|Chapter Title||I Visit Mr. Clinton.|
|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||The Mystery of Phillip Bennion's Death|
I Visit Mr. Llinton.
It was about a week after the inquest, and Nina Macrae's visit to me, that a very curious thing happened-so curious a thing that it im pressed me almost as much as I had been im pressed by the circumstances attending my old
1 was coming up the stairs which led to Pic cadilly Mansions, when 1 met Raymond Clinton, who was coming down them. He stopped me, and to my, 1 have no doubt, unequivocal sur prise, asked me if 1 would drop into his rooms ..(..er dinner for a chat. He had, he said, some thing which he wished to say to me. 1 won dered what he could have to say which could ba of interest to me-except upon one subject, upon which he was not likely to speak-but, none the less, as I had nothing else to do that evening, I assented to his proposition.
I should mention that Mr. Clinton bad come into undisputed possession of all that his uncle had. Ile was well known to be bis uncle's only living relative. No will was found. From what Foreclose, Bennion's lawyer, said, it seem ed that his client had, for some time past, in tended making a will; but, it appeared, he hal never got any farther than the intention. Keen mau ot business and mau ot' the world, as he undoubtedly was, be had died intestate. Thu result was that Raymond Clinton, whom he had certainly never loved and for whom he had cer tainly never intended such good fortune, took everything. There was not even a keepsake fo.> Ralph Hardwicke, or for Nina, whom he hal loved-yes,' both of them. There was nothing to reward Ryan for his long, if not over-faithful, service; not to mention that there was nothing for me, the friend of a lifetime-except some thing which 1 had secured on my own account, ot" which no one knew, and which, in the last dread hour which was still to come, I wished with all my heart and soul that 1 had never
Mr. Clinton had lost no time in entering on the good which, il" not the gods, then which something else had given him. He had taken up his abode in Philip Bennion's chambers, and it was in the drawing-room in which Ryan had lound his uncle lying dead upon thc floor that he received nie upon the evening on which I paid him that memorable visit.
1 had noticed, during the short time which had elapsed since his uncle's death, that au in definable change had taken place in the man a; I used to know him. In spite of the wonderful improvement which had occurred in his circum stances, he seemed to me to be less at ease than he had been in the uneasiest of his times. Some thing of his affectation of ultra-fashionable swagger and stupidity had vanished, and he ap peared to be more wide-awake, shrewder, and more on the alert than I had ever known him: This change in him struck me very markedly oi that particular evening.
The first few moments of our tete-a-tete werj awkward ones. I had, avowedly, nothing that I wished to say to him, and it appeared, after all, as if he had nothing which he wished to say to me. I sat smoking a cigar; he stood in front of the fire, looking intently at me when I was not looking at him, but directly my glance caught his be looked away in every direction but towards me. I was conscious that this was so, but I did not choose to let him think 1 noticed it.
At last he broke the silence by putting his lingers into his waistcoat pocket and taking something from it, which he held out Lo mo on the open palm
of his haud.
"Is this yours?" he asked.
I recognised it at once. It was a sleeve-link of a somewhat curious and costly pattern, one of a pair which I valued not a little.
"It is miue. Where did you get it from?"
"I thought it might be yours. Ryan picked it up. He asked me if it were mine. I told him that it .was not,'but I would inquire of yo'U if it were yours." He paused, and then added, in a tone which was full of meaning, "Ryan picked it up on , the floor of this room on the miorning on which ho
found old Ben lying here dead. He picked it up before you came into the room."
As he said this Mr. Clinton looked at me in a manner which I by no means relished.
I was startled-not pleasantly. it was an odd coincidence that 1 should have worn that sleeve link, with its fellow, on the night on which I had ? discussed, with Philip Bennion, "Murder, Consl ; dered as One of the Fine Arts." It was odder
still that in the morning, when I came to look for it, I should have missed that particular link. How : came Ryan to find it on Philip Bennion's drawing
room floor-and before I entered? When the vivid dream which I had dreamed on that fateful night 1 was thus forcibly recalled to my recollection, a
cou! wave seemed to pass all over me. For a . moment I lost my presence of mind.
; Through it all I was conscious that Mr. Clinton ; was regarding me with a fixed intentness of gaze, ; the meaning of which I could not define. Was it . possible that he suspected rae? That would be ' the final straw. To have slain, while fast asleep, / my old, If argumentative friend, was bad enough; ; tu be suspected of the crime by Raymond Clinton
would be much worse. Bettor io hang than that.
Finally, but none too soon, he removed his gaze from off my countenance, and, turning to the Are, begun to stir the burning coals with the toe of polished boot. In that attitude he addressed
"iBut 'lt wasn't about the Unit I wished to speak to you. Glad you've got it hack again. Ot course I know 'that you were old Ben's oldest liv ing friend, though I don't think that you ever fell too much friendship for me, and-of course I knoiw that, if he had had his way, old Ben would never have died without at least .leasing you something which would have ceryod as a memorial ol' him. It's long odds that he never meant that all the spoils should he mine. So, if you don't mind, I should like you to choose anything which you might fancy, either dn this room or anywhere else about the ip lace, and regard it, not as some thing coming from me, ibut as a ikeep-ake from old
.Mr. Clinton's little speech took ime rather hy surprise. 1 had given him credit neither for such generosity nor for such good taste, not to speak of such right feeling. .For the instant I was dis posed to give binn a hint that if lie anode a simi lar offer to iNina Macrae and to Ralph Hardwlcks he would do well. But 1 refrained. -I felt that neither he, nor Nina, nor iRalph would thank me. If such an offer 'was to be made at all, det the ori ginal suggestion come from him.
.For my own part, 1 at once .made up my mind that 1 would accept his offer, and that although I already possessed a small relic of his uncle, of ?which he had no notion. .1 told him so.
"I thank you, .Mr. Clinton. 1 confess to you that I have felt that I should like to have some thing which belonged to our old friend-something .which >1 might regard as a memorial of our life long friendship."
"?Look round the room, and see if there is any thing here which you would care to have."
I did look round the room, and I saw a great many things which 1 would care to have-care very .much to have. 1 am not myself a collector -that ls, I do not make the chief object of my existence the gathering together of a heterogene ous assortment of articles of curiosity-.bric-a-brac. But O do know a good thing when I sec it, and in that room there were not only things whioh were good, there were things which, from a money point of view, were ipriceleas-things, for the pos session of which, ff they were iput up to auction, the museums of the world would bid against each other.
After some not inconsiderable dubitabion, my glance rested on a caibinet which stood in a corner of the room. I knew it to have been a com paratively recent acquisition of .Philip .Bennion's. I remembered the burst of triumph with which he had shown it me when it first came home. I had then told miyself-and I had, indeed, told him that I would give something to call it mine. I took it for granted that he had given some fabulous suin for it, though 1 had no notion of what he really had given, in the unatter of the prices which he gave for his treasures he was the most secretive niau alive. It was a hobby of his never to tell you where he picked thom up, and never to tell you what he paid for them. But I had no doubt that he had paid an enormous sum for that particular cabinet-it was worth it. .It was of ebony, iperhaps six feet high and some four feet ?wide. It consisted externally of two cupboards, one above and one below. These cupboards opened in the centre, so that each bad two doors. The panels of these doors were inlaid with porcelain plaques, and these .plaques were exquisitely paint ed, notably the 'plaques on tho two doors of tho upper cupboard. Ju the one on the left was the figure of a woman, elad in all thc magnificence of sixteenth-century 'costume-probably an Italian line lady of the period. She was a young and a lovely woman, and, with a smile upon her face, she was holding out, in one hand, what seemed to be a golden key, to a young and handsome cava lier, while with the other she was pointing to a cabinet .which was at ber side. In the plaque upon the right, cavalier and cabinet both had disappeared, and the woman was alone. She was regarding, this time, with a very curious smile upon her face, her golden key. Although the sub ject of the pictures was enigmatic, if not meaning less, the execution was 'marvellous. The woman's face, .particularly in the second painting, in which she was alone, exercised a singular fascination upon you as you 'gazed.
I remembered that Bennion had told me that the cabinet had belonged to one of the Medicis. He had added that the Interior was beautiful, with a ibeauty of which tho exterior could give you hut a faint conception. But, unfortunately, at that time thc key had not come home. It re quired cleaning, or oiling, or something, and was to miake its appearance shortly. So that I did not see the cabinet opened, and, as it chancad, I never hud seen it opened since.
'Rising, I approached the corner in which the cabinet stood.
"I have half a mind, Mr. Clinton, to choose this cabinet, though, at the same time, I have hardly the conscience lo deprive you of such a treasure."
"You are welcome to it, if you choose to take it. Only there is one thing-it has no key."
"Ryan says that it has never been opened since the day that it came home. He says that tho key was brought one night-it came by post, Ryan believes-just as old Ben was going out to dinner. Old Ben put it down somewhere, and in the morn ing, when he came to look for it, he couldn't think where. He and Ryan hunted for it in all di rections, but it never has been found since. Ryan says that he believes old Ben put it in his pocket, and lost it while he was out; but old Ben always denied it with fervent protestations."
"So that the cabinet has never been opened?"
"According to Ryan. He says that old Ben was always going to send for a locksmith, but that he never sent."
"I said nothing. Clinton might be telling the truth, or he might not. 1 knew him sufllcientJy well to be aware that it was quite impossible, if one judged merely by appearances, to tell if he was or was not lying. He might be unwilling to part with the cabinet-in which unwillingness he would be perfectly justified-and had invented the story of the lost key-for, in the matter of lies, he was a master of invention-by way of conveying a deli
cate hint of his disinclination.
If he was unwilling to part with the cabinet very well. Ile might keep it. I would choose something else. I was quite clear, in my own mind, that I would have something.
(To be continued.)
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