Classic Australian SF 1: The Crowned Skull
by Fergus Hume (with an introduction by Sophie Masson)
What is the secret from the past that is haunting Sir Hannibal Trevick, the rich and landed father of beautiful Dericka Trevick? When John Bowring, an old mining colleague of Sir Hannibal, appears in the quiet Cornwell village, he triggers a torrent of disasters and dangers, intrigues and conspiracies, mysteries and mayhem. Through this exciting narrative course adventuresses, Cornish witches, strange prophecies, hidden identities, dastardly blackmail, insane heirs, secret marriages and murder. Stir in a touch of murky imperialist politics, rampant exploitation in the colonies and an artefact that can drive men mad, and you have the heady brew which is Fergus Hume’s The Crowned Skull.
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So the old man dreamed, while the car buzzed along the smooth road, swooping into hollows, soaring up ascents, and, spinning like a live thing, sped along endless levels. About three miles from St. Ewalds came a long downward stretch of road, which afforded Donalds the chance of letting his machine go. And go she did, with a roar and a rush like a live bombshell. The keen air cut sharply against their faces as they hummed down the long descent. At the foot the road took a sharp turn under some high banks, above which stretched the purple of the moorland. With Bowring dreaming, and Donalds exulting in the speed of the powerful machine, the car swept round the curve at a tremendous rate. But once round, and with another short road descending before her to a second corner, she had scarcely darted forward a short distance when right in front loomed up a huge mass of granite in the very centre of the roadway. With a cry of horror Donalds put on the brakes. But it was too late. The Hadrian met the mass of granite full, and the two men were hurled into the air, above a smashed mass of steel and iron, smoking and hissing.
It was like a nightmare. The chauffeur was tossed like a cork down a bank and fell on a soft bed of purple heather, narrowly missing a mighty stone, which would have killed him. Dazed and confused, and not knowing how time was passing, Donalds painfully climbed up to the road again. He saw, as in a dream, the broken motor-car, vague and doubtful-looking in the twilight, and saw also his master struggling to his feet. As Bowring straightened himself, swaying to and fro, a man leaped down from the high bank, and without hesitation, put a revolver to the old man’s ear. The next moment Bowring fell as the report rang out, and Donalds, gasping with horror, weak from loss of blood, and confused by the shock, fell fainting down the bank, to all appearances as dead as the old millionaire.