Chapter 71282684

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Chapter NumberXVII.-(Continued.).
Chapter Title
Chapter Urlhttp://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article71282684
Full Date1898-01-29
Page Number8
Corrections0
Word Count2516
IllustratedN
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

Beimion's Death.

(By Richard Marsh.).

Author of "The ? Crime and the Criminal." "Mrs.

" Muagrrave's Husband," &c, &c. - . .

CHAPTER XVII.-(Continued.).

"But it was not such an easy thing to do,, to plant that cabinet upon old Ben. First of all, I had'to'get .it out of the Fiezza Palace, and that did not look easy; and then I had to insinuate jit into old Ben's possession withouts allowing .him, or anyone else, to suspect that it ever,

in any sense, had been in mine. . ' --

"I managed to do ,the ; first thing-I managed to get it out of the Fiezza Palace. I have 'found that in Rome you can do a good" many things with money, and it coot me a'surprising sum of. .money to get that cabinet out of Pontifical keeping. " The next thing I had to do was to entrust it to a dealer "for sile, with instructions that he. was only to sell lit to a particular person, and then for a song. Tbe key he never had. It was never in his pos session. He never saw it. He woe as innocently unconscious of there being anything peculiar about -the cabinet, as a babe unborn. . ' I instructed, him to tell the purchaser that the key required: deming, and that it. would be forwarded after the cabinet .had been sent home. .1 imagine mat _that-deale> thought that"'I was making a present .with that display of eccentricity which is peculiar to English men-and I let that. dealer think. As a "matter of fact, he was right. I was making a present after a fashion of my own.

."That accommodating dealer took, a little shop in the Brompton-road, his etock-in-trade > consist ing principally of that cabinet. So soon as he had settled down a little, I mentioned, casually and privately, to old Ben that I had noticed in that part of the town what seemed to . me a new dealer in . curiosities. Exactly what I expected .would happen did happen. A new curlcsi-ty ehop was to old Ben what the smell of a fox ia to a nouna -he followed the scent as tsoaa as he struck it. The next day he visited that dealer's shop, and. the day after that the cabinet came home.

."Old Ben was In exoalsis. So was i.

"Before that cabinet jnade its appearance in Eng-, land I had visited the East, and had there:'made some very peculiar and soma very striking experi menta with certain poisons-which-I happened to hear of." ; One in particular had' appealed to my imagination as being, like the cabinet, just the thing I wanted. I arranged with its discoverer I believe the gentleman I refer to can really claim to be its discoverer-whose residence at that time was at Cairo, to forward me, at a moment's, notice, to an address in Lon doo, a. certain quantity of this-article, which woe to be freshly^ distilled, and which was to be contained in -an. air-tight cover. .. " '

'Beifore' the cabinet came home I wired to Cairo,, and my wire was attended to with a really sur prising celerity and punctuality. I charged the key, and I sent it, of course of coming from the dealer, to old Ben.

"As, I believe, my dear old. fellow. Mr. Cowan has informed you, and you are therefore, without my telling you, aware, it was a peculiarity of that particular poteen that. it lost its potency by being kept. When fresh from the still, less than a drop injected beneath the skin of a. man, no matter where, would kill him as if by a'flash of lightning. It's, a fact. If you doubt , it, try It-nln the in terests pf the spreading abroad of the truth, and

the advancement of science. But this virtue-for such, in my eyes, I need not observe lt was became diminished when the stuff grew stale. It required more and more of it, and it took longer and longer to kill as the days, and even the hours, went. by. Until, finally, it wouldn't. kill at all, not if you injected a whole hogshead.

"It had left^the still quite long enough by the

time Nthat it reached me. I . had calculated-since I had been careful to arrange that the cabinet)should come to .old Ben locked- that,, directly he got . the key into his hands, like a cliiifd .with a new' toy,

he would not rest until he had unlocked it.., I took it for granted, in other words, that, certainly, within half an hour of the receipt "of; the key, he

would be dead.

"1 knew by what,post the key would-reach him. I took care to. appear on the-premises within half an hour of tho post's arrival-half an hour, that is, after it was in.' .1 expected to find old Ben departed,

-and ¿ny idea, was to slip the key out. of the,lock,! and put in- its place a hamless~ foe simile. -Before I had- gone tb bed that night that peculiar tey would, jjave been improvedout of existence. - It '.was. the. most beautifully planned thing of which yo» ever:

heard.. ..-s 'r

"Unfortunately," as the poet too ' truly remarks, 'the best ' laid plans of mice and men' aft gang agley.' My 'best laid-plan' went all 'agley.'

"When I arrived, instead of finding old Ben a corpse, I found that he'd "gone out to dinner. Some ass had come, just as the post was in,* and insisted upon hauling dear old Ben off with him, then and there. I couldn't ask about the key-how was I to know anything about it?

"You can take my word for. it-on this occasion you really can-that I did not . spend a pleasant night. The next' morning, as soon as decency per mitted, I trotted round once more. t This time I found old Ben roaring and raging, and calling down all the ourses oí all the gods upon Ryan's head,, and upon that dealer's head, and upon the man who had hauled him out to dinner's head, and upon; every body else's head.'. Old Ben had lost the key! My beautiful key! My best planned key! The 'key over which I had spent days, and weeks,- and months, and which had cost me-my dear fellow, what that key had cost me, from first to last, I shouldn't dare to tedi you.' He had put it-some where, and old Nick alone knew where. . '

"We hinted' for the key, dear old Ben, and

Ryan, and I. I assure you that I was as keen in the chase as any one*. But we-never found it. You may fancy my sensations. I trotted round, here \ every day, sometimes half a dozen times a day.

I took it for "granted that old Ben -would-And st,' perhaps in his waistcoat pocket- or some equally impossible hiding-place, and that he would there and then proceed to slaughter himself at some wholly unexpected "and most inconvenient moment. It would just have been like old Ben."

TJiia mani, Ralph Harkicke, told all this with smiles as if he had been recounting the finest joke Ja Uxà world» But,, all ait oncot he ceased, ¿a wagle,

l \

and thar« cama «gain inartend that curious intensity ol passion, which was all the more noticeable be cause it was suggested rather than expressed.

"And that key never was found, until you found it, although Nina thinks it wa®. Ah, Otway, there's the mischief! If it were not for what Nina thinks, tea thousand Philip Bennlons might rot before you would be able to place your finger on a clue which would lead you to the solution of my crime.

"Mind, I have exchanged no plain words with her, but I know what is passing, and what nab bean passing ia my darling's mind. -I know that she recognised that cabinet when first she saw it, and that she would, there and then, have betrayed uer recognition to Philip Bennion if it had not been that he had told her that it was I who had called bia attention to the shop in which it had been pur chased. . .

"Otway, it ls not the least curious part of this my really curious story that^I verily. believe that, from the first, Philip Bennion knew me for what I am. I have no positive proof that this was so; but he-was, as I have said, the shrewdest man I

ever knew, and the more I look bock at the . things which have gone, the stronger my conviction grows that he knew from the first that I waa a man who would stick at nothing to gain a

desired end. . i

"More; although I know that he never told her I was married, when he- saw how I longed for her, I do believe that he dropped her a hint thatT under no circumstances could I make her my wife, and that he dropped her a still further hint that -I was the sort of man to leave no stone unturned; either : in heaven or..in hell-in spite of circum stances-to. make her mine. Again I have no positive proof that this was so; but I believe i that that is what he did.

'"When Nina saw that cabinet, and recognised it for what it was-with Philip Bennion's hints still rambling in her breast-when - he told her that it was I who first had set him on its track, I believe that her tongue was paralysed and that her blood ran cold. ?

"Otway, I find it hard to believe, and unfortu nately still harder notvto believe, that the woman for whose sake I was willing, nay, eager, to steep myself to the lips in sin, suspected me all along to be thebase thing which indeed I am:

"1 say that I find that reflection hard. One likes a -woman whom one loves as I love Nina to think that one is at least-a man. I know, although in so many words she has not told me so, that Nina believes thaUI placed that cabinet in Philip Bennion's way,, for the purpose for which, in fact, I did. That she believes that, after all, he found the key, that it slew him, and

that I am his murderer. I imagine that that" be- , lief has" only come to her, as the proverbialist has lt, 'line upon line, here a little, and there a little;' but I know that she believes it wholly now. And it is chiefly because of her belief-be cause she has lost her belief in me-rather than

owing to the little discovery which you have made, that I am throwing up the game on which, 1-b.ad staked'my all, which I had almost won, and which I, after all, have lost.

"Kismet. It was written in the skies."

He paused; then he said as coolly and uncon cernedly as he had spoken yet:

"Otway,. I did kill . Philip Bennion."

That finished it,' when he made, with cynical calmness, his hideous confession. : -

I had hoped, when .he had spoken of the loss of the key, that, through no merit of his own, but through the mercy of his Maker, his hands wera free from actual stain of innocent blood. That, as by a miracle, he. had been.saved from guilt worse than the guilt of Cain. That for him, even ye*., all was not lost. .. That there was hope for him, even upon earth, through the cleansing fires of repentance. -. ?>

But when he said ..so quietly, and so indifferent ly, that he indeed had killed the man who had held him dearer than a son-and for nothing, just no cause whatever-I would rather Thad died, for 1, too, loved him as a sen.

For "my heart went out to him even as he stood there. I loved him even'4 in that dreadful hour. What is it in some men which makes us love them, even though we know them to be villains as black as ever were spawned fronT'the<moutlv of hell?

"Some men, when the seed which they .had so hopefully planted, and so carefully tended, had. come so utterly to grief, would have resolved to plant no more, to turn their attention to some other branch of agriculture; in fact, "to take, a beating. Owing to a constitutional defect of my; nature, I am not-to my misfortune-^a man Uko that. I am, I assure you, hard to beat.

"""When I perceived that there was no likeli hood of that key being found, .and knew-that if it .were found it would-from my point of view be of little good, I tried again. I turned my at tention to another poison, also a product of tho East. They are quite ama teurs .in the compound ing of poisons-dilettanti, even in' the present year of grace-in the districts which -I vaguely call tho East. . And at least some of them are ppisons which, as I happen to know, are not included tit the British medical pharmacopoeia.'

"This poison "had one characteristic which , th© other had-it killed at sight. So to speak,,at less than sight. In other respects it differed. Its destructive qualities were not evanescent; it would kill at a hundred years of, age just as well as in its early youth," and it left behind it abso lutely no traces of the work which it -had done. The other poison did leave traceB. That is to say, when you conducted a post-mortem on tho body of one man whom it killed you might possi bly perceive its presence in another, as probably Mr.- Lewis Cowan told you. With this it was impossible. You might examine the bodies of a hundred of its victims,-and wholly .fail to perceive any generic suspicious .peculiarity which was com mon to" them. It simply produced valvular dis ease of the heart, and that, I believe, is pretty generally recognised to be a 'natural' cause of death. You see, therefore, that the doctors wero right on at least one point at" thc inquest-Philip Bennion did die of valvular disease of the heart."

Again he mused. And again, when he went on, his tone became more earnest.

._"Ha'd I known-clearly understand me-had I known what I know now, Philip Bennion might have lived, so far as I was concerned, until ho attained the age of a Methuselah, had I the faint est notion that Nina suspected that I meditated murder with the aid, and by the means of, that dainty cabinet of yours."

"I knew "it from the first!", ' ,

filled me with amazement that I was roused, on a sudden, out of the state of prostration, mental and physical, into which I had fallen. '

It was Nina's voice. Nina M'Crae, unnoticed both by Hardwicke and by me, had come into too

A voice interrupted