A Bid for Fortune. Or, Dr Nikola’s Vendetta - Guy Boothby - ebook

A Bid for Fortune. Or, Dr Nikola’s Vendetta ebook

Guy Boothby

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Guy Boothby, an Australian writer, became famous thanks to his famous character – the mysterious Dr. Nicolas, who has truly terrible power over people, and a clever con man hiding under the guise of gentlemen. The author deliberately „introduces” us into the story through a generally outsider who accidentally gets involved in the ups and downs of this story. And the riddle here is not who the criminal is, but what he needs from his victim.

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Contents

PROLOGUE—DR NIKOLA

PART I

I. I DETERMINE TO TAKE A HOLIDAY— SYDNEY, AND WHAT BEFELL ME THERE

II. LONDON

III. I VISIT MY RELATIONS

IV. I SAVE AN IMPORTANT LIFE

V. MYSTERY

VI. I MEET DR NIKOLA AGAIN

VII. PORT SAID, AND WHAT BEFELL US THERE

VIII. OUR IMPRISONMENT AND ATTEMPT AT ESCAPE

IX. DR NIKOLA PERMITS US A FREE PASSAGE

PART II

I. WE REACH AUSTRALIA, AND THE RESULT

II. ON THE TRAIL

III. LORD BECKENHAM’S STORY

IV. FOLLOWING UP A CLUE

V. THE ISLANDS AND WHAT WE FOUND THERE

VI. CONCLUSION

PROLOGUE–DR NIKOLA

THE manager of the new Imperial Restaurant on the Thames Embankment went into his luxurious private office and shut the door. Having done so, he first scratched his chin reflectively, and then took a letter from the drawer in which it had reposed for more than two months and perused it carefully. Though he was not aware of it, this was the thirtieth time he had read it since breakfast that morning. And yet he was not a whit nearer understanding it than he had been at the beginning. He turned it over and scrutinised the back, where not a sign of writing was to be seen; he held it up to the window, as if he might hope to discover something from the watermark; but there was evidently nothing in either of these places of a nature calculated to set his troubled mind at rest. Then, though he had a clock upon his mantelpiece in good working order, he took a magnificent repeater watch from his waistcoat pocket and glanced at the dial; the hands stood at half-past seven. He immediately threw the letter on the table, and as he did so his anxiety found relief in words.

“It’s really the most extraordinary affair I ever had to do with,” he remarked to the placid face of the clock above mentioned. “And as I’ve been in the business just three-and-thirty years at eleven a.m. next Monday morning, I ought to know something about it. I only hope I’ve done right, that’s all.”

As he spoke, the chief bookkeeper, who had the treble advantage of being tall, pretty, and just eight-and-twenty years of age, entered the room. She noticed the open letter and the look upon her chief’s face, and her curiosity was proportionately excited.

“You seem worried, Mr McPherson,” she said tenderly, as she put down the papers she had brought in for his signature.

“You have just hit it, Miss O’Sullivan,” he answered, pushing them farther on to the table. “I am worried about many things, but particularly about this letter.”

He handed the epistle to her, and she, being desirous of impressing him with her business capabilities, read it with ostentatious care. But it was noticeable that when she reached the signature she too turned back to the beginning, and then deliberately read it over again. The manager rose, crossed to the mantelpiece, and rang for the head waiter. Having relieved his feelings in this way, he seated himself again at his writing-table, put on his glasses, and stared at his companion, while waiting for her to speak.

“It’s very funny,” she said at length, seeing that she was expected to say something. “Very funny indeed!”

“It’s the most extraordinary communication I have ever received,” he replied with conviction. “You see it is written from Cuyaba, Brazil. The date is three months ago to a day. Now I have taken the trouble to find out where and what Cuyaba is.”

He made this confession with an air of conscious pride, and having done so, laid himself back in his chair, stuck his thumbs into the arm-holes of his waistcoat, and looked at his fair subordinate for approval.

Nor was he destined to be disappointed. He was a bachelor in possession of a snug income, and she, besides being a pretty woman, was a lady with a keen eye to the main chance.

“And where is Cuyaba?” she asked humbly.

“Cuyaba,” he replied, rolling his tongue with considerable relish round his unconscious mispronunciation of the name, “is a town almost on the western or Bolivian border of Brazil. It is of moderate size, is situated on the banks of the river Cuyaba, and is considerably connected with the famous Brazilian Diamond Fields.”

“And does the writer of this letter live there?”

“I cannot say. He writes from there–that is enough for us.”

“And he orders dinner for four–here, in a private room overlooking the river, three months ahead–punctually at eight o’clock, gives you a list of the things he wants, and even arranges the decoration of the table. Says he has never seen either of his three friends before; that one of them hails from (here she consulted the letter again) Hang-chow, another from Bloemfontein, while the third resides, at present, in England. Each one is to present an ordinary visiting card with a red dot on it to the porter in the hall, and to be shown to the room at once. I don’t understand it at all.”

The manager paused for a moment, and then said deliberately–

“Hang-chow is in China, Bloemfontein is in South Africa.”

“What a wonderful man you are, to be sure, Mr McPherson! I never can think how you manage to carry so much in your head.”

There spoke the true woman. And it was a move in the right direction, for the manager was susceptible to her gentle influence, as she had occasion to know.

At this juncture the head waiter appeared upon the scene, and took up a position just inside the doorway, as if he were afraid of injuring the carpet by coming further.

“Is No 22 ready, Williams?”

“Quite ready, sir. The wine is on the ice, and cook tells me he’ll be ready to dish punctual to the moment.”

“The letter says, “no electric light; candles with red shades.’ Have you put on those shades I got this morning?”

“Just seen it done this very minute, sir.”

“And let me see, there was one other thing.” He took the letter from the chief bookkeeper’s hand and glanced at it.

“Ah, yes, a porcelain saucer, and a small jug of new milk upon the mantelpiece. An extraordinary request, but has it been attended to?”

“I put it there myself, sir.”

“Who wait?”

“Jones, Edmunds, Brooks, and Tomkins.”

“Very good. Then I think that will do. Stay! You had better tell the hall porter to look out for three gentlemen presenting plain visiting cards with a little red spot on them. Let Brooks wait in the hall, and when they arrive tell him to show them straight up to the room.”

“It shall be done, sir.”

The head waiter left the room, and the manager stretched himself in his chair, yawned by way of showing his importance, and then said solemnly–

“I don’t believe they’ll any of them turn up; but if they do, this Dr Nikola, whoever he may be, won’t be able to find fault with my arrangements.”

Then, leaving the dusty high road of Business, he and his companion wandered in the shady bridle-paths of Love to the end that when the chief bookkeeper returned to her own department she had forgotten the strange dinner party about to take place upstairs, and was busily engaged upon a calculation as to how she would look in white satin and orange blossoms, and, that settled, fell to wondering whether it was true, as Miss Joyce, a subordinate, had been heard to declare, that the manager had once shown himself partial to a certain widow with reputed savings and a share in an extensive egg and dairy business.

At ten minutes to eight precisely a hansom drew up at the steps of the hotel. As soon as it stopped, an undersized gentleman, with a clean-shaven countenance, a canonical corporation, and bow legs, dressed in a decidedly clerical garb, alighted. He paid and discharged his cabman, and then took from his ticket pocket an ordinary white visiting card, which he presented to the gold-laced individual who had opened the apron. The latter, having noted the red spot, called a waiter, and the reverend gentleman was immediately escorted upstairs.

Hardly had the attendant time to to his station in the hall, before a second cab made its appearance, closely followed by a third. Out of the second jumped a tall, active, well-built man of about thirty years of age. He was dressed in evening dress of the latest fashion, and to conceal it from the vulgar gaze, wore a large Inverness cape of heavy texture. He also in his turn handed a white card to the porter, and, having done so, proceeded into the hall, followed by the occupant of the last cab, who had closely copied his example. This individual was also in evening dress, but it was of a different stamp. It was old-fashioned and had seen much use. The wearer, too, was taller than the ordinary run of men, while it was noticeable that his hair was snow-white, and that his face was deeply pitted with smallpox. After disposing of their hats and coats in an ante-room, they reached room No 22, where they found the gentleman in clerical costume pacing impatiently up and down.

Left alone, the tallest of the trio, who for want of a better title we may call the Best Dressed Man, took out his watch, and having glanced at it, looked at his companions.

“Gentlemen,” he said, with a slight American accent, “it is three minutes to eight o’clock. My name is Eastover!”

“I’m glad to hear it, for I’m most uncommonly hungry,” said the next tallest, whom I have already described as being so marked by disease. “My name is Prendergast!”

“We only wait for our friend and host,” remarked the clerical gentleman, as if he felt he ought to take a share in the conversation, and then, as if an afterthought had struck him, he continued, “My name is Baxter!”

They shook hands all round with marked cordiality, seated themselves again, and took it in turns to examine the clock.

“Have you ever had the pleasure of meeting our host before?” asked Mr Baxter of Mr Prendergast.

“Never,” replied that gentleman, with a shake of his head. “Perhaps Mr Eastover has been more fortunate?”

“Not I,” was the brief rejoinder. “I’ve had to do with him off and on for longer than I care to reckon, but I’ve never set eyes on him up to date.”

“And where may he have been the first time you heard from him?”

“In Nashville, Tennessee,” said Eastover. “After that, Tahupapa, New Zealand; after that, Papeete, in the Society Islands; then Pekin, China. And you?”

“First time, Brussels; second, Monte Video; third, Mandalay, and then the Gold Coast, Africa. It’s your turn, Mr Baxter.”

The clergyman glanced at the timepiece. It was exactly eight o’clock.

“First time, Cabul, Afghanistan; second, Nijni Novgorod, Russia; third, Wilcannia, Darling River, Australia; fourth, Valparaiso, Chile; fifth, Nagasaki, Japan.”

“He is evidently a great traveller and a most mysterious person.”

“He is more than that,” said Eastover with conviction; “he is late for dinner!”

Prendergast looked at his watch.

“That clock is two minutes fast. Hark, there goes Big Ben! Eight exactly.”

As he spoke the door was thrown open and a voice announced “Dr Nikola.”

The three men sprang to their feet simultaneously, with exclamations of astonishment, as the man they had been discussing made his appearance.

It would take more time than I can spare the subject to give you an adequate and inclusive description of the person who entered the room at that moment. In stature he was slightly above the ordinary, his shoulders were broad, his limbs perfectly shaped and plainly muscular, but very slim. His head, which was magnificently set upon his shoulders, was adorned with a profusion of glossy black hair; his face was destitute of beard or moustache, and was of oval shape and handsome moulding; while his skin was of a dark olive hue, a colour which harmonised well with his piercing black eyes and pearly teeth. His hands and feet were small, and the greatest dandy must have admitted that he was irreproachably dressed, with a neatness that bordered on the puritanical. In age he might have been anything from eight-and-twenty to forty; in reality he was thirty-three. He advanced into the room and walked with outstretched hand directly across to where Eastover was standing by the fireplace.

“Mr Eastover, I feel certain,” he said, fixing his glittering eyes upon the man he addressed, and allowing a curious smile to play upon his face.

“That is my name, Dr Nikola,” the other answered with evident surprise. “But how on earth can you distinguish me from your other guests?”

“Ah! it would surprise you if you knew. And Mr Prendergast, and Mr Baxter. This is delightful; I hope I am not late. We had a collision in the Channel this morning, and I was almost afraid I might not be up to time. Dinner seems ready; shall we sit down to it?”

They seated themselves, and the meal commenced. The Imperial Restaurant has earned an enviable reputation for doing things well, and the dinner that night did not in any way detract from its lustre. But delightful as it all was, it was noticeable that the three guests paid more attention to their host than to his excellent menu. As they had said before his arrival, they had all had dealings with him for several years, but what those dealings were they were careful not to describe. It was more than possible that they hardly liked to remember them themselves.

When coffee had been served and the servants had withdrawn, Dr Nikola rose from the table, and went across to the massive sideboard. On it stood a basket of very curious shape and workmanship. This he opened, and as he did so, to the astonishment of his guests, an enormous cat, as black as his master’s coat, leaped out on to the floor. The reason for the saucer and jug of milk became evident.

Seating himself at the table again, the host followed the example of his guests and lit a cigar, blowing a cloud of smoke luxuriously through his delicately chiselled nostrils. His eyes wandered round the cornice of the room, took in the pictures and decorations, and then came down to meet the faces of his companions. As they did so, the black cat, having finished its meal, sprang on to his shoulder to crouch there, watching the three men through the curling smoke drift with its green, blinking, fiendish eyes.

Dr Nikola smiled as he noticed the effect the animal had upon his guests.

“Now shall we get to business?” he said briskly.

The others almost simultaneously knocked the ashes off their cigars and brought themselves to attention. Dr Nikola’s dainty, languid manner seemed to drop from him like a cloak, his eyes brightened, and his voice, when he spoke, was clean cut as chiselled silver.

“You are doubtless anxious to be informed why I summoned you from all parts of the globe to meet me here tonight? And it is very natural you should be. But then from what you know of me you should not be surprised at anything I do.”

His voice gradually dropped back into its old tone of gentle languor. He drew in a great breath of smoke and then sent it slowly out from his lips again. His eyes were half closed, and he drummed with one finger on the table edge.

The cat looked through the smoke at the three men, and it seemed to them that he grew every moment larger and more ferocious. Presently his owner took him from his perch and seating him on his knee fell to stroking his fur, from head to tail, with his long slim fingers. It was as if he were drawing inspiration for some deadly mischief from the uncanny beast.

The black cat looked through the smoke at the three men.

“To preface what I have to say to you, let me tell you that this is by far the most important business for which I have ever required your help. (Three slow strokes down the centre of the back and one round each ear.) When it first came into my mind I was at a loss who to trust in the matter. I thought of Vendon, but I found Vendon was dead. I thought of Brownlow, but Brownlow was no longer faithful. (Two strokes down the back and two on the throat.) Then bit by bit I remembered you. I was in Brazil at the time. So I sent for you. You came, and we meet here. So far so good.”

He rose and crossed over to the fireplace. As he went the cat crawled back to its original position on his shoulder. Then his voice changed once more to its former business-like tone.

“I am not going to tell you very much about it. But from what I do tell you, you will be able to gather a great deal and imagine the rest. To begin with, there is a man living in this world today who has done me a great and lasting injury. What that injury is is no concern of yours. You would not understand if I told you. So we’ll leave that out of the question. He is immensely rich. His cheque for £300,000 would be honoured by his bank at any minute. Obviously he is a power. He has had reason to know that I am pitting my wits against his, and he flatters himself that so far he has got the better of me. That is because I am drawing him on. I am maturing a plan which will make him a poor and a very miserable man at one and the same time. If that scheme succeeds, and I am satisfied with the way you three men have performed the parts I shall call on you to play in it, I shall pay to each of you the sum of £10,000. If it doesn’t succeed, then you will each receive a thousand and your expenses. Do you follow me?”

It was evident from their faces that they hung upon his every word.

“But, remember, I demand from you your whole and entire labour. While you are serving me you are mine body and soul. I know you are trustworthy. I have had good proof that you are–pardon the expression–unscrupulous, and I flatter myself you are silent. What is more, I shall tell you nothing beyond what is necessary for the carrying out of my scheme, so that you could not betray me if you would. Now for my plans!”

He sat down again and took a paper from his pocket. Having perused it, he turned to Eastover.

“You will leave at once–that is to say, by the boat on Wednesday–for Sydney. You will book your passage tomorrow morning, first thing, and join her in Plymouth. You will meet me tomorrow evening at an address I will send you and receive your final instructions. Good-night.”

Seeing that he was expected to go, Eastover rose, shook hands, and left the room without a word. He was too astonished to hesitate or to say anything.

Nikola took another letter from his pocket and turned to Prendergast.

“You will go down to Dover tonight, cross to Paris tomorrow morning, and leave this letter personally at the address you will find written on it. On Thursday, at half-past two precisely, you will deliver me an answer in the porch at Charing Cross. You will find sufficient money in that envelope to pay all your expenses. Now go!”

“At half-past two you shall have your answer. Good-night.”

“Good-night.”

When Prendergast had left the room, Dr Nikola lit another cigar and turned his attentions to Mr Baxter.

“Six months ago, Mr Baxter, I found for you a situation as tutor to the young Marquis of Beckenham. You still hold it, I suppose?”

“I do.”

“Is the Duke, the lad’s father, well disposed towards you?”

“In every way. I have done my best to ingratiate myself with him. That was one of your instructions, if you will remember.”

“Yes, yes! But I was not certain that you would succeed. If the old man is anything like what he was when I last met him, he must still be a difficult person to deal with. Does the boy like you?”

“I hope so.”

“Have you brought me his photograph as I directed?”

“I have. Here it is.”

Baxter took a photograph from his pocket and handed it across the table.

“Good. You have done very well, Mr Baxter. I am pleased with you. Tomorrow morning you will go back to Yorkshire–”

“I beg your pardon, Bournemouth. His Grace owns a house near Bournemouth, which he occupies during the summer mouths.”

“Very well–then tomorrow morning you will go back to Bournemouth and continue to ingratiate yourself with father and son. You will also begin to implant in the boy’s mind a desire for travel. Don’t let him become aware that his desire has its source in you–but do not fail to foster it all you can. I will communicate with you further in a day or two. Now go.”

Baxter in his turn left the room. The door closed. Dr Nikola picked up the photograph and studied it carefully.

“The likeness is unmistakable–or it ought to be. My friend, my very dear friend, Wetherell, my toils are closing on you. My arrangements are perfecting themselves admirably. Presently when all is complete I shall press the lever, the machinery will be set in motion, and you will find yourself being slowly but surely ground into powder. Then you will hand over what I want, and be sorry you thought fit to baulk Dr Nikola!”

He rang the bell and ordered his bill. This duty discharged he placed the cat back in its prison, shut the lid, descended with the basket to the hall, and called a hansom. When he had closed the apron, the porter enquired to what address he should order the cabman to drive. Dr Nikola did not reply for a moment, then he said, as if he had been thinking something out:

“The Green Sailor public-house, East India Dock Road.”

PART I

I. I DETERMINE TO TAKE A HOLIDAY–SYDNEY, AND WHAT BEFELL ME THERE

FIRST and foremost, my name, age, description, and occupation, as they say in the Police Gazette. Richard Hatteras, at your service, commonly called Dick, of Thursday Island, North Queensland, pearler, copra merchant, beche-de-mer and tortoise-shell dealer, and South Sea trader generally. Eight-and-twenty years of age, neither particularly good-looking nor, if some people are to be believed, particularly amiable, six feet two in my stockings, and forty-six inches round the chest; strong as a Hakodate wrestler, and perfectly willing at any moment to pay ten pounds sterling to the man who can put me on my back.

And big shame to me if I were not so strong, considering the free, open-air, devil-may-care life I’ve led. Why, I was doing man’s work at an age when most boys are wondering when they’re going to be taken out of knickerbockers. I’d been half round the world before I was fifteen, and had been wrecked twice and marooned once before my beard showed signs of sprouting. My father was an Englishman, not very much profit to himself, so he used to say, but of a kindly disposition, and the best husband to my mother, during their short married life, that any woman could possibly have desired. She, poor soul, died of fever in the Philippines the year I was born, and he went to the bottom in the schooner Helen of Troy, a degree west of the Line Islands, within six months of her decease; struck the tail end of a cyclone, it was thought, and went down, lock, stock, and barrel, leaving only one man to tell the tale. So I lost father and mother in the same twelve months, and that being so, when I put my cabbage-tree on my head it covered, as far as I knew, all my family in the world.

Any way you look at it, it’s calculated to give you a turn, at fifteen years of age, to know that there’s not a living soul on the face of God’s globe that you can take by the hand and call relation. That old saying about “Blood being thicker than water” is a pretty true one, I reckon: friends may be kind–they were so to me–but after all they’re not the same thing, nor can they be, as your own kith and kin.

However, I had to look my trouble in the face and stand up to it as a man should, and I suppose this kept me from brooding over my loss as much as I should otherwise have done. At any rate, ten days after the news reached me, I had shipped aboard the Little Emily, trading schooner, for Papeete, booked for five years among the islands, where I was to learn to water copra, to cook my balances, and to lay the foundation of the strange adventures that I am going to tell you about in this book.

After my time expired and I had served my Trading Company on half the mudbanks of the Pacific, I returned to Australia and went up inside the Great Barrier Reef to Somerset–the pearling station that had just come into existence on Cape York. They were good days there then, before all the new-fangled laws that now regulate the pearling trade had come into force; days when a man could do almost as he liked among the islands in those seas. I don’t know how other folk liked it, but the life just suited me–so much so that when Somerset proved inconvenient and the settlement shifted across to Thursday, I went with it, and, what was more to the point, with money enough at my back to fit myself out with a brand new lugger and full crew, so that I could go pearling on my own account.

For many years I went at it head down, and this brings me up to four years ago, when I was a grown man, the owner of a house, two luggers, and as good a diving plant as any man could wish to possess. What was more, just before this I had put some money into a mining concern on the mainland, which had, contrary to most ventures of the sort, turned up trumps, giving me as my share the nice round sum of £5,000. With all this wealth at my back, and having been in harness for a greater number of years on end than I cared to count, I made up my mind to take a holiday and go home to England to see the place where my father was born, and had lived his early life (I found the name of it written in the flyleaf of an old Latin book he left me), and to have a look at a country I’d heard so much about, but never thought to have the good fortune to set my foot upon.

Accordingly I packed my traps, let my house, sold my luggers and gear, intending to buy new ones when I returned, said goodbye to my friends and shipmates, and set off to join an Orient liner in Sydney. You will see from this that I intended doing the thing in style! And why not? I’d got more money to my hand to play with than most of the swells who patronise the first saloon; I had earned it honestly, and was resolved to enjoy myself with it to the top of my bent, and hang the consequences.

I reached Sydney a week before the boat was advertised to sail, but I didn’t fret much about that. There’s plenty to see and do in such a big place, and when a man’s been shut away from theatres and amusements for years at a stretch, he can put in his time pretty well looking about him. All the same, not knowing a soul in the place, I must confess there were moments when I did think regretfully of the tight little island hidden away up north under the wing of New Guinea, of the luggers dancing to the breeze in the harbour, and the warm welcome that always awaited me among my friends in the saloons. Take my word for it, there’s something in even being a leader on a small island. Anyway, it’s better than being a deadbeat in a big city like Sydney, where nobody knows you, and your next-door neighbour wouldn’t miss you if he never saw or heard of you again.

I used to think of these things as I marched about the streets looking in at shop windows, or took excursions up and down the Harbour. There’s no place like Sydney Harbour in the wide, wide world for beauty, and before I’d been there a week I was familiar with every part of it. Still, it would have been more enjoyable, as I hinted just now, if I had had a friend to tour about with me; and by the same token I’m doing one man an injustice.

There was one fellow, I remember, who did offer to show me round: I fell across him in a saloon in George Street. He was tall and handsome, and as spic and span as a new pin till you came to look under the surface. When he entered the bar he winked at the girl who was serving me, and as soon as I’d finished my drink asked me to take another with him. Seeing what his little game was, and wanting to teach him a lesson, I lured him on by consenting. I drank with him, and then he drank with me.

“Been long in Sydney?” he enquired casually, looking at me, and, at the same time, stroking his fair moustache.

“Just come in,” was my reply.

“Don’t you find it dull work going about alone?” he enquired. “I shall never forget my first week of it.”

“You’re about right,” I answered. “It is dull! I don’t know a soul, bar my banker and lawyer, in the town.”

“Dear me!” (more curling of the moustache). “If I can be of any service to you while you’re here, I hope you’ll command me. For the sake of “Auld Lang Syne,’ don’t you know. I believe we’re both Englishmen, eh?”

“It’s very good of you,” I replied modestly, affecting to be overcome by his condescension. “I’m just off to lunch. I am staying at the Quebec. Is it far enough for a hansom?” As he was about to answer, a lawyer, with whom I had done a little business the day before, walked into the room. I turned to my patronising friend and said, “Will you excuse me for one moment? I want to speak to this gentleman on business.”

He was still all graciousness.

“I’ll call a hansom and wait for you in it.”

When he had left the saloon I spoke to the new arrival. He had noticed the man I had been talking to, and was kind enough to warn me against him.

“That man,” he said, “bears a very bad reputation. He makes it his trade to meet new arrivals from England–weak-brained young pigeons with money. He shows them round Sydney, and plucks them so clean that, when they leave his hands, in nine cases out of ten, they haven’t a feather left to fly with. You ought not, with your experience of rough customers, to be taken in by him.”

“Nor am I,” I replied. “I am going to teach him a lesson. Would you like to see it? Then come with me.”

Arm in arm we walked into the street, watched by Mr Hawk from his seat in the cab. When we got there we stood for a moment chatting, and then strolled together down the pavement. Next moment I heard the cab coming along after us, and my friend hailing me in his silkiest tones; but though I looked him full in the face I pretended not to know him. Seeing this he drove past us–pulled up a little further down and sprang out to wait for me.

“I was almost afraid I had missed you,” he began, as we came up with him. “Perhaps as it is such a fine day you would rather walk than ride?”

“I beg your pardon,” I answered; “I’m really afraid you have the advantage of me.”

“But you have asked me to lunch with you at the Quebec. You told me to call a hansom.”

“Pardon me again! but you are really mistaken. I said I was going to lunch at the Quebec, and asked you if it was far enough to be worth while taking a hansom. That is your hansom, not mine. If you don’t require it any longer, I should advise you to pay the man and let him go.”

“You are a swindler, sir. I refuse to pay the cabman. It is your hansom.”

I took a step closer to my fine gentleman, and, looking him full in the face, said as quietly as possible, for I didn’t want all the street to hear:

“Mr Dorunda Dodson, let this be a lesson to you. Perhaps you’ll think twice next time before you try your little games on me!”

He stepped back as if he had been shot, hesitated a moment, and then jumped into his cab and drove off in the opposite direction. When he had gone I looked at my astonished companion.

“Well, now,” he ejaculated at last, “how on earth did you manage that?”

“Very easily,” I replied. “I happened to remember having met that gentleman up in our part of the world when he was in a very awkward position–very awkward for him. By his action just now I should say that he has not forgotten the circumstance any more than I have.”

“I should rather think not. Good-day.”

We shook hands and parted, he going on down the street, while I branched off to my hotel.

That was the first of the only two adventures of any importance I met with during my stay in New South Wales. And there’s not much in that, I fancy I can hear you saying. Well, that may be so, I don’t deny it, but it was nevertheless through that that I became mixed up with the folk who figure in this book, and indeed it was to that very circumstance, and that alone, I owe my connection with the queer story I have set myself to tell. And this is how it came about.

Three days before the steamer sailed, and about four o’clock in the afternoon, I chanced to be walking down Castlereagh Street, wondering what on earth I should do with myself until dinner-time, when I saw approaching me the very man whose discomfiture I have just described. Being probably occupied planning the plucking of some unfortunate new chum, he did not see me. And as I had no desire to meet him again, after what had passed between us, I crossed the road and meandered off in a different direction, eventually finding myself located on a seat in the Domain, lighting a cigarette and looking down over a broad expanse of harbour.

One thought led to another, and so I sat on and on long after dusk had fallen, never stirring until a circumstance occurred on a neighbouring path that attracted my attention. A young and well-dressed lady was pursuing her way in my direction, evidently intending to leave the park by the entrance I had used to come into it. But unfortunately for her, at the junction of two paths to my right, three of Sydney’s typical larrikins were engaged in earnest conversation. They had observed the girl coming towards them, and were evidently preparing some plan for accosting her. When she was only about fifty yards away, two of them walked to a distance, leaving the third and biggest ruffian to waylay her. He did so, but without success, she passed him and continued her walk at increased speed.

The man thereupon quickened his pace, and, secure in the knowledge that he was unobserved, again accosted her. Again she tried to escape him, but this time he would not leave her. What was worse, his two friends were now blocking the path in front. She looked to right and left, and was evidently uncertain what to do. Then, seeing escape was hopeless, she stopped, took out her purse, and gave it to the man who had first spoken to her. Thinking this was going too far, I jumped up and went quickly across the turf towards them. My footsteps made no sound on the soft grass, and as they were too much occupied in examining what she had given them, they did not notice my approach.

“You scoundrels!” I said, when I had come up with them. “What do you mean by stopping this lady? Let her go instantly; and you, my friend, just hand over that purse.”

The man addressed looked at me as if he were taking my measure, and were wondering what sort of chance he’d have against me in a fight. But I suppose my height must have rather scared him, for he changed his tone and began to whine.

“I haven’t got the lady’s purse, s’help me, I ain’t! I was only a asking of “er the time; I’ll take me davy I was!”

“Hand over that purse!” I said sternly, approaching a step nearer to him.

One of the others here intervened–

“Let’s stowch “im, Dog! There ain’t a copper in sight!”

With that they began to close upon me. But, as the saying goes, “I’d been there before.” I’d not been knocking about the rough side of the world for fifteen years without learning how to take care of myself. When they had had about enough of it, which was most likely more than they had bargained for, I took the purse and went down the path to where the innocent cause of it all was standing. She was looking very white and scared, but she plucked up sufficient courage to thank me prettily.

I can see her now, standing there looking into my face with big tears in her pretty blue eyes. She was a girl of about twenty-one or two years of age, I should think–tall, but slenderly built, with a sweet oval face, bright brown hair, and the most beautiful eyes I have ever seen in my life. She was dressed in some dark green material, wore a fawn jacket, and, because the afternoon was cold, had a boa of marten fur round her neck. I can remember also that her hat was of some flimsy make, with lace and glittering spear points in it, and that the whole structure was surmounted by two bows, one of black ribbon, the other of salmon pink.

“Oh, how can I thank you?” she began, when I had come up with her. “But for your appearance I don’t know what those men might not have done to me.”

“I am very glad that I was there to help you,” I replied, looking into her face with more admiration for its warm young beauty than perhaps I ought to have shown. “Here is your purse. I hope you will find its contents safe. At the same time will you let me give you a little piece of advice. From what I have seen this afternoon this is evidently not the sort of place for a young lady to be walking in alone and after dark. I don’t think I would risk it again if I were you.”

She looked at me for a moment and then said:

“You are quite right. I have only myself to thank for my misfortune. I met a friend and walked across the green with her; I was on my way back to my carriage–which is waiting for me outside–when I met those men. However, I think I can promise you that it will not happen again, as I am leaving Sydney in a day or two.”

Somehow, when I heard that, I began to feel glad I was booked to leave the place too. But of course I didn’t tell her so.

“May I see you safely to your carriage?” I said at last. “Those fellows may still be hanging about on the chance of overtaking you.”

Her courage must have come back to her, for she looked up into my face with a smile.

“I don’t think they will be rude to me again after the lesson you have given them. But if you will walk with me I shall be very grateful.”

Side by side we proceeded down the path, through the gates and out into the street. A neat brougham was drawn up alongside the herb, and towards this she made her way. I opened the door and held it for her to get in. But before she did so she turned to me and stretched out her little hand.

“Will you tell me your name, that I may know to whom I am indebted?”

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