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  ― 95 ―

The Mystery of Baines' Dog




  ― 97 ―

Prologue

THE trouble was first caused by the Malingerites, and, needless to say, it was a case of cherchez la femme. One of the youthful members of that tribe had forcibly abducted a maiden of the clan of Layovah, and red war ensued. The worst of it was that they selected as convincing ground a spot close to a much-frequented cattle-camp, on the boundary of two large runs where the herds met. This greatly extended the circle of commotion. The noise and tumult of battle, “the thunder of the captains and their shouting,” coupled with the shrill yells of the gins, were enough to unsettle the temper of any well-regulated beast, and at the end of the engagement the casualties were—one blackfellow seriously


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injured by falling over a stump during the heat of combat, two slightly scratched, and one gin very hoarse through screeching. The cattle scattered to the four winds. Most of the Seldon Downs beasts fled on to Inverlochy, and most of the Inverlochy ones to Seldon Downs—all vowing in their bovine hearts never again to set foot on that camp.

So two stations, whereon the owners had dwelt for years in peace and amity, fell out on account of an obscure aboriginal quarrel. Jack Bell, of Seldon Downs, said it was the fault of Tom Devine, who should have kept his niggers in better order; and Devine said that Bell knew as much about managing blacks as he did about squaring the circle. The cattle were soon mustered and put right; but the remarks were repeated and remembered.

The two erstwhile friends were in this embittered state when Baines, the hawker, was murdered at the old boundary hut. Then the smouldering feud broke out. Devine maintained that it was evident the


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man had been killed by the natives on Bell's station; and Bell held as his salvation that the unfortunate fellow met his death at the hands of whites, probably some men lately discharged from Devine's. So the matter stood when our story opens, and the ends of justice were finally defeated because the Malingerites quarrelled with the Layovahs. It is as well to trace things back to their first cause.

I

Dick Baines, the hawker, had been murdered; of that there was no manner of doubt. He had camped at the boundary-hut, an old, deserted sheep-station, and a traveller passing the next day found him lying alongside his dray with his head cut open. His own axe, with a blood-stained blade, lay beside the body. Evidently he could not have done it himself. On that point everyone agreed.

His horses were safe and his goods apparently untouched, and herein lay the mystery of the crime. He had only just


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started on his round with a full load, and what little money he had taken was found on his body. There seemed no motive for a white man to commit the deed, and if any of the blacks had done it, why had they not sacked the dray? It was an enigma worthy of a first-class detective-story. Meantime, during its elucidation, there was nothing to do but hold an inquest over what was once Baines, bury it, and let the law do the rest.

The deceased had been some time in the district, and was noted for his reserved manner. He always travelled and camped alone, and seldom drank. He was not extremely popular, and most people suspected that he had “a past.” One singular feature of the tragedy was that his dog, a smart little fox-terrier, had disappeared. The matter had almost run the orthodox nine days, when interest in it was suddenly revived by the arrest of a man in the small township of Boolah, a short distance from the scene of the murder, who was formally charged with the crime. He had Baines' dog with him.




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McFarlane, the man accused, was well known in the district and bore an excellent character. He had been working at Devine's on a fencing contract and had been paid off and left the morning before the hawker was killed. Had started for Seldon Downs, the road to which led past the boundary-hut. Thence he had gone round by two other stations to Boolah. He stated that he found the dog astray in the township, recognised it as the missing animal, called it by name, and the dog followed him. He was about to inform the police when he was arrested by the sergeant.

Scarcely had the surprise occasioned by this been well digested, before a more astonishing one turned up. Baines' dog was also found in a blacks' camp on Seldon Downs.

One of the men riding by the camp noticed a gin scuttling away with something in her arms that yelped and struggled. Rounding her up, he found she was vainly trying to conceal Baines' well-known and apparently ubiquitous dog. Further search revealed nothing more, and the gin made the


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astounding assertion that the dog had been given to her by a white woman. Beyond that no intelligible information could be elicited from her. The blacks were well watched and the dog taken down to Boolah, where McFarlane was to appear before the magistrates' court.

It now transpired that there were two dogs marked exactly the same, identical in size and appearance, and both answering to the name of “Rattler.” But the question was, which of the pair was Baines' dog? Never since the judgment of Solomon had law-court a more knotty problem. The animals on being introduced promptly fell on each other tooth and claw and were with difficulty separated. Bell and Devine, both J's. P., were sitting on the bench with the police-magistrate. They differed in opinion. Bell declared that the dog found with McFarlane was the dead hawker's; Devine was equally confident that the dog found on Seldon Downs was the one wanted. After much heated discussion Bell left the bench and desired to give evidence.




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He stated that the last time he saw Baines, the hawker showed him a trick he had been teaching his dog. It was an old and well-known performance. The dog sat up on his hind legs with a piece of meat or biscuit balanced on the tip of his nose; at the words “ready, present, fire!” he tossed it up, caught and swallowed it, and dropped on all fours again. Bell selected the dog he thought was the hawker's, and put him through the performance amidst the hushed attention of a crowded court-room. It was a complete success and he looked up with an air of triumph.

“Yes. That's the dog found on Seldon Downs,” said Devine from the bench.

“Nothing of the sort,” returned Bell hotly, forgetting his position as witness. “It's the dog found with McFarlane.”

Devine was indignantly replying, when the P.M. interfered and asked the sergeant which dog it was. The sergeant looked at the dogs, then at the two policemen, and they looked blankly back at the sergeant. Then the truth burst upon everybody with such


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suddenness that a roar of laughter convulsed the court.

The two dogs had got so irretrievably mixed up in the fight that now no one could tell one from the other.

When order was restored (Bell and Devine had nearly come to blows) the P.M. decided to remand the case for a week. Bail was allowed McFarlane, which Devine readily found. One of the dogs, the one which could perform the trick, was ordered to have a collar put on for distinction, and both were given in charge of the lock-up keeper. The enquiry had simply complicated matters. Baines' dog was identified, but nobody could say for certain at which place it had been found. Bell and Devine were, of course, equally positive, but that was mere party feeling. Most people believed in McFarlane's innocence, but Bell vowed that he would bring the murder home to him.

“Can you recall anything suspicious the night you passed Baines?” said Devine to McFarlane, as they went out after signing the bail bonds.




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“No, sir. He had hobbled his horses out and was lighting a fire. I got off, lit my pipe, and stopped yarning for about twenty minutes. Then I went on to Seldon Downs.”

“And from there?”

“I came to Boolah by Thirglemere and Bingledoon. I had been here about two hours when I recognised the dog, and directly after I had coaxed him to follow me I was arrested.”

“From the boundary-hut, going round by Seldon Downs, Thirglemere, and Bingledoon, you made it about eighty miles to here and took your time?”

“I stopped two days at Thirglemere and two at Bingledoon. I was a week coming here altogether.”

“But anyone could ride from the boundary-hut straight in to here in about thirty-five miles.”

“Yes, by the old track, but you have fenced that across now.”

“The wires could be easily strapped down, or cut, for that matter. Let's see, I don't


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suppose it's been used for years, and there has been no rain since Baines was killed. I'm going to run the old track.”

“Will they let me go with you?”

“I'll fix that,” said Devine—and the next morning the two departed for the old track to the boundary-hut.

During their absence, however, Bell was not idle. He returned to the station, and, after much ado, he had the old gin, from whom the dog had been taken, brought into Boolah. As they arrived Devine and McFarlane rode in, returning from their trip to the old hut.

On being shown the two dogs, the gin immediately claimed the one without the collar as being her property. This was satisfactory, to Bell, at any rate, but at this moment Devine came upon the scene. Disdaining to do more than civilly sneer at the test just gone through, he drew the sergeant on one side and held a short conference with him. The sergeant disappeared with the two dogs; the others waited, Bell scornfully impatient. Presently the two dogs reappeared.


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On being told to pick out her dog, the gin at once again selected the collarless one.

“That's the other one this time, is it not, Sergeant?” said Devine.

“Yes, sir, I shifted the collar just now.”

“It's not fair!” broke in Bell. “The poor devil's frightened out of her wits; she picked right the first time, but you've bothered her;” and he marched out of the yard in deep disgust.

When Devine and McFarlane left the township they did not trouble to look for tracks until they were well clear of all the stray animals. When about ten miles away the old bridle-path was quite plain. Both men rode on in silence, scanning the ground carefully; at times, with a low whistle, one would call the other's attention to something he saw. Just as they got within sight of the fence, they pulled up.

“It's plain enough, McFarlane,” said Devine; “a horse has been ridden along here about the time of the murder.”

McFarlane nodded. “We shall make sure at the fence,” he answered, and they


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rode on. It was a wire fence, and where it crossed the track the wires were taut and evidently untampered with. The two turned and rode along the fence in opposite directions. A shout from McFarlane brought Devine back to him. He had come to a panel that bore marks of rough usage, from the way the upper wires sagged. “The top wires have been strapped down and then brushed across,” said the fencer, pointing to the withered boughs lying about.

“And the horse did not fancy tackling it,” added Devine; “look how he has been hanging back.” Inside the fence the ground was much more bare and dusty, and the tracks of a horse's stamping hoofs deeply indented were plainly visible.

“Whew!” said McFarlane, getting through the fence, “look here!” Devine followed him. On a particularly dry and dusty bit of ground was the plain imprint of a boot. There should have been nothing strange in this to make the men stare so intently at it; it was only what they might have expected to find.




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Placing his hand on McFarlane's shoulder to steady himself, Devine put his foot down close to the track without actually touching the ground. The difference in size was at once apparent.

“Either a boy or a woman,” said McFarlane. “And the gin said a woman gave her the dog,” returned the other.

Carefully getting back so as not to deface the tracks the two men mounted and rode a short distance down the fence to where they knew was a small gate. Making for the old bridle-path again, they followed it on towards the hut, McFarlane drawing Devine's attention to the track of a small dog now plainly visible on that of the horse.

They stayed that night at the old sheep-station, but no further evidence rewarded their careful search, beyond the fact that some blacks had camped in the neighbourhood, apparently about the date of the murder. They returned to Boolah in time for Devine to be present at the dog-test, as already narrated. McFarlane met him as he was coming out.




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“It has just struck me to whom that second dog belongs,” he said.

“Whose is it?”

“Mrs. Brown's; you know, at Boomerang Creek.”

“By Jove, you're right,” said Devine. “It must have been stolen from there.”

Devine was doubtful whether to communicate the discovery of the suspicious track to the police or not. Against his better judgment he did so, thinking it his duty. They went out, accompanied by Bell, who volunteered his services, examined the track, and reported that it had been made some time since the hawker's death, and so had nothing to do with that occurrence. In this they were partly prompted by Bell, and partly by the fact that as they had searched for tracks, without success, at the time of the murder, it would never do for them to go back on themselves. Devine cursed himself for a fool, and that was all he could do. When McFarlane's case came on again he was, of course, discharged. The evidence was altogether too slight, and several people came


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forward and testified to having seen the dog in Boolah before McFarlane's arrival.

“I'll find out about that other dog,” said Devine to himself.

II

Nearly forty miles from Boolah, on the way to the seaport, in the opposite direction to the scene of the tragedy, stood a wayside public-house, on the bank of a large creek, crossed by the road. Mrs. Brown's, on Boomerang Creek, was noted east and west for its neatness, cleanliness and good accommodation. People travelling stretched a point to make the place for the night's stay. The coach-passengers who grumbled at the meagre fare of the other accommodation-houses were told to wait till they came to Mrs. Brown's. Brown, for there was a Mr. Brown, was devoted to outdoor work, but Mrs. Brown was the presiding genius of comfort indoors, and, therefore, the place was generally known as “Mrs. Brown's.”

When the Judge was on circuit, he always carefully fell ill for a day or two at Mrs.


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Brown's. Men from the hot western plains, who had lived for weary months upon pigweed and “salt-horse,” rested at Mrs. Brown's with calm contentment. Freshest of vegetables, of butter, of eggs, and best of cooking, what could a man with a salt-junksaturated liver want more?

As cheery as her well-kept table was the appearance of the hostess herself, a plump little woman, who perennially had a smile upon her pretty face, and a kindly greeting for everybody. She was devoted to her quiet, easy-going husband, who warmly reciprocated the feeling. A word from Mrs. Brown would steady the most drunken fellow, and when she was in the bar the language of all hands was painfully discreet.

It was at this calm haven of rest that Tom Devine dismounted one evening in his character of amateur detective. He was, of course, well known, and Mrs. Brown, as she flitted in and out of the room seeing after his comfort, kept up a lively flow of chatter.

“I suppose you miss something, Mr.


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Devine?” she said as she invited him to table.

“Well, no! Everything seems as comfortable as usual, Mrs. Brown.”

“I've lost my dog since you were here last. You remember little Rattler?”

“Of course. Why, that must be your little terrier the police have in Boolah,” said Devine, with infinite hypocrisy.

Mrs. Brown nodded and smiled brightly. “Yes, I only heard of it the other day. I must send up and claim him.”

“How did you lose him?”

“I am not sure. He was stolen, I believe; but we had so many travellers staying here at the time that I don't know whom to suspect.”

“Any women amongst them?” asked Devine, quickly.

“Yes, one. I don't know who she was; she was going with her husband to some station out west.”

“Would you know her again if you saw her?”

Mrs. Brown was positive that she would,


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and in her turn asked what made Mr. Devine so curious.

“I will tell you,” he said, after a pause. “You have heard all about the murder of Baines, the hawker? Well, one of the dogs was found in a blacks' camp, and the gin who had it asserts that it was given her by a white woman.”

Mrs. Brown looked down on the table upon which her hand rested. “I should be sorry to hear that she was mixed up in it, for she seemed to be a very nice person,” she replied.

“But if the gin has told the truth she must have stolen your dog.”

“That is true,” she remarked.

Devine was up at sunrise next morning, after restless dreams about a strange woman who went about stealing dogs and killing hawkers. He strolled out and commenced yarning with Brown, who, bucket in hand, was standing at the milking-yard waiting for the cows.

“The missus has gone down the paddock for them this morning,” he confided to


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Devine; “got up very early—she couldn't sleep at all last night.”

At this moment the first of the lowing herd made its appearance. Mrs. Brown was behind on foot, driving them up and leading her horse. One after the other they blundered over the rails that had been carelessly let down at one end only. Mrs. Brown followed, but the horse she was leading suddenly stopped and refused to step over the rails.

“Confound that horse!” said Brown, “he wouldn't lift his legs over a pack-thread if he could help it.”

Devine did not answer. His thoughts were engrossed in a sudden flash of memory. The horse that obstinately hung back on being required to step over anything! The tracks at the wire fence!

Brown went into the yard and commenced milking. Mrs. Brown having succeeded in getting her horse over the rails, went on to the stable, Devine walking by her side.

“Mrs. Brown,” he said quietly. “I know who killed Baines, the hawker.”




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She started, stopped, and looked him for one moment in the eyes, read there that he knew the truth, and turned so deadly white that he was afraid she would faint. She recovered herself, however, and walked steadily on to the stable. Stopping at the door she glanced around to see if anybody was within hearing, then said firmly: “Had I better tell you everything, or go and give myself up to the police?”

“Perhaps you had better tell me,” he replied, after a pause.

“Very well. I will, presently.”

Mrs. Brown went about her work that morning apparently unmoved by any unusual emotion. It was not until nearly noon that she found time and opportunity to see Devine.

Her story, which, for the most part is unfortunately a common one, need not be given in full. She was an orphan brought up on a farm by some distant and not overkind relatives. When only an ignorant girl of eighteen, Baines, who then travelled that district, persuaded her to elope with him


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under a promise of marriage that he never kept. For two years she lived with him as his wife, until, tired of ill-usage and broken vows, she ran away and took service as a barmaid in a country town, where her husband met and married her.

Fate, unfortunately, brought them to settle close to the district where Baines was now plying his trade. The township of Boolah, however, was his limit, and he had never been to their house until about a week before his death. Then, on recognising his former victim, he revengefully threatened to expose her past life to her husband.

“He was one of those evil-minded men,” she went on, “who must have something to torture. It was only out of sheer love of cruelty that he threatened me, because he saw I was happy with Brown. He vowed that when he came back from his trip he would do it, and showed me some old letters and photographs of mine which would prove his words. You can fancy my feelings when he left me with this hanging over my head My home to be broken up, and my husband


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turned against me! At times I was tempted to confess it all to my husband, but then I should have to admit that I only did it under fear of exposure. I made up my mind that if I could succeed in getting the letters and things from Baines, I would dare him to do his worst, and some days after he left, I started under the pretence of paying a visit to a friend in Boolah, with a mad idea of somehow stealing the letters.

“I overtook him at the old hut, and intended to wait in the scrub until he was asleep; but my little dog, which had followed me, betrayed me when he caught sight of the other one. They were twin puppies, and were called ‘Rattler the First’ and ‘Rattler the Second,’ and when I ran away from that wretch I took one with me. I had nothing for it but to come forward when he recognised the dog.

“You may guess what brutal taunts he used towards me, and when, in despair of getting what I wanted, I was going away, he tried to stop me by force. His axe was


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leaning against the wheel, and I picked it up and dared him to touch me. He laughed, and the next moment I struck him down. I scarcely knew I had done it until I saw him lying there.” She stopped, and, after a pause went on:

“My first thought, of course, was to get away; then I remembered my letters. The deed was done, I might as well get what I came for. I soon found the letters and things, and left the spot.

“And what about the dogs?”

“They both followed me. About a mile from the hut some blacks were camped. One gin was squatting at the fire, and I called her over, and gave her what I thought was Baines' dog, thinking it would get away from them and go back to the dray in the morning. It was dark, and in my flurry I made a mistake and gave her mine. When daylight came I found it out, but I could not drive the dog away, and it followed me home, for it remembered me. After hanging about, however, for a few days it disappeared, and, I suppose, made back to


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Boolah, where it was found. Everybody, of course, took it for my dog while it was here.”

“How did you come to know of the old track.”

“I did not know of it. I came on it by chance in the dark, and my horse followed it. As it was leading in the right direction I kept on until I came to the country I knew near Boolah.”

“And had some difficulty in getting your horse over the fence?” said Devine. “Did it not strike you that giving the dog to the blacks would throw suspicion on them? I hope it was not done with that motive.”

“It was not,” she said eagerly; “I made sure that the dog would get away, and I scarcely gave myself time to think. Afterwards, when it was too late, what you say occurred to me. Now I have told you everything. What I did was done almost in self-defence, and it was only what a father or brother would have done for me had I had one.”




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She ceased and Devine was silent for a while. At last he spoke.

“Nobody has any suspicion of this but I. McFarlane saw the tracks, but I can easily put him off. The best thing to do is for Brown to ride back with me to Boolah and get your dog. For my part I shall hold my tongue and advise you to do the same.”

Now if the Malingerites had not quarrelled with the Layovahs, Devine and Bell would not have taken opposite sides in the affair. Devine would not have constituted himself an amateur detective, and the matter would have been left to the proper authorities, who might, possibly, have blundered on to the real culprit. As it is, the death of Baines, the hawker, has remained a mystery to all save one woman and one man.

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