For quite a long moment we looked silently at each other. I was taking in intently every line and feature of the big Scotchman’s face, and he was regarding me with a cold and puzzled stare.
‘Well,’ he snapped sharply, at length, ‘who are you and what do you want?’
‘I’m Cups,’ I replied drily, ‘and you’ve been looking for me?’
He said nothing more, but his blue eyes I saw grew bright and steely, and the big hand that rested on the table clenched itself up tightly as if it were about to strike a blow. He must have thought himself in danger, I knew, but to do the man justice he never flickered an eyelid or showed the slightest trace of fear.
‘Yes,’ I repeated slowly, ‘I’m Cups, and I’ve come to have a word with you.’
He looked at me with contempt, as if I were some sort of animal.
‘Ye dinna frighten me,’ he said slowly, breaking into broad Scotch, ‘I’m no afraid.’
‘You’ve no need to be,’ I replied quietly. ‘I’m not here to do you any harm.’
‘You’ve come to give yourself up then?’ he asked sternly.
‘Not at all. I’ve just come to speak to you, that’s all.’
His eyes moved from my face and I could see he was taking in my clothes.
‘Have the police tracked you here?’ he asked abruptly.
‘By no means,’ I said. ‘As usual, I’ve given them the slip.’
‘Were you hiding in the hotel then when they searched for you?’
‘Oh, no,’ I said lightly, ‘I was in the bed of chrysanthemums in the garden just across the street. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t know.’
He glanced down at my hands. ‘But I’ve tidied myself up since then,’ I went on carelessly. ‘I’ve just had a shave and brush-up in one of the rooms opposite. And a drink of whisky. I badly wanted something to drink.’
He looked at me very thoughtfully, but just the ghost of a smile, I thought, for a moment played around the corners of his mouth. There was a quite a long silence, then he asked very quietly, ‘What do you expect of me by coming here?’
I stifled a dreadful yawn. ‘A couple of those biscuits, please, to begin with,’ I replied, pointing to a biscuit box open on the table. ‘I’ve had nothing at all to eat since yesterday, and for many days too, thanks to you, I’ve had only cheese and sandwiches. So there’s no wonder I feel rather weak. May I have one?’
He made a rough gesture of denial. ‘I don’t care to offer hospitality,’ he remarked grimly, ‘to a man I am about to hand over to the police. But still’ — and he shrugged his shoulders with indifference — ‘I shan’t stop you if you choose to take them, and from all I have learnt of your characteristics, over-squeamishness is not your weak point.’
I pulled a chair up to the table and, sitting down just opposite to him, helped myself to a biscuit and began to munch hungrily.
He watched me with a puzzled frown.
‘Were you hiding on the racecourse all last week?’ he asked suddenly.
‘I haven’t told you I was there at all yet, have I?’ I said.
He ignored my query. ‘How much did you pay Sam Piper?’ he went on.
‘Piper,’ I said, innocently, ‘who’s he?’
‘Oh, don’t play the fool,’ he snarled roughly. ‘We know all about your relations with Piper, and he’s been in the cells since last night.’
In spite of myself, I felt my face fall. I had given little thought to Piper in the last twenty-four hours but, still, at the back of my mind, I had hoped devoutly he was safe and, remembering what he had done for me, the news now that he was in prison made me wince.
Angas Forbes was watching me narrowly and something of what was in my mind must have come to him.
‘Yes, you’ve got him into trouble right enough,’ he said bitterly. ‘The poor devil has lived to curse the day you ever came into his life, although all things considered,’ he bent over the table and leant towards me, ‘perhaps he’s lucky to have his life at all.’
I looked him squarely in the face and thought the moment had now come to lay my cards on the table.
‘Look here, Mr. Forbes,’ I said, curtly, ‘I see it plainly enough now. I made a mistake in not telling you everything at the first, but you gave me no chance. You’re a hasty self-opinionated man. You came here in absolute ignorance of everything, and you instantly formed your own opinion, knowing nothing whatever of anything that had taken place.’ I felt my temper rising. ‘You blundered into the whole business like a mad bull, and I tell you straight, you have just wrecked all that your friend Dr. Carmichael built up. That’s what you’ve done here.’
‘Leave Carmichael’s name alone please,’ he burst out hotly. ‘You murdered him, you black scoundrel!’
‘Murdered him?’ I exclaimed in a passion of temper. ‘Murdered him, do you say?’ I dropped my voice almost to a whisper. ‘You big lumbering Scotch fool!’ I hissed. ‘Have you no more imagination than a Highland cow? What should I murder him for? Murder my only friend! Murder the one man that stood between me and five years in the stockade! Murder him just when I needed him most, with the stitches hardly out of my wounds, and with my face all swollen and cut about like a butchered sheep! Murdered him! I tell you, man, when Dr. Carmichael died, and you have proved almost to a day when he did die, I was a sight for any man to see, and I was boxed in, in that house, like a rat in a trap. It was the most dreadful moment of my life, I tell you.’
I paused for a moment to get breath. Angas Forbes had taken his arms off the table and was leaning back in his chair. The expression of blind fury had left his face and he was regarding me, I saw, in a puzzled and rather surprised sort of way.
‘Look here again,’ I went on, but now more calmly. ‘They say you were a doctor yourself once, and if so, you’ll understand what was done to me. Look closely at my face. You can feel it, if you like.’
He hesitated just a moment and then he stood up. He came round the table and for a full two minutes, standing over me, he examined my face. I shut my eyes. I felt the great hands wandering over me, but his touch was very gentle, and I kept perfectly still. In a little while, to my astonishment, he heaved a great sigh, and then he returned slowly round the table and resumed his seat. I opened my eyes again.
‘Now, sir,’ I said quietly. ‘You can tell what was done and you can estimate in exactly what condition my face would have been a fortnight after the operation.’ I sniffed sarcastically. ‘A nice state I should have been in to commit a murder, and my face would have looked pretty afterwards too if I had been obliged to show myself to anyone who had chanced to come to the house.’
Angas Forbes looked at me very thoughtfully and, with an idea in my mind, I suddenly stopped speaking. I would force him to some reply and, seriatim, he should answer to each point I made.
For quite a long moment the silence went on, and then the big Scotchman opened his lips.
‘I’ll hear what you’ve got to say,’ he said, very slowly and with a sort of effort. ‘Your version, I mean, of how my friend met his death.’ His words became almost broken. ‘Tell — me — exactly — how — he — died.’ He stopped to draw a deep breath and then all suddenly his voice grew harsh and menacing. ‘But look ye here, man, don’t ye think ye’ll deceive me.’ He thumped the table heavily with his fist and glared at me with furious eyes. ‘I’m a medical man, as you say, but I’m a barrister as well. I’m accustomed to weigh evidence, I tell you, and I’ll trip ye, I’ll trip ye, the first lie ye tell.’
The man’s emotion was perfectly apparent. There was quite a sob in his voice, and the partial dropping into his mother tongue exposed the reality of the grief he was in.
I realised at once what had happened and a sudden feeling of great hope flashed through my mind. For the moment, at any rate, I knew I had broken down the absolute certainty he had had hitherto that I was a murderer. He was doubting for the first time. I had not misjudged the man. He would be just in the end.
I began to speak slowly and evenly, almost as if I were reciting a monologue.
‘On Monday morning, 29 January, Dr. Carmichael and I were in the garden. The question came up whether it was going to rain, and Dr. Carmichael said he would go up into the tower and look at the barometer. He went into the house and about two minutes later, I heard him suddenly call out, and then the noise of him falling down the stairs. I ran into the house and found him lying all huddled in a heap in the hall. He was lying on his back. His right arm was twisted under him, and his head was at an angle to his body. He was dying. He couldn’t get his breath and he could hardly speak. He whispered to me not to touch him. I wanted to fetch a doctor, but he said it was no good for his neck was broken. He said, “I’m finished.” He spoke just a few words, he smiled at me, and then he was dead.’
I had not looked at Angas Forbes while I was speaking. I had kept my eyes down. When I had finished, however, glancing up at him, I found that he in turn was looking away. He was obviously controlling his emotions with an effort. He was staring fixedly into the fire, but by the firelight I could see his face was wet with tears.
He turned round and spoke at last, very quietly and with his voice unemotionless and well in hand.
‘What time in the morning did this all happen?’ he asked.
‘I can’t say for certain,’ I replied, ‘but I should think about half-past seven. We had just come out in the garden after breakfast.’
‘How long elapsed, should you say, from the moment when you first found him, to when he was absolutely dead?’
‘Two minutes, or less even than that.’
‘Was he in pain, do you think?’
I hesitated. ‘I don’t think so — only he couldn’t get his breath.’
‘Did he struggle at all?’
‘No, he never moved until his head fell sideways as he died.’
‘Didn’t he struggle much to get his breath?’
‘No, he didn’t struggle, he only gasped — his body never moved.’
‘Where did the blood come from?’
‘There was no blood at all.’
‘Not from his nostrils?’
‘No, not that I remember. I remember no blood at all.’
‘Was he quite conscious?’
‘Yes, perfectly so, for the moments that he lived.’
‘Could he speak plainly?’
‘Yes, quite plainly but very faintly. He could only whisper.’
‘It was the right arm, you said, that was twisted under him — that was the one that was broken, wasn’t it?’
I shook my head. ‘I don’t know. I never really touched him until I came to wrap him in the sheet, and then I was too agitated to notice anything at all. I had never touched a dead body before.’
‘Now tell me exactly the words he said.’
‘When I ran up I was going to move his head, but he said, “Don’t touch me.” Then when I wanted to get a doctor he just gasped, “No good — cervical vertebrae — neck broken.” Then he said, “Good man, Cups — I give everything to you — don’t be afraid — have courage, man — look out Angas Forbes — tell him.” That was everything he said, and he died saying the last words.’
There was a long silence again in the room, and for several minutes the gentle crackling of the wood fire was the only sound that came up to our ears. If Angas Forbes was sorrowing over what I had told him of his dead friend, I too, was moved by the memories that my recital had called up. I saw in fancy again the dark and silent house, I saw the body lying by the stairs, I heard the great hounds whining in the garden, and I felt again something of that indescribable feeling of awe that even the most hardened feel in the presence of the dead.
My reverie was broken into by Angas Forbes. He had recovered first from the spell cast over us by the spirit of our thoughts.
‘You say,’ he asked very quietly, ‘that Dr. Carmichael died about half-past seven in the morning. When did you bury him then?’
‘The same day,’ I replied. ‘About two hours after he died.’
He looked me very straight in the face.
‘You’re sure — quite sure of that?’ he asked.
‘Perfectly so,’ I replied. ‘The grave was filled in and smoothed over before the tradesman’s bell rang, and he was always there by eleven o’clock.’
He spoke sharply and very sternly.
‘And do you tell me — do you want me to believe that you dug a six foot grave in a couple of hours?’ He bent over and put his face close to mine. ‘Are you lying at last? Remember there had been no rain for nine weeks previous to 28 January, and the ground must have been hard as a rock.’
I didn’t move a hair’s breadth and his eyes, I know, were not one whit more hard and stony than were mine.
‘The grave had been dug more than a week,’ I said coldly. ‘It was dug in the event of my not coming-to under the anaesthetic.’
He frowned puzzledly to me.
‘Explain, please,’ he said curtly.
‘When Dr. Carmichael first suggested that he could operate on my face and so alter me that no one would recognise me again, I jumped at the idea at once. He warned me, however, that under the circumstances we were in, the operation was likely to be a very dangerous one, because of his having to operate on me and give me the chloroform at the same time.
‘I told him I didn’t mind what happened either way, for if I did die, I shouldn’t know anything about it, and in any case I should be out of all my trouble. He laughed, and said that would be all very well for me, but where would he come in? He would be saddled with a dead body in the height of an Australian summer, and it wouldn’t be a pleasant thing. Then I suggested, half in joke and half in earnest, that I would prepare a grave in case anything should happen, and when he finally agreed to do the operation he kept me up to the idea. I think he really only wanted to make me realise the risk I was running. I dug the grave in the two days after he had bought the chloroform, and that is how it happens it was already there.’
Angas Forbes made no comment for a moment, then he jerked out rather brusquely, ‘And if Dr. Carmichael did not come to his end in the way you have told me, how are we to know that you didn’t push him down those stairs and so cause the broken neck?’
I put as much contempt in my voice as I could. ‘You can only assume my guilt by evidence that is wholly circumstantial.’ I shrugged my shoulders. ‘And, in the same way, you can only assume my innocence. As I have shown you, I had everything to lose by his death and nothing to gain.’
‘Well, you’ve gained a good lot anyhow, haven’t you?’ he remarked drily. ‘Forty-seven thousand pounds is surely a fair sum to have in any part of the world.’
‘But how in common sense did I know I was going to get a penny?’ I protested. ‘It was all chance that I was able to realise his estate.’
‘Explain again, please,’ he said sarcastically. ‘I don’t follow you. I’m afraid I’m rather dense.’
‘Look here, Mr. Forbes,’ I exclaimed hotly. ‘You’re not acting as a just man. You’ve been too prejudiced from first to last. Now just look at my position in that last week of January. With Dr. Carmichael alive, everything was hopeful for me. I had got a strong friend and I had got a rich friend. I had got a protector who was interested in me, and who was so far interested in me that on my behalf he had brought himself within reach of the law by harbouring me, knowing me at the time to be an escaped convict, under sentence of five years. Also, we were bound together by a deeper tie. He had held my life in his hands and alone and unaided in that lonely house he had taken me down into the valley of the shadow and run risks that might easily, as none better than yourself can estimate, have landed him very much in the position I am now, with a secretly buried body and a hidden grave to account for. There was another thing, too. Dr. Carmichael, in the last weeks of his life, had made up his mind to return into the world again, and I was to have gone with him. I tell you, with him living, prospects could not have been brighter for me.’
I paused for a moment. I began to feel rather faint and shaky. The duel between us was being so long drawn out that in my weak condition it was becoming too much for me.
‘Go on, pray, Mr. Cups,’ said Angas Forbes drily. ‘I will go so far as to admit that you are quite a plausible advocate.’
I swallowed down a lump in my throat and went on.
‘But where was I with Dr. Carmichael dead, ask yourself? A fortnight out of a disfiguring operation and with a face I could show to no one, without arousing instant curiosity how I had come by it, and who I was. Practically with only a few shillings to go on with, and with no certain prospects of getting a farthing more, what chance had I of escaping anywhere without money? What chance at all? I tell you I was hemmed in in that house like a rat in a trap, and the very remembrance of the horror of it makes me feel sick even now. Think of it yourself. It was a grilling summer day. There were the rooms all darkened with the blinds down. There was the body lying on the floor. There were the great hounds whining round the house outside, and there was I, weak from my operation, hesitating and irresolute, cowering in a corner, in a perfect frenzy of fear that at any moment the gate bell might ring, and someone want to come in. And I had to do something too; that was the hell of it. I had to make up my mind at once.’
I paused from sheer exhaustion here, but Angas Forbes was eyeing me, I thought stonily and without pity.
‘You had a signed cheque of Dr. Carmichael’s in the house,’ he said, ‘one for fifty pounds, and you cashed it on 18 February. Was that having no prospects at all of getting more money?’
‘No certain prospects, I told you. How did I know I was going to live on undisturbed in that house until my face got well? How did I know chance was going to favour me as it did? It was chance favoured me all along. When I went to the bank to cash that fifty pound cheque they took it for granted I was Dr. Carmichael himself. Chance helped me there. Then I heard the manager was away ill. Chance again! He was the only one who knew Dr. Carmichael. Then the manager died. More chance! How could I have known he was going to die? If he had lived it would have been a hundred times more difficult for me to do any business at the bank at all. It would have been a dreadful risk at every turn, and certainly impossible for me to have got my signature verified when I was disposing of any shares. I tell you the manager’s death made the difference of everything to me — and it was a thing I could not possibly have foreseen.’
‘When did you first make up your mind to forge Dr. Carmichael’s signature?’ broke in Angas Forbes abruptly.
I hesitated for a moment. ‘I think I first made up my mind,’ I replied slowly, ‘to try and adopt his signature’ — I laid significant stress on the word ‘adopt’ — ‘the day after he died. The possibilities of it came to me suddenly as I was going through his papers. I saw he was a very rich man, and you may believe it or not’ — here in spite of myself I could not prevent my voice taking on a covert sneer — ‘the chief pleasure I have all along derived from my successful “forgeries” has lain in the belief that in so acting I have been only doing exactly what he would have wished.’ I shrugged my shoulders. ‘He bade me have courage and I have just interpreted it that way, that’s all.’
‘Then you say,’ said Angas Forbes, ‘that within twenty-four hours of his death you were devising a plan of campaign to obtain the whole of his estate?’
‘No, I don’t say that at all,’ I replied sharply. ‘You are trying to trap me. My first idea of using his signature was only to obtain the money lying to his current account and, with any good luck, the money he had on deposit there. My intentions to begin with were quite modest, but they expanded, as I have explained to you, when I realised how easy things were being made for me at the bank.’
He looked at me very thoughtfully.
‘And you have obtained altogether about forty-seven thousand pounds, haven’t you?’
‘Somewhere about that,’ I said. ‘Rather more than less, I should think.’
He smiled rather drily. ‘And you have come to me,’ he went on, speaking very slowly and as if carefully weighing his words, ‘with the idea, you say, that I could help you to escape and carry all this money out of the state?’
Again a horrible feeing of faintness had come over me, but with a great effort I pulled myself together. ‘Look here, Mr. Forbes,’ I said wearily, ‘I’m so tired of the whole business that I don’t seem to care what happens to me now. Many times today I was going to shoot myself in the bed of chrysanthemums over there, but tonight I was so thirsty, I wanted a drink of water first. I caught sight of you standing on the verandah and an impulse made me come to you here.’
My voice all at once seemed to gather strength, and I went on. ‘You say you were a friend of Dr. Carmichael. So was I. I come to you now for that very reason. He found me once, as you find me now, haunted, friendless, and flying from the law. A criminal, though I had done no wrong. He helped me and he gave me shelter. He gave me back to decent life again. Now, if you have any loyalty to his memory, if you have any affection for the man that died, for his sake you will help me now as he helped me then.’ I leant forward and thrust my face up close to his. ‘You know I didn’t kill him, and if you won’t admit it, it’s only because your damned pride holds you back. You’re as obstinate as a mule, I tell you, you’re a big, blundering’ — I shook my fist in his face — ‘you’re a — you’re a — ‘ A dreadful buzzing came into my ears, my voice went very far away. My eyes grew dim and misty, and with a crash that I just heard, I fell across the table and everything was blotted out.
I knew very little of what went on in the next ten days. I realised somehow that I was being nursed, for I was conscious of often being fed and of cold bandages being laid upon my head. I remember, too, the prick of needles in my arm and of someone continually saying ‘Hush!’ and stroking my face. I know I talked a lot, too, for the sound of my own voice kept coming up to me and breaking through my dreams.
I thought Margaret Price was often near me and that Angas Forbes kept looking at me with his great big eyes.
I remember funnily that I was afraid of Angas Forbes no longer. He seemed to be guarding me, and I thought Dr. Carmichael used to come in, too, and bring Diana to keep watch over me while I slept.
I had long talks with Dr. Carmichael, and I told him everything that had happened since he died. He used to laugh a lot and ask me how I liked being in the stockade. Then he said he was tired of being in his grave and thought it was about time someone came and gave him a leg out.
One night I woke up and found the room very quiet. I felt quite different, and my mind was quite clear. I couldn’t hear the clock ticking and was able to notice that the electric light had a dark shade over it. I tried to lift my head but found I was too weak. I think I must have moaned, for immediately I heard the noise of a chair being moved and a second later a woman glided up to the bed.
I could feel my heart stop beating for I saw she was Margaret Price.
She knelt by the bed and stroked my face. ‘Hush, dear,’ she whispered, ‘don’t worry, you’re quite safe.’
Then the dreadful memory of everything came back to me and I could feel my eyes fill suddenly with tears.
In an instant Margaret had put her arms about me and was holding me close to her. ‘It’s all over, sweetheart,’ she said, ‘and you’ve nothing to worry about now. You’re quite safe, and Mr. Forbes is our friend.’
I was too weak to understand it, but her voice reassured me, and I sank again restfully to sleep.
A little over a week later, and one bright afternoon I was reclining on a long wicker chair, well wrapped up and with a hat low down over my eyes, basking in the gentle glow of the warm winter sunshine.
Angas Forbes was sitting just beside me, but he was quite a different Angas Forbes from the one the reader has so far been introduced to. It was a kind, good-hearted and almost an affectionate friend that was near me now. A doctor who was in every way anxious and solicitous about his patient, and a man who was employing all that strength and shrewdness that had at one time been used against me, to protect and save me from my enemies.
‘Keep your hat down, Cups,’ he was saying in a half smile and a half frown. ‘Remember, you’re not out in the bush yet, and I don’t want to do six months either, before we’re clear of Adelaide, for hiding you from the police. You’re much too reckless, man, and someone may recognise you yet from the street even in that beard.’ He heaved a big sigh and shook his head at me. ‘A nice thing I’ve been let in for at my time of life, haven’t I?’
We were on the first-floor verandah of The Grand Australasian Hotel, and nearly three weeks had elapsed since that eventful night I had passed in the bed of chrysanthemums in the garden opposite. A lot had happened since then, and yet, in a way, a very little.
I had been in the hotel the whole time, and yet no one had come near me except Angas Forbes, and Margaret Price.
A complete change to all my fortunes had come, and it had taken me many days, even after I was comparatively all right again, to take it all in.
It appeared that when that evening I had collapsed so suddenly in front of Angas Forbes, the big Scotchman had been for a time in a dreadful quandary. He hadn’t known what to do.
At first he had believed it to be his duty to hand me over at once to the police, but still he had hesitated to do it, for, in spite of his prejudice against me, I had half convinced him that all I had told him was true.
Unknown to myself, too, I had played a much stronger card than I had thought when I had pleaded for his protection because his dead friend would have had it so. He had almost a superstitious reverence for the man who had died.
A few years older than Dr. Carmichael, he had been passionately devoted to him. They had been friends from early boyhood, and in the early struggles of their profession they had shared alike fortune and misfortune together. Their affection had been that of very loving brothers.
But of late years there had been a deeper reason still for his devotion to the dead man and, when he had told me of it, his voice had broken and shaken with all the intensity of tears that could never be completely shed.
The woman whom Dr. Carmichael had protected, and who had been the cause of the great surgeon’s disgrace, had been Angas Forbes’s own sister and a sister he had dearly loved.
Angas Forbes had been abroad when it had all happened, but upon his immediate return his sister had confided everything to him. Stung one night to desperation by her husband’s brutality, she had suddenly left her home at a minute’s notice, and, believing that Dr. Carmichael loved her, she had thrown herself on his protection. But Dr. Carmichael, knowing at any rate the social ruin it would mean to her, had fought down his love and urged her resolutely to return.
She had refused, however, and in the end he had proudly become her lover and protector before all the world. When all the public scandal and disgrace had later eventuated, never by one word of explanation had he allowed the world to imagine that the fault was not wholly his.
But Angas Forbes had known it and, with the consequent ruin of his friend, his affection for him had become almost an obsession.
He had thought of all these things when that evening I had been lying unconscious on the sofa where he had placed me and, in the end, fearful that he would be wronging his dead friend if he acted otherwise, he had decided to give me the benefit of the doubt and save me.
Money can do most things in this world, and once he had made up his mind it was easy enough for Angas Forbes to make all the arrangements.
He himself had undressed me and put me to bed. Then he had informed the hotel people that a friend who had been visiting him had suddenly been taken ill, and it would be necessary the latter should remain in the hotel and also that a nurse should be got in to look after him.
Next — and he told me he had smiled grimly to himself as he did it — he had rung up the Raintons and had asked for Margaret Price to be sent to him at once.
Margaret Price was not unknown to him. The previous week he had been down to Dick Rainton to upbraid him for shielding me, and in the latter’s absence it was the girl who had received him. They had had a fierce argument and, as Angas Forbes frankly admitted, the first real misgiving about my guilt had come to him then. Margaret had disclosed to him everything I had told her, and she had held up to scorn the very idea that I was by nature capable of such a murder.
He had not agreed with her, but he had seen enough of her to realise she was a woman he could trust, and so when he needed her he had unhesitatingly placed his secret in her hands.
She had agreed readily to nurse me, and so with no bond of sympathy between them, the two had started to try and lead me back to health, and at the same time prevent my identity from being discovered.
But the reserve between them had been suddenly broken down, and in a few hours there was no difference in the beliefs that they held about me.
I had become delirious, and in my delirium I had gone again over everything that had happened at the Tower House.
‘Man,’ said Angas Forbes to me afterwards, ‘I saw your soul then, and I could never doubt you any more. It’s not in nature for anyone in the delirium of a fever to be upon his guard.’
For a few days I had been very ill, and they had been terribly afraid my ravings would be heard, but Angas Forbes had drugged me heavily to quieten me, and in the end I had sunk to peace.
‘I’ll see you through, Cups,’ had said the big Scotchman, the first day I was able coherently to take things in. ‘We’ll get you right away in a couple of weeks or so, if you only lie quiet.’ He smiled kindly at me. ‘And you shall marry Margaret here,’ he went on, ‘as a recompense for all the sufferings you have had.’
The short South Australian winter was over, and spring was everywhere in the the air, when one fine morning Angas Forbes and party were being almost devotionally bowed out of The Grand Australasian Hotel.
In no country in the world is there a greater adoration of hard cash than in Australia, and the fortunate possessor of money there can be assured always of a deeper reverence than was certainly ever accorded to any of the twelve Apostles.
The big Scotchman was at last going away and, true to his promise, he was seeing me clear from the perils of South Australia.
There were only three of us in the car and the owner was driving it himself. I was at the back, well muffled up, and beside me was Margaret Price.
The manager of the hotel bowed his head reverentially, Angas Forbes let in the clutch, and away the big car purred on its journey.
No word was spoken by anyone. I just drew in deep breaths and clutched hard to Margaret’s hand.
About a mile from The Grand Australasian Hotel, the car pulled up suddenly at the corner of a side street. A man was waiting there. He was very quietly dressed and was carrying a small bag. He wore a big cap and the collar of his overcoat was turned up.
He made a sort of motion with his arm to Angas Forbes and, then, mounting quickly upon the car, he took his seat beside him. Immediately the car moved off and, gathering pace, went rapidly in the direction of the hills.
Sill none of us had said a word.
About a quarter of an hour later, the car was again stopped and Angas Forbes, turning round towards us, said solemnly, ‘Now everyone, please, take your last look in this life upon the wonderful city of Adelaide.’
We were high up in the hills and close beside us reared the summit of Mount Lofty. A glorious panorama lay before our eyes. Far away below us stretched the city of the plains, and in the bright sunlight, every street and square and monument stood out sharply.
A great lump came into my throat, and I could feel the beatings of my heart. I thought of all that had happened there and the sorrow and the sweetness of life struck at me with twin hands.
‘Now, friend Piper,’ said Angas Forbes with a big laugh, ‘what price a couple of years in the stockade? Rather be going to Brisbane, would you? Well, so would I.’
Sam Piper, for he was the stranger sitting on the front seat, grinned sheepishly, but made no reply, and a moment later the car went on.
Margaret leant over and kissed me, and a tear from her cheek I could feel was wetting mine.
It may be wondered how it had come about that Piper was a passenger with us in the car, but the explanation is very simple. It was Angas Forbes again.
As I was getting better, directly he had heard of all Piper had done for me, he made up his mind on the quiet to try and get him released at once and immediately he set about it in his own characteristic determined way.
Piper, as he had told me, was in the cells under remand and was obstinately refusing, as the police put it, ‘to make a clean breast of the whole matter’. He had pleaded ignorance of the identity of the man to whom he had given Scut’s job, and stubbornly asked them to produce proof, when they insisted it was me he had been hiding all the week.
The police were in a dilemma. They were perfectly sure I was the man he had hidden but, as I had escaped, they couldn’t prove it. So, hoping desperately I should be captured and then perhaps confess, they had got the magistrate to remand Piper twice.
That was how the case stood when Angas Forbes began to take a hand in the game, and then very quickly things began to hum.
Through a third party he arranged that the best legal aid in the city should be obtained, and finally it was, in consequence, Drivel Jones whom they picked upon to defend the prisoner.
Imagine then the interest when on Piper’s third appearance before the magistrate, up got the mighty Drivel Jones and began to shout and bully and bluster in his usual way. The magistrate, the police, and the whole court were fairly taken aback, and a forty-eight hours’ further remand was as much as the great man would assent to.
But two days later the police had been as unprepared as ever to complete their case, and Drivel Jones had thundered and hectored in his best high-court manner.
The magistrate had been undoubtedly inclined to side with the police, and a long acrimonious wrangle had ensued, but in the end the great counsel had been too many guns for them all and, reluctantly, Piper had been discharged.
The same night Angas Forbes had interviewed him in his home, and chiefly, I believe, to give me pleasure, it had been arranged that Piper should accompany us in the car.
Three weeks after leaving Adelaide, Margaret and I were married in Brisbane, and my quondam enemy bade us goodbye, with the tears welling from his eyes.
It is a long while since the happening of the events I have recorded took place, and I have only put pen to paper now, after all this time, to wipe from the memory of Angas Forbes the slur some evil-minded people would place there.
My friend and protector died suddenly last year in Singapore, and I have heard lately that scandal has been busy with his name.
Something of what took place in those last days of mine in Adelaide, seven years ago, has somehow leaked out, and it has been suggested that Angas Forbes was bribed by me to hide me and get me out of Adelaide. It is said that for reward I gave him one-half the money I had obtained from the estate of Dr. Carmichael.
It is a base lie, and on the face of it absurd. Angas Forbes was worth more than a hundred thousand pounds when he died, and for twenty years and more he had been a very rich man.
Apart from that he was a man of stern integrity and incapable all his life long of any mean or dishonourable action. All who knew him will bear witness to that.
I have not disclosed, for obvious reasons, the place of origin of this narrative, but it may interest our Adelaide friends to know that both my wife and I are very well and very happy. We have three children and, in a part of the world where no one is likely ever to find us, there is no stigma upon them because of their father’s supposed misdeeds. They will grow up, we hope, without ever knowing that their father is still an escaped convict under sentence of five years.
This web edition published by:
The University of Adelaide Library
University of Adelaide
South Australia 5005
Last updated Tuesday, December 16, 2014 at 13:21