XX The Cottage

AT the corner of King and George Streets I came face to face with my uncle, Daniel Rowe. The old king was quite respectably dressed; he looked like a better-class mechanic in Sunday attire, and not at all like a larrikin; he was carrying a black patent-leather handbag. When he caught sight of me his face became transfigured with purest joy; his eyes glistened and beamed, his whole personality diffused satisfaction. He dropped his bag and held out both his hands.

“My dear Mr. Rowe,” he cried, “how glad I am to see you!”

This ceremonious greeting was intended for the benefit of the bystanders. In spite of my distressed preoccupation, I was touched by his gladness.

“Dear old uncle!” I muttered, and pressed his hands.

“Come this way!” he said, and led me back down King Street, towards the wharves, to a tavern called “The Angel.” There we obtained a private room, and, after being served with drinks, my uncle shut the door.

“Lukey, my boy, this is a lucky meeting. I would have gone out to see you to-night!”

“Why, uncle, is anything wrong?”

“Haven't you read the evening papers?”

“Not yet; why?”

He drew from his breast pocket a folded journal, which he spread on the table before him. I saw it was the Evening News.

“Listen!” he said. “Larrikin Outrage.—A little after

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daylight this morning, the body of a young man was discovered by the water police lying half-concealed amongst some lumber upon one of the old jetties on the Darling Harbour side of Miller's Point. It was at once conveyed to the Morgue, where an examination of the remains was made by the Government medical officer. Dr. Milford, upon whom our reporter waited during the forenoon, is of opinion that the dead man, whose identity has not yet been determined, came to his death by foul means, and is probably the victim of a larrikin ‘push.’ The body is covered with bruises, apparently the effects of blows administered by some blunt instrument (no doubt the boots of the larrikins could account for this feature), but no bones are broken. Marks upon the neck suggest the employment of a strangulating rope, and the surgeon has certified that death accrued from asphyxia, within a period of thirty-six hours previous to the discovery of the body. This gruesome find irresistibly recalls the cowardly and brutal murder of senior constable Tobin, which occurred in the same district not many months ago, and which is still fresh in the minds of the public. Many circumstances point to the conclusion that the authors of both crimes are identical. It is well known that Miller's Point has long been the habitat and retreat of a dangerous gang of ruffians; but so far the police have seemingly been unable to successfully cope with their inhuman adversaries. We do not wish to cast any aspersions upon the policy, whom we believe to be, on the whole, a fearless and capable body of men, but we desire to strongly urge upon them the absolute necessity of instituting and prosecuting forthwith a relentless campaign against a band of criminals whose depredations are now become a serious menace to society. They should not rest until the murderers have been caught and convicted, and the whole larrikin element of Miller's Point utterly stamped out. In the public interest we shall watch their proceedings with the closest possible attention. An inquest on the body will be held at the Morgue to-morrow morning at ten o'clock.”

Later.—The body of the victim has been identified as that of Alphonso Daly, an iron-worker, recently employed in the foundry of Mr. John Robin, a boiler-maker, of Miller's

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Point and Balmain. The brother of the murdered man, Mr. Patrick Daly, is a designer, also in Mr. Robin's employ. He states that deceased left home on Thursday evening about nine o'clock, intending to spend the night with some friends at Redfern, and then catch the morning's train for Newcastle, where he had some business to transact for his employer. Since then nothing has been heard of him by his family, who are all respectable, hard-working people. Mr. Patrick Daly merely visited the Morgue from feelings of curiosity, for he believed his brother to be safe and well in Newcastle. His grief on recognising the body was painful to witness. So far, no clue has been discovered of the murderers.”

During this recital my feelings had undergone a succession of changes. At first I was struck with horror; then rage and indignation, that the Push had broken its promise to me almost choked me; but when my uncle had concluded I was cast in doubt. I knew not what to think. It seemed impossible that the Push should deliberately murder Pat Daly's brother, and Pat Daly not only a member of the Push, but one of the king's councillors.

My uncle glanced at me enquiringly. “Well?” he said.

“Whose work is it?” I muttered.

He shrugged his shoulders, leaned forward, and whispered in my ear—

“He was a traitor, boy; we have not broken our promise to you; remember, we made an exception for traitors.”

My very spine turned cold. I fancied I could see blood on my uncle's hands, his clothes, his face—the room swam with blood. I had a sort of vertigo. My uncle quickly pushed his glass before me. It was rum, a liquor the smell of which makes me ill; but I seized the glass with shaking hands and drained it to the dregs.

“What did he do?” I gasped.

“We caught him in the passage—looking for the Book.”

“What did he want with it?”

“To sell us to the police!”

“How do you know?”

“He confessed!”

My teeth commenced to chatter in my head.

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“We are in danger; he must have had some dealings with the police. They will know!”

My uncle smiled grimly. “He had no chance. Pat has suspected him for some time. His idea was to steal the book and bolt, then sell it afterwards!”

“Did Pat consent to his death?”

“Pat strangled him with his own hands!”

I shuddered violently. I could see the whole thing. “How is it you didn't bury the body at sea?” I gasped presently.

“We had no time. The boys were getting it ready; but a watchman was posted outside the wharf. The boys had to take to the water and swim in order to get off unseen as it was. One of them was nearly taken by a shark while going through the piles of Job's wharf.”

I laid my head on the table, and simply groaned. “It's too horrible, uncle. I can't stand it!”

He frowned. “Lucas, boy, I'm afraid you're a bit white-livered. It's time you were a man; you're over twenty-one!”

“I can't help it, uncle.” In a few moments I was horribly ill.

My uncle tended me with the kindness of a woman. I loathed his very presence; his touch sent thrills of horror coursing through my frame; but I bit my lips hard, and managed to prevent him seeing quite how cruelly he affected me. But he must have noticed something, for he often shook his head, and sighed. When I was better he said:

“This will alter all our plans, Lucas. You mustn't come near the shop for six months at least, until it all blows by. But I'll have to see you now and then, so will the councillors, and we oughtn't to go near the pub. you're stoppin' at. What you'll have to do is this. Take a little cottage on lease as near the Uni. as you like, and furnish it. You can get a woman in to look after you. You can get just the very sort you want in Derwent Street, and cheap, too. I had a look round the other night.”

I liked this idea. It would be more private for me, and also it would enable me to entertain Edward Shaw and any

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other friends I might make. I thought it wise, however, not to appear too pleased.

“It will take a lot of money to furnish it, uncle!” I objected.

“Can't be helped, boy!” He shrugged his shoulders. “What could you do it on?”

“I'd have to furnish it properly, uncle, if I take it at all. You know I am in a good set now—swells. I couldn't bring them to a poor place!”

“That, of course!” he replied proudly. “I wouldn't ask you to live in rags. What you've got to do is to play the gentleman, and live right up to the others. The Push is that glad you've got in with the Shaws I couldn't tell you!”

“I'm glad of that, uncle.”

“Could you do it with a hundred?”

“I'm afraid not—unless second-hand; furniture costs an awful lot, you know.”

“But it won't be a big place; three rooms would do.”

“I must have a spare bedroom, uncle. Edward Shaw will often want to spend the night with me.”

The old man's eyes flashed with delight. “Will he, now?” he cried. “Well, name your figure, boy, and you'll have it, if it breaks me. Remember I'm doing this, not the Push.”

“Two hundred, uncle!”

He looked curiously relieved. “Well, well, it might be managed. I can't say.”

“When shall I know?”

He put up his forefinger to his nose, with a very knowing look. “You'll have the ready to-morrow, boy, or Monday at latest. Your old uncle's no blooming pauper, though he's not a rich man—miles off a rich man, Lucas. But let me tell you this: you go on straight and good, as you're doing—I've no fault to find with you, boy—you go on straight, and one of these days, when I peg out, you'll find yerself—not badly off, not too——badly off, Lucas.” And he got to his feet.

“When shall I see you again, uncle?”

“You write when you're fixed, and I'll drop you a line and

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let you know, so that nobody else need be by. I'll always write you when anyone's comin', so as to give you time to have the coast clear.”

“I'll get in some good rum for you!” I said.

“Now that's kindly of you, Lucas. I appreciate a little attention like that; it shows you don't forget your old uncle's tastes. I like you for that, Lucas.” He positively beamed at me.

The old man's affection was so manifestly deep and earnest that I felt a shame that I could so meagrely reciprocate it. I hastily changed the subject.

“How is Judith?” I asked.

“Well and bonny!”

“Has she another boy yet?”

“Two. Sam Pagney and Bill Jones are cuttin' neck and neck to get her. She has 'em both under her thumb like slaves. But she reckons she keeps true to you. One of these days you'll have to wed her, Lucas!”

I shook my head. “I'll never marry her, uncle. If Judith hopes that, she is making a great mistake!”

He frowned. “Don't you go makin' a fool of yourself over that girl Denton, Lucas. I tell you straight, for your own sake, 'cause the Push will never let you marry outside of the Push. Judith has heard of her, and is jealous as a cat already!”

I felt myself turning pale. “If I wanted to marry I wouldn't ask the Push for their permission!” I cried, hotly. “This is a matter which entirely concerns myself.”

My uncle looked at me steadily. His face had marvellously changed. A moment before soft and affectionate, it now frowned grim as death. His thick brows met over his small, cruel grey eyes, and his heavy jaws locked together with a snap. His yellow lips were lifted over his teeth in a dog-like snarl as he grated out:

“She has money, I'm told?”

I did not pretend to misunderstand him. “She has!” I replied.

“A thousand a year, they tell me?”

“You are correctly informed!” I was quite reckless, but

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curiously cold. I intended to thresh the matter out, and I was not a bit afraid of the issue.

“Don't you go for to cross me, boy!” growled my uncle.

“Apply that advice to yourself!” I insolently returned. “What right have you to cross me in an affair of this sort?”

“I'm king of the Push!” His restrained rage was terrible to watch. “And this much I'll have you know. In your position, how you stand, you've got to depend upon the Push, and owe every bean you get to the Push. Do you think we're goin' to stand by an' see you marry a rich woman—a lady, not belonging to us? Why, first thing that'd happen, she'd get to the bottom of things, and if she didn't put us all away, she'd persuade you to clear out; and then where'd we be? You tell me that!”

It may seem strange, indeed improbably wildly strange, but nevertheless the fact is, that until that moment I had never really considered the matter of my marriage with Miss Denton, and the issues such an event must involve with regard to the Push. I had existed for almost two months in a sort of dreamland, a realm of romance and love-like imaginings. I had given neither thought nor care to the future, nor to the practical side of life. But now I was recalled to actualities, and with a sharpness of vigour which almost stunned my faculties, I perceived at once that from my uncle's point of view he was entirely right and just in his demand. The Push, if they wished to retain me as their instrument, as reasonable beings, simply could not afford to allow me to marry a rich woman. The guarantees of my allegiance to the Push must always consist of two things: my fear of their vengeance, and my enforced dependence upon them for the means of life. Were I possessed of independent fortune it would be always possible for me to quit Australia, and defy their revenge at the world's end. In that case it is true that they possessed a weapon in the confession I had signed, but it was not a weapon that they would ever dare to use except in self-defence, say if I betrayed them; at least, I thought so then. I was obliged to admit, in spite of myself, that I had no hope of solving the problem to my own advantage. I realised for the first time my true position; I was so far from being a

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free agent, that I believe no slave who ever lived was so closely shackled and bound as I. After an intense silence, during which all these ideas were successively reviewed, I looked up at my uncle. His regard was not in the least relaxed; on the contrary, he appeared more angry and doggedly resolute than before. A great wave of bitterness surged into my heart; the last little shred of affection which I still felt for him died, smothered in that flood.

“Do you mean to tell me?” I asked, slowly, and pausing on each word, “that if I ever wish to marry I shall be compelled to choose a wife from the Push?”

“Nothing less,” he snarled; “and something more to boot, if you want to live with a woman either, she's got to be a push girl.”

“We won't discuss that question!” I said, coldly.

“It's well to understand each other!”

“You may rest assured that I shall never marry, uncle!”

His eyes became bitterly suspicious. “No use you're tryin' to put me off,” he growled; “I can see with half an eye that you're gone on that damned girl!”

I shrugged my shoulders. “Make your mind easy, there is nothing between us. To-morrow she leaves Sydney!”

“Where for?”


“How long will she be gone?”

“Two years!”

His face relaxed, he broke into a smile. “Come, come!” he cried, “we've been fighting over a shadow; but you are gone on her, Lucas—own up to it like a man!”

“She is not on me, at all events. She doesn't care a rush!”

The strange man before me frowned blackly. “The slut!” he cried; “did she treat you badly, boy?”

I shuddered; the word hurt me like a knife thrust. I bit my lips, and muttered, “No, she was within her right.”

“Say the word, boy, and I'll——”

I stopped him with a gesture of rage. “For God's sake let her name alone. I don't want to speak of her.”

He strode across the room and threw wide the door, then

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returned to me, and grasped my hand. “Good-bye, boy!” he said, and, stooping, kissed my fingers.

When he had disappeared I furiously wiped the place his lips had touched—that hand had been caressed a hundred times by Amber Eyes.