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The Amazing Adventure of Marmaduke by Arthur Gask

Published in The Mail, Adelaide, S.A. Saturday 11 March, 1944.

 

Marmaduke Dangerfield, for all his high sounding names, was a very ordinary and commonplace looking little man. Of slight physique, he had light, watery blue eyes and scanty, sandy-colored hair. He did not smoke, he drank sparingly of alcoholic beverages, and he was not much interested in pretty girls.

A bachelor, and living all his adult life in lodgings, he had consumed vast quantities of the indigestible concoctions of bad cooks, with the result that at 37 years of age he was a confirmed dyspeptic and the gloomy possessor of many subsidiary ailments which apparently resisted all attempts to dislodge them.

Flitting from doctor to doctor as a bee flits from flower to flower, besides what they prescribed for him, he was always taking patent medicines, and it was really wonderful how his constitution stood up to everything.

A piano-tuner by occupation, he had literary ambitions and was quite confident that he would one day write a book—exactly what it was to be about he was not certain—which would make him famous. His day dreams were brightest when he was by himself in lonely places, and, in summer, at fine week-ends he would often ride off on his bicycle, far from the city, and, provided with food and a few simple cooking utensils, set up a little camp and sleep under the stars. He always took care, however, to carry with him adequate supplies of whatever medicines he was believing at that particular moment to be necessary for the ensuring of good health.

One evening, upon one of these excursions, he found himself some hundred and twenty miles north of Adelaide, a long way distant from any habitation. It was rocky, treeless country, and he had left all roads behind him, and followed a narrow track leading up to a high range of hills. He pitched his camp among a small cluster of rocks just off the track, choosing this site because there was a well-filled dam close near, and, with the water in it looking clean and clear, he would be able to have a refreshing swim in the morning.

He was boiling his billy in preparation for the evening meal when greatly to his surprise, as the place was so very lonely, a man came into view, bicycling along the track. He stood up to watch him pass by, but the man, catching sight of him, alighted from his machine and proceeded to wheel it over the rough ground to the rocks. He asked Marmaduke if he would let him have a match.

The piano-tuner was only too happy to oblige, and, anxious for a chat, invited him to have a drink of tea. The man at once sat down and it ended in his sharing the whole meal, tinned salmon, cucumber, cheese, and dates, the indigestible things for which, above all others, Marmaduke's soul always craved.

Always confiding, Marmaduke talked freely about himself, and the stranger, though more reticently inclined, told something of his own adventurous life. Only thirty-four, he had been prospector after gold, boundary rider, drover, rabbit-trapper, and a hunter of wild dogs. Marmaduke was an eager listener. Here was the very man, he was sure, who could provide material for a dozen books, and he would have liked to listen to him for hours. Darkness, however, was not far off, and the stranger said he must be moving on, as he had a long ride yet before him.

Disappointed at losing so interesting a companion, Marmaduke asked him to look him up when he was next in the city, and started to search hurriedly in his pocketbook for one of his cards. In his fluster he spilled its contents, and two £5 notes fluttered to the ground. The stranger picked them up, staring hard at them before he handed them over.

Finding his card at last, Marmaduke gave it to the stranger, and the latter put it in his tobacco tin. "Shan't lose it there," he smiled, and then it seemed, he was no longer in such a hurry to go. He related more of his adventures, and finally suggested that, as he was feeling so tired, he should pitch his camp there, too, for the night.

Marmaduke expressed himself as delighted, and added laughingly, "And I'll be able to give you a nice little night cap to make certain of a good sleep. I've got some whisky in my flask, and it'll do us both good."

So, while the stranger was preparing his bed, Marmaduke got the whisky ready. He always had a tot at night, because in it he nearly always put a sleeping tablet. His latest doctor had prescribed some, which, he said, were extra strong, and warned him never to take more than one at a time. Marmaduke, however, often exceeded the instructions of his medical advisers and that night, feeling stiff after his riding, was intending to take a double dose.

Their final preparations for bed ready, they drank the whisky to each other's healths and a good night's rest. The stranger tossed his down in one big gulp, and then licked over his lips with a rather frowning face.

"What whisky is that?" he asked curiously. "Got a bit of a rum taste, hasn't it?"

"No, I don't think so," replied Marmaduke, drinking his more slowly. "It's good Scotch," and then, all in a flash, to his consternation, he realised what had happened. It was in the stranger's mug he had put the two sleeping tablets!

For the moment he was on the point of blurting out the unfortunate mistake he had made. Instantly, however, he thought better of it. It might, perhaps, frighten his new-found friend, and, if he kept silent, no harm would be done. So he said nothing, and, lying back comfortably, the two talked on for another hour or so. Presently the conversation lapsed, and, after a few moments, with some amusement Marmaduke heard loud snores.

"He's settled now," he grinned, "and I hope I go off soon, too."

But it was a long while before he dropped off, and then his sleep was broken. The night had turned chilly and he cuddled into his blankets, afraid that he would be catching cold. Many times he woke up and every time he heard his companion's loud snores. Towards morning, however, his sleep became deeper, and it was broad daylight when he finally woke up for good. Indeed, even then he might not have awakened if it had not been for the barking of a dog and the loud baaing of sheep. He sprang to his feet to see a man driving a mob to the dam.

He moved over to waken the stranger. In his sleep the latter had thrown off the upper part of his blanket, and there was a big, hefty-looking knife which must have fallen out of his pocket by his side. At the sound of Marmaduke's voice he sat up with a jerk, and from his startled appearance evidently could not take in where he was. He scowled—and then his eyes fell upon the man with the sheep, who was coming up to speak to them.

"Here, you!" called out the man angrily. "You've no business to have lit a fire there. One spark and you would have had all this paddock alight. It's folk like you who bring all these bushfires on us. You value your miserable cup of tea more than the lives of hundreds of sheep and thousands of pounds' damage to other people's property. Now you just clear off. You're not to light another fire."

The stranger said nothing, but Marmaduke was full of protestations and assurances of the care he always took. The man, however, ignored everything he said, and then without another word just stood watching them until they had collected their things together and ridden off on their bicycles. The two went different ways, and Marmaduke was annoyed at the curt, unfriendly nod the stranger gave him in parting. The weather looked as if it was going to break, and, fearful of catching cold, Marmaduke rode the whole way home that day.

A week passed, and one Monday evening Marmaduke returned home to his lodgings to find two stern-faced men waiting to speak to him. "We're police," said one of them nastily. "We want to know where you were on Saturday afternoon."

Marmaduke was frightened at his menacing tone and looked as guilty as anyone could be of anything he was going to be accused of. "Why, at home here," he stammered. "I was working in the garden."

"Can you bring anyone to prove it?" asked the detective, and Marmaduke's landlady was at once called in to verify the truth of what he had said. She was dismissed with a nod, and the detective produced an old tobacco tin. "This yours?" he asked, a little bit less roughly. "No! You don't smoke? Well, ever seen this before?"

The trembling Marmaduke shook his head. "No, I haven't," he replied.

"Then how does this card of yours happen to be in it?" snapped the detective. "Did you give it to anyone?"

Marmaduke's eyes opened very wide. "Yes, yes. I do remember that tin now," he exclaimed excitedly. "It belonged to a man whom I met when on a holiday the week before last. I gave him that card of mine to call upon me when he was next in the city, and I recollect him putting it inside to be sure he should not lose it."

"Where did you meet him?" snapped the detective.

"When I was camping on the range between Burra and Clare."

"Not near Gladstone?"

"No, a good fifty miles from there, but why do you ask?"

"Because we want that man very badly. Good heavens! Don't you read the newspapers? Didn't you see about the farmer near Gladstone being murdered?"

Marmaduke went as white as a sheet. Of course he had read about the murder, and it was the main topic on everybody's lips. It had been a dreadful crime in a lonely farmhouse. An elderly farmer had happened to be alone that afternoon, and his wife had returned home to find him lying dead in a pool of blood with his head terribly battered in. The house had been ransacked and more than £300 in notes and some jewellery stolen. So far as the public had heard, there was no trace of the murderer.

"Oh, yes!" he answered shakily. "Of course I've heard about it." His knees shook under him. "But do you think, it was the man I met who did it?"

"Pretty certain," nodded the detective. "This tin was picked up near the house and it must have dropped out of his pocket, as the farmer's wife said she had never seen it before." He put his hand on Marmaduke's arm. "Here, you must come up to the Watchhouse with us and tell your story there."

So for two hours and longer Marmaduke was the centre of interest at the police headquarters. A little shaky, he yet told his story well, bringing in quite dramatically the man being about to ride off until the incident of the dropped £5 notes. He told, too, of his mistake with the sleeping tablets and his seeing the knife by the stranger's side when he woke him up in the morning.

"Gad! But you were lucky," exclaimed the Chief Inspector. "You'd have been cold meat right enough if you hadn't doped him off. Now you just give us a good description, of what he was like."

Here, however, Marmaduke was a rotten reed to rely upon, and the police were most disgusted when they found he could give them no adequate description at all. He said the man was neither dark nor fair and just ordinary looking. He didn't know what color his hair was, as he had kept his cap on all the time, even when he had gone off to sleep. Also, he wasn't certain if he were either tall or short and he couldn't remember the exact color of his eyes. Of only one thing was he sure, and that was that he would be certain to recognise him again if he saw him.

The following day he was taken up in a police car to where his camp had been and the man with the sheep run to earth. With the latter the police had another disappointment, as the man had no recollection of what Marmaduke's companion had been like. Certainly, he stated, he remembered Marmaduke, but only because the piano tuner had excused himself so volubly and, he added rudely, had looked such a fool.

Weeks went by and the murderer was no nearer being caught. A reward of £500 was offered, and it became the obsession of Marmaduke's life to earn the money. Every day, all day long, he was on the look-out. Morning, noon, and night, whenever his work permitted, he promenaded up and down the main streets of the city. He stood outside cinemas, he loitered by tobacco shops, and he frequented bars. Many times he thought he saw the stranger at a distance, but a closer inspection always disappointed him. Often his hard staring annoyed people and more than once he was threatened with unpleasant consequences.

Longer than two months had passed, and then one afternoon he almost jumped out of his skin. He saw the stranger passing just by the town hall.

He was sure of it! He was certain it was he! But he hesitated, with his heart beating like a piston. No, he wasn't quite so sure! This man was well dressed and looked spic and span. In a way he was quite different, and yet——

The man was smoking a cigarette and walking towards Victoria square. In a perfect agony of doubt Marmaduke followed him. The man turned into Flinders street and made straight up to a car parked by the kerb. He opened the door, and then—something happened and Marmaduke leapt upon his back and clasped him tightly in his arms.

"Help! Help!" he shrieked to a passer-by. "This man has picked my pocket! He's got my wallet on him! I felt him take it!"

With an oath the man tried to fling Marmaduke off, but Marmaduke clung tightly until a little crowd was gathered. "Don't let him get away!" he panted. "Don't let him get into his car!"

A policeman came running up, and Marmaduke again shrieked his accusation. The man shook with rage and denied everything, but the policeman ordered sternly they should both come with him to the Watchhouse.

It was close, and Marmaduke thrilled to see in the charge-room a detective to whom he was well known.

"This man," began the policeman, indicating Marmaduke, "charges this gentleman with picking his pocket. He says——"

But the excited Marmaduke had now recovered his breath and interrupted shrilly: "No, I don't say that now. I only said it to get him brought here." His voice choked again, so that he could only speak with difficulty. "He's the——!" He almost shrieked. "He's the Gladstone murderer. He's the man I gave my card to."

A few brief seconds of stunned silence followed, and it was seen the well-dressed man had gone as white as a sheet. Suddenly he sprang over to Marmaduke and lunged him a fearful blow, but the policeman knocked his arm up just in time and seized hold of him as he made a dash for the door.

"I followed him up King William street," cried the exultant Marmaduke, "but I wasn't sure till I saw him spit, and then I knew. He was spitting a lot that night when he was talking to me."

The man's guilt was obvious straight away, as the murdered farmer's watch was actually found on him. Also, his fingermarks were identical with those on the chopper with which the farmer had been killed.

In due time he was hanged, and when all the facts became known Marmaduke was the hero of the hour. His photograph was in all the newspapers and everybody wanted to talk to him. He got the £500 reward, and on the strength of it married a pretty young lady reporter who had come to interview him. A bouncing, sandy-haired boy quickly eventuated, and Marmaduke's supply of patent medicines was at once cut off. The wife insisted that the baby and the dopes were too expensive luxuries to be allowed together.

End.

 
 
 
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