Chapter 146808554

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Chapter NumberI
Chapter TitleA FATAL QUARREL.
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article146808554
Full Date1897-12-24
Page Number1
Corrections0
Word Count1891
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleThe Narracoorte Herald (SA : 1875 - 1954)
Trove TitleBy False Pretences; or, The Dilemma of Norman Lennox. A Christmas Story
article text

OR,

?A. OSTSIST^yLA-S STORY.

.. . . By Arthur Dayk,

±uBior of " The Glitter of Gold," " On the Edge of a Precipice," <fee.

CHAPTER J.

A FATAL QUABREL.

It was an intensely hot night, about a fortnight before Christmas. - The bright moonlight cast weird shadows from the tall gum trees athwart the sandy expanse, by courtesy called the main street of the township of Yanooc. The usual character

- istics of a bush- township - the inevitable ?

store, hotel, butcher's, and blacksmith's— facing the aforesaid strip of red sand,, with about thirty wooden cottages with galvanised iron roofs straggling irregularly for a quarter of a mile on either side. To-night the moonlight gave the ordinarily common-place township a somewhat romantic look, compared with the sordid ness of-its appearance in the fail light of the garish day. ? Even the iron roofs lost their hideously-commercial appearance, and gleamed, in shining patches against the sombre background of the melancholy . eucalypts. Outside the hotel two kerosene lamps sufficed to show the. recumbent forms of three or fonr laboring men—carters and the like - who were, lolling lazily on the floor of the verandah, finding it too hot even to talk about racing, while on the water-trough at the edge of the cart-way sat several others, apparently of a grade higher in the social scale.

Said one, " Let's go down to Leon Caron's wine shop, and liave a hand at cards." . .

"No fear,".said another. "Too hot

to-night to play cards. Costs'too much ; • at Caron's too/'

" Well,5 rejoined the first speaker, " if . you win you win more."

" Yea, and if you lose, you're broke," "laughed his companion, "Anyhow; it's too hot to be inside to-night."

During the conversation the glances of the party had been directed with languid interest towards the furthest house visible to the right, where, at that distance, could just be distinguished a .light—the only one apparent in the township, save at the

hotel. ?

Approaching it from the centre of the township, Caron's dwelling appeared to be simitar to the other cottages, but on the spot, it could be seen that the build . iug extended considerably at the rear,

where a large room was'fitted up as a

wine Baloon.

It- was always a puzzle why Caron should have opened a saloon of this oharacter in a place like Yanooc, with its limited population. Still, there was a large area of good country cm every side, and there were few, from squatters to ronseabouts,:in ihe district, who were not patrons of Leon Caron. Not that the

wine he sold had a greater charm than j the whisky or colonial beer of the hotel, ]

bat because there was always the chance of winning—or losing - at cards, and the. monotony of bush and station life knows no variation so.acceptable as the excite ment of a gamble. Some' of those who frequented his place shook their heads dubiously when Caron's business was under discussion, and hintedat more than one squatter being under the financial thumb of this suave furtive-eyed French

man.

Whether wineseller, sharper, or usurer, Caron gave no man a clue to his affairs, and his customers just accepted his polite ness for what it was worth", and enjoyed themselves in their own way—and paid for it. ^

To-night there were only twqpersons in the saloon. At a small table, at one end of the room, they sat a bottle of wine and two glasses on an adjacent chair, and a little pile of gold on the table beside the cards.

Oaron wasaboutforty, swarthy, lithe and muscular, with a suggestion of the savage inhissinisterexpression. His companion, Norman Lennox, was twenty-three, fair, with a naturally frank, good-looking face, and the physique of an athlete. But his features were just now distorted with

intense passion, while Caron's grew more evil in their expression momentarily. ^

. The two men sat bolt upright, regarding. each other fiercely. Lennox, with his right hand had gripped Caron's left, which

covered a card on the table. The situation was obvious—Lennox had caught him cheating.

A moment later Caronjg wrist was given a half twist, and the card lay revealed.

" You French dog!" said Lennox, savagely.

The, men rose to their feet simul taneously, ' Lennox still held Caron's wrist in that vice like grip, and the

Frenchman winced. But it was at the

speech, not the pain.

His right hand slowly dropped to the' pocket of his sac coat. Lennox, never taking his glance from those basilisk eyes, now furiously ablaze, noted the movement and its import. The next instant there

[ was a gleam of steel in the air, but the

other was too quick, and a terrific hit on the point of the jaw from his adversary's left had hurled Caron backward, -the gleam of the curious-bladed- knife describ-. ing almost a circle in the air, as its owner fell, striking his head sharply against the iron-hooped edge of a quarter-cask of wine standing on the floor. _ Lennox relaxed his aggressive attitude as Caron," with a convulsive movement and a gasping cry, grew strangely still. His eyes lost their blaze, his face became pallid, and from beneath the dark head came- an

ominous crimson stream, that soaked; slowly into the sawdust on the floor.

A horrible fear seized Lennox. He

knelt beside the prostrate man, raising his head. He could feel the warm blood

trickling through his fingers. He called Caron by name, but there was no reply, and an ashen hue overspread the French man's features.

A slight noise made Norman look up. In the doorway stood a tall, well-dressed man. He had a riding whip in one hand, and with the other he was thoughtfully stroking a well-trimmed black beard. His natural surprise .at the scene before liim was mingled with a curiously sardonic expression, and his air was that of'one who is rapidly solving" a suddenly-pre sented problem.

Lennox sprang to his feet with an

exclamation of relief. " Ob, Martin, .1

am glad you're here." Quickly explaining what had happened, he concluded, "See.

if he's alive. I'm afraid I've killed him."

There was intense agony in his request, but the inscrutable figure at the door did not move. Still stroking his beard de liberately, Dr Martin Shaw looked search ingly at the prone heap of humanity at the knife on the floor, the overturned table, and the scattered sovereigns. Then his gaze rested on the blood-stained hands of the man who "was addressing him. Without jnoving, he said coolly :

. " It woald be no loss if you had killed him."

Lennox made an impatient movement, as though he would have taken the doctor by the arm aud dragged him forwardl

Without apparent intention, Shaw evaded the grasp of those blood-stained hands,- and came nearer to the prostrate, man. He bent-over the recumbent form, felt' the pulse, and laid his hand on Caron's heart He gave a slow significant shake of the head. Norman Lennox, watching him closely, felt his blood chill

and Ins knees tremble. He sank into a

chair, where he could not see the ghastly face on the floor. Dr Shaw rose and stood before him, looking down- at his white anguished features as oue would look at a rat in a trap.

, Tn a dry, husky whisper Lennox asked

" Is—is he ?" He could not say

the word.

The doctor nodded. "His neok is broken." he said

Norman's head sank on his breast. " Great heaven! Martin, what shall I do 1" he gasped.

There was an oppressive silence for a minute or two, and then Shaw said quietly: .

"Take my'ad vice—get out of this.

You have no nerve. There is no one here but ourselves, for I saw Caron's man down at the hotel as 1 came by. Did he see you here 1"

*• I saw nobody but Caron," was the reply. "I have only been here an hour."

The doctor's eyes gleamed. " Then get away. Go back to my place. Take the first train in the morning to Mel bourne, and book your passage by the earliest steamer to London. Lose your

self there for awhile."

What's the use ? If I change mv i name, I shall meet somebody who knows j

me."

" I don't say change your name," said > Shaw, in the same even tones. There is

no need; Follow me quickly in what IJ

j say. or we shall be found' here. Nobody

but myself knows yon' have been here. If you leave. Yanooc in the morningiand take the train at Lirana I will giro 'out that you went away early this morning. You have not been near the township these two, days." :

" And what about—that ?'• and 'Nor

man shuddered, as he pointed to the

floor.

- " Leave that to me," said the doctor. " But [ must have some money to work with—to cover the retreat, as it- were.' It's a big risk for me, but I'll do itdcr you. You won't be heard of in the - mat ter, but get right out of the country, for you'll betra yourself if you don't. Write me a cheque for £500, and -I'll hide the whole traged>. Be quick, man, unless you want to be hanged. Wash yonr hands, and write me the cheque."

Like a man in a mesineric stupor, Len nox obeyed him. The doctor stood listening 'attentive y for the sound of approaching footsteps, but as yet, there was no sound except the occasional chirp of a cricket,' or the droning hum of. the myriad mosquitoes attracted through the open door by the light.

When Lennox hauded him the cheque,

Shaw said

" How about that £100 I owe you T'

"Don't mention it," said the other. " If you can save me from this I shall owe you everything."

"Rely on me," said Shaw. "Don't ask me how I'd manage. You'll know some day but vanish from Australia as quickly as you can. Don't change yonr name, mind, or that may provoke-aus picion somewhere. , You need not be apprehensive,'if you do as I tell yoiu' Not another word—go," add he' urged him through the door, closing it behind 1dm.

Norman walked, as in a horrib e night

mate, away from the township towards Dr. Shaw's house, a mile and a half dis tant. He had been staying with him oh a visit for the past month. There would be no one in the house,-he-knew, for the doctor was a bachelor-, and his domestic arraugemehts were attended to by the wife of a neighbor, who' came in for an hoar or two .each day. - He reached his room, flung himself oh the bed and-gave himself over to an agonizing retrospection of the events of the night. -

When the door .closed^behind- Lennox, Dr Shaw turned awaywith :a curious smile upon his face. He stooped and picked up'the . scattered Coins^pocketing them, with the slender BtUettq-iikB knife which had dropped from Osron's hand when he fe'l. He set up the overturned table, and then, taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves, he proceeded to deal witli_the body of Caron.