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XXV Murder

BY the following evening I was so much recovered that I was able to drive out with Edward Shaw in a cab to see my sweetheart. I had so far decided on no definite plan of action. I only knew what I wanted. How I should induce May to marry me immediately, and then abruptly quit Australia, and how also I should manage to steal the Push Book beforehand, were questions whose solution I had scarcely attempted. I sometimes thought that I ought to confide all my troubles to my sweetheart, but I shrank from the task. I did not think that my terrible confession could alter her affection for me, but I fancied that she might find it hard to credit my assertions, or realise the danger in which she as well as I stood. So very little is known about push organisation, and the terrible strength and power of criminality possessed by these secret societies, even by the police of Australia, that I felt that my story must be regarded by May, who knew nothing at all, as an emanation from a fevered brain. Unfortunately I possessed no evidence to put before her other than my unsupported speech. The thought never entered my head that I was playing an unmanly part in expecting her to be the means of my salvation, nor did I experience the least compunction in considering that after our escape I must live for a great while entirely dependent upon my wife's bounty. Love was responsible for this. I loved, and wanted her so much, and I knew, too, that she so loved me, that the question of unchivalrous indebtedness never occurred to me. For the same reason I never dreamed of solving my troubles by attempting to escape alone. That course would have freed her from personal danger and risk, for the Push only regarded her as its enemy in my regard. I knew this, but I would rather have died myself than have abandoned her in such a fashion, and I think I would rather she had died too. I fear that my love was very selfish, but it was utterly sincere, and riches, honour, life itself, appeared to me only

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contemptible details when weighed in the balance. Beyond that I did not myself properly realise the danger in which we stood: she on my account, I on hers. I hugged to myself the comforting delusion of a time of grace, and made myself believe that though the peril menaced it was still remote. I had yet to discover how desperately wicked, ignorant, and brutal, larrikins may be when driven into a corner. I had yet to learn that a woman scorned is an enemy more dangerous and cruel than the most evil man may be. I had despised Judith Kelly's threats, and almost forgotten her. My foolishness was to cost me eternal sorrow and abiding remorse. During our drive dear old Ned talked to me constantly about his sweetheart; the little girl in Melbourne whom he loved. His time of waiting was almost over; he was working very hard, and within six months would win his degree. A good billet was waiting for him in the civil service, and he looked joyfully forward to the day when he should be able to reward his sweetheart's years of faithful patience by making her his wife. He asked me to tell May all about his romantic attachment, so that her interest might be enlisted in his cause; and he said that he depended upon May and me to stand as his friends and partisans to win round his parents when the time came, so that they should consent to his marriage. He built fine castles in the air for us both, poor Ned, of long and happy useful lives spent in close companionship; ourselves friends, our wives friends. I was filled with sorrow to listen to him, for in my heart I thought that when the time for his marriage arrived, I should be far away, an eternal exile from the land of my birth. And yet I could not tell him; I dared not confide in him.

May was waiting for us at the gate. Her love for me may be gauged when I record the sweet fact that before Ned, and careless of the smiling cabbie, she rushed into my arms and kissed me on the lips.

Ned chided her as we went within for her impulsiveness. She replied, “I care for Lucas more than the whole world, Edward, and I don't care a bit if the whole world knows it. Besides (and she smiled divinely), we have not seen each other for three long days; have we, Lucas?”

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Is it matter for wonder that for hours I forgot everything except so sweet a mistress? I only remembered the grim shadows which threatened us when, after dinner, we descended hand in hand to our favourite seat on the lower terrace. It was a cold and gloomy night, the sky was thickly overhung with clouds, and the harbour lay like a black shade before us. The twinkling lights of a certain foreshore brought me a vague foreboding. I wondered what schemes were being plotted there for my dismay, by the dark brains of my old associates. If only I had known! A curious silence fell between us; we were each warmly clad, but the cold penetrated to my wounded back, and gave me a constant ache. I said at last, “May, exactly [?] what is your fortune; will you tell me?”

“Our fortune,” she corrected, and I kissed her hand.

“We are not very rich, Lucas. The bulk of the money is invested in Government securities, and it brings in a little over nine hundred a year. Then there is about six thousand pounds in cash in my bank now, which represents the accumulations of my minority. The trustees had no power to invest that, but uncle wants me to let him invest it now on mortgage. But I say no, because it will be so nice for us to buy a house with, and furnish it after we are married.”

“Darling,” I muttered, “I want you to do me a favour.”

“What is it, dear?”

“Lend me a thousand pounds.”

“Yes, dear.”

“I want it to pay a debt that I owe to a man. I would rather be in your debt than his.”

“I should think you would,” she cried; “but, Lucas, there can never be any question of debt between you and me. I shall write out a cheque for you before you go to-night!”

“May,” I muttered, “how utterly you trust me!”

She uttered a little laugh. “You silly boy; if I did not trust you fully, I could not love you fully!”

“Let me tell you all about this debt, dear; may I?”

She shivered. “You are cold,” I cried.

“N-no. I have a queer feeling! I feel as if something is going to happen.”

But she was trembling violently. “You are cold!” I

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said. “Wait one moment, dear, and I shall fetch you another wrap.” She made an effort to stay me, but I kissed her hands and ran up the steps. I found a fur cloak in the hall, and, turning round, came face to face with Edward. “Cold?” he asked.

“May is,” said I.

Suddenly he laughed. “Lucas,” he cried, “I've thought of such a joke; give me the cloak, and you wait here a bit. I'll run down to May, and pretend to be you. She will be so beautifully indignant when she finds out her mistake!”

“Well, don't you dare say I consented to the joke.”

“Honour bright!” he cried, and ran off laughing. My back was giving me such pain that I was glad of the opportunity to obtain a glass of whiskey. But I did not dream of waiting as Ned had requested. I searched for and found another cloak—Mrs. Shaw's it was, I think—but I did not stay to find out, as the old people were very early in their habits, and had already retired. I then descended to the lower terrace whistling, to give Ned notice of my coming. In all, I had not been absent from May's side more than five minutes, and during my return I heard no sound, save my own whistle. And yet a fearful tragedy had happened. Neither May nor Ned was seated on the bench, but before it lay a dark twisted mass. With a horrible foreboding of ill I cried out, but no one answered me. I struck a match. May was lying on the grass across Ned's body. My poor friend was dead; his head had been battered in by some terrible blunt instrument, and, in ghastly mixture, his brains and blood spattered the footpath. At first I thought May too was dead, but a second's examination told me that her heart was beating. I did not swoon, though I felt like death. But with a sudden extraordinary strength I caught up my unconscious sweetheart and staggered with her up the steps. I carried her into the library, where five minutes before Ned must have been reading, for an open, marginal scored Persius lay upon the table. I placed her gently on the couch, then, overcome with the horror of it all, I lost control of my senses, and screamed; yes, wildly screamed for help. In a few moments, which I filled with my disordered outcries, servants rushed into the room, and

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at the door appeared old Mr. Shaw—clad in dressing-gown and slippers, looking white and startled. The sight of his grey head and anxious face slightly calmed me, but I was unable to restrain myself. I poured out the dreadful story of my discovery just as I have related it here. Poor Mr. Shaw called wildly for lanthorns, and presently a white-faced, trembling company issued from the house, and was guided by me to the scene of the tragedy. Mr. Shaw stooped over his son's body, but only for a moment. He presently raised himself, and in a hoarse whisper directed the remains to be carried up to the house. I fled before—my heart a globe of fire and anguish; I felt I was a murderer. I knew that Edward had suffered in my place; that the blow which had robbed him of life had been aimed at me. But another fear had come; a new horror. Perhaps my sweetheart was dying, if not already dead. No one had looked to her. I found her lying where I had left her, but not alone. Mrs. Shaw was with her. Never shall I forget the terrible eyes she turned to me. “My son is dead!” she said.

I fell on my knees before her. “But not May, too; May is not dead!” I cried.

Mrs. Shaw turned from me with a terrible gesture of aversion, or so it seemed to me. I did not feel it the less because I deserved it. I had brought this sorrow on the friends I loved.

“She has only swooned!” she said, and her voice appeared to regret the fact that any soul remained alive after her son was dead. The night passed in a horrible phantasmagoric dream. It was filled with shrieks and cries; with groans, and sudden intervals of ominous peace. Doctors came, and numbers of police; all of whom asked me questions, which I answered in a sort of stupor. My sweetheart was taken from me still unconscious, and put to bed; nothing could be learned from her. The police formed a cordon round the scene of the murder, and carefully guarded it until the morning, lest any clue the murderers might have left should be trampled into the grass by careless feet and lost.

A sergeant spent the night with me in the library. He

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drank a good deal of spirit, and smoked a number of poor Ned's cigars. I could do nothing but sit and stare into the fire. I did not listen to or heed his maunderings. My poor friend's body rested in the next room—his father's study—stretched out upon a table. Mr. Shaw had broken down completely, and was very ill; Mrs. Shaw had been given a strong sleeping draught, and put to bed; the servants were all huddled up in the kitchen, too terrified to separate. It was a dreadful night.

In the dimmest dawn, my sweetheart stood upon the threshold of the room in which I sat. She made no sound, but I knew that she was there. I stood up, and she came to my arms, her eyes streaming with tears. The sergeant was not in a condition to question her; indeed, he had fallen asleep, and sat nodding in his chair. We said no word to each other, but sitting on the sofa, waited in a breathless suspense of horror for the day. She always wept, and every few minutes I dried her tears; so that at last my handkerchief was sopping. Gradually the gaslights paled, and grey streaks, like furtive fingers, crept in through the shutters. Ever since I have hated and feared the coming of morning in a blind-clad room.

With the sun, May spoke her first words. “My dream!” she said. “My dream! Do you remember!” Her eyes were unutterably sad.

I shuddered, and buried my face in my hands. She kissed me gently on the forehead, and then, I think, we wept in each other's arms; but no tears came from my eyes. There was a fire in my brain which burned up all moisture.

The sergeant woke at last, and appeared very annoyed that he had slept. He questioned May in a harsh, gruff voice. I listened to him from without the room, for he commanded my absence; but I could not hear my sweetheart's answers. Afterwards she came out to me, and I would have asked her questions, too, but that she begged me not; and in her eyes I saw such pain that I refrained. We were always together. I scarcely left her for a moment, and no one interfered with us. We neither ate nor drank; we attended the inquest dressed as we were. Fortunately we had not far to go. I dared not leave May. I had a

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horrible presentiment that I was with her for the last time; that when next I left her, it would be for ever. Reason told me that at the inquest, it must come out that the murderers intended to strike at me, and had killed Edward by mistake. Then I would be put into the box. I would be rigorously examined. A motive would be infallibly sought for, for the crime. My past would be investigated, and my connection with the Push discovered. Then—the deluge! In my burning fancy I saw stretching before me a terrible gulf—a bottomless abyss of despair and misery; the end of all things. While May was putting on her cloak, I glanced feverishly at a paper for something to distract my thoughts. Almost the first thing that my eyes encountered was a flaming headline, “Murder!” I turned the sheet over—with a shudder—and saw in great block letters “Burglary!” Something forced me to read on. The paragraph stated that the chambers of Mr. Rupert Finlayson, the eminent solicitor, had on the previous night been entered by skilled burglars, who had broken open and rifled two large safes, and had attempted to deal with the strong room in a similar manner, but that the strength of the solid steel door had resisted their efforts. There had apparently also been an attempt made to fire the building; but, fortunately, without success! The robbers had got clear off, with a good deal of booty—money, papers, jewellery, and deeds!

The key to this burglary was in my hands. As well as though I had been present, I knew that my uncle had instigated the crime, hoping in the same night to recover the paper which he believed I had given into Mr. Finlayson's keeping, and to remove me from the world! He would thus have accomplished the revenge of the Push and their salvation. At that moment I realised how fatuously foolish I had been to expect a time of grace from such inhuman and desperate ruffians as the Push contained, and from such a leader as their “king.”

The inquest, in deference to Mr. Shaw's high position in the colony, was held in a hotel in the Yarrannabbe Road, quite close at hand, so that his convenience might be considered, and in order to spare his feelings the pain of submitting

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to a more formal and public ceremony. The body of poor Ned was not removed from its sad resting-place; but the jury having been sworn, visited and inspected it, then filed back to the impromptu court house.

Crowds of gaping people lined the road, but the police were there in strength, and cleared a passage for our party through the rabble. Mr. Shaw, looking dreadfully aged and ill, was taken in a closed carriage to the hotel. May (heavily veiled) walked there with me, leaning on my arm. The crowd maintained a deep, sympathetic silence as we passed. I thought I was going to meet my fate; perhaps to death.

Several policemen gave evidence before anyone else was called. They deposed to their examination of the body, and their search for clues of the murderers. They all told the same story, and the only startling fact they revealed was that the murderers had come from the sea. A boat had landed in the shallow waters by a cleft in the rocks (it was the trysting-place where May and I had so often met), two men had waded round the sea-wall, and, climbing into Mr. Shaw's grounds, had committed the crime, and departed in the same fashion. Their footprints were still quite legible, and most careful measurements had been taken of every mark.

Two surgeons then bore witness as to the cause of death. They were agreed that poor Ned had been killed by a blunt and heavy instrument—probably a club, or life-preserver, and that his death had been instantaneous.

I was next called, and entered the box amid a deep hush. While I was being sworn I met Mr. Shaw's eyes. He was seated in an arm-chair beside the coroner. He seemed in a sort of coma as regards his body, which was still as stone, but his eyes were blazing. They seared my very heart; they seemed to say, accusingly: “You should have died, not Edward.”

I told my story in a faltering voice. I concealed nothing. Often my self-control gave way; I suffered agonies. At the end I cried out brokenly to my friend's father: “Would to God. sir, I had never allowed your son to carry out his jest. Would to God I had been killed instead of him!”

Mr. Shaw uttered a hollow groan, and a deep sigh resounded

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through the room. I was questioned as to the exact position in which I had first seen the body, and then the coroner addressed a few kind words to me, and assured me that not only could no possible blame attach to me, but that my grief did me the greatest honour.

My sweetheart was next called. She entered the box and took the oath, her face white as a lily, but her fortitude was marvellous. Her voice did not once falter; she did not once break down. The coroner invited her to tell her story in her own way.

She said: “We had been seated on the bench, Mr. Rowe and I, for perhaps twenty minutes, when I felt of a sudden very cold, and he insisted upon going to the house for a wrap. Immediately he had disappeared I heard a queer grating, scratching noise by the sea wall. I felt a little frightened, for I had been nervous all the evening, but I could see nothing for the dark, and I reassured myself with the thought that nothing could harm me so near the house, and that Mr. Rowe would presently return. In another moment I heard a rustling in the couch grass near my feet, and a light was flashed into my face. It appeared so suddenly that I would have thought it a flash of lightning except that I perceived a bull's-eye lantern in a man's hand. I was just about to scream when someone else caught me roughly by the throat. I struggled desperately, but I could neither cry out nor escape. Meanwhile the man who held the lamp caught my left wrist and tore away two bangles I was wearing, also a diamond ring from my smallest finger. It was then that my cousin, whom I now know was intent upon his jest, came softly down the steps. He must have seen me struggling with my assailants. I did not hear his approach, but I heard him give a shout as he threw himself upon them. The robber who held me while his companion tore off my jewels did not release my throat, but the other left me to grapple with my cousin. Of a sudden I was flung roughly against the bench, and I heard as I fell a dull crashing sound behind me. I heard next a loud thud as though someone had fallen to the ground. I was quite sensible, but very weak, and I was more than half choked. I tried very hard to scream for help, but I could

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not get my breath. I heard a low voice say, ‘Is he dead?’ A second voice replied, ‘His head is mashed in!’ Then the first speaker muttered, ‘Get his ticker and then let's back to the ship before we're caught!' ‘But what about the woman?’ asked the other. ‘Oh, she's right, she's fainted!’ ‘But what about the woman?’ asked the other. ‘Oh, she's right, she's fainted!’ replied the first. It all happened in a few seconds. When my strength came to me they had gone. I kneeled down by my cousin's body and touched his head. My hand was instantly covered with blood; it was welling out from a terrible hole in his head. But it was very dark, I could see nothing. I knew he was dead; I did not know it was my cousin. I thought it was——” She paused a second and caught her breath, then continued, “Mr. Rowe. I—I do not remember any more. I swooned.”

After she had ceased speaking, an impressive silence reigned for some moments. A policeman handed my sweetheart a glass of water, some of which she drank. She was so pallid that I thought each moment she would faint, but her hand did not tremble as she held the glass to her lips. The whole court watched her in absolute wonder, marvelling at her strength. The coroner and the sergeant of police asked her a great number of questions. Had she seen the face of either of her assailants? Could she remember were they tall or short, stout or slight? Would she be able to recognise the hand which she had seen holding the lantern? Was it in her opinion the hand of a labourer? Was it black or white? clean or soiled? These and a score of others such were put to her. But the poor girl could not help the cause of justice in the least. She had not seen the faces of the murderers at all; the hand which she had seen had held her glance for such a fragment of a second, that she could remember nothing. It might have been the hand of a negro, or that of a gentleman. Even their voices had been so hushed that she could distinguish no peculiarity of intonation. Before the examination was concluded the court was in despair, for everyone had hoped much from Miss Denton's testimony. Once again had the Dogs' Push conducted a murder with the skill and cunning of a company of fiends. I had listened to my sweetheart's story with the most painful anxiety,

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thinking every second that she must disclose some fact which would inevitably connect the crime with the larrikins. But when it was over I saw at once that unless I chose to stand up and incriminate them and myself from my connection with them, they would once more escape scot free of even a breath of suspicion. One of the murderers had said, “Let's get back to the ship before we're caught.” I knew the ship he had referred to. It was the hulk owned by John Robin as a store for old iron, which was always moored in Kerosene Bay, and which the Push used as a sort of prison house for incarcerating its members to await recovery when they had been punished with the “sock.” Doubtless the actual murderers were the caretakers of this hulk. It may have been my duty to tell all I knew. In the sacred cause of justice I should have dared all, and fearlessly sacrificed myself. But I was not strong enough to follow so stern a course. Thereby I must have lost my sweetheart, and incurred the hate and contempt of all the world, even should the law finally spare my life. The instinct of self-preservation was more powerful than duty; the desire for happiness, for love, stronger than all. I kept silence. Only those who in my place would have done otherwise should dare to condemn me for my silence.

The coroner addressed the jury very shortly, but he made a stirring appeal to the police to use their utmost skill and diligence in capturing the criminals. He laid special emphasis on the one murderer's reference to the “ship,” and quite naturally, under the circumstances, declared that the murderers were, in all human probability, a pair of ruffian sailors belonging to some ship in the harbour, who had rowed ashore for the purpose of robbery, and on being disturbed had heartlessly murdered poor Edward Shaw to avoid capture.

Thus was suspicion diverted from its proper course. The murderers, on account of Miss Denton's long swoon, during which no clue could be obtained as to the direction of their flight, had made good their escape; and it seemed to me that the police might search for ever and a day and still be none the wiser.

The jury returned the only possible verdict, “Wilful

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murder against two or more persons unknown”; and added a rider respectfully sympathising with the family and relatives of my poor dead friend. The court was then cleared, and we returned, my sweetheart and I, to the house of mourning. Poor Mr. Shaw, who had driven home in solitary state, waited for us in the hall. He drew us into his own study with an air of mystery, and closed the door. He kissed May, and silently held out his hand to me. The kindly action almost broke my heart. It prepared me very badly for what was to come. He begged me in a hushed voice to leave his house at once, and not to come back, at all events for several weeks.

I implored him for a reason.

He replied, the tears running down his cheeks the while: “My dear boy, my poor wife has conceived a terrible aversion for you, and in a lesser fashion for May. She thinks it is your fault, shared together, that my son is dead, and there is no use in trying to persuade her to the contrary. The doctor whom I have just seen tells me that he fears for her reason, and it is absolutely necessary to keep you out of the house. If she heard your voice even it would do her harm!”

I bowed my head. Alas! I felt in my deepest soul the justice of the poor lady's feelings! But for me and my blighting fate Edward Shaw would be still alive, and his mother's pride and comfort. I could not speak nor move.

“Don't think too hardly of her, Lucas,” whispered Mr. Shaw, “she—she is really not responsible just now. Grief has turned her brain.”

“I do not at all!” I muttered. “It was my fault; if I hadn't let him go he would be alive and well, and—I—where I ought to be!”

May caught and pressed my hand. “Hush, dear!” she said.

“Is Mrs. Shaw very ill?” I whispered.

“No; that is the worst of it. She has not shed a tear. She seems quite strong, and since we left her for the inquest has been wandering about moaning like a lost soul. I—I must go to her now. It is dreadful to see her!”

He wrung my hand and slipped from the room.

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“Good-bye, May,” I said, in a choking voice.

“Wait!” she said, and for a few minutes she too departed. I heard through the silence an occasional long wailing sigh. Ah, poor lady, what anguish I had brought her! but God knows I suffered too.

May came back to me and thrust a folded slip of paper into my hands.

“Read it afterwards!” she muttered. “Come, dear, you must go now. Aunty is in the library, and uncle will keep her there while you slip out.”

She came with me to the gate. I said to her, “When shall I see you again?”

She shook her head slowly and sadly. “I shall write to you.”

Our farewell kiss was sad as the grave.

I drove into town, and at Lassetter's purchased a very small but heavy revolver, and a case of cartridges. Then I drove out to my cottage; I thought that the Push would attempt again to murder me that night, but I was determined to sell my life as dearly as possible. When I reached home I opened the note which May had given me. It consisted of two separate slips of paper, which had been folded together. Judge all who read these lines if Miss Denton really loved me from the fact that in all the horror and grief which encompassed her she had still been able to remember the request which I had made a few moments before the murder of poor Ned.

One slip of paper was an open cheque for £1,000. The other contained these words: “With my heart's unfailing love and tenderest sympathy.—Your sweetheart.”

I kissed the writing and I said aloud:

“Thanks, May. Through you I shall now be able to leave the wretches whose crimes have darkened your life and mine, indebted to them for nothing. I shall repay them every penny they have spent on me!”

I forced myself a little later to eat the dinner which my servant had prepared, for my frame needed sustaining for the trial which was to come. When the woman had gone, I barred every door and window in the house, save one, and pulled down all the blinds. I knew that no precaution

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would protect me, but such a disposition would give me warning of the direction from which my enemies must enter to seek my life. I selected the library as the best vantage-ground for myself in the struggle I foresaw; then, intrenching myself behind a table in a corner of the room so that none could attack me from the rear, with loaded revolver close to my hand, I set myself to wait.