The Secret of the Garden, by Arthur Gask

Chapter 6

The weeks rolled quickly on, and with the middle of June the brief sharp winter of South Australia set in. By then, however, many things had happened to me and in many ways I had completely altered my mode of life.

I had got rid of the hounds. I had sold them to a dog fancier up in the bush. It had gone to my heart to part with them, and over Diana especially had I almost shed tears.

But I had to get rid of them. I was away now so much and they were being neglected. Besides, to me now their use was gone, and the hour was getting nearer and nearer when, as Dr. Carmichael, I should be known no more. Any time now I must be prepared to slip suddenly away. My arrangements were nearly all compete, and I tarried only because my confidence and assurance were so great that I was determining to realise to the last item every penny of the doctor’s estate.

With the departure of the dogs I took on a daily servant, a sort of gardener handy-man, and never perhaps was an employer more particular about the habits and character of his prospective servant than was I.

My servant would be seeing me at home, just as I was, and I had no desire there should be any chance of his recognising me on the racecourse. Unlike the people at the bank he would know me without my smoked glasses and, conversant with all my goings out and comings in, he would very quickly put two and two together if only his suspicions were once aroused.

So I advertised for a teetotaller and strict Baptist, thinking that that would about fit the bill. I guessed a gentleman of that description would never be found within many miles of a racecourse.

It was certainly dreary work interviewing the candidates and I was a long while coming to my decision. Finally I settled on a very white-faced little man who for forty years and more had slunk through life under the name of Hooker. He had brought with him a long recommendation from his minister, to the effect that he, Hooker, had never missed one of the reverend gentleman’s weekly exhortations for more than seven years, and I must say that from Hooker’s general appearance, I was inclined to believe the statement might be true.

So Mr. Hooker was duly engaged, and in a contemplative, peaceful fashion, he set about putting the much neglected garden in some form of order.

I must say that on the whole he was rather a good servant, but all the time he was with me, I am quite sure, he never over-exerted himself once. Also, before he had been with me a week, I had grave doubts about his teetotal principles. He slept too long on the wheelbarrow after his midday meal to satisfy me, and I got to notice smells other than those of peppermints on his breath sometimes when I came near. But I thought he was as satisfactory as anyone I should be able to get and I consequently let him alone.

And all this while I had been gradually realising the securities of the dead man, and one by one I had been disposing of his interests in various undertakings. I had never, as I had foreseen, had any difficulty at all at the bank. They were courtesy itself to me the whole time.

By the beginning of July I had got together in various places just over forty-thousand pounds, a very good proportion of which was in medium-sized Commonwealth notes, and I was reckoning that in about another six weeks or two months I would safely have cleared up all there was for me to handle.

Looking back in the after years, I am sure I very much enjoyed my life at that time. There was just the very spice of risk and danger in it that made strong appeal to my restless and unsatisfied nature, and it was moreover a life that called for initiative and courage at every turn of the wheel.

I never knew exactly what was going to happen to me, and every day I rose to the call of new enterprise and new adventure. Although everything on the surface seemed to be going so easily for me, I was never sure there was not some danger threatening me from below, and that all in a flash I might not have to cut and run.

Dr. Carmichael had been such a well-known man once in New South Wales it seemed impossible that, sooner or later, someone would not come enquiring after him in Adelaide.

My transactions now often took me to the bank, and there were always plenty of people about when I went in. I knew I was a person of great interest there and I wondered how long it would be before I was one day pointed out by one of the clerks as Dr. Carmichael to someone who had once known the real doctor. Then the fat would be in the fire, and I would have to vanish instantly in the best manner possible.

But I had made all preparation for flight at any moment, and I flattered myself I was prepared for all eventualities.

Australia is a very wide place and an easy country to bury yourself in when once away from the big centres of civilisation. But it is a difficult country to hide in in the towns and cities, and a more difficult country still to get out of and proceed to other countries if you should happen to be wanted by the authorities.

The passport system, for example, is a very strict one, and among other things any passenger on an overseas-going steamer has always, before being allowed to set foot on the boat, to get his passport first vised by the income tax authorities. This, of course, means double identification, and it is not an easy thing, I can tell you, at any time to steal away unnoticed from the Commonwealth.

But I had no intention of leaving suddenly for overseas. When I should see fit to drop the mantle and role of life of Dr. Robert Carmichael, I intended to slip away from Adelaide, and under a different name, of course, make my home in a distant part of the Commonwealth until it would be perfectly safe for me to take passage to Europe.

Were any suspicion at any time raised against me I was not going to try and foolishly bolt away on some steamer homeward bound. It would be the very place in which they would first look for me, and with wireless installations everywhere I should be then a certain and an easy capture.

So it will be realised I had carefully thought everything out, and as a result I was reasonably confident that in any suddenly threatening emergency I could run safely to earth. I was ready to escape in any direction and had provided several good hiding places with elaborate preparation for a long stay in them if necessary.

I had a small bungalow at Port Noarlunga and another one on the marshes near St. Kilda. I had a car hidden in the hills; I had a bathing hut on the beach at Henley; and last, but not least, I had a powerful little motor-boat lying in a secluded reach off Port Adelaide. And everywhere I had provisioned for either a long hide or a lengthy journey. I believe I had arranged for everything.

I say I was happy in those days, and I repeat I am quite sure I was. The greatest reason was perhaps, however, because I had at last fallen in love.

Pretty dark-eyed Margaret Price, Nellie Rainton’s sister, was giving me my real first love affair in life. I had never much cared for girls and certainly none of them had ever interested me as Margaret did. I had spoken very few words to her and was uncertain even if she knew that I admired her. But she was often in my thoughts and I was always finding excuses for going up to the Rainton’s house.

I think Nellie Rainton knew from the first that I admired her sister but could never determine whether she was pleased or not.

I couldn’t fathom Nellie Rainton, and always had an idea that she was suspicious about me. Once when I broke into a good laugh about something, she turned round and stared at me so intently and with such startled eyes that for a long time afterwards I was uneasy.

But she was always very nice to me, was Nellie, and most grateful to me for the help I had given her husband.

There was no doubt that I had helped her husband just in the nick of time. I learnt afterwards that when I had appeared on the scene it had been only a matter of days before he would have been sold up.

Now, in a few short months, everything was different and his future seemed assured. My association had apparently brought him amazing good fortune all along. Several of the horses he was training came into form and even the very moderate Pirate King turned out to be almost a little goldmine. Three times in succession the gelding paid a dividend, two firsts and one second, and as the two first dividends were both over ten to one, Rainton had certainly no cause for complaint.

My popularity was also an excellent advertisement for him, and several owners, to be in a better position to secure my services, transferred their horses to him, so that he soon had almost as many animals as he could manage to train.

So far we had not raced Moonlight Maid in public since we had bought her, but we had been putting her to good work over the fences with a view to the Grand South Australian Steeplechase in August. She was under my special care and I had great hopes of her success. Properly handled, she would jump like a cat, and of her speed and staying powers I never had the slightest doubt.

I had long ago lost all fear of being recognised anywhere as the once John Archibald Cups, and I moved about freely in the city just where my fancy took me.

One day, being quite by chance in the neighbourhood of Pepple’s grass and nut shop in Pipe Street, I walked boldly in and asked for a shilling’s worth of almonds. The assistant served me. He was a brawny chap and looked, I thought, very much like a prizefighter. Pepple himself came in when the almonds were being wrapped up. He gave me one quick hard stare and then passed back into the inner part of the shop. I hadn’t seen him for over six months and he looked more skinny and dried up than ever. A few days later just for amusement I went in again. Pepple and the assistant were both there, but this time Pepple served me and the whole time he never once took his eyes of my face. He stared so hard that with all my assurance I was glad to get away.

Damn the little fool, I thought, but I expect it’s only his way.

Two days later, however, a letter from him appeared in the Advertiser. It was headed ‘Occult Waves’, and just typical of Pepple’s state of mind.

One day last week, he wrote, he had been quietly reading in the back part of his store, when suddenly and without any warning he had sensed the presence of occult waves and his own astral being had at once moved in harmony to them. He had felt all in a twitter and he couldn’t make it out. He had gone quickly into his shop and had there found his assistant serving almonds to a strange man. He had noticed nothing particular about the stranger then and the latter, completing his purchase, he had gone straight away.

Immediately the occult waves had died off. The incident had certainly seemed strange to him, but in the course of a few days he had quite forgotten it. Then suddenly two days ago, the day before yesterday, to be exact, the same thing had occurred again. Suddenly he had felt the same waves stirring and suddenly he had experienced the same twitter down his back. Then the shop door had pushed quickly open and a customer had walked in. It was the same man who had caused the vibrations a week ago.

Then Pepple went on with a long rigmarole that only his fellow lunatics would understand, but the whole gist of it was, that in his shop that day Pepple’s astral spook had met another astral spook that had once been his enemy in a former life. The two spooks had apparently recognised one another and at once started to give each other cheek.

Instead of making me laugh, the letter only had the effect of making me intensely angry for, as I recalled bitterly, as foreman of the jury, this ass at the trial had once practically held my fate in his hands.

I was very angry, too, with newspapers about that time, for they began to give me a very anxious and annoying time. They wanted to start the interview business with me and to know all about my parentage and where I was born.

It all began because one Saturday afternoon at Morphettville I won the double on the hurdles and the steeple. They were both hard-won races, and in the hurdles I had soundly trounced a crack Victorian horse from over the border. The Adelaidians were delighted and cheered me vociferously as I weighed in. Coming out of the weighing-room, I found a little knot of reporters waiting for me. A press-photographer snapped me at short range, and I was invited to disclose all my family history for the edification of the readers of the various Sunday papers.

I refused point-blank with a black scowl and elbowed my way angrily through the throng. I saw at once the danger I was running and suddenly cursed myself for a fool. Publicity like this was the last thing I wanted. But the reporters were not easily to be shaken off, and it was not until I had been absolutely rude to them that I could get away.

Next day, however, they had their revenge and over my scowling photograph in one of the Sunday papers I read:

HUGGINS, THE MYSTERY JOCKEY

WHO IS HE?

Then followed nearly a column and a half of curious speculations about me. There was nothing much they could say with certainty, but it seemed as if it had only just dawned on them that they knew really nothing about me. Where did I come from, they asked, and what country was the land of my birth? What had I been doing before I became a jockey and was I doing it now only just as a hobby? Was I a rich man? Where did I live? What was the other part of my life? I used to ride backwards and forwards on a motor-bicycle, they said, and no one had ever met me away from the training ground or the racecourse. I never mixed with the other jockeys. I was taciturn and short of speech. I must be an educated man, for one day a pocket edition of Shelley had dropped from my coat. And so on, and so on. A nice tale they made of it, and I was furious.

Rainton said nothing about it when he met me on the Monday, but Nellie Rainton, who happened to be with him, stared at me, I thought, harder than ever.

Passing down Pipe Street that evening just before six, I happened to catch sight of Pepple’s pugilistic assistant slipping through the side door of a public house. He was evidently getting ‘a spot’ before the places closed.

All of a sudden it struck me that I might catch Pepple alone, and in a spirit of devilry I made for the vegetarian shop.

Yes, Pepple was there all by himself and he was bending down behind the counter, doing something to some shelves. He didn’t see me until I was right upon him. The newspapers had put me in a furious rage all day and I was delighted to have someone to vent it on.

I leant over the counter, and as Pepple turned round to gape at me I gave him a good box on the ears.

His eyes stared and for the second he was too astonished to cry out. Then before he could recover himself I picked up a large bag of flour off the counter and jammed it over his head. He spluttered like a vicious cat to get the flour out of his mouth and nose, but I knocked him sideways with a handy sack of nuts and, calling out something, I don’t quite remember what, pulled open the door and expeditiously left the shop.

It had all happened in a few seconds and all down the street I was laughing to myself. I had not hurt Pepple, but I had no doubt given him a good fright and provided more material for further flap-doodle about his precious astral self.

During all that week I fondly anticipated reading in the newspapers a highly coloured account of my visit to the vegetarian shop, but to my disappointment nothing appeared; and then something happened of a far more interesting nature that for the moment drove all thoughts of the grass-feeding Pepple entirely out of my mind.

A man was arrested on the Cheltenham racecourse for stealing a lady’s hand-bag. It appeared she dropped it without noticing its loss, and a man behind her was seen to snatch it up and endeavour to get away unseen.

But he was pounced upon by another man who had watched the whole episode, and promptly given over to the police. At first he had refused resolutely to give his name or any account of himself whatever but, yielding at length, he had turned out to be David Fielders, one of the assistant cashiers at the Consolidated Bank.

Appearing next day before the city magistrate, the evidence had been so conclusive that Fielders had had no course but to admit his theft, but he had asked through the lawyer he had engaged that he should be dealt with summarily and not sent up for trial.

But the magistrate had hesitated and was very curious about two twenty-pound notes that had been found upon the prisoner, and pressed him about where he had obtained them.

At first Fielders had sworn he had won them at the races that same afternoon but, it being pointed out that he had been taken into custody before any monies had been distributed by the totalizator, he had started prevaricating and giving different stories to account for their possession.

Sternly pulled up by the magistrate, he had finally broken down and burst into tears, admitting at last that the notes belonged to the bank.

According to the newspapers there had been silence after this for a long moment in the court, and then Pierce Moon, who by a strange coincidence had been watching the case in the interest of the lady from whom the bag had been stolen, had realised the significance of the admission.

He had remembered, it appeared, as it were all in a flash, that this man David Fielders had been the principal witness against me, when he, Pierce Moon, had been the defending counsel in what was now known as the notorious ‘J.A. Cups case’. Upon this man’s evidence principally had my conviction been secured.

Up had got Pierce Moon then at once and urged strongly that the case should be sent for trial. He had briefly explained to the magistrate his reasons and had insisted that the whole matter must be probed to the bottom.

The magistrate had thereupon committed Fielders and had refused bail. A fine hubbub there was then in the city and the management of the Consolidated Bank was very adversely criticised. A desperate attempt was made by the bank authorities to prevent anything further from leaking out, but they were quite unsuccessful in their efforts, and a nice tale was soon unfolded.

A smart reporter from the Register got hold of one of their clerks, and from him, on the quiet, gathered in a lot of information that the public were most interested to obtain.

It appeared that for many months now all the employees of the Consolidated Bank had been under a cloud. Continual thefts were occurring in the bank, but so artfully were they perpetrated, and in so many different ways had they taken place, that nothing ever pointed conclusively to any one single man.

So far from my conviction having stopped the thefts, they had been worse than ever since I had gone away, and no one in the bank now believed that I had been a guilty party. A lot more evidence had also been unearthed, to prove conclusively that all along David Fielders must have been the man.

The facts disclosed by the Register caused a sensation, and in a few hours almost, let loose a flood of correspondence in the newspapers.

Interest in the Cups case was revived at once, and the evidence brought forward at my trial was reviewed and discussed by scores of different writers during the next few days.

Finally the Times of Adelaide itself took up the cudgels on my behalf, and in a leading article under the heading of ‘Grave Miscarriage of Justice’, referred scathingly to the evidence brought forward at my trial.

It condemned Judge Cartright, himself, unsparingly, and, quoting extracts from his final speech asked bitterly, ‘How, then, would it have been possible for any jury not to have recorded a conviction after so pointed a summing-up?’

It went on to recall my vehement and heated protests at the conclusion of the trial, and expressed the impassioned hope that at whatsoever cost, justice and retribution should now as far as possible be done.

But finally it suggested to its readers that perhaps as far as human recompense was concerned it might be too late now.

‘Where is this wretched man?’ it asked in conclusion. ‘Where is this John Archibald Cups, who in the supreme moment of his agony was lifted like a spirit out of the hands of the law? Does some lonely unnamed grave hide him, or must we wait to find him until the sea gives up its dead? Dead or alive, we grieve it was his misfortune to be so misjudged. Happily we take comfort to ourselves that such cases as his are rare, but to his friends and his relations we tender now our most heartfelt sympathy and regret.’

The next day came an angry, vicious letter from Pepple. ‘Have no mistaken grief,’ he wrote, ‘J.A. Cups is not dead. He came into my shop last week and threw a bag full of flour over my head. He hit me with a sack of nuts and slapped my face. I did not recognise him until he shouted out that I was an herbivorous ass, and then, although he looked quite different to the Cups of the trial last year, I knew him at once. He had certainly altered strangely in appearance, but there was no mistaking the man. He swore at me just like he did at everyone in the court. He was quite mad with rage.’

My tardy vindication was a sort of bitter pleasure to me, but I did not enjoy the correspondence half so much as I ought to have done, because in the middle of it I was laid up for a few days with a painful spill from a fall in the hurdles. I was not much hurt, it is true, but I was quite unconscious for a few minutes, and the annoying part of it was that the Jockey Club doctor was most interested in me when I came to.

‘How did you get those scars, man?’ he asked gently touching my nose.

‘I fell down and hurt myself some years ago,’ I grunted.

‘No, no,’ he said sternly. ‘That’s not true.’ He shrugged his shoulders indifferently. ‘It’s your own secret, of course, and if you don’t want to tell me, well, hold your tongue. But you can’t deceive me, all the same. Those scars are of quite recent date. Mind you, I’m not curious; but I take of my hat, anyhow, to the man who patched you up. He was an artist, if ever there was one.’

I felt uneasy when he turned away.

http://ebooks.adelaide.edu.au/g/gask/arthur/secret-of-the-garden/chapter6.html

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