THE WAGES OF SIN
Such a hot night as it was—not a breath of wind, and the moon, full orbed, dull and yellow, hangs like a lamp in the dark blue sky. Low down on the horizon are great masses of rain clouds, ragged and angry-looking, and the whole firmament seems to weigh down on the still earth, where everything is burnt and parched, the foliage of the trees hanging limp and heavily, and the grass, yellow and sere, mingling with the hot, white dust of the roads. Absolute stillness everywhere down here by the Yarra Yarra, not even the river making a noise as it sweeps swiftly down on its winding course between its low mud banks. No bark of a dog or human voice breaks the stillness; not even the sighing of the wind through the trees. And throughout all this unearthly silence a nervous vitality predominates, for the air is full of electricity, and the subtle force is permeating the whole scene. A long trail of silver light lies on the dark surface of the river rolling along, and here and there the current swirls into sombre, cruel-looking pools—or froths, and foams in lines of dirty white around the trunks of spectral-looking gum trees, which stretch out their white, scarred branches over the waters.
Just a little way below the bridge which leads to the Botanical Gardens, on the near side of the river, stands an old, dilapidated bathing-house, with its long row of dressing-rooms, doorless and damp-looking. A broad, irregular wooden platform is in front of these, and slopes gradually down to the bank, from whence narrow, crazy-looking steps, stretching the whole length of the platform, go down beneath the sullen waters. And all this covered with black mould and green slime, with whole armies of spiders weaving grey, dusky webs in odd corners, and a broken-down fence on the left half buried in bush rank grass—an evil-looking place even in the daytime, and ten times more evil-looking and uncanny under the light of the moon, which fills it with vague shadows. The rough, slimy platform is deserted, and nothing is heard but the squeaking and scampering of the water-rats, and every now and then the gurgling of the river as it races past, as if it was laughing quietly in a ghastly manner over the victims it had drowned.
Suddenly a black shadow comes gliding along the narrow path by the river bank, and pauses a moment at the entrance to the platform. Then it listens for a few minutes, and again hurries down to the crazy-looking steps. The black shadow standing there, like the genius of solitude, is a woman, and she has apparently come to add herself to the list of the cruel-looking river’s victims. Standing there, with one hand on the rough rail, and staring with fascinated eyes on the dull muddy water, she does not hear a step behind her. The shadow of a man, who has apparently followed her, glides from behind the bathing-shed, and stealing down to the woman on the verge of the