|Chapter Title||What Ralph Hardwicke Had To Say.|
|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||The Mystery of Phillip Bennion's Death|
, THE NOVELIST. j
The Mystery ot Philip
\ '? -. .
\ (By Richard Marsh.) *
Author of "The Crime and the Criminal," "Mra.
Musgrave's Husband," &o., &o.
? CHAPTER X.
What Ralph Hardwicke Had To Say.
-'About Ralph Hardwicke there, was always a breezy atmosphere of health and of strength. ? His personality was so vigorous that he always
conveyed to all with whom he came in contact" the inevitable .and instantaneous impression that, inside and outside, the man was strong.
¿ Nina had dropepd a hint that he possibly might favor me with a call, so that he did not take me unawares. Such was the state of conr fusion into which my mental faculties had, so to speak, meandered, that his vigorous young pre sence acted upon me as a pick-me-up or tonic:
He was looking well, he always did look well, but that night I thought he was looking better than ever. His keen, intellectual face was in stinct with buoyancy and life-no mental confu sion there;, but clearness of vision, directness of ^purpose, force of will, and-unflinching courage,
which would carry him without even a momen tary hesitation - by the way, no matter what the obstacles might, be which Jie had to encounter, straight to the goal which he had in view. = A .strong man who gloried in his strength, he made me, as, fagged and'careworn, I beheld it, glory in it too. " V -'.
He came straight to the point-no sort of cir
cumlocution for him. .
"Nina has told you?" , "She has."
"And what have you to say?"
I looked at him a moment before I answered. "Ralph, do you love her?"
"Love her!" No hesitation there. "Love her! Otway, I believe you know Lam no emp> ty boaster. There is nothing in the world which I would not do for the love of Nina."
I smiled-with the superior wisdom of cynical old age.
"You speak like a hero of romance, and, I presume, with certain mental reservations. With tho man in the story, you wouldn't care to undertake to get up to make thetfire for her in the mornings." ?. .. x'
.He ' laughed.
"I'd undertake to malte the Ure for her every morning of her life if she wished me to,' and I'd carry out my undertaking. I'd even sacrifice my-whiskers, if she wished me to do that." His - cheeks and chin were as smooth as a billiard
ball, so there was safety for him there. "I'd cut my throat at a hint from her. Cut my throat! Why, Otway, I'd cut your throat great as is my affection for. you, dear old man; and every throat in Piccadilly Mansions-for the matter of that, every throat in Piccadilly-if I thought it would bring me nearer to my Nina."
I was surprised. I had not expected to hear :that sort of language from him. It was a worse case even than I imagined.
He stared at me, as I sat eyeing him in silence. "Well," he asked, repeating his first .inquiry, "and what have you to say?" -
"My dear Ralph, I have to thank you for the . genial frankness with which you have expressed
. your willingness to cut my throat.".
He laughed again, j
. "Well-and afterwards?"
"Afterwards, in wishing you joy of the best; girl in tho world, there is only one thing which' weighs upon my mind, and that is the shade of. Philip Bennion."
"Phillp Bennion!" He started.
"What is the fault he had to, find with Nina?" I watched him keenly, as I put the question.. He heard it with undisguised astonishment. 1
"What fault he had to find with Nina? Philip Bennion? Otway, what are you dreaming; about?" . v
i "Ralph, tell me frankly what was the objec tion he had to you arid Nina becoming man and; ,wife." '
"Objection! Not the least in the world! It was all the other way. It was understood be-; tween us that, if by dint of doing doughty deeds, if by fair means or hy foul, I could win the maid I was to .win her. To see Nina my wife was; the dream of his life, as well as of mine."
It was my turn to look astonished. His. words suggested what I myself had always' thought, and yet-'?
"Why did he tell Nina directly the contrary?": "Tell Nina directly the contrary? Who? Philip Bennion?"
"Do you .mean to say that you don't know that he told Nina that she was to have nothing to do with you?"
"Otway, what bee have you got in your bon net?'' ,
: He stared as if he did not know what tb make' of me. I was beginning to feel that I should not know what to make of myself very soon.
"It ls quite impossible that he could ever have said anything pf the kind. At one time he did think I was .going a little too quickly. You Îcnow, he thought that no woman ought to marry
jefore a certain age. He might have dropped Nina a hint to that effect, but certainly nothing more:"
"Suppose Nina says that he told her to have nothing to do with, you, not once, but over and pyer again?"
"Nina must be dreaming. She is under some ..extraordinary delusion. Or it is possible that
she mistook some of .his sarcastic utterances for earnest. .You know, he used to say how'inapt a .woman is to detect a sarcasm. It ls possible that he may have been playing some of his Jittle joke with her. Anything else is inconceiv able. Why, we arranged together, he and I, ,what the settlement was to be, where- the mar riage 'was to take place, where the honeymoon iwas to be spent, where we were to live after wards, and even pretty well what guests were to be- invited to the wedding. I am afraid"-^ .Ralph smiled-"that .we. took Nina's consent for ? granted. Stand by a presumptuous puppy, Ot
way, and don't give me away. I will make my confession to the lady when-when all is safe."
.He was not diminishing my sense of bewilder, jnent. If it was as he said, what had built up Buch a jlelujipn in Nina's mind? And, aboyé all, how had those entries come to be in Philip Bennion's diary?
"Ralph," I-said, conflicting doubts knocking against each other in the pandemonium which I fondly called my mind, "do you think that Philip Bennion was in any way insane?"
"Insane! Philip Bennion! Otway, what are you driving at?"
Ralph's ts«0 of almost .contemptuouB gurpriaei
¿nettled nie. I fancy that both my voice and my manaor became a little acid.
"I have reasons of my own foi* asking you if you thiuk that Philip Bennion was in any way insane." " ' 5 " -.
"Reasons ofyour own! Really,. I »shall be be ginning to think that you're" insane." ,
L did not altogether like being ? addressed in that manner by a young man like Ralph Hard
"Suppose I have proof that he was?"
"Suppose you have-Aladdin's wonderful lamp! iMy dear Otway, Philip Bennion was at all times, and. in every respect, the sanest man I ever en countered-for saner than either you or I are ever , likely to be." . ' . .
I was silenced, " but hot convinced. I did not want to have a useless argument with Ralph. I thought of confronting him with those entries in the diary, but I refrained.
Ali at once I resolved to see if I could get any light from Ralph upon the chief point which . WAS occupying my mind-occupying it so that it
threatened, to become a-monomania.
"Ralph, what do you think of-Philip Bennion's
I had purposely asked the question without giv ing any sort of warning. But I was. not prepared for the effect which it had on Ralph., I had momentarily forgotten how close was the attach ' ment which had existed between the guardian and
the ward. ? ?'.
"What do I think of-what?"
His voice distinctly trembled. "
"What do you think of Philip Bennion's death?" "Really, Otway, you appear to have prepared mo a series of pleasant surprises. I'think that it was the" bitterest blow which has fallen upon me i yet." _ .
The young man turned away. I perceived that he felt an emotion which he did not care to let me see. r
"I know that, my lad. That is not what I meant. I meant to ask you If, in the circum stances, the suddenness, the whole surroundings of Philip Bennion's death, it did not strike you i that there was something-peculiar?"
' "Otway, you do not appear to be yourself to
night, or else you have suddenly developed a taste for talking in riddles. Say just what you mean -right out."
I hesitated for a moment. I did not know ex- . actly how to frame my question. ,
¡ "Did it never occur to you, for a mqment, to
suspect that Philip Bennion might not-'iave died of heart disease?" - ? ' , V ^>
Still Ralph seemed as if he were at a loss to un derstand me. He looked at me. as if ' he would havo liked, by tho mere force of^vision., to have searched out^the meaning, of tb# thoughts which were hidden in my heart. His tone became very earnest-even solemn.
"1 don't know if you have forgotten, or if you think that I have forgotten, all that Philip Ben nion was to me, all that I owed him. I owed to him as much as one man could owe to another. He was to me more than a father. He was to me both a companion and a friend. I do not think that he ever spoke to me one harsh or hasty word, and you know that he could, and did, speak both harsh and hasty words to other men. There was nothing, I truly believe, ho had which I could not have had, and welcome. Even our thoughts we shared in common. There was no incident in my life which I withheld from him, neither great nor small. He took a greater inter est in my welfare than in his own. No mau ever had a more faithful friend. He was as dear to mo almost as Nina. I fancy you have but a faint conception of what that means. Heaven alone knows what I lost when I lost him. When he went a part of mo went too-something which I never shall recover. Otway, is it possible that you "are suggesting that Philip Bennion met with his death by foul play?"
When he put the matter to me like that I hardly . knew what to answer him.
"I do not know that I am suggesting anything. I am simply putting to you a question.'?
"Wasn't there an inquest held?" "There was."
"Otway, if I thought that there was anything in any way mysterious about the manner in which my more than father met his death, I would have the body exhumed to-morrow at my own risk and cost; For heaven's sake, man, "don't sit there like : a dummy! .Tell me what it is you are hint
Thus pressed home, something restrained me from telling him plainly all that I was hinting at from telling him, for instance, as plainly as I had told Mr. Raymond Clinton. T*
"I am a foolish old man, Ralph, and I suppose that I take fancies into my head. Philip Ben nion's death was, to me, so unexpected and- so sudden that I was bewildered, and I have not quite got over my bewilderment yet. ' A few hours before he died he was in here with me, talking about 'Murder, Considered as One ol the Fine
Ralph regarded me with growing amazement.
"Talking about 'Murder, Considered as One of the Fine Arts?' Whatever suggested such a theme as that?!'
"I don't know; one thing led to another. "When he was once launched on the theme he stuck to it. He maintained that an artist in murder was one who ' destroyed his victim in such a manner as to leave nd trace upon the body of what Bennion called his ''subject,' which would cause experts to even suspect that they were in the presence of a crime." Ralph's eyes opened wider and wider. "When In the morning we found him lying dead upon the. floor of hijB room, I wondered if, in his case, coming events had cast their shadows be fore, and if he had had a premonition that he him self was about to become an« example o£ his own theory,"
(To I6e continued.)'