“Victor, leave him alone.” It was Miss Franklin. Trumper’s fist froze. I managed to gasp through his grip on my throat: “Do you mean to say, Miss Franklin, that Victor Trumper is your beau?” I was anxious lest Trumper think I might be some cad. “Believe me, Mr Trumper, I work only in your own interests.” Trumper looked ready to mash my head the way my landlady, Mrs Clark, mashes potato. “What is this idiot babbling about, Stella?” His gaze was fierce upon her. “Please, Victor, let Charles go and I will explain all.” Trumper was defiant: “I’ll not let him go till I have the letter.”
“But I don’t have the letter any more,” she declared. “And neither does he.” Trumper finally relaxed his grip. I gulped night air and steadied myself with a trembling hand. We repaired to the Australia Hotel, where I discovered that I had become entangled in a very different drama from what I had imagined. Blushing, Stella Franklin admitted she had misled me as to the nature of the purloined letter. Now came the true story. Trumper was a close friend of a Lieutenant Kelso, a member of a certain NSW Regiment. Just before the last election, Kelso had made some casual remark in the officers’ mess, to the effect that all politicians were self-serving parasites and that what the country needed was not Federation but a dictator. Not long after, he was approached by a brother officer who took Kelso’s remarks seriously. The officer told Kelso he was not alone in his thoughts and the next thing Kelso knew, he was being led blindfolded to a secret chamber in a building somewhere near the waterfront.
When the blindfold was removed, Kelso found he was in the company of several high-ranking military and police officers from various colonies. These men were planning to foment trouble during the celebrations for Federation. Their leader was a hooded individual who spoke in an educated English tone but with some contamination of accent. His idea was to assassinate an important figure (not named at the meeting) and pin the blame on a convenient scapegoat in the form of Henry Lawson, a fanatical republican who had spoken against Australia’s involvement in the Boer War.
This would set the colonies at loggerheads. With most of the “good” military occupied in the Boer and Boxer conflicts, the traitors would step in and run the colonies under martial law, divvying up the spoils. Kelso had managed to smuggle out of the meeting a coded document which contained details of the plot and names of most of the conspirators. That was the real nature of the “love letter” stolen from Miss Franklin. And now the document had vanished.