The Secret of the Garden, by Arthur Gask

Chapter 1

It was the old fool of a judge himself who turned all my thoughts to bitterness. I know quite well I lost my temper, but he ought to have made allowances for that. I was under the terrible disappointment of being found guilty when I fully expected I should have got off. I was worn out with anxiety, and furious, because I didn’t consider I had had a fair trial. Everything and everybody had been against me, and I don’t wonder I hit out. I know I threatened, and said personal things about the judge that made the court laugh, but the judge ought to have been above petty spite and have taken no notice of my outburst at all.

Instead everyone could see he was annoyed, and he just snapped out, ‘Five years!’

Five years! What a monstrous sentence! The whole court seemed to gasp, and even the beast, Drivel Jones, I saw, lifted his eyebrows in surprise.

No wonder I shouted and raved, but I only got handcuffed and dragged away roughly for my pains.

Everything had gone badly for me that morning. It was the second day of my trial, and the judge was over an hour late. I was fretting and fuming in the prisoners’ room. I knew the trial was bound to be finished that day, and every minute I was kept back deepened and made more unbearable my suspense.

A good quarter of an hour before ten I had been brought there ready, and I sat with dry mouth and shaking knees, waiting for the summons that would take me into the court.

Ten o’clock struck, and I expected every second that the door would open and I would be called out. But the minutes passed and nothing happened. The quarter hour chimed, then the half hour, and then the threequarter. It was a terribly hot day, and the prisoners’ room, tucked away at the back of the building, was ill-ventilated and stifling. I felt sick with the heat and the suspense.

There was one warder in charge in the room with me, and he appeared to be feeling the heat quite as much as I was. He was a surly, ill-tempered brute and, knowing his disposition, I had not attempted to exchange a word with him since we had come in. He had brought a newspaper with him, but it was apparently to be only of service as a fan.

Soon the door opened and one of the court policemen came in. He glanced at me and then entered into conversation with my guard. For some reason he was as annoyed as I was at the unpunctuality of the judge. From his remarks I gathered he was afraid the dinner hour would be curtailed. He said no one knew why the judge was late, but they had found out he was motoring up that morning from Victor Harbor and it was thought his car must have broken down.

They had learnt he was away from home from the telephone people. They had tried to ring the judge’s private residence in North Adelaide but had been told it was no good to try there because the house was shut up and everyone was away. No one had any idea how long the judge would be.

As soon as I heard this, my suspense, rather to my surprise, took on a fierce and unreasonable anger.

‘A nice muddle now!’ I said truculently to my astonished hearers. ‘Everybody to be kept waiting and the whole business of the court held up, just because Mr. Justice Cartright takes it into his head to go and sleep fifty miles away from his work. Gross mismanagement, I say, and if he had his billet with a private firm he’d lose his job.’

The policeman grinned delightedly.

‘You tell him so, sir,’ he said, and I saw him wink at the warder. ‘He’ll be interested, I’m sure, and it might make him more favourable to you when he comes to make his last little speech to the jury.’

‘Well,’ I went on, and ignoring his sarcasm, ‘I’ll take care it gets in the papers. I’ll write to them this evening myself. There are several other things I want to complain about, too, since I’ve been on remand.’

The warder looked at me contemptuously, but the policeman, cast in a different mould, was disposed to derive any little enjoyment he could from my ill temper.

‘You’re quite right, sir,’ he laughed encouragingly, and with his mouth stretching almost from ear to ear. ‘There are a lot of things want ventilating here, and this room is one.”

The door opened sharply and another policeman put in his head.

‘He’s come,’ he said laconically, and the first policeman, springing briskly to his feet, left the room.

After that, in less almost than two minutes, it seemed, I was walking up the short flight of stairs that led into the dock, and even before I was in view of anybody in the court, the cold, unctuous voice of the judge was falling on my ears. He was apologising for being late.

I stood up close to the rail and looked defiantly round the court.

The judge was telling them his car had broken down, and he was lucky to have got to the city at all. The misfortune was hardly likely to occur again, however, and, in any case, the possibility of it could be put away in a few days, for in a week exactly he was returning from the seaside and would be resuming the occupation of his city house. He smiled and bowed and all the lawyers smiled and bowed in return.

‘Damned lot of hypocrites!’ I swore to myself. ‘All pulling together the same way. Pretending to be shocked when nobody goes astray and rejoicing when some poor devil falls into their clutches — for the law must get its criminals, or it won’t be fed.’

Then my trial went on, and the vile Drivel Jones opened his final speech for the prosecution.

I have often gone back in memory over those last hours in the court and marvelled over the surprises that grim old Father Time had in store for some of the actors there.

First, there was me, John Archibald Cups, aged thirty-two, ledger clerk of ten years’ standing in the Consolidated Bank of South Australia, and prosecuted for systematic embezzlement by my employers.

It was a lie. I had been honest as a clock all my life, and it was just the sudden accident of chancing to pick up a ten-pound note in the corridor of the bank that had given the brutes their opportunity.

I didn’t deny that I had picked it up, and I admitted that I had hesitated for a moment to consider whom I should take it to. But it was only for a moment, and in another minute it would have got round to the cashier. But they had given me no time. They had planted it there deliberately and had pounced on me the very instant I had swallowed the bait. That was why I was in the dock.

The judge, Marcus Cartright, was a consequential, bombastic old fool. He was curled and scented and had beautiful white hands. He was a well-known fop in private life and a customer at our bank. I had often seen and smelt him when he came in. He was a great friend of our chairman of directors, old Carnworthy, Sir Joseph, and I had seen the two exchange smiles and nods across the court. The judge had a cold, even voice, and was a pillar of the church in his spare time. He was great on Sunday observance, and any sunlight and fresh air on that day were to be opposed vigorously with the rigour of the law.

Drivel Jones was the bully of the Bar, undoubtedly the most unscrupulous advocate in South Australia and a Goliath in the practice of the law. Everyone was afraid of him, and with his bitter, sneering tongue he could any time make black white, and white black. He bullied and hectored all adverse witnesses in a shameful way, and woe betide the poor wretch who testified to the truth when it didn’t suit Drivel Jones’s book. In his private life, racing was his great hobby, and he juggled and cheated with his horses as he juggled and cheated in the law. He was a crook of the turf, but there again everyone was afraid of him, and run his horses as he might he always seemed to manage it that he was never pulled up. He was a big coarse man with a ruddy face and large brown eyes. I hated him years before he ever heard of me.

My counsel, Pierce Moon, was a gentleman, but a fool. He had been put up to defend me because I didn’t have the money for anyone else. He was no good and terribly afraid of Drivel Jones. I saw afterwards that I could have done much better if I’d defended myself.

The jury — oh Heaven! how was it possible that such a lot had ever been got together in one batch all at once — was a pack of gapefaced Methody swabs. They hung on everything Drivel Jones said, and when the blackguard flattered them, and with his tongue in his leering cheek told them he was certain they would see through my rascality as easily as he did, they looked like the set of fools they were, and seemed to purr like kittens over a drop of milk. Three of them I knew well by sight. The foreman, Pepple, was the ass who kept the vegetarian shop in Pipe Street. He was a little, sallow, wizened chap with a face like one of the dried-up raisins in his shop. He used to jaw about everything, every Sunday in the park, and his great idea was to purge your life of all pleasure, so that your mind would be clean and clear to think aright. Think aright, the poor fool! — and Drivel Jones, who was the entire opposite of everything he prayed for, just turned him round his little finger. Shucksy worked at the sewage farm and was always writing to the papers about the indecency of the one-piece bathing dress. I don’t think he’d ever had a swim in the sea in his entire life. He had ginger whiskers and wore glasses, so thick they made him look like an owl. I saw him scowling at me, as if he knew I were guilty, even before the trial began. Byron James was the other juryman I knew. Another crank. He was mixed up with the anti-gambling crowd and used to play the part of an amateur detective and sneak round the parks to try and catch little boys playing cards.

A nice mob I had to face that day. It was a farce my fate should have been given into their hands, and the result was a foregone conclusion.

I have said I had no friends, but it was a mistake. I had Dick Rainton the trainer. He came up for me and gave his evidence like a man, and I could see for the moment that even the asinine jury members were wavering. He told them he was with me at Victoria Park, every moment of that afternoon when I was supposed to have been betting in ten pound notes, and he was positive I had never had more than a pound on any race any time.

I think for a minute the jury fully believed it was the truth he was giving them, but Drivel Jones wiped out the impression two minutes after by sneering at Rainton as ‘another betting man of the same kidney’.

Of course, Drivel Jones, in his closing speech, came down like a sledge-hammer on my life. First he handed out a lot of flap-doodle to the jury. He held up the bank directors as extraordinary benefactors to South Australia and pictured them almost as angels of light. The commercial reputation of the whole state, he bellowed, lay in their hands. They were guardians of the public money, and in the security of their funds rested the confidence and credit of the community. The offence I was guilty of was not only an offence against private morality and the bank, but also a crime against the well-being of the people generally.

Then he pretended to describe my life. He said there was no denying from the evidence tendered that I was a racecourse gambler of a heavy type and wagered in large sums of money. Where, then, did I get the money from? he thundered. Where?

I could stand silent no longer under his vile lies and, in a burst of furious temper, shouted as loudly as he was doing, ‘You’re a liar — you’re a damned liar!’ I gesticulated wildly, and made as if to throw myself at him over the dock-rail, but the warder beside me pulled me roughly back and the judge sternly bade me keep silent or he would send me below.

I subsided, muttering, to a cold fury, and had the mortification of seeing Drivel Jones further ingratiate himself with the jury. He pretended, the hypocrite, to be only pained with my interruption, and insisted that, however unpleasant, it was his duty to speak the truth and conceal nothing.

Then he went on to make out what he said had been clearly proved. He would recapitulate the evidence, he said. I had been robbing the bank for years. On and off for a long while bank-notes had been missing but, until a few weeks ago, so clever had been my methods of theft, suspicion had not been focused on me. Then I had been watched and my movements noted, and what had happened. A note for fifty pounds had gone astray on Thursday, but its loss had not, unfortunately, been discovered until after I had left the bank premises. On the following Saturday, however, it had been paid into the racecourse totalisator at Victoria Park. I had been seen purchasing tickets on several races. The following Monday week a twenty pound note was found missing. It had been taken, undoubtedly, the previous Saturday. Later it was found it had been paid into the totalisator at Morphettville, on the afternoon of that day. I had been at the races again. Lastly, he came to the matter of the bank-note I had picked up, and he pictured everything at its blackest here. I was a rogue. I was a scoundrel. I was a systematic thief!

In conclusion, he implored the jury, as men of sense and intelligence, to allow no feeling of pity to obsess their minds, but to make sure that for a term of years, at any rate, I should not be loosed upon the community to make financial security a mockery and debauch the well-esteemed credit of the state.

Pierce Moon made a rotten sort of reply. He was not a patch on Drivel Jones, and I could see made no impression on the jury at all. He bored them, and me as well, and I was glad when he sat down.

Then came the judge, and his summing up was as vicious and as one-sided a bit of special pleading as you could wish. He never gave me a dog’s chance. I could see plainly he was damning me all through, because I had been given to racing. Every time he referred to the racing evidence, he looked significantly at the jury, and he dismissed them finally with the undoubted suggestion that they should bring in a verdict of guilty.

They were only absent about five minutes, and I could see from their faces the moment they came back what their verdict was going to be.

‘Guilty!’

‘John Archibald Cups,’ began the old judge in even, unctuous tones, ‘you have been found guilty after a fair trial, and all I can say ——’

He got no further. I was mad with anger and disgust. ‘Fair trial!’ I shouted. ‘It’s been all a damned farce. I’ve never had a chance.’

The judge held up his hand sternly, but my temper over-leapt prudence and, in the few seconds I was left free, I got in a lot of telling truths. I told him he was a scented, old fool, a narrow-minded bigot and a weakling, afraid of Drivel Jones. I said Drivel Jones had been allowed to bully my witnesses shamefully, and that the man was the most notorious crook on the racecourse side. I shouted that the jury were all imbeciles, and that vices of varying kinds were apparent on their faces. I would pay out everyone who had been my enemy that day — yes, if I had to wait twenty years, I would get my revenge. I would punish them all in my own way; I would ——

But here the filthy hand of the warder descended on my mouth and, choking and struggling, I was forced to the floor. I fought savagely, but the warder snipped a pair of handcuffs on me and, exhausted at last, I was forced up to hear my sentence.

‘Five years, with hard labour,’ said the judge curtly, and with the assistance of two policemen I was brutally half pushed and half carried down the stairs from the dock.

A minute later and I was alone again, as I had been once before that day, with my solitary warder in the prisoners’ room.

I leaned back giddily on the bench upon which I had been thrown, and strove manfully to gather in my senses.

‘Fiver years’ hard labour! My God — it was a life-time! I should be thirty-seven then, and a broken-down, middle-aged man. Five years — and I was innocent!’

My eyes roved desperately round the prisoners’ room and came upon the warder. They fell vacantly at first, and then I realised that something was very wrong.

The man was leaning back in a strange way in the chair, his face putty-coloured and pricked out in sweat. His eyes were shut and his tongue half lolled from one side of his mouth. He was in a fit and perilously near to falling to the ground.

For a second I sneered callously at him, with no intention of going to his help. ‘Let him fall, and break his neck — the swine; it will be one the less for me to punish one day. Let him hurt himself and ——’

A fearful thought raced through me. The key! he had the handcuffs key in his pocket — the door of the room had not been locked — and he and I were there alone. Quickly, much quicker than I can tell it, I was kneeling by his side. With my handcuffed hands I fumbled in his pocket. Yes, there was the key. I grabbed it out and with lightning speed I thrust it hard between my teeth. With desperate force I pressed the handcuffs up against my face. Click, the handcuffs opened, and my wrists were free. I slipped the handcuffs into my pocket, put back the key into the warder’s pocket, took out a sixpence, a box of matches and a packet of cigarettes that I found there, snatched up my hat from the table, paused for a second to button up my coat, pulled down the hat low over my eyes and, opening the door quietly, walked quickly out into the hall.

Everything had happened in less than a minute, and five seconds later I was walking unconcernedly through the crowd. There were lots of people there, but they all seemed to be hurrying off to lunch. Fortunately my clothes were of an ordinary dark grey colour, and there was nothing conspicuous about me at all. Two policemen were talking just in front of me and one moved out of the way to give me room. I passed Drivel Jones within two feet and could easily have knocked the cigar out of his grinning face had I wished. Pepple, the vegetarian ass, was on the pavement buying a paper, and he actually glanced up at me as I went by.

A tram pulled out opposite, just as I got into the street, and without the faintest idea of its destination I boarded it and sat down.

The conductor immediately came round for the fares.

‘All the way,’ I said laconically, and I passed over the warder’s sixpence. My ticket cost twopence halfpenny, and I saw I had booked to North Adelaide.

The conductor jerked at the bell, the car glided smoothly away, and my association with the Criminal Court of South Australia was left behind me for ever.

Really, as I sat there by myself in the corner of that tram, I would have given anything to have been able to have a long, good hearty laugh. Everything seemed to me so irresistibly funny. Here I was riding off free, untrammeled and all alone, and yet not five minutes ago I had been sentenced to five years’ imprisonment with hard labour.

Surely it was a mighty joke. As we passed the post office clock I noticed it was twelve minutes to one; well, at seventeen minutes to one I had been hard in the meshes of the law. I had been surrounded by policemen, warders, and all sorts of court officials, and yet, here, now, a bare five minutes after, I was absolutely alone and for the moment absolutely free.

Yes, it was a joke; but, at the same time, the weight of the handcuffs in my pocket reminded me that the joke might still have its very unpleasant side.

Where on earth was I to go? I hadn’t the remotest idea.

The situation was a desperate one, and I was quickly sobered down. I had threepence halfpenny, a pair of handcuffs, a box of matches, and a packet of cigarettes, and none of my possessions seemed to offer any satisfactory way out of the difficulty I was in.

In a few minutes there would be hue and cry for me everywhere, and unless I could run to earth at once my capture was certain and would not be even a matter of hours.

I had no means of disguising myself, I had no money to get away with and I knew of no place where I could hide.

It looked hopeless and I began to think I was a fool to have escaped at all.

The tram pulled up at the terminus, and I jumped off quickly while the conductor was readjusting the pole.

With no idea at all in my mind, I walked quickly up a side road at right angles to the main one. Anything to get away from where people were, and the road here seemed a lonely one. The houses were all big and all stood alone in their own grounds.

It was a fearfully hot day, well over a hundred in the shade and there were not many people about. No one in Australia comes out more in the heat than they are obliged to.

For about five minutes I walked on in a rising fever of desperation and then, all of a sudden, came the inspiration that was eventually to be my salvation.

I was passing two big high iron gates, securely fastened with a big padlock and chain, when, happening to glance through, I saw three huge dogs prowling on the drive that led up to the house. They were enormous, fierce-looking fellows, and their great eyes, I thought, glared balefully as they met mine.

Like a flash it came to me to whom they belonged. They were the guardian watch-dogs of the eccentric recluse, Dr. Robert Carmichael.

The doctor was a well-known personality in Adelaide, well-known, however, only by repute, for very few had ever seen him in the flesh. He never left his own grounds and, living in a big house among the trees, the gates were always chained and barred to all comers.

His place was called ‘The Tower’, because of a strange sort of observatory that rose high up from the middle of the rambling one-storeyed building that was his home.

But it was not because I suddenly remembered all this that my heart began to throb in fierce quick beats. A far more thrilling chord of memory was quavering in my mind. I was remembering also that Judge Cartright’s house was the one next to his.

I had heard the judge one day telling our chief cashier in the bank that sometimes he could not sleep on moonlight nights, because of the growling of Dr. Carmichael’s dogs, as they prowled around. I was remembering this, and it came back to me also what I had heard in the prisoners’ room that very morning, that the judge’s house was at present empty and untenanted, on account of all the family being away.

‘What a place to hide in,’ I gasped. ‘What a refuge and what a sanctuary, if only I could get in. Of all the places in the world, no one would dream of looking for me there.’

It was about a hundred yards further on to the judge’s home and I was breathing hard when I reached the gates. Inverary! ah yes, that was the name. I remembered it now in the ledger books. As I had expected, however, the gates were closed and, to my dismay, I saw they were spiked and very high. The walls, too, on either side were quite ten feet from the ground and generously cemented over at their tops with lumps of evil-looking broken glass.

What an ass I was, I snarled to myself. Of course, the judge wouldn’t have been such a soft as to leave his grounds open for anyone to get in. They would be locked up as securely as the prison stockade.

With an oath of disappointment I went to shake one of the big gates and, to my astonishment, it yielded instantly to my touch. It was unlocked.

I looked up and down the road. The quivering heat hung like a pall on everything around. There was not a soul in sight. I slipped quickly into the grounds and very gently pushed the gate behind me. Was it to be sanctuary after all?

My guardian angel must surely have been watching over me that afternoon.

I didn’t walk straight up the gravel drive but, for some reason, I don’t know why, tiptoed very softly over a narrow stretch of turf that ran along the flower-bed by the side.

It was well I did so, for I should have walked to certain detection else. As it was it was only by a hair’s breadth that I escaped coming to my Sedan.

I was just turning round the bend in the drive that hid the house from the entrance gates when suddenly I heard the clink-clink sound of metal striking against stone.

I pulled myself up with a jerk so sharp that it hurt me almost like a spasm of pain.

A man was bending down behind a bush just in front of me; he was hoeing among the carnations. Another step and I should have been right on him.

Very softly, and almost holding my breath, I tiptoed back along part of the way I had come. Then I turned off among the bushes and, making a long detour, worked my way gradually all round the house until I had the gardener right in front of me, about fifty yards away. I knew it was vital to me that I should keep him in view, so as to know exactly where he was. He was still hoeing among the carnations.

I lay down under a thick bush and thought carefully exactly what I should do.

My spirits had risen considerably since I had entered the judge’s grounds, and I quite thought now that, with any luck, I had found at least a temporary refuge from my enemies.

I had cocked my eye over the house, as I had crept round, and had imagined two or three places where I could easily break in. I had picked up a small length of iron on my travels through the garden and was thinking, Woe betide the gardener if he should happen to catch sight of me now. Indeed, so quickly had I fitted myself to the role of an escaped convict, I was half inclined, as it was, to creep round and bash him on the head for the sake of his clothes. But he was a much stouter man than I, and saner thoughts soon convinced me that nothing he was wearing would be any good to me. So I just lay and watched him, hoping for the time when he would go.

But he was a very long while on those carnations, much longer than in my impatience I imagined they were worth. Then he went round to the back, to the vegetable part of the garden, and I spent a very tedious hour watching him tie up and water the tomatoes. Then the melon plants engrossed his attention and the cucumbers wanted seeing to.

It was nearly five o’clock, I guessed, before he began to gather up his tools and get ready to go.

All the time I was just dying for a drink of water. The heat was terrific and my throat seemed almost to be closing up, it was so dry, but I dared not leave the gardener out of my sight for a moment, not knowing where he might go.

At last he locked up his belongings in the tool-shed in a corner under the high wall and, hiding the key under a big plant-pot close by, proceeded very slowing down the drive towards the gates.

I followed him stealthily to make sure and see the last of him. He produced a big key from his pocket and, once outside, was very careful, I noticed, to make sure the gates were properly shut behind him. He shook them vigorously two or three times before going away.

Alone, at last, by myself, I ran back quickly and had a good long drink from the first tap I came upon. The water tasted like nectar, and I felt refreshed at once for the further prosecution of my adventures.

But if I had thought it was gong to turn out an easy job to get into the house, I soon found I was very much mistaken.

The place was a perfect castle and, behind the fly-proof wire windows, there were bars and shutters everywhere.

It didn’t suit my book to break in forcibly anywhere. I had no particular plans in my mind, but I was determining at any rate to accept the judge’s hospitality for a few days, and it would never do, I told myself rightly, to leave any outward and visible sign of having gained an entrance.

It would be quite possible, I thought, that in the course of the next few days the police might search round all untenanted houses for my humble self.

I tried to get in where it wouldn’t be noticed, but I was balked every time. Round and round the house I walked, but nowhere were things favourable to my design.

At last a sort of inspiration seized me and I thought I would try the roof. Standing a little way away from the house, I noticed that one part of the roof in the middle seemed to be to be flat, and I imagined I could just see over the summit of the sloping eaves, the top of a wicker-work garden chair.

Abstracting the key from under the plant-pot where I had seen the gardener place it, I opened the tool-shed door and found, as I had half expected, a garden ladder.

Quickly placing it against the side of the house, just by the back kitchen door, I scrambled up on to the roof. It was an easy matter then to crawl up the sloping corrugated-iron and, gaining the highest point in a few seconds, I was delighted with what I saw.

There was quite a spacious flat platform on the top of the roof, and it was evidently used for sleeping out. There were two wicker camp-beds there, a small wicker table and a couple of chairs. In one corner there was a trap-door that obviously led down into the interior of the house. With my heart beating wildly, I stepped over and pulled on the iron ring that I saw there.

It yielded at once to my touch and disclosed a flight of narrow stairs. In ten seconds at most I had tiptoed down and was standing breathlessly in the kitchen of the judge’s house. I glowed with delight at my good fortune, but I didn’t for one moment lose my head.

I at once opened the kitchen door and, going again into the garden, removed the tell-tale ladder from the side of the house and locked it in the shed. The shed key I also returned to its hiding place under the pot. Then I shut myself quietly in the house and made a rapid survey of my future home.

It was very dark inside, but I had no difficulty in finding my way about. My word, but wasn’t it a gorgeous home! Beautiful and costly furniture everywhere, carpets into which you seemed to sink ankle-deep with your feet, pictures and statuary just as if one was in an art salon and everything suggesting of the utmost money could buy.

As I opened door after door and the richness of everything was revealed, I wondered what indeed could be the judge’s condition of mind when he was committing some poor devils like me to long terms of imprisonment in the awful prison stockade.

But interesting as were the art treasures of the house, the possible kitchen resources pressed forcibly on my mind. I had had nothing to eat practically all day, and a horrid feeling of faintness began to remind me unpleasantly of it.

I proceeded, therefore, to forage anxiously for something to satisfy the inner man. Of course, I found nothing lying about, the judge’s domestic arrangements were much too methodical for that, but I soon discovered where the storeroom was. It was, of course, locked, but with the assistance of a handy fire-iron, I soon forced the door and at once saw I was going to be amply rewarded for my pains.

There was plenty of tinned stuff there — milk, sardines, salmon and corned beef — and, to my relief, some large tins of dry biscuits. Better still, on the floor there was a good assortment of bottles of wine.

I had quite a pleasant little meal in the kitchen that evening, and after a bottle of excellent claret, life took on quite a hopeful and roseate hue. I would shake off my enemies after all.

From what the judge had said in court that morning, he would not be returning home with his family until the following Monday. Well and good, I had exactly five days. I could rest and recuperate, think out carefully all my future plans and finally leave the house on the Sunday in some good sort of disguise. There would be plenty of clothes in the house, I was sure, and I should have no difficulty at all in making myself look very different from the man who had been so recently sentenced to five years.

My hunger and thirst satisfied, I felt very tired. I smoked a couple of the warder’s cigarettes, had a very delightful bath in the elaborately tiled bathroom of the house and, finally, attired in a beautiful pair of the judge’s silk sky-blue pyjamas, threw myself restfully, in the best bedroom, upon what I thought was most probably the judge’s own feather bed.

I fell asleep almost at once and so satisfied must I have been with all my surroundings, that I slept unbrokenly all night long. I don’t remember even dreaming at all.

The sun had been up some hours when I woke up next morning. It was my friend, the gardener, who awoke me. He was raking over the gravel, just under my bedroom window. For a few seconds I couldn’t take in where I was, and then, I remember, I grinned delightedly to myself. Judge Cartright had sentenced me to five years’ imprisonment and the first night of those years I had slept in his own bed, in his sky-blue coloured silk pyjamas.

It was really too funny for words, and my great regret was that I had no one with me to share the joke.

I got leisurely out of bed and, after a light breakfast of tea, biscuits and sardines, helped myself to what proved to be a most excellent cigar from a box on the judge’s desk.

Then, for about half an hour, I stood watching the gardener through a chink in the bedroom blind. It somehow amused me a lot to think I was so near to him and he didn’t know it.

Presently, I heard a loud whistle in the direction of the gates. It was followed immediately by a shout.

The gardener stopped his working on the gravel path. ‘All right,’ he shouted back hoarsely. ‘You can get in, they’re open; but push them behind you.’

A minute later, a man came up the drive leading a horse in a small cart. The newcomer was delivering a load of manure.

He greeted the gardener affably and they went round the side of the house. They halted just in front of the kitchen window and I at once got into a position so that I could hear what they were saying.

After a minute or so’s cursing at the heat we were having, as I half expected it would, the talk came round to me.

They sat down together on the wheelbarrow, but, unfortunately, with their backs to me. Scraps of their conversation, however, came up plainly to my ears.

The manure-man was evidently of an opinion that things were worth a good laugh. ‘Called him a scented old fool,’ I heard between a lot of huge guffaws. ‘Threatened to break his damned neck the first day he got out — cursed at the jury like hell too . . . all awfully frightened . . . the vegetarian chap’s not going to open his shop till the bloke’s caught anyhow . . . got clean away, clean as a whistle . . . the damned police poking round everywhere . . . beating the hills even . . . sure to be caught soon, however . . . recognised anywhere by his nose . . . big as a donkey’s, with a konk in it like a damned Jew’s.’

They moved off after a minute or two, and I must confess a certain misgiving had risen unpleasantly in my mind. I knew I had a peculiar nose, but was my appearance really so unusual, I asked myself, that I should be recognised anywhere?

I went back into the bedroom and examined myself critically in the cheval glass. Not at all a bad face, I told myself, but certainly looking older than thirty-two. Just ordinary eyes and complexion, brown curly hair and a sharply closed firm mouth. But the nose — ah, the nose! There was no doubt about it, it was dangerously conspicuous. A well-developed Roman nose of a most pronounced type! The great bridge in it was a conspicuous feature. I had been called Julius Caesar in my schooldays, and at the Bank had been known as ‘The Duke’ to my intimates, because of my supposed resemblance to the large-nosed Duke of Wellington.

I sighed deeply as I regarded myself in the glass, but there, it couldn’t be helped, and I comforted myself a few minutes later. So great hitherto had been my good fortune that I was hopeful it would go on again.

I spent four days altogether in the judge’s house and, on the whole, except for the monotony of continual tinned food, it was quite a happy time.

I followed almost exactly the same routine every day. Each morning, it was the gardener who woke me up. I always heard him come in, and his first care was always the carnations just under my bedroom window. He used to turn the hose on them before the sun came round.

About an hour later, I used to get up, have a nice cold bath and then spend the day either in reading, playing chess with myself or going through the judge’s private papers.

At five o’clock, the moment the gardener had taken himself off, I used to go into the garden and have a good fill of the judge’s fruit. His apricots, especially, I found most delicious, and I have never tasted better, before or since.

The rest of the evening, until I took myself off to bed, I used to spend in a delightful little summer-house at the extreme end of the garden. It was so beautifully peaceful and quiet there and I would sometimes lie for hours on the comfortably padded seat, listening drowsily to the faint and humming sounds of the city, so near and yet so far away.

Sometimes I varied part of the day slightly by going up on to the flat part of the roof for an hour or so. There was an awning attached to each of the wicker couches and I used to roll them out and lie there until the sun made it too hot and I had to come in.

The outdoor parts of my stay were most enjoyable but, even still, there was a little fly in the ointment there.

I could never get rid of the idea that I was being watched by someone from the tower of the house next door.

The tower dominated every yard of the judge’s garden. It commanded such a clear view of everything, and when I was lying on the judge’s roof it seemed to my imagination to be peopled and haunted with hundreds of pairs of eyes. Mind you, the whole time I never caught sight of a soul and never once saw any movement behind the rail of the tower but, still, as I say, there was always the uncanny feeling that I was being watched, and it got on my nerves.

The judge had quite an extensive library and was evidently a man of taste and education. I read a lot of Shelley while I was there and went twice very carefully through Prometheus Unbound. My games of chess with myself were rather slow, but I worked out a fine variation in the King’s Gambit that on several occasions I found most effective in later years.

About the judge’s private papers. It was vital for me that I should find some money somewhere and in pursuit of this object I broke into his big roll-top desk. I found he had many interests besides those of the law. He was, for instance, treasurer for some local church funds. There was one drawer, with a neat little gummed label on it. ‘New Wing for St. Snook’s Church’ it read. There was seven pounds ten in the drawer. Most appropriate, I thought. Instead of one new wing for St. Snook’s, it would provide two new wings for me. It would greatly assist me in my flight.

In the desk there was a cheque-book also, with plenty of unused cheques, and from his pass-book in another pigeon-hole I noticed he had quite a tidy balance lying at one bank.

On Saturday morning, the fourth day of my stay, the gardener pushed half-a-dozen letters into the letterbox of the front door. Significant of the shortly impending return of the family, I thought, with a bit of a gasp; but having nothing better to do, I went through them.

One was from a man, Henry Tuppins by name, evidently a tenant of the judge. He wrote from somewhere in North Unley, asking if he might cut down the large gum tree in his front garden as it was obstructing the light in the house. He wished to know if the judge could possibly see his way to rebuilding the wall at the back, as it was in a state of great dilapidation and cows and horses were continually breaking through.

There was an excellent little typewriter in the study, and I thought it would be only nice to reply to the letter at once.

So I wrote back to Mr Tuppins; yes, certainly, he could cut down the tree, it had become a regular nuisance and it would be doing me a favour if he would. As for the wall, well, I couldn’t decide for certain, off-hand, but the best thing would be for him to come up one evening to dinner and we could talk it over afterwards at our ease. I suggested the evening of Monday week and hoped he would be able to come because I had an excellent brand of cigars that I would like his opinion on. I begged he would make no reply if the arrangement suited him, and I signed the letter with a good flourish in the judge’s best style.

I had no difficulty at all in forging the judge’s signature. There were heaps of examples to copy from in his private letter-book, and for the last ten years and more, as ledger clerk, my chief work at the bank had been to do with people’s signatures and the varying ways in which they signed their names.

My imagination excited by this little correspondence adventure with Mr. Tuppins, I thought I could well spend a profitable half hour in composing a letter, also in the judge’s name, for publication in the press, upon the evil of narrow-minded views on Sunday Observance. So I wrote a chatty letter to two leading daily papers in Adelaide, the Advertiser and the Register, giving effect to these views.

I wrote, it was open to every man to change his opinions, and I had changed mine. I pleaded for a real day of rest, a day of sunshine and fresh air, a day away from the vitiated atmosphere of stuffy churches and chapels and halls. A day out in the open, whereby the refreshed and purified body would give home and shelter to a clean and purified soul. I said the arduous toil and worry of the working week had in many cases really physically unfitted young growing people for the sectarian discipline of the seventh day. They wanted some recreation on Sundays, I insisted, not a further piling up of the worries, doubts and perplexities of their working-day lives.

I concluded by remarking that in the course of many years’ experience on the bench, I had always invariably noticed that the worst offenders brought before me were recruited from among those who had been most strictly brought up in their early lives, and I pointed out that among civilised people it had long since passed into a proverb that clergymen’s children invariably showed themselves in later life to be the worst of all.

I felt quite pleased with myself after writing these two letters. It was very small-minded, I know, but they seemed to put quite an artistic crown on my efforts to spite the judge. Anything to make him look ridiculous, for there, I knew, I could punish him most. I put the letters in the house ‘post-box’ in the hall, trusting to chance that their presence would not be detected and that in due time they would be posted along with the other letters that the family would certainly put there.

By the Saturday afternoon, I had thought out all my plans, and was all prepared to leave on Sunday. I had selected certain articles of clothing from the judge’s wardrobe and, with these, I thought I could present a sufficiently altered appearance to pass muster in the dark.

I determined to leave the house about eight on Sunday evening and go down boldly to the railway station on North Terrace. I would mingle with the usual crowd of holiday-makers and book to some station in the hills; once there, I should be able to lie low indefinitely, I thought, and later on, pick up the Melbourne express at night from some township far away from the city.

I guessed, so short are people’s memories, that in a week or two at most, all description of my personal appearance would have been forgotten by everyone except the police.

In the evening, about five o’clock, I went out into the garden and after a good fill of fruit retired as usual to the summer-house to smoke and read and while away the hours until I was ready to go to bed.

I settled myself comfortably in a corner and for about ten minutes, I think, lay back and went carefully over all the plans in my mind.

Then suddenly, with a terror so great that it is vivid to me even now, I heard footfalls on the gravel path outside, and before I could move hand or foot in my paralysed surprise, a shadow fell across the entrance to the summer-house, and a second later a man stepped quietly inside.

‘Good evening to you, Mr. Cups,’ he said very quietly. ‘No, don’t be frightened. I’m a friend. I’m Doctor Carmichael from next door, and I’ve come to warn you that the judge’s servants are coming home tonight.’

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gask/arthur/secret-of-the-garden/chapter1.html

Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 19:14