The Ghostly White Gate
Mary Helena Fortune, 1885
[First appeared in the March 1885 issue of The Australian Journal (AJ), under the pseudonym, “Waif Wander”.]
*Transcribed from and edited by Sanguine Woods.
These police sketches are now over eighteen years old, and in the earlied edits of them I explained that, for many prudential reasons, I should never give in them real names or dates. That determination has saved me much trouble and responsibility. I have nothing now to do but draw on my imagination for both names and dates, and tell my story.
So I go on to relate that on an April day in ’66 I was sent up to Outer Station with despatches. I had ridden some thirty miles through a wild, lonely country, and was so tired of it that I began to cease wondering at the queer name they had given the new station.
“No wonder they call it ‘Outer’ Station,” I soliloquised. “It seems at the end of the civilised world; but I can’t be far from White Gate now.”
I had been consulting some memoranda of the road, which had been supplied me at the last place I had halted, and I knew by the indications of the country that I must be somewhere in the vicinity of an accommodation house called “White Gate.”
It was on the seventeenth of April, just when the leaves were looking their freshest and the grass its greenest. The birds were whistling in the branches, the sun at its warmest, the shadows the coolest, when I thought that my resting-place was near. I was mistaken, but I went on, happily innocent of what was before me.
I believe I was asleep—the horse which I always groomed and saddled myself knowing my moods so well—when all at once I awoke with a sense of danger, as the animal stopped suddenly.
A man had laid his hand on my knee, and he was looking at me with such an unearthly, pleading melancholy that the summer evening grew suddenly cold and chill to me. He was an old man, tall, and with grey hair and long grey beard; and he looked as if he had slept in the bush all night, for his otherwise comfortable attire was damp-looking and stained with soil.
“You will help me?’ he asked, pleadingly; and then his hand dropped from my knee.
“Certainly,” I answered, “if I can; what is it you want me to do?”
“Your duty—your duty only.”
“What is your trouble, my good man?”
“Death!” he replied, “death and justice!”
I did not again shut my eyes, yet, as suddenly as he had appeared, the old man faded out of my vision. One moment he had been there standing on the soft moist grass; the next, he was gone.
I got down from the saddle and examined the grass, so soft, yet springy from the fall rains—there was not the mark of a foot there, not a bent blade of grass.
“I am not altogether a fool,” I said, as I remounted, “and yet I think I have seen a vision and heard a warning; but, if he was a real man, I shall hear of him at Outer Station.”
I had never travelled the way before, and, as I have told you, the shadows were growing darker. But at last, I gladly saw the Accommodation Hut on my left hand. A man was standing at the door as I rode up to it, shading his eyes from the low sun with a sinewy brown hand; he was gazing in an opposite direction to that from which I was approaching, and he seemed to be startled at the sound of my horse’s feet as I pulled up before him.
“Good evening, friend; I am not far from Outer Station, I believe?”
“Not half a mile, sir; you can see it if you look straight ahead on the track there.”
“Yes, yes, I see it now. This is White Gate, then?”
“That’s what they call the place, sir, though goodness only knows for what. I don’t believe the place ever had an ounce of white or any other coloured paint on it.”
I didn’t think so, either, for it was only an old bush building with the cracks and bleach of many winters and summers upon it; so I thanked the man civilly enough and rode away.
Now, you must know that I was a complete stranger to Senior Constable Frouth, who was in charge of Outer Station. No doubt he had heard of me by name, as I had heard of him; but whether he was likely to be a friendly companion for the night I had to pass at Outer, I could not even guess.
But no sooner had I set eyes on the man when he appeared at the door of OUter Station—a small white country police station—than I formed a strong opinion of Frouth. He was a surly-looking man of nearly fifty, with a grizzled beard and hair that must have been coal black once. He looked at me lIke he had a mind to lock me up, in spite of the uniform I wore and the Government horse I rode.
“Its a fine evening, Frouth,” I began, as I dismounted and led my horse toward the slip panel that gave entrance to what I perceived to be the stable-yard. “I’ve brought up some despatches for you.”
If what he replied was complimentary I could not tell, but I pretended to take no notice and passed on. I knew my way well enough about police stations to get my horse made comfortable in the only stall that was available, which happened to be the stall next to that of Frouth’s own horse, who was eating his feed quietly in the stall nearest the stable door.
I wondered that curiosity did not bring the surly man out to see what I was about; but no—he was still standing at the door of the barrack-room when I returned.
“These are the despatches, Constable,” I said, as I handed the papers to him.
He lifted his hand then to shade his eyes from the low sun; and as he looked back down the road by which I had come, I noticed he made an expression very much like the one made by the strange old man I had seen on my way to White Gate; for he had shaded and squinted his eyes in the same way.
“I expected no despatches,” he replied. “I suppose you are going to stop for the night?”
“I guess so. I fancy the ride back would make rather a long day’s journey for my horse, as well as myself.”
Frouth went inside, and I followed him. He sat down at the table and I threw myself on a form opposite. I think he guessed that I wanted to watch his face, for he jerked his chair aside as he opened one of the despatches and pretended that the light was stronger where he was partially turned from me.
“Nothing of importance here,” he said when he had read them; he tossed the papers on the table.
“No?”I shortly replied.
“I wish to hearen I had never seen the cursed country, or the cursed uniform!”
“Whatever’s ailing you, mate; time’ll cure it—you can be sure of that.” I was filling my pipe as I said the words, but for all that I saw he seemed to take notice of them. He got up from his seat and grasped me by the shoulder; he bent over me and said, hoarsely:
“There are troubles in this world that nothing will cure but death!”
And then, as if he hadn’t made any such exclamation, he said:
“You want something to eat and drink, I should say.”
The man evidently lived alone and was his own cook and housekeeper. He spread on the table plenty of cold eatables, and set beside them a bottle and a glass, and then he went out and shut the door behind him.
Well, I thought to myself, I’ve been in many a queer adventure in this blessed colony, but if this isn’t the queerest… I laid in to my supper, thinking: But you and I shall be better acquainted, Frouth, before we part; make no mistake about that.
When I had satisfied my hunger and thirst, I went to the door, half expecting to find it locked. I opened it and went outside. There was no fence in front of the station, and the surrounding grass was so devoid of tracks or other disturbances, it was evident the business at Outer Station had been lacking. To the right, was the bush road by which I had come—to the left, an almost treeless plain—there was nary a roof in sight, save that of White Gate off in the distance. Nor could I see Frouth anywhere. I heard the horses stamping in the stable, and fancied my queer friend might be there; but then I caught a glimpse of him in the bush, off to my right. He was talking to another man who was standing more in the shade, and whose form would have passed unrecognised by me if he had not lifted his hand to his eyes to shade them as he squinted toward the station—it was the strange man I had encountered near White Gate.
Evidently he communicated to Frouth that I was on the look-out, for both suddenly drew back farther into the bush.
“Oh, my friends, do not fear,” I soliloquised; “if you don’t want me to know anything, why, I know nothing; that’s all.”
I sat down upon a bench outside tho station and resumed my pipe. Frouth must have made a cut round to the back, for he came through the stable-yard and sat down beside me.
“Isn’t it a lonely hole?” he questioned.
“It is lonely, surely; but you must have some kind of a township near you?”
“If you can call it a township—three houses and a public. I never go there except for letters, and I don’t get one a month.”
“I passed a house over there—White Gate they call it.”
“Yes, there’s a man there as lonely as I am, and we sometimes have a yarn together. A decent sort of man, goes by the name of Blake, but he’s not the man you could make a companion of, after all. We’ll go over there and spend an hour this evening, if you like.”
“What attraction is there?”
“Oh, you young men are always thinking of attraction!” and he laughed a short, forced laugh. “Yes, there’s a woman there, but I don’t think you’ll find her very attractive, after all.”
“Is she Blake’s daughter or wife?”
“A niece, I believe. Shall we step over now? Blake plays a good hand at cards, and he has a draught-board. Don’t laugh! If you were here for a month you’d be glad of even Blake’s!”
I inquired about the horses, to which he replied:
“There’s a lad over at Blake’s; I’ll send him back here to keep an eye out for an hour or two.”
We rose, and he locked the door, putting the key in his pocket.
“I’ve padlocked the stable,” he said j “everything is right, so far.”
We walked toward the White Gate on the bush road. It was •bout seven o’clock, I should say, and, being April, as I have told you, it was almost dark. If I had not been in company with a policeman, and wearing the blue coat myself, I believe in my heart I should have been afraid. Frouth’s manner had been so strange and suspicious, and he seemed so bent on getting me to White Gate, that if I had been worth robbing I might have hesitated in trusting myself away from my horse.
“It’s a pity there’s no moon,” I remarked, as we strode on. “I think it must be pleasant here on a moonlight night.”
“A matter of taste, Sinclair; I prefer the darkest midnight to the brightest moon.”
“Well, that’s a queer taste anyhow I Man, what a miserable life you must have passed.”
“It has not been a happy one.”
“Yet you are young—comparatively speaking, I mean,” I broke in, for he was interrupting me with a harsh laugh. “You are not forty yet.”
“You have been looking up the Police List, I see. Ah, well,
so have I! When I was your age, Sinclair, I did not know what deceit was.”
“Are you accusing me of deceit?”
“Not at all; I was only taken aback at your knowing my age so well.”
“And yet you knew mine.”
“By heart! Mark Sinclair joined as cadet in ’65, applied for admission to the detective force in ’58, appointed to detective force in ’69”
“Oh, spare us the details, mate!” I cried. “I see you have been reading up.”
“I have; do you want to know why?”
“I should like to know, but I confess to you that my curiosity is not overwhelming. I suppose you heard I was coming up?” “Yes, I heard; can you give no better reason than that?” “I shall not try. Suppose we change the subject. Hallo!”
“What is the matter?”
He might well ask. The exclamation had been drawn from me the strangest circumstance. I have told you that it was dark. Te were about half way between the station and Blake’s, as near as I could judge, when, directly in our path, appeared, as it were, the apparition of a white gate. As if a flash of lightning had revealed it, the white gate stood prominently out of the darkness, and, standing beside it, seemed the apparition of the tall, gaunt man who had seized my bridle, and appealed to me for help so short a time previously.
“What is the matter?” Frouth repeated. “Didn’t you see anything?” I asked.
“No; why, Sinclair, you must have a queer sort of a brain!”
“Perhaps; but I saw, just now, a white gate where none had been a moment before! I saw it so clearly, that it is no wonder I was startled!”
“A white gate?”
“Yes, a white gate, with an old man standing beside it.”
“What?” His exclamation was so full of horror, I knew at once it was no pretence of terror on the part of Frouth, when he seized me by the arm and shook me hard.
“Perhaps it was fancy!” I retorted, “but I saw it so clearly! I swear I would know the very gate and the old man standing next to it, were I, God forbid it! too see them again! Come away, Prouth.”
“No! I must go back to the station. Go on, you. I will join you at at Blake’s shortly.”
At first I thought of decidedly refusing, but then again I determined to try what a little detective ingenuity would do toward elucidating the mystery that seemed to surround every side of Outer Station. Prouth had turned and was making his way quickly back. I could hear his footsteps; so I went on until I saw a faint light, that was the window of the place known as ” Whit» Gate.”
As I neared the hut the door opened, and a man’s form darkened the light that flashed out.
“Is that you, Mr. Frouth?” the voice of Blake inquired; and I replied quickly: “No, it is the trooper who arrived this evening. Frouth was coming with me, but he had to turn back on business.”
“Oh, come in, sir! I beg your pardon—Mr. Frouth sometimes comes over of an evening, and I thought it was him.”
“He was bringing me over to spend an hour here, but meeting with a messenger he had to return—he said he would be over presently.”
The man led me into a low-ceilinged apartment, where I saw a pleasant fire on a broad rough stone, and a woman sitting on a stool close to the angle of the chimney. I had a good look at the woman as I sat down on the form which Blake drew out for me. “This,” thinks I, “is the niece that Frouth spoke about.” She was a woman of thirty, with a hard, cold face, and long fair hair hanging all loose down her back. Her arms were clasped round her knees, her figure bent, her eyes fixed upon the fire. Sh« was dressed in a loose gown of dark serge, and had her bare feet thrust loosely into odd slippers. I noticed all this while I wa» exchanging the following sentences with Blake.
“In the name of mercy, how do you manage to live in this dead place, Blake?” I asked; “a week of it would kill me.”
“Well, sir, we .get used to it, I suppose; Mr. Frouth has been here ten months now.” “And you?”
“I have been here nearly five years. We had no police station here before Mr. Frouth came.”
“And I don’t think you wanted one, either; why, nothing ever happens here.”
“Nothing can ever happen here!” I almost jumped from my seat—the echo came from the lips of the woman who was seated by the fire; yet she moved not a muscle while she said them.
“Don’t be alarmed, sir! it is only my niece—she is a little wrong here.” He placed one of his brown fingers on his forehead as he explained; “the poor girl is quite harmless.”
“Quite harmless!” the echo repeated.
“A sort of melancholy madness, sir, something of a love affair, I believe.”
“Something of a love affair, I believe,” repeated the awful echo.
I can’t describe to you how the monotone of that poor parrotlike echo affected me. I turned my back full upon her, and tried to speak of matters that should not draw upon me a repetition of the painful echo.
“You do something or other, surely, Blake; you could not exist sitting here waiting for a business that never comes? I can’t fancy a traveller passing this way more than once a month.”
“Many travellers certainly do not put a shilling in my way, sir; but you are right, I do not live altogether idle—I have a bit of land and cultivate it.”
“And cultivate it!” repeated the echo.
“Martha,” Blake pleaded, “Martha, my girl!”
“My girl!” repeated once more that plaintive echo; and then I turned suddenly, to see her gather her fair hair with a sweop of her uplifted hands and hide her face in it.
“It is over now,” Blake whispered. “She only takes it by fits and starts. It is all over now.” I
“It is the strangest thing about the business that summoned Frouth back tonight,” I said, as I resumed my former position and faced Blake. “You remember me passing this evening?”
“I do, sir, it was an event; policemen do not often visit Outer Station.”
“You alluded to the name of your place as White Gate, I think; yet you could not account for the name.”
“No, sir, it is incomprehensible to me. As I said before, there has never been a streak of white paint on the place.”
“Yet some old man met Frouth when we were coming here, and told him he must meet him instantly at White Gate. Instead of coming here Frouth turned back at once. There must be another ‘White Gate’.”
I was watching Blake while I related this little tale for his benefit, and I saw him grow pale under my eyes. He was looking down on the table, where his hands were nervously fidgeting with a pack of soiled cards that lay near them; then, he lifted his eyes to meet mine.
“You gentlemen of the police have a great many secrets,” he said, with a smile, “and I don’t want to know them; but I do know that Constable Frouth is a very strange gentleman. Did he say anything about the horses, sir?’
“He said he would send your boy over to see after them a bit.”
“Ay, I thought so; but Jim has not come back yet. I will go myself if you will not mind, Mr. Sinclair. You will find a good glass in that bottle, and I shall not be long.”
“All right,” I said, shortly, as he placed the bottle and glasses before me.”I will amuse myself with the cards for half an hour; if Frouth is not there by that time, I shall go back to the station.”
“I will tell him so, Mr. Sinclair. So long.”
“So long, Blake.”
He went out, and I listened to his steps as they faded away on the track I had already twice travelled and was fated to know a good deal more of; and when I could no longer hear them I got on my feet and turned toward the fireplace.
The woman, whose hair had last been hiding her face, was no longer seated; she had risen and now faced me.
I shall never forget her. Now that she looked straight into my eyes, I could see she must have once been a very beautiful woman. She had large, blue eyes, as soft as “violets with dew on them”—and they were dewy, too, for she had evidently been weeping.
As we looked in each other’s faces for a silent moment, it seemed as if there was some recognition—some understood yet unexplained reason why we should trust each other. It seemed to me that I had known this sad-faced woman in some other world; then all at once the truth struck me: this poor girl’s features bore a strong resemblance to that of the old man I had seen on the track, and standing near the mysterious white gate.
She stepped to the table, took the bottle, and poured its contents on the mud floor under the hearth; and, as she replaced the bottle, she said again that well-known word: “Death!” Suddenly, I understood: the drink and the contents in the bottle had been drugged! “A pretty plot!” I thought; “a plot I shall unravel or die for it! What object have Constable Frouth and Blake in making away with me?”
”Why do they want to drug me ?” I asked. “You are a friend; tell me, what could possibly be the motive?”
“It is because you have seen the ghostly white gate,” she replied, in such a sweet voice one would never have recognised as that which had simulated that weird echo.
“How do you know I have seen a ‘ghostly’ white gate?”
“Many see it, and are afraid.”
“Who? Blake and Frouth?”
“Yes; and the day will come when they shall be afraid as well! Do you know what they say of me? They say I am mad; and they think I am. But I am as sane as you! I am just biding my time and waiting for my chance at revenge!”
Once again the sweet voice was lost, and the tone was raised in strong excitement; and once again she swept her hair over her face and sat down to weep silently.
I might have been puzzled how to act had it not been that on the instant there was the noise of wheels that stopped before the door and the sound of voices. I opened the door, and saw by the light of a lantern held in one man’s hand a light vehicle with a pair of horses. Two men were seated in the conveyance, and the one who held the reins was speaking.
“Hold up the lantern, Jack. This can’t be the place, and yet I could have sworn to the road. “Ah, here comes someone!”
“Friend, is this the Accommodation house known as White Gate?”
“Where the devil is the white gate, then? Jack, get,down; this is the place, it seems.”
The man, who was apparently a servant, obeyed; and the speaker followed. As he stood in the light from the doorway, I could see he was a stout, business-like, gentleman, of about fifty, well dressed, and rather fussy in manner.
He was pulling off a muffler when he noticed me.
“Jack, you will find a stable at the back—look after the horses. Hallo! Why, here’s a policeman!”
The man’s surprise was so genuine, and so entirely uncomplimentary, that I laughed aloud.
“Are you so sorry to see one, if us?” I asked.
“No, no;well, not exactly. But, I was surprised to see the uniform. There was no station within twenty miles when I was here last.”
“There is one now, within half a mile, Outer Station.”
“And you belong to it?”
“Not exactly; I am here on duty, though, temporarily.”
“And what the deuce has become of the white gate?”
“I wasn’t aware one ever existed. There does seem to be a bit of a mystery surrounding it. Would you oblige me by holding off on further discussion in regards to the matter, until I can speak to you privately?”
“By all means. Where is the landlord?”
“He has gone over to the station—he promised to return soon.”
“Indeed! Well, ol’ Jack and I always carry enough with us to ensure our own comfort.”
“And to protect yourselves, too, I hope?”
“Whatever do you mean, sir? Is there danger about?”
“I believe there to be. Say nothing. Drink nothing. Until you hear otherwise from me.”
“I understand. It is all right—we are well armed. Let us go inside.”
We went inside, leaving the door open, and sat down. I looked to see the figure of the woman by the fire, but she was gone! It was with a relieved mind, now, that I turned to the new arrival, who was staring about him in an uncomfortable way.
“The place seems different somehow—are you sure this is the White Gate?”
“indeed I am. Blake professes ignorance regarding the origin of the name. He says he has been here five years, but never saw a streak of white or any other colour paint on the place. But, as I told you before, there is some mystery about the name. Shall we play a game of cards?”
“Cribbage? Yes. I see a board there; pull it forward, and we can talk as we play.”
We were quickly in the mysteries of “Fifteen two, fifteen four, &c,” and talked in a low tone.
“Name is Merridith. I am travelling as stock agent for — & Co. I was up here—hold a moment while I fetch my notebook. Ah, yes. There we are: Twelve months ago it was. Jack and I stopped here for the night; and I distinctly remember there being a white gate very close to the building—a gate so large in comparison to the size of the establishment, no one could wonder at it lending its name to the house. And now, you say, there is no gate?”
“Perhaps they pulled it down,” I said absentmindedly. “Your deal, Merridith.”
“Ah, but that is where you are wrong, sir,” Jack said, standing in the open doorway. The white gate was not pulled down. It was moved, sir. I can vouch for it—standing over there in the gloom behind the stables; and, whatsmore, there is an old man standing near it.”
I let the cards drop from my hands.
“You saw a large white gate out behind the stables? In the dark?” I asked, forgetting how I, too, had seen it in the dark on my way over from the station this evening.
“It’s a large gate, sir. I noticed it when I came out from stabling the horses; I had the lantern with me.”
“Friend,” I said to the man, “would you mind going out again, and confirming your claim?”
“Not at all, sir.”
With one consent, as it were, Merridith and I dropped all pretensions of card-playing, and waited the man’s return. It was not five minutes ‘ere he stood at the open door again; he was trembling from head to foot.
“What is it, man?” Meridith asked encouragingly.
“It is not there, sir. I searched everywhere. There is nary a white gate Trevor be found. What could this mean, sir?”
“Indeed. This new friend of ours, the constable, is going to explain. Sit down, Jack.”
And then, I did explain—telling in a low voice all about my encounter with the mysterious old man of the white gate on my way to Outer Station—and of the strange behaviour of Blake and Frouth. I need not recapitulate what I have already written of the story; but I do say, simply, that Mr. Merridith looked very grave by the time I had concluded my story.
“I have heard ghost tales,” he said, “but I never listened with interest, much less believed one of them. Is this ghostly white gate going to make a believer out of me, yet?” He chuckled to himself; but I could see a bit of fear, or its beginnings, in his eyes as he spoke.
I heard footsteps approaching, then. “Trust to chance. Here comes the landord, now!”
Blake came in hurriedly, flushed from rapid walking, and looked from one to the other of us in doubt and hesitation, as he wiped the perspiration from his face.
“Oh, it is all right, Blake,” I said; some of your rare travellers have arrived, is all; and I have been doing my best to entertain them until your return. Where is Frouth?”
“I am sorry to say that, when I reached the station, I found Mr. Frouth very ill, sir.” Then to Merridith: “I trust your man found the stables all right?”
“Indeed,” said Merridith, ” you remember me then? Yes, the horses are fine; and we have plenty of tucker in the trap. Jack, old boy, bring in the tucker-box; let’s have some supper. Glad to find the good old fire going, Blake; the nights are getting colder.”
“Yes, sir, they are.” Then to me: “Mr. Sinclair, I have a line for you.”
He took a bit of folded paper from his pocket and handed it to me, adding: “I have a verbal message for you also.”
I opened the paper and read the short note from Frouth:
Come back to the station at once. I am very ill. Blake will fill you in. Do not delay!
A great change, truly! I was ‘Dear Sinclair’ now? And Frouth wanted me badly? “What is the matter with Constable Frouth?” I asked of the pale-faced messenger.
“If you will step to the door, sir, I will tell you. You have known Constable Frouth for a long time, sir?”
“I never saw him in my life until today—what are you dry at, man?”
“You did not guess, sir? Frouth is subject to fits of terror, sir…and insanity.”
I looked at the man suspiciously. “Has he taken these fits of insanity from your niece?” I asked; “because if they are catching, sir, perhaps we need not remain here, too comfortably, at White Gate.”
Blake’s teeth chattered as though he were freezing: “You are chaffing me, sir, but it is no laughing matter. I assure you, “Mr. Frouth is terribly ill.
“Out of his mind?”
“Quite out, sir.”
I scowled at Frouth’s note. This,” I said, as I tapped the note with one finger, “does not read like the composition of a madman.”
“Go and see, for yourself, then, Mr. Sinclair, if you have a mind to. I can say no more.”
“What is this to do, constable?” Merridith asked. He rose up eyeing us suspiciously. “Have you and my landlord secrets between you?”
“It would seem that Constable Frouth—the man stationed at Outer—, is very ill, and asks me to go to him straight away.”
“Well, I shall go with you, if you have no objection. Jack, will you make one?”
“Ay, master, willingly.”
From one to the other Blake looked anxiously, and then he walked to the fireplace and sat down doggedly with his back to the door and us.
“Bring out your lantern, Jack,” Mr. Merridith said, “we may want it.”
The lantern was lit, and we started on our way to Outer Station. As we reached the turn of the road, I looked back and saw the yellow light of the candle spilling through the open doorway of White Gate into the night. I remember how singularly lonely the little roadside hut looked that night as well as if it was last night I saw it instead of twenty years ago.
Jack and his lantern went on in front; Meridith and I following closely. “If,” said Merridith, “ghosts really did exist, I assure you this is the very place to expect a sight of one!”
I returned: “You may be obliged yet, sir! Another hundred yards or so and we shall reachthe very spot where I first saw the old man of the white gate!”
And then it was upon us, barring our way—a glowing white gate; it gleaned and quivered, like a mirage, bright as though the sun itself were gleaming down upon it at noonday! It was a ghastly sight! for there, at his post, gaunt and hungry-looking as ever I had seen him, stood the old man. Then, as if a flash of lightning had revealed it in the pitch-black night, and then, just as quickly, pulled it back into oblivion, the gate was gone.
Merridith took the lantern from his servant, and with it lifted up in his hand tried to peer into the darkness around him. “I daresay our white gate may very well be a ghost itself! Popping in and out like a phantom from a storybook! It’s unsettling! Can there be any trickery in it?”
“I do not think trickery could produce such a strange appearance,” I answered.
“Then at last I am to believe in supernatural things!” Merridith seemed at once disappointed, and thrilled.
When we reached Outer Station, and had pulled up in front of the main building, we heard such a succession of noises coming from within, I was practically convinced of Blake’s assertion. Frouth must be mad! We heard ejaculations and hard gasping breaths as of a man in mortal combat. I knew the voice was Frouth’s, and paused to listen with my ear to the door.
“It’s a lie!” Frouth cried. “That gate was pulled down last year! I have been at Outer Station not ten months!”
Pat that, I flung wide the door. The unfortunate man was precipitating himself against the wooden sides of the barrack-room, and tearing at it with his hands. His uniform was torn almost to shreds, the silver stripe, of which he had doubtless been once so proud, was hanging by a few threads. His face was ghastly and dripping with sweat, his chest heaving like the swell of the sea after a great storm.
“What’s up with you, Frouth P” I asked, quietly; and at th» sound of my voice he dropped his arms instantly and sat down facing us, staring wildly at us, and panting yet in hard gasps. “What is the matter P” I repeated. “Are you ill P” “Yes, I am ill. Who is this gentleman P Bring him in
gentleman P Bring him in and
shut the door.”
We obeyed him, Merridith and Jack standing near the doorwhile I questioned Frouth.
“Where do you feel ill, man P Blake brought me over your note, and this gentleman came with me to see what we could do for you.”
“I am glad someone has come. Stand back,like a good fellow, and let me see this Mr.—Mr.——” “Merridith,” I said.
“Mr. Merridith. Yes, and there is another man.” “Mr. Merridith’s servant.”
“Well, now, will you three men answer me honestly a question that is of life or death to me P” “Of course we will.”
“Look around the room, look in every direction. Do you see anything strange P Everywhere, mind, look everywhere.”
“There is nothing strange,” Merridith said. “Only the wails of the room, the table s-nd forms, that stretcher, and one chafe. That’e ali.”
“Look at that wall,” and he pointed to the side of the chamber with which he had been battling. “*I* there nothing there?” “Nothing whatever.” “There is no hope then ; I am haunted!” He covered his face with his hands and groaned aloud, “Tell me what you fancy you see, Frouth.” “A white gate and an old man’s face. I see it everywhere —by day and night, by dark and by light. Merciful God! what shall I do P”
There was a pause, while Merridith and I looked in each other’s faces; then the gentleman strode to Frouth’s side and said to him sharply:
“I am no preacher, my good man, but I can give you a bit of common-sense advice for all that. You have some secret on your soul, confess it, and make your peace with God and man. That is the only way to find rest.”
Frouth’s haggard face seemed to grow even more ghastly, and he shuddered as he turned his eyes from Merridith’s face to mine.
“Tife gentleman is right, Frouth,” I ventured. “If you have anything on your conscience make a clean breast of it; you will find it by far the safest way.”
“Why do you say this? “What makes you talk to me as if I had committed some great Bin P”
“Let me answer you,” Mr. Merridith returned. “”We think you hare some great sin on your conscience because you are haunted by the phantom of a white gate. I was at Blake’s a year ago. What has become of the white gate that was by the nut thenP You know, and Blake knows; but. do you know that you are not the only one who sees that phantom gate you dread so muchP Sinclair here has seen it twice, my man Jack has seen it twice, and I hare seen it once to-night.”
“Is this true?” Frouth gasped.
“It is true,” I replied. “I saw the old man, too, as I was •coming to the station this evening. He asked me to help him to avenge murder, and then disappeared.”
“The hand of an outraged Heaven is in it I” As Frouth said the words a calm seemed to settle down upon him with the determination he had evidently formed. He got up and drew ofi his tattered jacket, folding it carefully and laying it an the stretcher; then he put on another that had hung over the back of his chair. Then he tried to arrange his hair with shaking hands as he reseated himself, and began to speak.
“If you all sit down before me and listen I will tell you the whole story. May the Lord forgive me my share in it I”
“Amen !” was promptly echoed by all three of us ; and then, as we complied with his wish and seated ourselves, he went on.
“It is twelve months ago this very night,” he said, ” and I had just arrived at this station. Over and over again I have tried to make- myself, believe that I have been here only ten months, and dreamed of the awful secret hidden between Blake and myself. The wooden station had not yet been erected, and I had been ordered to put up at the only house of accommodation in the lonely neighbourhood—the place known as White Gate.
“It was late when I arrived, but it was starlight, and I saw » good bit before I got to the hut.
“The road is little travelled on now; it had been less used then. All of the three-chain track was covered with soft, green grass, only a narrow wheel rut or two in the middle. I don’t know what made me dismount, but dismount I did, and began to lead my horse slowly along the grass, looking with curiosity at the low bush hut I was to stop at, with a light in one little front window, aod the big white gate standing close to it, almost as high as the c’himney of t! e lint.
“All at once as I was looking the door was flung wide open, and, in the sudden light from the interior, I saw a. man stagger on the threshold, and then come outside. He seemed to grope along with difficulty, until he fell against the white gate, his form being darkly thrown out by the fresh white paint behind him. He stood there but an instant, and then another man sneaked up behind him, and I heard a blow.
“There was only one, but, oh, heavens! I hear it yet. The man fell like an ox under the* axe of the slaughterer. I stood for a second, and then darted forward, dragging the horse with me, and in another mitute I had the murderer by the throat!
“My appearance seemed to crush him with astonishment j he recognised the uniform at once. ,
“‘ Drop that!’ he cried, as he tried to wrench himself from my grip. ‘It would be more like the thing for you to try and help this poor old gentleman that’s in a fit.’
“That was so far true that I let him go, and stopped to raise the fallen man. Oh, good lord, shall I ever forget it 1
Frouth stopped, and his head fell again on his arms as they lay an the table before him. He seemed quite incapable of further speech, and I ana sure that all three of us listeners pitied, and would have helped him if we could.
*’Cheer up, Frouth!” I encouraged; “you are on the right track, and we are all here friends to help and pity you!”
“I will go on!” he exclaimed, with renewed courage. “I will go on, for the worst will soon be over! Well, I tried to lift the dead man—for he toas dead—and then I saw the white gate as I have seen it, sleeping or waking, since. Whether it was in a gleam of lightning, or of a light from the hut, I shall never know, ■ opt I saw it with that poor old man’s brains clinging to it in spots, and his body lying close against it! i
“I let the body drop, and turned to Blake. You must know he was a stranger to me then, and I felt harder than iron as I looked into his white, doubting face.
‘”This is a pretty job you have done, mate,” I said to him, sneeringly; ‘you didn’t expect to see a policeman at White Gate i to-night.’ i ‘”This is not White Gate,’ he returned, doggedly. ‘You are 1 miles away from that place.’ 1
“I pointed to the gate and drew my revolver. ‘I am at White Gate, and you are Blake, the landlord. Go inside, where I can . see your murdering face—I will talk to you there.’ > “He went before me, covered by my revolver. I saw at once , that there was no one in the place as we entered. The fire was i burning as it always seems to be burning since at Blake’s, and ; there were cards on the table.
i “He entered before me, and I shut the door. ‘Sit down there,’ . I said, ‘and tell me what you murdered that old man for. ‘Mind, I taw you do it!’
“‘ Let me get a drink, and I’ll tell you!’ he gasped, as he went : to a cupboard and took out a bottle and glasses. ‘I feel as if I i was dying.’
“I watched him as he poured out a tumbler of spirit and drank it at a draught; then he sat down on the form beside the table, . and lifted his eyes to my face.
i “‘Why did you do it?’ I questioned. ‘What had that poor , old man done to you that you must murder him in cold, cruel i blood P’
“‘ I will show you,’ he replied, getting up and going to the cupboard again. ‘I was tempted of the devil, and by these.’
“He laid a canvas bag on the table as he spoke, and untied the string that fastened its mouth, with hands trembling as with palsy; then he emptied out on the table such a stream of shining, sparkling, beautiful sovereigns that the sight fairly took my breath away. I had to spread out my hands to prevent many of reason for it. He said he had marked it on Blake’s white gate, where it would be seen on the Day of Judgment. He said it was the seventeenth of April, and that he bade me witness and remember it, for the cause was death.”
“Tut, tut, man, you had been drinking,” his master exclaimed.
“No, I hadn’t, sir—no, I hadn’t.”
A silence fell upon us. You could have heard a pin drop, as the saying is. Jack seemed to have resumed his stare into tke fire; Blake stood, at the table, plate in hand, and with dropped jaw; while the poor beautiful woman, Martha, had raised her head and was looking intently into Jack’s apparently unconscious faeei
Martha rose and turned her face toward us. Her long, fair hair seemed brighter and more glossy as she threw it back frost her fair face with both hands. She was behind Blake, as he stood like a man frozen with terror, and as she spoke the man let fallthe plate, that fell with a crash that startled every one like a shock of thunder.
“Was this man speaking of my dear murdered father?” she asked, in the sweet, passionate tone I have already nlluded to. “Was it my dead father who told him never to forget the seventeeth of April? Ah, I shall never forget it—the date is graven here on my brain!”
She placed a hand on her forehead as she spoke, and when she paused Blake showed a desperate courage and turned on her.
“You have taken a mad fit again, Martha. Go to your room, and remember yourself.”
“I remember myself, and I remember you, John Blake 1 I have waited long for this hour; thank God it has come! Do Tw think your drugs have deadened me as you meant them to do? Oh, accursed of the devil, your time has come!”
She looked like an inspired being as she stood there with outstretched arms, and Blake cowering beneath her words as a hound cowers beneath the threatened lash. I saw Blake’s eyes look wildly toward the door, and in a minute my handcuffs were on his wrists.
“Tell me what your dead father’s name was,” I said to thewoman.
“It was Eichard Coburn.”
“I arrest you for the wilful murder of Eichard Coburn,” I saiA to the cowed wretch. “And now I warn you that whatever yo» may say will be taken in evidence against you.”
“Against me !” he repeated, bitterly. “As if you could hurt me. Ha, ha! I can silence you and avenge myself in on* moment of time! Of what value is your life now? What bribe will you give me to save it?”
What could he mean? It was with a strange terror that I asked myself the question. What danger was there P I looked around, and then at the man’s face, and I saw in his sinister smile that some, yet to us unknown, power was held in his manacled hands.
Once again the poor woman saved me. I had not observed before that on one end of the table lay a small wooden bo*, towards which was now creeping a slender line of lire. All at once I saw that the man had suspected Frouth, and prepared for our return! Martha sprang forward, and, with the skirt of her dress, swept the little train of powder innocuous to the ground. Another moment, and honest Jack had dashed the little box intoa bucket of water that stood at the side of the room. Blake felt, his triumph had been premature, and fell to the form near him.
It was now a strange scene within the walls of that bush hut. Martha, triumphant^ and with a face actually radiant, set her burning eyes on the crestfallen murderer’s face. Jack stood as if he could have felled the treacherous being, and Mr. Merridith’s grave face seemed the only calm one among us.
“This poor girl can tell us all she can recall of her father’s foulmurder. You will, my dear, won’t you? Have you quite forgotten your father’s friend, James Merridith P”
She came to him with outstretched hands, and looked into his face with the joy of a child. “If you are his friend? Ah, yes, I now remember your face! It was at Adelaide, was it not? You> used to come to our home near Barwon.”
“Yes, that was it. My poor girl, sit down there, and tell us all about that unhappy day, now a year old. Eecollect, it is to help us to punish that bad man.”
“And to find my father’s body. Oh, heavens! to think that his bones are yet hidden away gravel ess and uneoffined! I have watched John Blake step by step for all this long year that is past, but I have not yet found oat where he has hidden the old man who loved me so 1”
“And you never will!” Blake roared, with a harsh laugh. “He is lying by the white gate—who shall find that P”
“It is found!”
Everyone turned to the place from whence came the words, and there we saw standing at a now open inner door a man dressed as a miner, and with the marks of red clay on his well-worn clothing. He had a lantern in one hand, and a crushed and dirty felt hat in the other.
*’ I am a Btranger here,” he said. “Me and my mate have been prospecting up the gully behind here these four days, and something happened to-day that made us want neighbours. We went into Barn’s for directions this evening, and they directed us to Outer. This is Outer Station, isn’t itP”
“No, friend, this is “White Gate.”
It seemed as if the words were fated to confound every one who heard them. The man stared from one to the other of us, but his •yes settled on me.
“You are a policeman, at all events P”
“Then my business is with you. Come outside here, I have something to say to you.”
I beckoned to Merridith. “Jack, I leave this wretch to you for ■a moment; will you see after him P”
We went out by the back way, where the miner had oome in, and stood near the door.
“What was that you were saying about the white gate being found P” I asked.
“I heard what you were saying when I went in, and I wondered,” the man answered. “Yes, we have found the remains of a white gate, and the body of an old dead man near it. Can you come with me, constable P”
“I cannot,” I returned, promptly; “I have arrested a man on a charge of murder, and must see him at onoe to the lock-up. But, stay—if you like to come with me to Outer Station until I put my prisoner in safety, if it is necessary I can go with yo* than.”
“It is not neoessary, constable; a dead man and a bit of qharred wood will keep until morning. I will come back early in the morning.”
He had gone before I could reply, and, with our curiosity but half satisfied, we returned to the room where we had left Jack in charge of the murderer.
Blake sat where we had left him, and Jack stood guard over him. The woman was gone.
“Where is she—the girl P” Merridith asked, quickly.
“I think she has followed that man, sir,” Jack repUed j “I oailed, but you did not hear, and I dared not leave this villain.”
“You were right, Jack; but I must see that the child of my friend comes to no harm. Help the constable with the prisoner.”
“The prisoner is past your hands, you villains! See, he has escaped!”
It was Blake who cried out the words, and, as they escaped his i#ps, his head fell forward on the table. We lifted him and looked in his face—he was dead. The murderer had escaped.
“It is dreadfully sudden!” I cried out.
“Some of his own drugs, doubtless,” Merridith replied. “I have no doubt that he has long dreaded discovery, and was prepared for the worst.”
We laid the wretched man upon his own bed, and, closing the doors, went in search of the missing Martha. It was now so late that the moon was high in the clear heavens, and, climbing up a rise at the back of the hut, we plainly saw as we left it the slight figure of the woman, with her loose dress agitated by the rapidity of her movements and waving in the cool night breeze. We followed her, knowing that she must have the miner in view, though we could not yet see him, and soon we reached the crest of the hill and saw them both.
The hill sunk rapidly when it reached a fringe of trees on its orown—went down, in short, with a surprising suddenness into a deep gully. Down on the bottom of the gully a fire burned in the ihelter of the giant trees, and near it, in the full light of the leaping, ruddy blaze, stood Martha and two men.
We hastened downward, making a crashing noise as we descended, that drew the attention of all three, and they turned
anxiously to scan our faces. Of course my uniform was recognised at once, and Martha sprang to Merridith’s side.
“I shall see him again!” she panted, excitedly; “even in death I shall see the dear old face once more! They are u to tell me where to find him! They will not refuse me now, i theyP”
While he was trying to reason with and soothe her, Jack and I were listening to the prospector’s story.
“This was how it was, gentlemen,” the man who had gone down to give information explained. “Me and my mate took a famcy to prospect this ground years ago, and so came at last when we left Gnu’s Bush. Our tent is up there, you see, and we had no | manner of idea, that ever a pick had been in the ground before. But there had. When we began to sink under that spur there we dropped upon a bit that had been paddocked and filled up again with mullock and rubbish. We took it into our heeds to clear out the paddock, and drive it, and so we started yesterday, i to find a dead man and the remains of a big white gate.
“It is the strangest thing, too, but though anyone can see the old man has lain there for a long time, his face is as fresh as , though he had died yesterday. We have not touched him, ealy I to dear away the clay; the branches that kept it off the body are lying on it still.”
I Mr. Merridith now approached lis, with Martha Cotrarn clinging to his arm. j “She will not go—the poor child will not go,” he said; TI cannot persuade her.”
“I want to see my dear, kind father!” she pleaded; “I want to see him only onoe more! I will not weep or moan—I will be no trouble, only let me kiss his face onoe again; it will seem like home!”
“We must humour the poor child. Who could resist such loving pleading P Now, men, lead the way.”
We followed them to the spot the prospectors had pointed out. As we stood by the partially cleared out space, one of the men set fire to a heap of dry wood, and soon a grand blaze made the whole neighbourhood as light as day. Merridith stood close to the girl, and with his arm around her, while Jack and I, under the men’s direction, picked our way to the centre of a large, uneven excavation, where seemed a pile of clay-sprinkled dead branches, that were one by one carefully lifted off.
When they were removed, we saw, lying peacefully among many pieces of white timber and bits of charred wood, the old, gaunt man whom I had seen on the road whence U first arrived at White Gate—seen and spoken with, though he had been dead for twelve long months. His white face was unchanged; his grey hair limp on hollow, blue temples. His hands lay across his sunken chest, as though guarding the heart that had ceised beating under the murderer’s blow—and there seemed to be a soft smile under the half closed eyes, that would shed tears no more.
We lifted him gently and laid him on the grass at his daughter’s feet. She knelt beside him with the strangest calm, and smiled, too, as she met the seeming smile on the old man’s face.
Looking thus in her father’s face for a moment, in silence, she sat down on the grass and lifted his face to her lap. I don’t believe there was an unmoistened eye among us five men.
“My poor child,” Merridith pleaded, “do not disturb him!”
“Only this once,” she whispered, as she drew the beloved face to her breast and laid her lips gently upon the chill forehead. Then suddenly and louder she cried, as she lifted her eyes and fixed them high up on the hill-side, where the gleams of the bright moon lay: “Father! the White Gate!” she exclaimed; then, slowly, the light faded from her face as her eyes rested on the lifeless form of her father.
“They have met again,” Merridith said, reverently, as he raised her in his arms and we separated father and child. And it was true—they had met again at the White Gate—the gate that is of jasper and pearl—where the shadow of sorrow and pain should ever separate them again, forever and ever.
When the pity and sympathy we felt for poor Martha Coburn had expressed itself in many words, we had time to more clossly examine the charred remains of the white gate that had once been Blake’s. It had evidently been chopped up with the are, and carried to that lone spot to make a funeral pyre for the murdered man. A fire had been kindled beneath, and clay laid above, so as to ensure the slow consumption of the body as well as the wood. One could fancy now that wretched Blake would creep sometimes up the hill to satisfy himself that there were-no traces of his crime left; and how he would hasten home again, dreading to examine more closely, lest some bird of the forest should shriek out the story of what he had done to the whole world. Was he ever haunted? There are men, and women too, on the earth, so hardened in sin they are never even haunted by the shadow of their own crimes; but the day must come when their memories will stare them in the face, and bar their passage at every turn while they try to escape from sin’s avenger!
No need for enlargement on the arrangements we had to go through in consequence of the events I have related. The dead were buried, and the remains of the white gate totally burned. Frouth, a totally changed and subdued being, resigned, and left the Force to return to the land where was his home and friends, and the property of Blake fell into the hands of Government through the Curator of Intestate Estates. But I have some curious things to tell you yet about the hut still known as the White Gate.
We had orders to thoroughly search Blake’s property for the dead man’s gold—it was almost a certainty he had neither spent or removedit; and Merridith, with his man Jack, remained on to help us and keep us company. We took the day after the lonely funerals for it, commencing early when the sun was shining brilliantly and warmly on the old hut.
We began with Blake’s own room, a little, low room, opening off the front. It had a bunk in it—the one we had laid the dead murderer on—and the dark blankets lay dustily tossed upon it in so strange a similarity to the shape of a human form, that I had to drag them off to destroy the appearance that, in spite of me, made me shudder.
The bed was made of sacking and stuffed with wool. We ripped it open, and tossed the wool upon the floor of the front room. There was no gold in it. Next we pulled down the lining and searched every cranny and crevice of the old slab walls. There was no sign of gold in them.
“I’ll swear there’s some kind of cellar about this floor,” said Jack; “here, near the bunk, it sounds hollow, though it seems to be clay.”
Jack was right. When we closely examined the place he had pointed out, we found a trap door ingeniously plastered over to resemble the othf r parts of the floor. There was a ring to lift it by, and when it was raised we saw below some rough steps, down which we went one by one. We found ourselves in a cellar about nine feet square, and in the middle of this apartment was raised an altar-like form of stone, with an ebony crucifix resting on it. On this altar burned dimly a lamp of oil, and its soft rays, illumined a missal written as it were in Latin.
“This is the strangest thing of all!” exclaimed Merridith.
“This man must have been haunted after all! See, the wretch’s knees have actually worn a hollow in the hard floor! Was this a penance for one sin or for many?”
“Who can tell? Blake must have been a scholar, too. See, here is his name written in a bold hand. He must have been a scholar—it is a Latin missal.”
“If these walls could echo all tho prayers and groans that have been repeated in them, what a babel there would be! Do you think the gold would be here?”
“Sound the stones of the altar.”
Jack sounded them with a vengeance. Placing his feet against the stones, and his buck against tie wall of the cellar, he pushed with all his might, and fell to the floor as the stones seemed to crumble like dust.
We were in the dark now, and amid some exclamations managed at last to strike a light. The oil lamp that had fallen among the stones was re-lit, and the first object upon which its feeble rays rested was the bag of sovereigns Frouth had described tome. We counted them; there were five hundred of them—a glittering pile they looked on the dark stones while we were numbering them.
“The gold for which he shed blood hidden in the altar at which he oried for mercy for his sins! What strange contradiction is this! Let us go up out of this musty hole and breathe the pure air of heaven, in mercy’s name!”
And pleasAnt and pure, indeed was the air on the morning I shook hands with Mr. Merridith and Jack…at the door of the ill-omened White Gate. I was mounted and on my way back to my old quarters. I had parted with poor Frouth, who looked sadly forward to an enforced stay of one month at lonely Outer Station; and now Merridith’s trap was at the door also, and his way lay in an opposite direction to mine.
“I shall never come this way again if I can help it,” he said; “the place will always be hateful to me for the sake of poor Dick Coburn and his daughter.”
I rode that way once again, years after, and felt some curiosity to see what the hut would look like as I neared it. It was in the
heat of a bright summer day, and a very old man was sitting sunning himself against the wall. As I dismounted a pleasant-looking elderly woman cime out to take my orders, and she called the old man ‘Father,’ in an affectionate manner that it was good to witness.
I sat down beside the old gentleman, and heard from his withered yet smiling lips the story of the ‘ghostly white gate,’ as he had heard it, doubtless, but with many exaggerations and variations of the truth.
“I don’t believe the half of it, sir,” the woman said ; ” but father does, and he often dreams of the white gate, and mutters of it in his sleep.”
“Yes, I do believe it, every word !” he returned, stoutly, ” for I have seen it often and often myself.”
“Seen what?” I questioned with interest.
“The white gate, and the old man standing by it—I’ve seen it over and over again.”
“Tell me about it,” I said. “I should like to hear you tell all about when and how you saw it.”
“And I like to tell it! Well, you see, I often sit here, and shortly after we came to this place and I began to hear the story of themurder and the ghostly gate told often, I used to think how tbehut looked when the big white gate was there close up against it. Sometimes I would fall asleep, too, as my daughter says, and the first time I saw the old man, Coburn, was when I wakened upsudden one day.
“You see that breadth of grass right opposite there, sir? Well, there, right in the sunlight, I saw the ghostly gate as white as snow, and the old, grey-headed man smiling at me from behind it. I rubbedmy eyes and looked again, but it was no dream; they were thereyet until the sight went out again like the snuff of a candle. That was the first time I saw the gate, but I’ve seen it often since—Ay, and the old man, too, and they’re company, like, to me. Now, you’ll believe it’s true, sir, won’t you?”
I did not tell him that I had seen the phantom gate myself, or that I was the policeman who had figured so largely in his story; but as I rode away from the hut I looked back, half expeoting to seeagain the phantom gate, standing silent and full of awful memories, by the side of Blake’s hut. I did not see it, however; nor have I ever since heard that any traveller has again seen the ghostly white gate.
About the Author
Mary Helena Fo