The next day, New Year’s Eve, Victor, Stella and I descended on Sydney Station at Redfern, in search of the ticket inspector who had been on duty on that train. We soon learned that the inspector we sought, a Mr Angus Bruce, was travelling from Newcastle on a train due at 5pm. The clock was ticking. While Victor and Stella took a stroll, I pondered the few clues we had to the identity of the head scoundrel. He was said to speak with a “tainted” Oxford or Cambridge accent. This indicated an educated person who may have spent time in the colonies.
He must be an ambitious person possessed of not inconsiderable wealth, someone familiar with the exercise of power, and not necessarily a resident of Australia. Queen Victoria had given her blessing to Federation last September, so I doubted it was a member of the royal family. Of course, it could be one of her many enemies. I tried to clear my head by scanning The Bulletin but it did not ease my anxiety. Apart from Mr Steele Rudd’s humorous column about a family of rustic cretins, all the articles distressed me. Man’s greed was writ large – gold in Kalgoorlie, diamonds in South Africa, opium in China. And there was the impending execution of Jimmy Governor, the part-Aboriginal man who had gone on a killing spree after his white wife had been taunted for marrying him. Everywhere I looked, there was tragedy. Victor and Stella returned with Tom Roberts. He had sketched the train inspector from memory and Stella confirmed the likeness.
The man was just under average height, with a bushy beard. Something in his eyes seemed familiar. I felt I had seen a picture of that face before. The train from Newcastle arrived nearly an hour late. I doubt that even in another 100 years trains will run to schedule. We sought out the inspector but one glance told us it was not the same man as in the sketch. But when he saw the sketch, his face drained of all colour. “Oh no,” he wailed, “are you the police?” Later, as he sipped strong tea in the stationmaster’s office, his eyes brimming with tears, Mr Bruce confessed his shame. On the 22nd of December he had been at the Railway Hotel enjoying a lager after work when he had been joined by the man in the painting, whom he had never seen before in his life. The man had bought him several jars.
The next thing he knew, Mr Bruce was in the back of a carriage, accompanying the man to a place where his companion assured him they would be able to continue drinking. “Which place?” I asked eagerly. The poor fellow went white as a ghost: “I fear, sir, it was hell. I jest not. I believe that night I died, went to hell and was returned to earth by our Maker in order that I might have one more chance to redeem myself.”