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Chapter VI. Jack Milton's Escape.

“CALL no man happy until he is dead,” said Solon, that wise man of Salamis.

There is an instinct of insatiable discontent planted in the heart of every human being, which ever urges us towards the consummation of our desires, and this only more or less strong in its attraction than the horror of death in its repelling powers, according to the lives we live and the passions we indulge in.

Those who, like Socrates, or such saints as Thomas à Kempis, accustom themselves to self-denial, have fewer promptings towards suicide and less horror of death. Their unambitious and eventless lives satisfy their modest cravings. They have learnt to find enjoyment in the passing phases of the seasons, and, living outside their passions, they are drawn into the all-satisfying heart of Nature and exist for the moment that is with them. This is the nearest approach to happiness on the earth side of death, yet even that is not complete. Death is the only panacea for humanity.

As Hans Andersen says in one of his fairy tales, each human being hides under his cloak a beast of some kind. It may be a ruthless tiger, a poisonous snake or scorpion, a fox, or even only a timid hare, or peacock. I fancy, however, that most of us hide more than one beast under our

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jerkins, indeed that we are animated Noah's Arks, and while we parade the lambs and doves on our upper decks, the swine, snakes and other wild animals are all there under the hatches, only waiting their opportunity to show themselves.

The beasts that Jack Milton had encouraged mostly were of the scorpion and prey-like species. It had been his occupation to prey upon Society for many years, and gratify the passion of the moment without reflection. Yet the one passion, which, if it did not ennoble him very much, had been the nearest approach to devotion and simplicity that he could feel, had been his affection for this female Judas.

As with many criminals, who do not recognise the laws made by Society or Morality, fidelity to his own kind was the one point of honour which chained his wild and lawless nature. He could not “peach upon a pal,” no matter what he suffered in consequence, so long as that pal acted right towards him, yet if the “pal” turned traitor, then his next natural craving was for revenge.

His wife Rosa had been more to him than all the pals in the world, for up to the last few seconds of time his trust in her love had been infinite. Had any other tongue told him that she was false, he would have killed the traducer and brushed the slander aside like a fly. He was not an Othello in his love, possibly because having youth and strength as well as full consciousness of his own powers of pleasing, he could not have believed that the woman lived, who was so loved, that could resist responding.

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But the only tongue which could shatter his faith had spoken, and it had the paralysing effect of a lightning stroke.

When roused, he was like a tiger in his rapidity; he only meditated when he was planning out a robbery or an escape from prison, and he acted now on the scorpion's instinct of despair.

Six almost noiseless clicks, almost like one sound, broke the silence as the betrayed man sent the chambers of his revolver spinning round, and in that second of time his heart stood still and his mind was a blank. The weapon was in such perfect condition and so finely made, that the clicks were no louder than the ticks of a watch, so that only he could hear them.

Then, as he realized that the cartridges had been extracted by the traitress, the temptation for self-destruction passed like a flash, and the animal instinct of life preservation woke and braced him up. He even laughed silently and grimly as he thought almost admiringly of the adroitness and quickness Rosa had displayed in emptying the revolver. “What a pickpocket the jade would make with a little training,” was the quaint fancy that crossed his mind, as he clutched his revolver by the barrel and crept close to the wall, for he had heard the rustle of her dress as she moved to the door, leaving the detective inside.

Five minutes before, that quaint fancy would have seemed sacrilege in the mind of this robber and murderer, if applied to his wife, but now it was the most appropriate idea he could think of respecting

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her. She was still beautiful and had proved her cleverness, but never again would she be a thing to respect and adore. If a bullet had dashed out his brains, his love could not have been more surely slain than it was at this moment of recovered life. He was now the trapped wild beast, with all his craft and resolution in full force.

He felt her glide past him as he crouched by the wall of the lobby leading to the kitchen, she touching the other side of the wall to guide herself towards the staircase. He heard her soft breathing as he held his own, and he grinned again, thinking how easily he could have strangled her at that moment, but for the man inside that parlour, with the necessity that he should himself escape. No, not for these cogent reasons only would he let her go by in safety. A dull pain crushed on his heart and made him pity her for what she had lost. He would not hurt her for her perfidy. He would only quit her for ever, but he must escape and punish her that way.

She reached the top step before he moved, then noiselessly and rapidly he glided through the kitchen into the wash-house at the rear, where there was a door leading to the yard, and a window on the shingle roof. The door was barred, but the window had been left open, and it was large enough for him to get through.

He planned it all as he ran along, with the lightness of a cat, for he was a man of as rapid mind as he was swift of action.

The police were in the yard, and Rosa would

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give the alarm in another moment; then lamps and pistols would flash out simultaneously and he would be seen.

In the yard grew a large almond tree, that spread its branches over the shed roof and overlooked the narrow lane which divided them from their neighbour's back yard. In his mind's eye he saw Rosa pause at the bedroom door to recover herself before entering, for she wasn't yet hardened enough to be able to face her victim without some little preparation.

She would listen for a little time to hear if he slept, to still the beatings of her excited heart, and to call up to her pretty face that false and tender smile, and he laughed again bitterly as he calculated his chances.

With his soft touch he cleared away the pans from the top of the wash-boiler, then gripping up a billet of wood, with a light spring on the boiler, he was through the window and on to the thickest limb of the almond tree, with a thick covering of leaves between him and the watchers below.

He had studied that almond tree during the day-time as a mode of escape, for he never neglected any details in his surroundings, wherever he was. A housebreaker of his experience and acumen, resembles a great general, who regards every landscape as a probable battlefield and each corner or building as a spot to be utilized for his own particular business of war.

Jack Milton had now all his wits about him and was too cool to spoil his chances by undue haste.

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A snake could not have glided along that branch more noiselessly than he did, or with less disturbance of the leaves and twigs. He felt each inch of the way and moved as if he had the whole night before him, while under him the policemen stood watching the lighted bedroom and waiting on the signal, all the while his ears were also on the alert for that signal.

He reached the trunk and swung himself up to another thick limb which led from it and rested on the high fence. He could not see those below, but in front of him, that portion of the fence and branch came within the radius of light from the bedroom window, while, as the leaves grew thinly here, he knew he could be seen if any one chanced to be looking in that direction.

This was the point of danger, yet he got just behind the verge of light, and then raising himself, he stood clearing the leaves in front of him, while he waited to take the leap.

If his wife had been his best friend, he could not have waited more anxiously on her coming cry of alarm. He calculated exactly how she would act when she found the room empty; she would rush to the open window with a shriek, and the police would look in that direction in their first surprise, and that would be his chance to leap along the line of light, then if he managed to get hold of the branch beyond without attracting notice, he could laugh at them for the time.

He seemed to see her turning the handle, with that false smile on her lips, then——

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Yes, there was the expected scream sent out to the night from the window above, with a sudden darkening of the light on the branch which he knew to be the shadow of her figure, and that made his path much easier.

He had been prepared to leap, but he changed his intention and walked easily along the branch to the fence, then over that again to the fence on the other side of the lane, after which he looked back before taking the drop.

“What a racket they are making, the stupid owls, waking all the dogs in the neighbourhood,” he muttered, as he saw the flashing of the lanterns on every side but the one where he was. He saw the darkened form of his wife, with the detective beside her looking out, while their voices rose in a loud chorus. With a muttered curse he dropped quietly into his neighbour's yard, still grasping that heavy billet of wood.

A large dog rushed at him barking loudly, and letting him know by the sound where to strike. Waiting till it was almost on him he brought down the billet with his full force, and that antagonist was settled for the time.

Across the yard he sprang, through the little gate that led to the front garden and verandah; the people here were as yet asleep; so that he had no trouble in getting to the other side, which was only protected by a low fence, yet covered by tendrils and bushes. When he crossed this he was a couple of lanes from his own house with the road clear as yet in front of him.

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The lane he was now in led to two different streets and he paused for a moment to think which was best for him to take, then, having decided, he walked quietly away, leaving the din behind him.

He was at present an object of suspicion if any one had seen him, for he was hatless, and clad only in his nightshirt and trousers, these he had hurriedly drawn on before leaving the bedroom. Yet that could not be helped, the one thought that now engrossed him was where he was to turn to find shelter.

Mr. Chester—yes, yet if Rosa was false her cousin was likely in the plot also. No matter, courage had freed him so far, and courage must do the rest. He would walk to Chester's house and bluff him for what he wanted.

It was a warm starlight night and the street he was in was deserted, so that he did not find much inconvenience walking along bare-foot and hatless. He moved swiftly along keeping his keen eyes about him so as to avoid chance policemen and inquisitive pedestrians. He was also examining the houses he passed, wondering if he could not do a little business and rehabilitate himself on the way, only that he did not wish to waste valuable time.

Chance, assisted by the god Bacchus, served him before he had got very far, for, as he was passing a gate he almost stumbled over a man who evidently had been overcome by the Sydney whisky, and now lay on the foot-path in that deep and dreamless slumber which even good whisky will produce when too freely indulged in.

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This chance benefactor to the hunted man was well-dressed, and near enough his own size to serve his purpose. With the gentleness of an expert valet, Jack Milton drew the drunkard through the gate into the garden, finding him more comfortable quarters under some shrubs, and there he made his toilet, leaving the other as he had been himself, in shirt and trousers.

The boots were a little too large, and the soft felt hat a degree too small, but the coat and vest fitted him fairly well, the gold watch which he likewise borrowed served to show him the time at the first lamp-post he came to, and the loose change he found scattered about the different pockets came in handy.

“A regular boozer that,” Jack muttered as he counted about ten shillings in threepenny bits, mixed with copper pieces, other silver and several gold coins. “He has been visiting many pubs on the way and will need the half-crown I left him, in the morning, I guess.”

He looked at the watch and found that the time was ten minutes to one o'clock, also that the watch which gave him this information was a good one.

“Fortune favours the bold—now for my noble Chester.”

This little adventure raised his spirits wonderfully, for it seemed a prognostic of good fortune in the future, so that he walked along with a light heart, and in about half an hour afterwards reached his destination.