Chapter 71281767

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Chapter NumberXII
Chapter TitleThe Toxicologist's Report.
Chapter Url
Full Date1898-01-01
Page Number31
Word Count2711
Last Corrected0000-00-00
Newspaper TitleAustralian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)
Trove TitleThe Mystery of Phillip Bennion's Death
article text


The Toxicologist's Iteporl.

"My Dear Sir,

"I propose to call on you to-morrow morning at half-past 10 with reference to the key which you .requested me to examine and report upon.

"If the hour or date is not convenient, I should be obliged by your letting me have a line to that


"But. the key is such a peculiar key that, in stead of merely handing you a written report, I should like to see you, if possible, in person.

"Yours obediently,

"Lewis Cowan.

"J. Franklyn Otway, Esq."

This was the note which lay in front'of me, as 1 awaited Mr. Cowan's arrival. Possibly, when he had had his say, matters might be advanced one step further out of the cul-de-sac which, it seemed to me, they had entered.

It was à few minutes after the appointed time when Mr. Cowan appeared. He was a little, active, wiry-looking man, with that sphhinx-like expicssion of features which Is seen in a certain type, of Jew.

I rose as he came in.

"Come, Mr. Cowan, we will talk while we are having breakfast."

"Breakfast!" He did not look amazed, be cause his is the sort of face which' never look amazed. But his voice betrayed amazement. "My good sir, I breakfast every morning of my life at 7. No breakfast for me." .

Which was hard upon me, because I did net breakfast at 7, and I wanted to breâkfast then. Indeed, I had been waiting for his arrival to be gin. But before I could suggest that he would at least allow me to. feed, he wheeled round, in the quick way he had, and saw the Medici cabinet, ï had bad it brought over from Mr. Clinton's apartmonts only the day before-desirous of mäk ln« sure of my three thousand guineas' worth and a very good appearance in my room it made.

"Ah!" exclaimed Mr. Cowan, who seemed to arrive at his conclusions by some process of in tuition. "That is the cabinet to which the key belongs. ,1 see." He went across the room to it. "It is a good cabinet." Pause. "It is a very.' good cabinet." Another pause. "It is the finest cabinet I ever saw. That-cabinet and key have a'l'JfiUiry, Mr. Otway. May I ask you where

you got them from?"

"They Vere the property of my friend, the late

Philip Bennion:"

"And may I ask where he got them from?"

."Ile purchased them, I believe, from a dealer In the Brompton-road."

"From a dealer in the. Brompton-road ? I Imagine that there are few dealers in the Bromp ton-road, or elsewhere, who have cabinets like that to sell. When I last saw. that cabinet It was in Remo." *

"You have seen it before?"

Mr. Cowan's incisive manner and rapid utter ance a. little took my breath away. Then my ap petite was keen-it generally is in the morning and I knew that breakfast was on the table in the next-room.'and that it was probably spoiling. Altogether I felt a trifle flurried.

"I have. I saw it when it was in Rome. It wad in the Fiezza Palace."

"In tho F'ezza Palace?"

The cabinet was becoming more mysterious süil. It was through the irony of fate that it had fallen to my. lot to unravel all these tangled threads; no man ever less liked mysteries. How came it to travel from the Fiezza Palace tn the Brompton-road? A similar reflection seemed to have occurred to Mr. Cowan.

"It was in one of the private rooms. When 1 saw that key I wondered if it could belong to that cabmet. I thought that there could scarcely be two such keys and two such cabinets. I don't know if you are aware that the story goes that that cabinet belonged to Lucrezia Borgia. They sav that that is her portrait in the two upper panels; But they say all sorts of things. Have you any notion whàt your friend gave to that dealer in the Brompton-road?"

"I^have reason to believe that he gave a hun

dred guineas." -

"A, hundred guineas!" Mr. Cowan whistled. "If this gentleman had not been your friend, Mr. " Otway, I should say that this had been a case of

a receiver and a thief."

I said nothing. It was a painful admission to have'to make, even to oneself, but I felt that it was quite possible that Philip Bennion would not

Ka vt! Keen deterred from driving a bargain. WUK i view to enriching his collection, even if ho ha< felt confident tKat the object he desired had beer obio'ned under circumstances which, to sf ??, tin least of it, were shady. Those collectors an marvellous beings. I have known Inen who, a« ordinary individuals, have been the soul of hon esty, as collectors do the most amazing things. ] have heard of collectors-men of the highest stan ding-stealing coveted specimens from other col lectors, and that without a twinge of conscience or th j suspicion of a blush.

Perceiving that I continued silent, Mr. Cowan wheeled round to me.

"However, that is not the point. Here is thc , key which you asked me to examine." He prc ' duced it from a box which he took out of his over

coat pocket. "Is the cabinet locked?" I told him It was. "I don't know If you are aware that to unlock lt the key has to be turned In the re verse direction. If you attempt to turn it in the usual direction it means mischief. Thus!"

Inserting the key In the lock he turned It, In stead-of from left to right, from right to left. It turned quite easily. The door came open.

"If you wish to lock the cabinet you don't use the key, but you press the door to with your hrnd, and lt locks with a spring. Thus!"

Again he gave his words practical illustration.

. "The key conies to pieces. See, I will unscrew

it It ls made In three distinct parts-handle, barrel, wards."

As he spoke he did unscrew lt. As he said, each part was, sb. to speak, complete in itself. He held the three parts, separated, in his hand.

"In the barrel there is a most Ingenious me chanical contrivance. It consists, first of all, of a small but powerful spring. It ls released by tho handle, when It is attached to the barrel, belr.g turned from left to right, as you would turn an ordinary key in opening an ordinary lock. On being released, this spring projects upwards a small stiletto-projects it upwards with very con siderable force. This stiletto is hollow through out its entire length, and open at the. point-like, fui* instance, a stylographic pen, At the ex tremity it has a incVable cap-again like some varieties of the sty'egraphic pen. The spring not only prefects the stiletto upwards, but, after it has attained a certain elevation, it presses against the cap. If, therefore, the stiletto which, you will remember, is hollow-is filled with liquid matter, the pressure upon the cap drives a few drops of this liquid through the opening at the point. "You understand?"

f did understand. I understood only too well. "An ingenie us contrivance, is it not?"

"You call it ingenious! I call it a diabolical


"The language one uses depends upon one's point of view. I call lt an ingenious contrivance. When the key reached me the stiletto contained .liquid matter. It was not full; it was perhaps nearly three-parts full."

"What was the nature of the stuff which it


"It was of a poisonous nature. I proved that by actual experiment. A single minute injection almost killed a cat. and it quite killed a kitten and that in an inster.t. But it had a peculiar pro perty. It was on the Tuesday that it had the ef fect which I have nioutuned upon the cat and kitten. Eut on the Thursday immediately fol lowing it had no peictptible effect whatever upon a cat, and only a temporary effect upon a kitten. It wa3 evidem, tl .or eic. re, that its poisonous na tuille was evanescent. I have no doubt that when the stiletto was originally Ulled, it was both more rapid and more deadly in its action. Not the least peculiar fact bf the matter, from my point, is that, ithe poison; as a poison, is entirely strange to me. - Ift appears to be vegetable, and I should conjecture that it came from India. But beyond that I am entirely alt sea. Can you tell

nie anything about it, Mr. Otway?"

"I can tell you nothing. I looked jto you to tell me everything. My friend, Phillp Bennion, bought the cabinet from a dealer who, at that time, had a shop in the Brompton-road, and who had called -.himself Richard Gent. The key did hot come home with the cabinet, but it arrived two or three days afterwards. My friend mislaid it "on the night of its arrival. It was not found till after his death, which occurred some six months after wards. I then found lt, quite by accident, and 1 handed ift there and then to Mr. Clinton, who is my friend's nephew and his heir. It was only when Mr. Clinton, on putting it in the look and turning it, was struck senseless and almost killed, that we discovered that tihere waa anything pecu liar in Its construction. And on the following morning I forwarded it you for your examination and report."

"And you mean to say that your friend, the pur chaser, had no notion thait there was anything un usual either about Ithe cabinet or its key?"

"1 cannot say positively, hut I believe not. He was my most intimate friend. He showed me the cabinet on the day that it came from the dealer's and he hinted at nothing of the kind. As I ¡bell you, »the key did not come wi'th. the cabinet. He mentioned, quite casually, that it wanted cleaning or something, he did not quite know what, and

that it was ito follow"

"And, when lit did come, he did not use it?"

"No. It came home just a® he was starting for dinner. He put it down in a hurry. In the morning, when he looked for lt, he could not

remember where."

"And lt was not found till after his death?" "So far as I know."

I hesitated. Mr. Cowan was silent. I per ceived that he saw that I had something to add. So I broached the matter which had, all the time, been weighing on my mind.

"The friend I am alluding to was Mr. Philip Bennion. You, possibly, remember the circum

stances .of his death?"

"Were not the contents of his stomach submitted ito me for my analysis."

"They were. And, as you will remember, you stated what waa ithe result of your analysis in the evidence which you gave at the inquest."

"I remember."

"Mr. Cowan, when I handed you that key, what I wished chiefly to learn from you was If you thought lt possible that it had anything to do with Philip Bennion's death."

His answer was prompt, emphatic, and to the


"Not the slightest."

I had expected some such answer as that; but I had not expected quite auch a démonstration of

assured conviction.

"Excuse me, Mr. Cowan, but may I presume that you are sure of ¡that?"

"Quite sure."

"Pardon me still further, but may I ask you to give me some idea of whait are the grounds of

your assurance?"

"I aro not able to tell you exactly what the poi son which waa in the barrel of that key ia, but I should be able ito detect its presence in 'the body of a person who had been killed by it. Exami nation even by an ordinary practitioner would re veal ilt Its method of action, although curious, is unmistakable. It produces a sort of paralysis, something analogous to that which is seen in a case of tetanus. This appearance-of acute para lytic contraction of the muscles-continues to be visible long after death. Judging from the body of ithe kitten, I should say that this appearance is immovable. In the case of Philip Bennion no thing of the kind was seen. The. condition, of the body was entirely normal."

Then he added something for which I was un prepared.

"Frankly, when you sent me that key, being aware of your intimacy with Mr. Bennion, I f?us peoted what might be passing through your mind. So, before I came to you, I consulted with Dr. Blakeham Warner, who, you recollect, also gave evidence. He agrées with, me that Mr, 'Bennion could not possibly have come into active contact with the contents of that key."

In my anxiety Ito relieve myself of some of the bewildering doubts which beset me, I asked what was doubtless an unreasonable question.

"But who could have put that poison in the key, and what was the purpose which it was designated

to fulfil?"

"That I cannot tell you." Ho fixed his inscrut able glance upon my countenance. "What cause have you to suspect that Mr. Bennion met hie death otherwise than in the ordinary course of


"Mr. Cowan; I do not know if I have or have not eau.-.©. . Bult I will tell you."

Then I told him what the reader knows already. He listened attentively, never removing his eyes from off me. When I had finished he made an al most exactly similar remark to that which Ralph

Hardwicke had made.

"That conversation on" murder which you had with your friend the night before he died was a


"I have asked myself over and over again if it was only a coincidence."

"Why should it have been more?" He paused. He looked ait me as a cat mighlt look at a mouse. "Mn. Otway, whom do you suspect?"

I hesitated. Should I tell him about my dream, and of my suspicions of Raymond Clinton? I decided that I would not. So I hedged:

"I do not know that I can be said to have actu ally suspected any one. Vague doubts have cros sed my mind from time ito time. Mr. Cowan, I look to you to resolve these doubts. Candidly, can you tell me, between man and man, that you are absolutely certain that Philip Bennion owed bis death to natural causes?"

Mr. Cowan iseemied to reflect. A sardonic smile played about his lips.

"I will tell you this much, Mr. Otway, that I can tell you nothing. Laymen' appear to have curi ous ideas of the present stalte of medical science. Your friend's artist in murder is a perfect prac ticable personage. It is possible to commit murder in a thousand differenlb ways without leaving behind the slightest trace of a crim&' If that cabinet and key were sold to Mr. Bennion with intent to murder-and one cannot but perceive that there were circumstances which point that way-then I can only remark that it at least is possible that the person who had that in tention, finding himself foiled in one direction, was capable of a new and even more skilfully artistic development of his homicidal tendencies. You heard my statement at the inquest. I spoke to the evidence. If the same evidence is before me, I am prepared to repeat that statement to-morrow. If, ori the other hand, you have fresh evidence in my line to lay before me, I am prepared to give it

my careful consideration."

As Mr. Cowan continued to speak, my heart seemed gradually to cease beating. I knew that I was trembling.

"Then you do believe that Philip Bennion was


He smiled again.

"I believe nothing. I do not deal in beliefs. I say that if you have, either now or at any other time, fresh evidence in my line to lay be . fore me, I am, and shall be, prepared to give it my careful consideration. And I say further, that your late friend, Mr. Bennion's theoretical artist in murder, is a perfectly practicable per sonage."