|Chapter Title||How Philip Bennion Died.|
|Newspaper Title||Australian Town and Country Journal (Sydney, NSW : 1870 - 1907)|
|Trove Title||The Mystery of Phillip Bennion's Death|
CHAPTER XVIII. I
Kow Philip Bennion Died. . I
. .She was standing just inside the door. . -Her. eyes were fixed upon Ralph Hardwicke . with a . look~in them which, if he felt towards her one« half of what he said he did, must have scorched' ; him-'to* the soul.
"I; knew it from the first," she said. -
He. shrank away from her as if she had struck .him an unexpected and stunning- blow.v -: - '
-. "Nina/' he cried;. .. . ?:, .. ..*' ? v - - . : . She turned to me. * She asked'a question. . - ;
"Do you believe* in visions?"
"My dear!" was all that I .could stammer. . . "Because, as I .was sitting just now in my own room, I heard Ralph"-with what a bitter emphasis she pronounced the word, and hpw she : 4 shivered as she uttered his name!-^talking, to
you hero. I could not hear what was the sub ject of his conversation. But. something told me that he was speaking of Phillp BennionS death. And something made me put on my things and steal out'of the house- as if 1 were a thief, and come to cláim, as my-right, on this the eve of my wedding day," a share of my be trothed 'husband's confidence. And, I perceive, it is well I should have come."
She turned upon him with an intensity of scorn .of which I had not thought that she" was capable, and which penetrated even Ralph Hard wicke's hide-bound front. He lost something of his air of cool assurance and ready presence of . onind; he became sullen and dogged; looking
like a man who, brought unexpectedly to book, .anticipates a whipping, and resents it.
"Go on," cried Nina. "Do not let me inter rupt you. Pray continue as if I were not here. . You were saying that the weapon with wkich
you killed Philip Bennion was the poisoned key of'that wicked cabinet. "Well, I tell you that I knew that from the first. What next?"
"You imagined that you knew; you allowed your imagination to run away with you. I did not kill him with the key." _
"At a . moment such as this, at a moment ot such perfect frankness, is it still necessary that you should lie to me?" '
"It is no lie. I did not kill him with the* . key. I killed him with something else."
"With something else? You hear this man?" She pointed to Ralph Hardwicke with a gesture Which made him go white to the lips.» "This is
the man I-love!" - J
There was a break in her voice as she uttered' that last word, which seemed, to strike a chord of uncontrollable desire in Mr. HardwickVs bosom. Visibly. trembling* he advanced to her, hie hands, stretched out to her as if to take her in his arms.
Shrinking back, she waved him away from her ~^ with a movenlent of/ self-abasement, of profound
repulsion, which seemed to overwhelm him with
"Do not touch me! Do not pollute me further!
Already you have smirched me with stains which' . never shall be cleansed. Tell me," she added,
after she had paused for a moment", as if to regain , some fragments of self-control, "what was this
insurmountable obstacle which guardian told me kept you from me, and which, in your judgment, necessitated Philip Bennion's removal from your path."
The scorn with which her voice was filled; the bitterness which made each word stick like a barbed arrow in Ralph Hardwicke's quivering
flesh! . - - "
He replied to her with, an air of savage sullen
. "The obstacle to. which you allude was a trivial
' one. It was a wife."
? "A wife? ' Whose wife? I do not understand
"No? - And yet it is sufficiently plain.. I hap pened to be married already."
. "You happened to be married-already?"
."Exactly. I happened to be married already. And Phillip Benton happened to be aware of it; - and I happened to want to malee you my wife in -, spite of the existence of a previous Mrs. Hard
. wicke. There you have the situation in a nut
"You were married! And you asked me to be your wife!"
. As the full meaning of Hardwicke's words became clear to her compréhension, she seemed to bo turning into a statue of stone.
With some-feeble idea of relieving somewhat - the tension which racked my. brain, half-mechani
cally, and certainly with no clear consciousness of what it was. that. I was" doing, turning, I took up a pipe which lay among several others on my mantelshelf. I was, just in the same semi automatic fashion, about to fill, it with tobacco from my tobacco-jar, when Hardwicke noticed ^my action. Moving quickly forward, before I had any idea of his intention, he took the pipe ' which I designed to smoke clean out of, my hand.
The manner in which the thing was done, even more than the thing itself, took me by surprise. A moment before he had seemed to be shrivelling up. before the lightning blast of Nina's righteous"" scorn; all at once he was alert and full of life ? again.
"Permit me," he - said.
.Hevasked for my permission/ but he did not pay ? me the compliment of waiting to receive it. He
snatched the pipe from my hand without giving me the chance of answering either yes or no.,
When he got it .he stood turning it over and overhand regarding it with a very curious smile upon his face. \
"Wasn't this old Ben's pipe?"
I started. It was! Oddly enough, in my bewil derment of mind I bad chanced to take up from my mantelshelf the very pipé which had been lying by Philip Bennion's side that morning on which Ryan .and I had found him-dead. Taking, it up from where lt lay ".oh the floor, I had borne it away with me there and then. I had not. ex-' pected, then, ever to obtain a memorial of my friend from Raymond Clinton. . I had resolved, therefore, upon the spur of the moment, to obtain« one on my own account.
I carried it wftn me, intending to regard it as a reIic" of our lifelong friendship. A relic found under memorable circumstances. The last pipe which he had ever smoked.
Cf-ming "straight from the dead r man's presence,, with his pipe in my hand; Î bad placed it oh my mantelshelf amens the other pipes which were there, intending later - to give, it a place of honor. It had continued on
my mantetehelf, untouched, until, as ii by chance, my hand had strayed its wray.
lt was a fine pipe, ?meerschauan, finely colored, curiously carved; just such an cine as Phillp Bennion would have valued. Ralph Hardwicke continued turning it over and over, almost, as it seemed, with an air of pleased recognition.
(To be continued.}