Chapter 71282179

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Chapter NumberXV.-(Continued.)
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71282179
Full Date1898-01-15
Page Number8
Corrections0
Word Count2224
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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 NOVELIST.

The Mystery of Philip

Bennion's Death.

(By Richard Marsh.)

Author of "The Crime and the Criminal,'.' "firs. .

Muserrave*s Husband," &c, &c.

? CHAPTER XV.-(Continued.) ~ . V '"'

While I hesitated she went on of her own accord;. "I knew you this morning, though-;I--waa LO

drunk." 1

"You kaéw m»?" I regarded her-more"attentively. I had not- recognised her'"in; the street ;.il> did . not recognise her" then. "I do not remember ever seelng-,you before." - ,\

"No, perhaps not; but I've' seen you" before, and I know all about'you,'too; When they.told me that you bad-left your card, and. tb'tit I was booked, I I thought I'd send for you, ju^t. to ease ray mind."

As she uttered the last words,' -the shadow of a emile wrinkled-tho corners of h=r lips, and gleamed out of the depths of ber big blue eyes. . It did not strike me'as being a pleasant smile by-any nason?.

"In what can/1 ba,of use to you?".

I Candidly, I did not believe ..her ,when-_she. said that she lcnew-me/ I was beginning to suepect that ehe might-be a worse woman even than I .had ori

ginally imagined. Her next" words; ; thereforej;

took me back.

: "Did you know-Mr.*" Phttip Bennion?" -

~ "Know-him." - He wtas my'itoieit-intimate friend.'"' ; "I knew "him, too. . And;he. knew me. And- he didn't J!l&vw*iat-Wtoew-:ôi:-mé'eitb2r.'?,\>": ^

; What could the womani mean? What could" such aa she have known of Phillp Bennion?

i "I fancy that - you cannot be referring to the

j Phillp Bennion with whom. I was acquainted." -

I "Oh, yes, I om-r-don't you make any error! He

i usad to live in tho same place you do. . He was a

I card. And he thought th's* I was another card."

I, also, was beginning to think thàt ??she was what she termed "a card." and a very , queer card, toto, to be talking in . such -a strain when death, was al ready touching her with outstretched finger. -

"What are. you?" I asked. "What is your name?" . . ..??> ? . ? . ,. ??

"You wait half-a second. - I'll' tell you. I've got time. I know shan't go off until I've told you. It was so that I might tell you that I asked them to fetch you here, just to, ease your mind and mine." . . . ~ .

. Again a shadow of a *emlle flitted across her

features. .It was my imagination, perhaps, but it seemed bo me that that smile made her look as cruel as the grave-that grave to which she so swiftly, and with suoh astonishing disregard . of what there might be aiflter, waa hastening. I wai» at a. logs what tío say to her. I wished that I had disobeyed the summons, and that I had not come. Young and pretty as she . was-, there was something about- her looks and about her manner which began to fill me~wilbh"a sense of. absolutely painful repulsion. . - '

Suddenly she asked ai question : . , ; "Do you-know Rslph Hardwicke?" >

"Ralph Hardwicke?":, I. stared at her still more. ¡Why did she wont to drag to' his name as well 'as Philip Bennion's? I s fancy my manner waa suffi ciently frigid.. "I - know. Mr. Hardwicke vvery

well?" -'^

"I'm hi* wife."

Although I heard her words, I did not catch her meaning. It surely was not strange. I think that, for a moment, my ^senses were numb-, ? ed.-jfrûi>-lookedr4at her askance.... ...-, -, -

'.^ulre.JÜ^^laafe^» QJtr;, t

^Pm^h^s^wife^I^ Ralph

To-< -calli., the_,,,expjiession which momentarily transformed her countenance a smile .would be absurd. It was a malignant grin; I gazed at her. with horror. I had not the slightest- doubt that she. was telling . an astounding lie.. And1* that â woman. in her position could be capable of such, an uncalled-for, such an atrocious, and, as it seemed to me, such a senseless lie, was to me most horrible. ".

'-'You're "Ralph Hardwicke's wife!- ' Woman, with death actually holding you by the hand, how can you1 tell me such a falsehood?"

' The only excuse that I could make -for her was that she might be delirious, but there was no symptom of anything of the sort in her de meanor. She seemed quite calm-calmer by far than I was. ??? Z .>.;' -

"It's . no falsehood; it's", gospel truth-truer than ; any gospel I ever heardof . v I'm Ralph Hardwicke's wife as safe as'houses.*'. ^-.:-Av"

If she was not raving mad, . then she- was the wickedest e woman I had ever heard or read of, ! and all tb* at I could do ¡would be to1 hope that I that mercy would be shown to'her which she I would not show'herself; ; ' - .''

"Heaven help you, .woman!"

I spoke out of the fulness of my heart. She answered ; with that dreadful / shadow7 ot, a smile..

"Put your hand beneath my pillow... You will find a purse. . Take-it and.open it. .- You will find in it cay - marriage lines. : It's , better to have fhesè sort of ^things in black and, white, you know; it'.s more convincing."

Mechanically, in obedience' to her request,' I inserted' my hand- beneath her ..pillow. She her self was powerless to move. The only-things about her which were stili alive were' her faint, clear voice, , and her monstrous wickedness. I almost expected, so little faith, did Í place on any word she said, to find nothing there. How ever, my.fingers" closed on something. I "drew it out. It was a purse; one of those gorgeous affairs, which "women, so it appears , to me, for purposes of ostentation, love to carry in-^their hands. I know not what other reason they can have tor such -curious behavior.

"Shall I open it?" .

"Don't I tell you to? Right at the back, by itself, you'll find my certificate of marriage. It's a copy, but you can always gét a. sight ófthé original if you would'like to." /

I did as she bade me. I opened the- purse. In the compartment at the-baok, by., itself; as" she said, there was a paper. I took'it out. I un: folded it. I looked at it. And, "a¿ I did'so* the words upon the paper, and "the paper itself,, and the place, and everything, swam before my eyes. I never came nearer to fainting than I did just then. y

jue paper was a certificate of marriage.

ft was, or it purported to be, the certificate of a parria'gfê which had taken place some three Íeará baok ¿t & registrar's officie in the north di NiOhdon, betwèed jíaíph Hardwicke* - báofcelor, and Louisa Pratt, spinster«

"ThU," I gasped, when I recovered breath}" enough to speak, "is «ither a.forgery, or It re lates to some other Ralph Hardwicke than the

one I know."

"That's where you're wrong. You ask the Ralph Hardwicke whom you know. If he de nies it-I don't think he will,'but he might, -if he knew that I was dead-you go up to that registrar's office, and they'll tell you all about . it." ? . .

"But," I cried, "my Ralph Hardwicke's going

- to be married in the. morning!" " . .. .

- The woman , laughed.- Already as good as . idead, already, face to face with' the Great Un-". known; she laughed. ; Such a . laugh! The"

-nurse; who was hovering about the bed, 'Wheavr. :she . heard that dreadful sound, turned towards

'her with a startled air. : ^ . rr ? "My dear!" she cried. .

But the woman paid no heed to the nurse.' .?'

"So's my Ralph Hardwicke going to be mar- . ried in the. morning. . Shall I tell: you who is - is going to marry? He's going to marry-Miss Macrae-pretty Nina! Do you think:- that' I.

don't know?. Why, i've known all about..it-^.

from the first." - : ^

""But, if you -are indeed Ralph Hardwicke's wife-and heaven forgive him, and help him, if you . are!-what devil's impulse has , led you to cause, him to think that you are dead?" ~ j

"To; think 'that I. am dead ? Go along! He knows, that I'm-not dead. . .He knows.- that I'm' as much alive as you are. It was only yester-. day that he came tb see me." - :

. "Only, yesterday : that he. came Ao ..see you!'^-- -.: ,. : Waa. this some hideous dream? Would.»these ' -things passv-away? - If but they would! - .

. : The woman continued speaking. She seemed to have acquired fresh - strength, for the sole^ purpose of adding to my torture. She spoke""

with more animation than she had yet-displayed.

"It's like this. I'd done something of which , he knew, and for which, if he liked, lie could have put me - away^quodded me, you know. And if I* made myself disagreeable he/d have done it, too, as soon asl look at me-I "know

Ralph."

- She: laughed again. Good Heavens, what a laugh-it was! - Sometimes, to this hour, I still seem to hear it ringing in my ears.

-.. -"So, as he'd made it all right in the money way, I didn't care who else ho married. He might have married half a dozen more wives foi all I cared.. I should rather have liked him to, because then I should have a chance to get my

knife-in him."

Could these things be? Could Ralph Hard wicke, that paragon ofjill the. virtues, my ideal strong man, have all the time been the thing this woman pictured, him? Clean-souled, clean

thinking, clean-living Ralph ?-. Could he haye ' been an infinitely baser thing even than a Ray mond ^Clinton? ,

' My brain reeled at the "mere contemplation of such a possibility; of all that it entailed. I was 'stunned, dazed.. My heart seemed broken. I never realised, till then; that Ralph Hardwicke ; had been every whit as .much my boy as Phillp Bennioh's. 7;

- "Tell me," I said at last; for the woman , con tinued watching me with her big blue eyes, "if . all that "you say is true,. how came you first to know him?" "': - - .? \}\::::': . " ':. ' . :? "': .".'?? "I'm 'the Pet of the Peris,' " she .said.

.I stared at her -with bewildered, eyes. Her words were as double Dutch to me. -

"You're the what?"

"You don't know much. When I .first knew Ralph Hardwicke my name was; on every wall In town, in letters as long as your arm, 'The Pet of the Reris!' At this very moment there .isn't a music-hall Ití ' London" where they, "wouldn't give me twenty pounds a week for a two-song turn, and glad to get me at the price! And here am I, just dying. .I'd have gone: back long'ago if it hadn't been for . Ralph. He said I wasn't to, and though I'd have given a finger off my hand to go, I didn't dare. It sounds funny, but it's true." : ? . ' . . *;

"You mean -that you were " a music-hall singer?"

"I mean .that I am 'the Pet of the Perls;' "

She repeated.the words with an obvious pride in them which was as curious as, under the cir cumstances, it was ghastly.

. "And-and did Mr. Hardwicke see you in the exercise of .your profession?" v.

"He came to the hall where I was.' singing "he was alWays coming there-and,v one night,

some one brought him round and introduced him to me . just as I had done my turn. That? was ; on Tuesday, and orf the Thursday wè were mar

ried." . Vv'v-v

I "failed, for a moment, to quite . grasp the meanüig of her words. :

: : "On.the^Thursdayyou were married? ' Do you .'mean that you were married afteronlyfour^and i twenty hours* acquaintance?" ".. ". "':,

. ; "That's about the size of it. ' I knew air about him before I knew him.'. I "thought it .was- good - enough, so l broke off my contract-weren't

there ructions! Ralph had to pay "up all :' round-and we were married." '

She paused. Then, as I .sat: too .bewildered and horrified to speak, she went on again. -But I noticed, .even amidst the agony,and confusion

of my mind, how' faint her voice .was growing, . , and how her life was ebbing fast. ^ "

"If you don't think that was like him, you don't .know Ralph Hardwicke. ' If he sets his mind upon a thing he'll have lt, though all the devils in hell should try to- stop him."; " -

She gave a slight cough-a little choking cough. The nurse came swiftly to her. She put her hand beneath. the patient's head and raised lt from the pillow. She carefully wiped away a crimson stain which, all át jonce, had dyed the woman's lips. - ? : ' .

The woman spoke kgain:. ; I: "I'm Ralph Hardwicke's wife!"" .

AndT she was dead..