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XXIX The Last Week: Wednesday

A WOMAN, drenched and shivering, was walking up and down my verandah, an outcast seeking shelter from the rain. I scarcely glanced at her; she could stay there and welcome, but I did not think to offer her a better hospitality. And yet she never thought to wait an invitation. She pushed past me when the door swung wide, and turned to face me in the glowing brightness of the hall. I laughed blithely at her cool effrontery; everything amused my present mood. When I recognised Judith Kelly, I laughed still more. And she was ludicrous! The rain had sopped her hat; the once proud triple tiers of feathers hung limp and inexpressibly dejected. Her hair was out of friz, and straggled in dripping wisps, lank as dead rats' tails, from her forehead; her nose was blue with cold, her teeth chattered in her head, and her cheeks were streaked with thin black lines from the water which had trickled through her sodden hat brim, and grown discoloured in the passage. I shut the door behind me, and led her to the study. I could not take her into the room where May had been. I poured out two glasses of spirit, laughing all the while. My mood grew savage; she had not yet spoken; her eyes were dazed with surprise. I handed her a glass, and took up my own. I clinked my glass with hers; I said, “Your health—murderess!” and drained it to the dregs.

She fell back staring and shivering.

“Drink!” I commanded. She obeyed. The liquor was


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coursing through my veins. It made me reckless, fit for anything. I said to her, “Did you come out to kill me, Judith? Where is your weapon? Is it a pistol, poison, or a knife?”

“I came out to warn you!” she gasped.

“What of?”

“Danger!”

The notion tickled my sense of the ridiculous. I laughed till the tears ran down my cheeks. I clapped my hand to my side, and cried out affectedly, “Judith, you will be the death of me: it must be written so! You failed with the club; you will succeed with laughter. You warn me of danger—you—you—oh, it is too rich.”

She shrank back to the wall; she thought me mad. She put a chair before her as a shield.

“Stop laughin'!” she muttered. “I did. I tell you I did.”

There was a touch of earnestness in her voice, a note of tragic pathos that sobered me. After all, my mirth was spurious.

I looked at her of a sudden, chilled into gravity.

“Go on!” I said.

“It's dada.”

“Of course!” I felt my lip involuntarily curling.

“I listened at the keyhole to him an' Jack Robin talkin'. It's over—your—” she chewed the word—“young lady. They're goin' to do for her.”

“When, Judith?”

“I don't know. Soon. They've got a plan rigged. I couldn't hear much—but enough to know. I cleared out as soon as I could. I had to wait till dada was asleep. I've been here 'most an hour.”

“Why—why?” I demanded.

“Don't look at me so. I'm sick of it, Lucas. I've been that sorry ever since! I'm glad it wasn't you, Lucas. I wish it wasn't anyone. I wish I was dead myself. Sammy's just a beast. I loathe him!”

“You are not living with him?”

She shuddered. “He's layin' for me. He beat me the first night, because——”




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“You heard nothing of the plan?” I interjected.

“Only somethin' about gettin' hold of her with a letter. Jack's goin' to have it done on a machine by to-morrow night, and dada's goin' to copy your writin' on the cover, an' they're putting in it to bring it with her.”

I smiled grimly. By to-morrow night Miss Denton would be far on her way to Melbourne. “Did they say anything of me?” I asked.

“Dada said you were hopeless, an' Jack said the decree ought to have been slicked weeks ago; an' something about a paper of yours someone's got. Dada just hates you, Lucas. Why don't you go 'way quick with your young lady? He'll put out your light if you don't. An' all the boys is that down on you besides; they do nothing but curse you, day and night.”

“I should think that would please you, Judith!”

“What?”

“Their cursing me.”

“It's what first turned me!” she cried. She caught sight of herself in the mirror. “My! what a fright I look!” She sidled up to it like a cat, and commenced pecking at her hair and face. I was amazed to realise that murderesses are women. I had believed them fiends of less complex type, entirely unsexed perhaps. I felt quite a sympathy for this one. Her vanity appeared a sort of saving grace. I fetched her a comb from the bedroom, and she gave me the ghost of a coquettish smile. It was almost interesting.

“She'd look just as big a fright if she'd walked 's far 's I have in the rain,” observed the murderess.

“Who?”

“Your young lady.”

“But then she is not a murderess!” I replied. I spoke reflectively, but without an afterthought.

“You needn't jaw. I've said I'm sorry.” The amazing creature appeared to consider that her tardy and superficial repentance perfectly atoned her crime. Her voice was quite reproachful, and the queer thing was, it implanted a sting in me. Somehow I seemed to have failed in chivalry.

“What's the time?” asked Judith.

I glanced at my watch. “Half past three.”




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“What are you goin' to do?” She was frizzing her hair, the rats' tails, which she had dried with a serviette.

I yawned. “When you leave I shall go to bed.”

She glanced over her shoulder, but without ceasing to friz. “But about what I've told you?”

“I'll look after myself.”

“Don't give me away!”

“Certainly not.”

“You might thank me for what I've done.”

“Thank you!”

She sighed plaintively. “My! you must hate me!” and rubbed her cheeks vigorously to reduce the black impressions. “I never had a proper chance with you,” she continued.

“Indeed!”

She turned to me quite a blooming countenance. “You don't happen to have a bit of powder in the house?” she asked.

I shook my head. “I am very sorry.”

“I'm afraid I'm awful!”

“You look very well,” I replied politely.

She sat down and drank another glass of whiskey without being asked. “I ought to go home,” she observed.

I handed her a sovereign. “You had better take a cab.”

She took the coin, and hid it somewhere in her gown, but did not offer to rise.

“It's beastly belonging to a bloke you don't love,” she informed me.

“Indeed!”

“Yes. I guess I'll clear out soon.”

I shrugged my shoulders.

She drank a third glass of whiskey.

“Don't you feel any remorse?” I asked, curiously.

“For—the—him?”

I nodded, shuddering in spite of myself.

“I'm sorry. I told you before.”

“But aren't you haunted? Don't you see him always before you—a wan, accusing ghost? When you lie in your bed of nights, are you not terrified to think of his ghastly


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body, the head, the poor, crushed head, with its blood and brains oozing out upon the gravel?”

She watched me like a fascinated animal.

“Was he like that?” she gasped. “My! I am glad I never saw him!”

I turned from her, sick at her brutal callousness. I thought to myself, “Ah! what a revelation would this woman be to those fools who prate of the tortures suffered by criminals who, by force of circumstance, outstrip the law, yet are forced to live on for years carrying the awful burden of their blood-guiltiness.” Her awful burden weighed upon her less heavily than a single one of her draggled hat feathers, and yet the most abandoned woman is supposed to be more sensitive than any man.

“You had better go,” I muttered.

“I suppose so.” She stood up. “Anyway, I'm square with you. I've done you a good turn,” she said combatively.

“I am very grateful.”

“Which is a lie,” she declared, and walked to the door.

I followed her. “If you'd married me, there'd a-been none of this fuss,” she muttered.

“I wish I had!”

“Honour bright! do you mean that?” she flashed round at me.

“I do indeed; but not for the reason you have fancied. If my time were to come over again, I would marry you or go through any fate, rather than——But there, what use speaking of it now?” I flung the street door wide. “Goodnight to you, Judith, and good-bye. Please God, we shall never meet again!”

“Kiss me!” she pleaded.

I looked at her. She shivered, and passed silently out into the rain. I closed the door softly behind her, and wandered about the cottage like a lost soul. Only one room I dared not enter, the room wherein the woman I loved had rested.

The hours passed. I dozed in my wanderings, dozed and dreamed. I went to hell a hundred times.

I breakfasted on a glass of soda, and then dismissed my servant with a week's wages instead of notice, for I felt I


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could never eat a meal in the cottage again. I went into town and brought out an auctioneer to inspect my furniture. I sold it to him for a hundred pounds. I sent a bank draft for a thousand pounds to Miss May Denton, Menzies' Hotel, Melbourne. I lunched in town at the Australia on a single anchovy and a small bottle of champagne. Then I strolled down King Street to do the block. A man followed me everywhere I went. I could not detect the spy, but I knew that I was shadowed. Perhaps several shadowed me. There were ill-dressed loafers wherever I turned. I did not recognise their faces, but then a great number of the Push were unknown to me. The consciousness of being watched brought me an exhilarating sensation of excitement. It prevented me from thinking of Miss Denton, and to smother thought was my whole ambition. She passed me in a closed carriage twice, driving from shop to shop. She was very beautiful, more beautiful than ever she had been; but there was something terrible in her expression. The first time she did not see me. The second time she saw and met my eyes. There was no sign of recognition in her glance. I turned away and laughed. Several people glanced at me so curiously that I laughed all the harder. I could not stop laughing. I went into Warby's Hotel and drank another bottle of champagne. Then I walked to the Marble Bar and ordered a third; but I could not drink it. Instead, I poured it over the roots of a palm tree growing in a great tub of earth. Several people laughed to see me do it, and I laughed with them. It seemed the funniest thing in the world; but time passed so slowly. The Melbourne train did not start until seven, and it was yet no more than five! I went into a billiard room, and offered to play the marker for a five-pound note. He gladly accepted. I was a very poor player, but I won; and when we doubled the stakes I won again. Then I gave him his money back, and wandered into the street. It was six o'clock! I walked to the Redfern station; but it was only a quarter-past six when I arrived there. I knew that I must do something to prevent myself from going mad. A group of children were gathered about the automatic sweet machines. I changed a half sovereign into pennies, and stole half an hour from time by


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emptying the machines of their contents, and feasting the news-boys with butter-scotch and almond rock. It was amusing to watch their eager faces and the selfish way in which the bigger boys struggled to the front; but I found that I could not laugh any more. At a quarter to seven I bought a platform ticket, and made my way to number five. I stood beside the engine, and gave the driver a sovereign, also the fireman. They promised me most solemnly that no accident would happen to the train. In five more minutes, She arrived. She was heavily veiled; Mrs. Shaw also. Mr. Shaw seemed better than when I had last seen him. His carriage was more upright, his steps more firm, and his face was well controlled. They entered a sleeping carriage. She sat beside a window and raised her veil; the others were invisible. No doubt they did not wish to be seen. There was a great hurry and bustle on the platform. The great seal-splashed mail-bags were put into the van, and porters brushed people about like flies. I stood just behind her, waiting until she should pass me as the train moved out. I was hungering for her, as one of the damned might thirst for a draught of water, buried in flames. Yet I watched everything. I marked the anxious expressions of people looking for their friends, worrying over their luggage, or searching for the tickets they had hidden away in their secret pockets. I saw a man in uniform kick a stray cur off the platform. I saw a pretty girl kiss her lover through a carriage window. I saw a thief pick a woman's pocket, and curiously noted his expression of dismay when he got nothing for his trouble but a ball of wool and a bunch of keys. He pretended to have seen her drop them, and she gave him a shilling for his honesty. At last the stationmaster rang his bell, the guard blew a whistle, and slowly, very slowly, with a great steam snorting from the front, the train started on its journey. I stood with bared head; I could have touched her as she passed. Her chin was leaning on her hand. She looked at me long and full. Her eyes were unseeing, inscrutable, fixed. Her brows were full of gloom. Distance wore out her glance.

As I turned, the pickpocket jostled against me. I seemed to recognise his face. He whispered in my


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ear, “A good thing for you you stayed here, Lucas Rowe!”

“Why?”

“There's six of the Push on that train!” he muttered, and quickly disappeared among the crowd. In the seconds of our intercourse he had deftly robbed me of my watch, my penknife, and a handful of silver which had been in my vest pocket. From this circumstance I realised the measure of estimation in which I was held by the Push. No member would have dreamed of committing such an outrage a month before; but evidently I was now an object for any of them to despoil or injure at pleasure, all fear of punishment removed. I wandered from the station into town, seeing everywhere my sweetheart's eyes. I went to the back of the Lyceum Theatre, and in the office discovered one of the lessees seated alone before a great heap of placards and papers. He was a tiny little man, with a queer, peaked face, and the kindliest heart imaginable, who went by the nickname of the “Mighty Atom.” “Jimmy,” said I, “I have the blues. You must help me drive them away.”

The “Mighty Atom” responded to my appeal. He was one of the most popular men in Australia, a bird of passage who flitted from city to city, everywhere earning a warm welcome because of his brilliant social gifts. He was the most skilful conversationalist and the cleverest raconteur whom I have ever met. He devoted himself to my entertainment with hearty and whole-souled warmth. But not all the fire of his wit could make me see anything but a pair of eyes which always gazed at me. I laughed, but they did not. They stared at me steadily, gloomily, from picture, from floor, from ceiling, from light and dark, from the glass I lifted to my lips.

At length I gave up the struggle. “Thanks, Jimmy!” I muttered, dreamily looking into the eyes. “You have helped me a lot. Good-night.” He looked at me with her eyes, and I fled from him like one possessed.

My uncle was waiting for me in the empty study of my cottage; he had, as usual, entered through a back window. He was reading a letter, which he instantly put into his


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pocket, but the envelope fluttered to the floor. I picked it up, but in the act of handing it to him saw the superscription. It was addressed to myself, and in Miss Denton's handwriting. The blood so madly leaped in my veins that for a second I staggered dizzily. I looked at him. “My letter!” I demanded.

He said to me, “This morning you sold your furniture to Mr. Lawley!”

“My letter!” I repeated.

“You are going to clear out!”

“My letter!” I shouted. “Give me my letter. How dared you open it, you thief?”

“Lucas,” said my uncle, in a low but strident voice, “the last tie is broken; you are a traitor to the Push. You have broken your promises, you have robbed us of our money! You have fooled us, deceived us, mocked us, and betrayed us!”

“My letter!” I screamed, and threw myself upon him. We fell to the floor, and fought like two wild beasts, silently, savagely, for the mastery, I with the strength of fury, he with the strength of hate and foiled ambition. He overcame me; he kneeled upon my chest, and with slow deliberation struck me several times upon the face, until at last I lay perfectly still, not stunned, but not quite sensible. “This is your last night on earth!” he hissed. Glancing about, I perceived that the room was peopled with silent, set-faced figures; the whole council was present.

I panted out, “Very good, kill me, you brutes. It will mean your own extermination; you will follow me very soon. Mr. Finlayson will avenge me!”

My uncle stood up, and sharply jerked me to my feet. “I'll not leave you even that poor satisfaction!” he grated, and, dragging me into the kitchen, threw up the back window, which faced, from an eminence, the stretched-out, sleeping city. “Look!” he growled.

The sky to the east shone with a great red glow; an immense mass of flames, topped with black clouds of fume, reared into the heavens, and licked at the stars with a thousand tongues of fire. It was almost bright as day, and


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the fire seemed immediately upon us; but the clangour of a hundred brazen bells, toned by distance into a sort of harmony, told me that it was in reality quite far away. I did not understand my uncle's meaning.

“It is a great fire!” I muttered.

“Where?” he asked, grimly. His face, crimsoned with reflected light, made him look like an exultant fiend.

“I do not know.”

“Waverley Chambers!” he cried, triumphantly. “Long before this your precious paper is in cinders!”

Mr. Finlayson had his office in Waverley Chambers. I did not need to be informed that my uncle had caused to be ruthlessly committed the crime of arson, in order to destroy the fictitious paper which he believed I had entrusted to the hands of Mr. Finlayson. But, none the less, the knowledge almost overwhelmed me, for I realised that, through me, however innocently, one of the finest buildings in the city was in process of destruction. Perhaps even human lives might be sacrificed in the consequent battle with the flames! My uncle jerked me back into the room, and someone shut the window.

“We have now nothing to fear from you!” he said; “and having nothing to fear, there is nothing to prevent us executing the decree which has been pronounced against you.”

I was face to face with death, and knew it thoroughly. I knew that it would be useless to struggle, useless to make an outcry. My first shout for help would be cut short by a stunning blow, and only hasten my end. Curiously enough, now that all hope was gone, I did not wish to die, although at any time during the last twenty hours I would have welcomed death. I thought of Miss Denton's letter in my uncle's pocket. I wondered what message it contained, wondered fiercely.

“Have you anything to say?” demanded my uncle.

“Yes. If you kill me, paper or no paper, the whole Push is lost. Miss Denton knows everything! She will avenge me!”

“Ah!” said my uncle, grinning cruelly; “you deserve a vote of thanks for telling us. We'd been doubtin' that.


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Boys,”—he turned to the silent councillors—“it's a stroke of luck I come here early to-night; it's saved the Push. It's given us both our enemies into our hands—just like a stage play.”

“My letter!” I gasped, thrilled with a sudden foreboding of ill.

“Yes, your letter!” hissed my uncle. He took it from his pocket, and offered it to me. I seized it with trembling fingers; but even as I held it up to read, a crushing blow descended on my head, and, my ears ringing with my uncle's mocking, diabolic laughter, I fell to the floor senseless as a log.

I opened my eyes to the stars. I seemed to have slept for hours. I was aching in every limb. It was still night, but a rich crimson glow pervaded the sky. I became conscious of a softly rocking, gliding motion. One by one I recovered the faculties of sense and memory. I was lying on my back in the bottom of a boat rowed by two men. I was bound hand and foot, and securely gagged.

An hour passed, and still the men rowed on. Their backs were turned to me. I could see nothing but the sides of the boat, the rowers' rhythmically moving bodies, a slant of sculls between the rowers' hands and the rowlocks, and the great dome of the flame-tinted sky. Several times I tried to sit up, but my strength always failed. At length the rowers ceased their labour. The nose of the boat immediately behind me—for I lay with my head to the bows—grated against wood, giving me a shock throughout my frame. The men stood up, one of them trod upon me (I saw his face distinctly; it was Jack Robin), standing so he did something which I could not see. He then gave a spring which forced all the breath from my body, and the boat shot backwards, lightened of a load. With another little shock it swiftly returned. The second rower, Dave Gardner, stooped and roughly hauled me from my position by the collar; he passed a noose of rope beneath my arms, and threw the free coil into the ear. I was dragged upwards, swinging round and round like a bale of goods, on to the deck of a ship. It was Jack Robin's store hulk, the Push's prison-house; and one swift glance around assured


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me that it was still in its old position in Kerosene Bay, a rugged and uninhabited inlet of the harbour, situated to the north of Balmain and Goat Island, but separated from either by a wide tract of unfrequented water. About five hundred yards to my right were moored two large deserted steamers. Not a single light gleamed from the rocky shore. Save on public holidays, when picnic parties visit the place, Kerosene Bay is the most lonely and desolate spot within ten miles of Sydney. I was permitted no second glance. My captors, almost immediately I reached the deck, dragged me to the black mouth of a hold. I was lowered down by a rope, and fell into the curved fragment of a broken iron cylinder. They slipped down a ladder, and swiftly lighted a lanthorn which was hanging from a beam. I saw that the hold was half filled with steel and iron scraps and filings, and pieces of broken steam engines. They lifted me between them, and carried me along a twisting path amongst the rubbish to a sort of cabin in the bows of the hulk, fifty feet from the mouth of the hold. On the floor of this they tossed me, none too gently, and immediately departed, putting out the lamp as they climbed to the deck. I had never known what true darkness was till then. I shall try and convey some idea of it. The cabin in which I lay was half under water, as I could tell from the lapping noises which reached me through the sides of the hulk. It contained neither porthole nor window, and the door was blocked with piles of iron lumber, through which no ray of light might penetrate. Beyond the lumber lay fifty feet of dark; then the mouth of the hold was small, and was probably already covered over by my gaolers as a last precaution. In ordinary darkness, if the eyes be strained, either wide open, upwards, or downwards, or if the eyeball be pressed by the finger, a distinct impression of circular light is invariably produced upon the mind. But, in the darkness wherein I lay, such an impression was incapable of production even upon the fancy. I had leisure to test the matter very thoroughly. When I grew weary of that occupation, I counted thirty thousand by moving the fingers of my left hand against my thigh. I could not feel with my right hand at all; it must have been more tightly bound


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than the other, and was probably numbed. Counting the thirty-first thousand I fell asleep. I awoke horribly thirsty, and tried to chew at my gag. The blackness was as thick as ever; my tongue commenced to swell and bleed, and I had to swallow my own blood; it made me ill. The writhing torture was too horrible for words; it made me perspire so freely that the moisture trickled through my thick eyebrows into my eyes, and my clothes were simply drenched. Insects crawled all over me. A great rat ran over my face, twice; the second time I swooned.

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