|Newspaper Title||Western Mail (Perth, WA : 1885 - 1954)|
|Trove Title||The Wealth of the West|
OUR SERIAL STORY. THE "WEALTH OF THE WEST."
BY LOUIS MONTCALM.
[WRITTEN FOR THE WESTERN MAIL.]
" What ?" said Bates breathlessly.
Conyers rose and put his hands on his
" You don't like my talking of it, I can see ; but don't be alarmed, I am all right. I am not in the least excited. That night, Bates, I had another key. Now do you understand ? You once out
of the way, I was as free to act on my
mad impulse as if the door was wide
They stood looking at one another. Frank had a rather mournful smile on his face. The full significance of what he had done dawned on Bates, and he repeated helplessly—
" You had another key !"
" I am afraid I have the best of this debate, old boy."
" This is sudden. Give me time to think. A second key ?"
" And she said she saw me."
" But that was in the moonlight—she may have been mistaken."
" Anything is possible. She may have
" But if you can remember that much, why cannot you remember more ?"
" I can. But it is very little. The attack had not got its full hold on me up to that moment, for I can remember running on in the dark. It's a night- marish sort of remembrance, and some- thing tells me that if I follow it—well, that something unpleasant will happen to me. My mind gets confused. I can just remember running on and on in the dark, and the darkness gets more and more dark as I think about it, and that is the end—always running on and on, and always in the dark."
" Cheerful. And I have been to Scot- land Yard. There is too much variety in this world for me, Frank. What the dickens are we to do ?"
" I don't know that we need do any- thing. If I did the deed, life won't in- terest me much afterwards, and I would prefer to have it ended ; and if I haven't, why they are the best people to clear me, which is all I want, since Margaret believes me guilty."
" That may be very philosophical, but where do I and my peace of mind come in? And for heaven's sake don't start
talking in that resigned way about the end of all things. I say again I don't and won't believe you had anything to
do with it."
Conyers shrugged his shoulders.
" I may feel interested to-morrow, Bates. I don't to-day. You can call it a phase of egotism if you like—it makes no difference to the fact ; but it makes a man feel as if fate was playing cat and mouse with him, and I am getting tired of the part of mouse."
" Not at all," old man. There's nothing easier than to hear somebody else's troubles (that is why I can work off so much wisdom in reference to yours), but if I were in the same place I daresay I should hear it with a good deal worse grace. All the same, it seems to me I have done a most infernally awkward thing in rousing up the police about the matter; and—and—well, I wish I had left the whole business alone, and not given way to what I thought was a more than usually lucid attack of common sense. Oh, come in—come in," as a
knock sounded on the door.
" My name is Wilkinson—from Scot- land Yard. You called this morning."
" Yes, I did," said Bates, "and I wish to the Lord I had done anything else."
" Indeed," said Wilkinson, seating himself "and why may that be ?"
Bates arose, and walked up and down
Conyers remained, without altering his position or exhibiting the least in- terest in what was going on.
Bates took two or three turns before answering, and then with a look at his friend, he said—
" The mischief is done, and can't he
A pause, and then desperately—
" There is the man himself—ask him." Wilkinson looked at Conyers, and
Frank drew a long breath, and, speak- ing with the same desperate hopelessness as Bates, said shortly.
" The fact is, Mr. Wilkinson, I believe I was the man who did the deed myself."
" I beg your pardon," said Mr. Wilkinson.
" The whole thing is a bad tangle," said Bates. "Hear what he has to say, and if you can give us a hand out of the mess for heaven's sake do it."
" Amen," said Conyers. "Now listen," and he told the story of his strange affliction, and the suspicion that he him-
self had committed the murder of the Warden.
Mr Wilkinson listened carefully to the end.
" This is a strange story," he said.
" I have followed you closely. All men are alike to me, and I would as soon sus- pect either of you, if the circumstances pointed that way, as anyone else. That may not be complimentary, but you can
understand that with me it would be
He paused a moment, and looked at them questioningly.
" I can quite understand. These questions to us are modified by personal considerations—to you they are merely so many propositions."
" That is about it. I have said so much, to clear the ground. Had I formed any suspicion that what you have said was not the truth so far as you know it, I would have said something very different. But under the circum- stances, I quite believe that you have placed the case fairly before me. The worst thing about it is that you are in the deuce of a hole. You have—or, rather, your friend has brought this on you—and there is no question of being able to draw back. It is deuced un- pleasant for you, Mr. Conyers, for I must place these facts before my chief, and the first thing to be done will be to place you under arrest. You see I am in a way as queerly placed as you are. From the way in which you have acted, I am aware that I shall have no opposi- tion from you; but from the way in which I must act, it looks as if you were a suspected murderer. I must frankly say that I wish some other man had been told off to deal with this affair. Of course the game is up now—but what the deuce did you want to say anything about it for ? They suspect the nigger —the nigger is no doubt safe back among his people, lost like a rain-drop in the ocean—and there might have been the end of it. Upon my soul you amaze me—you have been so insanely foolish."
" I don't want to go into details over the matter, Mr. Wilkinson, but you must understand that it would be impossible for me to go about and take any serious
interest in life with a thing like that on my mind. If I can be cleared, well and good—for private reasons only, for I shall be glad that my friends may not think unjustly of me, but I would rather pass out of the whole business of living altogether. You see I have been rather hard hit, whereas if I am guilty of doing the thing, while off my head, well, things are so with me that there would be a grain of comfort even in that being
" And as I am responsible for bringing the whole racket about, Mr. Wilkinson," said the miserable Bates, "you can imagine that I enjoy the thing exceed- ingly—exceedingly."
" If you had not brought it about, Bates, I should," said Conyers, "so that need not weigh on your conscience."
" Tell me again the whole of the events of the evening, trivial or otherwise—let me know, so far as you can recall, liter- ally everything that occurred. I may say, though, in spite of it not being, I suppose, any satisfaction to you as you are placed, that as no body has been recovered, there is no proof of murder having been committed."
" No, Mr. Wilkinson. I am suspected, as I have shown you, by the only people whom I care about ; and if they think I am guilty, technical niceties don't matter
to me much."
Mr. Wilkinson inclined his head.
" I am very sorry. Now we will go over the ground again."
* * *
" It may be, Mr. Conyers," he said when the story was again finished, "that your suspicion of yourself may be correct. There is a point, however, that you seem to have missed, and that is that the conduct of the nigger in just at that time withdrawing from the country may have been because he knew he was indeed the guilty man, or because he simply wished to avoid any further association with white men. That's all right—there is nothing definite in that at all, in itself; but, taken in conjunc- tion with the fact that he was wearing at the time a suit that closely resembled your own—"
" Heaven and earth !" cried Bates, " I had overlooked that. You have hit it— that accounts for everything. Frank, old boy, you are saved."
" I trust so, I am sure," said the detec- tive, " but we must not count our chickens too early, you know."
" You have placed a more hopeful look on things, however," said Conyers. " I will go with you as you return. You will not need the handcuffs, I think."
" I would not joke about the matter, sir, if I were you," said the officer. " I have shown you one explanation which may or may not turn out the truth. You may have nothing to thank me for when
all is over."