|Chapter Title||Found Dead.|
|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||The Mystery of Phillip Bennion's Death|
THE NOV t LIST.
The Mystery of Phillip
' (iBy Ric-harc! Marah.)
Author of "The Crime and ''the CrlmilnaJ,"- "Mrs.
' Musgrave's Husband," etc., etc.
?CHAPTER I. Found Dead.
We hud been discussing, the night toeCore, Du Quincey's essay "On Murder, Considered as- On«3 ol the Fine Arts." Bennion, in that self-opinion ated .way which was a characteristic oí "biß, and to ?which I always objected, maintained that the essay ist had not .been true to 'his s nib j ec t. He had ?it that the particular case of mander on which De Quincey had founded his paper was a work of butchery, and not a work of art.
Bennion insisted that murder might be consid ered as one of the line arts, possibly as the finest of all the 'fine arts. iBut in that case it would have to be regarded if rom a very different point of viow from that in 'which De Quincey had approached the subject. Bennion observed, and stuck to his observation with aili that strength of obstinacy with 'which lie 'was so divinely gifted, that the artist in murder-the true artist, that is, as distinct fromi the commonplace butcher would pay careful attention to particular points, as ?thus :
In an artistic murder, Bennion declared, the first thing necessary was to make it appear that there had been no murder at all. There should he no juark of injury on the corpse, either internal or external; no trace of ipoison, no suspicion of violence, no sign of a iblow. It should tseem as if the dead person had been struck down by the visitation of God. The more completely this con dition was fulfilled, the more clearly would the artistic sense-in the operator, that is-ibe evi ("eiiced.
?Even supposing some person, or perrini?, sus pected that -murder bad been done, and the exact manner of its doing, still there should bo 710 evidence in existence which should ena.lVe him, cr them, to prove their suspicions true. And, lo go one step further, should some wholly unforeseen circumstance-the artißt in murder 'would, before all men, know that it is the unforeseen 'which happens-place in the 'hands of thoise suspicious pensons something which looked like evidence of guilt, it should still 'be utterly impossible to father on the criminal his crime.
If, said. Bennion, all these conditions were ful filled, then, and only then, should we see the fine arts appl ied to m urder. II iß dogmatism half amused and wholly irritated me, as, indeed, il. had a trick of doing. There never .was a man like Philip Bennion Tor laying doiwn .what he .main tained 'was the letter of the law. I told him that there ¡was only one person in my acquaintance who had in him Ibe qualities which were required to realise his conception of thc artistic homicide.
.Ho indulged in that vulpine 'distortion of hi.3 countenance which he was wont to call a grin.
"You mean my precious nephew?"
I 'did mean »Raymond Glin ton, and I told him so. lin any opinion there was no crime which would bring him money from which that young
?man would turn a.side.
?Bennion rose from his chair. T .well remember that he stretched himself, which was another trick he had.
"To tell you the truth. Otway, T am not sure that you are very wrong. J have not 'myself the highest opinion of my sister's son. Which is the ?more unfortunate since he is the only relative I have in the would, and-my heir."
He pronounced those last two words, "my heir," with a satiric emphasis which, it struck inc, did not augur too well for the prospects of Mr. Clin ton.
il never imagined when T parted that night with Philip Bennion, having discussed with him the theory of murder as a line art, that I should have, in the morning, an instance of murder as a fine art presented to me in actual practice; and, what is .more, with the theorist as an example of 'his theory.
.1 was at 'breakfast ¡when Ryan, Bennion's ser vant, cairne rushing into ray room. He had a face as long as 'my arm.
"Oh, sir!" he gasped. "The governor!"
I asked him what was the matter with tihe governor, which was hits way of speaking of his master. He never had treated his employer with what I judge to be proper respect, and still Ben nion had suffered him.
"He's dead!" gasped ¡Ryan. "Dead!"
I confess that I was startled ; so startled that I rose from ¡my ibreakfast-'which I would not have done for a trifle-and followed (Ryan.
Bennion and 'I shared the same flat in Piccadilly Mansions; only I had my four little .rooms, and Philip (Bennion, as became a rich man, had his gorgeous suite. So all I 'had to do .vas to follow Ryan across the landing. We entere' the room, which was rich with the triumphs ??.[ a collector. There, amidst the treasures which would have been welcome in any 'museum, lay their owner
.Philip Bennion lay on the floor. He lay on his left side. His left cheek was pressed against the carpet, his right, cheek turned upwards towards the ceiling. A pipe lay 'in front of h Lin, where it bad fallen from his nerveless hand. It was one of those gorgeous examples of ibygone pipes which he ?was so fond of collecting and of smoking. Its cwner was quite dead. It needed hut a momentary examination to show that he had ¡been dead some hours-he was stiff and cold.
"How came you not to discover him before?" 1 inquired of Ryan.
The man seemed t rambled.
"Well, sir, I was out all alight, and I've only jutst come in."
I knew that the auan was something of a scamp, and that Bennion had allowed binn liberties walch I woujd never have allowed to a servant of mino. Ryan went on:
"It's a flt, sir, isn't lt?"
iHe alluded to the cause of Bennion's death. "It is mtiirder," I said. >
"Murder!" Ryan had ibeen kneeling by tho dead man's side. Suddenly he sprang up .with a'"degree, of agitation of which I did not think him capable, and which seemed to rae unnatural, even under the circumstances of the case. "Murder!" His jaws seemed to he chattering one' against the other. "What-'what noakes you think that?"
I could not tell him what imafle tn© think dt, though I was as certain lt was 'murder, as I was that I myself .was still ofllve. There were no signs of bloodshed. .There was .??nothing which o'bvlooisly wont to prove that he had met "his death hy sudden violence. Ho lay as if he had fallen, m Ryan suggested. In a fit. The only peculiarity about his
appearance was thal Iiis withered, crab-apple coun tenance was distorted as by a convulsive anguish of sudden pain-as though the death which had come alipou bimi had been unexpected, sudden, fierce, and awful. .Beyond that there was nothing in his outward appearance to show that he had not died the natural death w,hicn men die in their beds. Yet I knew that Phillip Bennion had met his death in some way (by the act of man.
The question which J put to myself as Ryan stC'od 'trembling there so that he seemed scarcely able to stand was-ll-Iad I done 'it? Had f killed this man? It was net an agreeable question to have to -put to one's self as one knelt hy the dead body of a man whoiin one had known since one's earliest days. But it was a que-tlon to which I had to find au answer, or .perhaps someone else imight-and an answer 'which O should not like.
I 'hove, through life, 'been a victim to that dual state ol existence which men call somnambulism. As a som'namibulist I am, J suppose, unique. I have been proved to have done things, while fast asleep/ which, had they not been proved with strength bf proof sufficient to convince oven me, I ßhjuld have deemed incredible. ' I borve written stories and dispatched them to editors while Ifast asleep, and they have been accepted and paid for. I have saddled horses, and ridden and driven them, while fast asleep. On one occasion, when I was staying in Wales, I got. u.p, droned nnyee'l.f, and, fast asleep, in tlhe middle ot' the night ascended Snowdon, only waking to 'find myself knocking in the early morning at the door of the cottage at tho tap. i.\ man who would do that, one .might say, would be capable of anything, even, in a slate of somnambulism, of the murder of Phillp
Now, after Bennion had left une the night 'be fore, I had continued to think of what he had said, in his dogmatic way, of the line arts as ap plied to murder. Even after I had retired to rest his words had haunted nie in dreams. I had wrestled with nightmare horrors, and I had dreamed that I had gone to Philip Bennion's room and done something to him-even in my dream I knew not what-and said to him: "I will show you the artist in .murder." .And as I said it he fell 'back upon the floor. il saw him fall, and I stood and looked upon him as he lay. Then I pur out the electric light. I had a clear recollection of putting out the electric light, and thea of wak ing and finding niyse! in my own (bed.
The fact of .having put out the electric light-in my dream-'was so present to mi y -mind, that, now, when wide awake and kneeling by the dead man's body, I noticed that the electric light was omt. Who iput it out? It seemed sufficiently obvious that Philip Bennion liad not. There had surely not been time enough for Mm to do it, before tho
It was plain-there was thc evidence of the pipe which lay at his side-thal in that last dread mo ment, even, iproibaibly. while death .was already actually upon him, he had been smoking. I picked up the pipe to un alie sure. lt was full of tobacco. But it had .been lighted. Possibly death had overtaken him as lie had been Indulging 'in his first whiff. A .man does not smoke in lili drawing-room-and that museum of curiosities Bennion called his drawing-rco:r.- in the dark. The whole building was lighted by electricity. There could be no sort of reasonable doubt that that particular apartment had been illuminated by t'he electric light when Philip Bennion had lighted hus last .pipe. And the first whiff of that pipe had brought him death. Who-after lie was dead-liad put out the light? 1 had dreamed that I bad done so. Had it been more than a dream? Had 1 done, in reality, what I imagined I had only
I arni free to own that I put the question to my self with a sense considerable discomfort. I had done some queer things, in my time, when fast asleep; but 1 had never before got so far as mur der. 1 am not, so far as I am aware, a man of homicidal tendencies. But what psychologist shall teil us what changes take place In a man's nature when ho passes from wakefulness to sleep?
I 'put a question to iRyan.
"Did you turn off the light?"
He stared at. me askance, with au evident lack of comprehension.
"When? I was out all night. I have only just
"I mean, did you turn it out when you just came
?"Pura it out? It was out: It was broad day." The fellow evidently missed the point. It was plain, if the light 'was out when, Ryan entered, that some one had been in the room since Ben nion's dealth and turned it out. lt struck me that a judge and jury would consider that the case looked ugly against that person, whoever he 'might dhance to be. .'Ile could not have failed to notice that motionless form lying there, in its awful eloquence, and why had he not given the alarm? Yes, why?
And the worst of it was that I had such a vivid consciousness of having, in .my dream, looked down upon Bennion, silent on the floor-.my God! just as he was silent now-and of then unoving two or three paces .from him, touching Wie electric button, and plunging thc whole moan int-) dark ness. If this had .been more than a dream, what ought 1 to do? In any case, what ought I to
I imagine that Ryan ni ¡stock the horror Which began to settle on my .mind, ns 1 mentally cont'¿;>i 'P'lated the extraordinary nature of the situation I .was in, for the stupor of grief at the death of my old friend. Because I became uiißconscious that he was regarding me with what seemed lo be extraordinary intensity. il was about to make some remark, anything, as it were, ti* break the spell-the spell of horrid silence-when the dcor opened, and Raymond Clinton entered.