XXVI A Respite

AT nine o'clock the street bell rang. I got up noiselessly; I turned the gas low and peered through a crevice of the blind. Two men were standing on my tiny garden path. By the light of the street-lamp opposite I recognised them—they were society acquaintances: Dr. Berry and the Rev. Mr. Thorpington, who had probably come to pay me a visit of sympathy, having read of my trouble in the newspapers. After ringing several times they departed. A little later came Mr. Richard Greville, the secretary to the P.G., with Captain Sebright, the Governor's aide-de-camp. After they had gone, Mr. Rupert Percival, accompanied by two senior reporters of different journals, knocked at my door. Last of all came Captain Ballack, the man who had followed May out from England. I very nearly admitted him. He looked so strong and sturdy standing in the lamp-light, and also so brave, that in a moment of weakness I was almost for calling upon him to assist me in my hour of trial, and, although I was his successful rival, I do not doubt he would have accorded me his help, for he was an Englishman, and I believe a gallant fellow. However, I subdued my inclination. I said to myself, “This is your own affair, Lucas Rowe; you have embroiled too many already in your quarrel with the Push; you have no right to require a stranger to risk his life for you!”

I was touched by the kindness of so many people having come so far fruitlessly to see me; the more because during

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the past few weeks I had given up society and refused myself to all callers, so as the better to devote myself to my sweetheart.

After Captain Ballack had departed, two hours uncoiled their leaden-footed parts in intensest stillness. Never a single wayfarer passed my door, never a sound did I hear except the beating of my own heart, which grew louder and more solemn as midnight approached. I heard the clock bell of the University tower toll the hour which most men regard superstitiously, but still my fate loitered. One o'clock chimed before a warning came. Then a furtive rap sounded on the panels of the street door. Three times was it repeated, before it changed into a more imperious summons. I made no move. The window beside me was slightly rattled. I watched it, gripping my revolver. Silence reigned again. I knew that my enemies had gone round to the back of the cottage. I heard each window tried in turn. My heart felt like a red-hot ball within me when finally there reached my ears the thud of feet in the passage. I swiftly rose, turned the gas on full, and reseated myself. Doors were opened and shut. At last, guided by the light, the handle of my library door was turned. Simultaneously with the click of the lock I cocked my revolver. The door was flung wide, and my uncle crossed the threshold. Meeting the revolver and my flaming eyes, he started and stopped dead. He seemed to be alone.

“What's this?” he gasped.

“Who is with you?” I rapped out.

“No one.”

I laughed sardonically.

“S'elp me Gord!” he said, earnestly.

I saw at once that he was telling the truth, for but few men can lie with their eyes, and my uncle was not of that few. I put down my pistol.

“What have you come for?” I demanded. “Has the Push failed in courage after their mistake, their double failure? Is my execution postponed?”

“I thought you'd think that,” he replied, with a sullen frown. “I knew as soon as I'd read the inquest that you'd think the Push killed your friend in mistake for you. But

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you're entirely wrong. The Push had nothing whatever to do with his death.”

I gave a bitter sneer. “I suppose I am also wrong in thinking that the Push had a hand in burgling Mr. Finlayson's office?”

My uncle took a chair, sitting astride it, and leaning his elbows on the back rim. “Well, you're right in that,” he admitted. “I wanted to get back that paper, you see.”

“And make a few pounds into the bargain?” I suggested.

He gave an ugly laugh. “I see you don't believe me, Lucas.”

“About the murder of my friend?” I retorted; “no, you murderer, I don't!”

He turned quickly livid, half started up, but just as quickly controlled himself.

“I excuse you, 'cause you're in a mistake,” he muttered, thickly. “An' it's natural you'd think as you do. But I tell you again, Lucas, I had nothin' to do with the killin' of your friend. Your death's not decreed, and never will be, if you're sensible. That's true, Lucas, s'elp me Gord!”

His eyes were perfectly sincere; they never wavered in their glance. I stared at him in horrible doubt and dismay.

“Who killed Edward Shaw?” I demanded.

“The Push didn't!”

“If not, who did?”

“You did!” he grated out. “Yes, you needn't look at me. As true as you sit in that chair, you killed your friend yourself.”

“You are mad!” I cried. “Mad!”

“Am I? Wait! The night you turned Judy out of your door you killed your friend. It was intended for you, but he got in the way, an' that's how you killed him.”

I sank back in my chair of a sudden, weak and trembling.

“You mean—Judith killed him?” I gasped.

He nodded. “She got two blokes who are both mad on her to do the work; but she was there. They tossed up for her afterwards, accordin' to agreement, and Sam Pagney won. She went to live with him then straight off as his donah, thinkin' all the while she'd done you up for

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good. The other cove, in revenge, came and put the show away to me.”

“Where is she now?” I forced myself to ask.

“At home, an' terrible cut up. She won't try her hand at that game again, I reckon.”

“And the—the murderers?”

“On the hulk.”

“What will you do with them?”

“The sock for disobeyin' orders; but I don't think they'll live long, they're bound to cut each other's throats over Judith some time or other; they're damn well balmy on her.”

“Oh, uncle!” I groaned out, “what dreadful men you are! why do you do such things, you and your Push?”

He twirled his thumbs and shrugged his shoulders—a picture of bestial indifference. However I could once have thought him capable of any finer feelings, capable of anything, indeed, but gross and hideous brutality, I do not know. He seemed to me then a callous and most perfect demon, and yet I think I was doing him injustice. In the past I had seen him fight and beat a man bigger than himself for ill-treating a dog. Of what strange and extraordinarily diverse fragments are human brutes composed!

He said, harshly: “Stow that gabber, Lucas! I came out to talk business. We've decided to-night, the council and me, to let you marry the woman you want, provided you come to our terms.”

“What are they?”

“You'll have to sign another paper.”

“The Push Book, you mean!”

“That's it; you'll have to sign you was in the murder of young Shaw, along with the other blokes, what really did it. You see we must have a hold over you, and we reckon you're not likely to go back on us if we have a paper like that. You wouldn't like the girl to know you had a hand in killin' her cousin; and, anyway, as this business is outside the Push altogether, the Push, as a push, havin' no hand in it, we can use the paper free like; leastwise, through Judy, she'd be glad of the chance to fix you. We reckon it'd quit us up for the paper you've gave

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to Mr. Finlayson. You see, I keep nothing back from you; those are our terms; take 'em or leave 'em! You've got a hold on us, and we'd have a hold on you, an' I reckon it's a workable plan.”

My uncle did not meet my eyes. I noted, but attached little importance to the fact; I was so deep in thought. I was straining my wits to find a way to deceive him. I know now that he was engaged in the same task in my regard. It was a case of diamond cut diamond between us, but each pretended otherwise, and each of us was deceived.

“I must have time to consider,” I said, at last.

“You can have till next Saturday; we have a private meeting fixed for then, and everythin' will have to be arranged that night.”

“I would have to attend the meeting?”

“Most certainly!”

“That gives me five days.”


“Very good, you shall have my answer before Saturday.”

“I'll come out on Wednesday night.”

“I may not be ready then!”

“I'll chance it.”

“As you please!”

I let him out at the street door. He did not offer me his hand, nor say good-bye. These circumstances impressed me, in spite of my preoccupation. I remembered then that he had failed to meet my eyes on stating his terms. I wondered if his offer had been sincere, but could not fathom the problem. He evidently stood in deadly fear of the paper which he believed I had given Mr. Finlayson, and his failure to secure it had probably dictated his recent offer and so far saved my life.

I decided that no further attempt would be made upon either my sweetheart or myself before Saturday, at all events, but I thought it very probable that Mr. Finlayson's office would be visited again in the meantime. I could not convince myself, however, that the Push had really resolved to let me have my way. They must have regarded me as a traitor, and they had never yet pardoned a traitor for

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the least act of treachery. I thought it likely that they intended to lull me into a sense of false security, that they would even allow me to marry my sweetheart, and later try and persuade me to recover my confession from Mr. Finlayson, whereupon they would strike us both down.

I determined to make my first attempt to secure the Push Book on the following night. I wrote a letter to my sweetheart and went to bed, thankful that I was still alive. I had not expected to be.