The Milkman Sets Out on his Travels
I sat down in an armchair and felt very sick. That lasted for maybe five minutes, and was succeeded by a fit
of the horrors. The poor staring white face on the floor was more than I could bear, and I managed to get a table
-cloth and cover it. Then I staggered to a cupboard, found the brandy and swallowed several
mouthfuls. I had seen men die violently before; indeed I had killed a few myself in the Matabele War; but this cold-blooded
indoor business was different
. Still I managed to pull myself together. I looked at my watch, and saw that it was half-past ten.
An idea seized me, and I went over the flat with a small-tooth comb. There was nobody there, nor any trace
of anybody, but I shuttered and bolted all the windows and put the chain on the door. By this time my wits were coming back to me, and I could think again. It took me about an hour to figure
the thing out, and I did not hurry, for, unless the murderer came back, I had till
about six o'clock in the morning for my cogitations.
I was in the soup-that was pretty clear. Any shadow
of a doubt
have had about the truth of Scudder's tale
was now gone. The proof
of it was lying under the table
-cloth. The men who knew that he knew what he knew had found him, and had taken the best way to make certain
of his silence
. Yes; but he had been in my rooms four days, and his enemies must have reckoned that he had confided in me. So I would be the next to go. It might
be that very night, or next day, or the day after, but my number was up all right
of another probability
. Supposing I went out now and called in the police, or went to bed and let Paddock find the body and call them in the morning. What kind of a story was I to tell about Scudder? I had lied to Paddock about him, and the whole thing looked desperately fishy
. If I made a clean breast of it and told the police everything he had told me, they would simply laugh at me. The odds
were a thousand to one that I would be charged with the murder
, and the circumstantial evidence
was strong enough to hang me. Few people knew me in England; I had no real pal who could come forward
to my character
. Perhaps that was what those secret enemies were playing for. They were clever
enough for anything, and an English prison was as good a way of getting rid of me till
after June 15th as a knife in my chest.
Besides, if I told the whole story, and by any miracle
was believed, I would be playing their game. Karolides would stay at home, which was what they wanted. Somehow or other the sight
of Scudder's dead face had made me a passionate
believer in his scheme
. He was gone, but he had taken me into his confidence
, and I was pretty well bound
on his work.
You may think this ridiculous
for a man in danger of his life, but that was the way I looked at it. I am an ordinary
sort of fellow, not braver than other people, but I hate to see a good man downed, and that long knife would not be the end of Scudder if I could play the game in his place.
It took me an hour or two to think this out, and by that time I had come to a decision
. I must vanish
somehow, and keep vanished till
the end of the second week in June. Then I must somehow find a way to get in touch with the Government people and tell them what Scudder had told me. I wished to Heaven he had told me more, and that I had listened more carefully to the little he had told me. I knew nothing but the barest facts. There was a big risk
that, even if I weathered
the other dangers, I would not be believed in the end. I must take my chance of that, and hope that something might
happen which would confirm
in the eyes of the Government.
My first job
was to keep going for the next three weeks. It was now the 24th day of May, and that meant twenty days of hiding before I could venture
the powers that be. I reckoned that two sets of people would be looking for me-Scudder's enemies to put me out of existence
, and the police, who would want me for Scudder's murder
. It was going to be a giddy
hunt, and it was queer how the prospect
comforted me. I had been slack
so long that almost any chance of activity was welcome. When I had to sit alone with that corpse
and wait on Fortune I was no better than a crushed worm, but if my neck's safety was to hang on my own wits I was prepared to be cheerful about it.
My next thought
was whether Scudder had any papers about him to give me a better clue
to the business. I drew back the table
-cloth and searched his pockets, for I had no longer any shrinking from the body. The face was wonderfully calm for a man who had been struck down in a moment
. There was nothing in the breast-pocket, and only a few loose coins and a cigar-holder in the waistcoat. The trousers held a little penknife and some silver, and the side pocket of his jacket contained an old crocodile-skin cigar-case. There was no sign of the little black book in which I had seen him making notes. That had no doubt
been taken by his murderer.
But as I looked up from my task
I saw that some drawers had been pulled out in the writing-table
. Scudder would never have left them in that state
, for he was the tidiest of mortals. Someone must have been searching for something-perhaps for the pocket-book.
I went round the flat and found that everything had been ransacked-the inside of books, drawers, cupboards, boxes, even the pockets of the clothes in my wardrobe
, and the sideboard in the dining-room. There was no trace
of the book. Most likely
the enemy had found it, but they had not found it on Scudder's body.
Then I got out an atlas
and looked at a big map of the British Isles. My notion
was to get off to some wild district
, where my veldcraft would be of some use to me, for I would be like a trapped rat in a city. I considered
that Scotland would be best, for my people were Scotch and I could pass anywhere as an ordinary
Scotsman. I had half an idea at first to be a German tourist
, for my father had had German partners, and I had been brought up to speak the tongue pretty fluently, not to mention
having put in three years prospecting for copper in German Damaraland. But I calculated
that it would be less conspicuous
to be a Scot, and less in a line with what the police might
know of my past. I fixed on Galloway as the best place to go. It was the nearest wild part of Scotland, so far as I could figure
it out, and from the look of the map was not over thick with population
in Bradshaw informed me that a train
left St Pancras at 7.10, which would land me at any Galloway station
in the late afternoon. That was well enough, but a more important matter
was how I was to make my way to St Pancras, for I was pretty certain
that Scudder's friends would be watching outside. This puzzled
me for a bit; then I had an inspiration
, on which I went to bed and slept for two troubled hours.
I got up at four and opened my bedroom shutters. The faint
light of a fine summer morning was flooding the skies, and the sparrows had begun to chatter
. I had a great revulsion
of feeling, and felt a God-forgotten fool. My inclination
was to let things slide, and trust
to the British police taking a reasonable
view of my case. But as I reviewed the situation
I could find no arguments to bring against my decision
of the previous
night, so with a wry
mouth I resolved to go on with my plan
. I was not feeling in any particular funk
; only disinclined to go looking for trouble, if you understand
I hunted out a well-used tweed suit
, a pair
of strong nailed boots, and a flannel shirt with a collar. Into my pockets I stuffed a spare
shirt, a cloth cap, some handkerchiefs, and a tooth-brush. I had drawn a good sum
in gold from the bank
two days before, in case Scudder should want money, and I took fifty pounds of it in sovereigns in a belt which I had brought back from Rhodesia. That was about all I wanted. Then I had a bath, and cut my moustache, which was long and drooping, into a short stubbly fringe
Now came the next step. Paddock used to arrive
punctually at 7.30 and let himself in with a latch-key. But about twenty minutes to seven, as I knew from bitter experience
, the milkman turned up with a great clatter
of cans, and deposited my share outside my door. I had seen that milkman sometimes when I had gone out for an early ride. He was a young man about my own height
, with an ill-nourished moustache, and he wore a white overall
. On him I staked all my chances.
I went into the darkened smoking-room where the rays of morning light were beginning to creep through
the shutters. There I breakfasted off a whisky-and-soda and some biscuits from the cupboard. By this time it was getting on for six o'clock. I put a pipe in my pocket and filled my pouch from the tobacco jar
on the table
by the fireplace.
As I poked into the tobacco
my fingers touched something hard, and I drew out Scudder's little black pocket-book ...
That seemed to me a good omen
. I lifted the cloth from the body and was amazed
at the peace and dignity
of the dead face. 'Goodbye, old chap
,' I said; 'I am going to do my best for you. Wish me well, wherever you are.'
Then I hung about in the hall waiting for the milkman. That was the worst part of the business, for I was fairly choking to get out of doors. Six-thirty passed, then six-forty, but still he did not come. The fool had chosen this day of all days to be late.
At one minute
after the quarter
to seven I heard the rattle of the cans outside. I opened the front door, and there was my man, singling out my cans from a bunch he carried and whistling through
his teeth. He jumped a bit at the sight
'Come in here a moment
,' I said. 'I want a word with you.' And I led him into the dining-room.
you're a bit of a sportsman,' I said, 'and I want you to do me a service
. Lend me your cap and overall
for ten minutes, and here's a sovereign
His eyes opened at the sight
of the gold, and he grinned broadly. 'Wot's the gyme?'he asked.
,' I said. 'I haven't time to explain
, but to win it I've got to be a milkman for the next ten minutes. All you've got to do is to stay here till
I come back. You'll be a bit late, but nobody will complain
, and you'll have that quid for yourself.'
'Right-o!' he said cheerily. 'I ain't the man to spoil
a bit of sport. 'Ere's the rig
I stuck on his flat blue hat and his white overall
, picked up the cans, banged my door, and went whistling downstairs. The porter
at the foot told me to shut my jaw, which sounded as if my make-up was adequate
At first I thought
there was nobody in the street. Then I caught sight
of a policeman a hundred yards down, and a loafer shuffling past on the other side. Some impulse
made me raise
my eyes to the house opposite
, and there at a first-floor window was a face. As the loafer passed he looked up, and I fancied a signal
I crossed the street, whistling gaily and imitating the jaunty
swing of the milkman. Then I took the first side street, and went up a left-hand turning which led past a bit of vacant
ground. There was no one in the little street, so I dropped the milk-cans inside the hoarding and sent the cap and overall
after them. I had only just put on my cloth cap when a postman came round the corner
. I gave him good morning and he answered me unsuspiciously. At the moment
the clock of a neighbouring church struck the hour of seven.
There was not a second to spare
. As soon as I got to Euston Road I took to my heels and ran. The clock at Euston Station showed five minutes past the hour. At St Pancras I had no time to take a ticket, let alone that I had not settled upon my destination
. A porter
told me the platform
, and as I entered it I saw the train
already in motion
. Two station
officials blocked the way, but I dodged them and clambered into the last carriage
Three minutes later, as we were roaring through
the northern tunnels, an irate guard
interviewed me. He wrote out for me a ticket to Newton-Stewart, a name which had suddenly
come back to my memory
, and he conducted me from the first-class compartment
where I had ensconced myself to a third-class smoker, occupied by a sailor and a stout
woman with a child. He went off grumbling, and as I mopped my brow I observed to my companions in my broadest Scots that it was a sore job
catching trains. I had already entered upon my part.
'The impidence o' that gyaird!' said the lady bitterly. 'He needit a Scotch tongue to pit
him in his place. He was complainin' o' this wean
no haein' a ticket and her no fower till
August twalmonth, and he was objectin' to this gentleman spittin'.'