The Secret of the Garden, by Arthur Gask

Chapter 8

I sank to depths of great despondency that morning before the reaction at last set in, and I became my old confident self again.

As once before in that same house, I gave way to despair, and it was only the sharp remembrance of Margaret Price that pulled me up abruptly and dragged me finally to my feet.

The moment, however, I definitely began the mapping out of my new plan of campaign the very danger of my position thrilled me, and I boldly shook off my fears and faced all my difficulties with the old spirit of courage and resource.

Cups against the world again, I grinned to myself. ‘And they shall have a good run anyhow.’

At first, but for a brief second, I was inclined to give up any idea of riding in the race that afternoon, and clear off straight away by the Melbourne express, but then, I thought, how mean it would be to leave Rainton in the lurch, remembering how much he stood to gain if we won the race.

No one understood Moonlight Maid as I did, and without me I knew there would be small hope of success.

I shut my teeth with a snap. No, I would ride as arranged, and whatever happened afterwards, no one would sneer that I was a coward. After all, I told myself, tomorrow I was fairly safe, for whatever had been discovered, the significance of it would not be realised at least for a few days.

I could see at once where the danger lay. I should be unmasked the first moment the Adelaide papers reached Sydney.

As soon as my photograph as ‘Dr. Carmichael’ was seen there, denial would follow as a matter of course, suspicion would be aroused and within a few hours at most something of the nature of the truth would be grasped.

I thought it out carefully. The Adelaide papers could not reach Sydney until Tuesday morning. Well and good. I had until then to get away unquestioned. No one would be thinking I would try to leave Adelaide and, with no suspicions aroused and no one on the look-out, a very simple disguise would enable me to escape unnoticed.

I would take the Sunday morning train to Melbourne, and once in Victoria would make my way out towards the New South Wales border. News would travel slowly in the bush, and whatever hue and cry were raised, it would soon die down everywhere, I reckoned, except in the state of South Australia itself. Besides, I thought amusedly to myself, I really didn’t see how, once out of sight and away, anyone could be certain of anything about me at all.

All ideas would be in a great muddle, of course, but even the bank people would have nothing certain to go on. They would have to be careful how they acted, for with me no longer in view they would have no proof that the man they had had dealings with wasn’t after all the real Dr. Carmichael.

The photo of Jockey Huggins and that of the man taken in Dr. Carmichael’s garden might be one and the same man, but who was there to prove that the latter man had ever called himself Dr. Carmichael? There was only the newspaper evidence to go on, and that all rested on the bare word of Hooker.

The snap of me taken as I was leaving the bank, with my hat and smoked glasses, would, I could see again, be in no way conclusive. It wasn’t good enough.

By noon, therefore, I had reasoned myself into quite a comfortable frame of mind, and after some bread and cheese and a small bottle of champagne, I felt game enough for anything. Only one thing troubled me and that was Margaret. What was I going to do there?

The Grand Steeple was to be run at three o’clock, and I purposely arrived at Morphettville as late as possible.

I knew, as the hour drew near, poor old Rainton would be getting desperately anxious, but I couldn’t help it. It was my cue now to say as little as possible, and the more I kept myself out of the way the fewer questions I would have to answer, and the more difficult it would be for anyone to get at the truth when I was no longer there.

I had hoped to slip unnoticed into the dressing-room, but I soon found that even my worst forebodings had not sufficiently realised the interest that everyone would be taking in me.

The very instant the gatekeeper saw me, he beamed all over and wanted to shake hands.

‘Good luck to you, Doctor,’ he shouted after me as I slipped quickly by. ‘You’re the pluckiest man I know.’

Everybody within ear-shot looked round, and at once a quickly increasing crowd was following me to the dressing-room.

I appeared to be recognised instantly by everyone and a buzz of excited interest hummed round.

‘Dr. Carmichael, the great jockey,’ they said. ‘Look, he was the great Sydney surgeon once.’

I almost had to force my way into the dressing-room set apart for the jockeys, and there again, I had to go through another ordeal. A silence fell over the room when I went in.

None of the lads said anything, however. They just stared and stared, as if their very eyes would drop out of their heads. I thought Astley, the jockey who was going to ride Babylon, rather curled his lips into a contemptuous sneer, but no remark was made to me, and getting quickly into my colours I left the room and went to find Rainton in the paddock.

The paddock was crowded, and my progress there was just as uncomfortable and difficult as when I had first arrived on the course, but I hardened my face like a stone and, looking neither to the right nor the left, at length arrived at Moonlight Maid’s stall.

As I had expected, Dick Rainton was there; and as I had expected also, he was looking as anxious as he could possibly be.

There was a crowd of people in front of the stall, and I literally had to push my way through to get to Rainton and the mare.

Oh, the relief in Rainton’s face when he caught sight of me, and when I got near he seemed too overcome to speak! But I didn’t want him to speak. We had a few seconds only before us, and I wanted to all the talking.

‘Look down, man,’ I whispered sharply. ‘Pretend to be examining the mare’s feet. I’m going to tell you something and you must keep a straight face.’

We were in the stall standing close together then, and I began to pat and stroke the mare. A few feet away the crowd was watching us intently. Fortunately, they were all talking themselves, and speaking quietly I knew they would not be able to hear what I was going to say.

Rainton, I saw, was looking puzzled, but he did as I directed and turned down his head.

‘Dick,’ I said quickly, but deliberately. ‘I’ll have to tell you now. I’m not the doctor from Sydney, I’m Cups.’

I could see him start and he drew in a deep breath.

‘There’s a lot to explain and you’ll hear it all one day,’ I went on. ‘I’ve done nothing wrong, but I shall have to cut and hide again as soon as the race is over. Now, I want a favour from you. Give this note to Margaret when I’m in the saddle. Give it to her before the race, you understand. She must have it at once.’

He nodded his head, but still without looking up.

‘If I see you when it’s over, Dick, don’t try and stop me whatever you do. I’ve risked something in coming here and everything will depend upon my getting away quickly. Listen, there goes the saddling bell.’

Poor old Rainton! I knew I had given him a great shock, and like a man in a trance he led out Moonlight Maid through the interested and gaping crowd. He made no attempt at all to speak to me and, even when he finally gave me a leg up on the mare and passed a last look over us to see that everything was right, he still made no remark, but parted from me with a sad and rather wistful smile.

To whatever age I live I shall never forget the very smallest happenings of the next quarter of an hour.

It was a glorious winter afternoon, and the sun shone brightly out of a perfect high blue sky. As we went out on to the course, I thought I had never seen a greater crowd at a meeting before. Everywhere was packed, and on all sides there was a seething mass of humanity. But the Great Steeplechase, I remembered, was always a good draw, the value of the stake, two-thousand pounds, bringing the best cross-country performers together.

There were seventeen horses running. Moonlight Maid was number seven on the card, and in that order we were to parade before the Grand Stand.

For the first time in all my races I was distinctly nervous. It was impossible that the happenings of that morning should not have been without effect on even the most hardened temperament, and I could feel my face drawn hard and pale.

There was so much at stake for all of us that afternoon and my anxieties were so varied and so many.

My own security was so uncertain that I was like a man almost hemmed in by the onrush of some fierce forest fire. Margaret, too, was an anxiety, for how could I deal with her when the next few hours, I knew, would find me, once again, a fugitive before the law?

Then there was Rainton, too, to be thought of. He was hoping so much to win this race, for, if successful, he would be set up for life.

I drew in a deep breath of anxiety. My burden seemed almost too great for me to bear.

I remembered, however, that this was to be my last race, and the very sorrow of it quickened me at once into quite a new train of thought. I must ride a good race, I told myself, I must ride the best race I had ever ridden. There must be no weakening now. I must not give way to fear. I had faced difficulty before with courage and I had come out well in the end. It must be so again.

All these thoughts had flashed through me in the first few seconds after leaving the saddling enclosure, and it was well for me that I had so soon got myself in hand.

The moment Moonlight Maid and I came before the stands, if there had been any doubt before, it was patent then the interest in which I was held.

There was an instant murmur of many voices, then someone clapped his hands and finally there came up a warm and sympathetic cheer. There was no doubt for whom the cheering was intended. It followed me all down along the stands and died away when I had passed.

I pulled myself together, and now, as cold as ice, faced the barrier from where we were to be sent off. I calmed Moonlight Maid to absolute quietude and then cast my eyes thoughtfully over the other horses waiting there.

I thought, with rather a pang of doubt, what a fine-looking lot of animals they were. The very cream of the jumpers of South Australia, and three high-class performers from Victoria as well. It would be a great race, I knew, and it would not be easily won by any one.

There were only really three horses, however, that I greatly feared. Babylon, The Beauty from Quorn, and The Rake. The Rake was a top-notcher from Melbourne, and as slick as a greyhound over the jumps, but I was hoping the twelve stone four he was carrying would sober him down a lot. His jockey was Porteous, a Victorian crack, a good-looking fellow about twenty-six, as smart as paint in his profession and one who knew all there was to know about cross-country work.

The Beauty from Quorn was a lovely cream-coloured mare. She was on the small side, but she was beautifully proportioned and could leap like a cat. I doubted, however, if she would be alongside us at three miles, although at two, with her light weight of nine stone seven, she would have been a most dangerous proposition.

It was Babylon I feared most of all. Top-weight and carrying twelve stone seven, he had earned well every ounce of his big weight. Beaten only once in South Australia, and that by a bare half length when under the same weight at Onkaparinga, he was a magnificent specimen of a steeple-chaser. Of a coal-black colour, well over sixteen hands, he was a quick mover and almost faultless in his jumping. The only thing, and I had studied him well, he didn’t like a fast run race, and moreover was never quite at home when making his own running. I knew he would be feeling his weight at the end of the journey, and I reckoned that if we were alongside of him at the last fence, Moonlight Maid, who was a wonderful finisher, would just about chop him for speed in the run home down the straight.

The starting bell rang, and with no delay we were sent off on our momentous journey.

Instantly I dashed my mount forward. I had many times rehearsed the race in my own mind and realised that the greatest danger lay in the largeness of the field. I had no intention of being at anytime entangled in the crowd.

Fifty yards from the barrier we were well in front, and I took the first jump a good three lengths ahead. I made the pace a cracker, and crossing over to the rails, led past the stands all out on my own.

But I had no intention of making all the running, and when Wild Aster and The Beggarman loomed up I let them gradually forge ahead until, with the first mile covered, I was running only third. Here I took a swift glance back and could see that the field was already pretty extended. The Rake I could see nowhere, but The Beauty from Quorn was almost alongside me and a very little way behind the great black head of Babylon caught my eye.

We continued much in this order until nearing the stands for the second time when Wild Aster came a cropper just in front of me, and in avoiding him I had almost to pull up and in consequence lost my place.

I was passed by both The Beauty and the great Babylon himself. The Rake I now caught sight of emerging from the ruck of those behind; there was no mistaking that long head with the big white star.

I was not at all sorry that The Beauty and Babylon were in front, for it was by their actions now that I should have to regulate mine.

With a keen appreciation of the varying merits of all the performers, as I have already mentioned, I had sorted out three horses that I expected would emerge with me into the front line at the finish, and it was upon them principally that I intended to keep my eye.

The pace was still very fast, and with a pang of misgiving I noticed that Babylon, just in front of me, was shouldering his great burden as if after all it were only a featherweight for him. One after another he took his fences with the grace and precision of a bird, and there was no loss of even the fraction of a second as he landed each time on the other side. The Beauty, too, seemed quite at ease, and her jockey was riding confidently as if he had a lot in hand.

With more than two-thirds of the journey over, and on the other side of the course, and opposite the stands, Beggarman, who hitherto had gallantly retained the lead, at last showed signs of compounding and held out signals of distress.

His jockey got busy at once with his whip, but it was of no service, and the wearied son of Lazarus faded quickly out of the picture.

Six furlongs from home and with two more fences to jump, the race seemed about to work out exactly as I had anticipated.

The Rake suddenly shot up from no where, and passing me in a flash drew up almost level with Babylon on the outside. The Beauty from Quorn was still leading, however, by half a length. She was just in front of me, but a few feet further towards the centre of the course.

Approaching the last obstacle the positions were almost exactly the same. The Beauty was still leading and I was still last, but as when two hundred yards before, the proverbial blanket could easily have covered us all.

I bustled my mount up ever so little and all four we took the last fence almost in line. Now for it, I thought. We shall find the weak spots now.

Instantly his jockey shot Babylon forward, and with him avalanched The Rake, side by side and stride for stride. The Beauty made a gallant attempt to retain her position, and for fifty yards or so she still kept the lead, but the long journey had finished her and all at once she slipped back and I saw her no more.

A furlong from the winning post and I was a good length to the bad. Babylon and The Rake, both hard ridden under the whip, were locked together by themselves, and with the tenacity of bulldogs were endeavouring to determine which was the better horse. I was close upon the rails, Moonlight Maid was going like the wind, and I had got her so beautifully balanced that I was afraid to lift my whip. I could feel she was all out, and the pace was so terrific for the end of a three mile journey that I was sure some of us would crack soon. So I left the Maid alone, and with my hands clenched hard upon her withers crouched like a thing of death against the rushing air.

A hundred yards from home and the great Babylon began to falter. The weight was telling on him at last. His head slipped back to the neck of The Rake, then to the latter’s girths and finally the gelding from Victoria was leading by a length.

A dreadful howl of disappointment came up from the stands. Their champions were beaten and the great prize would now be carried over the border. It seemed almost that a groan was wrung from the assembled crowds, a groan that died to silence and ended in a gasp. Then suddenly the silence broke, a murmur rose like the sighing of a wind, and in a second a fierce exultant roar burst over stands and crowds like some great hurricane let loose.

Moonlight Maid was gaining on The Rake. There was no doubt about it, I had got the gelding cold.

Twenty yards from home, I was level with his girth — ten yards, and we were neck and neck.

The Rake struggled gamely, but with each yard the mare’s deadly pace was telling, and in the end I knew she would last out best. Suddenly the end came.

In a desperate spurt The Rake headed us once more, just headed us, and then fell back so abruptly that I almost thought he’d broken down.

A great mist came before my eyes, the din of myriad voices stunned me, and we’d won by half a length.

The memory of the next few minutes is very hazy. I remember cantering back past the judge’s box before being led into the enclosure. I saw a perfect sea of excited people and I heard a fearful sound of cheering in which the cry of ‘Carmichael’ seemed to often intrude itself. I saw everywhere smiling faces in the weighing-room, and everyone almost crowded up to congratulate me.

But I either replied nothing, or answered them curtly, I know. My thoughts were quickly turned to far away, and with the race once over, all its happenings seemed insignificant and small compared to the exciting probabilities to come.

I must get away and quickly too. In a few seconds therefore I had slipped out of my colours, and almost before the race was five minutes old was hurrying out through the dressing-room door.

As I had expected and feared, however, there was a crowd assembled, and the moment they caught sight of me they began to clap their hands and cheer.

‘Bravo, Doctor! Hurrah! Bravo, Carmichael!’

Frowning in annoyance I tried to push through them, but a big burly man in particular blocked my way. He had a heavy full face, with a sandy beard and very blue eyes. It struck me instinctively that he was not waiting from motives of idle curiosity but had come there for some purpose of his own.

He stared at me for a second and then clutched hold of my arm.

‘You’re not the doctor!’ he shouted. ‘You’re not Robert Carmichael.’ He turned round excitedly to the crowd. ‘This is not the doctor here. This man’s nothing like him at all.’ Someone in the crowd laughed and a young man shouted. ‘Get out, you old fool.’ The big man got angry at once. ‘I tell you, I know the doctor well,’ he bawled. ‘We’ve been friends for thirty years.’ He turned back and gripped me by the arm. ‘This man’s an imposter here. Who are you, sir, and what do you mean?’

The crowd hushed to silence. Uneasily, I realised they had sensed a ring of truth in the fellow’s voice. All at once, the interest of a mystery gripped them.

‘Who are you?’ the man reiterated, still gripping fiercely on my arm. ‘You can’t humbug me. I’m a friend of Dr Carmichael’s. My name is Forbes.’

Ah, I said to myself. I might have guessed it. This is that Angas Forbes. I looked him coolly in the face.

‘Take you hand off my arm, please,’ I said quietly. ‘Take it off at once, sir.’ My temper was rising. But he only gripped me the harder. ‘There’s something fishy here,’ he shouted, ‘and I’m going to get to the bottom of it.’ He turned again to the crowd. ‘Get a policeman, someone, quick.’

‘You fool,’ I exclaimed. ‘You’re drunk.’

I shook violently to free my arm, but he wouldn’t let go, and exasperated to a burst of temper, I stuck him a fierce blow between the eyes and he dropped like an ox.

‘Make way, please,’ I called out sharply, and instantly the crowd opened to let me pass. ‘This fellow here’s been drinking,’ I said as a parting shot. ‘I’ve never seen him before.’

I hurried quickly to where I had left my motor-bicycle in the car enclosure, and a couple of minutes later was speeding down the road to where the Raintons lived.

Whew! what an escape! I thought. But what a rotten piece of luck that the man’s turned up so soon. The game’s all up now. I must clear out in an hour.

But where to, I asked myself? I must rearrange all my plans.

I had no time, however, to consider this. Rainton’s place was only just beyond the other side of the course and very quickly I arrived there.

I was expecting to meet Margaret. The note I had asked Rainton to give her earlier in the afternoon was to tell her to leave the course immediately the race was over and meet me at their home as quickly as possible. She would be able to make a short cut over the racecourse and be at the house sooner than would be I myself.

As I had hoped, she was in the garden when I rode up. Hearing my footsteps on the path she looked up quickly with a pretty assumption of surprise. Then she crimsoned up all over. Without a word or smile even, I took her hand and led her unresisting into a small arbour at the end of the lawn. I lifted up her face and kissed her.

‘Margaret, darling,’ I said, breaking silence at last. ‘You know I love you and I’ve come to say goodbye.’ She gave me a quick look out of very startled eyes.

‘Who are you, then?’ she asked sharply. ‘And what does all this mean in the papers this morning? I don’t understand.’

I had made up my mind what to tell her and very quickly and very briefly I outlined all that had taken place since I had been committed for trial.

‘Now, Margaret,’ I said, when I had finished my tale, ‘I have honestly told you all, and you must let Dick and your sister know how I stand. I’ve done nothing much wrong, but I must hide away again all the same for I’ve broken the law.’ I waited for her to speak, but she said nothing. Instead she just looked at me with heightened colour and with more than the suspicion of moisture in her eyes.

‘I musn’t wait now, dear,’ I said quickly. ‘Every moment to me now is precious, but I couldn’t go without saying goodbye.’

She found her speech at last. ‘A nice goodbye,’ she burst out bitterly. ‘You come to tell me you love me and in the same breath you say you are going away for ever.’ A choke came into her voice. ‘Am I never to see you again?’

In a moment she was in my arms, and it was ecstacy to me that her tears fell both on her face and mine. I comforted her in the only way I could in the few minutes left to us before I had at last to say goodbye.

I told her she should hear from me soon, and I left it to her to consider if, knowing all she did, she would ever care enough to link her life with mine.

I had meant to stay only five minutes, but it was nearly an hour before I finally tore myself away.

I parted from Margaret in a hopeful frame of mind, but it seemed almost that that afternoon the goddess of mischance was bent on shadowing me from the very moment I left the Raintons’ house.

The motor-bicycle began to go wrong at once. I could get no speed out of it, and after a couple of miles or so I had reluctantly to dismount and try and put things right. It was a choked jet, I thought at first, but I soon found it was more than that, and nothing I could do would make the vile thing go. Mounting a second time, after a few yards it refused absolutely to move at all. I was plunged into another dreadful turmoil of anxiety.

It was five miles good from where I was to the Tower House in North Adelaide, and it was vital for my successful escape to get home at once.

After the struggle with Angas Forbes at Morphettville that afternoon, it was impossible to determine what would happen next. One thing was certain. All my carefully arranged plans were now upset, and I should have to think out everything anew. I must go back, however, to the house. All the money I had collected and all my securities were there, and I must get possession of them at whatever cost.

For the moment I comforted myself with the thought that no one could get near the house, and then I remembered with a horrible foreboding that the wretched Hooker had the duplicate key of the gates at the bottom of the drive.

I burst into a cold sweat at the bare idea of the possibility of the new misfortunes that might lie in front of me.

Realising now that my motor-bicycle was hopeless, I wheeled it into a field and plumped it down among the bushes. Then I set off quickly at a half walk and half run towards the city, keeping a look out, however, all the time for the chance of a lift in some passing car.

But my good fortune seemed to have quite deserted me, and I was well on to the outlying parklands before I was eventually able to pick up a taxi.

Then as quickly as possible I was driven to North Adelaide, but not knowing how things would be at the house, I dismissed the taxi at the corner of my road.

It was well that I did so, for the moment I came in sight of The Tower, I saw to my horror there was a car standing just outside the gates. There was one man in it.

For a second I was inclined to turn back, but it came to me with a thrill of fear that everything now stood poised on the razor edge, and that it might be all or nothing for me in the next five minutes. At all costs I must get my bundle of notes and securities.

I walked up coolly and turned into the gates. Quite casually I took stock of the car. It was a hired one and the driver was nonchalantly enjoying a cigarette.

I walked up the drive and, as long as I was in sight of the occupant of the car, my slow pace indicated I was in no hurry at all. The moment, however, the trees hid me from his view, I darted like a panther into the bushes and went breathlessly to reconnoitre round the house.

I heard voices almost at once and, peeping from my cover, saw four men standing on the verandah just by the front door.

Three of them I recognised on the instant. They were Hooker, Angas Forbes and Levicka, one of the cashiers from the bank. The fourth man I didn’t know, but he was, I saw, a police-sergeant by his uniform. They were all trying to peer through the coloured glass of the hall door.

If I had shown any hesitation then I should have been lost. If I had waited for even ten seconds, the game would have been all up, and this history never have been written.

But I didn’t hesitate and I didn’t wait. Their backs were towards me and, in an instant, I sprang out of the bushes and was running like lightning along the strip of grass by the side of the path.

Far quicker than it takes to write it, I had gained the friendly cover of the side of the house, and was racing for the back door. I pulled out the key as I ran and, in a few seconds, with no sound louder than the faint clicking of the lock, I was inside the house and, with door closed behind me, was tiptoeing to the room that contained the safe.

Although never expecting it I had prepared everything ready for an emergency, and in two minutes at most I had all the bonds and notes secured safely around my waist.

Making no sound, I took down a dark overcoat and a soft felt hat. Then I got an automatic pistol out of a drawer, and also a small pair of opera glasses that happened to catch my eye. A pocket flask full of brandy I thrust in my pocket, and then I stood up ready for the next act in the play.

The whole day had been so bewildering, full of change and incident, that all along it seemed I had had to act just as the moments drove me and, standing there then as I was, I realised grimly that I had no coherent plans ahead about what I should do or to where I should go. The forces of mischance, one after another, had so avalanched themselves upon me in the last few hours that I was like a sleeper tossing fearfully in the nightmare of some dark and dreadful dream.

All I could think of for the moment was to get away from the house, I was trapped, I knew, if I remained there.

Dusk was falling rapidly outside, and as I crept stealthily again across the hall all inside the house was so dark that I had no fear at all of being seen by the watchers outside.

The need of prompt and resolute action had quite robbed me of all fears, and with a sort of bitter humour I paused by the hall door to hear what they were talking about outside.

Only a few feet away, I could hear every word they were saying, and my blood alternately boiled with fury and froze with apprehension at what I heard.

They were insistent with Hooker to know if he were sure I hadn’t got back and were already in the house, and Hooker was telling them it was impossible I could have returned. To my amazement, I found the brute knew all about my motor-bicycle, and where I garaged it. He told them he had been on the watch ever since three o’clock, and it had not come back a quarter of an hour ago. He had been twice to the garage to look, and he was positive I should turn up in a minute or two.

Then it appeared Angas Forbes was urging the police-sergeant to get a search warrant at once, and he swore several times he would himself picket the house with his friends until it had been obtained. It should not be left unwatched now for one single second. He was sure there had been foul play, he kept on saying, and he shouldn’t wonder if his friend Carmichael hadn’t been murdered. The doctor would never have given up his dogs if he had been alive. Then the deep voice of the police-sergeant chimed in and, although it sounded as if he was considerably impressed with the views of Angas Forbes, he didn’t appear as yet to be sure of his ground. Anyhow, he approved of the necessity of getting in touch with me, and promised that a couple of his men should help keep an eye on the place until I returned. He said these men were on their way up and wouldn’t be long now.

I didn’t wait to hear any more. I could take in the position without any doubt. It was plain to me that with each moment the danger would get worse, and if I was to get away at all I must do so at once.

Very softly I let myself out of the back door and, creeping through the trees worked my way, without a sound, round to the front of the house. Crouching behind a bush, I was within about ten yards of the four of them on the verandah. They were all sitting down now and Angas Forbes was handing round cigars. Unfortunately there was a bright moon, and a silvered patch of lawn lay between me and the path that led to the gates.

I saw Hooker’s bicycle propped up against a tree and I thought interestedly how useful it might come in, if I could only get a chance.

For some minutes I lay still as death behind the bush, hoping against hope that some new idea would take the four of them to the back of the house; for as long as they remained on the verandah, it was impossible for me to cross the lawn without being seen.

But fortune was still against me and none of them showed any signs of moving.

Getting desperate at last, I returned stealthily to the back of the house. Much as I was against it, I must try now and escape over the wall and through the judge’s garden. There was no help for it, but it necessitated getting the ladder out of the shed and the very slightest sound would, I was sure, be fatal.

Very gently I opened the shed door, and then suddenly a new thought struck me. My eyes fell on a large bundle of straw. Hooker had asked for it recently to protect the young plants from the night frosts.

What if I set light to it? It would blaze in a few seconds, and the flare of it would assuredly bring Forbes and his companions round the corner in a rush, to see what had happened.

I lifted the bundle of straw out on to the path and, with no delay, set light to it with a match. Then I ran back quickly to my position under the bush and waited developments.

I had not long to wait. Almost before I had regained my post of observation, the glare of the burning straw began to cast lights round the side of the house and ominous sounds of crackling came up upon the air.

The sergeant was the first to notice them. ‘Hello,’ he exclaimed, ‘what’s happening now?’

They were all on their feet in an instant and, as I had expected, in another moment they were tearing round to the back of the house.

I didn’t wait even the fraction of a second. I was over the lawn and had seized Hooker’s bicycle in a trice.

Tucking the tails of my coat beneath me, I had mounted and was gliding down the drive, even before they could have reached the burning straw.

I went quite slowly through the gates and, with just a casual glance over the chauffeur and the waiting car, turned into the road and pedalled quickly away.

My second and last flight had begun.

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