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The Rumford Plains Tragedy

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I Statement Made By Gilbert Vaughan, Manager of the L.S.D. Bank, Wattleville.

IT was a serious difficulty, and had occurred so suddenly that my presence of mind entirely forsook me—I saw no way out of it save instant flight. There lay the dead body, slain by my hand, and in a few moments I should be confronted with the girl whom I had intended to make my wife. How was I to face her, knowing how fondly she had loved the poor victim?

The act had been quite unintentional. Although there had never been much love lost between us, I had not meant his death.

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It had been simply the fault of hasty temper on my side and unfortunate curiosity on his. I had ridden out that day, my heart filled with the gentlest feelings; the bright morning and sunny landscape seemed to whisper naught but peace, and now, by an inconsiderate blow, I had dispelled all my hopes, and saw no escape but in prompt and immediate disappearance from the scene. To continue standing by the poor corpse would be the act of an idiot. By a strange chance no one was about; I had ridden up quite unperceived. So I mounted my horse and hastened back to the township which I had left that morning with such different feelings.

My duties at the bank that day (I was the manager of a small country branch) were, fortunately for me, of the slightest, for my mind was constantly running on the morning's tragedy, and I was ceaselessly wondering if my deed had been discovered, and picturing the sorrow of the innocent girl whom I so fondly loved. At three o'clock I heard a voice in the bank asking

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the teller if I was in, and soon afterwards, to my amazement, Ah Foo, the Chinese cook at Rumford Plains, walked into the small apartment that served as manager's room.

As he glanced at me with his cunning almond eyes I saw in a moment that my secret was known, and it did not need that he should take out two small objects and place them on the table to confirm this suspicion. For an instant I had wild thoughts of shooting him down with the bank revolver and swearing that he had tried to stick up the place, but I restrained myself in order to hear what he had to say.

“I saw you kill him, Misser Vawn, and I welly glad. No fear I say anyting. Evelybody ask. I no savee. Evelybody say Misser Muspius; I no savee, only laugh. Missee Lawrence she cly, cly, all day. Think it Misser Muspius doee.”

“Ah Foo,” I said, “you're a brick; here's a sovereign for you.”

“Allight, Misser Vawn. I no savee who

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kill him, only, when evelybody say, Misser Muspius, I laugh—” and he laughed himself out of the room, only to reappear for an instant. “You go, see Missee Lawrence to-night?” he whispered in a stage aside, and vanished.

Of course I would. I would make the most of the golden opportunity. Muspius, my hated rival, was evidently suspected, and Ah Foo had slyly confirmed these suspicions. I was safe, so long as I could bribe Ah Foo; at any rate, I would take his advice and go to Rumford Plains at once; it was only five miles, and I would arrange that the suspicions thrown on Muspius should be confirmed. I had taken the first step in crime; the second was easy.

II Statement Made by John Muspius, Superintendent of Merridale Station.

It was a pure accident, but a most unfortunate one, to happen on the very morning when I rode over to Rumford

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Plains to propose to Miss Lawrence. Just as I was going to hang my horse up I saw Tommy standing at the low fence, with his head over the second rail, watching me. Now, I had had more than one bridle broken through his tricks, and after ineffectually telling him several times to clear out, I gave him a tap with the double of my whip. It caught him on the back of the neck, and, to my astonishment, he dropped down dead. It struck me at once that no one would believe it was an accident, for only the other evening I had got into a dispute with Lawrence about shooting blacks in North Queensland; and he had said that he would not trust anyone's life in my hands. Of course he was in a temper because I had the best of the argument, but this accident happening just after such a remark would look altogether too suspicious; and besides, I dared not face Miss Lawrence, for I knew how fond she was of Tommy. There was no one about, so I just rode quietly off into Wattleville to think it over.

About half-past two that afternoon old

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Jennings, landlord of the Royal, told me that Ah Foo, the cook at Rumford Plains, wanted to see me. “Well, Ah Foo,” I said, when the old scoundrel came in, “what do you want?” I had no suspicion at the time that he had witnessed the unhappy affair. He grinned and made a motion with his arm like striking a blow, which at once told me that he knew all. “Welly unlucky, Misser Muspius,” he said, “poor Tommy—dead.”

“Ah!” I said, “it can't be helped. You know I never meant to kill him.”

“I savee,” he replied, “I saw you. Evelyone say Misser Vawn kill Tommy. I no savee, only laugh. Missee Lawrence cly, cly, cly.” So that confounded bank jackeroo, Vaughan, was suspected, was he? Well, the best thing that could happen. I gave Ah Foo a sovereign, and he winked and said, “You go see Missee Lawrence, I tink welly good.” Then he vanished. Under the circumstances this was excellent advice, and I determined to follow it. Of course I would not go out of my way to

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shift the blame on Vaughan, but if anything were said about the matter I would not hide my opinion of him. All's fair in love and war. Besides, he had no business to be out there at that time in the morning; serve him right if it proved the means of getting him into trouble.

III Extract From the Diary of Miss Selina Lawrence.

May 1st.—Such an unhappy commencement to the day; I never thought I should feel so glad afterwards as I do now. About 11 o'clock papa came to me to say that poor Tommy was dead—killed, seemingly, by a blow on the back of the neck! I almost fainted when I heard it. The men were all away at the yards, and no stranger had been seen about the place. Poor Tommy! I cried bitterly all the morning. His body was laid out and I put some flowers on it, he was such a good-hearted, faithful fellow. Papa is very indignant, and

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says he will never rest until the guilty party is found out; I never saw him so roused before. He says it is a most abominable crime to be committed in broad day. While I was still sorrowing over poor Tommy's fate the mail arrived. Such glorious news! A letter from Fred, saying that his uncle has retired and handed his practice over to him; so now there's no reason why we can't get married at once and bring our long engagement to an end—so he writes. Papa's very pleased, too; he said that the practice is worth nearly two thousand a year, and we are actually going to start for Sydney tomorrow morning, so I'm tired out packing up.

Mr. Vaughan and Mr. Muspius came over this evening. They both seemed very absent-minded and jealous of each other. I suppose Papa told them what had happened when they went out on the verandah to smoke, for they both, I am glad to say, went away early.

Poor Tommy! this good news put his death right out of my head for the moment.

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IV Statement of Ah Foo, Cook at Rumford Plains. (Translated into ordinary English.)

I remember May 1st. I was looking out of the kitchen window when I saw Mr. Vaughan ride up. Just as he approached the house, Tommy, Miss Lawrence's pet emu, went up and pecked at the buckles on his saddlepouch, and his horse started back and broke the bridle. Mr. Vaughan turned back and caught his horse, and when Tommy came up again, he hit him with the butt-end of his whip on the back of the neck, and knocked him down. After looking at him for a moment, he got on his horse again and rode back to town. I went out to see if Tommy was dead, and as he still moved, I finished him, for he was always in mischief. Just then I saw Mr. Muspius coming, so I put Tommy up against the fence with his head through, to hold him up, and returned to the kitchen. Mr. Muspius looked round when he got off and saw Tommy, so he gave him a

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flick with the double of the stock-whip he was carrying, and Tommy tumbled down. He thought he'd killed him, for he got on his horse again and rode away just the same as Mr. Vaughan. I put poor Tommy up again with his head through the fence, and then Mr. Lawrence came along. “There's that d——emu,” he said, “trying to get into the garden;” and he picked up a stick and threw it at him, and down went Tommy. I came out and looked at him and he looked at me. “My word,” I said, “Missee Lawrence make a fuss.” “Hush,” he said, “you no savee anything”; and he gave me a pound—and he went in and tell Missee some “bomniable wletch” killed Tommy.

That afternoon I went into Wattleville, and Mr. Muspius gave me a pound not to tell, and Mr. Vaughan gave me another. Then, in the evening, Missee Lawrence came into the kitchen and said: “Ah Foo, I'm going to Sydney to-morrow to get married. Here's a pound to bury poor Tommy properly.”

Next morning, young Wilson, the new-chum

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from the next station, came over, and he said, when he saw Tommy: “Ah Foo, I want an emu-skin to send home to England to say I shot him. You skin me this nicely and I'll give you a pound.”

That welly good emu, that makee me flive pounds.