Man of Two Tribes b-21, page 1part #21 of Bony Series
Man of Two Tribes
( Bony - 21 )
Arthur W. Upfield
Arthur W. Upfield
Man of Two Tribes
SENIORCONSTABLEEASTERwas roused by the alarm clock at three-forty-five a.m. He told his wife to sleep on, and passed to the kitchen where he fired the wood stove and filled the tin kettle, intending to boil water quickly.
He left the kitchen for the side veranda when the chill of the false dawn was dimming the stars, and there gazed eastward, seeking the first sign of the four-twenty express from Port Pirie. Beyond the house the world was without shape or substance.
Easter moved silently to the front veranda facing the railway buildings, the water tower, the oil containers for the new diesels, and the few cottages occupied by the permanent way men and staff. Other than all this, there was nothing of Chifley: no streets, no shops, no hotel. Save for one illumined window there was nothing of Chifley to be seen at four in the morning.
On a moonless night there is nothing to be seen of the Nullarbor Plain, or of the railway which crosses it for three hundred and thirty miles without an angle Euclid could detect, nothing of all those square miles of table-flat, treeless land beneath which the aborigines believe Ganba still lives and emerges at night to hunt for a blackfellow rash enough to leave his own camp fire to lure a wench from her lawful owner. Now were hidden all the caves, the caverns and blow-holes, and the miles on miles of foot-high saltbush searched by Senior Constable Easter and assistants for Myra Thomas, who disappeared from the four-twenty, five weeks and three days prior to this October morning.
Myra Thomas appeared to have walked off the train at one of the stopping places along the Transcontinental Railway, or had fallen from the train between stops, and in either case, old Ganba had gobbled her up for being out at night to snare another woman’s lawful brute. Damn her, anyway!
Easter returned to his kitchen, brewed tea and set cups on the table without making one sound to disturb his wife. His face and neck and hands were the colour of weathered copper, his light-grey eyes a striking contrast. The sun and wind had bleached his hair and wrinkled his skin, making him look forty when he wasn’t yet thirty. Such was his size and build that only a drunk would dare to start an argument.
His second cup of tea he took to the east veranda, and now light, neither false nor of the true dawn, arched above the edge of the world until it became a long blaze of white magnificence. The express was travelling this section at eighty miles an hour; and still fifteen minutes before it arrived at Chifley.
Well, he had done his utmost to find that blasted woman. Sixteen, eighteen hours a day had he toiled across the endless Plain, organised his trackers, who could find the imprints of a jerboa, but not the trace of a woman’s foot, shod or naked. Week after week the search had proceeded without let-up, and never a scarf or a slipper had they found, let alone a body.
Yes, he had done his damnedest, and so had his trackers. His divisional inspector knew it, and had agreed that the fool woman must have disappeared intentionally.
Then why bother? Why search all over again, as though the woman was the wife of a Railways Commissioner, instead of being a murdering bitch who should have hanged by the neck to stop her ever seeing the Nullarbor Plain? Well, he had better shine himself up to meet this top-notcherfrom the Eastern States who was coming to teach him, Senior Constable Easter, how to follow his forelock.
Shaved, and wearing drill tunic and slacks, Easter poured tea for his wife and swore at the train driver for hooting more than once at the long distance. His wife sat up, smiled her good morning, and asked him had he added coffee to the pot.
“Yes. What a slave I am! I put the grilling chops in the safe. Better go now to meet this bird.”
“Sweet, you are. I’ll get up now. Don’t worry. We’ve had inspectors here before-hundreds of them.”
Lightly kissing her hair, he moved to the door, looked back at her, and grinned because he didn’t feel like smiling this morning.
She heard him pass along the short passage to the front door and down the veranda steps. The train was rumbling into what was called the station, there being no platform, when she slipped into a gown, added fuel to the fire and proceeded to dress. ‘Just too bad,’ was the thought in hermind. After all that work, all the upset routine. Now it would seem that bigger and better brains were to take over.
What did they think her husband was? A new chum? Hadn’t he been born and reared at a homestead down on the south-west corner of the Plain? Hadn’t he been stationed here for six years, and wouldn’t take promotion because he loved every blessed mile of it? And why all the bother about such a woman?
It was all there in Elaine Easter’s mind as she watched the coffee bubbling and heard the chops sizzling.
Toward the end of the previous August, Myra Thomas had faced the charge of murder. The trial was staged in Adelaide, and in South Australia justice is rarely influenced by outside crack-pots.
She was twenty-seven, a smart dresser, and locally renowned as a radio script writer. The husband had been a radio actor, thirty-four years old, handsome, and, by all accounts, a perpetual drinker and an insatiable lover.
The Counsel for the Defence claimed that the husband had been the essence of a blackguard, and that the accused had long been a martyr to his mental frenzies and physical violence. The story went that the husband came home late from a ‘conference’. There had been ‘words’ between them, and he had rushed out to the garage for a pistol. Subsequently there was a struggle, the gun went off, the husband fell dead. Same old story, proving that Australians are not original.
The Prosecution proved that the pistol, a war souvenir, had been recently oiled and yet required strong pressure on the trigger to fire it. The experts swore that the pistol was at least three feet from the victim’s chest when discharged.
To the court officials and the press, the trial was just one of those things, but the accused provided much of interest to all men. She wept throughout. She wept during the judge’s summing-up, and when the jury was absent. She wept whilst being escorted from the court by friends, to receive a mighty ovation from a crowd of teenagers.
The jury’s verdict was a mockery of reason. If ever the jury system was made to appear useless in murder cases, it was by this jury’s verdict, tending to prove that, rather than accept responsibility for a hanging, it would acquit the accused.
For weeks prior to her trial, Myra Thomas received terrific publicity, which during the trial equalled that of the Melbourne Cup. But never a word was published in sympathy for the murdered man.
The ‘heroine’ and her mother decided to leave Adelaide and live in Perth, W. A. They travelled under assumed names, and with them on the four-twenty express from Port Pirie were two other women. The beds were made up after the train left Reid. After leaving Fisher they all retired, and all slept fairly well, only one woman remembering the next morning that the train had stopped several times.
The conductor brought the morning tea when the train was between Deakin and Chifley, and then the three women discovered that the fourth wasn’t with them. The train was searched without result. All stops between Chifley and Reid were contacted, but the missing woman had not left the train to be marooned. The train had to proceed, and the permanent way men searched the line, also without result. Finally, the weary Easter and his weary helpers gave up searching the country for ten miles either side of the line.
It had been hard on Elaine Easter, who had had to cook for and entertain inspectors and sergeants from both Adelaide and Perth, as there wasn’t a hotel at Chifley. The poor things had to eat and sleep somewhere more comfortable than the engine sheds.
The diesel hooted and she heard the train pulling out on its longlong way to Kalgoorlie in the west. And its music would dwindle and dwindle into the whispered lullaby of the Plain.
The aroma of coffee filled the kitchen, and the old American clock tick-tockingon the mantel over the stove had counted the moments for three generations. She placed the chops on a dish within the oven, and was surveying the breakfast table when she heard their footsteps on the veranda, along the passage. The train was sounding its nostalgic fare-you-wells, and the clock was striking the half-hour when they came into the kitchen.
The stranger was at first disappointing to Elaine Easter. She was accustomed to seeing very large men enter her kitchen, men with large square faces and small gimlet eyes which she always said they made small on purpose. This man was slight, wiry, dark-skinned, and the most amazing blue eyes she had ever seen regarded her as though appealing for forgiveness of the intrusion. She experienced a distinct shock when at the back of her mind she realised that he wasn’t a full white man, but the shock was suppressed instantly by the charm of his smile as he waited to be presented.
Her husband put down the large suitcase, and she tried to avoid staring at him, because he was actually looking very happy. He said:
“Guess who, Elaine! Inspector Napoleon Bonaparte! He says we must call him ‘Bony’. Says if we don’t he’ll recommend my demotion. Meet the wife…er, Bony.”
Inspector Bonaparte! Her husband’s tin god. The greatest crime investigator in all Australian history -according to her husband. The man who never yet had failed-again according to her husband.
Now she was being bowed to, and one part of her mind wondered why the other part told her that she was a woman, not just Elaine Easter. She was caught by the blue eyes and found herself listening with pleasure to his voice.
“All my friends call me ‘Bony’, Mrs. Easter. Even my Chief Commissioner, my wife and my sons, call me ‘Bony’. I’ve been sure I would meet none but friends at Chifley.”
ATbreakfast the Easters were captivated by their official guest, but it was not until much later that day that they were able to analyse their reactions. Both were of what is loosely termed ‘the bush’, and they had expected their guest to be the opposite of what he proved to be-one of them.
That he was of mixed races they had to accept, reluctantly. His features and bearing were far removed from the castes with whom they were familiar along these southern districts of Australia, for Bonaparte had entered the world in the mid-north of Queensland, and his maternal ancestry had been powerfully influenced by the impact of the Polynesian peoples. When meeting the calm blue eyes and listening to the softaccentless voice, it was so easy to forget the duality of races.
Bony had crossed the Nullarbor many times, by train and plane; once only by car following the old telegraph route which skirts the southern edge of the Plain where it drops to the narrow coastal belt. Never previously had he been professionally interested in this part of Australia, and he anticipated no hardships additional to those he had experienced closer to the centre, such as the mulga forests, the gibber deserts, the desolation of the salt-pan basins. Although these several geophysical areas are strikingly different, common to all is the force of opposition to man, varied only by the circumstances confronting the individual.
“You have an office with the usual map of Australia pinned to the wall?” he asked, well knowing that the Police Station is the cross carried by every policeman in the true outback.
Easter conducted him to his own particular cross, where he lit the oil-lamp suspended from the ceiling, permitting Bony to survey the usual littered desk, the usual wire files hanging from nails driven into the walls, and usual large-scale map. Mechanically constructing what could be assumed to be a cigarette, he stood with Easter before the map on which someone had etched with blue pencil the area marked Nullarbor, meaning no trees. The cartographer had drawn a rule-straight line from east to west, and named this the Transcontinental Railway, the line bisecting the area.
“Authorities differ over the extent of this Plain,” Bony said, without intention to teach but rather as a preface to what he had in mind to say. “It’s probably much more than the estimate of thirty thousand square miles. What do you know of it?”
Easter’s forefinger traversed the railway.
“Three hundred miles of dead straight line built on dead level ground, or what appears to the naked eye as dead level.” The finger flashed downward on the map to within an inch of the coastline, moved slowly upward to cross the railway, continued upward until seemingly stopped by a blue dot named Lake Wyola. “From here down to the coast is something like three hundred miles. No trees, no surface water except in rock-holes filled by rain. Just a vacuum spanned by a railway, the railway stops by nothing but a few houses and servicing depots. No out-lying homesteads excepting to the south and one to the north-west. No roads but that coastal one. No fences, only land and the sky. That woman didn’t fall from the train.”
“Why do you think that?”
“I’ve a theory. No facts.”
“Give me the theory.”
“Well, I’ve always been interested in abnormal psychology,” Easter said. “Didn’t take much notice of the Thomas case because it was just another husband-wife brawl, but after the trial we dug up the papers and read the reports and got different ideas about the woman. When she disappeared, other things added up.
“I’d say Myra Thomas was vanity plus. She had tasted fame, strictly local though it was, but what a banquet during her trial! She finds herself hitting the headlines all over Australia. I’ll bet no one received a bigger shock than she did when she was acquitted. What happened? She becomes the centre of nation-wide controversy, then within a week all the glory has faded, and the morons who screamed their admiration as she left court, deserted her to rush to the airfield to yell and scream their welcome to a foreignswooner. So, having dined with the gods, she must scramble under the table after the crumbs.”
Bony was frankly astonished by this lucid exposition.
“What happens next?” proceeded Easter. “She planned the disappearance, planned it to take place in the middle of the fabulous Nullarbor Plain, the only place of its kind in the world and famous for just that. So she vanishes from a famous train when in the middle of a famous Plain. Sounds like poetry, doesn’t it? Dressed in her night things and wearing slippers, she left the train at Cook and entered a car or truck driven by a pal who took her by the only track to the coast road, from which point they could go east or west into smoke.
“She certainly got what she wanted-more and more publicity which made the publicity at the triallook like a social paragraph. Now she will lie low for some time, and then reappear with the yarn that she had a sudden attack of amnesia brought on by the dreadful horror of the murder. Imagine the headlines! The money in the story of her life! That’s my theory.”
Easter found himself being studied.
“Were it not for evidence outside your knowledge,” Bony said, “I would strongly incline to agreement. I want you to understand that I do agree that she did not fall from the train or wander away from it.”
“I’m glad to hear that,” Easter said. “I thought…”
“I know, Easter. Look at this map again. See here, to north-east of the Plain and far beyond its border, is the new town ofWoomera, and away in the desert extends the rocket range. Now, much nearer, only a few miles north of Ooldea, along this east side of the plain, is the new atomic-testing ground called Mara
“You know that Security at those Government establishments is very rigid. You don’t know that Myra Thomas was a bad security risk during the war. D’youknow a man named Patsy Lonergan?”
“Never seen him,” replied Easter.“Heard of him. Once a prospector, now a dingo trapper, or was before he died at Norseman a fortnight ago.”
“What do you know about him?” pressed Bony.
“Very little. Lonergan was trapping at Mount Singular for years, even before the present people took over the place, which is seventy miles north of the railway, and built on a bluff overlooking the Plain. He used camels, and like most oldbushmen of his generation, he visited a township once every year for an extra good bender. Died when on that last one.”
“Relatives of his live at Norseman,” Bony supplemented. “When he died they naturally took possession of his personal effects, among which was his diary. Like many prospectors, Lonergan kept day-by-day notes of his catches, his lures and the condition of the ground feed and water-holes for his camels. His notes are cryptic, due to the old habit of the prospector giving nothing away so that should he turn up with a pound of gold, no one could back-track him by stealing his notes. Other than the current diary, no others were found, so we must assume that, as the notebooks were filled, he destroyed them. I’ll fetch the diary from my suitcase.”
Easter heard him talking to his wife in the kitchen, the tones of her voice conveying her easy acceptance of the visitor. He himself was feeling buoyant, for he had proof that his conduct of the search for the girl had been approved by the top brass. He was lighting his pipe when Bony returned with one of those long, ruled account books.
ARTHUR W. UPFIELD SERIES:
Other author's books:
- Bony - 29 - The Lake Frome MonsterBony - 18 - Death of a LakeBony - 25 - Bony and The Kelly GangBony - 11 - An Author Bites the DustBushranger of the SkiesBony - 15 - The Clue of the New ShoeBony - 03 - Wings above the DiamantinaBony Buys a Woman
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