Chapter 71280704

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Chapter NumberVI
Chapter TitleThe Medici Cabinet
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71280704
Full Date1897-11-27
Page Number31
Corrections0
Word Count3485
IllustratedN
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAustralian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)
Trove TitleThe Mystery of Phillip Bennion's Death
article text

CHAPTER VI.

Tli9 Medici Cabine!

I was so amazed that I stared for a moment at the recumbent figure lying almost at my feet. I expected to see him get up agwin, or at least to show some signs of lire. But he lay as if he were

dead.

"Mr. Clinton!" I exclaimed, when I had some what recovered my presence of mind, and perceiv

ed that still he did not move.

He was silent. I leant over him. I was amazed and horrified by the spectacle which he presented. He lay on his back. I could see that his fists were tightly clenched. His lips were slightly parted; a thin line of foam marked their partition. His eyes were half open. I could see that the eye balls had turned right round in their sockets. His face was all drawn up and puckered, so that be presented the appearance of, as it were, a grinning fiend. I never saw a more unpleasant spectacle.

I perceived at once that the case was serious, that there was something here of which I should not care to accept the responsibility. I summoned Ryan_for Mr. Clinton (had, at any raite temporarily, continued his uncle's old servant in his own ser

vice.

When Ryan saw Mr. Clinton lying there he was

amazed.

"Good Lord!" he cried. "How like (the gover

nor he looks."

I myself saw poinits of similarity between Mr. Clintob's appearance and Philip Bennion's as we had found him on that never-to-be-forgotten morning. But I also saw points of dissimilarity too. And in any case it was not a moment in which to dwell upon coincidences.

"He is in some sort of a fit," I said. "Let us see what we can do for him." We did see what we could clo for him and we did it, both Ryan and I. But in ispite of all that wo could do, I Ithought at one time that he had followed his uncle-that he had gone after a very brief possession of those good things which his heart so loved.

I was just on the point of summoning medical assistance, and wishing, too, that I had summoned it before, when he gave signs of life-faint signs, but unmistakable signs, despite their faintness.

"Thank goodness!" I exclaimed. "He is not

dead!"

He was not dead, but it was some minutes still before he really was alive. And it seemed that his restoration to life was as fainful as evidently his temporary departure from it had been. He came back with convulsive shudderings and un comfortably stertorous breathing.

When he again was fully conscious sitting up, \e looked about him with bewildered eyes.

"What's-what's wrong?"

, "That's what I should like to ask you. How are

you feeling now?"

"Feeling?" He put his hand up to his brow. "I-I'm feeling doosed queer."

"You've had some sort of flit. Are you subject

to that sont of thing?"

I looked at him attentively as I asked tho ques tion. 1 had never seen isuch a sudden (mange take place in a man before. He seemed to have aged ten years in a moment. He looked, to use a figure of speech, like a living corpse. His eyes had sunk deep into his head; his cheeks seemed to have grown thin.

"Fit!" he exclaimed. "Never had such a thing in my lifo. lt was my hand." Ho hold out hi« right hand in front of him and stared at the palm with a puzzled air, as though he was still not auite himself. "I hurt it. What's that?"

: He drew his open palm towards him and pointed alt with the index finger of his left hand. I leant forward to see what it was he pointed at. No thing was visible except a tiny red spot. It was

to that he was pointing.

"It's nothing," I said. "You have pricked your

self, that's all."

? "Oh! Think so? Doosed odd!" He stared about him as if he did not quite know where he was. "Give rae some brandy."

We gave him some. We had tried to give him some before between his tightly-clenched teeth. Now he swallowed thc better part of half a pint neat. It iseenred to revive him. He stood upon his feet; he shook himself; he gave a somewhat uncomfortable-looking grin.

"I'm all righi. I've only had a touch of the staggers." He turned to Ryan. "You can .s.v>." Ryan went. Clinton turned to me. "You needn't look at me like that. I'm all right, I tell you. I only came over a trille queer. Let's see if that keys lits the lock."

He moved towards the cabinet, walking rather shakily. He stood staring at the key, which, when he fell, ho had left in the lock, as though even yet he had not recovered complete control

of all his faculties.

"Let's see, 1 was trying if that key fitted, wasn't I? Oh, yes, of course I was. How-how stupid of me to have forgotten. Let's see if it does."

He laid a rather shaky hand upon the handle of the key, and, as I again suppose, again endea vored to turn it. But before he had time to suc ceed he again gave utterance to that disagreeable choking sound to which he had given utterance before, and again he staggered backwards. This time, however, he turned towards me, and so enabled me to perceive that the muscles of his face were working, as if automatically, in a man ner which was absolutely horrible. Ile .-eemed to be making a frantic effort to speak, but ere he had opportunity to give utterance to a coherent sound, he again fell backwards with a crash to .the floor, and, having fallen, he lay as if he were

dead.

This was getting more ithan a joke. My visit was taking a form for which I had not bargained. I was assisting in a iseries of little scenes for which 1 was not by any means prepared. If Mr. Ray mond Clinton had a predisposition towards lits, he ought to have warned me that he intended to in dulge that prédisposition to tho full on that par ticular evening, in which case I should certainly have kept away. I was not sullicicntly interested in Mr. Raymond Clinton to tiare to act as his gratuitous and unskilled medical assistant.

But, as 1 was there, and the man would indulge himself, 1 felt that i had better see him out of just this one other. When 1 had seen him out of it,

before I gave him the chance to enjoy another, at least, while I was there-we would SOJ. So again I summoned Ryan, who was unmistakably sur prised at this fresh manifestation of his master'^ peculiar idiosyncrasy, and I did see him out of it that is, with the assisanco of Ryan.

This was not such a lengthy business as the first had been. In fact, it was my opinion that he never had entirely lost consciousness. . Aud while we were still, I suppose, in the middle of the work of resuscitation, Mr. Clinton all at once came to-, of his own accord, so to speak-in a manner which

amazed me.

He sprang up au suddenly that he all but struck the back of his head against my nose, which, as 1 am unusually tender in the immédiate neighbor hood of that organ, would have been a nice reward for playing the good Samaritan-sprang right upon his feet. He glanced about him wildly for a mo ment or two; then, turning tu Ryan, he shouted at, rather than spoke to, him.

"Got out!" he cried, and pointed to the door.

My first impression was that Mr. Clinton had gone mad, and I was more than half disposed to urge Ryan to stay. But I refrained,- and Ryan got out, seemingly not at all unwillingly. Then Mr.. Clinton turned to.me.

The change in his appearance was really won derful: A'prolonged bout of the severest illness could scarcely have worked a greater. The sec ond attack might not have been so severe as the firät had been, hut it had left its mark upon him,

nono the lesa. Ile looked worn and haggard, nil the life-blood seemed to have left his face. But, lu spitd of itbe appearance of pallor, there was about him an 'appearance of ferocity, too. He seemed to be in a lowering rage-he, . tho man whom I had never judged capable of material dis composure! Fixing his gleaming eyes upon my countenance, he bent forward and said lu a voice which trembled as willi passion

"Do you know whait did it?" "What did what?" I asked.

"Do you know what knocked me down?"

"I have no idea. I imagine that you are in ali imperfect sifate of health." ?, '

"Not I! I'm a.5 strong as a hore?, and always have been. lt was the key!" , .

"Tue key!"

He was pointing towards the cabinet. 1 follow ed with my eye the direction in which he pointed; but I haid not the faintest notion of what it w.is

ho meant.

"The key!" he repeated. "Look ait that!" He held out bis right hand, palm uppermost. "Juyt now there was one spot, now there are two."

'There certainly were two tiny red spots right in the centre of the palm of his hand. lt was equally true that befóle I hadi only noticed one.

"But wh.it of that?" I .ra:d. "You haiva pricked yourself again, that's all."

"1 have not pricked myiself. lt was the* k?y which pricked me! 1 was half conscious of it the iinít time. I was ture of it the r-econd. Directly 1 began to turn it, something that out of the key

into my lund."

"Something eliot out of the key into your hand?" "I'll swear to it! It's some infernal -contrivance or other. I felt it prick me like a needle, and I

believe -." He paused; then added, in a sort of gasp: "By Heaven! Otway, I believe the. thing is poisoned!"

1 wag silent. The truth is, that he had momen tarl'ly startled away from me the power of spîech. His words Ulled my mind with a vista of wild imaginings. He moved towards th$ cabinet. And I thought of the strange tales which are told of the Italian prl-onens of the Renaissance, of the days when ant was a power in the lands, the days when murder was indeed considered as one of the line arts; and the ingenuity of tbs multitucliuoiis con^ trlvances by means of which they conveyed their poisons to their victims; and of a melodramatic legend which I .had read somewhere, long ago, of a treasure houi-e, which, when you tried to enter it, and, to enable you to do so, turned tho key, which was always left invitingly in the lock, you were struck dead. While such (thoughts were travelling my mind, Raymond Clinton, standing before the cabinet, was apcelrophising the painted figures on the painted panels. His wild words mingled, ap propriately enough, with my wild thoughts.

He addressed hinii-elf to the resplendent figure of the smiling woman.

"You see, Otway, she has the key iu her hand. George! it is the very spit of the key which you found in the vase, and which I was fool enough to try to turn. She offers it to tho man-poor beggar! What's he dona ito. har? She pointe to a cabinet; upon my soul, it's the double of this. The thing's as plîin aa porridge!" He pointed to the second picture, in which tho woman was alone.' "Now, you see, she's done the trick-'the mari's rubbed out. But she's still got the . key in her hand; .it was with, that she did it! And ahe'a smiling to (herself to think .that no one will ever know. ..You Jezebel!" Mr. Clinton actually shook his fist ait'/the painted porcelain. "I wonder haw many men' you've wiped out with that sweet, key of yours before it almost did for;me?"

It occurred bo rae. that, - after all, he was rather putting the cart before the horse. '

"Doesn't it etrike you, Mr. Clinton, thait you are' rather taking thhies for graMoil? You havo no

actual proal that thor Js anything malevolent in the construction of the key."

He stretched out his tiautl in front of him,

"No actual proof ! What do you call tad.5?'' ,

"Quite so. But suppose we examine, the key

itself."

"Take care how you touch it, or you will. 03011 have proof enough and to spare."

"I will ba careful." I grasped tha b:rrel of the key very cautiously..-'batweea finger and' thumb. I expsrieaicsd no difficulty in1 wlthäiuwlng it f.om the lock. "Do you think that thsre is ruch a thing as a pair 'of tweezsro anywhere?"

v' "I 'shouldn't be surprised. There's a drawer here full of all eorus of things."

The' drawer referred to proved to be tba kind of drawer which such a collector aa Phillip Bennion might be expected to have, eveni in his drawing room. It contained the tools which might ba re quired for a thtotiï-und purpose-, and which an eii'thui3lai3t would always desire to have close at hand. Among other things wera a pair of tweezers and a daintily-fashioned vice. The vice I screwed, without remorse, and with Mr. Clinton's appro bation, tlo a highly-polished table. In it I Axed the key, wants downwards. Theo, with tha aid of the pair ol' tweozeny, I esaayed to turn the haaidle.

I met with less resistance even than I expectei. At my finît «light effort the handle turned quite easily, although independent of the rast of the key, which waa held firmly by lha vice. At the top of the bar which bound thc handle was a little hole, so small that, it was only to ba noticed by a close inspection. As the handle turned, there shat out of the barrel what looked like a bright steel needle. It passed through the hole ia tbs handle, extending, i>erhaps, a quarter of an inch beyond it, au extent sufficient to ciuee a pretty considerable incision in the palm of a man's hand. It appeared for au iimaut, aaid then vanished, beat ing a retreat long before I turned the handle back again. I turned the ¡handie two or ithree times, and each time that curious glsanilng little instru ment mada its instantaneous appaaiunce and de parture.

"What devil's game is this!" exclaimed Mr. Clin

ton.

I could nea that the same ithought had come to him which had dome to me.

If merely turning the handle of that ßlngularly fashioned key had had such an effect on Raymond Clinton, what effect might it not have had ian Phillip Bennion? Supposing he- has tried to turn it on that eventful night. Supposing he had tried to open that mysterious cabinet? Mr. Clinton's eecowl attack hud been le.?s severe than his iinst. Pos sibly the mischievous strength of the thing was weakened by repetition1. Possibly use1 dulled ita powens, and it was only the first user who proved their full malignancy. If Philip Bennion had en deavored to open the cabinet, ha came before Ray mond Clinton, and he might have found the charm ing, and, apparently, harmless example of the lock smith's art charged as if with the lightning stroke of death. It would have left upon him no ex ternal mark of what it had done, save, possibly, a tiny pin-prick on the palm of his hand. And who would have thought of looking for that? Or who would have tWought anything of it, even if it had been reen?

That the sam? thought had baen simultaneously occupying Mr. Clinton's mind was shown, by a remark he made without my) having spoken, a word which could have given him a hint of whait I had been thinking.

"It douldn't have been." "Why not?"

"Ryan tells me, positively, that old Bani lost the key the night that it come home, and that

ho never found it afterwards."

"He might; have found it on that kwt night."

"I think not. I don't believe that the vase from which you unearthed it has been touched fer months. And again, of he had found lt, and had put it in the lock, it would still have been in the lock when-when Ryan discovered him. Judg ing from my experience, of which you have been the witness, lio would have been struck down in an instant. He would surely not' have had time to withdraw the key from the lock, ami still less to put it into the vase, which, you will observe, is at some distance from the cabinet. What is moro, when Ryan discovered him, he was not .near either Ibo cabinet or vase, but right at

the other side of the room."

"That is true." I felt that Mr. Clinton's rea soning-of which, by the way, I had not thought he had been capable-was not without its cogency. "At the same time there are, with your permis sion, two tilings which I should like to do. First of all, I should like to submit this key to an au thority whose appreciation of its peculiar proper ties mught bo juster than jours and min?, Have you any objection?"

"Not the slightest. The sooner you 'take It away the better I shall be pleased. I always have had an objection to dangerous playthings. I suppose that now you wouldn't care to have ihu cabinet?"

"On the contrary, I should care to have it more than ever. Its value is enhanced in my eyes by the twofold purpose which, if one may conjec ture, it possibly was designed to serve. I would infinitely prefer it, for instance, to one moro valuable, which was only a cabinet, and nothing more. And there is another thing. I should very much like to know from whom your undo procured his treasure. I suppose that you hav<*

no idea?"

"Not the slightest. He never spoke to ma about such things."

"I should like to know, too, if he was acquaint ed with the peculiar properties of this key. He showed me the cabinet, the outside of it, that is, on the day on which he had it home, but he never hinted at anything of the kind. I remember, indeed, his saying that he did not know what was the subject of the pictures on the panels. If he had been acquainted with the peculiar properties of tho key, their subject would have been obvi ous enough."

"Too obvious!"

Turning, Mr. Clinton again glared at the paint

ed-lady.

"One other thing.I should like to know. We ther the person from whom be procured the cabi net was acquainted with the peculiar properties of its key;"

"He must have been."

"I think it probable. «His sending the key

home afterwards looks-odd."

, "I lay you odds, Otway, that the fellow, who ever he was, before he sent it, charged it with

Borne infernal poison."

"I am bound, myself, to own that lt looks curi ous.". <£; :

Clinton gave a sudden exclamation,

"I tell you -what: I think I have soinothlu*} which will help you to And out where old Ben gol the cabinet from. Taking a bunch of keys from his pocket, he opened a drawer in a writing-table. "Here's a sort of diary in which old Ben seems to have entered a lot of odds and ends about his col lection. I've only just glanced at it. Perhaps you may be able to find something in it about the cabinet." He took out a leather-covered volbmne, which was secured by a key. "Here's the key."

He handed me the book and the key.

"Thank you. I think that, as you suggest; I may be able to procure from it some inferma ticn. And now, Mr. Clinton, I think that I will say good night."

"One moment." Something curious in his tone caused me to glance at him. "I have a word or two which I wish to say to you."

He stood for some seconds looking at me at tentively, while I waited for him to speak. Then

he crossed the room.

"I wonder where that Ryan is? I have not the highest opinion of that gentleman." He opened the three doors which the room possess ed, moving from one to the other, and looked out' side. "He doesn't seem to be anywhere about. I d n't want to have him listening. But this r r m is such a thundering large one, that I don't think he'll be much wiser, even if he has a weak ness fer the keyhole."

(To be continued.)