|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||The Mystery of Phillip Bennion's Death|
The Mystery of Philip
(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
"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
"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
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
- 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
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..