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The Land of The Lost

Chapter XXX

page 286

Chapter XXX

The clock in the dining-room was striking three in the morning as Wilfrid pulled the gate to behind him and crossed the road to the store.

In the office the light, which had been extinguished earlier in the night, was again burning brightly as it had burned for many hours, while its owner, a prey to terror and remorse, paced restlessly up and down.

Wilfrid, his face pale and a look of battle in his eyes and nostrils, closed the door behind him, and stood looking in silence at the storekeeper.

"Tell me how he is," Roller said, throwing himself into a seat.

"There is a chance," Wilfrid replied slowly.

"Thank God for that!" Roller exclaimed, burying his face in his hands.

Wilfrid sat down, staring moodily at the floor.

"Have you sent the messages?" he asked.

"Yes. Reynolds is on his way here now."

"Understand that though I have yielded to your entreaties and come to see you, I do not abate one jot of the vengeance I intend to take for this. If there is a particle of guilt attaching to you, better for you that you should hold your tongue, for there is no mercy in my heart."

"I must tell you," Roller replied, starting to his feet, "let the consequences be what they may. I was drunk page 287or mad or both. When he threw me into the deadhouse I was like one insane, and that fiend Upmore came to me, taunting me and offering suggestions. I took them. I met Brice on the hill and we went together to Clifford's tent, but he was not there. Then we went to Olive's whare and tried to make him come outside, but he kept the door bolted. I swear I meant him no greater injury than he had done to me. I wanted to get level with him. But one of them prodded Brice with a spear while he was on the roof, and after that he was beyond my control. He broke down the door and fired at them. I swear I did not know he was armed till that moment After, when he came away, I quarrelled with him, and when I had found my horse I left. I did not go into the 'Scarlet Man' again. I came straight home, and I have never left the house since. God is my witness that I have had no hand in this."

Wilfrid fixed him with a gaze that sought to read his soul, but Roller stood it unflinchingly. "If you have concealed anything from me," Wilfrid said slowly, "you have wasted your breath. If that is the truth and the whole truth, then you have nothing to fear. When Reynolds arrives, as he should do by daylight, you will sign warrants for the arrest of Brice and Upmore, and you will then accompany us and help to execute them." He rose and took a pace or two up and down the office. "What of this man Bart?" he asked, coming to a standstill.

"I know nothing of him either, beyond the fact that he was in the dead-house with me. He came in with me, and when the door closed he went into a corner and lay down. He was still there when I left, lying in a drunken sleep."

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"Did Upmore turn the key on him?"

Roller reflected awhile.

"I would not be sure," he said, "but I believe he merely pulled the door to, as though he intended to go back."

Wilfrid stood a moment in thought, then turned to go.

"I advise you to get some sleep," he said. "We shall probably be on the road in less than two hours."

When Reynolds came a difficulty arose, and it required all Wilfrid's masterful nature to overcome it. The sergeant was accompanied by two constables, one a full-blooded native. They turned through the slip-rail into the yard behind the store, and Reynolds dismounted and followed Wilfrid into the office. The latter gave an account of the event of the night, and also of what had preceded it on the field; then he stated what he proposed to do.

"Arrest Upmore and Brice, eh?" Reynolds said.

"What's the ground?"

"You know the legal terminology better than I do. Attempting murder and inciting to commit murder. It may be the capital crime itself before the day is out."

"Where is your evidence?"

"I have already told you the evidence. Brice has made repeated attacks upon him, dating from three or four months ago right up till last night."

"Who have you got to swear that? Brice attacked him with a spade, but unless and until this man recovers you are unable to produce evidence to prove it. You say that he broke into Olive's cabin and fired at him. Will Olive swear to that?"

"Well, at all events, Miss Hamilton will swear that page 289he is the man who entered Clifford's tent armed with an axe."

"That might be something," Reynolds admitted doubtfully, "but not much. Not sufficient, in the absence of anything else, to send him for trial."

"Good heavens, man!" said Wilfrid impatiently, "and can't we get something else? It is as certain as the sun has risen that Brice is the man. It is in order that we may have leisure to look round for evidence undisturbed that I am urging the arrest of these men immediately."

"Don't get impatient," said Reynolds good-temperedly. "When it comes to actual business you will find nothing to complain of about me, but I want to see where I am going before I start. Well, now—supposing I stretch a point and arrest this man—what about Upmore? It would be ridiculous to think about arresting him. The evidence against Brice is as poor as it can be, but it amounts to conviction compared with what you've got against Upmore."

"If we could get them under lock and key," Wilfrid said, "heaven knows what might not turn up."

"Just so, but when you arrest a man you have got to produce evidence that you had good reason for doing so."

"Could we not get an adjournment? Surely in a serious case like this the police are not bound to show their hand right away?"

"I doubt it," said Reynolds. "And then, what kind of fix are we in if we get the adjournment and it does us no good?"

"Look here, sergeant," said Wilfrid, "you are not taking the right view of this. This is likely to be a cause celèbre, and it may mean the making of you."

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"Or the unmaking, for that matter," interpolated Reynolds; but there was a reflective twinkle in his eye which showed that the shot had gone home.

"A man has got to speculate at times," Wilfrid went on, watching the effect of his words, "if he wishes to distinguish himself, and here it seems to me is the chance of your lifetime. If the theory I have suggested to you prove false, what difference will it make? Probably a wigging from headquarters, and all is well again. If, on the other hand, it prove correct—and I would stake ten years of my life on it—then it means fame, promotion, all kinds of good things. I give you the theory as a free gift, and my mouth is sealed for ever as to where you got it. Surely no man ever had such a chance before and hesitated so long before he took it."

"By gad! I'll do it!" said Reynolds, with sudden resolution. "I look to you to stand by me, Doctor Hamilton, because the risk I am taking is greater than you seem to suppose."

"Done," said Wilfrid. "I will provide you with a case against both of them that will send them to gaol for life, and perhaps to the gallows."

Accordingly the warrants were drawn out and signed, and the five men set off. On the outskirts of the township they came on a group of natives, mounted on small, weedy horses, who were evidently on the lookout for them. The news of the attempted murder had already travelled a considerable distance round the settlement and across the field, for the Maoris, like all aboriginals, are indefatigable purveyors of news. The sight of the police riding into the township at dawn suggested that something sensational was likely to occur, and after that to find and saddle their horses was merely the work of a few minutes.

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On the road the natives surrounded the cavalcade like a cloud of mosquitoes, riding now in front, now behind, now to either side, where they guided their horses through the scrub with an extraordinary quickness and dexterity. All the while they kept up a sharp fire of jocular conversation, calling and signalling to one another as though their business were that of scouts for the main party of Europeans in the centre. In this manner the party reached and surrounded the inn, and Reynolds and the two constables dismounted at the door.

Upmore, hearing the approach of the horsemen, came out into the passage, and the sergeant signalled him on to the verandah.

"Cuthbert Upmore," he said formally, "I arrest you on the charge of inciting and abetting one Robert Brice to commit murder, and I warn you that anything you say may be used in evidence against you." At the same moment he produced a slip of blue paper from his pocket and handed it to the innkeeper.

Upmore took the warrant, looking round the watchful group like one in an evil dream. "The charge is absurd," he said at length; "I haven't the faintest idea what it means."

Reynolds signalled to the Maori constable, who crossed over to Upmore's side.

"The next thing is to search the house," said the sergeant, making his way into the bar and beginning the search by breaking open a bottle of beer; "and I suppose afterwards we had better close the place up. All this is devilish irregular, you know," he added in a whisper to Wilfrid. "You needn't smile; I'm not alluding to the beer. But we're in it now, and shall have to keep on."

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The key of the dead-house was found on Upmore's person, and to this place the first visit was paid.

"Nothing here apparently," said the sergeant, looking round, Wilfrid was holding a candle near the floor and gazing curiously at a dark circular stain on the boards in one corner. "Have you a knife, sergeant?" he asked.

Reynolds produced the required article and Wilfrid proceeded to sink a small square in the boards and split out the included portion: this he divided into two halves. "Slip them into an envelope," he said, "and return one piece to me when I ask you for it."

The sergeant turned the bits of wood over with a puzzled expression, but finally he stored them away in his pocket-book.

The rest of the house produced nothing which appeared to connect Upmore with the present charge, but there was a small bundle of yellow papers, which Wilfrid, after a hurried glance through, handed to Reynolds, with injunctions to preserve carefully. "There is your promotion, sergeant," he said, his eyes glittering.

"Good," said the sergeant. "Now to capture the other man."

Upmore was left in charge of the native constable, while the rest of the party set off in search of Brice.

The whare occupied by this man in partnership with Sandy George lay about a mile and a half to the southward of the inn, and was gained after crossing a tract of rough and difficult country. Reynolds drew up his forces on a hill overlooking the hollow in which the shanty was situated.

"We had better take it from all sides," he said. "He page 293may have gone, but, on the other hand, if he expected us at all, he would probably not expect us quite so soon."

"Don't forget that he may be armed," Wilfrid cautioned him.

"I hope he is," replied Reynolds; "but if he has any sense at all he will have got rid of his weapon long ago."

Reynolds made his arrangements, and when the others had started he and Wilfrid allowed their horses to scramble down the hillside. Reaching the bottom, they dismounted and proceeded on foot to the front of the shanty. Sandy George was discernible, moving in and out, as they approached, but he did not notice them until they were upon him. "Morning, Sandy," said Reynolds, looking over the little man's shoulder into the whare.

"Mornin'," said Sandy sulkily.

"I see your mate's inside," Reynolds continued. "Sleeping a bit late, isn't he?"

"Oh, it's him you're after," said Sandy, looking relieved. "Yus; he's got a sorter cold on him—bin coughin' all night."

Reynolds grinned and pushed past into the shanty, followed by Wilfrid. Brice was on his back, snoring loudly, but he started up and made a grab towards the head of the bed as the sergeant touched him with his foot. Both his visitors had their eyes fixed on the hand groping under the pillow, but it came forth in a moment, empty.

"What's up, mates? "Brice asked, looking from one to the other.

"I want you," replied Reynolds, producing the warrant and reading the charge, concluding with the usual warning.

"You've come to the wrong shop this time, Reynolds," page 294said Brice, getting slowly to his feet "Somebody's been kiddin' you."

The sergeant watched his opportunity, and with a deft, quick movement betokening long practice clapped the handcuffs on his wrists.

"I'm a bit short-handed, Bob," he explained apologetically, "or I wouldn't do it."

For a moment the ruffian looked nasty, then he appeared to submit.

"Blow me," he said, "if you ain't that smart, you are in danger o' cuttin' yourself. Get along outside before I knock the brains outer some o' yer."

Reynolds laughed as though at some monstrously good joke, at the same time pushing his prisoner boisterously out into the open air. On the way he found time to whisper a caution to Wilfrid to be on his guard.

The others, however, had now come up, and Brice, recognising the futility of trying to escape, sat down on the ground.

"There's the man that ought to 'ave the darbies on," he said, suddenly catching sight of Roller, "not me. Wait till I get up before the beak and we'll see who's who."

"I'm afraid we'll have to take a look round, Sandy," said Reynolds. "Just step inside and tell us what belongs to you, and—we'll look at those first."

The search of the whare, however, proved fruitless, neither pistol, nor cartridges, nor anything of an incriminating nature being forthcoming. Wilfrid soon desisted from the search, and when Reynolds went to look for him a few minutes later, he found him a little distance away, busy chopping at a standing tree with a tomahawk he had borrowed from the wood pile.

"What's up now?" Reynolds asked, with expectation, page 295for in their acquaintanceship of a few hours he had already come to regard the young doctor's actions with considerable respect.

Wilfrid handed him a couple of partially flattened bullets. "I noticed this tree," he explained, "because it seems to be the only one about, and it struck me it might be worth while looking at it. When a man gets a pistol and a few cartridges the next thing he wants is something to aim at, and here it is quite conveniently handy."

"You ought to be a detective," said the sergeant, with enthusiasm.

"Thanks," said Wilfrid. "I suppose you mean to be polite. Well, that seems to be all there are. Add them to the other little lots. They'll help in the promotion."

A quarter of an hour later Brice was mounted on a horse borrowed from one of the natives and escorted back to the inn. He whistled softly when Upmore was brought out and placed beside him between the two constables.

Reynolds, after a short interview with Mrs. Brandon, decided to leave the house open, but he locked and sealed up the door of the dead-house. Then he rejoined Wilfrid.

The latter took him aside and shook him warmly by the hand. "You are a credit to the force, sergeant," he said. "I imagine for a case of this gravity you have put up a record for the colony."

Reynolds laughed as he returned the other's grip. "I've enough now for an adjournment," he admitted; "but for heaven's sake keep going, or we shall end in the mud. What about the samples from the dead-house?"

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"Yes, you can give me one of the pieces now. Of course, as soon as you have got your men under lock and key you will come back here. Nothing must be left undone to discover this man Bart, and that reminds me, I will give you the note he sent to Clifford."

"What is your theory about him?" the sergeant asked, stowing the paper away in his pocket-book.

"Murder," said Wilfrid, lowering his voice. "Evidently he had in some way become aware of a plot against Clifford, and probably while endeavouring to frustrate it or learn more he met his death."

"Then the stain in there——"

Wilfrid nodded. "That is what I suspect," he said. "Well, good-bye, sergeant. You can easily communicate with me on the wire if it is necessary, and in any case I shall expect to see you back here to-morrow."

A few minutes later the party had separated; Roller and Wilfrid galloping back to the settlement, while Reynolds with his two prisoners, and still surrounded by his crowd of natives, headed for the Bay.