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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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