He walked before the expert to the outer door, and closed it noiselessly behind him. Lister ran down the stairs, and out into the street. There he set the camera, and waited about ten or twelve feet from the main door of Millington Chambers. A loitering taxi-cab came to the pavement behind him, and the driver got down from his seat and opened the door.
"All set," murmured the man. "The Chink told me what to do, and where to go. Jump in directly you've got the photograph, and we'll be off."
Lister nodded. Austin Chosen had reduced detail to a science. Hawson would certainly know he had been photographed. There would be no chance of a dispute on the street; no opportunity to create a scene demanding reasons for the act. Coupled with the scene in the Mystery Man's room, the squatter would be troubled and perplexed.
A couple of men strolling along the street halted a few yards away from Lister. One of them moved close to the door of the chambers, the other remained a few feet from the expert. As Hawson appeared in the doorway, the man by the door spoke to him, stopping him for a few moments. Lister pressed the trigger of the camera; at the same moment a magnesium flare came from beside him. Someone caught him and swung him into the cab. Immediately the driver started the machine and swung into the traffic, racing up towards Central Station. Lister looked out of the window. Both men had disappeared, and the squatter stood on the pavement before the chambers, waving his stick threateningly after the car.
The car swung into Bathurst Street and up Elizabeth Street. At the St. James' corner it turned up to Queen's Square and then into Macquarie Street. At Hunter Street it turned again and drew up at the entrance to the offices. The man dropped from his seat and opened the door.
"Quick, sir. There's nothing to pay, and I've got to get out of this."
Almost before Lister reached the swing doors of the offices the taxi was in motion again, speeding towards King Street. Lister hesitated a moment. Why had he been brought here? He had said nothing to the Mystery Man of his intention of calling on Tony Weston.
At the inquiry desk, on the editorial floor, Lister was informed that Tony was waiting for him in his room. Declining the guidance of the copy-boy, the expert walked down the long corridor, flanked by small rooms. Tony was seated at his desk, leaning back and watching the door. As Lister entered, he sprang to his feet.
"Just had a 'phone from Ysobel. Told me to wait in for you, and keep your visit secret. It's all arranged. The girl at the desk will deny that you're on the premises, if anyone follows you. Sit down, old man. Got your phone message last night. Just in time for the 'city' edition. Made a grand scoop for me. Miller deserves a step for getting you on the job. You should have succeeded in catching the Phantom Launch."
"Austin Chosen thinks the launch went up the river." Lister thought there would be no harm in mentioning the Mystery Man's name, now that Tony knew that he had been to see him.
"Possibly." Weston bit the end of his pencil. "The death of Constable Smith at Yaney's Inlet makes me doubt that. In that ship they had plenty of time to get round to George's River and, if the constable saw them and revealed himself, they were nervy enough to shoot. No; I'm inclined to think the Phantom Launch is mixed up in both murders."
Lister was about to answer when Weston turned sharply to the telephone.
"Wait a moment, Syd. I was to report your arrival. What's that you've got? A camera. Oh, I understand."
The journalist gave a number in a low voice. In a few seconds he obtained connection.
"Lister here. Also camera. Do you want it developed? Right."
There was silence for a few moments. "All right. I understand."
He closed the instrument and leaned back in his chair
"The game's getting thick." Weston spoke musingly. "Dare say you're wondering what you got in at, Syd? Well, there's nothing to worry you if Austin Chosen sits in on the game. He's straight, and to be trusted. Now, we've got to get busy. Hand over that camera. Ysobel tells me to have the negative developed by our men, and to take the camera and print home with me. Want a copy? Right."
He scribbled a note on a sheet of copy-paper and tucked it in the handle of the camera. Then he called one of the boys and handed the machine to him, with instructions to take it to the photographic room.
"What does it all mean?" Lister was perplexed. "I'm getting mixed over things."
"They are progressing fast." Weston looked up with a grin on his face. "All I can tell you is that you're sitting in on one of the biggest games ever played in Australia, and that the centre of that game is the top floor of Millington Chambers. How much you know, and how much I know, won't affect the issue. All we have to do is to follow the man with the brain. That's Austin Chosen. Now let's go over what happened since we parted, and try to make a clean-cut tale of it. You understand what you're going to say is not necessarily for publication. The Pictorial's directorate has been advised, and I'm allowed to publish as much, or as little, as the Mystery Man decides."
Lister took up his tale from the moment he went into his wireless room and found the message to link in with Austin Chosen over the air. Then followed the arrival of Constable Phelps and the sweeping of the car for news of the Phantom Launch. Lastly, he spoke of the call from Haslington, the wireless amateur at Sutherland, during the early hours of the morning, informing him of the death of Constable Smith on the beach at Yaney's Inlet.
"We're just one point forwarder," Weston chuckled, slightly. "We are now certain that Gideah Brading's death was not natural. I had a talk with Mack over the 'phone a few minutes ago, and he says that Smith was young, energetic, clean-living, and healthy. His death is even more mysterious than Brading's, for he is known in the district, and the police are aware of all his connections. We'll leave him to the police for the time. The murder of a swaggie may be a matter of routine to them, but when one of their own comes to grief, then they're out for blood."
"It's a point, but a small one," agreed the expert. "Did you know that Austin Chosen was acquainted with Francis Delaney Hawson?"
"That's a question that won't puzzle us for long." Weston turned to a small file of papers on his desk, and opened it. "I've had a search made in our library for the history of Gideah Brading. Do you want it?"
"SOMEWHERE in the history of Gideah Brading you will find the clue to the Phantom Launch." Austin Chosen had spoken those words but a few hours before. Now, on Tony Weston's desk lay the records of the dead man's life.
"Remember the Pettington Frauds?" Weston asked the question carelessly. Without waiting for an answer, he continued: "Wallace Pettington, Gideah Brading and Simon Eccles. Three of the biggest scoundrels unhung, yet at one time almost kings of the Melbourne business world.
"Wallace Pettington!" Lister remembered only too well the bulky, vivid personality that had loomed so large in the public eyes. Wallace Pettington was to set the State of Victoria in the seat of the premier State of Australia for all time.
The Victorian Land Progress Company was the medium of the movement. It aimed to buy up the large outback stations and subdivide them into small compact, intensive holdings for stations and farms. The company would furnish everything, land, material, machinery; and take everything, holding produce in huge bonds until the arrival of favourable markets. Further, great manufacturing centres were to be established throughout the State where the primary products of the company clients were to be used in the manufacture of secondary products for export and home consumption.
The idea was attractive and, under the expert advertisement of Wallace Pettington, stormed the popular imagination. Money poured into the coffers of the company. Then came the Central Australian Bank, acknowledged to be established to finance the Pettington companies.
With the bank came Gideah Brading, once a minor stock-broker's clerk, elevated to the post of general manager of Pettington's bank. Again the genius for advertisement, inherent in Wallace Pettington, forced the new institution to the front. Clients of the Land Progress Company were compelled to open accounts at the bank. Businesses which desired to deal with, and supply, the Pettington Companies and its clients found it desirable to establish accounts.
The Pettington Companies grew apace. Farmers, orchardists, and Graziers required machinery. The Pettington Agricultural Machinery Company came to life. Brickworks, preserving works, some of them built before the first fruit tree had been planted in the district to be served; construction companies! A bill was promoted in the State Parliament to allow the Pettington Railway Company—in process of formation—to link up the large holdings the Land Progress Company had acquired.
The newspapers announced that a new era of prosperity had come to the southern State. From all over the continent people flocked to Victoria, eager to share in the prophesied boom promised by the guiding spirit of prosperity. There was a golden future in sight, shadowed only by one sinister figure.
A small stock operator named Simon Eccles had declared war on the Pettington companies. Wallace Pettington's loud laughter rang free and strong when he heard that Eccles had declared he would bring Pettington and his companies to the ground. "They are established on the impregnable hearts of the people," he boasted; a phrase caught, and blazoned abroad by the newspapers.
Simon Eccles sold a bear on the Pettington companies, principally the Central Australian Bank. Men wondered how he managed to meet his continued losses. He did, always returning to the attack. His efforts managed to beat down the bank shares beyond a figure Wallace Pettington declared reasonable. The big man roared in wrath. He denounced the operator, declaring he would drive him out of the market.
Then commenced the historic battle. Pettington flung the weight of his large fortune into the market to force up the price of the bank's shares. He succeeded, a large section of the public following his lead.
Simon Eccles was driven from the market. He met his obligations, but continued to hover round the fringe of the traders, constantly watching, always smilingly silently.
Wallace Pettington was not satisfied with his victory. He aimed to place the shares beyond the reach of any fresh attack. Slowly he drove the price up until the shares were quoted at 198.
"Two hundred to-morrow." Pettington stood on the pavement before the great doors of the Stock Exchange. Simon Eccles passed at the moment, and stopped.
"One hundred," he snapped, in his little, shrill voice. "I'm selling to-morrow for one hundred, and I may go lower. Good-day to you, Mr. Pettington."
The challenge and its immediate acceptance were broadcast throughout Australia. The next day the market opened in tense expectation. Proceedings were, at first, slow. Suddenly came a swarm of sellers. Broker after broker came on the market with huge parcels. Every offer was snapped up. Pettington rallied his friends to meet the attack, but they had been out-generalled. The day's trading closed at 101.
That night Wallace Pettington issued, through the newspapers, an appeal to the public to protect their property from the jealous attacks of interested persons. The response was immediate. The shares began to recover in spite of unprecedented sellings. The market closed in a turmoil, experts declaring that the bears had sold more than the total capital of company.
The Central Australia Bank did not open its doors the next morning. The general manager, Gideah Brading, had disappeared. Wallace Pettington stepped forward with a declaration of future responsibility, but public confidence had been shaken. A financial newspaper pointed out that the funds of the bank had been solely invested in the Pettington companies. A Government investigation was ordered. Sympathy was openly expressed for Wallace Pettington, and the general public expected him to pull through. Simon Eccles was blamed for the downfall of the bank. Few institutions could have weathered the big money behind the speculator.
The arrest of Wallace Pettington came as an unexpected blow. Most of the Pettington companies were in the hands of the Official Receiver, but Wallace Pettington was declared on all sides honest. Then a statement was issued that the companies would not pay more than sixpence in the pound. The Pettington companies negotiable paper littered the cash boxes of the various companies, but all other assets had disappeared, or had been mortgaged to the hilt.
Where had the money gone to? Hundreds of thousands of pounds had passed through the coffers of the various companies. Accounts had not been paid, although the companies had been strict in regard to the profits allowed. The stream of gold had flowed inwards; but a thin trickle of silver had flowed out. Where had the money gone to?
"Used to bolster up the Stock Exchange attack," stated the enemies of Wallace Pettington.
The arrest of Wallace Pettington was followed by the arrest of Simon Eccles. They stood in the dock, the one-time enemies, on a charge of conspiracy. The Crown claimed that Pettington and Eccles had worked secretly for the downfall of the Pettington companies. In spite of his heavily advertised buying, Wallace Pettington did not own a single share in the Pettington companies on the day of his arrest.
The Department of Justice claimed that Pettington had worked up the price of the shares for to make a killing for Simon Eccles, both men knowing the companies were thoroughly insolvent, and the final smash but a matter of a few days. It was claimed that Eccles had made a vast fortune out of the gamble. Where was it? The total sum to the credit of the two men when arrested were less than fifty pounds.
Wallace Pettington claimed he had ruined himself in trying to save the companies from the attack of the Eccles group of financiers. He claimed that he had thrown into the market his own private fortune of nearly a hundred thousand pounds. Against that Eccles pleaded that he had been but the agent of a group, and had only profited by his commissions. He refused, at that stage, to state who his clients were.
All this time Gideah Brading remained in hiding. An inquisitive young constable, living in the Fitzroy district, watched the actions of a man who came to lodge near by his home. Guessing largely, he accosted the man by the name of "Gideah Brading," and learned his shot in the dark was right.
Pettington, Eccles and Brading stood in the dock to face a formidable list of charges. Very patiently the barristers for the Crown traced the various involved threads of finance. They established a motive, and the means whereby that motive had been worked out, but they could not trace the huge sums of money taken from the general public. Out of a capitalisation of well over a million pounds, less than five thousand pounds had recovered.
After a very feeble defence, Pettington was sentenced to fifteen years' penal servitude. Eccles and Brading received sentences of ten years each. The sentences were light. Life, or a public lynching, would have better met the public taste.
Pettington walked from the dock—to freedom. He descended the steps from the dock to the underground passage to the prison. He never entered that prison. How he escaped is one of the mysteries of Victorian police history.
Eccles served two years of the sentence imposed on him. Then, one day, he walked through the prison gates, and disappeared. Gideah Brading served his sentence, receiving full remission because of his excellent conduct.
Pettington and Eccles went free and, with them, hundreds of thousands of the public money. They had eight years' start on Brading, eight years to enjoy their ill-gotten gains. Had they thought of the man who remained in prison to serve out his sentence?
Gideah Brading had been released about eighteen months before his death. It was probable he had sought out his former associates, demanding a share in the plunder. The letter in the note-case concealed in the swag beside the Inlet, showed that he received large sums of money from some unknown source. The last payment was the sum of £500, placed in the wooden box concealed beneath the sands at the bluff.
"Somewhere in the history of Gideah Brading you will find the clue to the Phantom Launch."
The clue. Was the Phantom Launch owned by Pettington, Eccles, and Brading? Possibly not the latter, for there was reason to believe the speed-boat had been used in the murder of the ex-bank manager. Remained Eccles and Pettington. Were they the owners of the boat? Had they a reason to get rid of Gideah Brading? If so, what was that reason? Why had two of the criminals combined against their late comrade—the one of the three who had failed to escape the clutches of the law?
Francis Delaney Hawson had disembarked from the mail boat to the Phantom Launch. What were his relations with Wallace Pettington and Simon Eccles? Was he Pettington or Eccles? If so, then who was Austin Chosen, who had deliberately referred to Francis Delaney Hawson by his first names only?
THE history of Gideah Brading, as shown in the papers relating to the Pettington frauds, did not throw much light on the mystery of the Phantom Launch and the murders at Yaney's Inlet. There was nothing to show how a high-powered speed-boat could be of use to the three scoundrels who had escaped with the loot from the Pettington companies.
Between the murders and the Phantom Launch there was a slight connection. The Phantom Launch had been outside the Heads at the assured time of the murder of Gideah Brading. It was suggested that the launch was outside the Heads at the time of the murder of Constable Smith, although Austin Chosen declared that the boat had gone up the river. If Austin Chosen's theory was correct, the one link connecting the Phantom Launch with the murder of Gideah Brading was missing.
There was much against Chosen's theory. The letter found in the man's swag at Yaney's Inlet showed that the ex-convict expected to find a large sum of money hidden somewhere about the Inlet; hidden in a place he knew. Lister and Weston had found that place, and the money. It was the wooden box hidden under the sands near the bluff.
The box formed a definite link in the chain of evidence. Constable Phelps had seen the men from the Phantom Launch working at a similar box, hidden in similar circumstances under the cliff at Myella Cove. It was absurd to imagine that any two bodies of men were interested in hiding similar boxes in similar positions. Constable Smith had met his death by the sudden arrival of the Phantom Launch at the bluff on the Inlet. More than probable he had been caught unawares by the pirates, and had attempted to arrest them. They had shot him down, and fled.
Who composed the crew of the Phantom Launch? Presuming that Gideah Brading had sought out his comrades in crime, after his release from imprisonment, it was certain he had demanded his share of the plunder, and possibly, recompense for the long term of imprisonment he had served while his partners had gone free. There might have been a dispute over money. Brading might have used threats—for he was the only one of the trio who had no cause to fear the law. In desperation, Wallace Pettington and Simon Eccles, fearing betrayal, had planned the ex-convict's death. The wording of the letter gave grounds for such a supposition.
So far, Lister and Weston found their theory correct, but now they had to fit into the reconstruction the problem of Francis Delaney Hawson, and his evasion of the Customs and Health Authorities, through the Phantom Launch. Unless they could fit that incident into the puzzle correctly, the whole of their theory fell to the ground.
Was Francis Delaney Hawson the one-time Melbourne financier, Wallace Pettington? If that was so, the jig-saw pieces of the puzzle fitted admirably. The proof of that would lie in the various Government departments of the States. A wealthy squatter could be easily traced. To complete their theory, they had to show that Wallace Pettington and Francis Hawson had not had separate existences.
Lister was convinced that here their reconstruction failed. Austin Chosen was interested in the tracking down and conviction of the men who owned the Phantom Launch. He had declared them desperate criminals—grave dangers to the community. Yet the interview the expert had witnessed between the Mystery Man and the squatter showed that Austin Chosen knew the man and his history, and held him to be a separate entity in the problems they were trying to fathom.
"What did Francis Hawson take from the mail boat?" Lister asked the question suddenly.
"Take?" Weston roused himself from the reverie into which he had fallen after the reading of the Gideah Brading records. "What do you mean?"
"What luggage did Hawson take from the mail boat to the Phantom Launch?" repeated the expert. "I'm wondering if any of the cases he transferred contained dutiable goods."
A reference to the file of the Pictorial on a side table showed that Hawson was reported to have thrown a suitcase on to the deck of the launch before leaving the mail boat. The newspaper man turned to the telephone.
"What's the game, Tony?"
"Customs. I want to know what stuff Hawson left on board the Arathusa when he did his flit."
"Dangerous." Lister was silent a moment. "Try the shipping office. Customs might smell a rat and inform the police. They would search and possibly make known the results of their search. Then friend Hawson would know we were on his trail. The shipping office will probably answer through a clerk, and he will take your inquiries as newspaper stuff."
Weston nodded. He had his hand on the phone when the door opened and a boy entered carrying a wet-proof photograph. The two men bent over the photograph. Lister and his helpers had been wonderfully successful.
Francis Hawson stood on the doorstep of Millington Chambers, looking down on the man accosting him. He showed as a medium height, stockily-built man with a round ruddy face. His body was over-developed, and on the weary face showed lines of early dissipation, accentuated by the recent worry. He wore an air of dejection, possibly due to the manner in which Austin Chosen had turned down his appeal for help.
"Now for the luggage question," Weston turned to the telephone again. A few minutes later he replaced the receiver and turned to his chum.
"Hawson's luggage is in the hands of the Customs authorities. The clerk says he does not think it has been opened, but is being held, pending the discovery of the owner. He wants to know if we have any knowledge of where the man is."
"What did the suitcase contain?" asked the expert, musingly.
"Dope?—Snow?" The journalist looked at his chum questioningly.
"Not good enough. Hawson is one of the 'big bugs' of the State, probably has more money than he knows what to do with. Snow-running may be profitable, but it would mean little to a man like him. He's got all the money he wants, and more."
"Then he doesn't belong to New South Wales," grinned Weston. "I get around among a good many of the well-gilded ones, and I never found one to answer to the call of 'enough.'"
"Who is Francis Delaney Hawson?" asked the expert, curiously. "I know what we believe—that he is one of the biggest squatters of the State. But what do the records show about him? Can we connect him with the Pettington frauds through those records?"
Weston reached up to the shelf of reference books.
"Here's your man," he answered, after a few minutes' search. "'Hawson, Francis Delaney, born 1890, unmarried. Clubs, Carlton and National. Hobbies, golf and work. Town residence, clubs. Stations, Myollongowera, near Bourke; Wollangerera, near Bourke; Wyono—Heavens! The man owns half the western district."
"Might wear a different complexion, if that book recorded the mortgages. It would improve the interest—and dim the lustre of a few shining stars."
"What's the game, Syd? You wouldn't listen to me when I cast a suspicion of smuggling on the man. Now you seem to be trying to retract your words."
"Who is Francis Delaney Hawson?" Lister was striding up and down the little room. "When did he commence to acquire this list of lands? I'm thinking—"
"Wallace Pettington?" Weston sat up suddenly. "That's where the money went. Lor! What a game. Embezzlement, trial, sentence, escape, and reappearance as one of the richest squatters in Australia. If only we can prove it."
"When did he get Myollongowera and the other places? Who were his parents? Where did he come from?" Lister halted in his restless pacing of the room. "Again, Tony, where is Simon Eccles?"
"Simon Eccles! I'd forgotten him." Weston stared thoughtfully at the wet photograph on his desk. "Eccles was not the man to allow Pettington to get away with the plunder. The file shows that. Take the facts. Pettington had all the arrangements made for a getaway in the case of conviction. He did not trust his associates with those arrangements. That's certain. Pettington goes free. Simon Eccles and Gideah Brading go to prison. Simon Eccles serves two years and then escapes, disappearing as completely as Pettington did. You're not going to tell me that Wallace Pettington did not have a hand in Eccles' escape. The matter was too clean-cut to have been arranged from within the prison."
"Poor devil!" Lister spoke slowly. He had sat down, and his chair was tilted back against the partition. "It took two years for him to realise that he was serving a sentence while the leader of the gang had gone free. Can you see the situation, Tony? Eccles in prison suddenly learns that Pettington is free. Did Pettington let him know that, and warn him that he was planning for his release? I don't think so. I believe that Eccles learned the news through one of the underground channels prisoners have for communicating with the outside world."
"Pettington double-crossed him?" Weston spoke emphatically. "The interval of time was too great for it to be otherwise."
"Exactly." Lister was speaking quickly. "Eccles gets to know that Pettington has abandoned him to serve a long sentence, while he is enjoying the fruits of the frauds. Eccles gets in touch with Wallace Pettington, and insists that the master scoundrel gets him free. Now, why does Pettington obey Eccles's demands?"
"I'm guessing that Pettington never hid for a day. He had all his plans worked out before the trial. He knew how he was to escape, and where he was to go. The whole thing was worked out down to the last trouser-button."
"That's so. Pettington never hid for a day. That's something like evidence that he assumed a position of such prominence that he would be above suspicion. Let us take it that he became Francis Delaney Hawson."
"I believe you're right."
Weston whistled softly. "By Jove! Eccles couldn't have been very pleased when he learned his late chief was safe and wealthy."
"I guess he wasn't." Lister could not help laughing. "We'll take it that a year elapsed after the prison gates closed on Simon Eccles before he got in touch with Wallace Pettington. Then Pettington had to say whether he was willing to help his late associate to escape."
"My tip, he wasn't." Weston brought his hand down heavily on the desk. "You've hit it, Syd. Perhaps more than one message passed between Eccles in prison and Pettington outside. Pettington hesitated. To enter into any scheme for Eccles breaking prison would certainly endanger his own safety."
"So Eccles put the screw on. Pettington had to arrange the escape—or—join him in prison. That mystery's solved."
"But we're just as much in the dark regarding the Phantom Launch and Pettington's connection with that boat as we were when we started," objected Weston, almost angrily. "There's only one thing to be done. I'm going to have those boxes opened. There may be some clue in them that will lead us to the heart of the mystery."
Weston turned to the telephone. Lister put out his hand as if to check him, but drew it back. No great damage would be done by an examination of the contents of the boxes Francis Hawson had brought from abroad. Weston was a newspaper man, and his position carried with it certain privileges, indefinite but valuable. The Customs authorities might demur. They had the matter in their hands. They could open the boxes, and tell the journalist just as little, or as much, as they chose regarding the contents.
"They're not opened yet." Weston turned from the instrument. "The Customs plead the police have the matter in hand, and that they don't want to act except in strict accordance with police wishes. Of course, that's all fudge. We know now who Francis Hawson is. One of the 'big bugs' of the country. Possibly there's a lot of influence being used to squash any proceedings and hand over the luggage unexamined. Don't suit me. I'm going down there, Syd. Coming? They'll open those boxes, or I'll know what they're up to."
One of the boys entered the office, and threw the early edition of the Evening Moon on the table. Weston picked it up carelessly, and opened it. Suddenly he gave a shout, and turned the paper so that Lister could see the bold headline—
FRANCIS HAWSON ARRESTED FOR SMUGGLING
"ARRESTED for smuggling!" The two men looked at the headline, incredulously. "What the devil do the Customs think they are after?" exclaimed Weston.
"Why not?" Lister looked up from reading the few lines on the front page of the Moon. "On the face of it there appears to be a fair case against the squatter."
"That may be." Weston hesitated. "You know as well as I do that smuggling in a case such as this is but a matter of a fine, especially with a 'big' man, like Hawson. Ordinarily, the authorities would proceed by summons. A warrant is—well, it's out of all reason on the facts. There's something behind all this."
"A lot, if what we suspect is correct." Lister sat back in his chair and clasped his hands behind his head. "I suppose you realise that if Hawson is Pettington the authorities have made something like a haul. Prove that Hawson bought the stations he now possesses out of the embezzled money, and you have a scoop that will arouse Australia."
"What if Hawson is Eccles?"
"The same applies. Looks to me as if there were charges of embezzlement, fraud, smuggling, and murder hanging over the man, whatever his true name is, if he is Pettington, Eccles, or Hawson."
"That's all got to be proved." Weston laughed as he turned to the telephone. "Wonder when the case will be brought on? I want to be there."
"This photo's good." Lister picked the print off the table, and scanned the features of the squatter carefully. "Let me have one of these as soon as possible, old man. I'm off."
"Where are you going?" Weston looked up from the instrument.
"To prove that Hawson is not Pettington." Lister turned at the door, and laughed at the surprised look on his chum's face.
It was early in the afternoon, and Lister had not lunched. That ceremony could wait. His mind was filled with the one question. What was the connection between Hawson and Pettington? If they were one and the same man, then he had acquired his interests in the stations around Bourke before the collapse of the Pettington companies. A search at the Titles Office would solve that problem. Lister made his way to the big offices in Queen's Square.
An hour later the expert walked down to Pitt street and caught the tram for the Quay. The affair was still more involved: Francis Delaney Hawson had inherited Myollongowera and other property from a Matthew Hawson in the year 1916. In later years he had added other stations, and now held a considerable area of land in the Bourke district.
If Hawson was Pettington, then the latter was an assumed name. There was, however, the inheritance to be accounted for. Men of the old squatter families did not usually want money—least of all money obtained by fraud.
Hawson was not Pettington, nor was he Eccles. The supposition, in face of what he had discovered, was absurd. For a man, inheritor of large squatting interests, to enter the Melbourne business world; to take a prominent place in the State's social life; to have advertised himself and his companies, as Pettington had done, would have been to court almost certain detection. Hawson was not a fool, although he might be a rogue. He was not a fool, or he could not have developed the Myollongowera property to the big estate it now was.
Lister took the ferry to Balmoral. He wanted to see Constable Phelps and find out if anything had been heard of the Phantom Launch and the box that had been hidden under the sands at Myella Cove. More than ever he was convinced that only by the capture of the Phantom Launch would they solve the mystery of the complicated series of happenings leading up to the shooting of Constable Smith at Yaney's Inlet.
Phelps was not at the police station, and the young constable, who alone represented the majesty of the law at the office, did not appear to have any knowledge of where he was. The duty book recorded him as being on "special duty." Sergeant Miller had gone to town. He might be back any minute, or he might not return until late at night.
For the moment Lister was undecided what to do. Then he turned down to Bateson's boatsheds, and got out his little power-boat, the Cue. Almost mechanically, he turned up Middle Harbour, and passed under Spit Bridge. The Water Police boats had been withdrawn, and the constable on duty at the bridge leaned carelessly against one of the posts.
It was late in the afternoon, but the summer sun would not set for some hours yet. Lister had no special object in his mind. He was puzzled and perplexed, and had thought a few hours on the water might help to relax his brain. To come up Middle Harbour had been natural. There, the Phantom Launch had taken refuge, and there he might chance on some clue that would help him to solve the many questions that chased continually through his head.
The Cue ran sweetly, and soon Lister passed into that maze of islets and waterways known as Killarney. He had to slacken speed, for outside the main channels the waters were dangerous. For a long time he dodged in and out among the islands, his brain resting on the wonderful and beautiful views, opening as the boat sped along. He had passed out of the frequented areas of the harbour, and only occasionally he caught sight of a habitation. Twice he turned up inlets, to have to retrace his way to the main channels.
At the north end of a long, well-wooded islet he caught sight of a low boatshed, well overhanging the water. There were no houses nearby, and he rather wondered at the shed being in that lonely spot. Reducing speed, he crept slowly in until almost against the rickety landing stage beside the shed. Against one of the posts a nearly new manila rope was coiled, the end tied round the post. The shed was locked, and looked as if rarely used. A few turns of the screw and Lister came alongside the steps. He sprang out and fastened the launch.
The door on the land side of the shed was locked and barred. The wood of the building had shrunken, and through the cracks the expert was able to view the interior of the shed. A few odds and ends were scattered about, but there were no petrol tins, and no masts nor sails. Yet, he was certain a boat had sheltered there within the past few days.
Leaving the shed, Lister wandered around the small island. It was a tiny place not more than an acre in extent, but well wooded. To the west he could see a low point of land jutting out into the Harbour, the waters sweeping around on either side. Away north a broad sheet of water stretched out, and up towards the end of it he could see the glint of sands.
He had come to associate sand with the activities of the Phantom Launch. Returning to the Cue he turned into the inlet and cautiously made his way towards the little beach. To his surprise he found deep water under his keel, and the channel widened out. Later it narrowed and came to the sand patch.
Shutting off power, Lister allowed the boat to come to gentle rest on the sands. He took the anchor overboard and carried it to the beach and made it secure. Then he looked around him.
The beach was deserted; it looked as if it had never known human foot. Lister explored it from end to end, finally turning into the bush behind the low bank. The place seemed to be a wilderness of low trees and undergrowth, difficult to penetrate. For some distance he fought his way in then, tired of the struggle to advance, he turned and struck an angle to come out at the beach at a different point to where he had entered the bush. A few yards from the bank he crossed a small path.
It could hardly be termed a path. A mere beating down of the rather thick undergrowth, leading into the bush towards some remote point. Yet, it had been travelled recently.
Had the crew of the Phantom Launch used this path? It was possible. They had been in Middle Harbour some hours. They might have a house on one of the banks; it was still more likely they had camped in the open, using the place as a temporary refuge. They might have one of the mysterious wooden boxes hidden up the Harbour.
Lister halted, almost inclined to return to the sands and institute a search for the box. He decided he would first learn where the path led.
The track dodged between the trees for some two hundred yards, then came out on a small clearing at the foot of a low hill. The sides of the hill were bare of trees, but the track remained fairly plain up to the top of the hill. There it finished. For some time Lister scouted about, but could find no further traces of it.
From the top of the hill, he could see for some distance around him. He was higher in the air than he had thought—it was apparent the ground had steadily sloped upwards from the water's edge. Away to the south-east he could see some chimneys and the tops of buildings, probably at Manly. Far over on the other side of the Harbour, he traced the long line of hills along which the railway crawls on the way to Hornsby. Closer in he could see a few houses, but near at hand the country seemed to be deserted.
The path had led nowhere. Descending the hill, Lister had some difficulty in finding the track through the bush. He got on to it at length, and walked down towards where his boat was anchored. Half-way, he halted suddenly.
He had been so keen in following the track to the top of the hill that he had been blind to all else. Now, he discovered that there was a track leading from the one he had followed, away to his right. Hesitating a moment, he decided to follow it. The new track led downhill and finished on the banks of a little creek, beside a pool of fresh water. Scattered around the end of the path were unmistakable signs of a recent camp.
For some time, Lister wandered round the spot. The camp had been very recent. The ashes of the last fire were still fresh, and beside the pool stood a quart billy with fresh smoke on the outside. The interior was clean and bright except for the few spots of rust just forming.
If the Phantom Launch had a shelter in Middle Harbour, then this was it. Yet would they chance the almost certainty of discovery by anchoring the speed-launch beside the small beach?
Was there any connection between the deserted boatshed and the camp behind the beach? Lister wondered. There might be such a connection, but it would not be easily discovered—The crew of the Phantom Launch were too clever for that.
If such a connection existed, then it would be more easily discovered from the boatshed. Lister waded out to the Cue, and backed the boat down the channel, until he could turn. Then he sped down to the boatshed and tied up again at the rickety wharf. He was determined to gain an entrance to the shed.
The door of the shed was fastened. Lister walked round the three land sides, seeking some entrance. At several points, warped boards allowed a view of the interior, but he could not force a way in.
Again at the stage Lister examined the water-front of the building. The tide had fallen since he had first arrived there, and the doors barely reached to the water surface. There might be a chance of getting in that way. He jumped into his boat, and pushed out a little, sounding the depths with a boat hook. It was deep, much deeper than he imagined. With the small draught of the Phantom Launch it would be possible for the boat to enter the shed at all tides. The shed was plenty big enough to hold her.
For the crew of the Phantom Launch to occupy the boatshed was to run the risk of discovery, and capture. Yet that risk had not been hers until after the transference of Francis Hawson from the mail boat. In a flash the solution came to the expert. The shed had been the home of the Phantom Launch while the speed-boat was in Middle Harbour. After they had learned that the police were blockading Middle Harbour, and before the dash for freedom, they had camped by the little creek.
Returning to the island, Lister carefully quartered the land. Almost in the centre of the land, hidden in the thick growth of trees, he found what he sought. There had been a permanent camp there, now dismantled. A camp that showed signs of use over long periods.
This island, then, had been the headquarters of the crew of the Phantom Launch. They had deserted it when they knew the harbour was to be searched. They had gone to the spit of sand at the head of the inlet and, possibly, had toured the harbour for some place where the speed-boat could lay sheltered throughout the police search. Not discovering a place where they could be reasonably certain the Phantom Launch would be safe, they had decided on the mad dash out of the harbour.
The boatshed was his next objective. Returning to the Cue, Lister stripped and dived into the water. A few strokes, and he was at the water-doors of the building. A dive and he came up inside the gloomy shed.
There were signs that the place had been stripped of everything that could give any clue to the activities of the Phantom Launch. At one time there had been a small worktable in the shed. On a shelf he found wires jutting out of the wall. The crew of the Phantom Launch had possessed a wireless receiving plant. The marks of the earth wire showed plainly on the walls.
Once back on the Cue, Lister dressed and landed. He walked around the shed, and some little way into the bush. A few minutes showed where the aerials had hung front the trees.
One of the trees had been barked, and the smooth wood carved strangely. Twin hearts had been cut, and in one the name "Bill Stump" engraved. The other heart bore the sign, "F T 14."
For some time Lister studied the marks. They were not the work of vandal trippers. For one thing, the island was far from the track of casual visitors. Again, why had one of the trees supporting the aerials been used for such a purpose? The expert satisfied himself that, for a big distance around, other trees had not been interfered with in a similar manner.
The engravings had a cryptic message. Lister's thoughts travelled to the camp by the creek, and then back to the sandy beach. He turned and made for his boat. A few minutes later he stood against the bank behind the sands. Yes. There was a low blackened stump. He had noticed it when he first came to the beach, but had not examined it. Some saplings were growing close around it. He forced them to one side, bending down. A patch on the stump had been cleared of the charcoal, and on it had been engraved the twin hearts bearing the signs.
"Bill Stump." That referred to the blackened stump. Next came "F T 14."
Lister tore one of the saplings from the roots, and peeled and sharpened the thin end. On the sands he measured 14 feet from the low bank directly under the stump, and straight out to the water. He thrust in the stake, and immediately found his arm violently jarred. Had he found a stone, or one of the mysterious boxes?
A QUARTER of an hour later, Lister uncovered another of the mysterious wooden boxes he had come to associate with the Phantom Launch. Delving down the side, he came on one of the handles, and strove to pull the box out of the hole. It would not move. He scooped the sand from round the box, and again tried to lift it. The box was firmly fixed.
Lister felt in his pockets. After the discovery of the second box at Yaney's Inlet he had taken the key Weston had opened the box with to a locksmith, and had had a skeleton key made to fit similar locks. He carried this key on his chain. It required some manipulation, but at length there came a slight click, and the bolt flew back. Lister lifted the lid. As he expected, the box was empty.
The expert sat before the empty box for some time, striving to reason out its use to the Phantom Launch. The boxes seemed so meaningless, yet so full of significance and danger.
In the case of the two boxes, at Myella Cove and Yaney's Inlet, it had been possible to lift them out on the sands. This box was immovable. It had been anchored deeply into the sands. Why?
Rising to his feet, Lister braced himself and strained on the handle. He could not move the box. He examined the interior again, first drawing on the rubber gloves he had used at the Inlet. The sides of the box were of uncommon thickness, while the lid was of average-sized wood.
Inch by inch the expert went over the interior of the box. It Had been carefully put together, the joints exactly squared, and the surfaces smoothed. Yet this was not the work of an expert box-builder; an amateur had made it, taking particular regard to the finish of his work. Absolutely mystified, Lister locked the box and covered it with the sand. So far as he was able, he obliterated all signs of his presence on the sand patch.
Lister backed the Cue into deep water and turned. It was growing dark, and he wanted to get home as soon as possible. Arriving at the boatshed, he handed over the launch to the man in charge and walked up towards his house. Half-way he met Constable Phelps.
"You were looking for me, Mr. Lister?"
"Yes. Come up to the house." The expert led the way to his sitting-room. Ah Sam slipped noiselessly into the room with a tray of glasses and the soda siphon. "Do you remember the Pettington fraud cases, Phelps?"
"There's something at the back of my mind," the constable said, after some minutes' thought. "Pettington? Let me see."
"Pettington, Simon Eccles, and Gideah Brading."
"Gideah Brading?" Phelps jumped up from his chair. "The Sergeant's just heard from Headquarters that the man found dead at Yaney's Inlet was named Brading."
"The same man. Now, keep this under your hat, Phelps. I want to get hold of photographs of all three men. Can you manage it without making it too official?"
"That's to say you want to keep what you know from the authorities for a time." Phelps thought for a few moments. "Going back into the newspaper game, Mr. Lister?"
"Not that I know of." Lister hesitated. "I have a hunch that the Pettington people are mixed up in this matter of the Phantom Launch. Keep what I tell you to yourself, Phelps, and get me the information I want, and you shall have my information, exclusive, when the time to act arrives."
"Good." The constable swung round and held out his hand. "I've a pal in the Melbourne Force, and I'll drop him a line tonight. He'll get the information, but he'll want to share in the kudos."
"That's for you to arrange," laughed the expert. "There's a mint of money to be discovered, and the whereabouts of two convicted criminals."
"That's it!" Phelps turned suddenly. "Pettington! I remember now. Wallace Pettington. The man who escaped from the court dock. The thing was in my mind all the time, but it happened before I joined the force."
The constable went off to write his letters. He had hardly turned out of the road before Weston walked up to the door. He had brought with him the photograph of Francis Hawson.
Weston listened gravely while Lister recounted his afternoon's adventure. He made no comment, but at the end of the expert's recital stated be had wired to Melbourne for all information about the three criminals. He had also sent a copy of the photograph to Austin Chosen.
"What's Chosen's wireless call?" the newspaper man asked, abruptly.
"Austin Chosen?" Lister tried to think. "Yes, he told me he had an experimental set, but I don't remember seeing his name on the list. Funny! Come to the wireless room, old man. I have a list there."
Austin Chosen was not the registered owner of an experimental set. Lister sat back in his chair and frowned thoughtfully. The authorities were very careful that all transmitting sets were properly registered and recorded.
"Looks as if Austin Chosen was a 'pirate,'" laughed Weston. "Maybe, though, his name is kept off the list for some reason or other."
"You should know." Lister swung round on his chum. "Surely your sister has spoken of it to you."
"That's where you're mistaken." Weston looked grave. "When she went to work with Austin Chosen there was some promise given. Ysobel never talks about anything at her office. She refuses to answer any questions about Austin Chosen whatever. Fact. I asked her some questions one day, thinking I could get a good general article on the man, and she told me plainly that I was out of court—all subjects taboo."
Lister turned to his big transmitter and swung the dials. He was certain that Austin Chosen intended to communicate with him over the air. Possibly, had it not been for the unexpected intrusion of Francis Hawson, the Mystery Man would have given him his private call signal.
"One thing puzzles me." Weston spoke suddenly. "Why did the men of the Phantom Launch remove the box from Myella Cove?"
It was a question that had puzzled Lister many times. There was a definite purpose in placing the boxes under the sands at various spots around Sydney. He believed there were other boxes still to be discovered. What purpose was being served by the apparently aimless placing of empty boxes in the sands of the harbours? They bore some definite connection to the work of the Phantom Launch. Of that he was certain; but what was the connection? He rose from his seat and walked to the window. The moon was high in the sky, making the surrounding country almost as light as day.
"Let us have a look at the box at Myella Cove," he said, turning to the newspaper man. "Phelps thought he knew where the box was buried, but I'm not so certain. He may have made a mistake."
"Good-o!" Weston rose to his feet quickly. "There's nothing else to do. Might as well have a hunt for the box. Later we may get a message from Chosen on the air."
They walked down to the boatshed and took out the Cue. Weston had made many journeys in the little power-boat, and immediately took over the engines, leaving Lister to feel a way in through the dangerous reefs. They beached the boat gently and carried the anchor ashore. This visit Lister made no pretence at a fishing excursion. If the box had really been removed, the crew of the Phantom Launch knew the police had discovered the box, and were probably watching.
Lister had brought with him two pointed sticks. A few minutes, and they located the constable's mark on the cliff. Remembering the marks he had found in Middle Harbour, Lister paced off fourteen feet and drove his stick deeply into the sands, close to the cliff.
Very carefully they probed the sand in a half-circle of fifteen feet from the mark, driving in the sticks at about twelve inch intervals. Weston worked steadily for some time, but when the untouched space contracted to a few feet, he put down his stick and walked to the face of the cliff. Just as Lister was making the final probes, the newspaper man called to him.
"Come and have a look at this, Lister. There's something damned queer here."
He was standing close against the cliff, about twenty feet from the mark Phelps had made on the cliff face. When Lister came up the journalist pointed to a mark, very similar the one Phelps declared he had made.
"That's queer." Lister took his torch from his pocket and swept the light along the face of the cliffs. "You go that way, Tony, and I'll work back to where the mark we worked around is. There seems to be no doubt but that Phelps was observed from the Phantom Launch or the shore, the night he saw the men working at the box."
"You think the beggars came ashore and dug up the box?" Weston frowned thoughtfully. "No, there's no sense in that. Those marks have another meaning."
Working towards opposite ends of the cove, the two men carefully examined the rock-face. They found no fewer than nine similar signs drawn on the rocks.
"What do you make of it, Syd?" The two men had come together where Phelps' mark showed on the cliff.
Lister did not answer. For some moments he stood gazing at the mark and at the holes they had dug in the sands. After a time he approached the cliff and slowly paced along for about twenty yards in each direction. At a point he stopped and called to the journalist.
"What's this, Tony?"
Weston added the power of his torch to Lister's. On the rock was a tracing of fine criss-cross lines, apparently the work of some idle youth. The expert left Weston examining the marks, and walked down to the water's edge. There he turned and surveyed the face of the cliffs.
"Come here, Tony." He turned his chum to face the Phelps mark.
Two parts of the cliff were almost duplicates. They appeared in the moonlight to be two tall pillars reaching well up the face of the cliffs, between them a dark patch showing, very similar to a doorway.
"There's where Phelps went wrong." Lister laughed slightly. "When he came here with me he mistook one of those pillars for the other. On one of them is the cross-hatching, concealing the mark Phelps made. On the other is the false mark drawn by someone from the Phantom Launch, and designed to put Phelps off the scent if he came back to get the box."
"Then under here lies the box from the Phantom Launch!" exclaimed Weston, walking across to where the cross-hatching showed on the cliff. He drove his stick sharply into the sands, and dropped his hand at the jar on his elbow. "Jove, Syd! I believe I've hit it."
A few minutes' work and the wooden box was again revealed. Lister took out his skeleton key and opened the lock. The lid swung back. The box, like the others, was empty.
"Can you beat it?" Weston sat back on his haunches. "Three boxes buried in the sands at various points, and all of them empty."
Lister did not answer. He had donned his rubber gloves and was feeling round the interior of the box. Presently he pulled off the gloves, and started to clear the sands from the sides of the box.
"Give me a hand, Tony. I want this box on the top. It's not as innocent as I supposed."
For some minutes the two men tugged and strained, but the box would not move. It was firmly anchored into the sands.
"Thought so." Lister felt in his pocket tor his penknife. Opening it, he carefully donned the gloves again, and bent to the box. "Look out, Tony. Something might happen."
The expert poised the knife in his hand, shielding his face with his arm. Suddenly he plunged the knife down into the wood at the bottom of the box. There was a slight report, and an intensely white flame leaped high in the air. For the moment the surroundings were brilliantly illuminated. Then darkness fell again. Lister was on his back on the sands, some distance from the box, insensible.
THE force of the explosion had thrown both men to the ground. After a few moments Weston, who had missed the full blast of the explosion, staggered to his feet and turned to look for his chum. Lister was lying close by, insensible. The journalist went to the water and brought some in his hat. Slowly he trickled the water on to the white, drawn face, and in a few minutes the expert opened his eyes.
"What the devil was in that box?" Weston asked the question, almost angrily. "Thought you knew better than to go monkeying with a thing like that."
Lister sat up on the sands and rubbed his eyes. He had escaped through his precaution of holding his arm across his face, but he was thoroughly shaken and nervous. Holding on to the journalist's arm, he staggered to his feet and walked over to where the box still lay in the hole. It had not been shattered by the explosion, but lay in its original position, some of the woodwork smouldering slowly.
"Interesting." Lister dropped to his knees and peered into the box. "Say, Tony, get some water and put out that fire. I don't want the box destroyed."
"What are you going to do with it?"
"Bury it again." The expert half turned to Weston. "Get busy, old chap. A bit of charring will not be noticed, but if it spreads too far those chaps will begin to wonder. The explosion won't matter. They'll think something went wrong with their apparatus. But if the box is too much burned they may suspect that someone knows as much as they do."
"Then it isn't me." Weston went down for the water and returned with a hat-full. "I haven't a notion of what it's all about."
"Two or three days in my workshop will make the thing plain." In spite of his accident, Lister seemed relieved and happy. "The man who is running this business has brains."
The smouldering was quickly extinguished, Lister taking care that very little water splashed into the box. When he was satisfied that the fire was extinguished, he scooped the sand back into the hole, after re-locking the box. Finally, he cleaned up all footmarks on the beach.
"That'll do." The two men were standing at the edge of the water, looking back towards the cliff. "The tide will wash out these footprints. Get in, Tony. I'll shove her off."
In almost silence the two men returned to Balmoral. Lister led the way through his house to the wireless shed.
"Eleven o'clock." Lister looked at the ship's clock, hanging on the wall. "We've had something of a day, Tony, and it's not finished yet."
"Suppose I'm not to know the secret of the boxes." Weston looked curiously at his chum. "You seem to be keeping a lot to yourself, Syd."
"I'd rather not talk until I'm sure." Lister seated himself before the big transmitter. "There are a few nebulous ideas that must be tested by experiment. Leave me alone for a couple of days, and I may be able to give you a big story. Now, open up the 'eight-valve,' Tony. See what the broadcasters have for us to-night."
In a few seconds one of the big Sydney programmes filled the little room. Lister sat listening for a while. Then he switched the transmitter on to a loud-speaker and set at neutral. He crossed to where the wireless directory hung on the wall, and studied it in silence.
"Thought so," he exclaimed, partly to himself. "Austin Chosen has managed to keep his set off the directory. Do you know, Tony, there's half a dozen of the big amateur experimental sets not on this list. The Government give them exemptions for State reasons."
"That so?" Weston had picked up the Broadcaster programme, and was tuning to get the best volume of sound.
"What about a trip to the Inlet tomorrow?"
"What for?" Weston turned suddenly. "Again there's a big idea I fail to catch."
"To see if the box at the Inlet is as firmly fixed in the sands as the other two."
"Any more monkeying about with penknives? If so, I beg to be excused. The Pictorial has the absurd idea that my life is of some value in the newspaper world."
"Guarantees given." Lister laughed and crossed to the transmitter. "Shut off that noise. I'm going to try to get Austin Chosen."
Lister sat down and fitted the earphones. He had switched on power and drawn the microphone to him, when his call sounded:—
For some minutes Lister did not answer. He sat before the instrument, a puzzled frown on his face. Was it Austin Chosen speaking, or one of the numerous amateur experimenters who sometimes called him? If Austin Chosen, all well and good; but he did not want to be interrupted by others. He could not tell them, abruptly, to get off the wave, and while he was dealing with them he might miss the Mystery Man.
"Tune in to my wave length, old man," he said quietly. "That will leave my instrument free if it is not Austin Chosen."
Lister brought the transmitter into action and gave his name. Immediately the loud speaker on the receiving set answered:—
"Not too bad. Tune down to 85 metres. A.C. speaking."
A sign from Lister and Weston cut out the eight valve. The expert tuned on to the required length and waited. A pause and the Mystery Man spoke again.
"Sydney Lister. What have you discovered? Mention no names and be as brief as you can."
Briefly, and in a manner he believed only Austin Chosen would understand, Lister gave a resume of his and Weston's work during the day. The Mystery Man listened in silence until the report was finished.
"So you think F.H. is W. P.? You'll have to prove that."
"You've seen the man. What is your opinion? You know him, Mr. Chosen."
"I know him." There was a grimness in the tone. "I know no good of him, if that is what you mean. How about that box? What do you mean to do with it?"
"Nothing. I don't think the men will discover that it has been touched. They will think the destruction was caused by some error of their apparatus. I mean to go down to Yaney's Inlet as soon as possible. I have a faint idea of the use these boxes are being put to, but would not like to give an opinion until I have had the time to make a few experiments."
"Don't try penknife experiments." A slight chuckle accompanied the words. "You may not escape the second time."
Lister laughed. He had been lucky in escaping from serious injury that evening. When he had stabbed his penknife into the wood he had known he took a serious risk. It had been a sudden impulse, and he had paid for it with intolerable stinging over his face and hands.
"What is the next step?" he asked abruptly.
"Go on along your own lines for the present. Trace W.P., F.H., and the Phantom Launch. I am working along another thread of the tangled skein. In time our work will meet, and we shall be able to continue together to the end. Remember, Lister, this is not some ordinary mystery, but roots deeply into the unknown."
"A mystery, sure enough." interjected Weston aloud.
"Who's there?" The question came over the air, fraught with anxiety.
"Tony Weston." Lister answered as quietly as he could.
"He's all right. Don't let anyone into your wireless room except him, that is, unless you first advise me. That's all. Use your call-sign in doubles to call me, and then tune down to the present wave-length. Understand?"
"Surely you can give me some better information about the matter. I feel I am working in the dark," protested the expert.
There was no answer. Lister tried to get in touch again, using his call-sign, as instructed, in doubles. After a time one of the many wireless amateurs answered, and Lister was compelled to carry on a technical conversation for a few minutes. Making an excuse, he shut the instrument down and turned to the newspaper man.
"What do you make of things, Tony?"
"Queer business," the journalist replied after some thought. "Austin Chosen has always been a queer bird. You say he knew Hawson when he walked in on him."
"Not a doubt of that."
"Then, if he knows the man, he knows whether he is Wallace Pettington or not." Weston spoke emphatically. "Though Austin Chosen is just as like as not to deny knowledge until he is prepared to speak fully."
"Silver Swan! Silver Swan!" The words came delicately over the air. Lister held up his hand, enjoining silence.
The words were followed by the regular "tick, tick" of a watch held against the microphone. Lister drew a pad towards him and wrote a few words hurriedly. Weston leaned forward to read them, then nodded. He turned to the eight valve, and tuned to 37 metres. There was no sound from the loud-speaker. Lister raised his hand into the air and Weston looked puzzled. The expert again raised his hand, and the journalist caught his meaning. Slowly he raised the wave-length until at 56 metres the loud-speaker came in with the "tick, tick-"'
Lister cut out his transmitter, setting the machine at neutral. For some moments he hesitated, listening to the soft "tick, tick." He took his watch and hung it against the microphone. Then he waited with his finger on the switch. Immediately the "tick, tick" ceased he threw on power and sent the ticking of his watch on the air. Counting the ticks he closed down on the sixty-fifth tick. Again came the soft voice.
"Silver Swan! Silver Swan!"
The expert threw out the switch and turned to his chum.
"Who was that speaking, Tony?"
There was no need to ask the question. Weston's face was expressive of intense amazement.
"Why, that was Yso—"
AGAIN the low, familiar voice came over the air:—
"Pirates' Bay! Pirates' Bay!" Then followed one of the queer intervals Lister was slowly beginning to understand. "Pirates' Bay! Silver Swan!"
THE usual list of drunks and minor offences were being quickly cleared at No. 1. Central Police Court when Weston steered Lister up to the reporters' table. They had only a few minutes to wait before the name of Francis Delaney Hawson way called. The man Lister had seen in the mirror on Ysobel Weston's desk rose from a seat behind the solicitors' table. A tall, thin, long-faced man also rose to his feet, intimating that he represented the defendant, and applied for permission for Hawson to remain seated behind the solicitors' table. He asked for a remand on bail for seven days.
Curtis Hinde, the well-known representative of the Crown Law Department half-rose and murmured that he would not oppose. There was a slight rustle of papers, and the magistrate wrote a few words in his casebook. Hawson was whispering, angrily, to his solicitor.
"Your Worship." Hawson turned from his solicitor to the magistrate. "I want to protest. I'm here, and I don't want to mess about with the matter week after week. Why can't the case be heard now?"
"Look out for ructions." Weston bent towards Lister and whispered. "The man's mad."
"You are represented by your solicitor, Mr. Rawlins, I believe."
The long man rose gravely to his feet, and bowed.
"I have advised my client that a remand is necessary to completely answer the charges," he said in a melancholy voice. "He does not appear to have confidence in me."
"It's nonsense." Hawson was working himself into a temper. "I'm willing to admit I jumped the mail boat on to a launch and came to land in it. What's all the trouble about?"
"You are charged with smuggling, evading the Customs examination, and entering the country without undergoing the necessary medical examination." The Stipendiary magistrate, Mr. Yessell looked at the defendant over his spectacles. "Are you prepared to plead guilty?"
"If you worship pleases." The level melancholy voice broke in on the excited speech of the defendant. "Mr. Hawson has placed his interests in my hands—"
"But I can't wait. I may not be able to—"
"Do you not realise that you are on bail at present." The magistrate interrupted quickly. "What do you mean by saying that you may not be here at the adjourned hearing?"
"I may be prevented." Hawson sat down sullenly.
"Very extraordinary!" Mr. Yessell lifted his eyebrows in interrogation of the defending solicitor. "Mr. Rawlins. I—"
There was almost complete silence in court for a couple of minutes. The Crown Law representative headed towards Rawlins and whispered a few words. The solicitor nodded.
"If your Worship pleases. I am afraid my client it not in the best of health."
"All nonsense." Hawson was on his feet again, gesticulating wildly. "I'm willing to go into the box." He came round the table, walking irregularly, and looking wildly around him.
"Where is it?"
A policeman caught him by the arm, and looked up at the magistrate for instructions.
"Are you prepared to go on with the case, Mr. Hinde?" The magistrate turned abruptly to the Crown Law representative.
"Yes, sir. But to meet the convenience of my learned friend I am prepared to consent to an adjournment of seven days."
"You wish for an adjournment, Mr. Rawlins?"
"Yes, your Worship." The solicitor bent almost double over the table. "I have only had time for one short interview with my client, and that did not impress me."
"Impress you? What do you mean?" The magistrate asked the question sharply.
"I do not consider my client is in a state of health to be allowed to plead. I suggest an adjournment for seven days, and in that period I will undertake to have my client placed under medical care. I hope at the adjourned hearing Mr. Hawson will be—er—less excited."
"I want to make a statement." Hawson was struggling against the detaining hands of the constable. For a moment the magistrate sat undecided. Then he nodded to the constable.
"I am inclined to agree with Mr. Rawlins." Mr. Yessell spoke slowly. "The defendant has admitted evading the Customs, pleading against the advice of his solicitor. The course I am about to take is unusual, but I shall allow Mr. Hawson to make a statement. After I have heard what the defendant has to say I may decide that further proceedings are unnecessary. The defendant is certainly ill."
"May I ask that the case be proceeded with at once." Curtis Hinde was on his feet. "I withdraw my consent to an adjournment."
The magistrate looked at the defending solicitor. Mr. Rawlins shrugged his narrow shoulders and sat down, abruptly. Mr. Hinde whispered a few words to him as he rose to his feet.
The Crown Law representative confined his evidence to the evasion of the Customs regulations by leaving the mail boat by the Phantom Launch. Captain Anstey was the first witness, and stated that the defendant had been a passenger on the voyage from England. Ship's officers followed and detailed the transferring from the mail boat to the launch, some three miles outside Sydney Heads. They swore that Hawson threw on the launch a large suit-case before be left the Arathusa.
"Are you going to place your client in the witness box, Mr. Rawlins?" The magistrate broke the long silence that followed the closing of the prosecution. Before the solicitor could answer, Hawson had left his seat and entered the witness box. With a shrug of resignation the solicitor got to his feet.
The squatter answered the opening questions of the examination calmly and intelligently. Suddenly, the solicitor hesitated, as if undecided how to proceed.
"You told the magistrate, a few minutes ago, that you wished to make a statement, Mr. Hawson?"
"You understand you are making that statement against my advice?"
"That is not a question you should put to your witness, Mr. Rawlins?" The magistrate, with difficulty, concealed a smile. The long solicitor bowed low again, and sat down. Circumstances were against him, and he was inclined to allow matters to take their course. His client had refused his advice; he was wealthy enough to pay the cost. Mr. Hinde rose to his feet and turned to the witness, but the magistrate motioned him to be seated.
"A little while ago you stated you might be prevented from attending the Court in the case of an adjournment." Mr. Yessell spoke quietly. "Will you explain what you meant by that remark?"
"I might not be allowed to come here again." Hawson spoke so low that it was almost difficult to bear him at the reporters' table.
"Who would prevent you? You understand you have to-day surrendered to your bail. If the case is adjourned you would, in the ordinary course, be released on the same bail."
"They would not let me come!" Again the answer was in little better than a whisper.
"They? Who are they?" The magistrate spoke sharply.
Hawson did not reply. He stood, almost trembling, in the witness box. staring into vacancy over the heads of the people at the back of the court. The magistrate repeated his question, but the man did not answer.
"I shall remand the defendant in custody for seven days," Mr. Yessell declared, after some thought. "The authorities should have him examined, and bring the doctors to the adjourned hearing. I shall require to hear them on the defendant's mental condition."
"I want to make a statement." The squatter turned sharply to the magistrate, almost shouting. "I will make a statement."
"Your Worship." Mr. Rawlins rose gravely. "May I suggest, as the case has proceeded so far, that the defendant be allowed to make his statement. It will not delay the time of the Court many minutes, and I believe that in the obvious state of my client's health, no cause should be given for further excitement."
"Very well." The magistrate turned to the man in the witness box. "I will hear you, but you must make your statement as short as possible."
Mr. Rawlins rose to his feet again, showing more decision than he had formerly exhibited. Almost brusquely, he turned to his client.
"You say you wish to make a Statement, Mr. Hawson. Will you commence by stating where you embarked on board the mail boat Arathusa?"
"In London. April the third." The squatter smiled quietly.
"How long had you been in London before embarking?"
"You had arrived in London from Australia?"
"Where had you been previous to your arrival in England?"
"In the United States of America."
"How long had you been there before going to England?"'
"About eighteen months."
Mr. Rawlins sat down with a look of bewilderment on his face, and to the Crown Law representative Hinde rose to his feet.
"I think we have heard enough, your Worship," he said in a low voice. "I shall instruct the department that Mr. Hawson is suffering from some mental trouble and is not in a position to be accountable for his actions."
"You mean that the prosecution withdraws Mr. Hinde." The magistrate looked perplexed. "Certainly the defendant appears to be suffering from mental excitement, but his statements up to the present appear to be perfectly lucid. In fact, I consider him a most intelligent witness, answering the questions put to him clearly and fully and without the unnecessary explanations most witnesses in this court seem to think necessary."
"I must apologise, your Worship. I should have placed certain information before you before withdrawing—information that makes my attitude perfectly clear. With your permission I will ask the defendant two questions and hand to him a document—" The Crown Law officer turned to Hawson.
"You stated you were in the United States of America during the past eighteen months, and came to Sydney on the mail boat, Arathusa, from London?"
"During that eighteen months you have not visited Australia?"
"Will you be so good as to read this telegram aloud?" The constable standing by the witness box stepped to the solicitors' table and took a telegram to the witness. Hawson produced a pair of spectacles and fitted them on his nose. He bent and read the telegram; his face flushed, and he violently crushed the paper into a ball.
"It's a lie—a lie."
"I thought so." Mr. Hinde smiled sightly. "Your Worship, the telegram is from the officer in charge of the police station at Bourke, and reads:
SQUATTER FRANCIS DELANEY HAWSON AT MYOLLONGOWERA STATION UP TO THREE WEEKS AGO. LEFT IN OWN CAR FOR SYDNEY. SPOKE TO HIM AS HE PASSED THROUGH BOURKE—CHATTERTON, OFFICER IN CHARGE POLICE, BOURKE.
WESTON had left the reporters' table, and was bending over Rawlins' shoulder. For some minutes he spoke rapidly and emphatically, the solicitor listening with a frown on his face. At length the newspaper man's arguments prevailed. Rawlins nodded slightly and sat up erect, watching the magistrate keenly. Weston returned to his seat.
"What's up, Tony?" Lister bent towards his chum.
"This mustn't stop, Syd. I've just had a word with Rawlins. He'll drive it through to the bitter end, now."
"The man doesn't know what he's saying?"
"That so?" Weston turned a grinning face towards his chum. "Now, I believe every word he said. Shut up and listen."
The magistrate had been studying the telegram. He smoothed it out carefully, and after a moment's thought handed it to the clerk.
"You say you have not been in Australia for about eighteen months?" asked the magistrate, gravely. "Yet the police of Bourke are certain you were there, and spoke to you three weeks ago. What is your answer to them?"
"It's a lie." Hawson spoke firmly, yet obviously exhausted by his recent outbursts of rage.
"Very peculiar." Mr. Yessell removed his glasses and rubbed the lenses carefully. "I am of the opinion the witness has sworn untruly, whether wilfully, or by reason of some mental illness, I am not prepared to state. Had not Mr. Hinde informed me he was satisfied that the defendant was not responsible for his actions, and that he was withdrawing the prosecution, I would have remanded the defendant—"
"If it pleases your Worship." Rawlins rose to his feet. "You will remember I was not satisfied to allow my client to make a statement. I waived my objection in deference to the apparent wishes of the Court. I now protest at the proceedings being stopped until my client's statement is complete. I believe there is an explanation to the apparent inconsistencies."
"You mean you will not agree to the Crown withdrawing the prosecution." Mr. Yessell looked surprised. "I am afraid you have not an—"
"I would like to consider my position at the end of my client's statement. I must ask you to look at the case as it now stands. The Crown, after agreeing that my client is not in a position to plead, now casts doubts on the defendant's truthfulness in a manner that indicates he is committing deliberate perjury; and in refutation of the statement produces a telegram purporting to come from the officer in charge of police at Bourke. In common fairness, I consider the statement should be continued to see if further evidence will not explain the inconsistency."
"Very well." The magistrate nodded to Mr. Hinde.
"Mr. Hawson." Curtis Hinde rose with obvious reluctance to continue his cross-examination. "You have denied that the statement contained in the telegram from the police officer at Bourke is correct. Will you state when you were last in Melbourne?"
"About a week ago. When the Arathusa was in port."
"You were not there a fortnight ago?"
"Do you know this man?" Curtis Hinde turned to one of the side benches and motioned to a police officer to stand up.
"You were not talking to him on the morning of the day the mail boat left Melbourne for Sydney?"
"No. I have never seen him before."
"You are prepared to swear you did not have a conversation with him at the Central Police Station, Melbourne, a fortnight ago?"
"No. I have told you I have never seen the man before."
"Do you remember losing a pocket book containing a large sum of money while in Melbourne, and going to inform the police of your loss."
"And that, while at the Central Police Station, you detailed your movements to this officer, informing him you had left Myollongowera five days previous, arriving at Melbourne on the previous day?"
"No, I was not in Melbourne during the time you mention. I arrived there on the mail boat, and was only ashore for a few hours."
There was so great a ring of truth in the man's voice that Lister looked at Weston, in amazement. Was it possible that this man was not Francis Delaney Hawson, who owned the string of stations in the far west of the State? Something of this must have occurred to Curtis Hinde.
"Mr. Hawson. Do you own property in this State?"
"A station named Myollongowera, in the Bourke district, for instance?"
"Yes, and other stations thereabouts."
"You have not been near them for the past eighteen months?"
"That is so."
"Who manages them?"
"I have several managers, each in complete control of his station. Then there is a general manager who resides at Myollongowera."
"It would not be possible for anyone to impersonate you at Myollongowera, say, for some weeks? I mean, there is no one you are aware of who could impersonate you to the Sergeant of Police at Bourke?"
"Now we will take the transferring from the mail boat to the launch. Er—I believe it is now commonly referred to by the name of the Phantom Launch. Let me see, Mr. Hawson. What is the name at the launch?"
"It has no name."
"Who owns it?"
"Where is it?"
"I don't know."
"You have a launch fit to go to sea and do not know where it is, or its name?"
"It may be at one of several places. The boat was not built when I went to America, so I could not possibly know the name."
"You are aware that the police are in search of it? That a warrant has been issued for the arrest of the boat and its crew?"
"I have heard so."
"You will accept service of that warrant on behalf of the boat and the crew?"
"I don't know what they have done. It's my boat."
"How did you come to have the Phantom Launch waiting to take you off the mail boat outside the Heads? Did you wire from Melbourne for the boat to meet you?"
"Did you know it would come out of the harbour to meet you?"
"What reason had you for leaving the mail boat for the launch, when you had not ordered it to meet you?"
"I was called."
"You were called? What do you mean?" The magistrate had been restless for some minutes, and broke in on the cross-examination crossly.
"They called me."
"This is ridiculous." Mr. Yessell was now very angry. "I believe the defendant is suffering from delusions, or deliberately playing with the time of the Court. I am going to remand him for seven days for medical observation."
"May I point out to your Worship that the defendant is very well known and connected in the State, and owns considerable property. I suggest that he be remanded on bail so that his own medical attendants may have control of him." Rawlins spoke softly, but for the first time he appeared to take some interest in the case. "I will give any guarantee that the Crown medical authorities have all reasonable access to him. The matter of bail can be arranged to any amount."
"Has he friends in Court?" The magistrate looked round the room curiously. "If he has, I shall be glad to have one of them before me. Really, the defendant has induced a doubt in my mind as to whether he is the person he purports to be."
An elderly man seated beside Mr. Rawlins rose to his feet and bowed to the magistrate.
"I am willing to go bail for Mr. Francis Hawson," he said, slowly. "My name is Archdale Staines, and I am a solicitor, practising at Bourke, in this State."
"You know the defendant?"
"I know Mr. Hawson very intimately. I have known him all my life, and I knew his uncle before him. I have been in charge of the legal business of the Hawson estates for the past forty years."
"When did you see Mr. Hawson last—I mean, before seeing him after the issue of the warrant?"
"I saw Mr. Hawson about three weeks ago. He came into my office at Bourke. He was on his way to Melbourne. We had quite a long conversation."
"You are not aware that Mr. Hawson has been in the United States of America during the past eighteen months?" Mr. Yessell asked the question with a quizzical glint in his eyes.
"I am not." Archdale Staines smiled slightly. "If you will accept my bail, sir, I will go surety to any amount, and hold my client at the disposal of the Crown medical examiners. I—I am afraid he is very ill."
The case ended. Hawson left the court between the two solicitors. As they passed out of the building Lister and Weston managed to get close to them. The journalist turned as if to speak to the squatter, but Rawlins waved him to one side. Weston ran down the steps before the small party, and turned to watch them advance. Lister followed more slowly. He had hardly reached his chum's side when he felt a slip of paper pressed into his hand. He turned quickly, but there was no one about whom he could suspect. He glanced down at the paper.
There was one line written on it:—
Come to me.—A.C.
LISTER passed the note to Weston. The newspaper man read it and then tore it in fragments. He was keenly watching Hawson and his solicitors; they were standing on the edge of the pavement in Liverpool street, waiting for a taxi to draw up. Weston waited a moment, and then motioned Lister to remain where he was. He stepped to the side of the Bourke solicitor, and spoke a few words in a low voice. The man turned sharply and asked a question. The journalist answered, a wry smile on his face. The two solicitors conferred for a minute. Then, as a taxi-car drew up to the pavement, Archdale Staines watched his companions enter, and then turned and joined Weston.
"I am prepared to hear what you have to say, Mr. Weston," he said, coldly. "The statement you have just made to me requires some explanation."
"Shall we go down to your offices, or adjourn to a 'Cabin' café-lounge. At this time of the day they are fairly free."
"The café, certainly." Staines looked round him. "I do not possess a Sydney office, although there is no doubt but that Mr. Rawlins would extend the courtesy of his offices to me."
There was a Cabin Café just round the corner in George Street, and Weston led the way to it. When they were seated he turned to the country solicitor.
"So Mr. Rawlins is your Sydney agent?"
"Not at all. My Sydney agents are Messrs. Brown, Atburn, and Brown, of Hunter Street."
"Ah!" Weston conveyed a lot of meaning in his exclamation. Staines looked up quickly.
"I quite understand, Mr. Weston." The old man smiled quietly. "You consider it strange that, after my firm's long association with the Hawson estates, Mr. Hawson should choose a stranger for today's proceedings."
"Don't you think so, too, Mr. Staines?" Weston was engaged in balancing his spoon on the edge of his cup.
"The ways of men are unfathomable." Archdale Staines smiled again. "When you come to my age, Mr. Weston, there are many things that will fail to surprise you. You said in the street that a more serious charge was likely to be laid against Mr. Hawson, and that you might possibly be able to assist him in refuting it."
"I may." The journalist hesitated. "May I ask how you happened to be at the hearing this morning?"
"Another matter passing strange," the old solicitor replied meditatively. "Five days ago I received a telegram, unsigned, at Bourke, stating that Mr. Hawson would be arrested for breaches of the Customs regulations, and that my presence was necessary in Sydney."
"Five days ago," exclaimed Lister. "I saw Mr. Hawson yesterday, some hours before he was arrested."
"Did you come down in deference to that telegram?" interrupted Weston, quickly.
"I did not." Staines spoke drily. "I am not in the habit of obeying the mandates of unsigned telegrams. The following day came another telegram, requiring my presence in Sydney. I did not connect the two telegrams, yet the second was a forgery."
"The supposition being that the sender of the first telegram, understanding you were not taking action on it, forged a telegram you would act on." Weston laughed. "Let me see. I suggest the telegram was signed by Mr. William Brown, your agent."
"Your guess is correct." Staines looked slightly surprised. "I do not understand the basis on which your deductions are made, but—well, things have advanced since my days."
"You came to Sydney; found that no charge had been laid against your client; discovered that Mr. Brown had not sent the telegram; yet you remained in the city?"
"I heard of the charge of evading the Customs. I communicated with the authorities. They informed me that a warrant was out for the arrest of Mr. Hawson. I was in communication with them to have the warrant changed to a summons, of which I could take service, when they informed me that the police had located and arrested Mr. Hawson. I went to see Mr. Hawson, and bailed him out. The next day he informed me he had engaged Mr. Rawlins to defend him. Now, Mr. Weston, I have given you what information I have. You stated you had information for me."
For some minutes Weston sat, playing with his spoon. Suddenly he looked up.
"Mr. Staines," he said, slowly. "I am going to ask you to prepare for a great shock. This Customs prosecution is but the beginning of the trouble facing your client. I have reason to believe that within a few hours he will have to face a charge of murder."
"Murder?" The old solicitor rose from his seat, holding the edge of the table. "What, in God's name, do you mean?"
"You have read of the Yaney's Inlet murder?"
"Yes. He could have nothing to do with that."
"I am not so sure. The murdered man bore the name of Gideah Brading. Does that name convey nothing to you?"
"Gideah Brading?" The old solicitor blanched at the words. He recovered himself quickly. "I remember the name and the case, very well, Mr. Weston. It made a great sensation, some years ago."
"Gideah Brading came out of gaol some eighteen months ago."
"What connection could there be between Gideah Brading, of Victoria, and Francis Hawson, of New South Wales?"
"Are you sure there is none?" Weston spoke quickly, leaning forward over the marble-topped table. "Can you account for your client throughout his life?"
"Yes." The old man spoke firmly. "I knew Matthew Hawson when he was a young man building up a fine estate in the west. I knew Francis Delaney when he was a boy, visiting his uncle. I—"
"Francis Delaney!" Lister uttered an exclamation. "His name is now Hawson, then?"
"It is now. Matthew Hawson had no children. His wife died some years before him, and he formally adopted as his heir Francis Delaney, the son of his elder sister."
"Let me get this straight," interposed Weston. "Matthew Hawson founded the Hawson estates. He had two sisters. The elder sister had a son, Francis. Matthew Hawson adopted him, making him heir to the estates. Had Mrs. Delaney other children? Had her sister children?"
"Yes, to both questions." Staines mused for some minutes. "I see the point of your question. In view of the peculiar statements made by my client this morning you suggest that some relative assumed his name and personality?"
"What else can we suppose?" The journalist looked perplexed. "Francis Delaney Hawson was at Bourke three weeks ago. That is certified to by the Sergeant of Police in the town. He came—"
"Excuse me." Staines held up his hand. "I went further than that in my statement to the magistrate. You will remember that I informed the magistrate that Mr. Hawson called on me at my offices in Bourke within a few minutes of Sergeant Chatterton seeing him in the town."
"Yet Mr. Hawson claimed, under oath, that he had been in the United States of America during the past eighteen months, and had not visited Australia during that period." Weston spoke, emphatically. "Are we to assume that Mr. Hawson was deliberately trying to deceive the magistrate?"
"I am afraid—" Staines stopped suddenly, and changed his tone. "Mr. Weston, you are asking for evidence against my client."
"I am asking you to face facts," Weston declared, "You've got to look at them, or your client stands facing a charge of murder, with every chance of being committed for trial. I'm not going to conceal anything from you, Mr. Staines. If Mr. Lister and I go to the police with the information in our possession—and that, after the admissions made by your client in the witness box this morning—the case looks black against him."
"Mr. Hawson acknowledged he was the owner of the Phantom Launch—the boat that took him from the Arathusa. Mr. Lister and I, investigating the mystery surrounding the death of the man Gideah Brading at Yaney's Inlet, have certain information not yet conveyed to the police. That evidence will definitely link the Phantom Launch crew with the murder. You will remember, from what has been published, that the Phantom Launch was seen from Middle Head a few hours before the murder was committed. It was outside the Heads until long after the time of the murder. It then re-entered the harbour, and for some hours was bottled up in Middle Harbour. Then there is the acknowledged fact that the Phantom Launch took Mr. Hawson off the Arathusa and disappeared for some hours. Outside matters show that there is more than a probability that the Phantom Launch went to Yaney's Inlet during that time. Certain property of the Phantom Launch is buried at Yaney's Inlet. A letter in the possession of Gideah Brading links that property with the Phantom Launch, and gave a motive for the murder."
"Good heavens!" Staines sat bewildered, looking from one to the other of the men facing him. "Still, your evidence is only presumptive. You have to establish a link between Gideah Brading and Francis Hawson."
"An investigation of the Pettington frauds might do that, Mr. Staines."
"The Pettington frauds?"
"You have acknowledged that you are aware of the life of Gideah Brading. You are then aware that he was a confederate of Wallace Pettington. The motive of the murder was to do away with blackmail. We discovered a large sum of money in Brading's swag. We further found a letter stating where further large sums of money would be found. That letter indicates blackmail. We found the money. Couple that with the visit of the Phantom Launch to Yaney's Inlet at a time when Mr. Hawson was presumably on board, and your client has to face a fairly constructive case."
"That letter?" Staines leaned forward, eagerly.
"The letter is in the hands of the police," answered Weston. "I kept a copy of it."
The journalist took out his pocket book and extracted the scribbled copy of the letter found in the dead man's swag. Staines read it at a glance, and turned to face the newspaper man, his face white and set.
"You say you found the money?"
"What was the amount?"
"Five hundred pounds, in hundred-pound notes."
Archdale Staines sat thoughtfully silent for some minutes. Then he turned to the journalist.
"The Hawson estates have banking accounts in Sydney, Melbourne, and Bourke," he said, slowly. "Just after Mr. Hawson left Bourke I was surprised to hear that he had withdrawn the sum of five hundred pounds from the local bank—in hundred-pound notes."
THERE was a long silence following Archdale Staines' admission that Francis Hawson had, three weeks previously, drawn a large sum of money from the Bourke bank. Lister was frowning thoughtfully, and drawing an intricate diagram on the marble top of the table. Weston fidgeted uneasily in his chair.
"I am going to ask you gentlemen to keep counsel for a time," said Archdale Staines, after a long pause. "You will realise that there is no possibility of Francis Hawson getting away from Sydney. The police and the magistrate are convinced that he is not responsible for his actions. He will be carefully watched. I understand you will continue your investigations on behalf of your newspaper. At the present time your evidence is not conclusive. It might be sufficient to warrant the arrest of a free man, but Mr. Hawson is not free, and—"
The old solicitor hesitated. Weston looked up and nodded. Staines rose from his chair and held out his hand.
"It looks bad, Mr. Staines," the newspaper man said, haltingly. "As you say, the evidence we possess is not conclusive. Before you go, will you tell us what you know of the Phantom Launch?"
"There is little I can tell you." Staines stood upright against the table. "Francis Hawson is interested in mechanics: but he is not an inventor. The one clue I can give you is that Mostyn Delaney—"
"I understand," exclaimed Weston impulsively. "Mostyn Delaney. I was trying to connect the name. Mostyn Delaney is one of the finest electrical experts in Australia."
Archdale Staines did not answer. He shook hands with the two men and walked out of the café, leaning heavily on his stick. Weston looked after him with sympathy in his eyes.
"Poor old man. The last of the race of old family solicitors in Australia. They were a good race of men, Syd, caring muchly for the welfare of the families they served. It will break the old man's heart if we uncover tracks leading to the Hawson family, and there is more than a likelihood of that."
Lister nodded and led the way out of the café. On the pavement he turned to his chum.
"You're for Austin Chosen, I suppose?"
"Yes. And you?"
"Free for the time. Say, Syd, what about my running down to Yaney's Inlet and getting hold of that box?"
Lister walked along in silence for some yards. He was frightened at the boxes hidden in the sands around the city. They puzzled him, for he recognised in them some sinister activity he could, at present, only glimpse. He pulled the pair of rubber gloves out of his pocket.
"Have a go if you care to, old man, but for heaven's sake, be careful. Put on these gloves before you start to meddle with it, and when you find it, don't allow any metal near it, and don't touch it with your naked flesh. You saw what happened last night?"
"You've some theory about the boxes?"
"Just a theory, and that so wild and impossible that I dare not mention it, even to you. Use the gloves, and don't touch the notes, if they are still at the bottom of the box. Put everything back again before you leave, and don't leave footmarks about."
"Any more 'dont's?'" laughed the journalist.
To his surprise, Lister swung him round to face him on the pavement. The expert's face was pale and grave, and he spoke with great emphasis.
"Don't go there in any light spirit, Tony. There's big danger; danger I can only guess at. I'm not joking, old man. The moment you start to grope in that darned box your life's in the balance. I wouldn't insure you for five pence, if you paid a premium of four pence."
He stood on the road and watched Weston wave him from the tram. For some time after it passed from sight in the traffic the expert continued to stare after it. At last he shook himself together and walked down to Millington Chambers. At the first ring of the bell the door opened, and Lou Sing bowed before him.
Austin Chosen was asleep, so Ysobel Weston informed, when he entered her office. She sat before a typewriter working through a long report. Lister sat and watched her for some time, in silence. He was trying to understand this girl. At length, she completed her task and went back to her desk beside the window and sat, looking at him.
"What is the call-signal of your wireless, Miss Weston?" The expert asked the question abruptly.
"My call-signal, Mr. Lister?" The girl coloured slightly, "Tony has a five-valve set at home, but we have not a transmitting set."
"Then you spoke from here last night?" quickly retorted Lister.
"From here? I don't understand, Mr. Lister."
"Tony was in my workshop last night when I called Mr. Austin Chosen." Lister spoke in even, slow tones. "When Mr. Chosen cut out we tried to get in touch with 'Silver Swan,' and were successful."
"You got 'Silver Swan?'" The girl's face became strangely white, and she played nervously with the articles on the desk.
"Where is Pirates' Bay?" asked Lister in the same level voice.
"Miss Weston, Tony recognised your voice. There is not a shadow of a doubt. 'Silver Swan' is the Phantom Launch, and some arrangement was made over the air for Pirates' Bay. The voice was yours."
"Mr. Lister there?" The voice floated into the room, a hint of petulance in the tone "Send him in. He has been long in coming."
Without replying to Lister's deliberate accusation, Ysobel rose from her chair and opened the door leading into the Mystery Man's private room. As he passed her he caught a fleeting, enigmatic smile on her lips.
"So you've come at last." Austin Chosen rolled over on his couch and looked at the expert. His fingers played restlessly over the controls on the big switchboard. For the moment the room was brilliantly illuminated, and then the accustomed gloom shrouded it and its occupant. "I expected you to come here directly the Court case finished."
"You wanted me to report the case for you?" asked Lister, curiously. "I'm sorry. If you had—"
"If I had wanted you to report the case I would have said so?" snapped the Mystery Man, crossly. "When you came in Miss Weston was typing the report—a verbatim report I had made for me."
"Has she a report of the conversation Tony Weston and I had with Archdale Staines, after the Court case finished," asked Lister, half angrily.
"Archdale Staines." There was almost a softness in the man's voice as he uttered the name. "Archdale Staines. One of the best of men. A gentleman, and yet a servant of those who trust him. His sins be many, yet let them be forgiven to him. What had he to say?"
Lister briefly recounted the heads of the interview in the Cabin Café. Austin Chosen listened, intently. At the end of the recital he turned his face to the wall and lay silent for some minutes.
"Poor Archdale," he muttered. "It will break the old man's heart if Francis Delaney is convicted of the murder of Gideah Brading. His whole life is bound up in the service and integrity of the families he serves. Yet—yet. I cannot see—"
"You knew Francis Delaney Hawson before he came here?"
"I have known Francis Delaney all his life." Austin Chosen spoke thoughtfully. "A weak man, Sydney Lister, and a man with little but evil in him. I had thought to have sent you to Bourke to see Archdale Staines, but he came down—he came down."
"In answer to your telegrams?" Lister could not resist the thrust.
Austin Chosen moved his head towards Lister, and switched on the light again. This time he did not turn it off, but lay looking thoughtfully at the expert.
"I was right," he murmured. "Yes, Sydney Lister, I did telegraph to Archdale Staines to come to Sydney. That you have penetrated that much gives me hope my faith in you will be justified."
"Why not have telegraphed in your own name?"
"Because I did not wish Archdale Staines to come and see me." The answer came quickly. "Had he come here all our work would have collapsed. He serves faithfully."
"Mr. Chosen." Lister rose from his chair and paced thoughtfully up and down the room. "Are you acting squarely in this matter? I am not going to profess that you do not understand me. I have not the slightest doubt but that you are aware of what I said to Miss Weston a few minutes ago. I can only come to one of two conclusions. Either you know more than you are willing to admit of the mystery surrounding the death of Gideah Brading, and the speed boat we call the Phantom Launch, or you are in the confidence of—of—"
Lister hesitated. He had meant to ask the Mystery Man for his full confidence, and had drifted into a direct accusation of complicity in the criminal acts of the crew of the Phantom Launch. The man on the couch laughed lightly.
"You are accusing me of being hand in hand with the gang who work the Phantom Launch," he said. "Well, I'm not. I shall not deny I suspect much that you have little knowledge of. I shall not deny that I could place my hands on the man who killed Gideah Brading. But, today, I have no evidence. That is for you to obtain, Sydney Lister, and it is my brain that shall guide you to it."
"What of Ysobel Weston and the Silver Swan?" Lister asked the question boldly.
"Leave the girl out of it." Austin Chosen spoke quickly. "I know what you mean, but you have only a suspicion to go on. If it was Ysobel Weston's voice, then my brain directed that voice. She has her work, and does it well. Leave her alone, I say. Your task is the greater, and you have yet to accomplish it."
For the moment the expert was inclined to turn and leave the room. Austin Chosen had adopted a tone of insufferable superiority. Something of this must have shown in his face, for the Mystery Man turned to the switchboard and threw in a couple of switches. Immediately a dark slide slipped over the window, shutting out the remaining light. At the same time a brilliant beam of light came from high up on the wall, over the couch, and glowed on a silver sheet, revealed on the opposite wall.
For some seconds the light held steady; a vivid circle of brilliant whiteness. Then, within the circle, came a picture of the room in which Lister sat. The room was shrouded in darkness, through which, dimly, could be seen the form of the Mystery Man lying on his couch beneath the big switchboard. For twenty seconds the picture was still; then it began to flicker, and came to life.
The door opened, and Lister saw his pictured self enter the room. He saw the sudden burst of light with which Austin Chosen had flooded him on his first visit. He saw himself walk towards the couch—and disappear.
Again the door of the room opened, and into the picture stepped Francis Hawson. Again the scene he had witnessed in the mirror on Ysobel's desk was re-acted. The picture faded, to be replaced by an outdoor scene.
It was a street of some country town. The long line of low, single-storied buildings, the sky-line broken on occasions by two and three story buildings. Men were moving about, some listlessly, others with energy and speed. Occasional carts and motor-cars came and went.
The camera was fronting a well-built brick building, with the name of a bank in gilt letters on each of the two large windows. A pair of swing doors moved as the customers passed in and out. Two men came out of the door. One man was Archdale Staines, the solicitor, and the other Francis Hawson. For a few moments they stood talking. Then Francis Hawson crossed to where a large car waited in the sun. The solicitor turned and walked up the street.
The camera followed Francis Hawson as he stopped to speak to some acquaintance. A changed man from the shrinking, fearful coward who had stood in the witness box at the Central Police Court that day. In his home town he stood bold and arrogant, asserting his will with a consciousness of the power placed in his hands by the wealth he had inherited.
"Two Francis Delaneys," murmured the Mystery Man. "You have seen both. Can you read the riddle, Sydney Lister?"
A new picture quivered on the silver screen. Lister recognised one of the long reaches of the Parramatta River. A power-boat was coming down towards the camera, travelling at a high rate of speed. Suddenly, a small speck of white appeared in the far distance. It resolved itself into a curling mass of foam, growing larger and larger as it approached the camera with almost incredible speed. Rapidly it overhauled the power-boat and resolved into a large hydroplane. The camera swung with the passing boats, revealing the queer lines of the speed-launch travelling in a maze of swirling waters. The 'plane glistened brightly in the strong sunlight, tinted a brilliant, iridescent red.
"The Water Witch!" The exclamation burst from Lister's lips in uncontrollable amazement. Once before he had seen that marvellous engine of speed on Sydney waterways.
"The Water Witch." The Mystery Man echoed the words of the expert. "Mostyn Delaney's Water Witch, the fastest thing afloat in the Seven Seas. Can you read the riddle of the screen, Sydney Lister?"
"THE Water Witch!" Lister remembered the wonderful boat Mostyn Delaney had built and exhibited some years previous, on Sydney Harbour. A boat of incredible speed, but useless, except for small distance racing. A boat that could outpace any known craft in the world, but at the end of a bare mile floated uselessly on the waters, its energy exhausted.
The hydroplane had been acclaimed a marvel of engineering, but a freak, for it could not sustain its enormous initial burst of speed. The fault lay with the accumulators. They could not carry the amount of energy necessary for distances. Delaney had worked on her incessantly, confident that one day he would find the ideal, inexhaustible accumulator that would give his treasured invention the radius of the seas. He had worked—and, apparently, failed. Gradually popular enthusiasm had faded in the work, with the failure of the Inventor to fulfil the promises of success he had insisted on making. He and his Water Witch had dropped out of sight.
Yet Mostyn Delaney, or some successor at the work, had succeeded and created the Phantom Launch, a boat that contained all the speed of the Water Witch with the power of holding the seas for long lengths of time. More than probable the Water Witch lay in some boatshed near Sydney, dismantled and rotting. The Phantom Launch rode the seas around Sydney, a fugitive from justice.
Austin Chosen had placed in Sydney Lister's hands the clue he required to trace down the Phantom Launch. Mostyn Delaney had conceived the Water Witch. Only the genius of Mostyn Delaney could evolve the Phantom Launch. Many pieces of the puzzle were missing; many slender clues had to be gathered together before the Phantom Launch could be linked with the Water Witch and the wooden boxes hidden in the sands around Sydney waterways. One thing had been gained. The road lay open to be explored. There might be many twists and turns; often the trail might have to be uncovered from under the debris of years; but somewhere at the end of that road lay the solution of all the mysteries with which they were surrounded.
"Where is Mostyn Delaney?" Lister swung round on the man lying on the couch under the big switchboard.
"The Water Witch broke Mostyn Delaney's heart." Austin Chosen rolled restlessly on his couch. "He lives, I believe; he lives and works. Do you remember, Sydney Lister, that Mostyn Delaney never succeeded in any of his inventions. Always he showed the way, but another harvested. The Water Witch showed a new thought; did another reap?"
Lister turned abruptly on his heel and left the room. He must find Mostyn Delaney. Somewhere the man lived and worked. Once face to face with the electrical genius he would learn the secret endowing the Phantom Launch with her wonderful vitality. With that secret he would be able to hunt the boat down and capture it. The Phantom Launch in his hands, the solutions of the many problems would be near.
Francis Delaney, the brother of Mostyn Delaney; Francis Delaney, cringing and fearful, swearing away his own liberty in frenzied terror: Francis Delaney, arrogant and domineering, the small king of a country town. Was Francis Delaney the one-time Wallace Pettington? If so, then, indeed, the end was in sight.
Lister tried to picture the life of the squatter. Had it happened he had tired of the quiet life of the bush and gone to Melbourne determined to hew out success for himself? Had he entered the business world visioning a new countryside, progressive and wealthy? The ideals that had possessed Wallace Pettington seemed to be the dreams that would occur to a man brought up in intimate association with the land. Had Francis Delaney dreamed a dream, and under the assumed name of Wallace Pettington, thought to clothe it with living flesh?
What demon, in the heyday of his success, his companies booming, the public his obedient servants, had possessed the man to cast down that which he had built.
Francis Delaney, alias Wallace Pettington, had found himself the guiding spirit of a new country, progressing fast towards a golden era. Then had come the news that he had inherited, in another State, large acres of lands. They were his to do what he would with. The lands he ruled through his companies belonged to the shareholders. Had he been tempted to destroy in the certainty he could rebuild for himself that which he had built for others?
If the master criminal had reasoned thus, then he had found one flaw in his plans. Simon Eccles had discovered his intentions. Perhaps it had been necessary for Wallace Pettington to confide in the speculator. Simon Eccles had forced Pettington to release him from gaol. Pettington had thought it mattered little. He could hide Simon Eccles with himself, and go on with his plans of land-empire.
Then had come Gideah Brading, perhaps the least of the rogues. Brading had served his sentence and had been released. Some chance had led Brading to the hiding-place of his former associates. He had demanded his reward. It had been given, grudgingly. The man had grown arrogant with power. Of the three, he alone did not fear the law. He had repaid, through the long years of prison discipline. His demands had increased, coupled with menaces that he could walk free while they feared the shadow of a prison. In the last desperation it had been decided that Gideah Brading must die.
Thus far the puzzle was simple. The Phantom Launch complicated the mystery. It was impossible to believe the only use the rogues had made of the Phantom Launch was to lure Gideah Brading to his death. Somewhere there existed a definite reason for the speed launch.
Wallace Pettington had shown himself greedy and unscrupulous. Heir to a large and wealthy estate, he had coveted the wealth he had created through the Pettington companies. He could have withdrawn from the companies with reasonable security and reward, but he wanted all. To satisfy his desires he had allied himself with rogues, and deliberately wrecked that which he had created.
Lister was not satisfied with the theory he had erected. It held large, vacant spaces. For strength it depended on the association of Gideah Brading with Wallace Pettington, and the kinship of Francis and Mostyn Delaney. It pivoted on the assumption that Francis Delaney was Wallace Pettington. Even with those points conceded it did not explain the activities of the Phantom Launch.
One clue connected Francis Delaney with the Phantom Launch. Archdale Staines had declared that Francis Hawson had been interested in mechanics. Was it possible the squatter had financed Mostyn Delaney to success. Francis Hawson had gone abroad. Had Mostyn Delaney during that absence discovered the secret of the Phantom Launch, and built the boat? Had Mostyn Delaney written to his brother of his success, and had Mostyn Delaney, by some freak of his worn brain, staged the transhipment from the mail boat as proof of his success?
The theory was possible, but against it stood two impregnable witnesses. The officer in charge of police at Bourke and Archdale Staines were positive that Francis Hawson had been in Bourke within three weeks prior to the arrival of the Arathusa at Melbourne. They insisted that Francis Hawson had left Bourke to journey to Melbourne. A Melbourne police officer was prepared to testify that Francis Hawson was in the Victorian capital a fortnight before the mail boat reached that city. Had Curtis Hinde, the Crown Law official, been correct when he suggested that Francis Hawson had journeyed to Melbourne to join the mail boat? Against that could be placed the sworn evidence of the captain of the ship and his officers, that Francis Hawson had travelled on the boat from England to Australia.
Lister awoke from the reverie he had fallen into and found he had wandered up to Hyde Park. He crossed the green and walked down to Phillip Street, to call for Tony Weston. He found the journalist had not yet returned from Como. He had had barely time to accomplish the journey, make a proper examination of the wooden box, and return. The expert left the newspaper offices and walked to his club. There he dined and loitered about the rooms for some time.
A fit of restlessness possessed him. Leaving the club, he crossed to Balmoral. Ah Sam was busy in the kitchen. Lister nodded briefly as he crossed to the wireless room.
The evening programmes were on the air. Lister tried from one to the other, and then switched on to the big commercial stations. They were engaged in the usual heavy evening traffic. Idly the expert ran through the wave-lengths, searching for something among the wireless amateurs that would interest and distract his attention.
"Pirates' Bay." The words came to his mind suddenly. Where had he heard them. They had come over the air the previous evening. The girl had spoken them. Was she Ysobel Weston? Lister remembered that she had evaded an answer to his questions that day in Austin Chosen's offices. The Mystery Man had declared that the girl was accomplishing her tasks well and faithfully. He had warned him not to worry, or even consider, her.
Where was Tony Weston? He should have returned from Como by this time. There was an implied promise to ring up and report his discoveries anent the wooden box. Lister left the wireless room and went into the house. A call to the Pictorial offices resulted in the answer that nothing had been seen of Weston since early in the day. Lister asked to be informed immediately the journalist returned.
Weston might be at home. A search of the directory gave Weston's telephone number, at Balmoral. Lister put through an inquiry. Ysobel answered the call. Tony had not arrived home.
Quieting the girl's rising anxiety with the promise that he had to get into touch with Tony immediately, Lister rang off and stood beside the instrument, undecided how to act. He was blaming himself for allowing the journalist to go to Como alone. The boxes were dangerous, and Weston had but the most elementary knowledge of electrical science.
The trill of the telephone bell aroused him from his thoughts. Theodore Parker, the chief of staff at the Pictorial newspaper, was on the line. Lister's inquiry for Weston had been taken to him. Parker was worried. Weston should have reported back at the newspaper offices long since. Did Lister know where he had gone after leaving the court?
Weston's absence was getting serious. In a few words Lister advised Parker of the position, and promised to run down to Yaney's Inlet to discover if any mishap had occurred to the journalist. Then he put through a call to a city garage to have a fast car waiting for him at Circular Quay.
Almost at the street door Lister turned back. There was another avenue of inquiry he had not touched. He turned back to his wireless room and put through a call to Haslington, the wireless amateur at Sutherland. There occurred a long wait while the man telephoned to the police station.
"Lister?" The voice rang out of the air. "Yes. Weston was at the Sutherland Police Station this afternoon. He said he was going to the Inlet, and promised to telephone Inspector Mack from the Como Police Station. He did not do so. Any trouble?"
ANTHONY WESTON had disappeared. Was he to be added to the list of those who had perished at Yaney's Inlet? He had left town early in the afternoon, and should have returned between six and seven in the evening. That he had failed to do so was disquieting.
"Communicate Inspector Mack, if you please, Mr. Haslington. Tell him I am coming to Como right away. Will he please meet me at Yaney's Inlet? Have vicinity of Inlet guarded by men hidden in the bush. Warn everyone not to touch anything unusual near bluff. I have reason to believe there is something extremely dangerous hidden there. Thanks, very much. I would not have troubled you, but the matter is urgent."
Ten minutes later Lister boarded the ferry and went to Circular Quay. A fast motor-car was waiting for him. There was little traffic in the city at that lime of night, and soon they were tearing down Prince's Highway at top speed.
At Tom Ugly's punt they were met by Inspector Mack, who had driven up from Sutherland to meet them. The Inspector took them by a cross-country journey to the Inlet. At the clearing above the beach a constable came out of the bush and reported the vicinity quiet. At the bluff they found Constable Williams, of Como, seated in the dark shadows, his hands clasped round his knees. He rose to his feet as they approached.
"Not a sign of Mr. Weston," he reported, briefly. "I had a look round, and went as far as the old man's camp, but there wasn't a sign of him."
Lister looked to where the box lay hidden under the sands. The place had not been disturbed. Had Tony Weston been to the bluff, or had he been abducted on his way there from the Sutherland Police Station? The expert could hardly believe that, although Mitchell, the Pictorial's correspondent, had disappeared just as mysteriously. The men they were fighting were not fools; they would only take the aggressive when their liberty and lives were threatened.
For some minutes Lister examined the sands in the vicinity of the bluff. He would recognise Weston's footprints; the journalist had on a pair of shoes with rubber heels. Lister had noticed them in court that morning. He traced the footmarks of the constable and followed where he had walked round the bluff, and returned to the place where they found him sitting; but of Weston's shoes there was not a mark. Weston had not been down on the sands of the inlet, or, if he had been there, his footprints had been carefully obliterated.
Should he uncover the box? If he did so, he would have to take the Inspector and the constable into his confidence. Would they allow him to order things to his wishes? He did not want the box tampered with. So long as it lay under the sands, apparently unknown to everyone but the men who buried it, the box was a firm clue leading to the Phantom Launch. Sooner or later the crew of the vessel would come to the Inlet to work on the box. Then would occur the opportunity to surprise them and capture the launch.
Inspector Mack might consider the box vital evidence in the mystery surrounding the death of Gideah Brading. He might want to take it to Sutherland and have it examined by experts. News of the strange box would get into the newspapers and warn the men of the Phantom Launch. Yet, without knowing if the box had been tampered with, without knowing if the box held any part in the disappearance of Anthony Weston, he did not know how to act. Had Weston been down to the bluff that day? If so, in what direction had he gone?
Weston had come from Sydney in his car, but there was no sign of the car about the Inlet. There were no tracks on the long dirt road that led to the edge of the clearing above the beach. None of the constables had seen the car, or they would have reported its presence.
"I SUPPOSE you're here officially."
Lister turned to the Inspector, abruptly. "I'm not complaining. Inspector, but I would like to know if my actions are to be matter for an official report?"
"Rather a queer question, Mr. Lister." The keen, grey eyes of the police officer twinkled slightly as he turned to face the expert. "Just how far do you want to be outside official notice. You must remember you have called in the police to search for Mr. Weston."
"I want to be outside official observation regarding matters that do not affect the welfare of Mr. Weston. Look here, Inspector." Lister spoke impulsively. "Mr. Weston, Mr. Austin Chosen, and I, are together in the search for the Phantom Launch. We have discovered certain things we think at the present time should be kept entirely within our own knowledge. I have not the slightest objection to Robert Mack knowing of them, but I don't want them the matter of an official report to headquarters for the time."
"I have a certain discretion." The Inspector spoke thoughtfully. "How far do you want me to shut my eyes?"
"Would you have shut them to Gideah Brading's swag if by so doing you thought you could bring the murderer to justice?"
"Yes." The officer hesitated. "You are implying there is something hidden around here I do not know of? I'm beginning to understand Mr. Weston's tip to have the bluff watched, night and day."
Lister jumped up the low bank and brought a sapling from the bush. Peeling and sharpening the thin end, he walked to where he guessed the box to be hidden, and thrust it into the sands.
"You've heard of the box hidden at the foot of the cliff at Myella Cove—the box hidden by the men from the Phantom Launch?" The officer nodded assent. "Well, Weston and I found another of the boxes hidden here the other day."
"Perhaps this one vanished like that one did?"
"The Myella Cove box has not vanished." Lister laughed slightly. "All that happened was that Constable Phelps was watched, and his marks on the cliff face altered. When he went to get the box he was digging in a new place."
"Jove!" The Inspector broke into a broad grin. "And you found it later. Well, well!"
He watched the expert go over the ground, driving the pointed stick into the sand at regular intervals around a certain spot. At last the stick shivered in Lister's hands. Immediately the three men went on their knees and dragged out the sands with their hands. A few minutes and they had the lid of the box uncovered. Lister delved down one side of the box, and found the rope handle. He tried to draw the box to the surface, but it was firmly fixed.
"What's holding it?" The Inspector spoke angrily. "Wonder if we can burrow under it and find out what's got it anchored."
He commenced to work feverishly down the side of the box. Lister caught him by the arm, restrainingly.
"Have a care, Inspector. I sent you a message to be careful around the bluff. This is what I meant. First, we'll have a look at the inside."
The lock gave way under the urge of the master key. Lister raised the lid, and the three men peered inside. The interior was empty, save for the banknotes pinned to the wood at the bottom.
"What the devil!" The Inspector reached for the banknotes. Again Lister held him back.
"Leave them there, Mack. They make good bait. If you have a man watching the bluff from under cover, those notes may prove the lure that will induce Gideah Brading's murderer to walk into your hands."
"So, that's the game!" The Inspector sat back on his haunches. "This box was like it is now when you and Mr. Weston discovered it?"
"Except that it was free, and we were able to haul it to the surface—yes," replied Lister. "I'm speculating a bit on these boxes and the notes. It's possible that more than one of the crew of the Phantom Launch has knowledge of them. Cupidity may bring one of them to recover the notes. Then your men will capture him, and pave the way for a full revelation of the mystery of the Phantom Launch. That is what Tony Weston and I were waiting for, before we told you of the box."
"If anyone gets within five yards of that box without a talk with the police, I'll eat the box and all it contains." The Inspector spoke emphatically. "It's a good idea, Mr. Lister, although I'm sore you and Mr. Weston did not explain matters to me. That box is going to be guarded like the strong-room of the Commonwealth Bank."
"Good!" Lister lowered the lid of the box and locked it. "Don't let anyone monkey with that box, Mack. I nearly lost my sight tampering with the one in Myella Cove. Perhaps in a few days I shall solve its mysteries, and then we can handle it safely."
"But it's empty?" objected the officer.
"So far as we can see. I'm not willing to talk, at present; but I will say that, if any person ignorant of the secret of that box handled it carelessly, he is in great danger of his life. He'd better play with a charge of dynamite."
"I'll send for you to take it out of the sands." Inspector Mack smiled grimly. He turned to the constable. "You've heard Mr. Lister talk, Williams. Keep it under your hat. Anyone who tampers with the sands round here is asking for a personal interview with me at Sutherland. Get me?"
The constable looked up from scooping the sand over the box, and nodded. His face wore a very serious expression.
"Think Gideah Brading went that way, Mr. Lister?" Williams asked the question in a low voice.
"I don't know. I can't believe so." Lister looked perplexed. "If Brading went that way, who scooped the sand back over the box?"
"Scooped the sand back over the box?" The inspector repeated the words.
"Remember the wording of the letter found in Gideah Brading's swag." Lister spoke impressively. "He was to find the final payment in a place he knew of. There's five hundred pounds in this box. Is the box the hiding-place mentioned? Are the notes pinned to the bottom of the box the 'final payment'? Accept 'yes' as the answer to both questions, and attempt to reconstruct the crime. Brading gets the letter. He comes in search of the money. He opens the locked box, and sees the notes, pinned to the bottom. He goes to draw out the pins, and falls dead. Who closed and locked the box? Who covered the sand over the box?"
"Struth!" Williams passed his hand over his eyes. "That's a puzzle."
"Where are you going, Mr. Lister?" Inspector Mack asked the question, as Lister started to round the bluff.
"To the old man's camp. If Weston came here he found the box as we found it. Yet there are no signs that he came the track we followed. I looked on the dirt road for his tyre marks, and could not see them. I looked on the sands for the prints of his rubber-heeled shoes, and could not find them. He may have found another track that led him to the old man's camp without passing the bluff."
"There is another track." Williams spoke suddenly. "It leads past the Old House, and within a hundred yards of the camp. More than probable Mr. Weston found it and parked his car on it."
Lister turned suddenly to the man.
"Can you pick it up in the night, Williams? Lead over to the camp, and then, if there's nothing there we'll go on this road you speak of. What's the name of the place—the Old House?"
Williams had some little difficulty in locating the camp under the wan moonlight. Luckily the three men had pocket torches and immediately on arriving at the camp started a search for clues. At first sight the place looked as if no one had visited it since Lister and Weston had been there. At one place the expert thought he detected a faint footprint, but could not be certain. Presently he called to the officers.
"Nothing here," grumbled Mack. "Shall we go over to the Old House?"
Lister assented, and they started to move cautiously through the thick bush, Williams in the lead. For about a hundred yards they stumbled between the trees. They came out, then, on an old bush-road. On the soft sand, at the edge of the road, Lister's torch picked out the firm outline of a rubber-heeled shoe.
"Look, Mack," Lister focused his light on the mark. "Weston came past here. He was wearing rubber heels. That print was certainly made by his shoe. Now I understand-"
"What?" Inspector Mack looked puzzled.
"Weston's a good bushman." Lister laughed, in partial relief. "I noticed there were a lot of leaves around Brading's old camp, Weston was there, right enough. Before he left, he brushed out his footprints and scattered leaves over the places where he walked."
"What's that up the road?" Williams was peering towards the Inlet. On the side of the road, well up against the bush, showed a dark object. Lister was the first to reach it. It was Weston's motor-car—abandoned.
WESTON had parked his car beside the track that led from Como to the Old House. He had visited Gideah Brading's camp, and had then returned to the road—the toe of the shoe mark pointed away from the camp. Where had he gone to?
The journalist must have visited Brading's old camp early in the afternoon. From there he had gone to the bluff, and had found the wooden box safe in its hole in the sands. He had returned to the camp, and then to the track. Where then?
Estimating that Weston had spent an hour in the old camp and the bluff, he should have returned to Sydney not later than eight o'clock. But, for some reason, he had abandoned his car but a bare hundred yards from the camp. He had not left the vicinity of the Inlet. Possibly, something had attracted his attention, and he had gone on foot to make an examination. He had not returned to his car.
Where had he gone? The faint light of the moon had long since vanished from the sky; where the expert and the police officers stood they were shrouded in thick darkness. The only light they had came from their pocket torches, and they had been using them freely. It was possible they had only light for a very short time.
Lister walked ahead to where the car stood beside the dirt road. Some little distance further on there was a small clearing in the bush. There it would be possible to turn the car. He did not wish to disturb any tracks by backing the car down to where the track led into the camp. As he entered the car he saw the police officers had followed him, making, as he had, a wide detour to avoid any marks on or near the road.
A few words outlined his intentions. The constable went ahead to find out a road for the car. A zigzag course through the bush after some effort, brought them on to the dirt road again, well behind where Weston had come out on the road from the camp. Here Lister relinquished the wheel to the constable, directing him to follow the Inspector and himself, keeping the big lamps of the car focused on the road a few feet ahead of them.
Weston had not walked directly along the track. He had wandered from one side to the other of the rough road. At places he had turned into the bush, only to return to the road. It was easy to track him on the journey. The expert began to wonder where it was to end. A slight "hiss" from Williams caused them to halt.
"Road bends to the left, just ahead," he said when they went back to the car. "Goes away on a sharp angle. The Old House is some little distance around the corner. I don't know if there is anyone there, but I thought I should warn you. Once round the corner and the lights of the car will be visible from the house."
"Good." Lister thought a few moments. "Is anyone living there?"
"Don't know. I haven't been down here for donkey's years, but there was a rumour at Como a little while back that someone had bought the place. I didn't come out to see if it was true. Only too glad to have the place let. It was becoming a rest-house for hoboes."
"Park the car at the side of the track," Lister ordered, after a moment's thought. "We'll not risk disturbing anyone at the Old House. We'll manage somehow."
"That will be difficult." The Inspector had been peering round on the surface of the road by the light of his torch. "Got any idea where Mr. Weston is?"
"At the Old House." Lister spoke confidently. "I don't know why I say that, but I feel certain we shall find him there."
"At the Old House?" The Inspector looked surprised. "Do you suggest that Mr. Weston went to the Old House and walked into a trap? We're not living a detective romance, Mr. Lister?"
"Perhaps not." Lister spoke shortly. "Yet we are faced with two murders; two disappearances of persons investigating those murders; wooden boxes scattered around Sydney, hidden in the sands beside the waters; and a power-boat that sets at defiance all at present known laws of electrical energy. If you will find me a book written around similar subjects. Inspector, I shall be glad to read it."
Without waiting for an answer the expert withdrew his torch from his pocket, and marched on towards the corner of the road. Less than fifty yards before where they had halted the road bent at almost right angles to the direction in which they had been walking. Lister waited at the corner until the police officers came up to him. He had found the prints of Weston's shoes at the corner pointing down the new road.
"What's that?" The Inspector caught Lister's arm suddenly. "Did you see that light?"
"The Old House—" The answer came from Williams. "Looks like there's someone there."
"Then it was a light in one of the windows, for it came well off to the right, and high up."
"Over there is the Inlet." Lister stood gazing into the dark bush. "Wonder how far it is in a straight line to the water. Can't be many yards?"
"Know the Inlet well, Williams?" The Inspector asked the question.
"Sail into it sometimes. There's a heap of prawns always there, and plenty of fish. Appears to be a regular feeding ground for them-"
"Then you have some knowledge of the banks of the Inlet, along this part." The expert spoke carefully. "Above the bluff there is a patch of sand. That comes to a point under a low bank. What lies along the shore working towards the river? Any more sand?"
"No. The water comes right up to the foot of the bank. Most of the way there's quite a good depth of water along the bank. The land's irregular. At one or two places there are little cuts where the water laps on the land level. Anyone could land along the bank at any tide, but it would be a stiff climb at some places at low water. At other places, the low ones, the boat could run on to the land, and anyone step overboard on to the bank."
"Don't understand that light." The Inspector was staring down the road towards where the Old House stood. He turned his back on the place in the bush from where the light came, and pulled out his watch. A snap of his torch, and he replaced it in his pocket again. "Nearly half-past three. How about camping for an hour, Mr. Lister. Daylight then, and we'll have a better chance of getting at the truth of things."
"So will the people at the Old House." Lister took a step along the road. "I think we'll go on, Mack. I'd like to have a look at the place before daylight. Can you find the way in the dark, Williams?"
"Him?" The Inspector laughed. "Williams is a bushman, and like a cat in the dark. Came from the backblocks to the Force, and hasn't yet forgotten his early misdeeds."
The constable took the lead, and went down the road at a fair pace. At the end of about two hundred yards he halted, abruptly. When Lister got up to him he was standing with his hand resting on a corner post of a wire fence.
"Gate about fifty yards along here," he whispered. "Do you want to go up to the house?"
"Not through the gate," interposed Mack. "Where does this fence run?"
"Down to the water. About three hundred feet or a bit more."
"We'll go down the fence," decided the expert. "When we get to the water we'll cut across along the bank to the other fence and back along the road to the gate. If we find nothing to investigate we'll go inside the wire and have a look around."
Williams turned along the fence in the direction of the Inlet. In the deeper darkness that precedes the dawn the bush caught at them with a hundred hidden hands. Stumps sprang up under their feet, and continually they were swerving on to the long strands of barbed wire of the fence that tore the skin off their hands as they caught at it to prevent themselves from falling. They could only proceed very slowly, but at length they stood on the bank of the Inlet, and looked out over the darkened waters.
There was nothing moving on the Inlet. Lister passed through the fence, followed by his comrades. Williams stepped again in the lead, and led along the edge of the bank. The ground dipped slightly, and about thirty yards from the fence commenced to rise again.
A little light had appeared in the eastern sky, as yet not enough to help them. The slope was a long one, and over the crest the land descended again. At the bottom of the little hollow Lister halted. He thought the bush towards the house had assumed a denser character.
The two officers had gone on. Lister made to follow them, and stopped. There was something in the bush to the right. He tried to peer into the darkness and resolve what was there. The darkness was not caused by the Old House, for it stood back some way from the Inlet, near the road. They were close to the bank, and between them and the house was a long stretch of bush. Lister whistled softly. The officers stopped, and came back to where he was standing.
"What's that?" Lister pointed to the thick patch of bush
"Bush." Mack decided after a few moment's straining into the darkness.
"I don't think so." Lister turned up the hollow. The ground rose very slowly as they progressed. The expert fixed his eyes, on the thick blackness, and walked directly towards it. At the edge of the thickness he halted and looked around him.
The ground sloped back to the edge of the water, and, unlike the other gully they had passed, was entirely clear of trees and stumps, although the sides of the gully were fairly well timbered. This alone was suspicious. It was not a water-way, for no stream trickled down to the inlet. Naturally this gully should have been thickly encumbered with bush.
Lister turned towards the bush again and advanced another ten feet. He gave a low cry of astonishment. Behind a fringe of bush stood a low shed. Drawing his torch, the expert threw the light on the front of the shed. Now he understood. Before the doors of the shed, and attached to them in some manner he could not yet understand, was arranged a thickness of low bush. From the distant water anyone passing would believe he was looking at the virgin bush. Only from a position immediately before the doors could the imposture be detected. He stepped forward and threw the light of the torch along the sandy soil. Suddenly, he clutched the Inspector's arm.
Directly before the doors, and almost in the centre of the gully, was the mark of a rubber-heeled shoe.
WESTON had come from the bluff to the doors of the hidden shed. Why? Lister was certain that when the newspaper man had left Sydney he had been in ignorance of the Old House. He had come to Yaney's Inlet with the sole intention of examining the box hidden at the foot of the bluff.
What had lured the newspaper-man to the Old House? He had left no footmarks at the bluff, or at Gideah Brading's camp. At the camp they had found indications that he had been careful to obliterate all signs of his presence. Only along the road between the camp and the Old House had his footsteps showed plainly. Lister had watched to see if any other person had traversed the road since Weston had passed. He had seen nothing significant.
The trail from the motor-car to the bend in the road had wandered in a strange manner, from side to side of the road. It had looked as if Weston had been following some trail, yet nothing but his footmarks were to be seen: Except for the footmarks directly before the door of the shed there had been no footmarks in the bush along the banks of the Inlet.
Weston had come to the shed lying behind the Old House and close to the banks of the Inlet. The shed belonged to the Old House, for it stood within the enclosed grounds. The journalist's foot-mark lay almost on the threshold of the shed.
Lister turned to the shed again. Mack was working along the front of the doors; Williams had disappeared, but sounds from out the bush showed that he was circling the structure, possibly looking for some unguarded entrance.
"Where's that skeleton key you had at the bluff?" asked the Inspector, abruptly. "It might move this lock."
Lister handed over his keys, and stood watching the police officer work on the lock. The key was over-small for the wards, but the Inspector persevered. At length, there was a slight click, and he stood back, satisfied. He was about to reach forward and pull open the loosened doors when Lister stopped him.
"Be careful. Mack. We are dealing with some very dangerous criminals. If there is anything in this shed connected with them they are not likely to leave it unguarded. It might be as well to leave the examination of the shed until daylight."
"And let those brutes up at the house have a chance to get away? No, thank you. I'm going into this place."
"Careful, then. Get behind that door and pull it open when I give the word. There was a lot of truth in what the Inspector said."
The door moved easily. Lister watched the shed keenly as the door swung on its well-oiled hinges. He did not know what he was expecting, but he reasoned that they were facing some unknown danger, if, indeed, this place belonged to the crew of the Phantom Launch.
The early beams of the dawning day showed only a long shed, and to one side of it a huge bulk, covered with a tarpaulin. Pressing the trigger of his torch he threw the light on the bulk as he advanced cautiously. The Inspector came from behind the door and joined him, switching on his torch. Cautiously, they let their lights play over the hidden thing.
They might have been looking into a motor shed containing a large lorry—There was nothing dangerous or mysterious in it, save the big covered thing. Against the wall stood a large work table, and attached to it a strong vice. A little way along was a big lathe, and almost under it a small, yet powerful, electric motor. At the rear of the building had been erected a pile of tins.
There was an air of innocence over the place. Save for the covered thing there was nothing but what was contained in hundreds of garages in the district. The Inspector moved forward and untied one of the lugs, drawing back the covers as far as he could. On two small caterpillar tractors stood the Phantom Launch. Lister recognised it immediately. It was fully forty feet long, and built of some silver-grey substance. The expert placed his hand on the smooth, shining surface. It was metal. He tapped it with his penknife. It rang like steel. He scraped the surface. The knife-blade did not make a scratch.
Mack was moving around the tractors, releasing the ties of the oiled cover. Now he and Williams drew back the covers, revealing the graceful outlines of the mysterious pirate boat. Fore and aft it was decked, the centre of the vessel forming a small well. Lister found a foothold on the trolley, and lifted himself to the level of the deck. From where he stood he could not see into the well; only the long smooth line of the deck, broken by large hatches.
"The Phantom Launch." He uttered the words under his breath. Mack looked up quickly.
"You recognise it, Mr. Lister?"
"So far as anyone can. Remember, Phelps and I only saw it in the moonlight, far out on the waters of the harbour. Yet, I am prepared to swear it is the same boat."
"End of Part 1. Capture of the Phantom Launch." The Inspector chuckled gleefully. "Now we have the boat we'll have a look for the owners. They're up at the house, I suppose. Mr. Weston, too. Looks as if he got on the track of the launch, and they get him."
It was a reasonable explanation of Weston's disappearance. Lister tried to reconstruct the journalist's actions. Somewhere on the line of route he had learned there was another road to Yaney's Inlet that would bring him close to Gideah Brading's camp. He had found it and driven his car down to just past where the track led to the camp. From the camp he had wandered down to the bluff. It was possible he had been searching for the hidden box when he got on the track of the Phantom Launch.
Had the men from the Phantom Launch come on Weston while he was engaged in digging up the wooden box at the bluff? No. The footprints from the camp along the dirt road to the Old House forbade such a theory. Weston was not under restraint when he walked along that road.
Then, the Phantom Launch had come to the hidden shed while Weston was at the bluff. He had seen and recognised her in the distance, and had hurriedly restored the sands over the box and obliterated his footprints. He had hidden and watched the launch come to the little gully. He had seen it lifted from the waters on to the tractors and carried into the bush.
Certain he was on the track of the solution of the mysteries surrounding the Phantom Launch, Weston had not stopped to think of possible danger. He had determined to track the launch to its lair.
But, such an hypothesis contained a flaw. If Weston had seen the Phantom Launch on the waters, from the bluff he would have walked along the edge of the inlet until he came to the place where the boat had been carried up out of the waters. It seemed unreasonable that he could have so marked the spot that he could return to his motor car and the track down to the Old House. The only explanation was that he had knowledge of the Old House and its situation, and, on seeing the launch leaving the water, had guessed that it was being taken to some shelter near the Old House.
Inspector Mack and Williams were restoring the tarpaulins over the Phantom Launch, and re-tying the lugs. When they had finished they came and stood beside the expert, looking over the waters of the Inlet towards the dawning sun. Lister continued to stare straight before him. He was seeking answers to the many questions that thronged his brain. Why had Weston come direct to the Old House? Where was Pirates' Bay?
Lister turned sharply and walked to the opened shed. The light was now quite bright, and the interior of the shed, facing the east, brilliantly lit through the wide-opened doors. Carefully, he circled the building, scanning the various objects in the shed, and the walls. Over the work-table he found some memoranda scribbled on the walls. They seemed to apply to some branch of electrical science. Taking a pad and pencil from his pocket, he made a careful note of them.
Almost in the midst of them was a small map of Sydney, and the surrounding country, and on it had been traced two black lines in the form of an irregular cross. At the termination of each line had been placed an arrow-head. Another look round the shed, and the expert prepared to rejoin the police officers. Mack was showing signs of impatience.
"Ready, Mr. Lister." One wing of the doors had been closed, and Williams stood with his hand on the other wing, prepared to shut it when Lister came out. "If we don't look sharp those chaps at the house will awake, and then there'll be trouble."
"One minute, Mack. What about our footprints? Would it not be as well to wipe them out before we leave?"
"Why the trouble?" grumbled the Inspector. "If we're lucky we'll have the birds as well as their nest."
Almost immediately after he turned to the constable and spoke a few words. Williams went into the bush and broke off a bough of a tree. With it he obliterated all marks on the ground.
"Good enough," exclaimed the Inspector at length. "Take those marks out where we came up the gully, Williams. Mr. Lister and I will finish securing the shed. Then, when we leave, you can blot our steps out."
The second door was almost in place when Lister placed his hand on the Inspector's arm.
"What's that, Mack?"
From inside the shed came a low rustling—as if some animal was passing over shavings. The Inspector heard the sound, for he allowed the door to slip from his hands, and fall open. There was an interval of silence, and then the strange rustling came again.
"Damned queer." The Inspector lifted his hat from his head, and rubbed his forehead with the peak. "I had as idea I heard the same sound while you were examining the shed, but I passed it at the time."
Lister unbolted the shut wing of the door, and allowed it to awing open, flooding the shed with the morning light. So far as he could see there was nothing about. He entered the shed and searched it thoroughly, even looking under the trolleys.
"Look under there, Mack," he said quietly. "Can you see anything strange?"
"Can't see anything out of the ordinary." The Inspector was almost under the carriages.
"Notice those trolleys are electrically driven?"
"They've got motors," Mack answered as if he was making a concession.
"There's an electric dynamo attached to the lathe," suggested the expert.
"Suppose they use it to drive the lathe. But that doesn't explain that queer sound."
"I should like to know if you've ever known electric motors driven without being connected with some source of power, Mack?"
"What do you mean, Mr. Lister?"
"There are three trolleys in this shed, but no dynamo, and no sign of wiring to any electrical supply. What's the explanation?"
The inspector looked round the big shed, perplexedly. His eyes fell on the Phantom Launch, and he laughed slightly.
"Thought you had something on me that time, Mr. Lister. Of course, there's a dynamo. The launch engines work it, and they wire out to the motors when they want to use them."
"You may be right." In spite of his words, Lister continued to look puzzled.
"Now tell me the reason of that rustling—Lor'! There it is again." The Inspector sprang to the side of the Phantom Launch. "I believe it comes from inside here."
The Inspector had guessed correctly. The sounds came from under the covers concealing the Phantom Launch. With hasty fingers they united the lugs and drew off the covering sheets. Mack caught the edge of the and drew himself up. There was a long bundle in the well. The place was in deep shadow, and the Inspector could not decide what it was. It might be some covered part of the machinery, or—
Lister caught the police officer's legs, and hoisted him until he could get a knee on the side of the boat. Mack dropped to the bottom of the well, beside the big bundle. He gave a low shout that caused an exclamation of impatience to break from the expert's lips. Lister stepped back, and jumped for the edge of the boat. His fingers caught and he drew himself up, and peered over.
Mack was bending over a man, tied and gagged, and lying on the bottom of the boat. The Inspector had switched on the light of his torch, and the little circle of light played on the impassive features of Austin Chosen's Chinese servant, Lou Sing.
A FEW slashes of the Inspector's knife and the man was freed. Without help, he climbed to the floor of the shed and stood before the three men, his hands concealed in the long sleeves of his robe.
"What are you doing here, Lou Sing?" asked Lister, abruptly.
"Lou Sing? Is that the name of this josser?" The Inspector looked curiously at the Asian. "Now I'd like to know who Lou Sing is?"
"Austin Chosen's body servant." Lister gave the explanation and turned to the Chinese "Now then, Lou Sing, we want to know how you came here?"
"Me no say." The Chinese bowed low as he spoke.
"No say!" Mack stepped forward, his hand raised, threateningly. "I'll make you say, my friend. There's enough funny business going on about here. I'm for getting to the bottom of it."
"Velly solly. Me no say."
Lister caught at the Inspector's raised arm and drew him to one side. In a few words he explained Lou Sing's standing with the Mystery Man. Mack was sufficiently advised of Austin Chosen's standing with the authorities to consider before deciding to deal drastically with his servant. For a moment he stood undecided: then, his eyes fell on the leg of the work-table.
"That'll do," he said, grimly. "We haven't time for prisoners, at present, and whether that fellow is Chosen's servant, or not, he's not going free. Got your handcuffs, Williams? Good. Chain his arms round the leg of that table. We'll know, where to find him when we want him."
Lister was inclined to protest, but the Inspector was peremptory. Lou Sing was forced to sit beneath the work-table, and his arms locked round the leg. Mack made the position as comfortable as possible, but there was no possible chance of the man getting away.
"Now for the house." The Inspector turned briskly to the door. "We'll leave these doors open, so he will not be in the dark. Not likely anyone will come along to release him."
The sun was now well up in the sky, but the house continued silent. Lister began to wonder if anyone was within it. The place looked deserted. Yet they had seen a light in one of the rooms, as they turned the corner of the road.
Williams went ahead, while Lister and the Inspector hung back, sheltering along the fringe of bush. The constable moved swiftly, yet without making hardly any noise. Lying in the bush, the two men watched him approach the house. He came to one corner and passed out of sight. A long wait, and he appeared at the opposite corner, beckoning to them.
"No signs of anyone around the house." Yet the man spoke in almost a whisper. "There's a side door around here. It seems fastened, but not very strong. It should give with a strong push."
"We haven't a warrant." The Inspector looked undecided, yet he immediately followed Lister and the constable.
The door did not look strong. Lister put his shoulder to it and strained. It was evidently only held by a latch. The expert looked interrogatively at the Inspector, who slightly shook his head. At the same time he smiled and looked away. Lister strained against the latch, again. He believed a smart shove and the door would give way.
"Hum!" Mack turned and glanced at the door again. "Now, if that door was open, it would be my duty to go in and see that all was safe. Williams assures me there are strange characters about this neighbourhood."
For a full minute he stood and gazed at the painted wood. Then he turned his back on the house and called the constable's attention to something in the bush. Lister charged forward. There was a crash, and the door swung inwards.
"By Jove! The door is open." The Inspector took a step forward. "Williams, I believe it is our duty to see whether this house is occupied. Looks strange. You will note, constable, the door appears to have been forced. I fancy someone must have made a forcible entry."
While talking to convince himself that he had not broken the law, Mack led the way into a long passage, dark and narrow. On either side, close to the door of entrance, were doors. Down the passage showed other doors. Mack stood some way in the passage and called loudly. There was no reply. He turned and entered the room on the right. It was furnished as a bedroom, and showed signs of recent occupation. A quick glance around and the Inspector returned to the passage. He opened the door on the left, and found himself in a big kitchen. This room also showed signs of recent occupation. A fair quantity of food was in the cupboards and safes.
A door, further up the passage, and close to the main entrance, led into what was a sitting-room. On the opposite side of the hall was a large dining-room. Opening from the dining-room was a door that led to the kitchen, and in an annexe to the kitchen were the sculleries and a large shed.
Again the Inspector returned to the passage. Over the kitchen door a stairway led to the upper part of the house. Under the stairs a space had been boarded, and was filled with recently-chopped wood.
"Nothing to interest us down here," remarked Mack, leading the way to the stairs. "We'll have a look round up here, and if we don't find someone at home, we'll take the house in detail. There's no doubt someone's lived here recently—and more than one person."
The side of the house over the kitchens and dining-room was occupied by bedrooms. Three doors led into small rooms. On the opposite side of the upstairs passage stood two doors. Lister opened one of them, and started back, in surprise, as he entered the room.
The partition walls had been removed and the space made one big room. It had been fitted up as an electrical workshop, and, here again, they found ample signs of recent occupation. It had been left as if the users were to return within a very short space of time.
Lister wandered round the room. Most of the apparatus was familiar to him, but there was much that was strange to him. The owner of these workshops must be a man of high technical knowledge.
Beneath the window stood a fine lathe, and close by a small electrical motor. At hand was a table, large and solid, occupied by a small motor, coupled by wires to a strange piece of apparatus. Around were scattered a litter of tools. There was no dust on any of the tools or machines. Everything was bright, clean, and ready for the resumption of work.
Lister wandered around the room, looking at the numerous diagrams fastened to the wall. At one place he stopped, suddenly. On a bench stood a very fine wireless transmitting set, and, on the wall over it, a small map of Sydney and districts, across which had been drawn heavy black arrow-tipped lines. On the edge of the map were written four numbers preceded by letters. While the expert was trying to fathom the meaning of the map the Inspector came and stood by him.
"What does it mean, Mr. Lister?" The Inspector spoke the words under his breath. "Say, what were they working on?"
"The Phantom Launch," Lister answered briefly. He had passed to examine one of the blue prints hanging on the wall. His hand touched something on the table and he picked it up, and after a brief examination handed it to the Inspector. "Here's a piece of the metal of which the boat's hull is built. Its untarnishable, evidently an alloy of aluminium and other metals. Hard as steel and light as a feather. Find the secret of this alloy, Mack, and there's a fortune in your hand."
"What's this machine?" queried the Inspector. They had passed round the room to the strange motor on its large table. "Looks like the interior of a wireless set coupled up with a turbine."
"I'm guessing, Mack, this is Mostyn Delaney's workshop."
"Who's Mostyn Delaney?"
"The finest electrical brain on the continent, but as mad as a hatter. You've heard of the 'Water Witch?' Mostyn Delaney built that boat, and I'm guessing he had a lot to do with the building of the Phantom Launch. He—" Lister stopped abruptly. "Found any signs of Tony Weston?"
Mack shook his head. They had expected, when they gained entry into this house, to solve many of the questions that perplexed them. They expected to find Anthony Weston in one of the rooms, possibly bound and gagged; they had expected to be met with resistance. They had found rooms recently occupied; they had found a complete workshop, kitchens, well-stocked, every sign of habitation, but not a soul about. They had found the Phantom Launch, and an empty house.
There was no doubt but that the crew of the Phantom Launch had recently occupied the house. The kitchens showed that a meal for several persons had recently been cooked. The dining-room still held the table covered with a soiled cloth, and littered with dirty utensils. A newspaper containing a full account of the prosecution of Francis Hawson lay on the table among the dishes, and, on a plate beside it the stump of a good cigar.
Where had they gone to? They had come to the house in the Phantom Launch. The boat had been wheeled into its shed. The crew had stayed in the house for some time and had then departed. Where?
Weston had come to the Inlet the previous afternoon. The newspaper was evidence that someone connected with the Phantom Launch had been in the city soon after the case ended—possibly had been in court during the proceedings. He had brought the newspaper to the Old House. That meant that he had been in the house the previous afternoon, possibly during the early hours of the evening. Had they fled the Old House fearing the police were on their track?
They would not abandon the Phantom Launch. The chase had not come close enough to them for that. They had left the house for some purpose. It was evident the place was not their headquarters, but only one of the numerous hiding-places they had established around the metropolis. He would find them at their headquarters—at Pirates' Bay.
Weston had come to Yaney's Inlet. So had the Phantom Launch. If he had reasoned correctly, Weston had observed the Phantom Launch making for her shelter at the Old House. The journalist had followed and found the boatshed. From there all trace of him ended.
There could be no doubt. The crew of the Phantom Launch had discovered the newspaper-man prowling about the boatshed, and had captured him. Had they brought him into this house? If so, what had they done with him! There were no traces of the journalist in the house.
The finding of Lou Sing complicated the problem. Had he been searching out the Phantom Launch and been captured? Had he been captured before or after the journalist? If before, why had he not been hidden with Weston? If after, then the signs indicated that the newspaper man had been removed from the Old House. Reason pointed that Weston was not about the house.
It was impossible that Weston, if alive and sensible, would not seek to leave traces of his being prisoner at the Old House. Lister left the workshops and wandered through the rooms, scanning possible and impossible places for some signs of his chum. In one of the bedrooms he found some dirty linen stuffed in a box, with a chintz curtain covering the front. He pulled it out. From the linen fell a piece of crunched-up paper. The expert's eyes glistened when he saw it. It was copy paper—similar to that used in the Pictorial offices. Weston always carried some sheets of it in his pocket. Carefully, he smoothed it out. On one side were a few words, in shorthand.
Lister puzzled over them for some minutes before he could make out the characters. Like many journalists, Weston's shorthand had degenerated in the press of work, becoming to a great extent a series of private outlines, utterly at variance with the laws of Isaac Pitman. At last the characters fitted into place:—
Taking me to Pirates Bay. Tell Chosen.—Tony.
"TAKEN to Pirates' Bay!" Where was Pirates' Bay? From the moment the girl had spoken the name over the air, the place had come into prominence in the mystery surrounding the Phantom Launch. Now Tony Weston had disappeared, and had left behind him a message stating he was being taken to Pirates' Bay.
Turning abruptly. Lister ran along the passage to the door of the workshop. He believed he had found a clue to Pirates' Bay. If so, then the hours were not long before the men who controlled the Phantom Launch were tracked down and captured. Already the police had the speed boat in their hands.
In the workshop, Lister went straight to the map of Sydney and districts hanging over the wireless transmitter, and took it from the wall. Luckily it had not been pasted on, except for the four corners, and they did not affect the heavy black lines crossing the map.
Lister was convinced that the wooden boxes played a big part in the activities of the Phantom Launch. He was realising that, except for Myella Cove, the boxes had been buried within a little distance of some hiding-place of the Phantom Launch. Middle Harbour and Yaney's Inlet were the two places where both boxes and hiding places were established. Pirates' Bay would be a hiding place, and probably near by he would find a wooden box.
Austin Chosen had declared that the Phantom Launch had some secret home up the Parramatta River. The mystery boat had gone from Myella Cove up towards the Parramatta River. It had returned down the harbour, later. Possibly that might be explained by some message being conveyed to the crew, after their return from working on the wooden box, to go to sea and take Francis Hawson from the mail boat. Again, when the Phantom Launch had broken out of the trap at Middle Harbour, Austin Chosen had declared it had gone up to the Parramatta River, in spite of the police assertion that it had escaped through the Heads, out to sea.
Mostyn Delaney had built the Water Witch; possibly he had built the Phantom Launch, the wonderful successor to the famous hydroplane that had roused the wonder of the electrical engineers of the world. At the time of the building of the Water Witch Mostyn Delaney had lived somewhere to the west of Sydney. Had he retained the workshops where he built the Water Witch? And, was he using those workshops for a harbourage for the Phantom Launch?
For some minutes Lister stood in the workshop of the Old House, striving to remember if he had ever heard the address of Mostyn Delaney's workshops. He could not remember, yet he had an impression that at one time he had known their whereabouts.
Yaney's Inlet, Middle Harbour, Parramatta River, and Pirates' Bay. Four points of refuge. Three of them lay within a twelve miles' radius of Sydney. It was more than probable the fourth, Pirates' Bay, lay within the same radius. Austin Chosen had believed the Phantom Launch had a refuge on the sea coast. Was that refuge Pirates' Bay?
A low whistle from Inspector Mack aroused Lister from his reverie. He whistled an answer, and the Inspector climbed the stairs to the workshop. Lister was trying to explain to Mack some of the theories he had built up concerning the Phantom Launch and her haunts when a shout from Constable Williams startled them. Mack sprang to the door and raced to one of the rooms at the back of the house. Williams was standing at the window. Lister looked over the man's shoulder. The Phantom Launch had been drawn out of the shed, and was being carried swiftly towards the water. Two men stood in the well of the vessel, while three others were scrambling aboard. The expert recognised one of the men in the vessel. It was Lou Sing, Austin Chosen's Chinese servant.
Inspector Mack uttered a cry of anger, and made for the door, followed by Williams and Lister. Mack was pulling out his revolver as he raced down the stairs. Out in the open and past the boatshed they again caught sight of the mystery launch. It was entering the water. The Inspector raced down the gully, calling on the men to surrender. He was answered with derisive shouts. When they arrived at the edge of the water the Phantom Launch was well out on the Inlet, and gathering speed. Mack emptied his revolver after the boat in a frenzy of anger.
The Phantom Launch had escaped. Lister stood on the banks of the Inlet watching the graceful vessel race up towards George's River. When the boat sped out of sight he turned and walked back to the house, followed by the two downcast police officers.
"What's the good of going in there again?" asked the Inspector, halting at the door. "We've seen all there is to see. I want to get in touch with Sutherland, and have half a dozen men raced here to take charge of the place. Those fellows don't use it again, I'll bet on that."
"There's the wireless here, Mack." Lister pushed past the police officer, and ran up the stairs. "I may be able to get in touch with Haslington."
The batteries of the wireless transmitter were fully charged, and in a few minutes Lister was talking to his friend. After he had transmitted Mack's message to the officer on duty at the police station, he tried to get in touch with Austin Chosen. Again and again, he called the Mystery Man, without result. Austin Chosen must have heard him, for he rarely left his couch during the day.
There was nothing more to be done at Yaney's Inlet. Williams went down the lane and brought Weston's car to the Old House and ran it in the boatshed. The constable offered to remain on guard at the house, although there was small likelihood of the Phantom Launch returning. Lister and Mack walked back to the bluff, and found the car-driver fast asleep, camped on the cushions of the car. They awoke him, and drove to Tom Ugly's punt, where the Inspector's car awaited him. There they parted, and Lister went to Sydney.
Where was Tony Weston? Continually, the question recurred to Lister's tired brain.
Arriving at Circular Quay Lister dismissed the car and caught the ferry for Balmoral. At home, he telephoned the Pictorial offices news of the disappearance of the journalist, being careful not to mention Pirates' Bay. Only three people knew of that last harbourage of the pirate, and they were to be trusted. Time enough to mention Pirates' Bay when the place was surrounded, or in the hands of the police. From the telephone Lister went to his bedroom and immediately fell asleep.
Ah Sam aroused him from a dream in which he was fighting a band of pirates, single-handed at Pirates' Bay. The Chinese had a light meal on a tray and placed it on the bed. Beside the meal lay a slip of paper. Theodore Parker, of the Pictorial, wished him to telephone the office immediately he awoke.
Lister was hungry. Sitting up in bed he made an excellent meal. From the light that filtered into the room through the drawn blind he guessed it was not far from sunset. He reached for his watch, to have it immediately placed in his hand by the silent, attentive Chinese. It was half-past six. He turned to his meal again. It was absurd to rise at that time of the day, but—Where was Pirates' Bay?
Ysobel would be coming over on the ferry, if she was not already at home. She would have missed Tony, and possibly have telephoned the "Pictorial" offices. Parker would have told her that Tony was missing, and that the hunt at Yaney's Inlet had been unsuccessful. Ysobel would certainly come to him for news.
"Tall missy. He call Boss aslee'." Ah Sam made the report phlegmatically.
So Ysobel had called. No doubt the silent Asian had told her his master was asleep. Ah Sam knew he had been out all night, and would not let him be awakened.
Lister rolled out of bed, and went into the bathroom. The shower refreshed him. He dressed leisurely, and strolled into the wireless room. The instruments were silent. He threw in the switches and tried the varying wave-lengths. It Was possible that while he had been asleep someone had tried to get him. If so, they had received no answer.
For some minutes he tried to get Austin Chosen on the air, but without success. Then he tuned in to Haslington. The Sutherland amateur had a small compact set, and spent more of his spare time with it. It was probable that he was immensely impressed with the use being made of his instruments for police communication. Lister got him at the first try. Mack had been to see him, but had not asked him to get in touch with Balmoral.
Lister had an impulse to go out. He felt uneasy and unsettled. Not that the disappearance of Tony Weston caused him any great concern. The newspaper man had had many adventures during his life, and would count the present one as the chief. He might be held prisoner for some days; then, the locality of Pirates' Bay would be discovered and the house raided. It was possible that Weston, full of nerve and resource, might manage to break from his prison, and reach the authorities, conveying information of great moment.
Lister locked up the wireless room, and found his hat. At the front door he met Constable Phelps, carrying a large bundle of papers.
"I've got it Mr. Lister!" he exclaimed, almost before he was seated. "Seems that Herries had a batch of the papers containing the report of the Pettington case. Here's photos of the three men. That's Pettington, that's Eccles, and that's Brading."
Lister looked at the photographs with interest. The first, Pettington, showed a bluff, burly man with an open, good-humoured face. The expert turned to his desk and found the photograph of Francis Hawson. The men were alike in build and colouring, yet there were differences. In expression there were marked dissimilarities; the Victorian not wearing the furtive, secretive air of the squatter.
Gideah Brading was recognisable immediately. The eight years he had spent in prison had hardly altered him. Refined and softened by the hand of death, as he lay at Yaney's Inlet, he looked hardly a day older than when he disappeared behind prison bars. Eccles was a complete stranger. He bore no likeness to either of the other two, nor to Francis Hawson. A long, thin man with a melancholy face and stooping shoulders, he was, so far as Lister could judge, an unimportant factor in the mystery.
"What's the news, Phelps?" Lister looked up from the photographs.
The constable searched the packet Of papers and drew out a long letter.
"Herries says a lot that you told me, Mr. Lister," he replied. "There's all you've got about the Pettington Case and the escapes of Pettington and Eccles. Then he goes on to say what he thinks about the methods used for the escapes."
"Any idea of where the men went to?"
"Not a line on them." Phelps frowned at the letter. "The Heads down there seem to think they left the country."
"That's all they know?"
"They may be right." The constable took a long drink and turned to the mass of papers. "There's one point Herries gets, that seems to be news. The chap thought a lot about the matter. 'Course he would. There's a whopping reward for the apprehension of the two men."
"What's the new point, Phelps?"
"It's this. You remember the formation of the Central Australian Bank? Well, about that time Wallace Pettington joined up with another man. Funny, they don't seem to have made any inquires about him in Melbourne. Herries dug him up, on his own. It's like this.
"Pettington had a chap he was pals with in Melbourne. The two men made a great time of it, from what Herries says. Pettington kept his head, for business reasons. The other man didn't."
"Who was the other man?"
"A chap of the name of Gerald Preston. A few years younger than Pettington, and a bit of a fool, from what Herries says. Had plenty of money at first, and then went suddenly broke. One thing in favour of Pettington. He didn't desert his pal. Gave Preston a job in one of his companies. The chap was a rotter all through. Why, he even took down the man who had stuck by him in his trouble. Herries can't get any proper evidence of the matter at present, but it seems that Preston forged someone's name and let Pettington in for a lot of cash. It was all hushed up, and Preston went free. He disappeared a short while before the companies went smash. Herries believes six months before. He found a man who knew Preston. The man said that a day or two before the smash he asked Pettington where Preston was, and the old fox said he didn't know. The man didn't believe him. He thinks that Pettington had some trouble with Master Preston and shipped him out of the country."
"That the lot?"
"Practically the lot, Mr. Lister. There's a heap about Pettington and his record, and the funny thing is he mentions Francis Hawson and his family affairs. But I'll leave the letter and the papers for you to have a look through."
Phelps stood up and reached for his hat. The telephone rang. Lister motioned the man to resume his seat and went over to the desk where the instrument stood. For a minute he listened intently, his face growing pale.
"What's this about piracy on the Harbour, Phelps?" The expert turned to the constable. "The Pictorial office tells me that one of the ferry boats was stopped this evening by the Phantom Launch and a young lady abducted."
"PIRACY on the Harbour!" The constable rose to his feet with an exclamation. "Good heavens! That's the blinkin' limit."
Lister had turned to the telephone again. Theodore Parker was on the other end of the line. He had hardly renewed the conversation when the wireless connection in his bedroom commenced to ring. Making an excuse to the Pictorial chief of staff that he would get all possible information on the north side of the Harbour, he cut off and went to the wireless room, Phelps following close on his heels.
"That you, Lister?" The thin, querulous voice was unmistakable. "Who's there with you?"
"So, all right. Don't mention my name. What's this about piracy on the Harbour?"
"You should be able to get more news from the Police Department," answered the expert, quickly. A sudden foreboding was tugging at his heart-strings, and he wanted to get out in the open—in action.
"I'll attend to the police. Tell me what you know?"
"Simply the bare fact. The statement came from the Pictorial office over the 'phone just as you called me."
"What of Tony Weston?"
"A prisoner of the gang who owns the Phantom Launch. I found a message from him that he was being taken to Pirates' Bay."
"Then the girl abducted from the ferry was Ysobel. The times fit."
"What do you mean? Ysobel a prisoner?"
"What else is to be expected? You heard Francis Hawson admit he owned the Phantom Launch. Do you think he would allow Tony and Ysobel to be free to trace him and his misdeeds when he is on the run for his life. Scoundrel! Thief! Forger!"
"What is Ysobel to him?"
"His cousin. Evelyn's child. Enough of this. You must act, Sydney Lister. Have you found out where Pirates' Bay is?"
"There lie the solutions of the mysteries; and there you will find the girl and her brother. Again I say, it is up to you, Sydney Lister. Get busy for your own life, and the life of the girl you love. If I had but my health and strength! But I have to lie here and suffer—a useless log, not a man. Haste, man. I tell you, haste, or you will be too late, too."
There came a sudden silence. Lister swung on all the power he could command, and tried to call the Mystery Man, but he would not answer. Chosen had cut out, leaving the expert to act with but a name to guide him. Pirates' Bay! From Parramatta River around the coast to George's River there lay a hundred bays. Which of them was known to the crew of the Phantom Launch by the name of Pirates' Bay?
On one of the walls of the wireless house hung a large map of Sydney and the surrounding country. Lister took the map down and laid it on the desk. Somewhere on that map was Pirates' Bay. But where? Every bay and cove around the coast was known and named. How could he identify some well-known spot with the name used by the pirates?
On the map Lister had marked the various private and public wireless plants. Had he time he could have organised a series of detectors, and so traced down the secret wireless plant that no doubt was established at Pirates' Bay. He had found a similar one at the Old House at Yaney's Inlet. He blamed himself that, when first he heard the calls on the air to and from the Silver Swan, he had not commenced a scientific search of the air to discover where the headquarters of the Phantom Launch crew had been established.
For almost an hour the two men bent over the map, considering the various bays and coves around the coast and up the rivers. They could decide on no one that answered to all the requirements for the headquarters for the Phantom Launch. Every one of them was exposed to observation, either from the land or sea. Almost in despair, Sydney remembered the defaced map he had taken from over the wireless apparatus at the Old House. Did that map contain the clue to Pirates' Bay?
The map was in his pocket. Lister pulled it out and spread it on the larger map. It was of small size, and had evidently been torn from some guide or directory. Across the centre of the map had been drawn two thick lines.
One line ran almost north and south, the other lay across it, the "v's" making small angles. The lines were irregular in length, the N.-S. line being considerably the longer. How could those two black lines guide him to Pirates' Bay?
SUDDENLY he realised that the longer line ran from Middle Harbour to the George's River. Had that any significance? Bending closer over the map, he felt certain that the line terminated at two significant points. The top end rested almost on the point of sand where he had found the wooden box; the lower point lay across Yaney's Inlet.
The top end of the second line lay against a point on the west side of Lane Cove River. Austin Chosen had affirmed that after the escape from Middle Harbour the Phantom Launch had sought shelter up the Parramatta River. Mostyn Delaney had had workshops somewhere up the river. Lane Cove River flowed into the Parramatta River. Had Mostyn Delaney's workshops been situated on the banks of the Lane Cove River?
If his guess was correct, and Mostyn Delaney had built the Phantom Launch at his old workshops on the Lane Cove River, then the mystery surrounding the Phantom Launch's third harbour of refuge was solved. The Mystery Man had guessed correctly. The Phantom Launch, after its escape from Middle Harbour, had gone up river to Lane Cove River, and had hidden in the old workshops. More than probable there was some apparatus at the old workshops to take the launch out of the water and hide it.
Another step in the solution of the mystery had been taken. Middle Harbour and Yaney's Inlet were now being watched by the police. A word from the expert to Police Headquarters and the Lane Cove River workshops would be placed under close observation. The Phantom Launch would only have the one remaining harbour of refuge.
The only remaining harbour of refuge! The words remained insistently in Lister's head. He was assuming the crew of the Phantom Launch had four secret lairs around Sydney. He knew of three of those places. Where was the fourth—Pirates' Bay. The cross on the map had four points. Three of them coincided with the known hiding places of the mystery boat. Did the fourth point to the remaining harbour of refuge—Pirates' Bay?
Again he bent over the map. The line from Lane Cove River went well to the west of the city, and passed down on to the coast not far from Long Bay. It rested on the end of a squared point of land. Did that neck of land contain at its end some cove named by the crew of the Phantom Launch Pirates' Bay?
"Phelps." Lister turned suddenly to the constable. His eyes were blazing, but his voice was quiet and restrained. "Here is Pirates' Bay. I am certain I am right."
"Pirates' Bay." The constable whistled softly as he bent over the map, following the expert's finger, and listening to his theory. At the end of the explanation Phelps stood upright and held out his hand. "Congratulations, Mr. Lister. I'm certain you've solved the problem. Now, what's the game? You've got to take the police in on this. You can't go charging down there on your own to free Mr. Weston and his sister. You'd only be captured—and you must remember these men will be getting desperate."
There was reason in the constable's words. Austin Chosen had counselled haste, but he had deliberately warned the expert that the men they were fighting were dangerous.
Haste there had to be, to save the lives of Ysobel and Tony, but it must be the haste of overwhelming strength, acting on certainty of organisation.
"Coming, Phelps." Lister had already formed his plans. "Where's Sergeant Miller?"
"Off duty. So am I. Miller's with you to the limit, but you're not asking that the three of us attack this Pirates' Bay?"
"No, Lister. I'm going to communicate with Superintendent Hanson, and ask that a force of police go down to this bay and meet us somewhere on the road. You get hold of the sergeant, and take him down to the boatshed. Get out the Cue, and have her opposite here as soon as you can. As you go through the house ask Ah Sam to put up some tucker in the fishing basket, also to fill the thermos flasks with hot coffee. We may be at sea for some hours; we may be out all night on this hunt. Get busy."
Phelps went off at a run. Immediately he had left the wireless room Lister turned to the big transmitter and called Haslington. When the wireless amateur answered, he asked him to request Inspector Mack to communicate with Superintendent Hanson at Police Headquarters at once. When the Sutherland amateur had acknowledged receipt of the message, Lister tried to get in touch with the Mystery Man.
He had little hope of receiving an answer. On the many occasions he had called Austin Chosen, the mystery man had refused to answer. To his surprise, on this occasion, he received an immediate reply. Lister gave the facts on which he based his theory of the location of Pirates' Bay in a few words, and followed with his arrangements for the raid. Chosen gave a brief acknowledgment, without commenting in any way on the expert's reasoning, and cut out.
Lister had hardly reached the house when a knock came to the front door. While Ah Sam was packing the tucker in the basket, Lister went to the door, to admit Sergeant Miller, red-faced and panting.
"Phelps is bringing the boat to the beach," the officer stuttered as he regained his breath. "He tells me you've traced out those Phantom Launch crooks. Good. Now, what do you want me for?"
"To clean out this nest of rats," answered the expert, briefly.
"I'm with you all the time." The burly sergeant's face flushed with pleasure and he held out his big hand. "Of course, you know, I've got to come as Mister Abel Miller. Sergeant Miller would meet trouble if he went hunting crooks outside his district without authority from headquarters."
"Come as Abel Miller." Lister took the sergeant's hand. "I've got in touch with Police Headquarters, and Superintendent Hanson will see that sufficient official police are there."
"Heard from Hanson?"
"Not yet. Police Headquarters are communicating with him."
"Then we'll wait a few minutes." The sergeant slumped into a chair. "On what Phelps told me I got in touch with headquarters and asked them to bring in the Superintendent to any message you might send. You'll have him buzzing like a blue-bottle on your 'phone in a few minutes. There he is, now."
They raced to the study where the telephone was keeping up a continuous jangle. Superintendent Hanson was on the line. Lister spoke guardedly, but with sufficient detail to arouse the police chief's enthusiasm. A few minutes and it was arranged that a Balmoral constable was to be landed at Fort Macquarie to meet the Superintendent, and to bring with him detailed particulars of Lister's plans.
Lister fretted at the delay. While Miller got in touch with his subordinate on duty, the expert typed out fully his conclusions and proposed line of action, and arranged a meeting spot with the police. He was about to sign it, when he suddenly turned to the sergeant.
"Make it official, Miller," he asked, almost pleadingly. "They'll take more notice of it at headquarters."
"Sure. You sign it, and I'll countersign." The sergeant accepted the pen and scrawled a few words at the foot of the paper. "Stone'll be here in a minute."
As he spoke the constable knocked at the door. Lister picked up the basket of provisions, and led the way to the beach, where Phelps had the launch waiting. On the way over to Fort Macquarie the sergeant fully instructed the constable in the duty before him, specially urging that a strong body of police be sent to the meeting-place.
Lister gave a sigh of relief as Phelps pushed the little craft from the wharf, and they headed for the tall cliffs of the Heads: At last they were on the last trail of the hunt for the Phantom Launch.
THE Cue seemed to share in the enthusiasm for the venture that animated her crew. She nuzzled down into the long rollers that came up the harbour. Lister opened her out, and she raced through the darkness, swiftly overhauling and passing the various boats on the harbour. Lister gave a sigh of relief as they passed through the Heads and met the long heavings of the Pacific Ocean. A few more hours and he would meet, face to face, the gang of crooks who controlled the Phantom Launch, and exact revenge for the abduction of Ysobel Weston and her brother.
More, at Pirates' Bay their long trail would end. There the many theories he and Austin Chosen had constructed around the mystery boat and her crew would be tested. Not only the mystery of the boat and her purpose would be made clear, but the identity of the men who controlled her activities—men whom Austin Chosen had declared were supermen in the world of crime.
Lister looked at his watch. It was just eleven o'clock. Above them a clear sky gave them the liberty of the seas; they would not have to feel their way down a darkened coastline. Far in advance of them the land and sea lay in distinct shadows under the southern night. There was little moon, and for that the expert was glad. The men at Pirates' Bay might keep some sort of a lookout towards the ocean. They might see the Cue passing the head of their bay, but they would have only the impression of a boat returning from some long cruise to its home port.
A few lights on the shore marked the town of Coogee, and the long stretch of pleasure beach before the town. Then came the sand hills sheltering Maroubra. Lister kept far out to sea, watching the shore curve towards the long, blunt-headed headland, on the end of which he believed Pirates' Bay to stand.
The long line of sand ended abruptly, just before the point was reached. A jagged hill of rock rose from the water's edge, sloping steeply. A horn of rock came down to the waters, forcing Lister to swing still further out, for fear of some hidden reef. Then he came round slightly, and Pirates' Bay opened before them.
From bluff to bluff Pirates' Bay measured a scanty three hundred yards. The bay was composed of broken sandstone cliffs, coming down straightly to the boiling waters at the foot. Lister scanned the top of the cliffs. He could see nothing. If there was a house, it lay well back. He swung the Cue for the entrance to the bay, and shut down power. With diminishing speed they swept into the little bay. There was no beach, and against the foot of the cliffs could be seen the broken rocks over which creamy masses of foam churned.
Moving at the slowest speed for steering way, Lister circled the bay, keeping as close to the rocky cliffs as he dared. The Phantom Launch was not in the bay; it would be impossible for her to lie safely at anchor in such a turmoil of broken waters. Impatiently, Lister turned the head of the boat seawards and came out of the bay. He swept round the southern headland, and saw before him the long, sandy beach of Long Bay. Edging in, he found, some half-mile past Pirates' Bay, a place where the Cue could lie safely at anchor.
Anchoring the boat, fore and aft, as close to the beach as he dared, Lister and his companions waded ashore, and made for the road that ran along the base of the long finger of land jutting out to sea. It was now after twelve o'clock, and the force of police from Sydney should be soon at the rendezvous.
A mile walk, and they found a track that led from the main road out on the long linger of land towards Pirates' Bay. Here they halted, and Miller took command. He sent Phelps along the road, to see if any other road led out towards the pirates' lair. It was imperative that they joined forces with the police from Sydney at the earliest moment.
A few minutes, and Phelps returned to report that, a few hundred yards further along, the road bent abruptly inland. There was no sign of another road out towards the bay. Miller proposed that they sit down where they were, and wait for the motorcars bearing the raiding party. The wait irked Lister. After a few minutes he rose to his feet, suddenly.
"What's the idea?" Miller looked up at the expert. "Thought you'd be glad to sit down for a while. Up all last night, and with a night's work in front of you. Me, I'm glad to be on dry land and to sit down. I'm not saying your little boat didn't get us here smartly; but, Mr Lister, does it ever stay in the one position? I was either looking up to heaven or searching for a mermaid at the bottom of the sea."
"Seasick?" Lister laughed slightly. "I can't sit still and wait, Miller. I think I'll walk away towards the bay. There should be a house somewhere about."
"Rank foolishness!" growled the sergeant. "You'll go and let that crowd see you, and then there'll be the devil to pay."
Lister did not reply, but turned and walked slowly up the track towards the bay. It was rough, and in the darkness he had to proceed with some caution. The track bent and twisted in a most bewildering manner.
There were few trees about; the land having the forlorn appearance of being swept by strong sea-breezes and storms.
For some ten minutes he walked on, without seeing anything worthy of note. The ground dipped slightly; when he passed the bottom of the hollow and started to ascend again, he saw on the sky-line what looked like a group of houses. For a moment he was puzzled. He had seen no signs of houses from the sea. They must be concealed behind a high cliff-edge.
So far as he could judge, there were three or four houses on the slope. Lister wondered. He had decided that the land bordering the bay was deserted, or at least held only one house, the headquarters of the gang of criminals. Three or four houses would destroy his theory that this bay was Pirates' Bay, and the headquarters of the men controlling the Phantom Launch. They would not welcome neighbours. Still he went forward.
There was little hope of approaching the houses under cover. The land was bare and open, yet, Lister knew that, for the time, he was invisible. Behind him was the long dark slope he had descended. The pirates could not see him against that background.
There was only one house; surrounding it, and some few yards away, were a collection of outbuildings. Bending low, Lister crept cautiously forward. He came to a wire fence, and, after a pause, crawled through. He continued on his hands and knees, crawling slowly forward.
The silence of the night was broken by the furious barking of a dog. Lister lay still, and waited. The dog continued to bark, and he feared the sound would rouse the inmates of the house. Reluctantly he went back to the wire fence and crawled through. He noticed that along the fence ran a faint path. Rising to his feet, he went along the path, one hand resting on the top wire of the fence. The path led almost to the edge of the cliff and stopped. Lister peered about him. Just inside the wire the path resumed again. It was the same path. The fence had been erected over the path.
Again the path ended. Lister bent down and peered around. His hand went to his pocket where rested his electric torch. He dared not use it, for he was within sight of the house, and almost on the sky-line. He went down on his hands and knees and crawled around. The path had gone over the edge of the cliff.
There must be a path down the cliffs to the waters below. In the darkness of the night it would be a hazardous job to venture it. For a minute Lister hesitated. Should he go back to Miller and the police and return with them to the raid on the house? Yet, this path, over the edge of the cliff might prove some way by which the pirates could, escape while the police thundered at the door of the house. He would go on. Perhaps he could solve the mystery of the path and return in time to take part in the raid.
CAUTIOUSLY Lister lowered himself over the edge of the cliff and found a foothold on a narrow ledge of rock. A few yards and the ledge widened to a narrow path. It was risky work, but he proceeded slowly forward, and always downwards. He could feel that the path had been used frequently. It was well worn. At places he fancied that the hand of man had cut away some of the obstacles.
At length he came to a long ledge of rock leading towards the centre of the bay. He was now only a few feet above water level, and the breaking spray continually covered him. Yet he went on. The signs that the path had been in frequent use became more apparent. Then the path abruptly ended.
He was standing on the edge of a ledge of rock, looking down on the tumbling waters. Towards the face of the cliff there was a deep blackness. Lister knelt down on the wet rock to try to discover what the blackness meant. His hand caught on an iron bar cemented into the rock. A rope was attached to the bar. Lister pulled up a few feet of the rope. It was knotted every couple of feet. Testing the knot about the bar, he lowered himself over the edge and slid down the rope. Knots passed until he thought he would fall into the boiling waters. Suddenly his feet caught on a narrow ledge. It was a narrow path leading in towards the darkness of the cliff.
The darkness opened, as he approached, to a large cave, into which the waters of the bay surged in long rollers. The ledge of rock continued into the cave. Moving with the utmost caution, Lister felt his way in. He was only a couple of feet above water level. At last he entered the cave, and stopped, his hand feeling for his torch. He must have a light, even if the flash of the torch brought a shot from the darkness.
The rays of the torch illuminated a large cave that ran like a tunnel into the cliffs. The floor of the cave was covered with deep waters, and beside them ran the narrow ledge, broadening and gradually rising. For some yards he proceeded at a slow pace, and then stopped suddenly. But a short distance ahead glistened the silvery hull of the Phantom Launch.
He had discovered the headquarters of the gang of pirates. Behind him lay Pirates' Bay, and above his head stood the house sheltering the gang. Moving with caution, he crept forward until he stood beside the mystery boat, swaying gently on the waters and rubbing against the fenders that protected it from the rough rock. Lister threw the light of his torch into the boat. It was empty. He had almost expected to find Ysobel and Tony lying bound in the well.
LISTER threw the light of his torch around the cavern. The ledge of rock ended abruptly a few yards past where the Phantom Launch was moored. There the waters came up to the sides of the cave; beyond jutted an outcrop of rock narrowing the cavern up to its end, about ten yards further on. The cavern made an ideal shelter, but Lister was unable to convince himself that this was its sole purpose.
The Phantom Launch was the instrument of a gang of smugglers. And the evidence he had accumulated, all the information Austin Chosen had conveyed to him, showed that, whatever other uses were made of the boat, smuggling was the main and most profitable interest.
Pirates' Bay, with the House on the cliffs, and the huge cave extending into the heart of the rocks, made an ideal situation for smuggling. On the land side ran the main road connecting the coastal towns with the metropolis. Lorries laden and unladen were continually passing in both directions. It would be easy to convey the smuggled goods from Pirates' Bay on to the highway, and there they would be lost in the press of traffic.
The connection between the house and the boat puzzled Lister. It was impossible to believe that the smugglers used the path down the cliff. Only very small packages could he taken along there, and then, with the continued danger of being spied upon from some boat passing the entrance to the bay. No. There must be some other connection between the house and the cave.
The Phantom Launch lay against the ledge of rock that joined the path up the face of the cliffs. The expert had come to the end of that ledge and found no outlet. He flashed his light around the cave, but could see nothing. The slowly heaving waters stretched far ahead up the cavern to the water-worn surface of the cliff. Up there, if at all, lay the secret of the connection between the house and the cave. In what manner did the people from the house communicate with the launch?
Back at the Phantom Launch Lister found a boat-hook, and took it to the end of the shelf of rock. He tested the water of the cave and found it a bare three feet deep. Slipping off his shoes and socks. Lister lowered himself into the water. It was hard work going forward, for the tide was receding, and the pull of the undertow almost dragged him from his foothold. He struggled forward towards the outcrop, balancing himself by means of the boat-hook.
It was not rock. Lister passed his hand over the face of the outcrop in wonderment. It was rough-hewn boards, painted to resemble rock. Pushing forward, Lister grasped at the rock and found his fingers slipping to the other side. The boards were but a few inches thick, and the hidden side was smooth and polished. The expert looked up. The boards did not extend quite to the top of the cave, and when lowered would rest on the shelf of rock along which he had come into the cavern.
Behind the upstanding boards the shelf of rock continued, gradually growing wider. Lister pushed on until he could grasp the new shelf, and found the water of the cave much deeper here. The Phantom Launch could be hauled back in the cave and loaded at high-water times. In its present position it floated freely even at the lowest water.
Lister scrambled on to the ledge of rock and walked back to the drawbridge. Attached to the wall he found a rope sliding through pulleys attached to the roof. He untied the rope and the drawbridge lowered silently on the well-greased pulleys.
Leaving the drawbridge down, Lister advanced along the shelf of rock. About five feet from the end of the cave he found a fissure in the rocky wall. The roof was now sloping sharply down, and above the fissure in the rock was barely six feet from the floor of the shelf of rock.
The crack in the rocks was about four feet wide, and showed signs of stonemason's work. In many places it had been artificially widened, and up it had been set a flight of steps. Lister ascended the stairway and counted fourteen steps before he came to a thick wooden door. It was unfastened, and swung open to his hand. He pressed the trigger of his torch, and swung the light round a large cellar. It was of some considerable size and faced with brick. On the opposite side to the entrance from the cavern were two doors. A great amount of cargo was scattered about the place.
Why had the cellar been bricked? For some time Lister walked around, tapping the bricks and puzzling for an explanation. He chanced to look up, and found the roof of the cellar boarded. Then he remembered the rapidly sloping roof of the cavern. The face of cliffs on Pirates' Bay was but a high standing reef of rock, shelving rapidly on the land side. The countless ages had piled up against the reef the inland soil. The men from the Phantom Launch had found the reef and the house on the cliff. They had discovered the fissure in the rock wall of the cavern, and had turned it to account in forming a line of communication with the house.
Above him stood the house on the cliffs. He was in the big cellars the pirates had dug below the foundations to store their smuggled goods.
He had to find the way to the house above. He tried the door on the left. It was locked, and the box-lock was on the other side of the door. He tried to force it, but the door opened towards him, and was of sufficient strength to resist all his efforts. Foiled, he turned to the second door. In this case the box-lock was on the cellar-side of the door.
The door to the left opened on the stairs to the house above. There could be no doubt of that. The door on the right opened into some storage cellar. Such a reasoning would explain the position of the locks. It would also explain the use of the passage up the cliffs. The door from the house to the cellar was kept locked, and was only opened from the house side. When the crew of the Phantom Launch came to the cave, one of them had to climb the cliffs to the house and unlock the door.
Lister returned to the left-hand door and listened intently for some time. He could not hear a sound from the house. He snapped the trigger of his flash-light and looked at his watch. He had been absent from Miller and Phelps for over an hour. Possibly the police had come from Sydney and were awaiting his return to proceed with the raid. He turned towards the steps to the cavern and then stopped. He would first see what lay behind the second door.
With the box-lock on the cellar-side of the door, it was easy to unscrew the lock from the door with the aid of a stout penknife.
Ten minutes' work and the lock come from the door. It swung open and Lister peered in.
The place was in darkness. Lister shifted his torch to his left hand and took out his automatic. Then he thrust the door open with his foot, and flashed the light around the room. It was small, and empty except for four Indistinct bundles lying against the further wall. At the sight of them Lister felt his heart rising in his throat. He stepped across the room, and looked down into the white face of Tony Weston.
"Sydney." A girl's voice sounded almost at his feet. Lister swung round and the light fell on Ysobel, bound, but not gagged, lying, close beside her brother.
A few cuts of the knife and the girl was free. She sat up, and with a low cry turned to Tony. Lister bent over his chum. While Ysobel had been lightly tied, hands and feet, Tony was trussed up firmly, and gagged. It was some minutes' work to release him; then Lister turned to the other men. As he half expected, he found Austin Chosen's Chinese servant, Lou Sing, and a strange man he guessed to be Alfred Mitchell, the Sutherland correspondent of the Pictorial.
"Good." Tony staggered to his feet and stretched himself. "How long have I been lying in this hole, trussed up like long-pig?"
"A little over twenty-four hours." Lister smiled slightly at Tony's calm acceptance of the situation. He was kneeling before Ysobel, chafing her numbed hands and feet.
"Where are we?" asked the girl.
"Pirates' Bay. Don't speak too loud." Lister was talking in little more than a whisper. "I managed to get here through the cavern where they dock the Phantom Launch. Outside there's a force of police. I expect they will attack the house any minute now."
"Any chance of getting Ysobel out of this before the fight starts?" asked Weston quickly.
Lister thought of the dangerous climb down the cliffs. It was impossible to think of taking the girl up that way. There remained the Phantom Launch. They could go to the boat, but would it be possible for him to learn the controls of the boat in the few minutes they might possibly have before the pirates discovered them. He shook his head.
"Better wait a while," he counselled. "Hanson will attack any minute. I believe he has only been waiting for me to return. When I don't turn up he will consider I have been taken prisoner and act promptly. There's four of us here, and we can protect Ysobel if the gang come this way."
"I'll be glad of a chance at the beasts with my bare fists!" exclaimed Tony, vindictively. "Still, if there's an iron bar—"
The sound of a shot from the house above cut short the newspaper man's speech. Lister sprang back into the big cellar and to the bolted door. The men in the house had awakened to the assault, and were running about, shouting and firing their guns. The first shot had been from the house. Now came shots, less distinct, showing that the police were not loath to use their weapons.
"Lou." Lister took in the possibilities of defence quickly. "Get over there and hold this torch. Immediately that door opens snap the light on it. Ysobel, get to that corner behind the door. You'll be safe from the shooting there. You chaps, see if there's any weapons about the place—bars, or something heavy. Lou will give you light until I call him to repel an attack."
A VOLLEY of shots echoed from the rooms upstairs. They were answered by fainter, isolated shots, evidently coming from without the house. Then came some shouts and the sound of men running about. Two heavy crashes shook the foundations of the house, and above sounded the scuffling of struggles on the floor of the rooms. The police had forced an entrance to the last stronghold of the pirates.
Suddenly a voice sounded loudly in the cellar. Someone was on the steps from the house. Someone ran down the stairs and stood at the other side of the door. Lister called softly to the Chinese and waited. He had raised the automatic to fire at the person coming through the door, when his hand dropped with astonishment. The electric bulbs in the cellar roof sprang to life.
Lister beckoned to Lou Sing to cross to where Ysobel and Mitchell refuged behind the door. It was madness for the Chinese to retain the position before the door while the lights were on in the cellar. He would be shot down by the first man entering the cellars. A slight sound caused the expert to look round. Weston was standing just within the door leading to the cavern. He had the boat-hook in his hand, and directly he saw that Lister noticed him drew back into the shadows. Even if the pirates managed to get past him they would have to face Weston and his boat-hook.
Another footstep descended the stairs. The sound of the struggle continued in the house above, intermingled with shouts and cries. Lister rather wondered. He had expected the gang to defend the house to the last gasp, and then charge down the steps in a body, intent on flight in the Phantom Launch. If they had followed that plan he would have held the advantage of surprise. The police would be close on their heels, and he could have held them for the invaluable few minutes.
Two men were standing at the other side of the door. Lister was puzzled. Very slowly he gave ground, retreating towards the door leading to the cavern. He wanted to get within touch of Weston and consult with him.
He had only just reached the door to the cavern when the house door opened and a man stepped into the cellars. Lister drew back into the shadows and raised his automatic. The man was Mostyn Delaney. Lister remembered the man from the many photographs published a few years back.
The man closed the door behind him and stood listening. This puzzled Lister. What had happened to the second man who had descended the stairs? At length Mostyn looked round. He stared straight towards the door to the cavern. Lister wondered if he had made any sound that had caught the man's attention. The attitude of the man gave reason to believe he was suspicious.
Ysobel was crouching in a far corner of the room, the Chinese servant standing before her. Lou Sing had his eyes fastened on the inventor. He was slowly crouching down, his limbs gathering under him. At length Mostyn Delaney moved a step forward and the Chinese sprang. The inventor hardly struggled. He fell to the ground, the Chinese on top on him. Before Lister could reach the two men Lou Sing had his captive bound and gagged, and was dragging him to the corner of the cellars where the girl crouched.
"Good man!" Lister whispered. He seized an arm of the captive, and helped Lou Sing to draw him to the corner. "Now, if those beggars come down one at a time we can bag the lot."
What had happened to the man behind the door? He must be still there. Possibly he had heard the slight sounds of the struggle, and was waiting to gather information as to who was in the cellar. Lister caught the eyes of the Chinese, and motioned towards the door. The man nodded and crept silently forward. As he put his hand on the door and pushed it shut, Lister motioned to Ysobel to go into the inner cellar. She would be safe there.
A scurry of feet, and the sounds of a door being beaten down, came from the house above. A rush of feet on the stairs, and the door was violently flung open. As the first man entered the cavern, Lister fired at the electric bulb, plunging the place in darkness.
An exclamation, of surprise, followed by a deep silence. Lister retreated to the cavern door and joined Weston. There was a long wait. Lister was satisfied. So long as he could keep these men undecided; and puzzling over the danger in front of them, the police would have the opportunity to overtake them.
A ray of light came from a far corner of the cellar, and rested on the men huddled in the doorway. Almost immediately it disappeared. Lou Sing was not idle. He had crawled noiselessly from behind the door to where he could focus the flashlight on the men. One of the gang fired a shot. Lister immediately shot at the flash of the gun and a howl of pain answered his shot. Again Lou Sing flashed the light on the crowd, and was answered by indiscriminate firing from the door. Lister had no more compunction. He was shooting as rapidly as possible into the darkness, helped by the intermittent light from Lou Sing's torch.
The shooting suddenly ceased, and for a moment deep silence lay over the cellar. From above continued the sounds of the struggle. The police were breaking down some door, or barricade, shielding the head of the stairs. In a few minutes they would come charging down into the cellars behind the pirates. Lister was determined to hold them in their present position of indecision as long as he could. He wondered what had happened to the Chinese. His work with the torch had been invaluable. Now, at the critical time he had failed. Had some chance shot reached him?
The pirates had come to realise that only one man faced them. An indistinct shuffling and murmuring showed that they were gathering courage for an attack. Lister waited, and recharged his automatic. He would want every shot in his gun when the men charged.
Suddenly the darkness was split by a volley from the pirates crowding the doorway. Something stung Lister above the elbow. He put his automatic under his arm, and touched the spot with the fingers of his left hand. They came away warm and sticky. He tested bending his elbow. It was only a graze, but his hand felt unsteady, and sharp twinges shot through the nerves.
The sudden charge of the pirates caught Lister off his guard. They were on him before he could get at his automatic. He was swept against the wall, coarse hands clutching at his throat and limbs. Then came a momentary relief. Weston and Mitchell and charged into the fight, shouting loudly. Lister was able to shake himself free of his assailants, and back towards the door leading to the cavern. A voice at his elbow told him that Weston was by his side.
Suddenly the electric globe glowed again. For a moment the fight was stopped. Lister looked round amazed. He had broken the glass with a bullet. Then he understood. Lou Sing's absence was explained. He had gone into the smaller cellar and had replaced the globe on the holder.
The sudden glare of light had caused the pirates to draw back. Lister looked at the pirates curiously. He saw five men on their feet confronting him, threateningly. On the floor, by the door lay three men, two of them nursing wounds, and the third lying silent and still.
One of the pirates barked out an order to charge. Lister retorted by shooting the man through the shoulder from the shadows of the cavern door. This caused a momentary halt; before the men could act, the door from the house was flung violently open, and Inspector Mack entered the cellars, followed by a number of police.
"Hands up, the lot of you!" The Inspector strode forward. Then his eyes fell on Lister. "Good heavens! It's you that held this crowd back until I managed to break down that confounded door?"
The revolvers of the police officers cowed the pirates. They were herded back into one of the corners and disarmed. Mack came towards the cavern door against which Lister was leaning, sick and tired.
"Wounded, eh? Jove, you chaps put up a great scrap—and with only one gun, too. Well, well!"
"Guard that door, Mack." Weston turned from tying up Lister's wounded arm. "Syd says the Phantom Launch is down there."
"What's there?" The Inspector stared in astonishment. "We wondered what had happened to you, but it seems you've made good use of some happy chance."
"There's a big cavern down there with a natural shelf of rock along one side," said Lister faintly. "The Phantom Launch is tied up to the shelf."
"Not when I came through. There's a path over the cliff from near the end of the wire fence. You'd better have that guarded."
"Not a hope," laughed the Inspector. "Thanks to you chaps we've got the whole bunch. If you hadn't defended these cellars they'd have got away in that infernal boat of theirs."
"Where's Francis Hawson?" asked Lister quickly. He had been looking over the prisoners.
"Hawson's cashing in," the Inspector answered gruffly. "He was shot at the beginning of the fight. Hanson and the doctor are upstairs with him.
"What doctor?" Lister spoke quickly.
"One from Long Bay." Mack looked curious. "Why, what doctor did you think was here?"
Lister did not answer. He and Ysobel were ascending the stairs to the house behind the Inspector. Before them lay the final chapters of the mystery. Already he was guessing much. The capture of the gang would test many of his theories, and bring forward the evidence that would make for a plain tale.
"Go in here, Lister." Mack opened the door of a bedroom. "There's a bathroom opening out of here. I'll send the doctor to attend to your arm. Miss Weston, will you come with me. Mr. Austin Chosen is waiting in the big room for you."
THE constable outside the door of the room stood on one side for Lister to enter. He found himself in a large room occupying most of the rear part of the house, on the cliffs looking out over the seas. The long French windows were open, and on a lounge before one of the windows lay Francis Hawson, slowly panting out the life he had so wilfully misused.
A small table had been drawn close to the side of the couch. At the head of the table sat Sir George Benson, the New South Wales Commissioner for Police, and beside him Superintendent Hanson and Inspector Mack. By the couch, half-reclining in a deep chair was Austin Chosen, dividing his attention between the dying man and the Commissioner. In a further corner, of the room were seated Ysobel, Tony, and Mitchell. The expert crossed the room and sat down by the girl. He was wondering what was to happen. The doctor had come to him in the bedroom into which Mack had shown him, had bandaged his arm, and insisted he lay down and rested until he was required by the police.
"Police inquiry." Tony leaned across his sister to whisper to Lister. "Irregular, of course, but Austin Chosen wanted it—and he usually gets what he wants. He says we can best clear up the mysteries here. Besides, Francis Hawson is dying, and the doctor refuses to allow him to be moved."
Lister nodded, but did not answer. He was looking at the group of prisoners, clustered in another corner of the room under a strong guard of police. Did Austin Chosen expect to get any valuable evidence from them? It did not seem probable. They looked to be only tools of the master-brain.
A short interval, and the door opened again, and Mostyn Delaney, under charge of a police constable, entered the room. He stood blinking in the doorway for a moment. Then, at a sign from the Mystery Man, he crossed the room and sat down by Tony Weston.
"I am about to hold a short inquiry into the causes that led up to this raid." Sir George spoke, abruptly. "First, I have information from Mr. Austin Chosen that only by such action can we get to the bottom of many happenings that have mystified us. Dr. Lloyd, also, informs me that it will be—er—exceedingly dangerous to move Mr.—er—Hawson, and that it is advisable to, at once, take any statement he may wish to make. Ahem! Mr. Chosen suggests that I shall go further and examine certain other persons. He believes that it may be necessary to confront them with Mr. Hawson, and—er—he believes that it will be—impolitic—er—to wait. I may add that, as regards the latter statement, I have Dr. Lloyd's assurance that delay will be—ahem—ahem—"
The Commissioner paused and looked at the doctor, seated beside the dying man's couch. Austin Chosen turned slowly in his chair and took Francis Hawson's hand.
"Francis—Francis Delaney." Lister wondered to hear the thin voice so calm and gentle. "The end of the trail is near. Is there nothing you have to say to smooth the road for yourself—and those you leave behind?"
Hawson lay for some moments, without stirring. At last, he opened his eyes and looked round the room. Very slowly they passed from face to face, until they rested on Austin Chosen. A faint spark of interest shone in the eyes, and a slight smile parted the bloodless lips.
"Going, am I?" The words were accompanied by a little trickle of foamy blood, bubbling from the lips. As the Mystery Man did not make any sign, Francis turned to the doctor. The man nodded, slowly.
"You've got to help Mostyn, you know." Chosen beckoned the inventor to come to the side of the couch. "The police claim he is the owner of the Phantom Launch, and accessory to the murder of Gideah Brading at Yaney's Inlet."
"That's a lie!" The dying man spoke with some return of his old arrogance. "Mostyn built the launch. He invented it, and built it with my money. I gave it to him, and he let me have the use of it when I wanted it. He didn't know the use we made of it."
"What use?" Sir George asked the question, quietly.
"The use any wise man will make of a super-speed boat, to beat the Customs of a protective country." For a moment a gleam of amusement flashed in the tired eyes. "Jove, the Phantom Launch could travel!"
A glance of understanding flashed between the Mystery Man and the Commissioner. The latter sat back with a shrug of his shoulders.
"Frank." Again Austin Chosen took the thin, weak hand. "Time is short. Tell the Commissioner of your life. What happened to Matthew Hawson's will? And where is Wallace Pettington?"
"Wallace?" Hawson strove to raise himself on his elbow. "You know that? I always said you were a wonder, Austin. Wallace boasted you could not get behind the blind he had erected, but I didn't believe him. So you know of Wallace. He's been a good pal to me, in spite of all they say against him."
"Start at the beginning, Frank. Go slow, for your words have to be written down—for the sake of those who come after you."
The dying man made a motion, and the doctor placed a glass of liquid to the working lips. He drank, thirstily, and then lay back with closed eyes.
"Suppose you want me to go back to when I first met Wallace Pettington. That's where all the bother dates from, although I'm not going to allow that Wallace was to blame. Did you guess, Austin, why I always favoured Melbourne against Sydney?"
The man lay back silent for some minutes. "Funny there should be such a big barrier between the two places," Hawson continued, speaking to himself. "A man can have the time of his life in Melbourne, and not a word of it filter through to Sydney, if he's careful. I found it useful."
"To deceive Matthew Hawson?"
"The old boy was too strait-laced. Of course, it was good of him to adopt me. He could have chosen Wilfred, but he had wandered off on his own and might have taken some finding. Then, there was Mostyn, but he had his head in the air with his inventions. Uncle Matt called it waste of time and wouldn't have anything to do with him."
"What of Evelyn Hawson's children?" interjected the Mystery Man.
"Aunt Evelyn. She was a good sort, but of course old Matt considered that his elder sister's children had first choice—or, rather, he should choose from the elder sister's children. That made it a sure thing for me, with Wilfred out in the world on his own. Anyhow, the old man thought so. I was in clover, and I considered I was due for a good time. Never thought he'd expect me to stick around Myollongowera all the time, like he did."
"So that's why you favoured Melbourne against Sydney?" asked Sir George, abruptly.
"That's so. I found I could have a roaring time down there, and not at word of it known in Sydney. Uncle Matt never went to Melbourne. His home town was Bourke, and at times he went to Sydney for the Royal Show, and those old duds. Small chance of his hearing of my doings in Melbourne. Besides, I took precautions."
"How?" Austin Chosen asked the question.
"I was known as Gerald Preston, in Melbourne." Francis answered the question, quietly. "At first I kept my own name, Francis Delaney, although Uncle Matt, had made me assume his name, 'Hawson.' Then I came in touch with Wallace Pettington. I took a great fancy to him, and he liked me. It was he who suggested that I use the name 'Gerald Preston' when I hit the high lights."
"Tell the story fully, Frank." Chosen's voice was low, but insistent. "There's not much time, old man."
"No." The man motioned towards the glass. "You know all the preliminary, now. Matthew Hawson had two sisters, Mary and Evelyn. Both of them married, and both had children. Mother married Charles Delaney and her children were Wilfred, who went off on his own when he was about sixteen, Mostyn, who became a crank on engineering, and myself. Old Matt never had any children, although he married. When his wife died, he looked around his sisters' children to pick an heir. He picked me; said I was Hobson's choice, for he couldn't give Evelyn's children a chance until he had exhausted Mary's brood. Uncle Matt made me his heir and took me to Myollongowera. I got away and made things hum in Melbourne. Then, I came across Wallace Pettington. He was out for a good time, and we coupled up. That was a long time before the Central Australian Bank."
"What made the break between you and Matthew Hawson?"
"Someone put me away. I don't know who, but Uncle Matt wrote me about some girl who said she had a claim on me. From his letter I could see that he had been making inquiries. He wrote he was docking my allowance to make it up to the girl. That was hell. I was head over ears in debt and didn't know where to turn for money. I just had to have it—so I took it."
"You forged old Matt's name?" suggested the Mystery Man.
"Not necessary." Francis grinned slowly. "Old Matt enclosed a cheque for the balance of my allowance. It was just half. The other half he had paid over to the girl. All I had to do was to alter the amount. It was easy, and I thought it would lie until I could manage to straighten it out. But the old man seemed to be right on my heels. Within a week he had found out about the cheque, and old Archdale Staines wrote me a formal, stiff letter stating old Matt was making a new will and that I was not mentioned."
"What then?" The Commissioner asked the question impatiently.
"Wallace Pettington, then," Francis Hawson answered almost impudently. "I told Wallace what had happened and he proved a real spur. Somehow or other he managed my creditors, and there were quite a few of them. Then he put me into the Central Australian Bank. But I wasn't fitted for that game. I just couldn't sit at a desk and juggle figures. I had to be out with the bright lights—and that was expensive.
"Suppose you played about with the bank's money?" The Commissioner spoke grimly.
"Cash was necessary." Francis Hawson made a pitiful attempt at jauntiness. "Yes. I took money belonging to the bank, and I wasn't the only one by a long chalk. Still, Wallace stuck to me. I believe he would have kept me at the bank, but for the fact that Uncle Matt died."
"You had been disinherited?" stated Sir George.
"Wallace looked after that." A slight flush rose to the man's cheeks. "I heard of old Matt's death and didn't think it concerned me until Wallace told me to go to Myollongowera and take possession. He said he had arranged matters and that there was no new will. I was old Matt's heir."
"That all? You knew there was a later will?"
"I didn't ask questions. It was good enough that I had inherited. I wasn't worrying how. Still I thought the conditions Wallace set were peculiar."
"What were they?"
"I wasn't to go into Bourke more than I could help, and I was on no account to go to Sydney. When I wanted a holiday. I was to come straight to Melbourne—and be Gerald Preston again."
"So you went to Myollongowera. What part did you have in the Pettington Frauds?" Austin Chosen asked the question.
"First I heard of it was from the newspapers. I wired Wallace at once offering help, and saying I was coming to Melbourne. I got a queer reply. I was to come to Melbourne, but I was not to go near him. I was to assume my identity as Gerald Preston, and await orders."
"You obeyed those instructions?"
"People don't disobey Wallace. I thought they were queer, but I knew Wallace had brains, and I'd do anything for the old fellow. I was in Court throughout the trial and nearly cried when he was sentenced. Jove, it was clever the way he escaped."
"You had a hand in it?" Superintendent Hanson leaned forward, eagerly.
"Wallace sent me a message to have a fast motor-car at the doors of the Court every day of the trial, and directly the Court rose, to go and sit in it until he arrived. I was to drive it myself, and be prepared to go to Myollongowera at once. I watched him come out of Court day after day, and never make a sign towards me. I sat and listened to him being sentenced to fifteen years in goal, and watched him go out of Court in the hands of the warders. Then I went out to the motor-car and wondered what was going to happen. Presently a queer-looking lawyer chap came along and got in the car. I had the shock of my life when Wallace's voice ordered me to get to it quick. I nearly gave the show away in my surprise. Later, he told me he had one of the gaolers bribed. When he was taken from the Court he was placed in a cell where the disguise was hid. A quarter of an hour later he was let out of the cell by his friend, and led out into the streets. It was easy."
"Wallace Pettington went with you to Myollongowera," suggested the Superintendent. "How long did he stay there?"
"Why, we was there until-" Hawson broke off suddenly, and glanced round the room. "He was there until a few days ago."
"Dangerous," observed the Commissioner. He could hardly help smiling. The man's obvious admiration for one of the biggest criminals in Australian history was almost laughable. "His connection with you must have been known to the Melbourne police, and they would certainly have your station watched?"
"Wallace provided for all that." Francis Hawson turned restlessly on the couch. He was failing fast, and his speech was thickening. "He, and I, put up a joke that made matters absolutely waterproof."
The door of the room opened sharply, and Archdale Staines entered.
FOR some moments Archdale Staines stood just within the door, looking around the room. Then, with a bow to the Commissioner, he came forward and seated himself at the table. For a fraction of time the eyes the lawyer and the Mystery Man met. Austin Chosen smiled slightly and turned to bend over the dying man.
"What was the joke you put up on the police, Frank?" asked the Mystery Man.
"Oh, that," Francis Hawson moved tiredly. "Wallace and I are something of the same build and colouring. He suggested that we should dress and shave alike. Then he got me to copy some of his mannerisms, and he copied some of mine. It got so that we grew quite alike. Of course, anyone seeing us together would notice differences, but strangers, or casual acquaintances would have mistaken one for the other."
"All this time you avoided going into Bourke, or down to Sydney?" asked Austin Chosen, with a quick glance at the lawyer.
"Wallace held me to the compact. When he came up to the station he insisted that I should never go into Bourke. When I wanted to go down to Melbourne I had to motor across country to some railway town where I was not known, and travel as Charlie M'Gee, the manager of Myollongowera."
"Who attended to the business in Bourke? You had your legal and your banking business there?" asked the Commissioner.
"Why, Wallace, of course." Hawson looked up in some surprise. "He was in and out of Bourke all the time."
Archdale Staines jumped to his feet and looked across at the dying man, in some surprise. He was about to speak when Austin Chosen silenced him with an imperative gesture.
"Mr Wallace Pettington visited Bourke as Charlie M'Gee, the manager, while you, when you went for a holiday, avoided going through Bourke and travelled to some strange town, appearing there under the name of Charlie M'Gee." The Mystery Man made the statement with a quiet smile of satisfaction on his lips.
"I don't quite understand," broke in the Commissioner. "How could they do that? They were certain of detection. Surely the bank, or the station's legal adviser—le me see—for Mr. Archdale Staines, was it not—would want to see the owner sometimes?"
"Perhaps Mr. Staines will explain that?" Austin Chosen looked direct at the lawyer.
"Mr. Hawson visited my offices frequently on business of the properties." The lawyer spoke dully. "I can also assure you that Churchland, the manager of the local bank, had frequent interviews with Mr Hawson. We both know him well. I have lately been informed that Mr. Hawson is—er—seriously unwell. I suggest his memory is failing him."
"Let it pass. The truth will be made clear. There is still much for Francis Hawson to explain. Frank, what of the Phantom Launch?"
"It belongs to Mostyn." Hawson was speaking with some difficulty. "Wallace and I were always interested in Mostyn's experiments, and believed something good would come out of them. While old Matt was alive I managed to find the money to carry old Mostyn on. Sometimes it was it tight squeeze, and then I'd go to Wallace and get him to advance something. But we always managed to keep him going, and he won out at last."
"How did Wallace Pettington get hold of the boat?" asked Inspector Mack, curiously.
"He used to go to Sydney to see Mostyn and his workshops. One day, instead of going straight back to Melbourne, he came up to Myollongowera. He was excited."
"Mostyn had invented the Phantom Launch?" asked Austin Chosen.
"He'd got on the track of it. I was the owner of Myollongowera then, and was willing to spend a bit to give the old boy his chance. Wallace wanted to join in. He could see further than I could. He had seen Mostyn drive a boat with an engine that could be packed in a suitcase, and without accumulators or connections whatever. Absolutely silent, too. Wallace swore by it."
"Of course. Wallace Pettington had some unique idea for using such an invention?" Sir George spoke, sarcastically.
"It was a great scheme." Hawson turned towards the Commissioner. "He'd thought out a smuggling scheme on a big scale. His idea was to build two of Mostyn's launches. One to operate in Australia and the other in the United States. Then, by arrangements with some of the tramp steamer captains, who were not particular where the money came from, we could pass dutiable goods from one country to the other, free of all Customs. I didn't see the possibilities at first, but when we got it working it paid—by Jove, there was money in it!"
"That's why you went to America?"
"Yes. Wallace sent me over with the plans of the Phantom Launch, to get one built over there, and to put it in the right hands. I had just about got matters settled when Mostyn wrote to me. He wanted to see me at once. It was a queer letter, and I was anxious about the old chap. I cabled Wallace I was coming home, and he replied to meet him in Melbourne."
"He didn't meet you?"
"No. There was some hitch. He told me, later, he had lost his pocketbook with some important papers in it, and had to go to the police. When he didn't turn up at the shift I went on to Sydney. I knew Wallace would be angry, but I had to see Mostyn as soon as possible."
"Wallace Pettington, missing you at Melbourne, came to Sydney by train, and then went out in the Phantom Launch to take you off the mail boat?"
"You guessed that?" Hawson smiled quietly. "Yes. He took me to some place up Middle Harbour. I was to get into Sydney the next day and pick up the motor-car, and drive by some roundabout way to Myollongowera. I messed the plan. When I found the hue and cry after me, I funked the job and hid."
"What drives the Phantom Launch?" Inspector Mack leaned across the table. "You say the motive power could be contained in a small suitcase?"
"The dynamos at the Lane Cove River workshops. The Phantom Launch takes her electricity through the air." There was almost triumph in the dying man's voice. "Mostyn won out. His boat is all he claims; but he knows nothing of the use we put it to. You believe that, don't you?"
"What are the wooden boxes hidden in the sands for?" Lister leaned forward and asked his first question.
"Something new old Mostyn got at. He had an idea that the broadcasting and commercial wireless stations threw a lot of energy onto the air. His idea was to gather it in those boxes—and between the wooden walls they're full of wires and valves—and relay it on to the Phantom Launch. It didn't quite work, but he would have found the secret in time."
The man lay back on the couch, with his eyes closed, his face drawn and white. From the half-opened lips welled a growing stream of blood. The doctor pushed Austin Chosen to one side and bent over the dying man. As he straightened himself, after a brief examination, he caught the Commissioner's eyes.
"Can't do any harm, Sir George." The medical man answered the unspoken question. "Only a wonderful vitality has held him to life so long."
Austin Chosen reached to the table and brought the glass of tonic to the man's lips. A few minutes, and he opened his eyes.
"It isn't too bad," he gasped. "I thought—Say, Austin, you won't—let them—Mostyn, y'know."
"I'll look after him." The Mystery Man was bending low over the man. "Francis, one more question. "Who murdered Gideah Brading?"
"Did Wallace Pettington murder Gideah Brading?"
"No. He—he was—with me at—at Middle Harbour—all—all—that—night."
The man's head sank low in the pillow. A convulsive shudder shook the sturdy frame, and from the mouth and nostrils spurted streams of blood. The muscles related slowly, and the mouth dropped open.
Francis Hawson was dead.
For some minutes the men sat round the table in solemn silence. They were waiting for some move from Austin Chosen. He sat beside the couch, his face bowed in his hands. At length, he roused himself and turned to the Commissioner.
"I think there are still a few blanks to fill in, Sir George," he commenced in a low tone. "Mr. Archdale Staines can explain the happenings at Bourke."
"I?" The old solicitor bent forward, curiously. "It is true, Sir George, I am the solicitor for the Hawson estates and for the late Francis Delaney Hawson, but I think you will agree with me that much of the tale we have listened to is past belief. For one thing, Mr. Hawson stated that he never visited Bourke. I can assure you he was frequently in the town, and visited my offices on each occasion."
"Do you recognise Francis Hawson?" Austin Chosen's quite voice broke on the heated speech of the solicitor. "Archdale Staines. Is it not a fact that when you visited the Sydney Central Police Court a few days ago, you saw Francis Delaney Hawson for the first time since his manager, Charlie M'Gee, that was Wallace Pettington, came to Myollongowera?"
"At the Central Police Court you swore that Francis Hawson came to you in Bourke three weeks previous?"
"You heard him say that at that time he was on the high seas coming into the port of Melbourne. You know that it was proved that Francis Hawson travelled from London to Australia on the S.S. Arathusa, and, therefore, could not have been in Bourke at the time stated?"
"There is some mistake. Francis Hawson saw me as I have stated."
"Francis Hawson swore in your presence that he never went to Bourke or Sydney?"
"He lied. He was frequently in Bourke, passing through on his way to Sydney."
"You say that each time he made the journey he stopped in Bourke to see you?"
"When you saw your client at the Central Police Court did he look any different to when you saw him at Bourke, three weeks previous?"
"He looked strange—pale and ill—and very drawn in features."
"You would not have recognised him but for the situation? I suggest that if you had met the man out in the streets of Sydney you would have not recognised him."
"I might not. He looked terribly altered. I put the alteration down to illness and worry."
"The Francis Delaney Hawson you saw in Bourke was a robust, arrogant man?"
"What are you driving at?" Archdale Staines half-rose from his chair.
"Let it pass for a moment." Austin Chosen smiled quietly. "How many times did Charlie M'Gee, the manager, come into Bourke to see you?"
"I do not remember that he ever came to see me."
"Do you know anyone in Bourke who could identify Charlie M'Gee from personal acquaintance?"
"I do not think so," the solicitor answered after a very long pause. "Are you suggesting-"
"Are you aware that the police have verified the late Francis Hawson's statements that he was in the United States of America and England during the past eighteen months? Are you aware that they have irrefutable proof of these statements. Come round the table, Archdale Staines. Is this the body of your late client, Francis Delaney Hawson?"
For some minutes the old solicitor bent over the calm, still body. At length, he straightened and faced the Commissioner. His face was white—almost as white as that of the corpse by which he stood.
"Sir George," he said slowly, "I never thought—I assure you, I had no idea-"
"What do you mean, Mr. Staines?" The Commissioner spoke nervously.
"Let me explain," interposed the Mystery Man. "You will remember, sir, Francis Hawson swore he never visited Bourke nor Sydney. He swore he was pledged to Wallace Pettington to that course. He swore his manager, Charlie M'Gee, alias Wallace Pettington, frequently visited Bourke and Sydney. You have seen how anxious Wallace Pettington was that Francis Hawson should not visit Sydney; so anxious that he broke the Customs and health regulations to prevent Francis Hawson landing in Sydney Harbour. Against that place Mr. Staines' statements, backed by those of the sergeant of Police at Bourke, that Francis Hawson was frequently in Bourke. There is a direct contradiction only explainable by-"
"You mean, Mr. Chosen-"
"I mean that the Francis Hawson so frequently in Bourke and Sydney was known on Myollongowera as Charlie M'Gee, alias Wallace Pettington, escaped convict."
"WALLACE PETTINGTON posed in Bourke and Sydney as Francis Hawson? Impossible!" The Commissioner laughed uneasily. "I will grant you that he might have done so on one or two occasions, but a systematic campaign of impersonation would be certain to fail."
"Yet the systematic assumption of the character of Francis Hawson was Pettington's greatest safeguard," answered the Mystery Man, shortly. "We cannot get away from the proved fact that Francis Hawson was outside of Australia during the past eighteen months. You will remember Francis Hawson's statement that Wallace Pettington persuaded him to agree to such personal changes as would make for a dual identity. I have photographs of Francis Hawson taken in Bourke that show he was almost Francis Hawson to the life. You will remember that from the time Francis Hawson inherited the properties he was never allowed to go into Bourke. Thus, when Wallace Pettington escaped from custody in Melbourne, he had a clear field to pose as Francis Hawson in Bourke and Sydney. No, Sir George; once having assumed the character his safety lay in carrying it through for all time. Had not this happened, and had Francis Hawson died naturally, at Myollongowera, it is certain Wallace Pettington would have assumed the character for the rest of his life; sure of himself and of the reputation as Francis Hawson he had built up carefully in New South Wales."
There was strength in Austin Chosen's reasoning. Slowly the truth forced itself against the prejudices of the three men around the table. Twice Sir George cleared his throat to speak, and stopped. At length he turned to Austin Chosen.
"Who owns Myollongowera Station now, Mr. Chosen?"
"That is a question I would like Mr. Staines to answer." The Mystery Man looked across the table at the lawyer. "Did Francis Delaney Hawson leave a will?"
"No." A startled look came in the old solicitor's face. He looked around him as if seeking some means of escape. "Mr. Hawson was a comparatively young man, and unmarried. He had not thought of making a will, although I spoke to him more than once on the subject."
"Mr. Mostyn Delaney would, in that case, inherit, I presume," suggested the Commissioner, carelessly. "Although the question is not within the corners of this inquiry. Now we have Mr. Hawson's statement, I presume there is no further object to be served by staying here. Superintendent Hanson?"
"I beg your pardon, Sir George." Austin Chosen interrupted swiftly. "I beg of you to carry this inquiry a still further distance. I believe we can clear up fully the remaining mysteries at this sitting, and possibly identify the ex-convict, Wallace Pettington."
"If you can do that, and clear up the mystery surrounding the murder of the man Brading at Yaney's Inlet, of-"
"Those points and the connection of Wallace Pettington with the Hawson family," added the Superintendent quickly. "I am not satisfied with the information in that connection."
"First, we will ask Mr. Archdale Staines to produce the last will and testament of Matthew Hawson. The will he suppressed to allow Francis Delaney to inherit the properties," suggested Austin Chosen in a low voice.
"What do you mean?" The Commissioner asked the question, glancing at the lawyer, who had sprung to his feet.
"Mr Staines understands me well."
"There is no will. Matthew Hawson made a will disinheriting his nephew, but destroyed it."
"That is untrue." Austin Chosen spoke unemotionally. "With almost his last breath, just before you entered this room, Archdale Staines, Francis Hawson swore he inherited his uncle's property through your success in suppressing the second will."
"There is no will in existence." Staines had fallen back in his chair, a sullen expression on his face.
"The will is in your possession at this moment, Archdale Staines." The Mystery Man's voice was low and insistent. "What part has Wallace Pettington in the Hawson estates?"
"Wallace Pettington?" The old lawyer looked up with denial in his eyes. Something in the expression of the man facing him altered his intention. With a groan he dropped his head to his hands. "Wallace Pettington saved me from my madness."
"You embezzled money of your clients to gamble on the Melbourne Stock Exchange?"
"Heavens! You know that?" The old man sprang to his feet. "It is written a man's sins shall stand ever before him. Yes, I took the money entrusted to me in a mad attempt at sudden fortune. I lost it."
"Then I came to my senses. I realised for the first time what I had done. I saw what I had to face and I was afraid. Never shall I forget that night in my room in the Melbourne hotel. I sat and faced a future that held only death. I had made up my mind to it. The pistol was in my hand when that man saved me."
"Saved you. At a price. What price, Archdale Staines?" The tones of the Mystery Man cut clear and emotionless through the tense silence.
"The suppression of Matthew Hawson's will disinheriting Francis Delaney."
"And the terms?"
"The man was cunning. He lent me the money. Tempted me with secrecy, and with the possibility of winning through without sin. I thought I could succeed—and failed."
"The terms?" Again the words were spoken in a tone full of insistence.
"Wallace Pettington lent me the money at the current bank rate of interest. It was repayable by yearly instalments, or—" The old man bowed his head on his arms and groaned.
"In full, on the day anyone but Francis Delaney inherited the Hawson estates. Matthew Hawson was a hale and hearty man at that time. I thought he would live for many more years. I intended to work hard and pay up the money and regain my freedom before—"
"Matthew Hawson died some months after the loan was made to you. Wallace Pettington called on you for the return of the full sum, or to place Francis Delaney in possession of the Hawson estates. You could not have repaid the money you borrowed on the day Matthew Hawson died?"
"Therefore, to save yourself, you suppressed the last will of your client, Matthew Hawson, and allowed Francis Delaney to succeed to the estates from which he had been disinherited. What would you have done, Archdale Staines, had Francis Delaney died, appointing by will an heir other than the one mentioned in Matthew Hawson's will, now in your breast pocket?"
"I would have produced the last will of Matthew Hawson, at whatever cost to myself."
"Would you?" The Mystery Man sat back in his chair and stared hard at the old solicitor. "I believe you would, Archdale Staines."
There was silence for some seconds. Then Sir George cleared his throat loudly.
"Where is Wallace Pettington?" The Commissioner leaned forward in his chair. "Wallace Pettington was convicted of frauds in Melbourne eight years ago. We now know how he escaped, and went to Mr. Hawson's station, Myollongowera, near Bourke, and there posed at the manager, Charlie M'Gee, and at the same time assumed the identity of his protector in Bourke and Sydney. We have learned that Wallace Pettington was the instigator of intrigues surrounding the Hawson estates and family. We again hear of him as the head of the smuggling enterprise connected with the Phantom Launch, but we do not seem to be able to place our hands on him. Where is Wallace Pettington?"
"Here." The one word came from the corner of the room where sat the prisoners taken in the raid on the house, under guard of the police. A stocky, carelessly-dressed man sauntered to the table, and stood facing the Commissioner.
For a moment the men at the table were too surprised to act. Inspector Mack was the first man to recover his poise. He jumped from his seat and strode over to the side of the man naming himself Wallace Pettington. The Commissioner impatiently waved him back.
"You are Wallace Pettington?"
"The name will serve." The master criminal shrugged his shoulders indifferently. "I have answered to it."
"You are Wallace Pettington." There was a strangeness in the Mystery Man's voice. "What is your interest in the Hawson estates, Wallace Pettington?"
"The interest Austin Perry, alias Austin Chosen, assumed to have." The answer was defiantly flung back.
The Mystery Man laughed lightly, and turned to the Commissioner. "I will substantiate this man's statement, Sir George. This is Wallace Pettington, the runaway brother of Francis Delaney. Let me introduce him by his real name, Wilfred Delaney."
"Wilfred Delaney?" The Commissioner puckered his brows. "Let me see. The matter is becoming so involved that-"
"Wilfred Delaney is the elder brother of the late Francis Delaney and Mostyn Delaney. He disappeared from home in his youth. He betrayed himself by the very great interest he took in his brother Francis's affairs."
"And yourself, Mr. Chosen. I believe this man called you 'Perry'?"
"I am Austin Perry, half-brother of Frederick Weston, who married Evelyn Hawson, the younger sister of the squatter, Matthew Hawson. My interest in the Hawson estate is that I was the legal guardian, up to their coming of age, of Anthony Weston and Ysobel Weston, the joint heirs of Matthew Hawson under the will suppressed by Archdale Staines at the instance of Wallace Pettington."
THE sounds of a fast-driven motor-car broke on the silence that fell on the room with the Mystery Man's final announcement. Wallace Pettington stood at the foot of the table, defiantly facing the Commissioner. Austin Chosen had risen from his chair, and was watching the master criminal anxiously.
"Mostyn." The voice of the master criminal came soft and clear through the silence. "Mostyn, they are trying to steal your boat."
"Eh?" For the first time Mostyn Delaney spoke, rising from the foot of the couch, where he had crouched since his brother's death. "My boat! Where is it?"
"In the cave. Take care! They want to steal your boat, Mostyn."
Mostyn Delaney was on his feet, staring wildly around the room Austin Chosen caught him by the arm and pulled him down to his seat. For a moment the inventor gazed vacantly around; then he appeared to lapse into his former lethargy.
"They will steal your boat." Very softly the master criminal breathed the words. Before Inspector Mack could utter the protest on his lips, the man turned sharply to Austin Chosen. "You asked for Wallace Pettington. I am he. What do you want with me?"
"Wallace Pettington!" The Mystery Man leaned forward across the table. "Who killed Constable Smith?"
"How should I know?" The man stood erect, arrogantly defiant. "Why not ask me who killed Gideah Brading?"
"The murderer of Gideah Brading anticipated you in the act by a few hours. You wrote the note that sent the man to Yaney's Inlet. You placed the notes in the wooden box hidden under the bluff. When you came to the Inlet you found Gideah Brading dead; not killed by the box of chained lightning Mostyn Delaney had invented, but by some unknown and mysterious hand. You found a police officer watching the scene. You came in the Phantom Launch, and he traced you to the Old House. You shot him down, and, to conceal your crime and preserve the secret of your shelter on the inlet, you carried his body to the bluff and there left him. Every step of your actions has been traced, Wallace Pettington."
"You've got to prove that, Austin Perry. I admit nothing. For the time the luck of the frame is with you. Who knows? There is always a tomorrow. Tomorrow may be my-"
"There will be no tomorrow, Wilfred Delaney." There was deadly earnestness in the Mystery Man's tones. "Long have you avoided payment for the crimes you have committed. Even if the charge of murder cannot be fastened on you in this State, the police of Victoria wait in Sydney to carry you back to the punishment you have avoided for over eight years. What further charges-"
"The morrow dawns!" The master criminal's voice rang clear and sharp through the room. "For the moment you hold me, but the Phantom Launch and the man who made it have escaped you. Look!"
The man was pointing to the French windows. For the moment Austin Chosen was puzzled. Then he noticed that Mostyn Delaney was not in the room. The warning of the master criminal to the half-witted inventor came to his mind. "They are stealing your boat, Mostyn." With a startled exclamation he sprang to his feet.
"Mack! Quick! The Phantom Launch! Mostyn's gone to the Phantom Launch!"
The Inspector sprang to the door, almost overthrowing Wallace Pettington from his path. For a few minutes there was confusion. Lister made for the open windows. He had almost reached the veranda when he was brushed roughly to one side and the figure of the master criminal sprang out into the open. For a brief moment he stood free. His carefully-laid plot, culminating in a bold dash for freedom, had almost succeeded. With a mocking laugh he turned and looked back at the bewildered men in the room; then he ran swiftly towards the corner of the house nearest the path down the cliffs.
It was a daring dash for freedom, and for the moment Wallace Pettington appeared to have an even break. If Mostyn Delaney had gone to the Phantom Launch, and the master criminal could gain the path down the cliffs, then it was possible that he might get away in the wonderful speed-launch Lister gained his feet and started in pursuit, closely followed by the police streaming through the windows.
Pettington had a fair start. He arrived at the corner of the house just as Lister came to his feet. As he reached it a man appeared, coming: on to the veranda. Lister uttered a cry of warning. The man appeared to take in the situation at a glance. With a cry of rage he sprang at the master criminal's throat, and the two men fell to the ground. For a moment they were a tangle of twisting arms and legs. Then Pettington sprang to his feet with a cry of triumph, and sped towards the cliff edge. The other man lay on the veranda boards, stunned and bleeding.
At the edge of the cliff the master criminal paused and looked around him. The slight delay at the corner of the house had been sufficient to bar his way to freedom. Already the police were coming from the front of the house. Wallace Pettington was surrounded. For the moment he was free, standing looking out over the mighty ocean. A few more minutes and the hand of the law would clutch him and take him to the punishment he had so long evaded.
The man stood motionless, watching the police approach. In his hand be held a long bladed knife. Almost automatically he raised it at the approach of the constables, daring them to come closer. He had retreated to a small pinnacle of rock, almost overhanging the edge of the cliff. One false step and he would fall over, to be dashed to pieces on the rocks guarding the entrance to the cavern.
"There goes the Phantom Launch." Wallace Pettington waved a triumphant hand out to sea. "Mostyn and his boat have escaped."
From the cave under the cliffs the Phantom Launch darted straight out to sea. Silently and swiftly it sped out, straight towards the heart of the Pacific Ocean, and at the helm stood the mad inventor, his face turned towards the watchers on the cliff.
"Farewell, Austin Perry." Again the master criminal spoke. "Again you are right; there is no tomorrow for me. We shall never meet again."
For the moment he stood, watching with calm arrogance the knot of police officers a few feet away, hesitating to grapple with the man who would drag them to a certain death over the cliff.
With a contemptuous shrug of his shoulders, he tossed the bloodstained knife high in the air, and watched it circle down to the rock below. Then, with a final wave of his hand, he stepped forward, into eternity.
There was no need to hurry to the foot of the cliffs. Wallace Pettington had walked to a certain death.
Sick at heart, the little group turned back to the house. On the veranda lay the stricken man who had foiled the master criminal's daring attempt at escape. The doctor had completed his examination, and stood back with a significant shake of his head. The man looked round him uncertainly, and then up at the grave face of the doctor.
"Finis, isn't it?" He laughed slightly, a laugh that ended in a groan. "You needn't tell me. I know."
"Who are you?" Austin Chosen was kneeling by the wounded man's side.
"Who are you? No. I know. You're the man I had to watch—the man, Austin Chosen—the guesser of secrets. Tell me, Austin Chosen, have you guessed my secret?"
For a moment the Mystery Man knelt, silent. Then, in a low, Impressive voice. He spoke:
"Ten years ago there lived a struggling medical practitioner in one of the suburbs of Melbourne. Chance ordered that a relative should die and leave this man a fortune of a few thousand pounds. On the strength of that fortune the man set up as a specialist in the heart of the city. He married, and thought there opened before him the road to success. Time passed. Ill-health dogged him. His growing practice dwindled; his investments failed. The fortune that had seemed so great grew smaller and smaller, while his expenses increased alarmingly.
"Himself, wife, and child, ill and in need of expensive attention, the man resolved to risk the remains of his fortune in one great throw for the money he needed. He came in touch with a man who claimed he could foretell the Stock Market. The doctor ventured cautiously, and at first won small amounts. Anxious for the wealth that meant health and comfort for those he loved, he risked all on one throw of the dice of Fortune.
"The next day he learned of the disappearance of the man on whose word he had trusted the remnants of his fortune. The bank in which the man was a trusted servant closed its doors. The doctor was ruined—more, his brain gave way under the shock, and for weeks he lay unconscious of the ultimate blow fate had dealt to him. When consciousness came he learned that wife and child had passed from him into the Great Unknown.
"Alone, poor, and friendless, the doctor wandered from the scene of his ruin, bearing in his heart a bitter hatred of the man who had betrayed him. Years passed, and the flame of that hate was never allowed to die. Almost he prayed God, or devil, to deliver his enemy into his hands."
"He did." A smile lighted the eyes of the wounded man. "Austin Chosen, you have read my heart. Gideah Brading was the man. I am the doctor, Angus MacDermott."
"I know." There was infinite sadness In the Mystery Man's voice. "Will you continue the story, or shall I?"
"What is there to tell?" A spark of vigour came into the dimming eyes. "Vengeance was mine—and I fulfilled."
"Your enemy came to you—and you recognised him, though he failed to recognise you. You sent him from you while you prepared the drug that should bring him to his death. Speak, Angus MacDermott, that, when you have passed into the Great Beyond, others may not be accused of your sin."
"I gave him poison, in the form of a lotion, to cure the broken blister on his hand. He thanked me for it—and—and I watched him—go—with laughter in—my heart. My enemy—had been—delivered—into—my—"
Austin Chosen closed the staring eyes with gentle fingers, and stood up. For a moment he stood with bowed head beside the body of the man who had claimed life for life.
The mysteries that had gathered around the Phantom Launch were solved. One by one he had traced them to their conclusion. Over eight long years the trail had wound, years in which he had sometimes faltered, almost hopeless of bringing to the light of day the secret evil of the great master criminal Wallace Pettington—once the innocent boy, Wilfred Delaney.
Almost blinded by the sudden rush of thought he put out a groping hand, to have it clasped in a warm, firm grip.
"Steady, Uncle Austin. Tony's here." The newspaper man slipped his arm around the waist of the Mystery Man. "Best thing is to get you home as soon as possible. This excitement is bad for you."
"Where is Ysobel?" The girl he named and loved as his niece meant much to him.
"Afraid in future you'll have to take me as a substitute." Tony grinned, affectionately at the drawn face resting against his shoulder. "Ysobel appears to have other things to mind."
He pointed out towards the edge of the cliff. There walked Ysobel Weston, heiress of Myollongowera and half a dozen of the richest stations in the State, and by her side Sydney Lister, who, with Austin Chosen, had regained for her the wealth of which she had been defrauded.
They were not thinking of wealth and stations. Their minds had passed from the bleak tragedies of the past days in which they had played their allotted parts. Days of trials and tribulations had melted into the glorious dawn of a tomorrow in which the one great mystery was life and love.
Project Gutenberg Australia