|Chapter Title||I Take a Walk.|
|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||The Mystery of Phillip Bennion's Death|
|I Take a Walk.
It 'was on the morning of the day previous to that on which Ralph and Nina were to be mar ried that I took a walk, every Incident of which, if the tales which the scientists tall us are true, will be found vividly impressed upon the retina of my brain, if I live to twice the allotted span of man. It was not so much the incident » themselves which were impressive, as the catas trophe was overwhelming which they immediate^ ly led up to.
That evening Ralph was to fetch me to have dinner with him at his club. He was to call for me on his way. That dinner was to serve as a sort of farewell to his bachelor life. Ho and I, as lt were, were to see out together his life of "single cursedness"-see it out together in a civil and unostentatious way. On the mor row he was to embark on that unknown sea unknown so far as I am concerned-which men call matrimony. For him there would be no more bachelor dinners at the club. So, as was fitting, at that last dinner, which almost at«. talned the dignity of a "function," the old and the young bachelor were to dine together.
I had not sauntered far along the pavement in the direction of Piccadilly Circus, when I met, to use a figure of. speech, with the first puff of wind which was to ruffle the surface of the un wonted peace which filled my mind.
The puff of wind took the shape-the non figurative shape-of Ryan.
I had not seen him since, in a fit of temper, Mr. Clinton had dismissed him from his service, and when I again did see him I was not favor ably impressed by the change which had taken place in his appearance. I never had been, as I perhaps need scarcely observe, in Mr. Ryan's confidence, but it was only reasonable, to sup pose that during his many years' service under so liberal a master as Philip Bennion, he would have availed himself of at least some of the op portunities, which : offered to lay by something for a rainy day. . It came upon me, therefore, with a sort of shock when I observed in his per sonal appearance the unmistakable signs of being hard up.
He saw me first, and came aeross the road to speak to me.
"Well, Ryan," I said, "how goes the world with you?"
"Very bad, Bk*. About as bad as it very well
can do." ,:
"I'm sorry to hear that."
I was sorry. It seemed to me that I. had known Ryan almost as long as I had known-' Philip Bennion. Indifferent servant though he was-and Bennion had forgiven him bothvmuch and often-he was the first and last servant my
friend had ever had.
"Are you still out of a situation? Or have you given up service altogether?"
"I think, sir, that service has given me up altogether. It seemB that it's against a man to, remain in one service his whole life long. Gen tlemen don't want old servants; they want young pnaa*" '
I was conscious that there was something: In what he said. He was as old as I waa. His age might not be In his favort
"Is there anything I can do for you?"
"Well, slr, if you could give me a character; you know almost as much about me as Mr. Ben nion did. Mr. Clinton"-Ryan's face grew dark -"says he'll see me d-d before he says a word for me, and Miss Macrae's not much good as a reference. Gentlemen don't want a valet's character from a young lady."
"Miss Macrae! Has she offered you a refer ' ence?" . ~ ? '.< .;. . . '?
"Yes, sir, she has. She saw me the other -day, and she stopped me. > She asked me a lot of questions about a lot of things-principally about a cabinet the governor had-"
I interrupted him.
"A cabinet? What cabinet?"
"I dare say you remember lt, slr. An Italian cabinet it was. The Governor bought it about six months before he died. He made, a great fuss because he lost the key. It came home one night, and he put it somewhere, and then he couldn't find it in the morning; he couldn't think where he'd put it. Miss Macrae wanted to know if he ever found it before he died. " She seemed to think that he did. I don't know what made her do think so. I don't think he ever did, and so I told her."
I was conscious that the pulsations of my heart all at once had quickened. Was that ancient piece of furniture destined always to
Intrude? " /;
"I am rather interested in that cabinet my self, Ryan; I know the one which you refer to. Did Miss Macrae tell you what made her think that Mr. Bennion found the key?"
"No, sir, she didn't. But if I may make so bold as to say so, she didn't seem to be quite herself. When I said that I didn't think he did, she went quite funny. I thought she was going to faint. She clenched her fists and looked up at the sky, and said, in a tone of voice which, out in the street there, and before all the people, made me feel quite shivery like, 'But I knew he did!' I don't know what makes her know, because, as I say again, I don't believe he ever did."
When I left Ryan, which I did after assisting him to the extent of a couple of sovereigns, and telling him that he might refer any one to me who wanted to know his antecedents, I left him ' with the consciousness of that "litle rift in the
lute, which makes all the music mutel"
Nor did another incident, which occurred al most immediately after I had quitted Ryan, tend to increase my cheerfulness.
As I neared the Circus I became aware that a -woman was walking, or rather staggering, at my side, and endeavoring to address me. I first became aware of it by the fact of a glove 1 hand being laid upon my arm, and a voice say ing, with that tendency to run áll the words, int-> one which is a characteristic pf a certain stages of intoxication, "H'llbol'f'ler!"
I turned; there- was a woman-a young wo man and pretty, too-so young and so pretty that her youth and prettiness seemed to lend' to her condition an added horror. She was well but flashly dressed, and, , already at that hour of the day, she was drunk.
When I turned and looked at her she regarded me with an : imbecile smile.
"DOH* you know, me, ol'f'1er?" she said.
I did not know her; I-did not want to kno-vt her. So little did I want to know her that, with a view of avoiding an altercation with an intoxicated woman in Piccadilly, I stepped off the pavement with intent to cross the road. To my disgust she followed, calling after me:
"Ol' f'ler!" ,.
I turned to her.
"If you address me again I will call a police- , man.". ? ? ...,".?'?
Whether she understood me or not, I cannot say. - I doubt if Bhe -.understood'~ine clearly. The confusion and noise of the traffic, the con dition she was in, these things were against her. I turned again to continue my passage across the street, and I imagine that she endeavored to follow me. I say that I imagine, because I am not certain of what it was that exactly happened. All that I know is, that a moment afterwards there was a hubbub of voices, and a woman's shriek rang out, high over the din of the traffic.
"He's run over her!" some one shouted-shout ed it, as it seemed, right into my ear..
When I looked to see what it was had hap-, pened, I saw that a rapidly increasing crowd was gathering in the centre of the street, and that it was blocking the traffic. All eyes were endeavoring to look at something which lay upon the wooden pavement.
It was that unfortunate woman. An otmnibu> driver, all his faculties bent upon a frantic en deavor to "cut eut" a rival, had knocked her down, and the two wheels of one side of his heavily-laden vehicle had run right over her.
.Poor creature! Though heaven knows that I had not been in any way to blame, I almost felt -lt was all so sudden and so awful that I al most felt as if I had had a hand in her destruc tion. I gave a constable my card, and requested him to inform the authorities of the hospital to which they were taking her-"all that was left of her!"-that I would call to learn how she progressed.
One may easily imagine that that little inci dent did not tend to remove the depression foi which Ryan's loquacity had been primarily re sponsible. So it is that, one may leave one'» house in the brightest possible frame of mind, and yet, owing to circumstances over which one has absolutely no control, be in a condition of profound dejection within a distance of less
than half a mlle:
This reflection .'e net m-»de und»r tbs de-'ue'en that it ls in any way original, but it is so.
Hardly had I returned to my chambers in the
afternoon than I was informed that some one ; Wished to Bee me. . The some one proved to be
an' attendant at the hospital to which the un» 'fortunate woman had been carried ia the morn ing: He brought a very pressing, and what I thought a very singular message, to the effect that she wished to see me, adding, on his own account, that if I wished to see her alive I should have to go to her at once.
Although the woman was a perfect stranger to me, and, after all, had brought her fate on her self, by her own misconduct, I could not but feel moved when I was told that so young a creature, and to one to whom the future might have meant so much, life was to come to so sudden and to so terrible a close.
"Is lt BO bad with her aa that?" I said.
"Well, »lr. her nur»© told me that lt -was eren 'chancea that »he would be dead before I got
The man spoke respectfully, but with as muoh appearance of concern as if he were speaking of a pig. ? ?? .
Ii told myself that, if it were so, it would he useless for me, ait considerable inconvenience to my self, to wait upon her message, since, before I could get to her, she would be dead. And, in any case, . what could there be, of the slightest possible mo ment,'which sha could hive to say to me?
I . tried to learn from the messenger.
"You understand that this parson is, so far as I "am concerned, a perfect stranger. You have no idea what lt is sha wishes to say to me?" ;
"I know nothing about that, sir.. I only know what the message waa I was to give you; that if you didn't see her before she died you would be sorry BS long as you lived. The nurse said I was. to tell ' you that those were the exact words she
I he-itated. Who was "this woman that, for her sake, I should unnecessarily dye my thoughts a darker (hue? Ralph wes to call for me very short ly. In a" pleasant frsime of mind for festivity 1 should be if I came fresh from a death-bed--and such a death-bed-to the feast. If every drunken female who chose to get herself run over were to olaim the right to summon me to witness her final .moments, a fresh charm would be added to the al ready numerous charms which enhanced the plea
sures of existence.
The man perceived! my hesitation!.
"I must ba going, sir. Is there any message
I can take?"
The fellow seemed tk> take it for granted that I would not go. I do not know if he detected on my physiognomy all the inevitable characteristics of a bruta I groomed.
"You are sure ehe is dying?" He actually grinned.
"I don't think that there's much doubt of that sir." .
I don't know if be thought that I feared that there might be doubts-he gave me that impression.
"Well, I'll come with you," I eaid. "I am press ed for time, andi I have an impartant engagement very shortly. But I should not like any poor crea ture to gol out of thia worldi thinking hard thoughts
I summoned a hansom, and we went In it to gether.
I found that man a most interesting companion. During the short ride fromi my chambers' to the hos pital he told me more pleasant anecdotes about awful accidents that I had ever heard in all my life before. He dwelt upon the detäils, making vivid references to "pools of blood" and shattered limbs. Sa that when the vehicle draw up before the doors of the hospital, I felt as if I were about to cress the portals 'of a building which had about it something of the nature of a shambela or a slaughter-house. '
I had no notion) that.I was about to assist at one of the most eventful interviews of a long and not uneventful life-so wholly devoid of anything in the shape of prophetic insight are my poor eyes.