It was well for me that I had been perfectly open and frank with Piper. Had I not been so, the disclosures made by the Times of Adelaide the following Friday would have completely destroyed all his faith in me, and in sheer disgust probably, and in spite of all risks, he would have turned his back upon me and given me up without pity to my enemies.
My foot was practically well and I was arranging to slip off that very evening, when Friday morning’s issue of the Times exploded like a dreadful bomb among all my plans, and shattered every hope I had of getting successfully away.
Everything was found out and I was accused now openly of murder. It was no wonder the Times had had nothing to say about me for the four preceding days. They had been working feverishly first to prepare their case, and figuratively and literally they had been burrowing through every foot of the ground.
They had dug up the grave in the garden.
It was a long article to which they treated the public and with its leaded headlines and its spaced paragraphs it occupied the whole of one middle page. It was a perfect orgy of sensation and never before, I suppose, had the public so had their fill of horror.
I could see the hand of Angas Forbes in it in every line. As I suspected then and learnt afterwards, he had practically taken charge of and conducted the whole affair.
When he realised on the Sunday evening that I was nowhere to be found, and that moreover the police were quite lukewarm in the matter and disposed, after a little display of energy, to treat the whole affair as one of very small importance, he went round to the Times of Adelaide office and there laid the whole matter before the editor-inchief.
The Times people proved much more sympathetic and, as Angas Forbes stoutly and obstinately reiterated his suspicions, they were won over to his cause.
Angas Forbes was a rich man, and he could afford to take risks that a poor man would not have dared, so he had forcibly broken into and taken possession of the Tower House, and with a small army of private detective and newspaper men had pursued every avenue of investigation that suggested itself to their minds. There could be no denying that their investigation had been far-reaching and thorough, and as I read down the columns of the Times that morning, I gasped at the determination and shrewdness they had shown.
‘It is a strange story,’ began the Times, ‘that we have this morning to unfold for our readers. A story that may seem almost incredible at first, for it is one as weird and fanciful as any in all the dark annals of baffling and mysterious crime.
‘Dr. Robert Carmichael, the one time celebrated surgeon of new South Wales, and later the eccentric recluse of North Adelaide, has been for dead for many months. The body was found yesterday, buried in the garden of his house.
‘Exactly as to how he died has yet to be determined, but so far everything points to the absolute certainty of foul play.
‘We say, Dr. Carmichael died many months ago. The condition of his body proves that. But since his death, strange as it may seem to write it, his place has not been vacant either in his own house or in his many business transactions with the All Australian Bank. Incredible to relate, he has been successfully impersonated the whole time by an individual who, by forgery and fraud, has unhappily succeeded in laying hands upon the major portion of the estate.
‘As we have said, it is a weird story, for the amazing part of it is, this impersonator of the dead Dr. Carmichael has, in another capacity, been well and glaringly before the public eye the whole time he has been perpetrating his frauds.
‘He has been known to us as the Jockey Huggins.’
Then the Times related everything that had happened at the Tower House and explained how it had come about that Angas Forbes had appeared so inopportunely, at least for me, upon the scene.
Angas Forbes, also himself a medical man, it told its readers, had been a friend of Dr. Carmichael, a lifelong friend, and during the last five years, every six months or so, he had spent at least a few days with him in his exile. This last time, his visit had been greatly overdue, but he had been away on business in America, and his return was nearly six months later than it should have been. A few days back he had written to Carmichael from Sydney, informing the doctor that he had returned at last to Australia but should not be coming Adelaide way for at least three weeks. A sudden change of plans, however, had enabled him unexpectedly to come right on, and last Saturday morning he had been nearing Adelaide on the Melbourne express, due in the city at half-past ten. Imagine his surprise then, on purchasing, at a hill station about twenty miles from Adelaide, a copy of that morning’s Times, to see in it a photograph of a strange unknown man purporting to be that of his friend. But if he had been surprised at that, he had been surprised still more to read that his friend had become a noted jockey on the turf.
He knew at once it was impossible, for Dr. Carmichael had never had anything to do with horses in all his life. Mr. Forbes was quite sure of it.
Arriving at Adelaide and suspecting instinctively that something was wrong, he had jumped into a taxi and had been driven straight to the doctor’s house.
There, it appeared, he had missed me, almost only by seconds. The man Hooker had been keeping watch and had just seen me go out. Hooker wanted to get into the sheds to fetch a coat he had left behind and, knowing he had offended me by talking to the reporters, he had been waiting until the coast was clear to go in. He had been just unlocking the entrance gates when Angas Forbes had driven up. Explanations had followed and Forbes had then driven instantly to the All Australian Bank. The bank had been shut, but the manager had been unearthed at his private address and, after much persuasion, had given Forbes the address of one of the clerks, who had been accustomed to wait upon me at the bank. Then Forbes had set off to catch me on the racecourse, and the Times went on to describe all that had happened there.
Next was set out in detail the suspicious nature of my sudden flight from the house and how that alone had at once convinced everyone that there was something very wrong.
It was patent to them all, however, directly an entrance had been effected into the house, that I had been preparing to leave, at latest, within a few days. Undoubtedly, the letter Angas Forbes had written to Dr. Carmichael from Sydney had frightened me, for it was seen I had got things together as if for a long journey. But I had been packing carefully and methodically as if there had been plenty of time, and the trunk I had got ready contained nothing that had been thrown in in a hurry. There were books in it on poetry and travel, there was a silver-mounted riding whip. There was a box of carved ivory chessmen, and an oil painting of a horse’s head. Evidently when these things had been collected, there had been no thought of immediate flight, but the very instant I had known Angas Forbes was about, I had apparently dropped everything precipitately, and no doubt had considered myself very fortunate to escape, even empty handed, by a trick. Or rather, they had thought I had escaped empty handed. They had thought so at first, but when the books and papers in the desk had come to be examined, they had unhappily seen it was very far from being the case.
The bank pass-book had been almost the first thing to catch their eye, and only a few seconds’ investigation had shown I had secured a very rich haul.
During the last six months, or to be precise, from 18 February last, no less than forty-seven thousand pounds had been disposed of wholesale and bonds and stocks of all descriptions had been converted into cash.
What had become of the proceeds could only be guessed. At first the bank authorities had been most reticent and, not knowing how they stood, had refused point-blank to discuss any of Dr. Carmichael’s affairs. But presented with almost overwhelming evidence that the man they had lately had dealings with could not by any possibility have been the real Dr. Carmichael who had first opened an account with them, they had at last changed their attitude and subsequently helped in the investigations in every possible way.
That all the cheques since 28 January were forgeries was now clear. The counterfoils of every one of them as shown in the heels of the used-up cheque books left behind in the desk at Tower House, were undisguisedly in a strange handwriting. Apparently thinking himself quite secure, the forger had made no attempt there to imitate Dr. Carmichael’s handwriting. But apart from that, other and even more conclusive evidence had been obtained.
Dr. Carmichael’s signature in the signature book of the bank had been photographed and enlarged. Some of the supposed later signatures had also undergone a similar process. Side by side they had been thrown on a screen. A startling difference in their characteristics had at once been observed and the bank officials could determine exactly when the forgeries had begun.
The first forged cheque had been drawn on 19 February, and it had been for the comparatively small amount of one hundred pounds. Then the Times of Adelaide seemed as if it paused to draw in a deep breath. It went on in a more solemn note.
‘But has nothing yet struck our readers? Does imagination stop short when we have numerated these dates? Is there no blank that they want to fill in?’
Then came one line in leaded type all by itself:
WHAT HAPPENED BETWEEN 28 JANUARY
AND 19 FEBRUARY?
It went on again:
‘We will tell our readers. Somewhere between those dates, somewhere between 28 January and 19 February last, Dr. Robert Carmichael met with death in a violent and a sudden form. Somewhere, in some way, perhaps we shall never know quite exactly how, he passed suddenly from the strength and joy of life into the silence of everlasting sleep. How do we know it? it may be asked, and we answer, we know it because he was buried in his clothes.’
Then it went on to relate the circumstances that had led up to the finding of the body and I saw there again how unkindly chance and fate had treated me. It was, as I had expected, that wretched photograph of the house that had given me away.
Angas Forbes, who apparently had had eyes for everything, had remarked, just as I had done, upon the different shading in the photograph in the ground under the tree, and, the moment they had started to dig, they had noticed a lightness in the density of the soil.
I felt the tears come into my eyes as I read on.
Six feet of digging and they had reached the body of a fully clothed man. It was known at once whose body it was. In a state of unusual preservation, due no doubt to the limestone nature of the soil in which it had been buried, Angas Forbes had been able to recognise the features of his friend.
The body had evidently been buried in great haste, for not only was it fully clothed but nothing apparently had been removed either from the pockets or the person of the dead man. His gold watch was there, the glass of it had been broken, there was money in his pockets, there were his eye-glasses in their case, and there was his signet ring upon his finger. The only preparation that had been made for burial had been to roll the body in a sheet, and another sheet rolled round the trunk had been employed to lower the body into the grave.
‘Now,’ said the Times in conclusion, ‘let us face facts. Let us piece them all together as far as they go.
‘Dr. Robert Carmichael, a rich man living, so everyone believed, entirely by himself, has died and been buried secretly in his own garden. The man who buried him has disappeared, after having for six months lived on in the same house and usurped all his functions.
‘But we know who that man is and we want him. He must be found, and there should surely be no difficulty at all about finding him.
‘He is no unknown and obscure individual. For months he has been well in the public eye, and his features are familiar to thousands of our readers. Many photographs of him have appeared in the press and they can be broadcasted now with the greatest of ease.
‘No man it would seem should be easier to lay hands upon, for it is almost certain that he is at present in hiding, somewhere within reach of the city. He was traced last on Saturday evening to the Torrens Road, just near to the Cheltenham Racecourse. He had had a spill from a bicycle there, and from the condition of the machine that he abandoned, it is not improbable that he received some injuries himself.
‘It is true that a week has elapsed since then, but we confidently believe, in spite of that, he still has had no opportunity as yet to leave the State. Fortunately, thanks mainly to the initiative of Mr. Angas Forbes, energetic precautions were taken from the very first.
‘Long before the gravity of the matter was generally recognised, at the insistence of this gentleman, a complete cordon was drawn round the city and its environs.
‘Ever since last Saturday, the railways have been quietly and unostentatiously kept under surveillance and all long-distance trains have been boarded by detectives, before being allowed to proceed.
‘No overseas steamer has sailed since Saturday last, and all inter-state vessels have been carefully searched, before their departure, since that day.
‘It is no secret either that all cars leaving South Australia by the great roads have been held up and examined at vital points.
‘With all these precautions taken, surely it is not unreasonable to suppose that the exjockey is still in hiding close near, and in the interest of the community generally, it is incumbent on every one of us to assist in the best way we possibly can.
‘It must not go forth that South Australia, and in the City of Adelaide particularly, malefactors can do all they will, and when discovered and brought to bay, just mock triumphantly at all authority and vanish like the proverbial thieves in the night.
‘One thing, however, we must remember, the man Huggins may perhaps be no longer working alone. Unhappily he must be well supplied with funds, and it is more than possible that even now he is bribing a path to sanctuary by the disgorging of a potion of his ill-gotten wealth. He is almost certainly now encompassing a guilty silence by the money he has stolen from the dead.’
I read the article through three times, and each time I read it, it seemed worse. There was no ambiguity about it. It took it for granted straight away that I was a murderer.
I wondered what Dick Rainton would think of it, and with a dreadful pang I thought of the anxiety Margaret would be in too.
The whole affair looked so damning, and my sudden disappearance would seem to everyone to put the seal upon my guilt.
However popular I had been as a jockey, the supposed callous murder of Dr. Carmichael would turn everyone against me and, in horror and exasperation at the cold-blooded nature of the crime, all sympathy would be alienated. To track me down would be the hope and aim of every decent-minded man.
No wonder Piper had looked uncomfortably at me when he had given me the paper. Of course he had read it all. I looked down through the railings of the grandstand. Piper was working just below me. He was rolling the lawn in front of the judges’ box. I noticed he was alone. Scut was nowhere to be seen.
Seized with a sudden impulse, I leaned over the rails and whistled. Piper immediately stopped his work and looked up.
‘Come up a moment, can’t you? I want you,’ I called out. Piper looked round and hesitated. Then slowly and reluctantly it seemed, he mounted on to the stand.
‘Look here,’ I said briskly, the moment he came within earshot, ‘I’m not going to stand this.’
I held out the paper to him. ‘You’ve read it, I suppose?’
He nodded without replying. His face looked very white and solemn. ‘Well,’ I went on, ‘I’ll tell you what I’m going to do. I’m going to write a letter to this beastly paper, telling them everything I’ve told you. It can’t do any harm.’
‘What do you mean?’ he asked, very sharply. ‘Are you going to give yourself up?’
‘Not for all the world,’ I said quickly. ‘Unless you split on me, and then I’ll shoot myself before they take me alive.’
‘I’m not going to split on you,’ he interrupted irritably. ‘I’m in the soup now, as badly as you. I wish to blazes though I’d never seen you. I tell you that straight.’
Piper looked plainly frightened. There was no doubt about it, but strange to say, with his nervousness my own disappeared.
‘Look here, Piper,’ I said boldly, ‘there’s nothing in it. It’s just like that other time when they were so cocksure I was Dr. Carmichael. One word from me, and the whole thing will topple down like a stack of cards. I’m just going to write the Times a letter, and as I say, tell them all I told you. The explanation is so simple, that once they’ve got it the bottom will fall out of all their robbery and murder business, first shot. I’m sure they’ll print the letter too, because of the sensation it’ll make, whether they believe it or not. Now I want some notepaper and an envelope.’
In a few minutes I had talked Piper into quite a happy state of mind, and he was off home to get what I required. Scut, he told me, was ill. He had been on the drink again the previous evening, and was in bed as sick as a dog.
In half an hour Piper was back, and alone by myself again, I quickly made out my letter for the Times.
‘To the Editor of the Times of Adelaide.
‘Sir — this is a perfectly authentic letter, and when you have seen who writes it, you will understand why there is no exactness about the address.
‘So much is disclosed in your columns this morning about my relations with the late Dr. Robert Carmichael that it seems to me a pity that the whole truth should not be known, and so far as your investigations are concerned, the whole matter, once and for all, set at rest.
‘Personally, I am in no way interested in the opinions you or your readers may hold of me, but I may perhaps still have a few friends left and for their sakes, at least, I am unwilling to remain under the undoubted stigma that your article in today’s issue suggests.
‘So I intend now to lay before you the real facts. I did not murder Dr. Carmichael. He died as the result of an accident on the morning of Monday, 29 January. He fell from the top to the bottom of the turret stairs in his house, and broke his neck. He died in my arms a few minutes afterwards and I buried him, as you have described, in the grave in his own garden.
‘I had been living with him since the first week of December. He gave me shelter and protection when I had to leave my first hiding-place, the house of Judge Cartright, next door.
‘Dr. Carmichael knew all of my past history, and to alter my appearance and enable me to escape ultimately from South Australia, he performed a surgical operation upon my face. He removed part of the bone and cartilage of my nose. To anaesthetise me he purchased six ounces of chloroform in the city from Mildred’s on Thursday, 18 January, and he operated upon me the following Sunday.
‘He had entire sympathy with my efforts to evade falling again into the hands of the law, and it was his many times expressed intention to arrange that I should make a new start in life under happier circumstances in some distant part of the world.
‘When he died, by realising his estate as I did, I acted only within my rights, for with his last breath he gave everything to me. I cheated no one, and I robbed no one. I was only taking what was morally my own.
‘If I am unwilling to again place myself within reach of the law, you, of all people, should easiest understand why. To what injustice I was treated last year, you yourself bore public testimony less even than a month ago. As you made clear, a perfectly innocent man, I was yet found guilty of a crime I had never committed, and placed under the brutal sentence of penal servitude for five years.
‘Is it any wonder then that I fight shy of the authorities and prefer at all risks to keep out of their hands?
‘One thing, I shall never be taken alive. I have no intention, if I can help it, of being taken at all, but if the worst comes to the worst, it will be a barren victory only that the authorities will obtain.
‘I shall destroy myself rather than fall again into their hands.
‘Certain facts that I have mentioned can be verified at once, and the autopsy will show that Dr. Carmichael died as the result of a broken neck. That this is my handwriting too, can be made sure from an inspection of the ledgers of the Consolidated Bank.
‘One thing more, I may add, until Saturday afternoon last, Mr. Rainton, the trainer, was never at any time aware that I was his old friend.
‘JOHN ARCHIBALD CUPS’
It was just before noon when I had finished, and Piper was ready to go home for his dinner.
I read the letter over to him and it did me good to see the relief on his face.
‘That’ll do them fine, Mr. Cups,’ he said. ‘It takes all the juice, as you say, out of their murder business. Now, I tell you what I’ll do. I won’t post it, I’ll deliver it at once by hand. Mark it ‘urgent’ and I’ll go up and drop it straight away in the Times office box.’
Piper was back again about two and, finding the coast clear, came up at once into the grandstand. He had delivered the letter and was very excited.
‘Everybody’s talking about you in the city,’ he said, ‘and they’re all looking out for the reward. I went into the Oriental bar, and they were all positive there that somehow you’d get here to the races tomorrow. One man even said that he shouldn’t wonder if you didn’t try and keep to your engagement to ride Eaton Boy in the Steeple. They say you would have nerve enough for anything.’
We discussed what I must do and, reluctantly, we agreed it would be impossible for me now to go away that night, as I had intended. Piper’s cousin had told him every policeman in the city was out and that all leave had been cancelled for the weekend. It would be risky for me to move a yard even from my hiding-place, for the Cheltenham neighbourhood was of all places the most suspected. The police were positive somehow that I had been injured in the bicycle spill and could not be far away from where I had been hurt.
But what could I do? we argued. On the morrow there was a race-meeting on the course and a dozen or more people would be coming all the time, backwards and forwards, to the shed.
‘As far as I can see,’ said Piper at last, ‘the only thing for you to do is to sit up in the corner here the whole afternoon. You must keep your head turned away and be using your glasses most of the time. After all, people only come out on to the roof here actually when the race is going on, so you won’t be in danger the whole time, and if you are leaning over the rails, no one will be able to notice your face.’
It was the best thing we could think of and so we left it at that.
I slept very badly that night, and had an evil dream that Diana, the bitch, had got me cornered again in the kennels, only this time the face of Diana was the face of Angas Forbes. I woke up covered in a heavy sweat, and for hours and hours it seemed could not get off to sleep again.
Just as dawn was breaking, I was awakened by the hurried entrance of Piper. By the half light I saw he had a biggish parcel in his hands.
‘Here, take these,’ he said breathlessly, ‘and put them on quick. They’re Scut’s clothes. He’s still ill and can’t get up, and it’s lucky for us too. You’ll have to be Scut today. My cousin says the police will be all over the place soon. They’re certain, somehow, you’ll turn up on the course this afternoon. They think you must be half mad because you risked being discovered by coming out as a jockey all these months. Your letter’s in the paper, and it reads fine. I’ve got it here too.’
His startling proposal for the minute quite took my breath away. I was dazed and heavy with the sudden awakening from my broken sleep, and the bare idea of his suggestion made me sick with fear.
‘I couldn’t do it,’ I muttered, ‘I should be found out at once.’
‘Nonsense,’ he insisted stoutly, ‘it’s simply a wonderful chance of escape for you. From what my cousin told me, you wouldn’t have an earthly if you were up in the stands. They’ll be searching everywhere today, but who’d dream of looking for you right under their very eyes?’
A little thought and I saw the master-stroke of Piper’s idea. Scut’s red jersey and unkempt figure were known to everyone who went racing, and no one would give him a second glance. The very humour of it too, swept avalanche-like through my mind.
With a grin, almost of elation, I donned the filthy garments and pulled the greasy hat well down upon my head.
‘That’s right,’ said Piper enthusiastically, ‘now take the blighter’s pipe and slouch your shoulders as if you’d got gripes in your back. Don’t ever move quickly and do everything as if you knew you were being paid by the hour. There’s only one thing,’ he went on thoughtfully, ‘you’ll have to keep close to me all day, and I’ve got charge of the hurdles right bang in front of the grandstand. It can’t be helped though.’ He burst into a laugh. ‘One thing, you needn’t speak a word to anybody. Scut’s always been a sullen brute. Now come on out, there’ll be plenty of jobs to do this morning, there always are on racing days. I’ll put you first to dust the judges’ box and you’ll be able to have a squint at the paper there.’
Two minutes later and safe in the security of the judges’ box I unfolded the Times. I saw my letter at once. It was printed prominently on the middle page, and eagerly I looked down to see what comments they were making on it. They didn’t say much, but what they did say was very much to the point.
‘On this page we publish today,’ ran their remarks, ‘a letter that adds yet another chapter to the extraordinary story of the Dr. Carmichael affair. Never perhaps in the whole history of journalism in our state has sensation so followed upon sensation, as it now is in this case. The letter is authentic and written, as it purports to be, by the convict John Archibald Cups. On its receipt, we immediately submitted it to the officials of the Consolidated Bank and, with our own eyes, we have been convinced it is a genuine communication. It is too early yet to comment upon it at length, but in bare fairness to the man who writes it, we will, in passing, mention two facts. For the first, although as our readers are aware, the inquest upon the body of the late Dr. Carmichael has been adjourned until next week, it is an open secret in the city that the only cause of death so far discovered has been that of dislocation and fracture of the third vertebra of the neck; and the second fact, the turret staircase and walls in the Tower House were carefully examined last evening by an expert, and there are undoubted indications that a heavy fall has at some time occurred there. The wood of the top step is quite rotten and has been entirely broken away.’
I put down the paper with a great sigh of relief. At any rate now, I thought, the sting was taken out of the assumption that I had murdered Dr. Carmichael. Everyone would see now there was another side to the matter, and that it was not to be taken for granted I was guilty of everything that was being so freely laid to my charge.
I was interrupted suddenly by the harsh voice of Piper.
‘Now then, Scut,’ he bawled loudly, ‘Look alive, will you, I want you out here.’
I shuffled out slowly to find him talking to Sidney Oldway, the smart good-looking secretary of the Racing Club.
‘Cut along now and look to those hurdles,’ he went on. ‘There’s one there with a cracked rail. Take it away and change it with a spare.’
‘All right,’ I growled, and I moved off to do as I was bid. The immaculately dressed secretary eyed me openly with disgust. ‘Does that man ever wash?’ I heard him ask Piper, ‘he always looks beastly to me.’
I don’t know what reply Piper gave. I was too anxious to move away. I had no doubt too I did look beastly. I had a week’s growth of beard on me and I had muddied over my face. My coat too was filthy to look at and had an abominable reek. My trousers were all bagged and greasy, and my flaming jersey was horrible enough to offend even the least fastidious eye. I had no wonder the secretary didn’t admire me.
It was a thrilling day for me, that Saturday. I stood on the very brink of disaster the whole day long. I was right on the precipice side, and at any moment the slightest mischance would have precipitated me and all my hopes to an abyss, from where there would have been no recovery.
But mischance never touched me. Through dangers that simply swarmed I passed unscathed, and had I only known it I need not really have worried at all. Haloed in the personality of the beast-like Scut, I was immune both to trouble and suspicion.
Not that there was not plenty of suspicion too. When the time for racing began, the course was alive with police and plain-clothes men. I learnt afterwards that, as Piper had said, everyone had somehow got the idea that I would try and come to the racecourse in disguise. The Chief Commissioner himself had been sure of it. He imagined he was an expert on the psychology of crime and he considered that mine was just such a case where the obsession of my master passion, which he considered to be racing, would drive out fear of everything else. He believed I would jump to take the risk and rejoice in the thrills of danger it would give me.
So, as I say, the police were everywhere. Big, burly, fine-looking fellows with the unmistakable policeman gait moved everywhere among the crowd. They eyed everyone inquisitively. They peered into people’s faces and they stared hard at anyone whom they thought bore the very slightest resemblance to me.
But I was never among the crowd at all. Piper saw to that. I was always kept doing something on the racing track, and my flaming jersey and my baggy trousers were conspicuous features the whole afternoon long.
The hurdle race was the first item on the card, and along with Piper my station was right bang in front of the grandstand. We saw to it that the hurdles were properly staked and, with Scut’s disreputable-looking pipe always between my teeth, I held on gloomily to the battens, while Piper drove them lustily into the ground. Then as soon as the horses had jumped over them the first time round, up we had to pull them and stack them out of the way.
Between the races we had to stamp down the turf where it had been turned up by the flying hoofs, and when the preliminary canters were going on we had to swing out the angle posts to prevent the jockeys bringing their horses over to the side of the course near the rails.
When I had got over my first nervousness, the interest of the racing gripped at me like it always had done, and I had to remind myself many times to keep my head down.
Rainton had a sweet little filly running in the youngsters’ race, and with a pang I saw her just beaten, about two yards before she reached the judges’ box.
Then the steeplechase was full of thrills, and Mulvaney came a dreadful cropper on the horse I was to have ridden, Eaton Boy. It didn’t seem to be his fault either, at all. He was out in front by himself and free from all interference, but Eaton Boy took off badly at the fence opposite the stands and crashed heavily as he came over. For a few minutes the animal lay stunned where he fell, and the jockey was removed unconscious in the ambulance. I heard a man on the rails call out something about it being a lucky escape for Huggins, but I wasn’t quite so sure about the luck. I had seen the press photographer snap the accident, and it came home to me with dismay that, standing just where I had been, I must have been directly in the line of his camera. I hoped to goodness I wouldn’t come out in the picture.
I had one other distinct thrill of apprehension that afternoon. Of all the people in the world, I caught sight of Pepple, the vegetarian, among the crowd over by the rails. He had got his bruiser-looking assistant with him, and he was moving restlessly to and fro and peering about as inquisitively as any policeman or plain-clothes man. Three times during the afternoon I found him in my neighbourhood, although on each occasion I was in a different place on the course. The last time he was not ten yards from me, and I thanked my stars he was obviously near-sighted. He had got his eyes all screwed up in a puzzled sort of way, and he poked his nose in everyone’s face as he came near. Looking for me, of course, the little beast! I thought, and keeping as close to the prize-fighting man as a baby to its nurse.
Just before the fifth race, I was in charge of the angle-post almost in front of the judges’ box, and I suddenly caught sight of Angas Forbes and Dick Rainton talking together in the enclosure. I was a little too far away to exactly catch the expression on their faces, but from the way they stood their attitudes didn’t seem very friendly. The Scotchman seemed to be doing most of the talking, and several times I saw Dick Rainton coldly shake his head. Presently I saw a third party join them, and it added greatly to my interest when I recognised him as Benson, the trainer, who had given me my first winning mount in Adelaide on Vixen Lady.
Apparently Benson asked Rainton to introduce him, and then began a pantomime that filled me with intense curiosity. Angas Forbes seemed more antagonistic than ever, but in Benson I knew he would more than meet his match. Whatever they were saying, the trainer was every bit as emphatic as was he, and I could see the rough decisive way in which he was pushing his points.
Much to my disappointment, however, the ‘off’ was suddenly shouted, and in the rush to the rails the trio were immediately blotted out.
The afternoon went very quickly, and almost before I could take it in, it was all over and the people were streaming from the course. Half an hour after the last race the whole place was quite deserted, and Piper came up to me gleefully rubbing his hands.
‘Great, wasn’t it?’ he exclaimed, with a triumphant grin. ‘See the police? They were everywhere, and the plain-clothes men too. You’d have been caught, sure as a gun, if you’d been up on the stands. They went through them time after time, and everyone left the course tonight through files and files of suspects. I told you they thought you were mad and that they were certain they’d have you today. I believe now that the worst is over, and you’re sure to get away. The doctor says that beast Scut will have to be in bed at least a week, and at any rate, you’re safe until then.’
The next day passed very quietly, and the Monday dawned with my hopes very high indeed.
Another week, I argued, and the whole thing would die down. I had thought of what I would do. Piper should buy a second-hand motor-bicycle and side car, and we would get away on it, to begin with, to the bungalow at Noarlunga. I had given Piper his five hundred pounds in twenty-pound notes, and he was going to throw up his present job at once, and, after getting me away, he was going to clear off to Queensland. He was now as anxious to get away as was I, and we both saw the great desirability of moving before the alcoholic Scut reappeared and awkward explanations might ensue.
Piper turned up very early that Monday. He brought with him some interesting, if rather disquieting news.
‘The police are furious,’ he said, ‘now that they know you are Cups. They’ve never forgiven you for the way you put it across them last year, and your letter in the paper on Saturday has made them simply wild. The Chief Commissioner has put them all on their mettle and there’s promotion for anyone who spots you. They think they’re bound to get you, although they say they know now you’ve got hiding places prepared all over the place. My cousin says one of the Henley Beach men told him on the quiet that they’ve found a bathing hut crammed with tinned food and no one knows who the hut belongs to. They’re certain you’ve got it ready, and they expect to catch you there, but he also says the Port Adelaide people have got a card up their sleeve too. He doesn’t know quite what it is, but it’s something to do with a motor-boat with a lot of food hidden in the same way. I tell you the police are awfully excited and as keen as mustard to catch you.’
His information made me feel pretty uncomfortable, but I thought with thankfulness that the bicycle accident had been, after all, a very lucky accident for me.
I opened the newspaper he had brought with him, and the first thing I saw was a letter from Pepple again. As I read through it, I confess it almost made my blood run cold. The man might be a consummate ass, but wrapped up in all his rot about psychic warnings and astral waves there were some clever guesses, which pretty well hit the truth. His letter was dated Sunday, and he wrote he was positive I had been on the racecourse the previous day. He had been there all the afternoon himself, he wrote, and many times he had felt his own subconscious waves vibrating in harmony to those of mine. He was sure I had been somewhere on the racecourse. He would stake his life upon it. Why I had not been found, however, although obscure to him at first, was at last clear to him. It had come to him as he lay awake in the night. A great mistake had been made. Everyone had been looking for me in the wrong place. I had not been among the crowd. I had been among the officials somewhere, and if only a moment’s thought were given to the matter everyone would at once see why. The whole thing was quite plain. It was undeniable I was acting with confederates now, otherwise how could be explained my possession of the daily newspapers and the delivery to the Times office of my letter by hand. Well, given I had confederates, who were they most likely to be? Why, racing people, of course. I had been mixed up with the racing crowd, and no doubt to many I was still a hero in their eyes. Of course, it was they who were helping me. The morality of race-goers was notoriously lax and most of them wouldn’t think twice of helping me to hide away. I had been last traced, a week ago, to just near the Cheltenham Racecourse, and probably I had been lying low all the time at the buildings on the course. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if on the race-day I had been disguised as one of the ticket collectors, or had been taken on in the totalizator building as one of the clerks. Clearly, he concluded, it was the racing officials who were shielding me and they ought to be shown up.
I cursed the little wretch for his meddling. Although his rigmarole was sheer guess-work and spiteful at that, it might set some people thinking, and with the big reward offered, his ideas might be taken up and night prowlers might come around.
Piper laughed when I showed him the letter. He was in high spirits. He had hidden his five hundred pounds safely away, and was in no fear now as to anything that might happen.
‘Don’t you worry, Mr. Cups, we shall get off all right now,’ he said confidently, ‘and if the worse comes to the worst, I’ll borrow my cousin’s helmet and cape. No one would think of stopping anyone with a policeman in the side-car. I reckon our troubles are almost over, and you’ll soon be able to live a comfortable life again.’
But Piper was wrong, woefully wrong, and of all my escapes, the most perilous one was yet to come.
I was dozing off in the shed that evening, it could not have been much more than half-past six, when suddenly the sound of hurried footsteps came to me from outside. There was a sharp click of the key in the lock, the pant of laboured breathing, and Piper was bending over me and hissing breathlessly in my ear.
‘Quick, quick, get up. Run for your life. The police are here, they’re following me. They’ve found out all about Scut. Run! Run! Don’t go on the Torrens Road, they’re watching there. Get over the railway. Quick — be quick!’
Fortunately for me I was not undressed, and more fortunate still I had got my boots on. I was off the bed in a flash and, grabbing up my hat, was out into the night almost before Piper had finished his last words. I disappeared round one side of the shed and Piper the other. Only just in time. A big, tall figure loomed out of the blackness and struck fiercely at me as I rushed by. I felt a stinging blow on the side of the face, and someone grabbed hold of my arm. But I shook myself free and escaped by a hair’s breadth from another outstretched hand. There was a quick sharp run with at least two people hot after me in pursuit. But I knew the ground better than they did and, dodging round the grandstand, I doubled back and gave them the slip. I heard a lot of shouting and there was a great flashing of electric torches near the stands, but two minutes later, the blackness of the night had swallowed me up, and I was plugging briskly along, right over on the other side of the racecourse.
For the moment, once again, I was safe.
Last updated Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 13:21