I shall never be quite satisfied in my own mind whether I did right or wrong in going off on Hooker’s bicycle. At any rate, it got me safely away, but on the debit side its acquisition undoubtedly delivered me over to another set of troubles; and by riding off on it as I did, it was destined that for many days, I would never be certain that each hour of freedom was not to be my last.
For one thing it certainly led to the almost instant discovery of my flight and, from all I learnt afterwards, if I had not taken it, it might have been hours before anyone would have known with certainty that I had gone away.
The burning of the straw undoubtedly had made Angas Forbes and his companions most suspicious but, on returning to the verandah, the discovery by Hooker that his precious bicycle had been pinched, at once made everything as clear as day.
They all then rushed pell-mell down to the gates and the chauffeur pointed out the way I had gone. He reckoned I had got about ten minutes’ start.
Off they all went in pursuit, trusting apparently to chance to discover the direction I had taken. And chance served them very well.
The road in which the Tower House was situated abutted directly on to the open space of the parklands. There was the choice to anyone of three directions from there. Either they could proceed along the Great North Road towards Gawler, they could turn back right to the city, or they could go straight on over the parklands and then along the Torrens road, in the direction of Port Adelaide. The latter road was by far the most unfrequented and started, moreover, by a good run downhill. It was unlighted, after the first half mile.
The car pulled up sharply at the end of the Tower Road, for my pursuers were uncertain then which direction I had taken.
As ill luck would have it, however, and it shows yet again how black was my misfortune on that eventful day, a man and a girl were standing at a garden gate, right at the very end of the road. They had been standing there when I had passed, and exactly under the lamp-post I had noticed with uneasiness that they had a good stare at me as I went by.
‘Seen a man on a bicycle?’ shouted Angas Forbes.
The couple nodded their heads and pointed towards the Torrens Road, the man adding as the car moved off, ‘He’d got no lights on him, but he was going very fast.’
This, then, was how it came about, that when at least three miles up the Torrens Road and pedalling at a good rate in the dark, I became aware of the hum of some distant car behind me.
The Torrens Road runs straight as an arrow for a good five miles, and after the first dip it is all the way slightly uphill.
I jumped off the bicycle and looked round. Yes, there it was right at the bottom of the rise, and for a moment I stood wondering if it had anything to do with me. I was just dismissing the idea as improbable, for with each minute I had been congratulating myself that I was safer and safer from pursuit, when something in the movements of the car’s lights caught my eye.
Like nearly all Australian cars, it carried a spot-light at one corner of the top of the wind-screen. These spot-lights are little searchlights in a way, and most useful where the roads are bad, for they cast a beam, high up and a long way ahead.
Well, whoever were in the car, they were using that light now quite unnecessarily on a good road, and moreover someone was moving it, I could see, from side to side, as if to search the hedges as the car went by.
I was instantly suspicious and looked round for somewhere to hide. The moon had gone behind a cloud and it was pitch dark, except for the light of the stars. The road stretched away straight before me and the hedges on either side I could see were everywhere too thick to get through.
I threw myself desperately upon the machine and rode fiercely along, looking for some opening to escape. But none presented itself to me, and I was almost at my wits’ ends, when I noticed that the ditch at one side of the road, just where I was, had deepened down to a shallow sort of pit, and was shadowed over by some high grass overhanging its banks.
In a second I was off the machine, and dumping it roughly down into the ditch, I dropped in myself and crouched low to the ground.
It was a poor shelter at best, but with the car coming nearer and nearer to hide in it was the only thing for me to do.
It will tell of the state of mind I was in at that moment when I relate that I deliberately took out my automatic and slipped off the safety catch. So wrought up was I by all my misfortunes that I know fully I should have shot down anyone rather than be taken.
On came the car and I took a deep breath as it drew level. Yes, they were all there, and it was Angas Forbes who was standing up next to the driver and flashing round the light. I could see the tense expression on his face, but it would, I thought, have been tenser still, had he known how near he was then to death.
Had the light come just a little lower down, and had it just flashed to where I lay, it might have set in motion a terrible train of events that would have led to sudden death perhaps for more than one.
But the light never touched me and the car passed on quickly. I waited until it had gone about a couple of hundred yards and then sprang briskly out of the ditch and drew the bicycle up after me.
Boldness would now be the best plan I thought and, with no hesitation at all, I started to follow up the road after the car. A very little way ahead and I knew there were several small by-roads leading off right and left, any of which would in a few moments swallow me up and make capture, for the present at any rate, highly improbable.
But my evil genius was with me still. I had not gone even a quarter of a mile, when I rode full into an open gully at the side of the road and was pitched violently off on to my side.
I made a great effort to save myself and partly succeeded in protecting my head, but my face came sharply in contact with the ground and my left foot was twisted under me in a dreadful way.
I was covered all over in dust, and the blood began to trickle unpleasantly from a cut on the cheek, but the dust and blood were as nothing compared to the horrible wrench to my foot.
For a minute or two the agony was so intense that I almost believed that I had broken my ankle.
I sat down by the roadside, faint and sick, and had no care nor thought for all the pursuers in the world.
But the acute anguish soon began to pass away, and I quickly began to get anxious again. The car might be returning or someone else might come along. With no lights on my bicycle and with my face all cut and bloody, I was a conspicuous person, and it would never do to be caught sitting there.
I must move on at once, but it was easier said than done, for the moment I stood up, I realised the bicycle would be of no further use. I was so shaken that it was impossible for me to mount and, apart from that, the handle-bars were all bent and twisted by the fall. I must hide somewhere at once and, leaving the bicycle where it was, in the gully, I started to limp painfully along the road.
Suddenly the moon came out and, to my relief, I recognised exactly where I was. I was just near the racecourse at Cheltenham, and close by me was the gate that opened on to the enclosure.
The gate was, of course, locked, but with feverish haste and in spite of the pain to my foot, I climbed up over the rails and in half a minute or so was resting safe, at any rate for the moment, in the shadow of the trees.
No one I was sure had seen me get over, but I was after all only just in time. The faint sounds of a car struck on my ears and slowly, quite slowly, headlights came into view.
From a gap in the palings I had a good view of the road and as the car drew level, one glance only was sufficient to tell me that it was my pursuers returning.
They appeared to be all talking together and they were evidently disagreeing about something. A little way past the racecourse gates the car pulled up and I could catch almost every word they said.
Angas Forbes wanted to search down the Torrens Road again, he was sure they must have passed me somewhere. But the sergeant was all for getting straight to headquarters without any further delay.
‘He’s gone, Mr. Forbes,’ he insisted bluntly. ‘If he ever came down this road, which I doubt very much. At any rate, he’ll have taken fright of our lights now, and won’t be waiting for us about here. The best thing is for me to get back once to the Square, and telephone he’s wanted all round. We haven’t much to go on yet, it’s true, but it certainly looks most suspicious his running away, and we can pull him up, at any rate, for his assault on you. That’s the only charge I can see we can lay as yet. He can’t get away, if we’re quick about it, and long before tomorrow night I’ll have him by the heels.’
The sergeant spoke most confidently, but the big Scotchman made a lot of demur, and it was quite another five minutes before, to my joy, the car was turned round again and driven away.
I started at once then to think what I must do, but the matter, as it happened, was quickly decided for itself. Attempting to regain my feet, I found I was now quite unable to stand. My foot was like a lump of lead. I could no longer put it to the ground, and at best could only crawl.
I think I really shed tears then. The utter helplessness of my position was torture to me. And the humiliation of it all too! To remember all the perils I had gone through, the difficulties I had surmounted and the awkward situations from which I had extricated myself with such coolness and finesse and now to be overwhelmed by a petty mishap, to fail just at the last moment through no fault of my own was all gall and wormwood to me. But what could I do? Everything seemed quite hopeless.
I must have lain where I was for quite an hour and then it came home to me that whatever happened I could not lie out all night on the ground. A heavy dew was beginning to fall and, miserable as my position already was, it would not be benefited by getting wet through. I looked round for some sort of shelter and the bulky shadow of the grandstand caught my eye. It would be better than nothing.
I literally crawled up those steps of the grandstand, but the first row of seats was as far as I could drag myself. Then, leaning back in a corner with my feet up on the seat, I tucked the ends of my coat round my legs and prepared myself as philosophically as I could for the night.
And what a night it was too! Starry, beautiful and still as I had ever seen it. Everything gently silvered in the moonlight and the opiate of peace and rest everywhere but in my heart. There was no sleep for me at all.
Although I was tired out to the very point of collapse, my thoughts would allow me no rest. Try as I would to prevent it, my tired eyes wandered unceasingly over the racecourse, and the memory of my triumphs there rose up in bitter wrath to chide me for my failure in the end.
Every yard of the great wide course was familiar to me, and every turn of it and post I knew. I was mocked by every happiness I had known there.
Like ghosts, the horses I had ridden glided up out of the shadows and stared at me with big reproachful eyes. They seemed to mock that I who was their master had fallen now so low.
I remembered how The Whirlwind had jumped for me there, how Rose-bud had come away with me at the bend, how Babylon had carried me once in triumph over those fences, and how Seamada had won in the last stride before the judges’ box.
That night seemed to me as if it would never end and, when morning did come at last, so dark and hopeless appeared everything, that I welcomed the day only as a change of setting to my outlook of despair.
The dawn, however, soon gave promise that it was going to be another perfect winter day and, in spite of myself, when I stretched my cramped and aching limbs to the comforting warmth of the sun, something of a very faint tinge of hope began to come back. After all, I remembered, and I had seen it too so often myself, the race is never lost until it is won.
Sitting up I carefully examined my foot. No bones were broken that I could make out, but I realised despairingly that it would be several days before I would be able to walk or even put on my boot again. My ankle was very swollen and to hang it down over the seat was perfect agony. It jumped and throbbed as if my very heart had slipped down into my foot.
I leant back again, and to quieten my nerves started a cigarette. Suddenly, to my alarm, I heard near at hand a sound of whistling, and a moment later a man appeared up on the lawn, just in front of the grandstand.
He walked leisurely to a small shed in the enclosure near the weighing-room and, unlocking the door, disappeared within.
He had passed close to me and I knew who he was at once. He was Sam Piper, the head groundsman of the racing club at Cheltenham, and his duties were generally to look after the course. He had to see that the ground was kept well watered, and on racing days he had charge of the men who saw to the placing of the hurdles and the flagging of the course at the jumps.
I had never actually spoken to him, but I thought with a pang how often he must have seen me in my triumphs and how he would know me far better than I knew him.
In a couple of minutes or so he came out of the shed, carrying a coil of hose, and prepared for the watering of the course just in front of the judges’ box.
My heart began to thump most unpleasantly. Here was a happening I had never thought of, and yet was it possible, I asked myself, suddenly, that I could make use of it in any way? But I was so weak and exhausted that I really couldn’t think clearly and, for a long time, in a sort of haze, I just watched the man at his work.
Could I bribe him? I wondered, but then I thought of the terrible risk if I no longer worked alone. I would be completely at this man’s mercy if I asked him for help, and was he the type of man it would be safe for me to trust?
With shaking hands I took out my opera glasses and focused them on him as he leant by the rails. I had an excellent view of his face.
He had set the sprinkler going and was now meditatively smoking and engrossed in his pipe.
Yes, his face was certainly a nice one. He had a good square jaw that spoke of determination and courage and there was a look of kindly humour about his eyes. A man about thirty, I thought, and old enough at any rate to know his own mind. I hesitated no longer.
I put down my glasses, and raising myself upright called out faintly, ‘Hi! Hi!’ I was shocked how weak my voice sounded.
The man took his pipe out of his mouth at once, and looked round in a most surprised sort of way. For a moment he couldn’t locate the voice.
‘Hi!’ I called out again. ‘I want you. Quick!’
He saw me this time all right, and with a second’s hesitation he crossed over the lawn and stepped up to the grandstand.
‘Hello,’ he said, halting below the balcony and looking up inquiringly to where I sat. ‘What are you doing there?’
For the moment I was too overcome to reply and he went on, ‘What’s up — been fighting?’ Then his face broke into a grin. ‘Been on the drink, have you?’
I shook my head, but I didn’t wonder at his question, for I must have looked a queer sight with my face all covered with dried blood and dirt.
He came round up the steps to make a nearer inspection and I saw he was looking at me in a very puzzled way.
‘Do you want to earn fifty pounds?’ I said weakly.
‘Depends,’ he replied laconically. ‘Who are you, first?’
Now from the moment I had called out to him, I had realised I should have to disclose my identity and trust the man. Indeed, I counted it almost as my best card that he should know who I was. He would be unusually interested at once.
‘I’m Huggins,’ I said faintly. ‘I had an accident on the Torrens Road last night and had to crawl in here.’
‘Huggins,’ he said, coming forward. ‘So you are. I thought I recognised you. Bless my soul. You do look bad. Now are you seriously hurt anywhere?’
‘No, not badly,’ I replied, ‘but I’m crocked for a time. I fell off a bicycle and it’s my foot that hurts me most. I twisted my ankle.’
In a most business-like way he proceeded to examine me.
‘I’m a first-aid man, you know, and I don’t think there’s anything broken,’ he said after a moment. And then he added shyly, ‘But as a doctor yourself, of course, you would know.’
‘Look here,’ I said emphatically, ‘I’m not a doctor at all. It’s all rot and don’t you believe it. That was only a newspaper stunt in the Times.’
He seemed rather surprised. ‘Well, you want attention anyhow,’ he remarked, ‘and I’ll get help at once.’
‘No, that’s just it,’ I said. ‘No one must know where I am. The police are after me. I knocked a man down.’
He whistled and then looked at me very straight.
‘Did you kill him?’ he asked quietly.
‘Kill him? No,’ I replied. ‘A good thing if I had. The brute was after me last night and I got all this trouble in getting away. Look here,’ I went on, and I could feel my voice getting stronger as hope and courage now began to come back. ‘I want you to hide me. It’ll be only for a few days until this damned foot is well and then I know where to go myself. I’ll give you fifty pounds and more than that. Couldn’t you hide me in your house now until the trouble blows over? As I say, it’ll only be for a few days.’
He gave me a grim smile. ‘I board with my aunt just over by the station there,’ he said. ‘Her son lives with her too.’ He chuckled with great amusement. ‘He’s a policeman.’
I felt my hopes fall suddenly to zero and for a second I was sure I had betrayed myself, but with his next words I began to breathe again.
‘Not that I love the police,’ he said. ‘I hate ’em and they’re no friends of mine. Two meetings back here, they nabbed me for having a half-crown bet with a bookie on the course and got fined five quid. I’m not over-friendly with my cousin either. He’s a bit of a swine.’
I took heart again at once. ‘But couldn’t you hide me anywhere?’ I urged. ‘It’ll only be such a few days and, except for the risk, the money will be easily earned.’
He thought earnestly for a moment. ‘It isn’t the money,’ he said slowly. ‘I’d like to help you in any case, although with fifty quid I could do a good deal. I’ve got a girl over in Queensland, waiting for me.’
‘I’ll make it a hundred,’ I said eagerly, ‘and more than that. Is there no place you can think of for me to hide? I can rough it anywhere, you understand.’
He looked me curiously up and down. ‘What about my little shed then? No one will be coming in there today, and there are plenty of sacks inside for me to make up some sort of bed for you.’
My heart jumped with joy at the idea. To have any hiding place for the next few days might mean eventual salvation for me after all, for, once again upon my feet, I had the several other resources of which the reader already knows.
I took hope again and in a few minutes was delighted with my ally. Mr Sam Piper showed himself a most resourceful and capable individual. He carried me down off the grandstand and, procuring some dressings from the racecourse first-aid box, he washed and bound up my wounds. My ankle he put under the hydrant tap and then swathed it well round with a compress of wet rags.
Half an hour after I had first called to him, I was lying comfortably in the hose-shed and he was off away back to his home, to get me something to eat.
‘It’s quite all right as it happens,’ he had explained. ‘I can get you plenty to eat today without anybody knowing. There’s no one at home at present. The old girl’s off for the day to Henley Beach and the policeman chap’s on duty until dinner time.’
He was soon back and he had brought with him quite a store of provisions. He was most insistent I should make a good meal and then, when I had finished, that I should have a good sleep.
‘Now I’m going to lock you in,’ he said, ‘and I shan’t come near you again until late this afternoon. Have a good sleep and don’t worry about anything. No one else has got a key to the shed and you’re quite safe all the time,’ and he went off seemingly very pleased with himself.
Oh, the delicious memory of that going to sleep! It was only a poor rough bed of sacks that I lay upon, but no bed of roses could have been more fragrant and no couch more generous with its promise of sweet gentle dreams.
Precarious as was still my position, once again, as before in my need, I had found a protector and, once again, I was safe at any rate for a time. I was like a man who had come out of hell and, as I sank gently and thankfully into slumber, through the dim mists of my consciousness shone a bright and radiant star of hope.
It was well towards dusk when I awoke and my new friend was standing over me. So sound had been my sleep that I had not even heard him unlock the door and he had had to shake me to wake me up.
‘Sorry to disturb you,’ he said with a pleasant smile, ‘but I must be off again in a few minutes. Feel better, don’t you? Well, I must put another wet compress on anyhow. I’ll get that ankle down in a couple of days,’ and with professional pride he began to undo the bandage on my foot.
‘But you’re quite right,’ he went on, ‘about the police. The beggars are after you right enough. All the stations have had notice and you’re wanted on two charges. Assaulting that Mr. Forbes and stealing someone else’s bicycle. I got it out of my cousin at dinner today. There’s a lot of mystery about it, he says, but everyone’s on the look-out.’
An uneasy feeling ran down my spine and I answered with an assurance I did not feel.
‘Pooh, it will be all over in a few days, if only I can keep out of their clutches until the thing dies down. Shall I be all right here do you think for the next few days?’
‘You’ll be all right every night,’ he said, ‘but during the daytime you’ll have to go up on the grandstand again. You see, my mate will be using this shed tomorrow as well as me. He works with me during the day, but fortunately, he never comes until well after eight o’clock. What I thought I’d do is this. I’ll hop round here early and carry you right up on to the top. Whoever comes you’ll be safe up there.’
I thanked him as gratefully as I could for his kindness, but he would have none of it. I had not been mistaken in my estimate of the man. He was a good sport and was evidently prepared to obtain a lot of enjoyment from the difficulty and risks he now saw he ran in hiding me.
I had quite a good night’s rest that night, and when morning came I felt oceans better. My leg, too, was undoubtedly slightly easier.
Piper turned up almost as soon as it was light. He had brought me some beef sandwiches and a bottle of hot tea. To my joy, he had also got the morning’s newspaper.
‘I’ve not had time to read it myself yet,’ he said, ‘but you can give it back tonight. That darned cousin of mine reckons they’ll get you for sure today. They’ve found where you left the bicycle and they reckon you’re hurt and can’t get away far.’
‘The devil they do,’ I muttered, ‘and if they only knew how nearly right they are too.’
Piper laughed. ‘Never mind, sir, they won’t look for you here. I can see this is going to mean some fun for me.’
He carried me up on to the very top of the grandstand and was most solicitous to see that I had everything as far as possible for my comfort. He had made me a nice thick bed of sacks and, lying close behind the rails, while still hidden myself, I had a glorious view of all the country around and could see all that was going on.
‘Now,’ were his parting words, ‘I shan’t come near you again until my mate Scut’s gone tonight. He’s a very nosy chap, is Scut, and will smell something if I give him the slightest chance. To make sure too, I shan’t come for you until it’s quite dark.’
For a long while I gave myself up to my own thoughts. Things really were beginning to look quite hopeful again and, if I could only lie low now for a few days until my foot was quite well again, the odds were decidedly in my favour that I should escape after all.
A dark night, and I could flit away to the bathing hut on Henley Beach. There I could remain indefinitely and ultimately escape to somewhere further afield, when the interest in me had died down. I didn’t somehow reckon that after the first few days the police would be much interested in me. The two definite charges that they had against me were at their worst only trumpery ones and, on their account, they certainly wouldn’t be able to work up much enthusiasm in apprehending me.
Angas Forbes would of course try and make out the blackest case he could against me but, although he’d undoubtedly got the truth of everything, he would have not a little difficulty, I thought, in bringing the authorities to his opinion.
I opened the newspaper a little nervously, wondering what more they would be having to say that morning in their continuation of the Carmichael–Huggins affair. Nothing, however, at first caught my eye, and I was congratulating myself that they had dropped the matter for good, when all at once I came across a paragraph in the column of ‘General News’.
It was quite a short one, but it was ominously significant, and its very terseness made me uneasy. It was headed ‘Dr. Carmichael’, and it just remarked that though for the present they had nothing further to add to their disclosures of Saturday, it was possible that some startling and interesting developments might unfurl themselves shortly.
I guessed what had happened at once. Angas Forbes had been round to them and pitched his tale and they were now waiting for corroboration from Sydney.
It was not by any means a dull one for me, that morning on the grandstand. After I had gone through the newspaper from beginning to end, and particularly had been interested in the sporting columns (wherein I was eulogised as much as I possibly could have wished) I amused myself by looking round through my glasses.
They were very small ones, but they were excellent as far as they went, and I could see quite a long way with them beyond the racecourse. My friend Piper and the nosey-minded Scut were, however, only about a couple of hundred yards away beneath me. They were giving the course rails a new coat of paint.
Scut was certainly a most disreputable man in appearance, and I remembered now I had often noticed him on the course on race-days. He had always looked dirty and unshaven, and was always remarkable for an intensely ragged looking coat over a jersey that, in its palmy days, had been of a most flaming red colour.
Towards midday I began to feel a bit drowsy, and I was just on the very point of dropping off to sleep, when suddenly I saw a car pull up at the racecourse gates on the other side of the course and four men get briskly out.
I was all alert again in a second, for there was no mistaking what they were. They were policemen.
Breathlessly I watched them through my glasses, and to my relief they did not turn at once in the direction of the grandstand. Instead, they walked round along the course until they came to the far corner and then I realised what they intended doing. They had come to search the bushes and the thickets on the other side. Spreading themselves out, in a most business-like manner, they went over the ground, but I wondered with a growing uneasiness what on earth they expected to find.
In a few minutes, however, they were all together again. Evidently they were discussing what they would do next. Then they all got over the rails and came straight in the direction of the enclosure and the stands.
I could feel my mouth get dry with fear. Was there never to be an end, I asked myself, of all these dreadful alarms? Was I never to escape from one peril but to fall directly into another? I wiped the sweat from my forehead with my sleeve.
The policemen came quickly nearer, and I noticed with a little gleam of hope that Piper had moved nearer too. He had left the man Scut and was now busy on the railings just in front of the grandstand.
‘Hello, you there,’ called out one of the policemen, directly he came within speaking distance.
‘Hello,’ replied Piper, ‘what’s up?’
‘Have you seen any strangers about here,’ asked the policeman, ‘either today or yesterday?’
Piper put on such a fine air of stupidity that even in my dreadful anxiety I had to smile.
He scratched his head thoughtfully. ‘There were two boys here yesterday,’ he said slowly, ‘and they’d got a white dog with them. A fox terrier, I believe.’
The policeman snorted contemptuously. ‘It’s a man we’re after,’ he said, ‘not boys or white dogs.’ He came close up to Piper. ‘Now have you seen Huggins,’ he asked sternly, ‘the jockey, I mean?’
‘Huggins,’ replied Piper as if excited at once. ‘No, do you want him? What’s he done?’
‘Never you mind,’ said the policeman rudely, ‘we want him, that’s all. Now, were you at work here yesterday?’
‘Yes, all the morning up to one o’clock.’
‘What time did you come?’
‘I had the hydrants going by eight o’clock.’
The policeman thought for a moment. ‘Could anyone get in any of the buildings here?’
‘No,’ sneered Piper, contemptuous in his turn. ‘They’re all locked.’
‘You’ve got a set of keys, haven’t you?’
‘Yes — I’ve got a set in my shed.’
‘All right, then. We’ll have a look round.’
They were all standing just below me and I could plainly see and hear everything that was taking place.
Piper went and fetched the keys and the policeman in charge rapped out his orders to the other men.
‘Jackson, you come with me. Tweedy, you go and search round the back, and you, Pickle, go and look over the stands. Now look slippery, we’re not going to be here all day.’
The separated at once and the one called Pickle was left alone with Piper.
‘Come on, mate,’ said the latter cheerfully, ‘I’ll go up with you, although it’s damn rot all the same, for I was up on them less than half an hour ago, and I haven’t been out of sight since. Have a fag?’
The policeman looked cautiously round and, finding his superior officer out of sight, graciously accepted the proffered cigarette. He was a short fat man, with a big round innocent looking face, and I thought, thankfully, he was certainly the least formidable of the lot. There might be even now just a chance after all.
‘Damn lot of steps, aren’t there,’ he asked, ‘right up to the top?’
‘Hell of a lot,’ replied Piper, ‘before you get out on to the roof, but there’s a fine view when you get up there. You can see all round.’
The policeman grunted in disgust and accompanied by Piper began slowly to mount the steps. He looked searchingly along each row of seats as he got level.
I was in a perfect fever of dread, but could think of absolutely nothing I could do. I just lay numb and hypnotised, waiting for the end.
The policeman came up higher.
‘Hold hard a minute, old chap,’ exclaimed Piper suddenly, ‘I want to light my fag.’ The fat policeman stopped readily enough, he seemed a bit out of breath.
‘What do they want this bloke, Huggins, for?’ asked Piper, pausing before he struck a match.
‘Dunno,’ grunted the policeman, ‘he’s pinched something, so I believe.’
‘Damn fine jockey, anyhow,’ went on Piper. ‘Did you back Moonlight Maid?’
‘No,’ came the answer with a growl. ‘I’ve not ‘ad a winner for weeks.’
‘Haven’t you?’ asked Piper abruptly, and with a load of sympathy in his voice, ‘then I’ll give you one for Saturday. It’s an absolute certainty, and there are only four people in the know as yet.’ He looked round cautiously and came very near to the policeman. ‘Now can you keep a secret — for sure? Not tell a soul, mind.’
The fat policeman began to breathe heavily. ‘Yuss,’ he replied emphatically. ‘I knows when to hold my tongue.’
Piper looked round in every direction, like the villain in the play — then he put his hand lightly on the fat one’s shoulder.
‘There was a secret trial here yesterday,’ he hissed. ‘A trial between The Bodger and Cask of Rum.’
‘Wot,’ exclaimed the policeman with his eyes doing their best to bulge from his head, ‘a trial on this course, ’ere?’
‘Yes,’ replied Piper, ‘a trial, almost before it was light.’
‘Wot ‘appened? come on, tell us. There’s a sport.’
It was a lurid tale then that the imaginative Piper unfolded. A tale told slowly and with due dramatic emphasis. It appeared that Piper had happened to have come out extra early on the Sunday morning. He had wanted to get his work over early, he said, because a relative was coming later to spend the day with him. He had been in his shed, sorting out his tools. Suddenly he had heard voices. He had looked through the crack of the shed door. He had seen three men on three horses. He had recognised them all, at once. One was Potsworthy the trainer and the other two were the jockeys Heffel and Bert May. They were lined up just in front of the judges’ box. ‘Now, boys,’ had said Potsworthy, ‘ride just as you would in a race and see if The Bodger is good enough to beat Cask of Rum. Once round the course, a mile and a half, that’s the journey, and a box of cigars whoever wins.’ Then followed a wonderful account of a seemingly titanic struggle between the two horses, and of every yard almost of the race there was some happening to tell. The Bodger had taken up the running to the ten furlong post, then Cask of Rum had put in some fine work, and nine furlongs from home he was a good two lengths ahead. Then The Bodger had come again and Cask of Rum had been pegged back, then something else happened and so on and so on.
And all this while the fat policeman stood open-mouthed. He was most impressed. He never for one second took his eyes from Piper’s face, and I saw with thankfulness that, for the time at any rate, he had no further interest in me.
How it would have ended goodness only knows, but suddenly the harsh voice of the sergeant was heard from below.
‘Now then, Pickle,’ was shouted. ‘Where are you — have you gone to sleep?’
‘Coming, Sergeant, coming,’ called back the abruptly awakened Pickle. Then he gripped Piper’s arm sharply.
‘But tell me, who won?’ he whispered hoarsely.
‘The Bodger, by half a street,’ replied Piper.
A beautiful smile beamed on the fat policeman’s face. ‘I’ll ‘ave a dollar on ’im on Saturday, and many thanks, old man,’ and down the steps he trampled heavily, apparently quite oblivious that he had not been over the whole building.
I saw him say something to the sergeant, and in a few minutes they all trooped back over the course and disappeared.
Piper grinned triumphantly to me from down below and then at once rejoined his friend Scut.
At last I could breathe again, but I found I was shaking like a man in an ague. It had been a dreadfully narrow escape, but I was most grateful and I petulantly asked myself when it was all going to end. ‘I am only safe for an hour or two,’ I grumbled, ‘something else will turn up soon and I shall be in the same old danger again.’
I felt so sick of everything that I really think I dropped asleep in sheer disgust. I must have been very tired for it was nearly dark when I awoke. Piper came up to help me to the shed. He seemed very pleased with himself as usual but as before made light of any thanks. He locked me up again for the night and went off whistling in the most happy manner possible.
Next morning my foot was undoubtedly ever so much better and to my delight I could put it to the ground. I was standing up waiting for Piper when he opened the door.
‘My foot’s getting on fine,’ I exclaimed cheerfully. ‘Nearly all the pain’s gone and I can almost use it again. Now, what adventures are we going to have today?’
But for a moment the man said nothing. He had got a newspaper in his hand and I noticed suddenly that he was looking at me in a very strange, old-fashioned way.
‘Look here, Mr. Huggins,’ he burst out at length. ‘You’re not playing the game with me. You’re not acting on the square.’
I could feel my face get flaming hot. ‘What do you mean?’ I asked nervously. ‘What’s up?’
‘That’s what I want to know, exactly — what’s up. Look at this now,’ and he thrust the newspaper he was holding into my hand.
I looked down and instantly I saw what he meant. In great big letters, right across the middle of the page I read:
THE JOCKEY HUGGINS! 500 REWARD!
And in smaller letters underneath, ‘The above sum will be paid to any person or persons furnishing such information as will lead to the discovery of the whereabouts of the same. Apply Mr. Angas Forbes, The Great Australasian Hotel.’
I glanced quickly over the page, but that was apparently all there was about me.
A dreadful sinking feeling came over me, and I leant against the wall for support. Once again it seemed, the bottom was falling out of all my hopes. Piper was watching me intently.
‘Look here again,’ he said earnestly. ‘As I told you before, I don’t love the police and I’m not afraid of risks. But I want to know where I stand, and no man’s going to put it across me for a mug if I can help it. Now you told me,’ he went on sharply, ‘that they were after you just because you’d knocked a man down. You said the man wasn’t hurt.’ He sneered contemptuously. ‘They wouldn’t be offering five hundred pounds for that and I believe you killed him after all.’
I had to think rapidly. Five hundred pounds reward and the whole state would be like a pack of wolves upon my track. Whether they knew or not what I was wanted for, imaginations would everywhere be stirred and every man and woman would be hot upon the scent. I could grasp exactly how things stood. Angas Forbes was sure of everything, but he had proof of nothing until I was actually produced. He must get hold of me to show I was not the real Carmichael. Hence his masterstroke of offering a reward of five hundred pounds.
What could I do? I must tell Piper everything. What alternative had I? He had me in the hollow of his hand. I couldn’t humbug him with any safety.
I pulled myself together and looked him straight in the face.
‘I told you only the truth,’ I said quite quietly. ‘I didn’t hurt the man. He’s the one offering the reward.’
Piper sniffed. ‘Five hundred pounds because you knocked him down. Do you want me to believe that?’
I didn’t raise my voice at all. I held his eyes intently with my own.
‘Do you always read the newspapers, Piper?’ I asked.
He gave me a hard and calculating frown.
‘Yes, always. What of that?’
‘I’m going to startle you then,’ I said.
‘I’m startled already,’ he remarked drily.
I was silent for a moment. Knowing I had no choice, I still hesitated to take the plunge. I spoke at last.
‘Do you remember then last year reading about a prisoner who escaped from the courts after he’d been sentenced — a man called Cups?’
‘Yes,’ he replied sullenly, ‘I remember, but what of him?’
‘I’m Cups,’ I said simply.
For quite a long minute there was silence between us. He looked at me very thoughtfully.
‘You’re a liar,’ he said, very quietly. ‘Cups had a big nose.’
I pulled him roughly by the arm. ‘Look here, man,’ I said angrily. ‘Come into the light. See those scars there. Pass your finger over them. Feel them. I had all the bone and cartilage taken out of my nose. Dr. Carmichael did it. I’m not lying. It’s dead truth. When I escaped, Dr. Carmichael hid me. He operated upon me and altered my face. I have to tell you everything because there’s no help for it now. I’ve lived in his house over nine months. He died six months ago but, before he died, he gave me everything. Now his friend, this man Forbes, has come here and I can’t explain anything, because if I do, they’ll all know I’m Cups. I swear to you it’s all solemn truth.’
It was a very quiet and thoughtful Piper that a quarter of an hour later helped me again up into the grandstand. He had been most incredulous at first, but I had convinced him at last, and in quite an enthusiastic way he had sworn to see me through. Myself I had no misgivings at all about his loyalty. I had made him understand that five hundred pounds would be a very small reward for me to give him, but quite apart from that I fully believed he would have helped me in any case. He was really delighted with the risks he was taking. It was adventure to him. He was the type of man whose energies should rightly have been expended in any direction other than the monotonous one he was then engaged upon. My coming was the scarlet patch upon an otherwise drab and uneventful life.
Last updated Tuesday, August 25, 2015 at 14:08