J. M. (James Morgan) Walsh.

The lost valley online

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I. - The Adventure on the Sands

II. - An Old Friend

III. - The Strange Behaviour of Mr. Bryce

IV. - The Thief in the Night

V. - Circumstantial Evidence

VI. - I Tell a Lie

VII. - Introducing Mr. Albert Cumshaw



I. - Nightfall

II. - The Pursuit

III. - The Hidden Valley

IV. - When Thieves Fall Out

V. - Expiation

VI. - The Hegira of Mr. Abel Cumshaw

VII. - The Gathering of the Eagles



I. - The Cypher

II. - Over the Hills and Far Away

III. - The Promised Land

IV. - We Enter the Valley

V. - Dies Irae

VI. - The Solution

VII. - The Adventure Closes





I came upon the place quite unexpectedly. Centuries of wind and wave had
carved a little nook out of the foot of the cliff and fashioned it so
cunningly that I did not see it until I was right on top of it. After
the warmth of the open beach and the glare of the white road I had
recently travelled its shade looked so inviting that I limped in under
the overhang of the cliff and dropped joyfully on to the cool patch of
sand. It was the first moment of contentment I had known for many weary
months, and, needless to say, I set myself out to make the most of it. I
was absolutely sick of tramping about. My left boot had burst and, by
the feel of it, there wasn't too much left of my right sole. I had been
crawling along the road since daylight - and for many days before for
that matter - searching for a job that failed to materialise.

Jobs, it appeared, were just about as scarce as cool spots in Hades.
They had been very kind to me at the last farmhouse. The good lady had
given me an excellent breakfast and an extra glass of milk, had loaded
my bedraggled pockets with food and had finally put me on the road to
the sea. Work, she said, they could not give me. They had put off two
men the previous day. I might find something to do in the next town. She
did tell me what it was called, but my thoughts were on my own poor
prospects and I didn't quite catch what she said. On the principle that
a rose by any other name would still have its thorns, I didn't ask her
to repeat it. I just said, "Thank you, ma'am," in my best tramp manner
and set off down the road to the sea. On the way my left boot burst and
a pebble worked in through the opening and set me limping. To make
matters worse the day was perhaps the hottest of all that memorable
summer, and the glare from the white grit of the road played the devil
with my eyes. I was very pleased when at length I reached the low sand
dunes and dropped between them on to the wet sand of the beach. I walked
along this aimlessly for a mile or so until the big hump of the bluff
rose up over me. Then, as I have already related, I came across that
heaven-sent cave and threw my weary length on its damp flooring of sand,
determined to snatch as much peace and repose as I could before I
continued my search for work.

I can't say for the life of me how long it was before I first sat up and
took notice of the fat little man. He was bobbing up and down in the
surf for all the world like some ungainly porpoise, and every time he
moved he shot sunlit streams of water off his gross body. I've seen fat
men in my time, but this one was just about the limit. He was all up and
down and then across. I know that doesn't quite explain what he looked
like, but it's about the only way I can describe him. He was short and
tubby; if he had been any shorter he would have been a human
Humpty-Dumpty. He was so obviously enjoying himself and getting the best
out of his gambols in the water that my heart went out to him. He was
ducking and splashing about, rolling and wallowing in a way that
reminded me of a hippopotamus I had once shot at - and missed - in happier
if not more spacious days spent on the lower Nile. "The Hippo" I
christened him, and then chuckled to myself at the singular
appropriateness of the name.

Even his bathing dress seemed designed expressly to add to his
rotundity. It was one of those queer garments bearing a faint
resemblance to a convict's uniform, and the wide stripes of it went
round and round his figure like hoops on a barrel. It was so funny that
I chuckled again and forgot all about my burning feet and my burst boot.

Presently he stopped his antics and looked over my way. He gave one
glance at me, and then started to run inshore with short, jumpy little
steps. Something seemed to have struck him all of a sudden, and I was
just beginning to wonder what the deuce it could be when, out of the
corner of my eyes, I caught sight of a pile of neatly folded clothes
thrust into the cleft of the rock a little above my head. I began to
understand then. I looked more disreputable than I really was; my suit
was in the last stages of ruinous decay, while his brand-new clothes
just above me would have been a gift from the gods to a man with less
conscience and more figure than I possessed. He evidently presumed on
the strength of my proximity that I had evil designs on his clothes, but
he needn't have troubled himself. If I could judge anything from his own
figure I would have been completely lost in them. I didn't like to
confirm his suspicions by running away now that I found I was observed,
so I just sat there and waited for him. There was a piece of something
that looked very like driftwood protruding from the sand close to me,
and I kicked idly at it as he came pounding up the beach. It was set
loosely in the sand, and a more accurate kick than usual knocked it out
of its resting-place. Something queer about it caught my eye, and I bent
over to pick it up.

"Whatever else it is, it isn't driftwood," I said to myself. "I'll
bet - - ," and then I stopped short, for I remembered that my sole
worldly wealth at the moment consisted of exactly three pennies. All the
same I was right about it. Driftwood doesn't get the dry rot, nor does
it come ashore covered with rich black loam.

"Somebody's planted it here," was my next thought, and my mind strayed
to the panting bulk of a man who was thundering down on top of me.

"It's his, I suppose," I said, and looked up at him. At that precise
instant he tripped and fell full length on the sand. I've seen a good
many lucky escapes in my day - a man who has travelled the out-of-the-way
places of the world from the Yukon and the White Nile down to the
headwaters of the Fly River in the snow-mountains of Dutch New Guinea
does see a bit of life - but the way that fat chap upset himself into the
sand was the most wonderful piece of good fortune I ever came across. He
must have missed death by a fraction of an inch. I saw him fall, heard
the shot ring out and watched the sand spurt up all in the one crowded
second. The next moment I was running towards him, my hand moving
instinctively to my empty pistol-pocket. But my mind readjusted itself
in a flash, and I recollected that I wasn't dodging cannibals in the
upper reaches of the Mambare, but was living in a civilised country
where a man who carries a revolver, and gets caught at it, is fined more
money than I'd seen in the last twelve months.

The other chap seemed to divine instinctively that I was a friend, for
he yelled at me even while he was hauling himself up from the sand.

"There's one in my pocket," he shouted and gesticulated back towards his

I didn't waste a moment, but sped over the intervening yards like a man
possessed. As luck would have it his coat was the first thing I grabbed,
and the weight of it told me at once in which pocket to look. I plunged
my hand in and drew out the sweetest little automatic it has ever been
my lot to handle. As a rule I prefer a Colt - in my experience it never
jams - but I rather fancied my present weapon would do all that was
required, so I slipped back the safety catch with my thumb and whirled
round on my heel to face whatever was coming.

The overture was already over and the invisible marksman had settled
down to steady firing. The fat man was now almost on top of me, and I
saw instantly that that brought me right into the line of fire. It takes
a long time in the telling, but, as I figured it out afterwards, from
the instant the first shot missed the old chap down to the moment I
pulled the trigger, more than half a minute could not have elapsed.

There was only one place in sight where a man could take cover, and that
was a bunch of rocks just a little to the left of my position. I let off
a fancy shot in that direction, and a second later the reply rang out.
The cliff overhead shed a shower of dust on top of the pair of us, and
the fat man crouched into the corner. I knew now where my man was, so I
waited until he exposed himself, as I saw he must do when he fired

"Gimme the gun!" the fat man demanded in the interval.

"Shut up!" I said, without turning my head. "I'm a better shot than you,
I reckon, and, anyway, it's just as much my funeral now as yours. He's
had a shot at me, and that's a thing I don't forgive in a hurry."

"Well, of all the - - ," I heard him say, and then the rest of his remark
was drowned in the report of my weapon. I had spotted a white wrist back
of a gleam of polished metal and, taking a sporting chance, I let drive.
The other man's gun dropped to the sand, and a yell told me that I had
made no mistake.

"Here's where I come in," I said, and, forgetting the condition of my
feet, I sprinted towards the rocks. But the other fellow had decided
that the place was getting too hot for him, and he made off along the
sand as fast as his legs could carry him. He must have been in excellent
trim, for he shot along the heavy track as if he was running on the
cinder-path, and I saw before I had gone fifty yards that I hadn't a
chance in the world of catching him. Also there were half a dozen black
specks of men a mile or so along the beach, and my reason told me that
homicide before witnesses wasn't likely to prove a healthy pastime. So I
swallowed my pride and, consoling myself with the thought that some day
we might meet again, I wheeled about and made back to the nook.

The fat chap had shed his bathing suit and was climbing into his clothes
when I arrived. He beamed at me and his whole face crinkled into smiles.
I was so afraid that he was going to make a silly speech that I pushed
his automatic into his hands and said, "You'd better take this, old man.
The other party's in swift retreat and, from the condition of his wrist,
I don't fancy you'll receive another billet-doux for some time to come."

"Well, I'm hanged if you're not the coolest chap I've ever laid eyes
on," the fat man said admiringly.

"You were nearer being shot," I hinted, "and, if you don't mind me
saying so, the sooner you struggle into those clothes of yours and get
home to mother, the safer you'll be. I don't object to fighting for you
once in a while, but I'll see you further before I make a habit of it."

"Um!" said the fat man, "I'm sorry. I'd hoped to persuade you to take it
on permanently."

I thought at first that he was joking, but the way he looked at me
showed that he was in deadly earnest. For all his flippancy there was
something back of his eyes, a trace of fear that kept peeping out every
now and then, that told me he went in danger of his life. I hated to
have to refuse him, but I had very good reasons, which I intended to
keep to myself, too, for not putting my life into danger too often. So I
told him point-blank that if he wanted to hire a bodyguard he'd have to
go somewhere else. He wasn't as put out at my reply as I would have
expected. Instead he smiled up at me - for all his bulk I towered over
him - and there was a touch of gameness in that smile that I rather
liked. I couldn't help telling him just what I thought.

"I don't think you want anyone to look after you," I said. "You're as
game as they make 'em. I'm pretty used to reading men - I've been in
places where my life depended on my ability in that direction - and when
I see a fellow smile like you're smiling now, you can take it from me
that he's grit all through."

"They'll get me yet," he said with a sigh. "I'm handicapped, you see. I
couldn't have sprinted along the beach the way you did. I'd have
wheezed. Bellows gone and all that, you know. Too much fat, the doctor

"Now, you're just about right there. I don't like to be personal, but
now you mention it, you don't seem to have the cut of an athlete."

"And you have," he said, as he insinuated himself into his collar. It
was a trifle too small for his neck, and he had to coax it a lot before
he got both ends to meet. "You're the type of man I take to instantly,
Mr. - - ."

He asked me a question with his eyes.

"Well," I said in answer, "if it's any use to you my name's Carstairs,
Jimmy Carstairs at that, and I'm an explorer by inclination, gentleman
by instinct, and the rolling-stone-that-gathers-no-moss by sheer force
of unlovely circumstance. Now you know all that I intend to tell you
about myself."

"Um!" he said again. "I had better introduce myself, I suppose. I fancy
my card-case's in my coat pocket."

"Don't trouble about a card," I said airily. "I'm not at all fussy. I'm
quite willing to take your word for it."

There was a twinkle in his eye, as he replied, that showed he rather
appreciated my cheap wit. "Bryce is my name," he said. "You may have
heard of it?"

"Can't say I have," I told him, "though I'm pretty certain to see it
often if you make a practice of keeping up this guerilla warfare."

It wasn't a nice thing to say, but then I'm never very particular, and
if my listeners don't like my remarks they're always welcome to change
the subject. When all's said and done there was more in that last jab of
mine than met the ear. I wanted very much to know why that sharpshooter
should be so extremely anxious to put him out of action. Also he had
said "they." There had only been one man behind the rocks, and I could
have sworn on a stack of Bibles that there wasn't another human
being - with the sole exception of the men a mile or so along the
beach - within coo-ee at the time. "You've been there before, my friend,"
I thought. "This isn't the first time you've flushed a chap with a bit
of hardware." From what I could see Bryce hadn't the slightest intention
of making me as wise as himself and even the broad hint I gave him
didn't seem to move him in the least. He surveyed me steadily for the
scrag-end of a minute and then his left eyelid flickered. I knew right
enough what that wink meant. It said as plainly as could be that dead
men tell no tales and wise men follow their example.

"Now, Mr. Bryce," I said, "I like your company and it pains me to leave
you, but I can't stop here for ever. I've got an important engagement at
the next town and the sooner I get there the better. Under the
circumstances you'll have to excuse me."

He didn't tell me that I was a liar but he went pretty close to it. "The
next town's Geelong," he said, "and it's a good fourteen miles away. You
might have sprinted along that sand in record time when somebody's life
was trembling in the balance, but that doesn't say you can walk fourteen
miles on a rotten road on a broiling hot day. And if I wished to be as
personal as you are I'd point out that a burst boot doesn't help make
the way any easier."

"Bowled out first shot," I told him. "What's your little game?"

"To use your own inimitable phraseology, my little game amounts to this.
I've taken a violent fancy to you, Carstairs, and I want to keep you by
me. I don't think your luck's been too good lately, but between us I
fancy we can mend it. If you want to go into Geelong all you've got to
do is wait and come with me. I'm going back shortly, and I'm sure you'd
feel much better riding in a motor than travelling on foot."

"Now you mention it," I said, "I can't see why I shouldn't. The only
trouble is that some of your excitable friends might see me in your
company and include me in the sudden-death stakes."

"Quite likely," Bryce said, with a smile. "I wouldn't be at all
surprised if they hid behind a convenient hedge and potted us as we
passed. But you needn't come if that's what you're afraid of."

"I'll forgive you this time," I rattled on, "just because you've had
such an exciting experience, but don't ever hint anything like that
again. I don't know what fear's like."

"Self-praise," said Bryce, "is sometimes the highest form of
recommendation. At any rate it shows you've overcome fear, if only the
fear of criticism. But to be serious, Carstairs, there's trouble ahead
of both of us. My pursuers are getting very game, tackling me in front
of a third person, and I've got a funny sort of feeling that they'll
catch me napping one of these days. No matter what you say or do, you
can't alter the fact that you've identified yourself with me, and that
means that you're running just the same amount of danger that I am. You
don't look too prosperous yourself. What about joining forces with me
and sharing the plunder? Of course I can make it worth your while."

"Plunder," I said. "What do you mean! Are you running up against the

"If it's any relief to you to know it, I'm not. I rather fancy I've got
the law on my side."

"I was merely enquiring what inducements you had to offer. What do you
call 'making it worth my while?'"

When I turned down his first tentative offer I had quite made up my mind
that he wanted to engage me as a sort of super-butler with sudden death
included amongst the risks of service, and I had no intention of mixing
up in other people's quarrels on such terms. When I questioned him
directly about it I got a pleasant surprise.

"Well, my idea of making it worth your while is something like £100 for
three months. That's about as long as I'll require you. After that you
can 'go to hell or to Connaught,' whichever you prefer."

"That's nice hearing," I told him. "And, I suppose, any time I take an
extra risk I get something _pour boire_?"

He nodded cheerfully.

"That's my offer, Carstairs," he said. "What do you say to it?"

"It's so damned alluring," I answered, "that I'm frightened to look at
it too close. I don't mind admitting that I'm about as hard up as I can
be. As a matter of fact I've not the least idea where I'm going to get
my next meal. All of which makes your offer doubly inviting. But I don't
want to jump at it in hot blood. I want time to think it over. I want to
stand off and wave my hat at it and say, 'Scat, you brute!' and see if
it'll shoo off. I'm frightened that it's not real, and that I'll take it
on and then wake up. Will you give me time to wake up?"

"If you'll drive in with me the two of us can dine together," Bryce
suggested. "That ought to give you time to wake up."

"I can't ask anything fairer than that," I agreed. "When do we start?"

"No time like the present. I've got the car paddocked down near the
reserve. It's only a matter of walking around the bluff. Come on."

I went along with him without comment, though I noticed that the last
thing he did was to bend down and pick up the piece of wood which had so
excited my curiosity earlier in the proceedings. It was small enough to
slip into his pocket, and this he did without a word either of apology
or explanation.

"It's a mighty innocent piece of wood," I thought, "but I'll bet all
Australia to an albatross that it's mixed up in the plot."

As we moved around the foot of the bluff I couldn't help turning the
situation over in my mind. Half an hour before I had been a wanderer on
the face of the earth, a man with no special abilities and no
outstanding vices. In that short space of time I had saved one man's
life, nearly taken that of another, and seemed in a fair way to make
money out of my twin attributes of steady nerves and good shooting. I
was still thinking in this strain when we rounded the bluff and
commenced to crawl across the intervening stretch of spinifex grass. I
say "crawl" advisedly. Bryce was far too heavy to do more than lumber
along and my feet were steadily getting worse. The spinifex grew
knee-high and its roots extended in all directions. They were hard,
knobby things that protruded through the loose sand, and every time I
took my attention off the ground for an instant I stubbed my toe against
one or the other of them. Bryce panted and puffed and wheezed and seemed
more like an hippopotamus than ever. Whatever might be the gain as far
as decency was concerned, his clothes, from a spectacular point of view,
made him look worse than ever. His collar was tight, and that made his
face the color of a scraped carrot, and his coat and trousers clung to
him in the most unexpected places - just where they shouldn't.

To make a long story short, we came at last to the edge of the spinifex,
and thence dropped steadily down into the hollow that contained the
reserve. I picked out Bryce's car right off. It was painted a battleship
grey, and if cars can have a personality, this had such another as its
owner. It wasn't slim - there was nothing of the racer about it. It was
squatly built and had just the same heavy and humorous look as Bryce
himself. It stood out from the other cars like a hunch-back amongst a
line of athletes.

"That's my car," said Bryce proudly. "She's not much to look at, but
she's just the sweetest runner you've seen."

I nodded. I was quite open to conviction.



Hitherto events had moved so swiftly that I hadn't had time to look
calmly at the situation, but once we settled down in the car and Barwon
Heads dropped into the dust behind us, I began to think rather
seriously. It was perfectly obvious, even to a more clouded intelligence
than mine, that there was something mysterious, if not shady, about my
prospective employer. Despite his assurance that the law was on his
side, I had grave doubts. If everything was perfectly square and above
board why the deuce didn't he report the affair to the police and give
them the task of looking after him, instead of hiring me at an
exorbitant wage? He seemed anxious to fight shy of publicity in any
shape or form and, though he had been very cordial, even familiar with
me, his very apparent frankness and joviality had awakened my
suspicions. There was something fishy going on, and that something,
whatever it was, centred round the piece of wood that I had so casually
kicked out of the sand. It struck me all of a heap that nothing had
really begun to happen until I had unearthed it. As soon as Bryce had
seen where I was sitting, he had started to run inshore, the other man
had stationed himself behind the rocks, the curtain had been rung up and
the play had begun. Now the question was what part did the piece of wood
play in the game? Bryce, I felt sure, could clear the mystery up with a
word, but I was certain that it would be long before he would say that

The car was all and more than he had said. It had speed, it was
comfortable, and its mechanism was far less complicated than any I had
yet seen. We ate up distance in fine style. Bryce seemed to have no
nerves at all, for more than once he tore round corners on two wheels
while I clung to the side of the car and swore at him. He grinned
cheerfully over his shoulder at me and asked me if I were nervous.

I laughed back at him with as much _sang-froid_ as I could muster. I had
no objection to risking my life once in a while when there was good pay
at the end of it, but I couldn't see the sense of tempting Providence
just for the sheer fun of the thing. Of course, if we did spill, it
would be all right with Bryce - he was so fat that he'd just bounce - but
I was slimmer, and I knew from experience that I had very brittle bones.
Once in the Solomons, when a wild boar charged me, I lay for weeks in a
trader's hut waiting for an obdurate fracture to knit up again. Some
idea of the furious pace at which Bryce pushed the car along can be
guessed from the fact that we did the fourteen miles in something over
twenty minutes. It had been quite half-past eleven when we left the
Heads, and the clock in the car wanted a few minutes to twelve when we

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Online LibraryJ. M. (James Morgan) WalshThe lost valley → online text (page 1 of 16)